Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Relevant Retropost: Distracted From Distraction By Distraction

...that's a line from TS Eliot. He was a well-educated creative genius and a grotesque anti-Semite, back in the days when that combination was still possible. It no longer is--so we'll have to listen to someone else if we want any insight into the job creative people have in times like these. Here's Toni Morrison, talking at Portland State University. She has just finished reading off some racist quotes from eminent Americans:
Nobody really thought that Black people were inferior. Not Benjamin Franklin, not Mr. Byrd, and not Theodore Roosevelt. They only hoped that they would behave that way. They only hoped that Black people would hear coon songs, disparaging things, and would weep or kill or resign, or become one. They never thought Black people were lazy—ever. Not only because they did all the work. But they certainly hoped that they would never try to fulfill their ambitions. 
And they never, ever thought we were inhuman. You don’t give your children over to the care of people whom you believe to be inhuman, for your children are all the immortality you can expect. Your children are the reason that you work or plot or steal, and racists were never afraid of sexual power or switchblades. They were only and simply and now interested in acquisition of wealth and the status quo of the poor. Everybody knows that if the price is high enough, the racist will give you anything you want.  
It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. 
None of that is necessary. 
There will always be one more thing. The strategy is no different than bombing Cambodia to keep the Northern Vietnamese from making their big push. And since not history, not anthropology, not social sciences seem capable in a strong and consistent way to grapple with that problem, it may very well be left to the artists to do it.
For art focuses on the single grain of rice, the tree-shaped scar, and the names of people, not only the number that arrived. And to the artist one can only say, not to be confused, [sigh] not to be confused. You don’t waste your energy fighting the fever; you must only fight the disease. And the disease is not racism. It is greed and the struggle for power. [Audience member murmurs in agreement]
I think of this a lot: "...the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work." I am going to go ahead and make the leap that this applies to a wide variety of prejudices.

The Braindead Megaphone

Another novelist, George Saunders, describes a similar situation in his essay The Braindead Megaphone:
Imagine a party. The guests, from all walks of life, are not negligible. They’ve been around: they’ve lived, suffered, own businesses, have real areas of expertise. They’re talking about things that interest them, giving and taking subtle correction. Certain submerged concerns are coming to the surface and — surprise, pleasant surprise — being confirmed and seconded and assuaged by other people who’ve been feeling the same way. 
Then a guy walks in with a megaphone. He’s not the smartest person at the party, or the most experienced, or the most articulate. 
But he’s got that megaphone. 
Say he starts talking about how much he loves early mornings in spring. What happens? Well, people turn to listen. It would be hard not to. It’s only polite. And soon, in their small groups, the guests may find themselves talking about early spring mornings. Or, more correctly, about the validity of Megaphone Guy’s ideas about early spring mornings. Some are agreeing with him, some disagreeing — but because he’s so loud, their conversations will begin to react to what he’s saying. As he changes topics, so do they. 
....In time, Megaphone Guy will ruin the party. The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy. They’ll stop doing what guests are supposed to do: keep the conversation going per their own interests and concerns.
Both the villain and the victims are more broadly defined but again the point of the weapon is the same--distraction: "The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy." The Megaphone--like Morrison's racist--keeps you responding to the distractor's concerns, rather than building things that respond to your own.

Extremely Important and Massively Uncomplicated

When considering the social issues outside our gameworlds in 2017 we see a series of problems that frustratingly combine the following two qualities: they are extremely important and massively uncomplicated. Should black people be shot by police? No. Should trans people be able to go to the bathroom? Yes. Are illegal immigrants a major threat to our country? No. Should gay people be allowed to marry? Yes.

The only reason the country's discussing these things is the Megaphone. There are adults who think that, like, Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization but they're not intelligent or reachable via games or anything else predictable. These are open-and-shut-cases.

Important but not complicated. Artists and critics--especially in the sphere of games--are not used to thinking with this category. We are used to thinking that the artist who tackles the Real World Issue is doing something deep and difficult. But in reality, the designer or GM who goes "Ok, stop trying to figure out how to beat Tomb of Horrors and consider this: what if orcs are just like you and me and like colonialism is bad?" is lowering the tone of the conversation. They are asking us to stop a complex problem-solving exercise that might actually be helping us sprout neurons we could use later for some practical purpose and instead think about something intelligent people in 2017 cannot possibly disagree on: colonial genocide is bad and orcs are fictional things with no moral reality and if you're a grown ass human who acts racist because they played a game (or drank a beer or lost a bet) the problem isn't games it's you being so impressionable.

What makes social problems thorny for the kind of people that are actually going to read your blog or play your game isn't that they don't know racism or sexism or any other -ism is bad--it's that, as Morrison says above, greed and the struggle for power make people compromise their principles--or refuse to formulate them well enough to know they're violating them. I know several indie gamers who have admitted privately that they are scared to speak out against the abusers in their community for purely financial reasons--or because they know the price of speaking out is the abusers will turn on them. It's the worst version of professionalism.

Saunders continues:
We’ve said Megaphone Guy isn’t the smartest, or most articulate, or most experienced person at the party — but what if the situation is even worse than this? 
Let’s say he hasn’t carefully considered the things he’s saying. He’s basically just blurting things out. And even with the megaphone, he has to shout a little to be heard, which limits the complexity of what he can say. Because he feels he has to be entertaining, he jumps from topic to topic, favoring the conceptual-general (“We’re eating more cheese cubes — and loving it!”), the anxiety-or controversy-provoking (“Wine running out due to shadowy conspiracy?”), the gossipy (“Quickie rumored in south bathroom!”), and the trivial (“Which quadrant of the party room do YOU prefer?”). 
We consider speech to be the result of thought (we have a thought, then select a sentence with which to express it), but thought also results from speech (as we grope, in words, toward meaning, we discover what we think). This yammering guy has, by forcibly putting his restricted language into the heads of the guests, affected the quality and coloration of the thoughts going on in there. 
He has, in effect, put an intelligence-ceiling on the party
We've seen this everyone-must-talk-about-something-stupid dynamic several times coming from inside games: GNS, chainmail bikini prudery, edition-warring, etc. but now there's a new dynamic at work--the mainstream press is noticing D&D.

And--as any freelancer is going to tell you--the articles about RPGs are not going to be well-paid or with long enough deadlines to produce new research. And they are going to be occupied with that thin slice of the Venn diagram where the game-relevant overlaps with general public interest--and the writers will be under tremendous pressure to be...entertaining, conceptual-general, anxiety or controversy-provoking, gossipy, trivial.

Saunders sums up: There is, in other words, a cost to dopey communication, even if that dopey communication is innocently intended.

Educating the Conqueror is Not Our Business

After her speech, Toni Morrison got questions--and they illuminate how having to deal with The Megaphone impacts art and artists:

I love Latin American literature and Russian literature. It never occurred to me that Dostoyevsky was supposed to explain something to me. [Audience chuckles] He’s talking to other Russians about very specific things. But it says something very important to me, and was an enormous education for me. 

When Black writers write, they should write for me. There is very little literature that’s really like that, Black literature. I don’t mean that it wasn’t necessary to have the other kind. Richard Wright is not talking to me. Or even you. He’s talking to some White people. He’s explaining something to them. LeRoy Jones in the Dutchman is not talking to me. He’s talking to some White people. He’s explaining something to them. It may have been very necessary. It certainly was well done. But it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t to me. And I know when they’re talking just past my ear, when they’re explaining something, justifying something, just defining something. [Glass thunks.]

