Satanic Panics (The Tragedy of Black Leaf)

The Tragedy of Black Leaf

from Dark Dungeons ©1984 by Jack T. Chick LLC

(Because everyone knows when you die in the Matrix you die in real life.)

The following is an opinion piece with snippets of research.

If you don’t like what I have to say, well then I have no idea how the fuck you got here in the first place, but Cheers!. Carry on.


The selective memory of individuals with an ax to grind never ceases to amaze me. I have read a comic, a forum post, and heard stories and watched media portraying D&D (and by association other fantasy role-playing games) as agents of a real and dangerous spiritual force of destruction. Homicides and suicides have had certain people blaming role-playing games as the reason for violence or self-harm. Often Christianity and the Bible are stressed as antidotes to this spiritual threat. Which I personally find laughable.

Christianity, where various statues are prominently displayed depicting an emaciated man who was violently murdered by his peers by being attached to two wooden boards by nails through his flesh. The Bible, where whole cities of people are turned into pillars of salt and shrubberies on fire direct the path of an entire populace. Christianity, where people are mandated to eat the flesh and blood of a demigod whose spiritual essence has transferred into mundane bread and wine through the mystery of transubstantiation (if you’re Catholic). The Bible, where one of the most extolled preachers  (Paul) wrote in his official letter to the faithful in Galatians 5:12 the ancient equivalent of the classic response to “You’re gay” (“NO YOU”) when he said “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (aka cut their own dicks off, because they’re losers and posers.) And then only a few sentences later he says to treat your neighbor as yourself. (So I should circumcise myself? oh ok cool.)

What the fuck am I getting at? Am I saying religion is dumb? No. What I’m getting at is sometimes people are dumb. Religion is merely a tool that can be used either to build a solid foundation that stands through a tempest of life, or used to nail heretics to trees.

The Bible, Christianity, other sacred texts, and other world religions, all share something in common. Elements of the fantastical. Characters that are larger than life. Beings from beyond our normal waking world. Magic and Mystery. What’s the difference between the Jesus Fandom and The Tolkien Fandom? Mostly PR and the skin color of their protagonists. Jesus was from the Middle East (sorry folks) and Gandalf was from Middle Earth (anglo-saxon fantasyland). So in my opinion fundamentalists are just being the “Um…actually…” people that we all hate at the table. They’re rules lawyers. Nobody likes rules lawyers. They stop the flow of the game and everybody gets silently annoyed with them. Fundamentalists are people who are essentially saying “Your fun is wrong.” It’s dumb. It’s hurtful and ultimately it only drives sales, which is perhaps the funniest thing about it.

When D&D was faced with the Satanic Panic controversies sales skyrocketed as the forbidden fruit syndrome took affect and everyone wanted to check out this edgy new dangerous game.

When Pokemon came out I remember a story in the media that a preacher had ripped off the head of a Pickachu doll in front of a group of young children telling them to beware of the devil. Sales soared. Pokemon-Go did just fine these past two years.

When Harry Potter came out I remember stories that preachers were burning the books (guess what dummies you still had to fucking buy them so…). Man, that amusement park never would have got built without the help of angry fundamentalists. Oh and to make matters worse their evil charismatic cult leader J.K. Rowling is now a billionaire that lost her billionaire status by donating to charities. Likely to create a smokescreen against her homosexual wizard stories. Such a witch.


When I was in film school I learned about a very interesting concept about sociology and media that I still think about today. It’s called the “Magic Bullet or Hypodermic Needle model.” It basically says that a message is directly received and wholly accepted by an individual. For example people committing crimes in the video game Grand Theft Auto will directly affect those people so as to make them predisposed to commit similar crimes. Originally conceived of in the 1930’s it has mostly been debunked but for some reason it made a resurgence in the 90’s and now (apparently) again in 2018. The Wiki on The Magic Bullet model mentions contemporary “One-Step Flow” of media information:

More recently, the use of big data analytics to identify user preferences and to send tailor-made messages to individuals led back to the idea of a “one-step flow of communication”, which is in principle similar to the hypodermic needle model.[15] The difference is that today’s massive databases allow for the mass customization of messages. So it is not one generic mass media message, but many individualized messages, coordinated by a massive algorithm.

Ok, that sounds fancy and correct, but what happens if we just don’t care? What happens if the algorithm fails? For example, I don’t drink. At all. Yet every fucking weekend Instagram tries to dish out alcohol ads at me and I just keep removing them and selecting “It’s not relevant.” Honestly I wish I could just have the option to not receive alcohol ads by selecting an option that says “I DON’T FUCKING DRINK ASSHOLES.”

Hollywood keeps cranking out “low-risk” movies. Movies with franchises or star power or whatever because its a safe bet for their finances. They want to make money so nobody is funding “risky” narratives. A lot of those movies I will never see. Or if I do seem them I won’t be able to stop making fun of how stupid the characters and the story is. Don’t even get me started about “Fifty Shades of Shitty Representation of Kinks.”

“So what was the point? Final summation? None.”

The Burning Wheel

I first noticed The Burning Wheel about a year and a half ago at my Friendly Local Game Store. It was a gorgeous red and gold book sitting on a shelf begging to be read. I walked by it more than once because I thought “D&D 5e is all I need, why read another game system when I barely have a steady group for D&D 5e?”

Flash forward to now: I have a steady game group of amazing players and I’ve been making an active effort to expand my perspectives and experiences.

Enter my voracious Youtube watching. Interior, Day. We see a man with flamboyant hair and a punk rock attitude. This man is Adam Koebel, creator of Dungeon World. Lover of gaming. Writer, Streamer, Designer, Producer, and entertaining as hell to listen to.

Adam can’t stop ranting about this game called The Burning Wheel.

Shit, I passed by that book a hundred times. Guess I better check it out, huh?

Holy shit. This game is ridiculous.

Burning Wheel is a game where, according to their official website,

You write your own Beliefs about what you want and Instincts that describe how you react. You advance your skills to help you get there and you earn traits that describe how you come out on the other side. One way or another, when you play Burning Wheel, you’re playing with fire.

Playing with fire indeed. No character classes. No abstract “Hit Points”. No predictable turn based combat. No part of it that does not mechanically and elegantly fold back in on itself. No character without some deeper motivation. This game is a well oiled machine of drama and high stakes play. This game is what Skyrim wishes it could be. This game is Burning Wheel.

Taken from the back of The Gold Edition core-book:

Burning Wheel is an award-winning fantasy roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of vibrant, dynamic characters whose very beliefs propel the story forward.

Sounds good, right? Does it deliver though? FUCK YES IT DOES.

During character creation you are tasked with choosing Lifepaths to determine how your character has lived SINCE BIRTH. You choose a Birth Life Path and then a certain number of Lifepaths based on how seasoned you want your character to be. There are no levels or classes in the game but the number of Lifepaths you take is a good indicator of how competent or powerful your character will be. 2 Lifepaths? You’re basically a powerless young adult. 3 Lifepaths? A mildly skilled adult. 5 Lifepaths and you’re a well seasoned veteran of some walk of life.

Your skills and your statistics are directly related to the Lifepaths you choose and your age. Certain skills and abilities are only available to certain Lifepaths, so right from the get-go your choices affect how you can play your character.

And the Advancement System? Whoa buddy. Your skills only increase if you use them. You don’t get better at swinging a sword if you never swing your sword. You don’t wondrously gain a feature out of thin air just because you gain something called a “level”. This is medieval fantasy life bruh. You gotta lift to get them gains. And you can die from all manor of nasty cuts and bruises.

Speaking of wounds: The Physical Tolerances Greyscale (or PTGS for nerds in the know).

Based on your stats you have different tolerances for Superficial, Light, Midi, Severe, Traumatic, and Mortal Wounds. Any one of these wounds could give you a nasty penalty to ALL your skills. In Burning Wheel there is no such thing as “oh yeah i just got hit by three arrows and a lightning bolt but I’m still running around 30ft every 6 seconds in full plate armor and smiling.”

