Solo RPG Playtest #3

Tonight’s test only took about 20 minutes and showed me a few gaps in the system, and an imbalance in combat.

Perfect Hunter

Meet Hadyn, daughter of fishers and trained by a hunter in the way of the bow. At the tavern she heard a song about the deadly Coral Serpent of Cruel Strangulation, and set out to find this relic. Just as a fight broke out, she found a secret door and slipped out of the tavern unharmed.

Hadyn then worked to earn some rich foods, wrangled a wild gilasaur to ride, and bumped into an old friend named River to be her guide.

As Hadyn and River left the city, they crossed the old plague cemetery, which triggered Hadyn’s phobia of disease. There they spotted a rampaging nobleman with the plague, armed with a sword. Hadyn swiftly felled him with her bow, and collected a vial of poison.

Out in the wilds, Hadyn and River took shelter from the heat in an old shipwreck, where they discovered a starving vampire hiding from the sun. But again, Hadyn killed her foe with a few swift arrows.

Then they arrived at the tower where the Coral Serpent was kept. The only entrance was a magma tunnel guarded by two short mercenaries with bone daggers. Hadyn began shooting arrows, but a little merc killed River! The mercs cornered Hadyn, but she managed to kill one and wound the other, who fled from his post. She headed inside.

As she crept through the huge echoing halls of the tower, a spotted panther attacked Hadyn. This time it only took a single arrow to send the enemy running for its life.

But the sounds of battle drew the villain to her, and Hadyn met the dire Vampire Alchemist! The undead countess attacked with grotesque blood magics, but Hadyn led her on a running battle, firing arrow after arrow! After an exhausting chase, the countess fell dead with seven arrows in her heart. Hadyn claimed the Coral Serpent and headed home.

The journey back to the city took a full year, but she suffered no injuries, and arrived to discover that while the Coral Serpent had no powerful enchantments, it was a valuable trinket. She fenced it for a small fortune and spent the rest of the season carousing at the tavern. Huzzah!

Design notes

This adventurer rolled +2 in two traits, and made phenomenal Action rolls, so she cake-walked most of the fights. Never took a single injury. To balance that out, I increased the number of baddies for a bunch of encounters, and made sure that ranged fighters could take more injuries. I also added more features to the Adventure Sheet. Progress!

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Solo RPG Playtest #2

After refining a few tables and adding an encounter, I ran a new adventure with the Solo RPG. Again, it played for about 30 minutes, and conjured up a lot of exciting imagery for me.

Soldier of Fortune

Meet Jothi, son of a skilled artisan, but stolen away and raised by a soldier in the way of the spear. At the tavern, Jothi heard an old war story about the Grinning Shield of Arrow Eating and decided to go after it. But as he strode out of the bar, he ran afoul of a drunk guard and a vicious fight ensued. Jothi barely survived the opening scene!

Not feeling very tough, he then negotiated (poorly) to buy some dried rations, an old camel, and an even older guide name Voski.

As they left the city, they passed a hermit’s shack haunted by the ghosts of three cruel children that rose up and slaughtered the poor camel! Unable to fend them off with his spear, Jothi found a holy amulet in the shack and used it to subdue the ghosts one by one. Then he found a scrap of a breastplate and carried on.

Far out on a high grassy ridge, Jothi passed through two rows of statues, where he discovered a fire-breathing drake. The small dragon was amusing itself by destroying the statues. Jothi covered himself in dust and dirt and posed like a statue to wait in ambush. When the drake approached, Jothi rammed his spear down the creature’s throat, causing its fire glands to explode. He then took a claw as a trophy.

Arriving at a ruined tower, Jothi and Voski spotted a pair of armored skeletons guarding a drawbridge. Jothi rushed in and smashed one of them off the bridge into the rushing water below. But the other skeleton stabbed him the back. They smashed the remaining guard and limped into the ruins.

In a cluttered workroom full of weapons, they found a young duelist tinkering with his sword. Jothi fired a crossbow into the youth, pinning him to the wall. Then Jothi rushed in and finished off the fighter before he could call for help.

Then Jothi crept through a block of empty cells where he found more rusty old weapons. But as he entered a narrow passageway, four guards discovered him! A deadly battle broke out in the confined space, and Voski died cursing Jothi’s name. Two of the wounded guards fled, and Jothi ran the others through with his spear.

