Author Archives: Ryven Cedrylle

About Ryven Cedrylle

Thanks for taking the time to read this post! You could have gone anywhere for these last couple minutes and you chose us. Your time does not go unappreciated. For more of my unique brand of deviance, follow me on Twitter. Looking for players for your Hangout RPG? Hit me up on Google+. I also have a blog about religion and astrology if that's up your alley, which you can check out here.

X-Cards are X-Cellent!

X-Cards are X-Cellent!

Look, I haven’t put up a post in over a month. Y’all are due some bad puns and a long post. Deal with it. ūüôā

I don’t know about you, but my Twitter and G+ feeds are inundated daily with injustices and humanity’s inhumanity to humanity. It’s enough to make anyone – race, ethnicity, gender, whatever – want to burn something down, so when I see a chance to make some difference in my tiny little corner of this crazy universe, I gotta at least try.

One of these instances recently was PAX East 2013. I was going to be stationed at Indie Games on Demand running 13th Age, Dogs in the Vineyard and TechNoir (as it would turn out, mostly 13th Age). While one person can’t control the whole convention and what people say there, ¬†sonuvagun MY table wasn’t going to put up with crap. I was going to have some kind of ¬†sign or something to draw the line in the sand. I’d played maybe three convention games with strangers in my thirty years of life prior to PAX, none of which do I really remember, so I (probably with a bit too much gusto) went in expecting the worst.

During my investigations into tabletop tolerance tools, Quinn pointed me towards X-cards. You can read more about X-cards here and here¬†but I’ll give you my short explanation as well. It’s a card with an X on it. That’s it. Done. ¬†When everyone sits down to play, you hand out the cards and say (I’m abridging here) “if anyone says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, just hold up the card. No explanation necessary. We edit out the content and move forward, no big deal.” Why no explanation? Explanation reduces agency.

If agency and triggers and the like is old hat to you, go ahead and skip the next few italicized paragraphs. I write blogs as much for my own benefit as yours and I will come back and read this from time to time to refresh. 

I’m a scientist. In my day job, I have to justify and explain everything. I need a solid rationale to back what I do and be ready to defend my work when auditors, peer reviewers and QA come knocking. ¬†My documentation has to be written according to standards I did not devise and in a manner such that someone without my knowledge or experience could repeat my work. ¬†It’s bizarre to me to specifically not require justification or adherence to some authority or another. ¬†My religious background fuels this also, but that’s a different story for another time.

However, at the table if ¬†you feel you have to justify your emotions or reactions to me, they’re no longer yours. They’re effectively mine. ¬†I’m attempting to take away or override your control. If I don’t agree that thing A is uncomfortable and you can’t easily explain why thing A IS uncomfortable, I can walk all over you. In all fairness, let’s give me the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume I’m asking because I’m legitimately concerned. ¬†There are still the problems of:

  • You’re tired of having to explain yourself all the time
  • Maybe you’re not very eloquent or persuasive
  • You can’t tell whether I’m concerned or being a jerk
  • You don’t want to constantly be reminded of some painful experience
  • We’re wasting valuable game time

No explanations. Flash the card, we respect it even if we don’t understand it, and off we go. If I want to ask you why later maybe I will, but you still have every right to say no or tell me to go do some fricking research already.

I took my X-cards to PAX and used them a few times. Many of the groups I ran demos for all knew each other, so I didn’t pull the cards out in those cases. Should I have? In hindsight, maybe. You never know what future issues you will never see might be averted by creating awareness in an already safe situation. I don’t feel bad about it, but if today were the Friday of PAX, I’d do it differently. Two points where they did matter worth talking about:

