Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Review: Cabin Risotto Fever

On Exalted Funeral's recent Black Friday sale, I snagged a few attractive-looking zines published by Games Omnivorous (among other things). This is the first of my reviews, but I intend to review the lot. I hope you enjoy.

Cabin Risotto Fever (and the other Games Omnivorous books--but to my taste, this most so) is gorgeous. It has a nifty-electronic-gadget allure. Something glimpsed in the window of a Sharper Image store or at the feet of your favorite local Shoegaze band. It has two color printing: rich yellow-orange and black on white paper. An elastic strap holds a detachable cover with a luscious map on the interior spread. Evocative art fills nearly half the 24-page interior contents. It looks and feels like a premium, luxurious product if nothing else.

And what of the content? The zine concerns itself greatly with how you use it. It suggests a certain ambiance for your gaming table, it requires a meal of risotto (prepped 24 hours in advance) to be used as a prop (more on that later), and it organizes the adventure into strictly linear story beats. 

Players are a ragtag team of rescuers pursuing a lost academic expedition in mid-20th century northern Canada. The adventure provides some loosely sketched out pre-gen characters, some meta-mechanics, suggests using a rules-lite RPG system (I'd choose Into the Odd) and sends you on your way through its 5-act structure.

The acts block out discrete scenes spent in and around a remote cabin deep in the Canadian wilderness. Two members of the sought-after expedition hunker here, spewing paranoia and cooking risotto. Each act reveals more about the dark and mysterious situation, the fortunes of the missing expedition team, and the contents of the risotto. Despite the appearance of a Wendigo in the immediately following chapter, the adventure reaches a peak in tension and horror when the characters--and their players--are served and consume the marrowy meal. Gruesome and repulsive description accompanies the adventure's directive to serve the risotto as the truth of its ingredients come out: human bone and psychoactive mushrooms.

Punchy details and actionable ideas fill each cabin of the adventure's rail. The cabin map, event table, and cabin-feverous NPCs equip a GM with sturdy tools to run a richly atmospheric and engrossing game. That said, the adventure feels more like an interactive story than a mystery to be solved or a challenge to met. Clues might point saavy players in the right direction well before their dramatic reveal, but things will progress according to plan regardless of whether or not they put the pieces together.

You can get some friends together (when it becomes medically advisable to do so) and put on a spooky show and probably have a pretty enjoyable night with this book and your risotto. The adventure is far more than it's central gimmick, but I still probably wouldn't attempt to run it without indulging the whole shebang. While this might work fine for online play, you'd be losing more than I'm willing to give.

Physical copies of Cabin Risotto Fever are available at Exalted Funeral and PDF at DriveThruRPG. I would recommend getting the physical if you're going to buy this at all, but it is fairly expensive at $18 for 24 pages.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Playing RPGs Online 101

You've recently checked out some RPG actual plays and think it's about time you slay some dragons for yourself. Or maybe you've been struggling to secure a solid RPG group for years and feel fed up. Either way, this guide should offer some clarity to anyone floundering in the nebulous online ttRPG world. This guide turned out much lengthier than expected, so I'm including a summary at the bottom with the key takeaways.

My Experiences with Online Gaming

Feel free to skip this section if you're just here for the advice, but understanding my perspective should help you decide how to evaluate my guide for your own needs.

Several years ago I heard about Critical Role and watched a few episodes on a whim. I've loved fantasy novels, video games, and movies all my life, so getting into D&D seemed like a no-brainer. Trouble was, I didn't know anyone who played D&D.

I looked around online and stumbled on Roll20 and their looking-for-game forums. Cool, a public place to find games with strangers! Turns out, it was not cool. I spent months trying to join games only to watch them implode from constant flaking. The games I did manage to join were absolute messes of poor player and DM conduct--racial slurs, constant backstabbing and infighting, miserable DM ego tripping--the works. For years I endured this in the pursuit of D&D, until I finally realized that I wasn't having fun and it wasn't worth it.

Gamer Anguish

I looked into other RPG systems and other places that people play games online. I found Google+ and played a ton of wonderful games in diverse and exciting systems (Troika!, Mothership, Spire, oh my!) with cool people. G+ died and many of its users including my new friends moved to Discord. There, I continued to play and run fun games with cool people. I'm still doing that today.

Here's how you can skip over the miserable learning period and go straight to the having fun part:

Where to Look

Avoid public looking-for-game forums like Roll20's and Reddit's r/lfg like the plague. They're impersonal, indirect, and chaotic. They're the most publicly facing ways to find games online and are consequently flooded by clueless, flaky people with minimal investment in actually getting a game going. Finding a half-decent game here will feel like a job, make you miserable and want to quit RPGs. Don't do this to yourself.

