Monday, June 1, 2020

Evisceration in the Everglades

I've discovered that thin slasher movie premises make great setups for one-shot games. To wit:

It is 198X and the players are guests at Gator Gretchen’s Motor Inn, a motel and rundown former resort in the Florida Everglades. Despite its condition, it still attracts National Parks enthusiasts, birdwatchers, Skunk Ape cryptozoologists, and people trying to do a Florida beach vacation on the cheap by staying inland. This is who else is there:

“Gator” Gretchen McHenry - The owner, who bought the condemned Everglades Resort and turned it into a cheap motel, complete with animated alligator neon sign. An inveterate hustler and loudmouth. (Str 8 Dex 13 Wil 10 Stamina 4)
Alcide Martin - Classically-trained Cajun chef who does great French and Cajun cuisine, but awful at the American staples he mostly has to cook here. (Str 7 Dex 15 Wil 13 Stamina 4)
Florence Holmes - Kindly old housekeeper. Actually the daughter of the previous owners from when this was the gilded age Everglades Resort. They used it as an H. H. Holmes-style murder palace to kill wealthy guests during the Great Depression. She is appalled at what the place has become, and wants revenge. (Str 6 Dex 6 Wil 18 Stamina 2)
The D'Amico Family - Father Jack, a NYPD officer, mother Diane, and son Kevin, a family sick of each other after the drive down from New York City. (Jack Str16 Dex 11 Wil 9 Stamina 2, Diane Str 11 Dex 13 Wil 12 Stamina 2, Kevin Str 9 Dex 6 Wil 12 Stamina 6)
Barbara James and Ernie Hubbard - The Jacksonville chapter of the American Cryptozoological Society, down for a skunk ape hunt. They teach at the same high school. Actually, only Barbara cares about the skunk ape. Ernie secretly doesn't believe in it. He's in love with her and feigns interest to spend time with her away from his wife. She has no idea. (Both Str 10 Dex 10 Wil 10 Stamina 3)
Fred Nerk (Holmes) - Supposedly an Australian on a sport fishing holiday, but actually Florence's son. He's a tank of a man and will do her bidding. (Str 18 Dex 6 Wil 18 Stamina 6)
Chronology of the night if the players do nothing:
6 pm: Gator Gretchen checks guests in and informs them that the next bus will be noon the next day.
6:30 pm: Guests gather in the Sawgrass Grill for dinner.
7 pm: Alcide happens to recognize Florence in an old staff photo in the restaurant for the first time, and calls her over to show her.
8 pm: Florence orders Fred to kill Alcide when he takes the trash out in the back. He is found floating in the pool 15 minutes later by Barbara, mangled, arm nearly ripped from his body. Barbara and Ernie think it's the skunk ape and go to get their cryptozoology gear.
9 pm: Barbara finds Fred in the machine shop behind the motel cleaning blood off himself. He kills her. She is discovered by Ernie, who loses it and admits he was only there because he was in love with her. Fred removes the spark plugs from all cars in the lot.
10 pm: Florence lures Gretchen into the basement of the main building and kills her. Fred sets fire to the D'Amicos' room. Trails of gasoline lead back to his car.
10:30 pm onward: Florence and Fred try to start picking off the players one by one.

I used Into the Odd (free preview here) for the rules framework. At this point, I can't imagine myself using any other system for one-shot games. It's my go-to for tight, minimal, easily-adaptable rules. Here are my modifications for running a horror game:
  • I use Willpower instead of Charisma, which replaced it in the superb update Electric Bastionland (free preview here). It's more appropriate for the situation.
  • I call "Hit Points" plain old Stamina. I think it gets the point across in a less abstract way.
  • No equipment matrix. I just have them all come up with a reason for staying there, and I said they could have anything they reasonably would have brought for that purpose.
  • Whenever characters witness something fucked up, they take d6 Willpower damage and have to make a Willpower save. Anyone who fails freaks out and can't do anything useful until they're out of danger. You have to be completely relaxed to regain Willpower.
  • Instead of moving, the killer/monster/whatever may transfer d6 Willpower to Strength on its turn. I think of this as "the Jason effect."
  • I didn't do it for this game, but usually I secretly text the players hidden, conflicting agendas for their characters to complete. I never tell them I'm doing this. Actually, I saw that the Alien RPG does something similar. Great minds. It looks pretty dope - I just don't have the need or money for a new game right now.
If you want to run a game like this, all you really need is a thin premise, a cast of colorful characters to kill off first, a timeline of events, and a map with goodies stashed around it. A soundtrack helps, too. I made a pretty sweet Spotify playlist, if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Knight Errant Generator

