Monday, August 31, 2015

Mini Adventure -- Mad Max

I ran this 90 minute game inspired by Mad Max a few times this year with folks of various ages and every time it was a whole lot of fun, so I thought I'd share it with my two or three readers. The mechanics are a simplified version of my RATS! game and the setting is a generic post-apocalyptic desert with a tip of the hat to Mad Max. Due to its simplicity, this game requires no prior knowledge or any experience in gaming.

Source: Blitz Cadet

Character Generation

1) Player distributes 10 points between four abilities.
Ferocity: use this ability whenever you're trying to damage someone or something.
Examples: Kick someone off your truck, intimidate a foe, force open a door.
Survival: use this ability whenever you're trying to avoid being damaged.
Examples: Keep on walking despite thirst and exhaustion, stay on your feet after being pushed.
Cunning: use this ability whenever you're trying to fix, understand or interact with something.
Examples: Repair a faulty engine, understand the meaning of tracks in the desert, treat wounds.
Serendipity: use this ability whenever you have no idea what you're doing.
Examples: open a random box and hope to find something good there, avoid random bandit ambush.

2) Player distributes 10 points between any number of skills they want. Skills include, but are not limited to.
Jumpin': move between moving vehicles. Difficulty is function of distance and relative speed.
Drivin': Ramming, dodging and controlling the vehicle. Difficulty is function of terrain and absolute speed.
Bossin': Allow allies to ignore pain, allow them to act on your turn, boost friendly actions.
Tinkerin': Repair and improve vehicle in motion. Difficulty is function of task and speed.
Healin': Restore ability and skill points lost during the game. Each two wins restore on ability or two skills.
Shootin': All ranged attacks. Difficulty is function of distance and relative speed.
Beatin': All melee attacks. Difficulty is function of target's Survival.
Knowin': All theoretical brainy stuff. Difficulty is function of GM's whims.


Any test is a combination of an ability and a skill as determined by the GM. Roll one die per point. Rolls of 5-6 count as wins. If you've scored as many, or more, wins than the target difficulty or the wins rolled by the opposition, the test is successful. Rolls of 1 count as fails. If you have no wins and some fails than the test backfires in a manner determined by the GM based on how many fails you have.
A boosted test scores wins on rolls of 4-6. A hindered test scores wins on rolls of 6.
Regardless of success or failure, any test reduces the skill used by 1 point until rested or restored through bossin'.

Basic difficulties ranged from 1 to 5 and are modified by the relative speed of actor and target and the roughness of the terrain. As a rule of thumb, increase Difficulty by 1 for every 20 kmph of relative speed, by 1 for uneven terrain and by 2-3 for very rough terrain.


Whenever a creature or vehicle are damaged they remove a number of ability points spread among as many abilities as they like. Vehicles are considered to have only two abilities -- hull and gear. Each time a point of gear is reduced, the vehicle loses one speed category.
For example, a car has six gears (R/20/40/60/80/100). If it loses one gear point, roll a 1d6 to determine which speed category it loses. On a roll of 4, for instance, it will lose the ability to go at 41-60 kmph.


Any character can move six squares and act, or run twelve squares and take no further actions. Vehicle velocity is divided into gears. The higher the gear, the quicker the vehicles moves, but also the more difficult all actions on it become. See "Starting Vehicles" below for the difficultly of controlling different vehicles at different speeds.
Source: Sandara

Starting Equipment

  • The players divide the following items between their characters however they see fit. Asterisks show how many shots/ charges the items has.
  • Shotgun *** (Short distance, damage 4+leftover wins)
  • Sniper Rifle * (Long distance, damage 6+leftover wins, armor piercing)
  • Grenades x 3 (Short distance, damage 6+leftover wins to everyone in short distance)
  • Stim shots ** (restore 4 ability points)
  • Pistol ****** (Short distance, damage 2+leftover wins)
  • Kevlar x 2 (negate 2 hits)
  • Smartphone (3 calls/ data searches)

Also, everyone has a sword, a knife and a rope.

Starting Vehicles

The group starts the game with the following vehicles:

  • Truck (10 hp 20(+0)/40(+1)/60(+2)/80(+3)/100(+4))
  • 2 Bikes (3 hp 20(-1)/60(+0)/80(+1)/100(+2)/140(+3))


Your community is under attack by mutant fanatics who want to take your gasoline. Your allies across the desert have powerful war machines, but no fuel to power them. You are to drive a truck with gasoline to the camp of your allies. You must reach them within 90 minutes or your community will be overrun.


