Monday, July 31, 2017

The Horror Sandbox


Horror obviously involves fear, but many genres involve fear. At the core of the horror genre is to reach an intense level of fear using shock.

Shock is an important part of horror and I don't mean that in a vague way—I mean specifically being surprised about something and that something is bad is an important part of what defines the horror genre versus othergenres. In horror either the audience is shocked or the characters are or both.

If there's a criminal with a knife that's a crime thriller, if the audience knows that when they stab a person with the knife it's going to be gory or just terrifying in a way they can’t anticipate that's horror.

If a character is scared because there’s a werewolf that's fantasy if they’re scared because there's a werewolf and because they didn't know werewolves were a thing that's horror.

So in horror, it’s not just a bad thing is happening, someone is surprised at the bad thing happening.

Horror Vs Thriller and Fantasy and Horror-Fatigue

Crime thrillers and fantasy both posit a world where the raw material of the genre is common—just as a thriller reminds us there’s a knife in every kitchen, in fantasy, the supernatural is everywhere.

In horror, the fact shock (a species of surprise) is part of the genre can actually limit the protagonists. After they’ve seen a certain number of horrors, they are no longer shockable. Walter and Jesse can keep getting into sticky situations with armed gangsters each week on Breaking Bad and it’s a thriller every week, Conan can keep fighting wizards and it’s fantasy every month, but you’ll notice the X-Files or Hellboy stop feeling like horror at a certain point, despite the presence of horror elements. This is one reason American Horror Story changes its set up every season and why series’ about “Vampire hunters” or the like tend to feel more like fantasy or superhero stories than classic horror and why George RR Martin writes 7 books about the same people and Shirley Jackson doesn’t.

There is also the question of mystery: defeating a horror usually involves answering a lot of “Why?” questions—and once these are answered, a mythology develops (“Vampires fear holy water”) and it ceases to be mysterious. you climb more toward simple noir (without the supernatural) or fantasy (with it). 

The Extended Campaign

There are a few ways to deal with shock fatigue and loss of mystery in an extended campaign:

-Go full gore: Make the mortality rate so high that new characters are a near-constant presence, and total party kills are frequent. You have to have a certain kind of player for this.

-Live with it: Hellboy is a fine comic, even if Hellboy isn’t usually scared and neither is anyone else. Allow your characters to adopt the jaded mien of seasoned monsterfinders. 

-Ascending scale of supernaturalness: This requires some planning and discipline on the GM’s part. The first adventure is about a hitman, the second is about a serial killer, the third is about a necromancer, the fourth about a demon, the fifth is about Satan, the sixth is about the Apocalypse. The key is each threat is not only bigger than the last, but, more subtly—breaks the rules of “normal” more fully.

-All the horrors have a common source: Again, this requires planning and discipline. In this scheme, the idea is that the investigators eventually find that all the horrors are part of one larger horror, like the Ascending Scale the horrors get worse, but the idea is the surprise comes from how many new things the larger horror is capable of. Like in the story Call of Cthulhu, the titular monster is responsible for a psychic’s nightmare, for an artifact, for a cult ceremony, and then the creature appears itself. 

The Horror Sandbox

A sandbox is a kind of game defined by two characteristics: first: players can, to some degree, pick their objectives and second: the world responds somewhat like a real one would to their actions, possibly on a very large scale.

The classic sandbox is a fantasy game trope: a great map is spread out, with tantalizing rumors about treasure and dangers in various places and the players decide which sound fun—exploring any one of these options creates a cascade of consequences, changing the world and then the players need to decide again what to do in this changed world. The appeal of the sandbox is it offers a great deal of player choice, and unpredicted player actions have unpredictable consequences.

It’s relatively unusual to have a pure sandbox in a horror game, partially because having multiple objectives at once (a werewolf in Warsaw, a ghoul in Ghana) can lead to horror fatigue or a loss of a sense of mystery, but even moreso because an investigation scenario requires a GM to essentially give the PCs an absolutely existentially essential objective (solve the mystery or we all die) and then do a certain amount of work to make achieving that one objective interesting and full of interesting choices. If objectives are optional, they're not really horror. Horror is "Dracula must die" not "Dracula could die if you felt like it".

