The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Archive for April, 2018

Arion, Episode 17: Kov

Kov, 119-3401

This is an onplanet week, so I only need to roll for a world encounter (Solo p. 58) and anything it throws up. 16 = a patron with a commission; additional rolls show this is a rogue (34) who wants us to transport a person (66) , and at that point I stop rolling, because given what I already know, it’s obvious who it must be…

Everything looks pink as the Dolphin carves through hydrogen clouds towards Karabulut Station, a ramshackle collection of aging platforms and pipework dangling precariously from a cluster of three hot hydrogen balloons at the 1,000 mB level in the gas giant’s atmosphere.

“This place was a real mess when the Archive found it,” Arion observes. “Rampant deficiency diseases, failing systems, open warfare and slave raids between the few surviving mining platforms…”

“Arion, I’ve not only read the histories, I’ve been here undercover, and believe me, that’s not even half of it,” Dmitri says.

The Dolphin chimes in. “I’ve been exchanging data with the orbital defence grid. The whole system’s had a rough time. Fascinating history.”

“Okay,” says Arion. “Shutting up now.”

Landing on a swaying platform under a delapidated gasbag is tricky, but if Arion does one thing well, it’s piloting. He flips off a variety of overhead switches and the hum of the drives fades. The hawsers connecting the station to the hot hydrogen balloons creak alarmingly, and the noise of burners can be heard intermittently. The ground crew, if you can call them that, are wearing parkas and breather masks.

“Here we are,” says Arion. “Karabulut Station. So who is this guy you know here, and how exactly is he going to help?”

Dmitri explains as the pair make their way through a narrow corridor towards a staircase leading to an upper-floor apartment.

“His name is Timon, at least these days. I don’t know what it was before. I recognised the earrings on the muscle on Mizah; they’re a cultural aslan clan called the Gimirri. Timon had a falling out with the Gimirri leadership and moved here; maybe he can help.”

“Gimirri can’t be an aslan word, surely,” Arion says thoughtfully. Dmitri shrugs.

“Take it up with them. Ah, here we are…”

The pair knock on a door, and Timon opens it cautiously. He tries to slam it closed when he sees who is outside, but Dmitri is too fast for him and barges inside. Arion follows.

“What do you want?” Timon asks, with no great enthusiasm. “If the Gimirri find out I’ve been talking to you they’ll cut my throat. My continued survival depends on not drawing attention to myself.”

“Then you’ll want us gone quickly and quietly,” says Dmitri. “Listen: I was on Mizah a week ago, and a pair of Gimirri warriors tried to kill me. I’m wondering why they might want to do that, and I think you can tell me.”

“You remember the last time you crossed swords with the Gimirri?”

“Schrodinger? How is he involved?”

“I hear things – a piece here, a piece there. I don’t have much to do these days but put the pieces together and sell the completed picture to people like you.” Wordlessly, Dmitri takes out his wallet, and starts counting high-denomination Credit bills into Timon’s hand. Timon beckons for more. Dmitri grasps him gently by the throat. “Okay, okay. We’ll call that a down payment.”

“We’ll call that done, or I’ll take it back and call the local enforcers.” Timon sighs.

“All right. You know Schrodinger is… ambitious. As an outsider, he’ll need something to give him leverage with the Council of 29. He must think you know something. If he’s trying to kill you, it must be something he doesn’t want anyone else to know. What could that be?”

“I haven’t a clue. What else can you tell me?”

“How many more Credits have you got?”

“None. But my friend here has a large knife and a pistol for when that isn’t sufficiently persuasive.” Arion does his best to look tough. Timon gives under the implied threat.

“Schrodinger chartered a far trader on Mizah last month. The ground crew here said they saw a cage in the cargo hold, sort of thing you might hold animals or slaves in, but the door was really big. You wouldn’t want a big door if you were carrying slaves or ordinary animals, they might get out when you opened it.”

Arion chimes in. “He could go to four different systems from here, but only one of them has big animals. Gazzain. That has to be where he’s going.”

“Great,” says Dmitri. “We must be close behind. Let’s get going.”

