Welcome. The Impossible Dream is an award-winning publisher of innovative, immersive role playing games.

Our games are available for purchase as printed books and as downloadable PDFs. For more information, check out our Games page. To purchase games, go to the Buy Stuff page.

What will you be playing at midnight on Halloween?

Set the mood with the Dread the role playing game and some spooky music.

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A Recent Review of Dread

A great review of Dread from Kristina Answers on YouTube. It's only 2 minutes long.

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Dread is Coming to TableTop with Wil Wheaton

We were very excited to see this announcement on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. We can't wait!

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Increased International Shipping

Unfortunately, Congress has continued to hamstring the US Postal Service, and there has therefore been another huge increase in shipping costs. I just can’t absorb that much of the shipping so I’ll be raising what I charge for shipping. This is your 1-week-ish warning: the plan is on March 15 the new rates will go into effect.

Currently, I’m charging US$8 for shipping to Canada, because the old shipping cost was a bit over US$9 (+ packing materials). The new price is almost US$15.

For most of the rest of the world, the old shipping cost was US$14.40 + packing materials, and I was charging US$12. The new price is US$22.50.

I want people to be able to get the book, which is why I’ve always undercharged a little bit for shipping, but I’m just not willing to eat US$10+ on shipping for a US$24 book. I’ve looked at some other options but everything I’ve found is 3x or more the cost of USPS, so there’s really nothing else I can do. To our international customers: I’m sorry. I’ll keep looking for better options.

#RPGaDay2015: 20 – Other Horror RPGs

Obviously, Dread is my favorite horror RPG. But what if I want to play some other sort of horror RPG? There are a lot of options out there, but here are a few of my favorites. I recommend all of them highly, so if you’re looking for something else, check these out.

Don’t Rest Your Head is a game about insomniacs who see through the veil to the real world, and develop superpowers. Probably. It reminds me a bit of Dark City in both tone and setting. And it has one of the cleverest and most informative dice mechanics I’ve encountered, giving you not only degree of success or failure, but why you succeed, and what consequences come with failure, all in one roll. It does this by having a dice pool system with different colored dice for different aspects of the roll. The relatively simple character mechanics, coupled with some leading questions as part of character creation, make for intense, thematic play, and the dice mechanics make that play fast and simple. 

Kult is the horror RPG I’ve always wanted to play. It’s an embodiment of the most extreme elements of the Gnostic worldview: we are gods trapped by the illusion of a false reality and deluded into forsaking our divinity. Those who are depraved or enlightened enough can see through the illusion, or maybe even escape it—but the beings of true reality are horrific to the unprepared mind. I’ve seen it called the darkest horror RPG, but what draws me to it is actually the juxtaposition of darkness and light—it is precisely that it equates enlightenment and depravity, and says that, unlike in Call of Cthulhu and so many other horror RPGs, you can break through the bounds of reality without descending.

My Life With Master is the storygame of minions. No, not the silly yellow guys—more like tragic hunchbacks. The PCs are deeply flawed, inhuman beings, both greater and lesser than humanity, who would like nothing more than to have some semblance of a normal life—or even just their own lives. The mechanics do an amazing job of focusing this tension into a wonderful game, and has led to some of the both funniest and most tragic gaming I’ve ever experienced.

There you have it: three horror RPGs covering a range of both setting and mechanics, from fairly traditional with a few clever twists (Kult) to My Life With Master (where rolls revolve around emotions and the game has win conditions). 

#RPGaDay2015: 19 – Panels

Supers is one of my favorite genres for RPGs, which is part of why Four Colors al Fresco exists. But let me tell you a little bit of where it came from—my favorite supers RPG before I created my own.

There are basically two branches of supers RPG design. The first, and older, focuses on modeling the abilities of superheroes. At first, this was done very crudely (with the likes of Superhero 2044 and Villains & Vigilantes), but it got increasingly sophisticated, reaching its pinnacle (so far) in games like Champions 6th edition, Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition, and Wild Talents 2nd edition, each of which can let you model just about any combination of details for a superhero’s powers. 

The 2nd branch, initially driven largely be the Forge, consists of games that focus instead on the drama and character arcs of the typical superhero story. Some of these games don’t even bother trying to quantify powers at all. With Great Power… and Capes are probably the two best examples of this style, but many other games have tried a similar approach. There are also a number of games that pursue a hybrid approach, most notably Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, which has a power-building system (nowhere near the sophistication or complexity of M&MM or Champions, but philosophically on the same wavelength), but a game structure that is all about the storyline and characters. 

But that 2nd branch didn’t start with the Forge. A few story-focused supers RPGs predate the Forge-inspired games. Four Colors al Fresco is one of them, but it was in part inspired by another: Panels, a little free web-hosted RPG from the mid-’90s. [Actually, I can no longer remember whether we figured out that trying to create a consistent framework to model superhero comics, where powers and capabilities are wildly inconsistent, was the wrong tack before I discovered Panels, or Panels was the source of that epiphany.] Panels has, unfortunately, long since disappeared from the web, but the Wayback Machine still has most of it. You should check it out. It has a lot in common with With Great Power… and particularly Capes and Truth & Justice, but it also has some original ideas that I’ve not seen anywhere else, particularly the “statures”, which might be the cleverest summary of superhero “types” in an RPG.

When I discovered Panels and wrote Four Colors al Fresco, what I wanted in a supers RPG was one that didn’t involve complex math or try and fail to model superpowers as they show up in comic books. If I hadn’t written my own supers RPG, I might still be playing a variation of Panels

Ogalepihcra Notes Posted

I finally dug out my notes for playing Rumel with Fudge and D20 System, converted to PDF, and posted to the Ogalepihcra page.

The Fudge rules are in pretty good shape, built upon 5-Point Fudge. They assume a lot of bits from that, and only talk about what is different/added. I also posted a set of example characters from a convention scenario I ran.

The D20 System rules are in much rougher shape. For example, several of the classes are just sketches at this point, because I’ve never created any characters that used them. Some of the Open Game Content is merely referenced, rather than included. And there isn’t a proper OGL attached at this point. There is also a group of example characters from a convention scenario I ran, and stats for a tree wolf.

So, why even post them? Because there is a significant, core element that is done and complete, and which could be easily lifted for any other D20 System game, or to be used as the basis of a new game: social combat rules. These draw heavily on Dynasties & Demagogues, but also borrow some ideas from Aria and The Dying Earth. These rules provide a social conflict system of roughly the complexity and nuance of the physical combat rules in D&D3E. For the Rumel, they replace physical combat, which is instead handled by a few basic skill checks and some feats. But you could use them in addition to detailed physical (or magical, or…) conflict rules.

Fatal Pulls in Dread

Recently someone asked me about a rule in Dread, and as this is a question that has come up periodically over the years, I thought I’d answer it here for everyone. 
I have a major doubt about the following rule: “If the player refuses to pull a block, then the character’s attempt fails. This can result in any number of consequences, but none of them may remove the character from the game.” I think this causes a loss of realism in a lot of different scenarios, and even could put the story on hold. What happens when the tower is so unstable that the players simply decide to fail their actions all the time? I know that this will be unlikely most of the time, but you know there are all types of players out there. My question is, there is not a point in a game in which you should face the decision of make a pull or die anyway?
There are several answers to this. 
First, in over a decade of running Dread at conventions and for friends, someone not pulling has never been a problem. There have been players who made it through an entire session without pulling, but it never caused a problem for their enjoyment or others’ enjoyment. 
Second, “not removed from the game” doesn’t rule out all sorts of unpleasantness. “pull to avoid being cut in half” (see below) or “pull to avoid having the worm implanted in your brain” or “pull to retain your grip on the reality around you” are all perfectly valid situations, as far as the game is concerned. (When the stakes are that high, I might figure out a way to break it into more than one pull, both so that it’s higher, but also so that it’s less all-or-nothing, and the player has the option of choosing which consequences they want.)
Note that in my first example, being cut in half, both in the real world and certainly in a fictional world, isn’t necessarily instantly fatal. But if they do accept those consequences rather than pull, they or someone else are going to have a whole bunch of pulls to make to deal with the new situation. 
Third, not pulling limits player activity, so most players will pull much of the time, though weighing their priorities and not pulling some of the time. Not pulling is choosing to take yourself out of the story to a degree. To contribute to the story, and have a say in which direction things go and what decisions are made, you will eventually have to pull for something. 
Fourth: It’s your game when you play it. If you want there to be consequences that include death for failing to pull, you can do that. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Because then there’s no difference between not pulling and knocking the tower over. So you’ve taken away that choice from a player—instead of choosing between pulling, which is “succeed-or-die”, and not-pulling, which is “fail”, now their options are “succeed-or-die” vs “die”. It might get people to pull, but they aren’t really making a choice any more. 
If you decide to ignore this advice and create situations that are pull-or-die, you’ve fundamentally changed the underlying dynamic of the game. At a minimum, make sure that the players know right from the start that such a thing could eventually come up, and make sure that you’ve spelled out that consequence before they decide whether or not to pull (this is not the time for a pull with vague stakes). 
Finally, there’s another solution to this “problem”: play with the stakes, and break situations into pieces. If you think that “fight the werewolf” should be a thing where the only options are success or death, don’t say “pull to avoid being killed by the werewolf.” Instead, ask for pulls to avoid the werewolf catching their scent, to find a weapon, to keep their nerve when the werewolf shows up, to distract it long enough to have a chance at escape, and so on. When they actually end up in a confrontation with the werewolf, you might say “one pull to keep it from mauling you; one pull to avoid being bitten; one pull to keep your nerve to do anything else useful, an additional pull if what you want to do is attack, an additional pull to succeed at hitting it, and another pull to actually do any harm when you hit it”. 
Rather than make a single pull a do-or-die situation, the whole game should be (in games where the most sensible way to be removed from the game is to die). It is the accumulation of actions, and therefore pulls, that leads to a character’s removal. 

Shipping Changes

This has been a long time coming, but The Impossible Dream is going to start charging more for shipping. US postal prices for international shipping went up dramatically on Jan 1, 2013, and I chose to ignore it, continuing to charge the old rates for the most part. They went up a bit again on Jan 1, 2014. So for nearly 2 years, we’ve just been eating the difference between what we’re charging you, and what we’re paying.

With the new website, we’re switching over to a smarter ecommerce plugin, so the good news is I can program in international shipping and give accurate numbers for multiple copies, so I won’t have to do all of these manually any more. I’ll still have to handle it manually for any country I don’t yet know the shipping for, but that should  be many fewer.

This may be the right business move, but I feel badly for our international customers, so this is your warning: more-accurate shipping prices will go into affect on Jan 1, 2015.

Oh, the actual prices:

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Our Web Site Has a New Look

Hello gamers.

The Impossible Dream has moved our Web site and blog over to WordPress. We wanted a platform that was a little easier to work with and maintain. Our goal is to provide more frequent updates about:

  • New role playing games we’re developing
  • Events and conventions where you can play games with us
  • Kickstarters (we’re gearing up to launch a Kickstarter for our popular  Four Colors Al Fresco game)
  • Playtesting
  • Cool stuff in the gaming industry that we want to share with you

We envision this as a conversation with you, our fans. We hope you’ll follow us on our blog and share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments. You can also follow our doings on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus (check out the links at the top right of the home page).


The Impossible Dream