By - December 9, 2014 - Leave a comment

Digital to Tabletop – Pokémon »

Pokemon MemeFor anyone who knows me – you know that one of my favorite things to do in my spare time is to convert a video game to a tabletop game.  Despite what you may think, this can be done.  In fact, in some cases, the conversion is rather simple.  In other cases, the conversion can be a little more challenging.

I like to choose games that are kind of in between – a game that only presents some mild difficulty in this process and one that allows me to, “bend the rules”, if you will, letting me alter some mechanics in order to fit it in with the d20 system or any variant that I might want to conjure up.  One of these games, as you probably guessed from the title, is Pokémon.

Without diving into detail too much, Pokémon is a relatively simple RPG with two, ultimate goals – becoming the Pokémon League Champion and “Catching ‘em All”.  In order to become Pokémon League Champion, the player must visit the 8 Pokémon gyms scattered across the continent and defeat the gym leaders to earn badges.  Once all 8 badges have been procured, the player must then travel to the Pokémon League, take on four, elite trainers (known as the Elite Four), then defeat the champion.  “Catching ‘em All” is a catch phrase often used within the Pokémon world that simply means that you have to capture and trade for every Pokémon (different monsters that you battle with) that is available throughout the game.

I know that you want to get into the nitty-gritty by starting out with battling, but right before we dig into that, we have to fill out our character sheets.


The Character Sheet

Your character sheet is going to be slightly different, obviously, than in a normal, d20 game.  For starters, your character doesn’t actually have any stats (unless you want to include a catching level, which I did).  Remember – you fight with Pokémon, not with your fists, so it’s going to be your Pokémon that need stats filled in.

But what should their stats look like?  A good question.  The formula involved isn’t the simplest in the world, but, fortunately for us, we have this here handy, dandy calcumathingajig to help us out:

Psypoke’s Stat Calculator

FYI – It’s typical for your first Pokémon to start at level 5.

FYI 2 – Typically speaking, each player will have a choice between three Pokémon at the start of the game – Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle.  Of course, this can be modified.



Encounters I kept simple, personally.  In Pokémon, when a player steps into an area where wild Pokémon may appear, the player has a chance of randomly encountering specific Pokémon designated for that area – each having its own percentage of chance of appearing.  For instance, a wild Pidgey may have a 90% chance of encounter, whereas a Jigglypuff may only have a 20% chance.

I hate math, personally, so I convert this process to the d20 system.  I’ll have any, given route contain five different Pokémon, at least.  Four of these will be common (encountered by rolls 1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19) and one will be rare (encountered by rolling a 20).  It’s a simple process for me and my players to remember and it works.


Stay tuned for next time where we’ll tackle capturing and battling!

Thank you all for reading!

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By - December 9, 2014 - Leave a comment

Digital to Tabletop – Pokémon (Part 2) »

This is a continuation of a previous article about converting Pokémon to a tabletop game.  If you haven’t read Part 1, yet, then I suggest that you do that first.

And, as always, thanks for reading!



I don’t know about any of you, but, personally, capturing has always been an aspect of Pokémon that has annoyed me.  It’s not that it’s not fun to capture Pokémon or even rewarding despite the fact that it can take several hours (here’s looking at you, Entei, Raikou, and Suicune).  Honestly, the thing that has always annoyed me about capturing Pokémon is, simply, the mechanics behind it.  If you train your Pokémon too much, you’ll knock out a wild Pokémon in one shot, eliminating your chance of capturing it and forcing you to find a Pokémon that can learn the move False Swipe.  Many times, however, this still isn’t enough.  Even if you knock your opponent down to 1 HP, they’ll still break out of a Poké Ball, forcing you to try a Great Ball, an Ultra Ball, and/or any other variant that has been invented throughout the years.  Sometimes, still, even that isn’t enough, so you’ll be forced to freeze your opponent, poison them, or lull them to sleep and, as you probably have guessed or know, already, sometimes that still isn’t enough.

So, instead of throwing down the game or sharkin’ it to death, many players choose to just try to avoid this process as much as possible.  Well, I say no more!

The solution is to keep things simple and add an idea that I found in a game called, Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu which is, mind you, an idea that I find to be sorely lacking in Pokémon – a capturing level!

