Saturday, December 31, 2022

His Majesty the Worm Update

On January 1st, 2022, I tweeted this twit:

This proved to be somewhat ambitious. So let's talk about what happened in 2022 and what's happening now!

What is His Majesty the Worm?

First, a little context. 

His Majesty the Worm is a new-school game with old-school sensibilities: the classic megadungeon experience given fresh life through a focus on the mundanities and small moments of daily life inside the dungeon.

  • Often-ignored subsystems, like food, hunger, light, and inventory management, are central to play and actually fun.
  • The game has robust procedures. Characters adventure in the Underworld, rest in role-playing driven camping scenes, and plan long-term actions in the City at the center of the Wide World.
  • The relationships between companions, called Bonds, powers the rest and recovery mechanic of the game. Role-playing literally drives the game forward.
  • Tarot cards are used as a randomizing element. Combat encounters are handled with an action-packed subsystem that ensures that all players have interesting choices every minute of combat: no downtime!

Here's how the book pitches itself.

What is the state of affairs?

In 2016, I started writing His Majesty the Worm. In 2017, the game was far enough along I could run weekly playtests. This weekly game is still going. (I should do a retrospective of running a five-year long megadungeon campaign at some point.)

In 2021, I began putting the game's appendices into a basic layout with some public domain art. I hosted these as pay-what-you-want titles on my Itch. Over the course of the year, this generated enough revenue that I commissioned all of the art I planned for the game.

By Marcin S

At the beginning of 2022, I had finished the game's text. The word count was a whopping 123,881

I scoped a quarter for an editor to edit the text, a quarter for me to implement edits, a quarter for a graphic designer to provide layout templates, and a quarter for me to implement the layout. 

This timeline was mostly successful! In 2022, I edited the entire book and finalized the layout of the core text. (I have not yet finished the layout of the appendices, roughly ~100 additional pages.)

All the stuff in the core book. Boy, page 111 has a lot of content.

I, uh, kind of forgot about everything that comes after that. 

I have never published a physical book before and there's a lot of stuff here that I'm working on. I've spent my whole life thinking about RPGs and kept myself perfectly ignorant of the industry of publishing.
  • The cost of physical books is incredibly high right now. What format should the book be in? How can I make it as cheap as possible so that people aren't priced out? How can I make it as nice as possible so the game is a treasure to own?
  • I've thus far avoided the hectic stress of crowdfunding. I wish I could avoid it altogether. How long can I put this off?
  • What mechanisms will people use to buy the book? How can you trade me dollars and have this book shipped to you? Do I set up a webstore? (I don't know how to do that.) Do I use another interface?
  • Once people have bought the book, who packages it and ships it? How much does this cost? How do you keep shipping costs low? How do I keep packaging costs low for this non-standard size I chose for the book? How do you accommodate for international shipping? How are taxes paid on imported media?

So...when can I buy it? 

Not yet. Soon.

"I call all times soon."

Despite some unanswered questions, after six years of development the game has never been closer to being fully realized. I am so excited to share it with you.

If you want to check it out, I hope you will:
  • Join my mailing list. I will only email you to give you updates about the game and let you know when it's ready.
  • Check out the appendices. I think each appendix has content that's applicable to any dungeon-based game you're playing. Every $5 thrown towards the game helps speed its development along. Plus, when they're ready, I'll upload the finalized, full-art version of the appendix on Itch as a free upgrade. 
I'll be talking a lot about the game here, doing a deep dive into the rules, to help you figure out if this is a game that you want to try out. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

23 Dungeon Features for #dungeon23

For Christmas this year, Sean McCoy has given me a community project to be excited about: dungeon23. There are a lot of people compiling resources for this project and all of its variations, so I won't attempt to cover that here. 

For my own projects, I'm planning:

  • Tarot-themed dungeon (78 rooms, potential future HIS MAJESTY THE WORM supplement)
  • Explore your eccentric halfling uncle's mansion depthcrawl (100 rooms, potential future Under Hill, By Water supplement)
  • Unknown???
(I even got the fancy daily planner!)

I plan on starting on January 1st to establish the habit, but to get the brain juice flowing, here are twenty-three dungeon features. 

1 Altar

An altar is a table intended for sacrifice. Altars are shaped in the semblance of the god to which they are dedicated. It is a conduit to a higher power, and prayers to the appropriate divinity carry more weight here. 

Example: The altar of the Black Goat is a table shaped like a standing she-goat, her back forming the flat surface of the table. On it, candles have burned down into wax puddles on top of goat skulls. It is blood stained. 

A sacrifice of a living creature on this altar will cure any magical curses or magical diseases of the celebrants on a 1-in-6 chance.

2 Cage

A prison, a hanging gibbet, a jail designed to constrain its prisoners. What crimes could they have committed to be bound to such a fate? Are they imprisoned unjustly or are there sins on their conscience that cannot be forgiven? 

Example: A hanging cage made of thin sticks lashed together with leather cords. The door is fastened simply with a knot of herb (monkshood). The cage looks like you could kick it apart easily. Inside, an old man named Zacchaeus claims to be brought here as food for vampires and begs to be let out. 

In truth, Zacchaeus is a werewolf. The monkshood (otherwise known as wolfsbane) keeps him so weak he cannot break the bars.

3 Circle of Power

Sites of power constructed where the leylines of the dungeon converge. These circles are designed as gates between the realm of flesh and the far realms--either to seal outside entities out or beckon such entities in.  They are dangerous things, whose magic is more than any single mortal sorcerer can master. 

Example: A glyph written on the floor crackles with obvious magical energy. The glyph is surrounded by five, five-pointed pyramidal stones. The side of each stone is marked with runes that read "AB-RA-KA-DAB-RA". 

If the PCs step onto the glyph without changing the set up, they are teleported to a deeper level of the dungeon turned inside out (instant death, no save). The glyph must be made harmonized by turning pyramidal stones so the runes facing the inside of the glyph read "Abrakadabra." This word can start from any stone, but should proceed in order until every syllable is used sequentially in a clockwise manner. When this is done, the teleportation magic is safe to use.

