Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Narth

Some aliens--with Demon City stats.

Sorry I didn't paint a picture like, I don't know what they look like.

Extruding across the barrier separating their dimension from our own as if between panes of sliding, shattering glass, the limbs of the Narth penetrate our space as if across a fold or crack in the geometry of thin air. At present they are only experimenting—the humans they take are frequently returned to our space, but inscrutably reassembled. A man in Shanghai can hear anything but names, a priest in Nairobi has a copy of two-thirds of his own torso on his back and another man’s left arm, a mother of five in Marseilles can only move at right angles to lines of latitude, a teacher in Wales only exists at dawn. They have begun to experiment with communication, but lack a concept of grammar, linear time or pain: many human subjects have been returned only able to speak the 38 words that form the Narth’s message, but with no awareness that the words are important, that they go in any specific order, or that this was done on purpose or that they shouldn’t have been committed to the hospitals they’re in for these hallucinations. If decoded, the message appears to be offering 8 nucleic acid analogues and 3 new prime numbers in exchange for 582 higher quality test specimens.

Calm: 9
Agility: 7
Toughness: 4
Perception: 3
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 7 (though they lack many basic human ideas)

Calm check: 8
Cards: The Star (17)

Special Abilities:

Insinuation: The Narth emerge from bends in spacetime, appearing as if stepping around straight, invisible corners in mid air. For practical purposes, this is teleportation with unlimited range, although the majority of any Narth’s body will remain in its home plane, effectively anchoring it to one spot until it retracts and extrudes somewhere else, like a giant squid reaching out from a sideways sea. The limbs themselves are between 3 and 15 feet long.

Gestural detection: Due to the way Narth space intersects our space, while the Narth are in their own space they can detect continuities of gesture but not of space, time or visual appearance on ours. Essentially what this means is is their field of view onto our dimension can only take in individuals moving exactly the same way on the same planet at any given time. If the Narth focus (for example) on a woman in Iowa making a fist with her left hand, the observing Narth will not see anyone near her or the environment she stands in, but they will see anyone else making a fist in the same way at any time anywhere on Earth throughout history. (Their experiments are therefore biased toward dancers, soldiers and those fluent in sign language.) It is very easy for the Narth to detect identical machines this way. When extruded into human space they operate only by touch.

Dimensional Gap: If a human is pulled into Narth space after an insinuation, they will experience it as an excruciatingly slow-moving collage of dissolving black abstractions punctuated by electric bursts of pain. The Narth generally return a subject within 50 hours, but the victim will experience it has having taken years. Check against a 9 or lose a point of Calm and Check vs a 4 or lose a point of Toughness.


My First Conspiracy Kit

Happy Halloween!

Here is a “fill in the blanks” style exercise you can use to start a Demon City campaign. Long-time readers may recognize it from before it's mutation into its current form... 

Characters and Set Up

1. Look through the library and choose a mastermind horror: a witch, a vampire, a cult leader, a demon, whatever—the only requirement is they need minions. We’ll call this the Villain. Who are they? Write it down.

2. Think of something the Villain would demand: sacrifices, food, information, money, etc and something their minions can continuously do to help the Villain get it—something that isn’t a major crime in itself, but that’s suspicious: buying up rare manuscripts or gems of a given type, aggressively proselytizing a new faith to children, obsessively photographing activity on certain street corners, running something that’s probably a drug front—and a reason the Villain wants them to do it. These are the Minions and their Task. Write down what the task is and name at least 5 Minions, in order of importance: Lowest Minion, Minion, Trigger-Puller Minion, Trigger-Puller Minion 2, Lieutenant Minion. Choose cards to describe them if you like.

3. There’s a murder or suspicious death. It’s one of these Minions. It was while they were in the process of their Task. Or a witness to the Minions going to extreme (perhaps criminal) lengths to perform the Task. This is the Murder. Write down who got killed, where and what they were doing when it happened.

4. The police didn’t realize the Minion involved in the murder was a Minion. They assumed the murder was random. They are aggressively uninterested in pursuing it further. But someone near the Task or the Murder victim—a rare book dealer, a city council member, someone who lives in the neighborhood, a victim’s family member—wants to know who is ultimately behind it all. Not who pulled the trigger, but who ordered it—maybe even evidence they can bring to the authorities. They have some status in the community. This is the Patron. Write down their name and occupation.

5. Unbeknownst to anyone else, the Villain has influence over officials in Demon City, who in turn have influence over the police. These are the Corrupted. Write down at least two names and some city job titles for them.

6. There is a fortune teller. Her demands are elaborate (Like: cut off your foes' bottom lips, thread these lips onto a wire, douse the lip-wire in oil and set it alight.) These rituals will produce accurate, useful information (she will read the cards)—but only once. Thereafter the rituals will produce accurate, useless information that the party already knows. This is the Oracle. Write down her name and method of divination.

7. There is a cop. This was his/her case, it’s down and s/he doesn’t want it back up again. This is the Detective. Write down their name.

8. The party will have to meet Contacts, tail suspects and people of interest, find bodies, and may eventually confront the Villain. These things should happen in interesting places. Write down 6 interesting places for these kinds of things to happen. Give the Villain a headquarters.



These things happen unless the party does something to make them not happen.

