Sunday, July 7, 2024

Steal This Map!

 Whether or not you are listening to my semi-actual-play podcast Swords Against Madness or not, you might find the map and encounter tables I created for the podcast worth stealing (1 hex = 6 miles).

Nar is the island where the campaign is currently set. A tropical island colonized long ago by a culture of explorers, the Aldi Guilds (inspired by Mystara's Minrothad Guilds), and then abandoned when the motherland suffered an economic collapse.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

My Go-to Pantheon to Plagarize for Fantasy Religions (Majesty)

I am addicted to the process of world-building. Creating new places with interesting cultures, unusual people, and compelling disasters is something I never get tired of. I have home-brewed dozens of worlds.

In fact, if I have a weakness, it is that I have a hard time staying happy with a world for very long. It is a rare thing if I keep a world running across multiple campaigns. There have been only two of my home-brewed worlds that have seen more than one campaign.

Building worlds and hacking a game to make it fit that world give me incredible pleasure... except for one pain in my rear end: gods. I have had a terrible time in the past coming up with gods. I don't generally like using real-world pantheons for a number of reasons. I have used the Greyhawk, Eberron, or Golarion pantheons from time to time... but they have some pretty significant limitations to them:

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Tailoring a Campaign: My Player Resource for Running Hot Springs Island

I am in the process of setting up for my Summer game of Hot Springs Island. One of the first things I wanted to do aside from sending out the pitch document that I shared with you last week, was to write a guide for the players. This guide had to tackle some basic tasks:

  1. Cover how to make a character
  2. Reiterate at least some of the house rules in the pitch document.
  3. Expand on the information in the pitch for players who have bought in.
  4. Add in any new content relevant to the players.

So I started by reiterating my character generation process. I added in firearm rules cribbed from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and a gear list that brings the characters into the 17th century, including some era-appropriate armour and equipment.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Trans-Real News is Complete at 41 (Gamable) Episodes

I wanted to point my readers once more to my podcast Trans-Real News. It is one of the main reasons why this blog is being so scant lately. And I hope that you will find that it was a worthy diversion. It is now complete with 41 episodes averaging about 8 minutes in length.

Trans-Real news is my surreal science fantasy comedy audio drama. It follows the lives of the cast of a daily news show as they attempt to report on a world where time, space, and reality has malfunctioned. Please to things like rampaging hordes of barbarians coming back through time too eliminate people they think made humanity weaker, much of the Monterey Bay area of Northern California turning into a swamp full of Carboniferous life forms, Los Angeles turning into a shining 1950 science fiction-style Utopia, and a hive mind of talking insects taking over hollywood. 

If I were to try to describe it, I might do so as a Murphy Brown and meats Bill & Ted, while a selection of comics from Heavy Metal play out in the background. 

Throughout the series, I make a lot of references to Dungeons & Dragons. There are even a couple of scenes of the characters playing it. And one of the things I have tried to do with it is make sure that it is gamable.:

I tried to create a podcast where every episode might give a dungeon master six or seven new ideas for adventure hooks or strange events in their campaign world. 

Throughout it, I also  did a lot of World-Building, and there is definitely a setting all its own there where modern people are facing fantasy and science fiction dangers while trying to learn to navigate time travel, alternate dimensions, and the world where magic is coming into its own. 

It is my intention to start working on a setting book for it based on an in-world book a couple of the recurring characters wrote. I would love feedback from my readers as to whether or not this is something they would be interested in. 

I will post the trailer here. You can find it on most of your podcatchers, such as spotify, youtube, Podcast Addict, and itunes. 

If you have a few hours to spare, I would love to have a chance to entertain you!

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Example of Tailoring A Campaign: My Summer Vacation Game

I've recently experienced a severe stall in my Silver Gull campaign.. a couple of my players suffer from chronic illnesses that have been bad lately, and they haven't been able to make it. While my campaign is normally run in one to one time, my players aren't really interested in playing unless they have the full group available. Another of my players has a psychological block when it comes to trying to run multiple characters at once. He simply isn't able to do it, and so it doesn't want to start anything on the side. 

The end result is that my players have needed to move to a pause time model of play, and then we have been unable to play simply because some of my players are being too sick.

I'm not willing to give up on the Silver Gull. This campaign has been one of the most enjoyable I've ever run. And, in spite of stalls and brakes, the player characters are now sitting between 7th and 10th level depending on class. They have intrigues, long term goals, romances, sworn enemies, holy missions, and are building towards a dominion now. 

But I get the feeling that things are not going to work themselves out for another few months.

And so, I've decided that for the Summer I'm going to be running something a little different. And this is where tailoring your game to the campaign is absolutely vital.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Game Review: Hero Quest (2021)

Stephen Baker
Publisher: Avalon Hill
System: Hero Quest
Marketplace: Amazon

I received a copy of Hero Quest (1989) for my birthday when I was 11. A product of Milton Bradley in conjunction with Games Workshop, it was designed as a tool for introducing young people to the concepts of role-playing games, but with minimal amounts of the play-acting and dramatic storytelling.
Hero Quest consisted of a board, and a collection of minis and frogs, along with cardboard tiles and specialized diced resolve combat. The combat system was loosely based on Warhammer Fantasy Battles, with various icons on the dice representing one and six, two and six, and three and six chances of success on a d6 roll.

The symbols were variously a skull to represent a wound (3 in 6), a shield to represent a hero deflecting an attack (2 in 6), or a skull to represent a non-heroic unit deflecting an attack (1 in 6). 

