Working and Creating within Constraints

I’ve been listening to Sting’s “Soul Cages” for the past week – its an album well suited for the steel gray skies of a northern Indiana winter. Evocative imagery, ripe for incorporating into a role-playing session. At the end of this post there are a few quotes from the album.

This year, I participated in Secret Santa. My assignment had clear constraints, but ample room to navigate. I dove into the project, rolling the constraints around in my brain for a few days. Playing word association, digging out old ideas I had once had.

Song lyrics are another source that would be a great constraint.

Have you ran an adventure or crafted encounters that were inspired by song lyrics? If so what? I’d like to know about them.

Take your father’s cross gently from the wall
The shadow still remaining
See the churches fall, in mighty arcs of sound
And all that they’re containing
Yet all the ragged souls of all the ragged men
Looking for their lost homes
Shuffle to the ruins from the levelled plain
To search among the tombstones
When the angels fall
Shadows on the wall
In the thunder’s call
Something haunts us all
When the angels fall

“When the Angels Fall” by Sting

Two priests came round
Our house tonight
One young, one old,
To offer prayers for the dying,
To serve the final rite
One to learn, one to teach
Which way the cold wind blows
Fussing and flapping in priestly black
Like a murder of crows


“All this Time” by Sting

Divorce – A Personal Experience

Six and a half years ago, I began the divorce proceedings and process. I didn’t initiate it, but it wasn’t unexpected nor unwelcome.

The legal proceedings were painless. The process, however, was not.

Early in the process, my father, also a divorcee, told me that for him every day after his divorce was like a funeral. So each day I bury some part of my past, present, and worst of all my imagined future.

In the early days of the process I was wracked with tremendous pain and loss. These days, the funerals are bearable; routine in fact.

Now, it is as though a frail and venerable aunt has passed. Yes, its over, but the time had come. There is a sadness in the finality, but a joy in the release from frail and confining constraints.

The one aspect of divorce that I still mourn is not having my children at my home each and every day. They have been a part of my life since I was 20. I’ve been playing the role of parent since my junior year in college.

As I help my son take his steps towards becoming a freshman in college, I’m curious. What will his path be? In three years will he be a father?

And what of my daughters? They are now in junior high, but if I close my eyes for a moment, they too will be off to college.

Time moves ever faster. Anyone getting older realizes this. Compound this with the cruel institution of divorce and I get half of that time.

I see my children every other week. There is a pressure to cram two weeks of living into each week. But I am well aware that if I want to do something right, I must slow down and do it.

I am fortunate. I am remarried to a wonderful woman. She is a creative whirlwind, and wants nothing more than to be a mother.

To this day, when my children are with me for the week, we manage to have 6 out of seven evening meals together. This is in spite of complex schedules, driving arrangements, professional career, and opening a business.

These meals sometimes remind me of the funeral reception for aged relatives that have passed. Families gathered together, one more time. Brought together by the memory of someone once (and still) important to them.

There is always laughter at these meals. And life goes on, not in spite of the loss, but because of the impact of the deceased.

I continue to dig through the mental shoe box of pictures that my future self was planning on taking. Those photos are fading, yet it still fills me with sadness.

However, today I don’t know what those future pictures will be. I’m excited to find out, but I’m going to slow down and let them develop.

Porting Apocalypse World style moves into D&D 5E

TL;DR – If you want to use a Dungeon World move in D&D 5E, roll 1d6+1d10: Failure on 8-, partial success on 9-12, success on 13+.

I love the Apocalypse World engine moves. These moves are discreet rules that are portable from one AW Engine game to another.

But I’m exploring using the moves in other systems; In particular D&D 5E. Dungeon World has the following probability based on:

Roll 2d6
Bonus Failure (6-) Partial Success (7-9) Complete Success (10+)
-2 72.2% 25.0% 2.8%
-1 58.3% 33.3% 8.3%
0 41.7% 41.7% 16.7%
1 27.8% 44.4% 27.8%
2 16.7% 41.7% 41.7%
3 8.3% 33.3% 58.3%

Apocalypse World Engine Probabilities

What follows is what I found to be a reasonable mirroring of the Apocalypse World Engine probabilities. Roll 1d6+1d10. On an 8- failure, 9-12 partial success, and 13+ success.

