Thursday, June 30, 2022

Idea Generators (Why a Little Backstory Can Go a Long Way)

I had a really enjoyable chat Saturday afternoon with @Samwise7RPG as well as @TicViking after sharing my #100StatementSetting exercise that got me thinking about why we create campaign worlds the way we do in any RPG. And about that one time the multi-page backstory really was exactly what was needed and paid off when I was a player.

GMing is not an easy task. It entails managing a lot of moving parts: the rules, the NPCs, a clear sense of the current events in the game,  etc. When I sit down and talk to players who are afraid to become GMs, or new GMs who find the task daunting, however, I find the majority of them cite the creative demands running the game as the most intimidating. Coming up with ideas for worlds, NPCs, and adventures.  Nervous GMs often worry the most about where to get ideas.

Most reluctant GMs look at the blank campaign notebook before them and then say to themselves "I don't have enough ideas to make this work." They assume that you need a lot of ideas to make a TTRPG campaign work. Some believe that they need a plot or a complex and fully-realized world.

They don't.

All a campaign needs is two or three good ideas. Because when you have just a few good ideas to build a scaffold for a campaign, they serve to generate more ideas. The first region in your campaign world, your setting, and your first adventure are the spark that will create more ideas of their own accord once you start playing.

The job of a GM isn't to have a notebook stuffed with ideas and notes to sustain a campaign. It is to create a few good "idea generators" and let these do the hard work the group starts playing. A good campaign quickly becomes self-perpetuating, and the GM will find that the creative work practically does itself.

So, What is an Idea Generator?

An idea generator is a few good ideas linked together that will inspire the GM to offer hooks to the PCs, or will give the PCs reasons to explore the campaign world of their own volition. They can be any kind of fact, Content, or character in your world. Generally,  the moment they appear during play, the PCs start reacting to them in a way that creates opportunities for new ideas to emerge.

Some great examples from established D&D products of idea generators might include:

Monday, June 27, 2022

Game Review: Numenéra (original edition)

Cover, Numenéra
©2013 Monte Cook Games
: Monte Cook
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Marketplace: DrivethruRPGMonte Cook Games
Engine: Cypher System

I am breaking a bit from formula for this review, because I wanted to cover a game that doesn't fit my standard fare of rules -light adventure games and OSR retro clothes. Numenéra is neither of those; is a Science Fantasy game that fits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between classic role-playing game and story game. But it is one I have spent a lot of time thinking about, writing for DMing, and playing over the years. And I believe that if I enjoy it, many of my readers just might, too.

The strangeness of the game, and the elegant way that the game is presented to got me hooked on Numenéra around seven years ago. I collected almost everything published up to 2017, as well as the other three games that were based on the same engine No Thank You, Evil!, the Cypher System and The Strange, had I started the blog back then, I might have been remembered as a Numenéra superfan.

I stopped collecting Numenéra manuals in 2019 when the new edition was announced. I didn't necessarily object to there being a new edition, especially one that was fully backwards compatible with the existing game. I just found it very hard to get a Numenéra group together, while a classic D&D experience or a game of PARANOIA was far easier to find players for. And then I discovered OSR games, and decided it was time to burn my Numenéra PDFs into CDs for safe storage and put them aside.

Part of the problem as well, is that my wife does not enjoy playing with the Cypher System. I will go into some details about that later. I will be including some of her criticisms of the system as well as mine, which may make this one the most thoroughly tested reviews you will have read from me.


Numenéra is set in The Ninth World: Earth as it appears a billion years into the future. In the Ninth World, human beings have recently and mysteriously returned, not for the first time, from total extinction from the face of the Earth.

The Earth of Numenéra has been a host to thousands of advanced civilizations have risen, throve, collapsed, and vanished into the obscurity of history, leaving behind the wonders of technology across the face of the Earth. Among them, spatial distortions that have made the Earth much larger than it once was without changing its gravity, geo-engineering have made a single star-shaped supercontinent, vast rings of indestructible material form walls around paradise-like lands -- which were once the thrusters of an engine that moved the Earth to a new are younger star than the Sun around it which it orbits,

Lost technology is everywhere. The air, life, and soil are rich with nanotechnology. Ruins with miraculous devices can be found dotting the landscape. Terrible mutations, alien monsters, dimensional rifts, and all manner of strange thigs can be discovered just by wandering a little bit away from civilization.

