Thursday 31 October 2019

GRAVEROBBERS Bare Bones Edition

Welcome to the 100th post here on the Graverobber's Guide! Whether you've been here since the beginning or just found my blog, thanks for reading - and I hope some of my rambles from the past 2 years have helped you and your friends have enjoyable games together.

Now then...

GRAVEROBBERS Bare Bones Edition is available now to download for free!

GRAVEROBBERS is a tabletop roleplaying system for games of stealth and sedition. The Bare Bones version is just that - all the basic mechanics you need to get started. The game is in alpha form, so all feedback is appreciated - if you play it, let me know what you and your group think, how the game went and what happened!

A starter adventure is available here, and more updates and content will be forthcoming as the game goes into its next stage of development.

If you'd like to support that development, you can tell your friends, keep up with my writing here and on social media, purchase something from my Gumroad store or donate a couple of bucks a month to my Patreon.

Happy gaming! x

Tuesday 29 October 2019

The Crossroads and the Chapel

This is a starter adventure for the GRAVEROBBERS system - currently only on my Patreon, but a fresh new public "alpha" version will be available on the 31st.

Due to how that system works this is pretty system-neutral, so you can run it in any old fantasy RPG - but a lot of the detail is specifically designed to work with the GRAVEROBBERS system.

It's not super well written because it's basically just my own GM notes with a lot of added guff to make them legible, but I hope you give it a shot! Or just steal bits. Have fun!

The Crossroads

The rough setting for your first Prep Phase is The Crossroads, a wretched hive-type inn where the players will have contacts and leads and like-minded conspirators lurking in the shadows. All very hush-hush; the Authority's Eye is ever watchful.

It's only loosely drawn so you can just make it up as you go. Here are some bits to start with, use them if they work for you:

By means of introduction: This is you and your players' first foray into this world, so you can start them off with a bit more info than you normally would to get the ball rolling. If your campaign continues, they'll be able to use the knowledge and insight gained through play to inform their decisions, but at first they might feel a little lost.

Give them one or two of these secrets for free; they're categorised by the Crime most likely to have gained each piece of info, but mix em up as appropriate. I've given two options for each. Other secrets can be given for draws or through characters or whatever.

Burglar: There's nothing valuable in the main church hall beyond what's on the altar, so any treasure must be hidden elsewhere. / If you fancy yourself a climber, you could enter through the bell tower since there are no windows, but the roof is treacherous and the tower supposedly haunted.
Harlot: The priest wears fine clothes under his robes, bought with a generous cut of the locals' alms./ The priest takes in the lost and broken, eager to convert them - people are so easy to control when they owe you everything.
Heretic: The ground is not sanctified in the old ways, merely performatively blessed by the Authority's priests. Ill spirits and foul things make such places home./ You've had dreams in which a lost soul calls to you. Perhaps, somewhere in your near future, is a meeting with a ghost still tethered to this world.
Murderer: The anchorite lives in the chapel annex and cannot leave, devoted to her God in hermitage. The locals love her for her piety. / Word on the street says the priest cheats at cards. One guy called him on it and had a few ribs cracked for his troubles - witnesses say by the priest himself, and handily.
Traitor: It wasn't too long ago that a battle raged where the chapel now stands. Native blood fell on the soil like rain. / The anchorite is not a local, nor or particularly noble birth in the Authority's eyes, but they are happy to have such a face to their name as they expand their proselytising into this area.
Vagrant: Something howls on the wind from that chapel on a moonless night, but it ain't no beast. / A young woman has sequestered herself in a cell on the chapel's eastern side for reasons of worship. She was a peasant girl, now they say she'll be a saint.

Keep it tight: Short and sweet is fine for a first Prep; the first Job will be more fun. Maybe do it as a montage. Don't make a big deal out of Luck loss if it happens, just say "oh, you'll find out later on that some word got out" or something... this isn't the time to derail into a scene where they try to find the snitch and get revenge - they already have a job to do. Show must go on.

Vibes: Colour palette in the Crossroads is muted... scratch that, drained. Dark, dingy, deep shadows. Chiaroscuro. Use notable exceptions to this overall grimness to draw attention to things - a warm orange candle flicker, the hearty scent of ale, or a deep and lusty laugh are all markers that can make a character trustworthy or moment of quiet victory memorable. Let them feel they've wheedled some tiny but crucial secrets out of this terrible world's stony face.

Black Market: a shady individual will sell you items you might need. Something simple and everyday, like a nail or some cloth, might cost 1 coin2-3 coins gets you everyday items that are more directly useful, like a tinderbox or some rope. Getting up to 4 or 5 coins is the realm of a more bespoke item like specific clothing for a disguise, or a day's pay for some labour. Maybe a bribe.

Characters: people might know things or be up for stuff. The bartender can be a good go-to for rumours and general info, or you can invent patrons to deliver whatever specific knowledge or thing the players want. They can reasonably get pretty much anything.

You could say that there's someone a player character recognises; this is a shady place so they're in good company. Link the relationship to their Crime or who their character is - like if they're a burglar, this is their fence.

1. Alice/Alistair
2. Bertie
3. Lucy/Lucian
4. Morgan
5. "The Magpie"
6. Rizalino/Rizalina

1. minor tattoos that indicate they are of the Heretic's religion (could have secrets or magical aid)
2. a little camp and theatrical, why ever not? delights in sharing gossip and secrets.
3. mild crush on a player character; offers a bonus or discount
4. offers a little side job for extra coin or a cool item - just bring them a roof tile or two
5. haunted, not literally (happy to give up a secret, just... don't make them go back there)
6. haunted, literally (ghost gives a little extra info, through them or a Heretic)

a note on mechanics: draws only occur when the players get closer to their goal for this Phase (being prepped, in whatever way they see fit, for the next one), which allows freedom to roleplay and do other junk as much or as little as they like. Encourage it by just letting it happen (that's standard play, baybee!).

oh, and I'd definitely recommend giving your player characters access to Bastard Magic if they want it, it fits the tone. And it's free!

The Chapel

The players' mission for the Job Phase: Steal the relic hidden somewhere on the chapel grounds.

(The chapel is busy in the day so by default the heist occurs at night. If the players try to come by sunlight have a lot of nosy and well-meaning church aunties waiting.)


Father Rodrigo Cassel, A Priest.
haughty and austere, "my child", i'm picturing Richard E Grant but you do you. He runs sermons in the day, then in the evening clears things up, says prayers with the anchorite in the confessional and finally puts out the torches before leaving.

Fairly corrupt but ultimately pious to the Authority. He will invoke a rite and give up his body to the Authority's strength if his life is threatened in a fight, so maybe remove 1 die from a Violence roll if he's aware of the attack.

The priest is a minor agent of the Authority, posted here to guard the relic within the chapel's secret sanctum. He knows all about it, how to get there, and what else is down there - he knows everything about the chapel apart from the ghost in the graveyard.

Sister Almaida, An Anchorite.
the ingenue in all this. Essentially good but naive and too steadfast in her beliefs. Conversation with her is an endurance test of recited verse and propaganda from a pretty, smiling face. She lives in what is essentially a cell with no door, the brickwork constructed around her as a permanent hermitage (people did this).

Will happily offer spiritual advice through the confessional and tell what she knows of the priest and the chapel (not much, and certainly nothing of the crypt - though she'll inadvertently mention a "michael", someone she's heard the Priest talk about in passing but has never met, and also lives here at the chapel).

the late Commander Vincent Danilo Yosef, A Spectre.
a spirit tied to this earth by blood. He haunts the graveyard, in which his headstone takes pride of place. He is bitter and sorrowful, pained by deep regret... basically, he's the Traitor, but like, for the other side. An Authority quisling.

He knows all about all the other characters who live here, but can't do much on account of being a ghost. Doesn't know about the crypt.

