Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Witch's List (an adventure)


A short autumnal sidequest for your fantasy game.

Hilda the witch hasn’t been at home for a week, grumbles the baker, and the townsfolk are growing restless with lack of potions and poultices. You ‘venturing types, maybe go up the hill to her cottage and see what’s to be done?

A fat toad sits on the porch of the old cottage, smoking a pipe. He holds an empty leather pouch, and keeps a roll of parchment under his little bulk as if he were a paperweight. On the parchment is scrawled a note: “Away for a spell! Take care of yourselves x”, along with a brief to-do list and promise of reward to “any sweetheart willing to take the time”.

To-Do List:
- weed the garden
- clean the chimney
- check on the mousetraps

For each task completed, the toad’s pouch fills with thick gold coins.

The Cottage

The witch’s little cottage is a ramshackle affair of red brick, timber and thatch, lit by black candles and dented brass lamps. There are drying herbs hanging from low wooden beams and thick dusty glass is shoved into misshapen window frames.

There is a cauldron by the hearth, and on a tall and crooked set of shelves there are books full of scrawlings and notes, along with recipes to conjure up all sorts of goodies.

Useful Finds on the Bookshelf

1: Gardener’s notes: how to bake conkers into a 2d4 flail (breaks on a nat 1), and notes on dealing with weeds (they love bad or dirty jokes, so distract ‘em as you whack ‘em).
2: A cauldron recipe. Heat eye of newt and wing of bat in mother’s milk or virgin’s blood to make a potion that restores health but causes deep confusion.
3: Recipe. Snap a few twig-men into a porridge of grass grown over a pauper’s grave, and the concoction will make any plants grow a month in a minute (and not stop until they die).
4: A tincture of strained Gant’s root and a few common dried herbs cures vomiting, or any ailment caused by a ghost (other than a haunting, although it will still piss that ghost right off).
5: Stand in the cauldron and run the rolling pin around the rim, recite the incantation and give it a little kick (1st level spell cost equivalent or some pixie dust), and the cauldron flies, piloted by the caster.
6: An empty brown paper package of Rat-B-Gone: “You’ll never need mousetraps again!”.
7: A concoction made of ground chestnuts, spices and goat’s milk not only tastes divine, but with a little magic (1st level spell cost equivalent) it can restore rotten food to a fresh and edible state, as if it were just out the oven.
8: A reminder scrawled on a scrap, “Note to self: refill Gordon’s bottle”. Found with the scrap is a baby’s bottle with dried goat’s blood clearly caked on the inside.

The Garden

The garden has one old, gnarled chestnut tree, leaves yellowing or fallen. A good rummage in the brown leaf litter finds you 1d4 conkers, which are decent throwing weapons.

There is evidence that a goat lived here, but no longer. A trail of hoofprints leads back into town, where the nanny is chewing on a young widow’s laundry line.

To one side, by a hedgerow, is an allotment. Turnips are planted in a row, with spiked and choking weeds growing between them. The weeds are a 3HD monster, afraid of fire but not weak to it. A ribald or terrible pun will stun it for a round in fits of susurrating laughter, but that trick has less chance of working each time it is tried (certain, then 1-in-6, then 2-in-6, etc.)

The Chimney

A tricksy sprite called Gordon lives in the chimney, and rubs soot anywhere and everywhere he goes.

He is immune to fire, and a devil to deal with – go to the bottom of the chimney and he’ll climb to the top, go to the top and he’ll hide at the bottom. Quick hands might just nab him, assuming you can get at him first.

He acts like a petulant child if told to leave (“Won’t!”), but might be persuaded to come out of his own accord by a pretty face or the promise of fresh blood to drink. Only once he’s out can the flue be swept.

The Basement

Rickety wooden steps lead down into the stone basement, easy to take one at a time but save vs tripping if you try to rush or flee. There is no light down here.

