The following article originally appeared on in May 2006.

Game Designers’ Favorite Games

Every games designer has an inner games geek (sometimes not so inner) who spent hours playing the RPGs you know and love. We’ve all played D&D, GURPs and other big names, but what about the slightly obscure? Perhaps they are games you’ve heard mentioned, or seen online, but maybe you’ve never got around to trying them. The Pelgrane asked games designers, “What’s your favourite lesser-known game, and why do you like it?” and we got some surprising answers, and a year’s supply of potential gaming sessions to plan. How did I persuade them? Well, games designers and not noted for their agility, and none are prepared for a lightning aerial swoop. Most of the designers mentioned how hard it was to choose a game, but I dangled them above a squawking nest of pelgrane chicks, and they rapidly complied. I ripped out various soul-searching quotes, as seen below.

This is a long article, and I’d like to give the attention- (and time-) challenged the opportunity to jump to their favourite designers first.

Ron Edwards
Andy Peregrine, Pie Shop
Mike Williams, Earthdawn, President of Living Room Games
Matt Forbeck, freelance game designer and novelist.
Chris Helton, Battlefield Press
Aaron Rosenberg

We’ll start with Ron Edwards (Sorceror), who unasked my question with a Zen-like MU. Here was I expecting (and hoping) he’d list a bunch of his favourite indie games over at the Forge, but instead he thoughtfully undermined my assumptions. When he wouldn’t answer directly, I listed a bunch of Indies games I thought he’d have mention. Ron said:

“…Yeah but, see, to me, those aren’t ‘lesser known.’ I see them as well-known, well-played, highly-discussed, influential games. In order to answer your question the way you hoped, I have to pretend I’m someone I’m not, then look over at where I really am and say I like those games ‘over there’.”

“I’m really not trying to be argumentative. I simply cannot see answering the question from an “industry” point of view. Maybe if I just say, ‘Sorcerer, Primetime Adventures, Inspectres, The Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard, [quoting me back]’ and let the reader say ‘oh, those are little-known’… would that do? If so, those are my answers.”

At the very least, this will make me more thoughtful when wording my next question!

Naughty Andy Peregrine, creator of Pie Shop,couldn’t make his mind up and gave me four RPGs Amber, Nobilis, Maelstrom, and James Bond. Rather than choose between them (which puppy not to kill?) I’ve left them all here. After all, bytes are cheap.

“While just about every game tries to tell you it is ‘a totally new rpg experience’ Amber (1991 – Phage Press) actually is. It does itself an injustice by calling itself diceless, as it doesn’t just remove dice but uses a rules system that relies purely on storytelling. In one sense this is what all rpgs should aspire to be, although the system is hard to apply to just anything. With Amber characters being ‘lesser Gods’ they can get away with more than your average pc. This game is hard to get used to as you must ‘unlearn’ many rpg habits, but the experience is more than worth it.”

“Maelstrom (1984 – Puffin books) is the cheapest RPG ever written [hmm – this excludes a number of free games, and a number that can’t be given away]. Alexander Scott gave us a detailed 16th century historical rpg, with a magic system well ahead of its time for just £1.95! Everything about this game is simple and very clever. For instance, you note your wounds separately, and they heal separately, one point a day. So if you take 8/8 damage for a total of 16, and someone else takes 2/2/2/2/4/4 for the same damage the second guy is up in 2 days with 2/2 wounds and the first is still in bed nursing 6/6. Simple and brilliant. The magic system is basically the same as Mage, but written 9 nine years beforehand. On top of all that you get some excellent detail on the 16th Century as well as a solo adventure and an introductory adventure. Most companies have trouble getting that much into two rulebooks these days.”

“James Bond 007 (1983 – Victory Games) is of the earliest licensed products, and such a big license too. The system captured the flavour of Bond very well but sadly the license didn’t allow the company to use Blofeld and SPECTRE. The system is simple and inventive. You have a skill chance from 1-20 and it is multiplied by the difficulty (10 being easy and 1 being hard) to give a percentage chance for success. As long as you know your times tables this is a doddle (and it is printed on the character sheet just in case you don’t). The adventure supplements were based on all the movies. However they cleverly changed the details so you got into all the same situations Bond did, but if you assume you know the plan because you’ve seen the movie you will go way off track.”

“By the same token Nobilis [1999 (Pharos Press) 2002 (Hogshead)] is one of my favourites, everything I love about Amber with a stunning world background as well. It is sadly the most under-supplemented game available. One supplement promised in the original edition is still yet to appear. However, if you are looking for a work of art as well as a game, Nobilis is for you.”

Andrew Kenrick also enthuses about Nobilis –

“…for sheer blows-out-your-mind concept and execution, this is one of the finest books ever written, let along rpgs.”

“Playing Nobilis is such a unique experience in almost every way. You play a god who can do damned near anything, which rather widens the options available to the player, and means that the challenges you face are on a whole different level. No other game I’ve ever played in has involved such fantastical and epic foes, or challenged me so much. Oh, plus it’s completely diceless, and with good reason, which takes a certain amount of the frustration of failing to accomplish something out of the game.”

Diceless mechanics confuse pelgranes, who likes shiny things such as gem dice, so I lowered him nearer the chicks, asking “is it GM fiat – and the social contract with the players – which resolves conflict or is there an explicit mechanic which overrides the GM?” He expounded: “Each of the PCs has certain attribute scores, and depending on these determines what they can do and how many miracle points a miracle costs. A PC will automatically succeed at anything they try to do (they are gods, after all) unless another entity tries to stop them, in which case there are conflict mechanics for resolving this.”

Andrew mentioned two more games:
“Unknown Armies – following closely behind Nobilis, UA has the best magic system ever devised and hardwires so much coolness into one small book that it’s impossible to not have a good time when playing it.”

“Delta Green – technically a supplement, but DG packs in so much and changes the dynamic and style of Call of Cthulhu to such a degree that it really is an rpg in its own right. Another damned well written game.”

Staying with the British contingent, Marcus Rowland also suggested Unknown Armies, and added Ghostbusters: “Wonderfully simple rules that really worked well and designed with real humour by Chaosium and good production values from West End Games. Then WEG rewrote it for 2nd edition, dumped a lot of the stuff that made it a fun game, and it sucked.” Finally he offered Space 1889 – not a glowing endorsement, but still. “Wonderful background, shame the actual rules are a little clunky. Still in print from Heliograph Inc.”

