Saturday, September 30, 2017

Demon City Art Notes

  • Light: Light is more important here. Not just direction of shadows (always important) but colorlight and the modelling of things, all the gradations.
  • Horror creatures are often very simple in design but the light makes this one awful and the other one a goofy piece of rubbermask.
  • Starkness, purely drawn images, high contrast: out. At least for now. These techniques put the picture in an imaginative, abstracted space (D&Dish, noir comics) where what we want here is a version of reality. An alternate reality.
  • A wash of one specific color across the whole. This adds a color light but also picks out the texture in the paint that's already there. It reveals the underpainting.
  • Is there a wash color that doesn't work? Dark green. Grey. Haven't tried orange. Eye twitches at the thought of trying orange. Probably need to try orange.
  • Is anything orange scary? 
  • Other than the president? yes, Kubrick used orange but it was never the scary part.)
  • Properly done: an orangutan. Not etymologically related to 'orange'. Poe's Murder at the Rue Morgue one of his least successful reveals. Also one of Harry Clarke's only unsuccessful drawings.
  • This is a tangent dude.
  • The Medical Suite drawing was too pin-uppy. You don't see that every day. Everything else about that picture was too real and then those tits were like "Hey, tits!". That only works if the tone is a little less serious. It was like one of those late Heavy Metal drawings where someone put a lot of effort into the tendrilly blue jungle and it just doesn't work because boobs.
  • Daytime exteriors: the Francis Bacon strangeness of a grotesque against a pale tired background that is painted in over the grotty foreground.
  • Night exteriors: you can put little lights anywhere you want. Lights don't need a reason in the modern city, they just show up like stars in reverse gravity.
  • Inexplicable bits of architecture/infrastructure that you ignore in real life because they're new and painted and boring (Awnings with like nine steel pins holding them up.) but they will look futuristic and intricate in a picture.  And when they're old.
  • Creatures should interact with them. Rip them up.
  • Anything that can be black should be.
  • After aesthetics, the next priority is not to accurately represent the monster as a tactical obstacle (D&D) but to show how it is frightening. The Host should be able to hold it up and go "Like this" and the players go "We're so fucked". Anything: a man without a gun. A penguin.
  • Also: Just gore. The varieties of gore. A bullet going into a neck and out the other side and blood fountaining symmetrically from both holes.
  • No throwaways. No "this was fun". Each more ambitious than the one before.
  • (Until I get tired then fuck it draw a skeleton)
  • (No a bat skeletons are hard)
  • This isn't a dungeon or galaxy of monsters, not a monster manual--they don't all have to seem like they exist in the same reality. These are fragments, possibles.
  • This is not worldbuilding.

Revenants and Drones

New Demon City art, with the lazy first-draft of the write-up.
Click to enlarge
Revenants (Living Dead) and Drones

Revenants are any form of living creature brought back to mindless life by witchcraft or other blasphemous agency, often en masse—they include the zombies of Haiti, ghouls (first known in the Middle East), animated skeletons and other kinds of walking corpses.

Drones are still-living creatures transformed into unthinking automata by any number of causes including exotic diseases, drugs, demonic possession or parasites.

Revenants always subsist on the flesh of living beings, drones may or may not. Depending on the method of transformation, both kinds of creature can be either torpid—moving in a trancelike haze, or frenzied—possessed with manic energy.

Their abilities vary, Hosts should build specific creatures from the options below to fit the campaign’s needs.

Human Revenant or Drone

Calm: Negative (always insane and hungry)
Agility: 1 (torpid) or  3 (frenzied)
Toughness: 3
Perception: 0
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: N/A

Calm check: 8 (or more if the creature was once a friend)

Animal Revenant or Drone

Calm: Negative (always insane)
Agility: 1 (torpid) or base creature+1 (frenzied)
Toughness: 3 or base creature+1 whichever is higher
Perception: 0
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: N/A

Calm check: 8

Special abilities

(Revenants only) Undead: Revenants don’t need to breathe or digest, don’t age, and are immune to poisons, venoms and toxins, and cannot be controlled with psionic abilities.

(Revenants and some drones) Mindless: Most of these creatures are mindless and cannot be mentally controlled. Some drones are produced via mental domination and so this domination can be countered.

(Possibly) Infectious: The bite of a revenant or drone produced by disease causes the target to become a drone in 2 rounds—Toughness is increased by 1 or becomes 3, whichever is higher.

(Possibly) Mutilated Life: The severed extremities of some forms of revenant and drone can continue to attack even when separated from the main body. These parts have -1 Agility and -3 Toughness. To keep life interesting, the Host should interpret any attack that could have reasonably severed a limb as having severed a limb.

(Possibly) Invulnerability: Some forms of revenant and drone cannot be brought below 0 Toughness unless a successful killing attack is aimed at the head or, in other cases, the heart (these attacks usually incurs a Lost Die). This form of invulnerability is mutually exclusive with the Mutilated Life ability. However, some fearful, invulnerable forms of revenant and drone with the Mutilated Life ability cannot be killed at all unless a specific action is taken, for example if a countercurse is enacted or a psionic control frequency is disrupted.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

It's Alive

End of the Demon City playtest I just did. Two 2 PCs left

"I'm getting in the elevator!"

"Uncontested, you can go ahead"

"I'm gonna try to...get out from under it?"

"Ok, so still one die. It's blinded so it'll just lash out. It's got one die. Go."


"It rolls an 8"


"It swings this thick arm and you just see Harish fly across the hall and slump to the ground.

( you're unconscious you'll miss one turn for sure and then roll to wake up each round  Toughness rounds and if you don't you're dead")"

"Ohhhhh god"

"Ok so what are you going to do?"

"Can I grab him and pull him in the elevator?"

"Yeah I guess the only thing it can do is randomly stagger after you blind"

And so the drug dealer gets the PI into the elevator. United by the sticky nectar of fear.

The door closes.

A quiet round in the elevator. The PI makes his waking up roll.

Then -runch- above somewhere.

The PI pushes all the buttons on the elevator.

Dice roll.


A hoof comes through the ceiling, the lights flicker.

I forgot to say "the lights flicker" actually.

The doors judder like open?close?open?

They roll and get out into the hall, a crash behind them as the elevator drops like...10 feet?

"You see a pair of claws reaching up out of the elevator clawing at the floor, and the head emerging"

"I'm running"

"You're still hurt, one die"

"I'm gonna shoot the elevator cable"

"Ok, you're hurt, too, your firearms sucks, even though it's a non-moving target--so still one die, but it's still blind so it's got one die and..."


(damage rolling)

"The cable snaps and you see the whole elevator guillotining down. Bones rip and just shear in half and then two hands and the goat head just spill onto the carpet."


Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Anti-Design of the OSR

Quotes from avante-garde architect and architectural theorist Rem Koohaas with one or two words replaced rewritten to be about elfgames:

1. If there is a method in the OSR, it is a method of systematic idealization -- a systematic overestimation of what exists, a bombardment of speculation that invests even the most mediocre aspects with retroactive conceptual and ideological charge. To each bastard, a genealogical tree...

2. If there is a plot, in modern game design, it is the eternal one – simple Darwinian imperative maybe – of each generation trying to incapacitate the next under the guise of educational process. Here it is very noticeable and very expensive.