But when that’s no longer necessary, and you write for all those people in the book who don’t even pick up the book—those are the people who make it authentic, those are the people who justify it, those are the people you have to please, all those non-readers, all those people in Sula who (a) don’t exist and (b) if they did wouldn’t buy it anyway. But they are the ones to whom one speaks. Not to the New York Times; not to the editors; not to any distant media; not to anything. It is a very private thing. They are the ones who say “Yeah, uh huh, that’s right.” 

And when that happens, very strangely, or rather, very naturally, what also happens is that you speak to everybody. And even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large....

[Another question]

So the question is “What do you do…?” Well, educating the conqueror is not our business. Really. But if it is, if it were, if it was important to do that, the best thing to do is not to explain anything to him, but to make ourselves strong, to keep ourselves strong.

Sad Unicorns

In times when the worst ideas are popular, when, as Yeats said...The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned/The best lack all conviction, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity there is a pressure on creative people to use their platforms to point out the worst-ness of these ideas. To make their art this:
...but what Sad Unicorn games and the sloganeering that they encourage do is simply allow a degraded culture outside the conversation you're trying to have create a degraded culture inside the work.

You can't do that because (among other things) it doesn't work. When the world is dumb, you don't dumb-down, you smarten up.

You do not go "Well we have to put off the nuanced conversation til later". You do not go "Well this may be valuable but this isn't the time or context for that work". You do not surrender to the Megaphone.

You create a more sophisticated thing--you create an internal conversation that is meaningful to you and to good people, and the internal energy of that will pay off when it's needed, "even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large" because you will have made yourselves and your people strong.
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Monday, June 4, 2018

The 1600s, Lamentations and the Nympharium

It's an irony--or maybe just an incongruity--that, though Lamentations of the Flame Princess and I have had a long and mutually-beneficial RPG-publishing relationship, LotFP is officially set in the 17th Century and like none of my ideas are 17th Century ideas. We usually fudge it a little and compromise somewhere, or work in a way to get from canonical LotFP land to the Vornwelt.

The project I'm working on now--tentatively titled "Violence In The Nympharium"--for LotFP  has me looking pretty hard at the 17th Century because it involves a lot of locations and time travel as a basic element. It's going to be impossible to do without actually paying attention, much as I do hate paying attention.

So the basic thing is: wtf is the 17th century?

Well, basically: pirates.

That is, it's the golden age of piracy and most other members of the adventuring class (like musketeers) look kind of piratey--at least in Europe. Even on land people had big feathers on their hats and skinny swords. Boats looked cool, including galleons and the sleek, triangular-rigged xebecs. 

The visual artists were getting as good at getting materials to do what they wanted as they ever would be, it was the Baroque era: Velasquez, Vermeer, Willem Kalf, Bernini, Finelli, Rembrandt.  The British, as always, were a little behind in painting...

...but they did have the tail end of Shakespeare and then Milton writing Paradise Lost.

Louis XIV was in France being as fancy as fancy has ever been, tumblr fave Julie d'Aubigny was being about as badass a bisexual opera singer/duellist/nunfucker/arsonist as you could ever ask for, and most of the famous occultists are French. The Lesser Key of Solomon--the most well-known grimoire--is compiled.
Western Europe is as Europey as it is ever going to get right now. Go back much further and its barbarism and armor and nobody even wears wigs, go forward and suddenly people start being impressed by the industriousness of Americans and having real pants.

The big downside is the whole Reformation thing which makes reading history around this time really really boring. Like you get ahold of something that sounds pretty exciting like The Defenestration of Prague and look it up and it's Catholic this and Protestant that and before you know it you're asleep between your Norman Davies and your Geoffrey Parker.

In India style was--so far as I can tell--within a stone's throw of the extremely stylish late medieval as exemplified in the paintings of Bihzad. You could still see war elephants, which is dope, plus a lot of bright fabrics, baggy pants, and pointy shoes. The thugee cult of assassins still roamed the land, though, contra Indiana Jones, not in sinister matching robes -sadface-.

Likewise looking sharp were North Africa and much of the Islamic world. The Ottoman turks were near the maximum extent of their power with very big turbans. They probably have the most D&Dable architecture around now, with lots of Islamic cultures producing big flat-sided, ornate stone buildings with a lot of geometry and niches and taking up a lot of space (as opposed to Europe where--under the appalling influence of humanism--even the grandest public buildings have largely abandoned otherworldly monumentality to take on the fluted, pointy-roofed, comfortably-grooved appearance we play games to not have to think about).

Parts of northern Africa--like Coptic Ethiopia--are still operating out of cool medieval buildings, like castles and stuff.

Japan is perfect right about now: the Tokugawa shogunate has just begun, samurai are everywhere and there's still ninjas. (The big ninja book was written during this period.) Also Japan had English, Spanish and Portuguese traders reporting back home.

In southeast asia they're in the very early stages of colonialism, and the locals are still building mindblowing temples and palaces.

In Russia there's a lot of peasant riots and sashes and funny fur hats and a "Time of Troubles". So kind of the usual.

The non-Muslim, non-Christian parts of Africa are very poorly recorded around this time and in many kingdoms the 17th century still counts as "legendary". This is after the fall of the city of Great Zimbabwe which means something like "big stone house" and would have been eminently dungeonable (sigh) but there are sites like Kami which are like little Zimbabwes. A lot of guesswork surrounds what people there might've worn, lived in, or killed each other with in these areas and a lot of sources seem to just throw up their hands when it comes to magic and folk beliefs due to the wide variety. The most interesting and non-boring-stereotype-reinforcing path seems to be looking at current belief and working back off that. So like digging out the Robert Farris Thompson again.

China has kind of the opposite problem: so much history I have real trouble keeping it straight. We are in the Ming-Qing transition, but the general rule with China seems to be (1) if you can kill someone with it they've tried it from rockets to trained cheetahs and (2) all previous eras of Chinese history exist in China at all times.

The Americas have a lot of feathers and pilgrim hats going on and can fuck off. I'm not doing it and Australia seems to be mostly Dutch people poking at it while native Australians ignore or kill them. 

Experience tells me that lots of people who read this blog are hard-eyed library-devouring history types with actual degrees to whom this will all seem very basic, but if you're reading and can think of some book, resource or image that makes some underappreciated part of the 17th C seem interesting, we're all ears.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Demon City Character Gen (Revised)

For Demon City--with the notes to Shawn, my graphic designer, still in it

The default Demon City game is set in the present, in a terrible version of some modern city. Players can play any sort of person, from any walk of life: a depressed high school student, a bank robber, a drug-addled forensics expert, even a werewolf.

Sometimes it can be fun to play a game with a limited scope—every character is a detective on the homicide squad, or a part of a crew of bank-robbers out to make one big score, or a clique of plucky high school kids trying to find out who killed their drug dealer—if the group decides to go in that direction, make sure everyone agrees to it and knows before making a character. The changes you need to make to the rules to play this kind of game are covered in the “Pitches and Sketches” chapter. These are the rules for a more typical game.

Making a character basically requires making some decisions and writing down some terms and numbers—some of these terms and numbers you won’t understand right away, don’t worry, they’ll be defined soon enough.

There are two ways to make a character: totally random and custom. A random character gets a set of characteristic scores and then the player decides what occupation and motive fits that set of characteristics. A custom character allows the player to decide what kind of character they’d like to play first, then they can assign the scores that come up based on that. Random characters will, on average, have slightly higher Characteristics than custom characters.


