Play games. Tell stories. Have fun.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Gen Con 2015

That special time of year is upon us. That time when our hearts turn to Indianapolis, and many of us come in droves to share our passion in person. But not everyone can go to Gen Con; I am lucky enough to live within an hour of Indy, and even I can't always make it.

If you are going, I can only hope that you'll get a chance to play some great games; and if you aren't going, play some great games anyway! In that vein, I'm sharing some one-shot ideas along with a set of dead-simple mechanics. Go wild and have fun!

The Mechanics

Characters have just three attributes with scores of 1-10: grit, knack, and luck. Every action comes under the purview of one of these three attributes. The players begin with 20 points and distribute them among the attributes however they wish, with a minimum of 1 point in each attribute.

When a player takes a difficult action, they roll a d12, and if the result is lower than the most applicable score, they succeed. If the result is equal to or higher than the score, they fail. But they can change a failure into a success by subtracting one point from that score temporarily. Points lost this way are restored either between each scene or once per session, depending on the intensity of the adventure. Note: Success and failure have no mechanical effects, only narrative effects.

In a direct conflict, both participants roll a d12 and subtract their score from the result. The lowest result wins. If the participants tie, the conflict immediately ends in a draw; they must find another way to resolve the situation.

The Ideas

Fanciful Façade: The beasts of the Zhisu Forest love tea and games. They often challenge one another to elaborate contests with strange enchanted artifacts for prizes. Beneath the whimsy, however, all of the animals live in terror of the cruel Emperor of All Spirits.

Academy of High Arts: Adolescent, hormone-filled royals from around the world are gathered at the Academy of High Arts to be trained in combat, etiquette, & magic. What could go possibly wrong?

Enemy of My Enemy: The alien overlords rule Earth, and the average earthling lives as a slave. But in the shadows, mutant werewolves, hacker vampires, and drug-addled warlocks follow their own rules, fighting back against the extraterrestrial oppressors.

Divine Intelligence Agency: Mortals wield magic relics stolen from the divine realms. They use the relics to perform covert ops among the gods in order to thwart armageddon.

The Drakkenlords of Ruàn: Ruthless barbarian sorcerers are the last survivors of Ruàn, a ruined kingdom. They seek bloody vengeance against the monstrous warlords that destroyed Ruàn—the 12 Drakkenlords.

Crouching Cipher, Hidden Data: Disciplined Denshi warriors practice the art of Algorithmics against a coalition of black hats known as The Night. The Night secretly runs the world from behind their screens, but in the online Ethereality, the Denshi fight back.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Dogs: one of the most devoted companions of mankind for around the last 30 millennia. I have two dogs. There's a fairly decent chance that you have a dog. And it's almost a guarantee that one of your close friends or family members owns a dog. So, why don't we see more of humanity's best friend in our RPGs?

My best guess is that people don't like to see violence against cats, dogs, horses, and other common, domesticated animals. This extends to books, movies, video games, and (I would bet) tabletop games, too. And because violence is the central focus of many RPGs, real-life animals are less likely to be involved so that we don't have to deal with violence against them. It's much easier to fight hell hounds and night mares than Great Danes or Clydesdales.

But say that you want to include dogs (or other animals) more frequently in your game. After all, lots of people own dogs in the modern world and throughout history. If dogs exist in your setting, why shouldn't they be as common? To that end, here are some ideas for introducing dogs in your campaign.

Dog Names

If you've got dogs, you've gotta have names, right? And if you don't want to use Fido, Rover, Rex, or Spot, here's a quick table of ideas.

  1. Runda
  2. Argos
  3. Valla
  4. Zunn
  5. Stoic
  6. Laika
  7. Hruntling
  8. Brutus
  9. Chevron
  10. Stella

Dog Duties

So, now your PC or NPC has a dog. What exactly does that dog do?

  1. Supports someone with a disability
  2. Keeps watch
  3. Herds other animals
  4. Hunts game
  5. Tracks humanoid prey
  6. Performs
  7. Fights
  8. Delivers aid and/or messages

Dogs in Combat

This is less of a random rolling table and more of a list of ideas and suggestions. But you could just roll and go with whatever comes up, if time is pressing.

  1. Fight (solo): The dog has its own combat statistics and is controlled by the player or the GM. It can be the target of enemy attacks and spells.
  2. Fight (coop): The dog attacks alongside its owner, granting a bonus. It cannot be targeted by enemy attacks or spells.
  3. Hide: The dog knows to find safe shelter during combat, placing it safely out of the reach of enemy attacks and spells. It returns to its master after combat.
  4. Handwave: During combat, everyone pretends that the dog does not exist. It does not attack and cannot be the subject of attacks or spells, even ones with an area of effect.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Adventure Sites: The Tavern

It's been a while since I posted any adventure sites. Last time, I had a theme, and I created a few locations for that theme in different genres. I thought it worked well, so I'm trying it again.

