Sunday, December 31, 2023

New Year highlights, and thanks

 Happy New Year!

I realized recently that this blog will be five years old in a few months' time. Ironically, there were times not too long ago that I thought seriously about shuttering the blog -- but then, 2023 turned out to be my busiest year yet for posting here, with 35 total posts (that's 15 more posts than in 2022!). I shifted my approach a bit this year, allowing myself to post less consequential but more personal and creative things, like hobby-related art projects or comments on fan culture. But some of this was hopefully inspiring or useful -- discussing easy DIY foam wargaming terrain or a kitbashed/converted/scratchbuilt army for Epic: 40k has reflected fun things that brought me a lot of enjoyment and utility this year. 

On the RPG front, the highlight was reaching Electrum level on for my historically informed Bronze Age/Sword-and-Sorcery character background generator, Brazen Backgrounds -- which also received a product update with some fresh and improved content. Hearty thanks to all who have purchased that product. In terms of some of my preferred posts about RPG theory this year, have a look if you missed posts about mechanics for dungeon exploration postures for adventuring parties, simpler character/faction-driven domain-play, or a cultural rationale for re-running dungeons

More philosophically, as I wrapped up a campaign this year I recorded my thoughts about choosing, running, ending, and being content with games and campaigns in their own season. 

Thank you for reading Gundobad Games. I'm excited about ideas for new posts in the season ahead. Best wishes for 2024, and happy gaming!

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Epic Knight Detachment fully kitbashed

 At long last, I have kitbashed all the figures needed for my Chaos/Traitor Knight detachment for use with Epic: 40,000. These are, again, Battletech minis modified with additions from the bitbox - occasionally through rather aggressive plastic surgeries. 

The plan for now is to run it as a mixed detachment of five Knight Castellans and six of the faster, lower-firepower, higher-assault Knights (the old 3e Epic rules -- or, rather, the community-made added rules for Mechanicum Knight forces -- just use the two kinds. 3e is a very straightforward system). 

Most of them still need primer, let alone paint; a few of them look rather silly for now, but I'm confident that once painted up they'll look quite nice (this has been my experience so far). 

Here are a few closeups of some of the final additions: 

Battletech 'mechs with bitz from the Chosen Chaos Marines sprues. That purple curved armor carapace was ... the lid of a dental floss pack! Once it's all spraypainted and spiffyfied, I think these guys will look great. 

That helm-crest was the blade of an Orkish axe. Now, I feel it gives this fella a bit more Oldhammer flair. 

Along with these, I have three other 'mech conversions to add - a Scout Titan and two Traitor Warhounds, who will look quite un-canonical! 

On to priming and painting. Whew! 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

[REVIEW] Soulbound: ULFENKARN, City at the Edge of Death

 Start with Ravenloft, D&D's iconic fantasy horror setting with a vampire frontman. Mash it up with Duskvol, the gloomy urban crime-scape from Blades in the Dark. And now funnel that mixture through Mordheim, the OG Warhammer ruined apocalyptic city, and season it with all the grotty grimdark WFRP-ness you can. Package the whole thing as an urban sandbox campaign setting, marinate the product in blood long enough to pickle everything, and you'll get something like Soulbound: Ulfenkarn, City at the Edge of Death (aff). If you're into horror gaming with loads of vampires and other undead, you'll find this new Warhammer roleplaying book a colorful, flavorful campaign resource (it's just that the color is all red, and the flavor ... well...). 

Cubicle 7 kindly provided a free copy for this review. You can purchase the game as a 240-page .pdf, with separate copies of about 11 maps from the book (including GM and player-facing city map variants), for $29.99 USD at (this review uses affiliate links to DTRPG, which help support this blog's activities at no added cost to you - thank you!). This review is based on reading, not running; but I have run Soulbound previously (and I offered a pretty substantial, multi-part review it, here, here, and here). 


Let me make this clear, up front: if you really like horror in your fantasy gaming, I think you will quite like Ulfenkarn. But if you don't like horror all that much, you probably should move along to other products. Ulfenkarn gives you more than ample material to tell desperate vampire-hunting stories until the vargheists come home. It provides both narrative/setting support and mechanical tweaks to turn your Soulbound RPG into a genuine horror game. In fact -- hear me out here -- Ulfenkarn is so effective that I would not run it, at least not in its entirety or without some changes. 

