posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 1: Get on the mike and MC!

You know when the ad copy of a game reads like this:


THE SECRET FIRE™ uses a unique blend of game design and storytelling to create a fast and flexible original fantasy game system of roleplaying, exploration, and constant danger. Created by screenwriter (XENA, DRAGONLANCE) and Origins Award®-nominated game designer (MEN IN BLACK, STAR WARS D6) George Strayton, TSF’s revolutionary “immersion” mechanics breathe real life into the experience of descending into dungeons, exploring the uncharted wilderness, and saving the innocent from certain doom.

Indeed, The Secret Fire encourages players to become their characters—it could be their only hope of survival....

“A flavor-filled approach to fantasy gaming that puts the mystery and magic back into the dark recesses of the dungeon.” —Monte Cook, Co-Creator of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

“With THE SECRET FIRE, George Strayton is following in the footsteps of the inventor and master of roleplaying games, Gary Gygax, expanding on Gary’s original vision of fantasy roleplaying by taking it back to its roots while simultaneously bringing it into the future.” — Gail Gygax
you're in for a treat.

For those few of you here who don't follow the grognards thread, you probably don't know why a lot of people feel that "immersion" is a dirty word. It's kind of complex to get into here, but the basic gist of it is that a lot of old-style gamers feel that "immersion" is the pinacle of the RPGing experience, and that these fancy new-fangled games like FATE and 4e somehow prevent that from happening due to meta-gamey mechanics that "break immersion", like being in-character is a state akin to a delicate soap bubble that, once popped, can never be repaired. And as been pointed out in grognards.txt, nobody who makes this argument ever provides an example of what an "immersive" mechanic actually is.

So when I saw the ad copy above, I had to share. And thanks to Rasamune, I have a copy. And thanks to Rasamune, I'm going to suffer for it. And if I gotta do a reading review of this thing, I'm taking you fuckers down with me.

In other words, this is all his fault.

So let's start with the first page to get a feel for what the game's like.

No, really, that's the first page after the cover.

The title page has a bunch of strange code stuff and the message "This book was <squiggle>d by HORACE BAYARD, 1873 (Though other hands have touched it)", whatever the hell that means. There's apparently some kind of hidden code in the pseudo-mystical writing, but I can't be arsed to figure it out.

Anyways, now we move on to the Introduction. George Strayon, the gamer's writer, describes his first time playing D&D with his friend's big brother after said brother turns off a movie George was watching.

Just as a side note: the text of the PDF can't be copy/pasted, so I'm going to have to transcribe a bunch of stuff. Any spelling errors or typos or whatever will be my fault, not the game's


"Hey!" we protested. "We were watching that!"

"We're playing D&D , so shut up."

We looked around to find ourselves surrounded by Pete's two older brothers and two of their friends, who were also staying the night. Sleepy Hollow was out. What were we in for? "What's D&D ?"

The quick explanation went right over our heads. Wargaming, a dungeon, monsters, treasure, dice, player characters. "Wait," we interrupted. "Where's the game board?"

"Shut up!" they said. They'd tell us what to do as the game progressed.
Wow. Who wouldn't fall in love with a game when presented like that? Then the story ends like this:


The next morning, we begged Pete's brothers to play again, but they refused. Fine, we said. We'd just borrow the game and find some of the other neighborhood kids to play. The request was met with an emphatic, "No way."
The end. No really, that's it.

Anyway, the point is that young George becomes enamoured with D&D, and now, years later, he seeks to spread the love back to us. This is the first paragraph after the "end" of the story.


THE SECRET FIRE™ switches the focus of the current, combat-driven incarnations of the world’s most popular tabletop fantasy roleplaying game, suggesting that character and game play can offer rewards that frontal assault may leave wanting. We strive to provide MCs (i.e., Master Creators, TSF parlance for Game Master) with ideas, methodologies, and advice that will help restore the sense of fear and wonder that made adventure gaming a popular pastime on college campuses, elementary school grounds, at conventions, and in people’s homes in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was a national pastime then, and we hope to return it to the forefront of mainstream gaming.
In this new millennium, the game of Dungeons & Dragons has been turned into a science, in which the sum is the whole of its parts. With this volume, we seek to return the game to a form of imaginative, improvisational art. The whole should always be more than the sum of its parts, and THE SECRET FIRE strives to this. It’s time to bring back the mystery and the magic. It’s time, once again, to go in search of the unknown.

Now, I'll fully admit that I'm a total games-are-art dork. I don't appologize for it. But god damn this guy comes off as pretentious. Return the game to a form of art? Any decent gamer will tell you that things like imagination and mystery are the function of the GM and players, not the game itself. Roleplaying is just acting, and most people will agree that acting is an art form. But no, Mr. Strayon is here to return gaming from the realm of Playstyles He Doesn't Like back to The Way We Played The Game When He Was Ten. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

And after all that, it's time for the Introduction!

THE SECRET FIRE™ is all about feel and, more importantly, an olde-school attitude. Oh, and pretentiousness. Can't forget that.


The book you hold in your hands can transport you to these places with the help of a
Master Creator (MC) and your comrades in arms (the other players). But you must be
willing to face peril and nearly certain doom. If the idea of engaging in such pursuits
makes you quail, put down this book and continue on your way — there are many other
diversions you may try, though they will fail to offer such great reward. To those of you
interested in choosing a more dangerous and satisfying path, I wish you luck...because
you will need it.


Immersion is the key to surviving the scenarios your character will face. To truly experience TSF, you must engage your imagination. Place yourself in that dungeon chamber. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? What lurks in the shadows? That pattern there — what does it mean? Why is that statue missing one of its ruby eyes? Seek answers from within, not from pristine printouts or soulless pieces of paper filled with hand-scrawled text.

According to the introduction, this game is about immersion and player skill. George confuses the terms "player" and "character" a times here and there. There are stats and skills and such, but most of the game revolves around Apsects Descriptive words, which take the place of actual numerical values. I think. I'm still in the introduction here.

Just as an aside, this guy really does seem to think that he's saving gaming by returning things to their roots. This just isn't a game, it's the next step in the evolution of the hobby.


You cannot simply look to a massively high roll and know that you have an answer. This maintains the sense of mystery and the unknown that sets TSF apart from other incarnations of the world’s original roleplaying game (RPG).

The game does tell us the three most important things in the game, though.


The most important “rules” of TSF are the following:

TSF is not about rules.
There's a subtle contradiction there. See if you can find it!

The introduction closes out with some Gygax quotes from the original Chainmail and D&D rules that I'm not going to copy here because this is getting long as hell already. Sufice it to say, they're quotes about playstyle from 30-odd years ago, and they're opinions that Gary himself probably changed in his later years. There's also some thing about there's "secrets hidden throughout TSF, both on a physical level and beyond." That probably has something to do with that "mystic" writing at the beginning of the game, but something tells me it wouldn't be worth figuring it out.

We do get this on the way out:


I leave you with two final quotes from the master:
“Life’s too short to spend 60 hours a week crouching in front of a typewriter writing rules. The more you explain, the more you have to keep explaining. Use imagination and initiative, for heaven’s sake!”
“D&D is not an online game. There is no role-playing in an online game that can match what happens in person.”

Gary Gygax
Wired Magazine
March 10, 2008

And with those words lifted from the lips of a dead man to promote George's own agenda, we finally come to the end of page 12. Of 308.

I'm not going to survive this, am I?

Next Time: Part 1 - "The Game of THE SECRET FIRE™", a.k.a. the second introduction; wherein I get very, very, very angry.

Ego Strokin'

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Part 2: The other Part 1 - THE GAME OF THE SECRET FIRE™.

Now that the introduciton is out of the way, we get to the actual introduction. No, I don't get it either.

Part 1 starts off with the ususal "what is an RPG" shpeil, but with an extra helping of pretentiousness.


TSF bulds on the fantasy roleplaying game (FRPG), originally called fantasy wargaming, the first collective gaming experience ever, based on the work of Gary Gygax.
During the early 1970's, Gary went in pursuit of a form of recreation in which all participants acted in a game of cooperative play, with simeple rules but complex characters and situations. TSF seeks to pick up Mr. Gygax's mantle and usher his intentions for roleplaying games into the new millenium.

"With THE SECRET FIRE, George Strayton is following in the footsteps of the inventor and master of roleplaying games, Gary Gygax, expanding on Gary's vision of fantasy roleplaying by taking it back to its rools while simultaneously bringing it into the future."
- Gail Gygax
Well, thank goodness he doesn't have a big ego or anything!

George has this constant need to remind you about how NEW and REVOLUTIONARY his game is. I think I've seen at least one "we're reinventing gaming"-style comment, or something about Gygax's legacy. It's really fucking annoying, and does nothing so much as make me want to hit him.

Anyway, we move onto the "what is a roleplaying game" thing, which is all pretty much what you'd expect. The GM in this game is called the MC, for "Master Creator", because GM just isn't pretentious enough.

We hop into a one-paragraph overview of the setting (Elder Gods, strange creatures, yadda yadda yadda) before heading back into the game's playstyle. Apparently, THE SECRET FIRE rewards "player skill", not "character sheet"; I'm not sure what this means because George keeps swinging back into "the characters are HEROES who go out HEROING" he keeps harping upon. Oh, and it seems that the game uses Energy Points to activate abilities and such. And it's important to spend them because the game's very up-front about things not being balanced to the party; they're there to be used to fuel abilities, and you get more EPs by roleplaying your character's Descriptors and Alignment. there's a metacurrency that you spend to fuel abilities or get bonuses, and you get more by playing to descriptive bits of your character. Where have I seen that before ?

I find it interesting that George doesn't shy away from the fact that he's copying a lot of stuff from D&D, but seems to be acting like he made up what amounts to the core FATE mechanics on his own.

Next up is some talk about how "preparation" is an important thing in this game. It seems that players are supposed to wander around and question peasants, hire sages, raid libraries, and such before heading out to do whatever it is they're supposed to do. After all, they're in a dangerous business! That dungeon isn't going to crawl itself!


The few hours before adventuring should be spent as if they might be the character's last: drinks may be consumed, prayers uttered, brawls started, love made, a full night's rest obtained, or other activities, depending on the characters' varies personalities. You and your comerades very well may be marching to your deaths, so it is good to make metter before the journey begins, as this expedition may be your last.

From reading George's expectations, I get the impression that he's one of those GMs who won't let players just gloss over unimportant details. You know, the guy who always wants to play out every visit to the blacksmith or shopping trip. You just know this guy has a three-page backstory for every fucking NPC in town.

Finally, we get to WHAT MAKES THE SECRET FIRE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER FANTASY RPGS? This is a list of the high points of the system (finally, we're 18 pages into the fucking game before he even gives us a hint as to how it works.

1. ROLEPLAYING MECHANICS means that the game uses Aspects Descriptors. Every character has a Good, Neutral, and Evil Trait, one of which is "dominant". There is also Stability: Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic which describe how often you deviate from your Alignment. This is apparently different from D&D and FATE because

2. ENERGY POINTS are used to activate spells or maneuvers. You get Fate Energy Points by playing to your Aspects Descriptors.

3. WOUND LEVELS are used in conjuction with hit points. There are five Wound Levels (Grazed, Hurt, Wounded, Messed Up, and At Death's Door), and at each level the PC suffers some sort of penalty (so we can add White Wolf to the games that're being ripped off). For example, if you're Hurt, you get +1 to attacks because

4. EVERYTHING STACKS. Okay, fair enough.

5. NARRATIVE VS. NUMERICAL STYLE is...interesting. Players are supposed to use "code words" (actual term) instead of numerical values. There are two examples of how this is supposed to work:


EXAMPLE 1 (WITH ATTACKER SPENDING ENERGY POINTS): Dave shouts out, "Using my muscular strength, I slash at the Goblin with my longsword, Garm's Tooth, landing a serious blow for 10 points of damage! I finish the attack by slamming my shoulder into the Goblin's chest, knocking it to the ground!"

EXAMPLE 2 (A PLAYER RESPONDS TO A SPELL ATTACK): Scott says, "My anti-magic utterly fails to absorb the evil Wizard's rain of fire, bringing me to death's door!"
George's player seem to really like exclamation points. Sadly, we're not told which of these words are code words. Maybe I'm supposed to figure it out for myself.

6. SANDBOX-STYLE; IN OTHER WORDS, NOT NICELY BALANCED FOR YOUR PARTY. Yup, it's a game where it's allowable for a GM to send a threat the characters can't deal with after the group. As an aside here, it's mentioned that most of your XP comes from getting treasure and completing quests, nut by fighting or parleying with monsters.

7. RESISTANCES mean that there's a roll to overcome a target's Dodge skill, but then incoming damage is reduced by the target's Resistance. Still not seeing the innovation here.

8. THE ELDER GODS AND THE CHARACTER WHEEL is just bizarre. The "Character Wheel" is at the center of the character sheet, and you fill in parts of the wheel with different colors as you accomplish things.

No, really. You color in parts of your character sheet.

The Elder Gods are five primordial powers in the universe. There are also Dieties. Moving on.

9. UNIQUE TALISMANS just means that every magic item is unique, with a name and qualities and such. Okay, fine.


Okay, I need a minute before this next one. Because it's the worst thing I've seen in this PDF. Beyond
the stolen mechanics, beyond the lack of focus, beyond the smugness and exclamation points. And I'm actually going to transcribe this one completely so you can all share in my disbelief and rage.




10. GYGAX'S VISION FOR THE FUTURE. As Gail Gygax has mentioned on her Facebook page, a screenwriter (myself) is currently developing a film script based on Mr. Gygax's life, using unpublished works, diaries, and notebooks filled with everything from his earliest thoughts about vreating RPGs to the musings of his last days on this earth. The film has yet to be officially announced (the particulars of the storyline, actors, director, studio, production company, and so forth), I have at his command, via these materials, Mr. Gygax's innermost thoughts on many things, especially his vision for the future of gaming -- a vision that mirrors my own.

Read that. Read that and try not to fucking hate. I fucking dare you.

George? Listen close now:

There is seriously so much wrongness in that one paragraph that I can't pick one to start with. I'm just going to move on before this turns into a huge rant.

11. SIMILARITIES & ADDITIONAL CHANGES is amazingly short considering how much stuff he's stolen from other games. There are classes and ability scores and Dodge instead of AC and "a unique Skill system which requires a PC to roll his Ability score or under on various numbers of six-sided dice to accomplish certain tasks, with that number of dice based on the difficulty of the task in question." Yes, a pool-based d6 roll-under system. The only unique part is that apparently it's the characters, not the players, who roll the dice.

12. IMMEDIATE TECHNOLOGY just means that there's an offline iOS app (with Android app coming soon) for tracking your character or some shit.

George sums up by again telling us how awesome his game is. There's even a quote by Michael Curtis (author of The Dungeon Alphabet about how awesome his game is! Because it's awesome and innovative and immersive and goddamn it just kill me now.

Oh Jesus Christ it just keeps going . We're informed that we can use minis and mats, but they're optional because


they've always been since the very beginning of RPGs (see Part 11: Engagements for a more and a quote about the topic from Frank Mentzer, one of the early pioneers of D&D).

There there's a bunch of stuff about how this is a cinematic game, and that the MC should made it exciting, and roleplaying is vital. Whatever.

Oh, and you get XP when you complete quests and get treasure. And at higher levels, you can build strongholds! Innovation! But that's not the only way you can advance...


Though played in a group setting, THE SECRET FIRE can venture beyond the confines of the gaming table through single-play. The game features an option that allows the players to become adventurers outside the context of the game session by improving their own loves and communities in the real world, which can in turn grant benefits in the game world (see Appendix C: The Adventure Never Ends... ).


No, really, what? I honestly don't know what to say about that. I am at a loss for words.

22 pages in. Jesus Tapdancing Christ with a side of fries and a medium Coke, I hope Rasamune is getting his $10 worth of entertainment.

Next time: Part 2 - Creating a character!

Character Creation

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE™ , or I Love Playin' with Fire!

Part 3 - Part 2: Character creation, and abusing the strikethru BBcode

Finally, we're getting into the actual mechanics of the game. Part 2 (MAKING CHARACTERS) is how we (and by "we" I mean "me") will mold the avatar through which we will experience the sights, sounds, and bad touches of the world of THE SECRET FIRE.

(Here's a fun exersize for the reader; make a list of everything here that you've seen in other games! It'll be fun!)

Character creation actually starts with a nice step-by-step list of what we have to do. Sing along everyone, you know the words!

1. Roll 3d6 six times.

2. Select a class Calling. The available choices are Cleric Holy-Man, Fighter Warrior, Magic-User Wizard, and Thief Thief. And yes, Holy-Man is hypenated.

3. Assign the six numbers you rolled in step 1 to the six Attributes: Strength, Intellegence Intellect, Wisdom, Dexterity Agility, Constitution Health, and Charisma Presence. George actually starts calling Attributes "Abilities" halfway in this step, but it can be hard to proofread when your head is up your own ass, so we'll let that slide. Also, low scores aren't automatically bad because they provide opportunties for roleplaying!

4. Adjust your Ability scores Attributes Ability scores. You can increase your Calling's Prime Requisite Prime Score by one by decreasing any other score by two. There's a hard minimum of 3 and a hard maximum of 18 on stats. Believe it or not, this fact will become even dumber in a little while.

5. Choose a race race. Oops, sorry. Kinda got into the habit there. The races are Human, Dwarf, Halfling and Elf. Hands up everyone who's surprised. We now take note our RACIAL QUALITIES and MOVEMENT RATE. Oh, sweet, we can also roll on some tables later to get some racial quirks! I was wondering when the tables were going to start showing up.

6. Pick your Feats Stunts Trademark. They're split into non-combat-oriented and combat-oriented. Everyone gets one of each, except Humans who get a bonus feat Trademark.

7. Choose skills skills. Dammit, sorry, I don't know why I keep doing that. Anyway, you pick three skills to be Trained in based on your class, "create a name for each mentor, and describe the mentor's area of expertise to help develop your PC's history." So...every skill has its own specific trainer for each person? I hope there's no overlap in the Skills list later, or that might be kind of silly!

8. Figure out your hit points Stress tracks Stamina. Everyone gets 2 Stamina to start, with bonus Stamina granted by your Health score and your Calling. Then you get that many Stamina per Wound Level.

9. Choose your Alignment (Good, Neutral, and Evil) and the other half of your alignment Stability (Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic). Lawful means you never deviate from your Alignment, Neutral means you do sometimes, and Chaotic means you act "in any way he or she chooses at any given time".

10. Choose or roll on a table to get a Aspect Personality Trait for all three Alignments.

11. Name the guy. Add Epithets (yes, that's what they're called).


Names are incredibly important in the world of THE SECRET FIRE, recording a character's history. Each time a PC gains a new level, he can add to, or otherwise modify, his character's name. For example, a PC may begin his journey as the Holy-Man Cedric the Wise, Acolyte of the Secret Church. After several adventures, he may become known instead as Cedric the Wise, Chaplain of the Secret Church, Wielder of the Holy Mace of Osiris, and Destroyer of Argoth, the Mad Demon of the Abyss.
I do like how you can only add something to your character's name when you level up. Immersion!

12. "OPTIONAL: Generate the PC's full history, goals, and motivation." That made me smile.

13. Calculate your Dodge, Armor, Anti-Magic, Endurance, Willpower, and Attack and Damage bonuses.

14. Calculate your Refresh Energy Points. It's 10 + the adjustments for all your physical stats. This means that fighty-types actually have more EP than the wizards! :monicle: That's...innovative? ish? I guess?

15. Spend 5 points among the "forces of the ELDER GODS", whatever that means. The Elder Gods are Life, Death, the Elements, the Void, and the Great Unknown. We then begin to "[c]olor in the polygons on the CHARACTER WHEEL, one for each selection (the colors are listed on the character sheet). This represents the PC's life journey." Again, direct quote. No, I don't know why we do this.

16. Figure your LUCK THROW. This is 0, unless you're a halfling (+1), or have the Special Quality Lucky Son of a Bitch for another +3.

17. Roll 3d6 x 10 to get our starting cash. I bet you can't guess what they use for money! As an added bonus, we have to worry about Encumberance still.

18. Calculate your Speed per round, per turn, and per day . Unsurprisingly, this is modified by Encumberance.

And we're done! at this point we have a PC. Or a character, I'm not sure which. See, TSF does use the term "PC" to mean "Player Character", but sometimes it refers to the character, and sometimes to the actual player. Maybe it's an immersion thing, I dunno.

We now get into Ability Scores (I guess we're not calling them "Attributes" after all). I'm actually going to post a screenshot here instead. Here's the writeup on Strength:

I would everyone to take a look at the stat box there. Notice anything familiar? You may have to squint to see it.

TSF has "innovated" by taking the 3-18 stat spread from every edition of D&D ever, used the stat modifier adjustment from 3.x/4e, narrowed the spread, and grafted the Fate Ladder descriptors onto it after removing the -4 and +4 rungs.

Now, there's some problems here (no, really, Evil Mastermind?).

First off, after this point the base ability score means nothing . If all we're adding to our rolls or whatever is the adjustment modifier, they why do we need the 3 to 18 spread? Because D&D, that's why!

Second, the descriptors. If you cover the left-hand column of the table, it looks very similar to the Fate Ladder:

I'm sure that's just a coincidence, though. Even so, the thing is that those Descriptors on the Strength chart are actually part of the rules.

See, in Fate, the descriptions on the Ladder are there more for general reference, so you have an idea of what a number actually means. If you get an overall result of +4, then you did Great. It's really nothing more than a kind of shorthand. Hell, most Fate game will actually write numbers as Great(+4).
In TSF, however, you're not supposed to use the numbers when you descibe things. You're actually supposed to use the Descriptors.
Now, by itself, that's not a big deal. If you know the numbers, you can do that in Fate too. But in Fate, there's only 12 steps on the ladder, and the terms are used for everything. In TSF, each stat has its own terms for each step on that stat's ladder. That means that, between all the stats, there are 36 terms you have to know. Now as a player, that's not as huge a deal since you really only need to know the ones for your stats. I only need to know that my Agility is 15 +1 Quick. But if the MC needs to describe something, he has to use the same terms, so he's got to learn them all. And they're not exactly intuitive. In Fate, it's pretty clear that, say, Superb is better than Good which is better than Fair. The terminology is based off pretty common words and ideas, and they made an effort to have things stand out. But which is better for my Health:Vigorous, Robust, or Hearty? That's the Descriptors for +1 through +3, but I bet you can't tell which ones are supposed to be which.

Enough the stupid Ability stuff. Time for stupid level stuff!

There are 10 levels in TSF.
Level		XP
1           0
2           2,000
3           4,000
4           8,000
5           16,000
6           32,000
7           64,000
8           120,000
9           240,000
10          360,000
No, that's not a typo. It takes 56,000 xp to get from level 7 to level 8, then 120,000 more to get to level 9. Oh, and you can keep going off the top of the chart for 120,000 xp per level. At each odd-numbered level, you get another Trademark.

Now we move on to Callings. Here's the stat block for the Holy-Man, just as an example.

Huh, there's that weird deja-vu feeling again. Wonder why.

Oh, and here's their casting table.

Huh, there's that weird deja-vu feeling again. Wonder why.

(Bet you can't guess what mend, primus ; mend, secundus ; mend, tertius do! :v )

Anywho, here's the breakdown of the classes:
Holy-Mans get healing spells, can turn undead at level 1 (or destroy them if "the Holy-Man's attack beats by five or more the roll needed to hit an undead creature's Willpower"), can create 2d6 vials of holy water with a week's uninterupted work at level 6, and can build a temple at half-cost at level 11. Doing this gets him 2d10 x 10 "fanatical followers".
There's a footnote that female clerics are still refered to as "Holy-Men". It's just understood that it refers to both genders. At least their gender gets recognized when they hit level 10!

Thieves get a Sneak Attack at level 1 that gets +4 to hit and multiplies damage based on the character's level. He also learns Thieves' Cant at level 1. At level 4, Thieves get a whopping 5% chance to read any language they come across. This goes up by 5% per level, so at level 10 they have a 30% chance! At level 11, they can


Use scrolls and decipher magical writings. May build a hideout/Thieves' Guild. Attract 4d6 thief followers.
They also forget basic sentence structure.

Warriors don't actually get anything special until level 3, where they can make two attacks at once. They can then make three attacks at level 7, and construct a stronghold at level 11 that seems to cause 10d6 men-at-arms to appear from thin air. I'm guessing the "nothing until level 3" thing is to balance the fact that they get so many EP due to their high physical stats.

Wizards get spells and a spellbook. And they better appreciate what they get because they don't get anything else until level 11, where they can create magic items and construct a stronghold or Wizard's tower, summoning 4d4 apprentices into existence. Apart from "it takes many weeks per item", there's nothing about how to create a magic item here.

Next up are the races. Same old story, same old song and dance.
Dwarves get infravision; can detect sloping surfaces, hazards, and such 1 time in 3; get +1 damage with axes and hammers, and have a base movement of 10 squares per round.
(Yup, we're measuring things in squares. Old school!)
Elves also get infravision; can detect secret doors 1 time in 3 (because D&D, that's why); get +1 to hit with swords and bows; and have a base speed of 12 squares.
Halflings get infravision too, can hide in shadows 1 time in 3, get a +1 to Luck Throws, and have a base speed of 10 squares.
Humans get an extra Trademark starting out and a base speed of 12.

Each race also has two "Q&A" bits which are supposed to fill in a little bit of what that race is like. Stuff like "What's so great about halfling pipeweed?" and "What exactly do cursed Dwarven feet look like?" Truly, great mysteries of our time.

Each race also has three d20 tables: "Many <race>...", "Some <race>...", and "Some common <race> travelling gear." You're supposed to use these tables to generate unique, immersive background bits like "Some Dwarves abhor violence" or "Many Halflings are masterful farmers" or "Some common Human travelling gear is a small pet-a squirrel or rat, or perhaps a bird."

Now we get to wounds and Stamina. Everybody has five wound levels, and at each level you have a certain number of Stamina equal to 2+your Health mod+ your Calling mod. Like so:
Grazed        O O O O
Hurt          O O O O 
Wounded       O O O O 
Death's Door  O O O O 
Dying         O O O O 
When you take damage, you cross off that many circles, moving to the next Wound level as they fill up. Each level also has penalites. Hurt gives you a +1 to attack rolls (which...isn't a penalty, but whatever), while Death's Door means that you Fumble on a 1-5 and get a Critical on a 15-20. You also never get more Stamina boxes.

Oh, we're using d20's to make attack rolls apparently. Good to know.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: "Goddamn it, Evil Mastermind, just shut up. You write like shit." And that's true. But some of you are thinking "that actually looks original!" Sadly, you are wrong. It's the way White Wolf's games handle damage, with a little bit of how Strands of Fate handles stress tracks. So no points there, I'm afraid.

The next page is a huge list of...well, name "parts". Things like "Unkind" or "Fighter of" and "of the Iron Fist". I think they're supposed to be examples of things you can graft onto your character's name, but the page is mislabeled "STAMINA & WOUNDS LEVELS" so I was a bit confused there.

Next up is a page with a d100 table for Personality Traits for Good, Neutral, and Evil. In case you were worried you might have to make a descision about your character, I suppose. Good traits are things like "Patient" and "Forgiving", Neutral has "Flighty" and "Lazy", and Evil can be "Harsh" or "Reckless". These are the things you roleplay to get more Energy Points.

Closing out the chapter is a Glossary, which lists all the calcualtions and types of rolls. The listed attack types are Melee, Missile, Prayer, Spell, and Death. I don't know what a "Death attack" is, but I'm sure I don't have to tell you fine folks which stats are exclusively tied to which attack types, do I? I didn't think so.

(Death To Ability Scores)

Critting happens on a natural 20 (the deuce you say!) and you do double damage (the deuce you say!). Nothing about Fumbles though.

And finally, we're out of the chapter. Goddamn that was a slog.

Coming up next...™s!


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post



This is a short chapter (thank god), so hopefully this'll make up for the huge wall of text last time.

Trademarks are, when you get right down to it, basically the same as feats from 3.x/4e or Stunts from Fate. There are a whopping 19 of these, and they're all classified as being combat-oriented (C) or non-combat-oriented (N). You start with two (plus one more if you're human), and you get one every other level. You have to have an equal number of combat and non-com Trademarks, or be within 1 of each other if you have an odd number.

Seems pretty straightforward so far, except that some of the Trademarks are labeled (C/N), meaning they're both. There's nothing in the rules about how these interact with the whole "you have to have them balanced" thing. Do they count as two Trademarks or one? Do they self-balance?

