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Psi*Run – Oneshot Actual play

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

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Masks, Phoenix Academy, Session 7 – Nice and Broken

Sil catches up with Maria, and gets told.

Ember gets lectured by AEGIS a bit.

Palacine gets some advice from Collin and… kisses him? Unexpectedly? What?

The team meets up in the base and give Patrol a call.

After talking with Patrol, the team splits up.

Ember has a date with Riptide.

Sil has a date with Jack?

Palacine is figuring out an tracker that will help them locate Alias.

Palacine USES the tracker and realizes Alias is waiting for Sil where Jack was supposed to be.

We end on a cliffhanger. There are protests.

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A Potentially Gaming Heavy Weekend

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

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

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

(Also possibly boardgame night with coworkers on Saturday.)

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

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

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


How to Train Your (Kid to Love Dungeons and) Dragon(s)

I’m probably (definitely) projecting, but the bit in How to Train Your Dragon where Hiccup and Astrid bring their kids to meet Toothless and Stormfly is a kind of “passing on this wonderful, magical secret in an otherwise mundane world” that really makes me think of introducing your kids to tabletop roleplaying.

When their daughter’s eyes open wide and light up?

Yeah, that’s what it’s like.

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

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

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Looking Back at a Remarkably RPG-heavy Week

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

The weekend just past was a bit of a jackpot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#actualplay #rpg #fitd #masks #pbta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Masks Phoenix Academy, Session 2 – The Non-Frolick

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

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

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Masks Phoenix Academy, Actual Play, Session 01 – Comicbook Clickbait

Our first session with Kaylee and her friends as Silhouette, Ember, and Palacine. The team fights Voltaic, recovers in the Phoenix Academy infirmary, and finds their new base.

My favorite bits:
* Ember rising up above the crowd and denying their Influence, blasting Voltaic and revoking Influence from the whole Phoenix Academy student body.
* The choices everyone made when they took powerful blows.
* The nest of team moves and Comfort/Supports in the school infirmary.
* Kaylee’s face when she figured out what the key from her Mentor was probably for.

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Thoughts After a Year+ of running Masks

Last night, our Monday-night gaming group wrapped up our Menagerie campaign of Masks, with the 63rd game session. (The podcast is time-shifted quite a bit – it won’t reach the end of the game until early June of 2019.)

It’s been a great run; one of my all-time favorite games, not least because we ended the thing properly, instead of simply fading out. We had pretty strong story arcs for most of the main characters (the game is, ultimately, reflective – you get out what you put in).

Most of THAT goodness can be laid squarely at the feet of the players, but I also want to recognize how much great stuff the Masks game system contributed – always pushing us toward challenging scenes and sincerely delivering the teen-super-hero drama it promises. A lot of the great stuff that came out of the game simply would not have happened without the system pushing us (me) toward tough choices and hard GM moves. I’ve said many times how much PBTA games remind me of running Amber DRPG back in the day, but the fact is, while Amber encouraged unconstrained creativity, it never pushed me out of my comfort zone – encouraged me to reach further and dig deeper, and do it all inside constraints – the way PBTA does. It’s exactly the kind of game system I need.

That’s not to say everything came off perfectly. When things go SO well, so much of the time, the moments when things don’t work or aren’t satisfying are glaring and… disappointing, for me and certainly for the involved players. Sometimes that meant a player that didn’t feel they had agency; sometimes it meant that I banged my head repeatedly on an impenetrable wall of player agency – there were more than a few times I mentally threw my hands in the air and just shifted my attention to areas I felt I’d get some input. (I don’t think this is a system issue, FWIW, unless it’s me failing to fully grok the system.)

HOWEVER, and I really mean this, those are MINOR nitpicks in the grand scheme – less than 0.3% of play – and in all cases came from a place of deep player investment in the setting and the characters. It’s HARD (and kind of dumb) for a GM to complain about THAT. 🙂

Still one of the best games I’ve played, if not THE best. It was never going to be everything to everyone, all the time, but it came pretty damn close.

A few numbers to go with my rambling.

