19 October 2013

My God, It's Full of Hair: One Night With Vast & Starlit

Please excuse the title of this post. You see, a couple of weeks back I played Vast & Starlit at Open RPG Night and V&S features a very interesting alien creation mechanic. It works (roughly) like this:
  • Every player names an animal they are familiar with.
  • Each player, in turn, picks one of the animals and singles out a defining feature. Another player then chooses to either exaggerate or invert that feature.
  • This is repeated until each animal has been picked over.
  • The results are combined into some kind of bizarre creature.
As you can imagine, when it came time to invent an alien we made good use of the above. If I recall correctly we combined moray eels, squid and sheep. The result was an impossibly hirsute creature that used its hair as tentacles to traverse an alien forest. We called them 'Wigs' and they were a peaceful, nomadic people until we landed on their planet and ate them.

I seem to have gotten ahead of myself, just what is Vast & Starlit? V&S is a nanogame from  Epidiah Ravachol and it has a very interesting price tag: $1 and a drawing. The game is tiny, fitting on a single piece of card about twice the size of a business card. It packs a surprisingly large punch for its small size. Within minutes we had created our merry band of escaped convicts and were soaring through space on The Warden's Wife.

I can't really say too much about the game's mechanics. It's only about 400 words long and anything particularly descriptive here might just as well be a scanned copy of the game. What I can tell you is that it is very much on the story game end of the spectrum. It has no fixed GM and players take turns establishing scenes and determining outcomes. There is no dice rolling, bidding, point economy or other gaming structures to get in the way. Players simply take turns setting up pieces, guided by V&S' rules, and role play things out. The result s a fun and quick game that occasionally left me wishing for Fate's cruel hand to throw me a curve ball.

The lack of a random element really is this game's greatest weakness. Vast & Starlit does a great job of giving the players a lot of elements to jam off of, but a problem arises when it is time to end a conflict scene. One of the players chooses whether something is dangerous, difficult or both and then events proceed based on specific requirements for those three scenarios. The trouble with this is that as a player involved in the game I felt bad about being cruel to the other player characters. I didn't want to kill or maim them and there seemed to be a similar reluctance coming from the other players at the table. Without that die roll to take the blame, even if the odds would have been terrible, conflict didn't have sharp enough teeth. This would have been less of an issue had a I been playing with my regular group, rather than the ragtag band of RPG enthusiasts that showed up for Open RPG Night, as I would have known where my fellow player's limits were.

Vast & Starlit is fun and it is tiny. It isn't a game that I see myself coming back to very often, but I don't think it needs to be. It will sit on my gaming shelf and wait for its time to shine. I'm filing this one away in the "use in case of absent player(s)" box. I say it's worth getting your hands on, if only as an excuse to draw some terrible pictures and snail mail them away.

14 September 2013

Lasers & Feelings & Game Night

Last week my Open RPG Night played Lasers & Feelings (PDF Warning), the latest single page RPG from John Harper/One Seven Design. It's a swashbuckling, Star-Trek-esque game inspired by a song by The Doubleclicks. As is usual for one of Harper's games, it is an RPG boiled down to only the most necessary elements.

I became aware of the game the day before and I knew that it would be perfect for our open nights. I wasn't expecting to play the game so soon after learning about it, but when several of the players called for a space opera game I knew what had to happen.

The game really is very simple. You make a character by combining two archetypes described as Style and Job and then you choose a number between 2 and 5. How high or low that number is determines whether you are better at Lasers or Feelings and all tests are handled by trying to roll above or below the number. Direct hits allow players to ask questions about the world and get true answers. There are a few other wrinkles, but I'll let you read about those yourself rather that type up the whole game here.

Space Pirates - Build - Ancient Space Ruin - Destroy a Solar System

One thing that I always love to see included in micro games like this is a quick and dirty way for a GM to generate an adventure. L&F has that in spades and in just a few rolls I had generated the scenario bolded above. What does it mean? For the most part that is left up to you, but it's amazing how just a few words can provide enough to jumpstart a few hours of role playing.

Our night of gaming went like this:
  • Character creation and rules explanation - 5 minutes
  • Character introductions - 10-20 minutes
  • First act: in which the crew discovers the space pirates - 30 minutes
  • Second act: in which the crew infiltrates the space pirates - 40 minutes
  • Third act - in which the crew sabotages and escapes the space pirates - 40 minutes
  • Epilogue - in which a planet is accidentally imploded - 10 minutes
  • Chatting about the game - 30 minutes
All said, a pretty good time.

Oh, what's that? You want to know how a planet was accidentally imploded?

Since you asked...

The space pirates were trying to restore a piece of ancient, yet advanced, technology on a forgotten desert planet. This piece of technology was capable of collapsing entire solar systems and when the heroic crew learned what its purpose was they tried to shut it down. Unfortunately nearly all of them, save a single psychotic doctor, had specialized in Feelings. They were incapable of saving the day by turning off the machine or subtly sabotaging it. No, instead they drove a vehicle into its power core. They escaped the planet just in time to avoid being destroyed with it. Why did it implode? I don't know. The workings of super-advanced ancient technology is beyond me.

A basic character sheet

While L&F is as simple an RPG as you are going to find, I am always looking for ways to speed things along on our open RPG nights. Prior to game night I invested a little time in laying out a basic character sheet for the players. I'd have also liked to do one for the spaceship, but in the end I didn't have enough time to do so. If I whip out L&F again I may do a ship sheet to add to the package.

click image for download and second page

16 August 2013

No good deed goes unpunished.

I recently mentioned how I had started an Open RPG Night in my city and that each week a random assortment of gamers assemble to play an arbitrarily chosen game. Last week that game was Dungeon World and this week a group of (mostly) different people chose to play Apocalypse World.

This time around I wasn't in the GM's seat and I got to flex my player muscles for the first time in, oh, about six months. And boy did I ever flex those muscles. In less than ten minutes I had put together a chopper named Domino, a man that was best described as a greasy, overweight "leatherdaddy". What can I say? There's just something about Apocalypse World that makes me want to play a sadistic gang leader.

While I was busy bringing Domino to life, the GM had whipped up a zombie apocalypse scenario and the other two players had finished making their Battlebabe (Jayed) and Brainer (Sin). The other two players didn't have a clue how nasty a character Domino would turn out to be. For that matter, neither did I.

Domino and Jayed got off to a bad start before the game even began, with Jayed ending up with some Hx (history) with Domino that had placed them at odds in the past. Domino has a good memory and like any gang leader, he holds grudges. Jayed, on the other hand, was a wasteland hero. You know, the kind of guy that helps people out and has the everyone's best interests in mind. The kind of guy whose naivety gets someone killed. Sin, well what can you say about a Brainer? Domino and Jayed knew nothing about him and he knew everything about us.

Things started rolling with Jayed returning to town after having found a farm, a farm riddled with undead. Where there is a farm there is a food and Sunset Mall, our little community, was desperately in need of food. So where does Jayed turn to get the firepower he needs to clear out those zombies? None other than yours truly, violent gang leader and all around bastard. Domino bargained hard, but Jayed was eventually able to convince him to lend his muscle to cleaning out the farm for a sizable portion of the food. Domino fully intended to keep the farm for himself once he and his gang had occupied it, but Jayed didn't need to know that.

Come the next day things got bloody. Domino had a hard time convincing his gang to travel to the farm and leave their motorcycles behind while they moved through rough terrain. He had to crack a few heads and even kill one rebellious upstart before the gang started moving. From there it went smoothly until the gang got to the farm and Jayed decided he knew better than Domino and started issuing orders to the gang. Domino told him to piss off and Jayed ran off to help Sin.

Sin's story was happening alongside everything else. He was nearly always there, hidden and watching and someone had hired him to dive into a specific zombie's brain to find out the location of their child. That zombie was on the farm and when Jayed found him he was grappling with that zombie and about to go down. Ever the hero, Jayed jumped into save his life. Unfortunately there were too many zombies for the two of them to fight and Jayed had to call for backup. Domino heard the call, walked in, blew the zombies apart with his shotgun and walked away to continue overseeing the destruction.