4 Elevator

Elevators are platforms or chambers that move around the dungeon (vertically, horizontally, or in stranger ways). Different levels of the dungeon may be connected by elevators that need to be activated. 

Example: The PCs step into the bottom of a deep pit. A colossal chain ending in a huge hook dangles from an unseen place high above. A giant earthworm is pierced by the hook, wiggly feebly. If the PCs manage to make a significant pull on the chain (requiring a total 18 Strength points), the giant at the top of the pit pulls hook and chain up to the upper level. He's not interested in the PCs and will discard them at this upper level as being "under his limit."

5 False Tomb

There are tombs down here. But there are also false tombs intended to baffle and punish grave robbers. These facades obscure the true burial chambers behind secret doors and deadly traps. 

Example: A mosaic depicts a bull-headed man holding a scale with a feather and a heart. Beneath it, two doors. Ancient writing on the wall (when translated) reads: "The just enter on the left to pass to paradise. The unjust enter to the right to meet their punishment."

The doors both lead to the same small chamber. About five seconds after the doors are opened, a two-ton block drops into the small chamber, crushing anyone within who doesn't succeed in a Dexterity save (or equivalent) to dodge back into the false tomb.

6 Fountain

Fountains in dungeons are often enchanted as the water flows past veins of mithril. Drinking or bathing or dipping items into the fountain activates their enchantments. 

Example: A merry face is carved on the outlet of the spring where this fountain flows. The face speaks simple phrases, welcoming travelers to drink from its waters. 

Drinking from the waters causes mild euphoria and hallucinations. If under any persistent negative enchantments, geasa, mind control, or similar effects, characters who drink the water are allowed a new saving throw to attempt to overcome them. However, characters who have drunk from the water always move last in initiative and cannot cast spells due to consistent giggling interrupting their incantations. This effect lasts until the PC sleeps.

7 Fungus

There are strange growths in the depths of the earth where the sun has never shone. Fungi, mushrooms, and molds bloom in dark places, often with unwholesome and uncanny effects. 

Example: A circle of yellow mushrooms with a little mouse inside. As the PCs watch, the mouse passes the circle of mushrooms and becomes a stirge, who flaps a few times before learning the trick of its wings and then flies away.

If the PCs step over the edge of the mushroom circle, they are transformed into a random creature. Roll for a random page on your Monster Manual. If there are multiple monsters on that page, let the player choose between them.

8 Hearthfire

This place looks safe enough for now. Here, other adventuring parties have encamped. An ember of their fire remains. Light it again to kindle some hope in this dark place.

Example: A small shrine with a campfire in which a ruined sword has been driven. Those who camp here regain full HP during a night's rest.

9 Idol

The Underworld contains giant idols of strange gods. Some say they were raised by ancient troglodytes. Some say they were gods that crawled into the veins of the earth and became fossils. In either event, there is still some strange power in these colossi.

Example: A giant statue of a seated devil with gemstone eyes sits. It holds a huge brazier of coals. Clerics can hear the statue whispering obvious blasphemies.

Attempting to pry out the idol's gemstone eyes causes the idol to tip the brazier over, pouring liquid fire into the room. The room's floor becomes lava. The would-be thieves are trapped on the statue with no obvious way out.

10 Lava Flow

Lava is the lifeblood of the earth. It flows, here, in the earth's veins. It is, of course, death for adventurers.

Example: Lava cascades from an unseen height like a waterfall. It flows into cut channels which feed into a forge's fire. Nearby, an anvil sits. The heat is unbearably intense.

The PCs cannot approach unless they have some defense against the heat. If they have fire resistance or similar, PCs can spend time here to transform mithril ingots into +1 weapons.

11 Library

Books and scrolls are hoarded by scholars, lore-masters, and wizards. Libraries house books that are written on papyrus, vellum, and wax tablets. Many things that are forgotten on the surface can be found trapped in letters here. However, it takes time to carefully pour over the tomes here, translating the antique dialects and shepherding the fragile pages. 

Example: The necromancer Crabbe made the Library of Heads: mummified heads sitting on concentric circular shelves in a circular room. If you pick up the heads and blow through their neck hole, they begin to recite their life's story in their native tongue. There are 102 heads here. Many have nothing interesting to say to an adventurer. A few hold some esoteric knowledge worthy of a researcher in a niche subject. At least three were rival sorcerers who speak eloquently about their forays into astral space.

12 Machine

Mechanisms made by ancient hands, the purpose and the logic of which are not known. Some machines are malfunctioning, producing imperfect results. Some are broken, but can be fixed (though not understood) by replacing an obvious part or providing a power source. Some work perfectly, but exactly what they do and why is beyond mortal ken. 

Example: The workings of the Unmaking Machine are hidden inside its body, which resembles a 40' x 40' x 40' Borg cube. 

The first time the Unmaking Machine is encountered by the PCs, there is a single, six inch, cube-shaped section missing from the left side of the cube. This missing cube can be found elsewhere in the dungeon and inserted like a key into it. The machine thereafter begins to function.

Once repaired, the only interface with which to operate the machine are two apertures, both square holes exactly 13" in diameter, both on the cube's "front." When an item is placed into the upper hole, it slides into the darkness as if drawn in by a hand. The cube emits a series of grinding sounds. Then, the component construction materials of the item issue out from the lower hole. 

For example, if a sword was entered into the top hole, the cube emits the following: an ingot of iron, small cubes of trace minerals involved in embellishment, a strip of leather and a solid block of wood (both from the hilt), a dollop of animal-based glue, and a single droplet of oil (residual from maintenance). 

If an item is jammed into the lower hole, it comes out of the top hole terribly mangled. 

13 Magic Wall

Magical barriers may be raised to gate certain sections of a dungeon. These could be magical force fields or walls made of esoteric energies, such as walls of fire or walls of ice. The key to these walls are almost always magical. Often, the artifact or structure generating the wall needs to be disabled.