Instead, find a Discord server for an RPG system you want to try out and try to join a game there. Official servers run by the developers of Indie RPGs are best, but you might have luck exploring a more general RPG server. Avoid servers with anything more than a few thousand members. I can personally vouch for the official Mothership server and the Melsonia server (for Troika) as great places to find games. I'll post invite links for these at the bottom of this post.

Why Discord? Smaller Discord communities feel intimate and personal. You can chat with people you might want to play games with to gauge compatibility. Even with user handles, Discord servers provide accountability for its users and feel far less anonymous than forums. People care about their reputation in a server will behave well accordingly. Further, users of a game-specific server tend to be experienced with that game and can teach you how to play. Indie RPG game servers also tend to uphold high standards for user conduct, and consequently you'll find most active people there kind and mature.

Don't Stress About System

You can lose yourself in painstaking research into the hundreds if not thousands of RPG systems on offer. Don't worry about finding the absolute perfect game, you won't be stuck with it for life. If you're new to RPGs, you won't know what exactly you want out of a system until you try some out anyway. Do some cursory research, pick anything that sounds reasonably cool and has a solid online community, join their Discord server and ask around for a game.

If you're new to a system, let people know. Experienced game masters will go to lengths to accommodate you. I personally tend to seek out inexperienced players so I can show them the ropes. When you find a game, familiarize yourself with the system but don't worry about memorizing it. If in doubt, ask your GM. Some GMs might require no prior reading whatsoever (like me), preferring to teach as they go.

Make Friends and Mentors

Be visible in your chosen community. Talk to people, play and run games, post cool ideas and ask questions. If you click with a particular group, play more games with them. Stick with people who seem like they know what they’re doing and learn from them. Eventually, you will make a group of core friends and live the dream gamer life of playing regular games with people you like.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Playing games online with strangers will never quite be the same as playing in person. Flaking players, miscommunication, microphone issues and other technical difficulties all come with the territory. I started to enjoy online games much more when I accepted all these realities and adopted a more laid back philosophy.

Click to enlarge. Trust me.

Be flexible and don't give people a hard time when they no-show or games fall through. Expect around 2/3 of players to show up for any given game, so plan accordingly. I prefer to wrangle 4-5 people for my games, expecting 1 or 2 drop-outs. If only a couple people show up for a game, either try to find a last-minute sub or let it go and try again next week. Enjoy the games that pull together rather than agonize over the ones that don't.

On Running Games

Here I'll outline how I recruit players for my games with some insight into my choices. Take this as an example more than a model--you'll have to devise your own method.

I advertise sessions in the game server's LFG (looking-for-games) channel. I tend to have the most success when trying to schedule games about a week out. Shorter and you might not find enough players, longer and people tend to atrophy. Here's a list of good things to include on your LFG post:

  • The system you're using.
  • A brief description of the session's content. Hook players with something fun and informative so they can decide if the game seems right for them.
  • The time and day you plan to run the game. Include your timezone. Give a range or a few options of game days if you're flexible and willing to navigate different people's schedules.
  • How long the game will last. Include an estimation plus a hard cutoff. 2-3 hours tends to work best for me.
  • How many players you're looking for.
  • Where and how you're going to run the game. I highly recommend keeping things light and not using a virtual tabletop like Roll20. The fewer avenues for technical difficulties, the better. My players keep their own character sheets and roll dice however they like (online dice roller or physical dice). I run my games exclusively using discord's voice chat.
  • A content warning and any safety tools you plan to use. Playing with strangers can be delicate, particularly if your game has the potential for horror or graphic content. Laying out boundaries and expectations for player and GM conduct before a game is essential. Just mentioning things like content warnings will help deter unsavory folks who might otherwise ruin your game with inappropriate behavior. You might wish to formalize your safety measures with tools like those outlined in this helpful resource and toolkit.

Once I have a group of interested players, I make a private Discord group chat for the game. I introduce myself in the chat and provide additional detail about the game if necessary (character creation stipulations, a longer scenario introduction, etc.). I explain the safety tools we'll be using, if any. I solicit questions and answer them to the best of my ability. I prefer players generate characters in advance so we can jump into the game faster come game time. I provide pre-generated characters for anyone who wants them.

After a game, I try to get feedback on how things went and de-brief the players a bit. It's nice to hang and chat after a game if you have the energy, particularly if you're trying to make new friends. It's good practice to keep a list of all the cool people you've gamed with so you can reach out for future games. I highly recommend posting session reports (even extremely brief ones) to the server you found your players in. Building a reputation for running games will make it easier to find good games in the future.


This is by no means a comprehensive guide to playing RPGs online. I'm not an authority on the subject, this is just one perspective on enjoying online gaming. I was deeply discouraged when I was first getting my start in the RPG hobby and found no useful advice for joining online games. I hope this advice spares someone the heartbreak and anxiety of hunting for online games without any guidance.


