About Me

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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Players make their own Villains

I love it when players make their own villains.

One time that comes to mind was a few years ago. The party was fighting a vampiric succubus (I was of course being a jackass GM as all GMs should be) and one of the PCs, a halfling rogue named Rhyla, was taken down. The rest of the party felt overwhelmed and retreated, leaving her behind.

So of course Rhyla became a vampire. Who really hated the party for leaving her behind.

When Parisha (the vampiric succubus) ended up ascending to godhood later on, Rhyla became a divinely ranked vampiric halfling rogue with some pretty nasty habits. Like impersonating random mysterious assassins that liked to kill people the party interacted with. Or just about anything else she could get away with that wouldn't make the other gods crack down on her for overly interfering with humanity.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Another Playtest

Whoa wait remember me?

Yep. I'm a slacker. I have to admit I have been distracted from my tabletop gaming a bit lately thanks to a certain Star Wars MMO that me and BabyBat have been enjoying together. I firmly blame the Hutt Cartel.

But back to work.

This weekend I finally had another playtest for the Phoenix: Monstrarium game I've been working on since before time began (or at least it feels that way).

More good feedback, more good ideas. Even picked up a new player this time. Parts of the system feel very good but there are still parts that don't feel streamlined enough or aren't invoking the feeling I want from the gameplay. Werewolves are close, but... not close enough.

Hey, at least I didn't kickstarter this two years ago like some projects I know that were in even worse places ......

photo credit: Caro Wallis via photopin cc
I certainly respect the experienced game designers like Monte Cook who can pull off a game like Numenēra hitting budget and timelines pretty head on without (perceptibly) breaking a sweat. There really is a clear difference between folks like that and folks like.. well..  some of the other kickstarters a few of us have supported.

One of the things I discovered in the most recent playtest is that I don't like the linear nature of single die throws. Now, to some degree, I've always known this; it's why GURPS uses 3d6, for instance. But I'm missing the probability curves and the benefits it brings, such as more frequently hitting around the character's "average" performance. Swinging back and forth from critical misses to critical hits isn't what I want. I'd prefer if most rolls are normal hits, and then a few are horrible misses or fantastic gutsplatters. That way I can make those gutsplatters really... splattery... or something.

Also, throwing more than one die for something like an attack lets me have a bit more play with things like Defense, where I feel very restricted at the moment in my design.

Also, throwing more than one die is FUN.  See Rule 1.

So it is, that the core mechanic evolves more towards that funny feeling in my head on what it is I'm trying to get out of it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Clockhouse, Level 2

I decided to try and draw a map using Adobe Illustrator. I'm trying to improve my technical skills with that application.

This is the upper level of a house for an adventure I am working on.

Click to Enlarge
I tried to make it feel a bit hand-drawing, and it is still in-progress of course. It will be a long time (if ever) before I can make awesomely-rendered photoshop maps so this seems like a more reasonable goal for me.

Besides, I don't want map-making to take so much time that I can't work on the actual adventure!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Manor: A Diagram

I recently received my copy of Manor #4 and they just keep getting better.

Rather than some sort of boring review (just go buy it already), I decided to make a little diagram to show the history of the Manor. It's a timeline - with, um, the things I thought of first for each issue.

And some line graphs because, well, line graphs are cool.... ish?

Click to Enlarge

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Supernatural Geometry

When is a 10' hut not a 10' hut?

When it measures 30' on the inside.

photo credit: B Rosen via photopin cc

Supernatural Geometry is a fairly common tool used in both fantasy and science fiction - from the Witch's Hut in Pixar's Brave, to the concept of Hyperspace in many space flicks. Few things are as undeniably unreal as the defiance of that which we most natively interpret - length, width, height, and time.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Origin of the Huecuva

Most of us know the huecuva as a fairly low-level undead priest or monk, cursed by the gods which they presumably betrayed and with some sort of disease or another of the four-horseman-styled special attack. I believe they first appeared in the Fiend Folio but I might have missed them in an earlier place.

photo credit: smileham via photopin cc

I recall there being a Dungeon magazine issues with these guys in it that was somewhat amusing, but otherwise they are usually overlooked.