Giant steel traps with pointed teeth lay in wait. These are the “mousetraps”, animated golems the witch keeps as pets. Act like friendly dogs, but will messily devour a helpless animal if left alone with it. Everything seems to be in order down here – thanks for checking on them.

Also in the basement are two barrels, one empty and one full of good wine, as well as a sack of dried pasta and a few cuts of cured meat.

Hilda the Witch

Hilda was looking for her black cat Quentin, who got lost in a nearby wood. She returns in a day, thanks you for your time and offers a magic potion as payment (an acid that dissolves only glass and hair).

If she's happy with your efforts, she may become smitten with the most eligible party member, and offer them and them alone to stay for a nightcap (and the rest! If something comes of the relationship, the character may now level up as a Witch*).

Extras: Things Left Lying About the Cottage

1: A copper owl with a hollow, stoppered interior. It flies to fetch water from wherever the nearest source is, but does not guarantee clean water, isn’t fast and is only small.
2: Wellies that leave no footprints in mud.
3: An umbrella. Like all umbrellas that lay gathering dust for 8 years, it has grown an eye and a very long tongue, and can follow basic commands from anyone magically able.
4: Onions that cause whoever cuts them to be unable to wield weaponry for a week. (They drop any held weapon as if burned, and weep until the thing is taken from their sight. Every time.)
5: Soap that cures magical afflictions of the skin, removes unwanted tattoos and smells of figs.
6: A scarf that can hold a weapon or tool and wield it according to its wearer’s will, though with very little deftness or finesse.

Extras: Colour Palette

Having a colour palette in your notes is a good idea for running any adventure. If you ever want to describe the colour of something to the players, force yourself to use an option from the list.

1: Black or grey
2: Rich orange
3: Warm brown
4: Deep red
5: Gold or yellow
6: Dull green

* I'd use the class from the excellent Black Pudding zine, but there are several OSR takes on a witch class out there.

EDIT: thought of something to add

Extras: Smells

There are three main locations: the basement, the cottage, and the garden. Each has a subtle but distinctive smell.

Basement: cold stone, dust, damp
Cottage: old wood, fragrant herbs, something tasty cooked here recently
Garden: petrichor, compost, dew on grass

When the players move from one to the other, describe the "scene transition" briefly by the difference in smell.

eg: "you leave the comforting smells of the upstairs room behind and descend into the dank of the basement"; "you head back out into the garden, the fresh, earthy scent of it once again filling your lungs"

Beyond this, specific items or areas can stand out due to their smells: the sooty, burnt-wood chimney flue, the faint acrid tang of the rat poison bag.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Dead Gods Make Little Deserts (an adventure)

When a young god struck his brother in the eye with a meteor, the dead godling fell from the stars to grace our plane. His guts turned to dust, spilled from his mouth, and collected into small dunes. All who dwell in the little desert know its origins.

Use this as a hex on your map if you'd like. Put it somewhere incongruous.

can you tell I've been playing dragon quest? any other fantasy desert image would've done just fine
Qal Chadora

Most simply avoid the little desert, being as it is small enough to skirt around with little delay to a journey. The few who explore it perish or leave empty handed. There is, however, one single settlement at its borders.

The free state of Qal Chadora is constructed entirely of tents. A campsite formed then grew, expanded, combined, favela-like, into a single entity. Even those who've lived here all their lives don't know every in and out, but there is generally an atmosphere of calm and community. The people grow comfortably wealthy on trade, but have no desire for more than a life of leisure.

Construct your Qal Chadora from the following tables. If you're ever unclear on how many people might be in a given area, roll 2d4-2.

Around the Next Corner
1-2: A living space.
3-4: A purple curtain (visitors will be told this denotes a private area).
5-6: A merchant's tent.
7: A ladder, corridor, tunnel or bridge.
8: An opening to the outside.