  • Avoid public looking-for-game forums like Roll20's and Reddit's r/lfg.
  • Choose a system you're interested in and find games in that community's Discord server.
  • Approach the inconvenient realities of online gaming with a relaxed attitude.
  • Entrench yourself in gaming communities. Make friends and build towards more stable campaigns.
  • Develop a personal methodology when recruiting for games. Be informative, be flexible, be kind.

Invite Links

As promised above, here's the places I've had success fining games to run and play in:

The official Mothership RPG server

The official Melsonian Arts Council (Troika RPG) server

Monday, November 16, 2020

Running Star Trek in Mothership

While quarantining I've taken my first steps into the world of Star Trek since watching occasional re-runs of Voyager on TV as a child. I've made it through the original series, TNG, and am currently halfway through Deep Space 9. As much as I've enjoyed the shows, the crews' lack of failure has always bugged me. I've decided to turn to RPGs to fulfill my fantasy of reckless command decisions not always turning out alright in the end. I had a blast running the mini-scenario included in this post and firmly believe this mashup worthy of exploration.

The Goal: Take the world of Star Trek and Trek-typical situations, but adhere to more grounded sci-fi horror tropes rather than pop television tropes when resolving them.

Genre Rules


Phaser: DMG Instant death or 1MDMG (Kill) or Body Save [-] or fall unconscious for 1d10mins (Stun) / S 20m / M 200m / L 500m / Infinite Shots / Special: Two Settings (Kill or Stun)

Communicator: As Long-range Comms and Locator

Tricorder: As Bioscanner, Cybernetic Diagnostic Scanner, Field Recorder, and Medscanner


Use one of the corresponding classes when making characters: Engineering = Teamster | Science/Medical = Scientist | Command/Security = Marine | Data = Android. If your players are running main characters from a given series, consider generating level 10 PCs. When playing a non-human character or an infamous redshirt, use one of the following classes:


Intellect +10

Fear: 35
Sanity: 85
Body: 40
Armor: 20

Biology, Mathematics, Computers, +3 points

Vulcans Panic whenever they fail a Sanity Save.


Hits: 3

Strength +5
Combat +5

Fear: 50
Sanity: 20
Body: 40
Armor: 45

Theology, Military Training, Close Quarters Combat, +1 point

When a Klingon dies, every friendly nearby player gains 1 Resolve.


Speed +15
Intellect +5

Fear: 15
Sanity: 30
Body: 25
Armor: 20

Rimwise, Art, +3 points

Whenever a Ferengi succeeds a Save, every friendly player nearby gains 1 Stress.


Hits: 1

Combat +1

Fear: 20
Sanity: 20
Body: 20
Armor: 20

Military Training

Whenever a Red Shirt succeeds a Panic Check, they level up.

Mini Scenario: A Bad Day for the Enterprise

Series: The Next Generation

The Enterprise receives distressing orders from Starfleet command while senior officers navigate mild personal crises.

Warden Notes

  • I wrote this for a one-shot with players running main characters (specifically Worf, Riker, and Data). Leave all of the show's main characters open, though adjustments to the scenario is advisable if choosing characters like Picard and Troi.
  • If a player runs Picard, secretly deliver them the encoded Federation transmission.
  • If running this with "below decks"-style rank and file PCs, focus on the stress and tension of bizarre and terrifying orders coming from on high.
  • Use Side Plots to foster paranoia and suspicion, but don't overload your players with red herrings.

The Situation

The Enterprise is en route (3 days out) to negotiate a neutral zone standoff between Federation colonists and Romulans.

  • Establish the PCs in their daily routines, give them space to explore Side Plots.
  • On the second day, Counselor Troi begins experiencing debilitating headaches and an overwhelming sense of dread. Shortly after, the Enterprise receives a priority one encoded message from Starfleet command--for the Captain's eyes only.
  • The Transmission: Cut communications with all other Starfleet personnel. Change heading to intercept the USS Lexington (2 days away in the opposite direction) and destroy her on sight. Trust no one.
  • All Starfleet ships reject hails. Subspace is dead except for distress signals from dying Federation ships.
  • Many Enterprise crew have friends and family on the Lexington, including senior officers (Beverly's sister, Guinan's childhood friend).
  • If the Enterprise destroys its target: The commanding officer faces general mutiny from their crew.
  • If the Enterprise refuses its orders: Starfleet command labels the Enterprise a traitor and sends 2 ships to destroy her.

The Truth

A Federation splinter group opposing the Prime Directive attempts a coup in Starfleet. Both sides go radio silent to avoid recruitment by the other. The coup will fail after 1 week of fighting and confusion.


  • Fleet movements from the last few months indicate an abnormal number of missions to primitive planets assigned to certain ships, including the Lexington.
  • Disciplinary action against Starfleet officers has trended up over the last year.
  • Frequency of security code changes recently increased threefold.


