Review: Misspent Youth

Note: This review was also published on and Emerald City Gamefest.

Misspent Youth coverMisspent Youth is a game firmly anchored in the subgenre of story games. The players (the Young Offenders, or YO) and gamemaster (the Authority) work together to answer a series of questions about the setting and characters to create the setting, then play out episodes in which the Young Offenders fight off an oppressive, corrupt, or abusive Authority and generally stick it to The Man. What will they sacrifice for their ideals?

Disclaimer: I received free print and PDF copies of the book so I could playtest and review it.

Continue reading “Review: Misspent Youth”

Turkey leftovers? Not for long!

oven-roasted brine-soaked turkey
Image by Gregory Kohs used under Creative Commons License

It finally dawned on me that (American) Thanksgiving is in three weeks, so we should probably plan our menu and social calendar.  We rarely have turkey for Thanksgiving in this household!  But it’s not that we don’t love it, oh no.  Edmund usually makes something fancy and impressive — but not turkey — because this is his holiday to cook up a storm and try something new and inspiring.  And for me, turkey is a traditional Christmas meal in the old French Canadian tradition.

Also, we’re cheapskates and we buy turkey immediately after Thanksgiving, when it’s on deep discount.  Last year we got four or five turkeys during the time it was around 49 cents a pound — not all at the same time, but we do have two fridges so we use the extra space.  That week looked something like: brine turkey — cook turkey — pluck meat, freeze in ziplock bags — make broth with carcasses and freeze it in jars, or freeze them to make the broth later.  Repeat five times — even when the price rose to 59 cents a pound!  (Well, we did start with a more fancy turkey with the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yam pie, etc.)

And believe it or not, we still ran out of turkey meat for recipes before we got sick of turkey last winter!

So in preparation for Turkey Day, I thought I would line up some of my favourite recipes to use up turkey leftovers; and over the next three weeks, I’ll post the recipes.

I’m sure I forgot some!


Scratch-made pizzzaI forgot to link to my recipe stash here — until now, that is.  I keep a collection of my favourite recipes on Google Drive, usually liberally annotated.  If the recipe is not mine, I cite the source and add a link if it’s online.

The folder is publicly shared, so feel free to re-share.  Let me know if you have comments, questions or improvements on any of the recipes!

Prepping for another con: Blowback

Blowback and Shadowrun covers

Update: I posted the finished playset, sans images because of copyright issues.  Enjoy!

I’m working on my games for Convolution next weekend (alas, they’re not showing up in the schedule yet, but I submitted them late).  Right now I’m writing a new Shadowrun-based play set for Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat’s Blowback game.  Blowback is a game where you play highly skilled spies who are short on resources and must rely on family and friends; excellent to play Burn Notice, Haywire, Desperado, or The Bourne Identity.  I figure that maps pretty well over to shadowrunners, who plan and execute elaborate operations on the wrong side of the law.

I set up a technique for this last time I prepped a playset, and it works pretty well for me.  Here is how it goes:

First, I decide how many players I want.  I like five: one Lifer as a well-rounded leader and four Artists as specialists in each area of expertise (in Burn Notice, Michael would be a Lifer and Fiona and Artist).  I’ve also done it with different mixes, but I like this one.

Then I line up four columns but I don’t label the columns yet; I distribute top stat values (4 for Lifers and 5 for Artists) with as many sets as I have players.  (I do this by hand in a ruled notebook, but you don’t want to see my handwriting…)

First step: distributing top stats

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Games I didn’t like but which changed my playing

I’ve been musing recently about role-playing games that made me think, that generated ideas and reflection even though I didn’t enjoy them all that much as games!  I mean, it’s easy to praise from your favourite games; you love them, play them, discuss them quite naturally.  But there are games that didn’t float my boat for whatever reason — and yet taught me something interesting, useful, intriguing.  Believe me, if they are your favourite games, I’m not dissing your preferences.  I’m very aware of the fact that different people like different things and I’m delighted that there are a variety of games out to suit not only different people and groups, but for our different moods and changing preferences.  I will try to explain why they didn’t move me as games but still made my gaming better.

1. Primetime Adventures (1st ed.)

Cover: Primetime AdventuresWhy I didn’t like it: (1) The very minimalist randomization mechanic (essentially heads-or-tails results) was frustratingly insufficient to provide either suspense or a good sense of an ability’s usefulness, i.e., how good are you at anything if the roll results are more important than the ability score.  I note that this changed with the 2nd edition, so I must not have been the only one unsatisfied with the mechanic.  However, the new mechanic involves getting a certain number of playing cards that will be used to resolve the action.  I have not played this version, but I would fear the effect found in _Castle Falkenstein_, which also resolved skill use with playing cards and where the cards were far more important than your ability rating.

(2) The screen presence score per episode got in the way of story development for me; showing up for an episode where I knew I had low screen presence felt like I was condemned to be a cheerleader, no matter how good an idea I might have, and even if the player with higher screen presence was off his or her game that night.  And if someone with high screen presence could not make it for a certain episode, you might as well cancel the game for the evening.

(3) The fan mail mechanic, while a clever idea, did not work all that smoothly in our group, perhaps because not all players wanted to reward the same aspects of play.

(4) The aspect that most bugged bugged me was the use of a a character “issue” as a funnelling device for all important action.  While I agree that player characters are more interesting when they are focused, being reduced to a single issue per character made the PCs repetitive and clichéd.  I prefer more richly detailed characters.

Why it made me think: The series and episode pacing really made me think about structure and how best to provide and use it. Before that, I had thought mostly in terms of characters, acts, and overall episode.  This filled in the levels between character and act (scenes) and above episode (series or arcs).

2. Dogs in the Vineyard

Cover: Dogs in the VineyardWhy I didn’t like it: Maybe it’s a bit harsh to list this as a game I didn’t like.  While I had zero interest in the original setting, a friend of mine ran a noir game centred on the Black Dahlia murder, and it worked very well.  On the other hand, the idea that player characters essentially create and/or impose the morality scale in a setting was both attractive and creepy, and so I tend to be picky about which group of people I can play this game with.

Why it made me think: (1) The conflict escalation idea — from e.g., social to physical to armed — was a terrific idea.  It definitely led to changes in the way I approach conflict in games, both as a player and as a GM.  (2) Fallout — the idea that taking damage or failure in conflict leads to lasting changes in your character — was also quite interesting, though the specific mechanic made it a little less portable to other games.

3. Burning Empires

Cover: Burning EmpiresWhy I didn’t like it: Ah well. I actually wrote a review on for this game, and in so doing got some people frothing mad at me.  In short, BE was way too rules-heavy for me or the rest of my group, and to top it off it didn’t provide a setting section I could have used with another system.

Why it made me think: (1) The world-building part of setting up the game was very successful and popular even with players who otherwise hated the game.  While many other games before and since have included an initial world-building step, BE did this in a very organized fashion that provided cohesion to the result, and character and NPC creation tied directly into it.  This gave the players significant investment in the setting.

(2) The explicit use of different scene types in play made me reflect on what a scene should do to advance a story. BE used Colour Scenes (no dice rolling, just setting the stage or the mood), Interstitial Scenes (conversations and interactions between characters, no dice rolling), Building Scenes (all right, we finally get to use those skills and roll some dice!), and Conflict Scenes (the big stuff).  In essence, this expanded for me the thinking started with Primetime Adventures and made me reflect more deeply on what I should try to create in a given scene; it also provided a vocabulary to discuss this with the rest of the group.  In addition, the idea that not every scene should be a big conflict, that the action should be reserved for centrepiece scenes, led to better pacing.

4. Apocalypse World

Cover: Apocalyse WorldWhy I didn’t like it: For one thing, I did not resonate with the setting or most of the original playbooks (character templates or archetypes).  Gamers have created a variety of hacks to adapt it to other published settings (from A|state to Doctor Who and from Battlestar Galactica to A Song of Ice and Fire) and some have been successfully published as new settings, like Monsterhearts  and Dungeon World, so that initial hurdle has at least been partly remedied.  But overall, the mechanics also fail to get me excited.  I don’t have strong criticism, I just find them uninteresting.  Fortunately for me, I played with fun GMs and players so the actual stories were good, but I felt like all the good stuff could have been generated with just about any system.

Why it made me think: The Chinese menu approach to action resolution.  Just as the character creation process relies of picking a few options from a menu — not in itself a new idea — actions are also resolve that way: pick a “Move” from a list of 10 to 20 that may apply to your character, roll the dice, and depending on your level of success, pick a certain number of options from the list. For example, if roll to “read a situation”, depending on your result you may get to ask the GM zero to four questions from the GM.  What this provides is an even-handed resolution of challenges that is often lacking in role-playing games; all too often, certain skills have specific resolution mechanics but others are vague and left to GM decision.  AW’s menu approach provides both choices and structure.

In fact, I assume that this menu approach is largely what made the game so popular, even though it was not quite enough to make me become fond of the entire system.


Breaking wave, Del Norte County, California.  February 13, 2010.It’s been over three years since I posted on my personal blogs and over two since I posted on my professional blog.  Instead, I’ve been posting to specialized blogs and forums like deviantART or Cartographers’ Guild, and to social media like Google+, Facebook and Pinterest, as well as sharing public docs like my recipes through Google Drive.  I want to try to regroup my scattered writings so I can find and share them more easily, so I’ll start by reusing this old one.  I think I will also copy some key posts from other locations to bring them here and back-date them, so things may look a little confusing, but I think that’s OK.

Big Bad Con highlights

Highlights of Big Bad Con for me: +Edmund Metheny‘s game of Meddling Kids on Friday night in the Games on Demand room, for three players who were new to role-playing; +Jeremy Tidwell‘s Companions game (a Doctor Who hack for Apocalypse World), also in GoD; a brief game of PDQ/Knights of the Realm I ran for GoD but didn’t have time to finish, alas; Joseph Harney’s “Rocket Nazis on the Orient Express,” a Savage Worlds game; my turn at running +Epidiah Ravachol‘s City of Fire and Coin (here’s a link to an actual play report on; and finally, a perfect convention closer, +Leonard Balsera‘s Jedi Fiasco.  Also, meeting lots of people I usually only see online or at conventions, and meeting fun new gamers.

Big Bad Con is now officially my favourite convention.  Lots of indie games, hacks, experiments, story games, playtests, and new or offbeat games.  People seem to come mentally prepared to try new things; rather than dip their toes cautiously in the water, they dive in.  I’d also swear — pending confirmation with some attendance numbers — that the gender ratio is more balanced than in most of the gaming conventions I’m familiar with.  All in all, I have not had a single unpleasant person at any of the six games I played or ran this weekend.