Thursday, December 14, 2017

Wonder vs Weird - Further Thoughts

This is a response to Wonder vs Weird by David Rollins. I recommend reading his post before continuing with mine as his is the basis for this this post.

Point 1 - The Zeitgeist of Weird

I agree with David in so far as wonder is far more inspiring than weird. But which isn't to say that weird doesn't have it's place. It does. But that place is no less important than wonder in a literary or game world. I think both are important. In fact I feel they can offset one another in the same world. Sometimes you have wonder, sometimes you have weird.

But first I should state what I think the difference is, and where on this I diverge a bit from David's point of view.

Wonder, to my mind, is something that invokes awe, and also inspiration. Wonder has something magical and heavenly about it. It isn't the same thing as Awe, which can be either wondrous or frightful. Wonder connotes the idea of something beyond human ken, something higher and more beautiful than we believed possible. Galadriel inspires wonder. Sauron inspires awe and dread, but not wonder. Wonder is about inspiration.

Wierd, on the other hand, is where I somewhat part from David. Regarding the weird, he says "...[they] built their world into the shadows of the one we have here. That's the foundation of the weird. It disrupts expectations instead of creating new ones. It changes and tears at the rules and assumptions. It also tends to be terrible in some way. The weird revels in the tension it creates but it needs the mundane as a contrast. Tension needs the norm to pull against."

To my mind, that is not usually what I mean, exactly, by weird. The word originally comes from before the 900's AD, and is a Middle English noun whose northern form was "wird", and in Old English "wyrd". It's original meaning was "Fate or Destiny", and eventually became associated to witchcraft in Scottish parlance, and wound it's way to become the inspiration for Macbeth's three weird sisters. The modern sense it's meaning has evolved to suggest something strange or uncanny. But for me weird connotes something otherworldly, and from the more unpleasant side of the Other World. Something foreboding, dark, and at it's core frightfully wrong or harmful. (For those wondering why I use wyrde in my vbwyrde appellation on social media, it's origin relates to my criticism of Visual Basic as a programming language. Nuff said on that.)

And so in some sense I agree with David in that focusing RPG worlds towards the weird is akin to focusing them towards the unpleasant. Yes, that I agree with. Many Worlds these days really present very unpleasant visions, and ones in which Wonder is actually being actively suppressed. I don't think this is a coincidence or simply out of laziness because weird is easier, however. I think this is a reaction to the times we live in and represents the psychological framework in which authors are now conceiving their visions, which then get transcribed into their Worlds. This is generally true across all art mediums. We are looking at a world that is rapidly changing, and that change is happening at an ever accelerating, or one might say exponential rate. Many of these changes are heading in directions that are profoundly disturbing, and even frightening. And when we look to those we have entrusted with the levers of power, those who are, one would hope, dedicated to producing good outcomes rather than horrific ones, ... well, it seems those in charge are either disappointing, or downright disastrous. And so the potential for horrific outcomes appears to be very high. I won't go into the reasons why I think this is happening in this post, but let's just take it that we're all operating in an atmosphere of extreme uncertainty and anxiety.

Because of that, people are gravitating towards the weird. Somehow perhaps we take some comfort in looking at horror in all it's dreadful splendor in fantasy worlds so that when we compare it to the current state of our own things don't look quite so bad. That may be what is underlying our fascination with weird worlds at this point. And conversely, when we encounter wonder, it may be that our gut reaction is to scoff and say "but this kind of thing never happens! We don't get to experience wonder anymore because look at the real world - it's a nightmare and wonder is just an illusion and useless, and worse than useless... it is keeping us from focusing on The Horror, which is where reality is heading!" And so for this reason, we may look at things of Wonder and dismiss them as "stupid fantasy", and look at things of the weird and feel that "this is real somehow". And so the downward spiral seems to go.

When archaeologists of the future look at the output of the creative arts in our age and contrast it to former ages, they may be intrigued by how very dark and frightful a very large proportion of our artwork turns out to be at this point. And this is of course also reflected in our RPG worlds, and what happens to be popular these days, and unpopular. Naturally, creators are also going to want to follow the herd, as well as lead it (it's a self-perpetuating cycle, and usually continues until the tides of emotion shift again). So I feel that this focus on the weird in RPG worlds is not a product of lazy design. It's much deeper, and more foreboding than that. It is a direct reflection of our social zeitgeist. We have become weird, and we've made that both an ever descending spiral and a cultural self-fulfilling prophesy.

So I'm not saying that we're wrong for reflecting our anxiety in our art. I think it is logical, germane, cathartic, necessary, and probably beneficial for us to do so to some degree. I'm just regretting that we're in the position to have such anxiety to begin with.

Point 2 - RPG Worlds / Setting Design

David comments, "The little products that snag ENnies and get talked about with such passion online are the ones that present worlds with new rules that create a whole new set of expectations through play. A few examples that spring to mind are A Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon Suin, and Veins of the Earth. All three of these present new worlds."

I think this is an important point. As you may know I'm working on a World Building utility to help Gamesmasters create their own Worlds. It comes with a core framework of rules that remain consistent from World to World, but allows individual Worlds to have their own "internal rules" as well. The Internal Rules are a result of how the GMs define their World's skills, and mystic powers, and to some degree weapons, armors, and equipment. So the underlying core rules include mechanics like The General Resolution Matrix which pits Skill Level vs Difficulty Level in all cases, but the individual Internal Rules allow for great variation in terms of how the individual worlds work at the details level. A common set of core rules, and potentially infinite variation on individual rules for Skills, and such.

The reason I think this is useful is because it gives World Creators a common framework for building the thing that they really wish to express ... the vision of their World's Settings. I think this is a fulfillment of the original goal of RPGs when D&D first came out. There was a single rules system which was designed with the idea that GMs would go ahead and create a myriad of settings based on the basic rules framework. But of course, the TSR Business Model actually prohibited that laudable goal by forcing the publication of new rules books every few years, rather than solidifying the common central rules into a simpler more flexible and generic system on which any kind of worlds could be suspended. Instead of heading in the direction of simplicity and generality, in other words, it headed in the opposite direction of minutia, details and complexity. This was a result of the Business Model that said "we sell rules books". It was inevitable, and from my point of view regrettable.

So instead, I wanted to create a rules system, and a computer application, that would help GMs to create their own worlds, but do so on the foundation of a common framework of simplified generic rules. On top of that GMs can add their own "Internal Rules" so that no worlds would be exactly the same, and players can always be surprised, but characters from every world could easily transport between them. It would also save everyone from having to learn a new mechanics system for every World they want to visit.

The reason for this is to take the burden of having to reinvent new rules for every World off of the World Creator's shoulders. It's a lot to ask to have a creative vision, but then also have to reinvent the rules mechanics wheel every single game. The play testing that has to go into it, the mechanics innovations, the layouts and designs, and all of that... it's a huge amount of effort for someone who really just wants to express a World Vision that inspires wonder, or weirdly terrifies us. For me, that's really want I want to focus on as a World Creator. I assume I'm not the only one.

So there is the Mythos Machine to hopefully help with that, in case my hunch is right and there are other GMs out there who would like to simply focus on World Creation most, and rules and mechanics design to a much lesser degree. Those who also would like to participate in the creation of a galaxy of RPG Worlds by which they can share materials and inspire one another. So, if you happen to think this is may be good idea, then please trot on over to and take a poke around. If you have questions, you can find me on discord at the Elthos RPG Server. The Mythos Machine is currently in Free Open Beta at so please feel free to help with the last round of Beta Testing before we go live. I think it's a fun and useful system and you might think so too.

