Onyx Sky OUT NOW!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Adventures, DriveThruRPG, Game Design, Onyx Sky, RPG, Rules, Settings

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!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Art, DriveThruRPG, Game Design, Game Publishing, Mechanics, Onyx Sky, Playtest, POD, Role-Playing, RPG, Rules, Settings, Stat Blocks

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…

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Board games, DriveThruRPG, Game Design, Mechanics, Review, Solo Adventures, The Game Crafter, 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:

Sprint to the Line: Two Years to Design Onyx Sky!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Art, Forge Engine, Game Design, Game Publishing, Onyx Sky, RPG, Rules, Settings, Stat Blocks

Seems like only ***checks watch*** two months ago that I was predicting that Onyx Sky would top out at 65,000 words and around 300 pages.

Over the last two months, things have accelerated on Onyx Sky. The words and pages have skyrocketed as I’ve been able to concentrate on filling out the game’s content now that the rules are pretty stable.

At the moment, the content for Onyx Sky looks like:

  • 180 page PDF / 360 page print book
  • Full color illustrations throughout
  • Five main sections: Characters, Game Rules, Game Mastering, Campaign Guide, Adversaries
  • 24 general skills and 54 martial skills
  • 110 encounter and adventure seeds
  • 71 adversaries
  • 86,000 words

I recently realized that I started work on Onyx Sky in April 2019. Looking back through my old PDF exports, Forge Engine took me 5 years to complete!

So I gave myself a goal of completing Onyx Sky in 2 years, which means I’m trying to tie this game up before the end of April.

Wish me luck!

One ‘big’ book, or separate player’s and GM’s books?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Dungeons and Dragons, Forge Engine, Game Publishing, Onyx Sky, Playtest, POD, RPG

My last RPG, Forge Engine, was 65k words. Using a 9pt font, this resulted in a 144 page PDF and a 288 page 6×9 inch digest size print book. In its physical form, the Forge Engine book is near the outer limit of ‘usable’. For reference the Forge Engine book is about the size of the D&D 4th Edition Essentials Heroes of the Fallen Lands book (360 pages), and about the size of the Dungeon World digest book (400 pages). The variation in thickness of these books comes from the paper stock.

So, when I started working on Onyx Sky, I wanted to do a quick and slim RPG.

I’ve kept the same PDF/digest book format (as I do with all my games), but I bumped the font to 10 pts to improve readability.

I’m currently on the home stretch of development, and I’m ALREADY at 57k words, and 141 PDF pages:

Onyx Sky – Playtest PDF – 2021-01-30

It looks like Onyx Sky will end up around 65k words (once I’ve done the Adversaries), and probably around 150/300 pages.

Which leads to the question; as a consumer, would you prefer a single larger book, or one split into two books/products.

If I split it into two books, the Onyx Sky Player Guide would be page 1 to page 78 of the current PDF, giving a 160 page print book. And the Onyx Sky Game Master’s Guide cover page 79 through to the end of the current PDF, with more pages of adversaries, giving a second 160-ish page print book.

Splitting the game into two books also raises a bunch of questions about the pricing for the PDF(s) and for the print book(s), if I decide to charge for the PDF.

What do you think? One chonky book, or two slim-ish books?

Or are the print books irrelevant, and you prefer a single PDF without any shenanigans?

Taxonomy and nomenclature of role-playing game character elements

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Characters, Classes, Game Design, Mechanics, Rules, Skills

I've noticed lately the many of us (me included) use different terms for the characteristics of characters in the games we're designing.

I had a look around, and I can't find a codified/formalized taxonomy of these different elements of characters.

For example, Role-playing Game Design Patterns only includes attributes, skills, and traits.

So, in the spirit of creating things that need to exist, here's a quick and dirty taxonomy that I'd love feedback on to help us develop into a resource for all designers.

Different role-playing games use combinations of these characteristics:

  • D&D: Attributes, Species, Special Abilities, Class, Skills (and Feats), Levels, Backgrounds, Actions
  • Onyx Sky: Attributes, Species, Special Abilities, Skills, Backgrounds, Actions
  • Savage Worlds: Attributes, Special Abilities, Skills, Levels, Actions
  • Dream Askew: Class, Aspects, Actions
  • Powered By the Apocalypse: Class, Attributes, Aspects, Actions
  • FATE: Aspects, Skills, Actions
  • FATE Accelerated: Attributes, Aspects, Actions

Character (also known as Avatar, Player Character, Hero)

The player's in-game avatar, comprising some collection of the characteristics listed below.

Example: Steve


Any one of the collections of options that comprise a character.

Examples: Species, Attribute, Background, Skill.

Species (also known as Ancestry, Lineage, Clade, Type, Model, Classification)

The distinct type of the character, whether its species (living creatures) or model (mechanical).

Example: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Robot, Warforged, Tabaxi, Martian, Canine

Attribute (also known as Ability, Statistic)

The set of natural in-born characteristics that are common to all characters.

Example: [Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, Intelligence, Wisdom], [Mind, Body, Spirit], [Lasers, Feelings]

Trait (also known as Special Ability)

Natural/in-born characteristics of a particular species.

Example: Darkvision, Quadruped, Amphibian, Climb, Burrow, Undead

Class (also known as Profession, Template, Playbook, Archetype, Concept)

The specialization of the character, which may allow/disallow/discount/guide/suggest certain skills/abilities.

Example: Warrior, Mage, Sniper, Rogue, Hacker, Medic, Grunt, Archer, Spy, Femme Fatale

Level (also known as Rank, Tier)

The quantified development progression of a character in their class/profession/archetype/template.

Example: Level 1, Heroic Tier, Novice

Skill (also known as Proficiency, Feat, Power, Spell, Feat, Move, Enhancement, Edge, Hinderance)

These are things the character can learn or augment, which may grant benefits (or penalties) when taking standard actions or allow characters to perform unique actions.

Example: Thievery, Fireball, Athletics, Cleave, Diplomacy

Action (also known as Move)

These are things characters can do.

Example: Attribute Test, Melee Attack, Defy Danger

Aspect (also known as Trait)

A short descriptor that can replace any other element of a character.

Example: Smooth Operator, Undercover Agent, The Show Must Go On, Today Is A Good Day to Die

Background (also known as Culture)

The upbringing, former profession, or life experience of the character.

Example: Soldier, Street Urchin, Acolyte, Folk Hero

Game Master (also known as Dungeon Master, Keeper, Referee, Game Moderator, Facilitator, Storyteller)

The person who narrates the state of the world, and describes in-universe responses to the player characters' actions.

Example: Alan

Onyx Sky: Role-playing our way into the climate apocalypse

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Game Design, Onyx Sky, Playtest, Role-Playing, RPG, Rules, Settings

Whenever I’m not working on Hero Kids, I’m slaving on Onyx Sky.

Onyx Sky combines two great passions of mine, game design and climate change activism.

For the last few years, most of the my RPG gaming has been in post-apocalyptic settings. These games allow me to explore (and inflict on my fellow players) what our world might look like in a future ravaged by climate change and where our global civilization has collapsed.

However, Onyx Sky isn’t some preachy game about plastic straws.

In many ways Onyx Sky is a traditional role-playing game, with characters and goals and adversaries.

But in the background, Onyx Sky explores the ideas of what kind of society we want to carry into the future and what ethical frameworks underpin that society.



The world is broken.
We waged a terrible war.
We destroyed ourselves.
We destroyed our planet.

The parched land is blasted with craters.
Cities, monuments to our past, crumble.
Nature reclaims our cities and towns.
Among ruin, the survivors scratch out a life.

But the wars did not stop when the great powers fell.
We perfected war machines, and sent them into battle.
Autonomous killing machines now roam the lands.
Swarms of self-replicating nanites blacken the sky.

And in our rebuilding, we forgot the lessons of the past.
We still squabble for the spoils of our victory.
The ashes of our defeat.
Yet the spirit of humankind struggles to survive.

A Dangerous World

All RPGs require enough moving parts to generate interesting opportunities for conflict. For Onyx Sky, one of these moving parts is the war machines left over from a global conventional and nuclear war.

The unique setting elements of Onyx Sky are:

  • Nanites: Microscopic nano-machines that consume metal to self-replicate
  • Droids: Autonomous war robots that were compromised during the war to attack any and all targets
  • Freefall: Civilization in freefall after war and the destruction of technology by the nanites

A World of Consequences

Onyx Sky is a world of consequences. Consequences on a global scale, and consequences on the scale of the game’s characters.

The main theme of Onyx Sky is simple:

When you remove the trappings and comforts of civilization and technology, what’s left?

When I’ve been playing Onyx Sky, I come back to a series of questions to explore the world:

  • How do we behave without law, government, and police?
  • How can we keep our hope and humanity in a harsh world?
  • With our modern knowledge, are we better than our forebears?
  • What happens to the world as technology disappears?
  • What does it look like when nature reclaims the world?
  • What parts of civilization do we try to preserve?
  • How do we want to live?
  • What rules do survivors write for themselves?
  • What is the line between barbarism and civilization?
  • What would you do to protect your family and kin?
  • How do we deal with our elders, sick, poor, infirm, young?
  • Would you exploit others for your own comfort?
  • Would you allow the exploitation of others?
  • If you have knowledge, what do you rebuild?
  • How do you allocate scarce resources?
  • Will there always be people who use violence to get their way?
  • Is it acceptable to use power to get something you want?
  • How do we wield power?

Drop me an email if you’re interested in playtesting Onyx Sky.

Onyx Sky post-apocalyptic RPG in development and playtesting now

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Forge Engine, Game Design, Mechanics, Onyx Sky, Playtest, Role-Playing, RPG, Rules

Since the release of Forge Engine universal role-playing system in 2018, I’ve been working on a new RPG; Onyx Sky.

Onyx Sky is a post-apocalyptic RPG that explores the world after a devastating global war and catastrophic climate change plunge humanity back into the stone age.

Onyx Sky takes the underlying principles of Forge Engine (stats + skills, flexible action economy) and re-imagines them into a streamlined and accessible new system.

Where Forge Engine used d10 die pools composed of the character’s attribute and skill ratings, Onyx Sky uses a step-die pool system.

In Onyx Sky, the character’s six attributes are represented by step dice, so a beginning character may have a d6 in an attribute, while a more advanced character would have a d10, d12 or beyond. This step-die system progresses from d6 through d8, d10, d12, d16, d20, d24, d30. Having a d6 in an attribute represents ‘below’ average capability, a d8 is an average human, and the higher dice ‘steps’ represent greater capability levels.

The dice pools for attribute tests in Onyx Sky always include the character’s attribute die, then they may also include a second skill die if the character has a relevant skill, and finally they may also include a third specialization die if the character has an appropriate area of specialist training.

Each attribute has a number of associated skills, such as Athletics which is based on Strength, Acrobatics which is based on Acuity, and Survival which is based on Acuity. In Forge Engine, these skills could be trained at various rating levels (from ◆◇◇◇◇ to ◆◆◆◆◆), whereas in Onyx Sky, these skills are either untrained or trained. When an Onyx Sky character is trained in a skill, the player rolls a second die using the same die as the attribute.

For example, an post-apocalyptic wanderer making an Acuity (Survival) test to forage for food would roll their Acuity die (d12), a second d12 for their Survival skill, and a third d12 for their specialist Forage training.

These dice pools are then rolled against a static difficulty number for normal challenges, or against the target’s defense pool for attacks. Each die that equals or beats the difficulty number (or the target’s highest defense die) is a success. This generally means that attribute tests and attacks can achieve between 1 and 3 successes. For general attribute tests, these successes define how well the character achieved their task. For combat, these successes each translate into damage, with the weapon’s damage being dealt for each success.

Here are the core features of Onyx Sky:

  • Attributes have die ranks; d6, d8, d10, d12, d16, d20
  • Skills are either untrained or trained
  • Action pools of 1 or more dice are used for attribute tests and attacks
  • In attribute tests, the action pool rolls against a fixed difficulty
  • Action pools for attribute tests include the character’s attribute die, a die for the relevant skill, and possibly a final die for a specialized skill.
  • Attribute tests can achieve multiple successes
  • For attacks, the action pool rolls against the target’s defense pool
  • Action pools for attacks include the character’s attribute die, a die for their weapon’s training, plus dice for specialized situational techniques
  • Defense action pools include the character’s body die, and additional dice for armor, skills, and specialized situational techniques
  • Attacks can achieve multiple successes, and when an attack hits, the weapon’s damage is dealt for each success

Drop me an email if you’re interested in playtesting Onyx Sky.

Hero Kids Bundle of Holding 2020

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Hero Kids, Role-Playing, RPG

Hero Kids and Bundle of Holding have teamed up again to launch a new Hero Kids Bundle of Holding:

Hero Kids Bundle of Holding 2020 Image

There are two collections on offer:
• Starter Collection: Core Hero Kids, 5 adventures, plus extra Pets and Heroes
• Bonus Collection: Adds the Monster Compendium, Space Heroes expansion, 5 more adventures, and 5 more sets of Heroes!

Check it out here:
Hero Kids Bundle of Holding 2020