Saturday, August 1, 2020

Pen & Paper Tavern Games

A person, making a world for any Tabletop RPG, will come across a question at some point in their career - whether it be in game, or outside of it; What the hell do my NPCs play as games in their spare time?

Whether your PCs find a place to sit in the crowded tavern of the bustling city-port of your fantasy world, drink martinis and cocktails in seedy bars of cyberpunk metropolii, or compete in the underground speakeasy of your steampunk frontiertown, you will need to come up with some sort of game your players can get interested in - a bar game.

I've seen variations of bar games, here and there. I've seen it done on Critical Role, in my own games, in some sci-fi actualplays I can't care to remember the name of.

So, what the hell works?
This determines how you want your players to interact with the world. When playing one of these games, you do not want them to have so much fun as to abandon the main point of the TTRPG altogether - an addictive minigame. You don't want it to be too complicated, and you don't want it to break the suspension of disbelief, and bring the players rushing back to playing a game for stakes in the real world.

So you want it to be interesting, but not too fun, simple, and (preferably) using in-universe theatre of the mind.

How to recognize a good (TTRPG) game

Simplicity, Playability, Interactivity, Reward. Let's say these are the pillars of a good TTRPG game.

Simplicity: This one is simple - this is a game within a game, you don't want to not play the game you're all here to play. Then you might as well tear one off the shelf and begin playing with those coloured tokens. You want it to be accessible, simply.

Playability: In the end, no matter how simple the game is, you want the game to play well. The no stakes "one roll and you're out" is no fun. Neither is the simple game with the same outcome. This ties into the simplicity and accessibility in your game.

Interactivity: I would like to say this one is the most vital of the bunch. You are here to play a TTRPG. Whether it be online or in mom's basement or at your local gamng store, you are here to play with other people. In this regard, you want the game to stimulate interaction between your characters, and your NPCs - this includes making it crystal clear that your NPCs are cheating, but the characters not knowing that. This can take the form of betting, constant chatter, still pokerfaces; the point is that the very act of trying to figure out the motivations of the others at the table is a vital aspect of this game.

Reward: This can honestly be anything, and is dependent on your table. Your group may just love rolling dice - let them roll dice. They might love upping stakes - give them a betting game. They might not even care about the game, but want the incredbile amounts of cash available winning it - be careful with this one, it could derail your game. Use the latter as an introduction into other parts of your world.


Let's have a look at an unbelievably simple '21' variant one of my players cooked up. The point of the game is to guess the dealers roll.

  1. Each side rolls a 1d20+1d4.
  2. Place bets 1 round. 
  3. Choose to add a 1d4. 
  4. Place bets again. 
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until somebody folds or cannot bet higher.
  6. Reveal. Closest to, below 21 wins.

We ran this as if they were playing a card game - in a bar in a MagicPunk frontiertown. Simple? Hell yeah, I wrote the rules in six short sentences. Playable? Very much so. Not dull, uses weird dice, tense, not too many moving parts. Interactive? If you don't think being smart and guessing the other's roll, reading them and then betting is being interactive, then leave. Reward? The reward can be in the money, in the tense dice rolling, or the players jeering people on.

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition Dungeon Master's Guide had a list of gambling games on page 215-216. They are clearly in the "normal people gambling games" category.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

On Planes: Faraway

It was estimated by the grand Magi of Tarr that the exact number of planes is somewhere in the thousands. Lay knowledge claimed only a couple of these, with spurious rumours of others which the Magi doubted exist. 

The thinking has somewhat changed over the past couple years, with disastrous experiments to measure the circumference of the world. The Professors in the Academy have devised a new theory, one which makes stuffy Magi huff and puff in annoyance. 

It is the idea that the Planes are one plane. One, impossibly large, and possibly infinite realm wherein all the possibilities of the material exist. They have named our region the Mundane, but as the urban legend would tell it, after overhearing a confused conversation by students high on Isle Zgentil 'shrooms, dubbed the rest "The Faraway."

Academy Professors are entirely correct. In fact, the Plane teems with life, personalities, and of course, the City. Many names exist for it, all of them entirely correct.
Chaos and Law are the winds, or currents, across this Plane. Think of the hairy ball - Chaos is that which cannot be combed flat. 

The Bureaucracy of Daey

The Nine Dukes rule this massive, impossibly large bureaucracy. An opulent Jade palace with numerous demon accountants and committees, the Dukes living in opulent penthouses. Intensely non-euclidean in the most frustratingly bureaucratic manner possible.
This sprawling administration of souls is a gigantic pagoda, built on an island of amber, harvested from those Aster Whales. Burnt to keep the smell of the putrid acid sea away.