Roll 1d6 + 1d10
Bonus Failure (8-) Partial Success (9-12) Complete Success (13+)
-3 75.0% 23.3% 1.7%
-2 65.0% 30.0% 5.0%
-1 55.0% 35.0% 10.0%
0 45.0% 38.3% 16.7%
1 35.0% 40.0% 25.0%
2 25.0% 40.0% 35.0%
3 16.7% 38.3% 45.0%
4 10.0% 35.0% 55.0%
5 5.0% 30.0% 65.0%


I ended up writing a script to run several iterations and compared this to the Apocalypse World engine probabilities.

The d6+d10 is a reasonable approximation. I chose d6+d10 instead of 2d8 because of the flat peak; 7 to 11 has the same probability for d6+d10; Whereas 2d8 has a “pointy” peak.



Apocalypse World: Dark Ages Session Report

A follow-up to my playtest observation.


  • What does the stronghold defend? A harbor and a port
  • Who are its enemies? Raiders by land. Raiders by sea.
  • What are its fortifications? An island position; a palisade outer wall; watch and signal towers; and a well or deep cistern.
  • What does its armory include? Hide coats and leather helmets; Bows and a suplly of arrows; Swords.


  • Acealon (Court Wizard)
    • You are literate.
    • You have the right to step out of your earthly life.
    • You have the right to throw down demons and lawless spirts.
    • You have the right to win over ghosts.
    • Bold 0, Good +1, Strong -1, Wary 1, Weird 2
    • Head of household; Library
  • Darloon, son of Mote (Wicker-Wise)
    • You have a right to enchant someone or something.
    • You have the right to be overcome by an oracular vision.
    • You have the right to speak wisdom in counsel.
    • When you whisper to ghosts you have the right to win them over.
    • Bold 0, Good +1, Strong -1, Wary +1, Weird +2
  • Kadlosch (Blacksmith)
    • You have the right to blood recompense when you are wronged.
    • You are a free landowner.
    • When you rally warriors from among your peers, you have the right to roll Strong.
    • You have the right to slay whom you must for the protection of all.
    • Bold +1, Good 0, Strong +2, Wary +1, Weird -1
    • Head of household; New wealth, armory, vassals, cattle
  • Aezar (Peasant Beauty)
    • When you appear on the battlefield, you are breathtaking and fell.
    • When you confront someone, you are beautiful, poised, and hard as steel.
    • You are exhilerating, intoxicating, when you choose to be.
    • You are radiant and stunning.
    • Bold +2, Good +1, Strong +1, Wary 0, Weird -1


  • Norse
    • Bound by the boats, the sea, and the gold
    • Look like: Wiry and tawny brown
    • Known for: Physical prowess, archers, sorcery, superb metalwork, far reaching trade routes
    • Rites 0, War 1, Wealth 1
    • Souls 70, Households 50, Warriors 20
  • Russian
    • They are subjects of the same crown
    • Look like: Hulking, milk white
    • Known for: Devotion to law, patience in suffering, brutal raids, loyalty, marvelous feast
    • Rites 1, War 1, Wealth 0
    • Souls 300, Households 40, Warriors 40
  • Kelds (Baltic)
    • They worship the same god
    • Look like: Small and peach pink skin
    • Known for: Ruthlessness, loyalty, vigilance against sorcery, skill at arms, elaborate cosmology, garish fashions
    • Rites 1, War 2, Wealth -1
    • Souls 30, Households 4, Warriors 8

The Session

Opening Moves

  • Prepare for What’s Coming (Blacksmith)
    • With a new gatehouse
    • With a bounty of food
  • Soldiering (Peasant Beauty)
    • You begin the season unhurt
    • You are owed pay
    • You are still bound to fight
  • Rites & Celebration (Wicker-Wise)
    • Celebrating Old Ways; A blood sacrifice
  • Ask for their Hospitality (Court Wizard)
    • He was given archers to help find the Peasant Beauty’s company
    • Aezar owed Acelone money; Aezar’s ancestors owed money to Acelone, and Aezar kept with tradition.


