Monday, November 11, 2019

Original, Simple, Ready to Hack

The bloated ourobouros that is The Discourse (TM) has slouched towards Bethlehem once again, nibbling at its tail. This has inspired me to do the smart intensely stupid thing of distancing myself from it interacting with it. I have thrown my hat in the ring, to be gobbled up by the mindless many-mouthed colossus.

PART 1: Dandy's Eightfold Path

OSR games are...

  • Original -The game content setting and rules are novel and/or shares lineage with variants of the OD&D ruleset. It is not required that both of these be active simultaneously.
  • Simple - The core rules are easy to explain and learn. They can be understood easily by new players, children, drunkards, and the occasional very clever dog.
  • Ready to Hack  - The game is modular, so it is trivial to change rules, add mechanics, make substitutions, and otherwise incredibly easy to make your own material.

The act of play is...

  • Organic - The story and world are emergent, coming into being during the act of play. Random tables, player input, whim + foppery, and chains of consequences all play into this.
  • Skill-Based - A player's skill at navigating problems with novel solutions is worth more than the character's mechanical skills. Unorthodoxy is rewarded.
  • Reactive - The world of the game is not static, nor does it conform to a set of genre expectations. It exists outside of the players and reacts to their actions. Consequences are enforced.

And finally, the most important...

  • Make Cool Shit - You know that cool shit you want to exist but doesn't? Make it. Make it yours. Make it the coolest shit you can make. Life is too short to wait to let other people make  shit you think is cool.
  • Fuck the Man - The Man is not your real dad and therefore cannot tell you what to do. Your own real dad can only offer polite suggestions on what you should do, if he is a cool dude. Submit to no authority. Silence brands. Publicly humiliate Nazis. Murder the gods and topple their thrones.


The Discourse (TM) tends to go something like this: A person outside the OSR noosphere has a brush with some of the unpleasant elements of the scene, makes some broad statements on twitter, everyone gets all up in a huff and spends the next few days wondering if we should even use the term anymore and how to deal with the shitheads who are tramping around and what even is this OSR stuff anyway when we get down to it and a few people distance themselves from the label and then we all forget about it and we go back to normal for the next two months.

I hate this cycle so, so much. I hate it because it's stupid and I hate it because arguments over the precise nature and definition of what is and isn't OSR are precisely as stupid as similar arguments about science fiction. All broad categories contain multitudes of variation within them, so the idea of talking about the OSR or science fiction as if either is a singular thing is a very silly bit of reductionism.

So I propose this: there are schools of the OSR as there are schools of wizardy or schools of philosophy or schools of sci-fi. There can be no "true OSR", because purity is a lie unbefitting an entropic universe.

All of these are malleable, shifting, overlapping, intermingling, and otherwise inconstant. A single person can and will be a member of multiple schools at a time and can shift between them according to both time and specific projects. There are certainly schools I have left out. They are all subjective, except for the Regressive Wanker School.

  • Retroclone School - Focused upon games that revise and repackage OD&D, B/X, etc, without major additions or modifications. Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Regressive Wanker School - Those who spend far more of their time complaining about SJWs and/or storygames and being unpleasant to be around than creating cool shit. Love playing victim and proclaiming over-inflated self-importance. Pundit, Venger, Zak.
  • Goblin School -The very particular flavor of weird originating with Arnold K. Includes anyone who plays around with the GLOG and I lump most bloggers with their own bespoke weird-takes-on-vanilla-fantasy settings here.
  • DREAM School - Hybrid school experimenting with storygame elements. Lightweight, personal, and Twitter based. More of an inclusive social contract than a specific set of dev guidelines, but many DREAM games share the similar traits listed.
  • Dog Knight School - Grotty, cynical, gross, decadent, obscene. Eat trash do crimes. Fuck the Man. If Fiona Geist likes it, it's probably Dog Knight.
  • Light and Cozy School - Light and comfy games with a lot of influences from fairytales, cartoons, and JRPGs. BREAK! is the poster child. Counterbalance to Dog Knight.
  • New School Old School - OSR attitudes towards play but sprouting off into complete new rulesets and genres. Mothership, Maze Rats & Knave, Esoteric Enterprises, TROIKA!.
  • Hardcore Artcore School - People who get really artsy and out there. Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess.
  • Orbital School - People who don't identify with OSR as a label but the games they make and their styles of play fit right in.
  • Fiver School - Folks who do mostly 5e (or close to it) stuff, but they still have the energy to them. Jack Shear and Kiel Chenier.
  • The Generally Cool School - Individuals who are off doing their own thing and killing it.
  • FLAILSNAIL School - The "who cares do whatever" school of gonzo, as spearheaded by Jeff Rients. Anything goes, everything is cross-compatible.
  • The Big Time School - Games that have broken out into the big leagues (or what we have of them). DCC and Shadow of the Demon Lord.
  • Alignments are for Suckers School - For those who neither have nor want a school. Rock on, people.
I'd say I am a Goblin-NSOS friendly to the ideas of DREAM and dipping a bit into Dog Knight when the mood strikes me.

