B/EATDOWN: Making RPS+ work for 3 or more players

If you know Rock Paper Scissors, draws are common. Play with more than two and it’s even rarer to get a winner in one throw.

Odds of win vs tie using RPS

Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock reduces the odds of a draw with two players from 1/3 to 1/5, simply because there are more hands to choose from.

But RPSLS doesn’t really help with more than two; draws still happen more often than not. And RPSLS degrades fast if there are more than three.

Odds of win vs tie using RPSLS

In part this is because, in both RPS and RPSLS, all interactions are the same type: Rock beats Scissors, Paper beats Rock, Rock beats Lizard, Paper beats Spock, etc.

But we can take a leaf out of classical five element theory and make a distinction between the inner interactions and the outer interactions: the destroying and producing cycles.


The destructive cycle is the standard Rock beats Scissors; like Water douses Fire or Metal cuts Wood. The productive cycle is different; it’s like one element drawing energy from the other, like Fire grows stronger by eating Wood and Wood draws strength from Water.

This distinction between beating and eating only matters when playing with three or more players. When playing with two players, there’s only one interaction so it doesn’t matter if you’re beaten or eaten.

But for three or more, making this distinction means fewer draws.


This is how you use it.

  1. Three or more players thrown down hands.
  2. Remove all elements eaten by other elements.
  3. If two elements are left, remove the element beaten by the other.

I like to think of this like one element gets a power-up then rampages. Most of the time you don’t even need step 3; everything’s resolved through one element eating the next until we hit the apex consumer.

You can still draw, of course, but it’s a lot less often for higher player numbers. In a three-player game, there’s one winner more than 2/3 the time. With four players, it’s similar odds to normal two-player RPS.

Odds of win vs tie using B/EATDOWN

For those who like maths, there are more numbers at the end to enjoy.


If the throws are Rock, Spock, and Lizard, then Lizard eats Spock and Rock eats Lizard, so Rock wins! Spock doesn’t beat Rock because it’s already knocked out by Lizard eating it first.

If it’s Rock, Scissors, and Spock then we first remove Scissors (eaten by Spock, then remove Rock (beaten by Spock), so Spock wins!

If it’s Lizard, Paper, Rock, and Spock: then Paper wins because it’s the only one not eaten.


Of course, you still need to remember what does what. That’s more complicated than RPS, but it’s the same complexity as RPSLS.

In fact, there’s no change to the RPSLS pentagram; just how you resolve it. And a lot of the time you only need the arrows in the outer cycle.

Also, it doesn’t matter what the hands are: only the interactions matter. Just use whatever elements you find helpful to remember.

I like the five elements instead of lizards and spocks. Or my Five Hands variant: Crown, Sword, Peace, People, War.


Numbers, as promised.

RPSCombosWinsWin %TiesTie %
RPSLSCombosWinsWin %TiesTie %
5ECombosWinsWin %TiesTie %

blur: a system for abyssal fog

Following my post befogged: dangers of the fog, I’ve been putting together and throwing out designs to make a befogged torchbearer game work the way I want. Lot’s of churn, kind of the opposite of writer’s block.

I couldn’t find a way to make what I wanted using the standard toolbox for Torchbearer:

  • The fog is dangerous.
  • People fear entering it because those who do, never come out again.
  • Because the fog changes people, makes them dependent on the fog, makes them better in the fog, makes them into fog.
  • And the longer you’re exposed to the fog, the more it changes you.
  • But you can protect yourself from exposure with gear and other resources.

I want to avoid fog exposure piling more conditions on player characters. I’d rather it lure them into the fog again and again and ultimately undo them. What’s worked best is the core die system from Cthulhu Dark, particularly because it is easy to introduce into Torchbearer’s dice pool system.

Here’s my current working draft. Should get to playtest this soon.

This obviously leans heavily on Torchbearer, Cthulhu Dark, as well as borrowing from Jared Sorensen’s Decrepitude.


Your Blur shows how far you’ve been changed by the fog. It starts at 1.

  1. Fogbound Normal for a fog dweller
  2. Fog-blurred Minor instances of déjà vu grant +1D help testing in Fog
  3. Fog-infected Roll one die and add the result to your Blur degree to determine your infection. +1Ob Circles in Town as folk avoid the fog-infected.
  4. Fog-eater Gain a new fog-conditioning in order: fog-iron, -calm, -courage, -endurance, -tough, -balm. Also access to fog-fresh and -ghoul. +1 Lifestyle in Town as folk refuse fog-eaters (along with +1Ob Circles from being fog-infected).
  5. Fog-shade You are partially intangible. Only results of 5 or 6 count as successful Attacks or Feints in a fight. Not welcome in Town.
  6. Fog Total ontological dislocation: Retire character.

blur roll

When you are exposed to the fog, make a Blur roll by rolling a d6. If you roll higher than your Blur, add 1 to your Blur and the GM will describe how you changed hitting your new degree of Blur.

While in the fog, if you’re Blur 2 or higher, you may add your Blur die to any test. If your Blur die rolls higher than any other die, make a Blur roll.  

If your Blur ever reaches 6, you become one with the fog and are never seen again.

accumulating changes

The longer you spend in the fog, the more it changes you. If the result of a Blur roll is not higher than Blur, you may still be changed. The GM will describe how you changed based on your roll result.

  • A Blur roll of 1 or 2 has no effect, unless you’re Blur 1.
  • If you’re Blur 3 or higher, then a Blur roll of 3 means the GM rolls another infection.
  • If you’re Blur 4 or higher, then a Blur roll of 4 means you gain the next fog-conditioning in order.

removing changes

You can decrease your Blur score by leaving the fog. At the start of each phase out of the fog, roll a die. If you roll lower than your Blur score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1 and remove all changes related to that degree of Blur.

When you spend winter in town, your Blur resets to 1 and you lose all changes.


If you have protection, then you’re not exposed; e.g. plague doctor mask, scavenged mushroom mask, leathers, greased skin, magical amulet, prayer. Other things may disperse the fog’s effect: windy weather, fog-resonant bells, etc. Likewise, you don’t need to be ‘exposed’ to count as being in fog. If losing your protection would mean you were exposed to the fog, then you’re in the fog.


+1Ob Circles in Town as folk avoid the fog-infected.

Roll one die and add the result to your Blur degree. This will generate a number from 4 to 11. The first time you roll, you may choose which of the two infections you want. However, the next infection must be from the opposite category. The following time, you must take the infection from the other category, and so on.

If you ever roll and must take the same infection, remove it instead. Remove any ongoing effects (uncross Fresh, reset Might), but retain any changes already made (i.e. wise mark, sickness).

Roll result
Primary infectionAlternate infection
4Burned eyes while in fog, full light blinds you. Count as if in dim light.Bestial hunger double rations to recover from hungry thirsty.
5Eyes aglow while in fog, dim light counts a full light.Long fingers -1Ob Scavenging in fog.
6Haggard cross out the Fresh condition.Booming your voice reverberates and projects loudly, no matter how you try whisper. Can clear fog around you for one test per phase if vocal continuously.
7Webbed nostrils can recover from hungry thirsty by breathing fog. Make a Blur roll too.Scarred mark a wise as if you had just used: I Am Wise to help pass a test, I Am Wise in a failed test, Deeper Understanding, or Of Course!
8Malodorous exude fog through breath and skin, you always count as in fog. Others nearby will too unless you wear protection.Fog lung +1Ob to Health/stealth tests, except recovery.
9Predatory aura -1Ob Pathfinder or Hunter while in fog.Mucous skin can test to recover from exhausted out of camp by removing all gear in fog. Make a Blur roll too.
10Consumption start each session with Sick condition.Feeble reduce Might by 1 while in fog (minimum 2).
11Rock-ribbed +1 Might while in fog (maximum 4).Shakes free test when in camp in fog, not recovery.

