Monday, May 22, 2017

It's all Monkey Business! (now with the new new)

Drug trafficking monkeys with guns and ninjas and tanks, a jungle at war and lots of toys to play with, completely with an Edgar Rice Burroughs vibe and all the gonzo I could cram into it ... you guessed it, this is another plug for the module I published 3 weeks ago: Monkey Business. That and quotes and a review and a couple of words what is in store next.

Get it here! It's PWYW, too ...

Here is what nice people in the community said about Monkey Business:

“I dig its arcade approach to Edgar Rice Burroughs jungle fantasy!” (Gorgonmilk)

"I took a small peek into the PDF and I like what I saw. You want this." (Sophia Brandt)

“This is balls to the walls gonzo done with an even old school lethality & a dangerous balance.” (Eric Fabiaschi, with a whole review on his blog!)

"I was lucky enough to have a prerelease look at this adventure and it is chock full of fun." (Eric Nieudan) 

"I got the chance to check this out over the weekend. Jens D.​ delivers the goods! If you're like me and ape men, stoner shroom dudes and a jungle filled with cannibal tribes are your thing, jump on this." (Adam Muszkiewicz)

"Are you looking for some Gonzo Jungle Action featuring Drug Dealing Apes and Tarzan, the King of Slackers? I'm happy to pitch Monkey Business your way. Jens D. is a wonderful writer, and even if you never play this game, its really entertaining to read. And who knows ... you might just slip this into your campaign one crazy night when everyone is looking bored. :)" (Vb Wyrde)

"Jens took the idea of a module and went deeper. Delivering a product that is fun, irreverent, and a bit gonzo, but also useful. It's full tools built for any GM who may want to set up a jungle hex crawl adventure. The author put in a lot of work making sure a GM could use the whole product or any part of it to run anything from a one session wacky adventure to a whole jungle based campaign." (Mark van Vlack in a non-review on his blog)

Thanks to all of you! +Greg Gorgonmilk+Sophia Brandt+Eric Fabiaschi+Eric Nieudan+Adam Muszkiewicz+Vb Wyrde and +Mark Van Vlack (and while you are at it, follow those guys, if you don't already).


MB even got featured in an OSR Circular. And in very good company, I might add. Looky here:

Made me happy :) [source]

I already got asked by a friend where he has to give his soul now ...


So the first one is, obviously, that I'm working on the print version. Needs time, as always, because: busy irl. But it'll happen, maybe I'll get the proofs ordered next weekend. We'll see. I want this in dead tree form. I really do.

Then I really got to say that writing this thing was loads of fun. I had to power through the whole dtp stuff, but now that it is done, I'm happy with the result. So I want to do more of the same. I'm already planning the next module. Working title so far is Murder In The Hole! and it'll be a murder mystery procedural ... more on that when I get there.

I want to tackle some bigger things while I'm at it. I know I am slow, but at least I keep that stuff in sight ... And now that Mark van Vlack agreed to collaborate with me, I think I will take another look at The Goblin-Tribe Simulator board game. But that'll need some play testing and what not, so don't hold your breath (always a bad idea here, btw).

I'm confident I can get it all done, some of it maybe even this year! I already managed to get one thing out there, chances are I'll manage again ...

The icing on the cake will be Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, of course. And if any of you remember The Grind, that'll happen too, eventually.

Thank you all for the support. If you haven't seen Monkey Business yet, please check it out. And if you have an opinion about it, feel free to share!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hit Points as Confidence (Lost Songs of the Nibelungs - design post)

With the 400 pound gorilla out of the way (pun intended) I can start concentrating on other things that need attention. Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, for instance. There have been some changes and one wrong turn with the latest update for the f2f-group. I won't talk (yet) about the wrong turn, that problem is solved, and I already talked about Skill Ranks a couple of weeks ago. Today, though, we'll talk about an epiphany I had regarding hit points (Health) in Lost Songs. Let's get at it ...

Hit Points, what art thou?

This is an discussion as old as the hobby, I believe. Every now and then I see someone tackle the topic to define the logic behind it. Is it luck? Or just brawniness? How do you explain that a low level character gets killed by knocking his head on a door frame while a high level character can get chewed on by a dragon and still walk away smiling? Some would say, experience is what makes all the difference.

I mean, look at professional athletes failing. It almost always looks horribly hurtful. And yet, more often than not, they seem to make their save for half damage and walk away with a scare. It's fascinating what the human body is capable to avoid instinctively, if he's trained. Look at Shaolin monks how far training can really get you.

They are not kidding ... [source]
It's something I learned from Judo training, so many moons ago: I did that for almost 9 years, starting pretty young (I had been 8 or 9) and one of the benefits of the training (like getting thrown on the floor constantly and all that) will result in a hardened bone structure. Because the body just reacts, over time, to the new constant challenges it is facing. Especially when you are still growing (it also results in short legs, but that's a story for another day).

