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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#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 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.

Kickstarter Sigmata RPG p2

This follows on from Kickstarter Sigmata RPG.

I am currently playing about with campaign ideas for this game, as well as future ideas merging with other games. Chad’s previous game Cryptomancer included a suggestion about a mechanical bolt on approach for other games, hence my thinking along this line for Sigmata. If you’ve not checked out the Sigmata Kickstarter page yet, here is a quick overview. The game is linking together serious and silly ideas, drawing upon numerous political ideas, people movements like the Arab Spring, as well as 80s pop culture. Major influences include things like Synthwave, plus films like Akira along with Saturday morning cartoons like Transformers and G.I. Joe.

Sigmata is an RPG in the Cyberpunk genre of games, joining the likes of famous RPGs like Shadowrun and Cyberpunk. For a few people defining Cyberpunk is an almost religious process. My simple take on the subject is that Cyberpunk is a broad encapsulating term that includes all sorts of products; I agree with the following genre overview:

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic setting that tends to focus on “a combination of low life and high tech” [1] featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.[2]

Sigmata allows players to play as Cybernetic badasses, who have access to diverse and interesting capabilities. Players (receivers) receive their powers via hearing signals, which are broadcast via radio towers. When the players have access to a very strong signal they are akin to superheroes in power level. The game includes a campaign tracking system, which in particular intrigues me.

I plan on running Sigmata by itself first, so I can get a good appreciation for the game and the practical experience of the rules. Additionally the Sigmata Kickstarter already has many goals unlocked, which includes alternate time periods to play in. This alone should keep the majority of gamers engaged for years to come. Lots of game options at launch, most impressive.

Merging with other RPGs

Whilst Sigmata is much more than just resistance tracking and signal towers giving powers, but these two ideas in particular are what I am very keen on exploring in other games. Following on from my previous post and my habit of mentioning RPG mental tool kit/belt, I’ll provide a list of ideas, like I wrote for my Changeling Kickstarter blog.

I love the idea of adding the Signal to a fantasy game, whether a high fantasy setting like D&D’s: Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Planescape, etc., or a grim-dark setting like Warhammer. Part of my thinking is that Sigmata could provide Avatar-like potential, as well as an extra level of campaign goals, but with mechanics of how to track such things. Whilst I have run very politically and rebellion focused campaigns in D&D previously, it was a long-time ago, and I didn’t make any mechanics for tracking resistance movements.

Consider how many fantasy settings have tyrannical rulers, but not just mortal monarchs, but also Magocracy or Theocracy, etc. Many magical settings include abilities empowering communication, speed of travel, as well as divination, all of which would really mix things up. However, what if magic cannot be trusted, and the party has to travel to hand deliver importance evidence, trying to avoid a scrying government, relying more on individual power, charm and guile. In a world of rare powerful magic the Signal could provide the party a much needed edge. Whether playing Rokugan with the Legend of the 5 Rings system, or the D20 system, there is interesting potential for Sigmata crossover.


Cthulhu mythos could take the Sigmata into dimensional territory, as well as paranoia and insanity. Imagine a game with cults having infiltrated tyrannical governments, so not only do the players need to resist things, but the fate of the world is at stake. Players (receivers) wondering where the signal comes from, and whether their newfound power cost something like sanity, or worse!


The World of Darkness is a game setting has all sorts of potential. The Signal could be related to any one of the existing supernatural groups, or something new. A Changeling campaign based in the Dreaming could have tyrannical Sidhe ruling commoners with an ‘iron’ fist, maybe the Signal allows a commoner to overcome the increased power of their innate nobility that Sidhe have in the Dreaming. A Werewolf game could have Garou being empowered by the Signal, which could be a new techno-spirit, providing new tools in the fight against the Wyrm. The same applies to a Mage centric game, but the metaphysical debates and paranoia regarding the Signal would be what I would want to focus on. An interesting twist to the Jyhad, such as Anarch vampires fighting Camarilla Elders, or Hunters avoiding Kindred. This could also work with the Chronicle of Darkness games.


