Saturday, December 28, 2013

It's Kind of a Dick Move, But...

Where's the d12 random things chart? The short answer is it's here so it'll cost ya 50¢. You'll also get a fun creepy new monster to play with and a short adventure. The adventure is written to force bring together a group of strangers by making them all the victim of an inter-dimensional horror.

But what about the random chart?

It's d12 Strange Payments, the kind of things you might wind up owing a wizard. You know, "Go bring me the Tears of an Unloved Prince, and we'll be square" or "I need a Mother's Spite, in my lab, by next week, or else...". Things like that: weird, inscrutable, unpossible things. Though, not those two things. It's twelve different things. Maybe that's worth a couple quarters to ya?


I still feel a bit like a tool so here's a bonus thing: Smuggler's Hole (which sounds a like a sex move).

After a tight squeeze and a blind drop, you'll land on the first slippery, rotten platform. Watch your step on the rickety stairs to the second.

Perpetually cool and damp, everything in these natural limestone caverns is coated in layer of fine-particled mud. Hot items are stored in the bucket. (Though the truly valuable things are hidden in the mud the bucket rests upon, by the truly agile.) 

It's an especially dangerous place, rumored to hold as many corpses as lost valuables. A famous scoundrel supposedly hid his greatest haul somewhere in these pits. The unfortunate fellow is said to have been hung for a minor offense before getting to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.

What's in the Bucket? d4
1 - The Baroness's Gold Necklace
2 - The Duke's Crystal Eye
3 - The Vizier's Ceremonial Mace
4 - The Princess's Best Dress 

What's in the mud? d4
1 - Small Rough Ruby (Worth 3d10 gp)
2 - Set of Cold Ivory Dice (Carved from Ice Dragon Bones. 2d6 x 10 gp if known to be Draconic Ivory, otherwise 1d6 sp.)
3 - A Purse with 45 Patinaed Bronze Coins (Ancient Money worth 2d10 gp to a collector [or about 1 gp worth of raw bronze]; One Coin radiates subtle magic. If swallowed, the coin will cure any disease. It can be swallowed more than once with the same effect...)
4 - The Last Will and Testament of the King (The King is still alive and in good health. The name of his heir is blank...)

Will someone try to kill me for taking this out of the mud/bucket? d4
1-3 - Yes.
4 - Nope. He/She's long dead or in prison.

What's in that chest?
The deed to an abandoned Barony and Manor House in the North, 1 small platinum needle (radiates faint magic), and a chalcedony signet ring with the image of a cut noose. While one's blood is wet upon the needle, even the most outrageous lie seems believable.
Plus, d4
1 - A Zombified Cobra (One shot of its poison still works.)
2 - Poisonous Mold Spores (Strong spirits or acidic liquids [like vinegar] will kill the spores.) 
3 - Odd Silver Coins (Actually they're arsenic.)
4 - A Very Angry Imp (He's Been in the Box for a While...)

Friday, December 20, 2013

d10 Ways to Fidget

Need to make a Perp, Suspect, Victim, or any other NPC memorable?

Drop a d10.

Click To Enlarge
Still reading this? If you liked that spot o' chaos above, why not check out an RPG product I've got for sale, maybe?

It's a bestiary entry, like this one. It also comes with an campaign-starting adventure featuring the monster in question, the Wretched Grasp. The adventure has it all: slime, tentacles, drowning, creepy pidgeon things, dangerous rope, oversized cook-pots, and ends with a platform for even more zany derring-do. It's also got some advice on handling problems that may occur (such as what to do if everybody dies).

All this is System Neutral so I'm basically selling some interesting ideas and amateur illustrations. In an effort to compete with all the preposterously good stuff that my fellow RPG nerds are just giving away, I've decided to put "The Wretched Grasp" on sale for fifty cents! 

Got two quarters to rub together? Well, take 'em down to the bank, convert 'em to digital money, and buy yourself some RPG weirdness.

There's a preview available over on Drivethrurpg, so check it out if you'd like. Or, take a look through the previous articles I've written and see if you think my stuff might be worth some spare change. 


The Wretched Grasp for Only $1.50 $0.50 ← Click For a Good Time...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mad Dreams Etched in Plastic

"Contact Report - 
Redacted Agency, USA, 04-03-1932"

"Artifact 211-1932-EST"

"...[redacted] found the artifact itself in the possession of a rural Mental Health Facility in Redacted, Georgia..."

"...[redacted] young man seemed to be in otherwise good health. No history of anemia nor mental illness to explain the incident..."

"...[redacted] simple square of marbled green Bakelite plastic. Strange design lightly scratched into the front of the tile..."
Chalked on Black Paper for Clarity

"...[redacted] seems to glow in certain light. Preliminary analysis shows it to be manufactured by the normal phenol and formaldehyde process..."

"...[redacted] 'It were a Goddamned bloody mess, you fools. I put 'em down this time, but my advice is to throw that thing in the deepest fucking hole you can find.' 
Mr. Redacted can perhaps be forgiven his untoward language, considering the events he witnessed..." 

"Official Action Taken - Disposal in Facility Redacted."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

d8 Locales of Interest

Result 1- Click To Enlarge
These are a the sort of random encounter charts I make for my own games. They're quite a bit more robust than most. I tend to go on an on sometimes. 

I like to use encounter charts as plots, locations, things, etc. I definitely want to include, but at no particular time. I've begun to enjoy weaving more elements of chance into the fabric of my games.

A mild warning for the future: as the dX charts continue for larger dice, expect the results to get commensurately shorter. Now, without further ado...
Click to Enlarge
Result 5 - Click To Enlarge
Result 7 - Click To Enlarge

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Maelstrom Malachite

© 2013 Edward Lockhart

Maelstrom Malachite

Purpose: A stunning spectacle of enormous natural power as well as a dichotomous setting to be endured, explored, and escaped. Smallhope and Hindgut highlight the extremes of dogged hope and surrender. One looking forward even though it is perpetually battered down; the other turning away and becoming forcibly insular.

