Saturday, November 13, 2021

People of the World, Spice up Your Life

 I have seen the Dune. It’s good, but, like all “content” now, too long.

The forms of many designs are quite nice (love the costumes of the imperial delegation at the beginning), but they forgot to color them in. I suppose I’m too infected by the lurid vision of Jodorowski’s Dune.

In fact, much about the new adaptation is beautiful yet muted - the cinematography, the storytelling, the performances. It makes good sense for a story about careful politics and intrigue, but I somehow still prefer the bad sense and wild life of Lynch’s movie. Call me contrarian. Of course, when it comes to depicting the idiosyncratic combat and warfare of the book, Villeneuve wins hands down.

Monday, June 14, 2021


Did you know Machiavelli looked like this goof?

Getting political has been the main way to keep higher-level play from becoming too easy or repetitive since basically forever in D&D. There isn’t much about it on the character sheet, though, so it’s not always clear how to do it. I’m going to try to break it down into straightforward steps that I’ve learned through trial and error.

Politics involve goals, power, and opportunity.


You can have politics in one hex, town, or even dungeon if there are individuals or groups with differing goals. However, completely incompatible goals like, “The ogre wants to eat livestock,” and, “the farmers want to keep their livestock,” won't usually result in politics, unless the PCs are interested in negotiating some sort of livestock-sharing agreement. Partially incompatible goals will allow for negotiations, diplomacy, and betrayal. If some actors actually have the same goals but for conflicting reasons, things will become even more complex.

What to do: When you write notes about the inhabitants of an area (including monsters), make sure you add, “and they want...” Make some goals incompatible, but others partially compatible, and still others the same but for different reasons.


Power is the ability to accomplish goals. It is rare for an individual to be able to accomplish all its goals alone. Politics, therefore, is, “the art of the possible:” that is, combining power until it is possible to accomplish a goal.

Power can come from different sources. They tend to boil down to belief, force, knowledge, and wealth (these mirror the four core classes of cleric, fighter, magic user, and thief nicely).

  • Belief can be religious, but it doesn’t have to be. Any ideal, ethic, or opinion is a belief, and the more widely they are shared, the more power they have. “The emperor rules by the Mandate of Heaven,” and, “a democratically elected government represents the will of the people,” are both beliefs that confer power.
  • Force can be overt, like armies, or covert, like assassinations. Fear of force can often be enough to accomplish goals.
  • Knowledge is the stretchiest category, but it often involves technical skill, secrets (i.e. blackmail), or (in D&D) magic or the occult.
  • Wealth means resources, either physical or monetary. In D&D, money isn’t different from any other resource. There is usually only one currency (gold pieces), and everyone values it, including monsters. In real life, money is a belief masquerading as a resource, but you don't need to get into that unless you have a very specific set of players.
Other axes of power are old vs. new and class vs. class. There are always established power centers struggling to stay at the top and upstarts threatening to dethrone them. There almost doesn’t need to be more of a reason for conflict than that. Furthermore, a high-status actor won’t usually betray their own class interest unless there’s a really good reason. Low-status actors will be more likely to betray class interests if they stand to gain from it.

What to do: Answer these questions for your setting: who holds power through belief? Who holds it through force? Who holds it through knowledge? Who holds it through wealth? Sometimes actors hold power through a combination of sources.

Then, ask the reverse question: who requires someone else's source of power to meet their goals? You will start to see who might attempt to ally with whom.


Actors will not always be able to wield their power to accomplish their goals right away. For example, the Bush administration inherited the power of force to invade Iraq, but they could not do so until they created public will through the belief in "weapons of mass destruction" and "ties to terrorism." Often, one actor making a move provides the opportunity for another to make a move.

What to do: As you play, look for conditions that give actors the opportunity to wield their power in their interest. I don't really have a system for doing this - I just ad hoc it. It helps to have all major goals written down in one place, so you can easily reference them.


Individuals will often pool power into organizations to pursue a shared goal. However, only the smallest organizations have truly uniform goals. There will always be differences of opinion, rivalries, and even those using the power of the organization for their own selfish ends. All organizations are essentially the same, be they clubs, churches, mafias, or kingdoms. The more powerful the organization, the more likely it is for individuals to join purely to advance themselves, with no regard for the organization’s stated project. 

What to do: In any organization you make, build in a few factions and rivalries. If it is powerful, include members who are purely selfish.

