For My Ravening Wolves, Part I

Update: Swords Without Master Now Available!

Swords Without Master appears in issue three of Worlds Without Master

You can purchase a PDF of this issue from me for $3.99.

Or you can purchase it at DriveThruRPG.

 Purchase all three back issues of Worlds Without Master from me at a bundle price of $9.99.

Or you can purchase the bundle at DriveThruRPG.


A dark November has come and gone absent Swords Without Master and the wolves are at the door. They are hungry and clamoring and fear not winter’s cold. And all I have to offer is scraps and the promise that spring’s thaw will inevitably come.

Swords is not yet done, and I won’t be so foolish as to apply a third deadline to this project. But I’ve not come to this post empty-handed. This game may be subject to the ebb and flow of my own tumultuous life, but it has not suffered for the thrashing. It grows.

In lieu of an actual release date, I’ll be making weekly updates on Mondays letting you know where the game is and give you a glimpse of its many facets.

Swords is a project unlike any I’ve embarked upon before. I’m doing all sorts of grown-up things with it–figuring out a budget, buying art and hiring an editor. These are all rather lofty methods I’m not entirely used to, but I think the game deserves it. Such things, however, take time and money, and since Dig a Thousand Holes is a legion of one, they depend on my own personal time and money. That makes it all very hard to predict.

Right this week I’m working on putting together a draft of the second chapter (“The City of Fire & Coin”) that I’ll soon release as a free PDF on this very site. This is an introductory adventure that teaches you how to play the game from the get-go.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this brief glimpse of the city itself . . .

The City lies under an unforgiving sun at the crux of those well worn paths that lead bright caravans overladen with spices, silks, and far treasures from the searing eastern deserts. To the south, the hungry Old Kingdoms spew merchants and envoys into the city. It’s hard, high walls repel invaders from the north and west time and again.

Within, the metropolis teems. Peddlars, whores and thieves ply their nefarious trades among the throngs. The chaotic tangle of streets is home to slave and noble alike. Scattered bazaars of all manner offer goods mundane, exotic and improbable.

Above, troops of spear and sword wielding monkeys control the rooftops, waging wars among themselves. Below, the elite city guard prowl the wealthier neighborhoods on tiger back, protecting the Overlord and those in his favor while turning a blind eye to the violence of the slums and the workings of the criminal guilds. Beneath, dark and vast catacombs hide the least savory denizens from the harsh light of day.

This is the City of Opportunity, the City of Misfortune, the City at the Center of the World, the City of Fire & Coin.

If you have any burning questions about the game (that aren’t about when it’s coming out), I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments below.



  1. guyintheblackhat · December 6, 2010

    I want to see a rooftop monkey war somewhere in the artwork.

  2. Epidiah · December 6, 2010

    I just might make that happen.

  3. Ben Morgan · December 7, 2010

    This so needs a ridiculous awesome Boris Vallejo piece for the cover.

    — Ben

    • Epidiah · December 8, 2010

      It does need a ridiculously awesome cover. I have a number of artists in mind for it, but only time will tell.

  4. Scott LeMien · December 11, 2010

    Cool. Are there mechanics for generating descriptive details? Or, suggestions for scene types and kinda a thematic meta-script? I found that to be my favorite part of Contenders: scene types laid bare, characters with bottomless needs made for built in tragedy. It was the perfect soft-spot for me, and possibly no one else in the cosmos, where the rules told me just enough to frame the scene.

    • Epidiah · December 12, 2010

      Short Answer: Yes!

      Long Answer in Five Parts:

      Part I: Phases! There phases in Sw/oM, which are much like how you’d expect scene mechanics to work. They aren’t technically scenes, since you can switch from one phase to another within a scene as well as switch from one scene to another within a phase, but they often mark the change of a scene. A phase tells you which set of rules will apply and that has an impact on what you’ll be including in the scene. It gives shape to and helps form the scenes.

      Part II: Thunder and Storm! When the Overplayer begins each phase they are instructed by the type of phase whether or not they’re including a Thunder and/or a Storm. The Thunder is a vague, foreshadow-y threat. It’s something like, “And in the distance, you hear the faint sound of leathery wings on the wind.” When the Overplayer mentions the Thunder, they pick up the dice. This is a cue to everyone else that whatever the Overplayer just mentioned is a possible threat. Most phases have a Thunder.

      The Storm is an immediate threat. It’s right in the rogues’ faces and it’s something they have to deal with right now. Only the Perilous Phase has a Storm.

      The trick is, the Thunder is a fishing expedition. The Overplayer is tossing out Thunders to see which of them the players bite into. If you mention leathery wings in the distance and they light up, then you know there’s a Perilous Phase with leathery wings in the Storm coming up. It’s a really simple concept, but it does wonders for getting you going when you find yourself a little lost.

      Part III: You’re not alone! There are so many ways this game helps the the other players tell the Overplayer how to frame the next scene. Quite often they’re even writing it down. I may turn this part of the answer into it’s own blog post, actually.

      Part IV: Rituals and Styles! These are not so much rules, but agreements on how to use the rules. Many of them are for the rogue players to decided among themselves how to handle the fiction. The Ritual of the Long Spell, for example, tells all the other players that my rogue is going to be working on a spell throughout this fight. The Overplayer is enjoined to threaten me and the other players are asked to keep that threat at bay. And when everyone’s ready to end the phase, hand me the dice and stand back.

      But some of the Rituals and Styles are also an agreement among all the players on the sort of story they’re going to tell. An Intrigue Style, for example, tells you that a betrayal is involved and the sort of motivations everyone wants to see in the non-player characters.

      Part V: Lists! The book will be crammed with all sorts of assistance in the form of lists, charts, tables, maps, etc. If you’re ever at a loss, just turn to the Book of Thunder & Storm and pick something off of one of the numerous tables. Don’t know what sort of tale you’ll be telling? Consult the adventure map! It’s all a tribute to the endless and delicious lists from early AD&D (not to mention more modern implementations such as the Oracles from In a Wicked Age). You will not need to consult them every time you play, but they’re there when you need them.

  5. Scott LeMien · December 12, 2010

    Wow, this sounds like a massive undertaking! Awesome!

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