White Michael, A Monster.
this ghoul, this pale wraith, this wight. A wretched Thing, emaciated and Too Long. pale beyond pale, black gums with blunted studs for teeth (too many). eyes or holes? Voice so high and keening.

He is Quasimodo in his tower. The priest is the only living soul who knows about him, and feeds him scraps of meat (all he eats). He would eat anything, eat the priest even, if he felt he could survive alone. But he can't - he will not die but cannot live, and the terror of it is what he holds in place of a mind. He is so sad.

He knows what the priest knows, including that there's a secret crypt below the chapel, but will only give information - or do anything - for food. He's very clear about this. If the players seem like they might go to the crypt, he'll warn them not to wake them what's sleeping down there, let them rest, let them rest.

the closest image I could find to the right layout (only missing the anchorage buttressing out from the side), and it just happens to be a tabletop mini, so here's a link if you want it i guess?

A Map:

(at time of writing I don't have one so maybe sketch it for a better understanding? sorry x)

Layout: One big main church hall with a bell tower on top and the anchorage built into the east wall. Slate tile sloping roofs, thick stone construction. There's a little graveyard just to the west, markers fresh but overgrown.

The chapel exterior: Two big double oak doors at the south, one smaller door in the west wall. Otherwise, there are little thin arrow-slit windows all around, and a big stained glass window in the north wall depicting the Authority (y'know, God) as a shepherd leading sheep. The square tower has an arched window on each side, no glass, with the dull bell in the centre.

The chapel interior:Main Hall: Pews either side of a central aisle up to an altar beneath where the moonlight casts coloured shadows through the stained glass. Torches in braziers either side of the door as you enter.

The mezzanine: Behind the altar, to either side of the window, are staircases going up to shadowed mezzanine balconies, which double back along the east and west walls and join above the south entrance. There, a wooden trap door, too high to reach, leads to the bell tower above.

Doors and details: There are doors in the west wall (to the graveyard) and the east (to the confessional, a little chamber from which one may speak to the anchorite through a letterbox.
- A cupboard by the north-east stairwell contains a crate of cured meat, a tall ladder, a mop and bucket, a broom, ten feet of old rope, and a flask of oil.
- On the stone altar is a long white cloth that covers it, with a hole on top through which a three-candled brass stick protrudes (see the crypt). There is also an ornate brass dish filled with water, and a small vial of human blood.

The anchorage is the cell into which Sister Almaida has bricked herself up. Has books and writing implements, food, candles and an oil lamp.

The tower is reached through the trap door above the mezzanine. White Michael lives here, huddled in the corner with rags and old bird bones. The great brass bell hangs from the rafters.

The Crypt

Pulling the candlestick on the altar causes the stone table to slide away, revealing narrow flagstone steps that lead down into utter darkness.

The ceiling here is low and curves in at the walls. From where the stairs deposit you, there's a small room with a brass idol straight ahead. Two catafalques on either side flank the short walk to reach it. One one wall is a faded mural, depicting a ritual in which two men drink one another's blood.

The idol depicts a snarling beast's maw. Within is the relic - a mummified grey hand with a brass ring on one skeletal finger. (You can just tell them it's the relic once they see it.) Taking the hand without caution causes a Finesse roll as the brass jaws clamp down.

Removing the relic from its place causes the catafalques to stir, as the four corpses awaken and begin to rise. Each is a hundred or so years older than the last - one is a full body, the last a dusty husk, but all are angered by your trespass and will crowd you, block the entrance. Their touch is a curse - lose 1 Luck on a failed Fortitude roll.

- this adventure is very small (though you wouldn't know it from how long I wrote it - it'll be a one-pager when it's done) and can go by very quickly! That's by design. Keep it tight, short, sweet. You can play some other games when you're done, or do the next Job.
- It's a stealth game. Play up the stealth aspect, make it tense by presenting clear obstacles. You can make it obvious that the priest is around - then the players get to plan on how to avoid or trick him.  (that's the fun of the game!). Let them spend as long as they need planning, but hurry them if they're getting nowhere (y'know, standard GM advice).
- This can be a cool world introduction, the players will glean a lot about the setting depending on what they interact with. Give out info, make things up if you can't answer a question - but you can tell them "you don't know" in a cryptic way if it's a real mystery. Paint a picture but leave gaps to be investigated later, then design the next Job based on what players pick up on.
- TPK? End the session. Play something else, and try GRAVEROBBERS again next time. Or if they're desperate for more punishment, just roll up new characters and try again!

Thursday 10 October 2019


selected excerpts from a students' field guide by High Birdmistress Gwim of the Qin Citadel Rookery

On Nibs

As Yatun writes: "the Nib is, among the Master's accoutrements, uniquely both superfluous and focal [...] it is nothing by itself, yet becomes at the moment of ritual the locus of the Master's soul, the divine Universe, and the Energies of the World."

Being a beginning alcalligrapher, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the many and varied options extolled by your peers and forebears. Your teacher, if you are lucky enough to have one outside of this book, will likely express a preference to which they may well entreat you to adhere; I attempt to offer such guidance, though I focus here chiefly on listing below the common options, that you might make your own decision.

On Shape

Nibs come in two major varieties, being pointed or broad. A broad nib is often looked down on as offering less flexibility of expression in exchange for an easier wield, but can in fact achieve a similar range of artistry with a practised hand, though the methods are different to those commonly taught, owing more to geometry (cf. Agost's treatise on planar angles).

The pointed nib is the common choice, but requires a delicate hand that its most vocal proponents often lack. It is the quieter and subtler of the two shapes, less mechanical and thereby lending itself to the traditional forms and holds most frequently taught but so rarely mastered.

There is also a recently fashionable blunted or "stub" nib, which lies somewhere between the two. I recommend this for beginners only, as I doubt its effectiveness in the higher forms.

On Material

While the make of a nib is, in the cosmic sense, largely inconsequential, a soft yet firm metal allows energy to flow freely and provides enough flexibility to recreate the forms freely without sacrificing precision. The metals most commonly used in nibs are as follows.

[On Copper] Often considered base due to their cheapness and lesser durability, copper nibs are by no means of inherently inferior quality. I would recommend them especially to new alcalligraphers, as they can be replaced easily if damaged during recitals. I have seen them used effectively at even the highest forms, and a copper nib kept well will last much longer than their reputation suggests. Bronze is also an excellent alternative for a more experienced Master, with very similar resonances.

[On Steel] The most common, still in use as the Royal standard issue due to its excellent strength and resistance. The added hardness of steel does require delicacy when handled, especially if using a pointed nib, but for the basic forms there are few better options. The metal's resonance with the Winter house also affords it unique strengths in some less common forms, though a beginner used to the resonance of warmer metals may find the adjustment difficult.

[On Gold] A hugely popular choice among those who can afford it, gold benefits not only from its excellent softness but also its durability and strong Summer resonance. However, those who utilise it as a mere status symbol are frequently kept in check by the metal's unwieldy level of softness; a truly light and delicate touch is needed to handle a gold nib, making the learning curve steeper than with other metals. In the hands of a true Master, however, there is little more effective at the higher forms.

There are other options in material, such as the practice of tipping the nib with platinum or even silver. These should be avoided until the practitioner is familiar enough with the basics to take on the additional complications in resonance added by mixing metals..

On Feathers

It is a well-used metaphor, and trite, but as beginnners it serves us well: if the Universe is whence we draw the water and the flame, and the Master is the vessel, then the feather used is akin to tea leaves. One can expect to make "tea" - that is, "magick" - with anything, though the taste and effects will vary with type, quality, and the skill with which the ritual is performed.

Given the spectra of birds available to us here in the great citadel, the feather used in learning the forms is largely the choice of the teacher. Unlearned practitioners use the tail or wing feathers of common pigeons, or perhaps still worse magpies, to achieve the base forms and distasteful bastard magicks.

