Some reasons why Hera Syndulla rules

Hera Syndulla from Star Wars: Rebels is awesome for many reasons. She’s a great leader, who isn’t perfect, and doesn’t always succeed, and sometimes believes in people more than they deserve, and when she does succeed, it’s usually by being smart, determined, selfless, and brave — good character traits of her mind and heart — and not merely by being a talented pilot, which she also is. I could write for days about what a great, inspiring character she is, regardless of her species, skin color, and gender.

But Hera’s achievements hit different because she’s a green-skinned Twi’lek woman. Before Rebels, if you thought of a Twi’lek at all, or specifically a Twi’lek woman, or very specifically a green-skinned Twi’lek woman, probably the first one to come to mind was Oola, the enslaved dancer at Jabba’s palace. But now you probably think of Hera first, because she totally flipped the script for people like her. Her story, and that of her father, helped give Twi’leks back their agency.

And you realize that every enslaved Twi’lek — every enslaved sentient, full stop — is both a personal and family tragedy, and also a colossal loss of potential for the galaxy. Which is not a terrible object lesson from the use of slavery as a trope in Star Wars.

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The Haunted Helm: an adventure for Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game

The surface of Despora: mountains, canyons, and mining pits.

I have an adventure out in the new issue of the Star Wars Adventurer’s Journal, called “The Haunted Helm” (download link at the bottom of this post). It started as an adventure that I wrote and ran for London back in 2019. Of all the adventures I’ve ever written and run, it is definitely my favorite, and it’s probably also the one that will transfer best to other GMs and other tables (I hope). Writing it up for the Adventurer’s Journal was my first ‘pandemic project’ back in April, so it’s really nice to have it finally done and out.

Entrance to the tombs

I wrote this for the venerable d6-based Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, published by West End Games in the late 80s and 90s, but I think it should transfer pretty easily to any space-based RPG. It would work as a Star Trek scenario, or in Firefly, or whatever. Heck, if you changed a bit of the setup you could set it here on Earth and run it as a contemporary or historical adventure for Call of Cthulu or a similar horror/investigation game. I reckon it would even work in D&D.

Edit: I know “The Haunted Helm” can work in other systems because back in May I ran it for Andy Farke, Sarah Nichols, and Thierra Nalley using Lasers & Feelings, which is my favorite light RPG for newcomers, one-shots, and pick-up games. The game is a free download here, and people have made about a million variants and hacks, for almost every conceivable genre. The list here is a good start if you want to go down that rabbit hole. I need to do a full post soon about Lasers & Feelings, but the point right now is that I also owe a belated thanks to Andy, Sarah, and Thierra for serving as beta-testers for this adventure. So thanks, folks!

The Hall of the Ancestors

I was quite happy with how “Durance Vile”, my first Adventurer’s Journal submission, turned out, but I knew I wanted to do more art for this one. Through my research in paleontology and human antomy, I have some experience as a technical illustrator (for example), but I’m not much of a creative artist. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m proud of the art I did for “The Haunted Helm”, but I’m happy with it, and I think it gets the job done. 

I also made maps. Lots of maps. In fact, I created the above map as a guide to the other three maps, to show how they fit together. I’m reproducing all the maps here so people can get the original full-res image files for printing, modifying, etc. I’m releasing all of my work in this post under the CC-BY 4.0 license, for you to do with as you see fit.

This second map covers two of the adventure locations: the top of the cliffs, where the PCs will presumably land their ship, and the canyon camp established by the missing archaeologists.

The third map takes the PCs into a tomb left behind by the Rakatan Empire, which terrorized the galaxy before the formation of the Old Republic.

Finally, in the fourth map the PCs confront the mysteries and terrors of an even older temple left behind by an abhuman race–including the titular haunted helm. 

“Put me on…”

I owe a big thanks to Brian L. Bird, the Editor In Chief of the Star Wars Adventurer’s Journal, who took all the bits I submitted and made them look great on the page, including throwing a cool macrobinocular frame around one of the illustrations, and adding a couple of nice pieces of additional art (a photograph of a cave interior, and a shot of the surface of Mars). The Adventurer’s Journal only exists and keeps moving forward because Brian keeps making it happen, but he doesn’t just keep it alive, he makes it look damn good. Thank you, Brian! 

And speaking of looking damn good, the fabulous and eminently Star-Wars-y cover art for the new issue is by Yvan Quinet. You can see more of his work at

Issue 6 of the Adventurer’s Journal should be up soon at the D6 Holocron, at the bottom of this page, and in the meantime you can download it at the link below. “The Haunted Helm” starts on page 150 and closes out the issue. I hope you enjoy reading it and running it. If you do run it, I’d love to hear how it goes down in the comments. 

Adventurers Journal 6 – The More Things Change – 2020-11-17

Posted in Adventurer's Journal, my creative writing, roleplaying, RPG adventures, Star Wars | 1 Comment

Review: Star Wars: Outer Rim is a light RPG in a board game box

One of my favorite new games is Outer Rim, the latest Star Wars board game from Fantasy Flight. I’ve played probably 8 or 9 sessions with my son, London, and one 3-player session with London and our friend Peter Kloess.

So what is this thing? In Outer Rim each player takes on the role of a scoundrel from the Star Wars universe. The goal is to become the most famous outlaw in the galaxy, by hauling cargoes, hunting bounties, and doing jobs in the galaxy’s Outer Rim. You travel to planets, collect goals, meet contacts, buy personal gear and upgrades for your starship, and try to avoid patrols–unless you happen to be in good with the faction whose patrol you’ve just encountered.

Fantasy Flight

It’s impossible for me to review this game in isolation, apart from other Fantasy Flight games, of which we have quite a few. I’ve blogged here before about the X-Wing Miniatures Game. In addition, London and I love the Star Wars Rebellion game and the Warhammer 40K game Relic, and we own some of the smaller-box games like Deadwood and Elder Sign. For me, and I suspect for a lot of other gamers, Fantasy Flight has earned a reputation based on these cornerstones:

  • Very high production values. FF games aren’t cheap (although they’re also not ludicrously expensive when you look at similar games from other companies), but you will definitely know where your money went: big, lavish game boards, thick linen counters, high-quality miniatures and pawns, and beautiful art sharply reproduced with vibrant colors.
  • Complex games with lots of moving parts that nevertheless end up being lots of fun and pretty well-balanced. It’s not a big-box Fantasy Flight game without half a dozen decks of cards, at least three kinds of counters, and proprietary dice with weird symbols, and that’s a bare minimum. The games are so complex that it’s hard not to sigh a little internally while punching out all the pieces and sorting out the cards. But on the other side of that is immersive gameplay with lots of paths to victory, decisions with real consequences, and interesting meshing of game mechanics and theme.
  • Rulebooks that are a bit of a mess. If you own more than one FF game, you just start to expect that there is a great game in the box, hidden behind an almost aggressively mediocre rulebook, with key bits out of order and important points omitted. To be fair, this is something they’ve gotten better at over time, especially in recent years by splitting the rules into two books, a “Learn to Play” book that guides you through your first game, and a “Rules Reference” that serves as a dictionary to look up terms and game mechanics when you have questions (and you will have questions). But it’s pretty common to get halfway through your first game–or your third–and realize you’ve been playing the game subtly wrong all along.

So how does Outer Rim stack up against other FF games on each of those points?

Production Values

In a word, flawless. Star Wars is a visually stimulating universe and Star Wars games need to have great art to feel like they belong. Outer Rim definitely soars in this department. The art for the character spaceships in particular is phenomenal. I’m kind of a nut for “The Art of…” movie artbooks, and I wouldn’t mind having one just for this game.

Complex but Immersive Gameplay

I was worried about this while we were setting up the game the first time, because there are a lot of bits, even for an FF game. Not so many counters, but a lot of different kinds of cards. While you’re playing the game there will be 14 stacks of cards sitting on the table: six decks of Market cards, representing different things you can acquire (personal gear, starship upgrades, crew members, cargoes, bounties, jobs, etc.), seven decks of planet and space encounters, covering 11 planets and two kinds of deep-space encounters, and the Data Deck, which has a bit of all of the above plus flavor text and rules for various encounters, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book in the form of a stack of cards. And yet this is not overwhelming in actual play because you typically only interact with a single thing at a single time. If you’re on a planet, you only have to think about what might be lurking in that planet’s encounter deck, not the other six. If you are buying from the market, you can see six cards face-up on top of their respective decks, and those are the six things you can choose to buy at that moment. If you dive into the Data Deck, it will be because another card told you to resolve, say, card #42.

It soon becomes clear what all those cards are for, and why there are so many of them: they’re serving the role of the gamemaster. Outer Rim looks like a board game, but it waddles and quacks like a roleplaying game. You have a unique character with unique abilities, which you can improve over time. You buy a ship and upgrade it, recruit crewmembers, earn and spend credits, and explore the galaxy. It doesn’t go on forever–there’s no campaign mode for this game–but for the two or three hours that you’re playing, it feels like a blend of RPG and board game. There’s no tactical infinity, but you do have a lot of choices, and at any given moment you are somewhere in a chain of consequences based on your past actions and those of the other players.

This realization–that Outer Rim is really a light RPG with the job of the gamemaster outsourced to the game itself–came as a surprise to me, because I’d gotten used to think of wargames/board games as fundamentally different things from RPGs. And I don’t want to overstate the RPG-ness of Outer Rim. It’s hardly the first board game in which you take on the role of a unique character and have some imaginary adventures, and the limited selection of characters and bounded set of things to do each turn is very different from the vastly more open world of true RPGs. Probably best to put it like this: if you come to Outer Rim expecting all the crazy fun and no-holds-barred decision-making that RPGs allow, you’ll probably be disappointed, but if you come in expecting the very limited set of possibilities inherent in most board games, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Messy Rulebook (and/or Steep Learning Curve)

Pretty good! It wouldn’t be an FF game if there wasn’t at least one incomprehensible omission. Here’s the one for Outer Rim: you complete Jobs during the Encounter phase, so if you complete a Job, that’s your Encounter for that turn. That nugget is buried in the Rules Reference, where it is mentioned exactly once in the entry on Jobs. It is never mentioned in the Learn to Play guide, and it is absent from the Player Reference cards, for no good reason that I can see. And it really matters, because along with capturing bounties and delivering cargo, doing jobs is one of the main paths to victory.

On the upside, and despite the seeming complexity of all the bits mentioned above, we got the hang of Outer Rim much more quickly than any other FF game. Usually we have both rulebooks out all the time, even for games we’ve played half a dozen times before, like Relic and Rebellion, because we’re referring to them on a regular basis. After the first 45 minutes or so, we’ve barely had to crack open the books for Outer Rim at all, and when we have, it’s mostly been to confirm something we thought we knew, rather than to discover how a basic game mechanic works in the first place. It was honestly refreshing to see how, through some alchemy of good game design, the physical complexity of the game produced a gameplay experience that was easy to learn but still interesting and engaging in its effects.

You’ll probably want to pick up some of these to hold all the bits. I found them at the local dollar store.

Time to Play, and Replayability

So far, all the games we’ve played have taken about three hours. You can adjust the length of the game by playing to different amounts of Fame. The default is 10, the rulebook recommends 8 for your first time playing, and the tracker on each character card goes to 12. While we’ve been playing, though, we haven’t wanted the game to end. So London and I have been talking about alternative victory conditions, like first player to save 50,000 credits, or first one to have an encounter on every single planet.

Replay value for this game is very high. After our first two 3-hour games we’d seen most or all of the bounties and jobs, but we’d seen probably less than half of the planetary encounters and maybe only a sixth of the personal gear deck. I didn’t track how much of the Data Deck we’d seen, but also probably less than half. And I think there were still one or two contacts (essentially NPCs) that we hadn’t yet encountered. After half a dozen more games, I think we’ve seen all the marketplace items, but there are still some planetary encounters and some Data Deck things we haven’t run into yet. There’s so much in this game that even after you’ve seen all of it, there’s no way to hold it all in your head. And so much of each particular game is going to depend on the choices made by the other players that I don’t think it could ever become stale or predictable. London and I probably had more fun exploring this game, in terms of just working through all of the possibilities inherent in the box, than we have with any other board game.

I should mention that there is a solo variant, in which a separate AI deck makes the decisions for a single opponent. I haven’t played that yet, so I can’t comment on how well it works, but I’m glad the option is there.


This game oozes Star Wars. It has characters and ships from the movies, TV shows, novels, and comics. If you ever wanted to play Dr. Aphra, teaming up with Hera Syndulla to take down Dr. Evazan on Mon Calamari, or you’d like Han Solo to fly Slave 1 against a Syndicate patrol at the Ring of Kafrene, this is the game for you. You’ll track down bounties, deliver illegal cargo, dodge Imperial patrols, run into dangerous criminals, and have mysterious encounters in deep space.

The game constantly forces you to make tough decisions that arise from the consequences of your actions, and those of other players. Maybe your ship was damaged on a job, and now you have to decide whether to spend your turn on the same planet getting it fixed, and risk getting caught by a hostile patrol, or to flee into deep space with a ship that might fail if you’re forced into another fight. Most of the bounties have an elimination bonus and a larger delivery bonus; you get the former for finding and defeating a bounty, and the latter for doing the same plus hauling the poor sucker halfway across the galaxy. Sometimes that’s worth it for the extra money or fame, sometimes it’s not, and either way, you’ll find yourself somewhere else in a chain of consequences.

One trap that plagues some board games, and which Outer Rim neatly sidesteps, is mechanics that are admittedly nifty but basically naked. For example, maybe you need to collect 6 cards to beat the end boss, when there’s no good in-game reason for it to be 6 cards versus 4 or 7, or for it to be cards at all. So you put on a brave face and pretend to be doing whatever thematic thing the 6 cards represent, but really, you’re just collecting 6 cards and you know it, so it feels artificial and game-y.

In contrast, it’s hard to even talk about the problems and challenges you’ll face in Outer Rim in purely mechanical, non-thematic terms. If you’re deciding whether to take the long-but-safe path, and risk having another player scoop up a prime bounty while you’re twiddling your thumbs in deep space, or the short-but-dangerous path, and risk having to fight a Hutt patrol, it will be because you have to deliver stolen weapons to Ryloth, which means actually getting your ship physically to Ryloth. If you buy a vibroknife or a grenade launcher, it won’t be some hollow buff just to round out your character, it will be because you have to capture a Wookiee mercenary, or you’re worried that Dengar will pound you like a tent stake if you run into him on Nal Hutta.

From your very first job, cargo, or bounty, you’ll be catapulted into an ongoing chain of decisions and consequences. Dump one cargo to take on a more valuable one, even if it means flying farther to deliver it? Spend those credits on upgrades for your ship, or information that could lead you to a big score? Stay put and heal, or push on and risk losing a critical fight? For much of the game, you’re just knocking around the galaxy, having crazy adventures and getting into scrapes while you do Star Wars stuff. The only really game-y aspect is the pressure to earn more fame than the other players, which turns what could be a more aimless space adventure game into a challenge in which resource management, efficient movement, and knowing where and when to fight are all important. The winner doesn’t win because of some arbitrary game clock or ‘gotcha’ mechanic, it’s because they invested their credits wisely, picked their battles carefully, and in the end, just did more awesome stuff than their competitors. And even if you lose, the game is still ridiculously fun. The path to victory is long enough that everyone will have the opportunity to cross the galaxy once or twice, earn a lot of dough, upgrade their character and their ship, and ultimately play out a story of back-alley deals, fighting bad guys, and avoiding Johnny Law.