3. Flexibility is not the exhaustive anticipation of all possible changes. Most changes are unpredictable. Gygax could never imagine the present use of the alignment chart. Flexibility is the creation of margin--excess capacity that enables different and even opposite interpretations and uses.

4. GMs knows what modern design will never learn: that modular coordination is at most postponed failure, a temporary rollback of the frontiers of chaos.

5. Mainstream game companies need OSR consultants to demonstrate their "modernity" but are finally unwilling to assume their radicalism, conceiving then aborting successive "could have beens" to prove first their adventurousness, then their sobriety.

6. "Incoherence seems to me preferable to a distorting order" 
                 -Jeff Rients, On Ron Edwards and GNS

7. Evil Hat is not a movement; it is a new form of professionalism, of game education, not one that creates knowledge or culture, but a technical training that creates a new unquestioning, a new efficacy in applying new, streamlined dogma.

8. The construction of situations begins on the ruins of the modern module. It is easy to see the extent to which the very principle of the module--noninvention--is linked to the alienation of the old school.

9. Finally, we insist that at no time have we presumed to have produced a designed hexmap. We have confined ourselves to devising a framework capable of absorbing an endless series of further meanings, extensions, or intentions, without entailing compromises, redundancies or contradictions. Our strategy is to confer on the simple the dimension of adventure.

10. A complex like Rappan Athuk consists exclusively of mediocre, if not ugly, if not completely failed and flawed rooms, but has, nevertheless, a certain grandeur, and when seen in a certain way on certain days, appears absolutely positively beautiful. The only (most drastic) explanation is that almost all dungeons beyond a certain scale possess a kind of beauty in their sheer overwhelming presence.

11. "Most of the visual maps that are being made in the world are slaves to text."
                            -Luka Rejec 

12. If there is to be a 'new rpg design' it will not be based on the twin fantasies of order and omnipotence; it will be the staging of uncertainty; it will no longer be concerned with the arrangement of more or less permanent objects but with the irrigation of territories with potential; it will no longer aim for stable configurations but for the creation of enabling fields that accommodate processes that refuse to be crystallized into definitive form; it will no longer be about meticulous definition, the imposition of limits, but about expanding notions, denying boundaries, not about separating and identifying entities, but about discovering unnameable hybrids; it will no longer be obsessed with the story but with the manipulation of infra-structure for endless intensifications and diversifications, shortcuts and redistributions - the reinvention of psychological space.

1. the osr-->this work
2. modern game design-->any school
3. gygax-->(utilitarian prison designer), alignment chart-->koepel (prison)
4. GMs-->Typical Plan, modern design-->European architecture
5. mainstream game companies-->local regimes, osr comsultants-->special projects
6. jeff rients-->roland barthes, ron edwards-->gide,  gns-->his journals
7. evil hat-->postmodernism, game-->architectural
8. spectacle-->module, invention-->intervention world-->school
9. hexmap-->landscape
10. rappan athuk-->la defense, rooms-->buildings, dungeons-->buildings
11. maps-->images, luka rejec-->peter greenaway
12. rpg design-->urbanism, story-->city

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sarah Schulman On Communities And Conflict


Oh hey guys. if you're here from Tenkar's Tavern remember Greg C is mad because he's the guy who freaked out about sex in games and wrote FURRIES UNDERMINE LEGITIMATE COSPLAY!!! So if you trust his opinion....ok?

Anyway, the grown up way to have a problem with someone is, y'know, contact them about it, not call them names online ( zakzsmith AT hawy mayle, or anonymously: ).

On to the article:

Some excerpts on community, intervention, conflict, etc that gamer communities might benefit from Sarah Schulman's book about internet-era fight escalation Conflict Is Not Abuse.


One problem here is how to intervene with a person who is overstating harm, hiding behind technology, shunning or otherwise escalating. In some cultures we are trained not to assist directly, saying we are “non-confrontational,” that indifference is polite. Instead we can learn to be accountable, to ask, “How can I help you and X to sit down and talk?” Perhaps the person invested in maintaining victimology in order to avoid their own issues will say, “No, I will “never talk to X again. In fact, I am terrified for my life. You should have nothing to do with her.” In other words, now that they are facing community responsibility, they escalate even further, their claims are even more inflated, and the cloak of self-righteousness is drawn even tighter. Unfortunately, at this point, most interveners will back off. Hey, I tried, they can tell themselves. In the end, it’s not their life being harmed by this escalating person. And if they engage any further, they could become a target too. So they call it quits. Almost nothing could be more painful to the person being projected onto. The only thing worse than not getting help is asking for it and still being denied. Now the stakes are even higher, the falsely accused is even more isolated, and the interveners feel self-satisfied while being entirely ineffective. The next step is to come as a group. “Hey, now there are five of us here together, with you. We want to help you and X sit down and talk. We find what you’re doing to be very disturbing. We won’t shun you, we won’t punish you, but we also “we won’t punish you, but we also won’t be co-opted into silence. How can we find an alternative?” This is the structure behind every successful piece of non-violent progressive political action:

1. Scapegoated people cannot be made to stand alone.
2. Community needs to move towards negotiation.
3. More and more people have to join in together to create change.
4. The conversation is not over just because an escalator insists that it is.


Those seeking justice often have to organize allies in order to force contact and conversation, negotiation. Trying to create communication is almost always the uphill struggle of the falsely blamed. And entire movements are structured around the goal of forcing one party to face the reality of the other, and thereby face themselves. And of course this power struggle over whether or not opposing parties will speak is an enormous smokescreen covering up the real issue, the substance of what they need to speak about: namely, the nature of and resolution to the conflict.

“She yelled at me; she’s abusive.”

Is that an originating action? Or is that a response? Were you sitting innocently eating your breakfast and she yelled at you because there was no milk, and you are responsible for serving her at every turn, which would be Abuse? Or did she yell at you because you stole her milk money in order to buy drugs? Which would mean that you created the originating action and the yelling was a consequence of that action. So there is Conflict about your addiction, and the Abuse accusation is a smokescreen to avoid facing it. Or were you so traumatized from being demeaned constantly as a child that as an adult you can’t tolerate difference, and any normative challenge is perceived of as an assault or threat? Is it that, in fact, nothing really happened, and yet you feel terrible? And maybe, rather than face the betrayal of your parents, it’s a lot easier to put the whole thing on your partner?

Only by examining the details, asking interactive questions in person (and not by email), and understanding the order of events can we differentiate between these three possible interpretations of the same complaint “The most destructive answer, of course, is “She yelled at you? I will hurt her,” which is a shallow relationship manifested as bullying. The best answer is, “If you two can’t communicate right now, let me talk to her in person and see how she understands what is happening.” Or, “How can I help you sit down and talk this through with her?”

Monday, September 25, 2017

Demon Week, Day 1 Notes


*If you missed it, here I am being interviewed about a new unannounced project for LotFP as well as Demon City.

If you go "What's the new LotFP thing?" and you didn't watch it I'll just shake my head like mmmm

*Do you not have Vornheim yet? Really? It got reviewed again--this time by someone who went out and made their own city book right after.

*There's a kick-ass Lamentations Bundle and it goes to support the civil liberties organization that protected Steve Jackson Games from illegal search and seizure.

*D&DWPS rogue Satine Phoenix is playing D&D with D&D head honcho Mike Mearls for a kids' charity.

*Red & Pleasant Land is still up for game of the month

*Green Ronin still sucks and only pays lip service to LGBT rights.

