Review Ascension’s Landscape

 

It’s all happening in the world of Mage: the Ascension, so I’ve taken a break from my work on fusion Mage & Street Fighter. Terry Robinson recently released a fabulous book: Ascension’s Landscape, which I highly recommend. Terry is also one of the hosts for Mage the Podcast, so please use their affiliate link.

Video/Audio version if you’d prefer:

In addition to what I wrote in my review on the Storyteller Vault I’d like to highlight an extra reason why this book is particularly impressive to me. It is a book lots of World of Darkness players have talked about writing, including myself, but not only did Terry actually write it, but it is also excellent; somewhat related years ago I wrote an article touching on WoD crossovers. Also, even if a group rarely use Mage the Ascension aspects in their World of Darkness games, this book could still be of use because there are suggestions for crossovers.

I love this book. I think it tackles common questions in a detailed and straightforward way, crucially without destroying the mystery or metaphysics of Mage. The World of Darkness (WoD) is a mysterious and contradictory monster (IMHO by design), so I assume most players have been involved in conversations discussing how fitting the WoD together could work. Example queries:

  • How many Mages are there and how does this affect the Ascension War?
  • How much violent crime does different parts of the WoD have, what does that violence translate social-economically? From when the games were originally created, how do we track the changes in real life to WoD?
  • How does money work in a world of seemingly abundant Supernatural power, and in particular mind control?

And so forth, with each answer typically resulting in more fun queries. I love this about RPGs in general, that my groups and I get to decipher and decide; I’d very much have appreciated this sort of book back in the 90s, when we were are all first getting to grips with the WoD. It is not to suggest that the numerous WoD books have never presented questions and provided several answers, they have; nor to imply that this book is an exhaustive list of queries and suggestions. It’s that Terry’s approach of exploring different answers in relation to each over and also in a focused product is great and pithy; I’m a big fan of altering numbers/dials and exploring the results. I think what really takes this book from being classed as a Complete Success, to a Phenomenal Success, is including so many Story/Chronicle Hooks.

I recommend this book to all. Whether you are a new player or a veteran, there are many things contained within for you.

I’m a fan of Mage the Podcast, which I’ve written about before.

Terry also wrote: A Magickal Fiasco: Full Tilt Story Creation for Mage, which I am currently reading.

Book of the Fallen has just been released, a complicated book.

Next on my RPG reading list is Victor Kinzer’s A Phoenix Rising. Victor is also one of the hosts of the fabulous Walking Away From Arcadia.

Hopefully the new Technocracy book will be Kickstarted this year.

SFRPG: Punho do Guerreiro and Translations

Punho do Guerreiro is brilliant and I agreed to translate it! Sorry, I am getting ahead of myself … Following on from the articles I recently uploaded about my influences, From Way of the Exploding Fist to Street Fighter RPG a 3 part series. Over the years I always return to playing Street Fighter RPG (SFRPG); despite some of its flaws, I still consider it an RPG gem. I’ve played several gaming sessions of SFRPG in 2018 and 2019. I’ve been playing about with old and new crossover designs for SFRPG and various games, in particular the World of Darkness’s Mage: the Ascension. In my Mage the Podcast Review I touched on the fact that it is nice that some people are still invested in the game, as well as the idea of crossovers.

Since leaving my old games job I made a point of minimising my time spent on RPG forums, Reddit and Facebook groups; I knew I’d spend too much time on them and I’d generally rather read a new book and play. I’m one of those people that loves too many games, as well as any excuse to research things; since some information is wrong and other information is not important, endlessly researching is not a good thing 😉 One of the SFRPG sites I keep an eye on is http://sfrpg.com/, I recently took the plunge and joined https://www.facebook.com/groups/sfstg/. For a while I’ve been meaning to check out the strong Brazilian SFRPG community, so I re-examined my priorities and then explored http://www.sfrpg.com.br/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/sfrpgbr/. This led me to reading the brilliant SFRPG magazine: Punho do Guerreiro. It is edited by Eric Souza and Odmir Fortes, with many other contributors. Eric very kindly sent me a copy of the word document, so I could translate it easier than the PDF.

With the various translation tools available these days, I was able to read the magazine with surprising ease. Punho do Guerreiro (Warrior’s Fist) has a wealth of interesting ideas.

