The Somata Engraver

A body clutching the engraving kit.

There exists, within the world, a single somata engraving kit. It is not something one stumbles upon by luck or chance, and it cannot be found through research, coin, or word of mouth. When the kit chooses to be found, it is found. The small box is carved from cherry wood and bleached bone, with silver clasps and ornate hinges. Inside, stiffened felt cradles each engraving tool snuggly in their rightful places.

When you find the kit, it will be on the body of a man freshly perished, his arms curled around it like a lost child, head bowed in reverence, refusing to let go even in death. His flesh is cut and scarred, once smooth skin turned into a twisting network of gouged chasms, all the way to the bone in places. In the right light at the right time, like under the shine of the midsummer sun or in the hallowed grounds of the dead, the scars shine with faded color. The kit itself, when torn from his grasp, reveals the secret of the man’s flesh-markings. Inside, five chisels—varying in size from a hummingbird’s beak to a grizzly’s claw—await eager new hands, each one as sharp as a spurned lover’s stiletto. Any single graze across skin from the blade by clumsy hands will draw blood from flesh.

The artwork on this post was created by Norn Noszka.

A Person-Shaped Hole

Hypothetical time: you’re starting a new game and want to have all the player characters connected in a way that creates just the right amount of drama, tension, and connective tissue. There needs to be an iron-clad bond between them, but you’re having trouble coming up with the solution. Have no fear, theoretical game-starter I just created! I’m going to share what I consider one of the strongest, electrifying ways to connect the characters.

I present the person-shaped hole.

Collaborative Worldbuilding: Glimpses

When I’m running a game, one of the highlights for me is inviting players to collaboratively build the world with me. In the past, this has resulted in a few hiccups. Enter this post, where I will attempt to solve them all. Rather than the players having carte blanche on worldbuilding, I want to add some structure to keep the ideas on topic and the game moving. I’ve written about this before and I still believe world anchors are foundational to my games, but I want to try and tackle this from a different angle

Kentaro Miura on Skill

I’m reading Berserk.

There’s a part—almost 200 chapters in—where Guts is teaching Isidro how to fight. Here’s the panels:

The core of these panels seem to be drawing on Kentaro Miura’s musings on the creation of art more than they’re drawing on his knowledge of warfare and sword-fighting. When I first came across them, they struck me immediately as Kentaro’s thoughts in regards to others asking him “how do I become you?” And I think with just these six panels, we get the answer:

You cannot practice your way into becoming a master.

You are not, and never will be, Kentaro Miura.

New Year’s Resolution Systems

Prismatic Wasteland has issued a challenge and who am I to resist such a thing?

My challenge is thus: In January 2024, come up with a new resolution mechanic for a TTRPG and give it a name. It doesn’t need to be good (in fact, most the good ones have probably already been taken). It just needs to be new! You don’t need to plan to use it in your games; it can be absolute detritus for you. But one blogger’s trash is another designer’s treasure. You never know how great an impact one throwaway idea on a blog might have.

2023 Mindstorm Retrospective

Alright, another year in the books means that we’re going to go through files, notes, and memories and try to recap this thing. This is a mostly self-indulgent post, rough around the edges, and posted for posterity’s sake.

A Demon of Three Notes

The demon mirig.The children run through the village, laughing and singing in harmony. The organist in the temple plays music that would rival even the great masters of the world. The dour fisherman, who smiles for nothing and no-one, hums a cheerful tune. Those who never had the ear for music wake up with perfect pitch, the harmonies sinking into them, resonating with the songs in their souls. Instruments are taken up and mastered, flutes and lutes and little harps. The town gathers at night and sings the deep songs, the true songs, the night songs, smiling and laughing as they dance and embrace.

Beneath it all, deep within the earth, the demon slumbers, growing stronger with each note that passes through joyful lips.


Welcome, traveler, to Gulch. This town ain’t much, but it’s ours, and we’d appreciate it if you’d not muck about in our business, thank you very much. You might be tempted to dive under the surface, get to know the people here, and try helping them out. Don’t. That’s just going to piss someone else off, you see? Best to fill up your car and keep on moving on

Under the Hood of the Garden Wall


What can Over the Garden Wall teach us about adventure design? The 10 episodes are tight, full of surprises, and effortlessly entertaining. For the most part, they seem to share a foundational structure that we can pull out of the show and apply to roleplaying games. You can’t plan a “story” in an RPG, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set something up to be fun and engaging for everyone at the table.

Ringing the Bell, A Simple Reputation System

Imagine a character that has been through it all: hard fought victories against deadly foes, slaying monsters of legend, delving into depths unknown, and wielding the old magics of the world in the form of their weapons, gear, or arcane trickery. One of the coolest experiences to have at the table with a character like that is when their reputation proceeds them. When their titles are shouted out in backwater towns, when the lord of the land calls upon them to solve a problem, when their past catches up to them because it’s been hard-won in the crucible of action.

There is nothing quite as striking and commanding as a name on the lips of many.