(Have you got others? I probably missed a lot. Drop 'em in the comments)

PART 3:  What Follows

Where do we go from here? Wherever we want to. I'll be damned if I hand over the reins to the Regressive Wanker School, and I'll likewise be damned if I sit still and let good folks doing a great job out there get painted with a broad, dismissive brush.

And I'll be damned triply if I let The Discourse (TM) show it's ugly mug on this blog in the future. 

I solved the problem we can all go home.


Oh god what the fuck. Why is it circular. What did you do to this horse. It is like a plate on its rim, with horse legs around the edge. Too many legs. Why does it have so many legs. No I will not look into its horrible horse eyes, the horse eyes that beg for death no I will not listen to the pitiful whinnies that plead for mercy. What has happened to this horse.

God has abandoned us.

Appearance: As a creature vaguely-resembling but no longer in practice a horse.
Attacks: Trampling hooves. Medium damage 1-4 strikes
Armor: Only speed grants it defense from the blades it deserves
# Appearing: 1. There is only ever 1.

All Will Shudder and Collapse With Trembling: Witnessing the DISC HORSE is an immediate will check to avoid panicking (fight/flight/freeze response)

Abomination in the Eyes of God and Science: Simply being in the presence of the DISC HORSE will give all magic a 33% chance of failure with a terrible blowback (roll for mutation!) This applies also to magical devices, electronic devices, and anything involving gunpowder or internal combustion.

Even the Angels Are Afraid: A DISC HORSE will immediately throw any angels, demons, elementals, chaos-spawn, or lawful adjudicators into a panic. Beings of singular essence cannot handle this horrific bullshit.

Love Will Not Save Us: If someone should deliver a blow that drives the DISC HORSE below 1/2 HP, it will make a beeline towards whatever that person holds dear and attempt to destroy it utterly. It is very fast. Despair means that it does not tire.

FUCKING BUER: If the DISC HORSE is captured and Buer is summoned in the same location, they shall form the damnable artifact THE BICYCLE OF WOE. If this does not kick off the apocalypse, it means that God truly is dead and the heavens are empty.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Sixth People of Man

Helena Markos

Takal Nûn, who was lord of swords, came to Baba Tubalkhan in his forge and said: "Brother Tubalkhan, I ask that you make for me the greatest of weapons. Make for me a sword, so that I may cleave my enemies in twain."

Baba Tubalkhan nodded and said: "Come back tomorrow, and I shall give it to you." 

The next day came, and Takal Nûn returned to the forge. Before his feet, Baba Tubalkhan had laid a plowshare.

"This will do you much better," spoke Baba. "Swords are ugly things and not terribly practical for most of the year. Besides, if you wish to make ghosts of men, a sharp rock and a strong arm will do just as well and you have both already. I did not want to give you a gift you already possessed."
Takal Nûn was greatly angered by this, but knew that Tubalkhan had taken on some of his wife's trickery, and so restrained his rage. 

"Make me a spear, then, so that I may smite my enemies from my chariot. Make me a mighty helm, to proclaim my glory to all who see."

Baba Tubalkhan nodded and said: "Come back tomorrow, and I shall give it to you." 

