Druid - Initiation.

To earn the right to become a Druid, you must start as an Outcast, then succeed an initiation ritual. You feast on deer blood, booze, and as much weird herbs as they can stuff into you. Then they give you a knife and tie you to another outcast naked. Eat your opponents heart, and you’re a druid. This means you can roll on a new table with better level-up effects.

This test should be deadly enough that deciding whether to try to become a druid or wimp out is a hard choice. Make sure to build this up so that the player knows that taking this contest comes with a serious risk of death. The idea is risk/reward. If you fail, you’ll lose your character: If you succeed, you get to become fucking awesome.

What’s happening to me?

Roll a d30 for both outcasts every round while they fight. Any and all of the effects below may be hallucinations: DM’s discretion. In this situation - with you both naked, drugged, and tied to each other - the knives do d12 damage. They’ll pair you with an outcast of level d4+1.

  1. Poison! Your current HP is halved.
  2. Save or be paralyzed this round.
  3. Your palms are slick with sweat. If you miss an attack you’ll drop your knife.
  4. You throw up all over your partner. You are slowed this round.
  5. You’ve got the shakes. +4 critical fail chance for the rest of the battle.
  6. Shit! Shit! One of these sick fucks put a snake in the handle of your knife!
  7. Save or be overwhelmed by Fear.
  8. Whoever was holding the torch just dropped it. You’re both blind.
  9. Someone just threw something at the back of your head. d4 damage if it hits.
  10. You can’t stop crying.
  11. The other outcasts are pissing all over you two. If you stand in it, save or slip over.
  12. The crowd around you has dissolved into an orgy and/or bloodbath. You have to fight through piles of writhing, slippery bodies.
  13. You look into your partners eyes. Both of you are caught up in a frozen moment of intense, sick arousal. The crowd sees it, knows, and roars approval.
  14. The crowd pulses and pushes you towards your partner, cheering. They get a free extra attack at -2.
Shadowy figures cluster around inside the circle, giving you advice:
  1. Everyone you’ve ever let down
  2. Every dead thing you’ve ever known.
  3. Crooked and vague shapes. You see a deer, but its neck extends into a red hand with an eye in the middle. You see a giant mother boar with six human faces dripping from its teats.
  4. Lovers and friends - but their eyes are wrong, and their advice is horrifying.
  5. The stars are pulsating and ripping into something giant and multicoloured that’s turning to look down at the fight. Whenever you see the sky, save or be hypnotized by it.
  6. A vision of the future unfolds around you. It’s incredibly important - pity you’re distracted.
  7. You suddenly feel like your head is whirling a thousand miles above your feet. Intense disorientation and vertigo gives -2 to hit this turn.
  8. All the blood and mud you’re standing in is swirling together into churning red waves, first waist-deep, then neck-deep. If this keeps going you’ll drown.
  9. The world spins. You swap bodies with the other outcast.
  10. The ground lurches, and both of you are suddenly in freefall through a vast chasm. The crowd’s cries grow faint. Something enormous and terrible slithers at the bottom.
  11. You feel a horrifying joy. You can’t stop laughing. Your opponent must make a morale check or spend their turn trying to flee.
  12. Bezerk: You attack twice this round at random.
        1. Your enemy
        2. Nearby member of the crowd.
        3. Another PC.
        4. Yourself.
  13. Desperation. +4 critical hit chance for the rest of the battle.
  14. Sudden clarity. +2 to all rolls this turn.
  15. Hyperactive speed. +2 AC.
  16. Crazed, frothing strength. Double damage.

Live through that, and you did it! You're a druid!

This is designed to be a short and terrifying gamble, so that it doesn’t bog down the game too much with a solo Outcast adventure. You might still want to play this out in-between sessions, though. I'll post the Druid level-up table soon.


This is a class for LOTFP, based on the Specialist, inspired by Zak's random classes. You get all the Specialist's normal hit dice and saves, but on level up you roll twice on this table instead of getting skill points.

