Published on 7/29/2014 Written by 2 comments

An In-depth and Objective Review of D&D 5E (from a guy who hasn't read it)

The Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been out for a few weeks now and the interwebs are flooded with plenty of reviews and evaluations. Rule of the Dice has been conspicuously absent on mentioning the latest incarnation of our favourite pastime's flagship (except for my prophetic post 3 years ago) for a few very good reasons:

1. Splatter-Elf is way cooler
2. I'm awful at writing reviews
3. I haven't read it

Terrible, right? I mean, the basic rules are free, and the Starter Set is available for under 20 bucks, so what's my excuse? I could give you a list, but instead I'll just blame climate change. Or maybe fracking. According to my Facebook feed, those are the root cause of all the problems in the world today.

So without further ado, I'm going to buckle down and share with you my very carefully-thought-out and entirely scientific breakdown of what we've seen so far in 5th Edition (or as I like to call it, the "Grognard-Bearded-Bastard-Spawn of 4th Edition.")

The first major change to note is the new and rather extensive step during character creation between generating your attributes and rolling your hit points: Deciding your character's gender identity, sexual orientation and predilection toward "catching" or "pitching." These new and refreshingly-detailed tables and charts may or may not have been inspired by certain rules from F.A.T.A.L., but since the last time I opened that book dark ominous clouds began to gather in the sky behind me, I refuse to examine it again even in the interest of research and fact-checking.

The biggest controversy surrounding this progressive and free-thinking (if expansive) addition to the rule set is that the Wizards (of Wizards of the Coast fame) apparently developed this multi-chapter section of the book through in-depth conversation with a known degenerate and excommunicated pariah of the gaming community. Personally I enjoy his blog and his work, but what do I know? I'm the guy who's a month late writing a review of 5E, so my opinion matters about as much as a pimply 14-year who's buying D&D for the first time and running home to play it with his cousin and friends and is obviously going to play it wrong because he doesn't have four decades of history and background to do it the proper and correct way.

(In case you were wondering, the consultant I'm referring to is Robin D. Laws. He's obviously a deviant because he's Canadian, and f*ck those guys.)

Moving along, I realize more and more that the "video gamification" that plagued 4th Edition is much, much worse in this new iteration. Sure, in 4E we had to contend with the WoW-style "tanks, DPS and healers" bullshit that made every single ranger look exactly the same despite several hundred possible options (any MMORPGer will tell you there's a "right" way to play), but the core problem that has plagued every video game released in the last 10 years has now crept into our pen-and-paper games as well: The release of knowingly-bug-infested content that REQUIRES patches straight out the box in order to play it properly.

The Wizards spent two years in open beta testing, and yet they're rolling out an incomplete game that crashes left, right and sideways. It constantly references things that don't exist yet, has a hard cap to your progression (once you hit level five the game just completely falls apart and you have to start over) and it doesn't really even have monsters in it! In order to really get anything out of this game you have to roll up lots of clerics and rogues and have them fight each other, Mortal Kombat-style! (Again, totally video-gamificating the genre).

The platform is so bad that The Wizards are already planning THREE ENTIRE BOOKS of errata over the next few months. Apparently while the first book fixes some of the glitches, it creates even more inconsistencies and discrepancies that requires yet another $50 hardcover of errata, which in turn will create more bugs and the cycle just continues. If this is The Wizards' new marketing campaign and product plan, give me back the stupid $10-a-month character generator from 4E. Or maybe I'll go play Magic: The Gathering.

(Holy shit, maybe that was their plan all along...)

Speaking of the Wizards' money-grubbing ploys to scam you of your hard-earned cash, one of the most-lauded changes to the rules is the "Advantage/Disadvantage" mechanic where you roll TWO twenty-sided dice and take the higher or lower depending on the situation. Unfortunately this is quite simply a horrible and mean-spirited addition to the game. Don't get me wrong, I love rolling as many D-twennies as humanly possible just as much as the next guy (which I'm sure is what they claim is the purpose behind this rule), but did anyone else notice how many d20's actually come in the Starter Set box?


One f*cking d20, when every other page tells you to roll two.

While this is obviously a deplorable cash grab, many of you will argue that you have literal shit-tons of dice (a shit-ton being exactly 1077.5 kilograms) so finding an extra one to roll is not a problem. But I'm not talking to you dirty old grognards who have enough Doritos-dusted polyhedrons to use as the foundation for a house (I won't front - I'm just as guilty of dice hoarding, and most of them taste like Zesty Taco), I'm talking about that pimply-faced 14-year-old kid I mentioned earlier. You know, the new player, to whom a "starter set" is ostensibly directed? This kid will probably only have the dice that comes with the box, ergo, he will be missing the tools required to use one of the coolest features.

This is the face of a kid with but a single d20.

What do you do? Ignore the Advantage/Disadvantage rule? I suspect it will continue to grow in importance with each successive release of errata. Buy more dice? Maybe, but if my parents just shilled out twenty bucks for a box full of nerdy dragon stuff, I wouldn't be asking them for any more money (well, maybe I would, but I'd feel bad about it). Does he just roll the d20 twice? That would be shameful, because all of his friends are going to see him doing it, and they're going to know that his family can't afford to buy him a second d20, and he's going to know that they know, and even if it doesn't devolve into violent harassment and cyber-bullying (we know it will), the kid will still feel like shit and require months, if not years of therapy in their early thirties in order to deal with the residual feelings of inadequacy.

And all because WotC wouldn't spring for an extra goddamn d20 in their starter box.

This is the face of a kid who's going to end up in rehab some day, and it's all Mike Mearls' fault.

Speaking of the box, why is there so much Chinese air in it? I mean, the box itself is pretty substantial, but there's only a couple of thin booklets and a few sheets of paper in there, so why such a large box? Was this a conscious choice on the part of the Wizards, or did someone in the print shop overseas "accidentally" make the box larger in order to fit as much "air" in there as possible. Did it smell funny to anyone when they opened it? Has anyone sent a copy to the CDC, just in case? I mean, they will probably just end up playing it in the break room on their lunch (you know those eggheads are into this shit), but maybe they could check it out. You know, just in case.

