Friday, December 29, 2023

Japanese TTRPGs for Beginners

Deedlit is one of the original 
Record of Lodoss War PCs, &
an icon in Japanese pop culture
 About a year ago, I did a deep dive into the history of Japanese tabletop role-playing games ("table talk games") out of curiosity.  I shared what I knew, and what I learned, on a Twitter conversation, but my attempt to turn it into a post for W2tDT fell by the wayside when I fell ill. I am finally putting down what I know for those interested.

TTRPGs are a hobby that has had a small, dedicated fan base since the 1980s that has been intimately paired with their video gaming culture.  The two have had feedback loop that has given them something of a unique flavor.

Comptiq, Group S.N.E., and Forcelia

In the early 1980s Comptiq (a portmanteau of "computer-boutique") was Japan's up-and-coming PC magazine. While they started off with a focus on hardware and applications,  their audience quickly steered them more towards computer entertainment.

P.C. video games at the time included a lot of attempts to simulate D&D and Traveller. Series like Wizardry and Elite. A small portion of the PC gaming community took an interest in the pen-and-paper antecedents to popular gaming series, and became the first market for Japanese translations of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons and Traveler. A fair chunk of Comptiq's reader base took at least an academic interest in TTRPGs, and Comptiq became a hub for discussing them. With the pace of life being what it was in Japan in the 1980s, however, finding a group and he time to play was a pretty big ask. 

Record of Lodoss War

In 1986, one of Comptiq's PC gaming correspondents, Hitoshi Yashuda, persuaded Comptiq to help him put together a gaming group and publish a series of articles about the experience of learning and playing B/X D&D.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

A Dungeon Crawl Fabula Ultima Style

 I'm currently running some Fabula Ultima at home. If you are not familiar with it, it is a TTRPG based on the Final Fantasy video games,  which have had an immense influence on the gaming culture of the 80s and 90s.  It uses a pretty funky fusion of the Japanese TTRPG Ryuutama and Blades in the Dark to create a game that captures the kind of storytelling that made Final Fantasy IV - XII such compelling games. As my wife and I are both long-time fans, and my oldest is just finishing his first ever playthrough of a FF game (FFIV - I am making sure the boy is classically educated. )

I like the game,  even if it is a little heavier on Storygame conventions than my personal tastes ususally run.

Today, I had the challenge of setting up a dungeon crawl as our heroes must brave the ruins of an extinct Dwarf civilization to get to the mountain peak.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Adventure: Red Tidings at Yule

 I just posted a new Level-0 funnel themed around Christmas villains and heroes from European Christmas and Yule folklore.

You won't see Santa Claus here, but you will face Krampus and hoards of Kallikantzaroi, led by the fiendish Belsnickle.You might save the Christmas Gnome, or find out the terrible fate of Morozoko the Yuletide wizard.

All in perfectly dark, gory humour, for those who like the occasional fiendish grin with your holiday cheer.

It is on DTRPG as a PWYW Product!

This module is a labour of love, with multiple playtestings over three Christmases, and a lot of agonizing about design, and especially maps. I made use of last year's Christmas present to make new and better ones using Dungeon Alchemist that I am very happy with:


If you are interested, I have uploaded three of the original dungeon alchemist files for sharing: The Withered Junction, The Sap Pits and Hollow, and the Temple of Annihilation (The Kallikanzeroi village involves a lot of photoshop and perspective tricks, so is not really share-ready.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Redefining the Wargame (for us Lunkheaded TTRPGers)

A while ago I wrote an article on how wargaming has a great deal to teach role-playing groups. The reaction I got was interesting, and best in cancellated in this comment:

It occurred to me that when a lot of people think of wargames, they think of something like Warhammer 40K, and so the definition they're using of wargames is very narrow. It is hard to understand where are the idea of Dungeons & Dragons being still heavily influenced by, and improved by cleaving its wargame origins might be confusing.

I thought it might be helpful to give a broader picture of what a wargame is, and why that is relevant to modern Dungeons & Dragons.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

CHV Natani: Shady Dealings and Ominous Portents

This is the third campaign report from my CHV Natani campaign, which is played using White Star, an OSR space opera game based on Swords & Wizardry. This a summary of the fourth and fifth sessions of the campaign. You can see the session zero and session one here, and sessions two and three here.

Session 4: December 4th: Ice Pirates

Shortly after finishing the asteroid scan, Leedo was alarmed to hear noises coming from Dr. K'twik's cryo tube. The alien tomb raider screamed, glowed, and then suddenly imploded into a mass of goo and bone fragments.

Leedo asked Iria and Roth to examine it, which left Iria vomiting and mildly traumatized. She vowed never to listed to Leedo if he said "look at this" ever again.

Before parting the Veles Sector, the Natani set down on the colony of Veles VIII; the inhabitants of Veles VIII are a group of eccentrics and anarchists who call themselves the Ice Pirates, and do their best to imitate a mashup of alien piratical subcultures throughout history,

The team agreed to split, up and get tasks done quickly, while Iria, feeling ill, decided to take a rest in the cryo tank on its restorative cycle.

Once in, Kuna made his way to the Friend Co. terminal to collect his pay for refuelling the Yszwa and then the system exchange terminal to collect pay of his navigational scans of the outer belt. While he was there a shady alien in a fedora approached him and asked if he was interested in moving some Tarelian Brandy, an expensive but controlled substance known to get those drunk on it into either  homicidal ranges, or sexual manias... depending on body chemistry. Illegal in some systems, and controlled by special import licenses in others. Kuna asked the alien to wait so he could do his research.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

CHV Natani: Getting Into Trouble

The CHV Natani is my White Star campaign where my players are the ragtag crew of a small starship trying to eke out a living in deep space. In Session 1, my PCs formed a crew and planned a journey to haul 72 tons of alien crustaceans to Cascadia where the crew's aspiring rock star Iria Ocano has a chance to compete in Deathmatch of the Stars.

