Listen to the Return of Castle Falkenstein!

I’ve been a fan of Castle Falkenstein since 1994 when I grabbed a copy of the newly released role-playing game. I have run it straight at the table and online, I’ve adapted it for alternate systems such as Theatrix, PDQ, and Fate Core (though I’m still unenthusiastic about the spellcasting rules in the latter, need to think more about them). For many old gamers like me, R. Talsorian Games‘ Castle Falkenstein represented a sea change at the time, no longer concentrating on dice rolling and stat values as much as the fiction created around the player characters.

Although the original Castle Falkenstein books are long out of print, they were eventually scanned and released as PDF versions on DriveThruRPG. But until recently, the latest supplement released by RTG had been, if memory serves, The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie in 1998; and a GURPS Castle Falkenstein supplement, The Ottoman Empire, had been released by Steve Jackson Games under license circa 2000.

This changed last year, when RTG allowed up-and-coming Fat Goblin Games to create and publish additional materials. Since last October, writer J Gray — long-time Falkenstein fan — has authored four supplements: Curious Creatures, a bestiary; The Tarot Variation, an alternate rule system for sorcery that uses a tarot deck instead of a regular playing cards; The Second Tarot Variation, which extends the use of tarot cards to all action; and Firearms and Margarine, an adventure.

J Gray is also a great person — and a great GM. Along with my husband, I’ve had the chance to play in J’s current online game. We’re alpha-playtesting a series of new alternate mechanic options that will allow customization of the Castle Falkenstein system for GMs who like to tinker. J has been recording the the episodes so far and releasing them as a podcast. You can see the campaign site on Obsidian Portal, and listen to the episodes on Fat Goblin GamesPresents. That will give you a preview of some of the rules we’re testing so you can try them too!

Zeppelin Attack! and other weekend fun

Zeppelin Attack!I confess, I did very little that was actually productive this weekend. I needed the R&R—it’s been hectic at work. The weekend went thus: Friday: play in Edmund’s playtest of my game, the War of Ashes RPG. It’s run via Skype and I have little effort to make since I’m merely a player, not the game master. Saturday: get a haircut, have pot-luck lunch and a game of our DramaSystem series, “To End All Wars,” then go out for teppan with a friend. Sunday: go see Guardians of the Galaxy for a second time on the big screen, and try a game of Zeppelin Attack! since we just got our copy this week along with the Doomsday Weapons expansion.

Zeppelin Attack! can be played with 2 to 4 players, but it was just Edmund and I. We picked our villains at random, I drew Jacqueline Frost and Edmund got Walking Mind. We did many things wrong which we corrected in play, but it’s clear that this is a game that will take a few tries to learn properly. We didn’t really start seeing the synergies between cards until the end. I say “end”, but really we just had to call it and stop because it was getting late. Nevertheless, it seems like there is a lot of tactical play possible. It’s more limited with just two players, I think it will be more fun with three or four because then you have to split your attack and defence strategies.

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”

War of Ashes RPG: Game on!


I just went through two playtest sessions of the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions: one tabletop game this weekend and one Skype-based session with a different group. So far, a few rough edges rules-wise but everyone is having a blast with ZombieSmith’s setting. I thought I’d share our set up at the end of our Skype game: using the whiteboard app, the grey boxes are zones, the yellow ones are aspects we created in play. The three little markers are our characters. (Click on the image to see bigger version.)

Credits:  Art for the markers © ZombieSmith 2013, used with permission.

Playtesting War of Ashes RPG!

Iva the StubbornEdmund singed up for the beta playtest phase of the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions. It’s curious and interesting to see someone else use the material without any input on my part (I’m staying hands-off.) he ran one via Skype last Monday and I listened in on part of the game; it sounded hilarious. Afterwards, he recapped it thus:

TONIGHT ON “THE GODS WHO LOVE TOO MUCH” the protagonists (Boegert  an Elvorix rasta priest and Liekenen, a Kuld scholar) – both members of the Society of Stone, meet with their contact (“the old one”) at the Bigg Inn – an establishment soon to be overrun by rampaging Kuld and filled with desperate refugees, escaping soldiers, and naer-do-wells.  The Old One gives them a task – to travel north to a long abandoned estate known as Grantham House, there to recover an ancient book called “How Things Work” before it can be devoured by the Kuldish horde.

Before they can embark on their assigned task, however, they are ambushed by strange Elvorix wearing dark cloaks to hide their glowing eyes.  Neither of the protagonists are skilled fighters, but manage to escape on stolen Guldul.  Likenein even manages to slay one of the attacking Elvorix, only to discover that the body is filled not with blood, but with ash. (also, it doesn’t taste very good).