Ok that's probably enough for one post. It's already too long as it is. I do have more to say on different topics related to David's post, but I think I should save those for a Part II if I can get time to swing back around on this. I really enjoyed his commentary and found it very thought provoking. I'll try to get back to it again and finish my ruminations next time.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

GM Technique - Tidbits on my Serendipity Style

A few comments on one aspect of my style of GMing for those who may find this of interest. This is in response to Jens D's post here: Original Post


This immediately brings to mind something I've been meaning to write a post about ... my Serendipity Style of GMing.

I rely very heavily on the notion that things will simply fit into place at the right time. That the Universe will provide answers to pending questions one way or another, and that I don't have to think too hard about my World's mysterious plot and backstory holes... they get filled in just-in-time by some sort of weird miraculous process. I could give a hundred examples. But I won't. In fact, that's probably all I actually want to say about it.

It's hard because you have to trust the Universe to answer things for you... which requires that you have a very alert mind which can take even tiny things that happen along the way and integrate them smoothly and fluidly into your World. I've had it happen so many times now, where something I see in the news or overhear in a restaurant, or catch a fleeting glimpse of while driving by ... triggers "The Answer" to yet another of my World's many mysteries ... I really can't count. But I can say that without each of those my World would be a disastrous loping beast threadbare and tattered as it careens into the abyss.

Fortunately for me and my players my trust in the Universe has proven wondrous with ever blossoming tidbits that have answered so many of the mysteries. So while I really can't recommend it as a style of GMing because it's far, far too risky ... I can also say that when it works it's truly a thing of beauty.

And no, I haven't the vaguest clue how to instruct anyone to use this technique. The only advice I can offer is ... relax, don't think too hard, and wait for the answers to appear.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

What Makes A Great Gamesmaster?

Just a few thoughts on what I think makes a Great GameMaster, and my recollections of David Kahn's world of Telthanar...

I am thinking of my old friend David Kahn's world of Telthanar. The way he ran the game, to my mind, seemed infinitely amazing. I couldn't wait to get to his house on certain weekends to find out more about it. But what did he do that was so great? Let me think...

Well, for one thing, David was definitely master of his game. He used his own rules (as most of the GMs I knew did in those days), and he knew them back and forth, up and down. There were no quibbles about the rules, and rules lawyering was nigh on impossible. But moreover David had a personality that established him as "The Authoritative Source", and so even if there was a quibble... people would look to him for the correct and official answer anyway. And that went a long way towards keeping the mechanics of the game running smooth.

Also, when he created his rules, he kept it reasonably simple. The complicated parts were largely hidden from the players, as he would do the calculations behind the screen himself. Character development was probably more involved than he let on, and calculating things like armor class and total attack level was something he did on the fly in his head, but from our point of view as players it was seamless and looked easy. Of course, there's also the fact that he fudged his own rules. In fact the first time I rolled a Character in his world he said with his usual benignly wry and dry humor, "By the way, I cheat." That was David.

Lastly, as far as his rules were concerned, they were also interesting. He imbued a lot of philosophy into his rules system, and that made them fun to think about. For example, his magic system incorporated a fascinating numerology that established the underlying metaphysics of his world. More on that another time. Suffice it to say, his rules were an embodiment of his philosophic musings.

But more important to the joy of his game than his handling of the rules was the scope, depth and nature of his World. Telthanar. What an amazing place that was. First off it was huge, but at the same time discrete. There was a continent on which were major civilizations, some old, some new. The old ones had been buried in ruins for ages, and mostly forgotten, except by those who took it upon themselves to explore the ancient places. Over 20 years of play the story was unveiled, one tidbit at a time. David was very reticent about explaining anything of his world out of game. To learn about it, our characters had to explore it. He didn't wax eloquent about it's grand history, or tell us off hand what transpired and why the ancient Agmarians fell, or anything. But we fought hard for clues all the time.

So that made the World itself a huge ball of intriguing.

Then there was his style of playing NPCs. David had a very natural way of role playing. He could play any Character or creature and you really felt like they were in the room with you. But he didn't over do it to the point of being hammy either. He gave a strong impression of each NPC or monster, and each one was an individual. Even down to the guards at the local town hall. Every character in his world seemed to have a fully fleshed out life of their own, a personality, goals, traits, secrets and so on. And it all flowed so naturally from David's lips it really gave the impression of a living world.

Also, his maps. David made amazing maps. They were done on huge pieces of graph paper with the small squares. they had long long corridors, with clusters of 20 rooms or so at a time. He had a stack of these gigantic dungeon maps neatly piled on his desk. And no, we were not allowed to look at the maps. We could only see them from a distance. On our end we had to do the old fashioned style of mapping from his descriptions. And our maps were not bad, but we had mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes were costly. A flight of stairs that we wrote went up, when in fact we forgot later actually went down. Costly mistakes. But that of course was part of the fun of the game. We tried to be careful, just like we try to be careful in real life - but mistakes get made, and consequences are paid. Part of the challenge of the game was getting the mapping right, even amidst the bluster and excitement of battle.

Another thing is that his dungeons were actually very imaginative. For example, when entering the Major Ruins of Agmar there is a main hall, after you get down into the thing a certain ways. On the ceiling of this hall, which was something like 360' x 360' (iirc), was a pool of molten fire. On the ceiling... gurgling, bubbling, frothing fiery magma. It didn't drip down. It seemed as though gravity on the ceiling was simply "opposite". One could speculate about the how's and why's but ... we never really knew. But we knew that David knew. And we would scurry through that glowing red hall every time. The rest of the dungeon awaited on the other side through vast towering doorways that led into long corridors heading off in different directions. And so on. That was just one interesting spot. David had hundreds that were equally intriguing. Eventually we discovered that the Ancient Agmarians created the entire dungeon to be a magic item. The whole dungeon itself was a magic item... one that they used to keep the fabric of reality from tearing apart under the duress of their experiments with Chaos Magic.

Lastly, I'll say that David possessed a dry sardonic wit that made his Gamemastering something really enjoyable to behold. One always had a sense that he was gently challenging his players to do their best under perilous and uncertain odds. He was tremendously fun to be around, highly intelligent, very well read, and a true and natural story teller.

So David's world was fascinating on many levels. The history. The philosophy. The execution. The rules. And for all of this David earned his place as my all time favorite Gamemaster. He was the best Gamemaster I ever encountered.

My dear friend died of a stroke at the age of 54. Far too young. And very sad. May he rest in peace.

To put his life in a little perspective before I leave off, here is a piece about David's father, Herman Kahn. You may want to listen to the recommended sound track shown at the very bottom of that post while reading it. It may add correctly to your understanding of the atmosphere in which David lived his short but intensely creative life.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mythos Machine - Campaigns Adventures Events Demo

A quick demo of the Campaigns, Adventures and Events structure within the Elthos RPG Mythos Machine ...

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Sage vs The Crows - A True Story

The sage sat in his wagon reading a book. Outside a murder of crows descended cawing at the darkening sky. He looked up. About a hundred crows settled into the trees around the wagon.

"Hmm... evil approacheth, me thinks," said the sage to himself. "What to do?"

He considered staying in the wagon and hiding. That wouldn't do. Evil thrives when good men do nothing. But what was there to do?

"I can try a Thunder Hand Clap and scatter them, I suppose," though that wasn't likely to do the trick, and once played and lost, the crows would become convinced that their enchantment was working. That wouldn't do.

So he lifted his creaking bones and climbed out of the wagon, thinking "There's only one thing that will help against Evil such as this... I will pray to the God of Love. He will hear my prayer and send some aid, I think. After all, we can't allow evil to prosper in the land. That would be bad."

And so, he stood beside the wagon observing the crows as they swarmed in groups on the trees and in the air, their cawing growing into an ever louder cacophony.

In one of the small young trees right next to the wagon were a few sparrows, staring silently into the air. They seemed a bit terrified. The sage loves sparrows. They remind him of his lady, who said if she could be any animal it would be a sparrow. He smiled.

"Chit-chit-chit" he clicked with his mouth. "Chit-chit-chit". After a few tries one of the sparrows made a little whistle. He imitated it with a whistle of his own, and chitted again a few times. Another sparrow whistled, and one chitted. A conversation began, and the sparrows began to whistle and chit with the sage. It seemed as though they were in a world of their own, and the crows had no power there. The sage was smiling, and enjoying the conversation. He hadn't spoken with sparrows for a while. They're such fun little folk.

"Now, what to do about these crows?" he asked himself. He was chewing on a mint leaf as he contemplated. "Oh I think I will try a Breath Weapon. Why not?"

And so, as the clouds began to rumble, and the crows flocked in a huge mass on one glowering Hawthorn, the old sage drew a large breath into his lungs, and began to blow Minty Breath towards the darkest part of the murder ... suddenly, before the breath even had finished, the entire black flock launched into the air, and without a single caw flew in a wide arc into the sky, and over the hills and vanished away beyond the tree line over yonder.

The old sage smiled at the sparrows, but they had also gone by then. He was alone in the forest. Not a sound could be heard. He felt a wonderful sense of calm, and the air seemed fresh and filled with a sweet scent... and so he climbed into his wagon, picked up his old book, and continued the story where he'd left off. And a good story it was.

- A Character Portrait for Elthos

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Some Thoughts On VR / AR GM Tools

In response to the post Are we a step away from 3D augmented reality rpg tabletops? by +Gerardo Tasistro, whose original post was this blog entry on Saurondor ... I'd like to present my reply to the OP here as a way to get these ideas out to a wider audience ...

Yup. I think this represents one of a series of "first steps" in the direction we're looking for as Professional Gamesmasters. Definitely. The technology needs to mature, and tools specific to RPGs need to be created, but yes. I can imagine this working in the context of shared environments in several ways. With AR the use would probably be to have a virtual table that all your friends sit around (ala Tabletop Simulator). In the case of AR it would be more like holodeck where you take a first person view. The best solution, as far as I'm concerned, would be the ability to switch between the two viewpoints at will.

That said, I would also like to point out that over the past 20 years there's been all kinds of promising looking technology, such as VRML, that could have done exactly this for us... but totally failed to come to fruition. The reasons are manyfold, but one of the primary ones, other than ridiculous and destructive corporate insistence on implementing the technology in proprietary formats instead of standards-based open formats, is the fact that there hasn't really been a Killer App for it yet. I see live-GM'd VR / AR games as the solution for that.

Gamemasters who are World Creators, teamed with 3D Artists and professional improve players could run sustainable entertainment companies based on live action VR / AR RPGs.

However, the tools need to be created for that. And so far every VR / AR company I talked to has said, "Oh that concept is absolutely awesome... but two levels above where we are technically at this point."

There's also the fact that if the stars do not align right in the business world, another hundred years could go by without anyone figuring out how to build those tools, and coalesce an actual community around them for live VR / AR RPGs.

So ... we as a community of GMs would need to specifically and assertively push for it. I recommend doing so loud, clear and often. Twitter, FaceBook, Google+... et al.

We need VR / AR RPG Gamemaster Tools!

Loud, clear and often.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Thoughts on Creating a Successful Project

This past few years has been hugely educational for me.  I would never have known how hard it is to create a successful project in the RPG world had I not gone through all of this effort personally.  I always assumed that "it can't be that hard".

Allow me to say, for the record, "Yes, it's that hard".

The reason why is because there's a lot you need to know, and there's actually no really efficient or effective way to learn it without going through several years worth of poking, prodding, scraping and plenty of trial and error.  And all of that costs both time and money.  And frankly, most of us have too little of both to make a successful venture out of our favorite hobby.  But before I get into what's involved, let me discuss first what I mean by "successful".

What I don't mean is, I wrote a rules book, put it up on DriveThru, and got 200 downloads and $5.00 via PWYW from my friends who are supportive.  That is not what I mean by success.  Not that this isn't something that is a success in that doing the work involved with creating an RPG is hard, it takes a lot of time and effort to do a good job, and frankly, if you got 200 downloads you're already squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of success for the general mass of RPG Indie Publishers.

But that's not what I mean.  I mean the kind of success that one can bank on.  I mean real success.  And by that I don't mean "I made a lot of money".  What I do mean is "I made enough money to fund the project's continued development, support, and that enough people are enjoying it so that it has become an actually sustainable project."  And by "sustainable project" I mean that it has enough community support so that it won't just vanish into thin air as soon as I stop tweeting about it.

But to create that kind of success requires a great deal of effort.  And a lot of money as well, even if you try to do it as cheaply as you possibly can.  First, there's the effort that goes into creating a sound set of RPG rules.  That requires a good deal time in thinking, writing, copy editing, and play testing.  There's also the matter of artwork.  If you're not an artist then you have to obtain artwork from someone.  You could use public domain art, but ... really. You need fresh nice artwork or no one will look at your book.  Even if you have the most innovative rules in the world, people gravitate towards good art, and are repelled by mediocre art.  It can be the make-or-break point for many rules systems.  And good art is expensive.  It also takes time and effort to procure.  There's an art to obtaining good art.  Of course, if you want to go on the cheap as much as possible, then you have the option to do your own art.  If you're a good artist then that can work for you, obviously. If you're so-so... well, you take your chances.  I'm taking my chances with Elthos RPG.

And that's just the rules book in terms of RPG system.  There's also a lot of thought, and the rest, that must go into creating the Setting for those rules.  In fact, according to current (or are they already outdated?) Laws of RPG Rules Books, your rules are "supposed" to reflect the genre you are going after.  So every rules book has a genre focus, and those genres have specific rules to support it as such.  If that sounds hard to deal with, it's because it is.  And yet, most of us deal with it.  Except for those who are creating Genre-Neutral systems, in which case your rules need to be designed to allow for any possible genre.  Which is not easy either.  Let me repeat that.  That's not easy either.

Now you mesh your rules, your art, and your setting (not necessarily in that order) and you play test the hell out of the thing.  You find that Rule X doesn't work.  Maybe it's a central rule.  Back to the drawing board and revamp the system.  Maybe it's a minor rule.  Cool.  Update the docs and keep going.  But the point is that Play Testing is part of the work involved.  And that's not easy either.  It's not just playing the game and having fun.  It's checking the rules via the game and ensuring that the rules work to create fun for the players.  It's hard to monitor the game from this point of view, and you have to test all the rules, so you need to create scenarios that test all the rules.  Your players, who are there to have fun, and maybe to some degree test, may raise eyebrows.  But you keep going.  "Its a game test" you remind everyone, and you move on.  It's not easy either.

Point being - creating an RPG is not an easy thing to do.  It's just not.  It takes a huge commitment, both in time and money.  And finally you're ready to publish.  Now you have to learn a bunch of stuff about how to publish your rules.  You've got DriveThruRPG, pretty much the 800 lbs gorilla of RPG Publishing, and you've got to learn how to deal with the rules of creating a printable PDF, which requires the use of InDesign, or the equivalent software.  InDesign has a huge learning curve, and it's expensive to "rent" from Adobe at $32 / month.  Doesn't sound expensive until you add up the months you spend renting it.  Then you see, oh yeah... it is expensive.  So don't forget to suspend your rental when you're not working on the project.  You can always un-suspend when you need to.  Of course if you work on it intermittently as things come up, like I do, that's not a practical option, and yeah, the cost does add up over time.