  • Starfleet loyalist. Briefs senior officers on Starfleet's encoded transmission after 1 day. Reluctantly follows Starfleet's attack order unless intervened upon. Stubbornly unwilling to compromise, resulting in lose-lose situations when given options.
  • Tactics should the crew turn against him:
    • "This was all a test! You passed."
    • Pretending to rouse from alien influence/possession. "I'm myself again."
    • Feigning remorse then savagely attacking when guards lower.

Side Plots

  • Picard fiddles with an intriguing artifact recovered from an archeological dig.
  • Geordi can't seem to fix a replicator bug that's printing everything green.
  • Beverly's gotten really into this new fantasy adventure holodeck program to the detriment of her neglected patients.
  • Worf won't stop carrying around an ancient looking bat'leth.
  • Data starts using contractions.

Concluding Notes

When I ran the above scenario for my players, they had a ton of fun chasing ghosts and self-destructing over poor choices and risky calls. Mothership's Stress system does a lot of the work converting Star Trek to a sci-fi horror genre. Turns out, all you need for things to go really wrong in Star Trek are some flawed people making sub-optimal decisions.

Let me know if you found this post useful, I'm thinking of doing some more genre-shifts for Mothership in the future. On the menu: Atomic age sci-fi monster mashes and 2000s xtreme haxor absurdity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Mothership 3rd Party Directory

There are a TON of 3rd party modules available for Mothership spread across different storefronts, so I figured it would be useful to collect them all in one place.

This list contains all currently published 3rd party content for Mothership. I'll try to keep the list accurate and updated, but please post a comment or send me a message on Discord or Twitter if I missed your piece or you want me to link to a different store.

The list is sorted by release date, with newest content at the top.

Last updated February 24th, 2022.


Zine – Adventure

Disciples of a Cracked Skull

Pamphlet – Supplement

Dead in the Water

Zine – Adventure

Rane in Blood

Zine – Adventure

Object 25

1 Page – Supplement

Defiant Tectonics - Arcology Alpha

Zine – Adventure


1 Page – Supplement

Rimward Classes

Pamphlet – Supplement

Here Be Dragons

Pamphlet – Adventure

Soul Seller

Pamphlet – Supplement

Alone on the Farm

Pamphlet – Adventure

The Fold in Space

Pamphlet – Adventure

Defiant Tectonics - Corporate Dossier

Pamphlet – Supplement

Gods of the Deep Frontier

Pamphlet – Supplement

Familiar Faces Issue 1

Zine – Supplement

Locomotion of a Matephage

Pamphlet – Adventure

Yucatan Tech Co.

