The Dungeon Delvers card contest

Dungeon DelversA few months ago, I published Dungeon Delvers, a retroclone that simplifies classic D&D down to just ability scores and a single d6 roll.

The system is so straightforward, in fact, that I’ve put it onto a deck of cards. There’s a card for each class, each condition (stunned, immobilized, constitution drain, etc.), and spell. There are even cards to track how many hits you’ve taken, cards to replicate a d6 roll, and the rules are on cards, too.

I’ve released the deck as a complete deck of cards (USD $15) and as a print-and-play PDF (pay what you want).

To celebrate, I’m running a contest. For every 10 sales I make of the physical cards (or of the PDF at $5 or more) by midnight this Friday, 17 January 2014, I’ll make 5 monster cards, and add them to the deck.

Categories: Role-playing | Leave a comment

A generic RPG system based on ability scores

This is a simple RPG system based on the classic D&D ability scores.

The Basics

To resolve a difficult action, roll 2d6 and add the relevant ability score modifier.

Roll Result
2 or less Disastrous failure
3-5 Regular failure
6-8 Failure with a benefit
9-11 Regular success
12 or more Spectacular success

To determine an initial ability score, roll 3d6.

Ability score modifiers:

Score Modifier
2-3 -4
4-5 -3
6-7 -2
8-9 -1
10-11 0
12-13 +1
14-15 +2
16-17 +3
18-19 +4

Attacks normally deal 1d6 damage and lower the appropriate Health score. Health is restored at a rate of 1d3 points per day.

The GM can add +1 or -1 depending on the situation.

Each hero also has one catchphrase, which can be used once per session for +2 on a roll.

At the end of a story, the GM may reward each player with up to 2 points to add to ability scores.

Heroic Fantasy

Ability scores:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Constitution
  • Intelligence
  • Wisdom
  • Charisma
  • Health


Ability scores:

  • Strength
  • Stamina
  • Agility
  • Fighting
  • Intelligence
  • Awareness
  • Presence
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health


Ability scores:

  • Strength
  • Awareness
  • Lore
  • Physical Constitution
  • Mental Constitution
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health

Science Fiction

Ability scores:

  • Body (Strength)
  • Body (Agility)
  • Knowledge (Technical)
  • Knowledge (Galaxy)
  • Awareness
  • Charisma
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health

Optional Rules


Add another ability score: Magic.

To cast a spell, you must first spend 2 points for a trivial spell (brief light, temporarily vanish an object, throw your voice), 4 points for a basic spell (equivalent to what another person could do with skill and equipment, like a fireball that’s equivalent to a flaming arrow), or 6 points for a major spell (crumbling a wall).

After spending, re-calculate your Magic modifier, then roll 2d6 and add your new Magic modifier. Use the normal resolution rules.

Magic points recharge 1d3 points per day.


Add a Healing ability score. Once per day, you can roll and add your Healing modifier. You heal one-fourth the roll’s value in Health (rounded down, minimum 1) on an ally or yourself (no success or failure).


This game was written by Brent P. Newhall, inspired by core rules written by Brian Takle.

Download a clean PDF of this game at DriveThruRPG.

Categories: Role-playing | 1 Comment

An indie tabletop RPG maker’s finances for 2013

In the spirit of openness, here are my sales for 2013. I hope this will be useful to others who are interested in selling tabletop games.

I sell nearly all my games and products on DriveThruRPG. I take a scattershot approach: I make many different games and books, then sell them and see how they do.

Nearly all my releases are PDF. For the last few months of 2013, I started including eReader formats (.mobi, .epub, and .azw3) in my releases as well.

This year’s successes were clear:


Note that all the numbers I use here are actual revenue, after commissions and fees.

Those trends might be more obvious with a line chart of sales throughout the year:


The Old School Renaissance Handbook (which describes over a dozen old-school-style tabletop RPGs) clearly spanked all my other products, making literally an order of magnitude more money than any of the other products. Heck, it made twice as much money as all my other products combined. Interestingly, this is the only non-fiction product I’ve published.