These adventure sites are designed to fit into the cracks of a campaign. Each site is a single location that has a few sections, a few encounters, some rewards, and a hook. Drop these in at the nearest part of your world that matches the location, dangle the hook in front of your players, and let it go from there.

The Golden Loin* (fantasy)

Location: In the bad part of town, near an important contact's meeting place
Areas: The bar, the kitchen, the cellar
NPCs: Niana Barule (shady barkeep), Kolie (musical prodigy), Saffron (brute bouncer), Jeb (unlucky patron)
Obstacles: Saffron doesn't allow anyone to enter with weapons or magical implements, Kolie's music is mesmerizing, Niana slips sleeping potion into the drinks of anyone who asks too many questions, a hungry troll is chained in the magically soundproofed cellar trying to eat Jeb
Rewards: The chains that bind the troll are magical, Kolie would make a potent ally if charmed away from Niana's wickedness, a keg of powerful sleeping potion can be found under the bar, Jeb will thank his rescuers with gold
Hook: A muffled scream can be heard from the bar, but it is empty when the PCs enter.
* This is not a typo on my part, though it may be an in-world mistake that stuck.

Twenty-One Gun Saloon (old west)

Location: In the center of town, across from the church
Areas: The bar, the kitchen, the upper floor rooms
NPCs: Rodrigo [friendly barkeep], Madame Sufani [deadly dancer], Lola "Quicksilver" Turner [notorious outlaw]
Obstacles: Quicksilver's outlaw gang is spread out among the tables and chairs, Madame Sufani is an expert swordswoman and friend of Quicksilver, Quicksilver is the fastest shooter for 100 miles
Rewards: The reward for Quicksilver is very generous, Quicksilver's infamous silver pistols are custom-made and worth a small fortune, Rodrigo will be grateful to have Quicksilver's gang dispersed
Hook: The PCs see Quicksilver enter the saloon, and immediately see a wanted poster for her.

Event Horizon (science fiction)

Location: On the recreation deck, near a well-used entrance
Areas: The dance floor, the bar, the storeroom, the back room
NPCs: Niffra Zinar [scared teenager], M'kot [professional gambler], SM AL-One [android bartender]
Obstacles: The entrances for Event Horizon are one-way energy walls that can't be used from the inside, Event Horizon's auto-security drones fire stunblasters at anyone committing violence, M'kot wants to play a high-stakes game to give the PCs a chance to win back Niffra's card
Rewards: Anything else the PCs can take from M'kot's winnings is theirs, SM AL-One offers a round of free drinks for ridding Event Horizon of the unwanted gambler, Niffra's parents are influential people
Hook: As the PCs walk by, a hidden door opens and Niffra calls quietly for help getting her parents' credcard back from M'Kot.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Random Encounters: Steampunk Marketplace

Another in my series of Random Encounter posts. In these posts, I include three tables: one for the creature, one for an environment feature, and one for a surprise to be delivered during the encounter whenever you see fit. I hope that these three elements can actually generate useful random encounters for your game.

In order to be particularly useful, though, the tables have to be fairly specific. So, each post is geared towards a single genre and a single location type. Today, you can generate a random encounter in a marketplace in a steampunk setting.


1. A cloaked figure wielding a pair of long, crackling knives
2. Urchins playing football or rugby
3. A boisterous snake-oil seller
4. A corrupt law officer looking for trouble
5. A charistmatic speaker rallying an increasingly angry crowd
6. A desperate fabric vendor trying to make ends meet

Environment feature

1. Loose cobblestones can trip up the unwary.
2. A large glass and steel box houses a mechanical fortune teller.
3. A deteriorating stone fountain sprays water into a fine mist.
4. The various stalls are filled with valuables and improvised projectiles.
5. A nearby factory churns out heavy smoke that darkens the whole area.
6. Large steel gears (exposed for maintenance), turn and grind.


1. A horseless carriage barrels through the area, heedless of pedestrians.
2. A gyrocopter crashes to the ground, its pilot injured but alive.
3. A squad of heavily armed officers burst into the area, looking for a child.
4. One of the vendors announces a huge sale, and the crowds stampede that way.
5. A mechanical bird swoops down and begins pecking feverishly at the creature.
6. The creature stops moving and begins making a mechanical grinding sound.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More Genre Mash-Ups

As I have said before, I love crossovers and mash-ups. Whether you're talking about two IPs being merged together or simply a story that calls on multiple genres. There are all kinds of great reasons to use genre mash-ups: to compare the societies of two distinct time periods (like noir and American West), to take current political ideologies to their extremes (dystopia and political thriller), or just because you want to see a cyborg hacker wielding a laser sword fighting a giant robotic monster (transhumanistcyberpunk, space opera, and kaiju).

Some genre mash-ups are so common that they are already existing genres themselves (like epic fantasy or science fantasy or post-apocalyptic survival horror). But that doesn't mean that there isn't room to explore within those genres. If you can extricate the separate aspects of the base genres, you can recombine them in new and/or exciting ways.

