Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Golden Heresy: Known Threats of Rustidium


World 937, nicknamed "Rustidium" by the Celestial Cartography Guild is an example of a world where industrialization went horribly wrong. At some point a mix of tainted magic, pollution, and disease pushed the dominant civilizations into a resource rush, and then into global war. Biological, chemical, necromantic, druidic, robotic, and eventually "dirty" atomic warfare between Superpowers led to a massive collapse of several nations. Full-out atomic war followed, leaving a planet incapable of sustaining civilization at all.

Tainted by wild magic, roaming undead, lingering disease, and radiation, Rustidium would be the list of Forbidden Planets, but the Guild, at the urging of the Chaos Wizards has kept an observation station over the planet to let the world serve as an exemplar as to why certain technologies and magics are forbidden, even to the Godless.

Accordingly, many of its most significant threats are catalogue by the CCG to assess dangers to forays both on Rustidium and similar worlds.

Old School Essentials Setting: The Golden Heresy

I originally posted this as an unlisted page, as it was just a doodle, but I decided to repost it and share with all my readers, as I would like to further develop the setting where it can be tagged. 


Valthane Torion of the Cosmic Dreadnought Amber has a simple task; hunt down the last echoes of the Urzav Heresy; ancient magical machine intelligences that bend lesser material planes to the design of the Cast-off God. They shape whole worlds, life and all to a paradigm inimical to the Chaos Wizards. 

Such polluted worlds are hard to get into, harder still to survive. No army can be brought to eliminate the heretical neo-Gods, the Fae, or the Paladins spawned by an Urzav Engine so long as the Engine itself functions well enough to keep directing probability.

And so it was with the reality he had been probing from the edge of the Vortex. The Engine there was weak. Fading. He could have stood by until it collapsed, but by the Demiurge, that was not his way. For every year he waited, new "Chosen Ones" and blessed knights, new ascended goddesses, new weaponized prophecies will arm the world against The Great Liberation, and the reign of the Wizards. More bloodshed, more mothers crying. More corpses cast into the Reactors...

He would have that Engine shut down and soon.

His Scyre had found a way. A burrowing link through realities that made little sense. This new world was accessible by way of an unstable region of World 937: Rustidium. A burnt-out atomic wasteland of mutants and dinosaurs.

From there, if a small team of spies could make it by way of the link, then they could enter into this heretics planet and destroy the Engine.

"Theryx," he addressed his docent. "Get a car, and some weapons. A cybernetic Lesser Chaote. I am going to equip a team."

As the twenty-eyed shadow bowed to obey, he placed his hands on the Scyre and put a call into the Vortex.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Game Review: Mausritter 2e

Mausritter 2e Cover by Issac Williams 
©2020 Losing Games 
Game Review: Mausritter 2nd edition

Author: Issac Williams
Publisher: Losing Games
Marketplace:, Games Omnivorous 
Engine: Into the Odd (modified) 

Mausritter is a roleplaying game about mice having adventures in a modern or Medieval fantasy story followingthe vein of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Redwall, Mouse Guard, or The Tale of Despereaux. It is built on the idea of tiny heroes that have all the odds stacked against them overcoming the limits of their size and their fear to do great deeds.

Mausritter is big on creating an old-school Gaming experience. It uses the Into the Odd engine as it's base, which is one that does two things extremely well:

  • It makes combat exceedingly lethal
  • It forces you to look for narrative advantages everywhere in order to ensure that you do not leave things to chance.

Mausritter takes it a step further by starting characters with low statistics to stack the dice against the PCs. If they want to stay alive, they need to constantly seek ways to avoid having to roll the dice. They learn to seek every advantage and seek every clever workaround to overcome a dangerous situation. This suits the feel of being tiny creatures like mice almost perfectly.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Adventure Review: Frostbitten and Mutilated

 Adventure Review: Frostbitten and Mutilated

Frostbitten and Mutilated Cover by Zak Sabbath
©2018 Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Author: Zak Sabbath
System: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG, Amazon

The Usual Disclaimer: This is a review of a pretty Edgy product that covers some pretty grim topics. And it is the center of a lot of controversy. Neither the book nor my review of it are recommended for children of any age.

Spoiler Warning: Do not read this if you are going to be a player in FB&M... it will spoil the fun!

Frostbitten and Mutilated is a Campaign written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess by Zak Sabbath (Zak Smith) that takes player characters into a grim subarctic wasteland full of hostile intelligent animals and where the forces of nature themselves are hostile to outsiders. There they get caught in a time loop that can only be broken in two equally difficult ways; one of which might bring about the Apocalypse.

