Friday, September 23, 2022

Delving Design


Months ago, years even, I was hesitantly perched upon a dozen different fences about what to do with Encounter Critical.  I'm Kickstarting the 3rd edition, if you didn't know!

Part of the problem was knowing that whatever direction I went, some people would be disappointed.  But the whole making an omelet thing reminds me that I've got to please myself at the end of the day... which is fitting, because I was (still am, to some degree) a huge fan of Encounter Critical after discovering it - with no small help from the imagination and blog of Jeff Rients.

At any rate, I'm trying to find a yin-yang sort of balance between traditional and what we now call "story-games".  The black (yin) has a little bit of white in it.  Basically, I'm trying to take "modern" and "innovative" RPG design and adapt it to OSR sensibilities.

I did make a video about fiction-first, Obsidian Escalation, and several other things.

The following is what's on the playtest menu for the moment.  Anything can change at any moment.  I don't expect it to, but I am expecting tweaks, fine-tuning, and possibly weird organic growth that I didn't realize was part of this project's evolutionary journey.

Without further ado, here we go...

One Page Cheat-Sheet

  •          Every PC must come up with a Background that’s broken-up into the following aspects: Look (appearance, aesthetics, vibe, etc.), Drive (motivation for adventuring, reason for being, core values), 2 Relationships (either members of the party or an NPC in the world), Flaw (downfall, vice, or something that keeps getting in your way), and 3 Obsessions (something you love, something you hate, and something that fascinates, perplexes, or strangely amuses you).
  •          A character gets 1 point of Divine Favor every time he indulges in or falls prey to his Flaw.
  •          When a character is confronted with one of his Obsessions, he’s easily distracted and/or manipulated… unless a successful saving throw is rolled.
  •          If running a one-shot, start the session with a Flashback scene from an earlier time in the PCs’ lives, when they first met or were all together… perhaps a montage (micro-scenes with a common theme unfolding in quick succession) of each PC discovering the startling revelation that “reality” is merely densely coiled layers of illusion.  Ahead of the scene, the players and GM should discuss where events happened (location), who’s there and why (relationships) and the general mood, conflict, and/or resolution they’d like to see.  The GM, who should have an inkling of what’s to come, might suggest a motif, object (McGuffin), or major/recurring NPC (villain, helpful contact, rival, comic-relief) for inclusion, in order to strengthen narrative ties between the Flashback and future events.  The players roleplay the social interaction until everyone is content that the scene should conclude.  A point of Divine Favor is awarded to every player who participated.
  •          If running a campaign, start each session with a Flashback scene from an earlier time in either one or two PCs’ lives (see above for details).  Players who don’t have their character present in the unfolding scene are encouraged to roleplay whatever NPCs might also be in the Flashback scene.
  •          Between encounters (and occasionally during) PCs are encouraged to roleplay.  PCs earn a point of Divine Favor when they demonstrate (talk about, think about, or act out) an aspect of their Background. No more than 1 point per scene.
  •          Obsidian Escalation during combat!
  •          Skill-Checks: Natural 1s the GM (or mischievous player, if preferred) narrates the failure.  Natural 20 means the player can describe his own success.
  •          Top result on a saving throw, skill-check, or damage die means the player can narrate his epically awesome deed with an additional embellishment that may provide a modest edge, asset, or godsend (with GM approval, of course).

This cheat-sheet is 1) based off changes or amendments to Crimson Dragon Slayer D20, and 2) written down in a sort of shorthand that's explained just enough so I know what's going on.  

If YOU would be interested in running your OSR ruleset with the above modifications, I'd love to hear your story.  Please share it with us.  Better yet, email me your feedback:

After a few playtests of this stuff, I'm going to go back to the proverbial drawing-board with other fundamental concepts, such as magic.  I've been doing magic the same way for a few years, and want to try something radically different than my comfortable go-to system.

Feel free to comment, ask questions, throw tomatoes, or whatever.  ;)


p.s. You can support me for $5 a month on SubscribeStar, and next July's Madison WI VENGER CON II is happening with or without you, so grab a ticket and play with us!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Encounter Critical III


What's up?  I've got news...