Appearance:  The great turtle is unimaginably huge. Maelstrom Malachite's scaly skin and rocky shell are subdued shades of seafoam green. A whitish crystal-like ridge forms a spiny crest across its back. Sailors have mistaken it for some uncharted, wondrous islet. Few have lived to speak of their error.

When its cavernous jaws stretch open, the resultant suction is so great as to form an actual maelstrom. Whole caravels have been swallowed by the cyclopean creature.

It is always encountered in the open ocean (though legend speaks of Maelstrom Malachite [or its ancient kin] actively destroying coastal cities).

Descriptors: Like a typhoon, a tsunami, or an earthquake, Maelstrom Malachite is not so much a creature as an inexorable force of nature. It would take an absurd amount of power to slay the beast.

Ecology: Within the living walls of the creature's great gut, a pale candle of civilization endures. This is made possible by two ponds of fresh water and dim rays of sunlight filtered through its rock crystal spine.

A thick layer of swallowed sand coats the stomach bottom. The fleshy, pink stomach walls are surprisingly resilient. Though some few have tried to cut their way out of the belly of the beast, Maelstrom Malachite heals faster than they could mine.

The makeshift settlement of Smallhope lies close to the creature's maw. Its denizens wait in hopes of escape. Restlessly, they spin theories and make bets on when the mouth will open again. With every crushing swallow, the camp is washed away to be rebuilt anew. The populace ekes out a living searching through wreckage and flotsam, 'til they die or lose hope. The pond near Smallhope turns brackish with every swallow; this is when trade with Hindgut is the heaviest.

The GrayGreen Morass is a fetid marsh of vitriolic waters, foul vapors, and algae. Some speculate that this is Maelstrom Malachite's actual digestive tract. This would, of course, mean that there may be an exit contained therein... if you don't mind being digested.

The Fungal Forest is filled with tree-sized, woody mushrooms of a stunning number of varieties. Though many who wander its saprophytic trails are never seen again.

Hindgut is a small collection of permanent structures built of carefully salvaged flotsam and driftwood. The citizens rule themselves by direct democracy at weekly town meetings, held in Whalebone Hall. They even managed to farm a few shade-tolerant vegetables, mostly greens like kale and lettuce. By city law, full citizens are not allowed mention the outside world while in public.

So there it is. A really, really ridiculously big turtle, for your gaming pleasures.


So I've added a tip jar to the blog, in the form a Patreon Campaign.

If you've gotten any worth out of these monsters, wizards, and classes and stuff, please consider donating. Any amount would be greatly appreciated and help to ensure I am able to keep doing this (seeing as this is now one of my few sources of income).



Saturday, November 23, 2013

d6 Unique Holy Symbols

© Edward Lockhart 2013

#6 comes from Actual Play. In my buddy Joe's Lamentations of the Flame Princess game, I played a cleric of that deity. It was gross and weird and quite fun.The idea for the deity and holy symbol were mine, but Joe's killer Hedonism-Bot-esque interpretation of the foul devil-gawd was simply inspired.

Should you unleash this disgusting demi-power upon your world, I recommend playing it as a lazy and indulgent being who takes an almost sexual pleasure in slow, moist destruction. Draw out all its syllables and speak in a smacking wet tone of voice. It's totally ill.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wretched Teasers!

Now With 30% More Tentacle!

 Buy Now(ish)!
Purpose: The Wretched Grasp will serve as a wellspring of tension when normal-seeming animals and objects viciously attack and drag away the unfortunate, screaming into the unknown. 

The Grasp could also become the Player Characters' first horrifying step into other realities or even kick off an entire campaign. What better way to bring PCs together than to make them all victims of the same unimaginable plight?

Appearance: The Grasp can look like dozens of separate, ordinary things, that’s the real killer of it. A cat, an eel, a coil of rope, a vine, an octopus, or pretty much anything else that has a tail, tether, or tentacle. It appears to be normal flora, fauna, or materials with one exception; some piece of each “arm” will be far longer than it should… Within its watery home [the amoeba-like Grasp] undulates and shivers in constant motion… at the very center of the terrible mass lies an enormous eye, glowing softly green. The great orb darts about, holding all that moves in its quivering glance…

Descriptors: The Grasp arms attack all at once, seeking to bite, claw, and entwine its victims’ limbs. It will continue to attack those nearby, at random, until all it’s “arms” (from 3-13 usually) have hold of someone. The actual damage from the initial attacks is minor. Once its grip is set, the Grasp begins to drag its prey towards the widening dimensional ruptures in fitful violent bursts. In only a matter of seconds, the last of the victims can be drawn through...

Now Available at Drivethrurpg. (Follow the link for more of a Preview.)

Stay tuned for a peek at the "Wretched Beginnings" Adventure...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

d4 Strange Reasons

This begins my dX charts of random things. I intend to go through the standard polyhedrals: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, & d20. Then, if I'm still enjoying it, I'll hit the weird ones d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, & d30.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Many Thanks

I just realized that I've been operating this here Blog Thing for one full year as of today. At present the Blog has had ~11,000 pageviews. That's pretty phenomenal considering this is an obscure RPG Blog that came out of nowhere. (Especially, since I didn't really have a firm grasp on what I was trying to do at first.)

Trying to adequately thank you, my readers, for this experience is kinda like Squaring the Circle or Folding Fitted Sheets; I might get close but the task is at its core, impossible.

So in lieu of trying, here are a couple of pictures I GIMP doodled. I hereby release them into the Public Domain.

Some Sparkly, Magic Bubbles or Something
Some sort of Cosmic, Chaos Demon-Cat or Whatever.
Do to them or with them as you will. If you happen to stat up the Cosmic Kitty, do please let me know about it. My favorite parts of running this blog have always been when the communication was 2-way.

Thanks Again, Ya'll. 

Imagination Fodder & A Landscape Map

From The Spinner's Seekings, Scroll 17 "The Storied Cave and the Three Ridges 'neath Whitewashed Skies"

"...Behold you then the Golden Vale. Walk forth into the Cave, but only through a Cleansing Screen of Sacred Smoke. There you will find the Old Stone, and on it the Blessed Cup. Clear your Mind of Doubt. Pour forth the Sweet Oil from the Long Vial. Light it quickly, Child. Look upon the Deep Flames 'til they burn themselves to Naught.

