I am joining the dungeon23 craze. If you haven't heard of it, Dungeon23 means writing 1 room of a dungeon each day, every day in 2023. My project will be an dying cyclopean Megamall in the same modern horror setting as these monsters

This vast decaying megamall has lain outside your home town for as long as you can remember. Your parents remember the days when they used to shop there. You grew up with stories of the wondrous things they bought. The light and sound and colour. The air inside smelled of popcorn and sweet syrup and caramel. It was a magical place. A dream.

Things have changed. The lights flicker and fade. Huge sections of the mall lie empty and dark. Sometimes you think you can glimpse unknown constellations or planets inside the glass domes. Twisted shapes scuttle within. But still, people come. They flood into the mall from all across the country. They can't help themselves. They dream of it. Perhaps somewhere inside, they can finally buy the answer to all their problems.



Scientists estimate that most humans are between 20% and 60% real. with some outliers that achieve up to 70% materiality. Wei is different. He breaks every chart and destroys every reality sensor in a 20 mile radius. He is the only true human, and the rest of us are just figments of his imagination. 

Random boss idea: Destroy the Action Economy.

All art in this post by Artem Demura.

We've all heard the problems with big, solo boss monsters in D&D. They can easily become boring, grindy, and non-threatening. The poor things end up getting killed before they get a chance to do anything cool. The PC's have access to a huge array of bullshit that can easy grapple, restrain, stun, or put your hapless boss to sleep. The action economy is fundamentally against a solo boss, which it makes it really hard to make a fun, challenging solo boss in the "Combat as Sport" style of play.

Here is a random, simple idea for helping with these issues: Scrap the action economy. Just throw it in the trash. Instead, do this.

After each player's turn, the boss takes a turn. 

Each time the boss takes a turn, it can move and take 1 action. Actions can just be typical examples like this.

  • Claw. +14 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d6 + 8) slashing damage.

So after a player takes their turn, the boss can make a claw attack. But actions can also be linked together in action chains, like this.

  • Careful shot. The Archer aims at a target and slowly draws back his bow.
    • The Archer fires. +12 to hit, 2d10 damage. 

After Player A's turn, the boss does the first action (drawing the bow). Then after player B's turn, it completes the action chain by doing the second action (firing an arrow). 

Here's another example of an action chain.

  • Blood Moon. The Wolf rears back and howls. The sound makes your head pulse with wild pain.
    • The moon turns blood red. The area 10 feet around the wolf begins to squirm with black liquid.
    • Burning blood rains from the sky. Everyone within 10 feet of the wolf takes 3d10 damage. 

or this.

  • Grapple. The plant grabs the nearest player. Make a DC 20 strength save - if they fail, they are grappled and take d6 damage.
    • The plant pulls the target into its maw. They are trapped inside and take d8 damage a round until they can free themselves with a successful DC 15 Strength check. 

By doing this, you can foreshadow attacks like in a videogame. It gives the PC's a short moment to see what's about to happen and get out of danger. If the monster misses the first attack in the chain, the rest of the chain doesn't go off.

In the normal action economy, foreshadowing like this is tough to do. If your enemy spends a turn powering up for a big attack, it's just wasted an entire round! It probably won't even survive to unleash that attack. With this system, it's very easy and simple to foreshadow what the enemy is about to do, because each action is split up so much more. 

This is great because it lets the PC's experience those heroic moments. "Jane, you can see the dragon is bearing down on the wizard, about to swallow him whole - what do you want to do?" Jane has a turn to try to save the wizard from danger before he's devoured.

You could simply follow the normal initiative order with this system, or even let the players decide what order they want to go in.


Instead of taking an action, the boss can take a reaction like this. 

 After someone shoots a projectile at the Archer: He snatches it out of the air, cancelling the damage, and quickly fires it back with his bow. +5 to hit, d6 damage.

 <- This symbol means it's a reaction. The GM can choose to trigger it when a specific condition is met. If the boss makes a reaction, they've used up their action for that turn. 

Weak Points

You can also use action chains to easily create classic video-gamey scenarios where the enemy is vulnerable after their attack. Here's some examples:

  • Giant Swing. The warrior moves and swings the gigantic axe at the closest PC. +10 to hit, 2d8 damage. The axe is buried in the wall or floor. 
    • The Warrior struggles, then pulls their axe free with a crunch and holds it high above their head in triumph.

  • Charge. The Boar aims at a spot with the most PC's clustered together in a group. It prepares to charge.
    • The Boar charges in a straight line until it hits a wall or solid object, dealing 2d12 damage to everyone hit. Whatever object or wall it hit will be destroyed.
    • The Boar staggers around, dazed. All attacks have advantage against it. 
    • The Boar shakes itself and regains its composure.

  • Death ray. The machine opens up its chest and fires a death ray from its heart. 3d8 damage in a 60ft cone, 19 Dex save for half damage.
    • The machine overheats! Its beating heart is exposed! Any attack that targets the heart  double damage this turn.
    • The machine closes up the iron protecting the heart and stops being vulnerable

Again, in a normal action economy you'd be making the boss vulnerable for an entire round - way too much. With this system you can open it up for only 1 or 2 turns, so only a couple of players get the chance to seize the opportunity and try to make their attacks count. 

