Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Writer's Guide to Roleplaying: Developing Character

My first guest post hit the net Monday. It's an article I've been contemplating for several years on helping players enjoy their games more. There are hundreds, probably more like thousands of blogposts, articles, supplements and books written about becoming a better Gamemaster, but almost nothing on being a better player. When the team contacted me to guest post on their site, they asked if I had any system-neutral material and this immediately popped into my mind. The response has been impressive.

You can find the post here.

11/4/14 ADDENDUM: I was informed this morning that the post has hit just under 4500 page views since it was posted Monday. I'm not sure what to say. Thanks to everyone who has been sharing it. I'm humbled.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Adequate Commoner's Final Days

With only 3 days still to go, The Adequate Commoner has broken 200% funding with tons of cool stretch goals still to go!

When John first approached me with the idea for Adequate Commoner, I thought it was a fun novelty. Having worked with John on previous projects and become a huge fan of his prose over the past few years, I really should have known better. John has the unique ability to make me laugh and think (and even cringe with horror) at the same time, whether in his novels, short stories, or gaming supplements. Commoner is no exception.

With Adequate Commoner, John has taken Pathfinder to a new and wonderful place. Aspects of the game I've taken for granted for over a decade--race choices, traits and feats, skills, alchemical items, mundane equipment, stealth, ambushes, stakeouts--become hilariously life-or-death.

Of course playing a commoner increases the challenges on the table, but it also increases the satisfaction of a game well played in a way I didn't think possible. Commoner adds a level of appreciation for the subtleties of Pathfinder by teaching you to do more with less. So much more. Commoner has changed the way I will play every PF game from now on.

I can't encourage you enough to get in on this project from the start. Commoner is one of those rare products that injects new ideas incredible fun, all while it reshapes the way you think about your games.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Shoulder Surgery Update

As some of you know, I tore the labrum in my right shoulder while at work near the beginning of the year. Due to the way workman's comp needs to work, they put me on light duty for two months assuming it was a muscle issue and not actual damage. After two months, they had me go in for an MRI (which took a while to schedule), then I made a follow-up with my very cool MD (which took a while to schedule), who then referred me to a shoulder specialist (which get the idea), who told me the MRI showed an "extensive tear" (hint: they don't often use descriptors in these reviews unless it's bad). My new (and also awesome) shoulder MD put the paperwork in for surgery (3-4 weeks to schedule), which then was delayed because I developed a bad chest cold, then delayed longer due to a scheduling issue.

Three weeks ago I had my surgery and the experience was very smooth. Other than the tear, apparently my shoulder cuff muscles and joint looks great with no signs of arthritis or other issues, which is awesome to hear. I had my checkup yesterday and was told that the post-surgery pain can go on for 3-6 months, but the doctor feels I'm way ahead of schedule on my recovery, which is all great news.

I start physical therapy this week and go back for one more recheck in 3 weeks. After that, I should be able to return to light duty (4-6 weeks) and to full duty after that.

It's amazing how long it takes to schedule and juggle appointments, but aside from that, everyone from my doctors to the HR people to the workman's comp people have been wonderful. I'm bummed the pain may go on for a while longer, but I'm very happy with the surgery itself and the relatively fast recovery.

Thanks so much to everyone for the support over the past few months. I'm looking forward to getting back to the bedside.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lucid Storytelling Game

Lucid is a storytelling/RPG hybrid game that has been in development for the past 4 years. The game's original designer, Thaddeus Wilson, approached me early this year to get a designer's eye on it. When he first told me what his game could do I was skeptical, but happy to take a look and offer advice on what to do next. When I saw what he had created, I immediately asked if he needed a developer. Luckily for me, he welcomed me on board.

What is Lucid?

Lucid bridges standard role-playing and storytelling games with a unique mechanic that incorporates the best of both worlds.

In most role-playing games, there is a Game Master (GM) who has created or bought an adventure to run the players through. The GM is responsible for laying clues, playing supporting cast characters (called non-player characters, or NPCs) and adjudicating combats and skill challenges. Role-playing games allow the players to chose what their player characters (PCs) do, within the bounds of the rule system, but the overall plot is in the hands of the GM.

Storytelling games do away with the single GM and focus on cooperative storytelling between all players. No one knows where the storyline will wander or how it will end. Storytelling games allow everyone to participate in building the story in some way, whether by playing themed cards, rolling dice or simply using their imaginations. Unlike a role-playing game, typical storytelling games don't use player-characters and tend to have limited structure—the price of taking your imagination anywhere.

As a storytelling game, Lucid removes the single GM and allows each player to take turns as Director. Unlike most storytelling games, though, every player in a game of Lucid has a character to play (referred to as a Main Character) and the story follows a framework derived from the Three Act storytelling structure used in many plays, movies, TV shows and novels. During their turn as Director, a player introduces story elements in order to complete one of the Plot Points that make up the Three Acts, guiding the story to a both satisfying and exciting finale!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My Old Kentucky Home

Playing Apples-to-Apples Junior at The Creme Coffeehouse
Owensboro, KY

My wife and I flew home last night from a three-week vacation to Owensboro, Kentucky; the town where I grew up. My brother and his wife took a trip to Europe and we went back to spend time with his youngest kids, Carter and Laynie. I have nearly a dozen nieces and nephews (including three step, plus four great nieces and nephews) and I'm as gushing an uncle as I am a father. Every one of those "kids" makes the world a better place.

It's particularly fun seeing aspects of myself reflected in them--Maggie's love of games (and chocolate), Clint's dry sense of humor, Jesse's passion for fantasy, Jennifer's traveling, Sara's love of books, Josh's career as an EMT and firefighter, Laynie's bourgeoning fascination with the fantastic and bizarre (her favorite movies are Rise of the Guardians and Nightmare Before Christmas)--but of all my siblings' kids, spending time with Carter is like traveling back in time to hang out with myself.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My First Solo-Author RPG Piece from Christina Stiles Presents

"Rich Howard’s “Mundane No More” is a glorious little pdf, one of these hidden gems that are easily overlooked, but shouldn’t be. The rules herein make bookish characters work better, make the trip to the sage more compelling and generally increase the immersion into a given fantasy world. While personally, I enjoy a more active research (with rolls), combining this pdf’s rules with Rogue Genius Games’ research rules is extremely easy. So yeah, this is one of the hidden gems, a great file and well worth 5 stars +seal of approval!" -


Mundane No More: Texts and Tomes presents a new look at the most culturally-significant and history-altering invention in history: the book, designed by author Rich Howard.

Words. We love them. We’re gamers, after all. From novels to rule sets to textbooks to cereal boxes, non-magical language is the foundation of our imaginations. So why is it that PCs rifle through libraries in search of spellbooks and magical manuals while leaving generations of carefully cultivated knowledge strewn under their muddy boots?
Mundane No More: Texts and Tomes, remedies this by turning fantasy (and modern) libraries into treasure troves of knowledge. Mundane texts provide opportunities for any literate member of an adventuring party to retrain unwanted feats, refocus their skill ranks into areas helpful to the campaign, and to gain rare and exotic recipes for poisons, inventions, and, yes, even magic items.
Game Masters can use mundane texts to introduce plot twists, foreshadow events, patch holes in a party’s skills, and provide characters with the knowledge to confront enemies to come.
Within the pages of Mundane No More: Texts and Tomes you'll find:

● A four-tier ranking system that describes the knowledge each text contains and how your characters can benefit from it.
● A system for using tomes to retrain your character's skills, feats, spells and more, compatible with the retraining rules found in Ultimate Campaign.
● Detailed crafting-recipe rules that encourage characters to research the creation of mundane tools and weapons, alchemical preparations, and magical items as opposed to ‘knowing it all’ with a single skill rank.
● Creation rules for mundane texts.
● A dozen pre-built tomes and manuals of all types and tiers ready to drop into your campaign right now.

Don't wait - pick up a copy and add the power of the written word to your character’s arsenal!



"Mundane No More: Texts and Tomes" for the Pathfinder RPG by Paizo garners not one, but two 5-Star reviews! Reviews take time and considerable effort, so I greatly appreciate the detail and kind words these reviewers offer.

"...a beautiful concept that feels like it should have been in the rules all along. While the alternate rules for crafting new books adds a layer of complexity, it does so in such a way as to turn books into prized possessions; each with a potential story behind it..."

"This covers anything from a city guide to a bardic epic or a treatise on the mechanics of locks... or indeed any subject you care to consider, and means that any book a character picks up is potentially useful."

Monday, June 23, 2014

More than Words

There was a package on our doorstep today from my mom. I thought it might have been a belated birthday present; it was a large manilla envelope obviously filled with a random assortment of items. It turned out to be a collection of letters, papers, holiday cards and a decades old cassette tape*--20+ years of letters my grandmother had saved.

Tucked among the numerous envelopes was a letter entitled "Glenner Journal Entry". When I was in nursing school, I did some volunteer work at the Glenner Alzheimer's Center here in San Diego. Apparently I had to answer a questionnaire after my time was over. My mother thought G.G. would appreciate it so I had sent her a copy. I'm glad I did. I had forgotten this story until today and I'm not sure I would have rediscovered it on my own.

My grandfather had dementia for years before he passed away. My wife's grandfather recently passed after a short period of increasing dementia. I often run into older patients at my hospital experiencing early to late-stage memory issues. There is no way to describe the emotional and physical toll that caring for a loved one suffering from dementia can take on family and friends. The Glenner Center is a day-care facility where families can bring their loved ones to be cared for, fed, exercised and socialized while the family's take care of necessities or simply take a break.

Among the often heart-breaking challenges I saw every day, there were moments like these that reminded me of the importance of empathy and communication--with, and especially without, words.

[Names have been changed for privacy.]

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Current and In-the-Works Projects

For the past year, I've been finally fulfilling my dream to become a game designer. Publisher, editor and designer Christina Stiles has been kind enough to take me under her wing and get me involved in a number of projects I'm incredibly excited about, and many of them are releasing soon. You can already pick up my first professional editing piece, Xaolings, in PDF. 

Two series I've become heavily involved in are titled "Bite Me" and "Strange Brew", both for Pathfinder. "Bite Me" currently focuses on putting lycanthropes into your game alongside player-characters, but will expand to other supernatural creatures like vampires. The large "Pathfinder Guide to Lycanthropes" will be releasing in its entirety later this year, but several PDF products have come out already: "Playing Lycanthropes" and "Wereblooded". Another product, "Skindancers", is in final layout and will be releasing within a few weeks.

"Playing Lycanthropes" and "Skindancers" were written by two-time ENnie-nominee, Robert H. Hudson Jr., with both contributions and editing by yours truly. 

My first Name-on-the-Cover

Monday, May 19, 2014

Musical Interlude

And now, because it's been a while since I've posted about my awesome daughter, here is your musical interlude.

The Dread Pirate Snuggles
Cuddler of the Seven Seas

Sung to the tune of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"
Lyrics by Rich Howard

You are my favorite Ro of all there was,
there was,

You are my favorite Ro of all there was,
there was,

Of all the Rowans there ever was,
you are my favorite one, because,

I love you so much,

You are my favorite Ro.


Sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques"
Lyrics by Megan Tiffany Howard

I love Rowan,
I love Rowan,

Her dad, too, (Her mom, too)
Her dad, too, (Her mom, too)

We're a happy family,
We're the Howard family,

I feel loved, too
I feel loved, too

Sunday, May 4, 2014


I just finished editing a 15,000 word game document on shapeshifters by Robert Hudson. There is such a rush getting something like this to click, balancing interesting prose against the right game mechanic to present what you're thinking in an elegant way, knowing that people will use what you created to tell stories and build enduring memories with their friends. I freakin' love this job.

And I have another one just like it.

It's all over my About page that I have a day job in addition to my writing; I'm a critical care nurse at UCSD Medical Center's medical intensive care unit, or MICU*. All intensive care units are busy and extraordinary places to work and ours is no exception. Luckily, I work with an incredible group of nurses, managers, staff and doctors that make our unit culture one of support, laughter and encouragement. I couldn't get through 12-hour shifts without them.

So, with one job I get to support people's physical bodies during the hardest times in their lives, help their families understand what's happening to their loved one, and be there emotionally, professionally and spiritually when medicine can no longer help. With the exception of raising my daughter, there is no greater honor than that.

And with the other I get to inspire imagination and design games that people will use to enjoy the life they're living right now!

I could not be more grateful.


* = There are four different ICUs at UCSD; contrary to popular medical shows, not everything is trauma. The NICU or neonatal ICU deals with our youngest patients. Those nurses are rockstars in my book. Our BICU or burn ICU deals with patients from little kids to the oldest adults, some healthy other than serious burns, and some where their burns are yet another in a list of medical challenges. I've floated to the BICU before and they deal with some of the saddest cases I've ever seen. The SICU or surgical ICU are our trauma specialists. They deal with the car accidents, falls, gunshots, stabbings and surgical cases that fly in from around the county and beyond. My unit, the MICU, deals with anything that's not a newborn, burn or car accident--kidney failure, liver failure, severe pneumonias, strokes, heart attacks, multisystem organ failure, seizures, and any number of other issues.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Author J.M. Perkins on "To The Best of Our Knowledge"

I'm proud to announce that friend and colleague, action-horror author J.M. Perkins, recently won the "To the Best of Our Knowledge" 3-Minute Futures contest with his short story, "Social Scene Alert". "Social Scene Alert" was selected from 750 entries by sci-fi legend Kim Stanley Robinson and brought to auditory life by Gates McFadden and the Ensemble Studio of Los Angeles.

All of John's stories, including his recent novel CHEMO: How I Learned to Kill, are a demonstration of his inspired imagination. His writing makes me laugh, gives me chills and forces me to contemplate life in a way few others can, making him one of my favorite writers in the industry. "Social Scene Alert" is John at his best, managing to do all three in just 500 words.

Make sure to keep listening after the story for interviews with Kim Stanley Robinson and Gates McFadden, as well as the two runner-up stories also dramatized by the Ensemble Studio.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Man Never Truly Dies...

Today is the anniversary of the death of my best friend and blood brother, Matt Welty. I've written a lot about how he affected my life, but I wasn't the only one. There were hundreds of people at his funeral and there would have been dozens of speakers if we'd had the time. Still, we heard a dozen poignant tales of how he helped turn people's lives around, encouraged them to pursue their passions and face their fears, and how he made the lives of so many of us better. It's quite telling that seven years later people still hear his laughter in the joy of others, tear up at a bit of geek culture he introduced them to, and reach out to the rest of us when, in a hard moment of life, he shows up in a song, a picture, or a memory to remind us that his spirit is still there.

For those of you who didn't know our dear friend, Matt, I'm sharing two things that I hope give you a tiny glimpse into who he was and what he meant to me. The first is a memorial video I did for him in 2010 after I found a recording of his voice. The second is the eulogy I read at his funeral. I hope other people choose to share their stories in the comments below.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Professional Geek Achievement Unlocked

It's official. My first professional game credit is out in the world--editor on Xaolings by Todd Stewart. Xaolings presents a fascinating race born from the chaos planes. Todd has an impressive ability to describe creatures who are notoriously averse to being described. His mechanics for racial archetypes, feats and magic items were particularly impressive.

So, if you're interested in a new race for your game or are just excited to have something with my name in it, link over and pick up the PDF at

Monday, March 10, 2014

Writer's Bio

I was recently asked to submit a 150 word writer's bio to be used for several of the freelance projects coming out this year. I've never had to summarize my writing career before. The word limit was particularly inspiring; I'm a believer in limitations inspiring/forcing creativity. Some of you aren't gamers, or at least not Pathfinder players, so I thought I'd post a copy here.

Huge thanks to everyone who has supported and encouraged me to make this a reality. You can read more about that first AD&D game here.


Rich Howard's obsession with gaming started 35 years ago when his older brother finally let him invade his AD&D game. Since his first sleep spell, Rich has wandered the world of roleplaying, board and computer games as fascinated with their potential to teach and inspire as to entertain.

In 2006 he started the move to professional freelancer by refining his fledgling skills, attending conferences and finishing his first novel. After running into Paizo editor James Sutter at World Fantasy 2012 he realized that the skills he'd cultivated as a writer and his decades of gaming experience could be used to give back to the industry that had inspired his own imagination. In the past year he's contributed to projects from Misfit Studios, Rogue Genius Games and Christina Stiles Presents, as well as becoming both lead designer on Misfit's Ultimate Shaman and lead developer for the upcoming storytelling boardgame, LUCID.

Friday, February 28, 2014

In Memoriam: Aaron Allston (1960-2014)

UPDATE 2/4/2016: The Kickstarter honoring Aaron by bringing Strike Force to the 21st century has funded in just 4 days. Please go check out the project and help support this amazing memorial.

Aaron Allston's Strike Force Kickstarter


It's been an benchmark year for me. Aside from getting a promotion at my day job and having the best little family on the planet, I'm getting a steady stream of freelance projects for my dream job as a game designer. This morning I finished my writer's bio for the first of a series of pieces hitting the shelves this year, but my excitement was dulled by the news that one of my industry heroes collapsed at a conference yesterday and didn't wake up.

Friday, January 31, 2014

2014: A Month in Review

So far this month I've:
  • ...completed a two-year project at my hospital that streamlines our electronic medical record system.
  • ...presented said project to our hospital council and earned a promotion.
  • ...had two game developers contact me to review their games.
  • ...been asked to assist on a new RPG development project.
  • ...was recommended to a new video game company for help with their character development.
  • ...been hired for and completed an editing/development project for Rogue Genius Games.
  • ...picked up three new freelance RPG development projects.
I couldn't be happier.


Addendum, 1/31/14: I just finished the first meeting about a new RPG and I must say the system impressed me. It's midway through development so I can't elaborate, but the mechanics are sound, unique, and potentially far reaching; making it a Gateway Game for RPGs. What gamer doesn't want that?!?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Dungeons & Dragons

January 26th, 1974.

I've already written about some of my earliest experiences with the game that changed the world. I still run into people who don't even know that roleplaying games exist, much less understand how they could influence a life as passionately as they have mine. It's been 40 years since the hobby was invented, and 36 years since I experienced it for myself. There is little success I can't attribute to my time around the table. As I say on my About page:

"It teased my curiosity about the world, then pressured me to meet new people and share experiences with them. It fed my addiction to storytelling, compelled me to draw out people's emotions, gently manipulate them, then put them back in a way they would tell their friends about for years. It forced me to read about culture, and history, and mythology, and science, and religion, and forensics, and linguistics. It relentlessly bullied me into becoming a better writer and then pressured me to introduce it to other people. One game is even directly responsible for my ability to do math."

There will be scores of posts today about D&D and the positive influence it's had on the lives of those who've played. I'm honestly not sure I can add much more. RPGs are my life, personally and professionally. They form the foundation for my closest friendships and will be the tool I use to bond with and inspire my children and their friends (at least until they find their own outlets). If you want to know more about why I love games, and RPGs specifically, check out the Popular Posts on almost any of my blogs. I write about them all the time.

So all I can say today is, thank you Gary and Dave, for the incredible life I've lived. Happy Birthday, D&D.