Actual Play Game Design Table Top

Working on a Thoughtful Representation of Drug Addiction for Masks

Hello! Things have been a little quiet on the Masks RPG front lately, because the end of summer is bananas for all my players. We haven’t been able to play face to face, but each player is getting a little Play-By-Post action in (which I’ll figure out how to share), and in the meantime I’m also working on some mechanical stuff to deal with some action that came out of our “Silver Masque” homecoming session.

Inspired by a ‘homecoming’ article in the Masks Fan Favorite fanzine, I added a plotline where alien agents of Vanquish (a looming threat in our Outsider’s backstory) were introducing a super-drug called Invictus into the city’s black market.

As a point of reference, here’s the original “when you first consume Invictus” move from The Fan Favorite fanzine.

When you consume Invictus, roll +Freak.

On a hit, describe the first thing you realize you can do with the powers from the drug.

On a 7-9, the GM will lay out how the power has an unexpected complication or danger.
On a miss, the drug doesn’t (seem to) take, but you’re wracked by an uncomfortable sensation. Mark an appropriate condition. [Doyce adds: Give Invictus influence over you.]

(I also add Invictus influence as a possible 7-9 consequence, but only if the “unexpected complication or danger” side effect is ignored by the players and allowed to run its course. Not to be too cold-blooded about it, but from a manufacturer’s point of view, a drug isn’t any use if it isn’t addictive.)

Anyway, a couple of the NPCs and one PC were exposed to the drug. One of the NPCs (a powerless ‘beacon’ character who’s dating the Outsider) got powers that seemed to ‘stick’, permanently.

A couple sessions later, the players discovered that it wasn’t that the powers had become permanent; Colin was still using the drug.

So. That’s now a big plot for the team – getting Colin away from the drug, and tracking down the supplier/source.

Since the PCs are working to get Colin out from under Invictus’s influence, I worked up a more in-depth look at long-term use of the drug.

(Some of this isn’t relevant, since Colin is an NPC, but I’m messing around with the move, just so I have some idea of what’s going on.)

When you’re addicted to Invictus, either physically, psychologically, or both, Invictus has Influence over you.

  • It can use its Influence to shift your labels by making you believe you know how the world works.
  • It can and will use its Influence to Provoke you to rash action.
  • The roll to reject Influence against Invictus is always -Conditions.
  • Per the original Invictus rules, you may have super powers while Invictus has influence over you.
  • To retain those powers, Invictus must be given influence over you at the end of every session, instead of giving influence to someone on your team. If you do so, keep your powers. If Invictus already had influence over you when you do this, Invictus shifts your labels (always Freak up, Mundane down, even and especially if this would give you a condition for shifting something that can’t shift).
  • You never keep your powers if Invictus does not have Influence over you. The rumor that you can is a lie told by Invictus dealers – the powers never ‘stick’. Ever.

You can choose to remove Invictus’s Influence as the result of successfully rejecting its influence, but that influence can (and probably will) come back as the result certain 6- rolls (or even a 7-9, if you ignore the impending threat). The only (mechanical) way to permanently remove the threat of Invictus Influence is using a “permanently remove someone’s influence” playbook advance – assuming that advance is also reflected within the fiction.

Somebody can help you remove Invictus’s influence (again, not permanently – only you can do that), if you are currently free of Conditions. The roll will probably be either +Freak or +Mundane, depending on the fiction, rolling against Unleash Your Powers results. If they successfully help you remove Invictus’s influence, they mark potential, and you gain Influence with them.

  • You can always give Invictus influence over you for a +2 on any roll, including a roll you have just made. If Invictus already has influence over you, it will shift your labels instead (1 up, 1 down), and then give you a condition.
  • You can give Invictus influence to use any other playbook’s move you don’t have, “just this once.” Take a condition.

Certain special moves (Alien tech, Moment of Truth for appropriate powers or if used personally) can also permanently cure Invictus addiction in a target, if curing the addiction was the specific point of using the move.

There were also two other parts of the move that I removed for now:

  • If someone Comforts and Supports you while Invictus has influence over you, on a 6-, Invictus may now have influence over them. (You can roll to Defend them from this.)
  • If someone get s 6- while using their powers/influence to remove Invictus’s influence, the consequences might extend Invictus’s influence to them.)