I could go on, about how the Wizards are shunning their devoted 4E gamers (all 11 of them) in an attempt to win back the nihilistic and cynical grognards that are just going to house-rule the shit out of it if they play it at all, or how the book was laid out by Phoenican typesetters (page numbers on the wrong side? What kind of heathen barbarian would do that?), or how they are insidiously sneaking some new-age, new-school extrinsic rewards systems into the ancient and rotting OCD-riddled infrastructure of D&D, but I should probably quit now and get around to actually reading the damn thing. Are there gnomes in this one? Assassins? Man, I hope they brought back the original rules for making a bard.

Stay tuned for Part 2! In about 4-6 months.

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Published on 7/28/2014 Written by 2 comments

We All Know 'That Guy'

Definitely NOT him.
In every gaming group, it's good to have "that guy".  I guess I should be more specific:  Not THAT guy, but *that* guy.  All clear now, right? And just for the record, I'm using "guy" as a generic term, girls are awesome too.

I'll elaborate.  You need that one person who is super confident, has some great creativity, and/or will just do what needs to be done to make the adventure great.
More like him.

In our RPG group that person changes depending on what RPG we're playing, but an excellent example stands out in my mind from our last play test of Splatter-Elf. I'll be honest, I didn't have the time to properly prepare for the adventure. Another player was joining us for the first time ever. Without the third, the "that guy", the GM would have had a tough time getting the mood of the game set.
This one player came in with a custom character built, a background created, and a play style decided upon.  From his first introduction in the tavern he helped us get in to the twisted world of splatter elf.  Splatter-Elf (lots and lots of info on this blog!) happens in a very dark and disturbing world.  This player found the line not to cross, then took 42 steps over it.  His descriptions of his spells violating the other player characters were awful in a great way, and helped encourage the new player in the group to relax and be just as silly and disgusting as the rest of us.

A different situation is a game that I GM'd in a Play by E-Mail situation. A recap of this are here and here.  Unfortunately when we chose to play Battle Star Galactica, the players neglected to mention that most of them had never seen the show and knew next to nothing about the setting.  Luckily for me C.D., who also writes for this blog, jumped in with both feet and hit the ground running.  He (possibly unintentionally) helped me to build the tension and setting of the ship limping along under constant threats from the Cylons.  He guided the other players in to the mindset of lying when necessary to cover your own ass, and keeping secrets.  In the end I think the game went very well, but without C.D. being "that guy," I don't know that it would have been nearly as good.
I didn't have enough witty pictures to go with this post,
so here's a picture of a Catstronaut.
We've all played with an "Alpha Player" who railroads a game and takes the fun away from the others, and it is great to avoid this.  However you still need at least one person to step up to the plate and take on a bit of the story creation to help the GM, or to get way in to the theme and help expand the world, or just to be a total goof and put the other player's at ease.  I hope that at least some of the time, that's me.
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Published on 7/22/2014 Written by 0 comments

Splatterday Night's Alright For Fighting (Splatter-Elf Playtest #4)

Splatterday Night was an illustrious moment in the history of Splatter-Elf the RPG. For the first time ever, the Godfather of Splat himself, Philip Overby, joined us live via satellite from Yokohama, Japan to sit in on a play-test session of the game. We hoped to learn great things from the man who coined the term "Splatter-Elf" and basically invented the genre, but sadly the biggest thing we learned is that Google Hangouts hates people that live in Japan.

(Your hear that, Google? I hope one of your bots scans that and you fix your stupid software.)

Anyway, after an hour of fiddling with Google+... and Roll20... and Skype, we eventually got a usable work-around and we were off and running! This time around we had a dwarf Sanguine Sorcerer (note: he was a "midget" human, not a dwarf-dwarf - an important distinction that he loved to remind everyone about), a Hunter-Killer (a new build, basically a ranger/brigand) and Mr Overby played a Bloodlust Berserker with a ventriloquist dummy (actually the skeleton of a goblin) he called "Rodney." The Nefarious Cutthroat from session 2 nearly joined us as well, but was called away during our 60-minute attempt to log into fucking Google.

The good news is that all that frigging around really got everyone in the right frame of mind for Splatter-Elf; grumpy, impatient, irritated and homicidally enraged (isn't that everyone's reaction to Google Hangouts?) The group plowed through the first part of the adventure, cutting through the legwork/exploration part in record time, ignoring all side encounters, red herrings and potential combat situations like it was no thing. I'm coming to realize that a) I'm either really bad at building scene-driven, plot-based adventures or b) my players are really good at seeing through my ruses and once they get the adventure hook they hold onto it like a 500-pound catfish.

After roughing up some townsfolk, making a deal with a whore that involved attaching a giant magical leech to the midget's testicles, and stealing the inkeeper's glasses for the Berserker's near-sighted bone puppet, the group had all the clues they needed to find the lost treasure (the treasure of course being the wizard's goods that the last group failed to capture during the previous session). Because they had burned through the bulk of my adventure so quickly, I had to throw the standard Splatter-Elf go-to encounter at them: murderous lepers. It's a good practice encounter for those who are new at the game because it gives a taste of combat without being too dangerous, plus it gives plenty of opportunity to build up some Blood Points to use in the tougher encounters to come.
Olly Draftmaker - the First Ever player-created character
for Splatter-Elf.

The group found the treasure, only to be attacked by a giant demonic beaver (the wizard's guardian, which also survived the last session and escaped) and its pet undead cow. The group survived, though barely... it was a close call. The berserker survived being crushed by a flying cow by a hair (and a very lucky roll) and in the end they only won because the dwarf blood mage got off a fortuitous spell that stunned the beaver long enough for them to put it down.

Overall a pretty successful night. The guys seemed to enjoy it (though Philip was actually hoping his dude was going to die spectacularly). The most fun (and horrified guffaws of uncomfortable laughter) came from one of the players' jaw-dropping descriptions of his character's actions. A major rule I've added to Splatter-Elf since the first roll-out is that the players have to describe the effects of their attacks. I simply say you inflict a "minor wound" or a "severe wound," and the player has to come up with what it looks like. Where do you hit the enemy? With what kind of weapon/action? As long as it falls into the proper categories of minor/major/severe/dead, and the description entertains the game master and other players, the player gets Blood Points that he can use to fuel more powers and special attacks down the line.

The dwarf Blood Mage's descriptions were horrifying, disturbing and hilarious. Philip described it best, likening it to Cards Against Humanity: the stuff he was saying was so terrible, inappropriate and disturbing, the only response to it was to laugh (well, either that or log off immediately and unfriend him on Facebook.) For example, one of his spells, "Steal Vigor," steals hit points from an enemy and heals an ally. The spell description describes something about a black mist being drawn magically from the victim, that then forces itself into the ally and is described as horrifying to witness. The player took this several steps beyond that, explaining - in detail - exactly what shape that "black mist" took, exactly how it "penetrated" the other player (repeatedly) and exactly how that made the character feel (as well as throwing in the resulting body functions it triggered for good measure).