Desperate actions

<- An action with this symbol is a desperate action. It can only be performed when the boss is at half health or lower. For example:

  • ✸ Desperate Flame. The dragon lets out a shriek of terrible rage. Ash and smoke billows around it.
    • A cloud of ash surges from the dragon. The area within 80 feet is covered in smoke, making it difficult to see. The dragon inhales. The heat intensifies.
    • All terrain within 80 feet is ignited like tinder. Each creature on the ground must take d6 fire damage on each of their turns for the next minute.

This is a simple way to do "Phases". Desperate actions should be something that seriously change up the battlefield and the situation.

The Horde

You can use this same technique to run a huge horde of enemies. Let's say you have a wave of countless undead converging on the PC's as they try to hold out. Don't run individual turns for every enemy - that would take forever. Just give them a group health pool, and have them take an action after each PC action. For example: 

  • A zombie latches onto you and tries to bite you. +5, d8 damage, save or become infected.
  • Rotting hands grasp at you from all angles. DC 18 STR save or be grappled.
    • The hoard drags you away from the rest of the party and into the mass of undead. 2d8 damage each round until you make a DC 18 STR save or another party member saves you.

When describing attacks, you can narrate the party cleaving through 3 zombies in a single blow. But mechanically you just keep track of the group health pool for the horde, and continue to take an action after each PC. When the health runs out, the horde falls apart or their morale breaks. The remaining survivors flee or are easily dispatched. This is an easy way to running any combat against a large group (an enemy army, goblins, orcs, etc). 

Converting 5e bosses to this system.

Movement: Divide the movement rate by 4 (roughly - round up if needed). The boss can move that far each time it takes a turn. So instead of moving 40 feet a round, the monster could move 10 feet after each player's turn. 

This works out to the same amount of movement with an average party of 4 players, but splitting it up might make the boss feel a lot more dynamic and mobile. It constantly moves around the battlefield and changes the situation instead of just sitting there for a full round while the PC's pile on.

  • Normal Attacks: You'll want to reduce the damage. If the boss normally makes 1 attack per round, I would roughly divide the damage by 4 to make it work for this system. 
  • Multi-Attacks:  If the boss has a multi-attack (like Claw, Claw, Bite), then each component of that multi attack can just be a single action. 
  • Big Attacks: For a big attack like a breath weapon, an AOE effect, put it into an action chain. Try 1 or both of following:
    • Add 1-2 actions beforehand to foreshadow the attack.
    • Add 1-2 actions where the enemy is vulnerable afterwards. 
  • Specific Attacks: For something specific or niche, consider making it a reaction to a specific trigger. When the dragon is attacked from behind, it uses its tail attack. This is cool because it allows the PC's to learn the boss's behaviour (better stay away from that tail). 
  • Status effects: For big status like paralyzation or charm, put it in an action chain of 2-3 steps. The effect gets worse each step until it finally accomplishes the full effect. 

Example: Adult Red Dragon.

Here is an example using this technique to revise the Adult Red Dragon from 5e. Click this image for the google drive link. 

So, what are the benefits of this idea?

The boss always gets to do something cool.

Using the traditional action economy means that a single opponent doesn't get to do very much. A combat might only last 3 rounds, which means the boss only really gets 3 chances to actually do anything. That's not much! It doesn't feel like an exciting, dynamic opponent. More like an opponent that's holding on and hoping it survives until its one big turn.  

This system means that the boss is CONSTANTLY doing cool stuff, every turn. Even if you have 5 PC's and they manage to kill the boss in the first round - that means the boss got to do 5 cool things. So the boss always gets a chance to show off and have some interesting things happen. 

More dynamic situations.

Instead of the boss sitting there while you wail on it for 5 player actions, the situation changes every single turn. The boss is constantly moving and doing something, so there is always something new to consider. I think the simple dynamic of "I Go - You Go" would make combat flow a lot better. 

Less insta-kill attacks.

Because a solo opponent only gets 1 turn in the round, they need to really deal a serious amount of damage if they want to actually be a threat. That can make encounters very swingy. You're 100% fine, then suddenly you get hit by Claw / Claw / Bite all at once out of nowhere and wiped out instantly. By splitting up the attacks throughout the turns, each individual attack is more reasonable and gives the players more time to react.

But because of the foreshadowing of action chains, you can feel free to really rip into PC's with big, devastating effects - because you've warned them that something big is coming up and given them a chance to avoid it. Effects like charm, paralyzation or being turned to stone would all be fine to use with a bit of foreshadowing. 

It's scalable.

This technique automatically scales to the number of players you have. 1 player fighting the boss would be just as viable as 8 players fighting it. 

You might just need to change the HP a bit. I would consider dividing the HP by 4, and then giving it that much per player. 

This is all just a theory at this stage, so if anyone does end up trying it out I'd love to hear the results. Let me know in the comments below. 

