Friday, November 24, 2023


The X-Card emerged from the indie/storygamer side of the hobby maybe ten or so years ago. Originally taking the form of an index card with a simply X drawn it with a Sharpie or something like that, more elaborate versions--some involving multiple cards--have appeared over the years. (Example)

The idea behind the X-Card is real simple: pointing to it or holding it up is meant to signify that the game is going in a direction that the player finds uncomfortable, disconcerting, or hurtful. The rest of the table then backs away from whatever they were up to, perhaps with some sort of rewind or revision. Since the X-Card was formulated under a framework of ongoing consent, there is no option to challenge or override the usage of the X-Card. Nor is the person who played the X-Card under any obligation to explain or justify themselves.

I've never played in a game that used X-Cards and the kind of safety rails it provides seem less necessary in the stupid and shallow games I tend to run, but I still think they're a pretty smart idea. Especially in convention play where no one knows anyone else's psychological buttons or hard limits. The X-Card strikes me as a genuine advance in the field of role-playing technology.

That naughty fellow Venger Satanis seems to feel differently, though. His Cha'alt X-Cards are a response to the inherent squeamishness of the original concept. Venger's X-Cards come in sets of 8, one each for the major themes of his Cha'alt campaign setting: eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, postapocalypse, humor, sleaze, pop-culture, and grindhouse exploitation. Players hold up the card to indicate they want more of that theme, requiring the ref to oblige. In exchange for reminding the referee that Cha'alt ain't your daddy's vanilla D&D, the player earns a point of divine favor, which can be turned in to reroll a poor die throw.

This strikes me as one of those "the opposite of a good idea is also a good idea" situations. I wouldn't use both the original and Venger's X-Cards at the same table, but I think either could could enhance a lot of different kinds of games. To use Venger's idea in a non-Cha'alt game would require coming up with your own list of campaign themes to build your X-Card deck around. I've been thinking about this vis-a-vis my current Dillhonker City campaign. Here are my ideas for card themes:

Technically, We're in Early Modern Europe
Elves Fucking Suck
Wizards Make Everything Worse
Like Tolkien But Stupider

Maybe some of my players will have some additional ideas.

PS: Venger is running a Black Friday sale on his Cha'alt hardcover. Details here.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Bidding into Danger

I've posted about the James Bond 007 game more than once in the past. Today I want to talk about one mechanic that I suspect could do a lot of good in other games, but that I don't recall seeing elsewhere. When you have a chase in 007, whether by foot, car, air, or underwater, initiative is determined by bidding. Initiative starts at 7 and whoever bids lowest gets to decide who goes first. What are you actually bidding? What currency are you spending? Difficulty level for all rolls. Well, technically its Ease Factor, the mathematical opposite of difficulty. A higher Ease Factor means something is easier to do. Either way, you take initiative of a given combat turn by willing to be more dangerous than the other guy, by increasing the chances of a car crash or some other mishap.

A fun bit is that, for vehicle chases, every vehicle has a "Redline" score. This number is the safest number you can bid without additional, additional risk. Super sporty high performance cars have a 1 or 2 for Redline, allowing for a lot of high-risk action. While ordinary sedans have a 3 or 4. This means a PC in a Lambo can do more tricky maneuvers than his pursuers, even if they have the same Driving score. (And you can hamper the PCs by forcing them to flee pursuing baddies in a Volkswagen Beetle.)

This bidding method strikes me as appropriate for the genre. The person most willing to risk everything (typically, the Bond-esque devil-may-care PCs) gets to set the agenda for the chase. I feel like this is a mechanic that could be used in other games. Chases in a Star Wars style space opera could use the same approach.What other situations? Anywhere where a foolish willingness to risk disaster grants a short term advantage. Here are three ideas:
  • An RPG where pro-wrestling is for realsies: The flippy shit high-fliers can take the initiative by willing to risk botching their attack.
  • A fantasy or horror game: Wizards may go first if they are willing to risk accidentally unleashing the forces of hell.
  • Rolemaster, just for fun: Initiative bidding where the number goes up and the result is added to everyone's fumble range. 
I'm sure there have got to be other uses for bidding in RPGs. Anybody know of another game that uses it?

