Tuesday, December 14, 2021

A Pair of Failed Careers

Into the Odd is my one-shot game of choice. It has just enough of everything. Just enough mechanics, just enough character, just enough world. I understand where Electric Bastionland is coming from, but it's always seemed like the "just a little too much" counterpart for my purposes. That said, the Failed Careers are elegant little thought-forms, similar to Troika! backgrounds, and I had some fun putting these two on paper. With some quick wombo.art (I'm a little meh on it, but it works), they're ready to go.


You took things places.

Sample Names
Major, Fries, Tate, Owney

You Get
Uniform, Letter Opener (d6, concealable)

CashWhat stopped you?
£1Snow. Take a heavy down coat (Armor 1, Bulky).
£2Rain. Take rubberized boots.
£3Heat. Take a light metal water bottle.
£4Gloom of night. Take a lantern.
£5Forgery. Take a jeweler's loupe.
£6Honor. Take one letter, unopened, undeliverable.
HPWhat were you good at?
1First-class mail. Test Wil to turn dogs.
2Special deliveries. Take one bicycle. You can outrace anyone on a paved street, but cannot stop or notice anything along the way.
3Packaging. Never break a fragile object.
4Routing. For any address know the name of someone who has lived there or lives there now.
5Labelling. Immediately and accurately know the weight of anything held in one hand.
6Paper routes. Always know this morning's headlines.

If you are the youngest player,
the whole group is 10k in debt to the vagrant's HOA. You technically can't sleep on the streets.


If you don't set small fires, the big ones will rage uncontrollably.

Sample Names
Morgan, Smollex, Danver, Kangg

You Get
Shovel, Hatchet (d6)

CashHow'd you get out of the game?
£1Deregulation. Take a directory of your competitors (d6).
£2Technical arson. Take an expired license.
£3Backdraft. Take no hair.
£4Antidrought. It is still raining when the game starts, wherever you were licensed.
£5Aggressive noncompete. Other crews will not talk to you.
£6Burncrew mutiny. Take one gilt-edged page from a holy book, a hole burned thru the center.
HPHow did you start fires?
1Flamethrower. Take one (d6, Blast, Bulky).
2Ritual duel. Take one flint sword (d8, sparks against steel).
3Pyrokinesis. Test Wil to ignite any dry material, once/day.
4Advanced optics. Take one magnifying glass.
5Alchemy. Take three firebombs (d6 Damage each round until extinguished).
6The old-fashioned way. Take one fancy lighter. You can do tricks with it.

If you are the youngest player,
the whole group is 10k in debt to Hurly & Sons Insurance Insurance Insurance. Collateral damage incurred is not added to your debt.

Monday, November 29, 2021

A Peek Behind the Curtain

I put Crisis on Christmas on itch.io on 25 Dec 2019 for free, where it has since been downloaded 375 times. On 15 Dec 2020 I significantly revamped the material and, as an experiment, changed it to PWYW. (Although as before, an unmonitored free download was always linked from here, after some early complaints about getting downloads from itch to work.) Since then, 11 people have opted to pay a total of $31 (which warms my heart).

From 5 March to 31 March this year (2021), Crisis on Christmas was part of the Independent Troika Creator Bundle. I do not know how much information it is appropriate to share about the numbers behind that, but it contributes $8.88 of revenue. These sales are accounted for as a separate product by itch.

As easy as it is to put things on itch, getting your money back out can be complicated. You will have to choose one of two payment modes: direct or payouts. In direct mode the money goes straight to you, but you are responsible for record-keeping, taxes, chargebacks, etc. In payout mode itch handles all of the overhead. Itch recommends payout mode, and I use payout mode, and despite the complications, I would still also recommend it.

Upon selecting payout mode, you will need to complete a one-time tax interview process (it's just an online form) and identity check. This costs $3, which appears as a debit on your itch account (not as an up-front cost).

Seven days after a payment is completed, it becomes available to you as a payout. Payouts are delivered either through PayPal or Payoneer (I use PayPal and so cannot comment on Payoneer). PayPal takes a fee from the payout, which in the US appears to be a flat $0.25. (The "payout fee" is distinct from the payment processor fee, which I think is the fee charged for the initial purchase.) I think this may have changed between my first and second payouts, as the fee is not present on the first one.

While requesting payouts less frequently will minimize these fees, leaving earnings in your itch account for longer than a year will result in itch charging a monthly 10% maintenance fee on the balance. However, at least when I started writing this, it is not possible to initiate a payout on an amount less than $5. This meant I awkwardly had $3-4 sitting in my account for a long time, and because of the seasonal (and low-volume) nature of my project, could not access it.

Because I hadn't requested any payouts during the 2020 tax year, I didn't receive any tax documents for it. Itch did not automatically withhold any taxes for me, so I expect I will have to pay taxes on what remains this year. Given the US dedication to the worst possible tax system, I have no idea what that may come to, but I'll estimate local tax at 5% (arbitrarily) and federal tax at 20% of the remainder (also arbitrarily). Since both these numbers are entirely made up, I don't think the error introduced by calling it 25% is significant.

Itch lets you configure what percentage of revenue you want to share with them for their services. The default is 10% of gross revenue, which sounded fine to me, so I left it.

We can also consider the other costs of the project: a font a liked a lot ($10), and an old Dover clipart book, purchased c. 2000 (maybe $4?). If we don't value my time at all (my friend insists this is what makes a "real game developer"), that's $14.

$39.88gross revenue
-$4.65payment processor fees
-$3.97itch revenue share
-$3.00identity verification
-$0.25payout fee
-$7taxes (estimated)

As bit of fun, I have no regrets about the project, and I remain unreasonably proud of it. There's a lot I could have done to try maximizing profits that just doesn't appeal to me, so this is not a perfect look into "the business," but I hope a little light on such an intricate and hidden part of the hobby might be instructive to others.

Best wishes to you and yours going into this holiday season, and if you haven't had a chance, I'd love for you to check out Crisis on Christmas. If you like it, maybe even leave a tip

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 itch.io. 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