Quantum Ogre Theory


This week I learned about an interesting tool / cheat used by games masters: The Quantum Ogre. We’re going to briefly talk about what it is, how you can use it and/or avoid it. And of course, we thought we’d end the article with rules for including an actual reality-bending quantum ogre monster for your players to fight (because why not?)


The quantum ogre is a term for an obstacle (generally of light-medium difficulty) that the GM plans ahead-of-time and throws in the players’ path, whichever way they go.


GM: Before you stands a crossroads. The path on the left leads down into the valley, directly towards the castle. The path on right slopes upwards to the craggy peak that snake behind the castle keep.

Player: Man, this is tough… I think we go down into the valley.

GM: You come across an ogre!

Player: What would have happened if we went to the right? Another ogre?

GM: Uh, Maaaaaybe…

*GM notes: encounter 1 – definitely an ogre*


The reasons are simple enough: 

Players like to have choices (or fail that, the illusion of choice)

  • Writing an entire adventure is demanding enough for a GM; asking them to write an adventure where there are 2+ outcomes for each decision, i.e. prepping twice the material that will actually be used… is ridiculous.
  • It makes it easier to work in essentially plot points, thus typing combat with story (ex. The quantum ogre also carries a quantum letter that needs to fall into the players’ hands.)
  • It works


Resorting to this trick may make your players feel like they don’t REALLY have free choice; they are essentially on a railroad with only 2 results: a pre-written destination, or their deaths. 

Personally, I don’t mind a little railroading or quantum trickery when dealing with a one-shot, or if the players decide to deviate way off track and I’m improvising. However, when in comes to campaigns, there might be better ways to make the players feel like there are options.


Trick 1:

Whenever the party is about to embark on a big adventure, the GM should ask lots of probing questions about what the players want to accomplish, and what’s their ideal situation; next, break down this ideal scenario into smaller items This will give you several dials you can play with, and inspiration for obstacles. 

Keep in mind the old Project Management Triangle: GOOD, CHEAP, FAST: you can only PICK TWO.

Description: triangle, with the corners labeled “cost,” “time,” “product (scope / quality)”

In other words, you can produce something Good & cheap (but slowly); OR good and fast (but at high cost); OR cheap and fast (but poor quality).

Similarly, if a GM can get 2-4 priorities from the players, the GM can offer choices; each scenarios offers some of those qualities, but not all.


Players: We want to approach the castle.

GM: Okay, how do you approach? What do you ideally want to happen and not happen on the way there?

Player: Well, we want to get there without signaling our approach; we want to avoid fights; and we want to get there before nightfall (while the vampire lord is still asleep).

GM: Okay! Before you is a fork in the road. The lower path leads into the valley that stretches before the castle. The path on the right leads up into the craggy hills.

What the players don’t know is that:

  • The path to the left will get them there quickly and without fight, (but they will be noticed, giving enemies inside enough time to get their good armor on)
  • The path to the right will get them to the castle before night and without raising the alarm, (but they they can’t avoid the fight with the ogre ).
  • This also opens up an optional 3rd option, to utilize any spellcasters or rogues: maybe there’s a secret path through the sea caves filled with magical locks*; if the PCs don’t role perfectly, they are stuck opening them slowly over many hours. Thus, they get their stealthily and without fight, (but not before sunset).

*Note: While it’s fun to tease the PLAYERS with an occasional riddle, this is not always required; besides, that is rewarding the players for being smart; sometimes it’s important to let the characters be smart (or dumb) on their own. An obstacle can be as simple as saying, “There’s a magical door in front of you, asking for the correct password. Roll Arcana”; Based on the roll, tell them how many minutes or hours it takes them to research and provide the right word. If you want to make it more dramatic, you can add a penalty for each botched attempt, like a sinking ceiling or a magical attack, but this is not required.

Trick 2 – Don’t Plan an Encounter, Plan a Difficulty

This works mostly for story-games like Fate, but when prepping your adventure, don’t plan a minor battle as “a conflict with a guard with Superb +5 in Fight”; rather, think of it as “An obstacle with a difficulty value of Superb +5.” 


