Friday, 3 December 2021

Structuring Horror In Adventures

 So I don’t know if you heard but uuuuuuhhhhh

Mothership raised over 1.4 million USD. That’s like 1 mil in real money!

(you can still back it for a bit with the late pledge manager, go for it, early Christmas innit)

I wasn’t involved in the campaign but in case you missed the announcement I will be contributing to the starter module that comes free in the box set, Another Bug Hunt. Very very excited and pleased for the whole team. This box is gonna knock your sox

gimme gimme gimme

So i thought I would do a post about Mothership in some way, since a lot of people are going to be getting this game soon or are currently trying out 0e. I haven’t really posted any serious MoSh Content on here before. But I had this idea that might be useful to some so here we are

This is going to be some macro design stuff about making horror adventures in general.

Btw, I don’t actually like horror very much! I’m more into stuff with horror ~elements~ than the genre itself, I’m not into straight up scary movies. I’m a chicken, a wuss, a weenie, a putz I tells ya, a palooka, a real jimmy jamoolie

But I’ve also written more published mothership adventures than… um, anyone lmao, so

Also worth pointing out that this structure isn’t a Thing I Do, it’s just me reverse engineering some stuff I’ve done before. There’s some amount of value in trying to codify vague ~artistic processes~ into something more tangible, at least for practical purposes. I’m very wary of academia, death by analysis, but as long as we’re still talking in (hopefully) useful, practical terms and not ThEoRy then we’re all good.

All good? Good.

The upcoming Warden’s Guide is going to walk you through the TOMBS structure, something Sean I think came up with to describe horrors - as in, monsters. It’s pretty useful, maybe I’ll do a post about it. What I’m going to try and do here is make a similar framework for looking at the overall adventure structure.

(This is just an idea I had last night so I’m going to see if it works as I’m writing it, if you’re reading this post then I guess it does haha)

A way of looking at the horror adventure scenario is in layers, which I’ll call:

- Fear

- Terror

- Dread

- Despair

These names are arbitrary and I’m sure if you’re an actual horror fan they already mean specific things! Sorry!

Picture it like a cross section of a planet or a jawbreaker, with fear at the core and despair as the outer encasing layer.

Let’s look at what I mean by each of these and why it matters. Then you can maybe look at your next adventure in a similar way. Check that you have each layer present, and you should have a functional horror adventure, or at least enough of the aesthetic of one

Oh! And I’ll be using examples from The Haunting of Ypsilon 14 because I think it’s the one of mine most people are familiar with, but SPOILERS if you’re not. If someone is going to run Mothership for you soon there’s a chance they’ll be using this adventure, so proceed with caution.

Ok. the actual post


Immediate, emotional reaction.

Boo! In movie terms these are things like jump scares or gross-out effects, but that’s not really an inherent function of this medium. We do have Fear saves though, for these moments of sudden emotional upset - just they’re for the characters, not the players directly. (The players might be scared too but i don’t really see that as relevant, that’s probably another post entirely though haha)

In Ypsilon the monster may suddenly show up at any time, or the discovery of Dr Giovanni or the goo effects could be played as Fear Moments. I’ve seen people use Prince as a fakeout 

You need these in MoSh games for practical reasons, to make use of the Fear (and Sanity which is the same but for mindfuck logic-based stuff) saves, but as part of the Horror Jawbreaker these are core to the experience.

A scary movie without these moments probably won’t be classed as horror at all, or it’ll be like Arrival or The Lighthouse where people have boring, beard-stroking chats about how and why it “straddles” genres. (I have seen and liked both those films btw, which tells you something about the part of all this I’m less into haha).

We all know what counts as gross and scary, and you have a wealth of genre staples to pull from, so getting Fear into your adventure shouldn’t be super difficult.

The main “issue” is that you don’t know if these moments will actually show up in play because it’s the players driving the action! The best plan I think is to put a few possible Fear moments around the place, make the adventure site small enough that they’ll probably find at least one, and just give up at that point. Players gonna play.

If they don’t find any of your spooky bits - hey, good for them. The other layers should have you covered just about, all you’ll miss is that sense of immediacy of Pure Horror but that’s not a problem - Arrival is totally a MoSh pamphlet. You can have a laugh after about how they missed everything.


A few seconds after the shock, when the mind makes sense of what’s happening - and doesn’t like it.

This is deeper than fear, which is a bad way of phrasing things because we’re going one layer up in the jawbreaker but whatever. Fear is “AAHH! A dead body just fell out of that vent!”. Terror is “Oh god… that body is Barry, and he’s got no face”.

Basically these are moments of realisation. Ypsilon examples would be things like “there’s an alien”, “it’s invisible”, “the goo is fucking people up”, “the Dr is fucked up”, etc. Mothership mechanises this, if you want to, with Intellect and Sanity. And Panic, these layers are all about Panic in a way.

To put these in your adventure, just have things going on the players don’t know about that they can work out through play. You probably have this covered already without realising it tbh. The genre suggests A Sense Of Mystery.

You don’t have to make this an actual mystery with Clues, these can be obvious! There are sooo many ways of finding out what’s going on on Ypsilon. But at the end of the day it doesn’t even matter if you do or not. Survive, Solve, Save, pick one - you might not Solve anything.

So don’t worry so much about the moments of revelation - Kinda like Fear that’s all player driven, and not 100% necessary anyway. Just have enough questions in the air. The suggestion that those revelations are out there somewhere is enough - be bold though. You achieve that sense of suggestion by posing questions, not by just kind of vaguely hinting. Players don’t get hints.

And even if nobody else does, you should absolutely know the answers yourself! Failing the investigation exercise is totally fine, but if there’s actually nothing real there to Solve, the exercise is hollow. And the answer can ultimately be a bit of an “I don’t know”, something like “an unknowable cosmic entity messed with shit”, just give it enough consistency and verisimilitude to feel somewhat satisfactory.

Give your players good questions, hide the answers, but the answers ultimately don’t matter as long as they do actually exist. Does that make sense?


Slower. Takes root and grows over time.

After the initial emotional reaction, after the terrifying revelation (or simply more questions suggesting  more terrifying possibilities) - where does that leave the players? The answer is here, and it’s nowhere good.

Dread isn’t a moment, though it can involve moments of Terror or Fear. It’s the creeping sensation of knowledge. Things are bad, sure, but it’ll become clear overtime just how bad things are, and for the players specifically. In Ypsilon it’s that you’re alone in deep space with a monster and some goo. It’s the full scope of the character’s immediate reality - and specifically, their odds of survival.

I don’t know if you’ve played Mothership but those odds? not good!!

This one’s mechanised throughout the system. Hit Points, Wounds, Stress, Panic. You achieve Dread (again, in your characters, not necessarily your players) basically through just playing the game. Dread happens from Being In This Situation. All you need to do is give the players a decent grasp of how fucked they are, and so much of that is done by the maths already.

I guess the question is how can you make them understand how bad the situation is if they might not fully understand what that situation even is? Mostly through those inner layers i think. Enough Fear and Terror will instil Dread automatically.

Yeah, this one just kind of happens. It’s about situational awareness, and Mothership is kind of about that on its own anyway. Again, player driven, they need to be paying attention - so just give them shit worth paying attention to and the Dread will follow.

And, obviously, make things difficult! No stakes, no dread. Isolate them in one way or another, present seemingly unbeatable foes and obstacles, take away obvious solutions (careful with this one) and add Stress with the steady drip of a CIA waterboarder.


And after all that… what’s left? Nothing.

“Despair” was once considered a sin that superseded the 7 Deadlies (I’m half-remembering this from Marlowe’s Dr Faustus so like Elizabethan Catholicism, don’t quote me). It meant, basically, atheism. A loss of belief in God’s ultimate power, plan and protection.

Can you even imagine the emptiness of someone in that culture losing faith? The shape of the void that leaves in a heart? What’s left? What’s the point?

Even if the characters Survive, what kind of a world are they living in? One where shit like this happens to people like them and there’s nothing they can do about it. If they Solve - so what? Now they know just how little the universe cares. And if they Save… do they really?

