Archive for the ‘Games I’ve played’ Category


Primetime Adventures Podcast

July 23, 2013

My friends Jono & Sushu made a podcast about our favorite rpg – Primetime Adventures.  We’ve played a LOT of PTA in the last 3 years, and they do a great job of talking about what makes the game awesome while keeping it accessible.

There’s a lot of good talk about how to frame good conflicts, and how a lot of it is about a) finding what the real issue at hand is, and b) making the mechanical conflicts relevant to that while leaving the character vs. issues part in the players’ hands.

It’s about 45 minutes.  Go check it out!


The Drifter’s Escape – in play

January 5, 2013

I finally got around to not just watching folks play the Drifter’s Escape, but playing it. We were all a bit tired by the time we got to playing, and I was a bit doubtful about whether our energy levels would go well with it, but it was a lot of fun.

One of the things I saw upon reading was that the game is designed to put you in a bind: if you’re The Drifter, you basically are at the whim of GM Fiat (from one of the two GMs – either The Devil or The Man) unless you Make a Deal. When you make a Deal, both the GMs draw a 5 card hand and offer to give you their hand if you do a specific thing they request – and neither one is obligated to tell the truth about the quality of their hand. If the hand you take beats the other GM’s hand, then you get what you want regardless of the GM Fiat.

The thing I didn’t realize was that the dynamic in play is exactly that of an abuser – when you’re one of the GMs, when you control the scene you’re basically causing problems and fucking up the Drifter’s life and then you immediately turn around and offer them “help” at a cost.

What makes this not completely fucked up as a play experience is that these roles (as the Devil or the Man) are clearly assigned, you KNOW that this is the players’ roles and it changes the situation by drawing the boundaries of what is going on. In speaking with the designer, Ben Lehman, he pointed out that one of the things the game teaches is survival skills in an abusive situation – “Get what you need and get out. Sometimes helping others is what you need, but don’t stick around and let other people’s problems become your own” – which was a pretty accurate assessment of what happened in play.

The second thing which came out while playing the game is the Drifter holds three options which are pretty powerful in play.

1. The ability to ditch a Deal if the terms offered are too weak/terrible.
2. The ability to decide when it’s time to leave town the situation altogether.
3. The ability to Redeem any NPC – to spend a token and right then and there, regardless of how fucked up they were before, they are NOW a good person, and the person playing that character MUST try to have that character do the thing which the player considers the morally right thing.

In our game, everything changed when an extremist survivalist militia type just shot a corrupt sheriff to death and was in a standoff with his friend the meth dealer, the Drifter and her friend – the Drifter player spent a token and immediately Redeemed the survivalist which shocked the whole damn table and ended the standoff.

The Drifter’s Escape manages to paint the world with a brutal cynicism and at the same time, surprise you utterly at the potential for changing your views on characters (or really people).


Guy Shalev’s Friendship Game

June 9, 2012

With my game group having left the country for the summer, I’ve been getting some online gaming through Google Plus, which has been good. Last week I ran an Avatar The Last Airbender game using Guy Shalev’s Friendship Game.

The Friendship Game basically works on two economies – Light and Dark Tokens. Light Tokens are what you need to start scenes and to engage in conflicts using the dice, or to get bonus dice.

Light Tokens are earned mostly by doing friendship-type things – trusting your friends, helping them out, etc. Dark Tokens are earned by keeping secrets and the problems they cause – but Dark Tokens always eventually break open and must be revealed- which then earns everyone involved – more Light Tokens.

We had a great time, and I think if anything, I may end up houseruling down the number of ways you can get Light Tokens, but we’ll see.


Playtesting The Final Line

April 28, 2012

Finally got some playtesting in. My roommate and I finally both had the day off at the same time, so we playtested “The Final Line” one of the 1-hour rpgs I’ve been working on. This is basically the “Giant Superhero Crossover Climax” – where you pick your favorite heroes from the comic books, and you try to save the world… but not all of the heroes will make it.

Because it was just the two of us, we each picked two heroes – we had Scarlet Witch, Storm, The Beast, and Anole. The game plays out in two acts, the first one is the defense of Earth, and the second act is taking on the uber-villain, Revelation, on the moon.

What happened in play

We had Storm fending off a tidal wave from the devastation, Scarlet Witch reknitting the Bay Bridge, and the Beast and Anole making it to a cruise ship turned evac boat just a little too late after two of Revelation’s “Quantum Shadows” of himself killed everyone on board.

The second act saw the Scarlet Witch forcibly tearing the armor off of the army of Quantum Shadows and letting the vacuum do it’s work upon them, with Anole being seriously injured by Revelation while the Beast desperately tried to deactivate the Quantum Engine.

Storm had a breakthrough in her powers, realizing that weather control is quite close to control of possibilities, and during this epiphany and transformation, the Beast sacrificed himself to protect her. She then turned and walked towards Revelation, throwing lightning the whole way, until she was palming his head, and burnt him down to ashes, leaving nothing but a blackened handprint.


I think it was about a 40 minute game, so that worked fine. I was happy with the events it produced even though the cards were more favorable to the players by luck of the draw.

I did see some parts where I need to add some extra support to give direction and reduce the “creative load” the players have to bear (though, mind you, playing 2 characters means having to do twice as much as you’d normally need to), and a place or two to simply cut out a few extra training wheels that are unnecessary.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the core play and can’t wait to try it out some more.


Mini Games Night

November 13, 2011

A couple of my friends ran a mini-games rpg party night. The format is pretty close to what I used to do for KueiCon – a bunch of folks show up, ready to run or play some games. Everyone lays out what they’re willing to run and people jump in on what appeals to them. In this case, it was a 4 hour thing, so we broke up into groups and each got in 2 games.


I ran Inspectres, and I think I finally found my stride with the game. It basically came together with three factors. First, having pregenerated character stats just made things a lot smoother. Second, giving the most barest and necessary bits of the rules let people focus on the situation and play, instead of tumbling rules in their heads. Third, I finally figured out how best to give Stress – given that the Inspectres business is a crappy start-up, you just begin with the sorts of things that make life a hassle, and turn it all the way up to the spooky weird shit.

For our game, we had the start up which was founded by a college kid with a rich dad, operating out of one of those cubicle offices which had seen 5 other start-ups go through since the beginning of the year… a hodge-podge of leftover equipment and posters on the wall. It sped onward to their franchise being accidentally identified as working for/against the Occupy movement (much to the founders’ father’s chagrin), and media calls to their offices being answered by Dmitri, the eastern european Open Source new hire who managed to give the worst possible series of sound bites all in a row. The problem was answering a ghost problem in Oakland City Hall, actually a building underneath City Hall which (as game play revealed) turned out to be an older supernatural collection zone, which was now a magical superfund site.

The three tools I’ve found to making Inspectres sing is:

1. Pacing – be sure to move things along when the players get enough Franchise dice. I’ve seen a couple of games where the investigation takes up most of the dice, and the actual resolution doesn’t get enough space to play out.

2. Stress – Inflicting a few 1 and 2 dice Stress rolls for each character pumps up the tension.

3. Questions- stealing a bit from Apocalypse World, I made sure to ask questions about the place of business, how they operated (“What’s the company car?” “It’s a 1997 Miyata. It was a graduation gift.”) It really brought out the hilarity of the situation.

Yuuyake Koyake/Golden Sky Stories

Ewen ran this for us and what a charming game! I think it hits all the buttons of cute/feel good and I’d really like to play a campaign of this. Everyone plays magical animals who have various powers, including the ability to change into humans, and help people in their daily lives.

The game uses no dice or cards or randomizers whatsoever. Basically, you do things, and players award each other Dreams points along the way for doing anything that is cool, funny, cute, or awesome. Which isn’t hard to do, because each of the characters has “Weaknesses”, which mostly boil down to the things the given animal would do that’s entertaining. I played a lazy, skittish, selfish cat. If you know cats, that’s not hard at all. All I had to do was basically do “cat things” and points happened.