The Thief, the Witch, the Toad, and the Mushroom.

The chrysalis weakens. The video game I've been working on nears completion.

I'm planning to release it on Steam and in 2023. You can see more info on the website here or wishlist the game on steam using the link below.

Community Service Carousing for Mausritter

The Carousing Table is an OSR classic. OSR games often reward XP for treasure, which can leave your players with tons of loot and not much to spend it on. Carousing solves that issue by adding a money sink - your players can always get rid of excess cash for a benefit. Plus it naturally generates adventure hooks at the same time!

Mausritter offers a wholesome twist on this idea with community improvements. Your mouse can earn additional XP by spending their treasure selflessly on improvements for the whole community. For every 10 pips spent this way, your mouse earns 1 XP.

This is lovely, but the rules don't offer any specific ideas on what you could spend money on to improve your community. So, here is a community improvement table! 

If someone wants to invest their hard-won pips back into the community, roll on this table 3 times to give them a few options for what to invest in, and let the players choose which ones they want. Each improvement comes with a potential benefit you could reward the players with, and an adventure hook to inspire you. 

Roll d66 (d6 x10 + d6):

Community ImprovementBenefitAdventure hook

Dig a new well for the town. May make a wish once per session. Spirits may help you with your wish (giving you advantage on one critical roll to achieve it).You unearth an ancient cave with a lindworm (a blind, pale snake which breathes poisonous smoke). It speaks your tongue and knows many secrets.
12Build a bridge over a nearby river, or tunnel through difficult terrain.Easier travel (1 watch to cross hex instead of 2).Toad moves in under bridge and begins demanding toll.
13Help grow crops or create a community garden.1d3 free rations each time you visit town.Pumpkin harvest spirits haunt the fields and cause low-level mischief. If appeased, they guarantee a good harvest.
14Rebuild a church of the mother. Priest can provide 1d3 flasks of holy water each time you visitLearn of an ancient artefact of the mother, the holy thimble, in an adventure site nearby.
15Create a boat or vehicle for the community that can travel between towns to ferry goods.Store stocks a better selection of goods. Torches, lanterns and other utility items may have +1 use.Bandits plan an ambush to hijack the vehicle. Traders ask for PC protection.
16Fund a local carnival or harvest festival. Can win human artefacts as prizes at carnival. Fierce competition for the best costume and display. Some mice may plan sabotage to win the prize: The Golden Pumpkin. 
21Dig burrows for free community housing.Free rooms when you're in town.Burrowing accidentally uncovers the ruin of an labyrinthine mouse burrow from centuries past, haunted by old ghosts.
22Build a local theatre. Free masks, disguises and other theatre tools.Mysterious figure haunts the theatre, causing accidents and demanding that a certain mouse be made the star of the show.
23Improve accessibility of the village (ramps, better facilities for older mice, etc). Grateful local mice help you with your projects (building things, etc).Mysterious rat stranger with cane and eyepatch thanks PC's and hints at pirate treasure.
24Paint and repair local homes or businesses. Install secret passages that will help you and the town in case of attack.Discover a nest of bats hiding in an old home, fleeing enemies in another faction.
25Build a fire station to help handle bushfires and other disasters. Safety during rough weather events. Rowdy fire-fighting mice ask the PC's to assist them with a disaster (fire, flood, landslide, etc)
26Fund medical facilities. Full rests in town take half as long to heal you. May be able to heal strange, normally unhealable conditions.Doctor asks for assistance with mysterious experiments in dream serum. Mice enter hallucinogenic trance that leads them to the dream world.
31Build an arena where mice can compete in games of strength (woodchopping, rope climbing, duels, etc). +1 STR to all hirelings. Brawny mouse attempts to impress PC's by beating them in a contest.
32Fund your local library. Can research the answers to 1d3 questions each time you visit town. Librarian discovers occult tomes with dark knowledge and asks the PC's to seal them away safely. 
33Build watchtowers. Watch-mice will see any threats coming and warn the town with a gong. Watch-mice notice a travelling caravan of circus-folk in the distance that seems to have gotten lost and waylaid by bandits.
34Fund local arts and crafts supply.Free items: Paintbrushes, string, modelling clay, human pencils.Inspired artist creates painting of mythical unicorn-frog creature - claims to have seen it nearby.
35Create a home for local stray beetles. Free beetle hireling with +1 inventory slot.PC's hear rumour of a magical beetle nearby with mysterious powers (eg, can see ghosts). No mouse has ever tamed it.
36Protect, reclaim and rejuvenate local wilderness. Gain 1d6 rations when foraging instead of 1d3.Fae spirits take a liking to you, may kidnap you into fae realm. 
41Repair and fix clothes for mice of the village. Mysterious local tailor may craft costumes of unknown make and potentially magical abilities for the party.Must steal a piece of human clothing to complete the project (Sock, glove, stocking, etc).
42Create a field for local sports. Mouseball, that kind of thing.+1 Dex to all hirelings.PC's may gamble on games. Some mice try to rig the game for a big payout. 
43Buy better musical instruments for local bards. Free Bard hireling (Gives group +1 to reaction rolls). Bards go on tour throughout local settlements and request PC protection for their travels.
44Fund your local school.+1 WIL to all hirelings.Teachers ask PC's to recover lost texts, hidden in a frog library. 
45Build a tower for local hedge witches / wizards.PC may be taken on as an apprentice and gain a spell.Mouse Warlock requests a piece of a fallen star to complete the project. Meteorite shard can be found in nearby adventure location.
46Build local beehives.Earn d3 fresh honey rations each time you're in town.Queen Bee is kidnapped by a spider queen.
51Create more mouse holes and tunnels in human territory.Easier to move unseen through human territory.Hamster escapes and settles in town, has wild tales of treasure in human child's room.
52Fund local leatherworking.Can upgrade armour. Gains +1 DEF against specific damage source (Eg fire).Armourer tells you the location of a magical shield or piece of armour.
53Fund local blacksmiths.Can upgrade weapons. Deals +1 damage against specific target (eg birds). Blacksmith tells you the location of a magical weapon.
54Fund local brewery.Gain 1d3 jugs of ale when you're in town (gives advantage on WIL saves and disadvantage on DEX saves for d4 turns).While drunk, you overhear some noblemice discussing a terrible scheme against a good faction.
55Fund a local bat cult.Can hire 1 bat mount as a hireling for 40p per night.Must seek out a great sacrifice to summon the Night Queen.
56Fund fungus farm.Gain 1d3 mushrooms each time you're in town. Some heal d6 STR when eaten, others deal d6 STR damage when eaten. Fungus farmers tell you of a mysterious Truffle Lord, a fungus-creature who rules the mushroom realm under the farm. 
61Fund local cartographer's guildGM provides more detailed maps and information about hazards in the region.Cartographer gets lost mapping unknown place and must be rescued. Has a detailed map of a nearby adventure site.
62Fund community newspaper.GM provides more information about faction goals and actions each session.Newsmice ask you to help with investigative reporting of local murder / conspiracy.
63Fund activism against corrupt noblemice.May be able to topple local noblemouse and take over their manor.Resistance cell asks you to help them free prisoners from noble's dungeon.
64Create shrines to appease local spirits.Spirits in the area will watch over you and protect the town in subtle ways.Offended trickster Bogart causes havoc (curdles milk, spoils eggs, etc). Must be defeated or appeased before project can be completed.
65Exorcise ghosts from local graveyard.May speak to the spirit of a previous dead PC / NPC and gain knowledge.Exorcist requires PC's to defend the ritual circle from angry spirits while they complete the exorcism.
66Fund local worm farms.Free worm mount hireling. Can burrow through earth on command.Worm farmers discover giant worm king that knows no master. Can it be tamed?

