Thursday, 26 March 2020

Emergency Broadcast

All together now...

Ohhh, my hands are so clean/
At this mooo-ment!/
I’m in quaaar-an-tiiine!

As you may have noticed, there’s not much to do right now other than stay indoors, sit back and laugh as capitalism flails about, struggling to right itself like an upended tortoise. I hope this post finds you all well.

Things in Casa Graverobber are strange at the minute, but only insofar as strange is the new normal. There isn’t much gaming to be had, given that the particular kind of gaming I espouse here involves the opposite of social distancing. Oh, and my day job is kaput. (They’re “looking into” the government grant for folks who’ve lost their work hours. I’m fine. This is fine. I’m fine.)

Being indoors all day with little else to do does have its benefits - I’m hard at work on the various projects that I’ve got going on behind the scenes. Well... sort of. Turns out a global pandemic is a bit of a drain on the psyche. So, and this is for anyone who needs to hear it: there’s no point expecting yourself to be normally productive under such abnormal conditions. This isn’t Tuesday, this is an unprecedented upset to the status quo, and us creative types particularly shouldn’t feel pressured to come out of our caves once the dust clears clutching an opus in our ink-stained fingers. You can just survive. That’s enough. You’re enough.

But yeah, doing a bit of work. Thing is, it’s all background stuff - I’ll pop things on the blog here and there if they’re worth the attention, but without an ongoing game I’m short of useful material. Patreon supporters know I’ve been tinkering with making solo games for a while, and that tree will bear fruit some time in the next month or two, pandemic permitting. So, something you can play on your own! Couldn’t’ve timed it much better, as it happens. Haha.

If you backed BUTCHERY, expect the finished e-zine by the end of the year, as promised. It might be a little shabby round the edges, but it’ll be good. Also working with some very cool people on a little something for the game’s future, but you won’t be hearing about that for a long time.

That’s about it from me! Sorry it’s not much. Take care of each other, stay indoors. I love you.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

GRAVEROBBERS Bare Bones Edition - update 0.1 patch notes

I just updated the “alpha” version of the GRAVEROBBERS system, my set of rules and tools for tabletop roleplaying games of stealth and sedition.

I thiiiink Gumroad might have sent out an email to folks who’ve downloaded it before saying there’s a new version? Maybe? Maybe not?

In any case, here’s what’s changed:

- Replaced the Murderer Crime with the Fence

The Murderer was kinda boring and never sat right with me - the ominous tone was fun for a moment but didn’t seem nearly as gameable as the other Crimes, plus it focused on Violence - pretty much the game’s antithesis.

The Fence as a title doesn’t carry the same weight (I think all the other Crimes more or less sound like something the character would get yelled at them in the street: “Traitor!” “Heretic!”. Fence not so much) but is way more interesting and gameable. Managed to squeeze a d6 table in there too, so you have variable starting items!

- Updated Tools of the Trade

Some minor changes to existing Crimes. The Harlot now starts with a hand mirror - a classic adventurer’s item! Vagrants get string, which is like a lesser version of the Burglar’s rope for tying things or could make a fuse. Traitors get some paper to go with their writing set.

The Heretic gets a ceremonial dagger - which now means the Fence is the only “unarmed” Crime. Not sure how I feel about all the knives... but they’re flavourful and a great drastic, dramatic final option. Plus, bad Odds in Violence is discouragement enough from resorting to it, and sharp implements can always be used to other ends.

- Renamed the Authority to the House

Pure semantics. “The House” has been a contender for a while and after some thought I’ve decided it’s the better option. Feeds into the casino motif and has a more subtle ominous-ness than the Authority, I think.

- General text and readability changes

Some very minor changes in text, plus I put Unicode symbols for dice in place of some clunky phrasing about how many dice are needed to roll. I’ve been using the Unicode dice symbols a lot lately for bits and pieces in BUTCHERY - super easy to parse and breaks up a wall of text. MORE 👏 EMOJI 👏 IN 👏 GAMES! 👏

Enjoy your new coffin of scraps! Feedback and play reports are as always more than welcome - hit me up here or on Twitter.

