Postmortem Studios


Postmortem Studios

#RPGaDay2018 13. Describe how your play has evolved

Aug 13 2018


I much prefer to be the Games Master. When it comes to playing I tend to go with fairly high-concept characters that don’t necessarily mesh that well with the game or the rest of the group. Even if that limits the amount of time I am playing or contributing, I still find those more interesting characters to play (like the SF writer whose frozen head was evacuated to the Moon during the fall, in Eclipse Phase).

Over time my Games Mastering style has developed to the point where I find most one-off games unsatisfying. I much prefer longer campaigns where I can really get into the swing of the world, get the players invested, reflect the changes that they create in the setting and allow a story to emerge naturally over time. That isn’t to say I just sit back and let it happen, rather I set about creating a world in which Plots(tm) are already in progress and which the players are likely to find themselves intersecting with.

I’ve always been a freewheeling Games Master, but my preference for improvisation (and simple systems that make improvisation easier) has only grown over time. I’m just seeking – always seeking – for that sweet spot between trad-gaming and story-gaming that fits me just right.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 12. Wildest character concept?

Aug 12 2018


Perhaps the strangest character I ever played was an intelligent virus. This was in the groundbreaking RPG ‘Over the Edge’ which is about to enjoy a comeback with a new edition. Over the Edge practically challenges you to come up with the most over the top and peculiar character idea that you can, and the setting itself is like Philip K Dick and William Burroughs had a love-child that took after Hunter S Thompson.

The system is loose and narratively based enough that you can play just about anything, although it may not be terrible effective. ‘My’ ability to take over and operate communally through hosts was an edge power, and so I was not terribly good at it, nor were the various hapless people I infected terribly competent. Nonetheless, having an instant flash-mob at your beck and call and being able to take a few, unimportant casualties along the way proved incredibly useful.

As a GM the wildest bunch of characters I was ever presented with were for Deadlands: Wasted West. Everyone loaded themselves up on so many flaws in pursuit of chips to spend to boost their roles that the game practically ran itself. Chaos was unleashed the moment the pyromaniac character’s imaginary leprechaun friend told him to burn things or the gunslinger was goaded into action by being reminded he was supposed to be a hero.

Fun times.


Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 11. Wildest character name?

Aug 11 2018


I’m usually the Games Master and names are the hardest part of being a player – let alone the Games Master. I have an inordinate fondness for puns, which I have to keep in check or every game would be reduced to a laughing stock. Typically if I’m stuck for a name I find a random online name generator of approximately the right culture or leaf through a book and combine a couple of names from people who worked on the book (or backed it on Kickstarter).

Perhaps the most memorable recent name was ‘Gimothy Stickfinger’ (pronounced Jimothy, his parents couldn’t spell). A ‘loveable street starfish’ from my Iron Kingdoms game, who was about to get hung from the gallows for severing a fishmongers John Thomas when the PCs stepped in.

Certain themes for names stick in my head, though I haven’t used them… yet.

Places, or other things, that sound like names: Like… Leon Solent, Avon Calling, Stirling Silver, Accrington Stanley, Armitage Shanks or Winterbourne Bassett.

Group Themes: Slim and Nunn. Worth, Erst and Mean – the While Brothers. Aunties Climax, Matter, Disestablishmentarism and Pasto.

There are also some unspeakably fabulous names from the Puritans from the English Civil War period. These include such gems as: Praise-God Barebones, If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned, Fear-Not Helly, Humiliation Hynde and Sorry-for-Sin Coupard.

Perhaps one of my most favourite fictional names, ever, has to be Carl Heinz Pilchards-in-Tomato-Sauce Clayderman, a ‘genius’ musician from Mega City One who abused weather control technology in one of his productions, leading to many deaths. His previous great work ‘Twelve Robotic Chickens Locked inside a Piano’ was only marginally more successful.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 10. How has gaming changed you?

Aug 10 2018


I’ve been gaming since the age of eight or nine, depending what you count as gaming. So it’s impossible to really do a ‘before and after’ comparison, since I’ve been gaming about as long as I’ve had a distinct and meaningful personhood. ‘Change’, then, isn’t perhaps the right term, but I can look upon the effect that gaming has had on my life.

Most of my life-long friendships involve gaming in one way or another. Colleagues, fellow players, people from LARPs, having something in common gives you a good common ground for conversation and an excuse to meet up with people – after which you’re able to feel around for friendship and other commonalities than just games.

I met my partner – and most of my previous lovers – through gaming, so you can’t really discount that either! Some people meet at school, some around the water cooler, I met people around dice and costumes.

