Thursday, December 11, 2014

Using Writing Prompts in your RPG Game

Have you ever used a writing prompt?

A writing prompt is something fiction writers sometimes throw into the mix to help generate an idea for a new story, a new scene in a novel, or as something that can be developed for a character’s motivation or personality. A prompt could be as simple as an object, like a picket fence, a scarf, or a sleeping dog, or as complex as a situation like an argument over a debt, the last words of a dying friend, or the delivery of terrible news.

Ever wished you had something like a writing prompt for your tabletop RPGs? Well, take a look here, where I describe the Weird Deck and GM Intrusion Deck, which were just unlocked by the Numenera Boxed Set Edition crowdfunding campaign:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eschatology Code Adventure

The PCs begin play already aboard a commercial airliner, en route to a mission destination. Read or paraphrase the following to the players if they haven’t already been briefed.

read aloud
You’re an Estate operative, and you’ve got a badge to prove it. The Estate is a secret organization that monitors activity on Earth that originates in alternate recursions and, generally speaking, puts a stop to it for Earth’s safety. You’ve been touched by the Strange yourself and have abilities regular people wouldn’t understand. Those abilities are what make you a perfect operative for the Estate.

You and your team were assigned a new mission, which started today. You’ve been in the air for a couple of hours with a coach-class ticket from Seattle, Washington, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. You’re on your way to investigate a man called Father Foss of the All Souls Church of Deliverance (located in Sioux Falls).

Father Foss began counting down to the “End of Days” a few weeks ago. Of course, crackpot evangelists do that all the time, but in this case, local televised news reports showed Father Foss pulling off several tricks that bamboozled the local media. A few reporters went so far as to call the tricks actual miracles. But you know a lot more...

Thus begins Eschatology Code, which was run as an official GenCon 2014 event for The Strange RPG (click here if you want a free preview or to purchase a copy of The Strange). Eschatology Code is an ideal introduction to the game, a stand-alone scenario, or as part of an ongoing campaign. Also included are six pre-generated characters, so you have everything you need to get started playing immediately!

If you'd like a copy, you know where to click:

DrivethruRPG Store ($3.99):

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How to Play The Strange

It's ok to be voyeur if you're invited. Watch us play The Strange!

Surveilling the pawn shop!
I GMed The Strange on camera for players Shanna Germain, Monte Cook, and Jen Page. We did this so you could see the game in action, learn the basics about The Strange's unique setting, see what characters in The Strange are like (including their skills and abilities, and important elements like Pools, Edges, and Effort), and just generally see how we (the authors!) intend for a game of The Strange to be played. Plus, it's a good time. If you've got a need to fill 30 minutes with some RPG entertainment, give the video a look. And maybe help us spread the word, too!

Here's what one viewer had to say:

What will you find when you venture into Earth’s shoals? And what will find you, as you travel into...

More at

Friday, October 3, 2014

Designing Adventures Using Legal Pads

When I was hired by TSR in 1995, it was like a dream job. In fact, it was a dream job, even though things didn’t work out as I’d expected. Instead of coding a D&D-branded MUD as I’d been hired to do, I was asked to write a paper and pencil 96-page adventure with the working title Gates of Firestorm Peak.

Well, I got to work on it. I sketched out my thoughts and ideas for the adventure using one of the many yellow legal pads I had lying around. (I had extra legal pads thanks to being on my high school debate squad, despite ten years having passed since that time.) After working just three months on “Gates” I was asked to write a new project, working title Return to the Tomb of Horrors. Again, I had lots of space left on empty legal pads, so I used them for concepting work. Both of those products seemed to do well.

Fast forward several years:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I went to Savanah and ran a game of The Strange

Last weekend I visited The Guild Hall in Savannah, GA for its grand opening, and to help them celebrate, run games, and sign books.

During the game, I'm afraid I had to call a player out... as a betrayer! That's what you get for putting on devices that optically edit your memories. Sure, it's cool to have a nimbus that you can collimate into a beam of lased destruction, but at what cost?

But in the end, all was forgiven. A breach of Ardeyn up to Earth was sealed, Father Foss got his just rewards, and none of the player characters were shuffled off this mortal coil. Great fun, in fact, was had by all, including me.

I provide another perspective of my experience at The Guild Hall here, at the MCG blog:

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Come see me, Charles Ryan, and Batgirl at PAX Prime this weekend (Aug 29 - Sept 1, 2014); we're exhibiting on behalf of MCG. We're sharing a space with Green Ronin Publishing, so if you do stop by, you'll also get to see Chris and Nicole! (As an added incentive, note that on the days Batgirl is able to attend, she'll be cosplaying various characters from Numenera and The Strange. Promises to be some cool stuff!)

We'll be in the same room Green Ronin exhibited last year, in room 208 on the 2nd level (see map--BUT NOTE, we'll be in room 208, not 209. The map is a lie! On the other hand, we're the next room over). We're in the tabletop game area, so simply go up the south escalators to the 2nd floor and take a right to find us.

Meanwhile Monte and Shanna are winging their way east to DragonCon so say hi to them if you're there instead!  They have official signing details for Dragon Con!

Title: Autograph Sessions
Time: Sat 1-2 pm 
Location: International Hall South - Marriott

Go and see them. they'd love to sign your books, decks, fan kits, oddities, or anything else that you have! So bring them your goodies! (They also like cookies).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Best Game in Years

I'm back from Gen Con 2014. How was it, you ask? In a word, fabulous.

