Monday 30 August 2021

Midnight Reveal

This week's Bastionland Broadcast will start at 11pm BST on Tuesday 31st August, and will feature a special announcement at Midnight BST. Come and hear what's happening live! 

Thursday 26 August 2021

d6 Paltry Monarchs of the Stoker Counties

The archetype of the Deep Country King has been romanticised from the loftiest opera houses to the filthiest dockyard drinking songs.

A heap of pampered bulge. Dripping mutton-leg in one hand, the other wrapped around a courtesan. At once a jovial host and petty persecutor. Slow to rise, fast to proclaim. A fat paragon and beloved laughing-stock to their subjects. 

Is there actually any truth to all this? Should the Modern Bastiard not be above such spitting-down on our country cousins? In search of the real monarchs of those simple lands, I ventured to the Stoker Counties. 

Here there was at least an effort to embrace industry, but instead of rising to the electrical heights of Bastion, they fell backward into their own shadow. There is a small trade with Bastion, mostly in low-grade coal and peat, hauled for weeks on bankburst canals by thick-set ponies. Barely enough to keep a refrigerator running for the night, but I suppose it's a tradition that holds a certain pride for these sorts. 

Queen Azblanche I of Payle, Blessed Watcher of the Roads and Protector of All Seas

I expected my travels would mostly land me in overfurnished courts and sweat-drenched halls, but upon my arrival to Payle I was hurried into a personal meeting with their Queen. She sat in a white stone pavilion, among broadleaf shade and trickling fountains. She smiled at me as you would a late night visitor to your doorstep, urging me to make myself at home but always asking of my next destination. Though we are nowhere near the ocean, she made constant references to my upcoming voyage, and the potential hazards if All Seas are not treated with respect. 

As conversation turned to silence I felt a certain calm, then a shortness of breath, followed by a dark pressure about my body. I'm ashamed to confess that I excused myself and made immediate plans for our ongoing journey. 

King Topet II of the Nethermier, Warlord of the Great Gathering

This is more what I was expecting. I arrived to a field of high-pointed tents, gaudy in clashing colours, each flanked with overflowing armsracks of bills, glaives, and pole-bows. As I was ushered between tents I was met with a parade of ostentatiously dressed officers, each more booming and theatric than the last. I was told of the King's strategic prowess, their martial ferocity, and the great legacy of their bloodline. It seems the current war is focused on just about every neighbouring people that does not already serve in this patchwork army. 

Finally, I was invited to watch the King dine at sunset, as did a crowd of brightly armoured knights. He entered, youthful and pale, with a bowl of red stew under one arm. As he moved about the room he greeted each soldier by name, recalled some past glory together, and fed them a handful of stew before moving on. As he came to me, he spoke my name clearly, and recalled a moment that I certainly remember sharing with him, although I had met him just today. As the stringy meat and cupreous gravy passed my lips I suddenly felt at home. I knew that I would die for him, and he for me. 

After some firm persuasion, my travelling companions urged me away from the camp under moonlight, but I still think of him and the war to come. 


Queen Yxby III of Leyerset, First, Third, and Last

At last, a palace of sorts! Though not one as I had expected on this journey. A casteline treehouse of knotted wood polished to a mahogany shine, and no clear method of access. 

This mining town had apparently given up their trade, letting their contract with Bastion expire, instead embracing lives of pure devotion to the Queen. This left the town itself rather desperate, with each of their crop of mastodian potatoes having to feed multiple households. The thick, barklike peels are most prized, I hear, called "flesh of the Queen". Despite this hunger, no local would accept a share of the tinned rations we brought in. It seems that their hunger is a price for the immortality of their Queen, who I was repeatedly told I could not meet. 

Of course, I would not be so easily defeated. In a quiet moment under the late afternoon sun, I followed a servant into the woods, hoping to glimpse a secret means of climbing to the palace, but instead they just went deeper, the lush forest turning to dead trees and dry air. Then all of a sudden I saw her, a humanoid torso projecting from a fallen tree. As she began to writhe, so too did the exposed roots and splintered branches of her tree. The servant donned the queen with fruit and flowers, describing the poverty that her subjects were living under, eliciting a contented sigh from the monarch. Then, her eyes slowly opened and her red gaze met mine, sending me fleeing to the nearest road and onto our next host. 

