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Category Archives: Roleplaying


JB from B/X Blackrazor lately has been mulling about certifications for DMs.

I thought this was cute. He found an old article in Dragon magazine that allowed you to calculate your level as a player and/or DM. Not your character level, but your level as the person playing the game.

Then he went into why it might be a good idea to have something like this to show how experienced and how good you are as a DM. I think he missed the mark a bit here. He went into how you would have to measure all these things, how and who could certify you, and so on. And I was thinking that was missing the mark a bit, why not just use some smaller certificates as a baseline. Have players and DM do an online test that gives you a printable pdf in the end, certifying that you passed the test on, let’s say, basic or advanced rules knowledge. The certificate would be utterly meaningless outside of this part of the hobby, but it would be a marker if you had put the work into understanding the topic or not.

I might be a bit biased there. At work we have an e-learning portal that works like this. Most of the certificates I get from it are not worth to be printed, but every single course will get me a certificate. Maybe a fifth of those are really something I could ever show someone else, but I technically have a sort of diploma for passing a course on Conflict Management. Which was a 90 minute electronic presentation and a 5 minute test, and which in the end resulted in a checkmark towards my promotion.

But anyway, I was just thinking, why not do something like that? Nothing fancy, a small test and you can tell people that yes, you know the absolute basics of a system.

Or someone does a small seminar on world-building or a specific GM-style and hands out some meaningless certificate afterwards.

But all this would just be cruft, just something to show to other gamers, because nobody else would be interested in the fact that you had a seminar in… I don’t know… Orcish Power Politics. Although it might be cool to show off, and if there’s one thing that we as roleplayers like it’s showing off our big in-game feats, isn’t it?

And then I was thinking: wait a second, why don’t we actually do get something when we finish a campaign or an adventure?

Even when not going into the whole mess that would be trying to certify a free-wheeling hobby as ours, why don’t we actually give out at least a token of appreciation when finishing an adventure, or even a campaign? We just spent how much time with each other? We put how much work into this whole thing?

Why is it not more common to hand out at least a souvenir thing in the end?

Oh I know, how many campaign ever really end? But lets say we go with really big/famous adventures? Why not play through Castle Ravenloft or something, and in the end you don’t only get experience points, but also a shiny document that player X played character Y in scenario Z and survived/died (strike as needed)?

We could fancy it up a bit and if we find it impressive enough hang it on the walls of our game rooms/man caves.

Or we could go the actual token path and hand out, well, tokens or medals, when people reach certain levels in a campaign or on an open table. Ah no, that might involve too much of an investment.

I guess one could come up with a lot of ideas here.

Where to go from here

So… it happened. The good times of having my players in the same city came to an end. One of my players just moved to another city in another country. It’s hardly out of the world, and I assume that she might come back every once in a while to visit family, but getting a game together became even harder.

Not that we really played that many games the last few years, and when we did it often ended up being board games as they did not demand that kind of time investment.

And even then we just got a second kid, and the first one is already giving me more and more grey hairs, and it was hardly easy to play a game with him around. (we totally botched the first case in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective because he kept interrupting and we went in circles because part of us missed some clues).

Still. We had a group going there, and now that is not as easy anymore.

We still are talking about trying though. Just to keep playing online. Right now it doesn’t even look so bad, if we get a game going online we might even get a second DM. But that depends on if we actually manage to get a game going.

Right now we are thinking of an online game. Play via voice chat. I did that before, but that was over Google Hangouts in the good old days of Google Plus when everybody played there. Right now I am thinking about Discord, which is supposed to be good for online games, but I haven’t checked it out properly yet. I managed to set up a private server for our group, but considering that nobody else had the time and energy to check that out and we didn’t have a game planned anyway that was a bit overkill.

Let’s see.



Thinking about an RPG for my kids

My son is two and a half. There’s some time until I can introduce him to roleplaying games. Right now he’s into puzzles, tractors, and fire engines. I think if I was introducing RPGs to him any time soon he’d be more interested in putting out fires,  moving hay balls with a tractor, and dragging cars out of holes. That’s what his current plays are like right now.

It’s quite fascinating to see really. We were perfectly prepared to accept even girlish interests from his side, but from a very early time on he was all about wheels and big machines. His favorite place to go to after nursery is the train station. His grand dad is absolutely awesome because he owns a tractor. And so on.

