3 Questions about Hot Springs Island


The blog is not dead. I just do most of my blathering these days on Google Plus. The Kickstarter was successful and has been 100% delivered (aside from 10 people who haven't told me where to send the books!) and the books are live and for sale. There have been some great reviews that I really need to do a better job of collecting all in one place, but check out this excellent video review by Questing Beast if you haven't already.



A viewer asked a few questions about Hot Springs Island, and I thought it'd be nice to post them here, along with my answers.


Hi Jacob! First off, thanks for Hot Springs Island! Second off, I do have some questions, and will probably have more when I finish reading both books. But for now,

1. Approximately how tough should the Ashlords be? It was hard to get an idea of this because they have no precedent in D&D or OSR that I am aware. Svarku is at least a little afraid of them, but that could be more because of their numbers and connections rather than their individual power. I realize that you probably intended each DM to adapt them according to their own needs, but I nonetheless want to know how YOU would treat them.


1. Let me step back one level first. I treat Svarku and Damadar and many of the other big bad guys on the Swordfish Islands (especially if they're of an extraplanar origin) as demi-gods. In something like 5e, Damadar and Svarku are just too "killable" in a "toe to toe" combat situation. They should be scary as fuck to go up against, and you should (in my unenforcable ideal world) never go up against them directly or else face insta-death. So with that in mind, Svarku is afraid of the Barons. I view them of a power level comparable to low level gods. Or on the level of a demon lord that controls a layer (or their own infinite chunk of an infinite layer) of someplace like the Abyss. Or, "terrifyingly powerful, but someone like Zeus could fuck 'em up without that much of a problem". Now, all that said, I also don't imagine them really being a combat target. IF you're powerful enough to not immediately suffocate on the Plane of Ash, and if you're powerful enough to not be immediately smited, and if you're powerful enough to be an actual, potential threat, then you're powerful enough to be useful to them, and they've got access to levels of raw material wealth that could break a human mind to ponder. AND if you're that powerful, and you've been around enough to get sent before them, I also imagine that you've figured out a number of the pieces of leverage that are in play, and will probably be smart enough to be playing them yourself. And that's a really fucking long way to say, I never tested them as a combat target, but I think viewing them as a combat target in the first place is the wrong way to go about it. Your question is really good though, so as a direct answer I'd say "a little bit of both". Their connections are staggering, and they're the physical manifestation of an elemental plane on that plane and have a nobility title, so they should be fucking scary in my book.





2. Is Hot Springs Island unique among the Swordfish Islands, especially in how potentially disruptive it is to a greater campaign world? I'm relying off this review, an interview you did elsewhere (possibly on Patrick Stuart's blog), and my own incomplete reading in characterizing the island as "disruptive," such as by all the gold hyperinflating the world economy and those plants putting nail makers out of work.



2. The Swordfish Islands as a whole are intended to be disruptive in that way. There are similar elven ruins on 4 other islands, and hopefully we can keep rolling with useful plants. The whole idea I wanted to explore (look at how pretentious I am) is the idea of _abundance_. I think it's a problem that we're not good at dealing with as humans. We've got scarcity down pretty pat. To get hand-wavy I feel like there is tons of fantasy about "There are 3 magic swords on the entire planet, what does that mean?" and not much along the lines of "The material once used as currency has become so abundant that it's basically worthless, now what?". Honestly that's one of the things I like so much about Pokemon. All the pokemon are so powerful and so destructive that it's shaped the entire culture into that duel system because if anyone says "Pikachu attack the trainer with thunderbolt" like... the entire world will devolve into absolute chaos because everyone has ultimate power in their pocket.



3. Any plans to do a module set on the planes when you're done with the Swordfish Islands? Your vision of them is intriguing and I'm sure many players will want to get off their "backwater" world once they catch a glimpse of the picture you've painted.