Day 1: Patron calls up the party and tells them there was a Murder of someone they know was connected to a lot of people all performing the Task. Connect the Patron’s desire for justice to the PCs various motives. If there’s an Investigator, tell them they’ll get paid.

The day after the PCs begin their investigation: Unless they are extremely low-profile the Detective approaches at least one of the party to tell them to stop nosing around the case, especially since s/he’s put it to bed—murder is dangerous and a lot of paperwork and s/he doesn’t want another body to write up. On the other hand, if they already have any information, s/he demands they give it up.

The day after that: The Oracle approaches the Party and tells them she can help.

Random Events

These events happen at a rate of one per day, starting the day after the Oracle approaches the party, unless the party does something to make them impossible…


1. If the party have interacted with any NPC since they began other than Minions or NPCs named here (that is random bureaucrats, shopkeepers, etc) one of these people (whichever one who would have heard the most about the PCs' activities by now) is a spy for The Corrupted. S/he will shadow the PCs with Stealth 3 and report all of their activities to The Corrupted. If no such NPC has been met, keep this event in your pocket until one is met.

2. Another person connected to the Task has been murdered. If the means of death can be discovered, the party will find out it was the same as the first Murder, with the same Trigger-Puller Minion (1). This was a former intimate of the Villain who threatened to leave and tell people, and had to be silenced.

3. Another person connected to the Task has been murdered. A rival trying to outdo the Villain at the Task, and so interfering. A Minion reported it (likely via phone or email) to the Lieutenant Minion, who then assigned the murder to Trigger-Puller Minion 2.

4. The PC of the highest social standing (or Appeal, if their social standing is equal) is invited to a party attended by Demon City mid-elite (s/he may bring guests). The Patron and The Corrupted are present as well as a (perhaps disguised) Minion who seems to, in passing, know one of the Corrupted. This Minion has no idea who the Party are and is drunk enough to let slip information in casual conversation.

5. The Minions are nowhere to be found today. Astrological investigation (Intensity 3 Occult or asking the right people) reveals it’s an auspicious day for a ceremony of the kind most plausibly associated with the Villain. It will be either at night in a public place fit for the ritual or at a Minion’s home.

6. Trigger-Puller Minion 2 kills the Lowest Minion (or any other Minion who has had contact with the PCs) on orders from the Villain. They know too much and have outlived their usefulness.

7. A Minion offers to sell the party information about the Villain. They know very little (they have only been spoken to indirectly) but offer to collect information in exchange for protection. Depending on the nature of the Villain, s/he is either an honest defector or setting the party up for a double cross (the Minion may even pretend the Villain they are “informing” on is a regular criminal of some kind).  If the defection is real, the Villain will know and one of the Trigger-Pullers will try to kill them before they can do any harm.

8. The Patron reports they’ve been visited by one of The Corrupted. The Patron has been told to stop investigating and is scared.

9. The Detective turns up a suicide. The police (influenced by the Corrupted) don’t seem to care. The Detective’s home and/or car are full of new clues to the nature of the villain.

10. (Write your own event here.)
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Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Horror's Deck

This is the second post about how tarot cards work in Demon City, (here's the first one.)

Rather than dice, the Host of Demon City typically uses a specially prepared deck of tarot cards. In most situations, the cards in the deck are used exactly like rolls of the dice—throwing a 6 of Wands is equivalent to rolling a 6, for example, as is throwing the card The Lovers—which is marked with a 6 at the top.

However, there are a few important differences.

Before each adventure, after the Host has decided what the ultimate creature or creatures will be lurking behind the events in the adventure, the Host should take the full tarot deck and extract from it a smaller deck to be used during that session—The Horror’s Deck. The Horror’s Deck should be used by the Host in every session until the Horror that formed that particular deck is defeated.

The Horror’s Deck should include:

-A few (typically 1-4) cards specifically associated with the major horrors that will ultimately feature in the course of the adventure—even if it may not appear in this session. For example, if the adventure includes a werewolf, the deck would likely include The Moon (18) and possibly Strength (8). The associations of cards with specific horrors is detailed in the Horrors section.

-A few cards associated with specific places or NPCs that are important in the adventure. For example, if a rich woman features prominently in the adventure, the Queen of Pentacles would appear in The Horror’s Deck, if an abandoned factory was an important location, an 8 of Cups might be in the deck. The connections of cards with specific ideas, kinds of people and kinds of places are noted on the endpapers of this book and in more detail in the Tarot section in the Host’s section of the book.

-Enough other cards that the deck contains at least one card worth each number one through ten. So: One card worth One (any of the four Aces—Wands, Cups, Swords, or Pentacles, or the Magician—the card marked 1 at the top), a single card worth two (two of Wands, Cups, etc or the High Priestess, the card marked 2 at the top), a single card worth 3 (3 of Wands, Cups, etc or The Empress—the card marked 3) etc all the way up through ten—so, ten cards allowing a random Throw of 1-10. These other cards should be chosen with an eye to making them as consonant with the ideas you want to include in the adventure as possible—if indulgence, passion and drunkenness feature heavily, feature the suit of Cups prominently, if violence and pain, then feature Swords, if money and power are important, use Pentacles, etc. Again, these meanings are detailed in the Host’s section. Note court cards—Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings—are worth 10.

When used in resolving action, The Horror’s Deck has a few kinks:

-The deck will often be slightly unbalanced—a deck including the Wheel of Fortune and the Knight of Swords has at least two tens in it. This is fine—sometimes horrors have an advantage, that’s why they’re horrors.

