Fight the Power Word, Kill

no we're not the same 'cause we don't know the game

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Spinward Solo

A few years ago, I agreed to GM a game of Traveller. I decided to use a fairly early version, namely The Traveller Book, which is a collected edition of the "little black books". In order to reacquaint myself with the rules, I decided to run a solo PBP for myself, randomly generating characters but also using the system in the book for randomly finding adventures and patrons. I did this on a private Discord channel over the course of a couple of days. Below is the text of that PBP, cleaned up for clarity, though I have left most of the dice rolls in, not so much for you to see the results as to indicate how much dice-rolling there is in the game. I've also expanded on some entries for clarity. 


Instructions: go to and make a character, name your character, post the results here. Don't worry too much about what the skills do, just pick stuff that sounds right. Everything has a context in which it's useful; part of TRAVELLER is figuring out what your role is. 

Army Captain Mark Dubois    888995    Age 22
1 term                        Cr22,000
Skills: Computer-1, Fwd Obsvr-1, Medical-1, Rifle-1, SMG-1, Tactics-1

Service History:
Rolled attributes: 888995
Attempted to enlist in Army.
Enlistment roll 2 + 3 vs 5
Enlistment accepted.
Learned Rifle-1
Term 1 age 22
Commission roll 8 + 1 vs 5
Learned SMG-1
Commissioned during first term of service as Lieutenant.
Promotion roll 8 + 1 vs 6
Promoted to Captain.
Learned Medical-1
Learned Fwd Obsvr-1
Learned Computer-1
Learned Tactics-1
Survival roll 4 + 2 vs 5
Reenlistment roll 7 vs 7
Chose not to reenlist after first term.
Mustered Out
2,000 credits
20,000 credits


Belter Dame Chloe Li    8C76AB    Age 22
1 term                        Cr98,400

Skills: Computer-1, Prospecting-1, Vacc Suit-1 

Service History:
Rolled attributes: 8C76AB
Attempted to enlist in Belter.
Enlistment roll 10 + 3 vs 7
Enlistment accepted.
Learned Vacc Suit-1
Term 1 age 22
Learned Prospecting-1
Learned Computer-1
Survival roll 6 + 1 vs 5
Reenlistment roll 6 vs 7
Denied reenlistment after first term.
Mustered Out
100,000 credits


Merchant 3rd Officer Thomas Li    782B86    Age 38
5 terms                        Cr40,000

Skills: Computer-1, Electronics-1, Gunnery-1, Laser Carbine-1, Mechanical-1, Navigation-1, Prop-Driven Aircraft-1, Streetwise-1, Vacc Suit-1

Benefits: 4,000/yr Retirement Pay, Laser Carbine, Low Passage

Service History:
Rolled attributes: 783A86
Attempted to enlist in Merchants.
Enlistment roll 8 + 3 vs 7
Enlistment accepted.
Term 1 age 22
Commission roll 3 + 1 vs 4
Commissioned during first term of service as 4th Officer.
Promotion roll 7 + 1 vs 10
Learned Computer-1
Learned Navigation-1
Learned Electronics-1
Survival roll 10 + 2 vs 5
Reenlistment roll 7 vs 4
Voluntarily reenlisted for second term.
Term 2 age 26
Promotion roll 11 + 1 vs 10
Promoted to 3rd Officer.
Learned Streetwise-1
Learned Prop-Driven Aircraft-1
Survival roll 6 + 2 vs 5
Reenlistment roll 10 vs 4
Voluntarily reenlisted for third term.
Term 3 age 30
Promotion roll 8 + 1 vs 10
Learned Gunnery-1
Survival roll 3 + 2 vs 5
Reenlistment roll 9 vs 4
Voluntarily reenlisted for fourth term.
Term 4 age 34
Promotion roll 8 + 1 vs 10
Learned Vacc Suit-1
Survival roll 8 + 2 vs 5
Aging strength throw 10 vs 8
Aging dexterity throw 9 vs 7
Aging endurance throw 12 vs 8
Reenlistment roll 4 vs 4
Voluntarily reenlisted for fifth term.
Term 5 age 38
Promotion roll 8 + 1 vs 10
Learned Mechanical-1
Survival roll 6 + 2 vs 5
Aging strength throw 11 vs 8
Aging dexterity throw 8 vs 7
Aging endurance throw 5 vs 8
Decreased endurance by -1 to 2
Reenlistment roll 8 vs 4
Retired after fifth term.
Mustered Out
20,000 credits
10,000 credits
10,000 credits
Laser Carbine
Learned Laser Carbine-1
Low Passage
Increased intelligence by 1 to B


Scout Baron Omar Suzuki    95BACC    Age 26
2 terms                        Cr50,000

Skills: Gunnery-1, Mechanical-1, Navigation-1, Pilot-1, Tracked Vehicle-1

Service History:
Rolled attributes: 95BACC
Attempted to enlist in Scouts.
Enlistment roll 8 + 3 vs 7
Enlistment accepted.
Learned Pilot-1
Term 1 age 22
Learned Gunnery-1
Learned Tracked Vehicle-1
Survival roll 7 + 2 vs 7
Reenlistment roll 10 vs 3
Voluntarily reenlisted for second term.
Term 2 age 26
Learned Navigation-1
Learned Mechanical-1
Survival roll 11 + 2 vs 7
Reenlistment roll 4 vs 3
Chose not to reenlist after second term.
Mustered Out
20,000 credits
30,000 credits



Looking for a gig

Day 1, year 1105. Rhylanor subsector, 0404, desert world Jae Telona.
In a single week, a band of adventurers may elect to devote their time to encountering a patron. They may frequent bars, taverns, clubs, perhaps the Travellers'
Aid Building, or any other likely places. One throw is allowed for the entire band: a result of 5 or 6 on one die indicates a likely patron has been found.

