Guns of Telluria: Toy Soldiers

3/8/2021 IRL. October 1921 IG.

  • John Stickman. Rugged and tough veteran of the Tellurian War, armed and armored.
  • Dorothy Gale. Former prisoner of war, weirded with a metal arm and occasional manifestation of animalistic teeth while under stress. Accompanied by her faithful German shepherd Toto, a well-trained glamour sniffer.

Iazu, Deep Gnome Township

Gale and Stickman traveled a road up through the mountains, following Stickman’s map from Dr. Broddico and Master Vin towards the “Traveler’s Lands” to see if they could find a curse-breaker who would allow them to return to Telluria. A blizzard struck, and Stickman’s reading of the map (aided by its supernatural bond to him) pointed them at an underground route going the right direction, through the caverns of Iazu. They kept to themselves along the way, observing the Tuatha Danaan also on the road, and groups of secretive deep gnomes.


The entry to the vast cavern of Iazu was an overlook where they could see the town’s central pillar, and an opening in the roof that let in a swirling column of glittering snow over the sullen community. They were approached by a Bilvyn, a friendly seeming gnome who assumed they were there to meet with Master Omerund, referred by Master Telgur; he expected them to have a car. They asked who he was expecting, and he name-dropped Mr. Cawley. They gently warned him that Mr. Cawley wasn’t very nice and he should be careful, and the gnome burst into tears.

They relocated to an outdoor eatery as he regained control of his emotions. He explained that his master, Omerund, wanted to use deception to capture as many Tellurians as possible and would want him to bring them to him, but Bilvyn was disarmed by their kindness interacting with his conscience and guilt. Omerund was violating the treaty that ended the war, he was crafting arcanum out of the life energy of Tellurians (like themselves) and animating soul-sealed war machines that looked like caricatures of soldiers.

Iazu came under attack in the war, traumatizing the relatively peaceful settlement. Omerund captured some Tellurians, and experimented to infuse their life force into constructs that could defend the settlement if the Tellurians attacked again. He may have developed a consistent process to mass-produce these constructs, and this very night he was meeting with the town council to get approval and resources to build many shells and capture a lot more Tellurians.

Aghast at the horror of what his master was doing, Bilvyn offered to take them to the workshop to free the surviving Tellurians. If they wanted to do it before Omerund returned, they would have to act now.


Of course the Tellurians were on board with the rescue. Omerund had six soulsealed war machines posted. One guarded each of the two doors, two stood in the workshop, and one was down in the prison. Bilvyn would do what he could to help; he entered the workshop and brought out two long-bladed orichalcum weapons that would be effective against the soulsealed, arming Gale and Stickman (who took a few minutes to look around the area to prepare, as they planned to leave in a hurry). Then Bilvyn returned to the workshop and deceived the guards, breathlessly reporting on nearby Tellurians. His ruse was effective, drawing two of them out to join him on a merry chase.

To improve their odds further, Gale sent Toto at the soulsealed guarding the door. The dog peed on the construct, then retreated, growling and barking to provoke it. The construct waddled after the dog, leaving the door unguarded. Gale and Stickman approached, studying it, noting that while it was not locked or obviously trapped, the “handle” might be a lure for unsuspecting Tellurians, and the disk on the round door’s center was what the locals would use. Gale touched it with her weirded hand, and the door opened without incident.

Prison Time

Remembering the layout described by Bilvyn (who was extremely successful in keeping two of the soulsealed busy), they passed through the workshop quickly. Master Omerund’s other apprentice, Farkas, was nowhere to be seen. (Bilvyn described him as passionately hating Tellurians and goading this horrific plan on.)

Down the stairs, they found a dank stone prison surrounded by a moat of sorts with creatures lazing around in its still waters. The door was guarded by an inward-facing soulsealed war machine. Gale opened the door rapidly and Stickman lunged in, quickly plunging his long surgical blade into the construct and rupturing its animating force.

Together, the Tellurians hauled the ceiling grating of the prison open, and helped out the six surviving prisoners. Inmon had been experimented upon and was badly injured, but extremely strong to survive. Yanela had her ankles twisted, and could not walk on her own. Rescue was the top priority, and the Tellurians helped each other up the stairs towards the exit.


Stickman led the way, and managed to steal over by the door as the construct that chased Toto returned to post. He single-handedly ambushed the soulsealed war machine and put it down quietly enough the guard by the other door was not alerted.