-The deck may also include cards worth more than 10 (like The Moon). Outside Action rounds, these cards are worth 10. In combat these represent two Throws—the first Throw is a 10 and the next round the same card stays on the table, representing the Host’s first throw for the next round and is now worth the second digit on the card. So the Moon (18) is a ten in the first round and then an 8 the next. Note this doesn’t necessarily represent the very next card—if the Host needs to throw 3 cards to stab and the first is the Moon, the Host still throws two other cards after as usual. If the Host wins the Clash (likely, they threw the Moon, worth 10 that round) and does damage, they still throw other cards as usual to determine damage. However—in the next round, when the Host declares an action, the first Throw they lay for that Clash will be 8. Everyone at the table will know this when deciding their actions—these high cards represent extraordinary efforts and all-out, committed attacks—they are likely to succeed, but leave the foe reeling, possibly open.

-Note that Judgement is worth 10, then 0 and The World is worth 10 then 1.

-If more than one of these high cards is thrown in the same Clash, they all stay on the table for the next round and the higher one represents the first Throw, the next highest the second (if there is one), etc. Unused cards stick around and are used in the following round.

-After each throw, as usual, the cards should be left on the table until the next Throw. If a foe is defeated, whatever cards are on the table when the threat that threw those cards is ended (captured, killed, otherwise defused) can be distributed among the players as rewards (see below), starting with whoever dealt the final blow or made the decisive move. Note that while the major horrors of an adventure decide what is in the deck, this rule for collecting cards can be applied to any foe faced along the way.

-It is possible to meaningfully defeat a hostile NPC without combat (for example, discovering evidence of their guilt and making it public) or meaningfully defeat a foe that isn’t a creature as such (like, say, a complex trap). In both cases, if the achievement is significant, the group should be eligible for a reward from among whatever cards are on the table when the achievement occurs.

Cards As Rewards:

-Players don’t actually “get” the cards, they just write down on their character sheet that that card is now involved with their fate. The Card remains in the Horror’s Deck and continues to function until the adventure ends and the party takes on a new case.

-Players don’t use cards like the Host does and vice versa. The rules are different.

-The specific PC reward associated with each card is listed on the endpapers.

-Players can use cards when the situation described in the reward (“Gain a Throw vs Calm loss at the sight of violence or death”) occurs, or, if a specific situation is not described, at any other time it would physically be possible, including Downtime (see below).

-The card rewards represent chance favoring a PC, not supernatural intervention—the card cannot make something otherwise physically impossible in the game world possible.

-Some cards allow a PC to Throw a number higher than 10. This means the card always wins in a Clash unless facing some unusual magic or a high card thrown by (say) an insane PC.

-It’s obviously hard to collect a card worth 10 as a reward—if a 10 is on the table when the enemy lost, how did they lose? It is possible, though:
The PCs can enact a crushing and earned victory—a PC uses a card reward that grants them a Throw higher than ten to deliver a coup-de-grace.
The foe can be humiliated: the enemy throws 10 in with a damage Throw and then, in the next round, seeing they are in danger, runs away unopposed (requiring no Throw). The party lets them flee and collects the reward.
Surprise: the enemy, after leaving a Ten on the table in some past venture, thinks they are safe and are killed in a round where they are distracted in the middle of performing an action requiring no Throw on their part.
Trickery: The PCs can get the foe to enact their own ruin in a scheme requiring no Throws on the foe’s part—such as tricking a vampire into drinking holy water.

-A player may only have one card ruling their fate at a time—so if they have a card when they defeat a foe, they must decide whether to switch it out or not—they cannot use the reward on the old card immediately just to hog both benefits.

-Players are free to review what the cards mean before making a choice.

Other Uses Of the Horror’s Deck:

The Host can use the cards in their Horror’s Deck in many other ways:

-Some foes will have specific attacks or effects that activate when a given card or combination is Thrown, noted in the Horrors section.

-Cards can be used to generate random NPCs and locations during the adventure, like any other random table. Using cards from the Horror’s Deck ensures a range of results in line with the ideas the Host wants to emphasize in that adventure—like a carefully built Random Encounter Table in a dungeon game.

-The Host can create specific events that will be triggered when a given card or combination appears in a given situation.

-Supernatural abilities allowing precognition or divination can allow a character to read the Horror’s Deck to gain insight into what is to come—depending on the precise method used, this will allow a general reading (what the cards broadly can imply) or a specific one (what the cards signify in this particular adventure) or both.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What Really Happens At The Library

Part of writing Demon City is digging in to the tropes of investigation-based games and getting at the juicy gameable meat within--often with the help of people who know the worlds involved better than me.

Richard G, an expert on real life Going To Do Research wrote most of this for the game, I just edited it a bit and changed a sentence here and there...

Things To Know About Research 

Unless they’re right there in a library or the embezzler’s office, that initial Research Throw just means looking on the Internet. When that fails, you should go “Ok, nothing’s coming up on the Internet immediately. Do you want to try digging a little deeper?”

Digging deeper can involve a few different things:

-Have a Contact try it.
-Spend more time (maybe a week?—search variant spellings, leave requests on some forums, etc).
-Go to an archive.

