The One About the Barbarian, the Giant Spider, and the Invisible Empire

Campfire tales, giant intelligent spiders, a particularly vindictive emperor, and of course the Worlds Without Master debut of Barbarian Lord!

Behold the treasures that await you with the pages of Worlds Without Master issue 7:

399-IconYou can get your copy for $3.99 at, Payhip or DriveThruRPG.

Go get it now. I’ll wait. When you get back, let’s talk a bit about Invisible Empire.

This is the first of a trilogy of games designed to teach the fundamentals to the various Swords Without Master phases.

This first game is called Invisible Empire, which is an allusion to Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili or Invisible Cities. They share some common ground. Both are about describing to rulers of vast empires the sights to be seen (or experienced) within those empires.

Invisible Empire is an exploration of the Discovery Phase from Swords Without Master. You don’t need to know Swords to play this game, but I want to talk to theSwords players for just a moment with a string of text that might not make sense to other folk. If haven’t readSwords, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.Invisible Empire is like an Overplayer-less Discovery Phase where Stymies and Mysteries make you look Suspicious, causing you to create a new thread called a Secret, and when you roll a Morale, you don’t create a thread but you do bore the Silent Emperor, which is not good. The threads produced in this game can be taken to a Swords game and used in tricks or overtricks.

Right, so that’s out of the way. Here’s what’s going on in that game. You all play explorers, emissaries, courtiers, wandering knights, astrologers, dancers, or whoever has an excuse to be in the court of the Silent Emperor. You will all stand before the throne and tell the court of the wonders and horrors you’ve seen in your travels through this massive empire. You start by rolling dice that will tell you whether your story should fill your audience with Awe or Dread. The dice will also tell you if you’re omitting something important—either through deception or ignorance—and if you might just be boring the Silent Emperor. Whatever you describe, even if you are omitting something, you will make one other person at court corroborate your account by asking them a leading question.

The whole game is a race between the players’ ability to describe the fantastic sites they’ve seen and the horrid fickleness of the Silent Emperor. As you give you accounts, the other players will be listening for moments of true wonder or horror, and they will record them. As you roll the dice, the Silent Emperor will be listening for lies, omissions and tedium. Characters who receive too many Black Marks of Displeasure this way are dispatched in ways design to entertain the Silent Emperor and the court.

You can get this puppy, along with two sword & sorcery tales and an episode of Barbarian Lord in issue 7 ofWorlds Without Master:

You can also guarantee you won’t miss out on the next in the series, Beggars’ Night, by becoming a member of the Patron Horde:

You can also increase the odds of finding someone else who will play the game with you by sharing the hell out of those links.


Here’s what I have said about #51in15:

Over the course of 2015, I intend to play 51 different tabletop games. Some of these shall be roleplaying games. Some shall be card games. Some may be boardgames. I suspect even one or two will be wargames. Some will be new to me. Some will be new this year. Quite a few will probably still be somewhere in the design process. Some will be old. And some I will have played a thousand times before. But I will only count each one once, no matter how many times I play it over the course of the year. So there will be a variety of them.

Several have taken up the challenge and begun their own list of 51 different games played in the year 2015. In fact, enough folks are participating that I thought it might be fun to add some achievement badges into the mix. Take them and display them proudly in your trophy room or upon the Internet. Or, secret them away, so you alone can enjoy the fruits of your victories. Don’t let me tell you what to do with them.


I’ll add more of these—one for each month—as those new months approach. But some folks are burning through their games so fast, and I wanted at least one badge waiting for them at the finish line. Also, expect badges for those of you blowing past 51. Ramping all the way up to . . .


But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Instead, let’s take a look at some more manageable goals.


For those who have played at least five games with more than five players apiece.


For those who have played at least 30 games that have taken less than 30 minutes each.





As you might expect, I have a vested interest in seeing people play a larger variety of role-playing games. These are for the brave souls who can rise to the challenge and have made at least 6, 15, 30 or 45 of their 51 games roleplaying games.





If you’re going to earn any badges this year, make these the ones! (Here are a couple links to help set you down this path:’s list of women RPG designers and Designing Women on Board Game Geek.)

I’ve got more badges on the way, but these should get us started. Please feel free to make your own! Especially if you have a horse in the race. In fact, if you do have a horse in the race, congrats, you just earned this badge:


If you want to make your badges look like mine (and you are certainly under no obligation to do so), this is what you need to know:

  • The images are made from icons swiped from the nifty
  • The dimensions are 346 pixels by 116 pixels because that is the most harmonic of the dimensional ratios.
  • The font for the sash is Century Gothic and the other font is Trajan Pro.

The Near Destiny of Dig 1,000 Holes

  • Pencils have been pushed.
  • Numbers have been crunched.
  • Maths have been done.
  • And all calculations point to the same inescapable conclusion:

2015 will be my most productive year since the 70s.

This is no easy task, given the productivity of the past couple of years. In 2013, I published the entire Vast & Starlit library, What is a Roleplaying Game? and Wolfspell, not to mention launching the Worlds Without Master ezine. In 2014, with the combined might of the Patron Horde at my side, I published four more issues of Worlds Without Master and through them two new roleplaying games: Swords Without Master and Sorceress Bloody Sorceress.

However, 2015 will see, among other projects, at least four new games from me.


Lincoln-IconThere are many trials an idea must go through before it starts to take shape as an actual game. And that’s when the true tests begin. Thus far, this Robin Hood inspired game is proceeding apace. It has officially reached the point where I have more trouble envisioning a future without it than I do envisioning a future with it.

It will be well into the year before the game is done, but there will be mischief afoot in the Greenwood afore that. Keep a wary eye upon the #LincolnGreen hashtag on G+ for more details anon.

Worlds Without Master Presents

Worlds-IconI have three new games waiting to be published within the pages of Worlds Without Master. The first of these will likely be is Invisible Empire, wherein ambassadors, explorers and other dignitaries eschew crucifixion by delighting the Silent Emperor with accounts of the many splendors and horrors to be found under his gracious and benevolent rule.

This will probably be followed by Beggars’ Night which is about the night the beggars’ guild took their revenge upon the thieves’ guild. And then by one tentatively entitled The Red Ecstasy of Glory. Each of these is a stand-alone game playable in an hour or less, but they also make up the foundation for Swords Without Master and are designed to teach how to squeeze the very best play out of that system.

In addition to these new releases, a few titles previously published in the ethereal pages of Worlds will reappear in more tangible forms, the first of which you will hear about in a few weeks. I do not wish to spoil the surprise, but wolves may be involved. And mayhaps spells. Wolves and spells. But I have already said too much.

I’m not even stopping there when it comes to the future of Worlds. 2015 will probably see six new issues, which means more fiction, more comics, more games, more swords and more sorcery. Including some rather terrifying plans to blossom into new forms. If you’re not already a member of the Patron Horde and you don’t want to miss out on all this, you best get on that.

The Untold Future

D1kH-IconThere are a few games that have been sitting on the backburner (some for quite a while) that are slowly reaching a boil. I will not mention them by name, for I wish to avoid disturbing their simmering slumber. We cannot yet count them among the works slated for release in 2015, but we can hope.

We can always hope.

The Tally

But let’s set that bit of vague speculation aside for the moment and look at the cold, hard numbers.

Best Year for Total Game Releases

2013 with 3: Vast & StarlitWhat is a Roleplaying Game? and Wolfspell.

Best Year for Total Issues of Worlds

2014 with 4: Issues Three through Six.

Projected Releases for 2015

4 new games: Lincoln Green, Invisible Empire, Beggars’ Night and The Red Ecstasy of Glory.
6 new issues of Worlds Without Master.

As I have said, these calculations are inescapable: 2015 will be my most productive year since the 70s. I will dig these thousand holes yet!

The Fire is Lit

Issue 6 for Worlds Without Master has been unleashed upon the world. It’s a 23-page PDF that includes:

399-IconYou can get your copy for $3.99 at, Payhip or DriveThruRPG.

Go get it now. I’ll wait. When you get back, let’s talk a bit about A Scoundrel in the Deep.

Oh, you’re back! Wonderful! Now we can talk about playing with fire.

As you can see, A Scoundrel in the Deep is a two-player roleplaying game that—like some other ground-breaking roleplaying game Wil Wheaton has told me about—uses something far more exhilarating than dice to keep things moving. In the case of ASitD the action is prodded along with fire. Specifically, a lit match.

“…My lamp dwindles. Tired and hungry, I must scramble in pitch dark, only a few matches in my pocket separate me from endless inky blackness…”

One player plays the titular Scoundrel, who has plundered the Tomb of the Deep and now seeks to return to the surface world. This scoundrel is a bit lost and low on resources, but fortunately they have with them a handful of matches. Unfortunately, it is but a handful.

The other player plays the Deep who seeks to extinguish the light and the Scoundrel with it.

The players play a game of chicken with a book of matches, striking them and narrating as the flame burns ever closer to their flesh. Dropping the match or blowing it out before you’re finished advances your opponent towards their goal. The pace is, predictably, swift and delightfully frantic at moments.

But pacing aside, perhaps the most alluring aspect of this mechanic is the sensuous side of it. From the satisfying feel of strike; to the smokey, slightly sulphurous scent; to the warmth of the fire growing into an alarming heat, the matches are much more than a simple timer.

In just a couple weeks, Winter solstice will be upon us. Before then, I urge you to find a friend and play this game. Learn it well. Then, in the depths of the longest night of the year, play it again in the dark.

A Year of Sword & Sorcery

Over on the Worlds Without Master site, I posted a retrospective on the first year of publishing the ezine.

It’s a lot of numbers, but it gives some idea of where the money’s coming from and where it is going and the barest hint of future plans for the ezine.

The Economics of Interstellar Crime, or How Vast & Starlit’s Pay-What-You-Want Scheme Is Getting Along

It’s been a little over a half a year since Vast & Starlit went Pay-What-You-Want, and I’m curious to see how this endeavor is panning out, aren’t you?

For now, DriveThruRPG and its sister sites are the only places you get your hands on the PDF. The other avenues currently available to me do not handle Pay-What-You-Want too terribly well. In a moment, I’ll talk about how this is less than optimal, but let’s look at the numbers we have, first.

I started offering the Vast & Starlit library as Pay-What-You-Want on the 26th of December, 2013. As of this post then there have been 455 downloads, 141 of which folks paid for. In fact, people have paid a total of $410.35 for the game. If you don’t count the free downloads, that means folks have paid, on average $2.91 a game. If you do count the free downloads (which would be nonsense, but we have the numbers, so why not?) folks have paid on average 90 cents a game. Most folks who paid (31 of the 141) paid $3. The most anyone paid for the game was $10.


Oh, look at that, a chart! I’m not going to have any insightful analysis to offer here, but I should be able to make up for that in charts.

Read More

An Official Worlds Without Master Website

Worlds-Without-Master-AdWhen you’re looking for your sword and sorcery fix, you have no further to look than

It’s got it all . . .

And between now and the full moon, if you use the coupon code “WizardsEyrie” you’ll get 25% off all those back issues you’ve missed. Then visit Patreon and join the Patron Horde so you don’t miss another.

Worlds Without Master Issue 4, Now With Cover Art!

Thanks to the might of the Patron Horde and talents of accomplished artist Rachel Kahn, I am very pleased to present the first ever issue of Worlds Without Master to feature full-color cover art!

Issue four of Worlds Without Master includes:

  • “Two Swords of Mars,” a tale of swashbuckling upon the red planet, by Rose Bailey.
  • “The Prize of Banteteth,” another Snorri & Manyara tale by Epidiah Ravachol.
  • Illustrations by Gary McCluskey and Jon Taylor.
  • More “Oh, the Beating Drum!” from Bryant Paul Johnson.
  • “See New Places, Meet Interesting People & Visit Retribution Upon Them,” a supplement to Enter the Avenger (found in issue 1) by Rafu.
  • And the aforementioned full-color cover art by Rachel Kahn.

If you’re not already a part of the Patron Horde (and you should be), you can pick up your copy at DriveThruFiction or DriveThruRPG.

Or you can purchase it direct from me at the Worlds Without Master website.

It’s Tricky

Patron Horde member Jon Cole has whipped up a nice little reference sheet of all the tricks in Swords Without Master.

It now joins the Rogue Sheets, the Lore Phase & Thread, and Ritual of the Neophyte in the growing library of Swords Without Master material.

Swords Without Master was published in the third issue of Worlds Without Master:

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

Or you can purchase it at DriveThruRPG.

Welcoming New Wolves to the Pack


Thanks to Stras Acimovic for the photos and the impetus!

At the behest of a member of the Patron Horde, I have put together some handy cards to help spread the word should you find yourself playing Wolfspell or Swords Without Master with someone who has never played before.

You can find the whole set here as individual cards, sheets designed for use with scissors and sheets for those of us wielding paper cutters.

Some disassembly required.

The Swords Without Master card comes with its own ritual: The Ritual of the Neophyte–Give the card to someone playing Swords Without Master for the first time and you may celebrate by changing the Overtone to Jovial.

IMG_20140410_012406The Wolfspell card also has a rules modification: The Way of Fang & Claw–Give the card to someone playing Wolfspell for the first time to turn a Blood result they just rolled into a Wolf result of the same value.

Feel free to print, share and use these however you wish. They are slightly classier than getting a QR code of tattooed across your back and then insisting people take pictures of it with their phones. I have been told that that is not acceptable and that if I don’t put my shirt back on, I’ll get kicked out of the pub.