Game stats for 2019 thus far

Data visualization

I haven’t been writing very regularly (read: almost not at all), mostly because I haven’t been all that inspired and driven to journal my games. But that isn’t because I haven’t been playing great games. In fact, it’s almost been the opposite, with amazing gaming in good quantity

Because I started working for Splunk earlier this year, which is a big data company, I’ve recently been playing the product to get more familiar with it, and that means playing with visualization. I grabbed my data, above, and threw it into my play space, and ran a few searches and visuals.

2019 thus far

So, here’s the dashboard I eventually created:

The dashboard!

The dashboard!

What have I learned? That I’ve played a shit-ton of For The Queen (duh), and next to that my most run games are ones friends have designed or that (gasp) I have a hand in designing:

Most played

Most played

Additionally the year started with a bunch of online gaming that has dwindled. I haven’t been playing online games almost at all in the last months. You can also see the peaks of game conventions here and there. And that when I play in conventions, there is a reduction in Meetup games (which makes sense since I’ve been out-of-town during those meetups). And I’ve played on airplanes twice this year!

Trends for playing in locations

Trends for playing in locations

Apparently I play more GM-less games than GM-based ones (48 games versus 37 games at this point in the year). Although the bulk of my gaming is in the 3-hour time range (about 2/5th of my games), I’ve played as many 4-hour, 2-hour, and even 1-hour games! I’ve also had a pretty wide variety of table sizes; again 4- and 5-person tables are the majority, but not by a huge margin, with many games of 2- and 3-players, and also many with 6 or more.

What will I do with this information? Right now, likely nothing more than just learning about a product, and a bit about my habits.

I was partly inspired by friend Gerrit in the early part of the year, prior to any of this visualization stuff, since he’s been tracking his games for some time. I’ve kept track of mine in a Google sheet that currently looks something like this:

Tomes Games 2019.08.21 - Google sheet.jpg

So, easy enough to keep going, and will just see how the trends change over time.

Everyone's A Suspect: A mysterious whodunnit of overly suspicious characters

Everyone’s A Suspect

Everyone's A Suspect is a game by Krin Irvine, in early release (found on DriveThruRPG here). I got to play it at Games on Demand at Origins 2019 with Krin running. The pitch sells itself. Basically: There’s been a murder, and one us has done the deed. We don’t know who until the end of the game, but every scene we play we try to look as guilty as possible. Inspired by those wonderful whodunnit murder shows, I found the game wonderfully easy to learn, play, and teach.

I’ve heard from a few folks have played it in prior years, and from what I’ve heard the mechanics have been simplified and distilled to a beautiful core. I’ll take their word on how the game has transformed, but can attest to how streamlined the game is and runs.

Some beautiful things about this game

The game is GMless, requiring just someone who can facilitate the rules, which are fairly simple. There are no dice requirements, as this is a card-based game that involves some story scene prompts, and some cards used as a player voting mechanic to determine who looks the most suspicious (which reminds you of mechanics from some party and group games like Apples to Apples or Dixit, but a little different as you know who you are voting for).

My favorite first thing you’ll find is the utter simplicity of world and scenario building. It is distributed across a number of cards titled, The World, The Small Town, The Murder Victim, etc. and involves a short list of 5 questions for each of these categories. We take turns passing this list of questions around, with everyone providing extremely simple answers to things like “What year is it?” or “What was the cause of death?”. By the time you’ve gone through these 4 cards, you’ve established a shared world and scenario. The questions do not require any sort of extravagant answers, and you can choose which of the still available questions you wish to answer, so the pressure on a player for any given question is extremely low, making this great to new role players and story gamers.

There are similar easy methods for building your characters, and then you dive into scenes that are broken up into 4 chapters. The chapters have their own set of cards and story prompts, giving you great guidance in setting up little scenes. Again, what’s lovely about the game is it provides two methods for setting scenes: Role Play or Narrate. A Role Play scene is what you’d expect from games like Fiasco, or Fall of Magic or other games where you frame and play out little encounters and situations. A Narrate scene is a short vignette that you perform, telling us what we see of the character, as the viewer. In either case, the person who sets that scene gets to call it when they think the scene is over, and also has the job of trying to look as guilty as possible.

The game is very much one where you discover the story and characters through play, as we don’t know who murdered the victim and why. As long as you don’t try to get too wrapped up in the details and are open to that discovery, it flows very easily.

The voting mechanics are a cornerstone of play, where at the end of each chapter (series of scenes), we secretly vote for people with point cards, based on how suspicious we find them (without voting for ourselves). This helps determine the play order for the next rounds, and eventually, helps determine the order we choose cards at the end of the game that determine the actual murderer… but it’s still a choice and there’s always uncertainty. We really don’t know who the murderer is until it’s revealed during the very last epilogue of the game.

Origins play through

At Origins, Krin facilitated this for 5 of us players (the maximum amount the game supports). We played in the early to mid 1900s, small town Arizona (or somesuch), where the owner of an antique shop had been shot and found in the desert.

I remember being very much into the sometimes silly, but also dark tone that we had in-game. Although I was never the most suspicious of the group, I never felt like I was “losing” the game, as the overall narrative, and my character’s arc, where very satisfying to play with.

One thing I vaguely recall is that with 5 players we more often had ties in regard to the amount of suspicion points during voting. There was a way to adjudicate this that Krin performed, which had something to do with who had the highest numbered card in their set of votes, however it’s something that needs to be added to the written ruleset, I believe.

Home playtest

After ordering the cards online - you can get it as a print-and-play, but I could afford to get the nice cards, so why not! - I decided to run it for my partner J and two friends Christian and Gemma. We decided on a small town in the forested mountains of the Canada / Alaska border in the 1990’s, where a professional tracker is found in his remote cabin, having been murdered days ago, with his body in a strange configuration. We had lots of secret relationships revealed, and the number of love triangles started to make further strange geometric patterns. In the end it turned out to be Molly, our murder victims coworker in the “radio shack” (definitely not a store, just a radio station).