Where did this odd name come from?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Creature: Rougarou

Like this, but with less vandalism.
photo credit: PixLjUicE23 via photopin cc
Many gamers are already familiar with the loup garou, which is basically a werewolf by most standards. The rougarou (pronounced roo ga-roo) is related in form, but not in function. They have the head of a wolf, but the body of a strong human. There is no shapechanging here - this is their one and only form.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Monsters, Assemble!

Played a good game this last weekend. And they even figured out my clock puzzle.

The party consisted of:
  • A werewolf. Rawr.
  • A gremlin tailor.
  • A creepy teddy bear with a soldier complex.

I won't say a whole lot about it, but there was a giant spider, some itty bitty dwarf-gnome things (actually I call them Cretins), some giant stones, a little keep, and some giant wooden trouble.

photo credit: Kaptain Kobold via photopin cc

The gremlin spent much time contemplating what sort of random things she could sew onto the teddy bear. Luckily for the teddy bear, he didn't have to sleep. Because he is a teddy bear. Of DOOM.

There was a long discussion about how well endowed the gremlin's imaginary pet cockroach was, for reasons I cannot even begin to contemplate.

As for the game mechanics that I was trying to test, it went pretty good. The core mechanics seemed to make sense to everyone, and they left plenty of room for player creativity.

I clearly need to tweak some things on the origins (the "races/classes" of the game), but it wasn't as bad as I feared it might be. Need to increase the power of the werewolf as he wasn't badass enough, and maybe bring the Created One (the teddy bear) down just a tad. The gremlin was real fun outside of combat but probably needs to have some consideration for in-combat.

Can't wait to play again!

Friday, July 12, 2013

An Unusual Clock

BabyBat helped me make a prop for my Monstrarium adventure this weekend.

All the circles can be moved, and so can the hands. I can't wait to see if anyone solves it - doing so isn't required for the adventure to continue, but it might offer some assistance.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Axe Pr0n

Watch a real blacksmith make an orcish axe (as inspired by Skyrim)....  then use it to smash things. Including a disturbingly realistic dead body.

Some people have cool hobbies.

Also... Happy 4th of July!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Build a Lights Out Puzzle

Puzzle Time!
photo credit: Toni Blay via photopin cc

In a "Lights Out" puzzle, the goal is to turn everything off, by hitting switches that toggle certain combinations on the board.

For instance, I might encounter a door guarded by laser beams. There are 4 laser beams bouncing around and if they are all turned off, I can make it through the door safely. If even one of them is on, I will get disintegrated. We'll call these lasers 1, 2, 3, and 4.


In front of the laser-guarded door are 5 levers, which we'll call A, B, C, D, and E. Each lever can toggle one or more of the laser beams. So maybe if I hit A, it toggles 1 and 2 (turning them both off):

x x O O (x means off, O means on)

but if I then hit B and it toggles 2 and 3, then 2 gets turned back on while 3 gets turned off:

x O x O

So, the puzzle is to find the right sequence of levers that toggles all of the laser beams into an "off" position.

This is made more fun/crazy/insane/mean if the GM applies a time limit, like a crushing wall moving in from the opposite side of the room.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bunkers and Badasses

I talked a while back about Borderlands 2, which is a pretty fun game. Anyways, they released their new adventure today and it's basically a parody of a fantasy RPG. Except my gunzerker isn't exactly a paladin. Don't get me started on BabyBat's psycho... although her toon wields a badass axe.

Instead of all the post-apocalyptic baddies, this adventure is filled with orcs, dragons, skeletons, golems, and other fantasy tropes. Throughout, Tiny Tina is narrating as the GM (and making plenty of funny mistakes). Like she accidentally kills you, and then brings you back. Which is really 2 mistakes...