Living Spaces
1: Bunks and hammocks, hostel-esque communal sleeping space. Lights kept dim red at all hours.
2: Kitchen, tagines on stone ovens steaming, vents open to the sky above. Smells of roasting meats and spices: cardamom, cinnamon, aniseed and thyme.
3: Bunches of dried herbs stored hanging from tassels in the ceiling, jars and bunches. Marjoram, cumin, paprika. 2 in 6 chance of a magic spice that gives visions of dead ancestors.
4: This area is for children, bright coloured wooden toys and little cushioned stools.
5: This area, the children have made their den. They wield wooden sickles and demand a toll in candy.
6: Young men make flatbreads, stacked to one side for a later meal. Chickens roam free.
7: A lounge, bright cushions of various shapes litter the floor. A hookah and tea set in the centre.
8: A library. Searching all day finds any reasonable book, plus a 1st-level cleric spell.

Behind A Purple Curtain
1: A large and plush sleeping chamber, silks and velvets. Wooden chests store undergarments of impressive construction.
2: Private kitchen. Cupboards full of cured meat, silver utensils, good wine.
3: Walk-in wardrobe. Pretty much any item of clothing or disguise the players search for can be found here. One fake moustache is made of iron, allows elementals to understand the wearer, and cannot be removed.
4: Sheriff's office. The lawkeeper is themselves busy with 1: sex, 2: drugs, 3: food, 4: an actual thief, for once.
5: An alchemist's study. Potions are unlabelled. 1: healing, 2: invisibility, 3: scorpion venom, 4: tequila, 5: instant hat, 6: causes vomiting, vomit becomes dog.
6: Orgy room. Mattress-like flooring, many cushions. Outfits and implements provided.
7: Armoury. All the basic weapons, with silver variants too.
8: Empty tent, but for someone bound and gagged. Claims they are a regent from a nearby land, kidnapped and held to ransom by bandits.

Merchant Tents
1: Selling everyday products of the little desert to outsiders at inflated prices. Spices, souvenir toys, the prickly pears of cactus-folk.
2: Trades in oddities from afar. Will buy magic items at good prices.
3: Nomad trader from elsewhere in the world. Accent, clothes and wares are all incongruous.
4: A tavern. Mostly wine and stronger spirits. Scented smoke thick in the air.
5: This merchant has closed up shop, and leaves tonight for a nearby city. Might want to hire bodyguards.
6: A brothel. While the deed is done behind purple curtains, this lounge allows patrons to meet and mingle with the staff.
7: A druggist's. Medicine, feeble healing potions, powdered bone cure-alls. The fun stuff too.
8: A fabric trader. One of these famous Qal Chadoran tents can be yours.

Just Outside the Doorway
1: A lively herb garden, trellises and plant pots.
2: A well.
3: A fountain.
4: A date palm in a little courtyard, towering over all nearby tents.
5: A chicken coop.
6: A goat tied to a stake, eyeing the tent fabric hungrily.
7: Old folks playing board games.
8: Just desert, dunes as far as the eye can see (but no further than that, it's only little).

As for the desert itself? Sand, scrub and arid heat, year-round despite the seasons.

Fateful Encounters in the Little Desert (2d4)

2: Wild earwig, stat as a horse
3: A parch-bird, giant vulture with a blunt beak that steals your waterskin on a successful attack.
4: Cactoids. Peaceful, slow.
5: The sounds of war-drums. A band of barbarian Twigs over the next dune.
6: A Twig scout. If she sees you, she'll report back to the warband only if you look worth stealing from.
7: Sandbarons. Hollow and haunted clay men, full of sand that spills out in a whirlwind where their legs would be. The whirlwind attack deals more damage with each hit they take as more sand escapes.
8: A skeleton, died of thirst.

The skeleton carries:
1: Twig clothing.
2: a magic wand, has a little lantern in the tip that never goes out, can float alongside the wielder when not in use
3: a coin from a nearby empire
4: a book containing a spell that ferments grape juice into wine over minutes.
the monster manual-est pic I could find of what is tbh quite a cute and nonthreatening insect
The Twigs

Raiders of the desert sands, the Twigs are a motley barbarian tribe who keep giant earwigs just as easterners might horses. The docile creatures are surprisingly easy to train and ride.