Once the zombies had been cleared out the gang grabbed what food they could and wanted to head back to Sunset Mall. The farm was away from any roads and the gang wanted no part in actually controlling the farm so Domino was willing to let the farm go. Jayed challenged his leadership a few more times, demanding that they leave guards and build defenses. Neither was done and instead Domino started plotting on what to do with Jayed, who had challenged his authority one too many times.

That night Domino visited Sin and convinced him to use his Brainer powers to walk Jayed right into a trap. Sin agreed, perhaps too eagerly, and a deal was struck. The following morning Jayed was captured and beaten within an inch of his life. He put up a good fight, but on one man is no match for fifteen no matter how tough he is. The game ended with Domino dumping Jayed on the outskirts of Sunset Mall and telling him never to return.


  • I was worried that playing an aggressive character like Domino could ruin the night; however, the group I played with made it work and there were no hurt feelings. I think it helped that I didn't push the inter-character conflict until the end of the session so that it didn't distract from the other events.
  • Apocalypse World was a hit with the two players that had never tried anything beyond D&D. This doesn't surprise me, but it is always nice to see players open up to something unfamiliar.
  • Everyone wanted to play AW again and with the same characters. Jayed's player wanted an opportunity to get  his revenge, so I think we will run AW again in the near future with myself as GM and Domino as an NPC villain.

9 August 2013

Indigo Galleons and Sea Ghouls

This is the 'cover' panel of the trifold.

Last week I hosted the first weekly "Open RPG Night" in my city. I did so with the help of my local RPG Meetup group and while RSVPs were sparse at first, they came flying in during the last 24 hours or so.

The group that assembled consisted of myself and one other RPG fanatic as well as a handful people that were dipping their toes into the hobby or had schedules that don't allow for a regular RPG group. We sat down and voted on a game to play and after about ten minutes of deliberation the group decided on Dungeon World. Genius that I am, I had predicted Dungeon World being selected1 and had printed off a copy of each character sheet and the truly excellent Indigo Galleon adventure.

The Indigo Galleon is what I really want to tell you about today. It is one exceptionally well put together adventure from the mind of one John Aegard. It was written for Dungeon World, but any GM worth their salt should be able to use it with their system of choice.2

Why do I think The Indigo Galleon is so great? Let me count the ways:
  1. It fits on a single piece of paper, double sided.
  2. There are no less than 4 different Fronts.
  3. Three different maps (ship, world, dungeon)
  4. Not a single word waster.
  5. Excellent layout.
  6. 100% free.
This adventure is exactly what I look for in a module that I haven't prepared myself. It places all of the pieces I need for a memorable game in front of me and then leaves it up to me to assemble them. There is none of that flipping through pages to find out what happens if the PCs do X or what is in room Y. No, The Indigo Galleon is content to provide you with an environment pregnant with adventure. It gives you a ship full of ghouls, octopus people preparing a ritual to summon a magical beast, a storm, pirates and a pirate captain that has gone missing.

Dungeon World's fronts have been discussed across the Internet at this point and I'm not going to go into detail on why they're great. I will say that The Indigo Galleon implements them exactly how they should be done, something that I rarely see even from other adventures published for Dungeon World. There are four fronts, all of which are progressing at about the same rate. Heroes are going to be torn between crisis and as they reach the end of their tracks it will all come to a glorious head, or at least it did when we played through the adventure.

My Open RPG Night group finished the adventure in about four hours, but we had to rush it a bit near the end so I think a five hour block is needed to truly do the adventure justice. If we had been planning to carry on with a campaign it would have served as an ideal starter, especially given how the adventure ended (with the heroes hiding in caverns from an enormous sea monster from a summoning gone wrong.)

If you want to take The Indigo Galleon for a spin of your own, you can get it for free from John's website.

1 New gamers or gamers coming back into the hobby almost always the most familiar option. It came as no surprise to me that they picked Dungeon World due to its similarities with a certain other fantasy RPG.
2 One of the best things about Dungeon World is that any adventures written for it are practically system agnostic. Monsters and NPCs are primarily described with keywords and phrases and GM moves are essentially just suggestions on how to handle the adventure.

3 August 2013

Chroma Team Revised

Regular readers of this blog may remember that my game, Chroma Team VS The Terrorlights, was a finalist in this year's Game Chef. I received a lot of good feedback and suggestions on the game and this weekend I sat down and started revising the game. You can view the current version of the game here, and I have kept the original Game Chef entry around for those curious about such things.

The revised game grew has grown by almost a thousand words and includes rule clarifications, math fixes and a few less grammar mistakes and typos. Of course, that doesn't account for anywhere near the increased word count. What does? I'm glad you asked.

City Creation

Chroma Team now feature a city creation aspect. During character creation the players will define important locations of the city they are protecting and lay them out on the table. Threats now target specific locations and if heroes aren't careful those threats will spread across the city.

Threat Proliferation

As mentioned above, if heroes completely fail at overcoming threats those threats will move out across the city and wreak havoc. This new mechanic has the added benefit of giving the push your luck rolls more teeth as well as making the aftermath phase of the game less depressing because heroes can have, at most, only a single failure per location where previously there was no limit.

Super Powers

Heroes now have access to super powers/special abilities. This takes the form a of a simple mechanic that allows players to exchange transformation energy for reducing threats.


The changes to the way threats work and allowing the addition of super powers meant that transformation would no longer work as written. I altered transformation so that instead of gathering energy to reach a transformation state the heroes instead increase their odds of a successful transformation with each threat they overcome.

I think that Chroma Team is definitely an improved game from the original Game Chef entry, but I think it still needs a lot of playtesting and tweaking before it gets to where I would like it to be. Again, you can get Chroma Team Revised here and, as always, I want to hear from you if you play it.

30 June 2013

Orc Name Generator

Today I add an Orc name generator to my list of name generators. The seeds for this one came from a list of notable Orcs from Lord of the Rings, Paizo's Orcs of Golarion and a list of notable Orcs of Mystara. The tribe/last names started with a list of words from the tribes of Mystara and Golarion and I expanded from there.

11 June 2013

A while back J.D. Barnes put a call out to the RPG blogosphere to take a look at his latest project, a megadungeon meets small press zine called The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord.  Normally I only look at PDFs here at Impossible Boulder, but Barnes is going back to basics with his foray into megadungeonry and that interests me. You might be thinking OSR and you're right in that TRFotEO is ostensibly an old school dungeon; however, the goals and results are more in line with the artisanal movement. Indie publishing in the RPG industry almost always takes the form of PDF products or print on demand and Barnes is deliberately eschewing that in favour of product that is hand made and available only directly through him. 

The Thing Itself

The dungeon arrived in a manila envelope and I was eager to open it up and see exactly what an artisinal RPG product might look like. It turns out that takes the form of a small, stable-bound blue booklet with an unattached cover. The cover threw me off at first, but I soon discovered that it also doubles as a map and the reason it is unattached is for ease of use.

The cover is a very nice touch, if unusual. The hand drawn isometric map looks good, but between faded ink, spotty printing and crosshatching/shading that didn't make it through the scanning and printing process it was difficult to read. The map could do with some post scan work being done on it in image editor of some kinds. I think cleaning up and thickening the lines would go a long way for improving legibility of the map and a lighter shade of blue might make the lines pop more.

Moving on from the cover is the actual meat of the booklet, 28 pages of pure old school dungeon. The paper is of high quality but, as with the map, there are places where the ink is spotty. Future printings would benefit from experimenting with ink weights and print quality. I wouldn't say that this booklet hits the quality that the author is aiming for, but keep in mind that this is the first printing. Nobody can be expected to get things perfect on the first try and it is going to take a few tweaks before we start seeing the expected print quality.

Initial Reading & Alterations For Play

I took an initial read through the dungeon before throwing it out on the table for my players to clean out. I was pleased to see that the voice was casual while remaining concise and the text was free of any glaring errors as far as I could see.

Ruined Fortress is very much an old school dungeon with a great set of wandering monsters and encounters that could have been arranged more gracefully. The booklet uses several dice rolls to determine those encounters and the information is not communicated with a table and is instead spread out across enough paragraphs to slow a GM down during play. The dungeon layout is also quite old school and falls into the Paul Jaquays style of mapping. Not every room has anything of interest in it, but all of the larger rooms do and once you account for random encounters and patrolling monsters (such as the blue dragon) the ruined fortress should be a very lively place.