What I'm saying is, training and experience will have a body handle damage differently on so many levels, that "hit points" are actually a good way of reflecting this. Without training or, in other words, without people constantly hitting you with pointy metal sticks, you'll get hurt so much easier. And yes, that also explains why a wizard shouldn't get so many hit points, since the brain is his muscle of choice.

We could start a discussion about thieves now, but we won't ... Okay, a short one: mechanically speaking, the thief is great in avoiding damage before it occurs, sneak attacks will shorten a fight from the beginning, high DEX will give a good natural AC and great saves against physical damage will all, theoretically, result in a lower damage average than, for instance, your basic fighter will have. So lower hp are somewhat justified. If it's a d4 per level, as the D&D Rules Cyclopedia suggests, is still a matter of debate.

(Liquid Courage house rules make total sense in that context, btw)

Hit Points in Lost Songs, though ...

Never change a running system, right? Unless you write your own system. I mean, Lost Songs still has some strong ties to D&D. It's not obvious, but it's there. So the change in terminology from "hit points" to "Health" was merely cosmetic in the beginning. But it didn't jive right with me. As a matter of fact, it'd been the one of the things that just never made sense in the game. And here is why: the core concept of Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is about reducing a character's ability scores. That's where the hurt is. "Health" was merely a buffer, a resource a character could deplete without much harm.

In a way that still is what I described above. The buffer grows with experience and it takes longer before it gets to a character. But calling it Health made less and less sense, because a character would lose those points in a fight, and if that's all he lost, he'll regain it with a night's rest (if that). Only damage in the ability scores would take longer to heal, so he wasn't losing Health at all ...

It's been a bit frustrating, to be honest, as those things tend to threaten the integrity of a game every time you can't explain how that "Health" damage isn't even a scratch. Well, I guess the title gave it away, but it wasn't until a couple of weeks (months?) ago that my good friend +Mark Van Vlack compared Health in Lost Songs to something like confidence. And boy, did that resonate with me!

What Confidence does for you

This solved several problems at once. For one, it explains well in the narrative the game tends to produce. Those early hits the character takes? They don't deal physical damage, but instead damage the confidence. Imagine going pumped into a fight, all confidence and balls, and then you realize that last strike came pretty close and the next might hit ... That's how you get the opponent to make mistakes: you make him insecure. It mirrors quite effectively how fights actually tend to go down. It builds up until one gets lucky or makes a mistake, then it escalates very fast.

Both hit, both fail their Saves ... [source]
I also want LSotN to be a game where you can taunt an enemy into doing something stupid enough to have a direct impact in a fight. Reducing an enemies Confidence before the first hit is thrown is very much that. It all makes total sense.

There's more to it, though. Another thing LSotN was lacking, although connected, was to find a fitting mechanic that allows a character to regain some of that "Health" damage. With the change to Confidence, it got quite obvious what tat could be. Because how do you gain confidence? When things work out, that's how. So a new rule now is that if a character rolls a successful Save, he regains as much Confidence back as he rolled over the difficulty.

Which leads to the fourth consequence of this simple change of terminology, because characters can not only recharge their Confidence, the can over-charge it. In other words, characters can get "Overconfident". That's neither a bad nor a good thing.

Overconfidence, blessing and curse

The good is, they can ignore any disadvantage on tests (active rolls), so they can run, swim and generally stay alive in this state. He'll even get an additional d6 to his rolls. That's what adrenaline does, it's a natural high that keeps you functioning. So you basically can regain your Confidence in Lost Songs by taking a breather (depends on a character's level how often he's able to do it, though).

Now imagine a character on the run. He's hurt, no Endurance left and he gets that break. Sitting there, breathing heavy, he realizes he's still alive and has a chance (regaining Confidence and Endurance, in this case). So after 20 minutes or so, he decides to pull himself up and try once more to get away. DM demands a Save here, because he still is hurt and all. Right now the character pulled it together somewhat. His Confidence is back, his Endurance, too. If he doesn't make the Save, his body demands more rest, but if he makes it, he'll also gain Overconfidence (unless he just hits the difficulty, that is) and can ignore his aching body for a bit longer.

Every test he'll make, will reduce the overconfidence, though, because that d6 he gets to roll with his tests works as a bonus, but reduces Confidence, too. And any disadvantages he has still apply on Saves (mirroring the danger to overdo it due to Overconfidence). So this could save a character's bacon in a tough spot, if at a price, and it also helps describing what a character is going through.

But there is more. While overconfidence makes you ignore disadvantages and helps you overcoming challenges, it's also that kind of stubbornness that brings it own kind of problem. So the rules here are that Overconfident characters can't share dice in Combat (give or receive) and that they won't get a benefit from Skill Rank group effects (because they don't listen!).

