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

! 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 !
! 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

! 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 !
! 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 !


! 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 !
! 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

! 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 !
! 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 !


! 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 !
! 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)


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.


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.


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."



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!


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



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).



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.


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.


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.


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.