Spears of the Dawn Coming Soon

One of the great pleasures of being a one-man publishing outfit is that I can follow my whims. I can pick up a project whenever it pleases me and drop it for something else when I need a change. I need no approval from anyone else and I can control every aspect of my output to fit whatever criteria fits my mood. And lately, I’ve been annoyed.

Every month or so the larger online RPG communities seem to be roiled with a recurring complaint about inadequate diversity in role-playing games. People complain about the settings, they complain about the art, and they complain about the implicit assumptions embedded in the game. They do a great deal of textual interrogation and pointing to flaws and very little pointing to better examples. The debates never really change and nothing ever seems to be accomplished beyond personal halo-polishing and ritual public disappointment in the failings of game companies.

Last month, the usual cycle was particularly irritating to me. I don’t even particularly care whether the complainants are right or not, I’m just tired of nobody ever doing anything. Did somebody break their fingers? Burn their library card? Cut off their net access? Is something stopping people from writing their own RPG and showing how things ought to be done? So last month I decided to quit being irritated and start doing something useful.

Spears of the Dawn is an old-school RPG that provides an African-flavored take on traditional fantasy adventure gaming. Where the classic editions of old worked on a European pastiche of mythical and historical elements, Spears of the Dawn takes its inspiration from pieces of medieval Africa, its cultures and mythology. Walk with mighty-thewed warriors, masked ngangas and pious marabouts through the carved mahogany palaces of dread sorcerer-kings, with griots to sing your praises and cast stern judgment on your deeds. Plumb the tomb-houses of the dread Eternal dwellers in the black eastern deserts, or revel in the raucous marketplaces of the great stone cities of the west. Ride with the fierce hill-country lancers of the north, or fight alongside the red-handed amazons of the southern jungle kingdoms as they fight to preserve their people against the bestial Night Men from beyond civilization’s edge.

Spears of the Dawn isn’t just about making an African-flavored retrocousin with the Stars Without Number engine- it’s about encouraging other people to make the games they think should be made. There’s never been a better time in our hobby for individual creators, and people should take advantage of it. If you want a game, make that game. The old-school gaming framework provides ready-made mechanics to wrap in the setting and tropes that you think are important. You don’t have to be a mechanical innovator or a trailblazer through the mathematical jungles. You just need to write the setting and acquire the art that’s right for your idea.

To encourage this, all art used in Spears of the Dawn will be released into the public domain upon its publication. You are encouraged to use it for your own commercial or noncommercial products. I will also release the InDesign template files I use for the book, so those of you with expertise in the software can just load them up with your own text and commercially publish that. You are encouraged to do what Spears of the Dawn does, except do it better– whatever kind of “better” that is for you.

Furthermore, because the point is to show people how simple and straightforward it is to release a game like this, I’m planning to have the game fully written by the end of September, no more than two months after I started the project. You don’t need to sacrifice your life to create a role-playing game and you don’t need to monopolize your year to put something out. Yes, I’ve had more practice than most in putting together games but even a novice can move at a good clip if they really want to produce something.

As time goes on I’ll be revealing more about Spears of the Dawn and how I intend to support GMs and players in a cultural pastiche that’s not as familiar as the usual faux 14th century Eurolandia. Right now, I just want to encourage people to pay attention to the opportunities they have for creating the kind of games they think should be made. These games can happen if they’re wanted- so do people really want them?

House of Bone and Amber kickstarter at Indiegogo

Baltic storms crash on the salt-stained walls of Salatgriv. The crumbled ruins of the damnable fortress of Salismunde squat like a vulture above the ill-favored port town, and the wine-eyed heathens of the Tatar quarter hide within their houses of graven stone. There are savage whispers amid the townsfolk, and merchants clutch their purses at every start and shadow. Old Father Raum shrieks imprecations at the pagans from the steps of the altar, and the Tatar elder’s blood pools in the amber pits outside the town’s walls. Birgirmeistar Akmens is desperate to halt the bloodshed before it becomes a full-fledged pogrom, but who in the town can be trusted to save its people from their own murderous passions? It is a task for a band of red-handed outsiders, ruthless souls who’ll do what they must to earn the Birgirmeistar’s silver- and who have the mettle to bring bright steel to the cursed town’s black past. Will your heroes prove more terrible than the darkness that gathers, or will they be yet another bloody sacrifice beneath the House of Bone and Amber?