Sometimes I jibber jabber about a game and fail to give appropriate credit. Not this time.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Rest in Peace, Dave Hoover

[This is not about the comic book professional Dave Hoover.]

Yesterday I learned that Dave Hoover passed away. Dave was a key person in the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois rpg scene for decades. He GMed lots of local campaigns (I played mostly Feng Shui and Savage Worlds with him) and many, many games at the local convention. He once ran a game in every single slot of the con, something like 12 different games over one weekend. Dave also hosted some Halo LAN parties, if anyone remembers those glory days. He and his wife owned a game store called Armored Gopher Games for a while and it was the friendliest FLGS you could ever ask for. Nearly every store game I ever ran was at the Armored Gopher.

More importantly than being a Game Dude, Dave was just a decent human being. He was kind and caring. He was, by all accounts, a good husband and father. Certainly every time I saw him interact with his family he was earnestly trying to get that stuff right. He was also the kind of guy that, if it happened to come up in conversation that you weren't familiar with the work of the band Avenged Sevenfold, next time he saw you he'd hand you a CD burned with his favorite tracks from their catalog. That was the sort of generous spirit Dave had. He was a genuine good guy and the world is the worse off without him.

My heart goes out to his family.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Grim Weaponry

The other day I goofing around on
and I decided to knock together a quickie Grim Reaper.

That's when I thought of this visual gag, which I call
"New Reaper Shows Up to 1st Day of
Work Having Misunderstood the Assignment."

So what else could a Grim Reaper wield?
This sword looks cool but feels kinda basic.

This battle axe looks pretty dang badass.

"What am I, a cleric over here?!?"

"Time to die. Square up, mofo."

Is this a Shaolin spade? The author of the
Zombie Survival Handbook insists that this
 is the best weapon for decapitating zombos. 

Dual wield spiked chains seems extra AF.

This Reaper is not messing around.

The ultimate horror.


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

An old fave from 1981

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

An Email Exchange

[Thanks to Steve for allowing me to post this.]


Hi, Jeff! I'm preparing to run Broodmother Skyfortress and trash my 20+-year campaign, played annually with good friends since university in the 90s. Per your kind  p5 invitation, checking in with Mission Control.

My campaign is not medieval/D&D but post-apocalyptic. System is genre-agnostic ELEMENTAL, easy enough adapt to d&d-style rules and kind of meant for this kind of stream-crossing.

I've decided the giants are mutants and, um, the creators are Space Gods or something? I don't think the average wasteland dweller is going to react much differently to the giant invasion than the average medieval peasant -- it's going to be days of WTF is the world ending again?! Armed response will be louder, and communication faster. But it's still baffling, early reports nonsensical. 

Our heroes are all packed onto a pickup truck and can get places fast. A number of ideas will no doubt occur for getting Up There, anticipating no problem there. The giants will still be very dangerous, and maybe firearms-resistant.

Some of my players may be bitchy about this wild upset of player expectations/tone. I'm fine with that (bitchiness is a part of our group's charming culture) but I hope to entertain more than dismay!    
  • I started the campaign with the map from the original (1997) Fallout, the PCs are from vault 13, and they've been everywhere in the region: spent a few weeks in LA, which would take the giants a few nights raiding (a week?) to destroy the populated parts of the city, maybe a neighbourhood a night. 
  • The underground vaults are probably safe from the giants for now. There's a nuke in the possession of one of the villains someone might turn on a vault or a skyfortress. 
  • Truck Stop, the longtime base town of friendly mutants and assorted refugees is perpetually in peril, packed with repeat NPCs and the PCs favourite cocktail lounge. There's more than enough people and stuff to threaten, but this place is probably the one that would hurt most. It would be crushed in a night.

