Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 34, part 3 – Daddy Issues

Mercury and Concord attempt to heal Silver Streak’s mind, and discover a severe guilt complex, possibly amplified by exposure to a Keynome. The attempt is thwarted by the presence of three hostile Concordance agents within the psychic space. Back at Has Beans, Lucius recommends that Ghost Girl recruit Armiger for future cleansing efforts. She witnesses Rossum robots launching from stores nearby. Link and Ted Waters escape the black site, plowing through AEGIS agents along the way. Seeing an army of robots flying toward the site, they go back in to extract Rossum from his cell before the robots can rescue him. Charade suits up with new equipment, including a repurposed Vyortovian hover-cycle. She is ordered to deal with Link, who at this time is presumed to be working with Rosa Rook and Rossum. Link orders everyone to Rook HQ. Once done, he reveals the real Rossum to Rook. Rook, realizing Rossum’s racket, reluctantly but reasonably reverses. However, the clone/imitation Rossum she has somehow takes control of the bots remotely.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 34, part 2 – Daddy Issues

Mercury and Concord attempt to heal Silver Streak’s mind, and discover a severe guilt complex, possibly amplified by exposure to a Keynome. The attempt is thwarted by the presence of three hostile Concordance agents within the psychic space. Back at Has Beans, Lucius recommends that Ghost Girl recruit Armiger for future cleansing efforts. She witnesses Rossum robots launching from stores nearby. Link and Ted Waters escape the black site, plowing through AEGIS agents along the way. Seeing an army of robots flying toward the site, they go back in to extract Rossum from his cell before the robots can rescue him. Charade suits up with new equipment, including a repurposed Vyortovian hover-cycle. She is ordered to deal with Link, who at this time is presumed to be working with Rosa Rook and Rossum. Link orders everyone to Rook HQ. Once done, he reveals the real Rossum to Rook. Rook, realizing Rossum’s racket, reluctantly but reasonably reverses. However, the clone/imitation Rossum she has somehow takes control of the bots remotely.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 34, part 1 – Daddy Issues

Mercury and Concord attempt to heal Silver Streak’s mind, and discover a severe guilt complex, possibly amplified by exposure to a Keynome. The attempt is thwarted by the presence of three hostile Concordance agents within the psychic space. Back at Has Beans, Lucius recommends that Ghost Girl recruit Armiger for future cleansing efforts. She witnesses Rossum robots launching from stores nearby. Link and Ted Waters escape the black site, plowing through AEGIS agents along the way. Seeing an army of robots flying toward the site, they go back in to extract Rossum from his cell before the robots can rescue him. Charade suits up with new equipment, including a repurposed Vyortovian hover-cycle. She is ordered to deal with Link, who at this time is presumed to be working with Rosa Rook and Rossum. Link orders everyone to Rook HQ. Once done, he reveals the real Rossum to Rook. Rook, realizing Rossum’s racket, reluctantly but reasonably reverses. However, the clone/imitation Rossum she has somehow takes control of the bots remotely.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 33, part 3 – A Team Divided

A few days pass, and assorted school shenanigans take place. Mercury talks to Tempest and convinces her to allow Concord to examine the comatose Silver Streak. Concord has a plan. Ghost Girl teams up with Lucius to try closing the hole in Oakland Cemetery. She is partially successful. Mercury manages to secure a date with A10.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

It was cute…

As I already mentioned, my kids and I are playing a game based on The Hollow (Netflix) using a hacked version of World of Dungeons: Turbo.

Everyone’s having a good time, and is totally into it, but none so much as my five-year-old Zoe, who requests the game pretty much every evening. Needless to say, time constraints and the varying moods of her siblings mean we can’t always play when she wants to.

So, instead of bedtime stories tonight, I decided to start up a little game just for me and her. And of course that began by asking her lots of questions.

(She’s a girl with a pet flying lizard (butterfly-colored bat wings).)

And what situation did she come up with?

“I’m being chased along a beach by four demon knights riding demon horses, after I tried to steal something pretty that was hanging in the window of their castle.”

“Was it something important or magical?”

“No. It was just cute. And I wanted it.”

#thatsMyGirl

The Hollow, by way of World of Dungeon: Turbo

I’m running a game for my kids, inspired by The Hollow series on Netflix, and for said game I’m basically using a loosey-goosey version of World of Dungeons: Turbo.

However, the setup for the game doesn’t closely match the original World of Dungeons: Turbo premise, so I’ve already spent a fair amount of time scribbling in different abilities and such.

As a result, I figured it would be worth my time to build a character sheet I could tweak as the game went on. So I did that, and I wanted to share it not because anyone would want to run a similar game, but because I figured someone might want a sheet they could customize for their own WoDu variations.

PLEASE NOTE: I am verifiably shit at design of any kind, so this thing is pretty hacktackular, but whatever. It works.

The PDF basically looks like I intended.

The word .docx will likely shatter if you look at it sideways, but g’head and do with it what you will.

If you make a better version that’s still editable/changeable, please do let me know.

Ravenloft, via World of Dungeons, with Kaylee (video compilation)

Kaylee and I have been playing through the classic Ravenloft (I6) module, solo, using World of Dungeons. For quite awhile, we did it with Discord chat, but that led to a lot of me saying “Dude, seriously, post what you’re going to do,” and her say “I’m sorry – it’s just really easy to forget.”

So the lion’s share of recent progress has been since we switched to playing mostly on Roll20, maybe once every couple weeks.

Yes, I am playing on Discord voice chat, using Roll20 for the play space, with my daughter, while she and I sit in different but adjacent rooms in the same house, because that is somehow easier. That’s my life.

Anyway, I wanted to share the three short sessions we’ve managed to get done so far. It’s an entertainingly non-linear progression through the castle.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 33, part 2 – A Team Divided

A few days pass, and assorted school shenanigans take place. Mercury talks to Tempest and convinces her to allow Concord to examine the comatose Silver Streak. Concord has a plan. Ghost Girl teams up with Lucius to try closing the hole in Oakland Cemetery. She is partially successful. Mercury manages to secure a date with A10.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 33, part 1 – A Team Divided

A few days pass, and assorted school shenanigans take place. Mercury talks to Tempest and convinces her to allow Concord to examine the comatose Silver Streak. Concord has a plan. Ghost Girl teams up with Lucius to try closing the hole in Oakland Cemetery. She is partially successful. Mercury manages to secure a date with A10.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 32, part 3 – Future. Tense.

It’s a Link and Concord session! Link talks with Waters about Rossum and Vyortovia. Adam talks with his folks. Link and Adam actually talk to each other (!?!), give romance advice to Otto (?!??!?), and question the future-speedster who tried to kill everybody.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 32, part 2 – Future. Tense.

It’s a Link and Concord session! Link talks with Waters about Rossum and Vyortovia. Adam talks with his folks. Link and Adam actually talk to each other (!?!), give romance advice to Otto (?!??!?), and question the future-speedster who tried to kill everybody.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Actual Play snippet: Dungeon World one-shot, Gauntlet Con

I’ve been GMing the same Masks game for over a year. Before that, there was a PBTA-based Star Wars game that ran for over thirty sessions.

This isn’t to establish bona fides – I just want to point out I really like running PBTA stuff – as a game system, the mechanics suit me better than anything else I’ve ever run – and I will happily laugh in the face of anyone who says it can’t handle long-term games.

WITH THAT SAID, I do appreciate a good, tight, one-shot or short-arc game, and I’ve been intrigued to see more of that kind of play using PBTA, because I know a lot of people run their games that way, and I rarely/barely have.

Also, I just don’t get to play as a PLAYER very often (I think the last time was a couple years ago), so that would be nice.

All of those desires came together last night, when I was able to jump into a Dungeon World one-shot at Gauntlet Con, which runs yearly, online, thanks to the Gauntlet community.

Here’s the game introduction:

A structure of softly-glowing stone appeared suddenly upon the sands outside of a small oasis city during a moonless night. From the freshwater springs, it appears to float hazily above the desert like a mirage. While at first people talked about its mysterious arrival and appearance, now they only whisper rumors and hushed secrets out of fear of those dwelling within. Others, bolder, have made pilgrimage to camp beneath the temple, believing it to contain a divine being they call Shil-Muar. What secrets and riches await you within its luminous walls?

The GM also noted he was aiming for “a heavy sword-and-sorcery style; expect bloody gore, weird and potentially unsettling magic, and quite possibly scantily-clad people and creatures of all genders.”

So, I mean… yah gotta do a barbarian, right?

That was where I started, but (after checking in with the group) I drifted things a bit, making my barbarian (Clovis Bonebreaker) a dwarf from kingdom several continents away. His barbaric drives were all about amassing fame, glory, and wealth, which looks SUPER shallow at the outset, but for which I felt had cool reasons.

Why did he seem weird and barbaric? Extensive facial and body tattoos, fastidiously clean (washed up every morning, commented on peoples unpleasant odor, et cetera). Well-spoken, polite, and generally “polished.” The fighter in the group was convinced I’d soon see the foolishness of my own behavior.

Dude… my WIS is a -1 – I’m never going to see the foolishness of my behavior. It’s what got me into this mess in the first… never mind.

One-shot Dungeon World players have developed a very solid method for running VERY LOW prep sessions and getting a super-focused game. Our GM followed that general ideal very well, and continued asking the players questions about their background and world as we went on.

The key bits I need to mention about the game setup, to get to the part I’m most happy about, are these:

  • The divine being Shil-Muar was basically a mix of djinn and quetzalcoatl. A powerful trickster flying snake… thing. Mirages and illusions dominated the themes of the temple.
  • The treasure we were all ostensibly after was the enormous ruby that bound Shil-Muar to this world.
  • Shil-Muar’s immediate servants were mostly snake-like yuan-ti types and “harpy-dactyls” that made getting into the temple pretty perilous. Also mad human cultists, but that’s typical.

The relevant bits of character background I need to mention are:

  • Dwarven society is a RIGID caste system.
  • The tattooing is based on one’s caste and various subsets of role within that caste, and might begin as soon as the age of one. Clovis was covered over most visible areas.
  • Ancestor worship is the one and ONLY deal when it comes to dwarven religion. It confers no supernatural powers.
  • If you leave the homeland, you cannot come back unless you “bear with you fame and wealth commensurate to your position.” To come back empty-handed is to inflict that debt (in the broad sense, both spiritual and monetary) on the homeland, and is never allowed. “Blessed are they whose return is remunerative… etc etc.”
  • The higher your place in society, the greater the debt you must bear if you return.

Anyway.

The evening was a series of misadventures (we all nearly leveled just from the XP we each earned from failed rolls; it was ugly, but glorious).

By the time we staggered into the holiest of holies within the floating temple, our fighter was missing an arm, and we were all well done-in.

NONE of us liked our chances trying to beat up a flying snake deity and taking his stuff.

We had ten minutes left in the game, so the GM gave us time for each of us to lay out our play.

The druid basically went belly up in front of the snake god and shifted into a miniature copy of the god – offering abject servitude, just don’t kill him. He was accepted, but locked in the snake form forever.

The fighter demanded reward for breaching and defeating the temple defenses, and demanded just rewards for what we’d done. He rolled snake-eyes (appropriate!) on this demand, and we jumped right to him rolling Last Breath and negotiating his new role as semi-reincarnated, cringing servant of the deity.

I went a different route.

“Shil-Muar, I have crossed continents to find you. I call on you to cast aside this unworthy, once-yearly worship from sand-scrabbling peasants, and join me. I will take you to a land of wealth – fabulous wealth – power, and prestige; a land where the only opponents you face in the spiritual realm are the powerless, empty bones of the long-dead. You can reign in the temples of my people, unopposed, and to do so you need only ally yourself to me, the crown prince of Tuor Kalvek, as I break my homeland apart and reforge it.”

And I rolled.

Fucking.

Boxcars.

Clovis was the crown prince, you see, and had stormed out of the city after yet another argument with his father, only to realize that in order to return with fame and wealth commensurate to his position, he’d literally have to found a kingdom, and then bring the whole bloody thing back with him.

Or… you know… something similar.

I then got to narrate returning to the gates of my city, many months later, clad and cowled in rags, walking alongside an old mule and a creaking horse cart. Clovis is confronted by the guards, and yanks aside the tarpaulin covering Shil-Muar’s ruby. The serpent, wreathed in flames, spirals into the sky over our heads as Clovis strides up to and through the gates behind the fleeing guards.

So, so good.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 32, part 1 – Future. Tense.

It’s a Link and Concord session! Link talks with Waters about Rossum and Vyortovia. Adam talks with his folks. Link and Adam actually talk to each other (!?!), give romance advice to Otto (?!??!?), and question the future-speedster who tried to kill everybody.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 31, part 2 – A Moment of Silence

The Team (plus Alycia Chin) is gathered at the Quill Compound. Various talks happen, and someone from the future tries to kill everyone. So basically a normal Monday night.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Fire Goose

Created at the behest of Mark Hunt, for a silly little project on MeWe.

Fire Goose

Small beast, probably evil
Armor Class 16 Natural Armor
Hit Points 30 (5d10 + 5)
Speed 25 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 35 ft.
STR 12
DEX 14
CON 14
INT 5
WIS 9
CHA 3 (because geese)

Immune to Fear (as near as we can tell)

The Fire Goose is basically just a goose, from a fiery pocket dimension. We assume. No one wants to go to whatever beknighted hellhole spawned something as terrible as a goose (which is already terrible) but also on fire. We wouldn’t even know the damned things existed – and might then sleep slightly better – except some idiot in a robe summoned one and the sodding things keep pulling more of their feathered, furious kin over. Seriously, it’s terrible. We may be doomed. Did you learning nothing from the Vrock Debacle that leveled the city of Yll, Kevin ?!?

Not noticeably larger than a typical goose, a fire goose is often mistook as its local cousins, if you approach in bright sunlight (which makes the fiery crown nearly invisible). However, once you get close enough (why would you get closer?!? – even if you didn’t realize it’s on fire, it’s still a goose, and thus nothing but pure evil and spite), it will stretch out its wings and wreathe itself in flames; either as a power display or – and gods above and below help you if this turns out to be the case – a mating stance.

The fire goose is not afraid to attack an intruder, but is also MORE than willing to summon aid and kill anything not goose-shaped with the support of its hellish kin. It is not unusual to see two or three fire geese turn into a large flock of twenty in less than a minute.

Also, they’re apparently mating with local geese as well, now? And get viable progeny? Gods’ tears, Kevin, what did you do? This is the darkest timeline.

Squawking Lava Charge. If the fire goose moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a beak attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) fire damage. The target must also succeed on a Wisdom Save or become Frightened. This is not a supernatural effect: geese are just effing terrifying, man, and this one is on fire.

The Great Honk. When the Fire Goose feels threatened, wants to BE threatened, or – as near as we can tell – just bloody feels like it, it may attempt to summon more Fire Geese to its aid. The Fire Goose must attempt a CON save; on a success, its call was loud enough to be heard beyond the filmy veil between worlds, and another Fire Goose appears within 30 feet, already angry and ready to get stuck in.

Fearsome Hiss. At The start of the Fire Goose’s turn, it wreathes itself in flames and emits a hiss that affects all creatures in a 15-foot cone in front of the dire goose. Each creature in the area must succeed a Wisdom Saving or have disadvantage on its attack rolls until the end of its next turn.

Fire Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 + 4) burning damage.

Wreathed in Fire Wing Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one horrified target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 4) fire damage. CON save or become prone.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 31, part 1 – A Moment of Silence

The Team (plus Alycia Chin) is gathered at the Quill Compound. Various talks happen, and someone from the future tries to kill everyone. So basically a normal Monday night.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 28, part 3 – Question Time with the Ponies!

The team finally sits down for a nice, casual, light-and-breezy Answer Time interview with @HeroesAreMagic and @PowerPony. It’s an emotional roller coaster even before Congress publicly threatens them with treason.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 28, part 2 – Question Time with the Ponies!

The team finally sits down for a nice, casual, light-and-breezy Answer Time interview with @HeroesAreMagic and @PowerPony. It’s an emotional roller coaster even before Congress publicly threatens them with treason.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 28, part 1 – Question Time with the Ponies!

The team finally sits down for a nice, casual, light-and-breezy Answer Time interview with @HeroesAreMagic and @PowerPony. It’s an emotional roller coaster even before Congress publicly threatens them with treason.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 26, part 3 – The Horrible Satisfaction of the Aggrieved Dead

Vyortovians attack Halcyon High, Jason and Alycia face off against their fathers, and Charlotte connects with Federal City’s spiritual side.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 26, part 2 – The Horrible Satisfaction of the Aggrieved Dead

Vyortovians attack Halcyon High, Jason and Alycia face off against their fathers, and Charlotte connects with Federal City’s spiritual side.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 26, part 1 – The Horrible Satisfaction of the Aggrieved Dead

Vyortovians attack Halcyon High, Jason and Alycia face off against their fathers, and Charlotte connects with Federal City’s spiritual side.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 25, part 3 – A House Divided

All hell breaks lose, as Vyortovia appears off the coast, Alycia escapse Byron Quill’s holding cells in the Sepiaverse and heads for the Keynome, and something weird is up at Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 25, part 2 – A House Divided

All hell breaks lose, as Vyortovia appears off the coast, Alycia escapse Byron Quill’s holding cells in the Sepiaverse and heads for the Keynome, and something weird is up at Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 25, part 1 – A House Divided

All hell breaks lose, as Vyortovia appears off the coast, Alycia escapse Byron Quill’s holding cells in the Sepiaverse and heads for the Keynome, and something weird is up at Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 24, part 2 – Jason and Byron

Jason makes it to the Sepiaverse for the first time, pursuing Charlotte… who is apparently in hellscape D.C.? With Jason’s Dad?

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 24, part 1 – Charlotte and the Magus

We spend a short session getting Charlotte caught up to Jason’s point in the game timeline, so we can get them both caught up to the rest of the game timeline.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 23, part 3 – Training Day

Link, Concord, and Mercury join up with That Other Team to work on training with Comet and Sergeant Amari… then the JHHLs show up.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 23, part 2 – Training Day

Link, Concord, and Mercury join up with That Other Team to work on training with Comet and Sergeant Amari… then the JHHLs show up.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 23, part 1 – Training Day

Link, Concord, and Mercury join up with That Other Team to work on training with Comet and Sergeant Amari… then the JHHLs show up.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22.5 – Between Game Big Reveals!

Sometimes, the stuff we play out via the forums, between games, contains some big plot reveals. This week was definitely one of those times.

If you’d like to read the threads themselves, here are some links:

If you want investigate the forum as a whole (most of the players can’t even keep up with everything), that’s over here

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22, part 3 – Senioritis is a Thing

The team recovers and takes stock of events following the attack on Halcyon and their dropping of the Vyortovian Veil. Meanwhile, the world deals with the fact everyone forgot Iceland for a couple years.

Oh and there’s a Keynome under Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22, part 2 – Senioritis is a Thing

The team recovers and takes stock of events following the attack on Halcyon and their dropping of the Vyortovian Veil. Meanwhile, the world deals with the fact everyone forgot Iceland for a couple years.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22, part 1 – Senioritis is a Thing

The team recovers and takes stock of events following the attack on Halcyon and their dropping of the Vyortovian Veil. Meanwhile, the world deals with the fact everyone forgot Iceland for a couple years.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 21, part 3 – The Truth Shall Set You Free!

The team realizes the Vyortovians are using the Yule Creatures as a distraction while they slip into the city and create a massive breach between this world and the Sepiaverse, right in Charlotte’s cemetery.

And Charlotte, Jason, and Adam tear apart the Vyortovian Veil. No big.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 21, part 2 – The Truth Shall Set You Free!

Run, Harry. Run.
The team realizes the Vyortovians are using the Yule Creatures as a distraction while they slip into the city and create a massive breach between this world and the Sepiaverse, right in Charlotte’s cemetery.

And Harry saves the city from a reality bomb.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 21, part 1 – The Truth Shall Set You Free!

The team realizes the Vyortovians are using the Yule Creatures as a distraction while they slip into the city and create a massive breach between this world and the Sepiaverse, right in Charlotte’s cemetery.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 20, part 3 – The Frost and the Furry!

With the adults cast into unnatural slumber, the team rallies teen heroes across the city to combat Gryla, her Yule Lads, and the enormous, building-eating Yule Cat.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 20, part 2 – The Frost and the Furry!

With the adults cast into unnatural slumber, the team rallies teen heroes across the city to combat Gryla, her Yule Lads, and the enormous, building-eating Yule Cat.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 20, part 1 – The Frost and the Furry!

With the adults cast into unnatural slumber, the team rallies teen heroes across the city to combat Gryla, her Yule Lads, and the enormous, building-eating Yule Cat.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 19, part 2 – By Parental Authority Figures Betrayed!

Halcyon Heroes League
The team has to face the music as they’re called on the carpet by a strangely nervous looking Halcyon Heroes League.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 19, part 1 – By Parental Authority Figures Betrayed!

The team has to face down that most horrible of foes: a black-tie holiday party with a bunch of boring adults.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 18, part 3 – If This Be My Body

How Harry offers (and gains) Comfort and Support.
Charlotte rigs up a mystic telepathic link for the group. It totally works.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 17, part 2 – By My Friend Betrayed!

Jason drives Adam home and talks with Adam’s dad. It goes horribly.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 17, part 1 – By My Friend Betrayed!

Nissar AmariJason drives Adam home and talks with Adam’s dad. It goes horribly.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 16, part 3 – In the Clutches of Interpersonal Interaction

A new day… a new crazy day.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 16, part 2 – In the Clutches of Interpersonal Interaction

A new day… a new crazy day.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 16, part 1 – In the Clutches of Interpersonal Interaction

Halcyon Heroes League
A new day… a new crazy day.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 15, part 3 – Aftermath

We’re almost done with the day from hell, but there’s still a few more hours left in the evening.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 15, part 2 – Aftermath

We’re almost done with the day from hell, but there’s still a few more hours left in the evening.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 15, part 1 – Aftermath

We’re almost done with the day from hell, but there’s still a few more hours left in the evening.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 14, part 3 – Love Letters… Unleashed!

The group faces off against an AEGIS-hosted press conference, and we start off the session with Love Letters that let us check in to see how everyone is doing. (Answer: Not great.)

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 14, part 2 – Love Letters… Unleashed!

The group faces off against an AEGIS-hosted press conference, and we start off the session with Love Letters that let us check in to see how everyone is doing. (Answer: Not great.)

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 14, part 1 – Love Letters… Unleashed!

The group faces off against an AEGIS-hosted press conference, and we start off the session with Love Letters that let us check in to see how everyone is doing. (Answer: Not great.)

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 13, part 3 – If This Be In Media Res

The group rushes to rescue Pneuma, and finds her in the clutches of Rook Industries (at the airport, where Rook has the security contract). The standoff is diffused by the arrival of AEGIS, and the rest of the session focuses on how AEGIS and other adults deals with this event and with the team.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 13, part 2 – If This Be In Media Res

The group rushes to rescue Pneuma, and finds her in the clutches of Rook Industries (at the airport, where Rook has the security contract). The standoff is diffused by the arrival of AEGIS, and the rest of the session focuses on how AEGIS and other adults deals with this event and with the team.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 13, part 1 – If This Be In Media Res

The group rushes to rescue Pneuma, and finds her in the clutches of Rook Industries (at the airport, where Rook has the security contract). The standoff is diffused by the arrival of AEGIS, and the rest of the session focuses on how AEGIS and other adults deals with this event and with the team.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 11, part 3 – When Sablestar Strikes!

A-10, one of Harry’s classmates at Gardner.
Sablestar’s attack on Halcyon High South gets complicated, and the heroes throw down with the gravity- and space-manipulating anarchist in the skies over Halcyon.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 11, part 2 – When Sablestar Strikes!

Top-notch mid-game scribbles.
Sablestar’s attack on Halcyon High South gets complicated, and the heroes throw down with the gravity- and space-manipulating anarchist in the skies over Halcyon.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 11, part 1 – When Sablestar Strikes!

Sablestar’s attack on Halcyon High South gets complicated, and the heroes throw down with the gravity- and space-manipulating anarchist in the skies over Halcyon.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 10, part 3 – Halcyon High-jinx

The Farlander.
You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

It’s a day in the life of Leo and Adam, attending Halcyon High South! Meet NoNo Rodriguez! Meet the Vice-principle! Meet Taz, the weird new transfer student! Meet Farlander, the… scavenger alien from across the galaxy?

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 10, part 2 – Halcyon High-jinx

Taz.
You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

It’s a day in the life of Leo and Adam, attending Halcyon High South! Meet NoNo Rodriguez! Meet the Vice-principle! Meet Taz, the weird new transfer student! Meet Farlander, the… scavenger alien from across the galaxy?

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 10, part 1 – Halcyon High-jinx

NoNo Rodriguez.
It’s a day in the life of Leo and Adam, attending Halcyon High South! Meet NoNo Rodriguez! Meet the Vice-principle! Meet Taz, the weird new transfer student! Meet Farlander, the… scavenger alien from across the galaxy?

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 9, part 3 – Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

How Harry offers Comfort and Support.
Jason spends most of the session unconscious. Jordan Amari is adorable. Other stuff happens, often involving adults allegedly being helpful.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks Prep: Brainstorming + Random Situation Tables

MOST IMPORTANT BIT
– Problems, difficulties, goals, and victims should all have a FACE (or faces): people that the heroes interact with
– (Masks moves are about interacting with people – if a situation doesn’t provide that, character will struggle to engage.)


PICK A LOCATION
– Pick a location one or more of the team are from or have history with (default)
– Pick a location that looks juicy and interesting
– Pick an additional location (second pass only)

WHAT HAPPENED HERE (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– Adult Heroes messed something up there
– Locals messed something up there
– Hyper-phenomena of some kind messed something up there
– AEGIS messed something up there
– Mundane Governments messed something up there
– Villains messed something up there
– Adult Heroes responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– Locals responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– AEGIS responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)

IN THE PRESENT (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– [MacGuffin] must be delivered to the location
– Important People/Supplies must be accompanied to the location
– Locals/Local Government are creating further difficulties for the location
– Hyper-phenomena are creating further difficulties for the location
– AEGIS and/or Outside Government is creating further difficulties for the location
– Villains are creating further difficulties for the location
– Pick a second element and interweave the two
– The Adults (take your pick) have no clue what’s really going on. Good luck.
– The Adults have no clue what’s really going on, but think they do (pick a previously-used element above, but it’s wrong)

IN THE FUTURE… IF NOTHING IS DONE RIGHT AWAY (d6)
– Locals/Local Government will attempt to handle the current difficulties on their own (and do so poorly)
– Locals/Local Government will blame the heroes (and superheroes in general) for current difficulties
– AEGIS will take drastic action to preserve the situation and push the heroes towards the difficulties
– The difficulties will get worse
– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist
– The difficulties will target the heroes directly

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 9, part 2 – Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

Jason spends most of the session unconscious. Jordan Amari is adorable. Other stuff happens, often involving adults allegedly being helpful.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 9, part 1 – Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

Jason spends most of the session unconscious. Jordan Amari is adorable. Other stuff happens, often involving adults allegedly being helpful..

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 8, part 3 – Through a Vision, Darkly

Jason tries to use the Quill AI and his nanites to figure out what Alycia was up to in the Quill warehouse for almost a month. It’s goes REALLY well.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 8, part 2 – Through a Vision, Darkly

Ghostheart is brought into custody, and everyone tries to Comfort and Support everyone else. Usually poorly.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 8, part 1 – Through a Vision, Darkly

Ghostheart is brought into custody, and eveyone tries to Comfort and Support everyone else. Usually poorly.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 7, Part 3 – If the Graveyard be My Destiny!

PowerPony is abducted by Ghostheart and his demonic minions and it’s time to throw-down in the cemetery.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 7, Part 2 – If the Graveyard be My Destiny!

We’re posting our Masks actual play as a podcast… because we can. You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

PowerPony is abducted by Ghostheart and his demonic minions and it’s time to throw-down in the cemetery.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

How to Train Your Dragon with Risus hacks

I’ve been playing an RPG with my kids set in the Archipelago of How to Train Your Dragon. As a prelude to writing about the play itself, here are the rules I’m using.


Dragons: Wanderers of the Archipelago

A Risus variation for How to Train Your Dragon Adventures

(Based mostly on Risus Guard, a Mouse Guard hack I cobbled together, which in turn is based on on Evens Up, by D. Stahler, Simpler Risus from Risusiverse, and Mouse World, by Dan Cetorelli)

And of course Risus, by S. John Ross.

The Basic Rule

When dice are rolled, rather than adding up the results, each 4, 5, or 6 (4+) is counted as a “Success.”

Discard rolls of 3 or lower. In addition, sixes always “ace:” each six not only counts as a success, it is immediately re-rolled, with a 4+ result added to the success total (and continuing to ace as long as a six is rolled; the beloved “exploding dice effect.”)

Swap the “Inappropriate Cliché” rule for “Imaginative Use”: If you can explain how you use your cliché, you can try it. In combat, Imaginative Use of a cliché deals +1 damage.

“Round peg in a square hole”: If you’re using an inappropriate cliché in a test simply because you have no better option, and can’t (or choose not to) come up with an Imaginative Use, your opponent rolls two additional dice, or the number of successes needed increases by 2.

How It Works

Simple Skill Check

Instead of rolling against a target number, a certain number of successes are required to achieve a desired result, generally adhering to the following difficulty scale:

Easy: 1 / Tricky: 2 / Hard: 3 / Heroic: 4 / Legendary: 5 / All But Impossible: 6+

The process used to determine the difficulty rating in Risus — by figuring out how hard the task is in the context of the cliché’s relevance — is used the same way here, as is the idea that the degree of success or failure may affect the overall result.

As a general rule (because I like PBTA games) – getting some successes but not enough successes is a good time for a mixed result: you get some of what you want, but at a cost, or with complications.

Single-Action Contests

Both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most number of successes wins. Ties can either be rerolled or go to the side who rolled the fewest dice (Goliath rule) or most (respect the skillz), depending on the group’s preference.

Multiple-round Contests (Combat)

Each round, both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most successes wins, resulting in the loss of one cliché dice (or more, depending on the situation) for the loser. Ties can be handled as above.

Note: In combat, the ‘success counting’ die mechanic means differences in cliché levels aren’t as huge a deal.

Team Ups During Contests

In team-ups, a leader is chosen for each team (leader role can change between rounds, if it makes sense). The leader gets to count all the successes from their rolled cliché. Everyone else on the team rolls their clichés as normal, but only count sixes as successes toward the team’s goal. (Sixes from helping characters can still Ace, with the Ace rolls counting as success on 4+, as normal.)

When a team loses a round, the leader takes cliché damage.

If a team member is taken out of a conflict due to sustaining injury or being unable to roll any dice in a round due to accumulated penalties, the character’s status will be determined after the conflict by the winning side.

(Players should remember that in single-action contests and combat, opponent’s dice can ace, as well.)

Too Many Dice

Sometimes characters, teams, or (most often) their opponents will have access to clichés of greater than six dice. Don’t roll more six dice; if a cliché is higher than six, every two dice over six simply adds a success (round down). So a Unstoppable Red Death (20) would roll six dice and add seven successes.

Funky Dice?

Funky dice can still be used in this system, if you want (not sure I do, but…) If you want to use them, have ALL results of Six or higher ace. Obviously, the odds of acing on a 10 or 12-sided die-roll are pretty good.

Character Creation Options

Allocate ten dice to your clichés, as normal for any Risus character. Humans are the baseline in this setting.

Lucky Shots can be purchased as normal in the Risus rules, if you like.

Sidekicks and Shieldmates from the Companion rules can also be purchased, and should be; they work perfectly for dragon companions, as well as particularly useful, rare, or high-quality gear that is better than what you would already have as tools of the trade for your clichés.

Generally, build your dragon companion by taking away 1 die from your cliché pool to make a 3-dice cliché for your dragon. Strike Class dragons (being more rare, intelligent, and powerful) can be built with 6 cliché dice (at the cost of two character dice), but still shouldn’t have any clichés higher than the character’s highest.

Dragons can usually team up with their rider during contests, can act on their own (or at the command of their rider), and can act entirely on their own with their rider rolling to help them, if it makes sense.

Example One: Brega’s dragon companion is Moonshade, an indigo-scaled Deadly Nadder. She invests 1 die into her dragon as a Sidekick/Companion, and buys “Moonshade: Over-protective Nadder (3)” as a cliché for the dragon.

Example Two: Most dragon riders do not wear much in the way of armor (or at least the basic armor they do wear (shoulder guards and the like) rarely seem to matter for most viking clichés). Hiccup, on the other hand, as a pretty cool shield, and decides to buy it using the Sidekick/Companion rules, which allows it to help (sixes count as additional successes) on any rolls where such a crazy shield would help (though it might also work against you in some cases…)

Gronkle-iron-reinforced “Utility Shield” (3)

(Once you start tallying up Toothless, Hiccup’s Shield, Wingsuit, and other crazy gear, you start to suspect his actual clichés might be… kinda crap.)

Optional: Skills within Clichés is probably fine, though maybe let that come out during play of the character.


Scale (super-optional)

Humans are definitely not the biggest things in the world. The progression of size scale goes something like:

  • Terrible Terrors
  • Humans, wolves, speed stingers
  • Smaller dragons (gronkle, et cetera)
  • Most dragons
  • Larger Dragons (Screaming Death, Catastrophic Quaken)
  • Very large Dragons (Typhoomerang, Eruptodon)
  • ???
  • Red Death

Or, Simplified:

  • Little dragons
  • People
  • Most dragons
  • Really Big Dragons
  • Insanely Big Dragons

There are a number of different ways to handle difference in scale. Off the top of my head:

  1. Larger creatures in a physical conflict get 1 ‘free’ success for each level of scale they have above their smaller opponent(s).
  2. Funky Dice. In physical conflicts, the two scale spots directly above people use d8s; the two above them use d10s, the two above them use d12s, and Bears and Moose either use d20s, or allocate (still terribly imposing) cliché values to different parts of their body.
  3. Beyond the scope of dice: most creatures have cliché ratings, but for the truly imposing, they might perhaps be better handled as natural phenomena, rather than mere animals. The same might be said of large groups of lesser animals (a flight of dragons, for example, or a big pack of speed stingers).
  4. All of this largely pertains to physical confrontations – social/mental conflicts would hit different clichés which would only rarely use funky dice.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 7, Part 1 – If the Graveyard be My Destiny!

We’re posting our Masks actual play as a podcast… because we can. You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

PowerPony is abducted by Ghostheart and his demonic minions and it’s time to throw-down in the cemetery.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 6, part 2: A History Divided Cannot Stand!

The team meets up for pizza and then delves into the secrets of the multiverse. As one does. Then they get… distracted by current events. And paperwork.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 6, part 1: A History Divided Cannot Stand!

The team meets up for pizza and then delves into the secrets of the multiverse. As one does.

Then they get… distracted by current events. And paperwork.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 5: Whence Comes the Pizza Guy

This session is a GM’s summary of events rather than an Actual Play, because he forgot to record the session.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 4, part 2: When Talk the Talkmen

Nissar Amari
Nissar Amari, Adam’s dad.
Everyone touches base with the important people in their life. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 4, part 1: When Talk the Talkmen

Mercury faces off against his greatest foe yet… his super-supportive dad! (Grown-ups are scary.)

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 3, part 2: Into the Sepia Dimension!