To make characters, the Host should prepare a Character Deck using their tarot cards, it has these cards in it:
Four Aces/1s (of any kind, which can include The Magician, which has a value of 1)
Four Twos (of any kind)
Four Threes (of any kind)
Three Fours (of any kind)
One Five (of any kind)
The Fool (0)
Then shuffle it.

(If you don’t have cards or must make a PC mid-game while someone’s using them, roll d100 for each score: 1-5=0, 6-29=1, 30-53=2, 54-77=3, 78-95=4, 96-00=5, no repeat 0s or 5s.) 

To make a custom character, simply read through this section in order and follow the directions.

To make a totally random character:

1. Go down to “Characteristics”
2. List each Characteristic in order on a piece of paper vertically
3. Pull a card from the Character Deck. The numeric value of the card is the numeric value of your PC’s Calm—the first Characteristic (the suit doesn’t matter). Aces are worth 1, The Fool is worth 0. Then do this 6 more times: Pick one card for each Characteristic and write the number down.
4. Then go up to Motives—pick or randomly throw a Motive (keeping in mind each group can only start with a maximum of one Problem and must include at least one non-Friend).
5. Add one point to any characteristic (this is your bonus for making a custom character).
6. Adjust your Characteristics (points over a maximum for a given Motive are lost) to match the Motive
7. Then follow the directions for Occupation, Starting Contacts, Skills, and The Rest.


Motives are kind of like what function as “classes” in other RPGs, but while in those games classes are kinds of jobs, in Demon City motives describe your relationship to the corruption and horror that Demon City characters investigate when the session starts. Characters can grow out of their original motives over time, but this is why they start investigating.

Some motives restrict or augment a character’s Characteristics (the seven stats—Calm, Agility, Toughness, Perception, Appeal, Cash, Knowledge—that all characters have), Skills (special trained abilities or aptitudes) or Contacts (non-player characters the PC can rely on for help).

Motives can also affect what actions the character gets advancement rewards for.

All have a Panic Mode—a way of behaving that takes over when the character is at 0 Calm or less, and gripped by fear.  If a character begins a campaign at 0 Calm (ie, they are generated that way), the special mechanical effect that applies in the first round after they fall to 0 Calm does not apply.

Pick a Motive from below and write down any changes or limits on your character the Motive entails:


The Curious character is motivated by fascination. Typically an academic or a former paid investigator, the curious character wants to know what’s causing the horror, where did it come from? And maybe even…can it be controlled?

-The Curious character’s Calm Characteristic is treated as 2 lower for the purpose of any test which might allow the character access to hidden knowledge. Make a note of that on your character sheet.

-The Curious character gains the Research Skill at Perception+2 or Knowledge+2 for free, whichever would be higher.

-The Curious character gains 2 extra Knowledge Skills (ranked at the associated Characteristic +1 as usual).


-The Curious character regains 1 Calm during Downtime if they finish the session knowing more about the Horror than they did since the last Downtime.

-Curious-Motive PCs get an extra throw if they Work/Train and do so alone. They do not gain an extra throw if they choose to Work/Train with another PC (ie they don’t benefit from the Pal Throw) but they do 

Panic mode:
The curious character's panic will come in the form of wanting to know more. In addition to this general role-playing prompt, in the round after they hit 0 Calm they must try to find out something new about the situation they're in.


The Friend doesn’t know what all this is about and doesn’t want to guess. But the friend is loyal to someone else on the case and that’s what counts.

-At the beginning of the game, the Friend picks another PC they are devoted to. If they aren’t there that session, they have to pick someone else.
-Every party must include at least one non-Friend.
-The Friend gains an extra throw (see Getting Things Done In Demon City section) when protecting whichever character they are devoted to from direct physical harm. 
-The Friend maintains a sense of detachment and perspective, giving them a +1 to their Perception Characteristic or the Calm Characteristic, free. Maximum of 5.
- If a Friend’s friend dies, the Friend-Motivated PC’s Maximum Calm goes down by one, and they select another PC as their new pal.


-Friend PCs get an extra throw if they choose Other Hobbies, Exercise, Cooking, Drinking, or Drugs as their Downtime activity and do it with their friend. They get the benefit of that extra throw only for themselves.
-The Friend character regains 1 Calm during Downtime if they finish and their Friend is alive and sane (this is before any other thing that might happen in Downtime to improve their situation).

Panic mode:
When in a panic, the friend character's loyalty will override everything and they'll try to get whichever character they are most loyal to (or one of the characters they are most loyal to) out of the situation. In addition, they must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm trying to get/keep their friend out of or away from the situation—even if they aren’t there.


Someone wants to get to the bottom of this, and they’re paying the Investigator to do it. The Investigator is typically a private detective, or--up until the supernatural gets obviously involved and the department decides it's bullshit--a cop, but they can also be a journalist, an insurance adjuster, or almost anything else. There are lot of reasons to pay a private citizen to sort out a sticky situation.

-The Investigator starts with either 2 extra Skills (at Characteristic+1 as usual) and 1 extra Starting Contact, or 1 extra Skill and 2 extra Starting Contacts.
-The Investigator wouldn’t have been hired if they didn’t have Knowledge or Perception of at least 2. If you’re making a custom character, be sure to assign a 2 or higher to at least one of these Characteristics. If you have no high numbers (wow) or made a completely random character with low stats in both, the player may choose one of these stats and raise it to two.
-The Investigator cannot start with a Cash Characteristic higher than 3. If you’re making a custom character, be sure to assign a 3 or lower to this Characteristic. If you have no low numbers (wow) or made a completely random character with a high Cash, the player must lower it to 3.


-Investigator-Motive PCs get an extra throw if they spend Downtime hanging out with their contact and their people alone—they do not gain an extra throw if they bring another PC along (Ie they don’t benefit from the Pal Throw).

-The Investigator character regains 1 Calm at the end of a session if they know more about the Horror than they last Downtime or if they’ve made more money since then.

Panic mode:
Used to relying on method, the investigator in a panic is simply less effective. In addition, the must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm either fleeing or acting with only 1 throw.


They say victimhood doesn’t define you--well, for The Victim it does, at least at the start of the game. Something terrible has happened to the character or one of their loved ones and it’s left a scar.

-Victims’ earnestness is manifest—they automatically gain the Persuasion skill equal to their Appeal Characteristic plus two, free.
-The Victim is privy to special information, the victim was there—the Victim gains an extra Perception Characteristic throw when in the presence of any clue associated with the crime or kind of crime they were witness to.
-The Victim gains an extra throw in combat with any entity they believe to be responsible for the crime that has traumatized them.
-If the initial crime is solved and avenged, the above bonuses apply to investigating and fighting all supernatural threats.
-A Victim’s cannot start with a Calm Characteristic higher than 4.  If you’re making a custom character, be sure to assign a 4 or lower to this Characteristic. If you have no low numbers (wow) or made a completely random character with a high Calm, the player must lower it to 4.


-If Victim PCs choose Volunteering or Isolation/Meditation as their Downtime activity, they gain an extra throw.
-The Victim regains 1 Calm at the end of the session if they hurt a Horror in some way.

Panic Mode:
The victim in a panic is energized. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they will act with 1 additional throw and will keep that throw for that purpose until the menace is defeated or driven off (again: only in combat). 


Like the Victim, the Problem starts the game having already come into contact with the enemy—only for the Problem, the scars are not just mental, but physical and even spiritual. The Problem is manifesting strange abilities and aversions. The Problem may have demon blood, they may have dawning psychic abilities, they may be turning into something more than human. 