It is about the most 'Metal take you can create if you were to take a chunk of Norse Mythology, the plot of the first Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser novel, a splash of 80s slasher flick, and a GWAR concert and mixed them together.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Race as Class: Why I Use It.

Demihumans by Larry Elmore 
From the Basic Dungeons & Dragons Player Rules Guide
Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules Box Set, ©1986 TSR

My favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons is the Rules Cyclopedia version of BECMI. As I have rolled over Editions, I have gotten rid of my old books. (I move a lot and often have little space.) But the one book I have always held onto is that Rules Cyclopedia. There is no version as complete and useful, in my opinion. For several reasons:

  • No other version of Dungeons & Dragons I have read has thorough rules for both building and maintaining a Stronghold... With a system that rewards wise rule and turns a stronghold into an adventure-generating tool (aside from Birthright) 
  • No other Version of Dungeons & Dragons has as crunchy a system for mass combat.
  • Combined with Wrath of the Immortals, it has the complete arc of a character from poor nobody to hero, to king, to god.
  • The Rules Cyclopedia includes a totally divergent set of rules for Proficiency and weapon specialization that did far more for adding interest fighters than AD&D ever did.
  • All four of those subsystems can be ported into AD&D without modification. 
  • The stronghold and mass combat rules can work with some tweaking in Dungeons & Dragons 3rd and 5th edition as well, 
  • It has a 5 minute character generation time.

It isn't perfect, and I am open to reading any OSR compatible or OGL system that does a better job. But since 1991, the Rules Cyclopedia has come out for every long-running D&D and Pathfinder campaign I have ever run. 

Cover of Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, 
by Jeff Easley; ©1991 TSR

But it is also the version I can never sell on my players because of one detail. Race as Class; pelayers live to hate the idea that they must play a human unless they are willing to accept a limitation to the class choices.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Game Review: Tiny Cthulhu

Game Review: Tiny Cthulhu
Tiny Cthulhu Cover Art by 
Tom Brown; ©2020 Gallant
Knight Games

Author: Alan Bahr
Publisher: Gallant Knight Games
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: Tiny d6

I am a Cthulhu Mythos fanatic, and have a bookshelf full of Lovecraft's fiction, and the work of his circle and modern "Lovecraftian" authors to show for it. One of my all-time favorite campaigns in any system was one I ran designed as a mashup of The Silver Key, The Festival, Celephais, the video game The 7th Guest, and the anime series Witch Hunter Robin.

Oddly, I have never played the original Chaosium Call of Cthulhu. I found the version of the rule-set I got my hands on was unappealing. But Call of Cthulhu d20 was one of my favorite systems, and still sits on my shelf.  The problem is that Eldritch Horror just doesn't jive well with a level-based and combat-heavy system like d20. and the charm of that adaptation wears off pretty quickly.

I've tried to capture the Cthulhu Mythos in a lot of systems since: Mage: the Ascension, the new World of Darkness, GURPS, Cypher System... All with mixed results.

I am also an Arkham Horror junkie. 

I have a theory that the Mythos really does need a purpose-built system to work. Games built to make characters the heroes, or at least give them a fighting chance often fall flat. And I have been looking for a good CoCd20 alternative to tell my Weird Tales. I was thrilled when I heard that Alan Bahr was taking a stab at the Mythos in the chatter after my recent interview with him.  I've been watching the calendar for my shot at this review for months. And I am not disappointed.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Game Review: Alan Bahr's Tombpunk: Low-Fi Roleplaying

Tombpunk Cover Art by
Nicolás R. Giacondino & Jeremy D. Mohler,
©2020 Outland Entertainment LLC
Game Review: Alan Bahr's Tombpunk: Low-Fi Roleplaying

Author: Alan Bahr
Publisher: Outland Entertainment
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: Custom d12

Alan Bahr's Tombpunk: Low-Fi Roleplaying is a roleplaying game designed for a very specific style of play: quick and dirty gaming that is going to happen for a few sessions in a row. It's the sort of game you would play on a family vacation, a long road trip, or while camping. It's rules are minimalistic (as I would expect from Alan Bahr), and designed to work with practically zero planning by the GM. It is probably best played totally off the cuff looking at a randomly generated map... Or just making it all up as you go along. It has mechanics to help you know when a specific improvised adventure is ready to wrap up if the room is giving you no indication.