  • New Maneuvers: Split Punch, Barrier Kick, Clairvoyance, Shapeshift, Gun Kata, Second Skin, Potence, Sense Magic, Drunking Feet, Ice Clone, Iron Body, One Inch Punch, and many more.
  • Examining the System and New Rules: Power Ratings, Glory, Inexperienced Fighters, Sports, Motor Racing, Pro Wrestling, Social Combat, Merits & Flaws, V5 Skill Kits, and so much more.
  • Characters / Circuit Legends: Rickson Gracie, Anderson Silva, Frank Dux, Mistress of Pain, etc. Histories, role-playing notes and character sheets and list of maneuvers.
  • Kabuki Town setting: New locations to visits, details, plot hooks, plus arenas.
  • Arena Rules and Maps: various dojos, bamboo raft, abandoned metro, demon cave, Garou Caern, Yacht, Muddy arena, and many more.

Extra exciting to me is the wealth of different crossovers explored: World of Darkness (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Changeling), Exalted, Marvel vs Capcom, Doctor Strange, and recently The Last Airbender. I do love expanding my #RPGMentalToolKit.

Mage SFRPG

I posted a thank you to Eric and the team for the magazine. Eric said he’d like to see the fanzine in English and I decided to give it a go. I appreciate that even with modern tools and a lot of thinking, my translations may have subtle errors and emphasis difference. Since it is doubtful a professional would translate these for free and perfect auto translation is still a long way off, I thought something is better than nothing. Unsurprisingly translating is time consuming, in part because it also involves tweaking the layout of each issue, as well as text on any artwork needs changing. I do at least benefit from the extra effort it takes, since I get to deeply think about rules and how to describe things, since the translations are sometimes nonsensical. Another aspect of the translating process I had to remind myself of, is to stay as true as possible to the original writing, my opinions are irrelevant and I can always blog them later.

It has been years since I professional wrote rules or game explanations, so it has been fun to challenge myself. I made sure to return to balance scrutinising the work, but with a deadline, so I don’t endlessly procrastinate. This process has also helped give me even more appreciation for the quality of the work Eric Souza and Odmir Fortes and their team. Obviously if I was translating into Portuguese I would be useless at this, but I think I’ve managed an adequate job of translating into English. If somebody at a later date has the translation expertise, then they are welcome to my notes 🙂

You can now read the English version: Warrior’s Fist Issue 01.

A Fist Full of Dice

I originally published this opinion piece in 2015 on Noobgrind, a computer game website, but since that has gone I’m posting it here. Whilst the original article’s focus was about computer games, this article is more about my influences, how old games led me to martial arts and my RPG designs. Part 1 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/way-of-the-exploding-fist-lookback/

This is the third article in the series exploring the impact of the game Way of the Exploding Fist (Commodore 64) had on me, and the path it lead me down. Due to my dad’s interest in computing I’d had access to decent home computers as well as a big collection of games for years, and in 1987 he bought an Amiga 500 resulting in me being given the C64 all to myself; a couple of years later I was given the Amiga. Due to living in a seaside resort I had access to many arcades, but I only had a tiny amount of pocket money. So when I visited the arcades with my mates I generally watched, preferring to save what little pocket money I had towards buying a new computer game.

The first arcade game I felt compelled to play was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), even though it was just a variation on such classics as Double Dragon, it was different, because it was TMNT! So that anomaly was understandable to me, since I was such a fan of the cartoon, but I was quite surprised to be hit by the virtual tsunami that was Street Fighter 2 (SF2) in 1991. The first Street Fighter (SF) looked okay in the arcades, I’d never played it and in retrospect it seems odd that I don’t recall anybody ever mentioning it at school; the 8-bit version of SF on the C64 looked horrid.

After playing a few games of SF2 I was horrified to find out that somebody else could join in beat me and take over, since I had limited funds I was not keen on this design approach. I also quickly realised the financial implications of trying to figure out hidden moves. My paper-round money was already failing to cover my three main hobbies: computer games, tabletop role-playing, and wargaming, so I made the sensible but frustrating decision to watch other people play SF2, and like my days watching Way of the Exploding Fist, maybe I’d learn, but without the financial cost. I got to see some pretty spectacular players who’d said they spent quite a lot of money getting that good. Watching helped me develop a better understanding of the depth of the game, but it also gave me an appreciation of the calibre of opponents that could easily beat me. In 1993 I finally got to play the game lots when a friend got SF2 for his Sega Mega Drive.