This is really simple, I promise.  Basically, your capturing level will be equal to the highest level Pokémon in your party.  Like in Pokémon X/Y, your Pokémon will gain experience every time you successfully capture a monster.  In order to catch a Pokémon, you use this, simple formula:

Opponent’s Level – (Capturing Level + Ball Roll + 1 for any status ailment (non-stackable) + 1 if opponent is at half health or +2 if opponent’s health is 10% or less).

Rolls for the four, basic Poké Ball’s is as follows:

Poké Ball – 1d4*

Great Ball – 1d6*

Ultra Ball – 1d8*

Master Ball – 100% Success

*A roll of 1 = automatic failure



Battling is also very simple.  The sequence is as follows:

1.  Check which Pokémon has the highest speed.  The one with the highest speed stat moves first.

2.  Choose a move to use.

3.  Check the accuracy of the move and run it through the easy formula outlined here to see if it hits or not.  Incorporate 1d20 roll afterwards.  If you hit a 20, it’s a critical and if you hit a 1, it’s a miss, no matter what the formula has to say about it.

4.  Calculate the damage.  This can be done quickly by using this damage calculator.  Don’t forget to check the “critical hit” box if you rolled well and, also, don’t forget about type advantages – the calculator will already figure them in, but I wouldn’t want you sending a bird type against a rock type or something like that, would I?



That about wraps it up.  Presented here is a basic, bare bones foundation for your own, tabletop, Pokémon game.  I hope you enjoy it!


Comments?  Suggestions?  We love to hear you think so don’t be afraid to speak your mind in the comments section below!

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By - December 1, 2014 - 2 Comments

Attack on your wallet Part Deux »

unnamedWell folks, another Black Friday has come & gone.  This time without even any major trampling happening.  But the 9th anniversary of Cyber Monday is almost upon us.  And a few more pretty good deals have come to our attention, so we’re passing them along while there’s still time.  We apologize in advance to your shrinking wallet.  Kind of.  Here we go…

frp_header_logoFRP GAMES, aka Online Hobby Gaming Store: “CYBER MONDAY SALE – ALL WEEK LONG! (now Until Dec. 5th, 2014). Huge Product Discounts! 1,000s of Hobby Gaming Products are 30-90% off Retail, while supply lasts! CLICK HERE to View Complete Special Cyber Monday Sale List *BONUS! – Save an Additional 10% off discounted prices! Use code “CYBER2014” at checkout!”

6654a581d9a218201766475a6ef68d4fWRIGHT’S WARGAMING TERRAIN, aka awesome 3D pieces for your table : “Wright’s War Game Terrain began as a passion by playing miniature war games. Tired of not seeing highly detailed terrain for battle scenarios, he started making his own. With a degree in Urban Planning he designed, built, and launched completely new layouts for the best wargaming experience possible!  Alex is busy creating new layouts for war gaming. He can also design terrain boards of your choice as a commission order and is always looking for board ideas!  Talk to us this week for extra great deals on either pre-made pieces for sale or getting your own custom one created to order.”

unnamed-1FAT GOBLIN GAMES, aka a bunch of guys like you: “For Cyber Monday we will be offering Sir Reginald Lichlyter’s Trusty Tavern Tome for only $1.50. It will be available at this price for just one day. This book offers  hundreds of new alcoholic beverages from standard ales, fantastical wines, and magic liquors! This tome provides expanded rules for drinking (while keeping the mechanics simple), breaks down the various types of beverages (while providing hundreds of examples), and even provides an assortment of rare alchemical and magical booze to keep any dwarf happy!

Every drink presented in this book comes with a detailed description of its color, taste, and production process as well as how it is typically served, where to find it, etc. But that’s not all! Inside you’ll also find simple rules for your adventuring party to run their very own tavern or inn! Pour over the lists of supplies you’ll need, study the various types of establishments, and roll the dice to see what types of profits you made today! It is for 3.5/Pathfinder games, but there is so much descriptions and details, it could be perfect for any system. And it is 62 pages of full color.”

DTRPG-HugeDiscounts-BannerBDRIVE THRU RPG, aka the Largest RPG Download Store: “This week’s discounts and deals on RPGs, Adventures, Maps, and more! Check out the latest Cyber Monday offers from all of our publisher partners! With the discount deadlines counting right down.” 