The rules are remarkably simple to follow, and the game was, as mentioned and I suspected, easy for everyone to get. Because some of us have played story games in the past, it’s easy to forget that the goal is to look guilty as hell in the scene, so that’s something I’d definitely remind everyone before starting into the first scene. I say this as I myself forgot to do this in my first scene!

Another thing to keep in mind is to feel free to make and use NPCs in and among the scenes. None of our characters were law enforcement, so when scene prompts calling for “arrest” or “questioning” came up, we created Officer Lafreniere and Officer Gretzky, and these were some of our favorite scenes and characters.

(NOTE: I have since written to Krin and they are still working on how to break ties, so that’s at least one part of what is being finalized about the game; but I guaranty that whatever method you choose would be OK, and not severely affect the game.)

A story of murder with Darla, Galit, Ash, and Molly (whose name tent doesn’t appear here, perhaps because she’s been arrested).

A story of murder with Darla, Galit, Ash, and Molly (whose name tent doesn’t appear here, perhaps because she’s been arrested).

Small Game Hunter Ep06: Girl Underground

What is Girl Underground?

Girl Underground is an RPG being written by Lauren McManamon and Jesse Ross. I had the pleasure of playing in a game Lauren ran late in 2018 as a playtest online, and knew then it was a game I’d love to run for people. In early 2019, during Kickstarter’s zine quest initiative, Lauren and Jesse promoted the game by pledging to release it in zine form via a Kickstarter. And that zine came to me about a week ago.

Girl Underground is a tabletop roleplaying game about a curious girl and her strange companions as they travel through a wondrous world, complete a quest, and find the way back home. It lists media touchstones such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Labyrinth, The Wizard of Oz, and Spirited Away.

First off, the zine is fantastic. Yes, they plan to release the game in a more full form at some point in the future, but this release is similar to an “ashcan” or “notebook” release, in that it’s a fully playable, but a cut-down and smaller release. The zine contains exactly what you need to run the game, assuming you have some familiarity with RPGs, and Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games specifically. It has sections on safety, playing with gender in the context of the originally intended setting, and the section that takes you through the steps and timing of the game are just brilliant and should be in so many indie RPGs, I can’t even tell you. It’s the cheat sheet I want for games like this.

As far as some of the basics: The game master is called the Guide, and is there to ask lots of questions, and play all the non-player characters. There is always one main character, which is The Girl. The Girl is played, in turn, by all the other players in the game. Those players also each play a companion character, by choosing a playbook such as The Ogre, The Construct, or The Mythic. Unlike other PbtA games, there are no Stats. There is no XP and advancement as such. But there are Manners… behaviors that society has drilled into the Girl, and told her is how she should behave. And when she overcomes those Manners, she changes them to new Beliefs that she defines. And the more Beliefs she manages to have, the easier it becomes to overcome conflicts and obstacles in her quest to get home.


At Story Games Glendale this past Tuesday I pitched this game to run. We had a few new members, which included Greg and his wife, and regular Aaron. All of them were familiar with traditional RPGs and some newer indie stuff, but hadn’t played games with a shared character. I mean, really, who has? There are a few games that do, such as Bluebeard’s Bride, or Everyone Is John. But this will definitely be one strangeness that folks might have to deal with. Coming into this game with that GM attitude of “ask a ton of questions” and “let the players guide the story” is the one to have. You can’t really fail, and the game is structured and encourages that style.

I then ran this again two days later at my place with some friends, in anticipation of discussing it on Small Game Hunter (part of the Happy Jacks RPG network, where we discuss smaller indie games). The very small tweak I made when running the game was selecting only 6 Manners (instead of the recommended 8, as this seemed a bit much during the last one shot). That worked well, and it was smoother on the second run. Definitely keep it all about questions, questions, questions. I used constant questions to move the story forward, and round-robin questions and answers from the players, often in the guise of what the girl is seeing or doing. The game sings this way.

Small Game Hunter overview

Interested in our review of the game? We shower the game with much praise, and discuss not just certain elements of how it works and why we enjoyed it, but also some insights occasionally into how the game made us feel, and some of those very clever design elements. We recorded it the following Sunday on Small Game Hunter, which you can watch here on YouTube:

Small Game Hunter Ep05: Gamex 2019 recap and Games on Demand

In this recording of Small Game Hunter, a few of us (Jim Sandoval, Christopher Grey, Jason Mills, David Hoover, and myself) discussed our experiences in gaming at Strategicon Gamex 2019 (back on May 24-27 weekend), including much of the indie games we got to play at Games on Demand there including Space Station Fobolex and Star Crossed, Swords Without Master, Great American Novel, Demigods, Praxis: Of The Flesh, Aliens using Tales from the Loop, Trophy, Star Wars World by Andrew Medeiros, and Games on Demand for Kids with Robert Hebert’s Moonhaven Witch Academy.

Strategicon Gamex 2019: Trophy with an improvised Heart incursion for HJRPG streaming

This year Happy Jacks RPG has been streaming games live from LA’s Strategicon game convention. For Strategicon Gamex 2019, I decided to run Trophy on the cons Friday night slot.

We had Jason Mills play Orlen the sellsword and expelled apprentice, Matt playing Nima the Thrifter and dishonorable merchant, and special guest Heavy Metal Jess playing Fiona the ranger, an escaped cultist.

I was going to run one of the stock standard Trophy excursions, but Matt had already played in a version I had run at our Story Games Glendale meetup, so I decided to do something a little more improvisational. I asked the players for a few inspirational words, and settled on “Heart”. I also asked for the setting, and instead of “forest” we went with a more arid climate.

