Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Who is the Unbalanced Creator?

So some time in 2014 somebody created "Unbalanced Dice Games" as a publisher on RPG.NOW, made some adventures and a bunch of rather unique products for Labyrinth Lord, then apparently disappeared, then came back this year with a new adventure and some new things.

I found out about this publisher from Bryce's review of "Broken Gods Pain", so good work for him for his long toiling in the nerd mines.

They have popped back up in 2017 to extend their adventure sequence with the new epic "Perfectorium of The Golden Tentacle".

The Adventures so far are;

Broken Gods Pain - for low levels, 64 pages, note its not "The Broken Gods Pain", just "Broken Gods Pain", just like "Ud" is simply "Ud". This starts with the PCs 'cursed' in a dream to find the Broken God and transported by a magical wave to a quiet village.


Ud - for mid levels, 46 pages. The PCs receive a request from an unknown woman to find her stolen family.


Perfectorium of The Golden Tentacle - for higher levels, 166 pages, a true epic. A hot new cult, the Receivers of the Golden Tentacle is doling out utterly free and beneficial magic powers to whoever for no extra cost, buuuuuut;

"Behind the Receivers is a terrible force. Some bizarre entity manipulates everything with its tentacles. What seems wonderful becomes terrible as the months roll by."

If you enjoyed the construction of that sentence, read on.



ODD

Its difficult to describe just how odd these adventures are, not just in conception and content but in presentation, text and delivery. The only way I can describe them is its like someone was given a copy of Labyrinth Lord and no other information, just kept in a cube, and asked to invent new monsters, adventures and ideas.

Or its like a really smart 14 year old with mild Aspergers.

Or its someone, maybe they live on an island in Alaska and they just crank these things out to last through the winter when they get back from the fishing fleets.

Or its like Joesky.

"Unbalanced Dice Games" is such a common phrase that it returns a whole lot of nothing on Google. I can't find a blog or anything else to let us know who this person is.

Bryce posits a possible 'art-crime' thing with someone writing in a faux-naive voice. I hope I'm not being taken for a ride here but it seems really unlikely that is the case. As my prime exhibit I present you with this product - "Wheelies for Labyrinth Lord Players", presented with this cover image;


What is a 'Wheelie'? Well, as the text itself informs you (I have tried to maintain the spacing and sentence construction);

"Wheelies are round charts that contain game information a Labyrinth Lord player, or even the Labyrinth Lord, might like in front of him/her. Usually this information is in an attack chart, saving throw matrix or written on a character sheet. Now you can just print up a Wheelie that matches your character's class and level. Forget about writing that stuff down! The Wheelies are divided into 3 parts: the outer ring, the first inner ring and the center circle.

The center circle:
Top: Class
Middle: Saving throws based on the class level.
Bottom: Class level

The first two rings from outside in:
The outer ring: AC
First inner ring: the 20 sided dice roll needed to hit the AC in the cell adjacent to it. This corresponds to the class level in the combat matrix of the Labyrinth Lord book.

The following pages contains Wheelies for Cleric, Thief, Elf, Dwarf, Halflling, Magic-User and Fighter. 1 page for each level. Dwarf, Elf and Halfling races stop where the Labyrinth Lord game stops them. All the numbers are based off of what's in that book.

Enjoy!"

Wheelies are pretty darn remarkable. There are 115 individual Wheelies in this document, one per page. Forget about writing that stuff down!

I can't believe that the person who would individually type out 115 Wheelies and arrange them in a pdf could be faking. I think they are the real deal.



BUT HOW?

Ok, firstly the layout is manic.

It's a word doc just pdf'd pretty much. Everything is one big column (I know I have done this SHUT UP), all the paragraphs are indented and the sentences have double spaces in them. All of this remains exactly the same from section to section. The titles likewise are larger bold versions of the main text.

The pdf's do have bookmarks with a reasonable informational hierarchy and the latest adventure, Golden Tentacle, is in TWO COLUMNS.

