Thomas Novosel

blog for art, writing, and games

Paper Mini’s Set A

I said that I would do something when I hit 800 followers and Twitter, and so here it is! Here is a free set of printable paper miniatures for wargaming.

Click here for the 13 page PDF.

I made these for use with Lion’s Rampant from Osprey, but as they are generic they could be used with anything probably. These were made for Lion’s Rampant (which is why you’ll notice the weapon combinations for the minis are similar to the choices present in the Lion’s Rampant rulebook).

Because regular miniatures are expensive, not just money but in time (assembly, painting, tools to paint etc), that is why I decided to make my own paper miniatures. Not because their weren’t options present online that I could have downloaded, printed, and used but because I wanted to play with minis that were of my own making/artstyle. So a little more cartoony, but not super cartoony. I just wanted minis that looked like they came out of the old school fantasy rpgs whose art style I like.

That is how I got to making these. I expect that once I have made even more paper minis, I may put them together into a zine with maybe my own house rules to be used with them when printed and assembled. But for that to happen, I would need to create paper terrain, do some more gaming and writing for wargames type stuff.

Until then, the most you will read about paper miniatures on this blog will be my own play reports from using these at my own table for solo gaming.

Horror Photoshop Brushes

Hey, this is just a quick post. But I promised that I would release my brushes I made for drawing monster in photoshop on my blog for free if I got to 700 followers on Twitter.

This has occured!

So here are the brushes (for free).

(Feel free to use this brush pack for commercial purposes, no attribution needed)

If you want to give me money for them, go buy stuff from my games page (I even have more brushes there).

Here are some pics I drew using them:

What will I do at 800? Probably finish my architecture skyship brushes and post them too. Or maybe I’ll make something else that I have made free. idk. Maybe I’ll release the paper minis I have been making on my blog?

Old Equipment Art Zine

Here is a link to my old equipment art zine: http://thomas-novosel.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/AssortedEquipmentArtZine_15.pdf

Here is a link to a WIP of a new zine or the unfinished second volume: http://thomas-novosel.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/EquipmentArtZine21.pdf 

If you want to give me money, go buy a game or art or something over on my itch. https://thomasnovosel.itch.io/

Chaos Bandits

One thing that rulers fear is a revolt, the exposure of their corruptions, and the mounting evidence of tyranny. What causes hopes to get high in the final days before the whole thing comes crumbling down? What stalls the collapse of empires? Rulers who take advantage of their power. Who make rituals and preparations to summon Chaos Bandits. They gut gangs, ruffians, and the desperate so that faceless creatures with multidimensional sight can wrestle their way out of the viscera.

Picture of a Chaos Bandit named Glamour.

Chaos Bandits are constructs inhabited by chaos voids. When they walk, bustle and move throughout an area, any who come in contact or near them lose their understanding of chaos. The idea of actions being harmful, that action can change the world or their situation is gone. It cannot be even fathomed. What it leaves behind is a population that is tamed, calmed, and soothed into a state of positivity and eery contentedness.

If a chaos bandit is encountered, any individual will be hard pressed to take arms against them. Their silence but for their wheezing chest breaths, their eyes which cry at daylight and dart in all directions so they can avoid touching any living soul… All of this would strike someone as disturbing, but it doesn’t. The world is too still and calm in their presence to be disturbing.

Using the Chaos Bandit

The Chaos Bandit as an enemy should be treated as a force that cannot be stopped by entangling with them (due to their aura). To unbind the void to the construct, adventurers will need to find out who summoned them and force them to dismiss the Chaos Bandit. Regardless of where the bandits are, they will be transported to the summoners location and the void will be closed with the summoners life energy. This kills the summoner, and the chaos bandits void will devour both its own body and all of the summoners.

If the Summoner is unwilling to dismiss or unable to be discerned who they are, then the only other option the players will have is to destroy the summoning pool of viscera. Doing so will mean that no more bandits can be spawned.

Fighting a Chaos Bandit

Fighting a chaos bandit requires SAN checks, stability checks, or whichever would be equivalent as trying to fight a Chaos Bandit is distressing. It is a first experience of violence, like stabbing cute animals, it is stressful beyond belief. Even the most bloodthirsty person would be trembling and sobbing during the act.

If they are successful, then the same test should be made after each time damage is successfully made against the bandit.

Chaos Bandit (Stats)

  • Number Appearing: Chaos Bandits are summoned in groupings and move as a unit. Roll 1d6+2 to determine the size of each squad.
  • Hit Points / Health: 1d10+10.
  • No armor (treat as unarmored). Their perception and eyesight is supernaturally excellent.
  • Chaos Bandits carry weapons, each is rough and dull and turns to liquid silver when it leaves their palms. It is a weak and small thing formed of metals from the summoning pools of viscera. Use daggers or whichever damage rules would match this description of lethality.

Special Ability: Confrontation or thoughts of chaos, violence, etc cause those nearby a chaos bandit complete happiness and euphoria to the point of soothing them into submission. Fighting without regard to this aura causes SAN checks, Stress checks, or a SAVE to be able to overcome your inner peace and keep your hand steady enough to fight.

On Death: If a Chaos Bandit is reduced to 0 HP their construct shatters and a new one is formed at the pool of viscera where they were originally summoned.

