Category Archives: RPG Writing

All the eggs in one basket-array

Module Research Notes

Or: Old Man Yells At Clouds!

For context: I’ve been putting quite a lot of work into editing the Crux SRD/Core book and have been looking over the document (Currently sitting at around 237 pages, huzzah!) quite extensively to make sure it’s legible, coherent and, hopefully, engaging. To this end, I also started doing some research on adventure modules, and layout, to see how established RPGs are doing things these days.

Our tale begins…


It started off as an innocent-enough conversation with my D&D group about players being players, and the inevitable derailment of a carefully orchestrated campaign, often brought on by nearby shiny things and the conversation started veering towards a particular subject that’s rather close to my heart at the moment.

A certain degree of plot derailment is inevitable, and one of the skills a GM needs is the ability to rein in their players desire to run off after shiny things too much, while still giving them enough agency to have fun within the game. Too much structure, you’re railroading, not enough, you’re in an aimless sandbox. There’s a happy medium.

A common trick (and one that I certainly use) is to structure the story’s plot around a series of encounters and set-pieces and shoehorn them into the narrative as best you can, providing a pretty organic experience, somewhat tailored to your players, while having a lot of narrative wiggle-room should events not run according to plan.

This isn’t normally something that you can do with a module/adventure path/whateversplat.

Or is it?

Providing some kind of narrative leeway within a narrative tends to be viewed as lazy writing, especially from a continuity perspective. Any connective content, be they random encounters or planned diversions on the way are often quite threadbare, with very little lasting impact over the main events. I don’t think that they have to be.

So, thinking about this, what would I want if I were writing a module for Crux?

I would love to see a GM’s resource ‘module’ that has a synopsis of overall plot arc/timeline, broken down into a series of setpieces, with several encounters and events each. These in turn are bridged by a series of adventure hooks for the purpose of player engagement, along with suggestions of how they could be folded back into the main plot, tying everything together.

It was recommended that I take a look at Curse Of Strahd, the 5e Castle Ravenloft module/campaign book. The art and presentation of the book overall looked really impressive. Looking closer, the way the information was presented was awful.

Immediately, it reminded me of running Hoard Of The Dragon Queen – where each adventure required me having to rewrite and edit the book’s content into my own notes almost in its entirety before I had anything like workable GM’s notes. Forgotten Realms remains one of my favourite campaign settings, but the amount of mental grind necessary to prepare what is a pretty lacklustre adventure path into a viable condition was not an enjoyable experience.

Foolishly, I quickly skimmed over to Castle Ravenloft itself, something I was familiar with from previous editions, and I beheld this:


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K73? How many individual rooms are annotated in here? 80 it turns out. Granted, some of them have meaningful and pertinent encounters in them, but having to sift through a bunch of maps with a nice-looking but ultimately unhelpful isometric perspective, which you’re just going to have to collate for your own reference (before copying it out once again to either a battlemat or roll20) is just busywork. And all of these 8 or so different maps over half as many pages again all have entried beginning with K? This may just be my ADHD talking, but isn’t that a little convoluted? I get that they’re all in one building, but perhaps a little compartmentalisation would be better design? Perhaps break the individual encounters that are adjecant to each other into shorter sub-sections that are covered over a page or two referenced over an infographic map/table of contents at the start of the chapter.

I needed a palate cleanser. As a comparison, the first chapter of Jade Regent, the Paizo adventure path. While I have my own issues with 3.x (which I will not go into now, I’ll never get back on track.), I remember that the adventure paths were always rich and well-written, both for GMs and casual readers alike. Let’s see how this fares…


What’s this? Multiple smaller maps with a much lower encounter count per map. Yes! This is immediately much more accessible. AND a campaign outline. In terms of ergonomics and layout, this is far better. Much more context for the content, and seems far richer in terms of substance, as opposed to relatively sparse, empty data, punctuated by the occasional box text
(I’m really not a fan of box text).

And this pretty much illustrates the focus/scope issue I find to be an issue with the WoTC stuff. Part 1 of Jade Regent is 91 pages for Levels 1-3, as opposed to 258 pages for levels 1-10, As a game resource, JR is much better. For want of a better term, I don’t think it has the same level of love/dedication put into its creation. Curse of Strahd seems to be mechanically fine, and the information is there, it just seems, ironically, dry and soulless in comparison.

The current D&D content offers adventures that are massive in scope, such as Tiamat, Elemental Evil and so on, which is epic, nay, world-shaking in scope, but seems too focussed on the grand scheme of things, such that the little details like the flavour of the setting is really missing from the play experience. Bring it in to start with, make it vivid and then as our characters horizons slowly broaden, the full extent of the plot is revealed. You can’t just burst out the full spectacle immediately, as that often gets diminishing returns… Your first dragon is almost always more memorable than your ninth.

