Top Ten Signs Your New Player Doesn’t “Get” Your Superhero RPG Game

Top Ten Signs Your New Player Doesn’t “Get” Your Superhero RPG Game

10. Whenever the PCs catch crooks who have committed a crime, the new player rifles through the criminals’ possessions and begins “treasure division” of the stolen goods among the other players.

9. All his proposed Secret IDs are characters from Star Wars. Mostly Boba Fett..

8. He tries to reboot an old Bunnies and Burrows character, as Captain Furry. Who has a “mind yiffing” psychic attack. Which he describes in over-graphic detail.

7. His first ten suggested Hero names are Stab Lad, The Stalker, Bruisertron, Gandalf, Stuff Man, Enabler, Orange Avenger, Defibrillator Dan, Restraining Order, and Boba Fett. All ten proposed names are for the same character.

6. When he finally settles on naming his hero Captain Crimson Confessor, he insists his secret cave-based church complex be called “The Apse-Hole.”

5. The term “Rao Fundamentalist” creeps into your gaming lexicon. It is not a complement.

4. When asked if he’s playing a Golden Age or Silver Age character concept, he asks how many extra gp a Golden Age character gets.

3. The new hero pawns his Congressional Medal of Honor, and uses the money gained to pay for beer and a trip to Disneyland.

2. His first character concept is a “half-hero, half-Vulcan, with Mommy issues.”

1. The character retires, to study the socio-economic factor that lead to citizens putting on costumes and committing illegal acts under assumed nom de maux.

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Fantasy Idioms

One way to add a little flavor to a person, city, or culture is to add a few useful phrases that take the same kind of place as “Who benefits?” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even just one phrase, introduced as part of a philosophy or something that’ll come up throughout a plotline, can help drive home a feel for a region,

There’s no need to overdo these, but I often find dropping in one or two can really boost player interest in a representative of a foreign or alien group. Here are some examples.

Gold sheds no tears.

The poison proves the plot.

Which god is thus glorified?

All accounts shall be balanced.

An arrow cannot recognize a king.

It need not be a dragon to burn you.

All who had the power to stop this are guilty of it.

All jackals scavenge, but even lions accept a free meal.

Those who pay the minstrel are the first to hear the song. (Yep, it’s a Patreon reference, snuck in as content. Mea culpa.)

Story Time: F. Wesley Schneider

Since Wes is leaving Paizo for new adventures, I have concluded it’s Wes story time!


The very first “Ecology of” article I got to write for Dragon Magazine was “Ecology of the Mooncalf” in #340. It was also one of the very first article I wrote with Wes as my contact person (maybe the second one I’d done for him). Wes told me by email we “might” have room from a short narrative introduction at the beginning of the article.

So I wrote a super-short short story introduction. I sent in the article, which began with about 500 words of fiction.

Wes sent me a very polite email to let me know that the article was great, but the intro was, it turned out, too long to fit. Knowing what I know now about Wes, I can tell he was just trying to let me down gently.

But at the time? I just figured I needed to trim it.

So I sent him a 350 word version.

Ah, replied Wes, politely. No, the article and art has pretty much filled the page. We couldn’t even fit in a 100-word intro.

STILL not getting the hint, I sent a trimmed-down, 75 word version.

Realizing he was dealing with an idiot, Wes just flat told me there wasn’t room for anything more than 25-30 words.
I sent him a 28-word version and, rather than continue to try to drive home to me that the article would not open with fiction, Wes just put it as a caption over the article’s art.

It read:
“Tonight I witnessed a dread omen—something foul descending through the nighttime skies as through from the moon itself.

–Galiel the Astrologer, The Last Journal of Galiel

Which I have come to realize, is MUCH more cool than the 500 word version.


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The Setup (Supers): Big Housers

The Setup is a one- or two-sentence  “high concept” for an RPG campaign or similar background.

This one is for a Supers world.

Big Housers

At 11:59:59 EST, it happened. Not at every prison, but at most of them, worldwide. Perfect spheres of bizarre energy of unknown composition, unknown source, and unknown event. Each circle was between a few hundred and a few thousand feet in diameter. It became known as the Drama.

The Drama infused people, and in rarer cases animals and objects, with spectacular (and random) powers. There are more than 2 million adult inmates in the US alone, and less than 500,000 correctional officers. In the blink of an eye more than half the people in prisons had powers… and criminals outnumbered people trying to maintain order four to one.

The chaos was instant.