The Trademarks aren't really that exciting for the most part. Some of them are mechanical:


Eyes in the Back of Your Head (C): You can never be surprised and you roll your Initiative twice and use the higher value.


Legend Master (N): You know the legend surrounding a named person, location, or object (e.g., the Ring of Gyges, the Wand of the White Wizard) half the time (a roll of 1, 2, or 3 on 1d6).

Some are more roleplay-ish:


A Lover in Every Port (N): You are romantically entangeled with someone in every civilized locale that you visit. Your lover can provide safe lodging, information about the latest rumors, and introductions or even access to valious citizens, depending on his or her social station. There is, however, a one in six chance that a particular relationship will prove dangerous to your character, in the form of a jilted lover, cuckolded husband, irate father, etc.[/b]


Mysterious Enemy (N): A secret personage hostile to you, wreaks havoc each time your character enters a town or city for the first time. Rooting out and defeating this enemy (created and controlled by the MC alone or in tandem with the player) automatically gives you enough Experience Points (XP) to gain a character level.
It's nice of your Mysterious Enemy to only bother you the first time you go to a city, instead of every other time you go or when you're in the middle of something else. Right neighborly of him.

There's also "Calling Training (C/N)" Trademarks, which and basically how you multiclass. When you take the Trademark, you're considered a level 1 whatever in addition to your base class, and when you level up you gain a level in both Callings. You can gain up to five levels of the second Calling, and you can get the other five levels by taking the Trademark again. There's a very easy way to break the system with this, and I'll demonstrate it once I start making characters.

Well, that was relatively painless. Sadly, the next chapter will make up for it.

Next time: Part 4 - Weapons and Equipment!

Character Break

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post


Making a character, and breaking the system in one easy step.

Okay, let's get this over with.

Step 1 : Roll 3d6 six times. I get 11, 10, 10, 17, 15, 10. Not...bad, actually.

Step 2 is to pick my Calling. I'm going to go with Warrior. I have to record the traits and title and such I get for my class; my Prime Score is Strength (duh), can use any weapons or armor, get +3 to my stamina, +1 to my Dodge, and +1 to my Endurance. Oh, and my title is "Man-at-Arms". Sadly, Warriors don't get anything cool at level 1 unlike everyone else.

Step 3 is assigning stats. I'm going with STR 17, HEA 15, AGI 11, and the rest are 10.

Step 4 is adjusting stats. I can increase one stat by 1 by decreasing another by 2. I'll drop my Presence by 2 to increase my Strength by 1, since in the grand tradition I'm going to use Charisma as a dump stat. I'm also dropping my Agility to 9 to bump my Health, since there's no difference between a 9 and an 11. This makes my final stats:
STRENGTH    18 (+3) - Mighty
INTELLECT   10 (+0) - No Descriptor
WISDOM      10 (+0) - No Descriptor
AGILITY      9 (+0) - No Descriptor
HEALTH      16 (+2) - Hearty
PERSONALITY  9 (+0) - No Descriptor
Step 5 is picking my Race. I'm going to go with Human so I can get the extra Trademark later. The only other thing I get for being a human is a base speed of 12. Oh, and I can roll (or pick) on the flavor charts. I'm going to roll just for the fun it.
Most Humans... dream often of gold.
Some Humans... form unbreakable friendships.
Some Common Human Traveling Gear: Letters of introduction from a person of import.

Yeah, that's...that's evocative, alright.

Step 6 is picking my Trademarks, and this is where I'm going to break the system over my knee.
See, there are four very interesting Trademarks: Holy-Man Training , Thief Training , Warrior Training , and Wizard Training . Each of these is one pick (being C/N), and each one grants some of that Calling's abilities.

Now, you may have noticed that there are four of these, and that there are four classes. I have three Trademarks available to pick, and I already belong to one Calling.

If you can tell where I'm going with this, then congratulations, you've been paying more attention to the game than the designer has.

Yup, for my three picks, I'm taking Holy-Man Training (which lets me cast spells as Holy-Man of my level, but I only get half of what it shows on the chart), Thief Training (which lets me speak Thieves' Cant with a 1 in 3 chance of saying it wrong, and lets me backstab with a +2 to hit instead of +4), and Wizard Training (I can cast half as many spells as a Wizard can).

And that's at level 1. Non-humans can do this trick too, but they have to wait until level 3.

Now, I'm sure some of you are saying, "But Evil Mastermind, you're denying yourself access to the other Trademarks! Won't that hurt you in the long run?" And yes, although I am denying myself things like Infravision (which is only worth taking if you're Human since all the other races get it for free), or starting with 5% more EPs per day, or having a 50% chance to know what direction I'm facing, I think I'll survive. Besides, I can take another one when I get to level 3.

I'll get back to the spells and stuff later when I get to that section of the book, but for now all I need to know is that I get 5 Holy-Man prayers, and 5 Wizard spells. I can cast 1 mending, primus , two Cantrips, one first-level Prayer, and one first-level Spell per day. I can also attack a Vulnerable target at +2, doing double damage if I hit.

Step 7 is picking which skills I'm Trained in. I pick three skills from a provided list of four. I'll take Athlete (Str), Bind Wounds (Wis), and Endure (Hea). I'm also supposed to put together names and descriptions for my trainers for each separate skill, but you'll forgive me for skipping that part.

Step 8 is figuring out my Stamina. I start with a base of 2, then I get another +2 for my Health, then another +3 for my Calling. That means I have 7 Stamina at each Wound level.

Step 9 is Alignment time! I'm going to pick Good as my alignment, and Chaotic as my Stability. That means I'm an inherently good person who acts in any way I choose at any give time.

Step 10 is picking a Personality Trait for each Alignment; but I'm going to roll these.
For Good, I get "Imaginative". My Netural Trait is "Amoral", and my Evil side means I'm "Morose". I'm not sure how being imaginative makes me good, and I always figured being "Amoral" was a bad thing (not neutral), but what do I know, I'm not the heir to Gygax's dreams.

Step 11 is making a name and adding an Epthet. I don't know if my level title adds onto this, especially since I'm quad-classing here, but the game does say early on that "Everything Stacks", so I'm going to say they do. Behold! Emil Masterman; Breaker of Systems, Man-at-Arms, Acolyte, Scoundrel, and Apprentice . I can't wait to get a few more levels so I can tack more things onto that!

Step 12 is generating my character's "full history, goals, and motivation." This is an important step, given the game's focus on immersion and roleplaying. This is where I really make my character come alive, turn him from a collection of numbers to a living, breathing...

...wait, this step is optional?

Never mind then!

Step 13 is calculating my various bonuses. Without going into the math: my Dodge is 2, Endurance is 3, my Anti-Magic is 0, and my Willpower is 0. I have a +3 to hit with melee attacks, and +0 to hit with anything else.

Step 14 is figuring my Energy Points. That's 10 plus all my physical stat modifiers, so I start with 15 per day.

[1]Step 15[/i] is assigning 5 points amongst the Elder Gods. I still don't know what these are for, so I'll just dump 3 into Death and 2 into The Elements.

Step 16 is figuring my Luck Throw, which is 0 since I'm not a halfling and I didn't take the Trademark that gives me +3.

Step 17 is rolling 3d6 x 10 to get my starting cash. I start with 100 gold pieces.

Step 18 is calculating my Speed, which is modified by Endurance so I'll worry about that after I do the Equipment chapter.

Aaaand done! (for now) Here's where we stand so far:
Emil Masterman; Breaker of Systems, Man-at-Arms, Acolyte, Scoundrel, and Apprentice

Calling: Warrior

STRENGTH    18 (+3) - Mighty
INTELLECT   10 (+0) - No Descriptor
WISDOM      10 (+0) - No Descriptor
AGILITY      9 (+0) - No Descriptor
HEALTH      16 (+2) - Hearty
PERSONALITY  9 (+0) - No Descriptor

Energy Points: 15
Luck Throw: +0

Skills: Athlete (Str), Bind Wounds (Wis), and Endure (Hea)

Trademarks: Holy-Man Training, Thief Training, Wizard Training

Dodge: 2

Armor       ? (vs. Weapons and Physical Attacks)
Endurance   3 (vs. Poison, Petrification, Death Magic) 
Anti-Magic  0 (vs. Paralyzation, Dragon Breath, Spells) 
Willpower   0 (vs. Charm, Psychic Assault, Prayers)

Grazed          O   O   O   O   O   O   O
Hurt            O   O   O   O   O   O   O
Wounded         O   O   O   O   O   O   O
Messed Up       O   O   O   O   O   O   O
At Death’s Door O   O   O   O   O   O   O

Morailty: Good/Chaotic
Good - Imaginative
Neutral - Amoral
Evil - Morose

Elder Gods
LIFE              0
DEATH             3
THE VOID          0
I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't wait to start coloring in this guy's character sheet.

Weapons & Equipment

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post



I bet you think this chapter's not going to be that bad, don't you?

The chapter opens with, for some reason, a bit of fiction about some merchant selling gear to what I'm assuming is a group of first-time adventurers. Like the rest of the book, it's written in that so-thick-you-can-cut-it-with-a-knife writing style indicitive of the Bad Fantasy Author.


As you enter the expanse of wooded warehouse [sic], an elderly Human with long graying hair hobbles out to greet you, relying on a crutch for support. "Welcome, lads and lasses!" he bellows, in a surprising baritone. "I'm sure you recognize me, do you not? Merket the Conqueror, Wielder of the Blade of Night, Banisher of the Demon Horde!" His words are met with an embarassed silence. "No?" He drops his head in disgust. "Feh! By the blank looks on your young faces, I fear my adventures may have ended far before any of your young lives began. Well, anyway, now I am the proud proprietor of Merket's Mangificent Emporium, a one-stop shop for all your adventuing needs. As a successful thrill-seeker myself, and savior of the village of Haldeko from the Wraiths of the Lost Legion, I know a thing or two about the tools of the trade. Come. Let us take a tour of the shop, starting with the armor..."

Dammit, nobody talks like that! I know these guys want to bring back the "OD&D feel" but come on, there's a reason people who write like that aren't getting work anymore.

THE SECRET FIRE™ (oh, hey, the book's TMing again) uses gold pieces as money, because D&D, that's why. Oh, and there's no other denominations, just the gold piece; an apple would cost the same as 50 feet of rope. At least, I assume it wouldn't since food isn't listed as something characters can buy.

Suprisingly, for a game that's all about IMMERSION, there's really not a lot of gear listed. There's a grand total of 18 weapons available (counting arrows, quarrels, and silver arrows as separate entries). Interestingly, in the world of THE SECRET FIRE™ it's the bows, not the arrows, that do damage.

The Weapons table has a few other interesting "quirks" as well. A long bow and short bow both do the same damage (1d6) and have the same rate of fire. The only difference is that a short bow has a slightly shorter range (like 5...squares? Feet? I dunno, it doesn't say one way or the other. I'm assuming squares, since a 20" range on a bow is pretty silly, but even then I can't imagine it mattering in most fights if your outside range is 30 or 40 squares), but the long bow costs 15 gp more than the short bow. The only silver weapons available are daggers and arrows. Why can't you get other weapons in silver? Because D&D, that's why.

Armor's up next. We only have five types, counting the shield. Unsurprisingly, the four armor types give a bonus of +1 to +4 right down the line. Scale and Plate Armor are also listed as "Large", whatever that means.

Last is regular equipment. We have some real options here: 20 items to choose from! Of course, it's all Standard Adventuring Gear. Backpack, holy water, Iron Spikes (12), Wine (1 gallon), stuff like that. There's the ever-popular "Wooden Pole, 10 Feet Long" of course, but sadly no ladder, so I guess we can't pull the money-making trick here. Conspicuous by their absence are things like non-ration food, tents, bedrolls, mounts, any clothing that isn't armor, and anything that would be non-adventuring gear. In fact, if it's not something used for kick-in-the-door dungeoneering, it's not listed.

Oh, and you can get a quiver for your arrows, but you have to get a case for your quarrels. It must be a nice case, since it costs twice as much as a quiver. Why you couldn't just use a quiver for them is beyond me (apparently, the difference is that the case is worn at the belt, and the quiver is worn on the back).

What's strange is that none of these items have weights listed. Everything has a cost, but no weight. We'll find out why soon.

Next up are the item descriptions, and this is where the headache starts to settle in. See, these aren't just item descriptions.

They're in-character item descriptions.

Yup, remember that little bit of intro fiction? Each item is described by (I'm assuming) Merket with a little descriptive sales pitch. Remember before when I said teh author strikes me as the type of GM who'd make you roleplay out boring stuff like going shopping? Turns out I was right; he's even figured out a way to do it before you even start playing! Immersion!


PLATE - For those who can afford it, plate armor offers the best protection. It consists of iron or steel plates fastened together by straps, often of leather. It provides maximum protection against every form of attack and, although heavy, tis weight is more evenly distributed than that of chain mail. A drawback; Plate armor eliminates the opportunity for stealth. Your foes will hear your advance from leagues away!
Fun Fact: there are no rules (that I've been able to find so far) about how heavy armor affects your skills. You can sneak just as well naked as you can with full plate.


ARROWS - Our standard arrows consist of a wooden shaft with a head of sharp iron. The back of the shaft consists of goose- or turkey-feather fletching and a nock for improved flight. A well-placed arrow can overcome even the greatest advantages, eliminating the benefit of height and distance. These particular arrows are so well balanced that I once saw SureShot Eroten pierce the eye of a Hary at 50 paces...with a short bow, no less!
I don't know why he's so surprised; long and short bows have pretty much the same stats.


SWORD, SHORT - Ah, I see it in your eyes. "Why purchase a shortsword when I can get a long one?" My friends, I say to you judge not the sword by the length of its blade. Though it measures a mere 24 inches, what it lacks in length it makes up for in balance. An expert with a shortsword can make multiple strikes befor his opponent can land one blow. This is the perfect sword to exploit thse games in your opponent's skill level and armor.
Fun Fact: The only thing that determines how many times you can attack per round is your number of Warrior levels.


SACK - This is a burlap sack measuring 2 feet by 4 feet. When your backpack is full to bursting with treasure, use your sack to carry more. Hoisting a sack usually requires two hands, which leaves none free to wield a weapon. In a tight spot, thought, fling your sack at a foe.
I'll leave the jokes for this one up to the reader.

Now, see, I'm a little torn on this section.

I still own a copy of Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog, which is an old 2e suppliment that was set up in the style of an early-days mail order catalog. It listed things like normal non-adventring clothing, food, drink, and so on; basically everything you'd ever want to buy except for weapons and armor. If you wanted your character to retire and open his own tavern, then this was the book you used to figure out how much it'd cost for supplies.
And it was really good. Every item had a well-written "sales pitch", but they were short and to the point, and you still had full stats for the stuff that needed them. It was a very good balance of fluff and crunch. In fact, I'd say something like the Whole Realms Catalog would be more "immersive" than a simple list of equipment.

This,'s all just fluff. What's worse, it's not well-written fluff and is has no ties to the mechanics of the game. He says Plate makes it harder to sneak around, but there's nothing to back that up. He says the shortsword lets you attack faster, but that's just words. A 7-th level Warrior with a shortsword gets three attacks per round, but so does the guy with the big fuck-off two-handed battle axe.

It's like he's trying to make all the weapons and armor feel different (for versimilitude or immersion or whatever), but the only way he can do it is by saying they feel different rather than actually making them feel different . If each weapon had some special effect or something that made fighting with a sword different than fighting with a mace, that would have been...well, not innovative per se (because both the original Rules Cyclopedia D&D and 4th Edition have rules in place for making your choice of weapons mean something), but it at least would have helped separate it from the Generic D&D Rules.

(It's kind like before when George was telling us how good his game was and how qualified he was tro write it. He clearly can't back his claims up, but he seems to hope that if he says it enough times we'll buy it.)

But no. All the armor is the same except for the bonus it gives; all the weapons are the same except for the damage they do. The only difference between a long sword and a short sword is that one does 1d6 and the other does 1d8.

It's clear he wants the player to think of his character's gear as something special and unique; this isn't just any longsword, this is my longsword, and fighting with it is different from fighting with a battleaxe. Unfortunately, he's taken the path tread by most retroclones and heartbreakers before him and just has people wearing an armor bonus and wielding a die notation.

(I'm going to talk more about this when I wrap the overall review up, but this game's biggest crime is being a missed opportunity. If the authors spent a little less time immersing me in their prose and spent more time trying to make something that was more than just another damn retroclone, this game could have been really good. Or at least, I probably wouldn't have felt the need to pull a Your RPG Is Bad And You Should Feel Bad thing here.)

Finally, we get to Encumberance. Remember how I said before that none of the items had weights listed? There's a good reason for that: the Encumberance system doesn't use actual weights . Instead, there's a formula! Yay!

What you do is count up all the individual items you have based on how they appear on the equipment lists (so 20 arrows is 1 item, a week's worth of rations is one item, a weapon is one item). 1,000 coins count as one item, too.

Then you add one to your total for every "Large" item you have. Oddly enough, there are only 3 "large" items on the lists: Scale armor, Plate armor, and the ten foot pole . That's right, a ten-foot long, two-inch thick wooden pole is exactly as encumbering as full plate mail .

This must be due to some new definition of "immersion" that I'm not familiar with.

(Fun Fact: backpacks and sacks do nothing to reduce your Encumberance. In fact, since they're items on the equipment lists, they only add to it.)

Anyway, once you get your total, you subtract your Strength ability score from it.

(Wait, you mean there's actually a use for the base ability score for something? HOLY SHIT! It took 61 pages, but we finally found something that's a little different from bog-standard OD&D! I mean, it still means that the rest of the ability scores don't need to be there since they're not used for anything, and the Encumbrance system still doesn't make any goddamn sense, but still...)

Sorry, got a little distracted. Once you subtract your Strength score from your Encumberance, you check your total. If the result is negative, you're not encumbered. If the result is positive, then you've got problems. You have to take the positive number, divide it by 5 (rounding up), then subtract that number from your speed per round. Or to put it another way, for every five points of Encumberance, you reduce your movement by 1. There's a handy chart there that does the math for you, which makes me wonder why they bothered to include the calculation to begin with.

Once you have your modified movement (which is per "exchange", which means combat), you also have to figure your Exploration movement (in feet) per turn, and your movement per day. In miles. On the plus side, "PCs can move up to five times their final speed if not exploring, but are consquently unable to map, and so forth". We'll find out what the hell that means once I hit chapter 8.

Now let's talk about why this whole encumberance system is dumb.

First off, it's because of the whole "immersion" thing. I hate to keep coming back to this, but since it's one of the game's big ideological selling points, I kinda have to.

Immersion (as I understand it) is about blurring the line between the character and the player. It's about being deep in character, and the mechanics of TSF are (supposedly) designed to increase that feeling and not bring you out of character with clunky mechanics.

If that's the case, why the hell are we using this stupid-ass Encumberance system? If anything it's more meta-gamey than using normal weights, because things like pounds would exist in the game world, and characters would talk about things like "that item weighs x pounds, we're gonna need some help to move that", not "I have one more inventory space open before I'm encumbered". Now, it might be that the system was intended to "get out of the way" because when you get right bown to it nobody really cares about Encumberance, and it's just one more fiddly, boring, unessessary bit that gets in the way. But if that's the case, then why include it at all?

Because D&D, that's why.

The other problem is the whole everything weighs the same (except these three things)" issue, and how it interacts with the Strength score. See, by this system, an average character can carry 10 items, but unless one of those items is one of the three large ones, it doesn't matter what the items are . A wizard who has no armor, a dagger, a flint & steel, a vial of holy water, and an empty sack is exactly as encumbered as a warrior wearing full plate armed with a longsword and shield. In what world does that make a lick of sense?

I mean, this is a mechanic where 1,000 coins has the same effective weight as a long bow, which has the same effective weight as a hand mirror, which has the same effective weight as a full suit of chain mail armor. How the hell does that work? How is that "immersive"?

For a game that claims to be all about "immersion", they have a lot of rules that more or less go out of their way to not be immersive.

Ugh. I never knew a simple equipment & encumberance section could be so bad. But here we are. And I'm still not a third of the way through this.

I'm really staring to think that this game is just a joke I'm not in on.

Next time: Energy Points!

Energy Points & Alignments

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE™ , or I can't think of a clever "fire" thing this time!

Part 6: PART 5 - Energy Points (and Alignments, for some reason)

You remember those Energy Points we calculated way back when? It's finally time to find out what they're for: "Special Effects".


The heart of the roleplaying system if TSF lies in the use and aquisition of Energy Points.

...okay then.

So, let's learn about spending EP!


If a player cannot provide the MC with a valid in-world way of achieving an intended effect (for example, the player wishes to set fire to a target, but lacks the means to do so, like a torch or a nearby brazier, for example), the player cannot accomplish the Special Effect. From a game-design point of view, the goal is to increase verisimilitude and flexibility by forcing players to provide in-game explanations, and allowing the PC to use his energy for the say in any way deemed reasonable.

Yes, that's how the "SPENDING ENERGY POINTS" section starts off. But the vemisimilitudinous fun doesn't stop there!


Put yourself in the moment as you enter that dungeon, forest, or mountain stronghold. Gauge your surroundings. What do you see, hear, feel, smell? Use your senses and wits to determing what in your environment may be of use in your current situation, and then use it.

That's...great, but what do I actually do with these points? Apparently I can only use up to three different Special Effects per action. And again, the game pushes the point that the player has to describe what he's doing.

Now, I don't have a problem with that idea; I ask my players to describe what they're doing. But THE SECRET FIRE keeps beating you over the head with this point over and over and over, so after a while you just want the damn game to shut up.

Oh, and the MC can require the players to make a skill check to do something even if they spend their EP to do something. No word on if failing the skill rolls means you still spend the EP or not.

Anyway, we now get a section about earning Energy Points. You get EPs by playing your character. When you play your character in a way that's consistent with your Aspects Alignment, Stability, Traits, Goals, and Ability Descriptors, you get EP. The example given is the MC offering a "Dimwitted" character 2 EP to charge through a wall of fire.

For some reason, we get the Alignment changing mechanics here. Every time you act against your Alignment, you move down towards that alignment one "slot" on the linear Alignment chart...thing. If a Holy-Man's Alignment moves more than halfway away from his god's Alignment, then he loses access to his abilities. This can also happen to other Callings, depending on your gods or organizations or whatever. Which means, I suppose, that a Warrior whose Alignment changes too much loses his ability to make multiple attacks a round. Verisimilitude!

There's no real guidelines to how many EP you're supposed to get for roleplaying; I guess the MC is supposed to wing it, which is fine, but the examples don't feel consistent. You can get 2 EP for the charge-through-fire-because-I'm-dumb thing, but staying behind to slow down a dragon so the rest of the party can get away is worth 10. A "greedy" character who takes a magical doodad without telling everyone else in the party gets 4, but a "Flighty" character only gets 1 for wandering off.

On the plus side, the game informs us that after about half an hour or so, the players should be doing EP-earning stuff on their own without MC prompting 90% of the time. This will make the game more "immersive".

Oh, your EPs reset to their starting values after you rest for 8 hours. Just FYI.

Now, it's time for examples on how to use Descriptors and Traits to earn EP. Come on, you didn't think we'd actually learn what to do with these yet, did you?

The first example is a "Foolhardy" (WIS 8) knight being payed 3 EP to make a romantic play for a princess during a peace treaty negotiation. He grabs the princess and kisses her in front of everyone, which I guess ticks everyone off.

The second one is a Good character who plays to his Evil "Selfish" nature. He runs from a town about to be destroyed by an evil wizard. He gets 15(!) points (and only a partial alaignment shift) for being a coward and leaving the town to its fate.


This choice may lead to even greater roleplaying, as Vik must explain to his comrades why he fled.
That kinda makes me wonder what the rest of the party is up to while Vik's running away; if they're there to save the town, what's Vik's player going to do while everyone else is being heroic? And if they weren't there, then why is he running away from a personal sidequest?

Finally, we get to the actual list of what EPs are used for! The list has 14 "Weapon Attack" options; it's stuff like "Blind", "Knock Down", "Roll extra damage dice", and some forced movement: Move/Yank/Shove.

While each effect has an in-world example, none of these are defined mechanically. Not a big deal, I can figure most of them out. What's odd is that Move, Yank, and Shove all cost the same for moving the target 1 square or 3 squares; I'm not really sure why they're all listed separately. If you can choose how to move a target and every option costs the same and moves him the same amount of squares, then why differentiate? When you get right down to it, Yank 3 (2 EP) is the same as Move 3 (2 EP).

I should point out that at no point in the game are the terms "Yank" and "Shove" defined mechanically.

The next part of the list of Exploration options. There are two: "1/hour" which costs 1 EP and has the description "Ransacking/destroying room[sic] and its contents (other than found valuables)"; and "1/turn" which costs 2 EP and has the description "-1d6 on Skill Check[sic]. PC has special training in herbs and adds 2 to his Wisdom score for the purpose of identifying poisonous roots". No, I don't know what either of those mean, either.

Prayers & Spells also have their own special effects: you can recast a spell you've spent, swap a prepared spell, double a spell's duration, or cause all 1s on the damage dice to become 2s. Each of these costs at least the spell's level. I like how the "In-World Requirement Example" for "1s Become 2s" is "All 1s on damage dice become 2s instead". Immersion!

And with that, we're out of the chapter.

Next time: THE ELDER GODS! OOooOoOOoooHHhhHH!

The Elder Gods

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post



This is another short chapter, weighing in at 3 whole pages. It probably won't be that bad, right?



The Elder Gods are the Primordial Forces of the multiverse. They generally pay no heed to the doings of Humans, Humanoids, dragons, or demons, considering all naught but brief sparks that dim in an instant in the vast sea of time.

So the Elder Gods are the implacable forces of the universe, who consider all of existence the same way we would consider motes of dust.

Considering the fact that a lot of stuff later is going to involve alignment to the Elder Gods, not to mention the fact that we're about to get rules on how to invoke said Gods, I can only assume that whoever wrote that was lying.

There are five Elder Gods:
The Void is the emptyness "from which all things originate and to which all things eventually return."
Life has the ability to draw life from The Void, while Death represents entropy and can send beings back to The Void.
The Elements is actually one God comprised of earth, air, fire, water, and aether.
Finally, there's the mysterious The Great Unknown , who holds all the secrets of the multiverse.


Occasionally, it will reveal a truth, though sometimes it will mask this truth as a falsehood, or vice versa.
...okay, then.

There's some more stuff about how mysterious and powerful the Elder Gods are, and how they can be both helpful and dangerous despite the fact that they don't care about us.

Remember how I was talking about the Character Wheel before? That thing where you record your character's relationships with the Elder Gods by coloring it in? Here it is:


The Character Wheel represents a Player Character's level of interaction with each of the Elder Gods. A scan of any PC's Character Wheel mosaic will provide a sense of his or her experiences, recalling the impression one recieves when meeting a person for the first time.
...okay, then.

As mentioned during character creation, every character starts with five Ranks distributed among the Gods. You get another two Ranks each time you level up; you place one yourself, and the other is set by the MC. He's supposed to set his Rank according to which God he feels has been most influential to that character. Which is kind of a neat idea, I have to (grudgingly) admit; it's interesting to have something done at level-up based on an "outsider's view" of a character.

So we have these Ranks (up to 10 per God). What can we do with them? Well, they can influence your character's behaviour. How do they do this?


The number of Ranks in each Elder God determines any of a limitless array of possible effects in a given situation or area, from granting boons to causing doom or both.
That's not very helpful, THE SECRET FIRE. < >

There is an example of how a character with 7 ranks in Death would be able to see and interact with the souls of the dead in an ancient temple, whereas a character with 7 ranks in Life might be forced screaming from the room, or would go nuts and try to destroy the temple. And that's fine, but that's all we get. There's no chart or guidelines or anything as to what these Ranks actually mean .

Next up is how to call upon the Elder Gods. Basically, whenever a character suffers damage (and apparently only then), he can call upon any God he has ranks in to help him once per day per God. The help is automatic; there's no "invoking" roll or anything, and there's no visible sign the God helped out. When you do this, the damage you're taking is just magically halved. Immersion!

Of course, there's a price later: you now owe the God a dept. The dept doesn't happen until either roll a Critical Failure on an attack or two 6's on a skill check. (Bear in mind we still don't know how rolling skills works at this point.) When that happens, your fate is determined by the MC. The MC is instructed to check Part 11: Designing Adventures to see how this works.