Anyway, it's Demon Week
Doing open playtests for Demon City.

1. Real worldy Demon City names ("Alex Walsh") are harder to remember than D&D names. When playing with scads of new wonderful generous playtest volunteers all in one week, maybe ask if you can just use their actual names as their character names to keep it simple...

2. The official rule for Demon City action is "Everybody rolls, highest roller gets to do what they want then Any Action Not Interrupted By The Winning Actions And Which Doesn't Involve Anyone Else In A Clash Happens".

Q: Does running away from somebody "Involve someone else"?

3. How long does contact take to get back to you? This is pure luck but formalize it. 

4. Character gen needs a chart, there's jusssst enough information that people can get confused about the math

5. Waiting for someone to come through the door counts as a round of aiming (extra die next round)

6. The best way to roll bad guy stuff is to roll the bad guy's dice then say "Anybody beat a...." 7, 8 whatever

7. There needs to be a mook rule, rolling 2-3 dice for 4-5 bad guys is dumb. Mooks always roll twice their skill, etc.

8. If you have 2 skills that could apply to a situation that should count for an extra die maybe? Need examples.

9. Rewrite character classes so that all of them have something that matters in character gen or in downtime, maybe? People are so panicked they forget to use class skills, and they tend to be the least important thing about a PC in play

10. What happens to Local Knowledge if you are in a multi-city campaign? Find a way this isn't a stupid choice.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's Demon Week

All day open Demon City playtests.

Monday: 6pm-4am Pacific Time
Tuesday: TBA
Wednesday: TBA
Thursday: TBA
Friday: TBA

If you are interested, email: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle with your available days and times in Pacific Time

Bring a PC with you:

Character Gen rules here.

If you make a "Problem" class PC, be sure to also make a 2nd PC in case the game already has a Problem PC.

If you have already made a PC for this game and used it in a playtest, make a new one now for Demon Week

Oh, and here I am being interviewed about Demon City plus some new stuff in the pipeline.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Attention Midwesterners, Contessa Needs You

Contessa, the con-within-a-con dedicated to promoting diversity n games is looking for folks to run games at U-Con in Ann Arbor NOVEMBER 17- NOVEMBER 19, 2017 and Acadecon in Dayton, November 10th – 12th, 2017.

Visit for details and help out with a great cause. Tell 'em D&DWPS sent you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Notes Taken While Starting to Write My Next RPG Book

Room When she is there, Room when she is not there.

Johannes Vermeer

100 Octopuses


“A terrible worm in an iron cocoon,” 


Sexual cannibalism is rare in the animal kingdom. Although cannibalism is not uncommon in cephalopods, here we report the first documented case of sexual cannibalism. A large female Octopus cyanea was observed continuously for 2.5 days in Palau, Micronesia, when she was out of her den. On the second day, a small male followed and mated her 13 times during 3.5 h while she continued to forage over 70 m distance. After the 12th mating, she aggressively chased a different small octopus that barely escaped by jetting, inking and swimming upwards. Shortly thereafter, the original small male mated her a 13th time, but subsequently she attacked and suffocated him and spent 2 days cannibalizing him in her den. This sort of intraspecific aggression helps to explain several reports of octopuses mating out in the open, a behaviour that may serve to allow the smaller mate to escape cannibalism.

Kang the Conqueror

Christianity from Judaism from Canaanism 


Nimue, Viviane, Vivien, Elaine, Ninianne, Nivian, Nyneve, or Evienne

T.H. White's 1958 Arthurian retelling, The Once and Future King, in which "Merlyn", as White calls him, has the curious affliction of living backwards in time to everyone else. This affliction also appears in Dan Simmons' Hyperion as the "Merlin sickness." A related novel is The Book of Merlyn.


Abbas II of Persia

Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād


Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba

This unfortunate time for Ibrahim was unfortunate for all monarchs. The
Holy Roman Empire was unsettled by the famous Thirty Years War. Civil war
devastated France and forced the mother of Louis XIV to flee with her children
from her capital. In London, Charles I was condemned to death by his own
subjects. Philip IV, king of Spain, having lost almost all his possessions in Asia, also
lost Portugal.
Voltaire went on to consider the careers of Cromwell in England, Li Zicheng in
China, Aurangzeb in India, and others who had seized power by force, concluding
that the mid-­seventeenth century had been ‘a period of usurpations almost from one
end of the world to the other’.1

The Loe
Llyn y Fan Fach
Llyn Ogwen
Ribbon lake
Llyn Llydaw
Dozmary Pool
Witch's ladder
Martin Mere

dolls and doll carriages harnessed to mice

Lady of the Lake

One Thousand and One Nights

the Seclusium of not Orphone


Islamic Golden Age
William Adams (sailor)

sorceress / witch


Valmont (film)

Thessaly rebellion (1600)
Giordano Bruno
Haunted Lake
Elizabeth Báthory

wfrp career list



History of Spain

Les Liaisons dangereuses

Clathrus archeri

A Coconut Octopus Uses Tools to Snatch a Crab - YouTube

Octopus leaps out of water, grabs crab - YouTube

octopus wraps around the Wildlife Man`s head - YouTube

Tortuosa willow

Ich Dien


 a piece of John the Baptist’s head. (relics)


Paimpont forest
Pergusa Lake

Beeswing, Dumfries and Galloway


The Decameron

The War Hound and the World's Pain

Battle of the Planets


G-Force: Guardians of Space

All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku


Eustache Deschamps

Eleanor de Montfort

a rainwater fishpond on the roof.

chinese painting

Rime dictionary

Ancient Canaanite religion

Origins of Judaism




Jean Le Maingre

a mere Wrecca

Grimoires—17th c


1674  A Hindu conqueror, Shivaji, is crowned king at Rajgarh. Maratha power is established. Shivaji gives assurance to Hindus across India.

1675  The Mugal emperor, Alamgir, has escecuted Tegh Bahadur for refusing to accept Islam. Tegh Bahadur's son and successor, Guru Gobind Rai, vows to combat Alamgir's oppression. He adopts the surname Singh (lion) and gives his closest followers the same surname.

1686  Isaac Newton presents his Principia, Book I, to the Royal Society. 



Ranulf Higden

Cephalopod Attack

Octopus Wrestling





Salix babylonica

Weeping Willow

La Maupin

“List of Women In the Old Testament”

Joanna of Flanders

Imagine an umbrella. Or a willow. Salix babylonica (Babylon willow or weeping willow; Chinese: 垂柳) is a species of willow. This is the situation. 



I'm sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I've got to be free free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain so climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try oh Lord I'll try to carry on

I look to the sea reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we'll try best that we can to carry on

A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said
They said come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me

I thought that they were angels but to my surprise
They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies
Singing, come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me

Hourglass Heads

“We risk all, we win everything”

Randall, Time Bandits

Monday, September 18, 2017

So, I said, You are a gnome on a goat

First, some heads-ups:

The Lamentations of the Flame Princess bundle is live (including Death Frost Doom 2e rewritten by me and the recent LotFP Ennie winners)*

Fever Swamp is gonna be weird and full of freaks, it's being Kickstarted

Vote for Red & Pleasant Land for Reddit game of the month


I'm playing in False Patrick's game, here's what happened last time:

The Forest of Swine was ruled by the Swine King.