Room or encounter descriptions commonly drift over onto other pages, sometimes just a sentence, stats or a single word will be drifting lonely on the next page.

Within the descriptions the informational transmission is deeply linear. What I mean here is that a room or encounter description is more like a story about what will happen if the PCs interact with it than it is a series of tools and prompts to help you run it.

Different creators have a number of ways of breaking down descriptions into informational chunks. Usually an overview comes first, often base on what PCs will see when they enter a space, then objects or elements that might interact or respond to investigation, then, perhaps separated into sections, deeper consequences and more info about interaction, with stat blocks for living elements. Then at the end we usually get treasure or persistent effects.

The Unbalanced creator tells the reader about an encounter as if they were simply discussing it. This is probably terrible from a gameplay perspective, or at least imperfect, but I do find it rather charming, as an aesthetic impulse to run the game it could be said to add something and, once you do comprehend the information, the elements of play are usually good. If the DM comprehends and arranges the described elements in the fictional space, they should work.

This paragraph from the starting section of 'Ud' should hopefully provide a reasonable example;


"The beavers are simple group that once resided in the area where the smoke fog is now. They don't speak human or any such language, just beaver. The Game Master should position their home somewhere close but outside of the smoke fog. If someone is able to communicate with them they will tell them of the day when Ud's fort came into being. The ground shook one bright morning and out of it a large rock like thing came out of the ground. For the first day nothing else happened then the smoke started to pour out of it. This forced the beavers to leave their home and move out of the smoke. On their way out they ran into many strange things. Pig men running around with nets and spears. Humans that walked funny and groaned for the most part. At one point something strange and golden flew through the air like a swarm of large flies. They will also tell the party that the fort resides in the center of the smoke fog. See Smoke Fog section below for more information the Beavers will tell the party about protecting themselves from the smoke fog."


This is all if you speak Beaver.

As you can see, the Unbalanced creator has a rather distinctive way with language, and candence.




ADVENTURE CONCEPTS AND ARRANGEMENT

The ideas of the Unbalanced creator operate very closely within the classic Rientsien idea space, much more than the pseudo-literary ideaspace. But within that space they are very original. Nothing is re-used from 'standard' D&D, there are no references I can find. Everything seems very pure and un-performed, and very playful and very charming.

In 'Ud', the random encounters (in the area of 'smoke fog') on the way to the adventure include (amongst many others);

- a pile of dead zombies

- mindless zombies

- mutated attack zombies

The 'dead zombies' are zombies that have 'died?' so dead bodies. This does make sense in the adventure but this strange grouping of words, like 'smoke fog', which is also accurate, and also strange, is typical of the Unbalanced creator. The mindless zombies just wander past in the fog without doing anything, the family of the woman who hooks you the quest are amongst these. The mutated attack zombies are a really cool, strange encounter, made from the simplest of materials;


"Mutated from Mindless Zombies these things appear as warped undead. Their heads are larger, the eyes are dark holes and the mouths are much larger than a humans."

And the encounter text;

"Suddenly the party starts to hear roaring coming from all sides of them. It seems they are surrounded. If they look closely they can see shadows that are people like coming towards them from all directions. It takes one round for them to reach the party, 8-12 Mutated Attack Zombies attack!"

That's a good encounter. Roaring surrounding you, then the shadows, then the zombies pelting out of the mist from every direction, then the eyes like dark holes and the mouths "much larger than a normal humans." It's made from only the simplest imaginative pieces but it has life, vigour and originality and as we read through the adventure, it makes coherent sense for the world described.

I'll break off briefly to look at the art.  It's these simple, small, scratchy little black and white glyphs, pretty obviously all done by one person. Here are the two 'Mutated Attack Zombies'





I mean, it fits perfectly. You can clearly see the mind of the creator, can you not?

The whole thing is like that, with these sparks and flares of what seems like entirely unforced originality and imaginative flair.

The bad guys fort in 'Ud' looks like a giant treasure chest, the doorway is a big keyhole with a portcullis, in the final rooms he sleeps on a bed that is also shaped like a big treasure chest, but with spikes. That's how much he likes treasure, and how evil he is.