"Go ye forth from the Cave and you shall know the Pull, but TURN NOT AROUND, Child. Walk swiftly to the First Ridge and then it is Safe to Turn, though your Journey will be for Naught.  You will remain in the world, and the Cave will hold Nothing for ye, all the rest of your days.

"Ignore ye the Pull, that Siren Song, and Take the Hard Walk to the Second Ridge. Turn Around there and you shall be in Fairy. And too shall ye be Welcome there. All Fey Folk and Wild Things shall know thy Place was Hard Won.

"If thou Canst, withstand the Pull as only a Hero may, and Walk ye to the Final Ridge. Turn Forth and Pierce Ye the Final Veil. In the High Places thou will be. Secrets and Songs and Sacred Sayings you will find, beyond the Ken of Men. Though you but Leave as a Child, a King you shall Return."

© Edward Lockhart 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 4, 2013


This was supposed to be an article about my experience with G+ Hangouts gaming yesterday, but my wife went into labor instead. How inconsiderate.

I'm still processing the experience... probably will be for a lifetime. It was at the same time completely natural, totally obvious, and inconceivably surreal.

I'm trying to summon some snark for a snappy one liner, but it appears I'm fresh out. I have, however, already scetched out a poem to commemorate the occasion (because that's the sort of thing I do.)

I dont know how this relates to rpgs. Something about events happening on multiple levels of awareness and feeling two ways about the same thing maybe. I dunno; you figure it out. Looks like I'm gonna be busy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Props, Profiles, and Profits(?)

3 for 1 Sale.


I've used props infrequently in my games through the years. When I do use one there tends to be a really compelling reason leading me to put forth the extra effort. I once wrote a very schizophrenic poem with weird spacing that was actually a map (and the content of the very Post Modern poem hinted at which branches of the cave should be taken). The map was of a hidden region in the second layer of Pandemonium and ripped quite literally from the the diary of a madman. If I can find it, I'll post it over on the G+ Map-Making in Games page. But that's not really the point. The point is thus: should I bother to make/use a prop, it's kind of a big deal. RPGs are, to my mind, primarily an exercise in words.

Which brings me to the crux of what is quickly becoming a full-on scattered-ass rant; the best prop I've ever used is a simple 50¢ notebook. If you are running an investigative scenario, buy one for each of your players.

Tiny Notebook Still Life #1, Actual Prop w/ GIMP
As we (GMs) all know, player note-taking is usually infrequent at best. Vital knowledge is rarely ever committed to paper (but for some reason the name of that random barkeep from the first session usually is *sigh*). 

I gave these tiny notepads to my players for a stupid-supers game (ala The Tick and Mystery Men); they wrote it all down. The players seemed to actually enjoy noting down the ridiculous clues and facts of the case at hand. We've all watched enough police procedurals to know that all detectives write down important things in tiny notebooks. Oddly enough, when given tiny notebooks and a crime to solve, players will also write everything down.


+Zak Smith (who is noted for rolling strange dice with interesting people) invented the RPG Person Profile, which is an excellent idea. My profile is accessible from the My RPG Nerd Profile link at the top right of my blog.


The layout of my for-money nerd game publishing debut piece, "Wretched Grasp w/ Bonus Mini-Adventure Wretched Beginnings" is coming along swimmingly. I'm in the early stages of laying the thing out. If I can stop obsessing over unimportant design minutia, I should have it for sale before too long. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Too Many Creeps b/w You Can't Be Funky

Inspiration can/should spring forth from the strangest places.

I've got a strange place I'd like you to visit: click here.

The strangely sinister funk you've just experienced, did it release any creative juices?

I'll tell you (well type at you) what it sparked for me:

"The streets was always mean. Now they're vicious. It's something new, something hard to see. Some people just ain't quite human no more; ya feel me?

"It's like a disease, man; takes out your soul.  Make's ya not able to create nothing new. Just sort of mimic life, ya know. They go through the motions 'til they get a chance to strike. Act like folk but without any thinking, any feeling, but when they get that chance... BAM! You one of them now.

"You gotta test 'em man. Ask 'em how they feel. Make a mother fucker write a poem. Make 'em sing. Make 'em dance. Them that's gone, can't; They just can't. I guess you can't be funky, if you ain't got no soul.

"Ya gotta know, man. Gotta know."

So, what kind of weird stuff inspires you?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Some Scattered Thoughts

What I've Been Doing:

I've poured a great deal of work into three smaller scale projects for the past few weeks: a Sans System Bestiary Entry with a bonus Adventure, a Modern Fantasy Investigative Scenario set at an 80s Music Festival, a Fantasy Adventure with Queer Theory themes, and (because one can never have too many irons in a fire) I've written up a very rules light Story Game System, Quick Fiction (<--working title).

I've got rough drafts done on the Bestiary Entry for the Wretched Grasp and its companion adventure "Wretched Beginnings", both are very weird fantasy. I'm quite pleased with the way this one's shaping up thus far. The adventure itself is designed to serve as an introductory session to kick off a campaign and draw together diverse Player Characters. The implied campaign following "Wretched Beginnings" is unusual and proving to be a very fertile ground for inspiration, at least for me.

Concept Art for Wretched Grasp
Moving on, Quick Fiction is essentially designed. It just needs a great deal of editing, feedback, and play-testing. (Oh, is that all?) When Quick Fic.'s done, I'm thinking of giving it away with other products. So buying an adventure from me, also gives you the means to run it. (Not that anyone buying adventures from an obscure RPG blogger is unlikely  to have a RPG or two on hand... meh.)

On the other two projects, if I can ever stop making fun of the small-time cock rock band Mouth Muscle in the Modern Fantasy Adventure, "Rewind! Fastforward! Awaken!", progress on writing the rest of it may commence. "Fleeing the Feathered Dandy" the Queer Theory Adventure (very, very unsure of the title) is going well. I like the premise, though it is harsh and probably a bit too true-to-life for many people. The crux of the plot on this one may be escape, but escapism it ain't. There'll be a list of pseudo-Greek sounding names in it. That might be something useful if homosexuality and religious lynch-mobs make you uncomfortable.

