Harlem Hunters

I was too tired to run the finale of City of Mist: Dead of Night yesterday so instead we created our group of hunters for Harlem Unbound: Monster of the Week Edition.

We had an extensive brainstorming session for our group concept, and settled on a small periodical/alternate weekly newspaper, The Black Cat’s Meow. Our team of Hunters are not the owners but they are the heart and soul of the newspaper.

Blanchard

Using the Expert playbook, Blanchard is an aspiring playwright and novelist. He started his career as a black vaudeville actor on the Chitlin’ Circuit, where he was involved in a play derived from a heavily redacted version of The King in Yellow. This changed him in subtle ways, and he found himself driven to uncover the truth behind the supernatural which he now realizes is everywhere around him. He’s the archivist and a senior writer at the newspaper.

Starting moves:

  • Haven: Lore Library, Mystical Library, Protection Spells
  • I’ve Heard About This Sort of Thing
  • Often Right

Delia Ross

Based on the Spooky playbook, Delia is the up-and-coming society page editor and advice column writer. Her polished appearance hides another facet: she is the grand-daughter and apprentice to a successful if discreet conjure-woman (grandma has not yet been named). She doesn’t yet fully control her powers and as a result, struggles with side effects of occasional hallucinations, lust, and poor impulse control.

Starting moves:

  • The Sight
  • Hunches
  • The Big Whammy

Persephone Fox

Built on the Flake playbook, Persephone is a young conspiracy theorist who happens to be right more often that not. She is also Blanchard’s niece. Although few people take her seriously (aside from the other Hunters), Persephone sees all. and has a finely honed talent for investigation.

Starting moves:

  • Connect the Dots
  • See? It All Fits Together
  • Suspicious Mind

Whales

Based on the Hard Case playbook (2020 version), Whales is the workman of all odd jobs at the newspaper, a job he got thanks to Blanchard; before that he was a dockworker and day laborer. He served in France with the 369th Infantry “Harlem Hellfighters” and came back a changed man, now driven more by willpower than anger. If you need the printing press moved or the delivery truck loaded, Whales is your man.

Starting moves:

  • Hard Knocks: Street Fighter
  • Furnace
  • Unstoppable
  • Ascetic

As part of character creation, we created a relationship map between the Hunters using the ready-made backdrop included in Evil Hat Productions’ Roll20 modules for Monster of the Week.


Photo credits: Nathan Francis Mossell, c. 1882, University of Pennsylvania archives; James Van Der Zee, Strolling, 1925, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York; unknown; and Laborer (Stevedore Longshoreman, Norfolk, Virginia), from the project The Negro in Virginia, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Next: Harlem Unbound

My bi-weekly campaign Ariadne’s Spindle, which explores the universe of The Expanse using the Fate system, is going swimmingly. Dead of Night, my weekly series of City of Mist, is reaching the Season 1 finale after about 25 episodes and very satisfying gaming. So here I am, planning another limited series, which will be set in Darker Hue Studios’ Harlem Unbound.

Cover of Harlem Unbound

This award-winning book offers Lovecraftian mythos investigations amidst the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-30s. I have the original edition, which was statted for both the GUMSHOE (Pelgrane Press) and Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium) systems. A second edition has just been released under the auspices of Chaosium, statted only for CoC but offering four new scenarios; the contents otherwise look substantially the same. I may eventually purchase the PDF version to get these scenarios when I have a bit of spare change; however, neither of these systems floats my boat as GM.

Instead, I decided to use Monster of the Week (Generic Games/Evil Hat Productions), a game Powered by the Apocalypse with which I am very comfortable: I playtested the Revised Edition, I wrote a scenario for the Tome of Mysteries supplement, and along with Sean Nittner and Fred Hicks, I put together the five adventure compilations on Roll20. It’s like taking off my steel-toed boots and getting into my slippers.

Continue reading “Next: Harlem Unbound”

Carnival of Mystery

Our friend Bryanna ran a game of Monster of the Week last night for two other friends, Edmund, and me. It’s a custom mystery but she used some of the tools we (Evil Hat Productions) included in the recently released Monster of the Week collection modules on Roll20. It was gratifying that she found a lot of use from the material even running a brand new mystery.

Our hunters were members of a travelling carnival that tries to bring wonder wherever they go and help the towns we visit. We played Chief, a Spooktacular carnival master (Edmund); Lydia,, a Constructed tattooed woman (me); Valentine, a Hex stage magician (Steve); and Violet, a Pararomantic fortune-teller (Dani). All of these are from the newer playbooks released by Generic Games.

A couple of screenshots from last night’s game:

The relationship map between our hunters using the template in Evil Hat’s Roll20 modules.
The playmat, as customized by Bryanna with images she chose but using the Evil Hat format and tools – right when I rolled that big juicy failure that advanced the countdown clock!

#MayRPGQ2018: Part 1

For May, we have another neat challenge for tabletop role-playing game enthusiasts, the #MayRPGQ2018 challenge from Brie Sheldon. It has questions for the even days of the month.

May 2: How do you introduce yourself?

To other gamers, I usually mention my long-time online handles, dating back 20 years: Anemone, Evil Anemone, Méchante Anémone, and variations thereof. If I know we have gamer friends in common, I mention them. And to publishers, I mention that I have written for Atlas Games, Evil Hat Productions, Generic Games, Vigilance Press, and ZombieSmith, and that I am project manager for the Fate line at Evil Hat (plus awesome new responsibilities I’ll talk about later this month.) I do have gamer business cards I use at conventions! Continue reading “#MayRPGQ2018: Part 1”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 25 through 30

Final round of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 25: Being a tabletop role-playing game designer means…

Argh! This kind of question makes me worry about gate-keeping. I feared at the beginning of this challenge that many people would self-select out because of impostor syndrome.