This is a Damn Lie.

I jumped ahead and checked Part 11. I read it several times. There is indeed a section about calling on the Gods there. This section says that the consequence of calling on them only happens on a Critical Failure, so I'm glad they kept that straight. When that happens, you're supposed to roll on the chart for each God to see what happens, although "players are also encouraged to make up their own". That refers us back to Chapter 6, so there's a nice infinite loop there because there's nothing in Chapter 6 about making up your own consequences.

(They also call it a Chapter here, but the chapters are all called "Parts" through the rest of the book from what I've seen so far. I'm really starting to think I'm the only person who's actually read this damn thing.)

So guess what doesn't exist in the book? That's right! The frigging Elder God charts . There are no tables anywhere that have anything to do with the Elder Gods. No "invoking penalties" charts, no "here's what Ranks in each God mean" table, nothing.

I really, really think I'm the only person who's actually read this thing. And it's not like I'm going out of my way to find problems; I'm reading this pretty much at the same rate I'm posting these, a chapter at a time while I'm reading the chapter . Yeah, I skim ahead or jump around, but come on guys. This is a pretty important part of the game; how could they not realize they forgot to put any of that stuff in? Did they even have anyone besides themselves playtest it?

Oh wait, sorry. There's this example at the end of the Elder Gods chapter:


Be warned: These debts never come in the form of simple penalties to Attack, Damage, or Skill checks - they are infinitely more interesting, or bizzare, than that. A character may wake from unconciousness to find himself lying in a pool of blood - the blood of his allies, who lie dead at his feet, clearly murdered by his own hand.
"Everyone except Larry roll up new characters! That'll teach you to try to save your character's ass!"

I mean, seriously, what the fuck is that? That's a potential punishment for wanting to halve damage? It's not like there's other ways to invoke the Gods; all they can do to help you is halve damage, for which you get boned later in ways that they never got around to defining.

The Elder Gods chapter closes out with a comment about how the punishment of the Gods might just be an "old wives' tale", so maybe they intended it to be a kind of "fake scare". But if they did, why tell the MC to use a results table? Not that it matters, because they forgot to put the damn thing in the game.

I'm seriously thinking this game is just a joke I'm not in on.

Next time: Magic part 1 - Holy-Man Prayers, Batman!


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, I got Holy Fire runnin' all through me!

Part 8: Part 7 - Prayers

Yes, the magic sections are before the skills section. Who's shocked?

The Prayers chapter starts out with some fluff about how nobody knows where magic really comes from. Some feel the power comes from learning, others think it comes from the Elder Gods. Either way, we're told that some churches claim that it's the purview of demons (which is odd, since we're in the Holy-Mans magic section), and that wizards have learned to tap into "magical fields of energies" to cast spells. Not sure why that's there, but okay, whatever.

Next, we're informed that prayers are channeled from the Elder Gods through Deities, which are the gods which are worshiped by the Humans and Elves. I guess Dwarves and Halflings are all atheists. As a side note, it turns out that Wizards do, in fact, draw their power directly from the Elder Gods. From that, we're told that the Deities know a bunch of stuff about the Elder Gods, but they won't share. Then we're told that even though all magic comes from the same place, most people trust divine magic prayers over arcane magic spells because they feel Deities will protect them, even though it's known that some prayers can be as harmful as spells.

Have I mentioned that the writing is pretty scattershot? Because the writing's pretty scattershot.

Anywho, there are five "Circles" of prayers. Each Circle has an "evocative" name and has 10 spells. Each spell has the following stats:

Elder God : Each prayer is associated with an Elder God. No, I don't know why.
Casting Time : These are (mostly) in rounds. Prayers go off at the end of the last round of casting.
Duration : I have to quote this in full because it is the est thing I've seen in this game yet.


Prayers last for the amount of real time indicated, not game time. If you cast a prayer at 12:08 P.M. Eastern Standard Time (EST) and it lasts for one hour, that prayer stops functioning at 1:08 P.M. EST. A caster can dismiss any prayer before the end of its duration.

Spell durations are in real time . I don't know if that's immersive, vermisilitudinous, or just fucking stupid.

I mean, yes a lot of games use "real time" mechanics. Fate's "Refresh" mechanic only comes into play at the start of an adventure, for instance, and GURPS has a "Luck" advantage that can be used once an hour or so. But those are pure meta-game mechanics, and don't represent things that happen in the game world. Spells are supposed to represent things that happen in the game world , so they need to reflect that. But with the real-world durations, you can run into all kinds of bizarre situations because of the time dilation necessary in RPGs; a fight can take two hours to resolve, but only represent a few minutes of game time. Likewise, it's not uncommon to skip a bunch of uninteresting downtime with a handwaved "two weeks later".

If I cast a long-term spell that lasts an hour, and then two minutes later I get into a fight that takes 58 minutes or more to resolve, I just wasted the fucking spell. What if I cast a spell in combat, the fight ends in like 20 minutes, then a little while after that we spend ten minutes describing things that happen over the next month of game time, does my spell keep going?

Am I the only one who asked these questions?

Moving on, more spell stats.
Range is given in both feet and squares.
Resistance is just which of your defenses (Armor, Anti-Magic, Endurance, or Willpower) is used to resist damage.
Area of Effect keeps the s coming:


A sphere is a cube emanating outward from a central square the number of squares indicated (a burst 4 would emanate 4 squares in every direction from the central square, creating a 9 x 9 x 9 cube centered on the origin square). A line is a 1-square wide area that goes for a distance in squares equal to the number listed.
A sphere is a cube. That's some Zen shit right there.

They also neglect to mention if a "line" has to be a straight line, or if I can curve or bank a spell's effect.

Luck Throw just tells us if the target can shake off the prayer's effect by rolling a 7 or better on 2d6 at the end of their turn. Strangely, this stat isn't in the spells' stat blocks.

Each spell has a description of what it does in standard THE SECRET FIRE prose. More than once I've had to infer parts of a spell's effects from the description rather than the mechanics.

So what are some of the prayers? Glad you asked! Here's a few highlights:


There's a first-Circle spell called "Fist Of The Old Gods" that lets you do 2d8+Wis modifier+1d8/three levels damage. And this spell is sustained, so you get to do that every round! Suck it, Warriors!

(Oh, there is a drawback: if something "external" breaks your concentration, it goes away. Internal sources of concentration-breaking (i.e. fumbling) will cause a "small fragment of [your] personality" to vanish with the weapon, making you forget your spells, purpose, and name. But it wears off after 20 minutes, so that's not a big deal.)

"Divine the Safer Path" is a second-Circle spell that lets the Holy-Man detect any traps in a Line 2 x 2+2/level. Suck it, Thieves!

"Holy/Unholy Blast" is a second-Circle spell that hits all enemies in Sphere 3 for 1d12+Wis mod+1d12/three levels "mass of tendrils" damage. Suck it, Wizards!

Don't fumble with this, though; everyone friend and foe in the area of effect (including the caster) takes 4d12 unresistable damage(!) and


the caster's head is filled with a bright white ooze. His is both blinded and deafened for 10 minutes, as liquid light leaks from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth

Uh...moving on...

"Unearthly Hush" is a second-Circle prayer that renders a Sphere 2 utterly silent. In this area (which can be centered on someone), no prayers can be cast, but I guess spells are okay. Suck it, Holy-Men!

The third-Circle prayer "Call Forth the Dead" lets you...well...


All corpses withing the area of effect (Sphere 6, fyi) are animated, a number the MC may decide ahead of time. An attack roll is made against each corpse, which automatically succeeds. However, on a natrual roll of 1, 6, or 13, the corpse animates and turns on you, attacking until destroyed.

The level of undead equals 2-1/2 times the Holy-Man's level in total levels of undead. (Ha! Take that, grammar!) For example, a 2nd-Level Holy-Woman might create two skeletons and a zombie, or five skeletons, and so on."
Hey, wait! I thought female Holy-Men were still called Holy-Men! Dammit THE SECRET FIRE, can't you keep your own bullshit ideas straight? I remembered that and I read it like three or four weeks ago!

That has a casting time of "Action", by the way. I think that means that it only takes one round to cast, but I'm guessing here because, again, THE SECRET FIRE can't keep its own mechanics straight.

"Call Forth The Dead" also has a duration of 30 minutes per level. That's real-time minutes, remember. You have to be at least level 3 to cast the spell, so that's an hour and a half real-time of having your own undead horde. 19.5 levels of undead horde, anyway.

The fourth-Circle prayer "Circle of Deep Calling" gives you +4 to your armor, plus all creatures in a Sphere 3 from the Holy-Man take 2d6+Wis mod heat damage (resisted by Endurance) if they start their turns in the Sphere. If they're in a Sphere 1 (i.e., next to him), they take 2d12+Wis. This damage is increased by the number of ranks it has in the The Elements or The Void.
The best part? You can burn the effect to make one big attack that does 4d20+Wis damage versus Endurance, but if you fumble, you are instantly disintigrated without any type of save. You're just a pile of ash; roll up a new character.

"Repent!" is a fourth-Circle spell that lets someone move a few ticks towards Good on the Alignment Spectrum. The target chooses how many ticks they want to move (up to three), and then takes 1d12 unresisted damage per tick . Oddly, although the spell states that it can be cast on someone else, the Range is "Self". It also has a duration of 10 minutes/level, so I guess after 40 minutes you go back to your original alignment? I think the idea is that you cast it on yourself, then for the duration you can damage people into beeing more Good-er. Also, if you think back to how hit points work in this game, 3d12 is a lot of damage. That's an average of 18 damage, and a Warrior with an 18 Con will only have 8 "hits" per wound level; most characters will only have 4 or 5 and those numbers never increase . So you're looking at, on rought average, three full bars of health for trying to move back three dots on the alignment scale. Hell, even doing one tick could almost kill you if you've only got four boxes a level.


The Deity's[sic] ask only that the sufferer be truly repentant for past (or future) actions, promise eternal servitude, and show devotion through the willingness to suffer.

"Cacophonous Crusade" is a fifth-Circle spell that lets you, and I quote:


create a crowd of utterly loyal followers of the Holy-Man's level of below within the area of effect, utterly dedicated to the Holy-Man's cause.
Enemies make Luck Throws to resist the effect, so I think they meant "convert" rather than "create" here, but who knows with this game. Either way you get an army of fanatics for an hour. How many? Good question; it doesn't say, but the description refers to an "assembled throng" so I'm assuming it's everyone in the area of effect. However many you have, they all get +2 to hit and damage but -2 to Armor.

Or you could cast "Avengers of the Fallen" instead, which summons 2d6 Ghost Warriors (4d6 if you cast it in a graveyard dedicated to your Deity) who stick around for the same amount of time. Plus they actually have stats in the Monster section (if you're wondering, the higlights are +2 to hit, 1d10+1 physical plus an additional 2d6 cold damage on a successful hit, and all non-magical physicial damage dice are considered to have rolled "1" against them).

"Creator's Hand" lets you reattach or regrow severed limbs. To so, a Wisdom skill check is made by...someone. It doesn't say if it's the caster or the target, but I'm going to assume it's the caster. If the roll fails, then the hand/leg/eye whatever grows back obviously wrong, like you wing up with a claw or something. For performing this act of kindness, the caster takes 1d12 damage for every level the target has. This is a fifth-Circle spell, so the caster has to be at least level 5 to cast it, which means that (more than likely) the target will be at the same level since you're probably going to cast this on another PC. That's at least 5d12 fucking damage to regrow an eye or reattach an arm. That's damn near a guaranteed kill at average damage. I mean, yeah the damage is resisted, but come on!

:"That dragon ripped my leg off! You gotta heal me!"
:"Sorry, Bob. I've only got 24 health; it's not worth the risk. Here's two gp, go buy a peg leg. Maybe next time you won't describe taking damage in so much detail."

Interestingly, "Raise the Dead" does zero damage to the caster. You do have to make a Perceive skill roll, and failing that means that not only did you put the wrong soul back in the body, you also "vanish and are lost in time for 1d6 days, although only minutes pass in the real world". No, I don't know what the point of that is, either.

Oh, remember back when I was talking about classes, and the table for Holy-Mens had that thing about casting "mend, primus", "mens, secundus", and "mend, tertius"? There is a "Mend" spell, but the amount of healing levels with the caster and doesn't have any of that primus/secundus/tertius" stuff anywhere, so once again the game has forgotten its own damn mechanics.

I have to ask again: did anyone actually read this damn thing before releasing it?

Next time: Spells!


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, I Don't need to walk around in Circles!

Part 9: PART 8 - SPELLS!

Yup, it's time to go through the Wizard spells.

The chapter starts out with...a list of all the Wizards spells. Okay...that's odd, but whatever.

Like Prayers, Spells are organized into five Circles, plus one extra Circle for "cantrips". There are 20 first-Circle Spells, and 15 or so for the rest. Sorry Holy-Ones, looks like you don't get to be as cool as the Wizards. Fortunately, there's the balancing mechanic that Wizards get to cast more spells per day than Holy-Ones, so that's fair.

Oh, and just so you know, a "Luck Throw" means getting a 7+ on 2d6. So it's like a 4e saving throw, except it uses different dice! Innovation!

Cantrips are pretty much what you'd expect; 5-pound telekinesis, fix a mundane object, a "generic minor spell effect" spell, and Tambor’s Trusty Transport:


Named after one of the physically weakest – and laziest – Wizards ever known,
Tambor’s Trusty Transport is a 5-foot-diameter (1 square), self-propelled transportation
device that can hold 20 Encumbrance/Wizard level. The disk hovers adjacent to the caster
and follows her wherever she goes. It is the perfect tool to carry the Wizard’s gear, goods, or
treasure, as it moves at the behest of the Wizard (a free activity) with little to no effort.
Whoa...deja vu...

As you read the spells I'm listing here, remember that re-attaching a limb can do upwards of 5d10 damage to the cleric.

So...highlights of the Spells chapter:
First Circle
Black Blade of the Elder Gods summons a +3 longsword that is weilded by the caster; if a creature is hit with it he has to make a Luck Throw or be Slowed for 10 minutes, and if the Wizard fumbles he's got to make the check. I don't know if that's real-time minutes or not, though. The spell itself only lasts 5 minutes/level, and casting it takes your action for the round, so it's not like you'd be able to make a lot of attacks with it anyway.

Claws of Lightning lets the caster zap someone with a touch attack (or through a metal weapon), doing 1d12+Int mod damage. At first level.

Dreadful Air crates a 10 x 2 line of 60 mph winds that, if people fail their Luck Throws, will knock them over, push them 40 feet, do 4d6 damage, and will give a penalty to ranged attack rolls and perception checks...for a whole minute, not modified by level. Better roll all that damage quickly!

Morhpeus's Retreat actually lets the caster erase 10 minutes of memory per level from up to five targets, permanently. It says that it takes Circle IV or V spells to restore the memories, but I couldn't find a spell that did that.

Second Circle
Avalanche is a 16 x 16 x 5 Line effect spell that does 5d6 damage to everything in the area of effect. You can cast this at second level

Celerity of the Damned increases the target's movement by 5 squares, gives him an extra attack each round (not an Action, and attack, so no extra spells), +1 to hit, and +2 to dodge. When it wears off, the target has to make a Luck Throw or age 10 years . But there's no stat modifiers for ageing, so who cares?

Ears of the Dead summons a ghost who you can hear through, up to 80 feet away. If the (invisible, intangible) spirit is dispelled, you take 3d6 damage.

Eldrich Eye does the same thing, but with sight.


Empty the pouch with the dried dog heart you’ve grinded to a powder into
your right hand as you intone the magical language that empowers eldritch eye. Blood
momentarily gushes from your palm as a demonic eye appears there.
You can move the scrying eye to any surface by pressing your opened hand upon it. The
eye transfers to the location of your choosing. You are able to see everything it sees in a
bizarre color spectrum. If the eldritch eye gets poked with a sharp object, blood pours from
your left eye.

Oddly, the eye taking damage doesn't hurt you.

The Shackles of the Dead immobilizes the target unless they make a Luck Throw, with a penalty of the number of Ranks the Wizard has in The Great Unknown, minus 5. Of course, it doesn't say "minimum 0", so I guess if I don't have any ranks in The Great Unknown, the target gets a +5 to the roll?

The Words of Lucidus is basically Exploding Runes, doing 4d6 in a sphere 3. However, it only takes an Action to cast, and is permanent, which means that you can basically make hand grenades in combat or pull off the [url=""]Superball Trick[/i].

Third Circle
Creature Copy turns you into any small, medium, or large creature you want for 1 hour per level! Except you don't get any of the powers of whatever you turned into.

Hammer of Lightning does a minimum of 4d6 damage to everything in a 20 x 2 line.

Phantom Restraints is effectively the same as Shackles of the Dead, except there's no modifier to the Luck Throw.

Reign of Flames is a Sphere 5 centered up to 20 squares away that does 1d6 damage per caster level. Where have I heard that before?

The Thing In The Mists is...well, see for yourself.


The Thing In the Mists (The Great Unknown)
Order: III
Casting Time: Action
Range: 50 feet (10 squares)
Resistance: Anti-Magic
Area of Effect: Sphere 4
Duration: 10 minutes/level

Description: Wisps of yellow vapor rise from the ground in front of you, amassing into a
pulsating cloud with a radius of about fifteen feet. The poisonous cloud creeps forward in
a shape reminiscent of an octopus with gaseous tentacles appearing to propel it. It can go
down dungeon stairs and over obstacles and squeeze between small spaces, such as arrow
slits or cracks in a door, reforming on the other side. Upon reaching its victim, the vapor
forces itself into the creature’s nose, mouth, eyes and wounds. Only physical fortitude and
luck can save the creature from the desperation and horror of death by asphyxiation.
Strong currents of wind influence its course, but it never reverts back to you. Only unnaturally
strong wind (from a dreadful wind spell or something more powerful) can dissipate it. If left
undisturbed, the poisonous mist continues to roam the area for the duration.

Mechanics: This spell summons vapors and creatures from beyond the mortal realm.
Any creature of 4th level or lower, or any PC with fewer than 5 Ranks dedicated to any
specific Elder God, will be attacked by the non-corporeal beasts within the mists. Those
attacked must make a Luck Throw or die as they are too unimportant for the Elder Gods
to concern themselves with protecting. If the Luck Throw is successful, the creature
still takes 3d6 + Intellect adjustment + highest Rank in any Elder God damage against
Anti-Magic as the mist saps the creature’s will to live. Characters with 5 Ranks or more
dedicated to any Elder God repulse the creatures within the mist and are therefore not
Save or die, bitches! This hits everything in a 9x9 square and you can cast this at level 3 .

Fourth Circle
Atomize requires the caster to hit with a melee attack (adding Strength or Agility, whichever is higher; amazingly, Warriors don't get that option). It does 1d6 damage per caster level, plus Int bonus, and if it doesn't kill the target, said target has to make a Luck Throw or be instantly disintegrated.

Move Through the Aether is a teleport spell, except that you teleport somewhere you can't see, you have to make a Luck Throw with your Int modifier as a bonus or be disintegrated.

Silent Hand of Death affects 1 creature for every three levels you have. The targets have to make Luck Throws or die. If they make the save, they still lose 3d6 off their Constitution Endurance stat. I don't think there are any rules for stat damage, but if that lowers their Stamina on the fly, the target's probably going to die anyway. Given how Stamina and Wounds work, I'd hate to have to take Con damage if I have to recalculate all my wound levels and shift damage around.

Truth of the Great Unknown forces the MC to answer one question truthfully.

Fifth Circle
Anric's Brutatily summons a giant hand that crushes one target for 10d6+Int damage, and you can spend your Move action to make the same attack again. The hand hangs around for 10 minutes, but if you miss the first time then the hand doesn't appear.

Deadly Whispers is a Sphere 3 centered within 50 feet that does 6d12+Int damage and shoves anyone hit 5 squares away from the center of the effect.

Labyrinth of Nour does this:


The target must succeed at a Luck Throw with a penalty equal to your
Rank in the Great Unknown. Failure means the target has been banished from this
plane into an endless, intricate maze from which there is no escape...although it is
rumored that one did find the way out, and a great treasure along the way, but none
alive today know more than that. The target returns from the maze to the exact point it
left when struck by the spell.
So there's no escape from the maze...but the spell has a duration of 10 minutes/level, so I don't know how those two facts are supposed to mesh.

Rain of Hellfire is...weird. You cast it on yourself, and it lasts 5 minutes/level. During that time, you can, as a normal Action, fire off a meteor that hits everything in a 20x2x2 line doing 5d10 damage and knocking the target prone.

View of the Abyss just...makes the target blind for 5 minutes/level, although the caster gets blinded instead on a fumble. Compared to the rest of the spells in this Circle, it's pretty tame.

Amazingly, very few spells have huge penalties for fumbling, unlike the Holy-One spells. Go figure.

NEXT TIME: Skills! Finally!


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, Obligatory "pay the bills" joke!

Part 10: PART 9 - SKILLS

(Warning: I think I get a little over-critical here. On the plus side, this is a short part of the review)

Remeber skills? You got a few of them "trained" back during character creation, but they're really not mentioned again until all the spells are covered.

You can imagine my surprise that the skills chapter comes after the two chapters full of spells.

Anywho, we're thrown into the Skill chapter without any preable, which actually is surprising. We're informed that most of the time, the MC will determine success or failure based on a character's Descriptors (remember those? The Aspect-like things that were tied to our stats).


For example, jumping over a five-foot-wide pit is automatically successful for any character with an above-average Strength Descriptor (Muscular, Strapping, or Mighty).
Uh, I'm pretty sure even a low-Strength character could jump 5 feet without much of a's really not that far.


On the other hand, a Moronic character attempting to decipher ancient texts automatically fails, as would a Repulsive character attempting to broker a peace treaty between warring factions.
Right, because there's no way someone unattractive could be good at politics.

On the plus side, the game does tell us to only roll skill tests if the outcome of a situation is uncertain, which is actually good GMing advice. I wonder what game they stole it from?

I do have to say one thing here: the way Skill rolls are handled is actually...well, not bad. The way it works is that you roll a number of d6's based on the difficulty of the task at hand. There are five difficulties, ranging from Easy (3d6) to Impossible (7d6), subtracting one die if you're trained in the skill. What you want to do is roll under your base stat on those dice. If the roll is contested, whoever has the larger difference between their roll and their stat wins.

Yes, base stat. I know it's hard to believe, but THE SECRET FIRE actually uses the base stats for something, instead of the stat modifiers . Credit where it's due, that's actually nice to see.

There are 14 skills all told, ranging from basic stuff like Athlete and Sneak to your knowledge-based stuff like Lore or Religion.

So how do they end up screwing it up? Three ways.

First off, the fact that your skills are based solely on your stats. Which isn't bad in and of itself; like I said, it's nice to see the actual stat values used for something . The problem is that your stats never go up via leveling. In fact, as near as I can tell, there's no way to increase your stats at all . A character has the same chance to succeed at a Standard difficulty skill roll at level 1 as he does at level 10.

There's also nothing about situation modifiers. It doesn't matter how dark or bright it is, or if you're wearing full plate mail; your Sneak roll is based soley on your Agility stat and that's it. Now, I realize that someone who's running this is probably an experienced GM (since new players don't tend to go for retroclones of RPGNow/Lulu), but that takes us into Rule Zero Fallacy territory.

The second problem is the example tasks. For each skill, they give an example of what a sample task would be for that skill at each of the five difficulty levels. Which is nice, but they only give you one rather vague example per difficulty, which doesn't really help explain in general what would be an Easy test versus a Standard test. It's the same problem we ran into with the Energy Points stuff; there's no real guidelines for anything. The examples are so specific they don't leave a lot of room for interpritation, which makes it hard to say what should be a Standard roll in a general sense.

Problem three is our old buddy The Prose. Yup, even here we can't get away from the Generic Bad Fantasy Novel Writing Style that permeates the rest of the game. For instance, here's the sample Easy action for the Percieve skill:


The Perceive Test was successful; creaking old floorboards betrayed the would-be assassin’s approach. The Rogue could almost hear the sound of the dagger’s swift path. Though he had glimpsed his opponent, he failed to see a weapon in the man’s hand, for the faint light of a sliver of moon was the room’s only source of illumination. The Rogue bent quickly, avoiding the blade and esponding with an upward dagger thrust of his own. He knew his attack had met the mark when he felt warm, thick liquid running down his arm.
So...hearing someone walking on floorboards is an Easy roll? Wouldn't that be contested against the assassin's Sneak roll instead?

Then there's this example of a Very Difficult Perception check:


After a long trek through the forest, the party finally makes camp for the night. It is the Magician’s turn at the watch. Upon the second hour, the Foolhardy magicwielder fails his Perceive roll. He has no chance to discern the Werewolf ’s quiet footfall, his throat slashed before he can even realize what was happened.
Forget save-or-die, skill-roll-or-die is where it's at.

How about an Easy Bind Wounds check?


The wench with the touch of an angel treats the bloodied adventurers, who have risked their lives to protect her village from the Goblin horde. She spits on the magicwielder’s gash, chiding him gently. “Why that Demon’s little blade barely grazed you.” Her Bind Wounds roll stabilizes him.

Or an impossible Magic roll?


As a powerful Demon wreaks havoc on a town, a Wizard attempts to use his general knowledge of magic (in this scenario, he lacks a spell of banishing) to return the Demon to the Infernal Realms. A Critical Failure may cause the Wizard himself to be transported in the demon’s place, so this is both a dangerous and brave tactic.
So...I can use my Magic skill to banish demons instead of the (existing) Fifth-Circle spell that does that? I dunno, because the skill's description just makes it sound like a normal knowledge-type skill.

An alliterative Very Difficult Reflex check:


The agile Acolyte must side step a swinging scythe triggered after she stepped on a pressure plate.

This is a Standard Reflexes roll:


A Nimble Burglar would roll for Reflex to prevent his feet from slipping on a steep ledge under the gibbous moon

Overall, the skill system isn't bad , and it's the first part of the game that hasn't made me want to slap the writers. There's still some glaring holes here, but at least it's more or less workable.

I leave you with the example for an Impossible Decieve roll.


Kortren, the Blasphemer, hatches a plan to see his enemy suffer at the hands of her own child. He contrives a fabrication that tears the woman’s world asunder, telling a lie that none want to believe. “Janu, the knowledge I have given you can lead to only one conclusion: that your mother is indeed a diabolist! She was prepared to offer you as sacrifice to the Elder Gods before you even slumbered in her womb. Only the iron maiden can save your life, and perhaps your misguided soul!"



posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE™ , or My immersion recusrion!


Okay, this is going to suck.

I've said quite a few times that one of THE SECRET FIRE's biggest issues is the prose. Strayton (or whoever did the "fiction", but I'm pretty sure it was him) writes in the grand Bad Fantasy Author tradition, and subjects us to it in the most bizarre places; like the item descriptions in the Equipment chapter, or the examples in the Skills chapter.

The chapter on Adventuring, however, beats the previosu chapters, because it kicks off with a six-page story about some guys in a tavern teaching group of fresh-faced young adventurers.


Boswell and Thedric had long forgotten why they met daily at the inn, just at the changing of the guard, but their seats in the Golden Wheatsheaf were well known, as were they. Boswell eased his aging bulk into the chair opposite his whip-thin friend and lit a pipe, regarding their drinking companions. Two of the youths looked fresh from the scholarium: They stared wide-eyed about the tavern — it was probably the first time they had visited such a place.

A flagon of frothy, dark Mistmoor ale arrived, as usual, without Boswell’s needing to ask, as he regarded the two young men thoughtfully. He caught Thedric’s eye (indeed, one orb was all the thin man had left in his head), causing the old rogue to push his pipeweed pouch across the table to Boswell with a sigh. It was pretty coarse stuff. Upon filling his pipe and taking a puff, Boswell struggled to suppress a fit of coughing. The youths looked at each other, fearing he would pitch over dead. Boswell gasped.

“I don’t know why you smoke this stuff. Halfling pipeweed is so much better, and doesn’t make you feel like you’ve kissed a troll,” he wheezed.

Thedric took a deep pull on his ale.

“Ha. I like it. Got a bit of a kick to it.”

“Yeah. A kick. Like the time that Fire Giant kicked your arse clean ’cross the cavern.”

The two youths leaned forward, eager for the tale. Thedric rolled his eyes at Boswell before speaking.