A Brief Rant and Some Questions:

When I was a child, I watched a ton of John Wayne movies. I'm quite certain that the image of his characters, self-reliant and standing tall, has affected much of who I am as a person and a game designer. (Just like my youthful infatuation with Thoreau sometimes affects my sentence structure [so, many, commas.]) Sir Havart the Unbent, for example, is kind of an estoc-wielding John Wayne character that never was, and the Southern Marches draws heavily from the US Western frontier. The tall, proud, defiant, wild-but-reasonable archetype got further entrenched in my psyche by Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein. Even when Tolkien, Weis, Hickman dominated my RPG conceptualizations, figures that could've been played by John Wayne and wouldn't have felt out of place in Galt's Gulch were important and recurring.

So that's what I've been up to, now for some homework questions:

What childhood experiences still heavily influence your RPG experiences? Do you see certain archetypical characters repeating themselves through your home-brews? Where did they come from?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rapier Wit, Taken Too Literally

Social Conflict is a polarizing issue in the already polarized world of Roleplaying Games. (Nerds love to argue; we really do.) Even I have waffled quite a bit and still remain a bit ambivalent on the subject. Both arguments make a certain amount of sense.

The Arguments In Essentia :

Pro Social Conflict type Mechanics - Not everyone can swing a sword or cast fireballs, but there's a system in place to let them pretend to do so efficiently. Not everyone can be quick witted and debonaire; why wouldn't there be some mechanics to simulate that for them?

Anti Social Conflict type Mechanics - Why on earth would you let dice dictate how a conversation goes? Aren't we supposed to be getting creative together? Dice controlling or contradicting Dialogue seems to be completely counter to the idea of player agency.

My Thoughts and Practices :
Personally, I find the vast majority of in character conversations to not really require dice. If your character is offering the innkeeper a compelling reason to let them stay at a discounted rate, I'll probably just let it happen (unless the innkeeper was particularly miserly). However, should one of my players say, "I wanna talk him down to like three silver," I would likely respond with "Allright. How're you gonna try that?"

I wouldn't be looking for a the exact argument verbatim. Had the player wanted to get into it, he/she would have just done so.  Once I got an idea of what they were going for, I'd let the heart of the argument rest as a bonus or penalty and roll them bones.

That's all well and good, but not every system has mechanic that works well for social shit. Therefore, I've (barely) developed a little bolt-on mechanical system: Social Weapons and Armor.

The Nuts and Bolts :

Basically take whatever skill/task/noncombat resolution your system has and let the "attacking" party choose a "weapon" and the "defending" party choose some "armor". (Hooray! Extended Metaphors!)

In the example above, the player would be the attacker and the innkeeper the defender. (Most of the time, that's how it's gonna be. Players usually do [and should] take the active role in things.)

Each attack type is cancelled out by a defense type. Should the social attack not be countered by the appropriate defense, then the player gets a small bonus to his/her roll. If the character has a high Charm, Prettyness, Charisma, or Whatever score drop in another bonus. If he/she has some skill in Persuade, Sexxy, Seduction, or Whatever let him/her choose two attacks or defenses to try simultaneously.

This can be used to simulate an attempt at seduction, a plea for help to an unwilling person, or even two parties arguing a case before a judge/baron/visier/king/etc. One party setting up an "attack", the other the "defense". (If it's unclear who is attacking or defending, the defensive position is the one closest to the status quo or requiring the least action/change.)

Additionally, Social Weapons and Armor, could be a pretty good way to represent political maneuvering/chicanery in pretty much any setting/system. A few checks here and there could help determine what type of support one turns up with when the Great Senate is called to session.

Charm - Being beguiling and seductive or simply affable and friendly.
Wary - Having Exceptional distrust and caution when it comes to people.

Authority - Citing one's own or borrowing somebody else's authority (whether political, muscled, academic, etc.). Remember, having a knife/gun in your fist is it's own type of Authority.
Irreverent - Not giving a good godsdamn 'bout nobody's stupid shit!

Facts - Throwing down logical and material arguments.
Educated - Being well-informed and smart enough to counter with your own facts and reasoning, or simply being clever enough to shift the facts to fit your worldview.

Pandering - Playing to sensibilities of the subject(s). Of course, these sensibilities need to be known.
False Front - Not actually having the sensibilities one seems to have.

Morality - Appealing to the moral feelings and sense of decency in the subject(s).
Dogmatic - Having a completely inflexible moral code that disregards situational ethics.

How to actually use it :

Let's take Lamentations of the Flame Prince Weird Fantasy Role-Playing as an example. It's skill system pretty much implies you've got an X in 6 chance to do something/anything. Add in your Charisma bonus (+1 = another 1 in 6), see if your argument attack/weapon is canceled by the defense/armor (no? 1 in 6 goes to 2 in 6), and roll them bone.

If you're using a d20 system, I'd probably give it a +1 or +2 depending on how apropos the "Weapon" was to the situation at hand, assuming it wasn't countered of course. Using a pool system? Roll a bonus die.

Anyway, I'll let you figure out the details. It should be pretty simple to bolt this idea on to pretty much any rpg system. Expanding the list of  "Weapons and Armor (Nouns and Adjectives)" wouldn't be difficult, either.

So ya, good gaming and enjoy the now crunchier arguments.

Post Scriptum : It occurred to me, while writing this, that it'd be pretty easy to turn this into a duelling subsystem as well. Somebody do that, please, and don't forget to share it with the rest of the class.

Additionally, I'm working on a few modules/adventures and a Sans System Bestiary format Monster (with a bonus Micro-Adventure!) which I intend to sell for money. (Plus, I'll be a father sometime soonish. I understand babies are a bit of a time suck.) Hence, this blog is about to slow waaaayyyy the hell down. I'll still probably kick a real article out every now an again, but expect a lot of journalish, this-is-what-I'm-doing type posts for a while.

Word Out, Homies.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Just Go Ahead and Try It

This article was inspired by a comment from +Cavin DeJordy on a previous article. "I suggest that any GM try these ideas, and not to be discouraged by failing to please your players. Any feedback is good feedback, and broadening your storytelling range is never a bad thing."