This is from the upcoming Yellow Book of Brechewold. I'm thinking about putting out a zine of just the enchanted forest section while I finish the full book. The heraldry is a stripped-down version of this post to make it manageable with dice.

One of my illustrations for the book

Roll one die of each type d4-d12 and three d20s to generate a knight. The knight’s HP is equal to all the even numbers you roll added together, and the attack bonus is the first even number you roll. Assume AC is equivalent to plate + shield. Have one or two knights pre-generated as random encounter rolls.


d4 Metal
  1. Argent (silver) field, coloured charge (symbol)
  2. Coloured field, argent charge
  3. Or (gold) field, coloured charge
  4. Coloured field, or charge
d6 Colour
  1. Azure (blue)
  2. Ermine (white with black spots)
  3. Gules (red)
  4. Purpure (purple)
  5. Sable (black)
  6. Vert (green)
d8 Charge (symbol) *see following tables*
  1. Ordinary
  2. Two ordinaries
  3. Beast
  4. Two beasts
  5. Bird
  6. Sea creature
  7. Plant
  8. Object
d10 Ordinaries
  1. Chief
  2. Bend
  3. Fess
  4. Pale
  5. Chevron
  6. Saltire
  7. Cross
  8. Cross botonny
  9. Cross crosslet
  10. Cross flory
d10 Beasts
  1. Lion
  2. Wolf
  3. Bear
  4. Boar
  5. Horse
  6. Bull
  7. Hart
  8. Hound
  9. Hind
  10. Fox
d10 Birds
  1. Eagle
  2. Martlet
  3. Peacock
  4. Pelican
  5. Swan
  6. Cock
  7. Crane
  8. Dove
  9. Duck
  10. Goose
d10 Sea Creatures
  1. Pike
  2. Perch
  3. Salmon
  4. Squid
  5. Octopus
  6. Dolphin
  7. Cod
  8. Eel
  9. Whale
  10. Seashell
d10 Plants
  1. Fleur-de-lis
  2. Rose
  3. Trefoil
  4. Thistle
  5. GrapevineOak
  6. Pine
  7. Pine-cone
  8. Aspen
  9. Willow
d10 Objects
  1. Sun
  2. Crescent
  3. Moon
  4. Star
  5. Key
  6. Constellation
  7. Ship
  8. Tower
  9. Crown
  10. Clarion