I finally have a new Kickstarter campaign, and it's for Encounter Critical III.

Let's get down to brass tacks, hoss.  The original EC is great and all, but many find it virtually unplayable because of its OMG WTF?!? system (game mechanics).  I want to take my version of EC into a smooth, easy, and light OSR ruleset while making the things outside the system OMG, WTF?!?

The very first playtest was earlier today, and I think that went well.  It's going to take a lot more, and each time I hope to learn new things.

Obviously, I'm building on what came before... the original EC, Crimson Dragon Slayer D20, and Cha'alt.  The concept is there, now I just need to refine it and come up with awesome stuff to make it really fly.

I'll post more about the playtest session in a couple days.  For now, I'll just say thanks for supporting me, and feel free to ask questions or volunteer to playtest Encounter Critical III as we go into fall.  


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Cha'altian Session Reports


I was able to squeeze two virtual sessions in this week.

Both were on Roll20 (I gave a couple other platforms a shot, but quickly got confused and abandoned my quest for an alternative), 90 minutes, text only, 18+ (even though we never got to explore anything sexual or erotic... hey, it happens!).

The 90 minute structure is something I'm extraordinarily familiar with.  A lot of people don't like it.  I receive a decent amount of criticism for running shorter sessions.  All I can say is that if you have 5 kids and a day job, then you know how difficult it is to carve out 4 hours on a weekly or even bi-weekly schedule.

Both sessions involved exploring a network of tunnels and caves.  Another similarity is that both sessions had two players by the end.  I accept random drop-ins, so that's to be expected.  People are flaky on the internet.

For those curious, I usually don't have anything specific in mind when constructing these maps.  I just start drawing.  Automatic drawing is a technique invented by Austin Osman Spare.  I've forgotten more than I remember about him, and don't think scribbling lines via my mouse counts as a magical act, but it is part of the greater whole.  And I do view my current roleplaying sessions as magic rituals.

As usual, I gazed upon the Kort'thalis meta-sigil as I prepared for my sessions.

Before I get into more detail, here's a list of guidelines that have appeared out of play...

  • If a player has not chosen a race for his character, I'm just going to assume he's human.
  • If a player suddenly disappears, the GM (me) will roleplay his character - assuming there's a small party of adventurers.  It's not fair to a pair of adventurers who go in a dangerous environment when they believed there were three of them.  If the party wouldn't miss a character, then I occasionally describe his gruesome death as that abandoned PC steps in a trap or fiddles with sorcerous runes discovered on a cave wall.
  • Engagement is crucial!  With noobs, I'm constantly inviting them to take part in the action, make decisions.  "While the thief is scouting up ahead, what is Ba'ab doing?" Stuff like that.
  • If players make leaps of logic, I'll usually let the first one or two go, but then will quickly put the kabosh on that stuff when it seems less likely and/or taking advantage.  For instance, Vindl, a thief cyborg wanted to use the phosphorescent fungi in the cave system for energy, and be able to turn his mechanical arm into a blaster.  So, I said sure.  But shortly after he wanted to construct a shield out of scales picked off a dead creature.  I told him it would take time and the proper tools.

Halfway through the second session, I took over the missing player's character, Ja'ay the demon warrior.  Every GM worth his essential salt knows that GM NPCs shouldn't overshadow the actual PCs.  So, I used Ja'ay as an interesting background character, spurring action like taking one tunnel over another when the PCs couldn't make a decision.  Precious minutes ticking away.

The second session was the first game after vocalizing my theory... the GM's paradigm should make its presence known every single encounter!  While I've been doing that, more or less, unconsciously for years, this session I consciously looked for opportunities to make the game's reality feel more eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, and post-apocalypse.  Did it change the session dramatically?  No, I don't think so.  But going back and observing the session a day later, I'd say consciously trying to infuse my chosen paradigm into every single encounter improved immersion and the game in general by about 5-10%.

