Monster Care Squad

Monster Care Squad funded! Late pledges can still be made on the Kickstarter page.

I started writing this post late May. Well before the Kickstarter started. I wrote a lot; I hated it all, it all felt like I was parroting some bullshit press releases. I wouldn’t care, except… I read an extremely early copy of the rules, and I was so excited to write about it. But, I mean, the world… sucks right now. I’m horribly depressed and unmotivated. I’m floating between highs and lows, but… nothing is great. I’m doing lots of retail therapy; collecting films I meant to watch, filling up gaps in my manga collection, I bought the dang perfect scale replica of the Ohmu from Nausicaä. Shit is hard. And I’m glad in these times, folks are creating… happy things.

See, Monster Care Squad is a TTRPG from my pals at Sandy Pug Games that… is exceedingly gentle. My initial take in May was that it was fantasy James Herriot; I know I’m not alone in making this connection. You roam its world, Ald-Amura, fixing up monsters who have been afflicted by a poison: the False Gold. Somewhat uniquely, monsters in this world are… well, they coexist with humans, they’re… not villified. And accordingly, you play a roaming monster veterinarian who never encounters combat. That’s not the sort of game this is. You heal; healing is the end goal, the level-up trigger, the apex of the narrative arc. You may need to slap a monster around to get it to accept your anaesthetic, but… fighting is ancillary here. It is a gentle game, a healing game.

I think part of why I struggled to finish this post was that… there’s a lot of rules to dive into, and again… I fall into some trash PR writing very easily. I will say that a core dice mechanic is that of control, which shifts what dice you use based on how much you’ve succeeded or failed up until that point. It’s a neat system that makes my maths-brain dance. But honestly… all these bits are great, but they mean nothing without realizing how much heart is in the game. And, I have known this from the beginning, I know these people and I know that they care; I’ve read the initial text, and I know that it cares. But…

…here’s the thing. The Kickstarter is going very well. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t back it; you should! But… the team is doing something amazing. They’ve set up a grants system for what amounts to fanfiction. They’re not claiming ownership over anything that comes of it; they’re essentially not setting any rules at all. They’re asking people to apply, submit community works, and potentially get paid under a patronage sort of system1. Creators potentially get paid to develop whatever the hell they want, and then… they keep the ownership. This is the sort of shit I’ve always been pushing for. This is the sort of shit that we all need to be doing when we get a wee bit of power, yet are still stuck in this capitalist hellscape. Fixing stuff on a large scale is… kind of hard to even fathom. But on a medium scale… Sandy Pug Games is doing something that feels unprecedented to me for a small games company. This is a big fucking deal.

I don’t know how to wrap this up. Monster Care Squad is… so exciting to me. I imagine it would be exciting to anyone who happens across this blog. More importantly, the creators are finding new ways to… be genuinely good. Which is… what you’re to be doing in the game, in Ald-Amura, you’re a selfless professional. It’s some full-circle shit, and I’m here for it. I hope you are too. Redundant link, just in case, y’all.

Open Mic Aid (external)

Hello, my tiny audience. I’ve been teleworking for… three weeks now? I think? I don’t know, I’m not trying to keep track. The reality is that we are all cooped up, likely for months, for good reason. Maybe some of us will find time to do things, maybe some of us will lose time. It’s… new. And hard. Really, really hard. For the time being, I’m financially secure. But a lot of people aren’t.


I love four-sided dice (which I will refer to from here on as d4s, in keeping with standard notation). I also love clean, simple dice mechanics in TTRPGs. Many of these use d6s, Fate uses d3s in the shape of d6s, some use only a percentile set or a single d20. I’m certainly not about to say that there aren’t any d4-based systems out there. But I have not encountered one on my own time, and my love of these pointy little bits has had me thinking about potential workings for a while now. And while I don’t have anything resembling a system here, I had some interesting thoughts and had my computer roll a few tens of millions of digital dice for me, and I’d like to lay out a few initial thoughts that may, some day, turn into something.

The TL;DR is this: players can, for any resolution1, roll two, three, or four d4s. If every die has the same value, regardless of what this value is, that counts as a special. Otherwise, the values are summed with 1s and 2s treated as negative (so, -1, -2, +3, +4). And that’s it, roll complete! What is a special, exactly? Well, I don’t really know. My initial thought was that the all-of-a-kind roll would be a critical success. After seeing the maths, and thinking about what I would opt to do in any given situation. Which led me to believe that the all-of-a-kind roll should certainly be special in some way, but likely a more interesting and dynamic way than just ‘you score very big’. This could be a trigger for something special on your character sheet related to whatever thing you are rolling for, or it could be a cue for the GM to pause the action and shift course. It should certainly always be something positive, but I don’t think the traditional crit mentality quite fits.

I’ll get into the numbers in more detail in a minute, but the key takeaways are:

Ignoring specials for a minute, we see a clear advantage to rolling more dice. Generally speaking, we will trend toward getting higher values, and the likeliest values for us to get on a given roll are better. When we factor in specials, rolling two dice becomes a lot more attractive; specials come up 25% of the time! Which is a very cool way to shift the balance, in my mind, but it’s also why it needs to be something other than just ‘BIG SMASH’. Make it too strong, and it basically becomes the universal choice. Making it more dynamic or narrative seems like a likely way to make the decision meaningful for players. Another possibility is a potential cooldown mechanic where rolling two specials in an encounter would force that character to cut out; that would likely leave the 3d4 option unused, however, as players would roll 2d4 until hitting a special, and then switch directly to 4d4.

I wrote a quick and dirty Lua3 script to let me roll a few tens of millions of virtual dice and run the numbers. The resultant percentage table is below. My initial script only returned the number of specials, positives, negatives, and zeroes. Upon seeing the steep declination toward 0% specials on rolls of more than 4 dice, I decided I was only going to do further testing on 2, 3, and 4. I’ve included the percentages of specials for 5, 6, 7, and 8 dice just to show the trend.

Result percentages in the Caltrops concept
# d4s 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Special 25 6.3 1.6 0.4 0.1 0.025 0.006
-7 0 0 1.6
-6 0 0 2.3
-5 0 4.7 1.6
-4 0 4.7 0
-3 12.5 0 1.6
-2 0 0 6.3
-1 0 4.7 9.4
0 0 14.1 6.3
1 12.5 14.1 1.6
2 25 4.7 2.3
3 12.5 0 9.4
4 0 4.7 14.1
5 0 14.1 9.4
6 0 14.1 2.3
7 12.5 4.7 1.6
8 0 0 6.3
9 0 0 9.4
10 0 4.7 6.3
11 0 4.7 1.6
12 0 0 0
13 0 0 1.6
14 0 0 2.3
15 0 0 1.6

One final (for now) takeaway after having stared at these numbers in multiple forms. I mentioned the use of special instead of critical because of a traditional critical making a roll of 2d4s too powerful; you’ll get that hit 25% of the time. There’s another truth to 2d4 rolls, however, and that is that the chance of negative rolls is the lowest: 12.5% of 2d4 rolls are negative, 14.1% of 3d4 rolls are negative, and 22.8% of 4d4 rolls are negative. Every negative 2d4 roll is -3, however, and the chance of getting -3 or lower for 3d4 is 9.4% and for 4d4 is 7.1%. This raises a question as to what is a better motivator. You’re more likely to get a negative with more dice, and it’s possible to get a worse negative, but the trend is toward a better negative (the above numbers didn’t reflect zero; the likeliest non-positive result for 3d4 is, in fact, zero). It’s worth running through how this plays out and deciding whether negative values matter, or simply the fact that a negative was, in fact, rolled. My instinct says stay with values, but that doesn’t take into account the feeling of how the dice are treating you.

Clearly there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ to work through, and there’s a lot more involved in practical testing than just rolling millions and millions of dice. But I do think I’m on to something interesting here, something simple, but with slightly-less-than-simple decision determinations.


I had a plan to submit something into the 200 Word RPG Challenge this year. I wrote a thing, meant to polish it up a bit, didn’t, figured I’d just submit it anyway, and forgot. I don’t think the thing is particularly good, and given that my first task was to bind myself to a word limit, it is not particularly well-written either. And, maybe I’ll edit it so it reads like a human wrote it at some point, or maybe I’ll build it into something bigger and with more purpose. But unless/until that happens: here are 195 words describing a little roleplaying concept about the objects around you. Do with it what you will.

Objects is a light filler game (aim for 45-60 min) for 1 GM and at least 2 players about examining your surroundings with a macro lens and bringing life to the inanimate. Each player should look around the room and choose an object to roleplay. They inform the GM, but not one another. They should briefly consult with the GM what free actions are available to them – a soda bottle can likely roll freely, but bouncing to a height will be a challenge. The GM announces their goal: a rendezvous point, and potentially another object from the room that must be brought to said point. Challenge actions are resolved via 1d4, with the GM deciding whether success is a 2+, 3+, or 4 depending on difficulty. Failures should still move the player(s) forward, just not quite as they’d hoped. When player characters manage to run into each other, those players can reveal to one another what they are, and they can work together. Aside from the basic challenges of movement, finding one another, and rendezvousing, the GM should bring other objects in the room to life as challenges (the ottoman is trapped!) and NPCs.

Hey go check out Disposable Heroes on Kickstarter (external)

This thing funded and I am so, so happy. I dearly love the folks behind it and… ahhhhhh!

Disposable Heroes is a card-driven tabletop RPG making use of the Powered by the Apocalypse system, live on Kickstarter now. Its main hook is that none of your characters effectively have HP – if they take damage, they die. You don’t roll your own character sheets, you use the aforementioned cards in their stead. Character dies, you draw a new one. It’s a very neat idea, it has a wonderful street-tag aesthetic, and it’s a complete dig at the capitalist hell of the gig economy.

I wasn’t originally going to post about this, because I haven’t actually played it, and I don’t generally feel like I can write meaningful things without having felt my way through an experience. But I have seen it played, I have flipped through the prototype cards, I know it’s going to be good. And I know that it’s important to support independent queer creators. I want this thing to come to life, and I think anyone who comes to my blog voluntarily likely would as well.

The poetics of TTRPGs

I have often expressed, in a pseudo-jest of oversimplification, that I prefer novellas to novels, short stories to novellas, and poems to short stories. I have always been more drawn to the meditative experience of an impossibly-concise framework than the contemplative experience that length and breadth brings. That isn’t to argue that either experience is objectively better, more difficult to create, nor more serious or worthy of being canonized as art – I, myself, personally just find something extremely satisfying in art that I can hold in a single breath. That oxygenates my blood and travels throughout me.

At Gen Con this year1, I had the opportunity to play Alex Robert’s For the Queen, a short, card-based, no-dice-no-masters TTRPG. The basic gist is that all of the players are on a journey in wartime with their queen, and characters and narratives unfold as players answer questions prompted by the deck of cards. You don’t really need a table, you don’t need to write anything. It’s an incredibly distilled essence of roleplaying. The experience soaked into me, stuck in my mind. A week later, I was trying to figure out why, and how, and it occurred to me that the game is a poem.

My mind repeatedly wandered to another game that I love, that similarly demands I pore over its delicacy: The Quiet Year by Avery Alder. The Quiet Year is also free of masters, and also deck-based2. Cards lay out events that happen during a given season, and players use these events to draw a map that tells the story of a community. Two common themes between these games are cards and lack of a master, but I don’t think either of those elements specifically makes a game a poem. Cards prompting events are randomized, but it’s not the chaotic, make-or-break randomness of chucking a D20 at your GM. An egalitarian system free of masters adds an odd aura of intimacy within the group. They’re poetic elements, certainly, but that’s kind of like saying that in literature, everything that rhymes or
looks like
is apoem(period)

And certainly, there are a bunch of formalized rules that we can scrutinize and calculate and determine that aha! A given piece of written or spoken word simply must be a poem! But that’s clearly not what I mean, and I don’t know that it’s productive to try to break down countless elements and rule sets to establish an encyclopedic guide as to whether or not a given TTRPG will give me this lingering satiety. To me, it’s simply about feeling, much of which I believe comes from crossing boundaries, challenging expectations, and doing it all with the crash of shocking brevity.

Let’s talk about a game I haven’t actually played, Orc Stabr by Liam Ginty and Gabriel Komisar3. Fitting on a single sheet, it is a simple game (though a game made more traditional by way of both dice and masters). I suspect it is a fairly quick game, but again… I have not played it. Aside from the game itself, however, there was an additional experience layered onto it, a bit of a metagame if you will. It was launched on Kickstarter, and all of the materials for it were written from the perspective of its orc designer, Limm Ghomizar. Backers could get a full sheet of paper, or a hand-torn half-sheet of paper, encouraging them to find other backers to form a full, playable sheet with. Every sheet had something custom done to it – crayon doodles, recipes, custom rules, handprints, all manner of weird things that simply served to make each copy human, personal, and unique. Seeing folks post about their copies when they received them and just knowing that everyone was getting some different bit of weird was an act of art in itself. And that had that lingering feeling of something once, seemingly rigid, being shattered in the medium.

Clever means of introducing interactivity to narratives have always existed outside what we understand and refer to as gaming. Things like Fluxus’ event scores, the Theatre of the Oppressed, Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Community storytelling has always been a thing, and presumably ‘interactive storytelling, but with rules’ is not a particularly novel concept either. It’s almost certainly unfair, then, to presume that there’s really anything new about what feels like a Gygaxian mold being broken. But I do feel like I’m seeing more and more of this sort of thing being done very intentionally in a space dominated by long-campaign, dice-laden, hack’n’slash systems. There’s a vibrancy to the sense of art and emotion that is being put into games, and that I think seethes through the players of these games.

And that, to me, is poetry.


Americana was successfully funded on Kickstarter! Be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign or the quick start rules.

A while back, I wrote lovingly of a sweet little tabletop RPG (TTRPG) called Mirror. Currently, I am in the middle of a campaign of an upcoming (to Kickstarter, October 1) TTRPG by the same author (a personal friend, it’s worth noting1), entitled Americana. I have no real desire to discuss the nitty-gritty mechanics of, say, where the dice go and how to use them, but as far as my experience is concerned this all works well. I don’t mean to be dismissive of the gears that make the clock tick – all the little details are incredibly important and difficult to make work. I just don’t think that writing about them is particularly expressive, and Americana has a lot of implementation facets that really make for a compelling experience. These experiential details are what I’d prefer to discuss.


You should immediately follow this link to the single-page tabletop RPG system, Mirror. There you will find my review, which is likely a more cohesive version of this post. You will also find a couple of other reviews from friends who playtested the game alongside me, and you will find the official description, and you will find the words ‘Pay what you want,’ to which I say… it’s worth a decent wad of cash.

Mirror does two things very well. First, it exists as a single-page ‘accelerated’ tabletop RPG system. Second, it breaks the tabletop mold in a meaningful way. It does the latter by basing character generation on real-world friendship. The former is aided by this, but is additionally accomplished by a simple dice-pool mechanic that drives interactions and health.

The dice pool mechanic is straightforward and covered by the rules, and not entirely worth expounding upon. CharGen is far more interesting, and is based upon the real human physically sitting across from you. I entered this rather nervous, and ended up playing across from people who I trust1 implicitly, but honestly have a hard time distilling to their core essence. You see, you play as an abstracted version of the person you sit across from, and during CharGen, you isolate four of that person’s strong suits, and two of their weaknesses. Without being an utter piece of shit, of course. I opted to play my weaknesses as counterpoints to my strengths — where my friend was absurdly creative, that creativity made her ideas occasionally impractical.

My best friend in the whole world games with me, and I am very grateful that in playtesting Mirror, I was not sat opposite her. Not for fear of insulting her during CharGen, but simply because I actually think I had to soak in what I love about other players in said group. A lack of closeness (let’s call it) made me feel a lot closer to the friends I played as. I guess Mirror has a way of doing that — it’s like a forced empathy, but since these are people you want to empathize with, it just makes you love them more.

And, this is important in the game, and brings me back to the first point — this is a single-pager. There are expectations for these things — quick, and simple to broach. I, personally, love Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) as a quick, accessible tabletop system. But even FAE has barriers to entry… CharGen can theoretically be as long as a campaign, and for a new player, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be invested. Something about playing as one of your fellow gamers has a strange way of making you invested. And CharGen is quick and straightforward as you are simply… describing your buddy.

In my review on the DriveThruRPG page, I describe the friendship element and the one-page/one-off element as being intimately intertwined, and that’s really the magic of Mirror, I think. To non-gamers, even a quick system like FAE can be intimidating. But Mirror allows you to build a world, build a scenario and give your players an inherent motivation and set of character attributes — these are both dependent upon someone they care about IRL.

Mirror terrified me at first. Because I’m timid, and I’m bad at breaking even the people I know the most intimately into their prime components. But there’s enough of a balance between abstraction and familiarity that the whole thing is just… really comfortable. This is probably a first: I’m going to smash a redundant link here: go check out Mirror, it’s… special.