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World-building: First Map of the Wilderness of Toth

November 22, 2015


Hi everyone!

So this I’ve been dedicated to the Kickstarter to fund a massive expansion of my far future transhuman science-fiction RPG and setting Mindjammer, which thanks to awesome backers has been unlocking some very cool stretch goals. If you’re looking for an action-packed, modern, 21st century style far future SF RPG, or you just want to help fund Mindjammer Press and my RPG writing efforts (such as this blog), then please stop by and pledge – there are some great pledge levels (£20 / $30 gets you loads of great stuff – even a version for Traveller!).

But, I’ve still somehow managed to squirrel away some time to do some world-building, specifically focussing at last on producing that first map of the immediate campaign area for the Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls XIMURIA setting I’m writing. And, without further ado, here it is!


As you can see, it’s a work in progress; no real colour yet, and the mountain ranges need to be filled out hugely (especially the Ishbari Mountains to the east, separating Toth from Goblin Hinternesse–they’re wide and pretty impassable). There’s much more detail to come, but the main areas are blocked out, and the story behind the locations you’re seeing all makes sense.

Fifty years ago, this area was the Claw of Bayaal the Black or “Ebonclaw”, Seventh Claw of Salama, the Lair of the Leopard Empresses, also known as the Leopard Empire. On a terrible “Blackfear Night” the tyrant Bayaal was thrown down, and his land ravaged and returned to anarchy. Since then the Leopard Empire has been unable to regain control, perhaps overstretched from its distant capital of Salama to the north, and the Wilderness has had to fare as best it can. Goblins and other foul beings have made huge inroads from the Ishbari Mountains in the east, overrunning the former hobb shires of Helwast and driving that pastoral folk into exile, and the former dwarf realm of Gebni’s Anvil is now Angismaw, a foul goblin and orc pit over a troll nest ruled by a demon!

Life still goes on. Lord Girrien Endol now rules Halagad, largest city in Toth, and maintains a delicate alliance with the elves of Inheliath, where the Xinqari elven Leopard Riders intrigue and plot, having overrun the wall at Elfstop. There are sightings of dragons in the Dragon River Gorge, and it gets more and more risky to send caravans from Prentatorn, City of Merchants, by land.

And there’s adventure, too. Dwarven exiles mount expeditions to free the Anvil, and the mysterious Wizard of Gim-Gemel, the Dwarfstar, works on something unfathomable, with strange belching sounds beneath the earth. There are rumours of uprisings and the tyrant’s return; stories of Serpent King ruins stirring again; and Terrorsaw-riding goblins dropping from the skies to attack the mysterious Sabretooth Clan of the Ul-Gata Hills–are they really time travellers from the distant past, brought to Toth by the Wizard Blackfear for some unknown cause?

Dungeons, ruins, deep forests where Trows wake from slumber, old magics and prophecies, and a fallen tyranny dreaming to be replaced by good. Welcome to Toth!

Cheers – and happy delving!

Normandy, 22nd November 2015
Mindjammer Kickstarter at


The Ximuria setting is (c) copyright 2015 Sarah Newton. All rights reserved. Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls is (c) copyright 2015 Ken St Andre, Liz Danforth, Rick Loomis, Steven Crompton, and Jim Peters. It’s also available now from

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The Mindjammer Kickstarter – Open Now!

November 17, 2015


Hi everyone!

Well, I’m absolutely chuffed to bits to be able to announce that our Mindjammer Kickstarter is now live! As of 12 noon today, Mindjammer Press is proposing to you a massive upgrade to the Mindjammer Fate Core RPG and fiction universe, with new adventures, sourcebooks, supplements, new fiction, and even a Traveller version of the game. There’s so much to come – please join us and help fund the Mindjammer line into 2016 and beyond!

You can find out lots more about the Kickstarter and our plans for the future of the line at I hope you’ll join us there!

The Commonality salutes you!



World-building: A First Look at Angistoth Castle

November 15, 2015

Blackfear Dungeon Level Zero_v3_small
This week once again my life has been very much filled with the Mindjammer Kickstarter (scheduled to start the day after tomorrow, Tuesday 17 Novembercheck it out!), so this week’s world-building map for my “Ximuria” setting for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls is very much a work in progress. However, I hope it’s interesting. 🙂

This is the very first glimpse of “level zero” of Blackfear Dungeon–the aboveground ruined castle complex which was once the seat of Bayaal the Black, the Tyrant who ruled the Ebonclaw, the Seventh Claw of Salama, the Empire of the Leopard Empresses. The Ebonclaw fell fifty years ago on Blackfear Night, when the Wizard Blackfear came to Angistoth, vanished into its dungeons, and released the terrifying demon, Angor, which laid waste to the castle and its village, and threw down the whole Claw, which thereafter became the Wilderness of Toth.

The map is a first draft, with no colour or real detail–it shows the main areas of the castle ruins, but currently doesn’t show all the burned out castle buildings in the outer bailey and castle ward (it was pretty much a small town in there when the demon breathed its fiery conflagration). I’ll start putting those buildings in next, along with a bit of colour, as the map really needs it!

As far as the rooms inside the towers and buildings are concerned, I’m still thinking how to do that; some of the towers still have more than one storey standing, and although the castle is ruined and abandoned by the folk of Toth, it’s quite obviously prime real estate for countless monsters. I’m thinking I may end up providing subsidiary maps of each building–so the two floors of the Troll Tower (and the dwarf party still trying to rescue their cannon from the goblin Terrorsaw riders on the three-floor Queen’s Tower. Those Terrorsaws are awesome!).