If you like RPGs this will be a really fun experience for you. If you don't like RPGs, why are you reading my blog???

I know I haven't posted much lately. That's mostly because I haven't spent much time on RPGs recently. I played in the Solstice chess tournament here in Colorado, so I spent a bunch of time studying my chess prior to that. I won one game and got draws in all the rest, so not much excitement there. At least I didn't lose any games, I guess?

With BabyBat's help I was able to design a few encounters for the adventure I've been stalled on for a while. I'm still hoping to share it, if it's fun enough to play through. It sure has been fun to build.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Our New Familiar

Meet Gidget.

She is a level 1 familiar that grants a +2 bonus on adorable checks. Good thing we multiclassed so we could pick her up.

I've been vacationing and working too hard (though not usually at the same time)... more posts are yet to come!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Castles of Burgundy

I've now played a few games of Castles of Burgundy, some 2-player and some 4-player. Here's what came of it.

Goes good with red wine and a baguette

This is clearly a eurogame (if the big blue Ravensburger logo didn't give it away). As such, there are a few little wooden pieces and lots of worker-placement activities. Overall, players felt that the game was on the higher end of complicated, but once learned, it could be played without many rules lookups - some RPGs could learn from that.

OK, most RPGs.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Nature's Miracle

Nature's Miracle is a magic item designed for Monstrarium, but easily convertable for other systems. Just assume +1s is a +1 in OSR-type games, and +1d is a +4 bonus. That will be close enough.

This weapon was created by an unusual blacksmith, in an adventure I'm working on.

It is a well made axe, with its grip bound in rabbit fur. It smells faintly of urine, and when it damages enemies, they smell like urine, too, for 1d4 hours. This makes them a lot easier to track for characters with any form of scent-based tracking (+1d).

Damage dP; +1s vs Undead; −2s vs Beasts.

photo credit: Carly & Art via photopin cc

Saturday, May 11, 2013

New Dice!

I got new dice!
d7, d14, d16, d18, d22
Of course, I couldn't just get one of each.

d7, d14, d14, d14, d14, d14...
These dice are from the Kickstarter I talked about back in August 2012. So yea, it took a while to get them, but I wasn't surprised by that. Happy to have them now!

One of the first things I noticed about playing with these dice is how easy it is to get confused about which die I'm picking up. It's easy to confuse a d12 with a d14 without a second glance; likewise, d18 and d22 are easy to confuse with a d20.

The d16, which previously existed (though I didn't have them in these numbers), is very easy to tell apart.

The d7 is just crazy and looks like a misprinted die, but I have to say it works real well. I need to come up with some excuse to use it. Maybe it can work with my Mini Manor to cause terror in players, since it just feels so wrong.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Risk: Godstorm

Me & Anonymous engaged in a pickup game of Risk: Godstorm this weekend.

It's way better than Risk 2210. Godstorm feels like a lot more solid thought went into it - but it is still total Ameritrash gaming. You know, the sort of game where the board gets smothered with plastic pieces and careful thought gets you almost nowhere because of huge luck swings.

Not that it's a bad thing to have games like that! It simply lies in opposition to Eurogames, which generally have only a small amount of luck and careful planning is well-rewarded.

The game supports 2-5 players and we suspect it would be a fair bit more fun with at least 3 players, to spread out the nasty effects a little.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Horror in my Mailbox!

I have a confession. I don't check my mailbox very often. In fact, I don't check it at all. BabyBat does.

See, I mostly treat the mailbox like my email spam filter. If I'm expecting something, I'll check it, but otherwise all the spam can sit and rot.

Well festering in that mess, unbeknownst to me, was a frightening Mini Manor!

I can only imagine the righteous madness this inflicted on all the grocery store ads and home refinance offers that were trapped in the same, itty bitty, dark box.

I already love it just for that, but what the heck, let's open it up and see what crawls out.

What can I say, I'm an adventurer at heart.

