Monday, September 5, 2022

Ringless - In Development

As a side project, I have been helping Hodag with one of his games. The game is called Ringless. 

Ringless - Coming "Soon"

I think I've been clear about the sort of things that interest me. Ringless is in this vein. 

Ringless is a Ralph Bakshi fever dream instead of scrupulous adherence to canon. Like other Hodag games, Ringless is a toolbox, designed to empower you to build the game experience you want for your table.

We have finished a basic sketch of the major systems and now need to playtest to decide on details. 

Thoughts on collaboration

It has been very fun and freeing to take on this sort of side project. An enormous amount of my "free" time is spent laboring on HIS MAJESTY THE WORM. It is nice to have a project that is just a creative exercise. 

Collaborating with Hodag is great. We have very different writing styles. Hodag's philosophy is a that paragraph could be a sentence, a system could be a table. "Players are smart. They'll figure it out," he says.

Actual conversation 

Hodag is a constraining influence on my lengthy elaborations and purple prose. It's good to be goaded into brevity, to learn to cut cruft, to self edit. 

Similarly, I hope that have helped players figure it out by adding elaboration and examples to Hodag's inspirational text. 

When reading Ringless, I suspect you might guess where one author leaves off and the other begins. As Bilbo says, "If you can’t distinguish between a Man and a Hobbit, your judgement is poorer than I imagined. They’re as different as peas and apples."

A Toolbox: Example of Ringless Prep

A troll blocks your way forward!

As an example of what Ringless is about, I'm going to stream of consciousness blog my playtest prep. 

So, before play begins, I need two things: a hex map and three Wandering Tables. The hex map will allow players to journey through the world. The Wandering Tables are combinatory prompts I'll use during play to create spontaneous scenes as the players journey.

I'll start with the hex map. 

Making the Map

Per the book, the procedure to make a world map is as follows:

Step 1: Put on the album Nightfall in Middle-earth by Blind Guardian.

Step 2: Print a blank World Map on cardstock.  

Step 3: Choose or roll some names from the list below and write them on your map with your best penmanship. 

  • Mark havens with a castle. 

  • Mark dungeons with a skull.

  • Mark wilder things with a star.

  • Mark ruins with some crumbling ruins.

You want a good blend of all four categories!

Step 4. Keep writing names and drawing icons until you’re satisfied! 

We provide a basic hex map. You can download the hex map and an asset pack here. 

This map is modeled after the Outdoor Survival map used in OD&D, but redrawn to look like a Tolkien hand-drawn map. It is a template map Ringless GMs can use for their own worlds, or they can make a new map using the asset pack. 

I'll open the hex map in Photoshop. 

First, I'll establish the havens. Havens are city states like Bree or Minas Tirith or Lothlorien. I'll drag around the castle icons until they're evenly spaced. I'll put some in the mountains for dwarf havens. I'll put some in the forests for elf havens. 

Next, dungeons are where the shadow lurks. I'll drag around the skull icon for dungeons. I don't want too many of these because I want the world to feel mostly positive.

Then, I'll drag around wilder-thing and ruins icons until I get bored. These represent supernatural wild spaces and ruins of earlier ages. I want a lot of these non-civilized areas.

Then, I'll look at the example location lists and see if any strike me. I can see right away that I have two dwarven city names and two havens in the mountains, so I'll use the ones the book provides for those. I can see that I placed a few star icons in what looks like swampy regions, so I'll use the names from the list like Blood Swamp and Trollbog. I keep choosing names from the list and labeling my location items until I'm done.

I label these using BilboDisplay font, which I think looks nice (it's in the asset pack, too). I'll use a red font to mirror the coloring from the Tolkien map.

Here's the end result. It took me a half hour to put together using the prompts and assets. 

Click for full size. Download it if you want to use it!

Wandering Tables

Next, I'll make my Wandering Tables. I'll need three - a Folk Table, a Foe Table, and a Fate Table. During play, I'll roll all three and interpret the results like tossed yarrow sticks for I-Ching.

Here's the procedure from the book:

Step 1: Put on Songs of the Wood by Jethro Tull.

Step 2: Print a copy of the Wandering Table Worksheet from this book. 

Step 3: Roll or choose challenges from the following lists. Populate each table with appropriate simple, risky, and overwhelming challenges. 

  • Nothing happens (results 1-3): When rolling on the Wandering Dice, any result of 1-3 produces no result. The Wandering Table notes this.

  • Simple Challenges (results 4-6): Uncomplicated or low-stakes obstacles. 

    • Characters in a simple challenge have 6 HP. They provide little little direct threat but can be used to threaten something the questors care about or advance the GM’s agendas. 

  • Risky Challenges (results 7-9): Difficult obstacles that can nevertheless be overcome through valor and virtue.

    • Characters in risky challenges have 10 HP. Risky challenges might also be a simple challenge reframed with overwhelming forces - an entire platoon of goblins instead of just three or four. Risky challenges might also be a normal monster with an advantageous creature descriptor applied (p. XX).

  • Overwhelming Challenges (results 10-12): Deadly obstacles and terrible foes that require careful planning, great wisdom, or blessed luck to overcome.

    • Characters in overwhelming challenges have 20 HP. These challenges are impossible to take on head-on, and require cleverness, trickery, and coordination to overcome. Overwhelming challenges consist of the most dire monsters or overwhelming odds against simple monsters. 

And that’s it! 

So, when making my map, I didn't choose every faction or every nation in the list. I have two Freeland havens, one Ondian haven, two dwarven havens, and two elven havens. I assume that other peoples live elsewhere in the world, just not on this map. I'll use that to inform my decision about what goes into my tables. 

For my simple challenges, I'm going to think about animals I want to see or a basic human farmer type. For risky challenges, I'll use groups of the folk from havens on the map. For overwhelming challenges, I'll choose some elite-sounding people.

Let's start with the Folk Table. 

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: Talking Bear

5: Unicorn

6: Freelander Karl

7:  Freelander Ruffians

8: Evendell Wandering Troop

9: Kel Tanenhen Merchants

10: Aben Garan Warband

11: Ardforest Rangers

12: Baranar Kalan Warguard 

Next, Foe Table. I can see both goblin and troll themed dungeons. Let's make sure they're active in the world. For the troll, I'll give him a creature descriptor to make him a bit more interesting. I choose "Corrupted" because it sounds like the Trollbog on my map is probably corrupting. I'll also put a few foul beasties for lower level challenges, and a stray Big Bad for a surprise.

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: Devil Cat

5: Starveling Wolf

6: Goblin Sneak

7: Goblin Gang

8: Goblin Wolfriders 

9: Highgoblin Warrior 

10: Corrupted Troll Brute

11: War Troll

12: Two-headed Giant

Last, I'm just going to choose some Fate Table prompts from the book that seem most interesting to me. No real calculation here, I'm just getting inspired by the prompts. 

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: A Birth, A Midwife, New Life

5: Feasting, Drinking, and Celebration 

6: Hunting, Seeking, Searching

7: A Funeral, A Burial, A Death

8: Hunger and Thirst

9: Lost or Buried Treasure

10: The River Dried, Blocked, Dammed

11: Warfare, Slaughter, Battle

12: A Wildfire

OK! That should do it. I have all three Wandering Tables populated and a map. I'm ready to run a playtest.

Interested in Playtesting?

Playtesting, for me, is all about quick iteration. Here's a small system, do we like it? Why or why not? OK, let's change it. Now how does it feel? In many ways, playtesting is how I write the game itself.

If you're interested in participating, join the Ringless discord! We'd appreciate your two cents!