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 not 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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Silver Gull Campaign: Fiends in Mirrors

Zeelagur character portrait made w/ Stable Diffusion
and ethically sourced image libraries by her player.
©️2023 D. Westfal
 My players have finally closed a major chapter in the Silver Gull Swords & Wizardry Campaign over the last handful of sessions:

March 20th: Obliteration

Returning from the Fae with a rescued cleric in tow, the PCs all went to the cloning lab Reine discovered and beat the Echthroi flashcrafter there to a pulp, forcing him to tell them where to find the gear they left behind. And discovered that a replicant of Zee had been sent to take the 'Gull.

Friday, June 9, 2023

What's in Drakken? Designing Bespoke Games for Campaign

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

I am going to just share an article on my design rationale and choices for my new game Drakken RPG,.

Drakken came out of the fact that my wife and kids are dissatisfied with some of the quirks of BECMI Dungeons & Dragons and Basic Fantasy... especially the slow Thief Skill progression. When I ran my first session of the Drowned World Campaign, I got a bad reaction on how poorly those skills performed. I tried replacing them with the pips system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess to make it easier, but that still starts PCs with abysmally low success chances.

Nor did my Skullduggery Die improve things, The Paradigm of the low chance of success for Thieves was baked into the core of any OSR game that includes the thief. And ones that do not are rare.

So I sat and thought about their frustrations and asked myself "given that I want this to be high fantasy with a liberal dose of anime silliness, is D&D working as a system to give the PCs the stories my campaign brief expected?"

Well... no.

So how could I "fix" the game in a way that it gave the experience I was looking for?

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG might have worked for most of it... the skills for thieves are a little generous, and the warriors are a blast. Using their mechanics for my Drowned World PCs might have worked... but its magic system, and its lethality made it a dubious option.

What I wanted was:

  • Simple
  • Fast
  • Low reliance on dice
  • Accomodates a lot of non-standard classes
  • PCs feel competent,  but not superheroic
  • Magic that is powerful, but limited and dangerous.
  • Different gods produce radically different clerical powers.
  • Took as little possible time for administrivia and planning. 
  • Compatible with my OSR material. 

It seemed like I might have to customize the game a fair way from vanilla D&D...

Time to Build a Custom System

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

On The Ethics of Product Reviews: Why People Reacted Badly to the Shadowdark Blitz

On Inertia

Shadowdark cover
©️2022 Arcane Library

I recently was having a discussion with my wife about my blog, and how frustrated I was that I hadn't had enough time to create more reviews lately. I have a wonderful backlog of classic RPG material and small publisher games I've been dying to get to. And, I am sure my regular readers have noticed that I have a terrible habit of deciding on a course of action, and then getting distracted by other projects.

I had stated my intent, for example to review Shadowdark back when it was an incomplete sample document a year and a half ago. Long before it's famous million dollar Kickstarter and the controversies around it. But when I was talking about my plans for the blog and my frustration with having missed an opportunity to have been ahead of the game on Shadowdark, had led to another interesting conversation about review ethics.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

QuAD RPG: Classic Sword & Sorcery

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

So, I started a campaign in the Drowned World, using the classes as I shared them here, along with a custom magic system, and the LotFP Specialist Skills as an add-on to BECMI D&D. And my players were a little disappointed. They loved the world and the design, but the mechanics were not to their taste.

They didn't find the rules congruent with setting and experience that I had set out to create.

I asked for a couple of weeks and went back to the drawing board, looking for something simple and more heroic feeling. I started with Venger Satanis' Crimson Dragonslayer d20 for a test game, and then started hacking the hell out of it... adding stuff from DCC RPG, from Black Pudding Heavy Helping, from Knave, Maze Rats, ICRPG.. even Talisanta, until I had a cobbled-together OSR rule-set that would feel at home with the world I wanted to create.And was extremely rules-light. I named it Quick And Dirty RPG, or QuAD for short. Then I discovered that the name had been taken, and rebranded it as Drakken.

After a week of hacking, refining, and writing it all down I had something that was pretty playable, but to share it I would need to put together a Gazetteer of the Drowned World that could take a little more time... 

Thankfully I did have everything I needed to make an OSR clone here and now.

So I took a couple of extra days to polish it up, pull out the Drowned World material that was integral to it, and then added, as a bit of an experiment, some Ukiyo-e art from a favorite artist, and put it up on to share.

I am pretty proud of this one, I must confess. It is fast, you only need a sheet of paper to track HP and inventory. I hope you will have a look and give me a little feedback.

A Drakken: Drowned World is now in the works.

Get Drakken: Classic Sword & Sorcery as a PWYW title on here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Year 3 (and a bit) in Review

 There years! I have been writing and creating through Welcome to the Deathtrap for over three years now, and I am very proud of what I have created.