GM: You approach the city walls. 

*The GM wants to give the players a mild obstacle, but nothing too impossible; if they have a Great +4 to a skill, they set the difficulty of the first obstacle of this session a little higher, namely Superb +5.*

GM: Do you approach by the city gate, or scale the walls?

*If they go through the front, they will will encounter an ogre sergeant who’s not easily persuaded or beaten; roughly Superb +5 to defend against approach, give or take +1/-1.

Similarly, if they decide to scale the walls, they will find that doing so safely and quietly is very hard; again, difficulty Superb +5.*

Player: Actually, you said that a river ran through the city; I want to go underwater, and try to infiltrate that way.

The GM didn’t think of this; good thing they didn’t spend a lot of time fleshing out that Sergeant! The GM tells them there’s a grate blocking access to the city via the river; It’s possible to squeeze through or pry it open, but the difficulty is (you guessed it) Superb +5!

With non-fate RPGs, this can also be done, but easier when thinking of Challenge Ratings. 

  • The players want to go through the gate? They have to fight a ogre sergeant with CR 2.
  • They want to swim through the river? They are attack by four crocodiles (which add up to CR 2). 
  • Want to open a secret door? If they fail, the infiltrator is hit with a booby trap attack (that happens to be the same as two javelin attacks from a CR2 ogre.)

That’s it for the lofty game theory discussions: here are the rules for a Quantum Ogre (first for D&D 5e, then for Fate Core and Fate Accelerated)

Quantum Ogre

The quantum ogre, or as it’s sometimes called, the Schrödinogre*, is a rare creature born amidst a temporal storm. As such, it naturally shimmers and projects duplicate versions of it, allowing you to peek into alternate timelines to see where the being could have potentially gone. Thus, it’s hard to be sure which of the fractal ogres is the real one unless you observe it closely, or until it brings a heavy club down on your head.

*Credit where it’s due, my wife came up with “Schrödinogre.” She insisted I credit her so people** don’t forget that.

**Mostly Me.

D&D 5e Rules

Large giant, neutral evil
Armor Class 12 (Hide Armor)
Hit Points 90 (10d10 + 35)
Speed 40 ft.
21 (+5)
9 (-1)
18 (+4)
6 (-2)
10 (+0)
8 (-1)
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 8
Languages Common, Giant
Challenge 4 (1,100 XP)
Natural Mirage.Quantum Ogres always appear in pairs, at least to the untrained eye. Once per day, whenever you encounter a quantum ogre, it is accompanied by an illusionary double; treat it as if the ogre had cast the illusion spell Project Image, without requiring a spell slot, action or spell components. It can be dispelled or sensed just the spell normally allows.
Avoidance. If the Quantum Ogre is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.
Displacement. The Quantum Ogre projects a magical illusion that makes it appear to be standing near its actual location, causing attack rolls against it to have disadvantage. If it is hit by an attack, this trait is disrupted until the end of its next turn. This trait is also disrupted while the Quantum Beast is incapacitated or has a speed of 0.


Multiattack. The Quantum Ogre makes two attacks with either javelin or greatclub.

Greatclub. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8 + 5) bludgeoning damage.

Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) piercing damage.


Quantum Ogre

High Concept: A reality shifting brute

Aspects: Craven Bully; Hard to pin down; Hits like a Bull; Shadow Double* (see stunt)

Fantastic 6+ – Physique
Superb 5+ Fight – Stealthy
Great 4+ Notice, Intimidation, Will


Natural Mirage. Quantum Ogres always appear in pairs, at least to the untrained eye. Treat it is if there is a second ogre, which can only interact in non-physical ways (ex. Intimidate, Notice); once a character successfully attacks the ogre’s double, you may compel the Shadow Ogre aspect to have the attack automatically fail (however, the player gains a fate point). Alternatively, you may have the attacking player make a successful Notice roll, to overcome a Difficulty of 5; if they succeed, they may forgo the fate point and take an alternative action this turn instead. Either way, the double is revealed to all characters nearby, and it can take no actions except moving around.