The leader of the prisoners, Boles, rapidly explained that the process of developing a consistent method for creating the soulsealed war machines had a lot of “failures” along the way that created other arcana. He insisted they search the place to locate the documentation of the process, to get it away from the gnomes. Gale was dubious that anything could be done to reverse the distillation inflicted on those turned into arcanum, and prioritized escaping with those who could survive. Boles stayed to search, planning to catch up with them.

The Tellurians got out as the soulsealed distracted by Bilvyn were returning. They loaded the escapees into a goat-drawn cart (Gale used a handful of limp radishes from her magic bag to try and befriend the goat so it would cooperate) and slowly rolled towards the shoreline of the underground lake, where numerous boats were publicly available. They planned to cross the dark waters and escape on the other side, staying ahead of pursuit. Ravenous, the escaped prisoners devoured all Stickman’s rations.

The Far Shore

On the boat ride, the prisoners explained they were former military, recruited by a surveying firm back on Telluria to check out mining opportunities among neutral or somewhat friendly fey communities. They were checking into possible orichalcum deposits when the gnomes drugged and imprisoned them, and half their number became soulsealed. They entered through a curated dimensional crack, and they believed they could reach it and escape back to Telluria. Hardly daring to hope, Gale and Stickman planned to go along with them.

Upon reaching the far shore, they saw trucks and the trailer of Mr. Cawley’s expedition rolling up to the beach. They chose not to warn them, or engage with them at all, moving as fast as they could to stay out of sight. They evaded the opportunists and undertook the difficult trek up to the escape portal.

Bilvyn could not go with them, nor could he return to his master. Gale and Stickman suggested he relocate to Delta Falls, and he agreed that he did know some people there. He was not a deep gnome himself, and he might fit in better there. The Tellurians said goodby, and they passed through the light, hoping to see Earth’s sun once more.

2 experience.

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Guns of Telluria: The Slopeslinger Festival Part 2

2/15/2021 IRL. October 1921 IG.

  • John Stickman. Rugged and tough veteran of the Tellurian War, armed and armored.
  • Dorothy Gale. Former prisoner of war, weirded with a metal arm and occasional manifestation of animalistic teeth while under stress. Accompanied by her faithful German shepherd Toto, a well-trained glamour sniffer.


Gale and Stickman talked over the previous day’s events, including the disquieting conversation with Shay. Since they were enjoying the Broddico hospitality, they would defend Broddico interests for now; just part of being a good guest.

They both went outside to take Toto out for his morning business, and Cawley was loitering nearby. The big man dropped hints and allusions offering them illegal opportunity and funding, but they were increasingly firm in their refusals. He suggested they attend the struct competition later in the morning, where constructs battled it out. Apparently Dr. Broddico would be opening the festivities. That did sound interesting enough, so the adventurers resolved to go.

The Struct Competition

The large multi-level arena had space for a one on one match to start out the day, and the noisy gnomes were into the cheering. Harmony Signs was going up against The Ramrod, a classic rivalry with a forest gnome hero piloting a struct against a rock gnome hero. Gale knew it was immoral to gamble, but she put a few coins on Harmony Signs to win it. Stickman figured he’d up the ante, and he added to her bet.

Dr. Broddico offered a short speech to open the event. He was in a balcony overlooking it, and a side balcony had Shay. Gale also noticed a couple shady Chicago thugs trying to look unobtrusive on the stairs by the balcony.

The match started, and the gnome machines battered each other without mercy. Signs quickly got the upper hand and held on to her advantages, soundly defeating the Ramrod. Cheering along with the rest of the crowd, the adventurers were caught up in the flashy show, and Gale was delighted to get her winnings.

Then the adventurers noticed that Shay was gone, and Dr. Broddico didn’t seem to notice. The Tellurians were gone too. With growing concern, the adventurers headed over to the stairs, only to be deflected by the “white gloves” gnome security. No admittance. They argued that the other Tellurians got up there somehow, and that finished off what patience the gnomes had. Unwilling to escalate tensions, the adventurers backed off; maybe go around to the exterior entrance and see if there were clues there?


A mechanical mosquito the size of a fist landed on Gale’s shoulder. She tried not to panic, and grabbed at it, holding the little machine. It did not resist or attack.

A gnome raced up to them, introducing himself as Telgur. He explained that he built the clockwork mosquito to be a familiar for a wizard, but Kissy didn’t bond with the client, so the client was suing him for shoddy work. Telgur pointed out the glowing yellow on the mosquito abdomen, a sign it was in bonding mode. He realized it was drawn to Tellurians, and offered them the chance to bond with Kissy to gain a loyal scout and “pet” (and prove his workmanship held up just fine.)

Gale declined, as Toto was enough for her to manage. Stickman lost all interest upon discovering Kissy would extract a little bone marrow as part of the bonding process. Cawley approached, deliberately noting the time with them as he was establishing his alibi. He took an interest in the mechanical mosquito familiar, and Telgur refocused on him as the adventurers slipped out of the conversation to resume looking for Shay.

Runaway Caravan

Gale scolded herself for gambling, as that sin was what made her take her eyes off Shay in the first place. Once they reached the back entrance, Gale spotted a downed Tellurian, and Stickman saw a small wagon racing off drawn by goats, a too-big Tellurian hunched on the gnome wagon’s buckboard.

The adventurers could not match the wagon’s speed, but in the twisty confines of the settlement, they could move in straighter lines and catch up. They dashed off, with Stickman falling behind in the rooftop scramble. Gale saw the wagon heading towards the gate. Some white glove gnomes stepped out to slow the wagon, and the driver pulled out a pistol and snapped off a few shots at them! They dove aside, but Gale figured that was provocation enough. Bringing her rifle to bear, she fired a the driver, knocking him clean off the wagon.

The gnomes could now bring the wagon to a halt, and Gale scrambled down from the rooftops to get closer. Meanwhile, Stickman took a different approach, and as he got closer he saw one of the Chicago thugs exiting the blind side of the caravan carrying a duffel bag. Stickman got Gale’s attention, and she snapped off a shot to force the thug to stop.

The situation escalated, and he pointed a pistol at the duffel bag and threatened to shoot. Still, he was staring down the gun barrels and resolve of a couple hardened veterans; Gale said he could leave the bag and go, and she’d let him, and that was the best offer he was likely to get. He tossed the bag and ran, the gnome white gloves in pursuit.

The adventurers unpacked the bag, freeing Shay, who was choloroformed and stuffed inside. Meanwhile the escaping thug screamed; he was convulsing in an alley nearby, painfully contorted and foaming at the mouth while his eyes bulged and purpled. When the white gloves heard that he had kidnapped Shay Broddico, they exchanged a knowing look and lost interest. A quick conversation about one Tellurian shooting another turned sour fast as both sides looked back at the war, raising latent tensions between the fey and Tellurians. Indeed, both sides could have policed their own people better. The friendly moment, such as it was, ended.


The adventurers escorted Shay back to Broddico Mansion, where Master Vin was anxiously waiting for them. Apparently Dr. Broddico had somehow heard about the abduction, the veterans’ role in preventing it, and the outcome all before they made it back. He sent word instructing Master Vin to relay his gratitude and reward the Tellurians.

Gale and Stickman followed Master Vin to the library map room, where he accessed a secret panel to draw out a vellum map. Master Vin explained the map had unusual properties, and led to a special place that Dr. Broddico thought they might want to visit due to their curse. (A curse they had not told him about.) Master Vin said if they put some blood on the map, it would open to them somehow and be usable in a unique way.

Stickman was up for the challenge, pricking his finger and smearing blood on the margin of the map. The blood vanished, and the map seemed to gain three dimensions, like a sculpture. He understood, in some way that he could not explain, how to get to that map and orient once there.

With the next objective in sight, the adventurers took their leave of Broddico Mansion on pleasant enough terms.

2 xp.

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Guns of Telluria: The Slopeslinger Festival

2/8/2021 IRL. October 1921 IG.

  • John Stickman. Rugged and tough veteran of the Tellurian War, armed and armored.
  • Dorothy Gale. Former prisoner of war, weirded with a metal arm and occasional manifestation of animalistic teeth while under stress. Accompanied by her faithful German shepherd Toto, a well-trained glamour sniffer.

These veterans were part of the final assault on a fey prince. Before he died, he cursed those attacking him. They would be banished from Telluria, never to return. Their curse bounces them from fey realm to fey realm with little warning. Fortunately, another fey prince who owed them a boon gave each of them an enchanted pouch that sometimes refills with little things from home (like bullets and matches.)

Arrival in Delta Falls

The veterans woke in a bedewed clearing in the mountainous woods. They saw a colorful town built into the side of the mountain in the midst of a cascading waterfall, so they headed that way.

On the outskirts of town they saw a truck and camper trailer, along with some tents. Men in suits were tending the campfire and loitering. Cautious, the adventurers approached. They were warmly welcomed. The big fellow in charge of the campsite was Cawley, a tough guy from Chicago. He had a boss, but didn’t name him. The men were definitely giving off a sketchy vibe, amused that they were in town for a gnome festival because a clan of gnomes was in debt to them and trying to raise a payment through festival sales.