I would allow the players to put as much money as they like into these, and just adjust the scale of the project based on how much money they put in. Say if they wanted to dig a well: a tiny amount of money could get a small well started, but a large amount of money could create a giant well and get the project finished much faster. Each improvement would take about 1-3 weeks to complete (depending on the scale and amount of money put into it). 

I would only give them the benefit if they invest a meaningful portion of their wealth into the project, or do something extra to get the project completed (Eg contributing items or their own labour). Otherwise, the XP should be enough of a benefit.

Positive Conditions

I also want to reward PC's for spending a little extra time or money on relaxing in town and living the good life. You've gotta have those Redwall feasts. You know what I'm talking about:

"October ale and strawberry cordial, tarts, pies, flans, and puddings, served out and replaced by fresh delights from Redwall’s kitchens. Turnovers, trifles, breads, fondants, salads, pasties, and cheeses alternated with beakers of greensap milk, mint tea, rosehip cup and elderberry wine."

My idea is to award positive conditions. I would give these out when the PC's spend some extra time and / or money on living the good life. Getting the best room at the inn, throwing a feast or a party, putting on a play, that kind of thing.

Well-fed. Mark 1 use to gain advantage on a STR save or to remove the Hungry condition. Earned from eating luxurious or exotic foods or quaffing fine wines and ales in a comfortable setting with fine company. 

Well-rested. Mark 1 use to gain advantage on a DEX save or to remove Exhausted. Earned from relaxing experiences like taking a lush bath, getting your fur groomed extravagantly, or sleeping in a burrow you own, laid out with the specific furnishings you love.

Well-content. Mark 1 use to gain advantage on a WIL save or to remove Drained. Earned from sublime and life-affirming experiences with your loved ones, like enjoying a grand festival, putting on a play, or finishing some great creative work.

For a normal example (like spending extra money for the best room at the inn) I would give these only 1 use. More extravagant efforts (Like throwing a huge feast for the whole town) could give the PC's a positive condition with 2 or even 3 uses - but the PC's would have to spend a good chunk of money or effort to earn that. You can use the online Item Studio to create these and print them out.

