Fine-Tuning the War of Ashes RPG

Atronians

We’re at the late fine-tuning phase on the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions. Open playtest is great for for identifying issues, but it’s slow. When you’re at the point of making small incremental changes to refine a solution, internal playtest is faster and easier. So poor Edmund was wrangled into being game-master for the dev team: Creative Director Sean Nittner, Editor Karen Twelves, and Sean’s lovely daughters, plus me. I had a couple of packs of ZombieSmith’s Atronian miniatures (the models shown above, except mine aren’t painted yet.) Mara  wanted to play a “good” Kuld so Edmund got a guldul rider mini for her (concept sketch shown below.) The Kuld smelled of mac and cheese, by the way, so that’s what we called her. I played the Vidaar champion Vala the Loud; I used the Froth rules when fighting a Kuld horde but attracted the attention of the gods.

Kuld Guldul Rider

Ylark in armourLet’s just say that the marking event that flavoured the whole episode was a rain of ylark — large oxen-like cattle beast like the one showed here, sans armour… Sean’s Elvorix travelling preacher Semela Aeditus ix Atronia co Brambletown got herself elected as mayor of Brambletown, while Karen’s militant atheist Jaarl warrior Lele was trying to convince Brambletown to use the stones from the temple to build a wall around the town. But too late: the Kuld hordes (not Mac, the dangerous ones) were on our doorstep! Fortunately, Mac and the Elvorix alchemist Ficca Bibulus had fortified our meagre defences with a wall of ice. Will this suffice? Tune in next time to learn more…

This gave us a chance to test a number of changes. We’re very happy with the zones rules written by Mike Olson, so these remain unchanged; and we’ve  considerably streamlined the Froth rules, for the better. In fact, now we want to make Froth usable for more actions! Manoeuvres seem to work well, but I have some work to do to give magic more oompf. So it was an enjoyable and productive afternoon!

Credits:  Art © ZombieSmith 2014, used with permission.

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Motobushido: Swords and Static

Motobushido coverWe played Motobushido (Alliterated  Games) today and it was a blast. First, the group at the table was in the right mood and everyone played their character beautifully. In descending order of precedence, we had:

  • Edmund as the Sensei (game-master);
  • Jacob playing the Taicho (pack leader), Haruna Tar-Face;
  • Fish playing the Shigaka (historian/chronicler), Nobuyoki;
  • Kit playing the Kusawake (scout), Shiro;
  • Matt playing the Migi Ude (enforcer), Haachi; and
  • Me playing the Shinmai (recruit), Michiko.

Everyone was so much fun, knew their chanbara tropes, and was a cooperative story game player. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have conflicts among the party — on the contrary, we had dramatic confrontations, but because the players wanted to bring twists, not because we were at odds as players. Everyone was delightfully wicked about needling each other’s motobushi and reviving old grudges. I would have loved to play a continuing series with this pack.

The setting is somewhat inspired by Apocalypse World;

In this game, your group will play a pack of motorcycle-riding samurai – motobushi – in the days after a great war ravaged the land. You were soldiers in that war, but your side ultimately lost. The how and why of what has come before are all up to you. You will work as a group to define your own aspects of that war, including any cross-genre story elements your group desires. You will then play out the lives of these motobushi as they travel around in a world which largely rejects their ideals, and tell the stories of their trials and adventures, their wins and their losses, and their inevitable grim fates.

MotobushiLike in AW, a lot of the characters’ and setting’s history is created by the players. You don’t use dice but two decks of playing cards, one for the Sensei and one for the players. Most actions can be merely narrated; you only use the cards when it’s time to take risks (“Gambit”) or fight (“Duels.”) At first, the system is disorienting for those of us used to dice; it looks like no other role-playing game I can think of.

Of all the RPGs I’ve played that used standard playing cards to resolve actions, this has the most enjoyable, tactical and interesting system. It blows the ones in Hillfolk/DramaSystem or Prime Time Adventures out of the water, for example. It’s not just a matter of having more cards, or higher cards; a lot of strategy can go into deciding when to escalate or concede, in order to save an advantage for later.

I’ll try to write more at some point when I have time, but I really enjoyed this game.

[Edit: Edmund posted a much more comprehensive review, from his perspective as GM.]

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Thanks All Around

Autumn LeavesIt’s American Thanksgiving, a holiday that can only be properly celebrated by taking stock of the good things in your life, thanking family and friends, and being nice to people. Some of the recent years have been hard on my sense of gratitude, but this year I have plenty to be thankful for.

As usual, I’m most grateful for, and to, my husband, my family, and my friends. They make my life rich and interesting. They help me, cheer me, look out for me, make me laugh, make me think. Particular thanks to my husband Edmund, who’s been thinking up all sorts of little ways to make life easier and more fun for me; and my mom, who is a reliable source of friendship, affirmation, and morality.

More thanks for Paul and Hiro, who make it possible for us to live here, and to Dorene, Steve W., Maureen, and Steve P. for a variety of kindnesses. Thanks also to my online friends, who matter more than they know.

I’m grateful for my cats, entitled little brats that they are. I’m grateful that Valentine and Ubaid get along so well. I’m grateful to friend Brian Vo for attracting my attention to poor Phantom who was in need of rescue, about to be euthanized at a shelter, in time for us to rescue our newest cat. And I’m grateful that all three cats love cuddling, even when it’s untimely! Here’s a picture of Edmund with the beasts:

Cats on the Bed

I’m grateful for my new job, my new boss, my new colleagues, and having health insurance again. I’m grateful that my bosses believed in my abilities to tackle new challenges.

I’m grateful that I’ve been working with wonderful people for excellent companies in the gaming world, writing for Evil Hat Productions, Zombiesmith, and Atlas Games. I’m particularly grateful for project manager/creative director Sean Nittner and editor Karen Twelves on the War of Ashes RPG project.

I’m grateful that I once again had such a great time at Big Bad Con in October — it’s my Christmas, with amazing people all around.

I’m grateful for the people who became aware and active supporters of feminism this year in reaction to shameful displays of misogyny. I’m grateful to people who are waking up to the blatant scourge of racism, to the realities of privilege, to inequality, and are becoming Social Justice Warriors. Or wizards, ninja, clerics, paladins, rangers, rogues, or space marines. I’m grateful that marriage equality is advancing, that more people are starting to grasp that this shit in Ferguson can’t go on, and that turning a blind eye to bigotry isn’t acceptable.

I’m grateful to the scientists, engineers, technicians, and support staff that have brought us some amazing, exciting moments in space exploration: Rosetta and Philae reaching comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the testing of Orion, great science on the International Space Station, the deployment of a plethora of CubeSats, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission a.k.a. Mangalyaan and NASA’s MAVEN both visiting Mars (the latter currently just beginning its science mission around the Red Planet), Curiosity roving around on Mars and Cassini sending amazing images of the Saturn neighbourhood little Jade Rabbit from China still sending signals from the Moon, SpaceX Dragon bringing supplies to the ISS including a 3D printer that makes spare parts, and so much more.

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We’re Winning

happy lady faceIt hurts, it’s true, but we are winning the fight.

I proudly fly my metaphorical flag collection: my feminist flag, my nerd flag, my gamer flag, etc. I’m usually pretty outspoken, and yet I have hardly posted about the mess that called itself GamerGate—a terrible name and hashtag, but those who came up with it are not the deepest thinkers on the ‘net. The closest I came to it was over six weeks ago when by way of contrast I was celebrating the inclusive side of gaming, the one I can be proud to associate with.

I’m not going to tell you it was because I was scared of repercussions. It’s because I think it’s the whine of self-entitled jerks seeing the territory they have lost and keep losing. I’m not afraid, though I probably should be; I’m mad as hell, but when the hot lava of anger cools down, it hardens into contempt… and a curious glow of schadenfreude, because I can see how scared the whiny gits are.

Forty years ago, it was “normal” for men to grab or slap a woman’s ass if they felt like it.

Thirty years ago, it was normal to offer a higher salary to a young male engineering graduate than to a young woman with the same qualifications.

Twenty years ago, it was still so common to be harassed in tech and gamer circles that we women hardly even noticed it above the background level.

Ten years ago, I couldn’t get anyone in geekdom to even say the word feminism, it was something embarrassing to associate with.

Eight years ago, I realized that even guys I thought as reasonably enlightened in my gamer community were incapable of seeing the problem because they didn’t want it to exist; I gradually stopped posting on gamer forums because even moderated ones allowed dog-piling against women (while stopping it for race and sexual orientation topics!)

Six years ago, Michelle Lyons started trying to get women in tabletop RPGs to come together and be recognized; we compiled a list and it was gratifying, yet too short.

Three years ago, Rebecca Watson got terrible backlash and her name dragged in the mud for saying, and I quote: “Guys, don’t do that” after describing how a male attendee of the World Atheist Convention made her feel uncomfortable in an elevator late at night.

Two years ago, Anita Sarkeesian became a target of misogynist threats of violence for having a Kickstarter funding campaign to fund a new series of “Tropes vs. Women” videos.

As the behaviours of old become something to be ashamed of, something that is frowned upon when in public view, the reactions under cover of anonymity become more and more unsavoury. It’s clear that some blame women and feminism for everything they have failed to reach or accomplish in their lives.

This year, we’re finally reaching the point where a lot of men who until now were uninterested in the problem of misogyny are finally saying, “Whoa, that shit really does happen and it has to stop.” I don’t know if you grasp the importance of this; I’ve seen people who were part of the anti-feminist dogpiling on RPG.net some years ago, then blithely oblivious and thinking women needed a thicker skin, now open wide eyes at our GamerGate friends and say, “Wow, this is wrong.”

It’s like “I’m not racist but…” people who are so angry that a black man became president of the United States, and like people who are so afraid of other orientations that they will resort to any tactic to stop marriage equality from steamrolling across the U.S. They are so angry because the world does not conform to the image they want to cling to. All these people make life uncomfortable for the targets of their bitterness, and some make it dangerous, even deadly.

But here’s the thing, fuckers: even as you make me so angry, I still smile because I know and you know that you’re desperate because you’re losing. Hate on.

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Saying Yes: Firefly RPG

Firefly RPG coverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Firefly: The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum

1 – Prepping

A few weeks before the convention, organizer Sean Nittner was looking for someone to run the Firefly RPG, so I volunteered. Sean puts a lot of effort into lining up a good variety of games and recruiting GMs so that there will be plenty of choice for attendees. He even lent me his beautiful autographed book, then contacted Margaret Weis Productions to ask if I could get a PDF convention kit. Thanks to David Robins and Monica Valentinelli at MWP, I got everything I needed to run a game.

So I had to add my game to the schedule ASAP but I did not have a plot in mind yet, so as for my Atomic Robo game, I went for a title that would sound intriguing, and a generic game pitch:

The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum
They can’t take the sky from you, but the Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng sure can make it ruttin’ uncomfortable. How were you to know this little job would blow up like that?

(If anyone noticed that I had sneaked the Big Bad Con initials in the title, no one mentioned it.)

My first decision to make: use the characters from the television show, or some of the many customizable templates provided in the book? I asked around in my online circles and received much useful advice. In the end, I agreed with the majority who recommended using the Serenity crew in order to build on  players’ shared understanding, but set the adventure a little prior to the television pilot and limit the cast to Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, Kaylee, and Inara. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saying Yes: Tianxia – Blood, Silk and Jade

Tianxia Front CoverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Tianxia: To Live and Die in Băo Jiāng

1 – Prepping

On Saturday afternoon I ran my first game of the wuxia fantasy Tianxia: Bood, Silk & Jade from Vigilance Press, which builds on the Fate Core system from Evil Hat Productions. I believe this was the only Tianxia event at the convention. I decided to expand on one of the story starters provided in the book, setting it during a big Moon Festival for colour and action. Here is what I wrote for my game summary in the program:

To Live and Die in Băo Jiāng
Forgery, theft, treachery, ambition. Diplomats, courtiers, and Imperial scions. A holy day and a parade. And kung fu. All of Băo Jiāng is topsy-turvy when a secret treaty is negotiated under cover of the Moon Festival — while daring thieves plan to rob the Imperial Seal. And did we mention kung fu?

The scenario in the book includes a premise (the imperial seal which is in the hands of Princess Ju, travelling incognito, will be “borrowed” and counterfeited by a master forger), suggestions of ways to entangle the player characters and possible consequences, and the stats for the two main non-player characters (the princess and the forger). While I liked this beginning a lot, I needed a backdrop that would incite to action as well as additional story hooks, because I had to drive all this to have lots of action and some sort of resolution in a four-hour time frame with a group of relative strangers at the table. Hence, adding the secret treaty negotiated under cover of the Moon Festival. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saying Yes: Atomic Robo RPG

Atomic RoboIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk and Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Atomic Robo and the Invisible Invaders of Inverness

1 – Prepping

On Friday afternoon I ran my first game of the pulpy action science game from Evil Hat Productions, Atomic Robo RPG. It is based on the Atomic Robo  comic book by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, who were also involved in creating the game along with Mike Olson.  I confess, I had never read the comic until Evil Hat started announcing the upcoming game, so I caught up by reading the free samples on the Atomic Robo website, then buying a few of the collected trade paperbacks. When it was time to schedule games for Big Bad Con, I thought this would be a good choice since the RPG would only be a few months old and a lot of people might want to check it out.

We ended up having several other Atomic Robo RPG events at the convention, but I think mine may have been the only one set in the current day. Anyhow, at the time I put my games on the schedule I did not have a plot in mind yet so I went for a title that would sound in-genre, and a generic game pitch:

Atomic Robo and the Invisible Invaders of Inverness
TESLADYNE INDUSTRIES IS HIRING! All departments — Armory, Intel, Research & Development, and Transport. We need capable young Action Scientists who have what it takes to get the job done! From its humble beginnings in Nikola Tesla’s lab on Houston Street in New York City, the company formerly known as Tesla Heavy Industries has grown into the global phenomenon it is today. Tesladyne offers competitive salaries, a matchless benefits package, and the opportunity to travel while working on cutting edge Science!

This is actually important to my approach to GMing. If I have a more specific idea for a story hook, I will certainly throw it in; but I try not to go too far down the scripting path. Read the rest of this entry »

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