“Ah yes, lads — and lasses,” Thedric said, drawing closer to the young men and a mixed group of men and women, clearly a novice band of adventurers, judging by their fresh faces.. He gave a courteous nod to the ladies in particular. “We’ve stories to tell you, as I promised, and advice to share. If you’re going to be adventurers, you’ll need to wise up, listen up, and…” he continued dramatically as one young man started to speak, “shut up.
It goes on like this


“A ten-foot pole is good to have if you expect to meet a lot of creatures with those oh-sonasty close-up powers. Just remember that they aren’t that robust, and that some creatures have ranged weapons. That’s what happened to Varthon, the Green Demon, that time in the Dungeon of the Worm King. Damn bug spat acid all over him
for six


A drunken man laughed a bit too loudly toward the back of the inn.

“Oi! You, at the back!” Thedric yelled. “Find yer seat or the flat of my sword’ll find it for ya!” The drunkard immediately fell silent and sullen back into his chair. Thedric motioned to Boswell to continue.


“Yes, I do say that,” Thedric said, with nod to all at the table. “Damn right, I do. It’s a hard life but, by the Deities, I wouldn’t have lived a moment of it any other way. This one time, we stole into the lair of Danarus….”

Rude noises greeted these words. A drunken laborer lurched to his feet, face flushed and fists clenched in rage, accompanied by his ill-favored, and equally drunk, friend.

“You’re a liar, old man. No one’s ever returned from that wyrm’s lair!”

The two drunken men started forward with ill intent. But Thedric, displaying the speed of a man a third his age, smashed his flagon into the loud one’s face and laid him out cold, bleeding from the nose. The second man, after seeing Boswell’s hand fingering the wellworn hilt of his sword, realized his friend’s folly and smartly decided to bypass the table. He headed instead toward the bar, to order another ale.

“Here’s the other thing,” Thedric said. “Someone starts a fight, you finish it.” He spat in
the prone man’s direction.


The audience clapped and cheered, and the crowd broke into smaller groups. Thedric turned to two of the remaining young men, who seemed to want to tarry a while. Even in his ale-induced stupor, he noticed the rapt expressions on their young faces as they hung on every word.

He smiled at them, cramming the City Watch Commander’s Helm onto his head. Largely ceremonial, it was as heavy as a Dragon’s head.

“Sorry lads, duty calls. So, what do they call you two, anyway? Just so I know in case your names are mentioned in my twilight years.”

“Rowan and Zelfiss,” was the reply. Thedric bowed deeply, and then headed for the door. “Rowan and Zelfiss. I’ll have to remember them. Here’s hoping they don’t come back in a box, or not at all!” That was always Boswell’s way of wishing people good luck.

I suppose I should just be grateful there aren't any "thou"s or "ye"s in there.

Maybe I've just been spoiled by reading so much Terry Pratchett, but why do bad fantasy authors feel the need to write in such a "heavy" style? It feels so unnatural. What's more, the whole story is two experienced (or "old school", if you will) former adventurers doing a full-on infodump of Dungeoncrawling 101 while the youngsters hang on their every word. I get that the "basics" of what dungeon crawling is isn't obvious to someone who's never played D&D before, but do they really think that this is going to be some group's first introduction to RPGs in general? And even if it was, there has to be a better way to present the ideas.

Now that we've machette'd our way through the fiction underbrush, we get to the meat of the chapter: Sequences.


THE SECRET FIRE™ is a free-form game that requires guidelines only when a challenging situation comes into play or outcomes seem unclear, especially during pure roleplaying moments when the players are improvising their character’s dialogue and actions.

Like most games, it has a set of procedures that help move play along; but unlike more definitive rules systems , TSF provides basic guidelines to help both the players and the Master Creator move through the game, filling in the blanks along the way
The bolding is mine. I want you to rememeber that the game thinks that it isn't being "definitive" and is being more "freeform" as you read the rest of this section.

Sequences are the framework TSF™ uses to provide said guidelines. There are four Sequences: Monthly (30 days), Daily (24 hours), Exploration (5 minutes), and Engagement (seconds). These are all nested into each other; a Daily sequence can hold multiple Explortation sequences, each of which might contain a few Engagements.

("Engagements" is the term THE SECRET FIRE™ uses to refer to combat and other interactions, by the way.)

So how does this all work?

You start with the Monthly Sequence. First, the PCs determine how much money they want to invest in their Dominions in multiples of 1000 gp. No, I don't know what a Dominion is either; based on the example it's things like strongholds or Thieves' Guilds; that stuff you get at level 10. Whatever it is, your Dominion's status carries over from the previous month.

Next, you go adventuring! You go to Exploration Day Sequence Step 1, and repeat for 30 days. No, really, it says "Repeat for 30 days." Yay recursion!

Step 3 requires you to roll on a percentile table 1d4 times to see what special events happen to your Dominion during the month. These events will affect your Resource Points, whatever they are. The table has things like Important Visitor, Ore Vein Discovered, Plague, and Meteor Strike.

Step 4 is "Investments Completed". All your investments (construction, spell research, getting retainers) come to fruition, but there's nothing I could find in the book about how you actually start an investment, so I guess we can skip that one.

Step 5 finally tells us what the Resource points are for. You add up all the Resource points you get from the table in step 3, adding 1 to the total for every 1000 gp you paid out in step 1. If the result is positive, then the Dominion's status goes up one rank on the "Dominion Stability" table. If it's negative, then it goes down by one rank. If a PC's Dominion stays at the same level, then the character gets XP equal to a "minor quest" reward. If it goes up, then he gets the XP for a "Major Quest".

Those XP awards are never mentioned anywhere else in the game, by the way. Once again they're talking about mechanics that don't exist. Did anyone proofread this thing?

Anyway, once that's done, you loop back to the beginning of the month and start the whole process again.

Am I the only one who feels like I'm describing a Civilization knock-off here?

Be that as it may, let's break it on down to the Daily Sequence.

Step 1 is "Dawn". No, really. The party preps spells and "chooses a direction of travel".

Step 2 is the actual Travel. The number of miles you can go per day is based on a table where you look up the speed of the slowest party member.

Step 3 is Direction. Yes, that's different from Travel. See, each character makes a Skill Test against their Lore, Percieve, or Wildlife skills. The difficulty is based on the terrain (Standard for plains, for instance), but isn't modified at all if the group happens to have a map. If everyone fails the test, then you roll 1d8 to determine which of the cardinal directions they wander in for the day.

Note that this step doesn't take into account if the players have a map or know where they're going. Presumably if that's the case you can skip this step, but I love the idea of the party getting lost on their way somewhere they've been dozens of times because of a few bad rolls. The mechanic also means that the group can't realize they're going the wrong way before the end of the day; once you get your direction, you are committed .

Step 4 is the Daylight Engagement Check. Roll a d6, on a 1 you encounter something. You also roll 1d10 to determine the hour of the day this happens because that matters.

Step 5 is the actual Engagement; if you encounter something you go to the Engagement subroutine Step 5, if not you go to the next step.

Step 6 is Travel Continues; you just finish walking the total distance you figured out in step 2. No, I don't know why this is a step.

Step 7 is Night. Make camp, set watch, etc.

Step 8 is the Night Engagement Check. You only get jumped on a 1 on 1d12, but you roll a 1d6 to determine the hour it happens.

The final step is Rest Continues. "The party completes an extended rest." Amazingly, not only did they steal the 4e term, they don't use it anywhere else in the game. I feel like I should be counting off every time the game refers to a mechanic or term that it doesn't use anywhere else.

So that's how we deal with months and days. But what about the Explortation Sequence, I hear you cry? How does that fit into the Daily thing? Simple (hah), the Daily sequence is meant to represent long-term travel, while the Exploration sequence is for short-term travel or dungeoncrawling, and each run through the flowchart represents five minutes. Let's see how mechanical this is!

Step 1 of the Exploration Sequence is movement. This is not only determined by the slowest character's speed, it also depends on if the party is doing normal movement or explortaion speed movement (i.e., mapping, listening at doors, etc.) Just to give you an idea, a speed of 10 has a movement of 500 feet in five minutes, whereas exploration speed would be 100 feet in five minutes.

Step 2 is the MC describing what the players see. Interestingly, this step is missing from the Monthly and Daily sequences.

Step 3 is the Engagement Check; this is a 1-in-12 chance again, but we don't roll for the hour. If there's a fight, we go to step 4, otherwise we loop back to step 1 of the Engagement Sequence.

Step 4 is the Engagement setup. Roll for distance from the monsters (in squares), check for surprise, roll for reaction if you can't figure it out on your own (2d6, check a table), and then each side does one of the following:


Fight: Go to Combat Sequence Step 1.
Parley: Attempt to communicate, negotiate, bribe, etc.
Evade: Run, avoid contact, close and reinforce a door, alight oil spread on the floor to block pursuit; attempt to escape while dropping food or treasure to discourage pursuit (unintelligent monsters will stop to eat food half the time, intelligent monsters will stop to pick up treasure half the time).
Delay: Pause to see what the other side does.
I like the 50% chances there under Evade. Makes the whole thing feel like more of a video game.

Step 5 is Parley/Evade.


The party must acquire the indicated number of successes (before three failures) to evade or to parley with the other side. Most attempts will be automatic successes or automatic failures and will count for anywhere between 1 and 3 of either. Only have players make checks when the outcome is unclear. Failure normally results in combat (go to engagement Sequence Step 1)
Said number of successes are not indicated anywhere.

Step 6 is the end of the fight and returning to whereever you were on the flowchart before the fight happened.

And finally: the Engagement Sequence. An exchange lasts about 6 seconds (gee, where have I heard that before?)

Step 1 is initiative; 2d6+Agility.

Step 2 is the beginning of the exchange. That's the whole step.

Step 3 is the morale check. Morale is rolled for each monster, with a list of modifiers provided for things like "wounded" or "outnumbered 2-1". The roll is 2d6+modifiers, and if you roll above the monster's Morale rating, it tried to bolt. Amazingly, each creature does in fact have a Morale stat.

Step 4 is taking action. Everyone gets a [s]standard[/i]major action, a movement action, and a minor action (unless it's a surpise round, in which case you only get one).

Gee, where have I heard that before?

My head hurts.

Step 5 is the end of the round, where you make any needed Luck Throws.

Step 6 is moving to the next person in the initiative order and doing steps 2 through 5 for them. Oh, did the game not mention that those steps are done for one person only? That doesn't make sense, because that means you'd have to roll initiative for monsters every time someone gets a turn . And that'd just be silly!

Step 7 is "Combat Ends or Continues", and is just seeing the combat is still going (return to step 2 if it is) or returning to whatever sequence you were in before if you're not.

I really want to flowchart this whole thing out, because I'm pretty sure there's an infinite loop in there somewhere.

"But wait, Evil Mastermind!" you say. "That seems like a lot of needless steps to handle something as simple as going from point A to point B on a map! Isn't there a framework for handling that, so I don't have to just 'make shit up' like this is a Magical Tea Party?"

Well you're in luck, person I made up! Because when you need to cover a lot of time quickly, you need...

A Montage


The Montage is a way to “play” through events that would take a lot of real time, even though they may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days of game time; yet all the players agree these events should be played through quickly. The system can be used for random engagements, and everyone rolls using their prime stat (Critical Failure means death, Complication means wounded, etc.).
Yes, it's possible to die during a montage.

Anyway, the way it works is that you just skip over the unessessary time, and say something like, "Okay, you travel for a few days, until you come across the Lost Temple, right where the map said it was."

Had you going for a second there, didn't I?

Montages are handled by rolling 2d6, and adding a character's appropriate Ability modifier if he's doing something solo, the averages of the group's modifiers if it's everyone doing the same task, and their "combat" stat modifier if you're zipping through combat (in which case, you presumably roll for each person). You then roll, add the modifier, trying to beat a 7. A roll of 2-4 (or a natural 2) is a Critical Failure, and a roll of 11-12 (or an umodified 12) is a Critical Success. Depending on your "level" of success, you could get a Setback ("Combat:25 percent chance that each party member is killed (1–3) or captured (4–6)"), a Complication ("Parley:Party must pay opponents 10 x average monster level in gold pieces."), or a Bonus ("Buying Supplies:Party charged 25 percent less for items purchased.").

See? Isn't that simple?



posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post



Yup, it's combat time.

FAIR WARNING: Any semblance of professionalism I had in this "Let's Read" thing will vanish about two thirds of the way through this post. Also, I get shouty again. I apologize in advance.

"Engagements" is the catch-all term THE SECRET FIRE uses to cover conflicts. This covers combat, talking, and chase scenes.

The chapter starts off with a reiteration of the Exploration sequence for some reason.


For example, in an exploration Engagement, the players may come upon a large, ancient old stone wheel. The wheel is engraved with symbols and pictograms, and vines have grown over it. The party spends its time examining the thing, trying to deduce its purpose and how it can be used. Based on the scenario and her imagination, the MC will determine what happens when PCs engage the wheel, deciding whether or not to try to “activate it,” if it can in fact be activated, wondering whether it’s an object of Good or Evil or simply an altar to some unknown god, and so forth and the encounter’s final outcome. The MC determines (based on the prepared scenario or his own imagination) the results of the PCs’ activities with the wheel. Possible outcomes include gaining new knowledge, discovering talismans or treasures — results are limited only by the imaginations of those in the game. The Engagement could result in death for all the players, new knowledge usable later in the adventure, the discovery of a cache of talismans and other treasure, nothing whatsoever, or anything imaginable. Remember: Exploration is the heart of TSF….
Yes, that's all one paragraph. And no, I don't know what that has to do with combat, either.

Next up is information on Parleying. This can happen in step 4.c of the Engagement sequence (and amazingly, they got the rule reference correct) where you determine the NPCs' reaction. As long as the result isn't "Attack Immediately", the players have a chance to talk. The game helpfully tells us that the MC should take the role of the NPCs. Thanks, THE SECRET FIRE.


Play out the parley, with the MC taking the role of the opposing group. Players should stay “in character,” and engage in a sort of improvisational acting, keeping their actions both realistic and descriptive. Rather than waving one’s hand and saying, “I tell them we need help. Will they give it to us?” a player might choose to present their case more formally: “Hail. I am Otman, Wielder of the Scepter of Death and Destroyer of Mordon the Evil. My companions and I seek aid in finding the lost Temple of Avernus. Have you heard of this place, and if you know where it lies, can you take us there?” The MC responds in kind.
Goddamn it, nobody talks like that!

On the plus side, the game tells us that the MC can just narrate the rest of a conversation if things start to drag.

Next up is a brief bit on Chases. This uses the Montage system, which means you roll 2d6 + the fleeing side's total Agility mods minus the chasing side's total agility mods and check the result on the Montage table; basically boiling the whole thing down to a single die roll where a 7+ means you get away.

Finally, we get to the Battle section. Oh joy.

In another glorious display of self-promotion, the first two paragraphs of the Battle section mention the game's name a total of five times.


THE SECRET FIRE uses a simple and descriptive combat system that plays quickly, with a narrative flow unique to THE SECRET FIRE: whenever possible, the TSF system attempts to use words to describe Actions and their effects. By using descriptions rather than just numerical representations of the results, TSF provides more verisimilitude and immersion in its representations of the epic struggles of the adventurers, i.e., the players.

As a side note; I don't get why the game keeps refering to itself like this. I know what game I'm reading. Were they worried that some people were going to read this book and think that the rules might apply to, like, Savage Worlds or something?

This leads us to the Battle Sequence. I already covered the combat sequence in general in the last chapter, but now we get some details.

First thing is that everyone rolls initiative; 1d6+Agility modifier. Once Initiative is rolled, people can actually switch their places in the order before anyone acts; the game refers to this as its "simple but unique" initiative system, just in case you thought the game didn't need to remind you of how innovative it was for a second. People with the same initiative go at the same time.

Next up is the Morale check, if applicable.

Whoever has the higehst initiative goes first, and each turn a character gets a Movement, one Action, and as many Free actions as the MC will let you get away with.

Once everyone acts, people make any Luck Checks they need to take care of, then the whole thing starts again with a new initiative roll.

We now get a page of sample Actions and Moves. An "Action" is pretty much what you'd expect: attacking with a weapon, casting a spell, taking an extra move. You can also Charge:


Charge: A Charge allows a character to Move and Attack on the same Initiative count, but uses up both his or her Action and Move for the exchange
Of course, you can do both move and attack on your turn anyway , and there's no mechanical benefit or penalty to charging, so I honestly have to ask why they have this entry. I know, I know: because D&D, that's why.

Move actions include normal movement, making a skill test, and a "Fighting Withdrawl" which allows you to sacrifice half your movement to not allow opponents you move past to get to swing at you as a Free Action. Oh, apparently we have Opportunity Attacks here. If you move past an opponent within reach, that opponent can make a Free Attack against them. You can apparently make as many of these as you want per round if people keep moving past you.

The next section is about Morale. This is rolled at the beginning of an NPC's turn, and is another 2d6 + modifiers. I already covered this in the last chapter, and there's nothing really added here.

The next section is about Attacks.


All attacks are made against a target’s Dodge score, while all damage rolls are made against Resistance as indicated by the attack (more on this below in the “Damage” section). However, a primary aspect of the TSF, once again, is to engage the imagination, so the players should devise strategies and actions that the rules do not specifically cover, leaving it to the MC to decide what kind of Resistance (Armor, Anti-Magic, Endurance, or Willpower) applies. The more often this happens, the more fun, evocative, and memorable the game becomes, especially when these activities are based on characters’ Ability Descriptors and Alignment Traits.
I get the feeling at this point that THE SECRET FIRE isn't so much trying to convince me of how immersive or innovative or versimilitudinous it is, as much as it's trying to convince itself.

To hit someone, you roll a d20, adding your applicable Stat modifier (Strength for melee, Agility for ranged, Wisdom for Prayers, and Intellect for Spells), plus gear modifiers and whatnot. A natural 1 is a fumble, and a natural 20 is a critical hit. Seems pretty simple, right?

Wrong. Because the number you need to roll to hit is determined by the target's Dodge rating. And it's not a simple "beat this number thing", either, because that's not Old School enough.

Instead, you have to look at the Attack Matrix table. Because THAC0 was such a great idea.

The Attack Matrix has the levels from 1 to 20 on the vertical axis, and Dodge scores from 1 to 20 across the horizontal one. You cross-reference your Level with the target's Dodge, and the result is the number you need to meet or beat in order to hit. You only need a 10 or better to his someone whose Dodge is the same as your Level, but (for instance) a level 4 character would need a 12 or better to hit someone with a Dodge of 6.

What makes this even dumber is that the chart doesn't have any fancy number finagling or anything; it could be circumvented completely by adding 10 to everyone's Dodge scores, then subtracting the attacker's level from that number to get what you need to roll in order to hit. It's still clunky, and requires the players to know the target's Dodge score, but it's a hell of a lot better than having to constantly check a table for the sake of checking a table.

Maybe the table's more immersive. I dunno.

Anywho, when you hit, you can spend Energy Points (remember those?) to add up to three effects to the attack.


The catch — the effects must be described within the game world in a manner realistic enough that the MC is willing to permit them. This is an area where the most creative players can really shine, and where being willing to throw oneself into the game 100 percent can help effect a positive outcome on game play
I don't know why, but these little asides are making me angry.

The MC does have permission to refuse any effect that doesn't make sense, so that should make the "but how do you knock a gelatinous cube prone " crowd happy.


To keep play moving, the MC should limit the amount of time a player has to devise an acceptable, i.e. believable, use of Energy Points (no more than 1 minute). Otherwise, the player cannot spend Energy Points that turn.
I'm guess that line's there to make the casters feel better about the real-time spell durations.

Critical Hits and Attack Adjustments round out this section. When you roll a natural 20, you just total everything up as normal and multiply by 2. If the target is helpless, you automatically crit.

There are only four attack adjustments listed: +2 if you have combat advantage the target is helpless, -2 if they have cover, +2 if you're charging, and +3 if you spend two energy points.

Huh, I guess that there was a point to having Charge listed as a separate action. Color me surprised. Of course, they should have mentioned the +2 to hit back there, but why I'm expecting quality now is beyond me.

We also get the mechanical effects of the Special Effects we learned about way the hell back in chapter 5. Nice of them to point us here, wasn't it? It's all pretty basic stuff; "Slow" means half movement, "Deaf" means half-Wisdom on perception checks, and so on. Again, these terms should have been defined a couple of chapters ago, or at least had a pointer here.

There's also an...interesting sidebar about using minis:


The use of miniatures to represent player characters and monsters has been encouraged since the beginning of roleplaying games with the advent of Dungeons & Dragons by Gary Gygax. Read any of Jim Ward’s mid- to late-1970s actualplay reports in early issues of The Dragon (before the name was changed to Dragon Magazine) or, just flip through to look at all the miniatures ads from the magazine’s inception onward. Here is a passage from the 1980 Basic D&D rules by Tom Moldvay on page B26:
Why. In the fuck. Would I care about the history of using minis? What does that have to do with anything apart from "let me post some Gygax and Moldvay to reinforce my role as heir to the OD&D legacy"?

God I want to hit this guy so hard now.

Which brings us nicely to the Damage rules! This is gonna be great!

Damage is pretty basic; roll your damage dice, add the Stat mod you used to attack plus your weapon pluses, boom that's your damage total. And that brings us to one of my favorite pieces of the system: ANNOUNCING THE EFFECTS OF AN ATTACK.


One of the elements of THE SECRET FIRE that makes it unique is the expression of inworld actions rather than the simple (and boring) back-and-forth calling out of numbers. This focus on narrative makes the game far more immersive, evocative, and cinematic than other games of its type. The following templates are used once Attacks and Damage (if applicable) have been rolled and adjudicated.
Wow, more immersive, evocative, and cinematic? I can hardly wait to see how this works!

When you hit something, you use the following template to announce your result:


“Using my (Ability descriptor) (Ability), I (land/inflict/etc.) a (Damage descriptor) (blow/fireball/etc.)!”
or this one if you're using Energy Points:


“Using my (Ability descriptor) (Ability), I (land/inflict/etc.) a (Damage descriptor) (blow/fireball/etc.) and (additional Energy Point effects)!”

Is this a fucking joke? Didn't anyone realize how ridiculous it is to even suggest a "format sentence" for how damage should be declared?

What makes using the Mad Libs sentence there (which is also on your sheet) dumber is the fact that, to get the "Damage Descriptor", you need to consult a fucking table to get a word based on how much damage you did. Like 1 to 5 damage is "Glancing", and 16 to 20 damage is "Brutal". Because we haven't had to look at a chart in a whole ten seconds.

And what makes it even fucking dumber than that is the fact that, despite the whole "expression of inworld actions rather than...calling out of numbers" thing, you still have to use the goddamn numbers because people need to know how much damage they took.

Even the examples have the damage numbers!


Dave shouts out, “Using my muscular strength, I slash at the Goblin with my longsword Garm’s Tooth, landing a serious blow for 10 points of damage!
It doesn't matter how much you dress it up, you're still just announcing numbers . Even better, the example doesn't even match the template they give you.

Amazingly, people describe their hits in games that aren't THE SECRET FIRE, but I guess those don't count because it's not in the rules to do this, and people are just "making things up".

But wait, there's more! See, any incoming damage is reduced by your Resistances; Armor reduces incoming weapon attacks, for example. Fortunately for our immersion, there's also a fill-in-the-blanks sentence for that!


“My (Resistance type) absorbs (none, some, most, or all) of the (type of Attack), leaving me at (new/current Wound Level).”
Amazingly, there's no table to look up how much damage reduction "some" or "most" is.

But don't worry, we're not tied to these sentences!


As players and MCs become more comfortable with the format, these templates can and should be modified and embellished. Until then, even this simple and straightforward back-and-forth sounds exciting and allows the retention of the immersive experience by describing the battle narratively rather than simply calling out numbers.


Energy Point expenditures and calling on the Elder Gods for succor (see below) can make the game even more cinematic and fun! As players and MCs become more familiar with the system, these templates can be elaborated upon or changed entirely — just be sure to retain the use of the critical keywords, as they convey the necessary information to the other party.

From here we talk about Wound levels again. I covered this before, so I'm not going to rehash it again, except to point out that two of the Wound effects are swapped from the last time we saw the list. Way to proofread.

Ah, here's something I talked about before: Calling on the Elder Gods. Remember that little infinite loop from Chapter 6? This is the other end of it. You can "call on" any Elder God you have ranks in to halve any incoming damage, but there is a price that they completely forgot to define. Good job, guys.

I also want to point out that the text refers to Chapter 6, but all the "chapters" are called Parts in the page headers. Can't they keep anything straight?

Next up are Luck Throws. These are pretty much Saving Throws from 4e in that it's what you use to shake off a spell effect, but if you're about to die you can try to make a Luck Throw to see if you can save your ass, such as grabbing a branch if you fall of a cliff On a 7 or better, you're fine, but you have to make another roll next round. If you fail, you die. At least, I think so; for three paragraphs, it's amazingly poorly written, even by the standards of this book.

Finally, we come to Death and Healing. When you run out of Stamina, you're Dying. You have to make a Luck Roll versus Death each round. If you pass, you're stable. If you fail, you die, and if you roll a natural 7 you wake up with 1 stamina point restored. You can also make a Bind Wounds skill roll to stabilize someone who's Dying, which means that he automatically succeeds at all his Luck Throws.

Healing just says that a night's rest will restore a number of Stamina points equal to your Health stat.

And that's the end of the combat chapter.

Normally I like to try and summarize here, but god damn I can't get over how stupid the Mad Libs thing is. Even if there was something about "don't just use numbers, describe what happens", that'd be fine. But for them to have this dumb sentence you have to refer to, along with a table to go with it, then to look me in the eyes and say this replacement for making up your own stuff is somehow "immersive" or supporting my "versimilitude" is just...well, frankly it's insulting.

Fuck you, George Strayton. Fuck you, fuck you, FUCK. YOU.

Five more chapters and a Very Special appendix to go.

Next time: Scenario Design! Get your percentile dice ready!

Scenario Creation

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post



Yup, we're going to learn to build adventures the THE SECRET FIRE way. And what way is that?

The only way Geroge Strayton does anything: pretentiously.

Normally I wouldn't copy such a large chunk of text straight from the book, but this is too ridiculous not to share:


This section outlines the methodology of constructing your very own scenarios, yet the same advice can be used to create anything, from a small town to an entire multiverse. These are the places, the Great Unknown, into which your players will venture to discover things bizarre, profane, beautiful, perhaps even sublime, and invaluable in every sense of the word (and not just with regard to monetary wealth). In fact, building on this last point, THE SECRET FIRE™ has at its heart a key to life that the players — not the Player Characters — may use from now until eternity if they can find it. In fact, if they acquire this key, they will realize that “now” and “eternity” are one and the same.

Perhaps you find the end of the previous paragraph puzzling. Good. It is meant to invite you to pay close attention to that which you create. You are the master of this world. That is why you alone are called the Master Creator of your particular campaign. You need not possess the key of which I speak yourself, nor even be aware of possessing it, in order to craft an engaging multiverse or small scenario that will evoke great emotion within your players.

THE SECRET FIRE is a game that focuses on players rather than Player Characters. Yes, the players take on the personae of their characters — and yet do you believe that the young woman across from you has just turned into a giant, violent, drunken barbarian who can take on a horde of Goblins single-handedly? Or, is that perhaps an aspect of her personality? One that either remains hidden most of the time, or perhaps in your face all of the time?

The player is simply donning the persona of a character in the game world. Underneath, the player remains the same, though perhaps that persona enables the player to act out usually “hidden” elements of his or her personality (or obvious elements, as the case may be).

Why is any of this important? Is this not simply a game?

It is simply a game. But do you believe that life is not a game? And “game” is used here in the broadest sense of the word. It neither over-values nor devalues the experience of life and death, what one great writer has called “this mortal coil.” It is simply a pointer to what lies beyond. But how we might go about viewing something that seems beyond our comprehension? For the secrets of life do lie beyond our understanding; at least that is what many of us believe. Find the key, and all will become clear. Where does this key lie? How can it be retrieved and brought into the light?

Know that this key lies in the same place for everyone, and yet each of us will have to find a different path to reach it. Each player, including the MC, must learn this for him- or herself.

Are you still reading? Very well. You have passed the first test and proven yourself worthy of becoming a Master Creator. Are you confused? Even better. For THE SECRET FIRE is meant to be an adventure for you, the Master Creator, as well.

Step forward, traveler, or turn back. The choice is yours. But know that if you begin the journey onward, you will never be the same….

You know, I'll freely admit I'm a total "games are art" type. I fully support the idea of games being a valid medium for self-expression and the exploration of deeper themes.

But come the fuck on, what is this shit? We're not playing a hack-and-slash D&D retroclone to write the next great literary masterpiece that reveals Our True Selves to our friends and ourselves; this is a game designed around the fundamental gaming concept of killing things and taking their stuff. Not that it's impossible to tell a decent or interesting story in the swords & sorcery genre, but we're talking about a game that has a rigidly defined freeform style here, for Christ's sake.

Ugh, I'm like a page into this part and I'm already ready to hit someone.

The next section covers THE SECRET FIRE APPROACH to design. Fortunately, George is here to tell us his qualifications. Again.


With 15 years of experience as a screenwriter and more than that as a game designer, I have learned methods for imbuing emotion into movies and television shows, and yet roleplaying games have always seemed to defy my efforts.
I dunno, he's been doing a pretty good job of having this game imbuing emotions into me through this game. They're probably not the emotions he was intending, though.

Anyway, this section has some high-level advice on how you, as a Master Creator, can make great games.


Do not listen only to your mind; listen even more intently to that which cannot be named. It knows far greater truth than the mind.
Also: Do, or do not. There is no "try".

So it turns out there are only two steps to creating adventures, worlds, and "mutliverses":
1) Determine the Genre
2) Generate the Scenario
Yes, it's just that simple!

Well, no it's not, since we have another 15 or so pages of this crap.

What? Campaign structure? Oh, that's not in this book. It's going to be in their second release: "THE SECRET FIRE: FRAGMENT I". This book (assuming it happens) will apparently continue the whole "hidden puzzle" thing I haven't really talked about yet.

So the core book talks about high-level campaign concepts (genre and setting), and low-level campaign concepts (dungeoncrawling and "strongholds"), but no advice on campaigns themselves. That's good design right there.

Let's talk about genre!

See, the "goal" of a scenario is emotions. No, really, that's what it says. We're told that our setting should be based around not only the emotions we wish to evoke, but also the emotions your players want to experience. Which is good advice, really (talk to your players, play a game everyeone wants to play, and have themes everyone is okay with), but the presentation is terrible, like everything else in the book.


In order to get your players to feel a pleasant emotion/mood (heroism, hope, wonder) they must have contrasting moods to work against (cowardice, hopelessness, mundanity). After all, what is the point of being a hero when everyone is? Why bring hope when everyone is already optimistic? What “magic” is there in a world where everyone can cast a reign of fire spell?
Oh, and we will see "more on generating emotions in your players later in the chapter". Can't wait!

So genres. The book helpfully provides us with 16 genres, such as "Action", "Political", "Crime", "Satire", and "Paranoid" (wha?).

Once we pick our genre(s), we should pick a few moods or emotions we want our players to feel, and then develop ways for the contrasting feelings to be generated. Next, we figure out what that means for the setting.

Once we have all that, we can decide on what our world will focus based on our genres.


Develop from these ideas a map of the key institutions, organizations, and structures in your campaign.

Finally, we start setting up details for the world.


Draw a map, if you find it useful, but focus on what is most important to the genre you are trying to evoke. A traditional map is going to be of limited use in a game that focuses on exploration of strange, uncharted realms. You may want to start by defining the personalities of the key power brokers, cities, and organizations in your world. An easy way to begin is by listing the groups or individuals who rule (or want to do so), and then choose, or randomly roll for, their personality Traits, just as you would for a Player Character. Given the position they hold, you may assume a Good, Neutral, or Evil Alignment.
And yes, we get 3-18 tables for "Authority over the Group", "Competence at Role", and "Length of Reign" as pseudo-stats, complete with stat modifiers and descriptors. Which is a nice idea, but without any use for these stats, why have them?

If that all seemed kind of disjointed, that's because it is. I get what he's trying to say, and there are some good ideas there in terms of setting up a world, but it's hard to praise them because he just skims over anything resembling a detail or real advice. It's all "Do this. Now do this. Now do this. And you're done!" It's actually pretty reminicent of this video.

Next up is SCENARIO GENERATION, and this is where the fun really starts.

Why? Because, and I quote:


THE SECRET FIRE relies on detail. Why? Because detail enables the MC to create a sense of reality, with suspension of disbelief, allowing each player’s imagination to blossom. Detail helps to enable players to come up with ingenious ways to overcome obstacles, and equally important, to react emotionally to what they’ve encountered.

Thousands of spiders crawl suddenly from a tiny hole in the corner, filling the chamber as fast as a flood, surrounding you. Any second now, they will reach you, crawling up your body, enveloping you!

What feeling, if any, did this passage evoke? Terror? Disgust? Perhaps joy, should you happen to love spiders. The point is, these details are meant to generate an emotion within the participants. Strong, detailed descriptions will go a long way to creating a deep level of immersion for you and your players. And that, combined with the Energy-Point-based roleplaying mechanics, will create a session that sets THE SECRET FIRE apart from all other games.
Well, except for Fate-based games. And other games with mechanical rewards for role-playing. And games where you have a good GM who likes to describe things. And games where the players really get into things. Apart from those , it stands alone.

(In case you're wondering, the feeling the passage evoked with me was "eye-rolling frustration".)

Every time I feel like I'm being too hard on this game, I read something like that passage and the feeling goes away.

Before we get to the actual sceario design stuff, we get two special comments. First, some monsters can be talked to or run away from, but it's up to the players to figure out when these options are best applied. And if they choose the wrong approach? "wipe them out (remember that you can always have them captured rather than killed)." That'll learn 'em.

There's also this:


Even after exhaustive searching by the party members, some locations should remain “unknown.” Never tell the players, “There is nothing here.” Instead say, “There is nothing here that you can see,” or the like. It may drive them mad, but in reality, they will love it. Do not be surprised if the players return to that chamber several times to learn just what may be hidden there.
Because nothing screams "exciting adventure" or "old school gaming" more than the party searching the same room for two hours because they've convinced themselves there's something important there. Don't just tell them flat-out that there's nothing there, though, because the players actually love that stuff.

Next up is THE MYSTERY. The :fingquote:Mystery:fingquote: is...uh, well, I'm not really sure. There's advice on spreading the mystery through your game, and how it only needs to "make sense to the lunatic who, for example, designed the dungeon through which the secret must be unraveled." So I guess he means whatever plot the players are meant to discover? It's hard to say, because George is one of those guys who writes very vaguely because he just assumes you know what he means. He just tells , he doesn't really explain .

There's also talk of "mini-mysteries", which are just small puzzles and such you can put in a room.


For example, if the players discover areas dedicated to earth, fire, and water, you can expect that they will start to look for areas dedicated to wind and aether. Similarly, “empty” rooms are excellent places to leave clues. For indeed, no room is truly empty; but more on that later.

Now that that's all out of the way, we get to the heart of the matter: THE SCENARIO DESIGN SYSTEM!

At the highest level, the outline is pretty simple. Come up with your idea, generate the areas for the adventure, fill said areas with "game content", then add mood cues ("those details that generate emotions in your players and their characters.") to every room.

Now, that's fine; of course it has two obvious problems (it's pretty heavily focused on the "dungeon crawl" scenario, and the odd obsession with "evoking emotions"), but it's still okay general advice. The problem is that he doesn't go into real detail on these steps. Or, at least, he doesn't go into the right kind of detail.

See, instead of telling you how to, say, come up with a central idea, flesh it out in terms of expanding a theme, and then talking about how to model these concepts mechanically, George just dives in and talks about everything in terms of game mechanics.

For example, the sub-steps of coming up with the "overall idea" are to determine the level range, come up with the idea itself, and picking appropriate monsters and treasure. And all George can list as examples of ideas is different types of dungeon crawls.


The Idea: Create an overall, unifying idea for the scenario. It could be as simple as a traditional trick-, trap-, or monster-filled dungeon, in the vein of the TOMB OF HORRORS. It could be a locale on the Aethereal Plane, a lizardman encampment in a swamp, an unexplored island such as THE ISLE OF DREAD, or an ancient temple complex à la TEMPLE OF ELEMENTAL EVIL or TEMPLE OF THE FROG.
Those aren't ideas, they're locations where you should be housing your idea! Shouldn't the "Idea" be something like "An evil wizard is up to something in that tower in the swamp over there", or "there's a powerful magical doodad in that dungeon"? It seems to me that just coming up with a location and not tying some type of story or plot to it would be pretty dull.

Then again, I'm not a screenwriter with 15 years experience, so what do I know?

Once we have our overall idea, we move on to the next (and final) step: creating the areas for exploration. And what does that mean, kids?

Tables, tables, and more tables!

There are six sub-steps for this (Area Type, Mood, Monsters and Treasure, Specifics, Mystery, and Details), and all six of them have associated subtables. Fortunately, we have the option of rolling randomly or picking something off the table!

There's nothing inherently wrong with tables, of course. The problem comes when you use tables as the be-all-end-all of your creative work as opposed to, say, a point of inspiration to work from. To make matters even weirder, some of the tables are very specific, while others are very general and fit the "provide inspiration, not specifics" mold. The latter tables, amusingly, are taken from another book, but I'll get to that in a bit.

The first table is the Area Contents table. There are only eight things an area can contain, which is convienent since there's an 8-sided die. The "contents" available to us via the table are Empty, Monster, Treasure, Monster and treasure, Trap or Hazard, Tricks, Neutral/Ally Engagement, and Stairs. I should point out that if we go by the table method, you'll never find, say, stairs in the same room as a monster.

All of these entries execpt "empty" have sub-tables. For Monster and Trap you have to roll a d10 to get the level (1-5 is Easy, 10 is Impossible); for Stairs they go down on a 1-4 on a d6, otherwise they go up. The remaining entries have their own separate sub-tables we'll get to in a bit.

In case you're wondering, an "Easy" encounter is the "Average Scenario Level - 1d6", while Impossible is "Average Scenario Level +4d4". Of course they don't tell me what I'm supposed to do with these values.

Be that as it may, now we get to the "Mood" table. This is a d12 to determine the area's "mood". This is just stuff like "Weird", "Angry", "Sad", and "Horror".

The Treasure table is next. There are treasure "types" that are categorized with letters of the alphabet from A to Z. Why? Because D&D, that's why. Treasure type is determined by a d26 roll.

Yes, it's a 1d26 table. Not only does it require a type of die you probably don't have (and I'm not sure you can even get), every treasure type has an equal chance of coming up. So you're just as likely to roll Treasure Type A (1d4 gp) as you are Type Z (5d6 x 10000 gp, and 6d4 magic items), which shows an amazing combination of a lack of game balance and common sense.

From there we move to the "Traps & Hazards" table. Roll a d10 to determine what the trap is, and you use the level of the area to determine it's attack. Except when they're listed in-line. Options here include "Pit, 30 feet deep (3d6 damage)", "Spiked Pit, 30 feet deep (3d6 damage)", "Giant Rolling Boulder", and "Bubbles That Explode on Impact". Yes, a 30 foot deep pit does the same damage as a 30 foot deep spiked pit.

The next table is the badly-named "Tricks" table. This is a d100 table, and the first 26 entries are actually from The Dungeon Alphabet , an existing product that's designed to help you design dungeons by giving you "trappings" to fill in the flavor of a room (it's things like "A is for Altar, B is for Books," and so on). The table is used with permission, but without the support of the full book, which gives examples on how to actually use these trappings in a meaningful way, it's kind of lacking.

The entries from 27 to 50 are a mix of very general things (Murals, Tree, Concealed Door), incredibly vague things (Floor Challenge, Controls), to the flat out bizarre ("Traveling players in a wagon who perform a play, the content of which will help the PCs to navigate the dungeon/area)." Why are they in the dingeon in the first place? ). Entries 75-100 are just one line, "Power of an Elder God". It says to refer to Part 6 again for this, but I'm not falling for that again.

And yes, the table has no entries for rolls of 51 to 76.

The next table is for "Neutral/Ally Engagements" and is just 8 different roleplaying encounters.

Up next is the "Areas" table. This is another d100, and is pretty much just a list of 70 different rooms. Nothing spectacular, it's all "Closet", "Shrine", "Kitchen", and so on. Rolls of 71-80 are the ever-popular "Roll Twice and combine results", and a roll of 64 or 81+ is "Unknown". I have no idea how "Unknown" is a room type, but I love the idea of a GM trying to use it.

Player: "We open the door, what do we see?"
GM: "You got me."


From the Areas table we go to the "Wilderness Alphabet", which is a list of 30 places and things you could use as settings or flavor to an outdoors encounter: Hill, Obelisk, Tower, Waterfall, etc. This is also a list that was pulled from another product with permission.

Finally, we come to the "Mood Cues" table. As you may remember from warlier in this post a thousand years ago, mood cues are evocative bits you can put in an area. With this table, we can get things like "Scurrying sounds", "Standoff With Another Group as Soon as Door Opens", "Sex (Naked People Dancing, an Orgy, etc.)", "Futuristic (But Described in Relation to the Chosen Genre)", and my personal favorite:


Comic Element (Note that reads “Nixon for President” Daggered to a Table in a Medieval Setting, Major NPC Caught Sitting in a Latrine, etc.)

So would the "Nixon for President" note be immersive, or would it reinforce vermisilitude? It's hard to tell sometimes.

Now that we're done machetting through the thickets of the tables, we get a brief section on City Creation. This section is actually kind of interesting, because it uses the character creation rules to model cities.

Cities have six stats, which map more-or-less to the standard PC ones. Strength becomes Defenses, Wisdom becomes Religion, Agility becomes Economy, stuff like that. Each "Stat" still gives a +3 to -3 modifier and has all the descriptors for the different levels. You then pick (or roll) the city's Alignments and Racial Diversity, then add all the narritive bits.

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), there's no rules for what you're supposed to do with these stats. Can the players affect them? Can a city "attack" another city? If so, how? As it is now you're just rolling numbers for the game of getting numbers. As an added bonus, a stat of 9-12 still has a Descriptor of "N/A", which means your city can have a " Health Size & Population" or "Magic & Learning" of "N/A". And that doesn't even mean "unremarkable" going by the tables; a Learning of 7-8 is "Unlearned", but a 13-14 is "Learned". What's the 9-12 then? "Kinda learned"?

Of course, the other thing is that Reign already has character-like rules for cities, which can actually be expanded to cover everything from street gangs to trade guilds to whole countries. It even has rules so you can use all those numbers!

We close up with a section on THE WILDERNESS, which is just a paragraph saying that the first supplement Fragment for THE SECRET FIRE will have rules for wilderness generation that will work like the city creation rules.

And finally, 16 pages and a year of my life later, the chapter ends.

Next time: Monsters! OooOOooOOohhHHH!!


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, "I took how much damage?"

PART 14 - Part 13: Monsters

This is going to be an easy chapter to review, but after that last one I can do with some simplicity.

So monsters. This chapter is pretty much what you'd expect; a collection of stat blocks on things you can kill and whose stuff you can take. Each monster (theoretically) follows the same template, and has the same stats:

Associated Elder God is which Elder God holds dominion over it? I guess? They never really explain it beyond the fact that each creature has its level in ranks in that god.
Environment is where you find this thing (wilderness, swamps, dungeon, etc.)
Number Encountered is pretty much what it says on the label.
Size can be Small, Medium, Large, or Massive. Amazingly, this is the first time we've seen "size" mentioned in the game; there's nothing about if size means anything mechanically; not even if they take up more space on the battlemap.
Alignment & Stability are those damn things again.
Morale was mentioned a while back. This is the creature's chance to bolt under certain circumstances.
Movement is given in squares and feet, even though everything else is in squares.
Ability Scores gives us the creature's Descriptors and modifiers. Unfortunately, they don't list the actual stat name, so I hole you can remember if "Weak" refers to Strength or Health. And again, if the numerical values of the stats aren't important, then why have them in the first place? (I know they're used elsewhere, but it still bugs me.)
Trained Skills is a list of, well, trained skills.
Level is the creature's level. This can be a range, but I don't know if that would affect the other stats or not.
Stamina is how many hit boxes the creature has at each wound level.
Initiative ranges from -6 to +6.
Defenses are just what they sound like.
Attacks are next; each attack is listed separately, with the associated action type (action, move, free), added effects and such.
Spell/Prayer says "Maximum of five", which seems more like a developer note that they forgot to remove.
Special Qualities is the same format as Attacks, but with this note:


Description. (At least 1 Special Quality must be non-combat.)
This is definately a developer note they forgot to remove. This is also wrong, because there are a lot of creatures that don't have non-combat abilities.
Treasure Type is from A to Z again.
XP is how much you get for overcoming the creature.
Descriptions are supposed to be provided for each creature, but again there are monsters that don't have any kind of description. I blame 4e.
Finally, we have Roleplaying Notes .


: Information about the creature’s physicality (based on Ability Score descriptors); psychology (based on Ability Score descriptors); Culture (Alignment & Stability), and Motivations. These descriptions are usually written from a Humanistic point of view, and may give the MC tips for playing the creature in terms of mannerisms, voice, or the like

So what are our options in the menagerie? Let's hit the highlights.

The first monster listed is the "Chittering Ferrovore", which is just a rust monster without a propellor on the tail. :welp:

There's the Cthonic Horror, which is level 9, has 25 Stamina (which means 125 hit points), and has the following attack:


Poisonous Sting (Move): +4 melee attack (Reach 4) vs. Armor (2d8 + 12) plus automatic hit vs. Endurance (5d6 poison damage) on successful hit.
That's a Move action that can be made against anyone within 4 squares that will do 2d8+5d6+12 damage on a hit, minus your defences. Without taking defenses into account (since I have no idea what the average level 9 character's defenses would be), that's an average of about 35 points of damage; remember that hit points don't scale with level so most characters will be rocking about 35-40 hp at level 9. And after it does that, it can still make its Bite attack (+2 vs Armor, reach 4, 4d10+12 and swallows on a natural 20 if the target is Large or smaller, and is Pinned) or Crush attack (+4 vs Armor against everyone within 4 squares for 5d6+12, plus it does Knockdown and shoves everyone 5 squares.)

So if you bust this thing out, you're probably looking at at least one character getting greased each round. And yeah it's level 9 and therefore an "endgame monster", but with the lack of Stamina scaling, I can't see how this is anything even approaching a fair fight.

Oh, by the way, the Cthonic Horror's Speceial Qualities are "None", so I guess that the whole "every creature has to have a non-combat ability" thing out the window already.

Moving on...

Amazingly, Dragons are not differentiated by color; instead, there's Wyrms (no limbs, basically a giant snake), Nobles (four claws and wings), and Drakes (wings and hind claws).

Giants only come in the "Fire" variety; I guess the non-Fire giants will be in a later supplement. Pardon me as I chuckle while I type that.

Goblins are a typical first-level threat. They only have 2 Stamina per Wound Level, and only do 1d6 damage with their shortswords. However...


I really hope they're not honestly expecting me to send 1d100 x 4 gobbos against a first-level party. There's so much wrong with that I don't know where to begin.

On the plus side, they're 10 XP a pop, so if your MC rolls badly but you can defeat all 400 you'll get enough XP to get from level 1 to level 3! Woohoo!

Manticores are a mid-level monster at level 6. They have 8 Stamina, and are another creature with a Move attack and a Action attack. It also has a Tail Smash.


+6 melee attack (Reach 2) vs. Armor (4d8 + 8 physical damage), plus Shove 2d6 squares and Knocked Down and an automatic hit for poison vs. Endurance (5d6 poison damage)hit. In other words, a character struck by a Manticore’s Tail Smash is Shoved 2d6 squares, Knocked Down, and Poisoned in addition to the massive initial damage. A Manticore can only perform a Tail Smash at the end of a charge (with the charging bonus already factored in).
Average damage on that is in the 30 point range; again we're looking at a probable one-hit-kill.

Here's the description of a Minotaur.


The huge, enormously muscular creature before you has the torso of a man but the head of a bull with cloven hooves. It stands well over 10 feet and looks as if it could weigh as much as a ton. It is hard to say which is more frightening: its gigantic, curved horns or the great axe it clutches in both hands.

Roleplaying Notes: While individual Minotaurs may not know it, their entire Race is descended from a horrific union between a male bull and a Human woman. They are the unnatural offspring of man and beast. How the first Minotaur was able to breed is unknown.
Minotaurs are tortured, angry creatures, and not very bright. However, they have exceptional spatial awareness, making them excellent guards and enforcers in a sorcerer’s labyrinthine lairs. A Minotaur that could somehow be reasoned with or convinced to cooperate would be a valuable asset to a party indeed, as each possesses encyclopedic knowledge of the maze that it guards.

Now Mummies...Mummies are my favorite creature in the game. They're level 8, have 10 Stamina with a damage reduction of 10 or 12 depending on the attck, are "Evil Lawful" as their Alignment, and have this attack:


Sand Storm (Action): Once per day, if a Mummy is out of doors in a desert environment, the creature can call forth a Sand Storm that attacks all living creatures within 300 feet (Sphere 60). The Storm is a +6 attack vs. Endurance (3d6 + 2 damage) and those who take damage must make a Luck Throw or be blinded for 1d4 exchanges.
That's not a typo on my part. That's a close blast 60 in 4e terms. You're only looking at 12 damage plus 1d4 rounds of Blindness, but still, that's a little ridiculous.

Pretty rough, right? Well, in addition to the sandstorm thing, mummies can also cast spells as an 8th level Holy-Man or Wizard! Plus they don't suffer Wound Level penalties, can have their next attack inflict Mummy Rot The Curse of Nephren-Ka on a hit(which is a save or lose 2d6 Health stat and 1d6 Presemce stat with the added bonus that if it kills you, you rise as a loyal Sandwalker zombie) as much as they want as a free action, have a 3d8+3 Line attack that also turns anyone it kills into a loyal Sandwalker zombie, regenerates all damage between encounters (in case the players try to run), and have this special defense.


Sand Shield (C): Mummies take minimum damage from non-magical missile weapons (treat all dice of damage as having rolled 1s) and creatures that hit a mummy in melee combat immediately suffer an automatic hit vs. Armor (3d6 damage)
Fuck you, fighters!

Oh, don't feel bad for the non-casters, though; the designers gave them something to do with this special ability:


Summon Sandwalkers (C): Once per day as a Free Activity, a Mummy may summon 1d4 Sandwalkers to aid him against his foes. Roll a single initiative for the group of Sandwalkers.

Sandwalkers, for the record, are level 4, have 6 Stamina, do 2d8+3 damage with +2 to hit, ignore Would level effects, and when they die they explode, doing a 1d6+3 damage attack against everyone within 5 squares.

Oh, and you can't permanently kill a mummy until you find its Canopic jars and destroy them.

That's not an encounter, that's a fucking raid boss. And that's a level 8 encounter; they don't consider that a max-level challenge! What's worse is that for all that shit the players and GM have to go through for a fight of that complication and dickishness, they don't even have the best Treasure Type! I mean, it's still up there (4d6 x 1000 gp and 4d4 magic items, whereas Treasure Type Z is 5d6 x 10,000 gp and 6d4 magic items), but for everything you have to go through you'd think this this would be at the top of the chart.

Moving on!

Orcs are pretty much, well...orcs.


Because there is no such thing as a typical Orc tribe, the MC must always try to make each group as distinct as possible. In most cases a single quirk is enough to make any encounter with an Orc warband a unique experience for the players. For example: “The Orc party at the first level of the labyrinth marks their territory with urine; the party at the second level are all missing their left little finger.”

(This bit reminds me of something that Dr Snofeld brought up recently in the grognards thread on the topic of bad fantasy writers:

Dr Snofeld posted:

Pratchett, at least, is on record as having said he doesn't write "fantasy" novels, but all sorts of novels with a fantasy setting. Feet of Clay, for instance, isn't really about giant space turtles and vampires and dwarfs and what have you, it's about a murder investigation.

I think it's a little similar to a typical DM problem that someone from the IRC channel brought up a few days ago, where a grognard DM is more interested in their wonderful setting than in the players. They can tell you all about the ecology of their hill ogres but ask them about a player character's personality and they won't be remotely interested.
It may be a similar sort of thing for fantasy novels. They lavish too much attention on their fantastical magical setting and weird creatures that are like ours but different, and not enough on an actual half-decent story. If you eat up fantasy bollocks that's fine, but the average reader would probably find it pretty tedious, in the same way that a D&D player would lose interest while the DM rambles on about how glorious the Floating City of Buggerthis is.
The idea that a bad fantasy writer is the one who spends all his damn time listing out every little detail or quirk of his setting in an attempt to make it "come alive", instead of focusing on the actual characters and events that are going on. Both as a player and a GM, I don't care if Orc Clan X is missing this finger or if Orc Clan Y wears their shirts inside-out. Details are nice, but they're not the be-all-end-all of setting creation, and if anything they're distracting because you're talking about minor shit nobody but the author cares about. Players aren't there to listen to you describe the fretwork, they're there to be the stars of the story.)

Skeletons are level 3 creatures with 3 Stamina that do 2d6+2 damage with both their attacks; why that makes them two levels better than Goblins is beyond me.

The Spawn of Nyogtha are level 4 critters who have an attack that can Pin a target. Once the target pinned, the can do this free attack:


Consume (Free): A Spawn of Nyogtha attacks a Pinned opponent with five +2 melee attacks vs. Armor (2d6 damage)
Oh, and they've got this going for them too:


Things Better Left Unknown (C/N): Creatures within 5 feet (1 square) of the Spawn of Nyogtha with fewer than 5 Ranks in The Void suffer a –2 penalty to their Dodge and attack rolls as they struggle to drown out the secrets of the universe.
They have Treasure Type B, so if you manage to survive getting nickled and dimed to death, you get 2d4 gold pieces out of it.

The Thing In The Deep is level 10, so it must be a hell of a lot stronger than the Mummy, right? I mean, it's got 15 Stamina and high defenses, so its attacks must be brutal!


Crushing Tentacle (Action): 6 melee attacks (Reach 5 but only one attack against each target) against Endurance (3d8 + 8 and yank 3).
Savage Maw (Move): Melee attack against Armor (3d10 + 5)

Yeah, it's basically just six tentacles and a mouth. And it's Treasure Type G, so after spending all day trying to get through its 75 hit points (with an average of 10 points of overall damage resistance), you can find 6d10 gp on the corpse. On the plus side, you get 450 xp! That's almost half of what you need to get from level 1 to level 2! (or, to put it another way, the equivalent of 45 goblins.)

Vampires are level 8 with 13 Stamina. Their lowest damage reduction is 10, and they have the ability to control characters.

Whisperers in Darkness can do this:


Aura of Death and Madness: A Whisperer emits an aura of fell whispers that automatically affect all creatures within 10 feet (Sphere 2). Creatures thus affected have their Endurance and Willpower defenses reduced by 5. Additionally, at the start of each of their turns, they must succeed on a Luck Throw (adding their current Willpower adjustment) or spend their turn acting in an insane manner (1d6: 1 attacking themselves, 2–4 attacking an ally, 5 just standing there, 6 random action). A character with 7 or more Life Ranks is immune to this effect.

And we finish up with Zombies. Nothing special here.

In case you're wondering, only two creatures have Treasure Type Z; Drake Dragons and the Cthonic Horror. The Drake Dragon, Noble Dragon, and The Thing in the Deep are the only level 10 monsters, and the dragons are worth 1500 xp each.

Just to put that in perspective, that's not even enough experience to get from level 1 to level 2. Getting from level 9 to level 10 costs 120,000 xp.

Get grinding!

NEXT TIME: Treasure!

e: I can't count.


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, The cut-up approach to game design!

PART 15 - Part 14: Treasure

The fundamental design of the dungeoncrawler RPG is "kill things, and take their stuff". Last time we got the things to kill, now let's talk about the stuff to take.

A big thing in THE SECRET FIRE is how magic items Talismans are unique. The chapter starts out by telling us that PCs can't create magic items, even though waaaaaaaaaay the hell back in chapter 2 we're told that at 10th level, Wizards can, and I quote: "enchant items and scribe magical scrolls, though this takes many weeks per item". So once again the damn game can't keeps its rules straight.

(Bear in mind, I remember that and I'm not even playing this game; I only read it to do this Let's Read. You'd think the designers, who actually write and play this thing, would notice these gaps.)

Things start with the Treasure Type, which as I mentioned last time is rated from A (1d4 gold pieces) to Z (5d6 x 10,000 gp, and 6d4 Talismans).

One thing to point out here is that THE SECRET FIRE does the old 1 gp = 1 xp thing (because D&D, that's why). This means that, as counterspin pointed out, when you're rolling randomly for how much cash the PCs find, you're also rolling to determine their XP.

Once we roll to find out how much gold in in the pile, we divvy some of it out as gems, jewelry, and other frippery.


Make sure to keep it interesting — ancient coins that haven’t been seen in millennia but remain in perfect condition, strange but expensive flagons covered in pictograms no one in the party has seen before, plus the usual pirate/dragon/treasure chest hoards overflowing with sapphires, emeralds, rubies, pearl necklaces and the like.
In future supplements, expect to see additional tables that allow you to create these items with a few throws of the dice or a quick scan of the entries.
Thank god for those future supplements; I was worried we wouldn't have more fucking charts.

Now that we have the cash component, it's time to figure out the Talisman side of things. And I bet you know what that means! Tables, tables, tables!


Once you have rolled for any and all monetary, gemstone, and jewelry treasure, the fun begins as you use the dice (and your imagination) to conjure up talismans lost both in the world of THE SECRET FIRE as well as in the dark recesses of your mind. (This is another noteworthy hint for you regarding the secrets of this game. Such clues will continue to be unveiled in upcoming books for you to solve; and each person must solve it for themselves or it will make absolutely no sense whatsoever.).
God, there are so many comments I could make off that one paragraph...let's move on before I hurt someone.

Our journey through Chartville begins with the Talisman Type table. There are 10 types overall: Potion Elixir, Scroll, Prayer/Spell Scroll, Scroll of Protection, Armor, Weapon, Orb/Rod/Staff/Wand, Ring, Miscellaneous Arcana, and Cursed Item.

No, I don't know why scrolls get three separate entries.

Once you determine the item type, you do to that type's sub-tables. And this is where things start getting all -y.

There are three types of Elixirs. Three. That's it. Healing, Shrinking, and Poison. That's all you get. Unsurprisingly, no rules are provided for healing potions.

For scrolls, we have a table for Prayer/Spell Scrolls (1d4 spells of whatever type & rank you rolled), and one for Scrolls of Protection. Protection Scrolls just set up a 6x6 square "________ can't enter" zone for one hour. You can also get a cursed scroll, but "It’s left to the MC to devise the specific curse".

Oh, and you remember how there were three entries for "Scroll" in the main treasure type table? Well, there's no sub-table for that specific entry. I guess if you roll the generic "scroll" you just find a blank piece of paper because George Strayton is a FUCKING IDIOT WHO CAN'T KEEP A RULE STRAIGHT WHEN THERE'S LESS THAN A FUCKING PAGE BETWEEN THE TWO PARTS OF IT.

*ahem* Sorry.

Magical Armor ranges from +1 to +3, and shields are either +1 or +2. There's also Bracers of Protection Guarding that give a flat Armor value. Remember that Armor value is damage reduction, and doesn't make you harder to hit. It also means that a warrior with Plate +3 and a +2 Shield (the best he can have) will max out his Armor value at 10. That's assuming the MC is nice enough to just give it to him (or is lucky enough to roll that on the table), of course. Just for reference, some high-level monster attacks do 2d8+12 damage, and a Noble Dragon does 4d8+10 versus Armor. Even with the 10 points of damage resistance, you're not going to be able to take a lot of hits. And that Armor isn't going to do squat against anything that targets Anti-Magic, Willpower, or Endurance.

Weapons are also rated from +1 to +3, but have another sub-table where you roll to determine the weapon's extra ability. 1-8 on a d20 means there isn't one, 9-19 give a +1 versus one type of monster (with "type of monster" including Holy/Unholy-Men, Wizards, and the Elder Gods). If you roll a 20 on this table, you get "Slaying" which is, again, undefined. Nope, no rules at all for that.

Fuck you, George.

Oh, and of course there are tables to roll on to determine what kind of "base" weapon or armor you find. Because just giving them something they can use breaks immersion or some shit.

We get a brief sidebar on Charges before the next section.


Some items, especially orbs, rods, staves, and wands, have limited uses. Adventurers should always seek new talismans, but sometimes, even permanent items must be lost during an expedition (hence the game’s ubiquitous use of Chittering Ferrovrores).
Items with charges start with 40-1d20. It is possible to recharge items; the book says to "consult the MC" on how to do this, but again, no rules are given to the MC on how to do this IMAGINE MY SURPRISE.

The next section is "Orbs, Rods, Staves, & Wands", so naturally it starts with a table for Holy Symbols, and doesn't have a table for Orbs.

Seriously, am I the first person to read this chapter?

Orbs Holy Symbols and Rods give their plus to Prayer to-hit and damage rolls, and staves and wands do the same for Spells. Why there needs to be two separate items that do the same exact thing is beyond me, but I'm guess the reason rhymes with "berisimilitude".

Just to make matters even dumber , there's a separate table for each item type that are all the same . You roll 1d4-1, that's the bonus the item gives, and that’s it. What's more, there's no table to roll on to determine which type of doodad you find, even though there's tables for weapons and armor. Would it have killed them to jusy say "roll 1d4 for item type, roll 1d4-1 for the bonus" instead of wasteing about half a page on these unnecessary tables? It's not like there's any special bonus abilities or anything; tools give their plus and that's it. That's assuming, of course, that you didn't roll a 1 and wind up with a magic tool that doesn't actually do anything as one of your precious magic item pulls. I bet that's their idea of "warrior/caster balance".

Fuck you, George.

The next table is for Rings. This is a d6 roll. 2-4 give a Ring of Protection +1 through +3, which adds to all your defenses, so I guess that hypothetical warrior from before could get up to a 13 Armor if he's an insanely lucky bastard. A 5 is a Ring of Three Wishes (no rules for it), and a 6 is a Ring of Water Walking (again, no rules for it). Oh, and if you roll a 1? You just get a ring. Nothing special, just an (I'm assuming) ordinary non-magical ring as one of your limited number of items.

Fuck you, George.

The next magic item type is Miscellaneous Magic, which was called "Miscellaneous Arcana" three pages ago. This table is so goddamn stupid I have to actually screenshot it in it's entirety for you, my reading audience.

Fuck you, George.

The last treasure type is "Cursed Items". This is another 1d4 table; a cursed item gives a 0 to -3 penalty to one stat, plus a "special" effect. There's nothing that tells us how to determine which stat, the actual special effect of the curse, or even to determine what the cursed item is .


Curses come in all varieties, rarely in simple penalties to attack and damage, though these do exist. Instead they usually possess two elements: 1) a strange, sometimes subtle effect, and 2) a method for removing the curse. Note the penalty may simply not apply to the type of item you create (a magical crown of understanding languages, for example, make the non-numerical aspect of the curse more powerful).
For fucks sake, we've been rolling on charts and tables for how many chapters, and now they're going to pull a "just make it up" on us without even giving decent guidelines?

Fuck you, George.

Once we have our "magical" item, we determine the Talisman's Qualities and Adornments. That's a fancy way of saying "come up with all the little descriptive details". The basic idea is to make the item actually seem magical and unique rather than just a item with a plus attached.


MC: You find a +1 longsword.


MC: You find a longsword with a ruby-encrusted pommel and a blade engraved with hundreds of demonic faces frozen in mid-scream. As you reach for the weapon, you feel an icy chill emanating from the white-silver steel. Though you have no way of knowing for certain, you sense this is a sword of ancient power.
To be fair, this is a common problem with D&D style games; just handing out generic +1 whatevers does make magic items feel less important. But of course this is THE SECRET FIRE, so the solution is to use table and charts to come up with ridiculous amounts of detail! On the plus side, on these tables we're allowed to select OR roll stuff from the table.

The main table goes from 1 to 36. We're expected to roll on this by rolling a d6, halving it and rounding down for the tens digit, and by rolling a d10 for the ones digit. Of course this would give a result from 1 to 39, not 36 bu who's counting? Not the designers, that's for sure!

Some of the results you can get are "Evil", "Bells", "Gem-Encrusted", "Very Heavy", and "Sweet Smelling" (the hell?). Three of these results (Animal Motif, Monster Motif, and Text) have sub-tables. This also gives us one of the more infuriating typos:

Not only do they list sub-table I twice with an inconsistent naming convention, the Monster Motif table is Adormnemnt Sub-Table I, and the Animal Motifs table is Adornment Sub-Table II. I know this because they're on the VERY NEXT FUCKING PAGE .

Did anyone proofread this damn thing?

The sub-tables are just lists of the creature or language the motif has; nothing really rage-inducing here, except for the fact that the Monster table is a d35 roll (with the same "how to roll this weird number" text from before), and doesn't list all the monsters in the book. Well, that and you could get a magic sword with a "Camel" motif, but whatever.

Once we have the look of the item, it's time to move on with our lives create the item's name and background! More tables! Yay!

Locations are on a d26 table this time. They range from the incredibly vague ("North") to the numerous locations in the default setting. "Epithets" is a list of 8 name bits like "Holy" or "Destroyer of", but we're told to use the "Epithets" list from Part 2 to expand on the list.

The next table is for deities, and is bizarre because until this point there hasn't been a list of gods at all apart from the Elder Gods. Unsurprisingly, most of the 20 entries are cribbed from existing mythologies (Osiris and Set are there, as is Kali, Wotan, and Bahamut), plus "The Goddess of Complete Being" and "He Who Shall Not Be Named".

Finally, there's the History table. This is leading phrases like "Wielded by..." or "Created By..." or "Other".

Now that we have all these phrases and words and things scattered across the table, it's time to assemble them ransom-note style into the name of the damn +1 sword we rolled up. And there you have it! A nice, immersive magical item, all in about ten charts worth of work. I'm sure your players will appreciate it when they ignore the detailed description after using it a few times.

Before we move on to the pre-made items, there's a callout box about identifying items. Basically, you have to fiddle with the item in the usual ways to see what it does. Of course, doing this will automatically activate any curses (which can't be detected in any way whatsoever). If someone does have a cursed item, he's forced to use it whenever possible and will spend all his time looking for it if the party tries to hide it.

It also says to check Part 12 (Scenario Design) for information on cursed areas, but apart from "Curse" being a result on one of the millions of tables in that chapter, there's nothing there about curses COLOR ME SHOCKED.

Next up is a d100 table of "Legendary Talismans", which is just a list of abotu 50 or so pre-made items that couldn't be made with the existing tables. It's interesting that some of the entries here (like the Elixirs of Shrinking and Poison, or the Scroll of Protection from Demons) are actually results from earlier tables, which I guess means that the common magic items are legendary?

These items range from the unoriginal


Caliburn: One of the Seven Swords of Power, this weapon has its name written in the ancient tongue upon the blade. This +3 longsword is exquisitely balanced, boasting a jeweled hilt (emeralds), the uncut diamond on the pommel being a distinctive teardrop shape. It can cut through any material, including solid stone. However, doing so comes with a 5 percent chance (rolled on percentile dice) of breaking the weapon.
to the useful


Orb of Rime: This orb confers a +2 on spell attacks and damage and enables the wielder to cast any spell he or she knows which possesses any type of “cold” element in its description or mechanics, for example, chilling curse or icy bite by spending a number of charges equal to the Order number of the spell. This casting does not count against the Wizard’s normal allotment of spells per day
to the stupid


Tablet of R’lyeh (Cursed Item): These basalt slabs are heavy, their disquieting hieroglyphs hint at a malevolent intelligence, and they were clearly not meant for use by Humankind. Rumored to contain ancient secrets, they are much sought after, especially as many of the symbols appear to be like those on the Key of Solomon. Anyone spending more than five minutes reading the tablet becomes obsessed with it and will not leave without bringing it along, a difficult undertaking considering it weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. Even if physically removed, the character will attempt to return to the room to read the tablets, which he believes will grant him unlimited power over the multiverse.
to the terrible.


Elixir of Poison : Anyone sipping this potion to determine its abilities must make a successful Luck Throw or die. None know who made (or continue to create) this nightmarish concoction, though many suspect the Assassin’s Guild, Wizards of Necromancy, and servants of the Great Serpent. There is no way to know whether this elixir is poisonous without taking one’s chances and sipping or fully imbibing it.

My favorite part of the Elixir of Poison is that there's only four potions all told (one is added in the Legendary Talismans section), so you've got a 1 in 4 chance of getting the save-or-die-even-if-you-sip-it poison.

Finally, we have a brief section on destroying Talismans. It pretty much boils down to "throw it in a volcano or feed it to a rust monster Chittering Ferrovore".

I should also point out that the Holy-Man's "remove curse" spell is available at level 3, so once you get that cursed items aren't as big a deal anymore.

Geez, who knew a chapter on treasure could make me that angry?

Also, fuck you, George.

NEXT TIME: The setting of THE SECRET FIRE! Who's excited?

Revenge of the Elder Gods

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE! , or, George Strayton's Priorities


Those of you who give a flying fuck about what I write may recall how THE SECRET FIRE is has the concept of the Elder Gods; five higher powers that affect the world: Life, Death, The Elements, The Void, and The Great Unknown. Characters, NPCs, and monsters have ranks in these five gods, and these ranks have a few effects:

1. They can cause spells to do more or less damage (your ranks in a certain Elder God can reduce damage, or give you a penalty on a save)
2. You color in one part of your Character Wheel for reach rank you have in an Elder God. Nobody knows why. (Well, I do, but I'll talk about than in a few chapters)
3. You can call on an Elder God you have ranks in to halve incoming damage. Doing this will result in the Elder God getting "revenge" for you actually asking them to get off their asses and do something that directly affects the world.

Point 1 is pretty straightforward. Point 2 is silly, but I'll talk about that in more detail in two chapters' time. But Point 3 is why I'm here today.

In Chapter 6 ("THE ELDER GODS"), we're told that the actual effects of said "revenge" would be found in Chapter 12 ("SCENARIO DESIGN"). In Chapter 12, we were told that the tables the MC is supposed to roll on are back in Chapter 6, setting up a nice little infinite loop.

The only thing missing were the actual tables or guidelines on what the revenge would be .

Fortunately, they released a two-page "supplement" called REVENGE OF THE ELDER GODS, that is bundled with the main PDF now.


Though the specific results are, as always, left to the Master Creator, here are a few sample charts to get you started. But remember, what actually transpires should make sense in the current circumstances of the game world, so there’s no such thing as an exhaustive list — this is another area (in line with the majority of the game) in which your imagination must become the prime mover.

Give the number of charts and missing rules in the main book, this is both hilarious and infuriating at the same time.

There's a bit of behind-the-scenes commentary here; apparently the original draft of the book weighed in at 400 pages, and their intended page count was 200 pages. They ended up cutting 90 pages of content; "(primarily prayers, spells, and monsters; but don’t worry, most of these will show up as Free Content or in upcoming TSF books".

(Just for reference: the 4e Player's Handbook is 320 pages. In terms of one-book games like THE SECRET FIRE seems to think it is, the full-sized Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition is 160 pages and the Dresden Files RPG corebook is 416 pages, and I don't think anyone would accuse those games of being "incomplete" or missing important content. Which means that THE SECRET FIRE manages to be less mechanically complete than a 160-page generic system, and at the same time has less usable content than a 400-page RPG.)

And while they felt that removing the whims of the Elder Gods were something the MC could just wing, they didn't bother to at least give guidelines on what's supposed to happen, or even remove the references to the tables in the main book. After all...


Again, TSF is all about rulings not rules.
Allow me to just say: Bull. Shit.

The way this all ends up working is that, the next time you fumble after invoking an Elder God, you roll on the table of the Elder God you invoked. Each God has a 1d4 table to itself, and once again all durations are in real time.


this element is not related to gamist vs. simulationist styles of play, a debate sometimes confused with non-immersion vs. immersion
No, George, this element is related to you being an idiot.

So what kinds of things can the Elder Gods do you for daring to take half damage from a hit?

PC stops everything he’s doing in order to feast on the blood and carcass of the next non-ally, dead creature he encounters (which may be one he’s recently killed), spending 2d10 minutes engaged in the grotesque ritual, eating of the organs and drinking of the blood to appease Death.

The Elements
The PC self-immolates as flames shoot out of all his orifices, and he takes 3d6 + 5 damage against Endurance (adding Ranks in the Elements to his Resistance).

The Great Unknown
PC (and only PC) sees ghosts everywhere, warning of certain doom ahead (no matter the direction) for 1 hour.

PC feels compelled to stop everything and create a garden, spending 2d10 minutes of real time engaged in the endeavor. If attacked, he will move out of harm’s way.

The Void
PC realizes he can simply reinvent himself, creating an entirely new personality out of the Void. Reroll his Traits on the the Morality/Alignment charts, one for Good, one for Neural, and one for Evil, which replace his permanent Traits for 1 hour.

Rest assured, the ones I didn't list aren't much better.

Now here's the part that really makes you want to slam your head into a wall. The "REVENGE OF THE ELDER GODS" pdf is two pages long. If you take out the logo on each page and the half-page of description and "why we put this separate", it comes out to one page.

Seriously. I copied the full text of the tables into a Word document, put in to narrow margins and a 10-point font (my best guess as to the layout of the main book), and it just filled a page. And yet they couldn't squeeze it into the main book despite the fact that the book acts like those tables are supposed to be there.

So one page of tables the game refers to are unimportant enough that they can be removed to save space, but the six-page fanfic at the start of the Adventuring chapter or all the parts in the intro and scenario design chapters where George Strayton tells us how qualified he is to write this piece of shit game were kept because they're apparently more important than the rules of the fucking game .

Fuck you, George. Fuck. You.

The World

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, Smoke on the Water!

Part 18: PART 15 - THE WORLD

Given THE SECRET FIRE's intense focus on immersion and vermisilitude, I'm sure you're all expecting the chapter on the game's default setting to be pretty involved. After all, setting details are important; if you don't define every square inch of your setting, come up with a ten-page history of an orc tribe the PCs may never encounter, or come up with a ton of backstory the players will never learn, how can I (the player) expect to believe that this fictional world is real? If grognards.txt has taught me anything (and it has ), it's that immersion comes from vermisilitude, and the seed of vermisilitude is detail.

On top of all that, this is written by George Strayton, who we can all agree by now loves the sound of his own voice, especially when it comes to fiction. The six-page fanfic at the start of the "Adventuring" chapter proves that well enough.

From all this, we can conclude that the setting chapter will be rife with hand-crafted detail, creating a world that comes alive before our very eyes, a place we can believe truly exists, a setting filled with wonder.

And we'd be wrong, because the setting is so small, broad-stroke and generic it makes classic Greyhawk look like Perdito Street Station.


The world of THE SECRET FIRE™ is one filled with legends and lore. Below, you will find descriptions of the various features of this vibrant landscape, replete with truths, half-truths, and outright lies about each locale and its inhabitants. Danger lurks everywhere, from the seedy back alleys of city streets to the towering peaks of mountain fastnesses. For those brave — or foolish — enough to risk life and limb to seek it, treasure abounds.

Uh huh.

What we actually get is a collection of one-paragraph summaries of a bunch of areas that were jammed together because in Generic Terrible High Fantasy you don't have to worry about what kinds of terrain or whatever you stick next to each other like Legos, and everything exists in isolation from everything else. Forest next to a desert? Sure, go ahead! Mountain ranges that just stop? Sounds good! Two major city-states that don't influence each other in the slightest? Who cares? It's sword-and-sorcery! It doesn't need to make sense! A wizard did it!

But this is always the inherent contradiction of the immersionist; it doesn't matter if it makes no sense to the outside observer, it only matters that he thinks it should make sense.

The default setting of THE SECRET FIRE™ takes place on what appears to be an area of land the approximate size of New England. It's hard to guess, though, because there's nothing that says what the scale of the map is supposed to be. The area defined on the map might be the size of the Eurasian continent for all I know.

I should mention at this point that neither this area of the world, the continent it's on, nor the world in general are named. I guess they weren't immersive enough.

The "world" *cough* of THE SECRET FIRE is basically a collection of areas. That's the best way I can describe it, really. The map is here if you want to check it out for yourself; basically take a roughly square area of land, surround it on three sides by water, stick an impassable desert on the remaining side, splinkle liberaly with Generic Fantasy trappings, half-bake at 350 degrees for an hour, and presto! You've created the same setting everyone else did when they were 14 years old and just figuring out this whole "Dungeons and Dragons" thing.

I mean, come on. There are areas literally called "The Endless Plain", "The Lowlands", and "The Great Marsh". I can't imagine any names that would be less imaginative than that. There are a few places that have the normal bad-Scrabble-hand names you'd expect from this type of setting ("Uralnoniz" being my favorite), but for the most part the names are as boring as the areas themselves.

And what are some of the places we can explore in THE SECRET FIRE? Glad you asked!

There's the City of Sanctis


Ruled by the enigmatic Golden Lord (so named for the gilded mask that always hides his face), the City of Sanctis discourages casual visitors. An oppressive regime of taxes and permits keeps the local populace in line. Despite this, a thriving Thieves’ Guild exists here, and many believe its members use a vast network of secret underground passages that snake through the town. Sanctis was built on the ruins of a far older city, so there may be some truth to this. But those other tales, about the nature of the underground city’s inhabitants — nonsense, and the spreading of such gossip is subject to a fine.
A fine ? Those monsters!

How about The Endless Plain?


This vast desert is a wasteland stretching ever westward. It appears, at first, to be scoured clean of life, yet is home to a fragile ecosystem — and Orc tribesmen. The temperatures — oven-hot during the day and freezing cold at night — make the plain a trial to traverse, even for the hardiest traveler. Wildlife includes giant scorpions and other tunneling horrors. The Orcs wander between rare waterholes. Those few who have survived passage through this land speak of ancient ruins that appear far on the horizon, but whether these are real, mirage, or the delusions of a fevered brain, none can say.
That sounds more like a desert than a plain, to me. The actual "desert kingdom" every fantasy setting is required by law to have is actually not on the map itself; it's off to the north somewhere.


Kemet: a 3,000-year-old realm of shifting sands, and loyalties. Where life is cheap and death is but a stone’s throw away. The ancient pyramids of Kemet dominate the landscape, having witnessed the bloody fall of the Priesthood of Horus and the rise of the Sons of Set. These structures conceal blasphemous secrets, untold wealth, and screaming horrors of a forgotten time. In a very real way, the dead rule in Kemet, and the living tremble at their power.

In point of fact, there are four complete "areas" that aren't even on the map. Kemet, the Iron Kingdoms, Tortuga the Kingdom of the Pirates, and the Silk Empire are all just represented on the maps by arrows saying "they're over that way". If there's more to the world than this little landmass, then why not show them? It's not like there's anything really interesting going on in the areas they are showing on the map.

Just as an aside, the largest island in the Kingdom of the Pirates is called "Hiruga". That sounds familiar for some reason, but maybe it's just me.

Oh, and by the way, I'm not just cherry-picking a paragraph from each area's description. There are the complete descriptions . That's all we get.

The Lowlands is probably the closest the setting comes to a "starting area"; I kind of get the impession that it's supposed to the "Nenthier Vale" equivalent.


The lands to east of the Bonespur Mountains are collectively known as the Lowlands, a group of mid-sized city-states with smaller towns scattered alongside. The cities engage in a great deal of trade, but travel overland can be dangerous, as many monsters and other foul beasts have spread here from the Black Oaks and the Dreadwood. Adventurers can often find employment by serving as caravan guards.

In addition to these well-thought-out and heavily detailed nations, there's also three "planes": The Edge of the World (a strange fog that surrounds the setting, and people who sail in can come out years later), The Underworld (Hell & the afterlife), and The World Beyond The Veil (the Fae). Beyond the brief descriptions, there's no real detail on any of these.

And...that's it. Ten whole pages on "setting" (and I use that term very loosely), and that's pretty much all we get.

Now, normally I actually prefer settings that have a lot of open space to work with. As a GM, I like to be able to have some room to add things at an existing setting where and when I want. But at the same time, I need to have a general idea of what the setting is , so I know what I have to work with in terms of options.
It's why I love settings like Eberron so much; there's enough detail for me to keep busy with and have a good idea what the differences between Country A and Country B are, they give enough information to get the "feel" of each region, but leave enough undefined that I can easily add things to it and be confident that it will fit thematically.

But this "setting" is just so vague, it makes you wonder why they bothered to include it at all. There's no meat here. Everything is so vague they could have just said "this is the desert area, this is the Big City, this is the farmland" and it would have been about as informative.

What's more is that what little information they give you doesn't hang together at all. The Marque of Aquitaine is situated right next to the Dreadwood, but there's nothing about how they deal with that. How do Aquitaine and Sanctis, what I'm guessing are two of the biggest powers of the realm, feel about each other? The Lowlands are situated nextdoor to The Barbarian Lands, with nothing between them but The Great Wall (oh, how original); don't you think that would affect how people in the Lowlands live?

But no, instead we get these little areas that exist in perfect isolation; I'm sure that George would say that's so we can "fill in the blanks ourselves" since THE SECRET FIRE is supposed to be all about imagination, but if that's the case then why do we have all these rules and tables full of details in other chapters? Is this supposed to be rules-light or not? Why spend more time listing tables to roll on to make a dungeon room than you do on describing the setting of the game?

You know, guys...I'm starting to think this game isn't very good.

NEXT TIME: Level Advancement! Two more chapters and four appendixes to go!

Level Advancement

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, The Flames Rose Higher!


Yes, the chapter on leveling up is near the end of the book, pretty much the opposite end of things from the rest of the character building information. In fact, it's effectively the last chapter since this is the final chapter that really talks about rules. It does bring together a lot of the concepts that have been oozing through the entire game, though.

Before we can really get into leveling, though, we need to talk about experience points.

There are four ways to get XP in THE SECRET FIRE:

1) Treasure. As I mentioned back in the Creatures chapter, THE SECRET FIRE uses the old D&D trope of "1 GP = 1 XP". Interestingly, Talismans don't give XP. You can sell the items for gold, in which case you get the XP for the gold. There are two problems with this. Well, more than two but I'm only going to talk about the two that jumped out at me.

First off, none of the Talismans have gp values, and in fact there's no guidelines on how to price stuff. How much is that +2 longsword with all the filigre details I spent ten munites rolling for worth? You got me. Normally the costs being missing wouldn't be that big a deal, but if we're going to say cash=experience, then shouldn't there be something there to at least give me a ballpark to work from? How do I know how much is too much (or too little) when it comes to pricing items with XP?

Sigh...there I go, thinking again.

The second issue is this:


there may be haggling involved with the shop dealer who will, of course, try to acquire the item at the lowest cost; it is up to the party and the merchant to come to terms
That's right...haggle for your XP!

(I mentioned back in the Equipment chapter that George strikes me as the type of GM who'd make you roleplay out going to the blacksmith to buy a replacement dagger. I never suspected it got this bad, though.)

2) Defeating Monsters. "Defeat" in this case means "win", since this covers forcing them to run or surrender. I guess getting them to parley doesn't get you anything. Of course, as we all saw back in the Creatures chapter, monsters are barely worth any XP anyway, so who cares?

3) Quests. This is the entirity of what it says about quests:


The MC should divide quests into mini-goals, each with its own XP award, which is a portion of the whole.

That's it. No advice on creating a quest, dividing it up, or how much XP is appropriate for a quest at level whatever. You're the MC, just make it up! What, you were expecting useful advice?

4) Dominions. Remember those from the Adventuring chapter? They're still not defined. I'm going to keep on assuming that it refers to the stronghold/wizard's tower/theives' guild/temple that spontaneously appears when you hit level 10. Anyway, you can get XP from your Dominion at the end of the "Monthly Sequence" as long as it remains stable, which as you may recall is something that you have barely any control over and is mostly determined by the whims of the dice.


These added ways to gain Experience Points outside of combat are meant to encourage play representing all aspects of life, not just battling monsters.
If that's the case, George, then why are the rewards for battling monsters the only ones that are defined?

I should point out at this point that there's no guidelines at all anywhere in the damn game on how to determine level-appropriate rewards or challenges. How much XP should a quest be at level 6? What's a "fair fight" for a party of five level 8 PCs? What would be too big a treasure for someone at level 2? You got me, and I'm pretty sure George doesn't know the answer either.

So anyway, here's how XP is divided up: once you get back to town, you total up all the hard cash you brought with you, add in the XP you got from monsters, and divide that evenly between everyone. Quest and Dominion XP go directly to whoever completed the quest/owns the Dominion.

You can only advance one level at a time (because D&D, that's why), so if you earn too much XP you only get to one point shy of the next level, and the rest is lost. I suppose an elegant solution is to bring just enough cash back to town to gain one level, then go get your stash and bring that back to town, gaining your second level.

And yes, I'm well aware that's dumb and meta-gamey, but that's my point; when you have nonsensical mechanics like "GP = XP" with no thought behind them, it will invariably lead to nonsensical situations like this. Why can't you just let people gain more that one level at a time? What would be wrong with that? Better yet, why not just do away with the cash for levels thing in the first place? As it stands right now, you become a better swordsman not by going out and fighting stuff, but by dragging a bag of loot back to town. Hell, as presented, someone could find a big bag of cash in the woods where a bunch of adventurers and monsters killed each other, bring it home, and hit level 2 without even doing anything.

Which part of all that is "immersive", George? I'm curious.

Let's take a look at what you get for leveling up. When you get enough XP to gain a level, you also get two ranks in the Elder Gods, and a new Trademark every odd-numbered level.

One Elder God rank is picked by you, and should "relate to the most important experience the character had over the course of the previous level." You then pick part of your Character Wheel and color in that part with the prefered crayon of the Elder God you gained a rank in. Then the MC picks a rank for a Elder God for you, based on which god he felt had the largest effect on you, and you color in a part of the Wheel for that Elder God.

Credit where it's due, I do like the idea of the GM also getting a say in how much the Elder Gods affect you. Sadly, that's the only part I like.

I've talked about this before, but apart from slightly increasing or decreasing a spell's effects and determining how many times a day you can call on them, Elder God ranks really don't mean anything. They're just numbers and colors on your sheet. In a thread on RPGNet, one of the developers (not George) said that having a lot of ranks in an Elder God would affect my appearance and personality; like having a lot of ranks in Death would mean that your character looked like a walking corpse, and would be very morbid. And again, that's fine and is a neat mechanic. The problem is that it doesn't say anything about this in the book . If that guy didn't post in the thread, I'd never have known about this.

I know I keep asking this, but why in the hell did they take out all these rules (things you need to, y'know, play the bloody game ) but leave in all the self-congratualtion and bad fiction? I mean, I know why (George Strayton is a hack), but you'd think someone else would have said something to the guy when they were putting this thing together.

There's also another factor that makes this silly to me.


As the Character Wheel continues to be filled in, the mosaic of the character’s life appears in vivid color.
Thanks for giving me a way to take my character's life story and turn it into a coloring book, George.

First off, nobody gives a shit about what's on my character sheet besides me. The rest of the group isn't going to be looking it over to see what my character's personality is. And even if they did, I wouldn't be listing it as colors, it'd be writen out as backstory or Aspects or whatever. You know, something to help me roleplay .

What's more, the Character Wheel has a lot more spaces to color in than you can reasonably earn. I did the math back in Chapter 6, but what it boiled down to was that by level 10 (the "highest level" going by the charts in the Character Creation chapter), you're only going to have 23 Ranks all told; you get 5 when you start out at level 1, then two more every level after that.

I sure someone with one of those fancy photoshoping programs can probably figure out the actual number of spaces on the wheel, but I'm pretty darn sure that there's more that 23 spaces to color in there.

Actually, could someone figure out how many spaces there are to color in? I want to figure out what level you'd have to be (and how much XP you'd need) to fill in the whole thing.

Oh, there's something new here now! "LEARNING NEW SECRETS"


Roleplaying does not end upon leaving the labyrinth. It continues in civilization, as mentioned before, especially when it comes to shaping the raw experience gained on an expedition into a honed ability (i.e., a Trademark, spell, prayer, or such). When gaining a level at which a character learns a new Trademark, he must seek out a teacher who will train him in that area (training takes one week per Trademark, prayer, or spell), usually between adventures, but sometimes during an expedition.

What this means is that, in order to learn new Trademarks, spells, or prayers, the character has to seek out a trainer. Why they're called "secrets" all of a sudden is beyond me, though.

There's a list of twenty or so "sources of learning", like "Libraries", "Orders of Knights", "Philosophical Organizations", and "City-State Alliances". There's also a half-dozen groups and organizations listed in more detail. Each one has entry requirements (based on race, Calling, skills, or whatever), Benefits (the fluff you get for joining), and Trademarks(the crunch you get for joining).


Each group has its own story, thereby adding to the history of the character seeking to become a member or learn its secret teachings. For example, in order to join a secret organization dedicated to opposing Set, God of Skulls and Snakes, a character must offer the head of a Medusa as tribute, thereby spawning a quest to find and slay such a creature.
You know, THE SECRET FIRE, the more you try to tell me I'm going to be immersed, the less I beleive it. Yes, organizations my character joins will be part of his life. Thank you for reminding me. I do like "spawning a quest", though. Very videogame-y.

One of the organizations we can join is The Collegium of Light:


The core tenet of the Collegium is that to be a truly powerful Wizard, one cannot be ruled by emotion. Instead, all decisions must be based on logic and reason. Spellcasting under the influence of fear, anger, or aggression can only cause more sorrow and harm.

The requirements for joining are being able to cast spells, and solving the last riddle of Amaneus.


Some say that the riddle of Amaneus lies within the tome you now hold in your hands.
Yeah, remember way back at the beginning of this damn thing when I talked about how the game had some kind of "puzzle" built into it? You (the player) have to solve it before your character can hook up with these guys. Figuring out how the fictional group will know you (a real person) did so will be left an an excersize to the reader, but be sure to use the word "vermisilitude" in your paper.

So what do you get for joining? Well, you get a free period for study hall.


Members can enjoy a quiet place to practice and study logic puzzles, riddles, pictograms, and the like. The Collegium has available for perusal both puzzles that have been solved by its members and those whose mystery has yet to be unraveled.
You also get access to alchemical gear for free (not that you can make potions or anything), and free spell components, which don't have costs anyway. These guys will also teach you spells, but "it will not teach any spell that fails to augment the intellect." Going through the list of spells, there are only four spells they'd end up teaching you (Comprehend Texts, Ears of the Dead, Eldrich Eye, and The Truth of the Great Unknown) out of the 80 provided wizard spells. Yeah, that seems worthwhile.

Oh, you can also learn three Trademarks off them, one of which you'd probably already have if you're a wizard.

There's also the Order of Bramhausen, a Human-only order of knights that hunts demons.


A pledge must bring no less than five unnatural carcasses from beyond the edge of the Borderlands. The pledge joins the Order after a strange ritual involving the drinking of blood and the swearing of strange oaths in the presence of at least two members of the Order.
From this, we can tell George played Dragon Age. But you actually get something you can use when you join!


Members receive strange devices that bring harm to unnatural creatures. The number of these weapons, all of the MC’s creation, is limited, since each was forged in the laboratories of Castle Bramhausen, the Order’s spiritual home, which has long since fallen to the horrors of the Abyss. These wondrous devices do not operate outside of the Borderlands.
When they say these weapons are of the MC's creation, they mean it; there's nothing at all about what "bringing harm to unnatural creatures" means. Does it do damage? Are they weapons that are effective against unnatural creatures, or can it be an amulet that hurts creatures near it? How much damage should it do? What constitutes an "unnatural" creature, anyway? I don't have the answers, because George didn't bother to give them.

We could also join the Restoration of Beatius (an order of Good assassins), the Ancient Priory of Dwarves (dwarven Holy-Men who hunt down and destroy magic), "Decland, Lion of Berg's Keep, Protector of the Innocent" (a psychic who hunts demons, teaches you to cast prayers, and the names of demons, "The MC or fate (i.e., the rolling of the dice) decides the names of the particular demons"), The Thieves' Guild of Down Light-Fingers, the Walkers of the Veil (a loose organization of people facinated by the undead; you join by successfully parleying with undead three times and sharing the story), or "Yamasaki, Master of the Sword" (a samurai; to learn from him you need to spend 100 gp per your current level and survive a number of rounds of combat with him equal to your level divided by 5. No, he doesn't have any combat stats). You'll forgive me if I don't go too nuts describing these.

What amazes me about this chapter is that there's probably more actual "setting" information in the groups' descriptions than in the entire chapter that's supposed to descibe the setting. The game has such a bizarre focus on minutae; they're trying so hard to get you "immersed" in the game world by talking about shit like "this orc tribe wears their shirts inside-out, that tribe wears blue socks" and spending tons of time detailing the fretwork on your magic sword they completely miss the larger details like overall tone, or anything that these countries/cities/what have you feel like actual places as opposed to an entry in a geography schoolbook.

You know, the things that actually make a world come alive, and give the reader a sense of...immersion. Or, "vermisilitude", if you will.

NEXT TIME: The 19-page, three-level, 40-room sample dungeon: THE DUNGEONS OF MADNESS! Pray for me.


posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

Bieeardo posted:

That starts on page XX, doesn't it?
Appendix C ("The Adventure Never Ends...") starts on page 306 of 308. Just to give you an idea of how much stuff I've covered, the next chapter starts on page 284. And I haven't even gotten into the art or the whole puzzle thing.

Rasamune posted:

I don't think I did it right.

No, I think you did just fine. Sadly, both you and Effectronica used more than the Five Sacred Colors.

Effectronica posted:

The Wheel of Fortune looks to be split evenly into fifths, so there should be sixty sections to fill in, edit: in the outer circle, I misread the original post. I'm not going to even try to count up the number of sections total. Probably at least 200. The central circle has fifty-eight individual sections to color in by my count, the outer circle about 130... definitely more than 200.
Well, if your estimate is correct, then we've got some problems.

THE SECRET FIRE Sidequest 3: Mathematical!
So let's assume for now that there are 200 slots to color in on the Character Wheel.

When I was going back through my old posts to find something, I realized I had forgotten an important point: you can't have more than 10 Ranks in any Elder God.

Which means that you can't fill in more that 50 spaces on the Spirograph there. Yeah, you'll fill in most of them, but unless you start coloring with a plan (and the five Sacred Crayons chosen by the Elder Gods), it's probably going to look like crap.

There is, of course, another problem with this because none of THE SECRET FIRE's fuck-ups ever have only one dimension. You'd have to be a pretty high fucking level to max out all five Elder Gods.

How long would it take to get there? Let's do the math.

50 Ranks maximum. You start with 5, so that leaves 45. You gain two every level, so dividing 45 by 2 gives us...22.5 more levels. Well, let's just round that up to 23 and say the MC doesn't get to pick for you at that last level. Not that he'd probably care at that point, because I can't imagine anyone playing a THE SECRET FIRE campaign that long willingly.

So you'll max out our Ranks at level 24 (plus you'd have all but two every available Trademark in the game, or all but one if you're Human). How much experience would that cost? Glad you asked!

It takes a total of 360,000 XP to hit level 10, and another 120,000 XP per level after that. So to get to level 24, you'd need:

360,000 + (14 * 120,000) = 2,040,000 XP to max out all your Elder God ranks.

Remember that your main source of XP is treasure. Treasure Type Z (the best type available) gives 5d6 x 10,000 GP. So assuming you're rolling max treasure, that's 360,000 XP.

Now, there are two problems with that . Not many creatures give that much treasure, and you can only gain one level at a time. So if you're level 15, and get 150,000 GP from a dragon's lair, 30,000 XP is wasted when you get back to town.

I have no idea how fast leveling happens in a "real" THE SECRET FIRE campaign, but I can't imagine it's fast; you don't level until you bring a bunch of cash back to town, no matter how much shit you kill.

Of course, this also assumes you're getting your Elder God ranks spread out. You're supposed to assign Ranks based on which Elder God you and the MC felt had the most influence on the character's life. There aren't any guidelines on figuring out how "The Elements" or "The Void" can fit into someone's life (big shock), and there's also no advice on what happens if a character acts as if, say, Life is the only Elder God he has any interest or dealings with, and he maxes out his Ranks in that which he could do as early as level 4. I guess he just gets closer to the other Elder Gods by default. I'm not getting closer to them because of what my character's doing, I'm getting closer to them because I (the player) have to spend these points when I level up, and I can't put them anywhere else.


The Dungeons of Madness 1

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or I fucking hate this game!

Who's ready for ?


Yeah, yeah, I know that everyone wants to see the "gain XP for Real Life Experiences" thing, but that's at the tail end of the book. To get there, we have to go through...THE DUNGEONS OF MADNESS.

I'm sure those of you who've been following this train wreck of a review for a while now are wondering what kind of game you'd actually run with this thing.

Well fear not! George Strayton has kindly provided us with a sample dungeon, done up in true THE SECRET FIRE style. The creatively named "Dungeons of Madness" brings everything I've covered about this game together in one three-level, 40-room package.


To the MC, this locale offers a simple adventure that can be run with little preparation, allowing him to become familiar with MCing a full-scale expedition and eventually to create his own labyrinths. Though it does take some time and effort, it is relatively simple to serve as the MC of a SECRET FIRE a game, even for novices.

This, incidentally, is the only time you'll see the word "effort" in relation to THE SECRET FIRE. It's also the first time the game is refered to with the "THE" in front of it.

The background of the place is that a mage named Tambor and his adventuring buddies spent 32 years putting this place together. At some point, for some reason, Tambor flips his shit, kills his friends, and sets up shop down at the bottom of the dungeon.


He refurnished the dungeon to test the hearts, souls, and bodies of adventurers. Through years of lonely existence, he transformed an already deadly place into a work of grisly genius; a masterpiece of cruelty.
That is a totally believeable backstory that helps my sense of immersion.

But there's another reason this dungeon exists:


The aim of the adventure is to teach and inspire by example. The Master Creator is encouraged to examine how the tricks and traps and monsters work in conjunction with the dungeons that house them. Sidebars have been provided with alternative approaches and explanations to give MCs insight into the dungeon’s inner workings. The hope is that these descriptions will spark the creativity of the MC and he or she will have an easier time creating her own deadly labyrinths.

The dungeon is also inteneded to work as a one-shot that can be played at a convention, but you'd have to make a few adjustments.


If this scenario is played at a convention (or in another public place), it is usually best to bypass the normal game session procedure (Carousing, Invocation, etc., found in Part 1: The Game)
Since you may not remember that far back, I'm guessing he's refering to this is from Part 1:


The few hours before adventuring should be spent as if they might be the character’s last: drinks may be consumed, prayers uttered, brawls started, love made, a full night’s rest obtained, or other activities, depending on the characters’ varied personalities. You and your comrades very well may be marching to your deaths, so it is good to make merry before the journey begins, as this expedition could be your last/

There's a bit about how you can drop this dungeon into any campaign setting, but there should be a small town nearby so the PCs can head back there to recuperate and level up.

I think we're ready to get this party started. What's that? What how many players is this for, and what level should they be? You got me, George apparently didn't deem that information worth recording. Or maybe it got cut for space. Feh, why would we need to know that stuff, anyway? We already know this game isn't about "playing fair" or "balance", anyway. Hell, there's really no reason to go to the dungeon in the first place beyond "because that's what the adventure is".

Let get this over with.



After following the procedure for beginning a game session outlined in Part 1: The Game of the Secret Fire , play either resumes from the point at which it left off, or begins with the acquisition of legends. If playing in a public space or at a convention, again, skip the procedure from Part 1 and proceed directly to the distribution of legends.
Just for the record, that whole "beginning of a game session" thing gets mentioned four time within half a page. I don't know why George is so fixated on the "what do you do the night before you go dungeoncrawling?" thing, but I can't imagine most players or GMs worrying about getting into that much detail with it beyond "anyone doing anything special?".

Once you get the carousing and invocation out of the way, the MC distributes legends, which he gets from a table (of course). Legends are actually just rumors about the place that the MC is supposed to use to provide hints or red herrings.

Oh, you should also introduce the characters to each other at some point, too, if this is a one-shot. Thanks for reminding me, George!


including the following details (note that some players may choose to keep non-obvious information a secret; this is acceptable): name (which should be long — this is THE SECRET FIRE, after all) , Race, Calling, Ability Descriptors, Alignment and Alignment Traits, and any obvious equipment or style of dress.
Bolding is mine. It's lines like that that make me seriously think I'm being trolled here.

Next we distribute Legends. Wait, didn't we already...oh never mind. The MC rolls 1d4 to see how many rumors someone gets.


A result of 1 on the four-sided die means the character has not heard any legends. On a result of 2, the character has managed to hear only a single rumor. A result of 3 on the die yields two legends, while a result of 4 means the character knows three tales.
Goddamn it, is it that fucking hard to just say "Each character hears 1d4-1 rumors"? What is wrong with these people?

Anyway, the rumors are on a 1d20 table. Some are true ("There are many secret passages in the dungeons."), and some are false ("Tambor makes angels look like demons, and vice versa."). One is both true and false, which is a neat trick if you can pull it off.

Once that's all out of the way, we finally get to the dungeon.


First off, we get the map. And good lord this thing is dull. It's just rooms and corridors; whoever drew it up didn't bother to put any details in the rooms. Here's a chunk of the map so you can see what I mean.

I don't think I've ever seen less effort put into a "professional" map than I have on this one. Details? Decoration? What're those? Also, 1 square = 10 feet, a fact I want you remember for later.



The doors boast no traps or tricks, nor do the vines engulfing them come to life when a character attempts to remove them. However, the vines behave in such a way that the players fear that something terrible could happen if they continue their activities. For example, you might say, “You think you saw the vines move when you got closer…or maybe the eeriness of this strange forest is affecting you.”
We get that without any preable or description for the doors themselves. The whole vines moving thing is because one of the rumors mentions in passing that around the dungeon, the plants rip travellers apart. There's a sidebar about using Legends to instil a sense of paranioa in your players, giving us another interesting glimpse into George's playstyle.
Well, that and the fact you need to make a skill check to get the doors open.


The doors can be opened with great effort by a single Mighty character, or two Strapping characters working together. Otherwise, a successful Standard (4d6) Athlete roll is needed. Describe what you hear, see, smell, and feel as the opening doors scrape across the rocky earth….
See that? That's what vermisillitude looks like.

This requires me to check back in the beginning of the book to see that "Mighty" is an 18 Strength, and "Strapping" is a 16 or 17 Strength. Because just saying "a 16 or better strength" isn't as fuckig wordy breaks immersion.
No information is given on what should happen if the players can't get the door open; presumably they just stand there and stare at it for the rest of the session.

Room 2, "The Chamber of the Elder God of the Elements" is a big central chamber with a statue of a guy with five faces and five arms, each representing one of the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and aether). This is the Elder Statue the level was named for.
There are hints that each hand is supposed to hold a magical representation of the appropriate element, and once that's done the statue moves to reveal the stairs down to level 2. That's assuming, of course, the players figure that out.


The most difficult element to find will be aether, which will not occur until Session 2: The Lord of Mummies.
It's not Session 2: The Lord of Mummies, it's Room 14: Chamber of the Mummy Lord, you fucking hack. Can't you keep your own shit straight just once?

And here's some MCing advice that's pretty much custom-made for grognards.txt:


When noticing something in the environment, making Perceive rolls should never replace player description and ingenuity. If the players are actively searching for clues, the MC should consider revealing that which is obscured. The MC can always secretly roll a PC’s Perceive skill if he believes the character will pass by a clue that is too important for them to miss.
It doesn't matter if the character has a high Perception score, it's up to the players to pixelbitch. Of course, if there's something hidden they need to find, then you can roll for them. Of course, they might not find it, but that's their own fault for not being creative enough.It doesn't matter if the character has a high Perception score, it's up to the players to pixelbitch. Of course, if there's something hidden they need to find, then you can roll for them. Of course, they might not find it, but that's their own fault for not being creative enough.

Room 3 is a fight against 10 Skeletons, who never break morale. Skeletons are level 3; ten of them would be a pretty tough fight for low-level parties.

Room 4 is the "Abode of the Elementals". This room has four pools, each of which has a trapped elemental. When the PCs enter, the water elemental asks them for a drink. Then they get to watch the water elemental and fire elemental get into a shouting match, while the air elemental yells at them to shut the fuck up. Once that's all going on, the earth elemental (which is described as a "boulder giant" for some reason) manifests and threatens to just kill everyone if this keeps up.


(the MC should use this as a threat to drive the action forward, but no battle should take place in this chamber — it is meant as a roleplaying/puzzle-solving engagement between the party and the Elementals)
The MC better hope the PCs don't take the threat the wrong way and start a fight; the book doesn't have stats for the elementals.
The whole point of this room is that, if every PC gives the water elemental a drink, then it tells them that the aether they need for the statue is in the mummy's chamber.

There's also a secret room of treasure for no other reason than because there's always a hidden room with treasure. I guess this is to reward pixelbitching. In additon to a healing potion Arakesh's elixer of life, there's a bottle of that save-or-die-on-a-sip poison, 3,000 gp, and a magic sword that create "deep shadows" once per day for ten minutes (real time) in a Sphere 5. Unfortuantely, the game then "clarifies" that by saying that's a 55-foot diameter sphere. So I guess 1 square actually equals 11 feet now.

Room 5 is an empty room.


Empty rooms also serve a purpose in dungeon design. They create a sense of peace as well as give the characters a space to rest after dungeon exploration or martial conflicts. But you can also fill them with any mood-setting ideas that you like, for example, tiny scarabs running across the walls, ancient bloodstains all over the floor and ceiling but strangely not on the walls, odd scratch marks on the stone everywhere, bits of ancient writing that none can read, a bizarre gust of wind that smells of flowers but seems to come out of thin air, and so on.
Yeah, because no party of adventurers would take one of those clues to mean that there's something in the room, sending them on an hour of searching instead of just moving on.

Room 6 is a magic barrier, the key for which is in room 7.

Room 7 has a minotaur with a diamond embedded in its forehead, which starts immobilized. Once everyone's in the room, it comes to life and attacks. Minotaurs are level 6, have 12 Stamina (60 HP), can do 2d6+3 damage with +7 to hit, and 9 damage resistance against physical attacks (and 6 DR against magic), so again good luck to low-level characters with that. It'll fight until it fails a Morale check, or until it kills everyone. Removing the diamond ("resulting in the spilling of much blood and gore") lets the players undo the barrier in Room 6, but if they don't remove the diamond in the "next round" (presumably because they stopped to heal up after getting wrecked by the minotaur), the minotaur heals up completely and starts fighting again.

Once you get the diamond, the magic barrier in Room 6 gets replaced by a wall with a keyhole. Touching the wall causes a pre-recorded taunt from Tambor to play, and makes a corridor appear that leads to Room 11, which you have to go through to get to Room 12, which is where you get the key you need to get through the wall into room 14, which is where you get the aether you need for the statue in room 2, which lets you get to the second level of the dungeon.

Everyone got that?

Rooms 8, 9, and 10 are convienently empty.

Room 11 is the corridor. It's full of statues that weep blood that are just there to worry the PCs, and have them make skill checks to learn background.


As with all other Lore skills, the Master Creator should ask the player how his character came upon this very specific knowledge (she may be able to pull this information directly from her character sheet, on which she lists her teacher and specific area of study). If the answer is satisfactory to both player and MC, then the story should be added to the character’s developing background.
Does it really matter which teacher taught me things in what year? That's not background, that's unneeded details.

I'd say something about brevity being the soul of wit, but considering how much I've written about this fucking game, I'll pass on that.

Room 12. Oh christ room 12. This room seals itself up once everyone gets in, and there are a bunch of corpses in the room. We are told what classes the corpses were, because that matters. There's also ten doors arrayed around the room, each with a Roman numeral on them from I to X. Each door is a teleporter that bounces PCs to another door.

How do you get out of here?


The solution to this puzzle, however, is simple. If a party member looks at the corpses from the south (i.e., while against the south wall facing north), he or she will immediately recognize that the bodies spell out the word “EVEN.” Do not tell them this, just draw it out for them in wobbly lines that would make sense for the physicality of a body, though they can be broken in anyway necessary to create the appropriate letter. The party must travel through the even-numbered doors in order starting with II, until they finally leave through X and find themselves back in the room, this time with the entryway open and a large bronze key (about two inches at its widest and six inches in length with a loop at the top end and notches along one side), suspended in mid-air at the center of the chamber.
This is so fucking stupid, words actually fail me. Seriously, I can't think of anything snarky or funny enough to counter this.

Once that horseshit is taken care of, everyone tromps back to the wall, uses the key, uses the diamond on the magic barrier, and gets to go into...

Room 14: The Chamber of the Mummy Lord!

Remember when I talked about Mummies before? Well, there's one in here. When the party enters, it emerges from its sarcophagus, and will actually attempt to parley with the PCs unless they attack first.

And let's be honest here...if adventurers see a mummy rising from its tomb, they're not going to wait to see what it has to say. They're going to fucking attack it. And again, they'll get greased, because like I said before a mummy in this game is pretty much a raid boss.

Not that it matters, because we're not told what the mummy actually wants to talk about . It just wants to parley in general terms. Does it have a goal? Will it just give the treasures in the room to the PCs so they'll let it get back to sleep? I don't know, because the adventure doesn't tell us.

Either way, the mummy's sarcophagus contains the jars with the elements in them that the PCs need to bring back to the statue to put in it's hands to make it move to reveal the stairs down in a frog in a log at the bottom of the sea in the house that Jack built.

Jesus Christ, there's still two more levels of this shit.


The Dungeons of Madness 2

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or I really fucking hate this game!


Oh god, it just keeps going. At least this level only has eight rooms. Unfortunately, they don't get any better that the ones we did last time.

And since I forgot to mention; clearing out the first floor will net the party 17,871 GP (which converts to 17,871 XP divided evenly amongst the party), three vials of Arakesh’s elixir of life, one elixir of poison, bracers of guarding 3, a ring of protection +1, and a Wand of Endless Suffering (which is a cursed item), the Seal of the White Wizard, 7 spell scrolls, a +1 battle axe called Razor, a +1 shortsword known as Nightblade, and 20 arrows +1. Not a bad haul for the first level of the introductory dungeon. Assuming a standard five-person party, that's still about 3500 XP each, which is within spitting distance of third level.

I should also point out that back at the beginning of the first floor, we're informed that the rooms will have italicied text, that's supposed to be read to the players. Only two rooms in the entire dungeon have these descriptions, and they're rooms 2 and 4 on the first floor.

It's so depressing that I'm putting more effort into this review than the designers did writing the game.

Room 1 is the Chamber of Doom. It's filled to knee height with bones, but it says that this is "chest height for Halflings and some Dwarves". How short are halflings supposed to be?

Be that as it may, the room is trapped, and the two doors out are locked. When one of the doors is opened, the ceiling begins to decend in a classic crushing trap. It takes two characters with a Mighty Strength or a Very Difficult (6dd) Athlete test to open the doors. After four rounds exchanges, the ceiling hits the floor, doing 30 damage (minus Armor) to everyone, at which point the ceiling resets.

Are you ready for some ?

You'll notice I said the two doors out. There are actually three entrances to the room. There's the hallway in that leads from the first floor, and two exits with doors. But here's the thing: going by the map (because the description doesn't say one way or the other), the way in doesn't have a door . Not only that, the trap doesn't spring until one of the doors is actually opened.

Which means that, once the trap activates, the PCs have four rounds to stroll out the two available open exits , wait for the trap to reset, and move on with their lives.

That's good design, right there.

There's also treasure in the room under all the bones, but they seem to have forgotten that they already established that the trap will push all the way to the floor, which (you'd think) would crush the treasure too.

One of the doors out leads to a "Teleport corridor"


Only by walking backward through this corridor will you reach the opposite end.
Which is stupid, not only because there's no hints on how to get past this, but also because the corridor actual leads to a four-way junction. Does the walk-backwards thing only last until the intersection? What about the branches, are there cursed too? What happens when you don't walk backwards, are you teleported? To where?

I guess the idea is to force the players through the other door in the "trapped" room, which will take us to...

Room 2: THE THING IN THE DEEP. The middle of this room is a large pool of black liquid. Everyone rolls their Void ranks plus 1d6 when they enter the room, and if they get above a 3 then they're "Suspicious of everything", or "Insane to the point of amnesia" if they get a 7 or more.

There's a double door with a round indentation where the players have to insert this level's key; a sphere made of two halves they need to find. They're in two rooms adjacent to this one, so it's not like we have to go far.

Sadly, to get to the door, or to those rooms, we have to walk past the pool.


If anyone approaches within 25 ft. (5 squares) of the pool, abode of a Thing in the Deep , several thick, slimy tentacles explode from the liquid, splashing the foul liquid everywhere, making the floor slippery (requiring an Easy [3d6] Reflexes Skill Test to move and avoid slipping and falling to the ground, sliding 15 ft. (3 squares) in his direction of travel.
Yup, a Thing in the Deep, one of the three level 10 monsters in the game. What's even better is that in order to get to the double doors or the corridors to the two rooms you need to go to to get the parts of the Spade Key, you have to pass within 25 feet of the pool. There's no way to get through this level without triggering the fight.

Also, apparently squares are 5 feet now. Make up your damn mind, THE SECRET FIRE!

Just as a reminder: Things in the Deep have 15 Stamina (so 90 hit points), a Dodge of 18, 12 damage reduction against physical attacks and 8 against magic, can move 4 squares a round (8 in water), and can attack 6 different targets as one action (reach 5, 3d8+8 damage and yank 3), and can trade their move action for a 3d10+5 bite attack. So as one action, it can attack everyone within 5 squares, and if it hits (which it probably will, being level 10) it'll do 3d8+8 damage and pull the target 3 squares closer.

Just to give you an idea: a level 3 character (i.e., someone who cashed in all his gold for XP already) would have to roll a 27 to hit this thing. Then he'd have to do at least 19 points of damage to get past its Armor rating. That's assuming, of course, that he's not flailing around on the slippery floor.

To get through this room to the rest of the dungeon, we have to go into rooms 3 and 4. That means that the party will:

1) Enter the room and trigger the TitD.
2) Get killed
3) Make new characters
4) Enter the room again and trigger the TitD.
5) Run past it into room 3 and get half of the key.
6) Go back through the room with the TitD.
7) Get the other half of the key from room 4.
8) Go back into the room with the TitD.
9) Try to open the doors, which are within 25 feet of the TitD.
10) Realize this is bullshit and play something that isn't fucking terrible.

That's assuming, of course, that they go for the open exits first rather than the door. Or the TitD doesn't follow you out of the room.

And if the players are supposed to run away from the monster in this room, then why in the hell is the room set up to make it really hard to run away, why can the monster pull them back in, and why do they have to keep coming back through here?

Because D&D Tomb of Horrors, that's why.

Room 3 is filled with bubbles. Yes, bubbles. 5-foot wide bubbles filled with crazy purple killyou gas. When a bubble is touched, it explodes in a shpere 2 level 7 attack that does 2d6+3 versus Endurance. It doesn't say if popping one bubble sets off a cascade effect. It does say that it requires a Very Difficult Reflexes skill test to get across the room and graf hald the sphere, however.

Or, you know, you could just stand outside the room and throw pebbles in to pop all the bubbles first. This room is far enough away from the TitD's room that you can stand around all day; the room doesn't say that the bubbles respawn so I don't see why this wouldn't work.

From room 3 we run higelty-pigelty through room 2 again to get to room 4. In this room are seven creatures of the Void, who are acting like they want to escape. They don't attack unless provoked (in which case they just vanish until the PCs leave), and talking to them gives some backstory.


They can tell the party about the two halves of the orb, which was sundered by Tambor the Mad. They were among its original guardians, but were torn from their dimension, along with the orb itself, by Tambor. Now the orb is simply a means of keeping the doors magically and permanently locked; yet it also possesses the great power of the Void. Investigation of this talisman requires a return to civilization to research it in libraries filled with ancient scrolls and tomes.
Despite that desription, it doesn't seem like the Orb actually does anything besides make the holder feel like he's being watched. Oh, and it opens the door out of room 2 that leads to the rest of this floor. This half of the Orb is just laying here, I guess, since the creatures don't actually give it to the PCs.

So through the double doors into room 7! Finally, we're done with the TinD, at least until we try to leave with all our loot later on.

And no, that's not a typo. Despite the fact that each floor has a "flow" in that Resident Evil kind of way, the rooms aren't numbered according to how the PCs will travel through them. This makes it kind of hard to read these things in "order", so I'll rearrange the room descriptions so this is easier to follow. Don't say I never did nothing for you.

The double doors lead to room 7, "The Twisted Wood".


The entire chamber looks like a forest filled with large, twisted, Evil-looking trees with greenish-black leaves and plump black fruit. Vines crisscross the room, halving all movement. Close inspection of any trees or boulders reveals faded Celtic-looking symbols (knots and crosses). A Hard (5d6) Lore Skill Test allows a character to know these pictograms come from an ancient, now-dead culture that vanished several centuries ago from halfway across the world in the Marque of Aquitaine.
Those trees aren't just evil, they're Evil!

There's a Tree-Man in here who won't let the characters pass though to the next rooms. It is willing to talk, but again, it doesn't say what it wants to talk about , execpt that it gets madder if they bring up Tanbor (him and me both). So I guess the PCs have to fight their way past this thing.

For the record, a Tree-Man is level 9, also has 15 Stamina, have a minimum damage reduction of 11, can Grapple (+5 to hit, 3d8+2 damage versus Armor, Pins, and lifts the target 3 squares off the floor) as a normal action. Then, as a move action, it can either Slam someone it grabbed (+8 to hit, 3d8+5 damage versus armor), or it can Trample as part of a normal movement (+5 to hit, 4d10 vs. Armor and Knocks Down). On the plus side, it does take double damage from fire attacks (although it doesn't say if that's before or after resistance is taken into effect).

Hope you did something about that Thing in the Deep from room 2 already, or this is going to be an interesting fight.

Once that whole clusterfuck is dealt with, we can go into room 6, or into rooms 5 and 8. Let's do room 6 first. Why?

Because Room 6 is NAKED NYMPHS!


Within this chamber lies a serene glade in a primordial forest, in which a small waterfall on the northwestern wall flows into a 10-foot-diameter pool in the room’s center, and then out again through the southeastern wall, magically disappearing into the stone. Four beautiful, naked women lounge on stones, sunning themselves by a blazing disc in the “sky.”
The nypmhs want everyone in the party ("men and woman alike") to stay here with them, and will answer questions about the area. Which area that is (this room? the level? the dungeon?) is unknown.

If anyone tries to leave, the nymphs will cast a charm spell (level 6 attack against Willpower, 5x5x5 line). If the attack misses, the target takes 2d6+2 damage, and if it hits, the target is charmed for 24 hours. And remember: all spell durations are in real time!

Not that it matters, because the effects of "charm" aren't defined anywhere in the book. Shocking, I know.

This room is pretty much a dead end; it seems to be here for no other reason than so the PCs can..."parley" with some sexy nymphs.

Going the other way out of room 7 leads us to Room 5, which has a bad case of Pixies. There's yet another locked double door here, which leads to level 3 of the dungeon.

When the PCs enter, a bunch of pixies swing down and try to steal any magic items they have. Assuming the players catch them (good luck; it's a Very Difficult Perceive skill test to even see the little bastards), they can trade some shiny beads to get their gear back. They can also talk to the pixies to learn that the "Evil" King of the Mushrooms has the key to the double doors.

This means that, if they party doesn't see the pixies stealing their stuff, they'll never learn how to get past the door. Dungeon design doesn't get better than this, does it?

The King of the Mushrooms lives in the room next door, Room 8. It sure is convenient that none of these monsters ever decide to leave their rooms, and just sit around waiting for adventurers to show up, huh?

Anyway, when the party enters Room 8 (The Mushroom Forest), they're approached by some mushroom guards who demand that they be presented before the King. If they ask the King for the key, then he hands it over no questions asked and tells them how to use it (it's a potion; you drink it in the room with the door, it makes you etherial, and you walk through it). If the PCs attack (which they might do, since they were told he's Evil):


If the party attacks, the mushrooms will defend themselves to the best of their limited ability, but unfortunately, will be slaughtered by the party, with a few screaming as they escape. The PCs should have a sense of remorse if they take this action.

Oh, and if you spend more than 10 real-time minutes in the room, you get high on mushroom spores. Just FYI.

Once the PCs have the potions, they can go back to the room with the pixies and double doors, drink the potions, pass through the doors, and go to Level 3. I hope the doors open from the other side, because otherwise the PCs won't be able to leave once they go through. Sadly, we're not told what the real-time duration of the potion is, either.

So, to sum up: the PCs have to get through a non-trap, run through a room with one of the strongest monsters in the game at least 3 times to assemble a key to get through a door. Once through the door, they have to fight a slightly less TPK-ish monster, get their stuff stolen by pixies, talk to the King of the Mushrooms, get baked, get the potion keys, drink the potions, and go through the one-way door to Level 3.

That's assuming, of course, the players actually manage to catch the pixies in the first place. Or that the players don't just say "fuck this shit" and spend the rest of the night in the nymph room.

NEXT TIME: Level 3! It's actually worse than this!

The Dungeons of Madness 3

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or I really, really fucking hate this game!


The final level of the sample dungeon is the biggest at 18 rooms, which are once again not presented in the order the PCs will encounter them. To make my life easier (and to make this an easier read), I'm going to present the rooms in the order the PCs should be going through them.

So we come into Level 3 through the double doors; there aren't any stairs on the map leading to or from the previous level, but why ask why at this point.

Things start off in Room 1, and right off the bat, the MC is given the following warning:


Note: The entrances and exits of all chambers on this level are blocked by a magical, invisible, and impenetrable barrier.
Hopefully that doesn't include the way into this room, otherwise the PCs couldn't continue with the adventure! But that'd just be silly.

The room has three levers; one opens a pit in front of the double-doors. There are no double doors anywhere on this map, which is probably for the best since the spikes in the pit do 3d10+2 damage.

A second lever...well...


Activates a powerful magnet beneath the floor that pins all characters wearing leather armor to the spot where they are currently standing. The leather-clad PCs will not regain movement until the lever is reset to the up position.

The remaing lever...turns all the magical, impenetrable barriers on the level on or off. And I have to ask; if the barriers could be turned completely off five minutes into the first room, what the fuck is the point of having them in the first place? It's not like someone else is going to follow the PCs in, wait until they're a few rooms in, then turn the barriers back on trapping them forever.

Oh, wait, once the barriers are off, four Chittering Ferrovores in the adjacent Room 1a are freed to come into room 1 and attack. That doesn't excuse the whole barrier thing, though.

Next up is Room 2, which contains a shrine to Death with a big pile of gold on it.

Wait, didn't it say back in Chapter 6 that people don't actually worship the Elder Gods? Whatever, the writers obviously didn't give a flying fuck so why should I?

If the players put some gold on the altar, they get to roll for what happens; healing, damage, or a vision.

Wait, didn't it say back in Chapter 6 that the Elder Gods don't pay attention to the mortal world? If that's the case, then why would Death react to an offering?

Trying to take some of the gold off the altar causes 1d6 Ghouls to appear and attack the party.

Wait, didn't it say back in Chapter 6 that the Elder Gods don't pay attention to the mortal world? If that's the case, then why would...oh Christ, never mind.

The next room has a destroyed altar to Set. There's a hidden cache of stuff in here, protected by a needle trap. It's a Hard (5d6) Percieve test to find it, and then it's a Hard (4d6) Thieving test to disarm the trap. And no, that's not a typo; they actually got a rule wrong two sentences apart. The needle is a level 6 attack that does no damage, but kills you a minute after it hits you unless you make a Luck throw.

From here we can go into Room 4 (which is an empty room and dead end), or into Room 5, which has a Cockatrice in it. Cockatrices are only level 3, only have 4 Stamina (so 24 hp), only one point of physical damage resistance, and only have one attack: +2 to hit, 2d6+3 damage resisted by Endurance, and if the attack knocks you down a Wound Level, you only have to make a Luck Throw (7+ on 2d6, remember) or be turned to stone . As near as I can tell there's no "Stone To Flesh" spell, so since the Cockatrice's average damage is around 9 points (and the best Stamina a PC can have is 7) there's a pretty good chance on each hit that you're going to get insta-killed.

Nextdoor to this is Room 6, another dead end which contains nothing but a pile of treasure. Well, actually that's not true. Hiding under the treasure is a Grey Ooze (level 3).

What does a Grey Ooze do? Well, it can Envelop folks (+4 to hit, 2d6+3 acid damage vs. Armor and Pins). Once it does that, it can use its move action to Crush (+4 to hit, 2d8+3 acid damage vs. Endurance) against every opponent it has Pinned. If it kills someone with this attack, there's a chance (9+ on a d12) that it'll grow one size category and heal up fully. The larger it is, the more people it can us its Envelop attack on.

Oh, and they do this:


Immunity (C): Grey Oozes are immune to all damage from slashing and piercing weapons. If attacked by a slicing weapon, the Grey Ooze will split into two Oozes of one size category less than its current size. These Oozes will split evenly the current damage affecting the “creating” Ooze. Small Oozes do not split, neither do they take damage.
So wait...if they don't take damage from slashing attacks, how can the two new oozes split the damage from the attack?

Sadly, the adventure forgets to tell us what size category the Grey Ooze here is. To balance that out, they also forget to tell us what the treasure in here is supposed to be.

Once all that is dealt with, the next group of rooms are 9, 10, and 11 (rooms 7 and 8 are actually at the end of the level).

Room 9 is the Summoning Chamber, and contains a demon held in a magic circle. It'll try to parley if the players offer it a corpse to eat ("of a Ferrovore or Cockatrice", according to the book), or if they agree to break the circle and let it go. If the players let it go, it'll attack despite not having a stat block. If they talk to it, it tells them that there's a huge treasure in Room 7, and that they have to go through a secret door which is opened via room 11 (and from the way it's presented, it seems like the demon does refer to them as "room 7" and "room 11".)

Room 10 isn't actually labeled on the map, but I think it's near 9 and 11. Here's the complete room description:


A 20-foot-diameter stone wheel covered in strange pictograms hangs on the western wall. An interior circle clicks backward a slight tick every 13 seconds. A comprehend texts spell enables the reader to discover that this wheel is ticking backward toward the end of all life and time.

Room 11 is a puzzle room. On the wall is a magic square made up of tiles with numbers on them. All the tiles are in place except for the four in the middle. There are tiles with numbers all over the room; when the players put the right numbers in place, a secret door opens to the second half of the level.


Entire dungeons can be filled with puzzles and deadly traps. They may be extremely simple, incredibly complex, or anywhere in between. Most importantly, they are meant to challenge the players not the characters. Solving some puzzles may allow PCs to escape the consequences of a deadly trap, gain access to a room full of treasure, or allow the party to descend deeper into the labyrinth, for good or for ill. Still some exist in the dungeons simply to waste the PC’s time, but you never know…a running motif of THE SECRET FIRE.

So that's half the level finished, with a minimum of Resident Evil puzzle bullshit.

The second half of the level starts in Room 18, which contains nothing but an Imp that flys around saying “More food for the dragon. More food for the dragon. Must tell master. Must tell master.” If the PCs talk to it, it just makes fun of them, and if they attack it it'll just vanish.

The only way to go from here is to Room 14, which is filled with spider webs that reduce movement by 3/4 and trap players if they fail a Luck Throw at the end of their turns. You can try to break out by making an Athletics roll, but they you still have to make the Luck Throw at the end of your turn anyway.

The room also contains 6 Giant Spiders. They're level 3, have 8 Stamina, 4-6 damage resistance depending on the attack, and have a bite attack that is +5 to hit, does 2d6+3 damage and Paralyzes. It can also cocoon anyone who's Paralyzed, which means that if they shake off the paralysis, they still have to make a Hard Athletics or Reflexes skill roll or they're Pinned.

After this is a 130' long corridor, with Room 17 on the side. This room contains nothing but another Grey Ooze, which drops on them from the ceiling once everyone's in.

At the end of the long corridor is Room 16. In this room are two dozen Skeletons . If they PCs try to talk to them (why would they try to talk to skeletons?), they're told by the skeletons that they're the remains of adventurers that tried to kill the dragon ahead, and they're now bound to defend the dragon itself. They do try to warn the PCs away, and say that they should talk to the Sphinx (also through this room) before they confront the dragon. To get through here to the rest of the level, the PCs are going to have to fight their way through 24 Skeletons (level 3, 3 Stamina, and do 2d6+2 and knock Prone, or 3d6+2 against Prone targets).

I don't even want to imagine what a pain in the ass it'd be to run that fight.

From this room, we have two choices to pick from; one of these leads to Room 15, the dead end where the Sphinx is. It knows the following Fun Facts about the dragon:


• The Dragon is ancient, at least 1,000 years old, and is extremely bored.
• Its hide is extremely thick, almost impenetrable.
• It has tremendous will, but suffers from a deficiency in magic, which is what allowed .Tambor to enslave it in the first place and bring it here
There's actually one more factoid it drops, but I'm keeping that secret so I don't ruin the surprise later.

The other eay out of the skeleton room branches once again. One path leads to rooms 12 and 13; the other to rooms 7 and 8.

Room 12 ("Guardians of the Dragon’s Lair") contains three Manticores, who will fight to the death to prevent anyone from passing. I talked about Manticores back when I did the Creatures chapter; they're level 6 creatures with 8 Stamina, at least 5 points of DR, and have these attacks:


Bite (Action): +4 melee attack vs. Armor (2d8 + 2 damage)
Claws (Move): Two +4 melee attacks vs. Armor (2d6 + 2 damage)
Tail Smash (Action): +6 melee attack (Reach 2) vs. Armor (4d8 + 8 physical damage), plus Shove 2d6 squares and Knocked Down and an automatic hit for poison vs. Endurance (5d6 poison damage)hit. In other words, a character struck by a Manticore’s Tail Smash is Shoved 2d6 squares, Knocked Down, and Poisoned in addition to the massive initial damage. A Manticore can only perform a Tail Smash at the end of a charge (with the charging bonus already factored in).
In other words, Manticores can make three +4 attacks each round to an adjacent target, and even if onyl two of the attacks hit, that's a rough average of 18 damage all told. Better hope they don't gang up on one character!

Your reward for beating the Manticores is the ability to go through to Room 13, which is empty and leads nowhere. These "guardians" aren't actually between the PCs and the dragon at any point.

All that leaves are Rooms 7 and 8. And what's Room 7? That's right: "The Dragon’s Abode"

The Noble Dragon in this room allows the PCs to enter (which makes me wonder why he had guards up in the first place), and won't attack unless the PCs try something. Once they enter its lair, the dragon demands all their treasure and Talismans on pain of death. If the party attacks, it will fight to the death.

Well...not quite to the death...


If the PCs decide at any point to resume parley, the dragon stops fighting. Because it has enjoyed the sport the party has provided it, it agrees to allow them to leave its abode in exchange for only half their treasure. If they refuse, it annihilates them — or at least tries to (and will probably succeed unless the party is very lucky and very creative).
That's right; the dragon will stop pounding the characters into smears of ash if they ask him not to. The Sphinx in room 15 will just tell the group this (it's the factoid I didn't reveal), so it's not even like they had to figure that out for themselves.

So in answer to this question:

Comment posted:

Is there an encounter in this dungeon that isn't either an epic-level rocks-fall, or a nonsensical "roleplaying opportunity"?
Yes. There is one encounter that is both.

Noble Dragons are, as stated previously, level 10. 20 Stamina, minimum of 10 DR, a +8 to-hit claw/claw/bite combo that does 2d6+5/2d6+5/4d8+10 damage, if you get hit by the bite attack you have to make a stat-modified Luck roll or be swallowed whole, have a 10-square long 10d6+Deafen+Knock Down breath weapon usable multiple times per fight (1d4 chance of recharging, or spend two of its 30 or so Energy Points to recharge right away), and cast spells as a 10th level Wizard.

The dragon's loot isn't that impressive, especially when compared to the total haul of the first level; 12,000 gp and three Talismans.

So you either slay the dragon or pay the toll. Either way, you can proceed to the last room of the level: Room 8. Considering all the crap you had to go through to get here, it must be pretty damn impressive, right?


Opening the door to this chamber triggers a guardian projection spell with its baleful teleport magic active (not discoverable by Thieves, as they can only find mechanical traps; though a Hard [5d6] Magic Skill Test will reveal the presence of the magic).

Treasure: 6,000 gp, 4 elixirs of life , the Great Bow of the North (+2), the Black Orb of He Who Shall Not Be Named (+2, Evil)

guardian projection's spell description posted:

A creature who steps on a baleful teleport trap must succeed on a Luck Throw or be teleported to a random plane of existence

That's it.

No, really, that's it. That's what you fought through all those damn monsters for. That's the end of the level. There aren't even any stairs down anywhere or anything.



I really, really, really hate this game.

NEXT TIME: Art, Appendices, and the moment you've all been waiting for: HOW TO EARN EXPERIENCE POINTS THROUGH REAL-LIFE ACTIONS!

Going Down in Flames

posted by Evil Mastermind Original SA post

THE SECRET FIRE , or, Going Down In Flames!

Part 22: Art, Puzzles, Appendixes, and the Denouement.

I'll admit I haven't really talked about the game's artwork. That's because, for the most part, there isn't any.

Well, that's not entirely true. Throughout the book are these stand-alone illustrations that don't seem to have anything to do with anything, but I guess they're supposed to be "evocative" or something.

I mean, they're not bad , they just have nothing to do with anything.

But there's also the full-page stuff to take into account. Way back in my first post I put up a small shot of the game's cover, and George has helpfully provided a larger version of the cover art desktop-wallpaper-sized.

You can see it here: One "art", please!

Take that full-sized image, chuckle at how pixelated the logo is, pull a 7x10 inch chunk of it (say, that person in the upper-left-hand-ish corner), greyscale it, and congratulations! You've got art worthy of being in THE SECRET FIRE!

The few full-page illustrations in the book are actually just parts of that piece, blown up and greyscaled since the PDF is black-and-white. Needless to say, it looks like shit.

There's also the puzzle aspect of the book. As I've mentioned in passing, there's apparently some sort of "hidden riddle" (or "hiddle", if you will) spread throughout the book. This takes the form of odd illustrations that make even less sense than the "normal" art.

That is a functioning QR code, by the way. There are a few throughout the book, but they're all just silly "philosophical" sayings.

Supposedly solving the overlying puzzle will earn you a Riddler trophy reveal the True Nature of the game. But unless the hidden message is "HAHA gotcha! this isn't serious!", I really can't bring myself to care enough to wonder what it'd be.

But enough about the fanciful world of art! Let's cover the four appendices!

Appendix A is the Attack Matrix. The way you use this is that you take the attacker's level (from 1 to 10), and cross-reference it with the defender's Dodge score (from 1 to 20). The result from the chart is the base number you need to roll to hit before taking things like stat or magic item bonuses into account. Because constantly looking things up on a table is much less complicated and much more immersive than just saying "your base to-hit is 10 + the target's Dodge - your level", which is what the table maths out to.

Appendix B is a plug for the Gygax Memorial Fund . I'm not going to make fun of this, since despite what George seems to think he knows the guy, I still respect Gary Gygax as the father of our hobby.

Skipping ahead a bit, Appendix D is the "recommended reading" list. it includes such eclectic selections as Plato's Republic , A Game of Thrones , Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Synder, Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway , Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax, and "Any and all editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, and Runequest". Oh, and "Anything that sparks your imagination.", which is pretty funny considering how un imaginative this game is.

That leaves us with Appendix C: "The Adventure Never Ends..."


I want to begin by summarizing THE SECRET FIRE™ philosophy of Player Characters:

Player Characters are not special. They do not stand high above the rest. As a Player Character, you are — to use the language of the real world — an average Joe.

You are not a superhero. Indeed, you are not even a hero. You are a person who seeks more than the average existence can provide. Your actions in the world beyond will determine whether you will be hailed as a hero or not, for it is not for you to say. You may not even survive your foray into the unknown — and yet, you may still live forever in tales and stories as a hero who dared to go where others feared to tread….

That is what it means to be an adventurer in the world of THE SECRET FIRE.
...uh huh.

George goes on to tell us how, when he was younger, he and his friends attempted to overcome their singlehood by setting up a "date club".


(The first rule of Date Club is: you do not talk about Date Club...and I haven’t, until now.)
Timely reference there, George.

Anyway, the idea was that they earned points for asking people out on dates, with a bonus if they actually went on a date. Whoever got the most points wouldn't have to pay for dinner when they all went out for dinner.

George has applied this concept to THE SECRET FIRE. He provides a list of 35 "tasks", which reads like an amalgamation of "Life's Little Instruction Book" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul". Each week, you get a 1% experience point bonus for each of the tasks you complete, up to a maximum of 5% per week. Weeks do stack, however; if you didn't play for three weeks but did five things each week, you'd get a 15% xp bonus.

And what are these tasks? I'm glad you asked!


A World of Adventure
1. Read a non-game-related book.
2. Perform a random act of kindness.
3. Meditate for at least 10 minutes.
4. Exercise (with the usual caveat of consulting with your doctor before starting any exercise program, etc.).
5. Ask someone out on a date.
6. Give to charity.
7. Learn a new skill.
8. Take a class (a class you want to take, not one that you are required to take for work or school).
9. Call or write a letter or e-mail to a friend or family member you have not spoken to in a long time.
10. Forgive someone.
11. Write a short story.
12. Start keeping a journal.
13. Go out to a movie.
14. Hang out with friends (and do anything but play a game that you have played together previously).
15. Go bowling.
16. Play billiards.
17. Start a new healthy eating regimen or continue to stick to one.
18. Volunteer for something.
19. Give directions to a lost person.
20. Watch an educational video.
21. Listen to music you do not normally listen to.
22. Play an instrument alone or with friends.
23. Go to a live concert.
24. Take a walk for fun.
25. Make something with your hands.
26. Help out someone who is in trouble.
27. Mentor someone.
28. Help a younger person with his or her homework.
29. Tell someone you love them or miss them.
30. Get someone a gift for no reason.
31. Smile at strangers.
32. Say hello to people in your building that you would normally just pass by.
33. Listen to someone who needs to talk about a problem. You do not have to give advice.
34. Apologize when you know that you are at fault, but would really rather not admit it.
35. Start a blog or post a blog entry about a topic you love.

Yes, by doing up to five of these a week, not only do you level up your character, you level up yourself. Or your soul. Or something; this whole thing is just so silly.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself. Hell, I could do with doing a few of the things on that list more often myself. But to somehow try to quantify it as a "reward" that pays off in your shitty self-aggrandizing fantasy RPG like you're helping people become better human beings while fulfilling Gary's's just the mortar that's gluing his ego bricks together.

Or maybe I've just been doing this review too long.


While the XP is a bonus, allowing you to quantify your achievements, doing any of these things will help make you feel like the hero you are in real life. Gaming is one part of our real lives, so why not use it to help us feel better about ourselves and make the world a better place?

Does this sound corny? Maybe. Will you feel better if you do it? Guaranteed. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
That's what I'm doing here, George. I want the change to be "people writing better RPGs, because this is a hobby I care about, so I'm going to show how not to do it."

After the appedices, there's a few standard issue end-of-the-book ads, the back cover (again with the praise quotes from Gail Gygax and Monte Cook), and...that's it. That's the end.


And you know, I'm actually kind of sorry it's over. Admitedly, it's that sense of a long, challenging task finally being finsihed (and hopefully done well), but it's there.

I've written a lot of words about this game, most of them angry. I'm pretty confident at this point that I've put more thought and work into this game than George Strayton himself did.

This whole game is aggrivating on a lot of levels; there's a lot of missing content, and a lot of what isn't missing is badly written or poorly designed. Mechanics lifted from other games, an inablility to remember their own rules from one chapter to the next, "real time" durations, the dungeon that's just a bunch of random rooms slapped together..and most of all the ego trip that slides through everything.

THE SECRET FIRE claims to promote "immersion" and "verisimilitude", but my understanding is that these come from the creation of a believable world; a setting and characters that aren't just a collection of numbers, but actually feel like they could exist.

But there's none of that here.

Instead, we get rigidly defined "Aspects" for stats that are supposed to take the place of numbers, even though you still use the numbers anyway. We get lots of "in character" item descriptions for equipment, but then we get a totally gameist encumberance system that makes no sense realisticly. We're told the game is "freeform" on the same page we get this rigid step-by-step procedure on how to handle gametime, including rolling a die to see what time something happens. We get a setting with no real detail, but we're expeted to come up with complicated backstories and descriptions for every magic item we find. The game talks about making a dungeon come alive, to make the players feel like this is a real place, but then we get a bunch of rooms jammed together with no logic other that "hey, it worked for Tomb of Horrors, right?"

Everything in this game is self-contradictory; any good ideas or concepts are canceled out almost immediately by a handful of bad ones. All the bad countering the good, until all we're left with is the vanity project of a man who's too full of himself to realize that maybe, just maybe, writing another derivative fantasy heartbreaker in a long, long line of derivative fantasy heartbreakers wasn't such a good idea. And that's what he's going to be known for, in the end.

The end of the game, the end of the book, and the end of my review.

Oh, and George?

Fuck you.

We've got the fire, but does it mean anything
We've got the fire tonight.
We wanna fight but will that change anything?
Will it make it alright?

- Reel Big Fish, The Fire

Did you get your $10 worth, Rasamune?