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

 

#RPGaDay2018 Day23 Play Again

Which game do you hope to play again?

So many choices, like most gamers. I kept my video short today, in part to avoid rambling about some of the long running campaigns/chronicles.

Besides my main group, currently playing Mage, I have a few 1 on 1 games being discussed, so there is a chance I might get to play several of these games soon. I bought a lot of terrain to help run a megadungeon, good chance the game will use either D&D 5th or GURPS Fantasy.

 

RPG Welcome to the Technocractic Union

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

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

 

Spirit Choice for Secret Rage

This continues on from part 1 PBM Thanks & Secret Rage, the 2nd part is Spirit Game – Secret Rage.

Further to what I wrote previously about the scale of any game that includes something as vast as D&D’s Planescape, L5R’s spirit realms, or World of Darkness’s three Umbras, etc., I appreciated I was giving myself a ludicrous amount of work. Powerful characters tend to have a lot of lore and cultural understanding that would be a key factor in any character choices, and typically large networks of others to manage. This applies to all sorts of high-end campaigns:

  • Epic level character in D&D, GURPS, etc.
  • Methuselah in Vampire, or Archmage in Mage, Deathlord in Wraith
  • Clan Daimyo in L5R
  • Epic level Superteam member like one of the Justice League
  • Daemon Prince in Warhammer’s Slave to Darkness and Lost & Damned
  • Eldar Farseer in Warhammer 40,000

In 1995 I ran a Warhammer Chaos Champions RPG, with the goal of one of the party becoming Daemon Princes. Despite how much we all enjoyed it, two of the players left the area and the game was put on hold. Cue reminiscing about one of those cool campaigns that got away…

Whilst this chronicle is very much set in the World of Darkness, games like D&D’s Planescape, L5R and GURPS have been great aids in working out ideas. All part of my RPG mental-toolbelt belief.

Since an ancient spirit would have vast knowledge of many subjects and treaties with many other spirits, I decided to go with the easy solution of starting the game with the birth of the spirit. This way the player and I will develop a better understanding of the character’s development, and as I’ve written about before PBM is particularly good at handling Time. The time between turns allows for all sorts of details to be pondered, worked out, and dramatic character development.

I made a big list of story/chronicle ideas for Richie to choose from. The idea being that by playing a unique spirit, the spirit’s nature and goals can be designed to cater to the type of game he wants to play. The following is part of the list I sent to him:

  • An Ancestral Incarna, this could be ancient Spirit that goes back to the dawn of the Garou Tribes; these types of spirits are heavily linked to Past Life. They might be closely linked to the dead, maybe even formed by long-dead Garou, or they could be epherma (Spirit matter awakened by a Tribe’s actions), or maybe they came from the Tribe’s Totem but gained importance and independence. This sort of Incarna would be focused on members of a single Tribe.
  • Incarna of Historical Big Moment, this Spirit embodies the idea that big moments are guaranteed/inevitable, and that an individual plays a pivotal role; humans tend to fixate on the ‘big-movers of history’, but this Spirit understands things are more complicated, and it figures out what domino to knock over. Maybe it’s an Ancestral spirit, maybe more linked to the dream realm and Chimera’s brood, maybe this is linked to Storytelling Spirits given its narrative nature, maybe a Past Life Spirit, or maybe it is a manifestation of the Fates.
  • A Wyrm healing Incarna that has hidden itself away and wants to heal the Wyrm by re-joining it! This is likely a super-hard mode campaign, which is saying something given the standard hard mode of the Apocalypse. Maybe the Wyrm is insane because this Incarna spirit escaped, maybe with this piece the Wyrm could heal, sounds like a crazy plan, but the Hydra is crazy 😉
  • A tiny spark of the Balance Wyrm, this Incarna focuses on figuring out how free its parent. However, how to fight a Triat? Especially given the scope of the task. Can the Weaver be persuaded? Can the Wyld be slowed enough to talk to? Could the Wyrm reveal a secret even in its current insane state? As above, super-hard mode, and crazy Hydra.
  • A Weaver Spirit that is a hybrid with either Wyld or Wyrm. In the Wenn Diagram of the Triat there is cross-over, albeit normally in smaller ways and only briefly, cosmologically speaking.
  • Maybe a Spirit explicitly dedicated to a different Supernatural race, maybe in regards to healing, communication, monitoring, or maybe the race’s total annihilation.
  • A lesser Incarna that is a sub-part of the Phoenix Incarna, this would be a big secret since the Garou nation does not know about it. It reveals itself only to Garou who must walk a lonely path to carry out a quest associated to a concept like redemption, rebirth, transformation, etc.
  • The Carer of Gaia’s Word, a spirit that has a secret quest, to protect a secret of Gaia, one that was whispered to her sister Luna. What that secret is, how it relates to the Triat, or to the Apocalypse would be a key part for focusing the chronicle’s theme.
  • Crazy Outsider Spirit Pretending to be a Wyld Incarna: This crazy suggestion could be that the spirit is basically one of Cthulhu Mythos in disguise trying to usurp Gaia, or simply get a place at the buffet of gnosis.
  • Trickster Incarna, super-mega-turbo-hard campaign. It claims to have this big secret, and travels about distracting everything so a subtle plan can be implemented. Likely results in many dead Garou, and other Fera. Maybe the secret is even real!
  • Ninja Spirit, because well ninjas.
  • <Insert TODO Incarna>. The ultimate trick of the Weaver, the Procrastination Planning Spirit. Somehow it will resolve the Apocalypse via a night of cramming. This sounds like the most powerful thing ever! 😉

