Sunday, December 4, 2022

Music for the Hellride

Amber Campaign continues to truck along, for 55 sessions thus far. The playlist I frequently listen to while doing my Amber prep is mostly Classic Rock, Prog and Metal. For the most part they are songs about fantasy themes. Proper music for a hellride. Blue Öyster Cult, Cream, Deep Purple, Dream Theatre, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Hawkwind, Heart, Horslips, Iron Maiden, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Manilla Road, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Queen, Queensrÿche, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, etc. 

Sprinkled amidst this are also a bunch of one-offs on the play list that don't really fit those genres, but have something in their lyrics that makes me think of Amber, its characters, or its themes. So there'll be these unexpected pivots where the rocking suddenly gives way to Al Stewart, Brian Ritchie, the Gear Daddies, Thought Gang, Timber Timbre, or Tom Waits. I set the playlist up like this because even when Amber's narrative was rushing headlong towards a particular plotline's violent conclusion, Zelazny was always prepared to just suddenly slow down, meander a bit, and drop in a reference to some deep cut from a source you weren't expecting. I try to remember to do the same.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Target Swap

 Had a session of Feng Shui tonight with a fight that went twice as long as I thought it was going to.  It was one of those situations where each villain had a specific weakness that corresponded to a different hero, and the PCs noticed, but chose to fight different foes anyway, at least until the fight was nearly over.

 One NPC had a Defense of 12 vs Ranged Attacks, but a really strong Defense 15 vs Melee. So the team's biggest Melee hitter went after him, and kept missing by 1 or 2 every attack, while the team's shooters chose other targets entirely. And since he kept just barely missing, no one came to his rescue, as the shooty characters all assumed he'd wrap it up with one lucky roll.

 Meanwhile, one of the other PCs has a special power that lets them change their damage to be +1 higher than the damage rating of the foe they are attacking. He ended up dueling with the lowest damage rated foe all fight long, so they just nibbled each other towards death very slowly. 

 It was interesting, in that everyone was having fun and things were lively, but like I said the fight was at least 50% more challenging than intended, and ran nearly double the length I expected it to. If 2 or 3 of the PCs had traded targets, it would have been a much shorter fight.

  The timely application of the "Flying Guillotines" Schtick by the main villain meant everyone was excited and involved at all times, even if a lot of attacks failed to hit big. There's something pretty engaging about an enemy that can zap you with a weapon that's an all-but-guaranteed kill unless a nearby hero helps you escape from it. A lot of "somebody help!" and "I'll save you!" moments, so it kept things tense. At one point a PC with a Flying Guillotine wrapped around their neck had to jump out a window to reach to the only person that could possibly save them before the scissoring blades would have decapitated them. If that dynamic hadn't been in play, it might have been a boring match up (and I might have had to have the other NPCs try swapping targets to pick up the pace).

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Blank White Cards

 I've decided to run a little bit of Blank White Cards at an upcoming convention, and needed a picture to put on the page for the sign-up sheet... and discovered that basically every picture I have of cards we've made includes either NSFW content, or some card with rules text that's probably going to be intimidating for new players, or cards with inside jokes you had to be there to understand. It's often a spread of 9 or 12 cards in a picture that are mostly usable except just one obscene drawing of goblin boobs in the middle of the spread, and one card with painfully difficult to parse rules text that's been scratched out and rewritten twice for clarity that it still lacks. Sadly, many of the best cards fall into one of these categories of "probably not the best picture for trying to entice a new player into the game". 

Anyway, here's a shot that's decidedly NOT my best foot forward (I have so many better cards than these in my giant bags of old cards), but also not going to get me in trouble for posting goblin boobs in the convention program book. It is what it is.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Is Ape Pagoda Dead?

Amusing silliness from the Feng Shui campaign tonight, as we went way off-script and into the weeds.

For context, The PCs were traveling in 690 AD and had managed to not screw up their chance to meet with Her Majesty Emperor Wu Zetian, Queen of Kings, Mistress and Commander of the Dragon Throne, Holder of the Mandate of Heaven, the Living Incarnation of the Devi of Pure Radiance, yadda yadda yadda.

When you introduce an NPC with that many titles, you never know if that's just going to trigger the PCs to mouth off and get into a battle in the middle of court. Instead, they impressed the Emperor by showing themselves to be knowledgeable worldly traders and explorers, and also via dramatic displays of horsemanship. 

She's the only reigning Emperess in Chinese History, but the word is gender-neutral in Chinese, so I'll be calling her Emperor below. The Emperor's a polo-playing athelete, so the horsemanship scores highly in her book.

There were three PCs present in the scene, two female westerners and one a supernatural fishman currently concealing his non-human nature behind a mourning veil. So the Emperor orders them taken to the bathhouse to be cleaned up and dressed more appropriately to have dinner with her. This was actually me putting a hurdle in their way, like how do you not piss off the Emperor but continue the charade that your fishman is a human woman? Instead, the fishman just strips down at the bath-house and dives right in, because he loves the water. I'm about to narrate servants and attendees screaming in terror, when a player points out ... and that amuses us all to no end.

A couple of interactions later, and the fishman is all the rage in Wu Zetian's court. Everything I'd planned for the second half of the session is thrown out the window in favor of wacky hijinks. Emperor Wu Zetian is in a power struggle with one of her children, whom various sexist ministers want to put on the throne in her place, and she's considering having her own child exiled or even executed, but to do so would mean no heir to the throne. "So Mr Fishman, can you please place your blessing of fertility upon her?"  *Long Pause* "To be clear, I am NOT asking you to have sex with the Emperor..." *Long Pause* "...unless that's how your magical blessing works." Etc.

There's a language barrier, as most of the PCs are from the modern day, and the Emperor is from 690 AD. Feng Shui encourages you to only worry briefly about language issues, and only if it's amusing or meaningful. So without thinking about it, I narrate the Emperor as understanding and even speaking fluent English. 

Then a player mentions that English as we know it doesn't even exist yet in the 7th Century. So I suddenly need an explanation for where she learned it. Off the top of my head I decide she was taught it by a previous time-traveler who had visited her court, but they needed to be dead or out of the picture, because more or less the point of this Juncture in Feng Shui is that whichever faction manages to win over Wu Zetian to their cause could gain control of the timeline. She's recently purged the Court Eunuchs (tools of the Lotus-Eaters faction) from the Palace, so her source is probably some other faction, and I want them to stand out as an obvious Chi Warrior... so maybe a Jammer or someone from the New Simian Army. Either of which, in the great tradition of Feng Shui uplifted cyberapes, would need a terrible monkey-themed pun for a name. (Canonical cyberapes include Furious George, Thrill Kill Mandrill, and Battlechimp Potemkin. Yep, Feng Shui is that kind of game.)

And thus was born (and retroactively killed off camera) the Emperor's dear friend Ape Pagoda. Which was amazing to riff off of, given that Abe Vigoda played the character Fish (on Barney Miller) and the existence of the "Is Abe Vigoda dead?" meme/site. The rest of the scene was laden with in-jokes and multi-leveled puns. It was amazing, and I'm so glad I just rolled with this nonsense instead of trying to stick to my plans for the big combat at the palace I'd initially envisioned. Good times.

Friday, July 8, 2022

AI's have seen things you people wouldn't believe...

 AI have seen things you people wouldn't believe... 


Attack-ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion... C-Beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate... All those moments will be lost like tears in the rain...

My feed at the AI tool where these were created:

It seems you need an account to be able to access my gallery.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Mathematically Confirmed: Advantage is NOT +5

 Last year I wrote a blog post pointing out that the D&D rulebooks are WRONG when they say that "Advantage" is equivalent to +5. It's actually equivalent to just +3.25. 

A couple days ago, the excellent youtube channel "Stand-Up Maths" did a video on exactly this topic, and came to the same conclusion I had (though he proceeded to push the math much further because, y'know, he's a mathematician, and I'm not). 

 The average roll of 2d20k1, aka "d20 with Advantage", is just 13.825. 

This is most important for DMs when planning adventures, but can also be really critical for PCs who have some reliable way of achieving advantage on a common die roll. If you use the recommended short-hand equivalency that the rulebook suggests and think of advantage as if it were +5, you will over-estimate the power of the PCs and generally make things much harder for the players than you intended.

The video also helpfully provides formulas for similar rolls of various dice sizes.

Average roll of n-sided die "with advantage" is  ((1/6n) x (n+1) x (4n-1))
So average of 2d6k1 is 4.472  (1/36  x 7 x 23)
So average of 2d20k1 is 13.825 (1/120 x 21 x 79)
The average of any 2k1 roll is roughly 2/3 the number of sides. The larger the die, the closer they get to that 2/3rd limit.

Average of 3dnk1 is ((1/4n) x (n+1) x (3n-1))
So 3d6k1 is 4.9583 ((1/24) x (7) x (17))
So 3d20k1 is 15.4875 ((1/80) x (21) x (59))
The average of any 3k1 roll is roughly 3/4 the number of sides.

Average of any 4k1 is roughly 4/5 the number of sides.

Average of xdnk1 is  ((x/(x+1))n +1/2) where x is number of dice rolled, and n is number of sides on each die. So 5dNk1 is 5/6 N, 6dNk1 is 6/7 N, etc. It's a really cool formula that makes it super easy to figure out the average roll on some seemingly complicated dice pools.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Unleashing AI upon the Faiella-Bionin

Spent far too much of today asking AI to paint me pictures of the Faiella-Bionin, the underwater staircase that leads to the kingdom of Rebma in the Amber books by Roger Zelazny. I really only needed 1 picture for my next session of the Amber Diceless Roleplay, but now I have an embarrassment of underwater riches:

And here's a few that one of my players generated along similar lines:


The sites used to generate these were:  and

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Starforged Jam

 There's a game jam going on for Ironsworn: Starforged. I've been meaning to try a game jam one of these days for like... the last 5 years at least... so I dusted off a custom Oracle that I used in a session or two of Starforged, spent a night brainstorming another 20 entries or so, and trying to getting it formatted roughly along the lines of the official books, etc. I just put it up as a pdf on, and submitted it to the jam.

Starport Scuttlebutt

When I play Ironsworn: Starforged, I tend to be laser-focused on the plot and story. It's not uncommon for me to get 10 or 20 sessions into play before I get around to adding a single planet that wasn't part of my initial Sector Set-Up. By default, I find I pretty much only add those other worlds if the narrative brings my character directly to them. That sort of misses the point of sci-fi, though. Even if I'm spending most of my time on just a few worlds, I want the grand sense that there's a whole galaxy of adventure out there, and plots in motion beyond what my little ship is doing! So I created this Oracle, which incorporates ideas from various map-making games, to breathe a little life and activity into the background.

Here's how it works: A little less than once per session, you roll on this Oracle and add a world, settlement, faction, ship or NPC as directed by the prompt you rolled on the chart. The blank void of the map gets slowly filled in, fleets cruise between the stars, and political situations simmer behind the scenes. Your world-building gets kicked up a notch as a result, and your story fits into a larger context.

 The Oracle is triggered by situations where your character is in a position to hear rumors and news reports about what's happening in the sector, so it feels organic and is easy to fit in to your ongoing story. Step into the starport cantina, to catch the latest gossip from the old spacers sitting at the bar... have they got stories to tell you!

If you've ever played Starforged, please go check out my little creation: Starport Scuttlebutt.  It's available as Pay-What-You-Want, and $0 is just fine by me.

The link: 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Oberon: Zero, Brand: Thirteen

 We're 40 sessions into my Amber campaign, and one of the PCs may have just brought the dismembered parts of Brand out of the Abyss, and convinced two other PCs to help him keep them alive in the hopes that it might grow back into a Brand*.  How cool is that? 

*=Or maybe even grow into 13 distinct individual Brand's. It's complicated.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Star-Forged: The Eluss Fold


Occasionally playing a bit of Starforged in the evenings. (It's the sci-fi/space version of Ironsworn.)  The above is my map of The Eluss Sector, which I assembled from Assets available on Roll20. The Luminous Coil is my PC's ship. The Cacophony is a derelict ship he investigated. The Ophidian Mantle is a enemy vessel we've tangled with twice.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

A Horse Of Another Timbre, Log 23

     The following is the campaign log for the 23rd session of my current Amber Diceless RPG campaign, entitled A Horse Of Another Timbre. 

You might want to Start from Session #1 or check out the index of my Amber articles

Campaign log: 5 July 2021, turn by turn

Nearly a year behind in posting these. Details below the fold:

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

A Horse Of Another Timbre, Log 22

     The following is the campaign log for the 22nd session of my current Amber Diceless RPG campaign, entitled A Horse Of Another Timbre. 

You might want to Start from Session #1 or check out the index of my Amber articles

Campaign log: 21 June 2021, turn by turn

I try to post these after a few months delay, so I can add GM's commentaries without spoiling surprises that come up in subsequent sessions. However, I'm currently like a year behind, so maybe I need to shotgun these out and/or give up on providing embellishments.  Details below the fold:

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Log 21, A Horse Of Another Timbre

    The following is the campaign log for the 21st session of my current Amber Diceless RPG campaign, entitled A Horse Of Another Timbre. 

You might want to Start from Session #1 or check out the index of my Amber articles

Campaign log: 7 June 2021, turn by turn

I don't get around to posting these very often, so I'm nearly a year behind. Details below the fold:

Monday, February 28, 2022

Horse Of Another Timbre, Log 20

    The following is the campaign log for the 20th session of my current Amber Diceless RPG campaign, entitled A Horse Of Another Timbre. 

You might want to Start from Session #1 or check out the index of my Amber articles

Campaign log: 24 May 2021, turn by turn

I don't get around to posting these very often, so I'm nearly a year behind. Details below the fold:

Sunday, February 27, 2022

A Very Confusing Map

This was a piece of artwork I made for my Amber campaign a while back:

It's basically a map of the universe. No, seriously. There's tons of plot points and clues hidden away on it, but the signal to noise ratio isn't great, and there's not much of chance of anyone correctly interpreting any of them. The campaign is still in progress so I'm not likely to spoil it here any time soon.

A Horse Of Another Timbre, Log 19

   The following is the campaign log for the 19th session of my current Amber Diceless RPG campaign, entitled A Horse Of Another Timbre. One of my players keeps a log of the scenes, and another maintains a quote list.  As usual, I have combined them with a few extra notes of my own after the fact.  I post them here several months after... nearly a year later, as I've not been updating this blog... which allows me to add in a few little clarifications without worrying too much about spoiling future plotlines for my players.

You can also Start from Session #1 or check out the index of my Amber articles.

The PCs are:

  •     Dalziel, son of Prince Bleys of Amber. A scientist.
  •     Maarit, daughter of Princess Sand. An orphan with a magic pendulum.
  •     Medore, nonbinary orphan of Princess Dierdre .
  •     Spinturnix, (aka Nix), son of Prince Julian. Grew up in Forest Arden.
  •     David Weyreth is a retired officer from the militaries of Amber.
  •     Abn Haram, the human-shaped son of Lady Nykae of Chaos, and the long-dead Prince Osric of Amber.  

Most of the NPCs are from the novels, such as Fiona, who always seems to know more than she should, and Corwin, whose main schtick is essentially the opposite despite being exceptionally well read.

Some NPCs are unique to this campaign, such as "Blinky" (real name Argos) who is a dragon with extra eyeballs all over his body and is guarding Dworkin's cave: sort of an upgrade from Wixer (the griffon doing the same duty in the books). Bellantine and Armistaud are "Acquisitions Specialists" from a library world called Oberon's Loupe: they may be operating on special instructions from the dead king.

 Campaign log: 10 May 2021, turn by turn

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

1000 Years and very few complaints

These minor complaints about a few weird Prompts in the excellent solitaire journaling RPG Thousand-Year-Old Vampire didn't quite fit into my previous posts about the game. Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is a ton of fun, and these don't really break anything, but they are... minor rough spots that aren't quite up to the slick artistry of the rest of the project.

I noticed that I do sometimes have trouble with prompts that imply a large passage of time. Prompts where an explicit passage of time exists are less troubling for me. If you tell me the story advances 200 years, I can roll with that, and cross out mortals. If instead you just imply maybe it's further into the future now, I'm left wondering if I need to scrap my current plot thread or not.  The one that vexed me the most was Prompt #42, which asks about a piece of contemporary technology that gives you trouble since it's beyond what existed in your mortal life. If your timeline has advanced to the Industrial Revolution during play, then this is a great prompt, but if your character started in the 12th century and you've now moved to the early 14th century, it is really hard to come up with a good answer to that. You're either going to want to jump ahead much further in time, or settle in for a lot of research. There's nothing specific to 12th and 14th C there, feel free to pick any two other centuries about which you know just enough to run a low-pressure one-shot solo game in, but not enough to really differentiate between the tech-levels thereof.  Prompt 42 trips me up every time.

Prompt #54 also gave me headaches, but largely because it's mechanically vague. It says to "convert an old Memory to a new Skill for blending in." I'm just really not sure if that means "add a new Skill to your sheet, and base it on some sort of thematic link to one of your Memories", or if it means you're supposed to erase an entire Memory (including up to 3 Experiences) as well. I don't think 'convert' is defined anywhere in the rules. Zapping an entire Memory will have a major impact on your character an narrative, so I wish the instructions were a little clearer. But like I said, the game is super fun, so in the end I'm okay with having to put on my "GM-as-rules-arbiter Hat" once or twice per game.

I wish the 136 alternate prompts were laid-out in the same format as the original 71 prompts: three linked prompts per page, numbered by the page. There would definitely be value in having an entire second roster (or 3rd roster) of prompts like that. Then you could choose if you were going to play Prompt Roster A, B, or C at the start of the game, or you could swap from one roster to the other if you rolled the same thing too often. Instead, if you feel you've seen a particular page too often and want to use the alternate prompts, you have to roll a d135, and if you then end up on the same page/number in a later turn, there's often no obvious follow-up that builds on the random redirect you used. It feels like a missed opportunity... like they did 85% of the work necessary to make the alternate prompts actually organically usable, and just didn't quite get it across the finish line. If I played the game just a little more often, I'd be tempted to take that project on myself. 

Overall a great game, despite my fussing.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Timeless Undying Love

 As I mentioned the other day, I've now played 4 games of Thousand-Year-Old Vampire, a solitaire journaling RPG, where your character is a Vampire, and game play covers centuries at least. You come up with a brief sketch of a historical figure, and the vampire who converts them into undead, and then the game provides random events that bounce you forward in time. You create a big weirdly-sprawling timeline of experiences and memories, many of which get lost of mutated such that by the end of it your character is grappling with uncertainty or insanity.

Today I'm going to list my full game logs from the 2nd session I ever played of TYOV, which was probably more than a year ago, maybe even from the early parts of the pandemic. I didn't think to put a date on it.

This playthrough was a bit longer than one I posted this weekend, and as I recall it entertained me for several nights of play. As a result of the length, and how that interacts with experiential limits hardwired into the game,  the vampiric main character had a lot more memory issues. They kind of lost all sense of self before the end. Their fragmented timeline runs from pre-Roman Etruria up through an unspecified modern conflict that was probably World War 2. The usual Stoker-and-Hollywood vampire tropes are here, but supplemented by characters inspired by Etruscan Mythology, and some uniquely weird textile-arts and sutured-wings nonsense conjured from my own demented psyche (or, I guess, from the intersection of vampirism with an Etruscan goddess best known for her love of scissors).

Trigger Warning: Again, this is the play log from a horror game about weird vampires. This log will elude to violence, body-horror, sexual predation and literal carnivorous predation. While I don't go into a lot of detail, it does get kind of gory. If you've got a weak stomach, easily-offended sensibilities, or just horror's not your thing, you should turn around now. 

Full game log can be found beneath the fold:

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Cyclopean Viking Vampire Horror

 What follows is the play log from an entire solitaire game of Thousand Year Old Vampire. Sort of a weird fragmented non-linear short story of the unlife of a vampire.

I have played three games of TYOV before this one.  This time, I began the game in pagan Scandinavia, with a young man named Torgny Hjalmerson who dreams of being a successful viking raider like his father was before him. He descends quickly into madness and villainy, and makes especially horrible relationship choices.

There's no default setting for TYOV, so I'm blending Norse Myth, a few standard vampiric themes from elsewhere in folklore and mythology, a bit of the trappings of sensationalized hollywood-style satanism, and some weird new stuff unique to this tale. (Not to mention anachronism and historical inaccuracy.) 

This was a ton of fun, and definitely a game I'd be happy to play again. It also works well as character-building exercise for Vampiric NPCs in other RPGs. (That's actually what I did with 2 of my 3 previous plays of the game.)

Trigger Warning: This is a log from a horror game. There's a good deal of violence in what follows, including mutilation, body-horror, blasphemous devilry, and violence against women. While I don't get overly lurid with the details and everything is kept kind of brief, there's some seriously awful stuff in what follows.  If you've got a queasy stomach or are easily offended, you may want to skip this post entirely. 

Full log follows below the fold:

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Bright Red Party Hats!

 Had two great sessions of D&D over New Years, about 15 or 16 hours of play across 2 days. Hardly any combats in that time. The PCs avoided every fight I intended them to get into, by way of clever actions and occasionally good luck. Then they picked a fight with one encounter that was intended to be an info dump. It was huge fun, but very unpredictable.

The best part was right at the very end of the second session: the party's Paladin accidentally adopted a Redcap. The Redcap was assigned to a Pixie noble by his boss, and the Pixie was kind of hoping to get the Redcap killed so they wouldn't be supervised any more. The PCs managed to subdue the Redcap via quick thinking, and then, axe to his neck, said something along the lines of "try any more funny business, and I'm keeping your Redcap". To which the Pixie replied "It's a deal! You want him, he's yours!" A few minutes later, a contract was signed on a mushroom stalk, and ownership of the Redcap had transitioned to the goodie-two-shoes of the party. The Paladin didn't understand at that moment that in D&D, Redcaps need to murder every 3 days or else they shrivel up and die. 

Corruption and deals with the devil have been major themes of the campaign, so it was some kind of wonderful for the moral-compass of the adventuring party to accidentally volunteer himself to be the keeper of a literal murder-monster. Good times all around.