Ecognomics of a Kickstarter


Later this year, our group hopes to launch a grand kickstarter for

the Skeleton Crew PRG. We’ve got high hopes. We’ve got big dreams. We want to do it just right; so much so that we’re launching a second kickstarter before it, just to test the waters. I’ve read all of the blogs, heard the panels.

I am still shaking like a newb.

So, this is not a blog from a kickstarter veteran, saying how they got all-the-moneys. Rather, this is the step-by-step brainstorm, so you can see the planning process for yourself… specially, in how to avert Ecognomics.

What are Ecognomics?

Some of you might be old enough to remember the South Park episode with the Underpants Gnomes. If you’ve never seen the episode, the pivotal scene with them plays out as follows…The underpants gnomes, after amassing a large amount of stolen underpants, present their cunning business plan:

Phase 1. Collect underpants

Phase 2. ???

Phase 3. Profit

It’s a silly bit, but I’ve heard that economists and business theorists have actually latched on to it in serious lectures. Personally, I call it “The Underpants Plan,” or Ecognomics.

Who is Guilty of using Ecognomics?A lot of independent artists and creators, sadly. I’ve been on a lot of web comic panels, in which someone in the audience asks, “How do you make money?” The knee-jerk reaction from artists is to laugh, but that could be out of nervousness.

The problem is many creators think that there’s a direct correlation between Product and Profit. They have Phase 1 and Phase 3, but they fail to consider part two. Of course, at least those artists have gone ahead to think about Phase 1: a Product. I remember before the Dot-com bubble burst, some people thought you could launch a website, slap a Paypal donation button on it, and they’d be showered in money.

With Kickstarter, the same pitfalls occur. There are people who think that all they need is a product, launch a kickstarter, and you’ll have a profit. (Again, some don’t even think too hard about the product.)So, I don’t have all three phases planned out, but I’ll walk you through my ponderings.

PHASE 1 – COLLECT UNDERPANTS (Figuratively Speaking)

The first part is to clarify what the product you are selling is. With us, we’re relatively confident about this: it’s an rpg book, using the Fate Core rule system. The setting is based on our webcomic series, Skeleton Crew. Of course, there are still a few things to figure out.

Labels – This issue is mostly resolved, but it wasn’t when we started the project: we had to clearly define the genre of the setting in order to best promote it. We originally called it “Comedy / Horror,” but that didn’t seem to go over well. While there are definitely a few horror elements in the comic, and optional rules for running scary adventures, my cowriters convinced me that the “horror” tag wasn’t accurate. We’re now promoting the rpg as “Supernatural Comedy.”

Stand Alone or Supplement – Shortly into the RPG’s production, we settled on using Evil Hat’s Fate system- it wasn’t too crunchy, we (a bunch of writers) loved the story-telling basis, and the creators were generous to offer it to the Open Gaming License, making it free to use. To add icing to the cake, the Fate Core kickstarter practically exploded.

hipster elves

<hipster moment> Yeah, you heard me- we liked Fate BEFORE it was cool </hipster moment>.While I’ve seen a few kickstarters that offer to add other systems on as a stretch goal, we have decided NOT to make SC for any other system at this time (except a possible FAE side version). If your book can be so easy ported from one system to another, then how much attention did you really pay to that system?The question becomes whether to make it as a “supplement” or as a stand-alone. It’s a fat book already, roughly 350 pages. To make it a “stand-alone” book would require adding additional 100-200 pages, greatly raising the print cost. It would make it more accessible to newcomers, but most of our target audience is experienced gamers who already own the Fate Core rulebook anyway. We’re polling playtesters for their opinion. Speaking of which…

> Playtesters & edits– The last steps are to playtest the stuffing out of it, and edit the feedback into a cohesive book. Easy, right? *nervous cough*

That’s it for the Underpants. On to…

PHASE 2 – ??????

If this were a REAL economics plan, I suspect the middle area is for revenue. For non-business folks like me, that’s “money made before factoring cost.” In regards to kickstarter, it also means, “having a variety of backer levels and add-ons, providing each backer an opportunity to spend exactly the amount of money they are willing to part with.” If the only levels are cheap, you risk losing potential profit. If the only levels are expensive, you risk it all. I’m leaving the ???? in, as it also covers all sorts of other pre- & mid- Kickstarter factors. Like most brainstorms, and keeping with the ‘YES AND’ spirit, the “????” section shall include any ideas, no matter how ridiculous. This is the “yes, we can!” section… (save the “no, we can’t. Really.” for the “Profit” section.) I’ll start with our thoughts for the kickstarter levels.Backer Levels – The first thing to consider for the kickstarter is the basic backer levels. These are the Core levels, ignoring other “throw in one more thing!” Here are the very basic, platonic levels:

  • Impulse Buy
  • Electronic Version
  • Paper Version
  • Special Edition
  • More Money Than God Version

Impulse Buy – Costs a very small amount, which is very good for people who are unsure of the product, broke, or are generous relatives who want to help but could care less about the product. For our version, I think we’re going to take a lesson from Tianxia’s fantastic kickstarter, and give anyone who pledges a small amount ($1-2) gets a copy of the rough draft Beta rulebook pdf. It’s a great way to lure impulse buyers, costs us nothing, and gives the backer a product immediately after they pledge (rather than having to wait for months until the product is finished before the backer receives anything.)

Electronic Version – A digital version- in this case, a pdf of the finished product. Fortunately, Tangent Artists is lucky enough to have a publishing miracle-worker on team, so the layout can be done in house. A pdf is beautiful thing, in regards to profit, but more on that in Phase 3. At the moment, the goal is to have a B&W book with lots of art. For a creepy setting like ours, B&W is perfect, in that it helps capture the mood, and easier on the artists. We plan to have original art by one or two artists, supplemented by art from the webcomic itself. This would likely be in B&W, although, if we’re pulling images from the webcomic, we COULD make the pdf B,W & red.

Paper Version – A physical version of the book printed and mailed. Unless we hit ALL DA STRETCH GOALS, it seems unlikely that the supplemental material will be in print form.

Special Edition – This would be supplemental material tied in directly to the product itself. Some brainstormed ideas:

Art – Prints of the art itself. (May not do this, as shipping art without creasing it is a pain). Maybe the cover art for the book?

Comics – We’re hoping to do a big compilation book of our first few issues of the Skeleton Crew Comic, in a volume called the Necronomnibus. Likely in B&W, to save cost. Luckily, this one doesn’t require much in the ways of creating a new product, which is nice, and it printing in bulk is much cheaper than individually.

-Gaming Extras – If our Kickstarter for Fate Accompli, dry-erasable Fate cards, is successful, then these would be a great add-on.

-Artsy Odds-and-Ends – Any other art-related material, such as keychains, postcards, etc. As I am not an artist, I won’t insist on these, nor will we make these a priority if there’s not demand for it.

However, I remember one kickstarter panelist, who shared a great nugget. He advised against writing new novels as stretch goals to an rpg book. This was his litmus:

– if the supplement is stand-alone (i.e. doesn’t require / build on the base kickstarter), and requires work as much work to finish as the base kickstarter, why doesn’t it have a kickstarter of it’s own?Thus, adding a stand-alone novel is way too much energy to invest on something that doesn’t add to the product. (Of course, if you wrote the novel already, that might be a different matter.)
-Rules Supplements – This is where I have even BIGGER plans and schemes. Here are some wild ideas. These would expand the current rules for new locations and subgenres. Some of the ideas we’re batting around include:

– Guest Authors – Getting outside authors to write additional material for the setting. If we can get well known authors, to draw in more backers, all the better. And while we’re dreaming the impossible dream, we even hope to PAY our staff and guest authors. This would definitely beat the old system of having writers work for free, for credit, or for reassurances that their loved ones will be returned safely (mwah ha ha).
-Adventures – One-shot adventures for players. I’ve definitely a few that I’ve run before that would be great, including Fright at the Museum and the Revenge of Blackstache.