So… I won’t be playing RPGs with him any time soon. Even video games are not his bag yet, although I did have some success with having him play the opening stage of Ecco the Dolphin. You know, the part where you swim in the ocean, look at fish, jump out of the water with your friends, before aliens come and kidnap your pod and you have to rescue them.

Ecco is kind of a weird game.

In any case, I don’t have a regular game, and it’s some time until I can play with my kids, so of course I am thinking how to introduce stuff to them.

And of course I am thinking old school D&D. Maybe with a board and a dungeon. Maybe with Legos. Maybe with other minis.

I was actually thinking about doing it like a boardgame first. There are a few board games that do the dungeon exploration game quite nice (I own both Hero Quest and Descent), but I was considering doing this as a game on a hexmap. Something along the lines of Talisman or Barbarian Prince. This is for kids after all.

Think about it like this: the players get a map of an area on a hexmap, they have some starting point, and they get miniatures to play with, and they get some very basic quest in the beginning, and then they get going. Depending on the size of the hexes they get a certain amount of movement points per day, they can move that many hexes, and every hex has a base chance for an encounter. Ideally I would have some key encounter areas figured out before, and even if not, I would have encounter tables.

This is all not too different from actual D&D, the rules would have to be pared down a bit, options would have to be cut, and allowances would have to be given for creativity from the players. He doesn’t have the cultural references that the rest of the world has yet. He doesn’t know what elves and dwarves are. So one would have to think about that.

It might be a nice little game.

Review: F8tes – Fantasy of Eight System Primary Rulebook


Adam D’Amato-Neff

Writers Club Press 2002


I had a gift card!

I had to use the money somehow!

And this one was cheap!

Don’t look at me like that!

Also I bought this 5 years ago and I meant to post this review for just as long.

The Fantasy of Eight Roleplaying Game, or F8te if you want to confuse people who heard about Fate system before, is pretty much a pure fantasy heartbreaker. It mostly seems to serve as a ginormous ego trip for the author.

Frankly I doubt that it was supposed to be bought by anybody but the author and his players, but then a guy in Poland decided to spend the last bit of money on his gift card for something RPG-related. So now I can talk about it online.

According to the back cover

This is the F8S (FATES) role playing game designed by the author of the Pleides Series (Za’Varuk’s Stone), The Moonweaver Memoirs, and Pleidian Tales. It has all the information needed to begin play, including 20 character classes, a huge list of monsters and races, and example characters.

The book is thin (100pgs.), and over a fifth of it is pre-generated characters.

Which the author found necessary to include.

A further big part of the book is tables upon tables of monster stats. The approach to their stats is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand Nymphs are split into a table with 3 entries of Nymphs of various powers. Elementals just have 3 entries as well, and aren’t even split up into different elemental classes. On the other hand there are the tables for ogres, where one can find a whopping 75 entries, diligently listing the stats for ogre axemen, priests, and necromancers up to level 25.

I kind of see what the author was going for, but I think he missed the mark somewhat.

The actual rules to play the game are surprisingly short. In fact they make up most of pages 1 to 32 of the book, and in between you find another few pages with characters from one of the author’s stories.

The rules are definitely inspired by D&D, and try to mostly improve on the model set by that game. It allows and encourages mixing and matching of classes to create just the hero one wants for a game. And it boasts 20 classes and 15 races for that. Of course in the limited amount of space it has, the difference between a Warrior, a Karateka, and a Barbarian is explained in a single paragraph, with maybe a sentence for each.

Alignment is still present, but instead of the classic model we now have Caliginous, Neutral, and Luminance. What either of these means is not explained and can only be inferred through some comments in the section on races.

Equipment is limited to a page of weapon descriptions, and a short paragraph on treasure. Interspersed between those two is the section on attacking enemies, and this is followed by the section on religion, which just tells us that the number of gods in the campaign world would be too big to list, so it lists a few of the bigger gods (including Thor, Demeter, and Orcus).

The section on attacking by the way does not contain any further explanations than the terse rules mechanics. Further explanations are provided, in two more sections a few pages further, one called “Basics for the game, Taken from the short story Nightmares Born of Bliss”, the other simply “Tomb Adventure”. Interestingly enough the second part decides to reiterate the rules on attack darts for clarity, despite the fact that these rules are at the bottom of the same page and were not mentioned beforehand.