The next day came, and Takal Nûn returned to the forge. Before his feet, Baba Tubalkhan had laid a broom of reeds and a cookpot. 
Now Takal Nûn erupted in great fury and bit at his cursing finger until it bled, and lay a curse upon the forge of Baba Tubalkhan: "You have wronged me three times, Tubalkhan, for you have given me a plowshare when I asked for a sword, a broom when I asked for a spear, and a cookpot when I asked for a helm. Thus I lay a curse upon your beloved sons the altai, that they will desire with all their hearts the gifts you have denied me and the arts of their bloody usage."

The Altai

Among the human peoples the altai are closest in relation to the néandr, being similarly solid of build but a head and a half taller. Most of them hail from the plains of Kara Koren, north of the Blackwine Sea and the lands of the amazons. They keep a semi-nomadic life there, migrating with the bison herds between the cities on the rivers and the holy mountain of the Hollowhorn.

They are also cursed.

Upon reaching adolescence, men of the altai enter an intense and lengthy cycle of musth that will keep them in its clutches for decades, urging them on to great violence and uncontrolled anger. This is the root of the roving warbands that have haunted the imaginations and livelihoods of the other peoples for millennia.

The curse of Takal Nûn necessitates a civilization split by sex (factoring in deaths, the ratio is about three women to each man). Women serve as the backbone of society, maintaining the farms, herds, homesteads, lodges, trades, government, and the other major functions of day-to-day life. Men go out campaigning during the spring and summer, returning home for the autumn and winter months when the curse is at its lowest intensity.

(Aside: It is worth pointing out that some altai who are born female recant all inheritance and responsibilities in order to go out campaigning and live as a man. The opposite, those born male who live as women, are significantly rarer and tend to be limited to the occasional hermit oracle-berserker.)

Altai households are large, multi-generational, and complex. The short form for outsiders is thus: a household consists of a group of women bound by a household vow, their surviving elderly parents, their children, and a rotating roster of men in various states of monogamy who come round during the off-season.

Time and necessary tradition have turned the wars among the altai into formal affairs organized by the elders, carried out for personal glory and the driving force of musth than for accumulating land or booty. This mostly curtails, but has not entirely stopped, the raiding bands that have intruded upon the lands of the other peoples over the ages. A sort of equilibrium has been reached in modern days, with more overlap of populations and greater understanding of cultures, but old wounds can still run deep on the borderlands of their territory. Altai housholds can be found in many major cities outside Kara Koren.

The curse fades fully when reaching 40-60 years of age - those men that survive until this time are welcomed back home as Greyhair'd elders and are permitted to sit with the old women in the council lodge. They may also lead moots during the yearly springtime gatherings at the base of the Hollowhorn.

The altai have nothing to do at all with Orca or her servants.


As best as scholars can tell, Takal Nûn was a prehistoric warlord who enslaved the altai and whose sorcerous works are the source of the. The lack of any altai men who do not demonstrate the curse leads to the hypothesis that he was successful in killing off those segments of the population that he was not able to enslave. Some oral histories contain reference to the "old altai" who were transformed even more by the curse, until they "had arms and chests like that of trolls, and minds heavy and thick as winter mud. If a woman gave birth, the child would be cut from her womb for its head was too misshapen to emerge on its own."

If any of the old altai still exist, they do so far beyond even the shadow of the Hollowhorn.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Class: Theotokos


This is a gimmick class, a mash-up of Monsieur's Witch and Lexi's Cleric. It is above anything else an excuse to use this image, which I am quite fond of.

Class: Theotokos

Somehow or another, you ended up carrying a god's child. It might be your profession, your fate, your choice, or your bad luck, but it's where you ended up.

Uses HD as wizards, in games where this matters. No armor or weaponry skills at all.

Miraculous Magic

A theotokos gains access to the miracles of their deific partner and may only cast them when in service to one of that deity's commands, as per the cleric class linked above. They do get access to increasing spell dice as per the witch (lvl+1 d4, lvl d6, or lvl-1d8), through one of the two options applies.

