Microlite20 and Mystery

Why is mystery hard?

Anyone who has ever tried to run or play in a mystery game knows that it’s one of the trickier genres to run. Your players are either banging their faces off the table trying to figure out where to go next, doubling down on the wrong direction, or they figure the plot out 15 minutes after sitting down.

There are a couple things that make running mystery particularly hard.

Continue reading “Microlite20 and Mystery”

2016 in review

2016 in review

2016 has been a great year for Microlite20 in a lot of ways! When it really boils down to it this has been a year of refinement. So let’s take a look at what happened this year, and what goals we have for next year!

Rules Cyclopedia

This was a pretty ambitious project to try and create a giant single volume of all the fan-made rules into a single volume. Unlike Randall’s compendiums that were just individual documents strung together, the Rules Cyclopedia was a compiled book of just the rules.

Ultimately, this project ended up being clunky and time-consuming to put together. Aside from that, there wasn’t really positive feedback from the community on it. In the end, this one got sunset pretty quickly to focus on trying to work on original material.

M20 Revised

One great thing that came from the M20 Rules Cyclopedia was a revision of the M20 rules. You can get the revised rules now, but they still require layout to them more size efficient: once that’s done they’ll be sent out via the mailing list.

This is a great milestone for newcomers to M20, because it meant that gamers would no longer need to refer to the D20 SRD to understand things like spells. While the current layout isn’t the most space-efficient it’s my recommendations for a starting point.


Some folks may or may not have noticed the old M20 forum pop up recently. I’ve been playing around with some possible options, and it’s looking like BBPress is going to be the best.

I primarily let the old forum go because of the time issue involved in maintaining it, but with it, as part WordPress, it adds a lot less on my plate. Ultimately, I’m very excited to have things going again and look forward to interacting with people in the forums again!

2017 looking forward

While 2016 was a year of refinement and elimination, I’m hopeful that 2017 will be a year of play. I’d really like to try and create a bunch of neat stuff this year instead of worrying about busy work.

Microlite20 Stories

I love M20, but there are a lot of clunky throwbacks to the d20 system: like Attribute bonuses. Microlite20 will remain in it’s revised form as the core M20 game, but I want to explore more interesting stories.

I’m planning to start coming up with ideas for types of worlds I want to explore, or stories I’d like to tell, and letting the rules that support that build up. This means that while conceptually the rules will start from M20 some builds will stray far and wide, while others will fall closer to the tree.


I have not really hidden the fact that I hate the OGL. It’s clunky and stupid and I’m not going to use it… because I don’t have to. The newly revised M20 rules are going to be under Creative Commons, and so will all the new stuff made.

The beautiful thing about this is that if you want to incorporate both older OGL fan material and newer Creative Commons stuff together… just do it. We’ll talk more about how licenses work later, but it’s important to note that ultimately going forward things will just generally be easier.


We’re looking forward to creating more awesome things for the folks helping to financially support the M20. I’d like to hear some of the things folks would like to see, but some of the things I’m thinking are:

  • Warm fuzzies
  • Occasional themed compilations of original articles and blog articles into zines.
  • Development slack group
  • Free copies of premium editions of projects

A really important thing to note though is that I want to make sure that playing m20 is still freely accessible. I don’t want anyone to worry about needing to pay to play, but also leave room for this to be sustainable.

Let’s talk about it

I’m really excited about this year, and I’m super excited about next year. I’d love to discuss thoughts going forward with the community.

GM Tips – How To Kill A Character

At some point, most GMs have had to deal with the problem of player character death. In old-school games, this was a somewhat accepted part of the overall structure of play – can you imagine surviving the entire Tomb of Horrors without losing a single character? Characters were mechanically simple, with only personality and minor elements to make them distinct. If your character died, it would take a grand total of 5 minutes to roll up a new one.

Modern games, however, are somewhat more complicated – even for experienced players, making a new character might take a while, sifting through the many mechanical options available to them, detailing all the various statistics and sub-attributes that are part of the game. Combine this with a tonal shift away from dungeon-delving thieves and scoundrels towards mythical heroes (such as the recent proliferation of “adventure paths” designed to take heroes from level 1 all the way to saving the world), it’s no wonder that modern editions have mechanics and assumptions designed to keep death a somewhat more remote possibility.

But, in any game where death is a possibility, characters are going to die. The Dice Gods are fickle, after all. So how do you deal with character death is games where it would be considered A Big Deal?

There’s the traditional method – let the dice fall where they may. If a character dies, tough luck – they had their chance, and their luck ran out. This might seem harsh, but it’s what the rules are there for. It creates a sense of danger, knowing that even a 20th-level Archmage of the Realm can fail his save and die a pauper’s death.

You can go the more “storygame” route – make a social contract that characters might get knocked out, captured, or severely hurt, but will not die until a point where it would be meaningful to the story. This might seem a little wishy-washy to some, but it allows for a greater narrative to emerge from gameplay, without having to rely on random chance to achieve it.

Or you can go the Plot Armour route – characters don’t die. They always manage to scrape themselves out of even the worst situations, no matter what.

One method that mixes these is using Fate Points – a metagame resource that can be used for a whole mess of mechanical goodies, but most importantly to this article, can act as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. In exchange for permanently losing one, you can dodge death. This gives a good balance, where GMs can kill PCs, but there’s a way out – should they have the resources to spend. Knowing you don’t have a Fate Point to spend can add a layer of tension to any fight, but if you can use them for extra damage,l or a guaranteed success earlier in the adventure, it becomes a delicate balancing act – do you want to pick this super-difficult lock, or maybe not die when you fight the Dragon later?

Of course, the usefulness of this advice may vary depending on a lot of factors – one that tends to make such things less important is magic. Between spells that stave off death, to full bodily resurrection, death can become a mere speed-bump in many fantasy games. But in the earlier levels of the game, it’s important to know how your players expect you to handle their characters.

Regardless of your choice, the most important part is communicating with your players – after all, it’s their character’s lives that are on the line.

NPC Groups – The Blackwood Company

The Blackwood Company started life as a bored young nobleman’s pet project, but became a tale whispered in terror across the land.

Leopold Blackwood was the fifth child of the Blackwood Dynasty. While his elder sisters were forced into marriages of convenience and political alliances, his single older brother Nicolaus went on to become a great strategist and warrior, leading the Barony’s armies to clear the surrounding countryside of humanoid invaders in a single season, a well-oiled machine of destruction. Indeed, the armies of Blackwood are respected across the country for their stoic determination and tactical acumen.

Nicolaus became the Baron’s favorite, each victory showing his talent and reinforcing the Baron’s hold on his land. Now, the Baron is beginning to eye the lands at the borders of his own, and promoted Nicolaus to General to begin mustering and training a full invading army.

Leopold grew jealous of his brother’s achievements, and began acting out, souring trade deals and political alliances to undercut his Nicolaus. To direct some of his son’s impotent rage, the Baron offered Leopold a chest full of gold and the washouts from Nicolaus’ intense training – if he wanted to play at being a leader, he could start a mercenary company. Should they prove successful, he would be granted his own command under Nicolaus, and possibly be promoted to General alongside him.

Leopold spent his money in what he thought was the wisest way – hiring mercenaries who would take offensively small sums of money for a bed, board and the chance to stab people. During their early recruitments, they developed a reputation for brutality. Mutilation, killing women and children, burning captured foes alive – no denigration seems below them. These acts originally disgusted Leopold, though he developed a taste for such horrors after seeing the power they held over those they dominated.

While the Baron officially claims no part in their actions, he uses the fear caused by their sheer lack of decorum to gently guide his political agendas and trade deals, subtly inferring their use as enforcers in times of uprising, or as an “envoy” to help keep the peace.

As he built up the newly-minted Blackwood Company, Leopold trained alongside them. While his wiry frame and lack of any physical attributes meant he never reached anything close to their ability, he is deceptively dangerous with a short blade.

Currently, the armies of the Barony are still in the process of gearing up for their border wars – while Nicolaus’ men train and plan, the Blackwood Company are still free to loot and pillage their way throughout these surrounding lands to weaken the opposition.

Using The Blackwood Company

The Blackwood Company can make for a flavorful replacement for Bandits in the areas around the Barony, a constant low-level political threat, or the driving force of your plot. Most of them should be a fairly low-level challenge – their real threat comes from their total lack of scruples and the collateral damage they leave in their wake.

Plot Hooks

  • Want to start a barfight? Three Company members are being the absolute worst in one corner, bragging about their last job and reminiscing on past horrors fondly – and the locals see a chance to exact some revenge.
  • The Company have recently looted the more open areas of a local dungeon – you can tell by the gruesome tableaus of corpses left behind. The dungeon’s denizens are willing to pay for you to exact vengeance for them while they rebuild.
  • The Barony is finally ready to go to war – and it’s your job to help stop the worst of the Company’s predations before Nicolaus’ well-trained soldiers come in to mop up.


Sample Stat Blocks

Foot Soldier: HD 1d8+1 (5 hp), AC 12, Short spear +1 (1d6+1) or sling +1 (1d4)

Lieutenant: HD 2d8+1 (10 hp), AC 13, Pike +3 (1d8+2) or crossbow +2 (1d8)

Captain: HD 4d8+1 (20 hp), AC 16, Longsword +6 (1d8+3), Command

Lord-Captain Leopold Blackwood: HD 2d8+1 (10 hp), AC 15, +1 Flaming Shortsword +3 (2d6+2) or crossbow +2 (1d8)

Microlite20 Revised Draft

For a long time, Microlite20 (M20) hasn’t been the most friendly game to newcomers. General vagueness of text (especially in the magic section) meant that gamers had to often refer to the standard d20 SRD.

To resolve that the M20 Rules Cyclopedia was made. This was tricky though because it wasn’t really a replacement rulebook, but instead of the collection of optional rules.

While this is nice a helpful twitter user pointed out that it was frustrating that they either had to send someone to the less detailed original M20 documents, or to the gangly Rules Cyclopedia.


That was such a HUGE oversight and I want to make sure to fix that now! Below is a download link to the current version of the Microlite20 core rules.

Functionally the rules are the same they have merely been much more clearly presented to make sure you don’t have to reference any other document to play.


The document is artificially large now because it needs a way more efficient layout. So please review this with the content in mind. because once we’ve gotten this through community feedback on the forum

Once we’ve gotten this through community feedback on the forum, it will get a nice proper layout with real art and everything!

Microlite20 Revised

Microlite20 Monster

So grab a copy of the rules and join us in the forums to discuss it!

Healing that even @TheAngryGM would like?

There are a lot of changes happening in with the Cleric class around domains. While the details are currently being hashed out with Patreon Patrons in the slack channel, the short story is that not every cleric will be able to heal people.

This creates and interesting dilema around healing that we’ve been discussing. Ultimatley some sort of healing mechanism should be added in, it was just a matter of what.

A lot of inspiration for this came from the excellent post that the Angry GM put up called Hitting the Reset Button that discusses how various editions of the game have handled healing. What we ultmatley came up with in the slack group is what we are hoping is a really interesting (and well paced) healing mechanic.

To accomplish this we delve into the healing systems for 2nd edition, 4th edition, and 5th edition of the d20 system


The idea of this healing system is to allow natural healing (because it’s semi realistic), but also allow characters to get a boost of HP in moments of need. This all has to be balanced so that it doesn’t feel like every night is like hitting the reset button, but also so that characters are not constantly taking weeks of recovery time.

The system worked up in the slack group is roughly as follows.

  • HP represents total level of fatigue
  • HD represents being able to push past extremes, which you can only do so much.
  • HP and HD are acrued at a natural rate which “feels” more realistic.

Maximum HD =’s level

  • Pushing (or what ever): standard action lets you spend 1 + STR Mod dice to heal +2 AC till next turn.

Natural Recovery

  • 1 hp + 1hd per day
  • 3 hp + 1hd per day bed rest

We’d love to here your thoughts on this healing system.

Additionally, either joining the free mailing list or becoming a supporting patron is an awesome way to be part of these discussions at ground level. This week we’ll be continuing to hash things out regarding changes to clerics.

Decision fatigue, and taking the dice from the GM

For some who know me on a more personal level, they are familiar with my habit of trying to reduce decisions to improve my life. I do things like where the same outfit every day, and buzz my own hair once a week.

I do this because having a full time job, older house, son, and all the M20 work adds up to a lot of choices. Every decision we make contributes towards a cumulative decision fatigue, that genuinely impairs our decision making abilities.

I bring this up because we expect our GM’s to make a lot of decisions. They function alone in Decision avoidancemaking all these choices, while the players have the ability to off load some of the choices on their end between each other.


But what real effect could this have on play?

Every time the GM has to perform calculations on their end they are making decisions that interrupt their train of thought, and continue to compound their decision fatigue. The result is that GM’s often start overlooking rules, or even simplifying story elements.

We’ve all probably seen the GM who is  totally on point in lower level games, but as the complexity of higher levels starts piling on they start to gloss over elements and miss things. This is a result of a persons unconscious decision avoidance taking over to try and relieve the burden of choice. Luckily we can help these poor GM’s keep their strides and remain nimble in their narratives.


There is a great alternate rule posted over at that suggests taking the dice from the GM. The short of the rules are as follows:


Attribute Values

  • Players subtrack 10 from their AC
  • When being attacked the GM adds +11 to any attack values of the NPCs


  • When the players are attacked they must roll a d20 and add it to their AC.
    • If they roll above the value they dodge
    • If they roll a 1 the enemy critically succeeds
  • If struck the GM can either choose to roll damage like they normally would, or just deal what the “average” damage would be.

Saving Throws

  • Add +11 to all base save values for an opponent
    • 1d20 + spell level + ability modiferWhen the player would normally force a save instead they roll


I’d love to hear your thoughts on your experience with GM dice rolling over on the m20 reddit!

  • Has a game ever been negatively impacted because of the GM having to do to much bookkeeping?
  • Have you ever had a positive or negative experience with a GM not rolling dice?

Also don’t forget to join our Epic List so that you can keep update when new Microlite20 Rules Cyclopedia updates are released. Additionally, I’m still working on my own more story game style games that make use of more narrative rules: like no GM rolls.

Blog Carnival: OneNote to Rule Them All

Checking in this months entry to the RPG Blog Carnival. This months focus is on game master tools and tips, and my post is about the glory that is OneNote.

What is OneNote?

OneNote is not only my digital command center for life, but also a damn fine gaming tool. For those who don’t know what it is I’ll start with a brief breakdown.

The simple version:

OneNote is what would happen if Evernote was a good program.


The longer version:

OneNote is a program that organizes digital notebooks for the user in a structured way:

  • Notebooks: the highest level of structure that is very much the equivalent of a physical notebook
  • Sections: the next level of organization are topical sections that divide up your pages
    • Section Groups: sections can also be grouped into the equivalent of folders
  • Pages: powerful sheets that you can use for free form note taking

Pages are incredibly powerful and flexible capture tools. You can hand-write onto them (and convert it text), embed audio/video, attach files, input text, shapes and tables. There are even more crazy things you can do with onenote pages, but I’ll leave those for you to discover :).

How do you game with it?

First off you’ll probably want to start up a gaming notebook. Sections should be fine enough for each campaign, and you can keep all your games in one spot. Next let’s setup our gaming notebook for play.


Don’t get worried about perfecting your setup. One of the beautiful things about OneNote is that you can drag and drop section within (and between) notebooks. Let things start simple and just arrange things as they grow. Below is probably a good example of how simple your notebook can start.



I personally keep all my inspirations in my “command center” journal (maybe I’ll talk about that another day) but you might want to use here. You can amass a collection of gaming inspiration by embedding files, clipping webpages and jotting down notes on the fly.


Each game can get it’s own section to start. You can embed any rule books you’ll need, and make special notes on the alternate rules you might be using. From there you can also keep notes on,

  • PC’s (Player Characters) and NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)
  • locations
  • events
  • timelines
  • sessions

This way when you come up with something on the fly you can quickly capture it for later reference, including those on the spot rules decisions.


For those playing in the same setting frequently you might consider starting up your own sections devoted to those settings. As the players continue their exploits you can even track any effects they have on the setting. If the setting gets big enough, you need not worry because you can just create it’s own notebook and move the section over to it.


We’re sure you’ll have long healthy gaming careers, so keeping a section group where you can move campaigns too after you’re finished with them is a good way to keep things from getting cluttered up. You may also find it useful to be able to look back at past adventures for nostalgia or to steal ideas for a convention game.


I’m sure the second I hit submit I’m going to thing of a million more ideas for this, so keep an eye out for a follow up.

In the meantime I’d love to here you’re thoughts on the Reddit about productivity tools in your games!

Also don’t forget to join our Epic Mailing List so that you can keep update when new Microlite20 Rules Cyclopedia updates are released.

What Your First Dungeon Says About Your Campaign

Hi everyone – Ian here. As part of my work here, I’ll be posting odds and ends like this – general advice, cool ideas, project updates and the like.

                                                         Artwork by Bryan Gough!
                                                         Artwork by Bryan Gough!

So, when starting a campaign, most GMs will pick a quick dungeon off the internet to drop in as their players first intro to the world. We’ve all done it – I’m particularly fond of the One Page Dungeon entries to get something fun and unique.

But the first game of your campaign can really set the expected tone of the rest of the game. Imagine you signed on for a game of intrigue, politics and mercantile adventures – yet your first game involves delving into a dungeon to save the world from a Cthuloid menace. It creates a gulf between the game you want, and the game you have.


I decided to set my current game in Vornheim, which meant I needed to emphasise a few things: the urban setting, the weird-fantasy touches, and the city’s guilds and customs.

So, when discussing the players background, some were given ins with various Guilds within the city – the Thief was a member of the Honest Craftsman Guild (aka the Thieves Guild), the Fighter worked for several Mercenary and Bodyguard’s Guilds, and the Cleric had a few friends from his Church in town.

The Weird Fantasy feel was brought through in a few ways – the Wood Elf player was given the background of Vornheim’s Wild Elves (fur-wearing winter rangers, ruled by Frost Giants, sharpened teeth and no taboo against cannibalism), and the players were introduced to some of Vornheim’s weirder aspects as background details (seeing nobles walking Slow Pets, encountering NPCs from the weirder parts of the globe).

Now all I needed was a module that fit the tone I was looking for. Luckily, with a few tweaks, The Jeweller That Dealt in Stardust, a Dungeon Crawl Classics module, fit the bill perfectly – without spoiling too much, the players are tasked with doing a little leg-breaking on a Thieves Guild fence who fell behind on his dues. As you might guess, weird shit on an almost cosmic level ensues (one hireling died, the Wizard went crazy, good times all round).

The adventure has multiple routes of attack, several cool encounters, and a whole dollop of Weird. It set the tone for the upcoming adventures (so far, taking down a bandit gang, a giant snail-napping, a quick trip through Death Frost Doom and dealing with the consequences of their excursion) remarkably well. The players now have contacts in the city, know how to abuse the Guild system to their own ends, and have seen first-hand how they deal with their own. The only thing they haven’t run up against (yet) is Vornheim’s ridiculously esoteric legal system, but that’s pretty much assured to be coming soon.


And the same can be said for any game – you have to consider the tone, feel, and content of the game you want to play.

Do you want dark and gritty? Look for hard moral choices, grimy environs, and deadly threats (mostly of the human variety). A high rate of lethality wouldn’t hurt matters either.

Light-hearted, cliché-filled fun? Look for the “classic” D&D starter modules – Keep on The Borderlands, In Search of the Unknown… anything older that can have a layer of loving parody added on top. Or anything Hackmaster, where the modules come pre-parodied!

Over-the-top action? Look for big cinematic set pieces, huge villains, and ridiculously badass characterisation.

Weird Fantasy? You want bizarre magic items, strange environmental factors, unusual mechanical factors (like time-travel, dimension-switching, or some other strange game effect that only lasts for one dungeon), and traps and monsters with long-lasting consequences (such as mutations, permanent injuries, or infectious monsterism).  


There are literally thousands of dungeons floating about on the internet for free, and a quick root about your FLGS will no doubt churn up a few more on the cheap. Even if you’re not sure about the content, pick them up – you never know when one little set-piece or encounter would fit perfectly into your next game. A few thematic changes here and there, and you can make an entirely unique experience from a handful of pre-made parts!

So if you’re looking for a good way to kick off a campaign – do a little research and make sure your first adventure sets up what you want from your game. And if it doesn’t, tear it apart and stitch it back together until it does.


  • What did the first first dungeon of your last/current game say about your campaign?
  • Creating and new game and you’d like help setting the campaigns tone?
    Head over to our r/m20 to discuss!