Where’s Judd?

These are the places you can regularly hear and/or see me talking about gaming or doing the thing and streaming some play. Links are both in the pictures and in the text beneath.

Here’s the link where I store my links.

I’ll update this as more comes up.

The logo for my podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons

In which I have a conversation with you about techniques that are shaking out at the tables where I sit and inspirational media.

Daydreaming about Dragons Podcast

In which Jason and I discuss the Trophy RPG and in doing so end up talking about game culture and techniques that link up to all kinds of tabletop RPG’s.

The Sixth Ring, a Trophy Podcast

Nara and the Burning Wheel is a Burning Wheel game streamed on the Actual Play twitchstream channel. Here’s the Youtube Playlist, also embedded below.

I’ve been honored to play so much on the Actual Play channel, a place where I’ve made wonderful friends and played in wondrous games.

Rebel Crown Youtube Playlist

Another wonderful game on the Actual Play twitch channel. The Witch-Queen Cael is out to claim the throne from her corrupt usurper Uncle. Forged in the Dark medieval throne grabbing…

More to come!

What kind of wizard will you become?

Picture Text: The hedge wizard who taught you the arcane arts just died.
The decrepit tower, the towns seeking guidance, & the spirt beneath the tower are now your responsibility.

What kind of wizard will you become?

What school of wizardry were you taught?

Five Towers Guild – a modern school founded to serve nobles and thrones.

Play this if you’d like to serve local nobles and be in the midst of throne games.


B1: Write a belief about the local duke and which of their children has the best claim.

B2: Write a philosophical belief about how wizards should dispense wisdom.

B3: Write a belief about the relationship between nobility and the common folk and use your magic to bolster and change people so they can do better.

5 Towers Guild Art Magic

3 Specialties: Trait, Advantage, Arcane Knowledge

+1 Hinder

+2 Illusion

+3 Evoke

+4 Destroy with Sorcerous Fire

+5 Transform

+6 Sorcerous Weapon

+7Arcane Action

The Holy Dragon Mages – the Dragon Church’s official school of fire and lore

Play this if you want to light shit on fire and deal with church machinations.


B1: Write a belief about the local bishop and their conflicts with the duke.

B2: Write a philosophical belief about the passage from the Dragon Bible that guides your life.

B3: Write a philosophical belief about the church’s place in the lives of the faithful.

Holy Dragon Art Magic

3 Specialties: Destroy with Sorcerous Fire, Sorcerous Weapon, Arcane Knowledge

+1 Transform

+2 Arcane Action

+3 Illusion

+4 Hinder

+5 Trait

+6 Advantage

+7 Evoke

Twilight and Dusk – school of the fey touched

Play this if you want to change shape and summon alien fey beings.

Born Village -> Wizard’s Apprentice (codex) -> Hedge Wizard -> Rogue Wizard

Note: I’ll burn this up later.


B1: Write a belief about the local duke and their disrespect of the Olde Ways.

B2: Write a philosophical belief about paying debts and having manners that the fey folk have taught you.

B3: Write a belief about those who cross the fey and must pay a terrible price.

Twilight and Dusk Art Magic

3 Specialties: Transform, Illusion, Arcane Action

+1 Hinder

+2 Advantage

+3 Destroy with Sorcerous Fire

+4 Evoke

+5 Sorcerous Weapon

+6 Arcane Knowledge

+7 Trait

The Circle and the Fortress – a difficult path dedicated to summoning and banishing otherworldly forces

Play this if you want to ritually summon the spirits of the dead, devils and pay their terrible prices (it takes hours, can’t summon in the midst of battle).

Note: I’ll burn this up later.


B1: Write a belief about the spirit bound to the duke’s ancestral blade.

B2: Write a philosophical belief about how the art of summoning guides all aspects of your life.

B3: Write a philosophical belief about how common folk should deal with otherworldly beings.

Circle and the Fortress Art Magic

3 Specialties: Arcane Knowledge, Trait, Illusion

+1 Hinder

+2 Destroy with Sorcerous Fire

+3 Arcane Weapon

+4 Evoke

+5 Arcane Action

+6 Transform

+7 Advantage

NOTE: Maybe this is not a school of Art Magic but just a summoner who hasn’t been trained in a school just yet. If so, burn them up as such and have a belief about being trained in a school

War Wizardry – built for battle and supporting generals

Play this if you want to see battles, make lines on maps, bolster troops and such.


B1: Write a belief about the duke’s heir, a warrior knight who is warring with neighbors.