Value: Chaos Bandits hold a lot of value to rulers who are not the summoner. This is because they can reap the rewards without any of the dangers or costs involved in being associated with Chaos Bandits. A caged chaos bandit can be sold to the right buyer for 5d10 x 100 coins.

Loot: Chaos Bandits carry nothing, their clothes are a part of their body and their weapons are useless without their touch. But there is a 10% chance that each unit/group of Chaos Bandits will have on their person a smooth clear stone the size of a pebble weighing 35 lbs. Candle light shined in its presence is enhanced to fill a room with light so bright that it makes it impossible to see. Wherever the constructs are being summoned from, this may be a clue to where.

Conclusion

This description for the Chaos Bandit came from the art that I drew. The art came from me playing around with making new art brushes in photoshop for drawing with as I experiment with mixing art styles and mediums together. Will this be the last? Probably not! This was just a quick post with an idea, so if you use it for your games or your personal monster manual you’ll want to expand on it a bit.

Until next time, have a goodnight.

The Trespasser (Actual Play)

Hello Readers! This blog post is an actual play of my playthrough of ‘The Trespasser’ which is a solo horror game that can be bought here: https://zarwid.itch.io/trespasser

The way this actual play works is that it is a typed version of all of my notes that I wrote while playing the game, and since I was journaling the whole playthrough it should give a fairly clear idea of the story that took place in my playthrough… enjoy! 🙂

The Actual Play

Moved 3 blocks, roll for encounter: NIGHTFALL APPROACHES!

(This is not good, and I am scared because I only have a 2 matches to avoid the dark)

The shadows slip and expand chasing away the light. The only light left is a glimmer off something on the ground. Genevieve crouches and runs her hand across the surface. Feeling its form. Her heart was thumping in the dark before, now it is thrashing in her head.

She feels the round hollow bauble, the doll hair. Her fingers tremble at the torn fabric at the neck.

Genevieve gasps, she holds her breath as she presses the memento into the dirt. To bury it back where it was. She has no idea how her dolly got here, but she knows that she must go. She has to keep moving…

Genevieve lights a match, it glows and crackles. She moves on and finds daylight over a mossy mound. Shadows lick her heels… They try to hold her back but cower at the light, rolling in the shadows. Turning, she looks forward.

Moved 3 blocks, roll for encounter (rolls a 5).

A circle of mushrooms in a small clearing, on top of a waterlogged patch of dirt. Genevieve can’t remember when she last ate… But they look so strange… Her stomach rumbles, she takes a bite. (+1 Vitage)

Moved 3 blocks, roll for encounter (2).

SNAP! Metal teeth spring up at her ankles. (Flight: rolled a 9)

Moved 3 blocks, roll a 1.

The trees, they’re too thick. They wrap around each other, limbs like barbs… I have to move around them…

Moved 3 blocks, roll a 4.

Nothing around but quiet. Genevieve finally notices her breath, the quiet of it stilling as she can breathe easier. But only for a moment.

Moved 3 blocks. Rolled a 5.

Another circle of mushrooms. Time for another bite, the first one hasn’t harmed me so what can another? I think I can see the edge… But I don’t know how long I will be still… One more bite. (+1 Vitae)

Move to the Clearing!

I run and run and the woods they… a clearing! I made it! The electric lights take me back to the car and I can make it back home. I won’t forget what happened but the exhaustion slams against my chest as soon as I hit the bed. I sleep and rest easier now.

The Trespasser (Review)

After I published my last review, that same night a game designer named Evan shot me a message saying how much they enjoyed my review and wanted to see if I would be interested in reviewing their game ‘The Trespasser‘. I said yes! So here we are! The same rules about how I do reviews apply here as they did on the last.

I really enjoyed this solo game of escaping the woods, and becoming un-lost, and since it was semi a journaling game I will also be including my actual play for those that are interested in what an artifact of play could look like (an artifact being any maps, writing, or used character sheets that emerge from playing a game).

NOTE: The Actual Play will be a second post because it would make this one too long to have it also attached to the end of the post. I will update the end of this post with a link to it once I have it typed out and posted. Thank you!

Link to Actual Play post!

I am lost, the woods….

The Trespasser is a solo game with light journaling elements. You play as The Trespasser, someone who has gone just woken up from a camping trip, the fire is dead and a heavy fog wisps between the trees. The trail back home is gone. The Trespasser is only going to stumble deeper and deeper into the strange and ominous forest before they may find their way out.

The player will have to navigate the forest, rolling for encounters after each time they move across a blank grid map to fill in the squares with details. But beware, nightfall can drop at any moment and the darkness that comes with it is all encompassing and will swallow any poor soul that finds itself where it should not be…

The game took me around 40 minutes to play, and I am waiting to finish writing this review before I play it again. The main moods that you should get from this 17 page PDF is a game of: being alone, wandering, sudden descending darkness, and strange quiet.

The quiet only interrupted by the trespassers heavy breathing, the snaps of rusty bear traps, and… the delicious taste of mushroom rings…

The Scary PDF

When I say the scary PDF, it is a black and white PDF with mood setting art and important prose that explains with short lines what to expect from play as a player, but also as a character.