  • An omen in the fisheries. A black fish being eaten by a white fish being eaten by a black fish.
  • Acelon was going to find Aezar, to call in the debt owed him.
    • Ingrid, the castellan, spared 10 archers to find Ingulf’s company, with whom Acelon was soldiering.
  • Acelon wanted to step out of his earthly life to find Aezar. A botched roll, and he found himself submerged deep underwater. Lanterns bobbing. A maggoty corpse of Ingulf, leader of Aezar’s company, approaching.
  • Acelon threw down the demon, demanding his name – Mannon – and to be left in peace. Acelon awoke, in bed, drenched.
  • Kadlosch was going to undertake a Great Labor by Crafting fine quality arrows for the archers.
    • Assistance was given by way of consulting the spirits
    • Exhausted, Kardlosch nearly broke as he realized that “These apprentices are no better than when I got here.”
  • Acelon Lept into Action (Heading out to find Aezar)
    • Acelon found Aezar but suffered minor scrapes as the Kelds harried him and his company.
  • Aezar, through presence and bravado, was able to break the Kelds and able to make a hasty retreat.
  • In the woods Aezar, Acelon, and the companies meet.
  • Leap into Action (Returning Home)
    • Acelon easily covered the distance to get back to the village, inspiring the company to follow, startling and scattering the raiding kelds.
    • Aezar attempting to keep up, ruins his leather armor and helmet.
  • Raiders on the sea, the watchtowers spotted.
  • Kadlosch and Darloon seeing doom on the horizon, mustered warriors and set about preparing defenses.
  • Batle was eminent, but would it be possible to avoid?Kadlosch’s player grabbed the dice to Avoid Battle.
    • They are raiding for food. The Russians were famished; Kadlosch might be able to convince them to give up their raid if the bounty of food were given.
  • Kadlosch made the offer. And Boris accepted.
  • Darloon consulted the spirits of fallen crewmates of Boris. He won them over to haunt Boris.
  • Aezar called out Boris, the leader of the raiders to join in single combat.
    • Boris had a spear, shield, and hide armor: 4 Harm, 2 Armor
    • Aezar had a knife: 2 Harm, 0 Armor
    • Boris had 1 point to spend choosing between Attack, Defend, Position. Aezar had 3.
    • Boris chose 1 for Harm; Aezar chose 2 for Position and 1 for Defend.

Aezar in a fit of defiance, took a spear to the side, but instead of withdrawing, pressed forward to disarm Boris and bring knife to his throat. Aezar suffered 5 harm, but still drew breath.

With a clear abundance of food, the Russians were willing to relocate their families to this blessed land of abundance.

In haste Kadlosch prepared an enchantment to heal Aezar – Among the other sacrifices, Boris was made the blood sacrifice.

End of Season

  • Aezar spent the remainder of the season recovering
  • Acelon spent the remainder of the season recovering
  • Kadlosch spent time with his people preparing for what’s coming.
    • A bounty of food.
    • Added stone and timber longhouses.
  • Darloon spent time with his people preparing for what’s coming.
    • Added an encircling ditch.

Apocalypse World: Dark Ages Playtest and Observations

This past Saturday at Better World Book’s monthly game day, I ran a playtest session of Vincent Baker‘s Apocalypse World: Dark Ages. There were four other players. We spent about an hour creating the stronghold, people, and characters. Then another two and a half hours “in character”.

The process of crafting the stronghold, people, and characters gave immediate shape to the characters’ environment. As this is a game about strongholds, peoples, and war companies, the game world crafting process is better than any Quickstart Guide.

The game started bumpy; I wasn’t asking my usual questions to grow the world. I fumbled a bit. I went quick to the dice for guidance. This helped me get my feet. I’m also working on a session write up.