The House of Bone and Amber is an adventure for PCs of levels 4-7. It includes the fully-detailed port town of Salatgriv and a full cast of NPCs, with tools for using the town even after the grim events of the adventure have rolled over its streets. The sinister halls beneath the Salismunde are fleshed out in six separate sections that can be mixed and matched within the adventure- or pulled out entirely to insert into your own campaign when you need a quick delving of ineffable horror.

In conjunction with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess July Grand Adventures Campaign, I’ve brewed up something special for Indiegogo backers, and its success hinges on your support. I’ve had the rough draft sitting on my hard drive for a month, but it still needs that tender loving care that goes into making a good sandbox product, and you get to vote with your pocketbook on whether or not I should spend that effort. With Earl Geier on board to provide suitably horrific art, almost sixty rooms worth of dungeon-delving goodness, and the festering sink of bitter human passions you’d expect from one of my sandbox towns, I’d surely hope to be told that this is something people want me to finish. Have a look and tell your friends!

Other Dust Coming For X-Mas in July

Every year, from July 24th through July 30th, OneBookShelf¬† runs their “X-Mas in July” sale. A hefty 25% gets sliced from thousands of products, and this year Other Dust will be among them. I should have enough time for at least two cycles of proofing if needed, so I would anticipate that you’ll soon be able to snatch up a handsome hardcover or crisp new PDF for a mere trifle of of your hard-earned cash. I can make no promises, but the extra time might just allow me to cook up a free mini intro adventure for Other Dust and some quick-play rules for the curious.

Of course, Other Dust is completely compatible with Stars Without Number, so the novelty isn’t in the rules- it’s in the tools and resources packed in for creating post-apocalyptic sandbox campaigns. Just as SWN is jam-packed with resources for fabricating your own stellar reaches, Other Dust is crammed with more than a hundred and twenty pages of content devoted to making a GM’s life easier and more entertaining. The world tags so beloved in SWN make a reappearance, with 40 new tags for defining your post-apocalyptic enclaves and 30 more for adding flavor to your desolate wasteland ruins. The new Groups rules help a GM run the myriad enclaves and clans of the badlands, with tools for their conflicts and the ways in which PCs can help and hinder their causes. The Adventure Creation helps organize your creation process, providing post-apoc themes and associated plot templates that you easily can fill in with tag information. And thanks to the compatibility with SWN, you can seamlessly lift everything from the book for use in your interstellar campaigns- new classes, new gear, new horrible xeno-beasts, and new tools for creating burnt-over tomb worlds for your intrepid starfarers to encounter.

The End is Nigh in July.

Stars Without Number wins Three Castles Award

This past weekend, the festive doings of the North Texas RPG Con drew together a convocation of designers and players with a real love for old-school gaming. One of the features of the con was the Three Castles Award, which this year was judged by Dennis Sustare, Robert Kuntz, Sandy Petersen, Steve Marsh, and David “Zeb” Cook. If you’re as big a fan of the old ways as I am, you’ll recognize those names and the contributions they made to our hobby- I cut my gaming teeth thirty years ago on Moldvay/Cook D&D. Well, the competition was fierce- the award shortlist featured the mighty gaming chops of ASE1 – Anomalous Subsurface Environment by Patrick Wetmore, Realms of Crawling Chaos by Daniel Proctor & Michael Curtis, and the Tome of Adventure Design by Matt Finch & Bill Webb. But in the end, Stars Without Number got the nod. Even if one of the other worthy entrants had won, however, it would’ve been completely worth the effort just for the pleasure of having SWN read by some of the giants of the hobby.

Mandate Archive: The Imago Dei Now Out!

Paladins of the Long Silence

Not every synthetic mind is bent on mankind’s destruction. Some have a higher purpose, a nobler war to wage in the darkness between stars. Open this free supplement for the equally free Stars Without Number RPG to learn the truth about the enigmatic Imago Dei and their unending crusade to defend worlds ignorant of their very existence. As humanity is the image of God, so the Imago Dei is the shadow of His red right hand.

Aside from their little-known history, you’ll find specifications for their bleeding-edge ship hulls. Included are seven sample Imago Dei warships for your own campaign, whether found as derelict plunder, seized by fanatics, or threatening the PCs’ homeworld with the guns of a heretical Shepherd Fleet!