However, again, with discipline and planning, it is quite possible to make a horror sandbox if that kind of game interests you and your players. Essentially it just means taking the kind of choice presented in the Investigation as Dungeon and scaling up.

The way that most cleanly respects the horror and investigative genres is this:

1. There’s a conspiracy of some kind

2. Near the beginning of the sandbox campaign (or the sandbox phase of the campaign) the characters discover a more-or-less explicit list of separate conspirators.

3. (Unbeknownst to the investigators but likely suspected by the players) the conspirators each have some connection to a horror of their own. Or they are a horror.

4. The list of conspirators makes clear some interesting and at least slightly juicy fact about each conspirator: their neighborhood or city, their job, crimes they may be suspected of, etc.

5. The list also makes clear they are interconnected—exposing/killing/locating one will cause the others to change in some way or ways. Perhaps it is a cult and they all must sacrifice a creature on a given night—and if one doesn’t it is known that another must recruit a new member to take their place. Or perhaps it’s a smuggling organization, and getting rid of one link in the chain means operations will shift to somewhere else. Give the players as much information about these mechanisms as you can without spoiling a mystery you want them to solve—it will make the decision and planning more interesting for them.

6. Treat the investigation of any given conspirator as basically one adventure to design, but with one important additional emphasis: whatever happens to this conspirator affects the others in some interesting way.

7. Season to taste and serve.


"What's your writing process like?"

Here are some notes toward things that'll be in Demon City eventually. I have no idea in what form, but I'm someone convinced each has an idea in there somewhere...

She’d been drinking the expensive stuff long enough that she was now back to the cheap stuff.

The cracks in it had cracks in them.

view of a dead section of roof

It looked like the kind of modern art you’d need explained to you.

There was something going on with the clouds, like they were in on it.

There was a tile there

He was drinking coca-cola out of one of those patterned paper cups you get in a mid-range hotel room.

It was a fifteen or a sixteen—the number was rubbed off as if anyone would have a reason to molest a printed number.

There isn’t any crime here. I mean—there is but there isn’t.

The lawn—the whole yard—smelled like it’d just come out of a dishwasher.

The booth had little tin-skinned smiling-face balloons all over it and under the chairs.

It was the kind of meal you get at the kind of place you get it at when you’re trying to enjoy your first three-figure check in months.

They played an entire Leonard Cohen album in between the boarding announcement. In Tallahassee.

He’s a family man—you go to pop him he’ll be walking out of A Bug’s Life with his daughter and like 8 guys.

I mean she’s at that age. But I guess what we need to know is was he?

It’s like a mural of a beard guy with rocks—it’s allegorical, is that the word, allegorical? Anyway meet me.

She finally found a corner store that didn't take EBT

rectangle reflections

something wrapped in insulation so much that  it isn’t a known shape any more
noises, the king of unknown noises machines, air conditionings, cars, unknown machines. a hum

fighting for control of the city of reality

the crackling open bar

the poor quality of chocolate in this country

trans fats

lone men walking where walking why

in the googled streets

towns without centers or reasons for being

streets lined with some kind of trees

bleak, distant, unreflected amber

gas station displays snaked and locked displays

spider-legs of white light

the familiar taste of sugar

angled roads 

filler construction where nothing is made,

slow death

garage and rubber burning gasoline

kind befuddled men who have seen the worst things, cruel loud young men who have seen nothing

on a colored carpet where the chip bags piled up like carp mouths on the colored and grey carpet, like plan As, like gaping out at numbered, unopened doors, hiding lives or nothing.

Get a new phone case. Pass the time, this space seems to say. Pass the time and stay alive.



click to enlarge
Devouring Plasm

A quickly-metastasizing amoeboid lifeform; possibly—hopefully—of extraterrestrial origin. Its vast body can be of essentially any size the host wishes, from a crawling oddity like a jarful of spilled jam to a tsunami of churning goo. As it eats it grows larger—and all it does is eat.

i've been looking so long at my pictures of goo that i almost believe that they're real

Calm: n/a
Agility: 1
Toughness: 9
Perception: 2
Appeal: n/a
Cash: n/a
Knowledge: 0

Calm Check: 8
screamed at the make believe screamed at the sky
open my eyes but i never see anything
these goggles they do nothing
my pictures of goo

Special abilities:

Asphyxiation: The plasm can swallow a creature, depriving it of air, causing damage as a normal attack each round until the victim is freed.