I may show some detail of the ruins of Angistoth village (the bit outside the walls, whose inhabitants fled to form Trollbridge–see last week!), although to be honest I’m not sure how much of the village really is left, and how meaningful it is to show–it was fifty years ago, the buildings were mostly wood or half-timber, and the whole place was stomped on and burned by Angor pretty thoroughly. It may just be worth stripping out the bottom of the map and focussing on the castle and Trollstones. We’ll see!

In other news, I now have sketch maps of the six underground levels of Blackfear Dungeon (and a whole host of room descriptions), and a rough map of Halagad, the City of Mists, former capital of the Ebonclaw and now the main city in the Wilderness of Toth. That’s a cool place, and fathoming its structure and politics has once again fed into the background for the Ximuria setting and the deep secret within Blackfear Dungeon. Were the Sabretooth Tribe really from a different world? Or from the distant past? And why did Blackfear bring them from the mists beneath the Falls of Halgar directly into Halagad to challenge the power of the High Cultess’s Leopard Warriors?

I’m itching to find out. 🙂

Cheers – and happy delving!

Normandy, 15th November 2015


The Ximuria setting is (c) copyright 2015 Sarah Newton. All rights reserved. Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls is (c) copyright 2015 Ken St Andre, Liz Danforth, Rick Loomis, Steven Crompton, and Jim Peters. It’s also available now from

The Mindjammer Kickstarter: T-minus 4 days and counting!

November 13, 2015

MJKS teaser

UPDATE: The Mindjammer Kickstarter is now open at I hope you’ll come and join us!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the recent Mindjammer Kickstarter survey – you people are awesome! Now everything’s ready, and in 4 days, next Tuesday 17th November, we’ll be launching our very first Kickstarter, to expand our far future transhuman science-fiction roleplaying game Mindjammer into 2016 and beyond!

For the past 2 weeks you’ve been telling us what you’d like to see in a Mindjammer kickstarter, and the answers have been fascinating and very revealing. We received just over 200 responses, and lots of comments, all of which we’ve taken on board in the Kickstarter you’re going to see next week. We’ve got some awesome books lined up for you!

First up, it’s no surprise that adventures and sourcebooks came out on top of the “publish it now!” list of supplements. Happily we’ve been thinking the same thing, and we’re ready to respond right out of the gate. The Kickstarter will be to fund the full-colour print run of our brand new Mindjammer scenario THE CITY PEOPLE – MYSTERY AND EXPLORATION BEYOND THE FRONTIER, with gorgeous deckplans and artwork, details of Space Force and a full tech spec of a stage 2 explorer ship, and a deadly multi-session adventure of exploration on a mysterious alien world. After that we hope you’ll enable us to provide you with alien adventures, reveal secrets of the Venu, take you deep into the Core Worlds, out to the Fringe – and even beyond!

Second, we were delighted to see huge support for more Mindjammer fiction and also a version of the Mindjammer core book for the Traveller RPG. At the same, you made it clear to us that you wanted the Kickstarter to present the New Commonality of Humankind in unprecented detail, and that providing fiction and support for Traveller shouldn’t de-emphasise that goal. We’ve pulled out all the stops on this one, and will focus our efforts on supplements and sourcebooks, while at the same time unlocking new fiction and ever-deepening support for the Traveller game alongside Mindjammer’s Fate Core orientation.

Third, many of you asked for easy entry to the Mindjammer game, and to that end we’re going to be prioritising both a player’s guide and quickstart products.

And of course there’s lots more… We have some awesome stuff lined up for you, and I really hope you’ll join us and unlock some amazing books.

We’re going to be covering the obvious bases for pledges, with pledges for “All the PDFs” and “All the Books in Print” as well as access to the new books in print and also adding in existing game material such as the Mindjammer core book. We’ve also got some seriously heavy-duty mega-pledges lined up…

I hope you’ll join us next Tuesday 17th November from 12 noon GMT for a month of transhuman Mindjammer revelations. The Commonality salutes you!


Normandy, 13th November 2015

World-building: Trollbridge and the Fanginshield Inn

November 8, 2015

Trollbridge_colour_smallSo this week I’ve been mostly snowed under with preparations for the imminent Kickstarter for my far future transhuman science-fiction roleplaying game MINDJAMMER (we’re running a pre-Kickstarter survey at the moment here if you’d like to tell us what you’d like to see published!). Nevertheless the mental wheels building the Ximuria setting for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls have been whirring away, and I’ve been scribbling notes madly, pinning down huge swathes, and I even have a new map for you!

My world-building is now settling down into three “tracks”. First, the high-level mapping and description of the whole of Ximuria, its lands, peoples, histories, myths, legends, monsters, and so on – typified by the Ximuria map I posted last week and the introduction to Ximuria the week before. Second, the close-focus work on Blackfear Dungeon, the adventure I’m hoping to start running very soon, based on the very first RPG adventure I ever wrote *cough* some years ago; you saw maps of level one and the immediate wilderness area last week. And, third, a “middle-layer” of the Wilderness of Toth, a campaign area about 300 miles (maybe 400) east-west and about 200-250 miles north-south, focussing on the area which until about 50 years ago was the Claw of Bayaal the Black, part of Salama, the Empire of the Leopard Empresses, and is now an increasingly wild region centered on Halagad, the City of Mists.