You use Dreams to build up relationships to other characters. Those relationship stats lead to you having more abilities or powers to do stuff. So it forms this interesting feedback circle of “Roleplay well, get Dreams. Spend Dreams to show us which characters you care about. Those characters you care about, give you more points to do things. Do things to roleplay well…”

I can’t wait for this to see translation and publication in the US. I will be buying a copy as soon as it happens.


But not really D&D

June 8, 2009

The other big homebrew was a D&D hack I ran for about 6 months around 2000 with my friends in Seattle (another all POC group). I had taken the idea of the “build your own class” stuff from the DM’s book and made my own, allowing players to build martial arts, magic, etc. into their character classes.

(It’s hard to say whether it was balanced in the long run or not, I think they ran through 3-4 levels just fine).

Again, ripped out the magic system for a scaled “element” system, somewhat in the vein of Mage.

While I don’t remember much of the system (which, I guess says a lot), I do remember I didn’t fudge dice so it must have worked well enough.

The biggest thing was I had hit upon my personal “magic formula” of what I like in a fantasy game- a good mix of high action and character development. I had some solid NPCs and it became one of those hallmark games that we still bring up years later.

One of the big things was that I had removed the dungeon crawling from the experience, and no traps, and the players were just amazed at how much could happen in a session when they weren’t forced to check for traps or open up a bunch of empty rooms. (After moving to the Bay, I tried to run a 3E game in 2003, along the same lines, but the new players were completely at a loss how to deal with the game outside of the dungeon crawling mentality…)

While I’d probably not be satisfied with the homebrew designs today, I think it’s pretty interesting that some of the most fun I’ve had with my friends were specifically the homebrews, and probably because I built rules tailored for the kinds of games I wanted to see, and in the process, got a better handle in what I want from a game as well.

A lot of this came out of dissatisfaction with the rules in the Giant Feng Shui Campaign of 1995-7 – and it’s interesting that within my circle (and multiple GMs) we didn’t come to the conclusion “We’re Teh Awesome Roleplayers! We don’t need your stinking rules!” as much as, “That was fun, but I wish the rules actually DID something”.

Perhaps this is a case where limited exposure to game culture prevented us from absorbing all those myths and internalizing them along the way…



June 8, 2009

Around 1998 or so, I was going to school in Vancouver BC. I alternated my gaming between an AD&D 2nd Edition group (about 1/2 POC) and playing with a homebrew game with a couple of classmates.

I don’t remember if I had a name for this homebrew at the time, but it was a fantasy heartbreaker reaction to D&D. It used a D10 roll equal or under kind of thing, and improving stats was all about using the skill/ability more often.

The “big” departures* from D&D at the time were:

a) stats leveled based on usage
b) injuries could be fatal easily, w/death spiral
c) magic was built on stacked effects
d) tactical options in combat were varied- there was a mechanical difference between fighting w/accuracy, blocking, parrying, or going for more damage.

Actually, that latter part became sort of the catchphrase of the game, I think mostly because people loved yelling “DAMAGE!”.

I remember the interesting thing was the way in which different players either picked up or got lost at the concept of being able to shape magic outside of a set spell list. One friend was constantly developing new ideas and the other players would ask, “How come you have all these spells?” and he’d reply, “Just think it up!” – sort of a similar problem I’ve seen in other abstracted magic games.

It’s interesting because I never really thought about even before I understood a lot of game theory that I knew instinctively that the answer was you needed different rules, not to simply ignore the ones you had.

(*I had a little knowledge of BRP by way of Elfquest and a tinge of Rolemaster, but another part of my design at the time was I wanted un-crunchy and elegant rules. The resolutions were quick and easy to work, but convoluted and counterintuitive to learn. In the end, the players understood the different actions had different effects, they just weren’t totally clear on how the procedures and math of it worked. Le sigh.)