The Watcher Beyond the Veil

Back after a long hiatus! But Cosmic Cutthroats has never been far from my thoughts, and I’ve run quite a bit of it since my last post.
Today, I have an interesting in-universe mystery that adds to the setting’s weirdness, while adding a plot device that may prove useful from time to time.

The Watcher Beyond the Veil

Scientific materialists that live in Uru Ulan have an interesting time of it.

Uru Ulan is a city of almost infinite strangeness and seemingly endless possibilities. And yet, most of what goes on there seems to fit, if uncomfortably at times, into existing universal theories and plausible hypotheses. And yet, not every widely-reported phenomenon of the city does.

Like the Watcher.

Death is believed to be the end of the journey for all. Oh sure, in Uru Ulan, there are ways to “cheat” death — pay the cult of Osiris to create a clone backup, have a friend locate a duplicate from a near-identical dimension, restore a pattern from a teleportation device — but it can be argued that each of these isn’t the original.

Uru Ulan is a city rife with adventure, intrigue, dangerous exploits and narrow escapes, and the city’s many mercenaries and rogues often have very close brushes with death. And sometimes, they report that the brush was a lot closer than it looked.

Some adventurers report that they did, in fact, die, when it only seems like they did! At the very last moment, they encountered … something.

They appear in a misty non-space, in front of a misty, vaguely human-shaped figure. Sometimes they seem to imagine the classical features of a skeleton or one of their death-gods, but just as often, there’s nothing there but a nebulous form, an upright suggestion of head, arms, limbs, and torso and lower extremities.

In their minds, at that moment, they sense they have a choice. They can pass on to whatever awaits them … nothingness, transcendance, heaven, hell, or the waiting room at the local DMV … or, they can make a sacrifice and return.

The sacrifice is never something physical. It may be changing one Quality for another. It may be shifting a Level from any one Attribute to a mental Attribute, something they were lacking — they become more social, gaining Charm, for example, or they gain a newfound interest and curiosity in the world around them, gaining some Brains. A weak-willed and wishy-washy adventurer may find themselves with more Guts than previously, having faced death and come back for more.

An additional sacrifice is always required; the adventurer also loses something of their inner power and potency, losing 1 Level of EDG when presented with this choice. And in general, the adventurer only ever encounters the Dweller Beyond the Veil once. There is no compensation for this loss of EDG, beyond, well, not dying.

These sacrifices often seem to represent, in some way, a further step in personal development. Sometimes it represents redemption for a fallen hero, or a rededication to the cause of virtue in a champion of what is good and true. Sometimes though, it may represent a further fall into evil for a villain. Which makes one ask, what does the Dweller actually want? It doesn’t necessarily want goodness, as we think of it, as some come back worse than before. Maybe the Dweller records the history of the interdimensional city, and hates for a story arc to end before it’s completed. Maybe it’s a cosmic entity that likes to maintain the complex alchemical mixing-pot of the great metropolis. Or maybe it’s just a deific trickster that wants to see the punch line delivered. If anyone has a serious theory, they’re not saying.

Regardless of what’s changed and the reasons for the change, the adventurer is saved from certain death, just in the nick of time. There’s no indication that they ever went anywhere; their vision of the Dweller, even if it lasts for hours in the adventurer’s mind, takes only a nanosecond of real time. And afterward … something implausible happens. The gun jams, that would’ve splattered their brains across the bulkhead, or misfires and hits a shoulder or a piece of equipment instead. The arm swinging the sword to behead the adventurer, spasms and drops the lethal blade. The adventurer inexplicably rallies and somehow survives a deadly disease. The Dweller seems to manipulate time and probability to undo, or mitigate, whatever would have ended the adventurer’s life prematurely. If death is certain and there’s no escape, the Dweller doesn’t seem to interfere; it always intercedes in the simplest, most likely, and most easily explainable way.

So who does know about the Dweller? The Damocletian Order admits that it’s one of the subjects, beyond the Genesis Seeds, that the Order actively investigates. The Cult of Osiris gather info also, believing the figure to be Osiris himself, taking on what forms he will. The Holy Church of Vorsh will loudly imply that the figure is their cosmic figurehead, while admitting with unusual honesty behind closed doors that they have no idea, and the existence of the Dweller concerns them, somewhat.

One last point bears mentioning. Among the few that know of the Dweller and its appearances, it hasn’t escaped attention that the Dweller’s actions, saving those otherwise doomed to die, is much the same as how the city’s Servitors save unfortunate subjects of disaster from across space and time. Victims of floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other elemental calamities find themselves rescued at the last minute by the city’s automata. Is there some link between the Dweller’s activities, and how the city has populated itself over time? Probably only the city’s founder, immortal sorcerer Ensi Abgal knows, and good luck getting an audience with, let alone a straight answer from, that one.

The concept of the Watcher came to me as I thought about the impermanence of death in comic books. Uru Ulan is in many ways a comic book setting (hence the main body font!). And I thought about how in some cases — like the recent X-Men run — the writers have actually tried to make a systematic explanation for that common trope, the hero that returns from the dead. Of course, it’s not only heroes that can come back in this way, but villains, too. This plot device also provides a convenient way for a character, betrayed by the dice, or played by a new and still reckless player, to cheat fate in the strangest ways … but only once, and not without consequence.

‘How To Be A Good GM’ — A Bigger Question Than It Looks

Oh, no! Gaming philosophy time!

You know, a ton of stuff has been written about ‘How to be a Good Gamemaster.” Such advice usually takes the form of, ‘Do X, Y, and Z.’

That only helps as long as your players and your campaign presents you with situations to do X, Y, and Z. Trying to be a creative GM, and/or having creative players, almost guarantees that you will run into situations A, B, and C pretty soon, in which case, you’re lost.

That’s how to do good GMing. It doesn’t help you be that good GM.

It’s not too helpful, either, to provide a checklist: ‘A good GM decision is one that fulfills criteria X, Y, and Z’. This basically guarantees the fledgling GM will be paralyzed with indecision as they run every possible answer through this internal checklist, to see if it matches up to the ‘agenda’ or the ‘principles’ or whatever.

Again, that’s the difference between doing and being. I warned you there was going to be philosophy here!

I’d argue that good GMing starts when you’re far away from the game table, not even thinking about it. Public speaking. Learning how things work. Learning how people work. Learning how stories are written. Learn to do improv. Learning what makes a good game, and a bad one. You need to internalize all this stuff, form a coherent whole out of it, and contextualize what you know for each new situation you encounter, with confidence and, dare I say it, panache.

Of course, no one got rich writing books saying, ‘What you want to do is very difficult if you want to really excel, and I can’t tell you everything you need to know here.’ ?

I don’t post this to discourage! What you need to realize is that ‘How to be a Good GM’ is like ‘How to be a Good Cook’ or ‘How to be a Good Teacher’ — it’s actually an entire suite of skills, and there’s always room for improvement in each area. Heck, after 30+ years of gaming, I know I still have my weak areas. But that study away from the gaming table, is really cemented with the practice you get when you come back to the table and run the game. So go to it! Start practicing! And ask yourself, what can I do away from the gaming table to do this better?

I might come back to this later, break down some of those requisite skills, and talk about how I’ve managed over the years to improve each one.

Last Side Note: Simple games are all the rage these days. Heck, i’d say that for me, Metagene has been my best-seller for awhile now, which is gratifying enough. But there seems to be this impression that simpler games are easier to GM well. I’d argue (from my admittedly limited experience) that they are easier to GM poorly, but no easier to GM well. No matter what, you’re gonna get out of it what you put in, and what you put in is who you are.

That’s it for now. Go Forth and Game Well!

Cosmic Cutthroats now on Itch.Io — And on Winter Sale!

Picture of a heckin good doggerel in the heckin good snow. Girl.
I was joking. Don’t tattoo your dog’s head. I mean, look at this beast. He isn’t going to put up with that kinda nonsense. I mean, I’m scared just looking at this guy. Dogs deserve our respect and love, folks. And tasty treats. But you don’t have to let them pee on the carpet. Let them pee in the snow. That’s where the huskies go, after all.

Imperfekt Gammes has joined!

To celebrate, get Cosmic Cutthroats 50% off until 1/4!

Tell your friends! Tell your dog! Tattoo it on your dog’s forehead! Get a dog, if you don’t have one! Rent a dog, or just buy a share in one! What was I talking about!

Infinite Adventures Await!

A Cutthroat Cornucopia

If you’ve purchased Cosmic Cutthroats, please allow me to remind you that in the document on the right, labeled Links and Errata, you can get the current playtest version of the Cutthroat Codex (or you can click here!).

  • Over 200 pages and growing!
  • New LS/RM, Power, and Occupation Packages!
  • Three complete campaign settings for your Cutthroats campaigns!
  • Dishes belonging to each of the major species in both books, that your Cutthroat might somehow be able to stomach!
  • More Gear!
  • More GMing advice for Cutthroats!
  • More Optional Rules!
  • More Triumph and Mishap examples!
  • Lots more NPCs and critters to meet, befriend, battle, and cheat with at cards!

Check it out!

Cosmic Creatives

If you want to create something for Cosmic Cutthroats … nothing is stopping you!

The sections of Cosmic Cutthroats that contain only game mechanical material are released under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.

What does this mean? It means you are free to create your own material using the R.E.C.I.P.E. game engine! Create new Realms, NPCs, and Adventures, and share them with others, even for sale!

The specific terms are in Section 1.3 of Cosmic Cutthroats, but the short version is: (1) You can use the game mechanics of Cosmic Cutthroats, but no Realms, settings, or named Characters in the game or any later supplements, (2) you do not have license from me to use any of the art in Cosmic Cutthroats, (3) please credit Cosmic Cutthroats as the original ruleset, and me as its author.

For more details on this Creative Commons license:

I have the utmost faith in the game community not to use these game materials for hate speech, bigotry, or discrimination of any kind. Please don’t let me down!

With that in mind, go for it, and let’s see what amazing worlds you create!

First Review

The first review of Cosmic Cutthroats is in, from the owner of the It Came From The Bookshelf Blog. They seemed to rather like it, and gave it a B+.

A few choice bits:

  • Rules:
    • Cosmic Cutthroats is, in fact, an ordinary game, but it does ordinary pretty well.”
    • ” Its system for critical effects is elegant …”
    • “… Mathematical complexity is almost never going to be an issue.”
  • Setting:
    • “The setting of Cosmic Cutthroats is kitchen-sink gibberish, but the good kind of kitchen-sink gibberish.”
    • “The whole thing is total nonsense and I love it.”
    • “It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but my tastes run to the eclectic, so I think it’s great.”

Read it here!

Cosmic Cutthroats now available in print!

The final version of Cosmic Cutthroats is now available in print on!

The price for is USD $45.15 for a 440-page hardback with matte color cover and nice paper stock. Lulu is currently (23 June 2020) running a coupon for 10% off of print orders (code CREATE10), so that will help, too! If you miss that code, keep your eyes open, Lulu always has one deal or another running.

Thank you all for your patience while I got this lined up, folks! The plan is that the book will be available on Amazon and other bookstores, too, but that will take several weeks, at least. So if you want that sweet Prime shipping discount, just hang on, it’ll happen!

Cutthroat Videos

Here are a few Youtube videos that might provide some inspiration for your Cosmic Cutthroats games.

The first is on the scientific and mathematical underpinnings of other dimensions, and the theories behind dimension travel. This is part of why Cutthroats is called a psychedelic RPG … If your PCs are students at the Academia Esoterica or Proto Kyoto Academy, this is what their homework is like.

Here is the Epic of Gilgamesh, sung in (what we think is close to) the original Sumerian.  This is a sample of what PCs might hear wandering through the Ziggurat District, the capitol of Uru Ulan.

A couple of more suggestions for in-game tunes. This one is a personal favorite, since it literally is in-game tunes. Something here for every occasion.

Finally, a suitably operatic, epic album perfect for when you want something sweeping and majestic. Closing in for the last battle with that Sanguine Totality anti-paladin warlord? Here you go!

That’s all for now!