After a lot of discussion we worked out another spirit idea, which will be revealed in a later blog. Once this was done we were able to determine the chronicle’s focus. I also mentioned that once the game is established I will consider adding new players to the game, partly depending on health, partly workload, and also whether I program some of the game aspects to make it easier to run something even bigger.

There had been a good few minutes spent discussing the <Insert TODO Incarna>. I love this idea, and I’ve added it to my vast list of comedy RP ideas to develop; I’ve made a few already for my forever in development role-playing guide, since it previously read like a monotone academic volume.

Next time I will introduce the prelude.

#RPGaDay 12

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 12th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 12 #RPG, #Aberrant #Trinity #Adventure due to the wonderful IC pages.

I had so many initial thoughts about this question, and sadly despite the list of honourable shout-outs I have provided, I know I am missing off to many noteworthy games. Many old games came to mind, in part because they had been part of my formative RPing years. Whether staring at the old Monster Manuals for AD&D 1st ed over and over again, or the Warhammer artwork emphasising the dark setting. When I started playing Cyberpunk, the artwork helped to differentiate itself from the fantasy games I had previously played; a game with both style and substance 😉

Cyberpunk Interior artI considered Tales from the Loop, which was built upon a wonderful collection of art. This is also a great example of how modern RPGs can have amazing artwork, and how we can keep being surprised.

L5R is one of my favourite games, in part due to its incredible artwork; I tend to buy all the books for a game I like, but at least that means more artwork. Given the game’s emphasis on culture, and how important appearance is in that setting, with so many pieces of art showing character interaction and attire, it was quite easy to show players an example to help inspire them.

I nearly choose Changeling: The Dreaming, I adore that game; I wrote about one of my Changeling campaigns for Day 7. I shouldn’t really single out any of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD) games, as a whole the interior art was diverse and gripping; the walls of my old flats were covered in mostly WoD artwork. The artwork for Wraith really helped to inspire that game’s setting and mood, although I know a few players that were too disturbed by that game to even try it. Changeling’s lovely artwork helped to make that game stand out, and with the diverse races (kith) the pictures felt like a nod at the older games like D&D, whilst being noticeable different to them.

Changeling Interior ArtA special shout-out to Palladium’s: Ninjas & Superspies and Mystic China; whilst I am it, also for Nightbane. Like so many of Palladium books, there is a good mix of artwork. In a hobby dominated by fantasy, then Sci Fi, and then probably Supers, I really appreciated any martial arts artwork.

Although Street Fighter is a big IP, and thus it’s a bit unfair to compare it to non-major-IP games, as I mentioned on Day 5, the artwork was very inspiring. Overall the artwork was vibrant and fitted the style of the game. I’ll admit that anything martial arts related gets a bonus from me, but I really love that game for taking a beat’em up and turning in to something special.

