Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mmmmm...Rich Creamy Vanilla

God damn there's a lot of talky NPCs and things to keep straight in the Maze of the Blue Medusa.

My players are in the Reptile Archive, but they still don't have their Chameleon Woman paladin with them who actually cares about the Reptile Archive.

In addition to cleverly outside-the-boxing past the undead bees and the Scorodron, they re-visited the Laughing Lich and The Guys That Think The Dungeon Is Their Hell, they ran into The Guy That Talks Constantly To The Glass History Golem, The Guy That Plays the Weird Organ of Forgotten Sounds (Acontias Skink--renamed "cunt skank" by the girls after he turned out to be way too self-absorbed), The Guy That Transcribes The Things That He Hears From The Engine That Collects Forgotten Sounds, The Guy Who Wants To Overthrow the Dungeon's "Power Structure", and found The Teapots That Have The DNA of Every Adventurer Who Died Looking For Them, they also heard The Faint Tinkling Noise, The Murmuring Noise and the Strangely Haunting Plangent Music of Acontias Skink but I forgot to include the Moaning Golem Faces On The Bridge...

They also got the ranger's animal companion ape addicted to a Crack Beast and had to save it but mostly they talked a lot--and they were good at it, too. But the best part of the adventure was when they finally got in a real fight:

They walk out onto the narrow bridge, I rolled some Chameleon Women on the random encounters. Everybody failed their perception check.

The first one throws a net over the barbarian, the second casts a version of Web which makes the net extend over the barbarian and ranger, blocking the bridge.

Now Stokely is playing her barbarian for the first time, after having lost two characters in this dungeon already.

"How do we get out of this Web?"

"Well it's a strength check."

"Oh god"

"If only you had some way to make sure you succeeded on a strength check..."

"Oh yeah Rage"

Stokely's barbarian rages for the first time, picks up the nearest chameleon woman, natural 20s to throw her over the edge of the bridge. Then the ranger knocks and arrow, aces Intimidate and scares off the rest.

Then on the way back though the bridge room later, I roll another wandering monster check and get the result that tells you you're getting hungry.

So because everybody's been through the Gallery where time speeds up and food spoils, nobody's got anything. They gotta crawl down there to the bottom of the pit, butcher the chameleon woman and eat her. Then a random NPC party rolled up and they had to share.

D&D is such a good game you guys.

I also got to test out these things that All Rolled Up made (use the links, their website makes the Maze look straightforward):


Monday, March 27, 2017

Jesse, Lester, Wendy

I tested the Demon City character gen rules (mostly the 5 skills plus miscellaneous bonuses system) by trying to see if they reliably produced the kinds of fictional characters I could see running around Demon City.

Here are a few tests I ran:

This is Jesse as he appeared at the beginning of the Breaking Bad...

Jesse Pinkman
Drug dealer
Role: Investigator (There's no horror investigation in BB but Jesse is motivated by money, so ok)

Investigator gains one extra Skill, free.
-The investigator gains one extra contact, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra Skill or contact, free.
-The Investigator's maximum Cash is 3.

Calm: 2 (Average. Jesse flies off the handle but he never really cracks up until he gets heavily addicted later)
Agility: 3 (He manages to climb that fence and steal his rv alright)
Toughness: 2
Perception: 2
Appeal: 4 (Kristin Ritter, dude)
Cash: 3
Knowledge: 2

Burglary/Theft: 4
Driving: 4
Stealth: 4
Streetwise: 4 (Instead of occupational, as a drug dealer Jesse's taken 2 pts in Streetwise)
Local Knowledge: 3
Science: 3
Science (Pharmacy): 4 (Jesse's probably not Chemistry 4 but he probably knows a lot more about drug effects than Walt)

So that's five skills plus one occupational--which has been replaced by an extra plus one on Streetwise and one extra for being an investigator--plus Science (Pharmacy) comes free with Science. Perfect!
I didn't give him Deception or Persuasion because although he does both, he has a decent Appeal so it might be down to that.



Skinny Pete
That girl he hides in the hotel with
That leaves him with 1 floating contact, who is probably one of the people who came to that endless party he threw.

Hey it worked. Solid.


Here's Lester from The Wire...