Zine – Supplement

Alien Armory

Zine – Supplement

What We Give to Alien Gods

Zine – Adventure

Bumpy Ride at Bore IX

Pamphlet – Adventure

The Inferno Trilogy

Bundle – Adventures


Zine – Supplement

Rogue Brood

Pamphlet – Adventure

Plant-Based Paranoia

Pamphlet – Adventure

Wrath of God

Pamphlet – Adventure

Meat Grinder

Zine – Adventure

The Mole On Pirad One

Pamphlet – Adventure

Delayed Transmission

Pamphlet – Adventure

The Earth Above

Zine – Adventure

The Burning of Carbex

Zine – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

Dying Hard on Hardlight Station

Zine – Adventure

The Horror on Tau Sigma 7

Pamphlet – Adventure

Chunky Cheese's Eateria

Pamphlet – Adventure

People's Soil

Pamphlet – Supplement


Zine – Supplement

Fractal Station

Pamphlet – Adventure

Desert Moon of Karth

Zine – Adventure

The Drain

Zine – Adventure

Not Even the Bones

Zine – Adventure

Crush Depth

Pamphlet – Adventure

Picket Line Tango

Zine – Adventure

Mirror Image

Zine – Adventure

The Stars Will Not Break Me

Zine – Supplement


Zine – System Hack

Kill Screen

Pamphlet – Adventure

Crowded Stars

Pamphlet – Supplement

Black Swan

Zine – Adventure

Nirvana on Fire

Zine – Adventure

The Third Sector

Zine – Supplement

Echoes in the Graveyard

Zine – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

Dinoplex: Cataclysm

Pamphlet – Adventure

From Nightmares

1 Page – Supplement

Terror Zone of the Astral Creep

Zine – Adventure

The Last Nebula

Zine – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

ALCOR Station Fuel & Services

Pamphlet – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

Welcome to ERF

Pamphlet – Adventure

Lone Star

Zine – System Hack

Fear Factory V

Zine – Adventure

Dissident Whispers*

Anthology – Various

Green Tomb

Pamphlet – Adventure

Blood Floats in Space

Zine – Supplement

Diminishing Returns

Zine – Adventure

The Black Pyramid

Zine – Adventure

Moonbase Blues

Pamphlet – Adventure

Vita Nova

Zine – Adventure

Feynman’s Mining Station

1 Page – Adventure

On the Frontier

Zine – Supplement

The Black Heart of Paradise

Zine – Adventure

Unhinge Your Soul

Zine – Supplement

*Published by TKG, but noteworthy enough to include here. Includes 11 Mothership adventures:
Emerald Horizon, Escape from the Violet Death World, Ghost Ship, Incident at Muto Station, INDIGO TENDRILS OF THE ZOMP-MACHINE, Pandora's Hunt, Silo-15, Station 472, Toru's Maw, Vontrey Colony 17, Your Sunny Paradise

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Making RPGs: Playtesting 101

From Mockup to Final

Earlier this year, I was ecstatic to publish my first RPG content in a Mothership pamphlet adventure called Moonbase Blues. I've since self-published another couple small pieces and written a few others currently awaiting publication. Though still very much a beginner RPG author myself, I want to share what little knowledge I've gained to help other authors get their start. Several months ago I published a beginner's guide to RPG self publishing, and today I'm going to talk about efficiently playtesting and developing your RPG writing.

Every author has their own distinct writing process, but to me writing is like sculpting. I unleash a glut of ideas onto a page and slowly refine it down into something useful. Each pass adds detail and removes unnecessary chaff. My process typically looks something like this:

  1. Kernel of an idea
  2. Barely comprehensible note soup
  3. Playtest 1
  4. Complete rewrite*
  5. Playtest 2
  6. Finishing touches
  7. Editing
  8. More finishing touches
  9. Proofing
  10. Final

*If I'm lucky, I'll get some developmental editing help around here.

Playtests are easily the most important steps of this process. Without it, I can only guess at what works and what doesn't. A playtesting session runs into glaring problems, sparks new ideas, and shatters indecision. I've developed a semi-formal playtesting method/set of best practices that always dramatically improves my work:

Playtesting Best Practices

NOTE: I typically apply this process to small (1-2 session) adventures, but the principles also work for longer adventures or systems. When I say "playtest" I mean a full or nearly full run-through of your material, not a single session.

Run two playtests. One playtest gets you most of the way there, but leaves gaps in play knowledge. It tells you something, but needs another data point for contrast. Three or more playtests over the same material yield diminishing returns. GM fatigue begins to set in--it's hard to run a good session if you're not having fun. Your material can only get so polished, and further playtesting quickly becomes redundant. Two is the magic number.

Playtest #1: Run this as soon as you have enough material to play a game. The earlier you get a playtest in, the less time you have to write down bad ideas you'll cut out later. The first playtest gives you the direction you need to turn your half-baked idea into something good. Don't worry about running a perfect game, just get a run in and hit as much material as you can.

Playtest #2: Run this once your content is essentially complete. The language doesn't have to be final, but all elements you want in your adventure should be present and fleshed out. This is a double-checking run to see if your ideas from the first playtest hold up. Run this playtest like your life depends on it--test your material under optimal conditions.

Play with friends. Run one of your playtests (preferably the first) for people you've played with many times before. Familiar player dynamics make it easier to gauge player reactions and behavior. It skips the group-getting-its-sea-legs stage and cuts right into playing the game. Your friends will also be more patient with rough material and less reserved when giving feedback.

Play with strangers. Run one of your playtests (preferably the second) for people you've never played RPGs with before. Novel player dynamics push the playtest in unexpected directions and test the boundaries of your material. This is a great way to simulate how your material would work in someone else's game.

Write pre-playtesting questions. Identify potential problem areas and write them out as questions to yourself before your playtests. Does it need a random encounter table or are location-based encounters enough? Did the players care about the NPC in room 4 or did they ignore her? After a playtest, you won't be able to recall what you used to think about the material so write things down while you can. 

Pause to take notes. If you have an idea during a session or events unfold in unexpected or interesting ways, stop and write it down. Answer your pre-playtest questions if you solve them. Your players won't mind, particularly if you're playing with friends. A lot of things happen during a playtest and you don't want to rely on memory.

Fruits of Playtesting

2nd Best Practices

You've heard the best, now the rest:

Take player feedback? A lot of people recommend talking to your players after a game to see how they feel about the session. In my experience, this contributes surprisingly little to playtesting. Players tend to be too broadly positive in their feedback and confirm things you already know from running the game. Specific critiques or suggestions are pretty rare, but still common enough that I do this in all of my playtests. I recommend you do too, but don't hang your hat on it.