3. Heh. Thank you. :D Maybe. I don't know. Swordfish Islands is in many ways my personal response to what I viewed as the failings of Planescape (super amazingly awesome, yet not dense at all) and I want super density, which is very difficult to pull off if you're dealing with the infinite. I kinda think it's going to be best to have a vague notion of the cosmos and let individuals leak into the Prime Material (in large part because normality is what will give them a frame of grapsable reference in the first place). But "backwater" is such an important term imo regarding this. I kinda feel like an awful person, but if the cosmos is at your fingertips, then your world (any world) is basically shit as far as I'm concerned. The infinite cosmos becomes reality and everything is defined by the squabbles of the various all powerful immortals, and your entire world is literally a dust speck compared to the infinite infinities. Nothing that happens there is important... except! If the planes are defined by the consciousness of their ruler/creator then, there is going to be repetition. Like.. when you're playing a roguelike game and after a while you can tell how this "random" cave is going to turn and you start hugging the left wall, and there's the exit, just like you thought it would be, but can't articulate why. So then the importance of the Prime Material then becomes the TRUE randomness of its creation (as well as potential worshipers). And this is what leads to things like Reywish. Which is also why trade (especially trade in raw materials) then becomes such a critically important thing. Maybe one day.

The Kickstarter is now live!


The Kickstarter for the Swordfish Islands: Hot Springs Island is now live! Finally!

Hot Springs Island is a high fantasy sandbox adventure setting that can be used with any table top role playing game. It's comprised of two books: One for players and one for the game master.

A Field Guide to Hot Springs
Island is a fully illustrated, 240 page book for players. It is written "in-character" and can be used by characters in the game world to help identify plants and monsters, translate ancient languages, and as a resource of advice and rumors.

The Dark of Hot Springs Island is the game master's book. It is a fully illustrated 192 page book. Hot Springs Island is a hexcrawl, and the Dark contains all the details needed to run a sandbox game there. There are 75 locations on the island, and 26 maps ranging from ogre villages to a ruined elven city to the volcanic lair of a vain efreet. Seven factions, 87 interconnected non-player characters and 300 problematic treasures are sure to generate plenty of lingering repercussions each time your players make a decision. Finally, 448 random events and encounter motivations help ensure that every play-through of Hot Springs Island can explode into wildly different outcomes from the same basic parameters.

Check it out! Tell your friends! Let's make some beautiful books!

Kickstarter Link


The Swordfish Islands: Hot Springs Island - An RPG Hexcrawl -- Kicktraq Mini

Livestream Later Today (4/29)




Three days remain in the Swordfish Islands Kickstarter. For International Tabletop Day (4/29) we'll be livestreaming a game on Hot Springs Island from 12pm CDT to 4:30pm CDT. You can watch it directly on the Kickstarter page, and ask us any questions you'd like!

We're fully funded and only $600 away from adding bookmarks to all the books!

A huge thank you to everyone who's helped get us this far! If you've pledged, you're amazing! If you can't pledge, but have told a friend or shared a link, you're amazing too! We couldn't have gotten here without each and every one of you. Thank you.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pandesmos/the-swordfish-islands-hot-springs-island-an-rpg-he

The Swordfish Islands


What's the deal with "The Swordfish Islands" and "Hot Springs Island"? How do they relate? What's going on here? Well... have a story!

Once upon a time there were four guys who decided to build a hexcrawl. It was going to be quick and easy. Instead of focusing on a huge and gigantic world, the focus was going to be on a small chain of islands. This way the resultant setting, instead of being broad and kinda empty, could be dense and highly interconnected.

One of the big ideas to accomplish this density was to put three discoverable locations inside of each hex. Each location should be somewhere that would be "cool to have a fight", and the way we judged this was to ask: "Now that we've talked about this place, would it still be awesome if it were made into a 2D background for a fighting video game like Street Fighter?"

Eventually we came up with a rough outline for 468 locations. Surprisingly, this wasn't as easy as we'd expected it to be. So we approached it from the perspective of "Well, who is living in this area now? What are they like? What do they need to be like that? Who was living here? How could they have shaped the area in a lasting way?


And we found ourselves saying things like "Oh man, and the tiny little mold guys use teeth as currency. So after you're infected and they burst of your corpse they start immediately harvesting 'money'." Or something like "Yes! And after the ancients built those blades into the mountain to decapitate the god, all the plants touched by the god's blood turned to bone." Or something like "No you guys, the queen specially wraps the bodies and floats them in this pool so they will rot just right and achieve a specific 'flavor'. We can call it 'The Marinade'."

And so one day we turned around had locations, and factions, and territories, and interesting remnants of the past, and major NPCs and minor NPCs, and all sorts of problems and consequences, but it was all just outlines. True, they were nicely detailed outlines, but outlines none the less. And then I said, "Ok guys... we need to finish one island. Just one. One that's big enough and complete enough and interesting enough to stand on its own, and then we can figure out what we actually need to do for all the rest of them."

And we chose Hot Springs Island. This island started off simply as "A volcanic island. Primal. Elementals fighting. Water vs Fire. Steam. Aquifers. Lava tubes. An efreet living in a volcano. Crystals?"

And now, over 100,000 words, 2 books, and 200ish illustrations later, we're ready to call Hot Springs Island DONE.



It was supposed to be so easy....


The Swordfish Islands: Hot Springs Island - An RPG Hexcrawl -- Kicktraq Mini

The Black Powder Manifesto


Black powder is comprised of three basic parts: charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur. Apply a bit of fire and not only do you get an explosion, you get a big puff of smoke and an aftermath of highly corrosive residue. This "explosion of consequences" can be found at the heart of most memorable and frequently retold stories. The death of Caesar. The choice of Paris. The storming of the Bastille. In each case, a powder keg of decisions, relationships, beliefs, debts and random chance ignited and we retell the stories of the explosion's flash, smoke and caustic consequences to this day.

This book, The Dark of Hot Springs Island, contains the materials to make powder for your table top game. 270 detailed rooms and locations provide plenty of flammable surface area. 7 factions, 87 detailed NPCs and 300 problematic treasures quickly lower the flash point of the status quo. A web of interconnected back story and NPC relationships ensures the burn is a messy affair with lingering repercussions. Your players of course are the spark, and with 448 random events and encounter motivations, every play through on the island can explode into wildly different outcomes from the same basic parameters.

But, like a tub of colorful plastic building blocks, the total number of bricks isn't as important as their modularity, so ignore pieces. Add new ones. Throw things out, or change them up completely. Combining the ingredients in different ratios should still lead to plenty of explosions. All that is really needed to run this hexcrawl is characters, the map, and the hex key [PAGE]. Everything else exists solely to provide consequences for the decisions your group makes as they explore. Every monster, NPC, treasure, dungeon room and overland point of interest is webbed together, but unlike Ariadne's thread, following these leads deeper into the labyrinth.

This setting is system neutral, so there are no stats for monsters or prepackaged treasure parcels. No levels are assumed, and there is no path of expected advancement through this tropical wilderness. The monsters will likely be tough, and the intelligent factions even tougher, but the motivations for (and thus potential leverage against) everything with a modicum of intelligence has been detailed. Combat is expected to be approached like war, and not a perfectly balanced arena skirmish. Crack the mountains. Flood the dungeons, and set everything on fire to survive.


On Hexes

Hot Springs Island is made up of 25, 2 mile hexes. Each hex contains three points of interest for players to discover and explore. These points are all physical locations that can be revisited and are not one time events or encounters.

There are three locations per hex in an effort to make the wilderness feel dense, but these do not have fixed coordinates within the hex to keep things abstract. Each location is numbered (1, 2, 3) and when a party arrives in a hex they will generally encounter the first point. This first point is normally an obvious natural feature or settlement, while the second and third points are typically less obvious, but noteworthy locales. These additional locations are best discovered by parties that have become lost in the jungle, spend time exploring, or are revealed by an NPC guide or object.

Players should have access to a map of Hot Springs Island as they play the game, and the enclosed map has blanks to fill in as points of interest are discovered. This way, in addition to the points becoming destinations, they can act as a sort of collection mini-game showing players that more is out there, waiting to be found.


On Time

The game master is strongly encouraged to use time as an enemy. As the players ignite the island's status quo time crunches, paired with distance, help make choices meaningful and help the island feel alive. Both the Fuegonauts and the Night Axe hold important events on nights with a new moon, and their bases are 8 hours away from one another on foot, so a plan that requires being at both events becomes much trickier to pull off.