OK, if we missed any other great deals on great stuff please let us know in the comments.  We tried to find a wide range of things as well as prices;  i.e. a $1.50 PDF up to $300 terrain.  But we might do 1 more of these right before the holidays, to help us err, you, find last minute gift ideas.


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By - November 27, 2014 - 3 Comments

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales »

Here at DungeonMastering, we get a lot of messages from various companies telling us about their various gaming-related products and services.  This being the busiest part of the year our inbox was full of cool things.  And we thought we’d share some of them.

unnamedBATTLE FOAM, aka storage/protection solutions for your painted minis: “Join Us this Weekend for an Awesome Sale! All around the Battle Foam store there will be savings to be had for Black Friday weekend, from Black Label to licensed products, foam and more! Savings from 20% to 60% can be found around the store, and hopefully we can help you find something that take care of you and your hobby. Battle Foam. Protecting Your Army!”

unnamedPRECIS INTERMEDIA, aka RPG publisher & maker of Disposable Heroes:  “Get 25% OFF Now at the Precis Intermedia Store! Use coupon code QM8GQG7V5Z at checkout to receive a 25% discount on orders of $10 or more (excludes third-party items). Hurry – coupon good until Cyber Monday (Dec 1).”

storeslice16GOODMAN GAMES, aka creators of Dungeon Crawl Classics, DragonMech, & Etherscope: “From now until Cyber Monday we are offering some awesome holiday specials! We have 50% savings on great gifts, plus limited-edition digest-sized stocking stuffer editions of modules and DCC RPG gift wrap for your loved ones! Visit our online store for the full details! Or visit to save up to 70% on PDF editions of our best-selling products!”

unnamed-1FAT DRAGON GAMES, aka makers of full-color downloadable terrain sets:  “BLACK FRIDAY SALE- SAVE 25-50% ON ALL SETS!  And here’s the newest- Poop, colon cobras, dingle-berries, butt-output, butt-apples, butt goblins, butt-clusters, butt mud, butt nuggets, caca, the chocolate hostage, chocolate crusty critters, the digestion defection, doodie, doo-doo, floaters, fudge turtle, grunt gobs, keester cakes, mooky-stinks, sewer serpent, butt slugs, the chocolate submarine, fudge tater-tots and toilet orphans. No matter what you call them, your PCs need to do them, and they gotta go somewhere. Thankfully, Fat Dragon Games comes to the rescue with our all-new RAVENFELL: Sewers terrain set featuring our exclusive modular E-Z LOCK terrain designs, allowing you to disassemble and easily store your designs between games.”

 Well folks, that’s most of what we thought you guys would like.  But anything we miss?  Let everyone know in the Comments Section!

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By - November 18, 2014 - 7 Comments

How I Play D&D – and Why It’s Fun (Part Two) »

Part Two: The Butt Kicking Begins – So, Too, Does the Fun

e6pklI haaaaated (loathed) the DM and he wasn’t much of a fan of mine, either. He was boring, lackluster, couldn’t out act Tommy Wiseau, and never prepared in advance – instead choosing to read from a dungeon guide at the table. I would be bored beyond my wits, look at my watch, realize that only an hour had passed in a four hour long game session, and pray for a quick death.

Despite how it made me look unfavorable, though, I decided that the most important thing was to play my label, the, “idiot”, perfectly.

I poured through the Spell Compendium and made sure to pick up Chain Lightning. Then, in the midst of a room crowded with books, PC’s, and a nasty Vampire, I attached a Chain Lightning spell to an arrow, shot it at the Vampire and wreaked pure havoc. Because my Caster Level was so high (level 12), I was able to roll 12d6, plus whatever damage the bow did (I think it was 2d8). Trust me on this – I roll well – that Vampire was toast and if anyone at the table had rolled poorly in their attempts to dodge the arc from my spell, they would have suffered the same fate.

I could have slapped a single-target lightning spell on the arrow instead, but that would’ve defeated the purpose. I was supposed to be an, “idiot”, so I did something idiotic. I laugh about it because it took everyone by surprise.