  • The only time an X-card was ever pulled, I did it. ¬†Jon Stavropoulos suggests the GM flash the card at least once to show that it’s OK, but I felt weird doing it frivolously. ¬†(Ryven at 19 was the kind of guy who’d figure out he could use the x-card to censor queer content, for example. While I wasn’t afraid to have him sit down at my table, you better believe I was at least thinking about it.) As it turned out, I got my chance during a Dogs In the Vineyard game when one of my players kept throwing around the word ‘heathen.’ Correct for the setting? You betcha. Done without specific malicious intent? Also check. It really irritated me, though, and almost without thinking I flipped the card. The table was totally on board, we changed something and kept on going. ¬†It was seamless. Would I ever have said anything on my own without the card? Never. I’m not that guy. I don’t fight for my own comfort. However, if a straight white guy like me can flip the card on a minor irritation that arguably doesn’t even really apply to him and feel empowered, I can only imagine what it would do for someone who has.. ¬†legitimate(?)(not the right word as its still authority-centered, but it’s all I’ve got) gripes with society.
  • I had a 14-year old girl sit down at my table to play 13th Age with a bunch of men who all had at least 10 years on her, if not more. Her mother was going to remain at a nearby table. While she carefully selected the half-orc barbarian, I pulled mom aside and explained x-cards to her. “I don’t expect to run into anything problematic for a 14-year old. To show you that I’m thinking about it, though, here’s a card. I’ll keep you in sight as well and if anything gets weird, just flash it.” She never did, but was clearly grateful that I had some way to keep her in on the experience discreetly.

I don’t hit many conventions. I do PAX East and the Escapist Expo. I might make it to ColossalCon up in Sandusky in June this year maybe. When I go, my X-cards will go with me. They can go with you as well. There are PDFs below for X-card and O-card templates. (O-cards are “This is important to me. Can we explore more?”) There’s also a foldover sign with a script for explaining X-cards. (Art by *iara-art of deviantART) Take them and do good.




Congolese History and Culture

Congolese History and Culture

I’ve been promising a Congolese history post for a while now. I must to some extent claim both success and defeat. As I brought up in the previous Congolese folklore post, African history doesn’t look like European history. In fact looking at it from the ‘great dates, great deeds’ persepctive, there’s practically no¬†“history” prior to about the 15th century. On the other hand, the Congolese cultures remain largely unchanged from their beginnings tens of thousands of years ago. People can be found who live generally the way their ancestors did since time immemorial. The lifestyle is the history. For my final contribution to Black History Month (though I hope only a beginning towards promoting Afrocentric game material), I’d like to cover two of the cultural groups found in the Congo and in the surrounding areas and how some very surprising game material might come out of it.


The San are a hunter-gatherer group of the Bantu family who span over a majority of southern Africa. They are sometimes called Bushmen, but that is not their word for themselves. They in fact have many words for themselves depending on sub-tribe and location but San is the one designated for foreigners to use in describing the large collective. ¬†Now if I told you I was thinking about a ‘primitive’ people in a region of Africa specifically known for not being good agricultural ground and asked you to guess what RPG I thought might best fit the setting, I’m willing to bet FreeMarket¬†would not be anywhere near the top of your list. Truth is, I happen to think it’s a pretty good fit.

One of the dirty little secrets of history is that agricultural development may have been humanity’s biggest mistake ever. Sure, the life of a hunter-gatherer isn’t idyllic and there’s something to be said for being able to store up food and water during the times Mother Nature isn’t so nice. We started farming for a reason. Yet what we find is that wars, disease, and the need for codified law and power structures don’t exist in any substantial form in early hunter-gatherer groups. It’s not until we decide that I own this land here and you own that land there and we have a bunch of kids to work said land and all get crammed together into towns and cities that violence and pestilence arise in force. ¬†In contrast, the San people, using Quinn’s ‘gameable culture’ notation….

* We require no more of our children than to play and socialize.
* When not foraging, we spend our time in conversation, joking, music, and sacred dances.
* We have an economy of gifts.
* We utilize our whole environment for food and tools leaving nothing to waste.
* We make decisions by concensus, men and women of all ages alike.

Archer-Spearman, Cosmic Child-Creator, Mother-Shaman. (Find a bunch of San folklore by clicking here.)

Eating bugs and hunting large game with poison-tipped weaponry may not be a lot of fun and there are no permanent homes to speak of, but really you could do a lot worse than live this sort of lifestyle in moderate to good conditions. It’s practically a low-tech post-scarcity (pre-scarcity?) culture. Certainly some amount game hacking would be required to make FreeMarket fit in here, but if you’re not a fan of the high-tech outer space science scene, consider being a hunter-gatherer in the south African desert.

Bushongo (Bakuba)

Lest we slip into the trap that “all of unknown Africa was forever pastoral primitives”, right in the heart of the Congo as the Portuguese were making their first arrival was the Bushongo or Bakuba kingdom. “Kingdom” is one of these words that we today tend to think means one very particular thing where, in actuality, it isn’t at all a single concept. ¬†I’m going to paraphrase¬† here since it does a good job of explaining how the Bakuba kingdom was arranged:

In the Bakuba system of government the king was above all a symbol. His ministers, the Kolomos, paid him great respect in public, even if they were his known enemies. In private they made no pretense of subservience. If the king wanted to see his ministers he had to go to their houses or meet them on neutral ground. The ordinary members of the tribe had representatives at the court on a political and professional basis. Some of these officials represented geographical areas, trades and professions. The weavers, the blacksmiths, the boat-builders, the net-makers, the musicians and the dancers all had their representatives at court. There was even a special representative of the fathers of twins.

In addition, artistic expression was perhaps the most valued skill in the kingdom. It was said by some visitors that the Bushongo ‘left not one surface unornamented.’ Masks, cups, storage books and sculptures were all highly prized exports from the Bakuba homeland. (“The representative of the sculptors was held in highest esteem [at court]. The Bakuba sculptors are considered to be the finest in Africa.”)

Semi-feudal government? Check. Aristocrats with a lot of time on their hands? Check. Heavy cultural emphasis on decor and presentation? Double check! Bakuba is immediately recognizable as an excellent setting for a Houses of the Blooded game for those who want to get away from the Ven culture.  You may have to go through European sources to get the most accessible descriptions of trade goods, but the dedicated researcher should be able to find some reference to the actual Bushongo royal documentation  Рone of the few cultures to rely on both written and oral traditions about equally. On the Trail of the Bushongo is a strong start.

Three Dog Night: Congolese Folklore

Three Dog Night: Congolese Folklore

As I endeavor to get my feet wet in African culture and history, one recurring theme keeps (metaphorically) stepping forward and glaring at me – understanding African history from an African perspective. Put in other words and quoting from my third Ethiopia history post, “tell the stories the people you’re talking about want told.”¬† This is of course easier said than done and I don’t mean to claim any sort of mastery over the concept but few things worth doing are easy.

As a Euro-originated culture, we like to focus on the grand movements of history. We pay homage to the leaders of nations and their wars. We think of “important” history as a linear string of causal events. We teach our children first and foremost the dates when things happened and who the major players were. Interpreting history – learning wisdom from it – is secondary to the facts and perhaps considered a more advanced skill. One reason (among several) that African history can be so hard to get a hold of is that we in the West (North?) are looking for information the native peoples weren’t as excited about and completely ignoring the history they tell each other all the time – folktales.¬†From the African perspective, we have it all backward.¬†The stories themselves as cultural touchstones and the lessons they teach are what is important; the facts and people less so. ¬†Imagine our confusion if modern African scholars showed up here in the U.S. looking to study us but rather than opening textbooks the way we would prepare for, they hit up TVTropes!

Thus while I do still plan on doing some little report post on the history of the Congo, I feel like it’s maybe more appropriate to show some Congolese folktales instead and how they can be bits of gameable culture for us to draw on. Since these folktales are so often oral traditions and not always easy to track down in English, we need to feel comfortable relying on our own “unofficial sources” for information. (Remember what I said about Africa and decentralization?) Today’s story is from Melvin Burgess – someone who went to the Congo a couple years back and put up a blog recounting stories he heard. I will abridge the story below and encourage you to read the long account here.

A man and his wife own three dogs – two large strong dogs and one small weak one. The man went to pick some special fruit for his pregnant wife and ended up accidentally harvesting from a village of witches. The witches capture the couple and are going to eat them. In his desperation, the man calls out for their dogs to come save them. ¬†The dogs hear from their home village, break out of their chains and come running to help. The two big strong dogs are obviously a threat and are held up by the witches while the little weak one sneaks through and bites the witch chef’s toe, allowing the couple to run away in the ensuing fight. The big dogs kill most of the witches, but it’s again the little dog who saves the day by finding the last hiding witch. From that day on, everyone in the couple’s village could get all the fruit they needed.