No, wait, come back! Let me explain. It's a me issue, not an Ulfenkarn problem. That is to say: the more that I read of this book, the more I realized I'm not its ideal audience -- I'm just not into horror on the sustained, oppressive level this book serves. I do think this is a well-done resource. In fact, its gloomy effect on me as I read shows that the designers achieved what they wanted to do. Herein are stinking sewer canals full of sluggish blood mixed with human sewage, feuding necromantic body-collectors torn over rival visions for their order, haunted graveyard plots that pull the living into the earth, vampire aristocrats who run captive mortals like mice through a trapped maze for their amusement before feasting upon them, literal fountains of blood collecting a measured, daily sanguine tax from mortal subjects, white-coat wearing clinical handlers of the blood-tax-cisterns, a sinister death-magic vortex that must some day devour the island, and the vast, ebon tower of the undead warlord holding the entire city prisoner. This is like Castle Ravenloft, but spread across a full city. And everywhere, the book points not just to scary things that want to eat your characters, but to the unrelenting social horrors perpetuated as terrified humans become metaphorical monsters to survive one more day subject to actual monsters. This book is dark -- grimdark dark -- but also imaginative and evocative. But after a while, it was all a bit too much for me. That is no criticism of the craft on display here, but keep it in mind over the course of this review. I want to tell you what this book can provide, should an entire campaign mostly of nightmares be up your alley. 


Ulfenkarn, the city, has already been used as the setting for a board game, Warhammer Quest: Cursed City, and it has featured in a companion Black Library novel cleverly titled ... Cursed City. Now, Ulfenkarn, the Soulbound supplement, builds up the Cursed City as a detailed setting for your own campaigns. Here's my one-paragraph crash course on what's up with the place:


Long ago, an alliance of pious nobles hopped planes to Shyish, the Realm of Death, and founded the city of Mournhold there, so they could better commune with the spirits of their glorious but deceased ancestors. Many generations later, as Chaos forces swept across the Realms, Mournhold's citizens faced their seventh Chaos siege (!) and understood themselves to be doomed. But wait! Forth came the dark ships of an undead corsair lord, the vampire Radukar, with his Ogor mercenary followers. Radukar saved the city from its chaotic attackers, and then offered Mournhold a choice: send him away and wait for the next Chaos siege, or welcome him inside as a live-in protector. This would be a short story if the Mournholders had said "go away;" instead, they welcomed Radukar as a putative savior. Naturally, he was actually Up to No Good. Radukar had a prophetic intimation of the coming "Necroquake" (when Soulbound's undead BBEG, Nagash, would unleash deathly doom upon the realms), and he had divined that Mournhold would be doomed by that coming crisis. The Necroquake did, in fact, open a terrible nexus of necromantic energy near the city, the Shyish Nadir ... a deathly vortex spread and spread, slowly threatening to devour the city. As planned, on the night of the Necroquake, Radukar unleashed his forces to seize full control over the city -- and then imprison its mortal occupants within. Ever since, he has maintained the city as a kind of jail + vampire feeding ground, with various sorts of undead wandering the streets and making life miserable for the terrified but dwindling populace. Secretly (and here's where we're getting into spoiler territory), Radukar's long-term plan is to just let the Shyish Nadir devour the city, and use the mass death to power a ritual in which he will become a Mortarch, one of the great mystical warlords of the underworld. [At this point in the story, you can either play where that remains a secret and Radukar is just biding his time on the throne - OR you can advance the narrative to either of two future states, which match steps in the 'canonical' Ulfenkarn fiction. In the first step, Radukar appears to have been beaten by a gang of heroic vigilante adventurers, but now three lesser vampire lords have stepped out of the shadows to fight each other for control of what remains of Radukar's realm. In the third, final narrative step, Radukar returns with greater bestial power, having only been wounded; at this stage, he reasserts control over the city and prepares for the great ritual. 

All that being said: unless the GM changes something, the default is that the city of Ulfenkarn is DOOMED, no matter what happens. The long-term setting questions are not "can the city be saved?" but rather, "Can the dark ritual be prvented? Can someone find a way to evacuate the citizenry before the city is physically swallowed up by the death vortex??" However, Ulfenkarn recognizes some GMs or parties might want a different trajectory, and encourages you to make the city your own if that's the case. 

There is a suggestion at one point that if players want to run undead characters in this undead city, they might come as agents from an extant Mortarch, checking up on rumors that Radukar is being disloyal to Nagash or threatening to upset the trademarked balance of power among the current top-dog deathlords. I thought that was a cool idea. 

Since this campaign can be played at any of three different narrative "time-stamps," if you will, the book contains a wealth of sidebars clarifying how a character, location, or other feature would change from one time period to the next. I suppose this could add replayability and flexibility. Personally, I think the first or second periods sound more appealing. After the first era, there is more room in the setting for a safe haven (it's ... literally called Haven) where the PCs can try to build a refuge against all the unrelenting horror. 

HERE END the SPOILERS for the Ulfenkarn fiction and campaign narrative. 


Much of the book details places and adventure sites, plentiful enough to stock a sprawling, interconnected urban sandbox for horror gaming. First come about a hundred localities, grouped by district. They vary in length and depth, but even the shortest cover a few paragraphs (some of the longer location entries are much more substantial, and have their own little tables with possible encounters and sensory details). They include many NPCs and sub-factions with which you might interact. I think every single location has its own sidebar with one or more plot hooks tied to that location; these plot hooks generally could inspire a whole session or more of play. Often, there are even extra plot hooks and notes detailing changes to this location at one of the later time-periods that can be chosen for playing in this setting (on which see above, in the spoilers bit). 

