Planning a First Adventure

Here’s a stripped down, genre-less skeleton of my notes and planning processes for running the first scenario of a new campaign.

Comfort & Safety

I usually lead with something like, “This is a new thing for a lot of us here, and it can feel goofy and awkward, so please only do what you feel comfortable doing. We can take breaks whenever you feel like it, and if things get uncomfortable, feel free to let us know, to message me privately, tell me later, or whatever method works for you, and we’ll avoid doing that in the future. To start with, I want to keep this game PG-13. We can also change that as needed. But for instance, there won’t be any [blank]* in these games.”

* For me, this is “sexual violence and violence against domestic animals.” And for more information, here’s an extensive TTRPG Safety Toolkit.

Character & Setting Introduction

Once characters are made, ask the players to introduce their character by name, look, and vibe/specialty. (A lot of times, the things players highlight here are either things they’re really excited about or things they haven’t quite wrapped their brains around. Regardless, it’s good stuff to remember and try to bring back later.)

Describe [starting location], possibly using photo reference or referring to some shared pop culture. If people ask questions about the place, make something up* or turn the question back on them. Write down whatever they make up.

Ask the players what their characters do on a given morning/afternoon/night here. They might ask questions (“Is there a blacksmith?”); again, answer or let them answer. People can totally pass on answering this if they’re not sure.

I try to work in a few rolls here so that people can start getting a handle on the mechanics in a low-stakes environment. If someone says they’re at a bar, I’ll ask if they want to roll to play a game of pool or darts or whatever. If they say they’re working hard at a job, ask for some sort of endurance or health roll to see how tired they are after work.

I usually don’t take away hit points or give other negative consequences here. The range of results is mostly like, “you do something slightly below average” to “you do something really impressive.” This is mostly to get people thinking about what to roll and when they might roll it. It’s also a time for potential questions and confusion to pop up, and we can answer those questions outside of a high-stakes scenario.

* Here’s where a list of names or whatever comes in handy if you (like me) aren’t good at making them up. It took me a while to learn what I could make up on the spot and what I struggled with.

On Answering Questions & Saying Yes

When someone asks me a question like “Is there a blacksmith?” they usually want an affirmative answer, and it’s often tied to their character’s past or vibe. So I usually try to say something like, “Yeah, absolutely; would your character already know them?”

When I ask players to name a character or place, they’ll sometimes say something that doesn’t quite gel with how I imagine the world. Like, if I ask them who the blacksmith is and they say, “His name is Big-Butt Johnson,” that doesn’t always work? (Sometimes Big-Butt Johnson absolutely works.) When this happens, I try to say things like, “He definitely has a big butt, but I don’t know if he’d advertise it like that because of [something we’ve already established about the world]. Maybe there’s a name with the same vibe that we could go with instead?”

Giving the Mission

The mission I have in mind starts as a simple fetch quest. [starting location] is short on [a semi-rare resource]. The resource should be something that’s easy for anyone to gather; the difficulty comes in its rarity and in getting to where it is. Examples:

  • crystal used for magic
  • plant used for medicine
  • anything used for fuel
  • item for a special rite

If a player introduced a friend or acquaintance who might need this, I try to have that NPC give the mission* to further cement the relationship and have a reason to have that NPC show up again. Alternately, that friend could point the players to a new NPC who has this need, maybe because they want to help their buddy (the PC) out with getting a job.

* I try to have most mission-givers be kind, transparent, and forthright, at least early on in a campaign. I hate the trope of someone tricking the PCs into helping them do evil; it’s like punishing them for being trusting and playing the game.

A Guide?

Sometimes I’ll give the players the option to bring along a guide. I make sure to note that the guide is no good at anything the PCs can do; their skill lies in knowing the general route and in identifying the quest item.

A few reasons for doing this:

  • enriches the world by adding a new character/point-of-view
  • can ask the players questions based on things happening in the game
  • can give in-game answers for questions the PCs might have about the world
  • gives me a voice for affirming PC plans*

* With new players or groups who haven’t gelled, I often see people spinning their wheels, coming up with imagined problems for any plan put forward. A guide can say, “I think that’s a great plan; [thing you’re worrying about] is really unlikely.” Alternately, if they’re worrying about something that you’ve planned for, the guide can say, “That’s a real worry; I’ve heard of similar things happening.”

On Making NPCs

I usually try not to go too deep on developing characters before the game. Maybe a desire (fame, money, safety, excitement), a big life event that informs their philosophy (having a child, being in a war, becoming a professor), and a general demeanor (nervous, bold, super-chill). I might “cast” them as a real-life actor or write down a single line of dialogue that helps me remember the rhythms of their speech.

Traveling to the Item

Once the characters feel ready to go, there’s some travel time. I usually try to have travel take two units of [time]: they travel a bit, they rest, and then they travel again and reach their destination.

In that first unit of travel, I’ll describe the landscape and ask if any of the characters have traveled here before (using the guide if they brought one). Ask why, when, etc.

Then it’s time for some medium-stakes rolls. Maybe it’s a roll to perceive things, to watch their camp, to keep quiet, etc. It changes based on the scenario. There are a few bands of success here.

Hilarious Failure

If the roll is really bad, they’re ambushed by something dangerous! It’s not a fatal encounter, but it’s more complicated than the initial rolls. This is a chance to learn the main mechanics of the game (usually combat). I try in general not to have combat be a back-and-forth exchange of blows; either the enemy should have some means of complicating it* (like a frog with a giant tongue that can immobilize people) or the landscape can be interacted with (bogs to sink into, trees to hide behind, etc).

Middle Results

If the roll isn’t terrible or awesome, the PCs see the danger/complication from a ways off, but they’re also spotted/endangered. This gives them a little time to plan. Maybe they’ll jump to fighting, or maybe they’ll try to negotiate or run away. I try to say yes to whatever they mention as a plan and then tell them what kind of rolls they’d be looking at or their chances of success. I make it clear that they only have a bit of time to plan, so they should come to agreement. Again, the guide might be useful here.

Awesome Result

The PCs spot the danger without being spotted. They can engage with a significant boost, try to sneak by, try to trick them, etc.

* I try to keep the mechanics for these complications really simple, usually involving a single roll or no roll at all. I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of making really difficult minigames for simple things like this; they take up a lot of time yet only offer a “success” or “fail” end state. Wasn’t worth it.

This whole encounter is meant to up the stakes a little bit; PCs will probably lose hit points or resources, so they’ll get to engage with that side of the rules more. Planning this encounter also teaches me the rules; do I have to learn about XP budgets? rules for escaping immobilization? speed and difficult terrain?

Resting

After the first unit of travel, everyone gets a chance to rest. We learn how rest and recovery works in the game. Maybe people want to keep watch, so we learn that too. If I have a guide NPC, I have them ask about the encounter (“Is that your first fight?”) or how they feel about wherever they’re resting. Maybe I’ll use it to reveal a bit about the NPC: “I used to go camping with my mom before I moved so far away from her. Are you all close to your parents?” Or whatever.

Travel Part Two

After resting, I let them know that they’ll be reaching their destination after a bit more travel. Do they want to prepare anything? Maybe they’ll want to scout ahead, investigate, ask more questions. This is a good way to come up with things that can signal what they’re about to encounter: tracks, warning signs, someone fleeing what they’re heading toward. I don’t put random/smaller encounters here because I don’t want to draw drama away from what’s coming.

