Friday, 14 January 2022

Modularity, Ask the Stars, and Primordial

This week saw the return of Bastionland Broadcast, where I looked through the fantastic 2400 games by Jason Tocci, which you should all go and buy as they're an absolute steal.

I've been staring at these games for a while, mulling over ideas of trying them out with a one-shot

Or perhaps a series of one-shots that connect into one game for a big finale.

Or perhaps just taking two books and mashing them together.

All in all, aside from the actual quality of the things (which is super high), I think I'm just as excited about the modular format. It's nothing new, of course, but sometimes it just takes the right implementation of an existing idea for it to stick with you.

It got me thinking whether this format could work for various related ideas I've been mulling for a while, but haven't quite managed to find the proper structure to bring to life. 

Presenting Ask the Stars, which at the time of writing contains a single module, Primordial. I have grand ideas for six additional modules around this idea, and one that takes things on a more distinct diversion.

As I create more I'll pop them into this folder, but I wanted to see if I could create a similar type of game, where you can go to the table with just the very core, or a few additions of your own choice. 

Wednesday, 22 December 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 without delving too deep into despair, the pandemic situation here in the UK is looking a bit volatile in the lead up to Christmas, so I'm finding it difficult to focus today. Unfortunate how the negative things can grab your attention like a vice, while the positive things can just as quickly slip through.

Lurching back on-topic, for me this definitely applies to reading and playing RPGs, wargames, boardgames, and especially videogames. Not so much that I get hung up on negatives, but I can find it difficult to focus on a game, even if it's one I'm actively interested in. 

Or, rather, I can focus on the game, but I feel like I'm too busy thinking about the next step. If I'm reading some fluff, I just want to get to the rules. If I'm reading rules, I just want to see how this game actually works in play. Once I get it to play, I often feel it's running too slowly. This might sound terrible, but I've joked before that this impatience is the fuel behind Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland

Blighters comes very much from the same place. I still go back and read Blades in the Dark, because it has some of the best GM advice that I've ever read, but the idea of running it from the book melts my brain. Credit to John for including a section in the book that outright says "you can run this game stripped-back to the core mechanic and it'll work just fine" but why do that instead of spending months carving out my own system?

For those that were interested after this week's post, I'll be sharing a PDF at the start of January when I've been able to tidy it up enough for public consumption. If you read Voidheist then the majority is unchanged from there. 

So to the actual point of this Editorial. For a bit of a change, I'm reaching out to ask for some recommendations from you:

What games (of any type) have you enjoyed that get straight to the point, with minimum padding around its core concept?

Here's hoping we can all find something new to enjoy over the end of the year, and perhaps keep us nicely distracted from the negatives. 


Friday, 17 December 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.


Last weekend was Dragonmeet down in London, the first convention I've been able to attend since the release of Electric Bastionland. 

I'll be looking over my haul in this month's Backstage video, but my biggest takeaway is just how good it felt to be able to speak to people that were either already playing the game, or just picking it up that day. Strange that it's almost two years since its release, but actually showing it to people over a table made it feel completely new again. Of course everybody loves the art, but the best feeling is when somebody gets excited by the promise that "this game has the fewest rules-per-pound of any book you'll buy today". 

I was hosted by the always inspirational Rowan, Rook & Decard, and it felt like a good match. Although the rules of our games are significantly different, I think we have a lot of common ground in terms of our approach to setting design and tone. Lots of Spire fans were keen to pick up Electric Bastionland, and vice versa. 

Most of all, I loved spending some time with people I normally only get to interact with though email and social media. You don't need to read another thinkpiece about how the last few years have impacted our real-world social lives compared to those of the digital realm, but it's something I've sorely missed. I've had plenty of good game-chat on Discord, but nothing beats actually talking to somebody over a table full of food, in a quiet hotel corridor, or a freezing smoking area. 

Admittedly I took an hour midway through the day to go and hide alone in my room, but I feel like that's something a lot of attendees would benefit from. 

Who knows what's in the immediate future for conventions like this, but I'm already looking forward to the next opportunity to show somebody Electric Bastionland for the first time.

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Blighters Rough Version

Oh alright, go ahead and have access to Blighters as it stands.

As always, work in progress, expect changes. 


Wednesday, 15 December 2021


Wow, these two posts were like 18 months ago.

Since then I've tested the game a handful of times, and spent a lot of time wondering why I hadn't gone much further with it. The overall state of things was:

  • The core system (in essence, a stripped-back Blades in the Dark) is simple enough to use in play and generates some interesting moments without intruding on play.
  • Sometimes there are a few too many Gauges being tracked for my liking, as some of them feel a little inconsequential.
  • The setting is well-linked into the characters and the hooks that they'll be dealing with, but it's a little safe and generic for me at the moment. Archetypes are extremely useful in RPGs, but it all needs seasoning. 
  • The starting characters all get something cool, but some of the skills feel a bit too useful (Software), while others are hard to bring to use in certain scenarios (Science, Authority, and even Weaponry).
  • There isn't a clear hook as to why the characters are doing these dangerous jobs other than "get rich quick".
  • Running heists is fun, but I feel like the shitty-sci-fi setting begs for a wider range of scenarios within the existing job structure.