This is essentially a ranger/druid thing, inspired by Joesky's WTF druid. It's someone who runs around the forest punching bears for kicks. They have a new skill: Drugs, Pharmacy, Concoctionism or Rhizotomoi. It concerns the application, handling and knowledge of all poisons, herbs, and remedies. Look down the table to see what it's good for.

  1. +1 Dexterity, up to racial max.
  2. +1 to the chance that anything you meet in the wild is surprised.
  3. +1 to ranged attack bonus.
  4. Whenever you aim (waiting a round to get +4 to hit at range) the dice you roll for damage becomes one size bigger.
  5. The dice you roll for Craft Checks becomes one size bigger.

    (In my game, you roll d6+Wis to make something. Whenever you use the item, roll under that number or it breaks. If you succeed, subtract 1 for next time. This entry makes it a d8+Wis.)
  6. +d4 to the damage of any trap you use, and all related checks (e.g., the saving throw the enemy must make to escape it). Next time it's +d6.
  7. +1 to stealth.
  8. +1 to bushcraft.
  9. +1 to Sneak Attack.
  10. You know what’s passed this way today.
  11. When you’re in a group, you can travel one extra hex per day.
    (If your campaign doesn't use wilderness travel or hexes, then the Outcast is one speed faster at all times.)
  12. Eagle eyes. You can pinpoint details at long distances (For example, seeing the details of nearby hexes, or reading lips to see what people are saying in another building). Roll this again, and you can shoot all ranged weapons farther (ignore 2 points of ranged penalty).
  13. Herbs! Roll for one herb. You know where it grows; Either the DM draws the location on the map, or you can just handwave it and gather d4 bushels in-between sessions. The subject must eat or drink the herbs; stabbing a guy with one of these on a dagger will have no effect. Unless it says otherwise, they last d6 rounds.
    1. Trip out: Victim removes all their clothes and acts dazed and confused. They’ll snap out of it if attacked.
    2. Truth serum: Victim cannot tell lies. They may babble about inconsequential details, though. The Vicarian Brain Flower uses this to tear families apart, allowing it easy access to the depression it feeds on.
    3. Numbness: Completely numbs you to pain but heals no damage. This would, for example, let you walk on broken legs, let you wake up and keep fighting under 0 HP, and give you +2 against effects like Sleep. Leeches use this to numb you to their bite.
    4. Berserk: Get two attacks per round, and wildly attack anyone around you.
    5. Communion: Subject sees everyone they’ve ever killed. They may ask them for advice. Serious killers may be terrified.
    6. Joker Venom: Victim loses all inhibitions, acts on all their secret desires. (Non-human opponents may have non-human secret desires.)
    7. Distracted: Victim gets -4 to their next saving throw.
    8. Focused: Subject doesn't have to sleep tonight.
  14. Poisons! Roll for one poison. You know what plants and animals you can distill this from, and where they live and grow. Again, the DM can draw the location on the map, or you can just handwave it and gather d4 vials in-between sessions. Obviously the victim gets a save against poison.
    1. Lowers the victim’s immune response, giving them a common disease which will force them to skip work and just lay low in their bed for d4 days.
    2. Tracer: For d4 days, the Victim constantly coughs up blue bile that glows faintly in the dark. Bavarian slugs tag their victims with this so they can track them to their den and slowly envelop them while they sleep.
    3. At times of intense stress, the victim must save or be overcome by a completely different personality, which will have no memory of what was going on previously. The outcasts believe this personality is a recently departed soul. Lasts d4 days.
    4. Shakes: Critically fails on a roll of 5 or less. Constantly messes up small tasks, breaks objects, etc. Lasts d4 rounds.
    5. Fear: -2 to morale checks.
    6. Paranoia: Subject begins to believe that their friends have betrayed them, starts a fight with their group. Lasts d4 days.

Every time you roll a Herb or Poison result, add one to your Drugs skill. The DM makes a secret Drug check whenever you apply a poison or a herb. Failure indicates that you left traces of it on your skin, which will activate the effect whenever it’s most hilarious.

You also add your Drug skill to the duration of all effects. For instance, with a skill of 3, the Tracer poison will last d4+3 days. Obviously, the players should be able to discover herbs and poisons on their own, as well as rolling the ones here on level up.