I tabled these two parts of the move for now, because they’re deprotagonizing and maybe problematic. I think we’ll talk about this and if the Invictus plot gets “big”, we can talk about the drug mutating and these two threats evolving into the move. I’m not doing it if everyone isn’t on board with that threat.

And that’s where we are right now. Palacine is about to dive into the challenge of getting Colin clear of Invictus.

Actual Play Table Top

More on the Adventures of the Smartwoods

The kids and I played the aforementioned Bikes and Books game a couple times over the weekend and Monday night, getting the Smartwood kids ever closer to figuring out how and why the Assistant Principle is trying to change the town’s history to make an entirely different list of people the heroes of Fayville’s illustrious past.

Mar, the eldest, took particular umbrage at the last history-changing ritual, which seems to have replaced recognition of the towns many great women with “Men of Industry”, during the middle of a town parade. She even thought she’d managed to stop the man from affecting his diabolical plan, but although she immobilized him with some magic of her own, the magic still went off, albeit with lessened effect.

Something is going on that the kids just don’t understand. Someone else was in the Assistant Principle’s house the night Ken snuck in and found the room behind the giant clock in the house’s cupola tower – someone with a limp and cane… neither of which the AP has.

They need answers, and the only way to get them is sneaking back into that house.

This time, together.

Links & Resources Online Table Top Scheduling Table Top

Calling on the Hivemind

Anyone have good suggestions for phone / app friendly play by post platforms or tools?

The Masks game I play with my daughter and two of her friends hit a real high note with the most recent session, but it looks like we won’t be able to get back to the table until almost mid-August. Need something for asynchronous one-on-one play with a generation that associates “email” with “homework.”

Also, they’re going to be on the road a lot, so something that requires a PC for best experience is not recommended.

Actual Play Game Design Links & Resources Table Top

The Smartwood Children (a Lasers and Feelings hack for my kids)

This weekend has been chock-a-block with face to face gaming goodness with cool kids.

Friday was the 14th session of Masks: Phoenix Academy game with Kaylee and the Jamies and, I think, possibly one of the best sessions so far. (Which is good, because we’re not going to be able to play again until something like mid-August. :sadface: )

Sunday morning had a return to the The Hollow-inspired game for Sean and Zoe and Kaylee (Ryu and Grace and Angel). Things are starting to come apart, and Mr. Weirdo came to them to ask for help(?!?)

And Sunday evening, we tried something new: a Hilda-inspired weird-little-town, with Sean and Zoe and Kaylee playing siblings who are all part of the family who traditionally deal with ‘weird stuff’ in the world. Mom and Dad handle the BIG weird stuff out in the world, because “the town kind of takes care of itself” – without realizing that it’s actually their KIDS who take care of the town.

Back in the old country, their family were the Swartwoods. Grandpa changed his name when he came here, though, so say hello the Smartwoods: Mar (Marzipan), Ken (Kennelworth), and Zo (Zoology) Smartwood.

It’s basically a little bit Hilda (netflix), a little bit Courtney Crumrin, a little bit Goonies, set in the sort of town where this sort of thing happens and everyone sort of knows it, played with a Lasers and Feelings hack I made up called Bikes and Books.

The characters and game came together well and, after supper, we got ready for bed and played some more in lieu of bedtime stories. The Smartwood kids ran into a little trouble with the town deputies when Ken broke into the new Assistant Principle’s house to poke around, and they haven’t figured out why the town history seems to be … changing … but things are moving RIGHT along.

Good, good stuff.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 14 – “Personally, I Vote for Monotone Screaming”

Intro Video!

brahmaThe team has a LOT of stuff going on. A LOT. So much happens, you guys.

It’s one of those sessions where the most common roll is Take a Powerful Blow.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 13 – Fifty-five Minutes

The team plays super-powered musical chairs. Amazingly, no one dies.

Many chairs were harmed in the filming of this episode.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 12 – Meet the Parents

The team members each have a sort-of date… to meet their boyfriends’ parents.

Oh, and it seem like Vanquish is sneaking secret soldiers onto the planet or something. Whatever.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 11 – Whoop Whoop, Whoopity Whoop

The team gets ready for homecoming, deals with adults being adults, faces off against Ember’s mom and, FINALLY, make it to the dance.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 10 – Midterms Meltdown

The team deals with midterm drama.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 9 – Stop Trying to Cauterize My Wounds!

