Saw this and had to post it.

Someone made a highly detailed and meticulously-researched diagram of the Dungeons & Dragons family tree, including both official editions, retro-clones reverse-engineered thanks to the SRD having hilariously unintended consequences, and games which straight up ripped off the D&D system without any OGL shenanigans involved (though it is notable that some such games were put out with TSR/Wizards of the Coast’s blessing, such as Empire of the Petal Throne).

I think it’s interesting as an illustration of exactly how hopeless the task is of putting out a new version of D&D that manages to be a “big tent” fantasy RPG in the way that D&D was from the White Box to 3.X. We’re living in an age where there’s not only a wide variety of visions of what a good D&D game should play like, but there’s also a retro-clone out there to cover any flavour of D&D you could hope to play. Supposedly for 5E (or D&D Next, as they’re apparently now calling it) Wizards were going to go for a hyper-modular approach, which I suppose would be the only way to do it, but the last I heard is they’ve backed away from that somewhat.


Squeeage: Only War

Hey folks, the Christmas season is an appalling time for actual play so I don’t have many qualms about making some non-Actual Play-based posts, particularly when it’s a subject I want to enthuse about.

So, I am now the proud owner of Only War and the associated GM’s kit because Fantasy Flight Games are addicted to putting out Warhammer 40,000 RPGs and I am a shameless enabler of this addiction. I could ramble in a directionless way about my first impressions but I thought it’d be more fun to pitch this post both as a place to ask me any questions you might have about the thing if you don’t already own it, or to share your thoughts if you do already own it. Given that I know two out of the three people who read this blog are shameless Warhamsters like me (and there’s a not unreasonable chance Dan owns Only War already) I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine you guys are interested.

7 RPGs Played and Run

Martin over at Gnone Stew drew my attention to this #7rpgs and #7rpgsrun thing and I thought it looked like an interesting exercise, though I don’t analyse my RPG collection to the extent that Martin does typically. The idea is that you list the 7 RPGs you have played the most, and the 7 RPGs you’ve run the most, and think about what that tells you about your gaming habits. So, here’s my breakdown:


  1. Call of Cthulhu
  2. Dungeons & Dragons 3.X
  3. Dark Heresy
  4. World of Darkness
  5. Unknown Armies
  6. Ars Magica
  7. Pendragon


  1. Call of Cthulhu
  2. Unknown Armies
  3. Rogue Trader
  4. Reign
  5. A|State
  6. Paranoia
  7. Deathwatch


  • Call of Cthulhu, in the circles I’ve circulated in, is even more of a big-tent RPG than D&D is. More or less all the gamers I’ve ever played with to more than an even moderately regular extent have been happy to play or run CoC – to the point where Call of Cthulhu would likely have been at the top of both lists if I’d compiled them at any arbitrarily-chosen point in the last 12 years or so.
  • D&D 3.X grabs the number two spot under “played” because I’m counting GMed campaigns and one-shots in Neverwinter Nights – which, granted, isn’t the traditional RPG format but when you put a GM in the mix it’s surprising how well it scratches the itch (plus having the game engine there to automate most of the system stuff makes D&D 3. X much more bearable). If NWN doesn’t count then I reckon that’d knock D&D 3.X down to seventh place.
  • Likewise, World of Darkness includes a Vampire LARP Dan once ran but I think I’m safer in arguing that that’s part of the WoD family than arguing NWN counts as playing D&D 3.X.
  • Interesting how quickly the various Warhammer 40,000 RPGs have managed to get spots on the list. It’s worth noting that for a substantial chunk of my university career my gaming time was spent playing and running various homebrewed freeform LARPs and tabletops, which obviously I haven’t included in this exercise, whereas in recent years the “only so many hours in the day” factor have made me appreciate published games much more.

Traveller: Aliens and Non-Humans

Intelligent aliens in SF RPGs – the sort who can talk and build things and sell you stuff and offer you jobs and conspire to rule the galaxy, as opposed to the sort who are basically monsters – come in two different varieties, broadly corresponding to the two different flavours of intelligent aliens offered by SF as a whole. You have your humans in rubber suits, who are no different from ordinary humans in terms of the way they think or behave 99% of the time (or take one particular aspect of the human experience and crank it up to 11), or you have aliens whose designers intend them to be properly alien, and so often have decidedly unusual psychologies which don’t necessarily seem very functional.

Traditionally, Traveller has been hyped by the fans as offering excellent examples of the latter sort. Certainly, in the default Third Imperium setting the designers made a concerted effort to try and make sure this was the case: in general, the “humans in funny suits” niche was taken by actual human cultures – descendants of peoples kidnapped from Earth back in caveman times by the Ancients and transplanted to other parts of the galaxy following a certain amount of tampering – whilst the more exotic aliens like the K’kree or the Hivers had entire supplements devoted to understanding their psychological makeup and societies.

This is cool if you appreciate Traveller as an exercise in worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. I think it’s markedly less useful in the context of actually playing the game. If, as a GM, I were seriously trying to roleplay your alien characters according to the writeups in the alien modules then I suspect one of two things would happen: either I would be so hesitant in thinking through how the aliens are going to behave that it would slow the game down or I would end up failing to distinguish the individuals as individuals, due to being so taken up with portraying their psychology as a species I won’t have time to make them distinct characters in their own right.

The Mongoose edition of Traveller includes basic stats for the more prominent aliens in the official Traveller universe. Whilst I am not using that galaxy I have no qualms about pinching ideas from it and mangling them to fit my own plans – and, in particular, to make my portrayal of said aliens easier. (For the moment I don’t want to include any alien PCs in the game, because I like the assumption of an all-human party in Classic Traveller and I think scarcity of aliens and the specialness of meeting them is mildly undermined if there’s an alien on your crew.

Continue reading “Traveller: Aliens and Non-Humans”

Traveller: Galactic History and Stellar Governance

Since my primary GMing responsibility for the near future lies with the preparation of my Traveller campaign, I thought I’d treat you folks to some of the work I’ve been doing on the background – mainly, I admit, as a spur to me doing the actual work, but still, it’s the thought that counts right? If you’re interested, the goodies are after the cut, if you don’t care about me blabbering about my homebrewed campaign setting move on, nothing to see here.

Continue reading “Traveller: Galactic History and Stellar Governance”