No one knows exactly how many people gained powers. It wasn’t every incarcerated prisoner, guard, and administrator, but it was many of them. And sine the Drama created spheres, some few folks who simply had reason to be near prisons were also impacted. Tens of thousands of children in detention centers. Scores of lawyers with need to be with a client late at night, as well as a few law enforcement officers, witnesses to at least one execution, and at least one bus full of student athletes coming back from a late-night basketball game decided in overtime were driving by a county jail and got caught in the Drama.

All told, estimates were that 2,000,000 people, give or take, suddenly gained extraordinary abilities, 60% of them hardened criminals.

Roughly half gained some knack at or close to peak human performance, regardless of their previous physical or mental condition. Geriatric prisoners became as swift, or as fast, as Olympic athletes. Correctional officers of causal intellect became geniuses. Hardened criminals became philosopher poets. Secretaries became world class martial artist. In most cases people were affected directly, but in a few cases the power was imbued into something else. The wild dogs who later formed the Pound Pack gained human intellect. Sgt. Damian Hammer’s riot shield became nearly indestructible. The Folsom state prison’s computer network became the world’s first strong AI. But these were rare exceptions.

This level of power was quickly dubbed “one inmate” worth of Drama power, and that got shortened to 1M within a day of memes and 24 hour news cycles. But while half the subjects of the Drama got 1M, some got more. Roughly half as many 1M recipients were 2M–gaining either two forms of peak human ability, or one thing with twice the potency of the greatest human. Gangbangers able to lift 2,000 pounds, con men able to speak more than 100 languages fluently, assistant wardens able to run at 50 mph. These people from the Big House, were eventually called Big Housers more than they are called anything else.

The distribution of power followed the same rough linear pattern, one additional “inmate” worth of power being given to a group as as big. Half as many recipients who got 2M were 3Ms, and half as many 3Ms were 4Ms who had quadruple the ability of the best humans. Though the numbers were approximate, that means the distribution continued until about 1,875 Big Housers in the US alone were 10Ms.

A 1M might gain a punch with 1,000 pounds of peak force. A 3M could hit as hard as a handgun bullet.  A 10M hit as hard as an antitank round. And at about the 10M level, powers stopped being limited to things explained by science.

Flight. Telepathy. Telekenesis. Teleportation. Eye beams. Fire breath. Sonic screams. A 15m Big Houser might be “limited” to running at 375 mph and making 1,200 punches in 60 seconds… or he might have the power to turn lead into gold, or perfectly predict the next 15 seconds, or be able to regenerate a lost limb. Estimates place between 2,000 and 3,000 Big Housers in the US at 10M and higher, with a believed upper limit of 20M, but it’s extremely difficult to categorize such people. Red Hand, the crazed killer who can create a virus that causes insanity and stigmata, might be a 10M with a single inexplicable power–or he might be a 15M given his cunning, durability, charisma, and rumored ability to switch bodies. Slammer is just strong and hard to hurt, but is he 14 times peak human performance, or 18 times?


It’s been two years. More than 20% of the original Drama recipients are dead. Only roughly 10% have successfully been captured and incarcerated. Another 10-15% work for various governmental agencies, or actively work to protect the world against the rest.

But about half the Big Housers are still out there, committing crimes.

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Monday Bad Idea: Gelatinous Ghoul

Monday Bad Idea

Monday Bad Ideas are periodic, and not fully fleshed out. because, you know, they’re bad ideas.

A gelatinous ghoul is a rare from of ooze undead that generally occurs when some object an undead is connected to and which allows it to reform after destruction (sometimes the phylactery of a weak rich, or an object tied to a ghost’s reason for existence) is consumed by a gelatinous cube, but not destroyed, When the undead’s essence reforms around the object, the necromantic energies infuse the square ooze, creating a hybrid mix of gel and corpse.

Gelatinous ghouls generally look like a skull or severed head floating in a cube of transparent snot, though sometimes only a single hand or a glowing green tibia is sign of the deathly influence. Gelatinous ghouls have all the powers and immunities of both the ooze and the undead, and any ability that affects only one or the other has only a 50% chance of affecting it.

On the other hand they lack appendages, and are generally pretty ticked off (though a few ex-lich gelatinous ghouls are telekinetic, and describe the new state as “surprisingly comfy”).

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On Screwing Up

I screwed up recently (not a new or rare occurrence), which lead me to begin running down my mental checklist for how to handle that fact. I realized I’ve never talked about that checklist, and that lead to:

Screwing Up. Next Steps.    

Congratulations, you screwed up. Now what?