And that's that

There's a moderate amount of Saves in the game and only part of them will result in Overconfidence, but it is something that characters could use to their advantage, force even. The picture I have in mind here is barbarians screaming at each other with all the aggression they can gather. In Lost Songs that could force an easy Save, which would most likely result in Overconfidence, exactly what they are aiming for. It might give you the edge you need to win a challenge. But it also works to motivate soldiers in a trench to make that last attack ... It does a lot.

And it's a shift that, once more, underlines the style of gaming LSotN supports. The player nurtures his character, helps him, manipulates him and makes the necessary decisions to keep him alive. Characters are entities on their own. They feel or hurt or are stubborn. Players work with that by giving them a good time every now and then, feeding them and do all kinds of stuff to keep their characters happy instead of just alive.

It's a bit more involved, but sometimes that the kind of story I want to tell. And it helped intensifying our game, in my opinion. 

Could work in D&D, too

There are already house rules out there, using Constitution as the real death zone for a character. It'd be where damage goes when the hp are gone. And once that's zero, the character is gone for good. With a rule like that in place, you could use the rules described above without any fuzz. Only problem I see is that damage stays linear in D&D as the hp grow, while Lost Songs has a high variety in that regard (from not-so-much to lots of damage), but there are rules for exploding damage out there and all kinds of other shenanigans one could use to make it work, so I'm not worried.

It'll change the game a bit, though, as fights start out as battles of wits, getting ugly only in the end. It'll make slaughtering low hp critters look so much crueler, too. All I'm saying is, it'll work.

So here you go, that's one of the biggest changes Lost Songs has gone through and it was only by changing a word. Funny how that goes sometimes. Ideas and impressions are, as always, very welcome.


And also, if you haven't heard already, I managed to get a module out there. It's a PWYW "balls to the wall gonzo" procedural junglecrawl called Monkey Business and you can get it here.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

3600+ Treasures (Monkey Business design post)

Yesterday drivethru surprised me by going live with Monkey Business after less than one work day. Talk about fast ... Anyway, today, after over 94 downloads (thanks a lot, guys!), I'm a bit less panicked and I thought I'll start a series of posts about the procedures in MB and how to use them. The first will be the Jungle Treasure Generator. Enjoy!

The thing about treasure tables ...

Well, going with the D&D Rules Cyclopedia here, I'd say they are at least cumbersome. I mean, I definitely had all kinds of attention when I read some random loot to the players. Even when rolling the results live at the table, I saw only concentrated faces and lots of scribbling. But that might have been the huge amounts of gp, to be honest. Players do take that seriously.

There's two things I found lacking, though: (1) it took ages to get results and (2) while you got lots and lots of variety, they usually lacked all kinds of flavor and depth (bonus: going pure random would often result in ridiculous results ... we had phase spiders with a  boat once!). So a DM would have to roll that beforehand. But that'd mean that he couldn't use random encounters ... unless he prepared the whole list. And honestly, who would be crazy enough to do something like that?

Well, not me, that's for sure. So when I sat down to write Monkey Business, one of the first things I knew I needed to have in the final product, had been a jungle treasure generator of sorts. It needed to be fast and bring flavor to the table. It's one of those things you can spend way too much time with. This is what I came up with:

Open in new tab for better readability! Strange fact:
it looks better in the pdf ...

One roll: treasure, flavor and even Quest Items!

So you roll 4 dice (2d20, 1d8 & 1d12), the d20s will give you a descriptor and a general category (I just use the left d20 for the left column and the right for the right column ...). The sum is your base gp value, but that might get modified by multipliers. Now either the d8 or the d12 will get used for column 3 (materials) while the unused die will either give a number of doses, the usability of an item or just make it even more valuable (as another multiplier, no less).

There are several benefits from handling it like this. For one, it's just one roll and reading the result. Easy. Than it has a high level of variety (3600 variants, and that's not taking different doses or usability into account). Usability brings yet another aspect to treasures other than indicating if the group could do more with it than just selling: it might end up being quest items!

It doesn't even mean that the characters need to be aware of that fact (in true sandbox fashion), it just means that the item has a meaning to someone out there beyond its money value, which definitely can come in handy for a DM at some point. But it is a good reason to send characters around, looking for ruins and what-not.

Finally, using descriptors and general terms in conjunction with all kinds of material will just give a DM a general direction (and curses!). He'll still have to decide what exactly the characters find. This is where the flavor comes into play. As DMs we are used to making judgment calls about almost everything in a game and the main question is always: what makes sense right now. This being a jungle setting, the hard data resulting from the roll has to manifest as something that fits. Describing a result like that will automatically add flavor to the game and makes a whole lot more than 3600 results possible.

I'd even say that no treasure will be alike that way ...