That is a superb attitude to have, sir. Failure doesn't have to be total, and it certainly doesn't have to be totally negative.

I consider myself a pretty good Gamemaster. I've gotten quite good at rolling with the punches and reading my players to make sure everyone's happy: I've only gotten this far because I tried a ton of shit that just didn't pan out.

Here's a list of (some of) my more recent failings:

  • I've been trying out new systems lately. (Due to my mission from +Gnome Stew 's New Year New Game challenge/blog-a-thon.) Savage Worlds was one of them. I attempted to keep all the rules in my skull. I thought I had. I hadn't. This only led to some mild confusion, a mid-session "oh shit this works this way" incident, and one long tension-wasting moment as I hurriedly looked something up. Lesson-Learned: When trying a new game, make a brief cheat-sheet of basic mechanics "for the players" (but actually for myself).
  • I tried to use the Puddle (a pool variant) for a Dungeon Crawl.* Granted, it was a weird dream-state nightmare dungeon; nevertheless, the Puddle doesn't lend itself to rolling for skill and stat-check type things. It's just not for that. This made for a lightning quick dungeon run... 3 hour session (including shooting the shit and humorous asides). Lesson-Learned: You wanna have a quick-ass dungeon run? then pull out a high-concept, low-granularity story-game.
  • Same game as above: I thought everyone had a basic understanding of how non-granular (including myself) the Puddle was... Nope. Lesson-Learned: Sometimes you just have to dive right in to really understand something.*
  • IRL I tried to make focaccia bread and reinvented hard tack. Lesson-Learned: Your character should never be okay with only eating iron rations! 
If there's something you want to try, try it! No amount of reading about it, talking about it, or considering it will give you the same visceral & direct feedback. Dive right in, ya'll. A good game can survive much more failure than you might expect. When it doesn't work? Just be guy/gal enough to admit you failed, try to fix it, definitely learn from it, and move right on. 

Til next time, May you roll max crits in times of need, and never be ashamed to roleplay to the hilt, really ham it up.

*Actually all these examples are from the same game. (The game I was running in my Southern Marches microsetting.) That's a lot of failure in just one short campaign. If anyone is interested, the game started in Savage Worlds and switched to the Puddle for the finale. The conversion was ridiculously easy. Character creation in the Puddle essentially consists of writing down 6 things about your character. The session went well, despite our lack of understanding and my lack of preparation. Sometime in the distant future, when the stars align, we may pick these character's up for more adventure. (And if the players don't totally capitulate, I may ask them to convert the characters to my system, Grit.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Bottom of the Barrel

The soup du jour, over at +Gnome Stew , got me to thinking.

How does one go about serving the first helping of a campaign?

My buddy Joe does so thusly. (In the form of another stew-related metaphor, gods help us!)

I like start with a location. I've got a visual mind. (Though not so much as this guy. [I additionally lack his skill in putting my mind to paper]). I craft the location and what's going on there, first. Then I let the magic of character creation (o! sweet collaboration) happen. I really love the challenge of adapting my location/events to the characters at hand. (Sometimes I'll make some thematic demands, but these tend to be light: Please make characters that would be willing/useful to work as town guards.)

But, (as I mentioned already on the stew) I've got one more trick up my sleeve. I tend to start the characters out in a pretty desperate situation. I want them PCs broke, lost, beaten-up, in debt, on the lam, and generally in dire straights (probably not all at once). It may seem like a dick move, but I don't think so.

Desperation breeds adventure.

It makes sense that people take more risks when they're between a rock and some lava and a hard place. It creates an opportunity for even the most milquetoast type of characters to reasonably take up a life of adventure/crime/magical-seeking/jumping-down-rabbit-holes. It generates opportunity for excitement at every turn (more or less). It really ups the stakes. [generic exclamatory statement]!

Plus, in my experience, players enjoy it. Crawling up from (or chopping right through!) the bottom of the barrel is a satisfying experience.

Just some food for thought and hopefully something useful.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How to Destroy Your Fantasy Campaign

A while back on reddit, I proffered some advice on modelling gifts from beings that are beyond even the gods. I came up with this simple, inelegant, and altogether dangerous chart. It might possibly be of use for those willing to leave catastrophic power in the hands of the players. (This chart would also be good for modelling what happens when insanely powerful magic goes pear-shaped.) Enjoy.
After enacting ancient forgotten ceremonies, and performing a service, each character may, only once, call upon these primordial alien entities to grant them a boon.

Basically the players can ask for anything to happen (DnDers: like an uber-wish spell); with the caveat that the characters can't use complex sentences: no conjunctions, no colons/semicolons, no run-on sentences, etc. Essentially it must be a subject-verb-object request.* However, these beings have an imperfect understanding of the mortal mind so roll 1d6 and consult the following table:
  1. The Boon Happens as Desired, No Repercussions. AKA the boring result. (Alternatively something silly but ultimately inconsequential happens: Everything within a 100 mile radius is now blue [or red or green or yellow]; or perhaps the requester is now part flower, but which part?)
  2. The Boon Happens but Reality is Altered - One randomly determined sentient race no longer exists - The PCs and the gods are the Only Beings that remember this Race - For all others, this race simply never existed. Some gods may be particularly unhappy with this result.
  3. The Boon Happens but Reality is Altered - All the gods have their alignment/temperament flipped, but keep their portfolio's. (In DnD terms: CG to LE; NE to NG; True Neutral to Chaotic Stupid; etc.) Example: Suddenly there is an orderly and benign god of murder and an insanely violent god of justice. Everyone remembers the way things used to be, except for the gods. Angry confusion ensues.
  4. The Boon Happens but Reality is Altered - Everyone/thing within 1d6 miles of the requesting character has their biological sex flipped. Non-Sexually-Dimorphic creatures now have sexes. The requesting character is now nongendered.
  5. The Boon Happens but Reality is Altered - Magic is fundamentally different now. Was magic exceedingly rare? Now it is very common. Was magic a gift of the gods? Now it is an innate part of sentient beings and a blasphemous affront to the faithful. A DnD example: All Clerics now cast Wizard Spells and Wizards now cast Cleric Spells. This is the way it has always been. Only the PCs remember things differently.
  6. The Boon Happens but Reality is Altered - Nocturnal Creatures all become Diurnal; Diurnal Creatures all become Nocturnal. Eyesight for the creatures changes as appropriate. This is the way it has always been. Only the PCs remember things differently.
If you feel you must, reroll any previously rolled results.
Use with or without Caution.