Queen Ormellion IV the Three-Crowned of Fayerelk, Hoggerly, and Evengarr 

This young Queen, I was told, holds the glory of three crowns, finally uniting three realms that share a bloody history of mutual animosity. 

Her grey palace sits alone, with no other settlement in sight. In truth, my route here could barely be described as a road, barely more than a beaten footpath across dry plains. 

Yet, her court was full. Musicians rejoice of this new peace, and representatives from all three realms drink and smoke together, full of self-congratulation. 

The Queen sits alone, her three crowns hung at her side, her head buried in a book. I was told by a wrinkled steward that I could ask her just three questions, yet our conversation stretched on for hours. Each question I asked about her lands was met with vagaries or monosyllables, but in turn she asked me everything I knew of other lands. Of course we spoke of Bastion, but she seemed especially interested in the other monarchs and their struggles. At first I thought her ambitious, considering future conquests, but instead I left pitying her apparent boredom reached at such a young age, and the feeling that she considers her triumphant position not rightly earned through adequate struggle. 
Grand Prince Krysopel V of Urwall 

At a braided junction of canals, Urwall is a rare beacon of order out in Deep Country. Its grand ramparts are dotted with tunnels for narrowboats and barges, and the people flourish from the extortionate tolls taken in return for passage. I saw more than one boatman hauled from their craft and thrown into a dungeon for refusing to pay. 

The town itself is packed with people of some modernity! Like an adorable country imitation of Bastion. I felt quite at home if not for the incomprehensible dialect and that specific country odour. 

The Prince held an open court once a week, and the queue for entry encircled his red-brick palace. Eventually I was granted an audience, and explained my exploration of country monarchs. The Prince uttered some vague poetry on the nature of jealousy, then took me on a personal tour of their palace. As each crudely-luxurious chamber was revealed to me, the Prince asked if I had seen such things in Bastion. Of course I indulged his pride, but I suspect he saw through me. Before I left he asked me which city was greater, Urwall or Bastion. Before I could answer he stopped me and had me escorted outside the city walls, returning to his fawning subjects. 

King Jezuli VI of the Vacant Realm

After I had met all five monarchs in our itinerary we set a course for Bastion. Yet, as is so often the way out here, the road home appeared quite different than that we took here. We found our little expedition wandering between great hills that we had not seen before, with the sun somehow always at our backs. With some reluctance, I stopped to ask a hermit for directions. 

Upon closer inspection he was not alone, but sat with a sleeping child, playing them a gentle lullaby on a weather-beaten harp. 

He explained that we were truly lost, and no journey back to Bastion was possible at this time. We had to wait for the Sun to be right, which may never happen. He claimed to be building a kingdom of his own, and we were welcome to stay if we swore our fealty. Of course we left the man, pressing onward as best we could, but each day of travel brought us back to his hill. 

If this correspondence reaches Bastion, I hope my writings prove informative for countryphiles, and I urge you not to seek us out. We have a place under our King now, and his realm will continue to grow until even Bastion bows to its rightful ruler. 

Wednesday 25 August 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.


Continuing down the Into the Odd Retrospective rabbit hole, I was drawn to another of those early posts. This is one that I spoke about briefly on a recent stream, and it's one of the clearest indicators of how my approach to design has changed over the past decade.

In this early version of the game, I already had the basic concept of Arcana in mind. Essentially, objects that contained spell-like effects. There were a number of reasons behind this, rather than just having characters learn spells as in more traditional systems.

  • It opens up spellcasting to all characters, not just the designated wizard or cleric. 
  • It pushes the players to go treasure hunting into more dangerous places if they want the coolest magical effects.
  • It fits nicely into the sci-fi flavour that I was trying to infuse into the world's supernatural elements, with the implication that these items have alien origins.

But in spite of all that promise, there were a number of things in this early version that worked against the philosophy. Little bits of residual D&D that I needed to scrape off like mechanical barnacles. In truth, some of them aren't even from D&D, they're from a more sinister place. They're attempts at being clever.

Clever Design. The sort that you share on a message board and other designers nod and say "ooh, that's a clever bit of design". In my experience this effect is rarely duplicated at the table. Today I'm less interested in creating clever rules and more interested in creating rules that people don't even have to think about. 

So we had Power Levels for Arcana, which required you to have a certain INT score to avoid Arcane Burden, which was just an outright penalty to everything. 