Continuing into town, the adventurers were bemused by the decorations, sparklers, and snacks of the festival. They chatted with a curious child, Binn, who was attracted to Toto. A crowd of gnome children gathered to admire and pet the dog.

Binn took the adventurers to her uncle, Pestle, who was running a booth selling hammocks and cloth. The adventuers were interested in buying one each, but didn’t have enough money (even with the knick-knacks they pulled from their pouches.) Pestle noted that during festival there was a lot of work available; he recommended they check into Master Vinitimiamin, a scholar who had an interest in Tellurians like themselves.

Master Vin

Strolling through town taking in the festival and enjoying free snacks, the adventurers closed in on the underground mansion of Dr. Broddico, where Master Vinitimiamin lived. They rested in the entry hall of the mansion while a servant fetched the scholar, who was delighted to meet them and urged them to call him “Master Vin.”

As a cartographer, he had a lasting interest in first-hand accounts of places. He offered to pay them for their expertise in consulting on his pre-war Kansas maps. They agreed. While Stickman struggled to correlate memory with cartography, Gale had some salient updates to offer. Master Vin put maps on an enchanted lectern that enlarged them on the wall in the library.

Off to the Races

With local coin in their pockets, the adventurers agreed to go to the badger races with Master Vin. They headed for an underground racetrack, where Stickman bet on Poke the Scramble (who got trampled and didn’t even manage to finish.) Ah well.

The adventurers got a better sense of the forest gnomes and the rock gnomes, who had contests (like the races) during the Slopeslinger Festival to manage their rivalries in a relatively harmless context.

After the day’s race, the adventurers wanted to go pick up those hammocks they eyed earlier, they would meet Master Vin back at the mansion. (He offered to house them during the festival as guests.)

They got lost trying to manage the twisting and confusing three-dimensional layout of the town built into a waterfall, but eventually they ran across Pestle’s shop. Gale got herself a nice blue gingham hammock, and one for Stickman. They also got special hook-spike attachments for the end so they could easily set them up between wooden supports like trees. Pestle pointed out a silver tree on the slope above the entry to the Broddico Mansion, making it easy for them to find their way back.

The Broddico Family

Master Vin invited them to the Broddico’s table for supper, to meet their gnomish host. Stickman and Gale had been observing the patterns and colors of the decorations, and Stickman (with his background in the arts before the War) observed they didn’t match forest gnomes or rock gnomes styles. Master Vin confirmed that Broddico was of deep gnome stock, a third type steeped in magic and illusion, not widely trusted among other gnomes.

While preparing for supper, Gale had a moment of annoyance, and as she snapped at Toto, her “other teeth” showed. The servants may have seen the manifestation.

At supper, the weird little noble Dr. Broddico pranked Gale by letting her shake hands with what turned out to be a bundle of trained mice instead of his hand; all in fun. The trained mice were very obedient to him, and they all sat down to eat. The adventurers also met Shay, Broddico’s niece.

Toto had been increasingly suspicious and uneasy about spiderwebs that seemed to gather in the entry of the Broddico mansion, and traces could be seen through the place, including the dining hall. Gale asked about them, and Broddico brushed off her question as though it was a rude observation on housekeeping. The overly-dramatic little edgelord enjoyed his supper performance, then retired for the evening.

While Stickman consulted the servants in setting up human-sized beds and trappings in the guest room, Gale took Toto out for evening relief. While outside the mansion, one of the Chicago thugs sidled up to her and tried to draw her into conversation. He told Gale there was a bounty on Shay’s head, and his people would share it with her if she’d help put the gnome heiress in their power. She wouldn’t have to worry about the details. Gale turned him down flat and headed back inside.


Concerned about this threat to her host family, Gale asked for a meeting with Shay. A servant escorted her to the lord suite where Shay had a room. Gale recounted the conversation with the thug from Chicago.

Shay did not seem very surprised. She had enemies. Also, she could be used as leverage to force Dr. Broddico to cooperate with demands. Shay offered Gale (and Stickman) a job as temporary bodyguards, at least through the festival. This was one of the few relatively safe places left to Shay right now.

Gale outright asked Shay if she was a good person. Shay didn’t answer directly at first, noting that those who were in the War often had to do ugly things. With a shrug, she eventually concluded no, not always. Dorothy declined the job offer, and Shay suggested she sleep on it, think it over.

Troubled, Gale returned to the guest quarters and updated Stickman, and the adventurers settled in for the night.