It starts with a tankard smashing the left side of a skull. Now, I had the same question all of you probably do. Was the attacker left-handed or right-handed?

I won't give away the adventure but suffice it to say, if your fiancé's wedding dress is Lady Bolovo designed, you might want to reconsider your priorities.

More horrifying than the adventure is if you take random encounter #1 and combine it with random encounter #5. Do eels like sausage?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Still Snowing

I live in Colorado.

It's still fucking snowing.

photo credit: blmiers2 via photopin cc

Less than two months from the summer solstice now. I'd like to turn on my grill by then. Maybe drive the car at some speed faster than that one dude on snowshoes passing me in the fast lane.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

SMART for the Bad Guys

Professor Poo strikes again!
photo credit: betta design via photopin cc

When it comes to bad guys, some adventures just fall short.

We've all experienced it. Bad villains might be boring, irrelevant, 2-dimensional, or a variety of other negative buzzwords or anti-patterns.

On the other hand, good villains inspire oppositional heroism.

I've been ... slowly ... working on a new adventure for my Monstrarium game. I wanted to really focus on having a more memorable BBEG, and I started thinking about what makes villains memorable in movies, books, or popular adventures.

I think that good villains have good goals. And by good I mean horrible. And by horrible I mean the kind of thing that practically forces heroes into action.

This doesn't have to be from "depth" of evil - sacrificing children and raping schoolteachers and stuff might be a form of shock-method, but it gets old fast and is little more than a poorly-tasting trick.

Let's take a page from the Holy Book of Business Management and consider the acronym SMART. Yea, that boring thing that comes up once a year (if we're lucky) during annual employment reviews. When properly used, goals motivate employees by providing confidence in future success.

I recognize that isn't how most employee reviews actually go, but let's fantasize for a minute.

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Temporal.

Let's start with an amusing idea for a Monstrarium villain - a Weresnake - and see what happens.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Musicals for Nerds

Today I saw Spamalot. Again.

It's my second time seeing it, and it's still fun. I would love to have seen it with the original cast, but I live pretty far from NYC!

Why can't there be more musicals for people with nerdy hobbies?

"Deep Blue Kasparov" - all the excitement of endless days of Kasparov and a computer playing chess together! Drama mounts when Kasparov thinks the computer is cheating. Who will win??

Songs include Alapin' my Sicilian and Less Slav, more Semi-Slav.

"The Collector" - One man's quest for the 1938 Action Comics #1, and social acceptance from women. He finds neither but eventually finds Action Comics #7, which everyone knows is total crap. A modern tragedy in musical format.

Songs include Why am I alone Again? and Batman would Totally Lose.

"Rubik!" - The shortest musical ever, lasting only about 10.36 seconds. We could only afford that one french dude. Lasts several hours when he's sick and a random audience member takes over.

Songs include Ready, Set, Done! and Intermissions are for Dorks.


OK, maybe I do understand why there aren't more musicals for nerds.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Monstrarium: Creature Types

Creatures in Monstrarium generally fit into one of the following types:
  • Beast
  • Bug
  • Humanoid
  • Monster
  • Undead
  • Unreal
Some mechanics in the game make use of these classifications (such as a Monster Hunter's bonus when dealing with Monsters).

Bug or Monster? Depends on what it says...
photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Monstrarium: Origins

When I decided to focus my theme on playable monsters, I knew that I needed to simplify the Phoenix ruleset. I had already been targeting faster play, but the "attitude" I wanted this endeavor to have required even simpler mechanics.

Origins became a big target for that steamlining. This is a design journal on my approach.

Created Ones
photo credit: Devlin Thompson via photopin cc

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lord British Strikes Again

The latest kickstarter bonanza? Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, is spawning a new game called Shroud of the Avatar. The game is supposed to herald back to the Ultima approach of computer gaming, where there is more story than level grind.

I'm not saying you should go fund this, that's your business. I want to talk about my own experiences with Lord British.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Phoenix: Monstrarium

Ever wanted to play a werewolf? A gremlin? A small wooden boy with a wretched temper?

