Sunday, May 24, 2020

What is a Homebrew RPG?

There I was enjoying a nice warm cup of java the other morning when the topic of Homebrew came up in conversation, as it often does. Some people were saying that they homebrewed their game by altering the rules of a popular RPG. After spewing some java out my nose, I let out an anguished cry. How can that be what you mean by Homebrew?! I asked incredulously. I was offered a few quips in reply, but nothing that was said assuaged my feeling that this really was not the right word for what they meant. So I'd like to clarify what I mean when I say "Homebrew" in relation to RPGs.

I started GMing in 1978 with my first World, and first rules system, both going by the name of Elthos RPG. The rules I created after a skim-reading of "Men & Magic", the first volume of the original three (and highly magical) D&D booklets. My rules system had a couple of design goals. One was to eliminate the odd zig-zag math used by OD&D. I wanted even charts with easy to remember values. The second goal was to centralize (what later became known as) Conflict Resolution. I created one centralized chart that pits Difficulty Level vs Skill Level for all possible skills. In this way I wanted to avoid the need for endless additional charts for all of the doodads I might want to add to Elthos over time. The goal was to create a Homebrew system that I could rely on to only change in ways that make sense for me as the GM, and to avoid being tethered to rules systems that would inevitably alter the nature of the world itself. Thus I would be able to maintain my world for a long time exactly the way I envision it, and my world's history would not be subject to the whims of TSR's rules editions over time.

These two design decisions resulted in a system that has served me well for 40+ years.

The second leg of Homebrew is the Setting. My world is my own creation. Sure, of course I borrow ideas from many sources, historical and literary, but there is no tether that is tied to any of them. As such my world's only cannon is it's own history. The reason I wanted it this way is to keep my players from being "in the know" about things in the world that would be much more entertaining as surprises, than facts they encountered elsewhere. To me this is much more fun for everyone.

So for me, the word "Homebrew" suggests a creation from more or less whole cloth by the Gamemaster. Filled with surprises and idiosyncrasies that make sense to their creators, and are not beholden or tied to some corporate behemoth. It is the freedom and versatility of Homebrew that attracts my ardor. I think from a creativity perspective Homebrew is definitely the way to go.

As for what I think the correct word for what was mentioned by my buddy online the other morning is "House Rule". Homebrew and House Rule are two different things. There is some overlap, of course, but they are really quite distinct in my mind.

What do you think? Am I right about this? What's your definition of Homebrew?

Monday, April 13, 2020

Mythos Machine - New Sci-Fi Proto-World

Latest Elthos RPG Mythos Machine News

After a super flurry of updates, enhancements and bug fixes, I got through my rather long CrimsonScorpion Feedback List, and was then ready to get to what he had asked for originally.

Introducing the new Sci-Fi Proto World in the Mythos Machine!

This world is based on my current Campaign, titled "The Way of All Flesh". It's an Epic Scale Cosmic Sci-Fi / Space Opera exploring the conflict between High Technology and Nature. The story takes place within the context of ancient histories, and the dreadful potential of a future General Artificial Intelligence gone horribly, and exponentially, wrong.

This game is designed as an Adventure Seed, presenting a lead-in to games which the GM is expected to modify and expand upon throughout the course of play. You can play the Campaign and Adventures as is, or you can modify them, add your own, or simply use it as a basis for an entirely new World of your own creation. Feel free!

In each Proto-World you will find a Campaign or two, and a number of Adventures to get you started, along with the gear, races, classes skills, and powers that are germane to the World. There are also notes along the way that allude to the direction things may take in the World to help inspire the GM with ideas of their own. Be creative, take chances, have a great time!

Good luck and enjoy!

To get started just go to ... get a free copy of the Essential Rules Book via a link off the Information Page, and give that a go. When you feel reasonably comfortable with the rules then hop on to Settings and Make yourself a GM. Everyone gets a 1 FULL Year Free Trail period! After that it's a totally affordable $3 / month for Basic GM. Anyway, once you are a GM then go to the Worlds Page and click the "Create A New World" button. You'll get a choice of one of 4 Proto-Worlds by Genre. Fantasy, Bushido, Wild West and now Sci-FI!

Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Mythos Machine Demo - The World Things Holes Report

How I use the Elthos RPG - Mythos Machine to create my own Worlds, and in particular how I use the World Things Holes Report to help me ensure that my World is well designed and has everything it needs. Good stuff.


If you're interested in learning more about the Elthos Project you can find out more here: 

To go directly to the Mythos Machine:

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Mythos Machine - Demo - Equipment

Heya. Well, despite all that has been going on, we've been sticking with our Friday night bi-weekly games. We're play testing the Way of All Flesh Campaign, and I have to say, it's going quite well. Although I haven't really been able to work on it as much as I would like (super duper busy lately programming for the local children's hospital), I have been making good progress with it. It's a fun concept... though to be honest, at this point, given everything that's going on with Covid-19, it's striking perhaps a little close to the bone. But be that as it may, we are having a good time and able to meet online effectively to run the game. Nothing fancy. Just using the Mythos Machine and Discord Chat with Screen Sharing. Not bad!

Anyway, here is a brief demonstration of how I am using the Mythos Machine to manage my Campaign in relation to equipment for party members and their use of the Armored Ground Vehicle to carry their Equipment.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Defeating COVID-19 Through RPG Power

Well, we had our first COVID-19 game session, and it went well. We defeated "The Fear" and instead had a great time playing online instead of our usual around the living room table game. To do this we met on my Discord Elthos Server, where I created Text and Audio Channels for The Way of All Flesh Campaign. The chat channel and audio combined pretty well so that we could play a Theater of the Mind style game.  Elthos RPG Rules were used and that saved me from a lot of heavy lifting as the rules are nicely streamlined and the tiny math numbers making calculations really fast and easy for me. We played from 8pm to Midnight. It was a blast.

The Way of All Flesh, a Proto-World I am working on for the Mythos Machine World Marketplace, is a Cosmic Sci-Fi / Space Opera concerning the rise of the Ultimate AI and the ensuing results this gives rise to in relation to all organic life forms in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond. It starts in the year 2034 AD after the conclusion of the Ultra-War and during a period of optimism in the surviving human civilization, which adopts a Super-AI named Altissimus-X (aka Alt-X) as its Scientific and Sociological Adviser and Primary Analysis Tool. With Alt-X's help they rebuild Civilization, conduct rescue missions, and commence space exploration. Along the way they cultivate humanity's latent Mentarian Powers (think Psionics), and make surprising discoveries in the Solar System. Through successive Chapters I plan to extend each segment of the game to the next Era and ultimately the world should span something like a million years, with players playing successive generations of their own descendants.

There is a lot more to the picture than meets the eye, but that's the nutshell version. The title, "The Way of All Flesh" gives a hint as to the primary underlying theme of the world.

The adventure tonight centered on a Federation Command Rescue Team sent from Kitt Peak in Arizona to Boneville Utah to investigate a faint radio transmission that might indicate some survivors of the Ultra-War are located there. If so, they should be rescued. The team was given an Armored Ground Vehicle (AGV) outfitted with a gimbaled machine gun, and top mounted Plasma beam, Missile Deflecting Hull Armor, a Plasma Shell, and a variety of other equipment. 

Their first encounter was at the Space Port, north of Kitt Peak, where they spotted something climbing the side of a rocket.  Investigation ensued and they found that Skull Spiders could not only climb rockets, but leap, and bite with venomous fangs.  One member, Fred, the group Cybernaut, almost got killed by the horrible thing.

They headed along the North Eastern route, which would take them through Phoenix Arizona, a city that had not been investigated due to the Biological Weapons deployed there during the Ultra-War.  Federation Command had sent a team there a year ago, but they vanished without a trace.  Along the way, at Red Rock, they encountered rough terrain where a major battle had occurred.  The derelict and gigantic War-Bots were still strewn on the nearby hill sides.  The road had been demolished. While trying to maneuver the AGV onto the service road they spotted someone moving among the rocks.  Soon after they were peppered by small arms fire.  Lizard-Men, clever, ruthless and determined, attacked with Machine Guns, and Grenades.  They managed to wreck the AGV's tread, and blow up their Android Lexi while he tried to repair the vehicle.  It was a tough fight, but in the end they nailed all four of the Lizard-Men, going after the last one who had gone to get reinforcements.  They ambushed the creature by flying ahead of it with a two-man Rocket-Bike and then corralling it into "Guns" Gunderson's expert sites.  Lastly, Samwise picked up, at some danger, a surprising specimen... the branch of a red leafy plant that moved along the ground hunting rabbits.  A mutation of the new world, or a product of some dreadful biological weapon, perhaps.