Making sure your adventurer is having a good time normally isn't rewarded in D&D, which is why you sometimes end up with adventurers sleeping in a ditch instead of spending money on an Inn. Having a good time, being cosy and throwing feasts is such an important part of the genre, I think it's worth rewarding the players for doing that. 



Corporations are people. So when a corporation is murdered, it leaves behind a ghost. A vast invisible presence that slowly rolls across the country. Spectres like this commonly rise after a company has been gutted by a private equity firm. If you could see it, it would look like a rolling wave of pale corpse-fat stretching across the horizon. 

When you walk through a normal ghost, you feel cold. But these ghosts are so huge that people sometimes spend their entire lives inside them. For these poor souls, their entire life feels distant and foggy, like it's happening to someone else. They always feel cold, without knowing why. 

As it rolls through an area, a curse of decay falls upon the land. You're laughing with your friends in the mall when you hear them fall silent. You turn to find it empty, dark, and full of stagnant pond water. The amusement parks are all abandoned. The stores are suddenly bankrupt. Reality dips by as much as 20%. These are null-zones, blank spaces on the map where benevolent Lord Mammon cannot pass, and the invisible hand of the free market drags all businesses into their graves. 

These roving Abandonment Zones slowly move across the country. Elite hedge funds employ trained haruspices to track their movements, so they can buy and sell accordingly. Insiders are given tip-offs just before the ghost hits, allowing them to divest their holdings in the area. Like birds fleeing before an earthquake, the wise start packing their bags when they see the limosines leave town.


Everything talks.

It is critical to a fairy-tale atmosphere that the players can speak to absolutely anything. They should have no problems talking to humans, imps, nixies, ghosts, horses, cats, dogs or any creature in its own tongue. 

Talking to inanimate objects like brooms, doors, swords or chairs requires a WIL / CHA save. This may have disadvantage for larger or more important objects (DM's discretion).

They could even complete a quest to speak with greater beings like the old mountains, the rivers, and the bones of the land themselves. To do so they might need to journey to the heart of the mountain, the source of the river, etc. They would have to offer something of great value to earn an audience. 

Not only can everything talk, everything is willing to talk. Even a hungry wolf will politely tell you that it is about to eat you. A hostile or unfriendly roll on the reaction table will still begin with a conversation before bloodshed begins. This opens the door to escape hostile encounters with trickery, riddles, etc.

Whenever they try to talk to something unexpected, roll a reaction roll to see how it feels about them  (table taken from Mausritter). 



Hostile. How have you angered it?


Unfriendly. How can it be appeased?


Unsure. What could win it over?


Friendly. What could it trade?


Helpful. How can it help you?

Objects can move and act to a limited degree when they want to - leaping out of your hands, rolling away down the street, deliberately twisting when you try to use them, etc. If the players start talking to an object, here's a simple table for inspiration on its personality. 

Inanimate object personality table:

  1. Stuffy and officious - proud to be doing the job it was made for. May request paperwork.
  2. Salt-of-the-earth, working class object. Thinking of forming a union.
  3. Mischevious, tricksy, planning to break or twist at the wrong moment
  4. Exhausted from hard labour, resigned. "What now?"
  5. Loves to gossip. Has some scandalous stories about the broom and the scullery-maid.
  6. Furious over some small slight from the last person to use it. "Never even said thank you."
  7. Amiable, chuckles constantly at its own bad jokes. Wants to rest its old bones.
  8. Lovesick. Sighs a lot. Pines after some other object that has gone away. 
  9. Nihilistic and gloomy. "We'll all end up on the trash-heap one day."
  10. Newly-made. Naive, young and optimistic. Wants to see the world.
  11. Cunning, sinister, hatching a plan to escape and commit evil deeds.
  12. Dog-like - friendly, excitable and loyal to master.
  13. Cat-like. Aloof, detatched. Thinks that you are here to serve them, not the other way around.
  14. Motherly, old english maid type, wants to take care of other objects.
  15. Lazy, whining, wants to do nothing all day.
  16. Burning the candle at both ends. Desperate, hyperactive, wants to do things as fast as possible.
  17. Solemn, wise, old. Knows much about the ways of men. Wants to pass away with dignity.
  18.  Scoundrel and rogue. Charming, will sell you down the river at the first opportunity.
  19.  Vain, pompous. Says its creator was the pre-eminant craftsman of his age. Wants attention. 
  20. Slow, sleepy, deep monotone voice. Works slowly but patiently. Everything in its time.
This is a truism I have found: An encounter is almost always better if the monster can talk. 

Treating a mystery like a dungeon - Random Encounters

“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
-Raymond Chandler 
Here's something I've been thinking about lately: Are there any ideas from OSR Dungeon Design that we can take and use to improve our mystery games? 

Dungeon design has recieved a huge amount of discussion and refinement over the years, and there may be some fruit we can pluck for other genres. Here's one thought from this vein:

Random Encounters

Roll for encounters every time the PC's perform a major action, and whenever the PC's do something that could draw the attention of the malevolent forces behind the mystery.

Major actions are things like moving to a new location, spending time researching in a library, or engaging in a fight. You can think of each major action as one "Scene". 