The premise of Tombpunk is simple: you play characters in a gritty fantasy world where poverty and overtaxation have forced your character to give up a hand scrabble peasant life for the dangerous and dirty work of clearing haunted dungeons for the treasure that the monsters bring with them from the underworld.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A Litmus Test for Usefelness of TTRPG Discourse

So I was discussing Immersion with Runeslinger at Casting Shadows in response to my last article on Twitter this evening and I realized that much of my thinking over the last few articles was driven by a Litmus Test for how valuable a discussion of TTRPG gaming is that came out of this comment from Stephen Grodzicki of Pickpocket Press.

My test goes like this:

"Before I open my mouth about role-playing games, am I talking about my preferred style of play, with depth of immersion, heavy intrigue and conspiracy, lots of social encounters, etc., or can what I say be true of most TTRPG experiences. Would what I say be true if I were at the table with Stephen Grodzicki, in a game that starts at the Dungeon entrance, where we kick in some doors, kill some Minotaurs, loot the bodies, and suck back a lot of rum & cokes?"

This minimalist style of game is, after all the original baseline method of playing Dungeons & Dragons, it defines the technology of immersive narrative as medium for play. 

If what I say is true for me, but not for Stephen, I need to figure out how to make sure  I am respectful of this form of play. Before I say immersion is a core mechanism of TTRPGs, I have to ask if what I mean by "immersion" happens at the kick-in-the-door style table.

Otherwise I am being solipsistic in my approach.

Humility is not a natural Virtue to me. I often need to cultivate tools like these. I am tentatively calling this one the "Grodzicki Test", but I reserve the right to change that if Stephen hates the idea.

Applied carefully, it can help me spot where I am and am not being open-minded, intellectually honest, sufficiently humble, and above all - helpful. And it can be applied to reading the discussions in front of me as well. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Identification and Immersion as Adventure Game Objectives

Stephen J. Grodzicki author of Low Fantasy Gaming and the upcoming Lowlife 2090 challenged me on my last theory article, "Bounded Player Agency" 

And he forced me to refine and resolve some of my ideas about what a TTRPG is. So here is a more honed discussion of the aims of a traditional Role-Playing Game. 

See, a few months ago, I pointed out that there has long been a false dichotomy between role-playing and "roll playing". As long as you are looking at the game material, considering the narrative, and making choices based on what your character would rationally do given a limited perspective and imperfect information.  You do not need to feel for your character or see them as anything other than a playing piece that is not much more than a sophisticated pawn on a narrative chessboard,

But then, how do I resolve my portrayal of immersion like this?

Ultimately, I am a role-player and a psychonaut: I want to visit other worlds when I play, see new things, and experience strange Horrors. I want to laugh at my own mortality from the safety of my office chair.  And that means I want immersion, not a game of storycraft. And my players do, too. They find strongly immersion - breaking mechanics disrupt their experience. 

Well, first I confess to imprecision. I am building on my older work, but a blog article is self-contained except where hyperlinked, and a definition of terms was definitely in order. 

Immersion is a continuum. And it emerges from an earlier phenomenon of Identification, which needs a little parsing. 

Game Review : Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic

Game Review: Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic

Author: James Edward Raggi IV
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Marketplace: Amazon, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, DriveThruRPG
Engine: B/X OSR
Note: As always this is a review of a mature product for mature audiences. Children of any age should skip it.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules and Magic is the core rulebook to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and I shall use the terms pretty much interchangeably or LotFP.

LotFP was the first retroclone I read when I decided to get to know the OSR about a year and a half ago. I was taken with how it cleaned up B/X Dungeons & Dragons, and put its own twist on it. I've held off on reviewing it all this time because I did not have a physical copy, and when talking abut LotFP that is important for reasons we will discuss below. Now I finally do, and can give the whole picture. 

Lamentations of the Flame Princess starts with B/X Dungeons & Dragons and makes a lot of simple quality of life changes to it. It uses ascending AC and a Base Attack Bonus. It replaces the Thief with a Specialist class that measures skills on a number of pips on a D6, with a PC needing to roll equal or under, with some additional skills beyond the standard Thief skills; PCs get points to distribute.

It gives PCs a chance at knowing a language they encounter. PCs are capable of talking or crawling at 0hp, are unconscious and bleeding at - 1hp, and dead at - 4. Inventory is handled with slots. NPC Reaction rolls and encounter procedures are a bit streamlined. Clerics get spells at 1st level, but Turn Undead is now a spell. It includes D&D3e-style ability damage mechanics.

Beyond these simple tweaks, LotFP adds in some changes that make characters feel more specialized and competent. It also includes rules for Naval Combat, seafaring, buying property, investment, and firearms that are decidedly unique to LotFP. 