Arrival & Complication

They see the thing they were sent to get! Or see definite signs of it. However, it’s already in use or in danger of being used up by someone else. Describe the basics; the PCs might want to roll to investigate more, so make sure you have a few details that are harder to discern.

Eventually, either they’ll have a plan and head in…or they’ve just sat there a long time staring, so someone comes up to them and asks who they are and what they’re doing.

There is a faction in place that’s using the item pretty much exactly the way the PCs want to use it. I try to make it clear that there are multiple solutions here. Sure, they could charge in and get the thing, fighting or running away as they do. But they can also talk, sneak, or anything else. (Shades of the travel encounter here.) To me, this is the “juice” of RPGs; it’s doing what videogames are worse at.

Developing the Faction

For the people that have control of the object the PCs seek, I try to do a few things.

  1. They’re a small faction, maybe the size of the PC party or a bit bigger. This makes them easy to “see” all at once; the PCs aren’t trying to figure out a whole city or species.
  2. They’re expressly not evil. They might not be kind or welcoming (although making them so can be a fun twist), but they aren’t mindlessly bad.
  3. There are factions within the faction. For instance, one of them might be interested in trying to share the resource, but if they do, another of them gets mad and tries to escalate because they think it’s a “finders, keepers” situation.

Give Problems, Not Solutions

At this point, I consider my planning over and done with. I don’t create an easy way to figure this out. I might try to imagine possibilities (the PCs might fight, steal, negotiate) and develop hazy reactions to those possibilities, but here’s where PCs inevitably surprise me, coming up with solutions I never imagined, arguing with each other, and doing bold and stupid shit.

I do try to keep a few tenets in mind:

  1. These NPCs should monologue! Don’t hide their views from the PCs behind a roll. This is a chance to show the PCs who else lives in this world.
  2. These NPCs are dynamic. If the PCs offer them good deals, they can change their minds, and if the PCs insult them, things can get rowdy.
  3. These NPCs can come back. If the PCs ruin their lives, they should run off and return with a vengeance. And if the PCs help them, they can come back with thanks, spread their good name, and come to them with problems to solve (since the PCs were so brilliant and nice the first time around, etc).

I try to develop these NPCs the most. I make sure they all have desires, quirks, and full stats, because I never know how the PCs will try to interact with them.

(There’s a 50% chance they’ll try to adopt a faction member into the party.)

Resolution

Eventually, the PCs will probably want to return home. Maybe they have the thing they were sent for, in which case they probably get a reward.

If they don’t have the thing (either because of mercy to the faction or bad rolls), I try to make it clear that this isn’t a fail state. We’re still playing the game, changing the world, enacting our characters, and hopefully having fun.

  • Maybe they can go home and tell the story of their failure, and the questgiver will understand and want to try a new approach, possibly with higher stakes.
  • Maybe they’ll go home and tell of their mercy, and some jerks will declare they’re going to succeed where the PCs failed, and now the PCs have enemies.
  • Maybe the faction will reward the PCs for not taking the item, and the PCs then have to lie or keep the faction hidden. They might also get a clue to where to find another one of the items, but it’s harder to get.

And that’s it! “Thanks for playing,” I tell my players. “See you next time, where maybe we’ll [blank]” (find out what happened to a favorite NPC, do that goofy thing someone joked about doing, etc).

And that’s it! Thanks for reading. There’s a Google Doc version of this if you want to make a copy and fill in your setting’s info. If you want to see how I fill this in for myself, you can check out my itch.io page, where there are free samples of my adventure writing as well as a ton of paid content.

RPG taxonomy & the -ness-ness of categories

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I don’t want to be a hero. I just want to stab your discourse with a spear.

This week in Twitter, people say that lyric games aren’t games. People say that one or another game is or isn’t OSR. People get mad about taxonomy. Luckily, with most of one semester of library & information sciences graduate school under my belt, I’m here to fix it all. (Not sure what OSR or lyric games are? Don’t worry; there’s more about them below.)

People have always tried to categorize books and knowledge. Roman stoics said the categories “are logic, physics, and ethics—the study of the principles and laws of human thought, the study of the principles and laws of nature, the study of the principles and rules of human conduct.” Callimachus, a librarian of Alexandria, divided works into six genres and five sections of prose: rhetoric, law, epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, history, medicine, mathematics, natural science, and miscellanies. (Free blog post idea: divide all roleplaying games into these categories.) A couple important takeaways from this:

  • Smart people have used categories that are absolutely useless to people in different times or places.
  • Systems of categorization tend to get more complicated the more books are involved.

So why do we need to categorize stuff anyway? If you’re a professor or scientist of a topic, commonly accepted categories can help you communicate with others in your field or teach people coming into the field. And if you’re a librarian or bookstore owner who needs to help someone find a physical book, you need to reliably be able to look up where the book is and find it there.

Another time to categorize things is if you’re trying to figure out the world in relation to yourself. If you’re a young person or person going through a big change, it can be helpful to feel like the world makes sense. It can bring peace to feel like you can say, “A thing is [x].” I don’t say this with any ill will; in fact, I say this as someone who obsessively categorized and organized things for years and who still keeps my books separated into categories and alphabetized within them.

But as we learned from the Roman stoics above, our experiences of genre and the world can be very different, even if they’re superficially similar. For instance, I’ve had a series of great history professors who taught me about labor movements, American genocides, and cultures outside of the old Mesopotamia -> Egypt -> Greece/Rome -> Europe -> America, so my definition of “history” includes conflicting accounts, bottom-up “people’s histories,” and primary sources from other cultures. Someone who had a very typical American public school experience of history might feel like those sources aren’t history since they go against their school experiences; they might call those memoir or propaganda or something else.

Another place I’ve seen this happen is in music genre. I might say, for instance, that “Country Leaver” by the Dandy Warhols is a country song because of its rhythm and guitar sounds, but someone else might say it’s alternative satire—that since it displays an awareness of country music but comes from an artist who mostly doesn’t make country music, it belongs outside of the genre. Or if someone likes Trent Reznor’s lyrics, they’ll like Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” whereas if they like Nine Inch Nails’s instrumentalization, they might not like Johnny Cash.

Those Are the Problems—Here’s the Solution

An alternative to saying “a thing belongs to [category]” is to say “a thing has [category]ness.” (I think I read this in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, but I think she attributed this idea to someone else, and I cannot find the quote.) In doing this, we’re also forced to acknowledge that each category we create has a number of qualifying factors. For instance, sci-fi often contains advanced technology, takes place in a future time, or involves speculation on the advancement of ideas we hold today. Magical realism involves impossible happenings that go unexplained, and it’s about people who have experienced colonialism. From this, we can say that Kindred by Octavia Butler has some sci-fi-ness (time travel) and some magical realism-ness (unexplained happenings, about people experiencing colonialism). And we can use those bits to recommend the book to others or write about its connections to other books.