So we fought him, of course. He was like 30' tall? My cleric successfully used a Command spell. You get one word with Command, I said: "Abdicate". Pig wasted a turn throwing his crown on the ground, then I put an animal trap (standard equipment in 5e) on his balls. We took him out and rolled his crown away, along with his hoard, which the GM never thought we'd score.

A session or two later we lost 3 guys, including that cleric, to the Sky Queen's knights, but managed to keep ahold of all that gold--we had a cart. Our wizard also stole a polymorphing staff. News of our exploits spread across her lands. She's a massive pterodactyl-peacock-dragon, the big boss of the whole place.

As we passed back through what was once the Forest of Swine, we ran into a pack of tiny humanoids, mounted on large ungulates--horned and ruminant.

"So," I said "you are a gnome on a goat."

He took offense, I think. He explained they were the Goat Masters, and were bent on wiping out the tigermancers and populating this forest entirely with giant goats.

"Do you like gold?" I said, hoping to recruit them in our scheme of vengeance against the Sky Queen. We already had the xp from the treasure from sessions back so fuck it.

"No! We care nothing for baubles! We respect only strength--and the ability to psychically control goats."

Hmmm...I thought. I had a ranger now, and he was second level The ability to psychically control goats?

Strode did he boldly toward the leader astride his broad billy and engaged the rangerous ability of Animal Friendship. Dice rolled.

The gnome gasped and fell from his rebellious steed "I AM NOTHING!" he cried, and fled into the mountains.

The remaining band of Goat Masters stood in awe.

And "Behold!" cried the wizard, casting Polymorph with the staff on one of our fighters "I HAVE THE ABILITY TO CREATE GOATS!"

Overawed, the Goat Masters stood enrapt--"Imagine!" he said, casting Minor Image and summoning a hooved and capricious hallucination "...a world of infinite goats!"

The next day the horns were blown, and the entire population of 300 Goat Masters came to our side, abandoning the forest to join us, enraptured with visions of holy war.

They described to us the many factions that vied beneath the yoke of the feathered Queen--Tortoise Lords, Bathing Apes, Undead Frogs, and more. The Goat Masters seemed to have the least quarrel with the Frost Witches.

Animal Friendshipping again, we entrained a snowbird to seek the witches out in their mountain lair and bring a message. We dictated it:

"So...frost witches? You know the Sky Queen? We're gonna kill her. We have like 300 guys on goats. I don't know if you're into, like, gold but....we have that? Or however you want to get paid we could use the gold to buy whatever you're into like jewels or babies or magic stuff...anyway, let us know"

The next day a loose-limbed and formidable woman approached the camp, asking "How many babies?"

"Well," I said "where do you usually get babies?"

"Once there were explorers--like you--and they created a city and it was full of babies. But we ate them all...."

"Well, our leader has the ability to create babies!"

The Marquis cast polymorph on a squid.

"Imagine!" he said then, now casting Minor Image again "a world of infinite babies!"

So now we have a goatgnome-and-hag army and are going to go up a mountain assault this fucking dragon queen.
*Full list:
Blood in the Chocolate (Ennie winning)
Carcosa (Only hexcrawl product laid out to be usable)
Isle & Dungeon of the Unknown (by the author of Carcosa)
The Monolith From Beyond Space and Time (freaks people out)
Death Frost Doom 2e (rewritten by me.  spooky.)
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (the game)

Veins of the Earth (by Scrap and False Patrick, also Ennie-winning)
Broodmother Skyfortress (By Jeff Gameblog, also Ennie-winning)
Towers Two (by the Gwar guy)
No Salvation for Witches (Raphael Chandler)
Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess (by Zzarchov, I was in the playtests its fun)
Now, a word from our sponsor:
Vote Red & Pleasant Land for game of the month, here

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Weekend Retropost: Bad Games

Retropost Saturday: What bad means..

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Terrible Thing You Just Made

When you say a thing is bad, you are usually using it as a shorthand for one of these things.

There are 13 of them.

So, instead of just saying "bad"…maybe say which one you mean next time?
They wanted it to stay up. It didn't.
(1) The Hindenberg

What you really mean:
It Fails to Do What The Author Wanted It To Do
This is a poorly crafted game. People say "broken" a lot here. This also covers things like typos and literal math errors (like the author expects one outcome but it inevitably produces another, things meant to be weak are strong, etc). It is the kind of "bad" where a designer (if they were honest) would agree they missed the mark.

"I co-wrote Mythus with Gary….One of the first things I did when I started playing was to throw out half of the rules we wrote…."
--Dave Newton, co-author of Mythus)

What's a helpful thing to do? 
Show the author saying it does a thing, then demonstrate that it can't, under any circumstances, do that. Then you're right. After that you then might have to prove that that thing is important or outweighs all the good things about the game, but you have proved--at least--a failure of craftmanship.
They were lying
(2) The X-Ray Specs

What you really mean:
It Fails to Do What The Advertising Said It Would Do
People also call this "broken", too. This is a dishonestly made or poorly-tested product.

Seclusium of Orphone says you can make a Seclusium in half an hour (or an hour? Can't remember. Anyway:) You really can't. If you can I haven't heard anybody say you can. You might say Mythus is this, too, if you assume Dave and Gary knew they'd throw out half the rules they wrote before they played.

What's a helpful thing to do? 
Point out the advertising says one thing and demonstrate it's impossible to do that thing. If the advertising is ambiguous and you're railing against it, you're back at (10).

(3) The Left Handed Scissors

What you really mean:
It's relatively unpopular
Not very many people like it. Often conflated with (4).

Torchbearer. All RPGs ever, really.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain why anyone should care whether a game is popular or not. I mean: what's wrong with left handed scissors? Left handed people need scissors, too.

(4) The New Coke

What you really mean:
The Thing Is Underperforming in Terms of Popularity
Less people than you'd expect like it, considering everything it had going for it in terms of advertising, licensing etc. More of a big deal than (3) above--but only if somebody claimed it was supposed to make money. If part of the designers' goal was to make lots of money and sell lots of copies (true in the case of Marvel Heroic, not true in the case of many DIY D&D products) then this is a bit of (1), as well.

Marvel Heroic RPG

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain why anyone not working for the company should care whether a game is making as much money as somebody expected it to. Are you evaluating the ability of the designer to guess the public taste? Sometimes that's important, sometimes it isn't.
In case you had any doubt, Dave Sim's comics had
loooooong text pieces in the end telling you in the
first person that he's sexist.

(5) The Cerebus

What you really mean:
The Thing Accurately Reveals the Author Is A Douche
The words or images in the RPG reflect attitudes on the behalf of the author that only douchebags have. Games called racist or sexist are often this.

Frequently conflated with:
(6), (7), (11)

Example: Those dumb novelty RPGs people make that just make fun of other peoples' RPGs

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain how there is no possible way anybody but a douchebag could've written what's on the page . The easiest way is to find some nonfiction piece the author wrote which echoes the bad ideas in the piece. The most tortured and fraught path is to assume that whatever the author depicts it's something they like--that's almost always wrong and very hard to prove. Ask yourself: are you guessing the author of Ghostbusters hates ghosts, or just assuming?

(6)  The Garfield

What you really mean:
The Author Chose To Do Less Than Their Best Work
A variation on 5. The particular douchebaggery in question being the author clearly could've done better. A lot of stereotypes are supported by this kind of bad because stereotypes are easy to write.