To roll a random encounter, roll d6. On a 1, an Encounter occurs. On a 2, an Omen occurs (signs or hints of an encounter).

Each adventure would have a random encounter table, but here is a simple example that could be used for any Film Noir style mystery where the PC's are tangling with an evil organisation. 

  1. A thug bursts through the door, firing a gun. They plan to kill whoever the PC's are talking to, in order to silence them - then escape.
  2. The bad guys sneak in and bug the PC's phones or lines of communication.
  3. The bad guys ransack the PC's home or place of business. They will steal any valuable items or information the PC's have. 
  4. An NPC with vital information is kidnapped. PC's will be sent a letter with demands ("Leave town or we kill them", that kind of thing). 
  5. One of the PC's friends or contacts is bribed to turn traitor. They will feed the PC's incorrect information to send them into an ambush.
  6. The PC's car or method of transportation is rigged with a bomb. It will explode the next time it's used.
The encounters should be dramatic moments where the NPC's advance their goals or try to stop the PC's investigation. 

  1. There are signs that a low-ranking person from the bad guys was just here (footprints, cigarette butts, car tyre marks, graffitti, things like that). 
  2. There are signs that a high-ranking person from the bad guys was just here (footprints, cigar ash, witnesses saw a fancy car, things like that). 
  3. A group of thugs trail the PC's in a black car. They will attempt to escape if the PC's catch on.
  4. A high-ranking member of the bad guys begins to follow the PC's, pretending to read a newspaper. They will attempt to escape if the PC's catch on.
  5. The NPC's in this area are frightened. They've just been intimidated by the bad guys. 
  6. One of the PC's friends or contacts starts to feel like they're being watched. The bad guys are staking out their house.
The omens should be clues that foreshadow danger and give the PC's a hint about your mystery. 

In a real adventure you would customise the table to your needs, with 6 encounters and omens that fit your mystery. In a lovecraftian adventure, you could also roll for an encounter whenever a PC interacts with the mythos (Eg, saying Hastur's name aloud). 

How to write one yourself

One easy way to start is to make a list of the important pieces of information that hold up the mystery. For example:

  1. The Duchess is having an affair with Lady Aubergine
  2. Lord Smothersberry was smuggling in cocaine through the docks
  3. Lord Smothersberry was killed by Lady Aubergine in a duel
  4. ...
Etc, etc. Try to make a list of 6 pieces of important information. Then, create 1 encounter for each piece of information. Each encounter is related to that piece of information in some way.
  1. The Duchess attempts to destroy any evidence the PC's have gathered (raiding their home base, burning papers, etc)
  2. Lord Smothersberry's smugglers confront the PC's, attempting to rob or silence them
  3. Lady Aubergine tracks down the PC's and challenges one of them to a duel.
Finally, use this list to create the list of Omens. The omens can just be signs or clues that are relevant to each encounter.
  1. Signs that the Duchess has been here recently.
  2. Signs that the Smugglers have been here recently.
  3. Signs that Lady Aubergine has been here recently.
Etc. It should be pretty quick and simple to write this up for a published adventure, as long as you know the key pieces of information you need. 

The benefit of this approach is that it makes sure your encounters tie in to the core fabric of your mystery - they aren't red herrings or distractions, they are moving the game forward in a meaningful way. You don't have to follow this though - you could also make a list of the core factions or NPC's in your mystery, and make encounters that relate to each one.

The Benefits

I think this does quite a few things elegantly.

1. It makes it feel like the NPC's are actively working towards their goals. 

It's easy for a mystery with many moving parts to feel a bit static. The GM has a lot going through their mind. It's tough to think about what all the different NPC's would be thinking and doing while the PC's are investigating.

The random encounter table does this for you. You just fill it with entries that represent the NPC's attempting to complete their goals (For example: Lady Blackbeard finally hunts down the amulet of Zorathstra.) It makes the situation feel dynamic and vibrant without needing to spend a ton of work.

2. It creates a time pressure and forces the PC's to make interesting decisions.

Again, time pressure is something critically important that can be hard to pull off. If there is no time pressure, there's no tension, and the PC's can spend all the time in the world doing whatever they want.

Some mystery adventures have specific timelines - the ritual happens in 3 days, this happens at 11:30, etc. This is handy, but it can easily go off the rails if the PC's go off-script. 

An encounter roll gives the PC's that feeling of time pressure constantly and easily. Just like a normal dungeon, you should be transparent and open with your PC's about this. "Yes, you can read through that occult tome, but it'll take some time so I'll roll an encounter check. Do you still want to do that?" 

And as a bonus it adds a nice push-your-luck element, because you also roll if the PC's do anything that is likely to draw attention from the malevolent forces behind the mystery. "Yes, you can infiltrate the mob's speakeasy, but that's likely to draw attention so I'll roll an encounter check. Do you still want to do that?"

3. It keeps the mystery moving.

If you run into a situation where your players have hit a dead end and don't know what to do next - that's when you can pull out a random encounter to push things along. 

