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

 

One Child’s Heart – RPG

It is wonderful that there are so many great role-playing games (RPG) available these days, an ever increasing collection of new ideas for settings and mechanics. Like many gamers I have too many games to play, crafting projects and models to paint, yet I was still thrilled when I came across the new Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/camdon/one-childs-heart/

One Child's Heart About

“One Child’s Heart is a tabletop roleplaying game about empathy, hope, and human connection in the face of childhood crisis.”

Quite an intriguing and inspiring summary of the game’s goals, and having listened to several actual plays I think the idea really holds up. The setting has an interesting premise:

 “There are pivotal moments in every child’s life that shape who they become. One Child’s Heart is a tabletop roleplaying game that invites players to take the role of child welfare professionals participating in a new mental health care memory exploration experiment. The Central Limbic Engagement Recovery System (CLERS – pronounced, “clears”) brings characters into the memories of these key moments to give support and guidance to a child who needs both.”

Whilst there are various media that have explored ideas of examining interacting with memories I think a quick mainstream reference to contrast with is this game is that it is not like Inception. The player characters are not invading a person’s mind to plant a memory seed. One Child’s Heart takes a professional and ethical approach to the concept of interacting with a child and their memories:

 “You are playing child welfare professionals who are going into the memories of a traumatised child to try and teach that child resilience and make emotional connections with them.”

One Child's Heart The Team

Camdon Wright, the creator, along with Kate Bullock, project manager, have assembled an impressive team for the game. Plus as multiple stretch goals have been unlocked even more people have joined the project, another reason to look at this games Kickstarter. After being hooked by the game’s premise, looking at the team members and stretch-goals sealed my interest. The Kickstarter has had regular updates, I have particularly appreciated reading about the people involved via the Meet the Team updates.

I’m sure most people would agree that memory is a fascinating and complex subject. For example memory is not a straightforward recording of events; each memory is heavily dependent on our moment to moment state of mind, as well as our beliefs, biases and emotions. Those are all dependent on a multitude of factors, and so on. Interestingly memory seems to be editable, when we recall something we might also alter it, we might not. How memories connect to each other are also important considerations. My own fiction and RPG writing is focused on mental health and memory. Besides studying psychology, I have some experience volunteering with assisting vulnerable youth, I’ve taught a variety of skills to people of all ages, and I used to work as an admin in social services and was studying to be a social worker before my health problems interrupted things. To make it clear I am not attempting an argument from authority, I am far from being an expert, I’m just trying to emphasis why I am so invested in this project and intrigued to see how it develops.

I appreciate that trauma and mental health are complex, diverse and sensitive topics, so anyone attempting this subject has an exceptionally difficult task in order to address things respectfully and with consideration. For example: the team has already taken on-board feedback regarding the game term “Permanent Damage Threshold”. I suspect this is a case of building upon the concept of health points, whilst this sort of tracking system is a classic game convention, the label does not quite fit this game’s intent. I do not know any of the designers, yet I still feel confident suggesting that I think the game’s explanation, as well clarifications, communicates the team’s sincerity. This can also been seen with this core game statement:

“This is not a game about trauma or an invitation to tragedy tourism. One Child’s Heart is intended to be an empathy-building experience with a message of hope and human connection. It’s a game where the characters’ only goal is to support and love an imaginary child who is struggling with their life circumstances.”

From a Rules Clarification post:

“At no time can the Professionals deliberately traumatize or harm the child.”

The artwork I’ve seen so far is beautiful. From the cover art, profession symbols, the section headers, to the dice and token examples, I love the aesthetic. Also a special mention for managing to make the heart symbol anatomical correct, but without making them seem shocking/nauseating.

One Child's Heart Art by Serena Verde

Mechanics? I think they nicely follow the idea of minimising tests, I like this nonintrusive approach and think it helps convey the game’s goals. If you really need to know more, then please check out the Kickstarter page.