For example, when I first rolled an encounter, I stumbled upon nightfall immediately and it just AHHH! It felt like I was going to be so unfortunate as to not make it out as soon as I left my campsite. I got this feeling because the prose set the stakes of what Nightfall should feel like and the severity of it approaching. With lines such as “You have a limited number of matches to help you see in the dark… Before the night swallows you whole.” This set up that the only thing that would save me are my matches, and I was unfortunate enough to only have rolled to start with 2. That means that even if I made it through this time, I was still many grid squares away from escape and I was on the edge of my seat hoping that darkness didn’t come for the rest of the trek.

Nightfall engulfs the Trespasser.
It whispers temptations into your mind.
It knows you. It knows what you seek.

The Trespasser (page.13)

If it wasn’t for how the game set up the stakes and tone before starting play, the randomness of encountering nightfall may have took me out of the experience. But the quotes throughout the book, the way it is written sets it up so that you are pulled in further. It felt like I was limited in power, and that added tension.

Playing the Game

To play the game all I had to do was read the rules and then create a character. The font is large and well spaced, so don’t think of these 17 pages as a barrier to play but a gentle ramp that eases you into the warm mud.

Making a character to play as was as simple as a couple dice rolls and writing out a name for my trespasser. The rules for creating a character are around 6 short sentences which both explain what the stats each mean (Vitae, Stamina, Injure, and Matches) and gives the instructions for determining them. You need to make sure you don’t run out of Vitae while escaping the woods. Having a low Stamina will increase the number of encounters that you come up against as it reduces your movement speed and decreases the chances of you being able to flee from any dangers. The game ends with you reaching 0 Vitae, Escaping the Forest by getting all of the way across the map grid, or when the nightfall takes you.

Without spoiling too much of what play is by describing the prompts for writing, or the specific details of what you encounter, I want to give the highlights of my experience playing the game. But let it be known that the prompts for writing happen not too often, so this isn’t a heavy journaling game. It has just enough to keep you writing but not so much that you feel like you are behind on an assignment that keeps you from continuing playing the game-y bits of The Trespasser.

The Highlights

The Trespasser is a light weight experience that held me for the entirety of play. But I have made that clear already in this post, so let me recap the main reasons I would recommend this game as well as what it has taught me as a game designer by reading and playing it. THIS IS WHAT I LIKE!

  1. Spacing out the result lists for encounters, roll results, and writing prompts had me turning pages after rolling the dice leaving me wondering what the result that I got was. Having only a few prompts for writing/journaling, and all of them being at the minimum demanding a word or three in response left it up to me (the player) how much journaling I was comfortable with. It didn’t brow beat me for changing between writing a long paragraph or writing a couple words. This is good design! It means the game can form around my ability to play it. It meant that I felt like the gears didn’t grind even once but flowed effortlessly.
  2. As someone who likes the game-y parts of journaling games and even little microgames, I think the trespasser shows the importance of balance between mechanics. There was just enough that I had to do that I felt like I was in control and knew what I had to do to keep playing. I didn’t once feel like I had to have an overview of play, or a numbered to-do list that I needed to reference in order to find out what to do next. With the document being short and the conceit of the game being focused on leaving the forest it was important for my immersion that flipping through the book enhanced my engagement instead of being apart of becoming re-engaged. It enhanced my engagement because I was only flipping pages when I knew something special or different was happenning. An example (not related to this game) is it is more fun for me to look for the spells result/effects table to figure out what my spell did, than to look for the list of steps for casting the spell itself. One is rewarding to find, the other feels more like a failure on my part for not remembering what to do.
  3. The prompts are good and tinge weird, then as you cascade towards Nightfall become even stranger. Like reality-bending stranger. I appreciate this! I struggle for the balance of having light weirdness, because I always go immediately towards the weirdest metal cover imagery I can think of. But if it is all metal cover art, then does it feel like it is metal cover art when you get there? If everything is? The Trespasser does what I struggle to do, it has it being slightly weird while you walk and then becomes increasingly weirder when nightfall comes. It slaps me across the face and it actually stings because it doesn’t happen every time I roll the dice.

The game itself is pretty and moody inside, but these are my three biggest takeaways about how this game succeeds in design. Congratulations to the people who made this, you have influenced me and how I think about the importance of specific page-turning in a game.

If I could ask for more…

I only have a few things that I would want to see if this game was either expanded upon, or revised to make a new edition of it. None of them are necessary, but they could enhance second and fifth playthroughs.

  1. With how the game plays, I made as straight of a shot to the exit of the map as I could. Having potentially something that I could want or desire to find before leaving the woods could make it so that I do more of a spiral or wander around the grid.
  2. I wasn’t certain of how many mushrooms I could eat when I stumbled upon a circle of them in a tile? It felt like I could only take one, but I am unsure if this is true or not. It may be in the rules and I missed it though, so disregard this comment if I am wrong when you play the game.

As a quick note, because I was having some mixed feelings about including things that I would like to see if a game is revisited or re-released. The points that I make are not deal breakers, or detractions from the experience, they are just something that feels like it would be neat to see. These are not me trying to change the game, but just spouting out things “that would also be cool”. Kind of like whenever Vader comes up in a Star Wars movie, having him do more things is always cool. Is it necessary, no! Would it make me sad if it didn’t change? NO! ITS ALREADY GOOD! Would I turn down more cool Vader force stuff though? No!

I hope that makes sense, I felt like I needed to add this with how I felt writing this section.

The Verdict

If you are looking for a short game to play by yourself that is horror-themed then I would strongly recommend checking out The Trespasser. It doesn’t take long to read, and it doesn’t take long to play.

