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The Long Journey of HOUNDS OF THE TSAR

Hounds of the Tsar will be launching on Kickstarter next week to hopefully fund the very first print edition of the game. This will be the third Kickstarter I’ve run this year, which has proven to be quite an active one for my little one-person game studio. Since this particular game has been available in digital form for almost a year, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how we got to this point.

Humble Origins

As one of the “original” Last Redoubt Games projects, Hounds of the Tsar (HotT) has been around in one form or another for quite a long time. If my memory is accurate (a questionable assumption these days), the game’s origins date back to at least 2014 when I pitched an idea for a convention game session using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules. The concept was that you would play as monster hunters in the service of Ivan the Terrible in 16th century Russia. Of course, my first mistake was not making it a Pathfinder game, considering this was back in the heyday of Pathfinder Society completely dominating smaller conventions. But Pathfinder would have been a poor fit for the concept I had, which was a dark and gritty game where death was always on the table.

It wasn’t long afterwards that I started thinking about turning HotT into a standalone game. I was really into a lot of the OSR games coming out around that time (2015 or so) and I thought the concept would fit neatly with a “rules-lite” approach that used a lot of random tables to quickly roll up unique characters. I don’t quite remember whether the core rule mechanic came before the qualities and backgrounds, but I scribbled down a bunch of lists on a notebook while my kids were at a theater rehearsal a few nights every week and the game quickly took shape.

Rules Development

The core rule mechanic of rolling 3d6 and getting under an attribute to succeed came primarily from GURPS, while the idea of using static skills to reroll dice was something I’d been tinkering with for the game that would eventually become Wyld Sea. Rules for combat and other situations were very rudimentary at that point. At some point over the next year as I tinkered with the game some more, I read Into the Odd and incorporated its “auto hit” combat mechanic as well as the concept of reducing a physical attribute value when characters ran out of hit points.

Two unique elements were also added to the game around this time. The first was the Tsar Die, which is quite a simple concept, really. If the player could somehow invoke the tsar in the task they were performing, they could roll a d4 to influence the test. It’s a minor system, but it greatly tilts the odds because the die essentially gives players a 1-in-4 chance of success. It also creates the opportunity for a negative impact if the test itself fails. While the Tsar Die concept would be expanded when I adapted the game system for The Drowned Lands, in HotT, it mostly serves to constantly remind the players of their connection to the tsar.

The other unique element was the loyalty system, which measures how much the characters trust each other and whether or not they can accuse someone of treason. At one point, the system was much closer to the one used in the game Cold City, which is a fabulous indie game from the UK by Malcolm Craig (who also designed a|state, a big influence on my novel, Blackspire). Ultimately, I decided to scale it back into something that didn’t have much impact on in-game play, but forced players to constantly watch each character for signs of disloyalty. In a happy design accident, I’d already built concepts like secrets and goals into the character creation, so there was already the potential for conflict built right into the game.

Mechanically, the last building blocks that went into place were the elements of the magic system. While the game gives a sample spell list, even this was something of a concession I didn’t want to make. In my ideal world, players would simply create their own spells using the loose rules provided. When I adapted the system for The Drowned Lands, I created additional tools to make it easier to build unique spells, but I actually ended up being happy with the spell list in HotT. It’s simple, open-ended, and thematically appropriate for the setting, which was important considering the unique characteristics of the game’s alternate history Muscovy.

Not What My Grad Advisor Intended…

Which brings us to the setting. 

Most of my history graduate studies focused on 17th century Russia, but I was pretty familiar with the era of Tsar Ivan IV (better known in the West as Ivan the Terrible). I’d already used a lot of that knowledge to build the world of Rostogov, the fantasy setting for my first two novels (The Walls of Dalgorod and Mirona’s Law). For HotT, though, I wanted to be much more grounded in real history without suffocating the players with detail. The final result ended up being only a few pages in length, but I think it’s packed with enough detail to help nail the right atmosphere, which is far more important than historical accuracy in a game like this.