And so, we beat back the dread of COVID-19 by having a fun evening online, risking no one's health, and enjoying each other's company.  Very good.  We'll do it again!

Peace Out.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Bringing Value to the RPG Market

The other day my friend Datum (Cavin) on Discord asked me if I'd participate in a video interview with Cameron Corniuk.

This was a fun conversation that covered the question of "How do we bring value to the world of RPGs?"  We go back and forth with a lot of insights and ideas.  Wherein, btw, I mention Eric Diaz' Chaos Factory Books publication, the very cool Dark Fantasy Settings

Up Shot: The value we can add to this community is to help people to actualize their creativity with inspiration and organization for world creation.

Thanks to Datum for putting this together, and Cameron for your thought provoking ideas. Much appreciated!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Onward Ho for Elthos!

The great thing about the Elthos Project, from my point of view, is that it's very light weight for me to maintain it.  It costs me almost nothing to run the site.  Just the cost of the hosting service, which is really about $6 / month.  And at that price I can keep the site going, basically indefinitely.  I have no debt, no employees, and no liabilities.  The code is completely mine, and I own the underlying rules system.  So there's very little that could knock me off my little perch over here in Nowhereland.  And that's a good thing.

The truth is, I really enjoy tooling around with the thing. Pretty much every evening I get home and say "ok! What to do with Elthos tonight?!", and I'm off to the races.  Sometimes its programming new features, or noodling through a bug, while other times its adding new Campaigns and Adventures to my various Worlds in the Mythos Machine.  It's actually such a great project, I couldn't be happier with it.  I've always said RPGs is the greatest game-hobby ever created, and that's because there is just so much one can do with it!

Anyway, after the shocking revelations regarding how my competitor is doing in the RPG Market, making millions of dollars and gaining hundreds of thousands of users (650,000 they say, as of last week), I was really quite put out for five minutes or so.  How annoying!  My great idea making someone else millions of dollars! Awful!

But instead of crashing in despair I decided to take the positive view, which is my normal bent of mind anyway.  The truth is what my competitor has done, that I have not been able to do at all on my own, is PROVE there is a huge appetite for World Building Software out there.  That's good news.  I have exactly that kind of software already built.  Now granted, mine may not be as complicated as some of the others, and my UX may not be as clean and crystal clear as it should be (and will be)... but it is a perfectly viable product that offers Gamesmasters a way to build and manage their RPG Worlds, and invite their friends to generate and maintain their Characters online.  It has dozens of enormously time saving utilities for Gamemasters nestled inside of it.  I know, because I'm the principal user, and for me - oh yeah, it's fantastic.

Anyway, I'm happy with where things are going with it. Just this week I enhanced the Markdown system so that it's now providing quite a bit of flexibility for GMs to style their World Prints the way they want... without providing too much complexity and annoying the hell out of people.  Just the right amount of BB Codes, but not too many.  You can add images, floats, PRE regions, and style them with an array of Classes I provided.  I'm still thinking about how to improve this further.  But even if you don't use it at all, the default print style is quite nice actually.

So things are going well, and I do want to thank everyone who expressed support for me and Elthos after my last post.  Thank you so much!  I really appreciate it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Elthos Competition And Objectives

I think you folks know I've been working on Mythos Machine for a really long time, very steadily, but I could not quite manage to get much interest in it. The concept has always been the same... A Gamemaster's Toolbox that helps GMs create their own Worlds and manage characters, campaigns and adventures with it... and also features an internal marketplace for people to sell their Worlds to other members of the system. I've had this idea in mind since 1994 when I sent the specifications for the application to the copyright office in Washington DC (just so I could prove if ever needed that it was my idea from that time).

Anyway, over the years I've really gotten such little traction on the idea with friends and family that it's basically remained a little hobby project I have tooled away at in my spare time after work ... there's been two versions of the software, and the Mythos Machine is the second version, launched in 2009, and finally put into Business Mode in 2018.

Meanwhile in 2017 World Anvil showed up, was programmed by a UX professional in about a year, and who was able to garner support from other programmers with the slick design, and now they have 650,000 users.

I am on the verge of being deeply depressed to have wound up having to realize that my idea was a sensational success - for someone else.  Anyone would be, of course.  If you put so many years into something, only to see other people race out with the same idea and make a huge success of it, you'd probably feel depressed about it. Pretty sure.

However, I'm determined to not give up despite what looks like overwhelming defeat.

The reason why is because I believe Mythos Machine is actually better than World Anvil in specific ways that make it a potential game changer in the market, and I want to do my best to ensure that it has a chance to prove that.

The thing is ... after all, it turns out that I absolutely can not do this alone. The interesting thing is that World Anvil has proven that there is in FACT an absolutely whopingly gigantic market for this concept.  How can I think of being depressed at a time like this, when World Anvil has proven that as a fact?!  It's amazing!  The idea that I could never get anyone to believe in, and couldn't do myself, is in fact a fantastic idea after all!  Amazing!  I knew it all along.

The problem with the Mythos Machine is that the Interface is just not slick enough to garner the attention of the modern world. It's a bit old fashioned in its approach, and a bit clumsy in certain spots (what software isn't though?). It's pretty, but it's not slick. And it seems clear that the world at large will only gravitate towards That Which Is Slick. Ok. I get it. Slickness sells.  Yup.  So Mythos Machine, to bring its benefits to the market, must match the User expectations of slickness. Got it.

Unfortunately for me, I'm not a UX (User Experience) expert, and have no particular knowledge in that area. It's a definite skill set that requires training and experience to understand and get right. There's specific methods and tools for it. They have to be understood and mastered.  People spend entire careers doing so. The lead programmer of WA has that experience. I do not. However, that said, what I do have is the vision of why and how Mythos Machine has a great fundamental design. I really just need to bring the User Interface and Experience into alignment with modern expectations, though, or no one is going to pay attention to it.  Clearly.

But how to do that? That's a very difficult question for me to answer. I believe it can be done. I believe it will take a lot of hard work. But I've never once been shy of hard work. And yet, what it needs is something I simply do not have the skill set for. I need a clear and concise, and beautiful UX. I don't know how to do that part. What I need is help with it.

I'm considering some options on how to go about getting that help. I'd like to build a small team around Mythos Machine to help it compete in the World of RPGs. There's 650,000 users out there who have proved that there IS a market. And I've been working on this project since 1994, so I'm not simply coming along and stealing someone else's idea. 

I'm convinced that Mythos Machine can go toe-to-toe with World Anvil, and any of the similar RPG Tools out there, with some help on the UX side. If the two person team (well, actually its more like a 22 person team, at this point, but it started, apparently, with just one programmer, and his wife) that built World Anvil can get 650,000 unique users in 2 years, then Mythos Machine can surely do just as well. It's exactly the same concept in most respects. Except for the distinguishing features. The main one in Mythos Machine's favor is that it's designed with an integrated rules system that allows people to easily create things for their world that instantly mesh in and are easily shareable between all Worlds on the system.

There's room in the World for more than one World Building web application, despite the tendency of the market to push a Winner-Takes-All mentality. I believe in Mythos Machine, and I'm not planning to it give up. But I'm looking for suggestions on how to bring it into the market and make it at least as successful as anyone else's platform.

Mythos Machine can be found here for free usage by one and all:

Please take a look, and let me know your thoughts. Thank you!

Monday, January 27, 2020

How I Deal With Alignment in Elthos

Alignment has always been a problematic feature in D&D, I think. The rules were kind of vague on the topic, but they alluded to what the purpose was.

The way it seems to me it was supposed to work is to allow PCs to "Align" with NPC groups, such as vampires, or ogres, or goblins based on a common "Alignment", which you could tell by speaking the same "Alignment Language". That way, when you first encountered a new monster and you didn't know what Alignment it was, you could test it out that way, and find out. If you were the same Alignment you'd get an Ally. However, if you were opposite Alignments then FIGHTFIGHTFIGHT. So there was some risk involved. Once you had gone through the monsters in the list (which could conceivably take a long time, actually), then you'd already know the monsters alignments, and the check would not be necessary (or risky). My reading of the OD&D rules gave me the distinct impression that this is what Alignment was originally for. There were only three. Law, Chaos and Neutral.

Because this was the original intent, but GMs and players took the thing in a different direction, it got muddied. GMs starting insisting that Players could only play according to a specific alignment if they were Alignment focused by race or class... For example, the most common, was Paladins. If you didn't kowtow to Lawful Good then BOOM - you'd lose your powers. Which actually does make some sense, at least to me, from a world building perspective. But it made for a rough game where players felt constrained. And complained. It was too restrictive, and depending on the GM, too inflexible.

For my Elthos game, I decided to use Alignment as a concept a little differently. I track everyone's alignment according to their deeds and motives. It's a numeric score, and captures the Law-Chaos, Good-Evil value, which because of how I do it, changes over the course of the game. So Lawful Good would be (10, 10). Chaotic Good would be (-10,10). And so on. If you do Lawful Good deeds a lot, your Alignment could climb to (20,20), let's say... and at some point the Gods start noticing you as a Paragon. But if you do a lot of petty stuff, or kicking the poor to the curb, or ripping off your party, or lying, then your Alignment might change over time and ... the Gods notice that too.

And so on.

It's a fun system. Keeps the players with an interest in achieving a certain Alignment on track, and for the others, they usually wind up neutral overall. Most people are, frankly.

Over time I created a pretty sophisticated system around this concept.  It's in fact a little too much so to explain in a short post.  I intend to write up how my system works, and provide some charts to support it at some point.  And in the meantime, it actually is already fully programmed into the Mythos Machine.  So when you add Experience Gains, you can also account for Alignment.  It's pretty handy, I tell ya.

So go check out the Mythos Machine.  You'll be glad you did.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Some Thoughts on the Importance of Creativity

“Creativity; the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”

On the Benefits of Creativity

Many people don’t believe they are creative, but my own view is that everyone has creativity baked into their genes as human beings. But many people, especially in times of stress and uncertainty, turn off their creativity and shut down. My feeling is that this is a critical mistake people make with themselves, and in fact they should do the opposite. Exercising your creativity is enormously beneficial in many ways. People don’t often consider that creativity has a wide array of benefits. The health benefits include: Mood Elevation, Alleviates Anxiety, Boosts Brian Function, Prevents Disease, and Increases Immune Health. (

Additional benefits of creativity include, instilling a sense of personal freedom, self-awareness and expression, faith and confidence in our instincts, stress relief, and problem solving. Creativity also enhances our ability to communicate and our sociability. There are so many benefits to Creativity, it’s difficult to understand why some people refuse to allow themselves that pleasure.

What causes people to decide they are not creative?

This is something that has always puzzled me. Creativity seems like a very natural thing. You see kids exercising a great deal of creativity in the games they play, and how they think. Whether they are playing games with toys, or drawing, or just running around hiding behind furniture, there’s a lot going on in their little brains. A lot of imagination. Here comes the dragon! I’ve just crash landed my spaceship on a desert world! The Orcs have just come around the bend! It’s all imagination, and it’s great stuff. They are having fun in their minds.

But somewhere along the line, some people decide that they aren’t creative, and they stop creating things in their minds. No more dragons. No more space ships. No more Orcs. And by the time you ask them, “So, do you do art?” the stock answer is, “Oh no way. I can’t do art.”

But really, what happened to them? I will tell you. They lost confidence in themselves. In their own creative imagination. Somewhere along the line, perhaps someone said, “Oh that drawing is awful”, and crushed by the criticism, they stopped trying to create. “Oh I can’t do art”. They’ve turned off their creative engine. It’s not a good thing.

What dampens creativity?

The modern world is full of stress. We are all in a rush. We are constantly trying to get everything done within ever tighter time slots. The technologies that promised us liberation, instead produced prying eyes, time consuming flaws, and all kinds of expectations from others that we can do miracles. But the fact is, we’re still just ordinary human beings. This situation creates stress. And stress makes people feel rushed, and to some degree incapable. And this feeling tires people out and makes them feel uninspired. Consequently, creativity takes a hit.

How does my Elthos RPG Play into the Creativity Equation?

I created Elthos RPG and the Mythos Machine to help people explore their own creative minds. In my opinion, World Building is one of the most creative activities you can do. Depending on how deep you want to go with it, World Building can incorporate a wide array of knowledge disciplines, such as history, biology, sociology, archeology, physics, game theory, and many more. And Role Playing Games generally present a wonderful social activity that brings friends together to create and play Characters in imaginary Worlds that the GMs create. I want to help people find their creative spark, and grow that flame within. That’s my ultimate goal for the Elthos RPG and Mythos Machine.  I feel that to the degree it can help people to find inspiration to create, it has achieved its primary objective.  I want to help bring people together in creative spaces and enjoy each other's fantastic imaginations.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Thoughts on Play By Post

I have a few friends who have chatted on occasion about their Play by Post experiences.  I haven't tried it myself, but I've always been curious about it. My friend Tom, who runs a Play By Post site named Outpost 42 News. and who asked me to express some of my thoughts on the topic, informs me that there are usually 10 to 15 people in a given Play By Post group, who will write a story in small segments called "posts" by email, message board, or whatever other medium is convenient for them. There is usually a host to guide things and settle disputes should they arise, and a few groups even integrate dice or other randomizers into their proceedings. Such games can be any genre.  Space Opera to Neolithic Dinosaur hunting, anything goes.  As it happens, Star Trek is apparently quite popular, probably because of the natural ship/crew link and its episodic nature.

Play By Post originated during the 1980s and early 90s on early bulletin board systems, and early internet services like AOL, Prodigy and Compserve, if anyone remembers those. You might be interested to know that my Elthos RPG predates those by roughly a decade.  Naturally, as one might expect, many of the Play By Post crowd cut their teeth on the early RPGs.  And I should probably mention that in those days most RPGs were not D&D, but homebrews of an enormous variety.  At least where I lived in NY.  Every Gamemaster in my town came up with their own rules and their own worlds. Of course D&D, or earlier games that it was fashioned upon, were the basis for these systems. Some of those early rules systems were really very innovative, by the way, but never seen again outside of their original game-setting.  Too bad.  At any rate, many of the original Play By Post gamers were early RPG Gamemasters and players, and so it's fair to consider this branch of the hobby as simply another stream by which role playing games have manifested in the world.  Other Play By Posters came from fan fiction circles, and still others picked up on it as their first RPG experience, got hooked, and kept going with it.  Why? Because it's fun, that's why.  So I'm told.  I expect to find out for myself at some point, but haven't had the chance (or time) to look into it too far.

The community of Play By Posters is by now quite diverse and has grown into a significant hobby.  There are news and information outlets, Awards systems, and even regular annual events where everyone comes together online.  It's a unique culture with a specific etiquette on how to recruit new players, use other people's characters, and interact with people from other games. Perhaps most interesting is that they now have a satire news blog that parodies some of the bigger groups and players.  That would be Outpost 42 News.  My friend Tom is hoping this post might inspire people to check out his site, so here's the link again:  This is a no holds barred effort, so be prepared for Onion level satire.  They published their first article on April Fools Day 2018.  Definitely check it out if you happen to be a fan of Play By Post, or if you want to learn more about the community.

I have in fact skimmed their articles, and as Tom expected, I really didn't get a single joke, though, since I am really not familiar with their community.  But even so, I did find it entertaining, and it did make me think about Play By Post from an Elthos perspective.

As you know, I created a web application called The Mythos Machine.  It occurs to me that it might be quite suitable for Play By Post scenarios, as the system allows Gamemasters to create their own Worlds online, and then invite their friends to Roll Characters, and maintain them, in the Mythos Machine.  It uses the Elthos RPG rules as a base, and does all the number crunching, and lets the GM focus on the creative aspects of the game.  I can easily imagine people using it to run Play By Post games.  And honestly, I'd be pretty stoked if they did!

So if you are interested in Play By Post, then check out Tom's site, and if you're already a Play By Poster and would like comprehensive online support for your World Building and Character management, then do check out the Mythos Machine as well!

Thanks for all the good times, folks!  Game on!