– New Locations – A fairy-focused setting, set in the West Coast, written by our very own Rachael. Several working titles, including “Triskelion.” We’re also considering: a Road Trip Campaign book (WIP title: Highway to Hell, Globe-rotters), with scatterings of monsters from all over the USA or the world; also, a setting focusing on beings from Japanese and Chinese myths.

-New Sourcebooks – A Lovecraft book (because, as we all know, if you want a kickstarter to succeed, throw in an Old One)… the working title is “The Madness of the Color on the Doorstep of the Dark”; a sci-fi 1950s B-movie book “It Came From Science!”; a source book on ancient religions, demigods, demons, cambions, nephilim and angels; a setting in the land of Cockaigne.

-New Twists – Several ideas: Paranormal Investigators – A procedural, monster-of-the-week setting, a la X-Files & Nightstalker. Would likely use a system similar to Atomic Robo’s “Brainstorm” mechanic, assuming our version wasn’t TOO similar (Robo isn’t in Open License); a rule-set for familiars and lesser demons, with a Pokemon-esque “snatch-em all” rule set; Giant, city-smashing monsters (because: giant monsters).

-Rule Adaptations – Attempts to incorporate existing rules from other Fate Core games into SC, assuming we are not violating or infringing on any rights. These might include: Skill modes; super powers / super stunts; Fate Accelerated version.

– Supplemental Info – Languages – A guide to the many real (and fictional) ancient languages, from Rongorongo, to Atlantean, to Epoch. Might have rules, but possibly rules agnostic.

– Characters – Extra mortal states and professions that didn’t fit in our (already bulging) rulebook. We might release it by itself, or might save some of the characters to drop in with supplements that fit the theme.

-Campaign Books – Fate doesn’t really lend itself really well for pre-made campaigns, but I would enjoy an expanded setting based on the Lost Continent of Lemuria.

More Money Than God Version – Generally, these are levels that most people can’t afford, but would be fun anyway. And since we’re not throwing out any ideas here:

– Personal Touch – I, Dave Joria, will official skype / drive / fly / paraglide to your living room or game store to run a game for you.

– Commission Normal – Our artists will draw every member of your party.

– Commission – Published! – Our artists will base one of the character designs in the finished book off of one of the pre-constructed characters off of YOU.

-Comic Star – We will write and draw a 4-page comic based on your skeleton crew characters.

– City of Dreams – I will create a brand new city location just for you and your party.

– Sup it Up – I will design an entire supplement for YOU- rules, characters, monsters, settings, plot points, you name it, we make it.

– We’re Really Reaching Here – I will dress as a zombie and do a happy little dance just for YOU!

– Unholy Rites – I will build a dark shrine to your honor, and sacrifice a goat, chicken or watermelon to you, while chanting in an Eldritch tongue (and film it.)

That’s all of the odd-ball ideas I have for the moment. Next year, I’ll be crunching Phase: Profit!

Paranormal Investigation Tool – Follow the Bread Crumbs


I’ve been working hard on a new aid for Paranormal Investigation games this week, and haven’t got a chance to make a new post. So, to kill two birds with one stone, I’m giving you a sneak peak of the work in the progress. Presenting:


researcher discovery


The goal of the “Bread Crumbs” system is not to create a full adventure for you- like any Fate Core game, it requires some creativity of your group’s part. Rather, it’s here to help generate clues and ideas. It’s really up to you, the gm and the players, to string together the relevant bits into a narrative.

Will this fashion a masterpiece of mystery, the likes of Agatha Christie? Nope. But it’s great for your average, “villain of the week” style one shot adventure.


The Bread Crumbs system uses a principle called Apophenia, which Wikipedia defines as: “is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.” In essence, we start the group with a crime scene. At the scene is a murder victim, killed in a specific way, an item, and a few random sensations. Let’s say you get “a bullet to the chest,” “a banana,” and “a strange sense of well-being.” What’s the connection between them?

At the start, absolutely nothing. However, as you question witnesses, follow hot leads, and uncover more clues, (ex. More bananas, and a huge pile of cash), your group can now start putting it all together.

Maybe they discover a ring is smuggling street by magically transforming them into bananas. Maybe a Love God / Goddess from a Tropical nation is luring greedy banana-republic salesmen to their death. Maybe the banana’s a red herring, planted there to by the NecroCats to frame their worst enemies, the Were-Gorilla gang!

But how do I come up with the connections? Hopefully the players will provide connections on their own, but if not, we recommend some source books on the symbolism of various objects. It also helps to brush up on your mythological beasts: if the random chart generates feathers and talon-marks, you might decide to make the monster a cockatrice and drop a few cockatrice-themed clues along the way (ex. County fair with a rooster that lays eggs.) Most importantly, keep an open-minded. Don’t pick the weirdest theory for the villains, pick ALL of the weird theories!

This also combos well with the Brainstorm system introduced in “Atomic Robo RPG.” We will be releasing a similar, Investigation based system in the near future.


Before you start, make sure you create characters

Create Urban Legends – have each player and the GM create at least one each (although, if a player’s feeling creative, don’t put a maximum.) Some of these (or all of them) may not show in the story, but it’s nice to get ideas before you start.

Generate a Mystery (see below)

Go to the scene of the crime and Investigate. Generate a Location

As soon as you get there, start making supporting characters. Make sure you include a Face character or two for every organization and location. Don’t just have a random cop, have Carl the Chubby Meterman. If the murder’s in a back alley, have the owner of the restaurant Greasy Ginny, already answering questions to one of the detectives. These people seem incidental now, but could end up your suspects, eye witnesses, allies, enemies, and potentially future victims.

The team then gets to scan the scene for clues. Each character may attempt to use an appropriate skill to survey the scene. Investigate is the best skill, but Sixth Sense can be used to pick up Sensory Clues, and certain and situations allow characters to use other skills (ex. A stunt that lets a mad scientist investigate with Science!; a smooth talker using Rapports to question witnesses; Connections to dredge up rumors from your network.)

Successes: For each Success, the group gains one clue. You can only have a total of three Evidence or Corpse clues, so any further clues must be Sensory Clues.

Succeed with Style: If a character succeeds with style, you can gain a boost to aid another player with their search, or may take an additional aspect about the crime scene- this likely not a full clue, but rather a “hunch” about the nature of incident.

Fail / Succeed At Cost: No matter how many characters you fail, you always gain at least one Clue. Alternatively, don’t forget that, with Fate, you can always Succeed at a Cost.

Example “Success at Cost”: Finding a bit of evidence by tripping over it (giving you a Consequence to show your hurt leg or hurt pride); getting contradictory eye-witness testimonials; discovering an important bit of evidence and accidentally destroying it before it can be examined closer.

Clue chart:

If your group rolls on the same twice in a row, roll twice in a row, to assure a mix of the three.

Corpse Clue – Roll on the Corpse Clue Chart
0 Evidence Clue – Roll on the Evidence Clue Chart
+ Sensory Clue – Roll on the Evidence Clue Chart

Whenever they search, they always find SOMETHING, even if it doesn’t seem important. A bent fender. A phone message from Crystal. A bar napkin. Even if they lead no where now, some player might make a connection you never thought of.

Once the crime scene and all witnesses are exhausted, try to follow the clues. Maybe a forensic scientist can analyze the mud sample, or a guest lecturer can tell you more about an ancient symbol. Dig into the victim’s past, stake out similar locations in case it happens again. Reward player proactivity with more information.

When providing answers, draw connections threads between the events and aspects that are proposed (including the Urban Myths). If the trail grows cold, have the crime reoccur, or introduce someone who knows more than you (a hired assassin coming for you; a new witness; a rival to the enemy; the critically injured victim regains consciousness with vague memories.)

The Twist – Just when everything’s going smoothly, add in a plot twist. This can be something of your own devising, or roll on your adventure’s Twist table. When in doubt, remember the Urban Legends… maybe your Mexican Standoff with the Romanian Mafia gets interrupted by Elvis and his Alien abductors.

The Reveal – The mystery is exposed. Maybe it was a creature you still know very little about, or maybe it was really Carl the Chubby Cop the whole time.



The _sense__ is __(category), a bit like __example.__

This means you roll for the sense chart, then on the matching description chart, and then your group picks one of the examples in it. This gives you a definite fact (ex. It IS sweet), and less concrete suggestion (ex. “it reminds you of jasmine”). This lets you alter it slightly later if need be! Make sure you let the group in on picking the description. Ex. You can read the full list and let them pick; you pick “fruit” and let them throw ideas of which fruit it is.

For example, a roll might include “The smell is sweet, a bit like almonds.”

Which Sense?: If a character has no particular focus, roll on the following chart. However, if a player has an aspect that suggests that one sense is stronger / more appropriate than the next, allow the character to pick which one. (Ex. A psychic picking up the Sixth Sense Clue; a werewolf with the aspect “Follow Your Nose!” getting a Smell Clue.)

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Another player picks one! Smell Touch
0 Sight The GM picks one! Sixth Sense
+ Taste Hearing Pick one!


The location itself appears to you be ______, much like a _______

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Disarray Neat Phony
0 Hidden / Blind spots In Full View Secrets Revealed
+ Snap Shot All in the Details Seen This Before

Disarray – The location is in shambles. You might mean: there was a great struggle; someone was looking frantically for something; the attack was made in hot blood; the attacker was a beastlike in its savagery.

Neat – The location is startlingly neat and tidy. You might mean: the victim was subdued without a fight; the murderer was someone the victim knew; the murderer is a master of stealth (vampire, ghost, ninja); attack was calculated and made in cold-blood; the attacker wasn’t looking for something / wasn’t a robbery.

Phony – You can’t prove it yet, but your gut tells you something about the placement of the body and articles feels fake, altered, or unnatural. This might be: a phony suicide letter or “dying message”; a half-hearted robbery; objects / evidence that looks planted; a “random” attack with perfect timing; an assailing “stranger” who knew too much.

Hidden / Blind spots – The murder occurred in a spot that is secluded, dark, or obscured from others. This might mean: the murderer is a creature of the night / has night vision; the murderer is hurt by sunlight; the murderer is an ambush hunter; the murderer lured the victim into the location; the victim agreed to go into the secluded place (trusted murderer, doing a shady activity.)

In Full View – The murder happened in spot that was well light, exposed to the elements, and where others could easily see it. They might mean: there are witnesses to the d

Secrets Revealed – upon investigation, you find a secret way in, possibly utilized by the murderer. This might be: a hidden door; a grate leading to the sewer; a passage behind a portrait.

Snap Shot – Something in the area let you catch a blurry picture of an unknown person at the scene, possibly the murderer. This might be from: the victim’s last selfie; traffic camera; ATM camera; satellite image.

All in the Details – You find a near microscopic piece of evidence that other eyes would miss. Roll on the Sensory table to see what you find (reroll any Sixth Sense or additional Sight results). It’s not much now beyond a simple smell or touch, but it’ll be more defined when the lab gets to analyze it.

Seen This Before – The sight seems strangely familiar to you. This might be: you have been to this spot before; you’ve seen an identical before (perhaps an unsolved case!); you recognize the victim from somewhere (maybe searching the mug shots will help).


The smell is ______, a bit like _________.

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Floral Caustic Common Chemical
0 Metallic Foul Sweet
+ Smokey Earthy Spicy

Floral – perfume, cologne, lotion, flowers, green tea, violets (turpentine), fruit

Caustic – acidic (hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, vinegar, ammonia, lemon), basic (rubbing alcohol, methanol, quicklime, paint thinner, hydrogen peroxide), cleaning agents (bleach, detergent, soap, disinfectant, chlorine, “pine-fresh”), poisonous (bug spray, pesticide)

Common Chemical – Shoe polish, aerosol, hair spray, soap, new car, alcohol

Metallic – ozone, copper, burnt oil, melted plastic, ammonia (ex. Smokeless powder ammo)

Foul – rotten (flesh, wood, milk), bodily fluids, rotten eggs (sulfur, brimstone, gas), B.O., poo gas, fish (nickel tetracarbonate)

Sweet – fudge, vanilla, almond (cyanide, marzipan), cookies, rotting fruit

Smoky – candles, tobacco, gunpowder, fuel, wood, burnt meat / flesh, incense, burnt rope, gasoline, burnt hair, black tea, coffee

Earthy – damp leaves, mud, sea breeze, minerals, rust, grass

Spicy – pepper, garlicky (onions, phosphorous, arsenic), mustard (mustard gas), mint / menthol


The touch is ______, a bit like _________.

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Gooey Slick Rough
0 Sharp Soft / Smooth Rubbery
+ Cool Hot Unearthly

Gooey – mucus, goo, adhesive, glue, tar, syrup (honey, maple, soda), plant sap, insect / spider silk, congealed blood

Slick – oil (gun oil, lighter fluid, cooking oil), grease, makeup, butter, snot, sweat, scales, ice, mold, lubricants

Rough – grit, sand, salt, dust, wool, sandpaper, sharkskin, bark, hair stubble, plaster

Sharp – fragments (glass, porcelain, metal shavings), splinters, shrapnel, shark skin, thorns / prickles

Soft / Smooth– moss / mold, wax, fabric (silk, cotton, satin), petals, natural (fur, suede, down), dirt / clay, marshmallow

Rubbery – rubber, skin (leather, skin), plastic, mummified / jerked flesh, leaves, latex (prosthetics / make-up, rubber gloves), dried goo (see Gooey)

Cool – Ice, Liquid (water, rain, alcohol), metal, long dead, from cold place (freezer, ground, teleport), balms / anesthetics

Hot – burnt (fire, electricity, steam, acid, magic), recently used machine (gun, engine, phone), living or recently dead human/animal, burned rubber, hot drinks (coffee, tea, cider), from hot place (indoors, oven, shower, teleport)

Unearthly – The substance of something at the scene seems unearthly, like it was made for unknown materials. Whenever you touch the surface with your bare skin, you get a strange feeling or impulse. Roll on the Sixth Sense chart for the sensation (if it doesn’t fit, reroll).


Lost in Translation – Muddling Messages



This week, I’m going to focus on translation. Certain rpgs, like Skeleton Crew (open playtesting starting soon!), require characters to translate a message from one language to another. If the researcher was perfect, you could just hand over the “translated” message in English exactly as you wrote it. However, perfection is boring, and PCs are seldom as skilled as they think they are.  So, what are some ways you can mangle the message, but still make it feel like a translation?research barron

Answer: Google Translate! Of course this requires an internet connection, and copy/paste is lot easier on a keyboard. However, with a little bit of goofing around, you can get great results.

The Message: As a test, I wanted something that had a few complex words; more important, if the words are put in the wrong order, it could mean the difference between life and death for a character. So, I borrowed a line from the classic movie, The Court Jester (which stars Danny Kaye, the mom from Mary Poppins, and a hot Angela Lansbury… yeah, you read that sentence right.) Here it is:

The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.


The first way to mangle the phrase is to post the phrase in English, translate it into another language, and then retranslate the translated phrase back into English. For example:

In Spanish, that translates as:

El pellet con el veneno está en la jarra con el dragón, pero la vasija con la mano del mortero tiene el brebaje que es cierto.

If you paste the Spanish into the first box and translate it back into English, you get:

The pellet with the poison is in the jar with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.