The team faces off against Alias and his crew, INSIDE their base.

Also, Palancine pretends to be Ember. It’s goes SUPER.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Psi*Run – Oneshot Actual play

Palacine’s Jamie is out of town, so we can’t play Masks. Instead Kaylee, Ember-Jamie, and I blast through a one-shot session of Psi-Run, by Meguey Baker. It delivers.

Musing Online Table Top Table Top

A Potentially Gaming Heavy Weekend

Back to the fun stuff.
Tonight, the first proper session of Apocalypse World: Ironwall with Kate and Kim and Amanda.

Sunday, Masks: Phoenix Academy with Kaylee and Jaime and Jaime.

Monday, Scum & Villainy: The Fast Buck, with the regular crew.

(Also possibly boardgame night with coworkers on Saturday.)

I’ve got a leeeettle bit of stress about all this, since

  1. The Ironwall game hasn’t quite clicked yet, and I’ve gotten a bit of dead silence from the players when asking some questions. Things are starting off with a pretty high-tension scene, so one way or the other things are going to be MOVING straight away… (just hope it’s not “off a cliff”).
  2. Scum & Villainy is… not a great match for the regular crew. We’ve talked about it, and there’s enough interest in both the story we’re doing and in NOT changing systems mid-game that we’ve collectively agreed to keep on keepin’ on, but it’s still A Thing. (We haven’t even gotten into Resistance Rolls, which are probably my least favorite mechanic in a pile of unloved toys.)

SO: lots of gaming to look forward too, but a few landmines to look out for at the same time.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks – Phoenix Academy – Session 6 – Date Night in Cloud Cuckoo Land

The team faces off against Oversight’s disapproval, then (finally) gets their date night with the bois.

Actual Play Links & Resources Musing Online Table Top Table Top

Looking Back at a Remarkably RPG-heavy Week

I’ve been lucky enough to have a regular gaming group for Some Time Now (thanks, #Roll20 !) – I don’t have the hard numbers, but I think we’re averaging ~48-50 game sessions a year in the main Monday night group.

The weekend just past was a bit of a jackpot.

On Friday night, I ran Session 0 chargen for a game of Apocalypse World, using the Baker’s new “Burned Over” playbooks, for a ‘fey revenge’ apocalypse that sees humanity clinging to survival in the ruins of rust-filled cities where the fey can’t easily reach. The notable bit with this game is it’s with three people I haven’t gotten to play RPGs with in ~five years. (That this group also includes my wife speaks volumes about how rough co-scheduling can be, sometimes.) Kate, Kim, and Amanda are playing a Vigilant, Brain-picker, and Medic, respectively, leaving me to come up with a real bastard of a settlement leader and (maybe) set up some patriarchy-smashing revenge fantasy. I have some more meandering thoughts on how excited I am to be playing with this group of strong women, but I’m still unpacking that. More to come.

Saturday night was the fifth actual play-session of the #Masks game with my daughter and her two friends from school – the only game being played face-to-face. This game fills me with joy, because the girls are so utterly into the game and, while they certainly have some level of self-awareness about the tropes involved, are totally invested and have exactly ZERO CHILL when it comes to the events of the sessions. We’re all learning a lot, and there are some real growth opportunities, though not always smiles and glitter (my daughter, for example, paused play for few minutes to talk about how her frustration with trying to play a fun-loving, joke-y character when her instincts is to “get super tense and judgmental of people when they don’t do what I expect, which… blame my mother, pretty much.”

Sil is judging you. Or jealous you've got a date.

On Saturday, the girls showed up to play WEARING THEIR CHARACTERS’ NON-COSTUME CLOTHING. They cosplayed as their guys, people. My cup runneth over.

And, of course, there’s my regular Monday Roll20 group, who (while still continuing to write fiction and comics NON-STOP about their Masks characters), are now four sessions into a game of the forged-in-the-dark game Scum and Villainy. The crew of the Fast Buck are trying to lay low while they figure out what to do with the insanely valuable/powerful Ur Artifact they’ve accidentally acquired, while the players (and GM) slowly feel our way through a new game system. A good system, to be sure, but ‘fiddly’ feeling to us, after well over a year of playing a game with which we’d become very very comfortable. (Kaylee, who listens in on the Monday group while doing homework, opines: “each session feels like about… half a comic issue.” And she’s not wrong – we’re going pretty slow right now, probably due to me trying to get the rules ‘right’, and asking lots of background questions.)