In an effort to simplify tracking time for overland travel, we use a unit of time we call a watch. A watch is 4 hours long, meaning a day is made up of 6 watches. Traveling from a point of interest in one hex to a point in a neighboring hex takes one watch. Exploring a hex to find one of its other points of interest takes another.

Assuming 2 mile hexes of overgrown, often mountainous, jungle with no roads or trails to speak of, spending 4 hours to get from point A to point B and deal with an encounter felt like the right amount of abstraction. It also makes a day easily divisible. With this system if an NPC demands something "in three days time" it becomes very simple to set up three stacks of six poker chips and show your players their deadline. Removing those chips, one at a time, as they make decisions and come across new encounters has proven to be an amazing motivator.


On Tables

For the wilderness (i.e., the hexcrawl), motivation and encounter tables answer the age old question of "What did you just find and what is it doing?" These tables use 3d6 and they are stacked, or nested. For example, if the adventurers are in an area of Heavy Jungle you will roll 3d6 on this table:

Odds
3d6
Heavy Jungle
8
3
Elemental
7
4
Elemental
6
5
Intelligent
5
6
Intelligent
4
7
Intelligent
3
8
Beast
2
9
Beast
1
10
Beast
1
11
Beast
2
12
Beast
3
13
Intelligent
4
14
Intelligent
5
15
Intelligent
6
16
Elemental
7
17
Elemental
8
18
Elemental

All of these results (elemental, intelligent, beast) tell you which table to roll on next. If you get a result of beast you would roll 3d6 on the Heavy Jungle Beast table, and then another 3d6 on the beast motivation table. A roll of intelligent on this table requires a couple more rolls to determine faction and party size and then a roll on the intelligent motivation table.

This is, absolutely, a lot of rolling to determine a single encounter. Because of this, there is an interactive digital map so you can touch the hex your party is in and have your computer, phone or tablet roll for you if you like. But why do it this way and require multiple tables and multiple dice for each roll? Because of probability, territory and to establish a sense of "normal" that the game master does not have to keep track of. By nesting the tables and breaking them out by terrain areas can be differentiated by encounter. For example, coppermane prowlers live and nest in the mountains while broadbacks live in light jungle where they have room to move around. Additionally, the party will likely encounter Night Axe ogres around the north side of the island, and Fuegonauts around the central volcano.

Pseudo-naturalism sometimes gets a bad rap in table top games, but here on Hot Springs Island its purpose is to  establish that this world doesn't need the players. It has its own rhythm and system, and the players are the intruders. By defining normality it becomes easier to show what is strange, and it enables the game master to show the player's impact on the island by tweaking a few results on a sub table. For example, should the players decide to side with Svarku and his Fuegonauts and begin killing every Night Axe ogre in sight, as time goes by, Night Axe results on the intelligent tables can be replaced by Fuegonaut. If the players decide to establish a town and bring in their friends, "Adventurer" and "Intelligent" results can be increased and "Elemental" and "Beast" results can fade before the onslaught of civilization. Additionally, by pegging certain results to certain terrain types, misplaced monsters become a call to adventure. "What has driven the coppermane prowlers down from the mountains?" Likewise, A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island details out all the monster body parts that have value to the various factions. So now, a party that wishes to get into the good graces of a faction can take the knowledge they have gained of the land and go hunting.

In dungeons, villages, ruins and other "roomed" sublocations on the island the tables are slightly different. For these areas there are only three 3d6 tables, with no nesting. The first table, called "What's happening?" defines a zone wide event, or context for the area. Then there is an encounter and motivation table. The probability afforded by using 3d6 tables, when paired with motivations, helps establish the vibe of the sublocation. In dangerous, war torn areas there are much higher chances to get motivation results like fighting, fleeing or dying. Whereas in areas that are more stable, the local inhabitants have a higher likelihood of being found eating/drinking, repairing/maintaining, or social/creative. This effect can also be used to create places of transition where most of the creatures encountered are just passing through. As with the overland hexmap, establishing normal enables abnormal results to stand out as hooks to adventure.