#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Mystery (day 13)

IvanMike1968

Role playing games are full of mystery. But this blog post isn’t about that.

I didn’t watch it very often but every time I found it on television I enjoyed it. In fact, once the idea to use this as a topic came to me, I looked it up on YouTube and listened to one of the episodes on my way back from an event this evening. I laughed quite a bit. Probably too much.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a ridiculous show where the viewer finds themselves watching a B movie of some sort from the vantage point of being in a movie theater behind the silhouettes of a man and two Bizarre looking puppets. As the movie goes on they engage in incessant banter, commenting on the movie. As most of these movies are just plain awful, you can imagine the kind of comments they make.

What the…

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#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Critical (day 9)

A great overview of how to aproach constructive critical view of any RPG.

IvanMike1968

Doing a Google search on critical thinking I found something rather amusing in the suggested questions in my mobile device. One of the drop down menus said “what are the seven critical thinking skills?” ~ The list provided was observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem-solving, and decision-making.

I don’t know about you, but I counted nine. So much for critical thinking. Or maybe that was just a test to see if I could apply those skills to notice the discrepancy.

For a long time I have enjoyed taking Games apart. I like to see what makes them tick. I like to see how they work, what the mechanics actually do. I like to do this from a mathematical standpoint, but also in terms of how they interface with the fiction. What does it feel like when the mechanics are invoked? Is it easy to narrate from? What do…

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G is for Granny Weatherwax

Thinking about characters, for both fiction and role-playing games, and in particular Mage: the Ascension. A chat on facebook linked the article below, plus:

Dustin Daugherty: I consider Granny Weatherwax a Kami, a static magician possessed by the Spirit of No Nonsense.

Saucy Dryad

Esmerelda “Esme” Weatherwax, most commonly known as Granny, is one of the most compelling characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
granny

More than that, she’s one of my favorite characters in all of fiction*.

While there are a multitude of witches in Discworld, Granny is known to be the best, the most powerful, the one everyone else looks to. Not that she’d lay such a claim.

“Mistress Weatherwax is the head witch, then, is she?’
‘Oh no!’ said Miss Level, looking shocked. ‘Witches are all equal. We don’t have things like head witches. That’s quite against the spirit of witchcraft.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said Tiffany.
‘Besides,’ Miss Level added, ‘Mistress Weatherwax would never allow that sort of thing.” 

She’s strong and forthright and comfortable in her heavy, hobnailed boots.

“She strode across the moors as if distance was a personal insult.” 

In a religious debate, she cuts to the heart of it.

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Trinity Continuum Aberrant Erupts

At the time of writing Trinity Continuum: Aberrant is in the final 24 hours on Kickstarter. I’ve been waiting years for this event, a reimagining of Aberrant. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/200664283/trinity-continuum-aberrant

Aberrant is a fabulous Supes/Super RPG that was part of the Trinityverse, now called Trinity Continuum. Back in the late 90s Aberrant presented a world obsessed with super powered celebrities (Novas), hyper focused reality TV (N!), individuals with the power of gods but also dark conspiracies, and power that tainted the Novas. The old game was very socially minded, why rob a bank when sponsorship and mercenary work is available, etc. The new Trinity Continuum: Aberrant builds upon this, but crucially there are some differences that I love! The game requires the Trinity Continuum core book, I wrote about this last year https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/impressive-reboot-of-trinity/.

“What would you do with the power of a god?”

First a quick shout out to Ian A. A. Watson (@VonAether), who in particular has spent years trying to create a new Aberrant. There are many interviews covering the process, so here is a summary of the journey about how the old White Wolf merged with CCP Games. Richard Thomas formed Onyx Path Publishing and producing old and new RPGs. Later Paradox Interactive purchased the World of Darkness IP, whilst Onyx Path negotiated to buy Trinityverse outright, which is now solely owned by Onyx Path. Hence the IP of Trinity, Aberrant and Adventure! have had quite the journey.

Aberrant Trinity Batjutsu

I’ve run a few Aberrant games over the years. Some of the games were more like D.C. Comics or Marvel 4 colour style, more carefree fun, sometimes a bit silly. Whilst with my main I ran a dark investigation game for over ten years. This chronicle was about hope, about trying to prevent the inevitable Aberrant War. When we last played it seemed that maybe the PCs had helped solve so many problems, that the future looked positive; I’ll not froth about this campaign, whilst I loved it, typically with RPGs you needed to be there ;-). Like many RPGs the tone can be tweaked, along with keeping in mind PCs motivations and player preferences, to create the style wanted. The new Aberrant includes an examination of this, with an explanation of how to approach the different styles of Supes.

The system is not the old Storyteller one, instead using the Storypath. I’ve still yet to play the system but I do love what I read when I backed Trinity Continuum. In addition to the great momentum mechanic, is the idea of Scale. Scale is reminiscent of the old D.C. Comic RPG, but is designed to be easier to allow for quick decision making, allowing everyone to focus on narrative. From the Kickstarter page Danielle Lauzon explained:

“Okay, so Narrative Scale is for when you just want to know how badly you crush something because of your difference in Scale. It’s described liberally as a multiplier to your successes on a simple roll to get a thing done, but what that really means is that a Scale 1 difference doubles the number of successes you have to do the thing, Scale 2 difference triples, Scale 3 quadruples, etc. Narrative Scale is there for the following kind of scenarios “Superman flies through a building, and we want to know how much damage that does to the building.” We accept that he flies right through, so the roll isn’t to see if he can, but instead to find out his damage to help figure out if the damned thing falls down. Sometimes the SG might just look at a Scale difference and decide narratively that we don’t even need a roll, it just crumples.

I loved the old Aberrant the most out of the numerous Supers RPGs, even though I appreciated it had a few mechanic problems. I’ve read/run/played old Heroes/Champions, GURPS Supers, Mutants & Mastermind, D.C. Comics, Marvel and Palladium. For me, I think the old Aberrant presented both a great setting and rules that worked well enough. Trinity Continuum: Aberrant seems to stride the middle ground between these various systems, providing a vast range of powers, in a setting with different types of powered and baseline characters, with rules that better understand what they are focused on. I’d be very surprised if I don’t love the game when I run it!

Usually I’d write about different game ideas, even crazy ideas about merging various RPGs together. Instead I look forward to returning to my old long running chronicle, which included Adventure! and Trinity. The fact the group and I have had so much fun over the years speaks volumes about the game, and I am sure we will continue to love it for years to come.

The factions are still there, but there have been some important tweaks. Another titanic difference is that Taint is now Transcendence; Novas are no longer time-bombs towards physical and psychological disaster. Characters can still grow distant from humanity, for example Dr Manhattan (Watchman) is a great example of ludicrously powered individual who has very high Transcendence. Check out these two interviews for more details about changes:

https://thestorytold.libsyn.com/bonus-episode-aberrant-kickstarter-interview-with-steve-kenson-and-ian-watson

Onyx Path have a free Aberrant comic at http://theonyxpath.com/comic/you-are-not-alone-cover/

Join the Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/200664283/trinity-continuum-aberrant

#TCAberrant #TrinityContinuum

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/

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