Colony Wars: Casting call

For Big Bad Con this weekend, I have scheduled a game that uses Robin D. Laws’ DramaSystem from his new role-playing game Hillfolk (Pelgrane Press), along with a series pitch from Emily Care Boss (also published in Hillfolk) called “Colony Wars.”

One of the handouts I created is a collection of photos that can be used  represent characters, especially on the relationship map that is one of the core elements of the game.  I used celeb photos, so you can play a little game trying to see how many you can recognize.  My friends will also spot several of these from other games where I’ve used them.  As usual, I was trying to go for diversity and balance; comments welcomed.

Do you know, real people smile too much in their photos?  It’s awfully hard to get that “Oh shit, we’re about to impact an asteroid!” look outside movies.

Download as a PDF file (3 pages, 4. MB).

Photos for Colony Wars: sample

AT&T Customer Support Activity Book!

phoneThings to do while you’re on the phone with AT&T:

  • Add “Between the sheets” to the end of every pre-recorded message.
  • Take a drink every time they tell you not to text and drive.
  • Take a shot every time an AT&T employee says “Huh, that’s odd…”
  • Draw a flow chart of the processing of your request, including the customer support tickets, e-mails, online chats, phone calls, and transfers from one department to another.
  • Draw a flowchart of what AT&T tells you the process actually is.
  • Circle the differences between the two.
  • Draw a pie chart of your actual use of the service compared to (1) time spent waiting for support and (2) unsolicited marketing calls, e-mails and mail.
  • Look for the survey to take to inform them that their online survey form is broken.
  • As a relaxation exercise, visualise the NSA also having to deal with AT&T.  That’s the only consolation you get.

Yeah, if I had more time to waste, I’d illustrate this.

shokunin_clock clock_number_tiles_3 piechart

Camelot Trigger: Arthurian romance and big mech suits

Sample Camelot Trigger character

It’s Big Bad Con next weekend and I’m running a game that uses Rob Wieland‘s CAMELOT Trigger setting (published in Evil Hat Productions’ Fate Worlds, vol. 2: Worlds in Shadow), but using the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) system instead of the more detailed Fate Core.

I figure that for a convention, it makes sense to use the lightest rules possible.  It also makes sense to have pre-generated characters in order to both save time and establish some party coherence, so I created six knights and their big mecha armour.  I left the characters semi-finished so the players would be encouraged to add aspects and stunts, or even modify the existing ones.

You can download the draft version of the characters in PDF form: FAE Camelot Trigger charactersFeedback and help in improving them is appreciated!

If you’re interested, you can also read thoughts I posted a while ago about running convention games, and how preparation is different from a recurring game in an established group.

Blog To-Do List of Tall Orders

Black cat on top of a book pileHaving now thoroughly promised more on this blog than I can deliver unless I set priorities and timelines, I’ll ‘fess up to what readers can realistically expect, in descending order of priority:

1.  Notes related to the games I’m running at Big Bad Con next weekend: two scheduled games, Rob Wieland’s CAMELOT Trigger using Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) instead of Fate Core, and Emily Care Boss’s Colony Wars series pitch for Robin D. Laws’ Drama System; and two stand-by packs for Games on Demand, The Muppet Show for FAE based on Tom “Blue” Tyson’s playset, and Jared Sorensen’s psychotronic game of post-apocalypse octaNe.  Since I’ve committed to those months ago and the whole thing is going to be over in a few days (Big Bad Con runs October 4-6, 2013), they go first.

2. Notes related to writing the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions.  The project is on a short schedule, it’s a contract commitment, and it’s fun.  I’ll probably concentrate a lot of effort on this through March 2014, then  it should decrease as the book will then belong to other team members.

3. The last post in my Fate of the Budayeen series.  I’ve had it outlined since I posted the previous entry, and I started writing the first section but the other commitments must take priority for now.  Still, I’ll slip it in as soon as I can while I still have momentum, so I hope to post it in October 2013.

4. The occasional cooking post.  They don’t take much time to write and I like sharing recipes.  Posts of opportunity only.

5. The book club notes, maybe.  It looks like the Goodreads book club is moribund right now, but should it rise from its ashes, I enjoy writing pop culture notes on the monthly selections.  If it lives, and if I can fit it in, monthly posts.

6. Occasional game reports.  I’ll continue to post my character sheets and pictures when I play, and if I have time, mini-reviews of games I try.  Posts of opportunity only.