Let’s find some games in here. First, there’s the perspective of the dogs. I could have sworn there was a “Dog: the RPG” game somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. What I did find was It’s a Dog’s Life¬†and John Wick’s Cat RPG¬†(the latter courtesy of Filamena Young). ¬†Brave animals on a mission to save their people? Done! Second, the perspective of the hidden witch. Witches in Congolese folklore are rather tragic figures and not entirely voluntary. (The same website has several posts about witch folklore that, fair warning, are heartbreaking) How about My Life With Master¬†as young witches trying to break free and return to normal life? It’s not a game for everyone necessarily but it will get you out of the ¬†implied¬†eastern European setting. In splitting up the various characters of the story among a group and expanding the setting a little, you could get a good In A Wicked Age game going as well. It has a lot of the mythic feel that makes for good folktale roleplaying.

Historical Reference: Ethiopia, Part III

Historical Reference: Ethiopia, Part III

So far we’ve seen ancient Ethiopia (Part I) and the Aksumite Kingdom (Part II). In this final part, we will look at Ethiopia in the Middle Ages up to the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s.

A Strange Story Ark!

Writing about Middle Ages Ethiopia is a little awkward as many of the perceived ‘important events’ aren’t ¬†contained within the borders of continental Africa. It seems to be very important to the Ethiopians, however, and at the end of the day that’s the key to these sorts of endeavors – telling the story the people you are talking about would want known.

Aksum’s decline came while it was largely a Muslim nation despite having a nominally Christian ruling class. In 980, Queen Yodit, a woman of some undiscerned ethnicity, led an army that laid waste to what remained of Aksum. She claimed to be descended from the Hebrew warlord Gideon. She ruled the area for 40 years and handed the crown down to her descendants. At some point, one of Yodit’s descendants marries into the old Axumite ruling family, restoring what was traditionally seen to be a Solomonic lineage for the Axumite rulers.

The Ethiopians feel a particularly strong kinship with the Jews. The Kebra Nagast is an Ethiopian holy text explaining the full story of the meeting of Solomon with the Queen of Sheba. The Ethiopians claim the Queen to be one of theirs and that the start of their royal dynasty, Menelik I, was Solomon’s son by the Queen. (This was in fact written into the official Ethiopian Constitution, up to the time of the end of the reign of emperor Haile Selassie) Other parallels exist as well. The language of the Ethiopian regions are mostly Semitic like Hebrew, Arabic, etc. There is a community of Jews in Ethiopia sometimes referred to as Beta Israel who claim to have come back to Ethiopia with Menelik I and practice a pre-Talmudic variant of Judaism. (Queen Yodit may have been one of these Beta Israelites or possibly part of the indigenous people known as the Sidamo.) The historian Josephus records tales of Moses fighting against the Ethiopians and marrying an Ethiopian princess. Even the very Ark of the Covenant may have made its way down to Ethiopia, brought by Jews fleeing the Babylonians; it is said to rest in the cathedral of Maryam Tseyon (Mary of Zion) to this day. I’ve even heard arguments that Judaism’s seemingly aberrant monotheism amongst a sea of polytheism in the Sinai peninsula indicates that it is truly an African tradition that wound up far, far from home!

What arises then in the post-Aksum Ethiopian empire is a form of Christianity (via the Aksumite lineage) that remains largely a branch of Judaism and doesn’t inherit the hierarchy or theological culture of the Roman or Orthodox traditions. It is surrounded on all sides by Islamic nations but doesn’t seek to convert them. Additionally, because it is mostly cut off from the rest of the Christian world except for a small persecuted group of Coptic Christians, it adds different books to its canon. The Orthodox Tehwado tradition (Ethiopian Christianity) recognizes almost every Old Testament book used by every other major Christian tradition and then adds on¬†the Paralipomena of Jeremiah (4 Baruch), Jubilees, Enoch, and the three books of Meqabyan. Its New Testament canon adds another 8 books, one of which is purely Ethiopian in origin. ¬†In short, Ethiopian Christianity at the time looked almost nothing like the Christianity of the Western world, yet had grown ¬†from the same roots.