Along the wya, Leedo, the ship's medic is hunting a bounty on a tiny lizard-like alien named Dr. K'twik, an "archaeologist" who has defrauded institutions, stolen artifacts, and sabotaged historical sites across the galaxy.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Game Review: Fateweaver

: Omar Aazam
Publisher: self-published
Engine: Tarot-based storygame

Fateweaver has been on my radar for awhile now. I have a lovely collection of Tarot cards and made a living as a psychic for one of the happiest years of my life. The xcuse to break out my favorite deck and the Mythic GM Emulator was hard really appealing.  I was pretty chuffed when Omar Aazam approached me, asking If I would care to review it, even though he knew that old-school games were more my bailiwick.

In Fateweaver PCs play characters from an Edwardian Steampunk world where predestination is an accepted fact for most of the population.  Their whole culture is built around teaching the masses to accept their Fate. The PCs are members of a rare group of blessed people called Fateweavers, who can choose their own destiny,  deny Fate, and even call upon supernatural powers to pursue their own path.

Every action of the Fateweaver has a butterfly effect on the world around them: their actions can let another person escape their predestination,  setting them on a new course in life. This means that Fateweavers are forces for Change, Dynamism, and Chaos. They are taught to use their powers cautiously and recruited by factions who have a specific philosophy as to how their powers might best be used for the public good... or personal gain. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Campaign Report: the CHV Natani

 Recently, the Silver Gull team has had a lot of missed sessions. A lot of life is happening. We all still want to play, but we are in a critical part of that campaign that really requires all hands on deck. In the interest of keeping us gaming I proposed a few months of hiatus and a different game where the PCs can easily come and go as they please, and that would be played in a far more disjointed, episodic fashion.

I proposed a White Star campaign where the PCs are a group of space bums who come into a light ship, and cruise the galaxy trying to make a buck. This has the bonus of letting us play a game based on Swords & Wizardry, so we aren't even making a radical shift in game system. Characters not involved in the current adventure are "In Cryo", "Doing business at the local station", or simply "staying on the ship" for the current away mission.

I plan on documenting it as I have done for the Silver Gull.

Oct. 30th: Setting Up

My players here are old friends, we don't need much of a "Session 0" they include my brother, my best friend, my brother's best friend, and a cousin. Most of us have been playing together since the early 90s, or if not, for at least 5 years. This session was spent doing two things: rolling characters, and establishing the basics of the setting.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Current Project

 When it comes to my hobbies I don't so much choose my project is they choose me. I come up with an idea and I chase it as far down the rabbit hole as I'm willing to go. Because of this, some projects get done very quickly, some get put on the back burner. I have several books I'm working on that I do in small doses because they are either such a huge project doing it all at once would be masochistic,, or because I don't feel any time crunch to do the . The ideas that capture my imagination usually get the Lion's share of my energy.

Over the Summer I spent a fair amount of time running a solo game. I used the Mythic GM Emulator, Alone Among the Stars, the Science Fiction Codex of Lists, and RPG Pundit Presents #100: Star Adventurer as the engine let me scratch my itch to explore space in a tiny spaceship with a small crew.

One of my goals was to discover a rich, and lore-filled campaign setting over time. I wanted the joy of discovery as a part of how I was playing. To that end, I use the 'Codex and some random online tables mixed with the Alone Among the Stars to create the worlds I would visit and the alien races I would encounter. Whenever I encountered an alien species or culture, I use the 'Codex to flesh it out until it at least felt like something you might read in a Star Wars is extended universe Wiki entry.

I even used AI to help me enhance the experience. And wrote computer software inspired by the random star system generation tools of Traveler, the Cepheus Engine, the random space jobs generator from Donjon, and the jobs and commodity generators from the 'Codex. Once I had a bare bones, I would let my imagination run wild for several hours to flash in more details until I had entire worlds and cultures built up for my characters to explore in.

It has been a really engaging experience that took up much of the copious free time I had while on vacation in July. Because I was using random alien species in a Sci-Fi setting rather than creatures with a folkloric basis like in Dungeons and Dragons, I was constantly surprised and rewarded by what I learned. And my notes can now comfortably fill a whole role-playing game or a TV series "setting bible."

I even taught myself to use some AI tools to help generate some of the content for myself.

As you can imagine, I have been dying to share more of it with you all. I have a blog of the individual adventures with some of the notes to cover my first five voyages in the setting before I lost my crew to a TPK.

But, as of late, much of my energy has been directed towards building a unique role-playing game that borrows elements from White Star, Star Adventurer, Cepheus Engine, the 'Codex, and far more.

As I've written in the past, one of the biggest obstacles to a good SF setting is its total lack of predefinition. Fantasy games have the benefit of several canons of folklore, pagan mythology, and established conventions to work on, science fiction does not. Science fiction has to put effort into building a world and informing the reader, the viewer, or the player about it well enough that they can immerse themselves in the setting. This is time consuming. The only shortcut that ttrpgs have to this is to build a game based on an existing franchise.

This is why, the majority of SF games are built on franchises such as The Expanse, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Generic science fiction role-playing games are not as common, nor are they usuallysuccessful. Where a science fiction game tries to build itself out of whole cloth, it generally has to do so by spending an immense amount of energy on lore. 

Some games have been quite successful at this. Traveler, Shadowrun, Rifts, Numenéra,, and the Strange have done a great job of building enough lore that players can dive in. In the case of Traveler, Rifts, and Shadowrun, they have done so through years of slowly building a sizable canonwith the help of fan engagement. In the case of Numenéra,, it has been done through very intelligent World design and conventions.

