Sunday, 7 August 2022

The Stone Bone Mound

Here is my entry to this year's One Page Dungeon Contest. With a working title of "negative space dungeon", it's a solution to a thought experiment which came to me, as do all of the best ideas, while walking on the moors: what if I were to use all of the dungeon map, and not just the white bits. As part of the process of making it, I learnt how to draw a labyrinth, which turns out to be super simple and is also super rewarding: I sometimes draw them just for relaxation now.

Here it is: The Stone Bone Mound

Sunday, 31 July 2022

New stuff in't store

 

Gespenwald
A very quick post to say that I have added two new products to my online store and both are currently on special offer: Learning to Draw Trees is a 44-page book documenting my attempt to, well, learn to draw trees. Contains drawings, photos, thoughts and tips. Gespenwald, meanwhile, is a free-form TTRPG adventure, my entry to the Forests of Another Name game jam for Cairn

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Just Do The Work

Well of Bolonchen by Frederick Catherwood

[This post was originally intended for my personal blog, but I figured that folks here may find it useful]

I am well acquainted with the whoosh of deadlines, and I've just been overtaken by yet another; weeks, months, stopped in my tracks by Seasonal Affective Disorder and Bipolar Disorder (or perhaps I'm lazy and that's just my excuse?)

My inability to complete work to schedule has bugged me all of my life, as I know it does many people. My bipolar disorder (of which I will say more at the end of this post) makes this particularly tricky. But, partly because of this, I've spent many years investigating different life-hacking techniques, and have a fair idea of what does and doesn't work. A serial deadline-misser like me may seem to be the worst person to give advice on productivity hacks, but that's what I'm going to do anyway.

First of all, and most importantly: Do The Work. The short and sweet book The War of Art by Steven Pressfied is very clear on this subject. Sit down, every day, and crack on with things. Do this regardless of whether the muse moves you or not. Treat every project like paid employment, and treat being there as an obligation. Even doing a few minutes every day will soon build into something worthwhile, and will result in in more Stuff produced over the course of week, a month, a year, a lifetime.

Which is all well and good, but turning up regularly can be difficult; sometimes just remembering to do the work is itself a job of work. Elastic Habits by Stephen Guise helps you to build the muscle that keeps you battling on. To build elastic habits, you learn to consider the smallest possible increment of work as something worth doing. Simply making sure that you Do The Work with regularity will, over the course of a few months, build a self-sustaining habit. Of course, you don't want to always be doing the smallest amount possible: the system sets 3 different goal-sizes (and usually 3 different variations on the task, for variety) to help you monitor your achievements and stay on track.

For example, say I want to get fit. I could have three different activities that count towards getting fit, let's say floor exercises, swimming, and running (doing any one of those in a day counts as Doing The Work). For each of them, I will set three different levels of difficulty. The first one has to be so simple that you can do it almost without effort: one set of floor exercises, swimming one length, running for a minute. The next level should be a little harder: 3 reps/lengths/minutes. And the next, quite a bit higher, perhaps 15 reps/lengths/minutes. Each day, you make damn sure that you either run, swim, or do floor exercises at least a tiny amount. You can adjust your goals as you go along - if you fail to make even the simplest level, perhaps you can simplify further: lie on the floor/get your bike out of the shed/visualise swimming. If you're managing the hardest level every day, then make it harder.

Another book I've found helpful in tackling my own specific difficulties is Your Own Worst Enemy by Kenneth Christian. This book is aimed at "high achievers" who are not achieving. The premise is that those of us who do extremely well in school (or at least in the early years) start to assume that we can just coast through life. This turns out not to be true, and so we fail, and think of ourselves as failures, until learn how to put in the necessary effort to Do The Work. Again, this book mainly focuses on Just Doing The Work, as well as visualising future achievements (a well-proven psychological technique for bringing those achievements closer to realisation).

Speaking of getting things done, the book of that name is a classic of the productivity genre. Like most books in this field, it can be summed up in a few sentences. It employs three basic tools: a to-do list, a calendar, and a filing system. Many of us will have a pile of paper on our desk and/or an inbox full of unread emails and/or a bunch of vague ideas in our heads which serve (badly) all three purposes. We will also have an accompanying cognitive load and frequent moments of "oh gosh, I'm sure there was something I was supposed to do today, what was it again?" The premise of Getting Things Done is that immediately shifting each piece of paper/email/idea into one of the three buckets (to-do/calendar/filing) gets it off your mind and into a place where you cannot fail to have access to it exactly when you need it. I struggled with this system for years because I was never any good at to-do lists: I tried both paper and digital ones, but always found myself soon overwhelmed with too many items. But a few years ago I discovered Todoist, and suddenly everything fitted into place. Todoist's flexibility - allowing you to use it as a basic list, but containing more advanced optional features such as due dates, projects, and labels - has allowed me to hack it into to a system that works for me, and that does not overwhelm me on a day-to-day basis.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is accountability. In my case, accountability that is inflexible and dangerous. I have written about how I use the Book of Horkos to fulfil this role. Less perilous forms of accountability, I have found, are easy to sidestep (which I have done so many times that it almost comes naturally). The cost is that people will think worse of me and will trust me less, but in my darker moments I feel that I've probably lost all of their trust already and anyway, so what does it matter? For some people, simply by stating in public "I am going to Do The Work" (with the potential loss of face of failing to Do The Work) means that they will Do The Work. For me, it requires an immovable deadline and another person or people who will not only think less of me if I fail, but will themselves suffer some inconvenience. I hate letting other people down!

Due to the whooshing deadline I mentioned at the start of this post, I have today initiated a new harsh form of accountability. I have hired... I'm not quite sure what to call her, something between a PA and a life-coach. I pay her money, and every week I tell her her exactly what I will complete in the next week. Then we will look back on the previous week and check that I did in fact achieve what I said I would. The person I have hired to do this is my daughter because, not only is she as sharp as a pin, she is perhaps the one person in the world that I could never bring myself to let down. I know that she is going to be ruthless at her job, and I know that this is going to keep me in line.

I said at the outset that Bipolar Disorder makes my task a lot trickier. My specific flavour of bipolar disorder is BP-II. On the surface this appears far less severe than classic BP-I "manic depression", but BP-II's mood swings are far more frequent, and the disruptive effect this has on one's life can barely be overstated (BP-II sufferers are far more likely to attempt suicide than those with BP-I, because of this frequent inability to function).  When I'm depressed, all bets are off, and everything falls apart. The frequency with which this happens means that habit-building is virtually impossible. People often say that to form a habit, you should do it at the same time as you brush your teeth. In 50+ years I have never managed to acquire the habit of brushing my teeth regularly. This inability to be consistent is known to cause many problems in the life of those with BP-II, in particular psychosocial impairment results from being unable to be consistent in one's relationships (I was in my my 30s before I began to understand how one interacts with other people, and it's only due to having an amazing and supportive wife that I'm able to function reasonably normally today).

And that, I believe, is why I've never quite managed to dial in those productivity habits that I know so much about for any real length of time (the longest I've managed is about 2 months). But that's not going to stop me trying. And my next attempt starts today. Once I'm done, I'll probably write a book on productivity hacks for bipolar folks.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Naming Things

The Ship of Yoharneth-Lahai by Sidney Sime

After a lecture at Cornell in which Lord Dunsany had mentioned his longtime collaborator, the artist Sidney Sime, somebody said what a perfect name Sime was for him. “I don’t know,” said Dunsany; “I think Rhibelungzanedroom would suit him better.”

I have recently been reading Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith's short stories. They're full of names like Yoh-Vombis, Ubbo-Sathla, Thlūnrāna and Karna-Vootra (alongside plenty of purple prose). Exotic, huh? Hmm.

Weird and wonderful (presumably) made-up names like these proliferate in fantasy RPG-land. Usually packed full of Zs, Ks, Qs, hyphens, and dïạćrîtĩcŝ, this Khazad-dûmbing-down of names does very little for me. These names have no resonance, and tell me nothing except "you tried to make this name sound weird". As a result they all end up sounding much of a muchness, interchangeable letter-mush. And are almost never memorable.

"The names used in the adventure are a complete bricolage signifying no particular human culture. In fact they are all the names of caves." - Patrick Stuart, Deep Carbon Observatory

I've found that using pre-existing words, perhaps with the odd letter changed here and there, makes for far more satisfying and memorable names. Electric Bastionland does a very good job of this, suggesting names for each of its failed careers which, although not entirely familiar, are suggestive and simple to remember. There are many potential sources for names, from Patrick's cave names via place names, technical and domain-specific terms, body parts... not to mention the zillions of lists of baby names out there. The names of climbing routes have an exotic but resonant charm of their own and (perhaps unsurprisingly) remind me of the spaceship names of M John Harrison and Iain M Banks. And I'm reminded of a story of a South American country where the naming of babies after components of car engines became so popular that it had to be banned (I may name my next character Carburettor O'Sump).

Despite this, it's not long since I advocated using the names SsShrp, SvyrySshp, and FssSuSshs. So please take everything that I say with a pinch of salt.

Update: here is another great blog post about naming places in RPGs.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

“and a miniature three-handed sword” - d30 AI encounters

I couldn't resist getting GPT-3 to spit out a bunch more random encounters. I used the same examples as last time to teach the machine what I wanted, and here's what it came out with. There are certain tropes and stereotypes emerging here, but also occasional stunningly original ideas. Enjoy!

noisms and the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard

I interviewed noisms, who blogs as Monsters and Manuals, publishes noisms games, and is best known for his fantasy game setting Yoon Suin, the Purple Land. Right now he'a running a Kickstarter for The Corridor of the Seventh Green Magic User  The Hall of the Third Blue Wizard, a zine featuring high-quality commissioned RPG modules and short stories. Although I fucking hate acronyms, for sanity's sake I'm sure I'll be referring to it as THOTTBW or THotTBW or THot3W by the end of this post, however dirty that makes me feel.

Here are audio and video versions of the interview, and below them are a summary of what we talked about with LOTS of notes and links and other good stuff.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Gespenwald, Cairn, and the NSR

Firstly, I have a new thing out. It's called Gespenwald, comes in the form of a PDF (printable as a double-sided A4 trifold), and can be downloaded here. I will have printed copies available in a couple of months.

It kicks off with a children's rhyme:

On Narren Night, my love and me
We met beside the Gespen tree
We kissed and counted, one, two, three,
And turned, and touched the Gespen tree

The Gespen Tree, the Gespen Tree
Her elbows wrapped around her knee
As old as bone and stone is she
The Gespen Tree, the Gespen Tree

In Gespenwald, around the tree
We spent the night, my love and me
Until the sun returned and he
Left me alone, beside the tree

Oh Gespen Tree, oh Gespen Tree
Return my stolen love to me
Next Narren night, please set him free
Oh Gespen Tree, oh Gespen Tree

Gespenwald is a freeform adventure written for the Forests of Another Name jam. Although it's written for the game Cairn, it can easily be played with Into the Odd and its derivatives; or adapted for other games; or even, like my previous publication Mostly Harmless Meetings, read as a piece of Oulipian fantasy fiction.

I thought I'd use the release of this new piece of writing as an opportunity to talk a little about Cairn, a game which many people won't be familiar with, and, via Cairn, to talk about the "NSR" community.

Monday, 11 April 2022

Yakanory and the dark fiction of James Burt

 The first review of Mostly Harmless Meetings is in, and interestingly it looks at it not from a gaming perspective, but as a work of literature: "a sort of Borgesian/Oulippian take on British rural folklore". I like that! Admittedly I've not read any Borges (I've just ordered a copy of Labyrinths, and I'm told that he also wrote a monster manual), and the closes I got to Oulipo was Georges Perec's Life, A User's Manual, which I've managed to abandon twice, because I can only take so many lists (here's an idea: a random stuff-in-the-attic generator, for 20th century horror games, based on Perec's lists; a sort of "Life, A User's Tables"). You can read the review, by my friend James Burt, here.

I have recently been reading, and been very impressed by, James's own work: dark, weird, sometimes horrific short stories. His story A Disease of Books impressed me so much that I resurrected a project I started during the first COVID lockdown: Yakanory. Basically me reading stuff aloud, this started with me reading Dr Seuss tales to friends' kids over Facebook Live, then briefly took on a bit of a life of its own. My reading of A Disease of Books is below, and I've put quite a few other readings up on YouTube and plan to do more soon. You can generally tell how manic I was at the time of recording by what I'm wearing (and I always was a little manic, otherwise I don't think I'd have had the courage to do something like this).

You can buy more of James's stories for dirt cheap over on Etsy, read his blog and follow him on Twitter. But first, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

Monday, 4 April 2022

Generating random content for RPGs using Artificial Intelligence

Sea-biscuit cutting and rolling machine

The topic of Artificial Intelligence in TTRPGs (actually Machine Learning - but I'll call it AI for simplicity's sake) is something I've seen discussed a lot recently. noisms asked on his blog whether AI would change the hobby. On the NSR Discord server we've had AI-generated failed careers for Electric Bastionland posted by Chris McDowall, and some Cairn sparks from Yochai Gal, plus an ongoing discussion on how AI can be used in RPGs.

Machine Learning is something I've wanted to tinker with for a while now. I've been put off by lack of a powerful enough PC, a loathing of the Python programming language, and general laziness. Meanwhile I've poured hundreds of hours' hacking into my Deity Galaxy twitter bot, using Tracery and nested lists (a little like Perchance) to generate text which is... rarely satisfactory. I plan to publish a book of "nanodeities" based on curated output from Deity Galaxy (I wrote about this a while ago). But before doing so, I will  have to spend a lot of time sharpening up the bot's output.

A couple of weeks ago my friend, the horror writer James Burt, came to visit. We had a wonderful walk around the hills about Allenheads where, among many other things, we talked about my nanodeities plans. James has written previously about using AI as a writing partner, and our shared acquaintance Shardcore published what may be the world's first AI-written book, "The Future is Already Here" by Algohiggs (a computerised riff on the book The Future Starts Here by John Higgs which, BTW, is a fabulous book; if everyone read it then the world would be a better place). James suggested that I try generating deities using AI and the GPT engines.

So that's what I've done. I used the OpenAI Playground to paste in some prompt text (which you'll find at the end of this post) and was blown away with the results:

Mallus, deity of the abandoned sock, is a small, slightly furry creature, not dissimilar to a ferret, that can be found in the laundry basket of most homes. Mallus is a mischievous god, and often delights in hiding one sock of a pair, or tangling up clothes that have just been ironed. To please Mallus, leave a sock out on the floor for him to play with.

Kerfuffle, goddess of tangled wires, is best worshipped by knotting together at least 7 different electrical cables, and then throwing them into a puddle. The resulting sparks will be a sign of Kerfuffle's favour. Kerfuffle herself is a small, spiky sphere, not unlike a hedgehog made of barbed wire.

Snorfle is the god of hiccups. Snorfle is an amorphous blob of green slime with a single eye in the center. To worship Snorfle, drink a pint of milk and then try to hiccup. If you are successful, Snorfle will grant you a wish, provided that wish is related to hiccups.

Schnarf is the god of electronic bleeps and bloops, and can be found in most electronic devices, especially those with a lot of buttons. Schnarf is especially fond of mobile phones, and can often be found lurking in the background when someone is taking a selfie. To worship Schnarf, simply take a selfie with a mobile phone and then offer it up to the god.

Those were all written by a computer! Wow. OK, that got my attention.

Suddenly I'm thinking of all sorts of uses for GPT-3 powered text generation. Tables of random content are a Big Deal in TTRPG-land, people can't seem to get enough of them (witness the wonderful d4 Caltrops). Right out of the box, GPT-3 understands these tables. When I asked it to "write a table of random encounters for a fantasy TTRPG", here is what it came up with:

10 believable but rather vanilla possible random encounters

As an aside, something which initially appears surprising is that this output includes the gaming-specific term "2d6". One of the great things about GPT-3 (in comparison with its more readily-available predecessor GPT-2) is that it was trained on a mind-boggling number of web pages, undoubtedly including many gaming blogs (and probably a sizeable number of random encounter tables). It is really great at understanding context, and using the relevant domain-specific language in its output. It can even write computer code, given just a very simple prompt:

To get improved random encounters, I started writing ("crafting"?) prompts to seed the AI-generated list. i.e. I started to write the sort of encounters that I would like to read. This took many iterations and, as you'll see from the prompts at the end of this post, required adding a huge amount of spice to the seed text in order to get encounters that didn't sound too generic.

Here is what the AI came up with when I tasked it with creating some random wilderness encounters (I had to hit "submit" several times to collect all of these examples):

* A small village of mud-huts is in the process of being slowly buried by an encroaching sand-dune. The villagers are in a state of panic. A quick check will reveal that the sand is being controlled by an evil sorcerer, who lives in a crumbling manor-house in the centre of the village, surrounded by a low moat. The sorcerer’s name is Hamza Omri, and he is a wicked man. In his basement, he possesses d6 bottles of a potion which, when drunk, will transform the drinker into a sand-dune. These potions are worth 100GP each, and Omri is willing to sell them. The sorcerer also possesses a magical amulet, which will allow the wearer to control any sand-dune within 100 miles. Omri is very reluctant to sell this, but will do so if offered d1000GP.

* A group of d6 pixies flutter down from the trees, laughing and playing. They carry with them a large number of brightly-coloured flowers, which they offer to the PCs. If the PCs accept the flowers, they will find that they are unable to move from the spot. The pixies will then proceed to strip the PCs of their clothes and possessions, and will fly away, laughing. The flowers are actually poisonous, and will cause the PCs to become paralyzed for d6 hours.

* A large group of d6+12 unicorns approaches, led by a magnificent white stallion. The unicorns are on their way to a magical spring, where they will drink the water and be transformed into Pegasus. The stallion is the only one who knows the location of the spring, and he is very reluctant to reveal it. However, if the PCs can convince him that they are worthy, he may show them the way. The spring is located in a hidden valley, guarded by a ferocious dragon. The dragon will allow the PCs to pass if they can answer three riddles.

* A small campsite, in which a fire is burning and a pot is bubbling. Sitting around the fire are 2d4 humanoids, with the heads of eagles. They wear colourful feathers and have beaks made of gold. These are the Aaracockra, a race of bird-people. They are friendly, and will share their food (a stew made of insects and small rodents) with the PCs. They will also give the PCs 2d4 feathers, which can be used as currency in some cultures, or as quills for writing.  
* A d4-1 skunk-like animals are chasing a small golden-furred creature with a long tail. This creature is a “chai”, a small, intelligent, furry creature who is being hunted by the skunks, who are known as “chai-hunters”. These chai-hunters are attracted to the chai’s fur, which is used to line cloaks and blankets. If the PCs help the chai escape the chai-hunters, the chai will invite them back to its village, where they will be welcomed with a feast and a chai-fur-lined cloak.
* 3d20 flying bats, each with a wingspan of around 9 feet, descend from the twilight sky, circling around the PCs, hissing and squawking. These are not ordinary bats. They are “shrieking bats”, which can emit a loud shriek which can be heard up to 5 miles away. This shriek can be used to warn other animals of danger, or to call for help. The bats will only attack if provoked. If the PCs capture one of the bats, they will find that its fur can be sold for 5GP.
* A column of luminous green slime slides across the ground towards the PCs, slowing as it nears them. This is a “slime-beast”, a predatory creature which feeds on small animals. If the PCs do not move out of the way, the slime-beast will envelop them, and begin to digest them. The slime-beast can be killed by fire, or by being frozen solid. If killed, the slime-beast will leave behind a sticky green residue which can be used as a glue.
* A large, slow-moving, armoured creature, resembling a cross between a turtle and a snail, emerges from a nearby pond. This is a “turtle-snail”, a harmless creature which is often hunted for its meat. The turtle-snail’s meat is tough and stringy, but can be roasted and eaten. The turtle-snail’s shell can be used as a bowl, or as a shield.

* A pink elephant-like creature, with trunk outstretched and a gleaming white tusk. It is covered in dozens of colourful umbrellas, hanging from its sides like leaves. The elephant is the reincarnation of a local rain god, and the umbrellas are his “holy symbols”. He is friendly and curious, and will follow the PCs around, trundling along behind them. He is also very clumsy, and has a habit of knocking over small trees and stepping on things. If the PCs give him a basket of fruit, he will be overjoyed, and will bestow upon them a magical blessing: for the next 24 hours, they will be able to breathe underwater.

* 2d6+6 very tall (around 12 feet) humanoids, with ashen grey skin and long white hair. They are wearing simple white tunics, and each carries a large wooden staff. These are the ash-walkers, guardians of the forest of Ashes. They are friendly, but will not allow the PCs to enter the forest of Ashes, as it is a sacred place. If the PCs are persistent, the ash-walkers will tell them a story: “Once, long ago, there was a great kingdom, whose people were just and good. But the king was corrupted by power, and he became a tyrant. His people rebelled, and the kingdom was destroyed in the ensuing war. The forest of Ashes is all that remains of that kingdom. It is a place of sadness and loss, but also of hope. For one day, the ash-walkers believe, the kingdom will be reborn, and its people will be just and good once again.” 

Well. That's rather interesting. There's still a clear tendency for these encounters to revert to something rather more generic than the examples I've fed them, and there are inconsistencies which need tidying-up and details which need filling-in. But I'd say that these encounters are at least as creative as 75% of the equivalent human-written content out there.

I'm really tempted to keep fiddling with this and creating more encounters, but OpenAI Playground costs money (I'm still well within my $18 initial free credit, but I have lots of uses I want to put that remaining credit towards). 

In the future I'm sure we will see more and more AI replacing (or at least providing an increasingly-used alternative to) old-school tables. The key, as ever, is the seed text, and so there will still be a need for humans to craft texts which lead to interesting results from the AI. Unlike with tables though, a single set of well-written prompts can generate pretty much unlimited outputs forever more. So it may not be true to say that we will need good writers as much as ever. We may only ever need them once.

The other thing that this type of AI is great for - and which I intend to explore a lot more over the coming months - is providing inspiration and feedback for human-written text. This might operate in a similar way to existing writing partnerships, allowing ideas to be bounced back and forth and refined before the human partner settles on a final revision. Also a great way for breaking out of writer's block!

Below are the hand-written prompts I put into the OpenAI playground to generate the texts above. To generate your own encounters, sign up for an account at OpenAI, then head to the playground and paste in the second list below (or write your own prompts). I'd be really interested to hear of any good results that it comes up with - please write them in the comments below.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

The Bogey Beasts of Sidney Sime

Woods and Dark Animals by Sidney H Sime

Inasmuch as there is a Peakrill Press house style, it is that of fin-de-siecle fantasy-inspired illustrations of the late 19th and early 20th century (largely nicked from oldbookillustrations.com); images by Arthur Rackham, Aubrey Beardsley and, especially, Sidney Herbert Sime.

I love this style of drawing, and the worlds it depicts; lands of fairies & strangeness from a time when fantasy was not yet smothered in Tolkienesque tropes. I associate it with the purple prose of writers like Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany (Sidney H Sime had a close association with Dunsany, producing illustrations for many of his books).

[Incidentally, the short story collection Appendix N, The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons & Dragons, edited by Peter Bebergal, is a great starting place for exploring this type of fantasy-without-orcs: it's what got me back into reading fantasy prose after shunning it for about 30 years]

The success of the Kickstarter for Rackham Vale, a game based on the works of Arthur Rackham, got me thinking about Syme again. Would it be possible to do something similar with the his work? Where would you even start? I would start with Bogey Beasts.

Bogey Beasts is a 1923 book of illustrations with accompanying poems, both by Syme. I've had a copy since I was a kid - it is perhaps my favourite book ever. I was a bit gobsmacked to see that the book now sells for around £1,000, though my heavily-loved copy would fetch a lot less and is, anyway, priceless.

[I'm not sure where my copy came from, but I suspect it was a choice pick from "jumbling", our annual January ritual, long nights spent ringing at doorbells and collecting people's unwanted clothes, books and junk, to be sold at the Woodcraft Folk jumble sale. It seems a strange idea now: sending kids out solo to call at strangers' houses, begging. But collecting and then sorting jumble was a highlight of my year, though I could have done without the dust mites]

The book also contains music for each beast, composed by Josef Holbrooke. I spent many hours trying to code this music into my BBC Micro, but the polyphony of the pieces defeated the computer's primitive synthesiser. It wasn't until a few years ago that I first heard the music, in this video:

The bogeyest of all the beasts, the dark lord of the deeps, nightmare-giver and dream-inhabitor, was The Snide:

Of course, childhood me converted the Snide into a D&D monster:


I've been revisiting Bogey Beasts recently. Dark wells of childhood dreams. I'm finally old enough to appreciate the poetry, not just the pictures, and it stands up pretty well - pisses all over the poems of Clark Ashton Smith, IMO.

I am tentatively working on a ghost-forest setting, and Syme's dark landscapes, punctuated with flowers that are almost absences, is how this forest looks inside my mind: 

I won't be writing up a Rackham Vale-style game world any time soon but, who knows, if you find yourself deep, deep, deep in an undersea cave, somewhere in my game world, you may find yourself running into a Snide.




Thursday, 17 March 2022

Running Troika! with family

it's also legal to buy and sell drugs if you do it through a mandrill
A while back I bought Daniel Sell's Troika! RPG. It's... strange. The Troika! game universe reminds me more than anything else of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but with rather more fantasy elements. It's very whimsical, very British, very surreal, and very silly. As for the rules, after playing Into the Odd with its very, very pared-down ruleset, I found Troika! a bit long-winded (even though its rules are pretty minimal compared with many games). But I absolutely love the rule for determining who goes next in combat, which can produce really interesting results. It allows participants to carry out one, multiple, or no actions during a round, depending on the order in which a bunch of cards or tokens are drawn.

The game book includes a truly great introductory adventure, one of the best (certainly the silliest) things I've ever read, called the Blancmange & Thistle. I played through it with 2 relative RPG newbies: my wife (who'd previously played 1 session of Into the Odd and 2 of I'm Sorry Did You Say Street Magic) was playing a Chaos Champion called Minx, while my 26 year-old daughter (who'd only ever played a session of Honey Heist) played a Thaumaturge called Thora Turd. A report of their play is given below - contains some spoilers (although, given how far they got in the adventure, not many).