I will concede that comparing these two is something of an apples/oranges situation; one is a sandbox pseudo-setting, the other is a pretty linear adventure path. That having been said, the amount of context, setting and detail provided in Jade Regent means that I would be more than comfortable improvising some content in and around the adventure path as it stands, and engaging directly with the material, as opposed to a sterile bunch of encounters designed as a sandbox, as there’s far less content to riff off, and this lack of enthusiasm would probably be felt by the players.

So, what am I taking away from this rant-cum-analysis? What am I likely to bear in mind when compiling an adventure, module or campaign?

  • We’re going to favour flavour and context over sheer weight of content (like quality over quantity, but with more steps).
  • There’s a right and a wrong way to present information. Keep it simple. Break things down.
  • Scope and focus matters. If grand events and derring-do are what you’re going for, great! It is, however, possible to lose your engagement with the events and setting if things are always running at full tilt. This is why you can’t remember specific events in a Michael Bay film to any significant degree. Don’t get lost in the spectacle.
  • Contrast large events with equally important smaller ones. To the PCs, everything that happens has the potential to matter to them, should they engage with it.
  • I really do pick the weirdest hills to die on.

In closing, I’d like to thank Stephan Lewin for helping me formulate this rant-essay-thing by providing counterpoints and suggestions in aid of my fevered rantings, and allowing this diatribe to be a lot less Old Man Yelling At Clouds than the subtitle may suggest.



Grappling (with changes).


…but change isn’t always bad.

A short while ago, Matt and I had a meeting with Ed Jowett of Shades Of Vengeance, where we took a look at the first draft of Crux as it exists, and tweaked some elements in the game mechanics, after a little playtest – hopefully the first of many.

Things that we have changed:

Stat ranges and skills, dice tricks.

We found that the dice tricks for increasing skill ranks didn’t exert enough influence compared to the effect of raw attributes, especially in very high instances, so, for example, a Stygian Diplomancer (maximum possible presence) could bruteforce their way through nearly any social encounter on the weight of the attribute alone, and any social skills didn’t have as much weighting in the roll as they ought to.

Consequently, the attribute ranges have been reduced to a maximum of 6, plus any bloodline bonuses, and the skills will be given equal weighting, ranging from 1-6 as well. This keeps dice pools about the same size overall, so difficulty ratings don’t need to be changed.

The exploding/cascading mechanic is still present, but is now simplified, and means that *any* use of Conviction will now drastically improve the success on the dice roll, not just at the highest skill tier.

Character creation needed something of a revamp to reflect some of this as well. We decided that using a similar skill allocation pool to what was used in Corporation would be the most efficient, as it has been proven to create competent, rounded characters.
Some skills were also clarified and merged together, and some pared away, to reduce redundancy.


Talents remain in 3 tiers, but the progression is a lot more streamlined, with non-combat Talents having one or two specialised progressions within them. We found that some Talents were surplus to requirements, as the skill already should have been able to cover their function. Out they go!

Combat Talents are still fairly freeform, and allow for a more ‘pick and choose’ approach to their selection. Given Close Combat is a single skill, there’s a fair bit to choose from – we’ve kept the weapon styles and keywords, and also added things on top of this.

New Things.



Who says you can’t use weapons?

Our rules for grappling, such as they are weren’t very substantial, and we didn’t see there being much of a call for them. Apparently not. In response, we’ve thrown together a new set of rules, plus a heap of combat Talents to allow characters that wish to grapple to capitalise on their skills. Armbars everywhere!

It works a bit like this:

1. Establish a clinch.

Roll either Strength or Agility (players choice) + Close Combat against the opponent’s melee Defence. This attack deals no damage but renders both combatants Grappled until the clinch is broken. Any net successes are added toward the attacker’s submission total.

(The Grappled condition means that the affected character is unable to apply their Defence to incoming actions, or use a Disengage action until the clinch is broken.)

2. Fight for position.

The combatants act in their usual combat order, and may choose to roll either Strength or Agility + Close combat for their attacks. Any successes on the attack rolls may be allocated to different tasks, as the combatant sees fit:

  • To deal damage to their opponent. This bypasses worn armour, but not innate AV.
  • To add to your opponent’s submission total
  • To lower your own submission total.
  • If your submission total is 0, a success may be used to break the clinch, and disengage from the grapple.

3. Submission

If either combatant’s submission total reaches 10, their opponent is considered to be pinned, and may only act to break the pin. This requires beating their opponent’s Defence on a grappling roll, after which combat returns to Fighting For Position.

Grappling and Wrestling Talents may take advantage of the submission total in order to deal additional damage, but break the clinch when doing so, requiring it to be re-established in a subsequent action.

Book Composition:

While writing Crux, Matt and I have very much been detailing as much of the world as we can, and the scope is a little too much for a simple core book, our corpus being more of a systems reference document. Consequently we’re going to be moving some of the more ‘splatbook’ elements out to an expansion, along with some of the more esoteric factions. So, we’re working on not one book, but two!


Instead of writing a summary, I thought this Mitchell and Webb sketch seemed to cover all the bases.