The fight with Iconoclast and Troll comes to a clear and definitive … end? Wow. Finally. Also, Jason Quill’s nemesis makes an appearance and accidentally sends Mercury to another dimension. Like ya do…

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 3, part 1: Into the Sepia Dimension!

The fight with Iconoclast and Troll comes to a clear and definitive … middle. Also, Jason Quill’s nemesis makes an appearance and accidentally sends Mercury to another dimension. Like ya do…

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 1, Part 2 – Iconoclast!

The first real session had some audio problems, which we resolved in session 2. You’ll fight to hear the players sometimes, but hopefully it’s worth it.

In this session, the players face off against… a morning television interview! (And a supervillain named Iconoclast, whatever.)

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 1, Part 1 – Iconoclast!

The first real session had some audio problems, which we resolved in session 2. You’ll fight to hear the players sometimes, but hopefully it’s worth it.

In this session, the players face off against… a morning television interview! (And a supervillain named Iconoclast, whatever.)

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Game Advice – On Playbooks

While listening to various sessions, I realized I had some advice for both Masks players and GMs when you’re getting ready to start a new campaign and pick out playbooks.

You can subscribe to the Masks podcast series with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks Menagerie Tropes

A couple weeks ago, I joked that I should try to identify the main tropes that show up in our current Masks game.

Unfortunately, some part of my brain didn’t know I was joking. So.

The Real Dark Side of Star Wars: Spoilers

[This is a repost of a post I wrote about two years, which has inexplicably disappeared from the site.]

I need to talk about something pretty shitty, but it requires a little background information, first.

Many of you probably already know this background info, but some of you don’t, so I’m filling it in for them; everyone else, please bear with.


I doubt it will surprise anyone to know I’m a long time Star Wars fan boy.

Am I the biggest Star Wars fan boy who’s ever lived? No, most certainly not.

In fact (and this bit will shock the less-super-nerdy out there), there are groups of folks out in the world who, after examining the extent of my exposure to Star Wars “stuff”, would decide quite seriously that I’m not a real Star Wars fan at all, or at least not a serious one.

The funny thing is, it’s hard to even explain this without getting at least somewhat nerdy, but I’m going to try. (In my head, as I write this, I’m talking to my sister, which is how I approach more posts than anyone would imagine.)

Now, a lot of people – most people – who say they like Star Wars mean they like the movies, because that is literally the only Star Wars thing they know about. I’m going to call these folks “mainstream fans.”

Obviously (because as a species, we really can’t leave this kind of shit alone) there is a lot more Star Wars stuff out there – more stuff than you’d readily believe. Games, of course. Comics – fucking walls of comics – and enough novels to fill a library.

Collectively, all the stuff that isn’t the movies has been (until recently) referred to as the Star Wars “Extended Universe” or “EU”. The quality of the stuff varies, and by “varies” I mean some of it is pretty good, and some of it is pants-on-head fucking idiocy that makes Jar Jar Binks look as cool as Chewbacca, by comparison.

How does stuff like that get the official stamp of approval? Pretty simple: George Lucas really likes making money, and people are willing to pay him a whole shit ton of money to play in his backyard, so he lets them write novels with Force-nullifying space-sloths (yes, seriously) and puts the Official Rubber Stamp on it, because (a) he got money and (b) he knew if he ever came out with a movie that contradicted stuff people had written, his version would invalidate all the drek he’d authorized in the past, so who cares?

In general, I don’t follow the EU stuff, and (with the exception of the first Star Wars roleplaying game that anyone licensed) don’t know much about it.

The quick summary: there is miles and miles of EU stuff, set anywhere from 30 thousand years before to several hundred years after the movies ‘mainstream fans’ know; the whole thing is an virtually unchartable hot mess…

And there are fans out there who know every single inch of it. Or most of it. Certainly more of it than I do. I’ll call them super-fans.

Now: I have no beef with those super-fans. None.

Okay so far? Good.

Now: Enter Disney.

A few years ago, Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property and announced they were going to start doing stuff with it, and that George Lucas wouldn’t have very much if anything to do with it. (Which, after the prequels, was kind of a relief to hear.)

And Disney took a long look at the Extended Universe stuff and, after some thought, said “Yeah that’s… nice and all… but… yeah. None of that shit is official anymore.”

Basically, they boiled down “Official Star Wars” to the movies, the Clone Wars animated series that ran a few years ago, and whatever stuff they make from here on out (like the totally amazing and fun Star Wars Rebels show, a couple new novels, and of course the new movies coming out).

All that EU stuff? It’s not the “Extended Universe” anymore; it’s “Star Wars Legends” which, honestly, I think is a great name – it implies these are stories about the Star Wars universe (which they are, of course) but just that: stories. Unverifiable. Unverified. Unofficial. Enjoy them if you want – please, by all means – but know them for what they are.

Most – and I do mean most – super-fans were fine with this: they get to keep the stuff they’re into, and they get the biggest pop-culture engine in the world cranking out new Star Wars stuff until the heat-death of the universe finally invalidates Disney’s copyrights.

Some of the super-fans are not happy, and have decided to be unapologetically shitty human beings about the whole thing. I will call this small, vocal-like-a-screaming-howler-monkey subset of super-fans the “spoiler fans,” and here’s why:

These people have decided that it’s not enough that they have this stuff they like. Because Disney has said it’s not official stuff anymore, that somehow makes it impossible to love that stuff as much as they once did – their love is somehow capped by its lack of an official stamp, and this cannot be allowed to stand.

What do they want? This is pretty funny, actually: they don’t just want Disney to go back and say “okay, that stuff is still at least as official as it was when George Lucas was taking your money and planning on invalidating anything he felt like, whenever he felt like it” – they (apparently) want Disney to keep making EU stuff, in addition to the stuff Disney is already making.

“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “maybe they want a pony, too?”

And yeah, it’s kind of funny, until you realize the internet has allowed shitty people to be shitty on a far greater scale.

See, they’re trying to hold Star Wars hostage to get Disney to do what they want.

How? They have vowed that they will spoil each and every spoil-able moment in the new movie as loudly and as broadly as possible (which, today, is pretty loud and pretty broad), if Disney doesn’t cave.

You’ve probably seen those image memes on Facebook or whatever, asking people not to spoil the movie. I have, and thought “yeah, it would suck to be spoiled ahead of time.”

Because that can happen by accident. Well-meaning, happy, enthusiastic fans can get on the internet and broadcast out to their friends, joyfully exclaiming about all the stuff they loved about the movie, and accidentally spoil something for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, because how have you not seen it yet?!?

This isn’t that. This is not an accidental thing. This is not your friend loving the movie so much he spills something.

This is a guy standing outside the movie theater before The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for the line to form, and then telling every single person in line “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad.”

Except the guy has a megaphone the whole world can hear, if they aren’t careful, and he shouts the message at unexpected times.


I’m telling you about this, because it already happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

I leaned about this little movement of spoiler-fans via a friend’s post on Google+.

The very first comment to that post was one of these guys, and all he posted was a spoiler, and I am pretty sure he spoiled probably the biggest plot twist in the movie for me.

Now, obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so how do I know?

Let me put it this way: if that guy who came up to you in line at Empire Strikes Back had said, perfectly straight-faced “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad,” would you have believed him?

Maybe you think about it a bit, and it syncs up with everything you know about the movies thus far, and it syncs up with what you’ve seen in the trailers, and it just seems like a very Star Wars-y plot twist.

Maybe you don’t believe it, completely and totally, but you believe it enough that you will sit down in the theater and, basically, spend the whole movie waiting for that moment to come. Or not.

Even if it doesn’t, you will not have enjoyed the movie as much as you might have, because you were distracted. And if it does happen just as that guy said? Well.

That’s the kind of thing this guy posted. One line. Ten words, and there goes my 100% unmitigated enjoyment of the new movie.

Now, shut up: this isn’t about me. Yes, you’re very sorry about this happening. Yes. I love you. Thank you, now shut up for a sec.

Listen.

These fuckers are out there. They are doing this on purpose. They’re enjoyment of their pile of stuff has been somehow – idiotically – damaged; Disney made their Masters-level knowledge of a made-up universe less important than it already was, so they have decided to shit on every other person who wants to enjoy the new movie, because (apparently) “Fuck anyone who is enjoying themselves, if I am not.”

I don’t care about me. I’ve watched Empire Strikes Back probably thirty times, if not more, and I know – know I will enjoy it when I watch it again, because I’ll be watching it with my kids, and the shine hasn’t come off for them.

Because of that, I know I will enjoy this new movie when I watch it, because I will be watching it with my kids and even if I don’t feel the same sense of surprise and wonder as I might have, they will, and I will still get to feel that, through them.

And I know they will get to feel that, because I’m going to protect them from these… infantile man-children and their shit-spattering temper-tantrum.

Now: why did I write all this? Because I want to try to protect you, too.

When you see spoiler warnings, heed them. Stop thinking of spoilers as “that one little thing my super-happy friend let out after he saw the movie” and start thinking “halitosis-reeking stranger who wants to dip his filthy index finger in my morning coffee.”

From here until you see the movies, absolutely avoid comment sections on any Star Wars-related post on any kind of social media.

Just… for a few days, expect people you don’t know to be kind of shitty for no good reason.

I realize that’s kind of a downer message, but seriously: I want you to enjoy the movie.

And also, yeah: I want those petty fuckers to lose, because fuck them.

(Comments on this post are disabled, for obvious reasons.)

Masks, Actual Play Analysis, Sessions 11 to 15

We’re back! It’s another long flight, so let’s run through Masks sessions to the latest and see what to make of them…

Issue 11: When Sablestar Strikes! (hell-day part 3)

I like when we can start things in media res, if only to skip the fiddly front-loading on a session.

In this one, I skipped away from the school, working off the assumption Leo and Adam would want to get the action as far away from the school as they could. The players agreed, though in hindsight I probably didn’t need to play it so coy with the framing and just tell them what I was thinking. Lesson learned, though unfortunately not until now, and not when I needed it in session 13. More on that in a few.

At any rate, this fight went off quite well, I thought. The team has only had a few fights up to this point, and I was starting to think I’d need to bring in at least a 1-for-1 matchup to really test them, since they pretty much wiped out everyone up to this point.

Sablestar provided an additional and very different data point, proving a real problem for the heroes without me needing to bring in any further bad guys. Part of that was simply using mixed successes to complicate the scene with additional ‘stuff’ – when the heroes can take out a villain with 3 or maybe 4 solid hits, giving them something to do besides punching is much more interesting. This was definitely the most dynamic and interesting combat scene we’d had up to this point, and started to add some great backstory to Adam/Concord.

As things wrapped up, the last big move saw me handing out a pile of ‘take a powerful blow’ moves. I hemmed and hawed about this during the game – it felt right, and normally that’s enough, but for some reason I’m way way way more tentative with GM moves and even narration in this game. I have no idea why, and honestly I don’t think that extra care has benefited anyone very much, so I think I need to trust my instincts a bit more.

Weirdly, this is born out by a fairly egregious overstep I made a few sessions later. More on that in a bit.

Issue 12: When the Dead Walk!

(Hell-day part… four? seriously? – or part 4 and part 0, maybe, due to a flashback? It’s complicated)

This session was a bit weird, and weirdly short.

We started off with a flashback to cover what Ghost Girl had been up to during her Condition-clearing reckless investigation (a scene I should have had in the previous session and never got to). This ended up taking a long while, and didn’t involve anyone else, so that’s just poor use of time on my part, despite the fact I was happy with the stuff we got into and found out. Good narration, bad group-involvement. No GM cookie for that one.

The only other thing we got to was the big reveal that the robot that assembled itself in Link’s home base and came after him at school was actually a back-up of Pneuma that had activated after some kind of “Emergency: Go To 10″ protocol was activated when something bad happened to her.” There was some drama (and comfort/support moves) around this that I liked.

Buuuut, there is a problem I didn’t recognize until it was too late – putting Pneuma in danger is basically a board-clearing, table-flipping deal for Link, which presents problems when we already have a couple-three major plot chainsaws in the air. Bill gave me some good tips on ways to make that sort of thing a bit more of a timed slow burn, and I’ve tucked those away for later, but lesson learned.

Issue 13: If This Be In Media Res!

Day of Hell, part the Fifth

So I screwed up.

The obvious thing I screwed up is that I started in media res and framed the heroes into the middle of a major assault on… the secret basements and sub basements beneath the evacuated Halcyon International Airport, and I did so without checking with anyone first.

Which, when I sum it up like that, is so blindingly obvious a fuck-up it seems impossible I didn’t see it coming.

Now, that sort of framing is fine if you’ve taken the measure of the team and know that’s where things are going and just decide to skip to the higher action parts of things.

But that’s not what I did. Bad me. -2 GM cookies.

The thing is, it wasn’t DOING those things that was the actual screw-up.

The mistake I made was in getting talked into a hard-framed in media res thing in the first place, because I hadn’t prepped for it or really thought about it much, so I was ad-libbing the whole thing without communicating first, during, or after. (My only defense is that I was tired and punchy going into the night, but that’s pretty weak tea.) If I’m going to do something like that it needs prep, and communication. That was the real mistake.

This reinforces, in a weird way, the ‘need to trust my instincts more’ note I made a few sessions back, because my instincts were to not do this, and I didn’t listen.

So that’s both ways not trusting myself (not doing and doing) messing with me, inside two or three sessions. Bleh.

On the Bright Side

It was a deprotagonizing set-up, but everyone agreed the assumptions made were fair, if extrapolated without anyone’s input (damn it just seems to stupid and OBVIOUS every time I think about it). “If we’d played through the whole lead-in,” went the response, “it wouldn’t have looked exactly the same, but it would have been darn close, so it’s okay.”

Put another way, I’m annoyed with what I did, but I think the results in the fiction were good and added a lot of great stuff to the campaign – the introduction of Rosa Rook gets associated in everyone’s mind with the situation being out of their control and with high-handed manipulation by adults, and I guess that’s a plus, there; she’s a great addition I think the whole game really needed.

So… I really wish we’d gotten there differently, but I was glad for the final destination? I dunno.

The very best suggestion in post-session discussion was that getting everyone on the same page with the start of the session could have been handled beautifully with love letters, like that ones I used in Session One and which, in one player’s words “I’ve hoped we’d use more.” Great, great idea.

AEGIS swept in for a PR coverup (“those young heroes were at the airport to stop a power-suited terrorist!”), which leads us into the next session, where I’d take the love letter feedback to heart.

Issue 14: Love Letters… Unleashed!

Hellday 6: The Helldayening

I started off the session (and, really, pretty much filled up the session) playing off of love letters I’d written for each character.

I distributed them days earlier, giving everyone time to process and consider their choices, which gave everyone a lot more buy-in. I was also open to feedback and modification of the letters, but all the feedback was positive, so nothing to do there.

As I said, playing through all this stuff pretty much filled up the whole session, and saw the realization of the 6- rolls from the past three or four sessions that I’d had on my to-do list for awhile.

Jason started … let’s call it ‘hallucinating’ a 10-year-old version of Alycia Chin, bringing the total number of holographic AI relationships on his dance card to something like 4 or 5. I’m pretty happy with that result, and I think Dave was as well, as he had mentioned during the week wishing he could get all the success AND failure results from the love letter.

Concord’s … ‘shard’ finally woke up, which is going to give him something else to contend with – a ‘voice’ for the superhero side of his Superhero/Mundane existence, which we’ve both been looking forward to. The final scene with him and his family was awesome and brutal.

I was happy to see Link protecting his people to the press – I think that was really nice to see after a couple sessions of having them at risk. Also helped us highlight his friend Otto’s accessibility issues.

I was VERY happy to have Harry in a position where we could see him being more of an expert in the public side of being a superhero. It went well, and rolled into some good stuff in the following session as well. I really liked him in that space, and alienating him from his family a bit, which we haven’t seen yet, but will.

Everything else was revealing information (background about Ghost Girl) and laying the groundwork for same (Pneuma has a weird memory error in her backup, and AEGIS has a video of the moments surrounding Jason’s Dad’s … death? which Agent Waters slipped to Quill).

All in all, very happy with this session, and the use of the love letters. I’m thinking about using a “lite” version of this for the coming session to get things sorted out a bit more.

Issue 15: In the Clutches of Late-Night Melodrama!

Thank god this Hellday is ov- WHAT DO YOU MEAN PART 7?!?

I need to get better at rationing time based on how many characters are involved in the scene. I’m not good at that, and I need to get better.

Link moves in with the Gales, a twist I did NOT see coming. Need to think more about that, because there’s some completely unexplored territory there. Yet more good stuff with Harry, which I really liked.

Jason gets some information about his dad, working with Achilles Chin, working against someone… else? Who? What? Jason’s response says he’s expecting this to really blow up in his face in short order, in a big way. I’ve got some more stuff to lay out here.

Concord’s parents tell him they want him to stop working for the Concordance. Maybe. They want to talk about it. I think Mike and I are both excited about where that’s going.

And… a couple rolls go sideways and Ghost Girl starts out investigating her family’s ties to mystic secret societies and… ends up in the Sepiaverse.

So that’s gonna be a thing.

Thoughts

  1. I love this game. I haven’t been pushed like this in years.
  2. I also haven’t doubted myself as much either, which really needs to stop.

Masks “Menagerie” Campaign – Session 6 to 10

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about our ongoing Masks game (superhero antics in the vein of Young Justice, Teen Titans, or Avengers Academy), but that in no way means the game itself has slowed. Quite the opposite.

So, if only for the sake of bragging, I thought I’d catch things up.

The last time, I covered sessions 0 though 5. This time, it’s sessions 6 to 15, so buckle up.

Before I get rolling, I want to recognize two resources that have made this broad overview far more manageable.

The first is the forum that is automatically made available for any campaign you set up on Roll20.net. (Our game is played online, and while the voice chat isn’t able to handle our group’s particular challenges, the other tools it provides are invaluable.) The forum lives here, and sees continuous, nigh-daily activity in the form of fiction, world-building, general discussion, and (of course) the blow-by-blow Actual Play summaries – usually authored by Dave Hill – which supplement if not completely stand in for my spotty recollection.

(Said forum has been made even more valuable with the addition of a custom coded search/scraper that Bill forced around roll20’s forum code at great personal effort.)

The second tool is a more recent addition to our electronic tool box, a wiki built and customized (again, mostly) by two of the players, Bill and Mike. Thanks to the organization of the wiki (and downright sexy layout), I’m able to excavate all kinds of trivia and bits of game lore that might otherwise have flared and died within minutes of being introduced into a session.

With that out of the way…


When We Last Left Our Heroes…

Sessions 1 though 5 were mostly about introducing the heroes to the people of Halcyon, and the players (and myself) to the Masks system. They had a morning show interview, a downtown brawl with some bad guys, and then rode the fallout from those events, (including the speedster getting temporarily lost in an alternate, devastated version of Earth.)

Session five saw the team looking forward or inward – taking stock of the problems they had on their plate and making plans to deal with them.

It also saw their team coming to the attention of AEGIS, the SHIELD-esque organization of the Masks universe.


Issue 6

One of the directives for a Masks GM is presenting adults as supportive but short-sighted; willing to help but always pushing their own vision and agenda on the teen heroes – help with strings attached. Okay.

Enter Agent Ted Waters (who’s probably going to be the most supportive, least strings-attached adult in the game – though that’s a low bar), an experienced AEGIS agent and the father-figure/handler for Link (whose actual father is super-villain Rossum the Minion Maker). Waters shows up at Quill Industries (the ‘sanctum’ for the team’s Doomed character) with paperwork in hand that will officially recognize the team by AEGIS… a move AEGIS hasn’t… umm…. actually sanctioned?

This paperwork is simple – it merely requires the team pick a name and an official leader. Easy, right?

The name had been under discussion via in-character posts on the forum, but we hadn’t brought it to the forefront yet. This was meant to facilitate that. They tell Ted the team will be the Menagerie and it gets the expected, bemused response from the older man (a good sign you’re on the right track in a teen-oriented game).

The ‘strings’ attached to this bit of help were more meta-level than an actual condition offered by Waters – the team had to pick a leader; a requirement I thought might generate some drama/angst/hand-wringing/reflection/et cetera.

It did all those things, so yay. 🙂

The team eventually settled on Jason Quill (the Doomed, played by Dave), a decision which the team treated with varying levels of seriousness. (Jason on one end of the panic-stricken-with-the-weighty-responsibility spectrum; speedster Mercury (Kay) providing the ‘whatever man paperwork is boring just write something in it doesn’t matter’ counterbalance.)

While Jason continued to process this development, Ghost Girl went and got herself in one kind of trouble (attacked by someone who saw her as a dangerous menace, starting both an arc and introducing her current Mundane-vs-Freak Hook), while Like found another (investigating a mutual friend’s disappearance and running afoul their supernatural kidnapper).

This development brought us to the end of the session with the team rushing to help GG, but split (“where the hell is Link?”), and under a leader (technically) who was still a bit in shock.

Issue 7: If the Graveyard Be My Destiny!

(All credit to Dave for the comic-book-classic session titles.

This session was meant to introduce one of Ghost Girl’s issues and a sort-of nemesis; Ghostheart (one of the characters from the Masks Deck of Villains) whose main deal is obsessively keeping living people over THERE, and dead people over THERE, and NO TOUCHING NO TOUCHING NOT EVER.

Charlotte is all about connecting with people amongst both the living and dead (she’s playing the Outsider playbook, and filled with wonder at the modern world in which she now finds herself), so Ghostheart seemed almost a custom-written enemy for her.

Most of the session was a nighttime fight at GG’s home cemetery against Ghostheart and a couple of his summoned demonic henchthings – Rawhide and I-Didnt-Catch-the-Other-Guy’s-Name. After the fight (and some really stilted, useless, uncomfortable leadership, beautifully delivered by Dave), the heroes (reunited, since Link was tussling with Rawhide on his own, initially) tracked down and rescued the kidnappee “@powerpony” – an online-mutual of both Link and GG’s (PC-NPC-PC relationship triangles are good – need more of those).

Offscreen

The players conducted a couple Google-Doc-based scenes after this session, simply to get them done in satisfying fashion without taking up too much in-game time.

The first was Link talking with green-lantern/Blue-beetle-esque Concord about the details of the kid’s powers.

The second was between Link and Jason – an often tense but ultimately fruitful and relationship-building ‘discussion’ about what kind of leadership the team really needed (and what kind Jason could legitimately provide).

Both scenes were great, and the ‘offline’ RP option proved a good one, though we try not to use it too much, as it tends to move characters whose players have the mid-week bandwidth for such things further center stage, in a play environment (online, short sessions) where it already seems someone ends up drawing the Spotlight Short Straw every week.


Issue 8: Lo, There Shall Be an Evening of Character Interaction!

As a means of exploring GG’s current Hook (her Mundane connections with others, versus the Freak nature of her powers), we also learned a bit more about why Ghostheart wanted GG out of public circulation – her interactions with the Living were creating some kind of ectoplasmic catnip that would inevitably attract a terrible entity known as Pandemonium to the material world.

The only way she could guarantee her living friends’ safety was stay away from them. Which sucks.

AEGIS rolled back into the picture much sooner than anyone expected, as the team called them back to take Ghostheart into custody. (The team opts NOT to go the morally-and logically-questionable route of the Flash CW show, with villains held without due process, inside a particle accelerator, and fed Big Belly Burgers on a… mostly daily schedule.)

The rest of the session involved the team either trying to help each other out with Comfort and Support-based roleplaying (with mixed but fascinating and sometimes hilarious results), or working through their own problems; Link’s robotic not-girlfriend Pneuma announced she was departing Halcyon for a bit to visit ‘someone’ in Japan, while Jason went down a digital rabbit hole, investigating how and why his nemesis Alycia Chin infiltrated Quill Compound as a lowly warehouse employee for a month.

Jason’s investigation led to a great scene where he uses his nanobots and latent genius to analyze Alycia Chin’s actions, and gets knocked cold in the process via some kind of latent … mental … something … Alycia left behind in the video recordings of her activities. Remote Memetic Programming, maybe? Image-gestalt boobytrap? That would be bad.

Issue 9: Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

The Beginning of the Day From Hell

Morning! The second Weekday of the campaign, and time once again for all good heroes to… get to school.

(Assuming they aren’t a ghost from the civil war, or unconscious, of course.)

A while back, Concord’s player had started a discussion on the forum where we all talked about whether the Nova playbook was working for him, and we collectively came to the conclusion that the Janus playbook worked better. So we retconned it.

This session was the one where we started to get into that ‘dual identity’ drama a bit more, very literally in this case (because I am a ham-fisted hack) with Concord trying to help Link with an unconscious Jason (via an energy construct copy of himself) while simultaneously attending school in his ‘real’ body. He didn’t exactly balance this out well, and ended up being sent to the principal’s office when he confused his multiple mouths and remonstrated his English teacher for being a ‘walking deceit’ when he meant to be talking to the vision of Alycia Chin in Jason’s head.

I’d call this situation a solid B effort on my part. Maybe a B-. We get better at this in short order, though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

Meanwhile, Mercury and Ghost Girl spent the morning reaching out to adults for advice and input, before Mercury had to get to school.

Harry’s dad-joking, eggplant-emoji-texting dad, Silver Streak.
This is always a fraught situation in Masks – going into a scene with an adult or adults in Masks carries an undercurrent of threat akin to an armed parley with A-level super-villains. Honestly I’ve never done as much broad-spectrum damage to the team with a bad guy as I have in scenes with their well-meaning mentors dispensing advice, constructive feedback, and (horror of horrors) heartfelt praise.

It didn’t really go better here, with both Harry’s dad and the retired ‘grail knight’ Armiger (Lucius, owner/operator of the Has Beans coffee shop, downtown) kicking in their two cents about Ghost Girl’s ongoing Ghostheart/Pandemonium problem, what they thought the kids should do about it (and, ultimately, who they thought the kids should be.) They got what they were after, but Ghost Girl at least wasn’t feeling great about it afterwards, which lead to some Condition-clearing reckless behavior later. (As it should.)

Issue 10: Halcyon High-Jinks (Hell Day, Part 2)

Dave, Margie, and Katherine were all out of town, which left Jason recovering from his tussle with not-Alycia, Ghost Girl roaming the city doing reckless things without consulting the team, and Harry actually attending Gardner Academy (the private high school that tends to specialize in rich kids and publicly recognized supers).

Concord and Link, on the other hand, are on their way to HHS – Halcyon High South – part of the public school system, where they academically toil in relative anonymity.

Bill and Mike (and I) were excited to play around with that classic of teen superhero comics, the high school, so we had a good time with this. First order of business was to establish the normal day, and I had fun introducing some of the faculty, and went to the players to fill in NPCs (which gave us the wonderful Ms. “No!” Rodriguez, Leo’s lab partner.

I also introduced Taz, a new transfer and tech-nerd who seemed to either be a bit on the spectrum or way over-informed about Leo, or both. She showed up both in Leo’s chem class as well as at lunch with Leo and Adam, and was generally fun to play, freaked out the players a skosh, and has more going on that I’m looking forward to getting into.

With the norm established, it was time to get some Concord-grade villains on the stage, and that mean “galactic” villains. For this, I went back to the Deck of Villainy and pulled out The Farlander (who is just too weird looking and fun to play) and Sablestar who, by sheer coincidence in visual design, seemed to be … related to Concord and his powers in some way. There’s some vague hand-waving on her card about being a member of the Void Collective and something of a space-anarchist, but I already have an anarchist villain, so Sablestar and the VC became a kind of counter-(if not anti-)Concordance, in my head. We’ll see how that fleshes out over time.

So: a bit of fighting at the school with The Farlander, and the introduction of Sablestar, and as things get complicated we call it for the night, ready to bring in the rest of the team next session as things heat up.


That’s five of the ten sessions I wanted to cover, so I’ll stop here and do 11 to 15 in the next post. More soon!

Masks Actual Play (Sessions 0 to 5)

There’s so much in my head with the weekly Masks game, every time I try to figure out what to say about it, I’m overwhelmed a bit, so this miiiight be a little random. I’ll try to keep a rein on things.

This is NOT going to be a blow-by-blow summary. I’m aiming for a 10-thousand foot view of how things are going.

Session 0

The players (five) came up with a lovely mix of traditional heroes (a speedster Legacy, a green-lantern-ish Nova), and some stuff that really turned the playbook concepts on their heads (a power-armor-and-AI-designing Bull, a nanite-infused Doomed inspired by Johnny Quest, an Outsider who is a ghost from the civil war era, marveling at the modern world).

One of the big things you do as a group in chargen is come up with answers to the “when we first met” questions, and this series of answers (here) presented us with a showdown against “Hannibal Lectric,” an older blue-blood sort of villain that really informed a lot of initial play, especially after some things that came out at the start of Session 1.

Of note: we’re using Roll20 for a play space (and Discord for voice chat), and during our last game (Dungeon World), we’d started making more use of the embedded forums Roll20 provides for each game. This took off in a BIG way for Masks, even before Session 0, with a lot of player pre-planning, and shows no sign of slowing down. I only wish the forum posts could be grouped more, but it’s still great.

If you’re interested, the (basically audio with a slideshow) recording of Session 0 is here.

Session 1 Prep

I made up love letters for everyone in the intervening week and dropped them on the players at the start of session 1. I am quite proud of all of them. They are collected here: Jason Quill: Doomed, Concord: the Nova, Mercury: the Legacy, Link: the Bull, Ghost Girl: the Outsider.

One of the things that came out of the love letters in play was the fact that the whole fight with Hannibal Lectric was a diversion so that something more important could be acquired while everyone was distracted. (This is/was tied to our Doomed in some way.)

Following the love letters, we cut into a tense “first team fight” kind of thing… which turned out to be four of the five heroes getting interviewed on “The Morning Starr” by nigh-plasticine host Tasha Starr.

When sonic-based villain Iconoclast interrupted the broadcast, the Bull was heard to comment “Thank Christ.”

The fight immediately moved to the street outside the studio, and we stopped the session in mid-brawl, with both the Nova and Legacy rocking pretty hefty piles of Conditions.

One of the players later posted a bunch of mocked-up live-tweets of both the interview and fight, which did a great job setting the tone and feel of the city and the world. Those posts are collected here.

Session 2

The street brawl continued, immediately complicated by the arrival of Troll, a meme-spewing bruiser whose strength and power increases in direct proportion to the strength of nearby Wifi signals.

Like Tasha Starr’s excruciatingly awkward interview questions, I put some effort into prepping bits of Troll’s dialogue, which I shared with the Masks community over here.

After this session, I posted a Plotagon-created video of some super-fan’s thoughts on the interview/fight. Plotagon quickly became a fun tool for the players to create their own virtual diaries and the like, so I’m happy I introduced it.

We had some technical problems that shortened the session, which unfortunately meant we were rolling into Session 3 with the ‘introductory fight’ still happening. Eh. We play for two to two-and-a-half hours, online, so we don’t get as much covered as I might like every session, but we’re having fun.

Session 3

I’d prepped a few other villains, ready to jump in to the brawl and get their faces on the news, but the complications didn’t head that direction, so they’re still waiting for their chance.

The (speedster) Legacy raced a self-destructing Iconoclast out of the city, but a decision to “give the villains an opening” introduced the Doomed’s nemesis to the scene (looking for the Doomed, whose energy signal was all over the speedster for fiction-reasons), which in turn led to a roll that resulted in the Legacy’s powers “going horribly out of control.”

I didn’t have anything prepped for that, but a few minutes of pondering and checking some notes got me to a classic speedster complication: getting unstuck in reality/time by overloading one’s powers, leading to foreshadowing – so Mercury was flung into a sepia-toned alternate earth in which a few Big Clues were dropped.

Meanwhile, the Bull’s “Assess the Situation: How Do We End This Quickly?” question from last session was finally answered when one of the Tweeting NPCs from post-session-one let the team know Troll’s weakness with regards to Wifi signal, which lead to a nice team moment with the Bull and the Nova.

And back at the point of the original fight, the Doomed and the ghostly Outsider had a moment of Comforting and Support – the first in the game, but definitely not the last: once that move was on the table, it quickly became one of the group’s favorites.

Mercury rejoined the team (and their reality) back in the city center, and before the authorities (or more bad guys) could show up, were ushered out of sight by Jaguar, the protege of Hyena, a vigilante superhero who’d become interested in the team after their first fight. (Thank you, session 0 team questions!)

By this point in the game, the players were starting to really get into the between-session stuff. The Doomed’s player started doing video diaries with plotagon, and he and the Bull also did a few play-by-post conversations on the forum. Other players were also sharing their thoughts and creations: art, pictures, and even a collection of relevant NPCs. (Here and here.)

Session 4

Most of this session was dealing with fall-out and developments from the first big public team fight. The most ironic thing was that we didn’t do any combat in this session, and our heroes ended up with more Conditions than they’d gotten in the fight.

Highlights included the Legacy’s dad telling him what a great job he’d done (and leaving him Insecure), and the Nova getting so scared of screwing up that he forgets how to fly at the end of the session.

I believe this also marks the point where the Bull changed his “Love” to the Nova character, in a “little brother” sense. His love up to this point had been his own NPC creation, so I liked seeing that, no matter how cool the NPC is. 🙂 (His rival remains the Doomed, which is all good.)

Session 5

The events of this session encompass something like… 3 hours. Maybe four. And no combat. And still chock-a-block with STUFF HAPPENING.

I reintroduced an NPC (@powerpony) as both a contact point for the Bull and the Outsider (gotta love those PC-NPC-PC triangles), which led to some good scenes and exchanges.

The Doomed got to reveal WHY he didn’t like interfacing with the AI in his “sanctum” – its holographic interface is modeled on his dead genius father.

AEGIS makes an appearance.

More CLUES about the “Sepia-verse” come out, linking the Legacy’s walkabout to the Doomed’s backstory.

And we wrapped up with a cutscene following the @powerpony NPC as she’s grabbed by… someone. Probably the start of an Arc. Duh duh dunnnn.

And that’s where we are.

Thoughts

Man there’s a lot going on! I’ve got Hooks set up for all the players (mostly), a main arc as well as several others impatiently waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to get to ALL of it.

I’ve said this before, but PBTA-type games really feel like running Amber Diceless in a lot of good ways. (Hard to quantify ways, but good ways.) It’s got that same sense of freedom of narration, but the dice resolution injects and asks for a wonderful amount of unexpected plot twisting that takes any prep and dials it up to the point where it simply can’t be contained in the box I’d built. Good, good stuff.

Other Thoughts

There are a lot of different kinds of PBTA games.

Some focus more on genre-emulation and the dice mechanics, less on pushing for a certain kind of story experience (Dungeon World, IMO; also the Star Wars Rebel Ops game I ran).

Some focus more on mechanics that push play hard towards certain kinds of play or story events or whatever. Urban Shadows. Monsterhearts. Stuff like that.

Masks is definitely one of those games, focused on that superhero teen drama from stuff like Young Justice, New Mutants, Teen Titans, Avengers Academy, and so forth. That’s all to the good.

The only downside-like thing I’ve run into so far has been doing the post-session analysis on our shorter sessions has led to a LOT of co-mutual Influence sharing in the group (damn near everyone has Influence on everyone right now, though maybe that’s as it should be), and a lot of Label-shifting that sometimes doesn’t feel as punchy as it could – it feels like the label-shifting could be reduced by about 20%. I’m not sure if that’s just fallout from the shorter sessions.

Other Other Thoughts

Man I don’t know what kind of alchemy is firing off, but the player engagement in this game is through the roof. We’ve been playing together for well over a year and something just hit the gas on this game, hard. I suspect it’s a mix of the mechanics and (to a great degree) the genre.

Final Thought

This one’s from Kaylee, who’s been lurking on the voice channel during games, listening in during her homework like it’s a radioplay. Her thought:

“I wish this really was a comic book, or a superhero show. It would be SO GOOD.”

And it would. It is.

Great stuff.

Masks AP: Icons

Here’s a playlist of our first four (five) sessions of Masks, including Session 0 chargen, plus several plotagon video diaries players have done up.

A few notes:

  • Session 0 video was screwed up, so I turned that into an audio track with illustrative imagery.
  • Session 1 audio is jacked up – you can hear the GM fine and everyone else is EXTREMELY faint.

After that I ironed the bugs out, though honestly the whole thing works best as an audio podcast style thing, because we don’t do a LOT with the video except share illustrative memes while people are talking. 🙂

RPGaDay 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in the next year?

Right now, Masks. Probably two different games, ultimately, given I'll be running it for the kids as well as the online game. (It's getting easier and easier to pull this off as they get a bit older.)

I'm sure a touch of No Thank You, Evil, maybe with Kaylee running the game.

I'll be playing more 5e DnD Adventurer's League, because playing is nice. Also running that for the kids, since I picked up some miniatures and everything.

And past that, I have no idea. There will be more than that, I think, but I'm really not sure what. Maybe some Palace Job -esque Blades in the Dark? Maybe some Urban Shadows? I really have no idea.

But if the real question is focused on what has most of my anticipation, and not 'what are your predictions', then it's definitely Masks right now; that game is firing on cylinders I didn't even know we had.

PC Video Journal

The player for Jason Quill (nanobot-infused Doomed in our campaign, loosely based on Johnny Quest) posted a video diary, following our first big fight.

(And tip of the hat to our power-armor-designing Bull, who also posted a journal in our Roll20 forum, full of angst and self-recrimination.)

I love living in the future. And damned if I don't love this game.

RPGaDay 30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Mash-ups don't get me very far these days.

See, I play with my kids a lot, and they don't know the baseline genres well enough to appreciate mash-ups of those genres.

Which is to say, they just don't get the joke, yet.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to dive into this a bit more.

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the associated genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever. The premise was simple and straightforward.

Still true for 5e versions of those games, probably.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that lose a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new player, because that player doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. Now, that might still work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is… not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't get the joke.

So first, I'd need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, then we can get to the mashups. Otherwise, it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.

RPGaDay 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Aliens, but… I mean, it could be a hundred different shows.

This was, however, more true back when I was playing face to face.

These days, a lot of the 'quote banter' that used to suffuse our table talk has been replaced with posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat window. I love it, personally; nothing like having the nascent force user fighting the temptation of the dark side… and see a fellow player post a photoshopped Gollum clutching a jedi holocron to their chest. That's good stuff.

Masks Campaign Material – Super-YouTubers

We've had two play sessions of our Masks campaign so far.

The game opened with an excruciating interview between the team and morning show host Tasha Starr (of The Morning Starr), in which she asks them about the team, themselves, and the fight against Hannibal Lectric that brought them all together.

Things got complicated when Iconoclast (and, later, a superthug named Troll) interrupted the interview.

The storm of social media surrounding the interview is still going (as is the fight itself), but that hasn't stopped one fan from posting her thoughts.

In the wake of the interrupted interview between our team and morning show host Tasha Starr, super-tweeter "My Little Power Ranger" (@heroesaremagic) hops on YouTube to share her thoughts on what went down – was it fake? A publicity stunt?

Or was it something else?

https://youtu.be/fbjkH1eQBEI

RPGaDay 27: What are your essential ingredients for good gaming?

Flippant answers aside for once.

Attention. Respect. Engagement.

And a small group people with whom you could easily see sharing a 3 to 4 hour car trip, enjoyably.

Everything else is a bonus.

—–

Now if I was going to go back to the original question and talk about essential TOOLS, I'd talk about Roll20 (which I use even during some offline game sessions), Dropbox, et cetera.

RPGaDay 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

Players creating stuff or in similar ways demonstrating their interest and enthusiasm for the game. I love that stuff. It just makes my day.

Also feedback, good or bad.

But in either case, just engaging above and beyond "shows up on time every week," you know?

I've been blessed by this level of engagement both in the past and present. Player diaries and session journals (a specialty of +Dave Hill's). Players collecting funny quotes from the game. Art or other visual artifacts based on the game, like +Bill Garrett's fake live-tweets from our first session of Masks, or +Michael Williams great character drawings for Dungeon World.

Heck, I love how my players are nigh-constantly posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat while we play, or using the drawing tool to put labels and relevant graffiti on the map. It's just great to see the players really engaged.

RPGaDay 22: Which RPGs are the easiest most enjoyable for you to run?

Switched up the question a bit, so I could answer "Probably PBTA stuff. Probably."

For me it's a VERY GOOD mix of the kind of game approach that favors the GMing style I developed primarily with Amber DRPG, but built on a system and mechanics that regularly inject unexpected elements into the game, which was one of the things lying at the heart of my problem(s) with Amber. (And, more recently, Fate.)

Easiest would be something super-simple like World of Dungeons or Risus or FAE.

And to be fair, I'm comfortable and enjoy running pretty much anything at the table. But something like DnD or DCC requires a degree of nuts and bolts prep that I either don't have bandwidth for [^1], or don't enjoy (CR-balanced DnD encounters, frex) – with those sorts of games, I''m going to run a module or something, so I don't have to do that prep, and in those cases I don't end up bringing as much of my own stuff to the game.

So. PbtA. That's my sweet spot when it comes to all aspects of GMing.

—-

[^1]: The joke about not having enough bandwidth to do prep is, of course, that I did literally hours and hours of prep for only the first session of our Masks game. World maps. NPCs. Encounters… At least an hour just watching awkward celebrity interviews, to get ideas.

So I guess it's more "I don't have time for prep I don't really, really enjoy."

RPGaDay 18: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

Dungeons and Dragons, easily. I've been flailing at it since I was ten. Full-steam ahead all through high school. Several games in college, though it was rarely the 'main' game. A four and half year game that bridged 3rd edition into 3.5, plus a pile of Living Campaign play at that same time, all of which kind of burned me out for awhile. A bit of 4e, and now online Adventurer's League with 5e, and some games with the kids.

At a guess, probably four or five hundred sessions of DnD, over the years. It may not be my all-time favorite game, but… I mean, numbers don't lie.

Masks, Session 1, Not Exactly Actual Play

For our first real session of Masks, I decided to start off the game[^1] with a super-awkward morning-news-show-style interview with most of the team and the interviewer, Tasha Starr.

It was deliciously horrible. When Iconoclast finally blasted in the streetside window and shouted "this interview is over!" the Bull's immediate reaction – over a live mic – was "Thank Christ."

Then there were supers fisticuffs and the rescuing of civilians and idiot morning show hosts.

One of my wonderful players (+Bill Garrett) put together a series of livetweets commemorating the interview, and I just had to share, because they're great.

The last one in the series is by me, foreshadowing events coming up in session 2 (and the still-ongoing fight just outside the studio).

[^1]: The actual start of the game was the love letters I wrote for all the characters, captured here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7Vba3bjiu39 https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7onPVFuExmH https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dry21LYnx7P https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dQDWqFRsUVJ

      

In Album 8/18/17

RPGaDay 15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I don't really like adapting games much. I'm not a system designer by either preference or practice – I like running and playing, and I really enjoy when the rules as written just… work. There's a joy in that.

I have, in the past, done a success-counting hack of Risus that I liked, an Approach-less version of Fate Accelerated where the Aspects have ratings you add to rolls, and I've done a couple genre re-skins for various apocalypse-engine games, including one for the kids where the whole system and character sheet fits on an index card. So… those. I guess. Fate's the easiest to hack, but I usually only run that for the kids, anymore.

Now, if you're talking 'adapting' like "use Monsterhearts, RAW, for a sort of Star Trekkie sci-fi game"… I'm slightly more down for that kind of mash-up fun. I've done adaptations of many, many games to the Amber setting, for example – some of them even worked.

(Either Urban Shadows or Masks would make fun Amber adaptations, for example, for different reasons.)

RPGaDay 11: Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

Haven, the Free City by Gamelords, Ltd. It was an urban setting for a DnD clone where everyone basically played different flavors of thieves. Since you were thieves, the game focused on personal interactions, intrigue, and political and social plotting in a way that was decades ahead of its time.

Tragically, the team behind Gamelords lost their main artist and a central content creator to a car accident in the early eighties, and the IP has languished in the basement of an acquisitive dilettante since 1986.

 

RPGaDay 9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

I'd say most PBTA games (and in a lot of cases most games that share that design-space in the industry). You need more than a couple sessions to really get them going, but characters tend to resolve arcs after about ten sessions and lapse into a bit of thumb twiddling after that until they get pointed in a new direction – it creates a good point to wrap up and move to something else.

(Note, for 2 hour long Roll20 sessions with five players, triple all sessions-required estimates.)

Masks, Session 0

The video recording for this session went wonky, so here's the audio for our Masks session 0.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5y9JJSSCg1pZnNWNDZGS2NQNUk/view?usp=sharing

I'm SUPER excited to see these kids in action.

Link, the power-armored super-genius with a very complicated family life (Bull)
Concord, the way-too-young host of the Powers of Valor (Nova playbook)
Jason Quill, one-time child science adventurer, now 'protected' by a cloud of nanobots that seem to be… absorbing his psyche (Doomed)
Ghost Girl, the ghost of a civil-war-era girl, brought back to the wondrous world of the future (Outsider)
Harry Gale, a.k.a. Mercury – the youngest member of The World's Fastest Family (Legacy)

It's going to be a good time.

2017-08-08 – Masks 0 – w music.mp3 – Google Drive
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RPGaDay 8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?

That may not be useful to a lot of other people as a recommendation, but No Thank You, Evil! and Hero Kids are both designed with shorter scenarios and challenges in mind, due to their target audience. I don't think I've ever run NTYE! for more than an hour at a time. Outside specific games, I'd probably focus on lean games with simpler character sheets, like Risus or Fate Accelerated. FAE + It's Not My Fault would work well.

But… I mean… Almost all my weekly Roll20 gaming is comprised of 2 to 2.5 hour sessions, so… pretty much any system, I guess, if you're talking about being able to play multiple short sessions.

ALSO, any game where everyone playing is on the hook to come up with a lot of stuff out of their head, all the time, is probably best confined to shorter sessions. I find people lose their inventive steam after a few hours, so if you want to keep things popping in games where the players have to invent a lot of stuff on the fly, I'd recommend shorter sessions.

Masks AP Resource

The whelmed podcast (located at the nigh-perfect url http://crashingthemode.com/) is basically “Buffering the Vampire Slayer,” but for Young Justice. I’ve just started in on the beginning of the show, and it’s great; if you like podcasts where pop culture love and gaming overlap and/or intersect, I recommend it.

But here’s an additional BONUS: the podcast crew recently recorded a session of Masks, GM’d by Brendan Conway (the game’s author), in which they play characters from the show in a scenario set in the five years between seasons 1 and 2 of YJ. The people playing these characters are note. perfect. in their portrayals (Kid Flash and Superboy are particular stand-outs), and Brendan does a fantastic job of introducing, integrating, and best-of-all explaining the rules as they go.

If you’re looking for an AP recording that works as a primer/introduction to the Masks rules, and want the added bonus of seeing the game presented via characters with which you’re probably already very familiar, I can’t recommend these recordings enough.

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/6/21/masks-ap-relations-episode-01

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/6/28/masks-ap-relations-episode-02

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/7/5/masks-ap-relations-episode-03

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/7/13/masks-ap-relations-episode-04

Update: There are also pre- and post-game talks with Brendan, which are pretty illuminating.

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/6/15/discussion-brendan-conway-masks-ap-pre-interview

http://crashingthemode.com/podcast/2017/7/19/discussion-brendan-conway-masks-ap-post-interview

Podcast

RPGaDay 7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

Who needs therapy if you've got "impactful" RPGs, right?

Impactful is such a weird word. I've had lots of memorable sessions. Impactful seems like "something that changed you outside the game" and I'm not convinced that's why I play RPGs, so…

Man, I dunno.

Okay, here's one, maybe.

Dogs in the Vineyard. Our second serious fight. We'd already had one smaller altercation earlier in the game, so the players had seen how the conflicts worked, and more to the point they saw how FALLOUT worked.

Second conflict, things started getting heated, and someone pulled out a gun.

And the players – some experienced, pretty seen-it-all gamers – kind of pulled back from the table and were like "Whoa. Shit. Hang on a sec."

That game made guns fucking scary. They made them as goddamn dangerous as they are, you know?

(Best of all, the way fallout worked, you got fights where you didn't really know how fucked you were until the shooting stopped.)

Dogs remains the only game in which the players (and, by extension, the characters) reacted to someone pulling out a gun the way real people would, and I (obviously) remember that, to this day.

RPGaDay 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

* Monday: Pirate 101 with Sean and Kaylee. (Alternately, family game of Masks.)
* Tuesday: Normal Tuesday Roll20 group, playing whatever we're currently playing.
* Wednesday: Overwatch with Kate and Kaylee. (Alternately, family game of Masks.)
* Thursday: Dungeon Crawl Classics, GMed by Tim.
* Friday: Playing DnD 5e Adventurer's League, via Roll20/Discord.
* Saturday: Luxurious full-length afternoon of DnD 5e or Masks with Sean, Kate, and Kaylee
* Sunday: The X-wing combat game with the kids.

RPGaDay 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

This one's a bit easy for me: Tales from the Loop.

It's entirely possible this answer is chicken-egg cheating, since Tales from the Loop started life as an art book before it was an RPG, but regardless, the cover's a perfect match for what the game's about.

As an added bonus, it's a solid game that'd I'd really like to get to the table. (I heard it's the same system as Mutant Year Zero, but I haven't read that – the basic mechanics are very close to Blades in the Dark, and it leans hard in the direction of pbta-style conflict resolution.)

https://www.modiphius.net/collections/tales-from-the-loop

Tales from the Loop

RPGaDay 2017: What RPG have you played most since August 2016?

One of the nice things about recording all our online game sessions is it makes it pretty easy to simply look this kind of thing up. (I knew the answer, though I was curious about the specific numbers.)

The 'winner' in this case is a apocalypse engine hack I built for our Star Wars game (a campaign that went through three rules systems over the course of 30+ sessions). My hack (here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fwnq7ok585thk1c/SWW%20Rebel%20Ops.pdf?dl=0) is a rebel-era adaptation of Star Wars World, which in turn owes DNA to Urban Shadows, I think (understandable, since SWW was written by Andrew Medeiros). Since August, I ran the game eighteen times. That game wrapped up at the end of April.

Aside from that:

– Ran a six-session Dungeon World adaptation of Deathfrost Doom, plus a couple asynchronous DW adventures with Kaylee, via Google+ polls (http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2016/08/dungeon-world-with-kaylee-via-google-polls/), so call that eight sessions.

– Ran a couple sessions of Lady Blackbird (someday I'll run a game that makes it further than escaping the Hand of Sorrow).

– Ran four short sessions of a World of Dungeons: Breakers/The Secret World mashup, just recently.

– Played (actually played) in a couple sessions of DnD 5e (Adventurer's League), and ran a couple sessions for my family. Solid game.

– Played (actually played) in a Dungeon Crawl Classic 0-level "funnel" game. (You can't spell funnel without FUN.)

– Ran at least one or two games of No Thank You, Evil! with the kids.

So: That's ~36 game sessions since last August, with 50% going to the Star Wars Rebel Ops pbta-hack. Not too shabby, really.

SWW Rebel Ops.pdf
Shared with Dropbox

RPGaDay 2 – What is an RPG you would like to see published?

+Matt Wilson??'s Galactic. Looking back, it wasn't the dice mechanic that grabbed our group, it was the wonderful idea of everyone playing a ship's captain, and then ALSO having crew members on the other player's ships (using micro character sheets that were essentially specialized help/hinder dice for that Captain, sort of like Risus shieldmates). That, as a core play concept, had and has strong and compelling legs.

#RPGaDay Infographics
Autocratik‘s #RPGaDay returns in 2017 for a fourth run celebrating the roleplaying game hobby starting on Tuesday, August 1 and ending on Thursday, August 31. This has been an impressive year for r…

RPGaDay, Day 1 – What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

I'm actually going to be running Dungeon World in about 90 minutes, and I'm absolutely excited about that, as we may or may not be wrapping up our trek to the peak and under-peak of Deathfrost Mountain [^1].

With that said, any other day this week I'd probably answer Masks, as I had time to dig in and digest the system during our vacation, and I suspect the game has some legs.

[^1]: The DW group has, thus far, fared extremely well; consequences of early 'fiddling with stuff' scared them into extreme caution, and the group's thief shared his tried and true Rule When Stealing From Temples – "Don't touch anything that's part of a religious ceremony of any kind." It's a surprisingly good survival tactic.

#RPGaDay Infographics
Autocratik‘s #RPGaDay returns in 2017 for a fourth run celebrating the roleplaying game hobby starting on Tuesday, August 1 and ending on Thursday, August 31. This has been an impressive year for r…

Breakers: The Secret World

(So… I made the mistake of clicking on Google Drive while editing a g+ post, and lost a meaty actual play and an hour of my life, because fuck-you, Google+, you joy-stealing bundle of 20% hacks.)

So, short version: despite planning on Masks (and making up a team of four cool heroes with the girls, my son, and wife), my oldest daughter and niece ended up actually playing World of Dungeons: Breakers during our vacation (since neither son nor wife could reliably participate), BUT due to my niece's unfamiliarity with the inspirational source media for Breakers, we stepped back from wacky Ghostbuster-style-dungeon-crawling, and went for a creepy horror game (niece's request) inspired by The Secret World MMO. (Start off by pretending the events in TSW make coherent narrative sense from start to finish – a conceit Breakers easily provides – and chuck everything that doesn't support that connecting tissue.)

It worked, it was cool, and we got to fight zombies, a wendigo, and barnacle-encrusted horrors from the unknown watery deeps.

Relative links include the Breakers rules (http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf), the random table of plausible character backgrounds for Breakers (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1F_elby4nOucw0F6MwKHMtGxsCNQJ0O6JXhQ7LqB2fLk/edit?usp=sharing), and the attached map.

 

Dungeon Raiding 101

Had a fun evening that ran a little later than expected, doing something I haven't done in a long time.

Or ever, depending on how you look at it.

I did a group dungeon run in an MMO. Haven't done that in a long time.

I did it with two of my kids, so… yeah. That's new.

The vehicle for this bit of virtual heroic was a perennial game around our house: Pirate 101.

Now, we've been playing stuff from Kingsisle Entertainment for quite some time – http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2010/04/my-daughter-the-wizard/“>Kaylee played Wizard 101 for the first time back in 2010, before she turned five. The game's in-house popularity comes and goes (personally, I enjoy it, and there's enough going on with the pop-culture jokes, storyline, and card-building combat system that I don't get bored), but it's installed on our machines far more than not (and it runs on everything but the tablets and chromebooks, which is nice).

A few weeks ago, Kaylee started making noises about how she missed playing Pirate101, which shares the same basic setting as Wizard101, but with different classes, and more tactical, turn- and grid-based combat system (sort of a big-pixel version of X-Com combat, with cool animations when it plays out), and I was getting a leeeeettle tired of Sean's obsession with Overwatch, so I stuck both Wizard 101 and Pirate 101 back on, and let the kids go to town.

![Move-planning grid.](https://s.blogcdn.com/massively.joystiq.com/media/2012/08/pirate101-board.jpg "Move-planning grid.")

![Resulting animations.](https://edgecast.pirate101.com/image/free/Pirate/Images/Slideshows/combat3.jpg "Resulting combat animations!")

Sean enjoyed watching his sister rock the Pirate thing, but spent most of his own play time as Sean Bearhammer, young wizard.

…until a few days ago, when he decided he wanted to try out the Pirate side of the Spiral – where there's a bit more action in combat, and EVERYONE has a crew of cool anthropomorphic animals fighting on your side. Yeah. Hard to see why THAT was a draw.

It took him a few days to really figure out the combat system (and I have to force myself not to watch him play, because he make sub optimal choices GAHHHhhhh…), but by yesterday he was caught up to where Kaylee and I had gotten on our main guys, if not just a bit ahead.

So, in lieu of regular bedtime activities, we teamed up (Sean as his combat-heavy Buccaneer, Kaylee as her magic-hurling Witchdoctor, and me playing a sort of support & tactics Privateer) and headed to a (if not THE) lost city of gold, where we fought a lot of dinosaurian bad guys and, a BIT too late into the evening, decided to take down the final dungeon.

So… yeah. That was the evening – dungeon raiding with my kids for sweet loot and new skills.

It was pretty great.

Prepping for Breakers

We're heading out for a family vacation next week, my niece (13) is coming along, and she wants to do some gaming. (I've talked about gaming with Kaylee and her cousins in the past. It's a thing.)

Anyway, her only request was something "spooky" or suspenseful. Beyond that, "you and Kaylee pick something."

After some thinking (and considering what I'm going to be willing to pack), I've decided on Breakers (which is a hack/upgrade of World of Dungeons, which in turn is a hack of Dungeon World). – http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf

The magical realm of Kyvr'ax has collided with Earth, shearing the dimensions and creating a mashed-up borderland between our reality and the monster-infested domain of the wizard Kai Shira Kai. You play working-class heroes who explore the twisted Break seeking fame and fortune. But don't stay too long, or the Cloud of Woe will surely find you!

Basically, it's an excuse to play modern-day characters dungeon-crawling like it's an ordinary job. Sort of Torg crossed with Inspectres? Sure. 🙂

Anyway, because it's Monday and I've got other stuff I'm supposed to be doing, I decided to come up with a table of Breaker origins/backgrounds. Just in case, you know?

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KKJJNXj7w55ESHpQYvwAggtBbC2el6YYg3PH1YKotv0/edit?usp=sharing

The Art(ist) of the Game

I’m very lucky to have +Michael Williams in my regular Tuesday night (hangouts-based) gaming group. (we’re currently playing Dungeon World and Lady Blackbird, after wrapping up a 30-session pbta-hacked Star Wars campaign.)

I’m lucky to have him because he’s a great player. I didn’t even KNOW he could draw until he started turning out these wonderful character portraits.

And to be honest, the most enjoyable thing wasn't the final product (that's a very close second); it was the long post in our Dungeon World Roll20 forum in which Mike shared each iteration of the work he was doing, and went deep into the design theory behind each character. Fascinating stuff.

Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World…
Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World group, currently deep within the bowels of Frostdeath Mountain… I’m excited to see what sort of trouble these kids get into. Their last session ended…

Terribly Dated Game Commentary

After having the core D&D fifth edition books on my shelf for well over a year almost three years, I finally had good cause to read them. (I'm a bit past the point where I can find the time to read RPGs just for the heck of it.)

I'm both surprised and delighted to discover how little of the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are actually rules for play: the (300 page) PHB's rules section is about 25 pages (with 175 for character creation, and 100 for magic-related stuff), and the DMG's section is roughly 30 pages, with the other 90% almost entirely devoted to world-building guidelines, advice, or examples of once kind or another (with optional rules from older editions of the game scattered throughout, allowing you to easily customize/homerule the system to whatever flavor of DnD you like best. Potion miscibility tables!)

It's weird to say 600 total pages of rulebooks represent a lean, simple system, but it really does. Good game.

Ready for Prime Time

Last night, we started a new Dungeon World game with the regular Tuesday night group. As I shared yesterday, I've been pretty excited about the game, as have the players, and it went about as well as I'd hoped.

But that's not what I'm posting about.

Normally, +Kaylee Testerman isn't around on Tuesday nights, but she was last night, and in lieu of doing some Overwatch matches with her (which is what normally happens if she's around and has no homework), I asked if she wanted to join the game.

She did.

Now, Kaylee's played quite a few RPGs with me, her cousins, and even with Sean, but she's never joined in on a 'regular' play group, and after I asked and she said she was in, I had a few niggling worries because… come on: she's eleven. She didn't even know two of the guys in the group. What if she ending up being the "super annoying kid of the GM?"

I may be (probably am) biased, but really I needn't have worried. She was focused, polite, thoughtful, inventive, and just all around a positive contributing member of the game – I was particularly impressed with her answer to the question I asked each player: "This land is beautiful/desolate, because…" (here: https://youtu.be/ML-LUfjNgas?t=1h10m26s), but all of her play showed so much thought, I worried people would think I'd coached her.

(She told me after that game that during the owlbear fight, she'd been googling "how to take down big monsters in fantasy games" so she'd have a good action to take when it was her turn.)

Nerd-gamer-me was proud as could be.

Dungeon World Character Creation Thread

We’re starting up a mini-campaign of Dungeon World, with most of the conversation taking place in a single private Google+ conversation thread.

But it was too good, so I’m saving most of it here for posterity. Sorry the formatting is so terrible. Blame G+.


Okay, I think the plan I’m going to go with is running a Dungeon World thing, followed by a Masks thing. (I’m especially jazzed about Masks since I just got a new packet of playbooks from the Kickstarter yesterday, but patience…)

SO, here’s the particulars.

The Roll20 page is [link redacted] – you can jump in there and open a character sheet and put in stats and moves as you like, if you’re super motivated. (Mike, your Artificer is in there already.)

Dungeon World is baaaasically a PBTA take on classic DnD, so the standard DnD classes are there: Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, et cetera, and you can dig into alternate playbooks if you want to go the Basic DnD route of “Dwarf is a character class” or whatever. The System Resource document has all the basic classes, but seriously if you have some kind of fantasy trope you want to play, ask, because it probably exists out there somewhere.

Once I know what people are playing, I will hit you with personality and background questions.

The tone of the game will be fantasy closer to White Dwarf and Heavy Metal magazine covers than The Hobbit. Magic is powerful, weird, and dangerous.

We’ll be using Flags instead of Bonds, so ignore Bonds in the rules.

That’s about everything I can think of right now.


Mike Yay! Glad to finally be back to Dungeon World and interested in how Flags play out. Might I also suggest this document.


Doyce Oh I like those! Good stuff!

Basically, unless you’re a bard or some other highly social character (some priests might qualify), pick or design two flags for people to hit. If you’re super-social, three.


Mike BTW Doyce, are we still going to be doing the thing with the timeloop where my artificer remembers what happened that you’d mentioned in the previous thread, or are we doing something else? Will probably help me determine my Flags.


DoyceWhat do you think? I was thinking something like you suddenly find yourself riding a horse on the way to Frostberry at the base of the mountain, with these people you know, but also with that other set of very vivid (but fading?) “memories”… it would tie into your experiments in the cabin pretty well.

Or you could play someone else and your other guy can be a backup character following someone’s gruesome death. 🙂


Doyce Actually, Mike, I was looking over my notes from that other session, and guess what? During the lead-in questions, we found out that group was actually the SECOND group you were heading to the mountain with – the first group was wiped out before you ever got to the mountain.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BE TRYING TO REACH THE PEAK? 🙂

(~Ash tries to play it cool as he relives a hellish groundhog day scenario for the 113th time…~)


Mike I’d forgotten all about that. Man, Ash really shouldn’t have played with that clock… every single time.

I kind of like the idea of Ash just flashing back to town, with a brand new group of adventurers ready to head up to the Mountain. “Gods below, why is it always a new group of people? Why do the memories always end when we get to the door? Why is it always the same day but everything is different? Maybe things will turn out differently this time…”


Doyce

I love this, so much. 🙂

Also of use: the dungeonworldsrd.com site has a section just on Character Creation – nice, since the actual character class pages don’t cover things like “what stat numbers you get.”


Dave I’ve been re-reading the Flags article Doyce originally linked to at http://walkingmind.evilhat.com – From Bonds to Flags.

(Saying this aloud to be sure I get the idea): a Flag is a Significant Personality Trait, with how others can tap it to demonstrate it (both trait and tap being something that makes the game interesting) and so earn them an XP.


Doyce

I would say the label of a flag is usually expressed as a personality trait, although the actual flag itself is the action that somebody takes to point at that personality trait

To go down a little bit further, it’s not just a personality trait that your character has, it’s an aspect of your character that you think will be FUN to see called out fairly regularly in play. People are going to be getting Xp rewards for hitting this thing, so they’re going to want to hit it. if you don’t want to see it… actually I’m going to say that if you don’t think you’ll enjoy seeing it repeatedly, pick something else.


Dave

(As a side note, and not to discourage anyone, but bearing in mind that this is meant to be a short campaign, it may not be necessary to boil the ocean to create our characters. Though I’ll confess I have several paragraphs of backstory already written …)


Doyce

He’s going to feel so silly when he dies in the first room.


Bill No worries, I can run an immediate sequel campaign using Wraith: the Oblivion.


Dave Is there a mechanical reason to put the Flags in the Roll20 Bio page, vs. putting them in on the main character sheet as if they were Bonds?

(We’ll probably want to gather all of those into a convenient document, since we need to know each other’s Flags more than our own.)


Doyce The bio page is the only page that other people can see, other than the people who can actually edit the character sheet. So you can see the part of the sheet with all the stats and numbers and moves, but somebody else looking at your sheet can only see that bio page. So if I wanted to see what flags to hit on your character, I can click on your character sheet and see those flags on the front page, but I won’t be able to see them if they’re inside your character sheet, and even if I could see them in the character sheet they’re a lot harder to find in there. 🙂

Basically I would put them in both places, but I’m weird like that.

Put another way: The bio page is basically for everything you want other people to see and know about your character


Dave Poifect, thanks.


Bill Did anyone else figure out what they are playing?


Doyce

Dave’s got a bard, Mike is doing his Artificer, Kay is I think gravitating toward a Ranger or Fighter. I don’t know about Margie yet, and my personal experience with her character choices, while extensive, isn’t deep enough to let me guess.

I do know that she’s usually as willing as you are to fill a needed gap, so you need not wait.

Right now, the ‘gaps’ are primarily thief- and fighter- or cleric-shaped, I think?

That said, it’s three sort of hybrid classes so far, so more dual-mode stuff (an unclassed ‘elf’ or ‘dwarf’ or something, for example) also works.

Knowledge/lore stuff can be covered by both the Artificer and Bard, but don’t let that rule out a Cleric or proper spell-caster.

I mean, really, I’d say go for whatever type of play most appeals to you – if you guys don’t end up with a bend-bars/lift gates or lockpick person, you’ll have to work the problems another way. 🙂


Dave I shall sing to the iron bars and they shall part to let me pass!

Or … most likely not.


Doyce My favorite part about the alternate Bard playbook is that it’s specifically designed to remove the ‘singing with a lute in the middle of a fight’ stuff. 🙂


Bill Okay, stock Thief is statted in Roll20.


Dave I will noodge the kinfolk.


Mike Bill, you say “stock thief” but the image makes me think of a very specific thief who wants my HP or my GP. 😉


Bill I’m not picky.


Doyce“Cowardly: Put us in situations I can justly complain about.”

Well, there’s everyone XP fountain for the game.

PERFECT. 🙂


MikeHey, Ash and Basler can complain about everything together! 😀

Actually just noticed that they both have the same flag, just named slightly different; I found mine under the Lawful header, but I figured I’d rename it for something more character appropriate.


Doyce Hmm. Yeah, that duplicate flag might be troublesome. Something to ponder. Hmm…


MikeOh I don’t know Doyce, that just means that Ash and Basler will want different things to complain about. Can’t speak for Bill, but from the Cowardly tag it sounds like he wants Basler to complain about being put into dangerous situations that he doesn’t want that he can complain about. “Hey Basler, this hallway looks suspicious. Mind taking a look?” “Oh, I don’t know…”

I see Ash’s more of seeing other people in danger and after helping them, complaining about being put upon to help. (just making some assumptions here…) Eduard: “Oh no, I’m being beset on all sides! Someone help me!” Ash: disgusted noise “I swear, if I wasn’t around to pull your butts out of the fire.”

Sure it’s a slight distinction, but I can see it being quiet different in play. Sort of an internal vs. external dynamic, if that makes sense.


DoyceI am 100% on board if you guys are. 🙂


DoyceKay has given you all a marvelous gift for this campaign.


Bill “Go fight that demon! This talisman will protect you.”

By the time that PC dies, the rest of us will have leveled up enough to beat it.


Doyce Actual conversation I had with kay on Roll20 tonight:

“Seriously, can I trust the thief?”

GM looks at your ‘Gullible’ flag.

“Absolutely.”


Bill


Doyce

This whole thread is a national treasure.


MikeJust checked out all the characters on the Roll20 page and I must say I’m very excited for tonight’s game.


Dave Yeah, thank goodness this is just a one-off adventure, otherwise folk might have put real effort into devising interesting characters …


Doyce

If you guys don’t end up destroying the world, I will keep them around for additional Adventures.


And here they are:

Ash Ulric, Artificer
ash

Basler
basler

Eduard Zitherhands, Bard
Eduard

Tiana, the rough mercenary turned paladin
tiana

Torwin the Courageous (among other things)
Torwin

It's Hard Not to Make any Modern-setting Game about the News

It really is.

Anyway, here's some random notes and thoughts and stuff that's we've dreamed up for the "long hair = crazy sorcery in a modern setting" game.

—-

Yer a hairy, wizard.

The really short summary:

1. If you have magical ability at all, long hair = how much power you have.
2. Too long/too much hair, and you'll go crazy.
3. The government recruits the powered before they're even out of high school to go into an Enforcement branch of the government to deal with dangerous Unregulated threats. These agents get their power level dictated to them; how long and how much hair you can have (volume, not just length, matters, so you can have super long hair, provided half your head is shaved or something.
4. Even those with powers who aren't in the Enforcement Agency are careful manage their hair, because there is strong belief that if your hair gets too long, the power takes over.
5. All this hair-awareness has led to some crazy cultural obsessions with hair styles. Super-long hair is seen as subversive or an indicator of insanity/danger, even if you don't have any magical ability.
6. Magic use may or may not make your hair turn crazy colors (depends on the person), so the government agents might have really bizarre hair styles in wild colors, and that's just… how it is. The real LN types dye their crazy hair black or something to cover it up.
7. No incantations. It's all "willpower and focus."

History (read: the part were Doyce goes down a background/GM rabbit hole)

In the western European tradition, the classic imagery is all wizards with big beards and long hair; your basic Gandalf. These days, it's just as likely guys with Brooklyn fades and hipster lumberjack beards. http://nextluxury.com/wp-content/uploads/old-school-mens-beard-and-undercut-hair.jpg

There was at one point a trend in western thinking that people were 'beyond' such things until the age of English imperialism, because England was heading out into the world to take things over ('civilize' people) and getting its collective ass handed to it by locals who had in no way given up their magic traditions.

So all that stuff was revived, and any cultures that didn't do things the western way (same hair styles, same icons/tools/etc) were deemed dangerous, lesser, suspicious, and generally hostile. (Unless you rip it off from said culture and pretend it was yours all along.)

I might do something with the magical paraphernalia as well, where channeling tools like staves and wands are seen as okay, but such things from other cultures (knives, spears, juzu beads, kongosho) are 'lesser' or 'dangerous' or both.

Cultural/Social/Government Implications and Random Thoughts

In western culture any non-western head covering that conceals the wearer's hair (gele, hijab, turban, tichel, dupatta, chador, burqa, et cetera) are collectively and unironically referred to as 'terrorist head garb,' which should indicate how well we're getting along with other magical traditions and cultures, worldwide.

