New Project: Astonishing Tales of Swords and Sorcery RPG

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted. My wife and I having to share a computer (as her motherboard died and cancer bills don’t leave us enough money to replace it) accounts for part of why I haven’t been posting. The main reason, however, is that I’ve been working on a new RPG, tentatively entitled Astonishing Tales of Swords and Sorcery (hereafter referred to as just Astonishing Tales). This game is a development of Microlite74 and Mazes and Monsters, well sort of, and like Microlite74 will be released as a free download.

Astonishing Tales is designed for swords & sorcery campaigns where magic is somewhat common, more like the Young Kingdoms of Elric than the Hyboria of Conan. Characters can be either Fighters or Sorcerers and start off as heroes rather than farm boys, but do not really increase in level as game goes on. In fact, there are no levels in the system at all. A Character’s Reputation increases as they kill monsters and accumulate (and spend) treasure. Gaining a point of reputation does allow the character to increase slightly in power (something like the small level advances in Mazes and Monsters), but the main benefit is social. The higher your reputation, the greater the chance that others know of you and perhaps seek you out with missions and opportunities — and the greater the rewards they are likely to offer to get you to take them.

I’ve always wanted to have a Classic Traveller like fantasy game when the characters started off fairly competent and gained in power more from the items they find and the connections they made rather than from continual increases in character level until they become fantasy superheroes. However, I never thought there would be much interest in such a system as “leveling” seems to be one of the main attractions to most even slightly popular fantasy roleplaying games.

All the players in my current OD&D game really liked the idea once I came up with the “reputation levels” with their small character benefits. So I hacked a quick system together, they created characters and we gave it a try. The first two games were a real trial of patience as we seemed to spend more time tweaking the rules than actually playing, but the game last week showed that what we hacked out works and is fun to play.

I hope to have a playtest edition available before Christmas, but cannot promise this due to our “two people who normally use a computer all day sharing one computer” situation. This edition will be written Microlite style, but if there is interest in the system beyond my group, a second edition will be released in a less terse/more complete style in 2010. I’ll be posting more on how Astonishing Tales works over the next couple of weeks.

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10 Responses

  1. Joseph says:

    This sounds like exactly the sort of thing I myself have been toying with doing. I will follow this with great interest.

  2. I think this project has a lot of merit. I very much like the idea and would like to see where it goes.

  3. Interesting stuff, Randall, but are you aware of the upcoming adventure role-playing game Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea that Jeffrey Talanian and I have been developing? The game is in playtest, and scheduled to be released in spring 2010. There is a registered website, and it has been advertised in several magazines with adventure support. As the names sound quite similar (serendipitous even), and since you indicate the name of your RPG is currently "tentative", I thought it might be worth mentioning…

  4. Randall says:


    The titles don't seem that similar to me. They have three words in common: Astonishing, of, and. Two of these are a conjunction and a preposition. Looking back at the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s — which Astonishing Tales of Swords and Sorcery is designed to invoke — there were a lot of different magazines with names far more similar than "Astonishing Tales of Swords and Sorcery" and "Astonishing Swordsman & Sorcerers of Hyperborea." However, if it really bothers you, email me and we can discuss it.

  5. No worries on my part, it was just for your benefit really. If you are happy with the degree of similarity, then that is all that matters.

  6. I'm interested in seeing this. Sometimes, I feel like a lone voice in the OSR claiming that Ye Auld Game isn't that great for S&S because the basic premise of D&D (leveling up) just isn't part of S&S.

    BTW, didn't Gamma World use "rank" as the only advancement?

  7. Randall says:

    Gamma World 1E had experience. When you got enough XP to reach the next "level" (although the term level was not used), you got to roll a D10. 1-6 raised a one of the six attributes by one point. A 7-8 and you got a +1 "to hit". On a 9-10 you got a +1 on each die of damage you did (with non-energy weapons only).

  8. I think that I'm thinking of 3rd edition. Or I'm just imagining it.

  9. JD Neal says:

    I kind of view it as "D&D is popular because everyone plays D&D." sort of thing. To make commercial games, make games like those that are selling. [Ironically, you run the risk of missing out on markets that no one is servicing, which is interesting…]

    To make a fun game: make what you like.

    I understand the appeal of level/experience games: long term play, variety, etc. I'm finding I don't have the practical time needed to make it worthwhile. I don't have months to work characters up through levels. I don't really have the time and creativity needed to devote hours to making different adventures for different characters. I just wanna design a fun adventure and play it.

    The appeal of a "flat earth" game where people play just for the fun of gaming is becoming strong. Rather than start out with a D&D-ism like a simple sort of 1st level character romp — I could start out with an adventure featuring a ship, harpies, a dragon and other things. All chosen for the "This will make a fun adventure." concept not the "Okay, this fits the 1st level characters." concept.

    I'm trying to break away from my own ingrained "Do what everyone else is doing." game concepts, and the rather appealing result is players can start out doing things they'd have to wait to do in other games. Rather than pose the game as "Limited." pose it as a chance to say, "Let's skip the boring parts and jump straight into fun adventures."

  10. Chris T says:

    Sounds exactly like Gamma World 2e. That's a good thing : )