1) The die size increases with level. As GLOG spell dice cap at four, this is a convenient way of marking off trimesters, with the birth of the god-child occurring at level 4.
  • Level 1: 2d4
  • Level 2: 2d6
  • Level 3: 2d8
  • Level 4: 3d8
2) Your spell die size is determined by the manner of the whole deal. The child may already be born with this option, at the player's discretion.
  • d4 - Your child is particularly blessed by your deity, but otherwise mundane.
  • d6 - Your child was conceived in the typical fashion with a human partner, but contains the spark of divinity within them.
  • d8 - Your child was conceived purely by the god's power. A physical act may or may not have occurred. The child is a full demigod.


A theotokos may have up to their level in followers. At any given time, only one of them may have class levels.

The follower gained at first level will likely be a spouse, partner, close friend, attendant, or protector.


A small selection of potential god-parents includes:
  1. Auson, god of undeath and the wilds - Death is a thing born in cities. In the wilderness beyond those shimmering white-gold walls, the world lives and lives and lives forever and ever amen carcinogen.
  2. Oublor, god of storm and elemental ooze -They are the watery greenish eye in the center of the viscous hurricane that never ends, that tamps down the waves with slime and makes sludgy wastes of the land.
  3. Edu Tatanu, god of authority and nobility - Fuck this guy. Narcissistic autocratic sister-fucking wig-wearing war-starting eugenics-loving boot-licking orphan-kicking puppy-eating peasant-impaling Malthusian prick. Eat shit and die, Edu.
  4. Ai-Thoth, god of knowledge and love - Rarely emerges from their hidden library, but is a tender and temperate lover in those brief moments.
  5. Mammonatum, god of creation, forge, and greed - The creator of the world demands repayment from all life that came forth from their work. Interest is charged.
  6. Riksennic, god of blood and vengeance - When violence is committed, violence meets it. Despite this, they are a mild god and detest the cycles they represent and perpetuate.
  7. SALTY JOHN, god of elemental surprise and the crab - Wait, who's that? It can't is! Holy shit! It's SALTY JOHN! Hell yeah! Salty John!
  8. Mnysillias, god of the harvest and the spider - When the leaves turn orange, leave an offering in the attic. Fine silks will be granted to the devout.
  9. Redmane, god of blood, battle and the lion - A roar tears across the battlefront, the god stirs in the hearts of men and is brought forth beneath the banners.
  10. Sev Likon, god of trickery and undeath - Forever dancing out of the reaper's hand.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

20 Questions, Esoteric Enterprises Edition

The original remains one of the best posts in this scene, here's a version tweaked for modern paranormal games.

I would definitely advise doing this with your group, especially if it's a real life group and you are using a real-world location everyone is familiar with.

  1. How aware is the public of the Underground?
  2. How much does the government interfere in the Underground?
  3. Where's home base? 
  4. Where can we lay low if we get burned?
  5. Where do we go for under-the-radar medical care and augmentation?
  6. Who are the big names to watch out for?
  7. Do we have any friendlies in the area?
  8. Who's our fence?
  9. Where do we get our drugs?
  10. How do we best research the occult?
  11. What's the biggest threat in the Underground?
  12. What's the most valuable treasure in the Underground?
  13. What are the worst monsters down in the Underground?
  14. Where's the nearest Enterprise-friendly dive?
  15. What's the biggest conflict going on right now?
  16. Are there any Underground organizations to join?
  17. How and where do I hire help?
  18. Which cults are big nowadays?
  19. What factions are not to be fucked with?
  20. What are some common beliefs (that are definitely, disastrously untrue)?
Do you have other questions you'd want answered as a player? Leave them in the comments. I'll revise this when EE comes out properly and throw up my own answers then.

Monday, November 4, 2019

7d8 Road-Weary Wanderers

This post originally went up on Patreon in July.


d8 Mendicants

  1. Fox-masked relic-seller, muddy shovel over one shoulder.
  2. Desiccated monk, fasting to death, accompanied by the woman pregnant with their reincarnation.
  3. Flagellant pilgrim of the centipede god.
  4. Holy fool in motley, hunting another whose gone bad.
  5. Wandering carnifex-priest. Executioner-for-hire low on work.
  6. Woodsy mystic, catching crayfish in the creek.
  7. Radium Priest of the Exclusion Zone. Scarred from viewing the Elephant’s Foot.
  8. An ordinary farmer, host to billions of mitochondrial Star-Gods.

