07 February 2021

Cargoes & Castaways & Persistent Indecision

My biggest struggle with finishing Cargoes & Castaways, the game I originally designed with Swords & Wizardry White Box in mind, is that I no longer know what system would be the best fit for it. Do I keep its connection with Swords & Wizardry? Do I rewrite it for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG? Do I adapt it to D6? Do I retrofit it to Troika? Do I design a new system for it? And most importantly, would anyone care? Does it hold interest for anyone but myself? I just don't know.

30 January 2021

Nothing to See Here

It is already a month since I wrote about my modest New Year's resolution, and have I made any progress? Not in the least. I have neither played, nor run, nor written about role-playing games all month. Thought about them? Yes. Accomplished anything? Not really. The closest I've come to doing anything remotely gaming-related was to buy a portable stand for my green screen (for online gaming purposes). I've thought about gaming, and I will game, but today I'm just trying to fulfill that permanent goal of posting at least one article per blog per month. Does this count?

31 December 2020

Resolve This

I am keeping my resolutions within reason for 2021. To keep it as simple as possible and give myself the chance to surprise myself with better than expected results, I am resolving to resume one or more DCC RPG campaigns that I have run in the past and play some more DCC RPG as a player. Anything beyond that (and my goal of posting to each of my Web logs at least monthly) is above and beyond as far as I am concerned.

Game on.

30 November 2020

DCC RPG Thought of the Day 2020-11-30

As much as I enjoy playing and judging Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, I wish it had just a little more in common with B/X D&D. Specifically, I wish the spell descriptions were shorter and simpler. Spells in D&D (and, to a lesser extent, AD&D) are a pleasure to write. They're even more fun to cast. Deciding what to do when casting a spell ought to be a simple matter of choosing a spell, aiming for a level of potency, deciding whether to spellburn, and rolling for the effect. The problem is wading through dense paragraphs of possible effects, which can slow down play if the player hasn't already memorized every possible result of every spell in his or her repertoire. If the spell tables could be simplified, or possibly even unified to a degree, it could both speed play and encourage more spell creation. It's an idea I keep thinking about, and someday I just might design a few B/X-inspired spells and playtest them.

25 October 2020

A Very Happy Unmodule to You!

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear someone refer to "sandbox," "hex crawl," or "point crawl" to refer to methods of player agency in determining where, when, and how a party adventures, but this jargon was unknown in my gaming circles in the 1980s. We didn't have terms or a precise methodology for the choices player characters were offered, but sometimes we were forced to create terms just to save the time it took to explain it. That is why I coined the term unmodule. It was inspired by that scene from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass wherein the Mad Hatter explains to Alice the concept of the unbirthday. If an unbirthday occurs on all the days of the year that is not your birthday, an unmodule is played whenever the players gather to play without a module. (For those who are unaware, a "module" is what TSR called their published adventures, and what many gamers called their own written adventures.) Typically, if my players finished a module that did not lead immediately into another (and especially if I needed more time to read or write the next one), I would declare the next session an unmodule and the player characters could pursue their own goals, which sometimes meant getting themselves into trouble. They could shop for equipment, meet with friends or professional contacts, plot acts of revenge, make a pilgrimage, consult an expert, get something repaired or specially made, go carousing, pick some pockets, enter competitions, pursue training, embark on a hunting expedition, do some herb gathering, or even go on a side quest. Nearly anything was a possibility, and I was obligated to wing it to the best of my ability. Unmodules were fun, and it ensured that player characters had a part in steering their own destiny.

Any role-playing activity occurring outside the bounds of a module and primarily driven by the player characters' whims.

24 October 2020

Why Another Random Generator?

This random generator asks the question,

Why another random generator?

Roll 1d6 and consult the table below.

1 = I don’t know.
2 = Because the stars are right.
3 = Because of Divine Right.
4 = Because of the will of the People.
5 = Because “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”
6 = Because “I am not a number! I am a free man!”

[Originally posted in Fudgery.net/fudgerylog. I think. Re-posted here for some reason.]

04 October 2020

Random Humanoid Generator (Roll All Dice)

This Random Humanoid Generator is specifically designed for use with The Savage World of Flash Gordon for Savage Worlds, but may be used for any game system and indeed any similar setting. Use it to create the outline of a new species, refining the results and using them as inspiration. If the results don't mesh with your vision, ignore them and choose freely. It's always a good idea to have a surprise for players who think they are experts on the source material.