Middle Ages¬†Ethiopia can be seen for our gaming purposes as an excellent model destination for standard faux-medieval adventuring games. (Can’t do a gaming series without a nod to D&D, right?) On one level, it’s not too far from what we’re used to. There’s a king and a feudal system. Standardized coinage is being minted. The gods worshipped in your home are the gods worshipped here. They’re people just like you, really. Then again, they’re using texts and tomes you’ve never heard of. ¬†Their images of the gods don’t look like yours (or you!), but ¬†you can see the important similarities if you look closely. ¬†Questing knights might end up here looking for assistance¬†against a terrible foe from a dynasty of wise regents who aren’t already caught up in the petty wars and politicking of home. Sure, they have their own petty wars and politicking, but there’s a fresh perspective . Clerics can look for lost artifacts or texts that have been kept safe by an isolated group of faithful. In a modern setting, your Farewell to Fear characters (Archaeologist, I’m looking at you) might consider proving or disproving the royal lineage as one of their cultural revolutions.

Ethiopia serves for us as an image of a far-off exotic land that, upon arrival, turns out not to be so exotic or different after all. That’s how these things tend to turn out, isn’t it? The bigger the world is, the smaller we find out it is as well.

Historical Reference: Ethiopia, Part II

Historical Reference: Ethiopia, Part II

In Part I, we talked a little about the far-ancient ¬†times of Ethiopia – Kush, Kerma and D’mt. Let’s jump forward now to the beginning of the Common Era.

I Don’t Wanna Aksum! You Go Aksum!

Around 100 C.E., a kingdom arose out of the city of Aksum (or Axum) which is fairly close to the ancient D’mt. The relationship between Aksum and D’mt is unknown. Aksum may also have subsumed or brought down the similarly formidable Mero√ę (Kush) state in what is currently Sudan. Whatever its origins, Aksum grew to be a nation that played in the same league as Rome, Persia, India and China.

Aksum gained power not by having a large spread of land like its peers, but by controlling the all-important waterways at the south end of the Red Sea. It engaged in some military land conquest to the west, but focused more of those efforts into the southern part of Arabia (Yemen). It usually left local leaders in power and simply demanded tribute instead. Aksum sold exotic goods such as ivory, spices, and gems as well as utility materials like salt and animals hide which, combined with the tributes, made it a commercial empire first and foremost.

Aksum’s urban structure and cosmopolitan ambiance would be at least somewhat familiar to us now were we to go back in time and visit. In the center of the city was a collection of elite housing constructed according to a standard plan; staircases from smaller wings of each large abode led up to a central elevated pavilion. Immediately surrounding the elite housing were common houses of mud and stone. In each direction there was a graveyard, with the southern location being the resting place of royalty. The nothern location also contained the various temples and churches. The elite houses surrounded a central plaza which could have served as a marketplace. No civil administration buildings have been discovered yet or are mentioned by ancient writers whose texts we have, but a number of thrones and intricately carved pillars dot the city. The streets in the center are laid out in a grid and are decorated with small statues. The further you stray from the center, the more haphazard the layout becomes.

During its 600 years of power Aksum would adopt some Greek gods, convert to Christianity and offer shelter to Mohammed. It welcomed Roman, Indian and Arab traders. The Chinese might have known it as Huang-Chi; again, insufficient evidence is available to say with certainty. In the 700s, Persia forcibly took over its holdings in southern Arabia and thus devoid of its major commercial advantage, Aksum simply shrunk back into obscurity. An electronic copy of a book specifically about the history and culture of Aksum can be found by clicking here.

