Monday, 11 February 2019

Call To Action

Hello. My name is Zach.

Before all else, if you have not done so already, please read Mandy’s post. If you are a  sensible person, you will not need to read the rest of this post. You will immediately go to the nearest social media account you own, post what needs saying, and then enjoy the rest of your evening. There is a link here. CW: Sexual assault, abuse.

I write roleplaying games. I have interacted with Zak a few times over twitter and discord. We both have spoken politely to each other and argued. My relationship with Zak has not been publicly antagonistic before this post. I have spoken in public and private in his defence. Until this morning, I thought he was a bit of an asshole who had trouble displaying himself on the internet.

I do not support Zak with my wallet. I never have. From conversation with him, he informed me that if I think he is an asshole, I should not buy his books. That was on a tweet somewhere. Since that day, I have sat politely on the fence, watching a series of internet arguments and deciding not to get involved. 

I was on the fence. I shouldn’t have been. This is no longer a position any person within our community can be allowed to continue. We have a responsibility as a community to be more vigilant against these people.

If you have worked with Zak on a project, you have a responsibility to condemn him. If you reviewed him or promoted on social media, you have a responsibility to condemn him. If you have purchased his products, you have a responsibility to condemn him. If you want me to continue to use and purchase your products, you have a responsibility to condemn him. 

Harassers and sexual abusers have no place in our community. He should be cut out.
I do not have the energy to respond to comments on this thread. I do not have the energy for debate.

If I follow you on patreon, I expect you to denounce Zak on twitter or similar and cut ties with him. I respect your right to wait for his public statement, but I struggle to imagine anything on there that could change my opinion. You will have 24 hours to soul-search or read it, then I will cut my pledges. If you want to work with me in the future, I would recommend doing so as well. I recommend that you contact every person you know who has not yet made a statement, and request they do so. I request you contact your friends, and do the same of people they support. We should not continue to support companies or people who enable him with their silence or inaction. 

Silence cannot be the response. 

Thank you and goodnight,

Zach, JellyMuppet

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Tower of the Alchemist

I passed 300 followers last weekend. Pat Eyler of Foot of the Mountain Adventures who can be found at and, offered to throw in a dungeon map for this cool milestone.

I know I said I'd Random Character creation, but there are an absolute boatloads of tables and it's proving a nightmare to format. I am also running thrice weekly RPG games, which it turns out is a lot of work on top of a full time job.

I gave him a quick pitch:

The Tower of the Alchemist
The Tower of the Alchemist is the ruined home of a powerful archmage who discovered several terrible secrets of transmutation. The Alchemist died following a failed experiment, and now the tower is crawling with strange creatures who are the runoff of her attempts to animate metallic compounds with a chained lightning, swamp water and other assorted chemics.

In exchange, we got not only several levels of non-sensical wizards tower, but also a basement and some creepy caves.


Pat visualised the upper levels with the help of this sketch. We ain't been able to work out who made it to credit (pipe up with any ideas), but it sure as hell looks sweet.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Doomsayer Advice and Thank You Message

Cool stuff happened today. About 24 hours ago I tweeted I was doing a follower target thing for 300 followers. It wasn't a giveaway or anything silly, but someone 20 people still followed me. You asked for Random Character Creation for Best Left Buried, which I am going to do, but there are (understandably) a lot tables involved, and editing them takes time.
To appease you all until I can finish tables, here is some Doomsayer (Referee/GM) Advice for you to feast on in the mean time. While this is all about Best Left Buried, you could also use it for any other horror game, Call of Cthulu, WHFRP, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Whatever. It's split into three sections: Fun, Challenge and Omens. It mostly talks about entertaining your players when the game is horrible, and also working with information to make sure no one feels cheated. Some stuff is borrowed from other people, including Joseph Manola of Against The Wicked City, and Skerples of Tombs and Scrolls...
I apologise for spelling mistakes and my general misunderstanding of grammar. This material has not yet reached my team of capable editors. In fact, fun announcement! As of 4 hours ago, Best Left Buried: Deluxe Version is finished! All of the written material is now with editors, due to return to me in a few weeks so I can start on art directing and layout. 
If you are reading this, thanks for following me and paying attention to things I create. If you fancy playing games, drop me a message on Twitter (@JellyMuppet) or Discord (same name, I'm on all the big servers) and I'd be happy to add you to our Best Left Buried Discord server. There you can grab sneak previews of new rules, as well as take part in playtests and generally chat about RPGs. 
See you soon!
Get a look at this Ben Brown classic! Poor Lilith the White looks very small under the hand of the Doomsayer.
Fun in Best Left Buried
Best Left Buried is a horror game. Before start your first session, sit down and think about what players enjoy. It won't even hurt to ask them.
Some enjoy seeing and defeating crazy monsters. Some just like rolling dice. Others like gaining awesome treasure. Some love overcoming impossible challenges against all odds. Some like being scared. They might enjoy the escape from droll reality, the sense of adventure. Many get a kick from pretending to be people completely different to themselves. Some just like hanging out with their friends with snacks and drinks. A deceptively large percentage are spectators who like watching other people have fun.
For all the talk about killing, maiming and generally emotionally abusing the player characters, nobody enjoys dying. Some people enjoy their character nearly dying and the adrenaline rush of the near escape from certain death, but they are a rare breed of sadistic maniac.
As the Doomsayer, it is not your job to kill your players' characters. You want them to have fun. Work out the kind of game your players enjoy and do everything you can to deliver that exact game. Cater to your audience. For all of the talk of preparing three characters, just let the players play their favourite.
Describe everything in as vivid detail as you can muster. Talk about the sights, the smells, the sounds, the taste of the air, even the textures of the environment. If you aren’t a skilled improviser of such things, write out detailed notes for your Crypts, Monsters and Characters.
Do stupid voices for NPCs. If you players laugh at you, you might be a little bit rubbish, but you’ll better and eventually they’ll join in.
During combat, keep everything moving at rapid pace. Get the adrenaline pumping. Describe the action, encourage players to narrate their actions. If they ever say ‘I hit them with my sword, it deals five damage’ then that’s boring. As an incentive, offer players with particularly exciting or dramatic description the Upper Hand on attacks.
Finally, avoid fights and traps that seem arbitrary and repetitive. If you have ask the party 100 times how exactly they open a door to see a trap if is triggered that’s probably not exciting. Avoid making fights that are just “five insert generic bad guys here in a blank room”. This is repetitive and bland. Present innovative and strange environments that can reward quick thinking and keep the game fresh and exciting
Challenge in Best Left Buried
Roleplaying games always need to be challenging. If the game is trivially easy, it probably isn’t fun. At the same time, the challenges you present aren’t designed to kill to the players, they are meant to give them room to show off their skills and ingenuity.
When setting up puzzles or encounters, try to challenge your players not your characters, and definitely not their character sheets. Good puzzles should be solvable with common sense, have no simple solutions but lots of complicated solutions. If you do have to attack the characters, do it in novel ways. The very best puzzles don't deal damage; they impede, obstruct, confuse and misinform the party and allow player skill to shine.
Remember, characters don't have the wide array of spells and cool abilities they might have in more modern games. Generally speaking they start with one cool thing or trick, and 5 items they can use to their advantage. If players run into trouble with a trap, puzzle or obstacle, remind them to look on their character sheet and see if they have any equipment that will help. The right tool can make am impossible task possible, a hard task easy and an easy task trivial. There aren't a lot of problems in a dungeon that can't be solved with rope, pickaxes and time (and usually a lot of noise).
The approach to fighting monster should be though as another type of puzzle. The most simple way to solve a combat is usually the worst, and have the highest tax in Grip and Vigour.
Monsters should be dynamic and have defined weaknesses that are (at least slightly) telegraphed and therefore exploitable by characters.
Your NPCs can also be an obstacle. Make them dynamic and as real as possible. Think about their motivations and desires. Think about what they will do in response to a given situation. Reward players for guessing their intentions and foiling their plans.
In the dungeon, Only fanatical or insane enemies will fight to the death or attack on sight. Wherever possible they will retreat when disadvantages, and try to find more information or allies before attacking. Even the strangest of monsters have other things to do then mindlessly throw themselves at the enemy, and if wounded they might retreat to lick their wounds.
Sentient and sane bad guys might tactically retreat, surrender, attempt negotiate terms or some kind deal, or even just avoid the players. Clever players can turn combat encounters with the these kinds of enemies into social encounters, allowing them to save points of Grip and Vigour.
Combat in Best Left Buried is not intended be balanced or fair. Bad guys should be real antagonists who try with all their heart and soul to destroy the party. Players should do everything they can to scrap out every single advantage they can and turn the odds in their favour.
Quoting (sadly, far from verbatim) Joseph Manola, “Getting into anything resembling a fair fight is a terrible idea (...) The good guys don't win because they're good; they win because they are able to attain a greater capacity for acts of spectacular mass violence than their enemies.”
In short, all is fair in love and war.
Omens and Fear in Best Left Buried
Being scary in an RPG is hard. The best type of fear you can project is visceral, genuine emotional fear. I think Stephen King, America’s premier crafter of horror stories, said it best in the following quote:
“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.”
Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually follows a frightening sight, sound, or otherwise experience. The gross-out is something that is disgusting, repellent, or shocking, usually involving blood, ichor or something obnoxiously creepy.
If you can scare them with the looming threat or something hiding just around the corner, then that’s a higher cause than a jump scare, which in turn is more elegant than something gross.
You can also use the terror creating elements to provide and hide information. What is more terrifying than the unknown? We call these features “omens”, the evidence a monster or trap exists.
When traps, monsters and other obstacles are dangerous, they should be obvious. This is why we never instantly kill a player without warnings or telegraphing it in some way. Creatures that are large, lethal or terrible should leave omens of their passage: scraps of fur or skin, huge footprints, mutilated corpses of other monsters or fellow adventurers, screams in the distance, graffiti scrawled on the dungeon walls, trails of blood or ichor. Stuff like this not only acts as interesting set dressing, but also shows the monster the monster is there and that the characters have passed into its territory.
Perhaps other Cryptdiggers in the company have seen the creature in scouting missions, or heard about it from other NPCs. Maybe something near that area of the dungeon wiped out a whole other wing of the company.
All of these things are rock solid horror tropes you can use to set up players with information. The omens can give them tools to outwit and eventually defeat the monster.
And if they can't feasibly kill the creature, they should be able to avoid it. Until it starts hunting them, that’s when it gets really scary.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Some Variant Spells

About a week ago was I chatting with Pat (@MountainFoot), @wereoctopus and Luka (@StratoMetaShip) on Twitter about spell variants. Matt Colville recently just did a bunch of rules for Wizard’s towers and funky spell variants, but they were like 7 pages long, hit and miss and a lot of effort. I thought I would bash out a couple of weird spell variants.

Here was the example we were discussing: 

Menress’ Frozen Portal: Functions as Hold Portal, only the held door is frozen shut.
And here are 9 more. Some muck around with the spell’s level, which make it different to the 5e version (that was the only Player Handbook I have in front of me). Cantrip refers to infinite use. You effectively trade a known spell for a trait or feature: 

Herins’ Illusive Step (1st Level): Functions as Misty Step, but only allows you to move a space within 5ft of a light source, such as a lit torch, lantern or candle.

Jericho’s Spectral Bowshot: Functions as Magic Missile, but darts are instead arrows fired from a ghostly bow. 

Usidore’s Specific Birdsong (Cantrip):  Functions as Speak With Animals, but only works with one particular species of bird chosen upon learning the spell, such as robins, geese or pigeons.

Yorow’s Flaming Breath: Functions as Burning Hands, but fire spurts from the mouth, not the hands. 

Harold’s Expeditious Summary (3rd Level): Functions as Legend Lore, but only works on the contents of a book held in your hand, providing a brief summary of its contents.  

Geera’s Ill-Planned Invisibility (1st Level): Functions as Invisibility, but only works while the target is singing loudly. 

Usidore’s Conspiracy of Birds: Functions as Cloudkill, but deals Piercing Damage instead of Poison Damage as a swarm of birds are summoned to attack the target area. Also deals damage even the creature does not need to breath.

Patricia’s Revealing Orb (2nd Level): Functions as Chromatic Orb, but also leaves a light source that lasts a minute at the target location, equivalent to the light created by a torch.

Theodore’s Wave of Frost: Functions as Thunderwave, but deals Cold Damage instead of 
Thunder Damage as an icy wind knocks nearby target to the ground. Instead of the audible boom, the rush of unnaturally cold wind can be felt up to 300 feet away. 

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Journeys within Games and Best Left Buried

TL;DR: Best Left Buried is a horror-fantasy game that tracks a dungeoneering party’s descent from fresh-faced recruits to grizzled veterans. You can buy it here:

Bear with me, this goes on a tangent. I wanted to do something more than shameless promotion, so you get a blog article on something I think that is important in RPGs, but often overlooked in game design.

It is my opinion that many RPGs suffer from being overly generic in terms of genre and journey. D&D is a great example of this. You can use it to run (and this is a quote from the 5e DMG) games set in: Heroic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, Mythic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Intrigue, Mystery, Swashbuckling, War, or Wuxia. It tries to hit a lot of notes, and while this gives it broad appeal and makes it very marketable, it also has downsides. 

Good systems should try to sell a genre, or, better even, try to sell a journey.

The best new roleplaying game I have read in the last year is Blades in the Dark. It tries to run a gloompunk heist game and every rule in the book is designed to do exactly that. The planning flashbacks, the downtime rules, the gang playbook, the Stress/Vice system all turns Blades into a bullet that hits the target right in the bullseye. 

A lot of people recognise this and try to pitch to a narrow scope of genre or gameplay style, but Blades does everything it can to carve out a singular feeling. That feeling is being Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders or Corvo Attano from Dishonoured or whatever heisty protagonist you are trying to nail.

Video games also sell feelings. Nothing beats sprinting around as the Doom Marine nailing demons with a shotgun, riding through Hyrule on a horse, or that “One More Turn” vibe that the good Civilisation games pump your veins full of.

What is this feeling that Dungeons and Dragons tries to hit? Was there an emotion or experience they were aiming for? Maybe there’s an art to that, leaving a system open an letting those emotions appear in play, but I honestly think Wizards didn’t even know. I think Gygax knows what he wanted from his game, but Mike Mearls certainly didn’t

Now, back to my stuff.

Best Left Buried is designed to run a specific style of game and give that same feeling. I realise now, but I tried to write a fantasy game and wrote a horror game with a fantasy setting.

The journey is fairly singular. The characters start off as badass adventurers, but then become destroyed by everything that lives in the dungeon.

Dungeoneering is a terrible career path. I discussed this in my first ever blog post. You go into the earth and fight monsters, deal with traps and get covered in mud and worse. You sometimes get rich, but you usually end up dead first. 

Through their journey, they would see all of this crazy shit in the bowels of the dungeon. They would be cut down by the monsters, or at very least left with weird insanity and crippling injuries. I wanted to plot this journey from a fresh newcomer to a grizzled survivors with PTSD and a pegleg. 

The came was originally called Descent, plotting both the descent of the characters into the dungeon both physically and spiritually. We also called it Crypt for a while, the environment where all of insanity was found. I eventually settled on "Best Left Buried", after dreaming up the tagline:

"There are things that dwell in the Crypt and some are Best Left Buried."

The end of the journey for our adventurers is death or worse. Eventually, as the injuries, insanities and mutations stack up, the character will become little better than the monsters they fight.

That’s the journey I’m trying to sell. That’s the journey of Best Left Buried.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Artefact Session: The Session Pitch for my Novel

I just found a crazy document in the archive of my computer. This is the campaign pitch for the D&D game that eventually become my books: The Last Errant and the WIP Last Mystic. 

The Barren would have probably been a weird game, but it sure as hell sounds fun: 

The Wasteland 

Influenced by elements of the Dark Tower’s Mid-World, the frontier spirit of the Wild West and the post apocalyptic vibe of Fallout, the Wastelands is a Dark Fantasy setting where adventurers head into the wild unknown of the Western Expanse, away from Hubris, a once-great city which is all that’s left of the Old Ways.

“I am the punishment of God... If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” - Genghis Khan

“Once again there was the desert, and that only.” - Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Hubris is a rotten city.

A city of corruption, blasphemy and the remnants of a dying way. Beneath its ruined spires, thousands starve to death every winter, while the powerful sit in palaces that stretch for miles, living in unimaginable luxury. Cultist scream the names of long dead gods in overcrowded streets and others worship darker creatures that lurk in the depths of the shadows: fiendish Blackbeasts, the eldritch Gibbering Ones and the emotive Fae. For the common man, the city of Hubris is a deathtrap. Many folk chose to leave the depravities of the city behind and seek out a simpler life in the Western Expanse.

Legends tell of a LAND BEYOND 

Stories say that the Expanse that makes up the Old West is nearly thousand miles tall and wide, , but past that lies the LAND BEYOND: the great city of Reverie, the realm of Dumah, ruled by the God-King of Numin, the glory of the Dawn Ocean. Some believe the LAND BEYOND exists, but many call them fools living on false hope. 

There is no law in the Expanse. It is the Wasteland, the Lost Wild, the Barren. Chaos rules.

The same legends tell that Lost Wild between Hubris and Reverie is a savage land. League after league of hungry desert, savage grasslands and haunted forest. Mile of mile of rugged terrain filled to the brim with madmen, beasts, ruined cities, demons and things a thousand times worse. A nightmare land that will never end. Even in near side of the Wasteland villages of Barrenfolk can only etch out a primitive existence, all while harassed by drifters, beasts and shifters. 

Heroes travel the Wasteland

The remainders of the Last Knights of Errant wander the Wasteland. These warriors, explorers and adventurers journey through the perils of the Barren. Some seek fortune hidden in ruined cities, others are running from something behind, but most simply desire to reach the LAND BEYOND whatever the cost. There heroes travel through the Wilds, fighting evil and aiding the Barrenfolk wherever they can. 

The Wasteland runs with a Low Fantasy version of the 5e ruleset, where magic exists but is rarely wielded by men. All players are human, using the variant human rules from 5e and may take two Virtues from the Adventures in Middle Earth instead of one feat from the Player Handbook. Choose a Background from either the PHB or AiME. There are eight classes:

  • The Godsman, a friar who wanders the world spreading the words of Gods That Were. 
  • The Scholar, a learned man who is uncovers the secrets of the past and is wise in lore
  • The Slayer, a savage and dauntless killer who fights alone and with bestial fury 
  • The Treasure Hunter, a scavenger who delves in the depths and recovers the remains of the world before
  • The Wanderer, a traveller who is at home in the wilds of the Wasteland, bringing news as they go
  • The Warden, a fellow brave of heart who kindles the spirits of allies and guards the hearth-fire
  • The Warlock, a sorcerer of forbidden and evil magics, who has sold his soul to some strange entity 
  • The Warrior, a stalwart and discipline fighter who rallies his allies in combat 


Sunday, 14 October 2018

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

Zak Smith of HitItWithMyAxe posted this list of 20 questions he wanted us to answer. I hate chain mail, but I'm happy doing this one, because the OSR is RAD.

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

I love this piece by Joseph Manola about the OSR and its obsession with ruination and decay. when i read it, it just made sense immediately and ending up inspiring large pieces of my work.

2. My favourite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

“Rules are hard to remember and details are easy to forget under stress. Intent is not. Intent is easy to recall and unlike detail it actually grows more powerful under stress. You remember who hates you. The more stressed you are, the more you remember it.”

This quote from Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart sums up my opinion of rules vs rulings, and also process vs procedure. It actually sits on my desk, glued to my office computer at my actual job. 

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

I think Veins of the Earth is simply unsurpassed from every design perspective, but it probably suffers from being too arty. 

The most useful thing I’ve ever ran is Skerples’ Tomb of the Serpent Kings. This stellar low level dungeon should be the “I don’t know what dungeon to run tonight, lets play *blank*" for every single OSR DM. 

4. My favourite house rule (by someone else):

I love the Black Hack’s usage die for food, light sources etc. I don’t know if that’s technically a house rule, because its part of a game already, but so many people use it as a house rule in other games that I reckon it counts.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

I was looking into Swords and Wizardry, after reading the Sword of Air, a mega campaign by Frog God Games. I remember then researching stuff like Dungeon Crawl Classics and them stumbling across Questing Beast’s youtube channel. From there, I bought a copy of Fire on the Velvet Horizon and the rest was history. 

6. My favourite OSR online resource/toy:

You can find every map you ever needed for a fantasy game here, in the storage repository of Dyson Logos: 

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

I love Discord Servers. My favourite is the Questing Beast Patreon Discord server, but if you can’t get onto that, Twitter is pretty sweet. 

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

A few other discord servers for Troika, DIY RPG or OSR. If you want links to any of these, message me or comment below.  

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

I love being rid of death saves, instant death or whatever, and replacing it with a coin toss. Tails, you live are unconscious. Heads, you die. It makes some really fucking dramatic moments. 

10. My favourite non-OSR RPG:

I know we aren’t meant to like story games, but I really love Blades in the Dark. It is a game carved like a bullet to do exactly one style of campaign and knock it out of the park. 

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

Less commercial and corporate. People make OSR shit because they love it and its cool. Most of it isn’t designed to shift copies or meet some targets, its because someone has a genuine passion for a project and made it themselves in the desk on their kitchen. The art is just better. There is less direction and it isn’t stale. Its like comparing original John Blanche stuff to something from a modern 40k product.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

Luka Rejec, the WizardThieffighter and Stratometaship guy, has made two awesome products lately: Ultraviolet Grasslands and Witchburner, as well as doing art/layout for lots of other projects. This guy is the full package and does all of the art/layout/writing for his books. UVG is sublime and reckon everyone should read it. Grab his Patreon here and his twitter @Stratometaship

Other shout out is Troika by Dan S and the Melsonian Arts Council. The game is weird and utterly British and janky and I absolutely love it. Grab the Patreon and the book on DriveThruRPG 

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

Coins and Scrolls, cos Skerples makes a crazy cool blog full of massively gameable shit. Additional shoutout to any of his stuff on Feudalism, which a lot of people may find dry but i think is amazing. 

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

Best Left Buried. The fantasy horror RPG game I’m written and is currently available on DriveThruRPG. It's been realeased but I weirdly haven't made a blogpost yet, mainly cos no one reads this blog.

15. I'm currently running/playing:

A Black Company-esque mercenary game using Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Ed, but set in my own version of medieval Europe. The players are chasing a bounty on a knight who is impersonating another knight. They decided the best way to draw this guy out was to write him a letter while pretending to be his long lost brother. Many letters have been written at the table and exchanged. We have spent 2, 4 hour long sessions without a single combat. 

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

I know this cheating but I do care. Sorry? 

Descending AC doesn’t make sense to me. I have distaste for role under systems in general, because I think you should always have consistency of dice expectation. If high is good on damage rolls (and it always is) then 'to hit' roles or skill checks should be good as high too. It creates a massive disconnect with new players for the system. I hate when players have to go "Wait should this dice role be low or high for it to be good?", or ever worse, confusion after a dice lands about what the good results are.

Games that don't obey this rule, like Black Hack, GLOG, Into the Odd etc, will just never be things I want to run.

I make an exception for WHRP 2nd Ed, because D100 low is the only place where low is good and I feel like that is a different "dice space" that is defined separately from the rest of the game where high is good.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

I call this thing “Footshark” and it comes from Best Left Buried. It’s mad.