Some science fiction games suffer from over-development. For example, Shadowrun has so much lore now that a player who knows the ins and out of the setting has an even better advantage over a new player that it is even more important than mastery over the rules. The same is definitely true of Rifts

I find that sits in a sweet spot where there is enough to go on to run the game well, but it is flexible enough to allow you to put almost anything you want for your scenario in it. You can learn all you need to know by reading just the core book. That is the balance I strive for. Enough information on aliens, culture,and technology to let the players have a sense of what they might be able to accomplish, but, not so much that I am being prescriptive of how the game plays, or giving advantage to someone who memorizes the lore.

I also decided to build my game on PANZA, as the race / background / class  / subclass structure of PCs is actually pretty close to olde-school SF games like Traveler, and that 5e-style engine can actually a lot of fun for a grognard like me, if you throw out a few things. Personally,  I am making the following changes:

  • Characters are reduced to 4 attributes instead of 6: Wisdom has become conceptually meaningless, and STR and CON should be interlinked.
  • Pcs have randomized starting HP 
  • Death saves are gone
  • CHA serves as a measure of luck, as well as attractiveness and savoir-faire
  • RP inspiration is optional
  • B/X D&D morale & NPC reactions (modified slightly) are imported 
  • Diplomacy is now a skill governing protocol,  trade, and information gathering, it cannot simply change NPC reactions.
  • Doman level play is incorporated by adding rules for colonizing a Star System
  • A slot-based encumbrance system is added as non-optional
  • Sense Motive, Investigation, and Perception skills are removed; these can be handled by askimg questions from a high-info GM.
  • Formalized random encounters are imported to feel more like AD&D's Structure
  • Only a few character options grant psionics, rather than the widespreaf magic use of modern systems
  • XP system is simplified, CR is discarded
  • Monster stats are simplified
  • My own eight classes will replace the fantasy-themed ones, each with 2-3 subclasses .

I am hoping this offering will offer a new, original Sci-Fi game experience.  I ha e also built in a way that my game Eternal Ocean can take place in the setting. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Sale on Deathtrap Lite

 Starting Friday,  Nov. 24th, 2023 my dark OSR fantasy game Deathtrap Lite will be on sale for $0.99 USD on DriveThruRPG. The sale will last until Monday the 27th.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The Power of Names

I am going to relate a personal story to make a point about the power of names, and why that can be very important in your tabletop game.

The Attack

On December 15th of last year I came home after having a vaccine booster and felt fine, aside from the sore arm. I had my lunch, and dinner, played some Dungeons & Dragons with my wife, and then went to bed. In the middle of the night I had some kind of attack. My face felt like it was made out of rubber. It wasn't drooping, I had control over it, but it had no sensation. My hands and feet felt like they were on fire at the same time tingling as if they'd had the circulation cut off.

I thought that perhaps I had been sleeping in a way that had pinched a nerve, and decided to take a wait and see approach. Honestly, it didn't strike me that it could be a stroke, and so I held off on seeking medical attention.

My face mostly returned to normal, except my lips were tingling, getting occasional stabbing pains, and feeling like they were on fire. The same was true of my hands and feet; tingling , stabbing pain, and phantom heat sensations. When I finally got to speak to a nurse-practitioner about it when it wouldn't go away, I was immediately hauled up to the hospital where they ran a handful of tests. They determined that it wasn't some kind of diabetic shock (I am not diabetic, but ruling it out was important), and it wasn't a stroke. The ER doctor assumed that it might have been a side effect of the vaccine. They told me it would be gone by Christmas, and that I should just carry on. 

The problem is, it didn't go away. In fact, it got worse. The numb areas would occasionally stab painfully, my lips would burn and tingle so badly I didn't want to talk or eat. Walking was always uncomfortable. Typing was torture. What's more, I started getting tired all the time. There have been days in the last 11 months where I can't walk two kilometers without feeling so exhausted I need to take a nap afterwards. These piled on to a couple of previously existing conditions, including the habit of every cold I get turning into pneumonia, to make me feel like the walking dead.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Storycraft vs. Chaos: Why I Minimized Prep Time

 For about 34 of my 38 years of playing Dungeons & Dragons and similar games, I have not been a fan of random tables. I was very much in the Hickman school of gaming when I was a kid, I believed that GM should be crafting a dense narrative structure, and then adjusting it whenever the players did something I didn't expect.

The idea of buying a whole book full of random tables would not have appealed to a younger me. Even well into my 30s, I was far more interested in crafting bespoke encounters and adventures that reinforced a central narrative or collection of narratives. I tried not to waste much energy on things that felt random and unconnected to the story I was crafting.

My planning method worked like this:

Friday, November 3, 2023

Game Review: Autonmnijobs: Small Jobs for Unimportant People

Beth Crane
Publisher: Battle Bird Productions
Marketplace: Gumroad
Engine: Lasers & Feelings

Beth Crane and I don't share the same taste in RPGs, but I admire the hell out of my creativity. I first came across her work while hunting for a new science fiction podcast and discovered We Fix Space Junk, and instantly fell in love with it.

WFSJ is set in a far future where humanity lost most of its digital data due to catastropic solar flares in 2088. One of the only surviving financial instutions was a predatory student loans service that kept its intrusive accounts records sealed in lead boxes in an underground facility. The company was able to allow other financial institutions to recoup some of their losses by selling their data. 

The lending company quickly became the most powerful financial institution in the galaxy. This emergent  megacorporation, now called Automnicon, finds desperate people (usually desperate because of the terrible conditions they create on space colonies in the first place) and offer them loans to for medical or travel expenses. These loans come with ludicrous interest that makes the debtee into a slave of the company. Failure to do the jobs assigned by the company leads them to shut off life support in whatever starship or space colony the recalicitrant employees are located. 

The podcast follows Kilner and Samantha an odd couple of deeply indebted repairwomen who are sent from planet to planet doing menial repair jobs in often psychotically dangerous and volatile situations by a company that couldn't care less if they live or die.