-There may only be one Problem PC at a time. If the game group has players that regularly pop in and out of the campaign, have players who want to play a Problem make an additional non-Problem PC in case two players with Problem characters show up to the same session.
-The Problem’s player can choose the kind of Problem they are or they can let the Host pick.
-The Problem gains abilities specific to the brand of Problem they are.
-So far Artificial lifeform, Vampire, Lycanthrope, Psychic, and Part-demon characters are supported by this book (see the Horrors section in the Part 4: The Library for specifics on each). Hosts are officially encouraged to make more if these aren’t enough.
-If the player chooses, The Host must state which kinds of supernatural creatures (and which kinds of PC Psychic abilities) they wish to allow before the player makes their choice.
-If the player chooses the type of Problem their character will be, their maximum starting Calm Characteristic  is 3. If you’re making a custom character, be sure to assign a 3 or lower to this Characteristic. If you have no low numbers (wow) or made a completely random character with a high Calm, the player must lower it to 3.
-If the Host chooses the kind of Problem they are, they gain a +1 to Calm up to a starting Calm of 4 (no more). 

-If Problem PCs choose Isolation/Meditation as their Downtime activity, they gain an extra throw.
-The Problem regains 1 Calm at the end of the session if they use their abilities in a way that helped their fellow party members.

Panic Mode:
The problem will revert to instinct when in a panic. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they must use their special abilities


Any modern occupation or job is fair game in Demon City, you get to pick. There’s a list of 500-odd modern occupations in the back of the book if you’re not sure. This can determine what your Occupational Skill is (see below) and affect your Contacts, but it doesn’t directly impact anything else in character generation, including your Motive. You can be a wealthy night clerk at Circle K in Demon City if you really want to (maybe your rich uncle just died).


Characters in Demon City have two kinds of stats: Characteristics and Skills. Characteristics are broad descriptors and things that every person generally has to come degree (Appeal, Cash, etc), skills are things which require specific training or experience that not all modern humans can be expected to possess (knowledge of Firearms, Biology, etc).

Some common learned aptitudes like swimming, driving and using a cell phone are so common that they do not have a specific skill associated, but the lack of that ability will be noted separately. 

To make a new custom character, choose 7 cards from the Character Deck, then assign the numbers (ignore the suit—Aces are worth 1, the Fool is 0) to the characteristics below as you see fit, following the restrictions for your motive.

If you decide your character has a major disability not covered by a low Toughness score—they can’t, for instance, see or can’t hear or can’t walk without assistance or have only one arm or one hand—they gain 2 extra points to put into Characteristics of their choice up to the maximums for their Motive. 

Characteristics for humans are ranked 0-5 
0: Terrible
1: Bad
2: Average
3: Good
4: Very good
5: World class

These are:


(CATPACK for short)

Characteristics can go up and down. These scores are—right now—your “Starting Calm”, “Starting Agility” etc. They are also, for now, your Maximum Calm, Maximum Agility, etc.

Calm and Toughness can go down easily, but then come back up again. Next to Calm put “Current Calm” and “Maximum Calm” and mark them all the same number as you Calm score. Also put “Current Toughness” and “Maximum Toughness” on your sheet and give them all the same number as your Toughness score.


The number of Starting Contacts you have when the game starts is equal to your Appeal or Cash, whichever is higher. 

Contacts are people you know and are guaranteed to help you with an investigation if it’s within their field or area of expertise (though they are oddly cowardly, they rarely accompany PCs). You have a certain number of slots—you can pick who these people are now or let them “float”. Also, there are some occasions when you’ll get a “free” Contact—that is, a Contact that won’t take up one of your starting Slots.

You don’t have to decide who your Contacts are until you feel the need to call on someone in the game—however, if you want to have a contact in a specific field right away, you can write in one now—without having to make any checks (see below).

If you let a Contact slot float—when you want a Contact you make an Appeal check against a Host-chosen number (depending on how likely your character as-played-up-until-that-point would know such a person) to see if you happen to know someone in that field. Once you’ve filled up all of these Starting Contact slots you have to meet new people in-game or through special rewards from the Host and cannot simply add Contacts at will by making Appeal checks.

If you fail the Appeal throw, you don’t know anyone you trust in that field, and you can’t make a new Contact in the same field that way using floating slots (though you could try to know someone in a related field—if you don’t know a chemistry professor you may know a pharmacist).

Once established, a Contact exists—they immediately need a name, a part of the city they live in, an appearance (the player can decide this but if they don’t want to, the Host can)—the rest can be developed in play or decided between sessions. Losing a Contact after they are invented costs a Calm point permanently off your maximum—so be good to them.

Here’s a rule for the Host: you can’t just say a Contact died (or went insane, or betrayed you). If a Contact is threatened, that means the characters have a chance to save them. Finding out a Contact is threatened is a hook for an adventure and the Contact can only be taken away permanently if the characters fail to meet some in-game challenge.

Contacts can’t be real people from our world—like you can’t have Oprah as a contact—because it gets really silly really fast. You can, however, have “A prominent african-american tv host known for her comforting takes on hot button issues” etc.

Occasionally a Contact will ask for help with something potentially life- or sanity- threatening—this is almost always going to be the Host’s way of getting players involved in the next investigation. Not helping them could cost you Calm.


Skills are specialized abilities not everyone has. Skills are associated with a Characteristic—they are ranked 1-9 for humans and usually they start at least one point higher than the associated Characteristic score.

Assign skills as follows:

1. Broadly speaking you get one Occupational skill + 5 Basic Skills + Any skills your Motive gives you. There are a bunch of details and nitpicky options from there but that’s the basics…

2. First nitpick: New characters start with one Occupational Skill—this is a skill associated with their job (or school or lifestyle of indolent wealth or whatever) there are two ways to do it and you get to pick:

-Name a custom skill after your job and rank it at Perception +1, the skill will not be on the list below but it represents what the character knows from their own job. A plumber with Perception: 3 could have Plumbing: 4. This is an extra skill in addition to the basic 5 you usually get (see below).

-If your PC’s job substantially involves a skill already on the list below, like, for instance, you’re a burglar so your job is basically Burglary or if you’re a used car salesman and so your job is basically Deception, or you’re a bouncer so your job is basically Hand to Hand combat you may choose to take that listed skill at (associated characteristic)+2 instead of taking the separate extra Occupational skill. This isn’t an extra skill and counts against the total number of skills you get (5 skills).

The job-specific Occupational Skill is generally broader than the skill on the list, so it can be a difficult choice: if you’re a stage magician you can choose “Stage Magician” at Perception+1 and be good at performing, choosing costumes, assume a familiarity with how theaters work, plus know some magic tricks, or you can choose a job-related skill off the list—say “Sleight of Hand”—at Agility+2 as your Occupational Skill, which is possibly a higher number, but means you’re only especially good at the actual tricks and you probably let your assistant handle the rest.

3. Some PC Motives grant additional Skills, as noted under the Motive description.

4. The basic 5 Skills you get come off the lost. The rank at (whatever the associated Characteristic is) +1. Some of the skills, like Athletics, Science or Humanities, allow you to pick a bonus skill afterward. Others, like Exotic Weapon, require you to specify a concentration.

5. Specialization option—if you give up one of your 5 basic skills, you gain 2 skill points that you can add on to the rating of any other skill you already have. Maximum rank of 9 for any skill. Spend them all now. Characters cannot trade in specific skills they got because of their Motive or bonus skills like the ones you get to pick after you get Athletics, Science or Humanities, nor can they be a skill that grants bonus skills. In other words: do not use this option to “game the system”—the gaming comes later when you actually play the character you made.  You’re taking your 2 skill points in lieu of one of those initial 5 skills you get.

