Category: General Gaming

General Gaming

The Drowned Lands Revisted

A few years ago, I started planning a D&D game that was going to take place in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world where the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos had returned and left the world in ruin. I’ll admit it’s not the most original thing in the world, but I found the idea quite appealing.

The setting was called The Drowned Lands. My concept was that the players would start out in a backwater town located on a string of islands that were continuously inundated with rain. The town was ruled by a Cthulhu cult with nominal ties to a crumbling empire that once conquered the world in the name of ol’ squidface himself.

In an effort to drive home the grimdark nature of the setting, I was going to run it using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset. I then created a cool document that briefly described the world and provided a number of thematic character builds for them to choose from. The class builds were all variations on the existing LotFP classes, just with different starting equipment. I got the idea from a similar approach someone had taken to adapt the Darkest Dungeon video game for LotFP.

Unfortunately, like many great gaming ideas I’ve had over the years, we never actually got the game off the ground. The group wanted to play regular D&D, so we made characters and played 1-2 sessions before scheduling conflicts and my lukewarm interest led to the game being abandoned.

But I still had that campaign document lying around. Since I put it together using a bunch of artwork I snagged off the internet, I couldn’t really release it in any way. I briefly toyed with the idea of turning it into a dedicated RPG. While I may do that someday, I keep coming back to the question of why we would need ANOTHER rules lite OSR-style dark fantasy game. There are so many great options available for that kind of experience, I don’t see why I wouldn’t just use LotFP, Mörk Borg, or Five Torches Deep instead (or Zweihander, if I wanted something a bit crunchier).

I had a bit of free time this weekend, so I decided to go back to that document and reimagine it as a system-agnostic resource that provides the barest outline of a campaign setting and character concepts. There are no rules, but I tried to give enough material to provide the necessary inspiration to get a game like this off the ground.

The art presented a major obstacle because the original document was very art heavy in an effort to strike a particular tone. While there are a lot of free-to-use images available, it’s hard to find something that strikes the right tone. It’s also a challenge to find enough art that looks like it belongs together.

Luckily, I came across the work of a visual artist named Jr Korpa on the Unsplash website. Much of it is very abstract, but there’s a dark, sometimes sinister vibe to a lot of it that felt appropriate for the setting. Korpa has a lot of pieces available for use on Unsplash, and I managed to find enough pieces to replace all the old art.

The new version of the document ended up coming out quite well, so I’ve made it available for anyone who wants to check it out. If you’re interested in running a Mythos-style fantasy game, hopefully this will provide you with some inspiration.

One of my friends recently informed me that he wants to play a D&D game for his birthday where the characters are all evil cultists. He’s already decided that he worships The King in Yellow and is plotting to steal some valuable relic from a competing cult.

Seems like I went back to The Drowned Lands just in time…

General Gaming

“Wyld Sea” Sneak Peek

Back when the Last Redoubt Games website launched, it featured a (somewhat) playable demo for an RPG called Crimson Seas. After doing some development work on other games, I eventually decided that Crimson Seas was, frankly, kind of a mess. While I still like the concept, there’s a level of detail obsession that comes with alternate history games and the game was becoming way more expansive than I cared to deal with.

So I pulled it down from the site and put it on the backburner. When I started working on it, there really weren’t a lot of options for piracy games. Aside from 7 Seas, there were a couple of generic rulesets, but nothing that really jumped out. Today, the genre is better represented. There’s an RPG version of Sea of Thieves and there are two separate pirate settings for the Savage Worlds system. Frankly, developing a new pirate game doesn’t seem quite as necessary today when you could just play one of those games instead.

I needed a different angle, and I got it from one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies…


Best described as Mad Max on water, Waterworld takes place in a future where the polar ice caps have melted and caused the sea levels to rise until the world is completely submerged. The movie doesn’t make much sense beyond that, honestly, but it’s not the kind of movie where you spend time scrutinizing the ins and outs of the science.

In any case, I’ve always loved the movie even though it was an infamous box office bomb and, frankly, isn’t very good. But it has its charm and some great set-piece moments. More importantly, I loved the concept. After thinking it over for a while and scribbling out some notes, I decided to rework Crimson Seas from a game set in an alternate history Caribbean into one that takes place on a world of endless water.

Last week, I finally got around to cracking open the existing Crimson Seas rules and started modifying things to fit the new concept. There were a lot of things that needed fixing due to the rules revamp Crimson Seas got at some point late in its development life. But after a few late nights, the game is finally shaping up into its new form.

It’s not quite ready to so, but I wanted to share something about it here on the site. So I put together a brief “Sneak Peek” document that presents a lot of the setting and concept detail from the new game, which has been renamed Wyld Sea. I should have an actual playable demo ruleset ready to share within the next week or two, but hopefully this will be enough to give anyone who’s interested an enticing look at what’s to come.


General Gaming

The Best RPG Book Ever

Earlier this year, I started running an Instagram hashtag featuring the covers of roleplaying game books sitting on my shelves (#bensshelf). Some of these books aren’t much more than glorified décor because I’ve never played or sometimes even read them. But there are a select few I’m not only quite familiar with, but have a meaningful emotional connection to my life.

This week, I featured a game that I have rather strong feelings about: Vampire: The Masquerade.

Now, I have to be very precise here. When I talk about this game, I’m referring specifically to the Second Edition hardcover released by White Wolf Publishing in 1992. This is an important distinction because the Revised Edition released in 1998 is a very different beast for reasons I’ll go into later. The Second Edition is, in my opinion, the best roleplaying game rulebook ever published. No other game combined a great concept, compelling writing, evocative artwork, and top tier production values as well as this book.

From the very beginning, Vampire: The Masquerade (VtM) is a game that sucks you in and doesn’t let go. I remember seeing the book on the shelf at a Waldenbooks (that’s an old mall-based bookstore chain for you younger folks out there) in the late 1990s and being immediately drawn in by the striking cover art. I knew it was a game because it was in the roleplaying game section, but the cover made it clear that VtM was somehow different from the other games on the shelf. When I opened the book and flipped through a few pages, I started to get a sense of just how different it was from its contemporaries. I’d been drawn into fictional game worlds before, but VtM presented a world that felt more real, more dangerous. It’s a bit of a cliché now, but at the time, VtM really did feel like a roleplaying game for mature gamers. This wasn’t a game about exploring dungeons or fighting hordes of orcs; it was a game about fighting the monsters of our inner nature. The world was dark, scary, and exciting in a way that even the gritty cyberpunk games of the 1990s (Cyberpunk 2020 or early Shadowrun) simply couldn’t match. After reading VtM, other games felt silly by comparison.

Presentation was a big part of the game’s appeal. The rulebook had an austere black and white format that put artist Tim Bradstreet’s work front and center. Bradstreet’s art forever cemented the look and feel of the World of Darkness for me. The images in that book are burned into my mind, and the rest of the book’s artwork felt like it was of a piece with Bradstreet’s style. This was a common trend in games back in this era. In the same way that Brom helped define the aesthetic of Dark Sun and Tony DiTerlizzi established the look of Planescape, Tim Bradstreet created a memorable vision of VtM that the series would never quite be able to recapture in later years.

The game’s setting was also unlike anything I’d seen in a roleplaying game. Vampire society was complex and shot through with political intrigue and bizarre traditions. It was a game about relationships and internal conflict rather than kicking down the door and taking all the treasure. For a teenager struggling with identity and social pressure, VtM was a dramatization of a world you already understood to some extent. The way the game incorporated various forms of vampires from fiction guaranteed that you’d find a vampire clan that appealed to you on some level. Each clan also loosely embodied a philosophy, which helped to make VtM a game about bigger ideas as much as personal identity.

Of course, in retrospect, the rules for VtM were a hot mess. The game used a success system with d10 dice pool, so you wound up rolling fistfuls of dice and tallying up successes against your opponent. It was simple, but clunky. And the way the game handled vampire powers was both inspired and terrible. On the one hand, it did a great job of explaining how the powers worked and what they could do. The actual implementation of those powers, however, was kind of a disaster. If you knew what you were doing, it was quite easy to create overpowered characters that took advantage of the rules to basically do whatever they wanted.

Now, this isn’t an entirely fair criticism of the game. The real problem was that VtM was never supposed to be a rules heavy game where you relied upon your character’s stats to accomplish your goals. Unfortunately, that’s basically how every roleplaying game of that era worked. Players accustomed to years of adversarial gaming in Dungeons & Dragons understood that optimizing your character to take maximum advantage of the rules wasn’t just a good idea, it was how you were “supposed” to play the game. That worked fine in a game like D&D, where you were locked in a physical battle for survival at almost every turn. But VtM was supposed to be a different type of game. Sure, you could game the rules to create a super character, but doing so would rob you of the core experience the game was trying to provide. It wasn’t a game about surviving against all odds and vanquishing your foes, it was a game about personal horror and social interaction. Creating super characters that could circumvent any challenge by leaning on the rules kind of defeated the entire purpose of the game. In order for that system to work effectively, you needed a certain type of player who wasn’t interested in the traditional form of character building and a gamemaster (or Storyteller, in VtM terms) who wasn’t afraid to crack down on players for exploiting obviously unintended loopholes in the rules.

Unfortunately, things kind of went downhill after Second Edition. By the time the Revised Edition came out in 1998, the game was already losing much of its original character. The artwork was more of a mixed bag and the game fell into the fatal trap of explaining too much of its lore, robbing it of the sense of mystery that made it so compelling in the first place. Where the early World of Darkness was a grim and scary place with deep shadows, it evolved into something resembling a conventional fantasy setting weighed down by a ponderous amount of backstory and detail that every player was expected to know. As player options expanded with each release, the core experience became diluted. By the early 2000s, VtM felt less like a game of gothic horror than a comic book superhero game featuring vampires. Instead of embracing the roleplaying concepts the original game emphasized so strongly, players built superpowered characters who bashed each other over the head with the rules in an effort to be the star of the show.

To its credit, White Wolf realized how far the game had strayed from its original concept and did a hard reset in 2004, discontinuing VtM and replacing it with Vampire: The Requiem (VtR), which tried to return the game to its gothic horror roots. While many longtime fans were angered, I always kind of liked VtR because I appreciated what it tried to do. As good as VtR was, though, it didn’t quite have the same magic as the original incarnation. In some ways, the game’s moment had passed. Vampire: The Masquerade was a game that came along at just the right time and tapped into something about 1990s culture that resonated with its audience in a way that VtR didn’t. It’s a good game, but it feels more calculated and self-aware than early VtM. There’s an honesty and integrity to the original VtM that is simply impossible to replicate.

While various versions of VtM have been published over the last decade by Onyx Path Publishing, none of them have the same resonance for me as the Second Edition rulebook. If I ever make good on my repeated threats to run an old school Vampire game, I’ll almost certainly be dusting off my twenty year old copy of Second Edition and tell the players that anything outside that book is strictly off limits.

Sometimes it’s good to stick to the simplicity of a classic.