B2: Write a philosophical belief based on your favorite tactician’s treatise on war and life.

B3: Write a belief about how you feel when you see war’s fell hand smash the common folk.

War Wizardry Art Magic

3 Specialties: Destroy with Sorcerous Fire, Arcane Weapon, Advantage

+1 Hinder

+2 Illusion

+3 Trait

+4 Arcane Action

+5 Transform

+6 Arcane Knowledge

+7 Evoke

Necromancer – practitioner of the Death Art

Play this if you want to do fell rituals upon corpses and be infamous for commanding undead.

Note: I’ll burn this up later.


B1: Write a belief about the duke’s dead father, said to haunt the wetlands as an undead abomination.

B2: Write a philosophical belief about death and your skill in evading and twisting it to your purposes.

B3: Write a belief about some necromantic goal that you wish to accomplish to prove your power to the world and yourself.

Another Note

Twilight and Dusk wizards might find themselves in the midst of battles. War Wizards might have to deal with throne games. Five Towers Guild trained wizards might have to deal with church politics. It is just a matter of degree and how your skills are built.

* = five towns the wizard offers guidance to, as per the ancient agreement made when the tower was first built

*Stipel – little town that built the wizard’s tower long ago

*Aelton – village on the far side of the Southward Ash River, on the other side of the stones but asked for the wizard’s guidance when the tower was first built

Dusk Stones – said to have been placed by fey folk to prevent war

*Castle Byrne – ducal seat

*Port Gersum – on the verge of becoming a bustling port city, seen to by the duke’s sibling

*Livarin – town built around a construction site where foundations for a castle has been laid

Southern Wyrd – spooky forest

The Wizard’s Friend

Just in case you’ve got a third player. The way I’ve made this character creates a very real danger of this game going from being about a wizard finding their place in the world and coming into their own and a hackneyed peasant-prophesied-to-become-king tale. Don’t let it.


B1: Write a belief about hiding from that damned prophecy.

B2: Write a philosophical belief about the simple honor you find in serving a wizard.

B3: Write a belief about supporting the wizard in coming into their own power.

Last Note

I burned up the characters I could with the online character burner but when some wizards needed hand-burning because they needed Codex lifepaths. So I set those aside aside in order to get this blog post out sooner rather than later. I’ll burn them up in the coming weeks and add them to the post as needed.

If you use this as a jumping off point for a game, please let me know. I’d love to hear how it went.

Looking for more Burning Wheel Campaign ideas? I’ve got a page for that.

In which we begin Book 3, Nara and the Burning Wheel

The Ballad of Bina Janos as a rumpled softcover.

Sean and I playing Burning Wheel started out because a Blades in the Dark game we both played in had a few nights a month where he and I were the only players who could make it. I suggested a BW side-game and now, several years later, that campaign is still going. Having just purchased a map making program I made a map:

The map helped. It forced me to name things and gives things shape. The human dukes were divvied up into 3 groups that I think of as the Gold Dukes, the Iron Dukes and the Wyrd Dukes. That will help when I need to make up a human on the fly. I can see where they are from and know a bunch about what their political life is like. Naming the dwarven holdfasts wasn’t something I thought about but became important later. Only now have I started to get more firm ideas about Ostofair and Andune.

I knew the BW system wouldn’t be an issue with Sean. He might hate it (and that would be fine (but he didn’t)) but he wouldn’t bounce off it the way I’ve seen some folks do. So I asked him to take a look at the BW Situations I had tweeted and one of those tweets grabbed him.

When I imagined this campaign, I imagined a conscripted soldier who returned home to farm and just wants a peaceful life but is very aware of the perils of war. Instead, Sean burned up Bina Janos, a servant who worked in a tower at the crossroads, serving the knight there. It was not what I expected at all. The game straight up made me nervous. There aren’t many (any?) fantasy books about Bina Janos. She didn’t secretly have magic powers nor was she secretly the lost child of a queen or a knife murder goddess in hiding.

Bina was a mother who married a decent guy, a wheelwright (and it is a Burning Wheel game…huh? get it?) and had a daughter, Nara, with him. She had been taken from a nearby village during some feuding and never went back home. She got by with a skill called Soothing Platitudes, being good at her job and knowing the local gossip.