I did decide, however, to include a bibliography for people who wanted to learn more about early Russian history. It’s a modest mixture of primary and secondary sources that would pretty much be required reading for any course in pre-Petrine Russia (the era before Peter the Great, who reigned from 1682-1725 and fundamentally transformed Russian politics and society). Of course, I also included a section on Sergei Eisenstein’s legendary Ivan the Terrible films, which are probably a better frame of reference for the look and feel of a HotT game than any book.

Road to Release

By 2017 or so, the game was more or less complete. Around that time I started dipping my toe into formatting and layout, although that basically meant structuring the Word file text in columns and inserting some pictures here and there. I tinkered with it intermittently throughout the next two years and posted various versions on my old website as “playtest demos,” which was kind of code for “I think this is good but I’m afraid to release it as a real thing.”

Hounds of the Tsar playtest demo cover

In 2020, I finally got serious about formatting and preparing the game for actual release. As part of that effort, I spent a lot of time tracking down public domain artwork by 19th and early 20th century Russian artists to give the game an authentic feel. As part of this broader effort, I also cleaned up a lot of the writing and filled in a lot of existing gaps. I released the game on itch.io in early December. While it wasn’t a runaway success by any stretch of the imagination, I got some good feedback about the game, which convinced me it was worth spending some more creative time and energy on making RPGs.

Hounds of the Tsar original release cover

Print Edition Revision and Kickstarter

So Why a New Version?

The original version of HotT was laid out using the publisher view for Microsoft Word 2011, which probably would have been an outdated solution in 2011, much less 2020. Among the bigger problems were the use of multiple low resolution images and a lack of a spread view that let me spread images across two facing pages. More importantly, though, was an issue born of my own ignorance. All of the games I’ve printed have used the conventional zine format (5.5 x 8.5), which is kind of the standard size for most indie releases. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this when I started doing the layout, which meant the game was formatted for an 8.5 x 11 page. While I actually did have a copy printed just to see what it looked like, it wasn’t a viable format if I had any intention of printing the game in larger numbers.

When I finally sat down to reformat the game in Affinity Publisher, I took the opportunity to make a number of additional changes. The biggest change was the artwork. A lot of pieces were scattered rather haphazardly through the original release, and there were some stylistic discrepancies that gave the game something of a cobbled together feel. The reformatted version is much more consistent from a layout and art standpoint. I also reorganized a lot of the content to make the game easier to reference at the table.

Hounds of the Tsar new print edition cover

After all that work, it seemed like a bit of a letdown to simply release the new version digitally and move on. I’d always wanted to do a print run, so I decided to put together a new Kickstarter campaign for it. Now that you know a bit more about the background of the game, you can follow the project and help make it a reality! The Hounds of the Tsar Kickstarter launches on September 28, so be sure to follow the prelaunch page to be notified as soon as the campaign goes live!

cybernetic eyes staring through a cyberpunk skyline News & Updates

AUGMENTED Kickstarter Is Online

The Kickstarter campaign for the print version of AUGMENTED launched earlier today, so you can go back it RIGHT NOW if you want to see this cyberpunk action RPG get a print run.

cybernetic eyes staring through a cyberpunk skyline

What’s really incredible is that I’ve somehow been able to avoid looking at how the campaign is doing for the last 10+ hours. Running a Kickstarter can be very stressful, especially if you’re not fortunate enough to have a large following that allows you to fund within hours (or even minutes) of launching.

Anyway, the campaign is live, so you should stop reading this blog post and go check it out. Sure, I also released another game earlier this week because I have no grasp of strategic marketing, but I’m going to hold off talking about that until a later date.

Seriously, go back the Kickstarter. I’d really not spend the next four weeks wracked by anxiety over whether or not it’s going to fund!

GO BACK AUGMENTED NOW!

News & Updates

April LRG Update

It’s been a busy year so far for Last Redoubt Games!

After the end of 2020 saw me finally releasing a handful of long-simmering games, 2021 has featured a successful Kickstarter, a new game release, a supplement, and a minor solo game release.