“Wait!” says Timon. “Take me with you,” he pleads. “I have to get offworld. I can’t stand this place any more – it’s going to fall out of the sky any minute, the food’s awful, the people will stab you as soon as look at you.”

“Gazzain’s no picnic either,” Arion points out.

“Anywhere’s better than here,” Timon says. Arion and Dmitri look at each other. Arion shrugs.

“Come on then,” says Dmitri. “Five minutes to pack a bag, then we’re off, before the ground crew take our ship to pieces and sell them.”

GM Notes

I’m continuing to re-imagine the early posts of the Arioniad, and one of the things I like about Solo is how easy it is to blend my preconceived ideas with the dice rolls to generate new events and plot twists while still being able to steer the game in the direction I want it to go.

The best way to imagine Kov in general, and Karabulut Station in particular, is to picture the cloud city of Bespin after the antigravity floaters failed and the emergency balloons deployed, except it’s now occupied by one of the road warrior gangs from the Mad Max franchise. (I have no idea if Bespin had emergency balloons, but if not, it should have done.)

In this setting, cultural aslan is a term denoting humans who adopted aslan ways to survive under their rule during the Long Night.

The orbital defence grid was reactivated by the player characters forming the crew of the Collateral Damage in the episode Hot Hydrogen. I find it satisfying when things one party does in a shared setting are visible to the other parties; it’s fun when their notorious rivals are another group of PCs, but the GM has to be careful only to let them meet where they can’t swap hot lead.

Yeah, I know the calendar has slipped 200 years, none of the players seems to have noticed.


Review: Infinity RPG Corebook

“Even the most grizzled soldiers hesitate when first attacking a cuddly pink dinosaur.” – Infinity RPG Corebook

The sheer size of this game means I’m reviewing it in chunks; this is part 3. Part 1, the Primer, covers the least you need to know; Part 2, the Players Guide, includes the rules from the Primer and adds how to create player characters. Read the other parts first, if you haven’t already; it’ll make more sense that way.


Core rulebook for Modiphius’ 2d20 SF RPG, 529 pages, based on the Corvus Belli skirmish wargame of the same name. Too complex for my taste, especially the equipment rules; but some very nice rules ideas, and I am very tempted by the gorgeous setting. Perhaps the tableop wargame could be used as a simpler set of rules? For further study as and when time permits.

Core Mechanic

Roll 2d20; results less than the relevant attribute plus skill expertise are a success, results which are also less than skill focus are another success, more successes give you better results, each natural 20 introduces an obstacle of some sort.

Could I Do This with Stuff I Already Have?

The key narrative element this game uses is the Wilderness of Mirrors, and you could definitely do that in any RPG. In fact, Paranoia springs to mind as a game which uses a very similar approach.

The 2d20 system is the only one I know where damage to a character’s physical health, mental stability and equipment are all handled with one integrated mechanic, and you could be resolving physical, cyber and social conflict simultaneously in parallel threads during one encounter. It also gives a multi-dimensional approach to skill tests, like Genesys, but without needing custom dice. If that’s what you want, it’s going to be less effort to use Infinity than hack another game.

Another thing it would be hard to do without a lot of research is creating a similar technological feel. The authors have put a lot of effort into making the setting feel like a realistic projection of today’s trends, especially IT trends, as they might be centuries in the future.

It would be possible to create a setting this varied and detailed, but it would take a lot of work.

And of course you can raid the tabletop wargame for figures which exactly match the game’s archetypal characters. I hear they are difficult to assemble and paint, though I haven’t tried any myself.

Tell Me More…

To keep this post to a readable length, I’ll look at sections rather than chapters. If you want more detail, download the free primer and check that out, it will give you enough to understand if this game is for you.

Introduction (32 pages): This welcomes you to Infinity the game, provides a detailed chronology of the milieu, and explains the core rules of the game (skill tests, heat, momentum, infinity points) and its core theme (the wilderness of mirrors). Except for the detailed chronology, this material is covered in both the Primer and the Players Guide.

Characters (60 pages): How to create a character using the game’s random lifepath system or a point-buy system; available skills and talents. This is not covered in the Primer, but is covered in the Players Guide.

Action Scenes (42 pages): Rules for resolving conflict. I say conflict rather than combat because ranged and melee combat, ‘infowar’ and ‘psywar’ use the same rules with different skills and characteristics. This is covered well enough for review purposes in the Primer and Players Guide; the only addition here is vehicular combat.

The Human Sphere (188 pages): This has one section covering life in the setting in general, and sections on each of the factions (10) and human-settled worlds (11). The general information covers the main technological differences between our society and that of Infinity; an iota-scarcity economy (not quite post-scarcity, but only because people always want more than they can have), quantum electronics (mesh networks and augmented reality everywhere), pervasive domotics (every object, every environment, is smart), geists (AI companions, every character has one) and circulars (giant starships plying the wormhole routes between the colonies).

Each faction has half-a-dozen pages explaining who they are, how they came to be, what they do, and adventure seeds and notes relating to the Wilderness of Mirrors (remember that each PC is connected to a faction, which may order them to do things which advance, or deflect, progress on the main mission objective in support of the faction’s goals). Each world has half-a-dozen pages describing its people, history, geography and so on, including a map of the planetary surface.

This chapter covers two alien races as well, one invading human space, and one co-belligerent with humanity. The parts of the setting that deal with these reminded me of the Halo videogames and (to a lesser extent) the Nemezis setting for Savage Worlds.

The depth and detail of the setting is impressive; it’s well thought out and has multiple layers of conflict, military and otherwise, built in as sources of adventures at several different levels; human vs alien, top tier powers vs each other, second rank powers vs each other. I think what I’m seeing here is a setting developed over years of actual play in both the original homebrew RPG setting and the tabletop wargame which preceded this version.

Gear (62 pages): This is an expanded version of the gear rules in the Player’s Guide, so I won’t repeat myself. I will say that I am disinterested in gear chapters in general, but this is the section that puts me off the whole game, much as I love the setting. Some nice toys here, though; shout outs to the adhesive launcher, a kind of grenade launcher that immobilises enemy vehicles using superglue, and the ‘drop bear’ air-deployed mine. I could see myself repurposing some of this stuff for other games. Note also that as in Altered Carbon, people may have their personality backed up in a device called a Cube, which you can use to reincarnate them into a cloned body.

Gamemaster (96 pages): The GM is advised to know the rules and know the scenario; create his or her own cheat sheets and update them every few sessions, as new options come into play and older rules become second nature; listen to the players; and be prepared. There is advice on how to frame scenes, adjudicate player actions and skill tests, foreshadow, handle GM fiat, scenario and campaign design, use of Momentum, Wilderness of Mirrors… solid stuff, this. This section also includes NPCs (and the occasional alien beastie), both stock and detailed, with the detailed ones often being named after kickstarter backers. Nice touch, that. The NPCs are very good; I especially liked Delphyne, the pseudo-dinosaur nanny/covert operative.

We close with program templates, character sheets, a list of kickstarter backers, and an index.

Arion, Episode 16: Mission Briefing

Just another week in jumpspace…

  • Starport Encounter on Mizah (p. 39): 66 – nothing out of the ordinary occurs.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Mizah (pp. 40-46): A large transport, which politely ignores the Dolphin.
  • Onboard Events table in jump (p. 56): 54 – holiday or commemoration celebration. Google tells me that April 23rd is National Sovereignty and Children’s Day in Turkey, on which Mizah’s culture is based; that’ll do.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 2d6 vs 8+ = 10; no problems.
  • Starship Encounter arriving at Kov (pp. 40-46): No encounter. No piracy warning either. Quiet week, this.
  • Starport Encounter on Kov (p. 39): 22 – meet a contact who needs help. Well, Arion has no contacts here, Dmitri has mentioned one but the purpose of the trip is to meet him, so let’s skip over that and tackle it next time.

Jumpspace, 112-3401

“So, what’s the mission?” Arion wants to know. “It better be worth missing Children’s Day for. I wanted to see what Isabella does, she’d be a real handful in parliament.”

“Probably nothing, it’d blow her cover wide open,” Dmitri says. “Confed’s up to something,” he continues, and begins counting off factors on his fingers. “The free trader rumour mill says they’ve built a base on Bulan; they’ve built exploratory cruisers for the first time in centuries; there’s a military buildup at Kamat; and their patrols are mostly heading rimward past the Dark Nebula instead of spinward towards aslan space. What does that tell you?”

“They found something rimward of Bulan. Something that makes them want to chart new hyperspace routes. Something they’re afraid of, or worried about.”

“Exactly. And the Bureau wants to know what it is. They want us to go and find out for them. But first, I want to catch up with my old friend Timon on Kov; it’ll take us at least five months to get to Bulan and back, maybe longer, so a few extra days won’t matter.”

GM Notes

It’s intriguing that when playing Solo, less happens in jumpspace than on planetary surfaces, but you make more rolls. Not a complaint, just an observation. It’s tempting to skip over the weeks spent travelling, but I do want to keep up a cadence of weekly posts, and proceed more or less in real time, because it is giving me an insight into the setting I didn’t previously have – namely, just how long it takes to move across the map in game time. Space is big, even when represented on an 8×10 subsector grid. Such insights are one of the reasons I’m doing this.

Old Musky, Episode 6: Space Hulk

Captain Degazio, XO, PO Harkness, PO Tarkov, Dr Moon Moon, Senior Scout Wivel, Cpl Pancake.

Eski, 098-3401

Captain Degazio decides there is no point in visiting Duduki, as it is an empty system and she wants more time on Bulan, so the ship jumps to Changa (or “Pirate Heaven” as the crew has taken to calling it) in the hope of catching the pirates who raided Eski – they must have gone either to Duduki or Changa, and it seems more likely they would go to Changa where they could sell their ill-gotten gains.

The jump takes until 105-3401, during which time those crew so minded start on week 2 of the current training period.

Changa, 105-3401

Wivel, acting as sensor officer, detects an anomalous cruiser-sized object in the outer system, apparently powered down. The sensor signatures don’t match any vessel known to Confed. After extended discussion the Captain orders the ship to conduct an insystem jump; opinion is divided as to whether the cruiser (which is approximately 50 times the size of the Old Musky) should be captured or destroyed, and if captured, whether it should be pressed into service as a cargo hauler for the nascent anagathics-running operation, or turned in for the prize money.

The crew use the opportunity for further training (week 3 of the current cycle).

Changa, 112-3401

Stepping out of jumpspace behind the unknown vessel, it is clearly of alien origin; apparently unarmed, it consists of three parts, a flattened cone at the front, a sphere in the middle, and pointed ovoid at the rear. It doesn’t react to the Old Musky‘s appearance, nor to hails, although close up it can be seen to have a slow atmosphere leak. The crew are in vacc suits or combat armour, and the ship is depressurised in case of combat. The XO has surreptitiously filled her vacc suit canteen with gin, and sips at it thoughtfully throughout the mission.

Captain Degazio and Dr Moon Moon remain aboard the corvette, while the XO leads Harkness, Wivel, Tarkov and Pancake, together with six fully tooled-up ithklur marines, into the ship’s boat, which parks near the cruiser’s atmosphere leak. This proves to be a large hole, which has been imperfectly patched by melting the bodies of man-sized insectoids into it. Wivel breaks a piece off for study, triggering an alarm as the gloop on the edge of the hole melts his spacesuit glove. He retires to the ship’s boat and bags up the glove for later analysis, drawing a new one from stores.

Careful observation of the edge of the hole reveals the that entire ship appears to be a large organic construct or life-form; there is no sign of pipes or wires. Captain Degazio hails the strange ship again, explaining that since it appears to be in distress, he will send over a boarding party. Dr Moon Moon chimes in that the ship has a hurt on its tummy and promises to make it better, arguing that as a living being it falls under the responsibility of the ship’s doctor rather than the chief engineer.

Pancake opens the cargo door in preparation for boarding. At this point, three man-sized insectoids, apparently naked to space, charge around the curve of the hull at phenomenal speed and launch themselves at the ship’s boat. Pancake blasts one with his PGMP. Harkness siezes the controls and dodges the incoming bugs, while Wivel and Tarkov lean out of the airlock and snipe them. Pancake leads the squad in firing from the cargo door, and as the bugs are unable to dodge, they are quickly despatched.

Harkness holds the ship’s boat steady while Pancake blasts an entry hole through the hull with his PGMP. Spectroscopic analysis of the escaping gas reveals there is a chlorine atmosphere inside.

Through the hole, the boarding party can see some sort of corridor made of organic matter. The alien ship wriggles in response to having a hole bored into it. The XO takes another slug of gin.

To be continued…

GM Notes

The Captain has a name now: Lt. Elizabeth Degazio. She took Persuade-0 at the end of the first training period, which I see I forgot to mention. I also haven’t mentioned yet why the crew call the ship Old Musky: They’ve hung a replica antique musket on the wall of the bridge, fitted with all the accoutrements available for a modern ACR, which they think is hilarious.

A party of seven is really too big for me to manage, and it was difficult to engage Moon Moon, Pancake and the XO. Things were not helped by the latter two having very poor sound quality – the others talked over them not out of rudeness, but because they couldn’t hear them trying to talk. I need to do something about this, possibly split the party again. It’s also clear that there are a couple of players who relish the technical detail inherent in Traveller, but the rest aren’t that interested. I may be able to fix that with some kind of handout.

We haven’t really used Traveller combat yet, and do I want to try that at some point. That will probably drive a return to Roll20, for next session’s boarding action if I have time to set it up. It may also drive us back to Classic Traveller combat, with simultaneous actions and range bands.

DM Prep Questionnaire: Andy’s Answers

Just for a laugh, here is the Dungeon Master Preparation Questionnaire from The Lazy Dungeon Master, as I would have filled it in had I been asked…

What game preparation activities have the most positive effect on your game?

Deciding what the key factions or organisations are trying to achieve. A lot flows from that. Organisations are better than individual NPCs because lone NPCs have a poor life expectancy once the PCs bump into them.

What game preparation activities have the least positive effect on the game?

Designing new monsters, starships, and equipment – it’s very rare you can’t do what you want with something already in the core rules. Crafting detailed NPCs – the most entertaining ones grow organically at the table.

Thinking back on your most memorable and enjoyable moments at the table, how often were they pre-planned? How often were they spontaneous?

They are invariably spontaneous and unplanned. They grow out of either the interactions between the players at the table, or extreme dice rolls at dramatically appropriate points.

Thinking back on a game that went poorly, how much of the outcome was due to a lack of preparation? What could have you prepared to avoid the poor outcome?

Games go poorly when I break the flow of the game to look things up, usually in a published adventure. There are two solutions: Know the published adventure inside and out, and have detailed notes on it to hand – or stop using published adventures. I’m drifting towards the second option.

If you had only 30 minutes to prepare for a game, how would you prepare?

Read through my notes from the last session and the PCs’ character sheets. That tells me what would be appropriate for them to meet. Riffle through my collection of maps and find a couple of suitable ones. Scribble a few notes on what the PCs encounter where and why it’s there.

Where do you come up with your ideas for your game? What influences you as you prepare to run a game?

Ideas: The usual – real-life history, books, movies, TV, videogames, other games. Influences: What have the players enjoyed in the past? What have they asked for? What open plot threads are there? What cool parts of the setting have we not explored yet?

What are your most useful tips, tricks, and tools when preparing for your game?

Tips and tricks: Handle PC information gathering, shopping, etc. offline by email – this stops it taking up valuable session time and generates more ideas you can weave into current and future sessions. Don’t design if you can reskin. Hold nothing back – game as if you will never get another chance to use all those cool ideas.

Tools: Quick reference sheets for your rules and setting in a display book you can share with players. One or two copies of the character improvement rules, whether that’s a cheatsheet or a second copy of the rulebook; what players want to know most is how their PCs will improve, and when. Pictures of locations, monsters, NPCs that you can share with the players – keeping these in a picture gallery on a tablet works well.


What about you, dear readers?

Arion, Episode 15: Dmitri

“When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” – Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Mizah, 105-3401

Arion is sitting in the Kiraathan Coffee House and Reading Rooms, known affectionately among the kith as “the K”, trying to make one coffee last an hour and a half while he waits for his contact.

It’s been almost a week now since he was officially fired and unofficially transferred to a Bureau that doesn’t officially exist – a process he now knows the CSB call ‘sheep-dipping’. He’s still wearing his Surveyor’s smart jacket, but its processor has been instructed not to show the Great Archive patches any more; he has settled for looping a video clip of a sunny beach across his torso.

His Augmented Reality processor, recently upgraded to military specifications, tags the thin, bald man approaching the door at a run as his contact, labelling him “Dmitri”. A flashing red icon draws his attention to the pistol in Dmitri’s right hand.

Dmitri glances back over his shoulder as he opens the glass door between the two large plate glass windows fronting the K and makes a beeline for Arion.

“Arion,” he says. “No time to explain. With me.” He looks around for a way out.

“Ray,” calls Arion, “OK to use the back door?”

Ray considers for a moment. It looks like there’s going to be a gunfight if he says “no”, and antique books and glass bottles don’t play nicely with fast-moving lead slugs. He nods his head in the direction of the concealed exit, intended for kith in just such a situation.

Arion leads Dmitri out through the hidden door seconds before two hard-looking men in formal dress burst through the front door and scan the K.

“Anyone just come in?” they want to know.

Ray shrugs. “Nobody here, is there? What can I get you?”

“Must’ve kept running,” says one to the other. “That way!” And with that, they take off out of the K and down the street.

Another customer, sitting quietly in the corner diagonally opposite Arion’s former seat, taps his ear and speaks.

“Captain,” he says, “It’s me. A bald guy just met Arion, they both left in a hurry. Two big guys chasing them. Uploading video now.” There’s a pause while he listens to the response, then: “Understood. I’m on the move.”


The K is in the Charsi district of Mizah’s capital city, Zonguldak, where the kith gather for mutual support and comprehension; 25 kilometres from the starport by monorail. Arion and Dmitri sink into the soft cushions and watch the giant beetle-analogues in the nature reserve below as the train speeds past. Some adventurous tourists are riding beetles through the forest, laughing and pointing. In the distance, the opulent coastal estates of celebrities and merchant princes can be seen. The pair have agreed not to discuss anything further until they are aboard ship.

Neither has noticed the nondescript man at the far end of their carriage, seemingly engrossed in the scenery outside.

Reaching the starport, Arion leads his new colleague to the hardstand where the Dolphin is parked, then aboard ship and into what passes for the crew lounge.

“Have a seat,” Arions says. “Now, what’s going on, exactly?”

“I’m here on leave – no, really, even spies get time off occasionally. I’m in the hotel restaurant eating breakfast, last one before I brief you and we head off, and those two turn up and try to drag me away. I run for the K to meet you and get offworld, which incidentally we should do right now.”

“These thugs: Any idea who they are, or why they want you?”

“You know, in all the excitement I forgot to ask them,” Dmitri grins. “But they were carrying ayloi, did you notice that? Cultural aslan, and a long way from home. How soon can you lift?”

“As soon as I get clearance. Come on.” Arion leads the way to the ship’s bridge. “Anything you need to get before we go? Because if there is, learn to live without it.”

“No, I’m fine, thanks. Set a course for Kov, I have a contact there. Maybe he can shed some light on things. I’ll brief you on what we’re supposed to be doing once we’ve jumped.”


Meanwhile, in an office somewhere, the two goons are reporting to a figure hidden in shadows.

“So, you lost him?” It is a patrician voice, tinged with arrogance. The owner may be stroking a white cat in the shadows, who can tell?

“Yes, Mr Schrodinger.” Schrodinger sighs.

“We will discuss your failure later; time is of the essence and there is still a chance to recover the situation. Either our target has a safe house somewhere nearby, or he will try to get offplanet. If you had thought to check the ships currently in port, you would have noticed a detached duty scoutship called the Dolphin. I trust a peaceful solution will be possible; detached duty scouts are either spies, and thus by nature duplicitous; or poor; or both. Go there and offer him a large amount of money to hand over the target.”

The goons look at each other in surprise. The figure in the shadows laughs.

“Gentlemen, I said offer him a large amount of money. I said nothing about actually giving him a large amount of money. I trust you can fill in the gaps? Good. Be about it.”

GM Notes

A re-imagining of Arion’s first appearance on the blog, some years ago now. Re-reading the first couple of posts reveal they are much less exciting than the vivid imagery in my head, so I tried to do better this time. This is still setup for the next arc, so no dice rolls required.

In hindsight, maybe I should have started off with Arion, Coriander and Dmitri already travelling together, and used Savage Worlds Interludes to reveal how they met in flashback. It took me a long time to understand interludes; they serve to flesh out character backstories in the same way as flashbacks in movies and TV shows.

The most memorable example for me is from the Leverage episode The Two Horse Job; a girl complains to the team’s ‘hitter’ that he never showed up for their date, and asks where he was. “I was busy,” he says, and we cut to a flashback a few seconds long, showing him being dragged along a dark corridor by two soldiers, who are shouting at him in Korean: “Where’s the monkey? WHERE’S THE MONKEY?”

As well as generating a plot hook for later, this sort of thing gives insight into the heroes’ characters, shows they have lives outside their adventures, and helps create the illusion that the world moves on even when the players aren’t looking.

Schrodinger, meanwhile, is so called because he may (or may not) have a cat.

Review: The Lazy Dungeon Master

“Prepare only what most benefits your game.” – Michael E. Shea

I’m feeling rebellious at the moment, so instead of Hostile or Fringeworthy, I picked this for my purchase in the second quarter of 2018. We’ll get back to Infinity shortly.


This short book (98 pages) aims to help experienced dungeon masters run more dynamic, more exciting games by spending less time preparing for them. That sounds counter-intuitive, but Shea makes a strong case for it.

Could I Do This With What I Already Have?

Yes, in principle; most of this information is available elsewhere, either in books or on the internet. What The Lazy Dungeon Master does is pull that together into a short, easily-accessible format, and focus it tightly on dungeon mastering.

Tell Me More

The book has 23 short chapters, each 2-3 pages long, each covering a key idea. These are followed by three appendices, which provide a Lazy Dungeon Master’s Toolkit, an analysis of the survey of 817 dungeon masters from which these ideas were primarily drawn, and questionnaires filled in by ten D&D luminaries on how they run games.

Some of the key ideas:

  • Prepare only what most benefits your game.
  • Most preparation activity is not used, not needed, or tempts the GM to railroad the players to make sure they see the fruits of his labours.
  • Focus on where the adventure begins, three places the PCs might go next, and three key NPCs and their plans. Link the adventure to the PCs’ backgrounds and goals, and what your players like doing.
  • Keep your notes short and punchy. Keep the campaign short and punchy, too; shorter campaigns are less likely to get the plot tangled up in complications.
  • Steal from everywhere; books, movies, other games, TV. Players will ignore or destroy most of your homebrew stuff anyway.
  • Delegate to your players. (I especially like the idea of the designated rules lawyer, granted delegated authority to resolve rules disputes.)

These, and the others, and the detailed tips on how to implement them, are all things I have groped towards over the years. It’s handy to have them in one place.

Appendix A, the toolkit, has a lot of tables you can roll a d20 on to get adventure seeds, locations, NPCs, terrain effects, relationships between PCs and whatnot. I would probably browse these for inspiration rather than rolling dice. They vary from bland to interesting, but I suspect that’s a matter of personal taste.

Appendix B, the survey results, has statistics about how often dungeon masters run their games, how much time they spend in preparation, how long a session lasts and so on. Those interest me because… errm, because I need to get out more, I expect. The average dungeon master, it seems, runs a game weekly and spends 1-3 hours preparing for it.

Appendix C, the questionnaire, has one questionnaire and ten peoples’ answers to it. Tell you what, I’ll post my answers next week.

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