Friday, May 24, 2019

Into the Unknown is now available in print & pdf

Into the Unknown is an Old School game that seeks to blend the Basic & Expert rules and style of play of the '80s with the current 5th edition ruleset of the world's most popular roleplaying game.

What does the Game have?
The game is divided into five digest-sized booklets, optimized for use at the gametable:
  • Book 1: Characters holds all you need to quickly create a new character (52 pages)
  • Book 2: Playing the Game has all the essential rules for players to get going (28 pages)
  • Book 3: Magic is strictly for those players whose characters are spellcasters (54 pages)
  • Book 4: Running the Game has everything a Game Master needs for running old-school games (85 pages)
  • Book 5: Monsters holds a selection of ready-to-use critters, complete with morale scores and treasure types (65 pages)
These are all laid out and edited to be as quick to scan and find what you are looking for at the table as possible- no more getting bogged down by looking things up in play!

Read a quick Introduction from Book 1 summarising the rules and its differences to 5e. (pdf)

How is this different from 5e or B/X?
Into the Unknown is based on 5th edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game and is fully compatible with it to the extent that you can easily create a 5th edition character and use him in a game of Into the Unknown and vice versa.

What sets it apart from 5th edition is that this is a "non-advanced" version that hearkens back to the "B/X" version of the game. It has been simplified in many places to speed up things such as character creation; "race-as-class" is back; so are old-school mechanisms such as morale, reaction rolls, 'random encounters', 'gold for XP' and henchmen.

For players used to 5e, Into the Unknown is easier and runs faster, and is an excellent game for exploring the old school style of play or introducing new players to the game.

For players used to running B/X, Into the Unknown is an opportunity to explore the latest edition of The Game without losing that Old School style of play you have been used to.

Additionally, the game offers a clear and structured approach for Game Masters to quickly and easily build a sandbox and run open-ended hexcrawl wilderness adventures, with simple and seamless mechanisms for time tracking and resource management to add a sense of pacing, tension and urgency to your old school dungeon-crawling games.

It also comes with plenty of advice on how to play the game in the Old School style, and a toolbox for how to houserule your game into something that fits your game table.

If you like the modern rules but would like to run more Old School games, this is the game for you!

A note on pricing:
There are bundle deals for those who want the whole game and the savings are notable.
Likewise, I encourage people to buy this in print - The revenue from print sales is less for me than with pdf (and even moreso on print bundles) but the hope is that they will be used at the game table.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Into the Unknown is complete! (pending proofs for release)

Today, I finished the last bit of writing, editing and proofreading on the last book, uploaded the files to onebookshelf and am now awaiting approval (which will go through no problem I expect) before I can order proofs. When they come in, and assuming they look as I expect them to look, I press the button for release and they are released! I expect this will be no more than two weeks away.
In between there is a few hours work with fitting the pdf products with cover and back cover, writing product descriptions and setting up bundle deals. But the files I have on my computer are basically the ones I expect to go on sale in two weeks or so.

I can't quite believe I am finished. This started out as a small scale project I thought I wrap up in a few months, grew into a complete game with ambitions for proper layout, plenty of artwork and all that jazz that people would enjoy having at their game table. The last year of sickness I've battled with didn't exactly speed things up.

The biggest challenge has without a doubt been book four, the gamemaster's guide. Where the other books were in large part about creative adaptation, much of the gm guide was written from scratch - Add to that, it took a very long time for my vision of it to condense into its current form and structure. The finished guide is my attempt at a definitive old school GM guide, most of which appplies to any ruleset - It straddles between brevity and focus vs completeness, fluff/advice vs. usable toolsets. Unlike the DMGs of D&D, it does not attempt to be a catchall versatile guide to all things D&D.

It's pretty focused on how to build a dungeon, build a wilderness sandbox, and build a settlement; and how to run adventures in these. Sprinkled with some advice on how to do all this in the Old School way. It's been thoughtprovoking to me that since Basic and Expert D&D, it's only really non-d&D products that have offered a tight focus on this aspect of gaming, in a way that doesn't either gloss over lots of stuff that old schoolers would consider integral to old school play (Pathfinder, 5e) or leaves a lot unsaid for newbies to figure out themselves or online (retroclones).

In that sense, Into the Unknown exists in a similar space to Torchbearer, The Perilous Wilds and Freeboters of the Frontier - As a modern and comprehensive light ruleset to emulate old school style of play. The difference to these is that ItU is basically teaching 5e how to play like B/X. "Un-advanced" 5e so to speak, with a focus on OSR style gaming.

