All Chargen Is Random Chargen

If you want it to be. You can make it random. Which is heaps fun.

There are two basic objections to random chargen. The first is it removes total, absolute control over the character creation process. And that’s fair enough. If your fun arc depends on you having a perfect pre-conceived idea of who your character is in your head to begin with, and then creating a system to fit the image, birthing it Athena-like from your brain, then I get how leaving anything to chance would get in the way. The second object is that it produces characters that are unplayable and unfun. Generally, this objection comes from the fact that when people hear “random chargen” they think of D&D’s random chargen where the randomness causes the power level to be random, so some players end up a bit ahead of others. That can be unfun, but of course random chargen doesn’t have to do that. Random chargen can be perfectly balanced, and indeed, you can use point-buy systems to make sure your random chargen is balanced.

The last part is the bit we only realised recently because we are Slow Of Mind. G and I adore random chargen, we love sitting down and rolling on tables and seeing whole new universes appear out of nowhere, but only so many games have random chargen – or so we thought. Last night we came to our senses. We got out Savage Worlds and made Novice level characters using a totally random system. Every time it came to spending a point, we would roll randomly to find out where to spend it. Suddenly, point-buy became random, and as usual, it was glorious.

For example, you have five attributes, and five points to spend. Roll 1d5 five times, once for each point, to see where it goes. Granted, it becomes fairly ridiculous when you do it for equipment buying but otherwise it worked surprisingly well for something as simple and rules-light as SW. Without any cheating at all, they are highly playable and mostly make sense!

Below are the characters we created but I’m really blogging this so others can use the idea. I wouldn’t want this awesomeness not to be used around the world just because other people think point-buy games can’t be random, like we did.


Race: Mantis-Man

Agility: d6  Smarts: d6 Spirit: d4 Strength: d8 Vigor: d8 (Parry 4 Toughness 8)

Fighting d4, Area Knowledge (The Swamplands) d4, Shooting d6, Healing d4, Investigation d6, Persuasion d4, Swimming d6, Boating d6, Driving d4, Tracking d4, Streetwise d4

Edges: Carapace (2 points Natural Armour), Mantis Leaping (x4 normal distance), Arcane Background (Miracles)

Hindrances: Outsider, Curious, Pacifist (Minor), Doubting Thomas

Miracles: Detect/Conceal Arcana, Boost/Lower Trait. 10 Powers points.

He’s basically a scout/indian agent type – lots of outdoors skills plus low-level faith magic. I pointed out that it was weird that I had no Faith skill, necessary to use the Miracles power, so maybe I could use a substitute. Mr G brilliantly suggested I use Boating or Swimming, and together we decided that I was less a mantis and more a Jesus Bug, and that my religion was based around the philosophy of spiritual surface tension. Just like the lake, the universe is full of fluid, and we must walk softly  on it. Those who are heavy with evil or sin, or drive their weight harshly against the surface, soon plunge beneath and find nothing but death. Alas, their descent causes waves which can cause even good, softwalkers to stumble, so those of the faith must help others stand, and keep the surface smooth and taut. Such an incredible idea! We wondered why I was also a Doubting Thomas (no belief in the supernatural) but we had two options there – either he just sees supernatural things as some lies of the devil, or he is so into his beliefs and his natural environment he doubts civilisation exists.

If I was going to actually play him, I’d get rid of maybe Persuasion and Streetwise to get a few more dots in other skills and maybe swap Spirit and Smarts, but otherwise, he is ready to go! I want to play him and am sad I can’t….