While they were building characters, I quickly wrote down some inspirational words and things I could draw from during the game. My little index card looked something like this:

WORD INSPIRATION: courage, beating, meat, blood, beat, love, red, blue, 
  vein, artery, iron, rust
MOMENTS: red moon, stream, iron smell, butterflies with beating wings
CONDITIONS: chest pain, heart ache, desire, short of breath
  pins and needles, paralysis, limbs, timejump?

These would serve, if I was ever stuck and uninspired in a scene, and needed something to look at as a prompt, and indeed some of these worked well in that manner. So, basically we played an improvised incursion, and I think it went pretty well.

If you are interested in watching, video provided out on Youtube:

Small Game Hunter Ep04: The Skeletons

Back on March 26 a few of us (Jim, Tappy, Gina, and I) got together at my place and played The Skeletons by Jason Morningstar and Bully Pulpit Games.


I’ve played a number of times, and written about it back in 2016 here, here and here, including the “…in SPACE” variant with Lego that I’ve run before.

This particular game we played included folks who hadn’t played it before, and we went on to discuss our impressions of the game, which you can listen or watch here:

A Word for Death

I can’t say I have a lot of experience dealing with death of close people. My grandparents died either before I was born, or just after. The people who came close to matching those were my god-mother and grand-aunt, both of whom I didn’t attend their funerals (so only processed it much later). I had a few friends over the years, but always avoided the funeral ceremonies.

My daughter had a 4-year old goldfish die two weeks ago. While her friends visited, we held a little burial ceremony, and she wept while her friends held her close. It reminded me about having ceremony, even if it’s one you create yourself.

My friend Paul died. We never met in “meat” space, but we gamed a few times online in the Gauntlet, including quite recently where he ran some thoroughly enjoyable games of Inspectres.

One of the scenes that I hold very close to my heart was in a game of Dialect I played in, about a year ago. Paul led that scene, where we were exploring our tribe’s word for “death”, incidentally. Paul’s thoughtfulness about the word, sounds, and etymology was really quite profound, and I remember being sort of entranced by the whole process we were going through.

Because our games are often recorded, I actually used that scene yesterday as a sort of ceremony to myself, re-watching that segment, and taking the ceremony we created in-game, and performing it as I said good-bye to this beautiful man that I knew so little.

Love you, Paul.

Small Game Hunter Ep03: For The Queen

Did I forget to mention that I’m a co-host on a new podcast? Probably. Jim Sandoval and I are co-hosting Small Game Hunter, a new podcast on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast network. (Thanks Stu and crew!)

For the third episode, we decided to cover For The Queen, the soon-to-be-released story game by Alex Roberts (produced by Evil Hat Productions). I have blathered on about this wonderful game for about a year now, and you can read my earlier thoughts over on the blog here.

At the time of this writing, the Small Game Hunter podcast is not yet available in audio / podcast form factor, although it should be soon, in theory. In the meantime, you can watch it over on The Happy Jacks RPG Twitch channel, or view the sucker on YouTube, where Aabria, Jason, Gina and I ramble about our love for the game:

For The Queen and Moonhaven Witch Academy at Orccon 2019 Games on Demand - Kids Edition

Games on Demand: Kids Edition

One of my favorite parts of the Strategicon weekend (and also one of the most exhausting) is running Games on Demand for KIDS ONLY on Sundays. I’ve been doing it now for almost 2 years, and it’s definitely built up a bit of hype. We had over 17 kids show up.

I had three GMs total: Andy, Rob, and myself. Andy was originally going to run Legend of the Elements (the unofficial Avatar the Last Airbender RPG), but pivoted and ran Rob’s own in-playtest Moonhaven Witch’s Academy. The two ran tables for 5 kids a-piece. I took the remainder, and ran For The Queen.

(I’ll note that in the background, I had a small crew of parents sit down and play For The Queen on a separate table with a spare deck!)

For The Queen with kids

I’ve played and run this game over 50 times, and a very few of those times involved some kids. But I’ve never run it exclusively for kids, and never with some of them this young. Ages ranged from about 8 to 11 years old. We also had a fairly large table with 7 players (not including myself).

The game itself worked well, which is as I expected. The kids needed some help interpreting some of the cards, as the wording can be a little tough for the younger crowd. The biggest issue I had was just a discrepancy in maturity levels and attention spans. A very few of the younger kids needed quite a bit of attention and lacked patience, whereas the older crew mostly consisted of kids who’ve gamed a bit before and knew how to take turns and play off of each other, narratively. This is partly due to not having quite as many GMs as I would like, and definitely not enough GMs to handle the variety of age ranges. All that said, the game worked, and it was certainly fun seeing how all the kids already decided whether the queen was evil or worth saving before we even started the game!

In either case, this game can definitely work for the younger bracket.

My little For The Queenlets.

My little For The Queenlets.

Moonhaven Witch Academy

I talked to a few of the kids after the game, and they all seemed to have quite a good time playing this. The touchstone of Harry Potter resonated with so many of them prior to game tie. Rob ran this for a crew one of the last cons, and here he got to see his game being run by a new GM as well! Andy just asked a bunch of questions and looked at the available playtest material, and went ahead and just ran the thing. Great stuff!

Rob running Moonhaven on a table.

Rob running Moonhaven on a table.

Andy running a second Moonhaven session.

Andy running a second Moonhaven session.

Bonus beats

One of the kids in the For The Queen game is apparently very into D&D, and volunteered to run a game a little later on. Sophia definitely took him up on it, and they tried to schedule a game; the kid even made a sign-up sheet on one of the tables! Unfortunately not enough people showed up, and instead they ended up playing some board game with the parents, but it was a valiant effort, and one which I’d like to encourage the next time around.