Ransacking the Room

Usually, the way I handle players exploring a location is pretty standard: I describe the location, point out the interesting bits, and let the players inform me how their characters are checking things out. If there are secret things in the location, I’ll hint at them (either in the main description, or in further descriptions as they search). Basically, nothing revolutionary—I’m using Justin Alexander’s Matryoshka Search Technique.

This works really well in ruins, dungeons, haunted forests, and the other milieu you typically find in an OSR-ish game. I, however, am merely a POSR, and my games don’t contain all that many ruined dungeons for the players to explore. Instead, they often find themselves dealing with dangerous locations in populated areas—and that involves a lot of B&E into the lairs of the bad guys.

Spell FRIEND and Enter

In the following post I’m going to lay out a foundational structure for using scrabble tiles in two different, but connected, ways. The first is using the tiles as a key to unlock the ancient dungeons in the world, where the more tiles you have the more dungeons you can unlock (and gain more tiles from). The second application comes in a Tears of the Kingdom-esque application of creativity, where your characters can use the tiles to magically modify objects in the world to solve the problems they encounter.

This requires two things to be true about the setting.

Question-Based Adventure Design (Q-BAD)

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love spreadsheets, and that’s why—like an absolute freak—I write the first draft of my adventures in a spreadsheet. Hold on. Don’t leave. You don’t have to use a spreadsheet. It’s just easiest for me.

There’s really only one step to that first draft—and I’m using first draft pretty loosely here—instead of something hammered down, ready for editing, my initial pass on an adventure mostly lives inside of my head, with about 10% of it on the spreadsheet, like some kind of RPG iceberg.

Tension Cheatsheet

In the latest POSR game I’ve been running we’ve played eleven sessions and the players have only explored two dungeons—and those dungeons only took five sessions between both to clear to their satisfaction. That means that for this game, we’ve spent six sessions not dungeon crawling.

Lots of stuff has happened. They rooted out the cause of a missing village. They met with the leader of a powerful clan in the last city. He introduced them to his “burn everything, ask questions never” special forces team dedicated to taking out cosmic-monster worshipping clans hidden about. They’ve made friends with a group of travelling merchants called the Nine Thumbs. They’ve went to a dark and spooky theatre and watched a performance about themselves. They’ve made a lot of messes, too. Right now, they’re attending the “wedding of the year” between two clan scions.

The Pirate Crew

I think something that almost every GM seems to go through is the elusive “ship game”, where the characters are all members of a crew of some kind of ship (sailing or space) and they go around doing various odd jobs. My group has tried to run this game numerous times with many systems and we’ve just wrapped up the latest attempt: a mini Scum & Villainy campaign.

Dwiz over at Knight at the Opera has talked about running a pirate game in a great manner of detail and I think it’s a great post. One of the three pillars he talks about are “social challenges” between the crew. I’m going to spend this post trying to flesh this out a bit using ladder tables. You’ll need to be familiar with that post.

Stealth Turns

As I gear up to run another game for my friends, I’ve been fiddling with my own system. I’m trying to mesh together multiple things that I love—characters with cool abilities, an easy resolution system, procedural play, and a science-fantasy mileau.

As such, I’ve been thinking about how best to employ the hazard die and turn-based structure to the game. Ava has mentioned before that she believes the Event Die in Errant is the engine that drives the game, and I wholeheartedly agree. As such, I’ve been thinking about how to leverage the Event Die in a structure that will be less about crawling through dungeons, and more about adventure, exploration, and character-based scenes.

Nested Monster Hit Dice

Like almost everyone, I’ve spent some time thinking about Witcher style monster hunting in RPGs, racking my brain over and over again as I try to “solve the case” as it were. Often the advice suggests vibe and a certain procedure of play:

  • Run the monster as a “puzzle” instead of a straight up fight. Do this with resistances, immunities, and weaknesses.
  • Make discovering information about the monster the main purpose of the adventure. A successful investigation leads to a fight that is significantly easier as a result.

This is solid advice in terms of trying to evoke Witcher vibes, but it doesn’t really scratch the itch in the right way for me. The other inspiration I’m drawing from is Horizon: Zero Dawn, which has you targeting the components of the beasts you’re hunting as opposed to just smashing the side of them with your spear.

Matrix Campaign Structures, Part 2B

This should be a quicker post than Part 1 and Part 2B, thankfully. I think we’re hitting the stride now and can pick up some speed—I’ve discussed why I’m making these procedures, how I’m making them, and breaking down the concepts that go into them.

To recap, the four “major” procedures that make up the Matrix loop are:

Matrix Campaign Structures, Part 2A

Apologies for the bit of the delay in getting part two out the door. I’ve been swamped lately with editing Barkeep on the Borderlands and the blog is the first thing to suffer. This adventure is going to be amazing, though.

The previous post in this series laid out the groundwork of what we’re trying to do here: build a set of procedures, unconnected to ‘system’, that let us play an RPG campaign that has the vibes and structure of The Matrix movies.