Now that you got the idea, I’ll just skip to the end result for different languages. I was really amazed how many translations came back perfectly (some even having the “Brew that is True” rhyme.) However, here are few more of the interesting results:

Urdu: Poison in the flagon with the dragon, the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true with the tablet.

Catalan – The pellet with the poison is in the jar with the dragon, but go with the pestle has the brew that is true .. (Not that different, but I found the fact that it added advice interesting)

Georgian – Precipitation venom in a flagon dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew, that’s true .. (Interesting punctuation swap there).

Gujarati – Flagon with the dragon’s venom, but with the pestle has the brew that is true pellet with the ship .. (Where’d the ship come from?)

Haitian Creole – Lead is poisonous and in the flagon with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true ..

Hungarian – The poison pellets in the pitcher of the dragon, but the ship breaks the brew that is true .. (Fluid sounding, but not quite right)

Igbo – The pellet with the poison from the flagon dragon, and utensils and pestle to make a beer that is true .. (Utensils and beer?)

Irish – The brew is truly the pellet with the poison in the flagon with the dragon but the vessel with the pestle .. (Right words, wrong order!)

Persian – The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle is the missing dragon tail that is true .. (This is flipped too! Bwah ha ha!)

Japanese – Poison of dragons, pellets of container and flagon with a pestle is have the brewing is true .. (The rhythm is almost a haiku.)

Korean – The pellet with the dragon the neck of the bottle of poison in a narrow; the pestle has the brew that corresponds to the vessel. (To contrast with Japanese, this feels like it came from a text book.)

Latvian – TheGranulu with poison years in the bottle with the dragon; thekuģis with the pestle has the brew that is true .. (The second part’s perfect, but the first part leaves you unsure what IS poisoned.)

Maori – Knead with the poison in the bottle against the dragon; the vessel to crush the silica is a true ..

Marathi – Flagon with the dragon of the poison in the paper; The vessel has a beam that is true drink ..

Slovenian – ThePeleta sthe otrov u carafe with a dragon, or the cup with a pestle to cook the Truth ..

Finnish – ThePelletti kanssathe poison nthe bottle of wine kanssathe dragon, muttathe alusthe pestle onthe drink that is true ..

Mongolian -Poisonous dragon, but the pestle in a pot Flagon Rolling distillation is that true ..

Somali – Size is toxic in raisins demonic But container with tuntid brew has to be true .. (Almost Post-Modern sounding.)

Tamil – The pellet with the poison dragon, but the truth is that God’s brew flagon is shipping ..

Turkish – the dragon Amath Zehirth rammer ileth ship in unity ileth Vials The pellet doğrudurth to brew ..


Which to use? That depends on how mean you are and what you want to achieve:

German, French, Russian – I didn’t put these on the list above, because the result was near perfect. You might lose some of the poetry, but keeps all of the meaning. If you want to make it less fluid but equally clear, try Japanese or Korean.
(Above paragraph in Korean, retranslated): German, French, Russian – because the result was near perfect, I did not put the following in the list above. You lose some of the city, but you can keep all the implications. If you want to make less fluid, however, equally clear, consider Japanese or Korean.

Finnish, Slovenian & Turkish- These one resulted in a few properly translated words and a lot of nonsense ones. This gives the translator a lot of doubt, but they know where the doubt lies. It feels like you were given half of the puzzle. Finnish seems to go extremely wonky when you have a lot of “the”s in the sentence.
(Above paragraph in Finnish, retranslated): Finnish, Slovenian and Turkish, which together resulted in very few translated words share a lot of nonsense about them. This antaathe the translator a lot of doubts, but they know missäthe doubt lies. It seems as if you had puoletthe puzzle.

Marathi, Mongolian & Maori – These resulted in real words, but a nonsense sentence. The narrator is unsure about what to trust, and what to dismiss. It hints at a story, but the true meaning eludes you.
(Above paragraph in Marathi, retranslated): Marathi, Mongolian and Maori – the real untranslated results, but only a foolish statement. Feature dismiss faith CEO, Chief Executive Officer and is unsure about. It hints at a story, but only one true meaning eludes.

Irish & Persian – These are deceptive, in that they sound like they are fully formed (and poetically beautiful), but the information might come out skewed. This feels like the perfect result to give a researcher who is overconfident- it sounds right, until they make their fatal error.
(Above paragraph in Persian, retranslated): Irish and Persian – this is deceptive, in that they sound like they are fully formed (and beautiful poetic), but may come out skewed data. It feels so good to be a researcher’s right, it sounds overconfident-, either to his fatal error.


So, what can we do to mix it up even more? What if we went through a few other languages before we return back to English?

SO, Let’s try English – > Chinese, Chinese – > Russian, Russian -> English

End result: Poison in a bottle with a dragon, but with pestle container particles with BREW’s true.

Good, let’s add in Norwegian & Arabic too into the chain:

Poison in a bottle with a dragon, but the container stump particles with the right mixture.


Now, what happens if you mess with the translation itself? For example, what if you add a random letter to every forth word in the translation?

Norwegian translation (normal) Pelleten med giften sin i flagon med dragen, men fartøyet med stampe har brygg som er sant.

Norwegian (with added letters in bold): Pelleten med giftren sin i flargon med dragen, mein fartøyet med stamper har brygg sqom er sant.

Result: The pellet with giftren her in flargon with the dragon, mein vessel with tubs have brew sqom is true.

You end up with a most of it being genuine, some of it sounding like it could mean something (“mein vessel,”) and some that is clearly messed up (mmm… sqom.)

Adding random letters helps with language that use the same alphabet, but you can also use mess with languages with different alphabets.  For example, in the following Russian, I copy/pasted the “д” symbol in every few words.

Russian (with added д s): Осаддок сthe ядом-х в бутылди с драконом, но содсуд с пестиком имеет варевдо, что истинно.

You get: Osaddok sthe poison’s in butyldi with the dragon, but sodsud pestle has varevdo that is true.

Or, instead of messing with letters, why not mess with the spacing? In Traditional Chinese, hit the Enter button after every character, putting each character on its own line.

So: 与毒在


This turns a clear translation into:

Chinese Traditional (with spaces): Versus Poison In Versus Dragon Of Liqueur Pot, But Versus Pestle Allow Device In Of Stars Grain Tool There is BREW This Are Really A.

To me, this sounds like a great way of faking hieroglyphs or translations other pictographic languages; each word has its own strong, individual meaning, but fails to connect to the others in a coherent sentence.


  1. Translate from English into One language. Copy it.
  2. Next, Paste it into the first box. Instead of using Detect Language but tell it that it’s a language SIMILAR to real one, and translate it to English.

screen capture

Chinese text translated as if it were Japanese gives you: Azukadoku Jae given 龙的 Sake壶, however Azukakine container medium basis granulocytes androgynous BREW 这是 true basis.

Japanese translated as Chinese: There ド poison fu ra ra Oligo Oligo nn nn To で na ku pestle で container To Paint Ritz ッ Suites ga really で thou ru Niang who made wo ~ te I ma si.

Spanish translated as Italian: El pellet está en el veneno the jarra with el dragón, but the vasija with the hand holding the mortero brebaje el que es cierto.

Latin as Italian – Cum lagena in blood cell veneni cum dracone, Has Ceruisam stack vas verum.

Norweigan as Danish- The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon; fartøyet with tamping has brygg which is interesting.

Croatian as Slovenian – ThePeleta sthe otrov u carafe with a dragon, or the cup with a pestle to cook the Truth ..

Marathi as Hindi – Cya in to Batli poison dragon co Daruchi official documents; The drink contains Musla Naukela This is true ..

Nepali as Hindi – The vessel with the pestle with Dskko Ajidagar saturate with poison pill Sacho flagon that the solution g ma ..

Have some methods of your own? Share them below!