Riding (very, very slowly) North the pair come to the lands of Grantham, where they discover that there is no life whatsoever, even in those things which appear alive.  Boegert summons the power of his healing herb and goes on a vision quest, in which he sees a huge volcano explode and cover an island with ash, burying entire cities, from which rise creatures with glowing red eyes.

Tune in next week for installment 2 of THE GODS WHO LOVE TOO MUCH!

I get to join in a tabletop test this afternoon with a different group and different characters. Again, I didn’t get involved with game planning but I did create a sheet of paper minis I’m pleased with. I need to check with ZombieSmith whether I can share it publicly, though.

It’s interesting to hear the preliminary feedback and to notice things differently now that I am re-reading the draft. I’ve already made notes for a number of inconsistencies to fix, generated by our last-minutes system changes. A number of rules I’d been trying when I ran the alpha playtest were replaced, so this will likely feel quite different today.

Credits:  Art © ZombieSmith 2013, used with permission.

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Playtest notes

Do-Fate-BannerI’ve been remiss in publishing my playtest notes for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. My two feeble excuses are (1) how busy I’ve been, and (2) the vain hope I had of cramming in more play sessions.

I ran Do:Fate of the Flying Temple for my husband Edmund, our friend Paul, and Paul’s ten-year-old son Kaito. We had all played the other game it’s based on, Daniel Solis’s Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. In fact, this is how we got the memorable quote from Kaito, trying to remind his father that they own that book: “It’s the brown book with the kid with the really spongy hair and the very green dragon!”

The adventure begins when the pilgrims return to the Flying Temple after answering a letter, only to discover that the Temple has disappeared. Left behind is a single dragon egg (cue the Targaryen jokes), which of course will soon hatch—and spit out a letter petitioning the Flying Temple for help. As part of the playtest setup, we were assigned the adventure “The Worlds Collide” by Colin Fredericks (found on p. 34 in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.)

The pilgrims’ players get to give the dragon some aspects, and more will be created in play as the pilgrims answer more letters. The dragon is supposed to learn and grow from the pilgrims’ actions and reflect their choices for better and for worse. It’s a built-in way to show the players what their characters have accomplished and where they are headed.

Our three pilgrims were Hard Flame (Kaito), who helped people with his mastery of fire and got in trouble by trying too hard; Marked Ghost (Paul), who helped people with his powers as a medium who spoke to the dead, and got in trouble by being Chosen of the Flying Temple; and Unseen Slug (Edmund), who helped people by being hard to notice and got in trouble by being slow of mind and body (he flipped banner and avatar, but I never noticed at the time; he just liked the name and was trying to pick aspects that would go with it.) I had made the character sheet forms to help with the character creation process.

Even with the background from Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, it was a little hard to get the game concepts across to Kaito, who is at the age of munchkinery and was trying very hard to game the system to have only advantages and no real trouble, or at least export his trouble onto others. He thinks in terms of computer games—bonuses, attacks, and powers—so he had an easier time grasping stunts than the more abstract aspects and approaches. He had a hard time committing to a choice, clearly worried that he was not optimizing as much as he could (which is funny, because even in this more power-based sort of game he’s not very good yet at optimizing, but hey, he’s ten.)

Things went a little long when it was time to pick dragon aspects, but they ended up creating Marmalade the orange dragon, with the aspects Elemental Earth Dragon, Inherited Wisdom of the Ages, and Guardian of the Diamond. I had also assigned the aspect Colliding Worlds to the adventure and made it visible for all to use, and of course the overarching The Flying Temple is Missing! aspect was in play.

Unfortunately, the game kept being interrupted by phone calls, text messages, and even a guest who arrived much earlier than expected. With each distraction, Kaito’s mind wandered a little more as well, so it was increasingly difficult to return to the game. This was compounded by the letter we had received, which was not one I would have recommended for this group. The problem was not immediate enough to hold the group’s attention, the language too flowery for Kaito, and no one could keep the faction, planet, and character names straight.

While the final interruption (the guest) put an end to the adventure and prevented us from finishing, we did have A number of aspects created in play, including Big Chunks of Eggshell (a boost), Friendly Ghosts in the Area, We Must Destroy Ishita, and another boost, It’s Bright and Clear, Now! which referred to the weather. I was getting the sense that the resolution was moving towards picking a side in the collision, not avoiding it.

We did not get a chance to try the Elegant Defense manoeuvre, an innovation of the game, nor to see the results of the lessons on Marmalade the dragon. Nevertheless, I want to try the game again because I think it’s very simple and elegant, but my gaming time has been severely rationed.

Image by Liz Radtke, first created for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.