Xas Irkalla at Orccon 2019 Saturday 2pm

Xaz Irkalla is a game with evocative art about some dark-ass world, that is apparently based on the Strain survival-horror system (I don’t know what that is). I did back a copy on their Kickstarter way back in the day, but haven’t looked at or played it yet. It came up as an option at Games on Demand, and it was also an opportunity to play with some new friends.

Brendan, Adam, and Heather were out from Arizona, and part of the Full Metal RPG crew. Adam was our GM and had pitched the game. There was also Alejandro, and one other who’s name I didn’t catch.

Starting up

The setup for this game did not have us come in as a band of adventurers prior to this scenario. Instead we all find ourselves torn away from our respective worlds unwillingly, and thrown into a strange crypt-horror world.

We each started with a partially filled pre-generated character sheet, but all it lists are a few traits and skills. Mine said that - other than owning a Rotten Club - I had the Aberrant trait of Wings (I can glide and take no falling damage), and I had the Specialties (aka skills) of Justice, Wasteland, Privileged, Industrious, and Merchant.

That settled it… I was going to play a Star Frontiers Yazirian, torn from her spaceship. Urbane and well spoken, educated, cautious but not intimidated, her cleverness and survival instincts would hopefully see her through.

Ahjo the Yazirian

Ahjo the Yazirian

The scenario we ran through sounded like it may have come either out of the game book itself, or something that Adam had whipped up prior… a horrible underworld of coffins and creatures, mazes and lost beings and the horrors that have put them there to torture them.

We started individually in coffins, and had to struggle out (which provided us with some very basic training in the dice mechanics of the system). Adam was evocatively painting the scenes, and I think the expectation was to dive into the puzzle and dungeon crawl of the place.

But, that’s not my primary motivation, if you’ve played story games with me. I had to put pause on the game, because, I mean, I just remember crashing in my space ship, and like, who the hell are these other creatures? There was strange barbarian viking creature, a little hobbit, a weird stone golem being, and a nautilus-like creature from an underworld landscape. From what I could tell, I was the only space-faring creature among these simple beings!

So yah, I felt like I did hijack the scene maybe a few times, so we could do a little character building and bonds. I mean, it may have happened without me, but sure as hell I wouldn’t let it not happen if I was there.

Game play

As we continued through the adventure, I found the system had some things I thought I might like: an escalating stress-type track, and Specialties that were similar to Fate aspects in that they were very fill-in-the-blank and creatively worded.

As the game continued, however, I found that I didn’t really connect with the mechanics, and most of it didn’t get realized to any great degree in our play. I know Alejandro had a few poor rolls and suddenly found out how difficult life gets when that stress (“Doom”) track gets filled, but as the session wore on, we did work relatively well as a party to get some things done.

Adam had one situation occur where we each had our loved ones (from our other worlds) being held captive in some torturous way. Because we could see each others’ loved ones, I could not let this go by, and we probably spent at least 5-10 minutes talking about what they looked like, and who they were. Every time a strange scene occurred - even if it was a hallucination, such as a room that tried to evoke our feelings of lust or desire - I reached out to all the players to find out what their characters scenes looked like. To me that was the core of my enjoyment in the session, which again speaks more toward my style and interest of play, I suppose.

I would say that I probably wouldn’t run to play this if given other options, but if you are into OSR or trad style play, and like horror and dark settings, you may get some enjoyment out of this.

MR-KR-GR on HJRPG live stream at Orccon 2019 Saturday 9am

A new experiment this con! Happy Jacks RPG normally streams their live show at the convention at Saturday 8pm. This time, they also decided to experiment and stream actual convention games as well, and I was honored to be part of that lineup.

I ran MR-KR-GR on Saturday morning. MR-KR-GR is a crocodile-ruled kingdom, and one of a thousand thousand islands, a South East Asian inspired fantasy setting by Zedeck Siew and Munkao. (You can find Munkao’s Patreon for this project here.) The game I run uses the setting, but with a system I put together with elements borrowed from Fall of Magic, World of Dungeons, and Apocalypse World. (If you want more details on my perspective and history with MR-KR-GR, go see my prior blog posts here and here, or alternatively on the Gauntlet Blog here and here for more design-specific considerations.)

Character generation consists of a name, a title, and a choice of trait. We started with Diya the Princess of Tohey with trait +Clever (played by Joey), Mahi the Witch of Merating with trait +Witch (played by Chris), Loren the Owl of Kandis with trait +Scout (played by Jason), Sutten the Barber of Afar with trait +Sneaky (played by Rob).

We went through initial scenes with our characters, seeing Loren the Owl person wearing a cowl, bristling in the new found heat of this journey, taking the -Distracted trait. Mahi surrounded by death flies, a slow rot, suffering under a curse (-Cursed), withdrawn. Diya the Princess, also afflicted by this same illness, but early in its effects, being told (in a flashback) by the vizier to go find hope and a cure, as her father is succumbing to the same sickness. Diya has traveled for a while, and is showing the wear of the journey (-Destitute). Sutten, dealing with a wasting poisin (-Poisoned), from stealing honey cakes from a prior, sorcerer master. Sunken cheaks, desparate, food tasting like ash, he gets a lesson in the spirit mango scam trade from Jaji the boat owner. (This was around the 20 minute to 47 minute mark.)

Next we play a few scenes near the gates, announcing the border to the Death-Rolled kingdom. (This starts around the 48 minutes mark.) And onward… we started with some scenes promising good, but then ending in misery and disappointment. We saw them all meet at The Giant’s Tears, a prominent tea shopon Trader’s Island. It was a lovely little scene where the group comes together.

And then on to AR-YM-SR the archaeologist, and on to face a Demon Idol, and redemption… living or dead.