My next most popular product is Dungeon Delvers, an OSR system, followed by DROP, a simple science fiction storytelling game. Dungeon Delvers was initially released to my patrons on Patreon, then released to the general public.

Note: I have not included Patreon revenue in any of these reports, partly because I forgot, partly because of the irregularity of its payments, and partly because Patreon automatically deducts outgoing pledges from incoming ones. I’ve only made a total of $20.01 through Patreon so far, so its impact is negligible. I’ll do better about counting that in future.

Mystery of the Shattered World is a setting book that I plan to release in 2014. I’ve been paying for art and editing work this year, which explains its deficit. I hope to make enough to offset its $170 cost.

Bounty Hunter Blues is a Fiasco playset, and Ability Score is a one-page, genre-agnostic system I released for fun in December. All the other products shown above were published in prior years, which explains their negligible sales.

This was also the year that I opened a business checking account and changed all my accounts to deposit directly there. So now, all my RPG finances are handled separately from my personal money. That is a big relief.

There’s a bigger question to be answered, though: how well am I doing? This is the most important chart of the year, showing sales as a cumulative line over the year. Every sale bumped the line up, and every expense pushed the line down.


You always want that line to move upwards over time. It looked scary in the first half of the year, then I released another edition of the OSR Handbook and got a nice jump in sales. Further expenses for Mystery of the Shattered World pushed it back down, but the releases of DROP and Dungeon Delvers pushed the line back up.

So, what have I learned from this?

  1. I’m very lucky to be making money from my games.
  2. Old school sells. I’ll work on another OSR product for 2014, and a third edition of the OSR Handbook.
  3. Non-fiction sells. People pay for analysis more than systems. I think the market’s saturated with systems anyway.
  4. I’m doing fine. I should push more money back into art and other such things for future products.
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Random Idea: Adil Giray

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have Adil Giray, the khan of the Crimean Khanate in the 1600′s and a big supporter of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an early forerunner of modern checks-and-balances governments. He was deposed when he took the Hapsburg‘s side during the Great Turkish War, and was successfully invaded by the Turks.

Giray merits a pathetically small Wikipedia entry as of this writing, with only 3 sentences to tell his tale. As with many things in life, one must dig deeper, into the story of the Commonwealth and the Great Turkish War.

There’s plenty of drama in the events surrounding Giray. The Commonwealth united two European countries into a single, powerful state that included a legislature that could check the power of the Polish king. Its Wikipedia article claims that the Commonwealth featured high levels of ethnic diversity, relative religious tolerance, and decades of economic prosperity.

Then a rebellion in the Ukraine exploded throughout the Ottoman Empire into the Great Turkish War. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth allied with the Holy Roman Empire (headed by Habsburg Austria), the Venetian Republic in 1684, and later, Russia. Unfortunately, Poland took a bad beating during the war, which led to Adil Giray’s removal from power.

Let’s make this into a fantasy scenario.


Adil Giray (Rillan by Peter Seckler)

Adil Giray (Rillan by Peter Seckler)

The Commonwealth faces dark days. The Empire advances, and the Commonwealth’s allies in the Holy League are ill-prepared for a continent-wide war.

Worse, the cliffs and tall city walls of neighboring Vanna repulsed the Empire’s forces. After two humiliating defeats within Vanna, the Empire’s forces have turned towards the Commonwealth.

Adil Giray rules the Commonwealth with foresight and subtlety. He is far removed from his bloodthirsty ancestors who conquered this country two centuries ago. He is no warrior on the field, but few navigate the courts of the land with more cleverness.

Unfortunately, cleverness only goes so far against the sword. The Commonwealth is fat, prosperous, and ripe for conquest. Its army, while well-trained, remains small due to disastrous agreements with other countries in the Holy League.

Adil desperately seeks information about the invading army, both standard strategic information and blackmail material on the Imperial General, Kara Mustafa. Is there anything that an enterprising adventurer could find about Mustafa that could be used against him, to turn the tide of the army? During these dark days, a few simple actions can keep a ruler on the throne, a ruler who will be grateful….