As a Royal student you will likely begin with raven or crow, a purer class of bird and the Royal standard for even trained guards. The powerful Winter alignment of the birds themselves is inherent within their feathers (though take heed that this correlation is not uniform across all species, as commonly illustrated through the case of the male peafowl - cf. Merittom's Bestiaries), and is ideal for practising the forms required for the citadel exams, and serves as a functional starting point on the lifelong journey towards Mastery.

Beyond these, a Master's selection is their own. For those with a tutor, a practice feather will likely be gifted - though do not expect the same type as the teacher's, which has likely taken them many years of progression and ritual to gain competence in. You will likely have cause to practice with many types before settling on a preference - while the old adage that "every feather is a spell" is far from academically correct, there are forms limited to certain classes or even species of bird.

I can offer little advice in this matter, other than to remember one's resonances - it is not too great a measure to take into account one's birth chart! - and to not waste time on delusions of grandeur. Many a would-be Master has failed to realise their true potential after frittering away decades on failed quests for the tail feathers of the Phoenix or the Crowning Bird. Better to learn through ritual, practice, and performance, than high-minded ideals.

Monday 30 September 2019

1d6 Strange Arrows

Magic arrows are an easy way to give fighter-type characters cool abilities that resemble spells and vary their "utility" options. Here are 1d6 one-use ideas:

1. The intricate stone head of this arrow is fluted and curved, with small holes throughout. When fired it makes a continuous noise upon impact until it is removed. Loud enough to be heard for some distance, and to deafen anyone too close.
2. An arrow made of wood and bone. Being struck by it causes its target to follow a one-word command from the archer to the best of their ability. This magic does not compel living things. 
3. A purplish metal arrow that seems unnaturally strong for its frailty. The target of this arrow feels no pain, instead receiving a message from the archer's mind - words, images, and thoughts conveyed in a flash.
4. Tipped with obsidian, the shaft of this arrow grows into a copy of the arm that fired it once it hits its target. The arm mimics the archer's own in its movements, and disappears if it is injured.
5. A slight, slender golden arrow. Refuses to hit or damage any living thing, but will always strike true if aimed at anything else the archer can see. 
6. This arrow's stone head is bulbous and heavy, yet it flies well. Upon firing, the archer sees through the arrowhead's carved eyes instead of their own, until the arrow is broken or retrieved. 

Wednesday 11 September 2019

It Came From The Blogosphere! In 4D!

Every once in a when-I-feel-like-it, I gather up the posts and related RPG ephemera I've been enjoying lately, a fresh punnet of gaming berries for you to pick through like a hungry songthrush, snuck into the grocer's stores whole her back is turned.

Buckle up jabronis, we've a bumper crop this time around!

welcome to internet
First off - the Ennies are tabletop RPGs' (second) biggest award show, and some good games got accolades this year, including Mothership winning gold for Best Game! Of course the real awards season highlight was the Rammies... Check out Ramanan Sivaranjan's personal picks here to see who deserves your pocket money.

High Priestess of the OSR Emmy Allen has a system for creating magic items which, with its focus on seasons, feels very much like something I'd have written and thusly should fit snugly into your game if you use things from this blog like the weather generator or my Witch's List adventure. She's also posted about her brilliantly conceived cult-ridden town generator, as well as a very cogent argument for the use of "diegesis" and its related film theory terms as useful categories when discussing mechanics in RPGs. Read that right here if you want some good theory.

Artpunk maven Patrick Stuart asks whether gnomes can be interesting, and then deftly weaves folklore, game lore and his own inimitable ideas together to prove that... Yes. Yes, they can. I love gnomes now.

Dan occasionally blesses us Throne of Salt readers with a splurge off odds and ends, unfinished ideas and stray concepts that are a ripe boneyard for any graverobbing GMs in need of inspiration for their next Frankenstinian creation. This is post no. 4 in his notebook series, and there are some true gems in there.

Where would we be without Goblin Punch? Nowhere fun, that's for sure. Here's some theory on "dynamism" in games, a truly terrific location for adventures with a Damn Good Gimmick in the Lost City of Nibulum, and an encounter roll system so good I want to base a whole game around it. Oh, and here's a class called the Baboonist.

Speaking of cool classes, here's Ben "Questing Beast" Milton with the Skeleton King for his upcoming Maze Knights game.

Skerples has gifted us with 1d50 missions for medieval mercenaries, including some of the best quest hooks I've ever read.

I've not come across this blog before but these consumable magic items from Pathika certainly won me over - as did the Dungeon Meshi image used in the post.

Chris McDowall has some good things to say about the importance of information and how to use it when running RPGs. I really like "impact" over "consequences" as a descriptor for what player actions cause within the game world.

Prepare for your eyes to turn into covetous anime sparkles - here's a preview of something the BREAK!! team is working on that looks straight up gorgeous. Check it out!

The Alexandrian is legendary among RPG blogs, and I'm sure you don't need me to get you to give it a read - even so, let me implore you to check out this hugely well-informed post on why system... Matters?

And here's Bryce Lynch with a metric fuckton of adventure writing advice tucked into a box the size of a small blog post.

And if all this RPG advice is a bit much, Daniel Sell has words of wisdom for dealing with writing advice as you make your own RPG things.

For those of us who brave the stormy seas of Twitter to discuss RPGs (hit me up! @CustardFaceKid), it's easy to be overwhelmed or sucked into some really toxic discussions. Sean McCoy has made a thoroughly good-hearted and helpful guide to getting better at using Twitter to talk positively about the things we love.

Now then...

Let's get historical, shall we?

Starting a couple of whole-ass centuries ago! Here's Joseph Manola talking about how Walter Scott was a big nerd who basically could've invented D&D if he wasn't so busy writing poems. Seriously. Give it a read. And while you're over at Against the Wicked City, have a gander at these (actual genuine!) urban superstitions from the 1800s, free to repurpose into terrifying realities for your game.

And now to the history of our hobby itself. As a hot-headed Gen Z grognard barely emerged from my chrysalis, I'm always fascinated to learn more and hear new perspectives on the history of tabletop RPGs. For instance...

Could it be said that the British old school is a different enough strand from the American to warrant its own OSR? Here's the Uncaring Cosmos making a case for just that.

Cecilia D'Anastasio has written a stunning report on a legend most old hats probably know like scripture, and the question behind who really "invented" D&D and the modern role-playing industry... Dive into Blackmoor, and the first ever game of what would be Dungeons and Dragons.

And finally, a glimpse into a brief, shining moment in recent history, and a highlight of play-by-post gaming, as Japan worked wonders with the concept of postcard RPGs. I'm so enamoured with this whole thing that I might have to find some way to do it myself...

In any case, that's all for now! Happy reading, and remember - there's always good stuff on the blogs.

(Got a favourite post from this edition of ICFTB!? Leave a comment on that person's post, letting them know how much you liked it!)

Saturday 31 August 2019

The Fields of Calliope

In th' fields of Calliope
Life's but a dream
There are a great many

Sights to be Seen!

O! th' fields of Calliope
Just make sure you're back home
In time for your tea!

Here's some extra bits you can use with my demiplane setting Calliope, or just put in your game however.

1: Farm
2: Farmhouse
3: Tree
4: Hill
5: Water
6: Oddity

A scarecrow asks you to carry him to see his love, who is in another field. The farmer will berate you for taking the scarecrow, if he spots you.
2: Full of cows. They can predict the weather.
3: A tall crop of wheat, infested with light-fingered imps. Somewhere deep within, a rabbit is having a tea party - his tea cures madness.
4: An orchard of hat-bearing trees. One could start a new fashion by crossbreeding a top with a bowler. The farmer laments - she only wished to grow apples.
5: Towering piles of large brass needles, bundled together like hay. A scarecrow in the next field sold a piece of her straw to the porcelain witch who lives there, and wants it back.
6: As the old song goes: This scarecrow is laden with magpies and ravens/ they don't find him scary at all. Perhaps you could teach him new tricks, or find him some more frightening attire?

1: The farmer is impressed by adventurers, and wants to marry off her three sons. They are pretty useless, but she is a weather-witch who dotes on any new family.
2: A dozen pigs have broken into the farmer's house while he is away, and made a mess of the place with their revelry. If you help them clean up and replace a broken gravy boat before dinnertime tomorrow, they will give you a gold coin which always lands on its edge.
3: A witch lives here, but doesn't seem to be home...
4: Little mice work the mill and kitchen, baking fresh bread. They want to start delivering to the castle town, but need a non-mouse liaison to set up a route via which they can carry their bread undisturbed and leave it on the baker's table each morning.
5: A sunflower has sprung up through the floorboards and burst out of the roof! By day he is too busy soaking up the sun to hear reason - uproot him carefully by night and find a better spot to plant him so that the farmer can have their home back.
6: This farmer despairs, as his turnips uproot themselves and escape every night. Find a reliable way to keep them contained, and he'll teach you how to sing a campfire into life.

This tree's branches are laden with ripe crab-apples. Three friends argue beneath the boughs - a cat who wants to make jelly with them, a dog who wants to eat them whole, and a donkey who will offer his labour to anyone who can make his friends stop fighting.
2: In a nest at the top of this tree sits a taunting magpie. She is an able thief, but will only steal something if the payment for her services is an even more valuable treasure.
3: By night, the branches grows delicious white apples that shine like the moon. By day, the apples disappear.
4: The Come-Around Tree. Sticks taken from it will, given half chance, fly back and reattach themselves to its branches. Children play at snapping off twigs, wrestling them to the ground and then letting them go - the more adventurous ones try to ride whole branches as if thy were a witch's broom.
5: This tree is lost, and wants to go back to his spot in the forest. Moving a whole oak may prove difficult.
6: Home to squirrels who desperately want to see a play. They can offer nuts aplenty in exchange for tickets and an escort, along with their fiercest warrior as an ally.

A standing stone atop this hill is a meeting-place for young children who play an elaborate game. They have found a magical sword, but will not give it up lightly.
2: A young couple sits on a blanket, picknicking. Nearby are some bumblebees, plotting to steal their jam. Pick a side - the couple will offer a slice of pork pie with healing properties in exchange for dismissing the bees, while the bees are good to have on your side in a heist.
3: At the weathered peak of this hill is a gravestone, haunted by the melancholy spirit of the man buried there. He cannot pass on until he remembers the smell of a freshly baked blackberry pie.
4: Large woodlice roll down the slope for fun, but would like an easier way to get back up again once they reach the bottom. Solve their problem and they'll gladly join you on your next quest.
5: This hill is in fact a giant, recently woken, who wants to roll over and go back to sleep. The trouble is he had been sleeping for so long that fairies have made homes in the mushrooms that had grown from his belly button. Find them a new home, so that he doesn't crush them. The fairies like any house that is far prettier than its surroundings.
6: Atop this hill is an anchor and chain, mooring a little flying boat hidden by cloud. The captain wants to stock up on cheese before his next flight, and will pay in stories of an imminent visitor From Foreign Lands.

A nymph in a pool wants to wed the most eligible member of your party. They would live out the rest of their life beneath the surface, but their child would inherit their wealth and possessions, as well as some of the nymph's power, and be free to roam.
2: A bridge, guarded by a dimwitted troll. Some goats want to cross over, but risk being eaten - they offer their strongest son as a mount should you help them.
3: By the shore of a lake sits a painter with an easel and brush. They will offer their walking footstool in exchange for paints - anything that leaves a stain is good enough, in three different colours please.
4: A puddle has formed in a large footprint. A frog wants to live there, but her wife is worried that whatever giant made it may stomp this way again. If she could only meet a person or creature that big, she might be calmed to know that not all giants are horrible and settle into this new home. As a reward, the frogs offer the secret of a kiss that, with true love, turns royalty into one of their kin and back again.
5: There is a little house that only exists in the reflection of this pond. By aligning one's own reflection just right and miming a knock on the door (or through some similar scheme), one can call the occupant to the door, who will appreciate the visit and teach a spell that tricks mirrors into ignoring you.
6: Frog-men race lilypads down this creek. A fine oar or sail is of great use to them, or even yet a wild duck, captured and tied down. They can tame any waterfowl into obeying a single, one-word command from its owner.

A really big egg.
2: A great fish, fallen from the sky. Take them to the highest point you can and they can catch a breeze back home - they'll pay in a shower of sparkling scales.
3: It is this young ostrich's dream to be trained as a knightly mount within the castle town, but he's far too cowardly. If you can help him overcome his fear, you'll have a friend for life within the castle guard.
4: A mole has sprung up to complain about the noise above - there isn't enough of it! Make some music or find a band to play for him, with at least three musicians to ensure a sufficient volume, and he'll let you use his tunnel into the castle town.
5: A little dragon who delights in causing mischief by turning things it touches invisible. Keep it contained so it can't do any more harm! Once it matures a little it'll see the error of its ways, given the proper guidance.
6: Some squirrels have constructed a man-sized mechanical effigy of the late prince. They plan to con the king out of all his acorns - oh, and money. The old coot is just barmy enough to fall for their ruse, but despite their confidence anyone else will see at a glance that this is not a man at all, but several squirrels operating a series of pulleys. The only solution is to get the squirrels, with their contraption, to the king, alone...

Wednesday 28 August 2019

a "REACH" fangame - brainstorm

I did something like this once before.

Basically, if an artist I like posts something cool, and I think it would work great as a premise for a game, and I'm inspired enough that my game design notions turn into game design notes, I do a "fanart" game. I can't draw, so this is my way of engaging with that inspiration and creating something.

This time, my thoughts are still v fresh, so you're getting my raw notes/brainstorming. I wondered whether this would be worth a post - last time I posted a finished game, and even when I designed a game from scratch on this blog I'd already done the brainstorming work and got basically right into mechanics.

But i think demystifying the process is good! A while ago I watched Adam Koebel livestream himself designing an RPG from scratch and it was heartening to see that a Professional Game Designer's first draft was a word document of random notes, same as mine. Now that I'm kind of a Professional Game Designer myself, maybe someone will find these notes useful too.

by Jack McGee

This time round, my inspiration is this badass concept by Jack McGee (@Drooling_Demon on Twitter). Eldritch horrors from a dimension beyond our own latch onto hosts who use them for cool fights, summoning parts of their Behemoth through surfaces like walls and floors. The different body parts and abilities each Behemoth has influences their partner's fighting style, and the partner also gains some aspect of the Behemoth's power permanently.

I suggested a name for the thing on twitter: REACH

Yes, it's very cool and very anime. You should check out Jack's webcomic Star Impact too, it's awesome.

My initial idea for a tabletop RPG wasn't one I could make work. Reliance on 3D space isn't something tabletop games do especially well, at least not to the relatively granular degree I think this concept necessitates, and certainly not through theatre of the mind which is the realm of spatial abstraction I generally prefer designing in. Video games do "space" really well, but I, uh, can't do computer.

The tabletop idea that stuck with me though, was a card game.

look how cool!
you should for sure check out more of their stuff on Twitter
TCGs are prohibitively expensive, so it'd be a self-contained thing. 1v1 competitive play, with each player using a character card and a corresponding Behemoth deck.

The character card remains out at all times. I'm taking a lot of inspiration from Yu-Gi-Oh (which btw is very D&D and has great monsters for your games). I feel like the battle shonen vibe is appropriate here. The character cards face off, with a certain amount of HP, and attacks or abilities they can use on each player's turn. First player to defeat their opponent wins.

Meanwhile, each player is drawing cards from their deck to summon Behemoth cards and play them in (5? 3?) spaces in front of their character. These spaces are that abstraction of physical space we were after - there would be just enough that the board feels a little cramped.

Might do it like Yu-Gi-Oh, where you can't directly attack the opponent (in this case their character) without clearing the field of obstacles or using an ability to do "piercing" damage.

These cards represent aspects of their Behemoth (Eye of Beholder, Left Arm of Seraph, etc.) and have effects - bonus to attack; this card attacks on its own; disable enemy effects; get more cards... Other things that augment their character's specific abilities. There are decades of TCG mechanics to draw on here. Behemoth cards would all have their own HP, and can be targeted for attacks and destroyed.

Then, another mechanic taken from Yu-Gi-Oh, but also used in things like Pokemon. You can play weaker Behemoth cards straight from your hand, then remove them from play to swap in a stronger card from your deck (or a sub-deck, to prevent dead draws). Two Eyes of Beholder are worth a Beholder's Maw, or three for a Beholder's Many Eyes. Bigger cards with better effects.

Or: Can you open up more spaces? And maybe better cards take up more spaces? That's a better literal reflection of the premise, but I'm not sure it's a better game mechanic.

Here is cool-ass fanart of an original Behemoth by Dragon Princess Green on Twitter.

I'd keep things slow, with relatively small numbers. A strategic, thinky game, working on getting your own engine up and running while making sacrifices and setting traps for your opponent as they try to clear vital parts of your game plan off the board.

For more variance, and to bring in more of the concept of physical space, there could be a third, "neutral" deck representing the fields of battle. "Downtown City" cards, or "Ancient Labyrinth". The place our characters are fighting in. A roster would be drawn into the middle of the field, and players could take cards from it as opposed to their deck in order to change up their strategy based on the various benefits the terrain might offer them.

(Not sure about that bit. Seems like a lot of work. Would make battles more thematic and cool tho... Each game with a new combination of opponents and location would be like a new episode of an anime.)

... Anyway, those are my thoughts so far!

This would require a lot of balancing and work, so if I do any more with it it'll just be now and then in my spare time.

In any case it feels good to just do a full-on rambling, idea-splurge post again.

Monday 26 August 2019

Ice and Steam (a 5e Encounter)

Haven't shared much of my current 5e campaign's content, mainly because my notes consist of random scribblings and d6 tables written on the way to each session. That's about as much as I prep these days.

Last session though, I had occasion to design an Actual Tactical Combat Encounter. Grid map and everything! Again, just something I made up on the fly an hour before the game started, but I like it and I reckon there are bits here you lovely folk might be able to steal.

References to my campaign's setting are for my own amusement, you may obviously adapt them to your liking

Ice and Steam - a 5e Encounter for characters of roughly Level 3

The players can enter the cave from the south on their way through the Ice Path. It would provide a good shelter from bandits or a sudden blizzard, and if they are searching for something on this route then they will likely want to check it anyway.

Heck, they're D&D players. It's a cave. They'll want to go in.

forgive the scribbles, and the photography. i am a Writer
The snowdrift comes into the cave entrance a few feet, then stops. The inside is still bitter cold (creatures not used to cold or dressed appropriately* must save vs exhaustion every hour in this weather). A rocky outcropping part-blocks the path before the cavern opens up.

The ceiling is about 10ft up and covered in icicles. The floor is frosty, except for under the red pipe that emerges from the cave wall, about 3ft off the ground, and continues to the far end, disappearing once more into the rock.

There are patches of ice (difficult terrain) on the floor (that's what those shaded bits are supposed to be).

The pipe is red not through paint or the type of metal, but the superheated steam within. (Travellers from Arcadia Pits will know this, having seen the pipe's origin in the second reservoir.) Contact with the pipe causes 2d4 fire damage per round. It's high enough off the ground that a gnome could walk under, but anyone taller would have to roll acrobatics to duck or roll as they move. There's also enough space above the pipe to move freely over it.

The two northern tunnels lead to eisengor nests. The left one has a further hole at the back that leads up and out of the cave.

The big tunnel opening to the left is an ice slide almost 100ft long that descends into a lower cavern Here is the frozen body of the man the party was tasked with finding, Nabokov.


Inside the main cave are 1d4 eisengor. The rest are nesting in the top-left or top-right caverns, and will come if another eisengor flees to fetch them. (Total no. of monsters is whatever you deem appropriate to the number of party members - I went with 4 apiece which was challenging but very doable.)

Picture the monsters from Attack the Block, but reverse the colours (white fur, black teeth), and scale them up by like 3 times. Big ol' yeti-gorilla boys. Their arms are longer and more muscular than their short legs, and their hands are huge, padded and clawed, with opposable thumbs. They know the pipe is hot and are smart enough to avoid it.

Medium creature
Alignment: is an artefact of a single D&D campaign and has no inherent bearing on the modern game
AC 14, HP 32, Movement 50ft
High Str, decent Wis - use Lion stats from the PHB if you need them for saves etc
CR: is nonsense
XP: not today, Satan

Claw: +5 to hit,  melee, 1d6+3 damage
Bite: +5 to hit, melee, 1d8+3 damage
Icicle Throw: +3 to hit, 15ft range, 1d10 damage, DC 13 dex save vs being knocked prone.

Multiattack: 2 attacks on its turn
Charge: If an eisengor uses at least 20ft of movement and then attacks, the target makes a DC 13 Strength save on a hit. If they fail they are knocked prone.
Savage: may use a free action to make a Bite attack against a prone enemy once per turn
Grasping Claws: If an eisengor makes two claw attacks against the same target in a turn and they both hit, the target must make a DC 13 Strength save or become restrained. While an eisengor has a target restrained it cannot use its claw attacks, but all Bite attacks are instant criticals and deal d10 damage
Ice Climber: An eisengor can use icicles or other cave features to hang and swing, monkey-like. They ignore terrain and obstacles below them while swinging. (As long as they are about 10ft up or less they're still in melee range because they're so big, but the space right under them is considered usable by other creatures if it's empty.)

*appropriate dress varies... the ogres up-mountain seem to be content with scraps of fur, while if a human came here without a dose of sun oil they'd freeze in an instant. The wrestler Icarus Armageddon, known to his friends as Odeir, doesn't seem to feel the cold either...

Friday 2 August 2019

Bell Peppers and Beef

I like how money works in RPGs - as in, it just kinda does. You start poor and then do missions and get a bit richer - now you can buy better gear to do more missions! You get to see those numbers go up, and with them your characters' social standing and potential to get cool stuff.

It's like real life capitalism, except you don't have to worry about millions of people and the planet they live on being systemically crushed by the relentless pursuit of a few chosen individuals' personal gain! Huzzah! Money is one of those things, like conversation, that you don't really need to abstract through mechanics in a tabletop game because you can just play out the real thing at the table, or else handwave it as needed.

But for the new 5e game I'm starting with some friends, tallying gold and copper just didn't seem ideal. It wouldn't fit the tone, for a few fairly arbitrary reasons, the biggest one being that this campaign takes inspiration from Cowboy Bebop. 

(I almost launched into a Cowboy Bebop treatise here, so this little aside is me barely managing to stop myself from ranting about one of the greatest TV series - not just in sci fi or animation, but of any medium or genre - of all time. If you've never watched Bebop... Watch Bebop. Just... Just watch it.)

I figured our heroes in this setting weren't the classic B/X gold-for-XP murder hobos, as much as I love that conceit. Nor were they 5e's archetypical fantasy rag-tag do-gooders who maybe buy a boat. These are people under constant systemic and societal pressure, worn down by a world that works against them at every turn, struggling to survive through loopholes and dirty tricks - drifters in a cosmic race that threatens to overturn their unstable lives of they ever, for even a second, stop running. They won't ever get rich, and if they do they'll die trying.

Also I thought it would be cool to have scenes of them sipping coffee in a hazy neon jazz club or eating ramen from a street stall between jobs, and I didn't want to undercut that with "ok, everyone cross off 2 copper". Money is a background feature in this world, a system first and a tangible gameable thing a distant second.

But at the same time, this isn't a storygame, and spending power means something to the way players approach challenges. I want to give them the satisfaction of earning something from a job (on top of the best thing to earn from adventures which is fictional positioning, and the second best which is levels and items and stuff), even if it's quickly ripped away again. Money and how it relates to the characters' place in this world is interesting and gameable, and I want it to have weight. I also wanna reinforce the "just one more job" cycle of play that RPGs excel at anyway.

So, I cooked up a little something with what I had and ran it by my players. They agreed it was a good idea - a session in and it's working nicely so far.

Here's my Bell Peppers and Beef (and hold the beef) Financial Abstraction Mechanic. Or as I half-jokingly call it, the Poverty Roll. Kind of a variant on "usage die" mechanics.

The crew has a shared Money stat of 1-20, most likely starting at a 0 or 1 given the implied flavour. Gritter games can use a lower top end to the scale; 1-10, or 8 even.

Each completed mission earns the players 1, 2, or occasionally even 3 points depending on the fiction.

Every time the players:
- spend a day shopping or the night at an inn. Y'know, an in-game day where they make general, normal purchases
- make a significant purchase (relatively speaking, I'm thinking like a magic sword or a big bribe) or otherwise spend more than usual for the day
- take a long rest (1 week in this setting as per the 5e DMG's variant rule)
- other relevant expenditure as decided by the GM

They roll a die, dX, where X is the highest integer that is lower than their current Money stat and is also a die type available at the table - or a d4 if the stat is 1-3. (d2 also possible I guess.)

On a 1, they lose 1 from their Money stat.

At 0 Money, they have no purchasing power and must take a job before they can buy anything.

Try it out! Try not to think too hard about how it mirrors real life financial struggle and the world is a cyberpunk hellscape ✌️

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Games Worth Playing: Kobayakawa

A word of warning: this post discusses a gambling game, and the act of gambling, in a favourable light. As with everything I write, I trust you to know whether or not a game I recommend is appropriate for you and the people you play with. Be good to yourselves.

Also: If you're unfamiliar with Games Worth Playing, start here!


Designed by Jun Sasaki, published by Oink Games (and Iello). 3-6 players, 20~ minutes, ages 8+. Game is language-independent, version reviewed includes English and Japanese language rules.

Little Box, Big Oink

Japanese indie publisher Oink makes cosy little games in appropriately cosy little shapes. Every game they put out is tucked snugly into an 11 x 3.5cm box (!), and while there's nothing whatsoever mechanically linking their wide variety of titles, all those diddy Oink boxes share a certain spirit.

From Tomatomato, a kid-appropriate tongue-twister generator, to Startups, a personal favourite that combines set collection and bluffing for a tense and involved competitive challenge, an Oink box tends to be a tight, controlled play experience focused around one or two simple, easily explained mechanics. Because of this simplicity they're generally pretty accessible; you can almost think of Oink games as being the Boardgame Renaissance's take on old family classics - but these are classics with a twist.

photo by BoardGameGeek user bortmonkey
Games are Deep Sea Adventure, In A Grove and A Fake Artist Goes To New York.

Fun fact: Deep Sea Adventure lists "Goro Sasaki" as a designer. That's Jun's 6-year-old son! He came up with the idea of a game about getting treasure beneath the ocean, and his dad gave him a co-designer credit.
This "with a twist" tagline is a little reductive given the breadth of originality present in Sasaki and his fellow designers' work, but let's roll with it for a moment. Maskmen, f'rinstance, is a lot like party classic UNO, the "twist" being that the rules governing how cards can be played emerge during play itself. It makes sense in context, trust me - and is both a decent party game for groups and a nice little contest at 2 players. (UNO, btw? Very popular in Japan. Last time my mum was there she sent me a picture of UNO sets in a vending machine.)

How's this for "with a twist" -  A Fake Artist Goes To New York, perhaps Oink's biggest release in terms of acknowledgement if not box size, is essentially reverse Pictionary, but with a hugely entertaining hidden role element - someone doesn't know what we're all meant to be drawing! Or yet another game, Insider (recently caught up in some unfortunate controversy as suspiciously similar game Werewords receives recognition and awards nominations while Oink's version remains under the radar) which infuses folk game 20 Questions with a similar degree of paranoiac fun, likewise through a hidden role.

It's perhaps overly clear at this point just how enamoured I am with Oink's output. The streamlined focus on play experience, the simple yet fresh mechanics that hit the spot far more often than they miss... those lil boxes! The way they make rules explanation videos by turning the game boxes into a stop-motion pig. Oink have been facilitating great board game nights of mine for a short while now, ever since I found out about them, immediately became a fan and ordered a slightly unreasonable number of titles direct from their Japanese HQ (with free worldwide shipping! Don't get carried away, and remember to check customs charges for your country). I'm currently refreshing that store page every other day, waiting for their newest release Nine Tiles Panic to go on sale.

The box in question - Kobayakawa.
The Clink Of Coin

Now that I've gushed all over you about the people behind this little doodad, let's actually have a look inside the box in question, shall we? Board games often live or die by the attention designers pay to the actual, physical bones of them - so how does this little blue box shape up as a physical artefact?

Kobayakawa (the name of a Japanese feudal clan, from whose crest the game also takes its logo) is, to put it mildly, light on components. The main component is a very svelte deck of cards numbered 1-15. Yup, that's just 15 cards. Along with some tokens, that's the whole game.

These slim pickings attempt to justify a not-inconsiderable price tag through build quality. Those few cards are weighty, with a tactile protective finish and smart, minimalist design. And the tokens are metal, a full 70 of them in a little drawstring pouch of sturdy fabric, the handling of which makes you feel like a medieval tradesperson (side note - a good prop for your RPGs?).

I'm of the opinion that a great game is more than just the sum of its fancy knick-knacks, and I've had the time of my life with more patchwork indie games and makeshift playtest components than I can count - but dang if those hefty tokens don't feel nice. Upon opening the box, I passed the little drawstring bag round the table just so my friends could have a hold of it. More than one "ooh" was uttered.

I personally feel the extra care put into the game's aesthetic is worth the coin, but Kobayakawa's price tag is undoubtedly its biggest sticking point. If you're understandably unsure about forking over $25 USD for a box of not-much, consider one of Oink's more component-heavy games. Tricks and the Phantom has custom coloured wood pieces, little cardboard magnifying glasses and cool noir-ish card art if you feel like a deduction game, and the aforementioned Startups packs a level of complexity that surpasses Oink's normal semi-casual fare into a package of the exact same size and price as Kobayakawa (all Oink games are sold at the same price point, though you can likely find the popular ones a bit cheaper at local game stores).

One more important thing to note with regards to the physical quality of the thing you're buying - Kobayakawa was licensed to the much bigger fish Iello Games for an international release a few years back, after an initial, smaller launch in Japan.

While Iello's version is likely available cheaper, I wouldn't recommend it - the art is adapted to be a bit more flashy, losing some of the cool simplicity of the Oink version. And perhaps the biggest drawback - those metal tokens that make our little box so wonderfully weighty? They're cardboard in the Iello version, and you only get half as many. Thankfully, Oink re-released their original version, with some updated rules, in 2019.

Let's look at those rules now, shall we?

(Side note - Iello also redesigned Oink's Dungeon of Mandom, a fun push-your-luck/bluffing game with a jokey dungeon-crawl theme, releasing it as Welcome to the Dungeon in Europe and the US. If you want to try it, get Oink's new edition Dungeon of Mandom XIII, which combines the original with extra content that Iello fobbed off as a full-price expansion.)

Daniel Craig as James Bond, playing cards - the example used in Shut Up and Sit Down's An Intro to Board Games as proof that board games can be cool. Point taken.
(Also, SUSD are lovely fellas who do sterling work, so check out all their reviews!)