Injured and alone, Jothi returned to the empty cells only to find a huge white ape bursting through the wall to attack him! After a desperate exchange of blows that destroyed his armor, Jothi lured the wall-crawling ape into a cell and cast him down into a pit full of old broken spears.

Grievously wounded, Jothi staggered into a treasure vault. There he spotted the Grinning Shield, as well as the villain who owned it, an armless sorcerer with telekinetic powers! Jothi hurled his spear, scoring a shallow wound, but the sorcerer collapsed the doorway, trapping our hero. Jothi made a last desperate attack, but the sorcerer used his psychic power to yank the spear from Jothi’s hands and killed him with his own weapon…

Such is life!

Notes

This was a great run-through. It was fun and easy to play, the prompts and die rolls made for evocative scenes. I need to keep refining the tables for the encounters with a little more detail, and I need to keep balancing and tuning the Action table for combat. But overall, I think this game is working pretty well and should be done in the next couple of weeks.

Thoughts? Questions?

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Solo RPG Playtest #1

My current top secret project is a solo fantasy RPG! You get to play as a classic pulp Sword & Sorcery adventurer, like Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or Elric. The game is structured to play out the standard scenes in a S&S short story, so if that’s your jam, then this is your jam.

You’re broke in a tavern when you hear about a fabulous treasure just waiting to be claimed. So you gather up your gear, and maybe a sidekick, and set off. You cross the rugged wilderness, overcome a few minor baddies or beasts. Then you enter a creepy ruin, sneak past the guards, fight a monster, defeat the villain, and claim the treasure. Then you roll for your denouement (how does the story really end?).

The first playtest

Meet Durga, the son of a trapper who lost his lover, and was inspired by a priest to travel the world with his trusty axe! One night in a tavern, he heard a rumor of the Black Iron Ring of Wall Walking, a treasure desired by all ambitious thieves!

So Durga stole some delicious provisions, wrangled a wild camel, and hired a mercenary named Tovia to travel with him. As they left the city and crossed a foul midden heap of waste and bones, a grim bounty hunter ambushed them. [ Meta-interpretation: Someone had accused Durga of killing his lover and put a price on his head! ] The hunter got the drop on them, but Durga slew him while only taking a minor wound.

This masked warrior could be Tovia. Could be. Maybe.

A few days later, as they rode through a petrified forest of twisted cypress trees, a swarm of vipers surrounded them. Durga and Tovia climbed up into a tree while their camel galloped away. Unsure of how to defeat so many beasts, Durga cried out to the spirits to aid him. Suddenly the clouds darkened and a freezing rain poured down. The cold-blooded snakes slithered away for shelter, and Durga found a pouch of silver coins. They caught their camel and continued on.

The only approach to the villain’s lair was a narrow stone stair. Lurking in the caves under the stair, Durga spotted a sleeping witch and thousands of bats. They decided to sneak up the stairs in silence, but the witch awoke and unleashed the bats. Durga and Tovia sacrificed their camel to the bats, and entered the lair.

This crystal raptor has nothing to do with the playtest, I just think he’s neat.

Creeping through a low tunnel, Durga found a maze of cellars under the lair. Terrified prisoners sat chained to the walls. Before he could help them, six (!) guards discovered the intruders. Durga attacked while Tovia protected his flank. They wounded two guards, but Tovia fell in battle! Durga dashed into the shadows and laid an ambush. When the guards walked by, he burst out and ran through the passage, slashing them all in the side. Two of the guards fled the battle, but the remaining four dealt Durga several more wounds, forcing him to flee up into the main building.

In a great hall full of mounted animal heads, Durga found Malak, a renowned trophy hunter. [ Meta-interpretation: Malak now hunted Man, as evidenced by the prisoners below! ] Malak unleashed a hail of arrows, forcing Durga to retreat to another room. There he set a quick trap using a crossbow and net. Malak burst into the room, taking an iron bolt in the belly and becoming tangled in the net. Durga then rushed in and slaughtered the cruel hunter.