Until next time, take care and Hard Love


Shard Prospecting: Dungeons Reimagined


The classic dungeon-crawl is something rather close to many of our hearts; a series of challenges, puzzles and monsters that the players overcome through a combination of guts, ingenuity and often, luck.

Thing is, they’re not always easy to incorporate into settings outside of classic fantasy without seeming a little out of place, or perhaps contrived. You’ve got raids on enemy estates or installations in cyberpunk games, or heists in your spy-thrillers – even the good old-fashioned tomb-raiding, whether for treasure, or forbidden knowledge.


What can Crux offer you that’s different?

One of the major features of the setting are the Shards, each a fragment of a world that has ended, due to one circumstance or another. Each of the existing nations of Crux is a stable shard, but often, fragments of worlds will materialise out of the wastes of the Betwixt, only to be swallowed by the storms around them, as well as the entropy they bring with them. They are dangerous places, but also rich in resources and treasure, so are a sought-after commodity.

And where there are sought-after commodities there are people who are willing to pay through the nose to get what they want.

Enter the players…

You get the chance to be the lucky miscreants who trawl through the ruins of dead cities, with implausible architecture, strange dangers, curious conditions and maybe even survivors. Most likely, you won’t be the only ones…


What does this mean?


Awesome Set-Pieces!

Most dungeons are simply a bunch of ‘encounters’ or set-pieces strung together, hopefully underpinned by a common theme – with a newly arrived Shard, the sky’s quite literally the limit – sky-bridges, tall towers, beautiful gardens, a mansion full of antiques, – There’s no need to keep to the dungeon aesthetic, as these things materialise out of thin air, and you’ll be among the first to explore them.


Odd Environments!

These environments can be either very familiar, or as wild and strange as your GM’s imagination can envision – crystals that generate anti-gravity fields, giant psychoactive mushrooms or a water-park  long since overgrown or even a burned-out chemical plant. The environment can deliver new experiences and new dangers every time, so going in blind isn’t necessarily a good idea. Look before you leap!


Intrigue and Politics!

Unless you’ve managed to bribe someone for the insider knowledge, you’re not likely to be the only ones on the scene for very long. Other prospectors also have patrons and sponsors, from all over Crux, with different agendas, who have their own plan for the spoils. They might even pay more than your current employers…


Different Ways To Approach Things!

Unstable shards are normally approached in one of three ways:

  1. Temporarily stabilise the shard, to get the most resources out of it before it disintegrates.
  2. Attempt to permanently stabilise the shard, to either extract it, along with any survivors, or settle it, and run the risk of it becoming unstable again, or worse…Dragons!
  3. Collapse the shard, with the hope of seizing the fundamental essence of the world, reality-pearls, and gain the ability to shape destiny itself. Tales of those who have managed it are few and far-between, but all of them agree, things get very strange once the shard, and the reality it sits in starts breaking down.


Unconventional Escape Routes!

Have you ever wanted to escape from an imploding cityscape clutching onto a harpoon’s winch cable, being spooled up onto a magitech zeppelin? Here’s your chance!


Also, Random Generation!

We’re also throwing together a means of randomly generating Shard encounters or themes, so that, should you literally be drawing a blank, there’ll be something that you can produce through the Power Of Proctomancy. We’re going to be testing whether we can use a normal 52-card deck, and possibly a Tarot deck as well. Watch this space for more on that!

All of these elements can be part and parcel of your dungeon-crawling experiences, but they don’t all happen in context – in Crux, they’re not handwaved, they’re part of the setting.   

Hope that’s piqued your interest…

Until next time, hard love,

Tom Cole


Playtesting: it begins…


One of the Ultharine Cats, out in the wilds.

So, we’re approaching completion, in terms of writing up the initial content and before we head towards the crowdfunding, editing, layout, and the rest of the frankly terrifying daunting prospects, we get to indulge in one of the more fun aspects of putting an RPG together.


Why do we do this?

First off, we want to establish a few things:

Do the mechanics work? What do we need to change? What have we missed?

While, having designed the system, and crunched the numbers on the probability end of things, it’s always good to prove that the mechanics work. Not only that, but they feel right. Is combat streamlined and elegant? How lethal is it? Is it too lethal? Are we using the right terminology across the board?

Which leads to: Are the rules accessible? Things ought to be clear and concise, with little room for ambiguity. Letting others look this through will give us the chance to see where we mightn’t have been clear, and fix things.

The main thing we’ll be looking at here is the overall feel and balance of the mechanics, and tweaking the errant values accordingly


Does the setting feel right? What have we missed? Again, what should we change?

This is probably going to be requiring a couple of passes, running a few scenarios in different places. We’ll be attempting to gauge the feel of the fluff and worldbuilding, as opposed to the crunch. Do any of the names or terms sound clunky, silly or possibly offensive? This is where we seriously consider changing them.

Is it fun?