It was a fantastic tale, and I truly thank the player’s for bringing such great characters and painful and lovely stories.

You can download or listen to the audio on the Happy Jacks RPG site. The beginning consist of pleasantries, discussion of the X-card and safety mechanics, and very initial character generation, but we really launch into it around the 20 minutes mark.

Part of the crew… Joey, Chris, Ron. Engineer Jason is just to the left out of frame!

Part of the crew… Joey, Chris, Ron. Engineer Jason is just to the left out of frame!

The video for this was made available a little after con, and now you can watch!

A Thousand and One Nights at Orccon 2019 Friday 8pm

For Games on Demand’s Friday at 8pm, there were enough folks pitching games that I didn’t have to run… sweet! And Christian brought 1001 Nights, a game by Meguey Baker where you play members of the Sultan’s Court, whiling away the sultry nights by telling pointed stories to advance your own ambitions. In other words: playing a story bullshit RPG about people telling bullshit stories… fantastic!

1001 Nights

We started by creating some characters. Our court consisted of Sarkoush, the astronomer (played by Christian), Ibrahim the cartographer (played by Cal), Hajar the guild master (played by Ron), Augustine the visiting prince (played by Rob), and Tartush the royal matchmaker (played by me).

Character generation has an interesting twist, where in addition to your name, and role (per above), you also describe your character in relation to the five senses. For example, for me:

  • I look like I was once a beauty.

  • I smell like too much roses.

  • My hands feel like sandpaper.

  • I am the taste of bitterness.

  • The sound of clicking of my pen against my teeth.

Beyond that, you simply need a goal (mine: To Get Married - aka Retire), and then distribute a few boxes in categories around making that goal happen, in various categories: Ready, Willing, and Able. These boxes tell us how much work is required to prepare yourself, others, or other necessities to make that goal occur for your character.

From there, we took turns. When you’re the active player, you set the scene at the palace. We then take turns showing where are various court characters are in that scene, and finally the active player shows us where the Sultan is among us. After that, the active player starts to tell a tale.

The basic premise of telling a tale is, put simply: to throw shade. You are telling a tale that denigrates the other characters. In game, you also sign players the role of portraying various in-story characters in a way that parallels disagreeable traits of those same player’s character in the Sultan’s court. A story within a story, and all very meta.

As you are telling the story, you can have the other players at the table assist in portraying these in-story characters. All the while, you - as the active player - can continue to narrate the story to your own designs. As the other players, who are playing these in-story characters, it’s encouraged to lean into your character’s negative traits within the story being told.

Because this was our first time playing the game, including Christian, it was a little difficult to feel like we were bringing it all together every time. In some cases, each of us told a tale as a narrator, and had the other players role play their in-story characters. In some cases, we sort of just told a fable, without much - or any - input from the other players. It was also a little difficult to come up with a tale on-the-fly while also keeping track of our court characters, and also keeping track of these new in-story characters simultaneously. A lot of data!

We ended up telling about 3 or 4 stories, and wrapped up with some nice little epilogues for our surviving characters. One of my favorite parts was how the last story was being told during the beheading ceremony of our foreign prince, who had insulted the Sultan one too many times.

Mechanics in game

Mechanically, the game is interesting… as the story is being told, you, as the player and court character, think of questions you want answered by the narrator. When you do, you pick up a die. When you find the answer to that question, you roll the die, and depending on if the result is odd or even, you either get to keep it, or you must give it to the narrator. An example might be a story about the Sun looking for someone to share their palace. As a listener, you may ask “Who will the Sun ask?” and grab a die. If the story continues with “The Sun went to the hawk, to see if she was interested”, then your question was answered… roll the die and assign it to yourself or the narrator, depending on the result.

The story comes to a conclusion when the narrator desires. This could be when you’ve reached your maximum number of dice you can gather as the narrator (which I believe was 8), or whenever you have found a nice conclusion, or maybe some other metagame reasons. Regardless, the story either resolves, or perhaps you have some court intrigue or other thing interrupt the story.

When it does end, any players with dice in hand from unanswered questions, get to ask those questions of the narrator (and then roll and assign those dice). If you can no longer remember the question for that die, then you must return it to the center, unrolled.

At this point, everyone may have some set of dice they’ve won during the story (perhaps zero, perhaps more), and they assign them to their goals… however, you must then roll these dice, and only get to check those boxes if you get a successful result (even vs odd). Similarly, you need to decide whether to place any of these dice (assuming you have any!) into a special area called “Safety”, which determines whether or not the you have insulted the Sultan. Too many insults, and off with your head!

All up, I could see how the game progresses, and roughly how it works. It does some interesting mechanical things, and can have some really magical moments. Honestly, I worry about playing with non-story gamers. It feels like the imaginative load is high, and the scene framing and fable telling feels like it takes some finesse to really sing. All that said, I haven’t personally read the rules at all, so will reserve judgement for another play through, which I’d be more than happy to do.

Where can I get 1001 Nights?

You can get 1001 Nights directly from Night Sky Games. (It’s also available on DriveThurRPG.)


Learn and Play: For The Queen at Orccon 2019 Friday 2pm

For The Queen?

I’ve written about my favorite RPG of the year before, Alex Roberts’ lovely For The Queen. You can see my prior super-blog about it under Do You Even For The Queen? You can also listen to me rave about it on The Gauntlet’s Favorite Games of 2018 podcast (I start rambling around the 9:30 mark). I won’t repeat myself on that score… if you haven’t checked those out, feel free to do so now.

Learn and Play?