I think of the definition as flexible and inclusive: if you create games, supplements, scenarios, settings, rules, playbooks, worksheets, and other tools to share with the world, if you listen to constructive critique and try to improve, if you keep polishing your work, then I’d say you are a game designer.

I’m not saying that keeping your meticulous DM campaign notes since the first game of D&D you ran in 1979 and trying to run games in that compendium at every convention makes you a game designer. Based on my training as an engineer, I think that in order to qualify as a designer:

  • You need to articulate what it is you are trying to create.
  • You need to separate the product of your work from your own identity, enough to listen to reasonable criticism.
  • You need to want to improve the product of your work even if the improvement goes in a new direction.
  • You need to keep informed about approaches other designers have used to solve similar problems so you don’t try to reinvent the wheel or publish fantasy heartbreakers.
  • You need to think of several different solutions to every problems rather than pre-select based on bias.
  • You need to try, evaluate, reject or refine, and try again until your design can be pronounced good by comparing to your objectives.

These are features of design, any kind of design. It’s not about how many copies you sold, or how long you have been working on an idea.

Continue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 25 through 30”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 19 through 24

Part 4 of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 19: Game that’s most essential to your design?

Fate Core CoverThese days it would be Fate Core, since a lot of the projects I’m writing for are Fate games: Fate Infiltration Toolkit, Tianxia Rules Companion, Uprising: The Dystopian Universe RPG. I’ve also got a small item for Monster of the WeekContinue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 19 through 24”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 13 through 18

Part 3 of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 13: Biggest influence?

In roughly chronological order:

Over The Edge by Jonathan Tweet (Atlas Games); Robin’s Laws of Good Game-mastering by Robin Laws (Steve Jackson Games); Truth & Justice and The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo by Chad Underkoffler (Atomic Sock Monkey Press); Fate Accelerated by Clark Valentine, Leonard Balsera, Fred Hick, Mike Olson, and Amanda Valentine (Evil Hat Productions).

 

But the funny thing is that I also got influences from games I thought were deeply flawed such as:

Primetime Adventures, The Esoterrorists, Burning Empires, Apocalypse World,

Continue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 13 through 18”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 7 through 12

Continuing with Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 7: Your workspace.

The important thing about my workspace is that it includes cats. At least one, usually two, even three when the afternoon sun shines on my desk.

Also includes: an antique mahogany roll-top desk, bookcases mostly filled with RPGs (but only a fraction of the ones we own!), a worktable opposite the desk, and my computer (running on Ubuntu 16.04, with Wacom Intuos 5×9 tablet.)  Continue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 7 through 12”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 1 through 6

Kira Magrann started a cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge. Everyone who participates in creating RPGs is invited to chime in! Kira’s list of daily questions is included at the bottom of this post. They’re mostly short answers on Twitter and other social media, but I thought I would re-post them here in small groups, with better grammar and a few more characters.

Day 1: Who are you?

I’m Sophie Lagacé, a Canadian expatriate living in the San Francisco Bay, avid gamer, convention organizer, blogger, and game writer. I write and manage projects for Evil Hat Productions, and write freelance for Vigilance Press, Atlas Games, Generic Games, ZombieSmith, etc.

My career outside games has been as a civil and environmental engineer.  Continue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 1 through 6”

Playtest Report: Monster of the Week

Monster of the Week coverI’ve talked a few times about the role-playing game Apocalypse World (Lumpley Games, 2010), especially here and here. This month, I get to playtest Generic Games’ hack of the AW system, Monster of the Week, in its most recent version. It’s a short turnaround playtest effort organized by Generic Games’ partner in the U.S., Evil Hat Productions; my understanding is that this new edition will be a chance to release a high-quality print version in the U.S. at reasonable cost, rather than have the choice between good printing but expensive shipping costs from New Zealand, or more affordable but lower quality print-on-demand copies from Lulu.It’s also a chance for author Michael Sands to fine-tune his game.

Like the popular AW hack Monsterhearts, Monster of the Week is meant to emulate urban horror series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural, The X Files, The Dresden Files, or Twenty Palaces. However, where Monsterhearts focuses on the teen angst aspects, MotW places the emphasis on action drama. This is much more to my taste, I like Scooby-Doo stuff for grown-ups.

The game provides a re-write and re-skin of the AW moves, completely different playbooks, a richer History phase that solidly ties the player characters (“Hunters”), and a new stat called Luck that provides resilience but also moves Hunters gradually towards the ultimate fate. Experience is changed from the first edition; while it originally followed the AW model with experience gained for using stats highlighted by other players each episode, it’s now earned for every failed roll instead like in Dungeon World (Sage Kobold Productions, 2012), an approach I like much better. Instead of your character growing for acting out other people’s choices, you now have an incentive to accept failure, which is very true to genre and easier to track.

Another change is that the GM (“Keeper”) uses “mysteries” instead of fronts to create the opposition. They’re mysteries in the most basic sense that they start with something unknown with an agenda, not in the sense of necessitating involved investigative skills like an Agatha Christie murder mystery. Each mystery includes at least one monster, one or more minions, some bystanders, and some locations. A starter mystery is provided, and Generic Games & Evil Hat Productions requested it be playtested, along with the Keeper advice for how to set up a first session. The mystery is called “Dream Away the Time” and is set in the cute New England town of Handfast. This review will contain spoilers, so I’ll place the rest after the cut.

[SPOILERS BELOW.] Continue reading “Playtest Report: Monster of the Week”