Let’s bring this back to games. Lyric games often have a number of the following qualities:

  • made to be read first and foremost
  • made to be enjoyable to read
  • made to invoke emotion or self-examination in the reader
  • on the small side
  • respectful of the reader’s time

And OSR might involve…

  • favoring player knowledge over character skill
  • random tables
  • faction play
  • sandbox adventuring
  • verisimilitude
  • usability at the table

So now, when people are arguing about which editions of D&D are OSR, we can say things like, “I see some OSR-ness in 5E, like in the carousing tables, but it’s not enough for me.” And we can say, “I see the gameness* in lyric games, but there’s not enough table usability in the ones I’ve read.” And we can even say, “I see some lyricness in old D&D in how the rules contain long digressions into mechanical and philosophical discussions that make the player consider what ‘game’ means and that border on unusable at the table.”

And then if you want to stir the pot, you can say, “I see a Monster Manual-ness in Moby-Dick in Melville’s segmented chapters that discuss whale behavior, biology, and loot, and whether they’re fish or not.”

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Moby-Dick felt like a lot of fluff with not much crunch, and I always have to flip back and forth between chapters when I’m running it. But I bet Moby-Dick Second Edition will be really cool.

* Define this for yourself. I’m not going there.

Traps, PbtA & making stuff up

A few tweets inspired some thinking the other day. First here are the tweets:

(This isn’t the entire Twitter conversation, obviously; they’re just the parts I want to respond to. It’s not my intent to misrepresent anyone by cherry-picking their communications. Do go read the rest of the tweets if you’re curious! But don’t harass anyone, demand explanations from them, etc.)

The parts that really got me thinking are the links between the following statements:

  • ‘It’s definitely not true that traps can happen as the result of any 6- in a PBTA game.’
  • ‘It’s just that the idea that objects are generated/spawned into the world on a 6- is a common critique of Apocalypse World and its close cousins, but it’s just not accurate.’
  • ‘What’s frustrating is that this move is called “Reveal an unwelcome truth,” not “produce,” “create” or “concoct,” but still a lot of people hate it because they think it means “suddenly introduce something that wasn’t there before and has no reason to be there now.”‘

I’m going to be making some assumptions on the links between these statements. I don’t mean to put words in the original writer’s mouth, so anything that follows is not what I think they meant to say; it’s where my mind went all on its own in connecting all this together.

We start with looking to perceived/assumed/witnessed critics of powered-by-the-apocalypse (PbtA) games: that these people don’t like the idea that things enter the fictional world based on the result of a roll and that that criticism comes from a misreading of the rules.

From there, we pivot to a behavior to address the criticisms: don’t do the thing the critics wrongly accuse the game of doing. It’s sort of a moral victory; the critics dislike this thing we like, but they dislike it because they’re misreading it, and so we shouldn’t be doing the thing they wrongly accuse us of doing.

Again, this is just me drawing ligaments between separate statements because I don’t want to demand a longer explanation from a stranger on the internet. It’s a strawman! But a strawman I’m constructing deliberately away from the real human. As a thought experiment.

I disagree with this strawman on a few points.

1. That we should react to perceived criticisms of a game.

There are vocal critics of every game. Some of those critics mean well; maybe they’re trying to create a better game or engender a playstyle that they think is healthier or more fun. But in the end, people run games for the other folks at the table. If everyone understands that a trap, a person, or some other component of the fictional world might come into play based on roll results, it doesn’t matter if someone thinks that’s not how the game works.

2. That a GM should create the reality of a session beforehand and stick to what they made up.

I absolutely understand the icky feeling that comes with “the DM made up something to hurt me because of a bad roll.” There are decades of anecdotes about killer DMs who harass their players on a whim, and the idea that a concrete world—of verisimilitude—somehow binds a DM to something and keeps them from taking things out on the players.

And if you play with strangers a lot (or even if you play with acquaintances that you don’t know outside of gaming), maybe this is the way to go! It’s a kind of pact. Keeps things running smoothly.

But it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t have the time or energy to plan out a world or even a building ahead of time. I usually write a few lines of notes before a game and trust my instincts and my players. I make things up in the middle of every session. Sometimes it’s based on dice rolls and sometimes it’s just…because?

Which is not to say that I’d create a negative consequence that “has no reason to be there.” Another big PbtA best practice is “as follows from the fiction.” If you’re in a dungeon or a mad scientist’s lab, a sudden trap is something that, to me, follows from the fiction, and I hopefully gave some sort of signal in that vein to the players.

The other reason I’m supportive of making things up on the spot? My players often have better ideas than I do. They connect things in ways I never thought about. And I love that! And I love asking them what they think might happen on a bad roll. It brings them in, they might have awesome ideas, and it distributes the creative work that has historically been loaded on the GM. If I were a purist about what I’d created ahead of time, I couldn’t allow a player to introduce things I hadn’t considered.

3. That we should tell strangers on the internet how to play a game.

Linked to #1. We’re all involved in different circles of play, critique, philosophy, and we sometimes get very invested in those circles. I get it. I have a way of playing games that I’ve developed for years, and I have very good reasons for what I do. But those ways might not be for everyone. I hope they work for the people I play with, and if the don’t, I hope they’ll let me know or feel free to play somewhere else. To say that something is “definitely not true” about a game that is being made up as it’s played seems needlessly worshipful of the rules (which are always filtered through our own interpretations of and experiences with them).

(And before anyone says it, I’m sure that I have told someone they’re playing wrong or tried to tell them a better way to play. I mean, that’s sort of what this whole post is? So consider this part personally aspirational more than outwardly commanding. And it’s hopefully different to write in my isolated corner of the internet than to respond to someone on social media.)

Anyway, it seems like a big jump for the tweeter above to read “traps can happen as the result of say any 6-” and worry that might mean “that objects are generated/spawned into the world on a 6-” or “suddenly introduce something that wasn’t there before and has no reason to be there now.”

Comics of the Decade

Hello! Here are 45 comics that came out from 2010 to 2019 that I remember and reread. They’re my favorites. If you like some of them, you might like others. It’s a lot of comics!

They’re grouped in roughly alphabetical order by “author,” but since authorship in comics can get hard to assign, I’ve fudged some of them. Sometimes I group multiple works by a single artist into one entry.

Lastly, lots of these books can be purchased directly from the artist or small publisher. If you find a single thing on this list that you like, I’d ask you to purchase it or throw the artist some money if you’re able. I’ve included links when they’re available from the artist, publisher, or small distributor. If there’s no link, it means you can order it from your local bookstore.

Some of my biases: I don’t read a ton of comics on the computer since I’ve found my recall isn’t great afterward, so most of the webcomics on this list were read in print. And I didn’t get into manga until later in life, so I’m still reading a bunch of older/foundational stuff. I’d love to be reading more contemporary manga; maybe next decade! And I’m pretty burnt out on monthly stuff after working at a comic store for years and reading pretty much everything we got into the store every week.

Black Bolt (2017-2018) by Saladin Ahmed & Christian Ward

A sci-fi superhero comic with meditations on incarceration and its place in empire. Trippy visuals and genuine emotion. The question of redemption.blackbolt.jpg

Otso (mini kuš! #10) by Mari Ahokoivu

The first appearance of Latvian publisher kuš! on the list. I thought it was out of print, but it looks like you can still buy it! I’ll never understand how they can ship internationally for so cheap. Check out her work on her website to get a sense of her lush, careful brushwork.

