Northern Crown: Defending the Trading Post

One of my bucket list role-playing games has been Northern Crown ever since the setting was first published in the mid-aughts. In a fantasy-infused version of North American in 1650, the Republic of Sophia has sent an expedition in support of a lonely trading post on the western shore of a long lake named after the French explorer de Champlain, charged with exploring and claiming the lands there for the republic.[1] And so the heroes arrived at Ira and Jerusha Allen’s trading post, just in time to fend off marauding bandits who have come to raid the storehouse.

The layout that our GM, Tom, came up with to represent the trading post was pretty damn impressive — especially because he had it hidden under the surface of his game table. We started thinking we were just going to be using a Lego canal ship, then Tom broke out the Heroscape terrain for the interlude where we freed the sasquatch from cruel portagers, and then he said, “We need to move all this,” and started pulling up the table surface to reveal the diorama pictured above.

[1] I’m told it’s loosely the plot of Pathfinder‘s Kingmaker adventure path, reconfigured for the lands and peoples of Northern Crown, using a loose renditiong of Pathfinder rules, with elements from Dungeon Crawl Classics and FATE.


BPRD: The Celestial Legion

Printouts of the character sheet and biography for Sparky, Nikola Tesla's electrical golem.

Sifting through more stuff in the wake of purging empty boxes, I came across a trove of materials from convention games I’ve run over the years: several Ghostbusters scenarios from Carnages past, Unknown Armies‘ archetypal Jailbreak, and this particular gem, The Celestial Legion. It’s a Hellboy/B.P.R.D. adventure I wrote back when I was getting around to more conventions in New England than Carnage. Forgive me, purists, because it was written using mainly Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy film as inspiration, because that was my first real experience with the character. Only in the case of my conception of the B.P.R.D, most of the team members are weirdos like Sparky here — the Russian werebear assassin, the psychic supermodel — plus the much put-upon token normal agent, whose most-used piece of gear was the clicker gadget on his belt to track the collateral damage tally.

The sharp-eyed may note that the player materials I make are heavily patterned after the sample characters in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel role-playing games: short bio, some notes to guide how the character might act and look at things, and a full character sheet on another page. In this case, it was because I ran the game using Cinematic Unisystem and may have borrowed more than a few pieces of art from the sample character spreads for character portraits. (Sparky’s particular portrait is a work called Creacion del golem by Gabos on

I still feel proud of The Celestial Legion for being one of the more robustly documented adventures I’ve written, but I think the second and third acts need work. As is my bad habit, I came up with a great concept, detailed how it all kicks off and then the detailing and robustness of what might happen trails off as the narrative progresses. The more I think about it now, the more I realize I can’t tell you what the climax of the adventure is, or how it pays off the prior scenes.

Boarding Man’s Promise

 Skull & Shackles convened this week for what turned out to be the taking of Man’s Promise. We did a bang-up job of securing the sterncastle, as well as repelling a band of grindylows. Dealing with the goons Plugg sent down into the bilges proved more troublesome, but ultimately soluble.

Our GM Mike did a bang-up job with the miniatures, right? He built both the Wormwood and Man’s Promise and painted most of the figures you see — excepting Usidore the Blue, of course.

Skull & Shackles: Dire Rats Redux

Four shanghaied adventurers face off against dire rats in the bilges of a sailing ship, as role-playing minis on a map.
Can you pick out Usidore the Blue in this picture? He’s a water wizard, ‘Arry.

After a very, very long run-up, I got to join in a nascent campaign of Skull & Shackles, which readers may recall I have sampled before. Hopefully this time, bot fly fever will be less of a crushing burden.

Defending Egil

Defending Egil the Icelander from the search party of Erik Bloodaxe, as rendered in Heroscape tiles.

Defending Egil the Icelander from the search party of Erik Bloodaxe, as rendered in Heroscape tiles.

I played in a session of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok yesterday that includes this amazing spread of Heroscape terrain and traditionally painted miniatures, as well as Egil the Icelandic Heroclix (Mage Knight, maybe?) figure. This was the second part of the scenario in the back of the core book. Everything points to the next stop in this pick-up campaign being Iceland itself. We glossed over how NPC-ified Turborg might rather return Ingrid to her father in Dublin immediately.

Michael Jordan as the MVP of Unknown Armies

Githyanki Diaspora has an interesting interview with Jim DelRosso about Unknown Armies, in which Jim mentions that he substituted Michael Jordan for Alex Abel as the person behind the New Inquisition:

Basically, Alex Abel is set up in the text to be a popular figure in the mainstream consciousness; the “reveal” that he’s running TNI is supposed to be a surprise. But it doesn’t work in a game because he doesn’t exist outside of UA’s fiction: he exists only to run TNI. Getting players to be surprised by that fact is like getting them to be surprised that billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is actually Batman. You’d either have to try to subtly introduce him to the narrative over time, or just ask them to pretend to be amazed. Neither seems fun.


So I went looking for a different Alex Abel.

Scroll down about halfway to the section on how Jordan became the man who decided “to just beat on the pinata of the occult until answers fall out,” which includes a timeline of Jordan’s meteoric success and sometimes curious career changes over the 1990s and 2000s, and how they make sense within the context of Alex Abel’s aborted ascension to the Invisible Clergy and his burning need to discover what he unknowingly lost that day. It really is spectacular, and just the kind of backfilled secret history that makes Unknown Armies the role-playing game of Tim Powers novels.