Original 1989 box

Friday, June 7, 2024

Making Best Use of Downtime

Many of my players don't like downtime. They want a fast-paced adventure where they know danger is around every corner. They prefer the kind of pacing that you see in modern Dungeons & Dragons play. Downtime for them is like a montage. And for many years, because I know my audience, that was how I played. Downtime only existed between acts or when the PCs decided to- and the unfolding events allowed them to- take a break.

The Evolution of Timekeeping Advice in D&D

As a kid, I missed reading the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, I missed out on its advice for keeping time and running the game (I went from playing with the Mentzer "red box" Basic Dungeons & Dragons to using Mentzer Dungeon Master's Rulebook and the AD&D Player's Handbook, to using AD&D2nd edition. Thus, I missed the best resource ever written on running a D&D campaign. The AD&D2e Dungeon Master's Guide buried its advice a somewhat in favour of optional rules and setting design, and skipped some of the best options. Bu the time they decided to expand it in DMGR1: The Campaign Sourcebook and Catacombs Guide, the developers at TSR had very much moved away from Gygax. Here is the meat of their description of how to manage pacing of a campaign in DMGR1:

Friday, May 24, 2024

How We Lost Faction Play, and Why it is Valuable

 When I was a kid, I taught myself to play Dungeons & Dragons from the Red Box. I have a lot of praise for the design of the Mentzer Basic set: It was the first version of Dungeons & Dragons with a really clear how-to play guide, as well as two introductory adventures played solo in a way that was pretty familiar to a Choose Your Own Adventure addict like me. Castle Mistemere was a pretty clever design as well, giving you the first floor of the dungeon, a map of the second, and mostly a question mark for the third, it eased the Dungeon Master into learning how to play their role; perhaps not as well as Keep on the Borderland, had but it gave you a more methodical approach. 

There was one way adventure with Aleena at the beginning of the book was deeply flawed, however. As a tutorial it was great, even as a piece of fiction it was pretty good. You got attached to Aleena, and then her death broke your heart, especially if you were 6 year old boy at the time...

...But, it also set up the idea that you were going to be playing the hero in a high fantasy narrative. You had an evil sorcerer, on the run, and, if you carried on with the PC you started with, were hunting them. You had a friend to avenge. Castle Mistemere reinforced that by suggesting that Bargle will be placed somewhere in the lower levels of the dungeon as a mastermind. 

This is great Dungeons & Dragons; don't get me wrong. But, unlike Keep in the Borderland, you don't start as a mercenary looking for a quick score. Nor do you start as an escaped prisoner, or a castaway. From the beginning, the introductory adventure and castle Mistemere create the kind of plot are that we now associate with the kind of ""trad" play that was soon thereafter refined by Tracy Hickman in Ravenloft and the Dragonlance saga. In other words, it was a heroic journey,  not a sandbox adventure,

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Detectives in Space, Desperate Cowboys, Freezing Barbarians, Mystic Pilgrims... Or all of the Above!

Looking to start a game? I have some campaign ideas that might inspire you.

How I Pitch my Campaigns

When I am ready to start a new campaign, I put together a handful of "pitch documents" that give the players a taste of what they might expect with the game. The style of my pitch documents varies a lot by mood and inclination.

Recently my wife and I concluded a one-to-one Fabula Ultima campaign, and have been, after a couple of false starts and a few weekends where life just got in the way, looking to start something new. I recently prepared a document with four campaign pitches for a one-to-one game based on our current leanings, taste, and media intake.

As this could be a useful tool for assembling a group, I thought I would share a (slightly tidied up) PDF version of the document.

Pitches May 2024

Generally speaking, I give a fictional preview either written like a movie trailer, or a summary of precipitating events written like the back of a book cover.

Then I create a couple of paragraphs explaining the game of choice, the role the PCs might start with, and what kind of overarching experience I hope to provide.

I used to add in some evocative art hunted down on Pinterest. These days, I try generating something custom using an AI. It seems like a good, non-commercial use for the tool.

The Pitches

In this case I have a Scifi Detective Noir that is drawing a lot on Philip K. Dick, as well as an old favourite podcast, Black Jack Justice; a natural fantasy story based on a fusion of Babylon 5: Crusade, The Slayers: Try, Legend of Mana, and Sorcerer Hunters; A cowboy story that is intended to be a massive and dark expansion of my Vulture Rock wargame scenario played in Cowpunchers; and there is an AD&D scenario there inspired by the copious amount of Manowar that has been on my CD player in the last week (I'm also on my 15th play-through of Skyrim).

Feel free to steal and use these, and I am happy to answer questions, if you want more information about how I intended to use them.

But these particular campaign pitches just didn't sing. They weren't quite what we were looking for.

Trying Again

I sat for awhile trying to think of what I might try differently, and started taking the most appealing elements of each into a totally different beast.

I am currently enjoying the novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons as well. If you're not familiar, it is a dark and surreal (and much more serious) science fiction take on The Canterbury Tales which involves a group of pilgrims being sent to their deaths on an alien world, telling about their experiences on a previous voyage there. Hyperion is a pretty influential book in science fiction media, but is not itself very well known. If you have played Borderlands, Bio-Shock, Mass Effect, or Amnesia games, you have probably heard a lot of references to it.