This is my general guide for when you screw up on what to do AFTER the screw up. It is born of my professional experiences in the game industry, and personal experiences as an uneducated depressive introvert with confrontation, communication, and time management problems.

In short this comes from a LOT of experience screwing up, but they are all a specific set of screw-ups. Your massive personal failures may vary, and I am not a trained or expert screw up therapist.

Step One: Accept and Acknowledge

These are two separate things, but they are pretty tightly linked. Let’s start with acceptance.

This is specifically a guide for when YOU have screwed up. Not when someone screwed something else up and you catch the blame, or when the universe screws things up and you have to find ways to fix it. The built-in framework here is for when, yeah, you screwed up.

So, you have to accept that.

Acceptance is important for a lot of reasons. First, without your own buy in that you screwed up, you won’t be able to internalize the lesson that screw up contains. Second, acting like you screwed up when you don’t believe you did leads to resentment, among other things.

I’m not here to tell you when you screwed up. Just to say you have to take a long, hard look at major failures, and decide if that’s your own fault. If no, then you need to manage the disaster with an eye towards those factors that DID cause it. But if you screwed up, you need to accept that fact.

Acknowledgement in this case means acknowledging the screw up to those effected. If you fail to do something you said you’d do, or do something that causes problems for others, you need to let them know that YOU know.

This isn’t the place for self-flagellation. The object here is not to garner sympathy, or make yourself feel worse, or make the people who are negatively impacted by your screw up feel worse. It’s just a heads-up that yes, there’s a problem, you caused it, and you know it. Doing this right is tricky. I find efforts to spin why or how you screwed up often get in the way of a clean and useful acknowledgement. Sometimes people need to know why or how, or ask for their own purposes, and that’s fine (if it’s not private, which it can be). But the idea in this acknowledgement isn’t to cover your ass against the consequences (but in some environments you might have to do that, and only you can make that call). The idea here is to bring the other people involved up to your level of information in a polite, professional, and straightforward way.

Step Two: Assess

Okay, this entire article assumes you have screwed up. That’s the premise. This is about finding out how BADLY you screwed up, and what led to the screw up.

Step two is really about baring down on step one as many times as you need to. I personally think accepting and acknowledging at least begin before assessing—admit you screwed up and let people know there’s an issue as soon as you are sure there is one. But right after that, figure out how big a problem you caused. If that calls for accepting that things are worse than you thought (or realizing it’s not that big a deal), and updating anyone else affected, then do that. You need the information to continue this checklist.

Step Three: Mitigate

Nope, the steps aren’t all A words.

Now that you have an idea how big a problem you caused and how you caused it, see if there’s anything reasonable you can do to fix it. What’s reasonable is going to vary, and I can’t really give you hard rules for that. Small problems, or screw ups that it is easier for someone else to fix, or screw ups so massive or personal that anything you try only makes things worse, certainly do happen. You need to see if you can fix it, and if not can you make things better, and if not what can you do to minimizing making things even worse.

Those are of course, all super vague. Lemme give some examples.

If you are working on a project for someone and you know for certain you are going to miss a deadline, you have likely screwed up. If you accept and acknowledge that fact, and assessed the screw up, you should have contacted the person you are to turn it over to and let them know you are going to miss the deadline.

The next question is, now what?

If you are only going to be a little late and the person you are working with can handle that, then mitigating is making sure you hit your new deadline. If you can’t finish the thing at all, you may need to figure out what you can do, and see if that’s helpful. And certainly, you don’t keep hiding or obfuscating that the project is going to be late in the hope you can finish it before you get pinned down. That’s not mitigation.

This may include some hard conversations with people you have let down. Again, straightforward and professional behavior is, in my experience, your best option. But you need to mitigate your screw up with appropriate levels of effort. Don’t cause more problems or become obsessed over the great lengths needed to fix a minor screw up. You can’t let even moderate screw ups take over your life. And if you can’t mitigate the damage you have done, you need to accept AND ACKNOWLEDGE for that too. People may be disappointed or even angry, but they deserve the truth.

Step Four: Learning

Most of my own screw up result from behavior I could have avoided if I had been smart or forethoughtful enough. As a result, after I realize I have screwed something up and done what I can to fix it, I want to examine what I did wrong. Making mistakes is human. Making the same mistake over and over is dumb.

Keep in mind, you often won’t get this right. It’s easy to take the wrong lesson away from an issue, or think your error was unique to a specific circumstance without recognize an underlying behavior that applies in a broader context than you think. Making a mistake about how you made a mistake is frustration, but it’s going to happen. So when you screw up, be sure to examine not only that specific calamity, but anything similar that you’ve screwed up before. In some cases, you’ll find you missed a larger lesson, and that’s your opportunity to finally learn it.

