Gateway 2018: GoD Kids Edition - Fall of Magic for kids

What is Fall of Magic

If you don’t know what Fall of Magic is, there’s no simple way to put it: You should. It’s one of my all-time favorite story games, beautiful in its simplicity, and gorgeous in its form-factor: an actual scroll that you play on, with exquisite coins. (Note that you can purchase the PDF version to play online, or if the scroll version is out of your price range!)

This role playing game is something you can play with people from hardcore RPG fanatics to those who’ve maybe heard of “D&D”. It’s not everyone’s jam, because you have to be ready for extremely light mechanics and heavy story bullshit-ery, but man-o-man have I had some excellent experiences with this game with people of all experience levels. But I’ve written about it (and the soon-to-be-released Sci-Fi hack Autumn of the Ancients) before, so I won’t gush too much longer on that score.

Gaming with Kids

At Strategicon - our local LA convention - I’ve been running Games on Demand: Kids Edition, for over a year now. We get anywhere from 2-4 GMs who come ready to run games that are kid-friendly, and have consistently been getting about a dozen 8-12 year olds (my own daughter being in that zone) showing up to play role playing games. Some say this is what they’ve most been looking forward to. Games have included Tiny Dungeons, Goobles and Goblins, The Warren, The Deep Forest, and more.

But this time I ran Fall of Magic

The Session

There are a few things that went exceedingly well here, and lessons to be learned. I’ll break it down into a couple of paragraphs.

As always, definitely have your safety tool conversation. Some of these kids are pros at this point, and I did that thing that Kate Bullock mentions in this Gauntlet GM Masterclass episode, where instead of explaining everything about the X-card, for example, I had them tell me about how it works, and then I’d flesh out anything they were missing. Best thing about explaining the X-card and safety tools to kids? They just get it. Unlike some adults.

Let’s start with an introduction to some of the characters (where they often decided to use their own custom names). Unfortunately I don’t have them all because some of them ran off with their gorgeously drawn index cards, and I didn’t take a picture until too late! There were at least two transforming cats, a literal fox, and definitely some elements from Harry Potter and similar pre-teen fantasy novels and movies. Here’s a flavor for some of them:

  • April the Scholar of Istallia

  • Fire the Ranger of Mistwood (“I use soreds and bows”)

  • Nihao the Apprentice of Ravenhall

  • Luna the Fox of Mistwood

One of them played a Golem, where the golem was a girl made from shadows.

It’s important to note that most of the kids wanted to commit only about an hour or two maximum for the game, because they had competing interests at the convention (you know, shopping at the dealer room, painting minis, etc). But, once we got going, they just got into it. In the end we played for 3 hours.

I’d recommend being pretty loose about maintaining the (few) structures in the game. As an example, I took away the standard way of playing the Magus. Instead of the Magus accompanying them on the journey and them taking turns playing it, I just played the Magus as a sort of Head Witch of the magic school at Ravenhall - a trope they were comfortable with - and used the Magus to give them the quest of heading to Umbra. As I’ve done in other sessions, I allowed them to define rumors about the Magus, so that I wasn’t just making up my view of this character, but more a conglomeration of their various ideas. This also allowed them to just play their own characters, which is I think, cognitively, about where you’d want it for this game.

We played in the first location (Ravenhall), but I knew we wouldn’t have time to explore too much. So another change we made was to just fast forward to locations that the players wanted to explore, for example those that their characters were from. To that end, we played a large scene in Mistwood that ended with the forest burning behind them, and then moved on to Istallia and the boat that would take them across the sea. Finally, we had a finale in and around Umbra, where magic was born.

I want to talk about Mistwood burning, because it was one of my favorite parts. One of the kids was very much into wanting to drive some conflict into the story, and was trying to introduce some elements around that (like an out of control fire). At first, the others were trying to solve this problem using their various skills and narrative abilities, but you could see that the first kid was a little frustrated at that. I stopped the game for a moment so we could have the meta-conversation. What was she trying to see in the scene? She explained to everyone that she wanted to see conflicts, and we had a quick discussion, and everyone was on board with it. So, instead of solving the problem, I asked everyone, “OK, you are trying to fix this situation, but you fail. What does that look like?” And they all just ate it up, and had some fantastic story elements around the struggles and failures involved. I am particularly proud of that moment in the game.

We had six players initially, but one had a competing, scheduled interest after the 2 hour mark. The other five got to the end, and so we did a round of epilogues to round out the story. And wouldn’t you know it, they were dark as shit. These kids spared no feelings, and almost all the characters came to a pretty grim or unhappy ending, with lost souls, or lost abilities to transform, and even one death. But holy crap did they appear to have a good time. As did I.

My little story weavers.

My little story weavers.

All said, this game can totally work for kids, but I’d recommend simplifying a few of the (already simple) mechanics to accommodate their interests.

In action, early in the game.

In action, early in the game.

MR-KR-GR: Playtest 2 at Indie RPG Night

Another Indie RPG Night at Story Games Glendale. Originally I was going to miss this one due to vacation plans, but they got cancelled. For that I'm super sad, but this night definitely got my spirits back up a notch. We had 8 people total, and split into two tables. Asher ran Dialect for three folks, and I had brought a second draft test-run of MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom, for a second table of three.

(If you are interested in game design tweaks I made between the last time I ran this, and this session, you can check out my Design Diary post about this on the Gauntlet Blog.)

We went through a bit of character generation, which now mimics Fall of Magic a lot more closely. It looked like this:

The new version of character generation in my MR-KR-GR hack that more closely mimics Fall of Magic

The new version of character generation in my MR-KR-GR hack that more closely mimics Fall of Magic

That spawned the following characters with corresponding traits:

  • Jenni as Jovin the Macaque of Tohey (+Lucky, -Unnatural, +Trusted)
  • Hannah as Diya the Witch of Merating (+Summon, -Poisoned, +Unusual)
  • Christian as Najja the Soldier from Afar (+Seer, -Maimed, +Unusual)

The first trait was chosen initially, and the additional traits during the first two scenes, per other changes I made. All-in-all this worked really well, and wasn't too much to keep track of, and pretty much exactly where I wanted the mechanics to be, complexity-wise. The way the players took on those traits was also nice and variable. For example Najja's trait of "Maimed" translated to an ex-soldier with some form of PTSD, and Diya's "Poisoned" ended up being related to her body's purity and her eye, which was restored late in the story.

The story was pretty fun. We had three strange travelers coming into the land, and quickly getting separated at the port. Soon afterwards, they would run into each other some more, and became a party of sorts. There was the macaque traveling at the behest of her queen, looking for a teak nymph; a witch trying to track down material known to create pure forests and remove the corruption of lands; and a soldier with visions, trying to establish and broker some sort of peace negotiations with MR-KR-GR. 

We had scenes with the trade lord; tea at the best tea house on Trader's Island: Tears of the God; a trade of information for a royal coin to a fellow that was later spurned by Dien, a Tohey princess; a violent encounter with low spirit vines in the jungle; and a friendly encounter with a tall tree spirit, combined with a ride on a large, summoned insect by our strange insect witch of Merating. And a finale that included Margessa, the third queen, as well as the fourth queen, currently pregnant with a teak nymph.

The mechanics worked very well in the game, not too difficult, but not easy by far, and provided some good fail-forward and success mechanics that helped the story along. The last 3 rolls, once for each player, were: 6, 6, 6. This made for an amazingly happy ending, with Jovin securing a promise from the fourth queen to borrow the teak nymph that would heal their forests, but with some feels when the Macaque looked like she may be turned back to a wild creature! Najja was able to succeed in negotiations, the seer powers being a cornerstone of the success of the treaty and taking down the third queen. And Diya our witch was able to acquire emerald pure wood which she fashioned into an eye and placed in her eye socket to hear her corruption. 