That's what my latest efforts have been focused on. I have significantly chopped down the Phoenix RPG ruleset and focused on flavor. That flavor is a heady combination of foul cheese and fried monster brains. Pairs nicely with a winter merlot.

Initial playtesting will focus on the first six origins: Created One, Faery, Gremlin, Monster Hunter, Werewolf, and Witch.

Can't wait to see how my players react.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Get Rich Quick!

Need some extra cash for that Sword +3, +5 vs torch-wielding-mobs? Here's a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Trip over an aurumvorax corpse.
  2. Pegasus Whisperer.
  3. Catch a Leprechaun.
  4. Transmute Wood into Steel. On a forest.
  5. Tax the Royal Treasury, on behalf of a "higher power".
  6. Convince farmers they need "protection".
  7. "You have been chosen as the Wizard's new apprentice! He just needs 10gp to get the documents in order. I'm heading that way now, I can give it to him if you like?"
  8. Open a 10-foot pole shop in front of the local dungeon. No refunds.
  9. "No, there's no record of any gremlins on that land."
  10. Dragon-raid crashing: "I can't believe it ate your parents! By the way, I have this IOU they gave me twenty years ago..."

OK - not this leprechaun.
photo credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Whittled Jewels

A long time ago (last March) in a galaxy far far away (my pre-Mac computer days), I published an article about Phoenix's gem system.

I really like gems, and I have always loved complicated generation systems for them. This love was inspired by 2nd edition D&D.

That being said, it doesn't work for my new project. My new project requires a whittled down ruleset. So, I had to come up with something simple for gems.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Manor #3: You Big Meanie

The Manor Issue #3 has been released, after a long cold winter, after a long cold autumn before that, and after most of a long cold summer before that.

It's time for another round of Cobalt Kobold Awards.

Starts with mean right at the cover.

This issue is stuffed with mean. And no, you crazy Aussies, I don't mean it that way.

Meanest Item: p. 14, the Gem of Undead Control. It seems like a great way to solve your local undead plague, except that it kills you when you hold it.

Meanest Location: p. 2, the Mine of Rot and Disease. Who mines for rot and disease? Mean people, that's who. Or crazy people. Like adventurers.

Meanest Class Feature: p. 23, and I quote, "Fire leaps from the holy symbol and consumes the monsters leaving only a small pile of ash." Ouch.

Meanest Adventure Hook: p. 19, When the Wheel Breaks. C'mon, we all know that herb is never gonna make it.

Meanest Joke: p. 19. It starts with a Jester getting eaten by trolls. Wait, is a Jester sort of like a Bard? Nevermind, he probably had it coming. Iambic Pentameter is a known catalyst for homicide.

Meanest Haiku: p. 16, Has anyone ever used "disgorged" in a haiku before??

Thanks for the big bucket of mean, Mr. Tim!

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Been doin' a bit of whittlin' lately.

photo credit: bf5man via photopin cc
Wood isn't my medium - rules are.

I've been busily reducing the Phoenix ruleset to its core engine, so that I can use it for a particular idea. I have a setting, theme, and "feel" in mind for some adventures, and it requires a fast-paced ruleset. So I'm chopping and mixing and blending and... suddenly I feel a bit hungry.

It's fun to do this, because Phoenix has a few things at its core that are really fun for me. Like initiative, exploding dice, and fast, single-action rounds. Much like a good stock, the flavors get super-yummy when reduced with a careful simmer.

Wow, I really am hungry. I'm gonna go take care of that. I'll have more on my new concept once it gets just a little farther along...

Also, I have a new issue of the Manor I need to get around to reading.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Crazy Australian Animals

When we lived in Australia, we picked up on one simple rule: everything there is trying to kill humans. The animals, the plants, even the land itself. Fair dinkum.

So this kickstarter has definitely caught my eye.

Cowabunga! No, wait, wrong show. Where'd my pizza go?