I should note that at least one room in the dungeon felt a little forced, as if the designer didn't really know what to put there. I am speaking of the shield room, a room filled with stacks of shields which happen to have the world's worst alarm system: a fragile glass bottle that has been precariously placed underneath a shield so that it falls when disturbed. I'm at a loss as to the purpose of this room. The trap was weird and seemingly ineffective (what good is a single such potion? There should at least be one on each stack of shields.) It also wouldn't have been detectable by a party in any way short of dumb luck, which places it in that Gygaxian class of traps which are unfair because nobody would ever think to do X. This was really the only room that sent me for a loop, but it still strikes me as bizarre a week later. Still, weird traps like this are part of the charm of old school dungeons and I can't bring myself to be mad at it.

After I had a feel for the dungeon I made a few alterations so that I could slide it into my current Dungeon World campaign.
  1. Since I only have the first level of the Ruined Fortress, I turned the place into a (mostly) single level ruined monastery.
  2. I moved it to a hill overlooking a ruined town.
  3. I changed the back story so that it fit with the monastery theme; however, it didn't end up being important for the adventure anyway.
  4. I ignored all of the monster stats since they don't carry over to the Dungeon World system. Note that I did use them as guidelines for my conversions.

Highlights From Play

I don't want to go through the entire dungeon here, if you want that then you should pick up a copy of the dungeon for yourself. Instead I will cover a few of the highlights from our run through the dungeon. I should note that all of these things happened very organically and at least two of them were generated in from encounter tables.

The Berbalang

Berbalangs are, to my knowledge, a new monster from the mind of Barnes and by pure serendipity the encounter surrounding the berbalang encounter fit into my game very well.

The hook I used to bring my players to this dungeon was that one of the players was trapped on the Astral Plane and the 'monastery' housed a point where the fabric between planes was weak. The PCs in the material plane would need to visit the monastery and perform a ritual in tandem with the Astral PC in order to bring him over.

Since berbalangs hunt via astral projection it was the perfect monster to have an encounter with which could involve both the astral and material PCs. The astral PC protected the other PCs from the berbalang while they explored the fortress and sought out the location for the ritual.

Goblin Tribe

My group of players managed to befriend some wandering goblins, which brought them back to Gooch. Upon learning that they had human prisoners and that Gooch was a nasty piece of work (what did they expect from Goblins?) one of the heroes challenged Gooch to a duel for leadership of the tribe, and won. This will surely be a problem for later on.

Rival Adventurers

While wandering through the dungeon, searching for the ritual location, the heroes stumbled upon a rival adventuring party. The meeting did not go well, especially not with several goblin in tow. The silver-tongued bard managed to smooth things over, but only if the party gave up looting rights in exchange for free passage to and from the ritual chamber. That turned out to be a mistake when the "heroes" used their newfound goblin tribe to ambush and mug the adventurers they had previously struck a deal with.

Avoiding the Blue Dragon

The blue dragon that wanders the halls of the ruined keep monastery showed up regularly on my encounter rolls, but always seemed to be a room or two a way. This lead to the players picking their way around him and sneaking by regularly. A mistake on my part was giving the dragon the wrong name, Saul, which lead to Breaking Bad jokes

Final Thoughts

This is a quirky dungeon that nails the old school, do-it-yourself adventures you used to see people pass around or share in zines. There are a few production kinks that I am confident will be worked out and none of those kinks render the final product any less usable. The dungeon won't appeal to everyone and especially not those interested in a cohesive, thematic dungeon like you would find in the pages of modern Dungeon Magazines or a Paizo product. This is a little more punk and a lot more old school, it's closer to what you would get before Desert of Desolation came along and changed the way dungeons and adventures were written. Odds are, you already know if that's what you want out of a dungeon. If not, you probably aren't in the target audience for this product.

If you want to take a look through the Ruined Fortress then you can get a copy for yourself from here.

7 June 2013

Game Chef 2013: Chroma Team reaches the finals!

The peer reviewing and nomination process for Game Chef 2013 is over and the finalists have been announced. The dust has settled and ten* games are going before the four expert judges and this year I am astounded to say that my entry is one of those ten.

My goofy little game, that was written stealthily in the middle of the night whilst my wife slept and in spurts as I moved around my home evading wet paint** and moving furniture, was deemed good enough to go to the next round. I'm surprised and honoured that my fellow designers liked the game enough to nominate it.

Whenever I finish a game for one of these contests (be it Game Chef, 24 Hour or something else) I am always left feeling sour. By the time I hit that 'submit' button I despise my game.  I'm always left thinking it's the worst thing ever committed to digital ink. As time passes I warm back up to it, but those first couple of weeks all I have is criticism for myself: This time around was no different and even as I write this I am still in that phase of my creative process. The positive (and constructive) feedback has been quite the shock to my post-design negativity bubble and learning that my game was nominated for the next round is the pinprick that burst it.

Somebody pinch me.

*All look to be interesting games and I will be reading my way through them while we all bide our time nervously until June 12th.
**Which in retrospect might have influenced my decision to use colour so heavily in the game.

31 May 2013

Obscure RPG Appreciation Day: Lone Wolf RPG (1989)

A little blog named Mesmerized By Sirens that focuses on obscure RPGs is running what they call Obscure RPG Appreciation Day and have challenged bloggers to post about a little known RPG. I have decided to join in the fun with this blog post.

Did you know that a Lone Wolf RPG was published way back in 1989? Yes, I do mean the Lone Wolf of choose-your-own-adventure gamebook fame. The name of the game was, unsurprisingly, Lone Wolf RPG and it was published in issue 15 of the Lone Wolf Club newsletter. Taking inspiration from the popular line of Lone Wolf game books a group of dedicated fans outlined a basic role playing system that could be played on a good old fashioned tabletop.

You're probably wondering what this game looked like and you are in luck. Project Aon has made a great deal of Lone Wolf content freely available, including game the gamebooks everyone knows and loves and every issue of the Lone Wolf Club newsletter. The RPG starts on pager 9 of Issue 15. Go give it a read, the author's managed to cram a great deal of content into just two pages.

The rules of Lone Wolf RPG are very simple. Players chose one of two classes and rolled 3d6 to determine a total of seven attributes. Despite the 3d6 character attributes, challenges are actually resolved with a percentile roll with the difficulty being a multiple of a character's related attribute set by the GM. I don't think I have seen that particular take on things before and it seems a bit weird to my eyes, what do you think?

Another interesting quirk of Lone Wolf RPG is that HP is divvied up across different hit locations on your character, so your head has 3 HP, each arm has 2 HP and so on. I really do find it interesting how much crunch and granularity was squeezed into so few words. Modern ultralight games take up just as many pages and aren't nearly so crunch as Lone Wolf is, yet Lone Wolf isn't any more difficult to play.

If you like reading about RPGs that got lost in the passage of time then be sure to spend a few minutes looking through Mesmerized by Sirens. The blog is all about those old games it is a lot of fun to look back on the games that got left behind.

29 May 2013

Campaign Pitch: Djinni Unchained

As May draws to a close I have decided to squeeze in a post for this month's RPG Blog Carnival, hosted over at the always entertaining Age of Ravens. This month's carnival topic is games that you would like to run, so now is as good a time as any for me to do another campaign pitch.

Al-Qadim was always one of WotC/TSR's more interesting settings and it has been heartbreaking to watch it get left to languish in a dusty old corner of the Forgotten Realms. I was happy to see that Paizo touched on the setting briefly with the off-brand Legacy of Fire, but they have since moved away from there to focus on other parts of Golarion. I bring this up because I have long wanted to do an Arabian Nights style fantasy campaign. Desert and middle eastern inspired settings have been overlooked in my gaming circles and I think it would be a lot of fun to play in my own spin on the setting and mix in some old published adventure modules.

Digital Art by João Paulo

Djinni Unchained

My Arabian Nights campaign would start with a bang or, rather, a puff of smoke (bang sold separately) when an old bottle falls off a shelf in a dungeon and shatters on the floor. This, of course, frees whatever was trapped inside the container. In this case the bottle contained our group of player characters which, due to a clumsily worded wish in the past, have been sitting in a bottle for a hundred years.