I was pleasantly surprised with how well my changes worked from the first time I ran this. The story was very similar in scope and style to my first game, but with varying themes and components. There is still so much to explore in the setting as a player and GM, which is great. 

One of the only negatives with the trait "Unusual", which two players chose, but which didn't really get any play. I may remove that and Unnatural from the next version, and they just didn't evoke things that I thought were interesting in play. I'd replace them with something more solid, or maybe just leave 5 positive and negative traits to choose from in those initial scenes.

Another great positive was that the players were so enjoyable! Jenni hadn't played an RPG before, but you couldn't tell if you had watched. She was straight into it, and it was magic to behold. Hannah's witch was super evocative, and I loved the weird insect magic she injected into the story; when I think of the way the lost witches of Merating are described in the setting, I feel like she just hit the spot with her character. And Christian played a great vulnerable character with his damaged soldier, and his epilogue worked really well with all the setup. In all, a really great story, and I can't wait to try this a bit more.

A great playtest, with great cake to boot!

A great playtest, with great cake to boot!

EDIT: Patrick Stuart interviews the two designers. See his Flase Machine blog post on A Thousand Thousand Islands, which also links to the Youtube video of the interview:

Ten Candles with actual candles

Finally. I've run Ten Candles at least four times now, and every time it's been at game conventions where flames are a serious no-no. And don't get me wrong, I love my LED candles, and they've gotten a good amount of use (and will continue to do so), but real fire; I want it.

A few friends came over: Candace, Julian, Paul, and Janell. We talked about a few scenarios and decided to go with something real world-ish, and eventually settled on Majestic Bob's Last Show, a scenario by Neil Grieb. We made a few tweaks... instead of a weirdo in a mansion, we decided to set ourselves in USA Depression Era, Kansas, and with a travelling circus. The beginning has our characters walking down a train track, leaving behind the wreckage in the darkness, and finding themselves near a train station on the edge of a very small town... and strange lights in the distance.

Characters included Lola the street-smart runaway hustler, Cecilia the fashion designer and power player from the city, Hank the contemplative sailor who had fought in the war, and Gus the merc-for-hire.

I've run Ten Candles a number of times, and most scenarios feel a bit like a standard horror movie in scope, but this game ended up going a lot more surreal. The card I got passed from a player said "I've seen Them... teleport short distances", so we ended up having some disappearing act type things occur, and very odd performances, platforms in tents, weird sounds in the abandoned theme park, and finally a mine shaft that exuded strange lights, drawing most everyone in.

Janell had never played an RPG before, but has a writers background, so was definitely cool seeing her grab onto the descriptions and themes, and hopefully this was a good intro into what RPGs can do.

Using real candles was pretty cool, especially when the last one goes out, but I've never dealt with scenes ending before due to candles going out (versus due to dice mechanics)... here we had 2 candles go out which caused scenes to end early. And that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

I will say though, if you are going to use real candles, you should have some sense of how long they might last. In my case I knew I had some cheapo ones that lasted not long enough (2 hours at the most?), but the middle 5 I knew could go for the long haul. Even those, however, required that I do maintenance... the flames were drowning in their own wax pools, so would've just gone out really early if we hadn't played with that.

A good game, and finally getting to check off that entry in the bucket list!

Some choice moments

Some choice moments

Gauntlet Listen Parties

Looks like the Gauntlet daily blog is now in full swing! This was a Patreon goal that was hit and surpassed, and now we can have some persistent places to see some of the Gauntlet special sauce. Recent examples include Jason Cordova's Paint the Scene method and The 7-3-1 technique, mixed with little interviews of Gauntleteer personalities and play reports.

To that end, my first blog post has now been posted, and is about Gauntlet Listen Parties. Here it is, re-posted for your pleasure:


What is it?

The Listen Party is an ad hoc event I started a few months back. The first one was on a day I felt a little low and didn’t have the ability to leave the house, but really just wanted some connection and chit-chat. On that day, I checked in with some folks in The Gauntlet Slack group. Before long, some of us dove into a Discord voice channel and listened to segments from recent Gauntlet podcasts, and after 5-10 minutes of listening, hit Pause and discussed the topic. We did this for about an hour or two, working our way through a few segments.

Since that first time, we’ve probably had about a half dozen of these crop up. Sometimes there’s just 3-4 of us, and the biggest was probably closer to 10 Gauntleteers.

Some recent Listen Parties

A particularly memorable one was when a large group of us listened to the Fear of a Black Dragon Podcast about Operation Unfathomable, specifically highlighting the segment where Jason and Tom discuss tips for good characterizations. In addition to getting to process the segment again, having each other as a sounding board allows questions to be answered, and additional tips and tricks to be uncovered from the plethora of experience we all have.

In another we listened to one of the Gauntlet’s GM Masterclass episodes, and a few weeks later the +1 Forward episode about Dream Apart

The most recent involved us listening to the Gauntlet Podcast for Flotsam: Adrift Amongst the Stars with Josh Fox. Prior to the podcast, we just caught up with one another and had a discussion about MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom. While listening to the podcast, conversations came up about cognitive vs improvisational load in Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) and other story games, tokens and GMless games, and mechanics in regards to FlotsamGood Society, and others.

How does it work?

Our listen parties are actually quite low-fi. Someone simply announces they want to do the thing in Slack; we have a specific Slack keyword we use to allow for people to opt-in to get notified it’s happening. This call to arms has us gather into a Discord voice channel, and then once we have a critical mass, we choose what we want to listen to. Generally, we go for a recent podcast with a juicy segment or two. At this point, I do the “3, 2, 1…” countdown, we all hit PLAY, and listen to it on our headphones, individually. When the segment is over, or if someone pipes up and says they want to start a discussion, we just hit PAUSE, and then commence. This continues until we’ve decided we’re done. Simple enough.

There was a suggestion of using, a service that allows people to watch or listen to things together, but we found it’s a little more than what we needed just now. Perhaps one day.

Are you a Gauntlet Slack user who’s interested? 

Use the GauntletListenParty keyword to get info on how to setup the notification. And even though I’ve been the one generally making it happen, it’s anyone’s game, so don’t be bashful in starting a listen party when the mood strikes!

MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom, a playtest

MR-KR-GR (and A Thousand Thousand Islands)

Through lucky circumstances, I ran into a G+ thread on an intriguing project, sometime back... a SouthEast Asia inspired fantasy setting. Joining a bunch of others proclaiming "can I have one too?" I was lucky enough to get a copy of these zines shipped all the way from Malaysia. Thanks, Zedeck Siew!

Reading the text of the setting book was impressive. There was a level of prose to it, and the wording was evocative, and yet very light and simple. A land of crocodile masters, ancient ruins of a lost land,  My instinct was immediately to try and run something in this land. I have the urge to introduce it to others. I have the urge to explore stories in this land.

(Curious what it looks like? You can see a few preview images in this Twitter thread by Aaron Lim.)

Image by Aaron Lim on Twitter  @ ehronlime

Image by Aaron Lim on Twitter @ehronlime

As it turns out, Munkao and Zedeck Siew are working on a whole series of lands in this setting: The Thousand Thousand Islands. Munkao describes this project as: a Southeast Asian-themed fantasy visual world-building project. The goal isn’t to imagine a bog-standard medieval fantasy world, superficially re-skinned with kerises and brown people. In my notes and illustrations, I will be digging deeper, looking into regional folklore and history – trying to discover what a fantasy world truly rooted in the myths and lived experience of Indochina, Suvarnabhumi and the Nusantara look like

Designing around MR-KR-GR

It took time before I was inspired as far as how to run this. I mean, it's not written in any traditional style for a module or setting. There are no stat blocks. Or dungeon maps. Or explicitly stated webs connecting the pieces. But there are hints of things. Subtle connections between people, or more accurately, the thoughts of those people and the roles they inhabit. In some ways it's close to what a Dungeon World dungeon starter might look like, but I'd argue even less structure than that. More like a compilation of Jason Cordova's 7-3-1 design principals, but more like 50-3-1.

