Saturday, November 20, 2021

Automating UDEL 1.0

new automatic UDEL tool

Hail Santa at Terminal Velocity invented UDEL, or “Uniform Data Entry Language,” a conlang for Mothership and other sci-fi games. I’ve written this tool to help write it, and while it’s not feature-complete, I thought I’d better release something soon rather than tinker with it forever.

It’s pretty straightforward to use: type the words you want in the box, and click the link to draw them. Words connected by underbars (“_”) will be drawn in a cartouche (i.e. proper nouns). Numbers are drawn correctly, but you’ll have to “pre-process” them, which is to say, break them into groups of 3 digits, etc. If a word is not on the word list, it will be drawn as a blank stave.

Right now the tool is hosted on a Blogger “Page” instead of a proper post, because making it a post somehow hides all the other posts on my blog and I have no idea where to start with that.


  • Implement underlines. How should they be represented in input?
  • UDEL is nominally symmetrical in many circumstances. I’d like to add an “up” arrow to the left side so that a UDEL plaque, for example, could be oriented from any direction.
  • Implement punctuation.
  • Improve the layout engine. It’s really clunky right now, and strongly favors square numbers of words.
  • Automate representation of numbers.
  • Automate representation of plurals, posessives.
  • Highlight out-of-list words in the input field.
  • Suggest in-list synonyms for out-of-list words.
  • Add a function to export the final image.

Play with it, use it, test it, break it, let me know what you think!

Friday, October 22, 2021

36 ABY: The End of History

(Spoilers below for various Star Wars properties.)

With the final death of Emperor Palpatine, history was ended. The Skywalker destiny doubly or triply fulfilled, the ultimate evil laid to rest, balance restored to the force. There are no more blockbuster movies to be made in the world of 36 ABY,1 but that doesn't mean there aren't stories to be told. Smaller in scope and more nuanced in morals, I think these stories may be ideal for a role-playing game.

If the prequel trilogy took the fall of Rome as its model, 36 ABY takes the collapse of the Soviet Union. Repeated cataclysm and rapid retreat have left fractured militaries in the hands of new nationalist and nativist factions. A hundred empires and a hundred republics blossom in miniature.

What about the New Republic?

The destruction of Hosnian Prime by Starkiller base was a major blow to the New Republic, but not fatal. As the capitol was hosted by new planets from cycle to cycle, the infrastructure to continue existed already. With the New Republic military deprecated in favor of planetary defence forces, the New Republic's might was still strong. Emergency elections were held, business continued.

Well, in theory. The New Republic lives on, but more cautious and milquetoast than ever. Skittish, corrupt, gridlocked, they cannot command the might they have, nor direct it if they could. For now, it adequately prevents its members from open warfare, and freed from the existential threat of the First Order, could be open to a more involved role on the galactic stage.

What about the Empire?

The Empire is dead, but it remains everywhere. When news of the Sith defeat at Exegol spread, a common form of ultimatum was issued by occupied planets to their attendant star destroyers:

No resupply is coming. There is no base you can return to. Become citizens of our nations and serve in our militaries and you can build a new life here. Or else we will chase you off, and who else will take in imperial deserters?

It was a good offer, and many bands took it. Some refused, and ultimately lost these reverse sieges. Others fled and live as interstellar pirates and mercenaries.

Of course not all planets chafed under the empire, and these tended to organize splinter empires around charismatic moffs and generals. They now seek the legitimacy and acceptance that they once enjoyed.

What about the super weapons?

No remaining single faction has the resources to develop a superweapon. No current coalition of forces trusts each other enough to collaborate. More importantly, no superweapon could be developed unopposed: without a unified galactic body, reactions cannot be controlled. That said, there might still be some ancient super weapons around, waiting to shatter this precarious peace.

What about the Hutts?

Undisputed rulers of Hutt space since before the Old Republic, the stability of the Hutts has made them unwillingly legitimate. Hutt space is a rare known quantity, the most desirable place to be doing business. And the demands of this have led to an expansion of their role, and a creeping bureaucracy supporting them. All kinds of ne'er-do-wells find a second career as enforcers, clerks, and lobbyists in the burgeoning Hutt council.

What about the force?