Yeah, this ain't a game you play with your little sister.

But that's what I'm trying to do. I don't want it to simply be an extra-weird and creepy version of Dungeons and Dragons. Nor do I really want it possible to play a watered-down version of Splatter-Elf that simply becomes Dungones & Dragons. I want the weirdness and the horror and the sense of humour to somehow be intrinsically tied into the rules so you can't separate the two.

I also learned a few technical things that need to be fixed, like the ratio of attack vs defence bonuses (everyone misses way too much) as well as the Blood Powers still need tweaking. The Blood Mage works great, but non-mages also need something to make them equally fun to play.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time when the Berserker turns the dwarf mage into his new ventriloquist dummy as payment for "healing" him.

This is the face of Splatter-Elf.

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Published on 7/21/2014 Written by 8 comments

Board Games are Too Popular

With internet shows like @TableTop and websites like Boargamegeek, tabletop gaming has had a huge resurgence in the last few years.  
Damn you Wheaton!!!
Game publishers are jumping on this to try to capitalize while the market is hot, and so there are a plethora of new games released in a constant stream these days.  On top of that, funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and easy distribution through places like DriveThruCards are allowing more and more amateur game designers to get their work made and distributed.  So this is all great, right?

That's a LOT of shitty games.
Well, not really.  As with anything in life, board games run the full spectrum of awesome to terrible.  And in this spectrum, there is the typical bell curve of distribution.  So based on that, only 4% of the games released will be awesome.  Some 7% will be really good.  Another 12% will be Ok.  The rest are going to suck.  So this means 77% of the games coming out are between "terrible" and  "maybe I'll play it once just to try". 

My FLGS doesn't have
this kind of room...
The other effect of having so many games on the market, is that it tends to drive the prices up. Game stores have to keep a wider variety in stock, which raises their overhead.  It also crowds their storage leaving less room to keep more copies of the really good games on hand.

So, how can we try to sift through the mess to find the real gems?  The first answer unfortunately throws some of us under the bus.  It's to simply let some people buy the new game, give it a try, and then let the rest of us know how it was.  This happens all the time, at game get-togethers, on game review sites, and in the general way gamers constantly interact with each other. The problem with this is that someone has still wasted their time and presumably hard-earned cash to find out a game is bad.

One of the areas of blame above is also one of the solutions.  Crowd funding has become a mainstream thing, and it's here to stay.  Using sites like Kickstarter gives us gamers a way to choose if we think a game will be great, and reach a general consensus before we've plunked down our cash.  In order for a game to get funded in a situation like that, it has to pass a few hurdles that help weed out the bad ones.  First the designer has to have made a clear, concise, and coherent explanation of the concept and rules.  If I can't figure out how to play from their 5 minute video, I'm not going to buy in.  Next, the prototype they are working off of has to look good.  With only a dozen or so pictures, I have to get excited enough to want to have that game in my hands.  Finally, they have to convince enough of us to want to have it that their funding goal is reached.  If not enough money is raised, they don't get any of it.

In a recent  twitter chat (Monday's at 2pm EST) when  @the_FlyingSheep  suggested there should be a stock market for gamers to choose which games and companies to invest in.  I pointed out that this already happens via crowd-funding sites.

Hopefully this one lives up to the hype when it arrives at my door.

Out of all the games I've bought so far, both retail and crowd-funded, I'd say I'm at about 90% for picking games I like and have played more that 3 times.  So far I'm ahead of the curve.  How do you pick what games to buy?  Pretty packaging?  Good reviews?  Eenie-meenie-minie?
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Published on 7/15/2014 Written by 0 comments

History of Splatter-Elf: The Grumblesnatch Wars

In case you're new here (in which case, welcome aboard!), Splatter-Elf is a "Grimmer-than-Grimdark" table-top RPG game I'm pulling out of my butt based almost entirely on this post by Philip Overby. I've been going on about it for months. More detail about The Grumblesnatch is available at the Splatter-Elf Blog.

If you're not new here and you're fed up about me going on about Splatter-Elf for months, I'm not going to apologize because you probably haven't read this far anyway. 

FIRST GRUMBLESNATCH WAR (c. 1000 years ago)

It all began innocuously enough. Tales began began to drift into the cities of the Inner Baronies of increased grumble activity in the more remote regions of Groteskia. It was hardly newsworthy; Grumbles always attack and burn down farms and villages and besiege travelers on the roads. That's what grumbles, farms and travelers are for. But as the weeks passed and the rural townships raised militia to fight off the invaders, the stories began to whisper that the grumbles were getting bigger, and stronger, and smarter. The lords and barons of the rural lands begged the cities for help, and the more civilized populace politely ignored them and went about their business.

Soon armies of full-sized grumblesnatches were pouring into the forests of the taur-en-nuru elves, and the elves were pissed. They met the evolved grumbles head-on, and quickly the forests were rocked by pitched, bloody battles of horrific proportions. No matter how hard the splatter-elves fought, the grumblesnatches just seemed to keep multiplying and getting stronger and bigger. Soon the hobsnatches appeared, and the elves were overrun, and the Grumblesnatch War suddenly came to the doorstep of the Inner Baronies.

Finally waking up and saying "Oh shit, this might be a problem," the kings and barons and other hoity-toity rich people of the cities did the only thing they knew how to make the trouble go away: They spent money. Untold fortunes were used to hire all the best and most legendary warriors Groteskia has ever seen (and more than a few of the least notable - anyone stupid enough to pick up a sword, really) to try and hunt down and destroy the source of the grumblesnatch infestation. Though it took quite some time (and the deaths of countless would be "heroes"), eventually the Hives were identified and wiped out, the Brood Mothers destroyed. The grumble hoard was finally turned back, and the world returned to its usual ebb and flow of treachery, wandering monsters and slightly-less-world-threatening wars.

Image Copyright 2014 Philip Overby. No one else would take responsibility for it anyway.

Long after the First War passed into legend, the grumbles began appearing again in worrying numbers. Vaguely remembering the results of the last war (but not, unfortunately, how they won it) the peoples of Groteskia joined forces and met the threat head-on, trying to wipe out the plague before it could spread.

