What’s in a [character’s] name?

Names are a big deal in RPGs and other fiction. (They’re a big deal in real life, too.) In fiction, names should really mean something. They should add to the character or explain the character or give them some sort of gravitas (a.k.a. street cred, if you’re writing or playing contemporary).

In my opinion, for kids, a name should give them something to aspire to, big shoes to fill, or dreams to share.

As a novelist, I suppose choosing a common name could make your character could make the character more relatable but also perhaps date your work, if you’re not careful. Names carry lots of connotations for people.

As a parent (and a game master), I’m always amused to see who’s naming their kids (and characters) what. When I’m naming my own characters (and my own kids), I try to find unique or unusual names. Most people seem follow the herd when choosing names. . .I don’t get why, but hey, whatever makes you happy.

Here’s what parents in the U.S. named their kids this year: BabyCenter® Reveals Top Baby Names Of 2017:


  1. Sophia
  2. Olivia
  3. Emma
  4. Ava
  5. Isabella
  6. Mia
  7. Aria
  8. Riley
  9. Zoe
  10. Amelia (NEW)


  1. Jackson
  2. Liam
  3. Noah
  4. Aiden
  5. Lucas
  6. Caden
  7. Grayson (NEW)
  8. Mason
  9. Elijah
  10. Logan (NEW)

#AdventureSeed: Unanticipated Road Trip

I’m totally not using my current situation as blog fodder. Honest!

(Except that I totally am. These events are happening in real time. Yes, I started writing this in SFO. I still hate ORD more, but not by much. Now I’m 30,000-feet in the air. /sigh)

This is designed to be used in a Fate-based game, but feel free to hack it into BRP for CoC/Delta Green, Ultra Modern, or any other contemporary system you like.


Imagine that your heroes have an Important Deadline. Create an aspect that describes it. They need to be somewhere TOMORROW. That’s non-negotiable. BUT they have to travel to get there. By commercial air carrier. (It doesn’t matter which one. They all suck.) Make sure that there’s a bonus on the line or some other equally pressing matter. There always is.

Special Rules: They have a Short Timeline stress track with four stress boxes (one stress per box). All stress delivered during Scenes #1 and #2 hit the Short Timeline stress track. If they suffer more than 4 stress, they fail to obtain whatever the deadline represents or start the next thing at a disadvantage because they’re late to the party as follows:

  • Success means that you’ve got a set of connecting flights to a nearby airport (60-mile drive) where you’ll have to find transport.
  • Failure (i.e. being taken out on the Short Timeline stress track) means that they’ve got a pre-broken itinerary, but they won’t know it until you land late at a connecting flight and then have a much longer drive to your destination (300+ miles) and the commensurate challenges associated with that.

Teamwork: Only one primary hero can take the requisite action at any time. However, if anyone else has the same Approach or Skill used by the primary above Mediocre +0, then allow each to support the attempt with a static +1.

It doesn’t really matter where they’re flying to. This has happened to me flying to Seattle, San Antonio, Houston, Chicago, Dublin, Budapest. . .you get the picture. The most annoying was probably being diverted to Tacoma after sunset (with three small children and a partner who can’t safely drive in the dark), having to rent a vehicle big enough for five people plus two-weeks’ worth of luggage, and then drive over the Cascade Mountains in the dark during a blizzard. But I digress. Hooray for adventure!

Scene #1

  1. Compel a the convenient Important Deadline aspect to delay their flight, which breaks their connecting flights.
  2. Goal: Interacting with a genuinely helpful but totally incompetent airline employee, have them engage in a social conflict in which they have to A) keep the airline employee on task despite her easily randomized, squirrel-chasing nature and B) minimize the impact to their schedule, which is challenging, because her competence level with the arcane software the airline uses very low and she’s easily distracted. Her name starts with B, and it really doesn’t matter what B stands for.
  3. Create Advantage: Allow one of the heroes to establish rapport with the airline employee in some way. Choose a skill or approach. Your opposition is +2 for the CA attempt as usual. Failure results in a complication a.k.a. new aspect Lost Luggage (the team will arrive without their checked bags, weapons, and other gear). Hint: Do not piss off airline employees–no matter their level of competence.
  4. Defend (Round 1): The first thing that they need to do is help the poor woman understand their predicament. Attack at +0. The heroes can choose how to respond to the attack. Adjust the difficulty as appropriate based on their choice of Approach or Skill. Success means that further steps will be at the standard difficulty. Failure means that all subsequent attacks on their Short Timeline have elevated opposition by +2. Stress hits Short Timeline.
  5. Defend (Round 2): The easily distracted woman is having difficulty not leaving her workstation to help other people when she should be searching for connecting flights for the heroes, especially the cute crying baby at the next counter over. Attack at +4. Stress hits Short Timeline.
  6. Outcome: Either way, the heroes are NOT going to be able to fly into the nearest airport to their destination. Do not allow them to declare facts that bypass the following scene. If they offer a concession early, give them the short drive. If necessary, compel some more aspects and make it worse and worse until they get the memo. They arrive at a connection in Scene #2.