d8 Rogues

  1. Travelling ukiyo-e painter and pornography salesperson.
  2. Second-story man and their beloved, greying pug.
  3. Repairer of reputations, book of receipts under their arm.
  4. Organlegger, off to make a repossession. Enjoys giving forewarning.
  5. The fall-guy. An expert in taking the blame, might have a complex about it.
  6. Drop-bear trainer, recently mauled and looking for a career change.
  7. Fake wizard. Does birthday parties, weddings, and the occasional funeral.
  8. Assassin of the Mosquito School. Immaculate black suit beaded with fresh red drops.

d8 Fighters

  1. Escaped professional gladiator and chamber-choir singer.
  2. Bearhide-wearing hillfolk warrior. University educated, came back home.
  3. Subterrene guerilla from down below. Clearly a deserter.
  4. Minuteman of the Biting Wind Company
  5. Lancer of the Serpent Riders, bearing the shed-skin banner of Nidhogg
  6. Iron-Masked shock trooper, fresh from the penal colonies.
  7. A dragonfly knight, servant of those lady loves Justice and Violence.
  8. To prove their bravery, their armor has a glaring, brightly-painting weak point.

d8 Magic-Users

  1. Keeper of carnivorous books, absolutely loves their work.
  2. Does birthday parties, competes with the fake wizard on table 2.
  3. Wannabe demonologist, in it mostly to get groupies.
  4. Personal arcane investment accountant. Dreams have been dead for 25 years.
  5. Nudist. Not nearly as unfit for it as one would expect.
  6. Mosaic rune-reader. Divination doesn’t pay well, so does romance novels as a side hustle.
  7. Hierophant of the Sturgeons. Undergoing crisis of faith.
  8. Trepanned Astrologer, currently on their third brain.

d8 Elves

  1. Garbed as an orchid mantis.
  2. Cinderlike skin, burning coal eyes.
  3. Lives inside a toad, looking for a housemate.
  4. Sheds skin like leaves. Unbreakable melancholy of the pleasant kind.
  5. Looks like an ordinary human, held upright on strings.
  6. Hammerhead. Vestments of defrocked priest.
  7. A little tree in a clay pot, carried around by a mindless servant.
  8. A shadow in a bank of cloud.

d8 Dwarves

  1. Humpbacked maggotman.
  2. Lives in a giant oyster shell surrounded by pearl-children.
  3. Carved out of jade.
  4. A very small orangutan. Constantly tinkering.
  5. A boulder with a bearded face engraved upon it. Gives sage advice.
  6. A hairy blob, oozing along the ground. Always hungry.
  7. Has smaller dwarves nested inside it, is looking for its bigger shell.
  8. Molten slag, vaguely man-shaped.

d8 Halflings

  1. Feral children that never grew up.
  2. Badger-folk bringing turnips to market.
  3. Carried around via stork.
  4. An ancient domestic droid.
  5. Horde of squirrels pretending to be a person.
  6. Roly-poly armored patroller. Comes with banner and fun songs about nature.
  7. Long, beautiful quilted scarf. Weapons sewn in hidden pockets.
  8. Riding a pet pygmy elephant.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

10 Esoteric Enterprises Hideouts

1. A de-consecrated church, bought on the cheap from the diocese during parish consolidation. Comes with small office and rectory. Good acoustics, ready to be dedicated to a new power, not exactly secretive.

2. A prepper's bunker. Terribly cramped. Huge supplies of food and survival gear. You keep finding weird shit that used to belong to the previous owner, who was an elderly and very Libertarian veteran.

3. School bus back in the woods. Not going to go anywhere. Blackout curtains on the windows. Still has the benches in it. Shelves and a couple hammocks suspended from ceiling.

4. Hidden room in the basement. False wall is good enough to fool folks doing a once-over. Nothing special, just storage space and a fold-out cot. If you don't own the house you are on good terms with whoever does.

5. Back room at a sleazy club. Someone among your group has the ear (for now) of a certain man of some repute in the underworld. Ask the bartender for a Tipsy Toucan.

6. Side room down in the service tunnels. It's a labyrinth down there, so getting in and out is tricky but you are unlikely to have any trouble: what's another unlabeled locked door down there?