It needs a bit improvisation to work, but, as I wrote above, it's nothing a DM wouldn't do anyway, so it really shouldn't be a problem. The real boon is that you'll end up with individual and colorful treasure every time. And if the group realizes that there's real money in exporting those treasures, you'll have a whole different thing coming (like real treasure hunters).

All flavor: a Hawaiian hand-weapon made
out of wood and shark teeth! [source]

Sure, why not. We'll say the characters are in a dense jungle area, exploring some ruins and they find:

[d20s: 3, 7, d8: 8, d12: 1] = an ancient, small accessory made out of pelt (usability 1, value 38 gp)

I'd say this is some sort of hairy and holey pouch made by the long gone inhabitants of those ruins. Since the usability is so low, I'd say it was designed to hold something unusual, a meaning lost in time. It has some value for being very old and I'd say it could fetch maybe 10 times as much sold to a collector outside the jungle.

[d20s: 17, 8, d8: 6, d12: 8] = a rare big accessory made out of iron (usability 8, value 156 gp)

That's an interesting one. Big, made out of iron AND quite useful. A cage comes to mind, maybe. Yeah, I'd go with that. The group finds an iron cage in those ruins, something former visitors have left behind for some reason or another and it's a thing not often seen in a jungle (it being rare and all that, maybe slaver accessory? conquerers?). This thing is still fully functional and could sure come in handy one way or another. A bit bulky, though.

[d20s: 7, 11, d8: 4, d12: 8] = a cursed tool made out of predators (usability 8, value 30 gp)

Now that's something. A tool made from a predator ... the fangs of some beast are an obvious choice here ... I'd say it's the cursed set of torture tools made out of bone and teeth. The former owner had been an evil witch doctor who found his end in those ruins ... maybe in that very cage the characters found earlier. As a curse I'd go with some light forms of possession and the urge to torture someone. Or something like that.

You get my drift and I'm pretty sure all of you could have come up with different treasures like it. There is a somewhat detailed result and you apply it to the situation. Work with what you have, add to it as you see fit and you are good to go. Some you'll be able to prepare, some you'll have to roll up randomly, but you should be good either way.

More Monkey Business

I hope this was informative and give you an idea what to expect in Monkey Business (at least a small part of it). Either way, I also hope you got some ideas and found something useful here today. This is about sharing tools and concepts, after all.

The next thing I'll showcase here on the blog will be the ruin generator, as most questions so far had been about that one. The important thing is, that tables can do so much more than randomizing 100 results. They can interact and produce something unique and complex from nothing more than a roll of some dice.

And that's that. I'd recommend googling some tools and materials used by native tribes all over the world to get an idea or two. Other than that, I'd like to point out that it's quite easy to use those tables for any other kind of setting, maybe with a bit tweaking, but basically you could use this for a different background and just by taking that into account, you'll get different results.

If you liked this, you couldn't go wrong checking out the module it's from: Monkey Business. It's a PWYW procedural junglecrawl and there's more like the above where that came from ...

Monday, May 1, 2017

Monkey Business is upon you!

I made a thing! It's called Monkey Business and I've talked about publishing this for way too long now. Took ages to complete and it's at least worth the last 20 posts I didn't write, so if you've been following this blog and liked any of my stuff, you might want to go to drivethru and check it out ...

Here's the blurb:
Something steers deep in the jungle. Rumors of a strange drug start making the rounds ... and then things start getting really hairy. Even the cannibals are upset. Monkey Business is best described as a procedural junglecrawl, all pulp and weird and very arcade. Among the files you'll get with the purchase, you'll find 6 files containing:
  • 5 factions, with all the NPCs you might ever need (and it has a dinosaur in there somewhere)
  • exploding goblin hooligans (I kid you not)
  • 160+ random encounters
  • 3.680+ jungle treasures (including quest items!)
  • rules & tools to generate a 790+ square kilometers sandbox (that's about the size of New York City) full with lots of locations and conflicts to explore and encounter
  • rules & tools to generate cannibal villages and all kinds of ruins
  • the complete gorilla HQ, with dungeon map and all
  • lots of cheat sheets for your campaign log
  • plus all kinds of whacky adventure ideas ...
And here's the catch: I'll give you 100+ pages of background and ideas and all the tools I could think of so that you can make it the mini-campaign you want for your group. In true DIY-fashion, I encourage you to take this and make it your own. Or loot what you can and make a run for it ... Either way, if any of this tickles your gonzo, feel free to take a look. And most of all: have fun rolling dice and being weird! 
The system used here is Labyrinth Lord (TM), but it really should work with anything you throw at it (OSR or not), as most of it is pretty system agnostic.
It's all there and more! Hours of play, lots of random tables and all you need to make it happen at the table. I've been talking about doing something like this for years now and it finally happened: I finished something and now it's out there to bring you guys some joy (I hope). So check it out, take a look and tell me all about it!

So that just happened ...

You can get all that goodness here!