Hair with really strong, tight locks (notably African) are often forced through societal pressure to keep their hair shorter or straightened (because 'all those curls conceal volume in less obvious length'). Dreadlocks are also viewed with great suspicion, because the locked curls mean higher density in less obvious length. A dreadlocked African woman wearing some kind of gele is the default 'criminal silhouette' on Enforcement publicity posters.

Oh and if you want to dive into gender issues, you can easily get into the bullshit arguments about men being inherently better at magic than women because they can grow facial hair.

The whole thing is basically YA near-future magic dystopia, so… yeah.

    

In Album 3/21/17

Star Wars: Rebel Ops Update

I don't make a habit of posting links to the AP videos for our ongoing online Star Wars game, mostly because they're just a LOT of them (21 sessions recorded, with two additional missing sessions where we had technical difficulties).

23 sessions in about 46 weeks isn't too bad, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm sharing this one just because I'm happy with the way Roll20 is now working as our all-in-one voice, video, and virtual table solution, and happy with the OBS recording software and how the whole thing looks. It's not perfect, but it's pretty decent.

Plus it was just a fun session – lots of things going sideways in various ways, which is always a hoot – and set up some stuff I'm really looking forward to.

Visually, not a lot happening on the screen (I didn't use any maps or really drop in too many pictures this time), but I always like having the recording.

A very special moment in tonight's Star Wars: Rebel Ops game.

+Dave Hill's rebel character, Ganna, met up with her … friend, Verana (a staff sergeant with the Empire on Onderon), and they had coffee then went to a club.

I asked Dave: "So… do you think this move makes sense?"

————-

Who the *#$%! are you?

The Carousing went late, or maybe the Parley was "too successful", either way when you wake up in a strange bed next to someone… roll+CHA.
* On a 10+ pick 3
* On a 7-9 Pick one

* They aren't someone you hate.
* If this gets out it won't be horrible for both of you.
* You can recall the events that got you here.
* There isn't a third party in the room.

————-

And Dave thought about it, and said "… yeah. I think so."

So he rolled.

And got a 5.

And woke up the next morning.

In Verala's quarters.

On one of the Star Destroyers in orbit over the planet.

The only thing I screwed up was not having the third person in the room be the scary Zabrak imperial agent that just showed up to track the rebels down.

PbtA with Little Kids

(I found this in a text snippet, as though I meant to post it, but as near as I can tell, I never did, so here it is.)


The Rules

Say what you are: a crystal lady, an adventurer, a princess with a big cat.

When you face trouble, roll your two dice. If what you are helps, add 2 to the result.

  • On a ten or higher, you do it amazingly.
  • On a seven to nine, you do okay, but something else happens.
  • On a six or less, you might do it, but you’re definitely in trouble!
Track ‘damage’ on your “courage” bar.

Courage: O O O | O O O


And… thats it.

Online Gaming Update and Tech Review

(TLDR Summary: Holy crap when did Roll20's video and voice chat get so good?)

I know I don't game as much as some folks manage every week, but I do manage to get a game in on more weeks than not, and that small achievement is important to me.

Most of that gaming is via Google Hangouts and http://roll20.net [^1], so I was pretty bummed – though not exactly surprised [^2] about the news Google is dropping Hangouts' add-on support in April. It's obviously possible to just run Hangouts without the addons, and run Roll20 in another window, but… if you're doing that, you can pretty much use any video chat, so… why wouldn't you, exactly?

We were down a few players on Tuesday, so I and the remaining crew (+Bill Garrett and +Michael Williams) took it upon ourselves to explore video chat alternatives.

Initially, we talked about Rocket Chat, but given that I have some need for Roll20, it became clear all we really needed from that service was the video/voice component, which is provided to Rocket by Jitsi (https://meet.jit.si), so we just went there instead. Set up was very very simple and easy, and aside from the feeling that the camera was really ZOOMED IN, it worked fine.

After checking it out, we thought we might switch back to Hangouts to actually play for a bit, but in the process of switching, the guys mentioned that http://Jit.si's voice and video is basically achieved use the same tools that Roll20 switched to back in October, so if http://Jit.si was good, maybe Roll20 had gotten better…?

(We used Roll20's native voice and video for a few months last year, but it had gotten too buggy and we'd dropped it before this upgrade.)

So we dropped back out of Hangouts, switched to straight roll20 and, following a couple settings changes+restarts, got everyone seeing and hearing each other.

And it was great. Nice clean video. Nice clear sound. And, bonus, we're already in Roll20, which is where I wanted to be in the first place.

So: if you've tried Roll20 in the past, didn't love it, I'd urge you to reenable voice and video chat and give it a try. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

[^1]: The only face to face gaming I manage is with my kids. As an upside, gaming with my kids is pretty awesome. (http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2017/01/hacking-together-a-mix-of-world-of-dungeons-and-my-rebel-ops-hack-of-star-wars-world-to-play-with-my-kids/)

[^2]: Every week we log in to play is a new exploration of what Google decided to disable, break, or make less-good since the last session. It's been like this for at least the last year – steady degradation of functionality.

Roll20: Online virtual tabletop for pen and paper RPGs and board games
This Is How We Roll. Roll20 is a suite of easy-to-use digital tools that expand pen-and-paper gameplay. Whether you play online via our virtual tabletop or in person utilizing our character sheet and dice rolling application, Roll20 will save you time and help you focus on enhancing your favorite parts of …

Slapped together a mix of World of Dungeons and my Star Wars World: Rebel Ops hack to play with my kids

Lucky isn't a real stat – it's a non-replenishable resource that gives you an auto success. The five stats should total +3 or so. Having a skill means you can't totally fail that thing. I'm still working out what all the special abilities do, especially "Force is with Me", which isn't automatic for anyone, even Jedi.

And… that's about it. PCs have six hit points, and damage from weapons is a static 1 to 4-ish.

 

Star Wars World: Rebel Ops

Hey all.

I know there's a fair bit of love for +Andrew Medeiros's Star Wars World around here, so (prompted by +Aaron Griffin?) I thought I'd share a hack of that hack – Star Wars World: Rebel Ops.

The really short version of the changes from SWW is:
* Slightly tougher characters/less brutal combat.
* Different Force mechanics, mostly related to Corruption/Dark Side stuff and how that's handled by the players and GM.
* 66% fewer Jedi playbooks, to match the era/scope.
* Three new playbooks: The Droid, The Partisan, and the Slicer.
* Changes to pretty much every other playbook, except (for some reason) Gearhead.

There's a longer changelog thing on the front page.

Anyway: my group switched from FAE and have been playing with this for a couple weeks now, and it's going well, so I thought I'd share the fruits of many late-night editing sessions.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B5y9JJSSCg1pend2TE9TeTFBbDQ

SWW Rebel Ops.pdf – Google Drive
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Star Wars Rebel Ops, PTBA

Second session of running Rebel Ops, using a new (PtbA) game system for everything.

Very enjoyable stuff – good fight, and some fun RP scenes. I'm quite happy with how things are playing out in the new system, and also how it fits with my GMing style.

Also happy with the fact that game seems to be encouraging more player contributions. Weird, because it's not like Fate discourages that sort of thing, but it seemed more prevalent this time. Yay. 🙂

After a long break, some No Thank You, Evil! this afternoon

+Sean Testerman (5 and a half) wandered into my office, pulled out the NTYE box, opened it up, and told me it had been too long since we played.

We dusted off "Ado, the Sneaky Creature who Runs Like the Wind" (and his Invisible Friend with Big Ears, Ryan), and Ado announced he wanted to visit The Hive (from the land Into the Closet).

I flipped through the various enemies available while Ado Ran Like the Wind toward the Hive, spotted the PERFECT-looking Argle Bargle enemy, and by the time he got there, Ado was greeted with an eerie silence: no bees buzzed around the Hive. He snuck inside and found out they'd all be caught in their own honey (which had magically become alive and evil – the reskinned Argle Bargle).

Ado leapt to help his bee-friends, taking a huge delicious bite out of his enemy. He got honey-walloped in return, but a distraction from Ryan and some speedy running left the evil honey mastermind too dizzy to keep fighting. Victory!

The queen, once freed, rewarded Ado with honey cakes, a gold coin, and a big party.

  

In Album 2016-09-25

On Fate and GMing

So I kind of gave up on about halfway through August because the questions weren't that interesting for the second half. That's on me.

Anyway, it's a fun exercise in concept. Inspired (I guess?) by that list, someone came up with an extremely tongue in cheek (I hope) list of questions for September.

Which I also pretty much ignored, because they're mostly joke questions that would require me reliving moments of severe personal head-up-assedness, circa 2009.

However, today's question prompted some pretty thoughtful and useful posts from folks I see on Google+, so I thought I'd take a break from filling up their comment threads and post my own tangential navel-gazing, since it's something I've been meaning to write about for awhile.

The question:

How many friendships have you terminated because they confessed they kind of like to play Fate games sometimes? It’s okay. Fate players have to hear the truth.

Obviously the serious answer to the silly question is "none." Let's have that said.

With that out of the way, I want to post a different-but-related question, phrased (tellingly) as a PtbA-style Hard Move:

"You've spent several hundred dollars on the Fate kickstarters and Fate-powered settings and scenarios, run several fairly long Fate or FAE-powered campaigns, hacked and rehacked the system, designed custom Roll20 FAE character sheets and submitted them through github, and currently run a (theoretically) weekly FAE game, which your players enjoy… but you've come to the realization that you don't actually like running Fate very much. What do you do?"

Yeah. What do you do?

+Eloy Cintron got me thinking about this today, when he wrote "I don't like how it feels in play."

Yup.

I like expressing stuff in Fate terms, but the further I go (and I have run three or four fairly long Fate and/or FAE things since Core came out, including hours and hours of play with my daughter), the less satisfying I find it in play.

Most of it boils down to: No surprises from the conflict system.

Let me break that down.

There's a conflict, dice hit the table… but really, there's not much point, because the results are almost entirely in the hands of the players. That's what I mean when I say no surprises.

Between capitalizing on Created Advantages, invoking preexisting aspects with fate points, and bringing applicable stunts in, almost any individual roll can be turned into a success. And just given compels as a means to refresh Fate Points (I actually do a Fate Point refresh every … five or six sessions, if that), Fate points are almost never a problem, especially since there's reasonably good odds on any specific roll that you won't need to invoke an aspect to get a success.

But don't read that and think I have a problem with player success. That's not it.

It's that Failure, Success, or (that Rarest of Rare birds) success at cost, are all just decisions the player makes, not a result they get and have to adapt to.

See, I'm a big, BIG fan of creativity within constraints, and for me one of the richest veins for that kind of thing comes in a conflict system that you can't strongly influence to 'force' the result you expect.

(See PtbA stuff, basically. That's my sweet spot. You can get it in lots of games, but I especially like PtbA for the largely unmined vein of Mixed Success it sets up in its dice mechanic.)

Put another way, I like getting results that make us introduce something new. I love "Yes, but…" results, because everything after that is something we weren't expecting.

I've got a great group of players in my current game, and they know my love of Mixed Success, but it's Fate, so… even if they blow the roll and I say "don't worry about invoking aspects yet, what about we go with a mixed success?" Even with great players, the inevitable (and fair! given the game system) question is: "Okay maybe… but what's the 'mixed' part going to be?" And we talk through it.

So… yeah. That. No surprises in the conflicts. Lots of resource use and/or negotiation to get to a known result.

Now, I know I can make Fate harder, to give the players less of that control. I know that. I've played a lot of Fate – I've hacked it down to the bone and built new flesh on the skeleton, more than once. I get how the pieces go together.

And I'll freely admit I don't push as hard as I can by using GM Fate points (which +Bill Garrett has called me on). But I know why I'm bad it: it feels adversarial in an unfun way (I'm FINE with adversarial in fun ways).

Boardgame Example: I like challenging games (I'm playing a Pandemic Legacy campaign right now, we're in September and seriously FUCK the C0DA virus); I don't mind losing because something is challenging, but I have less fun if I'm playing a game where the dial for "challenge" is controlled by "how much I (or someone else) voluntarily chooses to directly fuck with the other players at the table by making their stuff harder" – I'm looking at you, Settlers of Catan.

You pulled the short straw and have to be the Bad Guy in Betrayal at the House on the Hill or whatever? That's cool. You're cock-blocking someone's attempt to get Longest Road, just because? Much less fun. That's kind of what "pouring on GM Fate points" or "start everyone with no fate points and 0 refresh" feels like.

I mean, there's a point at which you've tweaked that dial so much you need to warn people they won't really be playing the game system they signed up for, exactly.

Does that mean Fate's a bad game? Nope.

Does it mean I wouldn't play it? No.

Does it mean I won't GM it? No, although I think I'm going to do some sunset planning for the system, in IT-speak.

Does it mean it's a game that doesn't especially suit my GMing style? Yeah, pretty much.

And that sucks a little, because as I mentioned I've got a LOT of Fate stuff on my shelves, and like… 25 sets of dice… and players who really like the game – some of whom I'm pretty sure would not especially enjoy 7-9 "it's a mixed success and you just need to deal with it" results in Powered by the Apocalypse games (which may be my favorite game thing ever).

Anyway. Something I've been turning over for awhile; glad to have it out of my head.

An RPG thought that's been bouncing around my head for awhile now

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever.

Maybe that's still true for 5e versions of those games. Probably is. Anyway.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that drop a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new gamer, because that new gamer doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Dungeon World, for example, is fun, and it works with new players, but it doesn't work as well – there just isn't as much there – for the gamer who never played the old versions of D&D DW is reflecting. Ditto Black Hack or whatever.

Same thing is true for genre mashups: Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. It might work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is phenomenally boring not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – lots of stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't Get the Joke.

First, I need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, before we can get to the new stuff, or it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.

Dungeon World with Kaylee, via Google+ Polls

She got a 7 on her Defy Danger, trying to rush by some guards and get to the big bad, and it's time for Ugly Choices.

(And yeah, I know this sort of scene is pretty bog-standard and not full of the angst and internal turmoil you can get in PtbA games, but for an 11 year old, this choice is plenty ugly enough.)

Man I like running this game.

 

Star Wars, Rebel Ops – Shadowpoint Housekeeping, Part 1

After a too-long hiatus, we're back to playing our Star Wars approach-less FAE hack game. Short session, but we got started again, which is the main thing.

Lots of wrestling with Roll20 and Hangouts, again, because Google. 😛

Anyway…

Our heroes have seized the double-secret Imperial installation on the planet of Onderon, once called “Whisper Base,” for the Rebel Alliance.

They now have access to a secret, off-the-books facility plugged into the Imperial communications network—a powerful resource for the struggling Rebellion. However, while the Imperial bureaucracy at large does not have any knowledge of the base, the PCs must still contend with its master and originator, Moff Dardano, who is willing to do anything to recover his lost asset without allowing his rivals in the Empire to learn of its existence, much less of its capture. It is only a matter of time before the Moff takes action to reclaim the base and bring it back under his control…

RPGaDay – August 18: What innovation could RPG groups gain the most benefit from?

This is already happening, but the tech behind online meetings and collaboration is probably the future of 'tabletop' gaming.

If you want me to get slightly futuristic and not-already-extant, let's go with the tech behind smart-device enabled Augmented Reality ("AR": like Pokemon Go); not to be confused with Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). Give me a library of stock animated critters and a way to hook them to GPS coordinates, so I could GM a group through a virtual wilderness adventure along the bike paths of the nearest green belt park? Yes please: I would love doing something like that with my kids.

 

August 14: Who would be on your dream team of people to game with?

Ooh. That's tricky. Thing is, I'm not sure all my favorite players would be very compatible, all in a single group. Let's see.

I'd really like to run a game for +Lee Kenyon +Tim White +Kim Stone and +Kate Testerman. I don't know (or very much care) what game, but I believe I would enjoy that group a whole bunch, and to my knowledge they've never all been sat town at the same table for a game, ever, so there's that.

No offense at all to all the other folks I play with, I just think that'd be a fun group.

 

RPGaDay – August 10: What was the largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

In my old Amber campaign, Things in Heaven and Earth, Benedict, rather than losing an arm in his duel with… whoever in the books cut off his arm… was blinded.

Somehow, and I don't really remember how it happened, the players decided that the best way to help him recover his sight more quickly was to get him to walk the Pattern again. This was accomplished by having one of the players' characters (one with really high Endurance, I'm sure) walk the Pattern themselves, with Benedict sort of walking in their wake, holding onto their belt or something.

This was done.

It was quite exhausting for the player character. They got to the center, Benedict thanked them, and the PC had the Pattern take them out to the edge of the room, where their siblings and cousins watched.

Then one of the players said: "And then Dworkin shows up in the middle of the Pattern and teleports away with Benedict."

The room went dead silent.

And we decided it was just too damned cool not to do, so that's exactly what happened.

The next time they saw Benedict, he had the Jewel of Judgement embedded in one of his eye sockets.

 

RPG A Day, August 9: What things are a part of your ideal session, other than the actual game?

More and more, I treasure a diverse group of players. A table full of white dudes is a missed opportunity for a better game, I think. More women. More kids. More people from backgrounds I don't share, bringing elements to the table that otherwise would never be there.

Also? Laughter. I don't want to screw around, but I want to have fun, and while tension can be fun, I want to see smiles, even if they're caused by pained chuckles from bad die rolls.

Finally: engagement. Throw in your ideas. Get excited and start making stuff up. That's my favorite thing.

Edit to add: Like +Richard Rogers, I play mostly over Hangouts or Roll20 these days, so I would be remiss if I did not mention how much good, reliable tech contributes to a good session. Solid connections, good sound, considerate microphone use, et cetera.

 

August 8: Do you prefer hardcover, softcover, or electronic books? What are the benefits of your preference?

I like ebook versions of RPG texts, which are unfortunately as rare as hen's teeth. PDF is… fine. Not great. Pretty much unreadable on small screens (I sometimes have my phone's pdf viewer read them aloud while I drive, which is … differently sub-optimal), while larger screens are less easy to carry around.

Paper books are the clear winner for any book I plan to reference a lot in play, because it's still too difficult to flip to another part of a text while 'holding your finger' somewhere else in the book.

Bonus Content: I wrote about how to make e-readers suck less as reference tools three and a half years ago, with pictures – http://doycetesterman.com/index.php/2013/01/e-readers-suck-for-reference-materials-but-they-dont-have-to/

On the other hand, if I'm just reading something, electronic is fine.

I just wish we could get away from PDFs and more toward ebook formats.

 

RPG a Day, August 6 and 7

August 6: What is the most amazing thing that you know a game group has done for their community?

http://www.facebook.com/gamersgiving/

August 7: What aspect of Roleplaying Games has had the biggest effect on you?

I've been gaming for so long, and it's impacted so much of my life, it's kind of difficult to sort out what's related to or impacted by gaming, and what isn't. Here's a few things I know would not be the same with me, were it not for gaming.

* My ability to speak to and lead group discussions/classes, and manage small group dynamics.
* My writing, both in terms of subject matter and sheer volume of practice.
* My circle of friends and acquaintances.
* I would never have met my wife and, by extension, wouldn't have met my kids.

Day to day, though? I suppose it's the fact I can't watch a TV show, see a movie, or read a book without considering how it would work as a game. I don't know if that's a benefit or not, but it's definitely an "always on" feature of my life as a gamer.

 

RPG a Day: August 3rd, 4th, and 5th

August 3 What is something you have done with your game character that you are the proudest of?

I really don't get to play very much, so I don't have a long list of these kinds of examples. I never really been a player in a long campaign – I just run them. 😛

Back in the heyday of DnD 3.0 and 3.5, I participated in all the local gaming conventions, especially the "Living" campaigns, since that let me actually, you know, play. My main guy in the Living Greyhawk campaign was Gwydion, a kilt-wearing skald (couple-three levels of barbarian, the rest bard). He was a ton of fun to play, and managed to pull off some pretty great tricks (detonating an entire necklace of fireballs, with only four hit points at the time, and surviving – probably tops the list).

I was especially happy when, at around level nine, events in the campaign and the path I'd taken Gwydion let him move into the "Spy" prestige class as he became an agent of the Crown of Furyondy. That was pretty cool.

I played him again, about a year later: older, grizzled, married, with a missing hand, and managed to berserk and pull off a 'trip' maneuver against a young black dragon, leaving the big bastard prone for the group's rogue to take apart. People still talk about that one.

Gwydion's probably the guy I wish I could play more.

August 4: What is the most impressive thing that you can remember another player’s character doing in a session?

The first thing to come to mind is +Margie Kleerup in our Star Wars game, fairly recently, driving a landspeeder across the backs of a herd of stampeding bantha as they thundered down a narrow canyon.

That, and probably +Kate Testerman's character from our short Don't Rest Your Head game, making paradox-level time travel totally work in an awesome way.

August 5: What story does your group still tell about your character?

As mentioned already, probably the time I successfully did a grapple/trip attack against a black dragon. He was only one size category bigger than my guy (Large), and not TOO strong, so with Berserk on (I was playing a Barbarian/Bard multiclass), I think I just needed to beat the GM's roll by… eight or something.

Basically, I had to roll reasonably well and he had to roll poorly, and that's pretty much what happened. 🙂

 

RPG a Day Catch Up

Missed the start of this during a crazy Monday, so here's a couple answers.

August 1: Do you prefer to use real dice, a dice application or program, or use a diceless system?

I prefer to roll real dice, at a table, but these days playing online via Hangouts and/or Roll20 is so much more achievable on a regular basis, so in terms of simple volume of rolls, recent data indicate "virtual dice" (I happily pay a monthly subscription to Roll20 to support their service, and it's worth every penny.)

August 2: What is the best game session you have had since August 2015?

This one: https://youtu.be/mz7f6RFBdKQ

My favorite line is right around 2 hours, 27 minutes, when Mike sighs, closes his eyes, and says "I really hate this place. I hate this place so bad," about the creepy cabin.

I really need to run more *World games. It just suits my GMing style right down to the ground; it's like running Amber Diceless, but with dice, in a weird way.

 

Quote of the Week

"They [Nintendo] could add way, way more game if they felt like it. I mean, as much as they wanted. It could be tremendously sophisticated. They could [(for example)] teach people to play the game at all."

Fun thing

Playing something between a Choose Your Adventure and an RPG with +Kaylee Testerman via Google+, using the poll function.

We tried a more Myst-like thing earlier, and it went dead pretty fast, so we retreated to more familiar grounds and it's been a lot of fun.

 

Several regular players couldn't make our regular Hangouts game, so we played Dungeon World!

Started off with questions about the player's characters (an artificier, immolator, and an elven fighter) and background (elves were cast down from the moon and now live on the surface, unable to bear the moon's light).

Once I knew what was up with everyone, we dug into their motivation for seeking the long-abandoned temple at the peak of Death Frost mountain.

We didn't finish (everyone's standing around a padlocked trapdoor in an old petrified cabin at the top of the mountain), but a good creepy time was had.

(You can accomplish a lot as a GM with disconcerting furniture.)

Slept bad last night

Here's my brain today:

"You should finish that story."

"But I don't want to write uaaaaaagh too harrrrrrrd. I just want to do game-related thinking."

"Good timing: you have a game to run tonight."

"… Uaaaaaaaaaaaagh."

Star Wars: Rebel Ops – The Onderon Job, Part 2

… in a different part of the Galaxy.
… eighteen months PRIOR to the events of the first six sessions.
… with a resistance group that actually isn't part of the Rebellion…

We're doing a two err… three session series with a different group of characters, partly to fill in some backstory and partly to test out some rules tweaks.

Star Wars: Rebel Ops – The Onderon Job

Meanwhile…

… in a different part of the Galaxy.
… eighteen months PRIOR to the events of the first six sessions.
… with a resistance group that actually isn't part of the Rebellion…

We're doing a one– ahem… TWO session series with a different group of characters, partly to fill in some backstory and partly to test out some rules tweaks.

This was a fun session, although in terms of play-testing the rules tweaks I'm trying out it was pretty much useless, as we rolled the dice exactly once (spent the whole session planning a heist/con/infiltration for next session, which was fun :).

Getting Closer to No Thank You, Evil!

Originally shared by +Doyce Testerman

Kaylee (10) made up her character for No Thank You, Evil! about a week ago (Laurelai, a Sneaky Kid who Reads Great Books), but I've been traveling for work, so we haven't had a chance to play or get a character set up for Sean (5). We finally took care of that today.

As in any Cypher system game, NTYE characters are defined with a pretty simple sentence: [name] is an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs], and each of those elements have mechanical effects. The only real difference in this version of the game is that the sentences become simpler the younger the players get. So very young player might only be Name and Noun, while a moderately complicated character might be Name, and an Adjective/Noun.

And they all have a wacky companion of course, because why not?

The other extremely kid friendly thing NTYE does is provide you with a set of well illustrated cards for each of 'pregen' Noun options you can use right out of the book. Sean had already carefully scoured these options, and knew he wanted to play a Creature, with a Robot Lizard Dog companion (named Oscar). Easy!

We went through the list of provided adjectives to decide what kind of creature he was, and he immediately latched onto Sneaky.

This is when things got fun.

"So Sean," I said, "are you a kid who pretends to be a Creature when you're on an adventure, or are you a Creature who pretends to be a normal kid?"

He didn't even hesitate. "I'm a creature, and I pretend to be a kid."

"Cool. What's your guy's name? "

"Well," he said, "he needs a name that will convince everyone he's a normal kid, because I'm Sneaky." I nodded. "So… His name is 'Adolescent.'"

I blink. "Adolescent?"

"Yep. To trick people." He thinks. "Sometime just Ado."

"… Okay."

Because seriously what else do you say to that?

Pondering FAE Tweaks for Star Wars: Rebel Ops

A few days ago, I publicly mulled over how the game is going. That post attracted quite a bit of conversation, much of it extremely helpful in terms of focusing down on the stuff I didn’t think was working that I think is worth trying to address, going forward.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Fate mechanics, the characters, the setting, the potential story, and so forth.

What I’m not thrilled with are Approaches.

Now, on paper, I love Approaches – I just genuinely like the idea of actions sorted out terms of whether they’re Flashy, Sneaky, Clever, or whatever.

In practice, there are two problems I’ve encountered.

  1. A character’s action very rarely maps to a single approach, and almost never maps cleanly. You tend to get a lot of conversations like this:

    “Hmm, do you think the action you’re taking is Quick or Clever? I mean it’s Clever, but you’re doing it Quickly…”
    “Actually, I’m trying to surprise them with this, so I was hoping for Sneaky…”

    And so on. It ends up putting the Meta game-system stuff right in my face with a frequency I find annoying, and I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

  2. You define your character with Aspects, but you stat them out – in terms of hard numbers – with Approaches. This has the effect of giving your character two sets of important ‘stats’ that don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, and mechanically it leads to a weird disconnect. Now, anyone who plays Fate at all will tell you that Aspects are the core of the system – it’s the thing that, if you take it out, makes it no longer Fate, in my opinion – buuuuuuuut in FAE, Approaches get numeric ratings, and it’s those numbers that affect every single die roll first, before any Aspects get involved, and since they directly address about how you like to do things, rather than simply what you can do (like skills), they tend to affect the broad interpretation of the character much more.

What are you Yammering About, Man?

So it’s like this: You have your core concept, expressed as Aspects, and then you have these Approaches, who’s ratings also say something about your character, and because of their non-granularity, they tend to say those things with very sweeping generalizations, often (in my personal experience) pulling the character away from their core concept in either small or large ways.

2016-04-09 08-40-56 PM

I’ll give a short example, using Dave’s character from our game, with Aspects tweaked slightly for the purposes of this example:

Aral Tholemain
Patriotic Noble of Naboo
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head
The Empire took my family from me.
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman
E’lir would be my daughter’s age…

I could give you a couple paragraphs of backstory, but really, I think these five Aspects capture the gist of what’s going on, and I think it’s fair to say this is a pretty grim character, right?

Here are his Approaches:

Careful: 1
Clever: 1
Flashy: 3
Forceful: 2
Quick: 0
Sneaky: 2

You know what I see when I look at those approaches?

A swashbuckler, maybe. Perhaps a con man. If you told me “noble”, I’d nod and say “oh yeah, I can totally see that,” but what I wouldn’t see is the kind of noble Aral is.

Look at those Aspects up above? Is there anything there that says “Flashy?” I guess it depends on how you look at someone who’s a dedicated firebrand, but… well.

Yes, you can make it work.

But there’s the thing – Flashy is Aral’s big Approach, so of course Dave’s going to want to do things flashily when he can, especially when things Really Matter.

… so this Bloodthirsty Gentleman who’s lost his family is doing big attention-grabbing attacks while loudly shouting “You Dastard!”, striking a memorable pose, et cetera.

Is that the guy we see in the Aspects? I’m hardly sure, but I don’t think so.


And yes, I know you can just have a different Approach be the top one, but for a significant subset of actions important to the character, a high Flashy makes the most sense – it just gets weird when applied in other activities.

“Well, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be Flashy and deal with a lower rating.”

Nice idea, and it happens some of the time, but when your pulse is hammering and your blood is high, you go for the most thematically appropriate narration that’s going to give you a shitty stat to roll. Gamers will game; playing to your strengths is part of that, and is hardly the problem I’m talking about, or even a problem in the first place. Moving on…


Where were we?

Right: so I’m leaning toward dumping Approaches entirely and rating the Aspects instead – at least as a trial run, to see how it feels in play.

Doing that, Aral might look like this:

Patriotic Noble of Naboo [+3]
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head [+1]
The Empire took my family from me [+2]
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman [+2]
E’lir would be my daughter’s age… [+1]

So the Aspects continue to function as Aspects, but also function as… almost miniature character classes, or gestalt skill/experience “sets,” where you pick the one most applicable to the action taken (or the lowest rated one that applies, if there are many, because I’m mean), and add that value to the roll.

Yes, you’d probably have one aspect you ‘always’ roll when shooting someone, but… okay. How is that different than a character with a “Shoot” skill? Aral’s experiences as an officer and bloodthirsty gentlemen is where he learned to shoot. Makes sense. Done.

And hey, if you throw a fate point down and activate that same Aspect for a bonus on the roll you just made with that Aspect? Then this action is SUPER important and relevant to that facet of the character, which I choose to see as a big feature, not a bug.

But the main thing – as my daughter pointed out while we were talking about this today – is that everything you’re doing, related to that roll, is only pulling you in toward that core character concept; there’s no weird double influence of “I’m being bloodthirsty, but FLASHILY.” (Which sounds a little psychotic, anyway. 🙂

I don’t mean to pick on Dave at all; I think this is relevant to several characters – probably all of them, to different degrees – it’s just that he’s the easiest example of what I’m thinking, and I got thinking about it when he mentioned Aral as he exists now is different than how he envisioned him. Some variance is obviously going to happen – it always does – but given the ability we have to define characters with Aspects, it really shouldn’t go that far afield.

Anyway, thoughts?

Star Wars Art

I got a finished commission from skilled Star Wars-focused artist Lorna-ka, and feel like nerding out and sharing.

Dekko will be the guy I want to play in every Star Wars game going forward until whenever.

http://doyce.tumblr.com/post/142415693450/i-just-got-my-first-finished-commission-from

(Also? We live in the future: Lorna lives in Moscow, I found her stuff on Tumblr, contacted her and paid her entirely online, and got multiple versions of the commissioned art in the time it would have taken one round of snail-mail correspondence, ten years ago.)

Doyce Testerman • I just got my first finished commission from…
I just got my first finished commission from @lorna-ka – Dekko, former scout clone trooper, who retired after the Clone Wars and hid out on Tatooine, staying away from large populations and his brothers after “everyone went crazy.”

(He worked alone most of the time during the war, and never ‘had’ a jedi to betray, so Order 66 pretty much passed him by.)

This is about four years prior to events of A New Hope – Dekko’s recently helped out a…

Some Thoughts on recent Gaming

Mostly the online stuff, systems, genres, et cetera.

In no particular order, just stream-of-consciousness stuff.

—-

I like running Star Wars, and I'm glad I finally got to run/play some version of Tatooine Manhunt, a classic WEG Star Wars scenario but… yeah. I'm kind of done with running modules. Ehn. Much more interesting to grab the character notes, a cool planet, some history stuff to mix in, NPCs that want stuff, and a crazy critter or something, and just play. Still, bucket list ticked.

Also, not for nothing: most non-demo published scenarios are too long for online play, unless they're super-tight and tied to the characters like crazy, because they take seven weeks to play through and we've forgotten how we even got involved in the thing by the time it wraps up.

I mean, if you know you're going to do some epic dungeon crawl thing that goes on for six or sixteen or sixty sessions, then that's fine, but otherwise, short and brutal is better for online, IMO.

Or meandering sandbox. Same diff.

Fate Accelerated is such a weird beast for me, these days. I like approaches on paper, but in play they're… kind of a pain in the ass? "Which approach is the right one for this thing you're doing, what's going on here?" Ugh. I don't mind meta-thinking, but it gets in my face on every.single.roll, and that's tiring.

I wouldn't want to do a skill list either, necessarily, but that's for other reasons.

There was a weird thing going on with the the dice rolling where we'd say what we were doing (good), then roll (good), and then figure out if it had been an attack or create advantage or overcome or whatever (weird). Fine, but… weird. It never retroactively changed the action taken (good), and I doubt it breaks anything, and it was nice for narrating interesting stuff other than "you shoot, then he shoots…" but it was – again – a kind of weird thing where the meta came in a lot. We tended to do a lot of "I only beat him by 1, so I'll just set up an advantage for later," and people only going for damage when they could really slam-dunk someone with a big hit. Which I totally get – I'd do the same thing, and probably encouraged that here.

I should absolutely have gone with my initial instincts and gotten rid of Stress. Otherwise there's just too many plink-plink-plink hits. Star Wars people get hit once, maybe twice, and they are done – from Leia to Chewbacca: one hit HURTS. Drop stress, everything goes to Consequences, and it speeds fights up a lot more and makes the hits much more significant. (Even then, Fate points give you more than enough ability to reduce the damage sustained.)

Six sessions, and we never refreshed fate points. There was never a need – we finally tapped one character down to zero fate points at the end of the last session, and he only started with two to begin with. One other guy had 1, and everyone else had 3 or more… and I almost never did a compel. (Maybe I never did – I can't think of any. I gave out two for particularly character-rich moments.)

In six sessions, the best scenes were the ones aboard the ship, in transit. Another argument in favor of character-focused winging it, as opposed to published scenarios, which should surprise no one.

Everyone felt tired last night. Or I did, and projected, but by the end of a basically normal-length session, we were dah-rag-ing. Big time.

If I keep going with Rebel Ops, I'll probably try another system. I'm very curious how various expressions of the setting, via system, change the way the game feels.

The cool thing: wouldn't need to keep the same characters, even, or people can. Either. The nature of the way Rebel Ops is set up is the group for that session can be different than the last, because the…

Huh.

Yeah, I need to make the situations/missions going forward a LOT shorter, so we can wrap them up in one session, maybe two. Lets us tell lots of stories about lots of different rebels, if we like. Get more people playing, different ones, and just try stuff out.

The Rebels TV show is a good model in this case (irony!): "Here's this one thing we need to do, we go do it, there's a complication, we address it, there's a twist, probably some fighting, and we deal with both the twist and fighting and get back out." Curtain drops.

Same basic model as a Mouse Guard mission: Mission, Challenge, Twist, Challenge, Twist, Conclusion. Hmm.

So, game systems: Streets of Mos Eisley (PtbA), Star Worlds (also PtbA), Risus (don't laugh, I've seen some good write-ups on this). Hell, maybe even Savage Worlds, just to figure out what all the G-D fuss is about, though I'm not sure I want to deal with … eh. I need to re-read the rules again.

Anyway, they're all dead-simple to explain to people as we play, so they're all good in that way.

And this says nothing at all about doing something else like Don't Rest Your Head, Monster of the Week, or whatever. One Ring, even.

Man could I stand to play some more One Ring. I like that game.

Platform. I would 100% rather be running entirely in Roll20 with no Hangouts interface getting in my way, but right now it's not a good option: I need a more powerful streaming/recording machine first. Baby steps.

Until then, I'll deal with Hangouts. Le sigh.

More thoughts in comments, as I have them. Also pinging current players, since this is relevant and I welcome thoughts.

No thank you, Evil!

My daughter and I have played a lot of RPGs together, but nothing in recent memory has gotten her psyched up like Laurelai, a sneaky kid who reads great books – the character she just made up for No Thank You, Evil!

The character concept fired her imagination, as did all of the conversations she's already imagining between herself, her "I Gotcher Back" pack, and her animated stuffy companion/invisible friend, Knuffle Bunny.

This is also the first time she's read a rulebook cover to cover in one sitting; the great design and great art has my five year old calling for his turn making a guy.

This game has the potential to be a big win in a house with stiff competition.

200-word RPG Challenge submission: Freaks

So this thing is happening:

The 200 Word RPG Challenge puts your writing and editing skills to the test!
What can you do with only 200 words?

I’m studiously ignoring the line: “the game doesn’t necessarily have to be fun”, for reasons that should be obvious, and decided to submit a thing.

Here is that thing.


freaks

doom patrol mignolaWe’re playing heroes mighty, but maligned; devoted, but shunned. Feared by the same people they protect…

Freaks.

Start

Think up a character. Golem. Vampire. Angel. Vampire angel? Go nuts.

Pick a Specialty:

  • Sneak
  • Fight
  • Manipulate
  • Use Powers
  • Investigate

Define Your Power

  • List Blessings. Think “thematically related; but incomplete.”
  • List Banes. Why are you a freak?

These can color scenes. If they’d affect a Conflict, say how.

Play

Establish character(s), setting, situation.

Each scene, everyone wants stuff. Play your guy and push for it; you’ll hit a Conflict.

Grab one FUDGE die for your GOAL and one for the RISK. (No risk? No roll.)

ADD A DIE IF…
… there’s another Risk.
… Banes have effect (stop here).
… Blessings have effect.
… your Specialty matters.
… you’re prepared.

Roll.

  1. If Banes apply, discard the best die.
  2. If Blessings/Specialty/Preparation apply, discard a bad die for each.
  3. Assign dice to Goal and Risks.

Goal Die:
+ Goal achieved.
0 Mixed success.
– Opportunity lost (for now).

Risk Die:
+ Risk defeated
0 Danger Remains
– Injury, Loss, Goal interference

If Danger/Injury Remains, it becomes an Added Risk whenever, until you fix it.

Thanks: Otherkind, Ghost/Echo, Trollbabe

Mouse Guard Risus with Sean and Kaylee (and Zoe!)

Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee, as I have been known to do.

For some reason, I always seem to ‘find the time’ to do this sort of thing on a night when I have a hard stop looming (in this case, a Star Wars game at 8pm), but we did manage to get the evening sorted out pretty quickly, giving us close to an hour to play.

Since we’d last played Mouse Guard (using a variant of the Risus rules set), I’d done a little shopping, and picked up a couple cool, custom Mouse Guard lego figs from crazy bricks – mix them together with a some weapons from Brick Arms, and we had pretty good minis for Conner and Laurel.

Do I need minis for this game? I do not. Not at all.

Did I want them for the kids to play with anyway, so they can gave Mouse adventures whenever they want? Yes I do.

So we grabbed our dice-rolling frisbee (hot tip: have smaller kids roll their dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum), the index cards on which we’d scribbled character sheets last time and, with Zoe tucked in and Momma running some evening errands, sat down to play.

“So, in case you don’t remember…” I began.

“We really need to figure out what happened to that postmaster mouse from last time,” said Sean, fiddling with his minifig. “If we can’t find him, there’s no way for Elmoss to get mail.”

I blinked.

I mean, seriously: the kid is five, and we haven’t played in two weeks. He can’t remember where he left the socks he had on five minutes ago, but this… this he remembered.

“I’m impressed, Seanie,” Kaylee said. She looked at me. “All I remember from last time was talking to those robins.”

“Right?” I said. “Okay, let’s investigate that house where the postmaster was attacked.”

Our Heroes

Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0

Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.

Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0


The two guardmice, with the assistant post-mouse in tow, went to the head postmouse’s home and started investigating. Windows were damaged. The front door was torn off the hinges, and the inside was in worse shape.

“I think I know what it is,” intoned Sean, as Conner. He looked at me, face serious. “Blood-eyed owl!”

“Please no,” Kaylee whispered.

I'm with Kaylee on this one.

“Well, I said,” something like an owl couldn’t get into Elmoss without people seeing it, and probably couldn’t get inside the house. It was definitely something bigger than a mouse, but not huge. What do you want to check out?“

The mice did some digging, and discovered some footprints in the flour scattered around the kitchen. Laurel (Kaylee) was able to identify the prints as weasel tracks, and Conner (Sean) realized they led down into the cellar.


Right about here, Zoe (two and a half) decided she wasn’t ready for bedtime, and showed up at the edge of the table, staring wide-eyed at the dice.

“Can I play? Pleaaase?”

Yeah, I’m not going to say no to that.

“Zoe, do you want to play a butterfly?” Kaylee asked, pointing out her sidekick to me.

“No.”

“It’s okay,” I said, pulling my youngest onto my lap, “I’ve got an idea. Zoe, what do you want your mouse to be named?”

Emilie (brownfur, blue cloak)
Jumpy tenderfoot (4)
Assistant Postmouse (3)
(Stinkystripey, my bumblebee friend (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0 0 0 0

“I- I’m c-coming with you,” said the assistant postmouse as the two guards headed down into the cellar.

The three mice got into the basement (some confusion here, as Zoe thought we were supposed to pick up all our things and go down into our real basement), and found a tunnel dug through the side of the cellar, behind a big shelf.

“What would a weasel want with a postmouse?” Laurel wondered. “It’s just strange.”

They followed the winding tunnel (hand-dug, but seemingly not that new) until the air began to change, becoming dustier and more mildewy… then it opened into a much broader space: the many-pillared spaces of Darkheather!

Laurel was astonished – she had no idea Darkheather extended so far under the Territories.

The mice looked for more tracks and, while they found none, spotted a light in the distance and crept toward it as quietly as possible (something Conner excelled at and the other two… well…)

As soon as they could make out voices and the sound of flowing water, they stopped. The weasel and the mouse where talking, and they didn’t sound like enemies.

“This bag is full of nothing but papers!” the weasel hissed.

“Those ‘papers’ are every message Lockhaven’s sent through my offices in the past year,” the postmouse explained. “With that, you’ll know everything they’re planning.”

“RRRRrrrgg,” the weasel growled. “I’ll take this to my masters, but if it isn’t as you say, I’ll be back here for our gold, and the next attack won’t be false.”

“Fine,” said the mouse. “I’ll be gone, in any case. I’m dead here – off to a new town and a new name. I’ll be in touch once I’ve settled in.”


“Can we grab that mouse?” asked Kaylee.

“Sure,” I said, “but the weasel’s in a kind of canoe in the waterway, and he’s already got the letters, so…”

Her eyes went wide. She turned to Sean. “Get. That. Weasel.”

Laurel moved to pin down the postmouse (working with her companion), while Conner charged straight at the weasel.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to jump right at him and chop his nose into pieces!” announced Sean, and he did… something with his mouse figure that snapped the blade right off his little plastic sword. Oops.

Kaylee rolled enough successes (we’re counting 4, 5, 6 as successes – part of the Risus Guard rules I’m using) to pin down the postmouse, and Zoe had her bumblebee buzz right at the weasel’s head to distract him.

Sean came in, rolling his four dice, and got two sixes and a five.

Now, in this system, sixes explode, so he can roll two more dice and count them.

Two more sixes.

Roll again.

Six and a two. The kids are howling with glee.

Roll again.

Five.

“So… that’s… seven success… on four dice.”

“Daddy,” said my wife, who’d been listening in from the next room. “I think he got him.”

Indeed.

Taking Sean’s minifig mishap as inspiration, I described Conner leaping out at the weasel and chopping the sword down into the weasel’s nose so hard it went right into his head and stuck, breaking the blade off before the weasel tumbled into the water. It was a real “Lieam versus the snake” moment.

Flawless victory. The mice retrieved the letter satchel, turned the traitor postmaster over to the locals, and prepared to head back to Lockhaven to report to Gwendolyn.


Hindsight

Zoe did great! She loved rolling however many dice I asked her to roll, and could even sort the successes from failures easily by focusing on pulling out the 1s, 2s, and 3s. Time to order a third mouse guard minifig…

Sean’s ability to keep track of everything from session to session impresses me, especially because he never seems to be paying attention until right when he needs to roll dice (don’t know where he gets that from…)

Kaylee, at 10, is much more interested in the larger mystery, and she’s so supportive of her siblings, even though it slows things down a lot and means we don’t get as much covered. She said something like “all I did was pin a mouse down in the fight, but… Sean’s roll was so awesome, it made up for it.”

And, just to reiterate: Roll dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum.

So: good game, good fight, good night!

Emilie, Emilie, jump up and down. Original art by Drexilwatcher.

Risus Supers!

S. John Ross (creator of Risus) mentioned a plan to run some one-shot game sessions online. I, like many others, voiced interest in this and (through a combination of luck and getting woken up before 6am by my kids) managed to snag a spot in the first game he decided to run: a one shot supers game this Friday.

Pre-generated characters were available, and while I was fine with that idea, I also pitched a short concept for a character a few people may be familiar with from back in my City of Heroes/DCUO days.

John liked my proposal, and we bounced feedback back and forth until we had nailed down a version we were both happy with. I’m putting it up here both to document the results and because I think it’s neat and interesting how the same basic character concept takes on different nuances when it’s expressed in different game systems.

The bullet lists beneath each cliche for this character are essentially the tools of the trade that come along with each cliche (defining those tools was a lot of the back and forth that John and I focused on). By default, tools of the trade are literal things you might possess, but as you can see, they can also cover demeanor, talents, areas of expertise, and ‘color’ for the character in question.

I’m looking forward to the game.


Lukacs Tolbathy, bastard child of a conniving war-witch and one of the Earth Princes of Utumno. (One of. His mother might know exactly which one, but she’s not saying, and rumors of her misspent youth indicate no less than fifteen likely candidates and twice the number “possibles.”).

With nothing in common with his mother and no connection to Utumno, Lukacs set out into the everworlds to find a life of his own. The alien invasion [or whatever Big Meta Thing is going on in the setting] lured him to Earth — providing him both a place where his native abilities were of use (in the role of a ‘superhero’), and where he stands some small chance of finding… What?

It’s possible Lukacs himself doesn’t know.

Pummelcite

Half-breed earth elemental prince: (4)
– tough skin, manifesting stony fists, forming a big rock hammer to hit stuff with, or doing… sort of earth-bender type stuff with the ground
– sense of hidden nobility
– humility of the low-born
– basic knowledge of the ‘everworlds’

Kind-hearted strongman: (3)
– supernaturally strong
– friendly eyes
– imposing silhouette
– third-tier beard

Half-trained witch’s apprentice: (2)
– basic cantrips and few ‘oh crap’ spells.
– might be able to cobble together a ritual, maybe. Given a lot of time and books he doesn’t possess.
– generalist knowledge of the comic book “supernatural” (as opposed to tech or mutant/metahuman stuff)

Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

tmp_14273-pummelcite-771518943

Mouse Guard Risus with Sean and Kaylee

Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve even done stuff with Kaylee and Sean before, but it’s been quite a while since we’ve been able to find time (blame moving, swim practice damn near every night, too much homework, and a two year old who’s neither ready to play, go to bed, or leave the big kids alone).

I didn’t have much time, but I’d kind of promised a game of some kind to Sean, Kaylee allegedly had her homework done, and dammit I wanted to do something.

That something, somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be Mouse Guard.

Last week, Kaylee was poking around my gaming shelves. She pulled out a copy of the Mouse Guard RPG, asked what it was, and basically lost her mind when I told her it was a roleplaying game based on Mouse Guard. This reaction was unexpected; we’d been pitching game ideas for the last couple months and hadn’t really hit on anything that totally thrilled both of us, and I knew she and Sean both liked the comics, but Mouse Guard simply hadn’t occured to me.

So: setting and story solved — all I needed was a system.

Now, I’ve run the official version of the game in the past, and it’s fine – parts of it are brilliant – but it’s not something I’m going to play, these days. I wanted something lighter, something five year old friendly, and aside from all that something I personally wanted to run.

I got pretty excited when I found Mouse World – the author mentions the documents aren’t quite done, and he’s totally right; but while they may need an editing and reorganization pass, they are absolutely playable, and Kaylee and I took a few minutes this weekend to make up a guard mouse scout named Laurel. I love the PtbA mechanics, and I already know Sean can handle adding a couple d6s and a stat. The fact the MW hack uses checkbox conditions rather than hitpoints is another pro-kid vote in favor.

I’m looking forward to running the game at some point, but that didn’t end up being what I ran last night.

When push came to shove and I was moments away from the forty minute window we had to play, I decided on Risus, with a few optional rules added.

Risus has been around quite awhile, with a very dedicated fan base, and has a deserved reputation for being light and easy. It also has a rep for being a silly, comedy RPG (partly due to the author’s undeniable humor in presentation), and while it can certainly do comedy, I’m quite sure it could do lots of other stuff as well. I’d already been thinking about it for Star Wars, and had refreshed myself on some of my favorite optional rules, so I grabbed three six-packs of d6s for me, Kaylee, and Sean, some index cards, pencils, and headed downstairs.

Risus characters are pretty straightforward. You get ten dice to allocate to character-defining cliches (and a few other things), and when you want to do something, you pick the cliche you want to use, roll as many dice as the cliche has for its rating and, in the basic rules, add them up and see if the total is high enough. Here’s what we came up with:

tmp_808-Laurel - purple-redfur-1053912813
Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0

Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.

 

tmp_808-Mouse Guard Conner-771518943
Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

Any Risus-heads will recognize the optional rules we’re using so far: Sidekicks (trade in one die for a three-dice rated companion who can help you out sometimes), and Lucky Shots (trade in one dice for a pool of three renewable dice that can be added to any roll (one per roll) as a boost).

The only other optional rule I decided to use that’s pretty close to the rules for Simpler Risus. (I don’t know if that name is accurate, to be honest, but it’s something I wanted to try out.) Basically, instead of rolling your dice and adding them together, you count the dice that come up >3 as Successes. There were two main reasons for this:

  1. I generally like success-counting combined with ‘success at cost’ for failed rolls.
  2. Sean can certainly add up a bunch of dice (he started rolling and doing exactly that as soon as I handed him his set), but I knew from playing Hero Kids that at his age it’s much faster to have him separate the dice into high and low piles after a roll. Whenever we play, time is the big limiting factor to play, so this was a no-brainer.

Also, at his reading level, a *World character sheet isn’t going to fly. I needed something he could read.

(I may do something like Mouse World conditions, rather than the Risus diminishing dice pools, but it didn’t come up in play this time, so who knows?)

Why didn’t you just run Hero Kids, with mice, like you’ve talked about doing before?

I couldn’t find the books. 🙁

I think they’re still in book boxes until our basement is finished. (Just a few more weeks!)

Blah blah blah, rules-nerd: What happened in the GAME?

Right. Time to play. We now have 30 minutes.

The spring thaw has come, and with it, Gwendolyn’s first missions of the season. Laurel and Conner are dispatched to Elmoss with a satchel of mail. (Normally, she’d send at least three guard mice, but as Laurel is an experienced scout and grew up in Elmoss, it’s just two of them.)

I started off by asking Laurel to check the weather and plan their route. I told her she’d need a lot of successes to do a perfect job (4), because success-at-cost at that point in a mission is fun, but she shut me down with a perfect roll of four successes on four dice. Nevermind, then.

Basic route charted, I let the kids decide who was going to be the trailblazer (finding the best route forward, on the ground), and who would be the lookout. Laurel was the trailblazer, since she’s a scout, and we figured Conner was good for roaming lookout, since he’s sneaker. In this, both kids rolled, and came up with a few successes each. Laurel guided them along well enough, and things are going smoothly until they hit a wide, fast-moving stream that isn’t supposed to be there – spring runoff has cuz them off and left Laurel scratching her head on a muddy riverbank.

Meanwhile, Conner catches the sound of some birds approaching. He can’t find them in the overgrowth, but sneaks back to Laurel without alerting them. The mice hear them coming, and not knowing what kind of birds they might be, take cover.

Turns out it’s a couple ruffled looking robins, who drop in next to the stream, drink a bit of water, and start pecking around, looking for worms in the muddy bank.

Laurel decides this might be just the help they need to get past the stream and steps out to hail the birds in their own language.

(Once success, needed two.)

Unfortunately, it’s been quite awhile since she’s spoken Robin, and she’s rusty. Adding to that, the robins are grumpy, rattled (they were just chased by a falcon!), and hungry. When Laurel asks if she can trouble them for a lift over the stream, they say they’ll do it for food: about about those two big bugs the mice have with them?

“No!”

“Well don’t be greedy, little mouse… you can’t eat both of them yourself…”

Laurel calms down and suggests the two guard mice can help the robins find more appropriate food and, once the birds have their fill, they can carry the guards over the stream.

What this means is the mice do a lot of digging and mucking around in the muddy river bank, hauling out nightcrawlers for the ravenous robins. By the time they’re done, they are muddy, grumpy, and tired, but the robins are happy and carry them over the rushing water with no more problems.

The mice continue to Elmoss, are hailed and recognized by the local militia, and enter the town. Laurel knows the way to the post office, but (very low roll) once they get there, they find only a weepy assistant, and no master postmouse.

Apparently, just the night before, something terrible happened at the postmaster’s home; the whole place has been wrecked, with doors and windows broken and off their hinges, and no one seems to know what to do.

Can the guard mice help?

Tune in next time to find out!

All in all, a fun little session, and this morning, Sean said the nicest thing I’d ever want to hear about one of our games:

“Can we play it again tonight?”

Absolutely, little man. Absolutely.

Mostly certainly prepping this for use with +Kaylee Testerman and +Sean Testerman

#gaming

Originally shared by +Rob Donoghue

Have started refining the ruleset I want to try with the little dude. Would have done it this weekend, but we played "Spy or Die Trying" instead (and it was fun!). Tellingly, the rules are refined enough that the real lifting is going to be on the actual game part of it. 🙂

Basic Focus
Ok, based on the previous post and some conversations on G+ with Bryant Durrell, I’m starting to crystallize this system in my head, starting from the Above the Earth concept. I’m going…

Session Two of the current Star Wars game (run using Fate Accelerated).

Our heroes, having rescued a rebel agent on KWENN STATION, are en route to the backwater world of TATOOINE, in hopes of locating a former admiral and tactician of the OLD REPUBLIC – one long thought dead.

But the evil GALACTIC EMPIRE also knows of Adar Tallon’s existence, and even now the wretched spaceport of MOS EISLEY crawls with BOUNTY HUNTERS, searching for the famous leader.

The rebels are in a race against time, hoping to get the long-lost hero far away from the twin suns of Tatooine before Imperials descend on the planet in overwhelming force…

… end crawl.

Good session. A couple great roleplay scenes I really enjoyed (one of them explicitly introduced by the players, which was great), and beginning the manhunt in Mos Eisley.

Game-wise, I’m seeing dividends from tearing the old Tatooine Manhunt scenario into its component parts and rebuilding it.

Technical stuff: everything (video, audio, game space) was working nicely during the game, once I got on Chrome (I prefer Firefox, but Roll20 does NOT like doing audio/video conferencing on that browser).

Unfortunately, I changed the OBS recording settings for screen resolution since last week, to get rid of the black bars on the side, and maxed it out because I didn’t realize it would be too high for my little Mac Air to handle, so the recording is basically great audio and a video slideshow. Live and learn.

I feel like I’m zeroing in on the right settings, though. I did a test recording with the new settings and the result was solid. Here’s hoping session three is firing on all cylinders.

Session Notes from Dave

It’s a quick 24-hour hop from Kwenn Station to Tatooine – which is good, because it turns out the ship has an Aspect of “Absolutely No Expectation of Privacy.”

There are discussions about the inappropriateness of using thermal detonators on a space station.

Akana chats with Dana, Agent Phos. They discuss what the Rebellion actually means, which Backup chimes in on, wondering the difference between the Rebels and the Separatists. Dana posits it’s trying to return to the Republic. Akana suggests it’s trying to make the old Republic right. Aral sticks his head in and notes that as long as Naboo is free, it’s all good with him.

They eventually arrive at Tatooine, which has a number of bounty hunters in orbit, trying to arrange landing. Akana speaks the right trade talk, and gets an early landing in Docking Bay 94 in Mos Eisley.

The group discusses how to locate Adar Tallon.

E’lir tries to look up data on him, only to find out that much of his record has been scrubbed – perhaps an attempt by the Empire to make an unperson of him in the historic record, perhaps an attempt by Tallon or his allies to make him less obvious or findable.

They do discover that there was a significant uptick in settlement by discharged or retiring fighters after the Clone Wars on a number of planets that had not been affected by the war, including Tatooine.

A customs inspector is dealt with. It helps that they are carying actual legitimate cargo.

Aral searches for a contact in his records, and comes up with a Lepi female named Tebbi , who is a Rebel sympathizer and has been feeding low-level intel on Imperial troop levels on the planet, etc. She works in a souvenir shop, owned by her father.

Aral and Backup visit, and find that Tebbi’s father was killed that morning, possibly by bounty hunters, and with no sign that the city militia will do much about it. She doesn’t know anything about Tallon; the only human her father (who arrived on Tatooine about the same time, after the war) hung out with was a guy named Arno who lives in the Dune Sea. He also knew a Talorian named Slag.

Kelvin scouts out the area for threat levels. Visiting Jabba’s compound, he sees much coming and going, including a Gamorean and Jawa pair. He also spots the Mandalorian female that they saw on Kwenn Station.

Kelvin looks to find a room in town that could be used as a place where the crew of the Kis could stay or hide out. Things are very full, and the only place he can find a large room wants to barter for the ship’s cargo; Kelvin decides to check with the team before agreeing to it.

Kelvin also checks out a used speeder shop, as point-to-point travel by spacecraft is discouraged by the Imperials. He considers a decrepit Imperial troop transport to “requisition.”

Akana, E’lir, and Dana visit Lup’s General Store, run by a Shistavanen (Wolfman) couple. Their trading discussions (and what they might lead to) are interrupted by the arrival of a Gamorean and a Jawa, whose presence noticeably disturbs the shopkeep. Akana maneuvers in behind them…

And we stopped for the night….

First proper session of the Pandemic Legacy campaign

Got together on Thursday night with Kim, Tim, and Kate after a long hiatus following our ‘prep session.’ We managed to squeak out a victory for January (literally winning with the very last action we had before an automatic loss rule kicked in), at the cost of making all following sessions more difficult.

I understood, intellectually, that the game would change as we played – that it’s designed to do so – but I didn’t fully grasp how much, how quickly, and how profoundly.

February is going to be … something, is what I’m saying. low whistle

For those not familiar with the “legacy” style of board game, here’s a good review of Pandemic Legacy.

Thinking about Spaceships and Star Wars because… well, OBVIOUSLY

First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.

Now then…

2016-02-26_9-05-59
Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.

The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.

The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)

As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”

The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”

As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:

I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)

It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.

And, later in the conversation:

Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.

I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.

Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.

Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.

“Okay, so who’s the captain?”

“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”

“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”

laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”

“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”

“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”

“Hey, I fix things…”

“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”

“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”

And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.

(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)

And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.

There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.

I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.

Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.

It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.

(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)

I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.

Thinking about Gaming and Gaming Culture

I’m lucky.

Actually, more than that: I’m privileged.

There are at least a thousand ways I could illustrate and demonstrate this assertion, but in this case, I’m thinking of a very specific example, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

First, a little history.

I’ve been messing around with role playing games pretty much ever since I was old enough to decide how I’d spend my free time; I think I got my copy of the magenta Basic D&D box back in 1980 or 1981, when I was about 9 or 10 – maybe for my tenth birthday, actually – and after that? Well, I’m sure you can imagine how I got from there to here.

The funny thing is – the wonderful, fantastic thing I only just realized this morning – in all the time I’ve been messing around with RPGs, I’ve almost never been a part of a group that matched the typical image of a standard D&D group: a bunch of white, cis male gamers. (There are a few exception to this, one of which I’ll get back to in a sec.)

I’m not saying every group I was involved in was a diverse, enlightened crowd of high-browed intellectuals – I mean, I played in high school, with a bunch of high-schoolers, after all – but it was never just a bunch of white dudes being white dudes. My high school group counted the class valedictorian (and elven druid) as a member – she’s a practicing doctor out in the Black Hills, these days. In fact, every campaign I’ve ever run (and all but one I’ve played in) has had a mix of men and women. The most recent campaign I ran was damn near perfect in terms of participants, by which I mean white straight guys were the minority.

And please don’t think I’m saying that out of some kind of white guy guilt, because that’s attributing me motives far more noble than the reality, which is that I’m just kind of selfish: I like my RPG sessions to be interesting, and homogeneity is fucking boring. Diversity in a creative space is life blood.

So, yeah: I’m lucky.

I’m also – as I was recently reminded – privileged.

See, for the last few months, I’ve been laboring under a terrible first-world problem: with my new job (great pay, coworkers, and benefits), wonderful wife I love spending time with (often watching great genre TV over a fast internet connection), three amazing kids who like spending time with me, and a new puppy to hang out with, it’s difficult to find enough time to work on my next novel and schedule some gaming.

Yeah, I know.

How can I go on under such a burden…

Anyway, I recently had a chance to get a little gaming in via Roll20/Hangouts – a classic scenario I’d never had the chance to play, using a system I really enjoy.

And folks, I’m here to tell you: it was like jumping headfirst into raw sewage.

Basically, take every negative gamer stereotype – every negative ‘-ism’ – stack it up in a single online chat room, and squeeze the whole mess down a wire and into your comfortable white earbuds. I should have known what was coming just by how many participants were using anime characters as their profile icons, but I ignored the signs.

It reminded me I was lucky; virtually every group I’ve been a part of, including the all-white-cis-male yet polite and respectful college Star Wars group (which high character I attribute largely to our excellent GM) – has made it hard for me to really understand how bad the worst representatives of my hobby can be.

It also demonstrated (again, as though I needed proof) that I am privileged, because no matter how terrible the table talk got, I never felt threatened. I never worried I might become the target of the group’s verbal abuse, because there was literally no version of The Other that could make me a target. I was safe and, in this context and with these kinds of people, I would always be safe in ways that so many of my friends would not.

It made me nauseous.

I left, of course, and spent time in the days after talking with the group organizer(s) and a couple of the players about why I left, and I honestly think the talking did some good, and will change the culture in that group, even if I never go back (which I certainly won’t).

And maybe that matters. Maybe it changes something, somewhere, and may make someone else’s life a little less terrible. I hope so.

In the meantime, I’m writing this to say thank you to everyone who’s made me lucky; who’s helped an ignorant white farm boy from the very middle of Middle America open his mind a little and love Difference – love the strange and unfamiliar and uncomfortable Other.

You’ve made my world better, and I promise I’ll keep trying to do the same for you.

All these games, fighting monsters.

It’s really time to apply what we’ve learned.

Still totally not running a Star Wars game

… just killing some time, making up a character with my daughter.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along…


Tashi Kaden

Aspects togruta bounty hunter

  • Togruta Bounty Hunter with annoying morals
  • Too honest for some people
  • I’m my family’s best hope for freedom
  • Never trust a Hutt
  • No money, more problems

Approaches

  • Leader: +1
  • Explorer: +1
  • Tech: +2
  • Fighter: +3
  • Scoundrel: +2
  • Scholar: +0

Stunts

Bad News AvezaBad New Travels Fast
Aspect: Modified Aka’jar-class long-range shuttle
Protection: 1; Demanding (Tech roll +2 to get underway)
(1 refresh)

Aveza: the pilot
Aspect: “We’re partners, or YOU can try flying this hunt of junk.”
Professional 2 (Tech +1, Explorer +2), Resilient, Sturdy
Troubling Aspect: “Fortune and Glory, in that order, please.”
(1 refresh)

Battle Armor
Aspect: Walking Arsenal with a Jetpack
Protection: 1, Exceptional (enter/leave a scene instantly)
Flaw: Demanding (Explorer +2 roll to access enter/leave scene ability)
(Refresh: 2)


Character Refresh: 2
Current Fate Points: 2

The Clone Wars as they were Fought in my Head

This post jarred this loose and onto the page.

Back in college, I played a minor character in a long-running Star Wars campaign. (This is not to say I didn’t play a lot, and got my character to the point where the game system started to break, but I don’t think of my guy as one of the main characters in that game.) Empire Strikes Back was probably one of only five movies I owned on videotape, and I watched it … a whole bunch. Roland (the guy who ran the game, which at some point or another seemed to have included most of the gamers on campus) had all the movies, of course, and they seemed to play in a loop in his dorm room. Star Wars was a big deal for pretty much my whole social circle in those days, is what I’m saying.

One of (great) things about the original trilogy was the fact they didn’t really explain much. Stuff was put out there, sans supporting background, and you just had to work out your own explanations for stuff. Our mid-afternoon BS sessions sounded like this:

“Han’s not an idiot: why did he say he did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, when parsecs are a unit of distance, not time?”
“Maybe Lucas didn’t know that.”
“Look at Ben’s face when Han says it – he knows Han’s full of shit.”
“I think he’s saying he did it in 12 parsecs, and means units of distance. Like he found a hyperspace route that let him do a much shorter run – he’s boasting he’s the guy who found a fabled shortcut.”
“… okay that’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

The point is, we had theories and backstory for everything; stuff that only grew in depth and complexity the longer we played Rolo’s campaign.

One of the big question marks we loved to talk about? The Clone Wars.

In a galaxy far, far away, and SLIGHTLY longer ago than those other movies.

“I fought alongside your father in the Clone Wars.” That was pretty much all we had to work with. Sounded pretty badass, these Clone Wars. Epic. (Also, we saw them as MUCH further back than they really could have been, if Ben had been part of them, but whatever. We didn’t think about that.)

I think when Empire came out, there was some backstory (maybe in the novelization) that let us know Boba Fett’s armor was “Mandalorian” (whatever that was) and that he didn’t like Jedi for some historical reasons, and of course we tied all that into the Clone Wars too. (Lucas did too, he just made it stupid and kind of pathetic. Apparently, in Star Wars, all jetpacks do is look cool, malfunction, and kill their owners as a result. Buyer beware.)

And I don’t know about anyone else, but I guess I’d always pictured the clones (whoever or whatever they were in this context) as the bad guys. No idea why, really, but it felt right.

Anyway, that game wrapped up, college ended, and we all went our separate ways.

Then Phantom Menace came along.

Now, as a writer, one of my Achilles Heels (I have two) is under-explaining stuff. That’s something I’m working on, but I do so in moderation, because if anyone wants a really good example of what can go wrong when you explain things too much, and provide backstory demonstrably less cool than anything/everything your fans already imagined into those blank spaces, you need look no further than the Star Wars prequels.

When Phantom Menace came out, it was… well, it was what it was. I liked it well enough at the time. I still think it’s the best of the prequels, but that is very weak praise when you recognize how terrible I think the other two movies are.

Anyway, that movie left me theorizing about the (apparently) upcoming clone wars, and trying to reconcile Phantom Menace with my personal version of how Obi-wan and Anakin met.

My Clone Wars:

  • Obi-wan and Anakin would have met when Anakin’s more like 14 to 16. “He was already a great pilot,” but screw all that podracing bullshit. Anakin’s fighting a guerrilla war against local slavers. (Some of this isn’t what I thought at the time, but thanks to the Clone Wars animated series, Anakin and Slavery are strongly tied to each other, now, for me, and that’s fine.) Let it be Hutt Slavers on Tatooine, sure, because Lars and Beru are Luke’s Aunt and Uncle, so sure: Anakin’s from Tatooine. Fine. Point is: He is Already Fighting a War when We Meet Him.
  • The nature of sentient freedom would be a – if not THE – central theme. In general, the Star Wars galaxy has a Fucked. Up. relationship with sentient freedom. Slavery is rampant, especially when it comes to non-humans. Clones are/were only slightly less disposable than aluminum cans and were genetically hobbled to encourage obedience. Droids (and any humans with computer parts in their head) – all clearly sentient – are managed with slave collars (restraining bolts) and regular/frequent lobotomies (memory wipes) whenever they start to get to the point where their developing personality makes them less than completely tractable.
  • Anakin kind of pulls Obi-wan (and eventually, by extension, many other Jedi) into helping him with this ‘little war’, and the whole thing blossoms (with the helpful machinations of Palpatine/Sidious) into something not unlike the U.S. Civil War, with unclear battle lines drawn in such a way as to cause rifts in every major faction (including the Jedi).
  • Clones are on the ‘other’ side, as (basically) slave troops for … I dunno. The Hutts/Genosians? Sure that works. You know what? The second movie is call “Attack of the Clones” – but they aren’t attacking the POV characters, they’re defending them. Either the name is stupid (it is) or the plot is stupid (also yes), or whoever named it didn’t pay any goddamned attention to the movie they’d made (no comment).
  • We’d even get defecting clone units that join the ‘good guys’ (I put that in air quotes because, as we’ve seen, pretty much everyone in the galaxy has a fucked up idea of what’s okay and not okay when it comes to ‘lesser’ sentients.)
  • The Mandalorians are just a merc army the Hutts hired to fight the Republic, like the Hessians of the 18th century.
  • The Jedi aren’t the Catholic Church of Rome depicted in all the prequels – they’re a loose affiliation of wandering knights, roaming the galaxy, with maybe some central monastery gathering places. This loose affiliation means we get Jedi on both sides of the war.
  • We’d get to see the Hutt tanks that, by Return of the Jedi, have been cannibalized into pleasure skiffs.
  • Screw all that noise about Anakin being the Chosen One. What purpose does that serve? He’s powerful in the force (stick with what Ben said), excels in the training Obi-wan gave him, and is driven by a great and terrible purpose: freedom for all. (He would also be, by most viewers’ lights, right.)
  • The Jedi never figure out Palpatine is also Darth Sidious because Palpatine isn’t Darth Sidious – he’s a clone of Sidious (the prototype product of the cloning technology) that Sidious groomed to handle the mundanities of Coruscant politics. Once Palpatine gets the Big Chair in the Senate and gets granted all his Emergency Authority, Sidious kills him and takes his place, because the Jedi are long past suspecting Palpatine of having any Sith powers.

Anakin ultimately wipes out the Jedi because, after years of fighting, ‘his’ forces have pushed the Hutts back to just a few systems – the good guys are winning – and the Jedi “peacekeepers of the galaxy” secretly meet with the Hutts and negotiate a cease fire that lets the Republic stop fighting and lets the Hutts keep all the slaves they still control. Huge betrayal that Palpa-Sidious capitalizes on to turn Anakin, who proceeds to hunt down the Jedi like The Kurgan in Highlander.

His fight with Obi-wan leaves him nearly dead and/or dying, at which point Sidious slaps him into a cybernetic support system that – guess what? Pretty much makes him the Emperor’s puppet.

He will live out the rest of his days as The Most Powerful Slave.

Why do you think he’s got so much anger to channel?

Converting Starship Stats from WEG to Fate

Contrary to the evidence from this and previous posts, I am definitely not running thinking about running a Fate-based Star Wars game. I’m not. Shut up.

sos

Basic Guidelines:

  • If you’re in a personal ship (where you’re in some way the ‘crew’ – usually indicated by an Aspect), use your skill rating instead of the ship’s skill, with the ship giving a flat +1 to the roll if its related skill is 2 or higher.
  • If you just hopped into a ship and started doing stuff (see: Rey and Finn in the Falcon), use the ship’s skill for any related action, with your skill providing a +1 ‘assist’.

Conversion:

  • In general: 1D in WEG = +1 in Fate. Ignore all ‘pips’ on WEG stats.

  • Maneuverability/Shields: add Maneuverability to Shield rating (if any) and convert the total 1:1 for “Defense” roll bonus (2D + 1D = +3 Defense in Fate.)

  • Space: Divide by 4 and round down for situational bonus to Overcome rolls for moving between zones. Use the same number for Atmospheric fights.
  • Hull: Each full D of hull gives the ship one stress box.
  • Sensors: Straight 1:1 conversion for related contests.
  • Weapons:
  • Convert Fire Control 1:1 for ship’s “Shoot” skill.
  • Divide Damage dice by 3 (round down) and give the ship that much Harm rating. (6D = 2 Harm, 5D = 1 harm, et cetera).
  • Ion weapon damage cannot be mitigated with Stress, only Consequences.

  • Differences in vehicle Scale converts 1:1 for bonuses and penalties, as appropriate. (A 2-shift difference in scale in WEG gives the larger ship -2 to defense, -2 to attacks, 2 levels of Protection (shift damage down by 2), and +2 to damage. Conversely, the smaller ship gets +2 to defense and attack, shifts damage taken up by 2, and does -2 damage.

  • It may feel more accurate to the source material to give BOTH the smaller and larger ships a bonus to Defend rolls – the smaller ships are harder to hit, while the bigger ships’ shields are harder to get through.
  • Create Advantage rolls can do wonders here by giving opponents the ability to take out gun emplacements, shield generators, propulsion, et cetera. (Example: Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebel’s Siege of Lothal destroys a rebel cruiser with a single TIE fighter by stacking a pile of Create Advantage rolls and then one-shotting the target.)

Finally: Eyeball the resulting conversion, tweak anything that seems wrong, and slap a couple aspects or a stunt on it, as needed.

Mulling over a Star Wars game

mos eisley

Like (I imagine) a lot of folks, I’ve been thinking about how I’d run a Star Wars game, if I were going to run a Star Wars game.

Main problem? Too many viable answers.

  1. I loved playing WEG’s d6 game when I was in college. The system doesn’t scale particularly well, but I’m enough of a realist to acknowledge that I’m probably not going to run a campaign long enough for that to be a problem. It’s a fun system.

  2. If I was going to run a game OMG RIGHT NOW, there’s about a 70% chance I’d just grab FAE and go, with no tweaks.

    • If I expected the game to go more than a few sessions and still wanted to use something like FAE, I’d tweak Jadepunk, renaming Aristocrat to something like “Leader”, maybe, and ditching the Jade-related stuff. The character aspect structure is good, and the Assets system has a good amount of depth for codifying gear like ships and lightsabers and cool battle armor. (There’s just enough gear porn in Star Wars gaming to make this attractive.)
  3. Use the PtbA-simplified Streets of Mos Eisley playset (basically a World of Dungeons hack1). Then bolt on a few other bits, namely:
    • Renaming the stats to the same Jadepunkish approaches (Leader, Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, Scholar, Scoundrel). I like this for several reasons, mostly related to having nice variation between people playing the ‘same’ class. There’s some really cool synergy between the SoME classes and stats that aren’t so much stats as FAE-like approaches. Jedi with high Scholar and Leader is a very different character than a Jedi with High Fighter and Scoundrel. You can do general NPCs easily just by not giving them a class.

    • Add Bonds (renamed Connections) as they are used in Worlds in Peril, allowing them to be ‘burned’ (lowered) for roll bonuses, and requiring a Connection to the Force for force-users or potential force-users (which value moves toward the Darkside when you Burn it, natch).

Note: Doubt I’m actually running a star wars game, but it’s what my brain is stuck on right now.


  1. Where World of Dungeons is basically a Dungeon World hack that asks “What if everything was a Defy Danger roll?”, and then demonstrates it would be pretty awesome.] 

The Real Dark Side of Star Wars: Spoilers

I need to talk about something pretty shitty, but it requires a little background information, first.

Many of you probably already know this background info, but some of you don’t, so I’m filling it in for them; everyone else, please bear with.


I doubt it will surprise anyone to know I’m a long time Star Wars fan boy.

Am I the biggest Star Wars fan boy who’s ever lived? No, most certainly not.

In fact (and this bit will shock the less-super-nerdy out there), there are groups of folks out in the world who, after examining the extent of my exposure to Star Wars “stuff”, would decide quite seriously that I’m not a real Star Wars fan at all, or at least not a serious one.

The funny thing is, it’s hard to even explain this without getting at least somewhat nerdy, but I’m going to try. (In my head, as I write this, I’m talking to my sister, which is how I approach more posts than anyone would imagine.)

Now, a lot of people – most people – who say they like Star Wars mean they like the movies, because that is literally the only Star Wars thing they know about. I’m going to call these folks “mainstream fans.”

Obviously (because as a species, we really can’t leave this kind of shit alone) there is a lot more Star Wars stuff out there – more stuff than you’d readily believe. Games, of course. Comics – fucking walls of comics – and enough novels to fill a library.

Collectively, all the stuff that isn’t the movies has been (until recently) referred to as the Star Wars “Extended Universe” or “EU”. The quality of the stuff varies, and by “varies” I mean some of it is pretty good, and some of it is pants-on-head fucking idiocy that makes Jar Jar Binks look as cool as Chewbacca, by comparison.

How does stuff like that get the official stamp of approval? Pretty simple: George Lucas really likes making money, and people are willing to pay him a whole shit ton of money to play in his backyard, so he lets them write novels with Force-nullifying space-sloths (yes, seriously) and puts the Official Rubber Stamp on it, because (a) he got money and (b) he knew if he ever came out with a movie that contradicted stuff people had written, his version would invalidate all the drek he’d authorized in the past, so who cares?

In general, I don’t follow the EU stuff, and (with the exception of the first Star Wars roleplaying game that anyone licensed) don’t know much about it.

The quick summary: there is miles and miles of EU stuff, set anywhere from 30 thousand years before to several hundred years after the movies ‘mainstream fans’ know; the whole thing is an virtually unchartable hot mess…

And there are fans out there who know every single inch of it. Or most of it. Certainly more of it than I do. I’ll call them super-fans.

Now: I have no beef with those super-fans. None.

Okay so far? Good.

Now: Enter Disney.

A few years ago, Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property and announced they were going to start doing stuff with it, and that George Lucas wouldn’t have very much if anything to do with it. (Which, after the prequels, was kind of a relief to hear.)

And Disney took a long look at the Extended Universe stuff and, after some thought, said “Yeah that’s… nice and all… but… yeah. None of that shit is official anymore.”

Basically, they boiled down “Official Star Wars” to the movies, the Clone Wars animated series that ran a few years ago, and whatever stuff they make from here on out (like the totally amazing and fun Star Wars Rebels show, a couple new novels, and of course the new movies coming out).

All that EU stuff? It’s not the “Extended Universe” anymore; it’s “Star Wars Legends” which, honestly, I think is a great name – it implies these are stories about the Star Wars universe (which they are, of course) but just that: stories. Unverifiable. Unverified. Unofficial. Enjoy them if you want – please, by all means – but know them for what they are.

Most – and I do mean most – super-fans were fine with this: they get to keep the stuff they’re into, and they get the biggest pop-culture engine in the world cranking out new Star Wars stuff until the heat-death of the universe finally invalidates Disney’s copyrights.

Some of the super-fans are not happy, and have decided to be unapologetically shitty human beings about the whole thing. I will call this small, vocal-like-a-screaming-howler-monkey subset of super-fans the “spoiler fans,” and here’s why:

These people have decided that it’s not enough that they have this stuff they like. Because Disney has said it’s not official stuff anymore, that somehow makes it impossible to love that stuff as much as they once did – their love is somehow capped by its lack of an official stamp, and this cannot be allowed to stand.

What do they want? This is pretty funny, actually: they don’t just want Disney to go back and say “okay, that stuff is still at least as official as it was when George Lucas was taking your money and planning on invalidating anything he felt like, whenever he felt like it” – they (apparently) want Disney to keep making EU stuff, in addition to the stuff Disney is already making.

“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “maybe they want a pony, too?”

And yeah, it’s kind of funny, until you realize the internet has allowed shitty people to be shitty on a far greater scale.

See, they’re trying to hold Star Wars hostage to get Disney to do what they want.

How? They have vowed that they will spoil each and every spoil-able moment in the new movie as loudly and as broadly as possible (which, today, is pretty loud and pretty broad), if Disney doesn’t cave.

You’ve probably seen those image memes on Facebook or whatever, asking people not to spoil the movie. I have, and thought “yeah, it would suck to be spoiled ahead of time.”

Because that can happen by accident. Well-meaning, happy, enthusiastic fans can get on the internet and broadcast out to their friends, joyfully exclaiming about all the stuff they loved about the movie, and accidentally spoil something for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, because how have you not seen it yet?!?

This isn’t that. This is not an accidental thing. This is not your friend loving the movie so much he spills something.

This is a guy standing outside the movie theater before The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for the line to form, and then telling every single person in line “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad.”

Except the guy has a megaphone the whole world can hear, if they aren’t careful, and he shouts the message at unexpected times.


I’m telling you about this, because it already happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

I leaned about this little movement of spoiler-fans via a friend’s post on Google+.

The very first comment to that post was one of these guys, and all he posted was a spoiler, and I am pretty sure he spoiled probably the biggest plot twist in the movie for me.

Now, obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so how do I know?

Let me put it this way: if that guy who came up to you in line at Empire Strikes Back had said, perfectly straight-faced “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad,” would you have believed him?

Maybe you think about it a bit, and it syncs up with everything you know about the movies thus far, and it syncs up with what you’ve seen in the trailers, and it just seems like a very Star Wars-y plot twist.

Maybe you don’t believe it, completely and totally, but you believe it enough that you will sit down in the theater and, basically, spend the whole movie waiting for that moment to come. Or not.

Even if it doesn’t, you will not have enjoyed the movie as much as you might have, because you were distracted. And if it does happen just as that guy said? Well.

That’s the kind of thing this guy posted. One line. Ten words, and there goes my 100% unmitigated enjoyment of the new movie.

Now, shut up: this isn’t about me. Yes, you’re very sorry about this happening. Yes. I love you. Thank you, now shut up for a sec.

Listen.

These fuckers are out there. They are doing this on purpose. They’re enjoyment of their pile of stuff has been somehow – idiotically – damaged; Disney made their Masters-level knowledge of a made-up universe less important than it already was, so they have decided to shit on every other person who wants to enjoy the new movie, because (apparently) “Fuck anyone who is enjoying themselves, if I am not.”

I don’t care about me. I’ve watched Empire Strikes Back probably thirty times, if not more, and I know – know I will enjoy it when I watch it again, because I’ll be watching it with my kids, and the shine hasn’t come off for them.

Because of that, I know I will enjoy this new movie when I watch it, because I will be watching it with my kids and even if I don’t feel the same sense of surprise and wonder as I might have, they will, and I will still get to feel that, through them.

And I know they will get to feel that, because I’m going to protect them from these… infantile man-children and their shit-spattering temper-tantrum.

Now: why did I write all this? Because I want to try to protect you, too.

When you see spoiler warnings, heed them. Stop thinking of spoilers as “that one little thing my super-happy friend let out after he saw the movie” and start thinking “halitosis-reeking stranger who wants to dip his filthy index finger in my morning coffee.”

From here until you see the movies, absolutely avoid comment sections on any Star Wars-related post on any kind of social media.

Just… for a few days, expect people you don’t know to be kind of shitty for no good reason.

I realize that’s kind of a downer message, but seriously: I want you to enjoy the movie.

And also, yeah: I want those petty fuckers to lose, because fuck them.

(Comments on this post are disabled, for obvious reasons.)

Random Update: What am I playing?

I’ve accidentally taken a fairly long break from gaming, whether you are talking about table top or computer games. The last thing I played with any kind of regularity was the Infinite Crisis MOBA, with Kaylee, over the summer. When that game’s cancellation was announced, it kind of took the wind out of my sails – both mine and Kaylee’s, to be honest.

It seems silly to mourn a game as relatively content-free as a MOBA, but Kaylee and I were really enjoying ourselves with it, and enjoying our time together. After that, the only thing we’ve been playing that I might sort of consider a game is Minecraft. Fun, especially once we got a home server set up, but very intermittent. (There was a point where basically everyone in the house was playing Minecraft, everyday, on one platform or another, but some of us lost our taste for the pocket edition when Sean accidentally deleted a few important world’s off our tablets.)

For all intents and purposes, we went through most of the summer without any gaming, with the exception of some Dungeon World.1

Ironically, the looming arrival of the new free to play model for Wildstar is what got me back to doing at least a little bit of online gaming, if not tabletop. I say ironically, because while Wildstar was what brought the idea back to my mind, that particular game remains barely playable for me, even weeks after the roll out of the new FTP platform. In other words, I would get in the mood to check out Wildstar, fail to be able to play, then log into something else. That went on long enough that I started getting excited about playing the other games, and still haven’t managed to actually get back to Wildstar.

So what have I been playing?

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I was very excited about this game when it first came out, and enjoyed it fairly well, but it never really clicked for Kate and I, and following the huge disappointment of Mass Effect 3, it was pretty easy to let this fellow Bioware-title fall off my radar a few months (maybe just one month) after it went live.

In the intervening time – almost 2 years – the game has switched to a free-to-play model and generally improved the play experience. It isn’t anything groundbreaking, and I’m not even sure it’s really Star Wars in the same way that something like Disney’s Rebels is, but lately I’ve been getting a yearning for a galaxy far away, and enjoying playing all these characters I haven’t seen in several years.

The game developers have done an especially good job at streamlining the leveling experience, to the point where you can essentially play only the storyline quests that are specifically related to your class, ignore everything else, and have no problem leveling through the content appropriately.2 This makes the entire leveling game a very repeatable experience, since all of the cutscenes and story are different for each class, even if you are going to the same planets and adventuring against the same backdrop. I certainly have no problem repeating content in BioWare games – I played through all of the Mass Effect series with six different characters and all of the Dragon Age series with 3 or 4 different characters – but basically having no repetition in the story in an MMO is pretty sweet.

Amusingly (for a Star Wars game), I really really don’t like playing most of the force users. The melee classes are a bit of a pain to play in any case, and to be perfectly honest Jedi with lightsabers don’t really feel like they’re hitting very hard, so the whole thing isn’t very satisfying. 3

By comparison, the mundane classes like Imperial Agent, Scoundrel, and especially Trooper and Bounty Hunter are tons of fun to play. Bounty Hunter/Trooper is definitely my favorite for game play, but I do have to give props to scoundrel for getting me to actually enjoy a stealth class, and Imperial Agent for a storyline that really makes me feel like I’m playing an MI:5-style espionage game. It is remarkably easy to work out backstory and motivations for all the characters I’m playing, which lends depth and interest to the (otherwise cosmetic) choices Bioware throws in my way.

EvE Online

I let my subscription to Eve lapse about 6 months ago (I really had no interest in doing any gaming while unemployed between permanent positions, which is a whole blog post in and of itself), and I haven’t really jumped back in with both feet yet, but I am playing a little bit and paying a bit more attention to the changes coming down the pipe between now and the end of the year.

The Secret World

TSW is always there for me, much like Lord of the Rings Online (I’ve got a lifetime subscription to both), though they scratch very different itches. I haven’t needed the LotRO itch scratched much, lately, but TSW’s conspiracy-laden world? That’s good stuff.

What am I not playing?

That’s really the big question, and the simple answer is I’m not playing any table-top or Hangouts/Roll20-based role playing games right now, which is a pretty big failing, as far as I’m concerned, since there’s so many I would like to be playing. My roll20 subscription is entirely up to date, and I really ought to be making use of it. More on that in another post.


  1. Great system, but the GM (me) had an obsession with using the Dragon Age setting that chilled player interest. 
  2. To use LotRO as an example: this would be like changing the XP rewards so that you could level up doing nothing but the “Book” quests and ignoring everything else, except that in The Old Republic, everyone classes “book” story is different. 
  3. The only exception to this is my Sith sorcerer, since she sits back and range and smites the entire landscape with lightning. 

Another good article on how people enjoy games

Money quote: "And so help me, if you try to explain the difference between buy-in and immersion and engagement in my comment space, I will find you and I will kill you."

I think that's entirely fair.

Gaming for Fun (Part 2): Getting Engaged | The Angry GM
The Angry GM delivers advice to players and dungeon masters of fantasy role-playing games with humor, snark, and attitude. Game masters and players are sure to find something of use, whether they are playing AD&D, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, 5E, Pathfinder, D&D Next, or any other role-playing game.

Very interesting read on game design

Definitely looking forward to Part 2, and (of course) I've started looking at my own gaming and that of those close to me to see how they line up to these theories.

Gaming for Fun (Part 1): Eight Kinds of Fun | The Angry GM
The Angry GM delivers advice to players and dungeon masters of fantasy role-playing games with humor, snark, and attitude. Game masters and players are sure to find something of use, whether they are playing AD&D, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, 5E, Pathfinder, D&D Next, or any other role-playing game.

RPGs with my Family: Dungeon World

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a chance to play any “of your cool games” with my niece and nephew (see here for the last time), but my family was coming out, and I’d been informed that they definitely wanted to play SOMEthing.

They didn’t really say what, so I talked it over with Kaylee and after some back and forth, we figured we’d go with Fate Accelerated if they really wanted to play using the same system we’d used last time, and Dungeon World if they didn’t have a preference. (Kaylee was keen to do Dungeon World in a freeform setting, rather than the Dragon Age game we played about twelve sessions of this summer – she thought that setting would be “too rough.”)

Unlike last time, I’m not going to get into an actual play, because this time wasn’t much like last time.

For starters, we didn’t get nearly as much time to play as we did during the last visit; last time was during the holiday break, my sister was out for most of a week, and our two youngest kids were at daycare for several of the days, so we had all kinds of uninterrupted free time. This time, we had eleven people banging around the house, only two evenings where the kids were all staying in the same house, and we weren’t able to even talk about the game until about 9pm, both nights.

But WITH THAT SAID, I am still really impressed with the background and story Malik, Jadyn, and Kaylee were able to put together in very little time playing Dungeon World – a game meant to represent a genre my niece and nephew knew only as “pretty much like The Hobbit.”

IMG_20150829_232619

We basically started from nothing, with no background at all. The kids picked out characters to play from the stock list. Once we got to the part where everyone defined Bonds with each other, I started asking questions, and their answers created everything about the situation and the world we were playing in.

I could go into some detail, but the upshot is that after maybe a half hour of Bonds-related questions, we had a bustling, cosmopolitan city ruled by a noble class secretly infected by vampirism over the last decade. Our heroes (a former-noble thief, bard with expertise in the undead, and priest of secrets, magic, and mayhem) were dead-set (heh) on exposing the vampiric nobility to the masses and bringing down the secret regime.

This from a 10, 12, and 16 year old – two of which don’t have any real exposure to the genre, at all.

Many of the newer RPGs out there suffer (in my opinion) from a kind of assumption of familiarity from the players. In some (worse) cases, the assumption goes further, figuring the players will not only know the genre(s), but get the irony of the game/setting/mash-up — in most cases, it makes the game uninteresting or unplayable for my young family members.

In this case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a game that could take real newbies and help them get a solid game going.

We didn’t get enough time to play – not a fraction of ‘enough’ – but we certainly wished we could, because the game we’d come up with (thanks in no small part to the way Dungeon World is set up) was engaging and exciting and, put simply, fun.

Five of five stars, will definitely play again.

Getting caught up on #RPGaDay2015

http://autocratik.blogspot.com/2015/06/rpgaday2015-this-august-it-is-happening.html

August 1 : Forthcoming game you're most looking forward to

My daughter +Kaylee Testerman and I are both excited about the Legend of the Elements rpg, for reasons I believe will be obvious.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/686114674/legend-of-the-elements

August 2 : Kickstarted game most pleased you backed

In terms of a kickstarter that's resulted in the most play-time for me, I think that probably has to be either the Fate kickstarter, or the one for Dungeon World. I've gotten more play out of Fate, though, so let's call that one the winner here.

August 3 : Favorite Game of the last 12 months

I'm saying Dungeon World here, even though it's not new to anyone but me and my daughter. It's still new for us, and fun, and that's enough for me.

August 4 : Most Surprising Game

That's Monster of the Week, which I really didn't expect to care about very much, and which I really, really like, and want to run.

Legend of the Elements by Max Hervieux — Kickstarter
Max Hervieux is raising funds for Legend of the Elements on Kickstarter!

Elemental magic, martial arts and wuxia action meet in this tabletop roleplaying game inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender!

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #5: Tearful Farewells

After Kaylee voiced her concerns with the way things were going during the last session, we started off this session by immediately addressing what was going on in her other brother’s rooms – to address Kaylee’s concern about Elana’s little nephew being killed.

While her mother wailed and beat her breast a bit, leaning on the splintered doorway and urging Elana to “just look away”, Elana looked closer, and realized that neither the woman nor the boy on the floor had the right hair color for her sister in law or her nephew. A Discern Realities confirmed the victims were the two guests of her sister in law, and that Oren and his mother must be somewhere else.

Elana figured that, if they’d realized something was going wrong in the castle, Oren would have hidden and since Elana had been his default playmate/babysitter for the last few years, she had a pretty good guess where he might have gone (actually, she had three good guesses, and checking out Oren’s hiding spots would take some sneaking about the castle).

With this information in hand, Elana and her mother set out to look for Oren and reunite with Elana’s father (hopefully).

Along the way, I had Kaylee Defy Danger to get through the castle without running into more Howe guards while she checked a few of Oren’s hidyholes. She got a mixed success, at which point I threw a couple panicky castle servants in her path. They were freaking out and wanted to run for their lives, and Kaylee wanted to calm them down and get them to stay with her and her mother. Sounds like a Parley move. Kaylee got a mixed success, so she needed to arm the servants before they developed enough backbone to stick around – this, she accomplished by backtracking to the dead Howe guards outside the family suites and taking their weapons.

Having expanded her little group, I then had a small patrol of Howe guards stumble into them (mixed success on that defy danger, after all), and we had a bit of a skirmish, which they handled fairly well (Kaylee was much less inclined to take a hit to protect a servant, but luckily for him it didn’t come up.

They eventually made their way to the main hall of the castle, where Ser Gilmore and few men are in the process of being overwhelmed by an equal number of Howe soldiers, plus two archers and a circle mage. Kaylee wanted to get the drop on the mage, so I asked for a Defy Danger (the danger being the mage spotted her and lit her up like a votive candle) – she got a complete success, which allowed her to use her Ranger “called shot” move on the mage: in this case, an automatic hit, with enough rolled damage to take him out in one shot as she and the others surged into the room. It was a brief, fierce battle, but with Wolf mucking up the archers and the servant and Elana’s mother flanking the soldiers, most everyone came out in good shape.

Ser Gilmore sent his men to reinforce the main doors (already being pounded on from outside) and hurriedly reported Teryn Cousland had headed for the servants’ entrance to keep (in the kitchens) to secure it for his family’s escape. Duncan the Grey Warden had gone with him.

Elana wanted to go her father, but wanted Ser Gilmore to go. Parlay did not work out for her in this case, and Gil stood his ground, saying he’d hold the gate until the family could escape, as was his duty. Elana nodded, resigned, and Gil ran off to the doors.

Elana and her mother headed for the kitchens, and found the halls oddly silent. The kitchen, by contrast, was a warzone – Howe bodies everywhere, in what must have been a massive melee. Elana followed a blood trail into the pantry, and found her father propped up against the intact bags of flour. Duncan was nowhere to be seen.

Father, mother, and daughter had a quick reunion, and Bryce confirmed that Oren and his mother were already out in the stables, hiding. Whew. Elana wanted to get him up and get them all out of there, but Bryce shook his head.

“I’m afraid I would not survive the standing…”

Duncan (who had been chasing down the last Howe soldier from their previous fight) returned. Bryce asked the Grey Warden for his help in getting his family to safety, and Duncan said he would, with conditions: he’d come to Highever to claim a recruit, and he and his duty demanded he find that recruit if at all possible. With Ser Gilmore unavailable… he looked to Elana.

Bryce closed his eyes and nodded. “If you get the rest of my family – my grandson and his mother and my wife away, then yes.” He looked at Elana “our duty is to protect Ferelden and then our family – in this new service, you will be doing both.” Elana nodded.

They got ready to depart, but Elana’s mother refused, saying she wasn’t going to leave her husband behind.

Kaylee’s response was a shouted “Aww come on!” and she tried to talk her mother into going with them, to take care of Oren, if nothing else. I called for a Parley, and she blew it (earning the last XP she needed to get to level 2).

“It’s your time to shine, my daughter. Tell Fergus what’s happened. Tell the King. Get away from here, and I will buy you time.”

Elana and her father had a few more words, which I’m a bit proud to say had us both smiling sadly and a little misty eyed. It was a sad scene, but a good one, and cemented Arl Howe as a long-term bad guy for both Elana and Kaylee.

She and Duncan got the stables, took up Oren and his mother, then snuck out of the the castle and into the city of Highever. There, Duncan led them to a “potential recruit” named Ser Jory – a big man with a farmer’s face and a very pregnant wife. After some talk, they came up with a plan for Ser Jory and his wife to head to Denerim (the capital) with their new “maidservant” and Jory’s new “son”, there to wait for word from either Elana or Fergus.

With that, Duncan and Elana headed for the city gates.

“Horses can wait,” murmured Duncan. “For now, we need to get away from here. Stealth first, then speed, then Ostagar.”

“And the king,” said Elana. She had much to tell him.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #4: Lines and Veils

The title for this post doesn’t have anything to do with the story of what happened in the game. It has everything to do with what happened with me and my player.

“Lines” and “Veils” are terms originally used in this context with Ron Edwards’ Sex and Sorcery, a supplement for Sorcerer. The basic idea is there’s a line that marks subject matter that isn’t allowed in-game, and a “veil” behind which lie events with are allowed, but not described in detail.

I try to be the best dad I can be, but sometimes I miss the mark. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Dragon Age that there’s some subject matter that doesn’t suit everyone, either because it’s a bit too graphic, or (more often) because it plays hardball with the emotions, and sometimes I don’t successfully identify what those elements are, and need them pointed out.

It’s like this: every time I’ve run any tabletop game based in Thedas, someone at the table has teared up. Once it was over a dog, and I stuck to my guns. Once it wasn’t, and I realized I’d missed the mark.

This time, I flubbed up or nearly flubbed up a couple times, so by all means learn from my mistakes.

Before we played, I made a few notes about the main NPCs in this part of the story, and what they wanted, so I could act accordingly. The two main ones:

  • Arl Rendon Howe – wants to “reclaim” the seat of Highever that his family once held (many generations ago). He will stop at nothing to accomplish this, up to and including the murder of innocents. He has orchestrated a situation in which he has the overwhelming advantage, playing on the trust Teryn Bryce Cousland has in him.
  • Duncan – needs a strong Grey Warden candidate to bring back to Ostagar. He has several options within Castle Cousland, and won’t leave without one of them, unless staying means the failure of his whole mission.

Howe Treachery

In the night, Arl Howe’s “delayed” troops reveal themselves and attempt to seize the castle. This force vastly outnumbers the skeleton crew of Cousland guards within the keep, and it’s only through the quick thinking of one (now deceased) guard that the Howe forces don’t take the castle and kill everyone in a matter of minutes: most of the attacking troops are still outside, trying to bash their way through the keep’s heavy portcullis and front gates, both of which have been secured with deadman weights that take a dozen men to lift.

Although she went to bed early, Elana does not sleep well. Her rest is troubled by a disturbing dream in which she relives the earlier conversation with her father, while the face of a simpering Arl Howe transforms into the narrow, long-nosed mask of one of the fat grey-bodied rats she fought in the pantry.

It’s almost a relief when Wolf’s ferocious barking wakes her. Normally, she’d try to keep him quiet, as her quarters connect via a large common room with the other family apartments (one suite for her mother and father; the other for her brother, his wife, and their son), and she’s gotten in trouble for her furry companion’s noise, in the past.

She shushes her pet, but he won’t be entirely silenced, and continues to growl menacingly at the door to her room. Elana remembers both the pantry and her “Arl Howe as Evil Rat” dream, and both things prompt her to action: she eases out of her bed and over to a chest where she’s tossed her armor and other weaponry.

Finally, she shushes Wolf properly, and prepares to pull open her door to see what’s going on out there.

Kaylee doesn’t know why yet, but this action triggers a Defy Danger move, and I have her roll.

No one, least of all the two soldiers on the other side of the door, were expecting the result.

She nails the roll, and pulls open her door just as the soldier outside was about to kick it in. He sprawls in the doorway, doing a painful split, while his companion (holding a nocked bow), gawps.

To her credit, Elana’s first instinct isn’t to run a helpless man through. She demands to know what’s going on, but the only response is the man on the ground scrambling back and getting to his feet (she notices the emblem of Arl Howe on his shield), and the other man growling “kill her!”

Kaylee pulls a nice little tactical move, drawing back to the right and hard against the wall, so the archer has no angle on her and the closer soldier will have to come partway into the door to engage her, blocking his ally.

After some goading, the guy with the shield surges in, head on a swivel, and he locks in on Elana.

Unfortunately, he forgot about Wolf, who rushes him from the side, and with that distraction, Elana is able to run him through, just above the neckline of his armor.

This was the first point where we hit a slight disconnect between Kaylee’s expectations and the fiction. She’s played tons of games with me, but they’ve almost all been supers genre, or inspired by stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender or pulp adventure. In short, they may have a lot of action, but generally, no one’s dying.

Basically, this more brutal fantasy setting was a surprise to her, and she hesitated more than a little when she realized her character had actually killed someone. It didn’t freak her out, exactly, but it set her back on her heels a little bit.

The archer had pulled back further into the common room, and Elana didn’t have any desire to charge a drawn longbow. Much better to engage in kind. Elana’s bow was still on the chest, on the other side of the room, so Elana dove across the doorway to get to it.

I called for a Defy Danger + DEX, and Kaylee blew the roll (and got a point of XP!). I asked her if she was going to get hit, or if Wolf was going take the damage for her (and be out of the rest of the fight) – the bow sang, Elana pushed Wolf ahead of her, and the arrow went halfway through her calf muscle. OW.

Kaylee’s character actually got the crap beat out of her during this and the next session – by the time it was all done, she was down to single digit hit points and I was skimming the “Last Breath” move.

Another side note: There’s actually a Ranger move that lets your animal companion soak a hit for you, then recover later. I wasn’t using that move (Kaylee doesn’t have it), but simply giving her a hard choice on her failed roll. Kaylee really doesn’t like her pet taking a hit in her place (also, he really does help with the fights).

Elana gets her bow while the bowman taunts her. She readies her arrow, holds Wolf back by his collar, and then whispers “Go.” Wolf charges through the door, and Elana steps out (onto her good leg) and Kaylee rolls Volley + Dex, getting perfect boxcars. The archer wastes his shot, missing Wolf, and drops before the war hound even reaches him.

Elana calls the dog back immediately and scans the large common room. Two more guards are pounding on the double doors leading into her parents apartments, making a great deal of noise (they’ve almost gotten through and are shouting threats at whoever’s inside). They haven’t noticed what’s going on on behind them.

Kaylee wants to sneak out and surprise them with her bow, and a successful Defy Danger lets her do a called shot and take one guy out before they realize she’s there. The other guy dies before he can reach her.

She rushes to the door and calls out, and her mother responds, then forces the door open. She’s donned armor as well, and has a well-worn (if not recently worn) sword in hand. Her eyes go wide at the arrow sticking out of her daughter’s leg, and tears up a sheet to make bandages while they catch each other up. Elana’s father never came to bed – he was up talking with Arl Howe, and he mother doesn’t know if he’s even still alive. If he is, he’s probably in the main hall, defending the main entrance into the keep. Her mother, once shown the Howe blazon on the soldiers’ shields, is livid and swearing a blue streak.

Her mother then has Elana bite down on one of her own arrow shafts while she works the other shaft out of Elana’s leg, bandages the wound, and tells her they need to get to the main hall.

Heading back down the common room, they see the door to her brother’s rooms, broken off its hinges, and two bodies on the floor within – one woman, and one child.

We stop there for the night.

On the whole it was a good session, and Kaylee was really into the scenes and the tactics of it, but a few minutes after she went to bed, she called me in and told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep playing.

I asked her why, and she told me that she wasn’t used to the kind of fighting we were doing. I’d been going into lots of detail about what was going on the fights, but thing is, I was going into the wrong kind of detail – stuff she wasn’t comfortable with. I told her that I could be more vague about certain things – saying “he goes down” or “she out of the fight” to kind of soften things up (put it behind a “veil”), but the setting was the sort of thing where people were going to die, so we needed to be at least okay with that, or we should stop.

She was okay with “vague death,” but then went on to say she really wasn’t okay with what looked like her character’s six year old nephew getting killed. This was much more of a “lines” kind of conversation, and I reassured her that while things were pretty grim in her brother’s room, they weren’t as bad as they seemed, and if she’s trusted me to do another session, we could work through that.

So: some stuff goes behind veils, and some stuff needs to be behind a line and just not get touched. In hindsight, I should have guessed all that ahead of time, but I got wrapped up in (a) getting the narration to work with and for the rules “right” and (b) the setting and the story. My bad. I have to say, I came away from the after-session conversation very impressed with how Kaylee was able to articulate exactly what bothered her and what she wanted to do about it.

And the next session ended up being pretty darn awesome for both of us, even though…

Well.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #3: Getting Things Started

I promise I’m (almost) done mulling over game systems and talking about what might or might not work.

Instead, lets talk about the game and what really did or did not work.

Character Generation

Character generation in Dungeon World is dead simple, and gets even simpler when you have only one player, because you won’t run into a problem where two players want to play the same character class.

At least, that’s theory I went in with.

The problem is, Kaylee can’t decide between the Druid (animal shapeshifting is a big draw) and the Ranger (animal companion is almost as good as shapeshifting, plus some cool stuff with bows and dual wielding). She also takes a hard look at Wizards, but isn’t ready to with the extreme social stigma mages suffer in this setting, first hand.

Eventually (and I do mean eventually) she settles on Ranger, and after a bit more dithering, decides to be a human. Female dwarves don’t appeal at this point, and the elves backstory is (like the circle mages) a little too oppressive to be attractive.

I sell her on having Mabari Warhound as her animal companion (she names him “Wolf” to make my future narrations extra confusing), which probably indicates that she’s either very lucky, a noble, or both. She writes down a bond with Wolf (he’s smart enough for it to be relevant/changeable).

We talk a little more about where she wants to start out, and between that and the history bits that she likes, I decide to save myself some time and start out with something a lot like the Human Noble origin from the video game.

Sort of.

Welcome to Castle Cousland

For generations, your family, the Couslands, has stewarded the lands of Highever, earning the loyalty of your people with justice and temperance. When your country was occupied by the Orlesian Empire, your father and grandfather served the embattled kings of your land. Today, your father and elder brother once again take up House Cousland’s banner in service to the Crown——not against the men of Orlais, but against the bestial darkspawn rising in the south.

Blah blah blah. I get Kaylee caught up on what’s going on in Ferelden right now: rumors of a rising darkspawn presence in the south of Ferelden has been confirmed, and a royal decree has gone out from King Cailan: All knights, banns, arls, and even the two teryns of Ferelden are tƒofo lead what forces they can muster to the ancient Tevinter fortress of Ostagar (originally constructed as a barrier to barbarian raids from the southern wastes); there to unite as one army to wipe out the darkspawn and stop a new Blight before it has even begun.

(It’s possible the King was raised on a few too man heroic tales as a boy, and wants his reign to be marked by thrilling heroics, one way or the other.)

More importantly to our young Elana Cousland, her father and brother are soon leading Highever troops south to Ostagar, her father’s highest-ranking Arl (Rendon Howe, of Amaranthine) rode in today, and her father has sent for her.

The thing is, Howe is here, but his troops aren’t. The tardiness of Howe’s men is being discussed in the main hall as Elana enters; Howe is all apologies and general swarminess, but Kaylee is playing Elana especially polite and obedient, so she doesn’t say much. Her father explains that due to the troop delay, he’s going to hold his departure, but send the Cousland forces ahead with Elana’s older brother Fergus; he also informs Elana she’s going to be left in charge of the castle until the two of them return (heady responsibility for someone only just turned 16). While they talk over particulars, something Elana asks about the fight reminds her father (and me) of another visitor at the castle, and he sends for Duncan, the leader of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden, who is passing through Highever on a final recruiting search before joining the King at Ostagar to face the Darkspawn.

Duncan

I wasn’t sure how Kaylee would react to the Grey Warden showing up – maybe eagerly volunteering? Who knows?

Turns out, while Kaylee is very into the Grey Warden thing, Elana isn’t so excited, and gets a little bug-eyed when Duncan gently jokes “I’m sure your Ser Gilmore is a fine candidate, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that your daughter would also make a fine Grey Warden…”

The Teryn shuts this down – he’s not eager to send all his children into war, and jokes that if he did, his wife wouldn’t let him see tomorrow – and this is what actually gets a rise out of Elana – she’s not eager to jump into the fray for no reason, but she’s even less happy about other people making decisions for her. She and her father politely snipe at each other about this (“I bet I could convince mother…” “I’d take that bet, and sell tickets…”) until her father begs off and Elana bows and heads out.

During this scene, I also mentioned Arl Howe doesn’t seem comfortable with grey warden showing up, which leads Kaylee to some actions that trigger a Discern Reality move that Kaylee maxed out – she picked up a few interesting bits from the conversation: Duncan didn’t really expect her to say yes, but felt he had to at least ask, Arl Howe is actually quite nervous at the unexpected arrival of the Grey Warden, and her father is proud that Duncan asked after her as a warden, even though he refused the request.

As a side note, I want to draw attention to the way I worded the previous paragraph: Kaylee took some actions that triggered a move – one of the ‘basic’ moves in Dungeon World that anyone can do.

This is familiar territory for Dungeon World or really * World players in general, but it bears calling out here, explicitly: there are a fairly low number of ‘moves’ available to players and their characters, and the dice mechanics for them (really the only dice mechanics in the game) are very simple: roll 2d6 and add the bonus from a relevant stat (STR, DEX, CON, INT… you get the drill). You’re awesome when you roll high, and results get progressively more interesting the lower you roll (really bad rolls also get you experience points – failure is the best teacher).

Now, the tricky trap here is that the GM does not just say “Okay, to do [whatever it is you’re doing], do a Strength check.” You could certainly play a game that way, ad-libbing your way through a series of stat checks (it’s probably the easiest way to add non-combat skill-like rolls to basic DnD), but that game is not Dungeon World.

In DW, there are no ad hoc stat checks like those I’ve described; there are a set list of basic moves, augmented by special case and character-specific moves, and each of those moves have very specific criteria that make each move available: the fiction/play needs to (1) show the character taking specific sorts of actions in (2) a specific sort of situation. Those two things then trigger the move, and allow dice rolling.

What this means is that the game system needs the players to describe what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and needs the GM to provide “sensory feedback” for whatever they’re doing, or the dice system kind of falls apart, or at least gets really boring. Now, This rolls into another one of those rules-that-just-look-like-advice: “moves must flow from the fiction, and the result of a move should be more fiction” (I’m paraphrasing). You never say “I’m going to hack and slash” and then roll – you describe your attack (what you’re doing, and how), which then triggers/justifies/allows a Hack and Slash roll, which results in more description.

In short, in order for Dungeon World to work, you need to play (and run) it a lot more like Amber (where the fiction is pretty much all you’ve got) or classic DnD (where you only have a combat system, so everything else was usually narration/fiction), and a lot less like a tactical mini-game (modern flavors of DnD).

I mention this because I did it correctly here, in this scene, and totally screwed it up a bit later, when we got to a fight. (In other words, I screwed up the element of the game where, over the years, I’ve picked up the bad habit of allowing the game system to stand in for coming up with cool narration.)

Mischief in the Pantry (Kill Ten Rats)

Where were we? Right: Elana makes her excuses and leaves Duncan, Arl Howe, and her father to talk.

She doesn’t get very far before Ser Gilmore finds her. Gil’s a good friend, only a few years older than her, and they grew up sparring together (against her mother’s half-hearted protests); Elana was more than a bit jealous when he was knighted two years ago. Gil informs her he’s on a mission from her mother: Elana’s dog (the Mabari war hound I mentioned) is in the massive pantry of the castle’s kitchen, Nan the cook is hot enough to boil water, and mother wants her to fix it.

Elana heads off to do so, with Gil tagging along (“to make sure it’s done, before your mother can find me again”). She gets to the kitchen, where Nan is threatening to skin her dog, and the kitchen servants are flat-out refusing to go into the pantry with “that beast” going crazy in there.

(Luckily, Kaylee and I know very well what a loudly barking dog is like – my imitation of this sound brings our own war hound racing into the room, quite confused.)

They head into the pantry. The dog isn’t chewing anything up or eating a prize roast – he’s sort of pacing, growling, and randomly barking his head off. He settles down somewhat when Elana gets there – less barking – but actually gets more anxious and antsy. Elana tries to figure out what’s going on, and a Discern Reality roll tells her that her dog’s body language is “Oh good, someone who understands me is now here and can FIX THE THING,” and that Wolf’s main stress seems to be focused on the back wall of the pantry, where there are a bunch of flour bags stacked up vertically. (“Like bowling pins,” is how Kaylee summarized it.)

Elana pulls one of the bags out of the way, and it comes apart in her hands; it’s been chewed through in the back, as have quite a few of the other bags, and the culprits – massive rats, “grey-bodied and fat, like ticks” – first cringe back and then burst into the room, swarming toward Elana.

Combat, as they say, ensues.

So here is the bit where I kind of screwed up. The introduction of the rats was suitably tense and creepy and really got Kaylee invested, but once the fight actually got going, my GM-ing muscle memory defaulted to something like “okay, it’s your go, roll hack and slash…” which is kind of terrible.

One of the main reasons it’s kind of terrible is because the GM doesn’t roll anything in DW – it’s all player rolls. If you do hack and slash, an awesome roll means you hit the guy and shut his offense down, a decent roll means you basically trade damage, and a bad roll means it’s all bad guy damage, incoming. So… if there’s little to no narration going on, it’s literally just a series of rolls by the players until the numbers on the paper all hit 0. Terrible with a group of players, outright horrible with only one player.

Luckily, I didn’t fail with the fiction more than a few times, because the dice system pushed me to come up with stuff on mixed results and failures anyway, which is FANTASTIC, because it forces the GM to figure out the fiction and come up with interesting failures, even if their default is kind of lazy “okay, your go, roll” stuff.

During the fight, I used mixed successes and failures to put some hard choices to Kaylee, including:

  • You can get the rats off you, or get them off your Dog. Who’s getting clear and who’s taking a hit? (She protected her dog. Good girl.)
  • You can leave yourself open to danger from behind, or cover Gil from the rats on the shelves he doesn’t see. (Again, covered her ally, not herself.)

The rats were wiped out (I made a ‘kill ten rats’ joke that Kaylee didn’t get, because I’ve failed as a father), Gil bandaged her injuries (“before your mother sees”), they calmed down the kitchen staff, and headed out with Wolf in tow.

The Dog Named Wolf.

After that, it was a bit more roleplay with Elana and her family members (Father, Mother, her brother Fergus, his wife, their son (her nephew Orin, ten years her junior and often her babysitting responsibility) and their “casual” noble guests (a friend of Elana’s sister-in-law, and her son, about Orin’s age).

Then Fergus rode out of the castle with all but a few of the Cousland guard with him, and the rest of the family had an early night.

Took awhile to talk about it, but the session was fairly short (as most of ours are, since we squeeze them in where we can), and we picked up in session two with a bad dream, and Wolf waking Elana up with some godawful loud barking in the middle of the night.

Post-game analysis

It was only after Kaylee was off to bed and I was replaying the session that I realized what I’d screwed up during the combat and, knowing what sort of things the NPCs were going to be trying to accomplish in the next session, I made a mental note to really go big on description/narration, so Kaylee would (a) follow suit and (b) have something to work with for her own narration.

This was absolutely the right thing to do, but (as I’ll share in the next post), there were some problems with going too big with narration – a “lines and veils” issue that I had to sort out with Kaylee, and which almost killed this game before it properly got going.

More soon!

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #2: Dungeon Age? Dragon World?

So I’m pondering Dungeon World with only one player, but player characters in DW need bonds with other characters, and maybe I can solve this with… companions? Persistent NPCs the player’s character can interact with in depth? This tickled something at the back of my brain – a region scientifically known as “that bit that makes me give BioWare too much money.”

As I’ve mentioned, I like Dragon Age (the RPG) and that’s at least partly because I love the setting for the Dragon Age video games – Thedas is a rich setting, and more than that it manages a potent mix of fresh invention and classic tropes – one might almost say cliches – of the genre; in many ways, there’s nothing especially new about the world BioWare presents in Dragon Age. Rich history, countries VERY OBVIOUSLY AND DIRECTLY based on real-world cultures, a rising evil, and a hero leading a motley band of misfits to save the world. It has, to put it lightly, been done.

But BioWare does it really, really well (most of the time). Then they do it again, then again, then again…

In short, it occurred to me that if I wanted to front-load some kind of heroic fantasy “thing” in a world with which I was quite familiar and which I already associated with the kind of “hero plus a double handful of role-play-linked NPCs”, I could hardly do better than starting with Thedas.

Thedas

With that said, there are all kinds of potential red flags with using this sort of solution with Dungeon World, mostly having to do with the fact that the game expects a lot of world building to emerge in play. But I had a pretty solid counter argument to that:

“Fuck it, it sounds fun.”

Still, I needed to make sure Kaylee agreed, so one evening we sat down and I went over the setting from roughly -6400TE to Sometime Yesterday Afternoon to see if anything in there sounded cool.

Result: LOTS of stuff sounded cool to her. The challenge then shifted to narrowing down to one or two places (both physically and temporally) that really grabbed her. We eventually winnowed it down to:

  • The Qunari arrival in the lands of Thedas (Zen-Communist Utopia Warriors invading evilish wizard empire).
  • The Grey Wardens (secretive organization dedicated to stopping the recurring arch-demon-led “Blights” that rise up to wipe out all life – who seem to know the only way to stop the Blights, with members from all sentient species and all disciplines).

We also talked about the various countries, and she really seemed to dig the reverse feudalism of Ferelden (where a noble’s job – one they can easily lose through incompetence or negligence – is essentially to protect local land owners and other civilians from predation, in return for… you know, payment).

So knowing she was into Grey Wardens, thought the Qunari were pretty cool, liked the idea of fighting a Blight, and liked Ferelden, it seemed pretty obvious we could basically start off in the same time-frame for Dragon Age: Origins, and then see how far we can blow those events to smithereens and do our own thing.

Thinking on it some more, I came up with a basic list of things to watch out for, and how to deal with them.

  • Don’t let the game run on video-game rails. This one is pretty obvious, but luckily it’s also pretty easy to deal with. The thing with Dungeon World (and, conveniently, my own play style) is that rather than some kind of meta-plot of events, you want to focus on people (well… “people”), what they want, and what they’re currently doing about it (see also: Towns in Dogs in the Vineyard). Anyone who’s played Amber with me knows that my between-game prep was basically just flipping through a complete deck of trump cards for all the NPCs (and places) and thinking about what they were doing either on their own or in reaction to whatever happened in previous sessions, and then playing accordingly in the next session. This is pretty darn close to how DW suggests managing the game’s “Fronts,” and conveniently, after mumble-hundred hours playing DA:O, I’m familiar with the various Fronts in that storyline, what they’re up to, and what they’re planning to do to get what they want. Out of necessity, the video game presents this stuff linearly, with set points in the story where interference is possible, but I can just wash all that cruft away and let the thing live and breathe. Spend a few evenings sketching out Fronts in the Dungeon World style, and I’m prepped.

  • Don’t try to map every event directly. Or: “don’t try to play through every single fight in DA:O.” Again, obvious, but worth keeping in the back of my mind. I want to focus on important social and martial conflicts, focus on the fiction, and focus on what my player is doing.

  • No custom playbooks to match the setting exactly. This may be something that makes both Dragon Age purists and *World hackers shake their heads a bit. In short, I’m just going to use the “classic” classes presented in Dungeon World – the ones pretty much any fantasy RPG player knows: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard, Ranger, et cetera – and shoehorn them into the roles presented in the Dragon Age fiction. There will be some tweaks made to Paladins to focus more on anti-magic stuff (since paladins will be templars) and basically all other magic-users (from Clerics to Wizards to Bards to whatever) will, within the fiction, just be different flavors of Mages (either Circle Mages or Apostates), and I’ll probably tweak the settings on multiclass moves so the lines between the spellcasting classes are a bit fuzzier, but otherwise, that’s about it. Dwarves won’t be clerics, and I might drop clerics entirely in favor of Circle Mages who use a move to learn spells from the Cleric list, just to keep magical healing roughly in line with the setting as presented.

But mostly, I don’t think I need to customize things. As much as I like the Dragon Age RPG, there are lots of different game-system ways to present Thedas, if you focus on the fiction.

“Focus on the fiction” is one of those tricky rules-that-don’t-look-like-rules that tend to crop up in Lumpley games, and it kind of tripped me up in our first session, which I’ll write about next.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #1: Just Figuring out What to Play

My gaming with Kaylee is fairly well documented and, in general, we’ve been pretty happy playing Fate or Fate Accelerated. It’s the sort of game that let’s me play pretty fast and loose with prep, and Fate Accelerated in particular gives us the flexibility to run pretty much any weird genre mashup Kaylee comes up with. All cool.

With that said, I’ve had an itch to try some different games. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Famliarity. While it’s easy to get excited about a new setting or story, it’s a little more difficult to get excited about the game system, since she and I are both quite familiar with Fate at this point.
  • “Same-Same.” Part of that familiarity brings along a sense that all of the obstacles and in fact the characters are a little bit… similar. Five aspects. Same numeric range on the same six approaches. Same numeric bonuses from the same number of Stunts. We can mix that up a bit by going for the more detailed Fate Core version, or something like Atomic Robo, or something even just a little more detailed like Jadepunk, but there’s an increase to overhead in there that doesn’t appeal to either of us at this point.
  • Tiny bit more crunch. I don’t like the way Fate “extras” are written, and Gear is gone in the current iteration, so if I want “stuff” that doesn’t just feel like a couple more aspects and stunt to keep track of, well… It’s hard to have them not feel like that, because in Fate that’s what they are.
  • Better failure incentives. Fate actually has decent incentives for failure. The problem is, the incentives for success (and the fuel – in the form of Fate Points) are stronger, and the mechanics are such that (at least in my experience), if you fail, it’s almost always because you let the other side win, like someone’s uncle “racing” their five-year old nephew across the backyard. Success is super easy, the instinct to win is natural and strong, the ability to do is right there, so while failure is often more interesting, it’s just as often disappointingly rare.

So, in short, we’re looking for something a little different not out of any lack of love for Fate, but just to shake things up a bit, ignite some excitement for a new system to go along with a new game, and maybe get a bit more “classic crunch” in there.

Now with that said, it’s no easy thing to just grab some other game, because I’ve got some counter-criteria.

  • Relative Simplicity. Kaylee can easily deal with any game system out there, I think. Certainly, something like 5e wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s always the chance Sean will pop in and want to play. I want to make that happen, and as I’ve explained before, my guideline for relative rules simplicity is “can a four year old manage it?” (This is one of the other reasons Fate Accelerated isn’t working really well right now: the +/- of the dice, subtraction that can go into negatives, et cetera definitely does not work for someone in Pre-K One.

  • Low Prep. I have the time and ability to prep a game at the point, I suppose, but I’d really rather have something that’s 25% prep and 75% happening in the game, at least in part because playing with Kaylee is extremely hit or miss: She might be tired, I might be tired, something might get in the way, and it might be weeks or even months before some big-prep thing actually sees the light of day. The return on investment for heavy prep is just not there.

  • Two-Person Friendly. – A whole bunch of RPGs want a handful of players, minimum. I could pull out DnD 5e (and I’d be happy to do so) and run Princes of the Apocalypse, but at that point either Kaylee is running three or four guys (with minimal attachment to any of them), or I’m using a spreadsheet and rebalancing the whole thing for one character which… no. No, I’m not doing that.

So, the mix of all these things eliminates a lot of games I’d normally be quite happy to run or play, under other circumstances.

  • DnD 5e. I like a ton of the stuff I’ve seen and read and heard about this game, but both prep and rebalancing encounters for a single hero is non-trivial.
  • Burning Wheel. I’ve read some great “solo hero” actual play reports, but again the prep (for someone not entirely familiar with the rules, due to lack of playing) strikes me as a way too much. Lots of stats for everything means a lot of prep. No.
  • Mouseguard. Hits a lot of the necessary criteria (prep is a dead-cinch, I know the system, I know what I’d change, and the mechanics and setting are Sean-friendly), but it’s a bit too far the other way in terms of interesting failure – solo MG would be brutal, and frankly that’s not what I feel like doing right now.
  • Dragon Age. I like the rules, and the simplicity, and the stunt system. Honestly I just like this game a whole bunch, but balancing to one player seems like an exercise in frustration, even more so than DnD.

I toyed around with The Strange a little bit, but Kaylee didn’t seem to find the premise very interesting. I’m not confident the Heroquest dice mechanic would be very… approachable. The One Ring is great, but again I don’t think the game is really balanced for solo heroics.

I kept coming back to Dungeon World (rulebook’s been sitting on my shelf since the kickstarter shipped ~mumble~ years ago), a fantasy adaptation of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. The system is light and fast, and while the dice mechanic isn’t as simple as “count how many high dice you rolled”, adding three small numbers together is doable for any potential player in my household. Its fans trumpet the ease of prep, and in one GM’s words, running and playing the game is kind of like “a diceless game that sometimes go to dice” which, to put it mildly, fits pretty well inside my comfort zone.

It all seemed to work for what I needed, except that the characters need to have Bonds with other player characters. However, I thought I might be able to make that work, assuming I could provide Kaylee with a rich array of persistent NPCs to interact with – a band of companions or something, but without the overhead of “the GM is basically playing a half dozen other fully-statted PCs.”

A band of companions…

That gave me an idea.

June Game Day

Nice game day yesterday with +Dave Hill, +Kay Hill, +Margie Kleerup, +Kim Stone, +Tim White, +Kaylee Testerman, +Kate Testerman, +Mary Oswell, +Stan Pedzick, +Izabella Schafer, and roughly a half dozen G- folks in attendance.

We played:

* Love Letter. Remains a favorite pick-up for me. Quick, light, and fun. Three of four new players and a close game meant it ran a bit long (we finished 4-3-3-2), and some of the depth and nuances of the game didn't start to appear until near the end, but a fun game. Several good laughs throughout.

* Power Grid. Didn't play this, and while I can't read introverts worth a damn, the folks playing it certainly seemed to be intently invested.

* Tsuro of the Seas. – Tsuro is one of my favorite family-friendly games – we've played successful games with players ranging from 5 to 91, and everyone loves it. It's quick and fun, but tricky enough to keep everyone interested, and there's a kind of zen peacefulness to each move that I really like. Tsuro of the Seas is… a fine design that will sell more game boxes to folks that find Tsuro a bit boring. Too fiddly and random for my tastes. Felt like someone had erected a half-dozen neon billboards in front of my favorite Grand Canyon overlook.

* Night of the Grand Octopus. – Never heard of this, and didn't play it. Near as I can tell, it's sort of "demonic teddybear minons serving a giant cartoony Octopus/Cthulu, and everyone's trying to out-minion each other." It played very quickly – that table unboxed it after we unboxed Tsuro of the Seas and wrapped up at the same time.

* Sentinels of the Multiverse. – Kaylee and I have both been playing this (on iPad and Android, respectively), and looked forward to Dave bringing over the tabletop version. I need another play-through with four, rather than five players, while playing someone a bit more interesting than Legacy (who is fairly dull on the tablet, where you're running all four heroes, and mind-numbingly boring on tabletop, when he's your only guy), but my first impression is that the electronic version is much more enjoyable, for two reasons: 1. It's faster, for a multitude of reasons. 2. The electronic version has the rules coded right in, and doesn't have to deal with the INCREDIBLY VAGUE rule book and SUPER-POWERED INCREDIBLY VAGUE cards. (We were trying to stop Omnitron, whose gameplay only becomes somewhat clear after a half-hour of post-game Google searching.)

Hell, the only reason the game didn't make me even more frustrated was because I'd learned the rules and knew what to do thanks to the tablet version. If I'd come into the card game cold, I'd have walked away deeply disappointed.

* Ultimate Werewolf – We've been playing some version of Werewolf/Mafia since 1998 (we used to play it before playing Amber, to get everyone in the right mind set), and I would say One Night Ultimate Werewolf is the best iteration of the quick-and-dirty version of the game (for long versions, see all the various trust/betrayal games that have come out since then, like Shadows Over Camelot, The Resistance, or Dead of Winter).

"Best of breed" does not mean flawless: the little rulebook could use about two more pages on actually starting the game, and needs an editor to rewrite it along the lines of "this is the information people will need, in the actual order they will need it." Probably, no one notices this, because once you limp through one game, it's easy to see how it's supposed to play, and you can replay from there, no problem.

We could only play one time, though, so… yeah – the smoothing-out process did not occur. I played purposely poorly/suspiciously, just to get people talking and accusing and pointing fingers, and while this meant I died at the end, I was amused that Stan won the whole thing (leaving both the werewolves and villagers in the losers circle) by getting his Tanner hanged alongside my poor, misjudged Seer.

* Forbidden Island. Once the guests had gone home, the littles got to bed, and the kitchen was cleaned up, Kate and Kaylee and I pulled out Forbidden Island, one of our go-to favorites when we have a half-hour before bed. (Weird thing: despite rabidly loving this game, Kaylee never plays the version on her iPad. It's the reverse Sentinels of the Multiverse.)

Despite misremembering the rules during the first turn and giving the Island back-to-back flood phases following a Waters Rise event, we still managed to pull out a win. Might be time to start playing on the next harder setting…

All in all – a great day spent with friends. Even if I kvetch about this or that flaw in a game, the simple fact of the matter is that games are a bit like sex – even "relatively mediocre" is miles ahead of nearly anything else you could be doing.

Playing Hero Kids with my Hero Kids

Last night, in lieu of normal bedtime activities (reading Winnie-the-Pooh, Justice League I-Can-Read books, or our new favorite, Bone), Kaylee and Sean and I played some Hero Kids.

Hero Kids

For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.

This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.

2014-11-15

Epic battle in a makeshift downtown.

But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.

The Four-Year-Old Test

Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:

Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.

By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.

  • No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
  • No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).

Roll. Find biggest. Done.

It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)

Example Character

The level of complexity a player deals with increases in direct proportion to how much of the character sheet they understand.
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.

And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.

MG-knight

Another example…

So, About the Actual Game…

The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.

Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]

As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).

There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.

The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.

“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”

“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”

“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”

“Why don’t you girls handle it?”

“Us?!?”

“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”

The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.

Kill Ten Rats

What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.

2015-03-10 - playing hero kids

I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.

  • Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
  • Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
  • Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
  • Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
  • The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
  • Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.

“What are you going to do, Sean?”

“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”

  • The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
  • The high-fives when King Rat went down.
  • Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.

This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.

“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”

“I sure do, bud.”

“With King Rat?”

“Yup.”

“I think… we should play that again.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”

So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.

2015-03-10 - hero kids

I am a Nerd (Final-ish version)

I’ve posted versions of this on my main blog, but while I like it, it didn’t quite feel like it was completely there.

I had the chance to recite it for an audience last night at Whidbey MFA. I said “recite” because I’d memorized it while driving out from Denver, and that memorization helped me update the piece in a couple ways (dropping or changing clumsy lines, and removing a couple stanzas).

The recitation went pretty well, so I think it’s just about there. I thought I’d share it now, though I’ll probably add a voice recording to it when I get a few minutes.

[Edit: Audio file is available down at the end of the post.]

Anywhere, here it is.


Class reunion
not exactly fun
until the third rum
and Coke.
Then one school chum
interrupts the hum
and buzz
and half-drunken fuzz
for a joke.
His Genuine Draft thunks down
(emblematic drink of this small midwestern town)
and he says
“So… Doyce
“… are you still a nerd?”

(Before I proceed, a disclaimer
about this guy, not me,
he’s
a bit of a skeeze
he might say he hasn’t let the years change him
I might say he hasn’t changed his denim
Wranglers. Might be the same pair
he wore down there
under his gown, where
he stood up with the rest of us
mortarboard on like the rest of us
but all the way down at the end of the line
fiftieth out of forty-nine
diploma-receiving graduates.
No real friend of mine
and, certainly, it would feel sickly sublime
to simply dismiss him this time,
ask how his wife likes the wine
or how it feels standing in line
for unemployment.

But there would be no enjoyment.)

We’re all together here
Feeling the booze and beer
and good cheer
sitting at folding tables
telling each other fables.
about the last twenty five years.

So rather than rage,
I decide to engage
and say:
“A nerd? Me?
Let’s see.”

I’m not going to waste time talking
about roleplaying games, walking
to school every day hauling
three bulging gym bags full of rule books.
And all the funny looks.

I mean, you know that already, you were there
And at the time, it’s not like I cared
What anyone thought
What kind of stares I got.
No one was going to kick my ass
Not when there were only fifty kids in our class
And the biggest nerds in school at the time
Were five of the varsity football front line.
No: let’s move forward in time.

Am I a nerd?

The person who convinced me to write my first book
I met in college when she came over to look
at photocopied posters for a local gaming convention
(my personal invention)
which I and my friends were hanging… on every wall in campus.
And she wanted to ask us
if we’d ever played
Vampire: the Masquerade.
(We’re still close today.
I introduced her to her husband at one of those college game days.
Their daughter’s name is Ray.)

Am I a nerd?

My wife and I met Online,
the story of our times
but a dating site? Tame.
We met playing video games
Saving the world with ice and flame
Or bows and blades
Looting digital upgrades.
From twenty-player raids.
Our date nights
Were orc fights.
Dorks, right?
Sure, we became friends because we’re clever and witty
And had things in common, like saving Paragon City.
But you know what charmed her
What floated her
boat?
I kept up with her Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes.

Am I nerd?

My kids would say yes
if I had to guess.
My daughter, nine, at recess
plays the part of a zombie princess
scary, but cool, in a ragged black dress.
Leading her armies onto the field
with a magic sword only she can wield.
(The other kid gets an unbreakable shield.)
Does she get teased?
Not that I’ve seen
And if so, she’d handle it better than me.
“You know who’s a nerd?!?” She calls out at school.
I am… but all of you are, too.”
A nerd, she explains,
is just a name
For someone who gets excited about video games
Or Science, or Music, going to space,
reading four inch thick books with a smile on your face.
the local sports teams, shooting some pictures
or baking soufflés with just the right lift. Nerds
are just people
who care
so much
about something
it scares
you.

So you asked me this question to… what?
Make me blush?
See if my spirit is easily crushed?
I can’t even guess
so let me address
your query
with something far less
than indignant fury:

“A nerd? Me?
“Yes.
“Absolutely.”

What does he say?
WOW. Okay.
“I was just wanted to see
“what you thought of those new Hobbit movies.”

And my wife,
thus far silent throughout the exchange
cries out in pain
“OH GOD, now you’re just trolling.
“Both of you go get drinks
“… before he really gets going.”


GotG: the Avengers Campaign

"So I’ve got this headcanon that Guardians of the Galaxy is really the Avengers playing a table top roleplaying game, where Bucky’s the DM who suffers through heaps and loads of trolling "

Mostly from Steve.

Especially from Steve.

Judd Geeks Out
sperari:
“ foundloveinbudapest:
“ obsessiforge:
“ bluandorange:
“ so I’ve got this headcanon that Guardians of the Galaxy is really the Avengers playing a table top roleplaying game, where Bucky’s the…

Superhero mini battles, take two

At Kaylee's request, which I count as a success for the "system."

This time with a mat and no tape measure.

… And no 15-month-old randomly rearranging the battlefield like Batmite on a sugar bender.

 

The Glitcherman

Today, I was walking around the neighborhood with my daughter, looking at trees and houses. (There are only 3 or 4 house templates in our suburb, and we like to try to spot ‘our house’ in other places.)

While walking, we were talking about the concept for Save Game. (Short version: there’s a world-destroying evil virus on the internet that can only be stopped by the characters from videogames – Wreck-it Ralph meets Lord of the Rings.)

“So the heroes are like … I dunno … Batman?”

I paused. “I think it’s supposed to be characters like… Mario, or Samus, or the Minecraft guy.”

Kaylee frowned. “The Minecraft guy? You mean Steve?”

Now, I’d heard her and her friends mention “Steve” in the context of Minecraft before, so I knew who she was referring to. “No. I mean the guy you build stuff with. Steve’s just that one zombie guy with the different-colored shirt from all the others, right?”

“Right, but he doesn’t start out a zombie. He starts out alive in every world.”

“Really.” This was news to me.

“Yeah. His brother kills him.”

This was really news to me. “What?”

“Yeah. My friends and I figured it out. See…” She settled her hands into ‘this is an involved story’ position as we walk. “There’s this one guy who can get into your worlds, even your private ones, and he goes from world to world, looking for the really good worlds.”

“How’s he get in?”

“He glitches into them,” she said, as though it was obvious. “And when he finds a really good one, he — well, the first thing he does, he finds Steve and kills him.”

“… okay…”

“Then he glitches the world. It kicks you out of the game, and destroys the world so you can’t ever get into your world again and even have a really hard time making a new world after that.”

“Why… does he do that?”

“He takes them,” she explained. “He takes all the really good worlds away from the kids that make them.” She paused. “From grown-ups too, I guess.” (She’s vaguely aware that grown-ups also play Minecraft.

“Has this ever happened to you?”

“No, but… I’ve got one world I really like, with a bunch of really cool stuff, and I try not to log into it very much, because I know if I go there too often, he’ll find it.” She scuffed at a leaf. “I’m sort of expecting it to happen, eventually. It’s like fate.”

Boo.

We walked for awhile, then she said “You’re being really quiet.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m pondering the fact that you and your friends basically invented a Minecraft/internet version of the book I read last week.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I can’t decide if that’s really cool or incredibly creepy.”

She shrugged and grinned. “How about both?”

New Must-Get Game

Holy crap. Temple Run + Forbidden Island + Cooperative play = TAEK MAH MONEH AND GIVE TO ME NOW!!!

Also: Rampage. Totally need that yesterday.

Home
Escape Der Fluch des Tempels. Release Oktober 2012. Download von Trailer und Anleitungen

The D&D 5e Monster Manual is probably the best Monster Manual ever made for the game

… and yet it can hacked, updated, modified, and otherwise screwed with in many fascinating ways, which is what Zak's doing right now. Following his awesome Old One-ification of the Aboleth, he's on to Angels, and it's good, good stuff. I particularly like ranking the things based on old Hebrew lore.

Playing D&D With Porn Stars: …and Gygax Saw The Angel
Angels (split into deva, planetar and solar and all barely distinguishable) come right after the aboleth in the manual and have a similar problem–since they, too, strongly rely on a monotheism for their impact. Plus they’re good which means there aren’t a lot of reasons to fight them.

Zac's Ongoing Series on Gameable Art History

The whole series is great – just wonderful stuff – but part nine on "Cultures we don't know much about, really" is especially-super-excellent.

Playing D&D With Porn Stars: The Known Unknowns
“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of …

Mulling Over *Mountain Witch* mashups

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on stuff related to the Mountain Witch, specifically:

  1. Prepping for a traditional “ronin samurai” play-through of the game, hopefully on Hangouts, hopefully soonish.
  2. Pondering various settings hacks for the game, including Dwarves/Dragon, Adventurers/Castle Ravenloft, Spark Prisoners/Escaping Castle Heterodyne, and so forth.

The basic criteria with these settings/setups are:

  • Protagonists have been, until the start of this game, pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do, and what they do isn’t usually very nice.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skill (for instance, having a bow lets you be a combat threat a much longer range than with the default daisho).
  • Trust – who you trust, how much you trust them, how that changes as the story progresses, and how that trust is used for or against you – is a huge deal.
    • Related to that: there is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters, so that the trust everyone has for each other is a bit uneven, right from the outset. (In the baseline game, it’s based on the zodiac of your birth, in the dwarf version it’s based on your birth stone, with Adventurers it’s… I dunno. Something something handwave figure it out before we play.)

A new setting hack occurred to me today, though, that’s really pretty interesting – the basic idea is using Mountain Witch to run The Hunger Games.

  • Protagonists are or have been pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skills (which is why everyone’s scrambling for special supplies at the outset of a Game).
  • Trust and how it’s used is a huge deal.
    • There is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters; in this case replace the Zodiac with the Districts, with a similar network of “you start off trusting these guys, and not these guys” for everyone, plus a bonus “and you really trust (or really don’t trust the other person from your own District).

At this point, all I’d need to do is map the basic outline to the four acts that Mountain Witch defaults to, with bonus points if the game actually starts well before the beginning of the Game itself (in the Capitol or something).

Well, that and change the two default questions players answer during character generation.

Double-bonus points if it’s not literally Hunger Games, but something in that general ‘survival YA’ vein.

#rpgaday Day 8: Favorite Character

I've pretty much never got to play a character more than 1 or 2 sessions, with the exception of the D&D 3.0 living campaigns that took over gaming convention in Denver for about 5 or 6 years.

They gave me the opportunity to be a regular player for the first time ever, and that leads me to my favorite character: Gwydion Caddock, kilt-wearing bard (with a few levels of barbarian) – what I referred to as a Skald.

Fate of the Four Nations (playing FAE in the world of Korra and Aang)

My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.

Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…

bolin begs
Ugh, if you’re gonna beg…

Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.

I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.

So:

  • Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
  • I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
  • In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.

What’s a basic Bender look like, then?

For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:

  • Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
  • Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
  • Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
  • Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.

Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:

Earth

  • Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.

Water

  • Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.

Air

  • Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.

Fire

  • Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
  • Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.

The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.

You never know what an untrained bender will do.
You never know what an untrained bender will do.

What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)

That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.

Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).

Thoughts?
Thoughts?

Wildstar Tabletop Gaming, by way of FAE/Jadepunk

“You should do a Wildstar game,” opined my daughter.

“Sorry?” Her comment confused me, both because Wildstar is an MMO and because I was distracted at the moment due to the fact that we were both playing Wildstar at that moment.

“Like you did with DC Universe,” she explained. “A Fate version of Wildstar. That would be cool.”


I’d actually already had the idea, and had muttered incoherently about it to Ryan M. Danks while we jawed about his new FAE game Jadepunk over on the Googles. Ryan’s played a bit of Wildstar, and easily spotted the parallels between the MMO and his game.

SO, prompted for a write-up by a now-overwhelming list of two whole people, here’s a quick-and dirty hack of Jadepunk for running a Fate version of Wildstar… probably the … well, one of the most edge-case, limited-audience thing I’ve ever written a blog post on, and the competition in that arena is stiff.


Disclaimer: I’m really not much of a game hacker/designer. It’s not that I don’t have any inclinations in that direction, but for me it’s more rewarding to take a game as-written and make it work for a particular setting than it is to change a game around until it’s a perfect fit. For example, most “using Fate to run a supers game” hacks leave me cold, as it always feels like a lot of extra fiddling for something you can do with the game-as-written.

So… there won’t be many changes to baseline Jadepunk, here; this is more a mental exercise in using what’s already there to do the thing you want to do.

What We’re Starting With

At some point, I’m going to actually write about Jadepunk itself, why I like it, and why I didn’t think I would, but for now let’s just focus on what it is:

Jadepunk is a sort of elemental wuxia/gunslinger/steam- clock-work/Legend of Korra mashup built on the lovely, powerful-yet-lightweight Fate Accelerated system. My impression (which may differ from others) is that the primary differences between it and vanilla-FAE are:

  • A slightly different focus for the five main character aspects.
  • A reskinning of the six character Approaches, adding flavor and intent that matches the setting.
  • A more structured, “ads/disads/point buy” system for building “Assets” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

If you love the loosey-goosey build style (I do), then the Assets system may be a bit of a culture-shock, but luckily I also love fiddly “build-it-yourself” power systems, so it didn’t take me long to both grok and enjoy playing with that system.

The titular jade is one of the main rules-constraining setting elements: it (via the five basically elemental-themed colors) functions as both magical power source for strange effects and technology-analogues (see: white-jade-powered wireless telegraphs, or red-jade shell casings) and conflict driver.

Finally, you’ve got the default setting of Kausao City, home to the rarest kind of Jade (black, a sort of magic omnigel) and a kind of Shanghai-meets-Babylon-5, ripe with the sort of corruption that sees the wealthy strangle the middle- and abuse the working-class. The PCs are (by default) assumed to be those who’ve decided to fight against those wrongs in a very “you have failed this city” kind of way.

Note: I don’t in any way need to reskin this game to Wildstar to make it worth playing – the rules, setting, and setup all make me quite happy – it’s good stuff.

Where We’re Trying to Get

Wildstar, by contrast, is a far-future sci-fi setting. The basic idea is a bunch of sentient races that have all been (to greater or lesser degrees) messed with by a elder, hyper-advanced race (referred to as “The Eldan” to make it easy to remember), now loosely divided into two “Alliance vs. Browncoat” factions.  The Eldan have long since vanished, and both of the sides in this conflict have recently discovered the planet Nexus, initially thought to be the Eldan homeworld but, in reality, more likely the site of the Eldan’s great (and apparently “successful”) multi-pronged attempt to achieve a technological singularity that (if nothing else) shuffled them off the perceivable wavelengths of our mortal coil.

Having found this place, both sides of this perpetual war are now poking around the remains of these massive Eldan experiments, trying to recreate the whole bloody mess, while shooting at each other, because what could possibly go wrong with that?

Similarities to Jadepunk include:

  • Similar “approaches” (professions)
  • Similar wild west, cobbled-together-tech feel
  • Similar elementally-themed power sources for said technology
  • The kind of setting that lends itself to the Assets system that Jadepunk uses.

Differences:

  • Class- and level-based character progression.
  • “Magic”
  • Different story focus: Jadepunk is a game about doing the right thing; Wildstar is a game about unlocking mysteries perhaps best left buried.

So Here’s the Hack

Differences aside, let’s say I want to run a quick and dirty Wildstar game. What do I do?

1. Throw out the idea of Wildstar classes, profession, and trade skills.

We’ll get there, but we’re going to come at things sideways. Read on.

2. Leave Character Aspects (p. 31) as is.

You’ll either need to fill in a lot of history for the players, or they’ll need to be familiar with the Wildstar setting, but once that’s done, it’s really no problem coming up with Portrayal, Background, Inciting Incident, Belief, and Trouble aspects that work.

3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)

  • Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, and Scoundrel are fine.
  • Professions aren’t Classes. Treat the Professions like sliders that indicate what your character is focused on. A warrior will probably lead with Fighter, sure, but so might a combat-focused Engineer (who ranks Engineer and Explorer at 2) while another “similar” gear-head goes Engineer 3, Scientist 2, Scoundrel 2… and is all about raiding old Eldan laboratories. You could have a whole party of “Stalkers” who play very differently…
  • Rename Scholar to Scientist, make a note that it’s a go-to profession for using Create Advantage to identify/create Environmental aspects during a conflict (“Hey, if we bombard these big flowers with gamma radiation, they create a remarkable low-gravity field…”), and carry on.
  • Replace Aristocrat with Settler. Settler has all (or most) of the same social applications, and is also used for building stuff that isn’t some sort of new invention (Engineer) or discovery (Scientist), all of which overlap or enhance one another in various ways.

The Settler creates social networks (villages, townships, even outposts), often by building the infrastructure that supports them. Despite their life on the “lonely frontier,” a Settler is a social creature, willing to speak up at a town meeting, step out on the dance floor at the next hoe down, negotiate trade agreements and land rights, and stand up for a new settlement in the face of a Red Sun Mercenary gang looking to shake down some farmers.

Overcome: Settler is used to influence others to do work together (or for you), either through charm or coercion, and to establish connections with others. Storytellers charm their audience, deputies interrogate suspects for information, and store owners barter their goods or services.

Create Advantages: Use Settler to create advantages representing infrastructure improvements (barricades, town walls, armament emplacements, hardened power grids) or populace-wide emotional states (Enraged, Emboldened, Shocked, Hesitant, Joyful, or Excited). You could give a speech to Inspire, stir a crowd into a Crazed Mob, find someone Talkative or Helpful, or get everyone working together to get the Jury-Rigged Missile Defense System operational before the Dominion air support shows up…

Attack: Settler only performs attacks as part of social duels.

Defend: Settler defends against any attempt to damage your reputation, change a mood you’ve created, tear down the infrastructure improvements you’ve built, or make you look bad in front of other people.

4. Do pretty much everyone else you want to do with Assets

Want your Granok to have extra tough skin? Want your Aurin to be especially good sneaking around in natural surroundings? Want to specifically emulate one of the skills from the MMO? Do all that with Assets.

  • Scanbot: Ally (Professional: Scientist 2 , Explorer 1, Sturdy 1, Resilient 1, Independent, Troubling: Easily Noticed) – basically a scientist teamwork-bonus following you around
  • Taunting Blow: Technique (Exceptional: Reduce damage shifts by 2 to apply “Taunted” aspect to target that can be used either to compel target or as a defensive boost to anyone the target attacks, other than the character.; Situational: Only on Success with Style; Situational: Only with Melee weapon/or/Only with arm-mounted Plasma Blaster)
  • Bruiserbot: Ally (Professional: Fighter 2, Explorer 1, Sturdy 2, Resilient 2, Independent, Troubling: Random Aggro)
  • Spellslinger’s Gate: Technique Focus: +2 to Explorer: Create Advantage – Stunned on Target(s) you either appear next to or which you were next to before you gated away.; Flexible (sort of) Create Advantage roll (less the +2 bonus) also counts as Overcome for character moving to adjacent zone (line of site required); Limited: Once per scene)

And the Assets system doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to combat. Assets are a great way to address some of the bonus skills provided by professions, or Wildstar’s trade skills… though some of those might be easier to do with a basic FAE stunt, with no Flaw. (“Because I am a Relic Hunter, I get a +2 to Overcome with Explorer (or: Scientist) when extracting useful resources from otherwise useless/broken Eldan artifacts.”)

A Word about Healing

Several of Wildstar’s “healing” classes focus on creating (or restoring) temporary shields around the targeted character, and I’d focus entirely on that for the Fate version: make Create Advantage rolls to create “Refreshed shields” effects that your ally can invoke for free on their next defense roll, for example. Assets along these lines might allow for a Create Advantage on an ally when you Succeed With Style (and take -2 shifts) on an attack on an adjacent enemy (or vice versa, for the defensive-minded)… or even create a temporary “device” asset on your ally with Sturdy: 2.

One of my favorite Medic abilities (the healing probes) would be something like “Exceptional: affects all friendlies in zone; Sturdy: 2; Limited: Requires Resonators; Situational: Success with Style; Troubling: Angers any enemies in zone (aggro).”

And that’s it

No, seriously, that’s about it. Most of tweaks are in character generation – once you’re playing, it’s pretty much just Fate as-written, and focusing on “tell me what you want to do, and we’ll figure out what to roll later.”

Hangouts/Roll20 Gaming: Past and Future

As most of you know, I finished up a Fate game about a month ago that ran via Google Hangouts and the Roll20 plugin (session videos here). I’d originally thought it would run around 6 sessions (my rough estimate for a face to face tabletop environment with ~3.5 hour sessions), and it ended up at 9, not because Hangouts made it take longer (if anything, Hangouts and Roll20 sped things up) but because we ran shorter sessions of about 2 to 2.5 hours each.

It took right around 3 months to get in 9 ‘weekly’ sessions which, for adult gamers with many commitments, isn’t at all bad: 9 sessions in around 12 weeks, with one player suffering technical problems and another who lost a family member and was unavailable for a couple weeks. I entirely attribute this session/week ratio to the flexibility Hangouts gave us – no one had to travel to the game location, and thus no one had to budget extra time for packing up their stuff, getting presentable, driving over, and getting home after: they just logged at the right time, logged out at the end, and boom – they’re home already and there’s no gaming group to clean up after.

wifi
And you can play pretty much anywhere.

(Honestly, Hangouts made the game possible in the first place: player locations ranged from the east coast to Alaska.)

This setup (short-ish scenario, running to conclusion over a limited period of time) worked well, and based on that, there are at least a few other games I’d like to play pretty soon with, if anything, even shorter arcs. These include:

  • The Mountain Witch, which is pretty much designed for playing in two to three sessions, and which has a pretty non-crunchy system with nonetheless brutal mechanics.
  • Fiasco, maybe several times, using different play sets. I’ve never played this, but I have high hopes, and as a GMless game it appeals to me. I’ve actually built an “Amber Throne War” playset that I’d like to play…

That said, I can also see a couple decent ways to do longer running campaigns, and I might try one of them fairly soon, as well: I’m thinking of an Atomic Robo (Fate) campaign with a couple basic guidelines:

  • Scenarios that either wrap up in one session or which everyone understands may not resolve the very next week.
  • A rotating cast of characters.
  • A slightly larger pool of involved players than I’d want to GM, if they all showed up.

The idea here is a sort of “monster of the week” setup, where we play with whichever Tesladyne employees are available that week, and no one stresses out if they can’t make it. This would let us run regardless of schedule conflicts (potentially improving the session/week ratio even more) and, if we didn’t wrap up in one session, we’d have the option to continue that arc whenever that same group of players were available (maybe allowing in an additional action scientist in part 2 as surprise backup or whatever), rather than forcing a delay until all those same players could make it.

(Also worth considering: with the folks playing, there’s a better than normal chance that some sessions would have a guest GM and I could just play, which would be awesome.)

Pretty much the same setup would work (I think) with Ryan M. Danks’s Jadepunk (which is built mostly on the very pickup-friendly Fate Accelerated and Ryan’s own design kung-fu), though I’m pretty sure some kind of over-arching metaplot would creep in on that one, just because of the setting. I consider that a feature.

I plan to pitch this (these?) to my Google+ gaming peeps pretty soon and see who’s interested.

Why I haven't Blogged about Wildstar Yet

… as explained by Tycho at PA. (See link and disregard first paragraph, which is mostly about something else.)

"When I try to write about Wildstar, I get stuck in a sort of spiral. I don’t really know where to start, because everything refers to some other part. It’s interlaced in a way that reinforces everything. […] So where do I even start? At what point of the spiral do I bring you in, and begin to chart it? Maybe I’ll figure it out if I log in and play this instant."

Yeah. It's pretty much like that.

For me, Wildstar has created one of those vanishingly rare situations where, if I have a question about how something works, I would rather log in and spend two hours playing with that thing to figure it out… than take twenty seconds looking up an answer.

I'm still looking for the element or aspect of play – a class, a path, a trade, something – that I can point at and say "There. I do not enjoy that. I would not want to play a character with that as a core facet."

I have eight 'main' characters because so far, I haven't found it.

Penny Arcade – The Cool Of The Pool
Club PA. Ad Free Experience; Club PA Pinny Arcade Pin; Staff PA Podcast; And 10+ more benefits. Learn More · Penny Arcade · News · Comics · Read. Penny Arcade · Read. The Trenches · Read. Camp Weedonwantcha · Read. PA Side Stories · Read. PA Presents · Archive · Forum · Shop …

Why I haven't Blogged about Wildstar Yet

… as explained by Tycho at PA. (See link and disregard first paragraph, which is mostly about something else.)

"When I try to write about Wildstar, I get stuck in a sort of spiral.  I don’t really know where to start, because everything refers to some other part.  It’s interlaced in a way that reinforces everything. […] So where do I even start?  At what point of the spiral do I bring you in, and begin to chart it? Maybe I’ll figure it out if I log in and play this instant."

Yeah. It's pretty much like that.

For me, Wildstar has created one of those vanishingly rare #gaming situations where, if I have a question about how something works, I would rather log in and spend two hours playing with that thing to figure it out… than take twenty seconds looking up an answer.

I'm still looking for the element or aspect of play – a class, a path, a trade, something – that I can point at and say "There. I do not enjoy that. I would not want to play a character with that as a core facet."

I have eight 'main' characters because so far, I haven't found it.?

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Club PA. Ad Free Experience; Club PA Pinny Arcade Pin; Staff PA Podcast; And 10+ more benefits. Learn More · Penny Arcade · News · Comics · Read. Penny Arcade · Read. The Trenches · Read. Camp Weedonwantcha · Read. PA Side Stories · Read. PA Presents · Archive · Forum · Shop …

Fate, The Demolished Ones, Sessions 5 and 6

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be blogging about this game at all, right now: the last anyone would have heard about it would have been Session 3.

That doesn’t mean the game is going poorly! Far, far from it. However, there’s a ton of other stuff going on at the moment (work stuff, writing stuff, audiobook stuff, end of semester stuff, kids stuff, family stuff), and the simple fact is this: if the only way I had to record what happened in this game was writing down a detailed actual play, then nothing would be getting recorded.

Luckily, that’s not the case, since we’re playing the game on Google Hangouts “on air”, which automatically records it to Youtube. A bit of tweaking, settings changes, and playlist adjustment, and we get an excellent record of everything “previously on.”

This is everything so far:

I don’t think having these video recordings have made me any more or less likely to write down an actual play, but it does make me very happy something is being recorded, even when I’m stupidly busy.

Also, there are a few other nice benefits:

  • When I have time to ‘do stuff’ related to the game, I can prepare things for the next session, instead of writing about the last one.
  • I can rewatch prior sessions (or play them on my phone during drives and just listen to them podcast-style) to remind myself of stuff I’d introduced that I want to reincorporate.
  • The roll20 app is WONDERFUL for giving me a central place to both store and organize all the random stuff I’ve pulled together for the game, while at the same time providing means for sharing it with the players.

So: sorry for not writing things up in detail, but for real detail, nothing works much better than listening to exactly what happened in the session.

I will certainly have a post-game analysis of the good, bad, and ugly for both the game and for the Hangouts/Roll20 gaming medium. At this point, I would guess that we’ll have about eight sessions in total (tonight’s will be seven). Eight was my first estimate, then I’d started to think it would run to nine, but last session (after some hemming and hawing) the players sprang into action and pretty much skipped right over a whole subplot that didn’t grab them, so we’re back on track for eight.

The big challenge tonight? Everyone kind of split up, so we’re going to be splitting the camera time between three different scenes for awhile, which may or may not slow things down – we’re splitting up the camera time, but covering three times as much ground? Maybe? My guess is it’ll be a wash, or possibly lose us a bit of time on an additional scene where everyone gets caught up to everyone else.

I’m excited: this is the most consistent and continual RPG thing I’ve been able to run in over three years – as far as ‘online tabletop’ gaming goes, the tech has finally arrived in my opinion – I don’t know if it’s a golden age for online tabletop gaming, but it sure feels like it.

Fate, The Demolished Ones, Session 4

PHOENIX

After a week off for illness (mine) we’re jumping back into the Demolished Ones tonight, with session five.

While checking up on my notes, I realized I’d never posted an actual play for this session and, with thirty minutes to play time, it’s a bit too late.

Thankfully, there is at least a complete audio and video recording of the entire session. Phew.

Below, I’ve embedded a playlist for the entire campaign’s recordings thus far – the last two are for session four (we had a technical issue that necessitated restarting the hangout). Enjoy! My next write-up will try to sum up both sessions four and five.

The Creepiest Option is Probably Best

This is for all those well-meaning #hailhydra nerds out there who are trying to mash-up the HYDRA logo with SHIELD.

This is a HYDRA logo:

HYDRA
#hailhydra

This is one of the two commonly seen SHIELD logos (I have been theorizing about the reason for the two different shield logos we see in the movies and TV show for the last year; pity Kate, who’s had to listen to most of it):

Shield Logo #1. Note the crisp, clean, and most of a STRAIGHT lines.
Shield Logo #1. Note the crisp, clean, and most of all STRAIGHT lines.

This is the other SHIELD logo, which is somewhat more dated in appearance and seems to originate from the formation of the organization – in other words, that point in the group’s history when it was first [SPOILER].

Shield Logo #2: Note the soft, curving, one might even say tentacular wing elements.
Shield Logo #2: Note the soft, curving, one might even say tentacular wing elements.

If you, well-meaning fan that you are, decide to mash HYDRA and SHIELD together, don’t use Shield Logo #1 – it just looks silly.

HYDRA + SHIELD logo #2, however?

Now we're getting somewhere.
Now we’re getting somewhere.

To make this slightly gaming related – the SHIELD/HYDRA upheaval in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Great setup for a super-spy espionage game, or best setup for a super-spy espionage game? Discuss.

Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session Three

“But first, I believe formal introductions are in order.”

The statement hangs in the air for more than a few moments, bringing silence to the booth at the late-night public house.

Finally, [Dave] speaks up: “Victor Edwards.”

I held up a Fate point. “I will give this to you if you now finish the sentence: ‘I think I was…'”

“I think I was…” says Victor, “someone in Her Majesty’s service.”

“Ah,” replies [Kim]. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Ophelia Stevens.” (A name Victor seems to associate with the scandalsheet-populating hijinx of the youthful nobility.)

“Just call me Red,” says Red, and turns to their large companion.

“Barnaby Cornelius Crispin,” he murmurs. Seems he’s got a name that matches his stature.

Once introductions are done and everyone basically shares what they are willing to share. From there, they decide to check out the boarding house for which they have a key.

Situated just south of Eden Park at the northern tip of Merchant’s Gate, the Cassius is an old and respected boarding house fallen upon hard times.

The building itself is a three-story affair with a common room, six guest rooms, and indoor plumbing.

One of the rooms here was apparently rented out by Jack Smith.

Smith’s boarding house room is a humble affair: bedroom/living room/table/everything else. It contains a bed, dresser, wardrobe, table, chair, and lamp. Objects of note:

A Gun
A small, snub-nosed revolver sits on top of a dresser, next to a few playing cards. It’s not loaded. It doesn’t match the holster that Smith was wearing.

memory3

Playing Cards
Five playing cards. The cards are Jacks of five different suits: spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds, and… crosses?

RWS_Tarot_05_Hierophant
The Jack of Crosses. Not this… but basically this.

Literature
There is a flyer for the Society of Free Thought on a small table, just like the one at Smith’s house, except this one is covered with scribbles from Smith.

flier

Photographs
Also on the table with the Society flyer is small a collection of photographs. One photograph is a picture of a symbol carved in stone above a door: an eye in a circle (the same symbol as the one carved in the handle of the supposed murder weapon).

PHOENIX

The other three seem to be surveillance-style photographs of two men meeting.

Off to the Cherub

Once the group feels as though they have found everything there is to find, they get out of the boarding house and head (at Barnaby’s request) to the Cherub, where he remembers being fairly often. Turns out the Cherub is a fairly nice place… where not-nice things are arranged for. Barnaby has the other three taken to a private room, and meets up with a petite blonde woman named Cassiel, who is the Cherub’s ‘fixer’ – someone who sets up wealthy patrons with just the right person for an unseemly job. She’s also ostensibly the sous chef. Life is funny that way.

Cassiel knows Barnaby and seems to have a bit of a thing for him, and is quite willing to help him out with his questions. She recognizes the younger man in the photos – some politician nicknamed “Velvet” – though she only knows that the older guy in the suit and robe is one of the more prominent members of the Society of Conscious Thought, though she can’t say what his name is.

Barnaby gets a few more questions answered and arranges to make contact with Cassiel later, then gathers up everyone else and heads toward the Society of Conscious Thought, with a brief stop to pick up some ammunition for Victor’s recently acquired handgun.

The Society

As befits the hall of an ostensibly secret society, the Hall of Free Thought looks small and unassuming from the outside, with only the Society’s symbol (an eye in a circle) outwardly marking it.

No doorman guards the door, though there is a desk with a receptionist of sorts just inside the door, in the foyer.

Carolyn Flynn, innocent receptionist.
Carolyn Flynn, innocent receptionist.

The inside of the Hall is considerably more opulent than the outside. As much of the Hall is underground, it is a much larger building than it seems to be from the outside. The Hall contains a vast common room furnished with couches, chairs, tables, and a bar. This is where members of the Society gather to see and be seen, and to engage in stimulating conversation. The occasional card game is played here, though high-stakes gambling is strictly prohibited within the Hall.

The four, escorted in by Carolyn, immediately notice the large portrait prominently displayed in the main room, obviously the robed gentleman from the surveillance photos. Carolyn informs them that is “The Beneficient One” – head of the Society.

The Beneficent One
The Beneficent One

The Beneficent One is around, but probably will not be out in the common area tonight, explains Carolyn. Mr. Tock, another senior member, will very likely be out soon, following a meeting, however.

The four basically kill time for a bit, with Mr. Crispin casing the place, Victor sitting down with the younger men playing at cards, Ophelia poking through the bookshelves, and Red getting a drink from the bartender and the other end of the room.

Victor’s learns from the junior members playing poker that only a few rooms past the common room are open to members of their level, with private rooms available to those that live in the House, and even more secure chambers reserved for the senior members who run the Society, such as Mr. Tock and The Beneficent One.

Ophelia spots all of the “six books” she saw at Jack Smith’s house, but not repeated in any suspicous manner. She also spots (and secures) two pages of a rather odd little test, apparently left behind on a small side table.

Mr. Crispin verifies that all the doors out of the common room are locked.

Red is having a frustrating conversation with the barman, who is on his guard and not likely to chat with a patron of the Society, or share secrets about his employers.

An odd thing happens as Barnaby comes over to check in on Red.

First, Red tries to convince him that he really does want to help her and, in the same way she likes to take apart the mechanisms of things they’ve been finding, it seems as though she actually does that – take the man’s head apart a bit and put it together in a way that’s more suitable to her needs.

Something sort of rings in Barnaby’s head when she does this. He leans against the bar, nods to the barkeep, and says “Hello, old friend,” and – just like that, the barkeep is an old friend of his – has always been an old friend of his, in fact, and how could he have forgotten something like that?

Ophelia and Victor notice … something… when this happens, and both turn toward the bar, just as a door into the room opens and a well-dressed man steps through.

Good evening, he says, smiling at Ophelia. “I am Mr. Tock. I hope I can help you.”

Mr Tock
Mr. Tock

And that’s where things ended. Next session: Tonight!


Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session Two

“Anyone know where Beacon Street is?” He looks around at the quiet, fog-shrouded night streets. “Or where we are?”

That’s where we ended session one of The Demolished Ones and, surprise surprise, where we picked up with session two.

I opened this up by informing the players that once [Dave] asked the question, the characters realize they do kind of know where they are, even if they don’t really know why, or have much context.

I played around with this a bit, by asking everyone what specific areas in the city they remember, even if it’s without context.

I also asked everyone (but Dave, who’d already defined this) for a notable item on their person.

  • Dave: A richly appointed sitting room, with dead men lying on the floor.
  • Kim: Carries a parasol. Remembers a very richly appointed sitting room, deeply shadowed, and [Kim]’s feeling here is that she was more a host and less a guest. I add a bit more ‘color’ here, because this plays in really well to my own diabolical plans.
  • “Red” (Amanda): On her person: a derringer in her handbag. Location: A small cottage in a garden.
  • Reggie: On his person: a nice pair of brass knuckles that say “Lucky” along the side. Place he remembers: a shady sort of club – “a place where proper gentlemen go to get improper things done.” I tell him he remembers the name of the place – Old Bollards.
(As a reminder: Dave had selected a pen knife with a wooden in the previous session.)
(As a reminder: Dave had selected a pen knife with a wooden in the previous session.)

The four of them are somewhat lost in their own thoughts, remembering what they remember (or checking their weapons) as they drive to Beacon Street.

They notice quite a few more people walking the street in this area, and a higher police presence. The civilians are dressed fairly well, top hats and tails, mostly, with [Dave] dressed in probably the high-middle range of what they’re seeing in the area, and [Reggie] somewhere near the low end of appropriate, as a well-dressed day laborer (albeit an enormous one, noticeable for other reasons).

They get to 615 Beacon Street but, seeing two uniformed police officers milling about the front door of the house, they keep right on walking, then turn down a side street and take a moment to assess the situation.

Dave wants to have taken a ‘read’ on the policemen, so I have him give a value to his Empathy (and an associated Aspect). He writes down Empathy: Good (+3) and the Aspect “We Are All the Children of Adam and Eve.”

Reggie wanted a quick scan of the actual physical details with the cops, so I have him define Alertness and an Aspect. He selects Alertness: Fair (+2), and an Aspect “Don’t. Trust. Anybody.”

Kim wants to get an idea of how the house might be able to be gotten into, so I have her roll Burglary, which she already has.

Here’s what we get:

  • Dave: The officers are Distracted and Tired, and Dave rolls well enough he’ll be able to take advantage of these aspects, once, for free (no Fate points).
  • Reggie: The officers are armed with Revolvers and Nightsticks, and he’s fairly sure that, while they are trained, he could take them – though he might not want to fight two at once, he could.
  • Kim: She feels she could get in a second story window, but also that there’s probably an alley that leads to a back entrance. She’s quite sure – already – what the interior of a house like this will be.

A bit of planning goes on as they lurk in the side street, and ultimately what they decide to do is have [Dave] go chat with the Police (hoping they aren’t looking for them, specifically), to keep them distracted while the other three sneak into the back of the house and have a look around.

This goes well enough, with [Dave] using the Distracted and Tired to beef up the roll he makes with his (third) new skill – Rapport: Fair (+2), which also leads to him adding a third aspect “The masks go on so easily.” (Love it!)

Meanwhile, [Kim] has led the other two around the back, down an alley. She takes this chance to pick up Investigate: Average (+1) while searching for laundry left hanging out to dry behind a house, which she uses to replace her bloodstained jacket (and adds the aspect “Find out about Others before they find out about You.” Once at the back door of the house, she unleashes her Burglary again, then leads the trio sneaking into the house (picking up Stealth: Good (+3), and the Aspect “Nobody Notices a Child.”


615 Beacon Street

Aspects: Lived In Feel; Something’s Not Right.; Small, dark, and Cramped

The lower floor is mostly just the eat-in kitchen and a front sitting room. Upstairs, there’s a bedroom, study, and bathroom.

“Red” investigates the kitchen, which has no overt clues as to Smith’s identity, though there are some things that don’t quite add up. There are plates in the cupboards, but no dishes. The only drinking vessels are teacups – forty-five of them. The cutlery drawer is all forks. The refrigerator (!) has a bottle of half-spoiled milk, four bottles of ketchup, and stacks and stacks of collard greens. The pantry has one shelf of nothing but canned green beans, and three overstuffed shelves of canned dog food. (There is no other sign of a dog in the house… and no can opener in any of the drawers.)

[Kim] checks out the front sitting room, and finds a flyer for Society of Free Thought, though the unexpected dust in the room makes her rush back to the kitchen for a barely-muffled sneezing fit.

clean flier

[Dave] barely manages to cover up the sneezing from out front, asking the police about why they’re out here in the middle of the evening. One of the police snags a recent newspaper off the steps of the neighbors house and folds it open to the bottom front page.

Hmm...
Hmm…

[Reggie] creeps upstairs and, spotting nothing of note in the upstairs sitting room, moves on to the bedroom, where the wardrobe gives him more than a bit of trouble – the door sticks and he pulls it across the wooden floor somewhat loudly, trying to open it. (Botched untrained Investigate, which he didn’t want to put points into.)

“Red” (and, in a few seconds, [Kim]) rush upstairs as quickly and quietly as they can. “Red” sees what she can do to help [Reggie], while [Kim] checks the study again (noticing that the three bookshelves in the room only have four copies each of the same six books, arranged randomly: Ulysses, Brave New World, the Bible (KJV), Flatland (all used and dogeared identically), and the M-Mi volume of an encyclopedia set.

[Kim] then moves on to check the bathroom, but only has time to note that the room is bereft of any toiletries before the Cursed Wardrobe Strikes Again. “Red” tries to open the other door, which shrieks its unoiled protest so loudly that the police outside decide to investigate.

The three inside race (quietly, mostly) to the back door and manage to get outside just as the police unlock and open the front. They warn [Dave] away and proceed inside… [Dave] makes himself extremely scarce, and the four meet up a few blocks away.


The set out on foot, “Red” (walking with [Reggie]) unconsciously guiding them toward a neighborhood pub. [Dave] and [Kim] bring up the rear, and fall much further behind when [Dave] spots someone in one of the houses along the street watching television in the front room. Black and white television but… yeah. That’s television.

jurassic-park

What’s weirder: that there’s a television, or that they know exactly what it is?

… or that they know it’s wrong.

“Red” whistles for them to catch up and, turning back down the street, nearly collides with a wild-eyed man, reeking of fish. “Red” lets out a startled sound, and [Reggie] interposes himself.

Edward Gray

"The sky is not the sky!"
“The sky is not the sky!”

After a few moments of Edward’s rambling (he’s clearly not well) they decide he’s harmless and, given what they’ve seen in the last few hours, must have noticed how odd everything in the City is and, quite understandably, went off his head.

Sorry, but… the best way to summarize his crazy-talk is to simply refer you to the video of that part of the game session (runs for about five minutes).

After a few minutes of mad, cryptic comments (*points at [Dave]* “You used to work for them, and YOU” *points at [Kim]* “You didn’t work for them, and that’s even worse…”), he runs off down the street, hollering about brain juices and green beans.

Bemused, the quartet makes it the rest of the way to the public house and, holed up in a nice booth with pints all around, share out all the odd clues they’ve discovered (except for the bloody knife, which [Kim] mentions but keeps in her handbag), noting the key and the recurrence of the Society of Conscious Thought (on both the flyer from the house and the “Orphan” news clipping from the warehouse).

A bit stumped, they ponder the key “Red” found on Jack Smith. [Dave] uses a drunkard act and a bit of Rapport to get the bartender to tell them the key engraved with CBH 5 is probably from the Cassius Boarding House. Since it was obvious (to [Kim] at least) that Smith didn’t actually live in the house they just visited, it seems a visit to the Boarding House is in order.

“But first,” says [Kim], “I believe formal introductions are order.”


And that’s where we’ll pick up for Session Three.


Finally, for those who’d like to watch the whole recording, here you go:

First #fatecore #gaming session with +Kim Stone, +Dave Hill, +Reggie Sanders, and +Amanda Brueschke, playing a vivisected version of The Demolished Ones

Post just before we start session two.

Originally shared by +Doyce Testerman

First session with +Kim Stone, +Dave Hill, +Reggie Sanders, and +Amanda Brueschke, playing a vivisected version of The Demolished Ones.

I linked the video on youtube when it first went up (Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One) – this is the written actual play.

Random Average » Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One
You wake up in a room. The floor is cold, stone, dry. The lights – three bare bulbs dangling from the rafters – do little to dispell the gloom. It takes time for your eyes to adjust. You stand, brushing grit and dust from the front of a tailored jacket you’re sure you’ve never seen before.

Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One

Because I didn’t have enough going on, I decided to start an online game of Fate, using a combination of Google Hangouts, Roll20, and (after the fact) YouTube (to share the recorded game sessions).

This is what I sent out to a long list of potential players:

You wake up in a room.

The floor is cold, stone, dry. The lights – three bare bulbs dangling from the rafters – do little to dispell the gloom. It takes time for your eyes to adjust.

You stand, brushing grit and dust from the front of a tailored jacket you’re sure you’ve never seen before. There’s a red stain on the sleeve.

Don’t worry. It’s not your blood.

I’d like to run a short rpg game, via Google Hangouts. Somewhere between three to six sessions, once a week, probably on a weeknight, after dinner and the kids are in bed, and wrapping up in time for everyone to get to sleep at a reasonable time. Don’t worry about the system or anything – the scenario is set up to teach the game and create characters as we play – it’s a method that works particularly well with this system.

The italicized bit is the basic set up.

If you’re interested, let me know. If you’re not, for whatever reason, don’t reply. 🙂 Easy peasy.

If we get enough people (I’d say three), we’re good to go.

I ended up with four, we agreed on a good night (Mondays) and started play last week.

Poster_1600x1200px

Now, as I said, we recorded the game session as we were playing (check out session one, here), but while it was a nice recording, it doesn’t capture what’s going on in the Roll20 window, so the handouts that I’m laying out in the virtual tabletop area can’t be seen by anyone watching the video later.

The upside: that means I’m still going to end up doing written play reports.

You Wake Up In A Room

I started with everyone unconscious and lost in unpleasant dreams. Each character’s dreams were different, and I slipped ‘notes’ to each player via Roll20 to let them know what sort of images they were struggling with.

Kim: A strange looking needle, coming toward your eye.

Reggie: The sound of a deadbolt sliding into place.

Amanda: Someone standing over you, shadowed, a knife in their hand.

Dave: The feel of something in your hand: a straight, hard handle, slightly curved and rough to the touch.

Reggie wakes up first, and after getting his bearings a bit…