Example: An archway of skulls bifurcates a room. The keystone skull once belonged to a giant bird. A malicious presence haunts the bird skull, whose evil will allows only those who bear the tokens of its master the Pigeon King to pass. 

This is not a physical barrier but a mental command screaming DO NOT FUCKING ENTER. It cannot be resisted by any sentient, living creature. Arrows and spells may pass under the archway. 

The keystone skull's evil will can only work on creatures it can see. Blinding the skull (with a Flare spell) or sneaking past while invisible will also allow passage. 

14 Merchant

Rule of Acquisition 34: War is good for business. Adventurers are a desperate sort, and their pockets are often weighed down with grave goods, golden idols, and other ill-gotten gains. Shrewd merchants have learned that you can make more selling a single candle to an adventurer in a dark dungeon than you can selling candles to a cotter's wife all year. That said, most merchants you find in a dungeon aren't the sort to go in for a brick-and-mortar business. 

Example: Grinnin' Grimnir is a goblin who hauls around a sleigh filled with assorted goods. He always sells balls of twine (1 gold), candles (5 gold), torches (10 gold), daggers (20 gold), and iron rations (30 gold). He also has 10 items from this table every time you encounter him. Put him on your random encounter table.

Grinnin' Grimnir is protected by a curse. Anyone who kills him will be cursed with vile luck for a year. For an adventurer, this spells certain death. Those who try to run away from the bad luck in remote townships undergo so much trauma they eventually resemble a little, constantly giggling goblin. They  are eventually seized with the strange compulsion to load up a sleigh and start a little trade in the local dungeon.

Additional dungeon merchants may be found at Goblinpunch. 

15 Mirror

Magical mirrors create aberrant reflections of the real world. They sometimes serve as traps, creating doppelgangers of the PCs. They also serve as portals, perhaps to an alternate dimension or pocket plane. These also might be the focal piece of a puzzle, where the mirror must reflect a ray of light in a different direction.

Example: A hall of twelve mirrors, three of which bear the frozen visage of an adventurer and three of which are broken. Those who look into an empty mirror see their own reflection frozen there. 

PCs who look into an empty mirror create a "save state." At any point, they can choose to reset their bodies directly to this point - same EXP, same HP, same stats, etc. This must be done consciously, i.e., before they are unconscious or dead. When this ability is activated, the image disappears from the mirror and the mirror breaks.

16 Oubliette

An oubliette is where you put someone to forget about them. Accessed only by a trapdoor, these deep pits serve as prisons for those now long abandoned.

Example: This oubliette contains two skeletons: one of a human (wearing the tattered remains of a once fabulous gown) and one of a dwarf. The human skeleton has tooth marks indicative of a cannibalistic end. Written on blood on the wall is a crude map of the dungeon. Careful inspection of the map reveals a small secret room.

Those who find the secret room find it empty except for an unmounted door. This is a magical door that can be hammered into any wall to create a permanent door there. 

17 Painting

Paintings, tapestries, frescoes, and mosaics provide more than simple dungeon decoration. They often hide secrets, carry an enchantment, or provide important context to nearby puzzles. 

Example: A framed painting of a door with no knob. Elsewhere in the dungeon are magical paints. Painting a knob onto the door will turn the painting into a functioning secret door.

18 River

Delvers beware! Underworld rivers notoriously have uncanny properties, and drinking even a drop of their water will rob you of your memories, plunge you into eternal sleep, cause ceaseless weeping, or deliver other terrible curses.

Underground rivers initially serve as barriers that restrict travel--how will the adventurers get across the rushing river? Once the appropriate vehicles or tools are discovered, these rivers can actually serve as connective arteries to deeper sections of the dungeon. Boats can be used to travel the rivers to hitherto inaccessible sections. 

Example: The River Phlegethon looks like a normal river but the water is acidic, earning it the nickname the "River of Fire." It exudes a noxious, sulphurous scent. Any normal item submerged into the waters is quickly destroyed. 

If the PCs can persuade Iago the Lion-Turtle to take them onto his back, he can wade and withstand the waters of this river, and ferry them to the other side.

19 Sepulcher 

Past the false tombs, sepulchers entomb the dead. Sometimes these dead are restless, sometimes they have are withered away to bones. Adventurers low in scruples and funds often loot these sepulchers in hopes of grave goods, but often find traps and curses instead.

Example: A sarcophagus whose stone lid depicts a snake-headed human. The lid is massively heavy and can only be moved with a combined 30 Strength; tools like a ten-foot pole used as a lever add +5 Strength, but usually snap the lever unless it is unusually sturdy. Inside, a mummy. 

The mummy is just a normal mummy, not an undead. It does carry a disease, however. If you handle the body directly without gloves, save vs disease to avoid contracting mummy rot.

The wrappings around the mummy contain ancient spells. Unwrapping the mummy yields two "scrolls" of random 5th level spells. 

20 Statue

These graven images bear the semblance of ancient kings, heroes, and mythological figures. They reflect the culture of those who shaped them, and provide clues to their creator's world view with regards to the local dungeon environment. A recent poll of dungeon delvers found that 70% of puzzles incorporated statues in some way. 

Example: A three-faced statue of the elven Tripartite - the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone - stands in the middle of a triangular room. Examination of the statue reveals scratch marks on the floor near its base, indicating the statue has been turned from its original position.

Two of the walls of the room are decorated with mosaics. One bears a crescent moon. One bears a white circle. The third wall is blank.

If the statue is turned so that the face of the Maiden is turned towards the crescent moon, the face of the Mother is turned towards the white circle, and the face of the Crone is turned towards the blank wall, the blank wall will become a misty portal that will teleport the party to a new location. 

21 Throne

The thrones of the former rulers of the Underworld still contain some power within them. Those who sit on them are often given a measure of control over some dungeon feature or a special awareness of a facet of the Underworld. However, thrones often possess magical curses or traps laid on them to ensure only the worthy sit upon them.

Example: At the top of a pyramid of stairs, each spaced too wide for the human gait, is a colossal throne. It is covered in dust, mice skeletons, and owl droppings. The back of the throne is sculpted like spread owl wings. The arms of the throne each depict a closed eye. 