(2 experience)

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The Colux Skull

Star Wars, Pool of Force. 12/28/2020. Clone War era, 3256 LY

  • Primes. A clone trooper pilot, left for dead and on his own, hiding behind a beard and a helmet.
  • Numidian “Noomie” Smith, a scholar and archeologist with an interest in Jedi and Sith artifacts.

Primes piloted a HWK 270 named the “Century Hawk”, and Noomie brought along a protocol droid, EC 17 (Easy).

The Tagelia Scholars offered them work, sending them to coordinates off the shoulder of Yina Sept to receive further information from their slug-like contact Delsiar. They arrived and contacted him on the holo net.


Delsiar explained that Gell Station on Yina Sept was a tourist site, now secured by the Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS) and exclusively serving their notables who came to this safe place to relax. One of these notables was Braydeel, a Gran aristocrat who was a military commander currently on vacation excavating a site on the planet, a temple called the Headspiece of Dinakka, about 18 kliks from the spaceport.

Apparently Braydeel was bragging to his friends that he had discovered the Colux Skull. The Tagelia Scholars wanted that skull. They had an arrangement with Lady Selentia, a CIS aristocrat currently located in Gell Station. She filed the necessary information identifying Noomie and Primus as contractors working for her, so they would be granted permission to access the station.

Delsiar said there was no contract, but if they acquired the Colux Skull they would get 20,000 Sekk credits (Republic credits were no good in their region) if they smuggled the skull offworld in a scan-resistant box nestled between their engines. If they were leery of the risk of taking the skull off-world, they could sell it to Lady Selentia for 10,000 credits. Delsiar encouraged the scoundrels to handle this quietly, and not bring undue scrutiny to Lady Selentia or the Tagelia Scholars.

Heading Out

The Century Hawk slid right on past the CIS frigate standing guard over the station. Noomie and Easy collaborated figuring out local protocols; Primus could bring his blaster rifle, no problem, but would be well served to put it in a backpack. Blasters were fine. Since the port was restricted, serving aristocrats likely to have illegal material anyway, security wasn’t too curious.

They handled docking and fees with the downtrodden B1 battle droid repurposed to be a functionary. J66 “Jaysix”, Lady Selentia’s protocol droid, greeted them and interfaced with Easy, updating him with Gell Station protocols. They met with Lady Slentia where she reclined in a mud bath. She was disinterested in their business, so they headed out to rent some transportation.

The easiest way to travel out into the jungle was on civilian STAP (Single Trooper Ariel Platform). The easiest place to get one was Bruhkko Rentals, a low-quality tourist service run by a patchy Trandoshan. He was sober enough to warn them to stay on the beacon-lit paths, giving them a trail map; it was mating season for some of the jungle monsters. They picked out a couple STAPs that had blaster mounts and weren’t too shaky, and left Easy behind at Gell Station to “guard the ship.”

The Headspiece of Dinakka

The beacon-lit repulsor route was equipped with monster repellent generators, so their trip to the temple was short and uneventful. They decided to pose as curious tourists, so they boldly approached the site. Braydeel had at least a dozen B1 battle droids, but they seemed somewhat the worse for wear with moss and corrosion from the swamp. They seemed to be there for protection against jungle monsters; a big tangled corpse was visible off to the side, blasted repeatedly.

The B1s intercepted the scoundrels and send their greeting to Braydeel, who came out to greet them. Noomie could certainly speak the archeologist lingo, and the two hit it off. Braydeel took them on a tour, with Noomie engaged and gracious, admiring Braydeel’s finds, to the point where the Gran invited them inside his parked ship, the Clarity. Why pitch a base camp when you can park an armed freighter onsite?

Aboard the Clarity

Primus evaluated the security as Noomie chatted up Braydeel, encouraging him to get tipsy as they drank wine together. Braydeel invited them to see his trophy room in the ship, the most high-security area, unlocked by a tri-eye scan. Noomie’s attention was fixed on the Colux Skull on display in a place of pride on a column in the center of the room. Braydeel explained it was part of a Sith and dark mystic tradition of encoding information on the skulls of important leaders, sometimes in symbols and code and sometimes with complex booby-trapped microcircuitry.

Primus was looking elsewhere. He noticed the dome of the freighter had the droid brain controlling this contingent (designed to direct a much bigger force.) He observed that there were only B1 droids here, no super battle droids; but he saw the circular port in the trophy room that probably housed a droidika, activated in case of emergency. What really captured his attention were the clone trooper faceplates, cut into plate-like trophies mounted on the wall, paired with holographic projectors to tell the story of acquiring each one in battle.

