Two more thoughts on beauty in Ynn

I’ve been re-reading The Gardens of Ynn, to understand how it achieves beauty and simple pleasantness. I put most of my thoughts in a previous post, but here are a couple more:

  1. Even the killer spores (p17) produce delicate flowers.
  2. A “brilliant rainbow of colours” in the silk garden (p18) — explicitly “brilliant”, rather than “garish”, or “clashing” or just flat “rainbow” leaving you to make your own assumptions.
  3. The interior of the ruined tower is decayed, yes, but that decay is understated, mundane, more nostalgic than unpleasant:

The interior is dusty, cobwebby and falling apart. Wallpaper peels from the walls, the carpet is mouldy, and water pools by the shutters.”

(p22)

An Anki deck for OSE / BX D&D

I’ve created an Anki deck for some details of BX D&D, using OSE as my reference. I’ve only covered those things that I found difficult to remember, which I suspect are “those things where it differs from Lamentations of the Flame Princess and/or 3e or 5e”.

You can download it as a zip file here:

(that includes a text file with all the cards, one per line)

How beauty is achieved in the Gardens of Ynn — initial thoughts

I’ve written some OSR modules, and I think I’m pretty good at invoking ruin, horror, and threat in text. As far as I can tell I’m doing that in a way that would let anyone running those modules invoke that in their descriptions, too. This seems to be a common skill, at least amongst OSR module writers.

What I’m not so good at is beauty — the attractive, the desirable, the sublime. And that’s a skill that I’d like to develop more. It’s very easy for OSR-type modules to become relentless dark and grim, and therefore monotonous, and I want to contrast that with more positive emotions.

So… I’m looking for examples of beauty in adventure module text, to read and learn from.

I started a thread on /r/osr, and one recommendation was Emmy Allen’s The Gardens of Ynn. I’ve read it before, run two sessions in it, but hadn’t thought about it as an example of this. I’ve started to re-read it, and have some initial observations:

1. Allen is explicit from the start that beauty is her aim, even tho it’s a squarely OSR module:

I wrote this to get out of a creative rut, liked what I’d produced, and made it pretty. I think it’s easy for games to push in darker directions, and to match the unpredictable lethality of old-school games with a particular grim and gritty aesthetic. I wanted to move away from that, into something that, while not blandly pleasant, had a lightness of tone to it. A setting where sunshine is the default weather.

(p5)

2. Its main tactic seems to be simply describing pleasant things — manicured lawns, herbs in raised beds, a trellis of vines that produces dappled shade (those are all from p14).

3. To complement that, there isn’t much horrible here, at least in the first few locations. I.e. some of the effect is achieved by the absence of unpleasant things. IIRC there is an low (though nonzero) proportion of gore and horror throughout.

4. The writing isn’t particularly fancy — it’s quite prosaic and economical. At no point does it push to be evocative and overshoot into verbiage or cringe. It presses a few buttons in the reader and then the reader does most of the work.

5. The tone is lighthearted, not serious, not ominous. For example:

Gazebo

A jolly little wooden pavilion. Bright paint faded and peeling. Within, a few wicker chairs and manky cushions. Cobwebs, perhaps. Knickknacks such as teasets, decks of cards, opium pipes, worth d10+depth gold, plus roll for treasure.

(p16)

6. As an enabling tactic, it does seem to assume sunny daylight at all times. Though it doesn’t quite follow through with that — there is a day and night cycle described on p9 and weather-change event on p12.

The Bone Place of Dreib – out at DTRPG

I’ve just published my third adventure module — The Bone Place of Dreib. It’s currently $3 at DTRPG.

Back cover blurb:

You are alone. It is dark. You have never read a book.

There is something in here with you.

On a hill above a deserted road there is a rocky crown, and in that crown is the Bone Place of Dreib, and in the Bone Place (so you have heard) is a temple of the ancients full of treasures wondrous and diverse. Why it is unlooted and undefiled? Probably the stories about the place, the ghosts that come if you sleep too close, and the list of grave-robbers who never came back.

But the stories are probably bullshit, the ghosts probably just nightmares, and the grave-robbers rank amateurs. You are don’t care about that shit.

And you have this dream every night. A dream that you are alone, that it is dark, and that you have never read a book. You are down there in the earth and there is something in there with you. It is a million years old and it is not your friend.”

It’s built using Old-School Essentials as the rules reference, and I’ve roughly tuned it for 3-4 PCs of 3rd to 4th level.

This one has been a haul — I was doing preparatory reading (on funerary rites and on the prehistoric world), working on it seriously (there are computer files) back in July, and had a playable sketch by the end of August, but the playtest-and-revision cycle took months. Largely this was the pandemic-related difficulty of getting people physically together (I have had it with online play). But now it is done. You can be the judge of whether it was worth it.

Examples of things that support Foreground Growth

I’m currently into Chris McDowell’s idea of “Foreground Growth” — character change and advancement because of specific things that happened in play, with no metagame rules invovled. Partly this is because I’m running Electric Bastionland and thinking about running Cairn, and neither has traditional advancement rules. The problem is that it’s not always obvious how to make it happen — while XP and level and skill point and advancement systems guide you to use them, foreground growth is something that the GM has to support.

So I’ve started a list below of foreground growth opportunities, along with sources that say how to do this or that glisten with examples:

Here are, also, some examples of foreground growth that don’t fit into the above categories (thanks to Yochai Gal for pointing these out):

If you have more categories, or can point me to more good examples, please let me know in the comments and I will expand the above.

Zedeck Siew on the beauty in the OSR

Zedeck Siew just wrote a blog post that I really like. It captures what I, as well as him, see as the beauty in the OSR, and what has made it the centre-of-gravity of my gaming universe for years. Not the grognards obsessing over how Gygax ran things, not the fascist-adjacents and the abusers, but the people who embrace rpgs as their own genre and who bring their own weird everything into the game.

My favourite quote:

So, yes: Dark Souls and metal music. But also references weirder, personal, and as-yet-untapped: Zomia, punk zines, walks in backyard forests, Birkenhead folklore, the Permian Period, Moebius, East Malaysian myth – Composted together to the point they become game things utterly unlike anything else, and the stories / experiences you can have in those game things you can have nowhere else.

https://zedecksiew.tumblr.com/post/661198838065922049/sentimental-thoughts-about-the-osr

…but I’d recommend you read the whole thing. It’s not long.

The Bleak Holdfast of the Heartless Queen – out at DTRPG

I’ve just published my second adventure module — The Bleak Holdfast of the Heartless Queen. It’s currently $4 at DTRPG.

Back cover blurb:

“High above the snow line there is a castle on a crag. It is an object of fear and hatred, because the Heartless Queen holds court there and she is pitiless in her anger and host to terrible friends. Between the Frost Wyrms, the Ice Harpies, and the Frozen Thing that Guards the Bridge, even getting in is difficult.

Most locals stay as far away as they can, but between courage, pride, and burning vengeance there are always some willing to take a shot at it. And travellers from the soft, warm south might hear stories of the Queen’s fantastical treasures and be oblivious about the horrors that protect them.”

It’s built using Old-School Essentials as the rules reference, and I’ve roughly tuned it for 5-6 PCs of 3rd level or slightly fewer of 4th.

(added 26 April) Some prosaic notes for the prospective DM – the module features:

  • A 70  location adventure site with a complex multi-path (‘Jaquay’d’) layout
  • Several goals the PCs could have within that space
  • An unusual environment (a castle made largely of ice)
  • Several detailed NPCs, some of whom can be set against each other
  • Several distinctive creature and minor NPC types
  • An adversary roster to help you predict the castle’s response to disturbance

(if you’re intimidated by my recent productivity, it might help you to know that I’ve been working on this, and The Pit in the Forest, on and off since January 2020.)

I don’t like reading rpg books

I value playing rpgs over reading rpgs, and that’s partly because I have very limited interest in doing the latter — reading most rpg books doesn’t feel like something that’s worth my time. Recently I’ve been thinking about why? Why don’t I enjoy this?

Primarily, it’s because I don’t have that much time I want to spend on reading. So I don’t need volume; I want impact. And by going to wider-interest books I can get:

  • Fiction that’s much better written (recent example — Gabrielle Squailia’s Viscera)
  • Non-fiction that’s of much greater value because it tells me about the real world (current example — Abulafia’s The Great Sea)

I.e. the payoffs are just much higher.