  1. There is a lot of information to juggle
  2. This is my kind of game
  3. Playtest notes

Juggling Information

There are a lot of “nouns” to coordinate in Apocalypse World: Dark Ages:

  • Strongholds
  • Peoples
  • Companies
  • Notables
  • Characters

There are a lot of “verbs” to process of Apocalypse World: Dark Ages:

  • Basic moves
  • Battle moves
  • Season moves
  • People moves
  • Enchantments

I found it challenging to coordinate so many sheets of paper. I was not prepared.

This is My Kind of Game

My favorite long running campaign was a 2nd edition D&D Birthright game. The campaign was a web of individual adventures and political machinations. Character level actions impacted the campaign; And likewise political actions impacted the individual adventures.

With basic moves, the characters have power to ask for more information or take action. Characters can bide their time, assessing things, asking how to affect change. Or they can leap into action to take the initiative.

Layer on the battle moves – of which we didn’t explore. The characters can either take control of something larger than themselves or be part of the scrum.

Last, the season moves provide a mechanism for advancing the campaign calendar. It is a powerful tool at the disposal of the Master of Ceremonies. A scene can be cut short. Brought to a close.

In other words, Apocalypse World: Dark Ages is a game ripe for campaign play.

Playtest Notes

Some of the players at the table wanted more information about wealth. Were they rich? Or poor? How poor? Was there a middle ground? As wealth impacts starting equipment, this was important for some of the players.

We were hesitant to dive into the mass combat rules; The closest we got was a player grabbing the dice to Avoid the Battle. It was a great moment as the player leaned on the move and in essence asked “I don’t think I want to fight for this, what can I do to avoid this battle?” My response was catered to campaign play and not the single session playtest at hand.

There were a few points in which, as a GM, I was fishing for moves that were applicable; I wanted to go to the dice because I wasn’t ready to “Say yes.” Things were at stake. I wasn’t as familiar with the basic moves; Things didn’t flow as smooth as they could.




Wondering About Adventure Presentation Format

I like the presentation format of late 3E and 4E D&D adventures; One encounter per two page spread. The information for that encounter is self-contained.

What I did not like was that all of these 2 page encounters that I read and saw were for a combat set piece. There were

  • Large monster blocks (three monster types would chew up a large section of a page),
  • A half-page map of a single location with unique terrain
  • A traps section
  • Blah blah blah not very memorable

But the format worked for the medium. Two pages is the limit without page flipping (or printing fold out pages). I have all of the basic information I need to run that encounter.

However I have no sense of how that encounter relates with other encounters and pieces of the adventure. The camera is always zoomed in on the action sequence and fails to pull back for a scenic panoramic image of where everything is happening.

Does anyone have an example for how this might be done zoomed out one level. A region of the adventure with the 2 pages conveying connectedness of the parts of that region; ie relationship graphs, maps, stat blocks, descriptions, etc. Then that format repeated a few times in the same adventure?

I consider myself to have a solid memory and ability to juggle numerous concepts but having run a handful of adventures “by the book” I find it frustrating.

Most adventures, as written, seem to require reading through the entire adventure. Then holding that in memory as I reference the adventure at the table during play. It is that reference during play that I’m looking to optimize.

Hyperlinks are helpful but distracting in the moment; Clicking and jumping to another section means that I must parse the new information. I want a quick scannable 2 pages.

Zzarchov Kowolski‘s Scenic Dunnsmouth helps mitigate these challenges by encoding adventure preparation with procedures for generating the village. I can see this exercise helping me remember more about the adventure so I can focus on running it without distraction.

The One Page Dungeon contest is an exemplar in conveying information as well. I would appreciate references to specific adventures submitted to various One Page Dungeon.

Dragonknights – Session #1

Tonight was a playtest run of Dragonknights, a game in the works by Travis Scott.

A dragon and doll having tea.