Kate Flack was short and to the point with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , Kult “for creature concepts,” In Nomine “for those great archetype descriptions: If <insert character class> was confronted with a drinks machine, it would…” and HOL “got to love the anguish factor, and the mad scratchy writing.”

Mike Williams gave me Teenagers from Outer Space, one of the few about which I know nothing.
“There are lots of lesser known games that I’m fond of for one mechanic or another, but if I had to pick a favorite I’ve got to go with Teenagers From Outer Space. Nothing is better after a bunch of “serious gaming” than unwinding than playing a teenager in a setting influenced by comedy anime turned up to eleven. It’s high school – you’ve all been there, and they’re all pretty much alike. But the alien kids have landed. A typical group of characters might include an average earth kid, a space princess, the football team’s new linebacker that turns into something that looks like godzilla’s big brother, a whatsit that’s easily confused for the stuff the cafeteria ladies claim is tapioca, a one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater, and the obligatory cosmic catgirl. The game’s exhausting, and more often than not a game session has tickled my funny bone enough that I’ve laughed so hard it hurts. Yeah, the game’s getting close to twenty years old now, but it’s hard to find a more fun time at the game table.”

Matt Forbeck plugs White Wolf’s Adventure! Whilst WW is responsible for a number of mainstream games, Adventure! is sadly not as well known. He says: “I’m a sucker for pulps of any kind, and the mechanic that allows players to back up and rewrite a scene is brilliant.”

Chris Helton (Battlefield Press developer of the Open Core System) nominates Lords of Creation from Avalon Hill.

“Despite some wonkiness that can really only be found in the best of old school games, it was really the first multi-genre game that I imprinted upon. And its special place wasn’t usurped until GURPS came along a couple of years later.”

“… [I]t promoted that wild and wooly style of wahoo gaming of by-gone days. I loved the fact that it not only had NPC stats for Billy the Kid and Morgan Le Fay but it also had illustrations featuring all the “historical” NPCs interacting. It was a fun gaming experience.”

Utterly without shame, Aaron Rosenberg discusses his own baby: Asylum.

“…first game I produced myself, Clockworks’ first product, and still one of the most fun to play. I’ve played in it and run it many times, including at cons, and it’s always a hoot. Despite being written with allowances for both serious and silly play, it always winds up being very silly and very funny.”

For form’s sake, he also adds the SAGA version of Wizard of the Coast’s Marvel RPG.

“The book itself is a bit of a mess–no real character creation, no explanation of things like initiative–but the powers and the card-based game mechanic (and the deck itself) make up for it.”

Steve Kenson (Talon Studio) is also a fan of SAGA, a sadly unrated system. He also contributed to it.

“[SAGA is] a lot of fun to play and to run. SAGA first showed up as the rules-light story-driven engine for the Dragonlance: Fifth Age game from TSR. Later, after Wizards acquired TSR, a streamlined and updated version of SAGA became the engine for the Marvel Super-Heroes Adventure Game, still one of the best superhero RPGs ever, in my opinion.”

“I was such a fan of SAGA at the time-writing SAGA articles for Dragon and Wizards’ website-that my group got to playtest the Marvel game and we had a blast! It was fast-paced, easy, fun, and the card-play offered some cool mechanics, like damage forcing “discards,” reducing the size of your hand and neatly reflecting “damage penalties” without any additional mechanics. I even wrote a couple things for Marvel, namely the “Avengers: Masters of Evil” Adventure Book and some stuff for “Reed Richards’ Guide to Everything”.”

“Unfortunately, the card-play element turned many people off, particularly when they associated “cards” with Wizards’ “Magic: the Gathering” (which was, after all, annoying many old-time RPGers).”

“Sales were modest, especially by Wizards’ standards. Once D&D 3e got rolling, it was all d20, all the time, and SAGA was no more: the Marvel and Dragonlance games were canceled, with Dragonlance eventually updating to the d20-based D&D rules. Still, I had a lot of fun with the game while it lasted!”

Eddy Webb of Spectrum Games suggested another game I have a soft spot for – Over the Edge (Atlas Games).

“I picked the game up on a lark in 1994, and the lovely blend of surreal conspiracy and modern occult weirdness has been a fond part of my gaming memories for over a decade. I still have a number of the supplements for the line, and hope to one day get another group together to play it again.”

Keith Baker (Eberron, Dying Earth) has no doubt that Over the Edge is his favourite, too.

“I’m just starting up a new campaign myself, after a two or three year dry spell… and despite the fact that I make my living writing for D&D.”

“The relatively simple rules and (more or less) modern setting make it an easy game to spring on non-gamers. The setting allows for a wealth of story opportunities and styles of play, and I find that the rules help focus attention on roleplaying instead of number-crunching… in particular, Robin Laws’ Cut-Ups Method is my favorite all-time game mechanic. “

Elizabeth McCoy, In Nomine Line Editor suggests – In Nomine.

“I like the characterization most — the way that the game can be done silly, straight, gray, black-and-white, bright or dark… As a GM, I really, really adore the Intervention mechanic. It’s not just a critical failure or success, it’s an actual Divine or Infernal Intervention and just about anything can happen so long as it connects reasonably.”

“I’m a sucker for redemption stories, too. And playing the cute little proto-angel reliever NPCs is also fun. Death by cute!” To atone for the self-aggrandizing nature of her choice she says “I’m especially happy about the entirely free “lite” adventure, with all the rules needed to play.”

Caias Ward (Uncommon Character) suggested Run Out The Guns.

“Forget 7th Sea. This was the Pirate Game of all Pirate Games. It encouraged large groups of players (one convention session had 14 players around the table). You got to use the Rolemaster savage critical hit tables. No noble causes for you; you spent entire sessions stealing the sword and pants of the Governor of Puerto Rico after you drugged him on ether at a state party, seizing spanish ships and ransoming their crews, and trying to cure your dose of the clap you got due to the Vice table (well, that was one session).”

“Yes, the vice table. Every time you hit port, you had to roll to see if something bad happened while drinking, gambling, or carousing. That in and of itself meant you often didn’t need a story; just getting out of your latest problem with the law or outraged husband or father was enough to motivate the crew.”

“Although mathematically complex at time and requiring charts, it also was a true example of the Golden Age of Piracy and much fun to play.”

Fond though the Pelgrane is of viscera, Larry D. Hols’ first choice might offer a little too much information for some. Ouch!