Saturday, 15 February 2020


The following will not make it into the final BUTCHERY zine (still time left to back I think??) because the zine format is too svelte to warrant a DMG and I also think writing actual, practical GM advice is a task somewhere between Herculean and Sisyphean (most people seeking it don’t need GM advice they just need life advice, and the best actual GM advice is learned through play).

Still, here’s a thing:

from Dark Cloud - not a direct inspiration for BUTCHERY but it shows up in almost everything I make so

Narrator Styles

The way the Narrator approaches their role is up to your group and specific to your game. Here are some ideas to get your started.

Old School Style

Classic tabletop adventure games leaned heavily on the conversation aspect of gameplay. In the olden days of the 1970s, rules and tools involving dice and numbers were only used as a fallback to adjudicate perilous situations or inject randomness into the proceedings for fun.

To play in an Old School style, the Narrator should present tricky obstacles of all kinds within the fiction - social, physical, mental, etc - and allow the players to come up with creative solutions. Players who think outside the box, work together and make cool things happen don’t have to roll dice; just use conversation to progress the fiction. They might not even end up fighting most monsters!

Storygame Style

Some tabletop games focus on creating a narrative around the table - not just playing around within a fiction, but making the events of that fiction look like a structured story during play. This can be tough for casual gamers, but is great for players who like writing, acting or improv!

Storygames like using rules and tools to govern aspects of the characters that are key to the stories being told; not just rolling for physical danger like the rules in BUTCHERY suggest but during “social” scenes as well. What if a butcher’s Alignment affected their personality, and they had to roll Ritual-style checks to determine how they acted in certain scenes? That could generate a lot of conflict or other interesting events to build a story from.

Modern Style

Mainstream games like those you see on big online streams often include tropes from video games, like stats that go up with each “level” a character attains, or more structured stories that allow the game to focus on the rules rather than working out events through conversation alone.

You could make a game using BUTCHERY more like these kinds of games by letting characters improve their Skill Levels over time, perhaps offering “experience points” to spend each time you play. Focus on the hunt, and make sure you have a dramatic and interesting combat scenario to spring on your players at the end of each game.

Friday, 14 February 2020

It Came From The Blogosphere!: Valentine’s Special

First, a word from out sponsor... you! You’re the sponsor! Because you’re one of the lovely individuals who’ve backed BUTCHERY on KickStarter as part of ZineQuest 2 (hashtagzinequest2)!

If you’ve yet to check out my monster-hunting ruleset of investigative combat, you’ve still got, hm, like just under 48 hours? And thanks to our generous Heart-Eater backers, you can get the whole-ass zine for just £1!

look, there’s even a link to click right here, what a world

Also, and this is important - once you’re over on KickStarter, you can click my profile to check out all the ZineQuest blogs I’ve backed. I’m in an uncharacteristic period of relative financial stability so I was able to support quite a few, but there are absolutely, undeniably, a whole host of other fantastic projects out there worth your cash money. Please use my “backed projects” list as a springboard and thence go ham. Support the games!!

Now then.

It’s Valentine’s Day! So let’s share the love, shall we? As we prostrate ourselves at the feet of the mannequin of capitalism, propped up in place of the soul-affirming ineffability of human connection - let’s read some blogs!

ah yes,,. the world “wide Web”
Prolific OSR-adjacent visual artist Sam Mameli has some good thoughts on why old-school games are good to play. I agree with the thoughts! You can read the thoughts here.

Anne Hunter over at DIY and Dragons is good people. Her voice is one of those I miss from the little bit of the G+ days I’m old enough to remember. In this post, she draws brilliant connections between video game rogue like design and tabletop RPGs. This article is a resource unto itself - do read it.

A late (shoot me, the messenger - it was written well on time) Christmas gift from Dan D - space combat for the world’s other favourite fantasy RPG Troika!, plus d66 brilliant spaceships! Peruse here. Oh, and have you ever considered writing your own gaming blog but not known where to start? Or started one but run out of ideas for posts? Dan’s Joesky Tax d100 table is d100 good blog posts in the making.

I was unfamiliar with Circas K and their blog Sword of Mass Destruction - until this post made I and many others sit up and pay attention. The thoughts I’ve had on clerics and “religion” in fantasy games, crystallised into not only a well-written article but actual gameable resources(!) by a genuine scholar of religion?! Yes please.

Arnold K at the esteemed Goblin Punch has some things to say about all these Birds.