Going back to the first session, the couple of PCs were too intimidated to fight the giant Lovecraftian spider things in their network of tunnels and caves.  You know me, I'm all about quick and easy minimal rules.  So, each PC incurred an attack of opportunity whenever they ran past the creature in order to evade it.  I think that worked well.  It happened a couple of times and each time one PC was wounded.

Oh yeah, I got to use my Eldritch Hit Location table over on my SubscribeStar page (publicly available). I think the players got a kick out of slashing or bashing large, scaly rodents in the umthra'ax.  I'll need to use it once or twice more before seeing the true value of something like that.

I don't want to ruin the endings of either adventure because I like running the same adventure (with small variations each time) with different players.  Both were fun, though!

As sometimes happens with my open and welcoming drop-in approach to running sessions, I popped someone's roleplaying game cherry.  That player had never played before, and somehow wound up at my virtual table.  Introducing people to the hobby is definitely a highlight of my weird journey.

Will probably run another session or two next week now that ALL KICKSTARTER CHA'ALT BOOKS HAVE BEEN MAILED OUT TO BACKERS!!!  Yes, I finally got to the end, and it feels fantastic.  Gonna make the most of my free time - it's all about playing, well mostly about playing.  I'd say at least 85%.  Writing and designing game mechanics and such is absolutely worthwhile, but creating a world through the act of roleplaying is something that's above and beyond the background construction.

Last night, I tweeted something out that seemed profound at the time when I was not totally baked.  I'd like to share it here.

"Creating tales of pulp sword-and-sorcery is all that is."

That's it.  That's the tweet.  Lol.  Focusing on that, while leaving all the peripheral bullshit fiddle-faddle outside, will restore your faith in this hobby.  And that's something I believe is in short supply.  

Being part of the magic, fashioning awesome stories of wizards, warriors, dungeons, and dragons will get you closer to PSYCHOCOSM than worrying about campaign lore, balanced encounters, extensive PC backgrounds, the unfairness of monsters critting, and "racist" flying squirrel-monkeys in space.

Lose yourself in the fantasy, and that becomes reality.  


p.s. My new Kickstarter campaign for Encounter Critical III just got approved, so will launch that early next week (probably Tuesday).  

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Every Encounter Is An Opportunity


As the title states, every encounter is an opportunity.  But an opportunity for what?  A better game, of course.  And, as always, better means more immersive!

This blog post was going to be a session report, but now I'm just going to explain and expand on a video I uploaded yesterday... here.

It was just after my last Roll20 session that I realized I needed to continue upping my game.  From now on, EVERY SINGLE ENCOUNTER must push the Game Master's paradigm, drawn from the campaign setting and directly influenced by whatever words or phrases (I suggest three) he's chosen as the primary mood, tone, atmosphere, vibe, etc.

What do I mean by paradigm?  Well, I thought about using "agenda", instead.  But that's kind of a scary word for a variety of reasons.  For starters, it reminds me of those 00's Forge type games that broke everything down into gameist, narrativist, and simulationist categories.  Also, it seems too political these days.  I'm not trying to unfairly castigate and scapegoat 74 million Americans just because my administration is an authoritarian dumpster fire, I just want to create a more immersive game.

So, what do I mean by paradigm?  Basically, I'm talking about the worldview.  Think of it as a forced perspective... or the focus.  The GM's paradigm is a conscious pattern being woven throughout the entire session.  In the video, I may have streamed-out into the weeds, so let's discuss a concrete example.

There's a group of orcs... evil, pig-faced orcs just over that hill.  The PCs will undoubtedly run into them.  How's that encounter going to go?  Well, what do you want out of this session or the entire campaign?  

Back up a bit.  Describe your ideal (what you'd most like to run at the moment) game to GM in three words or phrases, keeping in mind the rule-set, players, campaign world, and your own abilities, preferences, etc.  Those three things shall be the watchwords, the battle-cries, the call to arms of your game.  Choose wisely. 

I know it seems like extra work (and it is), but if we're going to the trouble of drastically improving the entire roleplaying game experience, it's going to take a little forethought and planning.