G’s char was:

Race: Dwarf

Agility: d6 Smarts d4 Spirit d6 Strength d6 Vigor d6 (Parry 2, Toughness 5)

Climbing d4 Knowledge (Journalism) d4, Taunt d6, Persuasion d8, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Guts d4, Boating d4, Gambling d4, Investigation d4

Edges: Low-Light Vision, Tough

Hindrances: Slow, Young, Quirk, Vow (Minor)

With the ability to climb, taunt and persuade added to Journalism, we knew instantly that this character was a paparazzo, who would get the shots of the celebrities no matter what. (We hadn’t specified any setting, SW doesn’t do that) So we made his Quirk “Never Without A Camera” and his Vow “Never To Give Up On A Story/Photo”.  The Lowlight vision would come in handy in the darkroom (or could, in fact, just his night-scope fitted camera!). We discussed briefly which fantasy settings would have paparazzi or similar, and how they might be translated to worlds without press or photography. A gossip paparazzo is not unlike a bard, after all….

Two awesome characters, a bundle of great ideas, all from a system that – on the surface – doesn’t appear to be random. Today’s lesson is: DON’T LET THAT STOP YOU.


Old Warhammer Fantasy/40K Stuff For Sale – For Collectors?

Make Me An Offer!

Man O’ War, classic Games Workshop boat minis game. Colour slip cover missing, otherwise good condition.

2nd ed (ie first edition after Rogue Trader, still with beakie marines) Warhammer 40,000: Core Rulebook, Wargear Book, Codex Imperialis, Tyranid Attack Scenario Book, Battle for Armageddeon Scenario Book, Dark Millennium Supplement

Warhammer 4th edition (1992, Elves vs Goblins in core): Battle Magic Book, Battle Bestiary, Battle for Maugthrond Pass Scenario, Idol of Gork Campaign Book


Smallville Pantheon Episode Six

As we go into the two-parter finale, we recap the entire series:


Ankar and Rokan announce their resignation
Ankar tells Ix that she wants Always to rule alone
Ix and Smith in the Brass Palace, agreeing on dethroning mighty Korak
Always conceiving her experiment
Always and Korak, now mortal, fighting amongst the humans
Korak saves Always from the Ixola
Ix and Smith becoming enemies over the Ixola issue
Yeqawah is betrayed – and then takes her revenge
Smith talking to Lika about the past
Smith freeing Dorabus from his chains
Lika lets it slip to Smith that she knows more about Ix’s crime
Ix and Korak at the edge of the Pit – Ix tries to open it and Korak stops him
Ix and Korak in the underworld arguing with Zyz
Ix and Korak in the Forest, and Korak is swallowed up by the earth
Back at the Palace, Korak is tended by handmaidens
Always summons Kiate, Maiden of Dreams and tells her to watch over Korak
Smith telling Korak he is impressed by him, now realises Ix is more dangerous
Ix, alone in his Tree that Reaches The Sky, sees Aristeia and Anehute together
Aristeia promises Anehute she will be his, if he prove worthy. Anehute makes a decision….


A roaring wind. Fade into a corridor of ice – track through to Aristeia’s prison. Teyamaq, smallest of the Rimeblood, pleads for mercy for Aristeia, but Ulyuq, greatest of the Rimeblood, pushes past him. In her cell, a tear rolls down Aristeia’s cheek as the monstrous Kalakaq touches her. Ulyuq tells her there is no reason for them to be enemies because soon Cold will rule everything anyway. Now that Cold owns the Sky itself, Cold is invincible and will always win. At that, Aristeia’s tears stop, her eyes go dead and her jaw clenches into pure defiance…






Back to Skoh’s camp. A cold morning. Frost in the air. Then suddenly three-headed leopards leap onto the scene and devour men before they can even stir. Bloodshed and screams.


In Godhome, Always takes her morning bath in the Brass Palace. When Korak awakes, she tells him it is time for him, at last, to know her true name: ADELOS, and see the face under her mask. Unfortunately this only leads to more awkward conversation about what next. Always wants to leave but Korak doesn’t like the feel of that. She returns to his bed – but puts her mask back on.