I was considering the very rules-light World of Dungeons, but that also felt like much more rules than I really wanted. I didn't need hit points and armor, savings throws, lists of skills, weapons to purchase... it felt like too much. And so at some point the connection between this very loose structure, and Munkao's drawings and how they were so similar to those found in another game I love, led me to: Fall of Magic.

That little spark led me to some fledgling design ideas. I thought about running a version of MR-KR-GR using the fantastic images, but with some story prompts that helped initially guide the story and character creation. However, because the MR-KR-GR setting and land have such interesting lore, people, and things to explore, I would make the experience loosely guided, as in a GM-based game. I decided to use World of Dungeons as a backbone to adjudicate conflicts and provide some mechanics to the game; Fall of Magic has little.

(Want to read a more in-depth rumination on this topic? See my first post in the Gauntlet Blog about MR-KR-GR).

An Initial Playtest

So, I setup an ad hoc game of MR-KR-GR up on the Gauntlet calendar and got lucky with some superstar players: Lauren, Ary and Ellen. I didn't want to spend too much time on character generation prior to jumping into the game, and so said they could just fill in some stock stat numbers, and even skills and such, as it came up in play. That said, we did use a World of Dungeons character keeper in Google sheets (provided by the Gauntlet's amazing Play Aids repository), and had:


As it turned out, World of Dungeons was complete overkill, system-wise. We pretty much had a story game on our hands, and occasionally wanted to make some sort of die roll so we'd all be surprised with the outcome.

All of us had played games such as Fall of Magic and Lady Blackbird, games which can be played as a conversation and with scene framing, so the flow of the game worked very well with the players contributing heavily to the narrative and direction of the story. I would push here, and tweak there, play a few NPCs, and flavor the world... it was a truly enjoyable experience for me, and I'm happy that this thing came to some sort of fruition. Things that need fixing? Definitely. And I will write more about that in the second playtest I ran, in a face-to-face game. 

Curious about how the game went? You can watch the recording:

Jackercon 2018: The Final Girl

Jackercon is the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast fan-run online convention, and this was Jackercon 14! (No, it's not the 14th year, just the 14th time they've set up a week or two for online games... there have been times where a few of these happened in a year.) Curtis Jackson is our de facto leader, having inspired these over the years, sometimes with themes. I always try to support this fiasco by running at least one game, and in past I've run Microscope, Fall of Magic, The Quiet Year, and my Lego-based Star Frontiers adventure: Distress on Life Liner 928

This session was going to be The Final Girl, a role-playing game about slasher-flick type horror, to find out the final survivor in... whatever weird fiction we were to create. And weird fiction it was. (You can see this around the 15:00 minute mark) We went with some remote town up in the sort-of-Himalayas, with Morman-like missionaries there to convert some of the locals (some of which have been converted); a demon awaits them.

Players included myself, Andrew, Jairo, Bel, and Kurt. Characters included, among others, uncover operatives, bright-eyed dreamers, a plucky virgin, an old hippie bus driver, a retirned marine, a wise sherpa, locals who herded goats, or managed goods and ran electronic shops, a butcher, a chaperone, a high school teacher, and superstitious missionary.

After character generation, game play starts in more earnest around the 50 minute mark. Mucho thanks to Kurt Potts for recording the session for me! Had a great time running this, and as always, the survivor was always a surprise, and led to an interesting ending (no spoilers). If you are interested, link to video is below:

SGG: Star Crossed Cannibals + The Warren + Malice

Content warning: Cannibalism.

Star Crossed Zombie Apocalypse

My friend Candace met me early for the biweekly Story Games Glendale Indie RPG Night, for some chit-chat, but as it turns out: also for some 2-player love dread! Alex Roberts’ Star Crossed is the two player tower-based RPG about two people who really want to, but really shouldn’t, or really can’t.

Love dread!

Love dread!

Our world: A “zombie” apocalypse had broken out. Zombies aren’t the living dead, but instead are people infected by a disease that makes them cannibals. In fact, zombies often fight and eat one another, meaning they are strong and fierce. Those humans who aren’t infected have gone to live in hiding, many underground, and surviving off scraps; they are starving and weak, and in constant fear of being found by the strong zombies that hunt them.

Our characters:

The Lead: Dr. Haus (played by Candace), a scientist that isn’t infected, who is looking for a cure. She has laid a trap to capture one of the infected, so she can experiment on them because she has a lead on the cure. What she things is her most attractive feature: her optimism. What are two things about her that she doesn’t realize are attractive: her eyes, and her intelligence.

The Follow: Cleaver (played by Tomer), an infected, strong and handsome, currently full, so is in a relaxed state. What is his most attractive feature? A kind face. What are two things he doesn’t realize are attractive? His compassion, and his well-fed physique.

What has brought us together? Cleaver has fallen into Dr. Haus’ trap. What is keeping us apart? Cleaver eventually won’t be able to control his hunger.

We started with Cleaver strapped to a medical cart, and Dr. Haus pointedly ignoring him. But before long they started to establish connections; both intelligent and well-learned, in a world which no longer cares. Our mild-manner Cleaver began to win her over in part, but not enough to allow her to loosen his restraints. Just at a moment when the doctor was trying to hide them from some of her people, noisy, exploring, and willing to kill the captured infected if he was found, we have a sexy moment of her on his lap behind a curtain, hiding, but with his hand now loosened from the restraint, dangerous. But he is stuck by a needle again, and awakens restrained further. They go back and forth, and the story ends with a moment in which the two appear to embrace for a kiss, but with his hand loose again, and her hand behind his back, needle in hand.

As always, this was a fantastic little journey. I’ve played this game half a dozen times, and it never gets old.

The Warren and A Town Called Malice

We were joined by some friends I was excited to introduce to the meetup: Chris Grey and David Kizzia and more. David was very interested in playtesting his new game: A Town Called Malice. On the positive side we had enough people join for two full tables. Unfortunately I got called into action to run, which meant I’d have to play Dave’s game another time! (Interested? Dave appears to be interviewed about it here in the Everything Horror Podcast.)

I ran The Warren for a group of three. It’d been some time since I’d run this little game of rabbits, which creates stories of the sort you’d find in Watership Down. In our case we played in the grand park of a big metropolis. We played out two seasons, as it turned out, following a group of rabbits as they attempted to save a small group of missing rabbit children from some other predators. But one of our main characters was a break-out from a lab, and there were rumors of disease. We found a section of the park cordoned off, and in the second season we find that pest control appears, dressed very much like the people from the lab, and there to spray and kill off this grand warren under the old tree with poison gas. There was injuries and a mad scramble, and a brave escape for most of the residents. The epilogue included a disease being spread to the humans, so perhaps this was just the prequel to Planet of the Rabbits.

Viewscream: Black Widow, Brown Recluse


Most role playing games and LARPs are written to be played face-to-face. But every once in a while you'll find one that has been created explicitly to be played online. ViewScream is such a game. I backed it when it was a Kickstarter many years ago, but will shamefacedly say I haven't read it or tried to bring it to the "table" (virtual table, in this case).

The premise of the game is that you are various crew members. I though that all the included scenarios would be based on being on a space ship, but there are settings where you are cyberpunk crew hacking into a corporation, and other such settings. In all of these, you are physically separated, and communicate through video and audio channels remotely (and hence how it is played explicitly online with video conference tools such as Google Hangouts and Roll20).

Hmmm... the cover of the game is mildly disturbing.

Hmmm... the cover of the game is mildly disturbing.

Black Widow, Brown Recluse

Recently, Daniel threw it up on the Gauntlet online play calendar, and I signed up, along with fellow players David and Keith. We chose the scenario "Black Widow, Brown Recluse". Our situation involves being on a space ship with a rogue AI that was killing the crew.

Everyone gets a different character sheet which has some secrets that belong to them, as well as various "fixes" they have problems, and some secret background they get to establish. This is one of the things I think the game does exceptionally well, is allow you to customize the character towards some fiction you generate or want to explore, so even if you played the same scenario, there would be varying storylines and motivations.

The facilitator (in this case Daniel) still plays a character, and in our scenario that character is the Bridge. They're responsible more for establishing communication between the players and keeping the narrative rolling, but once the other players get going, that load might be alleviated. They also have win conditions, but ones that are different from the other player characters. The rest of us (Sensors, Engineering, Helm) had various problems we were facing, and various fixes we could try to perform to help others, but the mechanics here are very light. Basically the game is giving you some story prompt type fiction to help you role play out various scenes. The roles also have some personality guidelines and other secrets which flavor all the interactions.

Also worth mentioning, if you don't fix all your issues within a time constraint, your character will die, so there is some motivation to get things moving. I thought this might come across as a little stale or mechanical, but that wasn't the case at all, especially if you have folks interested in exploring the role playing aspects. I was additionally surprised at some of the fun interpersonal conflicts, touches of hilarity, and a touching moment or two that passed between some of the characters.

All said, a fun game, a really cool experience, and one that I'd like to provide to others at a future time (maybe even let Daniel get to play in the players seat, since he's apparently only run this as a facilitator!)

Sensors, reporting for duty. (Yes, I always have to do a little bit of low-fi LARP dress-up.)

Sensors, reporting for duty. (Yes, I always have to do a little bit of low-fi LARP dress-up.)

Gauntlet Hangouts: Misspent Youth of The Janus Minds

I've been slowly freeing up a bit of time to run more Gauntlet Hangouts online games, and so after recruiting friends Jessica and Gina into the community, but neither of them having played yet, I set a thing up. I put up a one-shot game of Misspent Youth: "teenage rebellion in a fucked-up future", by Robert Bohl. I'd played it recently at Gamex 2018, and ran it at our Indie RPG Night meetup.

For the full details you'd have to watch the video (down below, and thanks Patrick for helping me record it!). But from what I remember, it went something like this...

We see a utopia, beautiful, the future in clean streets and strange architectures... and then zoom onwards, past the wall and gate to the next tier, where things are still looking pretty decent; maybe not quite as clean and generous. Middle class, maybe? And then another wall and gate. And more zones. And finally we end up on the edge of our massive city. The largest area by far. And the poorest and dirtiest and crowdiest.

A boarding school in the lowest caste; forced conformity; ugly jumpsuits ; manufacturing; and social experiments. Forced belief and value systems, patronizing, broad spectrum stereotyping about Millenials destroying everything and blaming youth culture. Strict ethical codes. But... they need "creatives". Not just anyone though... only the "OK" kinds of creativity. The ones that benefit society without all the disadvantages. You know, like depression, or any revolutionary thinking and counterculture. All this, and the kids are of course being recorded as part of some reality show, to try and win votes to ensure the people's support for re-election and re-implementation. The show title? "Janus Minds".

The Authority had VICE: Absolutism / VICTIM: Humanity / VISAGE: Systemic / NEED: Re-election and support for Proposition RE-ED0912. What systems of control does the Board of Re-education have? Emotional monitoring through a Fitbit-type device. Cameras everywhere. Confessionals. And they are very Scripted; with very specific punishments if you venture off script without permissions. 

We had Beana/Beatrice (she) - Born of mixed-class background, Kiyana (she) - a trusted and unassuming "A" student, model pupil, but sympathizes with the cause, Judas (he)- a brooding musician, and Lucky (they) - a scrounger. 

Authority figures included The Voice of God - In charge of confessionals; Jonathan Glen - Producer and supercreep on chicks; Officer "Fruity" Frutanis- Harassing students, sadistic; Mark "the narc" - Detentionee but works for the man. 

The Youthful Offenders had an exploit though... a way to super-charge the fitbit using strong emotions which could disable the monitoring in the vicinity.

Due to some delays with tech issues and such and a long (but oh so satisfying) world-building, we didn't have enough time to play through all 7 scenes. Instead we made do with a good 3. We had some hallway drama with the narc, and the officer making an appearance. We had some emotion disabling electronic exploits being used at the Voice of God rooms, where they find a way to hack the televised signals. Now to get a message out. We had a third and final scene, which I played similar to what would normally be scene 6 of the game: a decision to see who would win: the Authority or the Youthful Offenders.

Overall, playing online works, but was a little slower than in person. You definitely want to find ways to expedite the world-building parts of the game. Perhaps using a pre-made scenario? Although the world-building is always so fun. Another option I more recently experiences is using something like the Add and Bans from Microscope to quickly go around the table and establish some world guidelines.

Oh, you want to know the outcome? I guess you'd have to watch...

Gamex 2018: Sunday+Monday

Sunday 8:30am: Game Design Lean Coffee

Once again we were blessed with Stephanie running us some Lean Coffee on Game Design. Various of us got together, put down some topics to discuss, voted on said topics, and then discussed the shit out of them. Great, great stuff, and I will be doing this at Gateway, even though Stephanie likely won't be there (sadness).

What is it? You can read more about it in my writeup at Orccon 2018, earlier this year.

Sunday kiddo time

The next hours involved me picking up the kiddo, getting together with other families and kiddos, checking out the dealer hall, and so on.

Sunday 2pm: Games on Demand Kids Edition

So good! About a dozen kids showed, and more than a few GMs... I didn't even run a thing. We had the following games:

  • Chris Grey running Tiny Dungeons
  • Rob Herbert running Teenage Witch Academy
  • Zoe and father Bill running Spiders & Dragons (a Deep Forest hack); I did also play in this one a bit!

Additionally, Mike Olson was running some D&D AL and it overflowed into our GoD area, and this had a double-benefit: 1. He had a kid join us in gaming, and 2. the majority of his D&D table were teens, so it actually made it look like we had a bigger GoD Kids than we actually did. I'll take it!

Teenage Witch Academy

Teenage Witch Academy

Chris running Tiny Dungeons, just the right amount of crunch for little crunchers.

Chris running Tiny Dungeons, just the right amount of crunch for little crunchers.

Zoe running Spiders and Dragons!

Zoe running Spiders and Dragons!

Sunday afternoon: Artemis and board games

The rest of the afternoon brought on some various wanderings and board games. We got a table going of King of Tokyo in the convention's "Family area", which has been in pretty constant high demand over the last few cons, especially as people know it exists now.

King of Tokyo!

King of Tokyo!

Strategicon used to run Artemis quite regularly, as one of the con-goers would bring his gear and have games set up. The premise is you are playing crew members on the bridge of a Star Trek-like vessel, and each player plays a different station: Engineering, Communications, Science, Weapons, Navigation. And of course: the Captain, who doesn't get a computer, but just coordinates everyone else. Problem is, the guy who used to run it got burned out, and so we haven't seen this at the con for over a year.

Good news! Strategicon just purchased the equipment, including touch screens, to run this themselves, and so this was the first con to re-introduce Artemis to the con-going masses. A few volunteers help you learn how to play and setup the scenario for you, so even if you have zero experience, you can still have a great time.

I knew about this re-introduction of the game, and so went and signed up for a slot for the kids, and they went to check it out, and of course: loved it. We actually ended up playing a couple of times, since there were some later slot drop-outs. Video down below!

Artemis training

Artemis training

Our captain, captaining.

Our captain, captaining.

Sunday late: Werewolf and Shadowcon

The afternoon also involved finding some other games, and one was Cash N' Guns, a little shoot-em-up LARP type thing.

Cash N Guns

Cash N Guns

As per usual, Sunday late-night involved lots of Werewolf, however in this case they had a game that started late, and went even later. I opted out, and instead played some board games with Ann-Marie while husband Jim played Werewolf with the kids. 

At a certain point while the kids are playing, I'll take little jaunts up to visit Gina and the lovely folks up at Shadowcon, to have RPG gaming discussions (or watch them run an off-book game, occasionally). It's a little slice of non-Werewolf heaven that I always take advantage of, and thoroughly enjoy.

Monday was just waking up late, having breakfast up in the lounge with as many people as we could fit, and then wandering about and playing the "scavenger LARP", for which we barely found anything this time (I think one 20-sided die, maybe?)

And thus ends another Strategicon...

Gamex 2018: Saturday

Saturday 9am: Games on Demand / Misspent Youth

First Games on Demand (GoD) session of the morning my friend Andy was willing to run a Dungeon World scenario called Curse of Terror Island, like with dinosaurs and Wushu, and that immediately grabbed a chunk of the players. Friend Chris pitched Misspent Youth, though, and that grabbed me immediately, as I've had a chance to chat with Rob Bohl many times in the prior year, and hey: Dystopian Sci-fi Punks... hell yeah.

It was just Chris running, with John and I as players. Chris freely admitted that he hadn't run it before and just read through the book the once, so it'd be a bit of test-run, but hell was it a great game. Chris played played The Authority (GM) and brought just the right level of adversarialness... hard-hitting and r, elevant and evil. You wanted to punch all those bad guys they were soooo good. To that end, it was also a very collaboratively driven game, for two reasons: 1. we players played a large part in creating the dystopia and the authority's drives and motivations, and 2. all three of us played super cinematically. 

We went for a generation starship which is way past its reserves, being driven mercilessly to find the perfect homeworld by the ship's psychologist Jaji ("98.5% habitable is not good enough, damnit"). She's also the only one capable of using cryosleep without it affecting her sanity (or is she?), and hence the only one which has survived the 100's of years we've been flying. We had our clique, the Chromites, little orphans and punks living in the ships innards, using mechanical hacking to subvert supplies and cause trouble. Some of crew included brothers Ahjo and Buzz, a 12-year old prodigy Tree, and Gloria (supposedly related distantly to Jaji herself). A former Chromite, Siren, was now part of the evil hivemind that are the security network ("the wolves"), and they were on to us. 

Our Authority involved traits such as Absolutism, and subverting our Humanity. Systems of control included the ships robots (we decided no true Artificial Intelligence in this setting), and chips in believer's heads (the hivemind; limited number of people and limited telepathy due to technology and resource limitations). Our exploits were that we know the robotic patterns due to our prodigy Tree, and Ahjo using that information to hack the system.

Our end goal was eventually to find a way to put Jaji back to bed, as she decided that she was done with cryostatis, and was the root of all our ills. Lots of great scenes, and great drama, but in the end the Authority won, and we were caught. 

I was super impressed with the structure of the games, including the scene types, systems of control, the collaborative nature of world and character and adversary building. Additionally, the conflict resolution mechanics uses a system that's a little bit like Craps, where you roll-and-claim numbers between 2-12. Similarly, the Authority claims numbers as well, however without rolling (as based by the rules). When you hit a number already marked by the Youthful Offenders, you win the conflict. Similarly if you roll a number that the Authority has claimed, you lose. The escalating tension this causes is well placed, and the back-and-forth narration is fun, especially if you're into story games and possibly "writer's room"-style games. 

I was immediately inspired to run this game (and in fact did so twice in the following months at our story game meetup and online; links to write-ups to be provided soon).

Robert Bohl has written a pretty amazing game, and even though it feels like there is a high bar to run it if you haven't played very improv-necessary games (such as GM-less games or games like Ten Candles which explicitly tell you as the GM not to prepare), the rules are very supportive and it makes the game very much a conversation. Highly recommended.

Myself, Chris, John; you can see the craps-like mechanic in the bottom center.

Myself, Chris, John; you can see the craps-like mechanic in the bottom center.

Saturday 2pm: Games on Demand / Ten Candles

Normally I'd just be running another GoD game, however Jim and Lori were supposed to be in last night's game, and due to snafu, had to miss it. Jim could provide a private room, and so without further ado I got the two of them, and friends Unique and Keith, to join me for some last minute Ten Candles. Also props to Jim Pinto who was around to take on many other Games on Demand folks for some of his gaming (Praxis, if I'm not mistaken), but it was the one time I almost didn't have GMs to deal with the number of gamers present.

We looked at a few scenarios, and ended up going with Bunker by Brady Tatro (available in the Ten Candles PDF), which reads, "The world is crumbling, but people in power have planned for this possibility. People like you. A massive bunker has been constructed, a bunker capable of saving many from the arrival of Them. It only requires minor modifications to account for constant light production. Of course, it also needs to be determined who will be staying there. How many is too many? Who gets to live? Who must die?"

This was perfect, given we were playing in a literal hotel board room. Unique passed me the card which read "I have seen Them... change size", and so my mite-like creatures that can change size from microscopic to gargantuan were eventually born, to ill effect. Especially when you see someone itching their arm constantly, or see bodies with pieces that have exploded from the inside out, or are driving in a vehicle and crash into a boulder that comes out of nowhere. But of course they didn't know all this until much later.

The one thing that was in great contrast from my prior nights run, is that I remembered to do the Establishing Truths phase, and it was just such a different game because of it. Lesson learned.

The players were great at inter-person conflict, and combined with my hard moves whenever the drama got slow, it worked out for a great story. There was a drive up a mountain road to the bunker door, an accident, a dark tunnel, and finally entry into the safe haven, which was of course already overrun from the inside. A tragic ending, and I was particularly proud of how the game played out. (You can hear Jim talk about it more in the Happy Jacks broadcast linked below, if you want to see my ego grow about 5 times.)

They look shockingly like real candles... I love my LEDs. They've served me many times (this is the fourth game with them?)

They look shockingly like real candles... I love my LEDs. They've served me many times (this is the fourth game with them?)

Our board members!

Our board members!

Saturday eve: Happy Jacks RPG Podcast live

After Ten Candles, it was time for a little R&R. Gathered with some friends at the bar (folks from the Happy Jacks RPG contingent as well as fans and friends), ate a bite, drank a beer or two, shooted some shit. Then the traditional 8pm live recording of the podcast, which Kimi was running (Stu was out due to Ren-faire stuff).

Good stuff, getting to hear about various games around the convention that I hadn't seen, and the usual banter and friendliness. It was a little less chaotic than usual (I think alcohol consumption wasn't quite as rampant as it usually is, although I had my fair share of drinks before and during). 

You can listen to the live recording of the podcast at Gamex 2018 here.


Saturday 10pm: Best Friends

The final game I played was off-book. Friends Stephanie and Toby came down from Las Vegas, and in addition to running some usual games of theirs, Stephanie wanted to try out Best Friends, a diceless role-playing game by Gregor Hutton about girlfriends, and their drama. We organized the game to help Stephanie do this playtest, and it came about through the Strategicon Games on Demand Slack that I created earlier in the year, so yay for that! (And of course if you are interested in joining, you are welcome to; direct message me through a social media platform of your choice).

I will freely admit I was running on fumes at this point, but I've got strategies for how to do this with minimal game interruptions. For example: Play an absent minded character, or someone who doesn't quite have it together, or is a weirdo. All these come off well when you are already at a lowered brain capacity.

The beginning of the game is really interesting, in that character stats are determined by people basically voting for who they think is smartest, prettiest, coolest, and so on. You tally the votes, and the person who got the most votes for a thing, is the "best" at that thing. But even the prettiest person thinks someone else is prettier than them. It's all very interesting and delicious.

We had Dolories, Eunice, Patty, Beatrice, and Nora, and it was all very small-town USA in the 50's. The game itself was excellent fun, and we had some hilarious scenes. There was red scare drama, and pie contests, and much more, but the best was just our various personalities interacting with each other in all sorts of subversive ways. I'm always impressed when a system so very simple can create such good drama through basic mechanics. Of course it helps that the table consisted of great players.