That strange, ephemeral thing. If it’s not fun, then we’re doing something wrong, and should probably go back and do something about it. This sounds really obvious, but there may be little things that serve to make things “not fun”; little inexplicable details that can turn something from bad to good, or even from great to awesome. This is the “none of the above” category, where we find things to tweak that are neither rules or setting, but equally important to bringing the game together.


This is more or less a mission statement for our initial playtesting sessions. Once these are underway, expect game summaries, a list of session quotes that are either bad-ass or made us laugh, along with the occasional exposé on in-universe things and mechanics.

Until then, Hard Love

Tom Cole

Designing Campaign Locations


When running a campaign, or several stand-alone adventures that take place in and around a specific location, its often sensible to populate the players’ sandbox with details – not just the elements that make up the adventures themselves, but details that give the setting a life and character of its own, and more things for players to interact with. Growing this sense of participation and investment is key to getting players on board with your narrative.

It’s far easier to show this by means of a worked example, and, while doing so, we can demonstrate some of the emergent details that come about as a part of the process. Not all of these details are directly useful, but the conclusions we reach coming to them help us get a feel for the setting and provide interesting avenues for development.

Development Questions:

What is it?

What purpose(s) will it serve?

Consider what the location represents, both in terms of its purpose, in-terms of the story, as well as to the players, and in general. Nowhere exists in a vacuum, and many locations are built for a reason.

What features or facilities will it need to accomplish them?

Fairly self-explanatory; a military outpost will need barracks, an armoury and so forth, while a research station will need workspaces. Once you know what the location was built for, you should be able to work out the necessary features, and flesh things out from there.

What makes it memorable/stand out?

Is there anything about the area the location is in that makes it unusual? Perhaps it has a freshwater spring, or a rock-face illuminated by phosphorescent moss. What does it look like? Is there a strange tone to the light, or is the main square fragrant with the scent of fresh spices and baked bread?


How does it fit into the setting

How do folk reach this location? Is it connected by the rail network, or is it off the beaten track? If it produces goods, or needs to import resources, how do they get there, and how regularly?

How does the location work/function?

What are the day-to-day operations that happen in the location? Is there a daily routine, or do things vary from one day to the next?  Are there disruptions to the routines? What consequences does it have?

How will the players relate to the location?

Do they live here? Are they visiting? Where do they live, and in what kind of conditions? Do they have business here?


Who are the power-players?

Who is in charge, and who holds influence? Are they popular, tolerated or reviled? Why? Consider defining the power structures, and working out how they conduct themselves.
Are they held apart from the general population, or do they prefer to be one of the crowd?

Who are the normal people?

What’s the mood of the general populace? How do they live? Are they well-off, or living hand-to-mouth? What kind of lifestyle do they have? What do they do in their leisure time?

Who do they (the PCs) know?

Contacts, friends, and acquaintances will define the players’ interactions, so it’s good to work out who they know – design a couple of NPCs, and work out how what they can provide for the players.


Example Location: Hive Unity


What is it?

A Hive-City built on the borders of the Hivelands to serve as both a trading installation and embassy. A settlement spreads out from the base of the hive, and this serves as a melting pot for cultures passing through to do business.

The main components:

A skyport, for Hivelands airships

An embassy, and offices for diplomats

A marketplace

A rail terminal

A surrounding town, which may or may not be a wretched suburb of scum and villainy.

What makes it different?

Most Hivelands settlements are homogenous and regimented, while Unity is a melting pot for the Hivelands’ interactions with the rest of Crux. By virtue of its embassy, there’s the opportunity to meet all manner of foreign dignitaries, as well as the potential for all manner of incidents to occur.

In terms of the place in the setting, it’s a transport and trade hub, which means that it’s easy enough for plotlines to involve it, even if just passing through. An operation of this scale, in terms of both trade and diplomacy, will require substantial organisation, so there has to be people working to this end, along with people who seek to profit from exploiting the goings on..

Government structure:

The overall running of the Hive is taken by a pair of administrators, the Logistician and the Vigilant who deal with daytime and nocturnal matters respectively.  Below them are a team of specialists who deal with particular areas of expertise

The main specialists in Hive Unity, and their areas they govern, are as follows:

The Sentry: The skyport, air traffic and signals

The Adjutant: The embassy, visiting dignitaries and matters of culture

The Quartermaster: The market ward, flow of goods and running of the trains and wagons

The Sapper: The Undercroft, keeping public order, maintainence and amenities, information gathering.

The general populace

As well as housing visitors, and traders, the Undercroft is also home to several criminal gangs, who are allowed some leeway to pursue their enterprises provided it’s kept within reasonable levels.  In return, they act as an unofficial city watch within the Undercroft, dealing with problems quickly and discreetly. This sidesteps the necessity of calling out the Hive Garrison for every minor disturbance.

The soldiers of the Hive Garrison are usually present in a ceremonial capacity, on guard or on parade. Otherwise they are on standby to deal with any serious threats to Hive Unity. As befits their role, many are decorated veterans and are expected to set a brave and heroic example when in the public eye. This is to humanise Hiveland soldiers in the eyes of visitors, and to showcase their impressive regalia.  