Now, I know these are supposed to be for more of a blood-bowl type purpose, but wow can I think of some good adventure ideas to go along with them.

So go get some drop bears. If you're into that sort of thing. And let me know what kind of adventure sounds fun with these blokes.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Class Design: Borderlands 2

My new job has certainly created some interference with my blogging and game design work, but I have a confession to make - Borderlands 2 has also created interference!

I'm not normally an FPS player; I usually stick to A/RPG, MM/RPG, or RTS games.

But this one is an exception.

For those not familiar, this game is set in a sort of fantasy world that also has guns and laser beams and such. The best part of the game is the sense of humor portrayed by the game designers - and memorable characters that make me laugh. Even Claptrap. And they make BabyBat laugh - she plays it with me, of course.

It is basically an A/RPG that throws away the normal isometric view, in favor of first-person view.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Interference is back!

Well, as previously noted, I resolved my interference which gave me a lot of extra free time. But, while I had more time to play with toys, the downside was less money to spend on them!

So now I have new interference. The good news is that the new job is pretty awesome so far. The bad news is that I suck at being creative during the week since when I am working I usually feel quite drained when I get home.

BabyBat and I have been taking a lot of pictures lately, though, so I wanted to at least share this one. We both have Nikon cameras - a D80 and a D3200. If Nikon ever releases a new version of the 7000, I might pick that one up.

We took this picture right after our party's medusa turned the savage beast into stone, so don't worry - Safety First!


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Military Structure in an RPG

Extensive complexity for military structures is not that important in most fantasy RPGs - however, in honor of the hobby's wargame origins and in the spirit of plausibility, I'd like to share some notes. Hopefully they will help others brainstorm and understand these structures!

BabyBat took this picture, because she is awesome.

Besides being in the military for a few years, I am also a student of military history, from the early Roman period forward. I believe a lot can be learnt about a culture by studying their approach to military, and conflict in general.

Remember that this is a great place to make the flavor of your chosen culture really shine. There is a big difference between a forced-conscription, high per-capita military and a volunteer-only, low per-capita military presence in a region. Make a basic framework, and focus on flavor from there.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wanted: Dragon Slayer

Any good posts from Craig's List last year? Oh, yes.

2012 Winner
Hands down my favorite Craig's List post for last year:
I am quite sure most of you have seen the rather large green dragon that has been flying over the north east side of Grand Rapids for the better part of a week. I am looking for someone to:

1.) Lure said dragon away from Grand Rapids to a more rural area.
2.) Force said dragon to land in rural area.
3.) Slay said dragon in whatever way you see fit.

No Pay, dragon slaying is it's own reward.

Please note that I am not talking about the red dragon that frequents the area from time to time. He and I have an agreement. (emphasis mine)

Sounds like the start of a good adventure to me!

2012 Runner Up
It even relates to a recent comment thread on this blog.
Woman DM needed for D&D based Adult Bachelor Party

Compared to 2011?
Both of these are better than 2011's winner, which relates to a Super Mario level you've likely not seen before.

photo credit: Luisus Rasilvi via photopin cc

Friday, January 4, 2013

Phoenix Classes and Aspects - v2

During the last round of playtesting, I decided that the Portfolio system in Phoenix needed some revision. Previously, character creation involved the selection of two Aspects to create a sort of custom class.  So someone could combine Ninja and Dimension to make a crazy time-hopping assassin.

It worked good in some regards but as a player and a GM both, I really love spells and spellbooks, and this system necessarily ran away from those concepts a little bit. Characters also fell into the psuedo-4e trap of being too similar; i.e., having the same number of abilities on each character sheet regardless of class or desire.

I do like a class-based approach, and I like classes to be strongly defined but customizable by the player. I did like the interesting combinations that aspects offered, so the new draft for the next round of playtesting will reflect a combination of these approaches.

During character creation, a character's Mortal Portfolio now involves two choices: what class, and what aspect.

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