What I'm Running on Kickstarter:

What I'm Running on Kickstarter:
Ballista Adventures

Friday, September 21, 2018

Ballista: Two Never-Before-Published Titles


When Arcana Creations started out around 9 years ago. I had ideas, spare time, and was inspired. It's been an interesting decade with many rough patches. There have been highs and lows but one thing that I kept on saying up to the start of last year was that I was a 'hobby publisher' at best. Earlier on, I didn't even want to be known as a publisher! Rather... I was happier being recognized as a 'Studio' doing work on existing projects. You see, almost 10 years ago, Brave Halfling Publishing was doing great work and John from BHP was very encouraging to a few people. Some have gone on to do even better things but Arcana Creations stumbled a bit earlier on.

In those early years, I have been given manuscripts for scenarios that have not yet been published though TWO of them have most of the work done on them and were a very short way from actually seeing the light of day. I also have others beyond that but I'll get to those later.

One of these two which will be making an appearance is an adventure scenario by Bill DeFranza entitled, Hide in Plain Sight. Unlike the other three modules, there is just more content in this adventure which could easily be broken up in two parts. It is undergoing a new round of edits with a very basic level of tweaks since the scenario was originally written with Castles & Crusades in mind. Now, it is getting a Ballista makeover.

The other module being produced that has gone through full editing and is in layout is Todd Pote's Mystery at Morfurt. Like Bill, Todd has been an early support of Arcana Creations and he presented what looks to be a straight-forward and fun scenario. I've recently been in contact with him regarding a map in order to finalize the content for the module.

Both of these still need art and they need to be finalized but, everything should be finished up before the end of the year. And, it is only taking THAT long because between now and the holidays, I do have my full time 9-5 job and a couple of small shows that I am doing.

I mentioned other content too and I do have more to publish for Ballista. However, being a big fan of Kickstarter, I know that over reaching can be problematic and over promising can just kill a great idea. Aside from a COUPLE of surprises I'm holding for the Kickstarter starting this weekend (should be tomorrow but might actually end up being Sunday), I'm keeping things 'finite'. I'm also giving myself EXTRA time for fulfillment. If by some chance, the campaign being launched becomes WILDLY successful, we'll be able to handle the volume and TWO-THIRDs of the project is already complete!

Arcana Creations have brought two projects to Kickstarter. Both were small and only one successfully funded. Both were for the Arcana Elements imprint publishing fiction and non-fiction. The first delivered early. The second still got completed without funding but was kept to a very small print run sold at shows. Had it funded, it would have been ready to go out to backers within a month of the end of the campaign. The intent is to do no different with this campaign and deliver on time... if not earlier.

Once that is under way, I'll be happy to launch more titles... perhaps another small batch in 2019.  :)

M

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ballista: A Trick on the Tain


The third adventure in the Ballista Adventures line is A Trick on the Tain.  Like the first two, this was a module originally published for Castles & Crusades and this version has also seen changes between that version and this new Ballista version. Where as the Skerry scenario was primarily a local-area overland scenario, and Ramat was primarily a dungeon scenario, A Trick on the Tain takes place over a broader region and can be classified as a wilderness adventure. In this case, the adventure takes place in the tundra.

As a location-based adventure, there is enough material and ideas in the pages of the module to get you going but it also leaves plenty of room for a creative GM to flesh out. The region could easily become the home of many other adventures as the players explore this wilderness. James Maliszewski from the old Grognardia blog had this to say about it when he reviewed the original C&C version back in 2010:

It's also a good example of the old school design philosophy, leaving many aspects of the adventure open to referee interpretation rather than providing a definitive answer to every question that's likely to arise. I appreciate that and think it only adds to the module's utility, although some will no doubt disagree, expecting a published module to be completely self-explanatory.
His full review on the original C&C version can be found HERE.

He did go on to say that he didn't think it would have as broad of an appeal to everyone but I do believe it is an underappreciated gem. It was also a gem that was still a bit on the rough side that got a Swords & Wizardry conversion done for it a couple years back.

In preparation for this new version, a new round of edits where made. Material that was at the end of the module and the appendix was cut for this version. However, all that material critical to the actual core of this adventure has remained. It is my hope that we will revisit this region and expand on the material in the near future.