In the Sky, Teyamaq tells Aristeia that she should not make promises to Anehute for he is a mortal and they are always trouble. Aristeia tells him she didn’t ask his opinion, and storms off. Unseen then, on the world, the beasts’ numbers swell, as Jends and Gashens swoop down and swallow men whole. Suddenly the earth itself erupts and swallows hundreds of beasts. Rock shards strike through leather hides and slash jaguar-throats. Ivy curls and swallows around ravening claws. In the centre is Anehute, glowing with power. “Your lord of war may have abandoned you,” he yells to Skoh’s army, “but I am here!”


After all, only a God can woo a Goddess….COMMERCIAL BREAK!


Not everyone is missing the show. One of the men who does not cheer for Anehute’s rescue slips away, takes off his helmet and reveals himself to be Smith. Smith runs to the Palace and breaks up the second round of fun between the paramours, telling Korak at the Effluent has Hit the Turbines. Korak sees that Ix’s servant, Anehute, has been lax in guarding the Pit and sets out not just to kill beasts but to remind Ix’s servant what duty means.


Always does the same, running to the Forest to school Ix on being sooo crazy. Ix says he stands against Korak for her, because – as pointed out in the last ep, before Korak arrived – she deserves to be queen. He calls her foolish for not taking the throne and getting caught up with bad blood. She tells him that Ix has Korak wrong, and now she has come to love the God of War and the match is good. At those words, Ix snaps and grabs her, shaking her with fury till she comes to her senses and stops saying stupid things like that she loves Korak. Always does what she does best – be unshaken, and much as in the first episode, reduces Ix to a shadow, mewling at her feet. She tells him she will marry Korak and Ix can just shove it, because why is it such a big deal anyway that she rule alone? Ix bursts out, broken, that she has to be queen because otherwise there will be nobody to protect him from Korak. Deep down, Ix is terrified of his big brother wiping out forever. Always says she will broker peace between the two, if Ix follows her lead.


Smith now goes to Lika and puts the hard word on her – time for the truth to come out. Lika says she will only tell in front of both her brothers. Smith says fine and heads towards the battlefield. In the Sky, Teyamaq alerts Aristeia to the carnage below, and they both head down. At the battle, Korak manifests in a crack of thunder and an exploding Targrur Horde.


Anehute tells the people that Korak abandoned them and even late, is not better than nothing. Korak says shut up, puny mortal, or I’ll kill you next, since it seems your master won’t discipline you. Ix arrives in time to hear this and tenses up at the insult but Always keeps him from exploding with rage.  Korak and Ix begin to face off, so Always – ever practical, decides Anehute is the problem and moves to take him down. Attacked on two sides, Ix responds instinctively and knocks Always to the ground with a savage blow.




Meanwhile, Smith and Dorabus have arrived. Smith, seeing there’s a lot of arguing and not enough killing, teaches Dorabus how to yoke a beast with his own chains, thus inventing the chariot. With a targrur yoked, Dorabus begins to unite the people in a defensive line and resist the beasts.  From now on, Dorabus gains a sense of the god of strength and endurance.


Meanwhile Always gets up and says she’s not going to protect Ix if he can’t control himself and since Korak won’t deal with the actual problem, suggests they’re both as bad as each other. For half a second, Ix and Korak find themselves on equal footing and familiar ground – the last time they were friends was when they drove the beasts into the Pit when the world was young. They begin fighting, remembering that old friendship when suddenly – Lika runs up and says she has to end the lies. Ix begs Lika to be silent but the others demand she talk.


Meanwhile, Always and Aristeia are at the Pit trying to identify why the beasts escaped. Always, Goddess of Love, asks Aristeia about her new pledge to marry Anehute. Aristeia, still basically the infant captured by Ulyuq, is just marrying because Anehute seems worthy of it. Always, from experience now, tells her older sister she should marry for love. Aristeia doesn’t know what love is. At this point this conversation and the one with Lika begin cutting back and forth every two sentences. It’s awesome but hard to translate.


Lika reveals the truth. Smith nods, it is as he said  – the balance has always been broken, and emulating it in any way with the Five would be insane. Ix confesses, and says he did it because he was jealous, for his brother had everything, all the glories, and he had nothing. Korak says he got those glories because he deserved them. Ix says doesn’t he deserve something? Korak says it’s not about deserve, you took something that was not yours to take. Ix says “Yes, I learnt that from you.”


Always explains love to Aristeia. Aristeia nods and says that sounds like what Anehute said. Always, knower of hearts, decides to see what lies in Anehute’s heart. She looks inside him and sees nothing but ice. Pure capital-I Ice. Now she knows why Anehute is more powerful than he should be, where he got the power to be like a God. He must have taken it from something as powerful as a God, or more. But all the Rimeblood are far away under the Frozen Sea – except for Ulyuq, who Smith tricked into falling into the Pit…into the Pit…..


The girls turn in time to see a column of steam and ice rise from the Pit. A gigantic clawed paw grabs the rocky spur. Filthy ice-draped ramhorns break through the smoke and eyes like cold death smile through the fog…Ulyuq Has Returned….




CREDITS!  What happens next? Tune in next time….


RPGs and Wargames For Sale

Cut out the middle man and buy directly from me! Save $$$!

Shadowrun 2nd Edition Core Rulebook $10 + Dreamchipper adventure $5 + legendary adventure Super Tuesday adventure $10 or the whole thing for $20.

Warhammer 3rd edition. + Adventurer’s Vault Supplement + Creature’s Guide Supplement + The Gathering Storm Campaign. Adventurer’s Vault and Gathering Storm not in original exterior boxes but all pieces intact. Large bits written by me. Cost from FFG’s website: Over US$200 (probably A$300). My price to you: $50.

CJ Carella’s WitchCraft – the classic game of supernatural warfare that isn’t World of Darkness

Core book $15
Mystery Codex $10
Abomination Codex $10
Book of Hod $5

Job lot: $30 ONO

World of Darkness, Rebooted Edition (aka nWoD) core rulebook. Hardback. $15.

Changeling: the Dreaming 2nd Edition HEAPS OF STUFF! $150 the lot ONO. Or $10 for one book, $15 for two, $20 for three, $24 for four…

Core Book

Player’s Guide

Kithbook: Knockers

Nobles: The Shining Host (x2)

Dreams and Nightmares (x2)

Immortal Eyes: Court of All Kings

Immortal Eyes: Toybox

The Shadow Court

The Enchanted

The Autumn People

Freeholds, Hidden Glens (x2)

Book of Storyteller’s Secrets

Storyteller’s Screen

Noblesse Oblige: The Book of Houses

BOARD GAME: Tabula. Accurate recreation of Ancient Rome’s most popular board game, a precursor to backgammon. Great for game collectors. $10.

WARGAMES: Make me an offer.

Lord of the Rings Battle Game, Return of the King core rulebook + about 20 Gondorians + 20 Mordor Orcs + The entire Fellowship (Death of Boromir set) $20. Some painted, some a bit worse for wear (a few blades/spearheads missing etc).

Inquisitor Core Rulebook, Classic 40K large-scale minis game rules. $5

Massive stack of army books for 5th/6th/7th ed WFB: $5 each
Massive stack of White Dwarf magazines from last ten years: Free to whoever gets here first.

More to come as I sort. Is there anyone out there who is or who knows a young lad about to launch into Warhammer or minis gaming? Because I can help get him MASSIVELY set up, but I want it to go to be played, not shelved, dig?

Les Mis, Smallville Style

Warning: spoilers. Also, slightly simplified for ease and communication.

When we first see her, Marius asks Eponine to find his new love, Cosette. Having never known love before, he challenges Love Is For Other Men d6, rolling 3d6 and adds his Relationship, Eponine Is My Greatest Friend in the Whole World d10. Eponine resists with Justice (Thems That Are Rich Deserve Nothing) d8 and her relationship with Marius which is Marius Will Be Mine d12. Eponine has dice on her side but Marius is dead keen and spends a Plot Point to also roll his new relationship Cosette Is The Most Beauteous Creature on Earth d6 and it gets him over the line. Eponine, not wanting stress, runs off to find the girl.

Later, Eponine sees her father trying to steal from Jean Valjean, having realised he can’t go to the police. Threnadier tells her to shut her mouth, she resists. Thernadier rolls Power (Master of My House) d10 and Eponine Will Do As She’s Told d6. Eponine challenges her Duty (Family Is All I Got) so she can roll 3d6 AND challenges her relationship Marius Will Be Mine so she rolls 3d12. Not surprisingly, she gets a titanic success and drives her father away. She drops both her Duty and her Marius stat down by one for the rest of the episode. At the end of the session, she rewrites that to Marius Deserves Happiness Even If That Is Without Me so she can keep it at d12.

Next Act, she finds the letter from Cosette. Even though the two never interact, the GM makes it a contest. Cosette rolls her Love d12 and her budding Marius Is My True Love stat (d8 they only just met), but Eponine rolls Truth (Everyone Lies) d12 and challenges Marius Deserves Some Happiness, rolling 3d12. She wins again and hides the letter. Because she challenged it, it drops, but at session end she changes it back to Marius Will Be Mine, so she can STILL keep it at d12.

Next session, on the barricades, seeing Marius about the be shot. Marius and Eponine challenge each other. Marius rolls Duty (I Must Suffer To Balance Out My Noble Birth) d10 and Eponine is My Best Friend In the World d10 to take the bullet. Eponine rolls Love (Is All That Matters In the End) d10 and challenges Marius Will Be Mine once more, rolling 3d12. She wins once more, and totally totally dies. Marius gives in and hands her the plot point, but she hands it back and deals him stress instead (d12 Anguish).

But she is clever. As she dies, she sings A Little Fall of Rain, relieving Marius’ stress, so he has in fact lost nothing. Eponine is a motherfucking powergamer. But nobody gives a damn because in Smallville, powergaming = drama.

Why I’m Really Excited About The Cortex Hacker’s Guide (And You Should Be Too)

In case you missed it, the Kickstarter for the new Cortex Hacker’s Guide went live 48 hours ago. At time of writing this, they’d already got $10K pledged which is a fanatastic start for what might seem to be a fairly niche product. It’s a great kickstarter with heaps of levels to pledge at, and some great stretch goals. I’m really excited to be a part of it, not least because it’s my first official kickstarter. My own projects have so far used IndieGoGo and haven’t had a cool video to go with them. MWP’s video is great and I got a little shiver of excitement when Dave Chalker listed my contribution – mutant animals – as one of the sections.

It’s also fantastic to see this product come out, after nearly two years of waiting. Marvel Heroic Roleplay sort of got in the way, because hey, Marvel is a 200-pound gorilla of a licence (and one hell of a game). It’s always good when something you’re proud of finally gets to come out (assuming we get the next five grand). It’s also great how MWP have designed this particular KS. Us writers have all been paid our base rate, but anything the company makes beyond costs goes into paying us more. MWP already pays above average for a gaming company, because they are classy, professional people who are joy to work with, but passing on the return to writers takes that to a whole new level. One of the biggest problems with the RPG industry is the market won’t bear price rates that pay authors a fair rate for their work. Until, of course, crowdsourcing came along, allowing consumers to send money directly to those authors. Hopefully, more companies will follow MWP’s lead. We want that because good writers deserve good money, and they go elsewhere if they don’t get it. Letting them make more money on products keeps good designers writing good material for the games you love.

If that alone doesn’t convince you to back this project, let’s talk about the content.

You might not know what a Cortex is. Cortex was originally designed by Lester Smith and others for the first product from MWP, the long-forgotten Sovereign Stone fantasy RPG, then hammered into a full generic system by Jamie Chambers, after which it was used in such games as Serenity, Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica (all great games, btw). I’ve been a fan since the beginning of Cortex’s goals: it’s got a central rigidity like its design-cousin Savage Worlds, but, like Unisystem, is simpler and cleaner because it wasn’t designed to also support miniatures. As someone who finds most generic systems (eg GURPS, ORE, FATE) generally far too heavy, Cortex is right in the sweet spot for me.