The PC's will need to climb their way out of the bottom of a dungeon and when they reach the surface they will find the world has radically changed in their absence. The Djinn they accidentally freed has been running rampant across the country, passing out twisted wishes left and right and freeing his magical brethren. Wishes are common place and feared by all. A wish uttered in exasperation could end in disaster and many avaricious men have tried to take advantage of unrestrained wishing, often to their own downfall.

 What will the heroes do in this new world? Will they journey the fantastic desert palace of the djinn they switched places with? Will they set out to explore the new world and right the twisted wishes along the way?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do want to find out.

How I'd Run It

This would be a sandbox game. 100 years of indiscriminate wish granting could make for a very unusual world for a group of heroes to explore. I also think there is a strong chance that the party would be motivated by revenge and will seek to take down the djinn that condemned them to a lifetime of prison. Even if they aren't, I think much of the game will involve recapturing djinni and saving people from their wishes.

This would definitely be a campaign with a heroic mood and I would pull a lot of from the source material that inspires an Arabian Nights setting. There would be a lot of magic, but it would be unpredictable and rarely in the control of the heroes.

What Game Would I Use?

Dungeon World, probably; however, any edition of D&D or D&D style game would do the trick. Maybe it would be fun to dust off AD&D 2e and go full Al-Qadim. I might also take the campaign as an opportunity to run one of the few RPGs designed for an Arabian Nights setting and I think Legend of the Burning Sands would be at the top of that list. I would be also be interested in trying 1001 Nights, but I don't think it is the right game for the style of play I imagine this campaign having.

28 May 2013

Game Chef 2013: Chroma Team vs. The Terrorlights

The design part of Game Chef 2013 is now complete and I am already hard at work on the the peer reviewing phase. I have already shared my initial brainstorming session as well as teased a character sheet, but now that my entry has been submitted it is time to actually share the fruits of my labour.

How's that for an ugly cover?

Chroma Team vs. The Terrorlights

I went with a goofy game this year and built a game about a team of brightly coloured super heroes fighting giant monsters. I named my super hero team the Chroma Team because Power Rangers was already taken and Rainbow Warriors sounded like it would be a game about gay rights activists.

The general premise of CTvT is that a mysterious force (Terrorlights) is sicking giant monsters on the most populated cities in the world. As members of Chroma Team, the players must kick some giant monster butt while also keeping innocents safe and their identities secret. I think I nailed the first two parts of that, but I don't think I really accomplished much on the secret identity front (at least not mechanically).

You can read/download the Game Chef 2013 copy of Chroma Team vs. The Terrorlights here. As always, I would love to hear from you if you read or play the game.

25 May 2013

Game Chef 2013: Character Sheet Teaser

The clock is ticking on Game Chef 2013 and submissions are due when it is no longer May 26th anywhere in the world. Naturally, with less than 48 hours left on the clock I have decided that my time is better spent updating my blog than actually working on the game. It's all part of the creative process, I swear!

I have stepped away from designing and proofreading to tease the character sheet for my entry and without further ado, here it is:
I could explain everything on this sheet to you, but I think it will be more fun to leave it up to your imagination until I do up a proper blog post on my entry to the competition. I've stuck fairly closely to my original vision in the brainstorming post and maybe you can glean some hints from there. I will also say that the name of the game has changed to Chroma Team VS The Terrorlights, make of that what you will.

18 May 2013

Game Chef 2013: Ingredients & Brainstorming

Game Chef is back for 2013 and I am already scratching my head and staring at the ingredients. I have participated in Game Chef twice before, 2010 and 2011, but have never won or placed as a finalist (historically I have done better with the 24/48 hour jams).

This year's ingredients come in the form of five images, the first of which is the theme.

I'm not really sure what to make of this image. The first thing that sprang to mind was an elevator, but the only thing I can thematically link to elevators is heaven/hell and business. I'm really not interested in doing another afterlife themed game for Game Chef as I did one back in 2010 with In Between.

Some other things: teleporting, grow/shrink, alien abduction, glowing eyes. If you turn it upside down it looks kind of like a sword

Brainfreeze, cold and calculating, elemental affinity, death/skeleton, train driving through snow, head cold, thinking about winter, paralysis/frozen in place. Upside down it looks like someone eating snow.

Worms, bad apples, parasitism, corruption, growth. Upside down the apple becomes a tree and the monstrous worm is still  a monstrous worm. The apple could refer to New York which would mean a giant worm is eating New York.

Armour/chainmail, diamonds, expensive clothing, status symbols. I guess it could be an anchor or some kind of weird pot if you look at it upside down.

Lanterns, shine light on/revealing, shadows, China, keep darkness away, hiding from light, film noir, beacons/being drawn to light.

I have done a game that used light/fire in the mechanics before, so I don't think I want to go that route again.

What am I Going to Do?

I have been staring at these images for about 24 hours now and a lot of the ideas I have been coming up with are too similar to games I have done in the past. I don't want to build mechanics around light or fire again and I don't want to do a game about the afterlife or death. I also don't really have much interest in doing a game around status, politics, castes or things of that ilk.

Looking back at the games I have made for competitions of the years it seems that I am often drawn to darker themes and horror. The same is true of this year's Game Chef. Most of my ideas involved dystopias, parasites, corruption, social climbing and so on. I am kind of sick of dark topics and this year I have decided that I am going to go in the opposite direction; I am going to interpret the ingredients and theme in the most off the wall and fun way that I can.

Attack of the Terrorlights

Glowing lights pulse in the night sky. They dance over the city until falling down and into the most ordinary of things. Destruction follows the lights. They are the Terrorlights, some kind of otherworldly force intent on the destruction of the earth. The creatures their light touches grow to massive size and become enraged, laying waste to everything around them.

Someone must stand up to the Terrorlights and their gargantuan creations and that someone is you. Players take on the role of members of the colorful Chroma Team, mighty defenders of earth with the power to grow (and shrink) in size to combat any threat.

 That's right, I am going Kaiju with this game which will be inspired by such classics as Kamen Rider and Power Rangers and the Terrorlights are a little bit like Mysterons.

I haven't put a lot of thought into mechanics for AotT yet, but I know that I want to include few core ideas.
  1. I want the colour/pattern of player clothing to matter. If you wear a plaid shirt then you get to play the Plaid Ranger. What I think this means is that there will be a kind of class system where players match up their clothing and it gives them some abilities or powers. This is then paired with a choice of title like 'Ranger', 'Warrior' or 'Defender' to get their full sentai member code name.
  2. I plan on using push your luck mechanics in this game. My thoughts are that the heroes can keep pushing forward when fighting giant monsters but if they push their luck too far they will damage the city or injure innocents.
  3. I want the game to be a balance between giant monster battles and slice of life for the heroes. My idea is that we get to see the heroes struggle with the fallout of their actions when they push their luck too far and I also want to have some fun with the players hiding their secret identities from friends and family.
I have just over a week to make something out of this and, luckily for me, this year Game Chef falls on a long weekend.

3 May 2013

Elven Name Generator

Today I round out my set of standard fantasy race name generators with an elven name generator. For this generator I took pieces of ancient celtic names and mashed them up with new age/hippy names. I am relatively pleased with the result, which gives a suitably elven first name paired with a cheesy surname.

26 April 2013

A Review of Mutants & Machine-guns

What Is It?

Mutants & Machine-guns is an eight page post-apocalyptic role playing game from Experimental Playground. EP has been around for quite a few years now making print and play board games, but this is their first attempt at an RPG. Like EP's many board games, Mutants & Machine-guns is a completely free download and available in multiple languages (English, French and Spanish).

How Does It Work?

As you would expect from a small game like M&Mg the rules are very basic. Character creation boils down to selecting one of different archetypes: Pure Human, Human Mutant and Evolved Animal.  The archetype choice determines HP, progression rate and number of mutations. Players then distribute four points between Might, Reflex, Wits and Influence. M&Mg is a little unusual in that it allows a character to have zero in one or more of their stats. There is a large list of mutations to round out character creation as well as an equipment list; however, there is no mention on how to decide starting equipment.

All non-combat conflicts in M&Mg are handled by a 2d6+attribute roll vs. target number. It isn't anything special, but it should be accessible to beginner and veteran alike. Combat in this game is strange and has more in common with JRPGs than tabletop RPGs. Characters roll for initiative and then select one action from a list to perform each round. From there it is a back and forth with very little tactical choice. Even escaping from combat is an action choice and it grants an attack of opportunity and then a guaranteed escape. Like I said, it's as if the designers copied a JRPG menu for this game and it makes combat feel  restrictive and repetitive. Luckily characters don't have much health and combat shouldn't normally last more than a few rounds.