Balance restored to the force, the Jedi order is no more. And yet, there is always a new generation of force-sensitive children and always a need for them to be trained. With no central schools, itinerant masters travel the galaxy, giving lessons and helping out where they can. Several distinct traditions of practice have emerged.


Heroes. Focus on luck, prophecy, visions, destiny. Hard to predict. Ask a Skywalker to protect a village or stop a villainous plot. Most common in the outer rim.


Cops and judges. Focus on lightsabers, protocol, structure, restraint. Get along well with droids. Usually raised from a young age. Ask a huyang to mediate a dispute or catch a thief. Most common in the core worlds.


Zen monks. Focus on inner peace, sensitivity, nature. Impossible to sneak up on. Ask a Bendu when to plant crops or how to communicate with a creature. Most common in the unknown regions.


Witches. Focus on power, nuance, medicine, secrecy. Always women, always at the edge of society. Ask a Shelish for a potion or a curse. Rare, but evenly distributed.

What about the dark side of the force?

The Sith, freed from the rule of two, proliferate, climbing military and political ladders across the galaxy but stymied by their low ceilings. Current threats from the dark side include:

Darth Heret

Once a Skywalker-tradition Jedi, Darth Heret has been corrupted by a Sith Holocron, convinced that he is destined to be a great reformer and bringer of peace. Currently, he leads a widely-feared band of pirates, and fails to see how this is not an obvious stepping stone towards that. An alarming number of his devotees are also strong in the force, and he takes it upon himself to instruct them.

Lady Trace

A youth, perhaps 13 years of age. An orphan of Hosnian Prime with no family to return to. It is said that she can hear the voices of demons in the force, and she keeps no other company.

The Grand Inquisitor

The Empire's special projects division has always had some oddballs. Going rogue after the fall of the Sith, they believe they have grown themselves a new god from the (incomplete) records of the Inquisitorius. This new god will guide them, surely! But their god is a blank slate, an emotionless machine. They weep, for they have power and know not what to do with it. They seek meaningless conflict, hoping this will spark some desire or purpose in the Grand Inquisitor, the vessel of all their dreams.

Perhaps one day, this faction will create Am and Karre.

What else is going on?

  • Improved nav computers are opening up the unknown regions. First to explorers, then to traders, and ultimately to colonists, as these advancements in tech filter down to more people.
  • With so much turmoil, many long-standing grudges created by cycles of occupation and relocation are coming to a head, both at small scales and planetary. When a population is freed from servitude in the spice mines, where are they to go when other farmers have been working their ancestral fields for generations? What of the Alderaanians and the Hosnians? Who gets to prosecute the perpetrators of multiple war crimes? What if their research was really interesting and useful?
  • Darth Heret's underlings all have lightsabers. Where are they getting them?

1 At time of writing there is no canon media of any kind set in 36 ABY or a later year, and the only things that happen at all in the future are jokey framing devices or quasi-canon. Given the sheer quantity and scope of Star Wars material, this continues to astound me.back

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


Construction on York Minster Cathedral was finished in 1472, having begun c. 1220. For two-hundred and fifty years, the unfinished cathedral was a part of the city, an ongoing project longer than the life of any one person. In that time it brought in specialists and materials from far away and gave work and benefit to the locals.1


This toolbox is intended to quickly sketch a settlement defined by its largest ongoing project. The locals are building something massive, and this is hopefully a shortcut to intrigue and conflict.

What is it? (1d20)

  1. Amphitheater
  2. Bridge
  3. Canal
  4. Casino
  5. Cathedral
  6. Fortress
  7. Greenhouse
  8. Lighthouse (warning, beacon)
  9. Necropolis
  10. Observatory (telescope, supercollider, lookout)
  11. Palace
  12. Power Plant (wind, solar, nuclear, hydro)
  13. Pyramid
  14. Reservoir
  15. Roads
  16. Ship
  17. Stepwell
  18. Tower
  19. Tunnel
  20. Wall

How far along is it?2 (1d12)

  1. Design
  2. Surveying
  3. Permitting
  4. Site Clearance
  5. Excavation
  6. Foundations
  7. Rough Structure
  8. Exteriors
  9. Interiors
  10. Finishing
  11. Cleanup
  12. Warranty Period

What's the hold-up? (1d10)

