#MayRPGQ2018 Where do you get inspiration for characters, settings or design?


I get my inspiration wherever I can. Ideas tend to sit and percolate for as long as years before coming out in game designs or settings. TThere area few themes that are fairly common to my work, but what really gets my attention is a novelty – something new – or a problem that I find systems don’t really cope well with. My current obsessions are influencing the environment and effective teamwork.

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#AprilTTRPGmaker Current inspiration?

nootWell, the problem at the moment is that I’m not very inspired. When my ‘oomph’ comes back it could take off in any direction. There’s a few things I’ve been thinking on over the last couple of years though…

Team Action
I’ve really gotten into the idea of team mechanics, rules that promote the players working together to solve problems, to give each other buffs, to think tactically and to ensure that all players can contribute to the action. I’ve experimented with this in the game Kagai! and I intend for it to be integral to a couple of other ideas I’ve been working on, a tribal/savage/barbarian game setting, and a survival/technohorror series. This isn’t something that’s really that well explored in game mechanics, other than fulfilling ‘roles’ in a team (Fighter, healer, rogue, magic user).

I’m interested in the aesthetic of all-out horror, not just splatter but hopelessness, death, decay, surreality and so on. I like the idea of horror, but horror films never really do it for me unless there’s something more cerebral or genre-bending going on. Not many modern horror films really do that for me, though short films focussed on ideas are interesting and there are gems amongst the dross when it comes to things like creepypastas. I’ve enjoyed The Void, the music of Primitive Knot and the aesthetic of games like Kingdom Death, Darkest Dungeon and Bloodborne while considering this.

Green Apocalypse
The aesthetic and idea of a ‘green apocalypse’, life after a collapse, is appealing and integral to my post-apocalyptic game idea. I was first struck by the beauty of this aesthetic while playing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but a similar style has shown up in games like The Last of Us and, to an extent, in movies and TV like The Road, The Walking Dead, The Girl with all the Gifts and Revolution.

#RPG – Review – Alpha Blue


Well, from this cover I can clearly see this will be wholesome, uncontroversial fun!

I’d promised Venger a review of Alpha Blue but hadn’t gotten around to it [I got a comp copy, full disclosure]. With Alpha Blue being the latest casualty of policy changes at Onebookshelf and a general, puritanical string to genre and pop culture lately I got the motivation to go ahead with the review. I’m hoping to get hold of Venger for a quick interview about the situation and how the policy works in practice in the near future. If I manage to get the scheduling to work I’ll let you know what’s going on, here.

So Alpha Blue then. It’s a bit of a hard product to review. It’s a science fiction setting that grows out of a science fiction location, with a basic RPG system tacked on. Like my own game, Machinations of the Space Princess, it’s inspired by the camp, pulpy, rather naughty science fiction of the 60s, 70s and 80s – in fact it would make a perfect setting and location for use in MotSP.

The system isn’t really that important here, but it’s a simple D6 based dicepool system that’s perfectly adequate to the task if you don’t have another system you’d prefer to use. The meat and bone of the whole thing is very much the setting and the elements that stem from it. The rules cover all the basics you’d expect, combat, social interaction, cybernetics, science fictional and psychic powers and weird alien abilities. Just not in any huge depth. The tables here can be used for inspiration whatever game system you decide to use.

The universe is detailed fairly quickly and draws obvious derivation in many regards from well-loved films and TV series from the time period. There’s a Federation (in which, amusingly, Earth are the paupers and dead last in terms of culture etc), Draconians – recalling Buck Rogers – and a bunch of other ideas familiar and new, as well as a little bit of near-to-the-knuckle satire and fun-poking of politics and of other game settings (the bit on ‘Space Muslims’ being especially biting).

