Tuesday, 19 September 2023

False Equivalent Exchange

 So in this week’s Dandadan an 18th century alchemist who might be organising an alien invasion got a train across Tokyo to enrol as a high school teacher, which doesn’t even break the top 50 most bonkers things to happen in that manga but I digress

On the train, we get a like 1-page silent scene, a few panels illustrating his journey. At one point he offers his seat up to an older woman with a cane, and stands the rest of the way. Then when he arrives at the school, he comes in and just kind of takes a chair by a computer in the office, talking as if he’s always been there as he infiltrates the school right there in front of everyone. And while his new coworkers seem a little confused, they accept it. Something’s off… but it’s not this guy, we know that he works here, that’s his seat.

And it’s not confirmed or even particularly highlighted, but I’m pretty sure the train journey was a spell. Like, it’s made clear he’s using some kind of magic to alter peoples’ perception of him, but I’m fairly certain the innocuous train scene was him casting that magic, that giving up a seat allowed him to take a seat. The law of equivalent exchange is pretty well known esotericism, used to great effect in Hirofumi Arakawa’s classic Fullmetal Alchemist, but what’s happening here a bit different.

And i think it’s cool so let’s steal it 👍

The Law of False Equivalent Exchange is an FKR-style magic system that works thusly: Any character who can Do Magic may attempt a ritual. They must accomplish three tasks of their choosing which affect the material world in opposition* to their desired goal, represented by three “sub-“goals. If the GM agrees and they are able to perform the tasks, their goal is magically achieved.

*but not exactly. For example:

A character wants to become queen of a small kingdom. Instead of staging a coup or using some mundane trickery with the line of succession, they set out to achieve this via a magic ritual. The player proposes the following sub-goals and their “opposite” tasks:

- I will take the throne: I will give up a “throne”, a valuable seat.

- I will wear the crown: I will remove something precious from my head.

- I will rule the land: I will allow the earth to do what it will with me.

The player character takes a horse and cart to the current king’s castle, paying the fare of an elderly traveller and giving up their seat, opting to ride in the back. By night, in a storm in the fields outside the castle, they remove their own eye with a knife, dig a hole and lay in the dirt, allowing the soil and rain to smother them (GM probably calls for a save or something here).

The GM rules the ritual complete and accepts the exchange - when they wake in the morning, choking on dirt and blood, they clamber out of the earth and walk into the castle, where they are greeted as queen.

This could get boring if it’s too easy so I’d set limits - not silly once-a-day stuff, more like some overall larger price to messing with the material world like this. You’d be immediately set apart, visible by spirits and fairies, or maybe you’d have to reckon with the ghosts of the world you undid. Or just give it a bigger material cost, some specific magical ingredients that must be spent to finish the ritual, unicorn’s blood etc.

Thursday, 7 September 2023

Murder On Line One

“Hey, maintenance? Yeah, I got a real mess over here. Someone trashed a milk right out the front of my store. You gotta send someone to clean this shit up… Nobody likes looking at a dead android. Bad for business.”

New update to the Odai 57 ashcan version! (see last post)

I’ve added a text version of Murder On Line One, a neo-noir Mothership mystery. Just the text but it’s all there and it’s all good. The adventure works as a standalone like All the Fun of the Fair, but it makes much more use of the setting’s phonebook.

I’m still working on the third adventure, which is a slightly more low-keep introduction suited for longer games in this setting. Lot of work getting a setting intro right, so that’ll be out when it’s out.

(I also feel like I didn’t end up getting that in depth with what makes the phonebook setting so suited to mysteries in my last post, so maybe I’ll revisit that in future. Not today though, it’s very hot and I’ve got like 200 zines to ship. Weapons Test 023 backers, thank you for your patience, they’re a-coming!)

Big thanks to the folks who have downloaded the Odai 57 ashcan already! Like I said this was a big experiment from me, I had no idea how it would be received or if it would even get any attention. So I appreciate your faith that the material will be good despite a lack of presentational polish as of yet. Hope you’re getting some good games out of the two adventures so far. £10 for 2 adventures seems good to me, idk.

I’m still thinking on what the best way of making and releasing this stuff is going forward. Maybe like a subscription thing? £5 a month for more polished content or something. But until I have a better idea, buying this ashcan version is the best way to support not just this project but me in general. (Or hire me! graverobbersguide(at)gmail(dot)com)

Or getting anything from my store really, maybe there’s something else on there you’d be into? Did you know I did a game about golf? I don’t talk about stuff I’ve done in the past nearly enough, there’s some cool shit on there. Take a look.

Anyway, back to shipping zines and slowly perishing in this heat. All the best x

Monday, 28 August 2023

Odai 57

 Following on from last week’s post. What kind of game do we get when the world is presented as a phone book?

I love mysteries. I rarely watch TV as it airs, but right now I’m up to date with The After Party and Only Murders In The Building (both fun). I’m also rewatching Twin Peaks, including The Return for the first time. Also have had Ace Attorney lets plays on in the background while I write. Also replaying Ace Attorney Investigations. I know what I like.

Mysteries are well suited to dungeon crawling RPGs in the classic midwestern folk tradition. Someone has set out bits of useful information for you to explore and find and put to use, with possible rewards at the end. It’s the same premise. Mothership specifically lends itself to mystery, with Solving being one of its core tenets and Blade Runner being among its big inspirations.

There are mystery adventures for MoSh already - my own Piece By Piece is an X-Files style one-shot murder case, and there’s the tense social investigation of Picket Line Tango. Every module has some element of investigation, really. But what does it mean to expand from an adventure to a setting?

Long-running mystery series, from classic detective fiction to TV, run on their investigators. What energy does the lead sleuth bring to each case? And so for a Mothership setting we look to our PCs. Fragile but skilled, outgunned but clever, crucially working class.

The default for mystery fiction is cop, but thankfully there are plenty of alternatives. Private eyes, writers in over their heads, precocious teens and their dogs. What we’re asking here is the key question for most ttrpg settings - who are these people and what are they doing? This gives us the basis of our setting but also sets up the players, informs their characters’ actions and invites them in.

This but Agatha Christie

In Odai 57, my mystery-driven phonebook setting for the Mothership RPG, players are maintenance workers. They get called in to fix things on the titular space station, a stopping point in the Qilin Gate Company’s astral gate network.

Each job is its own case, an investigative adventure in which getting to the root of a technical issue on Odai 57 (the Solve) leads the players and the residents of the station’s Commercial district into danger (the Survive and the Save). While each job works as a disconnected one-shot, stringing them all together reveals a complete setting, and possibly a larger conspiracy…

It’s Twin Peaks in an airport mall.

(Also - I know MoSh is a horror game and this doesn’t sound like the scariest place to be. But neither did Elm Street until there was a Nightmare on it. This is a different flavour of horror than typical for Mothership, not the uncaring void of space but the insidious darkness in the shadows of suburbia.)

I’ve been at work on this project for a while already, and honestly I feel like I’m just getting started. This thing is going to be enormous. Like I’ve said before, this is all deliberately crafted adventure content, little to no random generation or work for the Warden.

Each case is a complete standalone pamphlet adventure, though every one impacts the wider setting in some way, from introducing a killer who may strike again to offering player upgrades. And while some span multiple phone numbers, some are at the end of just one call. At the rate I’m going I’m looking at upwards of 30 interlinked adventures before I’m done.

But! I don’t have the time or frankly the funds to work away at a project this big. I’d turn to Kickstarter but… ugh. So here’s what I’m thinking.

This but he’s the guy who’s come to do your wifi

Right now, three of the adventures are closest to completion, with a couple of them 100% written. These are:

Odd Jobs. An introductory adventure that gets players set up on Odai 57, eases them into the setting’s quirks and sets them on a few errands around town, with clues to a potentially deadly secret linking them all together. Vibe: small town sheriff’s department by way of The Wrong Trousers

All The Fun of the Fair. An investigation into old tech going haywire in Odai 57’s derelict amusement park quickly turns into a destructive chase with a despicable villain. Vibe: Scooby-Doo gone very, very wrong

Murder On Line One. An android shows up dead next to a public phone. Your job is to clean up the mess, not investigate a murder. But it looks like this case is going to keep causing problems… Vibe: Classic hardboiled noir with a Mothership twist

I’m putting up an ashcan version of All The Fun of the Fair, by far the easiest of the three to run standalone, for download. This ain’t going to be pretty, I’m doing the layout and scribbling some art myself, but it’s a complete adventure, as good as the best stuff I’ve done, finished and playable.

In lieu of a crowdfunding campaign, I’m selling this for £10. I get that that’s a lot for one pamphlet, but think of this like a donation to the overall project. I’m going to work on getting ashcan versions of the other two done as well, so bare minimum you’ll end up with for your tenner is a three-pamphlet miniseries, which seems like a better deal to me.

Realistically, any money I make off these is going to rent and bills first, but if I get enough support I’m going to fold it back into making these adventures better. I’ve got great plans and some amazing potential collaborators lined up, and I’d love to turn this into like a digital starter pack for the setting, maybe with some cool extra add-on materials too.

So, the plan:

- Ashcan versions of three cases.

- Any profit from those gets put into making the final files.

- If there’s enough support and interest I can continue adding cases, until the whole setting is done!

- Maybe, eventually, collect it all in one big physical phonebook?

If the final thing ends up being worth more than £10 I’ll up the price accordingly, but obviously anyone who’s already bought it will continue to get new files and updates for free. So what you get for your contribution is up to you.

Honestly I have no idea if this will work out. I’m basically just gauging interest. I’d love it if this were a project I was able to focus on, but what I want to make and what people want to play don’t always align. So if this is something you want to see more of, please support in whatever way you can - you can buy the ashcan and get in on the ground floor, or post about it and share it with your group.

If anyone buys it I’ll know I’m onto something! And if I can sell like 50 of these in the next month or so I’ll be off to the races. If not, no harm done. I’ll do the three ashcan pamphlets at the very least, and then move on to the next thing probably.

Anyway, that’s all that. You can buy the ashcan version of All The Fun of the Fair here, and doing so will get you any and all upcoming updates for free. Thank you!


General maintenance crew wanted for immediate start. Unskilled labour, minimum wage. For further enquiries call 00-57-01 or report to:
Maintenance Office
QGC Utilities Building
01 Commercial District
Odai 57
Odai System

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Cities of Phones

 So in a recent post I had some vague thoughts about laying a city out like a dungeon. This makes the city feel a certain way: lets you spotlight traversal, define areas and position them in relation to one another, use encounter systems to emulate a vibe. This city will probably feel busy, maze-like, claustrophobic and sprawling, with a stable concrete layout made ever-changing by its inhabitants and happenings.

But that’s not all a city can be. I don’t feel like I’m traversing a dungeon when I head out into my city. I’m not delving or dealing with encounters, I’m moving freely and easily. I don’t have to learn complex systems, I have them internalised or handled for me - I can roll onto a bus or train or DLR, zone out and my destination comes up to meet me. I barely think about where places are in relation to one another, except to decide if I should just walk or not. I don’t drive, so I don’t have personal dungeoneering costs or equipment to maintain. Apps and contactless payments handle my journey. It’s not a quest… it’s not a dungeon.

So if we don’t want to focus on traversal, or encounters, or even where locations are in relation to one another, how else can we define a space? And why might we want to, what new game modes or vibes could open up to us?

In that post I briefly mentioned a Big Thing I’ve been working on, so I figured I might as well share!

Short answer, it’s a phone book. d100 phone numbers, each with a location on the other end. (Yes these are landline phones, this is Mothership.) Players can use the phone network in-game, but also travelling around between these placers is just as easy as calling. It’s a table of contents, a list of locations they can pick from as and when they want. In the same way that I can just decide to stroll up the high street and walk into any of the shops in any order or combination, the focus here isn’t on movement and space but on an open and accessible list, the points without the crawl.

So here’s what I’ve been working on and a few things I’ve found out so far. Hopefully this is useful to anyone who might want to do something similar!

The biggest drawback as I’ve seen it is that you need all your bits written up front. In a big dungeon-city I can make one “floor” or less at a time, and expand as and when the players get to the edge of my map. Here, every phone number needs to work straight away or it all falls apart. I can mitigate this with generators somewhat - different reasons a number might be disconnected, “filler” entry tables. But it works best with a whole lot of bespoke, specific gameable bits, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

I’ve found it easiest to do what I normally do, small individual adventures, and mosaic those into a complete whole. So one phone number might have its own complete mini-adventure at the end of it, or one adventure could be spaced across a few locations that lead to one another. Each adds a little bit to the city overall, and while I prefer to keep things modular I can sprinkle in some interconnected-ness to keep the space feeling cohesive. And numbers can be reused ofc. I can also fill out more numbers with non-adventure-specific game bits, like some of the item-list vendors I’ve posted here already.

The space, btw, is not a whole city. d100 carefully planned locations is a whole lot of game for me to write but is maybe one road’s worth of landlines in the real world. So this is a high street, a typical commercial/residential space, on a space station to give the space clear edges. I’m folding in some of the “at the gates of dawn” setting stuff I’ve posted here too, but the overall size and shape is something like an airport mall in a Stanford torus.

That means I’ve got more than enough distinct locations to be getting on with, without overwhelming the Warden with millions of phone numbers and characters to keep track of. Keeping things modular in individual adventures with their own relevant subset of numbers helps here too. Also means I don’t have to write as much, so I can focus on those deliberately constructed details over generators to fill things out. Detail makes space in ttrpgs anyway. I don’t even have close to d100 yet and this place already feels huge.

So what kind of a city does all this give us, and what kind of a game? I’ll go into that next time!

Friday, 18 August 2023

WEAPONS TEST 023 is out now!

Travel through a war-torn wasteland in this sportswear-sponsored suicide mission for the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG.

Art by Zach Hazard Vaupen

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

Cities of Rooms

Whew, things got shaky for a minute there. Just about levelling out, thanks in no small part to some fine folks offering work, so you’ll be seeing some cool new projects before too long. Thanks all.

Not much chance to go out and do fun stuff in July but I did catch a showing of the Cowboy Bebop movie Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I hadn’t seen it not-dubbed before which was interesting, lovely old 35mm print too... you’re lucky this isn’t a film blog. Suffice it to say it’s a worthy accompaniment to the classic series, recommended. (Cowboy Bebop is my touchstone for Mothership. I don’t recall the exact timeline because I definitely saw Alien for the first time that year, but I don’t think I’d seen it when I did The Haunting of Ypsilon 14 - I had seen the homage episode from Bebop though. Anyway.)

In one of my favourite sequences in the movie, we see a montage of Spike doing some on-the-ground detective work around Mars’ Alba City’s Moroccan district. (Ok a little film nerd time - the production team wanted a vibe that set this place apart from their mostly Pan-Asian/European settings in the series, so they visited Morocco and it really shows. Some of the best painted backgrounds in the film here, and that lovely “real”, lived-in vibe that permeates so much of the show. And it’s all set to this, a great 00s-gone-old-school working class country love song, but in-universe! So good.)

Anyway, the next day or whenever I was watching North American urbanism videos on YouTube, which I do sometimes to feel better about my own life, and this popped up. Take what you will from the overall message but the bit about parts of cities being like outdoor rooms with buildings and other features as walls stood out to me. In gaming, granular city maps are often designed this way, but the real world context and application just connected some more dots for me I guess.

So what’s my point? Well like I said I’m hard at work atm, so I don’t have the headspace to come up with new examples for this post, but it got me thinking about laying out a city more like a dungeon. This is nothing new, but I specifically mean a MoSh city as a MoSh style flowchart map. Transit maps like the good old Tube are essentially circuit diagrams after all, and maps as a series of connections rather than a representation of physical space makes sense in a setting where you can just walk anywhere anyway (I have more thoughts on different ways to represent city space but you’ll have to wait for a particular Big Thing).

And if our districts and streets are rooms, and our flowchart lines are transit connections, then we get interesting choices coming up around traversal. Do the players take the subway to the other side of town or walk the whole way, triggering encounters? Does the subway cost money or have its own encounters, and how does that factor into decision-making? Are there places they’ve been told to avoid, and what will they see as they loop around them? If a place they need to get to is only two stops away, why not save on travel and walk, thereby triggering a whole other event in the spaces between? If they can find a way through the front of a building in one area and out the back into another, can they establish new shortcuts and routes themselves? What about transit strikes? (Great transit scene in the movie too btw, more inspiration.)

And that’s as much as I’ve got today. Electric Bastionland encourages you to lay out a Tube-style map, which is worth a look. And I will, as always, recommend Cowboy Bebop. tschuss x

Are you living in the real world?

Tuesday, 4 July 2023

It Came From The Blogosphere… Again!

 Ok don’t get too used to these. But since the second I posted my last roundup of fun blog stuff I’d been reading, I’ve been finding more and more.

Rey and Grey are in the process of getting BREAK!! made, and Rey did a kind of retrospective video on the game’s long development process here. (Speaking of YouTube, I mentioned the Bastionland broadcast in the last blogosphere post, and then in Chris’s very next video he gave the Graverobber’s Guide a shoutout! Which was nice. So if you’re here from there, hi.)

Here’s To Distant Lands talking about Zelda-style NPCs. TOTK has some really top notch NPC writing, and this post seems like a great way to capture some of that energy - with actual, practical tables and stuff.

Bait’s Terrifying Cuisine is getting a fancy new reprint! Here’s creator Giuliano Roverato talking about how it was made. One of the great adventures, imo.

You know I like words, right? Here’s 100 good words from Throne of Salt.

The Alexandrian categorises dungeons by size. What I really like here is the bit about expedition-style play.

Benign Brown Beast has a system for tracking movement through space, and the example catacomb dungeon makes it even more my jam tbh

The Dododecahedron talks about toolbox design. A nice summary of the kind of gameplay I enjoy too!

Someone on Reddit of all places made an rpg using only 3 (or fewer) letter words. May be fun, can you try it?

Skerples works on their new setting by going over some original, obscure Arthurian texts. Very cool

Nate Treme’s budget banh mi recipe 

And that’s it for this time around!

I may be posting a bit less frequently - WEAPONS TEST 023 is due to come out this month, and Twitter dying slowly means that I’m seeing less cool stuff (also less of all the other stuff, which is a plus).

I also got some pretty dire financial news unfortunately, as my income for this month has disappeared overnight. So we’ll have to see how sustainable blogging and game stuff is going forward.

If anyone is in need of any system/adventure writing, or editing/proofreading services, I’d appreciate the work - email me at graverobbersguide(at)gmail(dot)com. You can also buy my stuff here.

Hopefully I’ll be back on my feet and posting here again soon :)

Tuesday, 27 June 2023

Combo Encounters

I’m a big proponent of rolling twice on an encounter table and combining the results. 1d6 goblins plus a wandering knight becomes stumbling across a knight fending off goblins mid-battle, or a lost knight who has convinced the gobbos she is their god and keeps giving you “play along” looks, or whatever.

However! I’m also a big proponent of not making extra work at the table. Work isn’t bad, and games probably aren’t games if there isn’t at least a *little* work somewhere, but at the end of the day we’re here to play. And making stuff up on the spot is work, even if it can be fun, and gets in the way of play.

So instead of getting the GM to come up with what these combos mean at the table, how about writing your encounter tables as a list of combos in the first place? This has the added benefit of starting a lot of your writing for you - coming up with 3 encounters, then combining them in every possible way (1+1, 1+2, 1+3, 2+2, 2+3 and 3+3) basically doubles your initial ideas. You can also show some of the location’s faction interactions of ecology in a more direct and useful way.

This example table is loosely based on the first “stratum” of the megadungeon in Etrian Odyssey V (which I recently dredged up my old 3DS to play again once I saw how much they’re charging for the new Switch remasters). That game has some fun inter-monster interactions in encounters, but with our medium we can of course go further!

1. Acorn-men + Acorn-men. These cheeky little bastards are born when wildfire spirits settle in hollow nuts and fruit pits. Love making noise and mischief. Water douses their spark. When multiple groups gather, they have loud and raucous parties that can start forest fires if left unchecked.

2. Acorn-men + Wild hog. Hogs love eating fallen nuts from the forest floor, and do not seem to care if the nuts come alive and protest. Consuming the wildfire spirits within gives them temporary flame breath.

3. Acorn-men + Flinging vine. The long, green tendrils that hang from boughs here are in fact not vines but a type of parasite. They are blind but react to touch, coiling their sticky bodies around their victims and bashing them against tree trunks or throwing them as far as they can. This causes the acorn-men to explode.

4. Wild hog + Wild hog. A breeding pair, the larger stronger female holding back unless threatened, the smaller, aggressive male picking fights with anything that enters their territory. As they need to bulk up to feed and defend the coming offspring, they are easily distracted by food and will go for the simplest target.

5. Wild hog + flinging vine. Smaller hogs are easily flung aside and know to stay away. The largest seem to enjoy the tug of war and sometimes even pull the parasites down from their perches. The disconnected vine then flails wildly like a whip, sticking fast to the hog until it dies.

6. Flinging vine + Flinging vine. When two or more vines get tangled, they unintentionally create a deadly trap. Touching the knotted vines causes them all to pull and attempt flinging at once, which can bring down the trees they are attached to and crush their would-be prey.

Friday, 16 June 2023

1d6 Fun Crimes

 I love character creation in Graverobbers. It can take less than a minute, it’s thematically relevant and you can die. That being said what’s out right now is still the Bare Bones, and I’ve had all sorts of ideas rattling around for how to flesh them out, add more (optional) steps to chargen.

The issue is the same one that always occurs when adding rules, especially to minimalist stuff, which is whether the added steps of mechanical complexity justify their effects. I’m a harsh judge of this stuff, and none of my previous concepts panned out. I wanted something like MoSh’s d100 patches or trinkets, elegant and dense with flavour, but more specific. Also something tuned as much towards straight up gameability as character - like Bastionland’s failed careers (check last post for a great video on these)

Anyway, long story long, this week I cracked it. The way the Pocket Guide is shaping up so far there’ll be a little space, so right now the plan is to fill it with d66 Minor Offences. These are extra crimes to accuse your characters of during creation. Nothing as involved or career-criminal as the main Crimes, but still actual things from London’s irl history.

They’re mainly about selling, stealing, swindling or causing some kind of public nuisance. Each comes with one item, and I’m already having way too much fun rolling up little weirdos and seeing how these juxtapose with the other facets on the sheet. And just seeing them all in a list gives me the clearest image I’ve had of this city of criminals. Can’t wait to share.

While I tinker with these and get them to play testing, there are exactly 6 in the list that my word processor is putting that squiggly red line underneath that says they’re not real words. They are, just obsolete - so I thought I’d do a little dive on each one and its real history!

Cogger. Just an old word for a dice cheat, cog meaning “trick” but generally around games of dice. Nothing that fun around this one but it’s a nice word, and the item you get with it (pair of dice, 4d) makes it self-explanatory. As I’ve said before, any time i use a weird old word or esoteric reference it should be clear from context or eminently googleable

Maltooler. So as it turns out Victorian London had a lot of specific words for pickpockets and petty thieves, dependent on what one was stealing and how. An old version of this list had more of them but I whittled it down to the best ones. A Maltooler used specialist tools to pickpocket as opposed to doing it by hand, things like little knives to cut purses or even tiny mechanical grabber claws. my version starts with a magnet which is fun

Overmourner. The only one that’s not a word - overmourn is, and means what you think. But did you know it’s illegal in England to linger at a grave after a funeral? I could find records from as recently as 2015 of someone getting the rozzers called on them and incurring a fine for lingering too long at a loved one’s graveside. This fucking country man

Pudding-snammer. One of the highly specific thief terms. These were people who grabbed stuff off you as you were exiting, say, a bakery. I enjoy that these say as much or as little as you want about a character - remembering that these are alleged crimes. Maybe you bought that apple turnover fair and square, who’s to say.

Tregetour. Someone who does tricks and magic, often a juggler which is the usage I’m going for here. A lot of these petty crimes are victimless, just people going about their day or trying to earn a living, but the idea is that players get more of an insight into the anti-canon and what exactly the House considers worthy of legal retribution.

Whipjack. And finally… a couple on the list are terms for specific varieties of scam artist. A whipjack is someone who pretended to be a sailor, out of luck and stranded due to a shipwreck or some such. Like this one guy who for years used to push his motorbike up and down a street near me, stop cars and ask for petrol money. Wonder where he is now. Probably not far, he’s got no petrol.

The final list will have 30 more of these, and you’ll find it in the Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe or some supplementary material thereof. Get it now while it’s cheap!

Tuesday, 13 June 2023

It Came From The Blogosphere: The Return

 I used to do this more often, sorry! Blog posts I’ve read recently that I liked. Just so happens that a bunch of really good ones have come along in relatively short succession, hence:

Zedeck just posted about how Tone Is Bullshit and I concur! I’ve had questions of tone rattling around in my head lately as I create more Graverobbers stuff, but those always go out the window when it comes to actually writing or playing. Of course art can be funny and scary and sad. That’s life!

(“But you write for a horror rpg” yes and there is always a cat on the spaceship or an NPC called Kevin Tremendous. Also MoSh doesn’t attempt to scare its players, just their characters, but that’s a discussion for another time sooooooo)

I always enjoy Marcia’s very thorough yet accessible looks at old D&D from a modern context, and this overview of Collapsed Tiers of Play is no different! It’s neat to see how old assumptions in the rules have turned into something more… approachable? through play over time. And I love the whole dungeon/town loop, so good food for thought in this one.

I bounce off “proper, academic” texts like criminal charges off a cop, so it’s a testament to Enziramire’s writing that I was so engrossed by An Empty Africa, a look into Pathfinder’s attempt to do an African fantasy setting. Well argued and researched, and while it’s not something I can speak to directly it helps me think about how I use “real places” when designing game worlds.

Speaking of - one last blog, non-gaming this time! The London Dead is, if you’ve read any of my Graverobbers stuff, clearly going to be a perfect source of inspiration from the name alone. I appreciate David’s insights and stories into how we treat our dead and death in general. (I’m glad the first I learned of the Hardy Tree’s falling was in the recent post about it’s possible regrowth!)

Side note - Chris “Bastionland” McDowall does great live streams over on his YouTube channel, reading through and playing games, giving thoughts and insight. Check out his recent flip-through of BREAK!!, and tune in tonight where he’ll be going through Electric Bastionland’s failed careers - definitely worth a watch!

That’s it for now! Happy reading x

Thursday, 8 June 2023

Building Smocklehythe - Slang & Sundries

The thievery was boasted about and romanticized until it seemed a kind of heroism. It did not have any taint of criminality and the whole of the south coast had pockets vying with one another over whose smugglers were the darkest or most daring.” - Paul Theroux

Work continues apace on A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe, the upcoming starter set for GRAVEROBBERS, my ttrpg system for adventure games of stealth & sedition. A reminder that you can buy in now and get the Bare Bones, then get all the rest of it for free when it’s finished and goes up to full price. Click here!

The final version changes shape as it grows. What was going to be two adventure sites is now one, the Smocklehythe Sewers: a fun little dungeon of foul tunnels players will have to smuggle items through - and can delve into for tosh. (I’m expanding the other site, the Old Graving Dock into its own thing and planning to release it alongside the final Guide, so if anything Smocklehythe is expanding rather than shrinking.)

While I was able to fit both in the tiny format I’m allowing myself for the guide (13 sides of A6!), it felt almost too minimalist, even for me. I’m so used to whittling down and distilling things into pamphlets and one-shots that it feels nice to loosen the belt a little tbh!

Also leaving the core Guide are all the little gubbins I wanted to add on, “flavour” stuff like the recipes and in-game card game. I’m being as ruthless as I can with only including the essentials in the Pocket Guide itself (going as far as having practically 0 NPCs because the game technically doesn’t need them), and as much as I love that kind of fluff it isn’t 100% necessary to gameplay (the fishing minigame is staying, dw. That’s essential). I want to collect it all and release it alongside instead, like the Old Graving Dock adventure. Maybe as a handout.

One thing I’m thinking of putting in there is a guide to rhyming slang. I had the pleasure of seeing the new Spider-Verse last week, and while there’s a million things to gush over in that movie, how they realised Spider Punk honestly meant a lot to me. It’s not usual to see working class Londoners celebrated like that, the way we talk especially. Daniel Kaluuya absolutely killed it. BIG STEPPAAAAA

Anyway, there’s a visual side gag in that movie “translating” some of Hobie’s rhyming slang, which sort of connected some dots in my brain that had been floating about for a while. I’m at an advantage in running Graverobbers, being from the part of the world its world is based on. I can pull out authentic accents, reference places, etc fairly easily. Packaging that up so that any Dealer running the game can do the same is impossible, and the only way I’d thought to come close would be through huge, boring lore dumps - pretty much the antithesis of how I make games.

So while I’d have loved to include a guide to fictional Lanton slang on that “fluff” handout, it didn’t seem doable. It also feels disingenuous - slang is natural speech that evolves through group communication, not a code you learn from a book. The best Smocklehythe slang would always be what each table comes up with. So I can’t prescribe anything anyway, really. But! If we present it as a game…

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this sooner tbh - just use actual Cockney rhyming slang. (A perfect fit. It’s literal thieves’ cant, just like how toshing is literal dungeon delving. See? I know what I’m doing) The twist is to not pre-list any terms and make it an exercise in lore-learning, but to give players the mechanics necessary to generate their own at the table (if they want to, obviously this is all optional funsies). And for that I’m literally just going to lay out the actual mechanics by which rhyming slang is devised.

Which, if you’re unfamiliar: take the word you want to say, substitute a rhyming phrase, then (usually) leave out the end (the bit that rhymes). Now each group can take that formula and do what they want with it. I’m guessing mostly making jokes, but for the one or two groups where something sticks, it’ll be a proprietary and completely unique part of their game’s world. (And idc about people doing it wrong or embarrassing themselves with dodgy accents, because I don’t have to play at their tables lol. As long as they’re having fun!)

Anyway, I think that’s most of it. Other than that I’m just scouring local history for more fun bits to put into the dungeons! No spoilers, but I did just come up with something based on playwright Christopher Marlowe. Specifically how he was murdered in a Deptford pub (probs by the queen’s assassins) and buried in an unmarked grave at the nearby medieval-era church of St Nicholas - the skull-and-crossbones gateposts of which (pictured below), according to legend, inspired Captain Morgan (yes, that one) to invent the Jolly Roger. I love this shit man

Don’t forget to check out Graverobbers here! More soon x

Friday, 26 May 2023

Modular Ecology

Been playing that Zelda game everyone’s on about, and rereading Dungeon Meshi (trailer just came out for the tv version!) and thinking about the way they do ecology, and started folding those thoughts into a Graverobbers thing I’m working on (not the current thing, the next thing).

What I’ve landed on is a hopefully practical approach to including gameable ecology in adventure games. I think crafting systems that ape video games can very quickly fall into tedium, and abstracted versions don’t really jive with the strict inventory-based playstyle I’m aiming for.

The long and short of it is defining materials by location. Zelda, for instance, has plants that grow in hot/cold places only, but also ones that grow in, say, quiet places, which I think is a very nice bit of magical thinking. Dungeon Meshi defines all its dungeon inhabitants in relation to one another in a more complex system suited to its medium, but I’m drawing inspiration from that overall vibe too.

So, for example, in the full version of A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe, I introduce “coffin rot”, a black fungus which grows “only on an unloved grave”. Or, we might say that the flower “mourner’s tears” requires the opposite - the grave of someone dearly missed, plus plenty of water and not too much warmth or light.

The big advantage of this as I see it is its modularity - I can define the prerequisites for a plant’s growth within a single section of a book, then not have to bring it up again elsewhere. We know that trolrushes grow only by slow rivers and under bridges, so we can assume that every bridge over a slow river mentioned in this book is a good place to find them. In this way the players and GMs who want to bring this up, focus on it, or use the information practically can do so, without sacrificing the flow or efficiency of the text.

The bigger picture then is that this extends to other modules, past and present. Graverobbers assumes all its adventures take place within one city, so if players encounter a bridge over a slow river in another adventure - one I wrote years ago without thinking, or later on without wanting to reference an otherwise unrelated text - the ecology systems from the other module can be easily incorporated.

That’s the ultimate aim of course, to use this to introduce practical, gameable elements to the play space. The important thing about coffin rot, as your players will find when the full Smocklehythe drops, is that it can be distilled into an ink that makes magical tattoos. Lore only matters when it matters right now.

So, mourner’s tears attract a particular butterfly which lays its eggs among the mauve flowers and abandons them when they hatch. The caterpillars protect themselves by secreting a substance which attracts ants - the line of ants bringing food back to a grave grown with mourner’s tears to feed the hungry caterpillars they farm is often called a worker’s wake, and it’s considered bad luck to step over one.

There will also be an NPC in the module who can use mourner’s tears to brew a particular potion. So now players have a choice of leaving the plant and harvesting the substance to attract ants - for whatever reason - or picking the flowers and using them for something else.

This aligns with the way I tend to prefer to do magic in adventure games, as a series of truths about the world. In much the same way that players already know they can use fire to cast light, burn things, warm things up, melt them etc, they can also learn that, for instance, moonlight reveals all magical illusions.

The player’s arsenal of tools expands in more interesting ways when magical effects are constants within the game’s reality, that can be exploited like any other in-game truth. (This is the kind of thinking that Zelda players and Dungeon Meshi’s characters use to great effect. See this recent prismatic wasteland post for more on Zelda and ttrpgs.)

So, by defining in-game ecology as

- a series of facts, truths about the world

- concerning the locations of in-game items with useful effects

- allowing for use across otherwise disparate adventures within the same fictional space

I’m hoping to create a system that’s easy to reference (or ignore as players see fit), useful and fun to engage with, and allows for easy modularity between different adventures (or indeed, sections of the same adventure)

Idk thought that might be useful to someone! Ok, back to work ✌️

Monday, 22 May 2023

The Crimes of Smocklehythe

A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe is out now (see last post) and I felt like going over some of the inspiration behind the 6 new Crimes in the game.

A bit of class design, a bit of history (like I did in this tweet thread going over the real history of a GRAVEROBBERS pamphlet adventure). Part of me is very David Lynch “the film is the talking” about stuff like design influences but part of me is a huge nerd with a big loud mouth sooooo

All of these are real crimes from real London’s past or present. With the original 6 classes in the Bare Bones, I wanted to allow for a lot of wiggle room as to whether a character actually committed a crime, make people think just a bit about what constitutes a crime, etc. These are a little more direct but hopefully still have some of that vibe

Btw while I’m at it “Smocklehythe” comes from the root word for “smuggle” and the -hythe suffix seen in various South London place names (Rotherhithe, the -eth in Lambeth) referring to a place where things were brought in by river. Rotherhithe: cattle, Lambeth: sheep, Smocklehythe: contraband.

Art by Jon Bliss

Firebrand. A fun word for “protestor” essentially, or “organiser”. Very fitting for Graverobbers’ setting, I’ve been wanting to do one of these for a while. All their starting items are real things used locally in non-violent protest throughout history, but also classic dungeon-y adventure game items. As a class they’re great for causing trouble

Also I’m aware people (especially outside the UK) might not know what a toffee hammer is, but it’s easy enough to figure out, plus you can just google it. I try to explain things I made up fairly thoroughly, so if something seems obscure chances are it’s from real life and you can just look it up.

Gaolbreak. Hey. How do you think gaol is pronounced? Yeah, I thought so too. Turns out we’re both wrong, it’s literally just an obsolete spelling of “jail”. Anyway I don’t think I need to explain that escaping prison was illegal throughout London’s history. Still is, far as I’m aware. I’m not certain. Never been caught.

This fills the same space as the Burglar in the classic Bare Bones, it’s the rogue archetype. I enjoy the thought of these tools meant for escape being used for a little b&e.

Mooncusser. real word! Real thing, real crime. Mooncusser is actually, gasp, an American term, but the English version, “wrecking” is a huge part of national criminal history. Wreckers were smugglers who supposedly deliberately wrecked ships, chiefly up and down England’s south coasts.

Smuggling is like a whole legendary folkloric concept here. It’s like the whole Robin Hood thing. Visit any seaside town, especially in the south west, and there’ll be a plaque or museum or guided tour about its smuggling history. I don’t sing the praises of much English culture but I do enjoy our predilection towards folk heroes being lower class folk “getting away with it”.

Also shrub is like a tangy citrus liqueur, later replaced with vinegar. Smuggled rum was often left hidden underwater, and adding a dash of shrub helped dilute the flavour of the seawater that’d seeped in. Ah and as far as class design, these guys are pretty much archetypal Graverobbers characters, primed for mischief

Nighthawker. The British term for metal detectorists who illegally steal the treasure they find. Very classic adventure game dungeon stuff. A good place to add in the only magic item, something practical and thematic that I’m sure has all sorts of nefarious uses. A touchstone is a real thing used to test for metals, but I like my magic version better.

This class is kinda the “finding and getting” class, which also extends to the Black Market as they’ve got decent average starting money plus a whole coin they can pawn.

Resurrectionist. Real thing, probably something most people have heard of. Surgeons on the cutting edge, if you will, of modern medicine wanted cadavers to experiment on and showcase in lecture halls. They had money and weren’t fussy about where the bodies came from. Resurrectionists were, wait for it, graverobbers. Burke and Hare are probably the most famous example and worth reading up on (there was a film, it’s not good), but this was a HUGE cottage industry for a long time.

The clothing is because they’d often disguise themselves as mourners to get access to graveyards. The wooden spade is because they make less noise! As a class these are kind of a variant nighthawker, there’s a decent amount of shared “archetypal Graverobbers” vibe between a lot of these which i felt was appropriate for a starter set.

Witch. Probably the one I need to explain least? So much stuff written about witch hunts and witch trials in England, and there’ll be a lot more of it to come in Graverobbers. This class is ideal for causing a bit of chaos. Start with no money but also the most expensive starting item so still p versatile. (Of course in an inventory-based system any character can redesign their whole deal fairly easily, but I like to think there’s something to the flavour of starting with a name and set of items like these)

You might think this’d be the class with the magic item, but I decided to go with what the witch hunt victims actually often were - women with above average knowledge of botany and medicine. Even at the time, most folk didn’t necessarily believe in witches, and there was growing awareness that this whole thing was just about oppression.

Oh, and a besom is a broom, that specific type of witchy broom with the sticks bundled around a central handle. There are a records of “witches” coating broom handles in psychoactive substances and using them as sex toys. Hence “riding a broom”, according to some theorists.

And that’s all of them! Check out the new rules here and roll up some characters, see what crimes you end up accused of! If you survive character creation.

Friday, 19 May 2023

A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe - Early Access

 By the twitching of my thumbs…

Art by Jon Bliss

Announcing A Pocket Guide to Smocklehythe, now in early access!

Available to download right here.

Currently, this is the newest version of the Bare Bones of GRAVEROBBERS, my system for adventure games of stealth and sedition, featuring:

- updated rules (very minor changes)

- six brand new Crimes (the Firebrand, Gaolbreak, Mooncusser, Nighthawker, Resurrectionist and Witch)

- new items and Black Market prices (from toffee hammers to hallucinogenic treacle)

- gorgeous illustrations throughout (by Jon Bliss, who I’ve worked with before on GoGoGolf! and Journeylands)

- new layout (still fits on two sides of A4 though!)

- landscape and portrait versions for easy use on screens or to print at home

Eventually, the Pocket Guide will expand to include:

- new Black Market vendors and a rumour table

- two micro adventure locations

- additional rules for carousing and character growth

- a fishing minigame

- an in-game card game

And as much as I can squeeze in there tbh.

If you buy now, you’ll get the full version free when it updates. I’ll probably hike up the price when that happens, so get on it now! Or, the free version of the Bare Bones is still up on my shop and always will be.

Graverobbers is the game I’ve been working on pretty much since I started this blog, and I’m so excited to be putting together an actual starter kit with adventures and setting all rolled in together.

I know that most of what I make is fairly small, but that’s because I’ve been reducing this game down to its barest essence over and over, playtesting and tweaking for half a decade now. This isn’t minimalism, it’s triple-distilled London dry adventure gaming. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever made, and I’m so excited to give you the chance to play.

If you like what I do here, please consider checking it out and showing your support! Cheers x

Wednesday, 10 May 2023


 BRECKHELYGAN 0.4 is live!

This update adds the first chapter of the story, with new encounters, items and an exploration system.

Download for free here.

Thursday, 20 April 2023

Wandering Star Supply Store

Wandering Star Supply Store

Purveyors of Fine Goods & Sundries / Duty-Free

Odai Starport West / 0-567-75

Complimentary Souvenir Patch with Every Purchase over 10cr


Incense, 1cr / Bootlaces, 1cr / Munsen’s Tinned Victuals, 1cr / Munsen’s Protein Jerky, 1cr / GooChew bubblegum, 1cr / Novelty switchblade comb, 2cr / Lucky Star cigarettes, 2cr / Gorilla Red cigarettes, 2cr / Gorilla Jr cigarettes, 2cr / Synthskin wax, 2cr / Souvenir playing cards, 2cr / Souvenir mug, 2cr / Sheriff Starr audio drama cassette, 5cr / Harvest Moons non-synthetic coffee beans, 5cr  / Soap, 10cr / Anti-glare pilot’s shades, 10cr / Souvenir lighter, 15cr / Souvenir logo hat, 15cr / Dunston’s brand vintage leather pilot’s jacket, 1AP, 20cr / Junkfisher’s overalls, 1AP, 20cr / Frontier Co. single-use Campfire-in-a-Can, 25cr / ForgeRite skillet engine attachment, 30cr / Frontier Co. climbing rope and piton, 30cr / Electromagnetic crampons, 50cr / Straight razor, 1d10dmg, 50cr / Leather saddle bag, 50cr / Shotgun shells 50cr / Frontier Co. single-use Tent-in-a-Can, 50cr / Electronic fishing game, 65cr / Electronic bagatelle game, 65cr / Freeze-dried steak, 100cr

Monday, 17 April 2023

Mudhar’s Whimsies

 Mudhar’s Whimsies was once a small but stable independent manufacturer of novelty items, operating from a union-controlled satellite in the mid-rim. Their prank items were quickly added to a nearby marine chapter’s long list of contraband, which ensured their proliferation throughout the lower ranks.

This Streisand Effect (so named after a Mother Earth philosopher) was exacerbated when the company’s products were banned as flight risks by the Qilin Gate Company, following an incident involving an android pilot, a whoopee cushion and a shipment of imitation peanut butter.

Mrs Mudhar now enjoys a proliferation of trade across the outer rim. Some of the manufacturer’s most popular offerings include:

1. Exploding cigarettes. Sold in packaging closely resembling the popular brands Gorilla and Lucky Star, despite the copyright holders’ protestations. A single cigarette is a loud firecracker, while a 10-pack lit at once is similar in effect to a flashbang grenade.

2. The Super Pellet Popper (formerly Super Pellet Gun, renamed to comply with union trade regulation). Fires proprietary pellets in 5 harmless but nonetheless effective varieties: Sticky!, Spicy!, Slippery!, Smoky! and Sparky!. The latter is often hard to come by, as anarchist sects favour it for its utility in shutting down simple electronics.

3. Mudhar’s Fantastical Enjoyment Buzzer. An evolution of an ancient design, concealed in the palm and emitting a vibration similar in sensation to a mild electric shock when pressed against a surface, eg during a handshake. Popular for its presumably unintended utility as both a sex toy and a means of identifying disguised androids, who are unable to react to the buzz in an appropriately human manner.

4. Holochete. A fake boarding knife that can be used to feign injury.

5. Mudhar’s Abominable Itching Powder. Notoriously irritating and difficult to clean. The chemical reaction with human or synthetic skin won’t occur in cold temperatures, leading to the classic boot camp prank of lining a cryochamber or vaccsuit with the powder so that it transfers to the victim while in use, and waiting for the effect to start once they return to a temp-reg zone.

(also BREAK!! is live on KS baybeeeeeeeeee)

Wednesday, 12 April 2023

Hush My Darling (a Mothership adventure)

 1.     Camp.

Last known whereabouts of Dr Mason and her android companion Faraday. Bivouac dome, ration packets, half pack of Lucky Star cigarettes.

Nearby, a mound of earth and stone opens into a dark, yawning cave. Atop the hill a gang of male raptors have nested birdlike around the top of the shaft, occasionally rising on warm updrafts from the opening. They are docile unless approached, with the largest taking charge and squabbling over food. [C: 60 Toothy beak 1d5; I:30; W:2(10)]

2.     Cave. Hung with stalactites, echoing drips in the dark. The stone floor slopes into a wide, shallow pool. Laying in the water is the body of Faraday, synthskin riddled with tiny holes, reaching back to the entrance and the camp with a face frozen in pain. Faraday carries a knife, flare gun and radio transmitter. No signal underground.

The pool is home to a swarm of leeches which bite and drain the fluids of any prey that disturbs the water, Body save vs 1 Wound per round while at least partially submerged.

Across the water the natural rock wall gives way to a green panel, smooth plastic-like stone. This alien tech opens like shrivelling skin with the application of both liquid water and light pressure such as when submerged, exposed to rain, or with a soft push from a wet hand.

A drip from a stalactite above causes this panel to partially open and close in steady sequence, releasing bursts of warm air from the shaft beyond.

3.     Shaft. Vertical, unnaturally smooth cylinder set deep into the ground, pumping warm air up to the top of the hill by the camp. A green panel in the wall partway up connects to the cave.

At the bottom, an alien engine thrums low, venting its heat straight up. Black tubes, cold to the touch, run from the engine along the walls and down into the tunnel.

4.     Tunnel. Narrow, dark, cold. The walls are thick with black pipes and frosted over, moisture permeating from above. Any water quickly becomes solid ice if exposed to the air here.

Partway down the tunnel, Dr Mason is crouched by a tube in the wall, knife in hand, corpse frozen solid by the icy air from the hole she’d made. In her lab coat are tools for xenobiological sample collection and a cheap plastic lighter.

The tunnel runs deep underground from the engine at the bottom of the shaft to a green panel at the other end which serves as the door to the chamber.

5.     Chamber. Spherical hollow, kept chill. A large, humanoid figure with smooth, amphibian skin rests in cryosleep on an altar.

While kept cold, it sleeps. If awakened before its time, the alien attacks in confusion and rage. [C:80 Unnatural strength 2d5; I:85; W:5(20)]

PacyGen Soft Drinks and Pharmaceuticals have a bounty on undiscovered life forms on the planet. While Dr Mason and her team have already registered most native fauna, evidence of intelligent life could be worth up to 1mcr.

Friday, 24 March 2023


it’s been about a year since the past update on ONSLAUGHT, my solo souls-like game. Since then, WotC has announced a D&D product called Onslaught - tbh I never really liked the name anyway, so maybe i was just looking for an excuse. Anyway


A Perilous Quest in a Playable Book

You are a knight in a post-Arthurian wilderness, wandering its ruins and claiming the souls of knights who vainly cling to life in a world that no longer has use for them.

I’ve updated the free playtest prologue, which you can get here. Just some minor tweaks. Currently at work playtesting and balancing Chapter One, which is about twice as long and so needs a bit of attention.

In the meantime, I’ve also been tinkering with a stripped-down version of the system in a different setting, just as something that requires less work that I can play for fun and experiment through, and it’s turned into a fun little minigame of its own. It’s called DEMON WATCH and you’ll be hearing about it here soon. The full BRECKHELYGAN will be a bigger, longer, slower thing, but hopefully I’ll have more on that soon too.

Ok! Back to work on WEAPONS TEST 023. Cheers! x

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

WEAPONS TEST 023 is live!

For zine month this year (which it still is, just barely) I’m making my first ever physical zine! 😬

Do battle with experimental weaponry, cyborg streamers and a Whole-Ass Mech in this sportswear-sponsored suicide mission for the Mothership RPG.

Live now on Kickstarter! Click here to support x

Sunday, 5 February 2023

How To Make A Mothership Pamphlet

 A pamphlet adventure is essentially 2 pages of GM notes. If you’ve found your way here, you already have all the skills needed to make one yourself.

As with anything, we start with an idea. Ideas are cheap and easy. Use your best one, they’re not worth hanging on to and you’ll have a better one before you’re done.

Because I have game design brain, my idea is for a random table. Yours might be more abstract but that’s ok, just represent it through a table entry or room description or blurb, something you’d read in an adventure. The writing doesn’t have to be good, we’re just getting words on the page, you can change it later.

I had the image of players frantically searching through trash, so I’m going to write a table of trash. I reckon they should be able to find something useful, so what’s something people would throw away that might be useful?

This is Mothership so there’s probably a monster, so the item we’re looking for is something the monster is weak to. Let’s say this monster has a great sense of smell, it’s a hunter type beast thing. So the trash smells really bad - now it’s something the players can use as a weapon, but that would realistically be here.

Let’s put something generically smelly on the table, plus something like… weapons-grade smelly.

1. Moulded old fish guts.

2. Hot sauce bottle, unopened.

“Unopened” will make players more likely to hang onto it even if they don’t know why they might want to yet.

That’s 2 entries, we’ll go for 5 or 10 because MoSh uses d10s, probably 10 to convey variety. No need to come up with them all now, move on to something more exciting.


Let’s think about this monster. All we know is that there’s trash nearby and it can smell well. Also it’s normal everyday rubbish, food waste and stuff. So our location is a restaurant or an apartment complex or something.

Pick somewhere small and contained, the unity of place is good for both horror and game design, plus you don’t have much space as far as wordcount. A good word count for a pamphlet is like 1000 words. 800 if you have a map and lots of pictures, never more than 1200 or so. Just not enough space.

Let’s say this trash is in the skip outside an apartment building. Why is the monster here? Idk I’m thinking it’s basically a werewolf type thing. That’s what I think of when I think of good sense of smell + monster. Don’t have to decide what exactly it is yet, or indeed ever. It’s “the monster”.

The players have tracked it to its nest. Maybe it’s out hunting and there’s a time limit to investigate and set up an ambush before it gets back. That’s pretty good! Good enough, at least. Good enough is better than perfect because it’s achievable.

This might be a good time to check over the advice in the Warden’s Operations Manual, things like the TOMBS system are great for outlining these kinds of details. I’m just gonna rawdog it tho lmao


So, we have a bit of a random trash table, a setting and a monster, and kind of a mission. Let’s outline the rest of our location and see if things come together.

5 or 10 distinct locations is a good shout because then we can roll for one if needed later, plus it’s not too much for our word count. Start with 5 and expand if we think of more good ones. If you have between 5 and 10, don’t stretch to think of the last few, just cut the worst ones.

1. Alley. Round the side of the building. There’s a big communal refuse bin, nearly overflowing, faded recycling warnings.

Then the table goes there. It’s not a great description, I’d probably go back and add details about the smells, the sounds, the lighting.

Also I’d probably add something interesting that would make players want to look here because they might not care about a dumpster otherwise. A suspicious rustling noise from inside would be good - turns out it’s just a fox.

Anyway i can note that now and come back to edit later, we need more words on the page first. More locations for a start.

Let’s make the ground floor of this building a shop, that differentiates our locations a bit. Go for variety, if two rooms are too similar just merge them. Unless you’re separating locations to establish exploration, put secrets somewhere else or something. Idk I’m not a cop

2. Store.

I can’t think of what the store is so i just note this for now. Go for something that’d be full of potentially useful items. Maybe a cafe, kitchens are a great source of danger and utility, you got hot and sharp and heavy and everything, water, fire, food to distract the monster etc.

Anyway we’ll name our other locations before working out the details.

3. Stairwell.

A side entrance for people who live here to get up to the apartments without going into the cafe. Around this time I feel the need to get a mental map of where shit is so I’ll sketch a flowchart.

Can always change this later, make the apartments connect to the alley if you can jump out the window for instance. If you don’t have the ability or budget to put things like maps on your pamphlet just make sure you describe what each space connects to as part of the rooms descriptions.

Btw we like to divide places into rooms or hexes or whatever because they’re good little individual spaces for players to focus on in the present, then file away for later when they move to the next one. More complex mental geography like how these spaces all interconnect is best learned over time as they play rather than a big dump of description.

Anyway I did locations 4 and 5 like they’re the two apartments. If I can’t think of two separate rooms for those that are interesting enough to deserve being 2 locations I’ll probably change 5 to be the rooftop or something else.

For now we need to work out why the stairwell is interesting, I know why it’s there from a layout perspective as it handily connects things up and would logically be there if this were a real place, but idk why anyone should care as far as gameplay.

If I can’t think of anything I’d just fold the stairwell description into another location, like 4 could be “apartment plus hallway”. But I think a decent use of this space would be building dread and maybe dropping clues. Like claw marks on the walls, but less shit than that.

I can’t think of anything right now but I’m sure I will at some point, so I make a note and move on.


The apartment, whether it’s location 4 or 5, is where the monster lives so is a key location for our concept. Maybe it’s normal on the surface but shit’s weird once you take a closer look, or maybe it’s more horrifying to have a normal flat in a normal building be this fucked up beast lair. Go with your gut about what would be better in a horror context, you can only really scare yourself.

4. Nest. Darkness, no power to the lights. Stench of musk and piss. Fixtures ripped out, clothes scattered and piled up, human bones strewn about and riddled with teeth marks.

That’s good enough for now. I’ll put more info and some fun interactive items or elements once I’ve decided more about the monster.

5 I’m not certain about yet. If it’s another apartment I’d swap its location with 4, so the players pass the more normal location first, maybe a neighbour turned victim or someone who’s locked themselves in their place because they know who lives upstairs (and has found a way to deter them? Decent idea).

Anyway, at this point I have a decent idea of what’s in each location, and a decent premise of why the players are there - set a trap while the monster is out. I’d set a time limit for this one, the monster returns in 1 hour or whatever, maybe add a system for tracking it into the adventure because I don’t know that MoSh really tracks time like that.

And that’s basically it, we have the skeleton of our adventure done. Everything else is just filling in blanks, going over bad writing and redoing it until it’s playable. Things like statblocks can come last, just copy one that’s basically as strong as you want your guy to be and change the details.

We’ll probably get close to 800 words just filling in each of these locations with a table and paragraph or two, but if there’s still space it’ll be time to think of something else to add. Maybe more items in the shop or something. Nothing just to fill space though, it has to be good in its own right. If you have space and don’t know what goes there, just leave it for a while. Come back once you’ve watched a movie or gone for a walk or something.

Anyway, that’s one way to do it. Reckon you could pull that off.

Then just lay it out across two pages, 3 columns each, on some free software. Add a royalty free cover image, maybe look up a fun font. Then email TKG to submit if for a 3rd party publishing license, info’s probably on the discord or somewhere like that. Upload to itch or somewhere. Now you’re as much of a professional as any of us!

Or just keep it for yourself and have fun in your home game.

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with x

Wednesday, 18 January 2023



Art by Zach Hazard Vaupen
ADSPACE is a 3-pamphlet miniseries for the Mothership RPG

Take part in a deadly live-streamed obstacle course, explore the local shanty town beneath a mutagenic rain, and try to make it to the moon in time for civil war.

Available now.

Friday, 13 January 2023


 I’m still here and I’m about to make it everybody’s problem

Coming this year:

Mothership: ADSPACE is still on track to be out this month. Next month it’s zinequest/zimo and I’m hoping to have something ready that’s been cooking for a very long time, excited to show you. This is kind of a huge step for me so fingers crossed it goes ok.

In March 1E should be out or imminent and you’ll be able to get your hands on Another Bug Hunt, which I’m very proud of. Beyond that… idk fam I’ve been living month to month my whole adult life, April is a big stretch for me. But yes, more MoSh

Graverobbers: I’m itching to get to the next step in G’robs, a complete starter package. Rules, adventure, tools, extras. Already playtesting and it’s gonna be good

Other projects: Look, I gotta eat so stuff that pays takes priority. But I haven’t forgotten about the likes of DEADLINE and ONSLAUGHT, I have plans for those! Hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more this year.

This blog: I post when I feel I’ve got something worth posting! I’m doing dungeon23, google it if you don’t know what’s up, so maybe I’ll at least post some of that at some point. When I write stuff for home games that’s not also going on sale you’ll get that too lol

Not to be dramatic, but this year is a big one. Based on how things go, what jobs come my way, whether i can pull crowdfunds off etc, I’m going to see whether the steady growth I’ve had professionally since starting this thing 5 years ago (!) is going to turn into something I can do for the rest of my life, or a hobby I come back to now and again for beer money. it sucks but I gotta pay rent and think about the practicals!

So, here’s hoping. I’d love to keep making things for you all. Gonna do my best this year.

Let’s all work at changing the little bit of the world that’s right where we each are. See where that gets us

Happy new year xox