Humanity, being a young race again, does not have much technology of their own. The average community is a little above the Bronze Age in development. However, almost every community is built around some technological marvel that makes life easier. A given village might be built around a shrine that raises people from the dead, a crystal that pours water at regular intervals out of it, or sit among a set of towers that kill non-human sentients with blasts of hypersonic energy, or have a shrine built around talking statue that dispenses wisdom at random intervals. A site with advanced technology is as important as having a water source for selecting the site of a village.

Image from Numenéra, ©️2013 Monte Cook Games 

While the average villager might still be a agrarian peasant, there are people who have mastered the technology for their own uses. By default, the campaign is set in a region called The Steadfast, a collection of nations that are held together by an order called the AEon Priests of the Amber Papacy. The AEon Priests are specialists in salvaging ancient technology and re-engineering it to new and helpful purposes. The average AEon Priest can identify an artifact, build something new out of scrap, and perform a few magical rituals that activate dormant nanotechnology to perform wondrous tasks.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

100 Statement World-Building Challenge

Shoggoth did A Monit
by Flannerius CC-BY-SA 4.0

This is a challenge that I saw Samwise7RPG doing that looked like a lot of fun: create a setting in 100 statements. I worked on it on what spare time I could steal between watching my little guy and recovering from the pneumonia that wrecked me this month.

It got too big for Twitter pretty fast. And Twitter was exceptionally unpleasant yesterday, so I moved it here.

I let my imagination just flow when I had time to type. This represents about 5 hours of stream -of-consciousness brainstorming, starting with the idea of a fractured world with an elder god serving as it's sun and just running with it .

  1.  Lim-Obol was uttered into existence by U'ulul, the greatest of the Shoggoths.
  2. U'ulul was among the first shoggoths vomited forth by Mother Hydra, and shared much of her divinity.
  3. For Aeons U'ulul gibbered only nonsense in the heart of the void until, growing quiescent for a time, he projected his eyes through the multiverse.
  4. It is fever dream he left it into existence his own Twisted reflection of the reality his half seeing eyes witnessed.
    Image generated with Dall-E Mini

  5. Only his sense of smell was not fooled, nor subject to his madness. And so he created around himself a shell of sweet air.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Game Review: Machinations of the Space Princess

Machinations of the Space Princess
Cover Art by Satine Phoenix
©2018 Postmortem Studios
: "Grim" Jim Desborough
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
Engine: B/X D&D / Lamentations of the Flame Princess 
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG

The Usual Disclamer: This is a product that has a lot of adult themes. it is not for children. And neither is my review of it; whatever age they may actually be.

A Note on Controversy

"Grim" Jim Desborough and Satine Phoenix are both at the centres of controversies in the tabletop role-playing game community. As usual, I leave it to others to sort out what they think about either the author or the artist. I am not interested in repeating gossip. Nor do I care to discuss it further here. Although I will say that when people become the target of a Witch Hunt has "Grim" Jim repeatedly has, it makes me want to see what they're about even more. And I rarely find that the gossip is even close to the Truth.


Machinations of the Space Princess was one of a handful of games I bought myself as a Christmas present. It's being sitting on my shelf waiting to be reviewed for months now. While I have not been able to entice my players into a science fiction game other than my own Eternal Ocean, I have been able to experiment with the key features of MotSP enough that I finally feel like I can give it a thorough review.

Image from "Heavy Metal"
©1981 Columbia Pictures
Machinations of the Space Princess is a sleazy Sci-fi roll playing game. Player Characters start down-and-out and looking for a break in a cosmos where, despite advanced technology only the elite can live lives that are free from hard work and danger. Most people live a few paychecks away from poverty. Work such as theft, espionage, bounty hunting, salvage, treasure hunting, and smuggling seem like the best ways for player characters to get ahead.


MotSP is based on Lamentations of the Flame Princess. That is to say, it starts with a B/X Base and borrows many of LotFP's innovations.  In a few places, "Grim" Jim has taken James Raggi's ideas and brought them to a natural conclusion. For example, all skills are built along the lines of the specialist class from LotFP. That is to say, skills are on a pip system, where characters begin with either a zero in six or one in six chance of successfully executing any given skill. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Building a Science Fiction Setting that Lasts (pt. 6)

In the last article in this series, I discussed in detail how the Themes (and Thesis, if you have one,) of your setting can help you make decisions about what technologies to include or design in your Science Fiction campaign setting.

Those same themes can help you design dilemmas, locations, alien races, villains, and revelations for your campaign. In the next few, I am going to unpack those other components.


Ultimately, every adventure in the campaign is built around a singular dilemma. What do we do about situation X?

Coming up with the X helps you decide what your adventure is going to look like. It is where that short paragraph or one-sentence premise you start every good adventure with comes in.