Outsourcing playtesting? Getting a friend or collaborator to run your game seems like a great idea. It's a perfect test of how your game will work in the wild. However, a lot is lost in translation from the events at their table to the feedback you receive. There's no substitute for running a game yourself and feeling the mood of the players and witnessing the game's events firsthand. I've definitely experienced some benefits by outsourcing playtesting, but it tends to work better for reassuring yourself that the adventure works than refining specific details.

No time to playtest? Sometimes you get caught on a tight schedule and have to cut some corners, or just want to enhance your existing development process with an extra step. I find much of my playtesting productivity comes before the game, when I'm prepping my notes for an immanent session. My game prep headspace pushes me towards hyper-practical material and spots content gaps that my typical game dev brain misses. It's not easy, but tricking yourself into that headspace by prepping for a mock session can sometimes glean partial playtesting benefits without the scheduling nightmare of actually running a game. Don't make a habit out of it though, there's no substitute for real playtests.

Solo-game playtests? You can run a quick and dirty version of a preliminary playtest by running through the game yourself or with a single player running a whole party. It's a useful mid-ground between a real playtest and not playtesting at all, but you miss out on all the juicy dynamics and decision negotiation that makes a full party such a useful force of chaos. Most responsibly used as a reality check between proper playtests if your adventure changes dramatically in revision.

Playtest #3 and beyond? Despite the diminishing returns, there are ways to push value out of intensive playtesting. Approach additional playtests from drastically different angles. Use different starting hooks or framing devices. Cut out large sections or add experimental content to see how they play. Picture yourself a GM adapting the adventure for their home game with new context.

Wrapping Up

I tend to feel pretty down on my material until I get it to a table and watch it play out. Playtesting provides a warm and reassuring, and sometimes lovingly stern clarity necessary to RPG development.

Playtesting dramatically overhauled my most recent adventure about a dinosaur theme park in space. Vague sense of direction and scale lead the attempted escape from the space station feeling too loose and killed tension during the first playtest. We tightened things up by adding a hex map with key locations and gameplay-relevant points of interest like port-a-john hiding places and binocular stations for scouting ahead. The hex map provided a much more concrete framework for survival-horror exploration and improved the feel of the adventure tenfold.

You can check out the results of my playtesting method here on DriveThruRPG:

I hope you find some of these ideas useful for your game development. I'd love to hear other people's playtesting methods and tips here in the comments.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Troika Pamphlet Jam Reviews, Part 5

Thus concludes our journey through all 52 entries submitted to the Troika Pamphlet Adventure Jam. I've had a grand time reading these pamphlets and writing the reviews, and I hope you've enjoyed reading along with me. Maybe I helped you find your new favorite adventure or maybe I've made several new mortal enemies with my criticism. Either way, thanks for taking a look. But don't go rushing off just yet, we're not quite done here.

Next post, I'll be assembling some of my takeaways from the jam in a little post-mortem and distributing a series of arbitrary awards. I'll also post a list of my favorite adventures from the jam for folks who don't want to read all the reviews and just skip to the good stuff.

Here's a sneak preview of some of the arbitrary award categories I've been brewing up:
  • Honey I Shrunk the PCs Award: For most creative use of minute-scale adventuring
  • Who Do You Think You Are, Troika Is Award: For excellence in ridiculous nonsense
  • Prozac in a Book Award: For most therapeutically peaceful adventure
If you have any suggestions for award categories or topics you'd like to see covered in the jam post-mortem, please share them in the comments.

Below, find links to the rest of the reviews:

They Might Be Troika!

Fans of They Might Be Giants would likely get a kick out of these (presumably) song references loosely organized into RPG tables, but I feel lost. Some of the entries jive with Troika and make for decent session inspiration, but many stretch to get there.

By Adam Good & Rick Richards

Antiquities and Curiosities

This module has all the charm of a vacant mansion. Structurally it looks the part. Abstract white sheets obscure what might be aristocratic furniture, but the fine wood inlay exists only in your imagination. Lack of specificity in this golden-barge-hosted auction heist casts a dusty film over noble and robust architecture. 

By Josh Hittie

Lukomorie and The Tree

A 3-location adventuring spot with figures from Slavic folklore. The locations feel largely unrelated except by culture and mostly encourage binary interaction: you can either do the thing or not. I like the tree and its golden chain that collapses the sky if removed. I wish the rest of the pamphlet supported an adventure related to that.

By Max Verbludenko

The Pelican's Secret

A murder most foul aboard a ship soon to port. The module admirably crams a lot of misdirection, actionable clues, and fun diversions into a small package. A few of the clues fail to connect in a way that make sense to me, but those gaps are easily filled. A worthy entry into the notoriously difficult to execute RPG mystery canon.