Our heroes spend a week seeking out a patron. Dame Chloe pays for a month's good food and lodging for the group (Cr1600)
!roll 1d6
Roll: [1] Result: 1

No patron in the first week
Random encounters (but max 1 per week, I think)

35 = the group meet some researchers
[5, 4] Result: 9  of them

The researchers are travelling in a tracked ATV around the desert.
Roll: [5, 3] Result: 8  Reason: reaction roll

They are interested in our heroes and ask if they are doing any adventures soon.

Roll: [6] Result: 6  Reason: Patron roll as another week passes
Roll: [5, 5] Result: 10  

It's an army guy. He wants some armed couriers to go with the scientists to a remote prospecting outpost on the planet. The pay is Cr8000. 
There's a space-briefcase that needs to be taken to Major Kola there.

[5, 2] Result: 7
They get the job!

Journey day 1 

Day 15, 1105. The trip will take two days. Our heroes jump aboard the researchers' big ATV. It's nice and air-conditioned inside

Roll: [4] Result: 4  Reason: Day 1 human encounter
They encounter no people on their first day of travel in the desert

Roll: [4] Result: 4  Reason: Day 1 travelling animal encounter

The group halts and camps for the night inside the ATV.

Roll: [5] Result: 5  Reason: day 1 camped animal enc.
 Roll: [3, 2] Result: 8
 Roll: [6, 2] Result: 8
Roll: [3] Result: 3

It's 3 herbivore grazers, shuffling across the dunes, digging their lizard bills into the sifting blue sands.
Roll: [6, 2] Result: 5  Reason: Grazer size roll

Grazers are size 25 - 3D hits each, horns and teeth to defend themselves.

Roll: [4] Result: 6  Reason: chance to attack
Roll: [6] Result: 6  Reason: chance to flee roll
Roll: [3, 3] Result: 6

The grazers see the ATV and the people in it, and flee.


Day 2 of the journey

Result: 6  Reason: Day 2 travel encounter

Roll: [6, 2] Result: 8
Roll: [5, 2] Result: 10
Roll: [6, 3, 2] Result: 11

They encounter 11 herbivore grazers, same animals as they saw last night.

Roll: [4, 1] Result: 5
Roll: [6, 3] Result: 9

The grazers attack!
They charge towards the ATV.
... or rather they will unless the PCs get surprise.

Roll: [3] Result: 3  Reason: PCs surprise roll
Roll: [3] Result: 2  Reason: animals surprise roll

No surprise

Result: 9  Reason: Encounter range

The encounter begins at medium range, about 40 metres. (2 range bands)

Our heroes try to evade - the grazers can close easily within this round and attack the ATV if the evasion is unsuccessful

(before any combat or contact occurs). Roll 9+ to escape (DM allowed based on range: -1 if short range, +1 if medium range, +2 if long range, +3 if very long range).

 Result: 7  Reason: Baron Omar's ATV driving

Omar swerves the ATV to go around the grazers but doesn't escape!

Omar tries to open range on the next turn, while the grazers try to close range

Roll: [5] Result: 3
They can go 3 bands per turn.
The grazers smash up the outside fixtures of the ATV a bit, but Omar is able to drive away.
The sun is setting as our heroes approach the base. Desert raiders have encircled the base and are waiting to ambush the PCs' ATV.

Roll: [6] Result: 8  Reason: Raiders surprise roll
Roll: [3] Result: 3  Reason: PCs' surprise roll

The raiders achieve surprise.
The base inhabitants haven't been able to get a warning out because the raiders destroyed the communications tower.

Roll: [4, 3] Result: 11  Reason: encounter range

Long: at rifle range, from 51 to 250 meters -- 5 range bands.

The raiders wait until the ATV pulls up at the outer perimeter gatehouse.

When Dame Chloe and Captain Dubois get out to check out the guard post, 6 raiders open fire with rifles from cover in the rocky dunes
Result: 9  Reason: Raider STR
Roll: [1, 1] Result: 2  Reason: Raider DEX
Roll: [6, 2] Result: 8  Reason: Raider CON

Roll: [2, 1] Result: 3  Reason: attack number 1 on Dubois
Roll: [6, 2] Result: 8  Reason: attack 2 on Dubois (HIT)
Roll: [6, 5] Result: 11  Reason: attack 3 on Dubois (HIT)
Roll: [4, 1, 1] Result: 6  Reason: Att 2 wound on Dubois
First wound applies to
Roll: [2] Result: 2 DEX

Mark Dubois 888995  -- current 848995
Apply the other two wounds to STR and END -- current 747995

Roll: [6, 5, 2] Result: 13  Reason: attack 3 effect on Dubois

STR -6, DEX -2, END -5: 122995

Roll: [5, 3] Result: 8  Reason: Attack 1 on Chloe (HIT)
Roll: [5, 1] Result: 6  Reason: Attack 2 on Chloe 
Roll: [5, 2] Result: 7  Reason: Attack 3 on Chloe

Roll: [6, 2, 6] Result: 14  Reason: unsort
Roll: [2] Result: 2

First hit is DEX - Dame Chloe Li    8C76AB  -- current 8676AB
hit 2 goes to Chloe's STR, the 3rd to END: Chloe's stats are now 6616AB
Chloe and Mark crawl back into the ATV!

