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.

Goblin Knave: Tactician


A martial support class for Goblin Knave today! Click here for the class.


Complexity: Medium.
Suggested Ability Scores: Charisma, Strength.
Playstyle: Full support.