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Signalboost February

February 24, 2017

While I haven’t been able to game as much as I’d like, between my new career, long term health recovery and most of my game circles undergoing similar life shakeups this last year, I’m still sometimes hearing about a lot of cool game things to check out and pick up.

One thing I try to do is promote a more diverse space of game creators, and so, here’s a couple of new projects, and old ones, that I think could do with boost:

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Laura Simpson’s Companions’ Tale is an RPG that plays with the hero’s journey except from the viewpoint of the companions to the main hero.  You create the world as you play, create the map, and define more of the hero and the companions as well.  (Kickstarter, currently funded)

Tales of the Warrior Princesses is a set of 11 D&D adventures based around fairy tale princesses… as the heroes of their own tales.   (Kickstarter, could definitely use more funding)

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The Watch is a short campaign RPG set in a world where an evil force is possessing people, forcing an uneasy and desperate alliance between different clan groups to survive.  It’s built on the Apocalypse World Engine.  (Kickstarter, could use more funding).

Liam Burke’s Dog Eat Dog is a game I’ve posted about before – an amazing game about surviving colonialism and the scars it leaves upon society and identity itself.  It feels even more relevant right now as we watch people play out “Whose country is this?” by identity rules they never realized they’ve been indoctrinated with… (PDF, pay what you want).

Quinn Murphy’s Community Radio is another fun, but timely game.  Super inspired by Welcome to Nightvale, this game is a fun short one that you can make your own, weird, bizarre world, as narrated through your radio station.   Right now as we’ve been told that news reporting is “the enemy” of our governing body, maybe it’s time for games about uncovering unspeakable evils…  (PDF, $2, or more if you’d like to pay more).

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Luck vs. Skill in games

February 20, 2017

A generally good talk on the differences in game experience and what it means for your game.

While this is directly applied to gamist RPGs, the interesting twist to realize for other types of RPGs is that you are looking at how well the rules allow you to navigate either in a Narrativist experience or Simulationist one as well, and the level of mastery required.  Also, and specific to tabletop RPGs, is the element of how much the fictional positioning plays in this whole experience.

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Anime Sorcerer

February 18, 2017

Gearing up for a game in the near future, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that I find myself often drifting back to Sorcerer for anime inspired games.  And the more I thought about why that is, I figured it’s probably worth writing up a little guide as to what makes it a good fit and how to make it work for you.

Dangerous Power & Riding The Line

Well, it’s not hard to find several anime or manga series that revolve around power that’s not totally in your control and characters who risk going to far… which is pretty much what Sorcerer is all about.

I usually start by asking what does it look like when the protagonists lose control of the power?  Giant robot Evangelions going on a rampage? Psychic powers ripping up city blocks, police squads and your loved ones while your body mutates out of control?

Usually thinking a bit about that will tell you how to word the pitch in terms of mood, theme, and how to define your demons and sorcery in the game.  Also consider if there’s any limitations on what kind of characters would make good protagonists.

Specializing Your Demons and Sorcery

First, does the world know that the demons exist?  And how are they viewed?  Usually the Rule of Secrecy is the first thing that disappears in an anime or manga setting.

Second, you may require demons to only be one type, and to have certain types of powers, or none of others.  The Imminent rules in Sorcerer and Sword are often useful, potentially along with the Pacting rules if small one-time demons get used a lot in the setting.

Needs

I know the core Sorcerer rules set up that demon Needs are completely individualized, but I find that usually leads to… really disjointed situations that maybe don’t fit well together.  Instead I prefer to pick an appropriate Need that generally falls into one of these categories:

  • Colorful but not hard to fulfill (“Say the magic words & raise your hands!”)
  • A logistical need to fulfill that sometimes is a problem (“The robot needs refueling”)
  • Something that will probably lead to complications later. (“Steal something sentimental from someone and then sacrifice it.”)
  • Something thematically intense every time (“Make a promise to an enemy then deliver on it”)

The demons might all have the same need but if they are different, you generally want them to fall into the same category type, or you might have a very disjointed feeling game and setting.  Generally I make the differentiation around desires rather than needs.

Demons as… sort of known?

Baseline Sorcerer establishes that demons violate your fictional setting – whatever people in the fiction believe them to be, it is just projections, guesses, and not the actuality, which is ultimately OTHER.

In anime and manga, these things may be known on some level, even 100% accurately described… but not controlled.  Are these things giant robots? Yes.  Do they sometimes activate and move on their own?  “That’s impossible!” but apparently that too.  Oops.

“My Demon is a good demon!”

There’s a common trope where you have most of the demons of whatever sort as evil, but the protagonists have somehow found/created one that is good.  The easiest way to handle this in the rules is to change it’s Need and/or Desire so that it’s less messed up than the usual ones.

Humanity

Starting at the bottom – humanity 0

I like to consider what Humanity 0 looks like, first, since it often makes all the other definitions easier.  It tends to be a thing that happens a lot in shonen anime and manga, sometimes temporarily for protagonists, or with permanent consequences for antagonists.

  • Becoming obsessed with a goal and becoming inhuman through extreme experimentation/magic/cybernetics, etc. – always a villain favorite
  • The demon is in control and can wreak havoc without your influence for a time. (Tokyo Ravens)
  • You disappear or fade out from existence. (Control: C)
  • You become a monster or demon, probably the very thing you’ve been fighting. (Madoka Magica)
  • Go berserk or obsessive in pursuit of your goals, taking the most extreme and ultimately destructive path. (Full Metal Alchemist)

You can look at what kind of characters end up here, and what sort of behaviors preceded going too far.  This helps you suss out things that are bad for Humanity, and conversely, which things would be good for it as well.

Dual Humanity Definitions

The dual humanity rules in Sorcerer & Soul get a lot of use in these kinds of stories.  You’ll find there’s a lot of antagonists who, in one category, are the scum of the earth, and in another category, shining exemplars.   If one definition is “Compassionate” and the other is “Decisive and confident”, you can see how someone might focus one or the other, and keep up their Humanity through relentless pursuit of embodying that.

You can also set up Humanity definitions as completely orthogonal to actual morality – in which case, “What’s right?” is tested in theme against “But I need to do something quick and easy to get my Humanity score up”, which doesn’t always line up.

Funky Humanity Tricks – “The Power of Friendship!”

Now the other set of rules to pull from Sorcerer & Soul – all those bits about using Humanity as an action score unto itself.

The most common usage is declaring why your character is so motivated about doing XYZ and rolling Humanity to generate rollover successes.  It you want to truly emulate the genre, try Humanity vs. 1 die, but useable maybe once per session, since it seems to often create a super boost.  (note that this can stack with the usual roleplaying bonus dice).  This is a Shonen manga/anime classic – Naruto and One Piece for example rest heavily on this one.

If your setting is a bit more grim, maybe you can do Humanity rolls vs. 1 die of the Humanity of various allies/friends/loved ones who died, that are motivating you to push on and Do The Thing.   This sets up a perverse dynamic – the protagonists obviously want these people to live, but the more of them who sacrifice themselves or are victimized along the way, the more powerful you get in dice, potentially allowing you to take on “The Big Bad”.

Really dark series, however, posit Humanity as a force that interferes with effectiveness, rather than enhance it.  The most obvious one might be having your Humanity rolled against your acting score before you can commit an act of violence… which sets up a great point of decent people not wanting to hurt others, but also means the character might be forced to ride a low Humanity score to survive.

Examples!

While I’m pulling direct from series here, I actually prefer to create new settings and ideas that are anime-like, but if you see how it works with established ones, you can see how you can make your own as well.

Evangelion

Demons: EVAs. (Objects, Armor, Big) Need: Power Cord  Desire: Hurt someone you care about.  EVAs may be a state secrets, but yes, the world basically knows about them and there’s no way a 200 foot tall robot is going to uphold the Rule of Secrecy.  People think they’re just machines, mostly.  Rebellion: doesn’t activate when you need it to, activates when you don’t, goes on a rampage, etc. Sorcery: Disturbing visions/flashbacks into your traumatic subconsciousness.

Humanity: Actual decency and kindness to the people around you.  Humanity 0: Being useless for a while, and if you have an EVA it can rampage without your control for a while.  Make a Lore roll vs. 1 die to come back from your state (whether, it’s  catatonic or, you know, physically transformed into liquid or whatever).  Otherwise you’re gone forever, another useless pilot.