I had an appreciation of the diverse martial art styles that SF2 included. Although the game included mystical abilities, it was cool see how they had integrated them into a characters martial arts style, enhancing them without commandeering them. Granted the plot of SF2 was extremely simple, but it didn’t matter, as the playability was exceptional.  In 1992 I was introduced to Mortal Kombat (MK), which was an impressive evening of watching a crowd of people challenge each other. Personally I preferred the more in depth fighting in SF2, but I quickly became a fan of the MK game and universe; not that MK was an amazing story, but it seemed to have more to it, and in particular Outworld, it felt more fleshed out that SF2. Mentioning that SF 2 story is simple is a bit obvious, but the reason why I mention this is that a few years later this concept is flipped for me, when in 1994 a tabletop role-playing company called White Wolf released a role-playing game called Street Fighter (SFRPG).

The Street Fighter universe had been expanded in manga and anime. My friends and I particularly enjoyed Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994). Like a lot of popular settings (IP), lots of things get produced, adding ideas and variety to the original idea; although not always a good thing.

Ryuandken Sf2 GIF - Ryuandken Ken Ryu GIFs

At the time White Wolf was known for its flagship game Vampire: the Masquerade, one of the many games set in the World of Darkness; I was an avid player and collector of these games. In the various World Darkness, games players could play characters (monsters) with incredible powers. The games tried to focus on storytelling and role-playing; a character’s story was the priority, not their powers; of course some groups focused on the power, not that there is anything innately wrong with that the group agrees. So upon acquiring SFRPG I was not surprised to find that the designers had managed to lay the foundations for an interesting gaming world based off the simple SF2 story. I am not claiming that White Wolf had written a masterpiece of world building, instead they had captured the essence of what had made the Street Fighter series so good. Although a gaming group could do whatever they wanted, the base focus of the game was all about a fighter’s journey to improve, set in a world of rampant crime and obscure mystics.

Typically the initial response to the RPG was a quick list of surprise comments, followed by ridicule, followed by questions. I was the Games Master / Storyteller (GM / ST) for several groups, and I also chatted with several other gamers at my local gaming shop, so I got to talk to a lot of people. My answers highlighted how intriguing M. Bison’s Shadoloo was, how similar to other secret societies/criminal empires, asking them what they thought Bison was up to. I’d explain an important game mechanic, that characters used Chi to activate certain powers, they could gain Chi points back by making Honor rolls. So if Bison had no honour, how could he regain Chi? Many role players I spoke with were willing to give the game a go, and generally they quite enjoyed it.

Over the years I have run several SFRPG campaigns, all were fun and some were even good. I think it is noteworthy to consider that the majority of people know little to nothing about martial arts in real life, and even those that do know some things tended to only trained for a few months. What is great is that SF2 had educated its players enough that they know what different styles roughly look like, as well as what sort of techniques are used; granted SF2 added fireballs and the like to the mix, but did so without ruining the martial style. This SF2 education was an interesting bonus, as it generally affects a player’s ability to role-play better, since it reduced learning a setting, combat and powers. I loved that many SF2 players trying out SFRPG were pretty much veterans when it came to describing their character’s attacks, and understanding what was happening in a detailed fight. The combat mechanics in the role-playing game were surprisingly effective (but not perfect). They allowed players to quickly learn how to play, and with the combat cards a bout could be carried out quite quickly, all in all, very efficient just like SF2. Interestingly the combat mechanics had some key differences to the other World of Darkness games, a few years later an optional book was added to the World of Darkness beautifully entitled Combat.

street fighter video GIF

I was disappointed with how the Combat book mostly handled Mage: the Ascension. Effectively it did not add anything, suggesting Mages can perform True Magick like Stunts is IMHO pointless, since that is what a Mage game is basically like anyway. I do understand why this approach was taken, I am not saying it is worthless/garbage, just disappointing to me. Whilst there are a few special maneuvers for a character with Do 3+, which was nice, but, since Do was basically an Akashic Brotherhood (now: Akashayana) special skill. I think this approach sadly reduced a setting with infinite potential and options to cliché views of ‘Asians are best at martial arts’, ignoring the numerous world cultures with exceptional fighting systems, and the commonality of violence and the human body. This is partly why I have experimented with various ways of integrating the SFRPG mechanics and Combat Cards with other games, my own games, and for the last few years Mage.

