5 More Stupid yet Robust Games for Video Calls

Back in 2020, I came up with a list of 10 games designed for socially distanced gatherings. Turns out that 2021 isn't much different. Oh well.

(And I doubt next year will be better, because it's 2020 too! Ah ha ha ha! Ah hah. Haaa.)

I used up most of my best concepts in 2020, but here are 5 more games to add to the list. They've all been tested.


  • Will work over video chat.
  • Cannot require special items, applications, or elaborate preparation.
  • Cannot rely on the physical fitness of any participants.
  • Are not intellectually challenging.
  • Are sufficiently ridiculous that anyone who gets overly competitive will feel a bit silly, yet still retain a degree of competition.

Each Participant Will Need: Several sheets of paper, a marker, and a pen.
Each Household Will Need: A ruler or tape measure, and an umbrella, rolling pin, or walking stick.

A marker is easier to see when held  up to a camera. Pencils will not work; they're too hard to see. The ruler/tape measure and umbrella/rolling pin/walking stick keeps people guessing and promotes interest in the game. Ooh, what have they got planned?

The games work with up to 20 people, though anything past 10 results in moderate chaos from time to time.

The person organizing the games should commit to them knowing full well they'll look like a damn fool. The organizer can participate in most of the games.

If you've got one uncle who flipped a card table when they lost a particularly close card game, or an aunt who hasn't had fun since 1952 and has no intention of starting now, these games simply won't work. Arguments should be fun, self-aware and performative, not actual fights. As with any game, you need a certain type of relaxed group.


11. The Folded Creature Game

This game depends on 1. The Category Challenge from last year's list and a separate piece of paper. It should be played before the items on the list are revealed or compared.

Depict the second animal on your list using a piece of paper. You cannot draw on your piece of paper, but you can fold it, cut it, or tape it. You have 90 seconds starting now.

Taking it in turns, show your animal to the group. Everyone writes down their guess. You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies your animal. Anyone who correctly identifies your animal also gets 1 point.

The joy of the category challenge is realizing you've put yourself in a terrible position. It wouldn't be as fun if the host gave everyone a list of animals. 

Moving your folded animal to assist the judge is technically cheating... but it also leads to lively debate and adds to the fun. Making noises is beyond the pale. You can also try this with the other categories (machines, foods, or musical instruments), though it will be more difficult.

12. The Hand Arrangement Game

This game also depends on 1. The Category Challenge from last year's list

Taking it in turns, arrange your hands so that they resemble the third animal on your list. You cannot move your hands once they are arranged. Everyone writes down their guess. You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies your animal. Anyone who correctly identifies your animal also gets 1 point. 

This game works well with the other categories (machines, foods, or musical instruments). It's basically shadow-puppets, but without the shadow bit. Everyone cheats and wiggles their hands; it's inevitable.

13. The Most Comfortable Chair Game

Draw the most comfortable chair. You have 90 seconds. You cannot write letters. 

Taking it in turns, show off your chair. Players vote on the most comfortable chair. The winner gets 5 points.

Vaguely based on the prize task in Taskmaster S4E7. Soliciting votes (by extolling the chair's virtues, by threats, or by strategy) adds to the hilarity of the game.

14. The Modified Portrait Game
This is a variant of 4. The Portrait Game

Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw a portrait of one person you can see on this video call. You cannot use your dominant hand. You cannot write letters.

You get 1 point for each person who correctly identifies the subject of your drawing. However, if everyone correctly identifies the subject of your drawing, you get no points.

You have 30 seconds starting now.

The same suggestions and drawbacks apply, but this variant adds a bit of bluffing and deliberately misleading details.

15. The Spaceship Game
This is a variant on 10. The Monster Drawing Game.

Using a marker and a piece of paper, draw the spaceship I am going to describe. You have 2 minutes to draw the spaceship, starting from when I start describing the spaceship. I will not stop or repeat myself.

My magnificent spaceship has a spherical crew module and three windows. It has a hydrogen fuel tank and an oxygen fuel tank, and two rectangular solar panels, and one more window, and two round solar panels, and a long truss made of triangles. 

It has one big engine and two smaller engines. And it has a spare oxygen tank. And it has a spider-shaped antenna. And an escape pod that looks a bit like an ice cream cone. And the escape pod has a round solar panel. And it has a cube-shaped cargo pod on the end of the truss.

And it has a really cool name, painted on the side. It was sponsored by the USA and Russia and China and Australia, and it is leaking air, and it is crashing into the moon.

Hand your drawing to someone else to mark. You get 1 point for each criteria your spaceship meets. Arguing is permitted. Maximum of 20 points.

Criteria (1 point each):
[Read out loud and get people to put a checkmark for each criteria met, then collate the totals.]

Spherical crew module?
1 Hydrogen tank?
2 Oxygen tanks?
2 rectangular solar panels?
3 round solar panels?
1 triangular truss?
Cube-shaped cargo module on the end of the truss?
1 big engine?
2 small engines?
Spider-shaped antenna?
Escape pod that looks like an ice cream cone?
Total of # windows?
Really cool name?
USA flag?
Russia flag?
China flag?
Australia flag?
Leaking air?
Crashing into the moon?
Sufficiently magnificent?

Taskmaster task reference (UK S10E09). Pause while describing the spaceship to let people catch up. Really relish each word.

Final Notes

Designing games for video calls is tricky. The constraints make a lot of traditional games impossible. It's a fun challenge, and I'm sorry this year's list aren't quite as good as last year's. Still, more games means more options. Enjoy!


OSR: 1d20 Ludicrous Taxes

My thoughts on taxes in medieval-ish settings remain controversial. So it goes. Here are some more taxes.

Paranatural (edited)
States traditionally tax things for two reasons. 

1. To discourage something, as part of a broader policy. The state doesn't want everyone to wear imported fabric when local fabric will do, so imported fabric is heavily taxed.

2. To raise revenue. Raising existing taxes is often difficult. Rates are set by tradition; adjust them and people might rebel. New taxes are safer. The state doesn't care how many windows you have. Windows are just a convenient measurement of building size, occupancy, etc... until people start making buildings without windows. 

The second method leads to ludicrous or counterintuitive taxes. If a thing is legible to a state, it has been taxed at some point. To make a setting weirder (but never as weird as real life), take a thing and imagine how a slightly disorganized state would tax it. The more legible, the better. Counting is very legible. Weight and volume are tricky. Emotions, names, etc. are next to impossible.

People will try anything to get out of paying taxes. I remember a vague quote I can't source that goes something like, "Since the poor cannot pay, and the rich will not pay, the burden falls ever on the middling sort." For more information (and things to argue about), see Seeing Like A State (Scott, 1998) and/or The Art of Not Being Governed (Scott, 2009).

1d20 Ludicrous Taxes

1. Distance Tax
Pay for perspective. The state is shrouded in a fog-like effect. Pay to wear an amulet that grants 10', 50', 100', etc. of clear air. Peasants navigate by ropes and painted floors; the rich display art on billboards. Amulets expire monthly.

2. Language Tax
The state wants polyglots. The more languages you can demonstrate, the less tax you pay. Monoglots have to wear a special hat (and pay for it, of course). With fluency in five or more languages, you are exempt from the salt tax and road tax, but have to spend an hour a week instructing the youth (who will lob spitballs at you with unnerving accuracy).

3. Sword Tax
To discourage violence and rebellion, swords are heavily taxed. Maces, bows, cannons, tridents, etc. are not as heavily taxed. Outlandish weapons proliferate. Desperate tax inspectors search for anything that could potentially be a sword, including cutlery, daggers, elves (around the ears), etc.

4. Gravity Tax
Pay up or float off. Your local Civic Mage pours some gravity into you every Thursday if you've paid your taxes. If not, gravity fades over a few weeks until you drift upwards like an untethered balloon. Peasants wear lead shoes and shuffle. Misers and the elderly bounce around indoors, eating off the top of wardrobes. Maybe the entire state is inverted?

5. Vwl Tx
Xpnsv. Brdn flls mstly n wrtrs. Xprmntl vwls.

6. Left Turn Tax
Inspectors on every street corner directing traffic and collecting coins. Continual urban smuggling. Pedestrians unaffected unless carrying more than 20lbs; relay chains sometimes employed on market days.

7. Stair Tax
A prosperity tax without the need for accurate records (in theory). Promotes sprawling buildings, or, where that isn't possible, ladders and bucket elevators.

8. Hat Tax
Hats (or at least some form of head covering) are mandatory (and vital, given the local climate). Arguments over what constitutes a hat, what materials are allowable, etc. dominate all discussions. Hoods are popular among the peasantry, as they are taxed as shirts. Among the nobility, enormous convoluted constructions or shoes with head-sheltering backs proliferate. Tax inspectors are fed up and have started attacking milliners in the dead of the night.

9. Height Tax
The state wants tall soldier-citizens. The state doesn't have the right to ask a citizen to remove their footwear. I'm sure you can work out the rest. Epidemic of broken ankles and bruised foreheads.

10. Frog Tax
The state hates frogs. If you have a frog on the premises, even a depiction of a frog, or even an item that could be mistaken for a frog by an overworked inspector, expect a very heavy fine. The Resistance operates frog farms, smuggles them into the homes of the loathsome nobility. Frog-hunting terriers are prized.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

11. Colour Tax
Another prosperity tax. How many colours can an inspector see when they look at your house, your clothes, or your place of work? Dyes and paints proliferate. Families choose a shade and slather it on everything. Arguments over hue and tone pit tax collectors against artists and dye-makers. Tax collectors carry painted wood chips for reference.

12. Travel Tax
To discourage emigration and searching for better work (and also to use up a surplus of strong dvangerworm cord). Citizens are assigned a home ring (iron, bolted to the foundations), and are physically tethered to it with cord. Can buy additional 100' lengths of cord for a fee. Cord colours and banding patterns change annually. Streets are a tangle. Doors have gaps. Nobles have carts with miniature houses and portable rings. Anyone without a cord is shunned or mobbed. Foreigners escorted from the border to their residence under armed guard. Lengths of cord lopped off as punishment for crimes. Maximum cord lengths sometimes tattooed on arms.

13. Nipple Tax
A convenient measure of household membership and livestock. Poultry is popular, as are snails. Mutilation doesn't get you out of the tax, but does inspire proverbs and epithets. "Nipplesnipper here doesn't want to pay."

14. Furrow Tax
Fields taxed by furrows, by walking along one end and counting the number of lines. Farmers plough in spirals, ovals, or curls. Same methodology applied to village road layout, with similar results. General cultural distaste for hard edges and terminating lines.

15. Clerical Tax
Polytheism is more-or-less mandatory, since different gods control crop growth, weather, metallurgy, commerce, travel, childbirth, etc. Each quarter, or for a special fee at any time, citizens select the number of gods they wish to invoke and pay the appropriate tax. Priests of various gods are jealous of their own portfolio, yet try to add more domains to increase revenue. Invoking a god without paying the correct tax sometimes attracts divine wrath, as the gods also get a cut (via state-sponsored rites and sacrifices).

16. Infernal Tax
Selling souls (or other services) to a select cadre of devils is culturally acceptable, but in return, the state demands its share. The devils like the arrangement (for both fiendish and economic reasons), and form a shadow bureaucracy. The state trades its share to the devils for additional benefits.

17. Pot and Bucket Tax
Any container that can contain the owner's head is taxed and stamped. Buckets, barrels, pots, and cauldrons develop elongated forms, narrow necks, or simply disappear. Massive wine and oil decanting stations on the border. Pans (with lips shorter than a thumb's breadth) are taxed as shields.

18. Sobriety Tax
Used to maintain the oligarchy. If everyone is inebriated, the sober have a monopoly on clear-headed decisions. Somewhat hampered by the need for skilled labour, the desire of the nobility to get drunk and stay drunk, and constant supply chain issues. Little streams of alcohol trickling from the rocks cause erosion. Burning braziers of herbs in public locations. Probably a bad idea, but all the reform-minded folks are absolutely smashed and can't agree on a course of action.

19. Shoe Tax
Foreign shoes are ruining the state's economy! Foreign nails, foreign leather, foreign fashions! Shoe imports are taxed, forcing most visitors to buy new shoes at the border and ceremonial burn their old footwear (or sell it to eager vendors). Nobles wear additional imported shoes on the end of their regular shoes and display dazzling cabinets of impractical footwear.

20. Tax Tax
A surcharge applied to a household or citizen's tax total, based on the number of taxes paid, the difficulty of collection, and the whims of the tax collector. A tax tax tax is applied to the tax collectors.


OSR: Unsolved Magic Problems

The wizards of Loxdon College have systematized magic. The world of enchantment is legible, via the paradigm below.

Like any decent paradigm, there are exceptions, and these exceptions keep theoretical wizards up at night. Since Endon is an industrial city, theoretical wizards are mostly ignored unless their discoveries are marketable. "Theoretical" does not nessesarily mean "stays indoors and reads all day" (though it often does), but indicates that the wizard in question does magic for knowledge, not for gain.

Unbreakable Curses

Geas-type spells are simple; a blob of spell-stuff attached to the target's soul, watching, waiting, ready to detach or detonate if certain conditions are met. A thaumic parasite, similar to a curse. The stronger the spell, the more difficult it is to disentangle without damage.  Some curses vanish into the target without a trace. There's no differentiation between the target's soul and the spell, and no possibility of disenchantment.

Some theoretical wizards believe that the soul contains echoes of its past forms, and can (under the right circumstances) undergo a sort of reversion or back-transformation. 

Plot Hooks:

  • We need you to kidnap a vampire.
  • We need you to get rid of this vampire we kidnapped. The usual methods aren't working (and it's probably our fault).
  • Are you willing to take a powerful magical oath with paradoxical wording?

Warlocks and Clerics

No law forbids the study of divine magic, but tradition - and common sense - suggest that such research is unlikely to lead to a long and fruitful life. Putting a cleric in a prismatic centrifuge tends to attract divine wrath. The vague consensus is that the mighty soul-stuff of a great power is directly bonded to a chosen vessel's soul, or dispatches specially prepared spell-creatures at selected times. Some wizards believe clerics are merely delusional wizards.

Plot Hooks:

  • We need you to capture two clerics of utterly opposed deities so we can put them in a prismatic centrifuge at the same time. Any divine punishments should cancel each other out.
  • Some scruffy-looking undergraduate wizards with a butterfly net are following you, a perfectly sensible warlock, around Endon. They think they're being stealthy.
Tomas Honz

Druidic Slow Magic

Druids threaten to destroy towns, move forests, cause floods, or withold rain. Sometimes, but rarely immediately, the threatened effect occurs. It could be coincidence, but a magically induced coincidence is still worth studying. Some effects would require megathaums of energy to produce by conventional spells, yet the druids manage it without spectacle or side-effects. A series of small spells? A massive spell, so large and diffuse that it encompasses any ground-level observers?

Plot Hooks:

  • We need you to get in a hot air balloon and fly over the secret druidic hills during the summer solstice. 
  • We need you to rescue a research team. Their hot air balloon crashed in the hills.

Power Word Spells

The classic power word trio of stun, blind, and kill, are, to some wizards, the archetypal offensive spells. Power word stun is so simple and nonlethal that it's used as a sort of magical lab rat by experimental wizards. 

Efforts to breed other power word spells always seem to fail. The lineages are remarkably stable. Minor changes in duration or effectiveness are noted, but they're well within general spellcasting tolerances. Fifty years ago, Marneus Cleept claimed to have created power word flame, but the only copy perished with him (and his tower). Power word pain attracted some attention until it was discovered to be a lightly modified power word stun.

Plot Hooks:

  • We think we've invented power word forget. You can imagine why that might be an issue.
  • Power word kill appears to only work on creatures below a certain mass or level of self-will. Why should this be so? Take this stack of wands and try killing large and dangerous creatures. Record the results in this convenient red notebook.

Non-Existent Mirrors

Illusionists access the Mirror Dimensions through mirrors and octarine light. Reflective surfaces vary, but have included water, mercury, silver, gold, obsidian, and anything else that will hold a glossy finish.

Some theoretical wizards have noted that matter itself bends light. While observing the wandering stars pass behind the sun, the crystal spheres appeared to waver, as if observed through water. The same effect was noted on the edge of spheres of annihilation, particularly ancient and well-fed spheres. By carefully positioning eight spheres of annihilation (eight chosen more for tradition than mathematics) in a ring, it might be possible to bend a beam of light back on itself, creating a mirror-without-a-mirror. No one is sure what will happen, but it could create an unlimited source of raw magic, open a stable portal to the mirror realms, or turn time and space inside-out like a dusty pocket.

Plot Hooks:

  • Please bring us any spheres of annihilation you find. Will pay top dollar, no questions asked.
  • When we added the seventh sphere, flickering mirror duplicates of objects, people, and spells started appearing on campus. We aren't sure if adding the eight sphere will fix the problem or make it worse. Place your bets. Books close at midnight.

Thomas Mahon

Bonus Content: 1d10 Ways To Get A Bunch Of People Into A Place When Only One Person Is Admitted

Originally posted in a comment on this post.

1. Portable Hole
The old classic. Sew it into the lining of your coat. Party climbs inside with a deck of cards, a few pig bladders full of spare air, and a lot of hope.

2. The Back Passage
A variant on 1. People check for portable holes, you see. So if you want to hide it, you’d better put it somewhere nobody wants to look.

3. Dream Key
A silver key on a chain. Antique, heavy. Insert it into a sleeping person’s ear, turn it, and climb into their dreams. All you need to do is time your exit, avoid detection, and avoid the (very real) dangers inside your friend’s head.

4. Waxenbeans
Eat them to turn into a tiny wax figure of yourself for 12 hours, give or take. Let’s hope the monks don’t discard material possessions before it wears off.

5. The Sigils of Conjoined Destiny
You’ll need two logs, scaffolding, rope, paint, and very trusting friends. Rig the logs up like they’re going to strike a bell, except the bell is you (all of you). Paint the sigils (carefully!) on the ends of the logs, ensuring they’ll collide at the correct alignment. Place your heads at the impact site. Release. For up to a week, or until someone catches on and unravels you, everyone hit by the hammer will be one person for the purposes of... everything. It’s difficult to say if you have one body or several bodies, because you’re also subject to the same entanglement.
6. Reduction To Essential Salts
Requires a lot of trust a tolerably dry environment. Not anyone’s first plan.
7. The Lover’s Gate
One of those ridiculously forlkoric spells every hedge mage claims to know, but which most can’t cast. It’s an old spell, probably older than language. Calls a willing person to your side no matter where they are, provided you have mixed your blood with their blood (or the folkloric equivalent, if you get my drift). Has the baffling tendency to punch through wards, antimagic fields, glamours, and time itself, but only temporarily. The summoned person slowly feels themself drawn back to their origin. For the first few minutes, walking is easy. Then it feels like walking uphill. Then a run. Then a sprint. Then striving against a hurricane until they are torn away, tumbling, back to whence they came.

8. Living Tattoos
For two fat hogs and a barrel of red wine, there’s a man down Treacle Alley who will put you in a flask and tattoo you onto a person’s skin. You can run around in that warm flat world until someone draws you out with a lodestone. No refunds.

9. Dimensional Shivering
The Illusionists invented this once accidentally. You’ll need two full-length mirrors (and I do mean full length, unless you want to lose your feet), a source of octarine light, and ginger (for the nausea). Fold yourself flat. Your friend then rolls you up and slips you into a cigar or a belt. Unfolding yourself is a trickery process, requiring a quartz prism and octarine light (or, in a pinch, sunlight, though you’re likely to come out greyscale for a few weeks).

10. Thomas Contagion
Anyone who eats a piece of Thomas Infolded can, until their spiritual immune system kicks in, ingest other people, in the same manner as Thomas Infolded. Unless you can hover, you’ll also take on their mass and ailments. Imagine they’re standing on the soles of your feet, but upwards. When your body decides that this is wrong and kicks the interlopers out, expect a lot of mess and turmoil.


40k: Deconflagrators, Trenchers, and Sump Pirates

Here are a few of the 40k projects I've been working on.
A Deconflagration Wagon and towed Surfactant Cannon.

The Deconflagrators

Fire is a constant threat in any hive or voidship. At the banshee wail of a conflagration alarm, citizens rush to the scene, some to help (by custom, by altruism, from fear of punishment, or for the sensible fear that their own dwellings may be next), some to loot, and some to watch. In organized districts, ancient companies of Deconflagrators arrive to smother flames in toxic foam. Sheathed in coolant-suits, they stride into the fire to rescue citizens, vital documents, or relic-engines. 

Some, corrupt or addled, set fires themselves, either to extort pump-tithes or from boredom. Some worship the Emperor Pyrolyzed in secret ceremonies. But most are hardy, true, and battle-scarred. Frostbite from coolant breaches fuse with blisters from combusting parchment and chem-stacks. Ears and fingertips go first. "A ten-finger jack" is their cant for novice, a "elbow-jack" for a veteran, as their skin all-over resembles the wrinked folds of an elbow.

A Ten-Finger Jack, two Elbow Jacks, and a Hydrant Imperialis.

Deconflagrators shun plasteel, synthrubber, and any material that melts with heat. Iron weave and ceramic are their allies. Some wear wax purity seals designed to burn and release prayers and healing incense. Some cast seals in precious tungsten. 

Positions are hereditary, but deaths are exceedingly common, so foundlings and by-catches are frequently inducted and adopted. Moral hypnoconditioning drives many mad; criminals hoping to escape their past behind an anonymizing helm and a reputation for selfless deeds sometimes find their refuge worse than any prison. Hardened gangers and degenerate mutants still give the Deconflagrators a degree of respect. They care not from whence the fire sprang, only that it dies.

Krieg-Pattern Mk. II Trenching Support Vehicle

Designed to rapidly create a deep and sturdy trench, the Krieg-Pattern Mk. II Trenching Support Vehicle (sometimes known as a Bullock) is based on the ancient Land Crawler chassis. The tempermental machine spirit of the bucket-wheel excavator must be constantly propitiated by Enginseers and lay-brothers alike, giving the entire machine a shrine-like aura in the minds of many Krieg soldiers.

With a single front-mounted heavy bolter and minimal armour, the Krieg-Pattern Mk. II Trenching Support Vehicle is not designed for front-line combat.

Necromundan Sump Pirates

Necromundan Sump Pirates do not exist. There is no law that specifies their non-existence (for any such law would have to refer, however obliquely, to the Sump Pirates), nor does it appear to be a custom or ancient rite. It is simply taken as a fact. Their appearance in an underhive settlement provokes bewildered panic, as if fairies and trolls had invaded the a modern Atheists conference. They can't be here. They can't exist. And yet, here they are, stealing your housewares and moveables, then clambering into the gloom. In their wake, explanations proliferate like fungi on a corpse. The survivors blame anyone but the Sump Pirates, who, of course, do not exist. 

These vehicles are still in the early WIP stages.
Sump Striders are the most common vehicles the Sump Pirates possess. Capable of climbing hive stacks, swimming through ash lakes or toxic ponds, or scuttling along buried roadways, these vehicles allow the Sump Pirates to raid anywhere in the hive.
The enormous Sump Strider is the capital vessel of the Sump Pirates. Some burglars loot upper stories with ladder and rope. The Sump Strider provides a more direct method of horizontal wealth transfer.