I started gaming in the eighties, and was heavily into Vampire in the 90s – as well as being a metalhead and goth around the same periods, and being into comics and other demonised forms of nerd media. As such I became very invested in free expression issues and in fighting the ‘moral majority’ as it intersected with the things I enjoyed. Those experiences, that hostility and judgement, made me a lifelong advocate for free speech, and it breaks my heart that the forces arrayed against that freedom now come much more from within gaming (and nerd media) than from without. That activism – I was writing letters to the Editor and defences of gaming while I was still in secondary school – also got me invested in secularism, and what some people call ‘movement atheism’. These things are still very important to me, to this day and I’ve added sexual freedom, egalitarianism and a free and open internet to my wheelhouse of causes.

Perhaps most importantly of all, writing games, making games, freelancing in the gaming industry… gaming gave me a career and a life and a satisfying ‘raison d’etre’. Imaginative play is important, even as an adult, and if I can help that, provide escapism, and defend peoples’ right to their own fantasies, I’ll count this as a worthwhile life.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 9. How has a game surprised you?

Aug 9 2018


Feng Shui, first edition, surprised me with how well it worked and how well such a simple mechanic (stunts) drove description and innovative thinking, which made future games so much more involving.

Apocalypse World surprised me by being an anti-narrative, supposedly narrative RPG which – despite being a darling for many – doesn’t work.

Gamma World surprised me by being a fun implementation of (stripped down) 4e mechanics.

Starblazer Adventures surprised me by being a great, generic, toolkit for all manner of sci-fantasy and SF game worlds and designs.

MERP surprised me by being so little like The Lord of the Rings.

DUST Adventures surprised me, by being the only incarnation of DUST I don’t enjoy (completely different feel and ‘whiff’ factor to the boardgames/wargame).

Dragon Warriors surprised me by still being a great basic RPG after all these years, and not just a nostalgia-fest.

Cyberpunk surprised me, by still being relevant and playable after all these years.

Iron Kingdoms surprised me, by making miniature-and-mat play enjoyable.

Most games find a way to surprise me…

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


Grimdark: The Missing Material

Aug 8 2018


Due to a busted laptop I wasn’t able to finish D&D Month last month, the theme of which was ‘Grimdark’. To make up for that I present the missing material to all and sundry, free of the Patreon ‘paywall’ I had put up. These entries are not adjusted for the proposed ‘Grimdark’ rules, so that they’re more immediately usable to people who play 5e D&D.

Rat_SwarmCarrion-Fat Rat Swarm

A squeaking, hissing tide of rats grown sleek and huge and fat on the flesh of the dead. They have a taste for it now, and scramble over each other in their eagerness to feast – on you.

Large Beast, Unaligned
Armour Class 12
Hit Points 63 (14d8)
Speed 40 ftStr 14 (+2), Dex 15 (+2), Con 11 (+0), Int 2 (-4), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 3 (-4)Senses: Darkvision 60 ft, Passive Perception 10
Challenge 1/2 (100 xp)
Damage Resistances: Bludgeoning, piercing, slashingCondition Immunities: Charmed, frightened, paralysed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Keen Smell: The Rat Swarm has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Swarm: The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Small creature. The swarm can’t regain hit-points or gain temporary hit points.
Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 0 ft, targets in the swarm’s space take one attack each, Hit: 15 (2d8+6 piercing damage), or 11 (1d8+6) if at half hit-points or lower.

markus-neidel-rattenkonigRat King

A twisted little knot of seven rats, bound together by their knotted tail, a fierce and defiant intelligence radiating from their beady red eyes.

Small Beast, Unaligned
Armour Class 14
Hit Points 32 (7d6+7) When reduced to half their starting hit points, the Rat King dissolves and is replaced with three ordinary rats.Speed 20 ft
Str 5 (-3) Dex 14 (+2) Con 12 (+1) Int 5 (-3) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-2)
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft, Passive Perception 11
Challenge 1 (200 xp)
Keen Smell: The Rat Swarm has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Telepathy: Rat Kings can communicate telepathically to any intelligent being within their line of sight without the need to share language. They can communicate with and observe other rats telepathically within a mile radius.
Intelligence: Rat Kings are about as intelligent as the moderately retarded. They have an IQ of 40-50, can understand language and perform tool-using and work tasks but struggle with more abstract or detailed thought.
Rat Control: The Rat King provides advantage to any and all rats within its line of sight during combat, including swarms. Rats and rat swarms are capable of (low level) human-intelligence actions and tool use when directed by the Rat King.
Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft, Hit: 2 (1d6-3 piercing damage).
Psychic Attack: +3 1d10+1 damage, Wisdom Save vs DC 13 or stunned for one round. The Rat King can make one physical and one psychic attack each turn.