The only other thing in the rulebook is a couple of example monsters. There are no survival or exploration sections and no example adventures despite the progression mechanic relying on completing adventures. For my purposes I assumed that an adventure was equal to one session, but since it is not defined it is open to interpretation.

Final Thoughts

Mutants & Machine-guns has nice a cover that belies the poor layout within. My number one complaint about this game isn't regarding the system, although that is also weak. My ire is directed at the font choice, a blocky faux-pixel affair used for heading and text alike. The rules are short and I was still fatigued after the first page thanks to the somewhat blurry font.

Layout problems aside, M&Mg isn't terrible. The author's successfully get the gonzo, post-apocalyptic feel right with what few details are in the game and the 2d6 vs. TN system is about as average as you can get in the tabletop RPG world. Where the game stumbles is with its combat system, which is clumsy and needlessly slows the game down. The game could be significantly improved by dropping the dedicated combat system and using the extra space to add survival, scavenging and exploration rules to the game.

A little more time in the oven is what Mutants & Machine-guns needs more than anything. I think it has the potential to become a very nice little RPG if the designers rethink combat and add a few more post-apocalyptic trappings. Oh, and the layout needs a second pass as well.

If you want to try Mutants & Machine-guns for yourself, it is available as a free download here.

23 April 2013

Experimenting With Wild Magic in Dungeon World

Last session we playtested a class that I have been working on for Dungeon World, the Wild Mage. A friend from out of town is taking on the role for a couple of weeks while he is visiting and he ran with the idea. Without further preamble, here are the wild magic highlights from the session.

Capturing Mist

The first major use of wild magic in the game came early on. The adventurers were investigating a mysterious blue mist that originated from a well in the centre of town. The poking and proddings of a certain halfling caused an explosive release of the mist to blast out of the well and start to cloud over the town.

In response to the outbreak of mist Enkadash the Wild Mage used his Arcane Conduit move, which works similarly to a Wizard's ritual only it results in unpredictable drawbacks and twisted results. Enkadash managed to use his magic to gather up and confine the mist in a sphere, but in the process was hideously transformed into an orc and magnetized. This ultimately lead to some hilarious role play between Enkadash and Joln the Cleric where they argued about how magic was supposed to work.

Inadvertent Gate

Joln is a cleric of The Nameless One, a mysterious deity that collects secrets. All of The Nameless One's listeners (clerics) carry a glass orb that they use to collect information for their god and Joln couldn't pass up a chance to learn about Enkadash's unusual magic. He had Joln channel his magic into the orb, but the magic surged and proved much more powerful than expected. So powerful, in fact, that it expanded the link to The Nameless One into a full blown gate into the god's domain!

The Nameless One's power leaked from the portal and townsfolk were called to it like rats to the pied piper to spill their secrets. The group tried to keep townsfolk away for as long as possible, but it was a losing battle. Joln, either out of heroism or spiritual curiosity, stepped through the gate with the orb and closed the link between the material world and The Nameless One's domain. This was a completely unexpected turn of events, but I think it will lead to a very interesting adventure in the near future. Unfortuantely, it also means that the group is without a proper cleric for the time being. Joln's player has taken control of a follower for the time being.

Light Surge

Wild Magic surged once again as the group explored a dungeon accessed from the town's well. This time it happened when Enkadash tried to cast a simple light spell and it instead summoned an unseen servant. The players just handed a torch to the servant, so it all worked out more or less the same.

Boom, Headshot!

In a battle with some subterannean zombies Enkadash unleashed his Arcane Conduit again. A pulse of energy blasted out from his person and exploded the head of every zombie in the room. The drawback this time? Enkadash became blind to everything except magical energy. This proved to be only a minor inconvenciece as he was able to use the unseen servant as a guide through the rest of the dungeon.

Wild Mage Isn't Ready Yet

I need to weaken the Arcane Conduit move. At this point the drawbacks are not making it the risky, last resort choice that I had intended it to be. The Wizard's Ritual is balanced by allowing the GM to place restrictions on it. Arcane Conduit as currently written can be used whenever the Wild Mage would like and is balanced only by drawbacks. I think I will need to make Arcane Conduit less reliable even on a 10+ result by giving the GM license to twist results in the same manner as a genie would twist a wish; the trick is getting the wording right. I also need to play around with the drawbacks, there isn't any rhyme or reason to them at this point.

17 April 2013

Campaign Pitch: The Dungeon Apocalypse

I enjoyed putting together my last campaign pitch, so here is another one that brings dungeon crawling to a broken Earth. This pitch is inspired by the tradition of megadungeons and what little I know of a Japanese RPG called Meikyuu Kingdom.

The Dungeon Apocalypse

People thought they knew what what the apocalypse would be, that they were ready for it. Some thought it would come in the form of nuclear warfare, gray goo, viruses, climate change or divine judgment. They were all wrong. The apocalypse, when it came, was something that nobody could have predicted.

The world warped. Buildings twisted and groaned as they were forced into new arrangements. Earth, trees, and even people were caught up in the rearrangement of everything. There was no stopping whatever unseen force molded the world into its new form: a labyrinth that spanned entire continents. The walls were made from whatever was in the area. Cars, bricks and bones were smashed and crammed together into the thick, tall walls that wind across the world.

Survivors scavenge what they can from the labyrinth walls. Those that are lucky might be able to find or fashion a tool they can use to bore through them and begin constructing some form of civilization, but the maze fights them at every turn. Whatever force reshaped the world didn't stop at just making a titanic maze. Something lingers, something that changes animal and man alike. The farther from other humans and what remains of civilization you go, the more people change. The labyrinth twists men and beasts as surely as it twisted the world, changing them into monsters. Those that get lost in the labyrinth lose their humanity.

Google Maps + The GIMP + Maze

Life Behind The Walls

People alway find a way to survive and that is just as true in a giant, world spanning labyrinth. The world population was reduced by the crushing creation of the maze, but enough men and women survived to create small pockets of civilization. They tunnel through walls to increase their living space and search the twisted rubble for useful items.

The Lost

Those that tray too far from what remains of civilization become as distorted as the world they live in. They become The Lost and their bodies change into monstrous forms a they wander the maze. The Lost are more than just the remain of humans. Animals, plants and anything else living that manages to live isolated in the labyrinth becomes lost and transforms into something both more and less than it was before.

The Lost are constant threat to survivors. Scavengers may be stalked or stumble across something dangerous or predatory Lost may even prey upon survivors while they are gathered in their homes.

Reclaiming The Earth

So you want to be a hero in this world of dungeons?  It can be done, but it won't be easy.  Destroy the walls of the labyrinth and bring back a world without walls. It is a bigger job than any one man can hope to accomplish, but there may be a way other than forcing the walls down with manpower and hammers. Scattered around the world are Origin Points, locations where the labyrinth seemed to grow out of as it bent the world to its design. Someone brave, skilled and very lucky might be able to make their way to these points and discover a way to bring down the walls.

How Would I Run It?

I would use D20 Modern or something like it to run the game. A nice medium crunch system that would make the actual dungeon crawling satisfying. As far as actually starting the campaign goes, I think I would fast forward a generation or two after the apocalypse happened, give it enough time for some communities to be built and monsters to be created. I would start the game with the PCs discovering a dying man while out scavenging and with his last breath he tells them of an origin point and passes a tattered map to them.

The mood of the game would be heroic. This might be a post-apocalyptic setting, but it won't have the depressed mood or as much of the horror element. This game would be about the quest and the growth of the heroes, a very traditional fantasy journey style of play.

12 April 2013

Flipping through FolkLore

F'olkLore appeared on my radar late last week and since it bills itself as a simple fantasy RPG with only a $1 price tag I knew that I would have to take a look.

What Is It?

FolkLore is an ultralight fantasy RPG from Seth Zaloudek. It weighs in at four half pages in total. I say half pages because the author's intent is for the game to be folded into brochures and handed to each player at the table. The game features a whimsical black and white art style which is sadly limited to only the cover panel. Still, the graceful cover design carries over into the rest of the product and places it a cut above most other ultralight RPGs.