I think Stephanie was looking to use the system for a game she has in development, and if it goes through, I can't wait to play it.

Gamex 2018: Friday


I can't remember the last time I felt this little stress going into a game convention. Partly it's because we run 3 times / year, every year, so it's super familiar to me. But even so, I used to get there early to ensure signups in slots I hadn't gotten in games, and normally I run a game in the 2pm Friday slot to kick-off the con.

Not this time. The one game I'd signed up for was 2pm Friday, and I was running later that night. And all Saturday was Games on Demand, and Sunday was kiddo-time. I just strolled right in without a care in the world. It was lovely.

Friday 2pm: Demigods (PbtA)

The first game of the day was Demigods, a playtest by Jason Mills for his PbtA game where you play as one of the half-mortal children of the gods. He's been playtesting for a while now, and specifically has a series of actual plays on the Happy Jacks RPG media empire.


This one-shot was called Ragna-ROCK, described as: This band of Demigods is exactly that, a real band! CharGen will include what kind of band you're in, and how you'll save the music industry. Rock on!

I remember a couple of things about this game:

  • The story involved all of us in a band, and eventually having a battle for our supremacy on holing on to the number one spot on the Santa Monica Pier.
  • I played the Warrior, a worshiper of a forgotten Babylonian god of dance and war. I was the bands dancer, as well as percusionist, and these two were tied together in performance.
  • There were 6 players. Personally, I think that's too much for a PbtA game in general, and this one specifically, due to the many approaches that various players had in the game.
  • Jason did a great job running the show and keeping us herded into something that resembled a coherent story, despite various gonzo turns.
  • There was some player-based conflict that wasn't particularly fun to deal with.
  • The system itself ran pretty smooth, and you could tell it has seen some action in playtest land.
  • The system is probably what is now considered a traditional PbtA game, as far mechanics (Roll+Stat, flavorful playbook archtypes, character bonds reminiscent of Apocalypse World or Dungeon World).
  • Overall, it was a fun session, but I'd recommend going with a smaller table size in the future, as spotlighting is very difficult on a table this big. Maybe 4 players max?
Demi-god of dance. And war. And percussions.

Demi-god of dance. And war. And percussions.

Friday 8pm: Ten Candles

I've run Ten Candles before at this game convention, and it was a pretty fantastic time. I also hadn't been able to run it for my friend Howie yet, so couldn't wait to see how he'd like it. I had a bunch of great players, including Howie, Ron and Will. 

We discussed options around which Module to play (the book comes with many starting scenarios). We went for one of the bonus modules: The Burning Man. Basically, they're members of a commune that's been anticipating and looking forward to the end days, but now that those days are here and They are hunting everyone, the situation isn't as palatable as they'd thought.

The players were great, and the story was still interesting, and the card handed to me was "I have seen Them... masquerade as others", so we had some doppelganger action towards the end of the story.

The problem with the game? Funnily enough, darkness. Ten Candles is to be played in the dark with 10 candles. And I do so with my cheat sheet, since running it by the book is too difficult. However after creating the players had created their characters, I confidently decided I knew what comes next (although hadn't run this in many months). I forgot about one of the main mechanics in the game: Establishing Truths. This is the mechanic where you take turns saying what is true about the world, and also what is happening next, and is a great transition from one scene to the next, often telling us how the world is actively changing and where the characters then find themselves.

Instead, in this game I ended up taking some liberty with pushing the story along and telling them where we were next, and although it worked, it removes some of the players' narrative control that they should have in this game. I realized my mistake a few scenes in, and at that point decided it'd be too disruptive to try and retrofit it. So, that definitely detracted a bit from the game, but overall I felt like it still worked really well.

Live and learn, right?

Lady Blackbird: Flight of The Owl

The Gauntlet's online community is amazingly good. I've played many one shots of various RPGs there, and have never been disappointed with the players at the table or the game being played. That said, the Gauntlet thrives on running games in short story arcs that last 3-4 sessions, normally played during an individual month. I hadn't played in any on-going set of games, mostly due to timing issues and the difficulty in committing game time to weekday evenings and weekends.

Within The Gauntlet, the subculture there that I've grown closest to is the Asia Pacific (ASPAC) crew. They're an exemplary group of folks, and include members from countries such as Australia, Singapore, Japan, and even various USians (including myself). And so it was only fitting that my first "campaign" would be with this crew.

In April, friend Sid decided to run Lady Blackbird. It's a game by John Harper that I've been wanting to try forever, being a prime example of collaborative story gaming magic. 

If I look back in the last year of gaming and decide on my favorite experience, it is these four sessions. This is high praise given some of the games I've played in the last 12 months, but so well deserved. The other four players (Elle, Stephen, Lu, Ary) and our lovely game master, Sid, were such a treat to play with.

The game itself is some cool story game shit. It starts with some hard framing with the crew of The Owl (an air ship) in a prison, captured. The five available characters are all unique, and with their various backgrounds which give them a lovely starting point and some interpersonal tension and connections, but with a lot of room for customization and growth.

Sid ran an extremely collaborative table with an artist's light touch, and he'd probably tell you that he was just making us do the work for him, but that's a bit of bullshit. He knew when to push us and when to get us to bring our magic. He experimented with all sort of interesting and beautiful techniques, such as doing session recaps through TV-show style intros, and all sorts of fun things with smash cuts.

Oh man, and what players. I can't do them justice in my descriptions, but I'll just say that the depth of Naomi (Stephen) and lovely chemistry with Lady Blackbird (Lu) was killer. Starting the game off with some good ol' mutiny threw some nice wrenches in to the works, which of course was patched up by yarn from the most amazing Snargle (Elle). Kale (Ary) was supremely authentic and sympathetic. I just tear up thinking back to this game. 

I can't really do the game justice in describing it, but will just leave it out there for those crazy enough to watch things like this. Enjoy!

SGG: Star Crossed and Winterhorn and autumn of the ancients

David and I have been running Story Games Glendale for almost 1.5 years now. It's only fitting we finally get some new blood and some consistent friendlies coming, damnit! And it's only fitting I give it some love here. Because I've been "lazy" at updating. (Note: There is no such thing as Laziness. Thanks, Shane!)

March 20: Star Crossed

On this eve we were joined by Asher (almost a regular, now!) and their friend Aaron, and Todd. I didn't realize it until later, but I had gamed with Todd before when he ran Cat (the RPG where you play... wait for it... a cat) back at a Strategicon a few years back!

We ended up going for Star Crossed, Alex Roberts' two player game of forbidden love (which I got to originally play at Bid Bad Con 2017). Asher and Aaron ended up playing a game of forbidden love between a Drow and a High Elf (cute concept!) and unfortunately I was playing at the same time as facilitating, so probably did them a disservice in that regard. I know I showed an example of play, and David was sort of floating between our tables to watch us, and tried helping them out a few times, but as a note: if you have folks relatively new to story games, maybe a stronger hand holding would do.

On my end of the table I played across from Todd, and we ended up with a scenario where a scientist and a janitor were falling in love as death and nanites and the end of the world were eminent. There were some awkward scenes in the lab, late at night. And a moment outside where we... almost... confessed something. And then it ends in some sadness.

April 3: Winterhorn

David has been wanting to run this at the meetup for a while now. "Chomping at the bit", you could say. He got to play in an online version of the game run by Gerrit for The Gauntlet, so had played once before, and had all the cards and such printed out and ready to go. This particular meetup had the perfect number of 7 players, including some new faces.

Winterhorn is by Jason Morningstar, and is pitched as about how governments degrade and destroy activist groups. By playing law enforcement and intelligence operatives working diligently to demoralize and derail, you’ll learn about the techniques used in the real world in pursuit of these goals.