  • 4 mutant fanatics (2 in all skills and abilities) and 1 ogre mutant (same as fanatic only Ferocity and Survival are 5) climb the truck as you break through the blockade and try to get to the steering wheel.
  • 4 spiked cars (5 hp 30(+0)/50(+1)/70(+2)/90(+3)/110(+4)) driven by evil communists. They try to ram your truck and destroy your wheels. Roll 1d6 on the start of each car's turn. On a roll of 1, it loses one gear and is forced to reduce its speed.
  • A wide creek. You can either drive around it, wasting time and risking a bandit ambush, or jump over it, risking falling down to your death. Some kids also tried quickly building a bridge from the cannibalized remains of enemy vehicles and various elements of the surrounding nature.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Hollow Mountain Revisited

In 2010, I wrote a horror dungeon crawl called the Hollow Mountain about an evil tree that is changing nature around it to fit its notion of how things should be, which is pretty alien and horrifying. It had a tribe of twisted elves worshiping the Tree That Sees even as it changed them into crazy mutants, tons of plant monsters and killer fungi, some subtle Lovecraft references and was a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication between myself and the publisher, there was an discrepancy between the maps and the text.

To put this behind me once and for all, I thought I'd post the corrected maps. In case anyone would like to give this one a shot, use these maps. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think it's the best dungeon crawl I ever designed.

Level 1:

Level 2:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mini Adventure -- Think of the Children!

Running detective adventures with kids who are used to solve all problems by hacking them to pieces isn't easy. In the past, many of my attempts were less than successful. This adventure, however, seems to hit a home run each time (today I ran it for the 5th time) and is almost always over in 90 minutes. Perversely, it is grown up players who get stuck, struggling for hours or even days to solve the mystery of Bertha's death.

The setting for the adventure is not important. The below write up is for a pseudo-Victorian setting, but in the past, I've DMed essentially the same story in an Ancient Egyptian household, a Roma camp and a generic fantasy city.

Note: "Think of the Children!" is a little darker than the average kid game. It includes the off-screen death of a child and might include animal cruelty. If you feel these are not appropriate, feel free to replace the death with a coma and make it clear that the villain can be exorcised without the need to destroy the host body. 

Our story begins with the PCs being invited by the wealthy patriarch of the Le Fanu family to investigate a mysterious condition afflicting his children. Two weeks ago, his daughter Bertha became lethargic and anemic. All forms of curative and mundane healing brought only short respites before her symptoms returned. Last week, she died. The following day, the younger daughter Laura started displaying similar syndromes.

Unless the PCs already have characters, I suggested giving each player 1-3 random divination spells for a total of eight spells for the entire party. This adventure is practically impossible to solve without detect magic. The ability to speak with animals makes it significantly easier to solve.

I use this map for the mansion (only without the collapsed walls). Because the adventure is a location-based mystery, it's impossible to predict the order and nature of encounters. How this story goes is 100% dependent on PC actions.

The household contains the following characters:

The Right Honourable Joseph Le Fanu, 7th Lord Clifford: the children’s authoritative father, a cold and imposing aristocrat whose stoic upbringing gives the impression of callousness or even cruelty.

Mina (née Arshanavat Van Helsing): the children’s grief-stricken mother, a gentle half-elf who finds it difficult to cope with the loss of her eldest child and the current condition of her youngest daughter.

Tagore: a meek and cowardly chef from the East, has a rather scary collection of exotic cookbooks (including one written for and by dragons) that he keeps for purely bibliophilic purposes.

Funny and Sunny: two mischievous maids who live in a tiny room, sleep on a bunk bed, and keep a secret pet rat named Milord. Their tricks antics are annoying and inappropriate, but ultimately harmless. If the PCs lacks magic users, you can give the two limited spellcasting ability and make Milord Funny's familiar.

Bertha: dead and buried, her cat Tubby never left her side as she lay dying.

Laura: a graphomaniac diary keeper, presently drained of vitality to a condition of near catatonia. Only wakes up due to curative magic and languidly answers 1-3 questions before falling asleep again. Her cat Bandit never leaves her bed. Investigation will reveal small bites on her body, consistent with the fangs of her cat.

