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 Day25 Impactful Game

Game that had an impact on you in the last 12 months?

I attempted another outdoor video today, more learning, plus the fun of deciding what to cut. Initially I recorded a stream of consciousness, but the sound quality was awful. I’ve blogged about what I cut out.

I mentioned returning to Mage: the Ascension, using the 20th anniversary edition. How this game in particular relates to my ongoing obsession with RPG & Psychology. As well as constantly striving to learn new ways to link abstract seemingly unconnected ideas; without resorting to a simple answer like using programming OOPS framework of declaring everything an Object, or similar 😉

Orion Sphere a new UK LARP game. It was wonderful to return to LARP after a few years break and to play a game that somehow managed to capture part of the essence of a festival LARP yet also the close-knit aspect of a small LARP. I’ve yet to write a blog about it, I shall do so after this year’s RPGaDay ends. Next event is in September.

I have managed to do a bit more work on my own projects. The playtest of the Elemental Masters last year highlighted a few things, but in particular the need for GM and player tools. Years ago I thought there are so many great RPGs out there, that I didn’t want to make a standard tabletop game. The hobby’s growing wide range of games has further highlighted why I thought this years ago. Of going since I choose to go epic with my designs I accepted the time investment

So my waffling led me to the answer of: Sigmata by Chad Walker. When I heard it announced I thought of it was something new and interesting, retro-Cyberpunk, I even imagined things like the film They Live as I speculated what The Signal could be.

A cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game about ethical insurgency against a fascist regime, taking place in a dystopian vision of 1980’s America. Players assume the role of Receivers, the superheroic vanguard of the Resistance, who possess incredible powers when in range of FM radio towers emitting a mysterious number sequence called “The Signal.” When the Signal is up, Receivers lead the charge against battalions of Regime infantry and armor or serve as the People’s Shield, protecting mass demonstrations from the brutality of a militarized police force and neo-Nazi hooligans. When the Signal is down, however, Receivers are mere mortals, desperately fleeing from a powerful state that senses their weakness.

Sadly I’ve not managed to play much in the last year, chronic pain and severe sleep deprivation continued to plague my daily ability to do much, and sometimes even think. Overall I have managed to read a lot; I have reread a lot of RPGs, as well as look at games that are new to me. The competition for gaming time is becoming increasingly challenging, there are so many quality products to choose between. So even though I’ve not even finished the Sigmata book I have chosen it because it has already had a massive impact upon me. It has already helped me reframe a lot of ideas. For me Sigmata encapsulates so many different and difficult aspects into a cool sounding game. Even for someone playing traditional fantasy RPGs, like D&D, consider how many campaigns are about defeating evil rulers, or even vast empires, Sigmata can help provide another few tools to a group’s RPG toolkit. I hope to be able to report about playing it soon.

#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 Day15 Tricky RPG XP

Describe a tricky RPG experience you enjoyed

Almost a brain-fog video today, but I think I managed to been coherent enough. I talk about anxiousness and the moment, LARP, Street Fighter and my Mage game; see #PieChartofIndecision below. I didn’t go with any thoughts about handling tricky experiences based around things like clashes of playing styles, system opinions or expectations. I’ve had a few tricky RPG encounters at Conventions in the Living D&D and Star Wars systems, thankfully those were rare. Not that those don’t count, but I went with experiences that were all positive, I think to better keep with the #RPGaDay focus, otherwise I might have descended into a confused rant about something negative; today has been a bad day! Keeping it positive, below is a bit more info about the L5R game event that I list.

#RPGaDay2018 Day15 graph

This story is when we were new to playing Legend of the Five Rings. The party were mostly Dragon Samurai, two had Kitsuki training so were odd in the setting. The group were Magistrates and as part of their travels came across a village with a murdered Samurai. Unless the guilty party was found the whole village was at stake. The Kitsuki trained individuals along with their Crab friend proceeded to investigate the murder of a Samurai. Meanwhile the cold-PC decided they did not approve of the methodology and found out who the murderer was using traditional methods.

Short-version: eventually both investigations uncover the truth, the murder was self-defence by the Chonin’s daughter who had been assaulted. The cold-PC is slightly ahead of the rest of the party, calls the village to hear the confession of the Chonin and immediately decapitates the Chonin; an innocent person. The rest of the party are quietly furious. During a drink break the others admit that they are a bit freaked out OCC, but appreciate Rokugan is different and complicated, but thankfully were loving the IC drama of it all.

A long IC awkward silence ensues, eventually the Kitsuki trained PC questions the cold-PC on their actions. The cold-PC is offended, but eventually gives in and explains that the Chonin was honourable, saved his daughter who would have been killed regardless of whether you believe her self-defence was warranted. The Chonin saved face for all, the Samurai’s family will not have their name tarnished, and the Chonin’s soul will gain from his honourable actions. Plus any parent sacrificing themselves for their child is understandable, and is worthy of respect. This way everyone won, whilst the Kitsuki’s methods would have revealed a truth, but would have undermined the Kami’s Order and Tradition. It was a wonderfully awkward session, both IC and OOC, and helped us all learn the tricky political and religious viewpoints about truth in the setting.

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day12 Wildest Character Concept

Wildest character concept?

Sadly no #PieChartofIndecision today since I had a few obvious answers for today’s question. In my video I forgot to mention a twin-souled/twin-avatar Mage character idea I had, but since I’ve not played that yet I’ll keep ‘Quiet’; paradox pun spirits will be after me now 😉 In the Mage game I am currently running this idea might be used by one of the players as being secretly a twin, I briefly discussed it with them, but they wanted to see how the chronicle pans out before deciding on this. Their concept includes a sense of loss and displacement, so finding out they have a twin-soul could nicely fit as a possible answer.

I’ve come across plenty of wild concepts at LARP, particularly the big festival LARPs like Lorien Trust or Empire, but I was not involved so I decided not to talk about them. I’ve mentioned the party of independent Chaos Champions on Day 5. The concept of running that party itself was quite wild 😉

After posting I’ve remembered playing AD&D 2ed in 1992 at college, the Mage character was inspired by Simkins from the Darksword series. Wild concept but since I basically took it probably shouldn’t count 😉

More in video: Street Fighter RPG, not talking about work at KJC Games and what ideas customers submitted because that would be unprofessional 😉 Vampire (WoD), Werewolf.

#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!

 

RPG Welcome to the Technocractic Union

I have uploaded an in-character video for my current Mage 20th chronicle. I originally started work on this a while ago, but due to health problems, limited time and not knowing much about making videos I placed the project on hold. My health has improved a bit, plus I’ve had time to think and do a bit more research, so I’ve remade the video; I accept that my video making and acting skills will take time to improve.

This introductory video is part of a series for my current World of Darkness chronicle, focusing on Mage 20th. There are a whole bunch of things I think I need to work on, but at least it’s a start.