The Land of Hidden Men ~ Jungle Girl

  1. +1 to critical hit chance at range.
  2. +d4 to reaction checks against animals. Next it’s +d6.
  3. You get a bonus to crafting shit out of animals: +1 to craft it, and to any effects it has (Damage and to-hit for weapons, AC for armour, saves for traps, etc). Only works for cool, exotic animals.
  4. Every day, you can pick a target. While tracking it you don’t need to sleep, eat, or stop for anything. You gain the special affinity a hunter has with it’s prey. You can ask d4 questions about it: what it's thinking, its secrets and its weaknesses. Roll this again and it's d6, d8, d10 questions.
  5. Pick an area. You know all about it. (Here’s how I handle player knowledge. You should already be telling every player a lot of stuff about the area, so they can make valid choices. So, instead of just giving the outcast more information, I’m going to let them decide d4+bushcraft things about what the area’s like. For instance, they could get the map and draw the perfect place to camp undetected, an underground river that flows right under the enemy base, a field where poisoned mushrooms grow, or add an entry to the random encounter table. You could also simply answer d6+bushcraft questions about the area.)
  6. Roll twice, get both effects.

This is the first level-up table. Whenever you want, you can test yourself at an outcast initiation ritual to become a Druid, which allows you to roll on the Druid level-up table with better effects.

Your infinite Selves

Somewhere in the multiverse lurks your Feared Self. 

They are worse than you in every way. You have spent your entire life trying to tear yourself away from them.  They cling to you, moaning and slobbering. Just being near them degrades you; physically, mentally, spiritually, ethically.

At the opposite point in the cosmos is your Desired Self.

They are the perfect representation of beauty and truth. They have thrown away fear, sloth and shame. They're achieving all their hopes and dreams. There's only one thing left to do: Kill their feared self. You.

This chain echoes to infinity. Your Ideal Self is the Hated Self of some purer Ideal Self, which has its own Desired Self. Your infinite selves hunt each other eternally.

The Underworld

Please don't read this post if you're playing in a game of mine right now

 I'm running a campaign for two groups at once. The only point of contact between them is this piece of paper. Everything on here was drawn by them, apart from a river I sketched out to start things off.

Group A has quickly decided that group B is the enemy. Last session, they discovered that group B had made a bridge over a pit trap at the entrance to the dungeon. They wrote "Thank you" on the wall - then replaced that bridge with their own, which is rigged to collapse when the other group walks over it. At the bottom of the pit, they put up spikes (d8 damage). On one of the spikes, they nailed a new character sheet.

Later, they set fire to a plague giant which rampaged through the town. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this was the town where Group B had ended their last session, asleep.

I think this might be the start of a war.

Everyone has a dungeon inside them

You might have noticed that the whole thing is drawn over a transparent map of Vornheim. This is the big deal about the campaign: The entire wilderness exists in the minds of the people in the city above. As the people in Vornheim sleep, their hopes, dreams and fears drift down to create this wilderness. When someone hides something, that secret twists into a dungeon down below. The monsters are all walking manifestations of the secret terrors and lusts of the people above. 

What's the point of this psycho-symbolism?

This campaign was inspired by the West Marches, a wilderness campaign with the strict guideline: the adventure is in the wilderness, not the town. The idea is that the wilderness and town are opposing forces, and every moment you spend making one interesting will take away from the other. Being in love with town adventures, I wanted to try something different.

With this campaign, everything you do in the wilderness directly effects the town. Through the city, the players have influence over the wilderness: if you kill someone who was dreaming a monster, that monster will disappear. Through the wilderness, they have influence over the hearts and minds of the people in the city above. Killing a monster, setting fire to a forest, planting or building things - all the actions they take in the wilderness will change the people in the section of the city above them. As below, so above.

Here's a trick Group A has tried. Coffee imports are currently banned. They found someone who was dreaming a tower in the wilderness below, then paid her to chug as much coffee as possible. As a result, her tower has sprouted into a coffee plantation. They can harvest it, bring it up to the city above, and make a fortune off black market dream coffee. 

