Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Objective Differentiation

I like each player's character to feel different to the others. It doesn't need to be full-on mechanical niche protection, but you should feel like you've got your own thing going on. 

In Electric Bastionland or Into the Odd this is likely to be through your equipment, arcana/oddities, or just strange abilities.

In this Primordial Thing I'm messing with there are still special abilities and gear, but also more of a focus on having specific knowledge and hooks to the world around you.

But an area I've been wanting to explore for a while is that of character differentiation through Objectives.

I touched on it with the Agendas in Collaborative Bastionland, and more so with my dip into Matrix Games/Open Strategy Games.

There are lots of tabletop games that focus in on differentiating players through objectives rather than focusing on abilities. One Night Ultimate Werewolf has variable powers and player knowledge, but some characters like the Tanner exist purely to disrupt the game through their unusual agenda. In this case, they're the only player that wants to get eliminated, but otherwise behave exactly as a regular villager. 

Naturally, things that work in a board game don't always work in an RPG, but I'm always interested in seeing if the fun-essence can be extracted. The obvious hurdle is that the examples I've given have all been competitive, rather than cooperative, but we can get over that. 

Let me try and put it into something a bit more useable. 


Each character has three Objectives, the first of which is always a common objective shared by the group. The remaining two are personal to each character. 

Each character's personal objectives should be unique. They might clash with other characters' objectives, but should not be in outright opposition. 

At the end of each session, the group as a whole decide whether or not they achieved their objective. Each player then self-assesses their own success at achieving each of their own objectives. 

The goal of the game is to achieve at least two of your three Objectives. 

What, No Reward?

Yeah, I mean you wanted to play a game, right? I'm telling you that you win the game by achieving the majority of your objectives. We might all win, all lose, or more likely have a bit of a mix. When you win at Carcassonne you don't ask me if you get an extra meeple next time we play.

So strawman arguments aside, I think the self-assessment of objectives only works if they aren't tied to your future success. It's meant to just be a frank, impartial look at how well you achieved your character's goals this game, and if you lose ten weeks running then I'm not going to kick you out of the game or anything. 

The Tricky Part

It's easy for me to pontificate about this system without actually providing any examples of what these Objectives might look like, and that's because their design is really the difficult part of this system. 

You want them broad enough to be relevant across a wide range of scenarios, but specific enough to give character and drive. Difficult enough to be challenging, but not impossible. Providing some conflict between characters without grinding the group's progress down to constant philosophical debate. 

As much as I'd love them to just be a big random table, I feel like they call for a more bespoke design process for each character. 

So I'm going to write an entire post about that next week. Consider yourself teased. 

Anything to get them through the door.

Friday, 3 December 2021

Countdown Pt1

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Is it too early to be talking about end-of-year posts? This has been my second year of working full-time on Bastionland Press, and I'm pleased to look back on a successful Kickstarter campaign and a nearly-finished miniatures game that I'll be handing off to another publisher at the start of next year. Not to mention a whole lot of video content, a podcast series, and of course blogposts. 

The latter is always good fodder for some reflection. In particular, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the ten post popular blogposts over the last year. To clarify, this includes posts from previous years, but I'm always interested to see which posts people are actually reading. 

#10: 100 Interesting Magic Items: The First Half

Guess I was tempting fate with that name. There was never a second half, but I did replace the idea with something else (see #4 when we get to it). This has the honour of being the oldest post in this countdown, now past its 12th birthday. Suppose you could look back at this list as the starting point for what would become Arcana and Oddities. I feel like most of them hold up well enough, but I'm definitely happier with my later item design. Here are a few highlights that I'd still like to use:

Crystal Ship: This miniature ship is beautifully crafted and valuable, but if it is ever taken on board a ship that ship will sink before its voyage is completed.

Death Drum: Anyone that bangs this drum thirteen times or more will die.

Map of the Head: The holder of this map may look over it when trying to remember something they witnessed while carrying the map. Within a minute of looking at it they will remember, even to the smallest detail.


#9: Rules Heavy - Worlds and Classes 

This is the highest ranking post from this year that actually contains game content, rather than some form of announcement. Why did I even bother writing all those articles eh? Apparently I peaked around 2018. 

Coming off the back of a series of Ask the Stars based posts, this is the migration of that idea into that whole Primordial thing that's still floating around in my head and various unfinished documents. Here's hoping 2022 is the year I actually put all that mess to use. 

#8: Into the Odd Announcement 

Ah, clickbait at its finest. No real content or information, just a boring, legally-sound announcement. As so many people guessed, here I was bound by secrecy about Into the Odd Remastered, and wanted to give people a fair chance to pick up the original version, while making it clear that the game wasn't going away. Hopefully nobody felt too cheated by that whole announcement.

Although the midnight announcement sort of fell into place, it's one of my lasting memories of this year. It was an awesome feeling watching the chat as I aired the ITOR Trailer without any introduction. Don't think I could do that for every project, mainly because I'm so bad at keeping secrets, but who knows.

#7: The ICI Doctrine: Information, Choice, Impact 

I recently had a friend ask me for some advice. They were running D&D for the first time, with 5e being their first ever game and having a few months as a player under their belt. I gave them some pretty rambling advice, but later realised I should have just linked them to this post. If there's one post that I still keep in my head when I'm running a game, this is it. 

#6: Three Step Dungeons 

This one surprised me, but I guess people like these sort of processes for their prep. The blank page is terrifying, and anything that aids in getting the skeleton of a game session drawn out is a useful tool. 

Next week I'll look at the top 5!

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Further Hacking

 Okay, let's do the rest of this challenge.


Lucky: You have an edge in matters of pure chance.


Pocket: Whenever you touch another person you can try to lift something from one of their pockets or other storage.  

Stab: Your attacks against unaware or distracted opponents cause significantly more harm than normal.

Misdirect: You have an edge when trying to lure somebody into just the right position.

Daggers: You always have some more daggers hidden away.

Reflexes: You always have an edge in the split second after something surprises you. 


Sensitive: Your senses aren't limited by the human range. They span a wider area and can hone in on things invisible to most .


Focus: If you have at least a minute to focus and prepare then you never miss your target. 

Primal: You speak a little of the language of beasts and trees. 

Light Step: You leave no trail on nature and it makes journeys easier for you in return.

Wisp: You have a companion wisp that floats and glows to your command.  

Elemental: With a little exertion you can imbue an attack with elemental energy. 


Stable: You can never be moved against your will and are immune to all poisons and toxins.


Bonds: You can find a bond with any other dwarfs you meet. 

Shieldbearer: You have an edge when using a shield to control the battlefield.

Carousing: You have mastered feasting, drinking, storytelling, and silly games. 

Oath: When you swear an oath you get an edge on all actions helping it come to pass, but never have an edge on actions unrelated to it. An Oath can only be abandoned through a lengthy and shameful ritual.

Tunneller: While underground you always know your position relative to the surface and other underground locations that you have visited. 


Creeper: You can see in the dark and communicate a little with most monstrous beings. 


Gorger: You can eat pretty much anything and regurgitate it later, and your teeth are effective weapons in their own right.

Shady: You're effectively invisible while cowering in the shadows, perfectly still. 

Sneaky: If you're on the move you can always decide to get knocked down rather than taking actual harm from an attack. This doesn't work if you're already knocked down.

Pest: When you act purely to impede somebody else then they can't get an Edge until they deal with you.

Pitiful: You are so truly wretched that most sapient beings will feel at least some sympathy for you.


Friday, 26 November 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


So this week's blogpost sure was a load of nonsense. As it's apparently backwards-week, I'll put the actual gaming material in the editorial instead.

As the blogpost alludes, I've been feeling the call of the primordial again. As a change from the one-page classes that I've previously worked on, I wanted to try a more easily digestible set of player options, first taking inspiration from the wonderfully designed classes of Old School Hack (first brought to my attention by Reynaldo here).

The below are pretty direct adaptations of the Original 3, aiming to strip away anything overtly mechanical to suit our Primordial needs.

New characters get the listed abilities plus a single talent. After a significant quest all characters gain an additional talent.


Steely: You have the edge when fighting untrained combatants.


Scars: You’ve seen enough action to have an edge when trying to talk somebody out of, or into, violence.

Specialist: You’re particularly attuned to a single, specific weapon.

Lancer: Your charging attacks have devastating effects.

Brawn: You’re used to carrying heavy gear and throwing your weight into things.

Exploit: After engaging in combat with an opponent you’re able to notice a particular weakness or opportunity.


Veil: You can see the mark of magical effects and can leave your own, visible to those you choose.


Chronicle: With a few minutes of work you can find or recall a single important fact about any given subject.

Lullaby: Your voice can soothe the hostile and put the unwary to sleep.

Puppeteer: You can animate a few small objects, say enough that you could grasp and hold.

Portalism: You can speak to doors. They generally cooperate and reply.

Curse: You can lash out with a harmful effect or damaging bolt, but you always suffer something in return.


Blessed: When you wear a representation of your faith you are offered some protection against its enemies.


Merciful: With a short ritual you can ease somebody’s pain and provide temporary invigoration.

Inquisitor: You can sense nearby enemies of your faith.

Wrath: You can imbue a weapon with divine wrath, but suffer a physical wound in the process.

Banishment: Your holy symbol repels enemies of your faith, and can destroy them when weakened.

Preacher: You’re very good at impassioned speeches and turning people to your point of view.

Friday, 19 November 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


This is how far out of the loop I am with big triple-A video games. Yesterday I took a day off after feeling a bit of brain-burn. I fancied some open-world exploration and picked up what I thought was a hot new game from a couple of years ago. 

The game was Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, which is actually like eight years old. 

Still, it's new to me, and this is a remaster at least. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my younger years with a full day of just playing a new videogame. Brain healed. 

Overall I enjoyed the game and I look forward to playing it some more. 

BUT who cares about the positives, right? We all want to gripe about how big company makes bad games. So here we go.