Even if you are currently sure you are unlikely to play this game in the next few years I think it is still worth investing in. I’m always a fan of expanding my #RPGMentalToolKit. In other blogs posts for various Kickstarters I’ve explained how I approach each project with consideration as to how integrate ideas/mechanics into existing games. Very handy if you have players that prefer to play long campaigns/story arcs, prefer a specific system, etc. Besides playing the game unmixed, I am pondering ideas about adding CLERS to many games, such as Cyberpunk or World of Darkness, in particular Mage the Ascension or Changeling the Dreaming (no Edgelord nonsense of course, Mage 20th nicely emphasised the horror of abusing Mind Magick).

Please check-out this project, I urge you to become a backer as well. I think this another great example of the many innovative creators in #IndieRPG scene doing something thought-provoking and exciting.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/camdon/one-childs-heart/

I’m going to attempt a Vlog about this now. My usual pain and lack of sleep, so should be fun 🙂

One Child's Heart Kickstarter

Impressive Reboot of Trinity

I love so many role-playing games and in particular the old Trinity universe. So I was ecstatic when the Kickstarter for a new version was announced, it’s called Trinity Continuum, from Onyx Path Publishing. The old White Wolf Game Studio published the original Æon Trinity in 1997; the game became known as Trinity due to a lawsuit with MTV due to their Aeon Flux, something that I recall helped spread word about the game at the local games shop I worked at. Set in the 22nd century Trinity was about humanity rebuilding after the Aberrant wars, with the game focusing on psychic humans call Psions. Over the years the Trinity Universe was expanded over the years to include Aberrant (Supes) and then Adventure! (Pulp) A d20 version in 2004. There was also a Trinity Battleground wargame (see end for poster collection). Then it was gone…

Like so many others I’ve been running the same Trinity campaign for many years, linking characters across multiple timelines. A big part of the appeal of the old games is their diverse settings and how they relate to each other, however, the old games were clearly not designed to fit neatly together, which put some people off. The Trinity Continuum Kickstarter has revealed that how Trinity Continuum fits together was a core design, and having read the new manuscripts I am very impressed. The multiverse of Trinity Continuum generates Flux, which besides being a great joke about old lawsuits, very nicely gives a basis to the luck and powers of the people in the different eras. This also makes any Trinity setting cannon, allowing Onyx to publish different products without violating anyone’s campaign deviations. This was never a problem for me, I would buy things and adapt them, but I appreciate many gamers felt the old vast metaplot made new products irrelevant to them.

Trinity Continuum will be using the new Storypath system, which I think is a big improvement on the old Storyteller system. For example: the introduction of the Momentum is a great mechanic that gives failures now add to the Momentum pool, which the party can use to overcome problems later. Momentum can also be used to power skill Tricks. There is more to Storypath system, so definitely check it out. I saw a negative post about somebody not liking the idea of Momentum and “failing forward”, personally I think this is a great addition. As normal for me and my group if we want to tweak things we do, and I already contemplating testing these mechanics in other games like L5R and GURPS; all part of the RPG mental toolkit 😉

The Storypath system is also used by Scion, but each game universe has its own tweaks. I love this because it will enable easy transition between different game universes, whilst allowing each game universe to have specialised mechanics to enhance the gameflow envisioned by the designers.

The core Trinity universe eras have been expanded in the Trinity Continuum. The Kickstarter is for the core rules, with a focus on modern day games. This has been done with foresight, allowing for games ranging from things like the Bourne Identity, Chuck (2007, TV), A Town Called Eureka (2006, TV), Fringe (2008, TV). There is nothing stopping a group from playing less action and super science games, such as focusing on the Æeon Society in the modern day that links to an era spanning campaign about the organisation over time.

A Kickstart add-on is Trinity Continuum: Æon book. This covers the original Trinity 22nd era, but there are a few tweaks, 99% of which I love. What is particularly impressive is how the Unity part of the setting is being given rules to help demonstrate the point, designer Ian Watson explained in an interview about how Psions can empower another Psion, like in Orpheus. One of my players always emphasises reasons for teamwork and they are going to love this tweak.

In a Polyhedron interview there were many gems such as a future settings of Anima, which will be set in 2084 (Total Recall, Remember Me) emphasising Implants and Memory Tech, and focusing on questions of identity. Another focus is people retreating to virtual realities after the Aberrant War, I wonder if full-borg conversions will be an option, or at least remote controlled androids, something like Surrogates. There was also mention of an era set in the ancient world, a Sword & Sandals style game; this was inspired by the Adventure! game notes of Doctor Primoris (who later became Divis Mal).

Another important point discussed in the interview was how diverse the old Trinity games were due to the global scale of the setting; it’s always great to have more game specific material. The new version will be building upon this legacy, which will include an expanded look at Africa, which never got its own sourcebook back in the old days in part due to them having so much to expand on; I’m sure it would have eventually if the games had not been cancelled.

Trinity Aberrant Books

There was such much I wanted to write about this Kickstarter, I had planned on summarising my own games but that would be too big a project and miss the point of highlighting what other people need to know about the Trinity setting. Thankfully lots of information is now available about the Trinity Continuum as well as the Storypath system via the Kickstarter. So before I end I will give a few campaign ideas that I have been pondering.

Psions Lost In Space / ST: Voyager: A Jumpship takes a group of people to a new colony, but they end up lost and so far away they are cut off from Earth. A campaign emphasising survival and testing the Unity ideas of the people aboard.

Paramorph Time War: empowered by the Trinity Continuum’s Flux, and assisted by many books, films as well as my trusty GURPS reference books. A vast Time War. Since leaving my old job games master job running Play-By-Mail games, one of the designs I have part finished is a way of tracking dynamic timelines, but due to how grand the game goal was I had to strip it back, and focus on a smaller project. I also have work from old Suzerain game focusing on time travel in tabletop games. Running a single player campaign would be much easier, imagine playing a character like Max Mercer seeing the sheer scope of the cosmos and trying to figure out how to help our species, add in the complication of other time travellers doing the same thing. This could be done for a group, maybe the group need to combine powers to jump.

Attack of the Titans / Kaiju Planet / Pacific Rim: Maybe set after the Aberrant War in a world that was even more devastated. Maybe beastlike Aberrants are left behind on Earth, but they have mutated further to become giant mindless entities. Can humanity defeat these Kaiju, and if so at what cost in lives and further global devastation?

Nova Terminators: Maybe the Op-net was destroyed not just because two Novas had a war, maybe there was a 3rd Nova that planned on world domination by initiating WW3 and ruling the remains like Skynet (SkyNova). In this world SkyNova succeeded and humans are now fighting a losing battle against Terminators. Maybe this game focuses on Daredevils and Psiads?

Æon Amber: Last year I finally got around to reading the Amber series by Roger Zelazny, Arthurian style court drama on a multiverse scale. Although travelling between every universe fighting other powerful factions is a bit too grand in scale; the TV series Sliders is a good example of this. Given that I am also looking forward to Changeling: The Lost 2nd Ed, maybe I can add this in as well? A nice way of cramming on more epic gaming in to limited playing time.

Lords of Light: Another Roger Zelazny book in which a human crew arrives at a planet but struggles to survive, so they alter themselves becoming vastly powerful entities. The crew masquerade as Hindu Gods subjugating the planet’s native inhabitants. A very interesting story following Sam trying to overthrow the crews control of the planet. This story would likely make a better fit for a Nova/Aberrant style game.

I’m sure many gamers are contemplating other campaign ideas, particularly the classic: Atlantis, Roman era, ancient Egypt dynasties, Aztecs, Mystic China, etc.

Trinity Battleground

At the time of publishing there are 19 hours of the Kickstarter left. There are lots of stretch goals unlocked, so join in and reap the benefits even if just for the new PDFs and the $15 for most of the old 1st Edition Trinity books. I think Trinity Continuum seems to balancing the modern RPG approach of specialised rules whilst not sacrificing a broad ability to run so many games, this alone is a great reason to join in. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/200664283/trinity-continuum-aeon-rpg/description

I dug out my old posters, publisher catalogue from working at Tower Models and the Trinity Battlegrounds wargame.

Trinity and old White Wolf Posters

 

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.