Category Archives: Meta

This is just to say

I have taken down

the rules

to Synanthropes

that were on the navigation bar

and which

you might have considered


for your own personal interest.

Forgive me

I have big plans

for a big release

in the near future.


Okay, that was a bit silly. BUT I have removed the link to the current iteration of the game. Why? Because I have Plans, dear readers. Long-term Plans. More details will be forthcoming, but the short of it is, next year, if I can get all the logistics sussed out, there will be a Kickstarter. Oh yes.


I’m going to be at PAX this weekend!

On Saturday from 6-10, and Sunday from 10-2 and 6-10, I’ll be hanging out in with the tabletop Games on Demand folks, in room 305, where I’ll be running such classics as The Quiet Year, Fiasco, and (If I can drum up some interest), the most recent iteration of Synanthropes.

Oh heck yes. Drop by if you get a chance.

Additionally, I’ll be passing out business cards, both because I am a ruthless self-branding machine, and because my most recent clutch of business cards is, in fact, Synanthropes Lite. That’s right, the Synanthropes experience, condensed into a single card. Or, uh, six cards, if you’re going to get technical, and why not get technical, because there’s one for every species.

Anyway. I’ll be doing other things as well, to be sure, but those are the times when I can be tracked down for sure, if you want to, I don’t know, slay me, because there’s a 1% chance I’ll drop an enchanted bow or whatever.


In which Ed talks about his projects, and considers, abstractly, whether he should update the “Projects” page of this website.

…he should not.

What’s up then? WELL.

This week, This is How You Die came out. Today, I was finally able to pick up a copy for myself, and check out Tony Cliff’s AMAZING illustration to my story. It is… it is a perfect thing. The sort of image that makes me want to either get a big signed print or upper arm tattoo of Grun, lookin’ as introspective as an orc physcially can look. So man, that’s a thing.

Also, other comics and illustrations and stories, so all that’s well and good. Have you picked it up yet? No? Not even an e-book edition? Okay, well, I ain’t gonna tell you to do so, but I am going to think it pretty hard.


The Guild of Steamfitters was, for a long time, lying totally fallow as I was uncertain how to deal with a specific bit of mechanics. Eventually I opted to just wait until inspiration struck, and when it did, I jumped back in. Only, it’s not the Guild of Steamfitters anymore… it’s something new.

The working title is the Style System, and the goal is to be… sigh… a universal system. I know, I’ve asked myself the obvious question a thousand times… in a world where GURPS and d20 and FATE and Risus all exist, what makes me think that there’s room for another unversal at all? Huh?

Well. Short answer: I think that mechanically it hits a lot of what FATE does well (high narrative, pulp-heroics, etc.) while being a little more crunchy and not dependent on Aspects. Your mileage may vary on that one, but some folks aren’t super into Aspects. I like them okay, but… well, I’m often happier without them.

Longer answer: I have an idea about what I want to do with settings. You see… A lot of what makes an individual setting interesting, to me, is its mechanical interaction with the narrative… that is to say, with that the rules allow and encourage you to do (and by that token, what they forbid and discourage you from doing). To put it another way, the difference between a good cowboy game and a great cowboy game is whether the horses are treated as extensions of the character which can be ignored or entire mechanical subsystems which must be navigated. Being complex makes horses important, you see… but when they aren’t important, they shouldn’t be complex. That’s why the core of the Style system is modular rules additions. Guild of Steamfitters needs “Crafting (Inventions and Wonders of Science)” and “Factions and Reputation”. Anywhere else, those can be fudged. The Kaerlud City Guard needs “Magic” or a form specific to that city, and “Investigation and Clues” which, again, can be fudged anywhere else. Oh, you can slip in extra modules as needed, but on the whole, two should cover the important bits.

Anyway, it’s the very beginning of a huge undertaking. And if it gets to be too huge… I pull back into what I know, run it as Steamfitters, and push the base system and modularity to another time.

Book Binding. It’s my novel. It’s… I need to go over it again. I do, I always do. But it’s done, and I have a query letter, and I’m working on a synopsis and my wife made a list of agents to consider and we’re dreadfully, scarily close to the “WE DOIN’ THIS” point. Oh yah. We doin’ this.