Most of my world-building work at the moment is on tracks one and two – Ximuria and Blackfear Dungeon. I’m also slowly drawing a proper campaign map for the Wilderness of Toth. I think this is pretty typical of how I world-build: the Ximuria creation is revealing huge realities about the world which I need to understand how the “Ebonclaw” (the epithet of the old Salaman claw of Bayaal the Black) became the Wilderness; and the delving into Blackfear Dungeon is revealing the deep history which led to the dungeon and Angistoth Castle above being the way they are. It’s a very effective two-prong attack, which keeps flinging off little gems about the Wilderness too.

Mont Dol. A bit trollish.

Mont Dol. A bit trollish.

So, first – welcome to Trollbridge! I visited a village called Mont Dol here in France a couple of weeks ago (about an hour from where I live), and immediately got inspired – what a cool base for adventuring! There are all kinds of legends about Mont Dol – there’s a cave there said to be where Merlin lived, the forests of the surrounding flatlands are said to be ancient Broceliande, and there are some weird stones on top, one with a clear “devil’s footprint”. There’s a nice bar, too, of course.

Trollbridge nestles at the foot of Trolltop, a huge rocky outcrop similar to a number of other outcrops here in the foothills of the Gebni’s Anvil range. The village is quite young – it was founded after Angistoth castle (and its village) was destroyed by a terrible demon which erupted from the tunnels beneath fifty years ago, on Blackfear Night. The survivors fled to the Fanginshield Inn and the few houses around it, and set about building new homes. They’ve been here ever since–the “old timers” who remember Blackfear Night, their descendants, newcomers, and of course the steady footfall of delvers and adventurers who come for the promise of glory and riches in the ruins three miles to the north (see last week’s rough map for that).

There’s a lot to do in Trollbridge, especially of late. There’s no longer a troll beneath the bridge (the adventurer who founded the Fanginshield two hundred years ago cleared it out, giving the inn its name), but a swamp troll has recently moved into the marshlands south of the village and people are worried it’s eyeing the bridge again. There are rumours of ghostly goings-on in the cemetery; and of late there’s been a terrible howling on Trolltop in the dead of night, and people have gone missing. Survivors tell of a deathly hound with eyes of flame. A couple of weeks ago the three main defenders of the village left to investigate rumours of goblins up to no good at Angistoth ruins, disturbing things that should be best left undisturbed; they haven’t been seen since. In desperation, the villagers hired a group of mercenaries to protect them, but they’ve been lording it up at the Fanginshield, draining its beer cellar, annoying the rock demon brewer, and generally letting the village go hang. They’re little better than bandits.

And of course lots more. It’s a base of operations for PCs, and a springboard to adventure – whether in the village itself, in the Giantwitch Woods just to the north, or up on Mount Angistoth in the ruins of the castle and in Blackfear’s dungeon beneath them.

Trollbridge connected me back to my Ximuria world-building, too, this week, and I found out a lot more about those leopard-riding elves, the Xinqari. The Treekeep in Trollbridge is an ancient Xinqari–I’m not sure if she rides a leopard, but I know a leopard spirit is guarding her house in the woods outside the village walls while she’s on expedition to Blackfear with Halgarian the Hero and Morthyn the Apothecary. I think she also does a bit of officiating at the village shrine sometimes, too–there’s a leopard cult votary statuette there. It appears that the Xinqari are the “primal” elves of Ximuria, from whom a whole lot of other elves are descended. It explains their savagery, their rawness, their apparent lack of the niceties of civilisation–and also their power. They were in Ximuria at the time of the Serpent Kings, way before the Wizards’ War. They kept themselves to themselves, not wanting anything to do with those cthonic antediluvian powers, except for a group of dissenters who crossed the Uttermost Mountains to submit themselves to the Serpent Kings and learn from them.

Ximuria - elven migrations

Ximuria – elven migrations

Those dissenters grew mighty, and played a part in the Wizard War, and suffered when the Serpent Kings fell. Those most warped by their terrible sorceries became the Uruk, the orcs of Ximuria, and still remain strong in Urvang today. Some dissenters repented, and tried to return to Xinqar, but were turned away and banished as traitors. Their descendants dwell in the Uttermost Mountains today, the exiled and mournful Night Elves, also known as the Kirendri or “People of the Owl”. And, lastly, a third group of the Elven dissenters fled the destruction of the Wizards’ War yet refused to repent; they dove deep beneath Hinternesse and the Ishbari Mountains, becoming the Nagraefi “Unpenitent”; they’re the people of the bat, and have a taste for blood. Subterranean Vampire Elves, with a penchant for conspiracy and shadows.

There are other elves, too. The Strelthi are “high elves”, Xinqari who were once Dwarf-friends, and who broke from the Xinqari after the Elf-Dwarf Wars. They once inhabited all the lands of modern-day Salama, Dornath, and Strelth. They probably got their architectural prowess from the Dwarves (they build marvellous cities), and maybe some other powers too. They’re regarded as the most civilised of the elves, mostly because they don’t actually eat people. The “Havelva” half-elves of Dornath are the descendants of Strelthi and the humans who gradually overran the ancestral Strelthi lands.