But there's more.  You have legal considerations as well.  Did you happen to want people to use your rules to create their own Settings, like I do with Elthos RPG?  Well, you need to bake that into your terms of service, or license, in your book.  And guess what, you probably need to consult a lawyer.  And that's expensive.  But only if you plan on actually making a Success.  If you are thinking you're going to do a run of 200 and that's it, then you don't need to bother with the legal stuff because there's a solid chance you won't ever get sued, or run into legal issues.  On the other hand you still could.  So being prepped with the right legal verbiage is a good idea.  For example, I was going to save some money by going with Creative Commons.  But as it turns out, I didn't understand how CC works and what it's intended for, and it wouldn't have worked for Elthos.  My lawyer explained it to me, and now I get it.  I have a license agreement in Elthos that allows Settings creators to use the Elthos Rules to creating Settings Books and sell them without anything more than an attribution to Elthos.  But that took money for me to have created so that it's correctly formatted in legal terms.  And without that I would have run a risk that later people would have had a stumbling block and that would not have helped me with my goal of creating a Success.

Then there's marketing.  How do you market your RPG?  You tell your friends.  That's good for 10 to 20 downloads, maybe, if your friends are cool.  Your mom.  She'll download at least 3 if you ask her several times.  Then there's your friends friends... good for a few more downloads.  You post to social media ... a LOT.  You create new and fresh content that helps people in the community, and you constantly mention off hand that by the way you're working on something over there ... and you point.  That's good for a few more downloads.  So finally you reached 200.  Now what?

Marketing.  Now, yes, yes, I know, no one does Marketing in the world of RPGs.  But then again, 98% of RPGs go for the 200 run, and that's it.  Which is fine, if that's all you intended, and you worked along those lines, so it didn't cost you much to produce and the time was spent on a hobby thing that you love anyway.  No great loss.  But - that's not creating a Success in the way that I mean it.

So Marketing.  You hire a Marketing company, or you go it alone.  If you go it alone there is a huge learning curve in terms of SEO and how it works.  There's strategy, there's tactics, and there's money.  You have to spend a lot of money on marketing even when you go it alone.  Or, if you're really really good, you do all the research on it yourself ... which takes a LOT of time because it's really complicated, actually - and as Einstein once proved Time = $.  But lets say you don't mind and you spend the time.  You learn.  It still costs money as soon as, for example, you want to "Boost" your post on FaceBook.  In fact FB's Boosting is ludicrously expensive.  And if you don't Boost?  Well, that's the thing.  I'm not going to go into how FB algorithms work, and how Boosting works here, but suffice it to say, expect spend money if you want your post to reach more than 35% of your friends and family.  And if you're a business, or trying to use FB to spread the word about your RPG ... well, you get the idea.

Marketing is probably the most important, and the most expensive aspect of success.  And also probably the least understood.  It's complicated.  And it takes a long time for it to actually work.  A years's commitment to a marketing effort is normal in the industry because most people who don't see positive (very) responses (ie sales) in the first few months figure it's a bunch of hokus pokus and quit the campaign before it has a chance to work.  So Marketing requires a great deal of commitment.  Which equals time and money.

But there's another problem with Marketing that might not occur to people straight up.  So I'm going to mention it because I just found this out today.  So, as it turns out Marketing is a lot about SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  You need this in order to expand your audience beyond the scope of your Friends and Family.  That way when people are searching for terms using Google the key words will bring up your site instead of someone else on the results page.  Without that, no one may notice your site.  So SEO is important to Success.  But ... SEO requires a LOT of fairly complicated interactions because the SEO algorithms look at all kinds of factors when ranking pages.  Everything from linked posts to hash tags, to press releases, to comments, to ... well everything.  And the more interconnected the posts are the better SEO likes them.  The reason is that Google (et al) tries to ensure that you're posts are "Authoritative" in order to spread them around. Now, it should be said that there's a science to SEO.  However, because Google doesn't like to publish the details of it's SEO algorithms, it's a murky science at best.  And there's considerable amount of trail and error that goes into the thing by our ever persistent Marketing departments.  And when Google inexpectedly introduces changes... well, it's like a busted bee hive of activity in the Marketing offices while the experts try to sort out what the change was, and how to adjust to it.

And so for your product or service to be classed as ranking high in a Google Search, and showing up on the highly coveted Page 1 results, you need to show a long term persistent, and shall we say "Professional" approach.  In other words, you have to be spending lots of effort on it.  Like, you know, a professional business would normally be expected to do.  So all of that sounds normal and good and stuff.

But here's the rub.  The kinds of posts that get shared and liked and linked and wind up hitting positive marks with Google's SEO may not be NOT the same posts as those your friends in the community expect or like.  They can seem like glitzy marketing hype. And in a sense they are.  But that Marketing aspect is there BECAUSE that's what the Google algorithm looks for when plotting SEO.  So while you might normally post stuff that's rich and deep and engaging to your friends... Google is looking for hype-ish looking materials that it can easily categorize with an algorithm.  Hence... the end result is that your Marketing team may well be producing materials for you that seem to you to be what you might fear others will consider hogwash, and you'll be concerned that all your lovely RPG friends on the InTarwEbz are going to think you've "Sold Out To The Marketing Hype Machine".  And you'll notice when that happens, especially among the Smart-Set of RPG enthusiasts (who are keenly aware of Marketing Glitz and tend to hate it with a purple passion, as everyone with half a brain does).  You'll sense it if there happens to coincide a palpable fall off in interest in what you're doing.  People really have come to hate hate hate to be marketed to.  I do, too.  It's totally understandable.  But the Google Machine has made it so that if you don't go down the Marketing Glitz path then you can't gain actual real-world traction with your project.

Now you might be thinking, but what's the point of all of that?  I'm just trying to publish a small press offering of my cool new RPG for a few of my friends and it's a labor of love and I don't care one iota if only 10 people ever see it, and I make no money from it at all.  That's cool with me.  I'm doing this work as a labor of love, after all, and therefore if I hope and expect financial gain from it then I'm selling out, and my work will be garbage, and everyone will hate me for it.  So there.

Yep.  I understand totally.  Most of us, rightly, have adopted that attitude.  Not necessarily because we are thinking "But if my RPG hit the big time and became the next D&D, well that would totally suck."  No, I don't think any of us are thinking that.  But the massive effort involved with creating a D&D sized Success in the RPG industry is so huge, and so risky (in terms of lost time and money) that most of us look at that and auto-reject it.  But we still love RPGs, we still want to create RPGs, and so we go after it - in hobby mode.  No gain expected.  But then again, without the effort we can also expect that not much will come of our efforts either.  Which is fine if that's cool with you.  That said, I think that really, most of us are hoping for more.  But like that proverbial bridge too far... we can't make it to there from here.  So we sigh, and resign ourselves, and say "Yeah, well, that's all ok.  I'm doing it for the love of the hobby anyway." and we go with it.

I don't have a problem with that.  In fact I'm inclined to want to take that route too.  Except ... at least in my case, I wanted to do something more ambitious yet!  Back in 1980 I thought we'd have computerized RPG tools to help us run our games by doing the number crunching for us.  Not take over the creativity aspect... just crunch the numbers, and give us a tool to help us create and maintain our worlds.  Software.  Oddly, no one created that.  So in 1994 I decided I would do it.  Why not?  I knew nothing about software at the time, but figured I could learn it, and so I began with one step.  I bought a QBasic programming manual and read it page by page and practiced the techniques until I understood them ... and began creating the Mythos Machine (aka "the Gamemaster's Toolbox").

Well, that put my Elthos Project into a whole different category of effort. I created a really comprehensive tool that was finished in 2000.  But it was done in Visual Basic, and therefore it was buggy as hell and I declined to release it to the public on the grounds that support for the tool would kill me.  By this point I had become a professional programmer / analyst and was working my day job, and doing programming on Elthos at night.  So ... it's been an incredibly slow process.  I also take classes at night, so even slower than you can imagine.  But I'm a persistent if not too smart person, and over time I built Elthos from the ground up.  First with my 1978 rules system, which I distilled into its present streamlined mini-system form (The "One Die System"), and converted the old VB program into a Web Application called The Mythos Machine.  I figure that I've put in about $2 million worth of time into the project (taking my average salary over the years I've been working on it times the number of hours I've put into it overall).  Yep.  That's a lot of time=money.

Some people might ask, well, why didn't you speed up the process by going and getting Venture Capital and hiring a team to build it instead of doing it all yourself at Museum Speed?  Fair question.  The answer is - I didn't trust VC to not come in and take over my concept and turn it into garbage for the sake of Fast Money, and for a handful of shekels actually sell out to the man.  I figured I'd rather do it slow, on my own dime, and maintain full ownership, so that I could do it the way I think it really should be done.  Regardless of the cost in time that it would take.  Stupid of me, probably.  But, yeah... I wanted to avoid "Imperial Entanglements".  I didn't trust VC then... and I don't now.  So you'll see me trying my best to boost this off the ground myself, and with a little help from my friends.

So now I face this crazy edge of the project where I'm trying finally to get word of it out to the public.  And that's rough.  Marketing is rough.  I think it's far more rough than any other part of the project, including the programming.  Because finally, after all, I'm interacting with the public.  And ... gee ... I feel like a bit of an ass putting stuff out there that looks, well ... sort of horrid from my point of view.  But SEO!  SEO! SEO!  And I'm really afraid that my friends in the community will see this stuff and be like "OMG that is soooo 'Marketing-Glitz', I can't stand that guy."  Which would suck.  But unfortunately, it's also necessary.

You see, I want Elthos to be successful.  Really successful.  I want to advance the cause and foster creativity with RPGs.  I want an online tool system that helps GMs to create and run their own Worlds to succeed.  Because I believe that creativity is the one great thing that sets us apart from all else.  We're creative beings.  We should exercise our creativity, and if at all possible, prosper by it.

So I'm trying everything I can to make the Elthos Project a success.  I want to leave it as my legacy ... in the early 21st Century a new generation of digital RPG Tools began to arise from the misty ethers and take form ... and Elthos was one of them.

That's what I hope to read in the 22nd Century history books.  And that takes a lot of work. A LOT.  But I'm up for it.  I enjoy it.  And if all else fails... guess what?  Well, I did it for the love of the hobby, and even if it turns out that I'm the only person who uses the Mythos Machine to run my own games, and no one else notices it ... I will still have creating something amazing.  A printing press for RPG Settings.  I think that's cool, and I think I can be happy even if that's the ultimate result.

On the other hand, if people actually discover how great a tool it is, and it becomes popular and people like it and use it a lot ... I won't complain.  :)

If you want to check out where I'm at with it, and join the last leg of the Open Beta ... feel free to take a poke at ... I'll be curious to hear what you think of it.

Also... if you are looking for advice and/or help with your own project... I've learned a lot in the past few years.  Maybe I can help.  Let me know.  I might be able to offer advice gained from my experiences with this project. Feel free to message me if you think I might be able to help answer some questions or point you in the right direction.  Happy to.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Elthos Patreon - Asking for Advice

Hi Hi... I have my Patreon pretty much set up ... but I'm worried about my Rewards. The problem I think I have is that I'm offering things that will consume my time in a way that if I get success with the Patreon I'll wind up buried with Patreon related rewards rather than working on the core project. I'm wondering if anyone else has faced this issue, and how you work it out? I could offer other things besides time intensive things, but I'm not sure what would work best.

The challenge for me is that I'm a startup with very limited resources, so I have to economize as much as possible while I bootstrap my operation. So one thing that doesn't cost money to give is time... but of course, time is our most precious commodity, especially if you're an inventor / innovator / entrepreneur who is struggling to launch an actual business, but needs help along the way to get everything up and off the ground. It's not easy, especially if you're doing so on a shoe string budge in order to avoid "Imperial entanglements" (Venture Capital). So Patreon seems like a wonderful possibility. But I realize I have to be able to offer something that my patrons feel is worthwhile, and I suspect that "working on the project of my dreams - the Elthos RPG Mythos Machine Web Application" might or might not suffice on it's own. So of course I'm on the hunt for ways to offer things to my patrons that are worthwhile. But not things that would inhibit progress on the main project by eating time each week. And the more successful the Patreon, of course, the more time would get eaten. So it's a tough call. But I do have stuff... I do artwork (which takes time, but I do it on off moments when I'm in between tasks), and I have quite a bit of written material in story form that are actual play stories from my game ... written up in prose without OCC comments quite faithfully to the adventure as it happened. I think it's a fascinating view of an Elthos game, and quite funny in places (I'm blessed with funny players). I have some things like readings of Lord Dunsany which I've made a couple of and they came out reasonably nice. In other words, when I'm not programming (which most of the time) then I'm free to do some creative work like that. So... given all this... any suggestions on how to structure my patreon in terms of rewards would be great. I think I'm just having a mental block on this. The answer is probably obvious. Anyway, if you have any thoughts, please let me know. Thanks!

Anyway, if you have time and care to offer any thoughts please visit my patreon page at Elthos Patreon. So, if anyone is willing to take a look and offer any advice on it, I'd really appreciate it! Thanks!!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Future of Story Telling (FoST) Expedition Report

The Future of Story Telling (FoST) is a fascinating experience held on Staten Island in NY (Oct 6 - 8).  As a Gamemaster who is looking to the future of the hobby in relation to Professional Gamemastering I was curious to see what new developments are in the works for VR and AR, and see if anyone at all is considering tools for Gamemasters.  I also wanted to meet people and plant some seeds for future reference there. Unfortunately, I only had one day that I could attend and that was Friday Oct. 6.  So my intrepid and lovely Adventure-Associate, Ling, and I hoofed it over yonder Verrezano Bridge ($17 toll, omg!), and within 2 hours we were at the event, starting at 11am.  We stayed until they closed at 6pm and we certainly had only sampled about 1/3 of what was there to see.

Object Normal
David Lobser

The Birds!  Ok this was totally 100% fun.  It was certainly and by far the most creative use of VR I saw there, and the most entertaining.  The actresses were absolutely adorable, and Ling and I now have our 'secret' bird calls which we will use periodically going forward as secret passwords.  Hehe.  Anyway, it was a lovely time, and I totally recommend this one, but sign up early!  It gets booked fast, and we were very lucky to squeeze in at the end of the festival day when we replaced a couple of no-shows.  Lucky!

TwoBit Circus

A game where one person gets inside the VR and plays the Monster trying to protect his treasure from the thieving adventurers (the other three players).  I didn't get inside the Monster (my girlfriend did, though), but I'm told it was fun ... you reach out and grab the little thieves with your giant claws and give them a squeeze before they can get your gold back to their ships.

Quantum Interface

Innovation in Headgear design.  The idea was to find a solution to the vertigo experienced by many VR users.  It worked nicely, and I got the hang of it immediately, though my girlfriend who isn't a computer gamer by any stretch of the imagination, and with little experience, was able to get the idea after a few tries.  I'd say it's pretty intuitive once you get the idea, but the initial WTF may be steep for some.

Mech Bird
Tatiana Vileca do Santos

This was a very artsy installation in the VR Realm.  At the point where I pressed the button and flipped the room so I was on the ceiling I "got" the Vertigo Effect.  Woah.  Now I know what they mean. It can be really disorienting. I tried it several times and each time the visual effect was so strong I almost fell over.  The Vertigo nausia lasted for another 20 minutes after I left it.  That said, the scene was interesting and very Salvatore Dali-esque.

Apora Gen
Roman Miletitch

This one is probably the most interesting from the Professional GM Society point of view.  He had an installation where you draw a scene on paper with colored pens and each color represents a type of terrain.  Blue is water, Green is forest, Red is lava, and yellow is a barrier of some kind.  When you draw it on the map an overhead scanner reads the map and automatically adds the terrain in the VR World where people in headsets can interact with it immediately.  So for GMs who want the freedom to create their own Worlds on the fly and have players in an Interactive VR / AR environment, there may well be something to this.  I spoke with Roman and pitched him my idea for GM tools and he was interested.  I will follow up with him soon.

Layne Button

This one was a short show with a surrealistic touch to it.  Spaceship was involved.  You stand on a platform in a VR helmet and watch a vista of desert with some musicians and a tornado / storm heading straight for you and ... it was weird and interesting.  It's a mixed reality combination where the platform rumbles, and you feel like you're moving a bit.  The audio was great, and the visuals spectacular. But my girlfriend's video got stuck about 80% of the way through, no one knew, and she didn't figure it out until after ... she thought that was part of the show.   So like for many of these installation, I should mention, there were glitches along the way.  Most of them felt like DYI projects at a Maker Fair, with the exception of a few that were done by large companies like Microsoft.

Starship Commander
Sophie Write

This was a fun game using AI with voice and VR Helmet directional controls.  You can talk with your AI co-pilot, as questions, and go on the mission.  You fight space gooks, and destroy a battle station.  It was fun, but ... of course ... the AI was not that great, and the co-pilot didn't really understand what I was asking and so after a while I gave up on that part and just ran the mission.  You use your VR helmet to look at enemies and the ship automatically shoots down whatever you can keep your target cross-hairs on for long enough.  Fun stuff, but not really quite there yet.  Proto-type level.

Mashup Machine
Ben Cole

This one was also another potential GM-Tool candidate, though it would need some substantial resources to bring it to bear on our line of thinking.  What it does currently is allow the user to dynamically create virtual scenes like a game, via interaction with the Mashup Machine's AI interface.  It prompts and guides you based on some questions both you and the AI ask one another, and the result is a series of video game scenes.  The AI gets smarter as more people add their thoughts and concepts to the scene creation tool. This concept could be very helpful for GMs who are in the business of dynamic story generation.  Very!  But it has a ways to go from here to there, and no budget to take it in our direction as of now.  Still though - very worthwhile to keep an eye on this one, and ping them on GM Tools development news.

Hololens Exhibit / Show
Tero Pankalainen

For this one you wear hololens headset and watch 3D movie that takes place around you.  It looks very vivid and is AR, not VR, so you can still see everything else around you as well.  But the superimposition of items and characters looks very clear and distinct, and I'd even say "solid".  The story was a bit silly, but the graphics demonstrate the potential.  I could see this being used for AR style games where GMs build maps and players interact with them around the living room table, just like a miniatures map but with obviously far more potential and flexibility.  This could be something to poke at further in the future, Pro-GMs.

Feel the Night - Exhibit in VR
About JauntVR

The Microsoft Booth was demonstrating a couple of VR systems.  The headset was very smooth feeling, and light weight.  The sensory aspect was also smooth and I didn't get the Vertigo feeling from other installations, but that may be because the action in this one was slow.  But still I got the feeling that the motion in the VR was calibrated to go smoothly so you wouldn't likely get a sudden movement that disorients you.  Hard to explain.  Anyway, the show was interesting in a very basic simply dumb down almost nothing to do sort of way.  Or I should say rather that the artwork of the scene was pretty, though there wasn't much to interact with.  You play a giant who takes light poles from a local town in the desert and lift them up to the air and let go.  They then explode into streaks of starlight, or something.  "Returning the lights to the stars", the assistant of the booth explained, awkwardly.


We stumbled across MindShow, which allows you to jump inside any of a number of VR Characters inside a scene and control them.  The controls are really intuitive and easy to pick up, though a bit klunky to actually use.  Not terrible, but the interface could be a little bit easier to handle.  Even so, the concept, if not the implementation, is certainly compelling from the Pro-GMs point of view as this shows how it would be possible to jump inside of NPCs and play them.  All that would be needed is a live GM'd virtual world to do so in.

Here's the resulting video - I'm the cat.

We also roamed around the the Tent City, which had another 30 or 40 demos, most of which were booked solid for the weekend already.  I would imagine that since we showed up on a Friday we were among the lucky ones who had a relatively light crowd and so we could actually get into a lot of demos without too much waiting.  Even so we couldn't get into the more popular ones, such as Tree, wherein you go inside a VR character of a Seed in the forest and grow yourself to become the tallest tree around.  I would have liked to try that one as it came with "Smell-a-Vision" as well (a girl with a spritzer sprays you with odors of the forest while you play.

We pass through the "VR for Good" tent which has demonstrations of various VR / AR applications used for social justice type purposes, mostly regarding holocaust survivors of various ethnicities around the world, deforestation, and the like.  Not sure how necessary VR is for those messages, but the demos were nevertheless compelling and do tug on the heart-strings.

The food court was good, but don't wait to hurl yourself into the crowd there at noon to 1:30.  If you show up at 2, like we did, you will find slim, but tasty pickings.

The campus / park on which the event takes place is the Snug Botanical Gardens, a place worth seeing on it's own anyway for the beautiful architecture and lovely gardens.

In Conclusion

From my point of view as the representative of the Professional Gamemaster Society, this was very interesting, though I have to admit, I didn't feel like I'm seeing much movement in our direction at all. In fact, overall, I have to say that most of the efforts still feel like Works-In-Progress more than finished products, and the concepts are fascinating, but I didn't see a single one that would be useful for us GMs out of the box.  Of course that said, I do think I planted some seeds of thought, got some really wide eyed looks, and heard a lot of this comment, "Wow, you're ideas are about two levels above where we're at at this point, but we'd love to participate in something like that when we get further along."  So there was interest, but no one has even imagined the potential for live GM'd virtual Worlds out there.

Which is why, once again, I recommend interested people get going with the tweeting, posting, commenting, recommending and insisting on such tools.  Because as it happens, if we don't pester these guys about this idea, they will follow the usual train - which is to create Static-Story VR / AR games that have absolutely zero to do with Live-GM'd Virtual Worlds and pretty much leave our vision out in the cold.  Why?  Simply because they never thought of the idea, and therefore have no plans to build anything along these lines at all.  So if you want to see the kinds of tools that help you with GMing in VR / AR environments starting to pop up in our future, it seems we collectively need to start putting the word out - "We need these kinds of tools, please, and pronto!"  The future is in our direction, in theory, but only if we successfully push for it.  Otherwise we'll all just be playing VR versions of DOOM for the next 100 years.  And that would be a crying shame, imo.

The FoST is a really fascinating view into the future of VR / AR.  Let's make sure that we are just as much a part of that future as everyone else! Tweeeeeeeet!  Tweeeeeeeet!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

There Be Dragons

In response to someone's recent query "What level is ok to throw a dragon at the party?", I have this reply ...

I don't throw stuff at my party, typically. I create a world in which exist many creatures who settle themselves into certain locations and do their thing. I then let the party roam around as they will exploring and adventuring. If they are careful they watch and plan, and peer around corners, listen at doors, ask the locals for information, and try not to walk into a dragon's lair... unless they are prepared for it. So I have a few dragons here and there. So far they've not directly confronted any of them. They could ... but they don't because ... well ...Dragon! That's how I do it. What I don't do is try to manage what level encounter is appropriate for the party as that is just 1) waaay too much work for me, and 2) puts all the burden on me for any TPKs if things go south ("You threw a F*cking DRAGON at us!") ... etc. Nope. Not for me. I have a world. It lives and breaths and in between games I roll to see what the major NPCs and Monsters are doing, based on what their motives, knowledge and resources are. And then when it comes time for the game I let the party play smart or stupid as they wish, and if they encounter the Dragon - cool. If they avoid the Dragon - cool. But throwing stuff at the party and trying to mange what level encounter is "safe enough but not too safe" just never worked for me. I prefer to have a world, and let them live or die in it by their own decisions, not mine. I consider myself referee rather than story-director.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Animal Monks Of Whitewode

There are a few Characters that didn't find their way into the Whitewode Campaign proper, but have been lurkers in the dark corners of things, and actors behind the scenes of the main Campaign.  I think I'll just post a few of them here... Don't tell my players. ;)

If you're one of my players who doesn't like to "cheat" by seeing things your character didn't encounter (Chris), then avert your eyes now... 


Ok now here we go. As some of you who have been following my game story for some time may already know, I have animals in Elthos whose Royal families can transform into humanoid form, which is kind of the lingua franca of all (or most) animal forms in the Elthos Universe. This started out years ago with the Insect Lords way back when. First my players encountered the Aphid Men.  Then the Ant Men. Then the Locust Men.  Then there was the Insect War.  All quite fun.

Well, after all this time my players have finally encountered the cavern in which dwell the Mammal Lords.  Many of the The Royal Lines of the Mammals are supreme martial artists (from whom humans learned various Martial Arts Styles), and when they want to, they can take on Human form. In this form they can interact in the language of the humans, to some degree, some better some worse, and some don't bother at all (like the Cat Men, who just couldn't be bothered to learn the human tongue, of course).  Following are some sketches of a few of the Animal Monks from the area in and below and around Whitewode, and the caverns and lands round about.  There are plenty more, but these are the one's I've sketched most recently.

Iron Bear Monk in Repose

Black Jackal Monk Preparing to enter the Bow Stance

Iron Bear Monk with Staff

Rhino Monk Preparing Crushing Fist

Well that's them, thar. Pretty fun. Anthropomorphic Super-Monks. :)

By the way, we are at the tail end of the Free Open Beta. If you want to try out the Mythos Machine now would be the right time to do it. Get a free account, and start playing around with it. If you have any questions or comments please let me know! You can contact me through the website or email me at
ElthosRPG @

Also, I think I should mention that I am hoping to be able to continue working on the Mythos Machine going forward. However, my resources for that are running thin. So if you want to help please hop on over to Elthos, click on the Shop in the Menu and buy some Swag! We have cool T-Shirts and stuff. Or you can buy a the Elthos RPG Core Rules Book, or even just make a direct Contribution. You can also join my Patreon here: VBWyrde on Patreon!  And as always, thank you so much for your help, feedback and support everyone!  It's been great!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Proto-Worlds Are Coming

Well, it's been a long few weeks of stress.  My sister and nephew are living just outside of Houston.  Need I say more?  Oh, and my dad and step-mother are living in Boca Raton, FL.  So ... there you have it.  Bit of a nervous wreck here.

But nevertheless, the work goes on.  I am a World Weaver, and my love of this is strong.  :)

So lately I'm working on Proto-Worlds for the Mythos Machine.  It's coming along well. Right now I'm revamping the Fantasy World with a better set of characters and adventures.  It's fun.  Making progress.  Here are some character and place sketches related to Griswold ...

The Lovely Marya

Evil Minion

Arch Villain

Arch Villain's Castle on Iron Mountain

The Sullen Stooge

Master Feng Liu - World Traveler

Secret Fortress (don't tell)

Secret Map (shhhhhh!)
So things are coming along.  Mythos Machine has picked up a bunch of new Beta Testers lately, and that's been great, and they're providing incredibly helpful feedback.  So things are improving rapidly.

The latest improvements are:

New Bulk Edit Screens for Weapons, Armors, Races and Classes.  I will be adding more as requests come in, but those are the most important ones, and they're up and running nicely.

Bug Fixes - found a few nasty critters lurking in the shadows. Squashed.

Fantasy Proto-World - coming along nicely.

Cosmic Horror Proto-World - also coming along nicely with the help of Yicheng Liu who came up with the idea and agreed to put the first brush to it.  I'm really impressed with what he's done, and collaborating with him on getting things tooled right so it can serve as another Proto-World for new GMs.

Modern Proto-World - That one is coming along ok, I think, but I'm not 100% sure. The author is working on it, but I think he wants to get more done before sharing it.  He's been a fabulous Beta Tester and I'm really looking forward to seeing what he's come up with.

Western Proto-World - this one only needs a little bit more fine tuning, and is probably the most complete one of the lot at this point.  Fun stuff.

Anyway, so that's progress for you.  Super busy.

If you want to participate in the Free Open Beta, now's your chance.  It won't last much longer.  I'm looking for feedback, things to improve and polish with the site.  Get your licks in and help shape the RPG Software Tools of tomorrow, today.

Go to and create a Mythos Machine account for yourself.

Build your own World.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Alex Pe on Creating One Shots

As those of you following my posts have probably figured out by now - I tend to run long term Campaigns. One year would be a super short Campaign for me. Whitewode, for example, started 2.75 years ago. Still going strong, though we're nearing the climax.

But lately I've been thinking about trying my hand at One Shots online. And it occurred to me that I'm in need of advice on the topic. So who did I turn to? The grand master of the One Shot, Alex Pe, of course. And this is what he said:

"Have a good core idea and theme. Don't overprepare. Start at the end, then do the beginning. Everything in between is not that important."

He also sent along this video on how to create One Shots:

Thanks Alex!

Ref: Original Thread on FB (you might need to join the One Shot Group to read the OP).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

On Elthos Elkron Alignment Correspondences

Just a something I felt like talking about on a lark, with my camera settings on "Weird Color" for the fun of it. The discussion has to do with how I use my Elkron Alignment Correspondence system and how it works basically. Impromptu, and a bit scattered, perhaps, but nevertheless does have the basic idea layed out. I hope it will suffice to give people an idea of one of the background concepts behind the Elthos Project, and what the potential value of the Elthos Tarot Deck might be.

And now for Part 2, wherein I answer my friend Chris' questions from the first video...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Bit About The Elkron of Elthos for GMs

I have left the Elkron and their workings deliberately vague because I don't want to create too much Setting for the Mythos Machine. The point of the project is to encourage other people to use their own creativity. So the Elkron are there as a framework, more than as individual beings with histories. How GMs handle them in the future is something I shall be very curious to see.

That said, there are some rules to them.