A city this big and wealthy is just begging for some heist action. A ship loaded for India with salt and spices has its cargo seized. The thieves are suspected to come from one of the smaller states chafing under Aksum’s rule, maybe Qataban or Mero√ę. The king offers freedom to a group of imprisoned political rebels if they can locate the whereabouts of the goods and all of a sudden you’re playing Leverage. From the merchant’s perspective, GUMSHOE might work as well. For a different feel completely, the first Christian king Ezana is about to be coronated in about 320 C.E. when a wild party lets loose led by some local version of the Egyptian Hathor or the Yoruba Shango. Get out your copy of the old¬†Bacchanal¬†(not the one with the cards – it’s a bit too art Greco), reskin a few things and shake what your Maker gave you!

Historical Reference: Ethiopia, Part I

Historical Reference: Ethiopia, Part I

We’re going to do a short series of Historical Reference posts this month. They are intended to be essentially elevator pitches for games in Afrocentric settings. ¬†Before going further, though, we should set some ground rule understandings.

Take “Historical” with a grain of salt or twenty. D&D is not a historically accurate representation of medieval Europe and neither will our elevator pitches here be strongly historically accurate. Until ‘very recently’ in the timescale of human existence, “history” tends to come to us through a small number of channels. These channels, being human in origin, can’t help but come from a certain perspective (some would say bias). ¬†Thus “history” tends to be skewed in favor of some and against others. ¬†Furthermore, history is full of really uncomfortable and inhumane things. While we do need to look at those things full in the face when managing our real world, we don’t need to bring them into our fictional worlds. We want to make a space in our games where¬†everyone¬†can feel safe and have fun escaping from that real world for a while. Doing so usually means leaving behind some ‘historical accuracy.’ (Yes, games like Steal Away Jordan or Dog Eat Dog are intended to address social justice issues. Those will be the exception rather than the rule.)

Another understanding is that “Ethiopia” is kind of a dodgy term. What we consider Ethiopia by current political boundaries is not what ancient writers may have deemed “Ethiopia.” For the purpose of this post, we’re considering “Ethiopia” to be the region of land surrounding the Red Sea and south of Egypt – what we would think of today as Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and some of Somalia. Disclaimers out of the way, let’s pitch some games!

Kingdom of D’mt

The Egyptians called the region we’re addressing today Punt, which is sometimes rendered Pwenet or Pwene depending on who‚Äôs translating. Within the land of Punt were several nations, most notably Kush (ancient Nubia) and Kerma. Kerma is currently the oldest known human civilization, going back to at least 2200 B.C. and maybe as far back as 3,000 B.C. Kerma had walled cities, archers and elaborate funeral ritual, the equal of classical Egypt or Mesopotamia. It was eventually conquered and subsumed into Egypt. Kush arrived on the scene somewhat later, but fared better. Kush is known to have been ruled mostly by women (called Kandakes, the base for our name Candace) when independent and by men on the many occasions when Egypt would conquer it. Kush‚Äôs military may have been primarily female and the nation may also have employed a sort of loose communism, though there is not enough evidence to state either way on those ideas definitively at the moment. ¬†Kush even managed to conquer Egypt at one point and install its own line of Pharaohs in a manner similar to the Mongol Great Yuan Dynasty of China.

‘Ta Netjeru’, meaning ¬†“land of (the) god,” is another name for Punt. The name has at least two roots. First, the region produced large quanitites of gold, incense, wood and ivory to be used in religious ceremony. Second, unlike Egypt, much of Punt (and the African continent in general) has an ancient tradition of monotheism mixed with ancestor worship and spirits of nature. ¬†There is a creator god who is somehow ultimately responsible for making everything and then some number of various lesser beings serve that god. Exactly who this god is, his name, and what the servants are called vary wildly from culture to culture. It’s all very decentralized.

D’mt was a small kingdom in Punt along the coast of what we now call Eritrea just north of the Bab-al-Mendeb (strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden). It is not to be confused with the medieval kingdom of Damot, which is probably a revival of the old name. D’mt seems to have been founded around 1000 B.C. and is gone by 400 B.C. with no good explanation as to what happened and the names of only four of its kings. That shrouded past makes D‚Äômt an excellent place to put a game. We can safely assume D‚Äômt was as advanced as Kush or Kerma, but the lack of current excavations frees us from canonical history and invites speculation as to its demise.