Durga claimed the Black Iron Ring from Malak’s hand, and returned to the city. It only took him a few days to get back, but disaster struck on the road, costing him his left hand! And to make matters worse, when he reached the city, he discovered that his treasure was nothing more than a worthless fake! Oh well, back to the tavern…

Designer notes

It only took about 30 minutes to play through this adventure. At first my die rolls were massive and everything felt too easy, but then things turned against poor Durga quite a bit. The tables for creating encounters were pretty good, and the rules for running a battle worked well. I need to continue fine-tuning the roll results. And I made some upgrades to the character sheet / adventure chronicle as I went.

So I feel pretty good about all of that.

How does this game actually work?

The dice mechanic for this solo game is 2d6 + Trait with three possible outcomes: Miss, Weak Hit, or Strong Hit (similar to PbtA… or identical to PbtA). And I’m creating some detailed tables to help the player choose what to do and interpret rolls. For example, there are eight specific Actions you can take in combat, and each roll result is clearly stated in one table.

It’s turning out to be a neat little engine for creating Sword & Sorcery characters and short stories. It might be a good tool for creating a character concept you could play in other games (not the mechanics, but the back story). Maybe.

More as it develops!

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Poll: A new stat block

This is a thought experiment, just an exercise. For no particular reason.

Imagine for a second that an adventure said “Armor” instead of “AC”. Or that is said “Health” instead of “HP”. That’s easy enough…

Now. Imagine you’re a 5E player used to using six stats and saves. What if the stat block said “Body +2 // Mind -1”. Could you use that +2 for Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution? Could you use that -1 for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma?

Now. Imagine you’re an OSE or BX player used to five slightly different saves. What if the stat block just said one number, the average number?

What if a stat block looked like…

What do you think?

Can you use this stat block, or does it still need work?
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Dungeon Age – 2022 in Review

Well, hey there friends, this has been a super busy year for me. I wrote a ton of adventures. I updated some novels. I wrote a game! I’m really proud of the work I finished this year, and I’ve been really grateful for all of the support and kind words from all of you as well.

Here’s the quick rundown on “the stuff I did this year”:

2022 Gaming

This year included a lot of big adventures and a lot of little ones. Star Dragon Rage, Battle for Carrion Vale, and Orbital Vampire City (brand new as of last week!) are all huge campaign-esque adventures, with dozens and dozens of locations, and tons of original monsters and magic items. Each one could support months of gaming if you wanted to explore all the nooks and crannies in them.


At the other end of the spectrum, 13 Weird One-Shots and Imperial Vault 19 are tight little dungeon-delves that should give you a fun night with your friends. 


I was also very excited to release Harthbreaker, my homebrew gaming system (rules light, 2d6, classless) that I’ve been using for the past two years with my friends (and many kids). Even if you don’t care for the system, the guide contains dozens of random tables for creating magic items, weapons, creatures, dungeon locations, wilderness locations, traps… you get the idea.

2022 Fiction

I updated two novels a bit to better describe some of the creatures and peoples that appear in Dungeon Age games and adventures. Over time, my ideas for the world of Harth have matured and crystalized, becoming more distinct in my mind and easier to describe across games and books.

For example, I originally had “dwarves” in Harth that had some metallic organs and hair, and they have now evolved into the Vrahoi, which are human-descended mutants whose bodies are laden with minerals and metals to make them long-lived, immune to heat and cold, and (of course) very heavy.

Once and Future Plans

I wish I could say that I plan to be as productive in the year ahead, but there’s no way to know. Life finds a way… I certainly have a lot of things I want to do (including a secret project I can’t talk about yet). And I’m definitely going to continue working on my illustrations, because I really enjoy doing that. But here are some things that you will probably see in 2023:

2023 Gaming

  • My version of Lankhmar, an urban setting crammed full of factions and mini-quests
  • A dungeon delve into a ruined city of fantasy robots
  • A sword-and-sorcery solo game, in which you basically play out a standard Conan the Cimmerian -style expedition
  • A necromantic solo game, because I think undead are cool
  • A couple of weird one-shots

2023 Fiction

  • Dungeon Age: Rogues of Carcassay – a novella following the (mis)adventures of an occultist and an assassin living in a filthy old city nestled inside the giant skeleton of a dead Titan Rat. I’m almost done writing this.
  • Dungeon Age: Errant Knights – a novel containing dozens of bizarre encounters between a handful of wandering warriors and nearly every type of faction and monster I have ever invented for the world of Harth. An homage to Tales of the Dying Earth. All outlined and ready to go. Chapters will be super short and episodic. I hope this will be a big stew pot of inspiration for GMs, players, and fans of the genre.

