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RPGs and a Good Twenty Sider

Games as Stories

I like to refer to myself as a reformed game designer. I've spent 30 years playing and designing roleplaying games, from a long line of storytellers like my grandfather who liked to say "don't let truth stand in the way of a good story". Never actually knew the man, but that's beside the point. Storytelling games can be highly creative, literary events played out live with a small group of players controlling a fluid narrative. They can also be a basement full of unwashed fat guys playing Dungeons & Dragons. Take your pick.

Telrhin and the Old Campaigns

We've run so many games set in Telrhin, starting all the way back to 1984. Loads of fun and occasionally some good roleplaying too. It has its own dedicated site at telrhin.com with the Field Guide, the Adventure Logs, a Rules Museum... go there if you want to check out the ol' world and see what's up. And read the Telrhin blog.

Here's a world snippet from the blog to get you started: Lost Gods

And of course there's the Encyclopaedia Telrhinica (password required)

Hubris Games

Hubris Games ran from 1996 to somewhere in 2000 and put out 5 (and a half?) books. At one point there were people playing our games from Japan to Greece. I was always very appreciative of the support a small company like ours received. The games have since been picked up by Precis Intermedia and you can get most of it on their site. You can also find the original books at Noble Knight Games.

The good folks at Precis Intermedia Games (PIG) are the new publishers of Story Engine, and some of the Maelstrom books as well, so check out their site (pdf editions as well as print). They put out some good stuff, including a great diceless rules system called Active Exploits. They even re-invented the Venthi Imperium in their WARCOSM tactical space combat game! If you ever want to see the Maelstrom Second Edition I began work on, I encourage you to pester PIG and buy their products.

A few people have asked about issues of Hubris' Tempest Newzine, and you can find links to them here on the Telrhin site. There were only four of them. Here's the last (and personal fav) issue. (Thanks to Steven Roman and T Kurt Bond for their continued interest in Story Engine/Maelstrom).

cover image: Maelstrom Storytelling Roleplaying Game cover image: Maelstrom Storytelling Tales from the Empire cover image: Maelstrom Storytelling Book of Gray
cover image: Maelstrom Storytelling Book of Gray cover image: Maelstrom Storytelling Dacartha Prime cover image: Maelstrom Storytelling Explorer's Handbook

Maelstrom Storytelling RPG

From the old promo page:

"Before the great Equinox, there was an Empire. In the Empire, all things were good. The world didn't shift around, and the Shrikes were far away. There were great machines and ships that flew in the sky. There was the Law, and there was the Word. The storm was tamed, you see, and the Empire brought the whole world together with their obelisks and their roads."

"What happened to it, uncle?"

"It's gone, son. It wasn't strong enough. In the end, the storm tore it apart at the seams, and now all the world is broken in little pieces, all separate and beautiful.

Until the Storm comes,
and washes the world away."

Maelstrom is a science-fantasy world of supernatural powers and ancient civilizations. The Maelstrom is an entire world, and it's also a great storm so strong it changes the shape of the world as it passes over. Adventures in the Maelstrom can be about almost anything, from swashbuckling and treasure hunting to travel and exploration. There are powerful mages and ancient ghosts, courts full of intrigue and ruins of a lost empire.

Maelstrom uses the Story Engine rules for fast, fluid scene resolution. Action is resolved as a whole scene, based on the character goals -- there are no "combat rounds" or charts.

A review from Dorkland's Christopher Helton: Before There Were Indie RPGs, There Was A Maelstrom

A few reviews from Kenneth Hite's Out of the Box on Gamerati

OUT OF THE BOX 2000-09-21 (Dacartha Prime) https://gamerati.com/fine-old-fantasy/

"Every time Hubris Games revisits their fanta-scientifick world of Maelstrom, I like it better and better, which is beginning to pose a difficulty for me. If the next edition of Maelstrom gets much better than Christian Aldridge�s recasting of it in Dacartha Prime (132 pages, $20), I�m going to have to resort to thesauri. If you don�t already have Maelstrom Storytelling, the diceless RPG of shifting worlds and Leonardan airships, well, you don�t need it with Dacartha Prime; it reprints the �Story Bones� basic engine as well as the most recent version of the Story Engine Rules (much clearer examples this time out), so you�re good to go. The writing is still good, and the bravado of the world design gets even better; who else, while examining their science-fantasy quasi-19th century world-shifting city, will include its Periodic Table of the Elements? The art isn�t as uniformly excellent as previous works, but the graphic look is still top-hole. And there is a truly wonderful index. Top notch world design, married to a steadily-improving set (two sets, now) of diceless RPG mechanics � well worth a long, low whistle."

OUT OF THE BOX 1998-11-03 (Tales from the Empire) https://gamerati.com/chill-novembers-surly-blast/

"Down By The Old Maelstrom"

"The city of Diodet, centerpiece of Hubris Games� Maelstrom Storytelling supplement Tales From the Empire (96 pages, $15), is another kettle of fish. It wants to be Vienna, crossed with New Orleans, I think. (Both jazz and opera are Diodet�s passions, it seems, which might mean that it�s supposed to be Paris, but it�s not.) This city springs, like the world of Maelstrom before it, from the mind and pen of Christian Aldridge, and (I�d guess) from a bunch of things that archetypally seem cool to him. Hence, jazz and opera, and omnibuses and gaslights and airships, and dueling and manners, and coffee and opium.

"Since I think all those things are pretty cool myself (except, of course, for the opium � kids, don�t do opium, or you�ll fall into the lacquered clutches of the fiendish Dr. Fu Manchu and be forced to toil on his giant centipede farms forever), I enjoyed my trip through Diodet, annoying �Dio� slang and all. (There�s a trick to writing successfully in a made-up slang; Heinlein could do it, Aldridge doesn�t seem to have it quite down. I certainly don�t, which is why I don�t try.) But the trouble with a setting made up of elements which have only their creator�s vision in common is that said elements don�t often cohere well without the creator present; you don�t get a sense that there�s really a �there� there. With the best of intentions (and despite some very nicely-sketched scenario outlines � so far, that�s been a big and consistent strength of Maelstrom; its sense of story), Diodet doesn�t entirely gel. Part of that, of course, might be intentional; the world of Maelstrom is ever-shifting, although Diodet is supposed to be the One Fixed Point. Part of it, I�m afraid, isn�t � Daedalus� Nexus: Infinite City is a model of a successful �interdimensional city that feels like a real one.� On the other hand, if you�re running a Maelstrom game (or an even-odder-than-usual Castle Falkenstein game), there�s enough Diodet here to put your own spin on it and solidify it for your game.

"The maps in this book are the best of the lot both as maps and as evocations of a place; Ivan E. Ramirez� draftsmanlike work blends well with the �sketchbook� imagery that Maelstrom aims for, and the majority of the art in Tales From the Empire is more than passable (one particular ink wash of a fencer is nigh-superb), and even the howler exceptions (there�s one portrait drawn by someone who apparently has never seen a human head � which might make sense given the world of Maelstrom but sort of jars on us human readers) don�t break the mood the book works to convey."

RPGNow customer review: Maelstrom Storytelling (Dogbound Edition)

cover image: Story Engine (Revised Edition)

Story Engine Universal Rules

Story Engine was a game engine with the emphasis on, well, the story. All the RPGs at the time (with the exception of indie press rpgs like Theatrix and On the Edge) had evolved from tactical war games. Even White Wolf's "storytelling" system was just a round-based combat game complete with character classes. So we tried to re-envision how an RPG might work if you engineer it from the story side and not from the Avalon Hill side. The result was Story Engine, a scene-based set of rules where characters are qauntified by adjectives and affinities.

It first appeared as the rules system in Maelstrom Storytelling (1997) and then we re-wrote it for universal play, nicknamed internally "Engine2". A "revised" edition came out later, with a hardback "deluxe" edition also available. One of my fonder memories was seeing it on a shelf in a gamestore in Prague.

You can download the "lite" version, dubbed Story Bones

KHZ: True World

A game that never made it past the concept stage, KHZ was a dark science fiction/fantasy setting. The premise was that our modern world was one of many shadows cast by the Ondra, the source of all things, and in ancient times a great cabal of powers gathered under Marcus Aurelius and "sealed" the world from the others; the world now is in a secret struggle to fight the steady encroachment of spirits, sorcery and unnatural powers that exist in the shadows of our reality. Story Engine rules.

Luna Incognita (Alex Orszulak)

Luna was a fascinating exploration of ideas by Alex Orszulak. This is the original promo text:

"The Hubris Story Engine takes roleplaying into a post apocalyptic future with a lunatic twist. Earth is a toxic dump and after two centuries of civilization under the surface of the moon, humanity is just now recovering from near-extinction. The power grid is out of order, Echolocation experts compete with mutant sun cults for the religion of choice, and mysterious guests pour in from the ether. The Ceramic Age is here without a single working light bulb. Inspiration and danger entwine deep under unexplored regions. Welcome to Luna Incognita."

It made it to a second draft, which I hope Alex shares with the world one day. For my part I flirted with the idea of developing it in a different direction once Alex left. It was more of a sci-fi post-apocolyptic setting:

"The surface is barren.  Wind howls through the cracked domes of the old resort cities.  The thin atmosphere is only a reminder of the failed dreams of the Old Ones.  Civilization lies below.  Cavern cities linked by the drilled passages of the Machines.  Sunless oceans rake the shores of a vast underground world.  And overhead, floating in the sky, is a dead world the Old Ones called Earth." 

Kobolds Ate My Baby

The name says it all. Chris O'Neill, Dan Landis and I talked out the first draft in the car trip back from Origins. It was first published by Hubris Games as a stapled xerox, but then Ninth Level Games got birthed to meet the surprisingly high demand. They're still around publishing awesome Kobold products. All Hail King Torg!

cover image: Kobols Ate My Baby1
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