Dispersed form: The plasm can only be hurt by weapons or tactics that move large parts of its body away from the main mass. Firearms are useless, though explosives can work.

Wave attack: If the plasm is of sufficient size, the Host may allow the ooze to attack as an area effect, delivering damage to any target near the wavefront on a successful attack.

(Possibly) Intelligent: It is possible a plasm was once human, unimaginably translated—in this case it has Negative Calm and Knowledge equal to the original host -2, but can only be communicated wth telepathically.

(Possibly) Acidic: Merely touching the Plasm causes Standard Damage at 9 Intensity.


Use of massive amounts of weak bases (akaline compounds) like ammonia can neutralize or drown acidic plasms, causing Standard Damage each round if the volume is at least 1/10th the size of the plasm. In general, defeating plasms can be an opportunity for clever uses of chemistry by PCs.
you were always so lost in the dark

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lexicon Devil

Click to enlarge
Scientists will tell you a ghost is no more than a memory and a memory is no more than a series of linguistic signifiers indicating some absent arrangement of sensations. What they do not know is that the language itself can become malevolent. The lexicon devil is a ghost composed of language, like a computer virus rewriting real life.

These incorporeal, invisible and untouchable ghosts are summoned when a violent soul does violence to language and those forms of language do not die with it—when the shape of the departed’s vocabulary and the particularity of their word choices is still powerfully active in the world: Dictators whose regimes carry on and deluded justifying mass murderers whose diaries are published for mass consumption, self-serving philosophers of injustice whose philosophies still influence the living can give birth to lexicon devils. So long as language is used in such a way as to make, for example, an immigrant “an illegal”, fascist death squads “freedom fighters”, or life-and-death facts into “nitpicks”, a lexicon devil may be loose. They seek to encourage in death the forms of iniquity they invented in life.

The soul of the devil is contained in a text, and that text will be the earliest still-extant text that expresses the violence of their creator’s intentions against the world—a diary, a speech, a private letter, even a note scrawled on a wall. The devil’s first act, once summoned, will be to take whatever steps necessary to hide at least one version of the text away and alter copies (including, if necessary, online and digital versions). The ghost can be exorcised only by finding the text and reading it aloud before witnesses in a room containing the devil. Beginning to read the text paralyzes the devil.

(Demon City Stats)

Calm: 0
Agility: 10
Toughness: n/a
Perception: 10
Appeal: n/a
Cash: 7 (via manipulation of online accounts)
Knowledge: 8

Calm Check: 6

Special Abilities:

Incorporeal and intangible: The lexicon devil has a physical location and moves at normal speed, but it cannot be touched or touch anything.

Sabotage language: Each round, the devil can transform one word per sentence of spoken or written language of any text in its presence, or one sentence alone on a given page of written text. It uses this ability to create false orders, requests and information in order to cause various unknowing pawns to carry out its plans. For instance it might change the address of a DEA raid to target an investigator on its trail, instruct a librarian—via email—to misfile the text containing its soul, or cause friends to offend each other with their choice of words. The ghost may (and will) alter texts in closed books in rooms it occupies but cannot operate a computer on its own—it can only change a text if in the presence of someone who accesses a page or file (the alteration will, however, affect the source code of that page, causing it to forever be altered whenever that page is brought up). Speakers who have had their words changed will not be aware of this.

Garble: Once per round, the devil can renders written or spoken communication impossible for chosen targets. The devil may make a target unable to be understood (including objects, like books, computers or phone) or unable to understand. Lasts one hour.


The devil cannot speak or touch anything and cannot speak.

The devil cannot move so long as the text containing its soul is being read aloud within earshot. Reading it fully in front of witnesses exorcizes it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pretty Good For A Droid

Check this place out (yes, there are many grammar problems, you'll see why in a second):
   The dungeon was originally a ship that is the nursery of illusionists, but has been forgotten by most civilized races for eons. It was rediscovered due to the recent earthquake. Near the Northeast entrance, a human male thief of unusual intelligence suspects it may contain Tiamat – one of particular interest – and so has dispatched humanoids with goat-like features into the complex. They communicate via telepathy.