6. Hyperspecialization option—If your character can’t swim, drive, read, or use a cell phone/computer, you get 2 extra skills (at Characteristic +1) or 4 points to use on existing skills for each of these limitations you have.

Skills can be improved later, so don’t freak out if they’re low.

The Skills and their associated characteristics are:

-Driving (it’s assumed you can drive, this is fancy driving, and also general car trivia)
-Exotic Weapon (this includes pre-modern things not covered under melee or firearms like bows, throwing knives, whips, etc. You have to pick one category specifically like “Exotic Weapon: Bows”, but you get it at Agility+2)
-Pilot/Drive Other (anything not a car that requires training: motorcycle, boat, helicopter, plane--pick one now)
-Sleight of Hand (any kind of tricky task involving manual dexterity)

Toughness or Agility, whichever is higher
-Athletics (if you pick this, in addition to Athletics at the normal score you also get to choose a specific sport or kind of training: swimming, triathalon, tennis, mountain climbing, etc. and you get that at +2. Additional specific sports chosen after that are also at Toughness/Agility +2. If your sport is wrestling, boxing, martial arts etc you have to take Hand To Hand instead—it comes up a lot. Same with target shooting and Firearms, etc.)
-Hand to hand combat (also includes using most simple melee weapons like swords, clubs, brass knuckles, knives, etc)

-Occupational (soldier, student, truck driver, etc—this represents your current job—see above for the special way this works)
-Outdoor Survival/Tracking
-Therapy (talking other people down from certain Calm loss incidents, but can also be used to see if someone’s lying, etc)

-Deception (this includes both ability to disguise yourself, and acting/lying generally)
-Persuasion (being good at talking—this only includes telling the truth though or advicating for something you want, unlike just Appea, it doesn’t make you good-looking)

-Humanities (if you pick this, in addition to Humanities at Knowledge+1, you get to choose a specific subject—Literature, Anthropology, History, etc—you get that free, at Knowledge+2. Additional specific Humanities subjects chosen after that are also at Knowledge +2.)
-Local Knowledge (this is for wherever the campaign starts unless you specify otherwise)
-Other Languages (Pick one at Knowledge+2 or a number of languages equal to your Knowledge score each ranked at Knowledge minus 1)
-Science (if you pick this, in addition to Science at Knowledge+1, you get to choose a specific subject—Biology, Chemistry, etc—you get that free at Knowledge+2. Additional specific Science subjects chosen after that are also at Knowledge +2.)

Perception or Knowledge, whichever is higher

Knowledge, Perception or Cash, whichever is highest
-Well-traveled (a successful check means you can add Local Knowledge of a place other than where the campaign began at Knowledge/Perception/Cash minus 1—minimum of 0. You can use this any number of times.)


Looking at the details you’ve got, tie it all together. Figure out why they have this mix of aptitudes and weaknesses. Give your PC an age and a name and decide what they look like and you’re ready to go. Height, weight, eye color, etc can be decided now or when they come up.


Once the characters are made, you want to think about how they’re related to The Horror and how you’ll get them involved in the first investigation.

You’re going to have to fit them into some adventure whose initial conditions you’ll devise. This means you may devise some details of the PC’s backstory for them, you might say “Our story begins in Pittsburgh, your father was a coalminer…”—as long as they’re ok with this (most players will be) you’re fine. If they strongly object to some background thing you attach to their PC: bend.

Also: at the beginning of each session, write down player characters' names in ascending order of Agility and leave some space in between. Decide ties randomly. The reason will be clear soon. 

Also note each character’s Perception stat, in case you need to secretly determine if they’re surprised or notice something and don’t want the players to know something’s up.

WHAT THE CHARACTERISTICS MEAN (Graphic Designer: put this facing the Characteristics page in character generation)

-Chill, Cool, Self-Control.
-Sanity too, for most people. Though psychopaths can be very Calm.
-Current Calm goes up and down but throws are made using your Maximum Calm score. 
-Used to resist and sometimes use paranormal powers and magic that mess with your mind.
-0 Calm means you’re off in some clear way people notice.
-Negative Calm means you’re maybe going insane, see details under PANIC AND INSANITY.

-Flexibility, ability to dodge stuff, fine motor control.
-This is your dodging punches stat if you don’t have Hand To Hand skill.
-…and your shooting stat if you don’t have Firearms.
-Also good for getting out of the way of explosions, people aiming at you, gouts of blood, etc.
-Decides who announces when in a fight, high Agility characters get to decide what they’ll try to do after low Agility ones announce.

-Strength and health.
-Current Toughness goes up and down but throws are made using your Maximum Toughness score.
-This is your punching & kicking and general melee stat if you don’t have Hand To Hand skill.
-Someone with Toughness 5 might backlift up to 2 tons, something Toughness 10 can backlift up to 50 tons.
-O Toughness means you’re debilitated in some clear way.
-Negative toughness means you’re maybe dying, see details under DAMAGE.

-Senses plus ability to notice things in general.
-Used to resist delusions and illusions.
-Used to find clues.

-Overall charm, due to appearance, manner, or both.
-That is: the player can decide how much of this is they’re good-looking and how much is charm.
-Includes lying and convincing people you’re telling the truth—get the Deception skill to get better at the former, the Persuade skill to get better at the latter.

-How much money you have.
-Cash can go up and down—throws are made using your current score.
-Cash 0 doesn’t necessarily mean you have zero dollars, just that you’re borderline homeless in general.
-The Intensity of a Cash Check is roughly equal to the number of digits in the purchase.
-You can never purchase anything more than 2 Intensities above your Cash level.
-More details about buying things are in The Store in the Library section of this book.

-How much useful information you have in your head.
-This isn’t logic or deductive reasoning, the players have to do that themselves. Figuring out a tall building would cast a shadow pointing west in the morning is, for example, a deduction the players would have to make without a throw. Knowing there is a specific tall building somewhere in the city is a Knowledge throw.

Give to the Demon City patreon here

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Welcome /rpg Goons from the Something Awful Old-School D&D and Retroclone Thread

Hi there!

Apparently, after 5 years and 101 pages of the first one, there's finally a new Old School and DIY D&D thread on Something Awful /rpg.

And, surprisingly enough, it starts with shout-outs to a lot of games and bloggers Something Awful has previously ignored or tried to. This is cool and thanks :)

Business to address. Since the DIY RPG blog list put up there (while good) trends consistently white and cis and straight and male, let me link you to some more of the diversity of the old school because women, trans and nb and not-white people are doing a lot of the best work in game hacks right now:

Scrap Princess is my favorite game artist, a true D&D dadaist as a writer and an important not-full-of-shit voice in the community.  She's working on a Weird Planes supplement and, yes, she did sew every monster in the manual from pants.

Emmy Allen is doing some of the best work in the intersection of OSR and horror right now.

Kiel Chenier of Dungeons & Donuts is Mr Positive Attitude and produces smiley queer-friendly body-positive adventures. Obviously his blogs a Tumblr.

FM Geist has only recently started blogging but for years she's been one of those names that would pop up in comments saying something stunningly scholarly or sane. Watch this space, she's got ideas.

Zedeck Siew posts fantastically well-written and creepy stuff mixing D&D with local Malaysian traditions.

Brendan S over at Necropraxis thinks for real about process and the structure actually, like, is a scientist. Also I totally forgot him when I first put this up and feel stupid bc I've been reading almost every Necropraxis for years.