Yeah I know that's not clever design, but it feels like it was written because I felt there should be a rule for this. Turns out this is exactly the sort of rule you can throw out of the window and suffer no ill effects in return. 

That INT requirement for avoiding Arcane Burden was just one of the silly ways I initially restricted the use of Arcana. I knew that I wanted to break that element of mystical gatekeeping, but the other half of my brain was shouting "no, there should be a rule for this!"

So your INT also affected your chance of getting an Arcana in your starting gear. No starter packages at this point, we were still shopping for equipment. It also modified your roll to successfully cast the spell within. Bonding was a weird way to prevent others from using your Arcanum, potentially unlocking a greater power within, and was also tied to your INT score. But the worst one of the lot is hidden away in an early equipment list.

Mystic Paraphernalia (10gp): Includes wizards robes, hat, ceremonial beads etc. Add 2 to WIL and INT Saves related to Arcana as long as the character is not also wearing armour.

Bleh! As much as I still like the name, this shows just how far Into the Odd diverged from those early editions. Again, it's coming from a place of "well there must be some rule to discourage you from wearing armour and using magic". Maybe if you want to create a group of characters that fit a very specific profile, but why should they? 

Let's look at one positive at least. An idea that I actually like from this early version is that Arcana generally contain multiple spells. I still approve of the move to Arcana carrying a single effect as standard, but the occasional spellbook-like item is something I'd like to sprinkle into my games more often.

I know I'm making a habit of tearing down my old writing, but it's always worth keeping an eye out for that dusty old gem among the pile of shame. 

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Strange Industries

A factory is never just a factory.

Remember that Triple Rule. Any place of industry is bound to have a side-order of residential, religious, civic, or academic purpose, or maybe something totally unexpected.

Of course the main thing is meeting a demand. Luckily, Bastion has so much demand that you can pretty much make anything and find somebody who'll buy it from you. Get popular and copycats arise, but usually they just both find a way to encourage people to buy twice as much, then everybody makes a nice profit. Everybody that owns a factory, that is. 

It's been a little while since we had some fun with Spark Tables, so let's do a pair of them that can work in tandem. 

Roll 2d20 and combine.






Artisan Workshop



Production Cooperative
























Family Plant



Experimental Commune



Private Firm



Member's Workery





Sports Balls




Deep Forge


Railway Carriages

Sanctioned Monopoly





Brass Instruments

Tower Complex





Secondary Function

Worker Mood





High-Density Homes









Sewage Treatment












Luxury Homes



Amusement Park



Fight Club






Art Gallery



Council Chambers









Training Barracks












16, 5, 13, 1: Flowers, Craftery, Art Gallery, Jubilant.

Even with the chaos of Spark Tables, sometimes you just get something straightforward. This small Craftery produces artificial flowers, displaying them in their gallery before selling them on. The workers are all over-the-top enthusiastic about their work. Clearly seems like something weird must be happening under the surface.

Let's go again.

4, 20, 12, 16: Glue, Caves, Cathedral, Ambitious

Okay, now we've go something more weird. Perhaps the caves were used as a cathedral first, the walls carved with statues of saints and martyrs. This carving disturbed something in the stone, and a natural adhesive started to leak from the statues. First viewed as a miracle, then something better, a business opportunity. This incredibly strong, seemingly limitless substance is being bottled and pushed by the formerly cloistered worshippers as Holy Glue, now starting to get a taste for financial success. 


Thursday 12 August 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.


I'm continuing this slightly self-indulgent retrospective of Into the Odd, since August is the 10th Anniversary of its inception. 

What better place to reminisce than the first post where I talked about "Project Odd"?

Essentially a list of eight core ideals, let's see how they look after a decade of messing around with this system. 

1: An impartial GM. The GM uses the rules provided to challenge the characters and does not alter the situation to aid or hinder them.

This started as simple stuff like "roll in the open, don't fudge dice or numbers" but it's not really enough to just say that. Since then I've written a lot about how to actually support this style of high-agency play, perhaps best summarised in the ICI Doctrine. I don't think I've necessarily softened as a GM in this time, but I definitely see the importance of making players feel like agents in their own downfall when it happens. 

2: Adventure Module compatibility. The game assumes the GM is using a pre-planned environment and hazards, whether their own or by another writer. Classic rpg modules will be easily adaptable.

This was really an extension of the above. The challenge is the world, not the GM. Worth noting that this goes both ways. If the players stumble into a very fortunate location that you were expecting them to reach later on, don't throw a locked door in their path. I still somewhat abide to this rule of "the notes are a sacred text" but I do find myself breaking it more often. Perhaps one to expand on in a later post. 

3: Rolled characters. The core of your character is random and you do not choose a class. You buy equipment but have no input on your character’s innate abilities.

Buying equipment!? Who's got time for that at the start of the game?? Definitely one for the scrap heap here. Still, it's interesting to remember a time when Into the Odd didn't even have the starter packages yet. They feel like such a core part of the game to me now. 

4: Focus on Ability Scores. Rather than being secondary to level and class, a character’s rolled Ability Scores are the most important thing about them. The same goes for Monsters. A Dragon is terrifying because it’s huge (Strength 27?), scaly (Armour 6) and breathes fire (INT Save vs STR or 2d6 Damage!), not because it’s a Level 15 opponent.

So this is a big one. Let's split it down into PCs and Monsters.

PCs Ability Scores are absolutely important, but for a while they were too important. When you were rolling STR on every attack it was just too punishing on low STR characters, who I still wanted to be able to contribute to a fight. Again, this was written before the "decisive combat" system was implemented, even though similar ideas were percolating.

Monsters had some truly monstrous Ability Scores in these early versions, with the STR 27 Dragon being a memorable example. Here, new characters basically stood no chance of avoiding its breath, and remember this is before HP was quick and easy to recover, so there was obviously a TPK pretty early on with this. That's fine, in some ways. I wanted big monsters to be scary, but again I'd look to that decisive combat post to see how this can be handled in a much more satisfying way. 

5: Save against Consequences. The player always has a chance to beat the consequences facing them with a saving throw based around Ability Scores.

Interesting one here, as I've since gone on to say that it's often preferable to just go straight to the effect, and make that effect interesting. I suspect the intent of this ideal was really more like "focus on Saves to avoid risk rather than Action Rolls to succeed" but perhaps I've giving my past-self too much credit. 

6: Common sense. The rules are written with the assumption that those playing will agree on a rule’s intention without the need for paragraph-long mechanical explanations.

Hmmm.... I haven't given up hope on this one yet. Other than a few usual suspects (initiative...) I don't get too many requests for clarification. I still believe that think getting all of the rules onto one page/spread is worth that price. 

7: Limited power growth. Characters get better through improving their ability scores slightly, but more through learning spells, amassing resources and finding magic treasure.

Some sort of Foreground Growth eh? Sounds good!

8: Embrace the weird. This game will get scifi, horror and humour in your fantasy, as well as any other genres I see fit.

Interesting that I made this statement right after using a Dragon as an example monster. At this point I was still very much seeing this as a sort of Barrier Peaks style "fantasy with sci-fi" rather than going into the more specific flavour that ITO and EB developed. Just this week I was trying to explain what I do for a living to somebody, and they asked "so it's like a Fantasy thing?" and I gave pause. I mean I know that Bastionland is a fantasy setting, but it doesn't really feel like a Fantasy setting to me. 

Still, let's save that existential crisis for another time. 

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Primordial Fiends

I'm away this week, so enjoy some of the Fiend Folio creatures that I worked into my Primordial System. You can see me working through this process over here.

Death Knight Undead, Knight, Armoured
  • Stops at nothing when acting to correct some half-remembered shame of its bloodline. 

  • Its armour hides a burnt family crest. 

  • Conjures a gate to its ancestral sanctuary if harmed.

  • Stabs through gaps in armour, leaving a gradually freezing wound, or creates gouts of flame

  • The weak-willed cower in its chill aura

  • Must obey commands from ancient noble blood. 


Psionic, Monster, Flying

  • Hides its fragile real body most of the time.

  • Projects a Spirit Self to hunt or mate, which cannot be harmed by mundane attacks.  

  • While projecting, the real body’s heartbeat becomes a loud, steady thump. The projection must stay within hearing range of this heartbeat. 

  • Must feed on freshly killed humans, and would rather not do the killing itself. 

  • If the Spirit Self is harmed, it flies back to its real body.

  • If the Spirit Self is destroyed, the real body swears vengeance once it restores its spiritual energy. 

  • Its agenda is currently unknown

Eye Killer

Lesser Demon, Subterranean

  • In darkness, it is a placid creature, but will constrict prey or attackers with its snakelike tail. 

  • In low light, it rears up and opens its gigantic bat-eyes, absorbing the light before eventually blasting the source of the light with a death stare

  • In bright light, or in the face of open flames, it cowers away and flees. 

  • Vestigial wings hint at its nature as a fallen demon. It is trying to reclaim its place in the hierarchy of Hell by leaving adventurers wounded in the dark, and alerting more powerful demons. 

Son of Kyuss

Undead, Controlled by Worms

  • Fear and stink zone causes the weak willed to vomit and flee.

  • Regenerates from any physical harm, with only lightning truly killing them.

  • Worms will leap from the Son’s head if they sense a new host. They cannot leap far, but if they are able to burrow into a host, only controlled electrocution will kill the worm. 

  • If the Worm is left inside the host, they die at sundown and return as a Son of Kyuss at midnight.

Thursday 5 August 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.


August will herald the 10th anniversary of the birth of Into the Odd in its early form.

Some time in August I'll have another look back at these early drafts of the game, and as I teased in the backstage video there will be a bit of ITO news to come over the next month or so.

Looking back at those posts I noticed the three posts before it were some clearly frustrated ramblings about the state of RPGs. Hard Truths, as I dramatically described them.

I can look back on the summer of 2011 with mixed feelings. Some great things were happening in my life. I'd met my partner not long before, and I was enjoying the creative energy around the OSR of the time. However, I was deeply unhappy in my career as a school teacher, and I was unable to get a regular game group together, or even one-shots, outside of what was happening on G+. 

I think that series of post is fuelled by that frustration, which was perhaps amplified by the highs and  lows that were happening in my life at the time. When everything's good or everything's crap it's easy to slip into dull complacence, but contrast brings a certain  sharpness to things. 

So I wanted to revisit some of those "Difficult Truths" to see if there's anything of value there, and whether my positions have changed in the past decade.

People don't want to play RPGs now.

Here I was lamenting the lack of RPG mass appeal, and I guess I look like quite the fool now. It's muddied by the fact that I moved from my small town to a large city during this time, and as such the floodgates of players opened up, but something has definitely changed. 

People don't want to learn rules.

I mean, I kinda stand by this as a massive generalisation, but I always see that look of relief on people's faces when I've finished explaining a simple game. "That's it?" they say, a raincloud lifting from above them. Of course it's not universal, but there's something here.

People don't enjoy number crunching.

See this is just me projecting myself onto everybody else. I think it's admirable to have a game that doesn't require number crunching, but it's definitely the meat of the game for some people. 

Fantasy and SciFi are only popular with nerds and goths.

Eh, even in 2011 this is a hard one to back up, even if I was mostly writing this point for a bit of shock value and reframed it as "let's not limit ourselves to these genres". Of course RPGs should explore a wide range of topics, but I think at the time I was vastly underestimating the amount of universal appeal that good fantasy or sci-fi can have. 

People don't want to play a PbP.

I think this mainly holds up. Forums are in decay, and video calls have come so far that I can't see PbP going through some triumphant renaissance. I kinda hope it does, as an option for people that enjoy that style of play, but not holding my breath. 

People are more interested in videogames than a paper-based approximation of one.

Now, perhaps this is just me and my friends getting older, but I feel like I'm actually more likely to get a bunch of friends around a table for a game than synchronise a time for us to play an online videogame. Even if we're playing a tabletop game that might have been better made as a video game, it has a different feel entirely. I totally take this one back. 

Most non-gamers would rather try this out online than commit to an evening of play.

Again, I think I had it wrong here. Online RPG sessions are fine, but my anecdotal evidence tells me that people who want to dip into it are doing so in person, whether with friends or at a meetup group. The past 18 months is perhaps an exception to this...

As soon as a game starts to interfere with other areas of life the game is in trouble.

Yeah, scheduling is still shit. Think we're stuck with this one.

Non-gamers don't want to identify as gamers.

Identity is in a weird place right now. Definitely different than it was 10 years ago, but I haven't got enough space here to go into that. In short, I think people are perhaps more likely to want to self-identify as a tabletop gamer now than they would have been in 2011. 

GM and Player are completely different roles and many people will settle into just one.

Yeah I still think this is fair as a generalisation. Not absolute, but certainly a trend that I still see. 

What big changes have happened to your 2011 outlook on RPGs?