*The opposite of that previous explanatory sentence.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Esoteric, Limited, Infinite

In essence, there are only three basic plots*: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Himself. This may seem limiting. The reality, as we know from television, movies, and literature, is practically infinite. Combinations of these conflicts in addition to considerations of scale and the devil of details broaden these simple forms to encompass the whole of the human story.

When you understand that man against monster falls in the Man fighting Man category (assuming the monster can think), it's pretty obvious which of these conflicts gets used the most in our hobby. That's a bit limiting and can lead to a boring, predictable gaming. As both Players and Game Masters, we would do well to consider the other two types of conflict.

Man vs Nature

More than simply throwing unthinking animals/monsters at the PCs, conflicts with nature explore the hostilities of the environment. The baking and lifeless desert sands, the austere and unforgiving vacuum of space, the shadowy and trackless wilds of a primeval forest: all these can leave a PC just as broken, bruised, or dead as any fiery alien or brutish ogre.

  • Remember the Journey - The path to dungeon can be just as harrowing as the ancient (but somehow flawlessly functional) death traps inside. GMs, don't handwave every journey; include natural obstacles (mudslides, chasms, briars, ion storms, sargassos, etc.) that require some thought and action from the players/characters to pass. Create appropriate incentives and consequences to ensure that the players don't just walk around the chasm. Perhaps time is of the essence. (Another team is taking a different route to loot the same dungeon; the prince will die soon without MacGuffin's Mighty Panacea; or, for even more nature, winter is coming.) Something even more dangerous could lay on either side of the obstacle (That path lies through the Death King's valley; Captain, our only chance to evade detection lies through the heart of the Bleak Nebula.)
  • Deprivation - Finding food, water, and shelter can be an adventure unto itself. Go read Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky if you need further proof (or simply because it's a good read). Perhaps it's my scouting background that makes this so obvious a source of drama to me.
    • Resource Tracking - Though record-keeping seems to be out of vogue currently, players tracking their steadily dwindling supplies can really ratchet up the tension. As a GM, it will be up to you to make this feel like something other than decreasing numbers on a sheet: describe the gnawing hunger, oppressive heat, the frightening lightness of the food sack, and the ashy choking thirst.
    • Improvisation - As a GM, prompt players to cobble together their needs from their surroundings. This can be whatever mix of action descriptions, skill rolling, meta-game currency expenditure, and what-have-you that works for your group. Describe the environment while reminding the players of the PC's needs. As Players, ask questions and don't be afraid give your hunches a shot. You'll be building crude spears and lean-tos in no time flat.
Man vs Himself

This one is trickier. Some groups do this naturally. Players make characters with the expectation of moral and emotional dilemmas, with the expectation of growth. Some GMs have a knack for pushing emotional buttons and crafting moral quandaries into encounters. Even if the game you're playing doesn't support these things mechanically, there's still quite a bit you can do.

  • Give your character at least one ethical or psychological failing (gambling addiction, obsequiousness, alcoholism, blind rages, depression, impulsiveness). Let the Game Master know that you'd like this issue addressed in the game.
  • Encourage, in-character, the other PCs to consider the moral reality of what the group is about to do. Maybe slaughtering that Gnollish village for the sake of a few silver isn't the most ethical way to pay for a new sword. Perhaps there's a less terrible means to accomplish your goals. Perhaps your characters can become more than grave-robbing scumbags and/or space pirates. Alternatively you can explore just how far these characters are willing to go to get what they want. Where is that line? 
Game Masters
  • During character creation, ask for all your players to include one character flaw which they would like to be highlighted in play.
  • Don't forget consequences. If the characters are acting like thuggish monsters, have NPCs treat them as such. Depending on the group, you'll either piss your players off or encourage them to create less morally repugnant characters (YMMV).
This is far from an exhausting treatise on the topic, just a few thoughts and some hopefully practicable advice for broadening your games. Plus it's an excuse to use my English Major education. Woohoo! Esoteric applications for esoteric knowledge. Tune in next week for an application of New Criticism to Roleplaying Games!**

*I know these are actually conflicts; I would argue that sans conflict there is no plot, how very Randian of me.
**Not Likely.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Things You Probably Already Know

I've been designing a really rules-light story game for the past week or so. For it, I wrote a little blurb about social contract type stuff, in the form of additional rules. Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that this list could possibly be helpful and/or entertaining in a more generic sense.

Without Further Ado, "Some Other Helpful Rules:

  1. Don’t be a dick.
  2. Be reasonable.
  3. Players, if the GM makes a ruling you don’t like, (unless it’s really, really ridiculously important to you) just let it ride and talk to him/her after the game.
  4. GM, if a player is acting like an ass, you should take him/her aside to civilly discuss the issue at the first available opportunity.
  5. If something makes you uncomfortable, politely object. If no one responds to your objection and/or the uncomfortable topic persists, leave. Seriously, you should probably just find other people to play with at that point.
  6. If your group is trying for a particular tone: grim, scary, happy-go-lucky, etc., don’t fight it.
  7. Enjoy thyself. It’s a game. Otherwise, what the hell is the point?"

Sunday, September 8, 2013

More Clutter For Your Gaming Table

Spaceships. They're pretty damn cool. From Serenity to the Enterprise, the humble and/or mighty spaceship is a huge part of Science Fiction. It's a home, a means of adventure, and in many ways a character all to itself. 

Previously, I've made mention of my love for Cosmic Patrol. Ships don't really come front and center in the Cosmic-P*. I can understand why; a complicated equipment list of fully-spec'ed ships wouldn't really fit the style of that game. Still though, I think there's something missing without a good way to bring the radioactive-rocket-powered awesomesauce of ships front and center. So here's my attempt to fix this issue, presenting the Cosmic-P Spaceship Sheet.