Avoidance. If the Quantum Ogre is subjected to an effect that allows it to avoid harm. It has armor +1 (ignoring the first stress from each attack).

Displacement. The Quantum Ogre projects a magical illusion that makes it appear to be standing near its actual location, causing attacks to falter. When defending against any fight, shoot, or magical attack, the Ogre may defend with the Stealth skill and gains +2 to the result. It may not use this stunt if it was already hit by an attack this round, or has an aspect that hinders it’s abilities (ex. Chained to the floor; blinded by sand.)

Bitter Rage. Once per round, if an Ogre attempts an attack against one character and was not successful, the GM may pay a Fate point to have the Ogre take an additional attack action against another character.


Quantum Ogre

High Concept: A reality shifting brute

Aspects: Craven Bully; Hard to pin down; Hits like a Bull; Shadow Double* (see stunt)

Superb 5+ Forceful
Great 4+ Sneaky
Good +3 – Quick, Careful


Natural Mirage. Quantum Ogres always appear in pairs, at least to the untrained eye. Treat it is if there is a second ogre, which can only interact in non-physical ways (ex. Intimidate, Notice); once a character successfully attacks the ogre’s double, you may compel the Shadow Ogre aspect to have the attack automatically fail (however, the player gains a fate point). Alternatively, you may have the attacking player make a successful Notice roll, to overcome a Difficulty of 5; if they succeed, they may forgo the fate point and take an alternative action this turn instead. Either way, the double is revealed to all characters nearby, and it can take no actions except moving around.

Avoidance. If the Quantum Ogre is subjected to an effect that allows it to avoid harm. It has armor +1 (ignoring the first stress from each attack).

Displacement. The Quantum Ogre projects a magical illusion that makes it appear to be standing near its actual location, causing attacks to falter. When defending against any fight, shoot, or magical attack, the Ogre gains +2 to defending with Sneaky. It may not use this stunt if it was already hit by an attack this round, or has an aspect that hinders it’s abilities (ex. Chained to the floor; blinded by sand.)

Bitter Rage. Once per round, if an Ogre attempts an attack against one character and was not successful, the GM may pay a Fate point to have the Ogre take an additional attack action against another character.

That’s it for today. If you like the D&D version, you can also find it at DNDBeyond and add it to your campaign. As always, please share, subscribe, and game on!

-Dave Seidman Joria, Tangent Artists



The next few posts on this blog will be about updating everyone on upcoming Tangent Artists’ games and game accessories products. Last week, we shared pics of the Fate Accompli cards (which will go out the kickstarter backers first; after that, we’ll be selling them online!)

This week, we’re taking a look at the Guild Guides!

Q. What are the Guild Guilds?

A. The Guild Guides are a collection of humorous standalone books. Each book is inspired by a classic type of fantasy adventurer; our first guide was “The Handbook for Saucy Bards,” followed by “The Cleric’s Guide to Smiting.” In the next few months, we’ll be releasing, “The Rogue’s Guide: Steal This Tome.”

Q. Are they for gamers, or can anyone enjoy them?

A. Yes!

Q. That wasn’t a “yes or no” question.

A. Too bad!

Q. So, is it for gamers or not?

A. The books contain useful, system agnostic references for fantasy gamers; for example, a bard wanting to execute a Cutting Remark will find three convenient d20 charts for classic insults. Likewise, a gamer designing a cleric might enjoy our guide to blunt weapons, and the rogue’s book will contain a number of popular scams to run during your games. These are great for players running that specific class, or for GMs.

However, our goal is to make content that is entertaining to everyone: current gamers, gamers who are between campaign, and even people who’ve never played a roleplaying game. They’re kind of like “coffee table” books.