So, let’s start at the beginning: Weirdwood

Weirdwood

The Weirdwood Kickstarter launched on February 1 as part of ZineQuest 3 and went on to raise about $2000, which easily exceeded the funding goal of $600. At this point, most of the physical copies have been mailed out to backers and the stretch goal soundtrack by Morana’s Breath has been delivered as well. Aside from a frantic moment where I had to redo some of the game’s layout to add bleed margins, the printing and shipment process seems to have gone off without a hitch.

If you missed the Weirdwood Kickstarter, you can still order the game on itch.io and DriveThruRPG. I do have several physical copies remaining, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them yet. At some point, I’d like to set up an online store, but I want to be able to offer more than just one game, so this may have to wait until there are more LRG releases available in print (more on that in a moment).

Fascination

I had a bit of an unexpected release in January with the solo RPG Fascination. Designed in a single morning in response to a game jam on itch.io for music album-themed games, Fascination is based on the song “Fascination Street” by The Cure. It’s kind of an oddball, to be honest, and I don’t know that it delivers on the concept, but it does look good, which is something I’m beginning to take a lot of pride in.

Like the rest of the LRG catalog, Fascination is available on itch.io and DriveThruRPG.

Augmented

Sometime in February, I started tinkering with an idea for a cyberpunk game, which remains one of my favorite genres. The result of all this tinkering was a rules-lite game called Augmented, in which players take the role of cybernetically enhanced forced to carry out dangerous tasks for a nameless corporation.

In its original conception, the game was built upon the rules of John Harper’s Ghost/Echo, which I’ve raved about many times in the past. After some investigation, however, I wasn’t able to determine the exact licensing status of that particular game, so I decided to redesign the core mechanics using a variation of the narrative-heavy system in Revenant.

I decided to promote Augmented as an itch.io release for about a month ahead of the release date rather than running a Kickstarter for it. While this was partly because I wasn’t sure if I could launch another Kickstarter before fulfilling Weirdwood, I also wanted to see how much buzz I could generate for a release on another platform.

The answer, unfortunately, was not much!

While I managed to sell a few preorder copies, even the offer of a lower presale price didn’t do much to drive sales. In fact, I’ve sold more copies to date on DriveThruRPG, where the game actually sells for a few dollars more to offset the higher percentage that DriveThru takes on each sale.

Augmented released with a campaign supplement that provides a ready made setting for the game. I decided to offer it separately because many the game was really designed to be setting agnostic, even though I had my own personal “head canon” for it during the writing process. Both games are available on itch.io and DriveThruRPG.

Now that the game is out, I’m gearing up to do a new Kickstarter to hopefully fund a print run. The special print edition of Augmented will combine the core rulebook with the setting guide (which will feature all new art layout). My original plan was to launch the campaign on June 1, but since everything is ready to go, I may decide to move that date up a bit. More updates to follow!

Looking Ahead!

There are a few other projects in the works or at various stages of development that I don’t want to talk about too much at this point. I’ve burned myself in the past by saying things are right around the corner before deciding to retrench a bit. One thing I can say for sure is that I’m going to be redoing the layouts for Revenant and Hounds of the Tsar to prepare them for a possible print run. I’m not sure what the feasibility of that is at the moment, so we’ll see what happens with the Augmented Kickstarter first.

If you want to stay in the loop on upcoming projects, be sure to sign up for the Last Redoubt Games newsletter! In addition to getting updates on new releases and product development, you’ll get a free no-art copy of Revenant and Hounds of the Tsar just for signing up.

News & Updates

“Augmenting” AUGMENTED

Over the last few days, Augmented has gotten a bit of a facelift. While the core game mechanics are (relatively) unchanged, I wanted to provide more tools that would make it easier to run a session without doing the burdensome prep work that’s often associated with the genre. 

We’re on a Mission from the Company

The headline addition is the assignment generator. Originally, Augmented featured a small 1d6 table that the Supervisor could use as a random starting point. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of table, of course. Weirdwood uses something similar, although it provides more than just six options. But I wanted something that was a little more dynamic.