  1. Beasts
  2. Beaurocrats
  3. Errors
  4. Funding
  5. Holidays
  6. Ill Omen
  7. Labor (shortage, strike)
  8. Materials (quality, supply)
  9. Plague
  10. Vandals

Why build this? (1d8)

  1. Convenience
  2. Defense
  3. Memorial
  4. Religion
  5. Research
  6. Spite
  7. Tourism
  8. Vanity

Who's building it? (1d6)

  1. Condemned Criminals
  2. Locals
  3. Military
  4. Refugees
  5. Slaves
  6. Sleepwalkers

Secret (1d4)

  1. Corruption in sourcing or labor
  2. Design is of occult significance
  3. Roll a second, hidden purpose (1d8)
  4. None

Thanks to David Macaulay.

1 I assume some of this, but it seems reasonable.back

2 Following the example of a cathedral, the barest functional parts may or may not be completed already.back

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Quest World™ and The Uncanny Hinterlands

Quest World™ is my entry into The Great Troika! Pocket Sphere Jam. For the unfamiliar, a pocketmod is a small booklet folded from a single sheet of paper, and a “sphere” is Troika’s rough equivalent of a plane or a planet. Quest World™ is one part of a stew I’ve had simmering for the better part of a year now, which I call the Uncanny Hinterlands.

The Uncanny Hinterlands

The first ingredient in the Uncanny Hinterlands was the Mothership adventure Hideo’s World, in which the characters enter a decaying virtual world in the mind of a genius game designer (a “slickworld”). It plays with the narrative frames in some interesting ways, for example you can order a coke in the virtual world, delivered to your physical location by drone. It’s also an “excuse” to explore a different set of tropes and aesthetics while keeping it grounded in a larger setting.

The second ingredient was Jared Sinclair’s Prismot zine, which expanded the idea from “I should run Hideo’s World” to “I should convert Hideo’s World to Troika!” I liked the idea of a world like Hideo’s, but that you could also travel to physically,1 a digitally constructed artificial realm of adventure.

That was on 11 March 2020, and on 16 March 2020 I started working from home in relative isolation. Eventually, I picked up RuneScape (OSRS) again, and that influence created the Uncanny Hinterlands, a larger, stranger setting.2 With my notes becoming too unwieldy to usefully think about, the game jam gave me the opportunity to ladle out a manageable portion to share with others.

Quest World™

Quest World™ is most heavily inspired by MMORPGs. I’m fascinated by the morality of RuneScape, where advancement may force you to compromise your morals. In general, there are many one-off or narrow solutions that could not reasonably exist in a normal TTRPG. Debates about violence in D&D and coverage of The Last of Us 2 put the term “ludonarrative dissonance” in my head, which seemed like a natural exploration inside these more complicated narrative frames.

I haven't got to play it yet, but I also wanted to shout out PAGAN: Autogeny as apparently having a similar concept (abandoned MMORPG), although I'm sure there are others.

Kill Arena

The next area of the uncanny hinterlands that I’d like to explore is the Kill Arena: a sphere inspired by classic FPS games. I especially always loved the way that physics glitches become core parts of gameplay or entirely different ways to play. I don’t know if this exploration will be coherent enough to share, but I offer it as an example of other spheres in the Uncanny Hinterlands.

Making the Pocketmod

I composed my first pocketmod at A7 page size, because an A4 pocketmod printed on US letter paper will still fold correctly (the reverse is not true). This time, I did not remember that and started writing at ⅛-size US letter paper. Fortunately, I gave myself 0.25” margins, so I was able to adjust the margins and paper size at the same time for the A4 version.

I used pdfjam for the final layout, which was pretty straightforward. My distribution (Mageia) provides it in the package “texlive-collection-basic” and the command to assemble the US letter-size pocketmod was:
$ pdfjam --angle 180 -o /dev/stdout qw.pdf '1,8,7,6' | pdfjam --nup 4x2 --landscape --paper letter -o qw-us.pdf qw.pdf '2-5' /dev/stdin
where “qw.pdf” is the 8-page ⅛-size US letter layout and “qw-us.pdf” is the pocketmod output. Similarly, the A4 pocketmod was assembled by:
$ pdfjam --angle 180 -o /dev/stdout qw-a7.pdf '1,8,7,6' | pdfjam --nup 4x2 --landscape --paper a4paper -o qw-a4.pdf qw-a7.pdf '2-5' /dev/stdin

I used LibreOffice for writing and layout, GIMP for image editing, Kolourpaint for rough image sizing and cropping, and Pixel Studio on an Android tablet for original art.

