Once upon a time, The Gauntlet was barren, naked before the whole world.  And then lo, Alex Camacho did give unto…

Once upon a time, The Gauntlet was barren, naked before the whole world.  And then lo, Alex Camacho did give unto…

Once upon a time, The Gauntlet was barren, naked before the whole world.  And then lo, Alex Camacho did give unto The Gauntlet a logo, and did place that logo upon various t-shirts and hoodies, allowing The Gauntlet to clothe its shame and hide its unmentionables.

And The Gauntlet saw that it was good.

T-shirts (men’s and women’s) and hoodies (zippered or un-) are available for any interested parties, and a big shout-out to Alex for making it happen and for updating the design to include our new website.  Thanks, Alex!

Originally shared by Alex Camacho

I decided to just go with Cafepress so I won’t have to deal with minimal batch orders, sizes, pre-orders, etc. Here’s the links for anyone interested in ordering. Profits from the sales will be set aside and donated to Kerry Harrison and Jason Cordova for the Gauntlet’s Minicon.

Men’s T-shirt


Women’s T-shirt


Pullover Hoodie


Zippered Hoodie


If you’d like to request a specific product Cafepress offers, let me know and I’ll set it up and provide a link. 

Hope to see you all sporting some Gauntlet T-shirts at Owlcon!


Now on Kickstarter is Grant Howitt’s newest game, Unbound!  He’s co-designed it with a fellow named Chris Taylor,…

Now on Kickstarter is Grant Howitt’s newest game, Unbound!  He’s co-designed it with a fellow named Chris Taylor,…

Now on Kickstarter is Grant Howitt’s newest game, Unbound!  He’s co-designed it with a fellow named Chris Taylor, and good fucking luck tagging that name on G+!  When it was called Chronicle, the esteemed Mr. Howitt talked about it on a Gauntlet interview episode right over there.  http://gauntletpodcast.libsyn.com/interview-with-grant-howitt

Buy this game!  Spend perfectly good money on a pack of cards!  Ruin them forever!

Crucial:  There is a Regency Ladies stretch goal.


Galaxy Trucker is game by Vlaada Chvatil (he of Codenames renown).

Galaxy Trucker is game by Vlaada Chvatil (he of Codenames renown).

Galaxy Trucker is game by Vlaada Chvatil (he of Codenames renown). In it, players construct ships by frantically drawing and placing tiles, and then attempt to get those ships to where they need to be. The journey is mostly about watching your ship get gradually disassembled, destroyed, and depopulated by pirates, asteroids, and epidemics.

Last night a friend’s ship was so thoroughly battered that he was down to a single crew member on a single cabin tile, and still made it through the trip.

(In the lower right you’ll see all the tiles that got blown off the ship.)

I need to get this game to the table more often.  So much fun.

A friend described his encounter in the rpg section of a used book store:

A friend described his encounter in the rpg section of a used book store:

A friend described his encounter in the rpg section of a used book store:

Rando:  3.5 or 4th?

Friend:  Excuse me?

Rando:  D&D, which version?

Friend:  I’ve played some 5th, but I’d rather play Dungeon Worl–

Rando:  Trick question!  Pathfinder.

Friend:  …

In this episode, we chat with Hannah Shaffer, who designed Questlandia and 14 Days, and is generally delightful.

In this episode, we chat with Hannah Shaffer, who designed Questlandia and 14 Days, and is generally delightful.

In this episode, we chat with Hannah Shaffer, who designed Questlandia and 14 Days, and is generally delightful.

Talking points:

Terrible titles

Hot guys, and the making out thereof

Games that encourage empathy

Games that bring you down

Games that are accessible

Games that are Christmas

All this, and more!

Originally shared by Jason Cordova

On this episode of The Gauntlet Podcast, Steve Mains and I are joined by the fabulous Hannah Shaffer, designer of Questlandia, Damn the Man, 14 Days and other fine games.

And thanks to Richard Rogers for this week’s excellent edit.


Games We Played

Noirlandia (00:31)

Legendary Encounters (05:15)

Ben Lehman’s Hot Guys Making Out (09:56)

Giving Me Life

Birthday Week (16:45)

Owl Con (19:21)

Gauntlet NJ (22:30)

Main Segment

Questlandia (25:59)

14 Days (33:55)

Games People Play (44:33)

Accessibility of games for new players (48:00)

Damn the Man and Sentencing Day (53:42)

The Final Question (56:46)


Hannah’s website: http://makebigthings.com

Emily Care Boss’s noir blog: http://www.blackgreengames.com/lcn/

HGMO: http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/product.php?productid=18775&page=1


Can never play enough Codenames.  So satisfying.

Can never play enough Codenames.  So satisfying.

Can never play enough Codenames.  So satisfying.

New favorite Codenames clue, courtesy of Kevin Koelling 

Inverted 2

See if you can get what took me probably five minutes of scratching my head.

Word list, for those that can’t quite see everything:













Loch Ness




Friday night, our table played two different #Threeforged games.  Hopefully the other players involved will chime in…

Friday night, our table played two different #Threeforged games.  Hopefully the other players involved will chime in…

Friday night, our table played two different #Threeforged games.  Hopefully the other players involved will chime in with their thoughts.  Russell Benner Daniel Fowler and Gauntleteer Sandra (whom I don’t know how to tag) all played.

First was A Hard Goodbye, a GM-less game about people trying to leave a brutal organization that isn’t so easy to quit.

The game starts off strong, with collaborative creation of the Organization the characters are all members of.  Think mob, mercenary companies, gangs, thieves and assassins and the like.  You also create a Threat that will cause problems for the Organization in Act II.  We went with a Repo Men-like organ repossession corporation that specializes in selling alien organs.  Our Threat was the aliens themselves, with shady motives and capabilities.

Character creation is next.  I especially like the following: PCs have a Fate-like High Concept, a Hook that makes it difficult for your character to leave, and an Out–which is somebody pulling your character away from their life with the Organization.  Character creation is nice and compact, giving your character an excuse for still being with the Organization even if they’re unhappy with it, plus a great excuse to leave.

Gameplay is spread out across three acts.  In the first, PCs go on a mission for the Org.  In the second act, PCs… go on a mission (or two), this time concerning a shakeup in the Organization brought on by the Threat.  In the third, they try to make a break for it, or resign themselves to remaining in the Organization.  I like the three act structure, but scenes themselves can be a bit odd.

Before an act’s scenes, players collaborate to come up with assignments for their characters.  This would be fine, except it all happens simultaneously.  Player 2 is giving an assignment to player one while receiving one from Player 3, who’s getting one from Player 4, who’s trying to listen to Player 1.  It’s messy, and could stand some structure.  Furthermore, the fact that all of this happens before play means that scenes cannot easily build upon preceding scenes, which seems like a missed opportunity to me.

The game handles its lack of a GM in a strange way.  Players take turns being the Active Player, whose character is foremost in the scene.  But the Active Player also sets the pace and drives their scene forward, delegating responsibility for helping out or playing NPCs as they like.  Without a temp-GM or a Polaris-like division of authority, (and especially combined with the fact that the Active Player helps to collaborate in coming up with their assignment), this can start to feel a bit like hitting a tennis ball against the garage instead of playing an actual opponent.  In play, it didn’t work very well.  This was my biggest reservation about the game going in, so I wasn’t super surprised.  For Act II, we cheated and switched to having the player to the right of the AP act as their adversary, which helped a bit.

Once a scene reaches a tipping point, you go to the conflict mechanics.  These are oddly specific, and differ from act to act.  They’re so specific, in fact, that if you aren’t aiming for one when you start your scene, it’s very possible that you’ll come to what feels like a tipping point, and then spend a minute staring at the conflict types before relenting and going with something that’s ehhhh close enough, I guess.  Each has a different method for determining a dice pool, and a unique effect on the game’s ever-changing stats, depending on success or failure.  I like that the stats (those of the Organization and of the PCs) are constantly in flux.  It makes it feel like the world is reacting to the characters.  But with even one character acting to stay in the organization in Act II, Org stats will likely increase.  It seems like it’s a serious stretch to expect anyone to be able to make it out if that’s the case.

A lot of the Act I conflict types seem like things that should have a bit more fictional setup before we get to them.  “A Way Out,” “Opening Up,” “Drink to Forget,” “Informant,” “Russian Roulette,” and “Remembering a Friend” all feel a little premature.  Like, we just met this person.  We could use some status quo scenes before all of this.  You can get a bonus for incorporating your character’s Out in a scene, but it seems like it would be difficult to shoehorn them in in the middle of an assignment (unless they are the assignment, which is an option).

Conflicts use competing dice pools.  The handling time is high, but not a deal-breaker.  If there were ever a tie, however, then you roll the dice again, rearrange them in descending order–by color–again (which is what the game requires), and then a few other fiddly things.  Again.  Uuuuugh.  Not OK.

Overall, it shows some promise, but still needs plenty of work.  Luckily, it’s good thematic fodder for a game, and some of the ideas are very strong.

Next, we played Psychic Detective Agency.  PDA is billed as an American freeform LARP, but we just played it as a tabletop game.  Take what I say with a few grains of salt here, but there aren’t any mechanics that really require it be a LARP.

Players play either psychic detectives or audience members.  There are three types of psychic detectives.  The postcog can see into the past.  The empath can sense what happens at it happens.  The precog can see the future.  At any time, anyone can pose a question to the other players.  The postcog answers any questions about the past, the empath any about the present, and the precog any about the future.  When a psychic is answering one of these questions, they hold their fingers to their temple as if in concentration, or hold their hand to the side of their mouth if it’s out of character.  Love that.  If a psychic isn’t present in the game (you’re supposed to have one psychic for every audience member player), then any audience member can answer a question that would normally be that psychic’s purview.

Players play out ever-changing scenes, introducing facts and asking/answering questions.  The mystery at the core of everything expands outward, and in our case sort of got away from us.  With so many facts and names coming up out of nowhere, it’s easy to get lost and forget who this character is, how we learned that they’re dead now, whether or not we know who killed them, and also are they the murder we’re investigating here or a separate killing?  It gets pretty crazy, but that can be fun.  I think that’s the sort of thing we’d get better at with multiple plays.

What bugs me, though, is that it’s very easy for the game to devolve into nothing but asking and answering questions, leaving most of the actual roleplaying out of it.  Again, we’d probably get better at that too, but it feels like something’s missing.  Scene structure?  A limit on questions per scene or per player?  I’m not sure.  We had fun, but this one also definitely needs some work.

I need to give the game some serious props for the extras and advice in the rules.  It talks about improv fundamentals, introduces cutting and braking, and provides sample questions and settings.  It even has lists of detective tropes and names, plus an extended example of play.  Kudos.  It’s all very welcome.

Do androids dream of electric sheep-fish-shrew-dog-birds?

Do androids dream of electric sheep-fish-shrew-dog-birds?

Do androids dream of electric sheep-fish-shrew-dog-birds?

Yeah, pretty much.

Google has been experimenting with neural net image recognition, wherein they train a sort of limited digital brain how to recognize, say, a banana in an image.  The best way to do this is to show it a bazillion images of bananas.  And a good way to test whether or not this process is working is to tell the neural net to take an input of random visual noise and iteratively alter it so that it gradually starts resembling its idea of “banana.”  This tends to work at least well enough so that you or I could recognize what it’s going for, as if we were looking at a banana through a kaleidoscope.

Then the compu-folks tell the network to pick out specific things it’s programmed to identify and enhance them in a source image.  So a simple thing like looking for and bringing out curves or angles results in a recognizable but stylized version of the original image.  The real fun begins when the network enhances higher-level things it can recognize, like animals or gardens or buildings or what looks kind of like a bowling alley.  Inevitably, it starts to insert these things where they aren’t at all.  This, combined with the net’s lack of clarity on where, for instance, a bird ends and a dog begins, leads up to images like the hilariously surreal one of what the computer sees in cloud formations.

Perhaps most impressive are the “dream” images generated whole-cloth from white noise, but resulting in mountainous pagoda towers, never-ending garden pathways, and even stranger vistas.

The artistic neural net output ranges from H.R. Giger psychedelia to Heironymous Bosch demons to monkey-boys on cars to probably what a shoggoth would look like in real life.

So many eyes.

I bring this to you because it’s both fascinating and gameable.  What does the scenery look like in a game set in Tynes-ian/Delta Green Carcosa?  Why, it looks like this picture of a never-ending building façade, archways and windows into infinity.  There’s a purple pagoda/mountain scene that has to be a photograph of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands or something.  And I’m pretty sure I see a picture of some mnemosites floating above Seattle.

Or you could always just use it as a source for bizarre fantasy creatures.  “The terrible screech/howl noises have clearly been coming from this:”  Holds up a picture of a shrew-bird-fish-seal.

I just wish they sold prints.  I’d absolutely buy some of these images.  I’d stare at them, unnerved and inspired in equal measure.

The Hall of Legends #009 – Home is in the Blue

The Hall of Legends #009 – Home is in the Blue

The Hall of Legends #009 – Home is in the Blue

Date: March 13th, 2015

Game: Society of Dreamers

Players: Jason Cordova Daniel Lewis Ferrell Riley and myself.

Society of Dreamers is Matthijs Holter’s gm-less atmospheric horror game about a group of people in 19th century Europe investigating mnemosites, which are creatures that dwell in dreams.

We played the game in a darkened room by candlelight, which contributes immeasurably to the game’s atmosphere.  Furthermore, the game calls for a Ouija board style planchette, used to select the type of scene that comes next.  We ended up using a poker chip, but still it does wonders for the mood.

Character creation is gorgeous.  It’s a sort of player-seeded randomness.  Everyone writes down on note cards two examples each from four categories:  age, gender/sexual orientation, nationality, and occupation.  Then the cards are gathered and each category is shuffled.  In order to create the basics of a character, everyone randomly picks one of each.  Players can choose to exchange a single card for another random one, and then they have their character.  After this process, we end up with Ferrell’s female Moroccan scholar, Dan’s Norwegian watchmaker (also a woman), Jason’s Ethiopian candlemaker, and my bisexual German archaelogist (both men).*

After character creation, the game begins with ritual.  First up, players get up and go around the room, clapping and otherwise making loud noises to ensure any lingering spirits are chased away.  As I see it, this serves three purposes.  First, it does what pretty much any ritual does:  it unites the participants in shared action, investing that action with meaning and separating the newly-formed us from the them of everyone else.  Second, it strikes me as something that spiritualists and the like might actually have done, and serves to help everyone get into the headspace of dream investigators.  Third, it’s deeply silly.  It provides everyone a chance to shake out the sillies and put levity behind them as they switch to the serious tone of the game.  After this comes a second ritual.  The players close their eyes, except for one who will recite instructions from the game text.  The reader instructs the other players to envision above each of their heads a small glowing ball.  Each ball is connected via a similarly glowing rod to a much larger mass above the center of the table.  Everyone holds this image in their heads for a few seconds.  This second ritual blatantly engages the players in a shared dreaming space, which is more or less what the characters in the game will soon be doing.  It also sets a somber tone to contrast with the hand-clapping fun of the first ritual.  We’re in different territory now.

The game’s basic conceit is the same every time: characters investigate the nature of the mnemosites.  What that nature actually is, however, is determined during play.  Each scene has a scene guide–something like a temporary gm–and after a scene has played out, players will talk about whether or not they learned anything about the mnemosites, with the scene guide getting final say.  As we played out scenes–at first with hints of the supernatural, then getting gradually more surreal and weird–we learned more and more of our quarry.  One scene finds Ferrell’s young girl pursuing a phantom playmate.  Another features a mystical coming-of-age ceremony in which Jason’s character encounters his dead grandmother, who leads him to her grave.  After a creepy scene in a museum with a whispering mummy, we establish that the mnemosites speak through the dead.  After Dan’s character is shown a bizarre clue about her sister’s behavior, we get the first inklings that the mnemosites are trying to warn us of danger.  We further establish that they come in at least two types (one of which is that danger), are accompanied by cold, have potentially severe effects on the passage of time, and rely on mother figures.  We also establish the wonderfully cryptic “home is in the blue.”  Blue, green, and yellow become common color motifs in our scenes.

Our session had lots of creepy highlights, but I’ll mention two of my favorites.  The first is a feature of the game: a type of scene called a “Dream” or “Dreamer” scene (I forget which is which).  One person is selected to go into the dreams of another character.  In our game, my character is selected to delve deep into the dreams of Jason’s mystic candlemaker, Abebe.  This means I won’t actually be the one declaring what I/Abebe am/is doing.  I close my eyes for the duration of the scene, and describe the results of actions the other players tell me to perform within the dream.  The result is very dreamlike:  Someone tells me I follow a trail I come across, tracks left by a lion.  I describe the scene of carnage that the trail leads me to.  They tell me I investigate, and I describe the dead body I find.  They tell me I pick up the near-decapitated head and see whose it is.  I say that it’s clearly Abebe’s, whose dream-body I currently inhabit.  They tell me I ask dead Abebe/me a question.  I describe its attempt to answer, lips and tongue unable to pronounce any words without breath from its detached lungs.  Brilliant marriage of mechanic and theme here, and it makes for a very fun scene.

My other favorite scene involves a gradual build-up of tension and weirdness.  It features escalating time distortion, a hidden warning engraved inside a watch, and the arrival of a single guest, not once but twice–once upstairs, impossibly, and shortly thereafter downstairs as expected.  Time proves not to be a reliable friend, and the scene ends with us fleeing our house to escape what may or may not be a mnemosite come to kill us.  

The way the game works in play is great.  With no GM acting as gatekeeper to the truth, we can go into a game where everyone knows nothing and surprise each other with emergent creepiness.  The manner in which we played helped out with this.  One player would set the scene, as per the rules, but allow room for lots of input from other players, very much to the point where the scene’s not-quite-GM could still be surprised and affected by details from others.  Several times during the game, we used a technique whereby the scene guide sets the scene up for a reveal of some sort, and then asks one of the other players what precisely is revealed.  “She leans in and whispers one word to you.  What is it?”  “Run.”  Love it.

The unplanned nature of the game also means that, unlike most mystery/investigation rpgs, we could easily build the weirdness up around the characters.  We see aspects of their lives as children, adolescents, and adults, and get to know them a bit.  As the weirdness comes through dreams, or invades reality in dreamlike ways, it’s very effective at both being surreal, and also at conforming itself to the player characters.

Our game ends in vagary.  Questions unanswered, fates undetermined.  But we manage to make sense of much more than we had any expectation to, I think.  It makes for one of the best game sessions of my life, and will, I’m sure, remain a high water mark for future surreal horror.

*Props to the Story Games Name Project for having Ethiopian, German, Moroccan, and Norwegian names for us.