Game Hype – December 2021

December 14, 2021

Life has been pretty hectic and I haven’t been able to game much, much less keep up on the new games. However, I recently picked up some games and have been pretty excited by what I’ve seen.


A tiny “pamphlet RPG” designed to do one shots of a cyberpunk run/heist. There is one trifold for the GM and one trifold for the players. It runs on a very cut down system of Blades in the Dark, and since it’s not worried about between mission or larger campaign stuff, you can get just to the meat of play. The rules on cybertech are light and elegant, and likewise the small but critical inventory of gear. I can’t wait to run it sometime.


.Dungeon is an RPG about friends playing an MMO. Well, it’s actually more like if you’ve seen some of the anime/manga that are set in an MMO, whether that’s something like Bofuri or Sword Art Online, etc. The meta layer here does a couple of things; the story is about how this group of friends interacts with each other and other gamers; but also there’s the “what’s going on in the game?” kind of story and a bit of “Who’s the best?” of sports anime. All at once.

It has a lot of tools for prepping or improvising NPCs, locations, missions, etc. which is helpful for a GM having to make content quickly or easily. One thing that is very interesting is that the actual “mechanics” of the RPG is not actually defined, so you can basically treat it all the way sci-fi treats science babble, except it’s whatever gamerspeak system you want to make up (“Oh no! That’s a 5 color Reverse Combination Mana Dragon!” “But because the dodge multiplier stacks with the Rune bonus, it actually has no limit to how often it can be used!”).

It seems neat though I -feel- there’s probably a low ceiling for how many sessions the system is aiding in generating new ideas.

Apocalypse Frame

A lightweight, tactical mecha RPG! Usually most mecha games either bog down in details or have no depth. This game intends for you to use a hexmap, with hexes representing quite some distance so most movement is 1-2 hexes. There’s also interesting room for variation on mecha, and some situational/terrain effects that are pretty neat.

Campaign play expects that you’re marshalling resources across multiple missions as well as trying to advance strategic goals. One of the core loops is earning Favors from your own division as well as that of others in order to get access to better gear or to advance larger goals

This also looks fun and perhaps the right level of crunch to hit the important buttons without being needlessly finnicky.

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Emotional Signalling

December 8, 2021

I wrote some ideas on Twitter about an idea in RPGS and figured I would just copy/paste and then expand here.

Had a thought about TTRPGs and mood/emotion mechanics. I think we need more games that differentiate between being placed in a mood/attitude vs. a depth where you start changing the direction of how you live your life. Because these two things are very different.

We all have up days, down days, frustration, etc. That shifts how we speak, and some decisions about what we do daily. That is not the same as stuff that has you doing career changes, breaking up relationships, etc.

Although I think there’s a pretty big field to explore mechanically, mostly, I think this difference is useful to highlight specifically in player to player communication.

When we roleplay, our dialogue and choices are distilled and not always best communicated. Other people in the group have to navigate that and try to read the difference. Is your character just angry and yelling or are you going to make serious choices? It’s not always clear.

And it’s important bc if the group is supposed to help with creating the appropriate dramatic situations, the proper reactions by the other characters? Knowing what level we’re talking is useful.

And if you want to talk about mechanics feeding drama, having your character catch a small penalty for being discouraged is not the same as “your character is about to throw out their own career” and provides a different level of threat/cost.

And this mirrors a lot in fiction; when a character is in a temporary mood, they either get over it or have something opposite come their way. It’s a turn but not a big deal. When characters are changing direction in life, or near to it, it’s a Big Deal and core conflict.

If we’re co-creating as a group, it’s really important to know what weight we’re throwing at this.

Emotional Centers

I think it’s also worth thinking about how characters in fiction and stories, have an emotional center – the personality, values and attitudes that make up who they are and are where they return to as a person. Now, yes, characters can and do change over time, which is part of what good storytelling does – the maturation and growth of a character is the journey of how they become a different person; for better or for worse.

When we’re talking about these ideas of characters expressing short term moods or being knocked completely off axis for life? That’s about how these things in play are affecting their emotional center; a mood or even a longer term arc that doesn’t threaten to change who they are, is one thing, while the sorts of experiences that might place their sense of self or values at risk, that warp or transform their emotional center, is another.

(My memory around 2013 is still pretty poor from the chemotherapy treatments at the time, but a worthwhile idea that is related to this is Emily Care Boss’ Story Capital which I briefly wrote about. As some fictional elements in play are loaded with meaning and importance to the play group, they gain “story capital” and this sort of fictional “weight” becomes strong enough to potentially change characters’ emotional centers.)

Sometimes Flags, Sometimes Not

Now, I’ve been one of the biggest proponents of Flag Mechanics, however they are not always the right tool for this, and when they are, they might work in different ways.

For one, some games use your characters’ values or beliefs as the Flags – in other words, their emotional center, but it may not be clear to the group whether you, as a player, are using those values as something that might change, or simply a target to draw conflict. To use a simple pop culture example – if you are playing a Jedi and you have a Flag “will never succumb to the Dark Side” is that designed because you MIGHT eventually toy with the Dark Side or is it just to make a lot of dramatic scenes around it? Both can be fun, but they’re actually different play goals.

