Picking up a second-wave Indomitus box marks the first time since I got into 40k minis that I’ve bought models outside one of my chosen factions. I know I could Ebay the Necron half of my set and plow those funds into Orks or Blood Angels, but I’ve been looking ahead to 2021 (much of which seems like it’ll be a lot like 2020, isolation-wise) and thinking that a third army might be enjoyable to paint.
And it’s not just the convenience of already owning 36 Necron models: When I was choosing my second army, Necrons were a strong contender based on their sculpts and lore. While the notion of having one force from each umbrella faction — humanity, xenos, and chaos — is appealing, when I browse the chaos units (as I’ve got humans and xenos) I’m not blown away by some of the figures.
By contrast, virtually every current Necron model looks amazing. Based on the pre-refresh sculpts, I’d largely dismissed them; painting the same robot skeleton over and over sounded dull as dishwater. But these evil mofos look like a blast to paint — and they’d have a different aesthetic, vibe, and process to my Angels and Orks.
So while I’m not ready to commit to Necrons, nor give them a page of their own here, I do want to list what I have on hand for future noodling and/or Kill Team use:
1x Royal Warden
1x Skorpekh Lord
20x Necron Warriors
3x Skorpekh Destroyers
1x Canoptek Plasmacyte
1x Canoptek Reanimator
6x Canoptek Scarab Swarms
If my pace holds steady with Orks, it’ll be 10-12 months until Moonkrumpa’s Megalootas are all painted up — plenty of time to ponder a potential army number three.
167 v. 166
Incidentally, this post represents the first past a tipping point on Yore: It’s my 167th post about miniatures, surpassing my 166 posts about RPGs. (As is traditional for Yore milestones, it’s just a plain ol’ post.)
I play/run RPGs twice a week, loving every minute, and if anything I’m more engaged with actual play than I was when I started blogging about RPGs way back in 2005. During those 15 years, I’ve written something like 1,500 blog posts about RPGs, mainly GMing topics.
I’ve found that some topics, especially perennial ones like fudging die rolls or player personality types, just don’t interest me anymore. I’m open to new ideas, but I know where I stand and why I stand there. I haven’t written a dedicated RPG advice blog since 2016, when I left Gnome Stew, and Yore’s occasional forays into advice tend to be one-offs written when some topic really grabbed me.
All of which is to say that I think the joke I made in February that got me back into blogging — about turning Yore into a miniatures blog — has borne fruit. I’ve kept Yore on the web even during its many fallow periods because this is the blog I come back to — the place where I write about whatever I want to write about, usually hobby stuff, and in the past that’s most often meant RPGs. These days, it’s minis.
Next month, or next year? Who knows! I sure don’t. But I hope you’ll stick around, and I appreciate your readership. Thanks for reading!
This morning, out of the blue, it hit me that I can summarize my approach to GMing tabletop RPGs in a single, concise principle: There is no curtain.
The curtain is, of course, a reference to The Wizard of Oz — in which a curtain conceals what the titular Wizard is actually up to in his chamber. When his deception is laid bare, Dorothy and her companions see the Wizard, his power, and his machinations in an entirely different light.
That accurs’d drape
So what does “There is no curtain” actually mean?
It means that when I GM, I don’t hide what I’m doing from the other players. That means no fudging die rolls, of course, and no literal curtain-analog in the form of a GM screen, but it’s bigger than that. I’m upfront about not doing any session prep beyond thinking about the game and perhaps looking over my notes from the last session. Likewise, if something is decided on the spur of the moment — my favorite way to make decisions as a GM, because I want there to be a roughly equal distribution of surprise around the table — I don’t try to conceal that.
“There is no curtain” is shorthand, encompassing a lot of what’s in my lengthy, comprehensive 2016 Yore post “Alchemy, agency, and surprises.” Play is what happens at the table, not what I’ve plotted out in advance behind my curtain; that in turn means that what makes the game fun is player agency, and the attendant consequences thereof. It also emphasizes that we’re all players, I’m just a player who (probably, depending on the game) has a few different responsibilities — and not, say, an all-powerful wizard who knows all and sees all…or at least deceives the other players into thinking that.
“Deceive” is kind of a strong word in this context, isn’t it? There’s nothing inherently wrong with “playing behind a curtain” — it’s just not a GMing style that interests me in any way. (Though if a group isn’t on the same page about how the game is being played, that can lead to serious problems.) But it’s the correct word for me, because of the Czege Principle: “when one person is the author of both the character’s adversity and its resolution, play isn’t fun.” The curtain is a metaphor for the deception required to pretend that it’s interesting when the GM is in charge of challenges and their resolution.
This has nothing to do with, say, hiding the dungeon map from the other players, or keeping monster stat blocks to yourself during play, or even running a prepared module — provided you don’t force the other players to stick to it, or bend the game to ensure that the module works as written. There’s no deception there; everyone at the table wants that dungeon to be full of surprises. But if, say, I’m planning to use a randomly generated dungeon during a session, I’d share that — because I don’t want it to be a secret. The randomness is a feature, not a bug.
What’s interesting is what comes next, and that’s up to the other players. And, as a massive added benefit, when everyone at the table has the same set of expectations about how the game is going to work, all of the players — GM included — can much more easily support each other in making it fun for everyone. If there’s a curtain then that responsibility falls largely to the GM, and I can’t abide that model of play.
I learned this from you, tremulus
Lots of stuff in my gaming past has contributed to my current perspective, but one of the biggest influences on this principle was tremulus.
tremulus is PbtA Call of Cthulhu, more or less, and right up front that premise begs a question: How can you play a satisfying mystery when the GM doesn’t plot out the mystery in advance for the other players to solve? The answer is twofold.
Firstly, instead of plotting out the mystery, the GM comes up with some story threads and how they might resolve themselves if the PCs never showed up. And secondly, everyone at the table knows the mystery isn’t prewritten. There are mechanics enabling players to contribute elements to the mystery; there are moves that ensure that core bits of the unfolding game don’t exist until the moment they unfold. There’s no curtain in tremulus, and seeing that in action was a powerful experience for me.
So there it is: There is no curtain. I enjoy thinking about, and coming up with, GMing principles — and I hope this one has some utility for other gamers, too.
I was going to do a Twitter thread while playing through Thousand Year Old Vampire (TYOV), a solo RPG by Tim Hutchings in which you’re an awful, awful vampire, but couldn’t figure out how to provide a meaningful content warning that would 1) persist and 2) allow people to avoid the whole thread while 3) still making it comprehensible. So here we are!
Content warning:violence, allusions to self-harm, gore, torture. Intended for a mature audience.
In this post I’m going to try to preserve the rapid-fire delivery of a Twitter thread because it suits the Quick Game for TYOV (one of its two modes of play) and my own inclinations.
Your vampire is a collection of Memories, Experiences, Resources, Skills, other Characters, and the trait which identifies you as a vampire, your Mark. My first Experience is a character summary:
I am Garnier, son of Roland and Isabeau, born in southern Brittany in 14th Century France; I became a monk to avoid poverty but found strength in my faith
It’s around 1340 at the start of this playthrough; the Black Plague is just starting its grim march through Europe.
I also came up with three Skills, three Resources, and Characters — and four more Experiences, each tied to those people/things. Here are my starting Characters:
Melisende, a beautiful young woman in the village of Réconfort near the abbey; she visits regularly to transport wine made by the monks (mortal)
Brother Eudes, a beautiful young monk who is secretly my lover; he loathes himself for straying from God (mortal)
Abbot Roul, iron-fisted ruler of our abbey; he believes in harsh punishment for all offenses, no matter how minor (mortal)
Qadir, an ancient, withered, stick-like vampire who haunts the abbey’s library, feeding on the monks; it illuminates manuscripts in blood (immortal)
Resources are a secret copy of the key to the abbey’s forbidden book room, a love letter from Brother Eudes, and my personal Bible I am illuminating for the abbey’s collection. Skills are Conceal My True Feelings, True Prayer, Skulking About. My other four Experiences are:
Brother Eudes, at great personal risk, slips me a love letter during Mass; I feel truly alive for the first time
I press the abbot’s key to the forbidden book room into a bar of wax and carve a copy; my visits there are frequent
Melisende, to whom I am drawn, asks to see my illuminated Bible; I feel more strongly about my faith in God than I do about her
I sneak into the abbey’s forbidden book room for the first time and encounter Qadir, its eyes coal-black; it mocks my prayers and delicately slits each of my wrists
And finally, my Mark — Garnier’s “vampire tell”: The wounds in my wrists never heal, and must always be bound or blotted with cloth; I cover them with my sleeves and change the dressings often.
This is a game about surprising yourself, and forgetting
As you move through the game’s prompts (with die rolls determining where you land), each will fuel a new bit of your story and require you to create an Experience. Some will prompt you to check off a Skill or Resource; the game ends when you must do that and cannot.
You’re not in complete control of your character. You make many of their decisions, but not all of them; it’s intended to make you uncomfortable, and it works.
When you gain enough Experiences, you’re forced to discard your Memories — flitting through the centuries, you cease to be who you were. Although, cruelly, you may retain legacies of those memories: people you used to know, skills you still possess despite having forgotten how you gained them, etc.
I’m not going to write out a whole journal here, nor give away Tim’s farm — rather, I’ll try to give you a sense for how the game plays and feels by sharing what came of the prompts I encountered on Garnier’s journey.
Prompt me, baby
The first prompt is always the same supposed to be rolled, but I picked prompt #1: you kill a mortal Character close to you, and gain the Bloodthirsty skill. (Updated because Tim mentioned on Twitter that the first prompt is the result of a die roll, like all the others.)
I kill Melisende the next time she comes to the abbey to collect the wine, drinking the blood from her wrists the way Qadir taught me; I feel nothing
From there, die rolls lead you forward or back through the prompts — and each prompt is layered, so if you land on it again you can pick a new layer to explore.
My second was about being exposed:
I am found out to be a killer, and convince Eudes to run away with me, lying to him about everything; we pose as itinerant monks — I am now Roland
Garnier, now called Roland
I put that one under my Memory about my beloved Eudes. Unfortunately, he got the next prompt as well:
Unable to live with our many sins, my beloved Eudes threatens to reveal me; I kill him, and drink because I hunger
At this point I have 2/4 Skills checked and 0/3 Resources checked. These are still Garnier’s salad days.
Decades later, Garnier has forgotten all about the abbey’s forbidden book room (although not about Qadir) and the Plague has largely ended. He blends in for many years. Until:
I sneak into a monastery and drain every last monk; I leave the last one alive for days, draining him and watching, and then steal all their gold
A couple observations
In solo games I tend to create the biggest piece of shit I can think of and then see what it’s like to live their life. I want to be uncomfortable, yet also delighted — in a slasher movie sort of way — at my character’s awfulness. TYOV is very much my jam.
TYOV is also an evil game. It fucks with you. It fucks with itself. It fucks with its own rules. It places you in discomfiting situations and makes you proceed.
For example: A century or more has passed and Garnier is now on his fourth name. He has fled to a foreign land, a place where he knows no one and doesn’t speak the language. I have to write an Experience for that . . . but if I fill up my first Memory, the one which appears first in this post, that will put me perilously close to forgetting who I am.
I don’t want to fill that slot.
Which, of course, is exactly the kind of gleefully wicked friction TYOV is designed to create.
Checking in with Garnier
A couple of centuries have passed. Garnier now lives in Greece. He has renounced God, discarding his 200-year-old personally illuminated Bible — which I chose to destroy over the letter from Brother Eudes.
One: holy shit, that’s making me feel things.
Two: how did Garnier preserve any faith for 200 years of being as evil as he is?
By the 17th Century, I no longer remember being Garnier at all. I strive to live an unremarkable mortal existence to avoid detection. In addition to my suppurating wrist wounds, I walk in an animal crouch and see Melisende — my first victim, who I no longer recall — in half the people I meet. I have been ground down by what feels like the inevitability of time, the curse of immortality weighing on me.
I’ve been happy precisely twice in 400 years: When Brother Eudes (who I later killed) confessed his love, and when I slipped into a 200-year torpor and felt nothing.
As fate and chance would have it, my last remaining skill is True Prayer. I’ve met my progenitor, the impossibly ancient vampire Qadir, and found in him now a kindred spirit. Little more than Qadir’s protection (which I’ve taken as a Resource) stands between me and the final death.
TYOV’s mechanics are deceptively simple. The natural probability of the roll you make every turn tends to drive you deeper into the book (though you do backtrack as well, just less often). The deeper you go, the more the prompts trend towards an ending — or an Ending, if you prefer.
I hit my final prompt and said aloud, “Holy shit, this is it.” And I knew instantly just what shitty, terrible form this ending would take for Theodorus — the name Garnier adopted in the 1600s and will now keep, eternally in the thrall of Qadir, the vampire who made him what he is.
My final Experience was this:
I am Qadir’s thrall, only his protection, his care, can stave off the final death; I live only to live, feeling nothing save the desire to continue being, forever
Fuuuuuuuuuuck that’s bleak.
Friends, Thousand Year Old Vampire is extraordinary. I’ve played a ton of solo RPGs, and this one does things I’ve never seen before. It lays out its goals and accomplishes all of them; it’s rewarding and moving and disturbing to play; and at the end of my first playthrough I feel wrung out.
That spot foil — the gold bits — looks like kintsugi. The stamps look so real I want to peel them off.
I opened the front cover and literally went, “What the hell, why did Tim write in this and why does it say $125 . . . OHHHHHH.”
Every page is a work of art. The whole is a work of art. Thousand Year Old Vampire is a master class in how to make a print RPG book 1) look and feel amazing and 2) look like an artifact from the world it contains.
I’ve seen some gorgeous gaming books in the past, but very, very few are in this one’s league. If you want to know more, or buy a copy, hit up Tim’s itch.io page for the book.
The current owner of Judges Guild, Robert Bledsaw II, doubled — hell, quadrupled — down on his antisemitic and bigoted statements. Tenkar’s Tavern has Bledsaw II’s post, which . . . well let’s just say it starts off with “My family crest attests to 3 European Crusades, and I regard that as a calling” and gets worse from there.
Fuck Judges Guild.
When the news about Bledsaw II first broke, I pulled the affiliate links to Judges Guild products that I had here on Yore but left up the many posts I’d written about using their older books. I love a lot of their output from the 1970s and ’80s, and I had a running series here on Yore where I used their old books to roll up castles, ruins, etc. on the fly — they were some of my favorite things I’d written here.
But now, after this reprehensible doubling-down? I pulled every post about Judges Guild products here, deleted every reference to them I could find (except these call-out pieces), and updated Hexmancer to remove pointers to their books.
Their older books don’t necessarily have anything to do with Bledsaw II, but I’m not giving the company as it stands now any promotion or goodwill of any kind. I hope they get rinsed right out of the RPG industry, and perhaps that someone else buys up their old IP.
I don’t platform or promote Nazis, bigots, racists, homphobes, or other bad actors, and I don’t want to waste your time reading about their stuff, either. Fuck ’em.
Bob Bledsaw II needs to unequivocally apologize, make amends, and step down from his position as owner of the company. The new owner needs to denounce his remarks and take steps to assure the TTRPG hobby that this is not what Judges Guild stands for or represents.
Fuck Bledsaw II, and fuck bigots.
I’ve pulled all of the affiliate links I had here on Yore to Judges Guild products. I haven’t deleted my posts — yet — because I see no evidence that the original owner of the company, Bob Bledsaw, was a shitheel. But Judges Guild will never get another dime of my money until they turn this asshole out.
Mr. Toad’s wild fucking ride
Separately, I have to say that this exhausting treadmill of so-frequently-OSR or OSR-adjacent racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry is a big part of why I’ve more or less stopped blogging.
I’ve gotten rid of my entire Lamentations of the Flame Pricess collection. Scrubbed anything I ever wrote about Zak Sabbath. Stopped buying Frog God stuff (and now, Judges Guild). Blocked a parade of toxic asshats on any site where they appear. Stopped identifying as part of the OSR, and then participating in the scene at all. Done blog housekeeping to convert that category and associated tags to the more generic “old school.” Nuked connections to folks who still follow or promote the bad actors in the hobby. It never fucking ends.
I recognize that I have a headache and haven’t slept well in like a week and I’m fucking ornery, but here it is: In the past two years or so, the time I’ve spent removing or otherwise dealing with content related to the worst people in the TTRPG hobby exceeds the amount of time I’ve spent pleasurably blogging about gaming.
And every fucking time there’s a new revelation, what do you know? It’s like 99% likely to be in the OSR or OSR-adjacent corner of the hobby.
I’m not saying that everyone in the OSR is a Nazi or everyone who likes OSR-style gaming or books is a Nazi . . . but there is literally no other corner of the TTRPG hobby I’m aware of where so many visibly toxic assholes and hatemongers congregate.
After running an Urban Shadows campaign for a year, I have a few takeaways to share.
One of my starting points with any RPG is “Does it do what it says on the tin?” Urban Shadows very much does what it says on the tin, and it’s a fantastic game.
1. After our group character creation session, I spent 1-2 hours turning the hooks, antagonists, and threads the players created into Threats, and I made debt tracker sheets and consolidated move lists for my GM folder.
That was the extent of my prep for the entire campaign.
2. Before each session, I thought about what had happened in the previous session, what the antagonists were up to (all noted on their clocks), and what the PCs had planned for the next session.
Occasionally, I wrote myself a sentence or two of notes so I wouldn’t forget stuff.
3. During the game, I took notes as often as possible without interrupting the flow of play. My group alternates weekly games, so with a two-week gap between sessions (and a shoddy memory!) notes are essential for me.
4. I also created an NPC Rolodex using a 3×5 index cards and a card box. Everyone important enough to name got a card color-coded for their faction with a quick description, notes, and a Drive.
This became unwieldy, and I may need a better solution when we go back to the game.
5. Likewise for my debt trackers. I left a half-page of room for each faction and they were totally full within a couple months. I should have had at least a full page, probably double-sided, per faction, and they should have been lined sheets.
6. Out of five regular players, three loved corruption, one avoided it like the plague, and one was somewhere in the middle. We retired two PCs around the one-year mark due to corruption, with a third just a point or two away from retirement.
7. My table included a mix of PbtA veterans, newbies, and folks in between. One thing I can confidently say that everyone loved about the system was how failures are handled. The whole table paused, excitement in the air, anytime a failure came up.
8. Using only player-created hooks, and logical outgrowths from those hooks, as toys in the sandbox produced an overwhelming amount of threads to keep track of. I regard this as a feature, not a bug; the Threats provided clear calls to action to mitigate option paralysis.
9. With 1/4 Threats fully resolved and another 1/4 on the ropes, we still have 2/4 of the original Threats in play after a year. This created a logical pause point to take a break from the game, and it should make picking it up again easier.
This is one of my favorite campaigns that I’ve run, and it’s a perfect fit for my preferred zero-prep sandbox style of play. Highly recommended!
I’m happy to answer questions about this campaign or Urban Shadows in general — just fire away in the comments!
Zak S has been a bad actor in the RPG community for too long. It’s time to refuse to publish or promote his work, or to engage with him in the RPG community — and to do the same with other bad actors in our hobby.
The art/artist argument
I’ve often found that argument, that one should separate creative works from their creators, to be compelling. I’ve made it myself, and in the past I’ve made it about Zak S. (More on that in a moment.) For example, I love H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, but the dude was a virulent racist. He’s been dead for over 80 years, and in my judgment enjoying his work while denouncing its problematic aspects is fine: He doesn’t profit from that.
I’ve struggled with how to apply that to living artists, though. Some calls have been easy: When Orson Scott Card began using his fame to promote bigotry towards LGBTQIA+ people, no amount of past enjoyment of Ender’s Game would convince me to spend money on or recommend his work again.
Others have been more difficult, and for too long Zak S was in that category. Based on interactions I had with him on G+, and on how I watched him interacting with others, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was an asshole. But where Card is a clear bad actor, Zak S just seemed like an asshole — and liking an asshole’s work didn’t strike me as being problematic. I bought Zak’s books, and I linked to and promoted his work because I found his work interesting.
In the past couple years, I stopped doing that. I saw too much evidence that he was toxic, like RPGPundit, and stopped buying his books or promoting his work. I made sure to block him in every community where I spent time, and thought that ignoring him would be enough.
Ignoring bad actors isn’t enough
But out of sight, out of mind is not enough.
It’s not enough to separate the art from the artist. Like I said up top, it’s time to stop publishing and promoting work by bad actors in the RPG hobby, and to refuse to engage with them in our community.
If you have supported or defended Zak S in the past, you need to step up. The Ken Hites and White Wolfs and LotFPs of the world need to take this opportunity to disavow Zak S.
Zak S already hadn’t gotten my money or support for some time, but I went back through my posts here on Yore and removed all references or links to his work. I also logged back into Gnome Stew to edit or remove my past posts linking to Zak’s work, only to find that the Stew had already proactively removed them (thank you!). Were G+ not dying in six weeks, I’d scrub those posts as well.
Update Feb. 12:Ken Hite has denounced Zak and donated his payment for work on Demon City to charity, and OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG/RPGNow!) has posted an official response to the situation on their blog. This includes blocking future products featuring Zak S and donating the company’s share of revenue from existing titles to charity. (There’s a longer explanation for why existing titles remain.)
Don’t waste money on shitbags
There are many, many, many designers, authors, artists, and other creative folks producing awesome stuff who aren’t bad actors and aren’t toxic to the RPG community. Those are the folks we should be supporting.
I spent a good chunk of today installing, configuring, and populating YoreWiki.
For now, YoreWiki is my info dumping ground for Bleakstone and other fantasy hexcrawl material. I realized that my false starts and brainstorming files and “master” documents were scattered across multiple folders and Yore draft posts, which made it impossible to find anything and exerted a measure of anti-creativity inertia that I found troubling.
My hope is that YoreWiki will give me an outlet to organize, interrelate, and add to my content for Bleakstone — ideally without feeling like work.
It’s already given me a chance to unearth, organize (in some cases!), and share a ton of stuff I’ve already created that was just gathering virtual dust and of no use to anyone — myself included. Now those ideas have a home.
I’ve never done any “GM emulator”-style solo roleplaying, but I’ve played my fair share of gamebooks, solo roleplaying poems, and card-driven solo story games. This list is packed with stuff I’ve never heard of, much of it free.