Considering D’mt’s proximity to polytheistic Egypt and Sabaea (modern Yemen), this time and place looks absolutely ripe for a Mythender game. D’mt is being attacked by Egypt via Kush to the north. There is a corrupting influence among the spirits and Egypt is taking advantage of that corruption to spread its borders. Players assume the role of empowered mortals (priests, medicine-masters, etc) to defeat the corrupted Egyptian “deities” but must be careful lest they too fall to corruption. Resist the urge to make the game an evangelizing mission to teach the Egyptians “the right god(s)” – religious evangelism as we know it is not a pursuit that these cultures would have engaged in. ¬†It’s a political struggle couched in mythic terms. ¬†Players looking for local mythological references on which to base their characters might look to Holawaka or the Blemmyes. has a few dozen folktales as well that players might use as hooks. The hyena in particular is an important figure.

The Greatest Adventurer You’ve Never Met

The Greatest Adventurer You’ve Never Met

You think you’re pretty well-travelled. ¬†You’ve seen most of the Prime Material plane, hit up the Shadowfell and the Feywild and maybe even had lunch in the Infernal city of Dis. Fancy yourself some kind of Middle Earth Magellan, do you? ¬†That’s nice, but you’ve got nothin’ on Ibn Battuta.

As his name implies, Ibn Battuta was a 14th century Moroccan  of mixed Arab and indigneous African heritage via the Lawata people.  Over the course of his lifetime, he would travel an estimated 75,000 miles and visit what now amounts to over 44 nations. He saw Mombasa, Alexandria, Sumatra, Beijing, Constantinople, Timbuktu, Mecca, Sofia,  and Grenada among a host of others Рenough to make even modern jet-setters look pretty cloistered in comparison. When he was finished, he wrote an autobiography called the Rihla which documents his incredible journeys.

Unfortunately, English translations of the Rihla are rare and expensive. English readers can look into obtaining one or more of the following books instead:

A good Internet read on Battuta can be found by clicking this link.

Rather than write out some kind of dry summary of Battuta’s life here (and because this is a gaming website!), one possibility of an Ibn Battuta statblock is given here. We’re using Spirit of the Century (using the SotC SRD) because if anyone deserves to be a SotC character in world history, it’s Battuta. Also, the writeup should be mostly compatible with current FateCore if you cut back on the number of total Aspects. ¬†Not running a 14th century game? No problem! If there ever was an elixir of life or a time travel portal or some kind of dimension-skipping.. whatever.. ¬†Battuta could easily have found it. He was EVERYWHERE. ¬†When you cross the Sahara on foot (or camel) and navigate through Mongol-controlled Persia, some little thing like a 600-year time jump isn’t even worth mentioning. Pah!

Click here for Ibn Battuta!


Improv Monster Toolkit for 13th Age

Improv Monster Toolkit for 13th Age

In a previous post, I wrote my Love Letter to 13th Age Monsters. I stand by everything I said there, but I want to take it a step further Рreally go to the next level, if you will pardon the cliche.

I am a very improvisational game master. I write maybe a dozen sentences tops about a game session before we sit down to play and even that’s being generous. This is not even a paragraph, mind you, just sentences. ¬†It’s enough to know where to start, but leaves plenty of room to follow whatever happens to come up in the moment. No adventure survives contact with the players, so why write much in advance?

One of the few remaining tasks that requires prep work is monster design. I enjoy 13th Age monster design, but I got to thinking, “could I make monsters on the fly? If I just sat down at the table with some kind of short reference tool, could I design a monster literally as it fights?” Turns out the answer is “yes.”

The last several games I’ve run now, I have not prepped all my monsters. I’ve done maybe two or three in advance for special occasions, but everything else I’ve made up as needed. I then took my document, made it look all purdy and now, for your benefit and amusement, here it is! Do you necessarily need to use it to improv monsters? Of course not. You could just as easily use it to prepare monsters in advance of a session as well. I think it fits both needs admirably. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Special thanks to Derek Weller of for graciously allowing me to use his art for this product!