Sitting on the throne with a light source causes the light source to suddenly flare and go out. The victim must pass a saving throw or be blinded until after they next sleep. 

Those who sit on the throne find their hearing greatly improved. They have blindsight for as long as they sit on the throne. Immediately, they hear the whistling of wind through a crack in a secret door on the north wall. Additionally, they hear whispering far above them. For each dungeon turn they spend concentrating, they hear one rumor about the current dungeon level.

22 Waterwheel

Waterwheels harness the power of the strange rivers of the Underworld. Adventurers may find the state of the dungeon changed if a waterwheel is stopped or started.

Example: The flow of the river is split into three waterfalls by a series of locks and dams controlled by levers inside the dungeon. When the water turns the northern waterwheel, the colossal door to the necropolis is raised. When the water turns the eastern waterwheel, the lamps inside the Castle of Crossed Destinies are lit, allowing adventurers to forego carrying their own torches. When the water turns the western waterwheel, the bridge extends from the castle towards the City of Ruin. Only one waterfall can flow at a time.

23 Well

Wells in the Underworld contain bizarre things: wine, treacle, oil, pudding. Almost anything but water. Moreover, wells often have some denizen who lives off their contents, either dwelling at the bottom of the well or guarding it from interlopers. 

Example: A tiny blue dragon lives at the bottom of a wishing well. He demands you throw coins down and he'll grant you wishes. He is a liar. However, for each coin thrown, the dragon will cast bless.  

Saturday, December 10, 2022

More RPG Blogs as Taverns

Here are five fantasy taverns for you to use in your games inspired by real-world RPG blogs. You can find my first post, here. Tavern sign assets by Sophie Grunnet. 


The tavern is a tree house located in an elder oak at the top of a boulder-strewn hill. You have to do some actual climbing to get to Mindstorm. Those who do so are rewarded with good food, drink, talk, and the aid of the most helpful person in the city.

Proprietor: The proprietor Ty is a kobold (dog type not lizard type) and just about the most helpful person you'll ever meet. Any need you mention casually is frequently fulfilled by his quick paws. Misplaced items are sniffed out. Questions are answered. Introductions made. 

Ty, happy to help

Sights: Being a tree house, the whole tavern has a verticality to it--ladders lead to tables set on ledges, seats are rope swings hung from the ceiling. There are multiple stories, with boarding rooms and cellars being located in crow's nests in the tree's crown. 

Sounds: "That’s how the real world works. It’s just this huge hodgepodge of a million different things, and you can look inwards at something (an organization, a person, an event) and it unfolds outward infinitely, a million things make up that one thing, all of them completely gonzo."

Tastes: Crisped potatoes and fish are served in corn husks for easy handling. Ty pours a variety of drinks fine beers, many of which are aged in old whiskey barrels, imparting a scent of toffee and vanilla. Ty also keeps a stock of energy potions that put the weary adventurer back on the campaign trail.


  • Wait, is Ty the person who had the Fantastic Medieval Campaign? No?
  • Oh wait, I get it. Ty is the proprietor of Hypertext Fish. ...No?
  • I thought this place's name was "Brainstorm." 
    • Wait, I thought it's name was "Green Laser?"
  • Have you seen Ty's paws? So handsome! 

Prismatic Wasteland

Prismatic Wasteland is located in the Old City's Via dei Fori Imperati, an ancient shopping mall. "Buyer beware" is the tavern's tongue in cheek motto. A debate club is hosted on premises once weekly, and folks from other taverns gather regularly to engage in argument, rhetoric, and hullabaloo. 

Proprietor: The proprietor, Warren, is a stentorious orator.  He wears a mantle of rainbow zip bird feathers, earning him the nickname "Prismatic Warren" (to distinguish him from the I Cast Light proprietor). He has a lustrous beard and a sharp wit, often wading into his debate club on the side of whoever seems to be losing.

Sights: A tavern built in the ruins of commercialism definitely has an aesthetic. There is an inherent sense of antiquity underlying the modern façade. Each abandoned shop stall is a separate room for rent. A little sparse in amenities, sure, but there's plenty of privacy and space--otherwise rare commodities. 

Sounds: "A cadre of tavern owners (hopefully a growing one) are interested not just in recipes, place settings or systems but in the procedures we use to run the bar. This is something that is often taken for granted, but paying attention to them is useful for veteran tavern keepers and downright enlightening for new proprietors."

Tastes: No simple ales are to be found here. Alembic, retorts, and decanters are filled with strange new concoctions which are mixed together with speed and skill. The bubbling contents are a delight to the senses and a bafflement to the mind.


  • Sure, Warren is human, but he was actually raised in a dwarfinage. That's why his beard is so robust.
  • Warren got the money for Prismatic Wasteland by finding a loophole in a devil's contract and actually got to keep both the coin and his soul. That's the story behind the motto.
    • Actually, only part of that last rumor is true.

DIY & Dragons

The random tables around this tavern have a "more the merrier" attitude. They're mostly a younger crowd who use frequently use pseudonyms instead of their real names. At the same time, they avoid drama that sometimes plagues other taverns in this neighborhood. They're an energic lot who seems to know how to have fun.

Proprietor: The proprietor, Anne, is a kobold (lizard type not dog type). She's traveled far and wide. If you talk to her, she recollects her travels in a straight-forward, matter-of-fact manner. She pays top coin for maps that you bring her if they're both either particularly accurate or new, and sells copies of all the maps in her library. If you're new to the area, stopping by DIY & Dragons will give you a solid sense of where the landmarks and secrets of the City are to be found.

Sights: A solid wooden structure in the middle of the City, with a cozy common room and a serpentine bar top of river stones. A papier-mâché dragon is hung from the rafters. The hearth is wide and glows with an enchanted, ever-burning, color-changing flame. Maps of nearby dungeons are carved into the tabletops by adventuring guilds.

Sounds: "Aside from the possibility that we've been overly influenced by the prior artistic decisions of a few trendsetters, I think that pointcrawls probably better model the way we think about traveling between known locations, while hexcrawls and minicrawls better model the way we think about exploring unknown spaces." (Anne, describing her mapping techniques.)

