Thursday, October 12, 2017

Possible Blade Runner Spoilers

Blade Runner 2049 is like someone saw Blade Runner, wrote a fucking massive amazing sandbox setting around it, then the players kept going into hexes that only had like one line of description "Rusting towers rise from the pale plain" "Like LA in Blade Runner but harder to see and now with giant holo girl ads for, like, Apple""An abandoned Jeunet and Caro set" "This is a water hex" .

"Wait you want to go to the Corporation? Fuck, it has....walls? They'"

You can feel the GM stretch out as the players finally get to the Las Vegas hex, the only one they've prepared in advance. It even has a set piece! "As Harrison Ford punches you, old Vegas acts flicker on and off the stage".

The problem is it's a solo game, the only player is so boring they think they're on an adventure path and the GM is using the worst random tables "Vegas acts? Like what?"
(Randy Newman? Joan Rivers? Don Rickles? Cirque De Soleil???)
"Like...Elvis Presley!"

"Ha Elvis lol memes. What's my girlfriend like?"

"Uh...stepford wife, plus...Amelie, plus..Friends? And also a giant sexy advertisement when she's dead and you're walking in the rain"

"Whoa poignant bro, can my car shoot missiles?"

This movies is so bored of its own future that the best parts were Luv the Replicant being bored of the other characters--scanning the police chief's head then dropping it, bored, summarily kicking Harrison Ford so he didn't have to keep pretending to care about a boring baby, shooting Sean Young because they were too bored to get her eyes right.

And god, that last fight scene, like watching hamsters try to share a dish.

Someone else's hamsters.

Anyway there's a game design or GMing lesson here, I'm pretty sure: you can have all the ideas you want--new ideas, old ideas, stolen ideas, original ideas--but they're useless unless someone at the table slows down long enough to care about one of them.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Do These Games Have In Common?

The Strange
the Apocalypse Engine games
Delta Green
13th Age
Shadow of the Demon Lord
The One Ring
Cyberpunk 2020
Trail of Cthulhu


All of them produced charity pdf bundles for Bundle of Holding, and all of them officially did worse than the new Bundle of Lamentations--which has now officially raised more money than any other previous Bundle of Holding.

As of this writing you have 3 days, 1 hour, 24 minutes and 41 seconds to get one.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Roland Barthes: Dungeon Master

From Roland Barthes' lectures, Collège de France, 1977 (from How To Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, Tr: Kate Briggs):

Of Games

Novels RPGs are simulations that is to say fictional experimentations on a model the most classical form of which is the maquette. The structure, an outline (a maquette) through which topics, situations are let loose.

More than one language game exists because more than one desire exists.

Take note: the game is normative it wants to resist, prevail over the disorder of the given, it thinks of chance as disorder.

But our method—the one we're adopting here—involves shuffling the cards and dealing them in the order in which they appear. For me now whenever I'm working anything any thematic grouping of traits (of index cards) always makes me think of Bouvard and Peuchet’s question: Why this? Why that? Why here, why there?=An automatic distrust of associative ideology (which is the ideology of the ordered presentation genre.) The card players motto: “I cut the deck”. I react against the fixity of language.

The systematic gradually breaks down, is disappointed—the non-systemic flourishes, proliferates. Yes something direct has to be put in place in order for the indirect, an unforeseeable to emerge.

Of Fantasy

Now the first force I am able to investigate, to interpolate--the one I can see is it work within myself even through the illusions of the imaginary--the force of desire. Of, to be more precise (since it's the point of departure for our research)--the figure of the fantasy.

Let's be clear that a fantasy requires a setting (a scenario) and therefore a place.

Now fantasy=scenario but a scenario and bits and pieces always very brief=just a glimmer of the narrative of desire. What's glimpsed is very sharply contoured, very brightly lit, but all of a sudden it's gone: a body I catch sight of in a car as it goes around the bend before it plunges into the shadows.

I engage in the exhausting strategies of desire.

Of GMing

I truly believe that for a teaching GM relationship to be effective the speaker GM should know only slightly more about the topic than the listener player--sometimes, on certain points, less--this is the process of exchange.

Of Foes

Animals=Evil. Demons figured in animal form, a vast theme.  Anthonian theme: demons entering Saint Anthony's cave: snakes, lions, bears, leopards, bulls, wolves, aspic, scorpions: all "the wild beasts." Their figurative profusion in painting. Animality=infranature: aggression, fear, greed, flesh: man without law.
Of The Party

But what's the fascination of the small group (the gang, the sanatorium)? The state of autarky (autarkadia: self-sufficiency) contentedness=plenitude. It's not the emptiness that draws us in its the fullness of or if you prefer the intuition that there's a vertiginous vacuity to the plenitude of the group.

Autarky: strong intradependence + 0 extradependence. Independence marks the boundary and so gives the definition the mode of being of the group.

Bion makes this clear “Leaders who neither fight nor run away are not easily understood”.

Of The Dungeon

Description of the protective enclosure: Robinson Crusoe meticulous almost excessive quasi obsessive set of defenses against others as soon there's a suggestion of the presence of another man on the island (footprints)--> mad defensive measures. A house that's completely buried from view, invisible whole system of fortifications, of hiding places, enclosure as craziness, as an extreme experience.

Already in Robinson Crusoe--a "healthy" "rational" "empirical" subject if ever there was one--panics at the prospect of danger (the footprints in the sand) endlessly reinforces his defenses. Absolute protection is never achieved (mirage asymptotic). Stockade enclosure camouflaged by a thicket, no door--unmistakably the theme of absolute enclosure--just a little ladder that Robinson pushes up behind him. The colonists apartment in the granite wall in the Mysterious Island--a ladder that can be pulled up then in an elevator. The symbolism of burying oneself below ground and walling oneself up is based in the empirical fact of protecting oneself (symbolically speaking, the only absolutely protected space is the mother's womb). To go outside is to be exposed, to be defenseless, it's life itself. Making it impossible for enemy to get in gets converted through access through neurotic exaggeration into the self-imposed impossibility of getting out.

Piranesi: prisons are supposed to be the anti-hut (note that they’re vast, anti-cellular structures demonic capsizing of levels)—> Space of crisis, of drama, of the sublime (Burke= “a sort of delight full of horror, a sort of tranquility tinged with Terror.”)  Piranesi: “out of fear springs pleasure."

The Labyrinth: Symbolizes the paradoxical labor whereby the subjects sets about creating difficulties for himself. Walling himself up within the impasses of a system. It is the archetypal space of the obsessive. The Labyrinth is this space of active enclosure. Endless futile efforts expended on finding the way out. In the subjects effort to find the exit he only acts exacerbates his only his own imprisonment. He walks, constantly changes direction, etc yet remains in the same place. Labyrinth: a system that's hermetically sealed by its autonomy. Example: The system of a love affair--once inside there's no way out, and yet the labor it requires is immense. Finding a way out an almost magical act: the glimpse of a thread of a different system through which you then have to pass--Ariadne's thread. The Labyrinth is a very effective symbol of that state, an inextricable system of walls, but one that's out in the open air graph paper there's no roof...To someone looking on from the outside (looking down from above at their notes) the solution is obvious, in contrast to the person inside it: a situation typical of a love affair.


Check it: Red & Pleasant Land is Reddit /RPG game of the month--and it's not even a game.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Panic Modes

Panic Modes occur when a Demon City character is at exactly 0 Calm. (Not negative calm--at that point total ineffectiveness kicks in, but since you lose 1 Calm point at a time, you will always pass this point on your way to negative calm.)

How a PC behaves when they panic depends on their role:


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


When in a panic, the friend character's loyalty will override everything and they'll try to get whichever character they are most loyal to (or one of the characters they are most loyal to) out of the situation. In addition, they must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm trying to get their friend out of the situation.


Used to relying on method, and here for practical reasons, the investigator in a panic is simply less effective. In addition, they must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm either fleeing or acting with only 1 die.


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


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