We Fix Space Junk is exactly the kind of dark comedy I love the most, and I have been binging it for days.

When I heard that Beth Crane had made an RPG based on her setting, I decided to grab a copy as much as a way to shoe my appreciate of her podcast as to try to experience the setting myself.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Game Review: White Star Galaxy Edition

: James M. Spahn
Publisher: Barrel Rider Games / Gallant Knight Games
Marketplace: DriveThruRPG, Gallant Knight
Engine: OSR Compatible (Swords & Wizardry)

As I have been rounding up my reviews of old school Science Fiction TTRPGs and the New OSR Games (and Storygames) that do them justice on game really caught my attention in part because I had never heard of it (which is unusual,) in part because it was based on the White Box edition of Swords & Wizardry (S&W: Complete has been my OSR game of choice for a long time), and in part because it looked like the right kind of pulpy fun for my household at the time.

We have been in a dark time in the Rideout household, one family member diagnosed with a life-long challenge, and I still in limbo trying to figure out which of a handful of possible life-altering degenerative conditions I have. Bringing the mood in the household up has been my first and greatest priority for awhile. And what better way than a crazy, Star Wars parodying romp through a universe of bad 1970s scifi pulp after binging the worst the genre has to offer? White Star seemed the perfect investment for something fresh for me.

And it worked. I have seen people smiling, laughing, and excited for the first time in a long time. I hope you will indulge me if the review seems to be very positive, accordingly.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

SciFi Storygame Roundup

Table Top Role-Playing games are used in several different hobbies; different communities prefer different game types to get different results. One of the types of games that I wish I could get more into, but that just doesn't mesh with my social group very well are Storygames.

While old-school TTRPG players are looking for a VR experience using the imagination and narration as an interface, Storygames are interested in creating an emotionally satisfying story at the end of the day that met the expectations of the players going in based on the conventions of the genre and pre-game expectations they set up. To facilitate this, the game rules are often set up very differently from a more traditionally-designed TTRPG.

Because the goal of Storygames are very different, they are often designed to make world-building more collaborative. they tend to take agency away from the GM, and have mechanics allowing the players to take control of the narrative and make Metagame adjustments.

I like Storygames just fine: I think many of them are clever and innovative in ways an more traditional TTRPG cannot be. But, as my players are not interested in the experience, I have had less reason to collect or learn them. Which in turn means that I haven't got much cause to write about or review them here, but as I went through an extensive list of both classic and OSR SciFi games, I think it is interesting to share these games to offer some comparison and contrast.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

New Old-School SciFi TTRPG Roundup

I have actually spent an inordinate amout of time reading, researching, and playtesting for this review. My apologies for its slowness...  but it was definitely a pleasant way to spend the time.

This is a roundup of SciFi TTRPGs from the small publisher and indie scenes that do Scifi well that have that old-school feel:

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Classic SciFi TTRPG Roundup

 Thanks to Thomas for the great prompt.

I haven't got on the Starfield bandwagon. Honestly, I'm not even sure I have the hardware to run it. But it certainly has revitalized an interest in space opera and classic scifi pulp in the gaming world.

Personally, I've caught the same bug from playing No Man's Sky lately. I got it for my birthday in June, played the hell out of it for a bit, then went traveling in the Summer. To keep scratching the itch for space exploration NMS gave me, I created the Starfarer setting, and ran a pretty lengthy solo game using a combination of Mythic GM Emulator and RPG Pundit Presents #100: Star Adventurer 

Being able to blast off into space and enjoy some campy Sci-Fi action is definitely on the minds of myself, my gaming group, and a lot of my friends.

That in mind I'm going to talk about some of the classic science fiction role playing games out there if you're looking to scratch that itch and you're not interested in something as new school as Starfinder.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Developing Procedural Campaign Building Tools

 Let me tell you about a ridiculous idea I have.

After running the Starfarer solo game, and through it, generating a pretty detailed science fiction world, I have worked towards making it playable for other people.

Wanting something that would let me run the game at the drop of a hat - mostly of academic curiosity - and to help me refresh my long after feed computer programming skills, I designed a program that procedurally generates  outputs star system's complete with points of interest and  rumor tables. These will soon be detailed enough to give GM's everything that need to run a game at the drop of a hat with me.

Once the data is already generated,  it is pretty easy to extracted the data from my output file, and change it, and rewrite it.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to create a set of scripts that would weekly check rumors, prune old ones, replace them with new ones, cycle through cultural events, can't even manage and imaginary market futures site, sports league, and entertainment scene.

Given a few weeks of time hocus on nothing else, I could even have a unique role-playing game built specifically for it that played like something like a strange hybrid of Star Adventurer, Stars Without Number, Mythic, and a table top interpretation of No Man's Sky or Starfinder.... Mixed with a healthy dose of Star Trek and Mass Effect.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Tinkering and Tumult

 It has been a crazy week for me, readers! My youngest son started school, and I am suddenly back on the job market and trying to figure out where my skills can best serve the world after years of being focused on my children full-time. I'm pursuing a lot of different angles as I get back into figuring out what I want to do "when I grow up."

Honestly, getting back into life coaching with focusing on making lifestyle changes to help handle chronic pain might be the best way to put the last year of difficulties to good use... but I can hardly resist the lure of going back into tech.

To that end, I have been using my role-playing creations as a touchstone to working on reviving and updating old skills and developing new ones.

Machine Learning technology has been a big part of that focus. After all, engineering a good prompt and understanding how "AI" processes language is a new, and probably very useful skill. And I have learned a lot about both generating images and content that could be useful for TTRPGs.

I am going to share a bit of my AI experimentation here, and also talk about why I have decided to ditch some of it.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Example of a World-Driving Rumor Table for a Sci-Fi Game

I am starting a game with my wife in the same setting as my Starfarer game. I needed to set up a starting star system and space station to use as a home base. 8 have some big mysteries and ideas to work with, but I decided to let automated tables do the rest:

I created a star system using the Donjon Star System Generator 

Once I had a star system, I went through and made some notes about how people would live and operate on each of the planets, if they would have a reason to be at them at all.

