A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



A New Beginning

It's been eight months since I post here... better now than never.

Over the past week I've been thinking a lot, specifically about Atomic Age.

In case you don't know, Atomic Age is my post-apocalyptic treatment of the Archmage Engine, which powers 13th Age. It came to be because I wanted Gamma World, and I wasn't allowed to create Gamma World content for fear that WotC would sue me into non-existence (they had threatened to do so already). But, during its development, it became something different... It's still post-apocalyptic, but not as zany and off the wall as Gamma World is known to be. I think of it as somewhat of a cross between Gamma World, Mad Max and what the future would be like in a Terminator film that didn't time travel.

But here's the thing... when you choose a system to develop your campaign setting around, most of the time you're stuck with the nuances of that system. The Archmage Engine is a great system, don't get me wrong, but there are some aspects of it that didn't feel right or I couldn't get to work with what I wanted to do. For example, how would mutations work in a 13th Age system? What about radiation poisoning? And there are some thing that came with it that I didn't want at all... like magic item "quirks", which are good by design in a fantasy game like 13th Age but just don't fit in my campaign setting.

Since I wrote most of Atomic Age, Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition made its appearance and the landscape changed. As is the case with the Archmage Engine, I have some issued with 5E in that, although it does some things really well, other things not so much. For example, creating monsters and encounters in 13th Age is stupid easy... in 5E, not so much. And 5E doesn't even come close to the background/icon system that Archmage provides.

So I had a crazy idea... why bind myself to a single system? DMs do it all the time... cherry pick bits and pieces from multiple systems, campaign settings, and other source material and create a virtual Frankenstein's Monster of an RPG system to use in their homebrew campaigns. Only I want to take that Monster and publish it.

So I decided to try and write my own RPG system, picking and choosing the features that I want from multiple systems and melding it all into one amorphous blob that will power Atomic Age.

I'm insane, aren't I? Seriously, I have no idea how this is going to go... mainly because it's a daunting task and I'm not exactly sure I know what I'm doing in this regard.

But I can't do it alone.

So I've done something crazy: I've reworked my Patreon to be aimed specifically towards the creation of this new engine. And I'm going to do something even crazier: try to stick to a regular schedule in which I dicuss what this engine is going to be, which means this blog will hopefully see activity it hasn't seen in ages.

Will this become a reality? Who knows... but I have to try. A lot of work has been done for the Archmage Engine version of Atomic Age, but I don't see that ever being cobbled together in such a way that I will be happy with all aspects of it. Hopefully, this way I will actually be happy with it because it'll be wrapped around something I myself put together for the specific purpose of powering the campaign setting.

I hope you all will join me on this crazy ride. My Patreon is open to your support! If you sign up now, you will get my latest published adventure, Witness Protection, absolutely free!

Ever forward...


Gamma World Remnants: Accelerator Control Robot Guardian

In Where Worlds Collide, the party first needs to gain access to the computer systems that seal off the accellerator control room of what was once CERN. The site's AI, known affectionately as C3 (short for the CERN Computing Centre), has started to charge up the accellerator and intends to unlease a miniature black hole on Gamma Terra. Once the black hole is released, Gamma Terra will collapse in to a singularity and life as we know it will end.

Despite the multiple levels of security that block access to the accelerator core, C3 felt it necessary to add one final line of defense: a massive robot it refers to as "the Guardian". This hulking behemoth was manufactured out of the heavy machinery used to assemble and maintain the LHC itself. It has a wide assortment of weapons - laser batteries, flame thrower, flame retardant systems - and two arms. One of the arms has a enormous steel fist backed by pneumatic pistons, while the other arm ends in a five foot wide buzz saw.

For this encounter I wanted to give the impression that C3 had a lot of time on its hands, so whenever it discovered another new toy it did not hesitate to weld it on to the robot's frame. Therefore, I wanted this robot to be a walking arsenal of destruction, having every weapon and the kitchen sink at its disposal. It actually is the largest single stat block I've ever created for any 4E monster.

I never got around to designing the room itself, but it was going to be a large massive chamber with the usual bells and whistles prominent in most Fourthcore adventures. Since the module was meant for a party of level 5, going up against this level 8 behemoth was going to be quite the challenge.

Anyway, hope you all enjoy this one.

Where Worlds Collide - Accelerator Control Robot Guardian (PDF)


Gamma World Remnants: Gammacore Reactor Control

I've been wanting to release this for quite some time, just haven't gotten around to it.

This was one of the planned areas in my cancelled Gamma World "fourthcore" (or "gammacore", as some have called it) project When Worlds Collide. The whole campaign was meant for a party of about 5th level.

In similar style to previous fourthcore releases, this is one of four possible areas the players must traverse in order to reach a computer system at the North end. It's a combination encounter and pseudo-puzzle involving prisms and very painful particle beams.

Hope you enjoy!

When Worlds Collide - Reactor Control (PDF, 448K)


Gamma World Remnants: The Love Bus

The following are exerpts from the cancelled Gamma World module The Fortress of Dr. Neb. You are welcome to use any part or all of the below, but I would appreciate hearing about it if you do!

Dr. Neb's Island Fortress

After the party deals with the situation in "Site 13", it was time to face the... "man"... himself: the infamous Dr. Neb!

The fiendish doctor's fortress is on an island in the center of a lake, a good quarter mile from shore in every direction. The island could be compared to the island fortress of Dr. No, just as Dr. Neb himself could be compared to pretty much every Bond villan rolled in to one.

Therefore, there are three possible ways to get there:

  • The subtle manner: procure a boat and navigate the mine-filled waters as you approach the island.
  • The moderately subtle manner: a dramatic incursion by air, hoping that you won't be detected and fired upon by anti-aircraft batteries.
  • The far from subtle manner: drive down the narrow road that connects the island to the mainland, plowing through all sorts of debris and obstacles along the way, and crash right through the front gate.

Since subtlety is not our specialty, here we present the ground approach.

The "Love Bus", complete with stunts and roof-mounted gun options.

The Love Bus

Just outside of Wildwood lives a rather loopy individual, someone who is known only by the name of Crazy Max.

Crazy Max has a special form of transportation that is perfect for this situation: an armored school bus, painted completely with bright groovy colors and swirls, with a roof mounted assault cannon. For a bus that is almost a century old, it's in remarkable condition and even includes a turbo boost system for some added kick.

Tires: It has ten wheels and the tires are protected by a layer of thick armor plating; the tires cannot be punctured by a critical hit from the outside.

Cannon: On the roof near the back is a converted artillery cannon that fires two types of shells: solid steel slugs and high explosive grenades. Before firing each shell must be loaded in to the cannon as a Minor action, and once loaded the cannon can fire in any direction. It must have one person sitting inside the gun to operate.

Roof Platform: There is also a ladder that allows access to a small platform on the roof. As a safety precaution, along the railing there are safety lines that players can use to secure themselves and prevent from falling over the side.

The Long Road

Features of the Area

Illumination: Bright light during the day.

Road: The road is paved highway forty feet (8 squares) across and 1,000 feet (200 squares) long. It is mostly clear of debris, except for the occasional hazard that might crop up (see below). To either side of the road is another twenty feet (4 squares) of dirt, grass and rough terrain, which is considered difficult terrain for the bus to move through. Beyond that is the lake, which is considered hindering terrain and the bus would sink like an anvil if it entered.

Road Hazards

At the start of the encounter roll a d10 and add 30; that is the number of squares ahead of the starting point there is before one of the below road hazards appears. After each hazard, roll a d10 and add 20 to see when the next one will appear.

When it is time for a hazard, roll a d6 to determine what appears:

1) Small Potholes: A 10 square stretch of the road contains 1d10 small holes in the pavement (in order to simplify random placement, you can use a d10 to determine the row a hole is in and a d8 to determine where along the road’s width the hole is to be placed). The holes are spread randomly throughout the area and each hole is considered difficult terrain for the bus.

2) Large Potholes: A 12 square stretch of road contains 1d4 large holes in the pavement. Each of the 3x3 holes is positioned randomly throughout the area and each hole is considered difficult terrain for the bus.

3) Small Barrier: A small barrier (debris, construction divider, etc...) one square deep blocks one of the four lanes in the road (use a d4 to determine which lane). The barricade is considered difficult terrain if the driver elects to try to drive through it (see the Punch Through Barrier stunt above).

4) Large Barrier: A formidable barrier (pile of concrete, abandoned vehichle, large tree, etc...) two squares deep blocks one or two two lanes in the road (use a d4 twice to determine which lanes; if the same value comes up twice, only that one lane is blocked). The barrier is too large to break through, and if the bus strikes the driver gets a saving throw; on a success, the bus passes alongside it in an adjacent square, and on a failure it crashes.

5) Makeshift Ramp: A large pile of debris completely blocks two lanes on the road, but the debris is shaped in to what appears to be a ramp. The driver can either avoid it or attempt to jump over it (see the Ramp Jump stunt above).

6) Oil Slick: A 5x5 patch of oil lies somewhere in the road. The oil is considered challenging terrain and if the bus enters it the driver must make a Mechanics DC12 check or lose control.

Air Defense

Of course, the diabolical Dr. Neb isn't stupid... He can't rely just on a bunch of debris to stop would-be intruders. So he created his own Air Defense Force, a squad of trained aerial experts who can rain fire from above at anything that approaches the compound.

Needless to say, Dr. Neb was hard pressed to find people to work for him, so he turned to his scientists to help create the perfect aerial soldier: flying squirrels equipped with rocket-propelled hand gliders.

And there are quite a few of them... in and around the compound there are a total of two dozen squirrels just waiting to take off. Some are assigned to the main road, some watch the waters for anyone trying to sneak in, and some are in a constant circular flight pattern securing the airspace above the fortress.