Remove all infections if Blur reduces below 3. Any changes these infections have already made to the character are retained (i.e. wise mark, sickness). Ongoing effects are removed (uncross Fresh, reset Might).


+1 Lifestyle in Town as folk refuse and avoid fog-eaters (along with +1Ob Circles from being fog-infected).

If you’re Blur 4 or higher, then you can gain fog-fresh if you leave a camp in the fog cleared all conditions. Fog-fresh grants +1D for all tests in fog. Likewise, if you die in the fog when you’re Blur 4 or higher, then you may ignore all penalties for dead while in fog and while your Blur remains 4 or higher.

When you hit Blur 4 or roll otherwise roll 4 on a Blur roll, you gain new fog-conditioning. You accumulate fog-conditioning in the following order, starting with fog-iron:

  • fog-iron ignore penalties for hungry while in fog
  • fog-calm ignore penalties for angry while in fog
  • fog-courage ignore penalties for afraid while in fog
  • fog-endurance ignore penalties for exhausted while in fog
  • fog-tough ignore penalties for injured while in fog
  • fog-balm ignore penalties for sick while in fog

The Grind still works as normal. Fog-conditioning can only blunt the pain; the character will still suffer conditions. For example, if your character is hungry and thirsty on the fourth turn, even if they are fog-iron, they will still take the exhausted condition.

Remove all fog-conditioning if Blur drops below 4.


Not welcome in Town. If discovered by the Watch, immediately end town phase for all players as they are run out.

covenant dark

For a while now, I’ve noodled on designs for an RPG about powerful mages that combine forces for mutual benefit. This is inspired by Ars Magica, not to emulate its system or political game, but to explore the idea of a covenant (as an oath, a place, and magical protection) and troupe play, where games usually involve a mage sending out minions so they can stay home to further their magical studies.

I wrote an Undying hack that revolved around controlling sources of magical energy to power your magic and the internal power struggles of a Covenant at its prime.

I then developed an interesting hack of 14 days that used a calendar of seasons to focus on how a mage must juggle their responsibilities toward to their Covenant, solving crises that threaten to overwhelm the region where the Covenant is located, and the work they need to do to advance their magical power and experiments.

But what I have today is a hack of Cthulhu Dark. This aims to capture the danger and wonder of magic while using the protection of a Covenant to extend the durability of a Cthulhu Dark character beyond a single session.

covenant dark

This obviously leans heavily on the brilliant Graham Walmsley’s Cthulhu Dark and Nick Wedig’s crazy hack of it, So Now You’re A Time Traveller. It’s loosely inspired by Ars Magica.

your magician

Choose a name and an office within the Covenant. Your office should relate to an element or a school of magic. Describe them.

Take some six-sided dice: black for your Human die and Magician die, a brighter colour for your three Hubris dice and one more for the Covenant die, bigger in size if you have it.

magic is hubris

A magician reaches beyond their human grasp. This hubris takes many forms, but at its core, it is about curiosity, audacity and hunger.

Magicians start as Adepts with one Insight die to represent their curiosity, one Paradox die to represent their audacity, and one Taboo die to represent their hunger. As they gain experience, they can gain extra dice (Great and Arch) for each kind of hubris to represent their growing power and its terrible cost.

Adept magic is most akin to the work of human artisans, champions and experts; it relies on much of the same skills and abilities, refined and honed beyond comprehension. You are the best that people can ever hope to be.

Great magic is beyond what one human can achieve: in power, scale, and sheer daring. You reach beyond the limits of your human shell into a realm of greater being.

Arch-magic is stranger and more formidable. It is deeper, without precedent, and foolhardy to use. All the schools and elements of magic can be yours to control; if you will pay the price.

If Adept magic is a searing brand, Great magic is a burning forge, and Arch-magic is a volcano.

the covenant

The Covenant is a community of magicians that have agreed to work together for mutual protection and benefit. They are adepts, great magicians and arch-magicians.

The Covenant is an oath that each magician has made: a pledge of loyalty, support, and dedication to the furtherance of each other.

The Covenant is a magic spell. It is a ritual that protects the magicians from the worst of the world and other-worldly forces.

the covenant saves

If a magician’s Insight or other hubris ever reaches 6, they are undone. Or would be undone, except the Covenant magic triggers and saves them. Roll the Covenant die and return that hubris score to 5.

Your Covenant score starts at 1 and is shared by all magicians. Whenever you roll higher than your Covenant score, increase the Covenant score by 1 for all magicians. When the Covenant score reaches 6, it too distressed and collapses, never able to offer any protection again. The community, the oath, the magic must be rebuilt anew. Until then, should any magician’s Insight, Paradox or Corruption reach 6, they are undone.

strengthen the covenant

You can decrease the Covenant score by working on it to support and strengthen it. This requires supplies, people, artifacts, knowledge, and defences. This takes time and preparation. Gather resources proportionate to the Covenant score and use them up. Each time you do, roll the Covenant die. If you roll lower than the Covenant score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.


Your Insight shows how far you can see into the horror behind reality. It starts at 1.

When you see something disturbing, roll a hubris die for your Insight (Insight roll).

On an Insight roll, if you roll higher than your Insight, add 1 to your Insight and describe a revelation you now have. Add that revelation to your Dread, something you know about the nature of reality.


When you investigate something, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (Human die)
  • One die if you have at least one relevant Dread revelation and it’s not crossed-out  (Dread die)
  • If you will risk your mind by using magic to succeed:
    • One Insight die if you use Adept magic.
    • Two Insight dice if you use Great magic. Don’t roll your Human die.
    • Three Insight dice if you use Arch-magic. Don’t roll any other dice.

If an Insight die rolls higher than any other die, make an Insight roll. If you only roll Insight dice, then an Insight Die will automatically be the highest die, so you will make an Insight Roll immediately afterwards.

The highest die shows how much information you get. On a 1, you get the bare minimum: if you need information to proceed, you get it, but that’s all. On a 4, you get everything a competent investigator would discover. On a 5, you discover all that, plus something more. On a 6, you discover all of that, plus, in some way, you glimpse beyond human knowledge. This means you must make an Insight roll.

If an Insight die rolls a 6 and is higher than any other die, still only make one Insight roll.

Using magic will strengthen these results depending on the power of the magic you used. Using Adept magic, you easily discover information others struggle to obtain. You see through a person’s lies and artifice, understand their motives, and glimpse obscurities and secrets.

Once you have enough power and experience, you may use Great and even Arch-magic. Using Great magic, you discover things through incredible means. The range and breadth of your grasp are beyond the capabilities of one human. When focused, your understanding is detailed and in-depth. Using Arch-magic, you can track the untrackable, uncover the most intimate knowledge, and get practical knowledge of things far beyond the ken of most in this world.

doing other things

When you do something other than investigating, roll dice as above, except you cannot use Insight dice. Insight magic only works for investigations. Again, your highest die shows how well you do.


If anyone thinks your failure interesting, each may describe how you might fail and roll a die. If any failure die rolls higher than your roll, you fail in the way they describe.

trying again

You may reroll as often as you want. But you must have one hubris die in the reroll. For a reroll with an Insight die, you have a sudden moment of clarity about previous dark revelations. Ask a question about what is happening and expect a brief disturbing answer. Add that revelation to your Dread.

suppressing knowledge

You can decrease your Insight scores by suppressing knowledge of what you have discovered. This takes time and preparation and perfect execution. Cross-off a revelation from your Dread and then remove all traces of it in the world. If you do, then roll an Insight die. If you roll lower than your Insight score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

While you have a Dread revelation, you cannot be entirely deceived. When you would be deceived but aren’t, make an Insight roll as you see the truth through the lies.

the covenant saves

If your Insight reaches 6, you understand the full horror behind reality and leave everyday life behind. Or you would unless the Covenant protection magic triggers and recovers you. If it does, roll the Covenant die and return your Insight score to 5.

becoming a great and arch-magician of insight

When you have at least 6 Dread revelations and all are crossed-off, you have become a Great Magician of Insight and may use Great-level Insight magic. If you are already a Great Magician of Insight, have at least 12 Dread revelations and all are crossed-off, then you have become an Arch-Magician of Insight and may use Arch-Insight magic.


Your Paradox shows how far you break the rules of reality. It starts at 1.

When you dare something impossible, roll a hubris die for your Paradox (Paradox roll).

On a Paradox roll, if you roll higher than your Paradox, add 1 to your Paradox and describe something you must do. Add that action to your Future-past, something that you must have done in the future.


When you contest something, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (Human die)
  • One die if you have at least one relevant Future-past action and it’s not crossed-out  (Future-past die)
  • If you will risk your future to succeed:
    • One Paradox die if you use Adept magic.
    • Two Paradox dice if you use Great magic. Don’t roll your Human die.
    • Three Paradox dice if you use Arch-magic. Don’t roll any other dice.

If a Paradox die rolls higher than any other die, make a Paradox roll. If a Paradox die rolls higher than any other die, make a Paradox roll. If you only roll Paradox dice, then a Paradox Die will automatically be the highest die, so you will make a Paradox roll immediately afterwards.

Then your highest die shows how well you do. On a 1, you do the bare minimum: if you need to do something to proceed, you do it, but that’s all. On a 4, you do everything a competent specialist would achieve. On a 5, you achieve all that, plus something more. On a 6, you achieve all of that, plus, in some way, you reach beyond human possibility. This means you must make a Paradox roll.

If a Paradox die rolls a 6 and is higher than any other die, still only make one Paradox roll.

Using magic will strengthen these results depending on the power of the magic you used. Using Adept magic, you easily overcome challenges others struggle with. You verge on the superhuman: instantly master a skill, withstand fire, tackle a horse, leap shocking distances, slip away unnoticed.

With enough experience and audacity, you may use Great and even Arch-magic. Using Great magic, you perform the superhuman, beyond the human limits. You outpace anyone, traverse any surface, disappear from plain sight. When focused, you can form matter to use as you will and project across distances. Using Arch-magic, you can travel far, command storms, survive the heart of a maelstrom.

doing other things

When you do something other than contesting something, roll dice as above, except you cannot use Paradox dice. Paradox magic only works for contests. Again, your highest die shows how well you do.


If anyone thinks your failure interesting, each may describe how you might fail and roll a die. If any failure die rolls higher than your roll, you fail in the way they describe.

trying again

You may reroll as often as you want. But you must have one hubris die in the reroll. For a reroll with a Paradox die, your future-self masters a power or leaves an item or warning nearby to find. Look for it and it will be there. Add that action to your Future-past.

acting in the past

You can decrease your Paradox scores by doing what you need to have already done. This takes time and preparation and perfect execution. Cross-off an action from your Future-past and do what you’ve done. Roll a Paradox die. If you roll lower than your Paradox score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

While you have a Future-past action, you cannot die. When you would die but don’t, make a Paradox roll as you must have done more in the future.

the covenant saves

If your Paradox reaches 6, you are entrapped in an impossible knot of cause and effect and leave everyday life behind. Or you would unless the Covenant protection magic triggers and rescues you. If it does, roll the Covenant die and return your Paradox score to 5.

becoming a great and arch-magician of paradox

When you have at least 6 Future-past actions and all are crossed-off, you have become an Great Magician of Paradox and may use Great-level Paradox magic. If you are already a Great Magician of Paradox, have at least 12 Future-past actions and they are all crossed-off, then you have become an Arch-Magician of Paradox and may use Arch-Paradox magic.


Your Corruption shows how far you have lost your humanity. It starts at 1.

When you commit to something heartless, only considering others as means to an end, roll a hubris die for your Corruption (Corruption roll).

On a Corruption roll, if you roll higher than your Corruption, add 1 to your Corruption and describe something you now hunger for. Add that hunger to your Taboo, something you must indulge.


When you influence someone, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (Human die)
  • One die if you have at least one relevant Taboo hunger and it’s not crossed-out  (Taboo die)
  • If you will risk your humanity to succeed:
    • One Corruption die if you use Adept magic.
    • Two Corruption dice if you use Great magic. Don’t roll your Human die.
    • Three Corruption dice if you use Arch-magic. Don’t roll any other dice.

If a Corruption die rolls higher than any other die, make a Corruption roll. If you only roll Corruption dice, then a Corruption Die will automatically be the highest die, so you will make a Corruption roll immediately afterwards.

Then your highest die shows how much influence you have. On a 1, you influence the bare minimum: if you need to someone to do something to proceed, they do, but that’s all. On a 4, you get everything a competent negotiator would secure. On a 5, you secure all that, plus something more. On a 6, you secure all of that, plus, in some way, you reach beyond human grasp. This means you must make a Corruption Roll.

If a Corruption die rolls a 6 and is higher than any other die, still only make one Corruption roll.

Using magic will strengthen these results depending on the power of the magic you used. Using Adept magic, you easily have the influence that others struggle to achieve. You can confront a person and charm, bamboozle, command, or convince them to do things that are not their best interests, at least for a little while.

Once you have enough power and experience, you may use Great and even Arch-magic. Using Great magic, you can influence more folks to do things they never would or thought they could. When focused, you can even influence someone from a distance, they need merely hearing your name and see the effect of your actions. Using Arch-magic, you can influence a whole people in ways no one person should, reaching deep within their hearts, spurring them to shift their fundamental beliefs, dreams or desires.

doing other things

When you do something other than influencing, roll dice as above, except you cannot use Corruption dice. Corruption magic only works for influence. Again, your highest die shows how well you do.


If anyone thinks your failure interesting, each may describe how you might fail and roll a die. If any failure die rolls higher than your roll, you fail in the way they describe.

trying again

For a reroll with a Corruption die, someone nearby gets through to you and your hunger for more burns hot. Add that hunger to your Taboo.

indulging taboo

You can decrease your Corruption score by indulging a taboo to excess. This takes time and preparation and perfect execution. Cross-off a hunger from your Taboo and satisfy it so completely it never returns. Roll a Corruption die. If you roll lower than your Corruption score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

While you have a Taboo hunger, your Will cannot be dominated. When your Will would be dominated but isn’t, make a Corruption roll as your dark hunger prevails.

the Covenant saves

If your Corruption reaches 6, you lose the last flicker of your humanity and leave everyday life behind. Or you would unless the Covenant protection magic triggers and revives you. If it does, roll the Covenant die and return your Corruption score to 5.

becoming a great and arch-magician of corruption

When you have at least 6 Taboo hungers and all are crossed-off, you have become an Great Magician of Corruption and may use Great-level Corruption magic. If you are already a Great Magician of Corruption, have at least 12 Taboo hungers and all are crossed-off, then you have become an Arch-Magician of Corruption and may use Arch-Corruption magic.

dungeons as monsters

Aaron Griffin’s post Procedural Exploration reminded me how good Planarch Codex is and its procedural method for generating dungeons. I used it a fair bit a few years back; here’s one that I wrote up.

I’m definitely going to consider something like this for my Torchbearer game, should be perfect for exploring the fog.

Saved from G+ meltdown: 12 April 2013

So I used the Dungeon as Monsters method from the Planarch Codex DW supplement to create a warehouse in my Technoir (via Apocalypse World) game. I came up with three dangers, semi-randomly, and it all worked really well.

Madness: dominate choices XXXX
Sewers: befoul and disgorge XXX
Cliff: endanger OOXXX

One of the PCs has a flying surveillance drone “Bessy” that got badly hit by heavy-calibre rounds fired from a holy avenger’s high powered sniper rifle. So Bessy ended up crash landing in a warehouse leaking radioactive fuel.