I made liberal use of the free resources on I used the fonts Nicer Nightie, Silver, and Fool, and I used free 1-bit fantasy sprites and pixel portraits.

I also used several sets of glitch brushes and textures by dataerase. It’s a bit of a hack, but this is how I made them work in GIMP:

  1. Copy the .abr files to ~/.config/GIMP/2.10/brushes (you can leave them in subdirectories).
  2. Copy the folders of patterns from the CSP brushes to ~/.config/GIMP/2.10/patterns (you can leave them in subdirectories and also leave them as pngs).
  3. Using the clone tool, select "Pattern" as the source and select one of the glitch patterns. You can use any brush, but the new brushes will be square.

These aren’t true brushes: the pattern doesn’t scale with brush size, nor does the current foreground color matter, but for painting on pixel-scales in black & white, it worked very well.

Into the Uncanny Hinterlands

There is a lot more in the uncanny hinterlands, so I’m collecting some of the other ideas that inform them here for reference.

1 While some inhabitants of the Uncanny Hinterlands are there via neural uplink, some are using PC terminals, astral projection, or spaceships. Some could be considered “native,” even. back

2 I still have not lost track of my other OSRS-inspired projects, as they are tending in a different direction. back

Monday, December 28, 2020

Crisis on Christmas: Coin Hunt

I’ve enjoyed hearing how people have made use of Crisis on Christmas Prime in the last few weeks. I hope that by providing a brief sample adventure it might be more approachable. I rolled “Rag-tag adventurers are buying up candy!” on the crisis table, so that was the starting point.


Ol’ Gran Yule has realized that Santa’s bag is a few thousand chocolate coins short. Can you find some before he leaves tomorrow?


Loosely, here are some places around town that players might think to look for coins:

  • Pharmacy: none stocked, busy.
  • Rabbi: has a few hundred, will play dreidel for them if you have the time.
  • Candy store: none stocked, bored.
  • Chocolate factory: out of coins, suspicious of anyone who might be an inspector.

All the coins were bought up by three people. Clues given by people who are out of coins:

  • They were all bundled up like they’d trekked in from out of town.
  • They were dirty like they’d been digging or playing in dirt.
  • They paid with palm-sized coins.

These clues should point to the giant-barrows outside town.

Other information available:

  • There were three of them, one blind. They talked about a fourth person too.
  • They were all squinting and smelled burnt.
  • You shoulda seen the shooting star last week!

Getting to the Barrows

This is an opportunity to check for random encounters, and to make sure everyone has taken precautions against the cold. Checking for encounters here reinforces the sense of distance between the town and the mountain, but I didn’t come up with a good table. Aeval and Valmr are out finding supplies and leads, so they might be encountered on the road.

The Giant Barrows


A - Entrance

Hewn into mountain base. Checking under snow on wall reveals a carving of a balance with a cross-legged figure on each side.

B - Cold Chamber

Drafty, tall, light filters in through natural chimney above. Snow and ice on the ground, large boulder in middle of room next to a chain extending from the floor to a massive wooden beam protruding from the wall on the right and leaning downwards. (Strength to move boulder.)

C - Warm Chamber

Mirror image of B, except with light filtering up from a large hole in the ground and no opening in the ceiling. (Chain and beam are too high up to be visible.)

D - The Last Giant

Jorg is still meditating very hard and will attempt to ignore all disturbances (damage will rouse him). Some large coins and religious texts free for taking.

E - Order of the Blue Lantern

A band of adventurers between expeditions recuperate in the cave with their new pet, Shiny. Shyren is here, lounging and playing with it, and Istwell is meditating. Remaining coins needed are here. They know they are the mirror of whatever group of misfits finds them, and do not trust them. They would like Shiny to go to a good home, but currently could not lose it if they wanted to. Will not give up the coins until a suitable replacement foodstuff is discovered. All have stats as Knight of the Road. (Names are from The Black Hack.)

Shyren (Thief)

Despite the fur trim, her winter clothes are wildly impractical. Likes Shiny most of all the order, and is trying to teach it tricks.