Lastly, the Second Claw of Salama, the Claw of Jardis the Green, is home to a significant population of elves–it’s sometimes called Elvenclaw as a result. I’m not sure yet who those elves are (they could be proto-Strelthi who managed to hold on when the human tribes arrived), but looking at the trade routes I wouldn’t mind betting they have close ties to the Xinqari and may be a significant force in the Empire, and often a thorn in the side of El-Esmadiel, the Leopard Empress.

That’s it for today! More mapping and world-building to come next time!

Cheers – and happy delving!

Normandy, 8th November 2015


The Ximuria setting is (c) copyright 2015 Sarah Newton. All rights reserved. Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls is (c) copyright 2015 Ken St Andre, Liz Danforth, Rick Loomis, Steven Crompton, and Jim Peters. It’s also available now from

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World-building: Ximuria’s Peoples Create Its History

November 1, 2015

Ximuria Map Colour_smallAnother Sunday, another flurry of maps! This week I’ve been beavering away on the Mindjammer RPG, and in particular the layout of the new adventure The City People. But Ximuria has been there, in the back of my mind, fermenting away and occasionally bubbling up with revelations and realisations, which I’ve been jotting down. Between scenario and setting, I now have about 10,000 words of material, which are circling the dungeon adventure for Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls I’m writing like wolves–or, more properly, great cats, closing in on their prey…

First up, I’ve been doing some basic colouring of the Ximuria rough map I did last week. My goal was to pin down some more detail, and get some ideas of the relations between the areas on the map. The above map is my current initial colouring–really just some initial shading on the sea and a base colour for the land, with no attempt to show terrain or vegetation cover yet. But it’s looking a bit more alive. In particular it’s becoming obvious that there’s a huge difference between the northeast of Ximuria and the rest of the continent: the range of mountains variously now called the Jarnfjall, Khuldi, Ishbari, and finally Uttermost Mountains are a huge physical divide preventing easy movement between the two areas. There are passes and people, beings, and monsters do cross, but the mountains have kept the two sides apart for millennia. There are also climatic differences–there’s a northeast current bringing in cold water and air from the polar regions; and a southwestern current bringing in warm equatorial air and water. Together these account for the jungles of the Kla and Xinqari (more properly rainforests), the wetlands of Goblin Hinternesse, the Sea of Storms, and the cold of Urvang, land of the orc corsairs.

I’ve also pinned down some city names, and zoomed in on some more local geography, particularly what’s going to be my core campaign area, the Wilderness of Toth. This used to be the “Seventh Claw” of Salama, the Leopard Empire, but imperial forces left fifty years ago and it’s been a lawless borderland ever since. Its main city is Halagad, the City of Mists, and I’ve started to sketch that out. I’ve also got a good draft map of the wilderness which I’ll hopefully show you in a week or two.

I’ve been able to square Ximuria’s history with the history of Trollworld from the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls rulesbook, which for me is both cool and important as I like my campaigns to be consistent and believable, and I really wanted to be able to have characters move easily between, say, Khazan, or Zorr, or any of the T&T solos, and Ximuria. The orientation of Salama–facing the ocean to the west–means that traffic with Khazan (off the map to the east in my mind) isn’t easy, especially with the orc corsairs of Urvang and the perils of the Dragon Reach. But it is possible.

As I said last week, Ximuria’s ancient history is based around “great cat tribes”–the leopard folk, the lion people, the tiger people, and so on. In my mind many of those are now “civilised”, and their old totemic ancestor worship has sublimated into the “Great Cat Cults”, of which the Leopard Cult is a biggie for my campaign area (there are also lion people off to the west). There are some very cool corollaries of the great cat cults for monsters and creatures in the campaign, and for the possibility of shapeshifting berserker characters, but I’ll discuss that in a future blog post. I’m also quite enamoured of the “Skoggcattar” lynx people who live in the cold Felsenfjords, battling giants and sea orcs and trading with the reclusive Zammelar “Hoargrim”, the frost dwarves of Zammel Kezi. More on those too at some point. In particular, I’ve started to realise that the Xinqari, those leopard-riding elves from the rainforests east of Arafell, are somehow big movers and shakers in Ximuria. I think that El-Esmadiel, the Leopard Empress, may have been born there–one of her titles is “She-Goddess of Arafell”, and in any case the Xinqari (and probably Queen Merrian and King Xionthar) may be heads of the Leopard Cult. These guys are violent and machiavellian militant anti-vegetarians (they protect the forests and their plants–you can’t eat them!) who are somehow also power-brokers between all of the Peoples of the Cat and the Great Cat Cults. There’s a lot more to be discovered here…

Now, to the scenario. It’s called “Blackfear Dungeon”, based on my first Tunnels and Trolls adventure (written when I was 12 years old!). True to T&T scenarios, I wanted it to be a “status quo” dungeon, by which I mean it’s part of the adventurous landscape; a place people know about, fear, and occasionally venture to when they feel brave or desperate. One of the cool things about T&T’s implied setting is that there’s this class of roustabout “delvers”, adventurers who are professional dungeon-plunderers, and that ecology and economy has to make sense in terms of the setting. So, for me that means a very specific tack on adventure design. Often when writing adventures, I write about something big going down, a threat to the status quo which propels the whole setting into action. With Blackfear, though, I wanted to try something more in keeping with T&T; to write a dungeon which has been there a while, is dangerous, filled with deadly monsters, legendary treasures, devious traps, and ancient mysteries, but nevertheless makes sense.

