Welcome to your new adventure

B.Y.O. Dungeon is roleplaying for one and for all

If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.

— Larry Page.

This is the very first of what I plan to be many, many posts about the upcoming B.Y.O. Dungeon line. Thanks for visiting. This is gonna be good.

So, what is B.Y.O. Dungeon? I can tell you, but first I’ll show you.

That up there is a sample page showing what the system does. In B.Y.O. Dungeon you start with one or more chapbooks that are filled with creative prompts, some partial pictures, and a whole lot of space for you to make your mark.

As you read through the book you fill in sections. You don’t have to start at the beginning, and you don’t have to do it all in one sitting. Heck, you don’t even have to do it on your own.

One thing that I’m very excited about with B.Y.O. Dungeons is that it allows you to be creative with your friends. If you want some surprise in your books, just pass them on to your buddy, have them fill in a few sections and then pass the book to another friend. In the meantime, you’re filling out sections for your friends. When it comes back to you, you’ve got a unique RPG module made by people who love you, or at least who are interested in throwing some challenges your way.

The base books in the B.Y.O. Dungeon series feature an overland “hex flower” of seven different, blank territories, guidelines and space to create your own encounter tables, wandering merchants, rumors, and even a dungeon or city in which to adventure.

Can’t get a group together? That’s no problem. With the random tables in these books, you can also run them solo. Yes, solo, as in classic gamebooks.

The books are designed to be close to rules-neutral. You can fill them in with stats for OSR NPCs, maybe Fate aspects, PbtA-style fronts, and more. To make things easy for you, we’re also releasing a set of rules, called, imaginatively enough, B.Y.O. Dungeon Rules. Do you need a B.Y.O. Dungeon booklet to play these rules? Nope, they’re standalone but they integrate well. Can you use your B.Y.O. Dungeon blank books with other rules? As we said before, yes.

Go ahead and pick up B.Y.O. Dungeon Rules for free at this link right here. We’re going to be releasing more material for that system regularly. And soon you can get your hands on physical, high-quality B.Y.O. Dungeon chapbooks, but more on that later!

Downcrawl: Interview with Aaron A Reed

If you haven’t heard of Aaron A Reed, he’s about to become a big deal in the RPG industry. Aaron just won one of the Judges’ Spotlight Awards at the 2019 ENnies for his sci-fi book, Archives of the Sky.

Well, Aaron has a brand new book out, called Downcrawl. I was attracted to Downcrawl because of its procedural generation elements, which are very much in keeping with the B.Y.O. Dungeon mission. Aaron was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.

BYOD: Can you please give us your elevator pitch for Downcrawl?

AAR: Downcrawl is a lightweight system for adding randomly generated, exploration-based adventures in a weird, endless underworld to your fantasy roleplaying campaign. It has systems for dangerous journeys, addictive fungi, rumor-based mapping, and generators for special places, creatures, and story-based encounters along the way. 

BYOD: What was your design goal when writing Downcrawl?

AAR: After playing a ton of experimental one-shot indie games while working on my previous title “Archives of the Sky,” I wanted to run something more traditional and longform again, so I pitched my players a D&D campaign set in the Underdark. But I had designs on doing something different. I wanted to hack something together that combined the “play to find out” spontaneity of Dungeon World, the procedure-heavy generative systems of The Perilous Wilds, and the strange ingenious worldbuilding I’d loved from zines like Wormskin and The Undercroft as well as the incredible Veins of the Earth. I was also inspired by the fantastic art of Zdzisław Beksiński (Google him if you want your mind blown) and wanted to take my players on a truly weird journey to a forgotten underworld realm. 
All of this kind of came together in a homebrew hexcrawl system that leaned heavily on randomized elements, but with a focus less on combat, treasure and leveling up, and more on creating weird creatures, places, and situations for the players to react to. I felt like with some playtesting and polish it could be a nice little standalone volume. 

BYOD: What does Downcrawl offer that you can’t get anywhere else?

AAR: Something I really miss from old-school roleplaying is mapping! I wanted a system where players made maps, but I also didn’t want that to get bogged down in the minutia of exact dimensions and measurements. As it turns out, the problem of mapping a three-dimensional underground space pushes you away from direct representational maps anyway: so what emerged is a player-created map at a higher level, of interesting locations and the routes between them. Players ask the GM questions about the map and the answers are semi-randomized: there’s actually no secret GM map at all, so the players are literally creating the world by asking questions about it, which feels very fun and cool in practice. There’s also an abstract resource called Tack that players collect and spend to successfully make journeys, and lots of interesting decisions about when to spend it (such as to increase your chances of succeeding at navigation rolls) versus when to hoard it for important big moments (like arriving at the right place in the end!)