The Undercroft

The Undercroft spreads out radially from the base of the Hive, repurposing and adapting the pre-fab buildings as they go, leading to a uniform state of wear and tear throughout the wards. It seems that even the Hivelanders’ urban squalor is efficient and functional.

The tried and tested construction methods also are evident in one of the more disconcerting aspects of the Undercroft: The wards are essentially identical in terms of layout. Some buildings may be used for different purposes, Over time, the Hivers of the Undercroft have started to adopt the quirks and convention of the Outsiders and are attempting to turn their houses into homes, with rather mixed results. It is for this reason that artists from the Hivaland enclaves passing through to the world outside are sought after by the Crofters for their expertise on matters aesthetic.

NB: Each ward is build on an identical, modular plan, so that amenities and resources can be distributed efficiently.

On Art:

Hivelander iconography and craftsmanship is exemplary, but even this is a functional choice. It’s designed to inspire allies, give enemies pause, or to cultivate a mystique. The concept of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ is regarded as an almost paradoxical idea by the common Hivers. Although the strange contemplative pilgrims who leave their enclaves into the world outside would certainly be familiar with, and promote such an idea.

Emergent detail I

Addresses in the Undercroft are given a particular form, so that navigation can be easily achieved, which has the unique side-effect that most of the pedestrian traffic goes in one direction.

The form is as follows:

Ring (inner to outer),

Ward (from the gate, going clockwise)


House number.

This would be written as 1/4/2/16, for instance, operating in a similar manner to a post/zipcode.

The Hive Structure

Most of the tower of Hive Unity is taken up with the administrative and logistics offices alongside the grandiose diplomatic chambers. The usually spartan hive-interior is festooned with impressive iconography and metalwork, lending an almost Art Deco feel to the decor

The cosmopolitan attitude of the Undercroft is in stark contrast to the harsh professionalism present in the diplomatic chambers. It is uncertain whether this is down to the societal prejudices holding on since before their shardfall, but there is certainly something unusual lurking beneath that diplomatic vaneer. It’s not to say that they are unpleasant, more unnervingly aloof, their manners too perfect – some would go so far as to say “soulless”.

Many diplomats are also members of the Hivelands’ intelligence corps, and their training and ideological conditioning is evident when they’re acting in an official capacity, Of course, when they’re operating off the record, they’re no different from the next person, they wouldn’t be effective spies, otherwise…

Emergent detail II

The skyport, as well as providing mooring for airships, contains several arrays of cranes, ramps, winches and freight elevators to ferry cargo up and down the hive structure itself. Most are powered by steam engines, which can also be employed to shunt down the heavy freight brought in by rail.

The lifts are controlled by a series of threaded pillar, encircled by a triple bearing ring. Rotating the pillars raise and lower the platforms with remarkable efficiency, and are nearly silent. This particular mechanism is called a “ball screw”.

On that particular turn of phrase, I’ll take my leave, I think, before phrasing becomes a thing again.

Hard love,

Tom Cole.

Cruxmas Time: Talents



It’s behi…oh never mind…

So, the festive period is beginning to die down, we find ourselves running low on leftovers, and realise that perhaps we ought to be doing something, whether this is the case or not. With this in mind, I present to you a quick look at how we intent to be managing Talents, which determine all the wonderful and unusual tricks that your character can do; the things that make you special.

The Talents are organised into three categories, so you can choose to favour one of these three character archetypes, although in play, you won’t be tied to any particular bias in this case; they just provide a rough guide to your character’s initial calling.

They are:

SAGE: Knowledge and technical ability

SWINDLER: Social ability and finesse, as well as the shadier side of things

SOLDIER: Martial and physical supremacy.

The various Talent Trees within these categories are divided into three levels of proficiency, each of a greater power than the one before. Within each of these levels, we have individual Talents, which are special tricks (Or Feats, if you will, if you’ve been playing D&D for ages, like I have). Many higher level Talents have prerequisites, which will be listed in their description. Frequently you’ll need to learn a couple of lower-level Talents, before you can progress to a higher level one. It follows, after all, that you’d have to learn the basics, before you start picking up the deeper mysteries.

I’m going to assume that you have been through the previous article, so the system shouldn’t be too arcane. So, without very much further ado, here’s an example of one Talent Tree from each of the archetypes, plus a handy flowchart so you can see how one could progress through the trees.

The flavour text is meant to be evocative of what the Talent does, and not a canonical explanation of its sole application. If, like me, you are a fan of describing awesome stunts, try and think about cool variants on this…


Arcane Theory

This deals with the understanding of the workings of magical devices, auras and magical phenomena, and how they interact with the world.


Jayce from Magic: The Gathering – probably quite good at theory

Arcane Theory Flowchart


Proficiency Level 1

Discern Enchantment

Your understanding of the ebb and flow of magical energies allows you to intuitively understand the nature of any enchantments present on any device you are in physical contact with, and how to use them. No roll is required.