Trollbridge and Angistoth environs_smallThe above map is part of my attempt to do that. Again, it’s a very basic map, with just some outlines, no colour, and no real detail–but most of the main areas are there. Now that I’ve got the “broad brush” strokes of my Ximuria setting in place, I’m starting to look at how the setting’s currents and forces apply in a more local environment. I know that the city of Halagad seceded from the Leopard Empire for some reason 50 years ago, so that gave me the chance to put my beloved “big thing going down” in the past, rather than the spur for adventure now. Blackfear Dungeon is situated below Angistoth Castle, the ancient seat of the last Tyrant of the Seventh Claw of Salama, Bayaal the Black. It’s on the slopes of the volcanic range called Gebni’s Anvil (which you can see on the continental Ximuria map just to the left of Halagad), and about 30 miles from the still-smoking volcano of Angismaw, which erupted 50 years ago, on that fateful night of magical duels and lava trolls, when the wizard nicknamed “Blackfear” summoned (or released) a great demon which threw down the walls of Angistoth and–as far as we know–killed the Tyrant.

Everyone in the castle perished, but the survivors from the castle village (there weren’t many) fled to the Fanginshield Inn by the Troll Bridge south of the Giantwitch Woods, and started again. Now there’s a village there, called Trollbridge, where adventurers sometimes arrive to brave the demon-addled ruins of Angistoth in search of lost treasures beneath, in the dungeons of Blackfear.

So that’s my “status quo” for Blackfear Dungeon. I’m going to mess it up a bit for the adventure proper, but basically I have an “ecology” which (for me at least) makes sense. It’s also taken a lot from the suggested history of the Ximuria setting, and added a lot back to it, which is how I like adventures to work.

Blackfear Dungeon Level One_v2_smallLast up is a third map, which is my first attempt at a “dungeon map style” for Blackfear Dungeon. I’m not sure whether I’ll stick with it, but it’s working for me right now; it’s basic at the moment, with no doors, secret doors, stairs, etc, and no “decoration”. It just depicts the “smallest” part of the dungeon, the tunnels immediately below the keep of Angistoth Castle where the demon burst forth. My ecology has already thrown up a lot of ideas for what the dungeon rooms originally were (the chambers beneath the Tyrant Queen’s Tower were particularly nasty), and also the implied history since that “Blackfear Night” also gives me ideas for what’s there now; add those two together and hopefully a lot of the dungeon populates itself. I’m imagining there are six levels of dungeon, plus the surface “level zero” of the ruined castle and surroundings.

That’s it for now! Next up are two more maps; first, a “middle scale” map of the Wilderness of Toth, showing the campaign area, a region about 300 miles by 200 miles; and second that “level zero” castle map of the ruins of Angistoth and its immediate surroundings, including the Trollstones, the stone circle on the hill outside, whose ancient propitiating rites have been carried out since Blackfear Night by an increasingly wizened leonosphinx, and with whom the fortune-telling seeress of the mysterious Gushmegs has just arrived to seek counsel. What’s afoot?

Cheers – and happy delving!

Normandy, 1st November 2015


The Ximuria setting is (c) copyright 2015 Sarah Newton. All rights reserved. Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls is (c) copyright 2015 Ken St Andre, Liz Danforth, Rick Loomis, Steven Crompton, and Jim Peters. It’s also available now from

World-building: Welcome to Ximuria

October 25, 2015

Ximuria Map_smallSo I’ve been enjoying reading through the new Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls game over the past few months, and running myself through a few solo adventures to get the feel of what the new edition can do. And I’m impressed: it’s lightweight, extremely flexible, and – quite amazingly, for a game that first saw the light of day in the mid-1970s – it scratches my narrative itch. So I’m thinking at some point I’ll maybe run a game for my group.

Now, I’m sure you’re familiar with the experience: as soon as I admitted that to myself, my mind went into overdrive working out just what I was going to run, and then where, and then before I knew it I was into the whole process of world-building. Yay! Well, like many of you out there, I love that stuff. 🙂

The adventure I’m writing – true to the nostalgia-fest the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls release has unlocked within me – is a massive modernisation of the first ever dungeon adventure I wrote, wayyy back in 1980. At some point I’ll scan the first dungeon map the 12-year old me did, but, gentle reader, that day is not today. I’m placing it on the mountainous wilderness on the edge of one of my earliest campaign settings – Salama, the Lair of the Leopard Empresses.

Now I’m never averse to a bit of mapmaking, and my renegade brain started to scribble and scratch, to bring in ancient place names and peoples I hadn’t thought about for decades, then invent histories for them, and hook them up with brand new places names and peoples, and before you know it a whole continent was taking shape. This, incidentally, was yesterday and the day before. More precisely, those weird interstices when you should be sleeping but aren’t.

The new map started to take shape last night. Inspired by the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls map of Trollworld, I thought – well, my campaign setting is “the Lair of the Leopard Empresses”, and Trollworld has all these continents named and even shaped after monstrous beasts… And you can guess the rest. “Ximuria” took shape, in the form of a lion rampant, and the concept bloomed that the Leopard Empresses were just one of the many polities of the “big cat peoples” which populated the continent to have risen to glory out of the pages of history. There are many others – whose histories are waiting to be told.