Istwell (Cleric)

Dressed in Saffron robes, meditating. Can be distracted by the religious texts in D or meeting Jorg. Believes that Shiny cannot see him because he is free from the cycle of birth and redeath, but in fact it is because he is blind (and sees only with his second sight). Knows Coal Resolve, Peace, and Zed.

Aeval (Wizard)

Jumpy, tattooed, elfin. Knows Open, Thunder, and Undo.

Valmr (Fighter)

Bored, aggressive, bearded. Speaks with a heavy, archaic accent.


A blinding pinprick of light dropped by the comet last week (Jeffry’s Comet). Its nature is unclear this young, but it could grow up to be another comet, a star, a galaxy, a nebula, or a whole new sphere. Shiny wants food and company. It has only a loose understanding of the people around it, but does try not to hurt anyone.


Shiny will consume any metal or alloy with a melting point below 700°C and be frustrated by metals it is not yet hot enough to consume.


Shiny can only see people whose eyes its light can reach, and will try not to be left alone.

The Barrows’ Gimmick

The construction is a giant scale, currently weighted down by the boulder in B. If the boulder is moved, D is uncovered, and if a weight is added to the other side (in the warm room), E can be covered. It can be used as a trebuchet.

Ancilimander of Argon

A mad marble astrologer in an observatory atop the mountain (“So close to the North Pole, the stars barely wobble at all!”). Everyone in town knows he’s there, but the Blue Lantern and Jorg do not. He can provide the following information:

  • Shiny can likely find its way home if you can get it up past the atmosphere.
  • Melting points of any metal.
  • Jeffry’s Comet passed last week, has been erratic since.


Ideally, Gran Yule would have a unique gift for each of the characters. Recommend using Oddmas Oddities from The Hunt for the Great Goose.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Containment Spheres

Until tomorow (22 Dec 2020), the Mothership Discord server is hosting the 20x20 Jam. Make a piece of Mothership content (any sort) in Playscii in 20x20 format, and upload a png to the server. Winner gets a shirt?

I entered this thing, “Containment Sphere 5”.

20x20 is just too dense to be easily digestible, so I thought I’d expand some of it here (the submission itself is still only the image).

  • The map is the net of a regular icosahedron (d20). The repeated letters at the top and bottom are the same room with connecting hallways doubled. The map wraps at the edges of the screen.
  • There is an energy management game implied: it costs 2◆ to pressurize a room and 1◆ to open a door (hallways all have heavy blast doors and fail closed).
  • Additionally some amount of energy is taken each “turn” by “anomaly containment”. The intent is that the +- value is a projection of the next turn’s consumption. (There is already some risk in the present configuration.)
  • What happens when there isn’t enough power for anomaly containment will depend on the anomaly, but it might be related to VENT.
  • WOOD is intentionally weird and vague. It’s a leftover from the derelict generation tables in Dead Planet.
  • I opted not to use any of the available CRT effects. Instead, I drew on my real-life experiences designing operator interfaces for modern LCD monitors using tools from 10-20 years earlier that only go up to 640x480 anyway. The CRT effects all look “fake” to me, but the weird muted colors look very real.
  • Possible missions on the containment sphere might include evacuation, recovery, restoration of power generation, or anything anomaly-related.

I kept thinking about usability, so after I entered I kept tweaking it. I re-keyed all the rooms so that rooms on opposite corners are in the same row as each other in the key. This might be useful if I made an interactive version, because it would aid memory if you rotated the map.

Finally, I wanted a way to communicate the “wrapping” nature of the map. Without making it interactive, animating it seemed to be the way to go. Ultimately I think it hurt the usability too much, but it was an interesting experiment.

Anyway, Playscii is fun and if you’ve got a bit of time today, you can still get your entry into the game jam. Good luck!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Crisis on Christmas Prime!

Last year I put together a little seasonal Troika! supplement and put it up for free on This year I’ve reworked the whole thing, and I made it pay-what-you-want. Briefly, it has eighteen backgrounds, six spells, twelve adversaries, miscellaneous tables, and a sketch of the land of Arctica. It’s 48 pages of A5, all black-and-white.

Please don’t let the pay-what-you-want feature discourage you from downloading it. If you like, consider it my gift to you. Some people last year had difficulty with the interface, so there’s a copy here also.

It’s been a long, weird year, and I hope that this brings you some joy.