I came up with a name of a cantina and a marketplace, and a few characters who would be doing vital functions about the space station.

Then I ran the Donjon space jobs generator. I could have also used the space job generator from the Science Fiction Codex of Lists 2e, which I have also used heavily in my solo gaming.

I went through the list and deleted a few repetitive entries. I renamed some characters and to change their species to add a little variety and fit my larger setting. Then I tucked that away in a GM notes document so I knew what was a trap, A scam, or had other difficulties.

I posted most of the jobs on the news board for the space station. Omitting any details of my giveaway surprises, and re-writing them with fees and contacts. 

I then added some flavor posts: a spaceship for sale, but entertainment event, and a couple of items sales to give the sense of the space station as the center of commerce in an active star system.

For every inhabited planet,  I added one or two "flavor jobs" to give a sense of what goes on on that planet. For example, Veles V is a highly volcanic world with a colony on a moon that does experimental hostile environment mining. I got the idea from the fact that it had a moon, and was a volcanically active Rock Planet. Advertising for mineral scanning and engineers to help them work on hostile environment mining Tech seems like a great way to describe that without telling the players what goes on on that planet. 

Likewise, Veles VIII is an ice mining planet with some eccentric, geeky characters turning it into a anarchist party planet. Adds for courtesans, casinos, rock bands, and dangerous sporting events seemed like a great way to get that impression.

In the end, with a little art and flavor added, I've ended up with a very interesting document that I will have beans to the calm link of the player characters when they arrive at the station. It will give them a pretty solid setting with over a dozen hooks in one swoop.

Anything the PCS don't pursue, if it doesn't have a timer already built in, I will give a cumulative 1-in-6 chance of changing or disappearing and being replaced every week (rolling new items from generated tables.)

Here's my final result. (The original tables will follow.)


Please check in with Sergeant Lōm after arriving.

Thirsty? Say hello to Itha-Q6 and Brenna at Bubble & Fizz! Genuine Earth and Uzz-III cuisine.


Monday, August 28, 2023

Thank You!


Shen-Maian Princess, by Brian C. Rideout ©️2023, Made with Unstable Diffusion

Despite my slow second half,  this month has been the best month for Welcome to the Deathtrap ever. 

I have been blogging in some way shape or form since blogging became a thing. I have never been great at getting attention to my work. I have never been good at changing my format to match what works well with search engines, or, for that matter, is easy for casual reading. I am always so grateful for the people who stop and take the time to read my work. 

I have spent this month in travel, teaching myself the new skills of working with A.I. for image generation and writing.

I don't generally share much about myself, but today I wanted to say that over the last nine months I have been learning to cope with chronic, sometimes crippling pain. Pain that has made writing, drawing, talking, eating, and even walking a misery on the bad days. Working on my games, and writing this blog is something I make myself do, even when it is painful, because I know you all are out there waiting to read more. 

Working on the blog has become a sort of training; learning to do the worthwile things even when it doesn't feel good, because I cannot give up on the things that bring me joy, just because there is pain in the way.

Thank you all so much for a fantastic, rewarding month, and giving me a reason to keep on writing.

Friday, August 18, 2023

My PCs Died for the Glory of Old Fashioned Campaign Structure

Image courtesy of Pixabay
I was on the receiving end of a hell of a TPK in the Blueholme game tonight. Our GM is running a pretty rich Gygaxian campaign where there are large stables of PCs, and multiple groups of players playing at different times of the week in 1-to-1 time. It also has a handful of Patrons: players who intrigue against one another as lords, dungeon boss monsters, dark forces, guildmasters, etc., in a Braunstein-style Free Kriegspiel that has an impact on the events of the campaign.

And tonight it all came  together in a spectacular imbroglio. The players who play in the other group ambushed us with 60 Heavy Infantry and 30 Cavalry.

They accused us of a wide range of nasty sabotages, sleights, and thefts. Now, my PCs were out of ciculation for a month as I was dealing with health issues, I was not there when the parties started intriguing against each other. I gather that a couple of the charges they laid at our feet were our actions. But it is also clear that a patron, some NPC villains, and random happenstance had led them to believe that we were an active meance out to sabotage their every move.

Literally, we no idea of what 60% of what they were saying was about. (I wasn't there for another 30%)

Monday, August 14, 2023

Adventure Review: Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Misty Isles of the Eld, Fever Dreaming Marlinko, & What Ho Frog Demons

: Chris Kutalik (w/ writing credits for Luka Rejec)
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
Marketplace: Drive-Thru RPG (SUD, MIoE, FDM, WHFD)
System: Labyrinth Lord (OSR Compatible)

I have been putting this review off for a long time; if I'd had my head screwed on straight, I would have done so when they were a part of a Bundle of Holding recently.

Slumbering Ursine Dunes, The Misty Isles of the Eld, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, and What Ho, Frog Demons! are four interconnected modules set in the Hill Cantons setting created by Chris Kutalik, the setting is also detailed in his Hill Cantons blog, and in the Hill Cantons Compendium, Hill Cantons Compenduim II, and Hill Cantons Cosmology.

When I finally got tired of keeping up with the slow, painful bloat of Wizards of the Coast-era Dungeons & Dragons, and started looking for fast, fun alternatives in the Storygame and OSR movements, these books came up on my radar pretty early on. And getting a look through them on Questing Beast's YouTube Channel is what eventually pushed me over into grabbing a bunch of OSR games, especially the free version of Labyrinth Lord, and eventually led me to starting this blog.

The Hill Cantons Quartet look damned good thanks to the expert layout and design by the Hydra Cooperative crew and the art from the mighty Luke Rejec (whose opus magnum, Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City is the most beautiful TTRPG book it has been my pleasure to own.)