So here’s a quick teaser of my proto-type map. Obviously it desperately needs some colour – I’ll probably start doing that next, after the next iteration of the large-scale geographical features, once everything’s settled down and I’m sure everything’s where it wants to be. Right now the main areas are marked out, the coastline roughly inked, the mountain ranges, big lakes and river systems all identified. I have cultural areas, basic meteorology, and lots of areas of mystery and conflict. There are already histories of fallen empires running around in my head, clashing with the now-decadent Empire of Salama, which rules in hoary and somewhat somnolent splendour in the North. I’m looking forward to finding out what’s coming next.

I’ve even placed it notionally on Trollworld for my own campaign – to the west of the Dragon Continent, to the east of the Sea of Promise. I’m not sure yet how much contact there is between the lands, but my guess is that it’s all very legendary and mysterious, and only storm-blown adventurers rack up on its shores from the distant lands beyond.

I’m guessing what will happen next is that my mind will zoom in on the southern Salaman border – the Lake of Mists region, which I already know used to be part of the Empire but was lost in the last century, and is now a lawless and contested border region. That’s where my adventure is set. The region used to be called the Claw of Bayaal the Black – the Leopard Empire is divided into “Claws” – and the adventure probably has something to do with the doom of its last Tyrant fifty years ago.

We’ll see. World-building is such a semi-conscious thing, ideas bubbling and fermenting and occasionally popping on the surface. Who knows what’s coming next. But – welcome to Ximuria! I’m looking forward to exploring, I hope you are too…


Normandy, 25th October 2015

A Few More Thoughts on Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls

October 22, 2015

Buffalo CastleSo I’m still working with my Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls PDF here in Normandy, but the hardbacks look like they’re now a thing, and my plans are fomenting to get me a copy. In the meantime, I’ve been getting my gamer relaxation on (away from my gamer writing job) by reading through DT&T and finally creating a character and playing a wee solo session.

Buffalo Castle was the first ever RPG product I bought, back in the summer of 1980. 1980 was also the time I last played a whole bunch of regular Tunnels & Trolls (I played it pretty intensively for about 6 months, which is like *forever* when you’re 12 years old. 🙂 ). I loved it to bits then, so it seemed a good idea to revisit it with the 8th edition rules. I got the latest updated version from DriveThru for less than the price of a glass of wine. You know it makes sense.

I printed out a character sheet from the PDF, and pulled up a bunch of D6 on my phone’s dice-rolling app. So, yes, the technological gulf between now and 1980 was definitely there. 😉

I went ahead and rolled up a bog-standard “warrior” using the DT&T RAW (rules as written). Welcome to the world, Urng the Orphaned, 16 year old farmboy. His prime atts are what you’d expect; 6 in Wizardry and Charisma (hey, he’s 16, from a farm…), 15 Strength, 14 Dexterity, 12 Constitution, 12 Luck, 11 Speed, 9 Intelligence; +5 personal adds. He rolled 90 gold pieces for equipment, which got him a suit of light leather armour, a buckler shield, and… a cudgel. He picked up 3 large rocks from the farm and practised lobbing them at cows, then stuffed them in his delver’s pack and set off for Buffalo Castle.

Now, adventure backstory aside, I’d forgotten most of the solo choices, so I just plumbed for the “left door”, and got faced with the bored troll, Monster Rating 40. I tried talking, but with a 6 Charisma that was never really a goer, so we ended up squaring off for combat. As a warrior I had 4d6 +5 vs the troll’s 5d6 +20. Needless to say he killed me flat.

Which was a bit of a surprise. I vaguely remember the troll being a nightmare to fight, but I’d used the basic combat rules and got totally creamed. Hmmm. Okay, think. This is the first ever solo adventure, so this isn’t an Unresolved Programming Error, but a feature. What am I doing wrong?

I rewound back to the ranged combat rules. Could I lob one of my large rocks at the troll before it got close enough to attack me? Sure! That’s a Level 1 Saving Roll on Dexterity, so I need to roll 6 or better on 2d6 (doubles add and roll again). I got a neat 10. Then – and here’s where the DT&T rules are wonderfully clear – I roll my “large thrown rock” damage (3d6) + personal adds, without my 1d6 bonus for being a L1 warrior, and that damage (I got a total of 20) gets done to the troll regardless of whether it wins the combat round. As it turned out it rolled a total of 39 against my 20, meaning I took 7 points of CON damage through my armour and buckler shield (I was figuring spite damage too, but there wasn’t any).

BUT – and here’s the huge, tactical advantage to that initial ranged attack – I also reduced its Monster Rating by 20 points to MR20. Now, with the DT&T RAW a monster’s attack dice no longer change when its Monster Rating drops, avoiding the massive death spiral of 5th edition, but its adds are recalculated, meaning henceforth it will roll 5d6 + 10.

That’s considerably better, but here’s where another feature of DT&T combat comes in: its statistical transparency. In games like D&D you’re rolling a single d20, so no bell curve, and outliers are probable, so you may tend to hold out for them even when the odds are against you. In DT&T the bell curve matters, and you can see the probabilities right there on the table before you: the troll at 5d6+10 versus Urng the Orphaned at 4d6+5 is bad, however you look at it. Sure, I might get lucky once or twice, but on balance over a few combat rounds I’m toast.

So I needed to think tactically. And now I’m starting to have a bit of fun. How about the Berserking rules? I lose my double armour and +1d6 L1 warrior bonus, but I get to reroll doubles, and, most importantly, I get to roll another 2d6 even if I don’t roll a double on my first throw, as long as I’m rolling seven dice or fewer. So suddenly the troll is rolling 5d6+10 (as before), and now I’m rolling basically 3d6 + 2d6, with doubles exploding. Now I’m in with a chance!