Lester Freamon

Calm: 5 
Agility: 1 (He's old)
Toughness: 1 (Ditto)
Perception: 5 (Maybe 5--I mean, he's not Sherlock Holmes but he almost never misses anything)
Appeal: 3 (I mean Chardine liked him)
Cash: 2
Knowledge: 4 

Burglary/Theft: 2
Firearms: 2
Stealth: 2 (he does stakeouts) 
Hand to Hand: 2 (he was in the army, he smacks Bird with a bottle)
Occupational (cop): 6
Streetwise: 6
Deception: 4
Local knowledge: 5
Research: 6

So that's 9 skills. 5 skills, +1 occupational, +2 extra for being an Investigator. Leaving us one short. We could argue that "Occupational (Cop)" is covered by Research+Local Knowledge+Streetwise+Burglary/Theft. Also I seem to recall that Lester didn't know that much about, like, surveillance exhaustion arguments etc until the lawyer explained it to them a few times. 

Plus we could bump up his Deception by one if he takes the "add an extra point to a skill" option instead of the extra skill.

So...pretty close.

Wendy Torrance

-Victims max starting Calm is 4
-Victims’ earnestness is manifest—they automatically gain the Persuasion skill equal to their Appeal plus one.
(And they get other stuff not relevant here.)


Calm: 1 (she's a wreck from day one but doesn't crack up)
Agility: 1
Toughness: 1
Perception: 3
Appeal: 3, maybe 4
Cash: 1
Knowledge: 2


Occupational (housewife/mom): 5 (I'm gonna say she put 2 pts here because by any measure Wendy is a pretty awesome mom)
Persuasion: 4 (automatic for victims)
Humanities: 3
Humanities (horror fiction): 4 (confirmed horror film and ghost story addict

Ok, now I could max out Wendy's housewife, or mayyybe add like Driving, but those feel like cheats--she's 3 skills short. She learns how to work a radio and other maintenance stuff pretty well but those kind of happen after the movie start--arguably though they happen during the set-up, so they're "gained" in the exposition. Still "running a frozen hotel" is really only one Occupational skill.

Basically either the system is overestimating Wendy or The Shining movie didn't show us enough of her outside being a victim. Maybe she's got more going on in the book?

Also, y'know, The Shining is 2 hours long and The Wire and Breaking Bad are series.

What's your take?
And now a word from our sponsor:
Here you go

Saturday, March 25, 2017

This Robot Makes Accountants

So the indefatigable Ramanan Sivaranjan made an automated character builder for Demon City.

It's fun to make characters and try to figure out who they are, some people on G+ made some...

Accounting Specialist

Calm: 3 Contacts: 5
Agility: 2
Toughness: 3
Perception: 1
Appeal: 1
Cash: 5
Knowledge: 5

Athletics: 4 
Outdoor Survival/Tracking: 2 
Firearms: 3 
Other Languages: 6 
Hacking: 6 

No big surprise how the accountant with hacking 6 ended up with maximum cash...

Furniture Finisher

Calm: 3 Contacts: 5
Agility: 4
Toughness: 4
Perception: 4
Appeal: 4
Cash: 5
Knowledge: 4

Firearms: 5
Stealth: 5
Electronics: 5
Fancy Driving: 5
Mechanics: 5 

Also rich--this dude is like some seventies TV detective and you see him like wrestle a shark and beat a Grandmaster at chess and uncover a conspiracy and then at the end of the day cops are like who did you say you were? and he's like oh I finish furniture.

Alright I gotta go figure out our D&D game tomorrow. Have fun be safe or don't be safe whatever, now a word from our sponsor...
It's here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

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.
And now, a word from our sponsor:
A new game from Zak Sabbath, Patreon it

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liking, Sharing, Zealotry, Games

So I was listening to the Longform podcast and somebody who runs a web magazine was talking about the kinds of nonfiction that were popular on the site.

Those kinds of true crime stories, he was saying, where there's like a few guys out in middle America and they get mixed up in some Cohen brothersy yarn of guns and betrayal and assbackwardsry--people love those. You can read the stats, people read them all the way through, they eat them right up.

But, he went on, they don't share them. They don't go on Facebook and go "Hey everybody read this Cohen brothersy yarn of guns, betrayal and assbackwardsry, you'll love it!"

Because why would you? You liked it, you don't know if any of your friends would. There isn't much to say about it other than "Well that was crazy"""Yeah and the part with the ice and the piano""OMG I know!".

And of course this is our whole economy now: the kind of things that get shared vs the kinds of things that don't.

Well what do people share?

People share opinion--even opinion they don't agree with--because then they can have a conversation about it. And also because their agreement or disagreement says something about them--which they broadcast to people--then people know what they're about (people knowing what you're about attracts like-minded people. And everybody in this life needs like-minded people.)