You can start out as Han Solo, but you’ll have find Chewbacca to hire him, and you won’t be flying the Falcon at first.


Bottom line, Outer Rim feels like Star Wars, specifically the scruffy, Fringe-oriented aspect of heavily armed lowlifes on the make. It plays in a single afternoon or evening, so you don’t have to invest an entire day or weekend to get through a single game (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but other games have that covered). It has a lot of moving parts, but you’re generally only interacting with one at a time, and all of that machinery does the job of a gamemaster so everyone at the table can play a character. And while you’re playing, you’ll be thinking about wretched hives of scum and villainy, that bounty hunter you actually did run into on Ord Mantell, and how a death mark is not an easy thing to live with. And all this for fifty bucks. If you’re a Star Wars fan, this one is a no-brainer. Highly recommended. Here’s the link.

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Review: Mythic Odysseys of Theros is an awesome tool for DMs

From what I’ve seen, the campaign books for D&D 5e just keep getting better and better. London and I have picked up three of the recent releases: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, Eberron: Rising from the Last War, and most recently Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Each one has a LOT of tools for DMs looking to run a campaign. The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount has a nice big folded world map in the back, and much of the book is given over to a gazetteer, with a short list of adventure hooks for virtually every mapped location on the continent of Wildemount. Even though we haven’t started a Wildemount campaign yet, just reading those adventure hooks gave me ideas for our Faerun campaign.

Then I picked up a copy of Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Hoo boy, this book is completely packed with gameable ideas.

A quick bit of background: the Greek-myth-inspired world of Theros was first introduced in Magic: The Gathering, and it’s the second M:TG world to get a D&D campaign guide (after the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica). Theros has a pantheon of 15 deities, which are reminiscent of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses while not mapping perfectly to any individual figure from real-world mythology. At first I thought it would be a pain to get acquainted with all of the new deities–15? really?–but the book does a great job of introducing them, their squabbles, and the mortal people and populations that get caught up in their intrigues and conflicts.

Ephara, God of the Polis

The deities of Theros are actually covered twice. In Chapter 2, “Gods of Theros”, each deity gets a 3-page writeup that includes the god’s influence, goals, relationships to other deities, worshippers, champions, divine favors, and divine rewards for those PCs that give their piety to that god. There is also a beautiful half-page color painting of each god, set above a set of in-universe myths relating to the god. Then in Chapter 4, “Creating Theros Adventures”, each god gets another 4 pages, covering the god’s quests, villains, monsters, and schemes, how to use the god as a campaign villain, plus a mapped location with a full-page map plus adventure hooks and potential villains to encounter in that location.

At first I didn’t understand why the material for each god was segregated between Chapters 2 and 4; why not mash it all together in a single 7-page “god-guide”? But when London and I made up characters for a Theros campaign, and I started thinking about possible adventures, I realized why the book is arranged this way: Chapters 1 and 2, “Character Creation” and “Gods of Theros”, are the player’s handbook for Theros. The next three chapters, “Realms of Gods and Mortals”, “Creating Theros Adventures”, and “Treasures” are the DM’s guide, and the 6th and final chapter, “Friends and Foes”, is the monster manual.  The gods get covered twice because there are two sets of information for each: that needed by a player whose character might serve, honor, or oppose a given god, and that needed by the DM to run the god in their campaign.

So far, so good. What sets Mythic Odysseys of Theros apart is the number of gameable ideas packed into its 256 pages, particularly for the gods. The ‘player’s handbook’ material in Chapter 2 includes suggested alignments, classes, cleric domains, and backgrounds for PCs who might serve each god, plus d6 tables of divine favors and ideals relating to that god. Chapter 4 is even better: the quests, villains, and schemes for each god are represented by a d6 table, the monsters by a d8 table ordered by challenge rating, and the mapped location for each god has tables of anywhere from 8 to 12 adventure hooks and at least 6 suggested villains. So between chapters 2 and 4, each god gets at least 7 tables of stuff. There is also a wonderful spread on pages 112-113 with d6 omens for each of the 15 deities. So make that 8 tables of ideas for each god.

The mapped locations are particularly nice (see an example below). The locations themselves are varied, including temples, towers, an arena, a forge, healing pools, exterior locations (canyon and forest), and of course a labyrinth. The full-page maps–by Dyson Logos!–are exceptionally clean and readable, with minimal coloring so they’ll reproduce well when photocopied or printed out (I know because I’ve printed them all for future use). Most of the maps are big enough and complex enough to support at least one full session, if not more, and the sheer variety gave me a lot of ideas for repurposing other maps for a Theros campaign. It bears repeating that there are 15 such locations–normally you’d be lucky to get half as many fully mapped locations in a book this size.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. How did the creators pack so much good stuff into the book? Then I realized that in most books, each of the locations would have had pages and pages of keyed information, like “This room is full of wine flasks”, or “A hungry chimaera makes its lair here”, only with 1-2 paragraphs of yap per room, so that a single small location would need 5 pages and a big one 10 or 12. In Mythic Odysseys of Theros, each location gets just two pages–the map on one page, and a short writeup with tables on the facing page. However–and this is the crucial part–that’s all I really need. I’m a DM, I’m used to making my own maps or repurposing published ones. I can figure out for myself which rooms are used for storage, which ones are functioning spaces, which might have been taken over by monsters, etc. (or, if I lacked inspiration, I could number the rooms myself and roll on a table for the contents). And if I was just starting out and didn’t know how to stock a dungeon, the tables of adventure hooks, monsters, and villains would give me plenty of ideas (and still do!).


For DMs, Mythic Odysseys of Theros trades depth of detail for a diversity of ideas. And frankly, as a DM, I need the latter a lot more than the former. It’s the classic “give a person a fish, or teach them to fish” dichotomy. Long, detailed writeups of each location would give me a lot of crap I’d have to remember, or look up on the fly, and which I would probably revise or just ignore when I ran the location anyway. By going detail-light but idea-dense, the book’s creators were able to give me a lot more locations, and the number of potential applications of each one (and the potential reusability) is sky-high. The Coastal Temple of Thassa, goddess of the sea, might be a functional temple, or an ancient pilgrimage destination, or maybe it’s just been flooded by a tsunami, or taken over by monsters, or, or, or…you get the idea. Fifteen locations with a dozen suggested adventures for each one is a whopping 180 combinations. And sure, I’m not going to run each location 12 times, but I can certainly find or create maps of equivalent depth and use additional adventure hooks and villains related to each god for future adventures.

(If you need or want a little more guidance on running encounters in mapped locations, either because you’re starting out or because you need to run a weekend game for your nieces and nephews and don’t have time to do much adventure prep, that’s fine! Far be it from me to tell anyone they are doing it wrong. Happily for you, almost every published adventure for 5e will give you room-by-room maps and more detailed support. Theros has no training wheels or seatbelts, but a million cubbyholes, USB jacks, and cupholders. It’s up to you to decide if that style fits your own.)

In addition to all of the aforementioned adventure fuel, the book also has a 10-page starting adventure with yet another mapped location and more tables. Plus four pages apiece on running nautical adventures and underworld adventures, each with–you guessed it–even more tables. And not just boring stuff I could have thought of myself, like “this island is volcanic”, but “this island is a dense layer of seaweed that has developed its own ecosystem of strange beasts and trapped sailors” (p. 177), or it’s a fallen fragment of heaven, or a paradise that tempts visitors to never leave, or (my favorite) the dream of a sleeping deity–and what happens when the deity wakes up? Sure, I could probably think of most of those given enough time, but given enough time you can recreate all of human technology starting with rocks and fire. The point of useful tools is that you can get to work building other things instead of building the tools themselves. Mythic Odysseys of Theros is a useful tool, and probably the most useful and most DM-facing product yet produced for D&D 5e.

That’s not to say that the player options aren’t also excellent. There are new playable races: minotaurs, centaurs, satyrs, and a humanoid lion race called the leonin (some of the others have appeared in other books by now, but they were new to me); a new background, the Athlete; and a host of divine gifts, omens, and prophecies to help flesh out PCs. The divine patronage options alone will give you plenty to think about, and they’ll get the players started with some gameable relationships right out of the gate.

Chapter 6, the section on monsters and foes, presents information on three categories on creatures and constructs: first, some notes on how to run 10 of the most Greek-themed monsters from the Monster Manual (basilisk, cyclops, medusa, sphinx, etc.), then stats and descriptions for 49 new monsters, and finally a section on “mythic monsters”. This is a new category for D&D 5e: super-monsters that not only get legendary actions, but also mythic actions that kick in when they are reduced to 0 hit points the first time. Yes, the first time, because the mythic traits give these walking catastrophes either a pile of temporary hit points, or new targets to destroy (the four hearts of the mega-kraken Tromokratis, revealed when its carapace cracks open), plus new legendary actions. If you’re worried about keeping your players busy between levels 15 and 20, these awesome adversaries should give them something to tilt at. There are only three mythic monsters detailed in the book, but you could apply similar logic to other monsters to create mythic versions of your own.

As a final plus, Mythic Odysseys of Theros is just gorgeous. A lot of pretty amazing M:TG art got repurposed for the book, and the new art is also excellent, giving the book a cohesive feel and really selling the idea of a mythic world of gods and monsters.