All this hardcore shit is awesome but what about those sweet, sweet BITs? Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. These things that are in most roleplaying games but are forgotten about after character creation. In BW, if you play according to your BITs  and you get mechanically rewarded. Did you move one step closer to “Running the best damn Oddities shop?” Cool, you just gained Artha. What the fuck is Artha? A free re-roll, a chance to do more damage, or that last little push you needed to convince the doubtful prince to invest in your growing business. You have BITs that when you play to them you gain Artha. You use Artha in Tests to succeed and move closer to what you want. As you move closer to what you want you get better at the abilities you use. You learn to take greater risks towards your goals as you gain Artha and spend it and get better and so on and so on.

The game really is a Burning Wheel. Like Adam Koebel says of it, “It’s the Swiss watch of roleplaying games.” Gods dammit it is complicated as shit. But when you get all the parts moving and turning, it is a beauty to behold the intricate and complex stories that it can create around a table.

Don’t pass by the Gold Edition sitting on a shelf. You’ll regret not learning it sooner.


Microscope (The RPG)

Microscope is available here and it’s a wonderfully weird game written by Ben Robbins. Word on the tables is that Ben Robbins is also the individual who is credited as the creator of The West Marches style of RPG play.

Microscope is a game where all the players involved have equal say in the narrative that they create collaboratively. Nobody has Player Characters, or Character Sheets, people are equipped with only with their creativity and imaginations.

There is no definitive end to Microscope and there is no definitive goal to achieve beyond having fun with your friends. How the game achieves “fun” is strange.

The first step to having fun with Microscope is throwing out all your preconceived notions of Game Masters, linear story-telling, and characters unique to an individual player.

Microscope starts with a beginning and an end and play revolves around exploring that big nebulous middle.

You start with a Big Picture, a story seed that defines The Beginning and The End of the chronology you are going to explore. An example of one I tried was “A vastly powerful Illithid empire falls at the hands of a slave uprising.”

Then the players agree on what the game calls A Palette.

A Palette is what everyone agrees upon as things that should or should not be in the story. Something I added to the above palette was “NO Snobby Elves.” because I’m sick of stories with aloof elves which are basically analogs for British imperialist bullshit. A Palette consists of “No’s” and “Yes’s” but you only need to make a Yes when you wouldn’t expect that to be in the Big Picture story but you want some insurance that it will be fair game when it comes into play. So a Yes for the above example could be “Some Illithids side with the slave uprising.” Because common considerations for Illithids are they are all evil and I want to make sure there’s room to explore “good” Illithids.

What’s interesting about Microscope is two players could have completely different ideas of where the narrative should lead and then they can both act on those ideas and take the story in weird an interesting ways. One player could see the Illithids as the protagonists of the story while another player sees the Slave Uprising as the protagonists.

Once a palette is agreed upon by all players the actual play of the game begins. Each player takes turns adding Periods, Events, and Scenes to the chronology and they can insert these wherever they feel it fits between the Big Picture’s Beginning and End points.

Periods are large amounts of time (years all the way to millenia) and they should be painted in broad strokes that beg the question “Ok so how did this period get summarized as ‘The Age of Chains’? ”

Events are much like what they sound like, discrete moments in time, although they could take anywhere from 1 minute to 1 year. Like “An Illithid Ambassador sympathetic to the Slave Uprising is assassinated”. Events should also beg more questions about how that event happened, what came before and what happened after.

Scenes are the smallest increments of time in Microscope they could take anywhere from seconds to hours. Scenes are treated a little differently than Periods and Events because suddenly all the players should be involved in role-playing out a scene. The important thing to note with Scenes are that they should never be formulated with an answer already in mind. Scenes should pose a question and role-playing them out should answer that question. Whenever a player creates a new Scene they can just flat out answer the question, but sometimes they aren’t sure of the answer themselves and the group collaboratively role-plays to discover the answer.

And that’s the down and dirty basics of Microscope. Players go around the table creating Periods, Events, and Scenes, they take turns choosing what The Focus is of a particular round, and certain elements can be voted to become Legacies (recurring themes or motifs within the entire history).

