Blog Posts

Premature Character Attachment Disorder

This post builds on my previous posts: That One Session of Dwimmermount, Discovered an Unknown to Me Sibling of the Old School Primer, Do you prefer your RPG Combat as War or Sport?, Funerals for the Fallen, and some social media interactions. I also published a follow-up to further clarify.

Elaborate backstories and detailed campaign histories bore me; Its too much exposition. I prefer the “story” to happen at the table. In gaming, I seek the shared experience. I see the character backstory and detailed campaign history as analogue to an inside joke that people keep bringing up in the presence of outsiders to that joke.

The longer the character creation , the greater the delay in the players and characters adventuring, facing situations, and confronting adversity. The time spent in character creation, especially a shared character creation session, should either equal the enjoyment of an “adventuring” game session of equal length or should seed future game sessions with far more potential than the time spent creating characters. This is analogue to the time value of money economic principle; The value of a dollar today is worth more than the value of a dollar tomorrow. Also, consider that campaigns are prone to fizzling out, so don’t spend a disproportionate time preparing for a campaign. I hold all of this in paradox, as I love Burning Wheel—The verbosity of character creation and working with the table to build out their shared vision. In part I see this process as communicating the expectations about the game and the campaign world; An exercise that may have greater importance for newly forming groups.

I suspect that players view the time it takes to make a character as directly proportional to the perceived durability of their character; Dice and random elements are less likely to take out of play a higher durability character than a lower durability character.

First level B/X D&D and 0th-level DCC characters are the epitome of fragile characters: Dare to get attached to them, but accept the weakness of their mortal frame. You can make a low-level character in each of those games in 5 minutes or less. Or use Save vs. Total Party Kill’s OD&D PC generator, Holmes D&D PC generator, B/X D&D PC generator, LotFP D&D PC generator. For DCC use Purple Sorcerer’s 0-Level Party generator; Tens of thousands of these PCs have all met their timely deaths as the might or fortunate few survived

Contrast B/X with Burning Wheel: a game with an involved character creation; You could rip through making a character in an 30 minutes, but I suspect character creation is an evening long activity for most.

In Burning Wheel, characters may appear fragile but player characters are difficult to outight kill. “Burning Wheel is not a deadly game. More often than not, a character is injured and drops out of the fight. It’s uncommon for one to be killed outright. Which, again, is the exact intent of the rules.” — Burning Wheel Gold p488 Yes, you’ll get vexing injuries and carry those scars forward. But from those set backs you’ll be poised for further skill growth.

Turn now to 5E , with its character creation system somewhere between B/X D&D and Burning Wheel; 5E is closer to B/X than Burning Wheel. Roll up abilities, pick a race, class, background, trait, bond, flaw, ideal, and equipment. You can get a character done in 10 or so minutes, but I’d imagine most will take around 30 minutes to an hour.

Low-level characters in 5E are more durable than B/X characters. You need to fail 3 death saves or die from massive damage. “When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum” — D&D Player’s Handbook p197 You also jump right back into action if you get a single point of healing.

Telegraphing Fragility

Consider that the HP mechanism, as in each D&D iteration, models a binary state: incapacitated or full efficacy. You’re either up at full capacity or you are down and in some editions dead.

Whereas in Burning Wheel, when you are hit, your effectiveness diminishes—you reduce the number of dice in your dice pool—and the system forces your character to make a Steel test, a kind of saving throw to see if your character keeps it together. When you fail a Steel test you may choose to “Stand and Drool”, “Run Screaming”, “Faint”, or “Drop to your knees and beg for mercy”; These may look awful, but the Steel test moves the conflict from one state to another, driving the situation towards a resolution. Note: when you “Faint” you, the player choose when you wake, giving you some immunity to immediate death

By design, Burning Wheel broadcasts the fragility of characters and D&D somewhat masks that fragility. There are short-circuits to the HP system in D&D— Save vs. Die, Save vs. Paralyzation, and Exhaustion.