Taking a few standard watchwords that I've seen floating around cyberspace, we get 1) Grim/dark, 2) Whimsical, and 3) Spooky... Halloween will be here before you know it.

Now, that we have those three things driving our paradigm, we can easily inject one or more (grim/dark, whimsical, and/or spooky) elements into the orc encounter... and EVERY encounter.  That's why, when picking out your watchwords, you should make them open-ended and inspirational enough to keep using over and over again.

So, if I was to whip-up something on the spot, I'd make those evil, pig-faced orcs carrying the hollowed-out heads of their latest victims.  Maybe a tight, leathery skin covers the scooped-out holes so the orcs can beat a particular rhythm like a drum on these gory severed heads.  I'd probably write that stuff on a notecard if I was doing GM prep as "Bongo Orcs".  

Wow, that satisfies grim/dark, whimsical, and spooky.  Well done, Venger!  Thank you, hoss. ;)

Creating a singular effect, as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft wrote, by keeping specific watchwords in mind, is like infusing the game with whatever paradigm you're going for.  And that infusion should happen at the microscopic level of your gaming.  In other words, EVERY SINGLE ENCOUNTER.  

Now, in the above example, I seeded the encounter directly with my chosen paradigm.  An alternative might have described the orcs standing over a human body like a pincushion, with a dozen daggers, spears, and swords sticking out of him.  Or, at the end of the encounter, the PCs might have found gold coins pushed into cowpies.  If you can make a case for the encounter, in some small way, furthering your paradigm, then it's a success!

Having just committed to this theory, consciously, I haven't fully explored it yet.  As an RPG scientist, that's what I (we) should do.  Use it.  Test it.  See if it works.  If not, why not?  But if it does... then celebration ensues.  Pretend you're carrying me around on a tentacled throne or something cool like that.

Questions?  Yes, let's hear 'em.  Shoot!


p.s. Want to buy some Cha'alt?  This handy price guide will help.  Like my blog posts, videos, vibe, freebies, and other stuff?  For only $5 a month, you can support what I'm doing on SubscribeStar!

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows


By now, you've probably heard about the third book of the Cha'alt trilogy - Chartreuse Shadows.

I'm only a couple days away from finishing my shipping duties.  By next Tuesday, all Kickstarter backer rewards should be out the door (pre-sales, as well).  Damn, that was a long time coming, but I'm so glad the end is in sight.

That means I'm officially opening the way for regular old sales.  Here's the price guide...

  • Cha'alt - $50 (add $40 for non-USA shipping)
  • Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise - $50 (add $40 for non-USA shipping)
  • Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows - $65 (add $40 for non-USA shipping)
  • The entire trilogy - $140 (add $60 for non-USA shipping)

All books are fancy, hardcover, first editions, signed, numbered, and personalized by me.  These gorgeous tomes will go up in value, just as Cha'alt will take over the world one day!

Below is a testimonial from a KS backer...

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from physical editions of your work. I’ve supported a lot of KS with physical printings, most of which were zine-styled stapled prints, but some were hardbacks and full-color and just felt cheap. I know there are lots of reasons dictating printing bla bla bla, but I was a little nervous of pledging for physical editions.

Dude, these are great. Thank you so much! Honestly, I didn’t get far into Chartreuse Shadows, but my group knows I have pulled from Fuchsia Malaise. I think there might be a tableflip when I show up with a hard copy 🤣

What is Cha'alt?  Glad you asked, hoss...  Cha'alt is my home campaign, my own little slice of heaven (or Hell, depends on your point of view), an eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalypse world where I come home to hang my Game Mastering hat.

Also, I'll be launching a new Kickstarter campaign towards the end of September... and it's for Encounter Critical III.  

What else?  I've got some new (publicly available, not behind the paywall) content over at SubscribeStar.  If you want to support me at $5 a month and get the occasional freebie along with first pick of the online games I run, I'd love to have your patronage.  

Don't forget about VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo.  Just a nice, intimate (50 - 75 attendee) convention for those who love old-school, OSR, and traditional RPGs in Madison, WI next July.  Join us!