Categories: Random Idea | Leave a comment

Random Idea: Bloom County

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have Bloom County, the 1980′s comic strip by Berkeley Breathed. Bloom County gained fame by lampooning politics, elections, and controversial celebrities like Donald Trump.

How can we look at this from a fantasy angle? Well, dissidents have been drawing political illustrations for a very long time.


Berk is in trouble. He’s been distributing leaflets that feature his own drawings of the local mayor, Donald the Elder, along with political screeds about Donald’s bragging and womanizing. The leaflets grew so popular that Donald sent goons to threaten Berk with a pounding if he doesn’t stop drawing.

More importantly, the town will hold its annual election in two weeks. While the elections are usually a formality, Berk’s drawings have grown so popular that people are beginning to think it’s time for a new mayor. But who would be a better mayor? And who can keep Beck safe long enough to swing the voters’ opinions?

Categories: Random Idea | Leave a comment

Random Idea: The News & Record Newspaper

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have the News & Record, a North Carolina newspaper. It consolidated several papers during the 20th century, and has since followed the common trend of shrinkage and layoffs. Berkshire Hathaway bought it earlier this year.

Instead of setting this up as a plot hook itself, let’s re-skin the News & Record as a background setting for a modern investigation game. Whether you’re paranormal investigators, private detectives, or just normal reporters who get involved in Something Big, this could be an excellent employer.


'newspaper clippings shelftop (detail)' by carmichaellibrary on Flickr (CC-BY)

‘newspaper clippings shelftop (detail)’ by carmichaellibrary on Flickr (CC-BY)

Everybody in town knows the News & Record. Operating under one name or another for over a hundred years, the News & Record boasts a relatively large staff of nearly 200 employees, with an editorial staff of about 25 reporters, journalists, columnists, and editors.

Jack Gunner epitomizes the stereotype of newspaper editor. Sleep-deprived, coffee-fueled, manic, and obsessive about the English language, Jack once held up the special edition for 45 minutes arguing with a writer about the placement of a hyphen. He insists on the highest standards of both English language use and reporting, insisting on dozens of rewrites. He more or less lives in his office, which is crammed full of stacks of paper. He claims to have a wife and children, but nobody’s ever seen them.

His manic drive is partly caused by his boss, Pepper Paul. Pepper’s family took over the paper over fifty years ago, and she’s determined to keep it running despite competition from an internet she doesn’t understand. She attends at least a hundred local social events every year, ensuring that the News & Record gets at least some mention during the event. Her constant wining-and-dining of local businesses and philanthropists unquestionably kept the paper alive for the past 20 years. In her late 50′s and always dressed in flamboyant yet tasteful clothing, her nickname “The Battleship” is well-earned.

Rounding out this triumvirate is Alan Jones, head of Editorial. An outwardly laid-back ex-hippie with a pony tail, he chooses columnists and letters-to-the-editor. He’s grown infamous for choosing radicals. Some days, the editorial pages crackle with dissent and argument. The Sunday editorials are legendary for their nearly libellous columns. He delights in this. Pepper appreciates the publicity but rues the constant need to smooth ruffled feathers, while Jack finds editorializing in general vaguely villainous.

These are the powers-that-be at a newspaper begging for talent. Jack would love another investigative reporter or two, and while he’ll veto unorthodox practices, Pepper would likely approve them. Meanwhile, Alan gets the paper in hot water all the time, and anyone who can investigate his writers’ claims–or even write one or two–would earn his appreciation.

And if nothing else, if a group of unusual characters gets into trouble or accomplishes something unusual, a reporter from the News & Record is bound to start snooping around.

Categories: Random Idea | Leave a comment

Random Idea: Double Escrow

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have double escrow, a real estate transaction. The wikipedia article is so thin we need to do a little more investigation.

According to this article, when a property is sold, there’s normally one escrow, and it’s between the buyer and the seller. But let’s say the buyer plans to flip the house or otherwise sell it after some minor work. Let’s further say that the buyer finds someone interested in this property before it’s even sold. In that case, they’d set up a “double escrow” involving two sales: one to the intermediary buyer, and another immediately thereafter, literally on the same day, to the final buyer.