I found these location entries to be evocative and flavorful. They not only illustrate the setting's horror in detail, but they also provide some needed contrast and descriptive relief ("relief" in a topographical, not emotional, sense). For one thing, they show that there is still much more to the city than just the tyranny of Radukar, the vampire lord. There are lesser vampires afoot, but also semi-independent or even rival factions of necromancers, monsters, criminals, vampire hunters, etc., etc. This section of the book really was what made me think of Duskvol, the dark city from Blades in the Dark. Ultimately, this setting really does revolve around Radukar's bloody rule, but there's still plenty of other stuff to mess with along the way. And sometimes, that even offers up -- well, perhaps "good guys" isn't quite right, but at least NPCs you might actually want to work with. For example, you might encounter members of "The Illustrious Guildhouse of Gravemasters" -- morticians and grave-diggers who try to give the dead a clean, decent burial. If you guessed that doing so is dangerous in a city ruled by vampires and necromancers, you are correct. Another, particularly evocative example is "Old Babs' Cottage" -- Babs is an old woman in a crumbling house full of cats, cats, and more cats. Why?

"No two Ulfenkarni react to the tragedy of their situation in quite the same way, and Old Babs is a good example of this. She took to feeding and sheltering the local cat population, who in turn warn her when trouble is near. Those who view her a harmless eccentric are unaware of where she finds the meat to feed herself and her mewling brood."

This hits the book's tone pretty well. Yes, this cursed city has potential allies, and there are things and people worth saving. But they're pretty creepy, too. 

Here's the plot hook provided for Old Babs' Cottage:

"A Feline Warning: Old Babs is no fool — she has learned to trust the natural Witch-Sight her cats possess. Their hissing has saved her many times from ethereal threats. Now, they gather around a nearby building, hissing at something unseen inside. Old Babs would like to know what has them worried."

As you can see, this is an interesting and thematic idea for a session. But it isn't anything more. To execute this, you would have to grab a structure map, decide what's going on, and set up any relevant encounters. With that caveat in mind, the hundred or so locations like this (Old Babs' Cottage is one of the small, less-detailed ones) do still provide a rich web of potential contacts and battlegrounds. Just as often, the plot hooks suggest factional rivalries and conflicts that could get very involved. I suspect you could play several campaigns without touching all the material in here. 

After about 75 pages of such locations, the book provides a deeper dive -- this time, with maps and encounters ready to go -- for five separate adventure sites: a haunted graveyard, a ruined noble estate still hiding relics and treasures, the coven-headquarters for a league of academic necromancers, the triple-towered lair of a family of vampire aristocrats (and the prey they abduct and domineer for their amusement), and -- finally -- the Ebon Citadel, the vast castle and ruling center of Radukar and his Court. Each of these is detailed enough to treat as a little "adventure module," with keyed maps, encounters and encounter tables, NPCs, etc. I say "keyed maps," but note that this is set up for Soulbound's use of Zones; sometimes this means that spaces are a little abstract (though not always). 

The final of these more detailed entries, on the Ebon Citadel, is billed as a "megadungeon." That is sort of true. I mean, it is true - the place is massive - and (or but?) this section is twenty-five illustrated pages long. This is not going to give you an "OSR"-style megadungeon, with every broom closet detailed for tapping with your 10-foot pole. On the other hand, again, there is a LOT in here. Because of the willingness to zoom out and let the GM fill in some details here and there, they have packed in a tremendous amount of potential play into what is covered in these 25 pages. PCs could spend a lot of time here -- either (as the book suggests) confronting Radukar head-on (presumably a near-suicidal campaign climax) or "raid[ing] it for the resources to help you save the city." 

(Just to be clear, I'm not criticizing this for being a 25-page, semi-abstract megadungeon. I have actually advocated such things in the past right here on this very blog, so I was intrigued to see how they handled this. It's sort of like a "just add water and stir" megadungeon, where they've given you the essence in concentrate and now you can breath life into it. 


First, for the GM: this book provides a wealth of thematic material that should vastly simplify prep if you want to run an urban horror campaign. It even provides over half a dozen one-page adventure prompts. Elsewhere, however, it does NOT eliminate a need for prep, and you are still going to need to flesh things out. But the evocative ingredients provide enough to run a very satisfying campaign while leaving lots of room for you to make your own creative imprint on the city. 

In terms of mechanical resources, the book has a meaty bestiary section that details key NPCs as well as a host of undead foes (these could be useful for Soulbound campaigns set elsewhere, too). For players, we gain nine new Talents and four new "Subfactions" - these are like background kits that tell you something about your backstory while adding a mechanical benefit to some aspect of your character. There are also six new Archetypes. Then, there are six Endeavors, setting-specific mini-quests with mechanical consequences for characters (you can even decide you want to become a vampire this way...). The book provides some nice extra gear options, too. 

Of particular note, however, are mechanical tools to achieve a grittier tone for horror gaming in Soulbound. The core game already provides suggestions for "Grim and Perilous" gaming with less-powerful characters (normally, Soulbound is a pretty wild power fantasy game, though the baddies can hold their own). We get updated Grim and Perilous rules here, which will make PCs far more vulnerable than normal.  

Let me re-state that. If you like the idea of running Warhammer: Fantasy Role-Playing, but you prefer the core mechanics of Soulbound, then this book will turn your SB campaign into WFRP. Now, your Soulbound characters can despair that they are doomed to die - but instead of dying in a sewer or alley while chaotic rats chew on them, they'll probably die in a sewer or alley or castle or graveyard while vampires chew on them. 

To be honest ... I rather like the Soulbound power curve ... and while the game suggests running with very vulnerable PCs, nothing prevents you from keeping this as the usual ol' Soulbound power-fantasy smackdown. In fact, I quite like the idea of the scuzzy villains in this book meeting an empowered and experiences group of Sigmarites from afar. The book offers pointers on how to do that, too, if that's more everyone's speed. Doing so will just transform this from a work of genuine horror to, well, beating up powerful horror monsters. It's like the old Pulp Cthulhu vs. Classic Mythos split, all over again.

GMs who don't even run Soulbound but also don't mind doing a lot of prep to stat up encounters might also find this book useful as a setting. If all you need are chilling threats and stories, scheming, needy NPCs who are more than bags of stats and HP, and evocative locations and factions for an urban horror campaign, check this out. 


I think that this book is quite well done. The pieces of the setting are so integrated that it's worth more as a cohesive whole, rather than plundering the book for individual encounters or locations (though you could). With its own recommended way of running lower-powered characters that deviate from normal Soulbound, this book really aims at a standalone experience that transforms the game into a genuine horror RPG. For me, it's actually all a bit too muchy - the horror here is consistent, pervasive, and oppressive. I guess I don't really like horror that much, and so I do NOT plan to run this campaign. But I see that as a real tribute to the writers' success: it's the same reason I don't plan to run a Ravenloft game anytime soon. 

If fantasy urban Ravenloft by way of Duskvol and Mordheim floats your boat, then consider picking up this lavish, bloody, flavorful, and very dark supplement. 

Happy gaming! 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Wizards and Magic Items ... in the ROOT RPG!?

 I am excited to begin a new campaign again soon - this time using ROOT (affiliate link), a PbtA RPG of scheming woodland creatures (think Mouse Guard meets the shenanigans from Blades in the Dark). I'm planning a “normal” ROOT campaign of critters and (home-brew) factions, but I have been intrigued by online suggestions that ROOT could be a good PbtA ruleset for fantasy PbtA gaming with a bit more heft and crunch (I have long experience with Dungeon World, and with some of its hacks, and I do see some ways that ROOT might add nicely to that field of contenders — even if reskinned for humans and peer adventurers). 

Now, let me note that I haven’t actually run ROOT yet, so this is all wildly premature spitballing of some ideas. But I wanted to jot down early ideas about how I might run magic-users in a fantasy ROOT, especially in a setting that allows mysterious magic while hewing more to a Low Fantasy than High Fantasy aesthetic. I definitely am including some magical elements in this first campaign, including magical foes and probably some simple magic items for the party - and a sorta-wizard, if anybody wants to play it. 

Here’s how. 


Experimentally, I am already planning to use the T+O (Travelers and Outsiders - another affiliate link) supplement's list of “Masteries” for magic item abilities. Masteries are cool perks you can gain through advancement that just make your occasional 12+ results on select Moves much more effective and powerful. For example, here’s the Persuade an NPC Mastery:

On a 12+, in addition to the results of the 10+, you may mark exhaustion to treat this move as a 12+ on the sway an NPC Reputation move, even if you don’t have a high enough Reputation with their faction to normally sway the NPC in question. 

So you are good enough at an ability that you can squeeze more out of it than can the common Mouse - but you’re not SO good that this will destabilize the normal flow of play. That strikes me as possibly a great way to handle magic items in a Low Fantasy campaign. Imagine wearing a brooch, for example, that can cloud the mind or guide your own speech (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for!”) when it counts, but using that power is a bit draining. 

The T+O guide has 17 of these masteries. Many are for Special Weapon Moves, which means they’d make great ways to distinguish special magic weapons found as loot.

So, I’m giving the players a list of Species moves, but I will be saving these Masteries to spice up equipment they find, and to flavor it magically - without breaking the game. 


In the Travelers and Outsiders supplement, the CHRONICLER playbook’s Move, The Worth of a Book, is very similar to “magic ritual” moves used in various fantasy PbtA games/hacks for Wizard characters. It offers a way to integrate slower-moving but potentially very powerful effects in game (note that even in the zero-magic ROOT, possible applications include “curing a deadly disease” or “ending a drought.”  