 What really sells them, however is the sheer wierdness of their setting. The Hill Cantons fuse the oddest bits of Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, with Slavic mythology, and liberal dose of Douglas Adams style humor to create a world that feels like somthing lighthearted, imaginitive, wild, and strange. It definitely is not your standard-issue Dungeons & Dragons setting. And playing it can feel like a breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Game: Review: Blueholme

Author: Michael Thomas
Publisher: Dreamscape Design
System: OSR (B/X) Compatible 
Marketplace (Prentice): DrivethruRPG,
Marketplace (Journeymanne): DrivethruRPG, Lulu

A few months ago Stephen Smith put his World of Wierth campaign on indefinite hiatus, because he was inspired by the Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg and it's many articles on the original play style during the testing phase of the development of Dungeons & Dragons. Mixed with patron play and one-to-one time, he was hoping to create an experience that feels like the player driven, intrigue riddled version of Dungeons & Dragons described therein. There was a catch, however: he didn't want his other players to require The Lost Dungeon of Tonisborg to play. In fact, he desperately wanted them not to have access to the book at all. 

Which, of course, meant that he needed a different set of rules that players could use. He wanted something as close as he could possibly get to the TAZ rules from Tonisborg without copying anything from the book. After looking through a dozen or so retroclones, he decided that Blueholme was the closest to the extremely light and simple feel of that rule set. And so, I have been playing for several months in a campaign that uses both The Prentice and Journeymanne rules for Blueholme.

The Blueholme Prentice Rules imitates the structure of the original Holmes Basic Dungeons & Dragons manual. It provides only enough rules to play from levels 1 to 3. Everything about Blueholme Prentice Rules is an homage to the original Holmes basic, and where possible, is even simpler. It embraces the idea that light rules and a format that encourages rulings instead of rules is a superior form of play.

Blueholme Journeymanne Rules are their own interpretation of what Cook's Expert Dungeons & Dragons rules might have looked like if they had been designed by Holmes with that same eye to simplicity and universality. The rules cover characters from 1st level to 20th.

Normally when I review a role-playing game, iI read the rules, and then I solo play a test designed to help me understand most of the unusual rules mechanics and systems. 

This one is a little different because I I'm coming from it from the position someone who has been playing the game in an almost-RAW format for nearly 6 months.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Seeking the Wisdom of My Readers (complete version!)

The Intrepid was created by taking starship images
From No Man's Sky (©️2017 Hello Games)
And feeding them into Stable Diffusion to
Create retro-80s Scifi graphics 

Blogger's Brain Broke!

When it hit publish last night, blogger spazzed and  deleted an hour's worth of writing and editing! I wasn't aware that only 1/3 of the article was up when I went to bed at 1:00am.

Mea culpa, readers.

Let's try this again....

In my last blog post I mentioned a solo game I was playing and a PC who I couldn't seem to kill.

The project, tentatively named Starfarer, has been a great escape during a time of great uncertainty and stress in my life. 

My original intention for Starfarer was that it would be a No Man's Sky inspired SciFi adventure using the Mythic GME, Star Adventurer, and Alone Among the Stars that I would eventually turn into a solo gaming podcast in the vein of Tale of the Manticore. 

I never intended the game to tell the story of one character.  If anything, I was hoping for the Ship and its mission to be the Stars.

Like the podcasts that helped inspire my solo experiment,  I intended that "no character [would] be sacred, and no character [would] be spared if the dice decide their fate is ay hand."

But The Game Had Other Ideas...

Portrait of Molly created Using Stable Diffusion 
Vis the Imagine App. In Manga style.
One character,  Molly Hyaline,  often got out of situations by the skin of her teeth, surviving most - or all - of the crew, and often the ship. She ended up in conflict with a secret society,  with a price on her head, an experimental ship, unique brain damage that made her almost a null space to psionics, a serial killer stalker, and the enmity of an evil entity of pure thought.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Drakken for Literacy

 I am grateful when the gods provide me a chance to step up, and one came unexpectedly this past month.

An organization dedicated to providing reading material and education to the incarcerated asked me if I would be willing to let them distribute Drakken to people in prisons in the U.S. Apparently the demand for D&D is pretty high, but it is too expensive to get it into prisons.

My Drakken, on the other hand, with just a few hours of formatting could meet their needs for a few cents a copy.

I believe in promoting the rights of the incarcerated very strongly. I believe that we should be taking measures to make sure that when people get a second chance, we give them every tool to make the best of it. And I believe strongly in promoting literacy. This was a no-brainer.

I told them that they could have it for free, (but they paid me anyway.)

So, by the time this post is up online, there will be 200 copies of Drakken heading for prisons around the United States. I hope it makes a few people's time served a little more peaceful.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Using AI Art for TTRPGs

So here's a controversal topic that will annoy the Hell out of some of my readers.

Recently I have run across several controversies over the use of AI artwork in TTRPGs. One was over a module that I reviewed where the creator used AI-generated Art on a cover and was positively brigaded for it.

Another was my recent review of the OSR game Beneath the Sunken Catacombs. I rarely go a month before I see absolute mayhem explode from some quarter of Twitter or another about someone using AI art in their product. Selling a TTRPG product that includes AI Art is guaranteed to draw backlash.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Game Review: Beneath the Sunken Catacombs

Paul Bantock
Publisher: Self Published
Engine: OSR-Compatible
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG, Amazon 

I recently spotted Beneath the Sunken Catacombs in my Amazon Recommendations. Its marketing promised a game that wasn't a retroclone, but instead was a fresh take on the original 1970s gaming experience with some modern and innovative touches with regard to classes and magic.

Beneath the Sunken Catacombs is sold at near cost for $10 (C) on, and is PWYW on DTPRG as a PDF.