On paper it might not sound at all like a game, more like a team-building exercise, but in play it can be very interesting. Since any player can create anything its possible for characters to be created and die within seconds of the same round. One player “creates” the Illithid Ambassador on their turn and the next player decides “Ok so 20 years later that Ambassador is assasinated.” Nobody really owns anything exclusively in the narrative and people can create anything they find interesting within the story.

The other interesting thing about the game is that time is very much an almost irrelevant concept. Time is infinitely flexible and mutable and you can “zoom-in” on any section of time at any point in the game. All the players are equally powerful omniscient narrators that drive the story by focusing in on whatever they feel is interesting.

I’ve only played Microscope two times and both times my thoughts are ignited by one firecracker of an idea. Microscope would be an amazing way to spend a session zero and build a setting for an RPG campaign. Everyone in a group creates a world’s history together, and then the group chooses to play characters within a particularly interesting section of that history. Lore, NPCs, objectives, quests, all could be organically developed collaboratively, germinating adventure hooks in the mind of whoever is going to be the GM for the campaign. Players would already have a sort of buy-in for the campaign because they get to pick what section of the history interests them and they want to explore at ground level.

Someday I will DM a D&D campaign that is the product of a Microscope session zero. As soon as I convince my players that Microscope is in fact a game.

Crunch Versus Fluff

I feel that I would be negligent in my duties to the Tabletop Community at large if I did not at least mention the buzzwords “Crunch” and “Fluff”.

I personally added these words to my gaming vocabulary as soon as I first learned them from one of my favorite podcasts Full Metal RPG.

In short, these terms are used in order to better quantify the differences between different types of games. They could be applied to any game really, but I find them most useful when it comes to discussing Tabletop RPGs.

Crunch are the mechanics and various rules that may (but not always) slow down play of a game. Crunch is “ok so I have a +2 from being on horseback,  and also my sword gives me extra damage against undead.” Crunch is extensive rules for various types of situations. Crunch is the order of operations when deciding who hits what first and how hard it hits. Crunch is a descriptor to denote how much of a game is codified and overtly delineated in the rules.

Fluff is, in a way, everything else. Fluff is “Half-Elves are the looked at differently by humans and elves alike. Humans see them as too other-worldy to fully understand, and elves see them as too mundane to appreciate true elven sensibilities.”  Fluff is the dressing, the backdrop, the flavor of a character or a campaign. Fluff is the tone, the mood, and the setting. Fluff is vivid descriptions of people, places, and things that don’t directly correlate to any mechanical codified rules.

Using these two loose descriptors it becomes much easier to express to people the differences between game settings, game systems, and styles of play.

I can ask someone “So do you like a really crunchy game or are you more a fan of fluff?”

I can say “3rd Edition D&D was very crunchy and combat usually took hours, and part of the reason I like 5th Edition is they’ve trimmed down a lot of what I felt was unnecessary extra-crunchiness. Like grappling. God I hated the concrete crunch of 3rd Edition Grappling rules.”

I can say “Burning Wheel is a weird game because it feels like all the crunch is focused around what other games treat as fluff. Like all the mechanics focus around Beliefs and Instincts of characters while D&D treats beliefs and instincts as window dressing that is secondary to how much damage you roll for a long-sword versus a dagger.”

So try out these frameworks when you’re looking at the next game you play.

Just for fun, here’s some game examples and my perspective on their crunch to fluff ratios:

Settlers of Catan: 100% Crunch, 0% Fluff (nobody cares how many settlers died of starvation, just tell me if you want to trade your fucking Ore so I can build a god damned city)

Eldritch Horror: 80% Crunch, 20% Fluff (cards have flavor text which sets the mood and is interesting to read aloud, but ultimately the cards matter more for what they mechanically do to Investigators and the board. The cards are written in a nonlinear style so it really doesn’t matter when you “Open a Planar Gate” or if you fail your check and get lost in a city of cats for a turn, you’re probably gonna die anyway)

D&D 5e: 70% Crunch, 30% Fluff (the inclusion of Inspiration, Personality, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws to the front of character sheets reminds players to role-play and not just hack and slash anything that moves. Ultimately, Crunch to Fluff is up to how the DM runs the game, but in general I feel the system as is equates roughly to a 70/30 split.)