How evident should a character’s durability and fragility be? The abstraction of Hit Points places a veil over the details of combat. What does 8 points of damage look like…to someone with 4 HP, 8 HP, 9 HP, 16 HP, 17 HP or 140 HP? I liked the addition of bloodied from 4E and will often use that to describe 5E combat. Whereas in Burning Wheel when someone receives a B8 wound, you can look at their pain tolerance and translate that to the wound type. A B8 for a frail old human is traumatic, but for a mountain troll it may barely register.

What to Do?

First, assess the expectations regarding durability. And push against those expectations to better understand. What is the role of combat in this game? How does combat support the goals of the players? Is there an assumed parity of rules between PCs and NPCs? When a PC has a crossbow pointed at a startled NPCs head—even though the NPC has 100 HP —what is their expected response? Does that response hold if the tables are turned?

Without Morale checks—the Steel tests of D&D—5E D&D easily devolves into a fight to the death. Every. Single. Time. Afterall, somebody’s got to drain character resources so you can have that big epic multi-hour combat where success remains uncertain.

For my games, I’ve added Morale checks. With the circular combat rounds instead of re-rolling initiative each turn, the procedure of when to check morale can easily get lost. These checks are for non-player characters. See the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide for these rules.

For player characters, add a Steel test, or some analogue. I’m partial to Whitehack’s special option:

Once per battle, when an attack would damage [a PC], they have the option to save. A successful save reduces the damage by d6 hit points, representing an adrenaline rush that enables the character to shrug off some damage from a single attack (it does not heal any previous damage). If the save fails, however, the character takes full damage from the attack, and if she has HP left, she is still knocked out for two rounds. If she gets negative HP, she dies without another save.

Whitehack p19

Buried within that rule I see a Steel test. The player, now realizing the severity of this combat, presses their luck with a Saving Throw to avoid some damage. The consequence of failure is 2 rounds of incapacitation. For Wise characters, who spend HP for spells yet may only regain HP through natural healing, the above special option is critical, and plays to the delicate wizard fainting as blades clash If you were already going to drop to 0 HP, Whitehack requires you to make a saving throw to avoid death. The above mechanic allows you to piggy back on that save vs. death and possibly stay in the fight.


Steel Thyself

As a reaction to taking damage, a player character may make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw. On a success, they may spend one or more Hit Dice to immediately reduce the damage. For each Hit Dice spent, roll the die and add the character’s Constitution modifier to it (minumum of 0). The character reduces the damage of the attack by the total of the the roll. On a failure, the character falls unconscious for 2 rounds. If the character fails their saving throw and drops to 0 hit points they also gain two one failed death save.

A player character may not use this ability again until they’ve completed a rest.


The above does not address all of the situations for Steel tests, but I believe pushes the spirit of a combat-triggered Steel test into 5E’s combat. Character’s spend one of their resources and assume some risk.


Ten Foot Polemic posted about honoring character death: give XP for performing funerals for the deceased.

Take a dead character’s remains to a safe place with a church (or cultural equivalent) and you can buy their experience points on a 1:1 [gold]-for-XP basis.

In the case of a low durability game, consider bringing this into play.


I also add that there is a pernicious “level-up to unlock new features” vibe that I see in modern D&D and Powered by the Apocalypse games. Something along the lines of: “I want to see the mechanical impact of the character build I’ve worked through.” In the early days of our hobby, character death meant starting over at 1st level, or perhaps grabbing a hireling as your new PC.

Reviewing Top Content from My Old Wordpress Site

With the deprecation of my old Wordpress site, I decided to gather up some information.

Top Content of 2018

Thus far I wrote 33 posts for 2018, totaling over 24K words. That Random Bonds Generator continues to chug along. Its nice to see Witchburner and Dwimmermount join the ranks of perennial favorites. This is the first year without a 2011 post in the top 10.

Top Content 2017

I wrote 34 posts in 2017, totaling over 35K in words. The first year when Translating Empire Strikes Back into Dungeon World Moves drops off of the list. Yet the The Mah Jong of Tichu continues to draw people to my site.