Take Away

None of this can fix the fact you screwed up, and while that’s unfortunate it’s also okay. Everyone screws up from time to time. Hopefully you’ll screw up less often than I do, and you won’t need a mental checklist of how to handle such situations. But because everyone screws up occasionally, I have found that when you tackle you own screw ups with honesty, clear communication, and an effort to fix both the issues you cause and the underlying problems that lead to the screw up, people are generally understanding. Not everyone, of course, but you can never control the behavior of other people. You can only control what you do, and imperfectly at that. Which is what makes handling your own screw ups in an adult and reasonable manner so important.

My Patreon

Changing topics entirely, I want to let folks who haven;t read the end of one of my articles before know I have a Patreon. It’s how I justify taking the time to write a lot of this material on my blog. I’d love your support.

Empress of the Geeks Day and WorldCon 1984

Mother’s Day Story

Every year for the past many years, I have for Mother’s Day told a story about my mother, Empress of the Geeks. Most stories I have told more than once. About how she was a GM for a group of young boys not because she was a fan of RPGs, but because we wanted to play and no one else would run a game for us. About how she used those opportunities to sneak in educational missions at the end of each game, making us look up a definition of democracy to negotiate with lizardman tribes, or have to know all the States and their capitals to represent researching into ancient kingdoms.

Or the story of her saving Christmas by figuring out what to give an entitles little brat (that’s me) who refused to tell her what he wanted for Christmas other than “adventure.”

But I don’t think I have ever told the story of my mother and my first WorldCon.

I was introduced to D&D in 1982, and by 1984 I was buying D&D, Gamma World, Tunnels and Trolls, Arduin Grimoire, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, Dragon Magazine, miniatures, dice, and so on. I was hooked.

My mother took me to my first science fiction convention in 1983. It was a tiny affair in my home town of Norman, OK. I’d guess attendance was 500 or so. It was a one-shot con that never took off.

And then in 1984, she took me to WorldCon, in Anaheim, CA. My sister didn’t want to go. My father didn’t want to go. But I did, and my mother did, and she set a financial goal for me (to be met mostly mowing yards, mostly for my grandparents) early in that year. I met it, and she booked flight and hotel rooms… and gave me half the money back as spending cash.

She set down ground rules… but they were amazingly lax given my age. And then she… trusted me.

This was a 4-day convention. Cell phones were not an option. I was barely a teenager. And she trusted me to set my own schedule, get my own meals, handle my money, and not do anything stupid.

Well, not do anything TOO stupid.

I listened to panels with Gordon R. Dickson and Jerry Pournelle. I shared a bus-ride to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh. I saw Robert Heinlein. And I gamed.

Oh lord, how I gamed.

Homebrews. Boardgames. Card games. Miniature games. As I recall, my first introduction to Car Wars, Warhammer 40k, and Champions. I had my first TPK. I had my first game that ran past midnight. I played a Gamma World game where the PCs ended up going back in time, coming to the convention center, finding the room we were playing in and, under a cloak field, debated whether nor not to kill us, the players and GM, to prevent us from thinking up their cursed world—WHILE we roleplayed that event. And I won’t lie… at that age, with that much Mountain Dew in my system, at 2am… the idea my own PC was arguing to kill me freaked me right now.

I ordered my first steak dinner by myself. I took my first taxi ride by myself. I went to the release party for the last issue of the first series of ElfQuest comics, got into a drum circle, met an older girl, and had a puppy love weekend con romance with her as she made appointments to hit specific games with me.

I saw my mother every day, at least once. She made sure. She asked how I was doing, checked that I had money for food, made me tell her my approximate plans. We had a legal pad in the hotel room, and we each wrote down where we were going… at least roughly.

The freedom had a major impact on my ability to trust myself, and it all came from the fact my mother trusted me. But her main accomplishment in this regard wasn’t that weekend.

It came in the weeks and years before, when she raised me to be a child she felt she could trust. I didn’t make that easy. And I know she must have had reservations. In retrospect, I can see some of the slack-giving moments that came before, and at, that con.

And while yes, I did some stupid things, I survived just fine.

And it was a major watershed in my life.

And she made it all possible. She knew when to hold my hand… and when to let go.

Thanks, Mom.


My mother’s also pretty pragmatic. She absolutely won’t mind that I use a story about her to boost my patreon, where you can support me in writing these stories, and my other geekly productions.