Dungeon World: 40% Crunch, 60% Fluff (Since all the mechanics of Moves are directly tied to a narrative, this game strongly reinforces role-play and Theater of The Mind dynamics. There is no mention of weapon ranges in exact terms of feet or meters, that doesn’t matter in this game. What matters is are you pushing the story forward in interesting ways. But there’s still some bookkeeping in terms of Encumbrance, Holds, and other noodly bits)

Microscope: 10% Crunch, 90% Fluff (If you haven’t checked out this game, you should. I banged out a quick blurb about it here. At first glance it doesn’t exactly look like a role-playing games but it definitely is a role-playing game. The only crunch in Microscope is keeping track of who is in charge of a Focus and what Legacies have built up, but mostly this is simple and straightforward. The meat of Microscope is describing events, characters, and vast spans of chronology. There are no rolls in Microscope, just roles.)  



Spelljammer for 5th Edition D&D

First, I have to give credit where credit is due. I was bored one evening and strolling through Youtube when I stumbled upon a video by one of my favorite Youtube channels Web DM:

If you have never heard of Spelljammer and you love D&D, you owe it to yourself to at least watch this video.

Spelljammer was a setting published by TSR for AD&D back in 1989. It was originally conceived of as a way to intertwine their already published settings (Dragonlance, Faerun, and Greyhawk) into one cohesive multiverse.

Spelljammer borrowed ideas from the cosmology of ancient and medieval scholars and presented a world where every planetary system is surrounded by Crystal Spheres. These spheres are impenetrable (except by certain magicks) and float within a rainbow ocean called The Phlogiston (I’ve heard it pronounced Flog-is-tahn as well as Flo-gest-on).

The area within a Crystal Sphere (inside a planetary system) is called Wildspace, and outside the Sphere is the seemingly endless Phlogiston (also called The Flow). The Crystal Sphere’s primary purpose appears to be to keep the Plogiston out and Wildspace in, and within Wildspace gods and divine powers can function as normal. In The Flow though, dimensional magics as well as divine magic fail. The gods are seemingly prohibited from entering The Phlogiston.

Now these cosmological and metaphysical flavorings caught my attention, but what interested me more was how this simple framework blew my mind in terms of what it implied I could do with world-building as a DM.


I could do ANYTHING.

Fit it all in the same physical reality, and make it possible to jump from one strange world to another.

After watching Web DM’s Spelljammer video I became obsessed.

I searched the internet and could not find a satisfactory Spelljammer for 5th Edition. The only file I found was poorly written and the file was corrupted so you couldn’t even read the whole thing and it appeared as if the writer had given up halfway through.

Then one day, on a whim, I went to a Half Priced Books to see if maybe they happened to have some Spelljammer books.

Rolled a Nat 20 on my Investigation Check.


I found the two main Boxsets for Spelljammer in near mint condition.

And I commenced to devouring their contents like a starved Mindflayer discovering a vintage wizard’s brain.

I was immediately disappointed. In their video, Johnathan Pruitt made it sound like you could pick up these old rulebooks and run Spelljammer for 5e with little to no conversion. I vehemently disagree. So many aspects of the original Spelljammer are simply not suited for the 5th Edition design philosophy and style. Who the fuck wants saving throw matrices anymore?

Well, I don’t do anything half-assed, so I set off working on a careful and considerate conversion of these old rules and bringing them into the new and glorious age of 5th edition.

1 year later.

I have done the hard work for all you lovely internet people. I condensed down 49 pages of The Lorebook of The Void and 71 pages of The Concordance of Arcane Space and I give you two simple and easy to use PDFs for free. (because I found out after doing all this work that I cannot post either of these PDFs on DMsGuild or DriveThruRPG due to copyright issues.)

One PDF is all the rules you could possibly need to run Spelljammer in 8 pages, and the other is 23 Spelljamming Ships and 7 Spelljamming Helms for use in your Spelljammer campaign.