Of course, then they got distracted, and the coffee was stolen by thieves, and their cleric got killed by the thief king, and now they're raiding a library to find out how to resurrect his soul into the body of a life-sized puppet. You know how D&D works.

I am vaguely considering running this campaign on G+. I've never been able to get Hangouts working right before, but I might be able to run it at someone else's house. For anyone who wouldn't play in such a game, I've put my secret DM materials under the break. Please do not read past this point if you have any intention of playing in any possible future game I run for this.

Starting Equipment

Whenever my players make a new character, I draw (players + 1) of these and let them choose one.

That's your starting equipment and the job you had before you took up this adventuring gig. Items in bold are oversized, items in italics don't count for encumbrance. Where it says "Animals", you get that many cards from the dog deck in the post below. After level 1, you can recruit these guys as hirelings.

Obviously I need to make more of these. If anyone wants to send in the equipment a character of theirs has started with, that would be awesome. I can format it out like a card and update this post with the new ones.

Dogs and Magic

I've made these spell cards to use instead of rolling on a table and writing down the result. At level 1 you draw Read Magic and 3 other spells at random from the deck. This means that all the level 1 wizards in the same group will have different spells.

(I added some spells to the traditional LOTFP list, but realized too late that Ventriloquism is actually pretty much identical to a second-level LOTFP spell, Audible Glamour. Throw it out if that worries you.) 

I also made cards out of the entries in Zak's Available Dog Table.

 I printed them out, cut them up, and put them in card sleeves like these. Put a handful of them on the table at the beginning of the session, haggle for the price of each on an individual basis. "This dog dragged my grandmother from the ruins of our burning village! I couldn't accept less than 10 gold."

It worked really well. The spell cards were perfect for functionality, cutting down on character creation time and making it obvious what spells were available and memorized. The Dog cards were lovely as a ridiculous frippery. It's great how much dog descriptions can add to the world.

(eg.: "Why is the Carcassian Hoghunter trained to disarm enemies with a bite to the hand?"

"Clearly you've never seen a Carcassian hog.")

What I love most is that you can have an enormous world of possibilities, but your players only need to choose from a tiny amount of them at one time. So first, the world is bigger and stranger and more mysterious: you know this shop doesn't sell every dog in the world, and that you may never even see every dog in the world. Every shop is surprising and new. Second, it reduces the amount of time people spend staring down at pieces of paper, deciding what to buy.*

(The original table and this random generator version did both these things, but I never had easy access to the internet to get to it, and I like how instantaneous it is to just give people a card. No writing down, no rubbing out when the dogs die in waves.)

The only problem I found is that dogs can't really replace Hirelings: you can't play as your dog after you die. I wonder how far I should take this. A deck of hirelings? A deck of weapons, instead of using the equipment list? I'm very tempted to splurge even further and have decks for Weapons, Magic, Dogs and Men.

Cleric Spell sheet.

Level 1 clerics all get the same spells, right? So - surely a sheet like this has already been made? Y'all can't be just looking up and writing down ten spells and a table at the start of every chargen, right?

It seems like that must be true, but I couldn't find any other sheet like this for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The character sheets I keep seeing don't even come with a space to write down spells. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. How are you all doing this?

Well, assuming everyone but me isn't using some secret better method, and I haven't misunderstood some crucial rule, print out this A5 sheet and give it to your cleric. Write down the number of spells you've got prepared in the boxes (For example: 2 Cure Light Wounds, 1 Turn Undead.) "LVL" means the caster's level.

Turning chart stolen from Jeff Rients.

Rules for Magic, and the Speaking Gun

Knock Knock is this little cartoon game that manages to evoke utter terror in me. It does it with a simple trick: All the rules are told to you in-character, by multiple flawed and contradictory sources.

So, your little avatar tells you how to play the game. You move from room to room, fixing broken lights. Then he warns to to turn off the lights as soon as you fix them. He has a dream where something outside can see the lights go on.

