One of Us in Bastionland

Yesterday I got a chance to look at my print copy of Tim Deschene’s One of Us1. It’s great! It’s also designed for use with Dungeon Crawl Classics, a game which I don’t own (or, honestly, have much interest in running: despite the many appealing things I’ve heard about the gam, especially the kooky magic system, I’m a bit leery of any the mental workload I might have to take on running a game with a rulebook that huge).

That said, the beauty of old school games is that stuff is all roughly cross-compatible. DCC isn’t really old-school—to me, it feels like it’s maybe more of a a stripped down 3E but more crunchy complexity retained than I tend to like—but it’s close enough. 

All that said, the dustbowl carnival vibe really appeals to me. I’m a (nostalgic) fan of the old HBO series Carnivàle—one of those people who came across it a few years after its cancellation, and who still managed to disappointed at how short the series ended up being2—and I’ve long suspected it’d make a brilliant setting/concept for a game.

I mean, seriously:

1934. The Dustbowl. The last great age of magic. In a time of titanic sandstorms, vile plagues, drought and pestilence—signs of God’s fury and harbingers of the Apocalypse—the final conflict between good and evil is about to begin. The battle will take place in the heartland of an empire called America, where a traveling carnival harboring Ben Hawkins, a troubled healer, will clash with an evangelical ministry led by Brother Justin Crowe.

But yeah, I know, I know, the title of the zine invokes a different piece of Dustbowl/carnival/sideshow media, of course—the infamous 1932 film Freaks:

I think prospective GMs would do well to mix and match the two vibes a bit, to be honest.

Meanwhile, I just read my copy of Trash Planet Epsilon 5 3, an Electric Bastionland hack for cyberpunkish games on a trash-strewn landfill planet. It’s… a little light, but pretty impressive for how much it squeezes into so few pages.

So that got me thinking: how directly could One of Us be used with Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland? This is the system I’ve been using with a group of new players, and very much enjoying, lately, after all: it’s very simple, and much of the fun is in the flavor, which is communicated through character careers and setting details.

And One of Us is pretty much all character careers and setting details, so: I think, yes, it can be used… with a little tinkering, anyway. As a challenge, I am trying to do this with minimal work, since I many not end up doing it in the end… but it’s a fun think to think about.

Here’s what I would do to make it work:

Continue reading

  1. Available in PDF or in print

  2. We don’t have HBO in Korea, but the series’ DVDs were available in the Carrefour store in Jeonju when I lived there.. and in a sadly fitting irony, Carrefour only lasted a short time in Korea before being shut down, just like Carnivàle.

  3. Also available in PDF or in print.

What To Say?

A friend recently asked how I’m doing, and I thought I might post something here, since I so rarely update this site. However, this is one of those questions it’s hard to answer. 

Do I… 

  • … go with how I pulled a muscle in my back the other day, and it hurt to breathe for about 24 hours, but now it’s slowly getting better?
  • … talk about how I’m busily mashing together chunks of the Gumshoe ruleset and a hacked version of the Forged in the Dark system to run modern supernatural techno-/spy-thrillers?
  • … delve into how, despite the exhaustion it has entailed, having our son at home with us for the year with almost no help has kind of been wonderful for our relationships, and how lucky we feel everyday to have such a kind, giving, generous, and thoughtful kid?
  • … talk about work? It’s a pretty big can of worms, to be honest… and more than I could really cover in a single post, even if I wanted to and felt safe doing it. 
  • … talk about concerns regarding what the timeline will be like for vaccines vs. the push to return to the classroom, and how I’m a little alarmed by the (again, far-right) adopting of “foreigners” being a “drain” on the healthcare system here. (They don’t seem to differentiate between tourists and people who are taxpaying residents who actually, you know, help fund the system the same way Koreans do… by being taxpayers.) Yeah, I don’t have the energy.
  • … talk about why this blog has sat fallow for so long? That… no, I don’t have it in me to tell that story. I have a draft post all about that. I’ll post it sometime, but not today. 

Man, that’s a lot of stuff I don’t want to talk about. Or at least, that I don’t want to talk about much. So what should I say? 

Continue reading

Fermentvm Nigrvm Dei Sepvlti Reviews

So, it’s been a few months since Fermentvm Nigrvm Dei Sepvlti was released! During that time, there’s been some mostly-favorable reviews posted:

The first appeared at Save vs. Player Agency:

Fermentum is an inspiring and substantial addition to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess product line-up, at over double the size of the largest of 2019’s offerings. It is at once something new and impressive from a new (to our hobby bookshelves anyway) and impressive author, and entirely at home thematically and aesthetically with the existing Lamentations of the Flame Princess range. I highly recommend it!

Next, a review appeared at Dreams in the Lich House:

If you can’t tell, I enjoyed the book a lot and look forward to running it. This is a great little horror-themed exploration and dungeon crawl, with escalating tension as the players hope to discover a resolution while facing rising infection and loss. The beer and brewing theme is fantastic, and I can imagine unnerving the players with Guinesses or stouts all around as we sit down to play this one (except maybe sodas for the kids). Cheers! Salut!

Along with a very positive comment about the physical book itself (“Mind blown”), there was also a pretty in-depth review over at Reddit, by TheMathKing1984:

I liked this adventure and consider it another worthy addition to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess pantheon of books.

Most recently, a review appeared at Get Real Roleplaying

Final verdict: 8-9 out of 10. Well worth the price of admission. Would run it again. Even gave me a chance to brush up on my college Latin.

This was accompanied by a second posting containing transcriptions as much of the marginalia scribbles as the author could figure out. I’ve post the passages that were illegible there, for those who are curious, but definitely it contains spoilers so players should avoid that post.  (I commented, providing some of the marginalia that the reviewer couldn’t figure out, too.)

Finally, Get Real Roleplaying also posted an actual play video to their Youtube channel, containing an online session running through the adventure:

Things go… horribly wrong, pretty much as intended. After spending so long with this adventure and its particular, individual mechanical oddities, it was really interesting to see how the mechanics worked for another group being run by a different GM.

(Trigger warning for cuckoldry-obsession, alien codpieces, magical suicide, and Things Going Terribly, Terribly Wrong.) 

If you’re game for a beery body-horror OSR adventure, you can get a hardcopy from the publisher directly (either from the European webstore or the US webstore); if you prefer a PDF edition, DrivethruRPG’s got it

UPDATE (16 October 2020):

Another review has been published, this time by Bryce Lynch, over at It’s a little more critical than the others above:

I’d call this a middling effort. It has some highlighting to help call attention to things, but it too frequently used and (AC, highlighted?) and also is weird about it, highlighting weird choices when more effective ones are present in the same description. A little verbose, but the highlighting helps a lot to focus attention. It’s not BAD, per se, but it’s not overly GOOD either, given its inability to bring the fire and chaos to life. Which means its better than most crap being published.

Yowch! But opinions are opinions, and I honestly appreciate his taking the time to discuss our book. And hey, “better than most of the crap being published” ain’t bad for my first published work in the genre. 

UPDATE (16 January 2021): I didn’t notice until now, but a new review went up (bilingually, in English and in Spanish, presumably by the same person) back in November. The English version of the review was posted at the Mexican Dice blog, and here’s the conclusion that sums it up:

Although I don’t feel the purchase of Fermentum Nigrum Dei Sepulti is mandatory, the truth is that the module has everything necessary to generate a somewhat frenetic and exciting game experience, which can be better if you have the full cooperation of the players and a good reading of the whole module. This is not just another adventure, as it has its unexpected twists and that bizarre/loftp touch, but it lacks it. I like it, but it lacks more personality or interesting npc’s.