Although the Trinity Continuum is about to be relaunched in the near future, the Trinity, Aberrant, Adventure settings of old included a powerful signal altering people. I am currently running Trinity and will be for a while yet, so I may start including things.


GURPS Riverworld, this setting is based upon a great sci-fi novel, which has its own sort of towers and effects on the world. I will avoid spoilers here; I guess most of those that have read it will appreciate where I am going with my thoughts. For me the wonderful GURPS reference books epitomise the RPG mental tool kit, so there is easily infinite scope regarding Sigmata ideas added into the GURPS system.


Shadowrun or R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk games should be quite easy to merge with Sigmata due to the genre closeness and the typical adversarial nature of Corporations. Since powerful cybernetics already exist in these games, imagine if they were further empowered, which radically alters things. The magic in Shadowrun could also be enhanced, maybe in a way like with the D&D ideas I mention above.


I hope I’ve convinced you to at least check out the Kickstarter page for more information. Join in and #RepeatTheSignal.

Kickstarter – Changeling: The Lost

At the time of posting the Kickstarter for the role-playing game Changeling: The Lost 2nd edition has just 14 hours to go. This is a project that I strongly recommend to get involved with, especially now so many stretch goals have been unlocked.

The game is part of the Chronicles of Darkness, from Onyx Path Publishing (previously staff from the old White Wolf company). Changeling: The Lost is a deep and fascinating game, taking the classic World of Darkness’s Changeling: The Dreaming and substantially changing it; this was achieved by ramping up the bleakness, adding more than a sprinkle of bizarre Lovecraftian torment, all leading to memory and identity issues. The Lost is closer to the mythological Changelings: a human child being stolen by fairies and replaced with a duplicate.

For anyone that does not know the previous edition, or for those that are familiar but undecided, I would strongly recommend at least reading the Kickstarter page. If you still not sure then I will try to provide you with an extra reason: I have mentioned in my previous blogs the concept of maximising our ‘role-playing mental toolkit’. Even if we never play a game, simply reading the setting and rules can provide incredible inspiration, as well as game fusion potential. Like the GURPS gaming line, many of the World of Darkness and Chronicle of Darkness books can provide very diverse and well-presented information. I very much consider all of the Changeling games to be worth buying because of the interesting themes and differences to most other role-playing games. For just $10 a backer can get most of the Changeling: The Lost 1st books in PDF format, which alone is a bargain.

Changeling

My Campaign Ideas

Before I run any role-playing games with my group we have a discussion about the sort of ideas and characters they’d like to explore. Given how much gaming we have all done they are often happy with the answer of “Surprise us.” I have been playing around with ideas for Changeling: The Lost campaign for quite a while, and I eagerly await the 2nd edition’s release. I have a few different campaign ideas for the players to vote on; since role-players have no problems coming up straightforward ideas, here are some more quirky ones:

Taking the inspiration from the film Contact (1997). The idea being that a team uses a new device to contact aliens, but it is the Gentry. When they finally escape it would be like the ending of contact, but the PCs know that they shared an experience.

Drawing upon the book Roadside Picnic, or the Stalker game series, a strange zone where the laws of physics seem to be broken. The twist for Changeling could be a seemingly ordinary group of friends come across a strange zone that does not break the laws of physics, but that of consciousness.

A game focusing on escaping The Village, but in the style of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner TV series. This series’ obsession with questions and information gave the lead character and the show overall a strong identity. Adding the surreal elements helped to add the psychological disturbance.

The PCs are at a games Convention participating in a Cthulhu LARP, unaware that they are drawing attention from the True Fae (Gentry), or maybe they previously had and are about to remember.