By Andrew Murdoch & Rolland


A design so ambitious and experimental I have no idea how fun it would be to play but certainly looks interesting enough to try. Essentially two entire board games using Troika as an extra layer of mechanics. In one, hunt beasts through a maze of tiles and harvest their bits to build your Creaturekart. In the other, race your vehicle against competing karts down a branching track. The mechanical abstractions seem to minimize space for roleplaying but there's plenty of room for a Troika board game among these adventures.

By Robin Gibson

Tower of Crab

This tower never plumbs the absurdist crabby depths I hoped it would. It takes a moderate approach to crab based humor, staying comfortably within the box of "but what if it was crabs?" The smooth jazz of giant enemy crabs, if you will. Some people like smooth jazz.


Belly of the Vellum Wyrm

A fine dungeon crawl through the belly of a multidimensional wyrm that eats up the players to get the game a-rolling, but forget all that. Grab your scissors and 1st grade folding skills because this is an arts and crafts project. The dungeon is linear and therefore the map not particularly useful, but I made a little snake and I had fun doing it. Pictures enclosed.

By James Lennox-Gordon

I did the head a little goofy

House Party

Navigate a sea of bros and hipsters to find a non-Gnome infested pissing spot and escape the house party. Heavy on contemporary party tropes, a bit light on gameable content. Fun, visceral encounters border things too abstract to be of much use. Much like a real house party, you're gonna have some aimless conversations that leave you jaded, but maybe you'll have a life-changing heart to heart or two that you forget the next day. Are you gonna have brunch with the god of death tomorrow like you planned to? Probably not.

By Joel Forster & Hana Lee

Descent Into The Baleful Basilica

A map-less, vanilla dungeon crawl with encounters almost exclusively of the sword-whacking variety. Investigate a vault suspected to imprison a terrible monster long ago sealed away by the ancients. Should you foolishly unleash the monster (a classical gorgon), you must fight her and if you win you can take her treasure. The boss encounter is balanced for party size.

By Emir Aciyan

Sakto's Karaoke Night

Content warning: Abuse. 
Prepare yourself for tonal whiplash. I'm still recovering. A little girl remains trapped inside her family's karaoke bar after she made a deal with a demon to rid the world of evil men like her abusive father. The demon haunts the place, tricking those who enter into committing acts of evil to convince the girl of man's heinous nature and whittle down her will to resist him. The adventure revolves around the demon's "temptations", but only one of the twelve provide any incentive for the players to behave poorly. Further, several encounters feel disconnected from the theme. In one, you can only convince the girl of man's goodness if you stab a sentient sword into a bunch of food. In others, you must sing along with the demon or resist falling asleep in a comfy bed. There's a distinct rift between the heartwarming karaoke-themed whimsy promised by the cover and tagline (and occasionally represented in the text) and the very serious, dark themes that dominate the adventure. The resulting clash between these ideas confuses and disturbs more than it provokes laughter or reflection.

By Giuliano Roverato & Rodrigo Melchior

SPYJAMMER - MindMeadows

An aesthetic feast for fans of brutalist architecture and cold war espionage. A rival syndicate wiped your brain after a failed mission and locked up the encoded memory files in MindMeadow Corporation's archives. It's so close to paranoia-fueled psychedelic bliss, but many of the encounters in the corp offices miss on practical adventure-fuel. I'd kill for a meatier and more developed version of exactly this, because this aesthetic is one of favorite takes on Troika.

By Galazor

He Made the Trains Run on Time

A pleasant hex crawl through a bit of woods where a failed wizard's project now rusts. There's nothing dangerous or nasty here, only some mildly curious encounters and the potential for time travel shenanigans. Perhaps not dramatic enough for the spotlight of a night's gaming, but a perfectly lovely amuse-bouche or detour elsewhere.

By Eli Hardwig

Banini: Legend of Alec

A peculiar adventure loosely based on 3D platformer video games of yore. It comes with two pamphlets, one the adventure and the other some backgrounds plus a music-playlist-based initiative system, which seems fun. Players are Baninis, presumably the ball-shaped creatures featured in the art. Imagine Kirby but without the gluttonous powers. In the adventure you do a series of things that don't lean as far into the video game theme as I hoped. Some of the things you do leave wide room for creative solutions, others involve fighting something in an empty arena. It's idiosyncratic and personal, like a parent's campaign notes for a game with their kids. It doesn't feel like it was written for me, but maybe that's okay.

By Christopher W. Reynolds

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Troika Pamphlet Jam Reviews, Part 4

We're coming down the home stretch with these reviews. After this, I'll post one last review compilation of the remaining 13 pamphlets and then onto the review roundup.

What is this? Chronologically ordered reviews of every module from the Troika pamphlet adventure jam that ended a month or so ago. Here you'll find reviews of the 28th-39th pamphlets submitted to the jam. Below, find links to the rest of the reviews:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5


A Star Fox-esque cadre of roguish space animals heist oregano from a slug crime boss in their junker starship. With each subsequent sci-fi reference, we crawl further from Troika's science fantasy into a wacky-space-opera hole from which there is no return. There's some encounters, a background, and rules for spaceships. It's not my thing, but if it is yours go forth and enjoy War Fox of the Space Dunes.