SO: for the first time probably since before my oldest daughter was born, that’s THREE gaming sessions in a week, all with a completely different group of players (save me). Really fantastic.

#actualplay #rpg #fitd #masks #pbta

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Actual Play: Masks Phoenix Academy, Session 5 – Snaking My Way Downtown

The team is in Belize. Ember melts Belize. Palacine snakes one of her palace guards out of a crater. Silhouette bleeds to protect the team. Repeatedly. Also she’s really bad at comfort & support.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Apocalypse World, Ironwall – Session 00

Kim, Kate, Amanda, and I get together to build an Apocalypse

We’re using the new Burned Over playbooks that Vincent’s releasing for “PG13 Apocalypse World.

(I don’t care about the rating, I DO care that the moves and playbooks feel more elegant and match much better what I’m looking for out of our relationship with the Maelstrom.)

All the other players are new to pbta-games. I’m new to AW itself.

Three women, playing three women, and no one picked the Lawgiver/Hardholder, so Imma put a real asshole in charge of the settlement and see if we can’t get a little Patriarchy Smashing Revenge Fantasy going…

I’m excited.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks Phoenix Academy, Actual Play – Session 4 – Skip Day

Everyone deals with some aftermath from Alias’s attack on the P.E. class. Some handle it better than others.

Ember talks with her brother, gets frustrated, takes an unauthorized skip-day with her chem-lab partner, who has… real chemistry.

Silhouette and her mentor are not getting on. With anyone, or each other.

Palacine is making friends with AEGIS, who thinks she’s just swell, and has a request for her…

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks Phoenix Academy, Session 3 – Why I Hate Gym Class (or: The Secret of Jack-toast)

The team deals with the most horrible of school challenges – a Tuesday morning after a bad Monday.

Ember’s mom hates all supers, Palacine is being asked to explain human behavior, and Silhouette may have just told Jack Monday she’s copying his breakfast preferences.

Oh, and Alias tries to kill them during gym class or something. Whatever.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks Phoenix Academy, Session 2 – The Non-Frolick

The team deals with teacher-pressure, social pressure, and a team-building exercise that goes sideways.

Everyone – especially Sil – had a rough time this session (except for Ember’s dice which were… hot), but they soldiered through, we had a good talk frustrating stuff, doubled down on the good stuff, and got a really nice reveal at the end that had everyone feeling a LOT better about everything, and SUPER excited about next session.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Masks EG – Session 00 AP Recording

In which our players create their heroes.

PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT a great recording – we were in a very active coffee/game shop throughout, and I basically only recorded it so I’d have something to refer back to later, but if you’re interested, here it is.

Actual Play Table Top

Masks EG, Session 00

Pretty much since the beginning of this school year, Kaylee has been assembling a short list classmate/friends who have some RPG experience, or interest in same. However, nothing was really happening with that until the last month or two, when she and I hit on the idea of doing a game of Masks.

Right away, this presented some interesting challenges.

As someone who typically finds myself in the GM chair, I found my hands tied when it came to orgainizing the game – I only had contact information for one player (my daughter), and in any case I wasn’t about to start texting random thirteen year olds I’d never met, setting up get-togethers at local coffee shops – that’s a hell of a good way to get angry parental phone calls (and with good reason).

(One of my regular players in the Monday night game said I should just explain to parents that it involves Dungeons and Masks, and everything would be fine. Hmm…)

So it fell to Kaylee to gauge interest, get commitment, explain the game at some basic levels, and organize the first session.

In all these things, she was a STAR. The only help I threw in was, late in the process, sending over a link to a set of basic slides with high-level intros to the playbooks, and I honestly didn’t know if that would even be of use.

When things started to shape up, we ended up with four interested players, all aged ~13, in eigth grade:

  1. My daughter Kaylee, who has quite a lot of experience with different games, from Fate Accelerated to Risus to DnD5e to multiple flavors of PBTA, including Masks (though she’s listened in on far more sessions of Masks than she’s played.) Her superhero genre exposure is by far the deepest of the group.
  2. JC1, who has played in a couple DnD games with her Dad, brother, and a couple friends of the family. She and her family are quite familiar with MCU and DCU movies, but beyond that there isn’t much superhero genre knowledge.
  3. JC2, who has (with her brother) convinced her (non-gaming) dad to run DnD modules for them. (Go supportive dad!) Like JC1, she’s seen most of the MCU movies, and that’s about all the superhero stuff she knows.
  4. G1, who has no gaming experience, but thought it sounded pretty cool. No idea about genre exposure at this point.