Many things contributed to Gen Con's fabulousness this year, including the many honors accorded to MCG (10 ENnies), the launch of a game near and dear to me (The Strange), as well as the rush I always get attending a convention filled with people who love games and geeking out as much as I do. (Plus, the entire MCG team hit it out of the park, as Monte describes here.) As it happens, it was also Batgirl (Torah Cottrill)'s first Gen Con, which was also grand.

However, the thing that really pegged the fabulous meter for Gen Con 2014 was that I also ran an RPG that has the distinction of being the most fun I've had GMing a game IN YEARS.


Yeah, really. Here's why.

We wanted the game I ran (and the game Monte ran for Numenera) to be a premiere experience for the players. The players were people who either made a high-level Kickstarter pledge to be there, or who made a winning bid during our charity auction to be there.

As it turned out, some of them were such amazing people that a couple had also volunteered to GM other games of The Strange at Gen Con. Before we discovered the overlap, I was also slated to run the same adventure (Eschatology Code) for the premiere game. We worried the experience wouldn't be as premiere for those players who were also running the same adventure themselves. So I wrote a new adventure especially for them called The Hum: Welcome to the Grand Bavarian (The Hum will also soon become available to the MCG Asset Team to run as demos across the world).

Did I mention these were amazing players? Everyone there was excited and pumped to be at the table, an experienced RPG player, smart, funny, and just as importantly, they were all gracious and pleasant people. (EDIT: One was so amazing that we hired her. I'm of course talking about Darcy Ross.)

Finally, it probably doesn't come as any surprise that over the past several years, every game I've run was a playtest. (Either DMed when I was still working as a designer on 5E, or GMed after I joined MCG and started designing The Strange.) If you've ever playtested a game, you know the drill. Play ten minutes, then stop when someone points out a problem. Hash that out for 30 minutes before you get to play another ten minutes or so before someone else calls a halt to deal with some new irregularity in the game. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...

Fast forward to the convention. The Hum was the first RPG session I've game mastered IN YEARS that wasn't a playtest. It was just a regular RPG session. It was filled with players who weren't there to polish the game. They were there to entertained by me and The Strange. I hope they were.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gen Con 2014 Schedule

I'll be at the MCG booth (booth 1653) at Gen Con at the following times (Monte Cook will be in the booth at the same time as me, which is convenient if you're looking for dual signatures on your copy of The Strange!):
Thursday: 10a-Noon, 2p-3:15p 
Friday: 10a-Noon 
Saturday: 2p-4p 
Sunday: 2p-4p

These are the times you can and should come by and say hello, or if you want something signed, this is when I'll be ready to oblige. I'm happy to sign anything, new or old. (Including copies of the D&D 5th edition, also out in time for Gen Con!)

I'll also be at the following seminars:

The Numenera seminar is on Thursday at 1p-2p 
The Strange launch event is on Saturday at 11a-1p

Both of those two events require tickets (but they're free). 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Welcome to The Strange

The launch date for The Strange RPG is in August! As that date approaches, +Monte Cook and I will be writing a series of blog posts about the game, including this first one: Welcome to The Strange!

Lead Artist Matt Stawicki

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June Kickstarter Message to Backers of The Strange

The Strange corebook is approaching completion. It went to press last week, and we just turned over the final proofing revisions to the printer. So it’s a good time to give our backers a taste of how the fulfillment process will work. This process kicks off in July, so we’ll share the specific details in our next Kickstarter update, but here are the broad strokes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spine Tingle: Is it a relic of a tailed ancestor?

Every time I'm somewhere near the edge of a long fall, a tingle descends my spine. It's always happened, so I haven't really thought much about it. Some people tell me they don't get that feeling in high places, though others do. Recently I wondered why.

And I came up with a hypothesis: the spine tingle at edges might be a relic of a tailed ancestor that had an autonomic response to prevent falling out of a high tree, which was to curl its tail around a branch. Since I don't have a tail, all I get is an atavistic spine tingle.

So what's next? I know! A series of experiments generating data to help prove or disprove my hypothesis. You know, science! However, that sort of experiment would probably requires funds, fMRI machines, and monkeys. Three things I'm fresh out of. (Though maybe I don't need monkeys--the ancestor was likely pre-hominid. But I like this picture.)

Does anyone know of someone looking for a doctoral research thesis topic in genetic anthropology? I might have something. And of course, if it turns out this is a subject already studied and researched by someone else, I'd love to know that, too.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Using Real-World Photography As Adventure Prompts

GMs are always on the lookout for good adventure prompts, and sometimes those inspirations come by way of great fantasy or science fiction art. But why limit yourself to merely make-believe when it comes to inspiring ideas to stun and amaze your players? Especially when the real world offers a wealth of wonderful and idea-generating locations, as gathered into collections by photographers and various other online curators over the years.

I’ve located a short selection of such photography collections, and provided a few adventure prompts to go along with one of the pictures presented in each link. The adventure prompts are suitable for Numenera, but also for The Strange (so keep this link in your bookmarks).

Friday, April 11, 2014

How Story Gives Life to Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are meant to simulate and model elements of a story to create an RPG. 

A story without game mechanics can’t be an RPG. Without game mechanics of some sort, you haven’t got an RPG, though you may have an interesting narrative. So mechanics, yeah; you need them, and preferably good ones. But sometimes mechanics are over-valued, which isn’t great. In fact, an RPG that puts game mechanics before the story that the mechanics are meant to simulate begins to lose its way.

Here’s why:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Guest Blog over at

My latest blog entry, "Ordering Art for Games" is over at, where I describe the process from a game designer POV. In addition to one of first art requests I ever made, way back in 1995, I also give a look behind the scenes for The Strange corebook we're getting in art for as I type this!