“Sword’s Path: Glory by Leading Edge Games. SP:G breaks combat down into increments of 12ths of a second, details exactly which organs or bones get struck, and so forth. LEG used a watered-down version of the SP:G rules in its Phoenix Command line and other games.”

“Powers & Perils_ by Avalon Hill. A very raw game from a design point of view–some really interesting bits surrounded by a lot of ill-conceived and/or -developed dross. The separation of experience and expertise is likely the most interesting aspect.”

“I found the detail in the character definition to be most enjoyable in P&P. There are ten characteristics and generating them involves both random luck and player choice. The background event tables allow for a whole host of good or bad things to have happened to the character before play–from special teachers to special items to crimes accused of to special abilities. The player can choose to have more experience or more expertise or more wealth for the starting character. The game explicitly supports a great deal of variety.”

I lowered Ed Stark (Game Designer and Special Projects Manager, RPG R&D WotC) particularly close to the my offspring’s snapping maws, and that had a salutary effect. He couldn’t stop talking – he suggested seven games, modestly suggesting only three that he worked on himself.

“I worked on TORG, MasterBook, and Shatterzone for West End Games. They all used the same basic system, and I liked them a lot. They certainly had balance issues, but they were just darn fun to play. Very pulp-action oriented, very fun.”

“I also enjoyed WEG’s Ghostbusters game. It had a “brownie points” mechanic and a general whacky fun.”

“Outside of WEG, there was a game called Psychosis I enjoyed playing … once. It had a tarot-card mechanic that was very interesting, but the game was incredibly structured. It would be nearly impossible for a GM to create his or her own adventure; the story-based system was too complex.”

“I don’t know if it’s obscure or not (maybe to our new audience), but I loved playing Rolemaster, particularly in its simpler form: MERP (Middle-earth Roleplaying). I liked the attack roll system and its wild critical hits. The magic system was also interesting, and allowed you to play a character in Middle-earth who could “cast spells” but didn’t feel like he was totally breaking from the Tolkien-style world (not a fantasy world rife with high-powered spellcasters).”

The polymathic Alex Stewart (Warhammer, etc), offers Forgotten Futures.

“[It’s] been far and away the most popular game with my regular group ever since I introduced it to them, and it’s become my system of choice for running pretty much everything regardless of genre or setting. Quick simple mechanisms, easily tweakable if necessary, and more GM resources than you can shake the proverbial stick at.”

“I’m also hugely enthused by 2nd edition WFRP at the moment; the design team have done a brilliant job of streamlining the mechanisms to make it far more playable, while keeping the feel of the original and bringing the background into line with the current Warhammer continuity. From the GM’s point of view it’s felt like trading in a Cortina for a Porsche.”

“And I’d have to put in a vote for Classic Traveller: I cut my gaming teeth on it a couple of decades ago, and still find it fun.”

Finally, I was very pleased to get a thoughtful response from Paul Czege of Half Meme Press. The Pelgrane has played a number of versions of his estimable My Life with Master, including My Life with Santa, My Life with Jesus, and My Life with Tony. And what’s best – this game is free.

“My favorite lesser-known game is James V. West’s The Pool. Playing it in 2001 changed the way I think about roleplaying games. It remains my absolute favorite system for unplanned roleplaying, and always a contender when I get caught up with setting ideas and need a system. In so many ways it just suits me as a GM. NPCs have no stats, so I can improvise them at will. And I never have to set target numbers, because adversity is instead modulated by how many bonus dice I give the player. Every game I’ve designed since The Pool betrays its influence.”

So, go out and try these games! Some are just a mouse click away, others you’ve bought and are rotting in cupboards or on shelves, still more lurk on Ebay. Seek them out. SAGA, In Nomine, Ghostbusters, and Over the Edge get special mention for being nominated multiple times. It would be an interesting exercise (one for the student) to see how this list differs from a similar one compiled from the preferences of the average punter.

by Lisa Padol

When I first started running the Dracula Dossier, setting up the 1894 group, one of my players wanted a special relationship with Dracula. They wanted to have had their character have met Dracula as a child and for Dracula to have taken a liking to them. After all, the player argued, just because one was an evil serial killer, it didn’t mean that one couldn’t, you know, like someone.

I said no, and while I was correct at the time, it wasn’t for the reason I gave, as I eventually figured out. The reason I gave was that I was holding by what Ken Hite had said: There are no nice vampires. There are no good vampires. There are no vampires who are your PC’s friend.

And this is all correct, but doesn’t actually touch on the real reasons. “This person is first, last, and in between a villain” says nothing about having special relationships with PCs.

No, there were two reasons that I came to realize actually mattered here:

1. You do not get to be the special one in an RPG. EVERYONE needs to be special. 

This has an obvious fix, of course. Give everyone a special relationship. The player wasn’t asking for others not to have this, and multiple special relationships do not dilute the game. They are all unique, just as snowflakes are.


2. I didn’t yet know enough about my Dracula to figure out how this would work. 

It’s the second that was more important, as we were beginning the campaign at the time. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, who the PCs would be, how they’d interact with each other and with Dracula. I had no idea we’d have a session 0.5 or that one of my players would create a unique Fiasco set for it, or that this would define the starting relationships among the PCs.

The 1894 leg of the campaign was something of a glorious disaster that still worked better than it should have. I was feeling my way with Dracula. I knew he was Nicolaus Olahus, but not what he wanted or how he was planning to get it or how the Edom recruitment plan had been shaped. I used Count De’Ville, and later decided that he was acting far too incompetently to be Dracula. Obviously, he was someone who’d been turned into a vampire by Carmilla, yep, that’s what I meant to do all along.

I created secret passages on the fly, trying to figure out between sessions where they led and why. I dumped far too much of the Hawkins Papers and other handouts on my hapless players, who struggled to figure out what this meant for them, for their characters, and for what they should actually do. I rewrote sections of Dracula and handed four chapters of the reworked novel to players without bothering to highlight the new material.

I spent the time between sessions recalibrating and trying to account for apparent contradictions and gaping holes in what passed for my plot. And, I managed to fit the pieces into a narrative that actually made some amount of sense.

And by the end, though I’m not sure I saw it then, the PCs had special relationships, each one different.

One PC did indeed have an odd relationship with Dracula in play. She was a psychoanalyst who personally knew Freud. Dracula / Olahus was fascinated by this new field of learning, and their relationship grew out of their interaction in the game.