I continued to make foolish moves throughout the time I played – from shooting spells at dark pits and unidentified objects to tackling walls head first and uncovering hidden treasure. Each time, because of good checks via the lucky rolling of a d20, I completely undermined the DM’s plans because he didn’t see it coming – and all I was doing was playing my character, having fun, come what may, while everyone else was too afraid to make a move and too afraid of facing consequences.

How did it all end? Simple – the DM waylaid us with unidentified monsters. The penalty for failing to dodge their onslaught was a literal loss of an entire character level. Ouch.

But this, “idiot”, was the only PC that was too swift for the monsters at hand. The DM was furious as a result and quit at night’s end.


Because I was a newbie and made dumb decisions, I had a blast. These were the actions that the type of character that I was playing dictated.

When you play a game of D&D, you’re whomever you choose to be! If you have the option of doing something crazy, don’t be afraid to do it. There’s nothing more lame than a chaotic evil character being as bland as a turkey sandwich and as evil as indigestion. Take some risks!

In short, I always make sure to:

  1. Be my character
  2. Take risks
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Have fun

To me, that is the essence of play.

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By - November 15, 2014 - 5 Comments

How a Newbie Played D&D- and Why It’s Fun (Part One) »


e6pqhWhenever I play Dungeons & Dragons, I always take it seriously, but that doesn’t mean that I never have fun. After all, F-U-N is precisely the whole point of playing this old school game, isn’t it?  Why we’re rolling weirdly shaped dice and why you’re taking time (thank you) to read this.

Believe me, it is quite possible to truly do both at once. By playing your character seriously while getting your hands dirty, you can enjoy the fullness of D&D as an interactive group storytelling.  To demonstrate, I’ll share how this D&D newbie managed to outshine veteran players.  But most importantly having fun while doing it.


Part One: D&D – My Early Days

I had this friend, once, and I would go over to his house on random occasions and hang out. There wasn’t ever much to do, but his wife made some awesome rangoons, so I was always down. One night, however, apparently frustrated from the routine he demanded that I come over for sheet pizza (yuck) and none other than Dungeons & Dragons.

I’d never played D&D, before – as a matter of fact, I knew absolutely nothing about it, but I decided that it couldn’t hurt much to give it a shot. So I showed up and the scene was shocking- sprawled out upon his giant, oaken table were maps, charts, huge stacks of books, playing fields, papers, markers…I felt like we were trying to study for a toy exam.

I took the seat next to him while another guy immediately handed me a blank character sheet and grunted in my general direction. Of course, I just shot him a look of inquiry.  Who would have ever guessed that some gamers can display anti-social tendencies?

My friend, God bless his heart, tried his best to actually help me build a character, but I had no idea what I was doing or the type of world that I was playing in (more of the DM’s fault than mine), so I picked the most, logical choice of character for a fantasy world filled with dwarves, dragons and well, dungeons: John J. Rambo of First Blood fame.

It was brilliant, I thought. I had even figured out a way to emulate Rambo’s explosive arrowheads that he used in First Blood Part II. I decided that, despite a head-first mentality, he should know a bunch of spells and that these spells could be imbued into arrows which could then be shot from a bow. He’d be tough, sneaky like an assassin and deadly – a true credit to the character that would do Sly proud.

This, of course, didn’t turn out like I had planned. I was quickly ostracized from the group and labeled as, “the idiot who actually put Rambo in a fantasy game”.  Again, that anti-social thing rearing it’s Tiamat number of heads.  Like Wil Wheaton says, “Don’t be a dick.”

Yet that was O.K. I was about to teach them a lesson that they’d soon not forget – how to really play a game of D&D, but that will have to wait for Part Two, coming tomorrow.  I have the sudden urge to go watch Cobra and maybe Demolition Man. Eyyyy-yo.

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By - November 9, 2014 - 4 Comments

Four Simple Questions for Dungeon Crawls »

65fc027bf483dfae4241474fac075241_largeFour Simple Questions

(A Play Dirty Look at Dungeon Crawls)

Hello Dungeon Masters! My name’s John and I design games. Lots of ‘em. But more importantly, like you, I’m the guy who usually ends up running them. Ever since I bought my first RPG (Call of Cthulhu, by the way), I’ve been the guy on the lonely side of the screen.  But today I’m opening up with a short essay giving all of you some advice on running what we professionals like to call, “the dungeon crawl.”

What? You guys call it that, too? Well, professional secrets aren’t what they used to be.

I wrote a book of unorthodox GM advice called Play Dirty a few years back. It caused a bit of a raucus. But a lot of folks said, “John, this kind of stuff works in a lot of games, but it doesn’t work in dungeon crawls.”

Well, I took that to heart and actually kicked up a dungeon crawl game myself, just to see what I could and couldn’t get away with. And it all comes down to Four Simple Questions.

Simple Question #1: “Why Are We Doing This?”

So, you’re sitting in front of your computer reading this essay and you get an email. The email tells you that there’s an opportunity to earn a whole lot of money if you quit your job, leave your family, move to a country you’ve never heard of, pick up a gun and murder people you’ve never met.

Big money. Like hundreds of thousands of dollars. All you have to do is leave your life behind, pick up a gun and kill people.

Interested? Well, why not?

Now, I’m not going to insult your intelligence. You know the metaphor I’m using here. But let’s be honest. The thought of being “an adventurer” is not glamorous at all. In the novella I wrote for Wicked Fantasy, The Courage of Tamyn Taval, our titular character tries talking an old friend, Valera, into becoming an adventurer again.

Valera refuses. She’s become a courtesan since retiring from adventuring. Now, she has wealthy admirers who pour money on her for just the illusion of love. She has a beautiful home, jewelry, expensive food delivered to her door every day. She drinks wine, eats grapes and lives in luxury.

She asks, “Tell me why I would leave all of this for mud and rain and broken bones and orks shooting arrows at my head?” 

The question, “Why are we doing this?” is an important one. In fact, I’d argue its just as important as strength, dexterity and hit points. It’s something your players should consider, and it’s something for which they should have a good answer. Here’s an example.

I once played a thief (not a rogue; rogues are wanna be thieves) who was the son of a tavern keeper. His name was Tal Tevish. Little Tal was a thief because he was the son of a tavern keeper. He learned how to pick pockets because he was always on the look out for it. He learned how to “backstab” because he had to take out drunks. He learned how to move in shadows because it’s easier to get through a tavern without being seen.

Now, Tal’s dad got himself in trouble with the local thieves guild. He loved to gamble and one day, he gambled too much. Now, the guild wants his tavern house.

Tal became an adventurer to get his dad out of debt. He needs the money and he needs it fast. The best way to make fast money–without attracting legal attention–is by joining a group of adventurers. Yes, it means he’s putting his life in danger, but it’s his dad. His dad worked his whole life for that tavern. Tal can’t let him lose it over a few stupid card hands and a few bad dice rolls.

So, Tal joins up with a crew heading out to take care of some mess with a necromancer and his goons.

After the first encounter, Tal nearly gets himself killed, but when the fighting is over, he’s looking at a pile of coins. A pile of gold coins.

Remember: a gold piece is enough to keep a family fed for a year. And here’s two hundred of them. The party divides the shares up equally and that means Tal gets forty gold. A good start.

By the end of the adventure, Tal not only had a few hundred gold, he also had a magic sword the fighter didn’t want (it didn’t have enough plusses or something) which turned out to be worth a few thousand gold.

A few thousand gold. Enough money to feed an entire city for a year.

So, at the end of that adventure, Tal retired. After selling the sword, he had enough coin to get his dad out of debt. He took over the tavern, became a local hero and that was that.

Of course, a clever DM can figure out a way to get Tal out of the tavern and back into the adventuring business, but that’s a different story.

The moral of all this is: if your players give their characters good reasons to be adventurers, those reasons carry through the adventure and influence the choices they make. Plus, we have a word for someone who goes on a killing spree for no reason at all.


Simple Question #2: “Where Is This Place?”

This is an old trick I’m gonna share with you called “The Dirty Dungeon.” You may have heard about it or seen it on my Youtube channel, but these days, whenever I run a dungeon crawl (or just about any kind of “mission” adventure), I use it. Here’s how it works.

Before our heroes get to the dungeon, they have to find the dungeon. How do they do that?

Well, they’ll do research in libraries, ask older adventurers who may have been there, check with the bard for some handy information…

Sure. That’s all well and good, but why not make a mechanic out of it.

Get yourself a bowl. Then, get yourself a bunch of counters, beads or even small candies like Hershey kisses. Then, tell the players:

I want you to tell me what you find out about the dungeon. Yes, I mean, I want you to make stuff up. Like, where it is, hold old it is, what kind of monsters and traps are in it. Anything you can think of. I can veto stuff, but if it’s cool, I’ll probably accept it.

For every cool or dangerous part you add to the dungeon, I’ll throw a candy in the bowl.  You keep adding stuff, I throw more candy in the bowl. I’ll write everything down and it will be part of your “research” for the dungeon.

Each candy is a bonus d4 on any roll while you are on the adventure. Go ahead and take the candy out. You can eat it if you want. When you make a roll, add a d4 to your roll. The candy represents the benefit of research.

If you do something really cool, like hand me a hand-drawn map of the dungeon, I’ll put two and maybe three pieces in the pot. The more dangerous and/or cool you make it, the more pieces you get.

However, for every five pieces of candy, I get a piece, too. My piece is called a “complication point.” Which means, I can use it any time during the adventure to counter a piece of research you’ve done. For example, you can be looking at your map as you try to escape and you see there’s a secret passage leading out. You get there and…

… I use one of my complication candies to say, “There’s no secret passage there. It’s been walled up.”

I can use complication candies to cancel or thwart your plans.

* * *

And that’s really how it all works. There are a couple of advantages to this plan.

First, the players tell you what kind of stuff they want in the dungeon. This is always a good thing. Players communicating what they want to you makes your job easier. You don’t have to guess and you don’t have to hope. They say it. You give it to them. Everybody is happy.

Second, you’ve done no prep!

I mean, think about it. They’ve done all the work for you. They’ve drawn a map, they’ve listed the monsters, they’ve devised the traps. They’ve done everything for you. You don’t have to spend a week coming up with this stuff, it’s already done.

Finally, they’ve done it in character. It’s part of the adventure. If they stay in character, they can talk about how they interviewed the bard who told them about the rhyming trap. They can talk about the old adventurer who lost his leg fighting the giant rat monster. They’re doing all of this in character. And that’s more than awesome.

Of course, a common question arises whenever I detail this little trick. “What about the jerk who doesn’t play fair and screws it up for everybody else?”

I always have the same answer.

“Why are you playing with that guy?”

Simple Question # 3: “What’s That Smell?”

With the players sitting comfortably, I stand up on the other side of the DM screen and say…

You approach the place the legends and maps hinted at. The side of the mountain. The twisted tree. The black rock. You step closer…

… and you see a hole in the side of the mountain. Carved stone floor. But you also see a rotting corpse trapped under three iron spikes. One of the spikes has split his skull open, brains spilling out onto the carved stone floor. You see small animals and bugs scatter as you approach and interrupt their feast.

And you smell… you smell what can only be the rotting flesh of the corpse. Fetid and awful. A sweet, rotten smell. You can see that his death unlocked his bowels and left a mess in his trousers. His evicerated guts have been quite the meal for local fauna.

As you come closer to inspect the trap this unfortunate soul tripped, a mouse emerges from his open mouth and skitters down the corridor into the darkness. You hear a metal snap!

More traps waiting. But first, you have to deal with this one.

* * *

We’re talking about a hole in the ground, right? You know what lives in holes in the ground? A whole lot of really scary and deadly stuff.

When your players go down into a dungeon, remember that this is a place that’s been exposed to the elements for hundreds of years. There are entire colonies of bugs waiting for them. Spider webs they have to walk through. Not giant spiders, just regular old eight-legged, eight-eyed freaks that skitter down your armor and bite your backside. And there’s probably worms and maggots and tons of flies. And mosquitos. I come from Minnesota, man. Don’t you ever underestimate the power of mosquitos.

And the stones are wet and covered in black mold. The air is thick and wet. It gets hard to breathe down here. Adventurers start coughing. Ever have a coughing fit? You know when it’s the worst? When you’re stressed out and exerting yourself. You know, like when you have to fight those damn orks.

(The preferred spelling, by the way, is “ork.” Not “orc.” That’s the elven spelling. We’re racially sensitive here. Oh, and you don’t want to know what the elven word for “human” is. Trust me.)

You start coughing so hard, you can’t breathe. Coughing so hard, you throw up. As someone with asthma (raises hand) can attest: it ain’t pretty. And it can be damn scary.

And the place stinks. It stinks with corpses of past adventurers (that your party can stumble across and deal with as they wish), corpses of monsters, mold, mildew, fungus… you name it.

Don’t be bashful or shy about this. You are the players’ senses, remember? You tell them what they hear and see. And smell. A stink so bad they can taste it on their tongues.


Don’t skimp on the sensations. Give them all cannons blazing.

And speaking of senses, let’s spend a moment talking about the most important one…

Simple Question #4: “Who’s Holding the Light?”

GM: So, you turn the corner and you see a dozen orks going over the bodies of another group of adventurers!

PLAYERS: Charge!

GM: Who’s holding the light?


GM: The orks can see in the dark. They don’t need lights. You do. Who’s holding the light so you can see?

WIZARD: I need my hands to use magic.

FIGHTER: I need one hand for my sword and the other for my shield.

THIEF: Don’t look at me! I can’t sneak around while holding a torch.

CLERIC: I need both hands for my shield and hammer.

GM: So, who is holding the light?


GM: Okay, while you figure that out, the orks get initiative…

* * *

It’s a simple question. But those kinds of questions can stop everything.

My grandmother used to say, “It’s the little things that make the soup.”

Light is such a little thing. We take it for granted. Whenever we walk in a dark room, we instinctively reach beside the door for the light switch.

Think about the little things.

I remember a friend of mine talking about playing Tomb of Horrors. He said, “One of us, the wizard, got teleported naked at the beginning of the dungeon.”

“I remember that,” I said.

He said, “Yeah. Then ten minutes later, we were crawling down one of those little tunnels. Remember that?”

“Yeah,” I told him.

He said, “And I was behind the wizard. And I remembered that he was naked. And he was bent over and I was right behind him, looking straight up his…”

I stopped him there. The visual was enough.

The little things. Keep them in mind.


So, that’s just a brief glimpse at a few little things I take into consideration when running a dungeon crawl. I’ve got a few more, but I’ve run out of words and I don’t like taking up too much of a stranger’s time.

But, if you’d like to see more, give me a ring.  Or better yet, join me on Kickstarter:

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By - October 30, 2014 - Leave a comment

Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design »

As the leaves turn and the skies grow cloudy, we turn our minds toward All Hallows’ Eve and things of an often creepier, spookier, or more macabre appeal. Let us turn our minds then toward a sweet sample of the garish gallery to be found in the westerly lands of the Pure Steam™ Campaign Setting.

As one ventures west across the Feral Expanse of Ullera’s frontier, one discovers more and more dangerous monsters akin to those we know so well in fantasy role-play across all genres. In our hands, though, these creatures take on a vibe that breathes into them American folklore and cryptology, much as the very geography and culture of Ullera is a “weird-Western” steampunk mirror of the real world.

This gruff humanoid has the upper torso of a weightlifter, the sturdy legs of a bighorn sheep, a pair of ox-like horns, wooly hair, and a prominent hunchback.
XP 1,200
N Medium fey
Init +2; Senses low-light vision; Perception +18


AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 15 (+2 Dex, +5 natural)
hp 52 (8d6+24)
Fort +5, Ref +8, Will +7
DR 5/cold iron


Speed 40 ft.
Melee light pick +7 (1d4+3/x4), horns +2 (1d8+1)
Ranged short bow +6 (1d6/×3)
Special Attacks powerful charge (gore +9, 2d6+2)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 8th)
At will—create water, know direction, longstrider, speak with animals
1/day—gust of wind, summon nature’s ally III, quench


Str 16, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 16, Cha 12
Base Atk +4; CMB +7; CMD 19
Feats Endurance, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Overrun, Power Attack
Skills Acrobatics +10, Bluff +7, Diplomacy +13, Intimidate +13, Knowledge (geography) +11, Knowledge (nature) +11, Perception +18, Perform (dance) +11, Perform (percussion), +11, Stealth +10, Survival +14; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception, +4 Perform, +4 Stealth
Languages Common, Sylvan


Environment plains
Organization solitary, pair, band (3–6), or militia (7–11)
Treasure standard (light pick, short bow plus 20 arrows, other treasure)


Powerful Charge (Ex) The bison satyr deals an additional 2d6+2 damage on a charge when attacking with its horns.


A nomad living in peace with the animals on the prairies, the bison satyr is otherwise very aggressive toward people in motorized vehicles, or toward those who create loud noises disturbing its serenity. It has no difficulty mixing in with wild bison or other herds as they are also herbivores.

Regarding monsters like these, Brennan, our Lead Designer, notes: “The design philosophy behind each of their abilities was to first match their lore, and then add a little Pure Steam/Pathfinder spin on the creature. We also tried to design them around the standard power level of Ulleran inhabitants, when determining their CR. We wanted their CR to be somewhere slightly above that of a common person, but not so high that the creature’s power went beyond its folklore; a CR that made them just mysterious, dangerous, and troublesome enough if confronted by a small group, but not so powerful that they could wipe out entire settlements single-handedly. Aside from the design philosophy and techniques employed, the reason why we chose the monsters we did, out of the sea of suggestions, falls to Davin.…”

This doll-like figure is dressed in colorful feathers, furs, and beadwork. It peers inquisitively out from behind the contours of an elaborate mask that hides its face.
XP 200
NG Tiny fey
Init +3; Senses low-light vision; Perception +6


AC 15, touch 15, flat-footed 12 (+3 Dex, +2 size)
hp 3 (1d6)
Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +4; +4 vs. mind-affecting effects
DR 5/cold iron


Speed 20 ft., climb 20 ft.
Melee quarterstaff +1 (shillelagh, 1d6-1/x2)
Ranged sling +6 (magic stone, 1d6-1/x2)
Special Attacks hatred (goblinoids and constructs)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 1st)
At will—dancing lights, magic stone, prestidigitation, shillelagh, vanish
1/day—faerie fire, speak with animals, speak with plants


Str 6, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 14
Base Atk +0; CMB –4; CMD 9
Feats Great Fortitude, Go Unnoticed
Skills Acrobatics +7, Diplomacy +6, Escape Artist +7, Knowledge (nature) +6, Perception +6, Stealth +15, Survival +6
Languages Sylvan, empath 30 ft.
Special Qualities wild empathy


Environment Any
Organization solitary, war party (4-8), or tribe (9+)


Empath (Su) Kachinas possess a crude form of telepathy, allowing them to transmit mild impressions, general emotions, and remembered sensations to other creatures that don’t share their language. This form of telepathy cannot convey language or hinder a target in any way (such as by transmitting pain). Thus, a kachina can relate a feeling of fear or the faint smell of leaves, but cannot directly warn an ally of a monster or tell of a treasure under a dirt mound.
Hatred (Ex) Kachinas receive a +1 bonus on attack rolls against humanoid creatures of the goblinoid subtype and creatures of the construct type due to special training against these hated foes.
Wild Empathy (Ex) A kachina can improve the attitude of an animal. This ability functions just like the druid class feature of the same name, using the kachina’s HD in place of its druid level.


Kachinas appoint themselves the guardians to communities, tree groves, springs, mountaintops, and canyons in the southwest. They are brightly garbed in feather and bead costumes and body paint given to them by locals in hopes of earning their good will and protection. A fine costume is a tremendous status symbol among kachinas. Travelers should make an offering to local kachinas to appease them or they risk being harassed and harried so long as they remain in the kachina’s territory. A kachina may adopt a child, family, or community that is especially generous and guard it from predators and pillagers. The most hated foe among kachinas are goblinoids and their clockwork constructs due to centuries of Dominion raids.

Davin, our steampunk guru, shares, “Many of the new creatures for Westbound have a supernatural feel to reflect the campfire tales and pulp fiction popular in the 19th century. We touch on examples of ‘science-gone-wrong’ with our steampunk lich and clockwork plague. Native mythology is represented by kachinas, the rachache, and the cataract. We’ve even mined more recent myths like the jackalope, the dire armadillo, and the loch satyr. The rest are based on native animals gone monstrous such as the gigante gila, the dire roadrunner, the beaman, and the tumbling razorweed.”

From all of us at the Pure Steam DevTeam to you, have an eerily happy Halloween! And join us next month as we delve into the design thinking behind feats and skills — until then!

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