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Pinky & Pepper Forever (2018) by Ivy Atoms

One of the most realistic depictions of the accidental damage people do to the ones they love, especially when they’re young (and especially, in this case, at an art college). Amazing use of multimedia and some good BDSM content. Buy it from the publisher here.

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Lewis & Clark (2011) , Rubber Necker #5-6 (2013-2015), Persimmon Cup (2014) and Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey (2014) by Nick Bertozzi

Clear cartooning, excellent lettering, fun formal exercises. Bertozzi seems like such a flexible and able cartoonist to the point where I’m just always thinking, “I hope he’s doing okay in life.”

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Out of Hollow Water (2013) and Grease Bats (2019) by Archie Bongiovanni

Out of Hollow Water is greasy vellum body horror. Grease Bats is a queer slice-of-life internet comic strip. They’re both equally amazing? You can check out Grease Bats for free on Autostraddle and support Bongiovanni on Patreon.

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Rudy (2014) by Mark Connery

My understanding is that Connery makes Rudy comics and just, like, leaves them around Toronto? Like, they’re just ephemeral objects crying to be made. So I feel very lucky that there’s a collection of them. Rudy’s ever-changing and surreal world feels like the inheritor of Krazy Kat by way of Garfield. Buy it from the publisher here.

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Fütchi Perf (2015) by Kevin Czap

It’s a sherbet-colored mixtape of postcapitalist queer utopia. Whoa! Buy the nice reissue here; as of this writing, it’s half off!

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How to be Happy (2014), Fuck Wizards (2014), BDSM (Frontier #11) (2016), and Libby’s Dad (2016) by Eleanor Davis

What a list of comics, huh? And Davis put out even more stuff this decade—three full-length graphic novels. I don’t want to be, like, “I like her older stuff better.” I think I just like her short stories more than her longer work, so that’s what I’m including. The style shifting across these works is humbling and amazing—loose pencil drawing in one story, strong blocks of color in another; teen drama and then sci-fi dystopia and then joyful erotic combat.

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Pretty Deadly (2014-2016) by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios & Jordie Bellaire

A set of enjoyably opaque genre adventures twisted with ominous magical forces. DeConnick, Rios, and Bellaire are true co-storytellers, and I don’t think I’d enjoy this book nearly as much (if at all) if any of them were replaced.

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Mighty Star and the Castle of the Cancatervater (2015) and Soft X-Ray/Mindhunters (2018) by A. Degen

Like the tales of a tarot deck from a silent parallel dimension come to life. Aspects of the Gilded Age, ’70s psychosexual dramas, and ray gun sci-fi come together seamlessly. Degen leaves spacious room for reader interpretation (or projection).

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O, Human Star (2015-present) by Blue Delliquanti

Robot duplicates in a near-future/alternate future Minneapolis exploring the links and tensions between transhumanism, capitalism, gender, and sexuality. Beautiful fluid, clear cartooning and an excellent use of a limited color palette. Read it for free online!

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An Exorcism (2017) and Birthday (mini kuš! #35) (2018) by Theo Ellsworth

Ellsworth has created his own genre, a kind of mystical self-help where the reader is invited to journey through the comic as a worksheet or a game. It’s more William Blake than Brené Brown, though, with an almost obsessive amount of linework and an intensely personal set of symbols and tools. You can get them both from Copacetic Comics Company.

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Gaylord Phoenix (2010) by Edie Fake

Loving, intimate, angry. The juxtaposition of the flowing art with the stamp-like lettering creates an amazing disconnect. You can get the book here.

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Yours (2017) by Margot Ferrick

Ferrick breaks down the boundaries between word and image to create an unrelentingly sinuous rhythm. It’s surely difficult to read if you’re used to straightforward narratives. Read a bunch of Ferrick’s work on Vice and then buy the book from the publisher.

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Sex Fantasy (2017) and Structures 67-78 (2019) by Sophia Foster-Dimino and Swim Thru Fire (2015) by Annie Mok & Sophia Foster-Dimino

I love Foster-Dimino’s work so much. There’s nothing critical about my engagement with it; I just love looking at it. It can be clear, soft, stoic, coy, and so many other things. Please please please read Swim Thru Fire in the link above. It’s a beautiful story of trauma and how it’s stored in the body.

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Ski Mask Jerry #2-3 (2018-2019) by C. Haack

Super dense slice-of-life with elements of strangeness, such as a protagonist who always wears a ski mask. Like Grease Bats mentioned above, it’s mostly a queer slice-of-life comic, but it’s told from a single character’s point of view. ALSO it’s printed at a huge size with beautiful risograph colors. Get ’em here.

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Coyote Doggirl (2018) by Lisa Hanawalt

Did you like Tuca & Bertie (RIP)? Then you’ll love Coyote Doggirl! It’s so funny. Constantly. And there are moments of drama and heartwarming reconciliation and cathartic vengeance. It’s a goofy furry western dramady, I guess? Read an excerpt on Hanawalt’s site.

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Gloriana (2012), The River at Night (2019) and various minis by Kevin Huizenga

Ostensibly a comic about a dude thinkin’ about stuff, especially considering how Huizenga came up in comics and his contemporaries, these books are…not that. Or they are, but not in the way I expected. These books are about iterative thought, infinite self-reflection, how the self is generated, digital/private/public spaces…and it’s all couched in playful formalism.

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Gorgeous (2016) by Cathy G. Johnson

A slim but dense tome about privilege and fate. Also a story about teens trying to take control of their lives in various ways. The narrative didn’t take the shape I expected, but I was pleased by how it went; it resonated.

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Sea Urchin (2015) and Bug Boys (2015) by Laura Knetzger

Sea Urchin is a short, smart book about mental illness and how it affects daily life. Bug Boys is a long, fun book about friendship! Despite their differences, both have a core of care and empathy that shines through. Buy Sea Urchin here and look for a new edition of Bug Boys from Penguin Random House in 2020.

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Frontier #12 (2016) by Kelly Kwang

Part of Youth in Decline’s ongoing series of artist spotlight comics. Learn about the Space Youth Cadets via an incredible mix of narrative cartooning, illustration, and photography drawing from cyberpunk, videogames, and social media interfaces. Buy it here.

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I Will Bite You! and Other Stories (2011) and Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller (2018) by Joseph Lambert

Intricate drawings that still manage to feel human and spontaneous. And Annie Sullivan has some excellent examples of formal rendering of touch-based sensing.

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Snarked (2011-2012) and Popeye (2012-2013) by Roger Langridge

Some of the strictly funniest comics I’ve ever read, like seeing a classic comedian at the top of their game (classic as in well-trained in classical ideas of joke construction, timing, etc; not classic as in misogynistic, racist, and so on).

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True Swamp v1-2 (2012, 2017) by Jon Lewis

There’s a genre of comics that I really like that are sort of surreal worldbuilding? I’m thinking of Larry Marder’s Beanworld, Jesse Moynihan’s The Forming, and the abovementioned Rudy by Mark Connery. True Swamp is another one, a self-contained ecology filled with strange, swamp-inspired beings. The first volume is a little rougher but has a lot of zinester naivete to it. The second volume is tighter, with jazz-inspired layout and lettering.

