Monday, March 13, 2023

You Should be Watching Emergent GM

 This guy packs more in a two-minute video than most others manage in 20+ minutes.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Bill Willingham on Polite Society

 Face it, if you want something in this harsh and unforgiving world, you have to do unto others as the royal and filthy rich have done unto you: you gotta steal it.

-   Mark Finn


Mark Finn, raconteur both extraordinary and professional, has a ‘zine in this year’s Zinequest.   Polite Society is all about heists and big-time capers a la the greatest heroes of Sword & Sorcery.  What does Mark Finn know about Sword & Sorcery?  Mark literally wrote the book on Robert E. Howard


Yes, it’s that Mark Finn.  So you know it’s going to be good.


But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what Bill “Fables” Willingham has to say:

Let me tell you some of the reasons you should consider buying Mark Finn’s new ttrpg zines called, POLITE SOCIETY: The Zine for Thieves, Scoundrels, and Ne’er-Do-Wells. 

First of all, Mark writes good rules. Like him, they’re aged in fine oak casks, and go down as smooth as 20 year old scotch. No critique intended against every year’s new crop of hot young gunslinger rules writers – you all have your place keeping the games fresh and alive – but give me rules by one of the old guard rpg guys with nothing more to prove. He’s already spent a lifetime behind the dice, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and we reap the rewards.

Polite Society works. And, believe me, as one of its playtesters (along with Bill Williams and Brad Thomte), I tried in every way possible to wreck, ravage, and undermine those rules, because trying to get away with all kinds of sabotage is part of a playtester’s remit. Test To Destruction is the operable term. No destruction occurred, and instead we had a wonderful extended campaign. I’ve playtested many a game (including, but not limited to TSR’s Star Frontiers, and Top Secret, and too many D&D modules to count, and the original revamp of Jeff Dee’s and Jack Herman’s Villains & Vigilantes), and this is the first time the system being tested didn’t need a ton of work, just to make it minimally playable.*

But a set of cool rules (to quote Spicoli) isn’t enough. That’s the same as admiring a well-written recipe and actually eating the dish that results from it. Can you plan and execute a good, workable caper with Polite Society? The answer is unequivocally YES. Not only can you run a good heist, and maybe even a great one, but you can do so with only a few minute’s preparation. One of the best parts of every playtest sessions was after the fact, when Mark would run down the checklist of what went into planning that day’s caper. The job, the twist, the unexpected complication, and so much more – it’s all in there, every time.

So then, without reservation, or hesitation, I invite you to back Mark’s crowdfunding campaign, and/or buy the zines as they appear. In this brave new age of larceny-themed fantasy role playing games (and movies it seems) this is an addition to the popular new subgenre that’s guaranteed to stand out.

Thank you for listening,

Bill Willingham

Former TSR staff artist; lifetime gamer; creator of the long-running comic series Fables.

*For example, in Top Secret did you know there was originally a defensive fighting position one could get into during Hand to Hand Combat in which you could not possibly be touched? Of course you didn’t, because we found it and fixed it. And the hand grenade damage rules were flummoxed by us playtesters by taking turns swallowing each grenade thrown. Since it only did a single d10 of damage, but did it to everyone in its area of effect, we’d just take turns taking the hit for the team.


And yes, it's this Bill Willingham:

Monday, February 13, 2023

Mad Mashup: Elves

Elves represent the greatest deviation I’m making from the classic classes.  B/X elves are warrior-wizards.  My elves are much more Tolkienesque.  They’re an excellent alternative to Clerics for a party healer and have some nice synergies with the Ranger.

The Elf Spell-list isn't detailed here.  In a more Tolkienesque world, they would actually use the Druid list instead of the traditional Magic-user list.  Which I use depends on the flavor we're looking for.

Millenia ago, for mysterious reasons, the Elves migrated from Fairey to this world.  While they still maintain more than a touch of their Fey ancestry, they are now also very much creatures of this world.  Today they guard the wild and beautiful places, and try to maintain balance in the struggle between Order and Chaos by championing the side that’s weakest.  For this reason, most of the gods find Elves very annoying, and few will accept them as priests. 


  • Elves roll d6 for their hit points.

  • They may use any armour, shields, and weapons.

  • You use the Elf’s Saving Throws.

  • They may only cast spells if they are at most Heavily Encumbered.

  • Elves must have a DEX of at least 13 and a WIS of at least 9.  An Elf with both scores 16 or above enjoys a 10% bonus to all EXP earned.


  • At every level, an Elf may add a spell from the Elf spell list to their repertoire.  The levels of spells they can pick from depend on their class level.  They may cast each of these spells once per day.  

  • Elves have strong rapport with animals.  A group with at least one Elf in it enjoys a +1 on reaction rolls with normal animals.  If an Elf spends an entire Round (10 seconds) talking to an animal, they can radically shift its mood.