And I am going to start this review by saying how much I appreciate my readers. You have kept me excited to sit down and write every single day.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Classy World Building (pt. 9)

 So whats left?

I have a few gaps left that I will ultimately want to fill to make the game feel complete:

  • A culture of vivacious necromancers who appreciate life more than most because they know so much about death.
  • A race of nomadic sailors.
  • I need a heavily armored fighter type with a twist.
  • Some kind of underwater people - I am thinking crabs that come in several different levels of human/crab hybrid, kind of like the Yuan-ti or the original Kahjit lore from the Elder Scrolls.
  • A fire-themed group to round out my accidental elemental magician set.
  • A psychic class; maybe a bird-like race of visionaries, with a spell list that is mostly divination with a few telekinetic abilities for good measure.

I feel that this would give me a good, rounded-feeling, but I do not need them immediately; I can afford to spread them out.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Skullduggery Die

Ossuary Bone Dice Set CC-BY 2.0 Mindmax

This is an idea that was shared in the comments find my most frequent commenters and loyal reader McChuck and I decided to run with and do the number crunching for.

The credit is therefore not mine but my mission is to share the awesome.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Classy World-Building (pt.8)

 Lets move from magic and the planes to technology. Some of the cultures of the Drowned World make up for a lack of magical ability by turning to technology.

Classy World-building (pt. 7)

 I am taking s more thematic stab at world-building with here. This time with a unique take on Law vs. Chaos.

Redeem Your Demons

One idea I want to play with was the idea of the berserker as shape changer. Most of the myths of the barbarian going into a holy battle rage come to us through folklore muddled together in Sword & Sorcery lit. The term "berserker" ("bearskin-shirted") was used for a professional duelist who served as the right hand of a Jarl in Scandinavia. 

The idea of them being wild and animalistic comes from images of some of them chewing Shields while they hype themselves up for battle.

But actual superhuman berserker rages are more the fare of Celtic myth with characters like Cu Culhainn, who transformed into a fire-haired one-eyed and fanged monster when he became enraged, and had to be calmed through confusing and embarrassing him usually by sending troops of naked girls to collect him and dunk them in cold barrels of water.

Robert E. Howard and some of his contemporaries were big fans of Celtic heroes and they wove them into their Sword & Sorcery characters. Conan has some of Cu Culhainn's rage, but without the monstrous transformation.

I wanted to play with the idea of a berserker turning into a superhuman monster as the core character trait of their class. So, I decided I wanted a race of warriors who were possessed by demon spirits and could unleash them to transform into monstrous creatires. Statistically it's not much different from drinking a Potion of Stone Giant Strength, (statistically  the most common magic item in AD&D,) which is something my players do every chance they get in my Silver Gull campaign.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Classy World-building (pt. 6)

 I didn't want standard-issue magic missile hurling wizards to be too common in this setting. Instead, I wanted a variety of magicians with very different thematic spell lists.

When designing magician for the drowned world, I wanted to be sparing with damage spells. Instead, I wanted to grant PCs a collection of problem solvers that can offer a lot of battlefield control and tactical play. I have always believed that the best magic-user isn't the one toasting the enemies with fireballs, but rather the one who .make sure the fighter is invulnerable while he splits skulls, and the thief always backstabs. These are my initial takes:

Friday, May 12, 2023

Classy World Building (p.5)

 So, let's get a bit Gonzo!

I don't want this setting to feel like another bland quasi-Medieval Western fantasy world. I want it weird and full of oddities. Making some characters that are definitely not you regular human PC is the best way to go about this. Accordingly, I have made a few very odd character races: some inspired by the earliest days of D&D, some with inspiration from the various games and media that have been the basis for this project, and some from my fevered imagination.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Classy World Building (pt. 4)

Scions of Chaos from Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim ©2000 MicroProse

 Now that I have established the setting, and created an interesting racial group, the next step I wanted to take with it was to create some religious orders.

I actually don't have issues with the Cleric as a class; they're fine... So long as Paladins don't steal their role and their thunder the way they did in 3.5 and onward... But I always thought it an odd thing thatthey didn't differ more. The variant priests in the AD&D Deities & Demigods was my go-to solution for this problem in highschool. The mix of Domains and Prestige Classes in 3e also worked alright, but I feel they needed to do more to alter the base class, not just add to it.

In The Drowned World, mystery cults and holy orders are much more unique in their design and purpose. I want each religion to come with a unique class for its most devout. (The Stonespeakers from the last article would fit here, too.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Classy World Building (pt. 3)

 So this time, I am going to dive into the classes I am working on with only two prefaces:


First, this is a world where a group of mystics slew the God of Law, and the world was subsequently flooded by the tears of the Goddess of Wisdom, leading to a howling emptiness and a land full of lost hold in sunken ruins.