I decided to blend my four campaigns together: a dark western story, but with a mystery focus, set in my own science fiction world, to which I would add in some heavy metal notes. And while I was at it, I decided to toss in some elements of Mass Effect and Borderlands (a fantastic Sci-Fi Western setting)

 What I ended up with is a frontier space colony world full of ancient hyper-tech ruins that can create miracles, where runaways, psychics, criminals, and cultists are rampant. I called it Adaro

I've written a lot about realizing a science fiction setting in the past. One thing that I find to be axiomatic is that if you are not using an established setting, you need to work a lot harder to tell your players about it. When I write science fiction pitches, I add a lot more detail to it before I pitch it.

Adaro is written as a series of three monologues from very different perspectives, and two dossiers written for a government agent, plus a couple of definitions, and I feel it does a great job of doing heavy lifting.

Steal This Planet!

Tragically, it just didn't sell to my wife as a home game setting. However, i feel like Adaro might be just the thing someone else is looking for, so I am going to toss the pitch document up here, and see if any of my readers want to steal it and make it their own.

Download it as a PDF here:

Adaro: A Mythic Space Western

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Game Review: Death in Space

: Christian Plogfors, Carl Nibeaus
Publisher: Stockholm Kartel, Fria Lagan
Engine: Mörk-Borg Compatible (OSR)
Marketplace: Fria Lagan, Amazon, DTRPG

Death in Space is a sci-fi horror game set in a distant future where the Universe is beginning the process of heat death, and humankind, after aeons of expansion across Space, are now in steep decline.

The game's setting, which is heavily baked into the structure, is the Tenebris System, a star system that had been at the heart of humanity's final war; many powerful mega corporations and space empires fought for centuries over gems found on moon in Tenebris which were so flawless and possessed such fantastic properties that they would revolutionize the manufacturing of spacecraft, computers, and hyperspace gates 

By the time the war was over, humanity was so beggared and in such steep decline that it didn't matter anymore: no one had the means left to use the gems.

Now humanity is clinging on to an existence where they make nothing new: everything has been repurposed and recycled over and over again. An alien force, the void, is creeping in, infecting, tainting, and mutating everything it touches, and that can be heard in strange whispers on radio waves across the Universe.

 Humans live in poverty in the wreckage of their once great empires. In Tenebris, most of the population lives in The Iron Ring: a hoop of fused hulks of space stations and starships in orbit around the moon where the gems were once discovered.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Swords Against Madness

 Swords Against Madness
, my new gonzo OSR solo TTRPG podcast launched today, and I have to start by saying that I have never felt a more warm welcome for anything I have ever done. Abel from The Iron Realm, Simon from Legend of the Bones, John from Tale of the Manticore, and T15 from Legends from the Fireside all dropped by and said hello, and asked me how they can help and promote me. I am blown away by how awesome a crowd this is already.

Swords Against Madness is played using Swords & Wizardry Complete and a bevy of tools from tables stolen from ICRPG to the Pendulum World-Building Assistant, to the Dungeon Dozen. I am turning the gonzo weirdness is going to be turned up to the max.

If you are interested in Swords Against Madness, you can learn more here! Or listen to it through YouTube here:

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Welcome to the Deathtrap: Year 4 in Review

I have been writing Welcome to the Deathtrap for four years! I can hardly believe it has been so long!

In the last year I've put out a couple of light games, like Drakken and Dragonette, I've nearly completed my complete edition of Deathtrap Lite, and have a couple of other rules light games in the works in my spare time. I haven't spent nearly as much time as I would have liked on reviews. I have a backlog of books I've read, or have almost finished readings, but haven't had much of an opportunity to review.

The ebb and flow of the 'blog has definitely reflected the good and bad times in my life. In the past year and a bit, I have partially lost use of my hands, feet, and lips, and developed chronic fatigue due to a brain injury, I've been forced to move once, and nearly had to do so a second time. I've lost 28 lbs. I've tried to go back to work, and found myself too ill to do so effectively. I've learned a new skillset, and I'm starting a business.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Podcasting Your Campaign Notes

I am, generally speaking, awful about keeping notes as a DM. When I run  a game, I am so deep in the flow moat times that writing things down doesn't occur to me. Three days later, I can usually tell you exactly what happened without referring to my scant in-game notes. But by the time a week has gone by, I am stuck in the position of sometimes having to ask, "What was that NPC's name again?"

It really isn't the best way to do things and has been the source of a few jarring moments in otherwise great game flow. I've started making quick audio notes after sessions so that I can have a quick refresher before the session begins.

For the sake of building some enthusiasm,  honing my craft, and having a little fun with my friends, it occurred to me that I could turn these into a podcast with a tiny and very specific audience. Although, once it is in full swing it might be interesting to other players who want to see how those older 1970s style rules and 1:1 time play out in an actual game.

Once the 5-10 minutes of audio notes are recorded, I also realized that I could also record some of the lore about the campaign setting in a fun delivery package that helps me avoid lore dumps in the game. "Here's 5 minutes of stuff you might want to know and might be interesting, but isn't game critical - and you can skip!" seems like a winning formula. Especially as it is as much about me as them.

If you are curious, here are my first to proper session versions of the micro-podcast:

Silver Gull - Episode 2

Silver Gull - Episode 3

Silver Gull - Episode 4

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Day Tripper, Analysis and Thoughts

This is part two of my discussion of my experience with the AI game master and role-playing game Day Tripper. See my previous article for a transcript of the actual play 

When I played Day Tripper, one of the first things I noticed was a slightly wonky pacing. While the game doesn't have a limited number of interactions, the AI game master is designed to really hurry things along: up to and including taking agency away from the player to desc

Monday, April 8, 2024

My A.I. Gm Experience: "Day Tripper" pt.1

 It is no secret that I love playing around with machine-learning models to create images, songs, and the like. "Generative A.I." is entertaining, even if its products are usually dull and uninspired. And you can get some damned good results with ethically sourced tools.But the moment you try to create anything too complex with it you end up witnessing otherworldly horrors beyond human comprehension.