The Worth of a Book 

When you study your tomes and scrolls to discover old techniques or methods to solve an intractable problem—curing a deadly disease, ending a drought, legally unseating a leader, etc—decide what you want to accomplish and tell the GM. The GM will give you between 1 to 4 conditions you must fulfill to discover a path forward, including time taken, additional information needed, mentors or translators needed, facilities/tools needed, or the limits of your solution. When you fulfill the conditions, you gain whatever knowledge you were seeking—it’s up to you to put to use. 

For comparison, here is the move “Ritual” from the Wizard playbook in Dungeon World: 

When you draw on a place of power to create a magical effect, tell the GM what you’re trying to achieve. Ritual effects are always possible, but the GM will give you one to four of the following conditions:
It’s going to take days/weeks/months
First you must ____
You’ll need help from ____
It will require a lot of money
The best you can do is a lesser version, unreliable and limited
You and your allies will risk danger from ____
You’ll have to disenchant ____ to do it

And here, with a few subtle differences, is the same move from the DW hack, Homebrew World:

When you wish to weave magic, say what you’re after and how you plan to do it. The GM will say “Of course, but...” and 1-4 of the following. Perform the ritual and the magic takes effect.
You must draw on a place of power (like __)
You must do it at an auspicious time (like __)
It’s going to take hours/days/weeks
First you must __
You’ll need help from __
It’ll require the sacrifice of __
The best you can do is __
You/your allies will risk danger from __

Some observations: the core idea is the same in each case, though ROOT’s version doesn’t explicitly include magical/miraculous effects. However, they differ slightly in their restrictions and context, too. The ROOT move, The Worth of a Book, is used to get information about how one might do XYZ. Completing the move’s conditions just gives you information, and then “it’s up to you to put it to use.” (This could require further moves or even whole sessions of effort). The DW and HBW moves end with the thing you’re trying to do actually happening (the key difference between those two versions is that DW assumes you’ve found a place of power for your ritual; HBW notes this as one possible stipulation). 

Simply by allowing miraculous and supernatural effects within the realm of the “possible,” the Referee can use the Chronicler’s move to allow a Gandalf-like character (which fits really, really well with the Chronicler's other abilities), or even more spectacular magic-users. In edge cases where learning how to do something vs. actually getting it done matters, you could lean in the direction of either Worth of a Book or Ritual (there’s probably a cleaner way to integrate them into one move, I’m just not thinking it through at the moment). 

This stuff means that you can (potentially) teleport the party into the Tower of Thrukul-Gar, turn the evil Baron’s legs to lead, or extinguish The Helldrake’s inner flames - from miles away (if you can keep its agents at bay long enough). But you won’t be doing instant-action things like throwing fireballs around routinely. 

I do think that having just a bit more routine magic would be nice for a Wizard, without wrecking the overall Low Fantasy vibe. You know what could help with that?

The Species Ability system. 


The Travellers and Outsiders expansion offers a really fun mini-system for different species abilities (I prefer this to the other sub-system that offers separate Moves for different species). Here’s one way to set up a wizard on top of the Chronicler playbook (I would suggest combining them for max effect):

WIZARD as Background/Ancestry…
Mark exhaustion to activate an ability:
+ Lash out with pure magical force to inflict 1-Harm up to Far range
+ Detect the presence and location of active magic up to Far range
+ Initiate a magical duel as a magic-user within Far range casts a spell/activates a magical ability. Not counting the Exhaustion you just spent to activate this ability, bid an amount of Exhaustion (up to your remaining total). The target magic-user must either:

  • mark the same number of Harm (either to Injury or Exhaustion) and carry out their spell/ability as intended. If they choose this option, you now suffer the amount of Harm you bid. 
  • take no Harm, but stop casting the targeted spell/ability. If they choose this option, you do not pay the amount of Harm you bid, either. 
Instinct Move: Once per session, clear exhaustion when you take an hour to meditate upon the mystical flow of the world. 

Perhaps that magical duel thing is a bit OP; well, I guess you won’t be doing it more than once without healing up your Exhaustion, so it might work well. 

I am uncertain whether to hand this set of Abilities to a  Wizard character for free; whether to say that their magical studies have so consumed them that they don’t get their biological species’ (mechanical) abilities, and get these instead; or say that they get BOTH, but add a caveat that anytime they use a Wizard background ability, any magical creature or user in the area senses what they’re up to and roughly where they are. 

Anyway. Looking forward to digging into this new PbtA experience and seeing how it goes. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Product Update - my Bronze Age character background guide is now even better!

BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS: Character Backgrounds for Bronze Age Settings is now even better, thanks to a new update! 

What's BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS, you ask? It's a colorful character-background generator written specifically for gaming in Bronze Age fantasy settings - and written by a professional scholar, with a doctorate in ancient history and archaeology. 

BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS is available here on (affiliate link) for $4.75 USD. 