That first campaign was an exercise in GMing failure without beating up the player. In following Bina’s journey we learned and made up a bunch of mythology in the world. The Burning Wheel, an actual physical artifact that could be seen like an arcane beacon atop a northern mountain and its church. The lore behind the dwarves and the elves that was leading to war. The 17 Great Debts of the Dwarven Princes. The politics behind the human dukes and the songs of the human peasants. There are immigrants from a faraway continent who have traditionally guarded the gold mines and the caravans that take the gold from the mines to the capital after a few local knights turned bandit or rebel lord, trying to control the wealth.

During the game it was clear that a dragon still had an important elf, a consort to the elf queen, and so the second book was about a working class dwarf in charge of tunneling into an abandoned holdfast that was being squatted in by a dragon. The dragon was trapped within but still, there was real imminent danger there.

Into the Vault as a worn softcover you might find burned under some dirty towels in your cousin’s hatchback.

Pellara the Pillar would become Pellar Dragonsworn and also Prince Pellara Dragonsworn of the Vault through the course of play. That was not at all my intent. I wanted to stay away from noble games but she was born to and was the matriarch of a working class family. To be honest, having a game about a strong woman taking control of a political situation driven into the shitter by born noble princes felt pretty damned good. All of those dwarven holdfasts at the top of the map suddenly became very important. I made notes on each prince and what made those places unique.

I was making stuff up as I went and adjusting to the beliefs Sean made but I daydreamed myself enough content to give myself structure so I wasn’t ever making shit up in a void.


In a subreddit someone asked how GM’s make character arcs. It might look like I very carefully planned everything. Book 1 and 2 are both nine sessions long.

I didn’t. I didn’t plan a damned thing. There was no arc in mind. I didn’ tknow where Sean’s beliefs would take us. I know how I want to push on them but once I push, I have no idea how Sean will react to that pressure. I didn’t want each game to be 9 sessions long and I don’t mind if Nara’s time in the campaign takes 3 sessions or 99 sessions.

Here’s what I wrote in the thread:

Just let he players deal with the problems and cool stuff and arcs will happen naturally because we are humans and we like to find patterns and familiar rhythms in things. Don’t plan the solutions, just put forth the situations filled with problems and wonder and see what happens.

Me, saying stuff, link above

This third book’s situation is more vague. We found out in the first book that Bina’s daughter, Nara, was Gifted and might be destined to be the next Arch-Mage. What does that term even mean? Arch-Mage. All we know is that an Arch-Mage is a wizard who picks up the Burning Wheel, braves its sorcerous fires and takes it down the mountain. We know that her destiny is wrapped up in that mess. I am relying on the lore we’ve built and the fact that we’ve barely scraped the surface. There is still so much that Sean doesn’t know and Nara can learn.

I’ve started writing notes about how Arch-Mages are selected and the previous Arch-Mages and how each of them has led to the current state of affairs in wizard society. We will get to see Wheelholdt from a very different point of view. I’ve been daydreaming about wizards, apprentices and how they learn, what their hierarchies are like and how they interact with the rest of human society.

B1: I’m supposed to carry the Wheel down the mountain, but nobody will tell me why! I’m going to find out what happened LAST time an archmage did it.
B2: To take the Wheel I must master the School of Fire. Great, more mentors! Ah well, fighting this prophecy has never worked out, I better get to it. I’ll find a praticioner to teach me.

One of the things BW does well is learning. Seeking out teachers and reading books can be a big deal.

I’m glad we’ve got an empty third belief to start off with, it allows Sean to jump on something that comes up in play as we get to know Nara.

Here are the playlists for the first two books. Come join us in a week for the beginning of the the third. I have no idea what is going to happen. Or…I know some stuff but have no idea how Sean is going to play Nara. We’re going to find out about the history of wizardry and Arch-Magery. We’ll see where Nara fits in all that mess and if she agrees with the prophecy told to her mother years ago that said she was destined to pick up a fiery magical artifact created by a sorcerous fire god.

We’ll be at the Actual Play twitch channel next Friday at 9PM EST or so, please stop by if that kinda thing is your cuppa tea.

Also, Sean put the first book’s games into a podcast if that is a better format for ya.

The Ballad of Bina Janos, Book 1
The Rise of Prince Pellara Dragonsworn

I’m adding a link to the third arc’s playlist just so they are all in one place:

Book III Nara and the Burning Wheel

“Take off your mask, Little Priest.”

It is an iconic scene in adventure TTRPGing. The players break into a bad guy’s office to find out more about their plans or steal something.

You thought the BBEG was just a bad person but no, you’ve stumbled right into a good ole fashioned Face-stealer Cult. Hold on to your masks, delvers.

Evidence to be found:

Members List

Who is on the list?

  1. Law Enforcement
  2. Clergy
  3. Player Characters’ Patron
  4. Player Characters’ Family
  5. Player Character
  6. Group of people who went on an adventure ten years ago, went legit and never seemed to go delving again.

Target Faces to be Acquired List

  1. Someone Rich
  2. Someone with social capital
  3. Someone with a really nice face
  4. Someone with a wondrous beard
  5. Someone the players adore.
  6. Someone the players despise

List of People to Ask to Join

  1. If someone in the party is shady or flirts with evil…totally them.
  2. Scholar
  3. Criminal
  4. Wizard
  5. Midwife
  6. Doctor

Art from the British Museum Flickr account

Daydreaming about the Mandalorian

What can we learn about The Mandalorian that we can bring to our gaming tables?

I’ve got a few ideas…

Daydreaming about Dragons, Episode 41

Mando material starts at around 4:18.

tl;dr Mando failed. He failed hard and failed often. He got his ass kicked by Jawas and yet he’s the best bounty hunter in the sector. No one threw that failure in his face. Think about how you can frame failures in your game so that it doesn’t belittle your friends awesome characters.

Daydreaming about Dragons, Episode 44

Mando material starts at around 7:43.

tl;dr The Mandalorian wasn’t trying to create a myth cycle for a new generation. It was trying to be a fun space western. The show wasn’t swinging for the fences.

Minotaur Civil War and Current Events

From Module to Incursion

I wrote a twitter thread about tonight’s game and I thought that got it out of my system but no, there’s more rattling around for me to chew on.

(NOTE: I’m re-reading this blog post and watching myself try to write a normal actual play post and failing to filter out how odd and wrong everything is right now. Maybe because it feels surreal to be gaming right now. There is going to be a game soon when I turn to my friends and say something like, “See you next game; I hope we’re still gaming in a democracy-shaped republic.”)

Thunderspire Labyrinth offered the inspiration – the treasure-hunters chasing a group of shitty people (in this case human traffickers who sold people to ghouls for food and slavery). The shitty people ran into the ruins of a minotaur city, said to be cursed and devil-haunted – you know, the usual.

The module itself was a bit too much for me, so I distilled it down to 5 sets, grabbing names and details from the module as needed:

  • Saruun Khel’s Gate
  • The Lantern Road
  • The Great Stair
  • The Flooded City
  • The Thunderspire Peak

Here’s the full write-up if you want to see what I worked off of today.

I wanted the players to know that there was more than one way in, so I made the goal of the first set: Decide how you want to enter Saruun Khel. The players were savvy. They watched the ravens flying around the gate, noticed that the older ravens refused to enter and only the younger ravens went in at all.

Saruun Khel

I’m not sure why a fantasy story about a beautiful city, full of bullish folk who worshipped labyrinthine choice and devils and demons falling to civil war because of the worship of a selfish liar full of secrets would appeal to me right now.

Drew made his Hunt roll to know the history of the place. His none-too-bright former gladiator knew the history of Saruun Khel because there was a gladitorial game based on the city’s civil war. Love it.

Sometimes Trophy Gold’s Hunt rolls call on the GM to say something the players find that is terrifying. Sometimes they find what they are looking for but still, run across something terrifying. It isn’t always a monster encounter.

When Revel was looking for a map of the city, I had to offer something terrifying.

“Here’s what is terrifying. This city was really beautiful. It was an architectural marvel, a flittering jewel in this mountain and now it is a flooded ruin. Now it is nothing but a dungeon to loot because of civil war.”

Yeah, it is obvious that shit is on my mind.

Griffons and Dragons

There was another cool moment where Revel charged a griffon. It was a dangerous move and Drew knew it. The actions of the other two characters entirely saved his ass. Rasei fired arrows at it and I had archery as a weakness of griffons – John had his character, Theoden do something so smart that I wrote it down as a new weakness. He used a spell to imitate a dragon call.

Of course griffons would be scared of dragons; it is the only predator above them on the food chain in the mountains. Those two actions, both utilizing weaknesses, dipped the griffon’s Endurance so that their roll defeated it.

I’d like to take this moment to say that describing a griffon dragging a goat up onto an 8 foot rock and eating it was fun. Giant eagle maw cracking bones and horns and hooves; the sound of it must be terrifying. That was a fun GM moment.

I knew there was a dragon in the Tomb Mountains but didn’t know if it was awake. Today I found out it was awake now. John’s character, Theoden, imitated a dragon-call to scare the griffon and then a few Hunt rolls demanded something terrifying.

Yup, dragon’s awake. What would wake up a dragon fast? A dragon-call. Mountain ranges aren’t big enough for two dragons.

I decided there was a scholar from the capital studying griffons in the peak.

The Big Score

Drew’s ex-gladiator said, “Where do minotaur store their taxes?”

The city is entirely flooded. The tombs are on hilltops, so they only have knee-deep water in them but the rest of the mountain is a big moongator tank. One can see the tops of towers and cathedral spires in the murky water. The players are thinking about ways to drain that water or freeze it and dig through the ice.

I had a panicked second – what would I do if they drained Saruun Khel?

It was a short second of panic. Here’s what I’d do.

In Trophy Gold you are saving up to get 50 gold and achieve your drive. What if they drained the minotaur city and defeated whatever was still guarding the city streets?

What if I just said, “Good job, you all achieve your Drives. Roll up new characters. You see a city just opened up called New Khel and adventurers are flocking to it. From this metropolis you can go delving in the underdeeps or along the surface of the dragon-haunted Tomb Mountains.”

Maybe they just do it. Maybe they’d just change the world a bit and we’d take some time to adventure in that changed world and see what treasures are worth hunting in it.

Maybe you can build something on the wreckage of a minotaur civil war.

Or maybe they’ll get eaten by the moongator, stalking the floodwaters, a moon-colored monster.

We’ll see.

Vote. Be prepared.

See you on the other side.

Putting SWN Sectors to Use

Stars Without Number written around a black hole.

Razornet Away Team

Not as in, an Away Team but as in, a team that has been away for a while. There are plenty of reasons to have been out of the loop for a while. Here are a a few:

  • Armed Forces Service
  • Incarceration
  • Medical Cryogenic Hypernation
  • Shipwreck survivor
  • Pilgrimmage
  • Refugee

Whatever the reasons you were away, you’re back and either knew the other players from a past crew or job and now were put togther as a Freelance Team in Razornet’s app for enterprising freelancers on the edge of legality.

We’ll talk about what kind of game we want to see. Do you want to have all known each other from you previous enterprise? Maybe you all know each other from time in some Void Marine unit or all survived a shipwreck caused by a malicious alien intelligence…

Terran Mandate Envoy Team

You have just entered the system with a checklist in hand and a vague authority that might or might not be recognized by the governments in this sector. Can you bring the sector back to the bosom of Olde Earth’s government?

Do you want to?

Your commanding officer is jumping to another sector but will be back with the full weight of (TMB) Terran Mandate Battlecruiser Serengeti’s weapons and marines in a year (you hope).

We’ll discuss how your characters all feel about the Terran Mandate government and make an Engagement roll to see how well equipped you are to start. I’m thinking I’d make a roll or two behind the screen to know when the Serengeti will actually arrive and what state it will be in once it does.

Far Traders

Your team just jumped into this system in a rare ship equipped with an Event Horizon-Gate Engine, designed to harness the energy of black holes and turn that energy into jump-gate coordinates that will send you to another black hole near a different sector.

Naming starships is fun.

We’ll make an Engagement roll to see how the ship is doing and how valuable your goods are in the hold and move from there. You’ll stay in this sector for as long as it is profitable to do so before moving on with whatever you can carry. I love the idea of jumping to different sectors, each sector as its own chapter or book or season…


You are representatives in a scrappy government that wants to stay self-governed. Maybe it is a moon or a orbital station or a science station whose original mission has outlasted the government that put it there. Either way, you are a team looking to represent and stay independent in the face of powerful forces all around you.

We’ll look at the map, talk over the Sector’s situation and put your home in a spot that makes sense.

To the Table

I’m thinking about how I might use these SWN Sectors (I’ve got a few more in my drafts section that aren’t quite ready yet) and how I’d pitch those games. The Burned Over playbooks are looking really good to me and so many of SWN’s worlds are in various stages of apocalyptic decline/ascension. Air and water are still a big deal. I don’t think we’d have to change much to make that work.

I’m reading through my Traveller LBB and I’ve got some vague ideas about using that chargen to get background and then Burned Over Playbooks to show what kind of physical shell the character is downloaded into but that all might be too much work.

I’d rather just throw playbooks on the sector map, maybe make up a love letterish (article about Love Letters from a decade ago by John Harper…sure) engagement roll (like in Blades in the Dark) to see what kind of situation the players are starting in and get to playing.

Original picture from 12019 on pixabay

Ducal Moons

Leviathan’s moons call to me!

Moons of Leviathan, cool logo from a cave looking out onto a Gas Giant.

I am imagining the Astrogation Temples, where you go to have your journey mapped. The mapping takes place in empty rooms with vaulted ceilings, where stone moon scultpures are put into motion on hard light holograms.

Why is it a temple? Because all journeys have religious significance. The navigators are trained in anthropological religious studies, helping humans keep in touch with their humanity while traversing the void. They might offer a parable or an argument or sit you down for a meal with a nearby family or offer guided meditation with their coordinates.

Orbital map of the Ducal Moons, being those moons with atmosphere and dockage.

Astrogation computers are available but only used in an emergency. Computers have a rough time around Leviathan. The gas giant’s magnetic radiation wreaks havoc with any complicated computer and A.I. research is strictly forbidden because of the fell effects Leviathan’s pull has on synthetic entities of any kind.

The Ducal Moons are held by the 4 Major Houses: Job, Triton, Rangomai and Mizuchi. In the centuries since their settling, the moons have changed hands a number of times with houses Major and Minor rising and falling on a political tide.

Baikonur was the first moon settled and is held in trust by the Unions and Temple. The Major Houses take turns guarding it, changing every 4 cycles. Baikonur, because of its special place in the orbits, was named for a spaceport on Olde Earth, rather than a nautical port.

Map inspired by the orbit diagrams from this blog post.

Moons of Leviathan

Morgan did his public twitter chargen and he rolled up a Traveller Noble and prodded at me to think about knife fights in space.

And we did.

Dozens of moons surrounding a gas giant with a satanic storm eye moving to and fro. The gas giant is called Leviathan with dozens of moons and enough asteroids in its rings that new moons are still discovered.

There are 4 major houses: Job, Triton, Rangomai and Mizuchi charged with defending the ducal moons with the finest atmospheres with a dozen more houses minor picking up the scraps. Those with noble titles and their knights can wield fighting knives. They are trained with rifle and pistol but the ammunition is controlled by the Unions – laborers, crafters, and engineers who make sure those with title don’t drag everyone into frivolous wars.

War Mechs and Battlecruisers are only unlocked if there is an outside threat.

Alien artifacts on the solid planets closer to the system’s sun.

A science-station observatory at the edge of the system; this is where aging nobles who are found to be too warlike are exiled to.

Oddly, I have two copies of LBB Traveller on my shelves.

How long would I be able to run Traveller before hacking in some Apocalypse World moves?

No idea…

Morgan, I salute you.

Terran Mandate Envoy Re-Entry Checklist

In a perfect Sector re-entry contact scenario your Terran Mandate Bruxelles Class Battlecruiser would glide into dock at the Mandate Base. You would spend a few hours in silent contemplation of the site where humanity made its first landing and then call in the highest ranking naval officer, planetary officials, Perimeter Turing Investigator General, the Chief Exchange Officer, the Sector Archivist into a month-long series of meetings and reports in order to guide humanity back into the Terran Government’s loving arms.

Once that re-entry was complete there would be a sector-wide party.

In decades of envoy work I have never seen nor heard of re-entry going anything like that.

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Since the Scream, the human diaspora has been cut off from its Earth roots. It is unclear if this document comes from Olde Earth or if it has been created by Terran Mandate naval intelligence, passed from long range flotilla to flotilla.

The checklist is a good set of guidelines for long range explorers with spike drives that can venture to different sectors. The marginalia from various envoys over the centuries shows where the checklist can come up short or not offer solid expectations for rookie envoys making post-Scream first contact with the humans who have survived the three hundred years isolated from their homeworld and its government.

Mandate Bases

are sometimes the center of the sector’s government and are often the primary naval base for any ships still claiming to be descended from the Terran Mandate. Gathering up the star drive signatures and transponder data is the first chore so that any envoys sent to the far reaches of the sector will know what to expect.

Marginalia RE: Mandate Bases

The sectors that still have a base are staggeringly rare. When they do, they are often helmed by total [untranslated slang for an orifice]-hole who claims to have their power handed to them directly from Earth’s Prime Minister or some bullshit.

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My favorite Mandate Base was built on the original terran capital ship that settled the sector but it had been turned into a cathedral-ship dedicated to keeping humanity in touch with its terran roots.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is solar-system-terran-mandate-ornament-e1601871167121.jpg

Refused to hand over star drive signatures and transponder data because we couldn’t be a true Terran Mandate ship because were couldn’t possibly be human. We weren’t pure enough in our genetic codes. At least I didn’t feel guilty dropping a battalion of Terran Mandate Marines on their asses.

Perimeter Agencies

are in place to make sure no illegal unbraked A.I.’s are on the loose in the sector. The envoy is to take hold of the hunting records, gaining an understanding of how many A.I.’s have been neutralized and how many hunts are still in progress. The Terran Mandate ship offers its updated search algorithm so that future hunts, based on carefully sifted data, can be completed at a higher rate of success.

Marginalia RE: Perimeter Agencies

Guess which organization AI most often take over when they gain significant power and mobility in the sector. You guessed it. I got in assuming the Perimeter Agency is entirely compromised and work backwards from there.

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We don’t even check to see if they’ve made any improvements to the search algorithm that could be better than ours. We are [difficult to translate synonym for genitalia].

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There’s an envoy theory that Draco wrote this checklist. Yeah, I still use it.

The Exchange Consulate

is the center of banking and diplomacy, is a key cultural touchstone in keeping the sector moving and working.

Marginalia RE: Exchange Consulate

I’m waiting to find that unique Exchange Consulate, where humanity moves past our capitalist bullshit and the Exchange Counselors help ease the sector towards a post-scarcity society. Nope. It is always violence and some bullshit about how we will never innovate without money to drive us on.

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Knowing the market forces at work in the sector is my first order of business. I stop at the Exchange Consulate first. Once I even helped them bombard a planet that had gone into arears on its debts and assumed the Terran Mandate would never come to help the sector’s toothless bank to collect.

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I am sure there is something more satisfying than taking out a laser pistol and shooting a CEO of a predatory corporation who is profiting off human suffering. Maybe true love would be better or ascending our physical world and becoming a being of energy and light.

But I fucking doubt it.

The Preceptor Archive

is where information and history are stored and is important for not only understanding the context that the sector is currently operating in but for sending a full report back to Olde Earth.

Marginalia RE:

We got into orbit and a nanite attack caused the battlecruiser to evaporate. I survived with a few others in an escape pod. When we buried the pod’s dead we made contact with locals. While we figured out each other’s language they understood the olde symbol for the Preceptor Archive. Had to walk halfway across a continent but you are damned right I did. It was a short journey to get to the library and wait out my extraction, ten years later.

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The archive had been attacked and the whole moon it was built into was operating at about steam level technology. The rest of the sector just watched their archive fall apart. I wanted to drop old bombs on the lot of them.

Check out the book is slang for sleeping the archivist liaison. The competition is ferocious on the battlecruiser.

Where is the place to put a check when you uncover a dangerous alien threat or a planet where they lit everything on fire and ascended to a different dimension or when the whole sector is warring with such intensity that they didn’t even notice you?

Perception Checks, an open letter

Dear Gaming,

We need to talk about Perception Checks. How we use them needs to change and it needs to change fast.

We misuse them and adventures grind to a halt because of a missed clue. We misuse them and cool backstory and details go missed. We misuse them and players stop looking for details because when they look in a smart way they are denied the most basic of information because of a bad die roll.

We could blame this on bad adventure design or too much backstory or players not dealing with failure well but I’d rather look more carefully at the easiest fix – the way we frame these rolls.



Thiefy McRogue, our example player character, has skulked through the shadows into the villainous Joe BBEG’s office with a combination of smart planning and a solid die roll. Guards are outside and about but none are in the office right now. He has no idea when Joe BBEG might return.

Player: I check the desk.

DM: Roll Investigation.




<< Rewind

Possibility 1

DM: What does that look like? What is Thiefy McRogue doing?

Player: Thiefy knows Joe BBEG likes to put traps into his desks. He hired those trap-makers back in Cool-ass Dragon City. I’m being careful to avoid those traps.

DM: Roll Investigation. If you succeed, I’ll tell you where the traps are and you can tell me what you do about them. If you fail, a trap is going to go off and shit is going to get real, there will be saves and we’ll see what happens from there. * rolls failure and failure again to avoid the dart and failure again to avoid the poison *

Player: Oh shit. Am I dead?

DM: Not yet. You know you have five minutes before the poison takes hold and you start to hallucinate your worst nightmares come to life. What do you do?

Player: Shit, I rampage through the desk to find those plans. Do I roll again?

DM: You rampage, you find them. The noise has alerted the guards and you can hear the alarm going up. You are starting to see things out of the corner of your vision, things your father summoned from the Far Realms when you were a child in his wizard’s tower.

Player: Shit, I’m heading out the window onto the roof (detail established earlier).

DM: You make your way to the roof and the guards are right behind you. Other things are following you and you can’t tell what is real and what is from the drug. Roll to see how fast you make your way across the slate rooves as the guards give chase.

Cool rooftop chase ensues…

Possibility 2

DM: What does that look like? What is Thiefy McRogue doing?

Player: We know Joe BBEG isn’t the type to trap his desk. I don’t care if he knows I was here. I’m quietly but studiously tearing this thing apart. I’m going to find those plans. I know they’re here.

DM: So you don’t care if he knows you were here and found the plans?

Player: I don’t have time to care.

DM: Cool, you find the plans.

Player: But I spent all these points on Investigation? Can I roll?

DM: Totally! Here’s the deal, if you succeed, you are going to find a detail that will give you an advantage die later to use on Joe BBEG. If you fail, maybe Joe will learn something about you and your methods based on how you toss the desk…

Player: Cool. * rolls success *

DM: Do you want to make up the detail that will give you an advantage in combat?

Player: That kinda fucks up my immersion.

DM: No problem, you find notes from a fencing class he’s taking. He’s studying the Devil Blade Style, learning from a Tiefling master who fought in the Devil-Dragon War back when the Tieflings made war on the Dragonborn, pawns between Tiamat warring on Asmodeus.

Player: And I’ll be able to gain an advantage die because I’ll be able to know what he’s going to do based on what I know about that fencing style.

DM: It was the same style your brother used as a Judicial Duellist in Cool-ass Dragon City.

Player: Shit, I know from previously established detail that the guards were going to change in a bit. I’ve waited too long and my safe route back is gone, yeah?

DM: Yeah, that is the cost of taking your time. How are you getting out of here?

Player: I’m going to walk out like I work here and try to bluff it.

DM: Roll.

Possibility 3

DM: What does that look like? What is Thiefy McRogue doing?

Player: I’m going to go through slowly and carefully. I don’t want Joe BBEG to know I was here. We know Joe BBEG doesn’t like traps so I’m not worried about that (detail established earlier, different than above so we can show a different example of failure).

DM: Roll Investigate.

Player: I’ve been putting all my points into that, training hard for this moment. * rolls failure * Shit, I guess I don’t find anything.

DM: You find the plans but haven’t opened the scroll yet when Joe BBEG walks through the office door. He smiles and says, “Thiefy, I thought I had lost you in Cool-ass Dragon City. I’m afraid I can’t allow you to leave with that,” and he’s clearly looking around, just a touch frantic to make sure your friends aren’t here.

Player: Oh shit, that’s right. Wizardly Mageman hit him and his crew with that Fireball in that fight on the docks. I act like Wizardly is invisble nearby, nod to him and yell, “Fireball now!” and use that to get out the window.

DM: You’ll have to jump through the window while it closed. No time…

Player: That is fine. I’ll take some damage?

DM: Yeah, a d6 or so. Roll your Perform Lies skill.

Player: * rolls a wild-ass success *

DM: Bahamut’s sack! That is a wildass success. You jump out the window and take * rolls * 4 damage as Joe BBEG dives for cover. He realizes the ruse fast, though and jumps out the window after you.

Cool rooftop chase ensues…

Get context and description of actions from the player before the dice hit the table, that way you can give consequences that make sense. What is at stake here? Is it a time crunch, getting this done before Joe BBEG comes back? Is it avoiding clever traps? Is it making it look like you were never here? That all depends on the previously established details giving this all context.

As the DM, I’m not looking for the rooftop chase or where this all is going. I don’t need to know the next steps. I don’t need rooftop chase to happen. I think it is cool but I’m not pushing for it.

I’m pushing for sharing details that give the NPC context and personality, give the players the information they need to move forward and offering consequences for the players’ choices. I’m not offering less details and cool shit because of failed rolls. I want to share cool shit. I’m offering consequences and danger.

In Possibility 1, Thiefy might get captured. That is cool. Saving a captured player character is a fun-ass adventure. Joe BBEG might not know how much they know and might have to change his plans at that point. We’ll see. If captured, Thiefy’s player can sit a game out (eh, not my fav) or play a helpful hireling or NPC.

Context, Cool Shit and Consequences at all times.

If the failure results of a roll are boring or not meaningful or stop you from making up cool shit or sharing cool shit, either technique is not being used correctly at the table or the game mechanics aren’t helping you, possibly a combination of both.