Soon, you start finding pages from your diary. They make a counter-claim: monsters spawn in dark rooms, so you should leave all the lights on. They also start giving you the rules for some other games. Your avatar can't remember writing any of this. 

You hear voices: a man and a girl. They tell you things that seem to help, but they also laugh when you stumble into one of the shaggy things roaming around your house.

The result of putting the rules in these three sources: I can play the game, and I roam around the house doing things that seem to be working, but everything is shrouded in this mystery that gives me constant, terrible paranoia. Is this actually the right thing to do? Am I missing some crucial rule? What effect is all this actually having? Instead of following orders, I'm piecing them together something mysterious: A detective, instead of a soldier *

  • Follow the rules of the game! Of course you must first understand the game being played with you.
Obviously this is how magic items should work. Scholars and soldiers and folk-tales all disagree on what it is, what it does, and who made it. Your players have to piece together which, if any, of these claims are true.
  1. Pistol: Someone has crudely engraved a mouth on the grip. It's a common superstition, said to increase your aim. It recalls the legendary "Speaking Gun", which told Janus everything about his enemies, making sure he could never lose.
  2. Theological analysisThe "Executioner that Spoke" was actually a metaphor for the terrible indiscretions of Pope Johan Riechart III. The original text describes a bloody tube that destroys the sinner's enemies, but eventually turns on him by "Speaking his name", and thus "Scattering him to every corner of the earth." This represents the Pope's trio of murder-men, who spoke his name in court and thus sentenced him to torture and death. 
  3. Local folktale: Jakob was an envious man, who prayed and received a miraculous pistol. Jakob turns the pistol on a picture of his brother: it speaks his brother's name, and Jakob inherits his brother's wealth. He points it at a portrait of the king: it speaks the king's name, and Jakob inherits the crown. Finally, he runs to the cathedral and points it at the fresco above - but this time, the gun speaks Jakob's name, and he is turned into a monster.
  4. Children's book (1sp):
  5. Journal of a Satanist (Worth 1,000g to the church, who will destroy it and/or anyone who's read it. Written in an ancient language)They cut out god's tongue. That's why he doesn't speak anymore. I saw it, on the lowest level: A vast hollow tube. There's no wind down there, but something moves through it. 
  6. Superstition: If you speak someone's true name backwards, they are unmade completely. They do not exist, they will not exist, they have never existed.
  7. Religious text: But Joseph descended from the mountain; and in his left hand was a great light. And it called Mahanaim, and Edom, and Careb; Nahbi; Kibzaim, Keziz, and Samuel; and all it called fell down around him.
  8. Mural in ruins of civilization (5,000g if it can somehow be retrieved for a gallery). Panel 1: An old warrior. Panel 2: He enters a tent, where a lump of flesh sits on an altar. Panel 3: He points the lump to his head (right handed). Panel 4: His body is stripped from him. Panel 5: His soul wreaks havoc on the enemy.
  9. Asylum patient records: ...strange wet noises coming from his hand. Heinrich claims the "Gun" suckles on his palm. He takes this as more evidence that the thing loves him. No matter how many times I throw the thing away, he somehow manages to get it back in his hands again.
  10. Asylum records:..has been completely mismanaged. Several patients have gone years without being assigned a psychiatrist. Heinrich still claims he had a "Dr. Reed", which the gun devoured. Unable to find anyone of that name in our records - possibly a childhood friend of his?
  11. Black box d10 x 50g: Inscribed with symbols of an ancient cult. Inside is a tiny lump of meat on a velvet cushion, clearly once part of something larger. They say that cult used to have a stronghold on a mountain to the east... 
  12. Statue: Man holding up his left palm, which has a hole straight through it. Often placed at entrances and windows, to guard against spirits. The hole is designed to make an eerie whistling when the wind blows through it.

*Ice-Pick lodge loves using this trick. In The Void, you learn from 10 sisters and 10 brothers, who all explain the rules from their own points of view. The first sister, for example, tells you how to progress in the game, then warns you not to do it under any circumstances. Don't go out into the game, don't try to win. If you stay here in the tutorial, time will never go forward, and nothing bad will ever happen. We can live here forever.