Attune Any Item

Prerequisites: Discern Enchantment

Normally, the process of attuning an item so that  you can harness its arcane properties requires a ritual so that the energies of the item and your aura may harmonise with each other. With enough training and understanding, you are able to extend your etheric sense into the item and integrate with it instantaneously. To do so requires the expenditure of one point of Conviction. You may unbond items from yourself with equal ease.


You are able to recognise the telltale marks of different magical guilds, allowing you to determine what powers a practitioner possesses. Make an Analysis+Arcane Theory roll against a difficulty equal to the obscurity of the magical guild upon meeting them, each success reveals one fact about the nature of the guild’s powers, or tricks they are likely to possess.

Seal Enchantment

Prerequisites: Discern Enchantment

Just as you are able to implicitly understand the workings of a magical device, you are able to put measures in place such that they are prevented from functioning. By spending a point of conviction while in contact with an item, and making an Arcane Theory roll, a number of magical enhancements equal to your successes the device are disabled, such that a user, apart from the seal’s caster must spend a point of  their own Conviction to gain access to them again. After this, the device functions as normal; the seal is broken.


Proficiency Level 2

Control enchantment

Prerequisites: Seal Enchantment

By spending a point of Conviction, and committing an Aura Slot, while in contact  with a device, you are able to establish a connection to the enchantment placed on an item or device. After you have done this, you may cause the device to activate its enchantments, shut them down as per Seal Enchantment, or use any other Arcane Theory talent that would affect the enchantment specifically, provided it’s within your line of sight.

Talismanic Gesture

Prerequisites: Attune Any Item

You make a disruptive sign infused with your Will and Aura to protect you against hostile magic. Spend a point of Conviction and make an Arcane Theory roll against standard difficulty. The number of successes gained are used as a penalty against any magical attacks made against you, in the same manner as cover, with a value equal to your Integrity.

Binding Gesture

Prerequisites: Seal Enchantment, Talismanic Gesture

Reaching out towards a target, you create a binding ward that impedes the use of any magical items in use, although not innate abilities (summoned and created entities count as items for the purposes of this Talent). The affected items are unable to function for the rest of the round. This costs 1 point of Conviction to use and requires an Arcane Theory roll against standard difficulty, or the target’s Integrity, whichever is greater.


Proficiency Level 3

Empowered Focus

Prerequisites: Control Enchantment

By spending a point of Conviction, and committing an additional aura slot to a device, you drastically increase the arcane power available to a magical device. The next time it’s used, double the amount of net successes rolled. The device cannot be used the following round. Especially fragile items may become damaged through use of this power.

Shatter Enchantment:

Prerequisites: Binding Gesture

You are able to unweave the magical structure of enchantments, causing them to become unstable and collapse. This includes the removal of simple curses, shattering wards or barriers and other sustained effects. Imbued items, and severe curses  are often more difficult in terms of the degree of success required, so disenchanting an item is often the subject of a downtime action, with in-game activities to support it – particularly powerful curses and wards may require a sidequest to shatter, but with this Talent you will always know what is needed to do so. As with its prerequisite, this costs a point of Conviction to perform.

Talismanic Barrier

Prerequisites: Talismanic Gesture

You are able to sustain the ward created through Talismanic Gesture for a number of rounds equal to your Endurance. While the barrier is active, you may not use any other Arcane Theory talents or magical devices.


This one seems quite complicated, but the ability to manipulate arcane devices is quite a prominent part of the ‘technology’ system in Crux – In some cases, devices use both mundane and magical components, so learning to manipulate this is very useful.

That having been said, the process of understanding the arcane is not meant to be simple, so many Talents require others as prerequisites. Developing a proper understanding is a process that requires some commitment, hence the path is long and a little bit winding.





Lying and cheating by massaging your truth until it does what you want it to. This applies to both written and spoken communication attempts.

Deceit Flowchart



Proficiency Level 1


In a pinch, your quick wits and smart mouth can get you through some tight situations. Make a Deceit Roll against their Integrity to shift their attitude one step towards Neutral (if somewhat confused). (e.g. If they are hostile, doubling their Integrity score in successes moves it directly to Neutral). This normally lasts until the end of the scene.

For 1 conviction, this may be used upon the opening of hostilities if you act first, potentially averting the combat.