The rules for playing the game and the actual digital PDF of the game work together to deliver an experience that I will remember. It is probably because of my unlucky first dice roll, but that is definitely not the only reason. The game can be purchased on itch.io for $5.00, so if you like what I have said here, or you are looking for a solo excursion that has creepy folk horror forest vibes then please buy this game and check it out.

I want to see them continue to make stuff, and as a designer myself, I know that the best way to encourage this is by buying their stuff.

https://zarwid.itch.io/trespasser

Link to my post of my actual play playthrough: http://thomas-novosel.com/2021/01/26/the-trespasser-actual-play/

Shortsword (Review)

I don’t normally write reviews for games, but I think this is as close as it will get on here. In a game review I want to describe what I find most interesting and clever, as well as describe what I would use the game for. When I say that I would use a game for X or play it because of X, that is because it fits that nook and cranny for me. There won’t be a number rating, or stars, or be about me talking about what I don’t like. If there is something entirely objectionable, it won’t be made into a blog post. If it is just the type of content that I would warn about, then I will include a content warning section in my post.

I will try to use this methodology going forward for TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) reviews. Now onto the game…

What is Shortsword?

Shortsword is a rules light rpg system written by Giuliano Roverato that is “inspired by grim TTRPGs of old.” I don’t know what this means or what this is referencing, but it is what is described on the product page. It currently is for sale for $1.00 (the recommended price is $4.99). I think that this game should be sold at the recommended price, but that is because I really like it and would want more. The game is 12 pages (it was exported as spreads, so that is actually 7 pages of PDF), and it really is rules-light as it only took me a few minutes to read and then make a character. I think that you could run most pre-written scenarios for fantasy games easily with no conversion necessary due to the way the rules are written (I will explain more in the highlights section).

RAT-CATCHERS

In this game you play as adventurer’s looking “to do odd jobs in hope of gaining some Ceramic.” It is really easy to roll up a random character (3 dice rolls) and each character rolled is very evocative due to the game designer’s efficient use of language.

For example, here is the character I made:

Polo
Origin: Ogre (spiky + big)
Vocation: Disgraced Noble (spellbook, and bottle of champagne)
Skills: Cat Whispering

The picture of my ogre is drawn by me, the rules PDF has no illustrations within except for the cover art.

Each of those three stats has a d6 table with entries of similar quality. What makes it efficient is that without using many words, I feel like I have a very unique and interesting character from then outset without having to write anything more than this to know how to play my character. Like, I can be interesting because I am a spiky ogre, I was a noble so I am aloof a bit and used magic for some reason. Finally, for some reason, I am really good at hearing and understanding what cats have to say. What does this mean? I don’t know, but it is a bunch of hooks and knobs and levers that I can pull while playing the game without knowledge of the world.

Which, since the worlds setting is in between the tables and lists in the rules, this is a good thing.

The GRIM WORLD

When I say that the setting for this game is between the lists, I mean what the lists infer about the world is enough for me to get a good idea of what it is like to live in the world of Shortsword. Since the game is a rules light throwback to grim setting TTRPGs, I know that this is a dark place with big hats and heavy coats.

I know from the origins list that Ogres, Automata (robots?), and Fishpersons exist in this world. And that being an adventurer in this place means you are without ceramic (money) and could be a Mime, Rat-catcher, or a Tuna Fisherman.

What the game doesn’t have is a setting brief, or a paragraph about the world. But it doesn’t need it, that is what character creations lists and the games rules are for.

I like everything that is here, and I think adding a setting paragraph or a section describing a nebulous city or world is unnecessary with what is already here. Could it be useful for running a game? Probably! Especially if the lists are as tight and well-coordinated as what is already inside. But, I think I could just come up with a grim world of my own fine enough without it.

Highlights

That is the skinny of the game. You may be asking me (Thomas) “what are the game rules??” and I would say. The game is super short and I don’t want to post the whole game that someone worked on and put up for sale in a blog post. My job here, or what I am doing, is describing what I like. Which takes me to the game mechanic-y bits that I like:

  1. The game uses d6 for resolving actions (Tests). Rolling an additional d6 for how well suited your character is to the task. What makes this RAD, is that the same rolls are made in combat as when just doing something. Yeah that is a tight core mechanic, but what makes it genius to me is that the lowest die rolled when acting is how much damage the player’s character takes if they fail.
  2. Because damage is not tied to creatures, and abilities are fiction first (mechanics are flavor, so a dragon breathing fire demands the player roll to avoid, damage is tied to failure etc) this means that all I need to do when converting antagonists/monsters is pick how many wounds they can take before dying. Which the game has a guide for (it’s between 3 and 9). This is why Shortsword would work really well for playing most adventure scenarios written for other systems.
  3. Normally, something that can take a little bit of word count and paper space to describe is initiative and turn order and etc etc. The other golden standout for me is this one line of text in the Combat section: “When it’s important to know who goes first, whoever has the least Armor begins.” That is excellent no-nonsense decision making that I appreciate in rules-light games.
  4. All of the lists in the game. They are all excellent.

Those are the things I would carry forward and learn from this game. I want to write lists as good as these that just fit together like a puzzle. I also envy the cleverness in the damage rules, it just makes this game easier to pick up and run with a prewritten scenario.