Rather than assume a 14th century level of technology, LotFP assumes something close to the early 17th century. Many of its supplements draw on the Hundred Year's War for a backdrop.

What really sets Lamentations of The Flame Princess apart, however, is a design aesthetic that is found through all of The LofTP line; it is dark, gory, and full of body horror and the most grotesque fairy-tale style of villainy imaginable. From baby-eating witches in Frostbitten and Mutilated, to feeding Protestants and Spaniards to acidic ooze monsters in The God that Crawls, to making statuary out of dead children and encountering a god that is eternally being eaten alive by giant insects in Better than Any Man. Lamentation of the Flame Princess takes D&D into its darkest, most apocalyptic places.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Baddenach: A Hive of Scum and Villainy

Today I am building the cornerstones of an evil campaign that I am running for my playtest group. I wanted them to have a chance to build characters of their choice, rather than carrying on using the pregens that I handed them last spring, figuring they would better be able to stress-test my modules.

My players decided that they wanted to play evil characters that would undo the Heroic works of their last party. The characters they came up with were monstrous and outcasts; characters that would not be welcome in the City of Alban that served as our last home base. So, I find myself needing to create a home base that will be a home for these villains. So, I have decided to share my process of building a home for the PCs. 

The freaks in question. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Bounded Player Agency

Today I am going to talk about a type of metagame mechanic I see all over the TTRPG sphere that I want to love and my players universally hate. Ones that let them change the game world without their characters acting upon it. 

Why I will Never Play FATE Again

In spite of averaging twenty hours per week of D&D since the late 80s, I've lived in blissful ignorance of the major discourse around TTRPGs until the last few years. Aside from participating in the Official Dungeons & Dragons forum back in the mid-noughties, I was absolutely happy not to think too deeply about the hobby. I missed the discourse as the OSR and Storygame movements emerged. I didn't really notice the boom the OGL created aside from the surge in 3rd party modules out there and the falderal over The Book of Erotic Fantasy.

One thing I did, however, was grab TTRPGs as they drifted across my attention and read them. Once in awhile I would try to Persuade my regular Dungeons & Dragons group to try something new, which they usually stubbornly refused to do. And when they did, it was an uphill battle against players bound and determined not to have a good time. 

When my oldest son was born, I had a sudden and drastic reduction in free time, and so rather than playing, I spent a lot of time reading RPGs. And from there I finally started to take an interest in the theory of the games. Especially as I tried to interpret a strange trend in game design of offloading DM Fiat to players... And the puzzling  phenomenon of my players HATING it.

My first time running into this idea was when I tried FATE Core.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Product Review: Overlight

Product Review: Overlight: A Roleplaying Game of Kaleidoscopic Journeys

Authors: Paul Alexander Butler & George Holland
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: unique variable dice pool system

I can't get enough of reading new RPGs. It has been my guilty pleasure for years. When first Overlight: A Roleplaying Game of Kaleidoscopic Journeys crossed my feed as a Kickstarter in 2017 or so, I started watching it like a hawk. The Art, the High Concept and the unusual design all seemed really compelling to me.

I bought Overlight in the Spring of 2018 as a birthday gift to myself and greatly enjoyed it. This was a little bit before the stresses of everyday life started to push me towards faster, lighter systems and ultimately towards the OSR. This game is decidedly not OSR in design, but might have an appeal to my readers.

Overlight is a unique fantasy setting in which people from several bronze-age Earth civilizations were rescued from an impending cataclysm ant transplanted to a strange world. Many of the transplanted humans magically assumed non-human forms under the influence of the perpetual divine light that washes over everything and saturates it with divine magic (the eponymous "Overlight".

The Player Characters are Skyborn: people born so saturated by the holy light of that they possess miraculous powers, and are marked by luminous, iridescent eyes. Whether by destiny or due to stigma, every Skyborn is a misfit and feels compelled to look for something different out of life. Most become heroes, healers, or terrifying villains. Many join a sacred society dedicated to channeling their members' powers for the common good.

Each character comes from a "folk" (race) from the various Shards ("layers" ) of the floating islands that make up the game world, and chooses a background from possible upbringings or professions for that folk. Many of these races are non-anthropomorphic and quite unusual, like the Teryxians (feathered serpents) and Banyari (squirrel-like creatures that ride in symbiotic plant bodies.)  Each character has a series of Virtues that measure their aptitudes and personal strengths Each Virtue is associated with a color, a shard (layer of islands) and the people of that shard.