Q. Who wrote the books?

A. Each book is “written” by one of the characters in the Tangent Artist’s comic CRIT! (don’t worry, they’re still funny even if you don’t read the comics… though you should). Miles Rayner wrote the Bard Book himself, and is proud to let everyone know it. Morfindel the cleric is not the most verbose of characters, so he borrows a lot from his old textbooks, complete with his notes scribbled in the margins. Bart also steals heavily from a local watchman manual for the rogue book (which seems appropriate), although his comments in the margins are a lot less polite.

Q. What’s in the Bard Book and the Cleric’s Guide?

A. The bard’s book has such wonderful resources as: “an Elf, a Dwarf, and a Halfling walk into a Bar” jokes, simple rhymes for faking songs, and how to insult the Unfriendly (and Friendly) races of the fantasy world.

The cleric’s book includes: evil sigil bingo, fill-in-the-blank eulogies, and a guide to religious holidays (which you can use to get off work).


Coming Soon!

Q. What can we expect in the new Rogue’s Book?

A. Lots of fun content, including:

  • “What Type of Rogue Am I?” Personality Test
  • d20 charts for alibis and fake names
  • Scams
  • Guide to identifying rare metals and gems
  • List of Poisons
  • The original short story by Monica Marier, “Lipstick and Rogue”
  • And much more!

Q. What’s next?

A. By the end of the year, we hope to have digital versions of the three books available for eReaders- watch this spot for updates on when and where you’ll be able to download them.

If that weren’t enough, we’ve already started work on the Ranger’s book. The ranger book will be “written” by the CRIT’S cranky lead, Linus Weedwacker; expect it sometime in 2016-2017! We already have a few ideas on what will come after that, but we’d love to hear your suggestions. Warriors? Wizards? You decide!

Fate GM Aid: Screen a Little Screen for Me….


It’s been busy at Tangent Artists, preparing the Fate Accompli material for the printers.

To double-dip a little bit, I thought I’d show off the rough draft for the Fate GM Screen that we plan to use as a bonus to our backers.  Thus, this week we ask you to Screen a Little Screen for Me….

(Yeah, I know the old song was “Dream a little dream OF me,” but whatever…)

Fate Accompli Kickstarter Preview. Click Me!

Fate Accompli Kickstarter Preview. Click Me!

Credit where credit is due: most of this rough draft is pulled from the amazing Fate Core GM Screen created by Jordan Dennis. Find it here at the Evil Hat Wiki page. Likewise, we’ve pulled a little from Richard Bellingham’s Action and Outcome Grid. The final screen will be put into our own words, but they are due a thanks in the final product none the less.

So, tell us: is there anything important we’re missing? Is there something you always wanted to see on a Fate GM screen that isn’t included in the following?


The Ladder (p.9)



+8 Legendary

+7 Epic

+6 Fantastic

+5 Superb

+4 Great

+3 Good

+2 Fair

+1 Average

+0 Mediocre

-1 Poor

-2 Terrible




For results above 8 and below -2, create your own names!


Dice Results (FAE, Page 18)

Result = Roll of 4 Fate Dice + Skill / Approach bonus + Bonuses from stunts + Bonuses from Invoked Aspects

You can wait until after seeing the opposition’s result to add Invoke Bonuses – it’s not too late!


Game Time (p. 194)

• Exchange: time for everyone to get a turn

• Scene: Time to resolve a situation

• Session: a single sitting

• Scenario: An Episode

• Arc: A Season

• Campaign: The entire game in a particular setting


Skill Roll (p. 130)

Roll four Fate dice and add to skill rating. Compare to opposition. For each step on the ladder greater than your opposition, you earn a shift.


Opposition types (p.131)

• Active: another character rolls against you.

• Passive: A static rating on the ladder.


Four Actions (p. 134)

Overcome: attempt get past an obstacle – also used to ignore or remove situation aspect.

Create an Advantage: Attempt to create a story detail (aspect) or add invokes to an aspect for free.

Attack: Harm another character.

Defend: prevent attacks or advantages on you.


During Conflicts & Contests, characters may only make ONE action per exchange. (The Exception is defend: you may always defend against attacks and create an advantage rolls for free.)


Four Outcomes (p. 132, FAE p. 13):

Fail: Your Result is lower

Tie: Your Result is equal

Success: Your Result is higher (1 – 2)

Success with Style: Your Result is higher (3+)



Attain Goal (May be at minor cost)

Attain Goal

Goal + Free Boost

Create an Advantage (New Aspect)

Fail or Enemy creates aspect w/ +1 free invoke

Free Boost

Create Aspect (+1 free invoke)

Create Aspect (+2 free invoke)

Create an Advantage (Existing Aspect)

Enemy gets +1 free invoke

Add +1 Free invoke

Add +1 Free invoke

Add +2 Free invokes


No stress; opponent gets boost (if defender rolls higher by 3+, they gain free boost)

Free Boost

Deal hit equal to number of shifts

Deal hit equal to number of shifts + 1 free boost


Suffer aspect or stress; (if opponent rolls higher by 3+, they gain free boost or invoke)

No stress / aspect, opponent gets boost

Suffer no stress /aspect

Suffer no stress / aspect, +1 free boost

*Overcome & Create an Advantage may choose to Succeed at a Cost. With Create an advantage, the Enemy creates the aspect and gains +1 free invoke.


^Boosts given with Defense don’t stack with attack; i.e. if an attacker ties, he gains only one boost, not one from the attack result and one from the defend result.


Actions -Movement (p. 139)

Movement – Unopposed – During an exchange, if there are no aspects or opponents hindering your movement, you can move one zone for free in addition to your action.

Movement – Sprinting – you may move use overcome to move any number of zones; this counts as your action for the exchange.

Movement – Obstacles – if your movement is blocked, use overcome against passive resistance (if barrier or situation aspect) or active resistance (characters); this counts as your action.

Actions – Miscellaneous

Free Actions  – Small things like drawing weapons and yelling are free and don’t count as actions. (p. 172)

Interpose – Take an attack meant for another character. Attacker rolls against Mediocre (+0) opposition.  (p. 160)

Full Defense – Instead of taking an action, gain +2 to Defense until your next turn. (p. 159)

Helping: Instead of taking an action, you may add +1 to a character’s skill (if you have Average +1 or higher in that skill). GM may place limits on how many characters may help (ex. a character with +3 cannot receive more than +3 from helpers). (FAE, p. 17):


Mitigating Damage (p.160)

Stress BoxAbsorbs stress equal to box number (ex. 2 box absorbs 2).

When you suffer stress, do one of the following:

> Fill in one stress box greater than or equal to the value of an attack

> Take one or more consequences

>Fill in one stress box and take consequences

If you can’t do one of these three things, you’re taken out (does not automatically equal dead).

• Giving In: Give in before your opponent’s roll and you can control how you exit the scene. You earn one or more fate points for giving in (page 24).


Consequences (p. 162)

• Mild: -2 to attack value

• Moderate: -4 to attack value

• Severe: -6 to attack value

• Extreme: -8 to attack and permanent character aspect

When created, a Consequence has one free invoke which the opposition may use.

Recovery (p. 164)

• Mild: overcome Fair (+2), one whole scene

• Moderate: overcome Great (+4), one whole session.

• Severe: overcome Fantastic (+6), one whole scenario.

Aspect Types (p. 57)

• Game aspects: permanent, made during game creation

• Character aspects: permanent, made during character creation

• Situation aspects: last for a scene, until overcome, or until irrelevant

• Boosts: last until invoked one time, or (often) until end of scene

• Consequences: last until recovered

Invoking Aspects (p. 68) (FAE, p. 27):

Spend a fate point or free invoke.

Choose one:

• +2 to your skill roll.*

• Reroll all our dice

• Teamwork: +2 to another character’s roll versus relevant passive opposition

• Obstacle: +2 to the passive opposition

Warning: You can only spend one Fate Point per aspect per roll (i.e. cannot pay two fate points to invoke same aspect twice for +4).

Free invokes stack with a paid one and each other.


Compelling Aspects (p. 71) (FAE, p. 28):

Accept a complication for a fate point.