If I had more…

This was going to come no matter what. Whenever I look at a game, I always think of what I would want more of. What would I want to see added to flesh out the rules a little more. Based on what I read, I actually only have two things that I would want to see from a revision of what is there (and both are purely selfish desires).

  1. I want a d6 list of Spells for the game. As is it was the only thing that I wanted more of as every other list was tight and succinct. I could grab a spell list from another game or just make up magic as I go, but I kind of wish there was a list of spells as short and evocative as there was for skills, origins, and vocations.
  2. The PDF for the game is in spreads, which means that I can’t print the game as a booklet. If I had a version of the game which has 1 page per PDF page instead of spreads for layout then I could booklet print this game.

That is all I would change or ask for. Both aren’t big things, and with how short the games text is, if I really wanted to I could just come up with my own d6 table of spells and just cut the print outs and scan the pages to assemble a booklet version.

THE VERDICT!

I said before that I don’t want to give stars or thumbs or ratings. If I am reviewing something it is because I find it interesting and worth checking out. That said…

I think this rules light system is EXCELLENT and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick to pick up system for playing fantasy rpgs. It is especially good for if you have a system-less or system neutral scenario that you want to run, but that you don’t want to create stat blocks for.

Go check it out here and see how good it is for yourself: https://roll4tarrasque.itch.io/shortsword. If you can, pay the recommended price because it is 100% worth it for the rules that you get.

Nicest Detectives

Nicest Detectives is a low rules ttrpg for playing detectives who are clumsy, have families, and still find a way to succeed (whether that changes the world or not, is open to interpretation). For reference, this game is about detectives like those in The Nice Guys (2016).

You can play detectives from any timeframe, as long as everyone agrees to be in the same timeframe.

To Make Your Detective

Each detective has three stats: Person, Family, and Luck. To create a character, distribute 7 points across these three stats. The max any single stat can be is 6. Having a high Person means you are skilled and have a good vibe to what you do. Having a high Family means that you have good relatives, dependable friends, and resourceful colleagues.

Whenever either Person or Family hit 0 after a roll, raise Luck by 1. Having a 0 in Person or Family means your burnt out or you have stressed your relationships as far as you can until you put some time into them. Gain 1 in the stat you work to improve/repair.

Dice Rolls

There are a few times when players roll dice, here they are:

  • When your detective needs weapons, gear, resources, then they roll d6+Luck+FAM (family).
  • When your detective needs to meet contacts, figure out what a clue means, or shmooze it at a party, then they roll d6+Luck+PER (person).

These are examples of two types of actions where stats are added to the dice roll as modifiers. Even without modifiers, all actions are rolled using this rule…

When a P.I. acts, roll LUCK (d6+luck). P.I.’s always succeed (unless the player doesn’t want to). P.I.’s take the changes to their stats based on their roll result, & pick which tags are used to flavor their actions. The other players will ask questions about how it goes down. The GM will play as anyone met, and describe what happens when things go wrong.

  • On a 7+. +1 to BOTH FAM & PER. Choose flawless or stumble.
  • On a 6. +1 PER. Choose tricky or some say skilled.
  • On a 5. +1 FAM. Choose stealing helped or family’s supportive.
  • On a 4. +1 to ANY STAT. Choose Vices can be virtues, or tactics can be distracting.
  • On a 3. -1 PER. Choose underestimated or ignored.
  • On a 2. -1 FAM. Choose bad at cover ops or got a cousin.
  • On a 1. -1 BOTH. Choose sacrifice or failure.

Max out a Stat

Whenever you max out a stat, something big happens. Something BIG. For luck this means that you skip ahead in the adventure, luck is reduced to 0 when this happens for the detective who triggers the skip in the adventure.

For Person, it means that your image cannot be tarnished, it is perfect in how it is. If anything goes against your character, or something comes up that is out of character, you risk your whole persona falling apart. If it falls apart, then person goes down to 1. Circle it, you can’t roll person until you make a big show about who you really are.

For Family, it means that your family relies on you and you rely completely on them. If something threatens them because of your work and you can’t get there fast enough or comfort them, then they need a break. If this happens, then family goes down to 1. Circle it, you can’t roll family until you do something for them.

New Sessions

Whenever a new session is started, rearrange and redistribute your stats scores using what you currently have on your character sheet. If you do this, the session starts with the player describing an event that occurred between sessions to explain why one of the stats increased or decreased.

Core Design

The core rules of Nicest Detectives is that players succeed. Detectives succeed until the players decide they aren’t succeeding. The drama comes from the mysteries that are being investigated and the people they are up against. Adventures are supposed to be planned as most mysteries would for role-playing games. A mix of antagonists and clues and hints.

When making up a clue, give it some hints to where it leads. These hints can only be gotten when the players find and talk to the person it is linked to. The clues are items and documents. The clues always lead to the answer for the mystery, about who did what and why they did it.

Getting enough clues and making sure that no one is able to pry them from your hands is how you solve the mystery and win the game.

Downswings are Hard Feelin’

This is a personal blog post, that means it is just me talking about talking, and writing using writing. I feel a funk in me the last few days, but also an increase in my appreciation of stillness and quiet air. This comes from my walks outdoors around Burlington and along the lake’s shores.