How Does It Work?

Simplicity shines in FolkLore with an easy to use dice pool mechanic acting as the backbone of the game. Players designate points into the governing attributes Body, Mind and Social and these make up the basis of every character. Whenever a conflict/challenge/test/check occurs players roll a number of d6 equal to the relevant attribute, add additional dice for player-defined character traits and equipment and then count successes. It all reminds me of Marvel Heroic Role Playing, albeit on a much smaller scale.

There are a few other neat mechanics crammed into this little game and the one I found most interesting was the gamble feature. Instead of fumbles working the way we all know and love, in FolkLore anytime a player fails a check they have the option of gambling. If they lose the gamble roll they suffer a fumble, but if they win they succeed at a challenge they would have otherwise failed. Each time a player wins a gamble subsequent gambles become more difficult. I can't say I have ever seen fumbles handled like this before and I think it is nice, elegant take.

FolkLore also makes use of a simple relationship mechanic that ties player characters together. It isn't nearly as robust as Fate's starring aspects or Apocalypse World's Hx, but they get the job done.

Final Thoughts

FolkLore may just become my favourite ultralight RPG. I don't often use ultralight RPG systems, being content with merely light games such as Dungeon World or Technoir; however, FolkLore is a nice little package. It is attractive and easy to hand out to players. I could see myself using it with RPG beginners or at conventions. If you are in the market for a very light RPG then you could do far worse than FolkLore. Other ultralight games might be free, but FolkLore's layout alone is worth shelling out a dollar for.

FolkLore is available from DriveThruRPG for $1 and it already has an equally light adventure to go with it.

8 April 2013

Monday Monster: Deadwood Fungus

Anybody that has taken a look at Seedfall will know I have a thing for killer plants. Here's another one for you.

I used this monster during my last game and, to be honest, it wasn't as much fun as I had hoped. Once the players realized it was a plant and it couldn't chase them they just ran away.

2 April 2013

Halfling Name Generator

It has been a few weeks since my last name generator and today I am finishing off the short races with a halfling name generator. I used a mix of hobbit, middle english and paizo halfling names to seed the generator and added some things into the gaps that felt like they would fit. I am also trying something a little bit differently in how I handle the name generation, but I doubt many of you are interested in that.

25 March 2013

Monday Monster: Castoff Golem

The Dungeon World crew has launched an online tool for building monsters. It's very cool and also doubles as an ever-growing monster manual. I decided to take it for a spin and you can find what I came up with below.

This tool took all the pain out of monster creation for me. I like coming up with ideas for monsters, not figuring out the stats to make them work. All I had to do was come up with a cool idea, check some boxes and write a few Moves. My only complaint about the tool right now is that I can't do line breaks.

24 March 2013

The Sewer Solution

Sanitary Sewer
Sanitary Sewer (Photo credit: K e v i n)
Sometimes I GM myself into a corner, I can't help it.  I have never been the meticulous type that plans in detail or crafts elaborate set pieces; although, occasionally I wish I was.  I am the kind of game master that flies by the seat of his pants and relishes in batting the curveballs pitched by others at the table. Unfortunately, sometimes that means I GM myself into a corner.

In the ongoing Dungeon World campaign that I run my group of players traveled to a desert city, Lambatar, to seek out a forgotten treasure trove beneath the city. My mistake was giving the city an extensive sewer dungeon crawl. Nobody at the table said anything, but it wasn't long before I started thinking about it. How does it work? Where does the waste go? It isn't getting flushed out into an ocean or river. They can't be sending it into their drinking water supply. Is there some kind of gigantic, thousand year old septic tank?

I scratched my head over this for a while. I couldn't go back on this city I had created. I had told my players there was a sewer and they had already spent some time exploring it, I was stuck with it. Naturally, I started looking for a way to make it work. My solution? A link to the elemental plane of water. That's right, Lambatar was exporting their waste to another dimension. It was a good solution, one that explained how the sewers worked and where a city in the middle of the desert was getting their fresh water. It also allowed me to mix in some non-standard encounters into the sewer environment. I was riding high on my fix all week while gleefully imagining the fun I could have with unusual dungeon stock. Unfortunately, players always have a habit of throwing those curveballs.

The dungeon crawl began smoothly enough, the PCs battled their way through thieves, traps and collapsed tunnels. Everything was going my way until a chuul I had placed in the sewage managed to drag two characters into the water. They defeated it, but lacking any kind of swimming skills they were soon swept up in the increasingly strong current as they rushed towards the hole that lead to you know where. Before long they were swimming in much larger waters and I needed to do something unless I wanted to drown two player characters in order to justify my desert sewers.

Enter the tritons, roman inspired, militant and none too happy about the waste that has been pumping into their territory for centuries. They saved the drowning PCs in exchange for their aid breaking into Lambatar. This is where things started to go off the rails. The players were happy to aid the tritons, having no real attachment to the city or its inhabitants and even once they realized that the first wave of triton tidecallers were up to no good they made no effort to stop them. What is a GM to do, and how do aquatic monsters invade a city in the desert?

The tidecallers brought in the tide. They widened the rift between planes and let loose the waters of their home dimension. All said, something like 1000 cubic kilometers worth of water came pouring through and that was more than enough to allow the tritons to go about their grisly revenge. The players? They were fine, caught up in getting their own revenge on a drug lord and were lucky to be high enough above the city to avoid getting washed away.

And that's the story of how one simple decision on my part lead to a city in the middle of the desert being flooded and invaded by mermaids.
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11 March 2013

Campaign Pitch: NW Mounted Monster Hunters

In all of my years of playing, reading about and otherwise enjoying RPGs I have come across very few games or campaign settings that are set in Canada. There are definitely some out there, most notably as supplements for games such as RIFTS, oWoD and Deadlands; however none of them really have any kind of connection to the Canadian identity or history outside of superficial elements (cold weather and polar bears). Maybe there isn't much demand for games set in Canada, but as a Canadian I'd really enjoy a romp around our history with a good campaign. I have had an idea for just such a campaign percolating in my head for some time now and I'm going to hit you with my pitch.

NW Mounted Monster Hunters

It is 1880s Canada. The winters are harsh and the land is wild, dangerous and aware. The Northwest Mounted Police ride out to protect the land and its people. There are things out there in the dark forests and forgotten valleys, shadowy things spoken only of in the myths and tales of native peoples. There be monsters living out there in the wilds and they don't see any reason to hide from this latest wave of men trying to make homes in their hunting grounds.

The NWMP might act as a police force and they do police the land, but their real mandate is to hunt and kill the monsters that pray on men. The campaign would follow a group of new recruits as they hunt down monsters of all kinds and the campaign, should it last, would occasionally place the PCs at historical events which had been given a supernatural twist, such as the Klondike Gold Rush or North-West Rebellion. The game would also jump forward in time between hunts so that we could follow the characters as they get older and also so that we could hit more major events.

What Game Would I Use?

There are for potential games that I would use to run NWMMH. Whichever game I  ultimately picked would depend on the players I had sitting at my table. In no particular order the games are:

  • FATE
  • GURPS Monster Hunters 
  • Call of Cthulhu 
  • World of Darkness
  • Dogs in the Vineyard

All of the above would require some adapting to make work. FATE would be the easiest to get going. GURPS and CoC would be the more deadly options, but would require the most work to get going. nWoD sits in the middle somewhere. DitV is a weird one that I hadn't been considering until I started writing this; however, I think that the style of the game fits with what I have in mind for this campaign. It would be trivial to replace Mormons with NWMP and go from there.

I guess Deadlands might work as well, especially if I used that supplement I linked to way at the beginning of this post. I'm not really a fan of classic or D20 Deadlands, though.

How Would I Run It?

I would want a game where it costs the PC's dearly to win the day, but not one that is hopeless. I see this as a game where limb loss is much more common than outright PC death. The game would be equal parts sight-seeing through Canadian history and action-horror. Think CoC, only most of the game is outdoors and the party is made up of highly competent rifle and frontiersmen. It would be Monster Hunter Alpha set in the late 1800s and without all of the American south trappings. The campaign would be episodic in nature, with each session being a self contained adventure surrounding a specific monster.