Hunter’s Mimic

Your arrow sings through the air and flies true. The elk lows, arrow crimson with blood, jutting from its neck. It topples and you approach, knife in hand to cut the arrow free. Then it erupts, a mass of tentacles, teeth, hooks and guts. A gibbering horror of gnashing ribs and palpitating organs, lashing itself to you and pulling you into its jaws.

Medium Monstrosity (shapechanger), neutral
Armour Class 10
Hit Points: 58 (9d8+18)
Speed: 40 ft in disguise, 0 ft when ’emerged’.
Str 17 (+3), Dex 12 (+1), Con 15 (+2), Int 5 (-3), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 8 (-1)
Skills: Stealth +5
Damage Immunities: Piercing
Condition Immunities: Prone
Senses: Blindsense 60 ft, Passive Perception 11
Challenge 2 (450 xp)
Shapechanger: The Hunter’s Mimic can use its action to transform its appearance into that of a deer or similar prey animal, or can freely assume its monstrous form without using an action. It reverts to its monstrous form if it dies.
Clutching: The Hunter’s Mimic clings on to anything that touches it with myriad tendrils and rasping teeth. A Huge or smaller creature clutched by the Hunter’s Mimic is also grappled by it (escape DC 13). Ability checks to escape this grapple have disadvantage.
False Appearance: While Hunter’s Mimic retains its animal form it is indistinguishable from that animal.
Grappler: The Hunter’s Mimic has advantage on attack rolls against any creature it has grappled.
So Many Teeth: Melee weapon attack, +5 to hit, reach 10 ft, one target, Hit: 8 (1d10+3 piercing damage, plus 4 (1d8) slashing damage.


Baseline Zombie

A shambling creature, raised by an unnatural plague to seek the flesh of the living.

Medium Undead, neutral
Armour Class 8
Hit Points 22 (3d8+9)
Speed 20 ft
Str 13 (+1), Dex 6 (-2), Con 16 (+3), Int 3 (-4), Wis 6 (-2), Cha 5 (-3)
Saving Throws: Wis +0
Damage Resistances: All damage types save those that specifically target undead.
Damage Immunities: Poison
Condition Immunities: Poisoned
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft, Passive Perception 8
Languages: –
Challenge ¼ (50 xp)
Headshot: A player can aim for the head, incurring a -5 penalty to their attack roll, but the damage is not reduced by the zombie’s damage resistance.
Grab: Melee Weapon attack, +3 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target, hit 1 bludgeoning damage and grappled (escape DC 14).
Bite: Melee weapon attack on grappled target with advanntage, +3 to hit, reach – grappled target, hit 2d6+1 slashing damage and a chance of infection, Constitution save DC 13.

Zombie Plague

When someone is bitten by an infectious zombie they must make a DC 13 Constitution save or contract the disease. The DC increases by +1 for each individual bite they take during an encounter – so keep track. Each hour the infected individual must make a DC 13 Constitution save (unmodified) or suffer a level of Exhaustion, starting from level 1 as the disease takes hold. Each failure advances the Exhaustion level by 1, each success reduces it by one. If it is reduced to zero then the disease is shaken off. If it gets to 6 then the infected person dies, and rises in 2d12 turns as a new zombie. If a character severs their bitten limb, the DC is reduced to 10.

The following are templates you can add to the zombies in order to customise them. Each one applied raises the Challenge level one level (¼ becomes ½, ½ becomes 1, 1 becomes 2 and so on). Every two increases, raise the zombies hit dice by 1.

Fast Zombie

Move +10 ft
AC +1

Attacks +1 to hit

Rotten Zombie

The zombie gains the following effect:
Squishy Guts: Each time the zombie is struck, anyone within 5 ft of it must make a Dexterity Save against a DC of 13 or suffer 1d4 acid damage and a chance of infection equal to a bite.

Dry Zombie

Increase the Zombie’s hit dice by one and its AC by 2.

Fungal Zombie

The zombie is symbiotically intermingled with a fungus or mould, its fruiting bodies erupting from the rotting flesh. Choose a fungus and give the zombie one of its special effects (EG Shriek, from Shrieker fungus).