Women share more than men, that's science. (It's also science that women buy more stuff than men, I've seen estimates at like 70-85%.) A lot of that sharing is quick notes about taste. I like this, these. Again, this says something about you, which like-minded people will notice.

Zealots share more than anyone. Zealots will share things whether or not anyone cares (though some of their acquaintances always will--specifically other zealots. This is why all forms of zealot now have insane online zealot networks.) Therefore extremism will be disproportionately shared. This is why, for instance, Something Awful goons' accusation that James Raggi cavorts with Nazis and I am one are more widely shared than the proven facts that they're lying, he doesn't and I'm Jewish. The accusations excite zealots, boring facts do not.

Which is all to say: things get shared more to the degree that they make a statement, that they have a point. Hell: my "Always Share Kingdom Death" policy is specifically because it helps makes a point. Controversial things become well-known because their mere existence, whether good or bad, makes a point and suggests some discussion of something outside themselves.

There are very good things that get neglected by the sharing economy: often the most evocative and otherworldly game-writing is the least shared simply because it is otherworldly, it isn't immediately and obviously telling us something about something or about the person who is sharing, it just is and is good, like thick coins of pepperoni on a lake of extra cheese. You find Thief of Baghdad or Svankmajer's Alice and go why didn't anyone tell me about this? --well because it makes no point.

This blog entry has one though: be aware of the dynamics of sharing--and especially of what you like but don't share. And consider changing it up once in a while. It is, after all, called "the web" for a reason.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Demon City Character Generation

This is stuff for the new game I'm writing and painting, Demon City, donate to the Patreon here.

This is the OLD VERSION the new one is all done with tarot cards and clarifies a bunch of things.

--------------------------- CHARACTER GENERATION

This'll all be laid out in a fancier, easier-to-follow way in the final book, and I
m pretty sure I can get it all to be obvious right on the character sheet, like I did with Night's Black Agents, but this'll do for now to get people up and running who want to roll...

There are two ways to make a character: totally random and custom.

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

To make a totally random character, scroll down to “Characteristics” roll 1d10 divided by two (round up) for each characteristic. If you roll a 9 or 10 roll again--if you roll another 9 or 10, the stat is 5, if not, it is 2.

Then scroll up to Roles—pick or randomly roll a Role (keeping in mind each group can only start with a maximum of one Problem and must include at least one non-Friend), adjust your Characteristics (points over a maximum for a given Role are lost), then follow the directions for Occupation, Contacts, Skills, and The Rest.

Random characters will, on average, have better Characteristics than custom characters.


Roles are kind of like classes in other games, but instead of jobs, they describe what your relationship to The Corruption 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.


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

-The Curious character cannot regain (or gain) Calm during Downtime if they run away from a situation where they might learn more about the origin of The Horror during a session.
-The Curious character gains 3 extra Knowledge Skills or 5 extra free points in existing Knowledge Skills.

Panic mode:

The curious character's panic will come in the form of fascination. 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.

-Every party must include at least one non-friend.
-The Friend can have one of their alotted skills "float", unassigned--yet to be determined. They get to choose it whenever they like--if it will help whoever they are friends with.
-The Friend maintains a sense of detachment and perspective, giving them a +1 to Perception or Calm, free.

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 their friend out of the situation.


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.

-The Investigator gains one extra Skill, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra contact, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra Skill or contact, free.
-The Investigator's maximum starting Cash is 3.

Panic mode:

Used to relying on method, and here for practical reasons, 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 die.


Like the Victim (below), the Problem starts the game having already come in 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 be possessed, they may have dawning psychic abilities, they may be turning into something more than human. 

-There may only be one Problem per game group
-Problem’s max starting Calm is 3
-Each session, the Problem gains abilities specific to the brand of Problem they are. In the final rules, there’ll be an option available for the kind of players who want to actually choose what kind of paranormal creature they’re becoming, but for now only the option where it’s a surprise is available.

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


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 max starting Calm is 4
-Victims’ earnestness is manifest—they automatically gain the Persuasion skill equal to their Appeal plus one.
-The Victim is almost preternaturally aware of signs relating to the Horror--add one to their Perception stat. If it's already at 5, add one to all Perception-based skills and add 2 to one of them.

Panic Mode

The victim in a panic is energized. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they will act with 1 additional die if it is against the entity or entities they believe to have hurt them, and will keep that die for that purpose until the menace is defeated or driven off.


Characters in Demon City have Characteristics and Skills. Characteristics are broad descriptors, skills are things which require specific training that not all modern humans can be expected to possess.

Some common learned aptitudes like swimming, driving, using a cell phone are so common that they do not have a specific skill associated, but the lack of that ability is noted separately. All of these numbers are called “Stats”.

To make a new custom character, roll 1d10 divided by two (round down, unlike a totally random character) seven times, then assign the characteristics as you see fit. If you roll a 1 on the die or a 10 on the die roll again. If you re-roll a 1, your score is 0, if you re-roll a 10, your score is 5, otherwise your score is 2.

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 one arm or one hand—they gain 2 extra points to put into Characteristics of their choice. 

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)


Any modern occupation is fair game in Demon City. In the final game there’ll be a list of jobs you might have for inspiration but other than determining what your Occupational Skill is (see below) and your Contacts, it doesn’t directly impact anything in character generation. So just go ahead and pick something for now.


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

Contacts are people you know and can ask for a favor. One will be associated with your job, you can assign the rest at the start by randomly rolling on a Vornheim-like chart I haven’t made yet or let them float until you decide you want to have a contact in a certain field.

(If you let them 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 have one. Once you’ve filled up all of these slots you have to meet new people in-game.)


Skills are associated with a characteristic—they are ranked 1-9 for humans and are always at least one point higher than their associated characteristic score.

New characters start with 1 Occupational Skill at Perception +1, which is a custom skill representing what they know about their own job (things like student and stay-at-home-parent count). If your job already is a skill on the list, like, for instance, you’re a burglar so your job is basically Burglary/Theft, you may choose to take that skill at Perception +2 instead of taking the Occupational skill. 

In addition to any Skill budget provided by their Role, new characters get:
-The Simple Way: 5 Skills at (whatever the associated Characteristic is) +1
-The Complicated Way: 10 Skill Points which work like this-- a whole new Skill at (Characteristic+1) costs 2 points, and adding points to a Skill after that costs 1 point. Maximum of 9. Spend them all now.

If your character can’t swim, drive, read, or use a cell phone/computer, you get 2 extra skills or 3 points to use on existing skills for each of these problems you have.

The Skills and their associated characteristics are:
(purple stuff was added March 25th)

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 specifically, but you get it at +2)
Pilot/Drive Other (anything not a car that requires training: motorcycle, boat, helicopter, plane--pick one)

Toughness or Agility, whichever is higher
Athletics (choose a specific sport or kind of training: swimming, triathalon, tennis, mountain climbing, etc)
Hand to hand combat (includes using most melee weapons like swords, clubs, brass knuckles, etc, and knives when not thrown)

Occupational (soldier, student, truck driver, etc—this represents your current job)
Outdoor Survival/Tracking
Therapy (talking other people down from disturbing incidents)

Deception (this includes both ability to disguise yourself, and acting/lying generally)
Persuasion (this is mostly just what Appeal is used for, but it’s a skill because otherwise a character with Deception would always be better at lying than telling the truth)

Humanities (you get Humanities equal to Knowledge+1 and choose a specific subject—Literature, Anthropology, History, etc—you get that free, at Knowledge+2. Additional concentrations cost the same as getting an all new skill but are also at Knowledge +2.)
Local Knowledge (this is for wherever you live now unless you specify otherwise)
Other Languages (Pick one)
Science (you get Science equal to Knowledge+1 and choose a specific subject—Biology, Chemistry, etc—you get that free at Knowledge+2. Additional concentrations cost the same as getting an all new skill but are also at Knowledge +2.)

Perception or Knowledge, whichever is higher

The Rest

Looking at the details you’ve got, tie it all together. Give your PC an age and a name and decide what they look like and you’re ready to go.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Three Shadows (Escalating Inventions)

Fantastic genres usually work via escalating inventions: they show you a star destroyer at the beginning and the Death Star in the middle and a multi-starship fight on the Death Star at the end.

Sci-fi and fantasy settings (and the kind of sci fi and fantasy stories where the whole story is within one of those settings) generally put the inventions right up front. The first scene has something our world doesn't: a wizard, a Hobbit-hole, whatever. The inventions here are often things you could make a toy out of --they are objects, creatures, buildings. They are things.

Horror typically does not work that way. A lot of game masters who are very comfortable with sci-fi and fantasy aren't sure how to do horror and one reason is the inventions are more ephemeral, rely more on techniques specific to the medium they are in (word choice, pacing, lighting, camera angles etc) and depend less on invented things than invented events or situations.

Simply: a dragon puts you firmly in fantasy. A vampire doesn't quite get you to horror without some other stuff.

