A bit of a late announcement for several releases. Let us begin with a quick overview of Case Files for Grim Noir RPG:
Unsolved Cases : A collection of six case files for Grim Noir RPG. Each case can be run either as separate short sessions or used as a base for longer campaigns. Released 01/2022.
Holiday Spirits : A case file with a touch of Christmas: Santa is accused of a theft, and the players work to prove his innocence. Released 12/2021.
Dead-End Murder : An example detective style case for a session of Grim Noir RPG, designed to introduce new players to the game and its world. Released 10/2021.
And finally, let us continue on to Bliaron 2nd Edition mobile app release for Android. The app features an advanced character generator, greatly improved from the online character sheet, characters saving, loading and sharing, compatible with online character sheet, as well as a fully featured spell creator and an overview of the game rules.
We have updated the online character sheet to the version equal to the updated Bliaron 2nd Ed. (v. 0035). In addition, some advanced options for quick character and npc creation are now provided.
When using the NPC mode in concept-based character creation, experience points are forced to preset amount, ranging from 40exp for Beggar and Mudlark, and 100exp for Archmage and Blackhand Elder.
There are also various other advanced options that can be used to fine-tune various branches of random character creation, but are likely less useful for an average user.
We aim to keep the compatibility between versions as good as possible, but for longer campaigns, it’s nonetheless a good idea to backup your character (e.g. write the details to another character sheet or take a screenshot). If you experience a problem, you may contact us via e-mail northernrealms(at)northernrealms.net or facebook (Bliaron RPG).
We are sorry to inform that our website was recently tampered, which means we had to take an action and reset the website. Visiting the site is now safe again, but things may seem a bit out of place for a while.
It will take us a while to get back on track. Much of the wordpress theme and the codebase was unfortunately lost. We can’t currently rely on backups, as there is a chance that the backups were tampered too.
If you still encounter problems with the website, please contact us via northernrealms(at)northernrealms.net or any other method you can think of.
We are proud to announce the release of Bliaron 2nd Edition, a fantasy tabletop role-playing game of spiritual magic and Bronze Age political, ideological and cultural tensions! You can now buy the book via online RPG shop DriveThruRPG. Be sure to also check out the Bliaron RPG Facebook page and the homepage for the game!
The game is set in a fantasy world that draws its inspiration from the ancient history of humankind, somewhere in the Bronze Age. However, some of the world has connections even to prehistoric times, into the very early history of humankind. It’s the age where the first city nations are born, the very first Republics and Kingdoms arise and culture starts to create things like law, politics and education. The interests of new civilizations, however, conflict harshly with various native cultures that have not yet established such systems.
The magic of Bliaron is based on the actions of spiritual creatures, similar to how an ancient person might have interpreted the world. It’s based on an idea that everything (rocks, grass, animals, souls) has a spirit, and influenced heavily by various old religions of the world. The game features an in-depth magic system with three different ways to use magic: Spellcasting, Runesmithing and Ritualism. All spells are created by combining various Effects and Qualities through a spellcrafting system that allows trillions of different spell variations. The rules are as simple as possible (roll few d10, add number, compare that to a difficulty), but the extra depth related to the spell system will nonetheless take a bit of time to absorb.
The world is full of conflicts that can be used to build stories. A powerful mage organization The Grand Sahen controls the Republic of Bliwon in the South, whereas the North is controlled by the King Artan, a Kalthan who rose from the dead. Loosely organized rebel Blackhands work in the shadows and strive to gain control over the Grand Sahen, while old rulers of Northern Bliaron scheme under King Artan’s rule. There is also a chapter on Encounters, and dozens of adventure starters to boost the creativity of both the Game Master and the players.
With all of this and more, we hope that you enjoy this game. It’s a work of dedication and love, as well as a creation that strives to induce thought, broaden the cultural and political understanding, all that in a very enjoyable joyful and exciting package.