The researchers grab carbines from the equipment boxes but only 4 of them can fire out of the ATV at one time
Roll: [5, 2] Result: 7
Roll: [6, 1] Result: 7
Roll: [5, 2] Result: 7
Roll: [3, 1] Result: 4

They all, somehow, miss

Turn 2, Omar tries to drive through the security fence. He needs a 10+ to get through without damaging the ATV so that it needs repair.
The raiders keep their heads down and observe the ATV.

Roll: [4, 2] Result: 7  Reason: Omar's driving

Nope, there's a big wrenching sound as the ATV ploughs through the gate. Omar drives into the base's reinforced vehicle entrance, but the ATV can't be used again until it's repaired.

The PCs and researchers are brought to see Major Kola. They hand over the space-briefcase.

Chloe and Mark rest and get back to their original stats.

Now the question is, how to deal with the raiders. They could try and repair the transmission tower, attack the raiders, or try to break out and bring word to the starport city.


Dame Chloe volunteers to climb the transmission tower and repair the relays. Thomas Li will provide covering fire with his laser carbine.
Climbing the tower is 10+ (modified by DEX above or below 8, so Chloe is at +4); if Thomas does not successfully shoot a raider (long range), a raider will shoot at Chloe each round.

Round 1
Roll: [2, 2] Result: 8  Reason: climbing roll

Chloe starts the climb but it is slow going up the creaking metal tower.

Covering fire: +0 DEX mod, +1 skill, Long range +1, Cloth armour on raider +1. = +3
Roll: [4, 1] Result: 8  Reason: Covering fire 1

Pyew pyew! Thomas forces the raiders to keep their heads down.
He zaps one ranger for 4D damage.

Roll: [1, 4, 2, 6] Result: 13  Reason:  unsort

Roll: [3, 2] Result: 9  Reason: climbing roll 2
Chloe reaches the relay. She must spend another round replacing the relay components.

Roll: [5, 3] Result: 11  Reason: Covering fire 2
Thomas zaps another raider. Chloe finishes fixing the relay.

Chloe must spend one round climbing back down.

Roll: [4, 2] Result: 9  Reason: covering fire 3
She safely makes it down as Thomas zaps a third desert ranger.

The transmission tower is back in working order. The base calls for help and in a couple more days, a relief column arrives.
It's now day 19, 1105




And that's where I left it. 

Overall, I found the system quite manageable, if dry in places. I think in the encounter where the grazers charge the vehicle I just gave up and GM fiat-ed away the scene. But most of the time, the encounter system created real tension, and I enjoyed the way that a plotline I hadn't thought of – before starting, my head was full of space-based adventure, not planetbound – emerged from the job-finding mini game. 


Vampire Republic: notes on a setting for Revolution Comes to the Kingdom

The People's Republic of Transylvania is unlike any other nation in the world. For almost century, it has been ruled by an elite of vampires. Known simply as "the people", these vampires see themselves as the rightful masters of Transylvania and view normal humans as inferior subjects.

Under vampire rule, Transylvania is a tightly controlled police state. Vampires live openly in the major cities, holding all positions of power in government and industry. Humans are second-class citizens with few rights. They are heavily taxed and subject to compulsory service supplying blood to their undead overlords.

While presenting itself as a paradise ruled by the people, the Vampire Republic is in reality a twisted feudal system. Different vampire factions and bloodlines jockey for influence, engaging in shadowy intrigues and power struggles behind closed doors. Regular purges and disappearances keep the human population in line through fear.

As agents of change, the player characters are members of a resistance movement fighting for equality and liberation. 

Life is perilous in the Vampire Republic, where you are never sure who might be a secret informant for the dreaded vampire secret police. Intrigue, suspicion and danger are around every shadowed corner in this dark totalitarian state ruled over by the undead.

- The capital city is Târgoviște, where the sprawling Grand Palace houses the ruling aristocracy. Vampire lords live lavish lifestyles while humans toil below.

- All aspects of society are controlled from Târgoviște. Strict laws mandate tributes of blood and regulate every movement to maintain order. 

- In the countryside, human peasants subsist in squalor while toiling on vast vampire-owned estates. Malnutrition and disease are rampant as blood tithes take their toll.

- A class of "servitors" consists of humans trained from birth to aid their vampire masters. They enforce domination over ordinary peasants in exchange for special privileges.  

- Vampire families compete to influence the Regent and expand their power through politics and cunning. Rivalries sometimes erupt into open but brief conflicts.

- The Regent heads the secretive Council of Elders, an unelected body that has ruled for decades. Internal dissent and unrest are kept hidden from foreign observation.

- As enemies of the state, revolutionaries encounter informants and infiltrators everywhere. They must rely on safehouses, codes, and sympathetic servitors (or even vampires) to build underground networks of resistance in the cities and countryside.

- Rumor tells of forbidden medical experiments in remote castles, testing new ways to create and control servitors or even more powerful vampires through dark science.


Wild regions like the Carpathian Mountains harbour communities that have resisted vampire rule for generations. Guerilla fighters and bandits hide out in forests.

Local vampire lords rule estates and fiefdoms with an iron fist. From time to time they hunt humans for sport under the bright full moon. 

In cities, secretive Thieves' Guilds dominated by servitors provide services to humans & wealthier vampires alike, gathering information and contraband.

Revolutionary cells take different approaches - some advocate strategic attacks, others nonviolent protest. But all work to expose atrocities and rally sympathy abroad.

Vampire politics involve complex alliances and rival houses vying for status. Those who rise too high sometimes mysteriously disappear.

The Western nations cautiously maintain diplomatic relations but will not confront the vampires militarily for fear of igniting open war and damaging the profits of businesses from their own countries.

Scholars debate the vampires' true origins, with theories including curses, medieval plagues, and ancient blood magic.

Isolated monasteries in remote mountains are rare havens where fragments of banned religious traditions survive away from vampire domination.


Plot hooks/story seeds for a Vampire Republic campaign:

  • Peasants in a remote village go missing, last seen being "hunted" by a local vampire lord's sadistic offspring. The PCs must investigate.
  • Propaganda portraits of the immortal Regent begin appearing across the land, a sign he seeks to consolidate power ahead of a succession crisis.
  • A revolutionary cell is betrayed and wiped out - the PCs must uncover who infiltrated their network before trust unravels the resistance entirely.
  • Rumours of a hidden witch coven preserving ancestral magic draw the PCs into a trap laid by the vampires' occult experts seeking new blood sorcery.
  • Protests break out in Târgoviște after a high-profile dissident is tortured to death by the secret police. The PCs are caught up in the clashes.
  • An abandoned mountain monastery yields clues to religious artifacts with mystic properties threatening to vampire rule. A powerful family seeks to possess them.
  • Promising young servitors are recruited into a new paramilitary force the Regent uses to "disappear" rivals - but its commander harbours his own agenda.
  • A peasant village is orchestrating mass escapes over the border, with help from woodsman guerillas. The vampires hire the PCs to infiltrate and destroy this smuggling network.
  • A human scholar has possibly uncovered evidence that contradicts the vampires' narrative about being the true natives of Transylvania. The secret police scramble to find them before their findings spread.
  • Peasants in a remote valley have begun developing resistance to vampire abilities like mesmerism and blood sorcery.

Deadworld: a 5-room dungeon

Room 1: Entrance
The entrance to the catacombs is located behind a large stone slab carved with depictions of the god Mictlantecuhtli and other underworld deities. Two skeletal guardians wielding flaming scimitars block the path, challenging all who wish to enter the Ministry of Death Administration Branch Office.

Room 2: Registry Office
This room is a disorderly bureaucratic nightmare, with piles of scrolls and loose bones everywhere. A hyena-headed demon named Tzontemoc is frantically trying to process all the newly deceased souls. Players can assist him with filing paperwork or look up information on lost loved ones (he can be bribed with a Soul Coin).

Room 3: Booby-Trapped Storage
This abandoned storage room is now rigged with traps for some reason. Shelves topple with a touch, shelves spring poisoned darts, and the floor collapses in sections. Players must carefully navigate the chaotic puzzle of traps and debris.

Room 4: Smuggler's Den
In a natural cave, the monster Nofaced Gangrel and his undead cronies operate an illegal underground of contraband souls. A fierce battle ensues as the players try to seize the smugglers' unhappy cargo.

Room 5: Archives of Fate
In a vast echoing hall lit by an aurora of souls, the players find vast shelves of omen-inscribed stones chronicling the destiny of all people who ever lived. 

Notes on a Grim Fandango-esque RPG

The Land of the Dead, a vast afterlife realm divided into disparate domains ruled over by the mysterious Ministry of Death. Souls newly arrived must find their way through this strange land, navigating cultural mores, malignant forces, and their own inner journeys toward redemption.

Character Creation:
Choose an occupation/backstory, and 2-3 defining personality traits. Spend 5 points total across 3 core attributes: Wits, Charm, Grit.

Checks are 2d6+attribute vs target number set by GM. Success means progress, failures introduce complications.

Mechanic - Soul Coin:
Each player starts with 1 soul coin, a token representing their fate in the afterlife. (Weren't you supposed to have two? Most people have two.) Spend it to reroll a check, gain an edge in a social conflict, or get out of a tight spot. But once spent it's gone until you earn another through good deeds or service to the Ministry. Having no coins left brings you closer to the landfills...

As players complete scenario missions and develop their character through roleplaying, they gain experience. At milestones, spend XP to improve attributes, learn new skills, or uncover secrets about their past life and purpose in the Land of the Dead.

Trying to balance moments of mystery, intrigue, action and humour with darker existential themes of redemption, corruption and the arbitrary nature of fate. Quirky characters, pulpy noir tropes and eccentric bureaucracy.


  • Manny, handsome yet world-weary travel agent and reluctant hero
  • Gunther, giant skeletal bartender with a heart of gold (and adamantium)
  • Mercedes, aspiring singer and dancer trying to land her big break
  • Hector, shifty used car salesman with questionably legal inventory
  • Salvador, corrupt Ministry of Death bureaucrat on the take
  • Hermano, a remnant who remembers nothing but his mission for redemption
  • Consuela, kindly yet no-nonsense innkeeper with secrets of her own
  • Lorne, decrepit Grim Reaper knockoff who plays by his own rules
  • The Proxy, a rep from the Purgatory Players Union, she bargains for souls' rights and fair treatment from the bosses downtown. Players may come to her for aid or information.
  • Domino, glamorous Hollywood starlet whose life was cut short, now makes appearances at Club Lazlo while secretly investigating odd goings-on in the underworld.
  • Maximo, gruff owner of Maximo's Auto Repair, handy with a wrench and knowledgeable about Mechicana's seedy underbelly. Players can get jobs or intel from him, or unwittingly get embroiled in his schemes.
  • Remnants seek redemption by fulfilling missions left unfinished in life, hoping to ascend a domain and regain lost memories.




  • Club Lazlo, hottest underground nightclub in El Tercero
  • Puerto Muerto, seedy port town full of scum and villainy. Souls gamble Soul Coins at casinos, hoping to earn enough to bribe demons guarding shortcuts out of the Ninth Underworld.
  • Xibalba, volcanic jungle domain on the fringes of the known world
  • Entryway to the Ninth Underworld, the final destination
  • Mechanica, a place o whirring cogs and machine-spirits. 
  • Santa Cecilia - idyllic neighborhood in the fourth domain, seemingly perfect but hiding dark secrets beneath a picturesque surface.
  • Mortimo Plaza, sprawling Ministry of Death complex, a confusing bureaucracy maze where souls get lost for centuries trying to navigate red tape.
  • The Black Goat, remote cantina near the Nine Spheres, last stop for souls who've lost all hope of redemption or escape. Even the barkeep is afraid to ask what happens to patrons who wander in too deep.



  • The proud Calavera crime families run soul trafficking, illegal fighting pits, and hold sway over many businesses.
  • The mysterious Aztec Death Gods whisper commands to souls who wander too deep into jungles or ancient ruins.
  • Souls' Rights groups like Purgatory Players Union oppose mistreatment and advocate fair trials/passage through domains.
  • Secret societies pursue ancient esoteric knowledge and artifacts in hidden temples across domains.#


Contraband Devices:

Soul Siphons - Lattice towers that leech the life force of surrounding landscape
Bloody Throne - Teleportation obelisks that rend flesh and twist souls upon activation
Devil's Lens - Eldritch optics allow viewing alternate realities, but insights come at a cost
Deadlight - Handheld suns, highly radioactive, bringing only ruin to all near their luminance
Slipway Engines - Inter-realm vessels that fold space to other planes of existence, break all who travel



  • Investigate the disappearance of souls from a small town
  • Negotiate a deal with capricious River Styx ferryman
  • Go undercover at a casino to discover who's rigging the Soul Coin slot machines
  • Accompany a remnant on their journey through the Spheres of the Underworld
  • Find a way to sneak into the ultra-secure VIP section of the Ministry of Death
  • Help smuggle contraband past Domino's nosy new assistant, an overeager rookie Grim Reaper.
  • Track down a beloved pet who escaped into the jungles of Xibalba, teaming up with reluctant guide Maximo.
  • Infiltrate a high stakes underground Soul Coin gambling ring to discover who's cheating, before the ensuing gang war engulfs all of Mechicana.
  • Pose as newly deceased souls to investigate strange vanishings at the paradisaical resort domain of Santa Cecilia. 
  • Help a remnant soul piece together their forgotten memories and uncover the mystery of how they died in order to earn passage to the next domain.
  • Work with Lorne the mischievous Grim Reaper to sabotage a rival reaper's soul quota and mess with the natural order for fun and profit.
  • Go undercover at the annual Death-O-Rama festival to root out counterfeit Soul Coins and black marketeers corrupting the event.
  • Escort a lost soul across dangerous territory to deliver their unfinished business request to the Department of Closure.
  • Break into the ultra-restricted Hall of Records to uncover a soul's true past life identity stolen by unscrupulous Clerk #19.
  • Guide a living person who has slipped into a coma through the Land of the Dead to locate the soul doctor who can return them to the Land of the Living.
  • Go on a soul-searching road trip from Puerto Muerto to the Ninth Underworld in a dilapidated hearse, picking up hitchhiking souls along the way.
  • Infiltrate the VIP party of ostentatious skeleton Catrina Calavera to steal back a precious cultural artifact plundered from the Land of the Forgotten.
  • Work as extras in Domino's latest Aztec Spy musical, but her arrogant new co-star is up to no good behind the scenes.


Interesting Decisions

Someone asked on Discord:  When do you choose to ignore/alter certain rules in game? E.g. in Feng Shui 2, if all characters are using the same weapon, what happens if you ignore the "reload" rolls for simplicity? And would you know if ignoring affects it until after you play?"

My answer: 
I try to always give the rules as written a go ("RAW", in the lingo), even if there's something I'm fairly sure I won't be fond of in the rules. The quote by jazz violinist Stephàne Grapelli is often in my mind: "I play the sheet music through once as it was written, out of respect for the composer."

Respect aside, I do that because even in the simplest, most transparent systems, there are often unforeseen consequences to pulling out one thing pr another.  That said, it's generally easier with lighter systems: in Cthulhu Dark, you can see right away that removing Insight would eliminate the jeopardy of re-rolling. But  Blades in the Dark is infamously difficult to tinker with because the knock-on effects of a mechanic will often play out maybe an hour later in the game. 

When I have decided to elide a rule or subsystem, I look for "interesting decisions". 
The game designer Greg Costikyan proposed this as the core of good game design, and while I won't be dying on that hill, I've not yet found a case that contradicts this idea in practice. He gave the example of a board game where, each turn, you have two options -- but one of them is always better than the other. The player nominally makes a decision but it isn't "interesting". The opposite but equally uninteresting is when your options are roughly equal in desirability but don't really make much difference. "We go through the left door!" "You enter the Bad Guy's sanctum, which the right-hand door also leads to."

So all that is a prelude to saying FS2's reloading rule is a prime candidate to consider cutting. I think your mention of "if everyone has the same weapon" is insightful, as it alludes to where this kind of thing 100% does get interesting: my high-damage weapon is out of ammo, but my enemy can still attack. Do I take the risk of reloading, or do I attack now with my less effective backup option? And if everyone is equally armed, that question has less teeth.  Particularly in the FS2 genre. There are definitely games where it'd be a whole thing though. 

Coming specifically to FS2, we have done the "play it through as the composer wrote it" in that we played a whole bunch of times and basically never had a fight last long enough to ever reload. 

But as a general idea, my answer is to ask "Does this element create the kind of interesting decisions this game is about?"

The Enemy Within – Empire in Flames: Addendum

From the ravings of a Norscan berserker, written with the blood of thralls:




The Enemy Within – Empire in Flames: The Coronation (S5E16)


Captain's Log:

Our night at The Crossed Lancets was uneventful. Until after four hours of sleep. Blessed Jim walked in, gave a worried glance outside the room before closing the door behind him. He had heard of a heinous plot: several fellows were stripping slain guards of their gear and donning them as a cunning disguise. Any foe that would resort to such trickery instead of a honest fight was clearly no match for the Heroes of the Hammer! We grabbed our weapons and shields without question and I calmly knocked on the door of The One's room.

"It's happening again!" I yelled.

The "guards" approached our room first and asked us to step outside. They claimed that one of their party was stricken with some sort of malady and that help was sorely needed. We gave them a few swears in response and the bastards could do nothing but grumble and step away. The One decided, with a cunning ruse in mind, to go along with their plan to see to their "healing needs". She followed them down to the ground floor and yelled during their ambush. It was unusual tactic but we were ready to support her! We confidently marched down the stairs, swords, shields and night caps at the ready, and broke their ranks with our heroic ferocity. The cultists were no match for our might, as The One's bolts flew true and left nothing but ashes. Blessed Jim struck one particularly well in the spine! Werner discovered with Death Dealer that the priest was no spell user but it was not enough to save him! I sent a finger flying from one cultist and thrust Fiendcutter through the heart of another. Soon all but one was left a bloody wretch and that one was hardy and quick! A slam from my arm was not enough to stop him from running. Werner eventually caught him in the light of a street lamp. The cultist bit a strange vial of something and both he and Werner recoiled in horrible pain. Acid! Werner survived the burning, unlike the cultist. We had lost any chance of letting The One interrogate him. On the other hand, we had a pretty good idea of who was behind all of this...

The staff of the inn had been subdued and tied up. They had no idea what had happened, just that they were quickly overwhelmed. I imagine that these cultists would have used them as sacrifices if they had killed us. That was very bold of them to assume! The morning was filled with a radiant joy that seemed to permeate every single corner of Altdorf still standing. No one had believed us before that Heinrich Toddbringer would their new Emperor but they were now joyous. More thrills and camaraderie rushed through the streets than any festival and I've seen a fair few! I bought an Empire cake while we walked out of the inn. I don't think there was real difference in the recipe but I was happy to share in the wonderful enthusiasm of the moment! Hans Bauer, a messenger, ran up to us red faced and exhausted. We bought him a drink and waited until he felt able to speak. Heinrich himself wanted to see us and talk to us about a special role we'll play! I was delighted with such an honour! There was an old woman on that very corner of the street. She was wailing something about the forces of Chaos being among us. I looked at Werner for a second before she was taken away by two large guards.

Meeting Heinrich in The Imperial was still like seeing that glowing warrior upon the battlefield. I knew at that moment that he would be the best Emperor since Sigmar himself! Blessed Jim and I were to present Ghal Maraz to the Grand Theogonist during the ceremony. We were also asked to don our war gear to remind the audience of our struggles in reclaiming the hammer. He seemed quite upset after a moment. He sighed and spoke to us plainly of a strange dream that haunted him. A dream of a mask falling to the ground and a surrounding darkness. He was, however, very confident in the abilities of those around him. I am still pleased with the recognition, after all the time spent struggling with Chaos plots in the gutters! We were given the opportunity to travel to the Volkshalle using one of the fine royal coaches. A small, dignified clerk politely shook our hands and introduced himself as Grossplatter. Or something like that. He was very hard to understand. At least he understood how these political things work. He gave Jim and I the instructions on how to properly present the hammer. I think he spent most of the journey explaining it to me but I got the gist in the end. Pillow, hammer, turn right, hand over, done. Or was it turn left?

The place was absolutely full to the brim with people, hushed in silence as the various officials and Elector Counts said each part of the proceedings. I can't remember most of it but it sounded very good and proper, I can assure you! I did however recognize the words "HAMMER OF SIGMAR!". I stood up immediately and gave Blessed Jim a huge grin. I tried to give The One and Werner a little nod but Grossplatter, standing nearby them with a pained expression, quickly waved his arms to get me to focus on the ceremony. Ah, the coronation, right. Ghal Maraz began to hum. We all knew what that meant: Chaos was near! The hammer floated before Blessed Jim, intensely humming with divine power. Heinrich stood staring at the hammer while Yori suddenly flinched. Jim pondered for a second what exactly to do. I stood there and still held the pillow, eyes wide and mouth agape. The Dolgan warrior called upon Sigmar himself to guide the hammer to its true enemy. He didn't become a Ranger Captain with just his brawn! Ghal Maraz shot through the air like a cannonball and smashed into the Grand Theogonist, knocking him to the ground! He coughed up blood, crushed Kaslain's skull with one brutal motion and then began a sickening transformation. Claws, wings, feathers as blue as murky waters, and a roar let loose from a vicious beak! He was a giant, daemonic albatross all along! Pandemonium in the hall as large masses of people wildly fled, screaming and begging Sigmar to save them. Jim and Werner both yelled at the top of their lungs and charged the great daemon with selfless bravery and terrific fury! I was unfazed by such a horror but noticed The One, quietly trembling in terror, in the corner of my eye. No, the chosen one of Sigmar could not fail now!

I begged her to help us but the daemon had left her helpless by its awesome might! A flurry of what seemed like tens of claws, tentacles and other things were lashing and swiping at both Jim and Werner. Jim took a dreadful swipe across the chest from a wicked claw. It almost ended his life but the ranger refused to die and continued to battle the fiend! Werner and Jim cut into the monstrosity a few times but its hide was tougher than anything we had ever fought. I desperately pleaded with The One to save us from this horror, in the name of Sigmar and all of the Empire. I turned away when she did not respond and for a moment thought that we doomed. I then felt an energy behind me and turned to see her launch a bolt of pure witchery at the great albatross. She had regained her senses and joined the fight! The daemon had summoned a strange gas that drove the two warriors fighting it into a bloodthirsty frenzy. The thought had passed my mind of pushing The One towards the gas to cease her fear but I quickly figured out that it was a terrible idea. As soon as I had stepped into the fray I was forced to narrowly dodge the daemon's wrath! I retaliated as Fiendcutter bit deeply into the thing's chest! It screamed in surprise as ungodly blood seeped from its breast. It laughed cruelly as it struck my left leg, clawed my shield arm and pecked Werner's head! Our marine nearly had his arm torn off but some strange power diverted that blow. His eyes suddenly poked out of his helmet on two ugly stalks!

I knew that the day would come when his Chaos mutations would be revealed to civilization. In front of our new Emperor! I had kept my word from the hammer's last resting place and had vowed to never reveal to anyone his secret: he was a warrior of Chaos, serving a great daemon that demanded him to undo the plans of the other Chaos powers! Now I could do nothing but look in horror as his body changed before me. I called upon Heinrich's might to aid our battle but I realized that he was weakening the beast with a beam of light from the holy hammer. The One's holy lightning flashed across the hall and forced that great bird to shriek in agony! Jim slashed into one of its gangly arms and Werner broke part of the damn thing's beak with Death Dealer! A mace tail grew from it and it forced one of Blessed Jim's ribs through his lung! He was barely alive and had to be dragged out by one of the knights. Werner swung with both speed and precision but the daemon was too fast and powerful. I was ready for all of us to die. I ran forward with my blade and flung myself into the great abomination. Fiendcutter found its place within the thing's very heart and, after a moment, its hideous death cry was cut short by its body bursting into blood and guts. I wiped off the blood and could see Emperor Heinrich throw the hammer into an infernal mist. It glowed as brightly, no, brighter than the sun itself! Ghal Maraz soon left this mortal world but had forever banished the daemon! Cultists of Chaos were killed left and right by inspired clerics and knights. Werner knelt before me and cried out:


I unsheathed his knife and looked at it. It could not be avoided, he was too tainted and I had made a promise. Tears ran down its blade. I spoke for one last time with my battle brother, the greatest of friends: "WERNER MURRMANN, YOU HAVE SERVED THE EMPIRE AND FOUGHT CHAOS WITH A BRAVERY AND STRENGTH THAT WOULD MAKE SIGMAR PROUD! FAREWELL MY FRIEND, AND MAY SIGMAR GRANT YOU THE SALVATION YOU'VE TRULY EARNED!"

I cut his throat and dropped the knife. I sat next to our Emperor on the steps. He was crowned Emperor soon as the Grand Theogonist was dead. I wept beside him.

I now finish this journal with my own writing, as Protector of Talabecland. Yes, my own writing! I have not had too much excitement recently. That's fine by me. I was offered the role of Knight Eternal by Heinrich but I could not do it justice. I asked briefly for a naval career but as soon as I heard the name "Lustria" I politely refused. I've heard enough from sailors to know that it's a death trap! The One was given the title of High Wizard of Middenheim. I hear that she throws many parties, frequently involving elephants as a unique spectacle. Well, it's not too surprising to me but you probably know that already! Blessed Jim is now Marshall of Ostermark. No finer man for that job! He probably loves it. I haven't heard from Harbull in a while but I like to think that he's doing well and that his stories have won him entry into a fair few parties. I wonder what Werner would have done after all this? I imagine that he'd become a great leader of armies!

I'm sending these journals to the only man that I believe could make this story into something magnificent: Ludwig von Wittgenstein! Perhaps a play or opera? I must make a note telling Ludwig to include lots of exciting battles.

With actors aiming for the neck, not the sword!

Johann Dasbuut.

Cthulhu Dark campaign play (Eternal Lies)


I'm reading Eternal Lies, the globetrotting 1930s campaign for Trail of Cthulhu by Jeff Tidball and Will Hindmarch - credited as "with" Jeremy Keller, which I'm unsure how to interpret. But anyway. 

My circumstances are such that while the number of sessions available isn't a problem, time in setup and mechanical resolution for each session is highly restricted. In other words, we have a shortish amount of time to get stuff done. For that reason, I'm inclined to play Eternal Lies using Graham Walmsley's game Cthulhu Dark, which I have run a lot, written scenarios for and generally recommend to all and sundry. But long-term play using the same characters presents a potential challenge. In particular, the issue of Insight and what to do at the end of each adventure (or locale in EL). You could simply reset to 1, but that seems unsatisfying. Similarly, I would like to be able to be tough about Insight rolls - and killing characters off - without introducing any new mechanics or stats. 

Here's what I think I'm going to do. 

[Side note: we may end up using Trail of Cthulhu itself, so this might all be academic. Nevertheless.] 


I'll use the pre-generated PCs that are included in Eternal Lies. Players can claim the occupation die for their occupation, any investigative ability higher than 0 or general ability that seems high enough. (But not including health/stability etc.) 


Pillars of Sanity

When your Insight hits 6, you either "understand the full horror behind the Universe and leave everyday life behind" or one of your Pillars of Sanity crumbles and you roleplay the consequences. When all your Pillars are gone, you and your sanity are playing for keeps. 


Sources of Stability

We'll use these as a means of reducing Insight without needing to destroy Mythos knowledge. You can still do that in order to make a suppression roll, even if you have Sources of Stability remaining. You can make a suppression roll by calling on a Source of Stability, but if you fail the roll, you alienate them. 