On the Burlington side there is a walking trail that follows the beach and leads to (surprise) North Beach. This trail is parallel for a bit with train tracks, a fence keeps you from crossing over from the park’s greens to the tracks. This doesn’t stop the eye from seeing what’s painted along the stones wall.

Graffiti that says Caked in big blocky letters, by the trail along Lake Champlain.

Graffiti in different styles and colors are there. Some old and some pretty clean looking. There are some walls along the lake that are also painted, it requires stepping away from the trail and through the old skatepark. Getting close to the rail at the water’s edge. Looking down, the small waves slapped against the steel flat that held the dirt sturdy and straight against the lake’s waters.

The trail leading to the beach is next to the long beach, but higher. A dog and its owner play, throwing to the water and bringing things back. Splashing and kicking up big wet clumps high into the air with each jump and racing step. Whole body dropping back into the chilly water then bouncing right back out and out along the sand.

The leaves obscure their play, bright reds and oranges fluttering by as I keep walking. I move towards the green building out at North Beach that I saw back a bit ago. The views are great. The clouds are nice. The sunlight washing through and over the tops and curling under, but only enough to chase the shadows to the edges of their bottoms. It was a good light that makes you think, and your eyes bounce through their billows.

The beach at the end of the public property was empty. Chairs stacked under a roof, and a car lot without any cars. But there was a tree posing for me near the sand. Just standing tall by itself like it wanted to go swimming in Lake Champlain.

Bars, a railing, and the water. Clouds and a lighthouse nearby.

This is how I walk. But I do it with hums and crashes, massive sounds of waves and wind twisting through the form of music and books blurring through my head. Massiveness and sound blare between my ears and make my eyes flare and spin each way. I listen to audiobooks when I walk. I listen to podcasts. I listen to those and everything behind them as I walk by.

Why would I do this? Because it creates an incredible contrast. Silence is amazing, and peace and calm are great. I can’t do it all the time, but on my walk I unplugged when I made it to North Beach. So I could absorb and soak up the sky and sand whole.

A tree wanting to swim on a cloudy day. Alone on the beach.

This isn’t the only reason that this comes up. Sometimes you blare sound when you hit a slump (don’t be worried, I am good and okay).

When I talk about a slump, I don’t mean a rut or depression in the sense that I usually have either of those. I am just talking about having a funky week where work is a little harder. Where you need to sleep because a migraine pops up, and it isn’t an interruption, the migraine is a logical next step in the weeks agenda.

This isn’t bad. It just happens sometimes when you’re working hard and need a break longer than two days long at the end of the week. This means that I had to take a lighter week when it came to homework, which my good grades allowed to happen. Only because I worked so hard to keep good grades meant that I got to have a week where I could breathe a bit and tend my guts being so sensitive.

My desk while finishing up this blog post. Books nearby, drafts of stories on a pile, and a notepad ready for note taking and idea springing.

I just hope that people with similar feelings on week nine of classes have the ability to slow down a bit and let their funk air out. I understand the frustration of being overwhelmed and stressed to the point of anxiety attacks (last semester gave me that). When that happened I had the benefit of seeing a doctor, getting medicated, and having the support system that makes it possible to take a multiple week-long rest. With a month until residents head back home from campus, and a little longer until winter break, I hope that everyone makes it their successfully. I hope they make it there and get the rest they deserve for all of the work they have put in this Fall.

What does resting mean? It is different for everyone. I like a mix of creative short projects and sleeping. This includes enjoying movies in marathons and reading stacks of books while taking in the outdoors. Doing the work of refuelling my brain creatively, and giving myself the time with my partner and quiet without any work to untwist my heart and shoulders. Sometimes I do these in different weird percentages. The summary is that it is different for everyone, and it can be different every time you find yourself in it and needing to get out.

That is what comes before upswings!

Eating Houses (flash fiction)

This story is about houses that sit on the sides of rural highways, the ones that are surrounded and overgrown in greens. You probably have passed by one if you are from rural areas, or have driven through farm country.

This story was written out in pencil in a small Moleskine notebook the other night, and the photo attached was taken at the end of last summer while I was driving through upstate New York. Enjoy this slice of horror, have fun.

Eating Houses

Trees hide broken and lost places. Tall grass aides and abets the forgottoning (to purposely work to forget). With each wave of bushes grown, of prickers spread, of mudholes birthed, the old house recedes further and further from view.

It is first pulled back from the highway (a rural road that many use). Then the weeds poke holes up and through the driveway’s pavement. Breaking the lifeline that keeps the derelict ship connected to civilization.

When the wind blows, the grass rolls in waves against the house. Pushing it towards the tree line. Loose boards and rotten shingles break free and sink into the ground. At each inch they relent, pausing long enough for birds to stake generational claims to the rafters within. The birds will eventually scatter though. They will break out the remnants of broken glass from the windows.

This is how you can tell that the earth is pushing again.

Even if a wall falls, or the roof caves in under the pressure of each blow. The fields will not relent until the forest is fed. The woods hunger for fading memories and lost homes.

The last meal is almost all gone now… All that remains is the fallen stone chimney, and even that will be sunken into the woods dirt belly soon. Maybe a hunter will see the chimney though? See it before it is all gone?

It won’t matter though. It doesn’t ever matter, because human eyes don’t pause for long.

Muddy water will suck those crumbs down between glances. Old cabins will go down, the meals made by people for old woods are soft and simple in construction. Structures that are quickly left behind, or visited so little that woods can lick it down until it is green and soft with moss and red rot.