d12 Fighting Style
  1. Uses shield to steamroll opponents
  2. Only fights from horseback
  3. Stoic and defensive with greatsword
  4. Graceful duelist with sword and dagger
  5. Uses long flail to toy with opponents
  6. Berserker with two handaxes
  7. Jumpy with crossbow
  8. Bruiser with huge warhammer or battleaxe
  9. Hidden weapons all over body
  10. Claims sword has a mind of its own
  11. Only fights in by-the-book jousts or duels
  12. Invents ever more elaborate reasons not to fight
d20 Personality
  1. Dour, joyless
  2. Pompous, thinks everyone is a fan
  3. Droll, always amused
  4. Monomaniacal about quest
  5. Jaded, disillusioned
  6. Adheres to chivalry to the letter
  7. Generous and rare champion of the oppressed
  8. Insufferable warrior-poet
  9. Quick to take offense
  10. Boisterous bully
  11. Ambitious schemer
  12. Tight-lipped and suspicious, always considering worst-case scenarios
  13. Sarcastic to hide insecurity
  14. Mirthful, spontaneously bursts into song
  15. Constantly complains, especially of ill-fitting armour or undergarments
  16. Believes quest is beneath him
  17. Easily bribed or otherwise distracted by mead
  18. Is aghast at people less educated and well off than he
  19. Plays trombone (which he invented) to ease the stress of battle
  20. Hears whispers that others do not
d20 Quest
  1. Save maiden from controlling father
  2. Test self discipline and resistance to temptation
  3. Seek holy relic
  4. Slay a giant or other eater of Christians
  5. Track a beast entangled with family history
  6. Save lost, enchanted love
  7. Win the heart of a cold fairy princess
  8. Deliver dying wishes of king or queen to relative
  9. Search for lost heir to a throne
  10. Rescue noble baby stolen by fairies
  11. Protect last child of a murdered royal family
  12. Duel old rival
  13. Capture and return villain to face trial
  14. Seek advice from old hermit
  15. Hide the child of a lady’s affair from her wrathful husband
  16. Recover the Mourning Veil for a noble who wishes to deal with the Fairies
  17. Forge a sword of iron troll hearts in Brechewold’s forge Belcher
  18. Find a vizier at Brechewold to bring back to court
  19. Gain entry to the Smoking Mountain
  20. Find cure for a dying maiden
d20 Name: Sir...
  1. Lionell
  2. Bors
  3. Kay
  4. Tristram
  5. Gareth
  6. Bedivere
  7. Bleoberis (woman in disguise, true name Elaine)
  8. Lucan
  9. Palomedes
  10. Lamorak
  11. Pelleas
  12. Ector
  13. Dagonet
  14. Degore (woman in disguise, true name Laudine)
  15. Brunor
  16. Alymere
  17. Uwaine
  18. Aglovale (woman in disguise, true name Viviane)
  19. Fergus
  20. Morganore

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Welcome to Brechewold

Saints preserve us, I'm writing a book. The map I posted the other day is from that. I don't quite know how to feel about joining in on OSR oversaturation and commercialization except to say that I don't feel this is a play for "relevance" or "hype," and certainly not for "money." I just think it's a good idea that I can do well.

It is called The Yellow Book of Brechewold unless I can think of something better. It will detail a small campaign setting: a school for magicians (the titular Brechewold) and its environs in post-Arthurian western Britain. It will include:
  1. A completely keyed big (what's the cutoff for "mega?") dungeon: the school and abandoned, haunted levels beneath including tombs, a zoo, a body farm, a giant orrery, portals to other planets and fairy pocket-dimensions, a goblin diploma mill, seniors growing drugs, and more!
  2. Detailed faculty with personalities and goals, and a more sparsely detailed student body
  3. A small keyed enchanted forest surrounding the school including knights, giants, witches, elfs and other fairies, a unicorn, a relic from the Last Supper, religious hermits, anarcho-atheist bandits, &c
  4. A chapter on the conflicts between factions and individuals to facilitate sandbox play
  5. A chapter summarizing the treasures found elsewhere in the book, for ease of reference
  6. Full color player-facing maps and illustrations, black and white DM-facing maps and illustrations
  7. As many of the best practices of OSR design as I've been able to absorb
Here's a portrait of the headmaster and the introduction. It will be ready when it's ready.

1. Introduction

You may have heard, old chap, that wizards are wise. This is untrue. Don’t let their robes, beards, or pig Latin fool you. Wizards are lazy, greedy, vain clowns who would rather spend a lifetime in a library looking for shortcuts around reality than do a single honest day’s work. The only thing worse than a wizard is two wizards, and the only thing worse than that is a damned college of them. Welcome to Brechewold.