Alpha Blue itself is a space station – of sorts. This place wanders around the universe, albeit not at an especially hurried pace. Alpha Blue itself is a commentary on our collective hang-ups about sex. Following mankind’s inability to handle its own sexuality, Alpha Blue was constructed as a safe outlet of all of mankind’s collective, pent-up, sexual energy. A combination of an asylum for the oversexed and – eventually – a sort of ‘space Vegas’ where anything goes. It’s now another drifting space station, albeit with an interesting past. A haven for deviancy, criminals, gambling and adventurers.

Alpha Blue itself is very well detailed, while remaining open enough for you to add, alter or incorporate your own material. It’s very much more of a ‘toolkit’ book than something to use straight from the pages. It’s a hard book to review since its main use is as inspiration and a review that revealed too many of the easter-eggs and references within it would spoil the experience of reading it.

Alpha Blue goes a bit further than I normally do in some ways, but that’s mostly a result of my own cowardice and self-censorship. That’s probably why it has gotten into the trouble that it has (though speculation is that it’s a reference in a single paragraph in the book to a ‘rape machine‘ used by an evil faction). It also wears its influences on its sleeve a little more directly than I normally would, in the illustrations within it’s easy to recognise figures like Ming, Klytus, Dr Who and Buck Rogers. The whole thing – and much of the terminology – is somewhat taken from The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (a porno film with 70s-tastic soundtrack which, if you’re utterly desperate, you can watch on Xhamster.)

All things considered it’s a campy, openly sexual nostalgia fest, probably best approached as a series of inspirational tables and setting components to kitbash into your own settings.

Presentation wise it could be a little cleaner and the art is of very mixed quality. Some of it is very good, some of it is very bad and some of it just doesn’t seem to fit the science-fantasy theme (being, perhaps, more suited to an occult themed book)

Style: 2.5
Substance: 4.5
Overall: 3.5

Review: A Red & Pleasant Land by Zak S.

Reviewing Zak’s work – when he strays into RPG territory – is difficult. Zak has an outsider’s perspective and so he does things in unconventional ways. He’s also primarily an artist, which brings a different perspective to game design.

Vornheim was tricky to review, but less so than Red & Pleasant Land.

Ostensibly its a setting book, a world for your Old School gaming. That’s not really a helpful thing to call it though, as it doesn’t convey what the book is. It’s a hodge-podge of nonsense and weirdness, tables, rules, asides, sketches, art, peculiar maps and so forth loosely connected by a theme that is a mash up of Alice in Wonderland, Balkan mythology and D&D.

This isn’t really D&D though. It’s ‘Old School’, which harks back to a simplistic, nostalgic, half-
remembered version of the basic game that a lot of people started with back in the 80s. It’s like you and a bunch of friends got together with no plan, sank a few too many shots and someone suggested ‘Hey, let’s play D&D!’ and then through the drunken haze you cobble together something vaguely like it from memory and have a blast.

1Until you realise someone spiked the shots with acid.

This isn’t really a setting book either, it’s more like a grab-bag, a lucky dip. It’s kind-of organised, it has a contents with page references organised – vaguely – along various lines. It’s full of tables of weirdness, motivations, searching bodies and pecularities which are great for inspiration but if you’re not that sort of ‘wing it’ Games Master they’re going to leave you floundering. The only product I’ve seen with even greater love of randomness is McKinney’s Carcosa.

There’s always tensions in the design of an RPG book and each one generally operates to the detriment of the other.

Do you want to write it to convey rules information effectively? Setting information? Do you want the reading experience to reflect that setting? Do you want to make it easy to spot things and look them up? Are practical and financial considerations the primary factor? How important is the art?

RaPL definitely conveys the setting. Reading through it is a borderline-hallucinatory experience due to its randomness and grab-bag design. This doesn’t necessarily make it easy to use during play.

The physical book has a built-in page marker, but as anyone who plays RPGs knows, a single ribbon is never going to be enough to place-mark everything you need to mark and they don’t – as far as I know – make the cat-o’-nine-tails, rainbow page ribbons an RPG book would need at a bare minimum to be useful.

2So usability suffers a bit, the D&D styling is minimal and will only be vaguely familiar to newer gamers, but is sort of the ‘machine-code’ base level operating system for all RPGs so with a little work they should be able to get it to purr along smoothly – it’s just that extra work that may not appeal to gamers pressed for prep-time (I’d probably convert to old-school Storyteller, D6 or FATE if I ran it).

RaPL shines – particularly – in its monsters. Some of which are familiar from Alice’s adventures or vampiric mythology, some of which will be unfamiliar and new but which owe some inspiration to Burton, Gaiman, Mieville and other puveyors of weirdness, it’s just a lot more bloody and direct.

So how can I sum up?

Conveys the setting via its design and presentation.
Cool monsters.
Inspirational tables.
Physically lovely object.
Novelty! Difference! Experiment! – Far more so than many Indie-darlings.

Feels like reading a Burroughsian cut-up.
Bewilderingly trippy.
GM-work heavy.
Novelty! Difference! Experiment! – Not all of it works and the traditionally minded will be lost.

Final Score
4 (It’s a divisive style, it appeals to me greatly but I understand that it will be offputting to others).
Substance: 4 (There’s a lot in here, much of it is useful, but the organisation can make it hard to access).

I have illustrated this review with images from Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice, which added to the mix as inspiration would bring in some clock/steam/weirdpunk vibes.


This is the PDF version of the MotSP tarot deck. A hardcopy version is hoped to be made available via The Game Crafter within the next couple of weeks.

The MotSP Tarot is intended as an in game prop, inspiration for a Games Master and if you really want to you could try using it as an actual tarot deck.

Want some ‘playing cards’ for your game?

Want the ancient seeress to do a reading for the characters?

Need to know something about a random NPC that the characters have taken a sudden interest in for no explicable reason?

Draw and lay some cards and there you go.

Buy it HERE.

Machinations of the Space Princess: Tarot Preview



The Empress represent rule, legitimacy, tradition, motherhood and strength of character.

Her presence indicates tradition, prosperity, continuity and security while her inversion indicates poverty, conflict and directionless disorder. Inverted, though, her presence indicates novelty and a chance for things to change.

In games, drawing The Empress for inspiration might prompt you to bring in a leadership figure, an older woman or imperial (or similar) forces.


So, you can’t think of a game plot?

One thing I believe strongly in, is that you can get a game plot from just about anywhere. Rip off a couple of films or TV series and mix them together. Take a couple of books and rip the bits you like out of them. Listen to an album and look at the song titles and see what comes to mind.

In working on MotSP and looking at the inspiration – LotFP – me and Raggi don’t agree on everything, but one thing we definitely do agree on is ‘Because it’s awesome, so fuck you’. Unfettered, unrestricted, anything goes, rough-and-tumble gaming. Because it’s fun. Sometimes you want plausibility, sometimes you want giant, stone, radioactive heads firing laser-beams out of their eyes while reciting prophecy. Cool, fab, whatever.

MotSP is more of an ‘anything goes’ sort of game but one thing I do want to include, to mirror LotFP is a lot of GM and player advice and ‘How I play’. Tools and ideas that I’ve found useful to help out when you’re running a game.

Part of that is coming up with plots.

Yesterday I did an experiment. I asked my friends on Twitter, Facebook and G+ to name ‘five awesome things’ without telling them what it was for or about. It’s my contention that you can use even this to come up with plots. So I collated everything they suggested into The Table of Awesome below. Not only does this give you an insight into the psychological nature of my followers (!) but it can also be used for gaming inspiration.

The Table of Awesome

1-3 Art
4 Barbarians
5-7 Beasts
8-13 Books
14-16 Children
17-19 Clothes
20-21 Colours
22 Dancing
23 Dice
24 DNA
25-30 Drugs
31-33 Entertainment
34-35 Fitness
36 Forests
37 Freedom
38 Friendship
39-41 Games
42 Happiness
43-44 History
45-46 Humour
47 Keys
48 Libraries
49-50 Life
51-52 Machines
53-55 Martial Arts
56-57 Megafauna
58 Mind
59-61 Music
62-63 Natural Disasters
64-66 Pets
67 Pirates
68 Plants
69 Retro
70-71 Robots
72-74 Romance
75 Sadness
76 Science
77 Self
78-82 Sex
83 Sleep
84-85 Solar Storms
86-87 Space
88 Spaceships
89-90 Sports
91 Storms
92 Swords
93 Tattoos
94-95 Tech
96 Time travel
97 Travel
98-100 Universe

Here’s an example:

Machines, Children, Pets

Space Family Robertson: A family spaceship AI has decided that the parents are utterly irresponsible and has marooned the mother, father, the camp professor and the jock space-marine on a planet. It has then absconded with the older sexy daughter, the younger weirder daughter and the precocious genius son as well as the family robot and their pet space-monkey. The family wants to hire the ‘venturers to take them to regain their family. To do so they’ll have to track them down, invade the ship, overcome the defences and the robot and even – perhaps – convince the kids that they DO need saving.

To show that’s not a fluke…

Megafauna, Universe, Humour

Whalin’ on ’em: Voidwhales tack between universes, feasting on planckton. Adult whales have absorbed enough of the ‘stuff of reality’ that the can be harvested for enough raw ‘quintessence’ to create your own, small, pocket universes. Rumour has it that a ripe, fat whale has just entered this parallel and the worth of a whole custom universe cannot be underestimated! Killing the whale isn’t enough, it must be harvested and when it’s the size of a moon that ain’t easy. Matters are further complicated by an obsessed whaler, a shanty-town of starships on the creature’s skin and a race of intelligent parasites living inside it.

You don’t need to go to the lengths I have, but ‘three things’ seems to work well for inspiration. You could have a ‘hat’ into which your players can put plot suggestions, things they think are awesome, things they want to see in the game and then pluck things out, each session, looking for inspiration.

All you really need is that spark to get your brain going.

Inspiration: The Old Yew

When I was a kid we used to call this tree the ‘Yoda Tree’, for obvious reasons. Most churchyards have at least one yew tree, the symbolism can go back before Christianity but in the context of the graveyards and the Christian churches is supposed to be representative of eternal life (being evergreens that live a fuck of a long time). Of course, they’re also poisonous, but given my well-known atheism I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that.

I was talking before about finding inspiration around your locality and how lucky I am to live in a place that’s full of such inspiration. This yew tree is certainly an important one for me. Yew made the great English longbows. Yew has ancient pagan AND Christian symbolism. Yew is found in the places of the dead because we plant it there to mark them. Yew is dense and dark, slow-growing, old, gnarled and amazing to look at.

Whenever I describe a graveyard in a fantasy game I imagine trees like this. In my mind something like it is found in Fanghorn, or in alien swamps on faraway worlds. They may be poisonous but the smell when you sit under a yew, on generations of slowly rotting needles, just after it has rained. That’s evocative.

History Underfoot

There’s inspiration everywhere you look for it, if you look hard enough and if you care to poke around a little to discover what’s there. I live in a pretty, damn, old village which is also damn pretty. Everywhere you step you’re treading on history and when you dig in a garden you’re as likely to hit Victorian glass or a Roman coin as you are a 1980s ring pull (remember those?).

People think that villages don’t change, that they’re somehow frozen in amber. That’s not true and never really has been true. Villages have always been part of the landscape and as farming and climate change, so have they. Populations flow to and from the cities and the make-up of villages changes.

Chapels or churches for example. Sectarian trends spread, some places become popular then fall away. Graveyards have reburials, people who are forgotten or have no surviving family make way for those that do.

What really brings that home is when you’re walking at the side of the road and you notice that the pavement beneath your feet isn’t pavement at all but rather recycled gravestones.

Little things like this can be found anywhere and everywhere. Little features, eccentricities, moments and places of colour and you can bring things like this into your games, grounded in reality, but interesting and quirky.

Sometimes all you have to do is look down.