10/11/2018

The Big List of RPG Plots

What follows is a scrap of trivia . . . my collection of RPG plots, in abstract form. I built this by examining the premises of hundreds of published adventures for all systems (including those systems dear and departed from print), trying to boil them down to common denominators. The results are presented here: arbitrary, and sometimes redundant. Nevertheless, I turn to this list when I'm stuck for a fresh premise for next week's session of my campaign, whatever that campaign might happen to be about at the time. It helps me keep from falling into thematic ruts (my least favorite kind). With any luck, it might serve a similar function for you.

Note: The "plots" are arranged in alphabetical order by title. Since the titles are arbitrary, this serves no useful function at all. And if you want shakespearean five-act hoozits, plot trees, Man Versus Himself and other Serious Literary Bunkum, try Writer's Digest. This ain't Oxford, baby.

Any Old Port in a Storm

The PCs are seeking shelter from the elements or some other threat, and come across a place to hole up. They find that they have stumbled across something dangerous, secret, or supernatural, and must then deal with it in order to enjoy a little rest.
    Common Twists & Themes: The shelter contains the cause of the threat the PCs were trying to avoid. The shelter houses a Hidden Base (q.v.). The PCs must not only struggle for shelter, they must struggle to survive. The place is a legitimate shelter of some kind, but the PCs are not welcome, and must win hearts or minds to earn their bed for the night.

Better Late Than Never

Some bad guys have arrived and done some bad guy things. The PCs were none the wiser. The bad guys have now made good their escape, and the PCs have caught wind of it in time to chase them down before they make it back to their lair, their home nation, behind enemy lines, etc.
    Common Twists & Themes: The bad guys escaped by stealing a conveyance that the PCs know better than they do. The bad guys duck down a metaphorical (or literal) side-road, trying to hide or blend into an environment (often one hostile to the PCs). If the bad guys cross the adventure's "finish line" (cross the county line, make the warp jump, etc.) there's no way to pursue them beyond it.

Blackmail

Usually through trickery (but sometimes by digging into the PCs' past), an antagonist has something to hold over the heads of the PCs and make them jump. This could be any kind of threat from physical to social, but it depends on the villain having something - even if it's information - that others don't have. Now, he is pulling the strings of the PCs, telling them to do things they don't want to. The PCs must end the cycle of blackmail, deprive the villain of his edge, and keep him temporarily satisfied while doing it.
    Common Twists & Themes: The adventure hook involves the PCs doing the villain a good turn, which allows him to take advantage of them (very cynical!). To succeed, the PCs must contact other folks that are also being used. The PCs aren't the victims at all, but somebody they care about/are charged to protect, is.

Breaking and Entering

Mission objective: enter the dangerous place, and retrieve the vital dingus or valuable person. Overcome the area's defenses to do so.
    Common Twists & Themes: The goal is not to extract a thing, but to destroy a thing or interfere with a process (kill the force-screen generator, assassinate the evil king, stop the spell from being cast, wreck the invasion plans, close the portal). The goal has moved. The goal is information, which must be broadcast or otherwise released from the area as soon as it is found. The job must be done without alerting anyone. The PCs don't know the place is dangerous. The PCs must replace the thing with another thing.

Capture the Flag

The PCs must secure a military target for the good guys. There are bad guys there that prefer not to be secured. The fundamental tactical scenario.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs must assemble and/or train a force to do the job with them. The PCs are working with flawed intelligence and the target zone isn't as described. The PCs must coordinate their own efforts with an ally group (possibly putting aside rivalries to do so). The target zone includes a population of innocent people, fragile goods, or some other precious thing that mustn't be harmed in the crossfire.

Clearing The Hex

There is a place where bad things live. The PCs must make it safe for nice people, systematically clearing it of danger.
    Common Twists & Themes: The bad things can't be beaten with direct conflict. The PCs must learn more about them to solve the problem. The Haunted House. The Alien Infestation. The Wild Forest.

Delver's Delight

The PCs are treasure-hunters, who have caught wind of a treasure-laden ruin. They go to explore it, and must deal with its supernatural denizens to win the treasure and get out alive.
    Common Twists & Themes: The treasure itself is something dangerous. The treasure isn't in a ruin, but in a wilderness or even hidden somewhere "civilized." The treasure is someone else's rightful property. The treasure turns out to have a will of its own.

Don't Eat The Purple Ones

The PCs are stranded in a strange place, and must survive by finding food and shelter, and then worry about getting back home.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs must survive only for a short period of time, until help arrives, the ship and/or radio is repaired, or some such thing (in "repair" scenarios, sometimes the PCs must discover some fact about the local environment that will make such repairs possible).

Elementary, My Dear Watson

A crime or atrocity has been committed; the PCs must solve it. They must interview witnesses (and prevent them from being killed), gather clues (and prevent them from being stolen or ruined). They must then assemble proof to deliver to the authorities, or serve as personal ministers of justice.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs are working to clear an innocent already accused (possibly themselves). The PCs must work alongside a special investigator or are otherwise saddled with an unwanted ally. Midway through the adventure, the PCs are "taken off the case" - their invitation/authority to pursue the matter is closed (often the result of political maneuvering by an antagonist). The climax is a courtroom scene or other arena of judgment. The scale is highly variable for this type of adventure, from a small-town murder to a planetwide pollution scandal.

Escort Service

The PCs have a valuable object or person, which needs to be taken to a safe place or to its rightful owner, etc. They must undertake a dangerous journey in which one or more factions (and chance and misfortune) try to deprive them of the thing in their care.
    Common Twists & Themes: The thing or person is troublesome, and tries to escape or sidetrack the PCs. The destination has been destroyed or suborned by the enemy, and the PCs must take upon themselves the job that either the destination or their charge was meant to do when it got there. The person is a person attempting a political defection. Safe arrival at the destination doesn't end the story; the PCs must then bargain with their charge as their token (exchanging money for a hostage, for instance). The PCs must protect the target without the target knowing about it.

Good Housekeeping

The PCs are placed in charge of a large operation (a trading company, a feudal barony, the CIA) and must, despite lack of experience in such things, make it work and thrive.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs are brought in because something big is about to happen, and the Old Guard wants a chance to escape. The peasants, neighbors, employees, etcetera resent the PCs, because their method of inheritance looks outwardly bad and everybody loved the old boss.

Help is on the Way

A person (church group, nation, galaxy) is in a hazardous situation they can't survive without rescue. The PCs are on the job. In some scenarios, the hook is as simple as a distant yell or crackly distress signal.
    Common Twists & Themes: The victim(s) is (are) a hostage, or under siege from enemy forces, and the PCs must deal with the captors or break the siege. There is a danger that any rescue attempts will strand the rescuers in the same soup as the rescuees, compounding the problem. The rescuees aren't people, but animals, robots, or something else. The "victim" doesn't realize that he needs rescuing; he thinks he's doing something reasonable and/or safe. The threat isn't villain-oriented at all; it's a natural disaster, nuclear meltdown, or disease outbreak. The rescuees can't leave ; something immobile and vital must be tended to or dealt with at the adventure location. The PCs begin as part of the rescuees, and must escape and gather forces or resources to bring back and proceed as above.

Hidden Base

The PCs, while traveling or exploring, come across a hornet's nest of bad guys, preparing for Big Badness. They must either find some way to get word to the good guys, or sneak in and disable the place themselves, or a combination of both.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs must figure out how to use local resources in order to defend themselves or have a chance against the inhabitants.

How Much For Just The Dingus?