The other issue is that some games do not allow you to change Flags in the moment; so if a scene or situation has occurred that you personally think is critical and might change your character forever, you might not be able to adjust a Flag to let everyone know how important it is. Or, perhaps the situation is just a subset of an existing Flag and there’s no “change” that says this is more or less important.

Tenative Labels

Unfortunately I don’t have an easy, quick tool in mind for play (I’m exhausted, it’s a pandemic) but I figured I’d share what I’ve got in mind so far. I basically see these things as having 3 levels of potential weight or importance to a character.

Mood – A mood is a short term expression or attitude for a character and they are not really in danger of changing their core values or personality. Roleplaying banter or expressions of affirmation/care are fine but it’s nothing to push hard about.

Jolt – A jolt is a situation that has knocked the character slightly off from their Emotional Center and may last an extended time, and eventually result in changes as to who they are. It’s not critical and life changing yet, but it is something that has dislodged their sense of certainty in their boundaries and views of themselves. It’s a pretty good space for character roleplaying over time.

Crash – A crash is a situation that has the character in existential crisis. They may act in extreme ways and other players should recognize this is very important and that lines have been crossed for the character.

Now, do I think everyone should be filling their RPG scenes with “Hold on, that’s a Jolt for my character”? No, that sounds awkward and weird. I’m sure something like hand signals or other mechanic procedure would probably better suit navigating these issues. I do think it’s useful to have conceptual framework first because it also helps you understand what’s happening in a game, especially when you are trying to create a story collaboratively without traditional fiction’s tools of planning and revision.

The tropes of action genres

Finally, mainstream RPG space is mostly built on genres of male-focused action adventure and often does an incredibly poor job of demonstrating protagonists actually wrestling with their emotionals and values. A lot of the stories are “emotionally safe” in the sense that the protagonists are never shown to be knocked off their emotional center; you might have the “screaming in the rain” scene but after that they are never out of control in a way that is detrimental to them. Because these stories don’t actually show character development or processing emotion, the narrative language around them can be under developed in both seeing them in play or communicating them.

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Fundraiser by Mandy Morbid / Amanda Nagy

November 27, 2021

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CRPGs and the trap of the railroad

November 22, 2021

The heroes stand together, gazing out on the final gate… they ready themselves. Someone puts a hand on their friend’s shoulder, and nods. It’s now or never.

This kind of stuff is pretty awesome in movies. In books. And videogames. It’s the last boss, and the climax of a story. You, the audience, are invested. You CARE.

Tabletop RPGs, have a harder time doing these, and it mostly boils down to missing a key difference in these media vs. a tabletop RPG.

The thing is, in all those other media, the protagonists are mostly already spoken for. Every good trick in classic storytelling to get an audience invested in terms of pacing, character dialogue and response, all of that is already decided, and you, the audience, just have to absorb it. It seems like it should work for tabletop RPGs, after all, you’re making fiction, right? It also seems like it should work because you play videogames, and these are interactive media, right, and they work there.

But again, even ones where there’s more options, the characters are spoken for. Even if you have the silent protagonist, the NPCs get personality, and that becomes the things you get attached to. There’s a limited number of ways this will play out – and these are set up in ways to build your investment using tricks from the long standing traditions of storytelling.

When you play a tabletop RPG, you’re playing with a group, and improvising as a group. It’s much harder to lean on those tools of storytelling because 1) you don’t know what story it will actually be, and 2) you can’t simply edit it over time, like traditional storytelling does. Those characters aren’t spoken for – you play and find out in the moment. The railroading will not work here, the way it does in other media.

What this also means, is that presenting a hard situation or challenge doesn’t necessarily mean the players will be emotionally invested. The game has to follow what the players are into, not try to present the situations and assume the players will be there. (Which is why games that require a lot of planning for the challenges, such as heavy planned map grid fighting RPGs, don’t do so well at getting investment based on story, as much as investment based on gamism and challenge.)

Based on all the other types of medium, it SEEMS like railroading should work. But it doesn’t, and that has everything to do with the game being a fiction of multiple creators improvising in the moment, and not anything else where you have the option of planning and revisions.

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Supplement 2.0 in RPGs

November 19, 2021

A lot of the traditional RPG publishing space was built on the “Supplement Treadmill” of the 80s and 90s – you make a game, you churn out supplements in the form of adventure modules, extra rules, splat books, etc.

In one way, this made sense because while RPGs were spreading, you generally were selling to people to “buy deep” into your product line. The part where it didn’t make sense was the fact that publishing printed material cost money, and you basically hit a point where the mass of material became too hard for people to navigate and figure out the point of entry. So then you launch a new edition, usually with minimal actual changes, and then resell everything again.

Aside from… the ethics of that business model, it just did poorly because the cost of publishing, shipping and inventory tax made it not a very viable option.

However, one thing I’ve noticed for games that are primarily PDF sales; you CAN have 30 microsupplements for your game at a very low cost under $5 each, and not have to suffer the drawbacks of print costs. In this way, this idea of “lots of small material, produced every couple of months” becomes a lot more viable. (Of course, the underlying logic that is every more important is that these creators did not go into debt to publish their games, and are not counting on the sales to make rent…)

How well does this work in practice? I don’t know! No one has done the old Forge thing of sharing their sales numbers, but since I’ve seen a few different games following this model, it probably has some merit.

It would be interesting if we did have numbers on a few of these and to contrast it with, say, a game that is being developed via Patreon funding.