Chthonic Cartography and a Host of Handouts

I love alliteration. Ok, in the title, strictly speaking, Chthonic and Cartography do not start with the same sound.


The point is that I’m putting together some special content for the boxed sets. Because you awesome people deserve MORE. At the moment the list is not final, but it’s composed of:

  • Pocketmod Character Sheets for AFG and OSR. They’re not final but almost. They will be updated. Download links: AFGOSR
  • An Academy of Apprentices. Twelve pregens. Yes, I decided that Academy is the collective noun for Apprentice. They are statted for AFG but it should not be a problem using them in OSR games if your DM is a bit flexible. Not final yet.
  • Scroll Scraps because sometimes you want an adventure hook and what’s best than picking a bit of paper at random and, without looking at it, hand it over to a player saying “Well, you got lost and, of all places, you ended up in the library. I know, your character is not used to studying, but you found an interesting scrap of scroll nonetheless and you suspect nobody’s going to miss it”. The fragments say things like “there’s an idol of gold in a temple under the Harga volcano”.
  • Chthonic Cartography. I already posted a map, but I thought that adding the map used for the playtest was mo’better. Not that any map of the Hypogea is more or less true than any other (hint: the place does not exist) but I enjoyed a lot this map. Of all the things, you might not want to pass this on to players. But really, it’s also in the box so that you have an example of what can be done with CHTHONOTRON. Click the image to download.



There should be another thing at least, but it’s a bit of a surprise. It might have something to do with goats. Baaaaaaaaaaaa.


A post of good news (Which is good, especially after the last tragic update).

First of all, look at the boxed set (the prototype is in the back):

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And a stack of boxed sets with some sharp’n’fancy Gamescience dice (and small stacks of Codex in the back):

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Boxmaking is going well. I was concerned that the printing process would make the covers weirdly different. The process is manual and incredibly finicky: it involves manually cleaning, inking and removing excess ink with a light rag from the plate for each impression. It means making about 4-5 copies per hour, and throwing away one or two per hour (yeah, I love that). Consistent editioning is hard - and I was concerned it would create weirdly different boxes, but they’re consistent enough. Gluing them by hand is not the easiest thing either.

As I write there are still 5 boxed sets available: due to legal requirements of limited edition prints, I can’t really make more than originally advertised.

In addition to that, the new printer delivered a few boxes of books:

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Yeah. Boxes of books. And here are the books:2014-08-01 13.33.20The new printer did a really good job, and quickly. Good, quick and not terribly expensive make me happy. I wish there was a way to show properly the matte finish on the KH and the Pergamino Barocco, because it looks really dope. I can see doing more business with them in the future. All the books are available at the webshop, and all come with PDFs. Of course, PDFs are also available.

The only thing that is not arrived yet is the printed Chthonic Codex – codex editions. That will require a few more days. Possibly next week.

Sombering Setback in Print/Publishing

TL;DR: I had to fire my printer because he proved to be unreliable in delivering what agreed and in time. I should receive proofs from other places. Until then the shop only sells PDFs. If you want a 100% refund on your existing orders, write me. Handbound codexes look pretty. Pergamini still ship.2014-07-19 14.07.56

Longform and Extra Explanations

I’m picky with books. While there are some factors I have scarce control on, and impact negatively on the final quality of what I release, I try to be as nails as I can for the rest.

This means being picky with:

  • illustrations
  • paper type and weight
  • print quality
  • layout
  • content – which is why I take ages to release the stupidest thing.

I’m not good at any of the above, but I try hard. You know that Ira Glass quote about taste?


This is the background of my computer desktop. It’s been there for a long while. I stare at it. It stares at me. Makes me find motivation. It tells me:

Paolo, you’re failing.

You’re not as good as you want.

Try harder.

This might be is quite horribly self-abusive. But it keeps me motivated. It also keeps me borderline burnout. Also, note that this is not impostor syndrome… it’s just that I’m not where I want to be.

Now, from now “Codex” means the Chthonic Codex project, “booklets” are the three booklets for the boxed set and “codex” is the collection of the three, pictured above.

So, this spring I spent a godawful amount of time on the booklets, getting them ready for press. A really complicated thing that mostly had to be written and laid out at the same time. No days off for weeks at time. Burning out. And then I brought it to the printer, and after a bit the proofs came and were good. So I asked for the files to go to press, while I prepared the layout for the codex. And there were problems with a university burning and machines breaking and people being off and so it was pushed back a bit, but the codex proofs came back (and they were OK except for a silly thing), and in the meantime the pergamini scrolls got printed, but I still wasn’t seeing the books.

The order was for a print run of everything I ever released:

  • Adventure Fantasy Game R9
  • Pergamino Barocco – paperback
  • Kefitzah Haderach
  • the three booklets
  • the signatures for the codex

The proofs came and were how I wanted them to be.

But the print run has not been delivered, and now the print shop is closed for weeks because of holidays. Even when they’re back, I rightfully came to consider supplying from them some kind of liability… an Enchanted Liability of Slaying.

Now, how to cope with this?

First of all, I’m happy to refund any order.

Second, I’ve been doing things.

Strategies – what I’m doing to fix the awful

  • Find a new printer – I contacted a few printers, local and not. More developments soon.
  • I’m also preparing to do everything through Lulu – in fact I put all the above on Lulu, and ordered a copy for each thing (except the codex). It’s going to be way more expensive but it’s ok.
  • I’m still looking for a print shop for the codex that can print on natural white 100gsm without exploding a bomb in my wallet.