If you have traversed the dunes, you have likely seen a caravan of them, and even if not then you have no doubt heard their war-drums on the wind. (use a clave or something - a short, repetitive, memorable musical phrase that can be clapped out or drummed on your gaming table.)

Stat a Twig and their mount as a horse and rider w/ spear/lance, if the horse had pincers (3d4 damage, nasty but avoidable if you stay in front). 1 in 6 earwigs can spurt a foul stench from betwixt the pincers, save or lose a round to retching.

Looting a Twig:
1: small jar of god brains, worth 1 gold
2: small jar of plant jelly, tasty
3: a cactoid's prickly pear
4: just the waterskin

God's Head

All that remains of a deity without disciples. Like so many sacred places, it has been repurposed - the Twigs use the hollow of the ear as a stables (while they are nomadic, the earwigs like a secure place to spawn and rest).

It should be easy enough to sneak in and take a look around while the Twigs are out on a raid or patrol, and some wealthy benefactor may well have hired you to such an end.

i am, 'ow you say... "not an artist"
The Entranceway

The walls within the god's body are akin to bone, or perhaps stone. To call them flesh would be a blasphemous understatement.

Thick, wiry black hairs make progress slightly slower, but not difficult. If they are hacked away, the Twigs will surely notice upon their return.

The Drum Chamber

Wherein sits the great war drum. The drummers of the Twig warbands are also their navigators, and while their people hold no religion the drummers fulfil a motivational role, akin to spiritual leaders.

If someone plays the rhythm overheard on the desert winds on this drum, the secret door to the inner chambers opens.

The Lesser Chambers

One stores weaponry, and has supplies of water and dried foods for the Twigs, and jars of agar and fruit syrups for their steeds. One concoction smells particularly strongly - by the label it is meant for "hatchlings only". (It is made of a particular peach. If players eat it, they grow 1d4 years younger per spoonful.)

In the next is a small forge, with smoke exhausted through a drilled-out chimney and thence the dead god's tear ducts. The hammer and anvil are made of god-stuff, and the weapons they forge can 1: spin like a compass and point to the nearest extraplanar item, 2: eat lightning, 3: start fires that only burn ghosts, 4: kill one immortal being before turning to dust.

In the third, larger chamber, earwigs are saddled and fitted for riding.

The Inner Chambers

Earwig eggs and larvae are kept in a giant snail's shell. The females are highly maternal, and the Twigs leave them to tend to their young without supervision, except to bring food.

If the inner chambers are entered by someone who does not smell like they brought food, the females become territorial and attack. When fed they relax, and ignore any intruders as long as the young are not approached.


The Brain

God brains are a valuable commodity, worth their weight in gold to wizardly-inclined traders. They also stink, appropriately enough, to high heaven.

Mining for 10 minutes nets one 10 gold's worth of grey matter, and there's enough left to do this 1d10 times. Heady cosmic visions come from such proximity to a god's mind, even a dead one; save or take 1d12 damage (cannot be reduced in any way).

The Other Facial Features

The remaining eyeball is glassy and grey, lifeless since ages past. Perhaps it is a trick of the moonlight, but by night, its gaze always appears to be fixed on a particular star.

The meteor is worthless space rock to mortals of this plane, but a cheap source of 1: repairs, 2: fuel, 3: rations, 4: ammunition for a spacefaring race.

The nostrils provide another entrance to the brain, bypassing the barbarians' stables, but they are clogged up thick with briar-like hair. If burned out, the head cavity is filled with smoke, and any earwigs within die.