Tastes: Anne pours an eclectic mix of sour beers, whiskies, and red wines. I recommend you ask for her boulevardier. 


  • Anne is the coolest.
  • The bar name? I'm sworn to secrecy. OK, well, I'll let you in on it, but you can't tell anyone. Anne is actually a dragon. The kobold thing is just an illusion. 


Less a tavern and more a...foodtruck? One-man travelling circus? In any event, a wagon pulls up to a different square in the City each day. Outside it, a hand-painted sign on it reads: 


In it a...strange fellow...will serve you a terrible strong liquor for a pittance. Wayspell is the name of both the "tavern" and the "proprietor." 

Proprietor: Its name is Wayspell. It stands a head-and-a-half taller than a normal human man. Its covered in hair. And the smell! Oh gods the smell. But it seems friendly enough. It'll pick your ticks off you, if you ask. At times, its hand disappears into its fur and retrieves some shrimp that it seems to offer you. Should...should you take them?

Sights: An unhitched, brightly painted vardo. Nobody has ever seen it hooked to a steed, but somehow it appears in different quarters of the City. The roof and the siding are a patchwork of different materials and colors. 

Sounds: "I tell ya hwat, man, you got one of them dragons up over there, I say, no good. Here ya, ya get that water outta here, fish fuck in it, getcha one of these...wrap yha...yha lips around one of these wet whistles here I got in here, I tell ya hwat."

Tastes: Various objects are passed outside the wagon by a fuzzy hand. A mason jar of rotgut whiskey. A wooden tankard of thin, sweet beer. A plump oyster covered in cheese. Surprisingly good mead (with a hint of beets).


  • Wayspell, whatever he is, makes all the food and drink himself.
  • Sure, he makes the food and drink...from his body. That mead is his milk, actually. The shrimp are actually huge lice.
  • If you ever don't take something Wayspell offers you, he will hate you.

No Foes, No Traps

No one should make the mistake that the tavern's name is ironic or sarcastic. This is a safe place. An enchantment of peace lays on lands of this little farmhouse-cum-inn that discourages (if not outright forbids) violence. Tavern brawls are all but unheard of. 

Proprietor: Hodag is the tallest human you've ever seen. He stands in a stark juxtaposition compared to the small, cozy atmosphere of the tavern. He wears a continually benevolent smile and a rough, brown, hooded robe. 

If the word made any sense contextually, people would call Hodag a "renaissance man." He has a bit of skill in many artistic crafts, from painting, to writing, to storytelling. He makes particularly nice, sturdy tables.

Sights: This tavern is a working Agricola-style farmhouse. A pack of farm hounds (mutts, really) roam the grounds, and sometimes come bolting into the tavern with wagging tails and lolling tongues. 

The central courtyard of the square house is open to the skies. Here, Hodag has a rare and precious spyglass set up to allow patrons a look into the heavens. Hodag has many stories of the War of the Stars, which he delights to recount as people peer through his telescope.

Sounds: "Anybody with an open heart and an open mind is welcome at my table. Anybody who seeks the magic of the earliest days is welcome at my table. Anybody who seeks the rarity of wisdom in tales mirth, myth and mystery is welcome at my table."

Tastes: Though not a big drinker himself, Hodag's cellars are full of small beers well loved by the common folk--weak, sweet, and easy to drink a lot of.


  • Hodag isn't a human at all. He's actually a giant halfling--a lingering enchantment from his adventuring days that's never been cured. 
  • People say all sorts of crazy stuff about Hodag because nobody knows a lot about 'im. Bit of a mystery, that one.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

RPG Blogs as Fantasy Taverns

With Twitter in its apparent death throes, a lot of people are thinking about alternatives. My favorite alternative is the humble blog. If Twitter is the "public square" (where people in stockades yell at each other), blogs are smaller. Cozier. Nicer. Like taverns. 

Here are some of my favorite RPG blogs re-imagined as taverns. I anticipate this will be a series, but to chunk the work into manageable pieces, I'll only do five taverns at a time. 

(Tavern graphics by Sophie Grunnet!)

Papers & Pencils

A solid, well-established tavern that occupies an old scriptorium (hence the name). The books lining the shelves that define the nooks, private dining rooms, and common areas are enchanted to speak their contents aloud. 

Proprietor: Nicholas Link "Skywalker" Whelan is a happy little feller: a dwarf sporting brightly colored socks and suspenders. (His epithet "Skywalker" is so given because he walks under the open sky, a prospect that terrifies many of his subterranean kin.) N. L. S. Whelan is as generous with his time and coin as he is ferocious in his opposition to monstrous elements.

Sights: The tavern has grown sprawling thanks to its venerable age, with more nooks and crannies than even its proprietor might be aware of. Fire is strictly forbidden, but embermushrooms provide a consistent warmth and soft golden glow.

Sounds: "The scene is built on friendships. Meeting new people and talking about games with them is the foundation of everything we do."

Tastes: The wine cellar is kept well stocked, with many varietals offered.

  • Nick knows almost everybody. If you're trying to get in contact with someone, here's the place to do it.
  • There is a terrible little goblin hiding somewhere in the tavern.

I Cast Light

The monastery that houses this tavern was built by an order that once had a flourishing membership. Today, its proprietor, Brother Warren, is the last member of the order. Folks visit I Cast Light to hear tales of the old times, watch Brother Warren perform the ancient rites, and drink the order's traditional metheglins, tinctures, and spirits. Tales of the famous Cleric Brothers are spoken here, with everyone joining in to laugh and embellish the local legend.

Proprietor: Brother Warren is the last adherent to a once-popular but now all-but-extinct religious order. Sometimes called "Monochromatic Warren" due to the black and white robes he wears, but he takes this in good humor. Sometimes it only takes one righteous individual keeping the faith to spare an entire city of St. Cuthbert's wrath.

Sights: A single drum tower fortress. In front of the tavern there is a fountain and statue of The Mother, her hands outstretched, filled with donated coins. The statue glows with fairy fire at night. The tavern's main room is lit with a thousand butter candles. The walls are decorated with tapestries depicting important scenes in the Cleric Brothers lives.

Sounds: "And after reading those books, all of a sudden I had a version of the faith that I could keep in my head. I realized that unlike the advanced sciences, I didn't need to keep a bunch of chats and stats in my head. Instead, I could keep a few relevant numbers and relationships in my head."

Tastes: Traditional recipes of medicinal tinctures that are healthful for the humours when taken in moderation. The gin and tonic is especially good.

  • There are deep cellars beneath here, bet your last coin. They were dug down for defense, originally, but the monks went too deep. There are passages to the Deepdark down there. Strange things sometimes come up, and strange people sometimes go down.
  • The old clerics really aren't dead, you know. Naw, they're just mummified and sleeping. Brother Warren is their caretaker. One day they'll wake up!

Traverse Fantasy

The Traverse Fantasy tavern rests on a forested island that once served as campaign headquarters for the Elven Crusades. The Grey River has reclaimed much of the island, but its proprietor has tirelessly searched the ruins for archaeological notes of significance. 

Traverse Fantasy is an academic's tavern. Its proprietor hosts a lecture series on numerous sciences, from history, to thespianism, to mathematics. Much can be learned while drinking in the shade of an apple tree in the ruinous courtyard of the tavern.

Proprietor: Marcia is a striking elven woman who, by all measurements, might be one of the smartest people you've ever met. Unfortunately, she cannot handle her own juice. If she has even a tipple she begins speaking in a language she invented: half enigmatic code, half akashic memory, half ancient tongue. 

Sights: The aesthetics of decay. Ruins are beautiful because there's moss following the whorls and spiral patterns of ancient elven menir stones.  Marcia tends these like a Zen garden--not rebuilding, but beautifying.

Sounds: "My goal is to refresh our memories and problematize our preconceptions of a text (or even of a whole genre) that we have taken for granted. The rules are one-to-one with the original, even where there is confusion or falsehood. There is no benefit of a standard vocabulary. There is no one way of doing anything. There is only unadulterated fantasy."

Tastes: Elven predilections tend towards the sweet side of things. The drinks at Traverse Fantasy are sweet (bordering on saccharine) with sweet wines, sangrias, and cordials being prominent.


  • Elves aren't actually born, you know. They raise animals up to be elves. Oh, it takes a long time, but if you can teach a fox to fetch, eventually you can teach it to walk on its hind legs and talk. 
  • Actually, Marcia is just a half-elf. 
  • Marcia secretly studies the black arts! She lives in these ruins to search for the daemonic secrets that ended her people's civilization.

Save vs. Total Party Kill

Curious adventurers speculate where the name of this tavern could have come from. The wise don't ask. 

One of the oldest taverns in the City, esteemed for its longevity, its nobility, and the friendliness of those who frequent it.

Proprietor: Ramanan Sivaranjan is human knight from the Frozen Wastes to the north. Every year, they bestow upon other adventurers the solemn rank of "Excellent," which earns them bragging rights for-ever more at all the other adventuring taverns.

Sights: Picture a classic tavern. No, more classic than even that. A thatched roof, broad rafters hung with herbs, several large fireplaces, mantles hung with shields of retired adventurers. You can buy a personalized tin mug and keep it there, hung on the wall with the others. Ram has it waiting with your usual when you come in.

Sounds: "When you’re young you have all the time in the world and no real responsibilities. As adults my friends and I had a much smaller window of time to waste. Whether my friends and I used that sliver of time as wisely as we could have remains to be seen, but we certainly had a lot of fun."

Tastes: The beer is an extremely drinkable stout. On the top shelf, there's is a whiskey made of so much peat it practically has a bog body in it.

  • You've heard of the sangraal? Ram, the proprietor, actually drank from it. He's been running this tavern for so long because he's immortal.
  • Ram loves his wife. Neener neener neener.

Owlbear Hugs

When you go in for a drink, the proprietor mostly just talks to you about his seaborne shenanigans (or picks up on conversation threads you started a day or two ago and had forgotten about).

Proprietor: They call him "Q Pop." No one's sure why. He's a grizzled old campaigner of a thousand battles. 

Sights: There's a sort of coziness inspired by cobbled-together elements. The tavern is the alehouse equivalent of a shelf full of mugs from Goodwill. The benches, rugs, taxidermied owlbear heads, horse collars, and collectible decorative plates weren't intended to go together, but have a successful overall effect.

Sounds: "My main goal is to give players the freedom to drive the game wherever they want to go and an environment that is interesting enough to facilitate that."

Tastes: A lot of stiff liquors are poured here but the house special is a brandy old fashioned. 


  • Q Pop has a secret tavern sign that reads "Stats as Bear" hidden in the cellar. No, I don't know what it means either.
  • The sword hanging up behind the bar is enchanted. If anybody starts trouble, Q Pop gets it down and starts waving it around.

If you haven't yet started a blog, please let me encourage you to do so. I would like to visit. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Under Hill, By Water News

It's a beautiful day in the village and you are a terrible halfling.

I have good news for Francophones (and eventually for English speakers). My cozy game about halflings not having adventures, Under Hill, By Water, is being published in French by Leto Games in 2023. It will be a full translation of both the core text and its supplement, Walking Holiday.

Excitingly, this collected edition contains new art and assets. For example, just look at the revised Village map from the French edition!

Art by Yann Lieby

Happily for Anglophones, this work is going to osmose back into an Under Hill, By Water Revised Edition, which I will tackle getting into print after I publish His Majesty the Worm. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

I Lost it All (Lessons about creating, running, and keeping a campaign going)

CONTENT WARNING: If you are a GM, this story will make you cry and scream and throw up. 

Clickbaity title and stupid Youtube joke image aside, I experienced a scary moment today (hereafter, "The Event"). This served as impetus for me to blog about how I run games so you can learn from my mistakes. 