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Secure Connect (2016) and Lara Croft was My Family (2017) by Carta Monir

These two examples of Monir’s work use digital interactions (forums, videogames) to explore how people hide themselves, open up, and relate. They’re beautifully printed and emotionally dense. She also does amazing work as a printer/publisher and an activist; you can buy books from her Diskette Press here.

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Well Come (2015) by Erik Nebel

A whole book of silent, three-panel strips about mutability, fission, and fusion told with bold, flat colors. While Nebel’s strips often deal with the potential horror that comes from change, the book ultimately left me with a feeling of peace and even excitement about my own changes (age, gender, community, friendship). Get it here.

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Girl Town (2018) by Carolyn Nowak

The book so nice I bought it thrice! I love Nowak’s work, so I bought the short Diana’s Electric Tongue in two separate printings, and when it came bundled with Nowak’s other short stories, I bought it on release day. She melds genres (sci-fi, horror, slice-of-life) with a tight focus on character and humanity.

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Perfect Hair (2016) and The Lie and How We Told It (2018) by Tommi Parrish

I just love these chonky figures! And how Parrish blends painting, black-and-white cartooning. Get Perfect Hair here.

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Your Black Friend and Other Strangers (2018) by Ben Passmore and BTTM FDRS (2019) by Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore

Your Black Friend showed Passmore’s range in short story making: autobio, journalistic, political, and dystopian. BTTM FDRS has him applying that range to a much longer story, and he doesn’t falter. His line work, expressions, and pacing are great, and the colors! Creepy gentrification horror in disturbing day-glo.

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The Pervert (2018) by Remy Boydell & Michelle Perez

Simply the best autobio I’ve ever read. It’s composed of nearly discrete/separate narrative chunks, but each one bears the weight of the previous snapshots, even when there’s no direct throughline. Most of it’s aggressively intimate, following the main character’s point of view, but when it branches out, it does so with unflinching honesty. Plus there’s hot furry action.THEPERVERT.60.jpg

The Hospital Suite (2014) and From Lone Mountain (2018) by John Porcellino

These books are the culmination of someone’s constant and devoted work for decades. The Hospital Suite, in particular, is an amazing act of vulnerability, of ripping one’s self open when things already feel hopeless.

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Usagi Yojimbo (all decade) by Stan Sakai

Born in the ’80s boom of black-and-white anthropomorphic battle animals, Usagi Yojimbo has outgrown and outlasted pretty much all of them. Sakai uses his samurai animals to tell stories of Edo-period Japan. But these aren’t just tales of battle; Sakai’s wandering samurai visits artists and soy sauce makers, participates in tea ceremonies, and helps solve mysteries. At this point, Sakai is telling a twilight story, focusing on the end of the period and the end of a wandering life. Usagi is an iterative story, and we see the changes in him as he spirals through the same places, meeting the same people, while he grows older and wiser.

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Never Forgets (2014) and Fashion Forecasts (2018) by Yumi Sakugawa

I love Sakugawa’s imagination, her careful forms, her mournful and hopeful fables and multidisciplinary fashion shows. Get Fashion Forecasts here.

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Exits (2016) by Daryl Seitchik

A beautiful reflection on the self and how it’s defined by the people around us, our own expectations, and ideas of beauty and aesthetic. I’m getting weepy just thinking about it.

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Houses of the Holy (2015) by Caitlin Skaalrud

A somber slow-burn about the difficult journeys one must take because of trauma and healing. As of this writing, it’s literally only $6 from the publisher.

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Curveball (2015) by Jeremy Sorese

Sherbet-smothered sci-fi dripping with queerness. Sorese’s figure work is beyond compare, and the paintings he posts to his Twitter show that he’s only getting better.

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Sacred Heart (2015) and Egg Cream #1 (2019) by Liz Suburbia

Sacred Hearts is a rough & tumble teen dystopia that manages a perfect and thought-provoking twist ending. Like, it needed no sequel. Then Egg Cream came along with a perfect sequel (that’s also a prequel) along with a bunch of great shorts. Suburbia’s linework is deceptively simple; she manages to get so much expression and texture out of so little. Get Egg Cream here.

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Marco Polo: Dangers and Visions (2017) by Marco Tabilio

This book hits me in a few of my week points: 1) maps, 2) unreliable narrators, 3) couched narratives, and 4) historical biographies. I read The Travels of Marco Polo in high school (maybe after reading the Sandman issue about him?), and I’ve been curious about him ever since. The cartooning is great, bringing together the traditions of illuminated manuscripts and American comic strips.

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Sound of Snow Falling (2017) by Maggie Umber

A wordless, fully painted “biography” of great horned owls. It’s wonderfully slow, like watching a plant grow and bloom in front of you, preserving all the wonder and tragedy of the natural world. Get it from the publisher here.

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On a Sunbeam (2018) by Tillie Walden

Walden released a bunch of good comics this decade, but On a Sunbeam seems to combine the best part of them all: immaculate drafting, powerful emotional content, careful colors, and a tight narrative.

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Remember This? (mini kuš! #29) (2016) and Help Yourself (2016) by Disa Wallander

I’m just in love with Wallander’s highly cartooned drawings over photographs. There’s a poetic simplicity to her panel rhythm and scripting. Help Yourself, in particular, was beautifully printed by Perfectly Acceptable Press (but is now out of print). But have no fear! Wallander’s first long book, Becoming Horses, is coming out in 2020. Get it at bookstores or comic shops!

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Prince of Cats (2012) by Ronald Wimberly

Rhythmic in both text and image, with beautiful flat colors and expressive anatomy. It’s taking-off point is Shakespeare in New York in the 1980s, but it’s more than that.

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Crow Cillers (pretty much all decade) and Strawberry Milkshake (2017) by Cate Wurtz

I’m always surprised that I don’t see more people talking about Cate Wurtz. Her drawings are like old JPEGs smeared over pirated AVI screenshots. Tense, funny, unsettling, humane—they’re precursors to Stranger Things and better than Stranger Things, interested in our relationships with media from the past without being a slave to it. Crow Cillers season 1 is pay-what-you-want here.

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Someone Please Have Sex With Me (2016) by Gina Wynbrandt

Just some horny and bizarre shit. Printed in aggressive pink, the art has a photoreference feel that fits the main character’s stilted and awkward approach to romance and lust. Which I mean in a good way! Get it from the publisher here.

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Witchlight (2016) by Jessi Zabarsky

GAY WITCH ROMANCE [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap]. Zabarsky’s linework is beautiful and delicate, and her design (of character, world, and page) are excellent.

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Dungeoctober

Inktober is happening, as usual: a month of daily prompts for (primarily visual) artists intended as a fun and/or loose exercise. But as we are anxious flesh things, we worry about keeping up; people start early out of fear of getting them all done. But those are bad vibes! This is (I assume?) intended to be a fun networking thing. So can I please introduce DUNGEOCTOBER?

Dungeoctober is the daily practice of using Inktober prompts to build a dungeon (or anything that is dungeon-adjacent or totally-not-a-dungeon) for roleplaying games, LARPs, or any other gaming platform. Blame World Champ Game Co, who’s done this before.

So what do I do?

Just choose a source of Inktober prompts and try to do it. If you do all of them, you can publish it on itch.io as a dungeon. Or if you finish some of them, you can publish it. Or if you finish none but get some “sketching” done, that’ll be useful to your current or future gaming groups. Or if you finish none and only think about it, same. Here are some steps.

1. Pick a Prompt List

Here’s the basic or “official” Inktober list for 2019:

Lots of good dungeon words on here, right? Enchanted, dragon, ghost, etc, mixed with some more vague ideas. But what if…we got…weird…? Here’s one of multiple lists generated by a bot:

This is absolutely the one I’m using.

After you a pick a list, what happens?

At the base level, just do it? You can make each day a separate room and then connect them and move them around after. Or you can do a random thing, like each room has 1d4 doors that connect to the rooms generated across the following days. Or I’m sure there are geniuses among you that can make tables that pick results across a number of Inktober tables and offer up a random one each day.

So what?

Using Inktober to generate a single dungeon room that you didn’t have before? Better than having no rooms. Don’t have a finished thing? I bet you have cool ideas. Draw it. Make tables. Write about your feelings about the theme. Keep a journal about traveling through the dungeon. Or save it for next year.

Campaign Updates

It’s been a while since I wrote about the campaigns I was running, and I’m at a point where some of them are undergoing some big changes, so I thought I’d jot it all down to help me process. Here are the 4ish games I’m currently DMing, all of which are fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.

The Chained Worlds: Above & Below

An indirect sequel to our long-running Wall campaign, this one’s been going on since May 2016. It’s actually two campaigns…or maybe it’s one campaign with two adventuring parties? When Wall finished, I had a group of 12 players interested in continuing to play, and while the weekly drop-in method of Wall worked for a while, as story details accrued, people started feeling like they’d missed too much important stuff to continue dropping in. So what could I do?

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From X-Factor (v1) #70, by Peter David, Kirk Jarvinen, et al.

Based almost entirely on scheduling needs, I broke the players into two groups. They were both from the same hometown and working for the same organization, but they were charged with exploring different parallel worlds: one went “up” the chain to a fae-filled world of imagination (actually the same world as the Wall campaign but a couple centuries later) while the other went “down” the chain to a gray and feudal realm of dying kingdoms and encroaching glaciers.

The first group became known as Date Team because, well, that’s most of what they do. They’ve dated a slug-eyed sewer secretary, a marquis, a ghost of books, a mouse king, a sailor’s daughter/swanmay, and more. They’ve destroyed dates, gotten revenge for jilted lovers, and caroused at every bar in town.

The second group is Boy Team. If they see a door, they go through. If they see a mountain, they climb it. If they see baddies, they rough them up.

Every few months, the two groups would get together for an all-day session where they’d celebrate a holiday, tackle an opponent too big for a single party, or do team-building exercises.

Now, after two years and 85 total sessions, things are nearing an end. They’ve discovered that the chain of worlds is actually a cage that’s keeping an apocalyptic entity, The Maw, from consuming everything. Boy Team is traveling across every world in the chain Sliders-style, trying to find allies against The Maw and uncover its history. Date Team is looking for the missing godhead of their world, the First Titan, under orders of the faerie queen Titania.

With people having left and joined each group, they’re currently on track to join into a single 8-person party for the remainder of the campaign. This big act will probably be done by the end of the year. And then?

Then I’m thinking of keeping them as one group but having them run through three separate campaigns at the same time. Each week, they can vote on which characters they want to play: their Chained World characters, a post-apocalyptic Bronze Age community-building game, or a post-post-apocalyptic Romantic/Victorian/Western game (see below).

Patchwork World: The Hex Crawl

This one’s only nine sessions in, but it’s set in a world I developed for a series of one-shots I ran for people learning D&D. It’s predicated on a few big points.

  1. “Fantasy” does not only mean “magic.” It also means “a way people wish things could be.” A fantasy RPG should represent the latter by way of the former. Middle Earth was Tolkien’s fantasy of a rural paradise where evil outsiders are kept at bay. Lankhmar was Fritz Leiber’s urbane, adventurous boys’ utopia. Conan was Robert E. Howard’s libertarian and feudal dream. But we don’t have to do things that way. Our fantasies can be places gender is exploded, where brown people aren’t attacked or discriminated against, where basic needs are met and adventure is a way to build bridges and spread abundance without also bringing colonialism. Which leads to…
  2. D&D doesn’t have to be Medieval. Given the rules-as-written and the possibilities implied in magic, extraplanar cosmology, and the various species and creatures, D&D can exist anywhere on the historical spectrum or, as I prefer, entirely outside of it. We can deal with historical ills if they’re of interest to us, but we can also use D&D to make a place where those things never happened or where they were happened and punished according to our desires. Slavery can be universally regarded as evil. Money can track an exchange of favors without the burden of capitalism. People can communicate across vast distances in the blink of an eye, ride trains, have light-up shoes, be teenagers. There’s no such thing as “that’s not how it happened in the real world.”

Given those two interwoven points, the Patchwork World is a post-post-apocalyptic planet made of chunks of other planets. There are radiation-blasted deserts, rural utopias, steampunk cities, and hells and heavens of varying degrees. The difficulty isn’t in creating a utopia; it’s in reconciling everyone’s different utopias.

This is complicated by an additional wrinkle: the players asked for this campaign to be a sort of overworld exploration game. They want to see all the weird things the world holds. To this end, I’m running my first hex-crawl:

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The map as it stood a couple months ago.

We started with only a few known locations, including their base of operations and each character’s hometown. Through exploring and talking, they’re slowly filling in the Patchwork World, walking across it in the giant ostrich robot they got for bringing a deadbeat god dad to justice. As they visit new hexes, the contents are mostly randomly generated by a spreadsheet I made giving me either a large area (with its occupants, technology level, and mood) or a seeded point of interest pulled from other sources.

This world is, potentially, a far-future version of the Chained Worlds campaign. I dunno. Maybe I’ll join the groups at some point? Or let them guest star in each other’s games?

The Lost Isle of St. Christine

This is the newest campaign; we’ve only made characters and played enough to introduce the main conceit of the game. The history of this setting is as follows:

  1. I made a “Peasants & Plowshares” hack of fourth edition D&D to teach people the game. It was set in a witch-hunty walled city.
  2. I brought the P&P players back to that city as more powerful (1st level) PCs to let them run roughshod over their peasants. The city was revealed to be on a lost island.
  3. I quit D&D and sold all my stuff.
  4. I got obsessed with “real life” lost islands like St Brendan’s Island.
  5. I started (but never finished) a “non-interactive fiction game” called Copper Falls.
  6. Got back into D&D and wanted to run a full campaign in a small, dense area.

So here’s the island so far:

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And here’s the original pitch I made the players:

400 years ago, members of a religious schism were said to have found an untouched island on which to practice their faith. They were never heard from again until today. You’re passengers on the first ship to the Isle of St Christine, accompanying traders, priests, and explorers. What does the island hold? How have the pilgrims changed? And was the island truly untouched?

Tags: exploration, mapmaking, religion, cults, dogs, dense

Audio inspiration: “Masked Ball” by Jocelyn Pook

Visual inspiration: St Brendan’s Isle

D&D Emergent Strategies: Animal Friendship

Do you know Kira Magrann? She’s a smart and cool game writer; you can find her here on Twitter and Patreon. She tweeted this:

It caught my eye because, in the 5ish campaigns I’m currently running, this is actually really common. Kira noted that D&D mechanics don’t explicitly support this type of play, and it got me thinking about why my players do it and what I might be doing to push them in that direction (or at least not pull them away from it).

First, while there aren’t any big rules expressly pointing players toward helping animals, there are at least a number of features that might act as signposts in that direction. A few of them off the top of my head:

  • the speak with animals spell, available to rangers, druids, Oath of the Ancients paladins, Nature clerics, Path of the Totem Warrior barbarians, and potentially bards and warlocks depending on their build (and the forest gnome’s ability to speak with small animals)
  • the ability to turn into animals, especially the druid’s wildshape, but also via spells like polymorph
  • animal companions, such as from the urchin background or Beast Master ranger build
  • other animal-centric spells like awaken and animal messenger

So Kira’s definitely right; there’s no “help animals to advance your characters” or similar rule in D&D. But with all those options, if the group has the right make-up, there’s a lot of animal business in there. However, that could easily get squashed under the D&D stereotype of “kill monsters and get loot.” So why isn’t that the case in my game?

A big part is because I give XP/levels just for showing up.

I don’t track monster or encounter XP, I don’t give XP for quest milestones—everyone gets a fraction of a level after every session.

Originally, I did this because I ran a pure drop-in game where anyone from a group of 14ish players was invited over every week. They ranged from the ages of 25 to almost 50. It was a miracle that any of us could find a free night. I didn’t want to penalize anyone if they happened to come play when the game was more focused around travel, carousing, or other interactions not typically considered XP-worthy.

And it may not have been conscious, but once the players realized they didn’t have to quest for XP, they started doing all sorts of strange things: getting drunk and rambling around town, uncovering reticent NPC’s backgrounds, going on dates, and, well, talking to animals.

The party I was thinking about when I said that my D&D experience has been animal-centric has a druid, a ranger, a Totem Warrior barbarian, an urchin sorcerer, and a rogue who bought a goat. Once they realized they could do animal things, it became a primary way of scouting locations, interacting with NPC friends, and traveling. They save “dungeon monsters” from the intelligent baddies that imprisoned them. They ask me every session how their animal companions are and what they do with their downtime. They once all turned into mice and saved a mouse kingdom from a fungal invasion; the ranger almost excepted the mouse king’s proposal to rule beside him, which would have led to her retiring that character and making a new one.

It makes me wonder what other emergent themes might be hiding out in D&D.

(Shoutout to Greg the Mouse, Ricky the Goat, Rations the Pig, the swanmays, and all the other animals in my current campaign. And shoutout to adrienne maree brown, whose book title I stole for this blog post but whose work is otherwise unrelated to mine. Or is it?! Regardless, get the book. And of course, go follow Kira Magrann.)

Session Planning in the Shower

I turned my spur-of-the-moment session-planning methods (often done in the shower) into a full-blown game (meant to be played in the shower). Apologies to the great Dr. Bronner. Full text below.

ENJOY ONLY 2 PASTIMES, cleanliness and preparation for ‘Role Playing Games’ which prepare your body-mind-soul-spirit for unsullied life. For a flexible and holistic gaming session, combine a shower with your planning as ‘Game Master.’ ALL-ONE!

For use with games of all type and especially when feeling that singular & human stress that comes from not having prepared for a night in which you will act as ‘Game Master’ for friends & loved ones.

Soap up your hands and arms and laugh wickedly to embrace tradition dating back to ‘sardonic laugh’ of 1784 when Fanny Burney wrote in ‘Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay.’ If the sound you make pleases you, your session will be masterminded by a singular and villainous ‘Non Player Character.’ Has your struggle through life left your hands & arms marked with wounds? If so, the villain has true and good reason for how they act. If your hands are smooth as well as clean, the villain is inexplicably bad and proud of their sin, descended as they are from sinful sinners throughout history. However, if the sound you make is cacophonous or displeases you, the action of the evening’s session come from misunderstanding, as we are simple & corrupt beings all. Count the scars that decorate you from shoulders down to fingertips. This is the number of beings involved in the night’s misunderstandings. Name them and their grievances! Scars on your knuckles signify those who are stubborn & uncompromising. Scars on your forearms translate to scared and forthcoming ‘Non Player Characters.’ Remember that they are All-One! They interact as we all do and we are one!

Wash your back with loving massage. How much of it can you reach? Using ancient mathematics, name the %! Let that be the amount of the night’s plot that the ‘Player Characters’ can learn without heavy investigation, heavy fighting, or heavy exploring. Let the dirt you can’t reach become dirty secrets kept from your players. Dirty secrets unite all humankind.

Cleanse your face. If your eyes are invaded by stinging cleansing, tragedy befalls a ‘Non Player Character.’ What happens & what triggers it? Remember the ancient wisdom that declares that all triggers descend naturally from ‘Player Characters.’ Carefully wash your hair. What-cunning-and-numberless-products. How many did you use for hair & face combined (ALL-ONE!)? Each is a treasure to place lovingly into your session. What treasure? Why are they coveted, for all things are coveted in a sinful world? Who holds them, and how are they protected? Scrolls: $10 for 10, $3 for 1, help unite all!

Let suds and bubbles cascade down your front & all down to your thighs. Does it feel good, as all of us on this world are deserving of pleasure? If you think of ‘Sex Things,’ a ‘Non Player Character’ desires a ‘Player Character.’ Why & for how long & are their intentions good? If your mind is clear & clean of sex, give a ‘Non Player Character’ a vulnerability or weakness. Is it a curse, as sin is our curse in the human world? Or an everyday vice? How is it telegraphed to the ‘Player Characters,’ as all weaknesses must be signaled and shown as though a great & traditional ‘Boss Battle’?

Wash your butt. ALL OF IT AS ALL BUTT MUST BE CLEANED. Would it please you if your butt was bigger? Consider consequences or rumors that might reach those who wield power over the ‘Player Characters.’ If you wish it was smaller, plan a way for common people to interact, as the will of the people will always make itself known. If you’re content with or don’t care about your butt, consider this: a foil-double-echo of a ‘Player Character’ who appears as a ‘Non Player Character.’ Similarities are everywhere as all are one!

When you wash your legs, is it easy & painless as you are blessed with flexibility of body-thought-shower? Then a scenario solution can be discovered without great sacrifice as others have sacrificed themselves before us. But if you, as most, suffer from pain or awkwardness, then it shall be reflected in the scenario when someone will have to lose something important to solve everything. ALL IS ONE! CLUES ABOVE SOLVE PROBLEMS BELOW, AND THE INVERSE IS TRUE TO ONE AND ALL!

Let your feet inspire the landscape of the scenario as you wash them with loving care. Where did the dirt on your feet come from, for all dirt is unique and speaks to someone’s home as draculas have always known? How do they feel? What is smooth and what is textured? Even if your ‘Player Characters’ don’t travel because their home is where their heart is, your own unique feet can inspire & invoke emotional landscapes instead of physical.

A question echos through the ages: ARE YOU SHAVING? Let the where and the why of it guide side paths & future consequences because what you shave away might grow back tomorrow.