Click here for the 13th Age Monster Design Toolkit!



Tao of Gamemastery, Part 2

Tao of Gamemastery, Part 2

In part 1, we observed the fruitful void – the empty spaces left in our games from which good and interesting things spontaneously arise. Let’s now read poem number 29.

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred
You can not improve it
If you try to change it, you will ruin it
If you try to hold it, you will lose it

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind
Sometimes breathing is hard; sometimes it comes easily
Sometimes there is strength; sometimes there is weakness
Sometimes one is up and at other times down

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses and complacency.

I know a game group that runs back in Toledo that has met nearly every week for over 22 years. 22 YEARS!!!¬†They started with the Azure Bonds scenarios from 2nd edition D&D and have continued ever since. ¬†Is it possible the DM planned 22 years worth of material ahead of time? Maybe, but I’ll tell you for sure that’s not the case. One game merely leads into another and from the collection of all those episodes, a grand story arose. Not every game is equally good. Some are better than others. Sometimes there’s a plan ahead of time and sometimes there’s not. Some material is from the DM and others is from the players. No one keeps track. The irregularity makes it feel real.

The Tao abides in non-action
Yet nothing is left undone
If kings and lords observed this
The ten thousand things would develop naturally
If they still desired to act
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance
Without form there is no desire
Without desire there is tranquility
And in this way all things would be at peace.


Icons of the Schism: The Muse

Icons of the Schism: The Muse


The Muse is a beacon of hope and relief amidst the never-ending downward spiral which seems to have Laeda so firmly in its grasp.


‚ÄúI’ve seen ice melt into water, a forest regrow from being burnt down and a family reunited after years apart. I’ve even seen the dead rise and walk again. Now the light and warmth in a heart? Once that’s gone, there is no coming back.‚ÄĚ

Usual Location

The Muse is constantly on the move but her fame both follows and precedes her, so finding her at any given time is not difficult. She tends towards settlements where war and disaster have recently struck. For two months of the year she returns to her home by the Southern Sea, presumably to recharge and escape the dreariness of Laeda.

Common Knowledge

Due to her increasing popularity the Muse travels with an armed escort, though rumor has it she’s pretty handy with an axe. She stays in a settlement no more than three days at a time, singing in the markets and outside the temples. She has no permanent accompaniment, preferring to recruit from among the locals as she needs them. Her songs always change based on where she is performing, praising or cutting down the Laetian leadership as she sees fit. Her most loyal fans claim she sings to end the violence; her detractors, on the other hand, see only a threat to their power.

Adventurers and the Icon

The Muse is quite familiar with adventurers as she and they often visit similar places – taverns, temples, markets and the like. Any suitably experienced adventurer can catch her attention for an hour or so with a good tale or information about the local area. Her adventuring fans are generally bards, but she convinces even the occasional sorcerer or fighter to join her band for a day. The Muse will employ most adventurers to deliver messages or act as extra security while she travels. Rogues may be asked to spy or scout ahead. A few even claim to have been hired to set up accidents or embarassing situations for local leaders that the Muse can then ‚Äėcapitalize on‚Äô and lampoon. She of course denies such allegations.


The Muse gets along famously with the Prisoner, claiming him to be an excellent ‚Äėcaptive audience.‚Äô She has also impressed the Merking. She has on occasion sought out the Scrivener for insight; the Scrivener was reported to be cordial but otherwise unswayed.


The Muse has powerful enemies in the Speaker and the Steam King, but shows complete confidence in her ability to deal with their schemes.


The Muse arrived in Laeda from the Southern Sea expecting to learn new ways of song, but was instead met only by the dirges chanted in the temples of the death god and the graveyards of those fallen in war. The Muse wasted no time in rewriting the songs of her youth with new lyrics that would appeal to Laetian sensibilities. Equipped with her new musical arsenal, she storms the ravaged villages and front lines of combat.

The True Danger

The Muse is a bridge between Laeda and the nation to the south. Currently she brings hope to the war-torn Laetians and all is well. Should the war instead follow her home, it is unknown whether the southern nation would be ready.