So, yeah. If everything does wrong I’ll have Lulu print all the booklets for the boxed sets, have them shipped here in one massive order, box them then post them onward them onto you.

The morale of all the above is that this stop the way I’m operating and expected to operate. Not having a reliable print-shop means going through Lulu and RPGNow for POD, with all the nags that you expect.

I’m growing really tired of the setbacks that this project is having. Most probably I’m doing a bunch of things wrong, and I start to feel I’m not really cut for this. Bah.

D&D 5E Free resources

D&D fifth edition is out, and I’ve seen some interesting free resources around:

Go and have fun now :)

Need for Speech: words have power, Hodor, OG and a new word/rune-based magic system

I started watching Game of Thrones recently, and Hodor got me thinking about magic. In some oblique ways.

RPGs are mostly a discussion. Speech and writing, in their tabletop and PBM incarnations, are almost inherent to the form. This happens because there are not enough physical game tokens to allow expression of all the subtleties of what happens in the game world. For a NON RPG, like the DND 3E miniatures game, the need for speech is absent: it’s possible to move tokens and roll dice and point at tokens, and that’s enough to resolve the game.

Note that this has nothing to do with system completeness: it’s possible to have an incomplete system needing arbitration, where the referee resolves combats by moving, changing, adding and subtracting “bits” from the table, not a word spoken.

Speech at this level is about the world. Players make statements about the world and roll dice, which are about the world. The referee adjudicates and reports the results. So, we are playing, and this is the nature of the game: making statements about the world.

There is another level of need for speech, which is the speech that happens in game: characters talk to each other. The player of Hodor has problems with that. I played a speech-impaired character once and it was funny and challenging (the system was Fate though, which was the only negative note, because all players and the GM did a brilliant job).

At any rate, Hodor can’t speak. Hodor can act though. Which would be incredibly interesting if Hodor was in a game of Diplomacy.

Hodor is a bit extreme though. Let’s talk about Robin Law’s OG.


OG is a gem. In OG you character knows how to use 3-8 words. You can unleash the very full panoplia of your extensive vocabulary when interacting with the Referee, but with other players? Stick to your own 3-8 words! If you know only “small”, “stick” and “you” you can’t say many things that do not insult virility. And that’s kind of cool because it’s a game made fun by its special player interaction.

It would be interesting if RPG magic was the same. Incidentally the first fantasy novel I read was A Wizard of Earthsea by U.K. le Guin, which has a system that is basically UG-Magic-University. You learn words for things, so that you can command them. And humans get baptized, so if you don’t know their real secret name you have to use their “common name”, which is what they use in daily life, or just use “dude”.

So, if you want a flexible rulelight magic system, one that is a bit crazy but completely not playtested, enjoy this one:

You MU begins the game knowing INT/3 names for generic things and 1 mana. When a new level is gained,  one new name is learnt and 1 mana per level is gained. You might want to use a foreign language (French? Italian? Lithuanian? Japanese? Kurdish? Finnish? Tsolyáni?) for the special names to stop your character from using them in play. They become game tokens, so you to avoid messups you want to be specific when referring to them. Or you can trace runes mid-air or pronounce the rune names. Whatever. Words have power.

To cast a spell, tell to the Referee ALL the words you are using this round. For example for Fireball would maybe be “big powerful fire blast there”, while Create Fire would be “fire”. Then, using the 5MORE system or rolling under INT or under CHA or trying to SAVE, roll once for every word you pronounce in the round. Consider every word as a different TASK for 5MORE EXPERT purposes.

You need to succeed at every word check to cast the spell. If you fail a roll, spend 1 mana to convert it to a success. If you elect not to spend the mana, all the words you are speaking in the same round get messed up and are all counted as failures. So yes you can take time casting a spell.

When you are done with words, something happens. The Referee will let you know what happens depending on the words that failed. As a yardstick, consider that a comparable D&D spell should have (2 x level) – 1 words. The referee and players are encouraged to write down combination of words of power, and the referee is encouraged to have the same combination of words have the same effect every time. Players should record combination and effects only if their characters have writing implements.

Now, this seems eminently more powerful than D&D. Surely it’s more flexible, and if you’re lucky it gives you infinite free spells at level 1.




There are two consequences for failures.

The first one is that the caster gets burnt.

  • For each word failed, the caster can’t use that word for 1d6 turns.
  • For each three words failed, the caster takes 1d6 damage OR the caster can spend one mana OR the caster can get stunned. The caster can choose which as they know how to fend off magic power. Stun duration is 1d6 rounds if chosen once, 1d6 turns if chosen twice, 1d6 hours if chosen 3 times, then days, weeks, months, seasons.
  • For each six words failed, something awful happens. Maybe the caster gets whisked away by a gate for a while, or they develop a horrible mutation. I’ll let your Referee adjudicate.

So if a caster fails seven words, they can’t use any of them for 1d6 turns, takes three times a mixture of 1d6 damage or 1 mana damage or stunned for 1d6 rounds/turns/hours, and something horrible happens.

Plus, there is the second consequence. Magic happens regardless. Referee, consider that magic has a personality. And that words have personalities. And that some words don’t like being used close to each other. Let them play. You might even have the words make reaction rolls against each other and the MU to determine if the play nice. Mispronounced words will most probably misbehave at some level, and the caster might even pronounce other words instead of the failed one.

Note that if a spell targets someone, using a generic name (like “human”) grants an additional save, while using the Secret Name forces the victim to reroll 1 succeeded save.

You can learn new words from other people

Note that you can totally use this system as rune magic too.