Above are the blank form and a filled-in example. (Click to Activate) They follow the same general ideas of the Cosmic-P character dossiers. To those who haven't yet played Cosmic Patrol or *gasp* don't want to, these would work just fine for any game. Replace the word Cues with Aspects and hey it's a FATE ship sheet. Magic. 

Legal shiz - I do hereby release these creations (the ship-sheets)  into the wild and furthermore release them to you all to do with as you please. Simply attribute the original design to me, Edward Lockhart, and Violent Media with the exception of that rad logo; that's all Catalyst Game Labs. Speaking of that: This license is what makes me think I can do this at all.

That's all for this edition of Violent Media in Spaaaaaaaaaaace! Questions, Comments, Etc? Leave a message after the beep.

* To be fair, I haven't seen the newest Cosmic P releases. The surprising amount of work that went into these seemingly simple forms may have well been a complete waste of time.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Miniature Based Combat Can Suck It!

I don't care for minis nor gridded combat. Even the Savage Worlds game I'm running has no grid, nor figures, nor any of those accoutrement. I've got two pretty simple reasons for this:

1) I don't like complexities.
Moving things about on a grid with all those special rules in the name of "precise, tactical realism" gets complicated and time consuming quickly. I want combat to be quick and mean. Besides, I'd rather spend more time role playing. Guess how I feel about 3.X DnD...

2) I try to never describe in-game events through anything other than the characters' perspective.
The bird's-eye-view of mini based combat obviously thwarts this purpose, and in my opinion does much damage to a player's immersion. Moving miniatures around on a grid, you are acting as and thinking as a Player. Describing how you duck the orc's vicious spear thrust and slap at his exposed knee with your axe, that's Character thinking, baby. That's the good stuff.

Concerning Large and/or Complex Battles
To be fair, I don't run complex nor large fights very often. My system makes such prospects deadly situations which are better off avoided. (I like this.) When things do go that direction, I sketch out a rough map of the situation for myself. On occasion, muddled descriptions wind up just confusing everybody. Giving the players a quick glance at the map is usually all it takes to right the situation. Afterwards, it's all back to relating the situation in front of them and nothing else.

That's my brief take on the matter.

Am I totally full of shit? Tell me how.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Goblins, Southern Marches Style

Goblins - These short, large-eyed, yellow skinned little hominids are the most often encountered sapient species (outside of humans) in the Southern Marches Microsetting. 

Purpose - I was looking to make a more “real” feeling version of goblins. Early hominids with boundless energy, a whistle and clicks language, and an animistic tribal culture just seemed like they’d be fun to play.  I also liked the pretty obvious Native Americans vs Colonial parallels. Bonus:They also make for an interesting halfling replacement.

Appearance - Goblins stand typically between 3.5 to 4 feet tall. Both sexes are covered in a thick layer of soft, blonde body-hair; these hairs tend to skirt the line between “hair” and “fur”. Their skin has a faint yellowish cast which tans to a deep, leathery goldenrod in sunlight. The toothy grins of goblins show an extra set of canine teeth. Long hands and feet combine with abundant energy to give goblins a springing, loping gait. 
They communicate in a fully developed language of whistles and clicks, and are incapable of human speech. (Humans are in turn incapable of speaking goblin, though both races can learn the other’s language. [Think Han and Chewie as an example of this]).
Though usually grouped towards the southwestern region of Cronnon, individual goblins can be found anywhere. 

Descriptors - Despite being shorter than most humans, the goblins' leaping movements actually give them a quicker pace. With highly tuned reflexes and senses, goblins are well-suited to surviving in a world that’s much larger than they.

File:Nuremberg chronicles - Strange People - Hairy Lady (XIIv).jpg
Strength - 2-6 /10
Quickness - 6-10 /10
Intelligence - 2-10 /10
Manual Dexterity - 2-10 /10
Rate of Movement - Slightly quicker than most humans.

Ecology - Most goblins in the region come from the Blasgraya (human equivalent of a whip-poor-will like spitting and whistling goblin word) tribes. These tribes have been in the area for only a generation or two longer than the New Hope settlers. The goblins ancestral homeland is said to be somewhere far to the East over the “salted waters.” Most of these tribes lead a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer existence. Some particular tribes are violently xenophobic and territorial, but most offer a strange mix of caution and curiosity.

Goblin dietary needs run slightly more carnivorous than the typical human diet. Fattened human-raised livestock is considered a great delicacy. Wild feasts and revelry are common cultural trait between the settlers and the gobos. (Though alcohol tends to be a bit tougher on goblin physiology. Goblin hangovers are terrible things to behold.)

The goblins had natively developed a complex but technologically neolithic culture before interacting with the New Hope settlers. Now the technological level of some tribes rivals that of the settlers (though metal objects remain a relative rarity).

Other non-Blasgraya Gobblins have been very occasionally encountered. These tribes seem to have widely varying cultures and levels of aggression, but all thus far have been similarly neolithic.

Questions? Comments? Cliches? Post 'em Below.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chicken-Bone Nunchucks and other Mysterious Phrases

When I was a history major, some few of my professors would proudly assert that history was the only profession without jargon. This wasn't precisely true, but came fairly close.* RPGs have a wide and varied lexicon made all the more complex by a lack of standardization. This array of new terms can be a bit bewildering  to new players**, but that's not really the point of this article. (Hah! Wasted your time.)

Every gaming group sort of develops their own language over time. I wanted to share with you a couple of weird phrases that get used frequently in my gaming group: "Chicken-Bone Nunchucks" and "Dropping the Wooden Nickle".

"Chicken-Bone Nunchucks" - 

Meaning: Let's quit dicking around and get back to the game.

Origin: It's a damn weird thing to say. It's meaning makes it that much more strange. It all started with a Kender (of course). Several years ago, my wife was playing a gypsy Kender who'd been busily crafting nunchucks out of twine and roasted chicken bones while everyone else strategized. The game derailed into a bunch joking and general bullshit so I declared something to the effect of, "Lets get back to it; I believe you were making chicken-bone nunchucks..." The legend was born.

"Dropping the Wooden Nickle" -

Meaning: To pull one over on somebody.

Origin: This is a pretty recent addition. A running gag in my buddy's Lamentations of the Flame Princess game was that of wooden nickles. This mysterious currency was ostensibly minted by an obscure orcish tribe, which no one had ever actually seen. Nevertheless, wooden nickles kept cropping up in change from vendors and occasionally in treasure hordes. My character kept track of them. After amassing a few, he began to leave them as tips during an information-gathering spree in a foreign city. He'd give his harried victims the worthless chits with overwhelming ceremony and pomp, leaving a line of confused shop-keeps and bar-tenders in his wake.

How's about you? Any good stories and strange phrases to share?

*The only jargon I can think of concerning history centers upon types of history (Intellectual History, Social History, etc.) and microfilm ("twisting" microfilm, etc.).

** Never assume somebody knows what you mean when you say something like "Basic-Attack-Bonus" or "Dex. Check, e'rybody" before you know for certain. It's always a good idea to make sure everyone's on the same page.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monsters Sans Systems

A Method for Sharing Wondrous Magical Beasts, Bizarre Alien Lifeforms, and Disturbing Magical Constructs without Locking Your Creations Into a Single Game System.

In a lot of ways, monsters are the bread and butter of adventure gaming. The very presence of a monster is essentially a reason to adventure. When I was first getting into gaming, I spent hours pouring over the 2nd Ed. Monstrous Manual. The interesting "ecology" and behavioral notes on the various beasts, humanoids, and demons made them spring to life (even more so than the sometimes lackluster illustrations).

Most of us who run games have tried our hand at monster creation. Many of us have shared them with the world in one form or another. When you post a monster in a specific system's stats, you're limiting the monster to people that know that system. Were you to instead just describe the creature in blocks of purple prose (written by an in-setting sage probably), you eliminate anyone that doesn't want to dredge through it to pick up the useful bits. I think I've found a good middle-ground between utility and flavor without system.

The Sans-System Bestiary Format

Name -
 Name the thing. Even if it's only named for the sake of the Game Master.

Purpose - What is this monster supposed to do for the game? Is it only good as an interesting monster-of-the-week or for something more?

This may seem like an odd inclusion, but I find that it's an important one (and will flavor how the rest of the entry is interpreted). What role does it play in the game? Is it meant to be horrific? Annoying (mooks)? Wear down PC's? Change to nature of the game (think lycanthropy, polymorph, patient zero, etc.)? Why would someone put this creature in his/her game?

Appearance - What he/she/it looks like and where the being can be found.

Pretty obvious really, you've got to paint a word-picture and/or literal picture of the being. And due to pun logic, explain where the creature is mostly likely to be encountered by adventurous or investigative types.

Descriptors - Generalized stats and powers for the "monster".

This is where you get into the nuts and bolts of the beast. At the very least, you'll need to describe the creature's physical strength, quickness, intelligence, and rate of movement in relation to an average human-being. From that very simple base, it should be relatively easy to convert the creature to the end-user's game of choice. You might also consider adding categories such as charm, awareness, magical propensity, and manual dexterity as you see fit.

If you'd prefer to use a numeric scale, I'd recommend going with 1-10: One being a practical invalid; five being average; 10 being the best the human form can manage. Again this should make it very easy to shift from system to system. (I.e. ogre or bear strength could run from 11-13; Goblin strength from 4-6.)

You'll also need to list all the special abilities or powers the creature possesses. Can it breath fire? Fly? Does it have thick, protective scales? Yes. Is it a dragon? Yes. Tell us about it, and be specific. Range may not really matter in some systems, but it's important in a fair number of them. How far can the sweet laser-eyes fire? How big is the quick-hardening blob of goop that the alien spits to trap it's prey? How graceful is the lizard-eagle-monkey chimera in flight?

Ecology - How the thing fits into the world.

This would be where you tell us that this is a magical construct, summoned to guard profane artifacts or what-have-you. It's important to know if, what, and how much a thing eats, whether it's a part of nature or ravages ecosystems. Where does this thing come from? Where might it be going?

A long treatise on how the creature's vorpal G.I. tract functions isn't needed (or typically desired), but some context for the thing's existence is.

Other Notes - Anything else that does quite fit in the above-mentioned categories.

I have Example!

Name - The Rekindled.

Purpose - To horrify and surprise players/characters by bringing an explosive twist to the shambling zombie.

Appearance - These reanimated corpses are covered in burns and blackened flesh. As they open their charred lips to cough up a raspy moan, a tell-tale ruddy glow can be discerned shining from the back of their throats. The Rekindled shamble slowly but inexorably towards the living, seeking to tear them asunder. In cooler weather, the flesh of these ghouls steams like a final breath.

They appear suddenly. All the recently dead within a town or village will awaken to monstrous unlife. Wreaking havoc and bringing death, they reproduce quickly. If not stopped in short order, they can quickly fill the countryside.

Descriptors - These are slow-moving but tireless things. Stronger than most men, the Rekindled are capable tearing someone limb from limb though typically they crudely pummel their victims to death. The flesh of these things is hot enough to leave minor burns with only a moment's touch. Even a glancing blow is extraordinarily painful. When they have finally taken enough damage to be slain or if their hearts or lungs are pierced, the Rekindled explode in a fiery blast affecting all within a five foot radius.

Strength - 9/10
Quickness - 2/10
Intelligence - 2/10 (They magically can sense all living creatures within a dozen yards.)
Rate of Movement - 1/2 That of a normal human.

Ecology - These fell creatures are the creations of wicked deities or baleful nature spirits (bleak sprites born of forest fires and drought). They have no place in the usual order of things, and animals flee from the Rekindled's presence.

The Rekindled are usually tied to a specific talisman, often an ornately-carven, smoke-billowing skull. Once this cursed item is brought into a town, all the recently dead within the town's borders spring to unholy life. When all animal life has been forced from the community, the talisman's area of influence grows by approximately 1 mile a day, up to a 50 mile radius. Only when the talisman is destroyed, will the plague of fiery undeath cease.

Other Notes - Enjoy.

Thoughts? Questions? Dirty Jokes? Post 'em in the comments.