Of the kids, only JC2 voiced much character preference ahead of time, but they voiced it loud and clear: Fire powers, driven by emotion. (Kaylee predicted a Nova playbook, or possibly The Star.)

Kaylee was, until about a week before, holding back on any character concepts – taking what I think of as a kind of ‘veteran player’ stance of “I’ll wait until everyone else decides what they’re doing.”

I pointed out that while that might work with a group of players with more genre and/or gaming experience, THIS group might benefit from demonstration – more specifically, I told her I was hoping to start off character generation with her, so her friends could see what was coming.

I also pointed out that picking a character who was a little more experienced as a superhero might be a good idea, because she could then bring her knowledge of the game and setting into play.

This proved to be all the constraint she needed to take off like a rocket, and she filled the next few days with discussions of background and history.

All I had to do was prepare to run a game for table of 13 year old girls, so… new experiences all around!

The Big Day

Kaylee was basically vibrating with anticipation by the time Sunday rolled around, and to be honest I was looking forward to it as well, but before we headed out to our local game/coffee shop rendezvous, I cautioned her that the Rules of Gaming Schedules would prevail, and she should be prepared for people to be late or, come to that, simply not show up. I didn’t want to kill her excitement, but better ahead of time than in the middle of the game. I’m a stoic; sue me.

Sundays at Enchanted Grounds are busy, but I was able to reserve a table for the morning, and we got set up before JC1 showed up. We already knew JC2 was going to be a late, due to a sibling birthday, so we loaded up on caffeine and got rolling.

Kaylee had already settled on her playbook, and it turned out JC1 had as well, thanks to the slides I had put together. (I was pleasantly surprised and glad making the thing hadn’t been a waste of time.)

So, with playbooks in hand, the two started working on their sheets.

Kaylee went with…


HERO NAME: Silhouette
REAL NAME: Casey Quinn (Casey is actually K.C., for Kendall Charity, which she hates)

* Caucasian, female, lean body, casual clothes
* Very simple costume consisting of combat boots, black cargo pants with some ballistic cloth lining, a sort of long-sleeved black compression mock turtleneck(same lining), and a tight, featureless black cowl.

You are someone’s protégé. Your powers somewhat mimic theirs, but each of you is in some way unique.

  • SHARED ABILITY: Detective skills
  • YOUR OWN ABILITY: Impossible fighting skills (hyper senses)
  • YOUR MENTOR’S ABILITY: telepathy/telekinesis

Sil’s mentor is Vigil, who’s somewhere between Oracle and The Question for one of the city’s premiere adult superhero teams.

She does not do sidekicks.

Vigil EMBODIES Superior logic, and DENIES Mundane concerns.

Casey wasn’t born blind. Her mother died shortly after she was born, due to complications with the birth itself. Her father tried, but being a single parent was overwhelming; at some point in her early childhood, there was a bad car accident. Maybe he dozed off, maybe he was drinking. Casey tries not to think about it.

The accident blinded her, and that added complication to their lives proved too much for Casey’s dad, who abandoned her to child services and a series of orphanages and foster homes.

Things were… not good, but somehow Casey’s positive (albeit sarcastic), bounce-back attitude kept her going.

Then her hypersenses started developing. THAT was fun.

In a way, she was lucky – if she’d had to deal with vision on TOP of all the other sensory overload, she’d have probably gone crazy. As it was… she had a rough couple months.

(Casey could find a silver lining around a tornado.)

She’d never really been very good at people coddling her for her blindness, but now that she could somewhat function with her other heightened senses (the flipside being she had to be careful not to be overwhelmed by too much input), she decided to get away from the foster system. Since she had superpowers… she figured she’d head for Halcyon City.

It didn’t take long for her to get into some trouble.

  • How did you first meet your mentor?
    • Casey interrupted two street-level drug dealers beating up a third kid – a kid she knew from the local homeless shelter. Casey managed to beat the two thugs (they underestmated the wise-cracking blind girl, luckily), but never noticed the woman watching from the rooftops over the alley.

      Vigil kept an eye on Casey for the next few weeks, until Casey noticed her (hypersenses, you know), at which point, Vigil vanished for a few weeks.

      When she returned, it was with a stack of critiques of everything from Quinn’s tactics and decision making, to her (non-existent) hand to hand technique.

      Making the arrrangement official took longer, but eventually they wore each other down.
  • When and why did you choose to train with them?
    • Well, she’s a genius. She’s a great teacher. She… also gave me a place to sleep, which is awesome. And she got me into Phoenix Academy as a freshmen, which is fantastic. And I get to be a superhero.

      And I’m not alone.
  • Why did they agree to train you?
    • Because I’m awesome? SHE says it’s because I had tiny bit of potential and I was going to get myself killed without some training, but whatever – it’s because I’m awesome.
  • Who else, outside of the team, knows about your training?
    • My best friend, Maria Manuel – the biggest superhero trivia nerd who has ever lived.
  • Why do you care about the team?
    • Because they never coddle me or think I need to be specially protected becuase I can’t see.

Finally, Kaylee picked out her Protégé moves, with an eye toward that ‘veteran’/leadership role she hoped to play.

  • Been reading the files: When you first encounter an important superpowered phenomenon (your call), roll + Superior. On a hit, tell the team one important detail you’ve learned from your studies. The GM will tell you what, if anything, seems different from what you remember.
  • Captain: When you enter battle as a team, add an extra Team to the pool and carry +1 forward if you are the leader.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings: When you Assess the Situation before entering into a fight, you may ask one additional question, even on a miss.

Her mentor is also supposed to provide some resources to her and the team, but she decided to wait on that until she knew what was most needed. (I’m guessing a hidden base is on the list.)

Also, she drew up her character, which is awesome.

JC1 patiently let me run her through all the playbooks, and then selected…

The Outsider

… which is what she’d wanted in the first place.

HERO NAME: Palacene (both heroic and her ‘home’ name)
REAL NAME: Peggy J (She doesn’t really get how names work, yet)


  • female human body (at least most of the time), metallic eyes, mismatched clothing (earth fashions are HARD), and a practical costume (which might just be her, shapeshifting something that looks like her idea of a costume)

She can fly, and she’s pretty tough, also:

  • radical shapeshifting
  • telepathy and mind blasts

Both the shapeshifting and telepathy are native abilities of her people.


  • Where do you come from?
    • Lucidia – a colorful planet with 3 suns and many moons. It’s got a LOT of ocean, and is heavily affected by varying gravitational forces, so the inhabitants of the world have learned to be very… adaptable and fluid.
  • Why did you come to Earth?
    • She fled or was sent away from her homeworld when it was invaded by Vanquish (a sort of intergalactic warlord, in the vein of Ronan from Gaurdians of the Galaxy). Her homeworld is peaceful, so resistance has been very slow.
  • Why do you want to stay here (for now at least)?
    • It’s safer here. More peaceful.
  • Why do your people want you to come home?
    • I’m the princess, and the resistance needs a leader.
  • Why do you care about the team?
    • My family tree is EXTENSIVE, so I really miss having a close support network.

Kaylee and JC1 were both mostly done with their characters by the time JC2 showed up (family obligations). So… dad was a LITTLE bit right about that.

Also, G1 totally didn’t show, so… right again. (I’m not smart, I’ve just been scarred by years of gaming.)

Anyway, JC2 is here! Also, she has a really strong idea for her character, and immediately grabs…



* woman, caucasian, blonde/reddish hair, blue eyes, casual clothing, and a colorful costume (black, with flames print around the wrist and ankles. Tall boots.)


  • When did you first use your powers?
    • Only a few months ago.
  • Who was the first person you accidentally hurt with your powers?
    • A bully from her old school was messing with a kid from her old school at the park, and when she stood up to him, he really got in her face and said some horrible things. She got… very mad. He just got out of the hospital a few days ago, and the bandages on his arm and leg still haven’t come off. (GM notes she isn’t showing any remorse about this.)
  • Who, outside the team, helps you control your powers?
    • An old woman named Agatha, who saw what happened at the park.
  • Why do you continue to use your powers?
    • If she doesn’t use them, they build up to the point where literally ANY kind of strong emotions can release them. Using them is safer. Kind of.
  • Why do you care about the team?
    • They trust her. Right now, it doesn’t seem like anyone trusts her.

You all go to Phoenix Academy…

The players were all interested in an intensely school-focused game, so we’re using the “Phoenix Academy” playset from the Masks: Unbound sourcebook. Initially, this meant the next step in chargen was sketching out the faculty of the school and asking the players some questions.

I let them know about Hellbinder, the headmaster/demon parolee in charge of the school, as well as several other ‘stock’ members of the staff, and then went around the table asking questions:

  • Ember, which teacher will just NOT cut you a break?
    • Sergeant S.U.R.G.E. – the gym teacher currently working off some prison time by teaching at the school. He senses Lucy can’t control her powers, and has decided he’s going to fix that problem with thousands of push-ups.
  • Palacene, which teacher do you secretly have a crush on?
    • Mr. “Brick” (B. Rick) – the only totally mundane teacher in the school. (Math)
    • (This whole conversation led to a hilarious discussion of an alien experiencing blushing for the first time.)
  • Silhouette, which faculty member do you suspect is actually a supervillain?
    • Hellbinder, the headmaster. She just doesn’t trust him – he just killed too many people. No way.
  • Ember, which teacher’s do you think are secretly hooking up?
    • The janitor, whom everyone thinks is great, and Princess Arizella, the swashbuckling English teacher.
  • Palacene, which teacher do you think should retire?
    • Selma Schwatz, the perpetually ancient school administrator know-it-all.
  • Silhouette, who do you think would make a better headmaster?
    • Princess Arizella – not because she’s got much experience, just because it would be AWESOME.

After that, we went on to the standard –

When the team first came together…

This went pretty quickly. I first asked who the team had been fighting at the time. Kaylee remembered fighting Rampage in some other Masks one-shot, and thought they made a good one-and-done background enemy.

I asked Ember what part of the city had been destroyed during the fight, and found out it had been the downtown arts and theatre district.

Palacene let us know that the girls initially didn’t trust each other, but when Ember stepped out of the crowd and blasted Rampage off of Palacene at just the right moment, the trust started growing.

Finally, Silhouette explained that they stayed in touch afterwards through her efforts to keep communicating with supers her age, and the fact they were all going to Phoenix Academy. They’re not part of an official school club, just an unofficial clique – no school support, but also no school club rules.

After that, they mapped out relationships between each other (with three players, it went fast), and determining Influence (everyone has Influence over everyone else at this point, which is interesting).

We didn’t have much time at this point, so I framed them into a scene waiting for the ferry to take them to the Phoenix Academy island for their first day of sophomore year (2nd year there for Silhouette – 1st for Palacene and Ember).

There was a bit of chit chat, until Silhouette noticed an ozone scent in the air and tingling static along her skin. She took stock (assess the situaiton), realized they were about to be attacked and, based on the environmental clues, guessed it was Voltaic – an AI who had gone rogue and decided the best way to keep humanity safe was kill all metahumans… what better target than a quay full of teen supers?

She’d read the files on Voltaic, though, and quickly let the team know they needed to get the thing into the water, before it could hurt anyone. Go go go!

Time to “Face a Powerful Enemy” – the girls decided Silhouette was the leader, Team points were generated, and we’ll start off next with a fight on the marina, surrounded by Halcyon City’s youngest supers.

D20 Game Design Links & Resources

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
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.

Actual Play Random Podcast Table Top

Podcast AP: Freebooters on the Frontier 1 on 1 – Character generation

Kaylee and I decided to do something fun with Freebooters on the Frontier. There will be more of this.

Intro music is some of Wintergatan – Marble Machine. Exit music is some of Thunderstruck – 2Cellos.

Actual Play Links & Resources Musing Online Table Top Table Top

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.

Actual Play Links & Resources Online Table Top Table Top

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 (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).


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!

Actual Play Online Table Top Table Top

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.


(~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…”


I love this, so much. 🙂

Also of use: the 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 – 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.


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.


(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 …)


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?


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.


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.




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 …


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


Eduard Zitherhands, Bard

Tiana, the rough mercenary turned paladin

Torwin the Courageous (among other things)

Game Design Musing Table Top

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?

Actual Play Table Top

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.


“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.


“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.”


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.


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.

Actual Play Table Top

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?


“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.

Actual Play Table Top

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.