  • 63 Masks sessions, over the course of barely more than 65 weeks, so… a bit more 16 months of play, which brings my total(s) with this group up to JUST over 100 game sessions in the last two and a half years. (30ish with Star Wars, using 3 different systems; 6 of Dungeon World, and then Masks.)
  • The sessions were each about two and half hours long, so if you want to convert that to, say, ‘classic’ 4-hour tabletop sessions, it’s ~40 sessions, which still puts it in the top three for total campaign hours run, for me.
    • Unlike the other two games in the top 3 total-hours-GMd, I would ABSOLUTELY run this game again, and in fact am currently starting up a face to face game for Kaylee and her friends.
  • We saw “paragon of the city” retiring for two of the original five characters (the Doomed (who came within 3 or four tics of their Doom before resolving it) and Bull), and two more were entirely ready (mechanically) to take that same route near the end of the game, and simply didn’t because we only had a few sessions left.
  • In my estimation, all the original five characters had pretty solid personal arcs. The ‘replacement’ characters for the retirees didn’t, quite, but that was mostly because I was focusing on the arcs for the non-retired. Those characters still certainly grew, albeit via a lot of PbP-style forum posting.

I love our group, but divorced from THAT, I’d say that five players is juuuuust about one too many (for me, at least) to give everyone a consistent share of the spotlight every session. I started using a kind of ‘buddy system’ near the end of the game, and that helped, but it came awfully late. Put that on the limitations of the GM, if you like, but I’m still not sure sure 3-4 players isn’t the sweet spot for the game. YMMV.

There’s a TON of other thoughts I have about running the game itself, but they’re the kinds of observations that can’t easily be listed out – it’s more about organic observations about particular playbooks or moves.

Use Take a Powerful Blow more; have adults shift labels more. There. Those are the easy ones.

What’s Next?

We’ll meet next week to narrow down choices, get things set up during the holidays, and kick off 2019 with a brand new game. Not sure what, but I’m looking forward to it.

Or I will be – right now I’m kind of going through “good book hangover,” and feeling a nice happy-sad.

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Masks EG – Session 00 AP Recording

In which our players create their heroes.

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

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Masks EG, Session 00

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

Right away, this presented some interesting challenges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Day

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

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

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

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

Kaylee went with…


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

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

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

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

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

She does not do sidekicks.

Vigil EMBODIES Superior logic, and DENIES Mundane concerns.

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

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

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

Then her hypersenses started developing. THAT was fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Outsider

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

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


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

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

  • radical shapeshifting
  • telepathy and mind blasts

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


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

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

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

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



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


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

You all go to Phoenix Academy…

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

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

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

After that, we went on to the standard –

When the team first came together…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Design Links & Resources

The Hollow, by way of World of Dungeon: Turbo

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

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

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

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

The PDF basically looks like I intended.

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

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

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

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

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

Game Design

How to Train Your Dragon with Risus hacks

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

Dragons: Wanderers of the Archipelago

A Risus variation for How to Train Your Dragon Adventures

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

And of course Risus, by S. John Ross.

The Basic Rule

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

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

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

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

How It Works

Simple Skill Check

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

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

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

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

Single-Action Contests

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

Multiple-round Contests (Combat)

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

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

Team Ups During Contests

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

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

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

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

Too Many Dice

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

Funky Dice?

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

Character Creation Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scale (super-optional)

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

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

Or, Simplified:

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

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

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

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 (, the random table of plausible character backgrounds for Breakers (, and the attached map.

Actual Play MMO & Computers

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 –“>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.]( "Move-planning grid.")

![Resulting animations.]( "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.

Actual Play Musing

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). –

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?

Musing Online Table Top

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:, 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.

Game Design

PbtA with Little Kids

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

The Rules

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

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

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

Courage: O O O | O O O

And… thats it.


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.

Actual Play

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

Actual Play

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.


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?

Actual Play

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.

Actual Play Table Top

Mouse Guard Risus with Sean and Kaylee (and Zoe!)

Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee, as I have been known to do.

For some reason, I always seem to ‘find the time’ to do this sort of thing on a night when I have a hard stop looming (in this case, a Star Wars game at 8pm), but we did manage to get the evening sorted out pretty quickly, giving us close to an hour to play.

Since we’d last played Mouse Guard (using a variant of the Risus rules set), I’d done a little shopping, and picked up a couple cool, custom Mouse Guard lego figs from crazy bricks – mix them together with a some weapons from Brick Arms, and we had pretty good minis for Conner and Laurel.

Do I need minis for this game? I do not. Not at all.