When you leave her island, something terrible happens to her.
Tyrant, one of the Brothers

Current state of the City

This is all just info for my group, published here for convenience. Everyone else need not read any further.

Play Dice with the Universe

This little random generator here  will make you a weird planet, a region, the weirdos that live there, and their relationship with the weirdos nearby. If you run a game that involves jet-setting from planet to planet, you might have use of such a thing.

It's a cleaned-up and digitized version of these tables here.

Why play as kids?

Children are trapped in a set of rules they can't understand or control.

"Why do we have to move? All my friends are here." Well, because dad needs to switch jobs, because the company's downsizing, because profits are down, because the economy's fucked up, because the intricate invisible system that controls us all is shuddering and breaking.

Adults don't have much more knowledge or control, but we're tied into systems that we trust to understand things for us. We don't actually understand any of the crucial gadgets and systems that our lives depend on, but we can rely on the news, ads, other people to tell us that they're working fine. We can trust that everyone isn't lying to us.

Kids do not have this luxury.

Kids aren't smart enough to understand the Global Financial Crisis, but they are smart enough to know that you're lying to them about it. Inevitably, you'll lie to them. The truth is too complicated and terrible to explain, so you give them simple, clean lies until you think they've grown up. We teach them that 0 is the lowest number possible, then we reveal a hidden series of doppleganger numbers lurking underneath the system they thought was everything. A million small betrayals like this teach children that they are not being told the real rules.

So: Children don't understand the rules, can't control them, and they know everybody's lying to them about what the rules actually are. This creates a very specific and interesting mindset. Making a world that's a literal expression of an interesting mindset is a recipe for greatness. For instance, spy fiction has always presented a literal manifestation of a paranoid person's fantasies, a world where everyone really is out to get you.

In a million fairy tales, people are thrust into a world that works according to an intricate set of strange, often malevolent rules that are never clearly explained. This is the world kids live in every day, fishbowled around a child's perspective in the same way that spy fiction is fishbowled around paranoia. In the fairy tale, kids come to understand the rules, navigate them, and exploit them to their own ends. This is the heroic fantasy all children aspire to: attaining control and understanding over their lives.

Pan's labyrinth deliberately exploits the link to reality: The fairy-tale rules Ofelia has to follow directly symbolize the rigid laws of fascist Spain. In the real world her evil stepfather lectures on austerity measures. In the fairy tale world she is told not to take the food under any circumstances, for fear of the monster at the head of the table.

Here's a classic example, Vasilisa the Beautiful. Vasilisa finds something that works in a strange way: Skulls that glow with inner light. Like the badass she is, she rips off a skull and uses it to light her way through the forest. She has come into contact with a creepy rule, understood it, and used it to achieve her goals.

Of course, she still doesn't know what makes the skull glow. A kid may not be able to understand why their parents are fighting, but they can learn the patterns it runs by; what signs lead up to it, how to avoid it, and what usually happens afterward. In the mind of a kid, there's little difference between these rules and fairy-tale commandments like "Don't look behind you".

In comparison, Scooby-doo is the purest wish-fulfillment. Not only do you come to fully understand the hidden and terrible forces behind the world, you kick them into the light to be humiliated and destroyed. It's like punching the GFC in the face. Even here, though, there's some melancholy. There are no vampires, werewolves or ghosts. There's never any real magic or forces of evil. In the end, it's always just a bunch of assholes trying to make a quick buck.