I will try to give them to you in the order of importance I think they deserve (you may wind up disagreeing, and that's ok).

1. Each Elkron is the Embodiment / Avatar / Reflection of one of the 12 Alignments.

2. There is a table of correspondences for the Elkron, and it lists each Elkron's corresponding symbols ... plants, trees, animals, colors, gems, flowers, musical notes, and so on. These are used by the GM to build symbolic references in their World that only the Sages are likely to notice or understand.

3. The Elkron are divided into two major groups... the Celestials who are in the Heavens (Constellations and Planets), and those that dwell in the Realm of the Id (the Jungian Archetypes of the Tarot). Each Elkron has both aspects, so there is an upper-world and an lower-world aspect to each Elkron. In addition both groups, the Celeistials and the Archetypes, have an inner circle of 12 members, and an equal number of outer circle members. These correspond with the Titans and the Olympians... the Old Gods and the Young Gods. The Constellations and the Archetypes that correspond to them are the Outer Circle or Elder Elkron. The rest are the Inner Circle or Young Elkron.

4. Each Elkron has a Throne. Their interplay is the original Game of Thrones.

5. There is a game that the Elkron Play. I have some rules for it but haven't play tested it yet. We can skip lightly over this for now, but I want to explain what the game is like. There are Ages. Starting with the Dawn Age where the Elkron Incarnate and create the World. The start with a certain amount of Kismet and use that to fashion the world to suit their plans. Different alliances can occur, depending on circumstance.

After the Dawn Age comes another wherein the Elkron create the Races of the World. The Good Elkron will create Good Races, etc. They also plant the Seeds of Destiny, which are Holy Quests.

Another Age is called the Age of Heroes. This is where the Elkron step back and watch how things transpire. By this point the Elkron have spent most of their Kismet on building the World and creating the Seeds of Destiny. The Heroes are there to fulfill the Quests. Whenever a Quest is fulfilled the Elkron who created it gains Kismet, according to a multiple of how much they spent to create it, which relates to how complicated or difficult it is. So the Elkron gamble during the Dawn Age that their Heroes will fulfill their Quests and allow them to regain their Kismit. Because they are going to need it.

The final Age is called The End of Ages, and it is the War of the Elkron that will be the calamity of the Universe, and end the World. The Elkron who have regained their Kismet fight it out to determine which of them will be the Ruler of the next Universe. The Ruler of the Elkron's alignment is what stamps the Universe with it's initial Kismet, and sets everything in motion (setting the base Alignment of that Universe).

Anyway, I don't expect to get around to this game soon, but the idea is that a group of Elthos GMs get together for a month or so before they create a Shared World. They each play one to three Elkron, and set up the Races, and spend Kismet, and create Seeds of Destiny. When the Dawn Ages are completed and the Races created and all the terrain is built, then it's time for the Age of Heroes to begin. The GMs then invite their Players to Gen Characters and those are the Heroes who will try to fight it out.

The purpose of this is to help the GMs create a back story that makes sense, and is also part of a game the GMs themselves are playing with each other.

I see this is a phase III thing. But I also thought it would help you to understand the Elkron a little better to hear about it.

As for how to create the Elkron... it's up to you for your world. Just allow that each Elkron represents and Alignment, and those Alignments associate to certain Philosophies.

Here's the list of Elkron:
Elkron    Zodiac
-------   ----
El   Good
Scelus    Evil
Fas       Law
Kaos      Chaos
Aer       Air
Rhea      Earth
Aestus    Fire
Oceanus   Water

Here are the Philosophic Viewpoints of the Alignments

[N] - Neutral
[C] - Chaos
[L] - Law
[G] - Good
[E] - Evil

[N] – : "There are many Elkron of Power, Cunning and Wisdom."

[C] – : "There is no Elkron; every one is for themselves."

[C-G] – : "There are Chaotic Good Elkron; the ultimate attainment is to be free."

[C-G-N] – : "There are only Good Elkron; man’s purpose is to create art and live free."

[G-C] – : "There are Elkron, but men must rule their own affairs by reason."

[G] – : "There is one Almighty Elkron, the King of the Universe; Seek Love."

[G-L] – : "There are Elkron; man is to work for the Good and obey the King."

[G-L-N] – : "There are Elkron; man’s place is to be serious, able and Just."

[L-G] – : "There are Elkron; man’s place is to obey the Laws of the Empire."

[L] – : "There is no Elkron, only laws of nature; mans place is to learn them."

[L-E] – : "There is Hades; man’s place is to obey the Emperor and die."

[L-E-N] – : "There are evil Elkron; man’s place is to obey the Emperor no matter what."

[E-L] – : "There are evil Elkron; man is to obey the cruel and suffer."

[E] – : "There are only Evil Elkron; man’s place is to serve and die."

[E-C] – : "There are no Elkron; man’s place is to serve the Community and fear."

[C-E-N] – : "There are no Elkron; man’s place is to overthrow the Elite."

[C-E] – : "There is no Elkron; every moment should be lived for pleasure."

I hope this helps. I'd say if you have any questions feel free to ask ... but ... I do want people to do their own thinking about this for their own worlds so I'm inclined to give this much to World Weavers and then let them run wild. :)

Here's a diagram to help you see the upper and lower aspects of the Elkron...

Also note - the Elkron live on the Celestial Island of Elthos (in my World), and the there are 24 Thrones ... there is an inner circle of mountains called the Dragon's Teeth, and an outer cirlce called the Dragon's Spine. On 24 of these mountains in ancient temples along inaccessible ridges are the 24 Thrones upon which the Elkron sit. From these Thrones they converse with one another, and observe the lands of their child races, and their heroes, below.

Another view ... this is a cutaway view of the Celestial Island ...

The connecting thread between all Worlds is the Alignment system. Through that permeate the manifestations of the Elkron in their myriads of Universes. The only thing that doesn't change is that there is Good and Evil, Law and Chaos at the root of all things. That is the foundation and metaphysical constant of the Elthos Multiverse.

Here's another diagram that shows the Alignment relationships to various political philosophies...

Also note that at the top of the post you can see the Elthos Tarot backface of the cards which shows the Celestial Island Map... that shows which Elkron are where, what their Associations with each other are by position, element (air, earth, water, and fire), and their Alignment positions.  That has served me quite well over the years.  And once when I got lost in an interdimensional time-rift by accident, the card was useful in helping me to navigate back to earth in the 21st Century.  So keep a card with you... never know when you might need it.

Anyway, the way the Alignments work in the game itself is that as Characters do things they get evaluated by both their Action and their Motive.  Between these two the Action determines the Law-Chaos value (an integer between -6 and 6), and the Motive determines the Good-Evil value (an integer between -6 and 6).  So as Characters do things in the World for different reasons their Alignment changes accordingly.  As GM I usually consult with the Players to find out what their Characters Motives were for given actions if it wasn't obvious, but Actions are a bit more deterministic.  The Mythos Machine interface provides a way to note Alignment changes in the Experience Gains Screen.  The result is that 1) Character Alignment is not fixed - it changes according to what the Players do with their Characters, and 2) Character Alignment changes can be tracked and shown over time - which is very cool, though not a feature that is implemented visibly in the Mythos Machine as such, yet.  It will be... but only after other more pending development is finished up.

At some point I will publish more about the Elkron once the project's Phase I is complete (pretty soon now), but for now, for Gamemasters using the Mythos Machine at this stage of the Elthos Project Development, this is probably good enough to get you going.

To see the 24 Archetype-Celestial Elkron you can view them here:

Elthos Tarot Deck ... coming soon to a POD service near you.

Cheers, and have fun with it.