“Tomb Adventure” also seems to be what goes for a sample scenario in this game. It is nearly 2 pages long, half of which is explanation how combat works, the rest of which is a description of a tomb in text form:

Stairs lead downt.

Landing has a hallway leading off.

Thief must make check to notice trap door in the floor.

And after “Tomb Adventure” we have the three paragraphs [!] on Attack Darts, creating Undead, and Character Death.

The book also contains one dedication, one epigraph quoting Shakespeare, a list of abbreviations, 2 pages of introduction, an afterword that promises a forth coming expansion to the tomb adventure presented in the book, a bio of the author with his email address, 4 pages of advertisement for at this point not-yet published fiction and non-fiction by the author.

Oh, and then a section headed “Bibliography” that reads

A thanks to the mythmakers of old, for without them this book would not be what it has become!

Uhm. I don’t think this word means what you think it means.

OK, this book is charming in its way. A wonderful example of DIY rpg stuff of the early 2000s. I bet the author and his players had lots of fun in their campaign. So that was good for them. I love to see this stuff sometimes.

I also love some of the design ideas here. The whole system is pared down and streamlined to allow for a quick and eventful game. E.g. it acknowledges that people will use spell components, but when playing the game this should just be ignored. It also is intended to allow a maximum of character customization… but forgets that D&D is not the only game there is and that other games might have better ways to do that. And you can still see the traces of D&D in there anyway.,

But the bad points are overwhelming: there’s no structure, no real sense of place (the author assumes you have read his novels, not all of which might have been published), and the game is barely understandable. There are barely any explanations as to how rules actually work, and lots of far-reaching assumptions on how things are supposed to go in a game.

TLDR: As a game it is basically unplayable, mired in barely understood D&Disms, structured like a Jackson Pollock painting, and completely full of itself. It’s a fantasy heartbreaker.


Review: Venârivè: Northwestern Lýthia

venarive_cover_2By Jeremy Baker and N. Robin Crossby

Kelestia Productions 2007
PDF 35$ (250 pages, large scale map, etc)

Venârivè is the larger region Harn is situated in. Previously the setting description of HarnWorld focussed mostly on the island Harn itself, and a few areas in the general vicinity. This publication changes that and pushes the known world up to the borders of the cultural region Venârivè. Some of these places were already mentioned in the Lythia article in HarnWorld, a lot of others are mentioned here for the first time.
That includes the name of the publication. The copy of HarnWorld I own just mentions the continent of Lythia, and doesn’t have a specific name for the subcontinent.

But at least Venârivè sounds like a real name.

Venârivè is the region between and around the Ivinian and the Venarian seas, and defined more by cultural coherence than geographically*. This region has been settled for a few thousands of years, and there are traces of older, most likely alien civilizations (the Earthmasters).

The predominant race in this area of the world are humans (oh, really?), splintered in thousands of smaller tribes and nations. There are some other, older races (Elves and Dwarves) that have been in decline for a long time. They used to influence human civilization, but now only a few scattered realms in remote locations remain. There also are a few other non-human races, often scatted and marginalized. The largest group here are the Gargun of Harn (the Harnic orcs), which are an economical and ecological disaster just waiting to happen.
Most of Venârivè is wilderness, with few pockets of civilization huddled around larger villages and towns, and sometimes even actual cities. Many states only effectively control the immediate area around their towns, and maybe a few strategic highways (read: wilderness trails) to other civilized areas.
The religion of the region is diverse, but the region is locked in the protracted struggle between the cults of two different war gods: the protective Larani/Varani (a goddess of chivalry), and the aggressive Agrik (with a might-is-right philosophy). The conflict between these two philosophies informs a large part of the religious and political conflicts in the setting, although other religions have their own issues.
The technology of the setting is somewhere between 10th and 15th century (so basically standard fantasy fare), with some areas more developed than others. Most of civilized Venarive is very much in the feudal, manorial mode of living. So there is not too much change for seasoned Harniacs.

Nations and states, tribes and cultural regions are described in loving detail, even if most likely no-one ever will play in these parts. There are lists of rulers, historical personages, ports, and so on.

As always with Harn products this book describes this setting at one specific point in time (the year 720 of the Tuzyn calendar), so there is no metaplot to go against, besides what is described in the book itself.

The setting veers away from the usual RPG everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setting that has become the standard over time; the setting does not go out of its way to fit one genre or another into it; the authors clearly went for internal coherence rather than actual playability. I do not really see many people wanting to play a power struggle in Quarphor (Scythia?), or courtly intrigues in Dalkesh (quasi-medieval Egypt?). Some people, yes, but not many.

This book is both one of the best RPG supplements I have come across so far, as well as one of the most frustrating. I absolutely love looking at this book. I enjoy the worldbuilding, the additional detail, the insane amount of information I can get out of it, but the setting doesn’t make it easy to put it into a game.

But maybe I should just come to grips with the fact that I did not buy this book to use it. I bought it because I enjoy reading about a well-crafted world.


  • Venarive is a highly detailed and coherent RPG setting intended for simulationist low-magic campaigns
  • It is an extension of the classic HarnWorld setting
  • The book is rules-agnostic (a few non-essential references link it to HarnMaster Gold)
  • it might be way over the top for anyone who prefers settings to be more readily accessible


* if Venarive was Europe it would include not only mainland Europe but also large parts of the middle East and the parts of North Africa directly influenced by it, as well as large swathes of Asia

D&D illegal in California


Banned in California (image credit: Wikipedia)

Now here’s something interesting: California has banned RPGs. At least the ones that use polyhedrals other than d6s. Or rather, it seems to have banned the possession of respective RPG paraphernalia.

According to this site it is “Illegal to possess any dice with more than 6 faces” in the state of California.

I wonder if D&D games often get raided in that part of the world.


[the answer is no by the way; this was a joke]


[Shadowrun] Seattle is a prison

I have been working on a game set in 2050s Seattle lately. So I started to try and understand the setting a bit better to get the feel for it. Which is a bit funny, considering I played the game since the 90s. But this was supposed to be for new players that did not have so much exposure to the setting yet.

And here is something that hit me only after decades of playing: Seattle in Shadowrun is a city state surrounded by foreign lands, and cut off from the rest of the nation it belongs to by at least two international borders.
Seattle has a population of more than 6 million, 2 of which are SINless.
In the 6th world of Shadowrun a SIN is basically the thing that marks you as a citizen, and in a lot of cases as a person. Someone without a SIN does not exist according to most governmental institutions.
A person without a SIN cannot go to school, hold a proper job, pay taxes, open a bank account, get a credit, or even call the police.
They do not even count as casualities when killed, and the police will stop investigating crimes when they find out the person was SINless.
And here we come to the problem for these people: there is no way out of this. They are effectively imprisoned in the citystate of Seattle.
As a SIN is used as proof of citizenship, someone without a SIN is not elegible to cross an international border legally.
Did I mention that Seattle is surrounded by international borders?
Now truth be told, the border there is not the Berlin Wall, and there are lots of examples in Shadowrun fiction about people crossing it comparatively easy. But it still is an international border. A normal person trying to live their live as easy as possible will not think about sneaking through those. They will see the border fence as an insurmountable wall. Sure, runners will go over there twice a day and check back in the evning to see if they left the oven on. But a normal person doesn’t. A normal person without a SIN sees the border and sees a wall they can’t cross.

There are 6-7 million people in this city, and 2-3 million of those can never leave this place.

Just something to think about.

In later editions this gets even worse. In 4th and 5th edition (in the 2070s) everyone has to broadcast a valid SIN constantly, and not doing so is reason for arrest. So all of a sudden these 2 million people are not only limited to Seattle, but also unable to even enter (or work in) places like Downtown, Bellevue, or Tacoma.

Scenario ideas: 

  1. Police for Hire: the police won’t care for the problems of the SINless. In fact they might arrest the SINless instead as it is easier on the paperwork. If a SINless person is murdered and the police doesn’t care, maybe they hire runners for an investigation
  2. Manhunt: A hunting association has taken to the most dangerous game: they are now hunting SINless with impunity. Someone hires the runners to stop that (this in fact is the plot of one of Michael Stackpole’s Wolf and Raven stories)
  3. Sabotage: a landshark wants to gentrify a neighbourhood and force out all the SINless that have been living here for decades. The runners are hired to stop him, somehow. (this one might have shades of the A-team)

[Discworld] …And A Thousand Elephants!

Well, more or less at least.
Remember all the posts I had, oh, years ago, regarding modding some variant of D&D for a Discworld game? Huh, looking over them there were A LOT. I even statted out Death.

