Posted in Misc.

Arkfall Quickstart Resources to Celebrate New Game Day

Today is 2/2 and is the very first New Game Day. In honour if this celebration, I’ve released some quick-start and quick-play resources for my new rules-light science-fantasy game – Arkfall. If you’re looking for a new game, Arkfall is one you can get for free and play immediately.

Want to know more about Arkfall? Check out my original Arkfall post, or just download Arkfall for free.

To help players get started super-fast, I’ve made the Quick & Dirty Heritage Generator which randomises and speeds up one of the slower (but fun!) parts of character generation.

And for the GMs, Finding Work on Arkfall is a handy one-page reference lets you generate jobs on the fly for the players. It even includes a table for what happens if they don’t take the job.

Here are some Google Drive mirrors if any of the above links don’t work (and these following links will always be up to date, thanks to Google’s re vision system:

Posted in Misc.

Arkfall – Science-Fantasy World of Dungeons Hack

Download Arkfall

Arkfall is post-apocalyptic science fantasy World of Dungeons/Mutants featuring Planarch Codex heritage moves.

The World Ark was a massive starship that harvested beings and shards of reality from countless worlds. Then it crashed and all that was strewn and mingled across this vast new planet. Since then, the inhabitants have bred and generations have passed. People have rebuilt and old worlds and cultures combine, clash and evolve. Everyone (including the PCs) has weird mixed heritages. Nanites are used as currency and levels of self-augmentation are one thing they can be spent on.

Some features:
– uses heritage moves to make bizarre PC races
– dead magic world, but technology emulates magic
– levelling up is not mandatory; instead of XP and coins, nanites are currency your characters can spend on stuff, including levels of self-augmentation
– includes a list of chems and their effects
– lore skill reskinned as ‘culture’ to emphasise that anything worth knowing on Arkfall has cultural significance to someone
– includes a few starting scenarios, quests and jobs
– includes an example move for PC flashbacks

If you read or play Arkfall or make something for it, I’d love to hear your feedback (also if you spot any typos, inconsistencies or things that are unclear). Also, it’s Creative Commons (CC-BY) so if you see something you like – or don’t – go nuts, use it, change it, whatever 🙂

Huge thanks to John Harper, Jonathan Walton and Jürgen Mayer for allowing me to use parts of their awesome, inspiring creations.

Also, if you want to get in on the discussion, check out Story Games or Google+.

2/2/14 EDIT: I’ve also posted a new article containing Arkfall quickstart resources, which you can also grab below.

Posted in Uncategorized

Mages Are Radios: Tuning In To Magic Frequencies

Here’s a quick setting and magic system for a rules-light game like Fate Core or Fate Accelerated.

In a nutshell, there are spirits in various towns or islands that emit unique magical frequencies, and mages are like radios, able to tune into those frequencies.

The game is set on an archipelago where each island has a genius loci (spirit of the place) that emits a magical frequency of a particular type (fire, water, birds, the dead, illusions, strength, etc.).  Mages are attuned to the island spirit from where they were born. That spirit’s frequency is strong even when the mage travels far away from their birth island.

Usually, however, the closer a mage gets to an island spirit, the more easily they can tune in to its magical frequency. Island spirits each have a token: an item, substance or ritual that acts like an antenna for mages. Use the token and the mage can access the spirit’s signal even from afar.

This creates cool quest fodder for mages. Say a mage is born on a water-attuned island and then travels to the island of a fire spirit. All the local mages on that island have some sort of fire power and the animals and environment are even attuned to the local spirit. And in comes the water mage, able to strongly access water (though not as strongly as at home). She might be feared or hated or an object of fascination on the fire island.

Add to that the spirit quest: if water mage could be there seeking out the fire spirit’s token. Obviously that is a quest in itself. If they gain the token, then they gain fire power. Which could be useful in their travels. It could also let them make steam, by combining their powers.

You could even add to this the idea that spirits can commune with attuned mages. What if all the ice-attuned mages suddenly felt compelled to journey back to the frozen island to witness a great event that they don’t yet understand.

Islands in between other island have an overlap of powers too. So, maybe not every island has a powerful spirit, and a small island between the fire and water islands is ruled by a small steam spirit.