Mage SFRPG

Debates about tabletop role-playing game systems is a major part of that hobby, mechanics matter and add to that so much of what we know is from movies/games/books and not personal practice. The designers of any role-playing system need to acknowledge the fact that truly simulating reality is far too complicated, never mind the fact that so much is not understood, therefore a game needs to be easy to understand, and usually quick to play whilst not sacrificing too much realism. My point linking back to the previous paragraph about game accessibility, reducing player learning requirements, and helping players understand game events, I think overall SFRPG did a great job.

I personally found the core rules for SFRPG to be overall good. Whilst the expansion books introduced new great things, unfortunately it also added some garbage into the game. In interviews it has been explained how rushed the game line was, sadly this shows, which is a shame because if more time had been given to the designers some of the garbage would likely have instead been more great additions. The most famous example is the: Cartwheel kick, in was so clearly broken it took most players only a few seconds to figure out that it was godly. Likewise the magic shows in Savate. This lack of playtesting stands out, and is a disgrace to the quality of SF2 combat. Fortunately all role-playing game mechanics can be altered by groups introducing house rules, and generally a veteran gaming group can run a good campaign despite any rubbish game mechanics or bad story/world design. Having worked at a games company I have a good appreciation for the difficulties of hitting deadlines, costs of running a company and how easy it is too miss things, which is why playtesting is so important. Ideally a product should have as few problems as possible.

A call back to the previous article regarding Gene Lebell and Bruce Lee. It is a shame that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) had not happened decades earlier. So many RPGs could have been fixed in regards to the martial art clichés. This is one of the interesting things about Street Fighter 2, for all the made up and fantasy aspects, the game has a diverse range of fighting techniques shown; granted no ground game, but at least grappling is a core part. I think this has helped SFRPG stand out against other RPGs, for example Palladium’s Ninjas and Superspies. The Contenders expansion added many styles and maneuvers, of particular note is groundfighting, but there are other gems like Chi Push.

The SFRPG rulebooks were full colour, which was very unusual for that time. Although the books had a distinctive White Wolf design with the flavour text and story snippets, the layout of the SFRPG books were more exciting/dynamic looking than their other games. The artwork was mixed, whilst some pieces were great, others were less so.

Character creation was quite straightforward, particularly for players familiar with other White Wolf games. Choosing a character’s special moves list was an interesting and fun part of the process, since it would be a major part of the character’s abilities and development. Interestingly the game encouraged players to declare the names for their moves, just like Hadoken in the computer game. Whilst not everybody chose to do this, nobody complained about it being silly, I put this down to the fact that SF 2 had taught players that this was a somewhat normal the thing to do.

Even after writing several of the negative points about the tabletop RPG, I still think that overall the core SFRPG was brilliant, providing players with a great toolset to explore the intriguing world of SF2. Along with the animated movie it is nice to know that some game tie-ins aren’t complete garbage. Whilst there have been other good martial art role-playing games, my players and I still fondly recall many great Street Fighter gaming sessions and rate it as our favourite of the genre. Every few years we play it again, playing with new ideas and house rules.

The Street Fighter series has millions of fans, but a few of us crave more than just the fights. We are also nostalgic about the espionage of the World Warrior circuit, rising up in rank, to more epic stories of training under Ryu, discovering new/lost techniques, and I suspect in a few cases usurping Bison to take over Shadoloo! I’d love a great computer RPG set in the SF world, whilst I doubt that will happen, maybe one day soon.

