OSR: On Lamentations of the Flame Princess

The story so far.

In February 2019, four women
(Mandy, Hannah, Jennifer, and Vivka) accused Zak (Sabbath) Smith of some truly appalling things. You can (and should, if the rest of this post is going to make sense) read my response here.

If you haven't heard of Zak (Sabbath) Smith and followed that link, I'm terribly sorry, because I've probably introduced a great deal of unpleasantness into your life. The long and the short of it is that the stories are highly credible. The entire RPG community - people who can't normally agree about anything - kicked Zak to the curb.

Side Note: Zak is suing Mandy Morbid for defamation. Lawsuits, especially punitive lawsuits, are expensive. She's got a GoFundMe here.
If you have heard of this, you're probably heartily sick of it by now. But plenty of people haven't so please, bear with me.

Zak's main publisher and supporter was Lamentations of the Flame Princess, primarily run and operated by James Raggi. For the purposes of this article, the two are interchangeable. LotFP might have other employees but it's mostly a one-human shop. That human released a statement in February. Most people (including me, at the time) went, "Oh, good, well that's sorted then."

Except it wasn't.

LotFP Discord, approximately 2019/02/14
Twitter, 2019/10/27
Well after GenCon and the release of "Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book"
So if that was a disavowal, it clearly didn't take.
Fucking "thanks"

"Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book"

Back in Feburary, when all this kicked off, speculation was running rife. Would LotFP fire Zak? Set his books on fire? Continue selling them? Would Raggi hire Zak, his biggest name content creator, under a pseudonym? I don't recall any specifics but it seemed vaguely omnipresent.

I don't know how the rest of the internet reacted, but I treated all this nonsense correct degree of skepticism for internet theories. Tempers were running high. Speculation was inevitable. In the absence of anything useful or helpful to do, people will speculate, debate, and create scenarios. Then stuff happens and they move on.

Stuff happened. Most people moved on.

But James Raggi didn't. At Gencon (August 2019), he released an module called "Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book", ostensibly as a raised middle finger against anyone who'd speculated he'd be in cahoots with Zak. From the official announcement:

I'll just say the title is inspired by certain people in the RPG industry thinking I was going to publish certain people under assumed names in order to skirt controversy. Other than the title, this product has no relation to real life events or drama.
I have... very strong feelings about using a sexual assault scandal as marketing.

If that was it, if the title was all the book had to do with this whole convoluted scenario, that'd be enough to put Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and James Raggi, forever in the Bin of Shame. Because you don't do that. You don't sell books based on someone's misery. How could anyone read these accounts and then go "I know what we'll call our next product." without splitting in half? "I know who the real victim is; me!"

But that wasn't everything. Not by a long shot.

Critical Empathy Failure

The book contained a choice passage. As phrased by reddit user jdeckert.
Basically, the NPCs have found a forbidden book and are looking to pin the blame on someone.
"They all settled on blaming... Zachary Canterbury, who goes by the nickname, Zak, because he said unwise things making it rather easy to be made the scapegoat."

"They all know they’re accusing an innocent man, and are doing so to prevent themselves from being subject to any kind of scrutiny."
Oof. Well, that's pretty bad. It does seem like the initial passive-voice reluctance in LotFP's February post wasn't just legalese. Appalling as that is, at least that's it... right?

Snakes on a Plane

No. The GenCon version of the book also contained an editorial essay. Either of these two articles dissect the essay with more precision than I can manage at the best of times. They're well worth reading.

The book wasn't just sold at GenCon. On September 22nd, 2019, Lamentations of the Flame Princess released the book on DriveThruRPG, pouring gasoline on a smouldering fire.

James Raggi quickly renamed the book, "An Analysis into the Nature of Man & the Satanic Power He Contains” which is perhaps a sign that he realized his usual marketing-via-controversy method, so successful in the past, had turned to bite him in the face.

Needless to say, people were annoyed. DriveThruRPG pulled the product, sending this note to some people. Via rpg.net (bolding mine).

Thank you for your patience while we discussed “An Analysis into the Nature of Man & the Satanic Power He Contains”. We appreciate the feedback we have received on this title whether it be from customers or publishers.

After our CEO returned to the office on Thursday, we were able to discuss and review this title together as a team. While it may not be the intended effect, the result brought greater attention and legitimacy to Zak Smith in the eyes of both his critics and supporters. In February, we decided to no longer carry future products from Zak Smith and in the spirit of that rule, if not the letter we have removed this title from our marketplace to support this prior decision in February.

If you have any further questions or concerns please let us know.

Leopards? Eating my face?

So by this point, I think it's pretty clear that James Raggi's disavowal at Zak was more of a shotgun divorce. Zak still profits (handsomely, by his own admission, even if no one else does) from his books that are still sold by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Raggi is still moping about snakes preventing him from working with this great upstanding artist.

Where "Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book" falls on the defensive-vanity-project to pitiless-cash-grab spectrum is debatable, but it's also fairly clear it's somewhere on that line.

But surely that's enough.

And yet, no.

It turns out that James Raggi lied to a collaborator on the book. Jez Gordon, a long-time artist and designer with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, had this to say. Via twitter (bolding mine).

My art appearing in a book does not mean I agree with everything that book might say. Nor does my graphic design for a newspaper mean I condone all the editorial content from the publisher, or my maps for government means I agree with everything that government does.
However, my artwork was recently featured in a satirical creation that made light of a very serious concern. Prior to doing the work I was assured that the book would not be controversial. It was, and given the history of the publisher, I was foolish to think it wouldn't be.

I won't retract my name from the publication, nor retract my work from the book. It's already out there, and I'll have to live with the aftermath of my choices. Just know that I regret my involvement and want nothing to do with this book.
While I do think Jez was caught by a trap that wouldn't have fooled Wile E. Coyote, it's still good that he recognized what happened.

And it's not good that James Raggi casually lied to one of his few remaining collaborators. In the grand scheme of things, especially considering Zak's behavior, it's not the worst sin in this post, but it still doesn't bode well for anyone working with him.

Cattle Call

Every so often, LotFP publishes a call for new talent. (The most recent one contains art that seems to be traced from Fire of Unknown Origin, but that's not really relevant.)

At this point, given what you've just read, working for Lamentations of the Flame Princess has got to be one of the dumbest ideas possible.

But if you think, knowing what you now know, that it's still a good trade, if you're heeding that call... I would be vaguely interested to hear what you're placing on the other side of the scales.

If you are still working with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, don't really don't need to justify yourself to me. Justify yourself to yourself. Read this post and explain the cost-benefit analysis in your head. Try to figure out why this is worth it to you.

How far away does your work have to sit from "Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book" and James Raggi, its author, before you're morally comfortable with your choices?

Maybe you're putting profit or market access or support or friendship on one side of the scales, but at least look at the monstrous heaving weight on the other side.

What Should I Do?

Whatever makes you able to live with yourself.

I can't talk about "community values" or whatever without reaching for the "Delete Entire Blog" button. It's not how I roll. I do not want to police any sort of community. I wrote this because I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. I do not like this stuff, I am bad at it, I want to write about 14th century grain laws and hedgehoglings.

But in situations like this, all I can do is lay out my views, with links and citations. You sort out the rest.

Maybe your favorite module was published by LotFP. Maybe you like the system. Maybe you've written for LotFP in the past. Maybe you stock them in your store. Maybe you've got them on your shelf.

Whatever. Now you know. It's on you.

Edit 2019/12/13: A commenter pointed out I had the name of one of Zak's accusers wrong. I have made the correction.

Edit 2023/12/15: As of April 2023(!), Zak and Raggi are still the best of pals. After everything.

From the LotFP official facebook page.


OSR: Alpha Mind Stats

Every sci-fi dungeon needs a load-bearing boss. Here's another draft page from the Monster Overhaul.


The Alpha Mind is an interesting boss fight. The Defense Laser Grid is a powerful attack but requires a full round to charge. It can try to turn people against each other (via simple commands) or deal direct damage to highly intelligent enemies by hijacking their minds.

The associated tables are also useful. What's an A.I without a name, a dangerous boss arena, and some irrational demands?


OSR: Ultraviolet Grasslands Session 1

When the last group of PCs dramatically exploded, my vaguely scheduled UVG game was rapidly moved forward. I wrote a GLOG hack, a player-facing intro, and a GM-facing map, crossed my fingers, and rolled some dice.

I even had a low-res copy of UVG printed and bound locally. Would not recommend, but having a physical copy I can scrawl all over is handy.

The Ultrabudget Grasslands
Except it's not even that cheap.

Note: If you haven't read UVG, most of this writeup will seem like psychedelic heavy metal Mad Libs. Even if you have ready UVG it's going to be a mess. Consider checking out Eric Vulgaris' youtube reports.

After rolling for race, stats, and backgrounds, then selecting a class, the starting PCs are:

Granville Porter
Cogflower necromancer lawyer. A mutant human thief/warlock/necromancer with starscape skin and a vibrating thumb.
When Granville's prospects at a major law firm looked bleak, he participated in an expedition to the deep sump-vaults below the Emerald City. There, he discovered a potent machine-shrine to Kon-Fabulate, god of cities, of industry, and of asphalt. Devoting his very soul to his new patron, he gained insight into necromancy and quickly rose in the ranks of his firm. Greed, and the graffiti-visions of Kon-Fabulate, brought him to the Violet City.

Bluelander engineer. A human hunter on the run.
By day, a freelance mechanic and golem-tuner. By night, a member of the Bluelander Liberation Front, a semi-radical group working to undermine the Violetlanders who grow rich on cheap Bluelander labour. Carries a scavenged bolter, a hunting rifle of ancient make and surprising power.

Gormog the Builder

Safarian merchant adventurer. A half-orc barbarian/warlock/fighter.
Gormog went on the same expedition as Granville and was one of the few to return alive. He dedicated his soul to Kon-Fabulate, though he sought martial prowess over mental acuity. He carries a Black City Blade, a sword of paper-thin crystal that cleaves through armour and flesh with ease.

Exiled pirate liberal. A half-elf barbarian.
Chased out of the Red Lands for their radical views, Clovis took to the road with nothing but a head full of ideas.. and a chainsword. Clovis also has a tattoo of an aerolith fortress somewhere near the Last Serai and grand dreams of wealth and power.

Wine vampire priest. A dwarf forcebender wizard/warlock.
Karl (it's a very old family name) serves a sinister Wine Vampires cabal as a priest of Deel, Orbital Wargoddess. The incomprehensible para-wave radio signals beamed to his holy symbol every morning give Karl a fixed and noble purpose; smash the world and rebuild a better one. In the meantime, he's on a diplomatic mission to deliver a priceless pearl to a Porcelain Prince at the Porcelain Throne. After all, what could be more decadent than dissolving a pearl in bloodwine?

Note: 3/5 players choose to take the new Warlock class or template for a spin. Two ended up with the same patron, who wants buildings preserved and new cities raised. One ended up with Deel, who's more on the burning-and-slaughter side of divinity. Check out the Ultraviolet GLOGlands hack for more info.

It'll be... interesting to see how that works out. A boost of immediate power proved too tempting for some players. I suspect they haven't thought through the consequences of working directly for a deity. I need to make a table of whims.

The Caravan

Clovis had a map but no money.
Karl had connections but no escort into the Grasslands.
Gormog had mercantile experience but no backing or plan.
Granville could draw up a contract but was struggling to make money.
And Lapis just needed a ride out of town. The Violet City's merchants were closing in.

They met in Wojer's Coffee House (Open 26/7). Clovis had been trying to attract adventure capitalists for weeks without success. Investing in a treasure map tattooed on an elf didn't appeal to most people. Karl's bosses had advised him to find or fund a caravan; he could leverage his contacts for a very high interest short term loan.

Decadent cat lord Melborne Red, impressed by Karl's letter and ambition, cut him a deal. He had a silo full of slightly mouldy cat coffee. He'd be happy to loan Karl any reasonable sum of cash (at 250% interest with full payment due in 2 months or we put you in the giant apple peeler) and sell him the coffee. Karl could take it to the Porcelain Throne, sell it there, and return profitable and happy. "Get a crew together and visit my villa tonight," the cat lord purred. "We're having a party. I'll sign the documents and you can be on your way at first light."

While Karl was haggling to hire Gormog and Granville, Clovs the elf slid into the conversation with some vague hints of Grasslands knowledge. Listening from her basement lair via a microphone hidden in a flowerpot, Lapis smiled. Perfect. She pretended to wander in, joined the venture as their official cut-rate mechanic, and promised she could arrange her own transportation. Oh yes.

Note: UVG suggest a practically charitable interest rate: 100% annually! That's for amateurs and pensioners. Melborne Red probably expects the group to fall short of full repayment. He knows the contract-driven dwarf will never break his word; they'll just need to come to some other much more profitable arrangement. And put a few of his cronies in the apple peeler. But should they somehow pay him back, he's still laughing. I know this group. They'll do fine... or explode.
The group settled into full logistics mode, calculating travel times, ration rates, and number of pack animals. Their plan was simple: two large carts pulled by two donkeys each. One cart for rations, one cart for cat coffee. Secretly, Gormog adjusted the ratios, cutting two sacks of food in favour of two more sacks of coffee.
Note: I misread the inventory rules. Each PC takes up 2 sacks: one for the person and one for their gear. Here's a handy equation. A caravan needs:
[# of people]x(2+[weeks of travel]) + [cargo] + [heavy or bulky items]
Sacks of capacity to avoid foraging.

I'd stated that wagons have a built-in crew capacity at the table but that'll cause all sorts of trouble later. Next session, we'll need to decide if the PCs went further into debt to buy extra mules or horses or if they decided to walk alongside their wagons. Riding in one, come to think of it, is probably a bad idea anyway. Wagons over rough terrain are not fun.
Meanwhile, Lapis worked on her escape plan. A shop she worked for (Errard Isenbrew's Mechanical Fixations) had a shiny wicker autogolem in for minor cosmetic repairs. It belonged to a local cat lord (someone; not Melborne Red, at least). Fast, air-breathing, and shiny, the autowagon was very tempting. The valuable tools littering the workshop were also appealing to Lapis' eye. Why not put them to better use elsewhere?

She broke into the machine shop late that night to begin packing. Her boss, Errard, was working unexpectedly late. She was nearly caught filling the autogolem's trunk with tools but managed to avert a crisis. Still, her boss was acting very suspiciously. Careful observation via chimney and skylight revealed that he, and some of her coworkers, were running a quasi-legal underground fight ring. Personality override implants, normally used to punish indentured workers without wasting valuable hours of labour, were attached to two Bluelanders. Fights were short but brutal.

At the same time, Karl and the other adventurers visited Melborne Red's all-night party to sign the final paperwork and collect their loan. Melborne, high as a kite and playing with a cat-toy mobile, was in an amenable mood until Gormog suggested lowering the interest rate slightly. Melborne's pet held the half-orc by his collar and berated him soundly, but in the end, agreed to sell them the mouldy cat coffee at a lower price.

Still, the group was nearly €7,000 in debt. Granville's attempt to pickpocket a guest nearly resulted in disaster, but thanks to a hasty apology and an overturned tray of drugs, the group escaped in good spirits. Clovis and Karl both had a lovely time, though Karl spent all night checking clutching the group's bank drafts and notes.

The next morning, while the group inspected donkeys and loaded carts with all manner of useful items, Lapis nonchalantly arrived to work very early to complete the escape plan. Unfortunately, Errard was waiting for her with a loaded pistol. He'd checked the autowagon's trunk. Pointing out that he could be imprisoned (or fined, at least) for running an illegal fighting pit didn't help; Errard pointed out that was an additional reason to kill her. Lapis ducked under the autowagon, shoved it forward, and knocked him to the ground. Then, leaping over the wagon with daggers drawn, she stabbed Errard in the lungs. He got off one shot, but it barely grazed the hardy Bluelander.

Bleeding slightly, Lapis stole the locked cashbox from the office and tried to break into the palm-printed safe using Errard's severed hands. Sadly, the ancient safe remained locked. Spattered with blood and slightly panicked, Lapis threw on her driving goggles, tossed a few more items in the trunk, and sped out of the violet city. The wicker autogolem's wheels bounced over the cobbles as the wayward mechanic sawed at the wheel, spinning around corners and leaping over gutters.

Heavy Metal 03 V1 #6 (1977)
Meanwhile, the group's slow convoy was already on the road. They'd agreed to meet at the Last Chair salon at nightfall; if Lapis didn't turn up, her share was forfeit, and the group was to move on without her.

She blew past them at a ludicrous speed, the rubberized tires of her roaring golem scattering gravel all over the hardy donkeys. If she recognized the convoy she didn't stop for conversation, but arrived at the Last Chair Salon well before dark. An hour later, three vehicles roared by in pursuit. Two clattering petrol-bikes and a long chopper-quad with rotary cannon and two personality-rigged berserkers. They didn't examine the convoy either. They were after the wagon and Lapis.

After bribing the owner with half the cashbox's contents (€100), Lapis stored the wicker autogolem in an underground garage, disguised the entrance and tracks, and watched her pursuers from the top floor of the salon. Her former coworkers, in hot pursuit of the stolen vehicle and delicious revenge, were directed west by the salon's owner. A vehicle had sped past without stopping. No, she hadn't seen which road it had taken.

The pursuers split up. The chopper-quad and one bike went south, while one bike took the long track north. With the light fading, they'd agreed to reconvene at the Salon after sunset and set out again in the morning. When the rest of the PCs arrived, tired, dusty, and in need of a yellow beer or three, they decided pursuit was not in their best interests. Ambushing the mechanics as they returned was far easier. Lapis assured the group this would put an end to all her troubles. She neglected to mention the vehicle's owner.

The ambush was perfect in its simplicity. The PCs strung a polymer rope between two stones on the north road. Hiding behind a rock, Karl watched the south road, readying his warlock-infused wall of force spell. When the lights of the chopper-quad and bike approached the crest of a hill, he simply summoned the nigh-invisible wall at the bottom. The bike hit the wall at full speed and detonated immediately. The quad's driver, a few metres behind, desperately slewed the vehicle sideways, but slammed into the wall and debris too. Both vehicles burned and sizzled.

On the north road a few minutes later, the third biker spotted the column of smoke and stopped to pull out a spyglass. A shot from Lapis' rifle sparked off a nearby rock. The biker hopped back on and spurred the engine to full power. Two subsequent shots missed.

Mad Max: Fury Road
While Granville interrogated a corpse and Gormog cleared debris off the road, Clovis picked through the wreckage and discovered an intact personality override implant. The octopus-like device was worth at least €150, maybe more.

Flush with success, the party moved into the Last Chair Salon and relaxed. One day on the road and they were already victorious heroes with a €2,000 autowagon, a ton of cat coffee, and a plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Find out next session.


OSR: Ultraviolet Grasslands Player Intro

I've tried, and failed, to write a player-facing introduction for Luka's Ultraviolet Grasslands setting.

There's just too much... stuff. "Mad Max: Fury Road meets Zardoz meets this music video." is a start. "A heavy metal psychedelic pointcrawl" is good, but doesn't really tell people what they're doing, or who they are, or why they should care. How can you teach new players to speak the bio-techno Mad Libs of UVG without making them read the book (and losing the joy of discovery).

Instead of a text intro, here's a digital comic book (of sorts) made from bits and pieces of early Heavy Metal magazines. It's all anti-canon. Enjoy.

It is so far into the future that everything that [redacted] made possible has happened three times, even world harmony.

Heavy Metal 4 V4 #7 (1980)
Heavy Metal 12 V1 #3 (1978)
Heavy Metal 12 V1 #3 (1978)
Heavy Metal 9 V1 #12 (1977)
Heavy Metal 10 V2 #1 (1979)
Heavy Metal 8 V1 #11 (1977)
Heavy Metal 12 V1 #3 (1978)
Heavy Metal 6 V2 #10 (1978)
Heavy Metal V4 #5 (1980)
Heavy Metal 4 V2 #8 (1978)
Heavy Metal 10 V1 #1 (1978)
Heavy Metal 10 V1 #1 (1978)
Heavy Metal 1 V4 #4 (1980)

The Metabarons - Lair of the Shabda Oud #7 - 2000
Heavy Metal 9 V1 #12 (1977)

Heavy Metal  08 V1 #11 (1977)
Heavy Metal 11 V1 #2 (1978)

Heavy Metal  03 V1 #6 (1977)

Everything will have been done for the first time yet again.
-Heavy Metal 09 V2 #1


OSR: Gargoyle and Grue Stats

Here's another draft page from the Monster Overhaul.


In AD&D, Gargoyles are living creatures, the fleshy inspiration for their stone depictions I suppose. I like my version better. Drain-faced, cruel, and darkly inspired.

I'm debating downgrading their immunity to mundane weapons to an immunity to slashing and piercing damage. This would make them slightly less deadly, but perhaps less useful as mid-level dungeon guards. Thoughts?

The Grue is based on the Grue from Zork, of course, but with some inspiration from Arnold K's sublimely weird version. It's a living trap and an entertaining problem.

The AD&D Monster Manual II has four grues, one from each of the main elemental planes. They've all got lavishly and horrible descriptions, but in the Monster Overhaul, they'll be merged into the rest of the elementals.

This is also the first public test of a two monster page (compared to a one monster page here or here). Any complaints? Far easier to fix them now.

Also, Patrons at the $5 level and above get access to all the draft content, in case you want more monsters as quickly as I can write and test them.


OSR: Review: Troika! vs. Electric Bastionland

Two systems, both alike in dignity,
In fair Discourse, where we lay our scene,
From ancient sludge break to new heresy,
Where drunken blood makes drunken hands unclean.
This review is sponsored by Dubonnet and gin. You've been warned.

Because I'm fussy, peevish, and peculiar, these review also has an enormous negative bias. I usually review books by listing problems or issues and then saying "but it's still very good." This review is no different. You've been warned again.

Also, I intermittently stop by both Chris McDowall's Discord and the Melsonia Arts Council Discord. Does one need to declare these things in a review? Well it can't hurt. That's three warnings. You're out. Go, get, shoo!


Troika! is a Fighting Fantasy hack by Daniel Sell. The original version vaguely assumed you knew what Fighting Fantasy is and are possibly in the grip of The Nostalgia. If you don't and aren't, it's a choose-your-own-adventure book with a dice mechanic. The new version (Numinous Edition) doesn't assume much, which is good.

Choose-your-own-adventure books are weird from an RPG perspective. Half the fun of RPGs is not flipping to one of 3 options, but instead writing your own pages and sticking them in. Should we 1) Fight 2) Flee or 3) Bargain with the Orc guarding the pie? Neither, for you see, I've concealed a pie-summoning wand in my hat just for this occasion. Flicking it, I...

You see what I mean?

Anyway, Troika! uses the 3 core stats of FF (Skill, Stamina, and Luck).

The Book
The first two pages are convenient reference tables. Handy, but I'm leery of unexplained tables before explanations. Or even explained tables. You're basically announcing "Prepare For The Dreaded Mathematics, Ye Who Enter Here". The moment I see text like "Weapon that ignores 1 point of Armour", before anyone's told me what Armour is, the crash-zoom effect from Death Rides A Horse plays in my head. This is a personal peeve. Inside cover tables are a best practice.

The license is broad and sensible, and seems to inspire people.

There's a big backgrounds table (d66). You start with basic adventuring gear.

Side Note: Starting With Basic Gear
Call me old fashioned, but I don't really like gear packages or adventurers kits. They're convenient as heck, and for games where inventory and resource management are less of a concern it's perfect, but for more dying-in-a-hole-for-gold game I prefer to pass around the price sheet and rely on player skill.

Because it is a skill to check if someone's remembered to buy a latern. It is a skill to make do with scavenged gear. An adventuring kit implies that there's a correct way to adventure. This is the optimal package. But it might not be.
Troika! Backgrounds
My god, there are a lot of them. And people keep making more!

Right from page 2, the core book tells you to write your own. More importantly it tells you how. Brilliant.

In the old edition (art free? I'm not sure how I got this PDF.), the backgrounds had no art. In the Numinous Edition, they've each got a piece of art. The art is nice and tasteful, but it isn't particularly useful, in that it doesn't really add much to the text. Each background now takes up 1 page and each page will only maybe be used once at character generation. So every time I reference the rules, I've got to flap over a stack of paper.

Additionally, there's no divider page between rules and backgrounds.

Side Note: Divider Pages
Magical Industrial Revolution
doesn't have many pages without table-ready text, but I insisted that each chapter have its own chapter title page. In the physical version, they're always on the right hand side of a spread, in the same format, spaced more-or-less equally through the book. They're navigational markers. Weenies.

Pages like that might seem like wasted space, but they're kind of important. They are the signposts that let a reader navigate a heterogeneous text. Images stick in the mind.
Rules are numbered. Why? The rules insist the only type of dice is a d6, then proceed to list 15 numbered rules or section. I can't roll a d15 on d6s without doing the Dreaded Mathematics. For shame, Daniel Sell. For shame. Who the heck is going to reference Rule 8.2 instead of giving a) a page # or b) the generalized description of the rule?

EDIT (for clarity): The rules text on pp. 40-70 also feels homogeneous . Skimming, the rules blend together. Heading after heading, page after page. A few pieces of art aid recognition, but there are relatively few text-based markers aside from the rules numbers, and numbers are poor signposts.

How do the rules work in play? You're asking the wrong blogger. I haven't tested Troika! at all. I rolled a d666 and I wasn't struck by lightning, but that's about it. I am not a systems person. I've watched a number of games and talked to people who have run it though.

Reading them, the text usually answers questions as they are presented. A dying character must be healed? Next paragraph, rules for healing.

The armour rules are slightly clunky to my eye. For anything frequently referenced with more than 2 options, either tabulate or bullet point. I doubt it's an issue once you're familiar with the system. Rules are explained (i.e. there are "Why" sections). That's cool.


Spells are listed in alphabetical order, but aren't numbered.
Why are rules numbered but not spells? Rolling for a random spells (on a scroll, a wizard, a dark brain-engine) is actually useful.

EDIT: There's a spell table on the inside cover that I didn't see. Shame on me.


It's short, but a quick table of contents with page numbers would still help. If I'm looking for a Zombie, I don't want to flip all the way to Z to find out it's not listed. I want to look at one page and see that there's no Zombie, but Living Dead is listed. The descriptions are great and the stats are elegant. There's a useful table of monster moods with each monster, but a few are bit dull; some of the entries for some monsters seem repetitive. It's hard to spread 4 decent ideas into 6 decent ideas.

Art Quality
Highly consistent, vibrant, and neat.
Look, last time I did a review I said the art was good and people ended with weird impressions. So yes, the art is good, but I Cannot Into Art. I was not blown away or underwhelmed. I was moderately whelmed.

PDF Optimization
It might be the Dubonnet talking, but some sections have different background colours that can't be disabled via layers, making home printing difficult. Optimize your PDFs, humans! The PDF also loads very slowly while scrolling for some reason.

Viability of Long Term Play

To repeat, I haven't run Troika! or even tested it in a one-shot. 35/133 pages (31%) are devoted purely to character backgrounds. There are lots of one-shot play reports out there. Multisession reports are sparse, but they do exist. Some math-based humans have pointed out Troika!'s core d6 system might suffer under repeated rolls. The leveling system is less about motivation and more about reinforcement. As with any system, players with strong and complex goals will help drive longer games.

Backgrounds are loaded with flavour. They immediately grab people.Their vibrant, irreverent, and intriguing nature dominates most reviews. This has its pros and cons. Flavour fades fast. Rolling up a Troika! character is like biting into a new and delicious pastry; eating that pastry week after week, month after month doesn't seem to appeal to many people. .

That's not nessesarily an issue, but it's something to be aware of when you're picking a system. Do you front-load on superb character generation and backgrounds, or spread the goodness out over a longer play period? What's right for your group and style? How often do you expect to roll to find out?

How Likely Is It That This Book Will Be Burned As A Satanic Object

Moderately likely. Intermittent dick-wizards.

Is This Book OSR?

Fucked if I know. Fighting Fantasy has pedigree. The backgrounds seem to reward item-based problem solving. Compatibility seems to vary.

$12 for a PDF of the Numinous Edition, though it's probably on sale. There's a bundle that contains... things? Not sober enough to examine. EDIT: More bundles. Physical copies here.

Final Notes
Troika! is a fun, hackable, fairly rules-light game. A setting is vaguely implied but never stated. The ideal use-case seems to be a one- or two-shot systemless dungeon or adventure; heavier than Kobolds Ate My Baby but lighter than B/X. People say it also pairs well with fun dungeons like The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros.

Electric Bastionland

Electric Bastionland is Chris McDowall's updated version of Into the Odd. Since it's currently being Kickstarted, this review is based on a mix of Into the Odd and previews. You've been warned four times. Shoo!

The original Into the Odd assumed you knew... pretty much everything about D&D-type RPGs. Maybe even a bit more. Full terms from page 1, no intro, no context, just rules and guidance.

The system uses 3 condensed stats (Strength, Dexterity and Willpower) instead of the traditional D&D 6. This makes cross-compatibility with other OSR products slightly harder, but still easier than Troika!.

Backgrounds have a gimmick. They're HP derived. High HP, worse items. Low HP, better items. It's neat and symmetrical, but it also shows where the system is focused. Electric Bastionland has 100 backgrounds. Each background is a 2-page spread. The book is ~300 pages long. You do the math.

The backgrounds are cool and evocative, and that's clearly what the Kickstarter is focusing on. All the ones I've read immediately make me want to roll up a character, which is the point... but it's also a concern. Much like Troika!, if the bulk of the book is devoted to material you'll only use once, at character generation, how suitable is the material for long-term play?

HP correlated to starting items. In most 5+ session games, how critical is the starting item to everyday play? Compare that to one-shots.

I totally get why Chris wants each background to be a 2-page spread. The art is lovely. It helps build the implied setting. It's consistent. It's natural. It's smooth. But it's still ~120 words for 2 pages. That's a huge cost. It's reflected in the book's price tag and shipping. You're paying for an awful lot of ink that's sitting dead on the page instead of springing to life.

Side Note: Page Weighting
In a novel, all pages have the same weight. In nonfiction books, footnote, endnote, map, or illustration pages might be referenced more than a text page.

But in an RPG, density is all over the place. A background gets referenced once, at character generation. The rules page might get referenced every session. Optimizing layout to avoid flipping through dead pages is critical, the ease of PDFs often makes authors forget this step.Two crucial elements might be separated by 20+ pages of bulk.

There's another level. If your system has 1 page on dungeon exploration and 1 page on goat farming, casual readers might be tempted to think your game places equal weight on both, when in reality most sessions will be spent on the minutiae of hoof-rot and wet feed, with dungeons as an intermittent distraction available to one fringe class.

It's an issue that's hard to avoid, but it's worth considering when you're laying out a book. In play, pages have different weight. On a first readthrough, they all weigh the same.
Physical weight is important too, as mentioned in the Troika! section. I believe Chris is working on a method to avoid having to flap over 200+ background pages to get between everday rules sections, so that should be fine, but it's still a concern.
Side Note: Highly Amorphous Settings
I don't like 'em.

RPGs have a shared conceit. A number of otherwise fairly sensible humans get together and pretend that a world that exists only in their heads is real, or at least sort-of real.
This is hard when the rules that govern the imaginary world are explicitly ambiguous. I don't mean rules as in game rules, like how hard it is to hit an orc. I mean rules as distance, time, space, theme, and tone.

And stakes. Why is Age of Sigmar so watery compared to Warhammer Fantasy? Because the world of Age of Sigmar isn't real. It's an amorphous collection of abstracts. Floating cities and chaotic realms. Exploding continents instead of forests. Rivers of blood instead of rivers of river. For all its faults, Warhammer Fantasy was a mirror of real-world history, in all its richness and relatability. 

There’s no timeline, no history, no reading comprehension exercise to undertake before you get started with play. Instead, the setting of Bastion is communicated through Spark Tables: lists of random events, characters, locations, and items all written around the central themes of the game. These Sparks keep the city in a constant state of flux, and no two excursions into the mad streets (or the treacherous underground) will be the same.
-Electric Bastionland Kickstarter
Bastionland, as far as I can tell from the previews and blogposts, is a chaotic ur-city, a protoplasmic urban 'scape. Its broadness tries and, in my opinion, fails to evoke much of anything. While trying to be general, it becomes watered down; a city where the stakes don't matter because the stakes are explicitly pointed out as fatuous constructs. The book can't help but lean against the cardboard scenery. Troika! has bumble-logic; Bastionland lacks even that folk-tale stopgap.

By rights, I should like Bastionland. It compliments Magical Industrial Revolution like chocolate and orange; games run using both should be spectacular. But the implied setting just feels like a collection Capitalized Nouns instead of a real place. Not sure if this is really an issue or if it's intentional design.
All the rules fit on 2 pages. These two pages, in fact. Fitting your rules onto 2 pages is great.

Compared to traditional D&D, the rules are a little bit weird. The combined pick-the-highest-result damage and attack rolls are probably the single highest barrier to compatibly with other products.

They also feel... very gamey. Does that make sense at all? Somehow, rolling a bunch of dice and picking the highest number shown feels less diegetic than rolling once dice and relaying the result to the GM. Could be personal. Not sure.

Maze Rats is a rapidly mutating strain of Into the Odd that's mostly tables. Good tables.


Haven't been previewed yet, but are probably similar to ItO's Oddities. Item-based problem solving writ large.


ItO's bestiary fit on one page and was, in my opinion, pretty mediocre. Some new ideas, some basic ideas expanded at length, no guidance, and no indexing. Some were more like traps or environmental effects than beasts. No idea what Electric Bastionland's will look like, or even if it will have one.

Art Quality

Electric Bastionland seems to be wholly illustrated by one artist (Alec Sorensen). I like it. It's consistent, tidy, and well done. Heavy use of black ink to define space is not ideal for a product people might want to print at home, but so it goes.

PDF Optimization
Still in progress, I'd imagine. ItO was optimized by 2015's standards. Let's hope Electric Bastionland does better.

Viability of Long Term Play

The advancement system is based around Scars. If I'm reading the draft rules correctly (no guarantees! You should've been warned!), Scars are accumulated by dropping to exactly 0 HP. Not the most OSR advancement system. Why reward failure? Staying at comfortably high HP requires skill. ItO was even more basic; as you level up, only your reputation changes.

It seems, vaguely, like ItO and Bastionland characters start off good and slowly get whittled away. Perfect for short term play or West Marches games; less viable for long-term games.

Compared to Troika!, I've also seen fewer ItO / Bastionland hacks out there in the blogosphere. Could just be a perception issue. Could also be that the background system is slightly less modular. Who knows. I am not an expert.
EDIT: turns out they're just trickier to find. Here's a link to a collection of adjacent material.
Side Note: Write More Play Reports
A small percentage of people who run games write about them online. It's valuable data. If you've got a blog, even the most intermittent summary or play report helps.
How Likely Is It That This Book Will Be Burned As A Satanic Object?
Less likely. Probably rated PG, even.

Is Electric Bastionland OSR?
Again, fucked if I know. Probably? While I'm not sure the core gameplay loop promotes clever play, it does seem to fit the Ten Commandments.

Final Notes
Electric Bastionland is (going to be) a fun, focused, relatively rules-light game. An amorphous mixed-up tech-based urban setting is implied. The ideal use-case of the new book is up in the air, but I suspect shorter games or open table / West Marches games (where the adventuring company / job board exists but players drop in or out) will suit the system nicely. Shane Liebling's playtest sessions of Magical Murder Mansion were run in a playtest version of Electric Bastionland and they seemed to work pretty well.

Final Final Notes

Should You Buy These Games?
For the third time, fucked if I know. If you can afford it, sure. If not, no. Both seem to be great for one shots, convention games, OSR intros, or games where rapidly generating a new and evocative character is the goal. Both books are pretty. Both are written by what seem to be fairly decent human beings. Both are well worth examining from a design standpoint, and have plenty of good tools that can be used in many games.

But for long term, month-after-month play, I'm deeply skeptical about both systems. The downside of background-loaded is that the characters can grow stale. Having tasted one delicious and perfect background, players desire another. Like soft sugary fruit candies they melt away after a few moments of exquisite flavour. Both games weight backgrounds heavily. I like foregrounds.This isn't a flaw in the systems. It's a choice.

Post complaints below. This review was mostly an excuse to write the side notes.

Also, note to self, don't write while drunk and edit while sober. It never seems to work.


OSR: 1d1000 Mutations

I've created a PDF of my 1d500 Biological and 1d500 Supernatural mutations. About a quarter of them were significantly edited, rewritten, or replaced. Most purely mental mutations are gone. Others were revised based on playtesting. Some are minor, some are major, and a rare few are deadly. All, I hope, are interesting.


The PDF also a condensed mutation table, guidance on applying mutations, and a few other useful tips. It's the biggest mutation table... in the world. Not really.
With thanks to:

Elf Maids & Octopi (indexed here).
Scrap Princess (Monster Manual Sewn From Pants) (table 1 and 2)

Arnold Kemp (Goblin Punch)

Arnold's post covers why mutations are great. This list is also suitable for creating degenerate quarter-lings for Ultraviolet Grasslands or the effects of thaumic fallout from Magical Industrial Revolution.If you like this sort of thing, try Red Box Vancouver's The Metamorphica. More mutations!


OSR: Unofficial Ultraviolet Grasslands Filmographic Appendix N

What a title! Probably worth a fair few points in Scrabble.

The Ultraviolet Grasslands are neat, but the book isn't player-facing. Sure, players can flip through and see the pretty pictures, but some of those pictures contain spoilers for content. Not a huge deal, but a sense of discovery is important.

I'm working on a 40k-style intro blurb for my players. Something that explains who they are, what they're doing, the tools they have available, and the general tone and language of the setting. Finding adjacent films is part of that. Adjacent music is available.

I sent Luka a list of films, he sent one back, they've been mashed together. Nothing is official. Some films Luka sent back haven't been included because they felt slightly general (e.g. Alien is a great film, but is it a UVG film? Who knows.) Your mileage may vary.

Core Anticanon

A.k.a the two films Luka picked as most useful when I asked him.
-Heavy Metal (1981) 

Heavy Metal, taken in sections, has very little to do with the Ultraviolet Grasslands, but as a whole, and for being a snapshot of Heavy Metal magazine, it's a decent introduction to the genre. There's probably a little nostalgia here too. From a modern perspective, where D&D isn't just for white men from Wisconsin, it's also got a few faults.

Plot Summary: An evil orb called Loc-Nar shows six short films: a dystopian New York crime drama (see: Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, etc.), a teenage fantasy where all problems are solved by sex and/or violence, a sci-fi escape any Rogue Trader would be proud of, WWII with zombies, a sci-fi alien invasion that becomes a robot sitcom, and Taarna of Gor and/or Red Taarna (basically).

 -Zardoz (1974)
Ultraviolet Grasslands makes Zardoz a better film. Not exactly a good film by any means, but it places it in a larger and more interesting context. If your players have (heaven help them) watched Zardoz, it'll save them a lot of time. If not, organize a double feature with Mad Max: Fury Road and they'll be completely ready.

Plot Summary: bored telepathic post-humans in a force-field enclave mess with the primitive outsiders via a giant floating stone head, a hokey religion, and regular deliveries of guns. In a long-term plan to end their tortured existence, the mutant Zed (Sean Connery in very small red pants) is educated, captured, manipulated, and set loose to smash both the all-powerful crystal Tabernacle and the society's decadent structure. Much like Heavy Metal, Zardoz isn't exactly a bastion of feminist ideals (Note: UVG is significantly better about this than its film antecedents). It also feels three hours long. You've been warned.

High-Octane Brain Fuel

Films that, to me, cover the experience of what a game set in the Ultraviolet Grasslands could involve. Wandering around, running into strange situations, glimpsing cultures from a distance, cutting deals, and running away.
-Fellini's Satyricon (1969)
-Easy Rider (1969)
-The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
-Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

Prospect (2018)

The Grasslands (a.k.a. What In The Fuck Is Going On Here?)

Films that capture a sense of the environment, the strange inhabitants, or the eerie ruins of the Ultraviolet Grasslands.
-The Wizard of Oz (1939) + Return To Oz (1985)

-Кин-дза-дза! /  Kin-dza-dza! (1986)
Special mention because you probably haven't heard of this film. It's great. It's probably the best sci-fi film I've seen in the past decade. The characters are wonderful and, crucially, very different than what you'd expect. Nobody panics. Nobody holds the idiot ball longer than necessary. Much like Prospect, a small budget goes a very long way when paired with a great story and a solid cast.

The whole film, in gloriously restored colour, is available for free on youtube. I strongly suggest going in blind. No plot summary, no spoilers.

-Lessons of Darkness (1992)

Technobarbarians of the Ruined Earth

Everything that can happen has happened three times already, including world unity.

-The Time Machine (1960)
-Beneath The Planet of the Apes (1970)
-The Omega Man (1971)
-Logan's Run (1976)
-Wizards (1977)
-Stalker (1979)
-Thundarr the Barbarian (1980–1981) (TV series)
-Mad Max 2 (1981)
-Conan the Barbarian (1982)
-Yor, Hunter from the Future (1983)
-Posetitel Muzeya / Visitor to a Museum (1989)
-Bunker Palace Hotel (1989)
-Hardware / Mark 13 (1990)
-The Postman (1997)
-Six String Samurai (1998)

Drugs, Bright Colours, and Exceedingly Weird Shit

-El Topo (1970)
-The Holy Mountain (1973)
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-Beyond the Black Rainbow (2011)
-Annihilation (2018)

Jean Giraud / Moebius -esque

-Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
-The Fifth Element (1997)
-Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets (2017)
-The Zero Theorem (2013)

General Science Fiction

-Forbidden Planet (1956)
-Barbarella (1968)
-2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
-Dark Star (1974)
-Pilot Pirx's Inquest (1978)
-Dune (1984)
-Red Dwarf (1988–) (TV series)

Any other suggestions? Working on your own intro? Post a link in the comments.