7. Wild promise #1: Fate of the Skyrealms.  Yes, I announced I wanted to use FAE to adapt Skyrealms of Jorune and I still think it’s a great project, but it will have to wait.  Probably a lot, like summer 2014 at the earliest.  I’m pretty sure I made other equally ambitious project announcements I can’t recall right now, and they will have to wait too.

War of Ashes: Questions

Continuing the brainstorming session for setting up an outline as I work on the War of Ashes RPG, to be powered by Fate Accelerated: today, I ask a bunch of questions.

Jaarl rock standard bearerWho is it for?

Let’s think for a minute about who is likely to be interested by this game, who I really hope will want to take a look—in other words, my target audience:

(1) People of all ages and venues.  The setting is whimsical enough to attract the young at heart, but not at all intended to be targeted at kids.   I need to offer some flexibility in adjusting the grimness and whimsy dials within a certain range.

(2) Intro RPG for newcomers.  It’s not only my strong personal preference but also my mandate to write a game that will not be targeted at grognards who buy every game that comes out, but at everyone who might enjoy the role-playing hobby and doesn’t know it yet.

(3) Sourcebook for the WoA:S miniatures gamers.  Players of the War of Ashes: Shieldwall miniature game and its upcoming supplements should find background and setting value in this book even if they never play the RPG version.

(4) Gamers who might like a tongue-in-cheek take on fantasy.  If you liked Glorantha, Low Life, HOL, Mouse Guard, or the earlier and wackier army lists for the Skaven, the Orks or the Squat, this might be for you.

(5) Fate and FAE fans.  I hope that the ideas we use in terms of mechanics will be interesting and stimulating to Fate fans—for example, to connect Fate to miniatures and maps, thus going back to the roots of role-playing games, or in using the Fate fractal for group combat, or in creating Extras for the magic system.

What is it for?

I figure a role-playing game is not just a book to read for personal interest but a tool that will be used by people who need to find useful answers to specific questions.  Offhand, there are three areas that tend to generate questions in a licensed game:

  • Questions about the setting “canon”;
  • Questions about how to use the setting material in a specific campaign;
  • Questions about mechanics.

I’m going to jot down a bunch of such questions I might want to ask as a game master picking up this book.  Additional questions are welcomed—I don’t have any reason to think the way I use game books is universal.  ^_^

Questions about the Agaptus setting

  1. What does daily life look like for each faction?
  2. Are they diurnal?
  3. Do they sleep long nights or short naps?
  4. How does religion work off the battlefield?
  5. What do they eat and drink?
  6. What do their family and social structures look like?
  7. What do their economies look like?
  8. What do the spectrum of political ideas and social values look like for each faction, i.e., what does a rebellious young Jaarl or conservative old Vorix sound like?
  9. Are the narrators in WoA:S, especially the Elvorix scribe Seadros Bibulus, reliable—or would a different observer describe things very differently?
  10. What do the different languages sound like? Are the various Jaarl ranks and titles just the Elvorix words approximating the concepts, or do the Jaarl actually use them?
  11. Will there by an overarching explanation of the events of the Great Catastrophe as seen from various factions (linking the drop in solar radiation/cooling of the climate, the Murmadon volcano eruption, etc.) and of what is to be expected next?

Questions about running a game

(Campaign seeds)

  1. How do I set up a homogeneous party (all from one faction—Elvorix, Vidaar, or Jaarl)?
  2. How do I set up a heterogeneous party?
  3. What if one of my players really wants to play a Kuld, a Nhilde troll, or some other critter not intended to be a PC?
  4. Can the PCs be gods?
  5. How much can I fill in the setting? e.g. Can I create—
  • new cultures or nations for the existing species?
  • entirely new species?
  • new wonders among the ruins left by the Ancient Elvorix?
  • new islands and continents?
  • new deities?
  • new magic?

Questions about game mechanics

  1. [Edit] The basics, e.g.
    • How do I create a character?
    • How do the die rolls work?
    • How does damage work?
    • What’s the difference between Aspects and Consequences?
  2. How do I plug my RPG into the miniatures games? e.g.
  • How do I create FAE stats for my WoA:S characters?
  • How do I create WoA:S stats for my FAE characters?
  • How do I run the personal stuff in the RPG and the big battles in WoA:S while keeping the storyline working?
  1. How do I use the Fate/FAE dials to:
  • Replicate the feel of the WoA:S miniatures game?
  • Make my game lighter or darker to suit my group?
  • Create new spells or magic effects that are proportionate with the existing ones?
  • Model the effects or characteristics of ancient, superior technology?