The woods will be fed though. Someone always has done the work and someone always will. If the grassy fields are purged and burned, then the behemoth will seduce the worship of another. And it may even demand even more of their hands and willpower.

The green is all, and the green is forever, as long as there is green it will hunger. Its endless corridors will beckon the down, the weak, and will always find the willing.

Photo of a steel roof poking through a line of pine trees and overgrown grass.
Taken with my phone on a drive through rural upstate New York.

Reading #2: Stephen Graham Jones nails it again

This is the second post that I am doing for 2020 in this reading series. I told myself that I should post often enough in this series that my reading list isn’t incredibly long (I did not do this). So here we are as I look at my Goodreads reading challenge for the year (I should have posted an update sooner, dear god).

The plus side of reporting on this now is that I have accomplished my reading goal for the year! I have read at least 25 books this year! In fact, I have read more than that and am now at 42 books. I plan on reading more this year still, as I have a stack of books on my shelf in my dorm at Champlain College that are pleading to me to read them.

The common theme in this update is that I read more horror and also sci-fi. I finally finished reading “If on a winter’s night a traveller” by Italo Calvino and loved it. I also read Stephen Graham Jones latest book “The Only Good Indians” and it was terrifying and wonderful and if anyone needed an idea of a gift to get me it would be a copy of that and his other, Mongrels. Plus I read The Fifth Season (which had been sitting in my queue for a while now) and I even read Roadside Picnic which inspired one of my favourite movies Stalker (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky).

Anyways, before I give a handful of mini-not-really-reviews let me share what I have read since the last time I posted.

What I read…

Going forward I will be using asterisks* to identify which books are ones that when they are listed here are books that I have already read before.

  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky
  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
  • Total Recall by Phillip K. Dick
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • A Maze of Death by Phillip K. Dick
  • Beowulf by Unknown
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • Strange Weather by Joe Hill
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  • Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  • Redwall (graphic novel) by Brian Jacques
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • 100 Word Horrors Part 2 by Kevin J. Kennedy
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
  • Lock In by John Scalzi
  • Unlocked by John Scalzi
  • The Last Policeman* by Ben H. Winters
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  • Of Roses and Kings by Melissa Marr
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • 100 Words Horrors 3 by Kevin J. Kennedy

Since I will always be tried for space in these posts and I can’t write and recommend everything that I read (nor would I) I will be posting reviews for just a handful of the things in this list. Here is the shortlist of things here that I would recommend though:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is an excellent science fantasy novel and the first book in a trilogy. It also has a polyamorous relationship in the book that I found incredibly sweet. The powers (that act like magic, but are not magic) are magnificent and awe-inspiring in the scope of imagination and in the scale of their power to change the world. If you want to read a review, I would recommend checking out what is on YouTube or this review on npr.

If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino was good and a fanciful and pretty whimsical story about people just trying to finish reading a book. Its format is that it tells segments of other novels in every other chapter while following the main plot as a framing device in the other chapters where a character keeps finding just segments of interesting books. If I were to recommend either Invisible Cities or this book as a starter to Italo Calvino, I think I would actually recommend this one as it has more story to bite into, whereas Invisible Cities is more prose with a loose framing device. My only major warning here is that it has women characters that seem to be there at times only to be viewed by the POV (point-of-view) character (who is a man) so there is some objectification, but if I am remembering correctly (a month or two later) it isn’t the worst or incredibly egregious.

If you want more or a better description of the book, check out this review by Mary McCarthy posted over on Literary Hub.

And now, let me get into my full (full is a word) reviews on the two books that are sticking around in my head the most at the moment.

Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky is (as I often hear) considered a masterwork of sci-fi. Whenever I hear it named, I hear it only in the most positive light. My interest was only increased after I watched the movie STALKER (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky), a bleak apocalypse in lush overgrown ruins. The book is similar in tone, but different in plot. For one, there are literal zombie people in the book. But also the ‘zone,’ which is the place of hidden dangers is explained further as being the landing site of an alien encounter, and the book takes place at multiple points of time in the titular character’s life (the Stalker). I don’t want to spoil the book, but if you like games like STALKER, the Metro franchise, or the movie STALKER (or even Annihilation). Then I think you would enjoy this book. I won’t leave you without a hook though…

Aliens have visited earth, and then they left leaving behind remnants of their visit like a family stopping on the side of a highway for lunch leaves behind trash. The ‘trash’ that is left behind are wondrous artifacts and deadly traps. Batteries of infinite power can be harvested from the ‘zone’, as long as you don’t get crushed by a gravity trap on your way hunting for one. You would think this technology advances society, and it does, but science has no way to understand the original purpose of any device and they are unable to replicate any of the technology. The power of the devices, and the danger involved in retrieving them has made trespassing into the zones illegal and punishable by long prison sentences. But that doesn’t stop people from hiring those who are willing to hop the fence and look, those who are willing are called Stalkers.

Roadside Picnic follows the story of one Stalker through multiple points of their life. They are hot-tempered but clearly have the most respect for the deadliness of the zone. They need to go out there not just because of the financial gain, but because it is what they have always done. And they need to keep going to provide for their family. It is a core pillar of their identity.