“Hey, look, a Dungeons & Dragons ride!” Whether running a game taking inspiration from the cartoon series, a convention LARP, or the Gentry running their RPG. This doesn’t have to be run as zany and there is a lot of richness in D&D to draw upon.

Taking inspiration from the film Melancholia (2011), a beautiful psychological sci-fi that is a bit of a flawed gem. This is an extremely slow film that takes some dysfunctional moments between friends and family and becomes a realistic portrayal of depression, and then it oddly adds what amounts to a supernatural element.

Predator & Prey: pitching the players a cross between the movie Predator and The Running Man; maybe Alien or going full AvP craziness. Why am I writing Sci-Fi pitches? Well the party alternate between the roles of predators and prey, keeping one of the Gentry entertained as they try to figure out how to escape. In one scenario they are heavily armed hunters, in the next they are running away a lot, and in some they are both.

Cthulhu Fae: running the game in the style of one of the many Cthulhu games. The lower the PCs sanity the more the real world is revealed to them.

If I’ve not convinced you yet, consider that my ramblings are not doing the game justice, and check out the Kickstarter page anyway.

Disclaimer: Artwork is copyright 2017 Onyx Path Publishing http://www.theonyxpath.com

PBM Thanks & Secret Rage

A while ago when I was mostly bedridden several of my friends would skype with me. It really helped to have some extra communication, and thankfully with a wireless headset it meant I could rest in bed. One of my long-time friends is Richie; he’s self-employed working from home, and has a young child, so he’s ludicrously busy, yet he still allocated time for me.

In addition to saying thank you to Richie for his support, I have tried to offer small gifts to show my appreciation. Richie and I first role-played together well over twenty years ago. Due to his busy life he’s not able to game regularly, so I thought a Play By Mail (PBM) game would do us both good, neatly sliding in to his hectic life schedule, at whatever pace he could manage. I wrote an introductory series to PBM here.

Roughly a year ago we discussed playing old White Wolf’s Aberrant game, since Richie’s a fan of comics, but he’d not played that setting yet. Aberrant has a rich Supers setting with mature themes, and lots of world changing powers to explore. Sadly this game never quite got going due to how busy Richie always is, and since I was still struggling with my health I didn’t push the subject. I have managed to offer a few other things as thanks, for example I made this small thing a while ago when he was ill:

BatJanoSandman

More recently I returned to the idea of offering a better present by running a PBM game. As we are both writers I considered proposing a classic style Dungeons & Dragons game emphasising the Hero’s Journey arc. Although this may feel a bit too cliché to many role-players, I think it is worth keeping in mind that there is so much you can do with good old D&D, there are so many settings and styles of gameplay. I also considered a Cthulhu game, given the single player nature of this game maybe doing something along the lines of Groundhog Cthulhu: Live, Go Insane, Die, Repeat. Or maybe going a bit over the top and running a GURPS Infinite Worlds game. I went through lists of other RPGs, even games that I’d not tried out yet. Eventually I settled on a game that I thought was the most likely to get Richie to bite, so I suggested the Gift of Werewolf.

We both adore Werewolf: The Apocalypse; well we adore all of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD). Despite how much we played Werewolf, we still want to play more, both feeling the genius game was overlooked by many gamers, and those who did take an interest in the World of Darkness games typically favoured Vampire. Over the years when I’ve been asked to pick to my favourite cWoD game I’ve always picked the World of Darkness as a cohesive whole, since that was how I always ran the setting. So my friend knows that when I suggested Werewolf, I really meant the cWoD with the primary focus being Werewolf.

After some chats I made a list of ideas for the Werewolf PBM for us to discuss further, and things quickly developed; typically I wanted to do something more and a bit different than my previous games. The initial premise was Richie playing a lone Garou, however, role-playing a lone Garou is a bit depressing; they are primarily pack animals after all. So I proposed a game spanning eons, we could use Past Lives to allow for story that covered such a time period, a chance to explore a powerful historical and social background of the Garou, and it could be about preventing the Apocalypse. The new White Wolf Publishing company are working on a new World of Darkness, one that roughly continues from the classic, without the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension ending. Whilst we are waiting for those products I considered this to be an intriguing idea.

Over the course of a few weeks I played about with the premise and kept coming back to wanting to do something more like my Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM campaigns. Meanwhile Richie wrote a cool short story, things were a go. I then had a more intriguing campaign idea, one that would take the Past Lives plan to an even bigger level, and take the game in a radically different direction. It didn’t involve abandoning what we’d initially set out to do, and Richie’s story would tie-in.

Next time I’ll go in to more detail about my Secret Rage.

You can check out some of Richie’s great designs at http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

#RPGaDay 14

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 14th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 14 #RPG try games with lineages #Pendragon #L5R #Birthright #DnD, adapt any game #Vampire #Cyberpunk etc

I give some examples below that I hope will help inspire some role-players, but I’ll start by building upon the answers I gave for Day 8 and Day 9: “Any game can work, don’t feel restricted by setting or system. Use the opportunity…” Since there are so many games available, and many of them have sections written about different types of campaigns, any of them should make a great foundation for an open-ended campaign.

Going back to the early days of RPG, that default stance was that of an open-ended campaign, but this was certainly not a rule, and I am sure there were countless intentionally short games back in the 70s and 80s. Even in game like Call of Cthulhu, were the idea of the party surviving for very long was almost a joke, yet I still met gamers that played the same Cthulhu character for years in the same campaign. Given how many gamers there are, I quickly learned not to be surprised by odd stories; like everything else, RPGs have bell-curve outliers.

Batjutsu RPG dice scene

Pendragon, and its somewhat D&D equivalent of Birthright, practically sets out from the start that the players will build towards a long campaign that covers lifetimes. With this sort of time scale, things like marriage and children are not just important, they are brought to the front of game and character goals. I was introduced to Pendragon with “That campaign really gets going by your 3rd character.”

Given the lethality of Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R), it was no surprise to read a section in the first GM screen booklet about recommending to players about family connections to replace characters. Given the cultural gravitas of family in Rokugan, as well as a setting in which some characters are willing to kill themselves, a player being able to play one of their now dead character’s family, or fellow Clan members helps to take the sting out of death, and keep the campaign momentum. Even in the case of a Total Party Annihilation (TPA (TPK, TPW)) this method can work well.

A setting like the World of Darkness is one that could make for an ideal open-ended campaign, with its vast game options and history to draw upon. Playing an immortal creature, like a Vampire or Spirit, allows for sessions covering many different time periods, which could keep going. Back in the 90s I ran a multiplayer Vampire Methuselah PBM game, the plan being the players would play for years carefully moving against each other. Amusingly one player went to war quickly, and things were gloriously complicated. This led to a second game and longer game, WoD: Night City (I used Cyberpunk’s Night City sourcebook). It was overall great fun, and these games were part of the reason I got a job working at KJC Games.

I am currently running Secret Rage, another PBM game in the cWoD with an epic campaign length planned; the game begins at the dawn of time. I’ll be blogging about that after the #RPGaDay month, along with more on my RPG Game Types series.

I am a firm believer in buying and trying many different RPGs to make my mental tool belt more diverse. The more tools on the belt the better, as well as learning to recognise which RPG tool for which RPG, plus game/group needs.

Over the years this attitude has helped me more easily adapt rules between games, as well as ways of thinking about different ways to approach and run/play games. For a group that has not played games like those listed above, I am sure they could have a lot of fun incorporating ideas like those of Pendragon in to any game.

With things like Cyberpunk or Cthulhu, were lethality is both in the setting and the mechanics, you could consider using an organisation (Corporation/Secret Society) as the pool for the PCs. This approach would also work well for a Supers game, whether needed due to a more lethal style, or playing a Supers team over different eras, or following a Supers bloodline.