All of these encounters should, of course, come with clues that help push the PC's towards the main mystery. The man who comes in firing a gun has been sent by the mob boss. The PC's can interrogate him for information or follow him back to his lair or find evidence on his body. Either way, things are moving. 


Brian Froud.

"What a happiness this must have been seventy or eighty years ago and upwards, to those chosen few who had the good luck to be born on the eve of this festival of all festivals; when the whole earth was so overrun with ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, specters, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks [necks], waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins [Gyre-carling], pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost.

Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its specter, or its knocker. The churches, churchyards, and crossroads were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder-stone on which an apparition kept watch at night. Every common had its circle of fairies belonging to it. And there was scarcely a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit!"

Source: The Denham Tracts, edited by James Hardy, (London: Folklore Society, 1895), vol. 2, pp. 76-80.

I'm toying with the idea of making an RPG where you play as tiny imps, goblins, bugaboos, pixies, and other chaos-spirits who venture out into the world of men to steal and cause mischief.

The core mechanics would be heavily inspired by the chunky, toy-ified inventory system in Mausritter. You should click that link to read the pay-what-you-want PDF rules if you haven't, the system is fantastic.

Each item is represented by a physical chunk of cardboard that takes up physical space in your inventory. Like in Knave, your inventory is your character. All the character customisation and everything that makes you a wizard or a thief or a fighter comes from your inventory.

In this game, on top of the normal physical items from Mausritter, your inventory would also hold intangible objects. Sprites can bargain for memories, thoughts and dreams. They can steal away a person's courage or a year of their life. They hoard truth, beauty, and human souls. All of these things become objects in your inventory.

Here's how I'm thinking of doing it:


You can collect souls by making a deal with the living. Sometimes, you can also find them trapped in the corpses of the dead. Spirits typically collect souls in a bottle or some kind of talisman. A normal soul takes up 1 slot in your inventory and has 3 uses.

Souls are used to cast spells. They work just like spells in Mausritter, which used ideas from Glog. You can mark uses to get Magic Dice, which you use to cast it. The more dice you use, the greater the effect.

To regain uses, you have to do something the soul wants. For example, the first soul here wants you to break promises, leave friends for dead, or betray your allies. If you do anything that fits that description, you can recharge 1 use. A particularly big example of doing what the soul wants could recharge more, at the DM's discretion. You can only recharge each soul once per day.

Soul of a:



Wants you to


Hanged Thief

Make target invisible for [DICE] turns. Any movement reduces duration by 1 turn.

Paranoid, secretive, fickle & irresponsible.

Break promises, leave friends for dead, betray allies


Forgotten Tyrant

Shoot a fireball up to 24'. Deal [SUM] + [DICE] damage to all creatures within 6'.

Angry, brutish & insecure.

Prove your strength, dominate others, gain power.


Leper Saint

Heal [SUM] STR damage and remove the

Injured Condition from the target.

Self-sacrificing, peaceful, timid & meek.

Sacrifice yourself for others, deny your own needs, submit.


Daredevil Acrobat

Target can walk along walls and ceilings for [SUM] turns.

Cheerful, devil-may-care & egotistical.

Take unnecessary risks, gamble your life, get attention.


Buried Giant

Grow a creature to [DICE] + 1 times its original size for [SUM] turns.

Nostalgic, slow, thoughtful & depressed

Preserve history, prevent change, bury ancient artefacts.


Doomed Lamplighter

Create a 20ft cloud of impenetrable darkness for [SUM] turns.

Despairing, gloomy, hyper-critical & fatalistic. 

Fail dramatically, undertake doomed quests, suffer a terrible fate.


Disgraced Detective

Open a door or container, as if a Save were made with a STR score of 11 + [SUM].

Stubborn, desperate, lawful & uncompromising.  

Discover the truth, uphold the status quo, punish chaos.


Slick Con-man

Cover [SUM]+2' area in slippery, flammable grease. Creatures in the area must make a DEX save or fall prone.

Fast-talking, always has an angle, everyone's a sucker.

Shirk obligations, escape justice, sell snake-oil, cheat and swindle.


Corrupt Politician

The target regards you as a good friend for [SUM] turns.

Laid-back, charming, boastful and proud.

Make dangerous deals, get in over your head, hatch cunning schemes.


War-Dog Trainer

Create an illusory dog that can carry [SUM] inventory slots for [DICE] x 6 turns.

Blunt, gruff, brutally honest, secretly caring.

Care for strange and dangerous creatures, take in strays, save captives.

It's inspired by the skills in Disco Elysium. In Disco, all of your skills have their own personalities, and they're constantly butting in with their own ideas about what you should be doing. They feel vibrant and noisy in a way I really want to replicate.

I think this recharge mechanic is an elegant way to make it feel like the souls are whispering to you. In Disco Elysium, the game is constantly making passive checks in the background to see if your skills chime in to interrupt you. But a GM in a tabletop game doesn't have the brain-space to do that.