Top 2016 Content

I wrote 27 posts in 2016, totaling over 17K in words. A year in which no posts of 2016 are in the top 10; A pattern that continues. In 2016 I try to get some consistent gaming going, but schedules refuse to yield. A glimmer of opportunity emerges when I ran DCC for the first time, but it will take until 2017 for that kick into high gear. I’m starting to look towards running a drop-in game at my friendly local game store. I even write up an FLGS quick start.

Top 2015 Content

I wrote 14 posts in 2015, totaling over 10K in words. Like a Phoenix the The Mah Jong of Tichu surges back. I also setup some rules for running a 5E character funnel, akin to DCC’s 0-level character funnel.

Top 2014 Content

I wrote 24 posts in 2014, totaling over 13K in words. I pivot away from Burning Wheel and into Dungeon World; I would not stay long in Dungeon World, as 5E and DCC entered the scene. All the while, I keep eyeing Burning Wheel.

Top 2013 Content

I wrote 33 posts in 2013, totaling over 19K in words. The Random Bonds Generator for Dungeon World and World of Dungeons by John Harper have staying power; Showing up each year since. Also, in this year, I hosted a small game day. I never did revisit hosting another one.

Top 2012 Content

I wrote 83 posts in 2012, totaling over 51K in words. Why, hello Powered by the Apocalypse posts. This year has my widest variety of games in the top 10. To be fair, I’m grazing on every game I can find in 2012.

Top 2011 Content

I wrote 127 posts in 2011, totaling over 73K in words. If I were to re-publish Life During a Wartime - Random Village Generator, I suspect it would get a lot more attention.

Welcome to My New Take on Rules

As I’ve written about before, I finally switched over my site. I plan to continue maintaining my blog, as there are several of you that subscribe to my blog posts via email or Wordpress Reader. Please consider switching to my RSS feed, as I don’t yet know how long I will maintain the wordpress site.

During this migration, I removed a tremendous amount of what I came to see as clutter. I refocused the blog for reading longer form articles.

I compressed the navigation to more narrow concerns. The about page links to previous top-level navigation items.


Gone is much of the cruft injected by Wordpress.

Let’s examine my Burning Wheel Lifepaths Inspired by Warhammer Fantasy post (see previous site).

You’ll first notice, the styling. I have extreme control over the new table rendering. In fact, I now use Jekyll to read through a YAML data file to populate those tables; Each lifepath table will now have a consistent look and feel. Important as I work at creating other lifepaths. The control extends everywhere on the site.

Second, the old Wordpress site’s page requires 112 HTTP requests and transfers 1.3 MB of data. The new static site page requires 9 requests, transferred 146 KB of data. What this means for you? Far faster load times; For those of you with metered data or slow connections, you’re welcome.

Third, compare the print preview of each site. I love the new printed look.

The Little Things

I’ve ensured you need not use Javascript. To get a sense of traffic to the site, I did setup Google Analytics; But feel free to turn on your ad-blocking and disable Javascript. The site will continue working just fine. Though there is one caveat; When javascript is disabled, the Search feature shifts away from the Javascript requiring Google’s Custom Search Engine. Instead, I provide a search button to directing the user to Google’s basic search with the prepopulated “”.

I’ve tried to build towards an accessible experience, leveraging accessibility guidelines from Penn State Go to the top of the page, click the top left corner, then hit the tab key. I love that feature. I learned that from a Skip Links accessibility tutorial. And for the extra-tech people, fire up a lynx browser.

I have packed the site with metadata, as I try to assist our machine overlords in better understanding the content so they can provide you with more contextual information. See Schema Demystified: Schema Markup and the SEO Benefits for more details

In leveraging Jekyll, I can write, edit, and preview my blog offline; A nice to have when traveling or when our shaky internet craps out.

Whither Goes the Comments?