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Cha'alt Session Report


I'm taking a little break from things starting tomorrow.  Between off-line and online stuff, I need to decompress and relax for awhile.  Sorcerers need mental health days, too!

Before that, let's talk about my recent session of Cha'alt on Roll20.  First, I invited my awesome subscribers on SubscribeStar to join.  If you'd like to support me at $5 a month, that would be cool.  You get the occasional freebie, too.

Second, I blanketed the social media landscape with links to my game in search of players.  While I do have a small stable of devoted players who jump at the chance to play (when they're not busy), I enjoy reaching new players, teaching new blood...

The first session scheduled was canceled because of a work-related emergency.  The second was scheduled a day later.  I was mostly bummed because the original date was H.P. Lovecraft's birthday (August 20th), and I wanted to do something special, marking the occasion.

I was also upset that a few people didn't see my cancelation announcement and were waiting for me.  Luckily, I thought, a couple of those folks re-joined for the raincheck session.  However, what I discovered might literally blow your mind!

Lol.  Anyway, those same people weren't there to play.  One guy was posting links to some OTHER game being held on guilded for some fucked up reason (I was even 5 minutes early).  And the same guy poaching my players wanted to play in my game, too, but as a "NSFW frat-boy".  All this was sounding eerily familiar as another legit player told me that he also remembered that dude and wanted to have gay sex with another PC that was supposed to be his brother, and also some kind of dog fetish or some crazy shit like that.

So, down to only two legit players, I booted that troublemaker and we proceeded as usual.  I cued up some dark ambient music on YouTube, gazed upon the Kort'thalis meta-sigil that's a portal to Cha'alt, in order to actively engage the PSYCHOCOSM, and we were off!

We started with giant scorpions surrounding an elf who'd already been stung multiple times and was about to die.  He was holding a silver key, bequeathing it to the PCs before collapsing.  Both PCs got stung by a scorpion as each flubbed his roll to grab the silver key without harm.

Eventually, the golden gates of A'agrybah opened.  Sausage, a halfling thief who got his name by beating a man to death with bratwurst, and Fujiwara, an overly-trusting human warrior entered the city in search of adventure.

A festival was taking place, so the PCs made a bee-line to the center of it, talking to folks, looking around, and picking pockets as they went.  Fujiwara gorged himself on BBQ centipede and mango-curry bug bars as Sausage looked for a priest to heal him from that scorpion sting.

I can't reveal too much, but the city's priests and reclusive astrologers got into a brawl that soon turned into a riot.  Tentacles every which way as far as the eye could see!

If you want the whole story, you'll have to actually play.  In a fortnight, when I get all these Kickstarter reward books out to backers, I'll resume weekly, 90-minute, virtual, Cha'alt sessions on Roll20.  Only an hour and a half?  I know, I know, my life rarely allows 4-hour games.  Think of it as a tightly-paced movie!

See you in a bit,


p.s. When I return to the internet, I hope to discover a few Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows reviews!  You've had the PDFs for months and some of you already have the hardcover.  Now's the time, hoss.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Game Hole Con 2022


I'll be running games at Game Hole Con this October!

Their covid policy is more lenient this time around - especially compared to Gary Con [info here].  That reason, the location, and focus on old-school tabletop RPGs are what drew me back.  

Last year was fun, but the masks were not ideal.  My blog posts about last year's GHC can be found here.

The 4 Cha'alt sessions I submitted were just approved.  I decided to do all Cha'alt for a couple different reasons.  First, it's just easier for me to run.  It's what I've been focusing on for the last 4 years, and it's open-ended enough to allow pretty much anything.  I can incorporate everything from snake-men sorcerers to dimension-hopping Rick and Morty to tentacled Kool-Aid man.  

I can literally start the game anywhere in the eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic campaign setting, roll on a few tables, drop in a weird dungeon, monster, or plot-hook, and keep the game going based on PC action (or inaction).

Cha'alt, in conjunction with any rules-light OSR system, such as Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 (still free, still awesome) is perfect for noobs, conventions, one-shots, and games on the go.