Coathios and Ilfwan having tea. Courtesy of Mark Daniels

The Player Characters


  • Species: Lustrous Nightfang
  • Temperment: Obsessively Entranced
  • Hoard: Porcelain Dolls (“Ilfwan” an obsidian-headed doll)
  • Wingmate: Skollis is soooo pretty
  • Bond: With the right hammer any dream is possible

Domnus Oric (Smith)

  • High Concept: Bigger & Better
  • Trouble: I Must Touch Everything
  • Mentor: Many hands make light work
  • Role: Hey, its just money
  • Bond: With the right hammer any dream is possible


  • Species: Brazen Bolter
  • Temperment: Opportunistic Hotshot
  • Hoard: Arms & Armor from beyond Indgard
  • Wingmate: Coathios takes care of the boring stuff
  • Bond: We make this look good

Domnus Grimaer (Magistrate)

  • High Concept: Glory defined by someone else’s vision
  • Trouble: Too many balls in the air
  • Mentor: The finer points of diplomacy diplomacy ends at a dragon’s snout.
  • Role: Puppet Master
  • Bond: We make this look good

The World

Abject Dangers > Human Perils > Blackguards & Skullduggery > True Rule

Everyone knows that Steward Oldfa is the true power in the domain. She whispers in the ears of the rules, pulls the strings of the local Trade Leagues, and even has a few Magistrates she can rely on to get things done or covered up. Steward Oldfa came to power through financial dominance over other stewards, in particular by placing tremendous pressure on Magistrate Ardolf the Angry.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities & Endeavors > Costs & Bargains

Every traveler takes one of three major trade roads in your domain.

  • The Burning Pass is known for its scalding winds.
  • The Gentle Road is known for its bandits.
  • The Merchant’s Trail is known for its kudzu-like carnivorous grass.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities > Costs & Bargains

The confluence of several major trade routes falls at the outskirts of your domain. The beloved Ogre’s Head Ale is in great supply, and the contraband Root Death (made from yolk of Venomous Whisper Drake eggs) is put up with by the good fold of the domain.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities & Endeavors > Who Would Rule?

The dominant faction in the local Stewards Council has been ousted, and the people couldn’t be happier! Steward Parduelf has been given the new title of Speaker. He is speaks of progress but is an insidious demagogue. His first major change was to remove the regulations regarding Root Death usage.

Outrageous Fortunes > What Luck > Strange Blessings

What luck! Vast plains support a huge quantity of cattle. Goodman Wufric makes sure that Fort Hope gets its share, though he is cross with Fort Hope because they snubbed Magistrate Ardolf the Angry’s diplomatic envoy.

Established Cast

  • Steward Olfda – the power behind it all.
  • Magistrate Adrolf the Angry – ousted from power.
  • Steward Pardeulf – an insidious demagogue, and puppet of Steward Olfda.
  • Smith Wufric – provides cattle for Fort Hope.
  • Scholar Parewan – Bandit leader, gave Domnus Oric the gift of a letter of introduction to the Melted Library. Domnus Oric reverse engineered a safe for him. Domnus Grimaer orchestrated the safe of Magistrate Ardolf falling into the hands of Parewan. Recently branded a bandit.
  • Domna Bowid, Steward – almond skin, scar from ear to collar, Steward of Fort Hope; Low Eminence, High Stewardship
  • Fraebog (Frilled Mountain King) – Domna Bowid’s bonded dragon, High Eminence
  • Domnus Angwyn, Warrior – A dragon bonded warrior of Fort Hope.
  • Smith Pulfric – Helped Oric craft the masonry shelves for Coathios’s lair
  • The Land of Vos – Blades are forged in the blood of the fallen, in a way creating a family tree. This blade begat this blade.

Campaign Aspects

  • The Glorious Order of the Knights Dragonbonded
  • Unheard Voices
  • Political Unrest


Taking a cue from Travis’s GenCon game, I gave each bonded pair a moment in each of the dragon’s lairs. We are also pressed for time, having about 2 1/2 hours to play.

Coathios has a small table set for tea. He is enjoying tea with Ilfwan his prized porcelain doll. Oric enters through the fine crafted door. The lair is shelves of lesser dolls each facing the large soft bed on which Coathios rests.

Skollis has his lair arranged such that morning sun shines in. The polished arms and armor reflects and magnifies the morning sun.