Now as we know, basically all of my game design comes down to:

  • Stealing bits from other games
  • Deleting large sections of rules
  • Find and Replace
  • Abandoning the document for a long period of time
  • Add more stuff that might make the table laugh
So I've been doing a lot of that to see if we can revive this game with a new lick of paint.

> Callsign BLIGHTY
> Massive Budget Failure
> Commencing Nano-Liquidation
> All crew released for contract work
> No job too big, small, or deadly
> Survival projection: poor
> Still, you’ve got to laugh

Hardcore fans might have heard me talk about the idea of Blighters before. A Red Dwarf inspired microgame that I didn't quite manage to get to grips with. Well we're already a bunch of space losers in a world of Androids and Genetically Engineered Organisms, so why not lean into this inspiration a little? Every game I write ends up having a touch of dark comedy, so it seems like these two projects could naturally become one. 

Now, get me my axe.
  • Print and Prep Gauges are condensed into Cost
  • Assisting rules are simplified to a nice easy bonus
  • I basically had the "Devil's Bargain" equivalent in two different places, so now it's present in its simpler form
  • Event Gauges in the sample jobs now just use the Heat gauge instead of creating two new Gauges to track

How about those Skills?

Well, I briefly moved back to having them phrased more as Actions or Approaches, similar to how Blades in the Dark does. It was a useful exercise, but really just affirmed to me that I think more concrete skills are a better fit here, so Software rather than Hack, and Hardware rather than Fix. It helped me look at the spread of Skills, though, and they've been broadened/tightened as needed to make sure that every skill can be used in every session if the player is smart about it, without allowing them to just always use their highest rated skill for every task. 

Data replaces Science and takes bits from Software's portfolio to cover all sorts of information harvesting and analysis.
Deception replaces Secrecy, because it's a little more active. It's a small change, but it allows the skill to cover things like creating a false identity or making counterfeit items.
Force and Movement share the remains of Weaponry and Athletics. Weaponry was a strange one. It did get used, but it was weirdly focused on a task that most of the time the players were actively trying to avoid. Now it's a little broader to allow for a range of high-impact actions. Similarly, Movement takes the rest of Athletics, but also gains a little bit of sneaking to replace the "punching people" that was lost to Force.
Influence replaces Authority, and while I liked the flavour of that Skill I found players would struggle to get to grips with it in play. For social actions it's more direct than Deception and more forceful than Empathy, and can even be thought of as a soft measure of their place in the social hierarchy. 

What Next?

I should have more of this to share in the New Year, but this is likely the final non-editorial post of 2021, so as always, thanks for reading the blog, click here if you've really enjoyed it, and here's to an even better 2022.

Friday, 10 December 2021

Countdown Pt2

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.


Okay, let's finish what we started.

#5: A Primordial System (and its Fighter) 

The other big post about this system that I don't fully understand yet. Testing this out at the table is right at the top of my wishlist at the moment, and I'm really excited to see it if holds together. 

Also, this is the most popular content post of 2021! Congrats, Fighter. 

In particular I still really like this approach toward the fighter. I wanted to give them a suite of knowledge that let them feel a little like how the wizard does with magic, or the ranger does with nature. An area that they get to act like a real expert in, rather than just giving them a list of special attacks and bonuses. 

#4: d100 Oddities for New Characters 

From way back in 2016, this thing is still getting lots of attention five years after it was published. So many of these made it into Electric Bastionland, most of them getting polished up a bit beforehand. 

Always feel a sense of achievement with these d100 tables, and this is arguably one of the foundations of what would eventually become Electric Bastionland, so I've got a bit of a soft spot for this one. 

#3: Decisive Combat 

I know this one helped a lot of people to understand how Into the Odd's combat worked, and the reasons behind its design. I still stand by everything in here, and I feel like my impatience with long combats has spread to most other areas of the game. Am I actually getting more impatient, or am I just increasingly aware that things don't need to be so drawn out? I guess some people love a session that's just one combat, or one social encounter, but I most enjoy those sessions that feel like you packed a lot of different stuff into your two hours or so. 

#2: Encouraging Scheming 

This one really surprised me. To be honest, it's not a post that I think about all that often, and I remember at the time I wasn't entirely happy with how it came out. Still, I think it holds up as advice that can be applied to a wide range of games, not just my own. 

#1: Into the Odd Remastered 

Finally, to the surprise of nobody, this announcement post topped out the year. Not much to say about this one, so I'll pivot to giving a massive thankyou to anybody that shared this post around and helped generate so much excitement around this game. 

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.