If I have chosen a theme such as, The Gods are False, I can come up with numerous ways of expressing that idea in dilemmas that trigger adventures.  This was one of the core premises of the film Stargate, and it's spin-off TV series Stargate: SG-1

Stargate and the theme of False Gods

Main cast, Stargate: SG=1
Stargate:SG-1 is C 1997=2007 MGM Studios
In these early Stargate media, the U.S. Military discovers an alien device that creates portals to other worlds. They discover that the deities of Ancient Egypt were alien parasites, the Goa'uld, that used human hosts to extend their lives and wielded their advanced (mostly stolen) technology to perform miracles and inspire worship. They used the network of portals to take human slaves  and spread them across hundreds of worlds as laborers.

To fight the alien threat, the protagonists must convince the humans from other worlds that their gods are False, and help them rebel. This creates a huge range of dilemmas over the original film, 213 television episodes, and made-for-TV film sequel film Ark of Truth. Some of the prime examples include:

  • How do you persuade people to fight against gods?
  • Do you have the right to destroy the deeply held beliefs of a culture? Especially when you are going to benefit?
  • What happens when your own people follow the example and start demanding worship from more primitive cultures?
  • Can you ever trust allies who worshipped your enemies?
  • Can you still believe in your own faith when you have seen how religion is used to manipulate others?
  • When beings have the power to raise the dead and heal any sickness, are there times when maybe they deserve veneration.
  • When a False God can force you to worship them with mind control, or by holding your very life hostage, how do you deal with the moral hazard of fighting their followers?

Each of these problems is easily transformed into at he first part of an adventure hook:

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Strange Ways & Queen of Decay on DTRPG

 March was a really productive month for me. I released two books that month: The Queen of Decay and Strange Ways. I decided to leave them up exclusively on for two months before uploading them to DriveThru RPG. As of midnight they went live on DTRPG.

Strange Ways

Strange Ways is a collection of six magic-using classes for an OSR System, each with a unique alternative magic system that can either be used in tandem with- or as a replacement for Dungeons & Dragons' traditional Vancian magic system. The classes are;

  • Alchemist - bombs, potions, poisons, and useful creations.
  • Incinerator - Master of wielding fire as a tool and weapon alike.
  • Psion - A simplified psionic class inspired by a mix of AD&D and D&D3e design.
  • Sorcerer - A freewheeling magician who invents spells on the fly, but who's magic can malfunction in dangerous ways.
  • Voidwarped - Lovecraftian cultists who gain powers through supernatural mutations as they slowly transform into an alien monster 
  • Witch - A spellcaster that binds bizarre spirits to create a dazzling collection of strange effects.

Find it on DriveThru RPG here!

The Queen of Decay

The Queen of Decay is a mix of Hex-Crawl and dungeon adventures set in a psychedelic swamp for Low Fantasy Gaming that serves as an introduction to Stephen Smith's World of Weirth setting, which will soon be published as a complete setting book and LFG ruleset.

Characters are racing the clock through a poisonous swamp that bends their perceptions to save a dream priestess before she is driven made by a desperate and dangerous necromancer. If the PCs don't hurry, the priestess will be driven mad as she is forced to read the dreaming minds of ancient undead snake cultists.

Queen of Decay was originally created for the OSR Supplement Jam.

Find it on DriveThru RPG here!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Eternal Ocean Setting Book is Live

I have just added a version of The Eternal Ocean to my Eternal Ocean and Wreck project on

This is a system agnostic setting book designs to give players an idea of where their characters are from and what kind of characters they may like to play.

In effect, it is a campaign primer: it's goal is to stimulate the imagination of players and GMs. To get them thinking about what kind of Adventures and experiences they might like to have using this game.

Accordingly, I lot of the book is done as fiction. Particularly samples of correspondence, official documents, and short stories. A little of it is basic facts, but I try hard not to spend more than 40% of the book on raw info dumps.

What of the funny thing is about this book is that it necessarily must be incomplete. The whole purpose of this setting is to have player characters going to a planet based on information that is woefully out of date. In the eight year since the initial colonial effort failed, the planet Rusalka has been radically changed. It teems with life, mysteries, and a terrible traps.

Ultimately, I cannot give all the information one would expect in a campaign primer, as I'm creating this as a tool for other GMs that they can hand to their players without giving the game away. There are quite a few different tones one can set on Rusalka. The final book, the Depths of the Eternal Ocean will have advice for GMS on how to set the tone and style for a number of different kinds of campaign that could be run using this setting, as well as a set of secrets and dangers for the player characters too experience that the GM may or may not choose to use.

Get The Eternal Ocean and Wreck here!