The downside is that Berserking costs me 1d6 Strength every round. I have 15 Strength. I’m using my phone dice app so can’t be bothered recalibrating for 1d6 every round, so I just say that Berserking costs me 3 Strength per round, so I have 4 rounds of it.

It turns out it’s enough! I’m still using spite damage, which matters less to me than to the troll; it loses one point of adds for every 2 sixes I roll on my combat dice, which actually stacks up, whereas my CON reductions have no effect till I keel over at CON 0. Plus, the doubles add and roll over snowballed twice for me; I rolled 2 sets of doubles on one roll, and three on another, pushing my notional 3d6 cudgel above 20 points. Suddenly I’m not taking damage but dealing it.

The combat lasted 6 rounds, and I had to think, not just dumbly roll “attack… attack… attack…”. The bell curve and statistical transparency actually forced me to think tactically and get creative with the rules, which more opaque systems (D&Desque) wouldn’t necessarily have done quite so obviously.

I haven’t mentioned “Talents”: as a 5th edition fan, I’ve never used them before, and although I didn’t use my “Exceptional Uses of Weapons +3” in this session, I’m sure I will. One obvious use is to try and disarm a foe; I need to have a close read of the rules to find out how you do that in combat without coming a total cropper. I’m guessing that you roll your combat dice as usual, but they only count for defence; you can’t deal damage, because instead you’re making a Saving Throw (Dexterity?), probably at the foe’s level, to disarm it (and I’d get a +3 because of Urng’s talent). If I succeed, the foe is weaponless, and defaults to unarmed. I’m guessing you could do similar manoeuvres to rip a shield from a foe’s hand, even tear off bits of armour, etc. All good stuff. I need to confirm that’s how the defence would work in a combat round, but it feels about right.

Which brings me to the last point: there’s always been a difference between T&T monsters with Monster Ratings, and those statted up as “characters” (with full attributes, etc). The reason I didn’t get jiggy with all this stunting against the Buffalo Castle troll was that it had a MR, and so things like what weapon it was using, etc, didn’t feature in its combat stats. I’m still wondering how to handle that in play; it seems there’s a very big difference between combat vs a MR critter and a fully attributed critter in DT&T.

So there’s a few more impressions. The thing I liked a lot, coming back to a new version of the game after *cough* 35 years (!) is the way the rules encourage you to get creative, and how the rules fit around how you describe your action, instead of prescribing the actions you can take. I like that a lot. It feels like there’s a hell of a lot of potential for creative play.

Up next: well, I got out of Buffalo Castle with 600gp of treasure and 166 adventure points (experience points). So Urng the Orphaned is going to get an increase in his Luck attribute (from 12 to 13, for 120 AP), and some better weapons and armour. Equipment is crucial in DT&T, at least at lower levels, and it’s fun personalising characters to max effect. Then I might have a look at that middle door in Buffalo Castle, and see where that leads…




You can find out more about Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls here, and buy copies of the PDF of the 8th edition rules and numerous solo adventures on DriveThruRPG here.

A Few Thoughts on Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls

August 2, 2015

DTnTTunnels and Trolls was my first roleplaying game. Back in the summer of 1980 the twelve-year old me bought a copy of the slim pink paperback “Buffalo Castle” solo adventure from Games of Liverpool. Right at the beginning of the summer holidays. I had no idea that I needed a rulebook to go with it, so I spent happy weeks poring over the book, making up my own rules, and trying to write my own solos on my dad’s “Brother” typewriter. A couple of months later I managed to save up enough for the £3.50 postal order for the Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition rules (the orange cover paperback), and the rest, as they say, is history.

So I’m jazzed to be reading Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls this week. This is the Kickstarter-funded 8th edition of the game, and a wonderful 386-page tome of T&T goodness. It’s recognisably the same game, with that very specific T&T fantasy vibe (very swords and sorcery, much more Fafhrd and Conan than D&D’s slightly more po-faced Tolkienery), yet with a rules set that was quite revolutionary even back in the 1970s, when, to be honest, we didn’t really realise quite how revolutionary it was.

Now, several *ahem* years on, I find I’m reading DT&T with my 2015-gamer head on, and musing about how its rules intersect with some of the narrative / story game innovations in the RPG space of the past 10-15 years. It stacks up very well. Explicitly the rules remain old school–the awesome Liz Danforth has kept the text and its vibe very true to its roots, which is exactly as it should be–but implicitly the rules ooze with the potential to do loads of cool stuff with them.

For example, the old “Saving Throws” of 5th edition have now officially assumed the role of the simple task resolution mechanic in DT&T. They always kind of were, but now it’s explicit; you pick locks by making, say, a Level 2 Saving Roll (L2SR) on Dexterity; you chase someone by making a Level 2 Saving Roll on Speed. I haven’t come across an opposed roll mechanic yet, but it’s trivial to see how you could pit Speed saving rolls to resolve races and chases which are opposed. The mechanic is tried and tested, and works very well, despite the heirloom “Saving Roll” terminology making the use slightly opaque–Saving Rolls aren’t only used passively, but actively, too.