And that's what we did. It's a "table LARP", which is to say you play completely in character at times, just like a LARP, however around a table in a manner and environment similar to many RPGs. Much like a LARP there are various LARP-style safety tools, debrief sessions, and methods for getting in and out of character, like leaving the table during breaks.

After setup and discussion, you play the game in 3 30-minute scenes where you are in character, a bureaucrat around a table making decisions to dismantle a "dissident" group (that may or may not be what it appears). Everyone has there little secret prejudices, and the way you can uncaringly make decisions that could destroy peoples lives is a bit unnerving (and reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button" in that manner).

Something I truly enjoyed about the game is how certain facilitating roles, such as debrief, time tracking, and managing some of the drawing and other components, are all assigned around the table. The management load is spread out by design. Additionally, breaks are done away from the table, so the table space is reserved for being in character only. The intent is to take these rules of play seriously, to provide a more LARP-like experience, and I can only say: Try to do what it says.


April 17: The Final Girl / Autumn of the Ancients

We had a decent turnout this night, with enough folks to split into two tables. David took some folks and run The Final Girl, a perennial favorite.

I got 3 players and played Autumn of the Ancients, a game based off of Fall of Magic, but in space. (Orccon 2018 writeup here.) You are travelling with the Liminal to find the source of ancient technology, which is dying. My version of this game is printed on index cards, since playing on a large star map on a table at a game convention can be exceedingly difficult to do. 

My index card version of the game was used to great effect, inspired by some ideas discussed in the past, and a suggestion by one of the players, Gene. We started with the initial location (Alpha Station), and then had a few rounds of intermediate locations, chosen at random, which itself was great. When we felt that we were getting ready to wrap up the game, we immediately went to the final location: The Black Hole (which I had placed to the side). This enabled us to play in the melancholy, slow paced way that the game usually plays out, but still tell a comprehensive, satisfying story.

And I got to play a Dralasite! (Bonus) We had some silliness occasionally, but the game was far from gonzo, and played well. There was one time that I did "X-card" another player for tone (he appeared to be getting tired and a little silly and added something that definitely was of the gonzo derailing sort). Otherwise, good session.


HGMO: Sherlock

Hot Guys Making Out (HGMO) is a roleplaying game by Ben Lehman, and is set in a remote village in the Pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War (1930s). You play one of two main male protagonists (or ancillary other folks), and it's a game of passion. I haven't played it.

A hack of this game called HGMO: Sherlock was written by my friend Lauren McManamon (a fellow Gauntleteer) and is instead about those Baker Street detectives, Sherlock Holmes, and Watson, and the steamy relationship that simmers right under the covers of daily mysteries.

River was running this game, and I got to play it along with Agatha, Asher, and Larry. And I got to be Sherlock Holmes, himself. As is usual during Gauntlet games, the character keepers stored in Google documents was excellent, and really lent to immediately getting to get into the gaming, and having an easy-to-use reference:

The rules splayed out in a Google doc, true to form for The Gauntlet

The rules splayed out in a Google doc, true to form for The Gauntlet

Fortunately River led all us newbies through the process of the game, and bless her heart because she was sick at the time, but suffered through it to give us this joy. 

This is one of those interesting games where you take turns framing scenelets (I use that made up word, because they are less scenes, and more little vignettes). It helped when River said that we should imagine framing little pieces of story in a comic book, in the order of a few frames. In the actual play you'll hear us start to get into that flow a little bit into the game.

The story starts with choosing a framework for the story, but everything is very, very loose, and you end up doing lots of improvisation. The mechanics are all based around a set of cards you hold in your hand, with some giving you special narrative rights, and others just allowing you to describe setting details, and allow for some uncomfortable silences and looks. All in all, it seems to support the mood its going for pretty well.

Interested in hearing our actual play? Here's an MP3 of the thing, after I edited the hell out of it. The original game was in the order of about 3 hours, but here it is chopped down to about an hour. I left in a little of the setup, some initial mechanics (but quickly throw most of that away as we continue with the game), and took out all the white space. Enjoy!

You can find HGMO: Sherlock in The Gauntlet's Codex - Lies zine (Jan 2018), and it can be purchased off of DriveThruRPG. Interested in an ongoing Codex subscription? Check out the Gauntlet Patreon.

The actual play video of this game is also available on Youtube here:

Dialect online and in person

Dialect with The Gauntlet: The Heart of the River

My friend Gerrit posted to run Dialect for The Gauntlet online gaming community, probably back in January or February (they normally schedule 1-2 months out), and I jumped on that. Fortunately I was still able to play by the time the game rolled around in mid March.

Dialect is a game about an isolated community, their language, and what it means for that language to be lost. In this game, you’ll tell the story of the Isolation by building their language. New words will come from the fundamental aspects of the community: who they are, what they believe in, and how they respond to a changing world.

I had backed the Kickstarter based on the premise, but also having heard some great stories about the two authors' (Kathryn Hymes and Hakan Seyalıoğlu) prior game, Sign. Otherwise, I hadn't looked into it at all, and went into the game knowing little about the rules. Fortunately The Gauntlet uses a very "open table" style of play, which allows anyone into a table, and has no expectations on you knowing the rules ahead of time (and plays games that lean into those needs).

I already expected a great caliber of players (thank you Gauntlet), but I was impressed with the game itself.  The setup is simple, but meaty and fostered some good collaboration. You start by choosing a Backdrop, one of four settings that the game comes with: A mars colony cut off from communication with Earth. Or a bunch of scoundrels hiding in plain sight.

We chose The Compound: We’re 200 strong, not interested in where the world is going, and have built a compound, and are now completely independent from the world. 20 years have gone by. We started back in the '80s. The US started to wage its drug war. We are in Columbia, locals, mostly indigenous, but disconnected from the land (possibly for generations), we now live in the city, and are fed up with those in power that deal in drugs and violence. We've fled to the jungle, and colonized a small island floating in the middle of a large, flowing river.

The game play revolves around Aspects, of which you will have three. A set of two leading questions provides us with the means to define two of the Aspects, but one Aspect is completely free choice. All of these are answered collaboratively by the group. We ended with these three Aspects:

  1. What about who we are made the Compound a necessity?  We freed ourselves from the terror of the drug war.
  2. What special property about the Compound keeps us secure?  The river runs around us.
  3. Free aspect?  The return to our ancestral homelands.

Character generation is a choice from archetype character cards. What's fascinating is that your character card also is tied to the Aspects in some manner, for example I chose the Artist:

A Dialect character card

A Dialect character card

I shunned #1 (the past), and identified with the river, but especially with my "muse", returning to our homelands. I was Jaji, a singer, and somewhat charismatic, providing home when needed, and giving us a narrative as a people. But I also was a bit of a layabout, not really helping when it comes to the real day-to-day needs, and had gained a strong reputation for this over the years.

We had Aziza (she/her, Gerrit) our gardener and spice and color maker, Primitivo (he/him, Paul) our scrounger of resources, with an antagonistic relationship with the river that takes away much of what we need, and Ani'bal (he/him, Brian) our healer of bodies and minds, with occasionally outbursts and a tendency to drink, and who occasionally misses the world.

The game then goes into Age 1. In our game, we just had a huge pile of cards, and chose what we wanted out of it. I'd learn later that if you play rules as written (RAW), then in fact you should draw a hand of three cards each, and select one from your hand. But our method worked perfectly fine here.

The cards are words to be created. For example, creating an expletive, or a word that means "worry". Although we take turns choosing the word to create, the creation is a collaborative process as well, which was excellent. Sometimes you have a good thought on the sound, or a concept, but your teammates are there to help flesh out the other details, or help guide the process. In the end, if it's your turn, you have final authority, but collaboration is the name of the game.

After talking about and formalizing the word (which takes about 5 minutes or more), then you create a scene, where the characters get to use that word. A little scene prompt at the bottom of the card helps if you need an idea of where to start. My favorite part of this process is seeing the evolution over a number of scenes, as there is a cascade effect, where you start to use earlier words more and more in later scenes, just as a side effect of the building of this language.