About a month back, my lovely friend Andi, who runs a bit over at PAX Unplugged, borrowed their Learn and Play format. Apparently these are sessions where they teach you how to play a board game by going over the basic rules, and then have you play the game. She adapted it for story games, using For The Queen as the game in question. Brilliant idea, and one that I stole for Games on Demand at Orccon. I advertised it a few weeks earlier on the blog, and Sean and Evil Hat and others helped promote it out in the Twitter-sphere.

28 Players

Honestly, I was a little concerned about turn out. I spent the morning setting up the Games on Demand venue, and fortunately had some great assistance from close friends. Had never set up the pipe-and-drape before, which we used to partition off some of the venue. Additionally, set up a fun dice-trade area for people to drop off their old crappy dice, in exchange for someone else’s old crappy dice. My partner J made a dope design for the “Give a die, Take a die” table!

2pm rolled around, and holy crap… we had the venue packed. 5 tables running full of excited players. Some had played before, and in fact I recruited many of those to serve as facilitators. Thanks Gene, Candace, Unique, Kurt, and Andy!

I decided not to play, and just to wander around, checking it out, taking some pictures, and just basking in the glow. Some tables played quicker, one hour games. Others took much longer. Two of the tables finished their shorter game, and decided to dive right in and play again! I joined one of these tables, and we played a space-themed game, which felt quite satisfying.

I love seeing the different ways people decide to play, and one table (run by Candace) did something I hadn’t seen before. Instead of choosing a specific Queen image card, they laid out all the images in the center of the table. As the game progressed, they slowly removed images… “that’s not our queen”… until finally at the end they had a single queen card left. At a certain point, Morgan drew the "This queen is not your queen. Why do you serve her?” card, and he apparently grabbed one of the other, discarded queen images and placed that in front of him to show his queen. All this was a cool little twist on the game I hadn’t seen before.


All-in-all, we had a bunch of folks exposed to the games, and it was a beautiful success. I’m definitely going to try to have more of these “event” style games in future Strategicon Games on Demand sessions. Next up might be Space Station Fobolex, the full-room Star Crossed space station adventure that Alex Roberts’ and others pulled off at Big Bad Con 2018 (and which they recently released to Star Crossed Kickstarter backers).

A panoramic of the For The Queen tables

A panoramic of the For The Queen tables

Give a die, Take a die. It’s a concept I stole from Big Bad Con 2018. My partner J made the wonderful card design!

Give a die, Take a die. It’s a concept I stole from Big Bad Con 2018. My partner J made the wonderful card design!

Thematically sporting my Star Crossed merch

Thematically sporting my Star Crossed merch

Forest Mother at Orccon 2019 Thursday

Los Angeles has Strategicon 3 times a year, and that’s amazing. The 6 months between Gateway (early September) and Orccon (mid-February) is the big gap… and we just crossed it. Officially the con starts Friday at noon, but my out-of-towner Andy and I headed there a day early. We met up with Morgan for a lovely lunch at Metro Cafe, one of my pre-con traditions. We followed that up with a bit of outdoor adventure and romantic walking at the overcast and chilly beach, with delicious matcha and Spanish lattes in hand. After than the very small critical mass of friendly peoples were arriving at the LAX Hilton, so we went to join it.

Our friend CaDave let Andy and I crash his room, and soon after we met up with Kurt, Katie, and Kurt Jr. It wasn’t long before we moved on from the talking, and moved on to the gaming.

Playing Forest Mother

We pitched a few things, and Kurt pitched both Guns N’ Sharks and Forest Mother, and we settled on the latter. It is Kurt’s story game-in-development, a weird-o story game, and I’m 100% here for it.

The game is about forest spirits trying to reclaim their forest from invaders. The story is GM-less, and beautifully collaborative. To start, everyone creates their place in the forest, as well as a forest mother, and a initial minion. These are all places on index cards, and are very loose, story game-style characters and locations. Everyone then creates an invader of the forest. In a normal game there’d also be a pinnacle invader that must be dealt with after all the initial invaders, but we didn’t play with that.

As an example, my location was “The Pine Spires: A forest heavily populated by fungoids, friends to all the dead flesh”. My forest mother was “Atura: The veins in the earth”, a mushroom creature that links thousands of trees as one large organism. My minion was Blorp Thorman, a fungus blob creature that rides in a huge flesh golem composed of hundreds of dead bodies (similar to piloting a mech). For my contribution to the invaders of the forest, I chose “Human Farmers: persistent, and using ingenuity.”

The invaders are shuffled and placed, face down, in random places in the forest. They get revealed later when minions go exploring, and seek to cleanse the land. Also, the longer you avoid dealing with the issue, the stronger those invaders get.

Apparently the mechanics used to involve dice, but Kurt has tweaked the game to use playing cards, which was simpler and effective, and felt like the right touch.

The game itself was lovely, and strange. There is quite a bit of flexibility as far as tone, based around what the players bring in. We had a range of evocative darkness, weirdness, and silliness, in roughly equal parts. And it all worked together to tell a story that it felt like we were all happy with.

Where can I get this thing?

Eventually, I’m assuming you can get it on Kurt Potts’ site. Check back there for updates.

The game was originally written as a 200 Word RPG: Forest Mother: Motherhood in a dangerous wood. However, Kurt has updated this as Forest Mother Redux, which looks roughly like the version we played, except that version still uses the dice rules. So… stay tuned!

Forest Mother in action

Forest Mother in action

Andy looking very noir at Venice Beach.

Andy looking very noir at Venice Beach.

Icarus on ShadowCon

Once again Gina invited me on to Shadowcon (part of the Happy Jacks RPG network), this time with friend Spenser running his game Icarus. In addition to Gina and myself we also had Gina’s amazing partner JiB joining us.

The game involved our characters Abacus (the priest of reason who protects the infinite truth), Channa Patel (the biotech engineer), Titas Stackpool (transcendence from flesh and decadence), and Hive 49B, also known as Doctor Jan (a series of scientists in an pseudo-AI hivemind).

Icarus was a space station in relatively static orbit around our Earth, pulling energy from a magnetic solar vortex, building a great monument to our transcendence of humans and machine… which also had the purpose of harnessing the vortex energy in more magnificent ways.

In addition to factions such as humanists and darwinists, we had an opposing station of the Daedalus, and some Europans (from Jupiter) intercede, as well as some strange god-like creatures, and destructive solar flares.

The game itself was great, but even above the play and narrative, it was the first time I’d played Icarus noticing the interesting cadence that the game had. Cycles of build-up and then tear-down destruction (and eminent collapse of the dice tower). It was, so far, my favorite session of this game, and made me excited for more.

The Kickstarter was still going at the time of the recording, but has successfully funded by the time I’ve written this post (and thankfully so… it’s definitely a game that needs to be in wider circulation).

Interested in the AP? You can find it on YouTube below (or in the Happy Jacks RPG podcast streams):

Trophy: Tomb of 10,000 Dreams at Story Games Glendale

Trophy is a game by Jesse Ross that appears in the Gauntlet Codex - Dark 2 zine. It’s a collaborative storytelling game about a group of treasure-hunters on a doomed expedition into a forest that doesn’t want them there. It requires one game master (GM) and one or more players to portray the treasure-hunters. The premise is that we’ll explore the the physical and mental descent of the treasure hunters as they move deeper and deeper into the dangerous forest, and their goal: the treasure they seek. It seeks a tragic ending, possibly in death, or very likely worse.


I’ve been excited by the hype around this game in the Gauntlet RPG community, where there’s been a bit of buzz. It’s been prominent on the Gauntlet Hangouts online calendar, first in sessions by Jesse himself, but currently being run by more and more people, as there has been a renaissance of those folks who want to run games from Codex... and this one seems both evocative and easy to pickup.

I’ve given myself a goal of reading new games and trying them out, which is helped by the availability of our Story Games Glendale meetup, as well as a renewed interest in story gaming from my partner J, and some of our friends who are both experienced and new to story games. This was one of my first forays into that this year.

OK, so what is this “Trophy”?

The game itself is only a few pages, and easy to read. If you’ve played Cthulhu Dark, you already know half of the simple mechanics, as Trophy borrows the basic “one stat” (in this case called Ruin), and six-sided die (d6) mechanic. Jesse threw in a few more mechanics, which really take the tension and push-your-luck mechanics up a few notches. You can roll a die if you have an appropriate skill. You can roll an EXTRA die to take a Devil’s Bargain, which is a variety of bad stuff in the vein of PbtA mixed success and hard move results. And then, the pièce de résistance, you can add a Ruin die to “risk mind and body”. Don’t get the result you want? Easy, just add another Ruin die to re-roll! Again? Add another die! Keep adding Ruin dice, until of course one of your Ruin die rolls highest, in which case bad things start to add up.

Your Ruin stat is the slowly creeping mechanical horror in this game. Starting at 1, if it ever gets to 6 you will lose yourself to the forest. (This could be character death, or being turned to an NPC for the GM to play with, or could be left to your player to cause trouble for the rest of the party, as you see fit).

But one of the truly fantastic pieces is that you can choose to have Rituals (essentially: spells) during character generation, for the cheap cost of +1 Ruin per Ritual. Want to have with 3 fantastic powers? Easy, just start with a Ruin of 4!

Another fantastic element is that when you get to a Ruin of 5, and you are on the cusp of losing it to the Forest, you can take some steps to reducing that number. Simply destroy some treasure, or sabotage the rituals or escape of your fellow treasure hunters, and you have a Reduction Roll which can reduce your own Ruin (at the risk of that others hold dear). Lovely player versus player action can ensue, encouraged by these mechanics…

Only thing I’d like is a cheat sheet (cue: me), and so I did scratch something together so I didn’t have to flip around the pages of the book, but I have yet to put it in computerized form. That said, run it 2 or 3 times and you’ll have it memorized.

Trophy session at SGG

After we split up into various groups, I had three players: Unique, Matt and Asher. We had characters that included a witch, a noble hunter, and a rogue of sorts.

Codex - Dark 2 includes the base game, but also includes an Incursion (i.e. a scenario) called Tomb of 10,000 Dreams. Incursions consist of “rings” (numbered 1 through 5) which are scenes that take the characters deeper in the forest. (This also evokes the rings of a tree, not coincidentally.)

I have to be honest I was a little nervous going in a for a few reasons. 1. I didn’t really have all the rules down, despite their relative simplicity. I took some notes prior to the game so I’d have them all on one piece of paper (a cheat sheet for this game would be great and simple!), but there was a lot of page virtual page flipping, which was a little annoying (I don’t like to slow down the game with that when I can help it). 2. One of the players, Matt, I’ve played with a few times, and he’s a solid role player, very entertaining, and plays flagrantly interesting characters. However, I wasn’t sure how that’d fit with the tone I was expecting. I have played in other pseudo-horror games with him before, although Bedlam Hall definitely aims for gonzo horror. That said, he knew what he was going into as far as the story type and tone, and mentioned he actively wanted to explore that character and their fall, and he did play into that really well. It is a thing to watch for though… this game sings when the players understand the tone well and are bought into it.

I didn’t do Ring 1 as written, but instead had a scene which was the characters boat sinking and leaving them on the shore of this large island which contained the forest they were travelling to. This included one sad crew member, who mostly was bossed around, and became fodder later for chasing pirate treasure hunters. The mechanics immediately started doing their work, and before long our crew was delving into the deep, dark path.