…the third is the most exhausting, gameable, and has the greatest chance of success. Only 5% of archived information is even on the Internet—feel free to set Research challenges that simply can’t be done any other way (feel free to tell the player), and what is archived is often eccentrically indexed by barely-overlapping generations of underpaid staffers and unpaid volunteers into obsolete, proprietary paper and computer filing systems.

If you know a little about how archives work you can do two things: add some roleplaying color to an investigation that fleshes out your Demon City, and, once in a while, have an adventure about getting to the archive or (shudder) the depot before someone else does.


Storage formats get old and/or go out of fashion. Microfilm, fiche, photographic slides of unusual sizes, glass plate negatives. Photo negatives and prints are kept in deep freeze storage – you have to order them 48 hours ahead to warm up, and the archivist will want to know which photos beforehand because they can only be warmed up so many times. And you won’t know which photos ahead of time because nobody describes photos in the metadata.

Materials that are hard to scan/photograph because they’re big (blueprints) or fragile or mildewed or reflective. Attempts to digitize materials that failed to capture the important details (microfilms can usually be scanned but only in 1-bit colour (like a fax) –so you can see the data but can’t record it, except with a camera pointed at the preview screen.

Who cares? It’s all old stuff. We are concerned with the new.

Well, most infrastructure is old - buildings average 20-50 years, even if the computer system inside them is new, so if you want to know about the plumbing or air vents, that’s not online. Roads, foundations, geological surveys, city plans, interstate highway plans, birth and medical and education records – it’s all more than 20 years old and first recorded in systems that were antiquated then.

Requesting these things from the staff takes forever or charm or both. After that, the main challenge is that you might have to be a little stealthy about photographing the documents. Or the fact they might not be there. Then you have to go to the depot.

The Depot

There are the open stacks – that’s where the 5% that’s been digitized is kept. Then there are the closed stacks, which you can get into by charming the librarian. That has the stuff the chief archivist keeps on hand. Then there’s the depot.

The depot isn’t anywhere near the archive’s main building. It’s in an industrial wasteland where the buildings are cheap and truck access is bumpy but not crowded. Or it’s on a rented corner of the Navy yards, or “temporarily” housed on barges.

The depot is supposed to be double-sealed from the outside world – that’s supposed to mean a building inside a building, with its own electrical and heating and humidity control system and ideally slight positive pressure compared with the outside. In fact that kind of treatment is usually reserved for one room – the rest of the depot is a damp, leaky, badly lit concrete building with wire racks and cages where the artifacts are piled high on an organizational scheme known only to one person and their short-lived acolytes. You’re not supposed to be let into the depot unless you have special clearance – from the institution, possibly from the military, depending on where it’s located. Sometimes an archivist can let you in, sometimes clearance takes months to arrive.

All the doors in the depot auto-close (fire regulations – to keep the stuff inside safe, not you the visitor). All the lights auto shut-off after 3 minutes. The depot guy (or, less often, depot lady) carries a flashlight. Air conditioning units are loud. Leak locations are known and avoided.

If the depot crank gets into it, they’ll start finding stuff on their own to show you. You will learn stuff about them and the institution that makes it hard to work with either.

If you ever need to steal anything from the depot, request stuff that’s in the same cage or stored behind it. Chances are, the whole cage will be trucked out for the one item, so it’s not the depot crank’s fault if the other stuff in there gets damaged. The truck has no security beside obscurity.

Where else?

Maybe you’ve done all that and the thing just can’t be found. Maybe someone already stole it, suppressed it, or more likely just misfiled it. Maybe it’s actually on public display in the museum but nobody knew that.

All is not yet lost: The old, disgruntled archivist who nobody listens to will tell you to look in financial or insurance records. It’s amazing how much is reproduced in the insurance company’s archives.

Each department of a big institution keeps own records, often double-entered and cross-indexed with head office, so head office’s copy may be firewalled/redacted, but plumbing's might not be.

People hide things in ancestry records. Like, literally in the archive box. Their own notes, books belonging to the ancestor. If you go to the town where they grew up, you might find their diary, unindexed, with the immunization forms and diplomas.

Finally, quid pro quo works. Gifts are welcome, time spent chatting is maybe more so and if you can remember their grandkids’ names, less suspicious. Archivists and curators don’t have enough time to do a better job or know their archives better - they will ask you to share your research and photos, because you’re the only person to request that record in 50 or 100 years. Share what you can, because 6 months later they’ll find that other thing you needed and it’ll be your little secret.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Horror: A Potential Introduction

I wrote this for Demon City but I'm on the fence about whether to include it. I believe it all, but I think it might be a little heavy and not-to-the-point for somebody who just picked up a new game.

If you can mentally cast yourself in the role of a totally new GM picking up this book and can read from that pov, and then manage to form an opinion on whether you think you'd want to read it in the book, let me know.

Horror: An Introduction

You expect an author, at this point, to go on about how we like to be scared. Or, worse, how they do. How I discovered I liked to be scared one dusty summer break sitting on the mustard carpet in the corner of the neglected bookstore.

I didn’t, really. I discovered first that I liked to imagine things: Superman, a dragon, rockets, and as a teenager I was running out of things to read and so, maybe against my better judgment: Stephen King, then Lovecraft, all that. I liked them alright.

I kept liking imagining. And as the play (and then, later, the work) of imagining things kept on, I realized it was very hard to use that imagination for anything as an adult—as an adult who needed like all adults to occasionally talk to other adults about their adulthood—without imagining horror.

There will never not be trouble. Some things you have to make because they aren’t there—some things you make because they are.

I have noticed adults who are good at imagining but not good at imagining horror can be bad with people, and with trouble. They can’t experiment with a new train of thought…what if it goes somewhere horrible?  People are at their most dangerous (accidentally dangerous and on-purpose dangerous) when they have things they don’t want to think about.

I’ve made game-things and most weren’t really horror, but they all had room for horror (or brutality and isolation and other horror-cousins) because without the detailed exploration of the possibility of everything going to shit then imagined things really are just escapism, just checking out of this place where we live and checking in to a dazzling comfort zone.

This might be the primordial purpose of horror in the end: to enable you to continue to invent and create not just in the presence of-, but against-, the awful.

Horror—the genre—is what imaginative people use to keep their imaginations in working order in the face of horror—the fact of life.

So like here's a game about it.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ye Three Lynkes of Sundaye


Saturday, October 21, 2017

A moron, but likable. A small and pale puppy. A sheer drop.

The Host of Demon City can roll dice like a player, but, just as D&D can be a little more fun with miniatures, Demon City is a little more fun if the Host uses Tarot cards.

The exact method will be described later, but it makes keeping track of large fights a little easier and each threat has special cards associated with it (A haunted house will have The Tower associated with it for instance) used throughout the adventure in which they appear, which help the creature when they are drawn and which have a special (different) benefit awarded to the PC if they defeat that horror.

Anyway this is a section on the meanings of specific cards outside the context of any specific horror....

Interpreters of the tarot always tell you two things: (a) A clear and apparently historically-reified meaning attaches to each card and its placement in the interpretive matrix and it took me years to figure it out, but also (b) interpreting the cards is more art than science so hey whatever. These are what the cards mean in Demon City—which has its own uses for meaning.

There are many uses for the cards, including:

1. As the Host’s throws for NPCs, horrors, etc as well as rewards for PCs resulting defeating horrors (as described in the first section of the book).

2. To create fortunes or precognitive flashes (By showing a PC all the cards associated with the menace they are currently facing and, in some cases, telling them the significance of these cards.)

3. To randomly determine characteristics of Contacts or other NPCs (Each card has at least one kind of person associated with it or characteristics of a person).

4. To randomly determine buildings or locations (Each card has at least one kind of location associated with it).

In the last two cases, you can pull multiple cards to describe something in more detail—The Hierophant and the 8 of Cups together would be 
a retired priest or an abandoned church.

Additional numbers are provided in parenthesis so that, if necessary, card effects can be rolled up with dice—roll d100 and reroll anything too high.

(00) The Fool—A moron, but likable. A small and pale puppy. A sheer drop. A stranger will be kind to you, despite your mistakes.

(1) The Magician—A wizard or liar. A deceptive performance, before a large audience. Avoid a spell, or cast one unerringly.

(2) The High Priestess—A cagey and intuitive woman in a hat. A religious hospital. A nurse. A 12 to perceive unholy forces.

(3) The Empress—A blonde, imperious, dishy. Beauty. A bend in the river. Gain a point of Appeal if you roll a 10 exercising or drop a point of Cash on plastic surgery.

(4) The Emperor—A father, bearded. Entrenched authority. A public building in white marble.  Someone will assume you’re an authority figure.

(5) The Hierophant—A religious leader. A grey church. Traditions. A 15 to drive off unholy forces.

(6) The Lovers—An erotically charged relationship. Touching. A good place for hook-ups. A new Contact who finds you irresistible.

(7) The Chariot—A racer or a driver. A ride, pimped. Any vehicle. A showroom. A 10 to drive well.

(8) Strength—Someone tough. A fierce animal. A place for athletes. A boxing gym. Gain (not just regain) a point of Toughness if you roll a 9 exercising.

(9) The Hermit—Isolation and the perspective that comes from isolation. A desolate place. A brutalist parking garage. Led Zeppelin IV. A 10 on a Perception check while alone.

(10) The Wheel of Fortune—A gamble or gambler. A casino, a track or a card game. The Host is about to leave a decision entirely up to luck, but it goes in your favor.

(11) Justice—Someone inclined to fairness. Possibly blind. A police station, a protest, a courtroom, a place where activists meet. An 11 to hit someone who has hurt a friend.

(12) The Hanged Man—Reversal. Inversion. A contrarian or iconoclast. Punished but not punished. A place of execution. A 12 to hit a captor.

(13) Death—Someone who is old and knows it, or something. A graveyard, an ICU, a home for dying people. Double damage on an already damaged foe. Won’t work on what’s already dead.

(14) Temperance—A moderate or teetotaler. A bad haircut. Wherever middle-aged couples relax. A vegan restaurant. Roll an extra time if detoxing and pick the best.

(15) The Devil—Undeniably wicked. Any place of enslavement, calculated iniquity or accumulated power. A 15 to hit an enemy, but your friend is hit, too.

(16) The Tower—One who overthrows. A building that is mazelike, high-security, or haunted. A 16 to successfully trespass.

(17) The Star—A celebrity of some kind. Someone or something uncanny, distant. A celebrated place. An alien place. Acquire renown for your work.

(18) The Moon—Someone given to passions. Dark or pale. Animals. Cause a rounds of panic in an enemy that is hurt or surprised.

(19) The Sun—Very young, but wise. Skin prematurely worn. Leathery. A rooftop in daylight. A greenhouse.  Illumination. A 19 to a Research check.

(20) Judgement—Someone on a panel, or a board, or any judge. A room where great decisions are made. Someone with power will agree to help you. 

(21) The World—A foreigner. A global perspective: Little Armenia, Little Jamaica, the airport, Chinatown. Add a Contact overseas.

(22) Ace of Wands—A beginner, capable.  A redhead. A startup’s office. Work/train during downtime and gain a new skill on a 9.

(23) Two of Wands—Someone with concerns abroad. A waterfront or beach, rapidly developing. Add an extra die when executing a plan you made.

(24) Three of Wands—A brown-haired man. A room with blueprints.The Department of Regional Planning. Gain a point next time you add a new Knowledge-based skill.

(25) Four of Wands—A family member. Normality. A place unchanged for a very long time. Add a die and pick the highest when spending downtime with family.

(26) Five of Wands—An arguer, surrounded by chaos. A fighting ring or debate hall. Add a die in a multiparty melee.

(27) Six of Wands—Someone black-haired and proud. A parade or award ceremony. Regain a point of calm after a victory.

(28) Seven of Wands—A fugitive or desperate person.  A small business. A drug front. Gain a die when facing multiple opponents.

(29) Eight of Wands—Online a lot. A hydro-electric plant. Impersonal forces. Gain a die working with a machine.

(30) Nine of Wands—A disabled person. An exhaustive collection—archive, museum—nearly complete. Gain a die after awaking from an injury.

(31) Ten of Wands—A bureaucrat, working too hard. An overburdened business or agency. Add a die while talking to someone hard at work.

(32) Page of Wands—An apprentice or enthusiast. A grand opening. Add a die when dealing with any kind of supernatural for the first time.

(33) Knight of Wands—A genius in their field. A sentient spell. A place of unharnessed power. Gain a point of Occult. Occult: 1 if you don’t already have it.

(34) Queen of Wands—Voracious, and a total babe. A black cat. A disguised witch. An excellent restaurant. If you roll a 9 while reading, gain a point of Knowledge or Perception.

(35) King of Wands—Successful and admired. A lizard. A necromancer. A source of impeccable, if flamboyant, menswear. Uncover a work of occult knowledge.

(36) Ace of Cups—Acutely sensitive. Preternaturally aware. An impressive fountain. Gain a Contact.

(37) Two of Cups—Warm and reasonable. A mutual beneficial relationship. A kind woman’s home. Roll an extra die when spending Downtime with an ally.

(38) Three of Cups—Charismatic and not drunk yet. A friendly dive under a place where no-one eats. Succeed on an Appeal roll to meet a stranger.

(39) Four of Cups—Hungover and apathetic. Where people are sleeping off a party—or a bad clinic. Gain a die vs inebriation.

(40) Five of Cups—A gaunt soul, dark of aspect. A ruin or ruined place. Gain a die vs Calm loss at the sight of violence or death.

(41) Six of Cups—A natural victim, paying no attention. An unsuspecting and idyllic place. A carnival. Roll an extra Downtime die when with family or friends.

(42) Seven of Cups—Someone misshapen and delusional. A district of retail luxury. A theme park or retro diner. Succeed on a Deception roll.

(43) Eight of Cups—A retiree or once who has renounced the past. An abandoned place. An 18 to escape.

(44) Nine of Cups—A jerk, smug of aspect. A vast, proud venture, long in the making. A 19 to impress someone.

(45) Ten of Cups—Someone pleased to help. Generosity. A center of LGB or T life. Receive an unexpected gift.

(46) Page of Cups—A sentimental weirdo. A fondness for seafood. A pleasant wharf. 10 to locate a hidden animal.

(47) Knight of Cups—A romantic with full lips. A library without windows. A place of breaking glass. A 10 to seduce.

(48) Queen of Cups—A ginger woman with strange possessions. A psychic. An antique shop or prop house. A 10 to discover some rare object.

(49) King of Cups—A wise and wealthy man in elegant footwear. A houseboat or yacht. A 10 to persuade someone of your good intentions.

(50) Ace of Swords—A tattooed man. A decapitation strike. A busy corner in the center of the city. An 11 to a called shot.

(51) Two of Swords—Dangerously obstinate. Defensiveness. Manslaughter. Deadly ground. A 12 to defend.

(52) Three of Swords—One who complains. A bad tattoo shop. A 13 to a backstab.

(53) Four of Swords—A quiet thinker. A prepared assassin. A mausoleum. An extra die if attempting to work straight through downtime.

(54) Five of Swords—A gloating fiend. A thief and orchestrator of violence. A hub of iniquity. A 15 to commit an unjust act.

(55) Six of Swords—An exhausted traveler. A crossroads. A 15 to negotiate with hostile powers.

(56) Seven of Swords—A petty schemer. A spiteful failure. A business operated as a front. A 17 to steal from someone who likes you.

(57) Eight of Swords—The perfect victim. Kidnapped or compelled. A support group or center for the afflicted. An 18 to convince someone you are sinned against.

(58) Nine of Swords—An insomniac. Shopping from home. A guilty conscience. A bachelor pad with a hand-me-down quilt. A 9 to inflict a head wound.

(59) Ten of Swords—A soon-to-be-corpse—or a corpse. The murder card. The worst neighborhood. A 10 to afflict the already-afflicted.

(60) Page of Swords—Someone playing with fire. A gun shop with inadequate security. Learn a weapon skill when rolling a 9 to work during Downtime.

(61) Knight of Swords—Quite intentionally an absolute menace. A stabber. A themed pub. A 10 in a fight.

(62) Queen of Swords—A formidable woman. A home with a high fence. A 10 to damage.

(63) King of Swords—A very dangerous man. Closed rooms where crimelords meet. A 10 to intimidate.

(64) Ace of Pentacles—Efficient and practical. A place with a strange door. A vacant lot. Establish a new business.

(65) Two of Pentacles—A juggler or a chancer. A playground or ball field. Reroll a failed Cash check.

(66) Three of Pentacles—A team player. A cathedral or place made of stone. A 13 to a group effort, devoid of violence.

(67) Four of Pentacles—An absurd miser. A roof with a fine view. Greed revealed as only greed. A 14 to grab someone or something.

(68) Five of Pentacles—A battered beggar. A terrible charity. Refusal. A 15 to a Calm check in the face of suffering.

(69) Six of Pentacles—A charity worker. A distributor of gifts. A Goodwill or Salvation Army. A 16 to persuade a skeptic of good intentions.

(70) Seven of Pentacles—Straightforward and hard working. A quality control officer. A growing business. A 17 to notice financial irregularities.

(71) Eight of Pentacles—One practiced in their craft. A place with a prominent public sign. An 18 to apply an Occupational skill.

(72) Nine of Pentacles—A prospering dork. A golden garden. A bird of prey. Leisure. Gain the trust of an ordinary animal.

(73) Ten of Pentacles—A member of a powerful family. Thin white hounds. A vast estate. Undo a Cash loss.

(74) Page of Pentacles—A neophyte schemer. A university campus. Gain a point of Cash if you roll a 9 working through Downtime.

(75) Knight of Pentacles—A hustler. A summoned thing. A sketchy lawyer. A club with a dark reputation. Bribe someone successfully.

(76) Queen of Pentacles—A woman, rich and slow-moving. A sad stone monument. Regain a point of Calm lost to the supernatural.

(77) King of Pentacles—A man of ill-gotten wealth and dubious taste. An enormous mall. Move to a better apartment downtown.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Possible Blade Runner Spoilers

Blade Runner 2049 is like someone saw Blade Runner, wrote a fucking massive amazing sandbox setting around it, then the players kept going into hexes that only had like one line of description "Rusting towers rise from the pale plain" "Like LA in Blade Runner but harder to see and now with giant holo girl ads for, like, Apple""An abandoned Jeunet and Caro set" "This is a water hex" .

"Wait you want to go to the Corporation? Fuck, it has....walls? They're....gold?"

You can feel the GM stretch out as the players finally get to the Las Vegas hex, the only one they've prepared in advance. It even has a set piece! "As Harrison Ford punches you, old Vegas acts flicker on and off the stage".

The problem is it's a solo game, the only player is so boring they think they're on an adventure path and the GM is using the worst random tables "Vegas acts? Like what?"
(Randy Newman? Joan Rivers? Don Rickles? Cirque De Soleil???)
"Like...Elvis Presley!"

"Ha Elvis lol memes. What's my girlfriend like?"

"Uh...stepford wife, plus...Amelie, plus..Friends? And also a giant sexy advertisement when she's dead and you're walking in the rain"

"Whoa poignant bro, can my car shoot missiles?"

This movies is so bored of its own future that the best parts were Luv the Replicant being bored of the other characters--scanning the police chief's head then dropping it, bored, summarily kicking Harrison Ford so he didn't have to keep pretending to care about a boring baby, shooting Sean Young because they were too bored to get her eyes right.

And god, that last fight scene, like watching hamsters try to share a dish.

Someone else's hamsters.

Anyway there's a game design or GMing lesson here, I'm pretty sure: you can have all the ideas you want--new ideas, old ideas, stolen ideas, original ideas--but they're useless unless someone at the table slows down long enough to care about one of them.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What Do These Games Have In Common?

The Strange
the Apocalypse Engine games
Delta Green
13th Age
Shadow of the Demon Lord
The One Ring
Cyberpunk 2020
Trail of Cthulhu


All of them produced charity pdf bundles for Bundle of Holding, and all of them officially did worse than the new Bundle of Lamentations--which has now officially raised more money than any other previous Bundle of Holding.

As of this writing you have 3 days, 1 hour, 24 minutes and 41 seconds to get one.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Roland Barthes: Dungeon Master

From Roland Barthes' lectures, Collège de France, 1977 (from How To Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, Tr: Kate Briggs):

Of Games

Novels RPGs are simulations that is to say fictional experimentations on a model the most classical form of which is the maquette. The structure, an outline (a maquette) through which topics, situations are let loose.

More than one language game exists because more than one desire exists.

Take note: the game is normative it wants to resist, prevail over the disorder of the given, it thinks of chance as disorder.

But our method—the one we're adopting here—involves shuffling the cards and dealing them in the order in which they appear. For me now whenever I'm working anything any thematic grouping of traits (of index cards) always makes me think of Bouvard and Peuchet’s question: Why this? Why that? Why here, why there?=An automatic distrust of associative ideology (which is the ideology of the ordered presentation genre.) The card players motto: “I cut the deck”. I react against the fixity of language.

