Bleak Spirit: Lost Lore + Adversaries

At the time of writing the RPG Kickstarter for Bleak Spirit has just over two days left to go. It is already funded, demonstrating the game has a market. I have several ideas about this game, both by itself, but also as an aid to other games. Before I talk about my plans, here is a quick overview:

Bleak Spirit is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by the empty, haunted worlds of video games like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and Salt and Sanctuary. Using a rotating role system, two or more players collaborate to create the story of how a wanderer comes to a strange place, and leaves it forever changed in their wake.”

The game follows in the style of the collaborative storytelling game Lovecraftesque, a game that is inspired by Stealing Cthulhu (single player writing RPG). As noted in the quote above, players take in turns to play:

  1. The World describes the scene, which can be a danger, interaction, or feature scene. The tone of the game is that of melancholy, mystery, and faded glory. Lore is introduced, which in addition to providing a chance to explore the setting, also can be building towards the final Adversary.
  2. The Wanderer explores the scene, decides what action to take, uncovering lore as they travel. The person playing the Wanderer that turn chooses their actions, taking care to avoid describing the wanderer’s internal monologue.
  3. If there are more than 2 players than there is also a Chorus supporting the World. The Chorus can elaborate on events, suggest prices during danger scenes, or play a character that has been introduced.

The game is broken down into 3 sections (part 1 of 5 scenes, part 2 of between 1 to 3 scenes), allowing the wanderer to find lore and building the game towards part 3 and the story’s main Adversary. There are a set number of scenes classed as Interaction, Danger and Feature. The game has special cards that can be played altering the course of a scene. The cards do more than just mix things up, they can also add extra tension. You can read more about mechanics at the Kickstarter, such as why Leaping to Conclusions is part of the fun of the game 🙂

Bleak Spirit Card Samples

The wanderer is a stranger in a strange land, generally visiting bleak, run down locations. Other characters are eccentric, elusive and cryptic. Bleak Spirits approach allows for players to discover depth and complexity, without preloading the world, capturing for example how Dark Souls series achieves this. I think the method of alternating roles supports the game’s intent.

Bleak Spirit also strips away many of the common RPG mechanics and tropes, allowing for freer flowing storytelling. Also the power of a veteran Dark Soul’s player shines, with the exception of the final Adversary, the Wanderer can survive most encounters without issue. The interesting aspect is how the Wanderer moves forward/survives, what price is paid?

After a game, players may wish to discuss things about what occurred, their plans and Conclusion Leaps; maybe even add extra context. During play, the lack of information should be embraced. More gaming session could be set in the same story world, building up the setting lore. A long campaign could result in a very detailed world, so keeping things vague is likely the best way to proceed after each game.

Truth & Ambiguity

I’ll emphasis what is intriguing to me is that quintessentially Bleak Spirit, that it seeks to avoid setting clarity; there is no TruthTM, even about the Wanderer themselves. Whilst there are many RPGs that are easy for new players to access, particularly games set in modern day real world, many RPGs have a lot to learn upfront, particularly for the DM/GM. Even the massively popular D&D settings like Forgotten Realms have a lot of maps, lore and proper nouns to learn. Granted you can ignore everything, but I think a big part of what makes characters interesting in RPGs is figuring out how they fit in their world, as well as exploring social implications. Movie amnesia is one work around, but I think the fact Bleak Spirit intentionally integrates the lack of knowledge is great, the character’s lack of memory is not important. I think this further helps support the setting’s tone of faded glory.

This year I’ve blogged about two other Kickstarters that explore the subject of characters and memory, One Child’s Heart and Afterlife: Wandering Souls. I’ve been working on my own RPG settings and different fiction that explore my long-time obsession with memories and identity, as well as what those mean to characters in RPGs. Bleak Spirit is taking a different approach to those games, as well as my own, so I was very pleased to come across this project.

Aiding other games & #RPGMentalToolkit

I like to mention expanding my RPG Mental Toolkit in several of my RPG posts, so please indulge my thought process with this. Since I think Bleak Spirit manages to capture an important dilemma in RPGs: creating collaborative eerie cryptic complexity, without a lot of reading or preparation. Therefore I think it can be switched to as a mini-session for other games, when something unusual needs to be created, Bleak Spirit could be a more surreal and esoteric way to do so.

As a veteran gamer of many systems, I am aware that no matter the game system, a group of good players can discuss things, set a tone and embrace hidden depth. Whilst some role-players take the idea of a DMGM/Storyteller/etc. as meaning only they can decide what a setting’s contents are, plenty of other gamers allow any players to contribute. In addition players can use the Blue-booking or Play-by-mail (PBM/PBeM) methods to explore/build something away from a table session, but not everyone uses those methods.

Imagine one of the many RPGs that are out there, gaining from having a mini-session of Bleak Spirit. I think the mystery and melancholy of this game will excel when players want to explore something personal in an esoteric way in another game/setting. Particularly with any game that has weird lore (civilisations, magic, dreams, etc.). Here is a non-exhaustive list of games that includes a strange aspect to its reality, from different planes of existence to ways of altering/exploring mental states:

Any Cthulhu game, particularly if the Dreamlands are involved. The various different types of Umbra in the World of Darkness (in particular Mage, but also Wraith, Changeling, Werewolf, Vampire), similarly the Chronicles of Darkness, Unknown Armies, Kult, Exalted, D&D (explore more exotic places/planes and unknown societies in: Planescape, Scarred Lands, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, Spell Jammer, etc.), Legend of the 5 Rings, GURPS, Warhammer Fantasy or 40k, et cetera.

Bleak Spirit could also be a way for a group to help players learn how to take the lead in a scene. An important baby step towards learning to be a GM and to gain confidence. Other collaborative storytelling games like Fiasco are worth exploring for this reason.

I had arranged a playtest game, but due to my ill health and busy friends those plans fell through. My plan was to offer either a totally unknown setting, the default for Bleak Spirit, or to explore a Realms of Chaos Champion within the Warhammer setting. However, you can check out another blog post about Bleak Spirit that also has an actual play:

https://allthethings123.blogspot.com/2019/06/bleak-spirit.html

https://allthethings123.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-war-sessions-zero-and-one.html

Check out the Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/179941520/bleak-spirit/

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Afterlife: Wandering Souls

Elizabeth Chaipraditkul’s Afterlife: Wandering Souls is an intriguing game about self-rediscovery. The project’s Kickstarter is getting close to finishing and it already has many goals unlocked, so the impressive team of participants has grown. The following two quotes hooked me:

“Afterlife: Wandering Souls is a macabre fantasy game set in surreal plane known as the Tenebris. You take on the role of a Wanderer—someone who died, but didn’t end up in Heaven, Hell, or any other traditional afterlife.  Devoid of any memories of your life on earth, you find yourself in an endless desert filled with gateways. Search different planes of existence for clues of your former life – or a semblance of one. Along the way you’ll encounter strange inhabitants, alien cultures, and other humans who’ve lost all hope and are bent on destroying you.”

“Afterlife is Alice in Wonderland meets What Dreams May Come set in a world inspired by the works of Guillermo del Torro, Hayao Miyazaki, and surrealist artists.”

Please back this project, surely the above information has hooked you. Maybe come back here after you’ve joined in 😉 https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1568822309/afterlife-wandering-souls

On a personal note I’m particularly interested in this project due to my long-time obsession with memories and identity, as well as what those mean to characters in role-playing games. I love the concept of the recently successful Kickstarter: One Child’s Heart, which I previously blogged about, and it was via that project that I came across Afterlife: Wandering Souls. Two quite different games focused on memories, I have a lot to look forward to!

I love many game systems and settings, it is difficult to allocate time to run/play even a fraction of what I already have, but I’ll definitely be running this game. Games that go into any detail about death and the afterlife are rare, for example Wraith: The Oblivion is one the few but I know a few players that refuse to play it. I doubt those players would have an issue with Afterlife: Wandering Souls. This is not to suggest that the Afterlife game could not be run as an ultra-bleak hopeless tale, Wraith can be run as an optimistic struggle to reach the Far Shores or similar, it’s just that Afterlife is designed around the idea of rebuilding. This quote beautifully summarises the game:

Having mentioned time issue, plus the fact that some players dislike certain settings/systems, or are more focused on their favourites, means I’ve run many fusion games over the years. I like to expand my #RPGMentalToolKit; this is my justification for buying too many RPGs. I’m currently running a fusion Mage the Ascension game and I plan on adding Afterlife: Wandering Souls to it. I feel that Afterlife manages to encapsulate the High and Low Umbras 🙂 For those that think the Low Umbra is too dark, then maybe replace it entirely with Tenebris. I’ll blog about this another time 🙂

Whether playing Changeling the Dreaming or the Lost, Mage the Ascension or Awakening, Werewolf the Apocalypse, in fact any of the classic WoD or Chronicles of Darkness games, I’m sure adding Afterlife will help inspire your creativity. Besides the dead soul focus of Afterlife, the surreal aspect of the Limbos could also help encourage groups with regards to the Dreamlands in Cthulhu Mythos.

Afterlife Water Escape

Quickly touching on practically every other game, it is rare to explore anything about the afterlife in say D&D, GURPS, or Champions, and almost unheard of for something like Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, etc. I feel Afterlife would fit what I imagine is the more cinematic playstyle of Ubiquity, FATE, or Savage Worlds.

RPGs, Death Penalties & Afterlife idea

Taking the fusion idea a stage further, maybe if a game has a character or full party death the group could switch to playing Afterlife. Granted the players likely know a fair bit about their PCs, since they’ve likely been playing them for a while, but maybe the Afterlife sessions focus on the unknowns, expanding the character and the party connections. If a PC succeed in restoring their soul’s memories, they are reincarnated; like an extra life system. I understand that PC death is typically seen as final in most games, but I also appreciate that some players do not want a particular character’s story to be over. So instead why not alter a PC death to be a Spirit Quest. Once completed the PCs return to the previous setting, but having undergone a near death experience and all that story potential that entails? Maybe in a game like D&D this is treated as divine intervention and the PCs are fully restored, but if you think that is too powerful/easy there is nothing stopping a DM from giving the PCs just a few extra HP and a tiny 2nd chance. Whatever way this is done, this could allow a PC to reconsider their lives, massively switch things up without losing their story.

Usually you cannot role-play a dead character, with Afterlife you can 😉

I’ll not turn this blog post in to my thoughts about PC deaths, raising issues about XP punishment, board game mechanics in contrast to the obviously important IC threat of PC death, repercussions matter. I think the topic of PC death is fascinating, but any debate how best to end a story needs to also acknowledge that real lives often end abruptly.

Given my interests and my own memory RPG project I started pondering about whether Afterlife will introduce false memories and uncertainty. After all memory is a complex thing and famously unreliable. I’m not suggesting that Afterlife needs false memories and the accompanying character doubt, after all the game is focusing on positive aspects. From what I’ve read I think Afterlife is an example of good game design, focus on what you are primaily trying to achieve, there are enough games already trying to do everything. This is why I’m confident my players and I will be playing Afterlife without needing to fuse it with other things.

Afterlife fragment

I love the art and style I’ve seen so far. Given the quote above, I look forward to seeing the completed project. I’m already trying to imagine art fusing images like: Studio Ghibli, Pan’s Labyrinth, Beetlejuice, Vanilla Sky, Dark City, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Igor Morski, etc.

Afterlife has familiar stats and is a rules lite game, which I am a fan of. The actual play I watched was not bogged down by rule queries 🙂 There is a pay what you want Quickstart for the game, if you are not hooked yet, then that should do the job 🙂

I hope I’ve inspired you enough to back Afterlife: Wandering Souls. With such a strong concept I look forward to seeing how this game progresses and hopefully future expansions for it. I was about to post this blog and I have found that more stretch goals have been unlocked, which includes Satyros of Mage the Ascension fame, so my ponderings about fusing this wonderful game with Mage may prove to be even more interesting.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1568822309/afterlife-wandering-souls

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day23 Play Again

Which game do you hope to play again?

So many choices, like most gamers. I kept my video short today, in part to avoid rambling about some of the long running campaigns/chronicles.

Besides my main group, currently playing Mage, I have a few 1 on 1 games being discussed, so there is a chance I might get to play several of these games soon. I bought a lot of terrain to help run a megadungeon, good chance the game will use either D&D 5th or GURPS Fantasy.

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day18 RPG Art

Art that inspires your game

For day eighteen’s question I went into quite a deep dive, but I still managed to miss several things. I didn’t talk about movies, computer games, the art of gaming itself, writing, poetry, or the powerful access to imagery that the Internet provides; whether sites like Pinterest or character casting ideas from IMDb. Playing Cyberpunk 2013 and then 2020 helped highlight the importance of fashion to some characters, the settings tagline of Style over Substance helped emphasise this.

#RPGaDay2018 Day18 graph

I talk about maps and journeying in games multiple times in the video, but I’m not sure I did a good job of coherently summarising that my biggest source of art inspiration has always been maps. Lots of interesting post from the RPGaDay community, I link some of them below.

Mick Hand’s blog has a great list of art, and in particular cover art: https://igm4u.com/f/rpgaday2018-18

Nerdwriter1’s made a great video: “A look at the colorful history of sci-fi book covers”

IvanMike1968 particularly got my attention with this video:

Runeslinger giving an interesting overview.

Another interesting take on a question at Ede Sol Media channel:


Excellent UK costume designer Tom Roe runs WhiteStar Clothing.

The Wonderful writers, who are two of my favourites, are Ed McDonald and Gavin G Smith. I’ve posted reviews about their work on various sites, but I really should blog about them as well 😉

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day16 Plans Next Game

Describe your plans for your next game

Worse week than my current bad weeks, so I tried something experimental for today’s video. Gives me an idea for a puppet LARP, Avenue Q style. Struggled to maintain voice, need to work on that, and puppet skills obviously 😉

For my Mage Ascension investigation game, I’m working on phys-reps for the party’s detailed scans looking for reality deviant anomalies over a wide area. My plan is to use clear sheets with stickers on to indicate an anomaly, with each party member using their own specialist research methods bringing their sheets together to indicate differing levels of anomalies. They overlay their sheets on to a foldout map of the area. If all their scans are very successful then they will find just a few high level anomalies and can filter out the noise of lots of low level anomalies.

I have alternatively thought about using google maps and layers to achieve the same thing. Whilst it is easier, people typically prefer physically things they hold.

The D&D Muppet game that is referenced in the video is at mikemyler.com, inspired by Dan LuVisi’s artwork The Streets.

#RPGaDay2018 Day11 Wildest Character Name

Wildest character name?

I mention a few character names that could count as wild on Day 05: Spat the Spider-Cat-God from Changeling The Dreaming 6 point Companion. The Goatface time travelling Chaos Lord from my old Warhammer Fantasy RPG party of Independent Chaos Champions of course had a Daemon name, as did some of the other PCs. Sadly I forgot their names and cannot find the character sheets from 1995.

I also forgot to talk about some of the crazy character names from Lorien Trust LARP. I even went for something silly for one of my character’s, which was supposed to be a throw-away one, maybe I’ll write/talk about them another time.

Otherwise I have nothing particularly extra to add to what I discuss in my video, I focus on my work at KJC Games. No #PieChartofIndecision but there is an #RPGDeepDive on today’s video.

#RPGaDay2018 Day05 Recurring NPC

Favourite recurring NPC?

Following on from question 4, the most memorable NPC, I got thinking about the word recurring and that led me down a different direction, which inspired me to think about time. So this is the reason why I’ve added a few more NPC’s to my Pie Chart of Indecision, plus the reason I didn’t choose Samuel Haight for my answer.

#RPGaDay2018 Day05 graph

I nearly went with Wrinkle from Mage: The Ascension, a Paradox Spirit of Time. Wrinkle is generally very polite to individuals and tries to persuade them to think about doing magick in a different way, or to resolve a problem in a different way and maybe not to use magick. If the if the character (PC or NPC) keep pushing things, vulgar magic it’s been utilised and in particular if blotches keep happening, then eventually Wrinkle might remove the character from time itself, they never existed.

Wrinkle reminded me of a Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play campaign that ran in 1995. The party consisted of independent Chaos Champions, who weren’t allowed to kill each other so group cohesion was maintained. As things occurred in the game the characters who marked by the Chaos Gods, which could include Chaos Attributes (not always a good thing). One of most common on Chaos Attributes D1000 roll was beast face, and eventually most of the characters had this. One of the players ended up with goat face which ended up becoming their nickname: Goatface, when they rolled up beast face again they were allowed to choose a Chaos Attribute, making them quite powerful compared to the other PCs. Unfortunately the player went away to University, but just before they did they rolled up Temporal Instability. Since their character was randomly dropping out of the time stream it become a bit annoying to RP, but the timing (sorry) coincided with them leaving so it was decided that their character would become an NPC.

Goatface continued to blink in and out existence, from the other PCs point of view. Goatface would typically appear during a quiet moment, just bleat something then disappearing. Occasionally Goatface would appear in combat and assist the party, a bit like the Mysterious Stranger in the Fallout series, appear make a bleating noise then decapitate something then disappear.

Goatface appearing became a bit rarer over the rest of the campaign, so the player’s anticipating its arrival become I thing of fun, a running joke of “Will Goatface save us?” Crucially it never take agency away from the other players, which I think is an important about any NPC. PCs should have the majority of the spotlight, to not have to listen to a five+ minute NPC monologue because the GM has made what they think is an ‘amazing scene’, so the NPC gives a speech with effectively godmode on.

So yeah Goatface!