Are there downsides? I’m very visually oriented and to keep the pantheon straight I could have used a diagram showing the gods in their domains (heavens, sea, underworld, etc.), although there is a table, so that’s a pretty minor nitpick. As with many of the 5e books, I have my doubts about the longevity of the binding under heavy use. After 5 years, some pages are falling out of our Monster Manual, and our Dungeon Master’s Guide is on the cusp of losing pages. You may want to put some post-its or flags to help you find content quickly, but that’s true of every game book. On the flip side, Mythic Odysseys beats most D&D books by having a consistent layout for each god–the tables for each god are on the first two pages, map and tables relating to the location on the next two, and so on, to minimize flipping around while you’re prepping or running a session. This conservation-of-page-flipping extends throughout the book, and it is most welcome. Having material unnecessarily split across more than one spread has been my major gripe with virtually every other D&D 5e product–I hate having to flip pages to find out that room 11 is “storage”, when there was room on the map to just write “storage” on that room!

But now I see that I’ve lost the plot and veered back into praising the book. Oh well, sez me: the praise is earned. Even if you never run a Theros adventure, or play D&D at all, if you are into tabletop RPGs I think it’s worth picking up this book to see a campaign book done right, and to get ideas for whatever world or game you do run. Highly, highly recommended.

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New D&D stuff: character sheet notepad, and my first d30

London and I have been playing D&D again lately. Our table is not huge, and with maps, minis, and rulebooks, it can get a little crowded. Also, we like to be able to take D&D on the road when we go on vacation, without bringing a suitcase of game gear. London had made tiny character sheets for our hirelings using 3×5 index cards, and it got me thinking about the utility of half-size character sheets. I get offers for free stuff from Shutterfly all the time, so when an offer came in for a free 5×7 notepad, I hacked a version of the D&D 5e character sheet to fit. It’s not really enough room to include everything even for a fighter, and definitely not for a magic user, but we’re usually keeping a lot of stuff on the reverse side even when we use full-size character sheets.

The pad just came in and it hasn’t been tested yet, but while it was on the way we printed half-size character sheets on regular printer paper, two per page, and used them for our latest round of chargen (for the new Mythic Odysseys of Theros campaign world, which we are very excited to dive into–more on that in another post, hopefully), and they worked great. If you’re curious, Shutterfly 5×7 notepads are 75 sheets of 80 lb. paper with a chipboard backing. The actual measurement is a bit shy of 5×7: 4.84″ x 6.74″, and 9/16″ thick (0.56″ or 14mm). I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and I’m looking forward to using these little sheets. I’m thinking they’ll not only be useful for travel, but also for quickly bashing out pre-gens for one-shots and introductory adventures. Further bulletins as events warrant.

The other cool thing in the photo is another new arrival: a d30. Inspired by Jeff Rients, I’ve decided to institute the d30 rule, and a big purple die that can sit out on the table and draw eyes and beg to be used seemed like just the ticket (regular-ass d20 for scale). London and I got a little impatient and instituted the d30 rule even before the die came in the mail, using an online dice-roller, and we’re hooked. I’m thinking for the Theros campaign the d30 rule will be tied to some level of note-taking, like writing a one-paragraph summary of the last session gets you access to the d30 for one roll in the next session. If I institute that, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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I finally, finally published something for Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game

The cover of the Star Wars Adventurer’s Journal, Issue 1.

Today sees the completion of a quest 25 years in the making for me–and if you just want the file, it’s at the bottom of the post. But first, some backstory. In the mid-90s, West End Games published a quarterly supplement for Star Wars: the Roleplaying Game called the Star Wars Adventure Journal. Each issue had fiction, adventures, settings, ships, NPCs, and so on, just loads of playable content for your Star Wars game. There were 15 or so issues between 1994 and 1997, and I bought them religiously for the first two years, and intermittently after that.

Lovely pen-and-ink work by Allen Nunis, who did a lot of the illustrations for the early WEG Star Wars RPG publications.

The coolest thing about the Adventure Journal is that fans could submit material for it. In fact, although it was published and edited by WEG, most of the content of each issue came from fans. And holy crap did I want to be published in the Adventure Journal. Not just anyone could submit, you had to have published something, somewhere first. Even letters to the editor in a newspaper would suffice, so I wrote one for the Oklahoma Daily, the OU campus newspaper. I sent a copy of my newspaper clipping with my forms and a printout of my adventure to West End Games, and I was very happy and proud of myself.

Another Nunis drawing, of a Dark Side sorceror consulting with Darth Vader. This one was from the Gamemaster Screen, I believe.

WEG rejected my adventure. The rejection letter was polite and constructive, and even at the time I knew they had made the right call: there was a plot hole in the middle of the adventure that was big enough to fly a spaceship through (in-universe, that was literally true). I couldn’t figure a way around it, though, and a few months later I got married and started doing actual research in paleontology and those two things diverted my energy into other, more productive channels. Publishing a Star Wars adventure became my dream deferred, at first temporarily, then more permanently: in 1997 WEG lost the license for Star Wars, a year later they went bankrupt, and that was the end of the Adventure Journal.

A third and final Nunis piece, this one evocative of the early Star Wars newspaper comic strips, which were full of crazy alien landscapes reminiscent of the old EC sci-fi and horror comics.

Fast forward to last year, when I was downloading scans of the WEG Star Wars books from the D6 Holocron (which you should absolutely visit and pronto if you dig Star Wars stuff). On the page with the scans of the old Adventure Journal I found something I’d never seen before: the similarly-titled Adventurer’s Journal, which had started publication in 2018. “What the actual hell?!” I said to myself, in wonder.