The systematic gradually breaks down, is disappointed—the non-systemic flourishes, proliferates. Yes something direct has to be put in place in order for the indirect, an unforeseeable to emerge.

Of Fantasy

Now the first force I am able to investigate, to interpolate--the one I can see is it work within myself even through the illusions of the imaginary--the force of desire. Of, to be more precise (since it's the point of departure for our research)--the figure of the fantasy.

Let's be clear that a fantasy requires a setting (a scenario) and therefore a place.

Now fantasy=scenario but a scenario and bits and pieces always very brief=just a glimmer of the narrative of desire. What's glimpsed is very sharply contoured, very brightly lit, but all of a sudden it's gone: a body I catch sight of in a car as it goes around the bend before it plunges into the shadows.

I engage in the exhausting strategies of desire.

Of GMing

I truly believe that for a teaching GM relationship to be effective the speaker GM should know only slightly more about the topic than the listener player--sometimes, on certain points, less--this is the process of exchange.

Of Foes

Animals=Evil. Demons figured in animal form, a vast theme.  Anthonian theme: demons entering Saint Anthony's cave: snakes, lions, bears, leopards, bulls, wolves, aspic, scorpions: all "the wild beasts." Their figurative profusion in painting. Animality=infranature: aggression, fear, greed, flesh: man without law.
Of The Party

But what's the fascination of the small group (the gang, the sanatorium)? The state of autarky (autarkadia: self-sufficiency) contentedness=plenitude. It's not the emptiness that draws us in its the fullness of or if you prefer the intuition that there's a vertiginous vacuity to the plenitude of the group.

Autarky: strong intradependence + 0 extradependence. Independence marks the boundary and so gives the definition the mode of being of the group.

Bion makes this clear “Leaders who neither fight nor run away are not easily understood”.

Of The Dungeon

Description of the protective enclosure: Robinson Crusoe meticulous almost excessive quasi obsessive set of defenses against others as soon there's a suggestion of the presence of another man on the island (footprints)--> mad defensive measures. A house that's completely buried from view, invisible whole system of fortifications, of hiding places, enclosure as craziness, as an extreme experience.

Already in Robinson Crusoe--a "healthy" "rational" "empirical" subject if ever there was one--panics at the prospect of danger (the footprints in the sand) endlessly reinforces his defenses. Absolute protection is never achieved (mirage asymptotic). Stockade enclosure camouflaged by a thicket, no door--unmistakably the theme of absolute enclosure--just a little ladder that Robinson pushes up behind him. The colonists apartment in the granite wall in the Mysterious Island--a ladder that can be pulled up then in an elevator. The symbolism of burying oneself below ground and walling oneself up is based in the empirical fact of protecting oneself (symbolically speaking, the only absolutely protected space is the mother's womb). To go outside is to be exposed, to be defenseless, it's life itself. Making it impossible for enemy to get in gets converted through access through neurotic exaggeration into the self-imposed impossibility of getting out.

Piranesi: prisons are supposed to be the anti-hut (note that they’re vast, anti-cellular structures demonic capsizing of levels)—> Space of crisis, of drama, of the sublime (Burke= “a sort of delight full of horror, a sort of tranquility tinged with Terror.”)  Piranesi: “out of fear springs pleasure."

The Labyrinth: Symbolizes the paradoxical labor whereby the subjects sets about creating difficulties for himself. Walling himself up within the impasses of a system. It is the archetypal space of the obsessive. The Labyrinth is this space of active enclosure. Endless futile efforts expended on finding the way out. In the subjects effort to find the exit he only acts exacerbates his only his own imprisonment. He walks, constantly changes direction, etc yet remains in the same place. Labyrinth: a system that's hermetically sealed by its autonomy. Example: The system of a love affair--once inside there's no way out, and yet the labor it requires is immense. Finding a way out an almost magical act: the glimpse of a thread of a different system through which you then have to pass--Ariadne's thread. The Labyrinth is a very effective symbol of that state, an inextricable system of walls, but one that's out in the open air graph paper there's no roof...To someone looking on from the outside (looking down from above at their notes) the solution is obvious, in contrast to the person inside it: a situation typical of a love affair.


Check it: Red & Pleasant Land is Reddit /RPG game of the month--and it's not even a game.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Panic Modes

Panic Modes occur when a Demon City character is at exactly 0 Calm. (Not negative calm--at that point total ineffectiveness kicks in, but since you lose 1 Calm point at a time, you will always pass this point on your way to negative calm.)

How a PC behaves when they panic depends on their role:


The curious character's panic will come in the form of fascination. In addition to this general role-playing prompt, in the round after they hit 0 Calm they must try to find out something new about the situation they're in.


When in a panic, the friend character's loyalty will override everything and they'll try to get whichever character they are most loyal to (or one of the characters they are most loyal to) out of the situation. In addition, they must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm trying to get their friend out of the situation.


Used to relying on method, and here for practical reasons, the investigator in a panic is simply less effective. In addition, they must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm either fleeing or acting with only 1 die.


The problem will revert to instinct when in a panic. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they must use their special abilities


The victim in a panic is energized. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they will act with 1 additional die if it is against the entity or entities they believe to have hurt them, and will keep that die for that purpose until the menace is defeated or driven off.
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