With that, I present to you another collection of genre mash-ups.

Genre Mash-Ups

Vikings in Hell: Maniacal Vikings set sail for the afterlife to rescue the chief’s daughter from the Devil himself. (epic / fantasy)

Regime of Steam: Queen’s Elite were spies, until National Tinker’s Party came to power; now they’re steampunk dystopia fugitives. (political thriller / steampunk)

Web of Dreams: Outcast demigods eat lotus blossoms to enter the Dreamworld and undermine the Pantheon and its corrupt gods. (mythic / cyberpunk)

Bodies and Minds: Doppelgänger invasion is preceded by radiation burst that triggers psychic abilities in 0.01% of the population. (sci-fi / paranormal)

Achilles’ Eleven: Reborn mythic heroes must steal ancient relics from a globe-spanning criminal organization. (heist / mythic)

War of the Worlds – 65M BC: The asteroid was an attack! A ragtag team of sentient dinosaur survivors fights Venusian invaders. (alien / prehistoric)

Horror Among Thieves: The Thieves’ Guild steals relics from around the world to fight a secret war against the Old Ones. (heist / fantasy / survival horror)

Spaceships, Spies, and Spells: Near-future spies wield tech and magic against the alien invasion going on in the shadows.  (spy-fi / fantasy / sci-fi)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Six-Word Sparks XI: Royal Escapades

Saving peasants and fighting underlings is suitable for common adventurers with no grace or social standing. But in the aristocratic courts, the affairs of the nobility and the royalty are the purview of adventurous princesses and meddlesome princelings. For them, only the proceedings of their equals are worth drawing a blade, nocking an arrow, or whispering ancient spells.

Six-Word Sparks

  1. Bounty hunters seek rebel lizardfolk princess.
  2. Gnome illusionist makes royal palace vanish.
  3. Sorcerer-prince blamed for failing crops.
  4. Children summon ancient emperor's fiery spirit.
  5. Innocent(?) dwarf noble flees elven justice.
  6. Noblewoman challenges king to royal duel.
  7. Orc tribes make peace with baron.
  8. Psychic stone giant becomes Dwarven king.
  9. Apemen hide while the Prince schemes.
  10. Disowned prince sells secrets to enemies.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Planet and System Names

If you saw yesterday's post on Alien Race Names, you may have thought, "What? Only alien names? Isn't he missing one of the biggest naming categories in science fiction?" Right on the nose, of course. Just as important as alien race names (if not moreso) are the names of the various planets and star systems in which sci-fi games take place.

If you are using licensed IP, such as Star Wars or Star Trek, I recommend just digging up the wiki for those settings or looking at your local library for a relevant encyclopedia. It's likely to be easier than making up names, and it will help your game feel like it's really set in those universes. And, of course, if your game is only set in the Sol system, I'd suggest looking up the names of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, since there are enough orbiting bodies in this system for plenty of adventures. Finally, you might simply take the Stargate SG-1 route, and give everything an alphanumeric designation, such as PJ2-445 or P3W-451.

But, if you're looking to create unique(ish), original(ish) names for your planets and stars, here are some tables to get you started.

Planet and System Names

First half

1. Ivo-
2. Maka-
3. Dörre-
4. Musta-
5. Bète-
6. Guisi-
7. Sulu-
8. Uftúra-
9. Homma-
10. Nsâto-

Second half

1. -rana
2. -far
3. -molo
4. -táza
5. -legas
6. -wîle
7. -ban
8. -thàn
9. -kat
10. -läch


1. Blue
2. Bright
3. Neo
4. New
5. Far
6. Alpha


1. Cluster
2. Beta
3. Minor
4. Major
5. Tau
6. I, II, III, IV, V, VI, etc.

Basic names

1. Heinlein
2. Adams
3. Butler
4. Asimov
5. Clarke
6. Verne
7. Le Guin
8. Vonnegut
9. Bradbury
10. Lem

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Alien Race Names

In science fiction RPGs, I find that one of the hardest aspects in the creation stage is coming up with good names, especially names for alien races. The name has to sound just right, and not only that, it also has to fit the characteristics of the alien race. Unless you're running a humor game, having a race of spike-covered warmongering alien soldiers called the Loofies is going to be problematic.

So, I present to you some tables for creating a name for your alien race.

Alien Race Names

There are a few different ideas presented here. I present some full names, some first halves, and some second halves in each table. Use one wholecloth if that works for you, or mix and match until you find something that sounds even better.

Warrior Race
1. Raxites
2. Drongians
3. Kor-
4. Vreth-
5. -ozites
6. -tans

Technological Race
1. Zenzar
2. Xellorans
3. Grat-
4. Ath-
5. -ulie
6. -ips

Scholarly Race
1. Mellians
2. Siskeels
3. For-
4. Nab-
5. -ophans
6. -i