As you carefully dab away the consequences of your cleaning, give your main new ‘Non Player Characters’ distinct clothing styles, for as English playwright Shakespeare 1599 wrote in ‘HAMLET,’ clothes make the man. But not all are man nor are all woman, and variety is the spice of life. Let them dress a degree better or worse than those around them. Jaunty or bizarre accessory: $3 Who made their clothes, for they do not come from nowhere and ALL ARE ONE.

Put on your own clothes. (Who made them?) It must be done in a certain order. For each item you don, pick a piece of the scenario you’ve dreamt and decide how it’s introduced to your ‘Player Characters.’ When you put garments over other garments, think on how two components of your scenario overlap, co-occur, and change each other. ALL ARE ONE! How does the order of introduction shade and escalate feelings & deadlines? NO COMPONENT STANDS ALONE! Exceptions? None!

As bodily cleanliness is important, so too is the order and cleanliness of your space! Return your soap to its proper home. Place dice, pencils, and other materials within easy reach. Consider your players and build in your mind a place of love and trust for them. WE ALL ARE ONE, and as has been said since the oldest times, you and your players are more important than your plans. If anyone seems uncomfortable or plays an ‘X CARD,’ move your plans from the public arena to a quiet and secure place in your deepest mind. They can be cleaned and salvaged for another time, and it will be much easier than cleaning and salvaging comfort and friendship. ALL ARE ONE AND SHOULD HAVE FUN!

Patchwork World: The Playbooks

I’ve been slowly putting together a collage/remix game powered by the apocalypse. It’s meant to be an entire collage of a game: characters mutate and gain pieces from other playbooks, the rules are put together from other PbtA games, and the setting itself is a collection of chunks torn from other worlds.

A big(ish) part of the game is randomly rolling your character’s looks, starting moves, and advancement. This is a major part of many games, especially OSR-style games. It hasn’t made it into many “story” games, though, and I understand why; complete stories or powerful moods rely on controlled input, and randomness can be a threat to that.

However, I wanted to create a place where randomness is an expected and vital part of the game. Part of that is because I’m thrown off by unexpected things in real life; I hate it when plans change, and I have trouble adapting to unexpected things. I thought (probably a little romantically) that this game could serve as a place where I could “immunize” myself against the unexpected.

Here are the (1d)6 playbook descriptions and their accompanying collages (plus a bonus playbook requested by a friend.)

Fighting Folk
You might believe that violence is inevitable, or you might practice the infliction of violence as a form of self-discipline, or you might just think it’s fun.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: well-muscled, scarred, attractive
2. Elfin: lithe, compound eyes, bald
3. Dwarfish: hairy, pale, tattooed
4. Gith: sharp-toothed, lanky, limping
5. Monstrous: furry, scowling, one-eyed
6. Discarded: scratched steel, immobile face, bulky

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Diplomat
Whether you work for the Heartless Princess or a someone else, you’re searching the Patchwork World for political alliances, potential enemies, and useful information.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: well-dressed, alert, antsy
2. Elfin: sumptuously dressed, made-up, antennae
3. Dwarfish: flawless posture, gold-dusted eyes, dirty fingernails
4. Gith: long-limbed, sharp-toothed, crowned
5. Monstrous: scaled, lilting voice, luscious hair
6. Discarded: decorated porcelain, wrapped in scarves, posing

diplomat2

Doomster
You’ve made a pact with a powerful extradimensional being: god, demon, fae, spirit, or directed energy. It’s bound by the old ways; it might be trapped by the Heartless Princess. You are its servant out in the Patchwork World. It might ask you to perform a specific duty or merely spread its word. In return, you have worlds of your own. It’s all based on promises.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: concealing robe, strict hair, mirror-like eyes
2. Elfin: dusty exhalations, tiny mandibles, imposing hat
3. Dwarfish: protective beard-plate, tattoos, hint of smile
4. Gith: wrapped ankles and wrists, minimal clothing, vestigial tail
5. Monstrous: ritual scarring, horns + halo, six small wings
6. Discarded: rough wooden form, studded with nails, crown of iron

Die Serben an der Adria. Ihre Typen und Trachten. [By Louis Salv

Goodwalker
Four nights a year, the demons come. Like hateful locusts, they attack the fields and livelihoods of mortals. The goodwalkers ride out on stalks of fennel to stop them. Born of caul and witchcraft, they fight against the Pall in defense of the common folk.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: peasant-ish clothes, blocky face, strange amulet
2. Elfin: leather straps, crusty body paint, pincer hand
3. Dwarfish: large feet, angular face, loincloth
4. Gith: immaculate & complicated hair, broom-sized paintbrush, stone-faced jewelry
5. Monstrous: hump or lump or cyst, oversized broom, ragged clothes
6. Discarded: spiky straw hair, dessicated leather form, cat eyes

goodwalker

Chimera
While many rightfully fear the Pall and its Hex, some choose to embrace it and even manipulate it. You collect the strange curses and mutations of the Patchwork World, incorporating them into yourself.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: pointed ears, vitiligo, piercings
2. Elfin: chitinous forearms & shins, green or blue skin, petrichor scent
3. Dwarfish: gem-spiked joints, granite-colored skin, secret gender
4. Gith: smoky exhalations, leathery skin, extra fingers
5. Monstrous: tail, spots or stripes, animal head
6. Discarded: mismatched limbs, hollow torso, eyes that cry milk, wine, or honey

chimera2

Pythian
The Pall can be entered, it can be explored, and it can be bound. Pythians (named after an ancient summoner) use the Pall to see past human barriers and bring strange things to them.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: strained skin, frumpy toga, white eyes
2. Elfin: spider silk clothes, sooty flesh, long fingers
3. Dwarfish: chemical humours, facial piercings, wooden jewelry
4. Gith: widow’s peak, claw-like fingernails, purple clothing
5. Monstrous: striped fur, long pipe, reverse hands
6. Discarded: twisted sticks, burning head, iron teeth

pythian

Dracula Cowboy
Drive the herds at night to better protect them from their predators. Sleep in covered wagons during the day. Drink the blood of strong oxen and bulls.

Look
Roll 1d6.
1. Humanish: pale skin, leather boots, sharp canines
2. Elfin: unfurling straw tongue, all-red eyes, silk handkerchief
3. Dwarfish: ten-gallon hat, topless head full of sloshing blood, cold and shining skin
4. Gith: dry gray skin, intricate headdress, hemp piping
5. Monstrous: lamprey face, rubbery skin, minimal clothing
6. Discarded: needle fingers, permanent spurs, straw-stuffed body

vampirecowboy

At this point, the first drafts of the playbooks are entirely done, and so are the mechanics and most of the text. I still have layout to do, and I want to add vehicles (?!). I’d love to get it done by the summer.

Theo Ellsworth

[Originally written as part of a comic library blog/fundraiser.]

On the surface, Ellsworth’s comics are surreal fantasy, full of monsters and machines like some sort of woodcut Richard Scarry. But they’re more: they’re intensely personal self-help books and vehicles for interdimensional, inner-brain travel. Ellsworth visualizes his anxieties and his dreams and uses his comics to transmute and make peace with the bad things in his brain. And the reader is invited to watch and learn and, in the end, use the same magic on their own problems.

55b690e7eb070_191369b

From Birthday.