How to find me in 2023

I am @josephrlewis7 on Twitter (as long as it still works), and @josephrlewis on Instagram, or you can email [email protected].

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Orbital Vampire City is here!

The newest Dungeon Age adventure is now available on DriveThruRPG, and it’s a doozy.

Orbital Vampire City is a mid-level (5 to 10) adventure provided in both 5E and OSE formats.

Adventure Description

Far out in the void, an ancient city of vampires endures. Welcome to Araveshti, a city of a thousand towers floating safely in the shadow of the world, glittering with starlight, thrumming with ancient magics, and crawling with vicious immortals.

Will you seek to destroy these bloodthirsty aristocrats? Or will you help them pursue their bizarre alchemical experiments in immortality? Or will you simply seek a way to escape their twisted and crumbling paradise?

Within these ancient towers, adventurers will find vampire lords and servants, zealots and goliaths, as well as werewolves, mycotic zombies, victims of strange experimentation, fanatical holy knights, tragic vampire hunters in black, shipwrecked dreamers, castaway aliens, metal angels, eldritch horrors, star dragons, and (of course) the vampires’ giant dragon-killing mecha suit…  

Adventure Features

This is a dark sandbox. Players will explore a vast city of undead people and monsters in outer space, full of homages to classic horror and science fiction films and literature. Like what, you ask? How about: Alien, Predator, The Thing, and Akira? You know, the good stuff.

With over 40 unique locations and countless more random locations, as well as 40+ new monsters and 100+ new magic items, and a bunch of weird factions and interactive gizmos curtesy of the vampire alchemists, your players should have plenty to do.

Check out Orbital Vampire City on DriveThruRPG.

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HARTHBREAKER is here!

Well, I finally did it, I created my own fantasy heartbreaker, set in my Dungeon Age world of Harth, and it’s called… Harthbreaker.

What is it?

Harthbreaker is my homebrew system. It’s what I use to play games with my friends (and my kids). I’ve been using and refining it for a couple of years now. More specifically…

Harthbreaker is a rules-light 2d6 fantasy RPG. Game content is set in the world of Harth, which leans toward dark fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, the Dying Earth genre, and similar materials. It is a skill-based, class-less Powered by the Apocalypse game.

Why did I make this?

Well, I personally like games that ride more on creativity and speed than on rules and precision. I don’t want to count squares, or read long monster stat blocks, or interpret long spell descriptions. I prefer to have the Indiana Jones experience of trying to do whatever crazy stunt seems to make sense in the moment, and letting the dice fall where they may.

So for instance, in Harthbreaker, there are many types of magic such as fire magic or blood magic, but they all work the same way. You simply describe what you want your magic to do, and hopefully the dice say you succeed. Darts, walls, giant hands, mindless constructs? Whatever you can imagine! The only differences are mechanically logical: fire can ignite things, and blood can drown things, etc.

Similarly, the Harthbreaker monster stats are very simple: how many hits to kill it, is it faster or slower than an adventurer, is it bigger or smaller than an adventurer, how does it attack, and how much damage does it do. That’s about it. The mini-description tells the GR (the Game Runner!) a few core details, like what this creature wants or fears, or how it operates (ambusher, scavenger, pack hunter). And that’s it.

Oh, also, I made this because a bunch of folks asked me if I would publish my homebrew rules. And I hate to disappoint folks. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

What’s actually in it?

There’s a 10-page player’s guide, including the character sheet, instructions for character creation, and descriptions of the 28 Special Skills.

Then there are 57 pages of the Game Runner’s guide, which includes 35 tables and lists to help you create all sorts of adventure content, including creatures, villages and NPCs, villains and conflicts, wildernesses and encounters, dungeons and traps, magical items and weapons, a sample adventure “A Theft in Lonely Moor”, and a lot (lot!) more.

If nothing else, you should be able to raid those tables and lists for useful gaming ideas.

So go check out Harthbreaker on DTRPG.

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Polls! Glorious polls!