In a perfect world the game would continue until the formation of the RCMP and at that point I would like to retire the characters and the game. From there I would like to like to fast forward to a monster hunting RCMP unit in another point in time (Could be any interesting period of the 1900s or even present day.) or move on to an entirely different game.

18 February 2013

Gnome Name Generator

I'm slowly working my way through the typical fantasy races and this time gnomes are getting the name generator treatment. I seeded this one with Golarion gnome name fragments, but there weren't a lot to work with and I had to expand into my own thematic interests. As per usual, resulting names will be on the cheesy side.

16 February 2013

Dwarven Stone Whisperers

My Dungeon World campaign keeps trucking along and recently two of the PCs uncovered a secret dwarven item. I don't have a name for the item and, since it was destroyed shortly after the PCs discovered it, I'll likely never have to give it a name. What I can tell you is that it was a small stone sphere covered in runes and other etchings, etchings that contained the secrets of the order of Dwarven Stone Whisperers. Let's call it a Memory Stone for clarity's sake.

A Memory Stone is a small spherical rock with ornate runes carved into the surface. The runes are complex and written in a ciphered dwarven script. The cipher key is known only to members of the Brotherhood of Stone Whisperers, although it is not impossible to crack should someone have the means to do so. If the stone is subjected to direct light, natural or otherwise, it will whither away to dust in seconds.

Memory Stones contain the secrets needed to understand the language of the earth and rock. Stone Whisperers use them to pass along the techniques and magics used to coax stone into shapes, pass through solid walls and even create servants of the earth. These stones are guarded jealously and the price for allowing one to fall into the hands of an outsider are dire. Dwarven Stoneshaping is prestigious and closely guarded secret even among the clans and no non-dwarves have ever been taught the art.

Stone Whisperer Compendium Class

Once you have studied the secrets etched upon a Memory Stone, you may take this move when you level up:

Earthen Memories
When you discern realities when touching stone you may ask: "What does the stone remember?"

Once you've taken "Earthen Memories," the following moves count as class moves for you. In addition to your normal list of moves, you may choose from this list when you level up.

You wield the power to shape earth, stone and rock with your magic. With enough time you can even do so in the finest of detail.
10+ You are able to shape the stone into the desired shape.
7-9 You are able to shape the stone, but must choose one of these defects: fragile, misshapen, or incomplete/significant time investment required.
6- The stone does not react to your shaping.

Pass Through Stone
You have the power to walk through non-magical stone as if it were no more resistant than a curtain.
10+ You may pass through 1' of stone per level.
7-9 You may pass through the stone, but it either takes much longer than expected, you do not come out where intended or your equipment is lost along the way.
6- You are not able to pass through the stone.

Create Golem
With enough time you are able to craft a magical companion from the earth. This golem may be of small, medium or large size and can be altered with Stoneshape as desired. Follow the monster creation rules to create your golem. Golems can only understand simple commands and the larger the golem the dumber they are. Small golems can understand three word commands, medium golems two words and large golems only a single word. Golems will execute any order given to them by their master until commanded to stop. Small and medium golems may be given multiple commands so long as the total number of commands does not exceed two or three words (depending on size).

12 February 2013

F.A.T.A.L. Characters: Race, Gender and Body.

F.A.T.A.L. it has a reputation for being the worst tabletop RPG of all time, but how bad could it really be? To find out I have procured a copy of the rules and will make a character, with commentary.

The first thing I find when I set out to make a character in F.A.T.A.L. is that there is no character creation section. No, the author instead says that a player should read through all 977 pages of the book so that they don't miss any steps. In the next breath he goes on to say that some chapters are completely irrelevant to character creation. It looks like I'm going to have to do this chapter by chapter, just as the author suggests. Not a great start.

This is such a large undertaking that I am going to have to split it up into multiple blog posts. This first part covers the Race, Gender and Body of character creation.

Race & Gender

The very first chapter of the book is Race & Gender. The game presents a list of 16 races and suggests that we select one for our character at random. I like random character generation so I'm going to do just that. I roll d100 and get a result of 36. That makes me a human, by far the most common option. I want to showcase F.A.T.A.L. in all its glory, so I'm going to roll again and hope for something a little less... pedestrian. My second roll is 62 and that means my character is going to be a Kobold.

I've always liked Kobolds in D&D. There's just something about their little lizard snouts and crude spears that speaks to me, so you can imagine I was pleased to get to play one in F.A.T.A.L. What a fool I am. Moving on to the Kobold section I get to learn a little bit more about Kobolds:

  • Kobolds are obsessed with silver. They like it because it is the same color as their skin and they compulsively mine and steal silver.
  • The only thing that Kobolds like as much as silver is slave trading.
  • Kobolds force other races to crawl on hand a knee so that they may be taller than them.
  • Kobolds are known for their ingenious and cruel traps.

Turns out that Kobolds in F.A.T.A.L. are nothing like what you find in D&D. They're just silver-mad little men with napoleon complexes and a penchant for slave trading.

In F.A.T.A.L. the races grant something called Sub-Ability Points. These haven't really been explained yet, but the Kobold gets:
  • -40 Strength
  • -15 Bodily Attractiveness
  • -15 Facial
  • -15 Vocal
  • +15 Kinetic
  • -10 Rhetorical
  • +15 Hand-Eye Coordination
  • +15 Agility
  • +15 Reaction Speed
  • +15 Enunciation
  • -10 Language
  • -10 Analytic
  • +15 Spatial
  • -15 Drive
Then there is a bunch of other stuff, also not yet explained:
  • Base Current Armor 10
  • Base Life Points 15
  • Morality -50
  • -25 Sanguine, +25 Choleric, +25 Phlegmatic
  • Direction Sense +3
  • Mining +3
  • Trickery +3
  • 1 Weapon Proficiency
Next we are supposed to randomly determine Gender. The rules don't actually say how to do this, so I just flipped a coin and ended up male. There are a list of modifiers that need to be applied to stats based on your character's gender, but the rules say that we aren't supposed to apply these modifiers until determining other factors later in the rules.

It's worth noting that the author attempts to justify this table by referencing a variety of papers and philosophers.
The gender section then carries on for another page or two discussing the worlds culture and society with gems like these:
Prior to marriage, maidens are expected to be chaste, though few fulfill this expectation. Once married, a wife is expected to be submissive to her husband, he owns her.
 ...belief regarding gender is that females are inferior to males physically, intellectually, morally, and emotionally. For example, menstruation may be understood as punishment by the gods.
It's interesting that the author regularly attempts to cite studies, philosophers and various historical sources. It is clear that they are aware of how sexist the writing is and they attempt to remove themselves as the arbitrator of these "facts" through citations and appeals to authority. It strikes me as a strange decision to focus so completely on the so-called reality of sexism for the purposes of historical accuracy and then throw in a dozen fictional races. With that note, let's head on to chapter 2.


In this section it looks like we will be determining our Kobold's various physical characteristics. The first of which will be Age.

To determine a Kobold's starting age I roll 4d100, divide that by 4 and then subtract 30 from the result. I rolled 345 so that works out to 56 years old. According to the lifespan table a Kobold doesn't live beyond 80, so that makes my Kobold quite the old man. I get to apply some modifiers due to the character's advanced age, but not until I determine some other things first.

Next up is Height. A male Kobold's height is determined by rolling 6d6 and adding 33. I rolled 27, so that makes my Kobold 5' tall before modifiers. Accounting for old age, my Kobold is actually 4'9". My Kobold is pretty tall and statuesque for his race so the rules say I get +7 lbs weight, +7 strength, and +3 Bodily Attractiveness for each inch above average. In my case that is 3" above average so the Kobold has +21 lbs., +21 strength and +3 Bodily Attractiveness.

Weight is next, a 3d6 roll that we add 70 to. I got 11 which means my Kobold is 81 lbs before we factor in its age. Elderly Kobolds are 10% heavier, so that brings us to 89 lbs. That extra weight also gives our Kobold +9 Strength.

F.A.T.A.L. now starts to veer off into madness. The next step is to determine the characters Body Mass Index (BMI). To do this, well, let me quote the book:
...simply divide [the character's] weight by the square of their height, and multiply the result by 705.
Yeah, real simple. I'm lazy so I used a BMI calculator. The result was 19.3. That puts us in the ideal category for Kobolds so, thankfully, I won't need to apply more modifiers to the character.