  1. When summoning demons, have the players actually draw a salt circle around them. If the circle is ever broken, the demon gets in.
  2. When a giant, braindead monster comes out, put your cat in the middle of the table. Translate anything she does to the monster's actions. If she knocks over a miniature, they're destroyed. If she goes and sits on the player, they've just had the thing crush them. Poke her with miniatures to simulate the giant's handlers spurring it to action. 50% of the time she might just go to sleep, which is fine.
  3. During character creation, get every player to drop a coin over a map (Ideally all at the same time, in a big jangling heap). Wherever it lands is where their character is from. I'm making a game where this determines your race.
  4. For a super attack, roll a cricket ball through the battlefield. Any miniature that gets knocked over is crushed.
  5. A wizard has shrunk your players into pieces and trapped them in a sadistic board game. Actually bring out a board game, and interpret every event as some kind of encounter. Say, chess: Each piece is some force they can command in any way that makes sense.
  6. Arrange a feast in-game, and play it out with using a feast in real life. The players chat in-character as they eat, with you playing all the rabble. Pick one dish: anyone who eats it in real life is poisoned in-game. (Credit to zak)
  7. Get some old wooden toy as the Golden Idol. Scratch a clue somewhere on the underside, where it won't be found easily. 
  8. Get an old teddy-bear, open it up and stuff a heavy "Gem" inside, then sew it back together. Give it to them as the golden idol. If they notice that it's weirdly heavy and has a bad stitch-job, they can rip it open and find the real prize.
  9. If someone's been Silenced, tape over their mouth and force them to do Charades to communicate.
  10. Take everybody down to the basement, then turn out the lights and tell them that their torches have blown out and they hear something terrible coming. Flick the lights back on suddenly after there's been some panic: wherever they stand is they are when the monster attacks. (Credit to Gary Gygax - can't seem to find where I read about it, though). 
  11. "Dance, dance!" froths the mad king. No, really, dance. Unsatisfactory dancing will result in death.
  12.  Get a bunch of lego pieces and blocks that you can stack. Each piece represents one item: The bigger the item, the bigger the piece. You can carry as many items as you can stack. If the pile falls over, you've tried to carry too much, tripped, and scattered everything all over the place.
  13. Roll for random encounters every two minutes in real-time.  
  14. Get a bunch of matches. These are all the torches you have: You only have light for the time it takes for them to burn.
  15. For a sneak attack, throw a dice at your player when they're not expecting it. If they don't get hit, they dodge the attack. 
  16. Give them a sealed letter to deliver. If they rip it open, the recipient will know. If they steam it open and re-seal it, no-one will be the wiser.
  17. They're caught off-guard in an inn. They only have the items that are around them in real-life to defend themselves.
  18. Pick a song for a monster to hum to itself, like this. Put it on loop. Turn it down until it's almost inaudible, then push the volume up higher the closer it gets to the party.
  19. To complete a pact, you have to actually cut yourself and smear the blood on a piece of parchment.
  20. At the bottom of the worst pit in the world is The Speaking Gun. If you shoot anything with it, throw out that miniature, crush it, burn it. That monster has been completely unmade, now and forever. You can never use it in a campaign again.
  21. Man, actually go outside. Write your character sheet on your arm. Trek through a creek, roll dice on streetcorners. The terrain you're going through is the terrain in-game; just point out where the monsters are. 
Inspired by Patrick Stuart.

Some Negadungeons

In my last post, I summarized the content theory. Simply put, many game reduce everything you can experience to "Content", which is meant to be consumed and reward you for consuming it. Designing a game-world to make the protagonist happy leads to games with a naive and solipsistic world-view that is often at odds with their serious stories. Here are some games that reject or oppose that.

You take control of a girl in her room. She can sleep, play video games, work at her desk, or go out to her balcony. She refuses to leave.

However, if you go to sleep, you enter a version of your room where you can open the door and walk out. If you do, you find yourself in an enormous mega-labyrinth of interlinked dream-worlds. The core sense of horror and surrealism in these dream-worlds comes from the feeling that they are not made for you.

The game is about wandering, lost, through enormous broken levels. Some force you to walk through giant black voids without landmarks. Others confuse you with cyclical layouts that loop endlessly. You might find the exit by walking between two stones, or interacting with a flower an odd number of times. There is the feeling that you've fallen through the map, into broken geometry you were never meant to cross.

There are many pieces of content that were clearly designed never to be found: Genuinely secret secrets. One monster has a 1 in 47 chance of being summoned whenever you flip a certain light switch. One door opens if you pass it three times, then turn back.

More thoughts here.

Colorful little micro-worlds suspended in a terrifying black void.