The first wizard who got it into his head to teach magic on this rock in the woods was that hoary necromancer Merlyn. Yes, the Merlyn who made a right mess of England because he thought he knew best of all how to pick its ruler. I’m not saying I would have done better in Art’s place, mind you, but I am saying that I’ve never slept with my sister.

Merlyn, knowing as he did that his time among the men of Albion was nearing an end, hung a sign on the old Celtic fort at Brechewold Promontory that anyone who wished to learn a few tricks and incantations in defense of the realm was welcome. A nest of knaves coagulated, and the old boy left this world to let the living sort out his mess.

A brief scuffle for succession followed, and Gertrude Malory of Newbold Revel became the school’s first headmistress. As the years stretched into centuries, the school grew like a layer cake into the current Brechewold Castle. Wings now exist which have lain unoccupied for decades. The castle squats like a great cephalopod above Lake Hart, its lower tentacles fallen into disuse.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Meanwhile, in the Woods...

The DM-facing hexmap from a double-secret project that I hope will only be single-secret before too long. I stole the concept from Matthew Adams.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

I Love Lamentations

I just learned that Lamentations of the Flame Princess is in serious financial trouble. If they went under, I would be crushed. LotFP is the greatest RPG company of all time, TSR included, and Jim Raggi is the greatest RPG publisher. He's the kind of leftie that I thought died out in the nineties: ornery, a free-speech diehard, and committed to just business practices and hiring all kinds of people not as a stunt but because it's self-evidently right. He has the most interesting catalogue of products out there: weird, shocking, and often brilliant. Buy them (US store link). Run them in the spirit they are intended and they will make your game better. Jim pushed the OSR scene beyond masturbatory nostalgia while simultaneously writing the clearest, most concise retroclone.

I don't give a shit if the guy likes Jordan Peterson. His actions speak loudly that he is very much pro-trans people. The modern left is obsessed with purity tests and turning allies into enemies. This is why President Iceberg is currently driving the Titanic.

When Jim's bestselling author was accused of abuse, Jim canceled all the author's future work and reprints. Literally no one did more to show that abuse has no place in our hobby. It seems his great sin was that he seemed upset about doing it. Well, fucking duh. But he did it anyway. And yet in online "communities," words are so often valued above actions.

LotFP forever. If you agree, buy from them if you can and spread the word. I, like many others during this time, am hurting financially with only $1200 from the government to help (thanks, President Iceberg!), but I will be buying a few books because this is important to me. If this post makes you dismiss me, that's a ship I'm willing to go down with.

(In case it is not clear: I am criticizing the tactics of left-leaning people in the old school RPG scene because I hold quite left-leaning views and I want us to do better.)

Sunday, December 1, 2019

New Map of the Elf Empire and Southern Isles

I’ve been having fun developing a new map-drawing style that I think is finally reaching a certain level of maturity. And yeah, it owes a lot to Matthew Adams, a guy who has become as inspirational to me as artists like John Blanche or Moebius. This will be an in-game map belonging to a particularly savvy current traveling companion of my party.

And hey, if you have any maps you want drawn for personal or published projects, I’m feeling competent enough to take on commissions. I’d like to make some money for better art supplies. Get in touch at m.cliffstrom at g mail. I don’t have a ton of time, so I’ll probably only take on projects that inspire me.

And experimenting with a different watercolor style for a very different project:

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Am I the Only One Who Hates Actual Play Shows?

I have an strained relationship with actual-play D&D streams, podcasts, etc. I'm very glad they exist. More than one of my players actually got interested in playing through the Adventure Zone. And I know from running a D&D club at the school where I teach that real-life kids listen to them. I feel about as sure as I am about anything that they are a big reason for the long-overdue coming out party that the tabletop RPG scene has enjoyed in the past few years.

I also can't stand them. I have tried many, from Critical Role to the more obscure OSR groups, and they absolutely cannot hold my attention. I can't even get into the Adventure Zone, and I love their other podcast. I don't even really know why I don't like them. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm not invested in the same way as when I'm playing, or maybe I don't like to see DMs making choices I wouldn't make.