This was the only special relationship with Dracula, but not the only special relationship. The player who made the initial request created a woman who had seen faeries as a child and had married the man who’d bought her family home so that she could continue to look for them.

And she found them. They convinced her to go travel the universe with them, going into a faerie mound. Her NPC husband followed her.

The faeries were actually mi-go, and traveling the universe means what you’d expect. The player created a very different PC, but seemed happy that the original PC and her husband were traveling the galaxy in mi-go brain cannisters. She pointed out that the happy, if deluded, couple could return to the campaign in the present day, something I’m very much contemplating. The mi-go are not Dracula, but are very much a faction in my Dracula Dossier, and, I hope, an interesting one.

Another PC was bitten by Count De’Ville, which was a mistake on my part. Instantly:

  • The player played the PC as trying to cut herself off from the flow of information.
  • The other players made plans without the PC, including plans to deal with the PC fatally, if necessary.

In other words, while the character had a unique relationship with a vampire, the player had less to do. This is not good. I’ve got a rules hack to use for the future which will probably make this sort of thing less of an issue, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the first hint that a PC is compromised cripples player agency. You don’t want to do that.

However, at the end of the 1894 leg of the game, the PC had been freed of vampiric influence. De’Ville was dead. The player thought about this, and decided that the PC would approach Carmilla to say, “Your lieutenant died. I think that means you have an open position. I would like to fill that.”

That was fine because it did use player agency. The PC became mostly an NPC, with one exception: I let the player play her in the 1977 leg, with mixed success, again due to suboptimal GMing calls I made. But, the character is still around and has enjoyed a unique relationship with a vampire that is very different than the psychologist’s unique relationship with a vampire.

One of the other PCs had a special relationship with someone in Edom, and ended the game deciding to take over Edom from the inside and reform it. And, while he was at it, perhaps he’d look into non-vampiric forms of immortality. As with the PC mentioned above, he returned as a PC in 1977, but as with her, he’s mostly mine now.

The final player had a little bit of everything, in a way. His PC felt personally betrayed by De’Ville because the PC used De’Ville’s diary from his vampire hunting days as a Symbol. Destroying De’Ville made him feel vindicated. He was also a close ally and friend of the PC who psychoanalyzed Dracula, and they had friendly arguments over various symptoms of vampirisim and What It All Meant.

And, he was the half-brother of the woman who went off with the faeries. Two of the other PCs had seen through the mi-go illusion and were shaken, but he was not. He stayed in his half-sister’s ancestral home, training her son in the ways of hunting vampires, and eventually joined his half-sister and her husband on their travels throughout the galaxy.

As should be obvious, the 1894 leg was full of bumps, fits and starts, and mistakes, but was also a fair amount of fun and set the foundation for the rest of the campaign (which… also involved a lot of mistakes, including a repeat of the one involving compromising a PC). We’ve been playing on and off for about five years, I think, and are now in the final leg of Dracula Dossier, set in 2015, starting with the death of Sir Christopher Lee.

The group has changed a little, as folks dropped in and out of the various mini-campaigns and one-shots. It currently has 5 players, 4 of whom were in the original 1894 leg.

Well before the 2015 leg started, I got a similar request from a different player, a request that her PC have a special relationship with Dracula, for Dracula to be obsessed or fascinated with this PC, who, like her 1894 PC, is a psychoanalyst. The player wants to have a chance to resolve some of the issues we never were able to bring to a satisfying climax.

As before, my gut reaction was “No!”, but this time, I was well aware that my gut was incorrect.

For the 1894 leg, I couldn’t agree to anything specific in terms of the relationships folks would have with Dracula because I didn’t even know who he was. For the 2015 leg, I know EXACTLY who Dracula is now. I know what he wants and why and how he plans to get it. Sure, there are details I need to work out, but I know why he might have a special relationship with the player’s character and how that might work, at least as we begin play.

I am not sure I can provide the closure the player wants. While a valid concern, it is not, however, a reason not to try. We’ll have to check in with each other to make sure we’re not misinterpreting things, but that’s true in any RPG.

And one thing the player had the 1894 PC say stuck with me. She said that she was Nicolaus’s last chance, that he’d steadily lose what little empathy he had left with humanity. And I think it makes sense that she was correct. And I also think that, whether or not the 1894 PC and the vampire ever met again, in some way, Nicolaus never stopped arguing with her in his mind. Both were disappointed in each other, and… by all rights, there should be play in this.

And, as for the Special Snowflake issue, and the answer is not “No, you don’t get to be the Special One with the Special Relationship to Dracula.” There are better answers.

One is to give everyone a special relationship to Dracula of some kind.

Another is to give everyone a special relationship to someone who, if not Dracula, is as cool as Dracula in their own way. I have a lot of pieces in play, including the mi-go who are also the faeries and who also run the Scholomance (and one of the other PCs accepted an invitation to take a whirlwind tour of Mars and Jupiter. Her brain has since been restored to her body), several different factions of Edom, an Israeli counterpart of Edom, and walking products of elder thing technology, all of whom are represented by NPCs (some of whom are former PCs). And that’s before we get to Edward Kelley / Abraham van Helsing…

There really is enough specialness to go around.

The Dracula Dossier reveals that Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit a vampire in 1894. Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have restored the deleted sections, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula UnredactedFollow those clues to the Director’s Handbook, containing hundreds of encounters: shady NPCs, dangerous locations, conspiratorial nodes, and mysterious objects. Together they comprise The Dracula Dossier — an epic improvised, collaborative campaign for Night’s Black Agents, our award-winning vampire spy thriller RPG. Purchase the Dracula Dossier starter kit bundle in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

By Kevin Kulp

Swords of the Serpentine doesn’t use Robin D. Laws’s One-2-One rules (including Edge and Problem cards), but the game is designed to play superbly with only one player and one GM. This type of adventure echoes the model of classic fantasy literature such as Conan or Elric where a main hero tackles their adventures alone, or at most with a companion or sidekick.

For one-Hero play you’ll need to make a small number of changes during character creation, and there’s some specialized advice for both GM and player.

Character Creation

As noted on p. 36 of the Adventurer’s Edition of SotS, if you’re the only player you’ll gain 14 Investigative Build points to create your Hero. That’s 4 more than you’d get with a full 5-person group. You can get an additional bonus point if you keep to only one profession, but that’s not always a good choice for one-Hero play; diversifying gives you more options when looking for leads.