The maelstrom of thaumic currents. Matter has no say, thoughts have their way, fears come alive. Apprentices not versed in planar elocution find their energies inevitably drawn into it.

Fey and Fell

Reflections of the Mundane, most say, but more probably either the flotsam and jetsam of the Mundane, or that which give the Mundane its depressive or joyful elements. Both are considered extremely dangerous.

They can be understood in many different ways. Where the Mundane is normal growth, Fey is cancer, Fell is wasting. Where the Mundane is a sine curve, Fey is an erratic line which breaks the axes, Fell an imperceptible line infinitely close to the x-axis.


Otherwise known as the Eyrie. Home of the celestial Dragons, corresponding to the Elements; Water, Earth, Air, Fire, Metal.

A peak, reaching to the heavens, or so they say.

Elemental Planes

So pure, as to immediately destroy all Material around it. Water is pure, so is Earth. These are not to be messed with. As Madness is Chaos, this is Order.


The Deep sea. The primordial. From its depths come those that no man will ever conceive or ever know.

(I like to think of this as the Immer from China Mieville. Just as endless/timeless. Those who travel to Apsu, or the surface thereof, find themselves in a cavern drip-dripping with dark water.)

Kur, or, the Forgetting

Every thing in the Plane has a lifespan, and eventually, these things slowly get eroded over time. If not remembered by those that can see, they are forgotten.

This is where those that are dead or in the process of being forgotten, are. Go deep enough into the earth or sky and you will find yourself there. A grey sky, dust for miles, and ruined buildings with strange people that stumble and grope in dim memory. They eat dust, never to be filled.

The Sky

Where the Mundane is below, Apsu is...somewhere, and the Mundane is "above" them, the sky is above the Mundane. Go far enough out, and things do not make any sense. Suns stand still in the air, stars wink out, air becomes solid. It is possible to travel through here using those ships of the ancients to the other lands, faraway.

The Sun, Moon & Stars

It is frighteningly confusing. In some cases, people land on small balls of earth in an unbreathable climate. In others, the land below winks out, to be replaced by a coloured country. Travel far enough, and you end up back in the Mundane. Are they part of the planes? Are they portals? Gods? In some cases they are, in others not.


Where the hell are the Gods?

I do not know, but I'd like to think of them as emanations of the Universal Current. Self-Aware (if that is even close to the right term) hyper-consciousnesses, like a 11th dimensional bird swarm.

If they are emanations of the current, then technically they are planes. This does mean you can travel "into" a god.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Towards SF Knave, or, Belta

I ran this game once, using the system Offworlders. It ran for a couple sessions, and I never felt comfortable with it. I do get Storygames, it was the longest pet peev of mine that I didn't grok them. Until I did - just do what it says on the box.


I want my own SF hack. I checked out SWN (too much), Impulse Drive (Storygame), White Star (your classic OD&D clone), Any Planet is Earth (haven't really played it yet, but it feels a bit vague to me.)

I want my own, and I used Knave because it's a toolkit and "HACK ME" is written all over.

Main idea - make it simple, and something which can be used quickly. A pick-up-and-play affair which sticks to the basic mechanics in Knave to make something newer, and broadly compatible with SWN and other OSR products. Allow for customization, but keep that simple, and up to rulings and Group-Rulebook interplay.

I had several ideas, like adding back classes and item-class-slot customization, but I eventually threw them away, might add them as supplemental.  The biggest "issue" that struck me was essentially that the Knave inventory system is barely suited to SciFi gaming unless you are playing a survival game. Buuut, the slot system is still neat, and I thought I'd still use it - only it'd become a central feature of your characters background and abilities, and not just a way to track weight.

Call this my SciFi Hearthacker


Your Character

Read Knave, just sorta add this to it.

Roll in order. Your Slots are your Con Defense+highest Bonus. Health is d8+Con Bonus.

You get a weapon, an object (healing patch, armour, drone, universal communicator etc) and 3d6x200 credits. Put these in your slots (not credits). Then from the bottom you build your Roll or choose Periods/Augments/Psionics. These reflect things you have done in your life, and/or just pick and choose. They each take up a certain amount of slots. Psionics can be chosen only once on initial creation, and you should choose your Psionic Discipline. Check the pic below for more.

I came up with three basic things. SF staples. A history (in the vein of Traveller), which I call Periods, Augments, as for Cyberpunk, and Psionics with the Disciplines ported from SWN. I gave the d12 some lovin' and made essentially these things.

Psionics rules: All Psion Slots = uses. Level 1 Bio = 5 uses. Level 1 Bio/Telepath = 5 uses split between the two. Recharge after hella good rest, whatever that is - Intense mediation, exercise, watching movies. Nothing which messes with your chemistry because oh boy. You can forcibly use the next level of your ability, but you would need to spend a month recuperating or suffer -d6 to all rolls.


Ship combat can be boring, I wanted to make it not. So I guess involve everyone on some level.

Three Stats: Pilot/Hull/Weapons. 3 open Slots for Augments or Cargo or whatever else.

Put in stats, 1/1/2. Pilot and Weapons point equals a d6. Your first hull point is 6, the next ones add 3.

When it comes to combat each player says where they want to be in the ship. The Pilot, Weapons, Otherwise indisposed (On an augment for example.)

Each player adds a d6 to the "Stat", relevant skills get ADVd6. Example: Ship has a stat of 2, adds 2d6. Pete and Wam each add 1d6, for a total of 4d6. If Wam has ADVd6 one d6 would be rolled twice, using the highest roll.

When you attack, the players in Weaponry add a d6 for a stat point, and a d6 or ADVd6 for participation, to beat the combined Pilot Roll+Hull points of the opposition. If the weaponry beats the oppositions Pilot+Hull, the difference is damage. The same thing is done when being attacked. A 1 on a dice leaves progressive dice being rolled at a DisADV. Exampe The Weapons:1 fires. Two PCs man it. the rolls are then 3, 4, 1. A DisADV is imposed, starting on the Stat point. Next Roll: (2,5), 3, 4 = 9 Next Roll: (3,4), 1, 3 = 7. Another DisADV is imposed. Next Roll, (2,3), (1,5), 4 = 7. Any ADVs are cancelled first.

Not so sure about the HP of the ship. It is possibly a good idea to abstract it into Hull = HP. I'm just not sure how or how much. For now, I'll multiply it by 3.

Roll group initiative each round. Movement is something like 20 units for an average ship. Jumps into Hyper/Sub Space as an action. Stunts can be attempted as per what seems reasonable - assume hacking is against a 6.

Travel is essentially 1 trip :1 fuel per impulse trip in a system. Per Hex luxspeed trip with working, living crew 1 trip: 2 Fuel per person + engine. Per hex luxspeed with sleeping crew 1 hex: 1 fuel per person + engine. Ship augments increase the fuel cost by 1 per upgrade. Sleeping on your trip means you could get lost, or captured en route. For now, fuel is equal to the (Pilot Stat+Captain/s)x6.


Essentially like Knave, with stunts and all. I dunno if I should have floating modifiers (+2) for the customization system or just straight advantage. Throwing 2 dice is always fun. A System Strain is basically just a -d4, -d6, -d8 for all healing and all Checks. System Strain is received using Drugs, Health Packs or Psionic Healing. 


Ugh - I want basics. Treat as per Knave for now. Bow and Crossbow are Gun and Laser-pistol respectively. Laser pistols have 8 shots, Guns have 6. Simple. Armour is Ascending as per normal. All prices on the Knave items multiply by 10.


More powerful = less carry even when they should be able to carry more. Weird but eh.

Space combat could be boring - fair.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Ur-Niligal the Archivist

I was bored so I made an Into the Bronze character. Use as you wish.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Into the Bronze Sorcery

To start off, Sumerian is literally only known from the writings they have left behind - we have no clue if there were some tonal variations, or if what we read even sounds like how the ancient Sumerians spoke. Since the written language developed from accounting records, I would make the solid guess that if we spoke what we read to them, it would be equivalent to a foreigner with an understanding of English vocabulary just saying random words at you until you got their meaning.

That being said we're doing it for a game, and are speaking collections of syllables with meanings which have probably not been spoken for over 2000 years, so have fun!

Also, quick disclaimer - this is supposed to be for fun, I have almost certainly mistranslated or messed up because well, it's an ancient language. Let me know in the comments!

The Wisdom of Shuruppak


It was surprisingly difficult to do "joiners" or "verbs" so as to elucidate meaning. I would recommend you just add what makes sense. Or use the resources to find the correct word, conjunction or verb.

Magical words are known as Achdugar - the spittle of sorcery (ch as ch in loch) or Namshub - Spell.

  1. Fire = Nemur
  2. Water = A
  3. Earth = Ki
  4. Wind = Imi/Im/Em
  5. Temperature = Kum (hot)/Ten (cold)
  6. Treason = Namlul (treachery)
  7. Velocity = Kash
  8. Clay = Imi/Im/Em
  9. Shadow = Ngissu
  10. Light = Zalag
  11. Nature = Ningnamtarra (fate of a thing) Shagina (ones true heart)
  12. Rock = Na
  13. Time = En
  14. Forgiveness = Shushungar
  15. Destruction = Kush
  16. Unity = Adach
  17. Dream = Mashngi
  18. Steps = Ngiridu
  19. Bone = Kak
  20. Sound = Gu

Now, the dictionary is huge and extremely detailed. Open it and choose whatever words you want. Here are 20 more for your game.