Greed for a Reason 

One of the first things I wanted to set up in The Drowned World was a race with a really good reason for being greedy and miserly. A replacement for the dwarves that are less encumbered by the mythic symbolism of dwarves from Norse mythology.

(If you're interested, the dwarves in the Prose Edda tend to represent small-mindedness, uninterest in the divine, materialism, and obsession with work, three things that come together. We are in a dwarf age in many respects.)

One of my favorite adventures in the original Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim was one in which you had to raise $40,000 gold pieces in 40 days in order to pay off a demonic debt interred by your character's late mother.

You don't have to really know what the demon wants with the gold. Theoretically, it shouldn't need gold at all. It is likely that it simply wants the gold to promote greed, or to stir up conflicts and generates sin. After all, The quickest way to win  mission is to build a strong thieves guild,  and invite debauched elves to build casinos and "lounges", then gamble like crazy while taxing the life out of the local vice peddlers.

This inspired my idea for the Oblik: A race struggling under a generational debt to a powerful demon. They celebrate Ambition, greed, miserliness on the one hand, but also see each member of their society as needing to help foot a massive burden on the other. They accept no slackers.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Classy World Building (pt. 2)

The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia 
Cover Art by Jeff Easley
©️1981 TSR
 This is part two of a series on using character classes to build worlds. For the preamble on how this project came about, see the previous article. The short version is that I have decided to build a collection of classes that express the races, cultures, and religions of a new high fantasy, high magic, noble right fantasy world that I am creating as a pallet cleanser after my life got too dark to want to play dark fantasy..

Inspired by the World of Twelve games (Dofus, Wakfu and Waven) and animated series, as well as by Nox, Majesty the Fantasy Kingdom Sim, Legend of Mana, and increasingly A Wizard of Earthsea all of which give very specific abilities, skills, and secrets to different groups within those worlds. And by some of the amazing classes and house rules shared in Black Pudding Heavy Helping volume 1 by James V West.

The first thing I've had to do is decide what system those worlds will sit in.

Firstly, I wanted a setting where magic was plentiful, but highly specialized. There are dozens of different subgroups of magic users with great power in a very limited sphere. I also wanted characters to have a high level of capability early on in the game, but that their impressive power comes with considerable risk.

I started with my Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. I preferred it as a very complete version of D&D where I could use as many or as few of the additional rules as I saw fit from that to create a solid Dungeons & Dragons scaffold for the world. I am throwing out non-weapon proficiencies and weapons specializations right off the bat; These are a lot of clutter on the character sheet, and add needless complexity to the game. I wanted to play in an old school manner, and so I will keep skill resolution to be controlled by a mix of attribute checks and logic as to which character ought to be able to do which thing.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Classy Worldbuilding (pt.1)

Wakfu promotional poster
©2012 Ankama
In the hopes of reducing the amount of Pokémon in my diet, I recently started looking for animated series I could share with my sons.

While it turned out to be something I don't think they were quite ready for, I came to quite enjoy Wakfu, a French animated fantasy series.

It is a setting that does not quite fit the traditional Tolkeinian / European fantasy mold, although there are elements of it in there, such as knights and princesses. Where they started with a building blocks of Tolkeineasque fantasy, they worked hard to give it enough twists, turns, and changes so has not to feel completely derivative. 

I also noticed very early on in the series that there was a lot of lore they weren't spelling out, such as how certain cultures appear to be racially the same but clearly had very different interests, and called upon different deities and mythic founders. That there seem to be a God for every tribe in the setting.

As I dug a little deeper I discovered that the animated series was released concomitantly with a massively multiplayer online game by the same title. And that it was the second MMO in that setting (Dofus was the first), and a third MMO, Waven, on the way between the animated series, a movie, a series of animated shorts, multiple casual video games, three MMOs, comic books, and other companion books, the setting, the World of Twelve is a true transmedia empire. But one that is not very well known outside of the Francosphere. I suspected cross my radar as much because I watched a fair amount of French programming has anything.

In any case, I'm now quite a few hours into playing the Wakfu MMO, and most of the way through the animated series for my own enjoyment. One of the things that struck me about it, and that I really enjoyed was the world building.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Zine Review: Black Pudding Heavy Helping vol. 1

cover to Black Pudding Heavy Helping 
©️J.V. West
: James V. West w/ various contributors
Publisher: Self-published
System: Labyrinth Lord / Doomslakers (OSR compatible)
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG 

 Black Pudding Heavy Helping vol. 1 is a collection of the first four issues of the Black Pudding zine edited and mostly written by James V. West.

Black Pudding is a series of cartoonishly illustrated light-hearted material for B/X Dungeons & Dragons clones, such as Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials. It includes lavishly illustrated character sheets for a broad range of OSR games, character classes, monsters, magic spells and spell books, magic items, and dungeon adventures. It even includes West's house rules sets which altogether make an entire OSR clone, Doomslakers.