The wikipedia article includes some intriguingly sketchy statements, such as “Double escrows are totally legal[citation needed]” and “Many title firms in escrow states refuse to close double escrows, complaining about covert dealings and corrupt appraisals and loans.[citation needed]“. Sounds like a Fiasco.

(Thanks to Brian Liberge for help with this concept.)


'Mafias del Mundo: Ndrangheta' by Eneas de Troya on Flickr

‘Mafias del Mundo: Ndrangheta’ by Eneas de Troya on Flickr (CC-BY)

“Sal, shut up and listen. Vinnie’s got us in deep shit again.

“He says he found a property. A ‘nice little out of the way place,’ ‘just needs a little work,’ he says. It’s a shit-hole, Sal. It’s a god-damned wreck on the end of a dingy little road, with a cement swimming pool that’s god-damned empty, Sal. It’s got a god-damned crack in it the size of the San Andreas.

“But here’s the kicker, Sal, the big ol’ Vinnie-sized kicker. He’s already sold it, he says. And to who? To Millie May fucking Hopkins, Sal. Yeah, “Military Grade” Millie May. The boss’s fucking aunt. He says she’ll love it.

“No, no, Sal. He put a double escrow on it. I know, I know, somehow he managed it. Or somebody told him. They’re closing in a week, Sal. God himself couldn’t fix up this place in a week, Sal. We….

“Sal. No, Sal. We can’t do that, Sal. We can’t walk up to Millie May Hopkins and tell her to shut her whore mouth. We….

“She what? You know she did? You’re absolutely sure about that, Sal? Well, yeah, if that’s true, we could threaten to…but Sal, who’s going to do it?


Categories: Random Idea | Leave a comment

Random Idea: Okada, the Hunted

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have Richard Okada, a Princeton professor and expert on Japanese literature and culture. He appeared to live a quiet, academic life.

Let’s dig a little deeper into his situation. He lived in America, but loved Japanese culture, writing a doctoral thesis described as “one of the most important contributions to the study of classical Japanese narrative to have emerged in the last twenty years.” I don’t know if he was born in Japan, but let’s say he was, to add to the drama of a Japanese man living in America, loving it from afar. Let’s make him into an exile, on the run.

Even better, he died “of natural causes” in New Jersey. Suuuuure he did.


Terrible Character Portrait - Cyberpunk 3, by Jeff Preston (CC-BY-3.0)

Terrible Character Portrait – Cyberpunk 3, by Jeff Preston (CC-BY-3.0)

Okada is a well-respected scholar. Loved by his students, respected by his peers, he nevertheless has become more nervous lately. He needs help.

Okada translates ancient literature, and he’s stumbled upon something of great importance. An ancient manuscript points to the location of a lost treasure city, and he’s been visited twice by very large men in business suits.

Okada needs someone to protect him, and if possible, find the city before the bad guys do. There are actually several rival factions looking for the city.

Worse, Okada has an adventurous daughter in her late teens. You must find her before the bad guys do, and keep her safe while searching for the treasure.


Categories: Random Idea | 1 Comment

Random Idea: Zaza’s Girls, an All-Women Paramilitary Group

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have Skotisma Zazavavy eto Madagasikara, the national Girl Scout federation of Madagascar. It has 25,000 members. That’s about all the information to be gleaned from the page, which doesn’t give us much to go on, but the idea of a large organization of young girls learning survival skills on a small island captures the imagination in itself, doesn’t it?


Luigi Castellani's "Weapon Training" (CC-BY-3.0)

Luigi Castellani’s “Weapon Training” (CC-BY-3.0)

Dagaxa is one of the largest islands in the world, strategically placed as a vital trading hub. Ships from all over the world stop here. Unfortunately, this influx of shipping has not been kind to the natives, particularly the women.

About 30 years ago, a middle-aged woman named Zaza became well-known for taking in disadvantaged girls, from orphans to escaped kidnap victims. For a few years, she operated a small orphanage and school in the coastal city of Narivo.

Nobody knows what caused it. But one day, a call went out to all the sisters and cousins and friends connected to Zaza’s girls. Dozens came to the orphanage. Then they were all gone.

Some concerned relatives investigated. The group had been sighted heading into the dense jungle surrounding Narivo. A few half-hearted searches found nothing. For the next few decades, adventurous souls would whisper in a tavern about knowing a friend of a friend who sent supplies to Zaza’s Girls, as they were inevitably called, who now lived on their own deep in the jungles of Dagaxa.

Then, about five years ago, the underground rumor mill swirled with reports of “crazy women assassins.” They would swoop upon thieves’ jungle hideouts and brigands’ caches, destroying them and taking the spoils.

Then came the story of a gang member who limped into Narivo one hot day. His gang was threatening a small farmer in the jungle for protection money. The last member of the gang had just tied up the farmer’s youngest daughter when women flew into the hut from every side, slicing with long blades while screaming battle cries. The gang didn’t stand a chance.

The gang member was badly hurt but not killed, and feigned death. He heard the farmer ask the warriors, “Who are you?” One replied simply, “Zaza’s Girls.”

In the ensuing years, Zaza’s Girls have intervened in dozens of raids, hostages situations, and kidnappings. They have even tracked down those who escaped the law, and punished them severely. They are vigilante justice at its most skilled and direct.

Always prepared for combat and always armed, Zaza’s Girls are renowned for their muscled physiques, nearly psychic coordination in combat, and taciturn demeanors. They appear from the jungle and disappear back into it at will, untraceably so far.

Because of their focus on the scum of society, law enforcement (weak at the best of times in Dagaxa) has made only token efforts to track them down. The criminal underworld is more determined, but their efforts so far have met with swift failure, in the form of heads separated from their bodies.

And even while commoners on the street marvel at the Girls’ exploits, they wonder: how can a vigilante group like this stay so well-trained and well-armed?

Categories: Random Idea | Leave a comment

Random Idea: Amar of the Emerald

This is part of a series of RPG characters, creatures, items, adventure ideas, and locations inspired by random entries from Wikipedia. The material I create may grow distant from its roots.

Today we have Sharad Malhotra, a minor Indian TV actor.

This is a great example of a Wikipedia entry that requires digging. Deep in the first paragraph of his biography, we read, “He did a lot of ads prominent among them being ads for P.C.Chandra [Jewelers] ([he] was the first male model to have done a jewellery campaign).” Interesting. A small-time TV actor who models jewelry.


Luigi Castellani's Seated Noble (cropped)

Luigi Castellani’s Seated Noble (cropped)

Amar is a local celebrity in this large market town. He belongs to a small troupe of actors who put on farces and puppet shows during market days. Everyone’s seen Amar.

But lately, Amar’s been acting strangely. While he’s always dressed with a flamboyant air–despite his troupe’s meager earnings–a few months ago he began wearing a huge emerald on a gold necklace. (Since Amar maintains a public lifestyle, nobody’s had the chance to steal it yet.) Ever since, he’s been selling smaller versions of his necklace to young men and women. He claims he has a deal with a foreign merchant named Chandra, who recognized Amar’s fame as an opportunity to recruit a celebrity as a salesman.

But his clients always end up coming back within Amar’s orbit, hanging around wherever he happens to be and laughing at all his jokes. Some have seen Amar and his “followers” all enter a house for some kind of meeting.

In reality, Amar has come under the spell of the mysterious merchant Chandra. Chandra leads a new cult, the Followers of the Unseen Eye. The cult’s symbol is the emerald, etched or drawn on all their papers and artifacts. Chandra wears an even larger emerald than Amar. Each necklace is a magical artifact that gives the wearer a moderate psychic hold over anyone who wears a smaller version.

This would only be a mild curiosity, except that an informant has told the town’s militia that the Followers of the Unseen Eye worship demons, and Chandra plans to kidnap several locals for a human sacrifice. Indeed, perhaps Amar’s followers are meant for the knife….

Categories: Random Idea | Leave a comment