But I want to like them. I really do. Do I have to make one to find one that I like? I fucking hope not. I couldn't see myself putting in the effort. Still, I have some ideas of things I'd like to see in something like this:


  • Film in front of a green screen and stick in atmospherically appropriate visuals - movies, real-world footage, photos, illustrations.
  • Graphics that look like they're taking inspiration from something a little better than World of Warcraft.
  • Animations that show game information - like if a player gets hit, there's a blood splatter and "-8 HP" above their head.
  • Replace DM description with short animations, if you can find someone good to make them.
  • Shoot on video tape for max nostalgia. I guess you couldn't stream like this, but whatever.
  • Closeups of all players, and a wide shot of the whole table. I'm not a fan of the Brady Bunch style that streaming kind of forces you into. I guess in general I'd rather watch something that has been shot ahead of time and edited together later, rather than streamed live.
  • Rotoscope the players so when they say something "in-character", they are literally their character, full Ralph Bakshi style. Could be pretty off-putting, but I think I'd like it.


  • Like four players max. Maybe three.
  • Everyone should know the fucking rules. Normally I will tell you that you do not need to know any rules to play D&D, but if you're going to be doing it for other people to watch, you should not be slowing down to figure things out every few minutes.
  • Everyone should be charismatic and charming and genuinely like each other. This seems like the first thing you should worry about and the hardest to pull off. Like real life, I guess. Usually the "cast" is either wooden, gratingly and self-consciously "nerdy," or obviously frustrated actors looking for exposure.
  • Editing, guys.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Somebody stop me

This system is basically an unholy hybrid of Into the Odd and a few of my previous experiments here and here.

Design goals:
  • Remove hit points
  • Tie combat effectiveness to statistics, which Into the Odd doesn't do
  • Differentiate weapons without variable damage
  • Provide interesting tactical decisions in an intuitive way
It's not quite as elegant as I would like (the way you use the injury chart for ranged weapons is particularly clumsy), but overall, how did I do? Any glaring oversights?

Character Creation

Roll 3d6 each for Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower. Saves and non-combat skill checks are roll under these stats. Each level, try to roll over each on 3d6 to increase them by one.

Consult this table for Weapon Skill:

Dexterity Score

Strength Score

(The charts kinda got fucked up, but hopefully they're readable.)

Choose equipment according to your preferred method or roll on an Into the Odd-style starting package chart.

Hand to Hand Combat

Combatants make opposing d10 rolls. If they have equal Weapon Skills, they each roll one die. If one combatant has a higher Weapon Skill, he or she rolls one more die. If one combatant has at least twice the Weapon Skill of the other, he or she rolls two more dice. During the first round of engagement, the combatant with the highest-reach weapon adds another die to his or her roll, but after that (until they disengage) the combatant with the highest-speed weapon adds another instead. Compare the two combatants’ highest rolls, and use the difference between them to consult the Injury Chart for the low roller.

Minor (like daggers)
Small (like shortwords)
Medium (like longswords)
Great (like two-handed axes)
Pole (like spears)

Confined Quarters

In cases where the width of the fighting area is less than the length of a weapon extended from the body (use your best judgment), its reach bonus during the first round of engagement does not apply.

Fighting in Ranks

If combatants fight in a line, any reach bonus from their weapons continues to apply after the first round of engagement, except on either end of the line.

Ranged Combat

The shooter rolls a d10 and hits the target if he or she rolls equal to or under his or her Weapon Skill. If the intended target moved in the previous round, the shooter rolls two dice and uses the higher result. If the shooter spent at least one previous round doing nothing but aiming at a stationary target, he or she rolls two dice and chooses the lower result. If the shooter hits, subtract the lowest roll from 10 and consult the Injury Chart.


For both hand to hand and ranged combat, armor reduces the number used to consult the Injury Table by a certain amount. However, heavier armor reduces the speed of the weapon carried by the armor’s wearer.

Injury Reduction
Maximum Weapon Speed
Light (like leather)
Medium (like chain)
Heavy (like plate)

Armor Piercing

Longbows, crossbows, maces, and lances from horseback reduce the effectiveness of armor by one point.

Called Shots

Instead of consulting the injury chart as normal, combatants may aim for a specific injury. In that case, consult the Injury table’s “Called Shot Dice” column. In the case of hand to hand combat, the defender of the called shot rolls that many extra dice. In the case of ranged combat, the shooter rolls that many extra dice and chooses the highest roll. If the attacker still succeeds, the desired injury takes effect.

Injury Chart

Injury to:
First Hit
Second Hit
Third Hit
Called Shot Dice
Temporary disadvantage on Dex-related rolls
Disadvantage on Dex-related rolls until healed
Disabled, dead in 2d4 rounds if not stabilized
Temporary disadvantage on Str-related rolls
Disadvantage on Str-related rolls until healed
Disabled, dead in 2d4 rounds if not stabilized
Disabled, dead in 2d4 rounds if not stabilized

Healing takes d4 weeks after a “Second Hit” and 2d4 weeks after a “Third Hit.”

Friday, March 1, 2019

Ok how about this one?

I cannot help daydreaming new combat systems. It's a character flaw.

Instead of attack bonus, characters have a Weapon Skill (thanks Warhammer) equal to Str + Dex modifiers (and Fighters add their level).

Weapons don't have damage ratings anymore, but instead have Reach and Speed:

  • Daggers etc: Reach 1, Speed 5
  • Shortswords etc: Reach 2, Speed 4
  • Longswords etc: Reach 3, Speed 3
  • Great weapons: Reach 4, Speed 2
  • Pole weapons: Reach 5, Speed 1

Combatants make opposing rolls (d6 or d10 probably, depending on the game's HD regime). The combatant with the higher Weapon Skill rolls one more die. On the first round of combat, the combatant with the highest-reach weapon rolls one more die, but after that (until they disengage) the combatant with the highest-speed weapon rolls one more die. The winner in the roll-off deals damage equal to the difference between the two players' highest rolls.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Knight's Heraldry Generator

A simple heraldry generator in Abulafia format. Click the button, and the full text of the generator is below.


1,[colour], [charge] [metal]
1,[metal], [charge] [colour]



15,a [ordinary]
10,two [ordinary]s
10,three [ordinary]s
16,a [beast] [beast attitude]
10,a [beast]’s head
5,two [beast]s [beast attitude]
5,three [beast]s [beast attitude]
5,a [beast] and [beast] combatant
5,a [beast] and [beast] addorsed
11,a[bird] [bird attitude]
10,a[sea creature]
1,a serpent glissant
1,a serpent nowed
1,two keys addorsed
1,two keys crossed

1,cross botonny
1,cross crosslet
1,cross flory
1,cross Maltese
1,cross moline
1,cross patee
1,cross patonce
1,cross potent


;beast attitude
1,rampant guardant
1,rampant regardant
1,passant guardant
1,passant regardant

1,n eagle
1, martlet
1, peacock
1, pelican
1, swan
1, cock
1, crane
1, dove
1, duck
1, goose
1,n owl

;bird attitude

;sea creature
1, pike
1, perch
1, salmon
1, squid
1,n octopus
1, dolphin
1, cod
1,n eel
1, whale
1, seashell

1, fleur-de-lis
1, rose
1. trefoil
1, quatrefoil
1, cinquefoil
1, thistle
1, grapevine
1,n oak
1, pine
1, pine-cone
1,n aspen
1, willow
1,n alder
1,n elm
1,n olive branch
1,n ear of wheat

1, sun in splendour
1, crescent
1, moon in her plenitude
1, star
1,n estoile
1, constellation
1, ship
1, tower
1, crown
1, clarion
1, drum
1, fasces
1, hammer
1, sickle
1, key
1,n anvil
1, beehive