Collecting the first four volumes of Black Pudding gives you substantial book, it weighs in at 127 pages of nothing but content.

Black Pudding doesn't take Dungeons & Dragons too seriously. Most of the content is lighthearted, silly, or exaggeratedly over the top in Saturday morning cartoons meets heavy metal kind of way. And well the compiled additions give you an entire osr role-playing game, the content is perfectly compatible with Labyrinth Lord and similar B/X clones. It is material that is ideal when you want to play a game no you don't want hard feelings as your characters are crushed by the meat grinder. And where you want a laugh at over the top crazy scenarios.

What I Loved

Character Sheets

One of many awesome Character Sheets
From Black Pudding ©️ J.V. West
I have been using James West's character sheet designs for years now. Ever since I first discovered them by Googling "OSR character sheet." I love the wild cartoony borders, weird layouts, and frenetic energy that they inspire. Whenever my son is playing a game with me, I made sure he has one of those sheets, because they capture the imagination. They are exactly what I wish I could have done with my character sheets when I was a teenager.

The sheets include specific ones for single saving throw games like Swords & Wizardry and the OSR clone in Black Pudding. It also has level zero sheets for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and character sheets both with and without spaces for race for use with either AD&D or B/X clones.

Pulpy Classes

I don't like every class in Black Pudding, but the good ones easily outnumber the bad. My favorites of the classes are the ones that really tap into the pulp fiction inspirational materials for Dungeons & Dragons. I would be very happy to run a campaign full of black knights, chainmail chicks, shield maidens, wardens, blind guardians, and sinewy barbarians. They each feel fun and well-designed. They're just a mechanically a little tougher than the base B/X D&D classes to enhance the puply feel, but are far from superheroic.

I also appreciated the classes that pastiche some of my favorite '90s subcultures. There's a witch that is most clearly borrowed from the culture around Wicca in the 90s, and the Raven Heart, and almost perfectly typed black magic wielding goth girl. It is like seeing my high school clique expressed as D&D characters.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Review: The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg
Cover Art by Ken Fletcher
: Greg Svenny, Griffith Morgan,  & D.H. Boggs
Publisher: The Fellowship of the Thing Ltd.
Game Engine: OSR Compatible 
Marketplace: Limited Kickstarter Release

 Back when he was researching the movie the secrets of Blackmoor, Griffith Morgan was lucky enough to interview a number of the players and DMs who ran the first handful of Dungeon crawling campaigns from the Twin Cities wargaming clubs. During his interview with David Megarry, Megarry Presented him with a mystery dungeon map. While it was clearly not the work of Dave Arneson, it had the signature sharp angles and broad hallways of the early Twin Cities dungeon maps. As the Fellowship of the Thing team did more research on the mystery map, they discovered that it was in fact the map of the dungeon beneath the Castle of Tonisborg by Greg Svenson.

This dungeon had been used during an early play test of Dungeons & Dragons, and may well have been the 2nd dungeon crawl created after Arneson's Blackmoor. The island and city of Tonis were even canonically a part of Arneson's world of Blackmoor. 

The dungeon itself was thought to be lost: its creator, Greg's Svenson, had lost the original dungeon map and notes when a cleaning lady had assumed that they were wastepaper and tossed them out. He had forgotten that he had given a Photocopy to Megarry (who had moved away) months earlier. This was in a box along with some of the original playtest materials for the game that would be later released as Dungeons & Dragons.

When the Secrets of Blackmoor was kickstarted, a limited series of ornately-bound books in ethically sourced paper were offered as one of the higher-tier backer rewards. Only around four hundred of the books were made as a collector's curiosity.

A few months ago I got into a Twitter conversation with Griffith Morgan about the book, and how I wished that there was a commercially available copy. It looks like an amazing text, but collectors were already reselling at $300+.I asked him if it was possible to have a paperback version made, a sentiment that was echoed by a number of other RPG commentators on Twitter.

In the fall, of 2022, the Fellowship of the Thing production company Kickstarted a limited-run paperback version listed as The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg, and as I led the charge of OSR bloggers,  designers, and commentators  in requesting the book be made, I would be a complete asshole if I didn't review it.

And I got a hell of a lot more than I expected.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Why Some Games Need to be Silly


I had a flash of insight last night after my oldest son had a bad night last night. My son, who sits somewhere on the autism spectrum, has a hard time regulating feelings. He has outbursts when confronted with negative emotions, especially when it comes to competition and losing.

In a bid to teach him sportsmanship,  and expose  to competing, winning, and losing until he has effective strategies to handle it, I have been playing Pokémon TCG Online with him a couple of matches per day.

It has been an uphill battle. Her number of reasons. Some of them are very relevant to understanding TTRPGs, and why some styles of play are more suited for particular types of people than others.

See, my son has been on a winning streak. My first round draw of cards in Pokémon TCG has been consistently abysmal.