Mabel Harper does wonderfully creepy stuff with a kind of black metal sensibility.

Ramanan S does some of the best OSR web-widgets and also is a consistent source of very commonsense commentary on products and gamey things.

Stacy Dellorfano's con-within-GenCon, Contessa, while not specifically an OSR project, has been a great force for getting more diverse players and GMs into the hobby, and Stacy is working on a project for LOTFP right now.

....please be nice to them.  Like me, some of the authors above have had to deal with a lot of static and smears from the old guard at Something Awful /rpg left over from back in the days when the board was ruled by hardcore 4e and Dungeon World fans who wanted to pretend Old School Gaming was all Republicans and harassers so goons could feel ok about dunking on them. I would hate to see any of the old hate campaigns started up again just because somebody at /rpg was trying to do the community a solid and link over here.

Anyway: Hi again! Welcome to DIY RPGland! I'm happy to point you to any resources, field any questions (about literally anything) you might have here in the comments or, if you prefer, via email at zakzsmith AT hawtmayle or, if you prefer to be anonymous, go here.

For a guide to stuff on this blog (it hasn't been updated in a while but it still covers a lot of basics, go here.

Monday, May 28, 2018

There's A Lot Of Screaming

@DemonCity is just some random guy's twitter handle, Ela.

So we were playing Demon City.

The bartender at the Charming Gorgon--a contact--came to the PCs saying they need to help their dad move...

...but when they get there he's headless in his big house and someone has clearly ransacked the place. He’s a rare book dealer—there’s money and Civil War sabres missing and he looks like nearly every bone in his body has snapped beneath the skin but the biggest problem is this mild mannered antiquarian’s register shows he had a copy of the Glistening Chamber Codex—and it is gone. 

It turns out a low-level gang kid street-named Sig Sour broke into the house after he saw that nobody was home (or at least nobody awake) for days and stole this stuff. 

Sikk Sour looks like 6ix9ine drives a big black car with gold rims with a license plate that says "Sour" and carries a gold-plated sig sauer with a leopard print handle and a home-made muzzle loudener.
The PCs beat him up very quickly, take his gun and ask him why he's lurking behind this old man's house.

They make him talk a lot so that I have to keep doing his voice.

Turns out Sikk (Damn, stop hitting me inna face girl an' I tell you) headed back to the house where he’s staying—he lives with a bunch of flower sellers (long story--basically a gang that controls this territory also has runaway kids selling flowers on the on-ramps and they all live in a rundown house).

From there, one of the other flower-selling kids (a younger one, Tessa Bellaika) stole the Codex. Tessa was running away from the flower-selling business anyway and took the fascinating and very expensive-looking book on the road with her, thinking maybe she could pawn it later.

Also turns out one of the PCs actually has one of the leaders of the flower-gang as a contact--a witchy 60s-casualty drug dealer in a big man's shirt named Acid Mother.

Important people want this book--as the PCs are informed by an 8-year old girl walking a shih-tzu who talks with Acid Mother's voice.

Questioning flower kids leads to finding out Tessa took off with the book and was hiding out in the back of a tourist voodoo shop in the French Quarter.

PCs break in--briefly register and address the fact everything in the shop is rotting and turning into scorpions--and run out the back door.

Tessa's card is The Fool--she's on a journey alone and her only friend is a 6000-year old book of foul necromancy. Accidentally or on purpose she releases a Mutilating Wave on the streets of the French Quarter to cover her as she flees but her car gets caught in the wave.

Long story-short, Phoenix Fatale--model, sugar-baby, finder of lost children--figures that wrapping a plastic bag around your hand should be enough to protect it from the Wave of Now instead of a left hand she has a stump and a rescued 16-year old wanna-be teenage witch (who is missing an ear, nose and foot).

There is much discussion of the stump's possible futures into which I shall not delve at this moment.


Next Session:

There's a whole subplot with the mayor and tentacle monsters and an evil pharmaceutical company but mostly what happens is the players are in an airbnb trying to figure out the Glistening Chamber Codex and then ordering thai food.

Now here are some things you don't want to happen when you order thai:

-The GM says "You hear a knock at the door" instead of just going "Let's assume you order thai or whatever".

-The GM narrates the delivery guy smiling and giving you food and looking around inquisitively instead of just saying "Ok, make a cash throw to pay for the thai food".

-Bea the bicycle messenger with the ability to induce psychosomatic blindness deciding to straight-up shoot the delivery boy on general principle for being narrated.

-Victoria Bast, ace markswoman trying to stop her and failing.

-The thai delivery guy to be accompanied by another thai delivery guy who throws scalding hot tea on you.

-The other thai delivery guy closing his eyelids to reveal a pair of runes that cause anyone who sees them to save or begin birthing a small six-legged goat from their mouth.

What you do want is for Bea's player to text her stepdaughter that this is happening and for said stepdaughter to reply back quickly with this drawing:

The official first-ever piece of Demon City fan art
What you then again don't want is for Kip the actress to lose all her remaining calm and then, when offered the official Demon City options:

1. Make a new PC now, or
2. Cause mayhem until the end of the session in order to earn you a +1 Calm for your next PC.

...and choose option 2 and then pass the Host this note:
...and then start singing showtunes.

And then you don't want the police to arrive.

And then you also don't want to have this conversation:

"Damn the cops come fast--and from every direction?"

"Well, they are horror cops."
They did get away, though. Even Kip--though she's in the asylum now.

Playtests pretty successful so far I'd say.
Help get Demon City in print here

Friday, May 25, 2018

Demon City Combat (using Tarot Cards)

(For Demon City. Help out here)

Action: The Short Version

In the next section, action in Demon City is explained in detail with a note about everything you might ever have to keep track even in the most complex combat, in the order it might come up and all the "What if?s answered. Also, the tarot cards used in Demon City have a variety of things about them that matter besides just the number on them, but for now, only the number is important.

Basically Demon City action boils down to:

1. Everyone announces their actions in reverse-order of agility and resolves any uncontested actions (ie, ones nobody is trying to interfere with).

2. Everybody involved in contested actions collects the cards they’ll throw face down, then flips all at once.

3. If the players get the highest throw, they get to do their things, including the highest-throwing attack on their side. If the Host gets the highest throw, they get to do their things, including the highest-throwing attack on their side.

Action: In Detail:


1. Write everyone’s name down in Agility order

Remember how the Host was supposed to write down PC’s names in ascending order of Agility? Put in the bad guys (and anyone else involved in the Action) in that list, too. 

If there’s a tie, ties are decided randomly and usually stay in that order until the fight ends. The Host can also re-throw ties at their own discretion if some new enemy shows up, if someone is out of the action or the scene changes in some dramatic way.

2. Slowest Character Announces What They Want To Do

Look at the top: Whatever entity involved in the round has the lowest Agility announces what they plan to do.

Everyone will notice this low-Agility slowpoke getting ready to do whatever they're going to do. Higher Agility characters will have their choice of action informed by what the slower one does.

-This can't be an “if-then” and they can’t wait to see what other people are doing, they gotta decide.

-Actions can normally only target one foe at a time--exceptions will be noted when we get around to specific abilities and weapons (like grenades and Waves of Mutilation). 

-You can also try to run up to 30 feet and perform an action, or perform an all-movement action moving you up to 60 feet. Though for the purpose of deciding the weapon throw (see below) against a target who is fighting back your range is the distance you started the round at. (ie You can’t go “I charge in 30 feet while he shoots so the range is now 6 inches and stab him with +1 throw because I have a knife and a knife beats a gun at 6 inches”. You can try to attack with your knife, but you making it through the 30 feet between you and them before getting shot is part of what the the coming throw will decide.)