The Spanish-language version  of the review is here, for those who prefer it. And I agree: you need your players on board with roleplaying the infection effects. I will not hazard a guess as to what the lacking “it” is although I will say I suspect I know what he means.  

And… I still have not actually seen a print copy of the book, though I hope to soon. 

Koryo Hall of Adventures OSR Conversions Document Published!

I just thought I’d drop a note mentioning that my OSR Conversions Document for the Koryo Hall of Adventures book has been published. 

For those who don’t know, Aurélien Lainé (another expat in Korea) published a 5E-compatible setting book based on Korean history and mythology. It was a crowdfunded project, and was published this year as The Koryo Hall of Adventures. (The book is now available from the publisher’s website.)

By the way, on the publisher’s website I’ve been posting a series of posts titled “Appendix K” on different Korean media—music, books, movies, and TV shows—that could be inspirational for anyone running a game in Jeosung, the default setting of this book. Aurélien also hired me to create an OSR conversion guide for the setting, and that has now been published. It’s available on the Koryo Hall of Adventures website for 4.25.  

While it’s obviously a supplement to The Koryo Hall of Adventures rulebooka really interesting RPG book worth checking out—the OSR material in the conversions guide is designed to work out of the box relatively seamlessly with any OSR system. In fact, the document includes quite a few things that would be fun to integrate into any OSR game even if you weren’t running a game set in Jeosung, the setting for The Koryo Hall of Adventures.

The design philosophy I used was to maintain as much of the feel from the original as possible, so that GMs using systems with, say, more sparse character ability advancement could strip out bits, instead of GMs having to create more for systems with a richer set of ability-advancement options.  

Here’s an overview of the contents within the document:

An Introduction to Jeosung: This includes an overview of how to adapt the setting to the range of tones and styles more common in OSR, since the hardcover has a much more “heroic adventure” tone. It also includes tips on infusing the setting concept “Obangsaek” (the five elements of earth, wind, fire, water, and mind) into your own setting.   

Three character classes:

    • The Jaein: a “bard”-like class based on Korean minstrel traditions. These characters have magic powered by masks, music, and dance, as well as acrobatics and animal mimicry.   
    • The Sunim: martial artist monks with powers driven by “obangsaek” (the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and mind).1
    • The Mudang: spellcasters based on traditional Korean shamanism, with magic powered by multiple spirits supplicated in rituals and bound to the mudang. (Think of magicians in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books binding multiple chugs and sandestins, and you have the basic idea.) 

Monsters: A complete OSR-styled conversion of all the creatures in The Koryo Hall of Adventures rulebook, including detailed writeups of each creature and suggested treasure. 

Magic: Complete writeups for every spell and magic item published for The Koryo Hall of Adventures (including conversions of Andrew T. Ha’s supplementary spell PDF). The text also includes some artifacts and a set of tables for determining the specific quality (and fun/challenging twists) for mudang-created charms (which are basically minor animal-magic talismans). 

Equipment: A rough guide suggesting approximate equivalent values for items common in Korean-styled traditional markets found in the setting. 

Mudang Spirits: An extensive random table-driven system for randomly generating interesting and unique nature spirits, either to add to a mudang’s spirit roster as they level up, or for inspiration in creating spirits used in adventures or encounters. Includes methods for generating personality, appearance, portfolio, and preferred jesa (sacrificial offering) for spirits at four different power levels. 

There’s even a random table for determining which musical instruments and styles a Jaein has mastered, either for players who prefer to determine things by randomly rolling, or for filling out a Jaein NPC. 

I dare say most of this material is filled-out enough that anyone running an OSR game could probably pick it up and use it even if they weren’t quite ready to take the dive into a complete detailed-setting book—even though I think the core rulebook is worth checking out, and has lots of interesting material to draw upon for anyone interested in a Korean-flavored RPG game.  

  1. This is a riff on Kevin Crawford’s excellent “Vowed” class from Red Tide.