Matrioshka (Russian dolls)I’ve been quiet on the blog this month because (1) I just started a new full-time job with a long commute, (2) I’m taking a couple of online classes, and (3) my free time has to go to addressing the review comments on the alpha draft of the War of Ashes RPG.  Some things I have to write as soon as I have time:

  • Report of first playtest of Do: Fate of the Flying Temple.
  • Report of first playtest of my Fate of Falkenstein hack.
  • Review of the online classes, which are very interesting.

What I really want to write about:

  • My latest Fate hack idea, adapting the world of Dragaera from Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos and Khaavren Romances series.

Because I’m like that, always with more ideas than time…

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Character sheet

Do-Fate-BannerI love you all, you know I do. And because I love you, I’m going to share the character sheet I just whipped together for this weekend’s playtest of Do: Fate of the Flying Temple.

But because I love you, I also respect you, so I must be truthful with you: I didn’t actually create this for you. I created it in the hope that it would be fun and helpful for my players, especially kids. 🙂

So here we are: if you want the PDF, click here; if you want the JPEG version, click on the image below. Fellow playtesters, feel free to use as needed; and fans who can’t wait for the game to come out and just want to create your own hack: Have at!

Character sheet for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Playtest document is in!

Do-Fate-BannerYesterday, I received the playtest document for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, which will be one of the final stretch goals from Evil Hat Productions’ Kickstarter campaign for Fate Core.

Here is the official pitch for the game:

In Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, the Flying Temple has mysteriously drifted away from its home in the center of the sky. It’s up to the Pilgrims to explore the worlds of Do to uncover the mystery. Along the way, they must raise a young dragon left behind after the temple’s disappearance.

This game is intended to be friendly to family, kids, and new gamers without dumbing things down. Its inspirations include Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Little Prince, and How to Train Your Dragon. It will be written by Mark Diaz Truman using the Fate Accelerated system and the setting from Daniel Solis’ lovely storytelling game, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

The playtest document is not the the full book that will be released later this year, but a short and sweet Fate Accelerated hack to play in the setting of the original story game, with simple but elegant additions. Most prominently, the Pilgrims (player characters) soon find themselves with a baby dragon to raise, and the dragon is treated as a sort of communal character thanks to the Fate Fractal, with everyone contributing dragon aspects a bit like group vehicles or organizations in Fate Core.

The dragon acts, changes, and grows to reflect the lessons learned with the Pilgrims; in this way, the GM gets to “show them what they did” to borrow the expression Elizabeth Sampat uses in her own game Blowback. I find this is always useful in role-playing games: convey to the players the changes their characters have effected on the game world. Here, the dragon becomes an embodiment of these changes, for good or ill. If the Pilgrims are careless, arbitrary, or unkind then their dragon will learn this behaviour from them and reflect it—resulting in consequences which the Pilgrims will have to deal with.

The other simple but useful refinement to FAE is instructions for the use of campaign and adventure aspects suggested by the fiction. Letters keep arriving for the Pilgrims, requesting help, and each letter suggests some temporary aspects. With the playtest rules came one of three sample letters to the Flying Temple (I believe these letters were randomly assigned to the 40 or so playtesters.) Ours is “The Worlds Collide” by Colin Fredericks (found on p. 34 in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.)

Based on what I’m seeing, I expect that the full book will need to offer a good deal of advice to GMs on how to plan and run adventures based on letters to the Pilgrims. With any luck, this would be a useful feature for all Fate GMs, especially if helps with improvisation.

Barring surprises, I will be trying this adventure with a small group this weekend.

Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Images by Liz Radtke, first created for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Flying in soon!

Do-Fate-BannerI’m looking forward to running playtest games for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. For those who are not familiar with the title, this is one of the final stretch goals from the incredibly successful Kickstarter funding campaign which Evil Hat Productions ran for Fate Core back in January 2013. The beta playtest document will be sent to playtesters in a few days, and I can’t wait.

Here is the official pitch for the game:

In Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, the Flying Temple has mysteriously drifted away from its home in the center of the sky. It’s up to the Pilgrims to explore the worlds of Do to uncover the mystery. Along the way, they must raise a young dragon left behind after the temple’s disappearance.

This game is intended to be friendly to family, kids, and new gamers without dumbing things down. Its inspirations include Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Little Prince, and How to Train Your Dragon. It will use the Fate Accelerated system and the setting from Daniel Solis’ lovely storytelling game, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

In the latter, the players took the roles of Pilgrims of the Flying Temple sent to answer requests for help. I had the pleasure and pride of supplying one of the letters for the core book back in 2008 or so when it was being designed. I have played this game with many groups of children and they always seem to enjoy it very much, so expect the response to the Fate-based sequel to go well, and of course the Fate Accelerated system is solid.

I’ll report in a few days when I have my grubby mitts on a playtest copy. Thankfully, Evil Hat Productions believe in transparency and encourages playtesters to share their observations.