#RPGaDay2015 Round Up

#RPGaDay2015 snuck up on me this year. I was literally on vacation when it kicked off and it took me a couple days to get myself in gear, hence the big catch-up post on the 10th. After briefly toying with doing more batch posts as I saw some other folks doing, I decided I had the time to go for a post a day. Sometimes that meant banking a week’s worth in advance, and hoping that I had still had enough oomph to make the last post of the set interesting. I still felt as though I kept hitting many of the same games and things as last year, but I did come to appreciate how Dave Chapman switched up the topics and made them less about what stuff one bought.

And again, thanks to Dave for organizing the whole #RPGaDay2015 experience. He puts the prompts together, gets the word out there and this year brought in some very cool guest commentators who might not have otherwise participated in the conversation. Additionally, I got a charge out of seeing bloggers and designers I follow participate. Made me feel like we were part of a tighter-knit community. And I got to discover new cool people to follow, like Casting Shadows — which I was doing anyway, but his YouTube channel deserved its own shout-out; it’s as though he ran two blogathons at once.

After all that, I’m feeling more invigorated about role-playing games than I’ve felt in a while, as you may have been able to tell by the wealth of card game-related posts and videos that have gone up over the summer and spring. There’s a new campaign on the horizon for me and while I don’t plan to recap it as I did Carrion Crown or Skull & Shackles, perhaps I’ll find some inspiration there to write about exploring a new character type and mindset, or discovering the dynamics of a group of players all over again.

Finally, here’s the round-up of the #RPGaDay2015 topics for your amusement:


  1. Forthcoming Game You’re Most Looking Forward To
  2. Kickstarted Game Most Pleased You Backed
  3. Favorite New Game of the Last 12 Months
  4. Most Surprising Game
  5. Most Recent RPG Purchase
  6. Most Recent RPG Played
  7. Favorite Free RPG
  8. Favorite Appearance of RPGs in the Media
  9. Favorite Media You Wish Was an RPG
  10. Favorite RPG Publisher
  11. Favorite RPG Writer
  12. Favorite RPG Illustration
  13. Favorite RPG Podcast
  14. Favorite RPG Accessory
  15. Longest Campaign Played
  16. Longest Game Session Played
  17. Favorite Fantasy RPG
  18. Favorite SF RPG
  19. Favorite Supers RPG
  20. Favorite Horror RPG
  21. Favorite RPG Setting
  22. Perfect Gaming Environment
  23. Perfect Game for You
  24. Favorite House Rule
  25. Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic
  26. Favorite Inspiration for Your Game
  27. Favorite Idea for Merging Two Games into One
  28. Favorite Game You No Longer Play
  29. Favorite RPG Website or Blog
  30. Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity
  31. Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGs

#RPGaDay2015 31: Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGing

RPG-a-day-2015And as we wrap up #RPGaDay2015, the final prompt turns my thoughts toward what role-playing has done for the wider world. My answer would have to be: people.

Think about it. Role-playing games teach us problem-solving. They teach us empathy, both for characters in the game and for players at the table we might not have known otherwise. They teach us to collaborate, to utilize the available resources in the most efficient way possible, to build a shared narrative out of wildly disparate parts in a way that is — ideally — inclusive and constructive.

In the best case scenario — and, I think — in most scenarios, role-playing games teach us to be better people. Empathic, inventive, constructive, literate people. That’s a win every way you look at it.

And that’s #RPGaDay2015! Thanks to everyone who came along for the ride, commented, shared their own experiences and made the journey so much fun. Thanks especially to Dave Chapman, the mind behind Autocratik and the #RPGaDay blogathon movement. He puts the prompts together and led the charge with a vlog series that brought in publishers and designers to participate who might not have had the capacity to engage in the full course of the month.

#RPGaDay2015 30: Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

RPG-a-day-2015Day 30 of #RPGaDAY2015, or “We’re nearly there!” Dave over at Autocratik lobs us a softball today, presumably because he’s acutely aware of how draining 31 posts in 31 days can be — and he’s been vlogging the whole endeavor, editing in guest vloggers, too.

My current favorite celebrity role-player has to be Thomas Middleditch. He openly declared his allegiance to nerdery when he talked about being a GURPS GM on Late Night with Seth Meyers. In the full clip of the interview, Middleditch shares a bit about his campaign “We the People,” in which the signatories of the Declaration of Independence are asaulted by a werewolf. Also, he calls GURPS “exquisite.”

More recently, Thomas Middleditch has appeared on Nerd Poker, taking on the swing character Winter the mage. And that, too, has been spectacular, as he incorporates the detritus three-four other swing players have left in Winter’s history and made the character his own brand of creepy “why do we keep him around?”

#RPGaDay2015 29: Favorite RPG Website or Blog

RPG-a-day-2015Certainly the RPG website I visit the most is It was one of the first I stumbled across when learning about role-playing games and its reviews database at the time had a strong influence on how my library grew. I still visit it regularly — multiple times a day, in fact. For a long time, though, that custom of frequent visits has felt akin to turning on the television to make noise in the house: you get more comfort from the constant background buzz than you do any significant gain from the content there. Like any web forum, there are perennial topics that come up again and again. It’s almost reassuring to see people continue to bicker over whether role-playing games are dying and whether game publishing is an industry or a hobby.

Instead, I’ll give a shout-out to A dedicated team of Pathfinder fans did an amazing job of taking the game’s system reference document and to host it the Google Sites platform with a breathtaking amount of cross-referencing. It’s absurdly easy to jump from one related topic to the next because how of thoroughly game terms are hyper-linked. They use a “linkifier” script to recognize the use of a term that needs to be linked, and run it through what must now be thousands of pages.

Those thousands of pages are ridiculously up to date, too. As Paizo releases more open content, the team industriously brings it into the site. That website is such a huge boon to sifting through the maze of options that has sprung up around playing a Pathfinder character. I can’t recommend it enough to someone trying to figure the mechanical part of a character they’d like to play.