The cover of Star Wars Adventurer’s Journal, Issue 5.

The Adventurer’s Journal is an entirely fan-made publication for folks (like me) who play good old WEG d6-based Star Wars. Like the old Adventure Journal, the Adventurer’s Journal publishes fiction, adventures, setting material, locations, ships, NPCs, and so on. For d6 grognards like me, it’s like West End Games was thawed out of carbonite (or, er, bankruptcy in this case) and back in action.

The opening spread of my article. Art by Chris Gossett, repurposed from the WEG Platt’s Starport Guide, chosen and arranged on the page by Adventurer’s Journal head editor Brian Bird.

As soon as I knew the Adventurer’s Journal existed, I knew I wanted to publish in it, and finally fulfill the goal of giving something back to the RPG that has been the gravitational center of my gaming life for the last 30 years. Over this past Christmas break I started writing stuff for the Journal in my spare time. London and I have played a lot of Star Wars in recent years, and I have notebooks of adventure notes that just need to be polished up and submitted. The first one came out today, in Adventurer’s Journal Issue 5: Mercenaries and Miscreants. It’s not an adventure but an adventure setting, an Imperial dungeon ship called the Durance Vile. I loved the Accresker Jail setting from Simon Spurrier’s run on the Star Wars: Dr. Aphra comic book, and the Durance Vile is an earlier, simpler implementation of the same idea (with full credit to my source of inspiration, as you can see from the opening spread above).

AJ Issue 5 should be up soon at the D6 Holocron, at the bottom of this page, and in the meantime you can download it at the link immediately below. I hope you have even a fraction as much fun reading and running it as I did writing it. It starts on page 100.

Adventurers Journal 5 – Mercenaries & Miscreants – 2020-05-04

Art by John Paul Lona, from the WEG Twin Stars of Kira supplement.

The Adventurer’s Journal comes out twice a year, in May and November. I’ve already got a full-length adventure ready to submit for the November issue, and I’m going to keep writing for AJ until someone tells me to quit. At the risk of crossing universes (again), you can’t stop the signal. So stay tuned.

Parting shot: AJ sometimes repurposes old WEG art, and the illustration from the cover spread of my article was originally done by Chris Gossett for the WEG supplement Platt’s Starport Guide. It was chosen and arranged by the Adventurer’s Journal head editor, Brian Bird, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I offered to do a technical diagram of the ship, and Brian asked that I make it match the cover art, so here’s my illustration. I’m providing it in three versions: just the ship; the ship, title, and surround; and the fully labeled version from the article. I’m releasing this under the CC-BY 4.0 license, for you to do with as you see fit.

Posted in Adventurer's Journal, my creative writing, roleplaying, RPG adventures, Star Wars | 5 Comments

Yay Triops!

Yep, after many years of casual interest that never quite got me to pull the trigger, I have decided to kick off my self-isolation by raising <i>Triops</i>, the little crustaceans that haven’t changed morphologically since the Triassic Period. The video tells all…for now.


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Yay shramps!

Perhaps inevitably, reading about marimo got me interested in red cherry shrimp, and now we have some. We started with 10 and had a couple of mysterious deaths in the first week. That’s stopped, thank goodness, and our surviving eight seem very happy.

Their container is a little weird. I was looking around in thrift shops for glass containers for keeping marimo when I found this 1-foot-diameter, ~3 gallon glass bowl. A previous owner had glued a narrow vase into the center. I thought that was pretty cool–I could keep marimo in the bowl and grow something else in the vase. I’m running a tiny air pump and an equally tiny sponge filter, and it all seems to be working just fine. I’ve added another pothos since the above photo was taken, this one twist-tied to the air pump clip so its roots dangle into the bowl, to help control nitrogenous waste.

Yesterday they were zipping around the tank a little more than usual, so I figured they might be hungry. I grow plants in jars of water on the kitchen windowsill, and they always get green thread algae, so I sucked up some of that in a turkey baster and shot it into the shrimp bowl. The shrimp loved it, and it was entirely gone in under an hour. They looked like a knitting circle drawing from a common basket of yarn as they sat around munching green algae.

If I take good care of them, in a few months we should have baby shrimp. Fingers firmly crossed.

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Yay marimo!

That’s Grand Moss Tarkin on the left.

When I blogged about my aquarium three years ago, I neglected to mention one of our favorite residents–and the only one of the original gang still alive at this point: Grand Moss Tarkin. GMT is a marimo “moss ball”. Marimo balls aren’t really moss, but they are really cool, so I’m going to yap about them.

As every marimo site on the net will tell you, marimo aren’t really moss. They’re filamentous green algae, Aegagropila linnaei. If they’re not periodically rolled around, some of the algal filaments strike out on their own, and the ball form gets ragged. The above photo of Grand Moss Tarkin shows some stray filaments on the left.

Aegagropila linnaei has three growth forms: loose filaments, a continuous carpet on submerged rocks and logs, and as a ball or marimo. Marimo form in cold, clear lakes in Japan, Russia, northern Europe, Iceland, the northern US, and Canada, where waves roll colonies of algae across smooth lake bottoms to form spheres. Japanese botanist Takiya Kawakami coined the term ‘marimo’ in 1898. ‘Mari’ is a bouncy play ball and ‘mo’ is a general term for aquatic plants.

Last weekend I transferred Grand Moss Tarkin from the aquarium to the vase shown at the top of the post, and I liked the effect so much that I decided to get more. Aquatic Arts sells marimo on Amazon, and they had good reviews so I ordered a batch of 10. As you can tell from the above unboxing photo, they actually sent 12, and all 12 were in good condition.

To revive the marimo from the rigors of shipping, I followed the instruction sheet that Aquatic Arts put in with the order: I put the marimo in a bowl of cold water for half an hour to revive them a bit (that’s why there are ice cubes in one of my photos), then swished them in the water and gently squeezed them to clean them, and hand-rolled them a bit to get them back into nice spherical shapes.

Now they’re in various containers scattered around the house. All of the containers in this photo cost a buck apiece. The three on the left came from the dollar store down the street, and the thing on the far right is from a snow globe kit I picked up on after-holiday clearance at Target.

Although this looks like an ecosphere, it’s not. Like most aquarium organisms, marimo do best with regular partial water changes, which I’m planning to do every week or two. The water changes will also swap the air in the two closed containers, which should be plenty frequent. Marimo do grow but they grow slowly, only about 5mm in diameter per year even under optimum conditions. There are giant marimo from lakes in Japan that are a foot across, and given the rigors of life in the wild, some of these are suspected to be 200 years old.

If you’re interested in keeping marimo, they’re easy to find. Most aquarium shops have them–I got Grand Moss Tarkin at the local PetsMart–and they’re available at lots of places online. I can’t vouch for most of the online sellers, but Aquatic Arts came through and I will certainly order from them in the future when I want more marimo. Here are their marimo on Amazon: link.

The most comprehensive care guide that I have found is at The short, short version is that marimo are pretty hardy and easy to care for. Being lake-bottom organisms, they don’t require bright light or warm water. Room temperature water and ambient indoor light are enough to keep them going. If they start to flag, an overnight stay in the refrigerator and a pinch of salt should perk them up–marimo do quite well in brackish water. You can hand-roll them back into spheres when you do water changes, to mimic the wave action that would maintain their ball shapes in the wild. And…that’s about it. Marimo don’t do much, but they’re pretty, easy to care for, and scientifically interesting, and that’s a good combo for a pet or houseplant or whatever you might call these things. Recommended!




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What did The Last Jedi leave behind?

This, we’re lead to believe, is pretty much the whole Resistance at the end of TLJ. So good luck wrapping up the trilogy, whoever comes next!

As much enjoyment as I’ve gotten from TLJ in the past (see this and this), I am coming to hate it more and more. Yes, J.J. Abrams left whoever was coming after TFA with a lot of mystery boxes–Rey’s parents, Snoke’s origin, Ben’s turn to the Dark Side, the origins of the First Order and the Knights of Ren. Rian Johnson clearly hates mystery boxes so he blew them all up, or just ignored them. Even Ben’s turn to the Dark Side is given short shrift; by the time Luke goes to confront him, he’s already been corrupted by Snoke (how? when?). But what did Johnson leave for the next director in line? Pretty much nothing. A dozen survivors on the Millennium Falcon is pretty damned small seed from which to grow a third movie.

If TFA left too many questions for the next movie, TLJ left nothing at all. Contrast it with the end of ESB. The Rebel fleet is a Chekhov’s gun, now we know the Rebels have a fleet with some big-ass capital ships, we can expect some stuff to go down in the next movie. Lando and Chewie are off to rescue Han, Yoda’s still out there on Dagobah, and Luke has promised to go back and complete his training. Even if George Lucas had been hit by a bus the day ESB opened, he’d left plenty of threads for someone to make a third movie. People are piling on J.J. Abrams for shoveling so much backstory into TROS, like Leia’s Jedi training, Luke’s search for Exegol, and just Exegol full stop, but hell, what was JJ supposed to do? TLJ left him nothing to build on, so of course the first chunk of Ep 9 had to be an alternate Ep 8 so there would be some stuff to resolve. Everyone and their dog is now saying that TROS should have been either three hours long, or split across two movies (and this started well before #ReleaseTheJJCut took off). Although they aren’t saying it in so many words, this is a tacit acknowledgement that Rian Johnson kicked the chair out from under whoever was coming after him.

Not that TROS is blameless! Remember that inspiring idea that anyone could rise up from nothing to become a hero? It’s flying away forever.

I think the convention wisdom on the sequel trilogy is going to go south, soon, and stay there. The prequels may have been the most woodenly-acted, bloodless exercises in pure worldbuilding that have ever made it to the big screen, but at least they gave us new things to look at (and, er, competent worldbuilding). The sequels are individually watchable, collectively kind of a storytelling dumpster fire, and ultimately just depressing. Because they could have, and should have, been much better.

(Yes, this is my grumpy old man hangover post on the whole sequel trilogy. And maybe just the first in a series!)

Posted in sequels, Star Wars, The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker | 1 Comment