How do you become a good GM? How do you keep the excitement and the thrill of adventure alive? Are you a good improvisator, and how do you get better as a improvisator? These are tricky questions with many possible answers, but armed with over 15 years of GMing and 8 years as a professional of performing arts, I’m now going to share you few of my favorite tips and tricks for semi-improvised gameplay and emergent storytelling.
However, let’s first define what we talk about when we use terms like semi-improvised gameplay or emergent storytelling. These are gaming styles, or game-design styles, and here I’m referring strictly to tabletop role-playing, not computer gaming, theater or literature. They are choices of gaming style you make before you start to play. When you say you are playing a game based on improvisation and you want the story be emergent, you are essentially saying that you don’t know in advance what’s going to happen, and you expect to come up with interesting ideas during the play. Emergent storytelling is a group effort, an adventure where you as a group of people, decide to sit down together for a few hours, and see what’s going to happen. You make an unspoken agreement that you are going to spend this time together, and do your best to enjoy every moment to the best of your abilities, and none of you knows beforehand what kind of story is going to unravel during your game session.
This is a choice of style. If you want to play a game where the GM has a pre-planned the adventure that the players will follow, you can do that, and by no means it’s any worse. I’m going to refer to this gaming style as fixed adventure gaming, for the lack of a better term. I’m specifically not talking about no-prep, zero-prep or not-planned gaming, because the main difference is not the amount of planning, but rather the quality of planning (that is, what kind of planning you do). It’s also not a black and white decision, you can opt to keep parts of the adventure open for emergent storytelling, and keep the main lines of the plot fixed and pre-planned. There are various GM guides based on this idea, e.g. see this blog post or this article, and you may even benefit from following some of these advice, even when you later choose to go for more improvised style.
Okay! So gimme answers!
Tip #1 : Encourage a style of active playing
Start the game by talking about the style of the game! As a GM you have something pre-planned, but you don’t know really know what’s going to happen. The story might branch wherever the player characters take it, and as the GM you try to do your best to keep the game going. Good stories are often really about the characters and their choices, how they choose to deal with the various situations. Tell your players that you also expect that they do their job too, and you expect active playing from their part. That means, players should be ready to take action, put their characters in danger, and feel free to make bad choices for the sake of a good adventure. They don’t necessarily need stupidity, but they need to do decisions that have consequences. Being active can be even simple things like looking around, expecting thing to happen, and making loaded questions, that is, asking questions while having assumptions.
For example, in a market environment, player might ask “so, I feel like my character is fond of pretty things, so.. I guess I’m going around.. would there be something… red and nice looking there?” And this kind of question helps the GM enormously, it’s already giving choices for the GM to respond, making assumptions, it even tells something about the character’s personality. GM might then come up with an NPC that notices the PC’s desire for beauty, and this might further spring into an interesting social interaction. Compare this with a plain question “what do I see in the market?” This is not a bad style of gaming, as it’s at least asking a question, but the responsibility of creativity is now more given to the GM, and it leads to more GM tells a story -kind of situation, whereas you were really looking for gaming style, where the story would be emerging from the social interaction around the gaming table (or virtual gaming table in these times of coronavirus pandemic).
You have a group of people, so use the creativity of all of the members, so you are more likely to come up with something interesting.
Tip #2 : Feed your players
This is not about physically feeding them, although that might actually be a good bonus tip that helps their brain cells tick a bit faster. What I mean about feeding the players, is giving them options and ideas to respond to. Describe the scenes in detail, and help everyone to get a good idea of the scene you are playing. If you know your player characters, you might describe things that you expect them to notice. When describing scenes and locations, try to also describe the feeling of the scene, but let your player characters decide on their own how they feel about your scene. Use different sensations, describe smells and sounds, and encourage your players to try to find significance from these details. You might use tools like Syrinscape or play some background audio soundscapes to help you out to get everyone really absorbed in the scene.
Be ready to make conflicts, make things difficult for you player characters, and give them goals to strive for. Make their expectations falter, bring about things that complicate their doings. Don’t give things easily, but make them struggle. The key part of good stories is the struggle itself, and the story what happens when the characters strive to reach that goal. Make the story branch into side quests and other endeavors, as what happens in-between is really the story, not whether the main characters get there or not.
Whenever you players feel like they don’t have something to do, or the game feels like stalling, bring about an encounter or make something happen. Various NPC’s are good tools for this, you may also use groups of people, or natural events, to give your players something to attach and respond to. For being good in this, it might really be useful to be prepared, therefore, see the next tip:
Tip #3 : Know your backgrounds
Before the game starts, you should have a few ideas prepared beforehand. Maybe you have a list of few NPC characters, or a list of things that might happen, and you know enough of your world, about it’s factions, social rules etc. so that it’s easy to come up with material to feed your players. It’s also about preparing your mind, having a few ideas where the game could go, instead of just expecting to come up with good ideas during the play. The more you GM, the better you get at this, and you will expand your intuition of storytelling, but it’s nonetheless a good idea to extend your creativity by having a few lists and background notes around you.
Depending on the setting, read or design the important parts of your gaming environment. If you are using a ready-made setting, like Bliaron, read the chapters of the world that you use in your game. Get a feeling what kind of people live in that area of the world, and what kind of tensions there are between the people and what makes player characters somehow stand out. What makes their views or goals conflicting with the world around them. This is the kind of planning that helps you to create conflicts, and feed your players, encouraging them to also feed your imagination as a GM.
Tip #4 : Empower your players
It’s not only the GM that needs to get creative juices flowing, but the same goes for the players. As a GM, you should help your players to be prepared to take on the role of active players. It’s really important to take some time for character creation, and in Bliaron, pay close attention when choosing the Culture and the Religion for the character. These backgrounds already tell a lot how your character sees the world, and give ideas for interactions. All in all, backgrounds, ideologies and social contacts of the PC’s are the main fuel for the players to come up with creative content.
Some knowledge of the world in general is also important, but you also don’t need to give it all out at once. It’s often better to go deep into character creation, and think of the world closest to the PC’s and come up with details related to the characters. Talk about few general rules of the world, and you may even keep some thing on need-to-know basis, telling the players only about what their characters know about the world, and then be creative about what their characters think about the outside world. You might even come up with false details how your characters think about the world, as this will also likely fuel an interesting conflict later up in the story.
Tip #5 : Embrace failure
Improvisation is always about taking a risk. You never ultimately know whether you come up with good ideas, or whether your story just falls apart. You might forget important details, make some serious mistakes that make the story hard to believe, and sometimes you just face a block and feel like your creativity is used up, and you can’t come up with any good ideas. Talk about this before you begin, that you know that you are taking a risk, and you don’t know whether this particular story will be good. This also includes the ideology that it’s the responsibility of all of you to come up with a good role-playing session, and it’s a step further from the fairly common ideology where “GM is the entertainer” and “players are the audience”. Everyone is there to enjoy the game, and everyone should do their best.
And when you fail, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a game after all, and if it doesn’t seem like working, you should all strive to make it better. Or start a new game, perhaps have a break, and try again. Steer away from blaming anyone, as blame doesn’t bring out the good in anyone. Just knowing that you might fail, is usually the best medicine for not failing. If your expectations are high, and you are easily bothered by failures, it’s more likely that you end up moaning about bad games. If you choose to do improvisation, you will fail, sooner or later. Just don’t make it the end of the world. Laugh about it, accept it, maybe take a break, and don’t lose your faith in the good moments, as those are deemed to come up too, and they are not likely that far away after all.
There has been a secret deadline for Bliaron 2nd edition playtesting version to be finished on 25th of January 2019, and surely, we are there now. While some things still need work, the book layout is good enough for the purpose already. So… especially players in Oulu, Finland, beware, I will be targeting you very soon. As for the release, there are still some production hindrances regarding illustrations and proofreading, so the proper release date cannot be yet announced.
But meanwhile, I put up a facebook page for the game. There really isn’t anything there yet, but if you have any questions, I will try to answer them there. https://www.facebook.com/Bliaron-RPG-1230070883818011
Nature is often a big thing in fantasy, all sorts of strange creatures and plants with magical properties are important in setting the tone in a fantasy world. Bliaron is no exception to this, and having the majority of the world sparsely inhabited wilderness it is perhaps even more pronounced than average. What is then the main design goal and idea behind it? This is something reaching back to the Finnish edition, Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö, but it’s not very pronounced or underlined in the original release, it’s rather something like a hidden design principle. This is something I’m looking forward to expanding in the English edition, it’s a detail that I wanted to develop in the past, but it simply couldn’t fit into the scope of original release.
The Fauna of Bliaron is fantasy based on certain phase of earth’s evolution, something that happened before the age of mammals, but not as far back as dinosaurs. The majority of creatures of Bliaron therefore have either mammalian features or are direct ancestors of mammalian creatures. Danak is the prime example of the type of creature, but also beasts belonging to the Ide Jem -classification can fit this description. This is not to say that there couldn’t be any mammals, but especially for the Great Steppe, it’s worth trying to imagine what kind of lizard-mammalian hybrids could possibly live there.
Another thing is that Bliaron’s people probably would only have experience-based knowledge of animals, and actual biological studies would be extremely rare, some Sahen scholars going trying to describe what they can alike early scientists of Ancient Greece and Rome, but their texts would likely contain errors and brave assumptions. In Finnish edition, Ide Jem, were described as synonyms to “monster” or “beast”, like something not properly known or defined, but rather something big to be feared. Great, powerful, possibly magically capable animals, with somewhat divine origins, being the children of Uentan Jem, even more godlike and less defined legendary creatures. Ide Jem can be derived either from dinosaurs, therapsids or creatures of weird alien-like fantasy. There are currently seven different examples of Ide Jem creatures written for 2nd edition, but the base idea will remain the same, these are creatures that can be anything you make them, we recommend that GM’s invent themselves.
I’ve had a writing schedule of one page per day for Bliaron 2nd ed.. I felt I needed a clear goal, something to lean on, a deadline to push for. When I began to write, I had a fairly broad vision, but there were countless details that I hadn’t thought through. Surely someone might have told me that I need a clear project plan, when I’m going to do and what, and I probably would have believed that too. But I had no such plan, just this 1-good-page-per-day, and that’s it. And I stand by it, it’s a good method. I counted that I had something like 150 days, so if I’d keep up with the pace, I’d have 150 pages written by the end of 2018. I knew I should strive to quality material straight from the beginning, but on the other hand, doubt hit me, could I really push 1 page of quality material, fit for the book, every single day? It was actually quite unreasonable, I’m not that consistent of a writer, nor do I have enough game testing time to actually make sure that everything works straight from the beginning. And I also guessed that there would be days of no writing, and then I could compensate by writing more on better days. And then I’d probably use some days to edit, not just creating new material all the time… So I was bending the rules a bit. Quickly the 1-qood-page-per-day rule became just 1-page-per-day, on average. And even so, I fell far short of that. But the thing is, pdf for play-testing stands 88 pages today. But that’s 88 pages that I can actually be proud of.
Surely there are still missing chapters, and paragraphs that feel a bit fuzzy or unedited, but all over, I’ve been able to drop out non-relevant details from the Finnish edition, and came up with tons of new material. Somehow all of the text feels like it’s bringing something new and interesting. The one-page-per-day has focused writing into manageable times, but I’ve never had so long pauses in development that I’d forget what I was doing. So, the final question is, is the end goal actually amount of content or quality of content, and how can this be judged? It seems some games have different takes on this subject. Some people prefer thick books with hundreds of pages just to get the feeling that the designers have actually put some work into it, but others like lean and simply written books, as getting familiar with less content is easier. Bliaron 2nd edition therefore seeks the midpoint here, with as simple and summarized rules as possible, yet having enough content to answer to most questions arising on how to play this game. Just word by word analyzing, many commercial bigger rpg books tend to be somewhere between 100k to 200k words, some being leaner at 60-80k words, while few reaching as much as 400k words. Bliaron 2nd ed. will definitely be on the leaner side of this comparison (playtest book stands currently around 40k words, the final will be likely 60-100k words).