I am glad that I did the heavy lifting early on while my enthusiasm was high. There is a lot of number-crunching on damage-per-round, design analysis etc., under the hood to make it fully 5e compatible that most players will probably never notice that I wouldn't want to ever do again. But it's done, and I am quite happy to be able to say that you can take your 5e dragonborn paladin or tiefling warlock and use at an Into the Unknown gametable without any conversion necessary.

There is a character sheet in the making, that I am excited to see myself. But I won't wait for it to finish. I am too excited to share all this with you guys!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The first proofs for Into the Unknown have arrived

I am pumped. The proofs for the first two booklets arrive yesterday. With a few corrections, they look pretty much how I was hoping they would look.

Here is a preview:

Status for the rest of the project: Layouting for the 3rd booklet more than halfway. One section left to write in book 4 before layouting can commence.  Some grunt stat blocks to work though in book 5 before layouting can be done there. What I need are a few days of uninterrupted work, but life keeps throwing obstacles my way - currently in the hospital where my fiancee is undergoing surgery for a broken arm. Our christmas hollies in poland cancelled (where I was planning to find the time for it).

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Setting Review III: Dark Sun

Having reviewed some oldies in Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, the time has come for a setting from the 90s.

The early 90s saw TSR embark on the most ambitious period of setting creation that hasn't been matches before or since, releasing no less than seven settings in boxed sets with full support in five years. One of them, developed under the working title of "War World" as a setting meant to support the Battlesystem rules, was Dark Sun, released in 1991.

Dark Sun has a special place for me personally. It was the first setting I bought that was brand new when I picked it up. Settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance all had history by the time I discovered them, but Dark Sun I got to explore from the beginning of it when I picked up the original boxed set at my local game store.

Grognard retrospectives typically argue that this period was the start of the nadir for old school gaming as sandbox exploration, resource management and deadly encounters set in picaresque post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery settings gave way to epic fantasy, story archs and player character fetishization  - Dark Sun however, took the old school virtues and genre nods and dialed it up to 12.

Quick intro to the setting

Dark Sun is post-apocalyptic Sword & Sandal setting taken to the max. An area of seven city-states ruled by despotic sorcery-kings (each taking their cultural inspirations from Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia/Babylonia, India, Khmer, central africa and the Aztecs), exist in a scorching desert wasteland that is a mashup of Mad Max, Dune, Tekumel, Planet of Adventure and Barsoom, where everything is trying to kill you in the name of survival.
Dark Sun, more than any other D&D setting, is a world where simple survival and resource management takes centre stage - Because it is so scarce. Water in particular remains a concern even at high levels when you roam the desert. Getting rich as you advance is not a given, as everyone is out to get you. Hell, even just getting your hands on some steel weapons or armor is a big deal. But really, to get the setting there is only way to do it - the artwork of Brom:

The Dragon of Tyr

Further detail

I previously blogged on how a properly realized setting should have its own monster book, magic book and classes. And Dark Sun is a great example of this. All the classes and races get their own twist to fit the setting - Clerics get their powers not from gods but the four elements. Wizards directly impact the environment by draining life from the soil around them. Bards are basically assassins with a social cover identity. Elves are long distance running nomads. Halflings are feral cannibals. You can play a four-armed insect. Only 36 monsters from the monster manual actually exist in Dark Sun, the rest are unique to the setting. there is only one dragon (pictured above) who is the baddest defiling wizard in the game. And pretty much everyone have psionics, including all PCs. Even plants have psionics, so they can better kill you to survive. Playing in Dark Sun feels different to other settings - and the rules all help establish that..

That Dark Sun is a game of survival is emphasized not just by the harsh survival rules and lack of resources available to players, but also with the "character tree", a method for having a folder of PCs you can swap in and out and advance somewhat in tandem. Basically telling players that yes, they should expect their characters to die but at least with this they don't start from scratch every time.

Publication History

The good news is that all you really need is the original boxed set and maybe the Dark Sun monstrous compendium. You may have some tinkering to do with rules to suit your system of choice, but you will never be in doubt about how to run the setting. What the supplements can offer you on top of that is really not that much.