     Meanwhile, a group of foppish elder xornmen who entered through a secret door to the Southeast suspects it may contain a diamond that they value. Their leader is said to be strangely zealous and is also a tactical genius with a dangerous pet – a meazel that appears to obey his/her every whim. It roams the halls seeking sustenance but is afraid of prophecy. It’s also far burning with zeal than the typical member of its species. This group uses a powerful but barely-mobile psionic medium to spy on the other group of intruders.

     (In recent weeks, the two factions have begun to notice each other in the halls.)

     Unbeknownst to either side, a jackal-headed warrior – wielding powerful magic – lives deep within, inside a network of tunnels leading eventually to a pair of gloves which it prizes beyond all things.

     It has built traps around its lair – for example, a sturdy cage ready to close on whatever steps inside - billows of steam are produced, heavily obscuring vision – but also two stranger traps, informed by its bizarre alien intelligence, which cause intruders to be destroyed by death. It can avoid the traps easily because of its unique abilities.

    The other factions have also made about two traps each, but they are cruder, since they’ve been recently and hastily thrown together.

    In addition, many hazards exist, the legacy of the dungeon’s original inhabitants. No-one has yet discovered the secret passage near the stairway on the second level.

     Due to the subtle influence of a crown (behind the cabinet on level two) with a powerful curse on it, nearly all the inhabitants have become increasingly panicked and some have gained additional bizarre physical and mental deformities. Some have become obsessed with a giant fire beetle for reasons unknown.
   Perhaps the most disturbing room in the dungeon is the so-called “Chamber of Nine Shadows” which the intelligent creatures in the dungeon fear above all else. However, beyond it there is a halfling nun who hails from the homeland of one of your PCs and may aid him/her, though s/he covets the PCs’ (whatever they have that’s unusual) and is repulsed by the sight of every great barrel containing alchemical component s/he sees in the dungeon.

    The dungeon’s architecture resembles an overgrown arena; however every elaborate finger painting in flammable oil in it is made of Moonbar and Meteorite.

     Moreover, it is said that, hidden deep within the complex where no mortal has been in eons, is the Throne of The Infinite Night and hills that walk and kill, the pieces of a great slow game played by tiny wizened beings.

...created using the random Dungeon Overview toy over at Abulafia.

Not only are the Abulafia random generators criminally under-utilized, they're the only successful collaboration between Story Gamers and DIY RPG people.

These are the ones I use:

 3d6 In Order NPC 
 Arabian Nights-Ish Scenario Generator 
 Available Dog Generator 
 Barbarian Tribe Generator 
 Creepy Fantasy Villain 
 Customs and Superstitions 
 Dungeon Area Name 
 Dungeon Overview 
 Dungeon Room 
 Exotic Landscape 
 Fantasy Adventure Locations 
 Fantasy Assignment 
 Fantasy Mansion Domestic Security Measures 
 Fantasy NPC (Basic) 
 Fantasy Person Of Interest 
 Fantasy Royal History W/Related Setting Info 
 Fantasy Town (Simpler) 
 Folks you might want to stab 
 Generic Dungeon Key 
 Grim gonzo modern fantasy horror plot generator 
 Hex Map Key 
 Hexes With Plot Hooks
 Intercepted Inter-Fantasy NPC Communique 
 It's Random Adventure Time 
 NPC Relationships 
 Nabokov On Dopplegangers 
 Nested Treasure Table 
 Orcinator 3000 
 Poetic Destinations 
 Psychon Citadels 
 Pulp Fantasy Nation 
 Quick Creepy Fantasy Villains 
 Quick Creepy Villains 
 Random Fortress 
 Random Humanoid Horde 
 Resting In Town Before Going Back Into The Dungeon 
 Situation Generator 
 Templated Dungeon 
 Thor Hex Element 
 Today At Sea 
 Tolkien Hex Element 
 Weird Fantasy Monster 
 Whats Up With This Palace 

 Wizard Tower

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Worst Tropes

Generic But Emotionally Unambiguous Music Communicating This Is How You’re Supposed To Feel About This So Why Is There Even A Scene Why Did We Have Dialogue Kill Me

The Ethnic Person Shows You The Ropes And Now Their Coolness Is Transmitted To You And Now They Aren’t In The Story Anymore