Within a defined area, something important and valuable exists. The PCs (or their employers) want it, but so do one or more other groups. The ones that get it will be the ones that can outthink and outrace the others, deal best with the natives of the area, and learn the most about their target. Each competing group has its own agenda and resources.
    Common Twists & Themes: The natives require the competing factions to gather before them as pals to state their cases. The valuable thing was en route somewhere when its conveyance or courier wrecked or vanished.

I Beg Your Pardon?

The PCs are minding their own business when they are attacked or threatened. They don't know why. They must solve the mystery of their attacker's motives, and in the meantime fend off more attacks. They must put two and two together to deal with the problem.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs have something that the bad guys want - but they don't necessarily realize it. The bad guys are out for revenge for a dead compatriot from a previous adventure. The bad guys have mistaken the PCs for somebody else.

Long Or Short Fork When Dining On Elf?

The PCs are a diplomatic vanguard, trying to open up (or shore up) either political or trade relations with a strange culture. All they have to do is manage for a day or so among the strange customs without offending anybody . . . and what information they have is both incomplete and dangerously misleading.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs were chosen by somebody who knew they weren't prepared for it - an NPC trying to sabotage the works (pinning this villain might be necessary to avert disaster).

Look, Don't Touch

The PCs are working surveillance - spying on a person, gathering information on a beast in the wild, scouting a new sector. Regardless of the scale, the primary conflict (at least at the start) is the rule that they are only to watch, listen and learn. They are not to make contact or let themselves be known.
    Common Twists & Themes: The target gets itself in trouble and the PCs must decide whether to break the no-contact rule in order to mount a rescue.

Manhunt

Someone is gone: they've run away, gotten lost, or simply haven't called home in a while. Somebody misses them or needs them returned. The PCs are called in to find them and bring them back.
    Common Twists & Themes: The target has been kidnapped (possibly to specifically lure the PCs). The target is dangerous and escaped from a facility designed to protect the public. The target is valuable and escaped from a place designed to keep him safe, cozy, and conveniently handy. The target has a reason for leaving that the PCs will sympathize with. The target has stumbled across another adventure (either as protagonist or victim), which the PCs must then undertake themselves. The missing "person" is an entire expedition or pilgrimage of some kind. The target isn't a runaway or missing/lost - they're just someone that the PCs have been hired to track down (possibly under false pretenses).

Missing Memories

One or more of the PCs wakes up with no memory of the recent past, and now they find themselves in some kind of trouble they don't understand. The PCs must find the reason for the memory lapse, and solve any problems they uncover in the meantime.
    Common Twists & Themes: The forgetful PCs voluntarily suppressed or erased the memories, and they find themselves undoing their own work.

Most Peculiar, Momma

Something both bad and inexplicable is happening (racial tension is being fired up in town, all the power is out, the beer supply is drained, it's snowing in July, Voyager still has fans, hordes of aliens are eating all the cheese), and a lot of people are very troubled by it. The PCs must track the phenomenon to its source, and stop it.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs are somehow unwittingly responsible for the whole thing. What seems to be a problem of one nature (technological, personal, biological, chemical, magical, political, etc) is actually a problem of an alternate one.

No One Has Soiled The Bridge

The PCs are assigned to guard a single vital spot (anything from a mountain pass to a solar system) from impending or possible attack. They must plan their defensive strategy, set up watches, set traps, and so on, and then deal with the enemy when it arrives.
    Common Twists & Themes: The intelligence the PCs was given turns out to be faulty, but acting on the new information could result in greater danger - but so could not acting on it, and the PCs must choose or create a compromise. The PCs learn that the enemy has good and sympathetic reason for wanting to destroy the protected spot.

Not In Kansas

The PCs are minding their own business and find themselves transported to a strange place. They must figure out where they are, why they are there and how to escape.
    Common Twists & Themes: They were brought there specifically to help someone in trouble. They were brought there by accident, as a by-product of something strange and secret. Some of the PCs' enemies were transported along with them (or separately), and now they have a new battleground, and innocents to convince which guys are the good guys.

Ounces of Prevention

A villain or organization is getting ready to do something bad, and the PCs have received a tip-off of some sort. They must investigate to find out more about the caper, and then act to prevent it.
    Common Twists & Themes: The initial tip-off was a red herring meant to distract the PCs from the actual caper. There are two simultaneous Bad Things on the way, and no apparent way to both of them - how to choose?

Pandora's Box

Somebody has tinkered with Things Man Ought Not, or opened a portal to the Mean People Dimension, cracked a wall at the state prison, or summoned an ancient Babylonian god into a penthouse. Before the PCs can even think of confronting the source of the trouble, they must deal with the waves of trouble already released by it: monsters, old foes out for vengeance, curious aliens who think cars/citizens/McDonald's hamburgers resemble food, and so forth.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs can't simply take the released badness to the mat; they have to collect it and shove it back into the source before it the adventure can really end. The PCs are drawn in to the source and must solve problems on the other side before returning to this one. A secret book, code, or other rare element is necessary to plug the breach (maybe just the fellow who opened it). A close cousin to this plot is the basic "somebody has traveled into the past and messed with our reality" story.

Quest For the Sparkly Hoozits

Somebody needs a dingus (to fulfill a prophecy, heal the monarch, prevent a war, cure a disease, or what have you). The PCs must find a dingus. Often an old dingus, a mysterious dingus, and a powerful dingus. The PCs must learn more about it to track it down, and then deal with taking it from wherever it is.
    Common Twists & Themes: The dingus is incomplete when found (one of the most irritating and un-fun plot twists in the universe). Somebody already owns it (or recently stole it, sometimes with legitimate claim or cause). The dingus is information, or an idea, or a substance, not a specific dingus. The PCs must "go undercover" or otherwise infiltrate a group or society, gaining the dingus by guile or stealth.

Recent Ruins

A town, castle, starship, outpost, or other civilized construct is lying in ruins. Very recently, it was just dandy. The PCs must enter the ruins, explore them, and find out what happened.
    Common Twists & Themes: Whatever ruined the ruins (including mean people, weird radiation, monsters, a new race, ghosts) is still a threat; the PCs must save the day. The inhabitants destroyed themselves. The "ruins" are a derelict ship or spaceship, recently discovered. The "ruin" is a ghost town, stumbled across as the PCs travel - but the map says the town is alive and well.

Running the Gauntlet

The PCs must travel through a hazardous area, and get through without being killed, robbed, humiliated, debased, diseased, or educated by whatever is there. The troubles they encounter are rarely personal in nature - the place itself is the "villain" of the adventure.
    Common Twists & Themes: The place isn't dangerous at all, and the various "dangers" are actually attempts to communicate with the party by some agent or another.

Safari

The PCs are on a hunting expedition, to capture or kill and elusive and prized creature. They must deal with its environment, its own ability to evade them, and possibly its ability to fight them.
    Common Twists & Themes: The creature is immune to their devices and weapons. There are other people actively protecting the creature. The creature's lair allows the PCs to stumble onto another adventure.

Score One for the Home Team

The PCs are participants in a race, contest, tournament, scavenger hunt or other voluntary bit of sport. They must win.
    Common Twists & Themes: The other contestants are less honest, and the PCs must overcome their attempts to win dishonestly. The PCs are competing for a deeper purpose than victory, such as to keep another contestant safe, or spy on one, or just to get into the place where the event goes down. The PCs don't wish to win; they just wish to prevent the villain from winning. The event is a deliberate test of the PCs abilities (for entry into an organization, for example). The event becomes more deadly than it's supposed to.