Get it now, at DriveThruRPG!

The Crimson Pandect

CrimsonPandectCoverThumbUnlock Dark Sorcery…

Open the Crimson Pandect to reveal the hidden arts of the arcane world and the grim obsessions that snare the minds of their adepts. This book is for both players and Labyrinth Lords alike, providing tools for weaving grim tales of blood and unleashed sorcery!

Use new classes, new spells, and new guidelines for magical research. plunder ancient troves of occult lore to fuel your arcane ascension. Use the new guide for sanctum construction and the tools for cult and cabal creation to fashion sorcerous towers and malevolent foes. While built for the Red Tide Campaign Setting and Sandbox Toolkit , the contents are all designed to be easily and swiftly transferred into your own old-school campaign world.

  • Six variant classes for magic-users, each with their own spell list and focused theme: the elementalist yamabushi of the Mountain Way, the wonder-working internal alchemists of the Nine Immortal Art, the Makerite Theurges and their burning incantations, the grim Kuan Amelatu and their vengeance for the dead, the prophetic seers of the Astromancers, ¬†and the flesh-bending, degenerate science of Shakunasar.
  • Give your players a good reason to want more than mere spellbooks. With new rules for research points and labwork, watch them scramble to plunder the libraries of their foes and delve deep in the earth for the secrets of lost pre-human races. These new tools let them spend their hard-won lore to learn new spells, create magic items, fabricate new enchantments, and spawn horrific monsters.
  • Help your mages build their wizard’s towers and hidden sanctums. Find rules and costs for the construction of arcane lairs and the acquisition of minions, the better to protect a mage’s precious library and ease his fearsome studies!
  • Labyrinth Lords have a fistfull of tools for generating arcane academies, sorcerous cults, and secretive conclaves. Need maddened worshipers of eldritch darkness? Turn to the tables in this section to give your pack of maniacs the flavor and style you need to make them crackle!
  • Resources for quick wizard characterization, fast spellbook lists, instant arcane tome generation, and lists of random occult treasures all smooth the creation of a Labyrinth Lord’s awful minions!

Softcover and hardback print options are coming before the end of June, for those intrepid souls who require a more tangible weapon against the lethal coils of the arcane unknown!

The Crimson Pandect Approaches…

Unlock the dark secrets of sorcery in the Sunset Isles with the Crimson Pandect, a guide to magic in the world of the Red Tide.

In this book you will find fully Labyrinth Lord-compatible information on eight new paths of sorcery, six with their own specialist magic-user classes and over a hundred new spells. Use them as-is for your campaign, or slap on a new coat of paint to make them your own! Behold the secrets of…

  • The High Path, the versatile and potent art favored by most magic-users within the Sunset Isles.
  • The Stitched Path, a heterodox art of blood and soul-sacrifice to accomplish by theft what talent cannot give.
  • The Kuan Amelatu, elven necrolators devout in their shepherding of the blameless dead and their guardians against the living.
  • The Astromancers of the Gadaal, peerless diviners and fateweavers who wield luck and foresight as weapons against their foes.
  • The Makerite Theurges, seekers of the holy sorcery of their stern god, speakers of the words by which creation was made.
  • The Nine Immortal Art, the ancient Imperial magics that make a sorcerer into a living vessel of transcendence.
  • The Mountain Way, a path of elemental force and natural power that strikes down its foes with flame and storm.
  • Shakunasar, the forbidden sorcery of the Shou and its unnatural command of the flesh and minds of lesser beings.

Aside from these glimpses into the grim sorcery of the Isles, the Crimson Pandect also includes…

  • A new system for acquiring new spells, creating magic items, and constructing magical servitors- a system based on the accumulation of eldritch tomes and experimental lore. Finally, your wizards actually have a reason to hunt down those books of forgotten wisdom and spend their hard-won coin on experiments and strange artifices. Includes extensive helps for the Labyrinth Lord in creating arcane treasures for inquisitive sorcerers to seek.
  • Guidelines for designing and building your wizard’s sanctum, including prices for laboratories, scriptoria, arcane distilleries, and other vital necessities for a wizard’s researches. The guidelines are integrated with the research system to reward those wizards who devote their precious gold to the facilities and resources they need for future greatness.
  • Guides for the Labyrinth Lord who needs a wizard cabal in a hurry, either as patrons, teachers, or enemies of the PCs. Based on an elaboration of the Court Site system in the Red Tide campaign guidebook, use this to generate a fast wizard’s tower, arcane academy, or nefarious witch-cult.
  • Resource tables for easy generation of arcane artifacts and eldritch tomes for your campaign’s wizards to find!

Look for the Crimson Pandect to make its appearance in early May, as it’s currently in layout. And for those eager enthusiasts of apocalypse, do not fear- Other Dust is still on schedule for release early this summer. The Crimson Pandect has been under work for some time now, and I’ve decided that May is a good time to slot its release. Why? Because I scorn sleep as a sign of moral weakness, and never shall such turpitude stain the scarlet mysteries to be revealed herein!

Why Do It Old-School?

More than once, people have asked me, “Why are you using old-school mechanics? Wouldn’t it be better to use a gaming system specifically built for your purposes? I love your GM tools, but the system leaves me cold.” Let me take a few moments to explain why it is that Sine Nomine uses old-school gaming mechanics as the backbone of my games, and why it’s a good choice for what I do.

First off, let me say that new-school gaming is something beautiful. I’ve played and DM’d 4e and had a great time. I haven’t had a chance to do much indie storygaming, but a lot of the stuff they’re doing over there looks fascinating. I’m a CO in the edition wars, and I do not want anyone to imagine that my allegiance to the old school is some kind of commentary on absolute gaming values. So those people who don’t go in for Stars Without Number‘s old-school mechanics, they’re saying something I can appreciate and understand. But for what Sine Nomine does, old-school is the best choice, and here’s why:

First, almost everyone understands how to play. You may not even like its ancestral games, but odds are that you know exactly what hit points are, know how to roll your attributes on 3d6, and are completely comfortable with rolling 1d20 to hit. You are not confused by the concept of levels and the idea of armor class. You know this stuff and it takes you only minutes to process differences or tweaks to the rules. Sure, not everybody started out playing this way, but enough of these ideas have percolated through our hobby that it’s a rare gamer who has to stretch to understand Stars Without Number‘s rules. Innovation is great, but not a lot of us are teenagers any more and every hour spent mastering a new set of rules is an hour less for us to be playing with our friends.

Second, Sine Nomine’s games are about a playstyle, not a mechanic. The games I make are about supporting a particular playstyle- sandbox gaming. The entire idea is to help the GM support and sustain a long-running sandbox campaign in a way that’s both fun for the GM and exciting for the players. The goal is to accomplish that in the least stressful way possible, while helping the GM have fun with their own creativity and inventiveness. This means that the core system needs to be so intuitive, so familiar to the GM that all their mental focus and energy can be put toward the game and not toward wrestling with the mechanics. Familiarity is vital to that. The GM needs to be confident that he can just whip up an enemy or set up a challenge without worrying over whether or not he’s “doing it right”. Old-school mechanics have that kind of familiarity for him. Sadly, I lack the necessary genius to develop a new mechanic that’s so powerful, so perfect for sandboxing that its value outweighs that of plain, time-worn familiarity.

Third, old-school mechanics work. They have their pitfalls and edge cases, but everyone’s used them so long and hammered on them so hard that all the real problems are clearly marked. As a designer, I don’t need to lie awake wondering if my combat system is going to collapse at the first clever shove from the forums. I don’t need to wonder if hit points will prove unworkable over long-term play, or if levels and experience points are going to break after the first eight sessions of a campaign. I can afford to focus my testing and my attention on the new elements I’m adding, making for a better, more tightly-tested design overall.

Fourth, I like it this way. And given that there are many, many parts of producing and publishing RPG books that have nothing to do with fun, I prefer to maximize the entertaining parts of this business. When I’m sitting down and writing 1,400 clever tag elements for the upcoming Other Dust, I don’t want to add any more aggravation to the job than already exists. Old-school mechanics are just easy, simple, and robust. I can have fun with them, because I know what they can do and I can foresee the effects of changes I make.

I don’t know that I’ll be sticking with old-school mechanics forever. I might take it into my head to try something different, if I find a mechanic that’s worth the sacrifice of familiarity. One of the nice things about being an indie RPG producer is that the money involved is so small that there’s no overwhelming pressure to stick with a particular line. But for now, for my current products and for upcoming items like Other Dust, the old school is exactly where I want to be.