The GM chapter on p. 269 of the Adventurer’s Edition has additional information, including that in one-Hero play the Hero gets an additional Ally point.


Let’s say you want to play a hero patterned after the accomplishments of the real-world Ching Shih the pirate, making your hero a deposed pirate queen who’s fled to Eversink to regain her strength.

Five Players?

Were there five players or more, the Hero might look like this:

Fayne Chaskin, aka Captain Chask, deposed pirate queen of Min

Canny, diplomatic, strong-willed, middle-aged, murderous, loyal

Drives (what is best in life?): Wielding deadly force; following your own course; making an example for others to see

Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (the leather hide of a great kraken), Health 8

Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (confidence), Morale 10

Offense – Sway: Sway 5: Damage Modifier +1 (commanding)

Offense – Warfare: Warfare 8: Damage Modifier +1 (rapier)

Investigative abilities: Command 2, Intimidation 1, Nobility 1, Servility 1; Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skullduggery 3

Allegiances: Ally: Ancient Nobility 1, Ally: Outlanders 3; Enemy: Mercanti 1

General abilities: Athletics 4, Burglary 2, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 3, Sway 5, Warfare 8 (Cleave)

Gear: A now-lost fleet of 800 ships (and almost 50,000 sailors) stolen from you by the Witch-Queen of Min; international warrants for your arrest and execution; a surprising sense of optimism; a desperate need to lay low; a perverse desire to crash the parties and balls of the nobility; your flagship The Savage Crown, moored unnoticed in a hidden swamp cove a day away; a handful of very important blackmail documents; fond memories of your gambling house and salt trading days; a jeweled hair comb from your mother, looted by her from Eversink nobility while you were still an infant; kraken-hide armor (Armor 1); a rapier whose hilt is fashioned from some kingdom’s stolen royal scepter, you aren’t sure whose (Damage Modifier +1)

One Player?

With only one Hero, though, you might build her Investigative abilities and Allegiances like this with the extra points:

Investigative abilities: Command 3, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Nobility 1, Servility 1; Ridiculous Luck 1, Scurrilous Rumors 1, Skullduggery 4

Allegiances: Ally: Ancient Nobility 1, Outlanders 4; Enemy: Mercanti 1


With Flashback from a high Preparedness, and 3 ranks of Ally: Outlanders, Captain Chask in a 5-player game has great narrative flexibility and wields substantial political pressure – and she can spend those points to have her still-loyal pirates show up in almost any circumstance to act as decoys, extra muscle, inside men, and assistants.

When you’re the only player, you have a Hero who is even better at having her commands obeyed; you can tell when someone is lying to you; you have a small amount of ridiculous luck; you’re even better at illegal activities (amongst the best in the city!); and your ties to your still-loyal pirates are remarkably strong. What you can’t do yourself, you can usually get someone else to do for you.

Player Advice

When adventuring you’ll run into the need for useful abilities you don’t have. Think like a fantasy hero: use a different ability creatively or find someone else in the city who might know what you need. If the GM gives you an interesting sidekick with a few abilities, they can help fill in for your weak spots.

You’re probably mighty in a fight, but you’re only one person – and your biggest weakness is facing lots of people at once in combat. If you’re facing a lot of enemies at once, you have a few options. You could surrender (although it’s probably more fun to make them work for it) and fight your way out later; you could spend a point of Taunt to challenge their leader to single combat, completely side-stepping the mooks; or you could spend points of an ability like Intimidation to buy yourself time to talk with your foes instead of fighting them. You could even use Flashback and spend a point of Charm to establish yourself as an old friend of the enemy leader. Consider creative solutions and pick the one that makes for the best or most exciting story.

Still want to fight? That’s solid heroing! If you’re facing Mooks and you have Warfare, Sway or Sorcery at 8+ ranks, spend all your combat ability at the start of the fight in a single amazing attack to try and down as many Mooks as possible as quickly as possible. You’re likely to defeat as many as 4 or 5 in that sudden flurry, and that will get you Refresh tokens AND buy you some time. You can spend Investigative points to briefly boost your defenses (p. 75); in a tough fight, that may well mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Finally, spend your Ally points to draw on your Allies in any situation where you want backup. That’s especially useful if you don’t already have a sidekick; a convenient nearby ally can help heal you, can bolster your Morale, may have knowledge and expertise you lack, and can pitch in during a fight. Intimidating your foe by having a dozen mercenaries or thieves suddenly show themselves is an excellent use of that resource.

GM Advice

GMs will find advice for one-Hero play on pp. 269-270 of the Adventurer’s Edition. Try not to toss the hero into an adventure that they’re particularly ill-suited for; without access to Teamwork, setting a Warfare-based hero against a monstrosity that can only be defeated by reducing their Morale is just going to be frustrating. More fun is an adventure where the Hero’s strengths can shine, and where the foes are not prepared for a single dangerous assailant.

As mentioned above, we like the idea of a sidekick during one-Hero play. It’s particularly useful for offering Investigative abilities that a Hero may lack, for emergency healing that keeps the Hero on their feet, and for giving you someone particularly fun to roleplay.

If converting existing adventures, handwave or eliminate large numbers of Mooks. A single Hero will likely focus on the most dramatically interesting target in the fight, and while they might need to fight their way through some speedbumps to get there, that shouldn’t necessarily be the focus of the scene.

Since your player won’t have any other players to bounce clues off of, don’t be at all shy about summarizing and talking through what they’ve learned, who’ve they’ve talked to, and where they’ve been so far in the adventure. It’ll help make sure they don’t accidentally bump into dead ends.

Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.

A column about Roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

I did it again. As heard in a recent episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, I made up a new term. Since it is easier to cite articles than podcast episodes, and because new terms want to be propagated, I’ll revisit it here.

The term: table sense.

It’s what developers look for when you write scenarios or source material for roleplaying games.

It’s what game masters need from you when they read your material.

Table sense is what it sounds like: the ability to forecast what will happen at the gaming table when the scene, magic item, background detail, monster or whatever it is comes into use.

How do you get it? By playing roleplaying games of the sort you’re writing for. And more importantly: by picturing the play experience as you write, away from your table.

Table sense may be a particular challenge for writers steeped in the story game world, which assumes a high degree of cooperation to jointly create the designers’ very specific preferred structure. They create a shaped or tailored version of agency with strong parameters.

If the designers doesn’t expect you to punch the bartender in their game of Bowler-Hat Show Ponies (to name a currently popular example), storygame players do not allow such loucheness to cross their minds. Instead their characters proudly stick to wearing bowler hats to equestrian competitions, because that’s the premise the entire game tailors itself to.