  • Elves are also known as excellent healers.  When an Elf casts a healing spell, roll twice to see how many hit points are restored and take the higher roll. Those convalescing under an Elf’s care regain double the hit points they normally would (before any other bonuses are applied).  

  • Elves can see by dim light like starlight out to 60’.  In total darkness, they can see dimly out to 15’.

  • Elves cannot be put to sleep by magic, and the touch of ghouls does not paralyse them.  

  • All Elves speak both High Elvish and Vulgar Elvish as well as Common.

Friday, February 03, 2023

No Dice for You! (And a Question About Mechanics)

What are you general thoughts about rules that don't have the GM rolling any dice.  For instance, if a monster attacks a PC, instead of the GM rolling on behalf of the monster, the PC's player rolls for the PC to resist the monster's attack.

On the plus side, I'd think combat would run more smoothly this way, and the GM can focus more on tactics and making the fight fun, rather than juggling dice.  

On the minus side... GM's don't get to roll dice?  I'm having a hard time coming up with negatives on this.

There are a few games that run this way already, with Numenera/Cypher probably being the biggest.  I wasn't a big fan of how Numenera pushed so much of the mechanics onto the players, but that had more to do with burning stats than having the players roll the dice.

What say you?

UPDATE: someone on the Book of Faces pointed out that the GM can't fudge rolls.  Man, it's been a long forever ago since I fudged a roll.  

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Shields Still Being Splintered

It does this old troll’s heart good to hear that folks are still getting fun out of Shields Shall be Splintered.  I recently discovered that the Down In a Heap podcast discussed the rule, and that conversation was picked up by theConfessions of a Wee Tim’rous Bushi podcast, expanding the idea further in other types of armour.  (I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but it kinda-sorta sounds like a codification of Jeff's Everything Shall be Splintered idea.)


As for me, I’m still very much using it.  I do limit it by using LotFP’s encumbrance system, which makes tracking encumbrance as easy as just writing things on your equipment list.  I have no problem with hirelings carrying spare shields; shield bearer is an actual word from history.  (But so far, no one has really pushed this and I’ve not heard of it annoying anyone else at the table.) 


As for who else can use it, that really depends.  I swing back and forth on the players running their PCs’ hirelings, and if the players are doing so, I let them decide when the hireling might sacrifice a shield to protect themselves.  Monsters typically do not use it, unless they have names or the Rule of Cool suggests now is a good time for that to happen.

ADDENDUM: It appears the idea of the shield stopping some of the damage, but not all, is a popular one.  Here’s another variation on that theme.

Sunday, January 22, 2023



Contemplating doing ZineQuest this year.  Any advice from those of you who have done it before?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Tell Me a Story, Please, Mr. Robot?

First off, let me say that ChatGPT is a chat-bot, not story-writing software.  And I do not doubt that, in my lifetime, we’ll see story-bots that can do better than this.  But ChatGPT isn’t going to take Sanderson’s job anytime soon.


Tell me a Conan story in the style of Robert Howard.


It was a dark and stormy night in the land of Hyboria. The sky was filled with ominous clouds, and the wind howled through the trees. Conan, the Cimmerian, stood on a rocky outcropping, his keen eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of danger.

He had been wandering the wilds for weeks, seeking to put as much distance between himself and the civilized lands as possible. But even in the untamed wilderness, there were still dangers to be found. Bandits, wild beasts, and worse roamed the land, preying on the unwary.

Conan's hand instinctively went to the hilt of his sword, feeling its comforting weight. He had faced many dangers in his time, and he was not afraid. He was a warrior, born and bred, and he would not be bested by any man or beast.

As he stood there, the wind suddenly changed direction, and he caught the faint scent of smoke on the air. Cautiously, he began to make his way down the rocky slope, his eyes and ears alert for any sign of danger.

As he approached the source of the smoke, he heard the sound of men's voices, raised in anger and fear. Cautiously, he crept closer, his sword at the ready.

He soon came upon a clearing, where a band of bandits had set up camp. They had built a fire, and were feasting on the spoils of their recent raid. Conan counted at least a dozen men, all heavily armed and dangerous.

Without hesitation, Conan charged into the clearing, his sword flashing in the firelight. The bandits were caught off guard, and several fell before they could even draw their weapons.

Conan fought with a fury that was terrifying to behold, his sword flashing and slicing through flesh and bone. The bandits, realizing they were outmatched, turned and fled, leaving Conan standing victorious in the clearing.

He sheathed his sword and looked around at the carnage. The bandits lay dead or dying all around him, their blood staining the ground. He felt no remorse for what he had done. They were thieves and murderers, and they had gotten what they deserved.

With a sense of satisfaction, Conan turned and walked away from the clearing, into the dark and stormy night. He knew that his journey was far from over, and that there would be many more dangers to come. But he was Conan, the Cimmerian, and he feared no man or beast.


It was a dark and stormy night?  Really?  I give this one a D; it at least knows who Conan is, but I fear it’s read too many of the comics. 😉


Tell me a Kane story in the style of Karl Edward Wagner.


The night was dark and moonless, and a bitter wind howled through the deserted streets of the city. Kane, the immortal, stood at the edge of a rooftop, his cloak billowing in the wind. He was a dark figure, tall and imposing, with eyes that glinted like cold steel in the darkness.

For centuries, Kane had wandered the earth, a solitary figure, driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and power. He had seen empires rise and fall, and had known the touch of both pleasure and pain. He was a warrior, a sorcerer, and a scholar, all rolled into one.

But tonight, Kane had come to the city for a different purpose. He had received word of a powerful artifact, an ancient relic said to possess the power of the gods. Kane had spent centuries searching for such an object, and he would not rest until he had it in his grasp.

He made his way down the side of the building, his movements fluid and graceful, like a cat stalking its prey. He knew the city well, and he knew the ways to avoid detection. He had been to this city many times before, and he knew the secret passages and alleys that would lead him to his destination.

As he approached the entrance to the underground temple, Kane heard the sound of guards on patrol. Without hesitation, he unsheathed his sword, a weapon forged in the fires of the underworld. It was said to be unbreakable, and it had served Kane well in many battles.

The guards never knew what hit them. Kane moved with a speed and ferocity that was almost supernatural, his sword flashing in the darkness. In moments, the guards lay dead at his feet, and Kane stood alone in the entrance to the temple.

He descended into the depths of the temple, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. He passed through chambers and corridors, his senses alert for any sign of danger. But the temple was deserted, and Kane soon found himself standing before a door of ancient stone, covered in inscriptions and runes.

With a sense of triumph, Kane opened the door and stepped inside. There, in the center of the chamber, stood the artifact he had sought for so long. It was a stone, black as midnight, and it pulsed with an otherworldly power.

Kane reached out and took the stone in his hand. He could feel its power coursing through his body, filling him with strength and knowledge. He knew that this was just the beginning, and that there were many more battles yet to come.

But for now, he was content. He had what he had come for, and he would use it to further his quest for power and knowledge. He turned and walked out of the temple, into the night, a solitary figure, driven by an unquenchable thirst for power.


First, I’m surprised it even knew who Kane was, and it does at least try to capture something of Wagner’s style.


But it doesn’t seem to understand what Zothique is.  Nor does it have anything like Clark Ashton Smith’s vocabulary.


Tell me a Zothique story in the style of Clark Ashton Smith, please.

The sun had set over the land of Zothique, and the sky was ablaze with the colors of the aurora borealis. The stars shone like diamonds in the sky, and the desert winds howled through the dunes. Zothique, the sorcerer, stood on the peak of a dune, his eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of his quarry.

For centuries, Zothique had wandered the earth, seeking out ancient and forbidden knowledge. He had delved into the dark arts, and had raised the dead to do his bidding. He had stood at the threshold of the abyss and looked into the eyes of the Old Ones. He was a master of the occult and the arcane, feared and respected by all who knew of him.

But tonight, Zothique had come to the desert for a different purpose. He had heard of a powerful artifact, a book of spells said to hold the secrets of eternal life. Zothique had spent centuries searching for such a book, and he would not rest until he had it in his grasp.

He descended from the peak of the dune, his steps sure and steady, despite the treacherous path. He knew the way well, for he had traveled it many times before. As he walked, he recited ancient incantations, calling forth the spirits of the dead to guide him on his journey.

As he approached the entrance to the tomb, Zothique felt the presence of powerful wards and protection spells. He smiled, for he knew that such spells would be no match for his own dark powers. He raised his hand, and spoke the words of a spell of dispelling. The wards and protections crumbled, and the tomb lay open before him.

He descended into the depths of the tomb, his eyes scanning the darkness for any sign of danger. He passed through chambers and corridors, his senses alert for any sign of traps or guardians. But the tomb was deserted, and Zothique soon found himself standing before a sarcophagus of ancient stone.

With a sense of triumph, he opened the sarcophagus and reached inside. There, lying within, was the book of spells. It was bound in human skin, and its pages were made of parchment made from the same material.

Zothique reached out and took the book in his hand. He could feel its power coursing through his body, filling him with dark energy. He knew that this was just the beginning, and that there were many more secrets yet to be discovered.

He turned and walked out of the tomb, into the night, a solitary figure, driven by an unquenchable thirst for forbidden knowledge. He knew that with the book of spells in his possession, nothing could stand in his way, and he would continue his quest for eternal life and ultimate power.


Still, it did include a number of tropes common to CAS’ writing.  So that’s something.  In another five years, maybe it could actually give us new Zothique stories that sound like Smith?