By Philip McElmurray

Dream Midden

A pleasant and modest little adventure into a world of caves and mushroom people. I like the snail taxi, the potential for immortality via Death Shroom inoculation, and the inexplicable scale. Did the quest-giving alchemist shrink the players to tiny size off-screen, is the author confused between inch and foot demarcations, or should I learn to stop worrying and love the Troika?

By Bear Commune

The Walking Gaol

Go and free a prisoner from the Waking Gaol, a jail within a giant golem. Apparently you'll know your target when you see 'em, but really it's anyone's guess. A rarity in this pamphlet jam, the dungeon uses puzzles. Some decent ones too. There's a lot to like here between the open ended encounters and ambiguous hook. There's a bit that misses, but it mostly hits. And where it fails, I'm inspired to get in there and fix it.

By Klum

The Department of Doors

Thousands of doors await in this secret doormaker's guild warehouse. They lead anywhere and everywhere, but mostly they lead to pure joy for you and your friends. Do you want to play Monster's Inc, but Troika and better? Yes, you do. This module delivers in every way you'd hope. Delightful door-destinations, portal-riffic encounters, tantalizing hooks, weirdos lurking around, everything. It does exactly what it needs to do as a pamphlet and I still want a full-length chapbook version.

By Max Kämmerer

The Last Stand of Septimus Nox

If you've read this far and noted the author below, you might know what to expect. This is no more practical than any other Lutra Ludos, but it's one of his better ideas. Shrink down to minute scale and confront a tyrannical wizard lording over a tiny people trapped by fictitious threats from outside. It's so open and ripe for player hijinks you could almost run it just from the pamphlet. Almost. If you're confused or curious about this mysterious Lutra Ludos character, I encourage you to read one of his 10 pamphlets submitted to this jam. This is a decent place to start a delve into Ludos's oeuvre, though I'd recommend A Wizard Did It as his best or The Birdcage as most exemplary of his style.

By Lutra Ludos

Panic on Pyramid Prime

This pamphlet looks cool. Triangular glyphs over psychedelic flows of harsh black and red prime you for a cool fucking adventure, which this almost is. The premise is great. A multidimensional apocalypse ravages a pyramidal plane and only the players can storm the pyramidion palace to save the day. The actual adventure takes players through a series of nondescript rooms fighting enemy after enemy with only a single opportunity for a non-combat solution. I love the setting and the aesthetic, the enemies are individually awesome, but there just isn't an adventure here that I'd want to play.

By Alexei Vella

Dwarf Stars

Speculative fiction-fiction on far future D&D. Tiefling and Genasi roles in spaceflight, Dwarven hegemony. A micro-system or perhaps extremely optimistic 5th edition D&D supplement, maybe a minable idea or two if your Troika tends towards the 40k.

By Lutra Ludos

Wanted: Belladonna Mortsafe

Where in the world is Belladonna Mortsafe? Probably in the Flea Market, or the House of Indolent Blooms, or the Department of Doors, or someplace equally likely to host a dashing rogue up to no good. The problem with this module: Your players will love Mortsafe too much to ever wish her harm. The next Troika pamphlet jam should be called "The Belladonna Mortsafe NPC jam" because I need more of this in my life.

By James Holloway


A post-mortem adventure idea paired with a countdown of apocalyptic events. Nothing about this feels so uniquely afterlife-y that you could not slot the apocalypse into a mortal campaign world if you like. The countdown hooks well into things likely to impede or disturb a typical adventuring party and feels appropriately apocalyptic.

By Lutra Ludos

Slime Temple

Sail down the slime river to rejuvenate yourself in squelching pits and falls. Keep noble company among multifarious ooze species, perhaps seek an audience with Mother Ooze herself. I'd like more specific Treasure ideas but the ooze flavors and effects are quite nice. Thumbs up for the vertical map.

By Ember + Ash

Across☆The Humpbacked Sky, Baby!

Bounty hunting across the humpbacked sky, supported by narrative tools and minigames. A bit more storygame-abstract than what I typically go for, but it feels appropriate for an adventure of this scope. The sample spheres and orbital threats make for compelling golden barging.

By Aaron Burkett & Carolyn Pagan

The Shinnanig Inn

Cool your impulses on the beaches of the Sea of Thought, attended by silver butlers and a golden hotel awaiting your reprieve. Great blocks of text and tedious skill challenges obscure nuggets of good ideas. A contender for one of the greats if adapted to RPG-practical language and stuffed with more game, but stubbornly unwieldy as is.

Paul Sciberras