The original boxed set was basically one of the best sets TSR ever made. The Wanderer's Journal booklet in it may be the best guide to a setting ever written - A 1st person narrative that strikes a perfect blend of being evocative and stirring to the imagination, murky on the details a DM would want to fill in himself and terse enough that it doesn't try to be a novel. Its 80 pages of content have no gaming content, can be read fairly quickly and truly immerses you in the world under the Dark Sun. This book alone places the original boxed set as the definitive guide to Dark Sun that all should start with.

The setting had good support with supplements and adventures from the outset, with books like Dune Trader, Slave Tribes and Veiled Alliance offering detail on aspects of the setting you'd want to focus on, without changing anything about the setting itself as many setting supplements end up doing.
We also got Dragon Kings for crunch, the most bad-ass gonzo high-level sourcebook you will never use, giving rules for how 20th/20th level spellcaster/psionicists can become 'advanced beings' (dragons, magic butterflies and elementals) and start casting 10th level spells, whilst fighters amass giant arms and rogues.... become higher level rogues. Pure psionicists also gain the high level feature of being sought out by even higher level psionicists telling them to stop using their powers, or else. But overall, a much better take on high level play than anything else TSR and WoTC ever managed.

A fair number of adventures were published for Dark Sun - all of them can be skipped without missing anything. The intro-adventure in the original box is probably the best of the lot and that doesn't say much. Most of them are rail-roady and/or tie into the novels to advance the metaplot (see below) and cast the PCs as big damn heroes, rather than the picaresque survalists-of-fortune that the setting is basically shouting at you to play. Really, the best way to run Dark Sun is as an exploration-based sandbox, with city intrigue on the side, with a focus on episodic tales rather than evolving story archs.

And then there are the novels of course. Pure bullshit. Within a trilogy or two, more than half the sorcery kings are dead, so is the dragon. They were all apprentices to Sauron the biggest evil sorcerer ever who was brought back to life and then killed by a sorceress who got cheat codes to wizardry we never knew existed before mary sue needed them. The environment is now changing for the better and democracy is on the rise! In other words, Rose Estes on Greyhawk levels of completely missing the point of the setting. It genuinely boggles the mind that Troy Denning was co-creator of a brilliant setting in the original set, then proceeded to fucking wreck it with his novels. How can a guy fail so utterly to get the point of the very world he helped create? A total clusterfuck and one so bad that when WotC released Dark Sun for 4th edition, they simply retconned it out of existence - something they have never done before or since to any other setting.

We got a second boxed set off the back of the novels to reflect the massive changes there and also expanding the world to now have savannahs out west and a sea full of dolphins somewhere up north - basically more bullshit. They changed the logo for this as well, which means there is a nice rule of thumb for what to pick up. If it has this logo:
Then you are good to go. If, on the other hand, it has this logo:

It's gonna by infected by the bullshit WotC had to retcon out of existence later on.


Dark Sun is easy to sum up as a recommendation - It is a the only D&D setting where simply staying alive is an accomplishment in itself and the only D&D setting that truly departs from medieval fantasy in favor of the more exotic. If you think this sounds cool and you like the artwork pictured above, Dark Sun is going to be awesome for you. If neither is true for you, you won't like it.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Introducing: O5R Games

I am far enough ahead with Into the Unknown being print-ready, that the first two booklets just needs proper cover formatting to be print ready. And am basically 90% done with the remaining three. SO should be only a few months away now from a POD release.

Which also means I've set up O5R Games at And at this point, I think the game needs a more focused platform than the blog I set up originally to riff on my homebrew setting.

So I've set up this new blog!

That is where all items related to Into the Unknown will go. But also anything OSR related and of general rpg interest. Basically the old blog will go back to being a blog about my homebrew setting and stuff I think only I would care about. I've migrated most of the posts I think belong in the former category to the new blog as well. You can expect this new blog to be busier than this one. In case you actually want to see my homebrew setting musings, you can check it out here:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

System and Setting (+thoughts on ASSH)

I received +Jeff Talanian's Magnum Opus in the mail last week - The 2nd edition of ASTONISHING SWORDSMEN & SORCERERS OF HYPERBOREA (Jeff was a real gentleman and let me get in on the kickstarter run even though I missed the deadline).

It's kinda the opposite of what I am trying to do with Into the Unknown. It's built on the chassis of Advanced D&D 1e, while I am trying to build a modular 'un-advanced' edition of 5e. I am going for as lean as at all possible, with six booklets optimised for table play and 200 pages of gaming material being my top limit. ASSH is a massive 608-page hardbound single volume.

I am quite in awe of what Jeff has made though. The feel of the book alone, heavy from quality paper and binding, gives it potential to become one of those treasured tomes on many a gamer shelf. And the content is dead-on. I'd like to 'un-advance' a few bits here and there. But the classes, setting, monsters and spells are just dripping with ready-to-play S&S flavor that begs to be used.

I like to just hold it. It's that well made.

Which brings me to the point of this post - What ASSH does right is that it has no implied setting. Rather, its setting is fully explicit and everything in the rules is geared towards supporting that. It works. The monster list, the spells, even the class you play - all of it leaves you no doubt that you are playing a game of sword and sorcery - All of them are situated within the lands of Hyperborea beyond the North Wind. I can't think of a better way to establish the theme of a campaign.

Ranger fighting orc in D&D
Huntsman fighting a giant gorilla in ASSH
D&D wants to be a generic fantasy system, that you can then adapt to your own specific taste. This is a bit of a false assumptions though - Because the rules themselves carry their own implied setting. +Wayne Rossi showed how this is the case for OD&D - By the time of 5e, though D&D still sells itself as an adaptable generic fantasy system, it seems at least self-aware that by now D&D is basically its own genre of fantasy.

The downside of this is that when you adapt such a system to your own choice of genre, you end up with concessions to the implied genre of the game system. Your spells say nothing about the tone or workings of magic of your world. Your monsters neither. Classes and races only to the extent that some may be banned. Your monsters are picked from the same book as any other.

Really, setting publishers releasing D&D settings are too often taking the easy route. Any proper setting realise should have a fresh spellbook, its own set of classes, its own races and its own monster manual. At best we get a few choice additions for each.

Incidentally, this is why I think Dark Sun was such a well realised setting. Every class and race got a new entry in the Dark Sun rules. Only thieves were basically left untouched. And you get to play 4-armed bugs who like human flesh. Although spells were left untouched (a new spellbook just for Dark Sun would have been beyond awesome though), the way they worked was significantly altered - And with psionics so embedded, a distinct tone for the setting was set for this as well. And monsters - I don't recall ever using a non dark sun monster. The ones made for the setting just fit so much better. Even so, the list of monsters from existing generic compendiums that actually exist on Athas is limited to 36 critters. Fuck yeah. We don't ride horses or fight orcs. We ride Crodlu (upright lizards) and fight telepathic Belgoi that ring tiny bells to take over your mind, drain your CON with a touch and want to eat your flesh.
Belgoi - Upstaging orcs since 1991

The point being - Systems explicitly supporting a system really goes a long way towards supporting a setting. And the implied setting of generic systems can actually hold the realisation of your own setting back somewhat.

The upside of generic systems is of course that you don't have to learn a new rules system every time you want to try a new take on fantasy. And everyone knows D&D. But this is what I like about the OSR - We get spins where everyone knows the chassis being used - But with exactly these things being tailored to specific genres of fantasy. ASTONISHING SWORDSMEN & SORCERERS OF HYPERBOREA is just one example. Warriors of the Red Planet another. Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, though not geared towards one genre, understands that different genres require different rules and offers a variety of them. Dungeon Crawl Classics is Goodman Games' attempt to build a more genre attuned version of D&D.

So what does this mean for generic Into the Unknown? Well, one reason I think B/X was so popular is that being so lean makes it easier to build your own stuff on top to suit your needs. And I want to do the same with ItU - Basically to realise one of the stated design goals of 5e that were only half realised: Making a genuinely modular D&D. It's easier to add stuff from a lean base than take out stuff from a more complex base. So in the future, I hope to release a Sword & Sorcery module, with a different Classes book, Spell book and monster book. A Low Fantasy module. Etc.

In the future. For now, with playtest being open, I am just focusing on getting the basic system out the door.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Call for Playtesters - For "Into the Unknown" (B/X hack of 5e)

I've basically finished the DM Handbook - Still missing the treasure and monster book, but these should not be needed for review and testing. All the player material, save a bit of art and layouting in the magic booklet, is done.

SO - Anyone who would like to try out, or simply take a look at, a hack of 5e that harkens back to the simple days of B/X - where the rules properly support old-fashioned dungeon crawls and hexcrawls (and make them easy to run). Where reaction rolls, morale and race-as-class is still a thing.

Sign up to playtest "Into the Unknown"! Just join the playtest group here, and all the files will be made available to you. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

Both there and on the blog, I will also be sharing designer notes in the upcoming weeks.

The proposed cover for the boxed set