Haarkeen Child with Teryxians Tutor
by Kwanchai Moriya ©2018 Renegade Game Studios 
For example, the layer of Pyre has a predominantly red landscape (volcanic ash wastes), and it's people, the Pyroi, are red-skinned giants with mammoth feet, who value might over all else, and have a Sparta-like culture. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Game Review: The Black Hack

Game Review: The Black Hack

Author: David Black
Publisher: Gold Piece Publications
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: Heavily-modified OSR (B/X)

I learned the rules for The Black Hack in fifteen minutes as I was working on a review for The Wasted Hack, so that I could be sure I knew what was original Black Hack material, and what was Wasted Hack-specific. That includes the time it took me to get them, as they are readily available online.

Fifteen Minutes. And I read it twice. In the Second Edition the rules are less than 30 pages of the 126 pages of the corebook. And that is with some options and detailed refinements. This is an extremely easy and fast version of the B/X line of Dungeons and Dragons that has been modded to about as light as it can be while still being recognizable to its source material.

Here is the short list of the changes over D&D included in The Black Hack:

  • All rolls are a d20 under an ability score.
  • If an attribute is rolled at 15+, the next one is rolled using 2d6+2.
  • Character generation includes a single swap between scores.
  • Penalties are levied when enemies have more HD than the player character.
  • All other mitigating circumstances on a roll are expressed using Advantage and Disadvantage.
  • Your class' most important attributes have a chance of going up when leveling.
  • Armour absorbs a limited amount of damage each day.
  • Encumbrance is handled through slots based on STR.
  • Resources are tracked with usage dice.
  • When characters reach 0hp they roll on a death & dismemberment table.
  • Levelling up is handled by milestones.
  • Spells are handled by rolling under INT or WIS. Casters may cast any spell they know, and use up spell slots when they fail spell rolls.
  • Random encounters are rolled based on real session time instead of in-game time.
  • Monster armor and damage is based on HD.
  • Monster attack rolls are replaced with player-facing defense rolls.
It is light, fast, and highly flexible, and player-facing. The DM need to roll anything except damage (although flat damage and players rolling for monster damage are options.)

The Black Hack has some ideas I love and some I loathe. Generally, though, if you want to play OD&D as fast and loose as you can, I would say it gives Index Card PRG Core 2e a run for its money on simplicity and speed.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Game Review: The Wasted Hack

Game Review: The Wasted Hack

Author: Aaron Frost
Publisher: Shattered Pike Studio
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: OSR compatible (B/X, Black Hack)

Confession time: I have nearly no experience playing "Atomic pulp" post-apocalyptic games. Gamma World passed me by and while I have been tempted to pick up Mutant Crawl Classics, I don't have players interested in the genre,  I own a copy of the recent Free League / Mödiphius iteration of Mutant : Year Zero, but again, have no one interested in playing it with me. (Mind you, I have mapped out most of a San Francisco Bay Area wasteland for it anyway, assuming the Ghirardelli factory as the enclave.)

I did once run my wife through the entirety of the original Fallout as a Cypher System game to help her grok some of the context of Fallout: New Vegas, but I suspect that barely counts. And I've done a small test play of Death is the New Pink

I mention this, to say I don't have much basis for comparison, so take my discussion of genre with a grain of salt. Aside from the Fallout games and a few novels by Phillip K. Dick, and a few movies, my scope is more limited than if we were talking about cyberpunk, horror, fantasy, or space opera. I received my copy of The Wasted Hack as a complimentary gift for having participated in the 2020 One-page Dungeon Contest. I quite enjoyed reading it, but as usual, got a "no" when I pitched it to my regular players.

Its a pity, because I think it would be a pretty approachable entry into the genre.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Game Review : Four Against Darkness

Game Review : Four Against Darkness

Author: Andrea Sfiligoi
Publisher: Ganesha Games
Marketplace : Amazon, DrivethruRPG
Engine: Four Against Darkness (vers. 4.0)

Four Against Darkness is a solo dungeon crawling game that borrows its aesthetics and tropes from Old-School Dungeons & Dragons, and in a pinch it can serve as an extremely rules-light OSR TTRPG.

I have never played a solo game before, and as my modules are popular with solo RPG players, I wanted to try them for myself. I've grabbed solo games of varying vintages and levels of complexity from the highly sophisticated Ironsworn, to the essentially rules-free Alone Among the Stars, to the venerable Barbarian Prince to understand the experience.

Four Against Darkness is by far my favorite of the solo games so far.

4AD is an unpretentious stomp through a randomly generated dungeon with a group of four low-level adventurers seeking treasures and to defeat the evil master of the Dungeon. It does a good job of simulating the experience of playing a hack-n-slash / kick-in-the-door style game of B/X D&D.