In games with a more traditional wide-open agency, where the freedom to act as chaos agents lies well within the expansive remit of any core activity, you can be that eventually some player is gonna at least contemplate some bartender-punching.

Using your table sense, as you write a scene with an annoying bartender and characters with fists at the end of the arms, you know to explicitly answer the question: what happens when someone takes this implicit option?

Table sense reminds you, when writing a setting’s deep backstory, to answer the question: how do the player characters learn about this? What difference does it make to them when they do?

When reviewing a scenario you’ve rewritten, table sense allows you to zero in on those moments when you assume that players will conveniently take this or that action that makes your sequence of action work. Once you’ve spotted them, you can ask yourself if they will really do that thing. You can move from there to the panoply of crazy powers, spells, or tech they might be able to deploy to blow past all of the obstacles you have carefully placed in their path.

Table sense tells you, when creating a new spell or magic item, to ask “will a player be excited to get this? What story possibilities does it create?” It leads you to imagine yourself as a player character gaining the item. Do you keep it, or sell it as soon as you can? If you keep it, what cool things might happen? Depending on the game system and its core activity, butt-kicking might be a cool thing, or a very cool thing. Or not a thing at all, in which case, your table sense reminds you that you’ve designed an item for a game other than the one you’re currently working on, and need to highlight and hit the delete button.

When you apply table sense to a description of a Game Master Character, you can spot the elements you’ve written that will be hard or impossible for a GM to activate. Does your grimy trader on a decaying space station dream of a new life in the core Combine worlds? If so, and you’ve also described him as taciturn and unwilling to reveal his true self, your table sense alerts you to a problem. You must then show how the players can overcome his reticence to learn of his yearnings. While you’re at it, table sense allows you to envision at least one situation in which that actually matters to the players.

In other words, as you write, always think about how the GM will take your text and put it on the table.

Table sense differs depending on the system you’re writing for.

The basic unit of fun in 13th Age is the fantasy fight. If the element you’ve created can feature into a combat sequence, your job is done. On the other hand, your description of the taciturn bartender who yearns to move to a great metropolis of the Dragon Empire ought somehow to relate to a fight the characters are headed toward or have just completed.

GUMSHOE’s core activity is investigation. When you create a monster, you have to ask how it might appear in a mystery scenario. A good old-fashioned ravening beast that lives only for slaughter might fit into a mystery. For the most part though you’ll be looking for cleverer, tricky creatures: less Conan, more X-Files.

Table sense also inspires you to structure information in a way that works at the table. The information on Government Lethal Chambers in the Aftermath sequence of The Yellow King Roleplaying Game appears in FAQ format. This cues the GM to introduce a few key facts, and then encourage the players to ask questions about the world their characters grew up in. Those answers, laid out for ease of reference, tell them about much more than these devices. They allow them to imaginatively engage with the alternate reality of the post-Castaigne regime world. The GM could extract that info from a conventionally structured chunk of setting exposition. And indeed, other bits of world background are presented in that format. But for this key setting linchpin, I made a point of going beyond the reading experience to envision how information goes verbal as it passes from GM to player.

You get table sense from GMing, and then GMing some more, and also by GMing.

It fades over time and must be renewed. If you haven’t run games for years, your developer can spot that. She might also be able to pinpoint the era you came up in, and when you stopped.

Table sense acts as the fuel for the imaginative exercise of seeing sessions in progress that use your material.

Passages written with table sense not only avoid pitfalls and maximize fun, but also help the reader to imagine play in progress, and how great it will be to get a group together to run your game or scenario, instead of one of the many others their time and affection.

The following article for the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on in December 2005.

At last – a new Dying Earth release – All’s Fair in Azenomei! It’s available as a downloadable PDF exclusively from Pelgrane. This professionally produced scenario gives your PCs the chance to explore Azenomei in depth, enjoy all the fun of the fair, and take part in a series of contests on behalf of a local sponsor of dubious repute. The PCs will have to use their full repertoire of chicaneries and wiles to triumph over the predicaments in which they find themselves.

While we wait for a full review of the Book of Unremitting Horror, I recommend you pop over to the Ogre’s Cave to see their Christmas recommendations .

This month, we’ve finally sorted out what is going in XPS 7/8 (ed: now collected as the Excellent Prismatic Spray) and what is going in the Compendium of Universal Knowledge – our next major release. A sample entry can be seen here.

The Compendium is a gazetteer, a bestiary and an encyclopedia of the Dying Earth. It includes entries by almost all our writers, and is being compiled and edited with additional material by David Thomas. At the moment, I am tending towards a thick hardback volume with color plates, probably a limited edition, with a paperback version later.

The Rhialto supplement is being edited by John Kahane, but Robin will be adding a new chapter on Sandestins and offering some simplified rules in Mid-February.

Get an embarrassment of Dying Earth treasures in the Compleat Dying Earth Bundle of Holding until August 18th!

The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article on the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on between 2004 and 2007.

The Primer of Practical Magic

by Jeanry Chandler

Not long ago, in an interview in the Excellent Prismatic Spray magazine, Gary Gygax described the profound influence that the work of Jack Vance had upon the original design and overall feel of Dungeons and Dragons™. For perhaps the first time since the very early days of that game, a new d20 sourcebook is being introduced, which draws heavily upon the influence of the realm of the Dying Earth.

The Primer of Practical Magic, represents a return to a darker, more eerie feel to role playing, to a time when the game wasn’t as polarized between pure good and pure evil, but had more moral gray areas. When a thief was a dubious individual who stole things for a living, not just a loner with an alternative lifestyle and a knack for picking locks. A time when a magician was someone you couldn’t always assume was a kindly old man or a stereotypical villain, but was likely to be something in between, yet always dangerous to annoy without good reason.

The Primer of Practical Magic hearkens to a time when players didn’t know all the spells in the rulebook yet, or all the monsters one could possibly encounter; a time before players argued about every rule, because they were still caught up in the mystery of the game. Toward this noble end of casting a shadow of renewed mystery over the d20 gaming experience, The Primer includes many features which the discerning gamer will appreciate.