Fortunately, I recalled a discussion I took part in on a Discord server recently where fellow game designer Jeff Stormer was talking about a villain plot generator for a superheroes game he’s been working on. Using that as my starting point, I came up with the following formula: 

You must    action    a (an)    target    in a    location    at    city site   .

There’s a chart associated with each space that the Supervisor can reference to randomly create a basic cyberpunk mission. The big challenge, however, was coming up with six distinct actions, which basically determine the goal of the assignment. Here’s the list I ended up with:

Action (1d6)

  • Acquire
  • Eliminate
  • Sabotage
  • Embed
  • Protect
  • Interrogate

Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, but the trick was using words that were both flexible enough to be interpreted in different ways and apply equally as well to a “target” that was a person or an object. That’s why I went with “Eliminate” instead of “Terminate” or “Assassinate.”

The last entry, “Interrogate,” is the result of some Discord crowdsourcing. It’s a distinct action from the more straightforward “Acquire,” but it may not be immediately obvious how you can interrogate an object. Essentially, the “Interrogate” action tasks you with gathering information from someone or something without actually stealing it or removing it from a location. “Acquiring” a data file, for instance, would require you to download and deliver the contents of the file to the Company. “Interrogating” a data file, on the other hand, would mean accessing data to find out what’s in it, but not actually removing it or copying it from the system. It’s more of a discovery-based mission than a theft-based one.

So, as an example, here’s what a random Augmented assignment might look like: 

You must    protect    a (an)    executive    in a    power facility    at    the outer sprawl   .

This gives a ton of information for the Supervisor to work with without overloading them with details. They can quickly start to imagine reasons why the executive might be in danger and the characteristics of the power facility. Since it’s located in the outer sprawl, it’s probably dirty, run-down, and hazardous in some way. Maybe it has a radiation leak or generates some kind of toxic byproduct.

I also added a few other lists detailing security levels, potential enemies, and mission complications that Supervisors can quickly glance at to generate ideas. In my experience of running RPGs with little to no preparation, having this kind of information on hand to spark ideas is incredibly helpful. By adding some of this material to Augmented, I hope the game will be even easier to manage on the fly.

Augmenting Augmentations

One area of the game that did get some substantial reworking is the augmentations section. Originally, I provided a list of 10 augmentations players could choose from and left it very open-ended about what they could actually do. That probably would have been fine to leave in place until I added some guidance on how to upgrade augmentations following successful missions. I wanted to leave those decisions totally up to the players, but the reality was that it was a lot easier to think of how to add new features to something broad like a cyberlimb than to something rather specific like “wired reflexes.”

So I pared back the augmentation list to just six basic types. While that may seem a bit restrictive, each type also has five distinct features associated with it. Now when players make their Agent or are looking to upgrade their augmentations, they can simply pick another feature from the list and get back to the playing. Of course, as with everything in Augmented, players and Supervisors are totally free to come up with their own ideas and use them instead. 

Part of the reason I try to avoid restrictive guidelines is because it’s almost impossible for one person to come up with the best options for every unique group of players. If you don’t like something, change it or come up with your own thing. Augmented’s system is so sparse and adaptable that you don’t have to worry about breaking anything from a balance or mechanics standpoint.

And if you do implement something that doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world. Just have a conversation about why it’s not working and either change it back or do something else instead. It’s a roleplaying game, not computer engineering. Nobody is going to kick down the door and yell at you for doing something different.

Preorder AUGMENTED Now

The added material has expanded Augmented from 20 pages to 28 pages 36 pages (another round of additions followed this post). I don’t anticipate anything else being included at this point, but I am going to provide a separate short guide that outlines the details of a ready-made cyberpunk setting. Augmented allows groups to create their own settings, of course, but it was conceived and written with a particular setting in mind that probably informed a few decisions along the way. The setting guide will detail the cyberpunk world I’ve hinted at in the short stories “Lena’s Song” and “The First Price.” I’m planning to make it available around the same time as the main game releases on March 30.