If you cannot choose a generically mouldy corpse gains 1 hit dice and a secondary poison attack from its bites and grapples. DC 13 from a bite, 10 from a grapple, or suffer the poisoned condition – though this will pass with an hour or so’s rest.

Skeletal Zombie

+5 ft Move
+2 AC
+1 Attack

Fat Zombie

+1 Hit Dice and +4 HP per Hit Die (instead of +3).

Reduce all incoming damage by 1, after applying damage resistance.

Intelligent Zombie

Increase the Zombies Intelligence by +1. It can now use simple weapons in a haphazard fashion, instead of grappling – if it so chooses. Also increase the Zombie’s perception rolls by +1 – including Passive Perception.

Virulent Zombie

Increase the DC of the Zombie’s plague by +4


#RPGaDay2018 8. How can we get more people playing?

Aug 8 2018


In creating this answer, I am going to piss people off. So I’m going to have to preface this with a disclaimer.

Stay with me.

I have nothing against diversity in gaming, women in gaming or any of the other usual buzzwords, phrases and emotional shortcuts you’ll see bandied about. I’m all for it. I agree with the ends, it’s the means I take issue with – and the characterisations of the gaming community that go along with them. I’m not even going to say ‘however…’ or ‘but…’. What I am going to do is to examine the state of gaming and associated nerd media, and the effect that recent ‘modernisation’ efforts and the broadening of the gaming hobby/lifestyle have had.

Gaming has always been open. Perhaps too open. We have long been accepting and tolerant, providing a safe haven for people who are socially awkward, hygienically challenged, on the spectrum, disabled, infirm or marginalised in any other way. Gamers have always put ‘gamer’ ahead of all other identities and this served the industry extremely well. Gamers also – unfortunately – developed an understandable siege mentality in light of the Satanic and Vampire panics and the many slings and arrows flung at related hobbies and fandoms.

To see my beloved hobby, always more (genuinely) progressive and open than the culture around it become an intolerant, gate-kept, hate-filled arena of social acrimony, censorship and vicious accusations has hurt me an enormous amount; as both observer and victim. The particularly bitter irony is that all this hate and exclusion comes from people who style themselves as being ‘progressive’. Rather than adding diversity and variety to games, their strident demands force games into a more and more homogeneous pile of indistinct grey goo.

My co-host on Inappropriate Characters, The RPG Pundit, calls this RPG pablum ‘Cartoon Funtime Fantasy Seattle’. While we disagree on a great deal, and he has advocated gate-keeping in the past (for ‘Lawncrappers’) I believe he has a point. One of the great appeals of RPGs (and fiction as a whole) is the opportunity to inhabit other times and places, even ones that are horrific, historical or purely fantastical. If we whitewash everything, if we make everything into ‘Wizards and Wokeness’ we lose a huge amount of what makes RPGs appealing in the first place.

It seems paradoxical, it is paradoxical, but in seeking to erase the unfairness of history, to create safe and tolerant fantasy worlds, in trying to increase diverse representation the only diversity that matters – diversity of thought – is damaged. I want a world in which the RPG Pundits of this world can create their Old Skool fantasy RPGs AND the likes of Olivia (formerly David*) Hill can create their emotional, narrative story games. More is always better than less. There will always be some sort of struggle for the ‘soul’ of the few truly mainstream RPGs that exist, because of their influence, but otherwise I think people should be left the entire-and-actual-fuck-alone to make what they want.

Getting more and new people into hobbies is great, but not at the cost of the existing, main base; which leans white-male in gaming, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s down to societal factors beyond our control. The problem with the tactics of those who fancy themselves progressive is that they seek their goals by a process of forcing diversity, whitewashing (ironically) history to make it more ‘palatable’ and creating an incredibly intolerant and hateful atmosphere of judgement and fear.

By all accounts RPG games are enjoying a renaissance right now, but it’s hard to unpick the various factors at play. Certainly the rise of online play and streaming has played a role, 5th Edition actually being good compared to 4th Edition (and being more open) has helped. Media appearances of RPGing in cartoons, comedies and computer games also cannot have done any harm. Outreach to people considered ‘passed by’ may have played some role, but we have to be wary.

‘Get woke, go broke’ isn’t just a catchy meme, one need only look to the disastrous state of comics, the furore around the Hugo Awards, the acrimony over Gamergate, the bitter dismay of Star Wars fans, to see that. The wilful misrepresentation of the ‘honourable opposition’ in each case as ‘misogynistic’, ‘racist’ or other slurs doesn’t help either. So far gaming has proven more resilient, probably because it’s just as DIY as it ever was and the slant of official material has limited impact on play at the table. Still, we should be cautious.