Flirtatious overtones

Getting into someone’s personal space, whether metaphorically, emotionally or literally, is often enough to put people off their guard. Spend a point of Conviction and make  a Presence + Deceit roll against their Integrity. Every two successes lowers their effective Integrity by one for the next social roll. If they have reason to suspect your advances as disingenuous, this roll is opposed either by an Intuition + Streetwise or Deceit roll (their choice). This doesn’t reveal your intentions, just rebuffs your attempt. Of course, if the ploy is successful, you may have to make good on your promises…*

(NB: Gender or sexual preference does not play any part in this strategy, mechanically speaking, although the details of how it functions may differ – how much you want to go into that is up to the preferences of your group)


Proficiency Level 2

Method Actor

Prerequisites: Blather-barrage

Your skills at deceit are so honed, even you believe them, at least temporarily. Any attempts to discern whether you are lying at that point, will automatically fail,

Outrageous display

Prerequisites: Flirtatious Overtones

Sometimes, to win a verbal exchange you don’t have to be right, you just have to make a good show of being wronged. In a situation where there are witnesses present, make a Deceit roll against their integrity, the greater number of successes you achieve, the stronger the impression your display makes, and the greater their disapproval towards your mark. A normal crowd’s collective Integrity will be 3, although this will vary depending on their attitude


Proficiency Level 3

Up is down

Prerequisites: Method Actor

Using your sincerity and persistent assertions to wear down your marks’ will, you may eventually convince them of nearly anything. Spend a point of Conviction and make a Deceit roll against their Integrity, as an opposed roll if they disagree with your position. Success means that they believe what you told them as true, until presented with evidence to the contrary. Blatantly false assertions or common knowledge tend to unravel rather quickly, so it is best used with an element of the truth, or kept within the bounds of plausibility.


While not having as many Talents as Arcane Theory, Deceit’s talents are far more universal in their application, and while the path to mastery seems straightforward, the outlying Talents provide complimentary abilities that allow the main path to come into its own.



For direct combat skills, there are very few prerequisites, all that is required to learn a higher level Talent is to have one of the level below it. So, to learn a level 2 Talent, you need a level 1, and for a level 3, you need to know a level 2. Straightforward, yes? So straightforward, it doesn’t require a flowchart.


Close Combat: The Cunning Path


This set of techniques is basically the opposite of fighting fair, and that’s the way its practitioners like it. It’s often not the only style someone learns, but it’s one that, after it saves their life, it’s the one they never forget.

Proficiency Level 1

Cheap Shot

Sensing a gap in your opponent’s guard, you make a swift lunge, catching them unawares in a vital, and often sensitive, spot. When attacking, you may declare to use a cheap shot instead. Instead of dealing usual damage, inflict the weapon’s base damage and inflict the Dazed status upon them.


Interrupting your opponent’s gait, while offering a little leverage and encouragement, you up-end them, sending them sprawling to the floor. Declare Trip instead of a standard attack. In place of usual damage, inflict the weapon’s base damage and your opponent suffers the Knock Prone status


Proficiency Level 2

Arterial Strike

You throw a rending strike through a vital area, causing a spectacular gout of blood. Spend 1 Conviction. If your attack hits, as well as normal damage, your opponent is affected by Bleed.

Human Shield  

Dodging with liquid grace around your opponent, you always manage to keep their body between you and danger. Spend 1 Conviction. This round you may add your opponent’s Defence score to yours, counting as cover. Attacks aimed at you that miss will automatically hit your opponent.


Proficiency Level 3


With perfect timing, you jar your opponent’s hand as it swings towards you, causing their weapon to drop. Catching it in the crook of your elbow as it falls, you spin it around to give them a taste of their own medicine. Spend 1 Conviction. If your attack hits, they are disarmed, and you may attempt to make a bonus strike using their weapon.


As with Deceit, all the Talents are part of a toolkit, and while you can reach the capstone quickly and easily, you’d benefit from the lower level ones also being in your repertoire.


So, there we go, another example of how the development is going. I’m currently in two minds as to whether the next excerpt will be crunch or fluff, so will probably have a chat with Matt, and see what wonders we can come up with.


Until then, take care and Hard Love,


Tom Cole.


You’ve never even *been* to the Crunch.


Crux: The game mechanics, part 1.

Most of the previous articles have been concentrating on the worldbuilding aspect of the project. The mechanics were being constructed in parallel with the lore and the setting, as we hashed out what we thought characters should be able to do, how they should behave, and what kind of feel that we thought the game should have. Initially, a lot of the values were decided on either an an ad-hoc basis or just  a rough value kept in there as a placeholder until the mechanics around it could shed some light on the matter. After some time, and rather a lot of head-scratching, we’re finally at the stage whereby we have a near-enough complete system suitable for initial playtests.

So…how does it work?

Most challenges and tasks are resolved through the use of skill checks, which work as follows.

Roll (ATTRIBUTE) number of D6, and add a number of extra D6 equal to the appropriate Talent’s mastery level, from 1-3.

Dice that roll 4 and above count as a success. A greater number of successes equate to a greater margin of success at your chosen action.. Your GM will allocate a number of successes required for a task to succeed. A routine challenge would require 3, while truly heroic tasks may require 8, or more.

Mastery in talents allows for a dramatic increase in the potential for rolling successes, on several levels.

A Fistful of D6s (Dice Tricks)

So, depending on your level of mastery with your Talents(Your skills, powers, and what makes you special), you can make your dice pool (All the dice you roll) either Explode or Cascade.