  1. Beer = Kash
  2. Truth = Ninggina
  3. Clean = Eshda
  4. Entry = Mu
  5. Confusion =  Dalhamun
  6. Beauty = Hili
  7. Spirit = Alad (life force)
  8. Fear = Nite
  9. Plant = U (general object)
  10. Evaluate = Shadi-/thing/-di
  11. Weapon = Udug
  12. Awe = Niguru
  13. Write = Dubsar
  14. Quarrel = Du
  15. Seal = Kish
  16. Smell = hab (foul)/ir (fragrant)
  17. See = Igisi
  18. Pleasure = Ul
  19. Alone = Ash
  20. Hair = Sig

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"Into the Bronze" from Lantern's Faun

Sumer and the Bronze Age - the aesthetic, are the shit. Bias outta the way, here goes.

click the cover to buy the game

This book is a a startlingly short hack of Into the Odd by Chris McDowell. I have actually not looked at ItO specifically much, but have come into a lot of contact with its hacks; namely Electric Bastionland, Silent Titans, Death is the New Pink, Maze Rats and Mausritter. For brevity, it's excellent.


Terse, to the point. Almost everything makes perfect sense on the first reading. If not, it is the Referee's prerogative to make a ruling. The only problem is that the book leaves us with very little of what constitutes a ruling - the empty space is nice because it allows each game to morph to the tables expectations, but considering the firm aesthetic (portrayed through tables), this can be seen as a pro or con. I, personally, see it as both.


Firmly, firmly Artpunk. It takes from public domain art and edits and formats it to create something absolutely a pleasure to look at. The author is a graphic designer and has made many other things here. An excellent use of Sumerian imagery, and the white space.


Like I said, an Into the Odd hack. Classically has the Str, Dex, Wil, with HP, and Obsidian as its currency - reference the two to get your background. Additionally, it makes has a fun if slightly confusing traits table (it has physical traits which include animals as items, as well as animals in background equipment lists - simple to rule at the table but a weird choice.)

Its lovely innovation is that all damage is d6 but the strength of the weapon is dependent on the roll it Explodes at, and deals double damage. Fun and swingy.

What is very odd (heh) is that for skills it uses a d20, for weapons d6, and on the "Dead or Dying" table the only other dice - a d8. For those who play Pen & Paper RPGs (which it plainly states it expects the reader to be familiar with), they should have these dice, but again, a strange choice.


Choose words, imagine an effect which uses all the words, and a price. Made for ruling by the Referee.  I would have liked a Sumerian translation for fun, and real-life reading of the spells. Hell! Even a simple language system! Consider that my first hack. (If you're aching for that check out the PbtA game The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze, has a list of Sumerian-like syllables)

Referee & Adventure Creation

It works well as a framework to throw your, and your groups personality in. Doesn't say it explicitly, but encourages the Referee to make plenty of rulings.

In that same vein, I would encourage the person running the game to give the entire game a good read through. There are tidbits in the backgrounds, creature descriptions and adventure creation tables that hint at a strange world. Whether you interpret it as Cosmic Horror, Science Fantasy, Fantasy or anything else, what it does do well is beg for interpretation.

The tables, as setting, work well. But there are tables where I would have liked more content, which are oddly sparse considering their subject matter (Looking at you Secrets table)


I love Sumeria, I love the Bronze Age. This game is in my ballpark. It has beautiful graphic design and is nicely streamlined, and I will assuredly run it, even use it for a campaign. Only quibble is the pro/con that that due to its minimalism, it leaves a lot for the person running it to interpret or create. If only for the art, I would buy it.

Monday, July 13, 2020

On Tiroeth: Orist

Here is a picture of the main village/town, Orist, in my one-on-one Tiroeth Campaign powered by Scarlet Heroes.

The Player Character is one from a previous game, which I just hacked into Scarlet Heroes - he is pretty powerful, but generally so are the forces that he is dealing with and have aligned himself to.

  1. Orist Proper, Old and Run Down. Has a Shrine to the Lady of the Lake, Fishing Warehouse and an old disused wall around it.
  2. The New Artuk'hon settlement. The big building in the north is the Grain Silo Temple to the Sower. The Area is relatively new and new refugees from the Vale stream in every day. Every piece of greenery is productive to some degree.
  3. The Lake. The Lady of the Lake is the local goddess/deity. She's been here forever, and protects this place.
  4. The Wandering Mountain; A Stable and Inn. Owned by white whiskered Syfrizian.
  5. Mama Jek's house; ancient wise-woman. Generally knows everything about the area. House is surrounded by a garden and inside are hanging herbs.
  6. Veki encampment; The halflings have been here for a while, it's part of their route across Tiroeth.