Gaming evangelises itself, play to its strengths – friendship, imagination, scope, possibility, openness, sociability – and it’ll grow like it always has. Just don’t close it up like a clam-shell in pursuit of homogeneous ‘diversity’.

*I know ‘deadnaming’ is frowned upon, but since reading the story of ‘Doctor V and the Magic Putter’ I strongly believe that transition should not allow one to escape reputation and past actions.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 7. How can a GM make the stakes important?

Aug 7 2018


There are two broad schools of thought on this. There’s the old school approach of being an unforgiving bastard to your players and punishing them for stupidity or bad rolls with death. You could call this the ‘Old Testament’ Games Mastering style. Then there’s the more new-school approach of making the story and narrative more important. The characters may not (probably won’t) die unless it fits the story, but their goals and desires may never be met, or may be dashed.

As with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Players do need to feel that their characters and their progress is as genuine risk. They also need to feel that they may not be able to achieve their ends. Both of these things give accomplishments meaning – beating the odds and succeeding against genuine opposition.

You have to – sometimes – let people fail. Failure doesn’t have to mean a TPK (total party kill) or the end of the world, but without failure success just isn’t worth as much. Sometimes, also, you do have to let characters die.

I admit, I’m terrible at this. I just want everyone to have a good time and I want character deaths to be meaningful and not just down to bad dice mojo. I daresay my games would be better if I could grasp the nettle and acclimate my players to the idea that characters can and will die. In one shots – especially horror – I have no problem procuring a higher kill-count than Jason Vorhees, but in campaigns I’m a total wuss.

Bad Grim, no biscuit.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 6. How can players make a world seem real?

Aug 6 2018


This isn’t really a job for the players so much as it is the Games Master. You may, of course, view the Games Master as one of the players, but typically that’s not how most see it. Still, there are things that players can do that will help everyone come together to create a believable world.

Characters have to come from somewhere, they don’t appear as blank slates (unless you’ve chosen amnesia as a flaw). They must have had parents, siblings, a home town, pets, a childhood and all that jazz. You don’t have to launch into a multi-page epic about the origins of your character, but a few jotted notes will place them into a living world – and give the Games Master some more material to work with.

Players can have a tendency to act… stupid. When was the last time you saw someone wander into a corner shop and murder the proprietor just to help themselves to armfuls of candy and then walk out, safe in the knowledge that the police weren’t high enough level to threaten them?

Never. That’s when.

While the sheer latitude players are given in RPGs is a huge part of the appeal, running rampant and doing moronic things ‘just because you can’ rapidly becomes wearing and spoils people’s immersion – at least in serious games. Players who consider their actions and why they wouldn’t rampage like this in real life, help maintain a level of sanity and verisimilitude in the game world. When it comes to design I call this effort ‘plausibility’. I don’t want a world or game to be realistic per se, but rather plausible. Ironically, whether writing fiction, designing or playing a game, often the more fantastical the setting the more plausible and believable the details need to be.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!


#RPGaDay2018 5. Favourite recurring NPC?

Aug 5 2018


This is kinda, sorta the same question as yesterday and has much the same answers. So rather than answering it directly I’ll take this extra time to talk about HOW to make an NPC memorable and to make it engaging for the players.

  1. Motivation: A memorable NPC, like a good character, operates according to their own motivations (moderated by what’s best for the game). To play an NPC well you need to understand their motivations and goals – simple as they might be.
  2. A ‘Hook’: If an NPC is anything more than axe-fodder for your band of wandering murder-hobos it’ll need a hook. This can be a physical trait (one leg) a scent (jasmine) or a catchphrase (I see… Checks!). Whatever it is, it enables you to make the NPC instantly recognisible and someone that stands apart from the usual Bombadil, Robin or Dresden they might otherwise encounter.
  3. Useful: A memorable NPC should be someone they will want to engage with regularly, or have to. Shopkeepers, barmen, captains of the guard and arch-nemesi all meet this, for different values of useful.
  4. Enjoyable: You, as the Games Master, should enjoy portraying the NPC.
  5. Ignore All the Above: You can never actually know what NPCs people will take delight in and which ones they won’t care about. The best you can hope for is to adapt, quickly, when the players get attached to a particular NPC and to fill out their backstory then.

Hey, thanks for stopping by. I’m an independent RPG (and other games) designer and author. You can check out my stuff via the links at the side of If you feel so inclined, after a look around, you can support me at, or Questions and queries are welcome, remember, ‘Nullius in verba’!