For the first time since its 2019 release, I've just uploaded an updated version of the document to Apart from some minor tweaks to the introduction, I have updated the following backgrounds: Scribal Scholar, Physician, Priestess/Priest, and Cultist. I've also changed the uploaded file from a Watermarked .pdf to a normal .pdf. (however, please don't post the file to online piracy sites, which has happened before; I'm a pretty small-fry creative and can use the support). :-)  

I'm particularly glad to have updated the Priestess/Priest background. Something that has bugged me for a while is that my original Priestess/Priest and Cultist backgrounds really conveyed a more modern "sword and sorcery" vibe, instead of something more authentic to ancient Bronze Age religions in the Near East. The new entries for Priestess/Priest are much more authentic -- while still light and offering some zany fun that should provoke enjoyable play (really, check out the new sub-backgrounds below - I think they're really likely to provoke interesting plot hooks!). However, (with some improvements) I've kept  the more "modern" sword-and-sorcery vibe available as features for the Cultist background, so you can choose which flavor of ancient cults your character used to roll with. If you want a more genuinely "ancient" feel - the whole point of BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS, after all - you'll be better off with the new Priestess/Priest entries. 

In a variety of small ways, the other changes better align backgrounds with nuanced aspects of Bronze Age Near Eastern cultural history (mostly non-"authorial" scribal cultures, "law" as subjective/illustrative rather than, well, "legislative", etc.). You don't need to care or even know about such ancient details to make sense of the updated entries, but I'm happier with the new wording. :-) More pragmatically, the Physician background has gained an extra 1-in-6 chance to impress colleagues, since other Physicians will (hopefully) be less rarely consulted by the party. 

Without the finished product's formatting, here is the raw text of the new Priestess/Priest page, as a taster for the updates ... or as a lure to those who haven't picked up BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS yet. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Brazen Backgrounds, Bronze Age Character Backgrounds: Sale / almost at ELECTRUM level!

 I thought I'd mention that my humble RPG accessories are part of the big weekend sale over at In particular, you can nab the 5-star rated BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS, my character background generator for Bronze Age (or even generic Sword and Sorcery) settings, for only $2.85 USD, at the moment!

It's available here (affiliate link).

I'm excited and grateful to note that this product is only a few sales away from reaching the Electrum "medal" level (it's currently a Silver seller on DTRPG). This means that almost 250 of you have bought this resource. I'm really grateful, and I hope it's found a useful place at tables. 

Meanwhile, you can grab my HUNTERS AND HIGHWAYMEN here (also an affiliate link) for just $1.80 USD while the sale's on this weekend. It offers 30 atmospheric, interactive, system-neutral NPC encounters for highways and taverns in the deep dark woods, with a bit of a "Warhammer Fantasy" dark late medieval vibe. 

Cheers - happy gaming! 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Scratchbuilding tanks...

 ...on GW's Legions Imperialis pre-order release day. These are (meant to be) Leman Russ tanks in Epic scale. They're made from hobby and household scrap for next to nothing. I like 'em. Abstract, not very detailed, but recognizable and fun. And a lot cheaper than what GW's selling their tiny tanks for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

On Wrapping Up A [Pathfinder 2e] Campaign: Revisiting Some Thoughts on Gaming Philosophy

 Almost exactly one year ago, I released a post titled "On Running Very Different Types of Games." I started that post by admitting that 

I used to spend far too much time, not too long ago, trying to figure out my 'perfect game system.' You know, that one, elusive RPG rules-system -- whether about to be published, somehow already published but not on my radar, or the pending product of my intensive house-ruling and hacking -- that finally would usher in a blissful millennial regime of perfectly satisfying game-play. Yeah, um, about that...I'm pretty sure gaming doesn't work that way... 

I went on to talk about my growing recognition of the value of different game systems for different niches. This included my coming to terms with running a game for a time for what it can offer, and not demanding that it perfectly check boxes it wasn't designed to fill. 

It was in that spirit that I'd recently launched a Pathfinder 2nd Edition (PF2e) campaign. Already, a year ago, I could tell that this system -- MUCH crunchier than I was accustomed to -- had much to offer, and also posed real drawbacks:

Right now, the slower pace required by the more detailed, crunchy combat mechanics and turns in PF2e is pushing me to focus on designing memorable, interesting encounters, but at the cost of flexible, more open-ended play. I feel like a technician instead of an artist: checking moves, maintaining order, applying rules, tracking mechanics (and that's even with a willingness to just make rulings when I can't find the 'proper' PF2e way quickly). I'm really missing the playful, creative sense of surprise that I get when GMing a less crunchy and more open system. 

So...hmm...what's a GM to do?

An earlier version of me would probably be screeching to a halt already, deciding that 'this isn't THE system, after all', and moving on in search of greener pastures. But the shift in my thinking in recent years, as described above, has me looking for a different solution. PF2e is a GREAT engine, FAR better than many other games I've run at doing certain things. But it's also slower and more cumbersome when compared to many other games I've run.   