Random Humanoid Generator
(Roll All Dice)


Roll 1d4

1. Frozen
2. Temperate
3. Tropical
4. Desert


Roll 1d6

1. Hostile
2. Distrustful
3. Aloof
4. Cautious
5. Curious
6. Friendly


Roll 1d8

1. King
2. Queen
3. Prince
4. Princess
5. Council of Elders
6. Noble + Council
7. Theocrat
8. Leader

Biological Derivation

Roll 1d10

1. Amphibian
2. Arachnid
3. Avian
4. Human
5. Human
6. Insect
7. Mammalian
8. Mammalian
9. Piscine
10. Reptilian

Primary Resource

Roll 1d12

1. Cloth
2. Foodstuffs, Cultivated
3. Foodstuffs, Gathered
4. Foodstuffs, Hunted
5. Fuel
6. Gems
7. Luxury Goods
8. Manufacturing
9. Metals, Industrial
10. Metals, Precious
11. Spices
12. Timber

Combat Quirk
Members of this species...

Roll 1d20

1. Abide by a strict code of honor that enhances their skill at one weapon.
2. Are immune to a certain form of attack.
3. Are effective in a team, but hopeless without leadership.
4. Are formidable individually, but unable to coordinate in groups.
5. Are great rocketship gunners, but poor pilots.
6. Are great rocketship pilots, but poor gunners.
7. Are unnaturally quick.
8. Are unnaturally strong.
9. Eat those who fall in combat.
10. Must pray before combat.
11. Never kill opponents — only take prisoners.
12. Never take prisoners.
13. Possess an extra sense.
14. Prefer combat as entertainment.
15. Prefer duels.
16. Prefer ritual combat.
17. Ride exotic mounts.
18. Use a substance before battle that enhances their combat ability.
19. Use primitive weapons.
20. Use robots to do their fighting whenever possible.

[This article is cross-posted here in Savage Arts & Sciences.]

01 September 2020

#RPGaDay 2020

As with last year, this year's #RPGaDay consisted of single word prompts, and again, as with last year, I gave my responses to them on Twitter (this time a little more concisely). Here they are, collected in one space for your convenience.

#RPGaDay2020 1. "Beginning": An RPG that is good for beginning players is not necessarily bad for experienced players. The best RPGs put new and old players on equal footing, because they reward role-playing over rule-playing.

#RPGaDay2020 2. "Change": RPGs are more satisfying when player characters can potentially effect change in their environment. Otherwise, they’re little more than tourists in the setting.

#RPGaDay2020 3. "Thread": The common thread in most of the adventures I write or run, regardless of the game, is "help." Someone, in some way, needs help, and the player characters are in a position to offer it. In my experience, this works for any genre.

Except, perhaps, Kobolds Ate My Baby.

#RPGaDay2020 4. "Vision": Often the vision of a game designer is at odds with the vision of the creator whose work they are adapting. If you find an adaptation you like, be loyal to it, not to the latest company to snag the license.

And on that note, you can tell when a game is made with a love for, and understanding of, the source material versus the desire just to cash in on a recognized work. When you look past the graphics, is it still a good game?

You don’t even *need* the illustrations. You probably already have access to plenty of art inspired by the work or drawn from it. What you need is a well-designed game that faithfully captures the feeling of the original work.

That’s the game adaptation you support, even when it goes out of print "officially." Don’t settle for inferior games just because a new publisher now has the license. Support what you know in your heart you like best.

#RPGaDay2020 5. "Tribute": One of my works in progress is a role-playing game tribute to Jules Verne, Ray Harryhausen, and 19th century parlor games. I'd better finish it before I get stranded on a desert isle.

#RPGaDay2020 6. "Forest": Forest Encounter! Roll 1d6 and see what you encounter...

1. You encounter a wolfwere dressed like a typical grandmother. It has the power to transform into Graham Chapman.

2. You happen upon a ring of toadstools. Don't dance around it or you'll turn into a toadstool yourself. If you eat one, well, that's another random table.

3. You chance upon a house constructed entirely of candy and baked goods. If you're short enough, the resident will try to eat you when she catches you gnawing on her domicile. If you're taller, she forces you to renovate her home for 1d6 months.

4. You trip over, and enrage, a lion, which happens to have a thorn in its paw.

5. You step on a venomous snake. If you apologize quickly enough, you will be spared its scathing sarcasm and biting insults. In the best of circumstances, it's quite the amiable conversationalist.

6. You meet a werebear in mid-transformation. It's preoccupied with preventing fires.

#RPGaDay2020 7. "Couple": I like standard swashbuckling as a genre, but I also like it coupled with science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, or mythology.

#RPGaDay2020 8. "Shade": "5 a : a disembodied spirit : GHOST" (Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary) Rarely executed well in D&D. Executed very well in the #GhostbustersRPG and #Bureau13 #StalkingTheNightFantastic.

#RPGaDay2020 9. "Light": What constitutes a "rules light" RPG?
Easy rules
Few rules
A few easy rules

#RPGaDay2020 10. "Want": I want a.) more time to game, b.) a consistent weekly gaming schedule, c.) plenty of 12mm binary dice (no one makes them to my knowledge), and c.) for my players to be familiar with more of the literature that inspired many of my favorite RPGs.

#RPGaDay2020 11. "Stack": I resemble that remark! #GhostbustersRPG

Seriously, though, I prefer my RPGs to be books or "bookshelf edition" boxed sets that I can store vertically on bookshelves. Stacking boxed sets makes me wince, probably because many of the old sets were fragile and half empty, which meant they were easily damaged.

#RPGaDay2020 12. "Message": Player handouts, used sparingly, can be beneficial to immersion in RPGs. Messages written from an NPC's point of view work better when they can be read and narrated by the players rather than the GM.

#RPGaDay2020 13. "Rest": Consider placing your katana on a rest within easy reach when you GM in case you need to behead any players who dishonor themselves.

#RPGaDay2020 14. "Banner": For my first Gen Con (in the early 1980s at Univ. of Wisconsin—Parkside), we stayed at a campground where I noticed many of the tents had banners indicating their gaming club affiliation. I envied those clubs for their size and resources.

I've had my small gaming groups, but the only gaming club I ever belonged to was my junior high school D&D club and it never went to conventions or even had a banner. I longed to found a club, name it, design its banner, and attend conventions as a group.

It was a continuation of one of the themes of my childhood: inventing and being at the center of nonexistent organizations, in search of a sense of belonging and importance.

I think I was (and am) happier just gaming with small informal groups of friends, though. I don't want to elect officers, collect dues, or conduct meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order (like some war game clubs I knew of). I game for relaxation and entertainment.

#RPGaDay2020 15. "Frame": When I GM, I try to frame situations in terms of how people — not just the PCs — are affected. Society exists. NPCs are not cardboard standees. They have lives, dependents, hopes, fears, and individual motivations. It helps the setting breathe.

#RPGaDay2020 16. "Dramatic": Dramatic is good. Comedic is better. A combination of the two is best. #RPG #TTRPG

#RPGaDay2020 17. "Comfort": I am most comfortable running games that never (or almost never) require consulting a rule book at the table. If only all games were like that...

#RPGaDay2020 18. "Meet": I like it best when it is assumed that starting characters have already met and the players spontaneously “recollect” mutual memories and past experiences with one another.

Too often first sessions feel more like one is being introduced in a therapy group or a game show than joining an adventure party. "Hello. My name is Ray Zor. I’m a thief with no living relatives. I like daggers, dark cloaks, and brooding alone in the moonlight."

#RPGaDay2020 19. "Tower": Not every wizard resides in a tower. Roll 1d8 for alternative abodes:
1. mountain cave
2. stilt hut
3. geodesic dome
4. ziggurat
5. cottage
6. bungalow
7. A-frame
8. penthouse

#RPGaDay2020 20. "Investigate": Investigation works well with nearly any (maybe even every) genre of role-playing game. Try it with your favorite fantasy, science fiction, or historical #RPG. Heck, try it with Teenagers from Outer Space. Nothing can stop you. #TFOS

Teenagers from Outer Space by R. Talsorian Games. #TFOS #TeenagersFromOuterSpace #RPG #TTRPG (I'm in a TFOS mood.)

#RPGaDay2020 21. "Push": Combat is more interesting when there are other options than causing damage. Try letting a PC who makes a successful attack push, grapple, or disarm an enemy instead.

#RPGaDay2020 22. "Rare": I do wish all role-playing games, regardless of rarity, were available at least in PDF form. It's fine for collectors to collect their collectables, but RPGs were made to be played, presumably by as many people as possible.

What is the point of an unobtainable game?

#RPGaDay2020 23. "Edge": If player characters want to strike with the pommel instead of the blade edge, I allow it, but the damage roll is reduced by one die step (in games that use polyhedral dice). In a dice pool game, I'd reduce it by one or two dice.

#RPGaDay2020 24. "Humor": I dabble in it from time to time. Table of Many Tables (Contains Tables)

#RPGaDay2020 25. "Lever": A good game system acts as a lever to facilitate role-playing. It's a tool, not the end product.

#RPGaDay2020 26. "Strange": Where there is strangeness, there is mystery; where there is mystery, there is often adventure...

#RPGaDay2020 27. "Favor": The importance of which hand a character favors is woefully underestimated by most RPG character sheets.

#RPGaDay2020 28. "Close": You are probably on the right track as a GM anytime a player says, "That was a close one!"

#RPGaDay2020 29. "Ride": A good RPG session is like a good amusement park ride — they're both exhilarating. If that feeling is missing, it might be time to investigate the reason why.

#RPGaDay2020 30. "Portal": Role-playing, like reading, can be a portal to another world, which may also contain portals to other worlds. When I read or role-play something interesting, it transports me. Apparently through portals.

#RPGaDay2020 31. "Experience": Experience rules are fine if player characters are rewarded for the right thing AND progress is not too slow AND the benefits are neither too meagre nor overpoweringly great. Otherwise, just let the GM and players decide when it's time to advance.

09 August 2020

The Best Format for Adventures

For me — and I speak only for myself — the perfect format for a physical copy of a role-playing adventure is the zine. I do not mean a standard size adventure shrunk to zine size. I mean an adventure that has been formatted specifically for print as a zine. After using such adventures at the table, I find the format far more practical and enjoyable.

There are several factors that contribute to this. First, of course, is the physical size. It takes up less room behind the GM screen, and I can hold it open comfortably in one hand if I wish to stand up and walk around. Maximum GMing convenience.

Font choice is critical. A proper zine adventure needs to be of a readable typeface and size to facilitate ease of use. I don't need anything fancy. I just want to be able to read it quickly and without squinting. This, I'm afraid, is an all too frequently undervalued aspect of adventure (and rule book) publishing. Save the ornate fonts for handouts (torn pages from tomes, letters from the regent, secret notes passed by spies, et cetera).

Each room description (or other location description) ought to start a new page — no searching the page to see where descriptions begin. The only time a page should contain more than one room description is if those rooms are empty or otherwise identical. Any space not filled with text or illustration can be used by the GM for note-taking.

Each map ought to be given its own page. Larger maps ought to be printed on a separate sheet, folded, and inserted in the centerfold. (If there is more than one map on a single page in a zine, the maps are too small.)

If you've never run an adventure in zine format, I encourage you to try it. Some things, like rules, only prove themselves through use. (I recommend "The Sanctum of the Snail" included in Crepuscular #1.)

27 July 2020

Role-Playing Online

My recent birthday weekend marks my first time role-playing via Zoom. Previously, I had tried Google Hangouts and Tabletop Simulator, but this latest experience was the most successful. Not everyone has the same needs for online gaming, but mine is simple: I want real-time audiovisual communication. That's it. Players can have their own character sheets as long as I have a copy (or at least the information they contain). Players can roll their own dice. (I trust them. If I didn't, I wouldn't invite them to my games.) If players want maps, they can make them the old-fashioned way with graph paper and a pencil using my descriptions. Yes, my role-playing is very much of the "theatre of the mind" sort, and although I occasionally make use of battlemats and miniatures (primarily to show marching order), I can easily dispense with them. I miss being able to distribute actual handouts, tokens, cards, and possibly even props, but it's a luxury I can live without as long as everyone at my virtual table can see and hear one another.

What did we play? The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG adventure, Frozen in Time, the third adventure for Billie the Once Risen (formerly known as Billie the Squire), George the Witness, and Francis the Creep. It was a three hour session, and I think there will be one or two more before they complete it. I look forward to many more (and of other role-playing games, too).

I was apprehensive about online gaming, but now that I've found something that works for my players and me, the gaming future looks brighter.