Archive for May, 2022


The Green Knight RPG

May 28, 2022

I picked up The Green Knight game, which is based off the recent movie, which, in turn, is based off the Arthurian legend and appears to be part of the wider folk lore of “decapitation challenge” tales. Most of the time, I feel very few RPGs do a good job of capturing the source material (“Is this story really about 5 foot steps and attacks of opportunity? Hmmm.”)

In this case, I think The Green Knight is an excellent game and a good “teaching game” for people who haven’t done roleplaying or GM’d a game. It’s worth knowing that the game is basically designed to play out over 1, maybe 2 sessions, with a linear set of encounters, as each of the party members is seeking out the Green Knight to fulfill the vow to let him strike at them after a year. There’s 5 characters to choose from, and a little bit of customization to each of them.

It is very helpful to have some familiarity with the tale and/or the movie, but if someone can pick up on the old European folk tale + mysterious fae beings vibe, they could probably go without direclty knowing either.

Neat System Stuff

This is a simple, clean, and focused game system.

This is a game about honor. However, what we track on the character sheet is Dishonor. It goes from 1 to 20. Whenever you attempt something honorable, you have to roll over it. Whenever you attempt something dishonorable, you have to roll under it. The score fluctuates up and down but it’s clearly easier to gain Dishonor than to lose it. And when it hits 20, your character either dies or leaves the quest (there is no death mechanics or injury rules outside of this).

Every encounter and every round in the encounter, everyone gains 1 Dishonor (because it is delaying them from finding the Green Knight, per the vow. So, you realize that over the course of play, everyone is slowly being pushed towards further and further dishonorable actions as they become more likely to succeed.

Of course, there are some skills and stat choices that allow you to modify rolls, and many characters have a few abilities to negate Dishonor gain or remove Dishonor under the right conditions.

Also, another neat mechanic is the initiative system; every player is randomly rolling to see who goes first, but more importantly, the person who rolled the best is “the Leader” for this encounter. And what the Leader gets to do is after the first round, decide if the party is going to keep trying to resolve the situation or just leave. This neatly skips the problem that often shows up in D&D about party conflict, at least mechanically.

A Teaching Game

While the rules literally tell you how the game works, the actual written encounters give you step by step reminders of the process (“Give everyone 1 point of Dishonor to start this encounter. Here’s how to roll initiative”) and then goes into likely player actions and skills that apply to the situations and what outcomes make sense.

Now, I’m definitely the number one person to stand against railroading and Illusionism, I think this game makes it work by virtue of a) being open that the encounters/situations are linear, b) being designed for a very short game (1-2 sessions), and c) being a teaching game that can give people the most rudimentary ideas of how to run RPGs. It’s the same way I look at Candyland as a boardgame – it’s literally all chance and linear, HOWEVER, it teaches you how to take turns and basics of boardgames. (Also, it helped kids who were suffering polio, so… there’s that too.)


I think if you want a good teaching game or something you can break out and play without prep, The Green Knight is a solid game. If you design games, this is a pretty great example of a focused game that manages to do a lot without getting burdened the way most traditional games do. It does only give 5 character sheets, each of which IS the particular character class – so you’ll definitely want to photocopy these rather than use them up.


F.I.S.T. – Freelance Infantry Strike Team

May 16, 2022

I picked up a physical copy from Exalted Funeral (PDF only option on, currently on sale). This is a very light weight game of 80s action movie fun, mixing The A-Team, Metal Gear Solid, and a bunch of the sort of wacky stuff you’d see in 80s movies (androids, aliens, psychics, etc.). It’s a super light PBTA (9 pages of rules, 2 pages of extra materials, another 10-ish pages of Traits).

It’ll probably be a while before I get a chance to play it, but conceptually it seems like a fun pick up game you could get into with minimal prep, and get into the action in short order.

Your characters have Traits which, in most other games, would probably be a whole class unto themselves (“I’m an alien parasite puppeteering a human body” “I’m an android built by the US Army” etc.) The fun part is that there’s something like 100 Traits and as you level up, you can get more Traits – so… you could in fact become something of a bizarre 80s combination character like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. (Although if you specifically want the TMNT vibe with a system that echoes the classic TMNT RPG from Palladium, Mutants in the Now is an excellent system to go look at.)

Anyway, it’s worth checking out if you want a simple, gonzo action game that you can run on zero notice or introduce people to roleplaying games with.

If you find my blog entertaining and valuable, consider supporting me on Patreon.


Good Idea, Bad Idea – NPC motivations

May 16, 2022

Here’s a simple tool for creating NPCs with motivations a bit more than “good guy” or “bad guy”. It’s a variation on my X but Y method, and fits perfectly into the Flag Framing method of running a campaign and improvising events.

Good Idea Bad Idea

You start with knowing your setting and general situation (“A struggle for the throne” “Superheroes vying to be on the officially recognized super team for the city” etc.) and you set up your NPCs with that in mind. Ideally, you are playing an RPG where the game has the players set up Flags, so you have those ready as well.

For each NPC you are making into a major player (someone who can potentially be proactive and take counteractions in the situation), you list out two ideas, values, or drives on how they plan on dealing with that large scale conflict/issue at hand.

One of those is the good idea – something that is generally morally decent and/or reasonable/effective to their goals. The other is the bad idea – something that is morally problematic, or unreasonable/going too far in their goals.

Some simplistic examples:

“Ace Guardian Hero” is one of those Captain America type ripoff heroes, but entitled and arrogant. He wants to be the leading hero of the New Town’s Superhero Team.

  • “If I’m going to be the leader, I have to never run away from the big threats – I have to show everyone I’ve got what it takes to be there.” (good idea)
  • “Only people who will do what I say, the way I tell them to do it, should work with me. Everyone else is a fool & needs to be put in their place.” (bad idea)

Now, you could play up either one of these a little more, but it seems like the perfect sort of spoiler character you can’t directly fight, but who is constantly getting in the way of the PC’s plans. (The Hater archetype of my 7 Types of Antagonists list).

“Mutate-o – the Human Potato” is one of those goofy side heroes, but think a bit “person down on themselves but potent if they could get the self confidence they need”.

  • “I hate seeing people getting hurt – I’m always going to use my strength to protect people” (good idea)
  • “Everyone thinks I’m a monster, and the problems I cause when people see me, means I should hide and let the other heroes be the ones to act.” (bad idea).

Obviously, both of these are cartoonish archetype characters, but you get the idea, right? You can go more complex and subtle appropriate to the genre or setting. And of course, if you craft these in ways that intersect with the PC’s Flags, values, etc. you get some fun, easy to use tools.

There’s no reason that characters HAVE to lean more towards antagonistic or allied, but I usually find 60/40 or even 70/30 works fine. It’s rare to create a character who can be split on a morally grey space and well communicated to the players with the limited spotlight time they’re likely to receive.

Course Corrections

Just as much as players need to refine or alter Flags in play as they get a better thematic grasp on what their character is about or fighting for, you, too, will need to adjust these in play.

Sometimes you’ll find one of the ideas falls flat or never comes up – in which case, replace it. Maybe the NPC takes a stand on something that happened (“I just saw half the city burn. What are we even doing? I’m going to be hard on heroes to do better.”) or you think up something that’s a plausible backstory bit to highlight (“Yeah, I used to be ex-military. And a contact reached out to me for a different supers team. One that gets things done…”).

Ideally, though, you get some good roleplaying in and the NPCs change their views based on interacting with the PCs and they either become better folks, or more committed to being not-better folks. It makes the game a living world and gives the players agency to shape the story and affect the characters.

The Big Pitfall to Avoid

So, just because I’m placing a “good idea/bad idea” with each major character, it doesn’t mean you need to have a major “redeeming value” to every villain. Some folks crossed a line a long time ago, and the fact they won’t kill children doesn’t make them a good person. Likewise, you don’t have to make every good character into a war criminal edgelord.

This is one of the problems of a lot of modern media based out of decades old IP – they ran out of ideas for the characters so they have them do a heel turn or face turn, and often times, done in absence of any other meaningful resolution, you just have stuff like “Oh the Space Nazis aren’t that bad” and it just makes a horrible story and message.

And So…

  • Make major NPCs w/one good idea & one bad idea
  • Try to aim them at ways that intersect with player motivations
  • Figure out how hard they lean towards either, what lines they’ve crossed vs. potential to cross
  • Feel free to change them in accordance w/events in play, or if the motivations aren’t coming up
  • Understand this isn’t the entirety of the NPC’s world view, just relevant handles for this current conflict/situation in the game
  • Not every good idea is fully a morally redeeming one, not every bad idea is a war crime or atrocity

If you find my blog entertaining and valuable, consider supporting me on Patreon.


The Less Things Change…

May 15, 2022

This pattern is familiar, if only because it’s the same pattern we saw trial ballooned and tested in the world of tabletop RPGs.

Every few years I see some different person or group run into the same situation; whether that’s working with The World’s Largest RPG Company or finding out how many people in the OSR space have some extra “principles” that harken to Jim Crow logics, or that folks are sliding neonazism into their revision of a game brand. Nearly always, they’re not hiding it, it’s in plain sight but protected by the White Moderates that MLK pointed out so long ago.

Anyway, probably the biggest strength has been the sheer number of folks who have managed to build their own RPG circles and spaces outside the white dominated spaces where the Hatebros and “I’m not racist but I feel VERY STRONGLY about you decrying racists” crowd runs things.

I remember folks saying I was exaggerating or insane to say that there’s a lot of people in the RPG scene who literally want a lot of folks dead. However, as always, it just appears to be those people who either don’t like mirrors or live as one of the dinner party attendees at “What do you call a party with a Nazi and 10 other people? 11 Nazis”.


Making the Real

May 13, 2022

Let’s say we’re playing a dungeon crawl game, and the protagonists come upon a closed door. What’s behind the door? There’s several ways we could go about deciding what’s behind the door:

  • There’s a written module and it already establishes what’s behind the door
  • The GM has written down (or basically memorized) what is there
  • The GM hasn’t decided but will make it up on the spot
  • One or more of the players at the table will decide (maybe they spend a point, maybe they have to roll a certain score, maybe there’s a negotiation process, whatever).

Now, because it’s “not in play” yet, that is, hasn’t been revealed to the group (per the Baker Care Principle), you could argue it doesn’t exist yet. Except, here’s the important part; all of those 4 possibilities set very different expectations and procedures for the group playing on what to expect from the game and how to approach it. (My mega link post about different theory stuff that might be useful to read now, or later, depending on how much you feel like digging into it.)

Consider; with the first two options, the GM might be making choices knowing what’s behind the door (“Ah, the adventurers were loud! The monster will hide, then try to ambush them!”). If the GM is making stuff up on the spot, the classic “Don’t say that out loud! You’re giving the GM ideas!” issue appears. If everyone knows what is behind the door might be made up by anyone (appropriate to the mechanics) maybe you don’t have to do a bunch of careful set up before opening the door, since it’s just as likely to not be useful.

This sort of thinking applies to a lot more than closed doors; character backstories, motivations, “Who is the killer?” in a mystery, “What does the magical gem do?” and so on. How do we establish the things we imagine as “solidified” in the game? How do we use them to shape play?

It’s not that any one of these is better, it’s just that they’re better at different things and very different expectations of play and likely have different stages during play… so let’s go through it.

Shared and Established

If something is shared – communicated amongst the group as true, then it is established in the game fiction as “real”. My usual statement that the easiest rule is “I say it and so that’s what it is” in the game applies here. Likewise, if the group agrees that we’re going to assume the setting in the game is true and everyone is reading the book, then that’s also “Shared & Established”. (Same thing too if you’re playing a game based on a TV show, book, comics, or movies or whatever – if we take that canon as our canon, it falls into shared & established).

All games must have SOME facts and events that are shared and established – it is the part that makes the game something we agree upon together. But not everything will start from here nor necessarily end here.

Personally Committed

Some things are hidden from the group but a player (including the GM as a player) are committed to making their choices and narration on the basis of facts or ideas that only they know. This could be:

  • The adventure module
  • A character’s backstory and motivations
  • An specific combat encounter & stats
  • Making a roll to yourself to see what a character would do
  • Knowing who the killer is in a murder mystery

The important part about personal commitment is that it allows the rest of the group to potentially suss out or deduce what is going on and allows for a consistency in action.

Uncreated – Singular Authority

“What’s behind the door?” “I haven’t decided yet!” Or, possibily “I was thinking X, but maybe I’ll change my mind.” Without the commitment, it’s not established. The important part here is that this is controlled by one player. Now obviously, this shows up a lot when you are forced to improvise things (“Wait, I gotta come up with a name and personality for the waiter?!? Uh, hold on.”), but some people like to run whole sessions like this.

I think it’s not too bad if it’s not being masqueraded as something where there is a commitment, otherwise you sort of pull a bait and switch on players who are invested in trying to draw the connections and connect the dots. (see everyone upset who got invested in the TV series Lost…)

There is also the point when you have abusive GMing where someone will constantly pull the switcheroo of facts in order to disempower or antagonize players (“haha, it turns out your shoes were cursed all along!”) but obviously the larger problem is a social one and not necessarily this particular method of establishing fiction. We can also see this goes back to the classic “We’re playing Let’s Pretend” and the “I shot you” “No you didn’t” argument issue.

Uncreated – Group Authority

For this to work, the group either has to know it’s part of the system, or it has to happen consistently enough in play for it to become “unwritten” system that the group engages in. For example, “My hunter wants to identify the tracks we found” “Well, you’re the expert, tell me what you find – that’s large, dangerous, and somewhat magical” “Oh.”

Some games make this abundantly obvious with narration trading mechanics – for example, drawing the highest card in Primetime Adventures, or spending coins in Universalis to establish facts. Other games do this a bit more sneakily; for example, if you roll a miss in Apocalypse World to Read A Situation, the GM might ask you “Where are YOU the most vulnerable to the enemy?” and in answering, you establish a truth of the game setting.

This sort of thing is great for collaborative groups (and drastically removes a lot of prep and creativity labor for a GM), but also makes it harder for anyone to plot/plan a larger picture backstory, without needing to be very flexible to changes.

Design and oops, design

Obviously, if you’re designing a game, it’s worth thinking about these things and how you expect the game to work and what parts should work like one way, another, or shift over time. However, it unfortunately falls into the hands of a lot of groups, when games have not thought about this very well and you are left with a nebulous “find your style” advice which means you’re actually having to navigate these things all the time but not knowing how it works and re-communicating or negotiating these with new people over and over (or… having bad mismatches in play expectations and the problems that creates…)

You can also see a lot of the issues around this goes into the poor discourse around “meta gaming” or railroading and more, but at least having a language can help you figure out what you’re trying to do or avoid in the games you play or make.

If you find my blog entertaining and valuable, consider supporting me on Patreon.