Ruins of Undermountain.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Prove the author knew a better way to do a thing--or grasped that finding it would've been useful--and then show how what's there isn't that.

(7) The Russian Roulette

What you really mean:
Literally the world outside the game gets worse because of this game existing. Games called racist or sexist are often this.

DragonRaid (an '80s Christian D&D alternative), Fate

What's a helpful thing to do?
Prove it with facts. Like DragonRaid for instance made money for some shitstain who had a problem with D&D on Christian grounds, plus maybe granted legitimacy to bigoted attacks on the RPGs that made a lot of peoples' relationship to their hobby (and parents) pretty traumatic when they were young. I'd probably have to do some more research to confirm all this if I really wanted to go after DragonRaid, plus prove that this wasn't balanced out by the fact that it probably introduced people to RPGs who otherwise would've had nothing because their parents were fundamentalists.

If a thing is, objectively, Russian Roulette and will cause harm and the author knows it and agrees with that and puts it out anyway, you have a clear case of (5).
(8) The Offensive Thing

What you really mean:
The Thing Upsets You (When extreme: Triggering)
Games called racist or sexist are often this but it doesn't necessarily mean they are racist or sexist because culture offends people, period. Like any game with gay guys in it will offend someone but whoever it offends doesn't count. People taking offense usually implies they believe it's bad in some other way, too.

Frequently conflated or combined with:
(5), (7)

Blue Rose--the setting purports to be an egalitarian paradise but sweeps class issues completely under the rug. I'm offended. I have no evidence that the authors were classist (5) or just didn't think through egalitarianism very much (1) or that RPG people became any more classist because of it (7), however. It wasn't exactly a popular game (in which case (3) may have led to it not being (7)).

What's a helpful thing to do?
Make a case for whether the people who are offended are just offended alone (in which case who cares?) or whether the offense might indicate (7) or (5). Here's a thing: are people offended by two guys kissing actually not harmed even though they think they are or are they harmed but who cares because fuck them they suck?

(9) The Bad Influence

What you really mean:
It's A Harmful Influence On Other Games

Caves of Chaos, most other early adventure modules--companies realized that authors paid by the word could bulk out 5 pages of ideas to 15, 30, 100, or even 200 pages of text and people would buy it. Thus leading to a lot of (10) and arguably (2) and undeniably (6).

What's a helpful thing to do?
Point out how the tendency didn't exist until that thing came along and make a case the new tendency was some kind of bad.
(10) The Thing You Just Don't Like

What you really mean: The Thing Is Not To My Taste
Like the game is broccoli flavored and you hate broccoli.

Apocalypse World

What's a helpful thing to do?
Describe what kind of person you and/or your group are, what you like, and why that game doesn't do those things or doesn't fit. It's as much about you as it is about the game, acknowledge that, it'll help people who are like you and who aren't decide what to do with the game.


What you really mean: Not To My Taste Plus It's Part Of A Whole Trend Of Things Not To My Taste (Aka "I'm so sick of these games like…")
You like pizza, this game is a hot dog, plus it seems like every ten seconds there's another hot dog.

Apocalypse World Engine-games

What's a helpful thing to do?
As (10) plus describe why you think anyone else should care that there are a lot of these games that you don't need to buy (if you are). Are you arguing (9)? Are you arguing that a critical mass of (11)s result in (7)? Are you just sort of irritated at not being a majority? If it helps: you play RPGs, you're not and never will be.

i.e. Are you saying "less of this, please" when the problem could be just as easily solved with "more of that, please"?
(12) The Game For Douchebags

What you really mean: Not To My Taste Plus It's Only To The Taste Of Shitty People
This is like (10) on overdrive: You don't like it and can't think even imagine a worthwhile human being enjoying this thing, nor have any such people come forward.

Bliss Stage. Maybe it does what it's supposed to and what it advertises and does it to the best of the author's ability and hurts no-one but what it's supposed to do doesn't seem to appeal to anyone who isn't a moron.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Describe what shitty characteristic of a person links to the shitty part of the game. If someone you like is into the game, then you have to revise your opinion. Like so even thought tons of terrible people like Monsterhearts, so does Shoepixie and I like Shoepixie and don't begrudge her entertainment, so I guess that game is ok.

(13) The Chew Toy

What you really mean: One or More Of The Above Plus the Author is a Douche
It has flaws that may or may not be objective. But the author is pretty objectively terrible.

Example: FATE

What's a helpful thing to do?
You can keep calling the game "bad" because the only person it's unfair to is the author and they're a douche. But if someone asks then you need to point out what made you decide the author's a douche.
So this simplifies life. Most critiques are 10 dressed up with other stuff to make them seem more objective, like

The standard knock against White Wolf is a lot of mechanical (1) with either (10) ("I'm not a goth") or (2) ("I am a goth and it wasn't goth enough").

The 4venger attacks on Old School D&D were a lot of (1) and (2) with, at least on some sides, some (7) leading to (3).


Friday, September 15, 2017

Horde Creature

Click to enlarge
The phrase refers to any kind of misshapen patchwork supernatural grotesque—generally found swelling the ranks of demon armies, unwholesome laboratories, other dimensions and Hieronymous Bosch paintings.

Horde creatures can be designed by hand or created using the random tables.
This guy probably has like Toughness 8

Typical Horde Creature (Demon City stats)

Calm: 0
Agility: 2
Toughness: 4
Perception: 1
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 0

Calm Check: 8

Special Abilities:

Some horde creatures will have special powers derived from their bizarre anatomy. The base creature may be a human or any animal.

Horde Mutations (roll 3 times or until disgusted)

1, Extra head
2, Extra arm
3, Second torso, head, arms
4, Spider legs
5, Extra leg
6, Shrunken head
7, Massive head
8, Lobsterlike claw hand
9, Mouth the size of a head
10, Massive eye
11, Extra pair of arms
12, Face in chest
13, Headless
12, Armless
13, Legless
14, Eye instead of mouth
15, Mouth instead of eye
16, Mouth instead of ear
17, Mouth instead of hand
18, Covered in eyes
19, Clawlike fingers
20, Prehensile tail
21, Scorpionlike tail (poison intensity=Toughness)
22, Fangs
23, No eyes
24, Snake tail instead of legs
25, Batlike wings
25, Hole through chest
26, Cavity in chest from which smaller creatures spill
27, Froglike legs
28, Cat eyes
29, Goat eyes
30, Goat horns
31, Goat face
32, Goat legs
33, Snake heads for hands
34, Asymmetrical body
35, Rotting body
36, Intestines hanging out
37, 5 foot-tongue
38, Tentacles
39, Crow head
40, Covered in spines
41, Skull head
42, Heads for arms
43, Just a head with 4 tiny legs
44, Gazelle horns
45, Gaunt, starved appearance
46, Cavities throughout body
47, Covered in boils
48, Tusks
49, Translucent skin
50, Crawling with maggots

51, Covered in ooze
52, Giant foetus with umbilical cord
53, Lower body is a giant hand
54, Massive chest cavity lined with teeth
55, Insect head
56, Insect legs
57, Mantis arms
58, Fly wings
59, Insect eyes
60, Insect mouth
61, Arms so long they drag
62, Mandibles
63, Joints up and down extremities
64, Serpent head
65, Membranes between arms, legs and torso
66, Left or right half only
67, Eyestalks
68, Eye on tip of tongue
69, Crawls on all fours
70, Hunchback
71, No mouth
72, No features
73, Scales
74, Mane of fingers
75, Webbed fingers
76, Cyclops
77, Half size
78, Leech mouth
79, Leech head
80, Patterned skin
81, Covered in mouths
82, Mouth full of tentacles
83, Crablike carapace
84, Birdclaw feet
85, Mantalike head
86, Wolf head
87, Multiple animal heads
88, Tail with head on it
89, Tail with animal head on it
90, Wolf heads for hands
91, Bat face
92, Stag head
93, Claw-tipped probes for arms
94, Upper body only, drags organs behind
95, Tentacles from head
96, Obese beyond conception
97, Mouth across stomach
98, Arms for legs
99, Crab head
00, Courses with electricity

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Project Project

So this is an idea meant to be broadly applicable across systems and genres. It's the beginning of some work on it, and might require additional elaboration when it's applied to a specific game or campaign.