You can preorder Augmented now on itch.io! If you preorder before March 30, you’ll get the game at the special $5 preorder price rather than the $7 retail price. Someone asked me on Twitter recently if there will be a print version available and the short answer for right now is that I don’t know. I would like to do a print run, but I’m going to see how the experience goes with mailing out Weirdwood to Kickstarter backers first and then explore what it would take to set up physical distribution.

News & Updates

Introducing Augmented

Augmented is a cyberpunk action RPG in which players take the role of cybernetically enhanced operatives working for a powerful corporation referred to simply as “the Company.” These Agents were once ordinary employees, but after suffering some form of accident, the Company exercised a clause in their contracts to augment them with a variety of cybernetic implants and recondition them for corporate espionage and warfare.

Agents are bound to the Company by more than just their contracts. Their augmentations are still Company property and can be reclaimed at any time. Even worse, the human body has a toxic reaction to cybernetic implants. Without regular doses of special medication, their immune system will begin to reject their artificial components. This reaction takes the form of a fast-moving cancer that proves fatal in a matter of weeks.

If Agents complete their assignments successfully, their augmentations are maintained and they receive the medication they need to survive.

If they fail, the Company reclaims its property and writes the meat off as a loss.

Playing Augmented

A rules-lite RPG with no stats and no complicated preparation, Augmented is built upon the resolution system featured in Ghost/Echo by John Harper (Blades in the Dark, Lady Blackbird). The game is intended to be played fast and loose, with more of an emphasis on the story and finding out what happens next than on rules mechanics that dictate and constrain action.

Traditional cyberpunk RPGs often have complex systems for combat, hacking, and cybernetic implants that take a more simulationist approach to gameplay. This can make them rather time consuming to prepare and play. Augmented was designed to be as abstract and simplified as possible so the players can focus on the theme and style of the genre rather than get bogged down in rules mechanics. A typical session of Augmented should play fast and loose, with an emphasis on action and conflict.

Coming Online March 30

Augmented is available for preorder on Itch.io ahead of its official March 30 release. By preordering the game now, you can get it at a special, reduced price ($5 preorder vs $7 retail). 

I’ll be sharing more details about the game in the coming weeks, so be sure to check back here for updates. You can also sign up for the Last Redoubt Games newsletter to get the latest news straight to your inbox.

News & Updates

Weirdwood: ZineQuest 3 Kickstarter Update

Wow. It’s been a pretty crazy week.

So let’s get the big news out of the way first: Weirdwood launched on Kickstarter as part of ZineQuest 3 on February 1 and hit its funding goal in a little more than 24 hours.

Since this was my first time launching a Kickstarter, it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. I spent most of Monday glued to my phone and constantly updating the browser, hoping to see that funding total inch closer to the goal. The game shot out of the gate a bit better than I expected, but as the day wore on, I started getting nervous. I did the very thing you’re NOT supposed to do when you’re running a Kickstarter, which is watching higher profile projects hit their funding goals and start to worry that you’re going to be the one who falls short.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too much longer. Weirdwood hit its funding goal the next morning and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Of course, that relief didn’t last for too long because I immediately started watching to see if the game would hit its stretch goal. That milestone took a bit longer, but it crossed the threshold Thursday morning. As of right now, Weirdwood is almost exactly 50% over its funding goal, which has already exceeded my expectations, so I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

Great, Weirdwood Funded…Now What?

Luckily, all of the work for the game itself is already done. The book is written, laid out, and ready to go to the printer. I may give it another editing pass or two, but I don’t expect anything to really change between now and the time copies are shipped out to backers.

The big challenge for the time being is the stretch goal soundtrack.

Weirdwood’s soundtrack is going to be created by Morana’s Breath, but that’s a bit complicated for me because, well, I also happen to be Morana’s Breath. This will be the second time I’ve tied Morana’s Breath in with another creative project in a big way, the first one being the soundtrack for my recent novel, Blackspire. It’s a fun process, but making an album of any kind is always intimidating. Once I get started, things tend to move pretty quickly, though. I don’t want to commit to a hard deadline, but I anticipate that the album will likely be completed sometime in March, which will hopefully be around the same time that backers are receiving physical copies of Weirdwood.