Bowid has asked Oric and Grimaer to prepare their dragons for flight. It turns out that Bandit Parewan has stolen a book that will prove Magistrate Ardolf‘s treason. But they must act in haste for Magistrate Ardolf will be leaving the lands in 6 days time. And this capture should happen within Fort Hope’s domain!


They take flight to gather information from the city of Iyravandron.

  • Domnus Oric reaches out to Smith Pulfric learning the general whereabouts of Parewan (Contacts, Create an Advantage Obstacle 4, Success).
  • Domnus Grimaer is out talking with the crowds attempting to drum up anger over Parewan. (Rapport via Stunt, Overcome Obstacle 5, Failure choosing Success with Great Cost.) The crowds agree with Domnus Grimaer that justice must be served to Parewan, but turn and say it is the Magistrates who cause trouble. “We don’t need the Magistrates! They bring nothing but trouble!”
  • Coathios goes hunting to find the largest cattle from the fields. He wants to make sure that Skollis is well fed and rested for the upcoming hunt. The cattle are theirs to eat. (Notice, Create an Advantage Obstacle 4, Success)

The Hunt

Two days have passed, but Skollis is confident in getting the scent. After two days of heavy flight, I compelled Coathios’ delicate Lustrous Nightfang frame to drive him and his rider to ground. Coathios accepted the the compel. (Note: in hindsight, reading through the Lustrous Nightfang is not frail and easy to tire.)

Skollis and Grimaer continued on. In flight I called for a Notice check on Skollis and Grimaer, though encouraged a bit of a retroactive Create an Aspect.

  • Grimaer encourage Grimaer to keep the sun at their backs (Lore, Create an Advantage, Obstacle 3, Success with Style).
  • Skollis notices a single ballista and three men (Notice, Overcome, Obstacle 3, Success). There are also grazing sheep nearby, not a distraction for this well-fed and rested brazen bolter.
  • Skollis and Grimaer remain unnoticed proceed to fly around to gain an ambush (Stealth, Overcome, Obstacle 4, Success).
  • A quick ambush ensues. Skollis destroys a ballista, kills a human, injures a second, and captures a third.

A gentle interrogation proceeds, with words of honor exchanged, and the captive released. Parewan is in fact in a cave nearby with 20 men.

The Strike

While Coathios and Oric were waiting, Oric crafted some leather wing enhancements (Craft, Create an Advantage, Obstacle 3, Success with Style) to help.

They agreed to wait until an hour or so before dawn to strike Parewan. So Coathios and Oric took to the air and scouted high in the night sky. They were real quiet (Stealth, Overcome, Obstacle 3, Success with Style) and were waiting.

Coathios’s player opted to spend a Fate point to have Parewan step out to relieve himself. Sounded great by me. Coathios struck fast subduing and dragging off Parewan.

The Deal

Back at their camp Coathios, Oric, Skollis, and Grimaer began bargaining with Parewan. Grimaer, on his honor, promised that if Parewan surrendered himself and the book (a new book written in ancient Indarin) that all of Parewan’s men would be free to disperse. Parewan accepted the terms.

They flew back to the camp where Parewan explained the situation. One by one he said farewall to each man and woman by name, also naming their spouses and children.

Wrap Up

We closed the session with a mission accomplished. In game, four days have passed since Bowid gave the assignment.

It has been a long time since I ran a Fate game, but I was willing to fake an awful lot of things. There are a few things I need to lookup.


The game that I ran felt as though it belonged in the world of the previous games of Dragonknight I’ve played. In part this is because I’ve had the privilege to play four sessions with the creator of the game. But the richness of the setting generator helps fold the common themes back in upon themselves.

And sweet heavens do I love the detail of honor. I made sure to emphasize that the absence of the empathy skill and the value of honor mean that when you say “On my honor” people will believe you. It is a big thing.

There are too many nuances of the setting for me to have “digested” and gotten right. Conveying the spirit of the campaign world is a challenge. I did not put the “So you’re a Magistrate” paper in front of the magistrate player, so there me be a deviation from canon, but I feel like we have enough moving parts to set things in motion.

I have more thoughts but the hour draws late.