What are your questions?

Ilk - the Jaarl's Doomsday weapon

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

War of Ashes: Grokking the Setting

Elvorix Ylark unit

This is where I start jotting down ideas as I work on the War of Ashes RPG which will be powered by Fate Accelerated.  I must warn readers in advance that these posts may be more disjointed than usual; I will not be making my normal efforts to provide the whole context to understand the posts as standalone essays.  This is not because I want to be sloppy, but because I’d rather put the effort in writing the game itself.  Comments and suggestions are welcomed nonetheless!

Whenever I start a new research, investigation, art or writing project, I start by gathering background material and inspirations. In this case, these sources will have to do with the Agaptus setting and the Fate mechanics.

So first things first, let’s think about the flavour of ZombieSmith’s War of Ashes miniatures game and its setting, the world of Agaptus.1  This is the #1 criterion: if we fail to convey what’s cool, special and fun about it in translating it to a role-playing game, the project is a failure — possibly a golden failure, but a failure all the same.

The ZombieSmith folks coined the expression “grimsical” to describe the flavour of War of Ashes: grim + whimsical.  Think of the whimsy of Jim Henson’s television shows like Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show, married to dark, gritty military fantasy like Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, Saxon Tales and Grail Quest series, or Glenn Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company.  In my experience, a lot of gamers resonate with a campaign that unfolds with humour and silliness, but also with actual drama and dire consequences.

The creatures are funny-looking, muppet-style, and have amusing or offbeat abilities — but at the same time, we’re reminded of the British Isles in the Early Middle Ages after the Romans have left, leaving marvels of architecture the locals cannot replicate.  There are also hints of the folly of societies who keep right on doing what has led to their near extinction (think of the French, English or Russian Courts at the time of their respective nations’ revolutions, or the original inhabitants of Easter Island.)

So here are the inspirations that came to mind as I was reading War of Ashes: Shieldwall.  (Fellow team members, please feel free to add or dispute.)

  • illustrations and books by Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Andy Hopp;
  • movies like Monsters Inc. (Pete Docter, Pixar), Mononoke-hime (Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli), Antz (Eric Darnell, DreamWorks), The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson Studios), and The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, Touchstone Studios);
  • games like the original WH40K: Rogue Trader, Bloodbowl (both from Games Workshop), Low Life (Pinnacle Entertainment), etc.;
  • any soundtracks by Danny Elfman, Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des animaux, Edvard Gieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Johann Sibelius’ Finlandia and The Tempest, etc.

However, my primary source of inspiration is the stunning art created by ZombieSmith‘s Josh Qualtieri, Jonathan Hoffman, Noah Bradley, Jennifer Bach, and the rest of their team.  I envision creating a lot of my text sections by building around images I find particularly inspiring as a gamer.  We’re in an unusually enviable position here: there are already tons of art available, and ZombieSmith folks produce more every day.  Unlike most RPGs during design, I know exactly how the illos will look in the book!

Elvorix Village

The second part of gathering my sources is assembling the tools I have for tinkering with Evil Hat Productions’ Fate Accelerated.  Fortunately for me, several high-quality resources are at hand, both among official publications and fan-written essays:

1Agaptus is both the name of the planet [question: or “continent”?] which encompasses the isles of Sentia, Matriga, and Iradon; and the name of the supreme deity of the Elvorix people, first to settle on the isle of Sentia. Return
Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

War of Ashes RPG

Vorix skirmisherI guess the critter is out of the bag about the game I will be writing for, as we have received official permission to talk about the project development.  (Fred Hicks talks about it in today’s blog entry.)  The working title is War of Ashes RPG, although this may change; it will be a role-playing game based on the intellectual property from ZombieSmith, publisher of the miniatures game War of Ashes: Shieldwall, and implemented using Evil Hat Productions’ Fate Accelerated system.

Last night was an excellent, stunningly productive meeting — believe me, it’s usually my job as project manager to try to herd cats, and it was lovely to watch Evil Hat’s Sean Nittner skilfully do the herding.  Good Lord, we started1 and ended on time, we had a discussion agenda and action items, and Sean sent meeting notes the same night.  We established responsibilities, lines of communication, schedule, and basic process.2 This is new territory, getting all this without having to beg for it!


This was my first in-person view of ZombieSmith’s WoA miniatures, but you can have a look at some on their site (they’re even nicer live!)  The hope is that we can come up with a game that will remain role-playing but will readily plug into the miniatures game.  It’s not as easy as it sounds; if you’ve tried it this with Clan War/Legends of the Five Rings (AEG), Warhammer Fantasy Battles/Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (Games Workshop), Warhammer 40,000/Dark Heresy (Games Workshop/Fantasy Flight Games), BattleTech/BattleTech RPG (FASA), etc., you know how tricky it can be.  This will be a role-playing game first and foremost, but we’ll try very hard to use Fate Accelerated’s flexibility to match the games as closely as possible.

I will be using this blog as a notebook of ideas, a sounding board, and I suspect, an overflow for all the stuff that won’t fit in a single book.

1 Except for the fact that half of us literally missed Levar Burton’s visit to EndGame by seconds.  While this picture was being taken, we were around the corner on the sidewalk, wondering: “Where are they?  I thought they were right behind us?”  Return.

2 The perverse part of me suggests that I should now answer only every fourth or fifth e-mail, starting each time with “I didn’t read all that, can you summarize for me?” Kind of like the jerks who refuse to tip because they were shorted on tips when they delivered pizza as teenagers. But no, I’m not one of them. Return.

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

Fate News for Me!

Pen and pencil clipartI’m bubbling with excitement over my big news: as of a few days ago, I’ve signed a contract with Evil Hat Productions to write the text of a new sourcebook which will use the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) system.

FATE Accelerated coverThe kickoff meeting for the project is tonight, which is why I can’t resist blabbing a very little about it.  I don’t yet know how much I will be able to tell about the project and the writing process while I’m working on it, so I can’t drop any details yet.  But the team assembled for the project is fantastic, and I’m just delighted to be part of it.

That said, I still have to produce the posts I promised on adapting licensed settings to FAE, but the last couple of weeks have been busy with work and personal stuff, so blog entries had to take a backseat.  Soon!  (Possibly after Big Bad Con on October 4-6, though.)

Apocalypse World: Exodus

Over on his blog, Edmund posted the game summary from last night Apocalypse Word game.  He came up with this fantastic premise: a slower-than-light colony ship sent from Earth generations ago, where something went wrong.  He also posted some lingo, and short bios of the player characters.

I wanted to add the characters’ pictures:

Raven Raksha
Raven Raksha the Battlebabe
(played by Sophie)
Jackson (played by Alan)
Jackson the Hardholder
(played by Alan)
Jay the Angel (played by Christine)
Jay the Angel
(played by Christine)

Pop Culture Wicked Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes coverI’m a little late for the “pop culture” links for this month’s reading in my SF/F book club, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.  (I’m even later with my essay for last month’s book, never mind that!)  Back in April we read another Bradbury book, The Martian Chronicles, for our SF/F class and I posted some links as well as my essay.

First, a reminder that you can read a large number of Bradbury’s stories online thanks to  But let’s concentrate on this specific book: Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962, so although it’s over 50 years old, it’s still well within copyright protection, which means no legal free copies online.  Many editions are available for purchase, including as a full-cast audiobook and in graphic novel format.

The novel was made into the 1983 Disney film Something Wicked This Way Comes, with Bradbury as the screenwriter. In a later interview, Bradbury said that he considered the film one of the better adaptations of his works.

Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company also debuted a play based on the novel in Los Angeles on October 1, 2003, directed by Alan Neal Hubbs, also associated with the 1970 stage adaptation of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. The play received generally favourable reviews, stating that it captured the lyricism and dark tone of the novel, and praising its special effects.

The novel was also produced as a full-cast radio play by the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air, and released by Blackstone Audio on October 1, 2007; Bradbury wrote the script, modified for audio from his stage play.  It was was produced as a radio play for the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play series as a different adaptation, and was broadcast on 29 October 2011 and 7 December 2012.

Many popular culture references and influences can be found in television shows, novels, comics, and games, from The Simpsons to South Park.  Wikipedia cites no less than six songs or albums named for the book.  More generally, just about any creepy travelling carnival, like the one in later seasons of Heroes, or the focus of the excellent HBO mini-series Carnivàle, contains a nod to Bradbury’s novel.  Heck, wouldn’t you say that Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which we read a few months ago, also contained a bit of an homage with its bizarre, carnivalesque entertainments at the House on the Rock?


Ferris wheel at night © David Karp 2007.  No copyright challenge intended, it’s just a gorgeous photo that I wanted you to see.