They only succeeded in making the grumbles angry. And you don't like the grumbles when they're angry.

Threatened by such immense force and resistance, the grumblesnatches began breeding and multiplying at a terrible rate. Brood Mothers and Hives cropped up all over the world, and the creatures were evolving so fast that in just a few months the previously unseen (and pants-shittingly terrifying) grumblebeetles began appearing.

On the verge of world-wide genocide, the peoples of Groteskia finally got their shit together and someone thought to open a history book to look up how the grumbles were defeated last time. With the combined effort of the splatter-elves, dump dwarves, uffs, northern berserkers, trolls, giants, rat people and anyone else who could pick up a weapon, eventually the Hives were all hunted down and destroyed, but the process took many long, bloody years.

The repercussions of the Second War are still felt today. The land is dotted with the ruins of destroyed kingdoms, castles and towns. The splatter-elves, who were nearly driven extinct, blame pretty much everyone else for their plight and hate every other intelligent creature in the world. The only bright spot from an otherwise dark point in history is that at least this time, people remembered and prepared for the next time...

THIRD GRUMBLESNATCH WAR (50 to 20 years ago)

There are many still alive today who personally lived through the Third War, and so both the successes and spectacular failures of that era still live fresh in the minds of those who experienced it.

When the grumbles started appearing five decades ago, the people of Groteskia didn't rush headlong to try and destroy them. Learning from past mistakes they carefully and systematically culled the herds to keep the numbers in check without sparking their inevitable rapid multiplication and evolution. This went on for years, but as the kingdoms and empires learned how to deal with and live alongside the constant potential risk of annihilation, a few enterprising individuals began to ponder how the threat of mass destruction could be used to their political and financial gain...

Certain nations began to threaten their neighbours that unless they paid them tribute and fealty, they would "poke the nest with a stick" and unleash the grumblesnatch plague. Soon this idea caught on and threats were flying back and forth across the land, as was a rapid stockpiling of weapons and the marshaling of forces in case someone was foolish enough to actually provoke the grumbles into a full-fledged war.

Tensions rose slowly for decades, until a few small baronies actually did start prodding the grumbles for fear that their threats weren't being taken seriously enough. It looked like the world would be plunged into another devastating conflict, even though the land had not fully recovered from the last one.

Having had enough and facing the Eve of Destruction, a small alliance of kingdoms pooled their resources and hired The Jasper Rat of Schetzera to disintegrate the main Grumblesnatch Hive with a tiny black hole, instantly ending thirty years of armed standoff. The kingdoms of Groteskia grudgingly lowered their weapons and went back to their own business...

...except many believe the war never truly ended. Rumours persist that other, smaller Hives still exist throughout the land. It is said that some nations still use the threat of the grumbles to bully their neighbours, except these threats are now made quietly, and no one dares openly reveal the truth for fear of causing another world-wide arms race. It is believed that some soulless individuals are actually encouraging the grumbles to breed quietly secret, and providing them with weapons and armor while they build their numbers in secret.

But surely such stories are merely the tales of town drunks and cloistered conspiracy theorists, aren't they?


Full details on the society and ecology of the Grumblesnatch appeared at Philip Overby's Splatter-Elf Blog last week, but for those following at home here are the game statistics to go along with it.

Small, nasty creatures often mistaken for goblins, grumbles are dangerous in large numbers. They love to fight from ambush and when facing tough foes will set up traps to pick off one or two foes at a time before retreating and setting up another ambush.

Wounds: Minor 1, Major 2, Dead 3
Movement: 30' (6 squares)
Hacking +2, Hurling +3, Guard +2, Guts +1, Aegis +1
Attacks: By weapon, usually a spear, sword or sling
Skills: Bushwhacker, Skullduggery
Abilities: Gangbang - Grumbles prefer to overwhelm their opponents and drag them down. One of the group is chosen as the main attacker, and for each ally helping the primary attacker he gains a +1 bonus to his Hacking roll. On a hit, the victim suffers one damage, is knocked prone, and cannot use his shield until he fights his way out. Up to 6 grumbles may gang up on a single man-sized creature.
Weaknesses: Grumbles hate sunlight and lights brighter than a torch or lantern. They will usually flee or avoid bright lights where possible, and if forced to fight in light they suffer a -3 penalty to their rolls.

Full-sized, mature grumblesnatches are fearsome opponents. The deadly on the battle field, they prefer to set traps and ambushes for their prey.

Wounds: Minor 2, Major 3, Severe 4, Dead 5
Movement: 30' (6 squares)
Hacking +3, Hurling +3, Guard +4, Guts +2, Aegis +2
Attacks: By weapon, usually a spear, sword or sling, though specialists may carry a bow or firearm
Skills: Bushwhacker
Weakness: Grumblesnatches dislike bright lights and will not go out in sunlight, though they are not as weak against it as Grumbles. If forced to fight in bright light they suffer a -1 penalty to their rolls.

Hobsnatches are the lieutenants and shock troops of the grumblesnatch army. They are far more intelligent, can learn other languages and are adept at military strategy. They are also more closely connected to the Hive Mind and can receive direct telepathic communication from the Queen, and can rely complciated telepathic commands to grumbles and grumblesnatches.

Wounds: Minor 2, Major 4, Severe 6, Dead 8
Movement: 30' (6 squares)
Hacking +5, Hurling +4, Guard +6, Guts +4, Aegis +3
Attacks: By weapon, usually a spear or sword, PLUS a bite for 1 wound damage. They also usually carry a bow or firearm.
Skills: Acuity, Bushwhacker
Abilities: Leadership - Other Grumbles and Grumblesnatches gain +1 to their Hacking and Hurling rolls when fighting alongside a Hobsnatch.

Flying, 300-pound insectoid monstrosities, grumblebeetles are terrifying to behold. They can project their insectoid thoughts into the minds of enemies, driving them temporarily insane. They are also telekinetic and pyrokinetic. Grumblebeetles have full telephatic two-way communication with the Brood Mother at any distance.

