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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Fleshing Out Lord of Heaven

I've been thinking more about Lord of Heaven. I want space opera, but I want everything to feel mossy and overgrown. Yoda's planet, not the Death Star. Feudal politics a la Dune or 40k. The cruel Arthuriana of Lyonesse. Knights who pilot hybrid ship/mechs. Pendragon of Mars vibes. Art direction by Chris Foss, Moebius, Miyazaki, and John Blanche.

I'd been planning this campaign as my first foray into running an online game, hopefully recruiting a few DMs and players from the OSRosphere, starting a Google+ community page to organize things and everything. But with G+'s imminent demise, I guess I'm going back to the drawing board. I never want to have to say "MeWe" out loud, but I suppose I should check out its capacity to organize something like this.

To recap, this would be a big game of space Diplomacy with roving RPG parties for hire to tip the balance in specific sectors each turn. One major thing these parties should be able to do is to prevent fleets and armies from carrying out their orders - through intercepting communiques, assassination, sabotaging important places or equipment, that sort of thing. Therefore, there should be details about the fleets and armies on the board that allow players to make strategic decisions - things like the commander of player one's third fleet has a weakness for prostitutes, or that the order runner for player two's fourth army has a favorite watering hole on a certain planet that he always stops at. I'll probably make a "strategic weakness" table to roll on when new fleets and armies are built. These tables might have to be player-specific depending on the flavor of their empire.

Another thing they should be able to do is to perform espionage to discover other players' plans. They should probably also be able to recover artifacts that allow fleets and armies to do things they couldn't before - hide their presence, jump around the map, increase their strength, etc. I will probably use Warband to run the RPG missions, though I'm not sure what rules to use for spaceship combat yet.

Here are a few sample Lord of Heaven regional powers to give you an idea of the flavor I'm going for. The strategic-level players could inhabit one of these or invent their own.

Ice Lich of Andorrh

A being of pure crystalline nitrogen. Whispered to once have been a great witch of the Numinous Imperium, who now rules an empire of bone from the crystal forest moon Andorrh-13. Sends forth fleets of polished onyx prisms, inscribed with softly pulsating runes and ridden by (literal) skeleton crews. Can mine ice worlds and gas giants that no other power can touch and uses high volumes these of exotic compounds to power strange magicks. Her force of will can compel legions of skeletal soldiers across star systems, but for more far-flung campaigns she must employ the few lieutenants she trusts, all in various stages of lichdom.

Baron von Maw of Kurrg

Who is called Most Profitable, who is called The Balanced Ledger, who is called Honor the Contract. Chief executive warlord of the Kurrg Conglomerate, a cartel of furnace worlds that has made a compact to control the means of production throughout known space. Has launched a jihad against all independent industry and commerce, and will not rest until the Great Monopoly is secured. Constantly on the move between the various Kurrgan holdings on his pleasure barge Ys, accompanied by his harem of bureaucrat-concubines.

Ishtar Imperatrix

Supreme goddess of sex and death, eternal ruler of the Numinous Imperium. Never seen, though depicted as a radiant young lady bearing a brimming chalice. Supposed to live on Holy Nimue. Governance of her vast empire falls to her knights-errant:

  • Inu Ilati, or “Through-My-Eyes-Our-Lady-Sees,” master of spies, Ordo Oculos Domino
  • Pu Ilati, or “Through-My-Mouth-Our-Lady-Speaks,” master of priests, Ordo Os Domina
  • Qatu Ilati, or “Through-My-Hands-Our-Lady-Strikes,” master of swords, Ordo Pugnus Domina

The Horned King

Borealis rex of the Thorne Stars, whose realm is branch, shadow, and root. His elite knights of the Entropic Order of the Flesh Mutable have trained to achieve complete and total mastery of body, reaching down to the molecular level to overclock their own mutation rates. Appearance of a fleet of Entropic Order monastery-ships over a world is sure to portend doom.

The Geminix Twins Li and Go

Young brother and sister ascendent to the throne following a hunting accident that claimed the lives of their mother and father in the Hron Asteroid Field. They often finish one another’s sentences and are described as deeply unsettling to be around. Currently, their uncle Chiron acts as their vizier. Some claim that he himself has designs on the throne, but others whisper that he is psychically controlled by the twins themselves.