His tension and accent got Braydeel’s attention, but it was too late for the Gran. The scoundrels gunned him down before he could hit the security lockdown control. Primus sprang over to the controls and locked the droidika bay as Noomie looked over the trophy column, seeing its alert and shock defenses. He directed Primus, who grabbed the skull and took the shock, yanking it out of the defenses as the alarm activated. The prize was in their hands.

A couple of the B1s clattered up, trading fire with the scoundrels; the battle droids were gunned down, but not before one scored a hit on Noomie that dropped him. As more of the B1s converged on the ship, Primus managed to burn through a couple med kits keeping Noomie alive.

As Noomie staggered to the bridge, Primus slammed the gangplank so the B1s outside the ship could not board. The clankers struggled to formulate a plan, but Noomie hacked into the droid brain controls and issued commands for the B1s to go on long patrol.

The Getaway

Primus dragged Braydeel’s corpse to the edge of the site, where monsters would clean it up, and Noomie hefted the Colux Skull to the STAPs. Flying casual, they returned to Gell Station, ordering Easy to check in with Jaysix to let Lady Selentia know they were headed out. They were off world before the alarm was raised.

They deposited the Colux Skull at the drop point and got 20,000 credits. Job well done.

(3 Character Points)

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Basically Fantastic: Elven Distinctives

Having finished 99% of my Inkwell Ideas freelance project, I indulged myself this morning to do a little ruminating and writing about elven distinctives in Basically Fantastic.

Even as I type this I realize I forgot to put in their horns; how the horns grow 1 or 2 inches per level. Some are ram horns, others deer with multiple points, etc. How the horns are a visual physical lightning rod for their powers. I need to make up some feats for making horns cooler.

More to come later.

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Four years ago I was ruminating on what “punk” means in a genre sense. (Here.)

Today I saw it summed up. “Punk is whatever makes you happy that irritates people who are used to having complete control.”

And we’re done. That’s all I need.

Reminds me of my Basically Fantastic game; it’s very “punk” in the sense that they do what they want, and they decided what they want is to break the clerics. The cleric tradition in that setting is vastly influential and descends from a tradition that slew gods. They are the backbone of the status quo. And the characters are looking to burn the world down to make room for what they think the world should be like.

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“Under the Mountain” is the Deal of the Day!

“Axes and Anvils” GM book “Under the Mountain” is the Deal of the Day at DriveThruRPG today! The $15 .pdf is on sale for $6 today only.

This book has the rules for the game in the first half, and the second half is GM generators and tools. If you want rules for playing humans and elves (as well as dwarves), mass combat, GM-less play, collaborative setting development, monster randomizer and benchmarks, and more, this is the book for you. The book concludes with an analysis and summary of the GM role in the unique context of an Axes and Anvils game.

Check it out!

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Heroes B&B: A Simplified Approach

This is a great template for approaching gaming for new players–and for playing online. Moving a game online means focusing on what’s most important, and for me, that’s not crunch. While there’s certainly a place for more complex rule interactions and character builds, those things raise barriers to running games and recruiting players and engaging in the experience after a long day of doing other things. Finding different simple approaches to get straight to the best part of the game is perpetually interesting to me.

This post has a simple character sheet that is visual and adds fiction-first distinctives. I could run an adventure with nothing more than my background in fantasy gaming and these sheets in front of me.

For the dice, I have a boxed set that has dice grouped by color. You can get them here, too. Don’t shame your new players because they can’t tell a d8 from a d12–tell them to roll the blue one. (If you’re playing online, it’s even simpler, they can use a dice roller in whatever program you favor.)

If you have new players, or if you’re designing for low prep online play, or if you’re recruiting people who are interested in collaborative storytelling but aren’t asking to take on a new hobby and a rule book that should be worth continuing education credits to absorb, check out this fun idea.

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NPC Decks for 2020

I have been hard at work on more NPC decks for Inkwell Ideas. Now there is a preview so you can take a look at what they’ll be like, with a number of samples. The three decks for the base project include adventurers in one, hirelings and henchmen in another, and people who live in a fantasy coastal town in a third.

We are also working on some great stretch goal decks. These decks are all great for coming up with plot ideas. One way to use them is to take 3 characters then think it over and figure out what sort of situation might connect them that generates motivation out of their needs and abilities.

I’ll use the NPC Portraits Deck, Fantasy 2 as an example. Here’s a random draw of 3 characters. Now, because I’m not trying to integrate with an existing setting, and because I think I’m amazing (and possibly cocky) I went random; I would expect normally a GM would sift through the cards and pick out ones that were most interesting or seemed to fit the current storyline (though trying out a random draw for maybe one of them is a good challenge to your creativity.)