Earthbound was one of the first games to capitalize on the casual surrealism of JRPG's. It discovered a rich vein of weirdness that has since been mined by everything from Space Funeral to Anodyne. The quests are bizarre. Like in a dream, your reasons for doing anything dissolve when you try to explain them.

At first this dream-like atmosphere feels warm and charming. Slowly, though, over the course of hours and hours, you begin to get a sense of deep malice. It's not something you can put your finger on - most examples I can give will sound like trivial frustrations. But as you go on, the logic of the dream world slowly transforms into a nightmare that you feel trapped in.

At one point, you are suddenly transported to Moonside, a  inverted version of the town you're traveling through. The buildings glow neon, the inhabitants slur broken speech at you, and pieces of abstract art constantly attack you, even indoors. Being trapped there is nauseating; even worse is the way you have to follow the broken logic of the place to escape it. Internalizing it's crooked rules feels somehow corrupting.

The game suddenly and randomly transports you to a terrifying inverse world like this twice in a short space of time. The effect is a feeling that this darkness underlies everything, everywhere. Later, as you navigate the dream logic of another quest, you start to feel like you never really escaped Moonside. 

There are flowers in the forest. A counter on your screen tells you how many you've collected, out of 144. If you collect all 144 flowers, absolutely nothing happens.

That is vicious. I can't defend it.

The "Good Ending" of Spec Ops: The Line is to turn off the game. The longer you continue, the more you descend into increasingly horrific and unnecessary war crimes. The content you consume is repulsive: the combat itself is deliberately designed as an endless slog that slowly numbs you to all sensation. The game wonders aloud whether playing it is a morally questionable act: "To kill for entertainment is harmless," reassures one of the loading screen tips.

It largely exists for people who play Call of Duty without questioning its values. The game was marketed as a straight Military Shooter: The box offers no indication that it will slowly and surely become a nightmare. I can imagine that it reached a lot of COD-playing twelve year olds, who must have been traumatized to find their escapist killing suddenly become messy.

A 50,000 word long discussion of Spec Ops here.

Horror games in general

If a horror game is at all successful, you won't want to consume content. The genre expectations completely invert the philosophy of modern game design. As soon as you realize that a game is a horror, you expect that consuming content will not be traditionally enjoyable. You judge that the game has succeeded if you don't want to fight the monster or enter the new level. This means horror games are celebrated for things that would be seen as terrible game design anywhere else. Thank god they exist.

Silent Hill 4: The Room in particular

You wake up in your apartment. The door is locked: There's a hole in the wall that leads to a nightmare. You slowly explore this nightmare world, returning to your room as a safe place to rest and heal. At one point, someone offers you an item. You can take it, or refuse it. Obviously, you're going to take it - that's the way games work. Items are there to be picked up. 

If you do, a nightmare creature invades your room. Your safe place is violated. Nothing is sacred, nowhere is safe.

More on Silent Hill 4 in The Gamer's Quarter, issue 1, page 26. The magazine is now sadly defunct, and I can only find a download on that website. 

I use this game as a modern stand-in for every classic RPG from fallout to the OSR way of running D&D. If you go to certain places, you will find monsters too terrible for you to fight. These places are not made for you: you are not welcome here. This feeling is temporary, of course: The games pretend that a place hasn't been designed for your benefit so that it feels all the more satisfying to come back when you're at the right level, and slot into your correct place.

The same feeling is captured in Metroidvania games. Classically, you'll have to jump around lava pits before unlocking lava-proof shoes. When you get that item, you've suddenly turned the world into something that's designed to be convenient for you. It's like turning a jungle into a department store with the flip of a switch.

More here.

The world is made for your enemies: You have to skulk around the edges of it, distort it to your own purposes, and penetrate it. 


I worry that I haven't expressed this anti-content idea well, even after these two articles. It is, essentially, the idea that a game shouldn't make you happy: that the things in a game should not feel like they've been made for you; that the sickening feeling that you've done the wrong thing is just as valuable as a pat on the head. It's an advocation for games that are bewildering, broken, twisted and immoral. It stands alongside the philosophy of fun games, not against them. These ideas might be obvious, but they're important to the way I think about games.