Everything is slightly bonkers and disconnected, but, within the conceptual space created by the adventures, things generally do make internal sense. That is, once you understand the rules of the world, both the imagined world considered as a pseudo-real space, and the world-construction as considered as the product of a particular mind, players (and PCs) should be able to make reasonable decisions based on their discoveries.

Here's another example. As you work through Uds fortress, you encounter Pig Men who serve him, and Dwarf-like creatures that do magic for him and perform wierd magic/science experiments. Then you find this;


"10 Pig Man Cow Experiment

In the center of this room on top of a straw bed rests an odd creature. It has the body of a large cow but with three pig heads. Its tail is very long and appears to have a spear head attached to it. It will look at the party and two of its heads will start to laugh. The non laughing head's eyes will glow red and it will say “You are the Old generation, we will take over your duties for you. Die, die die...”. The Pig Man Cow Thing will then attack the party. If it hits a character it will shout out “The Pig Men are through!”. Once the party kills it the heads and the tail will fall off. If the party looks into the neck they will see all these gears and tubes. A bleeping noise will be audible for a few rounds and then die off.

Pig Man Cow Experiment
(HD: 5, HP: 19, AC: 4[15], Attacks: Tail Spear(1d8),
Saving Throw: 12, Move: 12, CL/XP: 5/240)"


Is anyone else getting this or am I totally out on a limb? We have a mystery here people! Who is the Unbalanced Creator?

13 comments:

  1. Funny, I was just looking into this myself. I've had the Perfectorian on my wishlist for a week or so (because I do like that sentence construction, for some reason), and I also spotted Bryce's review yesterday. Also, I got this email today:

    "A message from Unbalanced Dice Games via DriveThruRPG.com. (stop receiving Unbalanced Dice Games messages.) Why did I get this email? [NOTE: Good question]

    Sorry everyone! Someone pointed out that there wasn't any spells shown in the previews. We've updated the preview pages from 1 to 4 for each to 1 to 6. The spells are very different from each other so its hard to say that one or two is representative of all of them. But at least you get a better preview now. We've confirmed that the preview updates are showing up on drivethru rpg. You can now see one of our personal favorite spells called "Blade Finger" from Magic Madness 3!

    Its possible that their will be a Magic Madness 4 this year. That's if everything goes right. Spells piled up between MM1 and MM2/MM3. Today though were kind of low on new stuff but the new spell pile is slowly building up.

    Hope this helps everyone out. :)

    Game forever!"

    If this is a joke, someone is expending great effort to troll a tiny community in a completely innocuous way. Because...?

    Game forever!

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  2. Art is where you find it. Someone is role playing in hardcore mode. Extreme RP.

    I do this in MMOs. You make up a character in your head and you never. Break. Character.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is the D&D equivalent of an Outsider artist.

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  4. I can dig this. Especially the Cow Pig Man Thing. Doesn't really bother me if it's an extreme troll or not.

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  5. "Game Forever!"

    I like this guy already.

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  6. I would like to claim responsibility.

    I would /like/ to, but I can't, because I didn't do it.

    ReplyDelete

  7. If he's for real, it's outsider art.

    If he's a troll, it's performance art.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Should we talk about the Terminology section of Magic Madness?

    Terminology
    “ means feet: 12” means 12 feet
    Caster means the spell caster
    Game Master is the person running the game

    ReplyDelete
  9. He's at it again!

    http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/213348/The-Ruined-Tower-Giant-An-OSR-Adventure

    Excerpt:

    "Twenty years ago the Duke shot a stoning arrow into a giant that was attacking the castle. The giant went mad and ripped a tower out of the castle and ran away with it. After the battle the Duke and his men tracked the giant. Far away they found it. The giant had turned to stone while still gripping the tower. It had become an extension of the tower. They left the tower and the giant. The Duke has never come back."

    ReplyDelete
  10. Which ones would you recommend for actual use at the table? Any?

    ReplyDelete