I make a lot of Dungeon Age stuff. One-shots, campaigns, classes, fiction, RPGs, settings, monsters, items, you know, everything. But I want to hear from you guys about what you really want, what you really use, what really helps you have amazing games.

First up, DMs and GMs and Referees, game runners of all stripes:

DMs: What do you want the most from Dungeon Age?

And now my players…

Players: What do you want the most from Dungeon Age?

And last but not least:

What is your preferred RPG system?
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Wayward Magicians

I have a couple of books set in the Dungeon Age world of Harth, and the most recent one was Wayward Magicians. It’s technically a sequel, but you don’t need to read the first one. Which is convenient. Because I think Wayward Magicians is pretty darn good. And I just updated it.

[ Amazon | DriveThruFiction ]

When I first began creating the dying world of Harth, I had a lot of undeveloped ideas. But those ideas continued to evolve as I published more stories and more RPG adventures. And now I have a much clearer idea of this Dying Earth, Hollow World, Fantasy Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland. So now we have a new edition of Wayward Magicians to explore those ideas.

What’s it about?

Wayward Magicians is about a woman named Ziva who used to be an elderly holy cleric and is now a young magician possessed by demonic ichor (that talks to her). It is also about a man named Malachi Draas who once tried to open a portal into the “world below” and accidentally released a horde of city-devouring demons, making him the most wanted criminal of the desert cities. Ziva and Malachi don’t like or trust each other, but together they venture down into Harth to stop the demons and discover some of the strange history of their geriatric world.

What’s in it?

  • Hungry lizards
  • Chaos witches who don’t understand why people fear them
  • Sad ghosts
  • Zealous paladins betrayed by their insane metal angels
  • Dreamwalking highwaymen
  • The Sijin dream-folk, who sleep among corpses to visit the dreams of the dead
  • The Arbaj tree-folk, who are definitely not elves
  • The Vrahoi stone-folk, who are definitely not dwarves
  • Giant ride-able bats
  • The Kadav corpse-folk, who are quite delicate
  • Psychic Chaos wyrms
  • Tentacled women from the end of time
  • Talking dragons who play with their food
  • Fire-belching snails

Why am I revising and pushing it?

I’ve published 27 novels. Some are decent. I think this one might be Good. The writing is tight and evocative. Different chapters are from different points of view, but always moving the main story along. It’s got a little Howard pulp and a little Moorcock acid in it. It’s weird and tragic and silly. And the best part: the chapters are short!

Where is it?

You can get Wayward Magicians on Amazon (for Kindle, $3) or on DriveThruFiction (in multiple formats, Pay What You Want).

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Essential Classes for 5E now on DTRPG!

Aha! I did it! I finished a thing!

The Essential Classes for 5E PDF is just for you 5E players out there. I have created four (4) original character classes for you guys: the Mercenary, the Necromancer, the Occultist, and the Spyder.

The Classes

I created these four classes because they reflect some of my favorite characters and archetypes from mythology, literature, comics, film, and games.

  • MERCENARY, a skilled fighter, dirty brawler, and deft thief who would fit in right alongside warriors like Robert E. Howard’s iconic barbarian Conan the Cimmerian. 
  • NECROMANCER, a conduit for Death itself, commanding corpses and spirits, creating hideous tools and structures from dead matter, who could walk the same paths as Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone or the dark sorcerers of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique. 
  • OCCULTIST, a grim scholar and supernatural investigator armed with countless holy (and unholy) trinkets who combines elements of the heroes in Dracula, Hellboy, Hellblazer, and Castlevania. 
  • SPYDER, an assassin with superhuman skills who could easily be a ninja from the book The Kouga Ninja Scrolls or the anime Ninja Scroll.

Design Note

These classes feature some original mechanics that make the classes more thematic and cinematic. Features tend to be very situational. Some abilities work automatically without a roll. None of these classes use traditional spells.

These classes were not designed to be balanced with other classes (although they are very effective when they are in their element!). They were designed to evoke specific fantasy roles and heroic abilities from mythology, history, literature, and film. They were designed to be fun!

But these classes may not be for everyone, and that’s okay too!

That’s it!

I hope you’ll check out the Essential Classes for 5E on DriveThruRPG. It’s only $4 for 4 classes, which is pretty good. Plus it has outstanding art by Oleg Khachkovskiy (instagram)!

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