Horror involves, unsurprisingly, the deployment of horrific inventions, but what makes them scary is the way they're deployed. There are basically three kinds of inventions in horror and they generally appear in a strict order.

When you're laying out a horror scenario, here are some things to plan beforehand:

1. Unsettling Things

The first strange invention in a horror story is usually unsettling, but that's it. It's not gory, elaborate, or necessarily supernatural it's just off.

The camera pans across a burned district, every home a pile of incinerated trestle-work, bent crosses and blackened furniture, and then, somehow, in the middle of all of this, one lone home utterly untouched--green lawn, painted shutters.

The unsettling thing is usually the intimation of a problem (like Jack's manuscript in The Shining), a clue (the way the old Count refers to the wolves howling as music, the lights flickering in Stranger Things) or just moody symbolism (the deer in Get Out), but the players don't know which at the time. The unsettling invention makes you go: what happened here? The ambiguity adds to the mystery.

The more unsettling things you can think of, the more it becomes a psychological horror story (Rosemary's Baby barely moves past The Unsettling, David Lynch's films live there). The more of them actually end up being explained by the resolution the more satisfying it is as a mystery story.

In game-mastering terms: it is good to think of an opening unsettling image. That is--as much as a monster or npc--something you have to invent before you begin running your players through a scenario. If you can't think of anything better, a bizarrely-injured corpse is as durable a standby as meeting in a tavern.

Speaking of corpses...

2. The Effects

This kind of invention is often the Big Moment in a horror movie, and frequently a place for body horror and/or gore. Whatever the menace is, it's gotten to a victim and, more importantly, gotten to them in a distinctive way. The chest-burst in Alien, the head explosion in Scanners, the guy nosebleeding and freaking out in Get Out, the swimming pool in Let The Right One In, the various gurgling lunatics in Lovecraft stories.

The important idea here is: the terrifying display of the menace's effect on the world is in itself a horror and a thing to invent, as much as the creature itself. If you can see it before you actually see the menace, you ratchet up the tension.

You don't need many of these--one good one will get you all the dramatic juice you need. But you can do more--the more you do, the more story becomes a gore or survival-horror type situation. Scenarios which emphasize panic but don't spiral toward any specific monster image--like Suspiria or Carrie--can rely a lot on these.

3. The Menace

This invention is the most similar to what you'd get in any game--this is the monster. It can also be a person, a group of people, a place, even (in the case of Carrie) a special effect, whatever, the point is the whole situation has been building toward this and it better be scary.

The best advice I can give a GM on this score is that the menace at this point has to have some kind of unexpectedness about it. A typical heroic tale can get away with a final showdown with a guy you knew would be trouble all along, whereas in horror there has to be some sort of element of reveal to it. The dad turning out to be a vampire in Lost Boys, the impossible rooms in The Shining, the full scale of the creature in Alien. Save something for that last scene.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Getting Things Done In Demon City

More Demon City--donate to the Patreon here.



Players: Your character sheet represents the main differences between your character and you. Other than that: they’re a person, they can do anything that people can do, and the game is about them doing those things. They can call a friend on the phone, talk while punching, eat a burrito, etc. The game system tells you how to handle things when success is in doubt.

A large part of the Demon City system is based on simulating the kinds of struggles that characters typically experience in horror movies and other horror fiction. In those struggles, it’s usually important who is better, but how much better is less important. For example, a 90-pound weakling is likely to fail to dodge a supernaturally puissant tentacle from the Ninth Archon of the Black Dimension and be knocked off a roof into a dumpster, but the 90-pound weakling’s about equally likely to fail to dodge a punch from the school bully and end up in the same dumpster. How much better, faster, stronger, smarter matters in military simulations and superhero games, but only which side is better matters much in horror. In horror, fights are tense but relatively quick and decisive—as are many other contests. 

As in most tabletop RPGs, Demon City proceeds according to a simple underlying scheme: the Host describes the situation(s) the characters are in, the other players say what their respective characters try to do. When an outcome is in doubt and failure might have interesting consequences (not necessarily more interesting than success—just interesting at all), the rules and cards get involved. (Cards also can get involved whenever someone—usually the Host—thinks letting the cards pick something would be more interesting than picking themselves, but we’ll touch on that later.)

Simple example: Marty might come home late and drunkenly fumble at his apartment door lock before getting the key in, maybe even dropping the keyring in the process. But eventually he'll get it open, so there's no need to throw a card…

...unless (whether or not Marty knows it) Marty's brother is lying on the other side of the door about to bleed out. If he gets through right away he’s saved his brother in the nick of time (interesting) and if he doesn’t, his libertine ways have heartbreakingly, if indirectly, brought on the death of his brother (also interesting)—that's when you'll want to make a throw. 

You might well ask what happens in situation where failure would be interesting but success couldn’t. For example: a player uses a psychic power to “read” a bullet and discover who killed the victim in the first scene—and the murderer turns out to be someone in the room. Success here would mean the adventure is over before it even begins and the Host set up the adventure poorly (see: The Fudging Talk in the Host Section). The Host needs to try to not set up situations like that.


We’ve already seen one use of the tarot cards—the Character Deck—in character creation. Once actual play begins, the Host should (in some secrecy) make two new decks out of the tarot cards:

The Player’s Deck, at least in the beginning, contains only cards with suits (wands, cups, swords, pentacles)—the “Minor Arcana”—and none of the Court Cards (Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings). The Player’s Deck cards should represent each value 1-10 (it doesn’t matter which suits are included right now). Aces are worth one—it needs to have any three aces of any suits, any three twos of any suits, any three threes of any suit, etc all the way up to ten. 

After a while, the deck will also include a few special cards the players might have gained as rewards—these might be from the Minor Arcana’s Court Cards or cards from the Major Arcana (cards with names like The Hierophant (5), and Justice (11)), these rewarded cards are called Significators or Significator Cards.

However, that’s not important for now—mostly the deck will just generate numbers 1-10. Exceptions will be dealt with later. 

Place the Players’ Deck shuffled and face-down somewhere where all the players can get to it. All the players use the same pile—there should also be room for a discard pile.

The Host has something called the Horror’s Deck. The Horror’s Deck contains cards valued 1-10 that match the ideas that are underneath that day’s adventure, plus some special cards—mostly from the Court Cards and Major Arcana—that match the specific Horror (the major antagonist) underlying the story that underlies that day’s adventure.

Details on precisely which cards to put in a Horror’s Deck depend on the scenario the Host creates, but for now that also doesn’t matter. The main thing is: The Host also uses their Horror’s Deck to generate random numbers and they will also mostly be 1-10.

The Host should shuffle their deck and put it face down where they can get to it, and have room for their own discard pile.

One of the decks must include The Fool—which is worth 0. It normally is shuffled into the Players’ Deck. However, if the scenario the Host has created contains a creature which is specifically associated with The Fool then it may appear in the Host’s deck instead—the details of why that might happen will also be dealt with later.


Normally in Demon City what each player and the Host do is pull a set number of random cards from the top of the deck, lay them out, and use only the highest one they’ve thrown as the value for whatever they’re trying to do. High numbers are good and represent a more successful effort. 


Some game rules reqire that only numbers 1-10 be generated (no high cards), in this case pull a card and just ignore any card that isn’t 1-10 when throwing. This is notated “C10” as in “Throw C10 to see how many people are at the bar”.


Occasionally there is also something called the “C100” which is where you throw a pair of cards, with the first card being the “ones” digit and the second being the “tens” digit. On a C100 throw, unlike the C10, the “10” is read as 0, unless both cards come up 10 (10,10), which indicates “100”. Everyone, even the Host, throws a C100 using the Players’ Deck—because it can be impossible to get repeat numbers (like “77”) out of the Host’s Deck.


Basically, for most tasks which have their final outcome decided by a throw of the cards, either:

-the player whose character is acting throws vs an Intensity number (static throw), or
-the player and Host each throw vs one another (opposed throw)

…and if the player gets a higher throw than the Intensity or Host’s throw, the task gets done, if not, it doesn't and some potentially interesting consequence of failure ensues.

After cards are thrown they lay on the table until the next throw, at which point the old cards are placed facedown in a discard pile (the Host has their own and the players have their own) and new ones are drawn.

When a pile of cards is used up, shuffle the discard pile and start over.

Intensities, Static Throws and Opposed Throws

The Host should decide the Intensity number based on how hard the task would be for anyone on a scale of 1-9 (it’s rare to throw better than a 10 without some kind of magic, including Significator Cards—discussed later). Tasks within what a person (or a person with a given Skill) could be reasonably expected to do are ranked 1-5. Tasks that are supernatural or extreme—that even a very fast, smart, strong etc person might very likely fail at—are ranked in the 6-9 range. A host may also give multiple Intensities for tasks which can have greater and lesser degrees of success. For example: a Host might decide that in a certain archive a Research throw of 4 might reveal a suspect’s criminal record but a throw of 7 will reveal they have an entire second identity. 

Having the Host use an opposed throw even for the difficulty of dealing with inanimate objects (opening a lock on time, locating a file, climbing a wall) tends to personify the environment--the electronic lock is programmed by someone and Marty's attempts to crack it are pitted against the skill and effort put in by that programmer of the lock. It also—for mundane tasks which are ranked 1-5—makes the task harder. When there is no way to imagine any animate force actively resisting or if it just seems like it shouldn’t be too much of a thing—like in the example of Marty drunkenly scrabbling at his own lock with his own key--the Host should stick with a Static throw.

Throws that aren’t opposed are also called “tests” or “checks”.

With tests and checks, the active player must throw higher than the Intensity to succeed—a tie indicates failure.

With opposed throws, on the other hand, a tie usually means the situation becomes more complicated.

There are some hitches, though:

Only Your Own Highest Card counts

There are many cases where the sides throw multiple cards. The only throw that matters for each thrower is the highest one. So if you throw a 6 and an 8, your result is 8, the 6 doesn’t matter. Ignore the 6. If the opponent gets a 5 and a 9, the 5 doesn’t matter. The opponent got the highest result—a 9 which beats your 8, so the opponent wins.

There are a few exceptions that’ll be noted later.

Extra Throws

If a task has some factor introduced that makes it more likely one side will win (if someone has a head-start in a footrace, for example) then that side gets another throw. This is called an extra throw. You can have any number of extra throws representing distinct advantages (ie advantages that would, individually, still be advantages in themselves even without the benefit of the other advantage--like: a head-start in the footrace plus your opponent is running over uneven ground? That’s 2 extra throws). Throw more cards.

Extra throws do not normally represent the scale of an advantage: each distinct advantage is worth one throw, it doesn’t matter how big your head start is, it’s still just one extra throw.

There are certain kinds of situational advantages that come up so often, it’s worth checking for them every time:

High Stat Throw 

All character stats (Characteristics and Skills) are ranked from 0-9 (or possibly even more if the supernatural is involved), high numbers are good. 

In static throw vs a target number, if the stat is higher than the intensity the Host assigns to the task, the character gets an extra throw.

If two characters (player's characters or a player's character and an NPC) are competing at a task (say, searching for a dropped gun) then whichever has the higher stat gets to throw an extra card.

Overlap Throws

If a character has multiple skills (at any rank) that would apply to the same situation—for example, trying to find out if a corner store is a drug front (Streetwise) in a city where the character has Local Knowledge—the Host may allow the character an extra throw for each additional skill that would apply. Again: may. The Host doesn’t have to allow this in every case based on how hard the task is meant to be.

Two caveats:

-You can’t use a specialized and general version of the same skill on the same task—you can’t use Athletics and Volleyball on the same throw, for example (Volleyball is a bonus skill you get after Athletics—if Volleyball applies use Volleyball only), or Science and Biology (Biology is a bonus skill you get after Science), or Humanities and History or Languages and French (etc).

-Overlap throws only apply outside Action Rounds (usually combat situations).

Distraction Throw 

If a task targets someone who is distracted (pickpocketing someone who is watching a car crash happen, for instance) or doesn't know they are there the perpetrator also gets an extra throw.

Lost Throws

Generally, external problems which make the task harder (like Marty being drunk while trying to open the door) are worked into the Intensity number of a task (in a static test) or given as an extra throw to the opponent (in an opposed test), but if there is some reason they can't be or haven't been already (Marty then tries to open the door left-handed), the Host may subtract throws (down to a minimum of one throw ) to account for problems—these are called lost throws.

If, in an opposed throw, an asymmetry can be represented by giving extra throws to one party or taking lost throws from the other, default to giving the extra throws.

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.

Be careful not to give and take throws to represent the same asymmetry. Like if Marty (drunk) is racing to open the door before Nena (sober) don’t give an extra throw to Nena for being sober and take a lost throw from Marty for being drunk.


In the case of a tie (around 10% of the time or more for two contestants, depending how many throws are involved) the Host must think fast: the situation becomes more complex, but not in a way that immediately decides the contest. The task can be attempted again in the new situation right after. For example: if Marty (hacking an electronic lock) and the Host (throwing for the electronic lock programmer) tie as he's trying to open his door then the Host might declare that blood has begun to seep out from under the door and a bystander has noticed it. This might help Marty—“What’s going on!?! Let me help!” or might hurt “What are you doing over there! Stop!” —but its certainly made the situation more complicated, which is what should happen when there’s a tie.

Critical Successes and Failures

If anyone throws The Fool as their highest throw (ie, they are only throwing one card and they throw The Fool) then they have a critical failure or “fumble”.  Things go about as poorly as they could—like Marty accidentally kicks his keys under the door.

If anyone throws a card with a value higher than 10 (and higher than anything it’s competing against) they have a critical success. Criticals mean the task goes about as well as it possibly could have (for example if Marty critically opened the door then the Host may say he definitely gets to his brother in time without having to make an extra throw to find him in the dark apartment.) Critical successes and failures require that the Host improvise fast.

PCs also get a critical success if their Significator card comes up (for them specifically) and would have won the contest anyway. Significators are special cards that Characters can get as rewards, more on them later.

If a character’s Significator is the Fool, then treat the Fool as a Significator worth 22 points for them.

Raising Intensities vs Lost Throws

Hosts may wonder how to know whether a task’s Intensity should be represented by a high intensity (ie throw 6 or better) or by lost throws (like throw 5 or better with one lost throw ). Broadly: Intensity is a measure of “Who would find this easy?” everyone with a Stat above the Intensity would find it easy, everyone with a Stat below the Intensity would find it hard. Lost throws are about modifiers to that situation specific to that moment or the person trying.

Intensity 0 or 10

In a static throw, if the target Intensity is 0 then it’s an auto-success, if it’s 10 it’s an auto-failure unless there’s some supernatural thing (like a Significator Card) involved.

Simultaneous Action

This all gets more complicated in situations when different characters are trying to do different things that all affect each other at the same time. Combat is the most common situation like this but it could also apply to, say, trying to fix a radio antenna before a metastasizing Crysoloth destroys the building it's in. Like most games, Demon City has special rules for that, coming up next…


Like in most RPGs, special rules are used to resolve Action—that is, simultaneous, urgent, overlapping activities involving multiple parties all trying to act before some terrible thing happens. A footrace isn't "action" as defined here because the competitors usually aren't interfering with each other. A car chase can be, though, because cars can cut each other off, knock each other off the road, etc. And combat is always action.

This combat system has some specific characteristics in play, distinctive to this game—characters get knocked out of the fight and then get up again a lot (often unnoticed by their enemies, who have gone on to menace other characters), sometimes characters try but don’t get to do anything for many rounds at a time, and it’s chaotic and hard for players to coordinate their attacks. These things are on purpose. If you don’t like them or would like to adapt the Demon City system to a different subgenre, you’ll want to tweak the rules. I encourage it. I’m extremely attractive but not infallible.

Action Rounds

If you’re not familiar with traditional RPGs: Action is measured out in things called Rounds. Think of it like a single comic-book panel or a shot in a movie--the Round exists to establish what happens in the next “panel”. Each character tries to be the next to successfully do something, playing out the Round decides who that is and how it happens.

If you’re familiar with traditional RPGs: there's no “initiative” in Demon City but there are rounds. Action's generally going to be over in fewer rounds than you might be used to.

In Demon City, each participant in the action typically competes to get their thing done first and often only one thing happens per round.

From the character’s point of view (inside the fiction), a round represents a slice of time up to six seconds but possibly less, but for players (outside the fiction) it will likely take longer than that to play out a round.

The actual length of a round in seconds in the game world is determined by how long it would take to perform the action that “wins” the round.

For example, if Billie is trying to shatter the Burning Fiend’s glass eyes with a hammer before the Fiend can scald Billie’s face and Billie wins the round, then the round takes a split second: the split second it would take for a hammer to collide with a head. 


This Action system has things called ”Clashes”—a competition between people (or living corpses, or whatever) trying to act at the same time. Not everything in an Action Round is necessarily involved in the Clash, but the main action is. The most important thing about a Clash is only one side in a conflict can succeed at a time. You shoot or are shot, punch or get punched, etc. If you're shot, you don't get to shoot back until the next Round (assuming you live).

Everyone announces what they're going to do before making any throws to actually do it. It’s slightly counter-intuitive but there's a payoff in that it more closely reflects the fast-but-tense way combat works in horror and crime fiction. Oh here comes the car! Oh here comes the bullet! Oh here comes the eel-faced girl! It all resolves at once.

This is a change from how most RPGs work: in a Clash, you don’t announce then throw, you wait til everyone has announced, then you throw. 

If this is confusing that’s fine—I’m about to explan in more detail:


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

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.

Note: the rules above are the version as of May 26, 2018 the comments below pre-date the most recent edit: