Exclusive sneak peek at Onyx Shards, fantasy RPG

In the spirit of showing my work, I’m sharing the latest draft of Onyx Shards, the fantasy RPG I’m close to finishing.

Apologies in advance for the long post!

Those of you who’ve been here a while might remember Onyx Sky, my post-apocalyptic attributes + skills step-die game:

Since August 2022, I’ve been adapting the Onyx system to the fantasy genre in Onyx Shards. As usual, I thought this would be a simple job, but it became a ‘Gilligan’s Island’-style task.

The key challenges have been re-thinking the martial skillset in Onyx Sky to support magic in Onyx Shards; my assumptions about how things work in a martial-only game needed to be reworked to incorporate magic.

Game Overview

  • Characters have six attributes: Strength, Agility, Stamina, Intelligence, Acuity, and Influence
  • Attributes have die steps; d6, d8, d10, d12, d16, d20
  • An attribute at d8 is average for a human, while d20 is elite capability
  • Characters can learn general, martial, and magic skills
  • Skills have specializations that reflect mastery, versatility, and focus
  • Action pools are used for attribute tests and attacks
  • In attribute tests, the action pool rolls against a fixed difficulty or opposed to another character’s action pool
  • Attribute test action pools include the character’s attribute die, a matching die for the relevant skill, and a matching die for a skill specialization
  • Attribute tests can achieve up to 3 successes
  • Action pools ‘upstep’ and ‘downstep’ with advantages and disadvantages
  • For attacks, the attacker’s action pool rolls against the target’s defense pool
  • Attack action pools include the character’s attribute die, a matching die for their skill (such as a weapon or magic training skill), plus any further matching dice for martial or magic techniques
  • Defense pools against physical attacks include the character’s Body die, an Armor die for worn armor, and additional dice for skills and specialized situational techniques
  • Defense pools against mental attacks use the character’s mental defense die and any further dice from mental defense specializations
  • Attacks can achieve up to 3 successes, and when an attack hits, the attack’s damage is dealt for each success
  • In combat, characters can take multiple actions by downstepping their dice

Design Goals

Onyx Shards is the second iteration of the Onyx engine, first used in Onyx Sky. Elements of the Onyx engine build on design concepts from pervious Hero Forge Games titles, including Forge Engine and Hero Kids.

Elements of the Onyx games – mostly the step die implementation – iterate and expand on ideas from earlier games, including Savage Worlds and Ironclaw.

As a product, the goals for Onyx Shards are:

  • Approximately 180 pages for PDF and 360 pages in print (less if possible)
  • Complete game in a single book: Characters, Game Rules, Game Mastering, Campaign Guide, and Adversaries
  • Full color artwork
  • Free version including Characters and Game Rules sections
  • Form fillable character sheet
  • Dice rolling marcos for Roll20

Genre and Setting:

  • While Onyx Sky is post-apocalyptic, Onyx Shards is:
  • Grounded heroic medieval fantasy
  • A world with magic and monsters
  • Implied setting (but not as strong as Onyx Sky)

The key mechanics of the Onyx engine are:

  • Attributes+Skills system
  • Attributes represented by dice, scaling from d6 to d20 (including d16)
  • Opposed rolls for attacks vs defenses
  • Core mechanic allows degrees of success
  • Energy for extraordinary physical, mental, and magic actions
  • Multiple actions allowed by downstepping dice

Beyond the basics of the Onyx engine, it also features:

  • Minimal default action set to streamline actions resolution
  • Single transaction attribute test resolution (in general play and in combat)
  • Skills work independently, no pre-requisites, no skill trees
  • Simplicity with depth: All skills cost the same
  • Minimal math; no addition, subtraction, or modifiers, only comparisons
  • Minimal derived attributes (Health and Energy)
  • Actions that introduce complexity are skills that players choose to learn, placing responsibility on the player to manage their character’s abilities (i.e. Dodge is a skill, which removes this transaction from the default attack resolution flow and makes the player responsible for enacting the action)
  • Associated mechanics; energy pool reflects extraordinary effort, all character abilities are grounded in in-world narrative
  • Progression system that allows limited vertical progression, then switches to horizontal development
  • No look-up or reference tables of abilities, effects, or options
  • System accommodates disparate character power through opposed rolls

The Onyx engine delivers the following gameplay experience:

  • Traditional gameplay style (associated mechanics, players control characters, GM controls the ‘world’, etc)
  • Tactical combat, with meaningful round-to-round choices
  • Consistent skill presentation between magic and martial skills
  • Balance between martial and magic, neither overshadows or replaces the other, and combat effectiveness is comparable
  • Characters can impose control on the battlefield and devise party-level coordinated actions to increase overall tactical effectiveness.
  • Magic spells can enhance or augment other character abilities, but cannot overshadow or obviate those abilities
  • Magic system encourages characters to focus on one or two magic schools

Onyx Shards paves the way for the future release of a universal version of the system, Onyx Shift.

Changes from Onyx Sky

Onyx Shards builds on Onyx Sky, the first release of the Onyx system. While the core system is identical between Onyx Sky and Onyx Shards, this iteration includes a variety of updates, the most important of which are detailed here.

Along with the major revisions, the text of the system is revised and updated, and all game examples throughout are updated for clarity and to reflect the shift to the fantasy genre.

Character Creation

Character creation is updated to incorporate magic skills, and the CP budget for attributes and traits in the default character build has increased by 4 to 54.


The major update to the Onyx engine is the inclusion of magic. Magic affects several parts of the game, notably the addition of the Magic Adept Trait and the Magic Grimoire, which chronicles the spell skills for each school of magic.

General Skills

The General Skills section is updated to reflect the fantasy focus of Onyx Shards and to streamline the number of Specializations for each skill.

Martial Skills

The martial skills from Onyx Sky have been reworked for Onyx Shards, splitting these into Basic Martial Skills, Specialized Martial Skills, and the Martial Tome of Battle. Furthermore, all of the skills in the Martial Tome of Battle are updated to align their design, usage, and costs with those of the new magic skills.


The equipment section has been entirely revised to reflect the medieval fantasy focus of Onyx Shards and to better clarify the requirements and characteristics of the different weapons.

Movement Distances

Onyx Shards updates the movement, attack, and perception distances to use paces instead of feet. A pace is 2 steps, approximately 5’, an easier unit of movement for VTT play and making conversion to metric trivial.

Energized Actions

A small but significant change from Onyx Sky to Onyx Shards is the expansion of energized attribute tests to include attack actions, not just non-combat tests. This gives characters a further use for their Energy in combat.

Actions and Reactions

The repertoire of actions and reactions available to characters is streamlined with the removal of the Block reaction from the default action set. The Block reaction was previously reserved for using shields. Shields now automatically apply their effect to the character’s Armor die, making the Block reaction redundant.

Death and Dying

The death and dying procedure in Onyx Shards is updated to use the new Unconscious and Dying conditions (see below), and incorporates a new Stamina test to determine whether a character ultimately lives or dies.


The original condition library has been updated with conditions for the various death and dying conditions, including Conscious, Asleep, Unconscious, and Dying.

Preview of Onyx Shards

If you’ve gotten this far, here’s the latest draft of Onyx Shards.

I’d love feedback on whether I’ve achieved my design goals, where I’ve not, and any inconsistencies, ambiguities, errors, issues, gaps, and gripes.


Explore the world of the Brecken Vale!

I’ve just released the latest Hero Kids expansion, the Brecken Vale Gazetteer!

The Brecken Vale Gazetteer is jam packed with all-new artwork and 79 pages of information about the places, people, customs, factions, and adventures of the Brecken Vale.

Inside the gazetteer you’ll find:

  • Maps and regions of the Brecken Vale and beyond
  • Maps and locations in Rivenshore
  • People of the Vale (including 26 printable character cards)
  • Culture and customs across the Vale
  • Geography and climate
  • Lineages of the Vale (humans, elves, dwarves and other lineages)
  • Factions of the Varld
  • Random encounter tables for each habitat or locale
  • Campaign paths for beginner characters to heroes of the Varld
  • Over 50 new adventure hooks

The Road to Ruin now on Tabletop Simulator

Thanks to the amazing work of Joshua Hebert, The Road to Ruin is now up on Tabletop Simulator.

Here are the details:

The Road to Ruin co-operative card and dice game for 1 to 4 players. The Road to Ruin is set in the aftermath of a zombie infection outbreak that has left the city overrun by hordes of unstoppable zombies.

Each player controls a survivor of the outbreak. On their turn, the players move their survivor around hidden locations, revealing each location and the level of zombie threat at that location. Each of the locations is unique, and they may grant the survivor more items or weapons, allow the survivor to scavenge the location for equipment, or might be hazards that block the survivor’s path. Each of the survivors has a special ability, such as an affinity with a specific type of weapons (melee or ranged), general combat proficiency, extra health, or move versatile movement.

The survivors fight the zombies as they explore each location. In combat, the players roll two six-dice and then use their survivor’s weapons and items to attempt to beat the zombie’s threat level (which is between 7 and 11). Equipped weapons allow the player to reroll, melee weapons give one reroll and ranged weapons give two rerolls but require matching ammunition. If the survivor fails to fight of the zombie, they are wounded. Each survivor can take on a few wounds before they eliminated. However, survivors can use medical items to remove wounds, and can even discard items in combat to gain more rerolls in a last ditch effort to stay alive.

The goal of the game is to recover multiple supply items and to bring these back to the safe house location before the survivors fall to the zombies. The Road to Ruin comes with four scenarios. The basic scenario ‘Supply Run’ mentioned above lays out the game’s 25 locations in a 5×5 grid and tasks the survivors with recovering six supply items. Other scenarios use different layouts to create varied challenges, including one where the survivors must use a radio at a specific location to call for rescue and then reach the airport location to win. Each of the scenarios also has an easy variation, which usually requires fewer items to be recovered.

So, if you’re interested in a challenging and replayable solo and co-op card and dice game, check it out here:


Here’s how the game looks in Tabletop Simulator:

r/soloboardgaming - The Road to Ruin now on Tabletop Simulator

Another 38 Post-Apocalyptic RPG Encounter Seeds

Whether you’re prepping for an upcoming session of Onyx Sky or for an entirely different post-apocalyptic role-playing game, these encounters offer plenty of gameable inspiration.

These example encounters, and scores more, are available in Onyx Sky, now available on DriveThruRPG.

Check out the original 38 encounter seeds.

  • Mimic: The wanderers hear a distant cry for help: “Help me!”, “Please!” Is this a survivor in distress; trapped by animals or droids? Or, is it a battle droid that’s mimicking human voices to lure them into a trap?
  • Mother Lode: The wanderers come across the mother lode, a fully stocked general store. How is the store protected from nanites? Do they take more than they can carry? Do they lock up the store when they finish, or leave it for the nanites? What do they choose to take; food, weapons, or equipment? Do they stay a while to regroup? Do they share their bounty with other survivors? Do they find a back room in the store, filled with neatly arranged cots that show signs or recent use? Will the owners of the store return before the wanderers leave?
  • Mutt: While traveling, the wanderers are shadowed by a mangy dog. It searches their camp for scraps after they break camp, and follows after them each day. Do they feed it? Try to tame it? Is it even a real dog? Does that dog have a lot of meat on it?
  • Old Friends: The wanderers come across someone they’ve met before. Is it someone from their shelter? An enemy or friend? Is this a coincidence or intentional?
  • Outnumbered: The wanderers hear cries for help. When they investigate, they see a few survivors surrounded by a large group of raiders; more even than the wanderers can handle easily. Do the wanderers forsake these poor folk to their grim fate, or help against the odds?
  • Overwatch: When the wanderers are in a tight spot; a fight not going their way or confronted by a group that clearly out-match them. As all seems lost, from nowhere a bullet strikes the leader of their enemies. Boom, headshot. The rest of the enemies scatter in fear. Who fired this shot? Why is someone watching out for them? Can they track this person? Are they being followed? Will the favor ever be called in?
  • Plane Crash: The wanderers come across a deep scar in the landscape, a plane crashed here years ago. The plane is long gone, but the passengers’ desiccated bodies and their luggage are still intact. What might they find among the luggage? Was there an air marshal on board?
  • Pyre: Wanderers see a plume of smoke in the distance. When they approach, they come across a settlement, signs of a massacre, buildings burning. When they investigate, they find the village’s residents burned in a pyre, the source of the smoke that drew them to the settlement. Was this a massacre or a cleansing?
  • Rabies: In a deserted down, the wanderers are stalked by a pack of rabid dogs. Do the wanderers know the dangers of rabies? What steps will the wanderers take to avoid combat with the dogs? If the dogs attack, will the wanderers manage to protect themselves?
  • Rapture: The wanderers encounter a traveling preacher, who claims that the war was the rapture, and only sinners were left behind. Does the preacher offer to absolve their sins? Does the preacher know oddly specific details of their travels? Has the preacher been following the wanderers or does he have some kind of gift? What future does he prophesize for the wanderers?
  • Riders: The wanderers come across a small group of survivors on horseback. Are these people a threat? Do the wanderers engage with them to trade, to talk, or to size them up for shakedown? Are the riders stronger than they appear from a distance? Are their horses fit or starving nags?
  • Rival Wanderers: The wanderers come across another group, similar to their own, competing for the same goal (scavenging from the same town, recovering the same tech, etc). Do they team up or try to warn off the other group? Are they rivals or friends? Can they trust each other?
  • Road Agents: Traveling near an old-world city, the wanderers are stopped on the road by a group claiming to be the ‘law’. They accuse the wanderers of some crime (frankly, they’ve probably done something to justify this), and demand they pay restitution. Do the wanderers recognize these agents’ authority? Do the road agents look strong or weak? Do they challenge the road agents? Do the wanderers agree to pay the restitution? Is this payment enough for the road agents, or do they demand more?
  • Roadside Eats: At a crossroad, the wanderers come across a grubby survivor cooking over a fire. He has various meats on sticks; rat, sparrow, mouse, cat, and dog. He’s also offering discount meat, but he’s cagey about the origin of this meat. Is this human flesh? Do the wanderers care? Where did he get human meat?
  • Robbers: The wanderers are run down or ambushed by a group of robbers. Are these robbers stronger or weaker than the wanderers? Do they want food, weapons, or something else? Do they want just some of what the wanderers have, something specific, or all of their possessions? Or are they desperate for medication for one of their own?
  • Roughnecks: While in a peaceful settlement, the wanderers are witness to an altercation that’s instigated by a few uncouth but formidable brothers. During the altercation, several of the townsfolk are injured, including bystanders. Without law, will the wanderers step in to maintain order? Would it be so bad if these guys just, you know, left town? And even if the wanderers ask nicely, will the brothers move on?
  • Ruggedized: In their travels, the wanderers find a heavily ruggedized hardcase. The case is locked, and has no visible mechanism to unlock it. Inset in the lid is a screen that shows a message when touched: “Challenge Code: Echo Alpha Zulu Yankee”. Following that message, a keyboard appears on the touchscreen. How much battery remains? What is this device? Can they work out the challenge code? And if they do, what does it reveal?
  • Sacrifice: The wanderers come upon a group of fervent cultists. Their leader claims a vision of a promised land, but demands a blood sacrifice. Does one of the cultists volunteer, or do they ‘volunteer’ an elderly or young member of the group? Do the wanderers intervene? Is this promised land a delusion, or is it the place the wanderers are already trying to reach?
  • Seed Dilemma: In a settlement, the wanderers find the starving inhabitants arguing about whether they should eat their store of seed potatoes. If they eat the potatoes, they will survive the year, but surely perish the next year. If they save the potatoes, then not all of them will survive the winter. Do the wanderers intervene, or try to help? Do the wanderers want the seed potatoes for themselves?
  • Sentinel: During their travels, the wanderers spot a drone that regularly circles high above them. Where is it coming from? Is it watching them specifically? Can they track it back to its base? Is the drone armed? Do they have something that the drone is tasked to erase from the world?
  • Seized: In a settlement, a convoy of vehicles show up, claiming to be a Reunited States of America (or other suitable country) agency. They demand the townsfolk hand over their stores of food and water, under orders from the RSA government. Are these people actually from the government? Are they well armed and disciplined, or a rabble? What are they offering in return? Do the wanderers try to turn them away? If they wanderers deny them the supplies, how do these people react?
  • Sitting Ducks: The wanderers come across a small hungry-looking group huddled around a small fire. They are cooking a scrawny rabbit. Does this group have something the wanderers need? Do the wanderers trade, or just take what they want?
  • Slaughter: The wanderers come across the aftermath of a recent ambush; a battle-damaged caravan, dead men, women, and children in ragged clothes are strewn on the blood-soaked ground. Is this the aftermath of a horrific slaughter? Or is it a trap, and do the ‘bodies’ leap up, very much alive?
  • Snorkel: Wanderers come across a piece of land pierced with plastic (or bamboo) pipes coming from beneath the ground. What’s under the ground here? Is it a bunker? Are there people living here?
  • Stowaway: During a visit to a settlement, the wanderers encounter another survivor (perhaps a child). When they leave the settlement, they discover that the person has followed them or stowed away in their vehicle. Do the wanderers allow the stowaway to stay with them? Do they waste time and resources returning the person back to their home? Or do they try to send the person back on their own?
  • Teach the Children: The wanderers come upon a small group of teachers, who ask if they have come across any children in their travels. Are they legit? Or some kind of weirdos? Do they send these teachers off with the information they’ve asked for?
  • The Tell: In a settlement, the wanderers come across a small theater, where they do ‘The Tell’. “Been thirty years since the big one. Thirty years ago, the world got at each other, and then they just got mad. They sent all their soldiers out to do the war. And they all got dead, straight down to hell for them. But then the suits got real mad. And they pressed the button. Whoosh! Whoosh! Fire rained from the sky. And half of all them that was alive went straight down to hell too. The sky bled red from them that got burned. Then the skies got black. Turns out the lucky ones was already down in hell. That was the dark time. Years and years it went dark. Black skies. Black hearts. People done bad stuff to each other. Took five years till we got the sickness out. Five years till the sun came out again.”
  • Thief: While sleeping rough one night, someone steals into their camp and rifles through their possessions. Is this is a feral or another survivor looking for food, a raider stealing their weapons ahead of an ambush, or a droid looking for something specific? Do the wanderers wake to find this happening, or do they sleep through?
  • Trade Caravan: In their travels, the wanderers come across a traveling caravan, each wagon pulled by horses, accompanied by armed guards. These are traders, eager to barter with the wanderers. What traders form this caravan? Are there rare and unusual merchants? Purveyors of lost technologies, gunsmiths, doctors, dentists, or curtained wagons offering dubious indulgences?
  • Tradition: The wanderers come across a small community, seemingly well established and well running. The men and women are dressed simply and do things the same way they have for centuries. What can the wanderers learn from this community? How were they impacted by the nanites?
  • Turtle Droid: While traversing a rocky area, the wanderers hear calls for help. When they approach, they find a battle droid wedged between or under rocks. The droid implores the wanderers to help it out of its predicament. Is this a trap? Or is this an opportunity to capture a working droid? But why is the droid asking for help?
  • Unit: The wanderers come upon a group of survivors dressed in military uniforms. Are they raiders disguised as soldiers? Or the remnants of a pre-war military unit, striving to restore order? Or just some rabble who found uniforms and fancy themselves as the local militia?
  • Unsupervised Minors: The wanderers approach a homestead for shelter, trade, or scavenge. From afar, they see that the homestead is dilapidated, but somewhat maintained. As they approach, a young child comes out, clumsily holding a too-large bow. The child, and their younger sibling, are home alone. Do the wanderers attempt to negotiate with the children, or take advantage of their relative authority? Where are their parents or guardians, if they even have any? Have the wanderers crossed paths with these kids’ guardians in their travels, or perhaps they will in the future?
  • Unwelcome Guests: The wanderers spot a reasonably sized settlement in the distance, ringed by a haphazard fence. When they approach, healthy looking guards behind the walls tell them to leave the area, they’re not welcome here. Do the wanderers leave? Can they buy their way into this settlement? Can they trade with the settlers? Or is there something inside they need?
  • Waterbearer: In a desolate waste, out of the heat haze comes trotting a young person with a water barrel strapped to their back. Do the wanderers want to buy some water? What have they got to trade? Where did this kid come from, and where did they get the water? Does this kid charge outrageous prices for their water?
  • Weight In Gold: When the wanderers negotiate a job, their prospective employer tries to pay them in gold or old world paper currency. What are the wanderers gonna do with a bunch of gold bars or fat wads of crisp bills? Do they take the job, or insist on getting paid in something useful?
  • Wild Horses: The wanderers spot a group of horses. Are these wild horses, or broken horses set free? Can they catch these horses and tame them? Or do they need food more than horses?

38 Post-Apocalyptic RPG Encounter Seeds

Whether you’re prepping for an upcoming session of Onyx Sky or for an entirely different post-apocalyptic role-playing game, these encounters offer plenty of gameable inspiration.

These example encounters, and scores more, are available in Onyx Sky, now available on DriveThruRPG.

  • Alpha: The wanderers meet a fellow survivor in their travels. This survivor is alone, except for the eight dogs that are attached by heavy leather leads to their belt. These dogs look muscular and tough. How do they keep so many dogs fed? How do they stop the dogs turning on them? Does the alpha fiddle nervously with their belt as they interact? Do the wanderers notice the dogs salivate when they talk to the alpha?
  • Ambush: The wanderers are ambushed by well-concealed enemies or stealthy animals. Where did these attackers come from? How did they hide so well that the wanderers didn’t notice them? And are there more of them waiting to attack?
  • Apostates: These fervent cultists decry any technology from the ‘before’ confront the wanderers, and demand they destroy any technology. Do the wanderers hand over their technology? Where do they draw the line? Electronics? Weapons? Plastics? Pre-war clothes? How do the cultists cleanse apostates?
  • Armed: The wanderers come across another survivor in their travels. The survivor has an assault rifle, carefully wrapped in plastic to protect it from the nanites. Does this survivor want to trade for his rifle? Is he dangerous? Do the wanderers think they can take the rifle by force?
  • Auction: On the outskirts of a settlement, the wanderers come across a slave auction. Do they intervene? Is the slave auction well-guarded? Are the slaves cheap enough for the wanderers to buy? Is one of the slaves someone they’ve met before? Is it ethical to purchase slaves to free them?
  • B-2: In an isolated region, the wanderers spot a military bomber that’s had a hard landing, yet it’s still intact. This is a B-2, a long-range stealth bomber. Has it been protected from the nanites by a repeller? Or just lucky? Or are its stealth materials inedible to the nanites? If it’s intact, what’s in it? Pilots? Warheads? HALO paratroopers?
  • Beggars: The wanderers come across pitiful survivors begging by the side of the road. Do the wanderers have anything to offer? Do the beggars have anything to trade? Perhaps they have obscure knowledge? Or are these the ramblings of disturbed minds?
  • Billboard: While traveling along a road, the wanderers come upon a large billboard, freshly painted, ‘Welcome to New Hope, 2 Miles’, with an arrow pointed along a side-road up into the foothills. Is New Hope a real community or a trap? Do the wanderers investigate?
  • Bridge: The wanderers approach a bridge across a deep chasm, on which a small group of survivors await them. These survivors are Pacifists. If the wanderers try to cross the bridge, the Pacifists stop them and demand that to cross the bridge, the wanderers must throw their weapons into the crevasse below. Do the wanderers accept this demand, turn around and find an alternate route, or try to force their way across the bridge?
  • C-4: The wanderers come across an intact concrete wall set into the side of a rugged mountain. Their weapons and tools are ineffective against the hard concrete. Nearby is an old military base. The metal has been consumed, but other things remain, including plastic explosives. If they manage to breach the wall, what do they find inside?
  • Camel-Gate: The wanderers cross paths with an elderly survivor leading a recalcitrant camel. The old man clearly poses no threat to the wanderers, nor is he any match for their strength. The man takes them for road agents seeking to rob him. Do they trade with him? Do they try to take his camel? Can any trade be fair when he is clearly in fear of them?
  • Camp Fire: The wanderers spot the smoke from a campfire in the distance. Who would light a campfire in the day? Is it a trap? Are they fellow survivors? Who (or what) else has been attracted by the smoke signal?
  • Cannibals: During an ordeal when the wanderers are starving or dehydrated, they come across another survivor crawling along the ground, at the brink of death. Do they try to help this person, even though they can barely keep themselves alive? Do they wait for the survivor to die? Do the wanderers drink their blood or eat their flesh to save themselves?
  • Captured: When one of the wanderers is on their own (or one player is having a solo session), they are set upon by assailants and captured. They’re dragged away from their companions into the wastes. Who has captured them; raiders, slavers, cannibals, cultists, or ferals? Do their captors mean them harm or do they have other motivations? Can the wanderer escape, befriend their captors, or do they mark their captor’s path for their companions to follow?
  • Cemetery: While approaching an abandoned town, the wanderers pass an old cemetery. A stone wall runs alongside the road they travel, the graves behind the wall. Propped on the wall are human skulls. As they continue walking alongside the wall, the skulls transition from old to fresh: old grimacing bleached white, to desiccated skin-covered, to sloughing skin-covered, through to freshly severed heads. Who puts skulls on a wall? Are these a warning? Punishment? Trophies? Is this the work of a deranged individual, or an organized group?
  • Child: The wanderers come across a pair of survivors, a father and a son. The father is dying from radiation poisoning, and begs the wanderers to take his son. Can the wanderers help the father with radiation meds? If they can’t help the father, do they take the child?
  • Choke-Point: The wanderers come across an obstacle with a very tight opening, such as a narrow gap between two collapsed buildings or a ledge next to a precarious cliff, forcing them to squeeze through one at a time. Is this a trap, or a dangerous obstacle? Who do they send first? Are there enemies waiting for them on the other side?
  • Chosen: While in a settlement, a well-equipped caravan arrives. The leaders of this caravan call all of the settlement’s inhabitants together. The caravan is heading for a safe haven. The caravan offers to take five people from the settlement, but only the five who offer the most salvage, metal, tech, or barter. Do the wanderers bid to join the caravan? Do they challenge these newcomers as grifters? Do they try to dissuade the townsfolk? Do they follow the caravan to see where it goes?
  • Dam: Approaching a large city, the wanderers find that all of the roads leading into the city cross a river, but all of the bridges have been destroyed by nanites or collapsed. The river bed below is a mire of thick black mud. A crude sign next to the destroyed bridges points the wanderers to a ‘Crossing’. If the wanderers follow the sign, they come to a huge dam that once held back vast quantities of water. A guard on the dam warns them that the black sludge at the bottom of the dam and the rivers is radioactive from nuclear power plant upriver. The dam offers safe passage, but crossing will cost the wanderers 20% of their possessions. Do the wanderers pay the price, or try to negotiate? Do the dam’s inhabitants have something else the wanderers can do to pay for their passage? Or do the wanderers force their way across?
  • Dead Weight: A lone survivor joins the wanderers. They prove their worth at first, but soon straggle and slow down the wanderers. Is this dead weight sick, lazy, or do they have other intentions? Do the wanderers cut them loose or carry them? Is the freeloader slowing them down deliberately?
  • Domestic: The wanderers, while exploring a ruined wealthy suburb, see movement in one of the abandoned mansions. Inside, they find the house picked bare by nanites, but everything non-metal is still intact and well-kept. As they explore, they come across a high-end domestic service droid (nanite protected), still working decades after the war. How is this droid still running after all this time? Can the wanderers use the droid? Is there something in the house they can salvage? Does the droid have a self-defense protocol?
  • Donor: At an advanced settlement, a doctor approaches the wanderers and asks if any volunteer to donate. Perhaps they’re after a blood donation, an eye, a kidney, or something more essential? Or is this just a ruse to determine if one of the group is a suitable multiple-organ donor?
  • Endangered Species: Near an abandoned animal park, or a place where wild animals once roamed, the wanderers come upon the remains of a slaughtered rhinoceros, its horn hacked off, and flesh roughly cut from its carcass. Who would kill a creature for its horn? How did they even manage to bring down this huge creature?
  • Familiar Face: The wanderers meet another survivor with a familiar face, but from a long time ago. Was this the president, king, queen, or prime minister? Was this the general that led the war effort? Or the industrialist who designed the droids that roam the land? Or the scientist who invented the nanites that ravaged the world? Are they responsible for the state of the world? Do the wanderers hold them to account?
  • Farmhand: Approaching a temperate area, the wanderers pass a cultivated field, a farmhouse in the distance. If they investigate, they find a weathered droid pulling a plow. As they approach the droid, it stops and looks at them; “Hello”. The droid used to be a farmhand here. The farmer and family are long dead. But the droid continues to work the farm, tend the livestock. Is it self-aware? Does it own the farm now? Does it trade with nearby settlements? Will it defend itself if the wanderers interfere?
  • Feral Kids: The wanderers are ambushed by a group of cannibal feral kids who manage to pick off one of their group. Do the wanderers fight the kids? Do they try to help the kids? Can cannibal children be reformed?
  • From Wolves: The wanderers come across a bunch of haphazardly piled backpacks. In the distance, they hear loud voices. Who owns these possessions? Are they fellow survivors? Raiders? Slavers? Or friendly travelers like themselves? Do they investigate to try to see if these are friendly folk or wolves, or do they assume? Do the packs have distinctive marks; flags, military design, decorations?
  • The Grey: The wanderers are stalked by a pack of wild dogs, wolves, hyenas, dingoes, mountain lions, bears, or robot-dogs. Do the wanderers try to outrun the pack? Or cross an obstacle their pursuers cannot pass? Or lure the pack into combat at a favorable location.
  • Herds: Traveling across grassy plains, the wanderers come across a great herd of wild deer, antelope, wildebeest, buffalo, bison, cows, sheep, goats, or horses. Do the wanderers try to hunt one of these huge beasts? Is it worth risking a stampede to bring down such a prize?
  • Hunger: The wanderers discover the site of a bloody battle, bodies strewn on the ground. As they approach, they see a battle-droid eating the remains of the corpses. Did the droid kill these people, or is it just eating them? Why is the droid eating corpses? Is the droid on its own, or does it belong to someone?
  • Into the Light: The wanderers unexpectedly happen upon another group of survivors. This new group is well fed, well clothed, and well equipped. They also seem a bit… cagey. Who are they? What rock did they crawl from under? Have they just come out of a shelter like our heroes? And if so, what’s their angle?
  • Illegal Aliens: The wanderers come across another group in the wilderness. These strangers seem capable and well equipped, but stand-offish. Only one of the group will speak to the wanderers, and when they do it’s with a strong accent. Where’s that accent from? Are these folks from another country? Why are they here? Do countries even exist any more?
  • Land Boat: While crossing a parched desert, an unusual sight. Through the heat-haze, a splotch of white. As it draws closer, it’s a sail. Who captains the land-boat? Are they friendly? How does that thing work?
  • Last Ship: Near the coast, when looking to move between land masses, the wanderers see a fully intact and seemingly operational naval destroyer. Can this vessel get the wanderers where they want to go? Who’s been maintaining the ship after all this time? Where is the crew? Is its nuclear reactor intact? Is its repeller working? What’s in the freezer?
  • Main Attraction: A trader at a settlement has a working movie projector, and screens pre-war movies for the survivors; for a price. How much does it cost to watch a movie? Does the trader have the Lord of the Rings trilogy? What are they willing to pay for a movie to complete an incomplete series? What do the survivors make of these movies?
  • Master-Blaster: In their travels, the wanderers see a hulking figure on the road. When they approach, they discover the figure is a leg-less survivor strapped to the back of a battle droid. How does master control the droid? How is the droid powered? Do the wanderers want a controllable droid more than the leg-less survivor needs the droid?
  • The Metalist: The wanders are asked to find out how the ‘metalist’ is so successful at finding caches of metal. His secret; a glass jar containing a small flock of nanites. His pet nanites detect nearby metal, leading him to hidden caches. The metalist even releases the nanites to feed on scraps of metal, then scoops them back into their bottle. What will the metalist do to protect his secret? Can the wanderers use this technique themselves? What might they find if they go looking?
  • Minefield: Click. Shit. The wanderers have done just that into a minefield. How do they extract themselves? Who put a minefield here? And why?

Check out another 38 encounter seeds.

Onyx Sky out now in print!

Onyx Sky Print Delivery

Friends, Romans, people of the world,

I’m so excited about the mail I just got today! It’s a package from DriveThruRPG containing the first print copies of Onyx Sky.

This little package has come all the way around the world, through totally borked supply lines and made it to my door.

As I live in Australia, physical deliveries from DriveThruRPG take AGES. I think I ordered these books over a month ago, and they only just arrived.

Which means that if I mess up, it’s a long turnaround to find out and fix those issues!

Luckily (and carefully), the books arrived and they look amazing!

These are by far the best Hero Forge Game print books so far!

Behold, Onyx Sky in all its print glory.

Here’s a peek inside:

And here is the entire Hero Forge Games digest print collection:

If you’re interested in collecting the set, here are the links:

Onyx Sky OUT NOW!

The ‘i’s are dotted, the ‘t’s are crossed, the editing and proofing are done, the PDFs are laid out.

Onyx Sky is done, finished, released, freed into the world!

Onyx Sky Logo
Civilisations Collapse Fast

But you might have noticed that I was close to ‘finished’ all the way back in April, and you might ask why the delay.

The delay was because it took me several months to write an extensive introductory adventure and mini-setting for Onyx Sky; Salt City Dogs.

In the introductory adventure, Salt City Dogs, the players are prisoners who are subjects of an experimental military cryogenics experiment. When they wake, they find the military base empty, abandoned, decrepit. Outside, they find the world in ruin, its communities struggling to endure against roaming marauders, autonomous battle droids, and metal-eating nanites.

(And as an aside, you know I’m obsessed with word counts, so you might be interested to know that the final Onyx Sky word count is 89,000 words, with another 24,000 words in Salt City Dogs.)

Which I guess is a long way of saying that right now you can get Onyx Sky from DriveThruRPG:

  • Onyx Sky: The full version of Onyx Sky, 183 pages packed with tight rules and gameable content.
  • Onyx Sky (Free Version): The free version of Onyx Sky, includes the game rules and player character content ideal for players.

So, if you’re interested, check out Onyx Sky, and let me know what you think.

And if you like it, help me out with a five-star review to let other people know it’s worth their time too!

Onyx Sky: Your thoughts for free books!

After two years’ work, I’m at the final proofing stage for my Onyx Sky post-apocalyptic role-playing game.

For those who’ve missed the earlier drops, here’s the gist:

What do you do with a broken world?

In the early decades of the 2000s, the world degenerated into total war. At the height of the war, a few lucky scientists, prisoners, preppers, soldiers, emergency workers, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, and ordinary folk retreated to emergency bunkers and facilities.

As the world outside went dark, they settled in for a long wait.

30 years later, it’s time to venture back into the world outside. When they emerge, they find world shattered by war and environmental collapse. Amid decay, they find survivors who struggle to rebuild, flocks of self-replicating nanites that devour metal, lawless raiders of ravage and wrack, and relentless battle-droids that hunt anyone left alive.

The wanderers travel this sundered land and discover their place in it. Do they find a safe place to start a peaceful settlement? Do they fight to return us to the height of civilization? Or use their knowledge and might to build their own empire?

Onyx Sky is a fully-featured role-playing game:

  • Full color 180 page PDF / 360 page print book
  • Attributes + skills character development
  • Streamlined step-dice pool resolution with degrees of success
  • Core book includes Characters, Game Rules, Game Mastering, Campaign Guide, Adversaries
  • 24 general skills and 54 martial skills
  • 110 encounter and adventure seeds
  • 71 adversaries

Now, here’s the deal. First, you can grab a near-complete version here for free now, before it goes on sale on DriveThruRPG in a couple of weeks. Lucky you! Drop a comment below with your thoughts.

Second, I will send print versions of Onyx Sky for FREE to the first 15 people who send me substantive and useful feedback about the system or a playtest you run.

The fine print: This offer is for people who live in places with reasonable shipping costs from DriveThruRPG (like $10?), you have to email the feedback to me at justinhalliday@gmail.com by 27 April 2021 (7 days for now), and when I release the print edition I will send copies to the first 15 people. And if you email me ahead of time you can guarantee yourself one of the 15 copies, as long as you then follow through with the (substantive and useful) feedback.

I’m looking for feedback about areas that are unclear, incomplete, incorrect, exploitable, ignoble, inconsistent, or redundant. Even better, feedback on a playtest or a solo combat scenario you run.

For anyone interested, the release plan is three-tiers:

  • Onyx Sky Free Edition (Free color PDF, ~110 page letter size, includes Characters, Game Rules, Game Mastering, Adversary Templates)
  • Onyx Sky Complete Edition (Paid color PDF, ~180 page letter size, includes Characters, Game Rules, Game Mastering, Campaign Guide, Adversaries, Adversary Templates)
  • Onyx Sky Complete Edition (Paid color print edition in 6×9 digest format ~360 pages)

Who Love Reviews? The Road to Ruin…

Here’s one from the vaults; my zombie card game The Road to Ruin has a new review. And this review captures – to me – the intent that I always have for The Road to Ruin.

Couldn’t be more pleased with this unique, brilliant card game! It looks amazing, and the design is really smart. Cooperate with friends or go it alone in a modular game world riddled with hordes of walking dead!

Basic mechanics and strategy are easy to pick up and teach new players. The rule about discarding any item for a last ditch effort to reroll helps stave off the deadliness of unrelenting zombie hordes. (Don’t forget to respawn new threats when revisiting locations!)

The cards themselves are really beautiful with great art and flavor text to immerse players in a ruined world. Replay value is pretty terrific with multiple different scenarios and randomized world-map layouts.

“Although the ‘dice cards’ are fine in a pinch, I recommend playing with real dice. You can use anything for the player tokens, we generally play with grubby old coins. It’s helpful to lay down a tablecloth before setting up to avoid scratching or bending up cards as you flip them over.”

Five stars for sure, this game is rad and I wish there were more like it.”

“What would be really cool is if Hero Forge Games released an expansion of some kind, maybe with more scenarios, different locations, new survivor characters. As solid as it already is, the game feels expandable. It may even accommodate an alternative ruleset to open up a secondary play mode that’s less focused on world-maps and more akin to a faster paced competitive poker style game.”

“As it stands though it’s really superb, definitely grab it for a quick and engaging way to scratch that zombie-killer itch!”

If this sounds ace; check out The Road to Ruin:

  • 97 cards featuring beautiful artwork
  • 5 survivor characters, each with unique abilities
  • 4 scenarios with random setup for great replayability
  • Includes 4 survivor tokens and 2 combat dice (The Game Crafter version)

Get The Road to Ruin now at The Game Crafter or at DriveThruCards: