Campaign Idea I’ll Never Use – BUCKLR

The party are members of a secret, privately funded global spy organization called BUCKLR. Their purpose is to monitor all of the other secret, privately funded global spy organizations and, when necessary, track down their individual members and serve them with bills for all of the collateral damage they've caused. And, when really necessary, bring them to justice for any lives they've taken or crimes they've committed.
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On Podcasting

Asking what the "best" microphone is for podcasting is misunderstanding the problem. Here's how to sound good without spending a ton.


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Process Map Campaign Design

One of my players has been working on learning to GM and has been asking me questions about my writing processes.

I'll be honest, my processes are few - there's not much to my GM'ing beyond "tell a good story". The way I run my games varies pretty widely depending on the group, system and setting.

But on the other hand, I'm not the type of GM who believes every game should be run 100% on-the-fly. The last thing I want to do is sit at a table while the players are looking at me waiting for some kind of prompt for something to happen. It's far less stressful for me to adapt a story to the players than to improvise a story as we go.

The main story technique in my GM bag of tricks, which I've used to write some of my best campaigns, is to write the story as a process map. I use it every time I write a longer campaign of a dozen or more sessions where the story has to have a meaning (If I'm free-wheeling a sandbox campaign, I usually just make up the next adventure after each session). Having a plot beats map lets me pace the reveals in my story while still being completely open to improvise based on the player characters.

Here's how I do it.


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Campaign idea I’ll never use – Ex Machina

The party is comprised of scientists, military technology experts, etc. The game begins with everyone in a helicopter over a jungle being given a briefing - they're about to be dropped into an extremely remote testing facility where artificial humanoids have been living in an isolated commune. The company wants a full study of AI capabilities - Language, Adaptability and Resourcefulness, Awareness, and Combat Effectiveness. Once the testing is complete, the AIs at the camp will have all memories of the testing erased so that they can continue living without outside influence.

There are five artificial beings living in the compound - Alpha - levelheaded and decisive, Beta - the guardian and protector, Gamma - sensitive and cautious, Delta - nimble and quiet, and Epsilon - the poet and artist. They've been living an idyllic life, quietly farming and just generally existing. The team's arrival is a shock to them, but they adjust and make the party feel welcome - all except Gamma, who is convinced they're about to be terminated. Gamma's fear is so great that it eventually destroys itself, damaging the compound's only source of electricity and the only way the AIs can recharge themselves.

The company says it can't have a team in with repair equipment for at least a day - tropical storms are about to roll over the area making it impossible to do a heavy equipment drop.

Delta blames the party for Gamma's "death" and storms off, returning later to attempt to kill one of the party.

Epsilon apologizes for Delta and explains that they've never been killed during a test before. It becomes clearer as they interact more with the AIs that this sort of testing happens with some regularity. The party begin to wonder how the AIs remember previous tests when their memories should have been wiped.

As dawn breaks and the storm clears and the party prepare for the arrival of a rescue team, Delta shows up again, this time less combative but no less challenging. It tells the party that they're all dead anyway, the test groups are always dead at the end.

As helicopters roar in over the hills in the distance, Epsilon explains that The Archivist keeps their memories for them so they remember what happens with each test. Epsilon would introduce them to The Archivist, but without power The Archivist won't be awake to speak to them. The Archivist, it turns out, is the head of an artificial being that they found in the jungle after a past test - it has burn marks and a bullet wound.

It also looks exactly like one of the party.

The AIs then explain that the residents of the camp are not the artificial beings who are being tested. And the tests are over. And now the soldiers are coming.

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Campaign idea I’ll never use soon – The Library

The main hall of The Library has a tiled marble floor depicting the Earth as seen from space branching out into fragments of nearly identical Earths, sort of like the CBC logo. Each of the multitude of halls and exhibit rooms branching off from the main hall house not an organized collection but a haphazard compilation of books and book-like things from across the continuum. Because that's what The Library does - it gathers research materials from across the known worlds.

But it's research only, here, no check-out, because if you were to walk out of The Library carrying one of its books in your hands you will not find yourself wherever it is that you came from but rather where the book came from and that can be a very dangerous place. The continuum, you see, may be made up of only Earths, but they are vastly different from each other for the Universe does care about minute probabilities. You will not find another Earth exactly like yours except for traffic lights that are a different color. The continuum is made up entirely of improbabilities - the more unlikely a thing is the better your odds of finding an Earth where it is fact.

And that is why the only one way in and out of The Library is past the Head Librarian's counter. It's not that the Head Librarian is physically intimidating - quite the opposite. If Truman Capote dressed up as Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess for Halloween you'd have a fairly close approximation. But that ageless, sexless authoritarian need only glance over those turquoise horn-rimmed glasses to bring an immediate halt to any and all high jinks for s/he projects an imperial air that few would cross. And, no matter the time or day, the Head Librarian is always at the front counter, patiently stamping through the ever-present stack of new acquisitions.

And that's where the players come in. The players take on the role of "researchers" at The Library, doing the legwork that the Head Librarian cannot do without leaving the counter. For example, this new book about blood-sucking leech men of Earth 2311, is it fiction or non-fiction? Find out. And here's a research card submitted by a patron asking for the circumference of the crown worn by the Queen of the Gorgons on Earth 175-a. Go measure it. And why is this trilogy about the tech-wars of Earth 1337 only two books? Find out where the other book is, or at least how it's supposed to end.


And hurry up, there's a whole other cart of new books that need to be checked in by the end of the day.

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Home Made GM Screen

I made a new GM screen! I based my screen build on Tim Snider's design, with a few tweaks.


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Updates on Projects

I haven't been blogging much because I've been busy on other projects, so I thought I'd write up a quick note on what I'm thinking for a timeline for my current projects.

Dungeoning Ma'att

My dungeon musing / mapping and short fiction personal project.

I'm currently working on the expanded first collection of Dungeoning Ma'att dungeons. The book will include the first dozen maps, expanded and edited text, the new sections on how to use the structure, and a special 13th dungeon that will only be in the pay PDF file. I'm hoping to have the PDF up on DriveThruRPG by the end of January. I'll update my blog with the redesigned maps but probably not the new text.


The goofiest roleplaying game ever designed.

My next project is completing the base GENERALA book. The 3 sample dungeons are still in various states of rewrite and I'm looking toward mid-February to get that up on DriveThruRPG and the GENERALA website. That's probably going to be it for fantasy GENERALA for a bit. I'm toying with opening up a forum and soliciting submissions for a free GENERALA bestiary. We'll see how that goes.


The Adventure, Tabletop or Miniature Gamers of Alaska website.

The AToMAk domain has been registered ( and I'm shooting for a February launch date. I'm building a rough design now and I've got a pseudo-code structure for the forums and calendar events.

The Adventure Plot Tool Kit

Create campaign adventures on the fly.

Yes, I'm still working on the Tool Kit! I went back and rewrote a lot of the text for the frames and restructured the closing section on generic plot variations. I'm designing the book to print A5, which I prefer to 6 x 9. I'll put the book up as digital and print-on-demand, but the PoD is really where I'm directing the book. I'm seriously considering doing an expanded Kickstarter edition to get some print copies into the world that I can donate to fundraiser projects. I'm looking to have that done some time during the summer.

Square Fisted Stars

GENERALA in Space!

Mustache Rangers may be gone, but fandom lives on. I'm looking at an after-summer release on the sci-fi version of GENERALA. I'm working out some ways to make it more than just reskinned dungeon crawling - I really want the sci-fi tropes to be incorporated into actual gameplay and affect how the game works. Also, out of necessity, there's a good bit of extra material that needs to be published at the same time the rules come out. If I don't, the jokes about sexism in early sci-fi won't seem like jokes and I'll get yelled at.

Dynamo, Benandanti, and Apollyon

I have not forgotten any of these games, but they're all on the backburner at the moment. I'm using them as filler work between my main projects. I've rewritten the playing card mechanic of Benandanti and I'm hoping to have a beta of that system out for playtesting soon, but I have no firm timeline. Dynamo is waiting on artwork and an expanded game master's section - I'd really like to make the game completely pick-up-and-play - so the game master shouldn't have much more to do to start a game than players have to do when making their characters. And Apollyon is so esoteric, so out there in its concept of having the players bid against each other to determine how they're going to be railroaded, that I really want to play it with a solid group used to alternative games. Unfortunately, I only have one player in Anchorage that I think can handle it, so I might turn to playing online with it, if I can get my laptop to survive doing so.



Oh yeah! I forgot to add AARG to the above post! It's just that AARG has been such a constant, low-level project for so many years of my life that I never think of it as a project to be completed, it's just always there.

The Narrator's Guide is well underway and should be done in the next few months. My plan is to compile the Narrator's Guide, then gather all of my notes into the first chapter book based on the Amity setting (which will take even longer because it will include all of the elemental spells that were taken out of the main rule book).

Once those two books are done, the game will be ready to go! Seriously! I can't imagine it! With any luck this albatross that I've lived with for more than 10 years will finally fly off on its own and the only work I'll have to do on it, besides the occasional errata, is the settings books. I really can't wait.

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Win my wands!

I'm giving away four of my wooden magic wands and I want you to take them! All of the information is available on the contest page. Please enter and reshare the contest so as many people as possible know about it!
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Game-a-Thon 2014 Post Event Wrapup


This is the second year in a row I've taken part in Extra Life's 24-hour Game-a-Thon to raise money for Children's Miracle Network. Last summer, Ben Gerber of Troll in the Corner posted about his Extra Life team and mentioned that he was looking for more members and I thought it sounded like great fun and signed up. It was. Last year was a total blast as we had people in and out all day long - we ate a ton of food and played lots of games.

This year was a completely different experience. The problem seems to stem from the change of event date from November 2, post-Halloween, to October 25, the weekend before Halloween. That put a serious dent in the interest level of invitees. It wasn't that I was getting "no" either, it's that I wasn't getting any response at all. Of the more than 150 Facebook invites sent out, I had 10 yeses who were even physically capable of coming and even fewer maybes and zero comments or questions. I kept up hope going into Friday night that people had just been undecided or forgot to respond and that they would still pop in for a game or two before heading off to whatever Halloween plans they had, but as Saturday rolled on I saw that just wasn't the case.

In the end, I had 6 die-hard friends show up who, along with my wife, son, and brother all filled spots at the table. They all ended up putting in more time and playing more games than they had originally planned and for that I'm grateful. Without their support this year's event simply wouldn't have happened. Some games got reshuffled, others canceled entirely, but in the end we made it 24 hours without a break.

And on the financial side it was a complete success. We blew through last year's total and ended up raising $771 for Children's Hospital at Providence. I can consider the event a success in terms of the real world good that was accomplished.

But as of this writing I'm pretty sure this is the last year I'll participate.


Games Played

As with last year, Ben managed to gather some sponsors to donate games for us to play and give away during the event. And, as with last year, I put my requests in for games that sounded like they would keep the energy level up rather than games that are more well known or had a higher "cool" factor.


The Good

Crazy Creatures of Doctor Gloom - As I said, my criteria for which donated games I would like to play is the energy level. The break-out game at last year's Game-a-Thon was a kid's game called Monster Cafe which I picked simply because I thought it looked like silly fun. It ended up being the highlight of the event. This year saw a similar outcome with Doctor Gloom. It plays sort of like a multi-player solitaire, but with a direction-switching element which provides just enough strategy to make it interesting at all skill levels. It's not deep, but it's smooth - the simple mechanic plays like butter.

Get Lucky - I'm a big fan of Kill Dr. Lucky, not so much of Save Dr. Lucky (in fact, prior to this year's event I gave away our copy of Save to a team member). So with a 50/50 track record, I was on the fence about Get Lucky, the card game version. But it's my new favorite of the series because everything that makes Kill so much fun has been distilled down to a deck of cards and streamlined strategy.

Zombies - Shambling and Hungry - This is pretty much UNO, but with some nasty zombie-themed twists. It's simple and brutal. My only recommendation would be to house-rule the Infection cards because if you start with three or four in your hand, your game is pretty much over from the start. A tweak that makes game play a little more fair to the infected but which makes the Infected cards much more brutal overall is - when someone has to pick up the pile of cards from play, anyone with three or more Infected cards may drop one from their hand onto the pile before it's picked up. You're still pretty hosed if you're getting loaded up on Infected cards, but now infection is a danger to all of the party.

As Nas, etc. - A good friend of mine lugged over a gigantic pack box filled with heavy wood game pieces and a gigantic bucket of multicolored beads to teach us to play a few medieval dice and card games he'd been running at our local ren faire. It was a great break and a pretty interesting little history lesson. No, you can't hire him, but if you make it to Alaska during Three Barons I can easily recommend the Crimson Dove tent as a worthwhile place to lose some of your money.

Munchkin Adventure Time - I ordered this off of Amazon because hey! Munchkin! Adventure Time! And then I got it and saw that it wasn't a Steve Jackson Games game but something they licensed to a third party and I suddenly became a lot less enthused about it. I was wrong because it's easily the most entertaining Munchkin version I've ever played. The cards are completely redesigned - although they still have all of the information on a traditional Munchkin card, it's laid out so much better. And if you know Adventure Time it becomes a much more enjoyable game because seriously, who doesn't want to punch Donny square in his noggin?

Love Letter - You could be like me and read the reviews of Love Letter and dismiss it easily as just a puffy game about yet another imaginary pre-Renaissance Italian ideal and bleh. You could also be like me and be completely wrong because everything people say about Love Letter is true, it's a damn fun game to play and the first time you knock a player out in the first round using a Guard you're gonna want to play it at every opportunity.


The Bad

Where Art Thou Romeo? - I made a comment about this on G+ during the event so this is less a review and more an expansion. First, this isn't an actual game that's for sale, it was a special tiny give-away to Kickstarter supporters, so saying it's a bad game is bit like saying the Dr. Lucky coin that went out to Get Lucky backers is a terrible game because all you can do is flip it and get a 50/50 result. But it does include rules for a "game" to be played with the cards and that's what I'm critiquing. In the "game", players get a character card and the person who has "Juliette" has to listen, for 30 seconds, to everyone else tell her they're Romeo and then decide which of them is telling the truth. The problem is that there's no info currency for the players to bluff with or for Juliette to use to determine who might be the liars. If you passed a quarter around the table and then had everyone yell "I HAVE THE QUARTER" at your waitress for 30 seconds before asking her to decide who's telling the truth you'd have exactly the same "game" but at least in my version there's a chance alcohol could be involved.


The Missed Opportunities

One of the night's disappointments was being forced to drop The Agents from this year's roster because we just didn't have the players. And that's a shame because Double-edged Games donated an entire set - base and all of the expanded decks - of a game that I'd never heard of prior to this year's Game-a-Thon but whose concept immediately grabbed me. Since the game didn't go home with anyone, I'll try to find a local gaming club event to bring it to and make sure it gets the play it deserves because it just sounds like a cool game.

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On Podcasts

I complain about podcasts a lot because I listen to a lot of podcasts. It's amazing how many podcasters can't do the basics of podcasting - turn off the TV/radio in the background, edit out your long pauses, and tag your fucking files properly - and no, "show-####-####" isn't a proper tag scheme.

That said, there are a few podcasts I've been listening to regularly and, in light of having any gaming projects finished to talk about (there's a GENERALA dungeon coming soon, I'm just waiting for playtesters to get back to me) I'm filling my blog void with podcast recommendations. I've ditched the radio and TV shows that release podcast versions and listed, in no particular order, what's currently in my subscriptions.


Kumail Nanjiani's X-Files Files - This podcast started out as another b-celeb invites other b-celebs on to talk about something and then plug their stuff, but Kumail's genuine fanship for X-Files made it so much more than that in just a few short episodes.

Cocktail Nation - Koop Kooper is the standard by which other music podcasts must be measured. Even toned, interesting, and he spins a pretty good tune. If you like lounge music, this is a good use of an hour of your time.

Fear the Boot - RPG podcast that sometimes strays dangerously close to dudebro chest beating with a few of the hosts, but Dan always brings it back before it gets obnoxious.

Blurry Photos - Supernatural and esoteric topics. I've been getting a little bored lately with their ever-increasingly-complex intro pieces, and I frequently skip over their pun runs, but the rest of the show is well produced and does a decent job of talking about the weird and paranormal without being too pro- or anti-.

Welcome to Night Vale - Narrative about a weird little town, you might have heard of it. I've been losing interest since the election ended, actually a little before the election ended, but I'm willing to give them time to come back to the random silliness of the first 20 or so episodes.

Nearly Enough Dice - RPG related, but also covers computer games. Basically, it's two people just sitting and talking about the geeky things they've done or played in the last week. It's a gaming podcast that doesn't interview all the same people every other gaming podcast is interviewing. Also the hosts are fun people.

How Did This Get Made - Honestly, I skip every other HDTGM episode because they do these dumb, half hour "previews" of upcoming episodes. Which is dumb. Just give me the episode. Their actual episodes are entertaining if you like bad movies.

The Bugle - Do you find John Oliver funny? Because this is John Oliver. It's the funniest current events podcast out there.

The Moth - Storytellers telling their stories. I'm amazed at how often someone starts telling a story and I'm really not interested in their story and by the end of their story I'm loving their story.

Geologic - Atheism, music, and, well, George. George likes to talk about himself a lot. Fortunately, he's usually entertaining. A few of his bits are not.

Getting On with James Urbaniak - James Urbaniak and a rotating cast of writers do a podcast that's James playing fictionalized versions of himself. What makes it work is how well he sells the character - whether it's James the wild west gangboss or James the dad who's hiding, along with his trick-or-treating kids, from a real life werewolf.

The Big Red Couch - Gaming inspiration. I used to love a podcast called Postcards from the DungeonK which was basically two guys picking a topic and talking about how to use said topic in roleplaying games. It was brilliant. Then they changed format to be just another interview podcast that talked about the latest gaming products and/or Kickstarters. Big Red Couch takes the run-with-an-idea concept and, well, runs with it. It's a handful of hosts, one of whom sounds remarkably like Fin Patterson from YSDC, who draw a phrase from a box and then spend a week designing either a campaign scenario, setting, or a new game concept based on that phrase. Then they all share and discuss their concepts. I'm probably not selling it right. It's a very entertaining listen, but be warned, they really need an upgrade in their recording equipment.

Mysterious Universe - Esoteric topics. MU fills that void that was left when Art Bell left the air, that mixture of wide-eyed wonder at supernatural topics combined with a decent dose of skepticism when fringe topics go too crazy.

Penn's Sunday School - Yeah, I know, I wear my atheism on my sleeve. Also, I took my first girlfriend to seen Penn & Teller. She hated them. We're not together anymore.

Regret Labs - Science. Aric McKeown was (is?) half of the, now sadly defunct, Mustache Rangers. This is his new podcast where he and cohost Levi Weinhagen ask the science questions that the rest of us don't ask because we're afraid of being laughed at for not knowing the answers to.

Revolutions - History. Mike Duncan, he of History of Rome fame, talks about actual revolutions from history. It's deep and dense at times, but Mike could discuss the history of the dictionary and still find a way to make it entertaining.

Nerd Poker - RPG actual play. D&D and fart jokes. This one's not for everyone.

RPPR Actual Play - RPG actual play. I've been listening to RPPR's actual play for a long time, since the first few episodes of the New World campaign. They are, without a doubt, some of the best actual plays out there.

WTF with Marc Maron - I find myself skipping this more often than not because I don't know/don't care about the interviewee. But when it's someone I know and I'm interested in knowing about, Marc puts on a fine show.


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