Non-Violent RPGs: Introduction

Conan, what is best in life?

A History of Violence

I wanted to talk about how roleplaying has changed in the years since D&D conquered the tabletop. There’s no getting around the hobby’s roots in wargaming. For those of you who don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons began its life as a fantasy supplement for a tabletop wargame called Chainmail. But we’ve come a long way since then. We’ve learned that there are other stories to tell than tales of bloody battle. There are stories of mystery, suspense, horror, and even love and friendship. You may not believe it, but there are stories which do not include violence at all, or which dramatically de-emphasize it.

Continue reading “Non-Violent RPGs: Introduction”


Thursday Quotable: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon


Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.

— Callahan’s Law from The Callahan Chronicals by Spider Robinson

It’s a difficult line to walk between gloriously corny, and heart-wrenchingly tragic, but Spider Robinson can walk it. In his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series, Spider spins the tale of a group of misfit barflies, who have come together across time, space, and alternate dimensions to share their stories of woe, and find solace in each other’s company. They also perpetrate the sort of puns that are rotten enough to get you banned from any reputable establishment. It’s a game, a sort of one-upmanship to see who can elicit the longest, deepest groan.

Among the patrons are Jake Stonebender, a folk singer whose wife and child died because he decided to save some money fixing his own brakes, Pyotr, a vampire designated driver who feeds on the bar patrons so that he gets drunk, and the patrons wake up with no hangovers, and Mickey Finn, a humanoid alien who was supposed to destroy the Earth, but then, with help from his newfound friends, didn’t. The owner of the bar himself, Mike Callahan, has his own secrets, but I won’t spoil those for you. Just don’t cause any trouble, or Mike will tell Fast Eddie to knock you out with his black jack. There’s a reason they call him Fast Eddie, and it ain’t just the way he tickles the ivories on the piano.


If I’ve conflated any of the book’s plot with the plot of the 1997 point n’ click adventure game, my apologies, but the game is so well written and acted (not to mention beautifully illustrated) that I consider it to be canonical in the series. It exists in that category of video games that I wish I could play again for the first time. In my opinion, this may be the best jumping on point for the series, and if you play it, you’ll be nothing less than transported. The environments are fully immersive, providing a panoramic tableau of rich, detailed animation, as you see in the screenshot above. And yes, you can interact with all of those characters, and they all have something snarky, witty, punny, or heartfelt to say.

And that’s the core of the Callahan Chronicals. Life is a tragic comedy in the Callahan verse, just as it is in ours. But in Callahan’s Saloon, they recognize the beauty and fragility of life in ways that only an alien’s perspective could imagine. So what does Spider mean when he writes “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy”?

I think he means the same sort of thing that comedian Patton Oswalt does when he says, quoting his late wife, Michelle McNamara: “It’s chaos; be kind.” The world is full of hostile forces that, ultimately, will kill everyone you ever loved, and destroy everything you’ve ever known. Our only antidote is kindness, humor, and listening to each other.

Thursday Quotable: 3 AM


Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning, there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three A.M.! Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out. The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It’s a long way back to sunset, a far way on to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead – And wasn’t it true, had he read somewhere, more people in hospitals die at 3 A.M. than at any other time…

— Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

Whoever said midnight was the witching hour? It’s three AM when the carnival train comes howling through Greentown like a chill wind through the keyhole in Charles Holloway’s aging heart. He starts to feel his mortality, and delivers us this deliciously poignant soliloquy, reminding us that we all must have our three AM, our dark night of the soul.

Check out my post from last All Hallow’s Read for more on this Bradbury classic. Shout out to The Ceaseless Reader Writes, for making me think of this classic Bradbury quote.

Flash Fiction: Dog

Image by Sav

The body had been drawn and quartered, medieval style. Whoever the killer was, he had help, and he had horses.

“Have you started questioning the local farmers?” said Helmsley.

Sergeant Amory nodded, sipping from his coffee thermos. “The boys are searching all the nearby houses as we speak.”

Something moved in the undergrowth. Helmsley squatted and drew a squirming pup out by the scruff.

“The victim’s?” said Amory.

Helmsley shook his head. “No. The killer’s.”

“How do you know that?”

Helmsley put the pup in his backpack.

The radio crackled to life. “Sergeant, we’ve found the horses, and… a kennel.”

~100 words

via Bikurgurl 100 Word Wednesday Week 60

Moves & Stunts: Premonition


Dungeon World (and by extension, the other Powered by the Apocalypse games) and Fate Core are two of my favorite games. Probably, their appeal for me stems from the fact that they are both so very hackable. Due to their modular design, it’s easy to create new content for them in order to create the exact roleplaying experience that you’re looking for.

Fate, I must say, does this better than Dungeon World because DW classes are pre-written whereas Fate characters are always built from the ground up. However, due to this difference, DW is a much quicker game to start playing than Fate (unless you have a crafty GM, and they start the game with on-the-fly character creation), because all you have to do is pickup your character class, select some options, and get to adventuring.

Continue reading “Moves & Stunts: Premonition”

Flash Fiction: Unicorn’s Lament


“Halt,” says the imperial guardsman, fingering the holster of his laser pistol.

I freeze before the transporter. I could run, but I would only look guilty. They’re not looking for me. They’re looking for a white horse with a single horn. They don’t understand. The legends are allegory.

“Passport,” he says.

I release my held breath. He doesn’t know what I am. A unicorn is not a creature. A unicorn is a person. We were once a proud people, but we’ve been hunted to the edges of the galaxy. For all I know, I may be the last one.

~99 words

via Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge

Non-Violent RPG Review: Quill

A Solo RPG by Trollish Delver Games

Dear Archduke,

Pursuant to my previously stated interest in non-violent games of the roleplaying variety, please find enclosed a review of the indie darling Quill, which touts itself as a solo, letter writing roleplaying game. As a connoisseur of the written word, conversant in the subtle art of communication, I’m sure you will find this game delightful in its elegant simplicity.

I Have the Honor to be Your Obedient Servant,

Sir Tristan

I mentioned last week that I’m interested in non-violent RPGs. The reasons for this are expounded in the introductory post, but suffice it to say here, that I do love to bathe in the blood of my enemies as much as modesty will allow, but I’m presently interested in exploring RPGs in which combat is not the point of the game, games which may expressly forbid violence, or else have no explicit mechanics for supporting it, and games which explore relationships other than hero vs. monster.

Quill is such a game. While this indie darling (it’s won awards) does not forbid you from telling stories of bloody conquest, it doesn’t especially encourage you to do so either. You’ll find there are no rules which tell you the balance of your sword, the bonuses to damage, weapon reach, or any other such nonsense. Instead, the three attributes you’ll be concerned with are your Penmanship, your Language, and your Heart. You’ll be more concerned with the quality of your words than the damage of your broadsword in this letter-writing RPG.

Continue reading “Non-Violent RPG Review: Quill”

Thursday Quotable: John Roy Stand-up

Pictured: Good looking, strong people

But what’s weird to me is that when nerds create fantasy worlds — and we are the only people that do — we create fantasy worlds where we would die in minutes. It doesn’t make sense. It takes a long time to write a book, and a fantasy world can be anything you want it to be. Why make up a world where the good-looking, strong people win again?

John Roy, Comedian

Is this cheating? It’s cheating, isn’t it…

Anyway, it’s a quote, albeit one from a stand-up routine rather than a book I’m reading. And it made me think. So, good enough.

Of course, you and I know that the reason the good looking smart people win is that it is a fantasy, and part of that form of escapism is imagining you are someone good looking and strong enough to win. But John Roy has a point. Why does it have to be that way?

In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, it’s not always the good looking, strong people who win. Usually it’s simply the most vicious, or underhanded. This lends a verisimilitude to his work that makes it more immersive. Because it is so believable, we are better able to embrace the fantasy elements, like dragons and elves, when they do appear. And we’re more likely to root for the ugly, good-hearted characters like Brienne, Tyrion or Arya (whom I’ll remind you had the nickname “horse face”) because of the contrast they provide with the overall mean-spiritedness of the rest of the characters.