• Event-based: You have _____ aspect and are in _____ situation, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, _____ would happen to you. Damn your luck.

• Decision-based: You have _____ aspect in _____ situation, so it makes sense that you’d decide to _____. This goes wrong when _____ happens.

Refresh (p. 80)

At the start of a new session, you reset your fate points to your refresh rate. If you ended the last session with more points, you keep the extra. At the end of a scenario, you reset to your refresh rate no matter what.

Spending Fate Points (p. 80):

Spend fate points to:

• Invoke an aspect

• Power a stunt

• Refuse a compel

• Declare a story detail (new aspect, no free invokes) (FAE, p. 29):

Challenges (p.147)

• Each obstacle or goal that requires a different skill gets an overcome roll.

• Interpret failure, costs, and success of each roll to determine final outcome.

Contests (p. 150)

• Contesting characters roll appropriate skills.

• If you got the highest result, you score a victory.

• If you succeed with style and no one else does, then you get two victories.

• If there’s a tie for the highest result, no one gets a victory, and an unexpected twist occurs.

• The first participant to achieve three victories wins the contest.

Conflicts (p. 154)

– Establish Scenic Aspects / Zones
– Roll for Turn Order – Notice / Quick for Physical Conflicts; Empathy / Careful for Mental or Social Conflicts
Start the first exchange:
• On your turn, take an action and then resolve it.
• On other people’s turns, defend or respond to their actions as necessary.
• At the end of everyone’s turn, start again with a new exchange.
Conflict is over when everyone on one side has conceded or been taken out.
Post Conflict
> Concessions and Consequences – Agree on the terms of the concession, or the consequences for those taken out
>Remove any boosts or irrelevant situation aspects
>Recovery – Roll to recover appropriate consequences

Earning Fate Points (p. 81)

• Earn fate points when you:

• Accept a compel (get immediately)

• Have your aspects invoked against you (get at the end of the scene)

• Concede a conflict.


Setting Target numbers (FAE, p. 37)

• Easy Task: Mediocre (+0) – or success without a roll

• Moderately Difficult: Fair (+2)

• Extremely Difficult: Great (+4)

• Impossibly Difficult: Go as high as you think makes sense. The PC will need to drop some fate points and get lots of help to succeed, but that’s fine.

Turn Order (FAE, p. 21)

• Physical Conflict: Compare Quick approaches—the one with the fastest reflexes goes first.

• Mental Conflict: Compare Careful approaches—the one with the most attention to detail senses danger.

• Everyone else goes in descending order. Break ties in whatever manner makes sense, with the GM having the last word.

• The GM may choose to have all NPCs go on the turn of the most advantageous NPC.

Approaches (FAE, p. 18)

Careful: When you pay close attention to detail and take your time to do the job right. Thinking before you act.

Clever: When you act indirectly, solve problems,or account for complex variables.

Flashy: When you act with style and panache.

Forceful: When you use act directly, or use brute strength.

Quick: When you move quickly and with dexterity. Act before you think.

Sneaky: When you use misdirection, stealth, or deceit.

Skills -Default –


Create an Advantage



































































Will x x X


Time taken to complete a given action outside of a conflict is measured in the following abstract quantities:

Half <-> One <-> A Few <-> Several

These  are then applied to a timescale, for example: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, Years, Decades, Generations, Centuries, Millennia.

Shifts can be spent on speeding up the action, with each shift spent bumping you down the scale. If time is an important factor,  the amount of shifts you fail by can bump you UP the scale!

Going past the scale on either side jumps you up or down or up a timescale – for example one shift would jump you from Several Months to Half A Year or from Half A Day to Several Hours.



Frequency: Every Session.

Options: Swap two skills, rename an aspect, buy a stunt or power OR exchange a stunt.


Frequency: Every Scenario or Plotline (every 2-3 sessions).

Options: Additonal Skill Point & Benefits of a Minor Milestone & spellcasters may reconfigure foci.

Fate Points are reset to your Refresh rating even if you have more than this.