Rent is still due. The ship is a loaner. You made a quick buck risking your life and mind but that’s only worth so many weeks of Rocket Noodles until you have to do it again. You escaped the Squid Game - congratulations! Welcome to Seoul. Is it any better?

Ypsilon 14 is underfunded, understaffed. The bare minimum for survival and hygiene. it wasn’t even designed with a medbay, someone thought of that later and set it up in the workspace - probably to avoid being sued. The only things that offer any kind of enjoyment - a pet cat, video games, music, drugs - were smuggled in by workers who’d probably get their pay cut if anyone cared enough about them to find out. Someone went missing last night and the company hasn’t done a thing. All they have is work.

And for what? Someone with a much nicer ship than yours is doing research. Metals are being mined and sold for someone else’s profit margins. To the management, as we hear in Dr Giovanni’s cassette recording, these workers are numbers in a database.

There is power out there. But it will not protect you. And its plans are to prosper only itself.

How to put this into your game? Just make sure everyone’s aware whose fault this all is - and how very, very far away they are from here.


I hope all this is of use to anyone preparing horror adventures for their friends! Just make sure you have all the layers of your jawbreaker in there at least somewhere and you’re good to go.

1. Fuck!

2. This is fucked.

3. We’re fucked.

4. Everything’s fucked.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Latin Cockroach Spaceship

 Hard at work on many things, so once again it’s time for me to recommend 3 current rpg Kickstarters! These are all things I’m not just hyped for but NEED, I would be backing em all if i had the money. Hold on to your wallets!

Reach of the Roach God

Zedeck Siew is the best writer working in games right now. He and Mun Kao’s A Thousand Thousand Islands project is the best fantasy game zine running, thanks to the letter’s incredible artwork.

Now that series is getting its first book. System neutral adventures on a fantastical island inspired by SE Asia. If you play fantasy adventure games of any stripe, you’re going to want this.

LATAM Breakout

Like the Our Shores project back during Zine Quest, this is a collection of games from a part of the world that often doesn’t get exposure outside of its own communities - and as with that project these games absolutely deserve an audience!

They all look amazing of course, but my one to watch is BRAVE ZENITH, the creator Giuliano Roverato has written something fantastic for my own ZineQuest project Journeylands (coming soon! Update on KS next week probs) and this promises to be just as good. Dude knows his stuff. Check it out!


You already know about this one. MoSh is a big deal! I’m privileged and proud to be an auxiliary part of their crew (I don’t get money from this campaign but you can add my stuff onto your pledge!).

If you’re on the fence about the game, now is the time. It really is That Game. At least follow the link to see the bonkers $$ it’s pulling in lol

Tuesday, 26 October 2021


 The new official Mothership pamphlet just dropped!

Piece By Piece is a murder-y mystery type one shot set in a robotics laboratory. Good for Wardens who like setting up investigations and playing up their NPCs, and players who enjoy the “solve” aspect of MoSh’s “survive, solve, save” mantra.

Made this one a while ago, then COVID happened, so it’s nice to see it out in the world! Feels like the last of the “old” MoSh, especially with the box set Kickstarter right around the corner. Everything from here on out is going to be… well, you’ll have to wait and see x

You can download or purchase the physical version from Tuesday Knight games right here.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

1d6 More Gadgets

 I’d like the final DEADLINE dossier to have 6d6 gadgets (d66 if you’re nasty) rather than the current 1d6. Or as many as i can do without them getting worse. You’ll probably roll twice for them too.

My current vague “rules” for making gadgets are

- looks like a pocket-sized, era-appropriate item nobody would question you owning

- must do 2 cool things, on a standard spy mission at least one will probably be useful

- must offer a choice

Plus all the normal things that make a good magic item, just a bit more mundane

You can check the google doc for the current d6. I think they’re pretty good! Also I’ve adjusted the text for them a bit lately, just paring down the word count.

Anyway here’s some more. There will end up being some overlap in effect/ability by the time there are 36 of these - this is by design, certain abilities should be common/consistent. Some items might repeat as well I guess.

Ok so,

1. A lighter that can be used normally, or spend all its fuel at once in a single, intensely bright flare. The case is also a powerful electromagnet which can be switched on or off.

2. A flat red lollipop that reveals fingerprints and bloodstains when used like a magnifying glass. Once eaten, it coats the mouth with chemicals that neutralise any poison consumed or inhaled.

3. A wallet that can stop bullets, best kept in a pocket over the heart. It also contains a hidden camera which can take and immediately print a single picture.

4. A single key on a leather fob, easily detachable. Two hidden switches on the fob control the key wirelessly, one causing it to emit a loud whining noise and the other detonating the small explosive inside.

5. A cigar that holds a supply of clean, breathable air. If lit, it quickly burns away in a large plume of thick, acrid smoke.

6. A rolled newspaper, fireproof, waterproof and strong as a steel rod. It unrolls into a single sheet the size of a small parachute but cannot be rolled back up by hand.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Three “I”s

Doing some work on DEADLINE! Check the tag if you’re not up to speed on this one.

A big goal of this design is easy onboarding regardless of experience. Zero-or-thereabouts “RPG jargon”, a cool framing that makes people want to GM and makes the GM’s role clear and easy, making “play culture” explicit through text, etc.

Coming round to player actions - I want to codify these in some way, for said onboarding, but codification is the death of the playstyle. Once you name something or list options, readers get tunnel vision and the breadth of play available in a game run on imagination can be easily forgotten. Even the humble attack roll is often a step too far for me these days tbh.

So, how to structure play in a way that makes it digestible but not limited? Procedures are an answer - I’ve sung Errant’s praises in this regard before. How to do it but never what to do.

Here’s a play procedure I’m tinkering with for DEADLINE, early stages. (You may see some familiar language from GRAVEROBBERS. I know what I like!)

The main thing this misses I feel is delineating LIFELINE as the primary structure of play, but I’m sure I’ll find a balance once it’s all put in context


If there is no meaningful obstacle or danger preventing the Agent from following an order, they do so and the action is successful. The Agent describes the outcome, and the game continues.

If there is an obstacle preventing success or significant danger involved, the action succeeds only if the Operators direct the Agent to use an Item, some Information or their own Instinct.

The Operators must select from the options available to the Agent, or else plan another course of action.

👁️‍🗨️ Item. Any object in the Agent’s control that renders the task at hand achievable. This could be a gadget or anything the Agent obtains while on a mission. Find items and use them creatively.

You could take out a guard with a sleeping dart or distract them with an explosion.

👁️‍🗨️ Information. Knowledge that negates danger or obstacles. This could be intelligence about an individual or some other secret that precludes harm. Gather information and act on it.

One might bypass a guard with a password or avoid them by learning their schedule.

👁️‍🗨️ Instinct. Allowing the Agent to act without direct command. Agents can take care of themselves in a pinch, but acting without an Operator’s careful supervision can have unforeseen consequences. Select a relevant Skill from the Agent’s profile. Roll a die and advance the DOOMSDAY clock by the result.

Simply knock out a guard with Defence, charm them with Bluff or sneak past with Stealth.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Frames and Chains

 More notes on That Game! Last one for a while as I work on other bits,  but stay tuned.

Where we left last time we had an idea for the overall “”narrative”” framing of the campaign - fairy rescue mission - and something beginning to resemble a mechanical framing. Players leave Avalon, enter… somewhere, do Combat. Then exit the way they came, and repeat. It’s the town-dungeon-initiative trifecta.

Today, let’s have a crack at that “somewhere”, and see what other ideas might coalesce because of it!

I’m going back to some old notes for this. This is the idea for a frame I had, oh, two iterations of this combat system ago.

I was leaning away from it and trying to find something new because it doesn’t quite fit the image of the game I’d had in my head, but I couldn’t come up with anything quite as easily digestible (as I’ve said before in this little series of posts, mechanics that are good but not easy to grok are, in fact, not good).

So, we’re going to do the opposite of what we did last post, basically - change the ~lore~ to better fit this mechanic, rather than coming up with a new mechanic that better fits our currently established lore.

The mechanic in question is very much a case of me writing what I know - it’s an encounter table with a modifier that slowly ramps up, similar to things I’ve done before.


roll 1d6 on a table of encounters. Do the encounter you roll - could be a treasure chest, a trap, or of course a Combat. Once you’ve done the encounter, add 1 to your overall “score” (call it “progress”? Or just “delve” or something? Idk). Roll, again, adding your current score. Repeat.

There will be 9 encounters on the table at first with no. 9 being the “boss”, so you’ll definitely have a few non-boss encounters before rolling that combat.

A couple of caveats:

- rolling a “unique” encounter again (i.e., a chest you’ve already emptied, a foe you’ve already slain) means you slide back down the table until you get to an encounter you haven’t done yet OR a non-unique, repeatable encounter (the same grove of mushrooms could be found over and over, f’rinstance.)

- bosses block progress. Rolling over a boss’ number means you slide back down the table to the boss - until you beat it, then you can roll higher and continue.

Oh, and you can choose to go to a numbered encounter you’ve already done at any time if it’s lower than your “score”. So you can go back and find that mushroom grotto because now you’ve explored enough to know exactly where it is.

It’s incredibly simple! But I think it needs to be. At least for me, i can only keep track of so many things at once lol

Drew Duncan

So how and why are we amending the fiction to suit this new exploration mechanic?

Well, the initial idea I’d had was a vast, forested wilderness reclaimed by nature. The fights would be in ruined castles holding out against the tide of entropy, their lords clinging to life through misplaced chivalric will.

I’d wanted a map that could be freely explored, basically. Buuut this mechanic suits a more linear progression. I guess the fiction could make sense if you don’t think hard about it (why can’t you just pass by a castle and go to the next one if you want?) but I’d prefer something that clicks more coherently. Mechanics lining up with flavour and “just kinda making sense” is a hugely powerful tool in onboarding and teaching players.

So now it’s a megadungeon! The bosses guard the stairs to the next floor down, that’s why you face them in order and can’t pass one until you’ve defeated it.

(And geez… a linear progression like this will be SO much easier to design than an open world you can tackle in any order… board games are tough)

This thing’s been getting more and more game-y, JRPG flavour and I kinda like it >:)

Drew Duncan

Thoughts about bosses, then? Well I had the idea last post of fairies in cages you could free mid-fight and I kinda like that. Makes me think of the first boss in Persona 5, where there’s a special action you can send someone to do outside of the fight. Taking time out of attacking to try a new, special, optional action is a great decision-making moment I think!

(In P5 you have to do it and the decision is who to send, but here I think the decision is more whether or not to even bother doing it, or just killing the guy and freeing the fairy after.)

So first boss is probably like… the Lord of Chains, and there’s a special action while you’re fighting him to like… turn a crank to lower a cage until you can free the fairy. But if it gets to his turn and he sees the cage lowered he’ll just yank it back up and you have to start again. Can you do X amount of heavy actions on your turn? Or should you just fight the guy?

It’s a rough idea but there’s something there. The point is that after all this noodling about lore and whatever, I now have goals to work towards with the mechanical design. Instead of just messing with the rondel system to see what can be done, I have a character to try and bring to life with it. That’ll be fun!

I’m also thinking the next boss after that is where you get the bow maybe, and you can hide behind pillars to avoid being shot by him but you have to come out to actually hit him… and the fairy cage is out in the open so you’re a sitting duck while you’re trying to free her?

(And then the fairies you free… Maybe the first is a Tinker? I don’t think we’ll be doing weapon HP after all, if nothing else it’s just annoying to track another number, but maybe she can upgrade weapons? And the second maybe gives you an “elfshot” power to your bow, that’s nice and thematic.)

Just sketches of ideas, but if I’m having all these ideas already then I think this frame is a good shout overall!

So, we’ve got our three modes of play - Avalon, Bdungeon, Combat.

Looks like a good frame to start thinking about some campaign content! I’m going to get to work tinkering on the first level, those first 9 encounters and the boss.

As I’ve said I might not be posting as frequently as I have about this project going forward, but there will still be updates - and even if this ends up just being a thing i make for me, I’ll cobble something together so that you’ll all be able to play it too once it’s done :)

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Fairies and the Campaign Frame

 The Arthurian-ish game continues. (Thanks for all the feedback last post! How did that playtest battle work out for you?)

Also - green Knight UK release confirmed! Finally! 😭 I’ll be seeing it with friends at the end of the month. Hopefully by then I’ll find a better tag for this game lol

btw I’m pretty busy with Journeylands and other projects right now so I’m going to take a break on this one - or at least take development a bit slower, workshop it some more. So posts about it will be a bit more irregular, but like all my projects it’s still going on in the background!


In this post I want to examine trying to reverse-engineer mechanics and gameplay stuff out of lore a bit more clearly. This has been a mechanics-first project in terms of the process of coming up with the game itself (I think all the best games are tbh!).

So far our “Influences” list has been useful mainly in divining the direction of these mechanical decisions. We haven’t really added any mechanics to the game entirely based on the flavour, it’s either been the other way round or a mish-mash workaround of both, and I think going flavour-first can be a valuable option.

The resulting mechanic will, hopefully, be a crucial part of defining the game’s feel, because it comes out of a purely theoretical space.

Not sure I’m making a lot of sense? And at the end of the day, this sort of thing doesn’t matter too much. Really it’s just a frame to talk about my most recent development notes.

Basically, I decided I wanted fairies in the game.

Creative decisions are nebulous things and there were a ton of factors, but the main ~lore~ tendrils leading me to this were

- I was thinking up what the standard healing item could be. Potion was my first thought and for good reason, but before I committed to it I wanted to consider other options. I thought “fairy dust” or similar would be a good item for that, or in general. Berserk has Puck the fairy companion for our grim knight, that’s a nice image from our Influences list.

- both Dark Cloud and Dark Souls have “repair powder” as items, and they’re both in the list. Though I’m still unsure about using weapon HP/breakage as a thing here, it got me thinking about including different “powder” or “dust” items with different effects. That could be the standard unit of consumable magic-thing

- Dust > fairy/pixie dust. And I’ve already got Morgan le Fay in the lore through the Morgen’s Favour item. Going back to the time in myth when elves and fairies and witches and ghosts were all kind of the same thing is a good fit for this project. So if she’s a fairy, or implied to be…

- A big commons thread in the Brythonic mythology on our Influences list is the idea of nine sorceresses - or witches, or sirens, or elves, or magic priestesses. Or, Morgan le Fay and her sisters. Blending all that up into some lore juice seems good to me.

- So, there are nine witches/fairies. We already know you’re the knight of one of them. What about the others?

it’s puck

My current train of thought is that Morgen’s sisters have been captured and that’s what you’re doing on this quest in the first place. I imagine fairies/elves/witches can’t die, so they’re just being held captive in these castles by these knights who are using their power or whatnot.

(This is… kind of a damsel in distress narrative, which I’m not keen on. It fits the tone I guess. Hopefully we can mitigate that through some other creative decisions. For one thing, there’s nothing saying the player character and the evil knights aren’t also women. And not all the fairies need to be women either. We’ll do our best to give the fairies agency in the narrative through mechanics, too. Maybe there’s an action to free each fairy mid-battle instead of rescuing them at the end, and they join the fight? Idk. Just something to think about going forward.)

Your progress in the campaign can be marked by freeing these fairies by defeating their captors in duels, then maybe a 9th “secret” boss battle. Each freed fairy would unlock something - which brings us to the mechanics again.

See, I’ve been going back and forth on what would constitute a good “campaign frame” for this duel system. There needs to be more game around the battles - whether that’s something as simple as an encounter roll/meter, a whole choose-your-own-adventure style branching narrative, or something else… I’m not entirely sure yet.

(I do know that I don’t want to write a whole book lol. And I reckon the frame should be as simple to grasp - and take up as little space on the table and in the player’s head - as the battle system itself. Or less.)

But I do think that an overall “progress sheet” is not too much to ask. I’m envisioning three layers to the game - the duels, something in the middle, and a kind of bookend “safe zone”. This is where you’d return between “missions” to tick off objectives, store items you weren’t using. Call it Avalon, or one of the many other mystic isles of the otherworld. This structure mirrors the zooming in and out through town>dungeon>combat in standard RPGs, and I really like games that use this structure. (Put things in your game that you have fun playing in other games! Good rule of thumb!)

So on your “Avalon” sheet, you can note down the fairies you’ve freed so far. And each one can unlock an ability that you can use when you go back there between excursions. Building up your “home town” through dungeon progress is something I love in games - including Dark Cloud, which is on our Influences list, so this is all fair game for inclusion!

Let’s say that Morgen, presumably already “unlocked”, heals you completely when you return to base - the kind of ability I think you should have from the start, so let’s tie it to her.

Other fairies could supply you with items - the dust! - or give other buffs. Maybe one can craft you items if you bring back the right ingredients. We can go nuts with these. Maybe some of the fairies can go with you as companions, taking up an item slot and offering a passive buff or special action. One could repair items, if we do indeed take that treacherous path…

This all begs the question of what that middle “level” to the gameplay is - our “dungeon”. Can you rescue these fairies in any order? How do you explore and traverse the world - do you have to “find” them? Or is the game just nine fights in order with loot and a new fairy after each? (That would certainly be easier to write…)

Anyway, I think we can leave all that for next time.

Hopefully this post was useful to some of you! Mainly I wanted to show how the spark of a purely “flavour” idea, adding fairies into the game somehow, led to me starting to create this overall 3-tier structure as well as the main thrust of the “story”, and making all kinds of mechanical decisions around it.

I find posts reverse-engineering the creative process like this can sometimes help me tackle challenges in future, thinking back on things more as a piece of work I did than an idea I had. Ideas are cheap! Work is where it’s at.

Happy gaming! x

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Big Hype x3(+1)

 So as it turns out there are currently three whole RPG Kickstarters running that I don’t just think look good, I don’t just want to back, but are - all three of them - projects I’m seriously excited for.

I’d be backing all of these right now at the highest level… if I had anywhere near that kind of spare change. At the very least I can share them and hope you get excited too.

In no particular order…

Mausritter Box Set

One of the best OSR-or-whatever games out there is getting a shiny new update. The conceit of mice doing adventure is a perfect one in my opinion, but mice or no mice, Mausritter’s rules are some of the absolute best fantasy adventure tools available right now.

This KS will also fund a bunch of new adventures written by such top-tier talent as Diogo Nogueira, Amanda Lee Franck and Nate Treme that can be run standalone or as part of a sandbox setting. And it’s a box set! You get lil cards and sheets and stuff!

This one only has a few days left, so hop on it.

The Herbalist’s Primer

This gorgeously illustrated compendium lists various real-world plants along with their uses and importance to various cultures, including any supposed mystical or mythological properties.

As a lovely little coffee table book I’d already be sold, but the Primer is also primed for use in your games, stuffed full of things like quest hooks, random tables and tools to generate your own fictional flora. There are even exactly d100 existing plants in the book!

A worthy tome for any arsenal.

Picaresque Roman

How much can one game be Specifically My Jam?

I’ve harped on many a time about the brilliant design ideas coming out of Japanese table-talk rpgs, how we need to support anyone sticking their neck out to get them translated and published overseas. And when a game has this level knockout art & production and a great premise? Deal me in.

Players are gangsters competing for underworld influence - yes, this is a PvP game. In fact it looks like it blends a lot of Japan’s favourite tabletop game features: simple rules, d6 based system, easy character creation with a lot of options, one-shot session structure… even social deduction elements. If the end result is as good as it looks - and as that soundtrack sounds - this will be something special.

You’re going to want to check this one out.

Bonus Hype…

there’s going to be a Lupin III rpg!?(?!)

This is celebrating the gang’s 50th anniversary, and the press release includes words like “sandbox” and “the same system as Star Wars d6”. I’m somewhat gobsmacked tbh.

More news in October apparently, so stay tuned.

EDIT 30 seconds after posting this: lol I forgot this one. One of the rewards is a coffin. One (1) entire coffin. Containing a fake skeleton, holding the book. Also the book looks good.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

The Horror on Tau Sigma 7

 ðŸ‘½New Mothership pamphlet just dropped from orbit! 👽

The Horror on Tau Sigma 7 is a prequel to Magnum Galaxy Games’ Dying Hard on Hardlight Station, but also works as a standalone adventure. (If you backed the Dying Hard KS as part of ZineQuest 2 you’ve already got it! Now it’s available to everyone.)

I had a great time working on this one! Packing all that ~level design~ onto a single piece of paper is always a fun challenge, and I was given a lot of freedom considering this is meant to be part of MG’s universe! And they made it look really, really good.

The MG team were fans of Ypsilon 14 (hence the name I think!) and I tried to get some of those starter adventure vibes in there, but it’s a very different kind of adventure overall. If Ypsilon is the Nostromo, this is the bit at the start on the planet’s surface… Things get messy.

The pamphlet is available here. Or here!


Monday, 9 August 2021

Items, Actions, Playtest!

 The main thing left to do on this Arthurian-esque project is player actions.

As I covered before, each player action in this mini game is tied to an item. Swords have an attack action, for example. And an action requires a roll, which advances a token (now a die) round the rondel. Read the last few posts if you need catching up.

(And yes, it’s a rondel I think. That’s already a board game term for a school of mechanics that are similar enough, and it’s a suitably medieval word.)

We’ll need to assign the different actions to items, work out a basic concept for how items are held/stored, and figure out what an item “looks like” in this game - is there any thing to them besides a discreet rules action.

I’ll also explore possible other concepts for items, but I won’t be finalising those for inclusion just yet. Once all that’s done, we’ll have a playable “test” fight ready to go.

Oh, and it should be clear by now that this is pretty much a board game and does not align with how ttrpg combat works best, in which PCs can attempt to do pretty much anything. So, uh, sorry if that’s what you come here for, but that’s not this game.

Ok then! Items.

There were 3 actions available to me in the last rough test based on the general ideas for actions in the original concept, and those worked fine.

(Oh, and I need to call the die that moves round the rondel something to make it clear when it’s mentioned over the other dice or whatever, so for the moment it’s called the heart die.)

Attack: “heavy” roll (2d6 take higher). If the heart die passes “midnight” on the rondel due to this roll, action fails. If the heart die does not pass “midnight” due to this roll, deal 1 hit (move the hit token 1 space clockwise).

Defend: “light” roll (2d6 take lower). If the heart die passes “midnight” on the rondel due to this roll, negate damage caused by overkill for this roll. If the heart die does not pass “midnight” due to this roll, reduce hits by 1 (move the hit token 1 space counter-clockwise).

Claim: “spell” roll (2d6). Roll equal to or under the current tally of hits (as indicated by the current position of the hit token) to claim the foe’s soul and end the fight. Roll over this number, roll fails.

Probably worth noting - these are written terribly. There’s probably no way to understand them unless you’ve read all the posts in this series so far and somehow understood those.

These are all just notes, remember - turning this all into a rulebook that allows the reader to teach themselves the game just by reading alone is a whole other battle, one that a lot of big-name board game publishers can barely fight. Some can’t! Thankfully you won’t have to see that bit of the work.


Let’s assign each of these to an item, and also decide how items are depicted in general. Dark Souls famously tells its story and world history through item descriptions, to the point that just the phrase “item descriptions” is something of a meme in itself. And I’ve always loved the little flavour blurbs that come with item logs or bestiaries and such across JRPGs in general. So let’s have a go at that (remembering this is all first draft stuff…)

Old Sword. Its blade is nicked and weathered but still holds true. It will not fail a valorous knight.

Black Ram’s Shield. Bears a sable crest beneath dents and scars. Lightweight and trusty.

Morgen’s Favour. A talisman from the witch queen of the otherworld. Contains a spell to bind the souls of those bested in battle.

Good for now!

Inventory-wise, I like the idea of having spaces for the left and right hand, creating risk if you want to switch things around mid-battle. So let’s say that you can freely use the actions of items in either hand, and putting an item you find into any space is a free action. But to switch the positions of two items in battle is an action that requires a 1d6 roll.

… Seems ok. Oh, and Morgen’s Favour is a vital thing that you’ll always have need of, so while I could make it eat an inventory space and force the player to switch it in and out, that seems kind of needless and unfun. So let’s say it’s always “equipped” (attached to your helm or something idk), and you can use the spell whenever as if it were in your hand.

Then for the rest of the inventory, call it 9 spaces total - enough for a spare weapon or two and some other fun items. With the two hands and the “favour space”, that brings us to 12 items altogether - same as the numbers on our clock. I like my numbers to align! (I mean, have you seen GRAVEROBBERS?) I’m sure someone could arrange the spaces around the clock in a very pretty way on the character sheet, too.

So what could those other items be?

Just a jumble of thoughts so far, but:

- Healing items. First thing that pops into my head is a magic potion, but I quite like the idea of fairy dust, like from Berserk. Dark Cloud has some great items and that’s on our influences list too. But yeah, a one-use item that you’d have to take out of your inventory to use in battle, that heals your heart die back up. There can be different levels of healing item, like all good JRPGs.

- Consumables. Other one-use items with fun effects. Buffs could make your next attack do more damage or eat up hits for a turn. Fire vials that deal damage to an enemy, poison that coats your weapons and makes your next attack have weird side effects. These could be fun and quite powerful, since they’d disappear after a single use. Offers a fun choice of if or when to use them.

- Armour. Each bit could be its own item, meaning you can mix and match armour sets with different effects, and choose how much armour you want to wear vs what other items you might want to take. Or, I might just handwave it? For some reason the idea of helms being the only armour item is really appealing to me - the rest is implied, and then the helm lends flavour and a special effect, and you switch between them depending on your goals and preferences. Dunno. I can make that decision later I guess.

- Gear. Not armour but items you hold to get a passive effect. I keep thinking about boots for some reason. Like, they could let you dodge attacks. Or “move” quicker - how could that be represented? Fun to think about. There could be all sorts of other passive effects, and the prep game would be in choosing whether each slot in your inventory should be armour or one of these, or a spare weapon or a consumable, or a free space in case you find good items… etc etc. The more “good” options the better.

- Other weapons. I think the concept of a bow you load and aim with a heavy action and fire with a light one is solid. Some more tweaking would need to be done to make it feel balanced and worthwhile. I also definitely want a greatsword in the game, something that takes up both your hand spaces. Beyond that… idk, weapons are fun. Whips, staves, maces, axes. Each with their own mechanic and potential drawbacks. I’d definitely treat these more like Monster Hunter weapons where none is “better” and picking one is all about what feels right to you - but then there could be different versions of each, like magic swords or whatever. A lot of the game’s potential longevity is going to be about making these feel right!

- Craftables? Ingredients that don’t do anything on their own but can make things. This would be… a lot of work, and it’s not something I want to do right away. An earlier version of this game that is languishing in my notebooks was built around a crafting system. Maybe worth a revisit down the line but… it really is a whole thing.

How does the player get their hands on these? Well, for now we don’t need to worry, we’re just focused on the Bridgekeeper fight and those three basic items. But once the battle system is down I want to start looking outside it - a way of exploring castles, making decisions about where to go and how best to explore before taking on the resident Lord using the various bits and bobs you’ve collected along the way. Y’know… dungeon stuff.

As for that Bridgekeeper fight…

If you’d like to play along at home, you should now have everything you need now to try out this basic fight! Remember that this is an early playtest - the point isn’t to work out whether or not the game is fun (it probably isn’t just yet!), but whether it works.

Are their points in your playthrough where the rules don’t say what should happen next, or are all the bases covered? Are there edge cases or freak occurrences that can severely disrupt the experience, or does the randomness feel logical (if mildly unfair at times)? These are the relevant questions for now.

For what it’s worth, I’ve tried the fight a few times and i think it works ok! It’s very easy, which makes it a good baseline for the future. But the basics are there, and I’m happy with how far this project has come in just a short time.

So, give it a go if you’d like - you’ll need 3d6, a coin or token and a clock face to play on (just draw one). Your three items/actions are listed above, and your opponent deals damage equal to Overkill, or OK+1 if you reach 9+ hits on them. Yeah, all the rules are spread across like 4 posts now and I can’t be arsed to compile them, sorry. That’s a job for future me to worry about!

For now - have fun, and next time I come back to this series I’ll start thinking about new ways to beef up fights, items and a structure to bind it all together.


A Worthy Foe

Work continues on the Dark Souls/Arthurian combat minigame! Today’s notes - enemies.

Before we start… I still haven’t named this thing. Going off the ~lore~ established in the last post, I’m going to to throw some ideas out off the top of my head as I write this and see what sticks uuuuuhhh… Chivalry Is Dead? Too on the nose maybe. Excaliburied. Ha. The Dolorous Stroke, of course, is already taken by Emmy Allen’s wargame for which it is perfect. Could just call it Overkill, but that sounds a bit too Heavy Metal to me. Onslaught? That’s just a word I like, but I don’t think it fits.

I don’t know, still thinking. Answers on a postcard. I’ll keep tagging these as The Green Knight for now, i guess.

Right! Let’s make a foe.

from Dark Cloud, on the Influences list

I think there’s just about enough of the mechanics in place that the easiest way I can think of designing an enemy is to imagine what a finished one will look like. I’m thinking the smallest of statblocks - a card or something, mostly art, with a name and a quotation that they might say before battle. That seems quite Dark Souls.

Then, mechanically, we need to know what they do on their “turn”, every time your dial passes 13, and how the Overkill concept factors into that action. (It might not at all - but so far that’s the only thread of an idea I have so I’m sticking with it.)

Anything else? Some loot you get if you win, their weapon or helmet maybe. Any other additionally info can wait for a more fleshed-out version of the game.

Ok, first step - going back to the ~lore~ and coming up with a character concept that fits! This is going to be a standalone enemy for our playtest battle, so I’d rather not think about castle layouts or anything just yet. This is going to be an open, standalone fight with a clear goal and an Implied world around it, but not much actual detail or complication. Something that gets across the potential of the larger world in one scene.

Here’s what I have right now:

Bridgekeeper Kalidor

“None pass hence that live. Have at thee!”

art: relatively normal knight with some plants growing through the armour in places. Male/ambiguous. Sword probably as weapon, emblem on shield of first “boss” Lord? Idk. Maybe his helm is lifted to reveal a skull.

And that’s just about all we need on that front. Normal, kinda boring first enemy - but sometimes you need a bit of boring before shit hits the fan later. Now for the actual work…

This doofus needs to teach the very basics of the game, not in terms of the rules but more what strategies and ways of playing are useful. Which as far as we know are: Calculate your risks, try to pass 13 with a low roll or some kind of defensive effect, overkill is bad.

So he has one big, obvious, slow attack that doesn’t really need any fancy effects. Like a training dummy, kinda. This will also help form something of a base to think of some future enemies from.

Also -what *can’t* we make a feature of this guy? Well as it stands the way to win fights is always the same, rack up hits and then try to finish them off when you think you’ve done enough. This means that we can’t really make fights longer or shorter, or give guys more “health”, without adding complications to the basic mechanics - and complications are not what this fight is about.

So how long will the fight take? Well, 2d6 averages at 7, call it 6 if we’re lucky. Let’s say you get 1 or 2 hits in a turn, maybe 3. That’s somewhere between 3-6 turns of combat before you can even start to reasonably think about risking your turns on the kill shot. Most likely more, and accounting for bad luck I’d say 9 turns is a decent rough estimate for now.

That’s… quite long? Turns should whip by once you know what you’re doing, but this is the first fight and we’re learning. Something to bear in mind, I guess.

Having said all that, if the action options and choices presented by the luck of the dice are engaging enough, this all shouldn’t matter too much or feel like a slog. Actually, it feels about right to me? But that’s all stuff governed by the player’s actions and items, which we haven’t really got to yet.

For now, let’s work out how we can make those 9-ish turns engaging using our enemy.

The “Duel” in question

First question: does he just do the one attack every turn? It won’t feel exactly the same because overkill will factor in there somehow, but over 9 turns that novelty might not sustain if the flavour is really just going to be “swings sword”. So we need some variance in behaviour.

We also need to get across to the player when is roughly the right time to start attempting the kill shot. So, two birds - let’s say that after you’ve dealt 7 hits to Kalidor he changes his action up in some way? This might have the opposite though and make players want to *not* rack up that many hits, since don’t forget this is a solo game and they can see all these rules and variances laid out. In that case, let’s call it 9 hits - plenty of space, and it can be comfortably avoided. If at worst case you’re landing a hit a turn, and still slogging away after 9 turns, it’s time to wrap up.

So what does this guy do when you’ve hit him 9 times? Better work out what he does normally first!

(Ah, the enemy action, the hole in the middle of this doughnut that’s been staring at me for so long now… What to do with you…)

For now, I’m going with Overkill = damage. A few reasons - mainly I did a very rough test and it felt easy to play. And since this is an introductory fight, what better way to get across the concept of overkill than making it literally the only danger you need to focus on? No additional maths or effects yet, just “look at the number”. Sometimes - often, I find - the best mechanic is the one that seems the easiest to wrap your head around. A good mechanic that’s hard to explain isn’t a good mechanic at all.

I know I said just one attack would be boring, and I’ll get to that. But the main thing is OK=dmg is an effective base for other things, bonuses and whatnot. There are all kinds of ways to make it more complex and add extra mechanics onto that base, like the “threshold” thing I mentioned in a previous post.

Speaking of - that idea of 9 hits being a threshold for some kind of change-up? It occurred to me that since 9 is the 3/4 mark on a standard clock, if we were to make this a normal 12-hour clock instead of 13 we could demarcate quadrants as “zones” indicating different behaviours. Four “seasons” with different effects or enemy behaviours as you rack up hits and the token moves around.

Then just make the 2d6 finishing blow a “roll equal or under” rather than just roll under, and we don’t really need that 13. It’ll make turns a little more scary and short, too. A 6 is now exactly half your turn gone, there’s no buffer.

Ok so Overkill is base damage, and different “seasons” can add or change that as the enemy takes more hits. Good enough for now!

So, uh… what’s damage?


We need to know about player health to know what damage means. I had a pretty simple idea for this during that little scratch play test fight, and it seems to work ok so I’m sticking with it.

The token that now moves around the rondel (better name than dial?) is now another d6. Starting on 6 and ticking down - that’s your health. I like that it represents “you” on the “board”, and it’s a simple way of tracking that eschews note-taking. Most Overkill hits are just 1 or 2 due to a bad or misjudged roll, and a 3 or 4 feels suitably devastating and Dark Souls-y. Nobody would risk more than that anyway, you’d have to deliberately make a bad decision to take any more damage in a single hit. Or, the enemy would need bonuses hehe.

And, there’s still a token on the dial for keeping track of your hits on the foe. Easy to differentiate between the two now that one’s a die.

So - bonuses! To stick with the initial idea of teaching when’s best to deliver the kill shot, I’m deciding that for now our Bridgekeeper deals base damage from 0-8 hits and gets a +1 bonus on 9+. So spring to autumn you’re relatively safe, but winter is coming. That should make it clear how you’re “meant” to approach the puzzle but still give leeway.

The other thing that became clear in my play test is that defensive actions felt a bit bland. I was trialling a “heavy” roll to attack and a “light” to defend (see the first post in this series) as my only two options, and that felt good, but a “failed” defend roll - i.e, one that didn’t push you past 13 and start the next turn - just felt like a fizzle rather than an interesting failure. My idea to fix this, which came from an earlier iteration of the mechanic from way back in my notebook, is that a “failed” defend roll actually reduces the current number of hits on the enemy. So they’re not literal hits, more like your current combat advantage - but basically flinching when you didn’t need to makes you lose a bit of momentum. Even more incentive to take silly risks!

Oh, and as for what defensive actions *do* when they succeed, I’m thinking -1 damage is good enough for this fight. I’m not too keen on all these numbers, but it’s fitting for the type of game this is. I wouldn’t put them in a straight RPG. I’ll need to test this though, it might not feel powerful enough.

(Of course, actions are tied to items, and there may be other shields or items that do other things…)

All in all these changes make the basics of the game feel solid. I feel like you could almost play this fight as-is now, but there are just one or two things I want to iron out first around items and player actions.

Next post I’ll sort that out, and then we’ll have a “tutorial” fight ready to play!

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Health, Damage and LORE

 … so the UK distributor for The Green Knight has just pulled the film from release. No word on when it’s delayed to, or if it’s coming out here at all. This is of course after it was initially pushed back from May last year…


As I said last week, I was going to use the Green Knight RPG to round out my new combat minigame, but I’ve already decided to save that game until I’ve seen the movie.

Bit distraught tbh. But! Let’s crack on with what we have.

From the RPG box art!

Next piece of the puzzle is how health and damage works here. We can make attacks, the timing system and enemy turns are there, but we don’t yet know what either player or enemy attacks *do*.

Here’s what I’m leaning towards at the moment:

Enemy attacks/player HP: The Overkill idea still seems good to me. I toyed with the notion of OK equaling damage, 3 over “midnight” and you lose 3 “hp” or whatever.

This makes sense in that the more you fuck up the better a hit the enemy can land on you, but it’s a bit bland and 100% of that info is coming from player actions. Which is not necessarily bad, it’s where the system trends in general, but I can see it leaving enemies feeling a bit same-y. What could you do with that number - a base attack bonus stat for enemies, so they all do OK+Stat damage? Fine, but there’s barely any granularity there and now literally all that differentiates baddies is whether they’re a +1, +2, etc. Up to like maybe +5 max before it gets silly. Or, is this “rating” the max damage a baddie can do? As in, no matter how much OK they rack up a “level 1” guy does 1 damage?

Regardless of if I use the OK number straight or not, there clearly needs to be another layer to bad guy attacks. I don’t mind them being defined by their attacks, like the attack is the whole statblock, but that’s even more of a reason for things to be interesting. And variable! They should do different things, maybe at different times or stages of a fight.

Anyway, that’s where that is. Enemy attacks should be cooler and do more, but I don’t know what “more” can look like just yet, other things need to be clearer first.

Player attacks/Enemy HP: current thought: a successful attack deals a Hit. To kill a foe, roll 2d6 under the number of Hits you’ve scored on them.

So like a killing blow. The dolorous stroke that fells the beast! Adds another layer of push-your-luck - do you potentially waste your turn trying to kill an enemy with low hits to save yourself more battle damage? Or do you keep fighting until the kill is a sure thing, all the while getting closer to death yourself? (Again… how that works is as yet ambiguous but bear with me.)

I quite like this so far - but to answer questions about where to go from here we need to know some bigger picture stuff. So it’s time to zoom out a bit.

Micah Ulrich

In my post way back when about the mood board I mentioned how nailing your aesthetic first helps you creatively later. If you have a range of viable options, or just aren’t sure what the next step in your design process is, having a solid idea of what the theoretical final thing looks like, feels like, all that, will really help.

So here, I’m not sure what direction to take health and damage. Should the game feel gritty, on a knife edge? Are these heroic battles, duels, hunts, fights to the death or ritual slaughter? Who is the player character and what kinds of things do they fight  - what should it look like in the mind’s eye when they take or land a hit?

Once we know these things, the right mechanical choice will reveal itself. Is the idea.

So here’s where I’m at with the game’s aesthetic - yes, it’s a “game” now. Might as well be. (And of course this is all subject to change, the point is to have a general idea of where we’re going so as not to wander aimlessly, rather than to set anything in stone this early on.)

Influences: The Green Knight (*sniff*). Other Arthurian legends, leaning towards pre-Christian Celtic and some medieval tales more than later romantic revivals but it’s all fair game. Adjacent Celtic legends, chiefly Welsh/Cornish/Breton. Dark Souls. Bits of Berserk. Dark Cloud and Dragon’s Crown. Nature as inexorable, humanity as bright, callow, feeble and dead. The Otherworld - Annwn, faerie, the liminal. Dingy castles, daring knights. A melancholic contemplation of one’s duty. Lush forests and quiet ruins. Rain.

Basically, the general aesthetic of the non-gonzo fantasy stuff I’ve done here on the Graverobber’s Guide over the years. This is a project I’ve noodled with on an off for a long while without writing about it here, and it’s existed in some form or another since before I started blogging, so this vibe has made itself known in places before, I’m sure. BUTCHERY comes to mind, and a few choice posts.

So does this help us make design decisions?

Hmm, let’s see.

Zé Burnay

Well, I think our player character is a knight, that much is clear. And I reckon these fights are duels, they’ll be fighting other knights - monstrous and inhuman perhaps, but there’s a sad kind of chivalric code behind it all. Twisted ancient kings waiting in their crumbled castles, unable to deny a challenge.

Which leads me to think that you’re a kind of psychopomp? In a Dark Souls-y way, kind of. Maybe you’re Gwyn ap Nudd or the equivalent, on your Wild Hunt, claiming souls for the Otherworld. Wandering the realm of the living, taking out these knights who cling so hard to the old code that they just… don’t seem to die properly. The Empire has fallen, nature has reclaimed the land, and yet these relics persist. And they will answer only to the sword. So, with a kind of quiet dignity, you end their reigns one by one.

(I think “but you’re dead” is a decent enough twist on the basic English fantasy thing? My favourite is still “but you’re a mouse” but Mausritter went and perfected that so here we are)

Or something to that effect. Point is, I’ve figured out the “killing blow” - it’s a ritual to take the soul. Hence why they won’t die otherwise. (And didn’t I say last post that “colossal” rolls will probably end up being spells? It’s almost like I know what I’m doing. Almost.) Tie the spell to a key item like every other action, an amulet or summat. And you can use the 13-hour “clock” to track Hits, since there’ll be no need to go over 13 if you’re rolling 2d6 under em. So a second “hand” token can do that.

Player HP then? I reckon we need to use that dial again. Maybe yet another “hand” can start at 13 and track anti-clockwise as your foe’s spectral blows threaten to rend your tether to this realm before you do the same to them. Maybe if they get you to 0 you get 1 more turn as they prepare *their* killing blow? We’ll see.

(Also - clock it ain’t. We’re pre-clock. I’m thinking “zodiac”, or some wheel representing the seasons or the cycle of life. Like a tapestry. Oooh, on a cloth mat, or a wooden version with little engraved coins, and, custom dice and - wait. What am i saying. Things cost money.)

Enemy attacks are the biggest question. I’m picturing disproportionate FromSoftware knights swinging brutal and ornate weapons… Maybe one or two have a “fire” or “poison” effect but there needs to be a more basic form of differentiation and interest so that these relatively of-a-kind Big Metal Boys feel distinct. Since everything on the player’s side is so item/inventory based, maybe it’s keyed off different armour pieces that offer protections from certain damage “tags”? But then that just makes pre-battle a box-ticking exercise over a choice… It needs to come back to the clock, the timing. (Sorry, not the clock. The… dial? Let’s say dial for now. Shadows on a sundial.)

Hmm. Still needs some thought.

Well, I hope that was a vaguely entertaining ramble in lieu of something actually Green Knight related. I’m enjoying doing all my design thinking on this project in post form like this, so I hope it has some value for those of you reading, too!

Next, enemies I think. Then items, then something we can play.

Friday, 30 July 2021

“Soulsborne” Combat System

 A year of lockdowns have meant fewer games and so less game stuff to post here. Couple that with ~depression~ and a decent amount of Actual Work to keep my gamebrain occupied (currently in progress: Journeylands, various top-secret Mothership things and a real stupid and very fun project with acid lich) and the Guide has kind of stopped being what it once was - a public notebook for me to expunge fun lil game thoughts, just in case they’re useful for anyone else.

This blog was my way into the hobby and while I have a tendency to downplay its importance just like everything else I do, it’s been a valuable constant in my life for several years now. I appreciate all you folks who read regularly, anyone who stops by on occasion, and especially folks who’ve had fun playing games with some of the things I’ve posted here.

I guess my point is I’ve been feeling appreciative of this place lately and wanted to shake off the cobwebs a bit!

So here’s a thing I’ve been playing with for a while now.

It’s been a rough concept for a while, first put into action in Jack Rabbit Jam: Battle Roulette, my overambitious attempt at a KS project for my board game project Paradice Arcade. So yeah, nobody saw it lol

I’m using versions in DEADLINE and Journeylands, but those are more meta-structural things, basic trackers that don’t really get into the various permutations of what the mechanic can do.

It started as a combat system and I think that’s where it shines! Or as both in conjunction.

(I made it clear these were just notes, right? A work in progress kind of thing? Ok good)

Ok, so. Imagine if you will a clock with 13 hours. Place a token on 13. Each time you roll to resolve a combat action, move the token round clockwise equal to the result of the roll. When you hit or pass 13, the enemy takes their turn. Repeat until victory or death.

That’s the basic gist - again, if you’ve read DEADLINE you already know as much. But I’ve been extrapolating this thing in all kinds of different ways, and that’s where the fun is for me.

So I guess let’s talk through the implications of this thing and how it can be turned into a “soulsborne” type combat minigame.

(“Soulsborne” video games involve tense combats where every movement is sluggish and deliberate. You have to learn to feel the weight of your various action options, read an opponent’s moves and try to time your attacks, counters, dodges, item uses etc. See this previous post on Monster Hunter.)

Before we begin, assumptions: This is a combat minigame, so using it means combat should be fun and at least somewhat viable in your game. So, not applicable to the kinds of adventure games I often make. Although the adventure game format surrounding this offers tactical infinity, things within combat will be a little more boardgamey and strict. Fighting becomes its own thing with its own rules rather than just another outcome to standard play - think games like 5th Edition with their “roll for initiative” demarcation of play states.

(Also, I don’t have a name for this yet? “Clocks” already mean a thing so I don’t want to call it something confusing. Maybe I just need to build a whole game and name that instead.)

Ok so first implication - rolling low is good. Moving the token 1 or 2 spaces leaves more space ahead of you on the track for more actions this turn.

I’m using 2d6 because this was a Paradice Arcade game first. All those games use 2d6 and a coin or 2 as tokens.

As it stands, there are a few types of roll which correspond to different actions (all names placeholders):

“Heavy” rolls: 2d6, take the higher. Big, slow and deliberate moves like swinging your bastard sword or loading your longbow and taking aim. Avg 5-6, so that’s likely half your turn gone.

“Light” rolls: 2d6 take the lower. Quick, light and simple actions. Releasing that arrow, a swift parry perhaps. Avg 1-2, barely make a dent in your turn most of the time.

- “Colossal” rolls (idk I literally came up with that name right now): 2d6. Huge, slow things that will almost certainly eat up most or all of your turn. Probably spells.

- just Rolls: 1d6. For miscellaneous or random actions. Using “an item”.

No maths or modifiers, natch. Though I’m not necessarily opposed to the odd +1.

So a turn might look like… notch an arrow (heavy roll, +5 on the clock), fire (light roll, +1=6), knock a second (heavy roll, +4), chicken out and don’t fire in case you pass 13 so dodge or something (quick roll, +3).

Every action will be tied into an item in the inventory (see? It’s practically a board game!). So your boots have an action to dodge, the “arrow” action is knock and aim, etc etc etc. And each demands a certain roll. You’d probably have a L and R hand, and only be able to use actions if the items were in hand, with another action to rummage through your inventory - quivers would make reaching for arrows a free action… You get where I’m going here. Boardgames.

So this is all bringing us to implication 2 -

Striking 13

(This is not the term for it, it’s already a term in GRAVEROBBERS for the blackjack mechanic. Damn, I kinda wish GRAVEROBBERS wasn’t a light adventure system so that I could wedge this thing in there, the whole clock/13 thing fits the vibe and numerology far too well. Maybe this’ll end up as a hack pamphlet for that system some day.)

Anyway. When you hit 13 on the money, you’re lucky - your turn just ends. Pontoon, blackjack, vingt-et-un. But if you pass over 13? That’s bad!

Firstly, whatever action you were taking that made you roll and pass 13 doesn’t happen. You’ve been interrupted by your opponent. Some special actions might change things - if you pass 13 with a “shield” or “dodge” action then it doesn’t get interrupted and instead blocks some enemy actions, perhaps.

Second, you’re now eating into your free space for next turn. If you roll way over and end up on 5, that means that once the opponent’s action resolves you’re starting on 5, not 13. So you only have half the space to advance before they go again.

(Hopefully the “timing” element is starting to become clearer at this point! And why I’ve dubbed it a soulsborne type system. You’ll be picking your actions and pushing your luck, doing things like deciding to do a quick dodge as your turn ends to limit how far over 13 you go. Or risking it all on a big roll, missing and leaving yourself vulnerable.)

Third, Overkill. That’s what I’m calling it for now anyway. And to explain that…


I’ve lost nearly all patience for statblocks. A number or two in a MoSh module is about as much as my poor heart can take these days. I’d rather resolve enemies through basics of the system like saves and checks, and general play.

With that in mind, opponents in this system will still need something because everything’s so… boardgames. We’re getting fuzzy here because this is the freshest ink on the wip, but the general idea is that the number you end up on if you pass 13 allows badder enemy actions. That’s called the Overkill. Oh shit I passed 13 and landed on 2, that’s 2 overkill.

So a dragon might always attack on its turn, but on a 3+ Overkill it does fire breath. Or something.

This also means that this system is fairly viable for solo play. ALl my examples here have been about 1 character anyway, and it fits the soulsborne vibe. But I don’t think it’d be difficult to do a party-based fight here. Maybe everyone gets a “hand” on the “clock”, and all your Overkill adds together.

Is all that good? I don’t know.

Oh, the only other idea to mention is using another “hand” on the clock as an encounter roll, a bit like the Etrian Odyssey inspired indicator here.

Yet to Come

Where this leaves us is with questions about health and damage in this thing, and… I don’t have that sorted out yet. I’d like to bring everything back to the clock - maybe another hand tracks the flow of battle? I don’t want to use classic HP here, mainly because I just kinda decided not to but also I’d like something more dramatic and less gamey. I love HP as a mechanic but I don’t know that it fits here.

Well, I’m writing about all this because hopefully I’ll get to playtest it properly soon! Maybe?

the new A24 movie The Green Knight is finally coming out here next week, I’ve been hyped for this thing for literal years and have pretty much already decided I like it based on the first trailer. And Dev Patel.

Anyway I got the promotional RPG that A24 made back when the film was supposed to come out way back when. It’s in a green box made to look like the old D&D red box, and it’s an actual game with its own mechanics and ideas. Gonna go see the film with some peeps and then come home and play the game over a stein of mead or whatever the fuck

… And I think this “soulsborne” mechanic would fit really nicely as a “duel” mechanic in that game. Frequent Guide readers know my penchant for twisted fairytale pastoral stuff - mix that with the Arthurian legend stuff and some other old Celtic stories, some added Dark Souls vibes and I can totally see this mechanic sliding in nicely.

Dappled light over ruined stone in a forest clearing, facing down against what was once an ancient king and is now a terrible and melancholy beast, nothing but your sword and wits in hand… yeah.

Maybe the fusion will work - there’s no HP/damage in the Green Knight RPG, just an Honour/Dishonour sliding scale, maybe that’s the answer to the damage question. Maybe it’ll be a mess! I don’t know!

Anyway, it’s fun to make up dumb game things and play them with your friends. Being a Professional RPG Person is great and all, but at the end of the day this is a hobby, and there’s only one reason we should all be here - games with mates. Or solo. Playing, is the point.

Here’s to more silly entries in the Graverobber’s Guide, and more playtime to come.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Random Encounter Mechanics

 We all love random encounters (if you don’t, start here). But is the classic random encounter table still the best way to generate them?

Probably yes. But that won’t stop me from stealing some ideas from video games.

Random encounters are typically seen as a bit of an annoyance, or even an anachronism, in classic dungeon crawlers and JRPGs, interrupting players with a sudden combat screen. Contrary to the tried and true methods of tabletop though, there have been all kinds of advancements and new takes on how to deliver these encounters.

Let’s look at three games with their own takes and try and adapt those ideas for ttrpgs!



The most obvious way that Pokemon made its otherwise fairly typical JRPG encounters more forgiving on its younger target audience way by clearly delineating encounter zones. In the tall grass? Random encounters maybe! Not in the tall grass? No random encounters ever! And then proper wilderness places like caves and the open ocean have encounters everywhere.

Seems like a basic idea but it hasn’t been copied often. Not only does this mesh perfectly with the series’ themes of nature and urbanisation, but it allows for fun level design and leads to more engaging traversal in the overworld.

You can see that one path is overgrown and one is paved - it’s like a dungeon corridor, one fork emitting cold wind and one an eerie warmth. And there are still challenges on urbanised routes, just a different kind. Every new route is full of little decisions.

A couple of other things make the Pokemon approach come together. Firstly, the battle/capture system that is the games’ premise means you want encounters, at least some of the time. Even if you’d rather not fight right now, there’s always the curiosity of finding new monsters.

Also, you can negate encounters entirely with special Repel items. They don’t work if the enemy is way stronger than you, but you can go through most routes with a spritz or two of repel and just… not have to worry about the whole thing. The trade off is money, as these items are consumable and must be replenished.

How to implement?

- be clear to your players where and when they might have a random encounter (this is basic communication stuff really)

- make encounters appealing from the outside (everyone has treasure in this world? You can “catch” monsters in some way and add them to your squad?) Keep these rules consistent across all encounters.

- Offer an out. Some magic item that repels monsters in exchange for… money? A quest? HP/your soul…?

Etrian Odyssey

Pretty much the closest thing to an old-school computer dungeon crawler still out there, but not without its updates! Etrian Odyssey has a little indicator in the HUD that changes colour as you traverse its megadungeons. Green: you’re fine. Yellow: hmm. Red: encounter soon! (This has appeared in other games, like Legend of Dragoon).

You’ll never have a random encounter unless the indicator is red. It’s not just a simple clock ticking down though, the encounters are still a surprise each time - you can’t count steps until the next one.

Etrian Odyssey mixes this up by having its big boss monsters, FOEs, never appear in random encounters, instead being represented in the overworld.

Lots of JRPGs have gone the way of overworld encounters as a development of random battles, but FOEs are a mini game unto themselves - way too strong to fight when you first meet a new type, you instead have to study their movements across the map (the map you draw!) and avoid them outright.

And if that’s not OSR…

How to implement?

- Use an indicator system. Eg: Every dungeon turn, roll 1d6, keep all previous rolls in a line. As soon as any of them show doubles, have an encounter and reset the line afterwards.

- Differentiate your big, bad monsters. Remove them from the encounter table and represent them through environmental clues, omens… Talk up different ways to avoid them or at least track their whereabouts/ know when you’re in their lair. One big, unique beast that affects everything around it.


This one launched on Apple Arcade this year so you’d be forgiven if you haven’t played it. It uses a great new idea to govern its encounters - the Dimengeon is an in-universe device that warps them into a prison dimension for you to fight later. You only have to fight them when the Dimengeon is full, but you have to fight them all at once!

This not only lets you explore the game’s beautiful diorama overworlds without constant interruption, but also functions like Etrian Odyssey’s indicator by acting like a countdown to the big fight.

It also leverages the game’s battle system, which involves aiming attacks across a 2d plane - with more enemies, you can line them up like bowling pins and take out more with each attack. There are also power ups in the Dimengeon to help you out, but you have to hit them with those attacks to get em. Very fun.

How to implement?

- Something appropriate for your game’s world. I’d do like a lantern that can store ghosts, but risks unleashing them all at once if it breaks. It’s Ghostbusters. Maybe a push-your-luck, blackjack type system: draw a card each time you suck up a ghost, if you bust then all your ghosties break free. (If this one sounds like your jam, you’ll love my game GRAVEROBBERS btw, free download here.)

All of these methods involve making the structure behind your encounters more readable to your players and easier to deal and interact with! Encounters aren’t just punishment to throw at player characters, or distinct pockets of gameplay. They can be incorporated into your world and system on another level.