Synanthropes. I’ve made a few changes, some big (Geckos have become the final species available for play) some small (all Rats can play music now) and some widespread (Hoard dice have become Hoard POINTS, as discussed some time ago). I’ve learned a lot from a couple playtests, and am super eager to do some more, because I’m very close to the point where the game is, like, done enough that I’ll want to spread it around. To the point where I won’t change a lot anymore. Where the oracle will be altered considerably and the legends and mysteries will be perfected and the layout will see a lot of action but the GAME will be ready to go. I might be at that point, but I haven’t been able to test the last iteration due to illness. So hey… we’ll find out soon.

And that’s where we stand on ED’S PROJECTS.

Hey folks, I know I usually try to have the game mechanic of the week up by Sunday, but I’ve been hit pretty hard by some sort of foul cold, so I’m going to lay low. GMotW should arrive tomorrow though.

Turn out the lights.

Hey there. Been quiet for a week, and likely to be for another week, because we’re about to move cross-country to Seattle.

(Incidental note: anybody out there living in Seattle want to hire a guy who’s pretty okay at writing to do… anything? Just let me know.)

So the lights here are dimmed for a little while, which…

… huh. Light.That’s interesting. Light is important; we use it to see, and sight is pretty keen. Sight takes up a lot of the brain’s processing power. Light is one of those metaphors which cross cultural boundaries… light is good and knowledge, dark is evil (or at least suspect) or ignorance. But how often is light used as a gaming tool, beyond the obvious “make sure there’s enough to see everything”?

Offhand, I can think of exactly one: Jackson Tegu’s delightfully nutty Game Chef contribution: Handle With Care. Takes place in the dark, in a city of cardboard boxes, where the players are giant monsters or a municipal light truck and just read it already.

Done? Back? Okay, well, I haven’t played the game… I don’t have the space or the boxes… but I’m keying onto the interplay of light and dark and the power structure it creates. The holder of the light is empowered, literally, because his output can destroy monsters. That’s great! There’s an emotional impact tied to a literal force! That’s one of my favorite things, the overlap of the physical universe and the game narrative. It’s not tactile, technically, but it’s got the same benefits of tactile game interactions… narrative being re-enforced at a gut level.

What else could this be used for? My heart is suggesting a crime and punishment angle… more specifically, a vigilante justice angle. Perhaps one with mechanics that center around the manipulation and trade of cards, which are invisible in the dark and only revealed when the lights come on, freezing the narrative. RIGHT, we have narrative that occurs in the dark and mechanics which occur when the lights are on, that could be interesting…

… oh wait, I’m supposed to be talking about how I’m not going to be posting for a week or two. Right. Turning out the lights for a little bit… I’ll try to have something fun to say when I get back.


If we have a single failing here at the Thought Check (and we have One. Single. Failing.), it’s that we love getting distracted by ideas in the middle of other ideas.

You see, having ideas is great. Ideas are their own reward, after all… not only does a good idea instantly satisfy, it holds with it the promise of excitement, wealth, and not having to do the stupid “work” portion of creating things… in the middle of writing that dang novel, or whatever, you say to yourself “hey, I think that I could make a Minecraft-style crafting system work in a steampunk/mad-science setting using playing cards!” and bam! Screw forcing out these words on the page, you’re over in another, better world, with graph paper and colored pencils and whatever, making a more interesting reality that, by dint of being 90% non-existent, is perfect!  Your brain fills in all the gaps, you truss up the neat bits, the world is full of smiles, and when you get to that point where you realize, crap, how are you going to render this workable… well, now you’ve got a fresh idea! What about a board game where you play as massive fighting mechs who reconstruct themselves out of the pieces of their fallen foes?


Ah, it’s a long rut we’ve been stuck in for ages, all the more damning because it’s full of the fresh and the new at every turn and doesn’t feel like a rut. We’ve been trying to force ourselves to focus, with some success, on a non-games project… specifically, we’ve been novelling, and have been since the first of the month, with a schedule which will take us through the next two months. And argh, if we haven’t reached the point where we want to hit another project right away. Still, we soldier on, because we are good soldiers.

But man, suddenly we’re thinking about how much we’d love to see House of Leaves adapted into an RPG, and how we can do this by making each player responsible for a character, a narrative voice, and a meta-narrative voice, each with different goals, personalities, and even game mechanics. How do we deal with this pull?

OH! We mention it obliquely or give it a rushed write up, to get it out of our immediate system in a place where we can look at it in a few months and say “that still sounds clever. Let’s pursue that some more.”



Oh. Hello there.

… it’s been  a right long time, hasn’t it?

Okay, well, we could say a lot of stuff in our defense if we were so inclined, and there were some mitigating circumstances involving a a cross-country car drive and an academic conference, but that’s all small potatoes and excuses. Fact is this: we let this site fall by the wayside, and in short order NOT updating became an incredibly tempting option, because the pressure of actually updating with a sort of apology and some rich, meaty content was so high.

Of course, that’s all a self-imposed pressure, but let us never claim that we are entirely rational beings.

So ANYWAY, for the past many much days, we’ve been trying to put together something awesome, to WOW! our way back into the world. This was a fool’s errand, to be sure, and a means of putting off posting AND feeling bad about it. And now we have a one-pager which is nearing completion, but the closer it gets, the more we say “no, this isn’t good enough! Forget it all!” How do we solve this?

Well, we do what we’re doing now. We come back with a little post that doesn’t say much. Let us not explode back into the scene, let us merely open the door and give ourselves a path back in. After all, success is made (for most) via small staps and consistent habits, rather than grand bursts.

Which is all to say this: Hello everybody. We’re working on a one-pager. Should be coming out next week. Woo!

Things to do with Oracles

Here at Thought Check Games, we… like… In a Wicked Age. For what it is. For the most part.

… hm. Did that come across as wishy-washy enough?

Okay, no, we do, we like IAWA. It’s fun, it’s flexible, and if you’ve got dice in your pocket and a couple of folks who are all about making a story happen, then it is exactly what you need. No planning needed, just a willingness to take a step back and let the story flow naturally, and that’s cool. That’s cool.

It’s not really what we like in games. We like our games to be gamier, and the divide between GM and player to be a little more strict. It’t just how we roll. But for what it is, IAWA is good, and you know what it has that we freakin’ love? Oracles. Oracles! So elegant! So beautiful! Have you heard of these? Pick a genre of Oracle (Blood and Sex! Nest of Vipers! The Unquiet Past! Or, the correct option: God Kings of War!), and draw a few cards from a standard deck of 52. Each card yields a lovely little genre-appropriate evocative description, and these descriptions conjure images which become characters, settings, and events. Beautiful! If you aren’t familiar with just how delightful these are, then walk with us here, if you please, pull up one of those oracles. Even if you are familiar, look at all those Oracular Hacks suited for other genres entirely! Pulp adventure, urban horror… even spelljamming! Three of our favorite things!

(Confession: the set-up isn’t so great at this particular site. Sometimes we have a deck of cards but no Internet, you see, and would prefer printed oracles, but many of these can be tracked down or approximated).

So, why do we love oracles? Well, friends, because they are narrative CHUNKS. That’s interesting. Little bits of story that can attach with ease to other bits of story. Random, for interest, but genre-defined, for appropriateness. A narrative salt, which can make anything a little more savory.  And that’s what we’d like to propose right now.. methods of using oracles as a seasoning in any old game system.

  1. Use an oracle during character generation! Okay, that was a bit of a gimme, but not to be overlooked… you can force players to have sets of characters who have some sort of relationship to one another without invoking GM’s fiat. Classy. While we’re hitting up the obvious, let’s mention…
  2. Plot generators. As a GM, draw a little web of connections… six or so nodes linked together, with one circled as “big bad evil guy”. Drop cards on the nodes. Consult the oracle. Instant vague outline of a plot. Oh, not ideal for an involved campaign, but if you need something on the quick, you could do worse.
  3. In a system in which playing cards are used as a means of task resolution, an Oracle can make the resolved task that much more unpredictable. We’re thinking, as a specific example, of Primetime Adventures… whomever wins a conflict is determined by a draw of the cards, which means that every time someone wrests significant narrative control, there are at least two cards on the table. The narrator might, for instance, grab one card from the bunch, consult the appropriate oracle, and use the image it contains as a seed for his or her description. For those who want to be surprised by their own stories.
  4. Metanarrative coupons! You know, any token which can be used to alter the way the game world works… fate points, hero points, whatever. If you can spend some points to declare that your character knows a guy who knows a guy who can disarm this bomb, you have metanarrative coupons in your game. Using an oracle, when a player drops a token, he or she summons the entity attached to the card, bringing the image from the oracle into the game world. These coupons become more limited in breadth (i.e.: if you cannot justify how the description attached to the card might help you, then you cannot use this card), but are more powerful in what they are creating. Perhaps unsuitable for something like FATE, where the economy of fate points is fairly tight and fast moving, alas, this is an idea perhaps better for games that do NOT already have a metanarrative coupon system. Think, like, D&D, where there’s very little narrative power in the player’s hands, or something like that. Perform an act of god-pleasing heroism, and you are given a little slice of fate… a card you can play at any time to change the world as you see fit. Neat, eh?
  5. We’re going to use numeral five to repeat the last one, which turned into a bit of a skimmable block of text: reward players with cards that they might play to add the entity from the oracle to the game world! Metanarrative coupons!
  6. A more specific incarnation of the above, requiring a more specific sort of oracle: clues. In a game about investigators which isn’t necessarily about investigation, if you’ll appreciate the distinction, an oracle may be made up of broadly-defined clues as to the identity of the murderer, the participants in the conspiracy, the cause of the mutations. By which we don’t mean “plan out the details and lay a trail of clues,” we mean “abstract the crime entirely… have characters gain a clue when it seems appropriate, maybe using card suits to determine if it’s something physical, forensic, recorded, or witnessed, and let them come up with their own conclusions.” Be flexible enough to keep your choice of villain parked where the clues could reasonably be pointing, and your players get to do some actual brain-straining before they move on to the mad shootouts.

Some of these we’ve done. Some, we need to try. One idea is missing, because it’s what inspired us to write this in the first place, and we’re working on making it maximally interesting. Is there anything else we’ve missed?

It’s Business Time

Do you know what businesses need?

(Infrastructures, business plans, official recognition from a civil authority, staff, coffee machines and all the other stuff like that excluded, of course.)

Businesses need business cards. OBVIOUSLY. And as we are an awesome business, we need an appropriately awesome business card, and it would only help if it were the sort of card which would show to all who might see it that we are a force to be reckoned with in whatever industry we are in. More than that, it would need to be recognizable and memorable. But you know, the most important thing, in our minds, be that the card raise important questions about what an RPG can be.

Thus, we created the Business Card Dungeon Crawl. A fantasy RPG experience crammed onto a single business card (two-sided). If you’ve got a sheet of 2-inch by 3.5 inch business cards, you could own it yourself. Print, flip, print, separate, DUNGEONS.Business Card Dungeon Crawl

Or, just click and examine the friendly thumbnail. We’re open to all options.

Is it the smallest RPG ever created? Well, no, that’s an honor bestowed upon Microdot, but we’re confident that, were you to make a list of “complete” RPGs–where we are leaving the definition of “complete” purposefully vague and even putting it in quotes to cover our own behinds–the Business Card Dungeon Crawl would be among the most minuscule of the lot. We could stuff our wallets with, like, twelve of these, easy, and be ready to run a game at a moment’s notice.

(A second card, one dedicated entirely to GM rules, tips, and hooks is probably forthcoming, though this is a game which needs none of that… it’s pretty much made for a GM to fly by the seat of his or her pants, based on what sounds fun, compelling, or reasonable (in that order) at any given moment.)

Roll 3d6, six times. In order. No re-rolls.

If there is anything so exciting as the potential behind that first moment of character generation, we don’t know it. Before the dice get rolled, or the dots assigned… before we know our clan or pick our spells or even, really, our system… before we conceive of a character at all. It’s a moment of absolute potential, where the totality of the universe is spread before us, to collapse (as waveforms so often do) into a singularity: a sneaky gnomish ranger, or devout techpriest, or reluctant urban werewolf, or some sort of crazy robot, or whatever.

Us, we’ve decided to roll up an RPG production studio. We know, we know… it’s a completely broken class, barely playable, even if we minmax out Intelligence and Creativity to 18, we get a minimal Wealth Factor and take a hit to both Spare Time and Max Energy. And this, without getting a single healing spell or trained weapon. On the other hand, it’s got an inherent +2 buff to Have Fun, which is a character concept we can get behind. So, here we are.