Then something really awesome happened. Cam Banks, Josh Roby and Rob Donoghue (and others) came onto work for MWP and produced Smallville and Leverage. Both games started with the very “core” or Cortex, which is roll one die, rated from d4 to d12, for one “axis” (originally your attribute) and one die for a second axis (originally your skill) and add them, plus roll extra dice if you have them, but still just add the two highest. Both games then transformed that central idea by adding some very modern and indie approaches. In Smallville, they replaced the two axes entirely, replacing stat+skill with Emotion + Relationship, to build a completely different mindset. In Leverage, they got rid of hitpoint ideas and replaced it entirely with FATE-like Aspects and some other great ideas. These new interpretations were, as a whole, nicknamed Cortex Plus (or C+).

This wasn’t just great design, it was great modular design.  There are at least two key aspects to game design – having numbers that work and make sense, and dressing the numbers up so they communicate the right information while making sense. So far, few games have really looked at breaking those two things down separately. I can only think of FUDGE/FATE as the exception. I’m good at dressing up the numbers but not always good at building the basics, so I was intrigued (not to mention incredibly impressed with both Smallville and Leverage as RPGs as a whole). The first thing I did after reviewing these two excellent games was email Cam Banks and demand to know when Cortex Plus was going OGL. He didn’t have an answer – yet. Instead, he got back in touch about the Hacker’s Guide.

The designers were well aware that with Cortex Plus, the genie was out of the bottle and there were suddenly a lot more you could do with the system, and that the two incarnations were not just great games but great ideas that inspired more tinkering. That rather than split them up into Cortex Plus Drama and Cortex Plus Action, the two could be cross-linked and combined and broken down and rebuilt, and that was in fact more interesting than taking a core system and hammering out a few appropriate Merits and Flaws for your favourite TV show. However good Serenity and Supernatural were, they could be made better by bending things around more, and applying these new ideas. I was already chafing at the bit to do this; I was not surprised to find I was not alone. One such interaction of the two came out soon after, as Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and very nice it is too.

But putting out a whole new game was an expensive idea. Instead, the idea was to bring all these ideas together in one place, in a shorter form. The Hacker’s Guide, on the surface, looks like a shotgun-blast sourcebook, adding new traits and merits to the Smallville and Leverage systems so you can play them in other settings. But it’s a lot more than that. We crossed the streams and relinked the wires, and in the process, teach you how to do that yourself. Some of that teaching is explicit and direct, some of it is implied by seeing our end results. Cortex is one of the most interesting systems around right now, and some incredible stuff has been done with it already, and we’re taking that even further. That’s exciting as hell and something I’m really proud to be a part of.

I knew the moment Cam asked what I wanted to do. My first RPG, the thing that made me love this hobby, was Erick Wujcik’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG. Nothing else I’ve ever seen has ever got right the part I loved so much about that game, which was being able to play almost any animal imaginable. Finding a way to do that – and keep the simplicity which is so important to Cortex – was a huge game design challenge, and I’m really proud of how it came out. It’s not TMNT, of course, (no use of copyright material should be implied!!) but inspired by that RPG and how it inspired me. TMNT holds a special place in my life, and Erick was a hero, and later, a mentor and a personal friend, so this is also my way of giving something back. That’s my personal connection; for you, the point is that if you liked TMNT, my response to it is here, and it a more passionate and dedicated response to that game and its goals you will not find anywhere else in the hobby.

So if you are interested in RPG design, both indie and trad, and where the two meet, if you’re interested in how to take a core idea and expand it and develop it across settings and genres, so as to learn how to do that yourself, whatever your core system of choice, then you should be excited about the Hacker’s Guide. And if you ever liked the TMNT rpg and really feel a need to play any reptile, bird or mammal you can name, then you should be very excited about my contribution. So go out and back it already. If only because I need the cash.