(Believe me, if my hand's weren't fucked up, I would be doing my own illustrating! It would be less traumatic.)

I seriously doubt that an A.I., especially one trained by a large corporation, could do a great job running a game. But could one carefully trained by an indie developer do a halfway decent job? Recently I tried out the Scifi LLM "A.I." role-playing experience "Day Tripper" by Tod Foley, designer of Core Micro and Uniquicity, (and generally fun interlocutor.)

I am still processing my experience with "Day Tripper" and I am going to present a transcript of my first adventure here. And then I will pick Tod's brain to clarify my thoughts, and share my analysis of the experience with you in my next post.

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Trans-Real News


I just realized that I wasn't sharing my podcast here with the people who might appreciate it the most!

Trans-Real News is my weird fiction audio-drama podcast framed as a newscast from the Astral Plane as time, space, and reality is collapsing.

Over the course of the 40 episodes I have planned (10 are already recorded and edited.) The newscasters will slowly go from unscrupulous hacks and shills to heroes in a war against supernatural authoritarians.

It isn't TTRPG material (yet), but I hope it will inspire people looking for gonzo setting ideas to steal from it.

Here are my first three episodes:

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Returning to Xen

This is another article to file under "I don't know who this will interest":

I am returning to the Silver Gull Campaign after a hiatus. I find coming up with material for it so much easier than the CHV Natani game.

It has been awhile, and my players  were asking for a reminder of the events of the game so far. Moreover, I am looking to onboard a new player. So every was asking for a summary, if I could put something together.

Because I am trying to get into the podcast production and editing biz, I decided to take this as an opportunity to practice my podcast design and mastering. It is about half an hour, covers an overview of the campaign, and a summary that covers around 70 sessions, that is pretty condensed.

 Listen to it here

If you are interested... or want to see what I can do, check it out above.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Scrap: Remind me Why I'm Doing This Again?!

 Two articles ago, I mentioned my project Scrap. I have been itching to create a campaign set in a dreary Sci-Fi crapsack world where space colonists sent through wormholes in the 1980s have been cut off from Earth and met a series of disasters that have forced them to abandon all but a few of their colonies and break into six dystopian factions. PCs are young people who have never known Earth, and are now serving their faction by plundering old planetary outposts for food, water, air, and technology in hopes of holding on long enough to rebuild.

The major inspirations being Duskers, Lethal Company, We Fix Space Junk, Kakos Industries, and Dining in the Void

Friday, March 22, 2024

Shadow Over Sojenka Relfections

 I have been playing various OSR games with Stephen Smith, a true gaming mad scientist for three years now, and as we are coming up on a close to his second campaign, which ran for over 100 sessions, I wanted to describe the mad experiment he ended up running in the campaign he called Shadow Over Sojenka.

Unlike a few of the other articles you might read, mine is no "postmortem"; I am still playing in Sojenka. I have an ancient evil to stop, and a town to build. I hope to be playing in Sojenka for another year, or preferably, many more.

First off, compliments to the chef: Stephen doesn't do traditional Western Fantasy. He starts with a setting that takes you further afield. The first setting we ran was a mix of post-apocalyptic and late Byzantine Empire with a zombie apocalypse going on in the background. This latest campaign was set in a culture built heavily on Slavic myth and culture in the Early Modern period. In both cases he creates rich, weird elements such as unique monsters, magic items, and spells that make certain you are always meeting something unexpected.

Second, each campaign has been a science lab. Stephen is trying to hack his way into experiencing a version of D&D that is closer to its wargame origins... and a rich campaign that requires a little front-loading, but otherwise took very little effort on the GM's part once play commenced. Some of his experiments have been absolutely fascinating to take part in.

With Shadow Over Sojenka, Stephen was inspired by The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg to try to capture the essence of what Dungeons & Dragons must have been like when it was being run as a series of experiments by the war gaming societies in Wisconsin around 1973. Including trying to reverse-engineer some elements of play that disappeared as TTRPG culture evolved to become its own thing separate from wargaming in the early '80s.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

In Search of the Best Crapsack Future


So I have had two (video-) gaming obsessions and three podcast obsessions that have managed to collide in a perfect storm of inspiration

And that has had me grinding away like mad at my google docs for about a week now.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Deathtrap Lite: the Keep on the Borderlands Principle

When I set out to build Deathtrap Lite, one of the core ideas I had in designing the game was that I wanted it to be compatible with most TSR-era D&D modules and OSR adventures on the market, while still being mechanically distinct.

Inspired by a video from Questing Beast, I made one of my rubrics "Can I still play The Keep on the Borderlands with this?" If the answer became"No." I adjusted until it could.

The whole point of the exercise was to make a game that was built on a particular mechanic, just to see if I could: a player-facing one based on an evolution of the Taps & Tankards simple skill system and Stephen Smith's World of Weirth adjustments to it, but what would be the point if my readers, who are mostly an OSR crowd couldn't use it, after all?

I also was curious to see if there is a market for OSR-comaptibke non-D&D games.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

How I Designed SKills in Deathtrap Lite

 I'm going to spend the next few articles talking about Deathtrap Lite. This little OSR game was my personal passion project in 2021. 

When we started the World of Weirth campaign, Stephen Smith was looking for a scalable skill system that would allow him to determine the outcome of events without relying on the somewhat "pro-PC" skewed skill system of Low Fantasy Gaming. He adopted a fairly straightforward system from the old blog Taps and Tankard. He adjusted the difficulty levels inherent to that system and added a system for skills to grow as the PCS use them, rather than as they levelled up.

 In practice, however, we found that the players were avoiding tasks that would require rolling using the system if they could. My fellow players found that there was some lack of clarity in the rules. Stephen invited me to write a proposal as how I would rewrite and rejig the system so that the players would be more comfortable using it, which I did in a matter of a few hours. But that got me thinking about how I could build a whole role-playing game system out of it...

This is where Deathtrap Lite came from, tweaking an existing skill system into something new and flexible. I'm going to go over the basics of the system with you here.

Monday, February 26, 2024

What Gives them Hope? (Musings in the Hour of the Wolf)


I can't sleep tonight, readers.

Life has handed me a problem where none of the outcomes are good or happy. And one that has made me so frustrated and angry I just don't know how to vent it so that I can relax enough to get to sleep. Housing crisis, living in a city that has become unlivable, skyrocketing cost of living, vaccine-induced brain damage, bad timing, children with special care needs... yadda, yadda, yadda... I wrote a version of this article with all the details, and it was boring. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of compromises to make, and years before any of it gets better. And that brain damage part never will.

And so I fired up blogger to do two things. And hopefully, in the process, keep serving you all. This blog, for what it is worth, is almost as great an escape for me as the games itself. 

The first is to put a thought in your ear, as it is one that makes a campaign all the much richer. Which is the question, where do people find hope? In a fantasy world as dark as Dungeons & Dragons when it is played by us oldsters, where do people find the charge to keep building those keeps on the borderlands, praying alongside those clerics, and going through life knowing they are one goblin raid away from ruin?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Feycatchers Update

Palworld Promotional Image 
©️2023 Pocket Pair
 I have been working on my Feycatchers game setting for Basic Fantasy RPG, updating the formatting to be consistent with Basic Fantasy RPG. Along with some general edits.

While I am not yet fully compliant with BFRPG style,  I'm getting there. 

It is a take on a setting like Pokémon or Palworld, with a Celtic twist, made for my son who is a Pokémon fanatic.  Tragically I submitted it to the BFRPG forum simultaneously to the OGL scandal breaking and the "all hands on deck" to release a 4th edition,  so it went entirely unnoticed.  I am hoping to resubmit when it is properly adjusted to meet their standards. 

I have run a campaign in the setting from levels 1-7, and while I am too old to have been a Pokémon kid, myself, I had a lot of fun with it. In retrospect adding Pokémon to D&D definitely feels more like Palworld  than Pokémon.  At least the way I played it.

Download  version 1.2.1 Here

CSV Natani: Death Match of the Bands

Iria Ocano, generated in Unstable Diffusion
by her player.

 This is a quick report on what has happened in my White Star campaign over the last few sessions as the PCs played their way through Cascadia's bloody and perilous Deathmatch of the bands.

Session 9: January 22nd, 2024: Intrigue and Politics

Ciara tapped deep into her deviousness to help Leedo sabotage the Black Sun mercenaries. She started by sending anonymous warnings to Princess Dorala. She then faked a legal siexure of some major dockyards on the Taurelian home system, forcing their representative to jump home to sort matters out immediately and leave a proxy to observe the Festival of the Culling.

She also wove a botnet into the local film production systems so that she could weaponize the camera drones being used in the filming.

The band began to plan their tactical strategies while Ciara wrestled with whether to be on stage in a mask, or simply hide so that there was no choice of begin seen by the Alterrians that might yet be hunting her.

Iria, Leedo, Ciara, Pavo, along with newcomers Hrungg and Dj'hurk finalized their contracts as the band Iria and the Bloody Murder and began participating in the 3-day multi-stage concert / gladiatorial event.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Sourcebook Review: Fabula Ultima TTJRPG Atlas High Fantasy

: Emanuele Galletto
Publisher: Need Games
System: Fabula Ultima
Marketplace: DriveThruRPG

 I have been playing a lot of Fabula Ultima: TTJRPG lately. I am about 8 adventures in to a campaign that has been nothing short of epic. I can add to my observations, having played it as long as I have that combat is terrifying in Fabula Ultima despite its twin roots in the combat-heavy Final Fantasy series and the cozy storygame structure of Ryuutama.; I have never seen so much fleeing in terror, running and screaming on the behalf of PCs as I have playing Fabula Ultima. And that is while balancing the game to be within the parameter recommended by the system. Also, that the storygame elements don't suit my play-style very well, nor are they my favourite as a GM, but my most important player, my wife, is loving them, and they have been useful for hacking a particularly complex sequence in White Star as well.

It is painfully prep-heavy, but once you get into the rhythm of designing NPCs it speeds up dramatically.

One of the most useful parts of the early game is in the section on collaborative world-building (which, as an activity, I have mostly just thrown out, tbh.) In that section it describes the most common modes of play that have appeared in Final Fantasy games, as well as other Japanese RPG video game series like Ys*, Phantasy Star, Dragon Warrior, and Earthbound. Namely High Fantasy, Natural Fantasy, and Technofantasy. It covers the tropes, plot structure, world design, and antagonist character development principles of each of those subgenres.

When it was clear that my family was hooked on this particular Fabula Ultima campaign, which I had decided to go whole hog on the High Fantasy tropes for, and I saw this come out only a couple of weeks after the campaign got rolling, I decided that I needed to grab it. I have found it a very useful and well-designed tool, and I have referred to it quite a bit over the course of the campaign so far.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

How I Used One-to-One Time in the Silver Gull Campaign.

Time Magician's Academy
Generated with Unstable Diffusion

One-to-One time is making the rounds again on Twitter, so I decided that it was time I gave a concrete example of how it worked for me in my Silver Gull Campaign. 

You can see reports about and articles inspired by my campaign here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Silver Gull is part of my Xen: Weird Fantasy setting, and I played it with a mix of Swords & Wizardry and Deathtrap Lite. (and supplemented with AD&D1e) Xen is a world with an eight-day week and a fairly elaborate calendar you can read about in my setting document. This document also contains a summary of two months of downtime activity.

My rule was that, barring my own ill health, every week of real time was eight days of time in Xen. So, after each Monday night session, my players had seven days of downtime before the next session. I would advance the date in Xen seven days after the last date that passed in the session.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Joy of Learning (Getting into Podcasting)

Life never sits still for me. There are always new challenges and new troubles. This is nothing profound. I am sure most people can say the same. In my case, it is high time to start a new business so that I can start to earn while working around my health limitations.

I have decided to start using the audio production skills that I learned recording audiobooks for Audible, coaching, writing, and as a UXD to offer my services as a producer, editor, and developer for podcasts.

  • I have no worries about the technical process; I know my way around Audacity, Wordpress, BluBrry, and dHTML. 
  • Nor do I have much difficulty in developing content ideas, coming up with good descriptions and SEO.
  • For the podcasts I hope to produce I can write and I can act. I have spent many years getting certifications from Toastmasters, I've hosted a television program before.

Where I am weak these days is understanding how to best devellop and optimize RSS feeds, on marketing podcasts, and the various options that Podcast 2.0 has to offer for monetization and publicity, etc. And so I have been diving deep into material like the Audacity to Pocast and every relevant book I could find in my public library.

And few things make me happer. There is something about ploughing headlong intto new ideas and skills that wakes me up and makes me come alive.

As I was contemplating what to do about my poor neglected blog this morning, I realized that the same reason I have been letting it slide for the past week is the same reason I have loved writing for you all over the last few years. I love sinking my teeth into a new system, a new setting, or a new world. I like learning how to build fun new experiences using the tools of TTRPGs.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Let's Talk Adventures: DCC #68: The People of the Pit

: Joseph Goodman
Publisher: Goodman Games
Marketplace: Goodman Games, DrivethruRPG 
System: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG 

I first played The People of the Pit in March of 2019 and I have very fond memories from this module.

At that time, I had joined the Dungeon Crawlers Discord, a DCC fan board that I was assured had a great LFG section, and was not disappointed.  I joined a group that was going to meet every Thursday. We would play either a published Goodman Games module, playtest our own module, or bring an adventure of the right approximate length, and run it. As soon as we were done, the GM would rotate. We all had our own PCs, but they,would not be allowed a vote in party decisions while we played.

We started with Sailors on a Starless Sea, which only two of my six characters survived. One of them, Podrux, immediately became a group favourite.  A tailor, but a wealthy one with gems in his pocket, Podrux wasn't raiding the citadel of Chaos because he was trying to save his kin... No, he was on this adventure because these bastards owed him money, and they can't pay up if they're dead. My fellow players loved the cowardly,  greedy, sarcastic bastard who was really the village usurer. Especially as he got his hands on magic power and immediately started trying to figure out how to get more.

Our second game was a playtest of my module Vikings on a Starry Sea, which I will publish one day. Followed by a GM who had a plot in mind, and started setting up what would be his own episodic plot. In which Podrux defrauded a town of incredible wealth, sacrificed some pets, and started courting power from a few patrons.

And then came The People of the Pit. This Sprawling Dungeon was one of the weirdest I'd ever encountered in a way I'd really liked. It is, to me, one of the defining modules of the Dungeon Crawl Classics catalogue. Given that it was the second DCC module released for Goodman Games' own new TTRPG, it had to be. I would not be surprised if it was a big portion of the reason Goodman Games was such a hit.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Let's Talk Adventures: Highfell

 I am going to experiment with a slightly more conversational tone to discuss some of the big modules out there in the OSR and beyond, rather than giving them the lengthy, structured approach I give to TTRPGs here. Partially in the name of doing more with this blog, and partially because I feel the value you get from a module depends very much on what you intend to do with it, and partially because I am, as always, here to share the things I find awesome. And you all don't always want to read 20 paragraphs.

So I am going to start this experiment with Highfell: The Drifting Dungeon.

Highfell: The Drifting Dungeon

Author: Greg Gillespie
Publisher: OSR Publishing
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG,
System: OSR Compatible

Greg Gillespie is probab;ly one of those designers who doesn't need much by way of introduction. He has a pretty good reputation in the OSR community for his massive and complex modules.

Every couple of years Greg Gillespie releases aa new module that he has been hammering away at, often daily for years. His first one, Barrowmaze, is legendary: a sprawling labyrinth of barrows in a haunted valley that is peopled by undead, strange magical monstrosities, and terrible curses. As the PCs explore this on-floor labyrinth they will find that trditional "levels" are replaced by zones that are inreasingly deadly as you push further away from the nearby town. Sattered runestones introduce a new kind of magic, and there is a history of the place that can be learned by clues.

Highfell: the Drifting Dungeon, along with Dwarrowdeep are two follow-up megadungeons. They are offered in both OSR and D&D5e versions. with the OSR versions being mostly structured along the conventions of AD&D / OSRIC, meaning you will see relatively middling stats for NPCs, high stats for the pre-gen PCs, and two-part alignments, but as always, OSR is OSR, you can convert anything for a B/X system like Old-School Essentials in a few seconds in your head as a veteran GM.

All three modules are set in a consistent world, and Dwarrowdeep and Highfell cross over with one another and have cross-over material from Barrowmaze seeded into them. As a clever manoevre, most of the towns and villages of the settin make menton of cities with familiar names like "Threshold" allowing a comfortable drop into existing D&D worlds like Mystara.

This module is pretty much a full canned campaign: you have a hometown with enough factions and intrigue to make time in  "Town" compelling play, and a pretty big cast of NPCs. A couple of smaller villages that have enough details to make them interesting, A few adventure sites, and then one immense megadungeon. Like Keep on the Borderlands or Temple of Elemental Evil there is enough material beyond the dungeon to run a whole campaign, probably for years if you want to.

Friday, January 19, 2024

All Hail the Kingslayer!!

Let me play the proud father for a moment and tell you the tale of Nargle the Kingslayer!

My oldest son has earned a ban on all screens except to practice coding in Scratch this week, so to keep him entertained in the mornings before school I decided to run a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics for him every morning, powered by a mix of Donjon and the Mythic Game Master Emulator. I am playing three PCs and he opted for only one. We agreed once the campaign was rolling that we would switch from me doing all the interpretation and game planning to sharing it.

We rolled them up using the Tatterdemalion's Heroes method at 1st level, and he got a character with a pretty solid 15 in Intelligence and Stamina, and a whopping 18 in Luck, but a low Agility. While I encouraged him to consider a Dwarf or a Halfling, My son, however, has only one class he ever plays: Wizard. And so was born Nargle, the Neutral rope-maker-turned-Wizard. Of course, it helped that that insane Luck bonus got added to all spell damage rolls based on his character's lucky sign.

Nargle has become one of the most destructive, world-wrecking lunatics I have ever had the pleasure to GM.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

CSV Natani: The Big Rock Manouvre


This is yet another update of the last few sessions of my White Star campaign, where the players are members of the crew of the tramp star freighter, the Natani.

Session 6; Dec. 18th, 2023: Keep on Rockin' in Free Space

With the Dusk of Hope, a mysterious private star freighter on their heels, the Natani hyper-jumps to the Solara Vortex system - a backwater space station in orbit around an unstable blue giant. Aside from collecting solar energy, skimming the star for hydrogen, and collecting radioisotopes - all jobs for robots - there is virtually nothing to do in this station but refuel passing ships. In fact, Solara has three permanent residents: Myra the bartender, Mack the Mechanic, and Tendi an administrator who also runs the local banking, commodities exchange, and and law enforcement services (in theory.)*

Entering the system they are hit almost immediately by one of the system's incredibly violent ion storms, and are forced to do both some blind flying and emergency repairs on their comms array in order to safely make it to Solara Vortex Station.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Clock-Driven Dungeon

 A couple of weeks back, I created a dungeon, a set of dwarven ruins in a volcanic chasm that I wanted to feel vast and terrifying.

In this dungeon, slow mutants (à la Stephen King's The Gunslinger) are hidden, but forever listening. Make too much noise, cast too many spells, and you will suddenly find yourself surrounded on all sides by swarms of hungry, mad, whispering things.

It is a crumbling maze full of ancient machines that will break, causing clouds of steam torrents of water or crushing debris to come down on you... With the mutants likely behind.

And it truly is a labyrinth of bridges, tunnels balconies, and ancient smelters, It could take days to navigate.

Where cenotaphs with the last riddle of the final bitter survivor of a ln extinct clan sealed their magical secrets away from the unworthy. Only one who can read his tongue, solve his riddle, and sacrifice an object of power can uncover it.

Sound good?

Well, the hitch was that it was made for Fabula Ultima, for my wife, who loves TTRPGs, but hates old-school dungeon crawling.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Why I Don't Often Review Modules (Trying Something New)

 You know, I've built up a pretty big stock of adventure modules over the last few years. Thanks to Humble Bundle, Bundle of Holding, jams, and that absolutely bodacious sale Jim Raggi put on last year, I probably have enough to keep me in review content for years without breaking a sweat or spending another dime.

The fact is though, I only discuss modules for the most part when they also do something interesting mechanically or culturally:

The Hill Cantons Quartet had the incredible Chaos Index tool, weird monsters and a sense of humor that made it a joy to play. It was the quartet of creations that put The Hydra Cooperative on everyone's map.

Sailors on the Starless Sea helped redefine a genre and set the unique tone of the most popular OSR game ever made.

Cha'alt and its companions have an innovative game woven into its pages, and tons of mechanics for things like mutations, capricious gods, and a totally different way of approaching magic. Not to mention being a prime example of gonzo style play.

Islands of the Purple Haunted Putrescence for its sheer scope as a hexcrawl, and willingness to toss genre an pop culture into a  lender and set it to frappé. 

Into the Demon Idol is a favorite example of a one-page dungeon.

Frostbitten & Mutilated with its dice scatter tables, clever handling of time travel, dark and twisted character classes, and serving as a prime example of the unique design principles of Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Hot Springs Island a massive, stylish  system-neutral hexcrawl that exemplifies setting design, and has a truly amazing way of presenting NPCs.

The Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City, is a book that is beautiful and supremely imaginitive. It takes the concept of the pilgrimage and makes it into a rich and surreal experience.

Arête is a great example of mythic D&D at its best. And I used it to experiment in solo play.

DNGN Issue #1 was an interesting experiment in presentation. 

The Winds of Madness was sent to me by a reader and was an absolutely stunning romp through the Far Plane with Githyanki and Spelljammer ships that did a better job of the Spelljammer setting than WotC did. It is also a great case study in the differences between the way adventures are designed in OSR and 5e cultures.

The Abandoned Estate of Moonweaver Hall I reviewed mostly because I wanted to encourage a first-time writer who was being dogpiked by asshokes on Twitter who didn't  care for his cover. I  thought a little honest feedback might help him out and keep him from being driven out by cancel-culture asses.

Each review was there because the module was an exemplar, a talking point, or a tool for developing my ideas, as much as it was a review of the product itself. I wanted to explore something that the specific setting had to offer.

I also have played most of them. Some of them twice.

My collection, which includes around forty DCC RPG adventures, a dozen Lamentations of the Flame Princess modules, a modest collection of classic D&D adventures, a shocking number of Blue Rose books, the Alpha Blue THOT trilogy, most of the early Necrotic Gnome OSE modules, Rappan Athuk, Highfell, The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg, Nevin Pendlebrook's Perilous Pantry, Warhammer Fantasy RPG 1e's Enemy Within series pretty much the entire 1st and early 2nd edition PARANOIA libraries is brimming with adventures good, bad, and extremely weird. I have a lot of thoughts I could share on almost all of them.

But I really hesitate to do so. For a simple reason:

There's just too many ways to use them.

I have run quite a few modules over the years exactly as written. Others, I have stolen the map and a few treasure hoards, or maybe I grab some useful mechanical ideas, monsters, or traps. How you use your module will make some modules more valuable than others. If you are looking for a traditional campaign to run, Hot Springs Island, The Temple of Elemental Evil (especially combined with the Giants and Underdark series) are probably the best bets. If you want to run a long game that doesn't fit that traditional mold, you might be better off considering The Ultaviolet Grasslands and Black City or Cha'alt. If you are just looking for a few good ideas to pillage, the Hill Cantons quartet is a fertile ground for plunder. If you want a very finite game that will liast seven sessions or so, A Red and Pleasant Land or The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence are great. Need some ideas for your PCs after they took a sip from a hag's cauldron? Grab Narcosa or Sounds of the Mushroom Kingdom. Need something you can run right now? The One Page Dungeon Compendium or almost any level-appropriate DCC module will do the job. Looking for good fodder for a solo crawl? Rappan Athuk, all the way!

I can definitely give a good factual rundown of a module's properties and major strengths and weaknesses. But I am not sure it would make for interesting reading.

Honestly, the best way to review modules is probbaly something like the best way of reviewing movies: you need to cultivate a persona that grabs one audience, and then  recommend books to that audience. Bryce Lynch over at 10ft. Pole, for example has perfected the angry, disaffected GenX DM who just wants to run the game, not spend all day planning shit. His audience are GMs who want to run something without tweaks, as written, and not spend their time or energy on something unless it has a twist.

Which isn't me. I love prep. A module has to be really special for me to want to run it "as is" out of the box. I'd do it again for Hot Springs Island or Highfell, and one day I would love to run Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City. But, on a whole, I want to plunder a  module for good ideas. 

Often I want something I can put somewhere on my sandbox after modifying it to suit my needs, like I did for Into the Demon Idol in my article on how to use one-page dungeons. This may well be my favorite way to use modules. And because of it, I suspect that adventures that would be poorly reviewed on 10ft, Pole as humdrum or underdeveloped might receieve a kinder review here. And some of the modules he finds interesting hold little appeal to me, as they are not really compatible with my style of play.

There is another issue as well:

While Modules are fun to read, collect, and plunder, I prefer to home-brew.

Modules are a frippery. You don't need them. Most of the ones I have collected, I have done so purely because I am a fan of the module, or I am curious about the module after seeing it teased out on a YouTube channel like Questing Beast. Or it is in a bundle along with a game that I really want to review.

At the end of the day, if you want to be the best GM possible, learning to plan efficiently is one of the most important skills you can hone.


As I have thought long and hard on this topic lately, I find myself wondering: would my sandbox-play and rules-hacking approach be valuable if I started adding more modules to my rotation?

Or could I develop a more casual structure to share my thoughts on some of the cool modules in my collection that doesn't take me ages to write as I do when reviewing a game? It bears some experiementation...

Over the month, I am going to compose a few different styles of short article to discuss some of my favourite modules. I hope one of them might land with my readers. Please let me know when one does.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

My family holiday was full to brimming with gaming, and gaming-adjacent activities, and I hope yours was, too.

I took my children to Medieval Times to watch some falconry, jousting, and games of horsemanship. We had an amazing time The show this year was a lot more theatrical than the one I saw 15 years ago - it felt just a little too put on to me. But certainly good entertainment that inspired my son to run back to his Basic Fantasy RPG books.

We run a hybrid game quite often where we handle actual action dicelessly using Square Dungeon, but keep track of stats, XP, etc. using Basic Fantasy in order to help him learn the ropes of planning and running a good game. His last two sessions have done me proud, as they involved a lot more back-story, and let me solve my problems using wit, tactics, and negotiation rather than just being slug-fests.