It uses a Modlvay B/X D&D base, and at first glance it looks like a pretty standard retroclone, but as I read it I found some little flourish, tweak, or minor redesign on almost every page of the game, most of which I will detail below.

You will see nothing different on the character sheet of the system: It uses the standard six ability scores, ascending AC, levels, AC, 1-axis alignment, and hit points. Like Swords & Wizardry it uses only one saving throw. Characters retire at level 10. The XP system is pretty standard and uses gp-for-xp. It's Encumbrance system is a bulk system similar to that in Castles and Crusades.

Instead of different hit points for the classes, all PCs and monsters use d6s for hit points, and gain hit dice at different rates: Warriors and Dwarves gain hit dice every level, Priests, and Elves at a rate of around 2:3, and sorcerers and halflings gain a mere 1d6 every 2 levels.

There is a lot ot like about Beneath the Sunken Catacombs if you are looking for a light, fas, well-contained TTRPG. I would consider it a solid contender as a TTRPG I might give to a kind looking for a first D&D-syle game. It is very well suited for introducing D&D4e or D&D5e players into the old school style of play. It takes the heart of some of the best ideas from that era and makes them work in a B/X structure very well.

Monday, July 17, 2023

The OSR: Aesthetic and Impulse

 In 2018 I became very frustrated with how little gaming i was getting in at game-time. D&D5e and SR5 are just too slow and too fiddly for my needs. Between the wife's 60-hour work weeks and the kids, sitting down together on Firday nights for a 3-hour game just wasn't cutting it. We often got only one or two encounters done a night, and maybe four total over a week.

I wanted more game in my gametime. I missed how fast you could play D&D when I was a kid. I started looking into lighter and faster TRPG options to fill our time. I had been vaguely aware of the OSR existing, but this was the first time I really decided to look into it. With G+ gone, however, I had missed the boat on the easy way to get into the OSR.

I quickly found YouTube had a handful of reviewers and philosophers who really broke it down well. Ben Milton of Questing Beast, Professor Dungeon Master of Dungeoncraft, and Hankerin Ferinale from Drunkards & Dragons (now RUNEHAMMER), all served as a great gateway into the weird and wonderous culture that had grown up around the OSR.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Solo RPG Podcasts

 One of the things I have come to really enjoy in the last year are solo play podcasts and comics. I first stumbled across them when I was looking for an example of play of a couple of games, and was immediately hooked on them. 

In particular, there is a bevy of podcasts that play OSR games that I look forward to. i check spotify every morning to see what is updated, and then spend much of the morning in anticipation of when I can steal a few minutes to myself to just relax and let the story wash over me.

If you are interested in solo gaming, most of these podcasts go into great detail about what is going on "Behind the screen" in break segments. They discuss their toolkits, their oracles of choice, rules adjustments, etc. as they play.

Friday, July 7, 2023

My Solo Play Evolution

 I have done a lt of solo play in TTRPGs over the last three years. It honestly never occured to me to use my games for solo adventuring until I started writing this blog and needed a way to test the games that I was reviewing.

Delve 2e
has built in solo gaming to introduce itself to the player, borrowing a note from the Mentzer Basic Dungeons & Dragons set that I though was a clever stroke. Some of my early reviews, like Tunnel Goons and Index Card RPG Core 2e were tested with my wife, but she doesn't have my head for rules and finds too many new games overwhelming. 

When Lucas Rolim sent me Pacts & Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy for review, she tapped out, and so I needed to figue out how to give it a really good shake. That's when I thought about by experience with Delve 2e, and decided to try playing it solo.

Random Dungeon Crawling

My first solo run involved logging into Donjon, and generating a random AD&D dungeon. I tend to stick to 

  • Tiny size
  • Medium Rooms
  • Polymorphic Rooms
  • Square Grid
  • Errant Corridors
  • No Stairs
  • Peripheral Entrance
  • Dungeon Level 1
  • Crosshatch Map Style

This is especially handy when you are playing an OSR games, as the monsters will be immediately usable with the game you are playing.

Donjon includes a tool for star systems, outer space freight jobs, aliens, blade runner cases, and much more these days. You could probably run almost any game you are looking for with Donjon or a similar tool.

How this method works:

Monday, July 3, 2023

Game Review: Mythic Game Master Emulator

: Tana Pigeon
Publisher: World Mill Games
Marketplace: Amazon 
System: System Neutral 

Because I test every game I review for at least one adventure,  I have found myself playing solo TTRPGs a great deal. Before my review of Pacts & Blades, I'd never played solo in my life, and it has been a very strange journey,  finding what works. Running through a dungeon made in Donjon without reading it first is all good and fine, but you require more if you want a rich experience that really let's you kick a game's tires.

I started expanding my experience using Parts Per Million's Dungeon Crawl Solo. It's oracle system was handier than just grabbing a tarot deck or assigning a 2-in-6 chance to everything. Once I started using an oracle of some sort, I started having a much richer experience. Combined with a big hex-crawl setting like The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putresence or What Ho, Frog Demons! I could get a lot more spontaniety of play. Threads and plots emerged of their own accord once in awhile that kept play surprisingly fresh.

I have been searching for another toolset that does so with even more torque and less emphasis on dungeon crawling for awhile now. I picked up Tom Scutt's DM Yourself last Summer, and was quite disappointed in it. I have also been using the tools from the free version of  Scarlet Heroes on occasion, which I have enjoyed. I've not reviewed the free version as I have been meaning forever to pick up a full - preferably print version, and keep putting it off. Scarlet Hereos does a much better job of spontaneous emergent play, but it is very much focused on the lone hero, which isn't what I am looking for as a playtesting tool.

I've been hearing about Mythic GME for some time now. and I listen to a handful of solo RPG podcasts that use it to great effect. I decided that I would pick it up this month and give it a try. And I am very impressed.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Classy World-Building Phase 2-3

 For the next region, I wanted something that screamed "Time Wizard" for The Demalion... weird contraptions, clockworks, legacies from thousands of years in the past that feels strangely futuristic.

