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.