The incantations found in The Primer come directly from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novels such as The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugels Saga, The Dying Earth, and Rhialto The Marvelous. These spells are sometimes discreet in their effects, sometimes flashy and powerful, but always clever and amusing in their application. They range from the subtle, thinking magician’s cantrips and low-level charms, such as spells to calm a barking dog; put the smell of wine on a rivals breath; instantly clear the roadside dust from one’s garments; or cantrips to curdle a neighbors soup, or make a frog take on the temporary appearance of a beautiful maiden; through the unwholesome and dangerous summoning magic of the Diabolist, such as The Spell of the Ominous Enthusiast, which conjures forth a small blue demon which can perform any single task with the greatest of skill, but then demands and attempts to forcibly acquire the liver of its summoner as payment.

Finally, the Primer includes a few of the truly mighty spells which made the Magicians of the Dying Earth individuals to be both feared and respected: Phandaal’s Gyrator, The Evocation of Blue Havoc, The Charm of Forlorn Encystment, The Charm of the Omnipotent Sphere and the original Excellent Prismatic Spray (not to be confused with another spell with a similar name.) All are mighty new weapons suitable the magical arsenals of the powerful magicians.

For those who always felt there should have been some element of danger and uncertainty to spellcasting, the Primer introduces an optional spell failure system, based on the system in the Dying Earth RPG™. No longer is casting a spell automatic guarantee of its routine success. Rather, the outcome is a function of the power of the spell contrasted with the skill of the caster, and results can range from Dismal Failure to Illustrious Success. The latter may be an unexpected boon, while the former can cause dire consequences indeed, which is why inexperienced spell dabblers and hedge wizards should think twice before attempting to wield the more powerful arcane magical formulae found in this book. In addition to spells, there are numerous new magical items. Over 40 new Ioun Stones convey a variety of powers and skill effects, and dozens of other curious magic items fill the pages of the Primer. These again range from the very subtle, such as a sheath to wear over your tongue so that one can endure the most disgusting repasts without crying out or vomiting (and thus potentially offending the wrong person), or books containing insulting verses so scathing they can bring a strong man to his knees; through such powerful and useful artifacts as the ever lengthening rope; Laccodel’s Rune, which protects the wearer against nearly any form of caustic magic; Mieux’s Pantelloons which puff up to frustrate arrows or darts, and can allow the wearer to float away to safety; or the much feared Schiavona of Kavic which conveys superb fighting ability to even the most inept fencer.

Those players not satisfied with the magical creations of others can dabble with the manufacture of their own Vat Creatures, and through the medium of magic and living flesh, create anything from a comely concubine with whom to while away the twilight hours, to a burly and hirsute guard – beast to chase away uninvited solicitors.

Finally, The Primer includes three remarkable prestige classes for those interested in fully immersing themselves in the Dying Earth milieu. The Sharper is a con artist and a thief, whose natural abilities make it just as easy for her to earn a living taking down marks in any big city as creeping around in the wilderness on a foolhardy adventure. The Diabolist is that rather scary individual who specializes in the control, banishment, and / or binding of Demons and creatures from the outer planes. Thanks to the invaluable contributions of Ian Thomson, The Primer includes several of the unique spells and abilities from the DERPG Demons of the Dying Earth book, from which are formed a deadly arsenal of abilities and skills for the formidable Diabolist. Finally, the mighty Arch-Magician class allows players to flex true magical muscles, and become the kind of character you thought of the first time you ever heard Black Sabbath’s ‘The Wizard’.

Not since Call of Cthulhu™ introduced the feel of Lovecraft to role playing games, has a genre as rich as the high fantasy world of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth been so accessible to d20 gamers. The Primer of Practical Magic, available soon from Pelgrane press, is sure to profoundly enrich the d20 experience, and hopefully it will be only the beginning.

Get an embarrassment of Dying Earth treasures in the Compleat Dying Earth Bundle of Holding until August 18th!

The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

This article on the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on between 2004 and 2007.

Demons of the Dying Earth

by Ian Thomson

The publication of Turjan’s Tome marks the dawning of a new and far darker style of Dying Earth RPG play. We do not claim to replace Cugel-level play; the satisfaction of wearing a superior hat or the thrill of slicing through another’s argument with a well-placed point of pedantry. Instead, we offer a sombre and even heroic alternative. This difference is highlighted in the publication: Demons of the Dying Earth.

This book does not offer reckless instructions on how to create and play witches and warlocks, nor how to use demonic forces to casually attack your foes – for such would make a mockery of the dangerous and blasphemous nature of the awful demonic legacy of previous aeons. Instead we provide the resources to fully describe occult horrors, insane archenemies, cruel and secretive demonic cults, and dangerous journeys to the bizarre sub-worlds. Those magicians who do wish to take up demonology as magical specialty can expect to suffer awful consequences for their taste of power – possibly to turn up again as a superior henchman to the campaign’s most intractable foe. For the path of demonism soon turns its adherents to utter evil! (In advanced campaigns, Diabolist characters may to some extent break this ruling – but even they study demons and sub-worlds as an abstract pedantic specialty – rather than through personal involvement.)

Contents specifically include:

  • numerous demons (various types – and their drives and powers)
  • new spells (for demons, witches, diabolists, and witch-finders)
  • an overview of several subworlds
  • the Kaiin Witch-Cult
  • the Green Legion of Valdaran the Just
  • demonic (and anti-demonic) magical items
  • new tweaks to enhance the demonic elements of your campaign
  • several highly detailed scenario outlines

Expect in Demons of the Dying Earth to discover a brand new angle on Dying Earth RPG: foes that even the most jaded of magicians and adventurers will find sufficiently abhorrent to unite them in their attempts to outwit, evade, thwart and destroy their mutual enemy. But beware, for your most favourite spells may prove useless against beings of other dimensions, and even your precious magical adjuncts may lack efficacy. A new world lurks amidst the shadows of the old!

But perhaps the greatest change is in the overall tone of the game. Gone are the tales of flashy bravado and erudite linguistics (although please feel free to keep them if you wish; after all, this is for your entertainment). Instead there is danger, intrigue and great reward for those brave enough to search for it (as long as they are prepared to pay the often heavy price). The boundaries are less clear, the morals potentially more dubious. The noble succeed and the wicked fall prey to their vanities. Are there shades of grey? Perhaps, but perhaps the world is more clear-cut than you previously thought.

Get an embarrassment of Dying Earth treasures in the Compleat Dying Earth Bundle of Holding until August 18th!

The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

This die isn’t bad, it’s just a bit weird.

