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?


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.


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 protrayals (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.





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




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.)


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?


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.

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.

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.


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."


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. 😛


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?


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


… 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?

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.


(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…


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.

Mostly certainly prepping this for use with +Kaylee Testerman and +Sean Testerman


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…

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.

Getting caught up on #RPGaDay2015


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.


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!

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.

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
“ 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.


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.

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 …

#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.

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.?

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 …

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.

Character Progression in Fate Accelerated

One of the complaints/problems I've run into with previous incarnations of Fate were with character advancement. To be blunt, there wasn't any, or it wasn't satisfying for those familiar with more mainstream RPG gaming.

That is, without a doubt, a 'fixed problem' with Fate Core and FAE. The best demonstration of that I've found have been with write-ups like these: Conan's entire career as a series of FAE milestones.

A couple other great examples are Batman: Year One (http://station53.blogspot.com/2013/10/this-post-is-inspired-by-dt-butchinos.html) and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6 (http://mdpaste.appspot.com/p/agdtZHBhc3Rlcg0LEgVQYXN0ZRjZ6xgM).

Character Highlight: Robert E Howard’s Conan – Through His Career (FAE)
Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” – …

Character Progression in Fate Accelerated

One of the complaints/problems I've run into with previous incarnations of Fate were with character advancement. To be blunt, there wasn't any, or it wasn't satisfying for those familiar with more mainstream RPG gaming. 

That is, without a doubt, a 'fixed problem' with Fate Core and FAE. The best demonstration of that I've found have been with write-ups like these: Conan's entire career as a series of FAE milestones.

A couple other great examples are Batman: Year One (http://station53.blogspot.com/2013/10/this-post-is-inspired-by-dt-butchinos.html) and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6 (http://mdpaste.appspot.com/p/agdtZHBhc3Rlcg0LEgVQYXN0ZRjZ6xgM).

#gaming  #fae  #fatecore  ?

Character Highlight: Robert E Howard’s Conan – Through His Career (FAE)
Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” – …

A few thoughts on EVE, a static playerbase, and how I'd fix it

Reshared post from +Doyce Testerman

A few thoughts on EVE, a static playerbase, and how I'd fix it.

(Also: the new home of my Life in Eve #gaming posts!)?

Stay Awhile and Listen: Growing the EVE Population with a Good Story
Some of EVE’s current zeitgeist is currently swirling around the topic of New Players. Getting them. Keeping them. Breaking into demographics only thinly represented in-game at the current time. I want to talk about it a bit…

Atomic Robo, Some of the Most Fun You Can Have with Action Science!

Guaranteed* 98% free of unexpected explosions.

#wp  #gaming

* – Should not actually be considered any kind of guarantee. At all.

Atomic Robo & the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne | TheMittani.com
Let’s start with a quick questionnaire. Do you like: Buckaroo Banzai; Indiana Jones; Doc Savage; Hellboy (movie or comic); Science, especially when it is followed with an exclamation point or preceded by the words “violent,” “adventure,” or both; Nikola Tesla; Wisecracks; Beating up Nazis …

Fate: Trouble Magnet – Session Three

We picked up the action from Session Two the following day. Hooray for weekends and little brother’s naptime.

Matthew Cuthbert drives a beautifully preserved old pickup that purrs down the highway like a sleeping lion. Inside the cab of the pickup, the old man and young girl are quiet: Matthew seems a bit uncomfortable with small talk, now that he’s on his own, and the Nataly has always been comfortable entertaining herself — she pulls out several of her comic books once it’s clear Matthew isn’t going to spend the drive quizzing her, and dives in.

After a half-hour or so, he clears his throat and asks what she’s reading.

“Just… my comic books,” she says, looking at the covers as though she wasn’t sure the covers matched the contents.

“Ahh, I see…” he mulls that over. “Which, ah… which ones are those about?”

She shrugs. “Superman. Captain Spectacular. The Clue. War Witch. The Inspectre.”

“Well, now…” he says, smiling a bit, “I’ve even heard of some of those.” He frowns. “You know… it’s a puzzle. There’re superheroes out there, and there’s superhero comics, but a lot of the comics you mentioned are made-up people, instead of the real ones. I wonder why that is.”

[Note: I had not talked this idea over with Kaylee beforehand — we were just roleplaying through the car ride and I lobbed this at her to see what she’d do.]

Nataly considered for a few seconds, then shrugged. “People read the comics to have fun. If they read something that happened to a real superhero, that’s just… news. Nobody likes news.”

Matthew pondered that, then nodded. “I reckon that’s so.”

[The next day, I asked Kaylee which of the superheroes she mentioned were ‘real’ and which were ‘just comics’ in Nataly’s version of the world. The answer she gave told me that we’re in somewhere in the DC multiverse (I’ll call it Earth-23), albeit with a few unfamiliar names in the headlines. I suspect this is at least partly because she’d rather Nataly meet Robin than read about him.]

The drive was a long one — her new home wasn’t anywhere near Clearwater Campus, and Nataly wondered how her new family had even heard of it, let alone her. She asked about her new home, but Matthew didn’t know much.

“We just moved in a few days ago,” he said. “Marilla – my sister – picked it out, while I was coming to get you. Have you ever lived on a farm?”

Nataly shook her head.

“Me neither,” he confided. “I guess we’ll all figure it out together.”

“What did you do before you moved?” Nataly asked.

“Well, now…” he thought it over. “I suppose we were just… looking around for the right thing.”

Nataly dozed for awhile, and Matthew woke her when they got close to their destination.

“Now, Marilla is… really excited to meet you,” he said, “but she gets stern when she’s nervous, so don’t hold her first impression against her. She warms up over time.”

Nataly nodded. A veteran of uncounted “family interviews”, she had no fear of meeting new people.

The farm house looked as though it hadn’t been lived in for quite awhile. It was nice, just a bit run-down.

“We’ll have lots to work on,” thought Nataly.

A woman about Matthew’s age was waiting in the yard, and Nataly got out and walked over right away to shake her hand.

“So,” said Marilla, “you’re the girl.” She tried on a smile, though it didn’t look especially comfortable. “Good.”

Marilla and Matthew give Nataly a tour of the rambling old farmhouse, and she’s encouraged to unpack, but that really doesn’t take very long. The two suggest she ‘do a bit of exploring around the place’, which she does, though she purposely does not do any experimentation with her bracelet at this time, her reluctance explained as a desire to have at least one day go by at the farm with nothing going wrong. Supper and bedtime are pleasantly uneventful, and Nataly dozes off while (re)reading comic books.

The next morning, after helping with breakfast, Nataly is directed back outside for more ‘exploring’, and her own meandering and boredom eventually get the best of her and lead her to more messing around with her bracelet. This goes quite a bit better than the previous morning’s misadventure with Kendra, and after a few hours she finds she’s able to fly reliably and even get up a kind of ‘force bubble’ semi-reliably — it seems to be more of a flinch reaction when she’s about to smash into something hard.

She’s surprised to realize that flying is hard work: something that leaves her quite as winded as she would be from a long run or a series of sprints — it’ll be in her best interests to continue to ‘exercise’ her new abilities.

She returns to the house at lunchtime, washes up, helps lay food out, eats enough for three grown adults, chattering the whole time, and then actually falls asleep sitting in her chair. Matthew carries her up to her room and she naps for almost three hours, then helps her new family unpack and organize the house. Marilla doesn’t think much of her comic books, but does have a surprisingly broad selection of science fiction novels that Nataly has never heard of and which Marilla seems eager for the girl to read.

Nataly wakes in the middle of the night unsure what’s jolted her from sleep, but doesn’t have to wait long — the strange skittering across both the roof of the house and the floor of her room answers that question quickly enough.

She’s still trying to decide if she should go and explore or call for someone when a large, clicking, metallic spider-creature-thing jumps onto the foot of her bed.

The CGI from Lost in Space has NOT aged well, in case you were wondering.
The CGI from Lost in Space has NOT aged well, in case you were wondering.

Nataly, never a big fan of spiders in general, much less big robo-spiders the size of dobermans, lets out a shriek, shoves at the thing and… blasts it back off her bed and right through the wall, leaving a gaping hole between her room and Marilla’s.

There’s a moment of stunned silence, then Nataly shouts:


Just as Marilla shouts:

“Matthew! They’re here!”

Who’s here?” Nataly hollers, and jumps out of bed.

“Get downstairs!” is her only reply, and she does so, stopping only long enough to grab her backpack.

The outside of the house is crawling with spiderbots.

Metal Shell, Spindly Legs

+2 to Creepy Spider Stuff
-2 to everything else.

No stress boxes.

Four of the ‘bots leap down, a silvery web spread out between them like a net. Nataly throws a force field up that’s too big for the web to surround, the spiders themselves hit it and bounce away. Matthew tries to grab one and smash it, but it crawls up/wraps around his arm and grapples with him.

Marilla emerges from the house carrying a bag that would intimidate Mary Poppins and snaps at Nataly to get to the barn, but the girl isn’t going to leave her new friends… family. Whatever. She drops her own force field and creates shields around Marilla and Matthew instead, which give them more than enough of an edge against the spiders to do some damage. Matthew peels his loose and smashes it against a second one, destroying both, while Marilla’s arm seems to… fold apart, revealing a very large gun barrel that spews bright blasts of energy that make short work of several spiders (though they also damage the house and start several small fires).

Matthew, at least, is willing to listen to Marilla, and heads to the barn to get his pickup out so they can get away.

Nataly’s a bit traumatized by her brand new home being on fire, but Marilla’s grim determination helps her stay focused. Marilla’s unexpected offensive has the spiderbots reeling. [Rather than going for damage, she created an Advantage for Nataly to exploit, and the dice were very kind, giving Nataly two free +2 aspect invocation bonuses to use against the enemy.]

Nataly takes advantage of Marilla ‘grouping’ the stunned spiderbots into several large clusters and tries to repeat the trick she did to the bot that jumped on her bed, hurling several ‘balls’ of force energy at the clusters of spiders.

[[Between the two free invokes, the +2 bonus she gets from one of her stunts, Kaylee’s insistence on using a Fate Point to invoke her ‘bracelet’ aspect, a good dice roll on her part and a bad dice roll on my part, she ended up with something like fourteen (!) shifts worth of damage to dole out amongst the ‘bots. Not enough to take them all out, but more than enough to cut their numbers by half and give her and her family plenty of time to drive away.]]

It’s quiet in the cab of the truck. Nataly is looking out the back window at her first real home, burning, dwindling in the distance.

“Well…” Matthew finally says. “I’d guess you did a bit of something or other with your bracelet today?”

Nataly doesn’t know what to say, or how he knew, so she simply nods. He nods in return, glancing at Marilla, who’s mouth gets tight.

“It’s our own fault,” she says, “this foolishness about living out in the country. There’s no other anomalous energy signatures out here — anything the girl does will stand out like a spotlight.” She shakes her head.

“I’m sorry,” Nataly’s voice is small, sure that this is all her fault.

“Oh, girl, don’t be silly. We should have known better.”

“I could… just…” she swallows “…not use the bracelet?”

“Well, now…” Matthew drawls. “That won’t do, I don’t think.” (Which is a great relief to Nataly.)

“No it will not,” Marilla agrees, primly. “The problem is being out here in the open.” She considers. “What a body needs is camouflage — the more strange things going on around us, the less likely anyone’s going to notice the girl.” She looks at Matthew.

“City it is, then,” he replies, and spares a smile for Nataly. “Best you get some sleep. It’s a long drive to Mercury Bay.”

FATE: Short “Supers” Session with Kaylee

Last night, Kaylee and I decided to trade our bedtime reading for a introductory mini-session of Fate Accelerated Edition, with her playing the would-be superhero she made up over the weekend.

It’s Saturday afternoon, just after lunch, and Nataly Smith is lying on the bed in her small room at Clearwater Campus (a combination orphanage and elementary) reading one of the few donated comic books she hasn’t worn the covers off of already. Her eyes are wide, drinking in the four-color heroics — she’s a million miles away.

She’s also late.

A loud knocking jolts her upright, and the door opens before she can answer. Mrs. McIntyre, Principle’s Assistant, bustles in, demanding to know why Nataly isn’t dressed for her interview yet — why she isn’t in fact at her interview, as the appointment was scheduled to start five minutes ago. It seems the girl forgot that she was supposed to meet with a potential foster parent today, and she rushes around under Mrs. McIntyre’s frazzled glare, pulling on her best jumper (“just a little bit frayed along the hem”) and rushing out the door.

Another child might have rushed into the classroom where Principle Sanchez was waiting, or lurked outside, trying to eavesdrop on his conversation with the potential foster parent, but Nataly simply knocked and waited. The principle called her in, and she — a veteran of many, many interviews, walked quietly over to the heavyset older woman sitting primly in an undersized chair and came to a sort of schoolyard-grade attention, hands clasped behind her.

The woman was not impressed.

“Skinny little thing,” she said through pinched lips. “And I thought you said she was older. I need a strong, reliable girl.”

Principle Sanchez’s mouth twitched. “Nataly is one of the oldest girls currently living on-campus. I believe she’s ten.” He stroked his mustache. “In any case, while our girls have a fine sense of responsibility, we don’t normally rate them by their lifting capacity.”

The older woman gave him a sharp look, but his expression made it impossible to take offense. “You know I take care of anyone I foster, Mister Sanchez.” She turned back to Nataly. “Ten, then?”

Nataly nodded. “Yes…” She waited, then. “Ma’am.”

The woman sniffed. “You seem pleasant enough for some barren little suburban couple to’ve snapped you up — how is it you’re still here?”

“I… haven’t been very lucky,” Nataly said, eyes downcast. Which was true, though it didn’t really tell the whole story. Nataly had been taken home with – literally – dozens of families on a trial basis, but something always went wrong.

The woman seemed to sense the evasion. “Not lucky?” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you some kind of trouble maker?”

No, I’m a trouble magnet. Nataly thought — a phrase she’d heard the principle, Mrs. McIntyre, and most of her teachers use at one time or another — but she clamped her jaw shut to keep from saying it out loud.

The woman scowled. “Well? Speak up? Are you a trouble maker?” The principle started to say something, but she held up her hand to him, palm out. “I want to hear what the girl has to say.”

But Nataly froze. Trouble magnet echoed around her head, driving out any other possible reply she could have come up with and, knowing she couldn’t say that, she said nothing.

The silence dragged on, until the woman sniffed, sat back, and shook her head. “No.”

Principle Sanchez cleared his throat. “Perhaps –”

“No,” she snapped. “Two minutes into the conversation, and she’s already gone obstinate and locked her heels? I won’t have it. I’m too old and there are plenty of other girls.” She nodded her chin at Nataly. “You can go, girl, and good luck finding a family that will put up with a little bullheaded creature like you.”

Nataly’s lower lip moved just a bit, but she locked that down as well, managed a brief, automatic curtsy, and walked back the way she’d come.

It hardly surprised her anymore, when an interview went poorly. But it still hurt.

A hour later, Nataly was still sitting on the bed in her good jumper. She’d tried moping for a while, but she couldn’t really get her heart into it, and her eyes had fallen on the comic book she’d left behind. She was just picking it up when a shadow darkened her doorway.

It was Jolene.

“I just wanted to stop by,” said Jolene “and tell you how sorry I am that your interview foster parent thought you were terrible.”

Nataly glared. “That isn’t what happened.”

Jolene, only nine, raised an eyebrow in a way you normally only saw on bored adults. “Well, she didn’t take you home, did she? Something went wrong.” She tipped her head. “But something always does go wrong with you, doesn’t it?”

“Go. Away.”

“Away?” Jolene frowned. “But I’m in the hallway, not your room. There’s no rules against being in the hallway.”

“What. Do you want?”

“I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am,” replied Jolene. “I mean, I’m moving in with a real adoptive family next week, and you can’t even find a foster family to take you. I feel terrible.” She sighed. “At this rate, you’ll be eighteen and kicked out of here as completely hopeless before you even see your treasures box.”

“I won’t –” Nataly’s eyes narrowed. “Treasure box?”

Treasures box.” Jolene’s eyes lit up, sensing a new weak spot. “Oh, I suppose you don’t know about those, since you came here as a little abandoned baby no one wanted. It’s the box where they put all the valuables you had when you came here, that you might lose.” She tilted your head. “Then again, since came here as an unwanted baby, you probably don’t even have –”

Nataly slammed the door.

“I’m never going to get adopted,” Nataly pushed at her food with a fork, her chin resting on her fist. “Everyone says I’m too skinny.”

Kendra, her one friend at Clearwater, gave her look. “Is that why you punched Jolene?”

Nataly’s head snapped up in surprise. “What? I didn’t punch her. I just slammed the door in her face.”

“Oh.” Kendra glanced across the cafeteria at a distance table full of giggling girls. “That’s too bad. She needs a good smack.”

Nataly grinned, but thinking of Jolene reminded her of something else. “She said something about a Treasures Box. Was she making that up or –”

“Nope, we all have those — all the stuff they don’t trust kids with.” She squinted into the middle distance. “Mine’s actually three boxes I think, and a key for a storage garage — all the stuff my grams left behind when she died, I think. They keep em all in a big storage room behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.” She looked at Nataly. “You didn’t know?”

“I never get to help in the office,” Nataly said. “And I’ve always been here. I probably don’t even have a box.”

“I bet you do,” Kendra said. Then she got the smile that was why she and Nataly had always been friend. “In fact…”

Nataly caught the grin and felt it spread to her own lips. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Fifteen minutes after lights out, Kendra knocked on Nataly’s door, and the two of them scurried through the campus, eyes peeled for the security guard that walked the hallways at night, tapping his stick on the radiators. Kendra claimed to know his wandering pattern, and she must have been right, because the girls didn’t see him all the way to the storage room door in the hallway behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.

The door was locked.

“How…” Nataly stared at the handle. “Can you pick locks?”

“No.” Kendra shook her head as through Nataly had just asked if she could breathe water. “Who knows how to pick locks?”

“Lots of people,” Nataly said.

“Lots of people in comic books, maybe,” Kendra muttered. “We need the key.”

“Well who –” Nataly’s eyes widened. “The janitor! He’s got every key to the whole building!”

“But they’re either in his closet, which is locked,” Kendra said, “or he took them home.”

“Maybe…” Nataly shook her head, thinking, but Kendra grinned and snuck back toward Mrs. McIntyre’s desk. “What are you doing?!?”

“I bet she’s got the keys in her desk.”

Nataly hurried after. “That’s private!”

Kendra stared back at her. “We’re breaking into a whole private room.”

She had a good point. Nataly joined the search, and found a ring of keys in a coffee cup full of loose change. Nataly went back to the door and started trying keys when Kendra stopped her.

“I just heard the security man hit a radiator!” she whispered.

The girls rushed back to Mrs. McIntyre’s desk and hid underneath. The guard walked slowly up and actually SAT on the desk for awhile, muttering to himself, sniffing loudly, clearing his throat, and generally just taking a load off in that way people who think they’re alone do. He even farted a couple times, but the girls bit their lips and stayed silent — probably the greatest test of their will in their short lives.

Finally, he stood up and wandered off. The girls hurried back and kept trying keys until the door opened and they slipped inside.

Only then did the giggles take them.

There were a lot of shelves and a LOT of boxes. It didn’t take Nataly long to figure out how they were organized, but when she went to where her box should be, there was nothing there, so she was forced to go shelf by shelf, reading each box label, one at a time. They did find Kendra’s boxes (there were four), at which point Nataly had to search by herself while Kendra went through them, holding up one small treasure after another.

Finally, Nataly came to a pile of boxes near the back of the room, each one labeled with names she didn’t recognize. She started moving them to the side and spotted hers near the bottom of the stack.

“Nataly,” Kendra hissed. “I think he’s coming back!”

Nataly kept moving boxes, finally pulling out hers — no bigger than a shoebox, dusty, and taped shut.


The young girl pulled at the tape, barely hearing her friend. Something inside the box had shifted and thumped when she’d picked it up. She did have a treasure!

“Nataly, he’s coming!”

The tape came away, the lid flipped to the side, and Nataly stared down at… a bracelet. A beautiful silver bracelet set with blue gems each the size of her thumbnail.

Hers. She knew it, somewhere deep inside. Always meant to be hers. She put it on.

“Nataly!” Kendra whispered as loudly as she could. “We need to–” She turned away from the door, and her eyes went wide. “…Nataly?”

Nataly floated in mid-air, arms hanging at her side, eyes wide open and glowing – glowing – blue.

And that’s where we stopped. (Amidst cries of “Wait!” “No!” and “Really, Daddy? Really?!?”)

Can’t wait to play again.

FATE: Gaming with my Daughter

So my daughter’s back from grandparent camp, she’s been briefed on the Fate dice mechanic, and we’ve been talking about games to play. Tinkerbell has been mentioned. Also: pirates, wizards, ninjas, Mouse Guard, and Skylanders. (This conversation went on for a couple days on car rides.) We finally settle on superheroes for the first game of the summer, mostly because that’s the topic she kept asking to go back to, once it came up.

I steered things away from game-talk for awhile and asked the classic “if you could have any super power…” question. Good discussion. She hits me with “force fields” as an answer, which I thought was interesting and unexpected. We talk some about what being able to make force fields would let her do, and she comes up with the obvious protective benefits, plus making little “force field balls” to throw at people, and “it would be cool if, like, I could go invisible because of the force field, if I wanted.”

To my knowledge, she’s never heard of the Fantastic Four. 🙂 She does have some unexpected DC Universe knowledge, because her friend is a Teen Titans fangirl. So while munching dinner tonight, I give her a list of the six FAE approaches and we talk about them in terms of which you’d want to use for different types of gymnastics, or bowling, or soccer, or math homework; all of this is just so I know we’re clear on what they each do.Then I ask her to rank them with a 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 0 scheme for her force field girl. She goes for Forceful, Sneaky, and Clever for the top three.  “I’m really not very careful”, she opines.

Dinner’s over, and we sit down and talk about aspects. I give her an example of an Aspect, and she says “oh, they just describe something”, and I allow that that’s true, except they usually have an upside and downside, so they’re more interesting, and we start working out her girl’s backstory and from that what the Aspects would be.

Kaylee explains how the Sky Sapphire Bracelet works.
Kaylee explains how the Sky Sapphire Bracelet works.

The result: an orphaned alien princess, hiding on Earth in an orphanage. She never finds a good family, because trouble always seems to find her and mess things up. She’s in fifth grade now, but appeared on earth when she was a baby.  Her powers mostly come from a Sky Sapphire Bracelet (her: “Because I don’t want it to be like the Green Lantern ring.”), although she knows she CAN fly without the bracelet, which makes GM-me suspect that the bracelet is more of a focus than the source of power.

Finally, we get to the sheet. I filled out the first Aspect, just so it would fit in the box, and I wrote out the first Stunt, but after that she figured out the rubric and wrote out the second two stunts on her own.

“I can fly,” she says, “but I’m not good enough to get a bonus. I’m so-so.” I feel like she understands Stunts.

End result: sort of a Superman/Green Lantern/Invisible Girl/Megan Morse thing. Pretty cool.

I’m looking forward to playing. So is she, though she doesn’t think we’re ready until she’s written out a proper description and done a drawing.

The sheet so far.

#gaming #fae #fate

Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn

So I'm thinking about Area of Effect attacks in Fate, and came up with a stunt for same. 

AoE Junkie. +2 to any Magical attack action where you split your final total between multiple targets.

The basic idea is a Stunt that makes attacking a few people at once a decent option, while still resulting in attacks that are weaker, on a target-by-target basis, than a single-target version would have been. Thoughts?

[I reallly want to add follow-up "Lina Inverse" stunt that gives an additional if you target allies as well as enemies, indiscriminately. :)]

#gaming   #fate

Fate Core: Agent Coulson

I'm working on some characters that have pushed me in an interesting direction with stunts. Sharing them here to get some feedback.

First up: Agent Coulson, as portrayed in the recent Marvel movies.

Agent Coulson
High Concept: Unshakeable S.H.E.I.L.D. Agent
Trouble: Fanboy
– Cat Herder
– S.H.E.I.L.D. Tech
– Deadpan (or: Level 10 Clearance)

+4: Empathy
+3: Rapport, Contacts
+2: Shoot, Fight, Lore
+1: Stealth, Athletics, Drive, Will

Psychologist. Once per session you can reduce someone else’s consequence by one level of severity (severe to moderate, moderate to mild, mild to nothing at all) by succeeding on an Empathy roll with a difficulty of Fair (+2) for a mild consequence, Good (+3) for moderate, or Great (+4) for severe. You need to talk with the person you’re treating for at least half an hour in order for them to receive the benefits of this stunt, and you can’t use it on yourself. (Normally, this roll would only start the recovery process, instead of changing the consequence level.)

I know your weak spots. You can use Empathy for mental-track Attacks, rather than Provoke, provided you've at least studied the target's S.H.I.E.L.D. profile, or had a chance to talk with them for a few moments.

I was briefed before the mission. Spend a Fate Point to use any one skill at Fair for the rest of the [scene/session?].

The "I was Briefed…" stunt is a bit of a new direction for a Stunt, and I'm curious what people think about it. My thought is that it let's Coulson 'cover' gaps in a group's skills without overshadowing anyone who's made that one of their peak skills. I'm inclined to go full-session with the stunt, since a single scene will probably only require one roll, which you could get a +2 on with just the Fate Point and his High Concept aspect.


Quickly, Hive Pocket

Anyone here played Hive Pocket with their kids? I got it based off a reddit review and my daughter (7) LOVES it, and loves a good "best of five" match with Daddy. (For that matter, I enjoy it too, as does my wife and everyone I've shown it to. The play scales beautifully depending on the sophistication of those playing.)

Best part of Hive Pocket is the fact that you get both the expansions for the game (Mosquito and Ladybug) all as part of the package.

Good review here: http://www.shutupshow.com/post/29054432887/review-hive

Amazon page here: http://www.amazon.com/Gen42-Games-5513668-Hive-Pocket/dp/B0079L0EKY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371647054&sr=8-1&keywords=hive+pocket 


Review: Hive
Paul: What is Hive? That sounds like some horrid illness, some terrible disease. “I’ve got Hive Pocket!” you shout down the telephone to your GP, sweaty hand gripping the receiver.
Quinns: Paul,…

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.


Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.


For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.


As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

As much as I'm longing for some super-heroic #gaming  beat-down right now,…

As much as I'm longing for some super-heroic #gaming  beat-down right now, this pretty much sums up why I won't be spending money on the new Marvel game that just launched.

Penny Arcade – Marvelous Heroism
Print Added. Woo! You’ve just added the print below to your cart. What Next? Go to Checkout Browse the Store · First · Previous · News · Next · New · Share on Twitter · Share on Facebook · Subscribe to RSS. Marvelous Heroism. First · Previous · News · Next · New · Share on Twitter …



Mind control. Tricky subject in any RPG, let alone Fate, but I've got supers on my mind, and when you get to someone like Emma Frost, these things come up. How to handle it?

* Use Will to set a Mind-controlled aspect on someone, then pay a Fate Point to compel it? Seems a bit harsh.

* Stunt, or stunts?

* What about that image I linked? How to get a herd of npc innocents to toe the line or (in another example) all simultaneously bliss out in some kind of hedonistic hallucination. (Touches on illusions and how to get people to buy into them.)

If this has been gone over a hundred times, please don't hesitate to point me that direction. 


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Testing the Google+blog plugin with a public #gaming post about the tabletop/hangouts…

Testing the Google+blog plugin with a public #gaming post about the tabletop/hangouts game I'm playing in this weekend.

"In the not too distant future, an alien race invaded the Earth and threatened to enslave humanity. But soon after their arrival, and subsequent announcement of their intentions, the first SPB (Super Powered Being) showed himself. He saved Manhattan, spurning other SPBs to action across the globe. Together, they saved humanity from enslavement… for a while."

"One of their number, formerly the most devoted to the fight for freedom, changed his name to Despot and killed the rest of his team. Within a month, he and his trusted cohorts took over the north american continent. They enslaved humanity under the "rightful rule" of an SPB aristocracy. Under Despot's watchful eye, and direct order, the most savage crimes against humanity have been committed."

"Ten years later. The situation has only grown worse, with many superhumans being added to the fold as the lower class expands to include all but the most powerful SPBs. The genocide has gone on long enough. The United Nations of Humanity have announced their intent to overthrow Despot, but know they do not have the ability to do so. If he is to be overthrown, it is to be from within, by an SPB resistance."

Farscape as gaming group

Recently Farscape became available on the ‘view on my computer’ queue via Netflix, part of a re-release that also put the whole series up for sale for a very reasonable price (as opposed to the original DVD releases, priced for something insane like 30 bucks for two episodes).

All of this pleases me.  Initially, my plan was to watch episodes while I’m on the elliptical, and while I’m doing that, I’m not only doing that, because it’s Farscape, and it kind of sucks me in. (I’m excited to watch past third season, actually, because I don’t think I ever saw all of Season Four, and I never saw the Peacekeeper Wars.)

But in rewatching the show, I’m struck by how strongly Farscape seems modeled on the story/structure of a gaming group. Not ‘game-based fiction’, but the group itself. Not even Dragonlance reflects my experience with the ebb and flow of a game at the table, and the things that happen with your players over time.

Five players, plus the GM.
Five players, plus the GM.

Season One:

So here’s what we’ve got when we first start playing the game.

GM: “I’m going to do this sci-fi game.”
Crichton: Cool.
Most of the players:
“What about the DnD game we’ve been doing?”
GM: “This will still have most of those dynamics. All the classes are pretty much the same, it’s just a few skills that will be different.”
D’argo: “As long as I can still have a big fucking sword.”
GM: “… fine. Whatever.”

  • Warrior: D’argo
  • Ranger: Aeryn
  • Cleric: Zhaan
  • Rogue: Rigel
  • Crichton, the only one who tries a new class, starting out as an ‘astronaut’ (basically a scientist/pilot multiclass with none of the multiclass disads… like the way elves and hobbits worked in original DnD).

Now, the GM quickly realizes that the guy playing Crichton is never going to miss a game session. The dude writes diary entries from his character’s point of view, podcasts random stuff, and even writes some fiction about the stuff that happens between official sessions.  A lot of the game is built around what this player does and the stuff he and the GM talk about. But everyone’s having a good time, and the bad guy seems to be working out pretty well, and word gets around. A couple more players want to join in.

And this GM has a real problem with telling a player they can’t join if they want to.

Chianna wants to play a rogue, but the group’s already got a rogue, so she goes the ‘physical burglar’ route so as to keep from stepping on Rigel’s toes.  It takes a few sessions to really take, and a it’s quite a few more sessions after that before Rigel’s player really acknowledges her at the table, but once that happens, those two kinda bond.

Stark is just a buddy of Rigel’s who’s visiting from out of town for a couple weeks and wants to play, so the GM has him play Crichton’s cellmate. The dude’s kinda of crazy, and doesn’t seem to give a crap about the actual game system — he just wants to roleplay everything instead of rolling dice, but whatever — the GM makes up death-priest variant, figuring it’ll never matter anyway, cuz the guy’ll be gone before long.

Near the end of the first story arc, the GM introduces Scorpius, whom everyone universally decides is cooler than Crase as far as bad guys go, and the GM likes playing him a lot, so Scorpius become the new big bad, and Crase flies off stage with the gunship that the GM mistakenly gave the players (he just wanted to make use of the ship-design rules he’d been playing with, and Crichton saw the design and talked him into introducing the ship via a weird pregnancy plot).

Season Two:

Six is a lot of players, but the situation doesn’t get appreciably better with the new storyline. Crichton is still super active, but the whole wormhole thing is kind of going by the wayside for the player, cuz he likes being chased by Scorpius and trying to hook his character up with Aeryn, so that’s pretty much the main arc.

Other players saw the whole torture scene stuff with Crichton, though, and want a piece of the story-action. D’argo nags the GM to push the ‘I have a son’ thing forward, for example.  Zhaan’s player is pretty pissed about the ‘crappy healing’ that clerics get in this system and continues to nag everyone to go back to the ‘real’ DnD game, but no one’s listening.

Rigel’s fine. Rigel’s always fine. Don’t worry about Rigel. He’s good.

The GM loves playing Scorpius, so he finally comes up with a way to play him even more often by sticking him inside Crichton’s head. Crichton actually stats up Scorpius’ second in command just so he and the GM can play some one-on-one ‘bad guy’ scenes.

Oh man… Rigel’s buddy actually decides to move to town (he’s got a semi-permanent gig with the local community theater). He wants back into the game. As the same death-priest guy. Crap.

Zhaan really wants to quit the game. Honestly, she’s run by Crichton (so he can play in more scenes) and the GM as much as the original player, cuz she doesn’t show up much. (Though she does come back for awhile when Stark’s player shows move into town, cuz she’s got a crush on him, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she can’t even get his attention with a glorious death scene, so shes quits and doesn’t make a new character.)

The group is left with no healer except for the guy who’s main skill is helping people die. Crap.

So the GM finds someone to play a ‘regular’ doctor. Jool. His girlfriend. Who doesn’t game and doesn’t like science fiction. Even the guy playing Crichton thinks this is a bad idea.

Plus, the group is hitting nigh-critical mass. Too many of almost every class.

The GM wants to split the group into two separate groups for awhile. Crichton hates that idea, because he wants play more, not less, and doesn’t want to make another ‘main’ guy.

“I have a solution,” the GM says.

So the group’s get split up.

Group Moya

  • Fighter, D’argo
  • Rogue, Chianna
  • Jool, “healer”
  • Crichton

D’argo’s spending points on “I have a ship”, but he can’t do it all at once, so the GM’s letting him buy it a little bit at a time. That’s fine. But Crichton realizes that in this group he’s got nothing going on — his “Loves Aeryn” thing and “D’argo’s Buddy” doesn’t let him go after Chianna, no one’s really hunting Moya, Jool is dating the GM and they both give him dirty looks whenever he tries to hit on the character…

… so he only has wormholes to work on. This quickly gets old for EVERYONE.  The only respite is when Crichton takes a break and roleplays Braka in scenes with Scorpius.

Group Talyn

  • Fighter, Aeryn
  • Rogue, Rigel
  • Priest, Stark
  • MORE Crichton, who by this point in time has multiclassed so many times that the GM just simplified the system by making “Crichton” a class. Crichton loves this group, because he gets to continue to hit on Aeryn, shoot stuff, get chased by bad guys, and fiddle with wormhole tech.

But the GM is getting a little fatigued by running two groups every week. He isn’t aware of it consciously, but he resents all the time the game is taking — it starts to leak into the game itself: it’s basically impossible for anyone to do anything in any game session without making the situation worse, even if they succeed.  This trend will, we fear, continue.


And that’s about where I am right now in Season Three.

You gotta admit, as good as the show is, it’s weirdly similar to gaming groups.

… which in turn makes it dissimilar to any other kind of ensemble cast show I’ve ever watched. The characters are more strongly archetypal (or stereotypical, depending on how charitable you’re feeling) than anything like BSG or Babylon 5 or… well, anything.

What’s weird and remarkable is that they largely retain those archetypes even three years into the series. That’s not say they’re shallow, but their depth tends to be strictly confined to the original silos they were built into. Character archetypes. Classes. It makes the show immediately easy to grasp, no matter which episode you jump into.

(Until, if I recall correctly, Season Four, where everything goes CRAZY and the GM starts dropping acid.)

More as I think of it.

Writing for (make believe) television: The Game!

I’ve been a bit periscope-down for the last week or so, but I thought I’d pop in for just a moment before my students show up and muse on a game I’m starting up this evening. I don’t normally talk about my gaming on this blog (saving that for Random Average), but in this case, I thought it was relevant.

The game is Primetime Adventures – a story-game that’s designed to simulate the ebbs and flows of (mostly) genre television melodrama, best exemplified by shows like Buffy, Alias, Six Feet Under, Chuck, Heroes, Lost, and things of that nature.

Tonight we will have the Pitch Session, in which participants will propose various show ideas which we will then shoot down or hammer on until we have a concept for a television show we rather like – at which point in time we proceed to make up the protagonists for the show and figure out the basic flow the story arcs and the character issues and all that good stuff that we’ll explore for the next five or six game sessions.

The television metaphor is a powerful one, and leads to some good concepts, many of which are inspired by the basic idea “this is something I think would make awesome television, but which no one IN television would ever have the balls to make.” Maybe it’s faerie-invaded Edwardian England, or ghost hunting noir, or undead-fighting kung-fu holy warriors, or everyman robot-overlord survival horror. Could be anything, really.

I don’t have any ideas.

Rather, I have about a hundred ideas, none of which are stepping forward and shouting “pick me, hone me, LOVE ME” the way I always expect they should do — the way that actual quality television or stories do.

In fact, what I’m feeling right now is pretty much what I feel every time I’m about to start a new writing project for which I only have a kinda-sorta idea. It’s a good place to be, and kind of a rotten place to be all at once. When all you have is a blank page and no constraints, you can get a little paralyzed.

I can hardly wait to get started. I’ll let you know what we come up with.

Wizards of the Coast takes a… novel approach to dealing with PDF piracy

Angry Bear is angry.And by “novel”, I mean to say “utterly stupid and short-sighted.”

Earlier this evening RPGNow, Paizo, and DriveThruRPG pulled all of their Wizards of the Coast PDF products (where both new and much much much older products were available) at WotC’s request.  The ability to purchase them ended at noon – the ability to download products that you’ve already bought ended at midnight.

According to Wizards of the Coast, this was done to prevent piracy.  (In a followup statement, they clarified that they believe this… because they are luddite morons.)

“We have [taken these actions] to stop the illegal activities […], and to deter future unauthorized and unlawful file-sharing.”

I love the vast understatement from one gaming site today:

“I predict an increase in piracy of Wizards products.”


Let me take this one step further.  I guarantee – not ‘predict’, but guaran-goddamn-tee that every single PDF of WotC products made available after midnight tonight will be a pirated copy.

Just… think about it for a second; you’ll see exactly what I mean.

See… before today? Sure, some people were sharing PDFs like that on file-sharing sites, and there was pirating going on. Sure, yes.

Was it because the PDFs were made available by WotC and sold online?

No.  You’ve been able to get PDFs of ANY game book — hell, any book at all — even ones that have never had electronic versions available, ever since scanner technology became remotely mainstream (early 90s), because people have time, and geeks have desire for the electronic versions.

Until today, at least most of the people who wanted electronic versions of their game book were getting the PDFs the easy way: google search, got to RPGNow, click, click, download.  No torrent software. No worrying if you picked up a virus with your latest PDF. Easy.

Now, the only way to get the electronic version of a WotC product is to get it from a pirate site.

I can either not get it at all (sucks for me, and WotC gets no money), or I get it from a torrent site (hassle for me, and WotC gets no money).

The pirating people? This has no fucking affect on them what. so. ever.

Well, no; that’s not entirely true.

This move by WotC, ostensibly meant to fight piracy, will actually ensure that more people will come to their site to download ALL the PDFs they want (for games, for novels… whatever — I mean, as long as they’re THERE for the DnD stuff, they might as well look around and see what else is out there, right?…).

It’s not just stupid and short-sighted.  It doesn’t just ensure the piracy of their work by 100% of those that want PDFs of DnD material; it actually hurts all the other companies in the industry as well.