RPG Sigmata + Politics Your Way

This follows on from Kickstarter Sigmata RPG and part 2.

At the time of writing there are just 12 hours to go till the Sigmata Kickstarter ends. It has reached an impressive level of backing, having now gone over $35,000. The stretch goals include several different settings for the game, a soundtrack and now a companion book, has been unlocked.

Whilst initially I had planned on doing an interview with Chad about his game and inspirations, he has provided lots of great answers in several interviews, well as a Reddit AMA. There are quite some diverse Q&A and I’d recommend checking them out.

Instead of more questions I decided that the focus of this blog would be about politics and choice in regards to RPGs. Part of my reasoning is that I’d read several comments querying the focus of the game, a few debates about political terms, ethics, history, plus even an accusation of cartoon evil. Given the nature of Sigmata’s focus: “ethical insurgency against a fascist regime”, it is no wonder that trying to condense such important debates in to a summary of a game, one that also needs to serve as a sales pitch, is difficult. I can appreciate why different people are focusing on particular points, and why given the serious nature of politics someone would have the audacity to gamify the subject.

Whilst I have spent many hours reading and writing about RPG theory, I appreciate that not every player has, nor wants to, as well as why some players think it is all irrelevant nonsense. Sigmata is being designed with mechanics to emphasis the game goals, which is great, but it is worth remembering that players that dismiss RPG theory do have a point, that players can still play however they want, with whatever emphasis they want. This is especially true for a group of friends who regularly play together. After all role-playing is very much what we make it, and my summary regarding this topic is:

Systems matter, I think players & implementation matter more.

I previously had a brief chat with Chad about how in any game players will play how they want, it is of course something he is well aware of. Much like with his Cryptomancer game, Chad is providing players with mechanics and a setting to help explore things in the best way possible: a game. The importance of play is something that gained a lot of credibility in science, whilst this was obvious to so many, unsurprisingly other people dismiss play as childish and an actually waste of time. Also the idea that adults cannot explore ideas to keep learning, or that play has no value, is strange to me; at least it seems that general consensus on play has shifted. So I am all for Chad’s approach to RPGs and gamification.

One thing that has stood out to me is Chad presenting a few game examples with different ways to handle things. Additionally Chad’s Cryptomancer game similarly had choice, but with an emphasis on caution/care, since considering repercussions in a game inspired by cybersecurity was paramount in helping players to think about real life security. I bring this up in regards to RPG choice, since although many role-players are all about choice, other players prefer to play the same narrowly focused violent style games, so it should be no surprise that some people have focused on the violent aspects of Sigmata’s game. Like most games I’ve played with many groups, all with varying degrees of focus, resulting in a plethora of differences, I am all for players playing how they want, as I wrote about in Your RPG is Yours, Not Mine. If you want to play in a game world with a cartoon evil government and hyper violent PCs then go right ahead, plus who knows where it could lead.

Another area of concern for some is Sigmata’s examples of player character factions. If this is an issue for you then feel free to change things, maybe take the the middle ground and make strange bedfellows more of an exception in your games. I appreciate that different words generate strong rationale and/or emotions in each of us. In a highly polarised world it can be easy to forget, or not even appreciate, that most people are not as different or divided as some say we are. I don’t wish to come across as naive, note I wrote ‘some’, I do appreciate that some people are invested in, and profit from, dividing people. Nor that it is just a matter of education, genuine psychopaths exist, people can develop mental disorders, temporary stress is usually a factor in peoples’ responses, etc. Back to role-playing, party conflict can be a great source for storytelling, think of the list of examples as a powerful source of inspiration and conflict.

If someone reads Sigmata’s overview and is worried about players arguing then I recommend they discuss ideas with their group before playing; I find problems can be minimised, or even avoided. For groups that don’t normally have a session 0, or email list to discuss things, then I’d recommend doing so in regards to Sigmata if only due to the divisive subject matter, particularly in comparison the vast majority of other RPGs.

I think Sigmata promises to offer something to all gamers, but particularly to anyone that has an interest in history, military tactics, psychology, or similar subjects. I recommend backing this game and giving it a try, if only to expand your RPG mental tool kit/belt.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2089483951/sigmata-this-signal-kills-fascists

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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 Sigmata RPG

At the time of writing there is a week to go for the Sigmata RPG Kickstarter. The main designer is Chad Walker, and this alone is reason for me to be interested; I’d like to persuade you as to why this should spike your interest. It’s worth noting that I’ve written about Chad’s Cryptomancer game previously; a great game idea plus it adds something original to the role-playing community.

I am a big fan in reading practically anything to expand my RPG mental tool kit/belt; I need to work out some comedy picture ideas to demonstrate this point 😉 Since Cryptomancer added important real life concepts like Cyber security to RPGs, and Chad is a big believer in life gamification, I am quite optimistic regarding what he plans to add to the RPG community with Sigmata.

From the Kickstarter overview:

“SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists” is 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.

It’s called the Sigmata, a Signal-induced stigmata, because it is a both a blessing and a curse. At least when you’re marked by the state, you can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.

Just based upon the full Sigmata title it should be clear that Chad takes the concept of life gamification seriously, just from daring to mention the word fascist. Politics is always a complicated subject and now it seems to be even more complicated. Personally I’d say political actions/events always matter, but cycles vary and some actions/events matter even more. I think it is reasonable to state that the current cycle matters in particular, so it’s no surprise to read comments questioning Chad’s reasoning for attempting such a project; especially since some view RPG as politically neutral, but I’ll write about that tricky subject another time.

I love the fact Chad is tackling such a tricky subject. Even though I have played a lot of political heavy RPG games, I am sure this forthcoming specialist game will present a more sophisticated game world to explore than the typical RPG. The mechanical explanations Chad has given reassure me that the rules will support the narrative/game goals. I am sure Sigmata will be adding a powerful mental tool to my RPG mental tool kit/belt.

There is a lot to unpack with Sigmata, and I plan to do so over the next few blogs. Meanwhile I hope I’ve convinced you to 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

#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.