Header photo by Ivan Sankov via Pexels
2023 was a pretty quiet year here at The ChaosGrenade. We had a whopping seven posts. That includes one personal blog post and the rest were Sigil & Shadow related. All I’ve managed to publish this year was the first issue of Echoed Invocations and a set of reference cards which I realize I haven’t even talked about on my site! In terms of my game writing career/hobby/obsession, 2023 was pretty invisible.
Real life, on the other hand, has been super busy. We bought a house, planted roots in a new city, got Mini-Grenade into school, and have finally managed to unpack and make our house a home just in time for the holidays. We were super excited for Christmas, but unfortunately our exciting year ended with one crisis after another (ranging from emergency home repairs to illness and let down). Top it all off with spending a chunk of my New Year’s in the ER with a weird break out of blisters across my hands, so painful I couldn’t even make a fist. I’m fine today, thanks to modern medicine and a fine cocktail of antibiotics, steroids, and mild painkillers.
Which is why I’m hammering away on the keys now — for a moment I feared what I was experiencing was going to be a new normal in my life. While it feels reeled in, we still have no idea what caused it. As a diabetic I live with the daily dread of new sores or other complications, and all of my skill sets (from grunt to writer to father) depend on my hands. No day like today to get back on the horse, as no days are guaranteed.
Enough emotional sap, on to the geek stuff!
While my output has been crap, I’ve been able to at least get some good gaming in this year.
Battletech / Alpha Strike
I’ve loved the game of big-stompy robots since I was 12 (even though we didn’t play it right). For a while I was even invested in the collectible “clix” version of Mechwarrior Dark Ages (and still have my figs!). This year I decided to take a chance on a local sale and leaped back into Battletech, a Game of Armored Combat. I picked up both the classic game as well as the more streamlined Alpha Strike rules, and have thankfully found a local circle of players to get my fix for both. I’ve actually become fond of Alpha Strike in particular; it sacrifices a lot of the simulation and detailed rules for a faster paced game that focuses more on the play and deployment (but still maintains a heady level of tactical engagement). The groups I’ve played with have been super welcoming to newbies and even when I lose, every game has been a fun experience. Looking forward to painting new units and getting them to table in 2024.
FIST: Freelance Infantry Strike Team
This game is amazing. The entire rules of play can be summarized on a single page, yet the Ultra Edition clocks in at about ~160 pages. All of them gold. The aesthetics of the book feels like something written during the cold war, which suits its paramilitary “merc for hire vibe” perfectly. It’s a ruse — if you didn’t pay attention you wouldn’t notice all of the bizarre and wonderful chaos cooked into it. This game is A-Team meets Metal Gear Solid meets Doom Patrol and Hellboy. And then, when you let the community supplements in, it takes all of those through a lens of Robert Anton Wilson and Timmothy Leary. You can play this straight but when you steer into the weird it gets weird. Our campaign wound up turning surreal as rogue agents tried to pose as a wholesome American sitcom family. My character is a cybernetic skeleton — he manages a grocery store. He forgets his “wife” (modeled after Yolondi from Die Antwoord) and his “daughter” (a doll possessed by an extra-planar entity) aren’t his real family. We’ve had to deal with recursive time loops and raiding a ruined experimental military complex under a gas station. It’s the best game I ever played.
Godforskaen (Cypher System)
I really love using Cypher System as an alternative to D&D. The Godforsaken supplement does a great job spawning ideas on adapting Monte Cook’s strange (pun intended) rules engine for it. Specifically, I loved the campaign setting itself. In short: players hail from a world where the Gods are very real and provide everything they could want — to the point of boredom. Their characters thirst for adventure, danger and escape from the everyday, saccharine pastoral vision of these beings. What they find is that the Gods are only as powerful as the borders of their world, and beyond it are many strange, fantastic and deadly realms for them to explore. This was the only campaign I got to run proper in 2023, GMing in-person for my old crew prior to moving away. It was a lot of fun, the pacing was perfect, we got to explore a lot of strange places and experiment with weird adventure locations (including a library in a wizard’s mind!). I would gladly make the 2 hour drive back to my home town to keep this one going.
For GUILD & GLORY!
You haven’t heard of FG&G yet and that’s fine… it’s still in play test. I saw an open invite to try it out when I first moved up to the city and I took a shot. The creators are super passionate and enthusiastic gamers. As soon as the game is ready for the public I’m going to be an obnoxious hype machine for them. In short: it’s a high fantasy, high heroic game in the style of modern D&D but built off the bones of Forged in the Dark and other games akin to it. They’ve tweaked things in a way to make player characters feel bad ass out the gate, while still taking risks and facing dangers that can get them over their head. Centering campaigns around a “guild” of adventurers is great because it gives the players both a home operation to invest into, while also allowing a rotating roster of characters. It’s a stew of what makes modern adventure fantasy fun, and it does it well.
Five Leagues from the Borderland
The holidays were approaching and I realized my schedule was going to be super limited when it came to meeting up to play with others. So I took a chance on this title, a “Solo skirmish game” that also has lite-RPG elements and campaign play. This is, without a doubt, a game that if I had it when I was twelve or thirteen years old I would have lost entire summers and winter breaks to it. You create a small warband of heroes and allies, as well as flesh out a realm map filled with settlements, enemy camps, mysterious locations and abandoned ruins. You then embark on patrols, contracts and quests across this realm, facing procedurally generated encounters and events. The book does an awesome job keeping every campaign turn interesting — the “emergent story” elements are strong on this one. And where at first I was worried a “solo skirmish” game would have felt boring, the book lays out procedures for handling enemies in a way that is engaging and fun to keep track of. Lastly, the rules are “miniature agnostic” so you can play with literally any tokens, figures or pieces you have lying around. My first campaign, to learn the ropes, began digitally via Tabletop Simulator. However I‘ve now started collecting some fantasy figures, repurposing old Mage Knight clix figures, and printing off paper miniatures from various Patreons. My plans are to reboot my campaign physically this coming year (probably when the kid is back in school).
I hate writing goals and resolutions online because they often become duds. But I can tell you what’s been simmering in my folders for some time:
Unnamed Adventure for Sigil & Shadow
It was originally meant to be a game hosted on Halloween weekend in 2023, but the plague wrecked those plans (much like it did most of our holiday stuff this year). I still plan on trying to run it in person at my FLGS before unleashing it to the world. It’s a one-shot premise with pre-made characters, both Illuminated and Shadowed, and they all have something weird about them. Their connection? They were all the “spooky kids” in high school and were invited to their class reunion by a long dead friend.
Echoes of Hideaway
A campaign setting for Sigil & Shadow, with an emphasis on Shadowed characters. Scattered throughout the cities are doorways to pockets of the unreal, occupied by strange entities who are always willing to bargain. Some seek them for power, many seek them for sanctuary. A monstrous campaign with themes of found community, occult rivalries, and finding escape from the real horrors of the world.
More Echoed Invocations
More micro zine-sized supplements that I just need to play test and compile and maybe find some artists for. Deviations on the rules, more magic, items and just whatever we throw at the wall and it sticks. I often put snippets up on the blog for feedback, with the goal of eventually hammering them out for the zine.
No More AI Art, Going Forward
I’ve used AI generated graphics on blog posts for the past couple years (which have all been labeled when I do). This was admittedly out of the sake of creating filler imagery for a free blog post. I’m a word smith, not an artist, and I figured since I run zero ads, collect zero information and pay for this site out of pocket, that using it to get eyes on my work hurt nobody. I’ve changed my mind about that, as listening to both sides of the controversy (and watching events unfold this past year) has made me uncomfortable with attaching it to “my brand” (whether that’s as a hobby or profession). And just so it’s clear: no games I have out for publication, whether independently released or published professionally, used AI in anyway.
Discord is Open
While I lurk all over social media, best way to pester me and see what I’m up to is to join The ChaosGrenade Discord and say hi! It’s cozy, it has weird bouts of activity between chunks of silence, but I love everyone who lurks there and chimes in. I believe most are there for Sigil & Shadow but I’ll honestly talk about whatever folks are playing.
I’m for hire!
If you want someone to crank out words in your worlds, tinker with dice mechanics, or consult with about where your game needs improvement, shoot me an email and let me help you!