The Persistent Places in my Dreams

I have, since I was a child, had a few persistent places that show up repeatedly in my dreams.

So, I name them. To give me power over them.

Sadly several are where I have my worst nightmares. The Bad House. The Field of Discarded Things. Sometimes when I realize I am in one of these places in a dream, the name lets me identify it as unreal, and I can wake up. Some I have eliminated entirely, at least I think. I haven’t had a dream on the Storm Road in years.

Others are places where I have dreams that are more disturbing than frightening–rarely pleasant but not true nightmares. The Park Under the Moon. The Walking Garden.

But sometimes, and almost always only just before an alarm wakes me, I get to go to the Springlands.

And that makes the rest of it all worthwhile.


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The House the Jedi Bought


Years and years ago, when applying for the mortgage on my previous house, the mortgage underwriters just kept not being sure that my 100% freelance income could be considered stable or reliable enough to give me a mortgage based on my previous decade of constantly having money and paying bills. This was exacerbated by the fact we had avoided debt, and thus avoided things like credit card and car payments that boost credit reports.

Our mortgage agent got increasingly frustrated (with the underwriters, not us), and after weeks of this back-and-forth, and asking for more documents, and unexpected delays, she just asked if I could provide ANYTHING else to suggest my freelance rpg career should be considered more than a hobby.

Flippantly, I said the underwriters could do a Google search on my name, with my middle initials included.

The mortgage agent raised an eyebrow, and I told her I was the first hit on Google with my full published name, and the first few results it would link me to official Star Wars products.

She did a search, sent an email to the underwriters, and we got approved within 24 hours.

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Spring Elves

Spring Elves

Spring elves are between 25 and 110 years old—physically adult, but still in what staid and traditional elven society considers their “Spring Years,” too emotional and impulsive to be allowed to leave the safety and education of the home. They are essentially eternal teenagers, sure of their own intellect and ability, but largely incapable of considering the long-term consequences of their actions—a particularly troubling trait for the long-lived race. Spring elves are always, always supervised and watched over by older, most experienced elves, and kept from adventure, and as much as possible kept from any decision-making. While spring elves are physically and mentally capable of the same kind of training and education as young humans, these decades are a time when they are so wild, so free of consideration, that over the course of eight decades they only manage as much preparation for life as a typical human manages by age 16.

However, in rare circumstances, a spring elf lacks any of the careful parenting and sheltering from life the races has learned from long experience is necessary to prevent the just-post-adolescent elves from setting the world on fire. For example, the Elves of Solstice are an entire race rules by spring elves, given power and authority with no sense of responsibility. And the gods help everyone else.

Spring Elf

Standard Racial Traits

Ability Score Racial Traits: Spring elves are nimble and amazingly likable, and still have their youthful resilience, which is the only reason they aren’t all killed for weeklong benders and experimental magic, but they lack the intellectual focus of properly raised, adult elves. They gain +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, and –2 Wisdom.

Size: Most spring elves are Medium creatures and thus have a 30 foot base speed and receive no bonuses or penalties due to their size. Some are still size small, and have all the normal bonuses and penalties for that size and a base move of 20 feet.

Type: Elves are Humanoids with the elf subtype.

Languages: Spring elves begin play speaking Common and Elven. Those with high Intelligence scores are drawn to “fun” languages and can choose from the following: Abyssal, Aklo, Cyclops, Dark Folk, Draconic, Gnome, Necril, Protean, and Sylvan. See the Linguistics skill page for more information about these languages.

Keen Senses: Spring elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.

Impulsive: Spring elves gain a +2 bonus to Initiative checks, but they cannot delay an action (though they can ready), and take twice as long to take 20 on skill checks (as they are constantly distracted).

Elven Proclivities: Spring elves are immune to magic sleep effects, but take a -2 saving throw penalty against enchantment spells and effects. They gain a +2 bonus to charisma checks, and to the save DCs of their own enchantment spells and effects.

Low-Light Vision: Spring elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.

Reckless Abandon: A spring elf can reroll a single attack roll, ability check, skill check, or caster level check (but not concentration check) per encounter, immediately after determining the result of a failed roll. However, if the spring elf does this, the GM earns an impulsive token. The GM can later spend a token to force the spring elf to move to anyplace within the spring elf’s base move that is not obviously hazardous, as the spring elf is overcome by an impulse. This can begin a fight, set off a hidden trap and so on, though the spring elf gains +4 to AC and a +4 to saves against the initial effect of anything set off by this impulsive move.

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