OSR: What Time Is The Apocalypse?

I'm trying to get back into the habit of writing. It's like exercise. Stop for a bit and all the muscles go flabby. If this post is below my usual standards, think of it as the first jog after the Holiday gorge.

I've been struggling to define when my pre-apocalyptic setting is set.

"Medieval", especially "medieval fantasy" seems to cover everything from Constantine to Cromwell. Joan of Arc, Robin Hood, and Richard the Lionheart all happened at approximately the same time; before muskets, potatoes, the printing press, and ruffled collars, but after togas, orgies, and chariot racing.

Well, this is Restoration-Georgian-Regency-Victorian fantasy. It starts with liberalism and social change and ends with the first World War, but it's more focused on the middle bit than the transitions at either end. Charles Dickens could meet Sherlock Holmes at a coffee shop to discuss the new "going-up-and-down-a-bit-and-then-moving-along Gertrude" cloth-weaving machine, and then leap out of the way of a coal-powered Omnibus full of soldiers newly returned from some poorly thought-out foreign adventure.

As Blackadder Series 1 is to Medieval, so Blackadder Series 3 is to this setting. It's Discworld's Ankh-Morpork but with a bit less furious optimism.

London, Gustave Dore


Is London. That should be obvious. Not the real, historical London but the London of a thousand movies and TV series and novels and half-remembered anecdotes.
   If your group is intimately familiar with London, then it's Hong Kong.
      If your group is intimately familiar with both London and Hong Kong then it's New York.
         If your group is intimately familiar with London, Hong Kong, and New York, then what the hell are you doing playing RPGs? Clearly you've got a lot more interesting things to do with your time. Maybe you should be the ones writing a book, did you ever think of that? No? Well too bad, it's your job now. 

How Do I Use This In My Medieval Fantasy Game

Endon is an outlier. It's a few decades or centuries ahead of the curve. This isn't necessarily good thing. Endon's rise is like a firework; lots of glitter and sparks, but fundamentally unstable. For a time it's on the cutting edge of creation, but the book is about a pre-apocalyptic setting. Something's going to give. It doesn't have to make sense forever because it's not going to last forever; it's a violently unstable brew.

Until it all falls apart (and possibly takes the rest of the region/continent/world with it), Endon is the place to
-buy the latest fashions
-buy the most potent weapons
-meet the most elegant, refined, beautiful, seductive, poetic, etc, etc, people.
-meet people from any part of the world
-sell magic items for the most money
-get leads on the most profitable ventures

If you have a problem, if no other generic medieval fantasy city can help, if you can find it, maybe you can reach Endon.
Just make sure to look both ways before crossing the street.

Send your players there to solve some unrelated problem and see what they do. Drop rumours of Endon into generic medieval villages; a city lit by a thousand ever-burning lamps, a city where actresses dance with princes and even the poor eat steak.
If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player-characters.
-Gary Gygax, The Strategic Review II, 1976

The goal is to make Endon a "weird wizard show" where the players won't have time to get bored because the world is falling apart around their ears, or because they're too busy making money/gaining political power to care. It's a new, temporary, bolt-on framework.

Infinitely Great Britain

This one's a freebie, unrelated to the rest of this post. You can have it. Go nuts.

I've always wanted to run a Victorian Stargate game. Maybe not based on the actual Stargate TV show but something similar. Victorian dimension hopping. Taking all the most fertile aspects of the UK (as seen on TV only) and parodying them to hell and gone. The crossover to end all crossovers.
Let the flag of Infinitely Great Britain fly over every world. Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the planes.


40k: Kill Team Update 2 + Inquisimunda

Gee, it's been a while. It's hard to type when your fingers are covered in superglue and your keyboard is covered in tiny plastic shavings. Don't worry, I'll be back soon enough.
The augmented warriors of the Adeptus Mechanicus look down upon their enemies and/or try to count the number of visible skulls on nearby buildings.
The Perfidious Eldar fight the Even More Perfidious Eldar.
The full terrain collection at the moment. The 1'x1' modular board segments very useful.
Kill Team (2018) is, essentially, a randomness-minimization game. You want to take as many good chances as possible and make your opponent take as many risky chances as possible. It's like chess.... except that a captured piece has a 50% chance to not be captured and you need to roll to see how many squares a Bishop, Knights, or Queen can move in a turn. And sometimes someone booby-traps your Rooks.

It's fun but it's not terribly deep. Some people on G+ were rumbling about using it as an RPG. I don't think it really works. Random chance is such a large component of the game that it's next to impossible to generate a narrative. The design space also feels very cramped. Everything is high-powered, slick, and superficial.

So while a Kill Team game is a fun way to burn an hour, I'd like to try to find a more interesting rules set. The rules used by the Inquisimunda/Pilgrym bloggers seem to very appealing rules set, given that it produces games like this. The rules are GLOG-like, in a way; cobbled together, highly adaptable, not really a system so much as a series of hints and hand gestures.

Vehicles from WarGameExclusive

Proposed Game

I haven't playtested this combo but I intend to give it a try.

Combat Rules: YakTribe's Necromunda Community Edition
I'm tempted to try out X-wing style alternative activations and see how badly it messes with the rules.

E.g. In the Movement phase, all models move in order of Initiative, lowest to highest, passing between players in the event of a tie. In the Shooting phase, all models shoot in order of Initiative, highest to lowest. So models with high initiative have a decent advantage; they get to react to other models' moves and get the first shots off. This should make the game feel a little more tactical and limit the dreadful waiting-around time that infests Gamesworkshop products, but it'll probably play merry hell with Overwatch and all that. We'll see.

Character Creation Rules: Iron Sleet's Rule of 12 (as summarized below)

Step 1. Take the basic Necromunda profile but with zero Wounds:

4 3 3 3 3 [0] 3 1 7

Distribute the following:

  • 12 Wounds (so 12x 1 wound models, 4x 3 wound models, etc)
  • 12 x +1 to any characteristic (max of
  • 12 skills from Necromunda (PDF pg. 69 - 91)
  • 12 pieces of equipment, armour, or weapons that aren't standard. All models come with a lasgun and a knife by default. (PDF pg. 33-57)


I'd like to build a team with a Space Marine at its core. How much would a single Astartes cost?

4+1 3+1 3+1 3+1 3+1 6 3+1 1+1 7+2

Skills: Dodge (6+ save against all attacks), Combat Master (gains bonuses when outnumbered), Killer Reputation (causes fear), True Grit (reduces injury rolls), Juggernaut (can shrug off impacts), Hip Shooting (can fire pistol or basic while moving)

Equipment: Power Armour (3+ save, includes photo visor and infra-red goggles, 4 items), Boltgun (1 item), Combat Knife (0 items), Frag Grenades (1 items), One-in-a-Million Weapon (1 item)

12-6 wounds: 8 wounds remaining

12-9 characteristic upgrades: 2 upgrades remaining
12-6 skills: 6 skills remaining
12-7 items: 5 items remaining

Just one Astartes (properly kitted out) eats most of my points. The rest of the team might be chapter serfs, servo-skulls, recruited guardsmen, Alpha Legion cultists, etc.

Compare this to Kill Team, where a single team might have 5 fairly unimpressive Deathwatch marines, each with a single wound and a less-than-spectacular impact. A Space Marine should feel like an ancient unstoppable god-warrior wearing a personal tank.


OSR: The Ghost Whale of Endon

Whale oil was once a luxury in Endon. The only thing preventing widespread adoption was supply; there was no real whaling industry. All that changed when Bartelby Spuggs began polymorphing pigeons into whales. In a gore-soaked field downwind of the city, Bartelby and his apprentices run a roaring whale-oil factory, boiling and rendering thousands of pounds of blubber into pure clean-burning for lamps, soaps, and cosmetics.

Hardly anyone gave the whale-oil works a second thought until the deaths began. Neighbors reported a horrible shrieking howl and found a room soaked in gore. Urchins saw a huge phosphorescent shape glide through the fog. Something huge and horrible stalks the streets of Endon, seemingly killing at random.

Pigeons are not very bright. Their feeble little souls rarely survive being polymorphed into whales. But once, by accident, one of Bartelby assistants polymorphed a stray dog. Dogs, as any professional wizard knows, have the greatest soul-to-mass ratio of any mammal. No sensible wizard would credit them as distant evolutionary relatives to whales, but it's true. Being a whale was, for the dog, a deeply confusing experience, so after death the dog-whale stuck around to see what the fuss was about.

Endon is haunted by a cetacean ghost. It glides through the streets on foggy nights, a translucent outline paddling through clouds, buildings, and cobbled streets. It is a lonely whale. Sometimes, it howls.
Carly Sorge

Ghost Whale

HD: 7
Wants: friends, belly rubs, krill.
Armor: none. Requires magic weapons to hit. All the usual ghost immunities (charm, sleep, cold, electricity, etc.).
Move: 2x fly, swims through solid objects
Morale: 6
Damage: 1d8 life-draining bite, whale howl (see below).

The ghost whale's howl affects anything in a 50' cone in front of it. It starts as a low rumbling, then rises to a painful, oppressive shriek that bursts blood vessels, cracks skulls, and pulps eyeballs. It takes two rounds to reach full power. In the first round, anyone in the area of effect can try to flee the area. If they remain inside, they take 1 damage. In the second round, anyone in the area must Save or die. Typically the ghost whale only howls once a night.

The ghost whale is also a dog. It wasn't a particularly good dog in life but it wasn't vicious or spiteful either. It wants to chase carriages, sniff garbage, and fall asleep in front of the fire; all things made difficult by its spectral existence. It might be possible to tame it.

Treasure: 1d10lbs of ambergris ectoplasm (ghost whale barf). Like half-real solidified glowing air. Worth 1,000gp per lb to any wizard or perfumer in Endon. One of the few scents ghosts find pleasant. 

Yes, it's just a reskinned Banshee.

So What About The Law of Conservation of Mass
Utter nonsense. Ever seen a fire? Reduces heavy wood to light ash. Burns oil and spirits into nothingness. Or consider ice. Allow a sealed container full of ice to melt and less water than ice will be found inside. No, I'm afraid mass is not conserved. It comes and it goes as it pleases.


OSR: Rewards of the Monarch

Congratulations! You've saved the world / the nation / the city. The Monarch (absolute, dissipated, benign, slightly seedy) wishes to bestow a gift upon you. Big bags of gold are terribly unfashionable (and the kingdom is broke anyway / needs money to rebuild / is notoriously stingy), but as a token of Their Royal Esteem, the Monarch will ensure you are adequately rewarded.

Roll once per group per apocalypse averted. Entries with a ★ apply to one person in the group. Everyone else in the group gets the entry above or below the ★ entry (50% chance, roll once). The Monarch will generally fixate on the most responsible, clean-looking, and patriotic person.

Some of these rewards may be ludicrously out of scale with the services rendered by the group. This is intentional. The Monarch is either whimsical or Machiavellian.
Daniel Kamarudin

1d20 Rewards of the Monarch

1. Hearty Hand-Clasp
The group is presented with a laurel and hearty hand-clasp from the Monarch.

2. Knighthood ★
One character is knighted by the Monarch in a solemn ceremony. They can be called "Sir". Most people will treat them slightly better than the heaving mass of humanity. If the character is already a knight, they are promoted to a minor barony (of some far-off barren region). If they already are a baron, someone less suitable is knighted instead (barons and above being expected to serve the Monarch without complaint or recompense).

3. Honorary Doctorates
Presented in a ceremony at Loxdon College. Stuffy old deans snoring, spotty undergraduates picking their noses and playing cards in the back, slightly tinny brass band. Bearers gain the right to wear comically floppy hats, red robes trimmed with ermine, and carry a sword on Sundays without a permit. They are officially Doctors of Philosophy and are expected to turn up to one ceremonial dinner a year.

4. A Lifetime Pension
Enough to live just above poverty. The pension starts at age sixty. It does mean, no matter what the group's members do between now and then, they are unlikely to starve in their old age.

5. The Keys to the City
Presented by the Mayor to the Monarch, then by the Monarch to the group. Enables them to avoid parking fees, some zoning bylaws, and tolls. Everyone in the crowd now knows their faces.

6. Invitation to Court ★
The Monarch takes a liking to one member of the group. They will be invited to Court at least once a year to say something witty and memorable. If they don't, they won't be invited back. If they say something gauche or rude the Monarch might exile them. Showing up to Court is a good way to meet interesting, rich, and cunning people.

7. Commemorative Plaque
Large, brass, securely fixed to a convenient building. At least one name will be spelled wrong. 10% chance of being stolen each year.

8. Commemorative Statue
Very large, bronze and stone, a sculpture group of heroic deeds near a reasonably important street. Everyone looks a little gouty and distorted. Unveiled with a flourish and a great deal of polite clapping. Immediately misidentified by every tour guide and ignorant pedestrian as a statue of "General Monkton and his Famous Charge."

9. Street Naming ★
A prominent street is named after one of the group's members, ideally one with the best-sounding name, or one that lends itself to abbreviation, modification, or ease of use. Surprisingly disreputable things happen on the street going forward.

10. Dedicated Follower of Fashion

The Monarch decides some aspect of the group is fashionable and adopts it immediately. The fashion soon spreads. The group may be credited as the originators. Luxury-hating puritans will spit at them; courtiers and tailors will fawn over them, at least until fashion changes again.

11. Royal Marriage ★

One group member is offered the hand of the Monarch's daughter (or son in some regions) in marriage. If one (or both, in some regions) is of an incompatible gender, the Monarch will simply have it altered with a legal fiction. It would be treason to refuse. The would-be fiancee is eleventh in line to the throne, rather plain, and extremely spoiled.

12. Royal Speech

The Monarch makes a rare public speech on the group's heroic deeds, patriotic virtue, and public spirit. The group won't need to buy drinks for a month. Everything is discounted. Spontaneous celebrations inconvenience them wherever they go.

13. Minor Medal

In a hasty ceremony, possibly along side several dozen others, the Monarch presents the group's members with a small medal such as "Order of Valour, Second Class" or "Honourable Bar of the Knights of the Chalice".

14. Sincure ★
A post, such as "Master of the Royal Mint Plantations" or "Trustee of the Monarch's Hound's Pensions" is found for a deserving group member. It pays reasonably well and requires perhaps two  hours of work a week.

15. Commissioned Painting

A court artist unveils a grand painting of the group doing something heroic. The painting is far too large to be displayed in a private home. It will be put in one of the royal residences to amaze and confuse future visitors.

16. Quiet Castigation ★

One member of the group is discreetly asked about their enemies, rivals, and ambitions. The Monarch uses their influence to destroy one enemy (if possible) by calling in loans, cancelling licenses, spreading rumours, or, if all else fails, framing them for a capital offense.

17. Commissioned Music
A court musician presents a new composition to celebrate the group. In a few centuries it will be one of the most well-known pieces of music from the era, but at the present moment it receives a polite but tepid reception. People still hum it from time to time.

18. Memorable Day

The Monarch declares the anniversary of the group's efforts to be a public holiday (for the next five years). It might prove so popular that the Monarch will be pressured to keep it. Bizarre traditions (floats, effigies, dances, traditional foods) arise almost immediately.

19. Inaccurate Speech

The Monarch makes a rare public speech on the group's heroic deeds, exaggerating, misremembering, and interpolating events with horrifying conviction. The group is credited with powers beyond their means, with "securing eternal peace with the Manticore Kingdoms" or "ending the threat forever." Any future disasters will be blamed on the group. People will come to them for aid on all sorts of  unlikely matters, some of which could potentially be profitable.

20. Royal Counselors

The group is appointed "Special Advisors to the Monarch". They are expected to turn up when summoned and help the Monarch solve the nation's problems, or amuse the Monarch, or perform impossible feats. The position is unpaid but extremely valuable, as they have the Monarch's direct attention. If they bring the Monarch into disrepute they will, at the very least, be exiled.


OSR: Ministers of Endon

Here's another sneak preview of my pre-apocalyptic Magical Industrial Revolution book. It's a minor and unimportant segment but it's a fun one.

The Parliament of Endon

Being elected to Parliament is the crowning glory for many Endonians. Entering that elite social club and influencing the course of the nation is the exclusive preserve of the rich, powerful, and incredibly dull. Parliament generally lets the affairs of the nation carry on without interference, only passing a law or demanding an inquiry after the crisis has reached a terminal stage.

Getting Elected
Only men can be elected to Parliament. In a fine and well documented tradition, any women who wishes to exercise political power selects a dull, pliable, or unscrupulous person and uses them as a proxy. Everyone knows who actually holds the reigns.

Only people of Rank 3 or above can stand for election. A campaign costs 1,000gp and has a 50% chance of succeeding. Making friends with a Minister increases the chance to 80%. Well-documented public heroism may guarantee election at the GM’s discretion. Campaigning takes place during the Off-Season and requires no particular skills or talents. Giving a speech or two is traditional. Elections are held once every 2 years.

Parliamentary Duties

During the Season (pg. ##), an Member of Parliament is expected to turn up at least once and vote at their party’s command. Actually reading or writing laws, proposing new directives, or debating is viewed as a suspicious novelty. Once elected, a Member of Parliament can keep their seat until death unless a Scandal (pg. ##) intervenes.

The Political Parties

Endon’s two political factions fatuously trace their ancestry to pre-historic chieftains. They each control approximately half of the 100 seats in Parliament.

The Gumperts stand for Endonian Values, Harsh Penalties, and The Good Old Days. Their colour is green. 

The Bogs stand for Lower Taxes, Endonian Prosperity, and More Wars. Their colour is blue.

Control of Parliament, and therefore control of the Ministries, switches between parties every 1d4 elections, usually as the result of a Scandal (pg. ##). Anyone standing for election must choose a party before campaigning. The choice cannot be altered later. Social groups form along party lines.
Honore Daumier

Ministers and Ministries

Merely being elected to Parliament does not bring power or wealth. Becoming a Minister is an easy way to influence the course of the realm. It’s a retirement option, a capstone to a long career, or a potential way to avert a magical apocalypse. Ministerial power is difficult to quantify and will probably need to be adjudicated by the GM. Doing anything efficiently, quickly, or cheaply is next to impossible. 

There are six ministerial roles in Endon. More could be created (with the Monarch’s assent). A Ministry of Magic has been proposed but, for various political reasons, never implemented. 

1. Ministry of Finance 
Sets fiscal policy. Negotiates loans, collects taxes. Complicated and boring but theoretically very powerful.
2. Ministry of the Interior 
Manages municipal affairs of the city of Endon. Infrastructure, relief of the poor, new tolls. Generally overworked and understaffed. 

3. Ministry of Trade 
Import and export duties, commercial relations with the Hated Foreigner (pg. ##), classification of new technologies. 

4. Ministry of War 
Defends Endon by fighting the Hated Foreigner whenever possible. Pays the Army (pg. ##), organizes campaigns, tests new military technology. 

5. Ministry of Justice 
Handles complex court cases, implements new laws, manages the Coppers (pg. ##).

6. The Prime Minister 
Sets the general direction of the government. Reports directly to the Monarch. Blamed for everything.
In the actual book, I'm hoping to have these look more like newspaper clippings. The scandals will be literally ripped from the headlines.


OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings v4

Good news! I've created a lightly revised version of Tomb of the Serpent Kings.
With many thanks to Jacob Hurst for insightful comments and David Shugars for extremely patient editing.

PDF Link
Print Link

There's also, for the first time ever, a Print On Demand version available through OBS. It's sold at cost. I don't make a cent off it.

This version doesn't differ significantly from past ones. References have been harmonized. There's a fancy quick reference map.

The entire dungeon is licensed under CC-BY-NC, so feel free to remix, adapt, and translate it. David's made up an Affinity Publisher file. Grab it and get hacking!


OSR: An Incongruous Soundtrack for a Pre-Apocalyptic World

Another light little post to prove I'm still alive and working.
I like choosing music for my games. For space opera-ish games (of the Star Wars or the Grim Dark variety) I typically pick leitmotifs. Lots of sound and fury.

I've been trying to think of what sort of music fits the pre-apocalyptic setting I'm working on.
Leighton Blair
1. Period Appropriate
I'm spoiled for choice. John Blow, Henry Purcell, John Field, Handel, Haydn, Clementi, Johann Christian Bach, William Boyce, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn... all the way to Gilbert and Sullivan. Restoration to late Victorian; all work, more or less.

But while Creatures of the Prometheus is fitting, but will it strike a chord with my players?
Jacob Huysmans
2. Incongruous Covers
Bioshock Infinite may not have been the greatest video game of all time... but it's one of the rare pre-apocalyptic video games. Hidden in the soundtrack are little anachronistic tunes like this ragtime cover of Tainted Love.
It's a neat technique. It's very off-putting. In the background, sometimes, distantly, you can hear music that's wrong. Was Eye of the Tiger a souped-up cover of a jazz standard... or is it the other way around?

I think I'm going to include a lot of covers. Ideally, ones that sound barely plausible as "original" versions covered by later artists. Style isn't super important, but I'd like to avoid purely electronic or highly produced sounds. The music should feel like it could bleed out of salons, parlors, music halls, gin dens, and other seedy or experimental locales.

Keep Me In Your Heart (Strings only version)
Shiny Happy People
Shake Sugaree (excellent for a pawn-rich city).
Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Additional Tigers

The Westworld covers are nice but a little too strongly western-themed. Player pianos are distinct instruments.
William Hogarth
3. Michael Nyman
I should rant about Michael Nyman more often. He's to Peter Greenaway what Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton. And if you've never heard of Peter Greenaway, start here.

Anyway, I love his work. It breaks all of the rules listed above. It's not diegetic. It's unnatural, layered, produced. But I think that's why it works for a pre-apocalyptic setting. It'll glue the covers and classical pieces together, providing some much-needed high-tempo nonsense.

Plus, he pairs particularly well with Purcell.

In Conclusion
I hope that this was a useful insight into how I choose music, or that you at least found something strange to listen to. If you think of any tracks that might fit my (admittedly bizarre) criteria, post 'em in the comments.


Horror Games, Nervous Laughter, and Ridiculous Farce

There's a very thin line between horror and farce.

Have you ever watched a horror film in theaters and laughed along with the rest of the audience after a tense moment? Or have you ever tried to run a horror game and had it turn into Abbot and Costello meet the Lich?

Pressure Relief Valve

Under stress, people tend to laugh. It's a sensible reaction. We're trying to convince ourselves that the thing we're seeing isn't real, isn't harmful, isn't actually going to kill us. We're fighting one system (adrenaline, heart rate, muscle tension) with another (laughter, muscle relaxation, comfort).

If you're running a horror RPG you need to anticipate this reaction and decide how you're going to deal with it.

Because your players will laugh and crack jokes. Even experienced players who are really "into it", who didn't set out to make farcical character or behave in silly ways, will need some form of tension release. In fact, the more "into it" a person is, the more likely they are to need some way to release the tension.

Very few horror tutorials online talk about this problem. There's plenty of excellent advice for setting the tone, planning a scenario, describing a room, hinting at monsters, etc, but very little on what to do when someone gets the giggles.

1. Plan Ahead

You can't keep the tension ratcheted up all the time. Plan for moments of release.
  •  When exploring a creepy old house, the players find a strange red substance dripping from a cupboard. They open it to find... a cracked jar of strawberry jam.
  • The players meet Sheriff Dimbulb. He's well-meaning but he's never heard of a goddamn "where-wolf" in the goddamn woods, no sir. Interacting with him is fun and non-threatening (in the supernatural sense) and allows your players to release some tension.
  • There's a puzzle; a clear and obvious puzzle. Something to think about that isn't maggots with the faces of babies.

2. Keep Everyone Focused
Your players will take their tone from the GM. If you're all over the place tonally, they'll follow. So don't crack Monty Python jokes or make puns, even if you really want to. You don't have to be a statue, but you do want to keep the game on an even keel.

Let your players crack OOC jokes from time to time, but don't riff off them and don't let them get out of hand. Just let the tension release, then get the game going again.

3. Embrace It

Alternatively, just accept that sometimes a horror film from the '50s is a comedy film from the 2000s. Times change, tones changes, what's scary becomes farcical. The main goal of showing up to Pretend Elfgame Night is to have a good time. If everyone's enjoying themselves, it doesn't really matter if you're running a horror game or a farce. Just make sure you've decided what you're going to do beforehand.
Source unknown (worryingly)

Basic Horror Tips

There are three main feelings horror media tries to evoke:
  • Terror: feeling of dread and anticipation. The tell-tale heart, the looming presence, the slow walk up the stairs. Your heart pounds.
  • Horror: feeling of shock and fright. The jump scare, the crash of lightning, the scream. Adrenaline surges.
  • Revulsion: visceral feeling of being grossed out. The "squick" factor. Your stomach churns.
"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."
-Stephen King
Generally, if you're working on a horror game, try to build tension and suspense first. Use jumps scares or chases or fights if you need to. And sure, add a few bits of squicky horror - descriptions carry a lot more weight in RPGs than in films or novels because they're ephemeral, temporary things. They live in the memories of your players. Done right, they can fester deliciously.

Here are some other tips:

1. Build a strong atmosphere. Run games at night in dimly lit rooms. Use music - music is really important. 

2. Pick a system with minimal mechanical intrusiveness. Looking up the grappling rules doesn't help.

3. Run one-shots send the PCs to a different location than the usual campaign. If you're changing the tone, change the setting too, even temporarily. A haunted house, a mysterious island, a strange castle.

4. Limit tools. It's hard to keep a horror game scary if the PCs have flamethrowers, teleporters, the ability to see in the dark, devour ghosts for sustenance, and fly. Taking away their hard-earned stuff is rarely successful or fun. Just run a one-shot instead.

5. Let your players do the work. Sketch, don't elaborate. Let their imaginations fill in the details. Let them speculate (and don't punish them for speculating).

6. Break the rules. Most good horror does. Aliens bleed acid and grow from chestbursting maggots to hideous beasts in hours. Werewolves change from people to beasts and are immune to regular bullets. The dead rise, the moon disappears, the sea belches forth sharks on legs. Saturn reigns. Etc.

Happy Halloween!


OSR: Pre-Apocalyptic Minor Magical Items

Just a little update post.

Not all magical innovations are potentially world-changing. The full book will contain 1d100 minor magic items split into 5 categories of 20 (to allow multiple rollning  Here's a sample of 10.

Item cost and availability varies based on the Tempo (the general pace of life and scope of magical advancement).

[  ] 30gp, and are available only from the original inventors, specialist stores, or public displays. They are novel and exciting.
[  ] [  ] 10gp, and are available at specialized stores and from roving street vendors. 
[  ] [  ] [  ] 5gp, and are widely available. Used versions of some items may be available for 2gp (25% chance of not working).

The items are designed to promote item-based problem solving. You might have a sword, but I have a sword and an air compressor.

When I was about 16 I joined in partnership with a man who used to make phosphorus boxes. I sold them for him. A piece of phosphorus was stuck in a tin tube, the match was dipped into the phosphorus, and it would ignite by friction. I was hawking these boxes in Norwich, when the constable considered they were dreadful affairs, and calculated to encourage and assist thieves and burglars. He took me before the magistrate, at the beak’s own private house, and he being equally horrified, I was sent to prison for a month. I have often thought since that the proceeding was illegal. What would be said now if a man was to be sent to jail for selling lucifer matches? 
-Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1
Travis Louie

1d10 Example Minor Magic Items
1 Liquified Light. Sold in mirrored flasks stoppered with lead. Crack open and pour out 1 hr of glowing yellow-white liquid. All the colours of sunset available.  
2 Fireman’s Gloves. Thick black leather. Put them both on and faintly glowing red hands appear exactly 10’ in front of you. They move as your hands move, same size and strength. 
3 Air Compressor. Iron cart, spinning stone wheel, hose. Can provide 1hr of reasonably high-pressure air per day. 1-in-100 chance of exploding noisily. 
4 Thumbspark Jelly. Thimble-sized flask. Glows orange. Rub it on your thumb and finger, then snap. Little burst of flame, like a match. Works 10 times on any high-friction joint. 
5 Portable Orchestra. Simple wood keyboard with multiple add-in slots. Can play one instrument per slot. Tinny, distorted. Generally considered a nuisance. 
6 Self-Cleaning Pot. Just add soap and water, tap the brass plate on the front, and it scrubs itself clean. Just don’t tap the plate while food is inside (or your hand). It scrubs vigorously.  
7 Wake-Me-Up. Glass vial containing green fog. Inhale to instantly banish fatigue for 1d6 hours. Pleasant mania for a few minutes. Not addictive. Usually taken in the morning.
8 Ultragrease. Very small pot. Could coat an bowling ball or a coffee table. Lasts 1d20hrs. Object is temporarily nearly frictionless. Too expensive/unstable for widespread industrial use.
9 Sealing Bubble. Blue rubbery sphere. Failed magic raincoat. Throw it hard and it coats a single room (up to 50’x50’x50’) in a thin rubber layer. Seals furniture to walls, covers windows.
10 Bottled Fog. Glass bottle wrapped in wire. Highly compressed. Can fill an entire house or street with dense yellow-grey mist. 10’ visibility. Mist dissipates in 10 minutes. 


OSR: One Page Dungeon: Sutter Cane's Perilous Peninsula

Here's a quick little trope-filled adventure location. Happy Halloween!

Sutter Cane's Perilous Peninsula

I think this adventure works best as a funnel or as a place the PCs collide with on a cold fall night. There's no overarching plot. Just listen to the wild speculations of your players, nod, and make notes. 

Isaac Williams turned up to save the day with some excellent art. The old version is still available. Go check out his website. It has flash games.

Fonts are Creepy Crawlers and Insomnia.


OSR: The Angelic Amelia Bedelia

Gee, I  haven't done a clickbait title in a while...

Amelia Bedelia is a character from a children's book series. She's a maid. A very literal maid. Ask her to get the spots out of your dress and she'll grab the scissors. Ask her to take a seat and she'll pick up the chair. Ask her to dust the furniture and she'll carefully sprinkle dust over everything. Etc.

She's not malicious or deliberately obtuse. She's just... very straightforward, like a simple computer program. She's always confused as to why people want her to do these strange things, but it's her job, so she does whatever she's asked.

Amelia Bedelia is the opposite of a classic Faustian devil.

A devil wants to barter. Amelia Bedelia just listens and acts.
A devil wants whatever is precious to  you (up to and including your soul). Amelia Bedelia wants something completely free; your admiration and praise.
A devil is cunning and twists your words to suit its purpose. Amelia Bedelia is, bless her heart, a simple creature.
A devil will never help you unless it has to. It's sometimes difficult to prevent Amelia Bedelia from helping you.
Desperate people sometimes call up devils for assistance. People are usually desperate to get Amelia Bedelia to leave.

The conclusion is clear. Amelia Bedelia is a sort of angel. 

As such, it's only right and proper to inflict her on your PCs.

Angelica Carmelia

HD: 2
Appearance: a young woman with disordered brown hair, wearing locally appropriate but out-of-fashion servant's livery.
Voice: deliberately unaccented.

Wants: to help.
Morality: imperviously pious.
Intelligence: a sort of warped brilliance.
Armour: none.
Move: normal.
Morale: 12. Will only panic if people around her panic, just because it seems like the helpful thing to do.
Damage: none deliberately.

Angelica Carmelia is a prototype guardian angel. It didn't work. She's been sent to earth to help. She cannot deliberately be targeted by attacks, due to her angelic nature. Landslides will miss her (and only her).

She wants to help. She doesn't have any angelic powers (beyond sheer bloody-minded determination and supernatural good luck). Any domestic command will be obeyed. She'll strip sheets (tearing them into nice neat strips), chop firewood (into match sticks), and generally ruin everything. Any deliberately vulgar command will be met with a shocked look, a solid slap, and a great deal of trouble in the afterlife.

The only way to make her go away is to find someone who needs her help more than you do.

Example instructions:

"Check for traps": Angelica will put a check mark on four, but only four, traps. The fifth trap will be conveniently ignored.

"Attack that goblin." (not really a valid task but someone will ask). Angelica will throw a tack at the goblin.

"Hold this item." Angelica will hold the item like a small child or particularly passive cat until another command requires her to use her hands. She'll then put down the item and immediately forget about it.

"Tie this rope to that thing." Angelica will tie a knot: windsor, half windsor, or bow. None of the knots are particularly strong or suitable for adventuring purposes.

Do not trust the soup mimic.
Side Note: Wishes and Contracts
Any sensible genre-aware player, upon getting access to a Wish-type spell, is going to start drafting a fuckery-proof contract. No moneky's paw bullshit here, thank you very much.

And sometimes, that's fine, especially if the PC is both genre-aware and literate. But if they aren't... just mention to the player that their character might not be thinking things through with such care and deliberation.

In my experience the player usually runs with it. Sure, they could phrase every instruction to their new friend Angelica in perfectly clear and untwistable terms... but they could also not do that. And sometimes, it's deliciously fun to have a PC do things that the player knows full well are unwise.

Side Note 2: Angelica Carmelia is probably in the same divine order of beings as the Wyrms of Service, Mineral Wights, Restraining Ogres, etc.

Gygaxian Democracy: Amelia Bedelia spells.

This game is older than the internet. Pick a spell. Make it literal. Post it in the comments.

E.g. Find Familiar: target experiences a brief moment of déjà vu.
Fire Bolt: two objects are joined together by a large fastener made of flame.