Shaken, Not Stirred

I'll bring up that "with a twist" tagline one last time here because, again, while it's somewhat reductive, it does explain Oink's style in a neat little elevator pitch quite well - just the sort of pitch you might use to coax your friends and family into a quick game. (Tip when pitching Kobayakawa to your group - set it up under their noses even as you sell them on it. There's so little to organise that they'll be ready to play before they have a chance to say no - and a round takes mere minutes, so there's much less commitment than your average trial run.)

So then, we've revamped Pictionary and UNO. What's the game that Kobayakawa spruces up with that classic Oink twist? What's the folk favourite you'll be likening this to in a "like that, but good" way as you shuffle your barely-a-deck and pass out shiny coins to prospective patsies?


That's the whole review right there, let's be honest. No sense beating around the bush with the whole spiel about cute little boxes and build quality: Kobayakawa is like poker, but good.

OK, that's unfair, poker is good. It's the one cool tabletop game, in fact - bucking the trend of the hobby's association with esoteric rules, poor personal hygiene choices and dingy basements by replacing those with slick casino bluffery, tuxedoes and cocktail dresses, and the bright lights of Monte Carlo or wherever the next Bond movie is going for location shoots.

Poker is cool. It just is. It's literally in the dictionary - someone in control of a situation is "holding all the cards", and if they can do that without letting on, we describe their effortlessly cool expression as a "poker face".

There's even a well-known (infamous?) variant of the game where people take their clothes off, and that's just kind of... accepted? I mean, strip poker's rules are questionable from a game design perspective, regardless of your personal moral position on competitive nudity, but the point is that poker's so cool we let it undress us - whereas I'd imagine that a game of "strip Magic the Gathering" might have less of a mystique.

The thing about poker, though, like most card games of its age: the rules aren't great. We don't care, because that's not really the point of poker. Rules are so rarely the whole of a game - we know this, being something of an OSR RPG blog. But the random hierarchy of decreasing possibilities associated with the various winning hands is the kind of thing you need a reference sheet for until you've played a dozen or more games.

Wouldn't it be great, then, if there was a game of poker that didn't have all those rules? If there was a poker-style game with... one rule?

There really aren't many different images I can use of this game. It's very slight.
One Rule To Bring Them All

Ok, more than one rule, but they're so simple that it's basically the same thing. The rules of Kobayakawa are so simple, in fact, that I will now explain the entire game to you in four sentences.

1. The dealer gives each player one card from the deck, and one more card is shown face up to all players in the middle of the table; this is the "Kobayakawa".

(Side note - I'm still not sure why the game is called what it is. There's nothing particularly notable about the clan themselves from my cursory glance at their history - it's my guess that Sasaki went with a classic, somewhat noble-sounding name to match the game's elegant simplicity and "timeless", parlour game quality. Or it could be a potent metaphor - who am I, Bill Wurtz?)

2. Each player in turn may choose to either take a new card - keeping only one of their two cards and discarding the other face up - or flip a new card from the deck onto the Kobayakawa to replace it.

You can tell how, with such a short and simple decision for each player to make on their turn, play progresses at a heck of a pace. Board games have recently been delving more and more into simultaneous play and other structures to avoid the classic problem of players sitting around waiting to do something, but in a game as whip-fast as Kobayakawa that's just not an issue.

3. Players bet on their hands in a system identical to poker*, before revealing their cards - the highest card wins.

*the old version of the game, from Oink's original run, had its own betting system, and I believe the Iello take included those rules too. You can look that version up online and give it a try, but I reckon the 2019 edition's use of the standard poker setup works wonders.

At this point, you're likely wondering where all the game is. There's nothing in the box, and those are the only rules? Have I really become such a consummate rambler (talking, not hiking, though I do enjoy a stroll - ok, not the point -) that I've written this bloody much about a game that... isn't?

It's at this point that I allow myself a small smirk, lean across the table, and reveal my hand. Because rule number four is the twist that makes this Oink box sing.

4. The player with the lowest card adds the current Kobayakawa to their result - if they are now the highest card, they win.

The game designers among you, of whom I'm fairly certain there are a none too insignificant number, are quite possibly now grinning and scrolling back up the page to find that Gumroad link so you can play this tiny thing for yourself and find out if the real thing is anywhere near as good as the wild possibilities that last rule just put in your head.

For those of you with better things to do than verse yourselves in what makes toys tick - allow me to elaborate.

Deus Ex Machina

I've talked extensively in the past about the idea of "gameable" mechanics. I'll use the same example I've used before: Mario. Y'know, "it's-a me". Short fella, wears a hat.

The original Super Mario Bros. game for the NES has one mechanic. Again, not really just one, but there's one big one that matters, and that's movement. Think about what all the buttons do - left and right make you run. There's a button to make you run faster, and another to make you jump. That's it. Moving in different directions.

What's "gameable" about that mechanic, though, is all the things the game lets you do with it. Boxes to jump onto, to hit from below or run along from above. Enemies that die when you fall onto them. Pits, steps, platforms. All you can do is move - literally one thing - and from that thread, Nintendo manages to tease out and unravel one of the best examples of video game design of all time.

There's no question that a game can draw a rich experience from a simple set of mechanics. Am I saying that Kobayakawa is on the same plane as Mario in that regard? No. It's a fun, fine, functional game, but it doesn't transcend its medium or innovate on that level.

What Kobayakawa does, and this is a much better way of putting Oink's MO than "with a twist", is it refines. It evolves - and from a game as set in stone as Actual Poker, no less.

The 15-card deck is just about few enough numbers to keep track of, while at the same time far too many to ever be fully sure of your chances. The single-card hand presents a scoring mechanic that's as simple as 1-2-3 and yet also mired in mystery as you try to deduce other players' intentions. And the Kobayakawa card... oh! That scoundrel. It sits there, centre stage, at once encouraging and taunting, a constant reminder that your perception of the game state might be flipped on its head by a simple miscalculation or spark of bad luck.

And, just like poker, that's not even the game. The game proper is what happens above the table's surface, in the air and in your own head - the furtive glances, the sly smirks, and yes, the poker faces. Like the best roleplaying games, the meat of the game is written nowhere, but emerges as the players interact with and feint around and resist the meagre options they've been given. The game is all of our cunning and wit and foolishness and sheer dumb luck. That's poker. And that, perhaps even more so, is Kobayakawa.

It's probably too expensive for what it is, but what it is might just be the coolest game on your shelf. If you want the slick, frictionless style of a casino game in a tight, short, really very small package - if you want the best upgrade to a poker night since taking your clothes off - then Kobayakawa is a game worth playing.


If you liked this post and want to see more like it, consider supporting this blog! The best way to do that right now is by tipping just $1 USD a month on my Patreon, or by buying something at my Gumroad store.

Monday 1 July 2019

For the Guild! and Games Worth Playing

For the Guild!

I've done what I've been threatening to do for a while now and updated my Patreon page, the Graverobber's Guild. Currently, this is the best way to support me and the stuff I make on a regular basis.

You can tip $1 USD a month if you like what I'm about, or for just $2 USD a month you can get monthly updates, advanced playtest documents, sneak peeks and discounts on the games I make! Back in April, Guildmembers recieved my game GoGoGolf! for free, and there are lots more lil nuggets like that on the way.

Have a look and please consider chipping in to help keep the lights on!

art by Nicoletta Migaldi
(the Graverobber she designed is the blog's mascot! That's her, there, at the top of the page!)

Games Worth Playing

I'm starting a review series here on the blog called Games Worth Playing. That includes tabletop RPGs as well as other tabletop/analogue/physical games. Whatever I want, basically.