Oh They Were Promiscuous But Not Anymore Because Now They’re Good

I Am A Humorless PaleoConservative Setting You, The Marginalized or White Marginalized-Protector, Up For Your Self-Assertion Speech So We Can All ReTumbl That Shit Without Addressing The Underlying Structural Problem That, While It Does Not Necessarily Create That PaleoConservative Attitude, Positively Reinforces It Usually Through Economic Means When It Does Occur Thus Ensuring Its Longevity And Spread Despite Widespread Overt Popular Disapproval And All Your ReTumbling

Also Said Speech

Also Cute Webcomics That Are Just Said Speech Sliced Up In Panels

I Am Wise And Spiritual But Don’t Know Kung Fu And Yet Somehow Still Expect To Be Taken Seriously

Sympathetc Character Saying Politics Is Like A Vague Hurty Noise That Has Nothing To Do With The Problems In The Plot

The Power Of Rock Evoked By Clueless Writer In Any Era Where Hip-Hop Should Be The Dominant Mode

She’s So Sexually Aggressive He Is Not Into Her

TNG’s Sharper-Image-Catalogue-After-8-Minutes-In-A_Blender Aesthetic Bafflingly Replicated Despite This Property Not Having Syndicated TV’s Budget Constraints

George Clooney

We're Pretending The Traditional Garb Of The Not-White Culture Is Basically A Superhero Costume Already So Not Real Trying Here On This Not-White Superhero Character Enjoy Beads Until They're Cancelled

Girls Hate Seeing Tits

We’re In Japan And Should Be Fighting Mutants But Let’s Do RomCom Jokes And Talk About My Feelings First

The Japanese Boy With Access To The Giant Robot IS Coincidentally The Only Japanese Boy Who Doesn’t Want It

Unconflicted Hug As Plot Point


The Moral Is Don’t Hurt People Even If They’re Like Hitler Or Hitlers are Just Conveniently Left Off The Table As A Possibility

There’s An Explicit Moral But It Isn’t “Use Effective Tactics”

The Only Reason For This Dialogue Is To Point Out That This Place Or Time Has Different Cultural Mores Than Our Own

Things The Adult Says To The Kid That Are Expected Be Taken At Face Value By A Young Audience And Applied To Real Life That Aren't "Use Effective Tactics"

What Spike Lee Called "The Magical Negro" But Really Anyone Of Any Marginalized Identity Used Like This

This Is For Kids And Has A Positive Message So This Mountain Of Cliches and Failure to Innovate Which Will Rot Their Brain Into Uncritical Plasm Is Acceptable Because The Explicit Text Is Strangely Assumed To Be More Important Than The Subrosa Message That Media Can Be Trusted To Provide Guidance

Boring Disney or Disneyesque Characters Have Guitars Now Or Are Rapping In This Fan Art As If Like Popular Music and All Of Its Most Meaningful Content Didn’t Have A History Closely Tied To Gritty Class Struggle, Performative Sexuality, Corporate Exploitation And Celebrity-Culture Decadence The Likes Of Which This Property Wouldn’t Touch In A Bajillion Years

We Have Sexy Cyborgs But Wouldn’t You Rather Discuss The Overlap Of Philosophy And Bureaucracy?
These Are Supposed To Be Real Apartments But They Don’t Look Remotely Like Nick Waplington Photos

Relatable Kid Sidekick Point Of View Character

Oh Come Here Outwardly Nihilistic And Interesting Character And Accept This Affection From Those Of Us Who Are Going To Die While Our Ninth Child Brings Us A Home-Baked Tofu Bulb While We’re Writing To Friends We Met On A Harry Potter Shipping Forum


There Is Absolutely Nothing Visually Compelling About This Post-Bruce Timm Comic But Oh Man The Facial Expressions, The People Are So Expressing Emotions Obviously With Faces Its Therefore Somehow Good

There is Absolutely Nothing Visually Compelling About This New Yorker Three Circles And A Nose Art But Oh Man The Storytelling That Story Sure Is Getting Told Unlike Other Comics Where I Can’t Ever Tell What Happened Did Destro Fight A Boat I Don’t Know Storytelling

White Savior

The Climactic Fight Scene Is Abstract Zapping 

Brushed Steel And Clean Black

This Mediocre Artist Is Clearly A Genius Because There’s Music Under Them While They Paint

The Plot Is I’m Conflicted About Something Even Though There Are No Swords In This Movie

The Hot Girl With The Eyeliner Who’s DTF Is Somehow Less Desirable Than The Monogamous Momface Lead

Teenager Learns Things That Everyone Interesting Actually Knows Before They’re Ten

We Are Signalling This Person Belongs To A Subculture Using The Name Of The Only Musician The Mainstream Audience And Probably Screenwriter Has Heard Of, Get Ready For A Really Sharply Observed Character Fuck They Like The Clash Is Your Mind Blown Yet

Violence Is Bad And Also The Only Fun Part Of This Movie

Sex Is Bad And Also The Only Fun Part Of This Movie

The Ultimate Weapon Is An Emotion But Strangely It Isn’t Hate Which Is The Emotion At The Core Of All Weaponization

Tim Allen

Family Comedy About How Hard It Is To Have These Kids I Chose To Have

The Stylish One Is Evil or Vapid And The Dull One Is Therefore Honest Or Smart

They’re A Mary Sue Or Marty Stu But The Supporting Cast That Foregrounds Their Omnicompetence Keeps Chucking Softballs At Them And So The Audience Thinks Of The Smart Character’s Joke First And Is Being Flattered For Being Averagely Smart

These Women Are Having A Conversation About A Guy They Like But Don’t Talk About Fucking

They’re Frumpy, I Settled For Them, I’m Noble

James Brown Is Being Used To Signify Sex Occurred Or Shall

All I Needed To Do Was Believe In Myself

: The Musical

This Speech By The Protagonist Plus The Genre You’re In Lets You Know What Lesson They’re Being Set Up To Learn

Music-Accompanied Epiphany About The Beauty Of The Artform I Heretofore Disdained

But What About The Colonists???

The Content Of This Inspiring Speech Is That We Won’t Give Up, Like That’s It, Like: Was There A Question About Whether We’d Give Up? We Can’t That’s Not The Genre We’re In Seriously Was There Not Any One More Specific Twist You Could Put On It?

White Person Referencing R&B And Becoming Therefore Sexy 

Nerds Vs Jocks

Jazz Therefore Sophisticated

Crying But It's Not Funny And/OR Not Over An Evisceration

Family Is Really Important Despite The Fact This Isn’t A Mafia Movie

The Chosen One

I Was Serious But You Have Undermined Me With Farting

The Interesting Character Secretly Likes the Boring Idiot Character That Created The Problem By Being A Boring Idiot

The House That Signifies I’m Happy Is A Ballardian Nightmare of Bed Bath Boring and The Plot Does Not Acknowledge It

I’m Hot But What If He Doesn’t Like Me Because I Ate Spaghetti Wrong Or Some Shit?

Faith Is Worthy Of Respect Without Asking What It's Faith In Exactly

Nature Is Good


Happiness Is Integrating With A Friendly Community

Schoolwork Is As Important As Checking Out About These Space Murders

Heartwarming When You Most Expect It

White and Grey Morality But Not Funny  

Comfort Satire (“…its real purpose is just to congratulate the audience for believing things that they already believe" -Paul O’Brien)

The Disdainful Technocratic Skill Of This Hero Makes The Nerds In The Audience Be Like Hey That’s Me When I Have To Reboot Windows For The Assholes In Sales, Fuck Yeah I’m That Guy

Tattoo Revealed To Have Meaning So Now It’s Ok

and, worst of all…..

We Made The Setting A Liberal Utopia So (1) You Can Get The Escapist Thrill Of Hearing Imaginary Powerful People Agree With You And (2) You Can Vicariously Indulge Your Passion For Unquestioning Submission Through Our Protagonists, The Utopia's Agents, Without Being Reminded That Those Desires Are Both Fundamentally Fascist Impulses When Applied To Public Life


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Zak Hack (Old School 5e D&D)

Note to redditors:

This post has been Reddited, which--as usual--means a bunch of weird comments. The top comment at the moment is that there's no reason to use hacked 5e instead of an old school system. There are lots of reasons, of course, to take a random example: the saving throws are better. Like, having written literally hundreds of pages of old-school modules I can tell you that going "save vs dragon breath" when there's slippy oil on the floor never makes any more sense than it did the first time. Anyway, if you have sane comments, feel free to leave them...
David Decree made this

How to play fifth edition D&D old school style:

EDIT: This is all summarized in a nice clean fan-made pdf document here.

Character gen like this

8 hour rests to get spells/abilities back

No cantrips

No bards

No feats

No inspiration

Group initiative (each side rolls a d6)

Old school healing + Death & Dismemberment

"Concentration" spells sometimes require literal concentration--depends on the spell. It's not just "you need to be awake", sometimes you won't be able to do other stuff.

Starting at 5th level non-casting classes and monsters add their naked d20 to-hit roll to damage (to counter Caster supremacy once fireballs kick in)

Monsters are custom-built when the players are over 5th high level, the monsters roll d20s and d30s for damage.

Rangers like this

Paladins like this

Witch/Warlock like this

Clerics like this

...ideally I'd like to rewrite all the classes and spells and so not have to do the +d20-kludge, but this works for now better than any other game so there we go.

Friday, July 21, 2017

HOW TO DO A CREEPY VOICE (also, last day of Ennie voting)

Don't breathe through your nose while talking.

Flatten your tongue.

Place the tip of your tongue about a half inch behind your upper teeth, try to touch your upper teeth on either side with the sides of your tongue.

Speak slowly

You want to get metal "vocal fry" (there are youtube videos) the idea is you make a continuous sound out of your throat and pull the muscle at the base of your tongue inward toward the back of the throat as much as you can.

Try not to use the whole range of movement of your mouth when you talk, stick to just moving your lips and the tip of your tongue. Try to keep your mouth relatively closed.

The overall idea is you are channeling a relatively loud sound through a relatively small opening.
Also, last day of Ennie voting:

For judges:

Rob Monroe
Sean McCoy
Reece Carter


A. Miles Davis (Anson Davis)

Best Adventure

Kiel is up with 'Blood in the Chocolate'

Best Electronic Book
Mike Evans is up with Hubris

Best Cartography

Jez  (Red & Pleasant Land) and James Grognardia are up for 'The Cursed Chateau'

Best Free Product

'Santa is Dead' by In Search Of Games, is up.

And Veins of the Earth by Scrap and Patrick (Maze of the Blue Medusa) Stuart is up for;

Best Monster/Adversary

Best Rules

Best Writing


Product of the Year

Vote VoTE

Monday, July 17, 2017

Efficiency is Beautiful, Efficiency is Art

First--there's been some really great stuff out lately online:

-Nick Whelan carefully handcrafted d100 Bandit leaders, half of them are an adventure hook all by themselves.

-The Coins and Scrolls blog has been killin it lately--and in this case eating it, too.

-Weather, names, and groups of NPCs--these are pretty decent and the names are funny. The weather generator allows to adjust climate and includes "magic weather" (and you can decide how much of it you want.

-And remember those random level up versions of character classes I did? Well Jeff went and finished the set and threw both sets together in a doc--along with Rey Madrinian's Paladin and Anti-paladin.

-And, big Demon City news...
click to enlarge
Alright, so, 4 months, 80,000 words and 300 typewritten pages and a dozen paintings later, Demon City is a game now. Or at least a playtestable first draft.

That's like a novella a month.

God damn I'm exhausted.

There are some cameos and co-stars:

Paul D Gallagher, who turned my Vornheim into a book of cyberpunk tables graciously allowed me to use some of his stuff to help build a modern setting.

Patrick Stuart wrote up Demon City's financial district for me, and gave me some rituals.

Scrap Princess gave me a very disturbing monster with  some great a great adventure hooks attached, and

Evan Elkins helped fill out what happens in Demon City when you get outside the city.

If you were a Patreon backer at the right level as of last night you should've got this monstrosity in your email. If you didn't let me know.

If you missed out but now want to see it--you can still get access to it if you sign on at at least 10$.

If you just want to wait for the next draft, I have a new reward at the 3$ level for that.

I also added a new goal: I'll be running a solid week (from when I get up until when I go to sleep every day) of Demon City public online test games if I reach the next monthly goal.

I also changed something bug: before I was promising deadlines for the art, but the art's going so well and is so fun I've decided that regardless of when the text is done I'm just going to just keep doing Demon City art up until layout time as long as I've got Patrons.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When To Use Dice

1. If an outcome is not in doubt, don't use dice.

"The door is locked."
"I have the key."
"The door opens."