At this point, there are two more titles I want to present which are unpublished adventure scenarios which, along with the three already discussed, will be part of the upcoming Kickstarter launching this weekend! Expect a post about those two in the next day or two.

M

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Ballista: How the Base Rules Work

So... you picked up a copy of a Ballista Adventure and you have dice in hand along with some characters. What next? If not using one of the many existing systems compatible with the Ballista line, each module also includes a basic set of rules which can be used instead.

As the rules included in these books are not meant as a replacement for other systems, you won't find rules to create actual characters. Some books in the line will offer some pre-generated characters and there are other online resources that can be used to meet this need. Naturally, characters from any d20 system derived from the world's most popular Role Playing Game such as Swords & Wizardry or Castles & Crusades will easily fit the bill.

Beyond that, if someone prefers to use their favorite system instead, more power to them. Nothing in the line should be an impediment from doing so. Others may wish to mix and match various rules for their own home brew campaign.

The rules included on the inside cover as separated in seven sections. They are How to Use This Book, Attributes & The Game, Understanding the Encounters, Battle, Damage, Bonuses & Penalties, and finally Magic & Miscellanea.

The first section is a simple and basic introduction but the second is far more significant. It covers the six traditional attributes and how to go about deal with saving throws or skill saves. A target number is determining by added a base value and a difficulty level rated on a scale of 1 to 10. A player would roll a d20 plus relevant attribute modifier and character level.

Understanding the Encounters breaks down the stat block and details how each part impacts the game where as the following Battle section quickly covers the order of combat in relation to this information. Damage is the logical continuation of both previous sections and informs the reader on how to proceed.

Of course, anyone who has played a similar role playing game before will already know how all of this works. Even the following section isn't particularly 'new' given the multitude of other systems that use a similar mechanic. Greatly popularized in 5th Edition and utilized to great effect in other games such as Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu (7th Edition), Ballista advocates the use of bonus and penalty dice in the game to avoid stacking additional numbers to a skill, save, or attack roll in a veritable escalation of numbers.

Magic & Miscellanea is a quick and dirty way of running magic without the need of a Vancian-type of, fire-and-forget, spellcasting. The GM will need to determine challenge level, taking into account the scale of the desired effect, which the spell caster will need to roll for in order to success. This taxes the spell caster (in the form of nonlethal damage).

The rules are very basic but, in their own way, complete enough to run a game. They represent an easy set of guidelines that can be used instead of a rule book -- especially if the participants are experienced gamers. In time, a bit more will be offered, if only to provide some interesting options for the campaign YOU want to run.

M

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ballista: Layout & Stat Blocks

One of the things I have come to be very happy with when I began the layout work for this Ballista line of adventures is the approach I took in breaking down the information and the nature of the stat blocks. I will not claim this as some sort of break through, but a clean and uncluttered layout and ease of access to find and use this information was of the utmost importance to me. Cleanliness is next to godliness, or so they say, and now that I have three titles complete with another two on the way, I am appreciating the final result more and more.

Naturally, it won't be for everyone.

The layout for any of the adventures produced in the Ballista line is such that a page has a two column set-up but the size of each column is different. The smaller column found is found on the exterior edge of the page and is intended for the creature stat blocks, relevant item stats, or hazards such as traps. This information is concise in nature but complete and are in an italicized font to further distinguish it from the text in the column next to it. The larger column on the page is the text of the adventure itself. Any tables found in the adventure (random encounter tables for instance) are also in the main body but the table itself is kept fairly minimalist in style.

When the main body of the text makes reference to a monster or trap, you can find the stats for that along the side of the page. If a particular creature is used frequently in the following pages, repetition is kept to a minimum unless they reappear in a different section. At most you may have to flip back a page or two to easily find what you are looking for.

Here is an example from the Secret of Ronan Skerry:



The Stat Blocks themselves represent an attempt to bridge to popular d20 systems together for the principal purpose of ensuring compatibility with Swords & Wizardry and Castles & Crusades. This is possible since both games are streamlined and simple in their approaches. As such, you'll find the Stat Blocks in Ballista which contain both ascending and descending armor class numbers as well as Save type or, to borrow the terminology from C&C, prime attributes. Beyond that, the Stat Blocks are detailed enough to run the encounters along with which ever preferred ruleset you choose to play with the Ballista material or the base Ballista rules themselves.