Max: an extraordinarily rude, spoiled and hotheaded boy with an equally belligerent parrot named Killer. Constantly plays the violin, terribly, in preparation of becoming a world renowned artist. Likes to bow before the mirror. Shouts at anyone asking him to do anything.

Jack: a nauseatingly friendly lad who works at the stables, wishes to help the PCs but has the intelligence of a chair and only shuts up in the presence of Lord Joseph. Lacks the intelligence to understand he's not wanted, not matter how meanly the PCs treat him. As long as he's with the PCs, stealth is impossible.

Tubby: Bertha’s orange cat, skulks about the second floor, obviously depressed.

Bandit: Laura’s giant Angora cat, never leaves her bed, currently possessed by Count Orlok, who uses the fat cat to drain the girl's blood.

Milord: Funny and Sunny’s pet rat, lives inside a locked box in their room. If Milord is used as a familiar, then it can help the PCs as a spy. It can also report that something is off with the household animals.

Killer: an ornery parrot that lives in an open cage in Sheriden’s room, knows lots of curse words and uses them liberally and at the most inappropriate times. If attacked, he flees to the lord's study, telling on the PCs with his limited vocabulary.

Dog: the lord’s wolfhound. Joseph is not so sentimental as to name his animals. Obligingly, the dog is also lacking in any character traits except for mindless loyalty to his master. Dog is the most powerful animal in the house and can be used as an antagonist for a final climatic battle against Count Orlok.

Count Orlok: the ghost of a vampire Mina’s father dispatched more than a century ago. While powerless by himself, he found that he can possess animals and use them to drain blood. He can jump from a body to body as a move equivalent action, provided that the animals are alive, and no more than 10 meters apart. If the animal he possesses is killed, immersed in holy water, or targeted by turn undead, he’s forced to manifest. If this happens during daylight, he’s automatically destroyed and the day is won. If manifested during the night, he must be destroyed by some other means. Anything affecting a normal vampire also affects Count Orlok. One group defeated him by spilling rice (which he was obliged to count) until sunrise. I thought it was pretty clever.

It takes Count Orlok a week to fully drain a child. While in animal form, he can use sleep and charm person as gaze attacks, or by licking his victim. He can also use any natural attack the animal has. However, the Count uses violence only as a last resort as he knows how vulnerable a small animal’s body is. Instead, he jumps from body to body, tries to frame the servants and, if all seems lost, tries to flee the mansion in the body of some stray animal.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Be your own God

Gheos is a rather brilliant board game where players take on the roles of deities who reshape the world and start genocidal wars and mass migrations to gain more followers and power. A friend suggested running a Gheos game and using the resultant world as a campaign setting for a series of short games, possibly of the 90 minute challenge variety.

Each player should decide what kind of deity they are, which would later suggest the kind of adventure they’ll run. Now, races in the game are only characterized by color (white, black, yellow, blue, green, red) but for this game, when a race is created, its creator should also choose its type (green could be orcs, lizardfolk or tree people, f.e).

The player chosen to DM should send the PCs on an improvised divine quest across the created world. The quest is inspired by the player's deity's portfolio, the history of the board game and the current geography.

This is only a basic idea at this point, but I already like it, so expect updates soon :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tales from an Israeli Storyteller

So my first crowd-funded book is finally commercially available for your pleasure and entertainment. I am super excited (and a little terrified) about this. While I was published many times in the past by Paizo, Wizards, Mongoose, Frog God and others, Tales from an Israeli Storyteller is my first self-published work. This is the first time that I get to play with themes and ideas that are wholly my own. This is the first time I get to choose my editor. This is the first time I get to tell great artists like Hugo Solis and Stav Levi what I want...ish.


Right now the book is only available electronically. I am waiting for a proof copy from amazon. If it's shiny and pretty, the softcover edition will become available on October 1.

If you've already read the book, please consider leaving a review. If you have a blog and would like to get a copy for review purposes, please contact me.

Uri out.

Crawls back to the sewers to complete RATS!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mini Adventure -- In Medias Res

I ran a rather unusual adventure last night and thought I’d share it with the good people of the internet. The adventure is presented in a very bare form so that you could suit it to whatever genre/ system you’re using. Also, I’m lazy.