At our GenCon panel on horror, we got asked about the risk of breaking atmosphere in Trail of Cthulhu games by asking for Stability tests. You describe whatever horrific or disturbing sight the investigator encounters in ghastly detail – and then go “now, roll Stability”, dragging the player out of the story and soiling everything with bald mechanics. I don’t entirely agree with the premise – sometimes, switching to mechanics at a moment of high tension lends huge dramatic weight to the roll – but if it resonates with you, then what you need is a bad die.

A bad die is a die that’s dedicated to a particular purpose. Ideally, it’s visually distinctive – I’ve got a d6 with skulls for pips that gets designated a bad die in some games. The bad die is only used for one type of roll only. For example, in a Trail game, it might only be used for Stability tests. If the GM hands the bad die to a player, the player knows it’s time to make a Stability test, and that failure would be costly. There’s no need to say anything in the heat of play – the GM makes it clear before the game that if you’re given the bad die, you’ve got to make a Stability test and that failure will mean a big Stability loss.

You can use bad dice for other purposes. You could have a bad die for Sense Trouble rolls, or Heat checks in Night’s Black Agents. In 13th Age, you might designate a particular d20 as the bad die for Last Gasp saves. As long as the bad die can be easily distinguished from other dice, and the players are told beforehand what the bad die entails, it gives the GM another non-verbal channel to communicate with the players.

In the latest episode of their tightly-wrapped podcast, Ken and Robin talk vampire firewalling, the espionage of Jan van Eyck, weird war mummies, and the Quasi War.

This article on the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on between 2004 and 2007.

Turjan-Level Gaming and the Lands of the Near East

by Lynne Hardy

Abandon now your witty banter and your lightning repartee for they will only serve to mar your progress through a world no longer colourful but deadly dark for the unwary. The difficulties you had before are but pale shadows of the challenges that now await you. Welcome to the Dying Earth as it was originally written: hard, cruel and at the mercy of natural justice. Welcome to Turjan level play.

“So what’s the difference?” I hear you ask. It’s a good question, especially for those who may only have a passing acquaintance with Jack Vance’s work. The original Dying Earth stories were written in 1950 and are very much darker in tone than the later cruel but oddly comedic Cugel stories and concerned far more with epic yet intimate struggles than the grandstanding of the Rhialto tales. In them, characters struggle on quests (often seeking lost knowledge) and are often called to task by fate for their actions along the way.

For instance, there is Liane the Wayfarer. Beautiful but cruel and callous, he appears to have everything his way until an encounter with the mysterious witch Lith, who sends him to his just desserts in the company of Chun the Unavoidable. Then again, there is T’sais. Flawed and violent, she craves understanding and yearns to know beauty and love. Through harsh experience she meets a man as flawed as herself who helps her in her quest to become whole. Justice is weighed and measured and meted out accordingly.

Okay, okay, but how does that affect your game? As described in Turjan’s Tome, the latest sourcebook from Pelgrane Press, there are several mechanical adjustments. These include the down-grading of Persuasion and Rebuff to the status previously held by Attack and Defence (of secondary importance and only to be relied upon if all else fails) and a way of maximising your magical capabilities (although with suitable constraints for those who feel the need to let fate truly take a hand). They also allow for more in-depth development of allies and adversaries and bolster the possession point system, providing an interesting mechanism for trading up all those lovely toys you have gathered throughout the course of play for even bigger and better ones with which to impress your friends and cow your rivals.

But perhaps the greatest change is in the overall tone of the game. Gone are the tales of flashy bravado and erudite linguistics (although please feel free to keep them if you wish; after all, this is for your entertainment). Instead there is danger, intrigue and great reward for those brave enough to search for it (as long as they are prepared to pay the often heavy price). The boundaries are less clear, the morals potentially more dubious. The noble succeed and the wicked fall prey to their vanities. Are there shades of grey? Perhaps, but perhaps the world is more clear-cut than you previously thought.

It was with this in mind that I set about writing “Fields of Silver”. This book contains both background on the lands of the near East and a campaign in the tradition of the legendary Call of Cthulhu supplements. Most of the locations are detailed by Vance in The Eyes of the Overworld, which provided a handy springboard to immerse Turjan level characters in a world where even less than before was what it once seemed.

The lands around Erze Damath are mostly ignored in the currently available support material, which tends to focus on Kaiin and Almery. Yet there is a wealth of descriptive material on the eastern lands in the original stories (which, trust me, is quite a rare thing!). The book is divided into seven chapters, which are split between source material and campaign details. Five of the chapters detail locations mentioned by Vance in his stories to enable you to explore them fully even if you do not wish to use the adventure as is. In case that isn’t enough, there’s also an appendix with a few extra titbits in case you use everything in the main sections. There are strange peoples and mysterious ruins to explore and where there are mysterious ruins, there are bound to be hidden secrets.

And that is what the campaign sections of “Fields of Silver” are all about – solving mysteries, uncovering hidden secrets and dealing with ancient evils. The story takes your characters right across the continent, from Almery to Erze Damath, taking in a host of wonders along the way. It pitches them against dangerous foes in their quest to put right a misdeed so great that it could shake the very foundations of a mighty city. Who is responsible for the slaughter of the characters’ friends? Who is the mysterious Lady and why does she need their help? Will they face up to their responsibilities, or will they leave the dark legacy of history unchallenged?

Now you’re thinking, “But it doesn’t seem like our style. Why should we even look at it?” It’s a good point, even taking into account all that lovely source material. After all, who wants to buy a book to only use half of it? My group has their own distinct style of play, which is usually humorous and free-flowing. Turjan level play is darker and much more menacing. Would they enjoy a game written in that style? Could they be persuaded to enter into the spirit of this grimmer world?

Well, yes, they could and they thoroughly enjoyed it. They even enjoyed the change of pace. The secret was to get them hooked, then build suspense and finally let them realise (too late, of course) that they were in a huge amount of trouble and there was only really one thing they could do about it (see it through to the bitter end, of course). Paranoia was rampant, but so too was a desire to find out what was happening to them and why. Not that I can give too much away here – it would be a great shame to spoil the surprises lurking there between the covers!

Hopefully after you’ve read “Fields of Silver” you’ll realise that there is so much more to the Dying Earth than Kaiin (exciting as it may be) and that Turjan-level play is just as entertaining as Cugel level, but for very different reasons.

Get an embarrassment of Dying Earth treasures in the Compleat Dying Earth Bundle of Holding until August 18th!

The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Previous Entries