Dec 212017

Clearly not a hand. More of a leg, actually.

Hand of the Demon is our next major project in development. It’s going to be mostly a rules supplement for creating characters with demonic body parts grafted onto them (not necessarily hands) and maybe 40% a campaign that you can run involving grafted characters.

It’s inspired by Corum and the Hand of Kwll, first edition Hand (and Eye) of Veccna (which was pretty much a rip-off of Corum) and Claw the Unconquered comic books. To a lesser extent, also the teeth of Dahlver-nar from first edition,

Essentially there’s a literary tradition of monster-handed heroes’ that’s largely gone unmentioned in modern RPG games. So paNik is mentioning it.

Also clearly not a hand. More of a literal evil eye.

 December 21, 2017  Posted by at 7:04 pm Products No Responses »
Oct 042017

Andrew says… Recently, the paNik development server (i.e. Andrew’s computer) crashed, which put a sever crimp in our production schedule. Luckily I’d recently backed up everything to an external drive so we didn’t lose anything — except for fonts and we might be able to salvage them from the old machine. I’m still in the process of re-installing software, drivers, plug-ins and all that fun stuff on the new machine (as well as trying to re-establish all my preferences; I’m spoiled). So it’ll be a while before we’re fully back up and running.

Since there’s nothing like free content to tide you over in the meantime, I humbly offer the following 4 feats as an expansion to our Modern Adventures supplement to Pathfinder. These feats are intended for campaigns set in the 21st century and have only been play-tested for that setting. Introducing them to a medieval or ancient-era setting may unbalance your campaign.

Acrobatic Dodge

You are especially able to apply your nimbleness to avoid being struck in combat.

Prerequisite: Acrobatic, Dexterity 13, Trained in the Acrobatics skill

Benefit: As a standard action, you may make an Acrobatics skill roll and use the result of that roll as your Armor Class (including touch Armor Class and ballistic Armor Class) until the start of your next turn. You may not take 10 on this roll and must abide by the result, even if it is lower than your normal Armor Class.

Encyclopedic Dodge

You can use your detailed knowledge to predict its most likely behavior such as their preferred method – and direction – of attack. Thus forewarned, you can better avoid such attacks.

Prerequisite: Int 13, Base Attack Bonus +6

Benefit: Once per day, when you successfully identify a creature using the appropriate Knowledge check, you gain a +2 dodge bonus against that creature for 1 minute.

Nimble Tortoise Maneuver*

A gut-shot man grimaces in the foreground while a smug soldier holds a smoking gun in the background.

He should’ve used Nimble Tortoise Maneuver!

You have trained to maintain your defenses while remaining prone or crawling.

Prerequisite: Improved Unarmed Strike

Benefit: While crawling, you may ignore the first attack of opportunity you provoke each round. Additionally, you only suffer a -2 penalty to your melee armor class while prone.

Normal: Crawling incurs attacks of opportunity from any attackers who threaten you at any point of your crawl. You suffer a -4 penalty to your melee Armor Class.

Stone Ox Chi Gung*

Constant training under adverse conditions has hardened your muscles and toughened your skin to be nearly as tough as leather.

Prerequisite: Con 13, Improved Unarmed Strike

Benefit: You gain +1 natural armor. You may take this feat up to three times. The effects stack.

*This is a combat feat and can be selected as a fighter bonus feat.


Are any of these enticing? If you want to help play-test these, please let us know in the comments how it went.

 October 4, 2017  Posted by at 8:06 pm Not Game Reviews, Products No Responses »
Aug 312017
Four strange looking dogs facing the viewer from inside a giant number 13.

Cover of 13 Things: Gene-Spliced Dogs

Actually, there’s 14!

Complete stats for 14 new dog-variants in five game systems for under two bucks. Whether you’re looking for guard dogs to beef up security at your mad scientist’s lab, escaped experimental subjects, or weird pets for your players, 13 Things: Gene-Spliced Dogs fits the bill. It’s got extra-large dogs with genes from bears, super-fast dogs with hummingbird D.N.A.,  skunk-dogs, shark-dogs, dogs that walk on walls, and dogs that can track prey by sensing its electromagnetic field. (Yes this is an ability possessed by real animals, but to find out which one, you’ll have to spring for a buck thirty!)

On sale now at the Open Gaming Store.

 August 31, 2017  Posted by at 5:08 pm Products No Responses »
Aug 102017
13 Things: Gene-spliced Dogs

Preliminary Cover Design

Howdy Gang,
paNik productions is trying something new, a series of offerings we’re calling “13 Things”. Each book (I hate to say “book” because they’ll all probably average under 10 pages) will have 13 (or more, probably more) thematically related ideas and items for enhancing or expanding your game. We wanted a change from the massive and time-consuming projects we’ve been working on and needed to keep things fresh. Also we thought it might be nice to publish something more than once every 10 months.

We’ll still publish the massive books you’ve come to know and tolerate. With the 13 Things series, we’ll just be publishing more.

How did we decide on thirteen? It seemed like a happy medium of having enough ideas to be worth your time (and money) and not taking months and months of development time. Plus thirteen is spooooky!

This one will be “13 Things: Gene Spliced Dogs”, giving you 13 alt-dogs that you can use as security animals, weird pets, or denizens of a mad scientist’s laboratory.

What sorts of things do you want to see developed (in increments of 13)? paNik is open to suggestions.

 August 10, 2017  Posted by at 11:31 am Products No Responses »
Aug 072017
Image of a female orc

… of course that’s true of anyone on a long enough time frame.

Follow-up to my last post:

Initially the players wanted to try to convert Uncle Morn as a double-agent… but they couldn’t figure out how to get in contact with him in a way that wouldn’t spell their doom. (The last time they were in this town they got arrested and broke out, killing a lot of guards in the process. Like players do.)

Failing that, they decided that assassinating Ekka would get the most bang for their “break up the alliance” buck. So assuming a clever disguise as turnip salesmen they bluffed their way into the kitchen and are halfway through Ekka’s mansion (which is turning out to be a pretty nice dungeon crawl). I can’t say more without giving spoilers to my players so I’ll wrap things up here.

Anybody else got any quick-and-dirty world building tips they feel like sharing?

 August 7, 2017  Posted by at 11:08 am Anecdotes No Responses »
Jul 202017
Picture of the cast of TV show "Cheers" as orcs

I have one week to design the movers and shakers of a whole new town. The characters don’t have to be fully-fleshed 3-dimensional works of art but they need to be believable, dynamic and interesting with the possibility of internal conflict within which the player characters can insert themselves. Also they all have to be orcs. It’s an orc town.

Actually, because my job got too busy for me to think about game problems, I now only have 3 days left – and one of those days is going to get eaten up by work again. But I’m not worried. I know a trick.

The trick is to leverage existing character design patterns, or without the fancy language: swipe from an existing source. In the past I’ve used presidents of the United States and members of famous bands as my templates but this time I’m just going to rip off an old TV show: Cheers.

It took 12 seconds to google a cast photo, 12 minutes to crudely photoshop them into orcs, and 2 more minutes to change their names around to sound more “orc”. I spend maybe 20 more minutes jotting down the following notes and, Pow! I’ve completed a task that would have otherwise taken whole days of development. The hardest part was figuring how each character would fit in with the town’s recent alliance with/annexation by the villainous mountain orcs – and by “hard” I mean uncomfortable-chair-cushion hard, not metal-hard or stone-hard.

Picture of the cast of TV show "Cheers" as orcs

Based on the title of this post, you should have seen this coming. You really should.

Starting with the back row:

Frasier Crane

Cranes are birds. Sandhill Crane. Shorten down to just Sandhill. Frasier is an over-educated psychiatrist so his orc equivalent would be an intellectual witch-doctor and advisor to the mayor. A physical lightweight, Sandhill is a master of mind games and manipulation, but lacks the charisma to attain true political power on his own. He will use whatever tool (be it intimidation, bribery, or outright witchcraft) is necessary to get the job done.

Sandhill is loyal to Samalo, but mistrusts Ekka and snobbishly disapproves of the others.

Sandhill disapproves of an alliance with the mountain orcs but since that die is already cast he’s determined to make the best of the situation.

Sam Malone

Concatenating and truncating (how’s that for some fancy 5-dollar words?) both names gives us “Samalo” for a name. As the owner of Cheers, his orc counterpart would be town mayor. A popular and populist leader, Samalo wants to do what’s best for his people, but is hampered by his baser urges. Currently his sights are set on Ekka who keeps him too infatuated to focus on the day-to-day tasks of leadership.

Samalo trusts all the other orcs implicitly, although he probably shouldn’t.

Samalo cares nothing for mountain orc ideology; he just thinks that allying with them will make his job easier.

Woody Boyd

Woody = trees = Leaf. But I wanted a more macho name than “leaf” so I changed the letters to make it “Leif” instead. Lief is a good-natured imbecile, but since Woody was the assistant bartender, that makes him the second-highest “ranked” bar employee. So I’m taking some liberties and saying Leif is Samalo’s younger brother. Knowing that Samalo will bear all the burdens of leadership Leif grew up a party boy with no real concerns or skills – other than wining and dining visitors. Still, he’ll have to leader-up and run the town when Samalo goes to war.

Leif is too genial to harbor any resentment towards any of the others, who in turn don’t consider him much of a threat, politically at least. In face-to-face combat he’s probably the most formidable.

Leif doesn’t care one way or the other about the mountain orcs, as long as enough attractive females remain available for carousing.

Cliff Clavin

Craig is a synonym of “Cliff” so I just orc-ed up the spelling to “Kragg”. A boisterous know-it-all Cliff’s day job was as a mailman, a job that doesn’t exist in orcish Freedonia so I’ll have to make Kragg a traveling merchant, albeit an extraordinarily successful one. I’ll shift Cliff’s wealth of misinformation to a general ignorance of how to behave at court and make Kragg actually know things about the outlands. This expertise (along with his wealth) earns him a place in town hall.

Kragg believes himself to be social equals with the others, although he knows in his heart of hearts that he doesn’t measure up and wastes a lot of talk trying to out-lecture Sandhill, outspend Ekka, and out-party Leif and Uncle Morn.

Kragg doesn’t really understand how the mountain orcs will change things, but he’ll tell you a thousand reasons why it’s a good idea to go along with them.

Carla Tortelli

Rearrange (and/or remove) the letters from “Carla” and you get Lara. The hard-working trash-talking head waitress of Cheers becomes the mayor’s Steward, in charge the administration of household servants and routine tasks such as making sure Samalo’s orders actually get carried out. Having worked her way up from scullery maid beginnings, Lara is smart enough to run the town all on her own – but scores an F- in diplomacy and negotiation. Laden with countless chips on her shoulder, Lara bullies everyone caustically. Mention the rumors that she’s got hobbit ancestry and see where it gets you. Go on. I dare you.

Lara hates everybody, but tolerates Samalo the best because he’s the rightful king. She has some respect for Kragg as a working-fellow and respects (even as she derides) Uncle Morn’s ability to game the system. Everyone else better watch out.

Mountain orcs too.

Rebecca Chambers

By this time I’m getting  lazy with the names and just started knocking off letters until I got to “Ekka”, which sounds suitably orcish to me. An ambitious social climber, Ekka dreams of becoming mayor some day, ideally through some means other than by marrying Samalo (ugh!) but if she absolutely has to…  Let’s just keep that at plan D for now.

Ekka is the principle architect of the alliance with mountain orcs. Her entire future is insolubly linked to them so this whole thing had better work out, or else. Also, since her only form of stress release is buying fancy clothes, perfumes, and beauty treatments, she’s almost out of money.

Ekka is romancing Samalo while simultaneously keeping him at arms length, a tough act to balance, but she’s managing. She mistrusts Sandhill and Lara, considering them to be her only true opponents. The others, she overlooks completely.

Norm Peters

“Norm” spelled backwards doesn’t quite work as a name but sideways, it comes out “Morn”. Everyone’s favorite reprobate, Norm was beloved by all while managing to accomplish exactly nothing. Uncle Morn is exactly the same way. Samalo and Leif’s uncle, he could have laid claim to leadership but let it pass to his nephew instead. Morn is completely enslaved by his vices and spends most of his time in various states of inebriation, which causes most to overlook him – when they notice him at all. This is a mistake because, as one of the oldest orcs in the region, he has decades more experience in politicking than the other orcs. During the few hours of semi-sobriety Morn has each week he gives Samalo sage council and advice.

Morn mistrusts Ekka completely but has a certain fondness for all the others.

Morn opposed the mountain orc alliance – but not forcefully enough for anyone to take notice. If forced to sober up, he could become a valuable ally or spy.

 July 20, 2017  Posted by at 8:08 pm Anecdotes No Responses »
May 182017
Cover to Harrow County Issue one

Cover to issue #1. It can’t contain the goodness inside any more than that box can contain that… thing.

About 2 years ago I started picking up Harrow County at World’s Greatest Comics. I expected to buy a few issues (because you can’t get enough story in a single issue to make an accurate decision on a comic book these days, a condition I’ll undoubtedly rant about at a later time) and drop it when it turned out to be lame. Instead it’s one of my favorite comics. Not of all time, but definitely of the stuff currently coming out.

The protagonist is a girl named Emmy who lives on a farm with her father in the American South — in the eponymous Harrow county. I can’t remember if they ever definitively stated her age but Emmy seems to be in her mid-teens; she has a strong independent streak coupled with a lack of experience with social interaction (due to the isolation of living in the middle of nowhere) that makes it hard to pin down her exact age. I’m no expert but judging from the clothing and level of available technology, the story’s set in the 1930s? It’s hard to tell, because however advanced the world at large may be, you get the sense that Harrow county is always a decade or two behind the times.

The first few story arcs center around Emmy exploring her world which, despite being small geographically, is rich with monsters, haunts (or “haints” as they’re colloquially called in the book), and various other supernatural entities that defy categorization. Seriously. What do you call the still “living” skin of a dead boy? It’s physical skin so it’s not a ghost. It’s not interested in eating people, so it’s not a monster. It crawls around (sort-of) and can talk so… not a zombie. So WTF is that thing?

Just one of a lot of the gross and cool creatures populating the shadows of Harrow County.

As the story goes on, it starts to delve into Emmy’s origins, a plot line which I found less interesting the more time they spent on it, as I’m one of those guys who likes a little bit of mystery in characters; I’d rather know what a character does next than how they spent the last ten summer vacations. So that may just be my personal bias.

The one thing that never disappoints is the art. It’s just plain pretty. Every page seems to be a real live watercolor painting (as opposed to a Photoshop paint-job) and each is a masterpiece. The colors are vibrant and highly saturated without seeming garish or crayola-unnatural. They also never turn muddy, which is what happens every time I pick up a brush; I’m a terrible painter. And an envious one. I’d probably keep buying the book if the story was nothing more than Emmy doing chores around the farm. It’s that good.

Just look at the pictures. That’ll save us all a few thousand words.

Interior art from the Harrow County Comic book

This is just trees and birds and rocks. Imagine how awesome the monsters must be?

Harrow County Interior Panel

This image is more typical of the use of color. Just enough modeling to give a sense of form but not so much that it loses any sense of spontaneity.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. There’s usually a single-page “Tales of Harrow County” story at the back of most issues that packs as much creepiness as the rest of the book does. They have the feel of ghost stories told around the campfire, except actually creepy and not told by doddering old relatives who meander through digression after digression like a ball-bearing in one of those mazes you have to tilt. They feel like real folklore and bring a richer sense of the “Harrow County world” to the main stories.

I also really enjoy (and recommend) the letters column. People send in their own creepy stories about local legends they’ve heard or brushes with the supernatural they think they might’ve had. Normally, I just skip the letters because 95% fall into one of three categories:

  1. This book is awesome. Please have my babies.
  2. This book is terrible. I buy it only to burn it.
  3. Will you tell me the secret of X? I lack the patience to find out by reading future issues.

But not the Harrow County fans. They actually have something to say. Each letters page will save you a trip to the folklore section of your local library.

…which is why I’m writing about a horror comic book on an RPG website. Harrow County is a great source of inspiration for coming up with horror and fantasy adventures. I’m just itching to run a campaign where I can use some of the single-pagers or letter column stories as background material. It’d be cool to photocopy (or scan) one of the letters and reformat it as an ancillary character’s journal entry. Or if one character solos for a while I can pass out prints of the single-pagers and say: While Nik is exploring the abandoned factory, the rest of you can interact with the townsfolk. Here’s what they have to tell you.

I’m a big fan of multi-media in role playing. Also player hand-outs. They give your game world more context, make it feel more immersive for the players (even if they’re not big roleplayers themselves). I find that if you make it obvious that you put in a little prep work, not only will your players enjoy the game more but most will think more about their characters and how those characters  interact with the world in ways other than battling monsters. The more you develop your part of the campaign, the more they’ll tend to develop theirs (i.e. their character). Mostly. There’s one guy who shows up every week who only seems interested in moving his guy around the map and occasionally rolling some dice. But then there’s always one at every table, isn’t there.

Anyway, If you can, try to track down the back issues of Harrow County rather than buying the trade paperback. For one, it supports local retailers by helping them unload inventory. For two, I don’t think the trades reprint the single-page stories that are so great. I know they won’t reprint the letters columns.

 May 18, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Fun Stuff, Not Game Reviews No Responses »
Apr 292017

There’s a youtube podcast I listen to pretty often that deals with (among other things) cryptids, monsters, and ghosts. The guy’s not the most polished of presenters but his sincere enthusiasm for these topics shows through and that counts for a lot. This particular cast, dealt with a cryptid that seems completely ridiculous – and yet there’s something compelling about the idea that I can’t quite let it go. Check it out.

Cryptids and Monsters: Coonigator

It occurs to me that the rules from Mutant Manual lend themselves pretty readily to creating such a creature. So just for a goof, here are the mutant traits necessary to create a Coonigator. Because the description doesn’t specify the size of the creature, you could start with either an alligator or raccoon sized one. In either case, they both work out to +4 points meaning that either base creature would have to give up (or acquire a new) feat/edge/quality/advantage to afford them.


Alligator Base

  • Claws: Climbing +2
  • Cognition: Enhanced +4 (It’s safe to assume that a raccoon-like head means greater-than-reptile level intelligence)
  • Feature: Distinctive (raccoon mask) -1
  • Limb:  Specialized (climbing) +1
  • Metabolism: Rapid -2 (Compared to a reptilian metabolism, all mammals have this flaw; the constant search for food would drive it into places where humans might see it).




Raccoon Base

  • Dexterity: Impaired -2 (Accounts don’t specify if Cooinigators have the semi-prehensile thumbs that raccoons do, but let’s assume they don’t.)
  • Jaw: Razor +2 (Raccoons already have a bite attack; this just upgrades it to an alligator-level bite attack.)
  • Skin: Leathery: +4



 April 29, 2017  Posted by at 11:50 am Products No Responses »
Apr 132017

It recently came to my attention that this year is the 35th anniversary of Star Frontiers, a fairly forgettable sci-fi roleplaying game by TSR, the then publisher of gaming powerhouse Dungeons & Dragons. After doing some research it seems that there are still people playing the game, or at least I’d infer so from sites like and

Although you can download the entire product line in pdf format from either of those sites, it motivated me to dig out my boxed set and to run the introductory adventure for my group. (These days it’d be called a one-sheet, but I think the fact that it fit on one page was largely coincidental). Most had never played before and a reasonably good time was had by all. So how does it hold up against modern games? Let’s see:

⬤⬤⬤⬤⬤ Star Frontiers only uses d10s and virtually every roll is percentile based. You can roll up a new character in minutes and (as is common with most old-school games) most of your character building time is spent shopping for starting gear. My group was able to start playing immediately after building characters.
⬤⬤⬤◯◯ All the different “classes” give you a set number of skills at a set percentage value. When you advance, you can increase your existing skills or take a level in a new “class” and acquire new skills. There’s no penalty for multi-classing and it’s actually encouraged since the only way to improve fighting skills is to take a level in one of the martial classes so you can mix and match to any combination of skills. The downside is that starting characters only have 2 levels (one of which is almost always combat-related) — so players tend to start out somewhat monotonous.
⬤⬤⬤◯◯ It’s hard to guess how actual laser-weapon combat would play out… but SF does a fair job of what I’d imagine it’d be like. Unskilled combatants have a decent chance of surviving most combats and while skilled fighters have a clear advantage that’s no guarantee of victory. The only downside is that it’s still reliant on (the equivalent of) hit points for tracking damage and there’s no game effect for having 1 hit point or 100 hit points (again, common in older games).
⬤⬤◯◯◯ The Star Fronteirs universe is pretty squarely locked into a sci-fi space opera setting. Many skills are linked to specific pieces of equipment so you can’t easily just re-skin the gear and be in a different universe. That said, you can always move to a different planet with all-new environmental dangers and monsters. And you can run exploration, noir-style detective stories, corporate intrigue, piracy, and other types of stories — so it gets a second dot.
⬤⬤◯◯◯ The main reason I never actually played Star Frontiers back in the day is that it never gave a strong sense of setting. Sure, the aliens were cool but… it never really seemed to “click” with me. We explored a few planets, foiled some Sathar spies, and then… couldn’t think of anything else to do but explore some more planets. This might just have been a failure of my teenage imagination but… flipping through the books again, everything still seems kind-of flat. A good GM can still make a compelling SF campaign, but I don’t think it ever inspired average game masters.
⬤⬤⬤⬤⬤ I’m torn here. Back in the day, the original boxed set cost about as much as the main rulebook of any other game — but had slightly better value since it came with dice, fold-out maps, and cardboard tokens that would blow away at the slightest wind, so would be slightly-above average for cost value. But since everyone lacks a time machine, I’m going to go with five stars since you can’t beat free.
 April 13, 2017  Posted by at 11:28 am Game Reviews No Responses »
Apr 112017

There’s a million role playing games out there and you have a limited budget. How do you know which is the best one? Not necessarily the best one overall, but the best one for you, your budget, and your gaming group?

I can help you out with the first two, but you alone know what your group likes (and if you don’t you’ve got communications issues far beyond the scope of what can be sorted out in a few blog articles).

Knowing the internet as I do, I’m not going to try to make a case for this game to be number one and that game to be number two and so on. That sort of thing is just flame bait. Instead I’m going to try to set up a system for comparing games based on their attributes, much like the Consumer Reports magazines my Dad used to get when I was a kid. (O.K. so pretty much exactly like Consumer Reports). Each game system will be ranked on the following qualities:

Is the game easy to learn, easy to play, and easy to make up characters?
Not quite the opposite of Simplicity: is there enough granularity and complexity to ensure replayability and sustain your interest?
Does the game accurately simulate realistic combat, skills… or at least does it feel real? The litmus test for this is whether you can accurately simulate a wolfpack attacking a single target or not.
Are the rules locked to a specific universe or do they lend themselves to multiple genres?
Is the system particularly good for particular genres or types of stories?
What’s the financial barrier to entry?

Just for fun, lets’ take a look at Tic-Tac-Toe:

Simplicity: You can’t get much simpler than Tic-Tac-Toe. Five out of Five stars.

Crunch: One Star. It’s hard not to lose interest after 3 games.

Verisimilitude: Also one star. No my knowledge, Tic Tac Toe doesn’t represent anything realistically. (To be fair, it’s not even a role playing game so, I’m a jerk for trashing it in this manner.

Thematic: Also one star. I have no idea what the theme is supposed to be. Placing one of two letters in a grid is nearly the acme of abstraction.

Cost: Four stars. It’s cheap to play, given that all you need is paper and writing implement — but not free so I’m savagely knocking down a point.

Tic Tac Toe: ⬤⬤⬤⬤⬤⬤◯◯◯◯⬤◯◯◯◯⬤◯◯◯◯⬤⬤⬤⬤◯

In other words, not a great game. But you knew that already.

Tomorrow, we’ll tackle an actual game.

 April 11, 2017  Posted by at 2:07 pm Game Reviews No Responses »