Actually, I'm not doing that, but there were a few things that left a bad taste in my mouth, and got me thinking about how those tastes have influenced my approach to running and designing RPGs.

We'll indulge in a little hyperbole, because this is an editorial after all.

Stupid Sideplot Framing Bollocks

So I forgot that this series has a thing where the main portion of the game (roaming around some historical era being an assassin, and in this game a pirate) is framed around a ancestral-memory-regression VR thing set in the near future. Occasionally the game pulls you out of your world of high adventure to put you in a corporate office to endure boring conversations with regular people. Like when you were playing Link to the Past and your aunt and uncle would come around unannounced and your mum makes you come and talk to them about what you're doing at school this week. 

I overuse the phrase "Make the Main Thing the Main Thing" but... just do it for everybody's sake. 

Not Like That!

Mission Failed: You strayed too far from the target.

Desynchronised: Your ancestor did not kill civilians.

This area is unlocked by progressing further in the main story.

You cannot push this door open while the guards are on alert.

It's like the game can't resist reminding you that you're playing a piece of software. I guess here the framing device means you're using a piece of software to pretend you're using another bit of software about being an assassin. This isn't innately bad, but here it's the same feeling of hitting an invisible wall. I see why it's there, but really they could have handled this in much better ways.

If part of your game relies on this sort of clumsy fix then consider fixing the core issue rather than applying a messy bandage on top. 

Yes Your Home is Lovely

Sometimes the game makes you walk really slowly through a very pretty area. The run button is locked, and if you stray too far from an NPC they stop and call for you to come back. I can't help but feel like I'm being expected to ooh and aah. Maybe I will, but maybe just let me explore this world myself, yeah?

Players care more about a world that they discover on their own terms. 

Give Me the Thing or Don't

On the first cutscene of the game I noticed you could hold a button to skip it. Cool, thanks for the heads up but I'll watch this one.

Later on I'm getting impatient and want to get to the mission. This cutscene can't be skipped. It didn't seem to be any more crucial than the others, but maybe I'm missing something. I wouldn't mind if I hadn't been teased with the thing already.

If you're going to include a feature in your game, accept that sometimes the players will use it ways you didn't initially plan for. Instead of hobbling them in its use, maybe rethink the tool itself. 

I know this is a pre-BotW sandbox, and should be viewed accordingly, but sometimes it's hard to go back. 

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

To Baztium

Don't look at me like that. I'm not the first to consider this.

The books of our history are vague, but in places too specific. Most tellingly, I swear they are not old enough to talk knowingly of a time so distant from this modern age. Bastion is a beacon of modernity in every way. It radiates raw now-ness into the world, keeping the past at bay, but it's still out there. 

Outside of our city is a crude world, but with each horizon passed things grow more primal. As our expedition passes into the months and years, we start to feel as if we're crossing centuries or millennia. Trains and canals cannot reach our destination, and the march is hard. 

Such a journey requires travel beyond just the march. We must forget our home... I struggle to picture it even now. A distant silhouette. The towering castle-city. Star-lit and noble. We fight the urge to turn back. 

Now our future is clear. A pilgrimage to the great lost city, a paradise to all that can reach it. A sanctuary from this primordial land of cold stone and traitorous trees. From this misery of vengeful spirits and torn guts. 

Ring out the bells, we begin our journey. TO BAZTIUM. 

Friday, 12 November 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


After 26 years of distant gazing, tomorrow I'm heading over to Warhammer World in Nottingham to play some Kill Team with Patrick and perhaps a few others. 

I'm looking forward to trying out this new simplified (but by no means simple) version of 40k's skirmish rules, having thrown together a team from the oddballs I have on my shelf, which just about qualifies as legal. 


The Bloodied Birth - Brood Coven Kill Team

My vision manifests into reality. A strong humanity through abandonment of our ancestral shackles.

In generations to come, Fawkes 5 will be revered as the mantle of the Genesplosion, where we pulled ourselves from the slime and the smoke to stand tall.

Without fear, without shame, without the wilful blindness of false faith. By blade and claw and saw we cut down any opposition.

The Bloodied Birth cannot be stopped.

- Catalo Viel, Primonatalus of the Bloodied Birth

Though as much as I'm looking forward to the game, I'm weirdly excited by the prospect of the Exhibition Centre. There are huge dioramas, which will be neat to look at, but mostly I'm craving a peek at some of the surviving miniatures that graced my revered copies of White Dwarf in the 90s. 

Not just some out of print miniatures, but the actual individual miniatures that were on those pages. 

Now I feel like you're either going to relate to that way too much, or give me a look of confusion and pity. Both are equally valid. 

Those miniatures made up the images that got me excited about fantasy and tabletop games, two things that have stuck with me nearly three decades later. I'll spare you the "in the days before the internet..." speech, but you know what I mean. 

Last week I visited the British Library in London and saw the sole surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight alongside one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, but I'd throw them both in the shredder for the chance to gawp at some of Mike McVey's dioramas in immortal lead.