The reason being, I have had GURPS Discworld since the 90s and never felt any inclination to play a game with it. Somehow it always felt like, you know, the writers of that book had kind of missed the point. Not that I knew the point better. My idea for a Discworld RPG was one which emulated the sword and sorcery high fantasy parody of the early books, maybe with some stuff from the later ones. For some reason the world that was described in Mort, and Guards Guards seemed to be so big and interesting as a fantasy setting. Much more interesting than the Forgotten Realms for sure. And so I was on and off working on a D&D variant set on the Discworld.

Well, I just finished that one yesterday. Or at least I finished a very first draft. It’s about 60 pages long, and should technically work. No, I haven’t tried it out yet. But at one point, maybe even this coming weekend, my players might experience the joy of eating Dibbler’s products, well, second hand.In fact, now that I am finally finished with the draft I will have to think about some scenario to throw at them. Hmm.But anyway, here a short description:I used my Harnic game system as the base, the one I was talking about lately. Which means it is Labyrinth Lord at it’s core, with an extended LotFP skill system. I replaced the old Saving Throws with the D20 categories (Fortitude, Reflex, and Will). I changed negative AC into positive.I used spells taken from Gorgonmilk’s Vancian Magic Supplement (because at least in early books magic seems to be very Vancian on the Discworld), supplemented with a few spells from the books, the GURPS Discworld book, and the Discworld MUD. Not all of the latter ones really work, but some of the names are great.I created a troll and a zombie class (which I might publish here soon), the latter mostly because my players asked for it and really, there are a lot of zombie protagonists in the books. I use the LotFP Specialist, but remade him into a Guildsman. I nerfed the cleric but decided to give some additional powers to get over the lack of flavor this class normally has.I am using a Death and Dismemberment table. Mostly as a Wound table actually, where some of the wounds are instantly fatal (except for zombies). I already noticed that my players will have to get used to it, especially because there won’t be much healing magic (the cleric being nerfed somewhat). Oh, and there are ideas like the Shields Shall Be Splintered! rule that actually will help a bit there.Ok, lets see how this will actually play.

Review: Sharyn McCrumb – Bimbos of the Death Sun

Bimbos of the Death Sun (Jay Omega, #1)Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know any other mystery novel that uses a D&D game as a parlor scene.
This one does.
Unfortunately the parlor scene sucks. It actually does manage to capture the atmosphere of a badly run exhibition game quite nicely. At the the end of the game players and audience are frustrated, and the bored reader is glad that this waste of time is over. It’s just as well the exposed murderer commits suicide, because this mess would haver never held up in court.
In fact the whole mystery part of the book seems like an afterthought, a mere excuse to be able to sell it as some, any genre at least. After all it’s a book about SF fandom, but it hardly is science fiction in itself. So after half the book the asshole victim is killed, nobody really is bothered so much by that, and the only reason the main character finds who killed him is because he is marginally more computer savvy than the police.
But that’s not the reason why this book is readable. It is readable because it’s set on a small science fiction con in the late 80s, written by someone who knew what she was writing about.
There’s trekkies trying to organize a Star Trek wedding, roleplayers having meltdowns over their characters, postal gamers using the con for political scheming in a made up world, cosplayers (before cosplay was called cosplay), etc.
The guest stars are Appin Dungannon, an ass of an author who hates his main character and his fans (guess who ends up dead?), and the main character, a local engineering professor called Jay Omega. Jay is, to his chagrin, the author of a hard science fiction novel that somehow contracted the title “Bimbos of the Death Sun” and a near-pornographic cover during editing. Jay and his fellow professor and girlfriend Marion spend most of the novel being bemused by what is happening. Jay is new to fandom, Marion is an old SF fan who’s seen it all.
The fascinating thing about this book is how it manages to capture SF fandom so well, without resorting to the usual trite clichés. Sure, there are some spots that seem mean-spirited, but even these read like someone wrote from experience.
Altogether: readable, but don’t expect an actual mystery.

View all my reviews

Ancient Star Trek/D&D crossover

Have I mentioned that I love the Wilderlands of High Fantasy? Especially when they are odd and weird and full of errors? From Tegel Manor:

Room M7: Voluptous maiden is wereworf...


Does the fact that the module came out in 1977 preclude a literal interpretation of this entry?

Also, what the hell is that maiden doing with that huge forked tongue? Where did that even come from? How big is it that a were…being needs aid slicing it?