I started tonight’s session with a couple of PCs scoping out the warehouse that stank of shit. Grey parkoured his arse to a second storey window (Cliff +1, Sewer +1).

Grey found himself on a walkaway above a huge pit dug out the length of the warehouse, 4 or 5 metres below street level, with broken pipes and filled with effluent and seething with worms.  He also spotted Block-Rockers working down there with sledgehammers, in the shit  (Madness +1, Sewer +1, Cliff +1).

Climbing a rope to the third floor, Grey crossed a room full of drugged, sick or exhausted people and has an interesting conversation with a Mind-Blower, who was smoking a peace pipe, about his mission to find the alien spacecraft (Madness +2). O yeah, he got a bucket of live worms in case he got the munchies.

Then Grey climbed the stairs into a room full of tall vats of sugar. He found Bessy wedged in the rafters and a bunch of kids dead beneath, blue-faced on her leaking radioactive fuel (Madness +1, Cliff +1).

Then Grey rolls snake eyes trying to get Bessy down and out of the building, the fire being she’d roll free and landed in the pit, deep in shit.

The sugar came in handy for dropping bags at height on Bessy’s owner when he came in, gunning down Block-Rockers and bossing people around. The proceeding battle got dangerous enough that both PCs backed off and regrouped.

Overall, Dungeons as Monsters worked, the dangers and rolling inspired me and the “dungeon” hung together well.

befogged: dangers of the fog

The Maw. The Abyss. Hell. All names of a hidden valley, smote by the gods, forever shrouded in a corrupting fog, a poisonous wound filled with unplundered treasures and terror, and a haven for those who hunger to flee the world. For a whole society of exiles, criminals, and refugees hide in its murky depths, in safe harbours carved out of the wasteland. Maybe small, overcrowded and filthy, but to you, torchbearer, they’re heaven.

Torchbearer campaign: Abyssal flames

Most outsiders consider the Abyss an uninhabitable ruin, a void. Yet people live in the Abyss, some precisely because the world avoids it.

I thought Torchbearer would be good for adventures in this region because it’s focused on exploring and surviving hostile environments. And I’m interested in discovering how the fog creates a different space of play in Torchbearer.

This is a design post where I’m working through my ideas. Comments are welcome.  


The ancient ruins of a city lie hidden deep beneath this fog. Legends say the city once shone atop these mountains, its towers a jewel at the highest peaks. Then the city was smitten, the very ground beneath plunged to where it now lies, surrounded by sheer stone walls and sealed off from the world. The ancient ruin is eternally choked with a monstrous fog, hiding terrors and treasures alike.

who lives there

I think of the fogbound as like Belters from the Expanse:

  • surrounded and connected by an uncaring void (space=fog)
  • finding safety and a home in something cobbled together (spacecraft=settlement)
  • obsessively checking their equipment and life support systems because those who don’t die.

This means that the town phase in Torchbearer would be where people have built defences against the fog: vaults, buildings, caverns and the passages between. Most of these settlements will be cramped and crowded. Resources would be limited, even the air you breath has to be paid for.

Extending the Belter analogy, I like the idea that those exposed longterm to the fog become so adapted that they can’t live anywhere else, like Belter born in space can never live safely on Earth. Maybe the fogbound become fogbreathers?


The journey between settlements in the Abyss can be an adventure in itself. There are two essential ways: through the fog or on fog-free paths.

The Abyss is no an enormous land, but it is treacherous to navigate. This means that, as the crow flies, neighbouring settlements are never far apart in the Abyss; most are a few hours walk from their closest neighbour. However, a few hours walk in the fog is a mad, terrible adventure, even for the well-prepared. PCs travelling through the fog are squarely in the adventure phase. This puts extra pressure on PCs when they’re going to a ruin or other adventure location, since getting to a safe haven will typically take a roll or two. And finding a safe camp in the fog is nigh impossible.

There are a few hard-won paths between settlements that are barricaded against the fog and its denizens. Some of these are incomplete, only providing safe passage between halfway stations; others have fallen into disrepair and been infiltrated; or where brigands and toll keepers have set up camp and harass and beset travellers. All up though, the fog-free paths are much safer. However, the paths are often indirect, tortuously narrow, and sometimes crowded, so a day’s travel often only takes you a short distance, as the crow flies. PCs travelling these paths use the Torchbearer Overland Travel Rules (playtest), so essentially use up food and resources to avoid consequences. 

Depending on how dangerous adventuring is in the fog, and on the inconvenience of the fog-free around the Abyss, this seems to offer interesting choices for the PCs. Definitely another reason not to make the fog too punishing. 

the fog

The foggy void between settlements is a wilderness of lurking dangers. Running two blocks on an ancient street is crazy risky: there’s monsters, brigands, and the fog itself.

But why is the fog dangerous?

I’m still exploring the possibilities. I do want the fog to provide interesting choices, not to just be another tax for the adventurers. Torchbearer surely has enough already.

twists & weather

I find Stone Dragon Mountain inspiring in the way it has a list of different twists for each part of the adventure on the mountain. I’m keen on cutting up the Abyss into different zones. No more than six zones, but that’s a hunch.

I can imagine fewer treasure hunters have ventured into the more treacherous zones so this could be a way to balance risk and reward to give players interesting choices. 

I’m hoping to make twists related to each zone’s geography and the ruins, peoples, and monsters located there. So I’m thinking of rivers, crevasses, geothermal vents, bridges, fogwyrms, etc.

I’m also thinking about twists related to changes in the fog. Because while the fog is always there, I can imagine a variety of fog types which present different types of dangers and opportunities. Maybe different zones could tend to have different climates and different types of weather. A source of inspiration for this is the seasons and weather types in Middarmark. I think most will work as is, only needing a little foggy twist.

Here some examples of twists for some (but not all) types of fog:

  • Twist: Bad air. Counts as factor recovering for recovering from exhausted.
  • Twist: Thin air. Torches only give off half-light (light for 1, dim for 1).
  • Condition: Sick from bad air.
  • Condition: Injured. Corrosive fog burns the skin.

Wind is interesting. I can see that clearing an area of fog, even if only temporarily could be a blessing and a curse. It may mean people need less protection against the fog’s ill effects, but could also mean that characters cannot sneak through the fog and are more easily spotted by enemies.  

Similarly, I like the idea of some areas having a wind that pushes and pulls the fog like the tides of the sea. I think this could provide interesting opportunities for journeying between adventures, but also in adventures where areas are tidal, sometimes clear and sometimes befogged, like clockwork. I like the idea of tying this tide to the turn count, perhaps every six turns the tide changes.

There are also some ideas to play around with from my post on poison triggers. For example, breathing this fog will only make you sick if you run or otherwise build up a sweat, otherwise its inert.


At its most basic, fog limits visibility and distorts sounds. So it will make travelling treacherous. So I think most fog is a factor in all Pathfinder test and any action that depends upon seeing any great distance, like spotting enemies lurking.

On the other hand, this also means characters in the fog have +1D for sneaking or stealth.

I can imagine most fog in the Abyss obscures the sunlight. Maybe there are a few hours of daylight around noon, but otherwise its dim light. Perhaps some places at higher altitudes or where the fog thins, this window of daylight is longer.


I have a few ideas for throwing in some Torchbearer resource management. Air filters to protect against bad air,  clothing and greases when the fog is corrosive, enchanted bells that thin surrounding fog, bellowstones that expel currents of fresh air, etc. 

the grind

I have considered that adventuring in the fog could be akin to winter adventuring, where you earn a condition every three turns, instead of four. I mean this might make sense if the fog is particularly noxious. But I think this makes things more dangerous than I want. And what if they go winter adventuring in the fog. Madness I know, but I’d have to work out a way to manage that! I’m not convinced it’s a good way to go.