  • The first village they came to outside the vault is Shady Sands, and that's where I'll start. Probably nobody remembers that first game in like 1999-2000, but there may be notes on the long-forgotten NPCs, none of whom are likely to be heartbreakers. Anyway, now it's all a trampled, mildly radioactive, gory mess anyway, gone in an hour, and the green cloud of mutant lightning nimbus death is headed to whichever locale is next on the shitlist. 
See what the players do next, so far so good. But then what? Do people honestly do this to their campaigns and remain on speaking terms with their players?



Thanks for the email!  Mission control is here to help!

To the best of my knowledge you've got the longest-running campaign anyone has inflicted Broodmother upon, so I'm not fully sure how to advise you. But here are a few thoughts:

If you decide that the giants are as resistant to small arms as they are to medieval weaponry (which I heartily endorse), you might want to signal that. A dying man whose last words are "whatever they are, they're bulletproof...ack." ought to do the trick.

Is there something the giants could steal or someone that they could kidnap that could serve as a symbol of hope for the party? "Truck Stop is in ruins and Shady Sands will never be the same, but at least we got ______ back. Life will go on." If you don't have such a thing already, have some NPC explain how the last known copy of Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" was the secret glue of the community. "We would always play it once a year as the centerpiece of the local festival. If only we could get that back, maybe we would have the heart to rebuild." Did you all have a favorite song back in '99? Maybe use that instead of Miles Davis. Or whatever other MacGuffin you could hang some emotional stakes on.

Does that help?

That does, thanks, Jeff! Turning my thoughts towards MacGuffins…There’s a functioning radio station with a popular brain-in-a-jar robot DJ, Dick Personality…so either he or the station/transmitter/irreplaceable music collection (the last Kind of Blue is a great idea) could suffice along those lines. Thank you for writing this beautiful bonkers adventure and helping interpret it!

Please let me know how it goes, even if it is a disaster. Hell, send me hate mail for ruining your campaign, if it helps you feel better.

First session rocked utterly. 

Destroyed a couple of places, including one PC's tribal homeland (and tribe). I laid down the campaign map and ostentatiously crossed the lost places off one by one. Much arriving too late, lamentations, whining, bitching, moaning, this is so unfair, so cruel, what are even supposed to do-hoo-hoo -- and then they started fighting back. They evacuated the base town  (Truck Stop) ahead of the mystery murder cloud, and watched from a distance as the giants wrecked all the old beloved places there, and finally saw what they were up against. 

Next up: The Doom of LA: While Swordmaniac, Chainmonster and Vomitboy rampaged across Disneyland, they landed on the Skyfortress in a handy small VTOL craft (they also took the precaution of packing parachutes, lucky as a gust of wind hit them at the Obelisk and whisked one character off into the wild blue yonder).  They explored the ruins, where they discovered the charm monster/mind control ring and a mighty rubble of various stolen landmarks of this campaign and others -- is that an entire medieval guard tower? 
Chainmonster by Ian MacLean

Enroute to the Skyfortress proper,  they caught the Runt mid-business at the Stank Hole, discombobulated him with some mutant psychic zapping, and, in an epic confrontation, FUCKED HIM UP! Victory, catharsis, to be continued (likely in a year, as that's about as often as this far-flung crew can manage to be in the same place).   

Holy shit, Jeff! It works! 

Hey, been busy at work at and just checked my gmail for the first time in days. Thanks for putting a smile on this tired guy's face.

May I incorporate some of your emails into a blog post? If not, no harm done.

Heck yes, blog away! 

[The new printing of Broodmother Skyfortress is available here. PDF version here.]

Monday, September 25, 2023

The Cosmic Purpose of Role-Playing Games

If your sessions are anything like mine, a lot of ludicrous stuff gets said by the participants. RPGs put people into imaginary situations via dialogue. That means people will say things in an RPG session that would never be said in any other context. Therefore, RPG play taken as a whole is a sort of Unique Utterance Machine. We are collectively reciting the Nine Billion Names of God, the spoken version of the Tower of Hanoi, the oral Library of Babel. The last RPG played will exhaust language itself.