If you run this one, please let me know how it went :)

This adventure starts in medias res with no player knowledge whatsoever. The players get blank sheets for characters and the first words they hear are purely mechanical actions such as “make a reflex saving throw” or “roll an attack” without any descriptions attached to them. On the first round, the players do not choose their actions. Instead, each character completes an action that might be an attack against another character, a healing spell, a hide check and so forth.

Only after each character has completed its action, do the players take over. Even at this point, do not volunteer any information about the characters or their surroundings. The players have to ask everything explicitly, including how they look like, where they are and what items do they have.

At the end of each turn, each player rolls a 1d10. On a roll of 10, he receives his character slip (see below). On a second roll of 10, he regains full access to his memories, which may result in him also getting additional powers (f.e, a wizard now knows all his spells).

The PCs are on the bridge of a fantasy space ship damaged by fighting. I used these deck plans from Spelljammer. However, you can find many other deck plans in Traveller books, Wizards map gallery or the original Spelljammer.

What’s really going on?
Vampires have taken over a human colony and reduced the colonists to helpless blood sources. A group of heroes led by a wizard (Captain Dreber) raided the planet on an unmarked spaceship and snatched one of the “human groves;” a giant machine made of dozens of “human trees” designed to keep hundreds of humans alive but comatose. Dreber’s orders are to take the prisoners back to a nearby human planet outside of vampire space for rehabilitation. Presently, the grove is stored in the cargo bay.

A vampire regent (Lord Herzog) found out about the theft and decided to raid the ship with his private crew, his plan being to keep the prize for himself while blaming the theft on the humans. Captain Dreber, however, also had treason on his mind. He wanted to erase everybody's memory so he could then tell the crew and the prisoners that they are colonists under his command and to establish a new civilization on a hostile planet he’d discovered and where he’d be as god.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, the ship was attacked just as Captain Dreber was completing his memory wiping spell. His anti-magic space suit was damaged, causing him to forget everything as well. The spell was extremely potent – not only did it erase the last three days from all human minds; it also affected the undead attackers, the ship’s artificial intelligence and even private journals.

Who’s Who?
Vampires are completely naked except for exotic jewelry and fearsome tribal tattoos all over their pale flesh. Their leader looks the same except that his jewels are more expensive and his tattoos are gothic rather than tribal. Many of Jewels are magical items.

Crew members are in various states of battle dress, since they were attacked suddenly. All have HAU badges on their chest. Generally, they appear as classic fantasy warriors with good magical equipment and various degrees of injury.

The captain is in full battle readiness since he was almost ready to complete his scheme when the vampires attack. There’s a large hole in his space suit, just above his heart. He is unharmed however, and has several protective spells affecting him.

Characters are assigned to players randomly. I used a deck of playing cards for this, but rolling dice or handing slips would also work. Feel free to make some characters NPCs to give you another tool to control the plot.

King of Spades
You are Lord Herzog, a vampire regent from a great clan, old in honor. With your vampire spawns, you raided this human ship in the hopes of stealing back the human chattel these insolent thieves stole from a rival clan and secretly using them to empower your clan.

10 of Spades
You are the spawn of the vampire lord Herzog. Yours is not to wonder why. Yours is to do or die.

9 of Spades
You are the spawn of the vampire lord Herzog. Yours is not to wonder why. Yours is to do or die.

10 of Clubs
You are the spawn of the vampire lord Herzog. Yours is not to wonder why. Yours is to do or die.

Jack of Hearts
You are Captain Dreber. You are a wizard who commands a vessel sent from your home planet to rescue colonists from a planet overtaken by vampires. However, you have no intention of taking them back home. Instead, you want to wipe out their memory and take them to a new planet where you will rule them as God.

4 of Hearts
You are a fighter of HAU (Humans Against Undead) organization, a secret society dedicated to rescuing humans from the vampire clans and rehabilitating them on mortal planets.

7 of Diamonds
You are a fighter of the secret HAU (Humans Against Undead) organization, a secret society dedicated to rescuing humans from the vampire clans and rehabilitating them on mortal planets.

10 of Diamonds
You are a fighter of the secret HAU (Humans Against Undead) organization, a secret society dedicated to rescuing humans from the vampire clans and rehabilitating them on mortal planets.

You can also include colonists, although these are less fun to play because they lack any cool combat abilities:

Any 2/ Any 2
You are a common human colonist. You world was overtaken by vampires. You were stripped of your humanity and dignity and turned into little more than a blood storage unit in a vast blood farm.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mini Adventure -- Moon Hunter

I ran this sci-fi investigation scenario twice in the past year. Once with grown-ups and once with teens. The latter solved it in about three hours. The former are still in the dark. Alas, good role-playing often stands in the way of good police work.

PC Info

Earth 2084 is a feudal, space-faring society that has constructed scientific and mining colonies on numerous planets in the solar system, including on Saturn’s moon, Ganymede. Our story takes place on Lunar Mining Colony 5296c, a joint venture by Baron Freidrich von Siemens and industrialist Zheng Xiu Wong. Last week, the Baron received the below message from his vassal on the mining colony, knight-engineer Jonathan Ronalds:

your grace several dead chinese dont care send help jr

As you are the Baron’s nearest retainers, presently wrapping up a mission on Saturn, you’re sent to investigate the old knight’s cryptic message.

DM Info

Lunar Mining Colony 5296c is home to about 300 people including workers, administration, server providers and licensed merchants. It transports ores to earth using an innovative magnetic rail that functions as an orbital slingshot. The rail is powered by a unique energy source patented by Golden Tiger ltd., a company controlled by Mr. Wong. The rail works for 30 minutes every Monday.


  • Hun Wei Bin, Mr. Wong’s son-in-law, is the manager of the operation. Wong is also in charge of counter-espionage, a role he fulfills too enthusiastically.
  • Ser Manuel Gershwin and his six sworn guns are in charge of discipline and security. Manuel is chivalrous, gallant, ultra-conservative and dumb as a rock.
  • Doctor Nori Hakamada doubles as chief physician and science officer, a position maintained as a rubber stamp against EK (European Kingdom) regulations. She intelligent, aloof and
  • Workers mostly include low-risk prisoners from Earth, serfs of von Siemens and a small number of German and Chinese specialists.


  • Jenny (last name unknown), drifter (month ago)
  • Michael Philips, quality assurance (two weeks ago)
  • Ahmad Toshiba, cargo operator (week ago)
  • No one died three weeks ago due to slingshot malfunction that took a week to fix.

The Problem

Every time the mysterious energy source is tapped, it summons an alien hunter (I used gibbering mouther) somewhere within 100 meters of the rail. The thing kills humans and removes their tongues and eyes for some perverse inexplicable reason. All victims are partially sunken in hard rock and present signs of irrational behavior prior to death such as punching random objects, undressing or writing nonsense on the floor. While their eyes and tongues have been roughly removed, the cause of death is electrocution.
Both Hun and Nori suspect there’s something alien at work. Both agreed last week to keep their mouths shut and sabotage future investigations. Hun wants to impress his father-in-law to get a better job, and a string of murders is hardly a point in his favor. Nori has great scientific curiosity and little regard to the lives of criminals and drifters. 
 Manuel blames Muslim terrorists because so far no evidence has been uncovered to suggest anything else.


  • Videos from the attacks are missing and records of operations have been deleted as well. Only Hun, Nori and Manuel have access to videos.
  • Nori is researching a “new micro-organism” which is really a trace amount of the gibbering mouther.
  • Cargo operators all agree that odd gibbering sounds are heard when the railing is on, however, Hun suggested this is the result of drugs and threatened to fire them if they mentioned this again.
  • If pressed, Hun will confess that the energy source is a previously unknown element uncovered by his father-in-law on the fringes of the solar system.


  • During the investigation, Hun will send some of his goons to fake an alien attack when the rail is off. While the eyes and tongue will be removed, the cause of death would be a blunt instrument blow to the back of the head.
  • If the ploy doesn’t work, Nori will try to poison the PCs by offering the cook narcotics in return for spiking the PCs’ food. The cook will then die of an "accidental" overdose.
  • If is doesn’t work as well, Hun will invite PCs to a meeting on the surface of the moon, where several of his trusted goons will attack them.


  • If faced with arrest, Hun will surrender and hope his connections will save him.
  • If faced with arrest, Nori will kill herself, leaving behind a haiku:
Research of cosmos
Demanded great sacrifice
I depart wiser