The idea is: projects.

Making-stuff-as-adventure-element, including but not limited to: MacGyvering gadgets, building siege engines, creating strongholds and fortifications, surveying frontiers a la Mason & Dixon, developing super-gadgets, etc.

This is meant to be a way to make this kind of thing interesting in a game, including if it's initiated by the players. With some kind of guidelines in place it's easier to accommodate players who decide to build some adventure on their own because they get their not just signing up for "Make my life hell then tell me if it works".

I've used a 5e-style d20 base but it should be pretty easy to adapt to any other traditional system from Traveller to Cthulhu to Dark Heresy or Star Wars. Here we go...


Principle One: There Are Two Kinds of Projects...

The first type of project is usually fantastic in nature (taking an inventory of an occult library, inventing a chemical regime to give people super powers, manufacturing 7 rings of power, etc) and its main characteristic is: the project itself serially spawns adventure hooks even in an otherwise dull environment. Every few weeks a librarian accidentally summons a wound in the architecture of reality or a test subject runs amok and begins using its adaptive abilities to devour baby brains, assistants mutate, etc.

These projects are easiest to conceptualize as mini-settings in themselves: "places" with their own random encounter tables checked periodically with the roll perhaps modified by the nature of the PCs' decisions about micro risk-reward involved in the project. Their design is a lot like a normal adventure and don't necessarily even need these rules, but might benefit from them.

A PC who initiates one of these is asking for trouble and they know it. I'm going to call these kinds of projects "Hook Factories".

The second type of project, the much more common kind, is half an adventure--it is simply something hard to do which becomes an adventure because it is interacting with an adventure set-up. You're building an opera house in the middle of the Amazon,  you're fixing your spaceship so you can get off Carcosa, you're building a bridge, but it's over a river in Qelong, you're trying to make a flame-thrower while the terrorists are breaking down the door, etc.

I'm calling these "Regular Projects".

Principle Two: You Can Only Mechanize So Much...

The whole point of playing with these projects is they're novel and that novelty means they have hiccups and bumps specific to themselves. This means when designing the project you might nee to google up a real project on the internet that's broadly equivalent and use some of the information there to model the project in the adventure or make up some stuff I can't give you a formula for.

If this system were only for one narrow task, say, crafting magic items or building starships or making buildings or supercomputers or Great Walls of Chna there might be more formulae we could apply, but the idea here is to encompass a variety of projects--so you'll have to do a little research or imagining or both.

Principle Three: There's The Problem and There's The Solution

Projects consist of attempts by someone to solve a problem. This means there's always at least two things to mechanically define: what the problem is and who is trying to solve it.

They will have different, interacting stats.

Principle Four: Steal From TNG

Being inherently humanistic and optimistic, Star Trek: The Next Generation plots often concern exactly this kind of problem structure. A positive and constructive project is envisioned, it encounters a speed-bump, the solution requires adventure.

Steal ideas from it.


The problem by itself has 3 basic stats: Working Time, Magnitude, and Complexity.  (If you're reminded of the Iron Triangle or "You can have fast, cheap or good, but you can only pick two", this is no coincedence.)

Step One: Working Time

The first thing you want to do is figure out how long the project would take by googling a similar project or, if the task is something completely fantastic and invented (indexing the Black Library on the Eldar Craftworld) read through this but don't do anything until step two.

You want to broadly estimate this in straight labour-hours (what they used to call man-hours back when they thought you had to be bitten by an hour when the moon was full to get any work done) using tools typical of the era and setting for one person with a median income. Since it's in labour-hours not regular time, for large projects this will be way longer than it actually takes to do it. The Brooklyn Bridge took 600 workers 14 years, so: 8400 years of woking time, give or take a decent amount depending on whether they worked at night, whether all those people were on the project at the same time, etc. But 8400 years is close enough.

The number will also be way longer than the time it takes to manufacture something on an assembly line--a car can be made in less than 24 hours, but not by one person alone working on a middle-class budget.

The most important thing is to get a handle on the order of magnitude: days, weeks, months, etc. which leads us to our next step:

Step Two: Magnitude

“Magnitude” is a stat measuring how big and ambitious the project is, boiled down to a score between 1 and 10 using the Working Time estimate you just got in Step One (or just pick one if the project has no real-world model). Some examples of projects that fit (when executed with modern tools by one person alone) are listed after.

Magnitude 1 --Seconds (Carving an improvised knife)
2 --Minutes (Making a box out of cardboard or wood scraps)
3 --Hours (Making a table or chair)
4 --Days (Build a room, fix minor damage to a car)
5 --Weeks (High-end luxury watch, building a kitchen)
6 --Months (Custom period costume, index a small library)
7 --Years (Feature-length indie film, Viking longship at the time)
8 --Decades (Watts Towers, World's largest model railroad, Sistine Chapel)
9 --Centuries (Large-scale corporate IT projects, Research studies)
10 --Millennia (Castle, Mount Rushmore, Great Wall of China, Brooklyn Bridge)

Step Three: Complexity

"Complexity" is how technologically involved the project is under normal conditions for the setting (no time crunch, contemporary materials, etc). It doesn't include the logistical complexity of organizing people to do it, just the technology and know-how required. The examples given are complexities from a 2017 point of view.

1 Requires only common sense (turning a melon into a bowl)
2 A 101-level project for a specialized skill (making an ashtray out of wood or clay)
3 An advanced hobby project using common information (pinewood derby racer, professional-looking website)
4 A well-informed amateur or student could make it (zip gun, pipe bomb, patio with a hot tub)
5 Requires professional-level ability in a common technical field—normal industry assumes it can be regularly be done (drug interaction study, building a skyscraper)
6 Requires unusually high professional competence (recovering and reconstructing an ancient archaelogical site)
7 Requires application of an unusual technical skill or specialty within a field (designing next-generation hypercar, forging an illuminated manuscript)
8 An impressive achievement that informed critics might doubt will work (brain-activated prosthetics)
9 Cutting-edge—as advanced as the most advanced tech in the setting, things that aren't yet fully understood or viable (facial recognition, self-driving cars)
10 The technology does not yet exist in the setting (teleportation, reliable inkjet printers)

...if you're dealing with a lot of super-science or magic, feel free to make things that are 11, 12, 13 complexity.

Step Four: Who's In Charge And How Good Are They? (Relevant Skill)

Now that the problem's defined with three stats, we're going to move on to define whoever is solving it.

The most important person is the Project Manager. In the real world, this can be hard to nail down--is the person in charge of the movie the director? Or is it the producer who decides how much money the director gets to spend and demands certain stars appear in the film? Or is it the studio head who the producer reports to? Or shareholders? In the game none of this is important now: just pick the NPC or PC who is going to be, for dramatic purposes, the boss of the project.

They will then get a skill stat (if they don't already have one) to define how good they are at doing the thing the project is about.

In 5e you have stats which give you a modifier (+4 for an 18 stat) and then proficiency bonuses for special skills that go up as you level (up to +6 at 20th level). These combine to make your total bonus to do the skill thing. So for a human with an 18 Int at 20th level using an Int based skill like (say) Genetic Resequencing, the total bonus is +10.

The point here is the skill of the person directing the project can, just like project Complexity, be rated on an approximately 10-point scale (going a little higher if they have some superhuman ability).

For other systems, the idea is to derive a number with a soft maximum of +10 for the skill the project's based on.

Either way--if the system doesn't have the skill, invent it and just give it to whoever's in charge. Since this is a pretty specialized task it won't unbalance the game much, just enable this subsystem to work--if it were that important to the game normally it'd already be on the sheet.

The scale for these skills is just like the "Complexity" scale above, so:

a +1 means they can normally execute projects requiring only common sense (turning a melon into a bowl)
a +2 means they can normally a execute 101-level project for a specialized skill (building an ashtray)

We'll call this number the Relevant Skill.

Step Five: Resources

This measurement for the project includes anything brought to bear on the project--anything currency can easily buy in the era the project is being executed, including extra workers, better tools, better materials, but also including things like factoring in help or other PCs and NPCs, as if they were being paid a wage (even if they're working for free). Literally anything that's a "resource" being brought to bear should be factored in, as if it were paid for.

1 Whatever’s right there now
2 What can be cheaply and quickly scavenged in an hour or two
3 A collection of scavenged or secondhand parts
4 Lower class income
5 Middle class income
6 Upper class income (6 figures)
7 Large business, town, millionaire
8 Corporation, small city budget, multi-millionaire
9 Multinational or medium country, billions, major city budget
10  Super-power or largest multi-national, trillions

Step Six: Calculate Difficulty Class

The Difficulty Class of a project is like the DC of anything else--a target number to be hit with a skill roll on a d20, with that skill roll modified by the project manager's Relevant Skill bonus.

The DC is calculated like this:

Difficulty Class = Magnitude + Complexity - Resources + 10

There can also be modifiers to this DC at GM's discretion mid-project due to the difficulties imposed due to the What Could Go Wrong? table or other things that happen mid-project. For example, if a bad unicorn eats your laptop then maybe the DC goes up by one 'cause you lost some files.

Step Seven: Calculate Estimated Project Time

This is about how long the project will actually take.

Start with the Magnitude--so for the Brooklyn Bridge (8400 years in Work Time) that'd be a 10.

Modify the Magnitude number as follows:

-1 if Resources are greater than 5
+1 if Resources are less than 5

-1 if Relevant Skill is greater than 5
+1 if Relevant Skill is less than 5

-1 if Complexity is less than 5
+1 if Complexity is greater than 5

-1 if the project is to be fragile but the basic project it's modeled on isn't--that is, it can be physically destroyed by an attacker in a round without even rolling a die (like a MacGuyver ad hoc flamethrower held together with paperclips)

-1 if the project is single-use but the thing its modeled on isn't (like a temporary pontoon bridge, or an alarm system that knocks over a bell)

-1 if the project involves modifying an existing thing that almost does what you want

+1 if the project has a secondary function the thing it's modeled on doesn't (like it's a space shuttle but also a cruise ship). The secondary function needs to be a lower Complexity level than the primary function.

Once you've done that, read off the description--days, weeks, months, whatever--that's the unit of how long it'll take assuming nothing goes catastrophically wrong. Very low numbers generally indicate enough resources are brought to bear that the thing can be automated, but the GM can feel free to put a common sense floor on the time dimension.

The estimated time starts halfway through the sequence to the next unit:

Time 1: 30 seconds (halfway to a minute)
2: 30 minutes (halfway to an hour)
3: 12 hours (halfway to a day)
4: 3.5 days (halfway to a week)
5: 2.5 weeks (halfway to a month)
6: 6 months (halfway to a year)
7: 5 years (halfway to a decade)
8: 50 years (halfway to a century)
9: 500 years (halfway to a millennium)
10: 500 millennia (seriously what the fuck 40k Pendragon shit are you running?)

Between Seven and Eight: Checking Progress

This isn't a step to execute, just something you should know now:

"Checking Progress" is when the player rolls on their Project Skill against the Project Difficulty Class to see how things are going.

Critical success (natural 20) means:

-If the project time is elapsed, the thing is finished and works, or
-If it's not, a subpart of the project of the player's choice that could conceivably be done and functional this fast is (like the laser on the Death Star)

-If the project is finished, an unexpected discovery has been made, things have turned out better than expected, or
-If this is mid-project it means the remaining project time is 1/3 the current estimate.

Any other success of 20 or more (with modifiers) means:

-If the project time is elapsed, the thing is finished and works, or
-If it's not, a subpart of the project of the player's choice that could conceivably be done and functional this fast is, and
-If this is mid-project it means the remaining project time is 1/2 the current estimate.

Any other success means:

-If the project time is elapsed, the thing is finished and works,
-If it's not, the GM picks one:
-A subpart of the project of the GM's choice that could conceivably be done and functional this fast is, or
-The remaining project time is 1/2 the current estimate, or
-The project has its path clear and the time to completion can't be adjusted again until the thing is supposedly finished and actually tested

Failure means:

If the project is supposedly finished and being tested, it means it doesn't work and needs more work equal to 1/4 of the time already spent--plus the most interesting possible consequence the GM can imagine of the thing failing at this point occurs.
If it isn't, Roll on the What Could Go Wrong? Table

Crit failure means:

The most interesting possible consequence the GM can imagine of the thing failing at this point occurs.
Plus, GM's choice:
Someone seriously fucked up. Start over from scratch. 
If it can conceivably blow up or otherwise hurt you--it does.

Checking Progress happens at a few different times during the game:

-When the project is actually used for the first time, after it's finished (or, in the case of a failure, supposedly finished)

-Whenever the PC in charge wants to check progress. Why would they do that? To see if they can shave time off or finish a subsection.

-At the beginning of any other event happening in the campaign that the PCs will play out their reactions to (that is: if a wandering monster shows up, then also check progress, if a new adventure hook shows up, then also check progress, if the PCs strike out in search of water, then also check progress, etc)

-If the project is a Hook Factory, it also happens whenever the GM wants it to.

Step Eight: What Could Go Wrong?

This, like Step One, can't be mechanized. It might be possible to list everything that could go wrong with the project by following a formula, but we don't actually need that--what we need is a list of everything interesting that could go wrong with the project--especially if it interacts with other events outside the project in the setting.

The idea is the GM lists theses things and build them into a table that you roll on if the Project Manager rolls a failure.

If the project is going to be done relatively quickly (improvising an explosive in a few minutes) anything more than thinking up d4 disasters that could happen if a roll fails is probably overkill, but for longer-term projects you'll want to work up a full list, bespoke to the project. The table of things that could go wrong will be hidden from the players, though intelligent ones might have their PCs roll to figure out what some of them might be.

Here are some broad categories to think about, you should probably be able to think of multiple specific problems that can go wrong for each category of problem that makes sense for your project:
Supply Problems (Regular)

Something you assumed would be plentiful during the project suddenly isn't. This isn't usually just money/resources, it's some specific substance or affordance (copper, office space, guttapercha, latex, dilithium).

You shouldn't put it on your table if, because of the nature of the set-up, it would logically just mean the way to deal with this is you pay more or it takes longer, or delegate the getting a new source of supply to some underling. That can be handled by the failed roll itself, which already abstracts that by telling you the project takes longer now.  I know all the different-colored pushpins makes going to Staples seem like an adventure but it isn't.

This is interesting and should go on your table if you can think of a way that getting it would require going somewhere interesting or through somewhere interesting, negotiating with some interesting NPCs, or otherwise engaging the setting in a new way. Or if you can think of a way to create an interesting choice that might have knock-on effects down the line (extend the project by three months or source snail mucin from the ferocious insurgents of the Jade Inquisition, thus de facto taking sides in the Impudent Wars?).

Supply Problems (Exotic)

It has become clear the project now requires the Eye of Nachryllax from Planet Oob, Negaplasm from beneath the Orparinth, a manuscript jealously guarded by an unscrupulous collector with a dark reputation, a kind of rocket fuel currently only in the hands of the Axis, etc.

Basically something unique and germane to the project that obviously requires a perilous journey, investigation, quest, heist, etc.

This should go on your table if you can possibly think of a reason to get it on there.

Personnel Problems (Regular)

Some NPC on the project is a jerk. Or sucks at their job. Or their face is melting. Or 200 of them are jerks or suck at their job. Or it's hard to say what's wrong with them, but they walk 3 feet off the ground now and only speak in Masonic cyphers and it's weird and needs to be investigated.

These can range from "the workers are bored so morale is low and nothing's getting done" (so built a little movie theater on base) to "mutiny" (so kill them).

This shouldn't be put on the table if there are no NPCs working on the project, or if the obvious solution would be "fire them and get someone else" or "pay them more" or "protracted union negotiations". This is all abstracted into "The project takes longer".

This should go on your table if dealing with the person(s) is gonna be weird and/or dangerous, or will force the PCs to make a choice that (like with Supply Problems, Regular) may have interesting knock-on effects down the line.

Personnel Problems (Specialist)

The project requires a specific lithographer to the stars, the only living translator of the Tongue of the Greening Clay, a girl with green eyes, a foe known for their fangs and furled talons, etc.

Basically someone that obviously requires a perilous journey, investigation, quest, kidnapping, negotiation, etc.

This should go on your table if you can possibly think of a reason to get it on there.

Weather and Natural Disasters

Some random encounter tables have weather and natural disasters on them already--if they're not and could affect your project, put them on there now.

Don't use this if the only effect would be work takes longer.

Do use this if it might damage safety measures on the project, thus exposing it to new and interesting dangers, or if navigating the natural disaster or weather would be an interesting problem in itself.


Somebody else is doing the same thing you are--or something similar.

Don't include this if nothing they do can actually affect you getting your project done, or if there's nothing the players could conceivable do about this competition that would be fun to play out or make decisions about.

Do include it if this means crucial personnel, supplies, etc disappear, if it would inspire sabotage, if it would force interesting choices for the PCs about how to continue that might change things down the line for them.


Some Fred Hicks has decided the project is bad and should be condemned or some Jessica Hammer has decided the project is interesting but has some concerns they'd like to discuss.

Don't include this if the concerned parties have zero power to fuck the project up, if addressing their fuckery can be accomplished by simply by spending more time/money (already addressed by the fact the failure is costing the PCs time) or if there is nothing the PCs could do about the fuckery.

Do include this if the politicker presents interesting choices, might be converted to an ally or pawn if you play your cards right, or would present an interesting foe.

Patron Failure

Whoever's funding the project is threatening to stop. This is different than politics because there doesn't even have to be a reason related to the project--whoever's bankrolling could suddenly have an unexpected baby on the way.

Don't include this if there's no patron (obviously), if there's nothing the PCs could do about it, if what they'd have to do about it amounts to walking over there and making a Charisma roll, or if the playess aren't the ones who are invested in the project getting done.

Do include this if you can make the patron's problem an adventure to solve or can find a way the patron's issues can force an interesting decision.

Patron Meddling

The people funding the project want to do something fucked up with your research.

Do's and don'ts here are a lot like Patron Failure.

This is one of the things that may lead to a...

Moral Dilemma

Like politics, above, only the issue raised by the project is real. The Forbidden Tomes are forbidden for a reason, getting enough whatever the fuck shit out of the ground to power your whatsit endangers the native spotted whatsit, etc.

Do not include this if either of the choices presented basically ends the campaign, or if either of the choices would not genuinely have any effect on what will occur going forward, or if the dilemma would basically force the players to choose between having fun by playing out the interesting game scenario or playing the kinds of characters they like. Like: don't make Not Killing The Orcs the only morally appropriate course for the appropriateness-obsessed cleric player if not killing them must mean the cleric doesn't get to do the cathedral-building project they think is so fun.

Do include this if both the dilemma choices have interesting consequences down the line or the dilemma has at least one hidden solution you can think of requiring adventure or bravery or cleverness. If you've got one the players probably have more.

Hidden Depths

The project results in discoveries :) That are kind of a pain in the ass :(  The grimoire reveals the king is not the real king, the warp engine opens a rift to a dimension of sentient ice crystals, the cure turns your sister into a wereleopard, etc.

Do not include this if it just means the campaign is now all about the new thing (unless it seem like everyone would be into abandoning the current plot to go check it out) or if the discovery just means the whole project takes more time, or if it would make the players go "Fuck this let's do something else".

Do include this if you've got a good idea for a way the discovery is both inconvenient and an adventure hook.

The Adventure Reacts

An important thing to remember: unless this is a Hook Factory, this list is going to be employed in addition to the random encounter table for the campaign or whatever other event-engine is running simultaneously. So this table does not itself need to include things like "Goblins notice your site and begin to attack your half-constructed barber shop" because presumably if hostile goblins are in the area you've already accounted for that somewhere else in the adventure design--or if there's already a rebellion against your empire they might notice you're building another orbiting genocide satellite.

What the foes do once they show up may change, though, and the hubbub of activity may force you to roll on the random encounter table more often. Also: there may be some creatures or events on the random encounter table that are less likely--jaguars don't like the sound of power drills.

Hook Factory Effects

This is where you build in any possible weirdness directly caused by the project itself existing or half-existing. If the half-built dimension gate has a chance of bringing in Demogorgon or turning people into xanhthan gum, here is where you put that.

Step Nine: Get Started

You have all the info you need to begin the project in the campaign. You know how long it'll take, you know when to check progress, you know what that roll looks like, and you know what the consequences are of things not going smoothly.

Step Ten: Keep Thinking of Consequences

At any given point, the PCs could get to the end of the building phase and make that final test roll.

If that test roll is a failure, you the GM want to be ready with the most interesting possible consequence of failure that you can imagine.

If that test roll is a success, make sure you have something for them to do with their new toy.

As the situation develops over the game sessions, keep refining your ideas of what these two scenarios could be based on what's happened so far.



This idea was sponsored by Paolo Marino and is part of a consultation job for him he wanted me to do.

If you need me to consult on your game stuff: zakzsmith AT hawt mayle