vsca catalogue

diaspora cover lulu 441 thumbnailDiaspora

Me, Toph Marshall, Tim Dyke, and Byron Kerr wrote this together over a couple of years in an attempt to bring a Traveller aesthetic to Fate back when it was FATE. Derived from Spirit of the Century but with efforts to deconstruct and modularize. Gold ENnie winner for best rules. It’s about keeping your spaceship running while dealing with the political and trade frictions between a small number of very different star systems. Collaborative world design. You may have first experienced it as Spirit of the Far Future. Print and PDF.

This is a game we still play, though I think that the character and system generation stuff is better by far than the rest of the game. I mean it’s a good game, but the collaborative stuff really sings.

Deluge - Brad MurrayDeluge

I had a bug in my head about post-apocalyptic play and so wrote this little system-agnostic adventure generator that starts from the submergence of your home town. Lots of table-based oracles for creating desperate communities. Simple, fun, and crazy cheap (PWYW). PDF only.

I haven’t played with this in a while. Have you? I keep coming back to the idea of releasing a new edition with better tools and art.

hollowpoint cover frontHollowpoint

Written together with Toph Marshall before my move to Toronto and then laid out and finished amongst the boxes of my move. This is a custom designed system built up from a deconstruction of ORE and built to make face-paced action movie games. It probably first percolated up into my head after reading the graphic novel series 100 Bullets. It’s about being super competent at being bad. Your only options are different flavours of violence. An ENnie nominee for best game. Print and PDF.

This game is huge fun and always has been but suffers from a fatal flaw for my own use: the whole iteration-over-a-dice-pool concept just isn’t fun for online play. It kicks ass at a table with real dice, but the tactile allocation and manipulation of dice is necessary.


Now living in Toronto and isolated from my gaming groups, I built a game designed to be played by email. While the provided scenario is a sort of fantasy 17th century Europe and Africa, it’s been easily ported to space stations, colonies, and other settings. The idea is simple: you play a personality by writing letters to other personalities you know using email. The ref gets a CC: of all these and periodically publishes a newspaper that synthesizes these letters as current events. I think this game is a gas and it doesn’t require constant attention. I think there’s more to do with this concept. First time I’d use a cover from Juan Ochoa and he’s awesome to work with. PWYW in PDF form.

Haven’t played in a while but I see a game crop up online every now and again.

coverElysium Flare

It took a while to get this one out of my head. I’ve never much liked space opera as a genre but felt like one way to get an understanding of what’s to love would be to write one. This is another Fate rebuild, with a lot of simplifications and an amusing first-person space combat system. This gave me a chance to exercise some suddenly improving artistic skills as well as hire Juan again for some work. It plays lighthearted and galaxy-spanning with adventure cues ranging from stopping a galactic Horror to dealing with a paperwork nightmare on a world dedicated entirely to galactic bureaucracy. Huge fun to make and to run. First time I would use DriveThruRPG for both print and PDF.

I don’t play this as much as I should, but I can’t get into Fate that much any more, especially for online play. The mechanical back and forth places more burden than I want on my time and resources when I’m limited (as I am) to a couple hours a week and entirely playing by text chat. Still, I wish I could play more. The playtesting was great fun and very funny.

Soft Horizon cover minaretSoft Horizon

The Soft Horizon had been brewing in my head since shortly after we released Diaspora. The idea was to build a plane-hopping game that would weave bizarre characters through Heavy Metal style psychedelia, evoking Moebius and Bilal and Voss and all those great artists who were clearly out of their heads. It didn’t turn out to be one game. Instead I’ve been reconstructing the playtest sessions as individual games using the same simple Powered by the Apocalypse inspired engine. Fast and failure driven, the games reliably take the narrative places no one intended. Each game is self-contained, having the setting and the complete system (tuned for the setting) all in less than a hundred pages.

king-machine-cover-alternateThe King Machine

This probably shouldn’t have been the first Soft Horizon game. It doesn’t derive from a known property but instead from an early playtest session brought into being by some random oracles and our own brains. It was initially conceived as a warning about democracy but took so long to make that now it’s just thinly veiled allegory for today’s world. You play intelligent non-human primates in a world of Roger Dean album covers coping with a utopia that suddenly lost its utopic engine: the machine that makes perfect kings. Print and PDF at DTRPG. I think this is one of the best games I’ve ever made.

I’d be playing this now if I wasn’t playtesting…

cover.pngSand Dogs

Coming soon! A dieselpunk tale in a world that’s all desert and studded with tombs full of sleeping gods. A mash-up of Indiana Jones, Roadside Picnic, and the Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius. You can’t buy this yet. I’m playing it. If you’re a patron you can get a laid out playtest package sometime in December.


And of course our Patreon is what keeps this stuff coming. It’s been an enormous influence on my productivity — we’ve never had a three-title year ever. We’ve never had a two-title year before. Even just a buck is awesome: it’s one more person I feel beholden to and therefore one more little push to get some more work out the door.

getting more arts

You liked a post! That’s awesome!

I want to make clear that I’m not going to be talking just about me here. I am talking about me but I don’t want you to take away a guilt trip for inadequately supporting me. You are not obligated to do anything and you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing nothing. However, the established spaces for creatives to work have been steadily making it harder to make a buck creating things like comics, essays, games, and artwork. There are, however, things you can do to help claw back what we once had! And many of them are totally free. The only reason you’re not doing them is that you probably don’t realize the positive impact they can have.

So first, like the thing. Give it a heart, a thumbs up, whatever. That’s a minimum and it helps up front — a pat on the back is always nice — and it helps later. On it’s own it’s not much, it’s not a sale, it’s not even really a potential sale, but it’s nice. And it reinforces and amplifies later actions.

So like the thing.

Now re-share it. That’s usually one click. Painless. This is important because re-sharing is how the whole internet amplification thing works: the artist’s individual reach, the number of people their initial post gets to, is supposed to be the tip of the iceberg. The re-share, boost, whatever button is there to multiply the effect: if you really liked it and liked it enough to want more, you tell your friends (many of whom the artist has not reached yet). If they do the same, we have an exponentially growing awareness of the material. So if you like it, ask yourself if you’d like to see more. If you want to see more, re-share it.

And here’s the knock-on effect I hinted at: when people see a lot of likes on a re-share, they are predisposed to follow through on the link. So the like is not worthless, it’s just that its best effect is indirect.

So re-share the thing.

I got nothing. I just like this picture. And pictures boost posts.

Re-share buttons only operate in the context of the medium you saw the material in. Another thing you can do that’s more effort but amazingly powerful is to pull the link out and post about it in another medium! See that thing on Twitter? Tell your friends on G+. Or wherever you post. Forums are great — they are little islands that the artist has likely never heard of let alone visited. Offer the material to a new context and you amplify the artist’s voice even further. A little more work to demonstrate your enthusiasm and it pays huge dividends.

So re-post the thing.

So far these things you can do are pretty cheap and have an enormous impact. The next thing you can do at a little more effort is to talk about the material or the artist or both in your own posts, tweets, whatever instagrams are. When you post original material about someone elses work you give it credibility as well as exposure. And their work becomes linked with yours. You start to share those eyeballs.

So if you have your own platform to shout at the internet from, acknowledge, discuss, review other peoples’ material. You get a content topic for the day and they get a boost and a little more credibility as something that’s demonstrably worth talking about.

Finally, of course, there is always financial support. Buy the book, put a buck in the Patreon. These are all great and they are really the final impact the artist hopes for: we are looking to pay the bills! However, we’re playing a numbers game — payments are from a percentage of people that see the original material. If you get more eyeballs, at some point you’re guaranteeing a sale even if it’s not your buck. So by all means by the thing but don’t feel you have to. Your re-share or review might reach enough people to make ten sales! It counts. It’s important. It’s appreciated.

And let’s talk a little about reciprocity, since artists help other artists as well. You’re not going to see all the re-shares that happen but when you do see one and it’s by a fellow artist ask yourself what you’ve done to help them. They spent some effort there to promote, engage, enthuse about your art. Give them a leg up too. You don’t have to want to buy something in order to be enthusiastic about it in public. Artists boosting other artists is a genuine statement of community: we are going to help each other. But that “each other” is super important — if one doesn’t see any reciprocity eventually the re-shares will stop.

So if you like a thing, rather if you like it enough that you want to see more tomorrow, please consider taking one extra step past the like button. Consider becoming a fan by aligning yourself with the artist and speaking about your enthusiasm. Did you have fun? Did you smile? Did you feel an emotion? Want more?

Now you know how to get more.

oh those bundles

Yay a space ship! Hurray!

So you’re probably aware that the Bundle of Fate 4 contains Elysium Flare. Hurray! These bundles are always good sellers and they give 10% of proceeds to a charity. Hurray! They don’t make a ton of money but they do generate a lot of units sold, and I always hope that some percentage of those will result in play, reviews, and on a really great day, investigation of other VSCA products. Hurray!

This Bundle’s charity is the EFF. Hurray!

You probably guessed from all those hurrays that there’s a dark cloud behind all that silver lining. Well not really, but sorta. There’s a cloud of drama. So I want to clarify what happened as far as I care (that is, I know things that are not interesting to my decisions and are private to individuals and I think they should sort that shit out, but it is not my place to do so) since you maybe got a whiff of it.

When I got notification that the Bundle was ready to roll with Elysium Flare in it I was told that the charity would be ConTessa, which I was stoked for. ConTessa is a well organized con-within-a-con that floats to various conventions and prioritizes games by women about women for women. At least that used to be the case. Now they have become move diverse, embracing LGBTQ and people of colour as part of their mandate. Awesome before, awesomer now. ConTessa is a whole bunch of people organizing well for a good reason and getting shit done. I am onside.

When I got notification that the Bundle was live, the charity was the EFF. All cool, I thought, something fell through, and now it’s EFF and not ConTessa. Honestly I was not interested in why that happened — there are a lot of people involved in organizing these things and I am just not going to stick my head in a bee hive any more. I’ve been there, been stung, got no honey. Both good charities, so whatever.

After that I got word that there were some screw ups. Someone objected to ConTessa, ConTessa got informed before the thing was finalized, and the Bundlerizer was in the unenviable position of having to either lose an important contributor or back out on a deal with ConTessa. And then they maybe could have handled that better. All in all there was a lot of poor communication resulting in a lot of unhappy people and some old grudges re-stoked at second and third hand since the first hands don’t talk. I was very disappointed. I feel like we should be past this sort of thing now. We’re not.

Anyway, I’m not going to point fingers. I think it was a clusterfuck and as with any clusterfuck, there’s plenty of blame to go around. I wish all would just own up to the disaster, apologize, find a way to repair relationships and move on. I am not holding my breath. Not my problem, though.

What is my problem is that ConTessa got screwed out of a decent donation. So if you buy the Bundle of Fate 4, you should at least know that half of the VSCA profits will got to ConTessa. If you have already chosen a side in this, I would beg you to reconsider. There are no teams here with clean hands. Declaring a side would mostly be in the same category as wearing your football team’s shirt: good for your cheering section and choosing who to beat up after, but of no particular value for solving actual problems. This problem does not need anyone cheering it on from the sidelines.

So please, buy the Bundle. Buy it even if you disagree with the charity change. Buy it even if you agree. You could choose to notice that if you have chosen a side then now, with my action, buying it benefits the other side. You could also choose to notice that now it benefits everyone.

It’s on you now.


i love you and…

…need you to know that what keeps these articles coming is the Patreon account. If you’re digging them and want to see more, please consider a drop in the bucket.


The other thing that keeps it going is the sales of games. Maybe you’re not into nebulous donations and possible future things like access to playtest docs. Maybe you want a thing, a really thing, you can hold and read and play. Well, buying VSCA games also keeps us running.


I’m thrilled by the engagement I’ve seen on these posts — plenty of conversation started on G+, Twitter, and Mastodon and that’s what I’m after! Keep it up, keep challenging me, asking questions, offering insights. I’m enjoying this too, but it’s you I’m enjoying.


ref advice

I’m going to cheat a little on this post, but I’ve recently seen a number of people talking about “GM Advice” sections and I have complicated feelings about those. I generally have either very specific advice or I have rules. I don’t really have general advice for you as ref. Be a compassionate human being when dealing with your friends while playing these games. That’s about it really.

But rules I got. Here’s the rules for the ref from The King Machine. If you read them with your head tilted at the right angle you will see that they are easily generalized. But they aren’t advice. These are rules.

You can buy your own copy of The King Machine any time you want.

instigating action

As the ref you have the duty of instigating action when there is none or when it’s a logical outcome of player action. Back in the “the ref” on page 29 we listed the usual methods. Here we’ll look at them in more detail and in the context of this setting.

Note that “recall a missed hook” and “enter the Soft Horizon” don’t get any special attention here. They mostly derive from the narrative you have already established.

start some shit

The logical place to look for new and intrusive action is the king because the king is the wrong king. The king has their own goals and they are bad ones and will intrude on the players. In addition to the specifics of the king, all kings are oppressors and will act in some common ways.

The king will likely have military and police out looking for dissidents. This is an opportunity for direct action, like an encounter with an aggressive border patrol or a military raid.

The king will also have agents infiltrating every organization that isn’t directly affiliated with the crown: all effective and independent organizations are a threat. So expose a spy, narrate an assassination, describe the terrible results of sabotage or have something that should have been easy go wrong based on bad information from a royal stooge. The common element here will be that the effort is designed to impede the organization and that it will seem to originate inside the organization or another organization. Only the most ham-fisted infiltrations will obviously be the work of the king.

The king will also be pursuing their interests. Colonialists will be invading and oppressing. Hedonists will be collecting taxes and policing productivity. And so on. Starting some shit is your opportunity to indirectly play the king.

set a deadline

Relaxing without a deadline. It’s not that exciting but you look cool as hell.

Deadlines are looming problems and to be tense they must threaten an existing objective of the characters. So whenever the players have decided on project that takes some time (travelling to a new place, conducting long negotiations, &c.) consider a deadline that gives them a timeline.

Travel is a good example because the flying Lands of the King Machine world leave space for long flight times. If the players decide their characters need to get to a new Land with a valuable object, a deadline might be that the King’s Patrol will be blocking that border as soon as they arrive and searching everyone—presumably for that valuable object! If the players beat the deadline, they don’t need to deal with the Patrol. Otherwise it’s search and seizure time!

call in a bond

One bond you can always count on is the organization the characters belong to. Look at the organization details and imagine a situation the organization is in that needs the characters’ action. A fellow Archivist is in trouble nearby!

Consider putting the object of the bond in mortal danger. If they were to die, that bond would go away and cease to be a potential mechanical advantage for the player.

make a scar a problem

There is little about scars that would be unique to this setting, but the interplanar nature of the Soft Horizon does present some opportunities. This might be a chance, for example to explain the inexplicable! If a character has a scar that appears magical or anachronistic (maybe a metal arm or prosthetic obsidian eyes), tie it to another plane. Perhaps someone outside this world wants it back. Perhaps it’s powered at the expense of someone in another world. And maybe that someone is empowered to do something about it.

introduce someone interesting

Aside from people who are interesting because of the state of your ongoing story, there are types of people that are especially interesting in this setting.

Agents of the king who are having second thoughts about their monarch might well come forward to the characters.

Members or leaders of other organizations that suspect the inter-organizational strife is artificial might open up an investigation into the king’s meddling.

Beings that are not of this world demand attention! Machine people, demons, and humans all must have come from somewhere else. This might even be the characters’ first inkling that there is a somewhere else.

dry up a resource

Regular life in the world of the King Machine is fairly mundane (aside from the flying mountains and such) and therefore so are the resource. Money, food, and water are all logical.

As with interesting people, this might also be an opportunity to engage the rest of the Soft Horizon. If the players have some loot that’s inexplicable, have it use up an interplanar resource, demanding not only location of the resource but also investigation into another plane. That gasoline teleporter in the motorcycle stops working because the gas tank it’s attached to in the world of Sand Dogs is dry. Or perhaps as pedestrian as being out of bullets, except no one makes bullets on this world. Where’d they come from?


In the upper right corner is a suitably subtle little icon, a few parallel lines, that indicates there’s more to see. What’s there is a set of links (among other widgets). I want you to click those — that’s partly why this blog even exists — but I also don’t want them to intrude on your reading. So I kind of shoot myself in the foot with this subtlety. This post is me digging the bullet out.

You can buy VSCA games from some of those links. We have made a diverse set of games, from Diaspora (a Fate-based hard science fiction game) to the latest work in the Soft Horizon series. These are all hippie games. They will insist that players have agency as well as their characters, that emerging stories are shared property, that there are important aspects of story other than violence (and sometimes shine a light on that by forcing you to be violent), and they are all in some sense political. Beyond the obvious “all art is political” political, I mean. So go buy those.

Come yell at me. Or with me. With me is better.

You’ll also find a link to our Discord server, where you can chat live and yell at me to my virtual face. I’d rather we just chat about the games, though, and maybe play some.

And you’ll find a link to the VSCA Patreon page. This one is really important: the regular if thin stream of income from Patreon is what keeps our tools sharp and lets us make time to fabricate games and think about them in public. It’s why there’s art, it’s why there are blog posts, it’s why I’m able to do this at all. Now, every month patrons re-evaluate where their money’s going and some drop out. I do that too. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the pulse and breath of the tool. It’s half of how Patreon metabolizes. The other half is new subscribers. So consider it, even just a buck, if you’re enjoying the blog, the chat, and most importantly, the games.

Part of the reason Patreon works is not even the money. Not directly, anyway. What happens is that I feel an obligation, keenly, to produce. When people are cheering me on even just by waving dollar bills, I feel like I have to make something for them. That pressure it what has turned the VSCA from a once-every-three-years publisher to a two- or even three-games-a-year publisher. Your support supercharges our output out of all proportion to the amount you choose to pledge. You make me owe you, and so far that’s proving to be all I need to deliver.

So, consider clicking the things and nosing around. Regardless of whether or how you support, getting more eyeballs is essential: when you repost, boost, review, or otherwise get our message out to your audience (who are people I don’t know and can’t reach!) then you expand our reach. Find us new people. Often someone comes by who I know fairly well but still never saw my posts and didn’t know we’re back in business. You enable that glorious shit.

the soft horizon


Picture a stack of old Heavy Metal magazines, perhaps miraculously old ones you haven’t read before. The pages packed with work from Corben, Giraud, Bilal, Voss, Druillet, Bodé. That’s the soft horizon. It a stack of universes of possibilities, of crazy visuals, of stories. But unlike your stack of magazines, they are all linked: the Archer from the Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius might find himself in a bar by the seaside when the Plitch makes its appearance.

So the soft horizon or, if you like, the Soft Horizon, isn’t a game in itself. It’s an idea. But there are games! Each game is the best story in one of those magazines–the most startling visuals, the strangest setting, the best representation of the artist at that time, in that context. They might well be political because art is political, but mostly they will be weird and fun.

Mechanically, each game will use the same core mechanism, designed to elevate the weird, reward improvisation, and lighten the load on the ref. And deliver the soft horizon. Any character made in one game could wind up adventuring in another, perhaps raising the bar on “weird”. Your gorilla military lawyer from The King Machine might well find herself eventually digging for treasure with some Sand Dogs.

But the Soft Horizon will eventually also be a book itself — not a game, exactly, but a way to make more settings in this metaverse. So you aren’t limited to my games. They might make a starting place, but they certainly shouldn’t be the end or even the middle of your journeys. A handbook, really, to guide your own creative efforts, including not only advice and definition for the interface between system and setting, but also oracles galore to guide the process from the very beginning–the blank page–right up to game night. That’s the third (maybe) book in the series.

The second book is Sand Dogs. It’s coming out around the end of the year and you can read about it elsewhere. It’s Indiana Jones, it’s The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius, and it’s Roadside Picnic. And some other stuff. Even The Immortal’s Fête is in there. Hell there are so many references that you can dig through it for easter eggs just as your characters will rob tombs for the garbage of the gods.

The first book is The King Machine and you can get it now. It’s a quiet game about an interrupted utopia. A perfect world suddenly imperfect. Oh, and you’re an intelligent primate. But not a human.

That’s not nearly the end though, or at least I hope it isn’t. I’ve been reaching out to other writers to potentially try their hand at their own game in this psychedelic metaverse. Some are nibbling. Some have bit. I don’t have titles nor deadlines yet, but I can see the idea is expanding.

And so the soft horizon grows, both inside and outside of the fiction. Join us. What could be more exciting than an old issue of Heavy Metal that you missed? That you get to read now for the very first time?