Dai Shugars does a lovely bit of theory writing here, recrafting 5 guidelines for libraries written by a Tamil librarian in the 30s into 5 guidelines for RPGs. It’s all good stuff!

Over on her goldmine of a scrapheap of a blog A Monster Manual Sewn From Pants, the luminous Scrap Princess provides campaign frames for games that last about 2-4 sessions, and oh boy howdy am I here for it.

And finally, I always enjoy reading Zedeck Siew’s words. Here’s a big crab.

Read the blogs, write the blogs, share the blogs. See you next time, losers x

Sunday, 2 February 2020

To Quest, Perchance to Zine

BUTCHERY is now live on KickStarter!

Get the system I wrote for my home game and try it out for yourself! The e-zine includes:
- full rules including a shortcut character creation checklist
- an investigative combat system that makes fights brutal, heroic and engaging
- a complete magic system in like two paragraphs
- a starter adventure (not the one from the play reports, something fresh!)
- developer commentary and play examples throughout so you can get your head around how and why I made this ruleset the way it is
- an introductory guide to hacking the rules
- and... more???

Campaign ends on the 16th of Feb!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

yet more BUTCHERY

The little makeshift coffin bursts open.

A thin tendril of flesh shoots out, plunging into the dark earth and planting itself like a root. Then, raising up by the mottled cord that extends from its torso, something wholly unlike the newborn it once was. It screams, mouth splitting open in a cross, full of too many needle-like teeth, its white eyes rolling and bulging. It reeks of death.

The butchers grimace at the sight. This being is not a child of witchcraft. They know the fell, unnatural magic that birthed it from the grave - the magic of monsters. These are not beasts of the natural world, but are created by humanity when they meddle in nature’s laws. And this abomination is what happens when a parent murders their own child.

Dannoll and Allas look to each other and nod. Dannoll flings his spear, aiming high but just missing the monster’s twisted body, the silvered point of his weapon instead severing the cord that binds it to the earth. With a fleshy, snicking sound, the stump of the cord grows anew, regenerating, shooting back down to the ground. The monster barely has time to fall before it has rooted itself in the soil once more.

The thing opens its mouth once again, an otherworldly scream building in the air - cut short, as Allas sends a silver-tipped crossbow bolt through the creature’s head.

It splutters and falls in a heap on the ground.

Under a dusky sky just beginning to fill with stars, the butchers set about placing the stricken monster on its pyre. It hasn’t been human for a long time now, but even so they feel as though they are putting the child to rest.

Returning to the farmhouse, Dannoll and Allas aim to wring the truth from the family. Confronting the women with what they know of the truth - that the blight was caused by a monster taking root in the ground, one that can only be created by infanticide - they ask what happened. If the young woman is the true mother of the dead child, and its killer, then she must atone.

The older woman, silent this whole time, finally speaks. She confesses everything: how her husband was wracked with worry over her pregnancy, how he believed they would never survive a winter with another mouth to feed. And then when the child came, and there were two... He did the unspeakable. The mother, seeing her child killed by its father, flew into a rage and took his life in revenge.

Overcome with guilt, she breaks down, weeping. The young girl has tears in her eyes too, but her expression is resolute as she takes her sister from her mother’s arms.

The butchers do not begrudge the older woman her actions, it’s not their place to judge. But men have their laws just as Nature does, and they tell her they will take her into town to face the guard’s judgement. She comes quietly and willingly, leaving her daughters clinging to one another, alone by the glow of the hearth.

The ride into town and back sees the moon rise high in the sky. Ivar and his guard hear the butchers’ tale, and take the woman prisoner as a formality. Their people will feed her better than she could’ve done otherwise. Good as their word, the guard load Donnall and Allas’ horses with enough supplies for a few weeks’ journeying.

The butchers look at one another as they pass the farmstead again. Tying up their horses once more, they unload the supplies. This family, or what remains of it, will need it more than they.

Under the waxing moon, the two traipse into the field one last time, to try their hands at an old ritual. Entreating the aspects of Spring, season of new life and regrowth, they attempt to encourage the land into bearing a healthy crop once more.

Nature is silent. No matter. She will take the land again in due course, now that the curse has been lifted. The smell of decay is gone, at the very least. Time will tell how the valley fares from here.