PCs First

An important thing to remember is that the PCs are the center of the campaign. If the players don't really seem interested in engaging in the politics of the setting, don't foist it on them. If it's fun for you, keep it humming in the background, changing the power environment that the PCs find themselves in. If and when politics becomes relevant to the PCs’ own goals (the most important goals in the game), they will engage with it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Tales of Brechewold

 A few stories:


One of my Brechewold groups has discovered a hoard of golden items in the dungeons: furniture, dish wares, decor, etc. They are the results of Ina the Alchemist’s experiments with the Fool’s Stone. However, they revert back to their original material when touched - a “reverse Midas” situation. They’ve already made good use of it. 

The Empty Knights (enchanted suits of armor) that guard the dungeons can be befriended if one places a literal heart of gold in their opened chest cavity. Upon hearing this, my players asked if there were any taxidermied animals in the gold collection. Of course there were (how could I say no?), so with a combination of an Unseen Servant, a little dissection, and some broom slap shots, they made some new friends.

This group also wants to use the magic forge in the dungeons to make magic weapons out of a troll’s iron heart, and it turns out that the troll most powerful in the forest in Autumn is Miser, who eats gold and silver. Well, they’ve swept some gold nicknacks into a bag, and are off to bait a troll trap.


Another group is more interested in forest economics than dungeon delving. They have secured a Series A round of funding from the lord of the nearby town Ygraine to start a guided tour company with noted local travelogue writer Steve Ricks. They have also convinced the bees of the Llewyn Family Meadery to unionize. They’re simultaneously bringing capitalism and socialism to Brechewold forest. The Merrye Bande of Merrye Outlawes, a group of anarcho-syndicalists, is therefore keen to make their acquaintance.


My third group has recently found out that Merlyn imprisoned a white dwarf star on Mars as a heat source to forge a replacement for Excalibur. The star is (understandably) disgruntled, and the group has convinced themselves that it poses them an existential threat. They are therefore considering their options to deal with it. Currently in the running are finding the gate to Hell in the dungeons and engaging in some demon negotiation, or recovering the elven relic the Jade Warning Bell, currently trapped in a dream dimension. It is said to be able to match the natural frequency of any matter, granting power over it.

Two thoughts: first, my friends and family rule at playing D&D. I’m consistently dumbfounded by the energy and creativity they bring to my simple play tests. Second, I’m really starting to think this book is shaping up nicely. You’ve been warned.

Friday, April 23, 2021

D&Dhammer Battle Report

Ok, let's see how this works. I put together two armies using stats from Old School Essentials:

Orcs and Goblins

  • Orc footmen (3 units): AC 13 HD 3 ATT +0 ML 8
  • Goblin archers (2 units): AC 13 HD 2 ATT +0 ML 7
  • Goblin spider-riders: AC 13 HD 3 ATT +3 ML 8 (I used the black widow stats. They have a poison attack, but I just decided to increase their attack bonus instead of dealing with that.)
  • Siege Stone Giant: AC 15 HD 9 ATT +7 ML 9

Using the number appearing from OSE as a guideline, this would represent about 180 orcs, 120 goblins, 10-20 spider riders? (the NA for black widows is 3, but that seems far too low), and 1-6 giants. However, there's no real reason this couldn't represent twice or three times those numbers. There's definitely room to use your best judgment and try to keep things proportional.

Vampire Lords

  • Skeleton horde (3 units): AC 12 HD 3 ATT +0 ML X
  • Brigand archers (2 units): AC 13 HD 2 ATT +0 ML 8
  • Giant bats: AC 13 HD 2 ATT +1 ML 8
  • Vampire knights: AC 17 HD 7 ATT +6 ML 11

The orcs and goblins had 17 HD of units and vampire lords had 14, but they also had the highest-stat unit and 3 that didn't need to check morale.

Round 1

Orcs win initiative. Goblin archers attempt to bring down the vampires' bats, since they're the only ones who can attack flyers, but miss. Bats go after the archers in retaliation, but miss too. Spider-riders hit the vampire knights, who hold morale. The vampires' archers hit the giant, who holds morale. The giant then throws a boulder at the knights, but it doesn't find purchase. Vampire knights charge the goblin archers, who manage to scramble and hide. Finally the orc footmen and skeleton hordes clash, and the orcs inflict two hits.

Round 2

Orcs win initiative again. Goblin archers hit the bats once, who hold morale. Vampire knights charge the goblin archers again, inflicting a hit, but the gobbos barely hang on. Giant goes for the knights, but misses. Bats miss the goblin archers, and spider-riders miss the brigand archers. Brigand archers rain their arrows down on their goblin counterparts, and the little greenskins finally break morale, wiped out since they've lost all HD (At this point, going by the rules I laid out in the previous post, the bats should be impervious to attack, but I'm going to argue with myself and say the giant is big enough to get them so I can keep going). Orcs wipe out the remaining skeletons.