Here's a bit of info so you know what to expect, and so I have some kind of structure to hold myself to:

- I will only review games I think are actually good in at least some respects, hence the Worth Playing. No scathing takedowns.
- No review scores! I don't think they really do much good overall.
- I guarantee that if I am reviewing a game, I have played it. I'll play games as many times as I feel is necessary before reviewing them, so likely more than once.
- I will attempt to approach reviews from a design perspective, so if you're here for me talking Game Design then this series will fit in with the rest of this blog.
- Blog posts on here are fairly stream-of-consciousness, often just my notes given a roughly readable shape - I'll be doing my best to write Games Worth Playing to what I consider a professional standard.
- I won't review expensive games unless I feel they unequivocally justify their price tag - I doubt you'll see many, if any, Games Worth Playing that cost more than £30 or so at time of purchase, and many that are much cheaper than that (or free!).
- Generally speaking, there will be more of a focus on independent creators and lesser-known games!
- Also, can't believe I need to say this, but given the current climate around media journalism - reviews are just my personal opinions! No more, no less.

I've put a goal on the Patreon page; if we reach 20 Guildmembers, I'll do one Game Worth Playing per month. Until then, I'll post them whenever I get round to it.

First review coming soon! It's shaping up to be a doozy...

Tuesday 25 June 2019

It Came From the Blogosphere! Straight to Video

Back from holiday! Currently in the process of moving out! Too... busy... for... RPGs!

But while there hasn't been time for much writing this month, there's certainly been time for reading. Here's a lil instalment in my ICFTB series.

did you know: you can read "blogs" (birtual logs) from all around the world while On Line?? 

My off-the-cuff ramble about the SWORD DREAM moniker is now the most viewed post on this blog. People really like talking about thinking about games, huh? I prefer making and playing them, so that's likely the last major thing you'll see me write on the topic - but here's some more context for people who want it. I edited the post to include a couple of links too.

If you're still looking for yet more high level meta-commentary, I found this post on how the indie scene fosters an unwelcoming attitude a worthwhile read, and true to my own experiences.

I enjoy learning more about the early days of the hobby, a time during which I was very much Not Born Yet. Here's a fascinating and well-written dive into a lesser-known RPG from that primordial era... and I really do mean "lesser-known".

Jeff Rients is running a FLAILSNAILS game again! If you're on this blog you likely already know about this and why it's a Cool Thing. You may even be taking part! Jeff's games are super fun, inclusive free-for-alls, and I'm definitely going to try and play once I'm more settled. If you don't yet know about FLAILSNAILS, you should check out the play reports Jeff's been posting - like this one - and get stuck in.

Finally: Zedeck wrote a living weapon class and it rocks socks.

Your regularly scheduled (to wit: largely unscheduled and highly irregular) Guide resumes next month!

Saturday 1 June 2019

Tuesday 21 May 2019

It Came From The Blogosphere! the Third

Every once in a while I'll round up some good things I've read lately on the so-called "Internet" and yell at you to go and read them too - welcome to It Came From The Blogosphere! Check the tag for earlier instalments.
actual footage of me surfing the Web
This is one of my favourite things about the scene we still tentatively call the OSR - everyone's just sharing their fun ideas and helping folks out and whatnot. All kinds of people, with all kinds of good stuff!


Emmy Allen's game about secret agents doing missions in the faltering reality of a dreamworld, Deep Morphean Transmissions, is OUT! I've been hyped for this for a while - read more about it right here and then buy it. Emmy is just so good at what she does, you'll love this and everything else she makes. (There's a heart rate mechanic, you guys.)

This scene is so great in part because of how freely great designers share their process and talk about how and why they do what they do. When Sean McCoy talks about layout design, you'd better listen - and he does so right here.

Ben L at Mazirian's Garden is doing a series about the whys and wherefores of old-school design - some very thoughtful and well-referenced articles from the umbrella perspective of the differences and similarities in OSR and "storygames". The latest one is here, and worth a read no matter what kind of tabletop RPGs you play.

One of the best things about games with PC classes is when you read about a class option and want to play the game immediately just so you can be one of those guys. Zedeck Siew wrote one such class for Robertson Sondoh Jr's game, Metatoy, and I want to play one! 

Joseph Manola's back, baby - and he's diving into Dickens

How about some preliminary rules for piloting giant robots in Into the Odd, written by its creator? Here ya go.

I wasn't familiar with the blog before now, but Was It Likely has an idea for a game whose mechanics revolve around items, and it's a game I reckon I'd have a lot of fun playing.

Happy gaming! x

Tuesday 14 May 2019

After School Demon Hunters

I wrote a 200-word RPG a year or so ago as a kinda of creative exercise and put it up on my Gumroad store, mainly just so there'd be something there.

I feel like it doesn't really fit in there anymore so I'm taking it down, but I didn't want it to just disappear.

So, here ya go!

After School Demon Hunters

The Story

Each player is a teenager in high school. Together you run the After School Demon Hunters and rid your school and local area of demons, using the magical power from a mysterious book, phone app, etc. It may be tempting to use its magic in your daily life, but don’t forget about those demons!


Your character has 4 Traits: Jock, Nerd, Prep and Goth. Spend 7 points between them, with 0 to 3 in each.

Also pick a favourite subject from the following: Arts & Drama, History & the Humanities, Literature & Languages, Maths & Sciences and Physical Education.


To do something important, roll to match or beat a difficulty of 4 (average), 6 (difficult) or 8 (almost impossible), decided by the GM. Roll 1d6 and add a Trait, explaining why it’s relevant. If your favourite subject is also relevant, you can reroll once.

The team collectively has 7 Magic dice. Add these to any result, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Investigate whatever spookiness is afoot, but don’t neglect your school work! When you finally discover and confront the demon, roll your remaining Magic dice. If any are doubles, you exorcise, seal or destroy it.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

A Proper English Weather Table

Roll for Season

1. Winter
2. Spring
3. Summer
4. Autumn

Roll for Temperature (1d4 in Winter, 2d4 in Summer, 1d6 in Spring/Autumn)

1. Bitter
2. Cold
3. Cool
4. Mild
5. Warm
6-8. Hot

Roll for Sky (1d6 in Spring/Autumn, 2d6 take lower in Winter, 2d6 take higher in Summer. On a result of 1-5, use Rain table below)

1. White
2. Grey
3. Overcast
4. Cloudy
5. Light cloud
6. Clear

Roll for Rain (It might not rain all day, but this is the most it'll rain when it does. 1d8 in Spring/Autumn/Winter, 1d8+1d4 in Summer. Alternate Winter results in parentheses):

1. Rainstorm
2. Pouring (snow)
3. Rain (hail)
4. Rain
5. Drizzling (sleet)
6. Spitting
7. Threatening
8-12. No rain [Optional: Flip a coin. If heads, alter the previous (Sky) result by adding the d4 you rolled as part of this table, to a max of 6 total]

Reroll results (excepting season) once or twice per day, if you can be bothered. Druids may perform a rite once daily to alter the Rain table result by 1d4, adding or subtracting their result from the GM's.

Wednesday 1 May 2019

The Monster is Three Things

For the sake of example, this monster is old, sad and hungry.

Behind your screen or in your book, note these and nothing else. Beyond this, there is no monster.

Do not describe the monster other than through what it is; if the players ask about its size, for instance, speak only of how it has withered through age or starvation, or grown with its insatiable appetite. If they wonder about its appearance, consider the effects of its mood or its long life on its colour and form.

Your players may ask what it is - you only tell them it is old, sad and hungry. "No", they say, "what, it must be something", and list names of monsters they know, guessing. Their guess is as good as yours. All you know is the truth; it is three things. Anything they guess that does not contradict the truth may as well be treated as accurate, if only for the sake of manufacturing shared understanding.

If your game uses stats for monsters, avoid them, unless they manifest its oldness, sadness or hungriness directly within the rules. You will get by fine without your numbers; you have the truth of the thing.

An image will form. Do not dispel it.

Then, move on. They will never see this monster again.