Friday, 27 January 2017


I like The Black Hack, and I think The Cthulhu Hack is a good read for combining a simple ruleset with a bit of focused setting and tone. Of all of the *Hack products I've seen so far, The Cat Hack has hit me the most as a game that I want to run. In 16 pages you've got rules, a theme, some neat innovations around equipment, magic and more. The classes are really clever, and not just feline versions of fighters, rogues and so on. The Cat Hack stands out to me as something to be explored - you could read it once quickly and miss a lot. If you get it, take your time when you read it, there is a lot of really neat stuff in there.

I'm going to run it sooner or later; I have a particular setting in mind for a game of it though. I like The Walking Dead and real-world zombie fiction, and there's something neat in my mind of mashing that with The Cat Hack. The dead rise, the humans in a neighbourhood are scared and wondering what to do when Mr Jones starts snarling and chasing after his wife with blood running down his face - and a group of cats work to try and help their owners escape and survive. I've no idea where it would go in play, although I would lean on it as being serious rather than a comedy game (even though the PCs would be semi-mystical cats).

I want to find out how well it might work for a setting. I have a three week gap in my "working away" schedule coming up, so if I can find a good day there, I might try to run it on G+/Hangouts. Stay tuned, drop me an email or comment if you're interested.

And check out The Cat Hack: it's small and perfectly formed, interesting and innovative and it's $1.95 on DTRPG! Total bargain!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Signals From Noise (1)

I've been thinking about ships in Into The Oort a lot for the last week. I had a lot of fun a while ago writing down names for a d100 table of ship names (it will surprise no-one if they see that table that I like the Culture novels), and I now have a d50 table of "ship classes" too, in the sense that the Enterprise D is a Galaxy class ship, Luke Skywalker flies an X-Wing and so on.

Say you have a random encounter with a ship and roll some thing from a few tables quickly. It comes back with, say, 20 metres long, rocket-shape, stats are 10s across the board except for a thick HULL of 14. Two laser banks. Another quick roll, it's part of a notoriously inept pirate militia - but where did they get their hands on a decent ship like that? Mystery...

Anyway, you roll on the d50 ship class table and that tells you it's a Caliban class ship - and from this point on, if you meet another Caliban class ship you can expect it to have similar stats, shape, size and armaments. Caliban can become a kind of shorthand in your game.

(of course, they might not only be used by pirates: a border patrol for a polity seven hexes over could have a whole fleet that they have retrofitted with fast drives; comet miners might have one with a ridiculously oversized gun installed to deter thieves - the class just offers a broad baseline)

Ship names and classes are fun to think about. Mechanics and shipgen less so. Finding a way to make ships as nice as PCs from a game of Into The Odd, mechanically speaking, is interesting and tricky. If someone rolls stats for a character, they can then interpret them when it comes to describing their physical appearance - and that's OK, because they're going to be playing that role after all. They won't be playing a ship. My original design idea was to have three stats for ships, HULL, DRIVE, SCAN - which almost mirror STR, DEX, WILL from Odd - and to have regenerative shields, SP, replace hit points. So in the midst of a fight the shields then the HULL takes damage, but assuming the power is up and the ship can get away, the shields recover and then the HULL has to be repaired.

But what about crew size? What about ship size? What about cargo space? I'm happy to have black boxes for a lot of features - power, life support, gravity - but I think having something mechanically that determines crew, ship size and cargo space features in ship generation is useful (as well as some thoughts about how that could mechanically impact things in play; how well can someone fly the ship with only a skeleton crew?)

And while it is nice and neat to have stats for the ship, do we need someone who is acting as a pilot or captain? Probably. If the ship takes a hit does everyone onboard roll to avoid taking some kind of damage? Maybe.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. At the moment I'm looking for something simple to generate ships, both for players and for the GM who is creating encounters in play and prepping them before play. I've asked a fair few questions in this post. In the next post I'll try to pull some answers together.

Friday, 20 January 2017

A signal reaches out from the Oort Cloud

I posted this on my G+ feed last week, but forgot to make an actual blog post.

The main part of that message reads, if you're interested:

01001001 01101110 01110100 01101111 00100000 01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01001111 01101111 01110010 01110100 00001010 01000001 01110010 01110010 01101001 01110110 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101111 01101110 00100000 01000101 01100001 01110010 01110100 01101000 00001010 00110010 00110111 00100000 00110001 00110000 00100000 00110010 00110000 00110001 00110111

Feel free to decode and share. TL;DR - I've given myself a deadline to motivate me finishing Into The Oort. I think it's workable. And when I announced this last week, the time between the announcement and the deadline was the amount of time it takes a radio signal to go from the Oort Cloud to Earth. It felt right.

The to do list:
  • Really figure out what does and doesn't work in my current framework for the game.
  • Figure out what I know I want but don't have yet, and fill those gaps.
  • Experiment with Scribus to look at layout options with that (everything so far is in an OpenOffice document).
  • ART! I want a lot. Which means contacting artists. I'm making a list of the kinds of pieces I think would be good, then checking portfolios. I have one or two names in mind already.
  • More playtesting. In particular spaceships and travel. Things are not as concrete in that respect yet and they need to be.
  • A playtest pack. Aim for this to be done, in one form or other, for mid-March. Yeah, I know, I think I said that last year. But this year it will be.
Want to know more about Into The Oort? Drop me an email, or a comment, or something. Oh, and I've extended my January Sale on print copies of the zine to the end of the month. Sales help build the art fund for Into The Oort - if you want any or all of the first three issues of A Random Encounter with a little money off then buy them from the sale page. I'll even throw in a print version of Oddpool too!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Two Important Occasions

First of all, my daughter is three today! Three years has gone by very quickly. Three years ago, Mrs R and I were both exhausted. I remember this distinct moment of, "What... None of you are staying to make sure we don't mess this up?" when the last family members went home after coo-ing and ahh-ing over CJ.

I think at some point just after Christmas I'll have managed to hook CJ onto some kind of RPG; we're already making up stories together, and she's interested in board and card games too. Some kind of ten or fifteen minute RPG with some minis or toys, plus simple dice or yes/no questions to resolve things should be doable. I'll report back as and when we do this.

The second occasion is also interesting: today is five years since I sat down to play Apocalypse World with Patrick Stuart MCing and David McGrogan also playing. Apart from two sessions of high school D&D, this was my first game. I picked the Gunlugger class because it seemed right. (I think Dave and Patrick would argue that this first character has been the template for every character I've played since; I think things are a bit more nuanced than that)

That first session really drew me in: I was hooked. And the last five years has gone by quickly. Alas, maintaining a weekly game slot over that time hasn't been possible, but I enjoy playing when I can. I think about and read about games every day, and am still in the slow process of cultivating a daily writing process.

Five years from now, my daughter will be eight, and it'll be ten years since I started playing games. And I'll be forty... Hopefully, somewhere in that time I'll be able to play some good games with her, but also find space to play in a couple of long term games too.

To the future!

Monday, 19 September 2016

(Almost) On Holiday

I'm going on holiday at the end of the week. Long overdue, much deserved, and there'll be very little in the way of rest because my daughter (who turns three tomorrow), and my wife and my wife's parents are all coming too.

Between now and the taxi picking us up on Saturday (ugh, 3:15am!) I'm technically still on the clock in my day job, except that tomorrow we're going out for the day to celebrate CJ's birthday, then Thursday is another relative's birthday, Friday will be packing and panicking. So today and Wednesday for work. Yet here I am posting, of course.

The holiday will give me a chance to advance some game plans (some of which I can allude to, some of which I can't talk about), as there will be some times when my family are siesta-ing, and I'm not one for daysleeping. I'll be plotting and scheming:
  • first, Issue 4 of A Random Encounter is somewhere between a third and halfway through the production process. I can get a rough timeline sorted out while I'm away, but I need to do a follow-up interview. That won't happen until I'm back, and then there's more transcribing, art and so on. New ETA: November.
  • second, Project DANDELION: an idea I've been toying with for a while, and actually, being on holiday is the perfect time to work on this. DANDELION is a kind of prototype, and I have grand dreams but also grounded plans for this. Expect me to share this prototype thing hopefully by the end of October (I can work on this well while away, and then type and layout etc when I get back).
  • third, game prep for playing Night Witches. I floated the idea on G+ a few weeks or so back, and there was enough, "Sounds cool," comments to make me go for it. I've got the pdf on my phone, and I'll have plenty of notepaper, so may as well start jotting stuff down and figuring it all out.
And that's all I can really talk about that.


A few weeks back I was fortunate enough to meet up with David McGrogan, Chris McDowall and Patrick Stuart - coincidentally, the subjects of the first three issues of A Random Encounter! We played a great game of Fiasco using a Warhammer 40K-themed playset (I'm not all that familiar with 40K, but got approving murmurs when I declared that an arch heretic character was a Blood Angel Space Marine); more importantly than that they agreed to the following publicity shot:

"Dammit Dave, open your eyes!"
If anyone's been thinking about getting print copies of any of the issues of A Random Encounter, now's a great time, because in a few days I won't be shipping anything for over a fortnight. If you order by midday on Thursday 22nd then I'll definitely get it in the mail before I go on holiday. If you're happy with pdfs then you can get them from Payhip and DriveThruRPG with no problems.

More on future projects soon. If anyone's played Escape The Undermaze or Thursday Night, the print extra games that come with print copies of issues 2 and 3 of the zine then let me know how they worked for you. Or even if you've just read them and have some feedback, drop me a line.


Friday, 2 September 2016

Games I Want To Play

Up in the top navigation I have a page called "Games I Have Played". I started it back when I first started the blog. I thought it might be a neat way to collect what games I had played. I think I had an idea to do something which was almost like a micro-review; I didn't update it very often, and haven't looked at it for a while. I'm sure there are things that I've missed.

In the last few days though I've been thinking more and more about running a game, partly because I've not played anything regularly for a month or so while noisms Ainu Moshir game is on hiatus. I played in a game that Patrick ran a few weeks back, which was good, but also served to point out to me that I've not got a lot of gaming done this year.

So, in no particular order, here are some games that I've been thinking about playing lately:

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Random Encounter #3

Hurrah! It's here! Issue 3 is now available from the Zines page in print, and there's links to the pdfs as well if that's more your thing.

It took a while to get this issue together, but as with many projects, it just finally fell into place like a weird chain of dominoes. The lead domino was Patrick Stuart, my interviewee for the issue: I interviewed Patrick in April and then again in August after Maze of the Blue Medusa was a big winner at the ENnies. Patrick was awesome, and shared a lot of really rich material for the zine; we explored where his interest in games comes from, how he makes what he makes, his motivations and more. Patrick shared so much that this issue has ended up at 36 pages including covers, instead of the 24 of Issues 1 and 2.

The next domino was getting two great artists onboard: Scrap Princess and Jeremy Duncan. Scrap has produced a great cover that follows the series theme of "show the interviewee having a random encounter in something they've made"; she also created a lot of really great original illustrations based on her collaborations with Patrick. I asked Jeremy to create some art based on my favourite False Machine blog posts - his Kamikaze Librarian and Lanthanum Chromate dwarf are awesome, and the Kamikaze Librarian also graces the back cover of the issue.

Another domino was time: finding time to pull everything together has been a real challenge in the last few months. But hitting crunch time has also shown me that this is what I want to do more and more of. There is a real thrill to making something and putting it out into the world (and also that slightly panicked moment when you pull out the credit card to pay for the print run, and wonder if people will buy it!) - and it's also a bit addictive, because you realise more and more that making stuff is not impossible.

The last domino for Issue 3 was the print extra. I really enjoyed making Escape The Undermaze, a one-page microgame, for Issue 2, and the feedback that I got for it was quite positive. I've made a decision to create a microgame for every issue from now on as a print extra - and I've also fallen in love with the format a little bit too. The microgame for Issue 3 is called Thursday Night, and is another short game with minimal rules but hopefully enough inspiration to drive a tense game of a bad situation.

So: the dominoes have fallen and Issue 3 is here. Please check it out in whatever format you like best. If that's pdf then you can get it from Payhip here and from DriveThruRPG here. And if you like print then order it from here and I'll get it in the post to you as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading this, hope you check out Issue 3 of A Random Encounter, featuring Patrick Stuart!

PS - if you've not got Issues 1 and 2, you can get them from the zines page too!

Friday, 22 July 2016

Odd Oracles

I'm working on two issues of A Random Encounter at the moment, and turning some ideas over in my head. I was transcribing my interview with Patrick Stuart for Issue 4, and we talked a bit about blogging and why he started, and it got me thinking about when I started blogging about games. This blog started on 21st March 2012, but on the same day I posted something on a Tumblr that I used to use, about the very first game that I GMed: In A Wicked Age.

I like In A Wicked Age: the Oracles that produce the inspiration and elements work really well, they produce a rich fantasy world at the table with no prep, and I think that playing it a few times gets you in the flow with the dice mechanics. There's a bit of AP in the post, and I was playing with Patrick and David, so it was a good game. There were also a couple of musings about the Oracle idea itself:
[Patrick] mentioned that there were “Oracle hacks” of the game, and I can understand why this would be quite cool to do. Because the set-up is so fast, straightforward and fun, it’s quite a freeing game to play. ... In my head I’m already imagining urban fantasy possibilities, superhero settings and even - dare I say it - zombie game settings…

We hacked together an Oracle or two and played some Tales From Zero Point, which was an element of a bigger space setting that we created collaboratively. I loved that the Oracle could produce a great game with no preparation. We could turn up and really tune in to make a creative story; and at the same time, I still felt that it was a bit clunky with the mechanics, and as someone running the game I wanted something to help support making NPCs and places - even just little possible story threads for the players to explore (I'm not a railroad fan).

For a little while now I've been turning over mashing an Oracle-setting-generator-thing with the Into The Odd resolution mechanics: a strip-downed game that could get people up and running quickly with no prep. Draw some cards to get character and setting inspiration from an Oracle, and while PCs roll dice to flesh out their characters, the GM can roll some dice or draw cards to flesh out the setting in an organic way. I think it's possible to do this in a reasonably small game, that provides a lot of prompts and support for the GM and the players to come up with the backdrop for a great one-shot every time they play, or which could organically create a sandbox-y story - each session being either an "episode" or just the next steps.

And now that this idea is back in my head again... I guess I have one more thing to add to the to do list... :)

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

An Odd Idea: Mechsuit O.D.D.

On top of working on A Random Encounter I have an on-again/off-again relationship with a hack of Into The Odd set in a semi-hard sci-fi setting at the edge of the solar system. Into The Oort, if it ever gets finished, will have spaceships, zero-gravity derring-do, exploration of ancient human megastructures and centaurs. (really)

Despite having only so many hours in the day and enough creative pursuits already, my brain keeps saying, "Nathan! Hey Nathan, think about this..." I blame Chris McDowall: he wrote a game with a very easily hacked set of mechanics. This post is the latest "odd idea" that I've had... It has some blanks and some spaces which are currently boxed out with [] square brackets because I haven't got that far yet. But I think I will, sooner or later...

Mech suit by flyingdebris

Monday, 11 July 2016

In The Works

The last few months have been difficult. A couple of busy periods with the day job, plus family medical drama put RPG and zine stuff on the back burner. Even writing this post was delayed. I sat down to do this last night, and then my daughter, who had been a little out of sorts all day threw up. I spent most of last night asleep on her bedroom floor, and most of today wandering around in a semi-zombie state.

Difficult is relative, in reality, I'm a very fortunate guy. Among many things I've been using to buoy myself up recently has been Neil Gaiman's instruction to "make good art" - come what may, just get on with it. Listening to a couple of guests on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast has helped too, particularly Seth Godin and Kevin Kelly. Onwards and upwards, and all that.

In the next few months then, here's what you can expect from me (with some indication as to where they are in terms of completion):
  • A Random Encounter Issue 3 - Vandel J. Arden
    • Main interview done, transcribed and first editing pass done. Follow-up questions thought through and sent out. Cover commissioned. Print bonus in the works. Interior art in the works. ETA: end-July/start-of-August.
  • A Random Encounter Issue 4 - Patrick Stuart
    • Main interview done, will start transcription this week. A couple of follow-up questions identified. Cover commissioned, along with interior art. Print bonus is a mystery at the moment but a couple of ideas are tickling my brain. ETA: end-August/start-of-September.
  • Fort [working title]
    • It's coming up on the one year anniversary of Oddpool, and I had a couple of pages of follow-up ideas for the areas around that haunted and cursed place. Fort will be a Pocketmod-sized supplement about the area to the west of the river, a hold-out of civilisation and a strange place. People who think they're normal, living between a dead city and miles of marshland, but who are a bit... odd. (may or may not be inspired by the geography and locales of my hometown and surroundings) ETA: September/October.
My home office is starting to look like a small self-publishing outfit - which, I guess is kind of what it's becoming. As well as two issues of A Random Encounter, a re-print of Oddpool and two more issues of the zine on the way soon, I have the print runs of two other things that I've done in the last few months. These are for my dayjob, but couldn't have happened without my experiences of self-publishing RPG things.
As Issue 3 moves closer to completion I'll be announcing subscriptions - which will work out at the same cost as individual issues, but I'll throw in pdf copies as well for instant gratification - I have candidates for Issues 5 and 6 who have been tapped and given positive responses. So subscriptions to begin with will be for up to the end of this year/Issue 6. I have a big list of names for 2017, but if people are happy to support subscriptions I want to make sure I can deliver the goods.

I'll be posting RPG ideas more in the coming days as my brain needs space to vent while I get on with transcribing audio, editing three podcasts for my day job and working on admin and emails. I need to find creative outlets! I think I'll be offering a game or two for AntiGenCon this year, so just working through some ideas for that too... Currently a game of Maze Rats is winning out, but I might also run Escape The Undermaze too.

Want to know more about anything here? Comment below or email me! Thanks for reading, N.