Round 3

Vamps take the initiative this time. Brigands loose on the giant, missing with both attacks. The giant swats the bats out of the sky, wiping them out. Knights tilt at the giant, missing. Spider-riders scurry for the brigand archers, but can't inflict a hit. Orc footmen overrun the brigands, hitting, but the archers hold formation.

Round 4

Orcs regain the initiative. Giant misses the knights, knights miss the giant, spider-riders pull off a coup and hit the knights. Those pesky vamps hold morale. Brigand archers miss the giant. Orc footmen smash the rest of the archers.

Round 5

Vampires take the initiative, and with only the vampire knights remaining they manage to throw the orc footmen into disarray with a hit. Giant misses the knights, but spiders hit. High morale keeps the vampires hanging on.

Round 6

Vampires hold the initiative, and with a well-timed charge they force the giant into disarray. However, the spider-riders countercharge, sending the vamp knights into disarray. Orc footmen manage to reform their ranks.

Round 7

Vampires keep the initiative, manage to pull themselves together, and hit the spiders, who are thrown into disarray. The giant can't pull it back together. Orcs can't attack the mounted knights, since the knights are cavalry and too fast for the footmen.

Round 8

Vampires manage to keep the initiative yet again and rout the spiders, pushing them off the field. Since the remaining orc footmen cannot attack the knights, they just hurl insults at them. The giant can attack the knights...but misses.

Round 9

Vampires keep the initiative and I start to wonder if Google's dice roller is broken. The knights hit the giant, sending it into disarray. Since the orcs can't attack, they decide to quit the field. The vampires have won, but at a great material cost.

What I noticed:

  • Initiative is a harsh mistress. Winning 6 out of 9 times definitely gave the vamps the edge.
  • It has the same weaknesses as regular D&D combat - lots of misses and rounds where nothing really changes.
  • 1 HD footmen units are pretty squishy. I don't think this is necessarily a problem. They are basically shields, like linemen in football.
  • What would happen if the orcs had no units that could attack the bats? Battle over? I suppose the orcs could try to push their luck and take out as many units as they could before the bats became a big enough problem and they had to retreat. Fielding balanced forces that can deal with a number of threats will be important.
  • Similarly, when it came down to the vampire knights and the orc footmen, the orcs couldn't attack. This isn't necessarily a problem, but I might institute a rule that if cavalry attack footmen but miss, footmen can counterattack if they haven't attacked that round. However, I don't want to keep making situational rules like this that make the rules more fiddly.
  • It took about a half hour to do all the rolling and typing. It might be a little bit longer if I was narrating the battle at the table. That seems pretty good as an add-on to a campaign climax session. However, it could be a lot longer if players can't decide how to command their forces.
Overall, though, this does seem to hang together. I have a campaign now in its 6th year where things have moved pretty far into domain-level play, and the players barely use their character sheets anymore. I'll probably use this system with them before too long and try to refine it further. Some next steps: codifying magic some more, dealing with fortifications, and stuff like ambushes/surprise attacks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Ah, the elusive mass combat system. I've overthought this for a long time. Just use regular monster stats, ya dummy!

Specifically AC, HD, THAC0/Attack Bonus, and Morale. Ignore everything else. Each unit is represented by the stats for one creature of the troop type. If there are several units of the same troop type, multiply the HD by how many units there are. If you're not sure how many individuals one "unit" should represent, use the maximum number appearing. Try to keep the HD numbers small but proportional.

No maneuvering unless you feel like it. The type of unit determines who it can attack (adapted from Matt Colville's Strongholds and Followers rules):

  • Footmen and big monsters: can only attack other footmen/biggies if any are on the field, followed by archers, and finally siege engines.
  • Archers and flyers: can attack anyone.
  • Cavalry, fast monsters, and siege engines: can attack anyone except flyers.
If you want to get a little more advanced, you could say that any unit that was attacked in melee (so like, attacked by footmen or non-ranged monsters) must pass a morale check (2d6) to attack a different unit (instead of the one that attacked it) that turn.

Roll initiative. Each side takes turns using units until none are left, and then roll initiative again. Ideally, this would happen alongside the PCs engaging in normal D&D combat against the enemy commander or executing a special mission.

Units make attack rolls as normal against each other. A successful "hit" reduces the defender HD by 1. 

Each time a unit is hit but has HD left, it must make a morale check, adding the total hits accumulated to the roll. If it succeeds, it may continue to act normally. If it fails, it is in disarray and may not act again until it passes a morale check. If a unit is hit while in disarray, it is routed and flees from battle.

I have two ideas for how to handle a unit reduced to 0 HD: 

  1. Wiped out immediately. Simple.
  2. It is only wiped out if it fails a morale check. I like that this would allow for units to hang on for heroic last stands. I worry that this would make low-HD, high-morale units punch too far above their weight. You would have to keep counting hits to add to morale checks.
Mindless units, like some undead, do not check morale at all but are automatically wiped out at 0 HD.

If a commander is on the field, all units add the commander's Charisma bonus to their Morale score. A 12 is still a failure.

In order for a spellcaster to use spells in battle, it must be at least 9th level and use up spell slots (of at least the spell level) equal to the HD of the unit it is casting the spell on. Adjudicate special creature abilities on a case-by-case basis. I haven't thought magic and special abilities through very well.

Even though this is simpler than a real wargame, it is still a lot to add on to a regular D&D combat, so you'd only want to run maybe one or two climactic battles per campaign like this. I'm taking a look at the War Machine rules from the Rules Cyclopedia to try to adapt it into something I'd use. It reduces a battle to one roll, but there's a lot that goes into determining the modifiers to the roll. I'll post my version of that eventually. Honestly, most of the time, you probably don't even need to roll for the results of a battle unless it seems like it would be close. Even then, if the PCs accomplish their part of the battle, their side should win unless it really doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Only DM Advice in Brechewold, I Swear

A subject fraught with peril, to be sure, but I gotta admit I'm feeling good about this lil nug I wrote as part of the Brechewold intro:

This book does not present a plot. There is neither a predetermined conclusion nor a set path to follow. When DMing, I resist the temptation to think of myself as a storyteller. I am not telling a story. I am creating the conditions for and participating in a game of imagination structured by weighted chance. “Story” is what the players will tell when the game is over. I haven’t discovered a truly useful analogue to the role of a DM. Though it shares skills with storytellers, traditional game designers, teachers, theatrical directors, psychologists, and architects, it is a unique thing.

So, do not prepare a plot. Set the scenario. Provide enough information for players to make informed choices for their characters. Become familiar with the goals and personalities of the book’s NPCs, and then pay attention. Pay attention to possible conflict or convergence between players’ choices and NPCs’ goals. Pay attention when the players ignore certain undercurrents and allow NPCs to pursue their goals unhindered. Advance the scenario, updating the players with new information as their characters would learn it.

Above all, respect the players’ agency. They must be free to make any choice allowed within the confines of the setting and the comfort and fun at the table. Do not move things around in the imagined world to render their choices meaningless. The NPCs are allowed to be deceptive, but the DM is not. Err on the side of providing too much information if players are unsure what to do, but let them make the choice. Let them surprise you. Let them create chaos. Shed your preconceived notions and allow the imagined world to react naturally to players’ choices.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Some Brechewold Forest Spots


These are a few hexes that will be part of the preview chapter of The Yellow Book of Brechewold.

B1. Waterfall Mine and the Crone

  • Landscape: wet, pool-filled foothills leading to craggy mountains; the River Slither finds its source here

  • The River Slither is thin here but leads back to a pool into which a tall, slender waterfall empties

  • Barely perceptible, a set of narrow, overgrown stairs is carved into the cliff up the side of the waterfall, leading to a rough-bored mine entrance behind the falls

    • Entrance: moss and lichen crust the rocky opening, mist and mottled light from the falls. Ahead, a rickety ladder pokes out of a wide hole. Ten feet above the hole, a round trap door is mostly obscured by a layer of moss

    • Hidden Cache: 

    • Descent: an old wooden ladder leads down a 60 foot shaft with about a foot of water at the bottom; 1-in-20 chance of the ladder breaking on the way down, increasing by another 1-in-20 for each additional person who uses it

    • Mourning Ghosts: a swirling collection of 1d4+1 elf ghosts dressed in ancient garb, from the time fairies lived on earth. They mourn the death of King Mountain-Fears-the-Rain, not realizing that they themselves have died. They encourage others to join in the mourning, and will attack guests who try to leave

      • Elf Ghost: AC 6 [13] HD 1 HP 4 ATTACKS 2 (Hobbling touch: save or take d4 Dexterity damage, Distended jaw: save or take d4 Constitution damage (plus any change in HP)), immune to non-magic damage

    • Altar: a large rectangular slab of quartz ornately carved, on which rest offerings of flowers and candles occasionally left by questing fairy knights; anyone of fairy blood may leave a meaningful offering in return for ancestral guidance on a big decision

    • Elf-Silver Seam: an unlit old gold lantern (1,000 gp) hangs from the ceiling. If lit, it will illuminate a large seam of rare elf-silver, as strong as iron but may be used by elves

    • Tunnel: a rotting wooden catwalk leads the way over the waterlogged tunnel; 1-in-6 chance of breaking through a board and plunging into the water, which is infested with hallucinoleeches

      • Hallucinoleech: AC 9 [10] HD 0 HP 1 ATTACKS 1 (Bite: +3 to hit, save vs. poison or believe you are in your favorite place, never wanting to leave the water: -1 HP per turn spent there motionless and leech-covered)

    • Flood: The low chamber is flooded completely with glassy water; the ornate stairs and just-visible statues of griffins peeking above the water hint that this place is very different from the rest of the mine. In the center of the room is a chest with some of the king’s effects: elf-silver idols (2,000 gp), ceremonial gold headdress (3,000 gp), barbed whip, tinder that will light a fire even underwater (400 gp)

    • Tomb of the Warrior-King: the mummified remains of King Mountain-Fears-the-Rain are entwined in roots which have grown around him as a sort of sarcophagus. His shield is at his side (bronze, grinning sun motif). Before him is a stone pedestal carved with bell imagery with a neatly folded note on top: Had to nip in and borrow this, chaps. Return it in a flash. ~M. This is the true resting-place of the Jade Warning Bell (The Crystal Cave, p. )

  • Perched on an impossibly high peak is a little chocolate box of a cottage on chicken legs. This is the home of Mim the Crone of the Maiden, Mother, Crone coven

  • Fat, wrinkled, with wild hair and warts, she is nearly always naked; speaks like a sweet old lady in a Monty Python sketch until stressed, when she flies into a histrionic rage

  • She rides a somewhat uncooperative copper pot through the night, looking for children to cook and eat

  • Resources: elf-silver, hard as iron but won’t burn elves

C1. Bargaz and Saint Ophrenia the Only-Lightly-Singed

  • Landscape: a marshy, sandy, and desolate estuary

  • Bargaz, a cave-dwelling giant, is a mass of scarred, knotted sinew with raptor eyes and crooked teeth. He is naked save the large key he wears around his neck and drags a shillelagh behind him

  • The key opens the Smoking Mountain. His father was contracted to build the mountain, but took the key when the Knights of the Round Table refused to pay a pagan savage

  • Bargaz is one of three giant brothers who live in the forest, along with Balam (A4, p. ) and Bancroft (see Random Encounters, p. ). Each takes a different approach to humanity. Bargaz lives as little more than a wild predatory beast, believing that any semblance of civilization is mere pretense and a denial of the world’s true nature

  • The shrine to Saint Ophrenia, patron saint of third degree burns and disfigurement sits half-buried in sand among the rushes along a tributary to the River Lethe

  • The saint stands peacefully, holding a sword before her, sculpted to be wreathed in stone flame to commemorate the warrior-nun’s battle with the Dragon of Dyfed Mawr

  • Blessing: Those with grievous wounds earned in battle, particularly burns, may present an offering of vanquished foes in return for healing and making all your scars look really cool, giving you a mysteriously magnetic aura (+1d4 Charisma, up to 18)

D2. Watchtower and Saint Fagan the Unwise

  • Landscape: rocky crags, twisted oak and scrub pine

  • A ruined watchtower sits atop a rocky outcropping

  • A partially-intact stained glass window depicts Arthur and Guenivere presiding over feasting knights

  • Thanks to a rift in the fabric of this enchanted forest, once per month the house of the Fates teeters precariously on top of the tower in the light of a waning gibbous moon halfway between full and half

  • The Fates go by Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen in this part of the world. They sit at three looms, hopelessly trying to weave a single tapestry which covers every surface in the house, bunching and fraying in many places. They frantically attempt to coordinate, but are hopelessly confused. They may appear as wild-haired old women, radiant maidens, or any other form

  • They will each take one question, but their harried, distracted answers will only direct the questioner to a certain fold in the weave of Fate. Examination requires a save against magic. 

    • Fail: temporarily blinded and insane for d4 hours after glimpsing the incomprehensible underpinnings of the Universe 

    • Pass less than 20: the Fates have directed you to the wrong part of the tapestry, and what you see does not help you 

    • Natural 20: you find your thread weaving its way into the future and work with the GM to answer your question. Additionally, on one future roll that directly affects you (rolled either by you or the GM), you may choose the number rolled and reveal that you spied this in the tapestry

  • The Shrine to Saint Fagan the Unwise sits in the center of a set of stones placed in the River Lethe as a crossing. Fagan is the patron saint of doomed enterprises

  • His statue exudes youthful exuberance and overconfidence. It faces a waterfall, behind which is the old lair of a troll he attempted to convert to Christianity. He succeeded, but could not stop the troll from eating him anyway

  • The lair is strewn with piles of gnawed-on bones and coins, jewelry, and weapons worth 120 gp. 50% chance of finding one of the forest’s trolls rooting around (see Forest Encounters)

  • Blessing: for an offering of a valuable object acquired foolishly, the supplicant may choose to pass a roll with a 20% or less chance of success. Mark one use of the blessing. The next time the character wishes to use the blessing, they must roll above the number marked on a d4 or automatically fail the roll

Monday, November 16, 2020

Brechewold Preview Chapter Cover

I’m nearing a full draft of The Yellow Book of Brechewold. I’ll post more excerpts soon. Once I’m happy with the words, I’m going to work on the layout of the surrounding forest chapter as a sort of proof of concept and preview chapter that I’ll put up on DTRPG or something.

A huge chunk of the art is also done. I still have the maps to do, and I think I will have to wait until I’m far along in layout to know if I want to do any more watercolor illustrations. The covers for both the preview and the final book will be digital, bright, and simple. Here’s the preview cover:

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

We Are Not Alone

As this splendid isolation drags on, I’ve dipped a toe into board game design. Well, it’s really sort of a board game/RPG hybrid called “We Are Not Alone,” inspired in large part by Diplomacy and the megagame Watch the Skies (check out a pretty sweet play video here). I guess I’ve been thinking about how a pandemic is essentially no different from an alien invasion. There’s this vague sense I get from pop culture that somehow humans would come together in the face of such an invasion (Independence Day, Watchmen, etc), but...of course we wouldn’t. Look around. 

So in this game, each player controls a nation or group of nations, and the GM (Mothership) controls an alien threat. But it’s not a cooperative game. For now, I’ve been giving each player unique, competing goals to accomplish in addition to defeating the aliens. However, I’m thinking about simplifying that to “whoever controls the most territory when the aliens are defeated wins.” Not sure yet. I like the idea of having asymmetrical goals better, in the Braunstein tradition, but the idea of balancing them so they’re all equally accomplishable makes my eyes glaze over.

In fact, balancing in general is a little overwhelming. I never bother in RPGs, because in my mind that’s missing the point. But in a competitive board game, it’s pretty necessary.

I’m pretty proud of the resource management system. Another result of my increased online diet is that I've become more convinced by Modern Monetary Theory, at least the broad strokes. It's the idea that sovereign fiat-currency governments are constrained by physical resources, labor, and politics, but not by money. This is certainly true during wartime, when even historically nations would often suspend the gold standard to "pay" for the war. So I didn't want players spending money and potentially running out during the game, which just wouldn't be possible in our modern system.

Instead of money, players have three constraints on what they're able to accomplish in a given turn: Oil and Mining territories, which represent physical resources; the number of territories controlled, which represents labor pool; and Political Capital. Political Capital is the number of actions a player can take in a turn and is an average of stats which represent the health of different aspects of the player's nation or coalition. It's an abstract and perhaps naive nod to the notion that governments are at least a little bit beholden to their people (or party) in order to have the leeway to pursue their foreign policy.

Here is a Google Drive folder with the rules and game assets so far. My friends and I have been playtesting on Astral Tabletop. I set the board as the “Map” and the playing pieces as “Characters”. You have to make all the players GMs so they don’t see fog of war and can move all the pieces around. So, I’d be grateful for any feedback you have, especially on the balancing front. And if you actually attempt to play the damn thing, please share your experience!

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. Grapevine
  6. Oak
  7. Pine
  8. Pine-cone
  9. Aspen
  10. 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 like that the guy supports Jordan Peterson (who is an ass). However, who Raggi has chosen to work with seems to speak loudly that he is very much pro-trans people. If you have any evidence to the contrary, please let me know and I will change my opinion. 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 was 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.

(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.)