I have a Spotify playlist devoted to Weirdwood that I listen to whenever I’m working on the game, but I’m not entirely sure how closely it will reflect the “official” soundtrack. Most Morana’s Breath tracks are purely electronic and don’t feature any vocals. While there may be an exception or two, I don’t anticipate putting any vocals on these tracks. At the same time, I don’t think a wholly electronic aesthetic is entirely right for Weirdwood, so there may be quite a lot of physical instrumentation. This is all speculation at the moment, though. I expect I’ll start working on the album sometime next week, so I’ll have a better idea of what it will sound like at that point.

More About Weirdwood

I’ve had a couple people ask me if I’m going to share more information about Weirdwood leading up to the release. While I’m not going to be doing a preview or anything like that, I can definitely take a few moments to talk about how the game actually works.

The actual rules system was inspired by the dice pool system used in John Harper’s Lady Blackbird. When a character takes an action, they start with one die and then add more dice for various aspects about the character that may be applicable. They can also add dice from a separate table pool for situational benefits.

Where the game departs from Lady Blackbird is with the opposed GM roll. The GM begins with one die and can add dice to their pool based on situational modifiers. Once the dice pools are created, both sides roll, and tally up even results as successes to determine who gets to narrate the outcome.

A big wrinkle, however, is that another player gets to be involved in this process. The player to the acting player’s left not only gets to define what will happen if the action fails, they can also add dice to the GM’s dice pool to make the task more difficult for the acting player. Why would they do this? Because when you succeed on a test, all of the dice you rolled go into the table pool. By adding dice to the GM’s roll, the player can get those dice back, adding them to their own pool.

Players are incentivized to add interesting complications to every situation they encounter, which can pull the narrative in all sorts of unexpected directions. There are a few other wrinkles in the form of specialized tokens, but they generally allow the player to regain dice or take control of the narrative in some way.

Creating Your Weirdwood

One of the big draws of the game is the ability to create your own version of the Weirdwood. The game provides very little detail about how the Weirdwood operates apart from a few basic qualities. Before the game begins, players will build the Weirdwood at the same time they build their characters. By answering a series of prompts, they will flesh out the local wood’s characteristics, how its magic works, a few important locations, notable NPCs in the area, and how people can enter the forest. After recording this information, the GM has a ready-made setting to begin a campaign (along with a few adventure prompts if they need help getting started).

I’ve always liked the idea that players could create a unique version of the Weirdwood and then share it with other players. While I don’t have a firm plan for how to facilitate this at the moment, I definitely want to make it possible for people to do this. This might end up taking the form of a Discord server or something similar where players can share the sheets they created during their Weirdwood creation. 

Beyond the Weirdwood

Once Weirdwood is out the door and delivered to backers, I’m going to be working on a few more projects. I’ve already teased bits and pieces of Simulacrum, a game inspired by The Matrix and Dark City where you play as independent agents trying to free human minds from a computer simulation. That game is actually quite far along, but needs a bit of playtesting to sort out potential kinks. 

I’ve also teased Wyld Sea quite a bit (you can still check out the Sneak Peek pdf), but that game probably won’t be ready for release until late 2021 at the earliest. Unlike the other games I’ve done, I think that one will require me to commission artwork. I’ve been pretty fortunate so far with public domain and free usage artwork and photos, but Wyld Sea has a pretty unique look that will be hard to capture.

There may be another game or two sprinkled in there if an idea catches my attention and I throw it together in a furious weekend of writing and editing. That’s part of the fun of working in this medium. For now, though, my primary focus is going to be on the Weirdwood soundtrack (and finishing the final installment to the Chronicle of Rostogov trilogy, but that’s another blog post for another website!).