Exploding dice means that any that roll above the target number are rolled again and any successes scored on those dice counted toward your total. These dice are not rolled again, even if they scored above the target number.

Cascading dice are like the exploding dice, only more so. Every 6 that you roll, roll again, counting the roll towards your total successes. Keep going until you stop rolling 6s. In this case rolls of 4 count as successes and rolls of five still qualify as Exploding for one more roll – which can begin Cascading again. This particular trick has the potential to generate a massive amount of successes, and because of this, it requires Conviction to access(more on that later)


Talent Mastery

Proficiency 1 – dice rolls of 6 Explode

Proficiency 2 – dice rolls of 5+ Explode

Proficiency 3 – dice rolls of 5+ Explode, a point of Conviction can be spent to convert any dice rolling 6 to Cascading.*


The Combat System

We’ve been hoping to keep combat streamlined, and it plays out a little differently to how things normally go.

  1. Each participant declares their action.
  1. They make their attack (or suitable skill) roll, noting successes, and add their weapons’ Initiative Modifier, as well as any others.
  1. The highest initiative acts first, followed by the others in descending order.
  1. You may deviate from your declared action, but doing so incurs a 1-success penalty on your attack roll.

While actions can be declared by participants (player characters and NPCs) in any order, and they can be changed in response to anothers’ right up until the combat rolls are made, it is probably most effective to have the players to declare their actions together, and choose whether they wish to act impulsively, or to react to the intentions of their opponents. This adds the feeling of a little more agency as battle is joined, and groups can pick their style to suit, whichever version suits them best.

Attack rolls, that is skill checks in combat, run as follows:

Roll (ATTRIBUTE)+(Talent Proficiency Level) vs. Opponent’s Modified Defence

(Defenders add their melee TPL to Defense in melee, and applicable cover value to ranged combat rolls)

If you beat your opponent’s modified Defence, each net success is added to the damage you deal.

Most melee attacks tend to use AGI as their base skill, while ranged combat is most dependent on Reflexes or Perception, depending on whether you’re in a quick-fire gunfight, or are lining up a long-distance shot.

Weapons and Damage:

To explain this, let’s take a look at how weapons work:

They have values in the following categories:

Weapon type: Their basic group; this defines the Close Combat Talent Trees – in this case, the styles, that are available to the weapon group.

Initiative Modifier:(+xI)  How quick, or responsive the weapon is. Adds to your Intiative, as we covered above

Base Damage:(+yD) This, normally static value is added to your net successes for your attack. The total is dealt to your opponent’s Resolve

Keywords  These describe the special properties that each weapon has. You also have the option to add more, through customisation or enchantment, or a combination of both, should you be particularly wealthy.

Sample keywords:

Awesome:   Your opponents suffer a -2 initiative penalty for the first round of combat. Costs 1                                            Conviction  to ignore this effect.
Spin-up      The weapon’s Base Damage increases by 2 for every successive round it is fired (Spot the                               gatling gun keyword)
Righteous   +4 Base Damage, provided you are not benefitting from any cover bonuses.                                                          (Shields/barricades count)
Chaining     Every two net successes cause the attack to jump to another hostile target, losing                                            two levels of damage per jump.
Unstable     +2 Base Damage. If no successes are rolled, the weapon explodes, dealing double base                                    damage to the wielder.
Entropic      Each hit degrades the targets’ cover or armour value (in that order) by 1. When it has a                                    value of 0, consider it to have either melted or disintegrated into a pile of dust.

While we’re on the subject of armour…

Ned Kelly

The Armour Value reduces incoming damage, and can negate it entirely. However, the weight and bulk of armour, along with shields and suchlike, reduces your AGILITY, often penalising your attack rolls, and consequently your potential to seize the initiative.

As you can probably gather, you can choose to trade off speed for greater resilience or survivability to outlast your opponents, should you want to go toe-to-toe. Alternatively, you could plan for a faster attack, and use the cover you find in your environment to your advantage, as seizing the initiative can often dictate the flow of the battle…

Called Shots and Status Effects

It’s perfectly possible to trade your common-or-garden strikes until you wear down your opponent’s Resolve and they drop. Or, you could spice things up with a tried and tested kick to the crotch. Perhaps you’re something of a pacifist, and don’t have the stomach for killing, but know the scriptures are fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps. Called shots are more difficult to pull off, requiring more successes, but have additional, and often debilitating effects, depending on where, how hard, and with what you choose to make their day with.

Your Talents also will give you the option to inflict status effects on your opponent, ranging from stunning them, or having them staggering around dazed, knocked flat on their figurative arses, or bleeding profusely(internally or externally, your choice), these can be applied in succession, and can really put a damper on someone’s day, and easily spell a sticky end if you’re not careful.

So, that’s a quick overview of the crunchy parts of Crux. Coming up next time, we’ll have a look into Talents and Conviction, and how your character’s special skills, along with faction and bloodline powers, allow you to be Big Damn Heroes.

Until then, Take care and Hard Love

Tom Cole