The second core mechanic in T&T is the combat system. It’s superficially different from the Saving Roll mechanic, but linked at a deep level. I haven’t yet come across anything suggesting an extension of the T&T combat mechanic into other spheres of activity, but again that was always implicit in the rules, even in 5th edition. In T&T combat, every combatant rolls their own bunch of dice, and then adds the totals together into a group total for their “side”, then compares that total against the group total of an opposing side (usually a bunch of foes in combat). The winner then does “damage” equal to the difference between the two, shared out among the losers.

Note that this mechanic is from the mid-1970s — but it has a lot of echoes with the Hero Wars / HeroQuest extended contest mechanic – and it can serve the same purpose. There’s no reason why you couldn’t use the same mechanic for any kind of extended opposition in DT&T. For example, say you want to intimidate a bunch of goblins? Simply roll a bunch of dice (maybe 2d6 + Charisma?), then compare the total to the opposition (maybe rolling 2d6 + Intelligence?). Then divvy up the result as “damage”.

If I were implementing this kind of rule, I’d probably houserule the Wizardry attribute into Will or Willpower (otherwise WIZ just becomes a vestigial dump stat for non-Magic Users). Then you can do your shared out mental stress damage in intimidation attacks to the Will attribute, in the same way physical combat damages Constitution. Likewise for magical combat or even madness attacks.

I’m still reading through the DT&T rules. It’s a grand tome, even in PDF, smoothly and cleanly written with Liz Danforth’s expert editorial touch (and of course her *gorgeous* illustrations, together with some classics from Rob Carver and Steve Crompton). There’s also loads of background on the T&T author Ken St Andre’s home campaign world (“Trollworld”), including oodles of maps and gazeteer stuff (maps!). As I’m reading through, I find I’m now looking for any kind of link between the Saving Roll (simple task resolution) mechanic and the Combat (extended contest) mechanic. For example, if you make a L1SR on Strength to pull over a bunch of barrels obstructing the goblins trying to attack you, how is that interrelationship expressed in rules terms? It may be such a link isn’t explicit in the rules–but, like so many things, it’s probably implicit.

Lots more to come, and plenty of food for thought in the new T&T rules. Give ’em a look – you can get the PDF now on DriveThru, hard copy to follow shortly. 🙂



Things to Look Out For in the Next Ten Years

May 11, 2015

There was a remarkably poor article on the Huffington Post today, supposedly the predictions of top science-fiction writers for advances, changes, and developments over the next ten years. I found them singularly lacklustre, uninspiring, and frankly out-of-touch, missing all the blindingly obvious stuff that’s just around the corner. So here are my candidates for the biggest changes we’ll see in the next 10 years. Let me know how you think I’ve done. 😉

  • brain/computer interfaces become practical and wearable. You’ll be able to “move your mouse” just by thinking about it, in a simple and non-intrusive way.
  • “Kinect”-style camera technology monitors your expressions, gestures, and voice commands with great efficiency, letting you control online and realworld stuff easily.
  • Oculus / Google Glass style interfaces become mainstream, and we may even see direct in-eye HUD projection or “sonic holo” displays.
  • We get transparent viewscreens. Then we get *flexible* transparent viewscreens.
  • with ubiquitous fibre-optic, telepresence becomes feasible. Suddenly avatars become real, animated, 3D, and highly customisable.
  • also with massively increased bandwidth and developments in quantum computing, we see the first instances of AI passing the Turing Test. The first AI you meet will probably be your TV, or a telesales representative.
  • telepresence makes a huge difference to the music industry. Suddenly, all the worry about MP3 piracy becomes less important as musicians realise they can perform subscription gigs to audiences of millions. Recordings become the “take home” goody bag after attending a sub-gig.
  • early steps for actors and writers to exploit the sub-gig phenomenon. In particular, telepresence story apps are hungry for content, especially for worldbuilding (one for me there… 😉 ).
  • Haptic technology becomes mainstream for all screen and sonic holo tech, including telepresence applications. The Kids on the Street start wearing hi-fashion haptic gear – it replaces phones.
  • first steps in cosmetic retro-DNA become available–tanning pills, slimming pills, endurance pills, anti-hangover pills, skin/hair/eye pigment modification pills.
  • Massive impact of 3D printing technology on home industry – a new stage of the industrial revolution – spreads from buttons and toys into the fields of medicine and food, transforming both developed and developing worlds. Big business and patent lawyers try to stifle this.
  • longevity treatments are in human trials and people are wondering how long we can live. The big issue becomes avoiding decrepitude.
  • extra-terrestrial life is confirmed. Probably Martian microbes, but we may have a probe on Europe, Enceladus, or Titan sending back wild signals too.
  • the first head transplants.
  • ubiquitous exoskeletons for physically challenged people and the elderly.
  • people get bored of taking potshots at Amazon drones.
  • widespread environmental instability and food shortages persuades people to jump on the GMO bandwagon. This will lead to problems further down the line.

A few outliers:

  • propulsion tech breakthrough such as EMdrive or even Alcubierre warp makes interplanetary travel cheap and quick. Suddenly we’ve sent humans to orbit Mars and maybe even send drones to the gas giant moons, and are planning way stations.
  • that antigrav stuff turns out to be real after all (possibly linked to the propulsion research). Suddenly “null vehicles” (floaters) become possible.
  • SETI detects a signal.
  • Further Western economic collapse leads to war, setting us back several decades (the Official Star Trek History).
  • Climate change speeds up, unpredictably. Mass migrations force further armed entrenchment in areas of climatic stability and fertility.

So… what have I missed? 😉