Stalag 23

The PCs are imprisoned, and must engineer an escape, overcoming any guards, automatic measures, and geographic isolation their prison imposes on them.
    Common Twists & Themes: Something has happened in the outside world and the prison security has fallen lax because of it. The PCs have been hired to "test" the prison - they aren't normal inmates. Other prisoners decide to blow the whistle for spite or revenge. The PCs are undercover to spy on a prisoner, but are then mistaken for real inmates and kept incarcerated. The PCs must escape on a tight schedule to get to another adventure outside the walls.

Take Us To Memphis And Don't Slow Down

The PCs are on board a populated conveyance (East Indiaman, Cruise Ship, Ferry, Sleeper Starship), when it is hijacked. The PCs must take action while the normals sit and twiddle.
    Common Twists & Themes: The "hijackers" are government agents pulling a complicated caper, forcing the PCs to choose sides. The hijackers don't realize there is a secondary danger that must be dealt with, and any attempt to convince them is viewed as a trick. The normals are unhelpful or even hostile to the PCs because they think the PCs are just making matters worse.

Troublemakers

A bad guy (or a group of them, or multiple parties) is kicking up a ruckus, upsetting the neighbors, poisoning the reservoirs, or otherwise causing trouble. The PCs have to go where the trouble is, locate the bad guys, and stop the party.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs must not harm the perpetrator(s); they must be bagged alive and well. The bad guys have prepared something dangerous and hidden as "insurance" if they are captured. The "bad guy" is a monster or dangerous animal (or an intelligent creature that everybody thinks is a monster or animal). The "bad guy" is a respected public figure, superior officer, or someone else abusing their authority, and the PCs might meet hostility from normally-helpful quarters who don't accept that the bad guy is bad. A balance of power perpetuates the trouble, and the PCs must choose sides to tip the balance and fix things. The "trouble" is diplomatic or political, and the PCs must make peace, not war.

Uncharted Waters

The PCs are explorers, and their goal is to enter an unknown territory and scope it out. Naturally, the job isn't just going to be surveying and drawing sketches of local fauna; something is there, something fascinating and threatening.
    Common Twists & Themes: Either the place itself is threatening (in which case the PCs must both play National Geographic and simultaneously try to escape with their skin, sanity, and credit rating) or the place itself is very valuable and wonderful, and something else there is keen on making sure the PCs don't let anyone else know. Other potential conflicts involve damage to the PCs' conveyance or communication equipment, in which case this becomes Don't Eat the Purple Ones.

We're On The Outside Looking In

Any of the basic plots in this list can be reengineered with the PCs on the outside of it. Either the PCs are accompanying other characters in the midst of such a plot (often being called on to defend the plot from the outside, as it were), or they are minding their own business when the others involved in the plot show up, and must pick sides or simply resist. For instance, with Any Old Port In The Storm, the PCs could already be enjoying (or native to) the shelter when a strange group arrives. If the "the PCs are unwelcome" variant is employed, then perhaps the PCs will be the only voice of reason to still the religious fervor, racial prejudice, anti-monster sentiment, or whatever else is the source of conflict.
    Common Twists & Themes: The PCs find themselves on the receiving end of the adventure. Take any of the plots here and reverse them, placing the PCs in the position where NPCs (often the villain, fugitive, etcetera) normally are. Instead of hunting, they must be hunted. Instead of fixing, they must avoid getting "fixed" themselves (ow). Alternately, leave a classic plot intact but turn the twists upside down, making them twistier (or refreshingly un twisty).






Tips and Tricks


Surrender yourself to metaphor. I've written the plots in the language of (typically very physical) action-adventure genres, because that's the basic form of roleplaying adventure - but if you're playing on more levels than that, the list can still punch its weight. Just remember that every thing, place, and foe can really be a piece of information, person, and unhealthy attitude, as surely as a space station can be a dungeon and a magical residue can be a fingerprint.

Double up. A nice basic method is the chameleon game, where an adventure presents itself as one type of story in the "hook layer" but reveals itself as something else. Sometimes, the switch is innocent and natural - Don't Eat the Purple Ones, for example, makes a good hook for Running the Gauntlet, and Most Peculiar, Momma is a logical lead for Pandora's Box. Sometimes, the switch is something more sinister or deliberate, with NPCs selling the adventure as one thing when it's really another. This can still be innocent, in its way, if the NPCs have been duped themselves, or if they're just desperate for help and worried that nobody will be eager to tackle the real problem.

Throw yourself a curve. Your players will, anyway, so practice early. Pick two random entries from the Big List and make your adventure on those, no matter what comes up - the first one is the hook layer; the second is the meat of the adventure. If the same entry comes up both times, go with it! Two layers can have a similar structure but very different roots or details.

Double up, part two: Some very satisfying adventures weave two separate (or thematically-related) plots together. An easy way to make this work is to make one plot physical and the other plot personal. That way just one of the plots puts demand on the PCs' location, while the other one can tag along anywhere. For example: the PCs are hired to escort a prince to a summit so he can appear before the masses and end a war (a physical and simple example of Escort Service), but on the way, they realize that the poor guy is suicidal because state obligations have ruined his love life, and must prevent his self-destruction by either fixing the problem or convincing him to shoulder the burden (a personal and metaphorical example of Ounces of Prevention).

Don't Panic. A lot of GMs come to the Big List only once they've begun to panic. Don't crucify yourself just yet! In particular, don't fuss too much over plot, as many GMs do. All of the plots here can provide a tried-and-true, simple structure, and structure is all you need a plot for in a roleplaying game.

Remember to play to the strengths of the medium - most all of which are about character, not plot. Only in an RPG can you experience a fictional character on a personal, first-hand level. Outline your adventures to make the most of that. Any plot that contains more than a basic structure is more likely to pull attention away from character, and that's burning the bridge for firewood. All you need to do is be ready to roll with the curves and have fun hamming it up. Relax. Game.

And finally, here's The Little List of Nearly-Universal Plot Twists That Work With Almost Any Plot Ever: The PCs must work alongside an NPC or organization they'd rather not pal around with (those who are normally rivals or villains, or just a snooty expert sent along to "help" them, etc). The victims are really villains and the villains are really victims. The PCs meet others who can help them, but won't unless the PCs agree to help them with their own causes. The villain is somebody the PCs know personally, even respect or love (or someone they fall for, mid-story). The PCs must succeed without violence, or with special discretion. The PCs must succeed without access to powers, equipment, or other resources they're used to having. The villain is a recurring foil. Another group comparable to the PCs has already failed to succeed, and their bodies/equipment/etc provide clues to help the PCs do better. There are innocents nearby that the PCs must keep safe while dealing with the adventure. The adventure begins suddenly and without warning or buildup; the PCs are tossed into the fire of action in scene one. The PCs must pretend to be someone else, or pretend to be themselves but with very different allegiances, values or tastes. The PCs can't do everything and must choose: which evil to thwart? Which innocents to rescue? Which value or ideal to uphold? The PCs must make a personal sacrifice or others will suffer. The PCs aren't asked to solve the problem, just to render aid against a backdrop of larger trouble: get in a shipment of supplies, sneak out a patient that needs medical help, or so on. One of the PCs is (or is presumed to be) a lost heir, fulfillment of a prophecy, a volcano god, or some other savior and/or patsy, which is why the PCs must do whatever the adventure is about. There is another group of PC-like characters "competing" on the same adventure, possibly with very different goals for the outcome.