When you lose a Source of Stability, your minimum Insight increases by 1. 

For example, if you had three Sources of Stability and alienate two of them, you now only have one Source to call on to reduce Insight, and the lowest your Insight can go is 3. 


Point Spends

I don't like having point spends in the text anyway (see previous blog posts about GUMSHOE), but this this is an easy conversion. 1-point spends are a 4+ on an investigation roll, 2-point spends are a 5+. 



As a rule of thumb, actions where life and death are at stake will follow the Bastionland model of critical injuries for fallout. I will rarely make "you die" the failure state for, say, a gunfight or precarious climb. Instead, because as Chris McDowall says an injured PC is more interesting than a dead one, anything that might kill a PC will first incapacitate them, and then if no one rescues them, things get worse. 




Investigations and Invisiclues in RPGs

First, this:

I eschew GM-initiated investigative spends in GUMSHOE games. Instead, I treat all relevant info as available for 0 points if a suitable skill is used. 
Actually spending points is for using the "wrong" skill (e.g. reading an inscription in a tomb my be free for someone who has a skill level of 1 or more in Akkadian, but you can interpret it successfully with a point from your History pool), telling rather than asking, stretching the definition of your skill ("Could I use Art history to....?"), or getting the GM to spell out the significance of some information. 
Some examples. 
FREE information  PAID information
What is the evidence found on the body?What does it mean? 
This person is lying to you.Why are they lying? What specifically are they lying about? 
Ask the GM if you know how to identify the mysterious chemical.Tell the GM you know a scientist who can identify the mysterious chemical. 


In summary, you get the evidence for free, but pay for the meaning. 

You can ask the GM for information about the world for free. You can tell the GM facts about the world for a point spend. 

This is kind of similar to the InvisiClues books published by Infocom for their text adventure games in the Olden Days. Games like Hitchhiker's Guide also had these help hints built in to the game, later. You could ask for help and it would give you a vague clue at first, then something more specific, then eventually (usually) flat out tell you what to do. I can't remember if you lost points in the game for each clue you revealed - if you did, then that's basically the GUMSHOE investigative points system. 

The above is a natural enough fit for GUMSHOE and its banks of investigative skill points. But what if you're not playing GUMSHOE or other point-spendy or diceless system? 


The RBQ Method

No points or limits on the amount of help from the GM, just your personal sense of satisfaction. (Named for The Round Britain Quiz, in which teams start with 6 points for each question, and lose points based on how much help they need from the quizmaster to get to the answer. The questions are cryptic.) 


The Dice-Rolling Option

For games where you're rolling dice for things, you get the paid info on a successful roll and the free stuff for having "enough" of a skill level in the relevant area. What "enough" means you'll have to decide on a case-by-case basis. I can't help you there, you'll have to figure it own based on your circumstances. I'm not your dad. 




How to do Good Mystery Scenarios

A Google+ post, reposted here because I want to refer to it.... 


Setting the right stakes
Consider the Highlander TV series of the 1990s. This was a programme that had a few very good episodes. They were never the episodes where the climactic scene hinged on the question “Will MacLeod beat this other guy in a sword fight?” The show is called Highlander – of course he’s going to win. Despite the fact that immortals duelling with swords was the key draw of the series, the best episodes were not the ones that asked “Who is the best sword-immortal?” but the ones where the question was something else. Will MacLeod kill this person even though he doesn’t want to? Will he be able to rescue the innocent NPC the baddie has taken prisoner? That kind of thing. Strangely the producers never seemed to work this out, and most of the episodes were about the who-is-the-best-at-swords thing, but there you go.

If your only options in a scenario are “the players do/don’t solve the mystery”, and the mystery is the only thing happening, you have a problem.

If the solution is “you’ll solve the mystery no matter what” and the players know it, there’s little sense of accomplishment in getting to the end. Character drama – the journey above the destination – can compensate for the lack of jeopardy, but there are other options.

1) Time running out

Good for a Sherlock Holmes-style game where failure could undermine the central conceit of your PCs. You’ll work it out – but will the villain have escaped by the time you do? Conan Doyle used this a few times.

A variation is what you might call the Usual Suspects template. The secret agent is on the train, and you’ll get a photograph of him or her when you arrive in Istanbul. But if it takes you that long to work out who it is, chances are they’ll escape or pass on the secret plans to their associates before you can catch them.

2) The villain out of reach

The Columbo method. You know who did it, because you watched the pre-credits sequence, or because you’re a great detective, or because the bad guy said something like “So, I killed my wife, did I? Well, I’d like to see you prove it! Good day, detectives. I said good day!”
So in one sense the mystery is solved. But how did they do it, and how can you prove it?

You don’t have to make the culprit known from the start – solving the whodunit part about 2/3rds of the way through works, and then the ending either sees the culprit proven guilty or left as an ongoing nemesis.

Slightly different, and common in film noir and hardboiled fiction, is the scenario where it’s relatively simple to get the person who pulled the trigger, but the detective may or may not get to the bottom of who ordered the hit.

3) Something else going on

Perhaps the easiest way to make both success and failure in solving the mystery “acceptable” is to make sure the PCs have more than just that going on.

For example, police detectives will usually have more than one case active, and some of them might never be solved. Or, in a scenario for OSS agents behind enemy lines in World War II, the mystery may be “who killed Agent Donovan?” At the same time, the agents will have missions to undertake that involve spying, sabotage or training resistance fighters. If things go wrong on absolutely all fronts, their new objective will be to get home safely: whatever happens, you’ve got an adventure.

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