-If a character is Out of the Fight or in a Panic (see below) at the beginning of the round and needs to throw to regain their Toughness or Calm, they throw before announcing their action. If they fail, they might not get an action this round—or ever again.

-If you successfully used an attack or used a defensive action (see below) to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you can be anywhere you could normally move (ie not on the ceiling, etc) within 60 feet of your last position relative to the enemy, including behind the enemy or behind cover if you want. 

3. Figure Out How Many Throws They Get And Take Cards Face Down

Once you know how many cards you get, slide those cards face down in front of you—don’t look at them yet.

As with non-Action tasks, the players throw out of the Players' Deck which sits at the middle of the table (and includes their Significator cards), the Host throws out of the specially built Horror's Deck.)

Also like non-Action tasks, you start with one throw and gain (and then maybe lose) more based on what’s going on. These extra throws are a little different in Action than in normal contests:


If a character has a situational advantage (high ground, etc) over whoever they're directly facing off against they get an extra throw.

If the character has any other distinct situational advantages on top of the first one—like their target is both tripping and is handcuffed—you can get another extra throw for each advantage.

As in non-Action tasks, extra throws do not normally represent the scale of an advantage: each distinct advantage is worth one throw , it doesn’t matter if you have 10 feet of high ground or 20 feet of high ground, it’s still one throw .

Note on the extra throw : Combat in Demon City may involve a lot of players and Hosts discussing what does and does not constitute a situational advantage. This is good. This is what the players should be doing: talking about the fictional situation as if it were real so everyone is imagining the same events as much as possible and making interesting decisions about how to use what’s going on to their advantage. 

Weird edge case: in a situation where opponents on different sides have the same kind of advantage over their targets (probably because one of them has a different target) the one with the ultimate advantage gets one more of that kind of extra throw than the inferior foe. So Hiram has high ground advantage to attack Lois but if Max is even higher up the hill attacking Hiram, Max would get two extra throws for high ground on Hiram. This is relatively rare.

There are some common kinds of extra throws you should check for every time:

Higher Stat Throw 

If an enemy you target is targeting you back (they will say this on their turn after an action targeting them is announced), then whoever has the higher stat gets an extra throw. You also get it if the enemy is not targeting you back but your stat is higher than the stat they’d use to resist or avoid your attack. This is usually Agility, although in some cases (which’ll be noted) it’s Toughness and in the case of paranormal or magic attacks it could be any stat—the description of the Supernatural Ability (in the Library section) will say.

It doesn’t normally matter how many points you outclass them by, you still only get one Higher Stat throw .

Close combat actions (kicking, punching, knifing) rely on the attackers’ Toughness (or Hand To Hand skill if they have it—it’ll be higher)—and target the foe's Agility or, if they have it, the foe's Hand-to-Hand combat skill. (If you want your Agility to matter in hitting people, you need to get trained in Hand To Hand, which can be Agility-derived).

Shooting relies on Agility (or Firearms or Exotic Weapons if applicable) and the target’s Agility.

Distraction Throw 

If your target’s not focused on you, you get an extra throw. This can be given if your target is attacking someone else, if they are trying to activate a garage door while you attack, or if they are in any other way not set to defend or attack you back.

It doesn’t normally matter how distracted they are, you still only get one Distraction throw in a round.

Defense Throw 

If you are only actively defending in a round (dodging, running away, etc), you get an extra throw.

Remember: if you successfully use a defensive action to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you can be anywhere you could normally move (ie not on the ceiling) within 60 feet of your last position, including behind the enemy or behind cover if you want.

Weapon Throw 

If someone is attacking (or parrying) with a weapon that is better for the specific situation than the one their opponent is attacking back or parrying with, that is worth an extra throw. For example, if two characters are fighting under a twin bed, the combatant attacking with a knife or claws will get an extra throw against a target using a longsword (which needs more room to maneuver), but in most situations it'd be the other way around because the sword has better reach. This is the main way weapons are differentiated in Demon City (and in horror films)--by the situation in which they are most useful. An armed opponent will get a weapon throw over an unarmed one pretty much every time, unless the weapon is unusually cumbersome in that position (like a bow at a range of 3 inches).

For the purpose of deciding the weapon throw against a target who is fighting back, your range is the distance you started the round at.

If you need more details on which weapons are best in which situations, you can look in The Store section in the Library.

Supernatural Throw

If a mundane attack (a gun, a fist etc) is facing off against a supernatural ability (telekinesis, for instance, via magic or psychic ability) the supernatural weapon usually gains an extra throw. For edge cases (Do the claws of a werewolf count? What about the claws of a mutant wolf?) see the individual Horror’s entry later in the book.


If there are difficulties in the situation not otherwise accounted for (by, for example, someone directly opposed already having gained an extra throw) they can be accounted for by lost throws. The most common types of lost throw are the lost throw for a Called Shot (below) and the lost throw for Injury.

Lost throws do not normally represent the scale of a disadvantage: each distinct disadvantage is worth one throw, it doesn’t matter if you are kinda drunk or really drunk—it’s still one throw .

If you have only one throw you cannot lose any more—you always get a minimum of one throw.

Weird edge case: If you have only one throw and voluntarily choose a tricky maneuver which would lose you a throw —like shooting someone in the eye—then you throw two throws and pick the lowest. So, no, if you are bad at shooting you can’t game the system and do a called shot every round.

Lost Throw for a Called Shot

If you’re trying to hit a specific spot on a foe, that loses a throw. Exception:Trying to disarm a foe will not result in a lost card if you also elect to cause no damage or harm with the attack.

Lost Throw for Injury

If you’ve been knocked to negative Toughness during a fight and then successfully throw to recover, you’re hurt and you’ll lose a throw in action rounds until you gain at least one Toughness back.

Note this does not apply if you just get knocked from positive to 0 Toughness or if you started at 0—it only happens after you get hurt.


As in non-Action, if, in an opposed throw, a tactical asymmetry can be represented by giving extra throws to one party or taking lost throws from the other, default to giving the extra throws.

And, as in non-action, if one party in an opposed throw is at minimum throws (one throw ) and distinct disadvantages keep piling on, add extra throws to an opponent’s throw.

Again: be careful not to give and take throws to represent the same asymmetry. Like if Laura has the high ground and Bailey has a the low ground and they’re 10 feet apart, give Laura an extra throw, don’t also subtract one from Bailey.


Often after actually throwing and playing out a round, you’ll likely end up in a situation somewhat similar to the one you were just in—you were trying to burn a grimoire of unholy knowledge while dodging acid last round and you’re trying to do it again this round—so remember how many throws you’re throwing even after they hit the table. Leave the cards there so its clear how many you threw until it’s time to throw again. The next round, if you want to try the same action again you can re-throw the same number of throws without recalculating, or easily add or subtract one to represent a slightly changed situation.

4. Resolved Any Uncontested Actions

If nobody wants to stop a character from doing what they announced and nothing they’ll announce can interfere with anyone else directly, assume it is happening during the round—flip over and evaluate any throws necessary then, as in the Basic Task Resolution section.

This takes place outside the coming Clash. So, for instance, if Alfred and Bebe are trying to stab one another while Ceelo is desperately trying to find the switch that opens the garage door so he can get away, he can throw a Perception throw to search right after announcing his action—his action’s not part of the Clash because nobody’s doing anything that would interfere with that.

Remember throwing your Significator and winning is a critical success and The Fool as your highest card is a critical failure (unless it's your Significator).