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This revision of the Big List is the result of several additional years of gaming, game writing, and what hopefully amounts to accumulated wisdom. It's also the result of letters from several readers who poked me in the ribs when I had overlooked something important! Any suggestions for expansion to this list should be directed to me via email, and they will be welcomed with open arms and slobbery kisses. You can download this article in a spiffy PDF over at DriveThruRPG, and it'll be included in the forthcoming 2nd Edition of the Risus Companion.





The Big List of RPG Plots is dedicated to the many, many fans who've let me know how helpful it's been, and especially to those who've helped make it better: Peter Barnard, Glen Barnett, Colin Clark, David Lott, Jason Puckett, Marc Rees, Carrie Schutrick, and Jeff Yaus, plus a few mysterious heroes who never let me know their true identities. This is for all the GMs out there logging the hours to give their players an enjoyable game.


All contents of this page Copyright ©1999, 2002, 2018 by S. John Ross

An Age of Re-Runs

And I don't mean Linus' little brother, though he'll always be a favorite of mine. Lots of keen observations from the back of his mom's bicycle.

No, I mean from the Blue Room, and from the Cumberland Games website. As part of a general winding-down, I'm shuttering those websites in the near future, and bit-by-bit, I'll be re-running the most worthy parts of them here. It'll be simpler, going forward, if this is my web presence. It's easier to update and maintain, works decently well on a mobile browser, and since Blogger is a Google product, I know it'll never go away.

[waits for laughter to subside]

This raises some questions, of course. and I've got rock-solid answers to 5% of them, but that number will improve.

All formally-announced Cumberland Games projects remain underway and remain targeted for publication; they'll just not have webpages except at DriveThru/RPGNow. If there's something you're waiting for, like Risus modules or the new Risus Companion for example, those are still in progress, along with other stuff like Eye of the Galaxy and Intruder Moon and Fly From Evil.

I won't be adding any new Cumberland Games projects to my roster. The current checklist is intended to be the final one. I've updated the Writer's Guidelines accordingly.

Some in-progress but never-formally-announced projects (like Welcome to the Valley and Immoral Orders) will have a less certain fate. I'll almost certainly finish writing them (medically, I have no choice but to write them), but I might not publish them in the usual way (I might just distribute them privately to friends, or seek another publisher for them). The difference in labor between "writing a book" and "producing a book for publication," even when it's digital, is a considerable one, and at the end of the day, I'm still a writer who just happens to wear a lot of other hats.

I will seek long-term support solutions for all Cumberland titles, including the possibility of selling them to more robust gaming houses. I'll still do the odd bit of freelancing. The odder the better.

So the main visible change in the near term is just retiring the old websites, and moving the core of everything here. Since I maintain a kind of tip-of-the-iceberg relationship between what I'm making and what I let into the wild world, there won't be much difference to see, at least at first. The biggest impact will be ... well, I hope you've been meaning to re-read the Big List of RPG Plots, because that's [part of what's] on the menu.

I welcome your comments, concerns, recipes and RPG chatter. That's what the inbox is for; help me keep the cobwebs out.



10/08/2018

Fantasy Cartography: Just Add Something Blotchy


It's been a while since I've done a graphicky post, so here's a new one for the chilly weather. Over on the doomed platform of magnificence known as Google Plus, reader Michael Lee tagged me to ask:

I remember reading about you taking a lot of pictures that you store away to use as textures and reference for the work you do on your art. If you have an article kinda going through your process on using those photos in a piece, I'd love to have a link to it. If not, is it something you wouldn't mind sharing?

I do make extensive use of snapshots in my graphics, and the technique is so simple it's almost embarrassing, but that makes it super-easy to share, and something even a Photoshop novice can fiddle with as long as they're comfortable with the basic Layers palette.

To demonstrate the effect from the ground up, we'll need some ground. We'll take a chunk from one of my finished maps.

From the Scott's Landing Article
(Uresia: Lore and Curiosities)

I've left the Layers palette visible to show the dance-steps, and in particular I've highlighted the Layer Group called "Texture Bundles," seven grouped layers of varying transparency and blending modes. To see what those layers are actually doing, we'll now turn them off.

All The Graphics in This Post Are Embiggen-Able, But Do So Somewhere With Unmetered Bandwidth; They're Big Images

It's still the same map, but ... smoothier. Soapier. A bit more plainly digital, with those nice-even gradients and Cloud filters and so on.

Having stripped the image of its textures, I'll need a new one. Flipping through the snaps on my phone, my eyes are drawn to this delicious cheat-day indulgence from several weeks ago, so I send it to my laptop and whip it into a tile by copy-pasting the good bits over and over on itself (use the Offset filter and avoid the edges):

Seriously look at how thin that crust is.
It's draping over the lip of a PAPER plate.

Why the pizza snap? It's blotchy, without too many large zones of overtly-different contrast (there are no pepperoni slices, for example). I don't always use food ... I use snapshots of rocks, leaves, vegetable skins, supermarket bins of almonds, dirty painters' drop-cloths, broken concrete ... pretty much anything blotchy or grainy or streaky (remember that Oscar the Grouch song about trash? Like that).

I did some great textures once from a frying pan I'd ruined with a grease fire. Sad day for the skillet, but that was a fine mapping texture. Anyway we just flood that pizza-tile into a new layer:


And that's not helpful, but it's amusing. It becomes helpful when we choose a blending mode for the pizza layer. Three of my favorite blending modes for map-textures are Soft Light, Screen, and Overlay. Here are all three, each at 100% opacity.

Soft Light Mode
Screen Mode
Overlay Mode

Compare. Contrast. Consider. The overly-digital gradients of the base are now crudely and productively interrupted by the contrasts of cheese, sauce, and dried herbal flakes. This one layer, made from a phone snapshot, adds some legitimate character to the map.

It also changes the colors quite a bit, giving it an autumnal vibe we may or may not want. But if we want it to look different, we can just de-saturate or hue-shift the pizza layer. Or we can invert it to a negative-image of itself. Or we can reduce its transparency, or cross-cut two different versions of the same texture (one rotated 90 degrees, for example) or (as I did in the original map) include it as just one transparent texture among many. Or any of a million permutations or combinations of these or other effects.

Some Quick Variations. There's So Much More You Can Do.

This is why Photoshop is one of my favorite videogames. Just one simple "trick" becomes the basis for a thousand looks, and the best way to get there is just play with it. Play and learn.

Hope that gets your juices flowing and/or gets you supporting a local pizzeria. Thanks to Michael Lee for the prompt, and remember: my inbox is always open.

9/12/2018

Risus: Pumpkin Spice 2018

The air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and our thoughts drift to home and hearth, wistful reflection, and fascination for pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice candy, pumpkin spice breakfast cereal, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice tea, pumpkin spice omelets, pumpkin spice pasta, pumpkin spice salad dressing, pumpkin spice sriracha, pumpkin spice mouthwash, pumpkin spice Doritos, pumpkin spice running shoes, pumpkin spice contact lenses, pumpkin spice catheter bags, and genetically-engineered pumpkin-spice offspring who we'll one day drive to pumpkin spice soccer practice on a tank of pumpkin spice unleaded.

But few things express the gentle melancholy of autumn like Risus: Pumpkin Spice Edition, because nothing says free, rules-light roleplaying like the taste of sweetened gourd.

Space LCB is Seasonally Confused

If you remember my post on trace graphics, you'll be able to mentally jog through the vector-surgery that went into the revised graphics for this edition, which was an interesting exercise! Part of the process of working on the new version of the Risus Companion is revisiting old LCBs, so this process provided some useful practice in bringing them up to a certain speed.

Anyway, just an annual bit of silliness. The big difference this time is that there are differences; the original 2014 edition is finally retired, and this version will be retired sometime soon, with an all-new 2019 version on the slate for next year.

Happy autumn, and if you're curled up with a hot drink and feeling mellow, all you need now is an email conversation. My inbox is always open.

9/03/2018

All The Small Things

Three Small Movie Notes

  • I basically liked The Happytime Murders. It missteps, it overplays, it trods old boards and so on, but I think the wave of hateful reviews is just the usual feeding-frenzy where critics realize they can get away with the raw fun of catty writing, because they don't get to every day. They have communal permission with this one, so they dig in.
  • Personally I just want to know how Goofer knew what Goofer knew.
  • I really want to see The Miseducation of Cameron Post but the only theater showing it locally is an environment hostile to my asthmatic cough (cold, breezy, and they can't sell me a gigantic Diet Coke to sip on to keep the cough under control because they're too pretentious for artificial sweeteners).

Three Small Risus Things

  • In addition to Google Play, you can now snag Risus via Nook, Tolino or iTunes.
  • If you enjoy listening to Risus games in podcasty form, there's a new one to enjoy this week, thanks to the I Am Hear podcast and International Podcast Month. I recommend it; they're a fun bunch.
  • I'm a few years too late, but I finally snagged a copy of Dragons in the Stacks: A Teen Librarian's Guide to Tabletop Role-Playing just to luxuriate in the kind words it has for Risus.

Three Small Personal Truths

  • I listen to Christmas music all year round. Not every day or anything, but randomly at any time.
  • I drink very little alcohol, but I browse big-box liquor stores just to soak up the concentrated doses of graphic-design on the labels. 
  • In certain contexts, the cruelest and most savage projectile in my insult arsenal is simply "I see you've enjoyed the convenience of the default H&J settings."

I think it's very good, but I liked The Happytime Murders. And saw Solo seven times.


8/31/2018

Risus Play-By-Post

This'll be a short entry, but one I'm happy about. Remember my post about Eye of the Galaxy, a forthcoming Risus campaign worldbook?

Well, if you're into play-by-post (or think you might be if you tried) click right here with your clicky implement.

And if you happen to be in or near Fort Collins, I'll be running an Eye of the Galaxy session or two in the near future at ye locale shoppe. Keep an eye peeled.

And if you've got any advice on good PbP? Boy howdy, my inbox is open!


8/17/2018

Risus on Google Play

I'm gingerly dipping a toe into the Google Play environment, and more specifically, Risus: The Anything RPG is now available (free, of course) from Google Play Books.

We're pretty much a Google household, so this fits into my own reading habits and may find Risus a few new eyes in the long run. Plus, when reading Risus in a web-browser, it has a kind of storybook look that tickles me.

Plus, I'm Just Ticklish.

What I like most about it is that they store a PDF version and the free-flowing version together as a single entity, and you can easily switch between them if the book has both typeset and ePub source files, which Risus does. In the same menu where you'd change the font size, you can switch between "Flowing Text" view and "Original Pages" view.

For titles without an ePub, like Uresia: Grave of Heaven, "Original Pages" is the only view (but now I'm more curious than ever about maybe adding a flowing version of Uresia someday ... it's a bit trickier for a book like that, since things like sidebars and price tables can feel jarring jammed into a linear text-flow).

Google Play would never do as the primary channel for Cumberland Games, alas, due to limitations in the form. PDFs can't have layers or interactive elements, for instance (Uresia normally has removable borders and backgrounds, a clicky Index and so on, all of which vanish in the GPB version, which is actually a high-resolution raster) and it lacks the flexibility of the full "master version" of Risus with the multiple PDF variants and such.

But ... it's still kind of nice (and Google Uresia is currently half the price of the regular version), so it's a pleasant side-dish, as it were.

And this absolutely cements my decision to insure the forthcoming Risus Companion 2nd Ed releases with an an ePub version, which will be a benefit to those buying it through OBS or elsewhere, even if the Google Play option remains a curious side-show. So there's that. In the meantime, Risus is now available on another platform that may be newbie-friendly in ways the other formats can't touch. Got any thoughts on all this? My inbox is always open.

8/02/2018

Silly Old Bear

Sandra and I went to see the new Hayley Atwell movie tonight, and it was very likeable despite needing more Hayley Atwell (and Kanga; Kanga got maybe two lines).

The story goes note-for-note exactly how you'd expect from the trailer and/or the first 15 minutes of the film, which is fine ... it's not the sort of story that needs a lot of surprises, really. The performances (both traditional and digital) are very good, and the melancholy moments are effective. The line "Did you let me go?" buried me deeply.

And now both Sandra and I are missing Agent Carter more than usual, and the usual is a lot.

It's also got me thinking about color again. Not that I often stop.

The palette of Christopher Robin is both warm and muted, which suits the film very well, but it also stands out, because in modern film, the fantastic (in the literal sense) usually likes to scream at you, visually, by being hyper-saturated, so you can't possibly fail to notice how fantastic it is because it's punching your eyeballs with impossible palettes. In modern CGI fantasy, it's apparently a sin for foliage to be green, for example: "fantasy" foliage is Tang orange and candy-grape purple and pulsing neon magenta.

Which isn't what I personally fantasize about. Different strokes and all, but the earthy-fantasy vibe of Christopher Robin made me very happy indeed. So did the balloon, which (against the film's grounded palette) could stand out, looking brilliant in ordinary, lovely red.

Which just goes to show I can turn anything into an opportunity to gripe.

Now where's my tail gone again?




7/29/2018

Won't You Please Excuse My Frankness

When people ask me "what kind of world is Uresia?" I have a spinny internal Rolodex of oddball responses (responding oddballishly helps prepare them, in saintly-honest terms, for exactly the kind of world Uresia is).

One of my favorites is "It's the kind where the world map is an advertisement for beer." If they ask for more: "The rune-borders on the pages are also ads, often from the same brewery that makes the maps."

By then, the curious gamer is likely alight with eager curiosity or dim with grimdark dismissal, either of which is the correct response for the gamer in question.

As noted above, these truths are saintly in their honesty, but I think it's rare for anyone to bother actually "decrypting" the borders to read the advertisements and other bits of gossip. I suspect it's rarer still for anyone to notice I change the rune-borders from book to book, and I suspect it's crazy rare for anyone to notice that, when some Uresia books were available in both Letter-sized and 6x9-size (before Lulu changed their software), the borders differed between those, too.

Which means there's a kind of hidden, ridiculous miniature Uresia worlbook scraped thin across the entire library. Without reading the borders, how will gamers know about the racist hiring practises at Wilgarth’s? The quality guarantees of Hastleveld Alchemy?  The maritime value of Brindle's Red Curry Ale?

How indeed? If you're feeling super bored and love substitution cyphers, knock yourself out decoding them. If you've got better things to do (I recommend prepping a Uresia session for your group as a better thing to do), here's every page-border in the Cumberland Games 2nd-ed library of Uresia titles. Note that due to the nature of the Sora and Chesra runes, there are some bizarro spellings when it comes to CH, S and K sounds. For all remaining oddities the alphabet is blameless. This is the kind of world Uresia is.

. . . . . . . . . .




Uresia: Grave Of Heaven

==========[Letter]
! Settle For Nothing Less Than The Best * Harkourt*S Sweet Dipping Mustard Made With Real Maple Syrup !
! This Rune Border Brought To You By Dosrabid*S, Where All Your Alkemikal Dreams Kan Kome True For Less Than The Prise Of Our Insuranse !
! Try Brindle*S Today And Lose Trak Of Tomorrow !
! Brindle*S For When Being Wasted Is Just Niser !
==========[6X9]
! Quest Over To Brindle*S For The Finest Beer Your Guilders Kan Buy * Or At Least A Mug Of Ours !
? Why Aksept A Lower Quality Substitute ?
! Master Petri Makes The Lightest Armor !

Spider Meat

==========[Letter]
! If You Are Konsidering A Trip To The South Extents Of Gandi, Book With Evensong Karavel Kruises Today !
! This Rune Border Brought To You By Ghost-O, The Amazing New Non-Dairy Anti-Ghost Kream From The Finest Alkemikal Kreameries Of Yem !
! Brindle*S Isn*T Just About Selling Ceap Beer !
! Next Time You Visit * Try Our New Hot Wings !
==========[6X9]
! Four Out Of Five Delvers Prefer Brindle*S Beer * The Fifth Kan Afford Something Better !
! When You*Re A Rune Border You Get !
! A Lot Of Time To Just Ponder Life !

Caravel

==========[Letter]
! Brindle*S New Red Kurry Ale Kleans You Thoroughly At Both Ends And Makes For An Easier Time At Sea !
! If You Are Konsidering The Purcase Of A Karavel Be Sure To Visit Honest Acmed*S Used Karavel Extravaganza Where The Kustomer Is King !
! For A Good Time Kall Sexy Alaida Of Snow Harbor !
! For A Better Time Drink Lots Of Brindle*S Beer !
==========[6X9]
! Sailors Need The Lighest Armor So They Bring Their Gold To Master Petri Of Shadow River !
! Brindle*S Turns Kommon Spelt To Booze !
! Who Needs Mages With A Trik Like That !

The Rune Guide

==========[Letter]
! Skilled Rune Kasters Kan Always Find Work At Wilgarth’S, The Fortune Telling Emporium With Heart !
! If Your Runestones Are Under-Performing Speak With Grandmaster Ruvak And See What Genuine Orgaltish Iron-Karved Runes Are Like !
! Do Not Leave Your Future To Random Canse !
! Wilgarth Kan Kustom Tailor Your Readings !
==========[6X9]
! Get Read Or Regret Maybe Not Today Maybe Not Tomorrow But Soon And For The Rest Of Your Life !
! Nobody Kan Read Runes As Well As Dwarves !
! Wilgarth Employs Only Dwarves Kome Today !

Coatestown

==========[Letter]
! No Potion Kan Heal Like A Hostleveld Potion, Made Of The Finest Ingredients And Fewer Kat-Derived Fillers !
! If You’Re Visiting Koatestown This Season, Stok Up On Dragon-Pruf Today For Your Safety - It’S Like A Dragonslayer In An Easy-Open Kan !
! There Is No Brindle*S In Koatestown, Kome Home !
! Brindle*S Is Like Being Mauled By Ten Dragons !
==========[6X9]
! Hostleveld Alkemists Include Fewer Kats Than Any Other Alkemists By Far * Taste The Difference !
! And When We Use Kats Ours Are The Freshest !
! Nine Out Of Ten Kats Dislike Being A Potion !

Scott's Landing

! If You Require A Diskreet Satyr Wedding They Do Them At The Lyrian Curc For A Modest Fee !
! Lokating The Aktual Satyr Will Require A Bit More Effort And Some Personality But As They Say It Is Well Worth It !
! We Meet Weekly At The Brush And Bellows !
! First Rule Of Satyr Klub Is MORE SATYRS !

Cast From Paradise

! If It-S Any Konsolation To The Elf Fetishists - Most Elves Prefer Elves As Well !
! Rune Border Sponsored By Master Andrian - Good For One Free Hug At Nektar-S Garden - Some Restriktions Apply !
! For A Really Good Time Kall S-John Ross !

. . . . . . . . . .


There are, of course, runes beyond these page borders, tucked away in maps and other graphics. But that's enough of that for now. If you've got some amusing rune anecdotes, or just want a really good time, my inbox is open, as always.


Hostleveld & Brindle's Team Up
for a Limited-Edition Cat Curry BPA*
You'll Not Soon Forget
*(Boru Pale Ale, natch, not a bisphenol joke, except kind of a bisphenol joke as a bonus)

7/28/2018

A Designer in Need

Pete over at Griffon made me aware of this, and while I've got very little signal to offer, here's what little boost I've got.

Click here to visit a KS fundraiser on the part of the mighty mighty Greg Porter to help Lee Garvin, a game designer I know from way back.

[Update: Good news; it funded!]


Lee's had a terrible run of events and he's currently putting his life back together, which can get real tricky in this line of work.

I have multiple Lee Garvin stories. None of them are appropriate today and none of them are appropriate, ever, but that's part of what makes them funny.

I'll just recount the first time I met him; that one's G-Rated and doesn't involve Nelson Terrace (people just called him 'Street,' and if you ever see this, Lee; know that I can honestly and precisely say that Nelson made an indelible mark on my memory; you can quote me on that, unless I got his name wrong, which would be hilarious, all things considered).

It was at the Hunt Valley Marriott in Maryland, down in the wine cellar and adjoining rooms they used for open gaming at a couple of different (well, differently-named) sci-fi conventions in those days. I've mentioned that wine cellar before and I will again; it's a cosmic nexus of some kind.

I was fresh to writing for Steve Jackson Games in those days (articles for both Roleplayer and ADQ, with the GURPS Russia contract still fresh) and was waving my most enthusiastic GURPS flag, and Lee zeroed in on me, because he was prowling around with a binder full of Tales From the Floating Vagabond, looking for a publisher.

He buttonholed me with a short version of the pitch and asked if I thought SJG might bite. I told him I didn't know; I was just an SJG-adjacent freelancer and not (in those days) a staffer, but that they already had Toon as far as comedy things go, so that might dim their interest.

It did nothing to dim Lee's enthusiasm, and he opened into a larger pitch.

I chuckled at the bartender's name (Hawk Luger), but then I spotted, over Lee's shoulder, a guy I'd done some convention-partying with from The Avalon Hill Game Company, an affable gent by the name of Nick Atlas.

I made some excuses and a quick introduction, and fled the scene, feeling proud of myself for the playfully wicked joke I'd just made. As if The Avalon Hill Game Company, buttoned-down, cardboard chits, case-format and all, would have any interest in a comedy RPG ha-ha. They could put that right next to Squad Leader on the shelf ha-ha.

Ha ha.

What happened next is something I can't take any credit or blame for; it was down to Lee's own enthusiastic salesmanship (and I had zero role in the corebook), but it would turn out to be Just the Beginning, as later on Nick would ask me if I wanted to do some writing for that very same game.

This leads to so many other stories, including a sleepover at Lee's place, featuring myself, Nick, a former TSR editor named Robin Jenkins, a pile of pizza boxes and a copy of Drop Dead Fred played basically on a loop because Lee's affection for Pheobe Cates could probably kill the G-Rating of this post.

Of course, it also led to the emotional trauma of having it drilled into me that you never, ever, EVER call it "Avalon Hill." It's always The Avalon Hill Game Company, and that is burned on my brain.

Right next to Nelson Terrace.

Lee needs some help. Please consider it.



7/25/2018

Cultivating the Hills

I took a half-hour mapping break earlier today on my eternal break-map, the Shadow River cartographic portrait. Most of my work lately on Shadow River has been of the enormous marketplace near the Citadel, complete with one unmistakable hot-air balloon near the middle (Uresia fans will know what I mean).

The marketplace is a lot of tedious fiddly-work, because stalls, tents and pavilions are (mostly) smaller than the more permanent structures filling most of the city, less likely to touch, and more likely to be surrounded by muddy footpaths wrecking what's left of the grass in the market areas.

To escape the hustle of the marketplace, I went east, over the walls and up the side of the large hill there (or small mountain, depending who you ask) and drew no buildings at all.

Contours and Farmy Stuff, Farmy Stuff and Contours

I've done farmland in this mapping style before (for the Scott's Landing map), but the Scott's River Valley is pretty flat around the town, so the plots of cultivated land are shaped accordingly. My prior work on farms near Shadow River have also been flattish, focused on the fairly level territory south of the west bank neighborhoods). This marks my first time doing farmland on a steep hillside, weaving the plots in with the switchbacks and going with a kind of pseudo-terraced look.

I already see a half-dozen things I need to change, but it's a happy start. The foliage is all mouse-drawn (with vector brushes) in Adobe Illustrator, and the brushes are just plain green circles with varying degrees of dense scatter (literally, if you look in the brush palette, the brushes just look like a single dot, because they are).

It's an excellent way to make a super inefficient Illustrator file, but the destination is always Photoshop (and I shave some bytes by expanding the brush-strokes and pathfinder-adding them).

This mockup sadly excludes the usual finishes of texture and color - it's just some quickity-click Clouds and Noise to give me a peek at how it might shake out.

For inspiration, I mainly ogled photos of Tuscany. Tuscany is some prime ogling real estate.

Anyway, I saw the opportunity to post about the Shadow River portrait without the screen-cap being just More Buildings, so I took it. If you ever want to talk about mapping, drop me a line.

7/23/2018

Eye of the Galaxy

Those who follow my (dozens of) projects with any closeness probably recall one of my long-simmering favorites: a swashbuckling, satiric space-opera where the PCs are journalists for a galaxy-wide media empire in the midst of a space-opera equivalent of the Hearst-Pulitzer days fused to Google via Lemmon & Matthau in The Front Page and echoing my fascination with investigative journalism from Nelly Bly to Hunter S. Thompson and (of course) a bit of Ford Prefect for good measure.

The early test-sessions went so effing well. They were each little powder-kegs of roleplaying awesome, and the players in each run had an obviously-joyful attachment to their characters.

The whole thing was frothy and ridiculous, pulpy and unlikely, and more than occasionally heroic despite itself. The motto Get The Story, Don't Become the Story (the refrain of Max, the PCs' editor and resident fountain of MacGuffins) became the tagline of the whole shebang (because it never worked out that way, making it feel just as much Dirty Pair as Hitchhiker's), and the resulting book - a concentrated dose of Risus world-building that would also provide the necessary context for one of the kick-modules - started to coalesce into something I was stoked about.

But then, 2016 happened. And it just felt wrong, writing about fun, pulpy journalists trotting around the galaxy as inadvertent folk-heroes trying to out-scoop their competitors. Every bit of solar wind drained from those sails, and I just couldn't even look at it for a year or so.

I sometimes say that my subconscious does most of the actual work, and when it's done, it tugs on my shirt-tail to start typing.

Sometime last year, that started happening very urgently on the space-journalists project. My subconscious had clearly been busy, because the book had morphed a bit while my conscious back was turned.

The original concept was a fusion: the state of journalism in the 1890s, 1960s and 1980s, told through a frothy space-opera lens. Should a lens even be frothy? Not the point; this one was.

The revised concept remains fusion: the state of journalism in the 1890s, 1960s, 1980s and today.

My original, despairing feeling was that this would flatten out the froth, take the joy from the game world just as the real world had become joyless.

But my subconscious, ever the contrarian (even moreso than regular me) was like NO WAY CONSCIOUS S. JOHN, IT JUST MAKES THE HEROIC PARTS A LITTLE BIT MORE HEROIC. Plus less about paper-to-paper competition and more about journalism as a dysfunctional but well-meaning family.

And I was like "Oh."

"Oh."

"YEAH."

So, for those keeping track, Risus has that worldbook back on track, and it's better than it would have been.

Not the Real Logo, But I Like Having a Placeholder To Look At

If Eye of the Galaxy feels like something you might want to blindtest when the time comes, drop me a line and tell me about your group!

7/18/2018

Blessed Redundancy

To say that I've done a glossary of a lexicon is weirdly redundant, but making the title of this post Blessed Redundancy brings us full circle and repairs the damage. I choose to believe that's how it works.

As promised recently, the Glossary is now here, hoping to serve a handful of functions. First, it lets me be lazy from now on when plugging hyperlinks into every new installment of the RPG Lexicon series of posts. Second, it provides a single URL for others to use, if they have need of a simple gateway to said series. Third, it can provide a refresher for those times when it's been too long between posts, and fourth, I will cuddle up with it when no one's watching.

It's what Blogger calls a 'page' instead of a 'post,' since it's meant to change regularly (every time the series grows). I'm not sure if doing it as a page has any hidden disadvantages; I'm still new to bloggery and treat it like black magic. It might also properly belong on the Blue Room, but Rolltop Indigo is part of the Blue Room, and it just feels like this is the part where it belongs.

If you follow the Lexicon posts, I hope you find this useful for keeping it all sorted and, fair or foul, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, and the design-topics it means to shine a light on. 'Til next time.

Here Are Some Jalapeños

7/16/2018

Miscellany

My least-favorite thing to wake up to this morning was the news. My favorite thing to wake up to was the trailer for On the Basis of Sex, since it lives at the intersection of my Ruth Bader Ginsburg fandom and my Felicity Jones fandom:



In today's laptoppery, I'm making my first baby-steps toward emulating old Yes album-cover lettering, if by "baby steps" we mean a baby that is still limited to lying on its back and pooping.

I'm still working on the M. And better o's and n's.

Those of you who track my long-simmering Encounter Critical projects can probably put 2 and 2 together there. It's ... actually kind of wonderful to be working entirely from Jim's perspective on a thing (well, there's a bit of Dave Cunningham as well). I firmly believe our hobby needs more James Ireland. If none of that makes sense: don't worry. That will never change.

Mostly, work has just been Risus Risus Risus (in Space Space Space) ... which is also excellent. But like an EC thing sometimes does, this EC thing has me distracted today.

In this-here-blog news, I'm compiling a distilled Glossary page of the RPG Lexicon terms I've covered so far, and It'll grow as the Lexicon posts dribble out. As noted recently, I'm no longer committed to dribbling them at any particular rate, but ... they're things I feel strongly about writing, so the Glossary will be a handy adjunct going forward. I'll be posting that soon.

In utterly personal news, I just want some lasagna. Dieting is stressful.

Finally, if you're ever up late at night (give or take 24 hours for time zones) and want to chat about pen-and-paper RPGs while I play mindless videogames, this is the link to click for that. I've been streaming more frequently lately, but it's more fun with friends to chatter at! If you're ever in the mood for that kind of chatter and I'm not online, feel free to prod me by email; if it's deep in the moonlighty night, there's a good chance I'll be game.

Hope this finds you gaming and well-fed (send pasta pics; staring counts as a free food).

7/14/2018

Launch

Like the shameless egotist I am, I have Google notify me when I'm summoned, so I can show up in an opera-style devil costume and mug at strangers through a foggy mirror. Type my name and I shall appear.

The result is mostly noise, not because my work is a ubiquitous topic, but because there are always dozens of new free-to-download font sites cropping up to sell ads and distribute malware, because if you want to build a such a site, all you need to do for content is poach the existing sites and voila. This is why I only bother uploading to DaFont and sometimes FontSpace (both of which are legit, long-term and ethical sources). Within a week or two, any font I post there appears on several hundred dodgier downstream sites, often with the ReadMe stripped out and/or replaced by advertising or virusy "installers" (fonts don't need installers, but not everyone knows that).

Which should be a pretty simple lesson on where to download your fonts. A word to the wise.

Anyway, this brings us to GURPS, obviously. Dragon's Lair posted this the other day.


And I just stared at it for a minute wondering how true it is. Like, did that really happen? With me or Robin?

I guess it's been so many years, now, that I had to pause and unreel it.

I mean, I loves me some "Mad Lands" (Icfrom) as much as anyone (I've found myself idly wondering if it'll enjoy a surge of popularity in response to the new Christopher Robin movie), but Laws was also involved with OtE at the time, I think. GURPS Fantasy II was his first book, but not his first RPG writing, I think.

And it just occurred to me that he and Christopher Robin share that whole "Robin" thing and I feel silly for never noticing before. Christopher Robin Laws. I dig it. Pooh Emoji.

My first book wasn't for GURPS at all. It was Weirder Tales: A Space Opera for Tales From the Floating Vagabond from Avalon Hill (there's a Risus version in the works; got the rights several years back, just been taking my time to get it right, as I do).

But, my first article sale was a GURPS article to Roleplayer, a kind of GURPS mini-mag I loved to pieces, back in the day.

And I still bold-italic a book or game title, and regular-italic a periodical title, because that's what the Steve Jackson Games Writer's Guidelines told me to do. So there's that.

We both had books that suffered a little from company caution, I daresay. Calling Robin's book GURPS Fantasy II was a bit of an indignity, hiding its considerable and bizarre light under a bushel (and disappointing anyone who mistook it for some kind of sequel or companion to GURPS Fantasy, to which it bore no relation).

My own GURPS Russia wasn't mislabeled GURPS Vikings II or anything, but it became an experiment in direct marketing out of a similar (I believe) sense of we're-not-sure-if-this-is-too-niche.

Hm. But overall, yeah. I can see it.

I guess if it got Robin his first book contract, that's a launchy thing.

And I guess if it got me my first article sale, that's a launchy thing.

So I guess it is true, or true enough. I just  never thought of it that way.

Which may just be down to shameless egotism. And my devil costume.


7/13/2018

Capping the Mapping

I've been meaning to do some visual guides to some of the Illustrator techniques I use to build the colder (pre-Photoshop) stages of the town and city maps.

But I've never had reason, before, to do video screencaps. Turns out VLC has it built in, so I feel extra-foolish as I've been using VLC for approximately forever. Here's an 8× speed copy of my very firstest hamfisted attempt.


So it's a start. Obviously, it'll need more things, like (A) more steps (B) a voiceover explaining what I'm doing and why, and probably (C) a track of me humming yakety sax for music. I should probably also hide the Windows taskbar; it's kind of dorky down there. And I guess maybe (D) a title-card or somesuch.

But it's nice to know the actual screen-recording part is super easy. Thank you, VLC. I already knew you were handy, and I feel bad for not knowing about this bonus awesome, but just as necessity is the mother of invention, I guess it's also the midwife of feature discovery.

If there's some aspect of my graphicky things you'd be interested in seeing videos of, my inbox is always open, and in the meantime I'll probably do some basic stuff like this clip hints at.

7/11/2018

Casual Wear

It had been my intention to work the blog hard for at least six months, to see if it might succeed, but after two months its level of failure was so dramatic, so inescapably clear, as to render those efforts at best quixotic, and more realistically, pathetic.

Rolltop Indigo will keep rolling on. This will remain the living incarnation of Blue Desk for the foreseeable. But, on no particular schedule, with no particular structure and no repeating features apart from the Writing Workshops (which have supported themselves).* Switching from the regular denim to the elastic waistband, basically. Not much point putting on the fancy gear for an empty concert hall, so let's move this act across the street to the pub.

There's a better-than-fair chance this will mean I post more often. Sometimes.

Legend of the Lost Sparks Set!


* Rolltop Indigo is correspondence-supported, like it says in the sidebar thingy. The Writing Workshops have generated a sufficient volume of correspondence to sustain themselves, so a big heartfelt thank you to the workshop-folk! There'll be a new workshop soon. I'm considering adding a short series of easier ones, too, to supplement the bone-crunchers. Let me know what you think.

7/01/2018

Risus in Costume

For this week's Interactive Sunday I want to highlight the embarrassing limits of my skill at interacting, but more importantly, I want to highlight people playing Risus in costume. Conveniently, they intersect.

I abandoned Twitter in the autumn of 2016, for the obvious reason one might associate with that point on the timeline. Around the same time, I abandoned Facebook, shut down all but a couple of the Cumberland mailing lists, and so on. Each of these points of separation endured, until it occurred to me I should let more folks know about Rolltop Indigo if I want anyone to actually read the thing. I do.

So, I poked a toe back in Twitter's direction, to promote the blog. Naturally, there was a small stack of unread direct messages, tag-alerts, likes and so on, trapped in sap and slowly crystallizing.

A few were tweets referencing a podcast, posted by actress and gamer Meghan Caves, and by the Saving Throw Show.

Nice Production Values! So, Clearly Nothing To Do With Me.

I glanced at the tweets but didn't really understand them or know who these folks even were. Seemed to be some kind of actual-play podcasty thing ... but glancing over the relevant feeds I caught references to Deadlands and D&D and such so I wasn't sure why I'd been tagged. Maybe someone remembered that I was somehow involved with the 5E Player's Handbook and just thought I'd be interested? I couldn't figure it out in the 15 seconds I allotted to the process, and it was late at night and I had come to Twitter with a mission, so I made my Tweets and signed out before I got sucked in. It lingered in my thoughts, though. I mentioned it to Sandra and she suggested it was some kind of autocomplete typo, that they probably didn't even intend to tag me at all ... which made more sense than anything I could come up with.

Time passed. A few days ago, Google started poking ads at me for their new Google Podcasts app. My responses cycled between "Google only just now has a podcast app?" and "may as well try it; my Google serfdom is complete."

I installed the new app and searched right away for Risus. I've heard some cool Risus-related podcasts now and again and never mind hearing more. And the first podcast that came up in the search had the same name as the thing I'd been tagged about, which was still lingering in my cloudy cranium.

At which point I deduced with Holmesian certainty: I am a slow-witted doofus man.

So, just in case you're as outside this loop as I was: Meghan Caves GM'ed a three-part mini-campaign using her own twist on Risus: The Anything RPG wed to the scenario presented by the Mysterium board game and they live-broadcast each session on Twitch, in 1920s period costume. That's pretty awesome, but it's not even my favorite part. My favorite part is that it was only Meghan's second stab at GMing.

I'm a pretty good GM but it took me a few stabs to get it right. Meghan is a clearly superior stabbinator. If you're keen to see (and you should be), here's the entire run, in three reasonably epic YouTube videos:


You can also snag them in podcast form via the Google app or whichever method you prefer. That's how I've been consuming them because I just learned about the videos while prepping this blogpost. Because even when I'm finally clued in, I remain a slow-witted doofus man.

The Great Vano looks exactly as I pictured him.

Know any more cool Risus things I should be clued-in about? Or just want to chat about GMing or adventure design or game cartography with a well-meaning, slower-than-average doofusy fellow? My inbox is open.

I Hadn't Been on Twitter for This Graphic. D'oh.