Special Humanity Rule: Your humanity can generate rollover successes for anyone trying to manipulate or lie to you.  This includes if you’re lying to yourself.  (Notice how this can quickly cause a Humanity check as well…)

Parasyte

Demons: Parasytes.  (Parasites, Shapeshift, Perception:Other Parasytes, Lethal Damage, Vitality, maybe Hop)  Need: Migi needs sleep, but the other Parasytes need to eat people, generally.  Desires: all across the board here – the basic list in Sorcerer can work and you can add on to it with stuff like “Motherhood”, or “Domination” etc.  The Parasytes are mostly not known at the beginning of the series, and looked upon with horror and fear as people find out about them.  Rebellion: Well… leaving the host, committing horrific acts of violence, etc.

Humanity: Caring for the people in your life.   Note that the series involves a lot of Humanity Gain rolls for protecting people from being eaten BUT at the same time has a lot of Humanity Checks for emotional distancing.   Humanity 0: Trade down your maximum Humanity per Sorcerer & Sword, you’re now Inhuman.  If this happens again, your Humanity max must continue to drop further.  If you reach absolute 0, you’re now a Passer Demon and not human at all.

Special Humanity Rule: Humanity rolls against you committing violence or simply allowing other people to be sacrificed through callous inaction.

 

 

Kill La Kill

Demons: Clothing (Object, Boost, Taint) Need: Blood, lifeforce of wearers. (Makes an attack vs. wearer’s Stamina, as if it were an Edged Weapon). Desire: Most either want something like Alien Domination, while Senketsu has Knowledge.  Aside from Goku Uniforms, the world is generally uninformed about clothing.  There’s not a Rule of Secrecy, though the REVOCs corporation is keeping it’s true history hidden for obvious reasons.  Rebellion: Aside from the usual “won’t activate” possibility, there’s always Taint which can be used against the Wearer.

Humanity: Connections with friends and family.  Humanity 0: Any demon-clothing you wear can make a Binding roll vs. 1 die on you.

Special Humanity Rule: Power of Friendship – anyone who pitches in their support and tells you why you matter can make Humanity rolls to create rollover successes that you can use.

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Companions’ Tale Kickstarter

February 16, 2017

Laura Simpson is creating a really neat storytelling game and a very different take on the Hero’s Journey:

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Writing Inclusive Games Workshop

January 6, 2017

K. Tempest Bradford has been running “Writing the Other” workshops for authors for some time now, providing useful advice, exercises and examples to help people expand writing great, believable characters, and avoid the pitfalls of stereotypes and tropes.

This go around focuses on games – bringing in Monica Valentinelli, who has worked on games for Steve Jackson Games and White Wolf Games.

If you are a game designer, publisher, or freelance writer, this is a chance to get in on some valuable insight and understanding to improve the work you create and make a better hobby.

 

 

 

 

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A small Inspectres Hack

October 28, 2016

One of my favorite go-to games for a one shot, or to get to know new gamers, is Inspectres.  It’s mechanically simple, doing what fictionally makes sense for your character is often a good way to play, and you get a full story in a single session.  It also plays around with narration trading and we kinda sort out who the players are pretty early on, especially since no one can easily fall into “I play this sort of RPG character just to survive” kind of tropes.

That said, there’s a simple thing I often forget when I run the game, and I only remember AFTER the fact: a fair portion of the fun, and the Stress Rolls, comes from mundane things.  THEN the weird stuff stacks on top of it.

It’s like a normal kind of bad-day-at-work: your phone keeps losing connection during important calls, the system is down, you got a parking ticket, and traffic is jammed to all hell.  Also there’s a pterodactyl with a flaming skull flying over head and you can’t get the banishing circle together without a trip to Home Depot.  Argggh.

Bureaucracy, Breakdowns, Birthdays

Anyway, this tiny hack is something to make it easier for me to GM the game next time.  At the beginning of any scene, roll a D6:

1-2 Bureaucracy

3-4 Breakdowns

5-6 Birthdays

Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy can be literally bureaucracy – but it’s basically any time society grinds away and makes your life harder.  Did the old woman pay you in a money order and now you’re driving around trying to find parking so you can cash it before the electricity bill for the ghost containment unit is shut down?    (Oh, look, some jerk parked diagonally and took 2 spots).

Breakdowns

The more minor, annoying, and yet worst-possible-time, the more likely it is to be the thing to breakdown.  Enough of these and you start to really get pissed.   The humor is less about things that directly block action, they just make the work-arounds more ridiculous.  “The mechanic says if you turn left the axle will snap, so you’re going be making a lot of triple rights to get around town, ok?”  Your keyboard doesn’t type ‘r’ or ‘a’ anymore.

Birthdays

Anything dealing with people from the agents’ normal life outside of ghost hunting – family, friends, etc. – obligations.   OF course your mom wants to come by and visit but your place is full of the possessed objects from the last job.   Your band buddies want you to play for one of their weddings.

Anyway, this serves as a simple reminder to keep throwing this stuff into play, and from that, stress rolls and ridiculousness.

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Justice Avenue (A superheroes hack for Trollbabe)

October 27, 2016

Was re-reading the Trollbabe game and realized how much of the issues and situations map really tightly to street level superheroes, like stuff in the Marvel/Netflix lineup… and got inspired.

Justice Avenue

The City

Always start with the City.  You can pick a real city, a fake city, or a city that’s almost real – like a fictionalized New York or whatever.  You want a map – but not 100% exact.  Slightly detailed tourist maps might work – we’re interested in districts and landmarks, maybe with some space to scrawl notes for other locations on it.    You can even get a second map for a specific neighborhood, if you want to narrow down the focus.

Who are the Heroes?

Rule #1 – you are human.   You’re not an alien, a robot, or a magical being from another world.  You come from this world, this dimension, this time (not the future or the past).  Comics get pretty wacky, but your heroes, are people from here.  Any alienation you feel is normal human alienation in a stressful, unique situation, not because you no longer understand humans or are a silicon based lifeform or anything.

However you got your powers, you’re here, now, and your concerns are with this place, and these people in the City.

Who are the People?

Most people think the City in a superhero comic is about crime and justice.  They’re wrong.  It’s about the people who believe in society and the rules as the best way, and people who don’t.

Don’t assume society & rules always equals good, either.  The corrupt Mayor who believes they can shove out the immigrants to open a new mall and use their access to bypass the normal approval process believes in the society and the rules – that this is how society works and the rules let them do this, so it’s all for the best.   The earnest reporter who has been trying to get the corrupt police Sergeant brought to justice and has been blocked at every step is probably quickly on the road to not believing in society or it’s shitty rules.

So some people want to keep things the way they are (usually because they gain some benefit, real or imagined) and some people want to violate or change it (perhaps because they want to improve things, perhaps because they like to see the world burn…).  These folks aren’t slavish tied to obeying or breaking laws or social mores – but they’ll justify their exceptions based on their primary goals.

And what about the heroes?

Well.  If you don’t need a large organization, or a gang, or a district, to make something happen, but rather you alone can change things?  You’re powerful.  And the people on either side will either see you as an ally, a threat, or an opportunity.

Role

Describe your character with an (adjective) and (profession/social role).

  • Good-natured kid
  • Injured Athlete
  • Teenage Runaway
  • Repetant Criminal
  • Wealthy Inventor
  • Poetic Scientist

This is either who your hero still is, or the life they left behind when they got their powers.

The Number

You set a number between 2-9.  Rolling under for Fighting.  Roll over for Skillful Action.  Roll the better of the 2 plus the number itself for Social.

Skillful Action

Skillful Action replaces Magic.  This is anything your hero has proficiency or knowledge in, including investigation, having friends in the neighborhood to draw info from, knowing the spy trade, being an athlete, an inventor, etc.  You’re not limited in this, except in your character concept for yourself – a good rough rule to work with is to consider your Role and what it might suggest as plausible options for your character.

Powers

You can pretty much pick anything for your powers, however, the dice are the dice, and if you pick something that is too hard for you to work with in your narration, you’re going to have a hard time.

Smaller, more limited powers are easier to narrate for the sake of the Stakes.  As the Stakes rise, you may need to think harder about what applies and what works for any given situation.   Vice-versa, greater, more expansive powers require that you consider that your great action will have small Stakes at first.  While it’s easier to describe greater Stakes with this, it can also become a place where you have less imaginative or interesting narrations when these do make these effects.

The Checklist

The Checklist is almost exactly the same, except instead of “remembered magic”, you get this:

  • A suddenly remembered piece of information or technique, relevant to the situation.

Running Justice Avenue

Pretty much all of the other rules and advice applies from Trollbabe.  Obviously, go to a modern, urban context and not funky comic Norse world, but otherwise, it fits the same.