Scene #2

When they land at the nearest airport that they can get to, the fun begins. It helps that this a remote connection for “reasons” and there is no Lyft or Uber service in the area, because it is a low population backwater.

  1. Compel: Whatever Important Deadline aspect is driving the party to need to be there TOMORROW, because there are no cars for rent. None. All of the usual suspects have completely sold out their inventory and the local cab companies are closed for the night.
  2. Goal: Find a suitable vehicle to transport ALL of them to their destination in a timely fashion.
  3. Overcome: They are free to come up with whatever wacky scenario they like, including grand theft auto (not recommended by my law enforcement experience, but guaranteed to produce fantastic roleplay opportunities AND a chase scene with the local sheriff–whee!). Set the opposition intentionally high (at least +4 higher than the group’s peak Approach or Skill). Stress hits Short Timeline, if they have any left.
  4. Outcome: Make the resulting transportation as easily identifiable and attention getting as possible, especially if the heroes need to be stealthy. The heroes arrive in Scene #3 driving their acquired jalopy.

Scene #3

This is where it goes badly. Whatever looming threat you have in your game will meddle with the heroes at this point. Probably in some sort of physical conflict in an ambush. Drop in the French cafe ninjas or the cybernetic orangutan pirates or whatever.

  1. Compel an available aspect that results in the conflict you wanted to setup so the heroes will have a fate point waiting for them at the end of the scene. Heh. It could be a hero’s trouble, a game aspect, or something new–whatever seems like the most entertaining.
  2. . . .
  3. Enjoy the conflict!

That’s what I expect to happen when I land and try to drive several hours toward home because the useless airline couldn’t get me a flight to my home airport after all the cancellations and delays. Dammit. Wish me luck!

Getting Ready to Run a Game?

Hey, you, GM. GAMEXPO 2017 is around the corner (less than two weeks!). Are your sessions ready to run? I figured as much. That’s why this post is here.

Nick’s got some great points in his post The Noobs Guide to Planning Your RPG Session. He’s talking specifically about a Star Wars game, but I think his concepts apply regardless of what you’re running. I’ll summarize then extemporize. His high level outline is:

  1. Know Your Party, Know Yourself
  2. Make The Hook
  3. Decide Your Mechanics
  4. Make Your Setting
  5. Commit To Your Setting
  6. Free Up Some Workspace

Suggested Re-Ordering

Seems pretty straight forward. Although I might argue that “Make Your Setting” and  “Commit To Your Setting” should be #2 in the order of operations. . .since they sort of dictate what hooks you have available to you and how your players will expect you to implement them.

I like to think of the game and the setting as characters. In Fate Core games, the game is a first order concept with attributes and mechanics of its own, and its a logical extension of the Bronze Rule of Fate: You can treat anything like a character. Hence, I think of the setting as a character:

  • What does it want and why?
  • What does it [look/feel/taste/smell/sound] like and why?
  • What things about it aren’t obvious that the heroes are going to learn (the hard way)?

I’m sure there are lots of other great questions about a setting-character that I should ask, but those are where I start. Oh, and by setting, I mean the overall universe and each location where scenes/encounters will take place. And each one of those is like a genius loci in my mind.

The Real Hook

With regards to hooks, Nick says:

The hook should have three main things. Why they are there, what the problem is, and the cookie.

I think of “hook” differently. These three items of “hook” all boil down to context for the adventure. In regular groups and playtests, I do what Nick suggests and ask the players to figure out why they’re there. (We’re typically using Fate Core, so it’s not an unusual question for the players.) However, in other game systems, the expectations are different, which is compounded by convention play and the possibility of having five or six random strangers at the table.

What I think of as “hook” that’s important for anything, RPG session or otherwise, is what makes it interesting and different from all the other similar things in the list. I’m running two different, all-new adventures this year:

  • Modern Gods (hook: you get to be a street god defending your peepz!)
  • Forcing Function (hook: you’re smuggling are cargo that’s far more valuable than you first thought)

Modern Gods [Modernity/Fate]
Nietzsche was wrong. New gods are born all the time. You know, because you’re one of them! As a modern god, you have power coming out of your nether regions, but. . .You’ve also got responsibilities. The day to day nonsense? No, you’ve got people for that. But, once in a while, something big shows up that your devoted worshipers can’t handle on their own. When that day comes, it’s up to you and your pantheon to get off your thrones, rise up, and smite the usurpers. Today is that day.

Forcing Function [Starcrossed/Fate]
You’re an opportunistic capitalist! Hurtful Translation: Smuggler. After a couple easy years in the biz, thing were going so well! But now, the “job” that was supposed to be a milk run has turned into a looming disaster. Everything that could possibly go wrong already has. Except you’re not dead. Yet. I won’t tell you the odds, but you and your crew have never been caught behind enemy lines in a three-way shooting war with all three sides hunting you for the cargo. What do we do now, Captain?

Deus Ex Mechanics

Nick didn’t spend much time on this, but the fact that he touched on it at all is huge. Too many GMs (myself included sometimes) don’t think about each encounter and the likely game mechanics that may be necessary. Little things like changing the encounter balance to intentionally easy once in a while can add a lot of flavor to the game–not every fight needs to be a fighting-for-their-lives encounter for the heroes. Let them show off sometimes.

In the mechanics department, especially for convention play, I also highly recommend figuring out where you can fast forward if you’re burning through your time budget too fast. There are ways to turn long encounters into more manageable contests or challenges without making the players feel cheated.

Last Laughs

All up, Nick’s article’s a good reminder of the fundamentals and a helpful outline. If you didn’t wander off and read it already, go do so now.

Mage Hand Legerdemain [House Rules for Rogue/Arcane Tricksters D&D 5e]

Executive Summary

Every DM has one of those players. . .I often get more than one. Sigh.

Today’s special player wants to play a rogue, specifically an arcane trickster (AT). Let’s hear it for sneak-thieves. Hooray. Nothing like another excuse to split the party, I say! Who else is going to cause shenanigans if the rogue doesn’t?

The way Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5e) is intentionally balanced, the combat shenanigans an arcane trickster will want to get up to can’t really be accomplished with mage hand (MH) using rules as written (RAW), even with the special exceptions an AT gets with mage hand legerdemain (MHL) that other spell casters don’t.

That said, RAW is unclear on some specific points, which is the subject of this post (mostly for my Tuesday night vic-, er, players).

Research, If You’re Into That

Before I dive into the finer points of my house rules, here’re some obligatory links to webernetz forums where you can got spend lots of time reading other folks’ opinions and maybe even waste a few hours telling them how wrong they are (or saying me-too):

Mandatory Caveats & Addendums

These house rules (HR) are not intended to subvert RAW, but loosen/clarify/expand slightly upon them, or remove ambiguity in what I believe was the intent of RAW. I don’t believe MHL is quite equivalent RAW to its assassin counterpart, which is why I’m expanding upon it. These HR are not intended to create a power feature that will overshadow similar class features or steal thunder from other classes. These HR are subject to revision at any time to rebalance, or to mess with the players. Rule Zero. DM prerogative. Get over it.

At least as long as we’re using 5e rules, there isn’t a Create Advantage mechanism (a la Fate, which I love) that would be what an AT is often trying to accomplish with MHL. The 5e balance point of gaining advantage on a roll requires the sacrifice of a full action or equivalent under most circumstances. Hence, these HR still requires an AT to use one action to buff a subsequent turn. At least until he’s 13th level. An AT gets to give himself advantage as a bonus action against a target with a 13th level class feature called Versatile Trickster. Be patient. Live long. Prosper.

Unique Characteristics of Mage Hand

The spell MH has some specific characteristics and balance points:

  • It is fundamentally a spell with verbal and somatic components and is cast as such, taking a full action, with a 1-minute duration after which it must be recast using a full action.
  • It is a cantrip, a 0th level spell that should be equivalent to light or sacred flame in power and utility.
  • It is still only ONE HAND, not a pair of hands, nor is it mage arm with the strength, leverage, and capabilities that an arm might have.
  • It may not be used to attack—any action that turns into an attack (grapple, pull, shove, whatever) automatically fails.
  • It takes a full action to make it do anything UNLESS you have MHL as a class feature, when specific actions become bonus actions for you as an AT.
  • MH is always going to lose a Strength contest every time, even to a child.
  • Hence the skill contest for MHL is Sleight of Hand (SOH) versus Perception—if the victim notices, you lose. Period.
  • MH is NOT a concentration spell, which is a huge benefit for all casters and especially for ATs, but it still gets cancelled when you’re knocked unconscious.
  • The more I think about it, the more I think mage hand should be a concentration spell, but. . .it’s not, and that is why it requires the sacrifice of actions to function.

Unique Characteristics of Mage Hand Legerdemain

MHL has its own unique set of characteristics which modify and extend MH:

  • MHL is a specific specialization for arcane tricksters with one cantrip to expand their utility with that cantrip and only that cantrip.
  • It is primarily intended to provide an extension of the SOH skill for the AT. Hence, it allows you to choose to make your spectral hand invisible AT CASTING TIME and it remains that way for the duration. I can’t imagine why any AT would ever cast it with a visible hand, but, hey, it’s an option.
  • It does NOT turn MH into a full frontal swashbuckler utility spell. Sorry.
  • It allows for specific, highly trained actions to be accomplished in a fraction of the time (i.e. bonus action, pick locks, move the hand 30’, etc.).
  • If you couldn’t do the action that you want in a split second with one hand, without specific provision in the rules to the contrary, it will take a full action, not a bonus action to complete.
  • MHL does not make MH an always-on hand-shaped familiar. You still must cast it, put a token on the board for it, and keep track of all 10 rounds of its duration.
  • The special features of MHL occur because of the AT’s skill at SOH, no other reason.
  • Nothing in my HR or RAW prevents you from using mage hand legerdemain in combat.
  • Apropos of nothing, there are no provisions for stealthy casting of spells in 5e. If you’re casting any spell, including MH, somebody’s going to notice you doing it.

House Rules for Mage Hand

So, here we are. In the spirit of making sure than MHL is a big, fun part of playing an AT, here are Dave’s HR for MH in general for all casters:

  • Every MH will be a token on the board to keep track of its 30’ range.
  • Forced movement that moves you too far from your hand cancels the hand. You have been warned.
  • It is unclear in the text of MH (to me), but my HR clarification will be that the hand may move 30’ for free as part of its other action, not require two separate actions to move and execute.
  • You may use MH to perform any non-attack action that can be done with one hand and the sensory input available to you from 30 feet away, including the Help action as a standard action (normally requires being adjacent to accomplish).

House Rules for Mage Hand Legerdemain

These are Dave’s HR for ATs and MHL:

  • MHL requires no verbal component to cast. Its somatic components are unobtrusive enough that if you succeed on the opposed sleight of hand check against everyone’s passive Perception, no one notices you casting it. The character succeeding at with passive Perception becomes aware that you’re casting a spell on a fail.
  • If the item carried by your MH is small enough to be fully covered by an average human hand AND if you cast your MH as invisible with MHL then the item becomes invisible when you pick it up, if you choose.
  • With MHL, you may use your action to force a concentration check by another caster (normally only caused by actual damage) as an opposed SOH vs. Constitution. (Think of it as a magical wedgie.)
  • With MHL, you may disarm a foe at range (opposed SOH check versus Perception) which is normally an attack, but specifically allowed by MHL RAW read very strictly. This may only be applied to weapons that can logically be disarmed.
  • If you already have MH active and you cast a spell (as an action), you may deliver it using MHL as a bonus action; if it is an attack spell, you may include your sneak attack damage if you’re eligible to sneak attack. Normal sneak attack requirements apply, you must be able to see the victim, have advantage, etc.

Specific Examples

Assuming that all sounds reasonable, here are some specific examples for MHL that I’m sure will come up in play for ATs (i.e. “that player” has already asked about them):

  • You may attempt to steal a ring in combat, even a magic one. If the victim notices, she closes her fist, you lose. It’s a split second attempt, not enough to break concentration or steal her action from her turn or her reaction on yours.
  • You may attempt to steal a wand from a sash, pocket, any open container, whatever. See previous bullet example above.
  • You may attempt to steal a spell focus worn as a necklace, assuming you know what it is, just as if it were a pick pocket attempt. See first example above.
  • If you can convince me that you could use SOH to pull a quiver full of arrows off of a combatant’s back, maybe. Most of those are strapped to the archer’s body, and not easily removed. Go for the bow instead.
  • You may attempt to steal arrows from a quiver. If you succeed, your MH will be holding 1d6 arrows. You’d be better off disarming and taking the bow as noted above.
  • Mages generally do not wear loosely knotted silk kimonos (they’re not your typical Asian whore—sorry), and mage robes generally don’t open from the front anyway (they’re pullovers). However, you may use the Help action and describe your attempts to aid your ally (or yourself on your next turn, if you’re the first attack on the victim) as a distracting attempt disrobe the victim, if you wish. Whatever.
  • If you use your action to fluster said mage (or any opponent) using the Help rules, if you are the next attack on that target/victim, you will have advantage and thereby be eligible for sneak attack for the first attack roll.
  • You may use MHL to piss off other casters as a free action, unless the rules state otherwise.


Arcane tricksters, go forth, touch others inappropriately with your magical, mutant invisible hand, and enjoy!

New Release: The Summoning Stones (Fate Edition)

Dr. Mae Wylde and her team ended an occult breach on the tiny island of Aunu’u in American Samoa three weeks ago. Dr. Wylde and her team returned safely from the Pacific Islands with the mysterious summoning stones believed to cause the breach. . .but the team has gone dark. They last checked in from Dr. Wylde’s home in Upper Peninsula Michigan.

As auxiliaries for Intervention Incorporated, your job is simple:

Find the team. Assess the threat. End it.

The Summoning Stones is a briefing book for a Power Level 4 operation using Modernity (Fate Edition) and the core Modernity text is required to fully utilize The Summoning Stones. It is fully compatible with other Fate Core products. All minor variations are documented in the core Modernity book.

The Summoning Stones (Fate Edition) Cover

"Every Friday is Black and Every Day is Friday" Sale (and announcing Elemental Mysteries in December)

If you’re the sort who likes a little more black in your day, either the Darkness beyond the veil or the darkness of interstellar space, we have the sale for you!

During our “Every Day is Black and Every Day is Friday” Sale, you can acquire for yourself (or give as a gift!) anything in our catalog for a very nice price.

All things Modernity:

You don’t have much time until the Darkness consumes everything. Enjoy it while you can. Fight the Darkness, if you dare.

For the forward-looking avant-garde, our Starcrossed pre-order edition (includes Chapter 001):

You don’t have much time until the Successors conquer everything. Enjoy it while you can. Claim your birthright, if you dare.

In other news. . .

Both color and black-and-white editions of Modernity are off to the POD provider for approval. It’s taken longer (and lot more learning) than I hoped to get this far. For those of you patiently waiting for printed versions, thank you for your continued saintly patience. The good news for future products is that I’ve learned the hard way what many of the limitations are and adjusted my workflow to streamline the process and avoid future friction in the interests of getting what you want produced and out the door.

I am hard at work this week on Iniquity (The Seraphim Conspiracy, Book 1), the first novel in the Modernity universe to be published early next year. And more importantly, I am putting the finishing touches on Elemental Mysteries that brings a new twist for wizards to Modernity, along with all their stunts, skills, artifacts used to manipulate the five elements of creation, as well as all the elemental denizens you need as a coordinator to make their lives hell. Elemental Mysteries will be coming to your favorite game retailer (and mine) in December. Here’s a preview of the cover art (work in progress):


As always, please keep your feedback coming: good, evil, or otherwise. I’m here to make the games you want.

David Reed

Merry Video Games Day!

Having two “official” holidays to celebrate video games is awesome. We’ll do this again on September 12th, just for fun. Here’s what I’ve been playing lately:

a53b3849-2dbe-4bbe-b819-3d5f427d01be[1]       Worms Battlegrounds

Watch_Dogs has taken a little more getting used to than I expected, and a little more suspension of disbelief on my part (probably because I’ve been building software and networks for 20+ years and it doesn’t really work that way – heh). Combat is extremely lethal, which I like because it makes stealth and hacking far more important. Driving feels like a looser adaptation (ick) of the Crackdown physics. Maybe that’s just the large number of driving side games and the temptation to carjack a ride whenever I need to get across town. The difference is that there’s always some “helpful” citizen around to dial 911 and call in the police to distract me (which doesn’t happen in Crackdown). It also feels a lot like Sleeping Dogs, which was a fun game. The way missions work and how easy it is to ignore the story make me wonder if this wasn’t a good Ubisoft story game that somebody came along and tried to shoehorn into a sandbox and then cram full of side games and random things that have nothing directly to do with the story… I’m ambivalent about the sandbox, but I’m enjoying the game.

Worms Battlegrounds is a delightful family couch game. Playing this with the kids gets really competitive. The story is nonsensical but entertaining because Katherine Parkinson really sells the voice over. She makes the wacky writing hysterical with her deadpan delivery. I’ve played every iteration of Worms, and they have improved the gameplay in subtle ways that makes everything faster and deadlier. Either solo or versus, hours will disappear in the same way that a worm does when an enemy drops a stick of dynamite on his head. Enjoy!

What’re you playing these days?