GMprov Part 2 – Bargains & Interrogations


Last week, I talked about peppering conversations with information so that any eavesdroppers can learn something useful. Today, I discuss how to improvise bartering and interrogations.

Before I do, let me share with you one of my favorite Improv exercises: the Bus Stop.  These are the rules:

  1. There is a bus stop with a short bench next to it. The bus is a very full bus (due to arrive soon), and it will only have enough room for one more person.
  2. Player 1 starts on stage, sitting in the first seat at a bus stop. This person is first in line, and thus is the only person guaranteed to get a spot on the bus. Goal: Player 1 wants to stay in the first seat so they can get on the bus.
  3. Player 2 enters the stage. This person is next in line for the bus, and will not get a spot on the bus, unless they can convince Player 1 to give up their seat. Goal: Player 2 wants that seat, so they will get the last seat on the bus.
  4. There is a second seat next to the first one, which is “behind” it in the line for the bus. The Second player can sit there if they like.
  5. Safety Rules: The second player cannot directly or indirectly touch Player 1, Player one’s chair or anything touching that person. They cannot cause Player 1 any real harm. (Threatening with pretend harm, such as revving up a pantomimed chainsaw, is perfectly fine.)
  6. If/When Player 1 is convinced to give up, Player 2 sits in the #1 chair. Player 2 stops being the character they were, and becomes a new ordinary person. If there is another willing participant, that person is the new Player 2, and a new scene begins.
  7. (There’s one more rule, but I’ll discuss it later)

That’s the set-up. If you’re playing with students new to improv, it might require showing them first, but they quickly get the hang of it. Players will quickly devise a wide range of ways to get Player 1 to move, but most of them fall into 2 tactics: the Carrot and the Stick.

The Carrot: Like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey, the player is tempted with something better than sitting in the Number 1 seat. Examples include showering a player with imaginary money, giving them the keys to a brand new car, and telling them that the pet store down the street is giving away free magic puppies.

The Stick: A form of negative reinforcement. The player is led to doubt whether the Number 1 seat is worth enduring their current situation.

As you can imagine, most players find the Stick far more fun, as they put on strange characters that are creepy, disgusting or downright terrifying.

bonejack tied up comical

So, the essential question is: what is the point of this game?

Answer: To see what happens when two people have conflicting objectives.

Two people want the seat, but only one can have it. Both people have an Objective, which gives the scene purpose (get the seat), energy (I want the seat now!), and a means of measuring success (I got the chair!)

Using this with rpgs: When running an adventure, it is important that you keep the Bus stop game in mind because both sides must have a stake in the outcome. If the opposition has no interest in the seat, there’s no conflict. If players have no interest, they won’t waste their time. If both sides want something they cannot share, that’s when conflict occurs.

Of course, this can be a literal thing (a MacGuffin like the Maltese Falcon or the Dragon Balls), but it can also be an intangible thing, like fame or love. A classic goal that shows up, especially in Superhero stories, is the Status Quo. Bad guys want to establish a status quo of pain, darkness and oppression, while the heroes try to maintain a status of truth, justice and the American way. Now, such finalized “there can be only one” goals are great for long term, campaign long objectives. For a simple bartering session or interrogation, though, it might not work. Before I tell you how to do it RIGHT, let me tell you how it’s often done wrong.

Back in college, I encountered a similar version of the Bus Stop game, simply called “The Chair.” Like Bus Stop, Person 1 sat in a chair, and Person 2 wanted to sit in the chair. No other rules were established, which led to the following problems:

  1. Person 1 would refuse to move for any reason, and those the scene would drag out forever, went nowhere, and often concluded without any feeling of closure.
  2. The only time Person 1 left the chair was when the person was physically removed (remember, no other rules,) which was a little scary to watch, and was quite unfulfilling on an intellectual level.

Now, why did Person 1 refuse to let go? Because they had no idea why they wanted the chair, or how important the chair was to them. They wanted the chair because they were told they wanted the chair- which is shallow and two-dimensional. More importantly, they didn’t know what the chair was worth to them, and thus the Carrot and the Stick have no effect- they only work if you can present something better / worse than possession of the chair.

Likewise, whenever I run the Bus Stop game, I’ll always have a student who refuses to leave the chair, no matter what the reason. A player could point an imaginary howitzer at them, and Player 1, 3 seconds away from annihilation, would still refuse to budge. This leads me to the last rule when I run a game of Bus Stop:

  1. If Player 2 can give Player 1 a legitimate reason to leave the seat, Player 1 must move. (Legitimate is defined as “if this actually happened to you in real life, you would not stay.”)

This means that in most cases, Player 2 will always win (which, if you’re a teacher running a class, means more people get to play.) However, not all Player 2s win on their first attempt. Some of the shyer or less experienced players will attempt to creep out a player, but in an underwhelming way. They quickly learn that they have to up their game, and begin pushing the character to a greater and greater extreme. Likewise, some players attempt to bait someone with a Carrot, and when that fails, resort to the Stick.

How does this apply to rpgs: You, the GM, are Player 1.  You have the thing that Player 2 wants. Nine times out of ten, Player 2 is going to get SOMETHING, be it information, assistance, or something shiny- if negotiations are completely closed and they walk away with nothing that can help them, then everyone just wasted their time.  They need to get closer somehow, even if it’s the knowledge that they need something better to bargain with.

When improvising dialogue with a player, keep in mind two things:

The Carrot – What does the NPC want even more than the thing they have?

The Stick – What repulses the NPC so greatly that it surpasses their desire to hold on to the thing?

Your NPC can start at a ridiculously high asking price, and then bargain down from there. Alternatively, let the players offer greater and greater Carrots and increasingly threatening Sticks until the NPC is significantly motivated. (When in doubt, refuse the first offer.)

Interrogations: Remember that earlier rule “you can’t touch the player?” That might seem like a good rule for middle schoolers, but surely that doesn’t apply to your bastard-sword wielding murder hobos, right? Wrong!

In an interrogation, there are limits to what Sticks you can use (and that’s assuming you don’t have pesky things like “morals”).  If the interrogated party has priceless information that only they can share, they know that the players can’t kill them, thus removing the harshest Stick available the players.

Bartering on the Fly

In a perfect world, you’ll have plenty of prep time to plan what the NPCs truly want, and what strange errands you can send them on before you will yield.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and you might find your party bartering with an NPC you created 38 seconds ago.  In addition to all of the above advice, a few other ideas:

  • Money is pretty much worthless to players- it’s numbers on a page. Sure, you can accept it when bargaining, but it doesn’t create any dramatic tension. However, what if the NPC takes a liking to a minor piece of equipment that a player has? (Not their treasured heirloom, but something useful that they like.) Now the player is forced to choose: which is more important, their Wand of +2 Lightning, or the mission?
  • The exception to the above idea is if an NPC asks for an exorbitant amount of money in a very narrow window. For example, what about half-a-million dollars in 48 hours? Suddenly, the players feel the pressure to come up with a very large sum under possibly desperate circumstances. If you didn’t have time to plan an even trade for the players, this buys you time, and puts the emphasis on the players to come up with ways to scrounge up the money. Now they’re the ones brainstorming various side quests they can do to raise dough, rather than making you come up with it.
  • Get Personal – If the thing they are after is relatively insignificant (but you want to draw it out a little, so it’s not too easy,) sell it at the cost of a little public humiliation. Ask for a small favor from a character that is their least favorite thing to do. Make the raging berserker sit still, or the proud noble ask “pretty please with a cherry on top.” Make sure you differentiate between humiliating characters and humiliating people; some players have no problem singing and perform, but for others that’s a fate worse than death.
  • Mediator – To switch things up a little, make the players the impartial middle between two opposing forces, and make the players come up with the compromise. For example, they might need the help of a magistrate, but the magistrate is so busy settling a local quarrel over a stolen pig. If the players want help from the magistrate (they can’t wait), they must first act as the mediators between two feuding forces. This requires a little bit of prep work, but for a change, the GM doesn’t have to come up with what the terms of the compromise are; rather, the players must concoct a winning solution on their own.
  • Pay it Forward – If the players catch you completely unaware by their attempt to barter, let them have it- but like the Godfather, do it on the condition that they owe the enemy a favor in the future.

Open the Gates! – Open Ended Adventures & Skeleton Crew


In the GM scheme of things, I’m relatively new. I’ve created several adventures for Skeleton Crew and my other games, and heard positive feedback. However, they would definitely fall under the “on the rails” category. In the case of the Masters of Umdaar game, the characters were literally in a single hallway, without a single side branch they could veer down. Of course, that was a 2-hour demo game, but Sophie Lagace’s blog inspired me: could I create a really short adventure that wasn’t on the rails? If New Manchester, the SC city, was so such a great setting, why not show it off some?

SPOILER WARNING:  If you’re signed up for the Skeleton Crew game this Saturday at Victory Comics at 12pm in Fairfax, VA, this contains a few spoilers. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and you’re not signed up, WHY NOT?! Post here to reserve a spot!

maria eyes serious


When I started writing the adventure, the following quote was bouncing around in my head:

“I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom;” – Nick Bottom, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

That was my goal: to create an adventure with a strong start, but no predetermined “bottom.”  Here’s the premise I used for the story, based on a comic idea cowritten by Monica Marier.

The story begins in Oldetown New Manchester, next to the old Town Hall, which is now a historically protected building. It is the local holiday Name Day, and the streets are filled with tourists, small-fry politicians, vendors, and street performers.  The smell of funnel cake permeates the evening air.

Mayor Mayer reaches the podium and gives an unenthusiastic speech, which includes the following exposition:

The city of New Manchester is celebrating Name Day because, on this day in 1689, a group of ragtag villagers and tradesmen defeated an invasion by vicious pirates. Until then, the community had been nameless waypoint between other settlements, but after their victory, they christened the area New Manchester.

As Mayor Mayer is wrapping up, storm clouds blanket the sky, and a glowing rowboat descends from the sky, landing on the steps. Enter Blackstache, a skeletal pirate of glowing green light, dust, and hate (with a surprisingly well kept mustache.)

“These be nuttin’ but lies! I know, for I was there- Captain Blackstache! (Not Blackbeard, that poser came later.) Me and me mates weren’t invaders… this was OUR home! It was our place of refuge, and them traders wouldn’t have been nuttin’ if it weren’t for us. This town ‘ad a name- it was Pirateton! And in the name of the Skull Dogs, the Sea Vultures, and meself, I claim it Pirateton once more!” [Insert Arrs and other piratey language here.]

From his rowboat, several other skeletal pirates (these looking a little more solid) join Blackstache’s side. Together, they grab Mayor Mayer, and make their way through the crowd to the street. Overhead, a dozen more spectral rowboats glide overhead, heading inland under a canopy of darkness.


The heroes will hopefully get involved at this point (the precon character Zomboy has the aspect “Superhero in his own mind,” which can definitely be compelled for this purpose.) If the players don’t give a reason, maybe the skeleton henchmen start robbing the crowd members, including your heroes. In my Roll20 Game, the person playing the little girl Peek-a-boo demanded Blackstache give her his awesome tricorn hat.

As soon as a conflict occurs, I want to establish the following things:

  • The Crew is divided into two gangs of pirates, the Skull Dogs and the Sea Vultures- for the sake of the session, I had the Skull Dogs be the melee fighters, and Sea Vultures be the long range marksmen. They CAN suffer stress from mental and physical attacks. (If Caomh Culainn is in the party, he’s the only one who can Intimidate them, or it’s +2 harder for everyone else). If beaten, they can be questioned.
  • During the first scene, Blackstache is invulnerable to all physical and mental attacks. All physical attacks go straight through him, and because he’s invincible, he laughs off any intimidation attempts. I go more in depth about Invulnerabilities in the Skeleton Crew rpg rulebook, but in a nutshell, it’s a Compel- the first player to discover a physical or mental immunity gains a Fate point at the end of the scene. Any attempts to capture him will ultimately fail. More on that later.
  • Blackstache’s objective in the first scene is to kidnap the Mayor- it IS possible for him to fail, meaning the player do have a way of winning the Conflict. If the Mayor is rescued and is not recaptured in the next turn or two, Blackstache will give a conditional defeat; automatically escaping without his prize. If the players don’t rescue her in a few turns, he’ll leave with her. After he leaves, any crew still around will continue fighting until they are defeated or concede.
  • Blackstache and his crew are greedy to the Nth degree, but not very well organized, and a bit on the dump side. It’s pretty clear that they hadn’t really planned this whole thing in depth. If questioned about their demands, they’ll start with “take what is ours!” and then waffle a bit if you ask for specifics.

Making them Care: At this point, hopefully the party is eager to twart Blackstache. If not, you’ll have to make them interested. Some options:

  • Have a skeleton crew mate hint about gold on the ship.
  • Have the mayor (or, she’s abducted, the deputy mayor) pay you.
  • Have the pirate rampage take out the city’s power and cell towers (thus, disrupting all TV watching.)
  • Have the skeletons kidnap a love interest or family member of the party. (Stupid boyfriend, always getting kidnapped!)

Beating Blackstache

So, to repeat what is established above, the players cannot beat Blackstache as they are at the beginning of the adventure?

Q. How do they break through Blackstache’s invulnerability

A. Anyway they come up with.

Really, any scheme they concoct can potentially work. For a comedy/adventure game like this, no scheme is too stupid, so long as it requires a little effort. That’s the goal: an adventure that can go anywhere the players want. In a more complex system, this might be a bit harder, but luckily Fate is loose enough that it can be done on the fly.

Of course, to be safe, I have a few things preplanned:

  • Weapon / Invention: If they want to build an invention, I would use the “Building Invention” rules, as they appear in the SC book (it’s essentially a variation on the Challenge rules). This makes the players struggle as they scrounge the city for essential parts, even as the pirate gangs create chaos around them.
  • Ritual: Using the same rules as Invention, but with a magical twist.
  • Book Run: If they want more info, they can swing by the library, where they’ll find the condescending Librarian Dezi Dewey.  She greets them on the steps, and tells them the essential book they need, “Journal of Goody Goodwife,” is a blue book in the Reference section (no, you’re NOT allowed to check it out!) Upon entering the library, you find the place ablaze, as some lesser skeleton pirates are wrecking havoc. Getting the book can be run as a Challenge or a Contest. For results, see “Useful Info” below.
  • Achilles Heel: maybe Blackstache has a secret weakness, such as a magical talisman that gives him invulnerability. Maybe it’s closer to a horcrux, such as a part of him that is stashed somewhere else, like his heart in a music box, or his soul in a hourglass. This is a good plan b if the party is adamant in charging after Blackstache (who’s residing on the ship) before learning how to hurt him. No doubt his weak spot would be kept near him for safekeeping, probably in his cabin.
  • Séance: If your members try to gather information from the dead (in their lair or in the Oldetown cemetery) they’ll be able to talk to actual colonial residents. Using the info from them (or even bringing the spirits along), and leverage, shame or even scare Blackstache for good.

What info can you find? There are several options:

  • Blackstache had united two warring pirate factions based out of Pirateton, the Skulldogs and the Sea Vultures (who were bitter rivals.) It is possible to wedge them apart.
  • Blackstache was honest that the pirates were the founders of Piraton, but he neglected to mention that the mob that drove them off consisted of their fed-up wives and lovers. The very name of these old flames wills them with shame and fear. If you can resurrect or impersonate them, expect them to run for the hills (perhaps after a Mental Conflict?)
  • Blackstache’s real name, Bartleby Briganmeyers. Names have power, and potentially, the name is all you need to cause him to quake. This can be used in a binding ritual, or be added on top of an attack spell. If there’s no spell caster in the party, maybe just mentioning the name will break the shield. Of course, you can always start a social conflict and shame “Bartleby” with just how ridiculous his name is.
  • Burial Site – this one is not information I would OFFER, as I imagine Blackstache as dying out at sea. However, if players insist on finding his burial spot, your sources will reveal that his corpse wound up on a small island off the coast. As any Supernatural fan knows, you can always salt n’ burn the body.