The butchers set off down the road again.


That concluded the session. BUTCHERY is nicely episodic like that, mirroring how I tend to play games anyway. That first quest was very Witcher-esque, wasn’t it? The full game takes from a wider pool of inspiration.

Now, let’s finish off talking about the combat mechanics in BUTCHERY, and get into why I call this an investigative combat system.

My earliest RPG gaming memories, outside of tabletop, come from Pokémon. I could go on and on about the hows and whys of what makes those games so dang good, but for now I’ll focus in on one particular aspect of the battle system.

Each of your lil boys can learn four moves, which are like cool combat techniques. Attacks, buffs, all the JRPG things you’d expect. And monsters also have types, abilities and other aspects unique to a species which mean certain moves are going to work better when executed by certain ‘mon, or against a particular opponent.

Mastering all these interactions is the first key to high-level play - but the initial rush I felt as a kid is what I’m chasing here. Something as simple as the three-step mental process of:
- hmm, that guy looks fiery. I haven’t seen him before, but he seems to have a big Fire thing going on.
- I have a water guy. Water puts out fire, right? So... What happens when I use this water move?
- “Super effective”! I win!

The appeal to a little kid is straightforward. It’s hardly master strategy, but at that age it feels like it is. And it’s a thought process that I think is at the core of good problem-solving in games, video and analog. This thing *should* work, so I’ll try it... and it does! Games that focus on letting the players try things and having them produce at least some result, like Breath of the Wild or, I dunno, all OSR games, tap into that creative problem solving loop.

Which brings me to BUTCHERY? Well, kinda. First it brings me to Monster Hunter.

Monster Hunter is a HUGE franchise of action-RPG games from Japan that’s only recently started breaking through overseas in a big way. I came onboard with MH Tri back on the Wii and have been hooked ever since.

MonHun hides that core problem-solving loop within layers upon layers of design. Everything about the game’s boss-level enemies - their creature design, animation, movesets and game stats, even the local ecology where they’re found in-game, all feeds back into that loop.

It’s not just “Fire... water!” with MH, although that’s one of the layers for sure. It’s big footprints... big target” and “old scattered bones... carnivore?” and “tunnel... shortcut... trap?” and “bathes in mud... protective coating... wash it off during the fight somehow” and “if I can find out what it eats I can drug the food, or leave a trail to get it close enough to this other monster’s territory and get them in a fight, then jump on the monster’s back and ride it away as it flees to its nest where I can fight it one-on-one -“


And you find all this out through playing. Fighting monsters makes you - the player, not the character, characters don’t level up - better at fighting monsters. It was Dark Souls before Dark Souls.

It’s a good game.

Etrian Odyssey’s battle system - also an inspo

Which, finally... BUTCHERY.

I’m loathe to put more mechanics in a TRPG. So much of what I love about these games I found through the OSR and subsequent takes on that genre - light and streamlined rules that you hack apart and work around in play.

But you, or at least I, need that intersection between pure freeform play and The Rules to really hit a sweet spot, and when i run BUTCHERY I feel like I’ve hit that same spot that Pokémon and Monster Hunter did for me. People burnt out by 3e through 4e often complain about TRPGs that try to bring in “video game” elements, but if my dang golf game hadn’t clued you in yet, I’m all about that noise. Or, at least, if not bringing in elements directly, then the feeling they evoke.

BUTCHERY’s monsters have individual parts, each a hit location with its own HP. (This is never as crunchy as it sounds to prep - there’s a basic template formed around a d6 table that can be easily adjusted on the fly.) Taking parts out can disable a monster’s abilities or kill it outright. Avoiding damaging parts lets you harvest them later. And, crucially to that investigative combat - each hit you make in BUTCHERY, each reaction the monster takes, tells you more about your prey. And the more you know, the harder they fall.

No lore to read or boxed text or intelligence rolls. Just roleplay and combat - the meat of the game.

I didn’t even have to suggest that my players start keeping a Bestiary with details of all the monsters they fought, to reference during that same fight or in case they come across the monster again. But they did. BUTCHERY just makes these things happen effortlessly, and I love it.

BUTCHERY is coming to ZineQuest on KickStarter tomorrow. Click here to follow the project!