Frequency: When the plot is shaken up a lot, multiple scenarios or a large-scale plotline.

Options: Significant Milestone & Refresh +1 & buy stunts or powers & rename Extreme consequence.

2014 – Back in the Highlights


Despite my expectations, it would appear that the readership on this blog has increased since I started, (from “Holy cow, I have a reader!” to a staggering, “Holy Cow, I have readers [ plural]!”)  I am surprised as the next person to find this out, and welcome any man, woman, or spambot that has wandered on to this site by mistake.


One of my more glamorous shots.


To round off the year, I thought I’d give a quick play-by-play of the posts this year, in case you missed any that might appeal to you.


  • So Much Time, So Little to Do – A breakdown of all of the Tangent Artist games we’re working. Since then, I’ve talked about… um… maybe a third of them. Yeah. Will have to tease you more about those next year.
  • Monster Gallery – Gloom Cart – A preview monster for Skeleton Crew (although he fits in with Dresden Files too.) Haven’t done too many solo monsters since… let me know if you want more.
  • Costume Clash – Behind the Scenes – I’m very pleased with this WIP game, and while it won’t be launched in 2015, we’ve definitely made a lot of progress with it this year. This article is also a fun glimpse at the creative process for all you creative types.
  • Skeleton Crew 101 – The first teaser (of many) about the Skeleton Crew game.


  • Dungeon Tours Ltd – 101 – Sneak peak at our WIP rpg setting, Dungeon Tours Ltd. We’re currently thinking about releasing this one digitally, potentially through Drivethrurpg.
  • Gen-Con or Bust – Won’t even bother linking this, as it only covers where we were at Gen Con.
  • Feedback to Back – Pt 1 – A breakdown of the many games we ran at Gen Con, the feedback, and the fun experiences… too much to fit in one blog entry!



  • Vampire Bloodlines- A fluffy-breakdown of the many different vampires around the Skeleton Crew World.
  • Open the Gates! – An experiment with open-ended games, and a great set-up for a Skeleton Crew adventure. (I guess this was the prototype for the GMprov posts to follow.)
  • Inktober Two-fer – A super-early peak at the art for two character in the upcoming Skeleton Crew rulebook (it’s so secret, it wasn’t even in the Beta version!) Art by the amazing Monica Marier.
  • Inktober Day 19 – Another sneak peak character. This week: the ghostly Chucky Crumb.
  • Inktober Day 20 – A third sneak peak character. This time: Padre Vinnie Sargento
  • Gmprov Part 1 – My first official post devoted to merging Improv and Games-Mastery. This week focuses on Conversations and Eavesdropping.
  • Gmprov Part 2– More on merging Improv and Games-Mastery. This week: Bargains & Interrogations.NOVEMBER
  • Lost-in-Translation- Muddling Messages – A post about mangling and mistranslating messages for your players.
  • GMprov 3 – More improv for Games Masters. This week focuses on “Yes, And,” and building a collaborative environment.
  • Skeleton Crew Beta – A post announcing that the opening of the Skeleton Crew RPG Beta, and the many things you’d find in the rulebook. We’re still accepting testers, if you’re interested!
  • GM Brainstorm – LARP – An attempt to move Fate into LARPing, and the introduction to the Gladiatron rpg game.DECEMBER
  • Advent Calender – Sharing a project from our writer/artist, Monica Marier, as she presents the Christmas Carol in 25 illustrations in 25 days.
  • Gladiatron – The rules to the Gladiatron RPG setting.
  • TOY-BOX-REVIEW – A review of a toy set I bought off Amazon, a free Fate Core / Skeleton Crew monster, and a psychological dissertation on cheap plastic figures.
  • GMprov -It’s a Set-Up! – More improv for Games Masters. This week focuses on setting up scenes in a jiffy.
  • GMprov – Ask Me No Questions – More improv for Games Masters. Focuses on the ways asking Questions of your players can add or detract from the gameplay.

All-in-all, I think it’s been a pretty good year! What do you want to see more of in 2015? Have any guest articles you want to submit? Let us know!

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.