Some Horrors get to do special things if they win with a specific card.

5. Other Characters Announce, Collect Throws, Resolve Uncontested Actions

Second-least Agile creature goes through steps 2-4 above, then the third-least Agile, etc. until all characters have announced and any uncontested actions (including just moving) are resolved. 

6. Throw For A Clash

Everyone performing a contested or overlapping action in the same Clash now flips over their cards. The Host can be like “Ready…throw” and make it dramatic.

If there are multiple confrontations that don’t overlap: it’s possible for a fight with characters squaring off against multiple opponents to be actually made up of multiple clashes, so long as none of the personnel could interfere with each other. So Alfred and Bebe could be kicking Ceelo and Didi and Eve could be punching Fifi and that would be two clashes you’d resolve separately. If, however, Fifi was trying to pickpocket Alfred it would then all be one big Clash because only one of these things will happen first. This is unusual but it can happen—either way you still throw all at once, just handle one Clash at a time.

If there are competing drivers/pilots in a chase there’s an exception— drivers always count as being in a separate Clash with each other, even though each driver's actions could theoretically influence everyone in either car/boat/plane etc. So: each round, unless there's a tie, one or the other driver gets to pull a maneuver each round. This is because your vehicle keeps moving forward even if a character in it acts first.

7. Whichever Side Has The Highest Throw Wins

All tarot cards have a number on them. The winning side is whichever one flips over a card of the highest value.

If a tie for first occurs, then one of two things happens:

-If it's a tie between two characters on the same side (ie, two PCs who are getting along or two hostile NPCs with the same goal at the moment) then the players (if its PCs) or Host (if its NPCs) can decide who will act.

-If it's a tie between characters on opposing sides the situation stays mostly the same as it was before the Clash and the contest stays undecided, but the Host changes something in the situation that affects everyone in the Clash, like: the floor could begin to collapse from the weight of the combatants. Then move to the next Action Round.

8. Highest-Throwing Successful Attack on the Winning Side Happens

The attack doesn’t have to be the highest throw on their side—their side just has to win. If Ann threw highest of all to dodge Bill and Cassie (on Ann’s team) wanted to shoot Bill, she could do that in the same Action Round if she threw higher than Bill’s Agility (her target).

“Successful” means they threw higher than a foe trying to avoid or attack them first.

Attacks include punches, kicks, shots, grabs, disarming attempts, psychic abilities, spells targeted at hostiles, etc.

If the highest-throwing attack on the winning side didn’t throw higher than their foe or target number, then it doesn’t happen—that’s a stalemate for now. They’re trading blocks or in pursuit still, etc.

If the successful attack involves damaging another character the attacker then throws damage (See DAMAGE below).

If something disturbing happens one or more characters may have to throw Calm checks (See CALM CHECKS below).

Only one attack can succeed per Clash—the highest-throwing attack on the winning side. This is true even if the allied attacks aren’t directly conflicting with each other. Demon City combat is chaotic and tense—the dominoes don’t all fall at once.

If, say, Ann successfully kicks Bill (her kick was the highest-throwing action in the clash) and Cassie just wants to dive out of the way of a cannibal ghoul and get her gun she can do that. However, if Cassie wanted to shoot Bill and didn’t throw higher than her friend Ann, she has to wait for the next Clash and try again even if she also threw higher than Bill’s Agility. 

Remember: if you throw your Significator and the card is high enough that it would've succeeded anyway, it is now a critical success. Likewise certain horrors get to do special things if they win with a specific card.

9. Other Nonconflicting, Non-Attack Actions On The Same Side Happen If They Beat Their Targets/Intensities

For example: an escape from a grapple on the winning side succeeds if it threw higher than the enemy.

Resolve any damage or Calm Checks as above.

Remember: if you throw your Significator and the card is high enough that it would've succeeded anyway, it is now a critical success—and some horrors get to do special things if they throw a certain card and are successful.

Unless The Fool is your significator, throwing The Fool as your highest card still means you critically failed--even if your side won.

10. Other Clashes Resolved

If the round involved multiple Clashes, resolve them as in 6-9

11. Start Over

Often only one thing happens per round. If characters are still involved in Action after all that, start over at 2 above.

Once nobody is desperately trying to do anything before anyone else present, Action Rounds are over.



1. Write everyone’s name down in Agility order
2. Slowest Character Announces What They Want To Do
3. Figure Out How Many Throws They Get
4. Resolved Any Uncontested Actions
5. Other Characters Announce, Collect Throws, Resolve Uncontested Actions
6. Throw For A Clash
7. Whichever Side Has The Highest Throw Wins
8. Highest-Throwing Successful Attack on the Winning Side Happens
9. Other Nonconflicting, Non-Attack Actions On The Same Side Happen If They Beat Their Targets/Intensities
10. Other Clashes Resolved
11. Repeat 2-13 Until It’s Over

Extra Throws
1 Throw to start

Extra Throws, including:

-Higher Stat Throw 
-Distraction Throw 
-Defense Throw 
-Weapon Throw 
-Supernatural Throw

Lost Throws including:

-Lost Throw for a Called Shot
-Lost Throw for Injury

…if you can act at all, you always get a minimum of 1 Throw.

If you’re an experienced game master you’ll notice some quirks of this system that make it different than other systems:

-Ties are common: this gives the Host a ready-made opportunity to hike up the tension and add atmosphere.

-Only one big thing happens at a time: this makes action work more like a horror movie or thriller—rather than a flurry of blows, we see one move, then some tension, then another.

-Teaming up is good: If the PCs all use weak attacks that get one card each while the monster has three cards, there’s still a good chance the PCs win the round and one of them get their attack in—the game is meant to make cooperation a pretty good idea—although getting in a monster’s face is always risky.

-Weak attacks can interfere with strong ones: If you’re trying to kick a monster (standard damage) and an ally is trying to drop a vat of lava on them (massive damage), you risk the kick throwing higher than the lava and being the only attack that succeeds that round. Again this is on purpose: if you’re ally is doing something big—get out of the way!…

-…or, better, throw to dodge. Dodging or blocking an enemy’s attack gives you a throw (a chance to throw higher than the bad guy) but doesn’t get in the way of a friend attacking. So distracting an enemy sets them up for your friends’ attack.

-Most attacks do the same initial damage: The tough guy’s punch is more likely to land than the skinny guy’s, but both are equally likely to put you out of the fight they land—as likely as a gunshot. If there’s action in Demon City, it’s always high stakes. However…

-People get knocked down a lot, but when we get to damage you'll see the intensity of the attack has an impact on whether they get up again and how fast. So the tough guy’s punch may keep you down longer. If you’ll notice, in horror movies people are constantly getting put out of the fight, crawling off, getting themselves together, and getting up again.

-Some things don’t matter sometimes, you have to make them matter: If I’m 10 feet away and have a sword and all you have is a knife I get an extra throw. If, at the same distance, I have a sword and all you have is your bare hands, I still only get one extra throw. At least for that round, it doesn’t matter if you have a knife or not—but, in the next round if you block me and you get in close with the knife, it suddenly will—successful blocks allow you to move in wherever you want the next round. Demon City rewards you for thinking of ways to make the assets you have count.

-It’s kinda realistic and it kind of isn’t: Demon City is organized so that tactical decisions and creative thinking matter, but also so that things are frenzied and chaotic. The rules are the way they are so that both of these priorities can be met while not being too hard to learn or run. If that’s how it feels once you’ve tried it a few times, then it’s working the way it’s supposed to.