7. Old abandoned house. The kind that everyone calls "The Spooky House". Technically owned by local eccentric with a nasty beagle who can sometimes be seen parked in the driveway. Whatever deal you have cut with them, it is hopefully worth it.

8. Isolated cabin up in the mountains. Tenuous cell connection at best, but no neighbors to worry about. Smokehouse, outhouse, woodshed. Lots of deer around. Travel to and from can be a pain.

9. Shipping container. As bare-bones as it gets. You can load it up on a truck if you need to.

10. Big van with an airbrushed wizard on the side. The classic. There are some inscrutable magics cast on it, so you can pull off some real Nico shit if you put your mind to it.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Shotgun RPG Reviews

Turns out I can do a lot more reviews if I do them small and scattershot.

Ultraviolet Grasslands, Luka Rejec

This is one of the best game books I have read, and I do not say that lightly. The art is wonderful. The text is excellent. The mechanics are sound. It is a book that is aces to look at, read, and play, in a market where you are lucky to get one of those.

There is a certain feeling of completion-wholeness that comes with UVG, something that I rarely see even in normal books - that the thing is precisely the size it needs to be, that the scope is precisely as wide as it needs to be, that the ending is in precisely the correct place. This I attribute to the obvious source, that UVG is a journey towards an endpoint beyond which there is nothing. It is the summit of the mountain. I find myself drawn towards that particular idea with a steady magnetic tug: it is, even if only temporarily, a balm for the anxieties of the daily mess.

So I say thank you for that, Luka.

Peril of the Fat Prince, Kiel Chenier

This book does something I want to see more in investigations across the board: providing players with a list of contacts at the beginning of the investigation that changes upon the makeup of the party (because you are a such-and-such, you know so-and-so), and each contact knows, wants, and has relationships with different things. More of this please.

The system and style mean I would not be likely to run it as-is, but I am definitely going to steal the whole contacts thing.

Umberwell, Jack Shear

Jack is definitely getting his mileage out of the Krevborna format, and for good reason: it's a damn good format. Plus it's grotty overcrowded industrial horror magical city and my positive opinions towards that are well-known.

Since this is a setting book rather than a mechanics one (It's clear it's meant to fit a 5e mold, but there's no direct number stuff), it's something I would tie into a different grotty overcrowded industrial horror magical city, like Infinigrad.

Strange Nations, R. James Gauvreau

I picked this one up on a whim because the algorithm was correct for one, and came away pleasantly surprised. The author did a good turn by making a big book of setting material Creative Commons with the explicit wish to see it used and mutated. I like how each culture has an assumed setting (generic fantasy, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, etc), influences, and ways to tweak it all up at the head of their section.

The first entry are a bunch of folk who practice funerary cannibalism and are led by dynasties of cattle herders. There's lots of stuff that wouldn't really every come up in games, but there's a lot of good up-front imagery and first impression stuff in there. Things like dwarves dying of karoshi. A kingdom that has a physical king and a spiritual kingship they graduate to when dead.

Whole lot of Weird Fantasy Words and some typos, but it falls in the forgiveness margin.

The Chained Coffin, Michael Curtis

This is so up my alley. DCC aside, pump that fantasy Appalachia directly into my veins. Give me those Scotts-Irish fiddles and old, old mountains gone russet in the fall. I learned about Manly Wade Wellman from this book. Signs in the Wilderness is one of my favorite blogs around and it is for this reason. My first copy got stolen off my porch and Goodman Games replaced it without hassle.

There is one downside, but it's not unique to this book: DCC modules leave some things to be desired in their layout and construction. Were I to run an adventure in the Shudder Mountains I would have to re-write nearly the entire adventure into a note-state I can more easily parse at the table.

But it's got folk magic and magical songs in it and deals with the devil and this is such my jam.

Trilemma Adventures, Michael Prescott

Michael's dungeons have always been a treat, and getting all of them together is even better. The big bonus with the collection is being able to see the setting it all takes place in with a clearer, more complete eye - but since the dungeons are unchanged from their prior forms, it's still all great for pickup and play in whatever setting you've got.