Finally, the technology of the setting: with the analogy of spirits and mages being like frequencies and radios, it makes sense that radios would exist in the setting itself. I imagine dirigibles in a Lady Blackbird sort of setting, tuning the ship’s radio into distress calls, weather forecasts, even spirit forecast with islands moving like planets: “Vulcanus is moving in toward the Elysian island. Beware of high fire danger in the surrounding areas”.

This is  just an idea I came up with organically, but I think there’s potential here. Feel free to use the ideas and if you do, I’d love to hear about it.

Posted in Menagerie

9 Frustrating Modern Fae

Fae were once creatures of forests and brooks. Our world has moved on and the fae have not disappeared, but adapted to modern times. Fae are capricious creatures that feed on emotion. All fae love to cause frustration, but many have a handful of favoured emotions that they prefer to feed off, though any emotion will often sate them, at least for a time.


Taggers are deviant anarchists who feed on curiosity, anarchy, unlawfulness and the flustered emotions of the uptight. Graffiti and tattoos are their speciality, and they can create ink or paint at will, but they also like carving things into desks and trees. Taggers try to emulate humans speech patterns in their graffiti, but most have only a tenuous grasp of language and grammar causing their messages to come across as if written by a sexually frustrated teenager.


Viruses, static on the line, dropped connections, and other malfunctions in machines and computers are often caused by glitches, electric fae who can manipulate data and energy. Frustration, confusion and crushed hopes are the emotions that glitches seek to elicit.


Offspring of taggers and glitches, trolls are annoying fae that spend most of their time leaving inflamatory or nonsensical messages in Internet forums, video comments and emails. They feed on frustration, annoyance, righteousness, fury and gullibility.


Bumps in the night are patient lurkers. They cause the sounds and sights in the night that make their targets paranoid: floorboards creaking, doors and windows rattling, a flicker of shadow, the shape of an unfamiliar figure in the darkness. Bumps cause all these and drink in the fear and paranoia stirred up by their prolonged scares.


Lights and electircal appliances flicker, overheat and explode, forest fires start out of nowhere, batteries leak and melt, smoke alarms go off when there’s no smoke. The sadistic sparks – derogatively called ‘firebugs’ – get off on the shock, fear and confusion their actions cause. If they create mass panic with a widespread fire, all the better.


Nothing is ever truly clean with dusties around; they wait for someone to clean and then zoom past, their powdery wings and touch covering every surface in dust again. They revel in the feelings of futility, frustration, embarrassment and shame this creates in humans.


Odd socks, missing keys and spectacles, things moved from one room to another. All these are the results of hoardlings. These fae move around houses, offices and other places full of human objects and move or steal them to frustrate, confuse and anger.


Weedies cause potholes, cracks in the pavements, and weeds in gardens and other surfaces. Weedies send up weeds in perfect flower beds, or where nothing else will grow. They also crack roads and pavements and cave them in. They mainly feed on frustration.


Scrappers cause machines to break with no apparent reason. They cause machines to suddenly start working again when someone knowledgeable approaches them, then break again once they leave. Scrappers love causing many machines in a household to break all at once, and are especially fond of breaking machines just after their warranty runs out. Frustration, confusion, rage and futility are their main sources of sustenance.

Posted in Tools & Techniques

Campaign Tips From Stargate SG-1

I’ve always loved Stargate SG-1. Recently, I’ve started re-watching it. Only light spoilers in this article. If you know about Stargate at all, you’ll know this stuff.

SG-1 ran for 10 years. It was, the television equivalent of, the long campaign. SG-1 learnt and taught a lot during their adventures. I’m only up to Season 2 in my re-watch but there are already some important lessons I’m going to try to implement into my home games:

  • Start in media res
  • Use resources and NPCs as rewards
  • Build upon past successes and failures
  • Lead with the cool, but leave room to grow

Start in media res

Stargate SG-1 often starts with the team already away on some planet, or in the midst of a fire fight. Each episode has a few minutes before the opening credits where important plot details are established.

Okay, so they’re on some other planet, they’re under fire, lots of people on the planet dead already. Sam gives mouth-to-mouth to an injured soldier and her eyes glow. Uh-oh!

They’re on some planet, Daniel touches an artefact, he goes back to Earth but nobody at Stargate Command recognises him. Uh-oh!

Some planet again. Jack touches a crystal. He passes out. Some other Jack made by the crystal emerges and goes back through the Stargate. Uh-oh!

We don’t care how they got to those planets. We often don’t care about the planet at all after the opener. Sometimes we do, but it’s not initially important. What’s important is quickly establishing the conflict, plot seed and drama of the episode (or session). You’ve got the rest of the episode to delve into details if need be, but you don’t want to watch for half an hour before getting to the point of the episode. You want some simple things:

  • Dive right into the action and get everyone excited!
  • Quickly establish the conflict of the session
  • Focus on this session’s spotlight PC, if any

Doing this gets the ball rolling and sets a tone and precedent to keep the action going. It should also result in less tangents, sidetracks and non-game out-of-character talk.

Use resources and NPCs as rewards

One of my favourites. Stargate SG-1 is really good at this.

It’s not actually all that often that the team gets a lot of resources (and never really any financial backing) from their adventures. Sometimes they get knowledge, often they get NPC contacts.

These are then used to fuel future adventures. Knowledge allows them to find other useful planets that might have even greater resources. NPC contacts can be called on in later missions for aid, or be used as deus ex deu to swoop in at the last minute.

Rank, too. Rank and title is one of the most awesome rewards in a campaign like Stargate. Being called Captain by everyone, then completing an epic and dangerous mission and being promoted to Major – and being called Major by everyone in the campaign – can have a real effect on players. It’s a reminder of how awesome they are and of past adventures.

Sometimes they do get resources, though, like a new power source or weapon or shield or healing device. I love SG-1’s treatment of this. Getting a new weapon doesn’t mean +1 damage. It means hours and hours of behind-the-scenes research the work out how that weapon can be useful to them in other capacities. It’s immediate usefulness is there too, but it’s not overpowering and the resources are always limited.

It’s not usually suddenly everyone running around with staff weapons. It’s everyone still with machine guns, Teal’c with his staff weapon and then maybe one extra staff weapon. They are rewards and they make a difference, but they don’t flatten the playing field to the point of removing the challenge or fun.

Better than new weapons, though, are new materials. Being able to build a new device from alien materials, or power a current device in a different way, or build a ship – one ship. Those are the wins I like. That one ship then becomes very precious. It’s not just, “we captured a ship now we can built infinite ships”. It’s, “okay, we managed to barely escape in this battered alien ship, now our techs will spend months working out how to make it work again, then when we do we will have to use it sparingly because it’s our only one”.

In your game you can make rewards seem big and noteworthy by limiting the pace at which you give them out and by linking them directly to the mission at hand. They’re not rewarded with a ship, they escaped by stealing it and now it’s theirs.

And that moves us into…

Build upon past successes and failures

When you blew up that enemy mothership, it was an awesome victory and you got a sweet glider ship out of it too! But, now your enemy is scared of you or vengeful and destroying the worlds you’ve saved. They’re ramping things up. What do you do?

Or, remember that time you went to the alternate reality? Well, that gate address you got there will work in this reality too. Let’s dial it and see where it takes us. And then, awesome! A site we can use as a secondary base, off-world. Future games can involve evacuations there, or the base needs help, or the team is visiting and something adventure-y happens!

All sorts of possibilities.

In a long campaign like this, too, the resources and rewards and NPC contacts gained can come back again and again, worked in different ways to create new adventures. Rather than something brand new all the time, call back to old adventures occasionally.

Players get a kick out of this and it allows you to reuse (and prep less) and show change in the campaign world by casting familiar characters (or places) in changed roles.

Lead with cool, but leave room to grow

There’s always the risk, in a cool and exciting campaign setting, of hoarding all the awesome secrets for later. I was shocked, watching the first season of SG-1 again, just how quickly the team acquires some really powerful resources.

Yet, they’re not maxed out. They’re not suddenly at the height of power. Indeed, they are “primitive” in comparison to some of the alien races.

Don’t hold back cool things. If you do, you may never use them.

Besides, if you give them some cool stuff first – drip feeding it to them through their victories – then there’s more to build on. You’ll give them something they think is pretty cool – and it will be – but then they’ll find something even cooler and then they’ll get that.

You see troops with staff blasters. Oh man, I want one. Okay, after a tough fight you end up with one. Good session! Some sessions later: oh, what, a healing sarcophagus! I want to use it. Okay, here’s a few opportunities to study and use it. Here are the side effects.

You’ve let them have some cool things, but there’s always more cool stuff down the track. If you wait three months of playing for them to get their hands on a staff blaster, how long is it going to be till they get an awesome spaceship? A year? Two? Will you be playing still by then?

Lead with the cool stuff, but at a reasonable rate and make them work for their rewards. Leave yourself room to grow and as they use their cool toys, you’ll see opportunities to make those toys even cooler or give them something that complements or even overshadows and replaces it, and that will spark new sessions to seek those new rewards.

Posted in Adventures

Pumpkin Seeds: Halloween Adventures

All Hallow’s Eve descends upon your game,
Time to mix things up, not keep them the same.
Find below three adventures scary,
Players all, ye best be wary.
GMs cackle in the night,
Prepare to give PCs a fright.

Scarecrow Jack

Jeepers Creepers. Where'd ya get those teeth?
Jeepers Creepers! Where’d ya get those teeth?

In an isolated rural town during Harvest’s End celebrations, the PCs find the body of a well-off farmer, throat slashed with a sickle or scythe, teeth and eyes removed. Soon, the crops begin to spoil and bleed, and vines and scarecrows come to life and attack villagers.

Pumpkin carving and pumpkin-head scarecrows are common now, but many have forgotten their gruesome origins. Yet some villagers whisper these attacks are the work of Scarecrow Jack, a poor pumpkin farmer who made a pact with the spirits for good harvest but then kept it all to himself. Legend has it the spirits strung Jack up with pumpkin vines, and plucked his eyes and teeth so he could not see or taste his harvest.

Scarecrow Jack is back to ruin Harvest’s End! But why now? And where is Jack?

During the chaos of a large attack, the PCs confront a hooded figure: an eyeless, toothless undead villager, able to control the vines and scarecrows.  Anyone slain and with teeth and eyes removed, becomes an undead pawn of Scarecrow Jack, soon rising – again and again – to exact Jack’s revenge, targeting those better of than Jack was in life, especially farmers.

However, the PCs notice that one of the poorest farmers in town is missing. Sensing a kinship with the downtrodden man, Jack’s spirit took over his body. The PCs must find this man and put him to rest. But he – and all villagers slain and remade in Jack’s image – will rise again until the carved pumpkins that now host their eyes and teeth are destroyed.

Darkest Dungeon

This seed is directly inspired by the trailer for the upcoming video game Darkest Dungeon.

Deep beneath the surface, the PCs traverse a dark and eerie dungeon that they soon realise is a little different than most. Natural and magical light sources barely work, flickering and casting disturbing shadows across the dank stone walls. Even night vision fails under this surely supernatural darkness. Lights sputter out and must be relit or recast, but in the intervening darkness, the dread and the horror comes.

Whispers and scurrying sounds, a brush against the leg or shoulder. The feeling of someone standing right behind you, but then the lights come on and your allies are all within sight. Psychological  horror tortures the PCs as they travel deeper into this dungeon, still encountering no monsters, but hearing sounds just around the corner.

What will they find at the deepest pit of this dark hell? Why is this dungeon so much scarier than the others they’ve seen? Is the dungeon alive? What does it want from them?

Can the PCs succeed, when the dungeon itself is the enemy? Can they fight their own fear?


Attending a noble ball, the lights flicker and a body is found on the dance floor. The victim is still breathing, enough for these last words: “Don’t trust anyone… the shapeshifter…”

Guards lock down the noble mansion, keeping all the masked guests inside until the murderer is discovered. But, as more and more people die, how can the PCs trust each other, knowing that one of their number could be the shapeshifting murderer?

Point fingers, have NPCs go a little crazy, and split the party as much as possible (and consider physically splitting the players when the PCs split up). Slip notes to each PC in full-view of the rest, just to keep them guessing. Say things on the notes, like:

  • You swear you saw the paladin was drinking… doesn’t she have a vow of sobriety?
  • Where was the rogue when the lights went out?
  • Weren’t the druid’s eyes green before?

Keep this one handy, too:

  • You have been replaced by a shapeshifter. Your PC is fine, but trapped somewhere else. Act naturally. Slide this back when alone with someone, to replace them too.

If it weren’t for the murdered victim fighting back and a shapeshifter lashing out, nobody would have realised what was happening: party-goers are being trapped in mirrors and other reflective objects. When a PC sees a shapeshifter in a mirror, roll a secret perception check. If they succeed, they see something wrong with the reflection of the shapeshifter.

Perhaps the PCs will work out what’s going on, perhaps they’ll all become shapeshifters before then. If they do, then wait a little while to let the paranoia continue, then swap perspective to the trapped PCs and see if they can escape their mirror prison to thwart their doppelgangers and free the other party-goers. Whatever happens, fun is ensured.

Other Halloween Goodies

All over the Internet, there are Halloween posts rising like zombies from a grave.

Enjoy your goodies! Now I wish you: good night, good gaming, and Happy Halloween!

Posted in Menagerie

Recreature: Gnome


Gnot the gnome you thought you gnew.
Gnot the gnome you thought you gnew.

Recreature is an ongoing series of posts re-imagining classic creatures.

Beings of roots and tubers, gnomes have a boundless and seemingly cruel curiosity when it comes to non-fey creatures of flesh. Gnomes will poke, pull, gnaw, tear, snap, crush, strangle and dismember animals and people with little to no provocation. Sometimes these attacks appear experimental, as if attempting to understand the strange flesh. Just as often, though, gnomes attack in a fury – perhaps enraged by this same lack of understanding.

Also unclear is whether gnomes need blood to survive, or just find it intriguing. Either way, they almost always stop after a kill to soak up their victim’s blood with their roots, giving their curved heads – or “caps” – their distinctive red colouration. Gnomes without red caps haven’t soaked for a while and are likely eager to do so.

Gnomes have excellent night vision and decent daylight vision, despite their eyes being apparently nothing more than puckered divots. From time to time, these sunken pits grow small white sprouts similar to the eyes of a potato. Eventually, the sprouts drop into the dirt where they will grow into new gnomes. While sprouting, gnomes fluctuate between being very elusive and carrying out quick and brutal attacks, soaking up as much blood as possible before retreating into hiding again.

The dynamics of gnome society are not very well understood; the creatures are often encountered alone but they frequently live and work together. Sprouting gnomes often remain stationery, even rooting themselves into the ground for sustenance and to heal, as all gnomes can. Other gnomes attack in groups and bring back bloody carcasses for the rooted gnome.

Gnomes often live in forests, but make their warrens wherever plants grow and the earth is not too hard. Due to mortal settlements encroaching on the forests, many a farmer has dug up a bed of carrots or potatoes only to find some sleeping gnomes. Gnomes disturbed in such a way let out an ear-piercing shriek so loud it can burst internal organs and bring most anyone to their knees in crippling pain, at least until they get over the initial shock. Gnomes also use this shriek as a last defence or a surprise attack when waylaying travellers.

Usually, however, gnomes attack with their sharp thorny teeth and claws, the latter of which are perfect for digging and burrowing. Some gnome warrens have extensive networks of tunnels which can appear overnight. Gnome colonies working together have even been known to undermine farmland and roads, causing the ground to collapse under the weight of larger creatures. One final defensive measure is the gnome’s poisonous body. Most animals know – or soon learn – not to eat gnomes, and generally give them a wide berth.

More subtle gnomes sometimes leave root-like limbs around in the hopes that animals or children won’t recognise the source of the small root before consuming it. It is rare, but there is more than one tale of a whole village falling when gnomes have sprinkled their hacked up dead or their own severed limbs in tavern stews – poisoning all who eat the food, while simply growing their limbs back later, rooted in fertile or blood-soaked soil.