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Caring for Your 💿🐴: An Owner’s Guide

(Disc Horse was coined by the fantastic Fiona Maeve Geist. Sound it out.)

When first approaching a Disc Horse, check that you are, in fact, a perfect human being. Disc Horses react negatively to people with the wrong opinions, even ones they expressed in the past but no longer hold. They do not believe in personal growth, which succeeds in keeping them safe from genuine bad faith actors or harassers, but makes them difficult for normal people to engage with fruitfully.

Now that you’ve found your own Disc Horse, start out by introducing yourself with a Take. The heat of the Take should exceed your standing in the eyes of other Disc Horse riders around you, but only barely - overreaching with a Take that is too hot for the Disc Horse will cause that heat to be reflected back on you. Try starting with a friendly, banal meme - a “bards are like x; clerics are like y” type format should work well, or, failing that, the old favourite about the “players ‘derailing‘ the DM’s ‘plans’”.

Once you’ve made your first lukewarm Take, you should have a few hundred retweets and likes to get started with. Use this initial boost to make steadily hotter Takes - but, again, be careful not to get too hot just yet. Aim for the temperature of a forgotten baked potato. For instance, try suggesting that games other than D&D 5e exist, or that 5th Edition is “not good at narrative”.

Important: make sure that you don’t criticise or address the actual root causes of these problems/controversies! Taking aim at Hasbro’s capitalist hegemony or acknowledging that D&D is as much a storygame as anything else because of how TTRPG mechanics function in table-centric play are too hot for beginner riders.

Congratulations! A few thousand retweets later, you should now be successfully riding your Disc Horse. Keep making lukewarm takes and things should be smooth from here on out, until you are inevitably caught being less than optimally woke. Remember to constantly and vocally decry any perceived issues, in order to keep stocked on retweets and ensure that your fellow riders believe in your moral purity and infallible judgement for as long as possible (becoming Not Perfect at this stage is worse than having been imperfect from the start, and can result in Cancellation, a fate worse than death).

A few things to remember:
- Disc Horses are cyclical by nature. Expect to see the same issues crop up daily/weekly. Make sure your reaction is just as outraged, if not more so, each time.
- The method of riding Disc Horses is somewhat different for creators of marginalised identities: ensure that your retweets come from established white, male riders to ensure you are taken seriously.
- For an extra boost in retweets, try featuring on an episode of a Twitch-sponsored actual play run by a member of the North American entertainment or marketing industries! The money involved makes you worthy of attention.
- Even when you are Perfect and Good, some people will still disagree with you. The fact that these people have different opinions than yours makes them inherently evil. If you get contrasting opinions in your mentions, don’t worry - just quote-tweet them with a pithy dunk to score even more retweets!

You can play games sometimes if you’d like, but never forget that the thing really keeping you going is talking about them online.

And finally, if you’ll let me be sincere for just a moment...

Never forget that the thing you love, the thing that makes your heart lift or your brain buzz or your jimmies rustle just right, is making games and playing them with your friends. Anything outside of that is chaff. Conversations about or around a thing are part of the thing, but an ancillary one, and not the whole thing.

You may be lucky enough to find other folks who enjoy games with their friends in the same way you do with yours. People from places you’ve never been to, whose stories look so different from your own, united by a shared interest - not an interest in games, but what games can do for people. The fact that they also have friends whom they love. Support these people, and if you like the things they make, do so openly and loudly.

Spend all the energy you would spend tearing harmless ideas down on building up your own. Spend the time you would spend being angry at people you don’t know on being joyful with those you do. Learn why people like things, and move on if you don’t as well. Don’t use tools meant for tearing down structural injustice to tear down people.

Yes - try to be good and kind, listen to people who don’t get listened to enough, and shut out those whose actions or beliefs make them genuinely dangerous. But then - immediately afterwards - get right back to making good* things for good* people. Make ten great games in the time they spend making you feel like you can’t make one. Make them for yourself.

Take time away if you need it. The you that is small and soft and made of juice is as real as the you that is enormous and powerful and will change the world for the better. Take care of each so the other may thrive. We’ll be here when you get back.

If you really, truly, want meaningful conversations about games with people online? Make the games.

And the second you find yourself in anything resembling a “fandom”, ride that Disc Horse the fuck outta there x

(*not perfect. just good enough.)