Once the squirrels are alerted, they will attack in waves:

  • First Wave: 5 Flying Squirrel Gunners (level 2 skirmisher)
  • Second Wave: 2 Flying Squirrel Gunners (level 2 skirmisher), 2 Flying Squirrel Bombers (level 2 artillery), 1 Flying Squirrel Rocketeeer (level 2 artillery).
  • Third wave: 2 Flying Squirrel Gunners (level 2 skirmisher), 3 Flying Squirrel Rocketeers (level 2 artillery).

Once all the creatures in one wave are disabled or killed, the next wave attacks at the start of the next turn. Once all three waves are dealt with or if the bus makes it to the end of the road (200 squares), the attacks stop.

Flying Squirrel Tactics

Each of the types of squirrels has different tactics:

Gunners: Some will stay within range of using their Machine Gun attack, focusing their fire on either  the bus or the person manning the cannon. At least three in the first wave and one in each subsequent wave will try to land on the roof (assuming there’s room) and attack the passengers at close range.

Bombers: The squirrel bombers will attempt to fly ahead of the bus (even if that means taking shots from the cannon) and drop their cluster mines or road spikes directly in its path. Once they are out of things to drop, they too will attempt to board the bus.

Rocketeers: The squirrel rocketeers will remain at range, aiming either at the bus or at the road directly ahead of the bus. Given the opportunity, they will fire upon the roof and hope to catch the gunner and anyone on the platform with each blast.


If the party manages to make it all the way to the fortress, who knows what horrors await them inside? There they must battle all of Dr. Neb's loyal minions until confronting the evil genius himself at the heart of his island lair.

Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion to The Fortress of Dr. Neb!


Gamma World Remnants: Lepus Maximus

When the submission window opened for Dragon and Dungeon magazines, I immediately did the same thing I did the last time: proposed The Fortress of Dr. Neb and Where Worlds Collide as Gamma World adventures/delves.

Chris Perkins was thoughtful enough to answer at a greater length than the "we don't want any, thanks" one liner I'd gotten before:

Hi David,

I appreciate your devotion to the D&D Gamma World game (I’m a big fan of it myself), but we’re not looking to support it in the magazines. The decision has nothing to do with the game per se, which was always intended to have a finite product line. Wizards has made a brand/marketing decision to focus the magazines’ efforts on promoting the core D&D game experience.

We all kind of expected that to be the case: they have to focus on their core product, and there currently isn't any room for Gamma World. And, with its lack of support in the GSL, there isn't much of a venue for it at all. "It's not dead... it's restin'!"

The "finite product line" is an interesting comment; it means that there is no plans for any more Gamma World core manuals or add-ons. Legion of Gold was the last rulebook for it, and it will now have to wait until the next version. Maybe I'm interpreting it incorrectly, but I like to think that that doesn't necessarily mean modules or other "accesories".

But I have all these bits and pieces... What can I do with them? Simple... Give the stuff away!

This will be blog-exclusive content: it will not be in PDF form, and I will make no effort to actively sell or distribute any of this Gamma World content. I hope this isn't a problem (read: please don't sue me!). These remnants of Gamma World include elements from both the modules I mention above, and hopefully someone out there will draw inspiration from these bits and pieces and use them in their own campaigns.

So here we go... The following are excerpts from the now defunct module The Fortress of Dr. Neb... Enjoy!

Site 13

About thirty miles outside of Wildwood there is an abandoned missile complex known as "Site 13". It was buried under the desert sands for hundreds of years, only to have been recently discovered by the nefarious Dr. Neb.

But unlike the hundreds of missile silo that dotted the countryside, this one was not disassembled and still contained what it was designed for: a serviceable LGM-25C Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile, somehow overlooked by the military and left in its silo. The nuclear warhead, the navigation systems and the fuel were removed at some point, but in the hands of the doctor it won't be long before it can fly again and become an implement of mass destruction.

Dr. Neb began to prepare the missile intending to use its existence alone as a terror weapon, giving the residents of the surrounding area a choice: capitulation or annihilation.

Lepus Maximus

Dr. Neb had hordes of minions under his control, but that wasn't enough to defend such a prized possesion. He needed the ultimate guard dog to defend Site 13 from unwanted guests while he continued to make the missile flight worthy. He turned to his expertise in laboratory science and created what he called the Lepus Maximus: an enormous white rabbit that was close to ten feet long and weighed over three tons.

This behemoth stood within the electrified fencing of Site 13, lying motionless and obscured inside a specially made hangar filled with straw. If anything breached the outer perimeter, it would immediately spring in to action and pounce on it, tearing through it with teeth the size of dinner plates.

This creature was so large that it could theoretically be used as a mount, but after the giant rabbit ate one or two of them two Dr. Neb's minions didn't want to get anywhere near the thing.

Giant rabbit, a.k.a. "Lepus Maximus"

NOTE: "thunder" damage should probably be "sonic" instead.
Curse my traditional D&D 4e ways!


If you find a way to use the above, I'd love to hear about it. Otherwise, enjoy!

Next installment: Rollin' Down I-13 in a school bus. Just mind the raccoons!