Did I want them for the kids to play with anyway, so they can gave Mouse adventures whenever they want? Yes I do.

So we grabbed our dice-rolling frisbee (hot tip: have smaller kids roll their dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum), the index cards on which we’d scribbled character sheets last time and, with Zoe tucked in and Momma running some evening errands, sat down to play.

“So, in case you don’t remember…” I began.

“We really need to figure out what happened to that postmaster mouse from last time,” said Sean, fiddling with his minifig. “If we can’t find him, there’s no way for Elmoss to get mail.”

I blinked.

I mean, seriously: the kid is five, and we haven’t played in two weeks. He can’t remember where he left the socks he had on five minutes ago, but this… this he remembered.

“I’m impressed, Seanie,” Kaylee said. She looked at me. “All I remember from last time was talking to those robins.”

“Right?” I said. “Okay, let’s investigate that house where the postmaster was attacked.”

Our Heroes

Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0

Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.

Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

The two guardmice, with the assistant post-mouse in tow, went to the head postmouse’s home and started investigating. Windows were damaged. The front door was torn off the hinges, and the inside was in worse shape.

“I think I know what it is,” intoned Sean, as Conner. He looked at me, face serious. “Blood-eyed owl!”

“Please no,” Kaylee whispered.

I'm with Kaylee on this one.

“Well, I said,” something like an owl couldn’t get into Elmoss without people seeing it, and probably couldn’t get inside the house. It was definitely something bigger than a mouse, but not huge. What do you want to check out?“

The mice did some digging, and discovered some footprints in the flour scattered around the kitchen. Laurel (Kaylee) was able to identify the prints as weasel tracks, and Conner (Sean) realized they led down into the cellar.

Right about here, Zoe (two and a half) decided she wasn’t ready for bedtime, and showed up at the edge of the table, staring wide-eyed at the dice.

“Can I play? Pleaaase?”

Yeah, I’m not going to say no to that.

“Zoe, do you want to play a butterfly?” Kaylee asked, pointing out her sidekick to me.


“It’s okay,” I said, pulling my youngest onto my lap, “I’ve got an idea. Zoe, what do you want your mouse to be named?”

Emilie (brownfur, blue cloak)
Jumpy tenderfoot (4)
Assistant Postmouse (3)
(Stinkystripey, my bumblebee friend (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0 0 0 0

“I- I’m c-coming with you,” said the assistant postmouse as the two guards headed down into the cellar.

The three mice got into the basement (some confusion here, as Zoe thought we were supposed to pick up all our things and go down into our real basement), and found a tunnel dug through the side of the cellar, behind a big shelf.

“What would a weasel want with a postmouse?” Laurel wondered. “It’s just strange.”

They followed the winding tunnel (hand-dug, but seemingly not that new) until the air began to change, becoming dustier and more mildewy… then it opened into a much broader space: the many-pillared spaces of Darkheather!

Laurel was astonished – she had no idea Darkheather extended so far under the Territories.

The mice looked for more tracks and, while they found none, spotted a light in the distance and crept toward it as quietly as possible (something Conner excelled at and the other two… well…)

As soon as they could make out voices and the sound of flowing water, they stopped. The weasel and the mouse where talking, and they didn’t sound like enemies.

“This bag is full of nothing but papers!” the weasel hissed.

“Those ‘papers’ are every message Lockhaven’s sent through my offices in the past year,” the postmouse explained. “With that, you’ll know everything they’re planning.”

“RRRRrrrgg,” the weasel growled. “I’ll take this to my masters, but if it isn’t as you say, I’ll be back here for our gold, and the next attack won’t be false.”

“Fine,” said the mouse. “I’ll be gone, in any case. I’m dead here – off to a new town and a new name. I’ll be in touch once I’ve settled in.”

“Can we grab that mouse?” asked Kaylee.

“Sure,” I said, “but the weasel’s in a kind of canoe in the waterway, and he’s already got the letters, so…”

Her eyes went wide. She turned to Sean. “Get. That. Weasel.”

Laurel moved to pin down the postmouse (working with her companion), while Conner charged straight at the weasel.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to jump right at him and chop his nose into pieces!” announced Sean, and he did… something with his mouse figure that snapped the blade right off his little plastic sword. Oops.

Kaylee rolled enough successes (we’re counting 4, 5, 6 as successes – part of the Risus Guard rules I’m using) to pin down the postmouse, and Zoe had her bumblebee buzz right at the weasel’s head to distract him.

Sean came in, rolling his four dice, and got two sixes and a five.

Now, in this system, sixes explode, so he can roll two more dice and count them.

Two more sixes.

Roll again.

Six and a two. The kids are howling with glee.

Roll again.


“So… that’s… seven success… on four dice.”

“Daddy,” said my wife, who’d been listening in from the next room. “I think he got him.”


Taking Sean’s minifig mishap as inspiration, I described Conner leaping out at the weasel and chopping the sword down into the weasel’s nose so hard it went right into his head and stuck, breaking the blade off before the weasel tumbled into the water. It was a real “Lieam versus the snake” moment.

Flawless victory. The mice retrieved the letter satchel, turned the traitor postmaster over to the locals, and prepared to head back to Lockhaven to report to Gwendolyn.


Zoe did great! She loved rolling however many dice I asked her to roll, and could even sort the successes from failures easily by focusing on pulling out the 1s, 2s, and 3s. Time to order a third mouse guard minifig…

Sean’s ability to keep track of everything from session to session impresses me, especially because he never seems to be paying attention until right when he needs to roll dice (don’t know where he gets that from…)

Kaylee, at 10, is much more interested in the larger mystery, and she’s so supportive of her siblings, even though it slows things down a lot and means we don’t get as much covered. She said something like “all I did was pin a mouse down in the fight, but… Sean’s roll was so awesome, it made up for it.”

And, just to reiterate: Roll dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum.

So: good game, good fight, good night!

Emilie, Emilie, jump up and down. Original art by Drexilwatcher.

Actual Play Table Top

Mouse Guard Risus with Sean and Kaylee

Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve even done stuff with Kaylee and Sean before, but it’s been quite a while since we’ve been able to find time (blame moving, swim practice damn near every night, too much homework, and a two year old who’s neither ready to play, go to bed, or leave the big kids alone).

I didn’t have much time, but I’d kind of promised a game of some kind to Sean, Kaylee allegedly had her homework done, and dammit I wanted to do something.

That something, somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be Mouse Guard.

Last week, Kaylee was poking around my gaming shelves. She pulled out a copy of the Mouse Guard RPG, asked what it was, and basically lost her mind when I told her it was a roleplaying game based on Mouse Guard. This reaction was unexpected; we’d been pitching game ideas for the last couple months and hadn’t really hit on anything that totally thrilled both of us, and I knew she and Sean both liked the comics, but Mouse Guard simply hadn’t occured to me.

So: setting and story solved — all I needed was a system.

Now, I’ve run the official version of the game in the past, and it’s fine – parts of it are brilliant – but it’s not something I’m going to play, these days. I wanted something lighter, something five year old friendly, and aside from all that something I personally wanted to run.

I got pretty excited when I found Mouse World – the author mentions the documents aren’t quite done, and he’s totally right; but while they may need an editing and reorganization pass, they are absolutely playable, and Kaylee and I took a few minutes this weekend to make up a guard mouse scout named Laurel. I love the PtbA mechanics, and I already know Sean can handle adding a couple d6s and a stat. The fact the MW hack uses checkbox conditions rather than hitpoints is another pro-kid vote in favor.

I’m looking forward to running the game at some point, but that didn’t end up being what I ran last night.

When push came to shove and I was moments away from the forty minute window we had to play, I decided on Risus, with a few optional rules added.

Risus has been around quite awhile, with a very dedicated fan base, and has a deserved reputation for being light and easy. It also has a rep for being a silly, comedy RPG (partly due to the author’s undeniable humor in presentation), and while it can certainly do comedy, I’m quite sure it could do lots of other stuff as well. I’d already been thinking about it for Star Wars, and had refreshed myself on some of my favorite optional rules, so I grabbed three six-packs of d6s for me, Kaylee, and Sean, some index cards, pencils, and headed downstairs.

Risus characters are pretty straightforward. You get ten dice to allocate to character-defining cliches (and a few other things), and when you want to do something, you pick the cliche you want to use, roll as many dice as the cliche has for its rating and, in the basic rules, add them up and see if the total is high enough. Here’s what we came up with:

tmp_808-Laurel - purple-redfur-1053912813
Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0

Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.


tmp_808-Mouse Guard Conner-771518943
Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

Any Risus-heads will recognize the optional rules we’re using so far: Sidekicks (trade in one die for a three-dice rated companion who can help you out sometimes), and Lucky Shots (trade in one dice for a pool of three renewable dice that can be added to any roll (one per roll) as a boost).

The only other optional rule I decided to use that’s pretty close to the rules for Simpler Risus. (I don’t know if that name is accurate, to be honest, but it’s something I wanted to try out.) Basically, instead of rolling your dice and adding them together, you count the dice that come up >3 as Successes. There were two main reasons for this:

  1. I generally like success-counting combined with ‘success at cost’ for failed rolls.
  2. Sean can certainly add up a bunch of dice (he started rolling and doing exactly that as soon as I handed him his set), but I knew from playing Hero Kids that at his age it’s much faster to have him separate the dice into high and low piles after a roll. Whenever we play, time is the big limiting factor to play, so this was a no-brainer.

Also, at his reading level, a *World character sheet isn’t going to fly. I needed something he could read.

(I may do something like Mouse World conditions, rather than the Risus diminishing dice pools, but it didn’t come up in play this time, so who knows?)

Why didn’t you just run Hero Kids, with mice, like you’ve talked about doing before?

I couldn’t find the books. 🙁

I think they’re still in book boxes until our basement is finished. (Just a few more weeks!)

Blah blah blah, rules-nerd: What happened in the GAME?

Right. Time to play. We now have 30 minutes.

The spring thaw has come, and with it, Gwendolyn’s first missions of the season. Laurel and Conner are dispatched to Elmoss with a satchel of mail. (Normally, she’d send at least three guard mice, but as Laurel is an experienced scout and grew up in Elmoss, it’s just two of them.)

I started off by asking Laurel to check the weather and plan their route. I told her she’d need a lot of successes to do a perfect job (4), because success-at-cost at that point in a mission is fun, but she shut me down with a perfect roll of four successes on four dice. Nevermind, then.

Basic route charted, I let the kids decide who was going to be the trailblazer (finding the best route forward, on the ground), and who would be the lookout. Laurel was the trailblazer, since she’s a scout, and we figured Conner was good for roaming lookout, since he’s sneaker. In this, both kids rolled, and came up with a few successes each. Laurel guided them along well enough, and things are going smoothly until they hit a wide, fast-moving stream that isn’t supposed to be there – spring runoff has cuz them off and left Laurel scratching her head on a muddy riverbank.

Meanwhile, Conner catches the sound of some birds approaching. He can’t find them in the overgrowth, but sneaks back to Laurel without alerting them. The mice hear them coming, and not knowing what kind of birds they might be, take cover.

Turns out it’s a couple ruffled looking robins, who drop in next to the stream, drink a bit of water, and start pecking around, looking for worms in the muddy bank.

Laurel decides this might be just the help they need to get past the stream and steps out to hail the birds in their own language.

(Once success, needed two.)

Unfortunately, it’s been quite awhile since she’s spoken Robin, and she’s rusty. Adding to that, the robins are grumpy, rattled (they were just chased by a falcon!), and hungry. When Laurel asks if she can trouble them for a lift over the stream, they say they’ll do it for food: about about those two big bugs the mice have with them?


“Well don’t be greedy, little mouse… you can’t eat both of them yourself…”

Laurel calms down and suggests the two guard mice can help the robins find more appropriate food and, once the birds have their fill, they can carry the guards over the stream.

What this means is the mice do a lot of digging and mucking around in the muddy river bank, hauling out nightcrawlers for the ravenous robins. By the time they’re done, they are muddy, grumpy, and tired, but the robins are happy and carry them over the rushing water with no more problems.

The mice continue to Elmoss, are hailed and recognized by the local militia, and enter the town. Laurel knows the way to the post office, but (very low roll) once they get there, they find only a weepy assistant, and no master postmouse.

Apparently, just the night before, something terrible happened at the postmaster’s home; the whole place has been wrecked, with doors and windows broken and off their hinges, and no one seems to know what to do.

Can the guard mice help?

Tune in next time to find out!

All in all, a fun little session, and this morning, Sean said the nicest thing I’d ever want to hear about one of our games:

“Can we play it again tonight?”

Absolutely, little man. Absolutely.


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…