What if exposure to the fog changes people? For example, maybe it taxes a character’s nature; the more dangerous the fog, the more taxing. Or maybe some types of fog have healing qualities: if you expose yourself to the fog it removes a condition but also taxes your nature.  I can imagine some interesting traits relating to a person adapting to the fog. You know, becoming a fog breather.


Hopefully, I can work these ideas up into something usable for my forthcoming Torchbearer game. Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas, as you can see this is still a work in progress. 

poison triggers

I often feel game rules for poisons fall short. Super niche I know. I’ve been examining some old ideas for the poisonous fog region I’m developing for Torchbearer called Abyssal Flames.

RPGs have rules for different poison types, effects, delivery methods, duration, antidotes, immunities, crafting rules, decay… you name it. Critically though, once a poison is delivered it’s only matter of time till it takes full effect. Sometimes instantly, others over minutes or hours; nevertheless, the poison is delivered and it’s effect triggered in the same moment.

This makes some sense of course. Generally, animal venoms and real poisons work like this. And delivery is challenge enough; why complicate matters further. But in fantastic tales and adventures, it’s a missed opportunity.

Rather than simply waiting for a poison to take hold, it’s effect can be triggered by something. Perhaps the most realistic trigger is the poisoned person doing something, for example moving, staying still, or sleeping. In the film Crank, Chev will die if his adrenaline drops too low. A solid excuse for an action movie, but also an example of a poison being triggered by a character doing something, in this case calming down.

We could describe this as an internal change. But I’m less interested in the wizardry of biochemistry and more in what’s makes interesting gameplay. So it’s more useful to think about what a person does, not what their parts do.

For even more fantastic triggers, the poison could be triggered by emotions or intentions. This moves poisons closer to magical gheas or curses, but I think there are interesting ideas to explore without going full gonzo.

personal triggers

# Action Emotion Intention
1 Moving/stilling Hope To keep/give
2 Slowing/accelerating Fear To want/ignore
3 Walking/running Pain To attack/protect
4 Falling/climbing Anger To pursue/flee
5 Waking/sleeping Greed To show/hide
6 Sinking/swimming Pride To love/hate
7 Talking/silent Lust To argue/negotiate
8 Quiet/loud Envy To remember/forget
9 Reading/writing Love To stop/start
10 Sitting/standing Joy To help/hinder

So we can have a poison triggered by time or action/inaction. Another option is interacting with something in the environment. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame explores this idea beautifully. It follows a series of deaths where people unexpectedly burst into flame. Of course, they were poisoned and the trigger was the touch of sunlight.

This kind of environmental trigger has two parts:

  1. what a person interacts with and
  2. how they interact with it.

I’ve listed a bunch below. Some combinations will be more mundane: drinking wine, being cut, being in complete darkness. Others will be stranger and more magical: seeing a symbol, hearing a bell ring, being far from a certain river.

environmental triggers

# Interaction Energy Liquid Gas Solid Thing
1 Inhaled, smelt Sound Fresh/salt water Breath Salt Shape
2 Ingested, drunk, tasted Vibration River/sea Flammable Sand Colour
3 Contact, touched Electricity Oil Wind Food Symbol
4 Injected, bitten, stung Heat Sweat Stagnant Meat People
5 Immersed, surrounded Cold Blood Smoke Plant Animal
6 Perceived, seen, heard Light Wine Steam Metal Weapon
7 Felt, experienced Darkness Rain Bubbles Earth God
8 Near, far Magic Tears Fog Fabric Element


Personal and environmental triggers are also useful for designing antidotes. Rather than just a mundane substance, an antidote can be a secret ritual or process that neutralises a poison. Essentially, antidotes can be triggers that turn a poison off, rather than on.

Mundane antidotes could be the smell of fresh rain, not blinking for several minutes, or running underwater. Fantastic antidotes could be hearing a certain melody, feeling the outline of a special symbol, or hiding from someone who seeks you for three days.

the right tool for the job

This can turn poisons into tools useful for more than just murder. Rather than blunt drugs of intoxication, stupor, or death; a well-designed poison can be precise and surgical.

For example, a shipment could be guaranteed to have an armed escort if all the ship guards cannot walk on land for more than a few steps without terrible nausea. This condition (poison) could be neutralised at once when they complete delivery and see the receiver’s seal stamped on the cargo.

I mean, many poisons already essentially have magical effects; they are magical potions with a bad reputation. Fine tuning when they are triggered, both on and off, is no great leap and the added flexibility can make them a more useful and interesting tool. Depending on how far you take it, this can go from merely intensifying and extending the dangers of poisons to turning poison-craft into another school of magic.

black seven: first session

Saved from G+ meltdown: 17 Nov 2014

One roleplaying game I’ve played recently is Black Seven. Here’s a run down of the fun from the first session.

We played online, me as GM and two players. It was the first time we had played it.

The game focuses only on agents infiltrating an enemy facility. This limit is good, keeping the play tight and focused on situation where the player characters shine as are uber-competent, stealthy assassins. It also ensures the prep is remains relevant and useful.

Before play I designed a mission, Operation Key Octave. The overall concept for the game was framing a Quebec separatist group with attacking the Canadian Parliament. The idea was a biotechnology corporation, Air Médical, was covering up a theft of an experimental aerosolised live-virus vaccine designed to inoculate people against Ebola. Importantly, Air Médical had affiliations with the Quebec separatists. The Agents’ mission would be to extract information about who stole experimental drugs by interrogating an internal investigator of Air Médical. This information would lead them to steal back the experimental vaccine from the Lifesavers, a radical medical group based in Liberia, and then use the vaccine on the Canadian Parliament, making it look like an attack by the Quebec separatists.

So I wrote up three facilities, having 8 resources to use, 4 for each player. The objectives, features, static targets and number of guards for:

1) the home of the Air Médical investigator, as well as the high security gated community that surrounds it, located in the Côte d’Ivoire;

2) the shanty town in Liberia that is the base for the Lifesavers; and

3) the grounds and maintenance areas of the Canadian Parliament.

I found the prep was fun, the steps straightforward, and provided just enough to structure the mission. It stilled required a fair bit of improvising during play, fleshing out situations and characters, but I enjoy that kind of pressure.

We all rolled up characters as we have ambitious plans to take turns GMing missions. Agents Jackal, Gecko and Raptor come alive.

Gecko and Raptor start Operation Key Octave. I wasn’t sure on how much of a low-down they should get, but I gave them most of the information about the mission, including the ultimate aim to frame the Quebec separatists. I didn’t tell them about the second facility because that information was to be earned from completing the first facility.

The Agents glide on wing suits into the compound. They quickly scared one guard out of the facility and knocked out another. They hacked the security network, entering their RFID tags, allowing them to navigate the community without triggering any alarms. They turned off the alarm system of their targets’ house, took out another guard, avoided the other roaming patrol, and successfully vaulted the wall of the house compound. Once inside they took out all the guards, compromised the camera network, tranquilised the guard dogs and leisurely interrogated the target. They escaped using the target’s own vehicle. The information they extracted has led them to the second facility, a shanty town in Liberia and the base of a radical medical group, the Lifesavers.

Formally, they were very successful with this facility. They took out all the static targets, neutralised 4 of the 7 guards in the first area (gated community) and took out all 4 guards around the target’s house. They avoided raising the Threat level, never got noticed though it was close on several occasions, and only one Agent was exposed and only on one occasion. Professionals.

The game did really well to create the atmosphere of this style of video game. There was lots of slips and recoveries. The players worked hard neutralising security systems and creatively tricking and taking down guards. The camera network was particularly gruelling, doubling the number of required positioning rolls. Having a high Sneak rating seemed very advantageous in this scenario, though we were only just coming to grips with the rules, particularly the usefulness of taking out all the guards quickly. The players were rather risk adverse, but it was appropriate and really a credit to the system building tension and providing the toing and froing that comes with sneaking about hostile territory. It does well to do this, particularly given it has to deliver that experience on the first go-through because the players can’t save game, try an approach, fail terribly, and then replay from the saved point.

Next session will focus on the second facility, which is shorter, so with any luck they will also finish the final facility and the mission. Fun times!

code black hack: deception

Deception plans

This rejigs the Code Black Hack for deception scores, particularly longer cons. A deception is about getting someone to do something. It uses trickery but that’s merely the means, not the end. A con differs from a simple deception mainly by who you target and the payoff. Tricking a guard to get into the royal treasury might be a deception, but tricking the king to gift you the treasury is a con. And if that con goes smoothly, the king will thank you for the trouble to haul it away.

A lot of this is inspired by The Long Con by The Walking Mind. I’ve used this approach regularly in a Blades game I run, particularly memorable was when the Butcher Birds decided to flip Baszo Baz.

Action roll

Cool replaces Hidden/Controlled, Suspect remains the same (but deception has reduced effect), and Opposed replaces Hunted/Desperate (deception has reduced effect and requires set up action). Noticed becomes Questioned. Exposed becomes Honest.

You can act to improve Suspect to Cool, but only if no characters or cohorts are Questioned or Honest. You can only improve Opposed to Suspect by minimising or bypassing the preparations the mark has brought against you.

Consequences and harm


Questioned replaces Noticed. When you are Questioned, you may have the mark in a web of deceit, but they are asking difficult questions and testing you. At Cool or Suspect, if you fail to remove Questioned promptly, the position worsens. At Opposed, if you fail to remove Questioned promptly, the mark will put into play something they’ve prepared to counter your well-laid plans. They’ll prioritise countering characters and cohorts that are Questioned and Honest, then those just Questioned, then those just Honest. They won’t counter those who are neither Questioned nor Honest.


Honest replaces Exposed. When you are Honest, you use truth to ground your lies and allay suspicion. While the mark does not cross-examine you, they may learn something to use against you later.

The Score

A con relies on finding a hook, something to leverage the mark into doing what you want. Think of the hook as a vice: pleasure, luxury, obligation, faith, etc. It can be an ambition for revenge, a thirst for oblivion, or something weirder. Good info-gathering work.


In an infiltration, you don’t start at cracking the safe. First, you get past the perimeter guard, break in through the roof, bypass the inner security, and only then get in front of the safe. Likewise, there’s a way to pace a con. Get the mark’s:

  • attention: Try fitting a mould of people they expect to meet.
  • interest: Find or create a problem or solution related to their hook.
  • confidence: Convince them you offer an actual opportunity to solve a real problem.
  • decision: Push them to do what you’re conning them to do, to seize the opportunity while it lasts.

Each of these may be a clock depending on: the crew’s history with the mark; the mark’s Tier, savviness, or connections; and circumstances that make a problem more immediate, a solution more complex, or the mark more desperate. Filling these clocks completes the con and the mark does what you want. Taking advantage of their decision and action can be another score in itself.

The GM should also keep a clock to track the mark’s Suspicions or similar. If that fills, then the score’s bust and the mark sees the con for what it is.

Preparations and counterplans

A con can be one protracted scene but often works better as a series of connected meetings, places and people. Often you’ll run this is kind of score against a powerful person or group, so scenes can involve meeting advisors and experts that the mark relies on and trusts. Answering their questions and soothing their suspicions can be a great way to win over the mark.

Such advisors and experts are part of the mark’s preparations to protect themselves. These will be a mix of defences in place as well as new ones set up to counter the crew should you prove troublesome. The higher Tier the mark, the better prepared they should be. This prep may be as a simple as a handy blade and a ferocious temper (harm), a few brutes as bodyguards (harm), a well-connected information broker (ticks on Suspicion clock), or even bluecoats bribed to waylay characters or cohorts (harm or reduced effect). More elaborate preparations might be having false witnesses ready to frame the crew to gain leverage (complication), snoops collecting evidence to uncover the crew’s true agenda (ticks on Suspicion clock), or even actual leverage they have unearthed to keep a character or cohort inline (blackmailed, extorted, seduced which can mean harm, heat, danger clocks, etc.).

Flashbacks can be a great way to deal with these preparations when they jump out to bite you. Otherwise, part of the score is discovering these preparations and neutralising them. This can be a good way to involve characters and cohorts with a diverse range of skills.


If the score ends with the mark highly suspicious, that leads to problems as the mark later realises they’ve been conned, usually -2 with factions hurt by the con. Ending with little or no suspicion might mean the mark never realises what actually happened, perhaps they feel they dodged a much worse situation and just want to forget the whole thing.

code black hack

Black Seven by Zero Point Information

This is a hack of Blades in the Dark, inspired by the RPG Black 7. In Black 7, you play black operatives infiltrating facilities and doing Bad Things. It’s a game laser-focused on stealth action, where you make rolls to get to mission targets and take conditions depending how much attention you draw (Noticed) or how much cover you find (Exposed).

The Code Black Hack changes how to set the position of action rolls on scores in Blades in the Dark. Position reflects the alert level of nearby hostiles and has rules for how the scoundrels’ actions worsen or improve their position.

This hack gives the GM more tools to reliably telegraph trouble, follow through on threats, and covey dangers inherent in what the scoundrels do. It’s entirely possible you could get the same gameplay using the standard rules, mainly by how the GM judges position and effect. In a way, that is all the Code Black Hack is: guidance for the GM on how to set the position and the effect level of actions in a consistent way.

It is meant for when the crew faces hostile resistance that they want to avoid. Black 7 is all about stealth plans, so this is the most direct port into Blades. Think breaking into the HQ of a gang of thugs, rather than mugging a couple in an alley. The standard rules already work well for smaller scale confrontations.

I want to explain the Code Black Hack for stealth plans today. I’m some way along rejigging these rules for other kinds of scores, particularly deception plans, but I’ll talk about them another time.

Stealth plans

When to use

These rules assume that most scores occur in a single defined area, which can be quite large; for example, a building, an underground lair, a prison, a city block, a ship. The idea is the crew’s position and conditions will carry across their activities during the score as they move around within the larger area, whether it’s between rooms, buildings or streets.

However, some scores involve linked plans. Where there is a significant shift in the area of the score, like ‘sneaking around a noble’s estate’ to ‘smuggling stolen goods across the city’, then a new engagement roll may be called for to see how well the next plan starts.

Stop tracking the crew’s position and Noticed and Exposed conditions if there are no longer any hostiles in the area, the crew leaves unpursued, or the score otherwise ends.

Action roll

The action roll is essentially the same. The major differences are that:

  • on a 5 or less, a scoundrel always gets the noticed condition and possibly further consequences
  • riskier positions reduce the effect of stealth actions and don’t allow certain consequences to be resisted
  • all scoundrels and their cohorts share the same position while they are in the same area.
Hostiles are not alerted that you’re nearby. You act on your terms.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You hesitate. Avoid being noticed and try a different approach. Or else do it and you are noticed, and may also suffer lesser harm, a minor complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: You falter. Press on and you are noticed or avoid being noticed and try a different approach.

May resist being noticed, if not currently exposed.
Hostiles are alerted you’re about. You act under fire. You take a chance.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you are noticed. You may also suffer harm, a complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: Things go badly. You are noticed. You may also suffer harm, a complication, lose this opportunity.

Stealth attacks have reduced effect. Cannot resist being noticed.
Hostiles are closing in to attack you, alarms wailing. You go head-to-head. You’re in serious trouble.

Critical: You do it with increased effect.
6: You do it.
4/5: You do it, but there’s a consequence: you are noticed and hostiles attack. You may also suffer severe harm, a serious complication, have reduced effect.
1–3: It’s the worst outcome. You are noticed and hostiles attack. You may also suffer severe harm, a serious complication, lose this opportunity for action.

Stealth actions have reduced effect. Stealth attacks must be set up by another stealth action. Cannot resist being noticed.

Improving position

You can act to reduce Suspect to Hidden, but only if no characters or cohorts are Noticed or Exposed. You can only reduce Hunted to Suspect by eliminating all hunters present.

Consequences and Harm


If a character or cohort is Noticed, they’re still in or near cover but have drawn the attention of hostiles in the area. Usually, you become Noticed as a consequence of an action roll. You may also be Noticed if hostiles take the initiative and find you, or simply because they see or know where you are. You are Noticed if you act without regard to stealth—like sword fighting, shooting, exploding shit, ramming things, intimidating people—and the position also goes straight to Hunted.

While Noticed, you can’t stealth attack; for example, you can’t ambush, snipe from hiding, lay a trap, or trick a guard. Essentially, Noticed is a dominant factor and overshadows the situation, so you always have zero effect, no matter what effort or fine items you bring to bear.

At Hidden or Suspect, if you fail to remove Noticed promptly, the position worsens. At Hunted, if you fail to remove Noticed promptly, you may suffer severe harm from hostiles attacking you. This harm may be a consequence of a roll, including on the same roll when you get Noticed, or simply because hostiles take the initiative and see or know where you are. Hostiles prioritise attacking those Noticed and Exposed, then those just Noticed, and then those just Exposed. Hostiles can’t attack you if you’re neither Noticed nor Exposed.


If a character or cohort is Exposed, they haven’t been seen by hostiles, but they’re not in or near cover. You choose to become Exposed for increased effect. This increased effect remains while Exposed. You can’t resist or otherwise remove Noticed while Exposed, you must remove Exposed first.

Removing conditions

Noticed and Exposed are sticky conditions. Once you’ve gained one, you must act to remove it. Generally, that means making an action roll to evade or obfuscate. The player describes what the character does and what action rating they use, the GM sets the effect level. At Hidden, you may also resist being Noticed. At Suspect or Hunted, you may not resist: hostiles are too alert for you to easily recover from a mistake; instead, you may act to remove it. If you’re both Noticed and Exposed, you can’t resist or otherwise remove Noticed, you must remove Exposed first.

A cohort can’t resist consequences but may act to remove Noticed or Exposed. A character can use the teamwork move Protect to suffer being Noticed instead of a teammate or cohort. The protecting character may then roll to resist (if Hidden) or act to remove Noticed.


Harm can still be a minor consequence at Hidden and a consequence at Suspect. Not harm from hostiles, just harm following the fiction. For example, cutting through an electrified fence while Hidden is still dangerous. Because hostiles only attack you when you’re Hunted (and Noticed and/or Exposed), hostiles do severe harm (Level 3). Severe harm may also come from other sources, following the fiction. Harm may be resisted as normal, no matter the position.

The Score

Engagement roll

On 6, the starting position is Hidden.

On 4–5, the starting position is Hidden and each character and cohort starts either Noticed or Exposed, GM picks one for each.

On 1–3, the starting position is Suspect and each character and cohort starts either Noticed or Exposed, GM picks one for each.


Flashbacks are just another way to get to a mission target and you may still gain Noticed as a consequence. For example, you might have successfully bribed the guard, but he’s so oafish about his new wealth that he tips off other hostiles that something’s awry and they notice you (at the same time as getting you closer to a mission target).


Everyone who wants to benefit from a group action must roll. If the leader decides to boost the roll’s result, then everyone who rolled gains Exposed. If the roll results in a consequence of gaining Noticed, then everyone who rolls is Noticed. If the current position is Hidden, each character may resist that consequence individually.

A setup move can be used to temporarily improve position. If a character is currently Hunted and under attack by hostiles, a setup action could improve their position (and only their position) to Suspect for their next action, which means they’d avoid consequences from being attacked for that action.


Stop using these position rules and tracking Noticed and Exposed conditions if there are no longer any hostiles in the area, the crew leaves unpursued, or the score otherwise ends.

fathoming the unfathomable

Torchbearer, like many old-styled RPGs, leaves open why the player characters came together as an adventure party. Why do they keep trusting and depending on each other? Why do they risk their lives for each other?

By Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria – Swords of Qādisīyah, CC BY 2.0, Link

Obviously in games like Torchbearer, the metagame reason is if they don’t, they die. But I feel it’s important for play to have an in-fiction touchstone. Not just for verisimilitude; I think it helps us care about the characters and gives players more to grab on to in play.

I made the list below a few years back. My idea was the players first agree on a shared background, a history or purpose that glues them together through thick or thin. Then they build characters to fit and support that concept. Not as a straitjacket or a wish list of power-ups, more a solid foundation to fall back on should things get existential.

There’s no reason for the PCs to have identical motivations, but sharing some will make sense of why they work together at all.

I put these motivations into four groups for convenience: desperation, money, ambition, and duty. Maybe they survived a disaster together, are paid by the same patron, or hunt the same enemy. Or all of the above: when you’re desperate, you often need money, which leads to ambitious plans…

This is similar to Into the Dark’s Adventuring Parties in the Twilight Empire, but higher level, more abstract. In many ways, I prefer Into the Dark’s approach. It has the benefit of providing depth to the setting, gives the players natural antagonists in the setting, and seems a little more gameable. It also reminds me a little of Blades in the Dark crews. Something like it might be useful for the Abyss, the adventure region I’m developing for Torchbearer. I’ll add to the list.

Nevertheless, a benefit of my motivational approach is it’s also useful for GM characters and people who aren’t adventurers. For example, the Abyss is such a terrible place, why does anyone live there at all? What drove them there in the first place, what keeps them there still?

This list may inspire some answers.  


  • Disaster – fleeing to find refuge, e.g. village destroyed, ongoing war, famine,…
  • Escape – fleeing persecution: slaves, gladiators, prisoners, criminals, soldiers…
  • Coerced – bullied into furthering goals of or entertaining <blackmailer/faction/god>
  • Conscripted – hoping for a pardon, citizenship,…


  • Poverty – climb out of the gutter any way they can
  • Indebted – owe money, fealty or favour to person/organisation
  • Heist – working on a really big con/theft/deception
  • Mercenary – Patron pays for bounty hunt, field research, discovery, mapping,…


  • Enemy – Bring down the <something or one>, revenge, assassination
  • Rescue – loved one, prince, persecuted people
  • Raiding – love of pillage and raiding
  • Pilgrimage – holy journey
  • Knowledge – Uncover ancient mystery, dangerous secret, personal history, wonder


  • Diplomacy – foment strife, weaken powerful, incite unrest; or prevent such
  • Religious – recover holy relics/artefacts, rever divinity, save souls
  • Crusaders – Crusade against <distant threat or monster>
  • Vision – myths about fate, ancestor, lands, ascendance, downfall, demons
  • Family – this is your family’s place and all they have ever known

an intro

Roleplaying games: I love ’em. Playing, reading, dreaming, designing, whatever! They’re great. So I thought I’d share a little of that love. Here’s trying.

When I moved to a new city 10 years back, I founded my best and strongest friendships around a shared loved of roleplaying. The kind where you go to someone’s house, sit around a table and shout nonsense and brilliance at each other for a few hours. I played a range of games, with independent publishers being my bread and butter. I haven’t played D&D since I burned out on 2nd Edition in the nineties.

I usually play twice a week. I’m lucky that way. At the moment, that means a few games of Blades in the Dark (running Shadows and Assassins crews and playing in Hawkers) and playing in Legacy: Life among the Ruins. 

I’ve also had few stop-starts designing, but most of my energy for games has been playing and facilitating. I’ve certainly seen a few designs crumble in my hands, after many months of meanderings. But that comes with the territory.

At the moment, I’m designing a setting to string together a few Torchbearer games I’m planning to play next year. It’s inspired by the central location of the novel Boneshaker.

The Maw. The Abyss. Hell. All names of a hidden valley, smote by the gods, forever shrouded in a corrupting fog, a poisonous wound filled with unplundered treasures and terror, and a haven for those who hunger to flee the world. For a whole society of exiles, criminals, and refugees hide in its murky depths, in safe harbours carved out of the wasteland. Maybe small, overcrowded and filthy, but to you, torchbearer, they’re heaven.

Torchbearer campaign: Abyssal flames

I’ll put up more of my ideas for this, and other things, here. Till then.

flipping baszo baz

I use two big clocks on a score all the time, where crew races to fill one before the other. Recently though, I tried splitting up the main score clock into a bunch of little clocks and it worked great. I based it on ideas from Rob Donoghue’s long con setup: http://walkingmind.evilhat.com/2017/07/27/the-long-con/

Here’s how it went down: The Assassin’s crew, the Butcher Birds, wanted to flip Baszo Baz. It worked great.

The Friend: Attention clock 4-segments
Baszo was bestie’s with Chance, the Slide, so that filled the first clock for free. That opened up the Interest clock.

The Hook: Interest clock 4-segments
The crew did a series of linked plans simultaneously to flipping Baszo: forging an alliance between the Lampblacks enemies, assassinating one of the street gang leaders and their gang, the second-in-command of the Lampblacks and their master of coin. That filled 3 of 4 on the interest clock. Baszo knows things are going to shit, Chance just needed to show him that things were going to get even worse… tonight. The crew are Bound in Darkness so they communicated intimate details from each linked plan, so Chance could drop enough to hook Baszo enough to shift the conversation from much-needed camaraderie to the bleakest of business.

All this info obviously roused Baszo’s suspicions. How much was Chance actually involved in fucking over the Lampblacks? 3 tock on the 8-segments on the Suspicion clock. Though they resisted that, bringing the consequence down to 1 tick.

Filling this clock, opened up the next clock.

The Option: Confidence clock 4-segments
Now the conversation shifted about how Chance can help Baszo. Baszo thought Chance was doing little more than daydreaming, that Chance couldn’t actually help Baszo get out of the deep shit he’s in.

So Chance laid out that he wasn’t just a street urchin, but a part of the notorious Butcher Birds, assassins connected to some strange and brutal accidents happened to well-connected Nobles in Brightstone. That filled 2-segments.

Chance knew of Baszo’s commitment to the Empty Vessel cult, so he pushed on, revealing that his crew have the favour of Fortuna, a Forgotten God, who grants them the silence of Bellweather (Crow’s Veil). With a little wrangling, that filled the Confidence clock.

That opened up the final score clock as well as the options trust clock (which could reduce the consequences of the suspicion clock.

The Decision: Ambition clock 4-segments
I shortened this clock to only 4-segments. That meant the crew were racing to fill 9-segments faster than 8-segments of suspicion. It worked out to be a good size. For a longer-term con, yeah this could have easily been 6 or 8 segments, like Rob’s article suggested.

This is basically about Baszo making a decision right now. To walk away from the Lampblacks right now.

Chance plied his ambitions to seek revenge against the Red Sashes, the opportunities that the Butcher Birds have to fill the power vacuum, and the possibility of being a secret hand that can swoop down on the Crows and become ward boss after all. Throwing in a little occult membership, and Baszo was ruthless as ever.

So Baszo flipped.

Trust clock 4-segments
Chance never ticked any of these. He ran out of stress and things got extremely tight. But we’re keeping this open, as the opportunity to settle the suspicions Baszo has and bring him totally on board with the Butcher Birds.

undying: plague empires

Finished our first nightly play of Plague Empires. And what a bloodbath! So much fun.

By the end of the proceeding downtime, the Princeps and two Plebian NPCs dead and the only Patricians cursed to be Pariahs. The only remaining predators are:
1 NPC Patrician (boosted themselves up from Plebian as a plot)
3 PC Plebians, and
2 NPC Pariahs

I was wondering how to handle having so few predators left but a pile of grudges to handout. I’m considering introducing new NPCs after downtimeplay but before introducing the crisis for the nightly play. I wasn’t sure if that would work, particularly with how the grudges come from the plots in downtime play. Otherwise, then what happens if every NPC is already your enemy or nemesis and you need a new rival? Must a PC take it up?

Also, what about the status of the current crop of predators? There are so many positions vacant, this seems good time to upgrade the only Patrician to Princeps (they have no betters) and two of the PCs Plebians to Patricians (because they have favour with the would-be Princeps and cleared all the old guard).

Any suggestions or advice?

dimmer sisters

Loving the writing in the book, especially the flourishes and filigrees throughout that build the world and the mysteries, such as:
…the moon appears to multiply across the sky, in pairs and trios of sibling lights, as if reflected on the facets of a vast crystalline dome. It is not known what causes these pale, dimmer sisters to appear…
I laughed out reading that, so good.


Well, I definitely cracked #61in16  mainly from playing a bunch of board games. A few were from introducing my kids to some basic games, but I also played a heap of strategic, complex and innovative games too.

However, I played a lot less tabletop roleplaying, mainly from the people I play with having work pressures and upheavals and a pile of new babies arriving. I played much fewer one-shot RPGs than previous years, but that’s balanced by few longer campaigns: primarily Blades in the Dark, Apocalypse World and Swords without Master.

96 Eclipse
95 Sushi Go Party
94 Memoir 44
93 Ticket to Ride Europe
92 Knot Dice
91 A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King
90 Automobiles
89 Lovecraftesque
88 Forbidden Desert
87 Murderous Ghosts
86 Concept
85 Showdown
84 Scythe
83 Grifters
82 Bus Stop
81 Ghosts!
80 Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
79 Race for the Galaxy
78 Eminent Domain
77 Connect 4
76 King of Tokyo
75 Army of Frogs
74 Pop to the Shops
73 Durance
72 Arf!
71 Hey, That’s My Fish
70 Portal
69 Apocalypse World
68 Pirate’s Cove
67 Santorini
66 Tongues
65 Patience
64 Go Fish
63 Jacquet
62 14 Days
61 Coup
60 Fugitive
59 Pac Man
58 Quantum
57 Chess
56 Swords without master
55 Tak
54 Twilight Struggle
53 My First Clock
52 Shopping Trolley
51 Veg Patch Match
50 Go Go Dragons
49 Yahtzee
48 Star Realms
47 Kerplunk
46 Condoittere
45 Colt Express
44 Spyfall
43 Downfall
42 Mastermind
41 Jenga
40 Four Tribes
39 No Thanks
38 Pirate Den
37 Camel Cup
36 Libertalia
35 Quirkle
34 The Quiet Year
33 Zombicide: Black Plague
32 The Clay that Woke
31 Dig Down Dwarf
30 Carcassonne
29 Get Bit
28 Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends
27 Between Two Cities
26 Pairs
25 Forbidden Island
24 Minotaurus
23 Raptor
22 Sliders
21 Candy Land
20 The Dice Must Flow
19 Don’t Turn Your Back
18 Burgle Bros
17 Tsuro of the Seas
16 Freedom: Underground Railway
15 Hero Kids
14 Burning Empires
13 Planks and Ladders
12 Busy Busy Airport
11 Kingdom Death: Monster
10 Blades in the Dark
9 The Boss
8 Dragonheart
7 XCOM: The Board Game
6 Thermopyles
5 Sumo!
4 Pass the Pigs
3 Coup: Rebellion G45
2 Fief: France 1429
1 Pandemic Legacy