They all follow a simple format providing the name, Size, Movement, Saves, Hit Dice, Armor Class, Attack, any other Special info and Spell Resistance if applicable. Several examples are found on this page due to the accompanying encounter table and, Ballista tries to keep things relatively simple and in the GMs control. For example, if you consider the Giant Spider listed on the page is poisonous, it will does not inform the GM of the effects. Instead it relies on the GM to decide on the outcome should a character be bitten (and fail their saving throw vs poison). It is *YOUR* game after all.

As you may have also noticed, on the page, you have text in bold (in brackets) regarding checks. Not all systems, or even GMs, will need this sort of thing but it is there just in case. CL refers to Challenge Level which is always measured on a scale of 1 to 10 in Ballista.

The intent behind all of this is to keep things simple and VERY compatible to other existing and popular FRPGs even if we use both Swords & Wizardry and Castles & Crusades as a baseline for certain things. It just makes things easier and, given that Swords & Wizardry Complete has been made completely free in electronic format, and you can find a fairly complete set of starter rules for a game like Castles & Crusades, it seems foolish not to use these as references when they are so readily available.

M

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ballista: The Ruins of Ramat


The second in the Ballista Aventures line is The Ruins of Ramat. As far as I know, no other published modules have undergone quite as many versions as this one. In simplest terms it is a, 'by the numbers' module making it a great introductory adventure a quick side adventure which would easily be inserted in an existing campaign. When Brave Halfling Publishing put out this scenario back in early 2009, an 'Original Edition' version was released alongside a Labyrinth Lord version. Brave Halfling Publishing went on to produce a version for Dungeon Crawl Classics  a few years later.

During this time, Arcana Creations produced a version where the map was revamped and expanded for Castles & Crusades in the Fall of 2009 and also produced a PDF version for Swords & Wizardry in 2013. This makes a total of FIVE versions of the Ruins of Ramat.

The Ruins of Ramat has always gotten generally favorable reviews over the years and I've run it more than once for different people. The last time I ran it for a group of newbies, it was also nearly resulted in the party getting themselves killed due to a series of bad decisions and unlucky rolls. I do think it is a solid and fun little adventure and could be the cornerstone to a regular game. The scenario isn't without its criticisms however. While some people appreciate the tone and the fact it is also 'child friendly', this same approach has been met with some people rolling their eyes at the adventure's premise. James Maliszewski from the old Grognardia blog wrote:

One of the nice things about the adventure is that how easily it could serve as a child's introduction to fantasy roleplaying. As presented, the characters are asked by a little girl who's lost her dog to find him, after a clawed creature came up out of the ground of Witch Hill and snatched the canine. Melodramatic though it may be, it's precisely the kind of hook that would grab my nine year-old daughter and I can't imagine she's alone in that regard. 
His full review on the Original Edition version can be found HERE.

I am in complete agreement with Maliszewski but I felt that doing a new version for Ballista also presented an opportunity to finally address some of the problems people perceived with the adventure over the years. My solution was to add additional but OPTIONAL content to the new version of Ramat. It can be ran without integrated any of the this optional material and the end result will be true to the nature of the original adventure albeit based on the slightly expanded version previous published for C&C. However, the optional content helps answer some questions and builds on the mythology that was already present in the adventure as backdrop. For instance, it explains how Witch Hill is currently a threat as opposed to just being accessible and yet somehow undistrubed all this time. More importantly, it can lead to a bigger and expanded threat as it casually throws aside the concept of a storybook happy ending involving a child and her dog. The added material is not much but it makes a different and I feel it makes for a tighter story which puts it more in line with some of the sort of material I enjoy running.

It remains a short adventure and, while keeping it to a 6x9 format, we kept the page count to 20 pages by including a bunch of basic, pre-generated characters. Between this, and the basic rules printed on the inside cover of the books, all you need is add some dice and you are good to actually PLAY this adventure without the need for ANYTHING else!

In other words, you can get a game going for you and your group of friends for LESS than $15 USD (covering the cost of this book and a basic set of gaming dice).

My next post will cover more about the layout and the stat blocks used in the Ballista line.

M

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Ballista: The Secret of Ronan Skerry


Two nights ago, I started talking about Ballista and basically gave a broad-strokes description of what this new line was going for. Tonight, I'm talking about the first release in the line which helped shape the layout for the rest of the line.