An interesting aspect of content generation is actually the one that makes it relevant to the players, the content that the players generate themselves. The core experience of role-playing revolves on what happens around the table. Prewritten content does have it’s say on what goes on at the table, but finally what makes role-playing different from reading a book is the living nature of the game. Role-playing thrives on the moment, experience, being creative and getting sucked into one’s imagination. The game aims to facilitate that by giving players tools and methods for improvisation. Text tries to answer to not only question “What kind of adventures are played in Bliaron RPG”, but also “What should we play RIGHT NOW?”. Looking at the content right now, this, improvised content generation, is one of the main focuses of game development and game testing going on right now.
Improvised theater (and acting in general) has plenty of good methods for this, but they are obviously directed more towards stage acting rather than tabletop play. The whole mindset of tabletop role-playing seems to be different, depending of course on the adopted style-of-play, whether you strive to tell an open-ended story together or try to play through GM’s pre-generated adventure. I try not to value which gaming style is better, as it’s just a matter of preference, and I can enjoy both styles of play, and it is possible to employ pieces of both styles in a single game, but when thinking about game design, Bliaron 2nd ed. hopes to explore the moment, when players sit together, get inspired of each other, and the story kind of generates itself. And this, I believe, can be helped by a certain kind of system design, and mentality that comes with it. There is a common way to react that is practiced in improvised theater – “Say yes, and” – and while it’s not always necessarily about saying it aloud, the principle is to accept what others are telling and build on top of it. While in theater scenes this can be understood as giving power on your character to co-actors, it feels counterintuitive in role-playing where players tend to like having the full ownership of their characters. But how about suggesting things? How about npc’s? How about generating content together about npc’s or locations? What amount of surprises, secrets and plot twists have to be only known by the GM?
Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö is not just getting translated to English, but more like getting completely overhauled and improved in the process. The Outlands is a broad term covering all sparsely inhabited areas of Bliaron, including the Great Steppe (Suuri Aro) and tropical rainforests of Molem and Zeles. All of these areas will have a distinguished feeling, and specific theme of gameplay associated with them. The Outland cultures have hidden knowledge, myths of ancient past of humankind and connections to otherworldly powers.
Wilderness areas also greatly differ from civilized areas like Republic of Bliwon and Kingdom of Horuc, by concentrating more on the connection with nature, spirits of the world, and relationships in the traveling troupe. Something similar to what’s seen in the Cast Away movie is seen in various wilds areas, when the main character Chuck Noland starts to talk to a tennis ball, and names it Wilson, to fill his need for social interaction. Similar reactions are expected to happen in Bliaron, when players wander into the wilds, they slowly get “more in touch” with the true nature and the spirits surrounding them. Suddenly, all trees, rocks, rivers will feel alive, like they all have souls. In Bliaron, all this will become true, spirits DO exists and if there were tennis balls to intervene with, they surely would have souls.
Pondering one’s connection with the nature will facilitate questions like – where do we come from, do we belong here, and what’s our place in the universe? And not only that, there will also be some answers, although there probably is no ultimate final truth to be found. The past, the Kalthan origins, can be revealed and understood through myths of the Steppe clans. One’s place in the universe is obviously a personal decision, but the structure of the world – how the magical forces intervene and connect, and build what’s known as the universe, can be understood in various ways, giving birth to several different worldviews seen in Bliaron’s world. Shamans see the world strongly though interaction of natural spirits, whereas Sahen mages think of magic as a moving force. There are groups who see it differently too, through symbolic connections between mundane concepts (e.g. “all animals connected” or “all mountains are connected”) or some see the world via necromantic worldviews like “world is filled with souls of the dead”, not actually that far from the world view of our oncoming Grim Noir RPG. And then, there are other questions to ask when otherwordly interdimensional powers are encountered, e.g. strange spirits rising from the Well of Life in Serito will make one ask: what’s further than that, what is there we don’t really know or understand? The great ocean beyond the islands of Zeles will hint of another set of epic questions: Where are we going to? What’s beyond the ocean?
It’s not like these ideas weren’t present in Finnish edition, but as for game development, it’s now a task to bring these ideas easily approachable, and really polish the intent, and write everything out as clearly as possible. There will be boxes with extra information, example clans, npc characters, clearly written out adventure rewards and special myths to investigate. And hopefully, all this will come out as an adventure with interesting content. And we really do our best to summarize this, leaving out non-important detail as we write. For Finnish edition players though, the changes brought on by English edition can be integrated in all campaigns, and all the detail and places written out in Finnish edition and “Bliaronin reittiopas” should be still more or less valid background material for use in English edition.
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How to make magic feel alive in a game system? How to make gameplay decisions with magic interesting? What’s the great mystery in magic? What’s the essence of a myth, why do we tell these stories? Why are mythic stories so alike? Is it our “genetic memory”, Jungian archetypes, or are they actual historical stories of the past? Are they mundane explanations of what was once thought as supernatural? Or are myths deeply philosophical stories that try to to answer to the questions like “What is being human really about?”, “What’s valuable in life?”, “What’s the meaning of life?”. Or perhaps, are mythical stories like Kalevala or Gilgamesh just very old forms of entertainment?
These are some of the questions I’ve been thinking of while working on the magic system for Bliaron English edition. I believe that greatest thing about magic is really the mythical unknown aspect. The one that keeps you asking what’s hidden behind the next layer. Most games tend to handle magic as a measurable force, a gameplay tool of sorts, that allows doing things not mundanely possible. It can be balanced to the extent that it’s no more than one another way for doing damage in combat, or a peculiar way of lockpicking. Fundamental idea behind magic being based on spirits is to give magic some character. It’s a whole lot more to work on theft with telekinesis, when you are “asking a favor” from a spirit rather than pressing a button that simply does the trick. It’s also much more interesting to work on a force that reacts to environment, and perhaps sometimes, behaves unexpectedly.
In Finnish release, Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö, we focused on bringing about a basic system that would have strong “magical theory” behind it. We encouraged people (and still do!) to use magic in creative ways, thinking more on how the magic behaves, rather than always looking for an answer in complex rules. Therefore, rules were left as light as possible, to enhance the message of “Play the game, not the rules!”. We left many explanations on the origins and inner workings of the magic open too, partly to leave that part up to the gaming groups to decide, but also because we simply didn’t have the resources and time to thoroughly analyze the different combinations and possibilities available.
In English edition though, this magical theory has been expanded, and our game design skills have got better, to the point where we can give concrete guidelines on how magical interactions should be gamemastered. The fundamental idea behind “Play the game, not the rules!” is still valid though, and magic will still remain as a living force that may still surprise at any time. On the other hand, magical meta theory will also explain some of that unexpectedness with the ability of spell and spirit merging (the ability of two or more spirits to merge into one). It turns out also that our revised system based on Effects and Modifiers also works on spell interaction. This means that all spells will affect each other, kinetic spells can toss other spirits around, destruction spirits will most of the time destroy and nullify other magic, and some spells might simply merge, and form an intelligent spirit that will not take orders so easily.
Some other gameplay-related additions are related to reaction spells, instinctive casting, noticing a spell, hiding magical activity and affecting ongoing spells directly. Compared to Finnish edition, many of these are more or less just clarified definitions, but some of them are new additions, and clear rules (although simple and light) should make them open new gameplay choices for players. For those magic-nerds who want to dig deep into essence of magic, there will also be options for more philosophical meta-level play, accessing and understanding symbolic connections in world composition as a whole, essentially diving deep into.. ahem.. DEEP questions.. but while fun to play for some, let’s face it, it’s not the main emphasis of the game. The important bit though, is to keep layers hidden and unexpected, to keep players active and facilitate creative use of magic.
Everything is possible. And.. remember to play the game (not the rules).