Instead of jumping ship and looking for 'something better', I'm trying to focus on celebrating what we are gaining from using this system at this time, while thinking clearly about what else I might like at an appropriate - and maybe other? - time. 

So. It's a year later -- and that PF2e campaign is now, finally (oh my heart, finally, finally!!!) coming to an end. My players have prevailed (well, except for an unexpected TPK to a Black Pudding, after which I advanced the setting clock by thousands of years and had them build new characters). But now, a story that begain with The Evils of Illmire and The Black Dragon of Brandonsford (using Knave) before switching rules to PF2e is coming to its end: only a single BBEG boss fight, as the Leviathan Chaos Dragon tries to force its way back into the material realm, remains. 

I joked to my players that between their travel schedules and PF2e's rules, we'd be able to wrap up that last combat encounter over the next seventeen weeks. I laugh (weakly), but there's a grain of truth in the joke. Our last fight took two sessions, with several travel weeks interrupting the sessions. That means we spent two evenings, about 4-5 hours in total, to resolve five rounds of combat. 

In PF2e, one round = 6 seconds. So, yeah, that's almost 5 hours of real-world play to resolve 30 seconds of action. 

That math should explain why I am so, so thoroughly done with PF2e for now. I'm so burned out on crunching numbers. I need to get back into running games that really invite me to be creative, rather than precise. 

And yet...

I'm really glad I persevered to the end of this campaign. I don't think there's anything wrong with canceling a campaign before it ends, if the GM or players just aren't enjoying it. This has been different; the experience has been enjoyable (especially for my players). It's seen some great times together. And I still see PF2e as a truly excellent combat simulator. But we've filled that niche for a while, now, and I'm ready to run something like a PbtA game. If PF2e is solving engineering problems, PbtA is writing poetry. 

I would be genuinely unhappy to keep running PF2e for the season ahead. But I feel oddly satisfied and content for having pushed through to the end. It was really helpful to make a deal with myself: commit to finishing this campaign, and then run whatever you really want to run next. A year ago, I mused:

...maybe the right approach now involves being aware of the different kinds of play that I like, celebrating the ways I'm getting some of that, and waiting patiently and flexibly to try other styles at the right time.

The patience has paid off. The PF2e is coming to a healthy end, for now. Up next is a campaign of ROOT, the boardgame-based rpg that is basically Mouse Guard but through a PbtA lens. Therein, I'm fleshing out some of the faction-heavy-sandbox work I've mused about here and there in recent months' posts. 

What am I trying to say here? Maybe it's a little embarrassing to admit this, as a 40-something professional, but I feel like I'm growing up a little more, as a person, through this process. Learning to accept voluntary limits and constraints so that I can actually see, actually recognize, actually enjoy the blessings that are right in front of me -- not always abandoning the present to chase some ideal across the horizon. 

It's a silly thing to be learning by way of paladins, dragons, and fireballs, but I'll take health and maturity as it's offered. 

Peace, Blessings, and Happy gaming. 


Saturday, October 21, 2023

Another converted (epic-scale) Traitor Knight painted!

Finally got primer and paint on another of my converted Traitor Knights for playing (3rd edn.) Epic: 40,000. 

I still plan to spruce up the base, but I think he looks suitably business-like to chase around those loyalist dogs...

 As with the others I've blogged about, this started as a Battletech 'mech mini, which I then heavily converted using bits from 40k or other sources. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

[AHSOKA] A few happier thoughts about the season 1 finale

 Well, having recently usurped the role of pontifical cultural commentator, I wanted to note - in counterpoint to my recent grumpy comments - that I watched the season finale of Ahsoka last night ... and left happy, overall. 

Now, I will say (with only a minimum of spoilage) that there was a lightsaber battle in the episode that really cheesed me off: the opponent was fun, but Ahsoka's own strategy seems to be: "Fool! I shall defeat you by keeping my back turned toward you for 25% of our combat!" I shall not comment on the ongoing issue of that reversed-grip saber-hold (for fear of becoming utterly churlish).

Ok, enough grumpiness. The show had a few opportunities to take the easy way out, giving us nice clean TV-showish endings that were a bit too tidy (something the last Mandalorian season really rolled around in). Instead, the show-writers took a different route. The ending of Ahsoka felt like it respected the story being told, wanted to give it some room to breathe, recognized that this takes time. The story was much more satisfying as a result. I hope that becomes normal.  

There are big things afoot, here, for the entire Star Wars-verse. Despite some hiccups, I'm enjoying the ride. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Epic-Scale Primarch Perturabo conversion / completed Epic-scale light Traitor Knight detachment!!!

 My efforts to build up a heavily kitbashed, converted, and/or scratchbuilt force for the ol' 3rd-edition Epic: 40,000 wargame are finally getting me somewhere! For team Gundobad (facing off against an Imperial army commanded by my kids) I've been working on an Iron Warriors Chaos army, with help from various other plunder-minded auxiliaries. 