The Secret of Ronan Skerry, written by Michael Davis, was the first Castles & Crusades module I worked on that was released in the summer of 2009 as a Brave Halfling Publishing publication. Originally released as a digest module, it was followed by a full-sized second printing a few months later. Work for the second printing marked the beginning of Arcana Creations. Most copies of the first and second printing sold well initially and remains a favorite of mine when I consider the body of Castles & Crusades adventures now available today. It only seemed fitting that the first title in the Ballista line would be this one.

The adventure itself takes place on an island and is largely overland and geared towards a party of lower level characters. In it, the party is called upon to investigate the disappearance of a group of monks who man the lighthouse on the other side of the island. It's a simple, fun, and very well done and had the distinction of being very well written making it a great choice to iron out the details with the layout. It is also not a very well known adventure scenario since it was done first with specifically C&C in mind. I'm really hoping that the new line will give this title renewed interest

This book as well as the rest of the line is in a 6x9 inch format book. So it's a bit bigger than a digest sized module but smaller than a regular sized adventure module. Page count for this book is 20 pages which matches the page count of the full sized version originally made for C&C but much smaller than the 32 page digest book originally released. The biggest difference between this version and the full sized C&C version is the Appendices that have been cut from the C&C version. The text of the scenario is essentially the same (save for minor editing). This format makes using an electronic version on a tablet ideal. A 7 inch tablet is serviceable with an 8 inch tablet being great.

Regarding the 'cut text', since the Ballista format is both generic and simplified, there is little need for extraneous fluff text or gaming crunch tailored to any specific game system. This helps keeping the page cut down in a smaller page version of the scenario. The quick rules included to play this adventure (as well as all Ballista Aventure releases) are included on the inside cover of the module. But I'll go into detail of these rules as well as the stat blocks and layout in another post before the launch of the Kickstarter.

The retail price for this module is $12.50 CDN which works out to about $10 USD. Pricing will be better during the Kickstarter campaign as well. All modules are printed in Canada at a local printer I have worked with for about a year now.


M

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What is Ballista?

Anyone who has read my blog on and off over the years (and remembers) could explain it away in different ways. I had to look myself and talks about Ballista goes back to 2011. So many things have happened in this gaming landscape in that time period. It was... at first a periodical. Then, as I worked on creating content for the first issue of that periodical, I stumbled upon something really cool. The idea became the Ballista Rules Companion and I scrapped the periodical and decided to just re-purpose some the material for this. Then I proceeded to build up... tear down... and build up a system and framework.

Before all of that... I had a different idea. The idea was basic enough and it was FAR from an original concept. I had already produced a couple of adventure modules for Castles & Crusades and was looking at converting some of these to Swords & Wizardry. Given the similar roots that these systems shared with so many other like them thanks to the OGL and the SRD, I mused that a condensed set of rules could be included in just a few pages at the back of the module eliminating the absolute NEED for a rule book. So... I essentially went back to that idea and build from there.  So...

What is Ballista?

Ballista is a new line of adventures and gaming material published by Arcana Creations. The books in this series is all about providing a basic, rules-light, gaming experience making it easy to get into and start playing.
 
What it is not.
 
Ballista is not a new game. Instead it uses a distillation of elements found in the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game whose roots stretch back to 1974. The material is simplified and streamlined in order to maintain compatibilities with many other rule systems that share the same familiar gaming heritage.

What rules do I need?   

Very little. Each adventure module has some basic rules written on the inside cover of the booklet and others also have pre-generated characters. If you are familiar with any old school fantasy role playing game or newer games that derive from them, you can refer to those rules. Two excellent games to consider are Castles & Crusades published by Troll Lord Games as well as Swords & Wizardry published by Frog God Games.  Both companies offer free versions of their games in electronic format.
 
However, as long as you have characters in hand, the rules summary and suggestions provided in a Ballista book are all you really need to play.

At this point... we have three titles ready to go with another two on the way. Since this is a NEW line, I wanted to have a small selection to start with as opposed to just one or two. As such, the first three titles have been previously published for a different system though there have been some changes beyond a simple 'conversion'. In the next few days, I will showcase each of these titles as well as to illustrate what ties it all together as a new line. A Kickstarter to launch the line will be starting in less than a couple of weeks.

M