As mentioned above, I finally settled on the books for the Trinity Universe, and in particular Aberrant. Having so many In Character (IC) pages really helped to get the setting across. They were easy to show new players, especially the pages that were comics. Thus the interior art was more than just artwork, they were IC game props. Although the old White Wolf company had done this sort of thing before with the cWoD books, it was taken to a new level with books for the Trinity Universe. Between the timeline, the IC news articles, interviews, wrestling shows, and profiles, the whole collection was both inspiring and highly informative.

Aberrant Interior ArtAs I mentioned yesterday, Onyx Path Publishing are working on rebooting this setting as the Trinity Continuum. Clearly with such a rich heritage to build upon, and the great work and experience of Onyx, Trinity Continuum is obviously going to be amazing. I’d only be surprised if the game was less than stunning to look at. Check out the Trinity Continuum pages.

Vampire, Batman and the Origin of my Nickname

Vampire, and by extension the World of Darkness, has had a massive effect on my life as well as how I developed my nickname. Given the power of nicknames it is no surprise that Vampire is more than a hobby to me, it lead to work and could even be argued to have become part of my identity; although crucially I do not think I am a literal Vampire.

A quick clarification: I love all sorts of Role-Playing Games (RPGs), whatever the system or genre, no matter the RPG Type. Whilst I think systems matter, I think players & implementation matter more.

I was sixteen when I first played Vampire the Masquerade; it had only been out for a few months. I was fortunate enough to have been invited in to a group of much older role players, so I was able to get a lot of experience from more worldly people. This proved helpful when I later started running Vampire for my long running group. At the time there were only a few supplements for the game, and there were none of the other games set in the World of Darkness had been released. Given the limited information and the newness of the game, it all felt very refreshing. This links back to the point about age, since our Storyteller Dale was in his 30s, he brought in all sorts of different cultures, not just USA or European ideas. Over many sessions our characters met all sorts of unusual antagonists; a deranged yogi was my favourite. All in all quite different from my experiences playing games like D&D, Cyberpunk or Warhammer. I quickly knew Vampire was going to be something I was going to play a lot, plus another thing I wanted to collect.

I was fortunate in that I had been brought up loving all sorts of music. I had become obsessed with metal and particularly thrash in 1989, but by 1991 I was broadening back out again. Vampire played a big part in influencing what music to investigate; I am sure it did for many gamers.

In the summer of 1992 I was working at a computer shop, and the boss insisted that everyone had to have a nickname. One of the young staff members couldn’t think of anything, so since he was slightly annoying the boss nicknamed him Snot! The computer shop was next door to the local games shop, and this led to the boss asking me about my visits to that shop during my breaks, and my role-playing obsession, and a brief explanation about Vampire the Masquerade. Since I did a lot of long-distance running, generally late at night, I was very pale skinned and surprisingly strong for my slender frame, which led to the boss deciding that I should be called something vampire related, and this led to me being given the nickname of Bat. When I got to college the new large social group I spent most of my time with had other people called Richard, so my nickname was used instead.

halloween-undead-batman-batjutsu

Unfortunately this Bat nickname has resulted in numerous conversations with new people about where the nickname comes from, and they always guess it’s to do with Batman. I’ve even had to deal with some odd enquiries like whether I can do the Batdance(Batusi), or my opinion on Batman versus Superman, shish. My family have purchased me several Batman t-shirts and jumpers to help rub this in. Eventually I embraced (yep, pun intended) this Batman tie in, after all given the cultural significance and number of Batman stories it is an iconic character. So far I have avoided any Batman cosplay as Vampire-Batman, but I have done an undead-Batman.

The Batjutsu nickname came from wanting a unique handle for using online, as well as email address. Given that my obsession with martial arts matched that of role-playing, I decided on the jutsu addition. This was also a way of differentiating from Batman, although Batman is a black belt in jujitsu, of course.

bjj-training-batman-batjutsu

All in all, I am quite thankfully that I was given the nickname Bat, especially considering what my old boss could have come up with!