BYOD: Does Downcrawl integrate with your previous release, Archives of the Sky?

AAR:They’re actually very different! “Archives” is a diceless, GMless system set in an epic far future among the stars, and a standalone game, while “Downcrawl” is a supplement for a traditional fantasy roleplaying campaign, set underground. They do have a commonality though in that both games are ways of exploring my ideas around helping players and gamemasters bring spontaneous creativity to the table to create better stories.

BYOD: What’s next?

AAR: I’ve mostly done digital narrative games in the past, but lately been exploring other kinds of interactive storytelling. My next project is actually going to be something different again: a horror novel that changes each time someone reads it. This leverages some of my game design procedural text skills, but the project itself isn’t a game: you’ll buy it like a regular printed book, but it’s from a print-on-demand service and in the background the act of buying it will trigger generation of a new version of the book on the server.
I also have an idea kicking around for a roleplaying game about magical librarians with a bunch of minigames you play with real books you bring to the table. We’ll see which one of these projects comes out first!

Quick Update, Exodus System Sci-Fi Core is on Sale!

I just wanted to let you know that the Exodus System Sci-Fi Core is now on sale for just 7.50. The Sci-Fi Core is a standalone game that also works with the standard Exodus System rules. It features a TON of extra material, including new Flavors for your characters, rules for creating mecha, starships, vehicles and weapons on the fly, and much, much more. You can even use the rules in this book as a standalone space combat game!

I’m hoping to sell at least 100 copies to help out with some expenses that have cropped up since I had a medical issue last month. For every 100 copies that we sell between right now and the end of the weekend, I’m going to send everyone who purchases it something good. What is it? A surprise!


Artistic Musings II: Dean Spencer and Continuity

I’m still on an artistic bent, so that’s what I’m sharing today. Last time I wrote about my undying love of JEShields, and now we’re going to learn about another one of my all-time favorite RPGartists, Dean Spencer

Dean has a very large body of work available for use as stock. I’ve seen it show up in books, advertisements and elsewhere. Comparison to other artists isn’t always flattery, but in this case I can’t help making it. Dean’s work tends towards painterly pieces that show inspiration taken from Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, though his black and white line art is also striking.

A typical Dean Spencer painting features an iconic character in an action pose. Rippling muscles, clever eyes and intriguing poses are all hallmarks of his work. Dean tends to focus on fantasy, specifically European fantasy, but he’s also got an admirable body of Asian-inspired pictures, and even a few African-themed or sci-fi illustrations.

The importance of continuity

One area where Dean shines is in the continuity of his pieces. He maintains a standard style from picture to picture, and every painting from each genre looks as if it’s a scene from the same fictional setting. This is incredibly useful to publishers who need consistency across their product line.

It’s more than just the overall look that carries through, though. Take a look at this image, which I’ve pulled from a DrivethruRPG page where Dean is selling the piece as stock art:

There’s a lot going on here. This scene is the fantasy equivalent of the cantina scene in Star Wars. Take a look at the fellow just off of dead center in this picture. He’s wearing a green cape and facing away from us. Get a load of this guy:

And this one:

Yes, that is three pictures, all of the same character. That sort of thing is VERY rare among stock artists. It’s also quite useful for when you want the art in your books to tell a cohesive story.

Want to know something really cool? That picture of the fantasy marketplace that I linked to above? The characters in that scene are in at least SEVEN other images that Dean has for sale. It’s a veritable Where’s Waldo of fantasy!

Collaboration and Patreon

Some of Dean Spencer’s images actually inspired previous books that I’ve written. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to commission Dean for a custom illustration, through that is one of my biggest goals in publishing.

The next best thing to custom commissions is supporting an artist through Patreon. Dean just so happens to have a Patreon page. I’ve actually been a supporter of the campaign for over a year now, and I’ve never regretted it.

Dean puts out probably nine color images and about that many in black and white as well. He offers credits that you can redeem for pieces in his back catalog, or in that months’ current release. On the off chance that there’s nothing that you can use in one month, you can spend your points on any of about 500 existing illustrations.

Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity to highlight someone whom I love to support. Do yourself a favor and go check out Dean’s catalogue on Drivethru today.

Artistic Musings I: JEShields

I’ve been wanting to write coverage of the various RPG artists whose work I appreciate. The first time I every spoke about this desire was a year ago, and it was with James “JEShields” Shields. So with my first article about RPG artists, I’m starting with James.

As a caveat, this is mostly going to be a positive article. I write about things that I like, not usually about things that I want to bring down. And as another caveat, while I wouldn’t call James a close, personal friend, we’re internet acquaintances and we message one another from time to time. I like him and I imagine that he at least politely tolerates me.

That all said, here’s what’s awesome about JEShields.

Signature Look

James’ work is striking. If you look at one of his illustrations,it’s intantly apparent that he drew it. This carries over to any genre or style. A JEShields asset cannot be mistaken for anything else.

Most artists specialize in one type of image or one genre. James does everything. EVERYTHING. Sure, you’ve got your knights and your orcs, but he also does historically accurate Cossack tribesmen, 20th century rebel soldiers, post-apocalyptic bikers, steampunk cowboys, Indonesian princesses and aliens from the far future.

No matter the gender, body type or ethnicity, James represents virtually everyone in his work. That’s not just lient commissions, that’s the stuff he creates on his own, too. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite pieces from JEShields:

Looks familiar, huh? James does a lot of these fantasy and sci-fi homages with his drawings. But do you see those colors? Look at how he made the tables look luminous, or used the purple light at the top. YOu can’t just see that place, you can smell it.

Or check out this fellow:

If that guy gave you a flashback to the 90’s cartoon Bucky O’Hare, you’re not the only one. Look at how’s got his feet planted, those guns akimbo, the determination in his eyes. A colorized version of this picture exists. I’m showing you this one to highlight another thing that I feel James does right. He makes both color and black and white versions of the pictures available. However, while he does offer grayscale versions of many of the color pictures, he also sells pics like our rabbit warrior friend. That is black and white line art that is actually supposed to look good in monochrome. It’s not cluttered, it’s clean and it is evocative.

Where to find his work

I’ve used James’ pictures in my own work, and am going to continue to do so. Most notably, the pretty version of The Exodus System. But we’re not here to talk about me. The book that I think makes the best use of JEShields is White Star Galaxy Edition. This book by James M. Spahn (someone about whom I plan to do another blog post one day) is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi RPGs.

It takes a “kitchen sink” approach and combines mainly Star Wars with everything from Doctor Who to Star Trek, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Battlestar Galactica and other sources. Do you know what, besides Spahn’s writing, makes it work? The cohesive nature of JEShields’ illustrations.

Closing thoughts

There’s a lot about JEShields work that I could say, if I had the time. His creative philosphy, his ability to stand as an artist in an age where everything else seems to be sloppy Pozer copy/paste, and his integrity as a person. I don’t have time for that. Just go out and give his work a look. You’ll be happy that you did. To see more of his work, leave a message and find a handy rate calculator for hiring him for commissions, here’s his website. If you’re looking for something right now, either for a book, GM handout or another project, check out hundreds of his pictures available for sale at DrivethrRPG.

Enemy Generator for B.Y.O. Dungeon and Troika

The standard Enemy starts with Skill 7 and Stamina 3. This is a weak, 0-point enemy that occupies the 7 slot on a 2d6 Encounter Table.  By 2d6 Encounter Table, I mean a blank table, laid out from 2 to 12. You roll 2d6 to determine which entry you come across in your travels. If the entry is blank, fill it in using this system, then encounter that enemy.

If you want to encounter more one type of enemy, roll 1d3, and check on the Encounter Table that many times.

For each point on the Encounter Table away from 7, enemies get 3 points. An enemy on slot 5 would get 6 points for being two slots from 7, while an enemy on slot 12 would get 15 points.

Enemies use the Small Beast Damage Matrix by default.

You can spend points on in the following ways:

1 point increases an enemy Skill by 1

1 point gives an enemy a +2 bonus in a specific skill or task, no more than twice per specific task

1 point gives an enemy +2 stamina

2 points increases armor by +1, from a default of 0.

2 points upgrades an enemy’s Damage Matrix to the next highest one

2 points grants an ability or upgrades an existing ability

Note that BYOD doesn’t use the same initiative system that Troika does. If you’re playing Troika, just roll 2d6 to determine an enemy’s Initiative.

Enemy Abilities

Enemies have no abilities by default. Once they have them, abilities are assigned to a face on a d6,which you roll alongside the others you use to attack. For instance, if your enemy has one rank in one ability, they roll an extra d6 when you clash blades. If that d6 shows a 1, then their ability activates. If they have that same ability at rank 2, then it activates on a 1 or 2. 