The god's teeth, when planted in sand, grow into little castles under the next new moon. Each castle contains:
1: A treasure with a terrible curse.
2: A polite, middle-class family, startled at your entry, their dinner interrupted.
3: A painting with a star-map on the back.
4: Frogs dressed in the livery of a royal court, from page boys to dukes. Just normal frogs.
5: A star princess, trapped there for ages.
6: A tunnel and a staircase leading down, down to goblin town.
7: A ghost who can teach you how to speak to ink. Tell words to rearrange on the page, etc.
8: Just a fuck ton of skulls. It's completely full of skulls.
9: The castle is also a starship, cosy and retro but fully functional.
10: Nothing. Guess you have a castle now.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Unofficial Bestiary

I haven't done a monster list on here yet, have I? Here are some of the monsters I've made up for my games. You may recognise names or descriptions from previous posts.

There aren't stats because:
- I run them in systems where monsters don't need stat blocks, like Graverobbers
- I run them in systems like T&T where monster stats take about a second to come up with
- I run them in 5e or OSR games where there are great monster manuals I can recycle stats from

Having said that, some of these are statted up for 5th edition with all kinds of cool powers in the Graverobber's Guide to Slimes, which is a free download on my Gumroad store.

the order might seem arbitrary, but it's basically in order of HD/Challenge Rating/fuck-you-up-ness

ne’er-do-wells
Spirits that wear long robes, concealing wicked grins. They disturb resting-places, or anything neatly ordered and organised.

bungles
Animated bags with little feet. They love to steal things and fill themselves up, but the extra weight makes it hard for them to escape unnoticed.

cave crabs
Crustaceans with rocky shells. They inadvertently scratch walls and leave fragments as they clumsily stumble around. Their rock quickly crumbles to mildly explosive sand once removed.

padtrolls
Little bulbous frog-things with two legs, a mouth and not much else. They are the intermediary stage between trollspawn and a fully grown adult troll.

vulture dogs
Hunting hounds with skinless faces and hollow eyes. They can teleport short distances and hunt in packs. They can eat meat or blood, however old or rotten.

pockles
Dwarfish critters, one for every day of the week. They delight in killing, each preferring a different weapon to his brothers. Disarming them causes a tantrum of confusion.

clotlings
Scabby, blobby oozes of blood. They carry the skull from their previous life as a shield. Sometimes they have ribs and organs that they throw, or a brain that makes them weirdly smart.

yammiks
Dark holes in the air; the shapes of tall, robed figures cut out of reality. They fling magic and scream at the living, flitting about at great speed but unable to leave the ground.

dog-headed men
As described. Muscular and determined, they never bark. Often used as thralls by some higher power, they are incapable of interesting ideas themselves.

charnel-boys
Pallid undead halflings, they despise attention and would much prefer to silently burgle sacred sites and loot corpses.

sandbarons
Hollow folks filled with sandstorms that spill out of them below the waist. Fighting them risks freeing yet more sand and strengthening their attacks, but when all the sand is out they die.

sarcophages
Giant stone coffins that open by splitting down the middle. The huge skeleton inside holds each half and uses them as weapons and shields.

nobodies
Humanoid, with blank white masks. Silent, mobile and strong, summoned to exact death. They move like something much quicker has been given a human body and is making the best of it.

moon maidens
Diaphanous figures from the astral sea. They sing in voices like wind from the void, are bitterly cold to the touch, and consume lightning.

ossilisks
Huge and writhing beasts of bone. They turn their foes into the same with eye-beams and then consume them to add to their mass.

hermit slimes
Invertebrates that use discarded armour as their shells. They favour magic armour, and often try to move into a new home before its current occupant is fully deceased.

seahorse cavalry
Little critters whose mounts can hover on land as well as swim. They do everything in groups and corral slimes as underlings.

goo girls
Slimes that assume the appearance of women. They aren’t generally evil.

scorpion women
Skilled infiltrators. Highly venomous, their insatiable greed most often betrays their inhumanity.

the boogeyman
He can eat anything at all, so long as it’s been lost. Crunch, munch, crunch, munch, here comes the boogeyman!

"classic" monsters I like to use fairly often:
skeletons, oozes, mimics, dinosaurs, mermaids

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

1d10 Magic Keys

Each can be used once, and disappears after its effect completes. A keyring holds 2d4 random keys.

the OGs
1: Opens any non-magical lock.
2: Restores lost memories and normal mental state (breaks charm, control, etc.).
3: When spun on the floor, points to the nearest deliberately hidden object.
4: When pointed at a door and turned until a click is heard, that door opens (or closes if it was open already), but this effect cannot lock or unlock.
5: Remembers the shape of any key it touches and can assume them at the holder's will, lasts a day
6: If gripped tight for a minute, all other keys within ~200ft fly towards the holder.
7: Instantaneously undoes knots, unscrews screws and opens bolts for 1 minute after its first use, cannot unlock locks.
8: Creates a door in any wall that leads through any other doorway the user knows well, the door vanishes only when it is first shut.
9: Can lock any lock, cannot unlock anything.
10: In conversation, the listener thinks the holder said the exact right thing - the most witty or charming answer, the correct password, the information the listener was hoping to receive, etc. but only the listener hears these words, lasts 1 hour.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Save vs Lust (a Racial Mechanic)

Elves, dwarves and whatever else should be at least a little different from humans, or there's no point. Like, on some fundamental level, there should be a clear distinction. There never is though, because players have better things to care about, and that's ok.

If you want that distinction though, here's a storytelling mechanic you can use. (Storytelling?! In my OSR? It's more likely than you'd think.)

elves and dwarves and hobbits, oh my
Each race has a different vice - not drink or drugs necessarily, although those certainly are part of it. No, this is something much more deep seated in the species' culture or cosmology or whatever, a fatal flaw ascribed by the gods to their various clans of dramatis personae.

Once per session, a player may voluntarily roll a save vs this "racial vice", to find out how their character acts when that part of them is tested. Doing this earns them XP or Inspiration, whether or not they succeed, and they can get more benefits if the consequences of them failing are more dire.

If a character comes up against a test of another race's vice, they just use their normal better judgement like with anything. Or, for more fun, they constantly and fundamentally misunderstand the appeal of all other racial vices, to a fault.

(btw, these are written for the races as depicted in Standard Elfgame Fantasylands like the 5e default setting. Change em for your setting - in a lot of what I write on here, elves are the horny ones, f'rinstance.)

the most severe Good Cast to Bad Movie ratio since Ridley Scott's Prometheus
Humans: Save vs Lust

When you meet a half-orc or a half-elf, you never question what the other half was. Humans go for anything with a pulse. Roll vs sexy barkeeps, handsome princes and succubi.

Dwarves: Save vs Greed


They call it dragon-sickness, but that's just projection. There's a rumour that dwarves are just worker bee drones of the same species as dragons, anyway. Roll vs treasure, money and feasts.

Elves: Save vs Grief for Nature


This one's a bit more vague, but then we are talking about elves here. All the other races have jokes about how they get philosophical around trees. Roll vs seeing a tree cut down, picking a flower, or contemplating the life of a forest as you stroll through it in a reverie of numinous angst.

Halflings: Save vs The Quiet Life


Even the hardiest furfoot has to admit, there are times when she'd rather be at home with a good book, a warm fire and a pipe full of weed. In dangerous situations, there is always a halfling instinct, or perhaps destiny, to run and hide and wait for all this to blow over. Roll vs danger, adventure and your own potential for heroism.

Gnomes: Save vs Whimsy


You've never truly understood why your taller compatriots are always so brow-beaten and glum. Sure, it's a grim pseudo-medieval fantasy hellscape, but it's all in good fun, right? Roll vs etiquette, common sense and funerals.

Tieflings: Save vs Wrath


Brooding antiheroes aren't really cool right now (spoilers: they never were), but sometimes you need a good angsty yell sesh. There's hellfire in your veins after all, whether you like it or not. Roll vs being calm, letting people help you and self-actualisation.

Orcs: Save vs Hitting The Problem


The world is full of obstacles that require a delicate touch to surpass. And it's not that you don't know that, it's just that it's so tiring dealing with all the politics and backstabbing... Much easier to hit things. Roll vs traps, illusions and delicate social situations

how's that for a Racial Vice?

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

For the Dark Lady!

artwork by @spookybri on Twitter (link below)
This morning:
1. Woke up

2. Scrolled Twitter, saw some cool art on my timeline.

3. Worked out (I do this now. ugh.)

4. Wrote an RPG based on the cool art over breakfast.

You can get it here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

huevos rancheros


get this book if you like cooking
(don't worry this blog is still about RPGs)
"But what [this book] does add up to, in the end, is a patchwork of facts, connections, impressions and recollections, designed less to tell you exactly what to do than to provide the spark for your own recipe or adaptation."

- Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus

***

The metaphor of an RPG book as a recipe is one of my favourite ways to explain the way I run RPGs, the general ethos of the DIY RPG scene, and what many consider to be the tenets of the OSR. I'm no chef, but I've worked and trained in fairly high-level kitchens, and food is as much of a hobby as mine as games are, so maybe it's just the semantics of this particular allegory that speak to me.

I don't think the metaphor is as clear and succinct to everyone as it is to me, though, since there are many folks who just don't seem to... get it. At all. Every time a lead designer from D&D tweets, for instance, their replies are filled with people who very clearly don't see their book as a recipe, but as rules or... I don't even know, something else. Doctrine? Instructions?

That's fine, we're all learning, I'm not here to shame anyone. But I've never seen the metaphor unpacked, only thrown out as a pithy remark that some of us nod sagely at and like/upvote, leaving those not in the know presumably just as bewildered as before.

Here's what it means to me when we describe an RPG book as a recipe, and why that's important.

(These lessons may be obvious you, but I feel like someone should actually say this stuff rather than all of us just knowing that we all know it.)

***

Yesterday, I made huevos rancheros.

(I know that it's not really important whether or not this actually happened, like when comedians in the 90s made jokes about their in-laws when they weren't even married, but fyi this is a 100% true story.)

mine did not look like this
I am fairly certain that the version I made would make your abuela genuflect in abject horror. The recipe I used is from a UK based company that emphasises quick and easy meals with no prep and few ingredients. Cheap and cheerful, as we say on this side of the pond.

I'm sure there are well-meaning cooks who would be able to share with me their own recipes, or tips on how to change the one I was using into something vaguely beginning to resemble authentic Mexcan cuisine. I'm sure, in the eyes of any chef with even a modicum of talent, my recipe was inauthentic and therefore unacceptable.

They're right, of course they are, but they're right for them. With all respect, if you're not eating my meal, hypothetical chef, your opinion means nothing to my situation. You're not at my table. If I want a new recipe I'll ask, but the recipe I used works, for now, for me.

Lesson: Use the recipe (recipe means game book, remember) that works for your table and your group. Other groups are not your group.

The recipe I used calls for tomato frito. I didn't have any, so I used passata and added extra garlic. It tasted fine. I also didn't have a tablespoon handy so I eyeballed all my amounts for spices and stuff.

I wasn't "doing it wrong". I didn't do it exactly as written, I improvised, and I was happy with the results. I am still playing the game as intended.

Lesson: A recipe is a guideline. If you follow it roughly, messily, or make substitutions, and the game still works, you are following it correctly.

Little substitutions & changes like that are the kind of thing cooks expect will happen almost 100% of the time a recipe is used in a non-professional environment. Even professionally, though generally not in such a spontaneous manner.

I grew up in a house with shelves piled with recipe books, and pretty much every one of them had my dad's notes scrawled in places, making changes. His changes worked. We didn't have a lot when I was kid, but I ate well.

The people writing recipes don't care - they really don't care - about you following their instructions to the letter. They care about you making a meal. (And if they care, fuck 'em, they're not eating it.)

Lesson: The designer is not at your table, and they do not get a say in how you use the recipe. The recipe itself is their final word - take it however the fuck you please.

David Chang, a chef with the right kind of attitude about this stuff. Stop reading this bullshit and go watch Ugly Delicious on Netflix
So, the recipe called for coriander. My partner - the only other person who would be eating this meal with me - doesn't much care for coriander. (Besides, my coriander plant was dying. I'm not good with plants.)

The recipe already had plenty of spice and flavour, so I felt fine leaving an ingredient out. I wouldn't particularly miss it, and it would make the meal more enjoyable overall for someone else.

I took a whole ingredient out, didn't substitute it or anything.

Lesson: You can use a recipe selectively to make you and your group happy. (This seems the most blindingly obvious of the lessons to me.)

"cilantro" if you're nasty
The recipe I used calls for a few tortillas, lightly toasted, as a base upon which to dollop the bean chilli and egg.

Our local supermarket has recently begun stocking a slightly fancy brand of tortilla chip, and one of the flavours it comes in is chipotle and lime. These are two of the flavours used in my recipe, so I know they'd go together.

Hmm... Could we substitute the plain tortilla base for a flavoured one? Change a nice, healthy-ish and aesthetically pleasing foundation to our dish for what is essentially a pile of Doritos?

Not even a question; of course we can. We can do what we like, it's our meal.

(It tasted great by the way. If it didn't? No harm done, just try something different next time. Simple as that.)

Lesson: You can do whatever the fuck you want to a recipe. Experiment. Do your own design. (I know dumping chilli onto chips is hardly groundbreaking design work, but it's an idea that I came up with, tried out and kept doing because I was pleased with the result. That's all you need to homebrew RPGs.)

Oh, and I'll sneak another lesson in here, to make things perfectly clear, because people like to bandy around the word "homebrew" like it denotes an inferior product.

Lesson: A changed recipe that makes a better meal for a group is a better recipe for that group than the original.



When the meal was ready, we sat together and ate, and enjoyed the food and each other's company. I got a compliment on the meal and a thank-you, but it's not like that's a reason for doing it, that's just what happens when you spent time with good people.

The recipe isn't a recipe for friends, or love, or a machine where you can input effort and it pumps out good vibes at the other end. It's just a recipe for food.

Your job is to bring good company. Be good friends, be good people. Show affection, show appreciation, enjoy the time spent together. That's on you. "How do I be a good player/GM?" By being a good person.

Half of the complaints about games online are from people not having a good time. THAT'S NOT THE GAME, THAT'S THE PEOPLE. For fuck's sake, RPG nerds, have some self-respect. Stand up for yourself and solve the problem.

And stop playing with people you don't like. You don't have to cook for people who don't appreciate your food. Nobody's asking you to do that, nobody's making you. It's a game.

Lesson: Above all, the game is an excuse for a social gathering. The recipe and the meal you make from it, are just a shared language that those gathered can use to communicate together.

(If you can't enjoy a normal conversation with these people, how the fuck are you gonna do it with food in your mouth?)


We all clear now?

Good. I'll finish off with one last lesson, the thing that ties this all together for me, and makes the DIY RPG space such a great place to be in.

Lesson: Any idiot can cook. Hell, look at me!

And so: anyone can write their own recipe.

Get to work.

PS: a good RPG book should be designed like a good recipe book, and do the following:

- contain all the information you need to use it in the heat of the moment, clearly displayed
- completely leave out extraneous content (anything unhelpful to the actual act of cooking)
- tips, guidelines and suggestions for changes or improvements should be succinct and intriguing
- use good art, pics, design and layout to present all information words cannot, summarise any information that would take too many words, and aid general clarity (eg diagrams, good typography)
- assume the reader has basic competence but offer clear and general instruction in any specific techniques used
- in every instance wherein the reader could make a better judgement than the writer, or come up with a better idea, leave decisions about design and content to the reader ("salt to taste", for example)
- assume that the reader is acting in the best interests of themselves and those they are feeding, and not instruct or lecture them on how to be a human being