Archive for March, 2022


Ran Dolls of Theseus – 1 Shot

March 29, 2022

I ran Dolls of Theseus from the TTRPG for Trans Rights in Texas Bundle (available for a few more days, direct game link here if you miss the bundle) as a one shot and had a pretty good time, but I did learn a couple of things about how I’d run it differently next time.


We streamed the game as a 2 hour oneshot. While it was do-able, I think it’s probably better suited for a 4-6 hour play time, so probably 3 sessions of our normal 2 hour experience. It’s not so much that there’s a lot of rules depth (it’s only 2 pages!) but rather that you end up creating a narrative space and need a little time to explore and tie it together.

Core Rules and Thoughts

The dice, basically

Basic conflict rolls moved fast enough, and I think the success/failure + consequence/reward modifier works out fine for giving some nuance in an easy fashion. I chose to have players roll for every consequence/reward rather than choose it as a GM, since I wanted to see how the system “felt” as far as mechanics.

Because of that, I think a slightly longer play time would work out better because Threats are only eliminated 1/3rd of the time that you get a reward, which is also only when you get 3 successes… so having recurring threats chasing the players or reappearing is something you can only do with a little more time to work with.

Self 5

I wasn’t sure how fast players would start hitting 5 Self (where the robot becomes fully aware and effectively freed from programming), but the system is well set up to lean that direction – you can get Self both from Reward rolls AND every action roll. That said, we had a couple of times where players made 5 Self from action roll but then rolled a Consequence that took 1 or 2 back. The rules didn’t say one way or another whether it “locks in” before the Consequence roll, but I went with that it didn’t because the Consequence is effectively still part of the same action.


I expected player characters to lose more limbs throughout play but we only had one point where a player lost 2 at one roll. I guess it helps that the Consequence rolls only hit you on one out of three odds for that. We didn’t get to do the thing where they get to add NEW parts, which made me a little sad – the weird/cool robot bolt-on/gattai “Now I have a LASER ARM” stuff was one of the things I wanted to see. That’s one part where the random dice rolls worked against us, but probably would be fine with a longer play time.

Drift from the rules, for one shot expedience

It’s one thing to do a one shot, it’s another thing to do a one shot as a streamed game. You have to try to get to play a lot faster and be clear on what’s going on, so a bit more time is eaten up explaining rules and setting – not just to the players, but to folks watching as well.

For that reason, I made two changes that aren’t in the default game.

A setting to set direction

First, I made a little 1 page setting – although the default game gives you some random roll tables, I knew that the extra worldbuilding time would cut into our play time, and we didn’t have it to spare. The other two parts of that are a) giving players a clear mission/goal to get momentum going, and b) removing humans from the situation and having it be just robots.

That second part of the setting choice is because there’s a great and deep area of story to explore about “what does it mean to be a tool/servant to humans and what is it to break free of that?” Even if you ignore “the 3 laws of Robotics”, there’s just a deep well of moral questions in “we’ve made thinking machines now what” and I knew we wouldn’t have time to play with all that goodness.

An emotion matrix to give it a little extra push

The other choice was creating an Emotion Matrix, a mechanic from Tenra Bansho Zero, where you roll dice upon meeting major NPCs and create established relationships or “gut feelings” to give a direction and cut out a lot of the “who are you?” feeling out that eats up a lot of gameplay. I took the time to fill the emotion matrix with evocative questions and setting stuff, so the players could get some more input and setting control. I think this worked fine and certainly gave a lot more direction and input to play quickly. Tenra has specific rules that let you bump the result around, but I just told players “you can bump it one square” and that was fine.

I should probably try with the default random roll tables the game gives, but this helped really cut down play time and keep things moving (I’ll be doing a follow up post just on the Emotion Matrix because I think it can be used in many different types of games and it deserves it’s own post).


We had a good time, and I want to run it for a longer set of play and figure out how the rules pace things when they’re not being rushed for a 2 hour game. I definitely think “best practices” wise, you want to have NPCs and Threats reappear and sort of build up the world as you go, which that time frame isn’t the best for. Same for giving more time for players to basically play the “I gained a point of Self, let me reflect on this and have convos with other characters” experience.

I’m pretty sure a group that is good about collaborative world building is probably going to do great with the loose setting constraints, but making your own setting to get them in a direction is also a good option.

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RPGs and the limits of verbal communication

March 10, 2022

Over the last few weeks I got a chance to play some videogames, which hasn’t been the case for several months.

I was poking around and looking at the cool environments in a few games, and playing “virtual anthropologist” – looking at symbols and decorations, trying to figure out stuff about the society/world in the game. This sort of environmental storytelling is something I enjoy, however, it did highlight something that visual mediums are good at, which tabletop RPGs, as a verbal medium is not.

When you watch a movie, or play a videogame, it’s possible to have multiple layers of information happening at the same time; the most critical elements can be made very clear, and small details for the attentive people, can also be available, and not get in the way of each other. In all comes in simultaneously. The high detail and low detail parts can both arrive, together.

However, if we’re playing an RPG, the spotlight, or the focus of the conversation, can only be in one place at one time. If we want to cover more things, it takes up more time because talking only lets you put the information out serially – one chunk at a time, not layered like a visual thing would be. Detail is harder to deal with, because you have to speak more, to give more information, and, if someone has questions, it’s a back and forth to clarify.

This also highlights why it’s critical to get on the same page about what the point of the game is, so that people don’t drag the spotlight to non-important things. If the game is mostly sword and sorcery action adventure, and someone keeps inspecting each book in the library, it becomes a problem because it pulls time away from the core experience people are expecting.

Now, something that verbal communication is great at, is summation. What visual storytelling has to do with montage, a few words can encapsulate immediately. “It was a hard winter. Tight supplies, short patience in the whole village. Ugly words were said and you know not everyone will be friends or even family, anymore. That’s when the tax man and his retinue appeared.” – that short bit sums up months and many relationships, and the players can all paint these ideas in their head pretty easily.

Anyway, I think about this right now, as I often see people get excited about a videogame, and want to make a TTRPG experience “just like it” but there’s a lot of places where you can pick 1-2 elements out of a game and make them your tabletop game, just not ALL of the elements, because not all of them translate over well. Consider what elements only work because it’s a single player, or a continuous narrative isn’t expected, or, as I’m pointing out, because the information that is immediate and apparent in a visual representation is 20 minutes of questions and clarifications in verbal description.

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h1 – TTRPGs for Trans Rights in Texas Bundle

March 4, 2022

The bundle is $5 and can be found here. They’re about 93% of the way to their goal, but you get access to the games, zines, supplements, etc. as soon as you pay.

Aside from being a good cause, the bundle is has a very wide selection, ranging from your expected 5E supplement material and OSR type stuff to full indie games of the breadth from superheroes, cyberpunk, sci-fi, supernatural, horror, and every day or introspective games, including solo games.

Now mind you, I, personally want action movie content for my RPGs, and 70% of the bundle isn’t that, but there are already 3-4 games in there I had been thinking of getting for months – and each one is $10-30 by themselves, so this easily was worth it, even paying more than the $5 ask.

Probably over the next 2 months I’ll be posting some Game Hype posts about some of the games I find, but if you’re thinking of seeing some of what interesting new things people are making in RPGs, it’s a low investment with a TON of material. Go check it out!