If you want to play in one of my GHC games, I've got one on Friday, two on Saturday, and one on Sunday.  Hope you can make it, hoss!

Yes, I'll have a few books of the Cha'alt trilogy at the convention.  So, if you want to buy one, or just chat, feel free to say, "Hey, Venger!"


p.s. About 5 more weeks before I launch the new Encounter Critical III Kickstarter campaign.  In the meantime, you can support me on SubscribeStar.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Why VENGER CON is better than GenCon


I made a video about it, but here's the entire exchange if you'd prefer to read it yourself... 


Woke is a compliment not a disparagement. Since I am type 2 diabetic, I can only attend conventions that wear masks and people get vaccinations.

Wow, a lot to unpack here! Where to begin?

Assuming this isn't a joke/troll, here goes...

1) Woke has a whole range of meaning besides mask + vax. It's radical-leftism and the political weaponization of consideration for others. For me, woke is a disparagement because I'm against cultural fads that have appeared in the last 5 minutes of human civilization (men and women being interchangeable), rather than objective facts that have been proven true over thousands of years.

2) The CDC's latest guidelines, and the country's own anecdotal analysis, has determined that both masks and vaccinations are more or less ineffective when it comes to covid-19.

3) With type 2 diabetes, your best defense is going to be diet and exercise. One way or another, you're going to get covid. I'd be very much surprised if you haven't had it already. And if you have, then chances are good (99.8%) that you won't need to be hospitalized or die from it.

4) The first VENGER CON from a couple weeks ago had an outbreak/spread of zero covid (and monkeypox), unlike GENCON. Yes, I know GENCON has several orders of magnitude greater attendance than my little convention, but it goes to show that 27 people in close proximity for an entire weekend without masks and questionable vaccination/booster status posed LESS risk of getting or spreading covid than a convention that pride's itself on masks, vaccinations, boosters, etc.

5) Besides standing out like a sore thumb, diminished vocalizations, and not being able to emote with your face, you can wear a mask at VENGER CON. I'm not going to rip the mask off your face. You can also vaccinate and booster yourself up the wazzo, but I'm not going to be the vax, booster, mask police for those who aren't interested.

Have a good weekend,



p.s. The fact that Dragon's Foot forum locked the VENGER CON II thread because it "leans into politics" is both hilarious and pathetically distressing for those who love old-school, OSR, and traditional RPGs.  Your hobby is being stripped of its awesomeness right before your eyes, hoss.  Wake up!

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Gary Con vs VENGER CON


Well, it's a good thing there's VENGER CON because Gary Con isn't working out... at least for me.

As you might have seen on Gary Con's website or Tenkar's video, Gary Con requires whatever the CDC "recommends" as "up to date" on your subscription model covid-19 vaccine series of boosters.  

For now, that means the original vaccine and 2 booster shots.  That's today.  Gary Con is in March of next year.  I have no doubt, that's going to jump to at least 3 booster shots by then.

Obviously, you can do what you want.  Your body, your choice (luckily, there's no pesky human baby getting murdered).  I'm not going to take the chance after seeing stuff like this or this.

VENGER CON doesn't care what your vaxx/booster status is, and won't ever make you wear a mask.

I missed Gary Con last year because of their mask mandate.  And I was told by a number of people that I should have gone because it wasn't strictly enforced.  Well, I'm not going to take that chance... plus, there's the principle of the thing.  

So, Gary Con is out for me... again.  But thankfully, VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo will happen again next July in Madison, WI.  Check it out!

I have one of Kort'thalis Publishing's house-artists working on updated banners.  That should be done by the end of next week.  The current one has a cool design (that will influence the final version) but yeah...

So, I'm again capping the convention at 100.  26 attendees last VENGER CON was great.  If I can double that number, I'll be happy.  But reaching 90 or so would be great, as well, and then maybe I can fly Pundit out to game with us!

That's it for now... if you have questions or comments, go right ahead.

Also, Noble Knight Games is selling my books for jacked-up prices.  I made a video about it.  If you want one or more Cha'alt books, I sell them direct.  Email me for questions, prices, and ordering details: