Escape This!


art by Chris Malidore

Years ago, gaming was escapism. Almost universally. We made adventurers, who killed bad guys, stole treasure, and made imaginary world better places for imaginary people to live in. Sort of like toxic lego made cancer-free. And then we got older. The real world bled into our imaginary places. For some, the escapism grew more imaginary. Swords became MEGA swords and monster-bugaboos became giant earth-eating Dragonball Z-level nemeses. Some became jaded by the real world and it bled more, while some grew jaded by the imaginary worlds and we craved more. Mecha and super golems become common place in imaginary worlds that once looked like Northern Europe. Imaginary places became alien places. And the escapism wasn’t enough anymore. The real world was becoming so ugly, that the imaginary places had to become something otherworldly. Almost impossible. They no longer had anything in common.

But for some of us the imaginary places became too real. The drama of these places became exaggerations of the ugly parts of the real world. It wasn’t enough to be an imaginary hero anymore. That imaginary hero had a wife who was cheating on him. That imaginary hero was living in a world where women weren’t allowed to touch a sword. And that imaginary place became a bleeding edge for all our real-world catharsis.

These escape places diverged. There was no common-ground anymore, and so those imaginary places fought. They became reflections of our biases, where that place would tell the other place it was stupid. And wrong. Neither place was safe from the aggression of the other. On one side, giant impossible monsters fought against giant hyper-real drama and giant exaggerate drama became a simulacrum to oppose the fantastical imaginary places wrought with unrelate-able conflict.

And so now, what one person defines as escapism may have nothing in common with another. For some, the realities of the the world around us are the bugaboos which must be fought. Racism. Sexism. Intolerance. The list goes on. For others, the bugaboos look nothing like the real world. Dragons. Vampires. Zombies. The veneer belying another false monster beneath the surface.

What we enjoyed grew into an intractable line between two divided camps. Which makes no sense to me. I came to gaming through one door and I am enjoying games that rest behind another door. Some people behind this door bring all of their real-world baggage with them. Some people behind the other door are so far removed from the real world that relating to them is a near impossibility. But neither door is right. Neither world is wrong. I’ve gamed with all of you. I’ve accepted your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve given up personal wants for the better social collective of the game table, in order that we can all game together. Tell someone what kind of gaming is right or wrong is a luxury for people who don’t want to give anything up; who put themselves at the center of the collective.

(You know who you are.)

Sometimes the pathway to escapism isn’t sniper shots at 1000 yards by a half-troll, half-dragon, half-crouton scout, but a mother who has lost her child and therefore her sense of self. Sometimes the pathway to escapism isn’t a gunshot victim trying to make sense of the world around him through PTSD group meetings, but a machete-wielding orc marauder with 7,000 hit points. Sometimes we just need to get away from something and gaming is the answer, regardless of the substance or veneer. Sometimes we are being the best friends we can be by acknowledging that everyone at the table is there because without the table, they have nothing else.

Sometimes the bugaboo is us. And sometimes the escape is sitting around a table with friends, forgetting about how shitty the world outside is, whichever way we can.

Dying Memoryes

Dying Memoryes was originally devised way back in 2006. I’d recently finished George’s Children and I was really jealous of all these new indie story games. But most felt less like games and more like Q&A exercises. After 30 minutes of setup for any RPG, you could probably write an awesome story. We needed rules? So, I decided I wanted to make a game where your character sheet was blank and you could start playing in seconds.

But what?

Well. Maybe if you started as an empty slate. But why? Does everyone has amnesia? Do they exist in a vacuum? The zeitgeist of the game came to me when I remembered Ryan Charles’ Ship of Fools game from the early 90s about people in cryogenic tanks on a dying ship. I pretty much stole the plot, added my own nuance, studied how the brain works without oxygen, and wrote a game entirely about people’s unreliable memories and will to live.

Seriously underrated game.

My Own Personal 13th Warrior and the Most Expensive Protocol Session Ever


I’m sitting in Tampere, Finland, some two hours north of Helsinki at the largest geek convention in all of the Nordic countries, at the largest venue in the Nordic countries, in the the first Nordic city to get electricity (in 1800 and something). I’m this year’s roleplaying game guest of honor. A first for me. A strange situation for me as well. I just gave a 45-minute lecture of game design and the importance of understanding if you’re making a game about ‘successes’ versus a game about ‘events.’ I used a number of FFG games as examples of stories in which you are a passenger, versus stories where you get to drive.

I’m playing Five Broken Swords — a favorite Protocol among the intelligentsia — with four other gentlemen who are all new to this ‘story roleplaying’ thing. But they seem smart and eager. Each of these players has a deep understanding of history. More so than we do here in the states. And that makes this particular session pretty awesome.

Tuomas, Marko, Sipi, and another gentleman with a name I cannot pronounce are playing a witch, a fighter, a fatherly priest, and a barbarian respectively. I’m an alchemist, but trying not to get in the way as I want them to explore the game. I’m also trying to keep interrogations simple, because they can sometimes overwhelm players. But, they really seem to like them. The game is set in 13th century Eastern Europe, in a vague location. There are no dwarves or elves, but we’ve heard rumors of vampires and werewolves. The real ones. Not the sparkly kind. Sipi is playing a real Catholic priest, but doesn’t know his daughter (played by Tuomas) is a witch.

The Finns have a wide range of accents when speaking English here. Two of the players speak precise English, with British accents, while the other two have what is called ‘Rally English,’ which is a really thick Slavic/Finnish accent. The accents make the game interesting. Sipi is easily the best player here and his thick accent makes the character so real, it’s a little scary.

Let me take a moment to just say how awesome these guys are at just dropping history into the game. They just made the location of one of the scenes a battlefield where Phillip of Macedonia once fought against Thrace. Who does that? And Now we’ve just encountered the birthplace of a Saint. Holy crap. This is a good game.

In the end, we finished the quest, only to give the artifact to one of the characters who in turn became a tyrant. Sigh. Power corrupts and all that.

The rest of the con has been easy. I can’t believe how well everyone is treated me. Anytime I want food or drinks or whatever, I just snap my fingers and there it is. It’s insane.

I don’t actually snap my fingers.

Finland is gorgeous. It’s similar to Seattle, only clean. And the people are nice. And also I want to be here.

So. It’s nothing like Seattle.


Anyway. I’ve been having an amazing time and I really do need to thank everyone at Tracon X for their hospitality. Seriously. Never have I been treated nicer. So. To Tiina and everyone else here, thank you.

Game on.

Black Dragon Inn coming this Friday!

Black Dragon Inn will debut on Friday right here in the PDF store, and will be demoed on Saturday at conFUSE, where Jim Pinto is the guest of honor.


Black Dragon Inn is a story roleplaying game about a party of
adventurers returning from a hard-fought quest.

The dragon is dead. The town is saved. Now is the time to rejoice in
the meadhall and drink to fallen comrades. We shall sing tales of
their memories, recount their deeds, and drink until the ale runs dry.
Tonight we honor ourselves. And our fallen brethren.

Tonight, the quest is over.

But something sinister lurks inside the town of Iverdale. Someone does
not want you here. Someone wants Iverdale all to itself.

Someone wants you dead.

Characters take on the role of adventures dealing with an unseen and
malevolent foe determined to undo them. Can they survive whatever
haunts Iverdale? Or will this be their final quest?

My Post-GenCon Post


I just bought a house and I’m unpacking today. I’m taking time away from unpacking because I love you all so much. I has nothing to do with hating unpacking. Nope. Love. All love.

Okay. Let’s get this started.

GenCon was nonstop work for me. I never left my booth, except to eat. Even at night, we were eating, drinking, and gaming. I played some Carcass, several Protocols, and demoed my new board game (with Souljar Games) every minute I was at the booth.

So, I won’t have a report on GenCon, just a report on ME at GenCon.

And you know I love talking about me.

The City. I love the tempo of the Midwest (to visit). Even the fake people are nice and the city treats GenCon attendees like rock stars. Lots of great food (and some bad). Souljar’s traditional, second-annual Ethiopian dinner was well-attended. And no one really cares what I ate. Moving on.

The Carcass. Played with a few friends of mine while everyone had been drinking. Turned silly instead of dark. We still explored the full range of leadership and story, but nothing dark ever happened. We set the game in Appalachia, but for some reason I kept seeing it as the Ozarks. We were certainly the villains of this one.

The vigilante is a jerk. That’s all I’m saying.

Protocol. We played Chemical Zoo and The Scarecrow. The former was fun and light, despite a tiger eating two chimps. James Flanagan and Carla kept pushing the fun, while I tried to bring the drama. The latter was among the scariest games I’ve ever played. Jack Cull really ramped up the terror on this one. A little bit of “Bloody Mary” myth going on in this one, along with candles, mirrors, and children pushing each other around. In the end, the story was more about the drama of forgotten children and less about the Scarecrow, which is what the Slenderman and Cropsey myths are all about.

Ryan Schoon. Ryan and I spent a lot of time talking game design and working on our new project, Mortuary. It’s going to be different, I assure you. For now, imagine my take on Apocalypse World, inside and out. All new mechanics, easy to read character sheets, meaningful choices (even when you fail), and lots of character classes. Expect news about this later in the year.

Already running out of things to talk about. Yep. GenCon was that busy.

100 A.D. I have a board game coming soon that may kick ass. I’m not sure. People seem to like it, but it’s a little arrogant for me to review it for you. What I can say is that it doesn’t play like board games you are used to and it treats politics like a power struggle. Not a punchline.

Okay. I’ll leave you to it. Next time, I’ll tell you why d7s are way better than d6s.

Protocol #41 is in Progress

Svázaný Rukojemníkov is a story roleplaying game about life in a shell-shocked city of historical merit, caught in the middle of a stalemate engagement between two warring armies.
Svazany_Rukojemnikov-300x281The front line of the battle has shifted back and forth through the city numerous times, leaving the townspeople to be rescued by one army, only to be invaded and occupied by the opposing force in a recapitulation months later. With no end to the bloody war in sight, the city has become a refuge for those who traffick goods, while its citizens trudge through their shattered lives weighing the final cost.

News is now selling pdfs.


And to celebrate, everything is 15% for… oh… let’s say 15 days. Sure. That’s easy to remember.

Also. I’ll be at Gencon, booth 1437 with Souljar Games, pimping a new board game and selling some of my perennial products. Protocol. Toolcards. Carcass. King for a Day.

Also. If you come by the booth on Thurday night at 6pm, we’ll be gaming.

Thanks for being patient with the site changes and thanks for supporting PWG.

Updates Coming

Hey everyone. The site is going through a few changes. So please be
patient. We’ll be back to normal updating soon enough.

I promise.

In the meantime, I’ll be at GenCon. Booth 1437. Come say hi. Or don’t.
I’m not in charge of you.

Tuesday Night Gaming Update

Usually I do these posts on Facebook, but we had two really fun sessions last night and I thought they deserved larger posts.

fnm2First. We played Forget-Me-Not, a game I made that is absolutely ground-breakingly awesome and that no one plays or has heard of. If there’s a more clever scene-framing game out there, I’ve not seen it. Honest. I hate tooting my own horn, but two years after the original design, I still get impressed with how this game plays out.

Essentially the game is about a small town, and the weirdness that goes on there. It’s my homage to Twin Peaks. A young girl has been murdered, but no one seems to keen to solve it. As a result, we follow the lives of these disparate people who don’t really care about anyone but their own problems. To reinforce this, no one controls a specific character and there are 8 to 10 characters in any given story (from a deck of 18).

On the back of each character is a list of five things that each must address over the course of the game. But the true beauty of this game is the relationship grid at the bottom of each card, that points to how this character knows another…

fnm2bOnce a grid of characters is placed, the story reveals a complex grid of relationships. The replay value is through the roof.


The second game we played is a Protocol that I’ve not yet released:

37 volcanoVolcano God is a story roleplaying game about the final days of a forgotten tribe. Unaware of their impending doom, the tribe continues to sacrifice its people to the Volcano God in an attempt to appease the spirit within… until the tribe is no more. Characters are important members of the tribe living under the shadow of the Volcano God, doing everything they can to abate the inevitable end rushing toward them.

Even though I wrote it, I was still surprised at how well this game worked. The conflict of a tribe dealing with superstitious fears during the end times was interesting. The charts need some minor tweaks, but a couple of the players brought really smart elements into play. I don’t think the child character works as well as I’d have liked. But. I look forward to releasing this within the week.