About six (seven!?) years ago, I had a job where I was pretty bored. I started writing a dungeon crawling game called His Majesty the Worm. I began playtesting it. It was fun! I wanted to share it with people outside my immediate gaming circle, so I've been working on it ever since. It's almost ready to be published. 

For the playtest, I quilted together a megadungeon by combining the dungeons being published in the blogosphere during 2015-2016. I've been running a game based in this megadungeon every Tuesday since then. 

The Event

My weekly game recently took a short hiatus while I was on holiday. When I got back from my vacation, Google gave me an alert that I was almost out of data, so I spent some time with their "Clear Space" tool to delete old emails, shared files, big videos, stuff like that. 

When I sat down to play the game tonight and opened up my laptop, the tabs that usually contain my campaign said "No such file exists."

I assumed it was just because I was signed into the wrong account

When I was clearing space and merrily selecting "Yeah, ha ha, permanently delete THAT," I had apparently placed a check next to my campaign document. 

The master document that I've been using to run my game was accidentally deleted. Six years of work - gone

I had deleted about 300 pages of content. Maps. Random encounter tables for each level. Hundreds of keyed entries. Years of notes and restocking based on player events. Gone. 

I was devastated. Without much hope, I opened a Google Support ticket. 

And...dear reader?


The Campaign

Because I am so relieved that I was able to recover my campaign, I want to share how I created it in the first place and talk about how its evolved over years of play.

Megadungeon campaigns aren't Herculean one-and-done efforts. They are a series of small, discrete decisions. And once they're created, they change during play. 

When this works, its really something special.

Creating a Megadungeon

The process of creating a megadungeon is less about making one huge dungeon and more about creating a series of interesting rooms and creating an appropriate flow between them. 

By following these steps, you’ll have a working megadungeon with a few hours of work:
1. Origins of the Underworld: Decide why the megadungeon exists. What's the backstory here? Is it the tomb of God? Was it created by a wizard for her mad experiments? Is it an incursion of Hell? 
2. Generate a Layout: Assemble a series of dungeons and make connections between them. Does the Forest Level connect to both the Undead Level and the Serpent Cult Level? What if there was a secret entrance to the surface in the Serpent Cult Level, too? 
3. Create Maps: Create a keyed map of each of the dungeon’s rooms. 
4. Write Room Descriptions: Write down something interesting in each room for the players to interact with.
5. Create the Meatgrinder: Create a Meatgrinder for each individual dungeon level. 

Steal liberally 

Here's the best part about the five-step process above: you can steal borrow almost everything. The OSR has an incredible generative property. There are people in the blogosphere who have been making free, interesting content for years. There are blogs that are treasure chests of maps, monsters, puzzles, and, well, treasure chests. 

You can also connect together all the modules you've bought and haven't had a chance to run. Do you have Silent Titans by Patrick Stuart? You can just connect all the Titan dungeons together and bury them under your campaign setting's capital city.

Also, remember Dungeon magazine? They are now easily accessible online. 

Take inspiration from a variety of sources. When you see something awesome, put it somewhere in your megadungeon. 

Play frequently

I credit frequent play as the number one reason I have so many finished campaigns. I credit it to playing the same His Majesty the Worm game for six years. (As you can see from "The Event," bad things happen when you take hiatuses.) 

Set a consistent time and date to play. Find a group of people who can make that specific time. Adhere to the schedule as best you can. Play frequently and fall in love with the game.

Players might join or leave the campaign over time as their life circumstances change, but the impact they've made on your campaign will continue through the years. 

Which brings me to...

Update your campaign based on player actions

At some interval, update your campaign notes with the player's actions. If the players graffiti a wall in room 202, it's fun for them to see that graffiti in your description the next time they visit it. It's fun to feel that your actions have real, lasting consequences. 

I do this sort of "maintenance" every time the players return to the City for their downtime phase. You might do it every week. Whatever works for you. 

When I make these notes, I read through the room descriptions that the players have visited. If the players slew monsters, I'll mark them off. If the players made any changes to the physical description of the room, I'll update that text. 

Then, I think about the potential consequences of these actions. If the players killed the goblins in 202, does that mean the hyena men from 204-210 expand their territory? If the hyena men are here, will they trap their new "front door"? 

This doesn't take more than an hour, but is invaluable. Losing this level of detail - how the players changed the dungeon over six years - was what I was most upset about having lost. 


I talk through a lot of these processes with more detail and more examples in my supplement Dungeon Seeds. It's free if you sign up for my His Majesty the Worm mailing list.

And remember - make backups of your important documents so you don't make a mistake like mine. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Ringless - In Development

As a side project, I have been helping Hodag with one of his games. The game is called Ringless. 

Ringless - Coming "Soon"

I think I've been clear about the sort of things that interest me. Ringless is in this vein. 

Ringless is a Ralph Bakshi fever dream instead of scrupulous adherence to canon. Like other Hodag games, Ringless is a toolbox, designed to empower you to build the game experience you want for your table.

We have finished a basic sketch of the major systems and now need to playtest to decide on details. 

Thoughts on collaboration

It has been very fun and freeing to take on this sort of side project. An enormous amount of my "free" time is spent laboring on HIS MAJESTY THE WORM. It is nice to have a project that is just a creative exercise. 

Collaborating with Hodag is great. We have very different writing styles. Hodag's philosophy is a that paragraph could be a sentence, a system could be a table. "Players are smart. They'll figure it out," he says.

Actual conversation 

Hodag is a constraining influence on my lengthy elaborations and purple prose. It's good to be goaded into brevity, to learn to cut cruft, to self edit. 

Similarly, I hope that have helped players figure it out by adding elaboration and examples to Hodag's inspirational text. 

When reading Ringless, I suspect you might guess where one author leaves off and the other begins. As Bilbo says, "If you can’t distinguish between a Man and a Hobbit, your judgement is poorer than I imagined. They’re as different as peas and apples."

A Toolbox: Example of Ringless Prep

A troll blocks your way forward!

As an example of what Ringless is about, I'm going to stream of consciousness blog my playtest prep. 