An elf, a half-elf, and a sea elf walk into a scenario. Pretty good setup. After looking over the card art and reading the back thoughtfully, here’s what I plan to use as focal points for the plot.

  • We have two big evil forces.
    • First, the Breathing Cloud, a threat from under the sea, “a powerful and evil force ancient beyond reckoning” that overpowered Nulurius’ mind and is using him to unfold part of its larger scheme.
    • Second, the mighty demon Sorluaek, bound in the living flesh of the Seleel family (and Liasandra is desperately trying to figure out how to destroy it before it escapes.)
  • Harlowis brings the suggested setting.
    • He runs the “misfit” garrison in a “run-down border settlement.”

With three flavors of elf and a border settlement, I figure it’s a coastal trade outpost where sea elves connect to the larger elven nation, bordering a human kingdom. I’ll aim for a town size, we’ll call it Surzul. It has been traded between the elves and humans through war and peace, and ended up a fairly mixed town that both countries view with distaste.

The central question to drive the plot for this setup: is the Breathing Cloud trying to free Sorluaek, or keep him bound, or are they different names for the same force (like the Breathing Cloud needs Sorluaek as the final piece to become whole)? Well, you put it like that, it’s easy; the Breathing Cloud wants to keep Sorluaek bound. That way I’ve got the good guys getting help and making friends, without knowing there’s an evil force behind the assistance, so we can string this out past the first story. Bake in those plot twists early, that’s what I say.

The description of the Breathing Cloud is deliberately vague so you can make it whatever you want it to be, but we’ll go with the implied creature–an aboleth. (Get it? Okay, go look up “aboleth” and come back. Now we’re up to speed.) The mind control effect is extended over distance and cemented in place because there’s an underwater variant of a mind flayer that’s the “court vizier” for the Breathing Cloud that learned a ritual to deepen the control and ignore distance constraints. (I just made that part up, rule of cool.)

What about Sorluaek? Well, the sahuagin are fun opponents, and in past editions were called “sea devils” and they have shark buddies; their wicked and cruel culture could totally worship a mighty demon that elves would struggle to bind. (This also gives me some stab-able foes.)

Now it’s time to actually make a gameable scenario out of it. First, the situation.

  • The town of Surzul bustles with trade but isn’t in any immediate threat, so the mayor is irritated with Captain Harlowis because he’s asking for funds to better equip the town guard. Harlowis is also pushing the guards to train harder, and that’s provoking complaints, especially as there is no danger right now. This new captain isn’t working out.
  • The Breathing Cloud captured scouts from the Shark Tribe of sahuagin and discovered they are massing to swarm into Surzul from the high tide and finally slay the last of the Demonguard, Liasandra Seleel, to free Sorluaek. Adding a powerful demon to the Shark Tribe would unbalance the undersea ecology, so the Breathing Cloud managed to capture Nulurius on his way to Surzul and subverted him. His mission is now to protect Seleel from the attack and bring her to the Breathing Cloud to use as leverage.
  • Liasandra Seleel is the last of the Demonguard, and her whole life she has been ducking Shark Tribe assassins and agents. Her defenses have been whittled away, she has lost all her family and friends one at a time or in groups. These relentless attacks have gone on for centuries, elven generations before she was born. But now she’s discovered an important location that has the answer for how to destroy the demon for good. That location, unfortunately, is near a coast by the Shark Tribe, so her trip must be secret and fast, a giant risk. She is about to find out the Shark Tribe has located her and is going to end their master’s captivity once and for all.

Second, involving the characters. We don’t want to assume they’ll bite any particular plot hook, so I want some broad-band challenges that will pull them in, and some more specific points of alliance or antagonism to potentially motivate them. I want them to meet the three key NPCs, so they can decide how to react to them. Here are some possibilities. Some may stack.

  • Seleel was attacked on the road, and the last of her defenders was slain; they bought her time to escape, and she’s grieving and angry and frightened, all alone and running low on funds; she needs to hire an escort to get to the site with the answers, and the PCs are handy. She tells them she’s in danger, needs an escort, and will pay half now and half upon arrival.
  • Nulurius is being bullied in a tavern because he’s a sea elf; he is trying to find a woman, an elven wizard, but he’s jeered things look like they might escalate. However it goes, even if they don’t help, he takes some lumps but ends the encounter with bullies and continues looking for help to find this elven woman.
  • Harlowis trained one or more of the characters when he worked for the baron, maybe led them in the siege. He’s called for them to join him in his new posting and help whip the garrison into shape.
  • If they have a female elven wizard, a case of mistaken identity could provoke a Shark Tribe attack. Or, they could travel with some innocent merchant mistaken for Seleel by the assassins; to the sahaguin, all elves kind of look alike.
  • The site with the information on how to end the curse finds out, one way or another, that the last of the Demonguard is coming, and hires or deploys the characters to help her make it to their door.
  • If they have a renowned (or at least skilled) warrior/commander, the mayor heard of them and quietly invited them to come interview to take over the captain of the guard; the current guy isn’t working out.

The focus of the action for this scenario is the Shark Tribe attack on Surzul. Using one or several of the character entry points, the party arrives in Surzul. There is some local color and positioning, then at night the Shark Tribe attacks. (If they leave, they are still attacked by a Shark Tribe assault force [which is raiding all up and down the coast], and either they see the town on fire if they’re still close enough, or a messenger sent to get help informs them the town was hit and is desperately holding out for reinforcements.) If the players are determined to not interact with this setup, then yeah, have a side quest on hand for an alternative adventure. (More on that at the end.)

Regardless how they make it into Surzul, some local color will help give them interesting choices before the assault hits. Here are some examples.

  • Guards griping about the new captain and his drills.
  • Conflict as one guard is shaking down a local businessman as usual and another guard nervously insists the new captain doesn’t allow that.
  • If they are with Nulurius, he needs a saltwater bath but isn’t willing to go to the bathhouse that caters to sea elves in town; can they help him set something up? The surf is too gross this near town.
  • If they are NOT with Nulurius, some local sea elves are getting concerned that Nulurius has not showed up yet; the Sea King was supposed to send him as the new diplomat and it’s worrying how late he is. Maybe they could help find him. Why wouldn’t he check in, if he was in town? One of the diplomat staff in town knew him from before and looks forward to meeting him again, has his favorite drink, looks forward to sharing stories and catching up. (Maybe even a romantic interest, or one of his children.)
  • If they are meeting Harlowis, he feasts them and they can reminisce a bit, but he’s really struggling as the permanent outsider (half elven, it’s a problem) carrying the stigma of his failure from the siege. The mayor drops in to meet the new people and isn’t very subtle about considering them as replacements for Harlowis. Harlowis might also ask them to help out in drilling the guard, showcasing their misfit nature. (Get a name list, maybe some NPC traits, to round out a few fast.)
  • If there are scoundrels in the party, they may find that some of the seedy underbelly of town is packing up and getting out of the way; the Shark Tribe may have some rough sorts who are going to sabotage defenses, but others they deal with got wind of the coming attack and scoot. Maybe stroll in as they are packing.

As for the attack itself, some ideas to make it interesting.

  • The Shark Tribe has a hydra, they fixed platforms on each head for riders with javelins, the back has an armored saddle fort. The hydra will wreck a dock area, pounding into the town, streaming warriors, holding the town’s attention.
  • Raiding teams will head for the town gates, locking the exits.
  • Elite teams of gleaming black-scaled assassins (like the ones that have hunted Seleel all her life) will scour the town in teams of six, looking for her, using magic gear and serrated bone weapons. Each team has a shaman with infernal casting powers.
  • Townsfolk will withdraw into the lighthouse keep, but scoundrels working with the Shark Tribe opened up an entry point in the keep’s foundation to let in a couple assassin teams to kill all elven women–just in case the Demonguard is in disguise.

My default plan is to herd the characters into the keep ( locals know the Shark Tribe attacks sometimes, but after doing mayhem, they retreat. Taking them on is less tactical than letting them have their fun and then rebuilding.) Hit them with assassins inside, with more to come. They are sitting ducks in here if they have Seleel–she’ll be desperate to escape. If they don’t have her, or if she escapes on her own and they need to save her, be prepared to hit Harlowis with a dilemma; they want to leave a siege and counter-attack, and that resonates uncomfortably with his recent shame. (I don’t know what the PCs will do, what position they’ll be in by now, but if they’re close to him or must persuade him to let them out this is a useful conflict to have ready.)

There are lots of ways this could go. I’ve got plenty here for a 3 hour game and maybe an initial arc, generated from the interplay between some NPC cards and a background of fantasy gaming. Now that I have an establishing frame, I could add an NPC from the deck now and then to add wrinkles I would not have thought of otherwise, to help keep it fresh.

But what if they totally avoid all those plot hooks, and are determined not to get involved? That happens sometimes. That’s where having “Encounter Decks 1” at hand may help; riffling through, I picked out 3 possible low-prep frameworks I could pull in if the characters pass on what I set up for them.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this look at how you can make adventure out of NPC cards.

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