I finally got around to making a kitbash-conversion for my general/supreme commander. Allow me to introduce Perturabo, Primarch of the Iron Warriors traitor legion (famous for his grumpiness and his big hammer). Note that this is specifically ascended daemon Primarch Perturabo - he'd be way too large otherwise, as this is a 28mm miniature that looms over the regular infantry. I chopped up an old Reaper Bones mini (some kind of steampunky engineer fella who also looked goofy to me) and added Terminator and Chaos Marine bits to round him out. The Reaper mini had a steam backpack that sooooooorta looks like a 6mm tank turret once it's chopped off, so I tweaked his stance to have the dude stomping on that. I might yet add a cannon, but otherwise he just wants paint. 

I've also now converted enough of those Battletech 'mechs into Traitor Knights that I can run a detachment of War Dogs (smaller Knights) in my army. Among the last few conversions, one looks quite "traditional" to my eye, although I may have gone rather overboard with the other, more mutated one:

I'm still working on some larger figures. In 3rd ed. Epic, the more abstract rules just give you larger knights that are slower but have more firepower, and smaller knights with more mobility and close assault strength. I had planned to run a single detachment combining both, but I think I might end up running two smaller detachments, one for each specialty. 

Anyway, here for now are the makings of a Knight household from a far, grim future: 

Saving $$$ compared to official GW Knights was a key concern when I started this project, but I've also really enjoyed the creative exercise and how individualized each of these weirdos became. 

Friday, September 29, 2023

[Ahsoka] Dave Filoni, PLEASE hire a consultant who understands small-unit tactics

 SPOILERS ahead for the ongoing STAR WARS: AHSOKA show on Disney+. 

We've been keeping up weekly with the Ahsoka TV show. I was apprehensive at first; we aren't really fond of the Rebels characters, and although we had fun watching The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, we also felt like these recent offerings could get lackluster at times. (On the other hand, I regard Andor as an absolute masterpiece). 

However, I've been pleasantly surprised on the whole by Ahsoka. There are bits and pieces I don't like, but I've found the storyline engaging and the characters often enjoyable. Like everyone else on the internet, apparently, I'm enjoying the late Ray Stevenson's Baylan Skoll character a lot. I've enjoyed the move to "a galaxy far, far away, but a different galaxy." And I was excited to see what they'd do with Grand Admiral Thrawn. 

And so we come to the substance of today's complaint. It's just a nitpick, I suppose, but it's the kind of illusion-shattering nitpick that really dampened my enjoyment of the last episode (whereas the episode before that was great). 

So. You know how Thrawn's whole shtick is that he's this mad tactical genius? And his too-busy-to-clean-their-armor, hardened "night troopers" have apparently done nothing for YEARS except run ops for their tac-savvy boss?

Filoni, you can't just tell us that. Here, you really do have to show it. And doing so would be almost comically easy, given how the Star Wars franchise has usually handled Storm Troopers. Given how much money has obviously been poured into making this show, given the fact that the lightsaber fights have been stage-choreographed (how well is a contentious matter, of course), I have no doubt that Disney's budget could have included one afternoon with an infantry veteran consultant. Just one afternoon. 

When Thrawn's troops disembark from their landing craft to back up Shin Hati against the three Jedi/former Jedi/wannabe Jedi heroes, the Grand Admiral issues a tactical formation command to partially encircle the foe. Ok, good, they've got standard operating procedures (though I can't remember whether they partially or fully surround the good guys; fully surrounding them in a firefight would be a really bad idea, as it just invites friendly fire. 

But when Thrawn issues the order to fall back ... all these tacticool troopers just ... turn around en masse and run directly back to their transports like kids on a field trip who've just realized the bus is actually, finally about to roll away from the water park. 

Fire and movement. Bounding overwatch. Voice-coordinated maneuvers, in which one team faces the enemy and keeps up suppressing fire while the other team falls back to the next piece of cover. Then, still coordinating with voice signals, the teams switch roles. So every storm trooper gets back safely to the nice warm transport, but somebody is always pointing a blaster at the enemy, until they're safely back in the transport (and maybe even longer). Frankly, the trooper extras wouldn't even have to perform these maneuvers particularly well; just making some visible effort to move tactically would make them stand out (which is kind of sad). 

Here's the thing: when you write fiction, making the villains idiots makes the heroes' efforts fall flat. When you make the villains compelling professionals, and then come up with some way the heroes' desperate resistance could work anyway ... well, now we're talking. 

This is just a silly gripe, of course. And I know that Storm Troopers' functional incompetence is almost a cliche in Star Wars. But it is astonishing to me that so many Star Wars shows of late have asked us to take this group of combatants more seriously ... but then they hamstring that entire effect by not making the slightest effort to make them behave like they've at least been through boot camp. 

Rant over. Cheers.