As the journey continued I quickly started playing with time and perceptions. We saw that the party was being chased by a pirate boat, but almost immediately we find those same pirates, all of which oddly mirror some aspect of our intrepid adventurers, meeting them on the road. However the pirates appeared to have already achieved the goal and are carrying their hoard of trinkets back towards the boat. Gaslighting becomes thicker as you go, as a big part of the game is adding those elements of horror, uncertainty, and questioning one’s reality.

We had a brutal fight, and then did some flash cuts to a few other horrors, and finally to a large tower in a clearing (as foreshadowed by a map they had that only one character could effectively read). Our witch saw a vision of a key, and this is when the party decided to go in 3 different directions into the tower, ditching each other. This set for some good, subtle (and not so subtle) player versus player scenes. We were running a little short on time, so we didn’t get to fully explore falling to a Ruin of 6 for most characters, but did get to see some backstabbing, and all the characters fall into their various tragic and desperate states with some great epilogues.

Where do I get Trophy?

Interested in picking up Trophy? The original game is found in the Gauntlet Codex - Dark 2 zine, which you can get on DriveThruRPG. Here's a Tweet with a lot of great information about the game from @GauntletRPG on Twitter:

You can also keep up to date with other locations, changes, and download character sheets from

Strategicon Orccon 2019 Learn and Play: Intro to Indie RPGs (For The Queen)

Learn and Play: Intro to Indie RPGs with For The Queen

at Strategicon Orccon 2019

Interested in trying a tabletop role-playing game? Or have you played many role-playing games such as Dungeon & Dragons, and are you curious about how collaborative story games work? Come play For the Queen, at the LAX Hilton during Strategicon Orccon 2019. The game is mechanically very light, and new-player friendly, and has been played by hundreds of people, with great acclaim.


Details of the When and What

At Strategicon Orccon (at the LAX Hilton, in Southern California) on Friday, February 15 at 2pm, we will be running a large room session at RPG Games on Demand, where you can learn how to play this wonderful game in about 15 minutes. We will then break up into separate tables of 3-6 players each to play. The game generally lasts between 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the table and players.

The session will include experienced gamers that will help facilitate play, including Gene Astadan, Candace Dovie, Tomer Gurantz, Kurt Potts, and Gina Ricker, among others.

For the Queen is a card-based storytelling game where you play as the members of a Queen’s retinue. The game features prompt cards that help guide the story as you escort her through the peril of interpersonal conflict and a war-torn land. The game was designed by Alex Roberts (the same brilliant mind that brought you Star Crossed, a two player game of forbidden love, inspired by the Dread RPG).

No experience is necessary to play For The Queen. You will be provided support as needed.

There is no pre-registration required for this session, however those who’ve signed up ahead of time will receive priority if space is limited. We should be able to easily accommodate up to 36 players.

Interested players should gather up at the RPG Games on Demand area, located at the bottom of the escalators that lead from the Lobby to the Lower Lobby, on the way to Open Gaming.

This session is modeled after a very successful and similar session of Learn and Play at PAX Unplugged 2019.

To pre-register, find the event on the Strategicon Events page, listed as Learn and Play: Intro to Indie RPGs (For The Queen).

What if I miss the Friday 2pm session

Do not fear, as the For The Queen cards may be available to play with during the weekend at RPG Games on Demand. Come talk to us if you are interested in playing.

Small Game Hunter Ep02: Companions' Tale

The second episode of Small Game Hunter consisted of Jim, Kimi, and I talking about Companions’ Tale, a game written by Laura Simpson from Sweet Potato Press.

Companions’ Tale is a map-making storytelling game where you tell the tale of an epic hero, righting wrongs and saving kingdoms. The hero acts, and leaves others to tell the tale. You are those others: the hero's closest companions. Whose version of the heroic tale will become canon, and whose will be a footnote to history?

It is inspired by games such as The Quiet Year, but has elements that make it quite distinct. As a Kickstarter backer, I recently received the shipped copy, and got to playtest it at the Story Games Glendale meetup, and then shortly after with Jim, Kimi, and Gina.

It appears that the game had quite an impact on Kimi, in that it has since inspired her to go down the path of writing her own little story game. That alone was worth the price of admission!

Until it is available in podcast form, you can watch the recording of this episode on YouTube, here:

Small Game Hunter Ep01: Ten Candles

It took a few weeks, from concept to execution. I think this says something about how mature the Happy Jacks RPG (HJRPG) Podcast network is. (This may also be referred to Stu’s Angry Folk Media Empire?)

I’ve been a constant listener to HJRPG for 8 or so years, and during that time, I’ve also been a heavy participant in their forums, live show chat rooms, and the fan-sponsored Jackercon online convention. HJRPG turned me on to Savage Worlds, and our local Los Angeles Strategicon game conventions (where I now run the RPG Games on Demand department!)

It was Jim Sandoval, the Strategicon RPG generalissimo, who contacted me about starting a podcast under their banner. Something to showcase smaller indie RPGs to the trad-based fans, exposing them to new games, different play styles, and lessons and tools they could incorporate into other games. He called it: Small Game Hunter!

Kimi’s husband Sam’s beautiful work!

Kimi’s husband Sam’s beautiful work!

The idea behind the game would be for us to sit down and play small press indie RPGs, off-stream and off-camera, and then have a round table discussion about the game.

Within those few weeks, we got a crew of HJRPG players together for a game of Ten Candles (Stephen Dewey’s lovely tragic horror game), and we sat down and recorded an episode. Don’t worry, we learned a few lessons… like maybe I can be a little less enthusiastic and share the microphone more with my co-hosts, for instance! (This does improve in the next episodes.)

It should be available at some point in podcast-land, but until then, if you are interested, here is our first episode, covering Ten Candles, with hosts Jim, Lori, Aabria, Mac, and myself. (Got thoughts? Let me know here or over in the YouTube comments!)