Wounds: Minor 3, Major 6, Severe 9, Dead 12
Movement: 10' (2 squares) or 35' (7 squares) flying
Hacking +7, Hexing +6, Guard +8, Guts +7, Aegis +5
Attacks: 4 hits (4 damage bite or 2 damage bite + 2 claw attacks)
Skills: Acuity +2
Abilities: Telekinisis - Grumblebeetles may lift up to 50 pounds of inanimate material withing 50 feet; Pyrokinesis - May create fire bursts equivalent to Belching Paroxysm of Searing Hell-Flame up to 2/day); Mind Blast - Cause fear and madness in 1 target within 50 feet with a Hexing attack that lasts 1-6 rounds, may only affect 1 target at a time; Insectoid Mind - Immune to mind-affecting attacks such as fear, charm, sleep, illusions, etc.

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Published on 7/11/2014 Written by 0 comments

Splatter-Elf Play Report #3: Hail to the Beef

The first group finally made it to the end of the first Splatter-Elf adventure, and it was glorious.

Whether or not the rules or the game system worked (more on that later), I have to say this was the most fun I've had running a game in a long time. Everything moved at a reasonable pace, everyone clicked and seemed to have fun, and there was plenty of goofy weirdness that I always see as a staple of a good game.

We had the same Soldier of Slaughter and Uff from the previous session, though our Cutthroat player was replaced by a different guy running a Detritus Dwarf. It took him a few minutes to understand why he carried around a giant sack of garbage and filth like an insane hobo, but he was eventually cool with it.

Some wild fighting took place as the players tried every trick they could come up to gain an advantage in a fight with a group of pistol-wielding cattle rustlers. After much swearing and threatening and climbing through windows and hiding behind doors and throwing hunks of rotted meat (seriously), they eventually used several startled cows as a distraction to finally turn the tide of battle. Well, actually they forced the cows into the dining room and kept attacking them until they panicked and started trashing the place. Had they just used those attacks against the enemies the combat probably would have ended much quicker, but it wouldn't have been nearly so fun.

I then led the players through some stereotypical over-the-top magical traps that would have dissolved their flesh or exploded their eyeballs, but being seasoned players they wouldn't take the bait and managed to bypass everything pretty much unscathed. It's amazing the stupid things they will attempt in combat, but they shy away from fun-looking traps like virgin handmaidens.

They also actually bypassed the guardian monster and the Indiana-Jones-style obstacle course of death masterfully. Both were meant to not necessarily kill the characters but to wear them down before meeting the evil wizard, but they managed to get past both with some cunning plans, careful attention to detail (remembering some hints I dropped previously) and sheer dumb luck. We laughed at the dwarf for dragging that damn cow the whole way through the wizard's dungeon, but in the end the friggin' cow turned out to be the most valuable member of the party.

Seriously. The cow was more useful than all of us put together.
The final battle with the wizard was supposed to be a quick affair. You know how it goes in these cases: If the wizard gets off a spell or two the players are fucked, but in a straight up fight he can't compete against several armed opponents. What I'm saying is that it should go quick, one way or the other.

Instead it dragged on for a friggin' hour. The wizard didn't have a high defence or much health, but they just couldn't roll a hit to save their lives (literally). The wizard wasn't hitting his kill spells, and was only whittling down the players a few points at a time. It took so long to eventually put him down that the distracted guardian monster came back, and the players did not have the stamina or the resources (both in character and in real life) to deal with it. The Uff desperately drank an unmarked potion hoping it would do something useful. It was poison and he died. The Soldier went down swinging like a putz right after missing with his super-duper Blood Power.

And then the fucking dwarf ran away with the magic axe that could kill the monster.

They probably could have survived had they played a little differently. The dwarf in particular had a special ability that made him immune to damage for a short time, which he could have used to protect himself while hacking the monster with the axe. They certainly would have fared better if the dice hadn't kept falling against them. But such is the way of Splatter-Elf: Live fast and die hard.

Best part? We nailed rule #10 from Philip Overby's original Splatter-Elf manifesto: At least 67% of the characters have to die!


I'm still pondering some of the implications of the rules. Some of the battles went a bit long and felt tedious. At first I thought it may have been because of the of the system: The players weren't hitting a lot and when they did they weren't doing a lot of damage.

This begs the questions, "Should I increase their hit bonuses? Decrease the monsters' defences? Increase the damage per attack?" The more I think about it though, the more I realize that our problem may not have been the rules but instead the party composition. We had two "tanks" (I apologize to my OSR readers for the terminology) and one striker. Of COURSE our group tended on the defensive side. The Soldier had a counter-attack ability, and the Dwarf had the aforementioned damage resistance. Both had very high defences and health but did minimal damage on a hit. This is a prime setup for slow, attrition-focused combat. Had I realized this at the time I may not have been so worried about it dragging on.

Next time I'm going to force them to play different styles of characters. Entirely for game testing purposes of course, not because I got bored or anything. ;-)

Another point that came up was around some new rules I haven't discussed here regarding Blood Points. Previously, only spellcasters had Blood Points (they were used to power their magic). Now, all characters have them, and they power special attacks or abilities that allow the characters to kill and butcher more effectively.

Players get more Blood Points for killing foes as well as describing their actions in blood-chilling detail. Basically, whenever a player hits I tell them how severe the wound is then it's up to them to describe the visual impact of the action, in whatever horrific, disturbing or slapstick way they wish. If they get a reaction out of the GM or the other players (whether cringing or laughing, preferably both), then they get a Blood Point for their effort.

Maybe the players just weren't used to the system, because it didn't come into play much. While they certainly tried their best to earn the points (the guy running the Uff took to it with particular glee), they didn't actually USE them. One of the guys told me afterward that he had misread and misunderstood the power, which is my fault for how I wrote it). I'm not sure if the powers just weren't useful, or if they didn't know how they worked or what, but it's going to take a little more testing to figure it out.

So I hope you enjoyed my play report and my thought process on the mechanics. It may seem a little scattered and random but I'm literally using this as an opportunity to figure things out as I go. As I write this down I'm realizing what works and doesn't work and why, and you folks have the good fortune of following along with me. If anyone has any suggestions, please share and point out why I'm an idiot.

For more info on Splatter-Elf as a genre, be sure to check out the new Splatter-Elf blog by Philip Overby. He's been detailing lots of weird and wacky creatures and characters that would fit beautifully into a Splatter-Elf game.
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Published on 7/08/2014 Written by 0 comments

The Dragons of Splatter-Elf

I shared some dragon statistics in the original series of Splatter-Elf posts a couple of months ago, but I have since refined a few things as well as expanded the details on the most iconic of fantasy creatures. I will freely admit that I shamelessly borrowed many elements of the dragon from a certain series by Fred Saberhagen, but it has been over 20 years since I read those books so I can't say exactly how much I stole, er, borrowed.

Eagle-eyed readers may notice that the stat block and some of the terminology has changed. The rules for Splatter-Elf have changed fairly significantly since they were originally produced (it's still very much a work in progress) and hopefully I will be able to share an updated rule set soon.

So without further ado...


(Also known as communis draconis or Iron-Scaled Swamp Dragon)

Dragons are a highly-evolved reptile predators native to many parts of the world. They are vicious, powerful and exceedingly dangerous, becoming larger and more dangerous as they age. Since dragons can live for centuries unless they meet a violent end, ancient dragons are unfathomably terrifying, unstoppable engines of mindless destruction.

Contrary to myth, dragons cannot speak and possess only animal levels of intelligence. Unfortunately for every other living thing in the world, they have an advanced, predatory instinct and insatiable urge to kill and destroy. At least as smart as any other natural predator such as tigers, wolves, hawks and dolphins, dragons differ from most animals in that they are fearless to the point of stupidity. Virtually nothing can stop or slow an angry or wounded dragon.

A dragon has a long and unusual life cycle during which it undergoes several metamorphoses, and it can appear as completely different creatures depending on the age of the specimen.


Dragons are amphibious reptiles able to survive both on land and underwater. They breed in swamps and usually prefer to remain there until they are significantly older, though they will range great distances for food and particularly old specimens can be found in unusual locales.

Very solitary and territorial, a few times during their adult life dragons will experience an undeniable urge to mate and reproduce. No one alive has actually witnessed dragon intercourse and lived to tell about it, so their mating rituals remain a mystery. Shortly after the event the bull dragon abandons the bitch, who lays the fertilized eggs in a secluded swamp. She then abandons the eggs as well and the hatchlings are left to fend for themselves.


Dragons are omnivores, though they prefer meat to other foods. While they will scavenge if necessary and eat rotting carcasses and carrion, they prefer to chase down living, fleeing prey that puts up a bit of a fight.

They are a mystery to sages because by all study and observation they should be cold-blooded like most reptiles, however their ability to breathe fire generates an internal heat that can be used to warm themselves.

The blood of dragons is poisonous, flammable and acidic, and becomes more potent as they age. Weapons used to wound a dragon will corrode quickly if not cleaned immediately, and the place where a dragon dies becomes poisoned and barren as their blood seeps into the soil. Nothing will grow in such places for many years.

Dragons have thick scales that grow harder as they age. At birth they are bright green, but they darken to a blackish-mossy green in maturity, and to a near-onyx in most older varieties. Their scales are highly resistance to damage and attack, and very good at regulating at regulating body heat thanks to their resistance to heat and cold. It is for this reason that dragon hide is very prized by armorers.


A mature dragon bitch will lay a clutch of a hundred or more fertilized eggs in a secluded, swampy area of standing water. A dragon bitch will lay no more than two or three clutches during her lifetime each no less than five years apart, and will abandon the eggs almost immediately.  Many of the eggs will be eaten by fish, birds and other predators, though approximately half will survive to hatch about two weeks later.

A freshly-hatched dragon appears as a tiny, bright-green frog-like creature. Its teeth, claws and tail will grow in within a few days, at which point the fresh hatchlings will immediately turn on each other, fighting for food and spurned on by simple mindless aggression. Within a few days, no more than 6 to 12 of the strongest hatchlings will remain, each about the size of a house cat. These creatures will then go off on their own to hunt and grow, finding their own prey and territory a good distance away from each other. Dragons of any size and age (with a few exceptions, see below) are psychotically territorial and will attack others of its kind on sight.

Not applicable.


A young dragon grows quickly, reaching about four feet long within its first year. It will feed on fish, birds and anything else it can get its claws and teeth on, even small alligators. It continues to live in swamps, bogs and other wetlands. Though it is dangerous at this stage, an immature dragon does not pose a major threat to the well-armed humans who actively and aggressively hunt dragons of this age for sport. Killing a dragon - even a young, small one - is a mark of honour and a huge bragging right for men of most cultures.

Between two and three years of age, the dragon reaches six feet long, plus another three-to-four feet of tail. Its legs grow quite powerful, allowing it to move frighteningly fast both in the water and on the land. When hunting and fighting it will often stand on its hind legs, leaving its front claws and teeth free to slash and tear. On two legs it can easily run down an average human or elf.

Occasionally, small groups of young dragons remain together from birth and learn to hunt in packs. Sages are uncertain why only some dragons learn to do this, though they are thankful for it. A pack of feral dragonspawn have the cunning and tactical strategy of wolves, though are exponentially more dangerous due to their size, ferocity and ability to survive all but the most vicious opponents.

Eventually the pack will break up as the dragons age or are killed off. There have been no known instances of dragon pack mentality beyond this life cycle stage.

Wounds: Minor 3, Major 6, Severe 9, Dead 12
Movement: 40' (8 squares)
Hacking +6, Guard +6, Guts +6, Aegis +5
Attacks: 3 hits (one big bite or 2 claws + 1 quick bite)
Abilities: Acuity, Bushwhacker, Acid Blood (Weapons and armour that are not cleaned immediately after battle with a dragonspawn will dissolve and become useless within 10+1d12 minutes. Against flesh, the blood burns far more rapidly.  Anyone who injures a dragonspawn with a melee weapon and is not wearing armour suffers a +4 attack vs Guts for 1 damage)

Art by Ben Wootten

If a dragon reaches a full decade in age (which is very rare due to their violent lifestyle), it will achieve physical and sexual maturity. Adult dragons average twenty feet long with another 10-15 feet of tail, though they continue to grow slowly throughout their lives so significantly larger specimens are not unheard of. Females tend to be slightly larger than males.

Two major physiological changes occur during this stage of their life cycle. First, they sprout massive, leathery wings. These wings are incredibly strong in order to support the dragon's huge size (though dragons have a surprisingly low weight-to-length ratio during this stage). While not particularly graceful flyers, they have nearly boundless endurance and can soar for extreme distances between resting periods. At first, flying dragons can only carry off sheep or goats, but older, larger specimens have been known to carry off a rider and horse in full armour.

Secondly, they develop the ability to breathe fire. Their bodily fluids are flammable even from birth, but at this stage they find a way to project gouts of explosive gases from their digestive track, which they somehow ignite through a sparking organ in their throat. Dragons themselves are immune to this flame (as well as the flames of other dragons) but the heat from their breath is able to melt metal and disintegrate flesh.

Wounds: Minor 5, Major 10, Severe 15, Dead 20
Movement: 30' (6 squares); or 40' (8 squares) flying
Hacking +9, Targeting +7, Guard +8, Guts +8, Aegis +8
Attacks: 5 hits (one big bite or a combination of bite, claws & tail sweep)
Abilities: Acuity, Fire Breath (Targeting attack versus all creatures in a 30x50 foot area, 5 fire damage on hit or 1 damage on a miss, can be used every 10 minutes), Acid Blood (Weapons and armour that are not cleaned immediately after battle with a mature dragon will dissolve and become useless within 5+1d12 minutes. Against flesh, the blood burns far more rapidly.  Anyone who injures a mature dragon with a melee weapon and is not wearing armour suffers a +6 attack vs Guts for 2 damage)

Art by KEKSE0719

At around a century of age, dragons become so large (at least 75 feet long) and heavy that they lose the ability to fly. They also lose the ability (or at least the interest) in mating. Their wings eventually shrivel and fall of, and their legs become shorter and thicker as the trunks of their bodies become larger and larger.

At this stage dragons require so much food that they often resort to long slumbers to conserve their energy. They sleep for months or even years, hidden deep underground or in the craters of volcanoes. The area around their resting places can be spotted fairly easily by those who know what they’re looking for, as the land is usually tainted by their presence, with wilted vegetation and few animals as creatures instinctively try to avoid their presence.

When a dragon grows hungry enough and wakes, woe to the surrounding countryside. A hungry dragon will raze the land for leagues around, consuming anything and everything it can.  For one to two weeks, the dragon will wreak havoc by burning down villages and farms, eating anything that moves, and destroying forests and fields for the sheer thrill of it. Once it has satiated itself, the dragon will return to its lair (or another, if it finds a better locale during its rampage) and slumber again until it grows hungry enough to wake.

It is possible, though very difficult, to wake a dragon before its due time.  If awakened earlier, the dragon is even angrier and violent than usual, and will go on a psychotic rampage for 2-3 days in an all-out binge of destruction.

Wounds: Minor 10, Major 20, Severe 30, Dead 40
Movement: 30' (6 squares)
Hacking +12, Targeting +10, Guard +10, Guts +10, Aegis +11
Attacks: 8 hits (one big bite or a combination of bite, claws & tail sweep)
Abilities: Acuity, Fire Breath (Targeting attack versus all creatures in a 50x75 foot area, 6 fire damage on hit or 1 damage on a miss, can be used every 10 minutes), Acid Blood (Weapons and armour that are not cleaned immediately after battle with an old dragon will dissolve and become useless within 1d12 minutes. Against flesh, the blood burns far more rapidly.  Anyone who injures an old dragon with a melee weapon and is not wearing armour suffers a +8 attack vs Guts for 3 damage)


There are legends of truly ancient dragons that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. Their slumbers are so long that lifetimes may pass between periods of activity. They sleep in the deepest, darkest pits of the world, waiting quietly to unleash untold wrath and destruction.

Ancient dragons (also called Great Worms) are said to be three-hundred to five-hundred feet long. They resemble massive snakes, their limbs long ago having fallen away, unable to support their ungodly size. Their mouths are so large they can swallow houses in a single gulp, and their rampage (which usually lasts several weeks) can lay waste to entire kingdoms. Oddly, they turn snow white in colour, probably due to having no exposure to sunlight for decades at a time.

It is unknown if Great Worms can still breathe fire. There is only one example of this from a legend, a rather fantastical tale that claimed the creature obliterated an entire castle with a single gout of flame.

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Published on 7/04/2014 Written by 0 comments

An Apology to My Players

A few weeks ago I shared a story of my game leading up to the climax of the adventure - a big theatrical performance where the player characters would become part of the show as they fought to keep the star alive whilst he was being attacked onstage by assassins, all without letting the audience in on what was happening.

It kinda worked. On the one hand, a few of the players stepped up and performed some songs to keep the show going in spite of it all falling apart around them. A few others had some good plans to keep themselves alive (and other bad plans, like murdering a bunch of priestesses). The problem was that, being PBEM (Play-By-E-Mail), we were at the mercy of how quickly people responded and added to the story to keep the game going. I don't like forcing arbitrary deadlines because while I know it would push the game along, a lot of my players are busy and they just do this for fun - it's not meant to be a big commitment. I'm sometimes late myself.

Anyway, June ended up being crazy busy in real life for everyone so posting in the game was sporadic. Sometimes days, even up to a week would go by without a response from anyone. Maybe I should have put the game on hold, but from experience putting a PBEM game on hold is not much different than ending it - it never comes back the same. So I soldiered through, but because so much time was passing between posts it really felt like we were losing the tension and the excitement that the climax should have. To counteract this, I kept adding more and more complications to try and ramp up the suspense. More bad guys. More secret plots. More compromising situations without a reasonable solution. It got kinda ridiculous and then everything (literally) blew up because I couldn't think of another way to get out of the convoluted situation I had built. The players did manage to make it to the curtain, they did get their moment, but then the bad guys blew up the theatre and we jumped ahead to the next day when they were fleeing for their lives.

I knew the bad guys were trying to kill some of the important nobles at the performance. I had dropped hints of political unrest and that the rebels were willing to explode things and sacrifice themselves to make a statement. I think the end game made sense to the story, but I never meant to force it upon the players. Could they have prevented it, stopped the mess from happening? I believe so. Yet I still feel I forced it upon them, put them in an impossible situation, just to make the story happen the way I wanted to. But that wasn't my intention. I was trying to make the scene more exciting, and I fucked it up.

So anyway, I apologize if you guys felt railroaded and rushed through the climax of the adventure. I actually did sort of railroad the story, though entirely not for the reason it may have seemed.

PBEM is hard, and easy to mess up. It's a shared story-telling experience as much as it's a "game." I really want to create it a joint world were everyone has a voice and contributes to the action. I hate feeling like I'm making it all up and everyone else just follows along as talking heads. If I wanted to do this by myself I would just go write a short story (at least that would be quicker!)
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Published on 7/02/2014 Written by 0 comments

Orange is the New RPG

Like many of you, I've spent quite of bit of time lately watching the second season of a particular show about women in prison made by our good friends at Netflix. If you haven't been wasting time on it, I have to ask... why the hell not? It's a damn fine program, the likes of which you won't see anywhere else besides the industry-changing Netflix. I don't mean because of the swearing and violence and nudity and lesbian prison sex (which are all great, don't get me wrong) - I mean because it features a large cast of strong female characters of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors, and almost entirely without make-up.

Seriously, what other TV show or movie can boast such a claim?

Anyway, whenever I really get into any sort of program, movie, or book I start asking myself: How can I turn this into a game?

As it turns out in this case, very easily.

I imagine this women's prison RPG to be a pretty simple "beer and pretzels" type of game. I hate that name but it does express what I'm going for: A quick and dirty RPG that can be played over snack foods and drinks for a laugh in a couple of hours on a lark. It should be akin to watching a couple episodes of the Netflix show, except you get to act out the drama yourself.

Much like the program that inspired it, this game can be funny, dramatic or very dark. Hopefully some combination of all three. Unlike with Splatter-Elf, which I've been fighting hard to keep from bloating out of control rules-wise, this game can probably have all the instructions written on a couple of pages, and be learned in a few minutes. It can be played as a one-off or a longer campaign depending on the whims and desires of the player and game master (which we'll call "The Warden" to help set the mood).

I threw this together in just a few hours, but here's the basic outline of how it works. Lemme know what you think.

You've Got Time - The Role-Playing Game

You are an inmate in a medium-security women's prison. You have been charged and sentenced with a crime and are serving your time while navigating the tricky and dangerous halls of the institution. Maybe you're guilty, maybe you're remorseful, maybe you're terrified - but you're trapped in the cage with all the other rodents, and only the toughest, meanest rats are going to make it out in one piece.

The goal of the game is to survive and to keep yourself from getting thrown into solitary confinement, or transferred to a maximum-security prison. You have to protect yourself from the other inmates and guards and maneuver the dicey and dangerous political landscape.

The main focus of the game is building relationships with the right people. Whether that's joining a gang or doing favors, you need to have someone watching your back if the shit hits the fan. Good behavior (or at least, not getting caught) increases your chances of getting released on parole. Bad behavior ends you up in solitary or shanked in the courtyard.

Each player should choose a "concept" for their character. This doesn't have a game-rule effect but is very important to how you portray your character and how the other characters and players view her. You could be a "Goody-Two-Shoes," "Conniving Backstabber," "Butch Lesbian," "Meth Head," "Dirty Prostitute" or whatever you want. It might be a stereotype but that's okay if helps everyone picture the character. And who knows? Maybe you will be able to break the stereotype through mature and creative play (though honestly I doubt it).

Each player should also choose which crime they were convicted of as well as a Dark Secret. They may be the same thing or completely different. You don't need to share this with the other players, but you need to tell the Warden so he or she can work it into the game. You just know that some element of your dirty past is going to rear it's ugly head - that's just how good games work.

Each character has 4 stats of which they need to keep track:

Perhaps your most important stat, this is a rating of your badass-ness, whether legitimate or not. Maybe the other inmates fear you because you beat someone to a pulp, or maybe they just think you did. Characters with a high Reputation can call the shots and will rarely be a target. They could even start their own gang. Characters with low Reputation will be constantly harassed, threatened and abused.

Your other really important stat. This is not a measure of how you actually behave, this is a measure of how well behaved the guards and administration think you are. You may do bad stuff, but doing the deed and getting caught are two very different things. Characters with a high Behavior will be treated better by the guards and have a good chance of getting out if their parole comes up. Characters with a low Behavior score will end up in the shoe (solitary confinement), which is pretty much game over.

This represents how much damage you can take in a fight. It heals slowly over time. Going into a fight with already low Health will mean you could get knocked out faster and put you at risk of serious injury or death.

Prison is hard on the mental faculties. Constant threats and bullying, as well as being locked in solitary, could have negative effects on your Sanity. A low Sanity score will have adverse affects on your other skills, including the chance of making you snap during a fight and potentially beating another inmate to death (which is game over for both of you).

You have 5 major skills that you will use to interact with the other characters. Your character will be good or very good at one or two of them, and probably very poor at an equal number. You will have to carefully take advantage of your strengths and weaknesses to survive.

Gettin' Up in Yo Face
This is used to threaten and bully other inmates into doing what you want. Some people are violently aggressive, others are more subtle but the outcome is the same - taking advantage of someone else. You can attempt to use this skill on guards but the chance of success is very low.

F*cking Shit Up
Sometimes words aren't enough, sometimes you have to make a point with your fists (or knees, or a screwdriver). Both sides of the fight rolls their F*cking Shit up Score - the side with the lower score loses Health. Both sides continue to roll against each other until one of the following occurs: One side backs down (which will cause a hit to the loser's Reputation), the fight is broken up, or someone can't continue. Winning a fight will increase your Reputation.

Making Nice
They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar (which isn't actually true, but work with me here). Some folks can get what they want by talking nice and making friends with the other inmates, especially if what they want is to get it on behind the tool shed. This also tends to work better with guards than outright threats.

Sneakin' Around
The trick to surviving in prison is not to keep your nose clean, but to not get caught when you're wiping it. Everyone does bad things, but you have to make sure the guards don't see you doing it. In order to keep stuff on the down low (including sneaking out of the your bunk at night or hiding contraband in your underpants), you roll your Sneakin' Around skill.

Bullshit Detector
Threats and promises mean nothing if you can see right through them. When folks try to Get Up In Yo Face or Make Nice with you, you roll your Bullshit Detector skill to oppose them. Very important to know who you can and cannot trust (also who legitimately wants to murder you).

You will survive or fail based on your relationships with the other inmates and the guards. You need to make friends and minimize your enemies. You have a Relationship score with everyone you interact with - positive interactions will increase your Relationship while negative encounters will make it plummet. Gettin' Up in Faces and F*cking Shit Up may bump up your Rep and get you what you want, but you're not going to make many friends doing it.

Other characters who have positive Relationships with you will watch your back (and pull your aggressor off if a fight goes bad) and be more likely to help you if you need a favor (just make sure you return it someday!). Characters with a negative Relationship score will rat you out, threaten you and possibly shiv you in the lunch room, so try to make sure your friends outnumber your enemies. As much of a friend as you can have in prison, anyway.

Joining a gang will increase your Relationship with everyone in the gang, but reduce your Relationship with rival gangs.


That's the basic idea. Whaddya think? Would "You've Got Time" fly as a one-off game?
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