Should an NPC have two abilities, they activate on their own rolls. For instance, having 2 ranks in one ability and 1 rank in another means that the first ability activates on a roll of 1-2 and the second one activates on a roll of 3. Enemies cannot have more than 5 ranks of abilities. 

Some abilities allow you to spend points on improving their effects, rather than increasing their odds of activating. Unless otherwise stated, you can still spend points to increase an ability’s odds of activating. Upgrading an ability in any way, even if that upgrade doesn’t increase its chance of activation, counts against the five maximum ranks in abilities that an enemy can have.

Individual Abilities

Below is a very small sample of different abilities that you can use to make your characters more challenging to the PCs.

Bodyguard: May step in and take damage intended for its ally. There is just one rank to this ability, and it activates on 4+ when an ally in Near range takes damage.

Command: Up to 2 other NPCs in Long Range gain +1 to their Skill this turn.

Force Field: When this ability activates, add +2 to the character’s armor value for one round. You can spend a single ability upgrade to increase the amount of armor this ability provides by +1.

Obliteration Attack: Add the result of this die roll to your attack and the damage roll if you hit. You may not make attacks for the next X rounds, where X equals the result of this die.

Regeneration:When this ability activates, heal 1d3 Stamina. You can spend up to 3 ability upgrades to increase the amount of Stamina healed each time by +2.
Reinforcements: Call in a 2-point enemy to fight by this enemy’s side. Define the summoned enemy when creating this NPC. You can spend one upgrade to increase the summoned NPC’s points by +2.

Friends and Enemies

Not all of these encounters have to be hostile. You can use the same basic system to create encounter tables for dungeons or for relatively safe royal courts. The only thing that you’d need to change are the special abilities available to the NPCs to something less oriented for combat. Also, on the overworld or in a city you’re less likely to come across people who are exclusively hostile. To simulate this, roll 1d3 when encountering the NPCs. On 1 they’re hostile, on 2 they’re neutral, and on 3 they’re willing to help you.

Further Customization

Sometimes you don’t want to use the standard Beast Damage Matrices. That’s fine. Feel free to give your NPC’s actual weapons, especially if they’re intelligent creatures. Changing out the weapons doesn’t require any points. Instead you have to offer their weapons or any other such items as loot.

Final Notes

It’s a lot of fun coming up with random encounters and ways to customize them. I’ll be revisiting this article later on, especially for different environments. And remember, as always, you can pick up the BYOD rules for free over on DrivethruRPG.

Hidden Knowledge and Deadly Weapons

Hi, all. It’s been a few days since I posted here. Last Thursday I underwent a UPP, basically a tonsillectomy on steroids, and have been feeling under the weather since then. Well, to quote Bender Bending Rodriquez, “I’m back, baby!”

Today’s topic is character abilities. Since B.Y.O. Dungeons is all about coming up with your own content and sharing it with your friends, I only included a handful of abilities in the core book.

One of the books that I’m writing right now is a samurai hack for BYOD, and I wanted to share some fun stuff with you all. The d6 listing on the left of the page is there for when you run across a secret mentor during a random encounter. You can also use these abilities to add techniques to NPCs.

Look at the Deathseeker ability. It’s similar to the Berserk Rage in the core book, but follows a different design principle. Berserk Rage is an ability that you turn on when you need it most. Deathseeker is a lifestyle. You have to be not wearing armor while you use it, and it’s potentially much more dangerous to you. But that’s the path of the samurai. [Cue dramatic kabuki music].

And here are some weapons for you to wield in combat:

There is more coming in this line. I’ve got ninja, martial arts and some other content. If you want this in a handy PDF form, you can download it from DrivethrRPG for free.

B.Y.O. Warrior’s Pilgrimage

If you’ve ever come across my work before, it’s obvious that I have a thing for settings and games that take heavy inspiration from Japan, especially the various eras of the samurai class. What can I say? I’m a sucker for class struggle, fast action and drama so heavy that you can’t breath until the scene is over.

One project that I’m working on is a Japan-inspired setting for B.Y.O. Dungeon. It doesn’t have a name yet; that’s probably the last thing I’ll write. Check out this two-page spread below:

Image Credits: tsxmax and rattakette
Here’s a link to download the full-page image:

The story is yours to tell

This supplement is going to be a solo gamebook in the vein of Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, or Choose Your Own Adventure. I’m showing you this page because I feel that it really highlights what I’m striving to do with B.Y.O. Dungeon.

In most gamebooks everything is programmed for you in advance. You’ve got brief sections of text that give you a binary choice of which numbered paragraph to read next, and in some cases a few dice to roll. Here you get to customize almost everything about the story.

On the left-hand page you can see a fill-in history of Clan 1. Yup, you can even name the clans and their leaders as you see fit. Below the story section are a few stats. Clan 1 is a playable faction, if your brave ronin can earn their trust. Instead of the familiar Stamina, Skill, and Luck, clans have Resources, Might, and Cunning, which are suitable descriptions of an organization’s attributes.

Deadly rivals

Over on the right is one of my favorite pages. It’s the rival that pops up to make life hard for you. As you can see from the left page, the lord of this clan puts up with your rival for some reason. Once you set foot out of the city your rival is ready to ambush you. They start out with pretty threatening stats for a PC, but they’re nothing that you can’t overcome.

The threat that your Rival poses is their tenacity. You have to beat them multiple times to truly overcome them. Each time that you run into your Rival, they’re more powerful than the last time.

Do you see the white space with the dice faces on the right-hand page? That’s where you write the special abilities that your rival can bring to bear against you. It’s up to you to decide their ability, but I’ll provide a sample here in case you’ve got a block:

Tsubame Gaeshi (Returning Swallow): If the Rival misses you in combat then instead of taking damage they make an immediate second attack against you. They take no damage if the second attack misses.

The first time I encounter this rival, he’s only going to be able to use his technique against me if he rolls a 1 on the special d6 described in the Info section of the right page. The second time that I encounter him I can give him a new ability, tied to a roll of 2 on the special d6, or I can stipulate that the Tsubame Gaeshi ability now activates on a roll of 1 or 2. This makes him twice as deadly as he was before.

Make it your own and share your results

One last thing that I love about this book is that you, reader, get to color it. Yup, fill up all the visual blank spaces if you like. What color is Clan 1’s castle? That’s up to you. What does your Rival really look like? Draw their features to find out; you might surprise yourself!

I really, really want to see what you can do with this page. Feel free to print out the picture above and fill it in. Draw and color the Rival, and give them a deadly ability or two. It doesn’t have to be for the B.Y.O. Dungeon series, either. You can use this setup with almost ANY RPG.

If you personalize these pages, please post them to Twitter, mention me (@JRossDiscoSoup), and label them with #BYODungeon. I’ll post as many as I can up here on the blog. And remember, you can always get the B.Y.O. Dungeon core rules for FREE at this DrivethruRPG page.

My only friend, the end

Is it gauche to title a blog post with lyrics from The Doors? Not according to me back in high school. Oh, well.

Today we’re talking about the end of your PC. It happens at some point in every campaign. Whether you’re crushed under falling rocks, lost in the warp of space, or able to retire in peace, there comes a point when you’re no longer using your PC.

What happens then? Do you simply hand in your character sheet? Maybe toss it in the bin? Why not build them a statue?

If you don’t have the time, materials or skills to build a memorial, you can always draw one, or even just describe it at the table. Speaking of tables, here’s one to help you get your creativity going.

Did you know that certain memorial statues follow a various codes? For instance, in the United States and the United Kingdom, popular opinion holds that when you see a statue of a general mounted on a horse, the horse’ pose tells you how they died.

According to this tradition a horse with all four hooves on the ground means that the general died outside of battle. One leg up means that they were wounded in battle. A horse rearing on its hind legs signifies that the general died during battle.

The table above is my attempt to add some symbolism to PC character memorials. Envision a dramatic statue, posed in just such a way to remind all passerby of your deeds.

You can use the table as-is, or embellish it further. For instance, maybe your PC died as a martyr or sacrificing themselves for the greater good, but you don’t want that pose. Why not instead show them in a pieta pose in the arms of their most trusted friend?

Take it a step further into the future to show how society remembers your PC centuries after their demise. You could base this on the highest character level that they achieved. A low-level PC’s statue might be left to crumble or become overgrown with vegetation, while an especially powerful or beloved figure might have a greater monument spring up around their statue.

Is it morbid to talk about your PC’s death? Maybe. But with this table you can commemorate all the fun times. As a side note, this table is one of several that I’m developing for the eventual release of PC Chronicle B.Y.O. Dungeon chapbooks. Like all of the fill-in books, there are going to be notes for using it with various rule sets. So go ahead and get to work on your character’s grave now to have the statue ready when you need it!

I want to thank Mark Hunt, of The Front fame, for mentioning that this sort of idea would also be really cool in a sci-fi setting. Imagine holographic memorials or statues made from crystal and other exotic materials.

I’m really interested to see what any of you all can come up with. If you send me a link to any pictures that you make of your PC memorials I’ll link to them in future posts.

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