Roadside Picnic is an excellent sci-fi book, it isn’t too long (the copy I have is roughly 200 pages) and it gripped me the entire time I was reading. Turning pages as fast as I could because I was devouring every word. It is also rare that I place too many books on my ‘want to reread’ pile, but this one gets a place on that treasured shelf.

Also… you should really check out the movie if you can…

Movie trailer for STALKER (1979) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

The horror elements in Roadside Picnic, I would call them mild since the book leans heavily on regular people interacting with science fiction scenarios. If you want some good horror though… Stephen Graham Jones new book is made just for you…

The Only Good Indians

Cover for Stephen Graham Jones “The Only Good Indians”

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is horrifying and the third book I have read from the author. I am consistently impressed with their mastery of imagery, as well as how they write. I cannot express this enough, Mongrels is fantastic and The Only Good Indians is just as good. Both feel like they were made for me because they were all-consuming of my mind while I was reading, and the language used in both makes it easy to approach. Something about the language used feels like I am being told a story around a campfire by someone who I consider a friend. The story and the way it is told compliments each other and just draws me so far into the story.

I can’t remember much of the time that I have spent reading the book since I am writing this recommendation a while after reading. For a full review, check out Gabino Iglesias review of the book over on NPR.org.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Goodreads.com description

What can I say? This is a horror novel with grotesque imagery and visualizations that will stick with you. If you liked Mongrels, if you like top tier horror novels, then you need to check this one out as soon as you can. I know that after listening to the audiobook, I now am getting the hardcover so that I can reread the book. I know my partner (Beau) is also interested ever since I gave them a copy of Mongrels to read.

I can’t believe both Mongrels and The Only Good Indians were both in the same year for me!

Final Thoughts

I know that I have read a lot more this year than I expected at the beginning when I set my reading goal. I legitimately thought that I was going to be struggling to be able to get over the goal of 25. I thought that during the last few weeks of the year I was going to have to cram in 6 short books in order to get through.

Will I somehow make it to 60 by the end of the year? I don’t think so. I say this because I am back in school and homework takes up a lot of my time. That and working on artwork in preparation of creating a good portfolio to seek work after I graduate, I just won’t have time to sit back and read as often without letting my grades and work suffer as a consequence.

But I will still be reading, just not as much. Which is why I expect I will only need one more post in this series in order to round out 2020’s lists. Right now I have on my desk Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and a Sherlock Holmes style book. They all are really good and very different from each other. If I don’t read more than those, I can still call myself happy and satisfied with what I read this year.

So, until my next post here on the blog, have a good night and as pleasant of a fall as you can. Good luck out there.

SNAP SNAP (flash fiction)

This is a horror flash fiction that I wrote after reading the first Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book after re-watching the movie. I hope you enjoy it. It is short, have fun.

SNAP SNAP

On the other side of town there is a house that leans and creaks, nearly falling into the river. You know the one, by the bridge? It is a house with one floor and paint that peels from its walls.

In this house lived a small boy and his father. The mother had left for the coast a few years ago, after the Dad had yelled one too many times. She was lucky because she escaped, but she wasn’t able to take Steven away.

Steven was a small kid. Always covered in mud and wearing ratty clothes. People would drive by and see him playing outside. They would drive by and whisper to each other that it wasn’t right how that Daddy treated his boy. That it was so sad what had happened.

Then they would drive away, little Steven’s eyes glowing red in their tail lights.

As he got older he stayed small. His clothes became threadbare, and he stopped going to school. He would play in the yard all day and night, going to the river behind the house.

People who drove over the bridge would sometimes watch as they saw his Daddy take him by the collar and pull him up the porch stairs and into the house. He wouldn’t be seen for a few days after this. And the yelling couldn’t be heard by those who drove their cars down the road, with their radio turned up.

They turned their radios up because they knew.

Across the bridge was a pet shop, and the owner was friends with the boy’s mother. When she was still in town, they would talk in the library sometimes. That was why she gave Steven the lizard on his birthday.

Steven would smile and chase the lizard around the yard. Collecting coins from the grates on the side of the road and picking up bottles to return was how he paid for the lizard’s care.

Then, Steven’s Dad came home drunk one day. Steven was dragged outside and crying. Cars passing by saw this and saw the Dad holding a dark green lizard by its tail as it kicked and flailed. The Dad gave the lizard to the boy and yelled at him.

“THROW IT AWAY! GET THIS OUT OF MY HOUSE!” He yelled. Steven fell to the ground and cried.

He couldn’t do it.

So his Dad did. He threw the lizard into the river.

The drivers did call for help this time, and when Steven’s Dad came back to the house to take care of his boy after his two years. Steven had something waiting for him.

* * *

People haven’t seen Steven since his Dad’s body was found. His back was cracked in half and head chewed to bits, his lower half was down the river and his upper half at the out pipe for the storm drains. The pipe that was next to his house. Not a lot of people remember Steven now, but a few older people do. Not a lot of older people left in this town now…

You can tell who remembers Steven though. They avoid that house. But that doesn’t stop them from being found dead. Chewed apart down the river.

Those who are still alive won’t live much longer when they hear the child’s voice laughing from the storm drains. Echoing through the pipes. Followed always by short words from an unfamiliar voice that they strangely still know, and the snapping of long jaws.

“You knew… didn’t you?”

SNAP! SNAP!

This picture was found in the British Libraries Flickr collection of public domain images.
You can find it here.

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