Here is another choice quote for you:
If a male character has a BMI of at least 30, then he will be unable to see his manhood while standing without using a mirror.
Thanks for the tip, F.A.T.A.L.. That's a piece of information that is both useful and relevant.

Next up is a section called Body Part Proportion. The idea behind this section is to determine how likely any part of the body is to be hit during combat. Lucky for us, we don't have to do this yet because it is yet another example of something that depends on some aspect of character creation we haven't done yet.

This next one is a fun one. We get to roll 2d100 to determine our Kobold's most and least attractive physical features. We rolled an 11 first which means my character's most attractive feature is his patchy gray hair. The Kobold gets +10 Facial Charisma. My next roll is a 30 which makes the least attractive feature a pair of Jagger-like lips. -10 Facial Charisma for a net of +/- 0.

Determining skin color would be next, but as a Kobold we must always have silvery white skin. (Remember, that's why they like silver so much.) We would also roll hair color, but because our Kobold is elderly it has to be gray. Don't worry, we do get to roll for our Hair Length. This is another d100 roll and I have the dubious luck of getting a 98. In the world of F.A.T.A.L. this means that my rich mane of glorious hair is between 31 and 38 inches long or, in the author's words, "ass-length". I'm not joking, that's really what is written in the book.

Ass-length hair.

Oh, I spoke too soon in describing the Kobold's hair. Silly me, assuming that we were finished after just three tables. I now need to determine the quality of the hair. Is it thick? Frizzy? Let's find out! This is yet another d100 roll and because I'm a Kobold I get +10.  Lower numbers on this table result in a penalty to Facial Charisma.  Apparently Kobolds are known for having better quality hair than most. It's also worth mentioning that the author gives the largest bonus to hair that is of "medium thickness and wavy". Good to know, I guess. Anyways, I rolled 32 which after the Kobold's racial modifier comes to 42; thick, curly and oily hair is my character's best feature. This results in -1d8 Facial Charisma. I rolled a 4, making my Kobold slightly uglier. Unless there are more tables on hair later on, I think we are finally finished.

Time to roll for eye color. 1d100 yields 89, blue-gray eyes. I'm surprised the author didn't assign any Facial Charisma modifiers to eye color. I guess something as trivial as eye color shouldn't factor into Facial Charisma, not like hair. We're also supposed to calculate Breadth or armspan at this point. This is just 50% of the characters height, so my character has a reach of 2'4".

Now I get to determine the quality of my character's vision. This is another d100 roll and I got 54. This means that my character has "Perfect natural vision". Interestingly the rules note that I will be determining the quality of my other 4 senses later on. I'm sure that will be... an experience.

Speaking of experiences, the next section has me rolling for facial features. The author seems to subscribe to Physiognomy, which is a pseudoscience that attempts to correlate personality traits to physical characteristics. It's certainly a weird choice since the author has been so scientifically rigorous so far.

Scientific Rigor.
The Facial Features table is a beastly table spread across two pages. The rules don't actually say how many times I'm supposed to roll on the thing, so I'm just going to do it once. I rolled a 62 and that means my character has a mole on his throat. According to the respectable and peer-reviewed science of Physiognomy it means that my poor Kobold is prone to intestinal problems.

This next one is a doozy, we get to roll 1d1000000 to find out if my kobold is a "Freak of Nature". Getting a result of 1 means the character is a freak. If the character is a freak then we get to randomly determine what kind of freak. Options range from having an extra finger to being a hermaphrodite. I rolled d1000000 and didn't get a 1, big surprise there.

If you thought Physiognomy and the Freak of Nature rolls were bad then I have bad news for you. The next section is Sexual Features. The rules actually label this section as optional, but I fear that if we are going to get an honest impression of this game we are going to have to go through this section. Okay, let's get this over with.

Step 1)
Determine areola diameter. d100 roll from which I got 97. That means my Kobold has 3" areolas and this obviously means he should have -1d6 Bodily Attractiveness (-5 in this case).

Step 2)
Determine areola hue. That's right, the color. I rolled a 98 (yes, really) which means they are dark and nets me -1d4 Bodily Attractiveness, or it would if my character was female. Apparently hue doesn't factor into male beauty.

Damn! Those are some sexy areolae.
Step 3)
Determine cup size. This is a weird one because it isn't labeled female only. You might think that makes sense because there is such a thing as a pair of man-boobs, moobs if you will. Let me ask you just one thing, though. Are moobs attractive? F.A.T.A.L.'s author seems to think so since a pair of D-sized moobs will get you +2d10 Bodily Attractiveness, regardless of sex. I rolled a 29 here which gets me a set of B-sized chest ornaments. Sadly that is not enough for a bonus nor a penalty to Bodily Attractiveness.

Step 4)
Nipple length. I know nipple length is the single most important feature I look for in a mate, so I appreciate that the author has included it here. I rolled 90 which means my kobold's nipples are .75" long when erect. Naturally, this being the optimum length, I get a +1d4 bonus to Bodily Attractiveness. (4, in this case.)

Step 5)
We would do vaginal circumference and depth next, but our character is male. Curiously, the rules don't actually say that these tables are for females only (as they do with areola hue), but I think it's clear that males don't normally have a vagina.

Step 6)
Tongue size. The author is careful to note that this is only the length of tongue that can be extended outside of the mouth. F.A.T.A.L. mercifully doesn't care about the rest of it. I rolled 81, which means my character's tongue is 2.5" long. The rules say that this is long enough to touch the tip of my nose.

Step 7)
And we have reached the infamous Anal Circumference section. Before we determine how much room we actually have back there, we need to figure out if there are any modifiers to the roll. Since my character is elderly we get +5 to the roll. You knew your sphincter loosened up with age, right? I get another +5 just for being male. We could get up to another +50 if the Kobold is "accustomed to anal sex" or a nymphomaniac. Since we haven't had to roll for sexual orientation I think I'm just going to assume the character is a boring old heterosexual.

Now I roll on the table. I'm blessed with a roll of 13 which we modify to 23. This tells us that my Kobold character has an anal circumference potential of 6", enough to accommodate "normal manhood" according to the table. I should mention that this is anal circumference potential, if something larger than that potential ends up in there the "orifice will rip to accommodate the incoming object". Does this mean there will be rules for this later on? I sure hope not.

Not gonna fit.
My fears come true on the very next page. Rules for "ripped orifices", "hymen resistance", pregnancy likelihood, menstruation and infant mortality rates are all found on page 53 of F.A.T.A.L.

Step 8)
Manhood What could that possibly mean?
The Manhood of a male character is his penis.
Thanks for clearing that up, F.A.T.A.L.. The author has obviously put a lot of thought into this section, so I decided to share the whole page.

Click to enlarge. Har har.
Quadratic equations. Sheesh. The author spent waaayyy too much time thinking about dicks. After some calculations I was able to determine that my Kobold's penis is 4.2" long and has a circumference of 7.5". Yes, my kobold is a girthy motherfucker.

With that the Sexual Features section is finished. Now we get to move on to the Rare Features section. This is another optional section, so of course we are going to do it. How bad could it be?

The first rare feature that needs determining is foot size. I rolled a 58 and this give my character feet that are 9" long. After feet size we move on to fist circumference. I suppose this would be useful if I needed to find out if there would be any "orifice tearing". Apparently this is whatever the foot size is, so 9" fists for my Kobold.

Now I get to roll to find out if my character is left or right handed. It's just a 10% chance for left-handedness and I rolled a 75. My character is not a southpaw.

Next up: head circumference. I rolled a 91 and this means my character has a head circumference of 23.12".

After head circumference there is a section on pregnancy, which seems a little out of place. Following that is a section called Allergies, Intoxication, and Disease. There is actually a table in the Intoxication section that determines what happens if a character has a bad trip while eating magic mushrooms. Sadly, the only  relevant section here is Allergies, but we can't do that until we have determined the characters Health sub-ability value. With that we get to move on to chapter 3. Take a deep breath, because things are only going to get weirder.

 That's It For Now

I cry uncle. Figuring out character creation AND writing commentary is a lot of work. This took me about 6 hours to write. (Admittedly, I was also surfing the web and procrastinating like the awful Kobold that I am.) Eventually I'll get to the next section, but I don't have the mental fortitude to carry on at the moment.


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