I want to give a big thanks to everyone who has believed in and supported Weirdwood during ZineQuest 3. It’s been a truly humbling and inspiring experience, and I feel so fortunate that I’m going to be able to share this game with all of you.

If you have any questions about Weirdwood or any other Last Redoubt Games releases, please feel free to email me at pyramid@lastredoubtgames.com. You can also find me on Twitter as @last_redoubt.

News & Updates

Last Redoubt Games 2021 Update

So we’re already more than halfway through the first month of 2021 and it’s been a busy one!

First thing’s first: the final release versions of REVENANT and HOUNDS OF THE TSAR are both available on DriveThruRPG now as well as Itch.io. As of now, there are not firm plans to produce physical copies, but the idea is kicking around in the back of my mind and I may explore the idea in the future.

Second, and this was an unexpected endeavor for me, I’ve released an expanded version of THE DROWNED LANDS that greatly expands the original book into a full-fledged, standalone game. Rather than the old “system agnostic” version, this new edition features an adaptation of the simple rules system utilized in HOUNDS OF THE TSAR. I think it’s a massive improvement from the original release and is much more in keeping with my original conception of the game setting. You can purchase a digital copy from DriveThruRPG or Itch.io.

Next up, last weekend saw a rather unexpected release in the form of FASCINATION, a solo RPG written for the Record Collection 2K21 game jam on Itch.io. The challenge was to create a game inspired by a song or album. FASCINATION is based on the song “Fascination Street” by The Cure. You play as a shapeshifter going out for a night on the town to feed on new sensations and experiences. It’s a major departure from any other game I’ve done, but I’m really excited with the way it turned out. You can get it on Itch.io right now and it should be available on DriveThruRPG by the end of the week.

Last, but certainly not least, is the upcoming ZineQuest 3 Kickstarter for WEIRDWOOD. The game has gotten a complete visual redesign and is all set up for printing in a 32 page zine format. I’ll be talking about this one more as the Kickstarter launch approaches, but you can follow the project right now to receive the latest updates.

Whew! That’s quite a lot of updates! I’d like to do a better job of making regular updates on this site, but with everything going on, it might be hard to keep to that promise. Rest assured that I’ll announce new releases as they become available.

The rest of 2021 should be pretty fast-paced. In addition to the WEIRDWOOD Kickstarter, you can expect to see the release version of SIMULACRUM sometime this spring, another HOUNDS OF THE TSAR system game (really need to give that system a name!), and, if all goes well, another Kickstarter in the fall for WYLD SEA.

Until then, keep playing games and stay on the lookout for more updates!

News & Updates

REVENANT and HOUNDS OF THE TSAR Official Release!

I’m excited to announce that after years of tinkering and agonizing, I’ve finally put together the finalized versions of REVENANT and HOUNDS OF THE TSAR and made both available for purchase from itch.io.

These games have been with me for quite a while. The initial concept for HOUNDS OF THE TSAR was sketched out on a notepad during my children’s play rehearsal around 2014 or so. REVENANT is a bit newer, with the initial idea taking shape in 2018 and the first writing later in 2019.

While I would have liked to have done long periods of playtesting for both games, they’ve gone through the design ringer quite a bit and are both simple enough that any remaining issues shouldn’t be too problematic. At this point, I felt like I needed to get them off my plate so I could start moving on to other projects.

I’ve learned a lot from these games, both in terms of game and graphic design. While I may tinker with a few things here or there, I consider them to be finished products at this point and I’m eager to share them with everyone.

If you’d like to check them about, but aren’t quite ready to purchase a copy, you can still download an art-free version of each game from the Games page.

There are still a few more games on the way from Last Redoubt Games in the near future. After pushing these initial releases out the door, I’m going to take some time to learn a thing or two from the gaming communities I’ve come across to make the next wave of games even better.

For now, thanks to everyone who provided feedback on these games and I hope everyone enjoys the finished product.

revenant girl blank News & Updates

REVENANT Playtest Demo Update

After sharing the most recent version of Revenant with some folks on reddit, I got some valuable feedback and made a few key changes to the latest playtest version.

Here are the key changes:

Revenant V.3 Demo Changes

  • Changed Target “Bonds” to “Ambitions.” While Bonds represented things and people that were important to the Target, Ambitions are more targeted goals they’re seeking to achieve. I made this change because the nature of Bonds created a situation where the Revenant was incentivized to potentially harm the innocent people associated with the Target.
  • Changed Revenant “Echoes” to “Bonds.” Echoes were always a bit nebulous, but Bonds represent specific people with strong emotional connections to the Revenant. It provides them with something that anchors them to their humanity and also creates a new opportunity for Gatekeepers and the Target to fight the Revenant. This change also impacted the way the Crisis mechanic works.
  • Created a new mechanic called “Scars.” A Revenant gains a Scar whenever it allows one of its Bonds to be killed, commits an act that harms an innocent, or carries out a wantonly cruel action. Scars make it more difficult for the Revenant to channel Hatred effectively. I introduced this concept to punish a Revenant for causing collateral damage or showing no concern for how innocent people are affected by its quest for vengeance. Revenants may be mean, but they’re not evil.
  • Modified Gatekeeper Hunt and Confrontation mechanic. Slightly altered the rules regarding the Hunt roll and the way Confrontations work.
General Gaming

The Drowned Lands Revisted

A few years ago, I started planning a D&D game that was going to take place in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world where the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos had returned and left the world in ruin. I’ll admit it’s not the most original thing in the world, but I found the idea quite appealing.

The setting was called The Drowned Lands. My concept was that the players would start out in a backwater town located on a string of islands that were continuously inundated with rain. The town was ruled by a Cthulhu cult with nominal ties to a crumbling empire that once conquered the world in the name of ol’ squidface himself.

In an effort to drive home the grimdark nature of the setting, I was going to run it using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset. I then created a cool document that briefly described the world and provided a number of thematic character builds for them to choose from. The class builds were all variations on the existing LotFP classes, just with different starting equipment. I got the idea from a similar approach someone had taken to adapt the Darkest Dungeon video game for LotFP.

Unfortunately, like many great gaming ideas I’ve had over the years, we never actually got the game off the ground. The group wanted to play regular D&D, so we made characters and played 1-2 sessions before scheduling conflicts and my lukewarm interest led to the game being abandoned.

But I still had that campaign document lying around. Since I put it together using a bunch of artwork I snagged off the internet, I couldn’t really release it in any way. I briefly toyed with the idea of turning it into a dedicated RPG. While I may do that someday, I keep coming back to the question of why we would need ANOTHER rules lite OSR-style dark fantasy game. There are so many great options available for that kind of experience, I don’t see why I wouldn’t just use LotFP, Mörk Borg, or Five Torches Deep instead (or Zweihander, if I wanted something a bit crunchier).

I had a bit of free time this weekend, so I decided to go back to that document and reimagine it as a system-agnostic resource that provides the barest outline of a campaign setting and character concepts. There are no rules, but I tried to give enough material to provide the necessary inspiration to get a game like this off the ground.

The art presented a major obstacle because the original document was very art heavy in an effort to strike a particular tone. While there are a lot of free-to-use images available, it’s hard to find something that strikes the right tone. It’s also a challenge to find enough art that looks like it belongs together.

Luckily, I came across the work of a visual artist named Jr Korpa on the Unsplash website. Much of it is very abstract, but there’s a dark, sometimes sinister vibe to a lot of it that felt appropriate for the setting. Korpa has a lot of pieces available for use on Unsplash, and I managed to find enough pieces to replace all the old art.

The new version of the document ended up coming out quite well, so I’ve made it available for anyone who wants to check it out. If you’re interested in running a Mythos-style fantasy game, hopefully this will provide you with some inspiration.

One of my friends recently informed me that he wants to play a D&D game for his birthday where the characters are all evil cultists. He’s already decided that he worships The King in Yellow and is plotting to steal some valuable relic from a competing cult.

Seems like I went back to The Drowned Lands just in time…