Tying it to the recharge mechanic puts it in the players hands. They want to recharge their stuff, so they'll always be looking out for opportunities to do something the soul wants. That mimicks the feeling of the soul whispering in your ear and pushing you to commit vile deeds.


Memory of being lost in the woods. 

"Don't worry," your father said. "I'll be back soon."

Memories can be bargained for, or stolen out of the heads of sleeping humans. A normal memory takes up 1 slot in your inventory and has 3 uses.

Whenever you make a check that's relevant to the memory, you can mark 1 use to give you advantage to that check. You can also use a memory to give an ally advantage to a check in the same way.

For example, this memory of being lost in the woods could be used to grant advantage to checks related to survival, nature, or tracking.

When you first get the memory, you and the GM would collaborate to decide what exactly the memory shows, and what kind of checks it should apply to. It would be an open discussion. The memories would all be deliberately a bit odd to encourage outside-the-box thinking and creative problem solving. Nothing like "Memory of swinging a sword." Instead, things like:

Memory of discovering an awful truth. 

A hidden letter. A family secret. You never should have opened that door.

In this way the inventory system also acts as a simple skill system. Whether your character is a skilled tracker, pickpocket, social manipulator, etc - you can customise all these things based on what memories you have in your inventory.

I'm not sure memories should recharge during downtime, or if they should just be gone for good once they're used up. Perhaps you would need to re-enact the memory in some way to recharge it.


You start out with d6 HP at level 1. Once your HP is depleted, your items start taking damage.

Each item can soak 1 damage per slot it takes up. So, a 2 slot item can take 2 damage. You always choose which items soak the hit. If you take damage and you have no items left to soak with, you die.

I'm imagining you flip the items over to show that they're damaged. Inspired by the board game Root.

Your items are stored in up to 12 inventory slots labelled 1-12. Whenever you damage your items, you roll a d12. If it hits the number of a slot that holds a damaged item, that item riots. It goes out of your control and starts acting against you.

There would be a whole table for this in the final rules. Souls could fire off randomly, or take possession of you and begin forcing you to do things. You could become trapped in a memory and unable to tell what's real. Weapons could misfire, items could fall out of your pack and roll away from you. Etc etc.

Your inventory should feel loud, vibrant, chaotic. Always whispering to you as you play.

HP would be very easy to heal - A short rest of a few minutes would heal d6+1 HP. Inventory damage would be your "Meat damage", more serious and hard to recover. Perhaps a long rest would heal d6 slots worth of items, or possibly you'd need to head back to a friendly goblin town to repair.


I'm imagining a huge variety of items which would act a bit like Feats, GLOG templates, or special abilities in other games. Possible options include:
  • Stolen Beauty: Mark 1 use to gain Advantage on a reaction roll (roll 3d6 and take the highest 2 dice).
  • Stolen Voice: You have stolen someone's voice. Mark 1 use to mimic their voice perfectly for an hour. You can pass yourself off as that person with a successful Charisma check.
  • Bottled Luck: Mark 1 use to re-roll a natural 1 from you or an ally.
  • Dream of Falling: Mark 1 use to cancel all damage from a fall.
I'm thinking abilities like this would be fairly rare, something you only get after a major milestone or quest.

Potentially you could even increase your basic stats with items like this, like "Stolen Strength: +1 STR". If I went down this route, I could replace levelling up completely with the inventory system.

Gaining a level could simply give you +1 or +2 inventory slots (which would also, elegantly, give you more health and survivability). All the other aspects of levelling up like increasing your stats, getting more skills, gaining special abilities, etc - it would all be done with items. I'm very tempted by this idea.

The neat thing about this is that it puts the character customisation choices in the game itself, rather than in choices made outside the game. If you want to be strong, you have to hunt down a strong person and steal their strength. It's not a matter of choosing a specific feat in-between sessions, or making a choice in character creation. It's a choice that you made and carried out in the game world.


Potentially the Spirit currency could be years. Each coin represents 1 year of your life. If you lose your last coin, you are fated to die within the next 2d10 days.

But, I equally like the idea of focusing on a barter system with no currency at all, to move away from standard D&D money systems. Needs more thought.


This system was partially inspired by the GLOG hack BONES.As I was writing it, I was also surprised to see this post on Mental Encumbrance pop up. I guess great minds think alike.

Both BONES and the Mental Encumbrance idea have separate inventories for your physical items and your mental items (I.E. Spells, skills, and intangible notions). I experimented with this idea a bit but in practice, I found it wasn't giving me the tough choices I wanted. I found I could carry heavy weapons and armour in my physical inventory, and also carry a ton of spells in my mental inventory. I didn't have to choose between them as much.

I like the idea of having all these things take up the same inventory. It's simpler, and forces you to make more interesting choices.


I have a lot more ideas about the overall structure. Basically, the game would be focused around factions. Each faction would come with a list of unique items which you could either steal from them, or gain as quest rewards. You would work with or against these factions to earn unique items and improve your character. But I'll have to elaborate further in another post.

I'm not sure how far I'll go in developing this idea, but I'm interested to hear what people think. Let me know if you have any feedback or ideas in the comments.