What else did I prepare?

  • Blackstache’s stats.
  • Several levels of skeletal henchmen. Taken strait from the SC RPG rulebook, plus a few pirate aspects:
Skeletons are puppets of dried bone, controlled by a necromancer from the outside. They have no memory or emotion, and no connection to person they used to be- they are practically robots with a grim skeletal smile.
Skeleton Aspects –Undead – Skeletons are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic, silver, and other magical purities.; No Pain; Rattling Bones.
Commonly Level: Average (+1)
Stunts: Brainless – Skeletons are immune to normal mental attacks. They may not actively resist any mental Aspect placed on them (ex. attempts to lure them to a better spot, attempts to distract them.)
Autonomous Parts – It is possible for a skeleton’s body part to keep moving, even after it has been severed from the rest of the body.
Wight Stuff (Good +3 Only) – Skeletons of Good +3 or higher are considered Wights. They lose the Brainless stunt. However, they grant +1 to any Attacks they make with Fight (but not defending.)
Alternative: You may have the skeletons be resurrected marksmen (musket men, pirates, crossbowman.) If so, replace all Fight skills with Shoot.
Physique   +1, Fight +1
Stress: No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out.
FAIR (+2)
Physique   +2; Fight  +2
Intimidate   +1; Wilderness +1
Stress: One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.
GOOD (+3)
Aspect:  Undying Rage
Physique   +3; Fight  +3
Intimidate   +2; Will +2, Wilderness +2
Notice +1, Athletics +1
Stress: Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.
  •  Some useful locations, like Hubris University, Bell & Cat Magic & Book Shop.
  • Phone a friend: If the players are lost or failing to come up with an idea, I was prepared to have an NPC call them up and guide them to a conclusion, such as Ol’ Man Jenkins, the Caretaker at the Library and/or Graveyard; or Prof Ephipany at BIFZAP Research labs.
  • Had a list of funny colonial names:
    Bartleby Briganmeyers
    Goody Goodwife
    Upton Ecclaire
    Charity Miser
    Amias Cork
    Primrose Hedge
    Jotham Lazarus
    Winston Ermergaurd
  • Because this was a Roll20 game, I had a few maps handy, like an Oldetown cobbled street, a modern city street, a library (with flame tokens), a pirate ship (inside and out), a graveyard, etc. Roll20 isn’t perfect, but it’s darn handy (I could write a whole blog on it, and probably will.

My first test with it was a huge success. It ran about 3.5 hours, but at least 30 minutes of that was figuring out how Roll20 worked.

What are your thoughts? Share your awesome stories.

If you haven’t already, sign up for the Skeleton Crew Beta test, and receive a FREE copy when we release.

Feedback to Back – Part 2


It’s been Nearly a month after GenCon, but I am determined to finish my synopsis of the play testing. So, I’ll skip to the good parts.

Dungeon Tours – So far, at most of my games, the average age of players was 20ish, and the gamers were pretty green. Even before I started my game of Dungeon Tours, a caper / construction game set in a Fantasy-Adventure world, I could tell this would be different. The average age around the table was older than me, and some had probably GMed before I even knew what an rpg WAS. When picking characters, they opted out of picking the silver-tongued Bard (though I reminded them it was a game about running cons.) One gentlemen in particular, sighting opposite of me, worried me the most. Pre-game time, I barely got a NAME out of him.
The second the game started, I realized that my fears were unfounded. The stern-faced individual (we’ll call him the Rogue, after his character), immediately livened up, and took gentle charge of the operation. The party immediately jumped into it, and quickly founded a loathe/hate relationship with the drunken noble serving as sucker client. The built a piratical adventure, featuring everything from fake musical puzzles, real graverobbing, fake trapdoors (that they might have forgotten to make “fake,”) and using a cannon as a tactic in contract negotiations.

dungeon map

No doubt, the star of the show was the taxidermied bear-boar composite fake monster, who was named “The Jeff.” I asked for an illustration, and they did not disappoint.

the jeff

  Feedback: Most of the feedback, it seemed, could be handled by GMing it better, it appears. I had forgotten one of my own rules, and as such, the board was littered with free invokes, making the game far too easy. The players, all of whom were new to Fate, were unsure of where my new rules started and where the old rules began. In the future, I’ll try to distinguish, “you’re testing THIS” before set-up.
Masters of Umdaar – for those who don’t know, this was a game I’d been working on since last spring or so. We signed up for GenCon, including 2 sessions, and then, to make a long story short, Umdaar was picked up by EvilHat as a supplement in the Fate Adventures and Worlds Patreon.

Premise: Masters of Umdaar is a pulp sci-fantasy, in the strain of John Carter of Mars, He-Man, Krull, Flash Gordon, and other corny but thrilling adventures. The game features a lot of random elements, including a random generator to create the adversarial race. This chart was originally a d6 chart, but I took the trouble converting it to 4dF chart. It was spick, it was span…

…it was on the laptop, back in the hotel. Dag. So, I took my buddy & GMing-guru’s advice, and I had them pick random animals out of a bag- I had brought with me an extensive collection of plastic toy dinosaurs, fantasy army-men, and other toys that I had purchased at Toys R Us and the Dollar Tree. One session had them facing off against a Mutoats (four-armed, mutant goatmen), the next group against the sneaky Centauripedes (insectoids that were Humanoids from the waste up, and centipedes from the waist down.) The final arena also featured such random threats as Megarats, cyborg Rozebras, and Lazerwolves (with robotic lazers on their tails, of course.) To keep the game under 2 hours, I had them on the rails for the whole adventure, (heck, the tunnel didn’t even have any forks), but they both tackled it in completely different ways. I never noticed how well Fate Core & FAE lends itself to cinematic adventures: If a player wants to overturn a fiery basin, climb a random chain, or swashbuckle from the ceiling, Fate makes it fast and easy.
Feedback: All seemed very positive. I’d love to test out a game without the “rails” given the chance.

SKELETON CREW – This was our last game of GenCon. After this game, we’ve got a 10 hour trek home, before I start a brand new job the next morning. I love GMing, but we’re all ready to go home. During set-up, Vince Salzillo, head of Double Exposure, comes over and says, “I’ve got some great guests lined up for you.” We don’t doubt that he’s got a good group, but I just nod, smile, and thank him. It would seem that the Vince-man does not exaggerate.

The event starts up, and Vince starts the game selection process. It’s on the far end of the hall, so us playtesters only hear every third word. Suddenly, I hear him drop my name, and he points in my direction. He asks me to wave, but being the goofball I am, I start waiving both arms, a la one of those fan-blown figures outside of a car lot. He then announces to the room who will be joining the game: Rob Donague and Fred Hicks of Evil Hat. I drop to the floor (only half of it acting.) Let us be brief and say that my thoughts were no longer on going home.

The group testing at the table was probably the perfect mix you could hope for for a playtest: two people (a couple) that had played rpgs, but never Fate; a young gentleman who had played it a litter (who was also a super-helpful aide for Double-Exposure, taking a much earned break); and two pros (Fred & Rob, who kinda invented the system.)  I introduced the system basics, and passed around the character sheets. The couple picked Peek-a-boo and Weston Peese respectively (and she even spoke in a little pre-schooler’s voice), and the aide took on the geeky hero-in his own mind Zomboy. Fred asked for a simple character (it’d been a long con,) and took on the role of Caomh Culainn, the Wight Berserker, while Rob gave the Mad Scientist Doc Turnell lots of life and even more melodramatic volume.