I removed comments. A todo item, albeit low on the priority list, is to attach the historical comments to their respective commentss. . Instead, feel free to contact Me; From there we can have a conversation I will only post comments or excerpts that you give after getting your express consent

Also, consider writing your reply on your own blog; And drop me a line to draw attention to your post. There are many free and easy-to-use platforms for blogging.

Whither Goes the Banner?

Ye ol’ banner for
Multi-colored dice and pieces from various boardgames (Chess, Puerto Rico, Shadows over Camelot, Ticket to Ride, Chicken Cha Cha Cha, Carcassonne, Yinsh, Monopoly, Dominion, and Settlers of Catan) are arranged in a seemingly scattered manner across a chess board.

I love that old banner. My partner surprised me with a series of photos she took in celebration of launching my old site. I’m trying to track down the source images for that banner. The largest image I have found so far is 1000px by 288px. I need at least 1280px by X; even then, I don’t know where I might find a place for that. Perhaps converting the Take on Rules in the header to a badge?


The plan is to keep on blogging. I’m eager to get back to writing more game related posts, and wrap up these meta posts about blogging and frameworks.

My Blogging Engine

Jekyll, written in italics. To its right a tilted test-tube partially full of red liquid.
Jekyll - “Transform your plain text into static websites and blogs.”

This blog post builds on my Keeping the RSS Fires Burning post and Howto Markdown Blog.

I wanted to build a bit more on my game blogging. What fuels this blog and the framework I use to build it out.


My face to face gaming feeds this blog. The actual play as well conversations around the game session itself. I reflect on the highlights (and lowlights), looking for the magic.

I prioritize reading. I typically get about 40 books in per year; Ranging across genres, fiction and non-fiction alike. I also read a lot of game sourcebooks.

I follow numerous blogs. Do yourself a favor, and go checkout Save vs. Total Party Kill’s OSR OPML. There you will find instructions for subscribing to a plethora of blogs. And also visit Campaign Wiki’s Old School RPG Planet and Indie RPG Planet) From these blogs, I read the more deliberate conversations. The majority of my feed is gaming blogs, but I also subscribe to a plethora of other blogs.

Over the past month, I switched from using to using I use Inoreader to star, save posts to Google Drive, categorize, and subscribe to blogs. The migration was simple. I exported my OPML file from Feedly and imported it into Inoreader. Once the OSR OPML file showed up, I subscribed to that. I noticed some blogs showing up twice. I wrote a script to de-duplicate what was in my original OPML and what was in the OSR OPML; Every so often I re-run that script.

I find less fuel on Social Media that sparks a response—Aside from clicking on a blog post and adding it to Inoreader. More on that in In Response to “I’m Bowing Out” - Hack & Slash

A Tangent that Loops Back

I started blogging in 2010 as part of my day job; I used a campus provided Wordpress instance. In 2011 I started my game blog leveraging I had thought about Blogger, spending a bit of time in an aborted migration, but opted to remain on Wordpress. I believe I was looking at tighter integration with the fledgling Google+

I switched roles on campus, and moved my professional blogging to A site powered by Jekyll. We sought to build-up a team blog. During this time, I actively engaged in Github code contributions. Github leverages Markdown for its rich text comments. I find Markdown more legible than HTML. I will often write Markdown in—my text editor of choice. I use the markdown-preview-plus plugin to preview the Markdown as HTML.

I prefer Markdown over HTML or WYSYWIG editors. I spend time thinking about the content and not poking around formatting the content. Focus on one task. While writing avoid editing and formatting. Focus on getting the words out. Then go back and revisit


On September 9th, I started once again migrating from Wordpress. In 2013, I had another failed attempt at migrating off of Wordpress. If memory served, I wanted the simplicity of Github Pages, but needed redirects, which were not available in Github pages at the time. Also in the back of my head I wanted HTTPS for my custom domain hosted by Github Pages. This was not available until May 1, 2018 . I had stumbled upon the Tufte Jekyll theme. One that purported to be a “Minimal Jekyll blog styled to resemble the look and layout of Edward Tufte’s books.” I became enamored with the layout of the demo page I like side notes and margin notes. Foot notes are nice as well. I wanted something that would ease the management of including these asides. My semantic preference would be to use the aside HTML5 element, but that has challenges and issues further detailed in tufte-css

I dove into the migration, starting first with Jekyll Import. I performed a full clean-up; I wanted to embrace the new theme. I also wanted to preserve links from other pages. This involved a mix of scripts, manual changes, and patience. I dusted off my Imagemagick, Nokogiri, Psych/Yaml, and Rake skills. I do hope to publish the bones of how this site gets built, but for now, you’ll have to put on your imagination hat.

I have scripts that:

  • Create proper aspect ratio derivative images for side, main, and full images.
  • Create an AMP compliant version all pages, while maintaining a the foundational fast non-JS dependent site.
  • Extract image metadata to have proper aspect ratio for the AMP version of the site.
  • Beautifies the HTML generated from Jekyll by normalizing indents and spacing.
  • Takes a tag and adds new tags to posts that already have the tag.

In other words, once I cutover from Wordpress to my new site, I’ll have full control over my blog’s data. And I love it.

Until I switch over, Ok. I switched over. You can find my old site at I write my post first for, then do some HTML antics and copy it into my Wordpress site.

Kibitzing Burning Beards, Or Thinking Up Consequences for Failure

Four Fate dice and a scope target highlights Sunday on a calendar. Several bullet holes pierce the calendar.
Sunday Skypers logo

I’ve occupied my commute by listening to the Sunday Skyper’s Burning Beards podcast. I wrote about this in my Rethinking the Failed Climb Check I have fast become attached to the trials and tribulations of Fandril, Flint, Ulfkell, and Slate.

In episode 38, after a battle to a stalemate, the spiders pinned the dwarves. One spider begins parlaying with Flint. Having earlier spoken about ghosts, weird dreams, unseen spirits haunting Flint enters the parlay; Flint requests that the spiders let them pass if they promise to come back and talk with the mother spider tomorrow. The group has side-stepped many Dual of Wits in favor of expediency; After all they have but a few hours for the whole session; And scripted conflict will take more time than a quick Vs. test. An unfortunate side-effect is that poor Flint, every engaging in social conflict, has rarely had a chance for a Routine persuasion test, something far easier to come by in a Dual of Wits than in a Vs. Will persuasion.

The GM presents a great complication for Flint’s failure. But I was wondering what other consequences could someone inflict?

First complication, Flint was invoking his Oddly Likeable character trait. In the rules as written Burning Wheel, character traits are not something that add advantages. This is something from Mouseguard and Torchbearer. However, it is a reasonable hack. . This would be something I’d put in the crosshairs. If you fail, you’ll shift Oddly Likeable to just Odd Definitely bring this up in a trait vote.

Second complication, Flint has been blathering about spirits and such. On failure, you’ll gain an infamous reputation “Speaker of Nonsense.”

Third complication, they’ll let you leave, but you’ll need to leave reassurances. Their first request is Fandril’s dwarven mail.

Fourth complication, they’ll give you what you want, but as you’re leaving they’ll spring a trap, picking off one or two of you.

Burning Wheel offers minimal guidance, but frames how to approach test failures; Namely look to their intent and push against that. I know when I’ve run Burning Wheel, I sometimes forget to press for intent before rolling the dice; I find it more difficult to establish intent after a failure.

Look to Apocalypse World for a bit more nuanced guidance. In 2012, I wrote about Apocalypse World moves in the Fellowship of the Ring Below is a quick summary:

  • Separate them.
  • Capture someone.
  • Put someone in a spot.
  • Trade harm for harm (as established).
  • Announce off-screen badness.
  • Announce future badness.
  • Inflict harm (as established).
  • Take away their stuff.
  • Make them buy.
  • Activate their stuff’s downside.
  • Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
  • Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
  • Turn their move back on them.
  • Make a threat move.

And remember, after every move ask: “what do you do?”

A failed move/test should push the fiction in a direction that demands a response and further risk.