So, before play begins, I need two things: a hex map and three Wandering Tables. The hex map will allow players to journey through the world. The Wandering Tables are combinatory prompts I'll use during play to create spontaneous scenes as the players journey.

I'll start with the hex map. 

Making the Map

Per the book, the procedure to make a world map is as follows:

Step 1: Put on the album Nightfall in Middle-earth by Blind Guardian.

Step 2: Print a blank World Map on cardstock.  

Step 3: Choose or roll some names from the list below and write them on your map with your best penmanship. 

  • Mark havens with a castle. 

  • Mark dungeons with a skull.

  • Mark wilder things with a star.

  • Mark ruins with some crumbling ruins.

You want a good blend of all four categories!

Step 4. Keep writing names and drawing icons until you’re satisfied! 

We provide a basic hex map. You can download the hex map and an asset pack here. 

This map is modeled after the Outdoor Survival map used in OD&D, but redrawn to look like a Tolkien hand-drawn map. It is a template map Ringless GMs can use for their own worlds, or they can make a new map using the asset pack. 

I'll open the hex map in Photoshop. 

First, I'll establish the havens. Havens are city states like Bree or Minas Tirith or Lothlorien. I'll drag around the castle icons until they're evenly spaced. I'll put some in the mountains for dwarf havens. I'll put some in the forests for elf havens. 

Next, dungeons are where the shadow lurks. I'll drag around the skull icon for dungeons. I don't want too many of these because I want the world to feel mostly positive.

Then, I'll drag around wilder-thing and ruins icons until I get bored. These represent supernatural wild spaces and ruins of earlier ages. I want a lot of these non-civilized areas.

Then, I'll look at the example location lists and see if any strike me. I can see right away that I have two dwarven city names and two havens in the mountains, so I'll use the ones the book provides for those. I can see that I placed a few star icons in what looks like swampy regions, so I'll use the names from the list like Blood Swamp and Trollbog. I keep choosing names from the list and labeling my location items until I'm done.

I label these using BilboDisplay font, which I think looks nice (it's in the asset pack, too). I'll use a red font to mirror the coloring from the Tolkien map.

Here's the end result. It took me a half hour to put together using the prompts and assets. 

Click for full size. Download it if you want to use it!

Wandering Tables

Next, I'll make my Wandering Tables. I'll need three - a Folk Table, a Foe Table, and a Fate Table. During play, I'll roll all three and interpret the results like tossed yarrow sticks for I-Ching.

Here's the procedure from the book:

Step 1: Put on Songs of the Wood by Jethro Tull.

Step 2: Print a copy of the Wandering Table Worksheet from this book. 

Step 3: Roll or choose challenges from the following lists. Populate each table with appropriate simple, risky, and overwhelming challenges. 

  • Nothing happens (results 1-3): When rolling on the Wandering Dice, any result of 1-3 produces no result. The Wandering Table notes this.

  • Simple Challenges (results 4-6): Uncomplicated or low-stakes obstacles. 

    • Characters in a simple challenge have 6 HP. They provide little little direct threat but can be used to threaten something the questors care about or advance the GM’s agendas. 

  • Risky Challenges (results 7-9): Difficult obstacles that can nevertheless be overcome through valor and virtue.

    • Characters in risky challenges have 10 HP. Risky challenges might also be a simple challenge reframed with overwhelming forces - an entire platoon of goblins instead of just three or four. Risky challenges might also be a normal monster with an advantageous creature descriptor applied (p. XX).

  • Overwhelming Challenges (results 10-12): Deadly obstacles and terrible foes that require careful planning, great wisdom, or blessed luck to overcome.

    • Characters in overwhelming challenges have 20 HP. These challenges are impossible to take on head-on, and require cleverness, trickery, and coordination to overcome. Overwhelming challenges consist of the most dire monsters or overwhelming odds against simple monsters. 

And that’s it! 

So, when making my map, I didn't choose every faction or every nation in the list. I have two Freeland havens, one Ondian haven, two dwarven havens, and two elven havens. I assume that other peoples live elsewhere in the world, just not on this map. I'll use that to inform my decision about what goes into my tables. 

For my simple challenges, I'm going to think about animals I want to see or a basic human farmer type. For risky challenges, I'll use groups of the folk from havens on the map. For overwhelming challenges, I'll choose some elite-sounding people.

Let's start with the Folk Table. 

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: Talking Bear

5: Unicorn

6: Freelander Karl

7:  Freelander Ruffians

8: Evendell Wandering Troop

9: Kel Tanenhen Merchants

10: Aben Garan Warband

11: Ardforest Rangers

12: Baranar Kalan Warguard 

Next, Foe Table. I can see both goblin and troll themed dungeons. Let's make sure they're active in the world. For the troll, I'll give him a creature descriptor to make him a bit more interesting. I choose "Corrupted" because it sounds like the Trollbog on my map is probably corrupting. I'll also put a few foul beasties for lower level challenges, and a stray Big Bad for a surprise.

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: Devil Cat

5: Starveling Wolf

6: Goblin Sneak

7: Goblin Gang

8: Goblin Wolfriders 

9: Highgoblin Warrior 

10: Corrupted Troll Brute

11: War Troll

12: Two-headed Giant

Last, I'm just going to choose some Fate Table prompts from the book that seem most interesting to me. No real calculation here, I'm just getting inspired by the prompts. 

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: A Birth, A Midwife, New Life

5: Feasting, Drinking, and Celebration 

6: Hunting, Seeking, Searching

7: A Funeral, A Burial, A Death

8: Hunger and Thirst

9: Lost or Buried Treasure

10: The River Dried, Blocked, Dammed

11: Warfare, Slaughter, Battle

12: A Wildfire

OK! That should do it. I have all three Wandering Tables populated and a map. I'm ready to run a playtest.

Interested in Playtesting?

Playtesting, for me, is all about quick iteration. Here's a small system, do we like it? Why or why not? OK, let's change it. Now how does it feel? In many ways, playtesting is how I write the game itself.

If you're interested in participating, join the Ringless discord! We'd appreciate your two cents!