What was tested?: Our tweaks to the Fate Core system aren’t too elaborate, especially in a simple pick-up game. Our skill mode didn’t seem to cause too much confusion (one exception, noted later), and players seemed to really enjoy the “Round 0” effect, which lets players set up the conflict before punches are thrown.  Steve and I were both really pleased by the Team Spirit teamwork system, which we had only conceived of the night before. Previously, players had interpersonal aspects and a team concept- but that was the first time we had merged it onto a Team-Character Sheet. Rob and the Aide picked the interpersonal aspect of “Former Enemies,” which meant the Rob would constantly bellyache how the Doc (in his more megalomaniacal days), had been thwarted by the idiotic Zomboy… to which the aide would play Zomboy as a dumber and dumber still (it was a vicious cycle).  We had hoped to test “The Final Round,” but with a 2 hour playtest, we had to concede the fight before I would have liked.

Feedback – Rob had a question with one of the skills (Engineering) which I later got a chance to clear up… hopefully the full rulebook explains it better than I can. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the dry-erase Fate Game Aids. Learning from Dungeon Tours, I tried to make very clear from the beginning what they were being tested on, and several players seemed interested enough to sign up as playtesters.

Speaking of which, guinea pigs players are now allowed to sign up for the Skeleton Crew RPG beta test. Submit a form, and receive a FREE copy of the BETA test next month!

Skeleton Crew Beta Test – GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN!


It’s official: this October, we’re releasing the Beta Test for the Skeleton Crew RPG! If you’re an interested in being a playtester, watch this spot- very soon, we’ll give you information on how you can sign up.

sc rpg beta ad

In the meantime, here’s sneak preview of one of the Pre-generated character :

Enchanter – Jynx Goldie, Muffinmancer

Jynx is an Enchanter, who focuses on creating potions, charms, and artifacts on the spot.

Jynx is a natural at aleuromancy- or as Jynx’s teammates dub it, a muffinmancer.  Jynx’s baked goods used have strange effects on its consumers, changing their moods or energy. After years of practice, Jynx’s treats now have an effect even if they’re not eaten- breaking open a devil’s food cake can release demonic energy, while the gingersnaps actually snap.  Jynx always preps dozens of treats before every mission, but also brings a battery-operated EZ-Cook Oven into the fray, just in case.

High Concept (Permission): Young Bread-based Crafter Mage

Example Trouble Aspects –All Bark, Little Bite; Barely in Control;

Example Normal Aspects for your Sorcerer: Eccentric Genius; Here’s One I Made Earlier (Somewhere); Doing It On the Fly; Don’t Bother Me, Magicking!; Perfectionist; Handy Work Bench


Enchanter Skill Set (Intrinsic Magic)

  • Great (+4) skill –   Fabricate
  • Good (+3) skills –  Shooting (Magic Muffins), Rapport
  • Fair (+2) skills –   Mythos, Resources, Sixth Sense
  • Average (+1) skills – Notice, Investigate, Athletics, Will

Enchanter Stunts-

Weaponized Magic – Flour Power Spell – Once per scene, you may summon a spectral fist of flour, and may use Fabricate as if it were Fight, to deal a close range Attack. Alternatively, you may use this once to defend against a Fight attack.

Specialized Magic – Tantalizing Aroma – You gain +2 Rapport to Overcome rolls when convincing weak willed individuals (aka mobs and lesser NPCs) to eat one of your baked items, if you have an item handy.

Derived Magic – Enchant Grain – You may use Fabricate to Create an Advantage to attempt to quickly make a baked good with a magical aspect attached to it, or place an aspect on an existing baked good. This aspect can be a property belonging to the food (ex. Luminescent Crescent; Exploding Nut Muffin), or a property that is passed on to anyone who eats it (Love-Potion Lemon Square; Naan Bread of Nausea). You can also use this to bake useful items and tools, like rock-hard battle baguettes or a sturdy pumpernickel ladder. Likewise, you may spend a Fate Point or a muffin-based invoke to already have a baked good with that aspect all ready to go.

Stress: Physical: 2                           Mental: 3                             Refresh: 3
Permission to copy for personal use!



I had hoped to post part II of my GenCon feedback this week, but unfortunately, I’m a little busy. “On what, you say?” Well, might as well spill the beans:

We’re announcing the Open Beta of the Skeleton Crew RPG, coming out this Fall. We can’t give the exact date yet, but anyone who’s interested will receive a free sneak-peek version of the game. (Did we mention it’s free?!?)

Speaking of Sneak Peak, I thought it’d be a good idea to give you a tiny peek. Why? Because we want the phrasing to be just perfect, and we’d love your opinion on the following section. Which section?

Gender. We here at Tangent Artists want to do our best to recognize that gaming isn’t a “boys only” club… it’s not even a “boys and girls only” club. Here’s the short excerpt:


When you’re creating your character, take a moment to consider your character’s gender, genders, or lack of gender. Your character can have the same gender identity as you, or something completely different. We encourage players to keep an open mind about how their characters, and characters belonging to other players, choose to identify themselves. Also, feel free to think outside the limitations of reality; considering Skeleton Crew is a world of magic and super-science, it is perfectly possible for a character to change their own chromosomes with the flick of a switch, or the flick of a wand.


Currently the rulebook has many instances of “him & her” and “his and her,” although we’ll try to replace most of them with “them” and “their.”  We probably won’t get them all by Beta, I’m afraid.

So please, tell us what you think. Can we phrase it better? Is there anyone / any gender-related topic we’ve left out? Let us know.

Monster Gallery – Gloom Cart


For our first RPGee-Whiz entry, we thought we’d showcase on of the monsters that shows up in the Skeleton Crew RPG: The Oboro-guruma, aka the Gloom Cart.  This is a fun monster for any supernatural Fate Core game, as it merges two things together: Driving and Combat. Know, any epic chase scene doesn’t have to include stats for the cars AND for the mooks driving it- they’re one in the same.  Though the skills are slightly different, feel free to try it in your Dresden Files game.

Oboro-guruma – Gloom Cart

It used to be said that if a woman was killed by an ox cart, her spirit would merge with the cart, resulting in a terrifying cart that roamed on its own, bearing a woman’s face.  Luckily, ox-carts are not that common in New Manchester, but it appears that victims of other wheel-based accidents (cars, trolleys, shopping carts, segways) are starting to surface.For Oboro minions, here’s our recommended sizes: tiny vehicles (scooters, segways, etc) as Average (+1); small vehicles (motorcycles, hot dog carts, mini-coups) as Fair (+2); mid-sized cars as Good (+3).  While we do not cover them here, we recommend you treat large vehicles (vans, SUVs, food trucks, semis) as Great (+4) Named PCs.Racial Aspects

Ghost in the Machine – Oboros are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic.  Unlike most undead, silver and salt doesn’t hurt the “ghost” inside much, as it’s protected by a metal shell.

Hell on Wheels – Uses dark energy for speed.

Vengeance Against Bad Drivers!

STUNTS: Aggressive Driving – If the Oboro is given enough room to maneuver, it may use Drive to make close combat physical attacks against characters and other cars. It may also use Drive to make Overcome rolls to overcome minor obstacles.

Hit & Run (Good +3 Oboros only) – If the Oboro makes an Attack and succeeds with style, instead of taking the Boost, it may immediately move up to two zones away.

AVERAGE (+1)+1Drive, Physique, WillStress: No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out. FAIR (+2)+2 Drive, Physique+1 Will, Intimidate

Stress: One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.

GOOD (+3)Aspect: Two-Ton Menace+3  Drive, Physique

+2 Will, Intimidate

+1 Engineering, Notice

Stress: Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.