 The Gehenna of Obsol

The Technocracy of Ull was destroyed so long ago that few historians agree when it ruled the known world. It's impact, however, has carried on through untold Millennia.  The Ull created marvels that fused magic, machinery, advanced science, and reality-bending primordial forces into a Super-technology that made their small kingdom a paradise of leisure and study.

From their hidden cities, the Ull sent out emissaries riding giant constructs and guarded by biomechanical war machines. They offered machines to ease labor, spells to shape the land, and advice to lead an orderly, safe life. But at the cost of tribute, obedience,  and by giving up their best and brightest to be raised by the Ull. Ullan Technomancers built marvelous automated temples where their gifts were manufactured and maintained by initiates.  No outsider was permitted to learn how to make, repair or maintain Ullan marvels; only how to use them.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Classy World-Building Phase 2-2

 So, here is round 1 of building a world to go with the classes in the Drowned World. I started with The Braid, and I will work through the list at a pretty random pace. Once I can get Campaign Cartographer onto my new system I will start putting these places on a map.

It's tight, it is simple, and it is full of hooks to work with.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Renaming QuAD

 I recently discovered that QuAD was the name of a TTRPG by Nathaniel Cole of Alliterated Games released in 2016. While you cannot copyright a title, out of respect, I am going to rename QuAD RPG to Drakken going forward, with file updates pending to match.

Classy World-Building Phase 2-1

Art by Arthur Rackham.
So, to set up a world that has been reset by a terrible Deluge, I a, going to need to cover how it was drowned. This is the least interesting part of planning a world on some levels. Nobody likes excessive info dumps. So I have contained the Deeds of the Gods and their rules, the cause of the Drowning, the origin of the PC races, crammed into one page.

Relevant: Minimum Necessary Boredom by the Angry GM

This is the necessary evil of writing a session. But if it is done well it can be mined for adventure hooks, character backstory ideas, and themes. 

It also gives context for how the classes will play their role in the world.

Here is my first write-up:

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Classy World-Building Phase 2-0


[Note: the game QuAD RPG has been changed to Drakken]

After my test run of the Drowned World fizzled, because the mechanics of BECMI D&D didn't quite match the promise of the character class descriptions, I sat down and I wrote a whole new role-playing game to accommodate it: Drakken RPG.

I have shared a copy of Drakken using just the classes from B/X D&D on

From its inception, however, Drakken RPG was meant to be the backbone of a Drowned World campaign (take two). And even before I finish fully writing out the B/X D&D compatible version of it, I had already adapted all the classes I had shared last month and earlier this month to it. I could sit down tomorrow and play a version of the drowned world that probably better reflects the tone and intended experience of the Drowned World.

But what is the point of sharing the BX version of the classes, and my "Sword & Sorcery" version of Drakken RPG if I'm not also going to share a finalized version of Drakken RPG for the Drowned World?

As it is, in my Google docs I have a 100% ready game. I could pick up and play the Drowned World with friends with no problem at all. Sharing it, however, requires me to have enough of a gazetteer of the drowned world that anyone else could pick up the book and play it too.

And so, in order to finish the book I'm working on, I am going to have to build a gazetteer other people can use.

I'm currently working on the first part of that, describing how the world was drowned and what is left of it. Including introducing the major players in the game's pantheon.

Once I have established those core elements of the setting, the next step is to have places that the players might visit or be from

Thankfully for me by building the world using classes specific to the setting I've already done a huge portion of the work.

Many of the classes I've designed, like the Wobun alchemists, the Windlass machinists, or the mysterious Demalion time wizards all come with the idea that they are from a specific place and a specific culture that teaches them their abilities. For each of those classes I can describe a particular Homeland that has nurtured them.

For a few others that are members of a secret society, like the thieving Braid, they suggest an urban environment in which they might have arisen. Likewise, the sSorched gunslinger Rangers suggest their own wild West like Homeland where the firearms they use first of rose and are now a jealously guarded secret and part of their culture.

I can easily make one land per character class, give a sense of where it is on the world map, what the people who haven't ascended to the lofty ranks of level one adventurers are like, give it a few quirks, and name a few people and places in it, and have a gazetteer every bit as good as the one in the Dungeons & Dragons 3e Eberron Core Setting Book, which I consider the gold standard for campaign setting designs for Dungeons & Dragons.

All I would need on top of that is some central location where characters of almost any stripes might end up  a borderland setting with lots to do and plenty of danger. I could also use one metropolitan setting where characters can go and see people of all stripes and trade valuable goods. And probably one monstrous land of intelligent beings who are clearly not meant to be player characters. Tossing another dangerous and strange wild, and you have a very complete setting.

So this is what I'll be doing over the next few weeks, along with reviews and it connected thinkpiece. I will be building the world those classes suggest in order to put them in a version of Drakken RPG with a complete setting gazetteer. At the end of which, after a little tidying up and editing, I will post it as another pay what you want option.

I I'm quite proud of what I have achieved with Drakken. It plays in a quick and loose way that blends my favorite elements of Crimson Dragon Slayer, Knave, and touches of vanilla Dungeons & Dragons that I felt both lacked in a role-playing game that sits under 30 pages in length.

I imagine I could easily create a space opera post-apocalyptic, or Western version of this game in just a few days. Which would be a great treat for people who turn out to enjoy Drakken in the future.

This is also a lightweight enough project that I can keep doing it well continuing the much heavier work of finishing the eternal ocean in the background.

In a perverse irony, of course, I built a dark fantasy Knave setting to use for my home campaign until I was ready to do take two of the drowned world, and my wife is utterly hooked on it. Go figure. Might be another thing worth sharing at the end of the day.