2. If an outcome is in doubt but failure could not produce any result with interesting consequences, don't use dice.

"The door is locked and, like we said before, you're really drunk."
"I have the key but maybe I dropped it?"
"Sure, but you get in there eventually and get to bed before your phone goes off at 7 am the next morning when you hear your brother's been murdered."

3. If an outcome is in doubt, and success and failure could both result in different interesting consequences, use dice.

"The door is locked, like we said before you're really drunk, and behind the door you hear your brother--'Marty, Marty, I've been shot!"
"I open the door!"
"It's not so easy since you're drunk--roll!"

4. If an outcome is in doubt, and success and failure could both result in the same interesting consequences, use dice but only if you want to ratchet up the tension--and only do this sparingly and to point out something strange is going on.

"The door is locked, like we said before you're really drunk, and behind the door you hear your brother--'Marty, Marty, I've been shot!"
"I open the door!"
"It's not so easy since you're drunk--roll!"
"THE LOCK HAS BEEN CHANGED! You're too late!"
"Why has the lock been changed?
"Why indeed? That's part of the mystery."

5. If an outcome is in doubt and success could not produce any interesting consequences, the GM probably wrote the adventure wrong.

"The door is locked, like we said before you're really drunk, and behind the door you hear your brother--'Marty, Marty, someone's trying to kill me and ps this whole adventure is going to be about figuring out who killed me!'"
"I open the door. Natural 20! Door's open, who's killing my brother?"
"Oh, fuck, umm..."

6. If someone at the table thinks using dice would be more fun than just making a decision normally alotted to them, use dice

"The door is....roll roll....locked"
"I have the key, I open it."
"Behind it is...(rolls on a table)..holy hell it's your brother, he's bleeding out on the floor!"
"I...(rolls on a table)...tell him I never liked him anyway."
p.s. Yes I know about Vincent Baker's "Say yes or roll dice". It doesn't work for all games.

"The door is locked."
"I have the key."
"Umm, no you don't you don't even know whose house this is?"

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Moral Panic Guide To Ennie Voting

The annual Ennie votes start today. Who will Contessa's all-wise all-knowing Stacy Dellorfano bestow the plaque and ribbon upon this August before our awesome Ennie-night party? None can say.

But I know where to throw a vote. To find which products are the most innovative and deserving just look for the game designers who are the most conservative and abusive--and do the opposite of what they say.

Could they possible be so exercsed about Blood In the Chocolate--a light-hearted, if lethal, body-positive and LGBT-friendly romp by Least Offensive Man In The Western Hemisphere Kiel Chenier?

So, that's settled--Vote Blood In The Chocolate for Best Adventure.
Now, you may be thinking--Zak, I know you don't have anything out this year and that sucks, because not only do we not get to play it, but when you're nominated fun things happen like Cam Banks compares you to Hitler

Well, fear not! Cam is at it again, this time--he's trying to compare my publisher Lamentations of the Flame Princess to......Donald Trump?

And what about Cam Banks' brothers-in-harassment over at Something Awful?

 And the grumps within the OSR...?

 The choice here is clear: Vote Lamentations of the Flame Princess For Fan Favorite Publisher.

The Ennies also have a rank-voting system, so you can also give shout-outs to LotFP allies Satyr Press, Hydra Collective, Frog God Games, Goodman Games et al as well as other totally metal DIY RPG goodness like Hubris for Best Electronic Book and Santa Is Dead for best free product.

But you may be wondering--on the LotFP hate-front--Blood In the Chocolate received but one nomination, Cursed Chateau is nominated for Best Cartography and Jeff's Broodmother Sky Fortress got a Judges' Spotlight Award

....but that's just three awards? So what has earned this veritable frenzy of sour grapes and right-wing spite?

for Best Monster/Adversary
and Best Rules
aaaaand Best Writing
and Product of the Year

...we have Veins of the Earth my Maze of the Blue Medusa co-author False Patrick, and hardest working witch in games, Scrap Princess.

So, vote for honor, vote for dignity, vote for quality, vote to disappoint bigoted psychopaths who mope on a hateforum all day thinking of ways to harass LGBT creators (and Patrick)...