From Way of the Exploding Fist to Street Fighter RPG 3 part series

Part 1 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/way-of-the-exploding-fist-lookback/

Part 2 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/fist-2-exploring-mystical-fighting/

Part 3 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/a-fist-full-of-dice/

Mage the Podcast Review

I love role-playing games (RPG), and in particular the Mage: the Ascension (MtA). There are many podcasts covering different RPGs, but at the start of 2018 there was none dedicated to Mage, so Joseph Aleo launched Mage the Podcast. Joseph explained his reasoning in what I think is quite an attention grabbing pithy introduction.

https://magethepodcast.com/index.php/2018/04/14/what-is-mage-the-ascension/

Impressively the first episode has an interview with the overall main Mage writer and current Line Developer: Satyros Phil Brucato; Satyros has many other writing credits and projects, covering numerous World of Darkness books, as well as other games (Deliria, Powerchords) and numerous fiction. Satyros was quite the scoop for the first show, plus unquestionably the best person to discuss Mage with. I found the interview informative and professional, which I am sure was helped by Joseph’s experience running radio and other podcasts. After this episode I was hooked, each week I eagerly looked forward to the new episode.

I think one of the strengths of the podcast is the mix of hosts. For episode two, Joseph introduced the show’s co-host, Adam Simpson, in a discussion about Mage’s Lexicon. Over time the team was expanded to include Terry Robinson, who has hosted most of the recent episodes, often with Adam Simpson. Other hosts include Mark Hope and Joshua Heath. These different voices, ranging in MtA experience, bring their own take on things. Useful, since the podcast is for a game that typically varies in interpretation from person to person; after all Mage is a vast game about reality and individuality.

“The Podcast that works hard towards Ascension, so you don’t have to.”

The focus for each episode is varied, with a wide-ranging of topics discussed, which I think keep things interesting. One week there is an interview with a Mage writer like Rachelle Udell, another week the guest is Dr. Anders Sandberg the creator of the old Anders Mage Page (new site). An extra noteworthy episode was about Gods and Monsters, with the writers: Satyros Phil Brucato, Hiromi Cota, James Sambrano and Isabella Price all present.

The next episode could be a discussion about cross-over games. For example: Changeling & MtA with Victor Kinzer of the Walking Away from Arcadia podcast. Joshua Heath (Werewolf : the Podcast & High Level Games) discussing Werewolf  & MtA. Charles Siegel discussing Demon & MtA. David Herman discussing Wraith & MtA (The Geekly Oddcast). I do love fusing different RPGs, increase that RPG Mental Toolkit, plus helps justify the collection 😉

Something extra dear to my heart is the old White Wolf Street Fighter RPG (SFRPG), so I particularly appreciated the chat with Kris Newton (MegaDumbCast). The chat was about the potential of a Street Fighter cross-over with MtA; a topic I thought I was the only one that cared about. I’ve been slowly running a cross-over game with one of my groups, I’ll write more about this when I am happy with the fusion.

https://magethepodcast.com/index.php/2019/09/28/hadouken-rpg-tag-team-street-fighter-rpg-mage-with-kris-newton/

Mage SFRPG

Another week has a wonderful discussion about something typically less focused on in the general Mage chats. For example Darling Rose of the Midnight Express podcast chatting about all things WoD, but in particular Quiet. Terry and Josh discussing Cosmicism (Lovecraft Mythos). Mark Hope discussing running street level games. Or a fascinating chat about Mage and Live Action Role-Play (LARP/LRP) with Matthew Webb of Jackalope Live Action Studios. There are also episodes interviewing the author of a Storyteller Vault product such as: Joshua Heath, Victor Kinzer, or Charles Siegel.

A regular feature of the podcast is to discuss one of MtA books, which there are quite a lot of; the release of Gods & Monsters meant I had to rearrange my games library ;-). This classic episode format for RPG podcasts is always a hit for me, since I have not read some of the books in many years. This review series also helps remind me of the differences between editions, which is extra helpful given some of the dramatic changes over the years; never mind our memory’s tendency to fade and/or summarise things over time.

There was a Mage Twitter game setup by Ira Grace called Duplicity that started in August 2019. I made a character and also offered to help summarise the tweets, which is how I became involved with the podcast team, albeit in a minor way. Since I am not involved in making any podcast episodes, I don’t think this counts as me fanboying myself 😉 this blog post is just to praise something I appreciate and support. You can also join the Mage the Podcast Discord server and chat about all things Mage.

If you are a Mage the Ascension fan, then this podcast is definitely for you. If you are a player of other RPGs but not Mage yet, then definitely check out the podcast’s first episode and learn about what makes this game extra special.

https://magethepodcast.com/index.php/2018/04/14/what-is-mage-the-ascension/

“Until next time, Truth Until Paradox, baby.”

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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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