If this sounds a little intimidating, I'd say building language sounds bigger than you are responsible for here. You are building words, but most of your language is entirely the same as normal, so there is no need to feel pressure, but with all the advantages of getting to see the wonder and creativity.


We got to play far enough so as to finish the first Age, so that everyone created a word. However we had to tie up the session there. My compatriots continued a later session, but I had to miss that, unfortunately.

(I'm going to start stealing from my friend Sid and occasionally using "Stars and Wishes"; things that were highlights, and things I would like to change.)


  • Gerrit's setup using Google documents with image of the cards was really well done and made the game run with ease online.
  • The chemistry between our characters was really fun to see unfold.
  • We took some care to make a real-life situation not feel silly or trope-filled.
  • Paul's word choice was for Death, and it was my favorite segment of the game, as we worked together to create Tzon, and the scene was magical and intense. I sometimes still get teary eyed thinking about it.


  • I wish I could've play the second session.
  • I would want the game to run as a one-shot. (As I found out later, it can fit in a 4-hour slot, but that's in person. I wouldn't try to speed it up for online play, as the slow intentionality is important. My recommendation: If you run online, break it up into two sessions, but try to do so with as short a break as possible in between).

The game was recorded, so here's a recording of the first session:


Before moving on to another session of Dialect, in which I ran the thing, first, a little of Sacramento. Visiting the family, taking the daughter to an afternoon of retro video game action (two arcade cabinets in one restaurant that each had about 60+ retro games on them!!), and finding an old puzzle for $2 at a thrift store.

Hitting the arcade! She played lots of Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong. I showed her 1942, 1943, and a spattering of others...

Hitting the arcade! She played lots of Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong. I showed her 1942, 1943, and a spattering of others...

Busy puzzling with the brothers and nephews

Busy puzzling with the brothers and nephews

Only 3 missing pieces, not bad! None of those were even vital.

Only 3 missing pieces, not bad! None of those were even vital.

Dialect in person: The Iron Reign's Lastride

So then, I'm up in Sacramento visiting the family (who'll play board games, but RPGs not so much). That means I also gotta get out and gaming, and so got in touch with a few of my Sacramento peeps. Matthew and I met when I tried running a "story games" type meetup up there the prior year, and was down to play. We ended up meeting at his place, and he invited his friend Yuri (who'd played some RPGs, but story games not much).

Now, normally I lean more towards fantasy and sci-fi, even when playing serious games, because I feel like there's less restriction on being able to create or play in the setting. However, in talking with Matthew and Yuri, we went more historical fiction. In the past I was a bit averse to this (and still have an internal reaction as such!) but I've had so many good RPG experiences that are set as historical fiction recently, that I didn't say anything to the contrary. And I'm glad we played in the setting we did.

We chose the Thieves' Cant Background: The most important tools for the dozen members of our crew are not our weapons but our language. We speak in code, disguised as pleasantries and idle chatter as we move among our targets.

In creating our setting, we settled on Germany, early 1800's, the early budding of the industrial era. Germany is still a bunch of kingdoms, with some consolidation going on. We decided on the made-up city of Salzberg, on the Baltic sea, north Germany. It has a strong ship-building industry.

We are The Iron Reign, a few places away from a royal seat in a kingdom which has been engulfed by another kingdom. We are horse "thieves", trading in only the purest of German pure-bred horse breeds, whereas our rivals, the "Open Hand", believe a horse is a horse. Heathens.

Our Aspects:

  1. Our job: Procure horses, by any means
  2. Eyes on us (what provides us cover): The fairgrounds, a mix of cultures and trade, dominated at times by the Roma.
  3. Free aspect: Preserve the line; we are from a noble line, and need to regain our seat of power.

We had "Lady Iron Reign" (a royal title, or a stage name?) Isolda, the closest in line to a royal seat that is no more, an adrenaline junkie. Richard von Eisenhuf "Ritterhard", a true knight, and protector of the line and honor. And Adolar, known as "Books", who is a bastard of the royal line, a mix of the royal house and Roma blood, who is self-educated and smart, and also swims in the sea of knowledge that is the fairgrounds.

I played this game closer to RAW (rules as written), and we drew a hand of cards for character choices, and then later each a hand of cards for words (3 from the first age). After you play a first age card, you draw a new card from the second age. This means in the next round of play, you'll have 2 first age cards, and 1 second age card to chose from and play. It was very interesting to see how second and third age cards differ. In the first age it's mostly about making words. In the later ages it's also about more complex word concepts, or situations around words, such as the government mandating their use, or deprecation.

One example word we defined was Prox, which we decided originally came from a longer chemical word, which was part of our mix that subdues horses. Now it's comes to mean "an important resource" or an "important part of the plan"; and eventually we found ourselves using it as "cool" or "good".

Another great one was Lastride. Our knight had gotten old, and was on his death bed, and decided to bring back an older tradition that was no longer being kept. He was held up on his horse (he couldn't ride on his own anymore), and placed in a fake field of battle with friends. And they stabbed him, so that he could die honorably in battle, in his "lastride".

We played almost a 4 hour session. I'm finding that it seems to fall into 3 equal sized chunks: game setup, the first age, and the rest of the game. The second and third age sort of snowball a little bit, and that may be due to getting familiar with the game by that point, or maybe we just rushed some of those scenes more than expected.


  • Although it's important to stand up for what you want to see in a game as a GM, just as a player, I'm very happy I let Matthew and Yuri guide the basic premise for the setting, because I again enjoyed a historical fiction game!
  • The scene after Ritterhard was killed in his Lastride, had the Lady Iron Reign lead a charge in a war that was brewing, and all the soldiers stood up and chanted "to the lastride!" despite the fact that they had no horses and were just foot soldiers. I loved how the word really felt like it came to it's own, and no longer needed to be true to its original meaning. It felt like what the game is meant to do!
  • About 2/3 through the game, and I did some checkins to make sure everyone was still in for the long haul (~ 4 hours), and I was feeling a little worn down, but thanks to Matthew and Yuri for carrying it to the end! I felt really satisfied with the game when it ended.
  • I was really happy to get the game to conclusion, both because it felt complete, but also because I now know that it belongs in a 4 hour con slot (don't try a 3 hour slot unless you set expectations that it's only to show how it works, or rush some aspects, which I wouldn't recommend).


  • I don't think I've read all the rules, but I definitely recommend being a little lose with some of the scene framing (such as not necessarily having only our characters be a main protagonist in the scene, if it feels forces). We had one scene were it made more sense to see children on the street say the word as our older main character watched. We had scenes after one of the characters, Ritterhard, had already died.
  • Although games are probably quite variable in timeframe, it'd be interesting to know what the expected times for the different phases of the game are (and it'd be cool if the rules mention this).
The table with concentric circles heading towards the center.

The table with concentric circles heading towards the center.

Our story, with Matthew, Yuri and myself

Our story, with Matthew, Yuri and myself

CONlorado 2018: Sunday (Deep Forest, Scum and Villainy, Underwater People)

The Deep Forest, with Lego (morning)

I woke up as late as I could, took a Lyft to the YWCA, and met up with Paul, Madjay, and Michael, for a game of The Deep Forest. Michael had played before, Madjay had played The Quiet Year, and Paul hadn't played any of that jazz. The Deep Forest is a hack of the original map-making game about a post-apocalyptic community, and is instead about a bunch of monsters trying to rebuild after the humans have trashed their lands.

Our scenario was an island, where human super-wizards had come and started to colonize with their magics and sorcery, got part-way done, and then left. We had a little abandoned magic metropolis. We had a magic portal that leads to another world. We had a few outposts they had scattered around.

We created some monsters: A giant sea kraken that was hanging out near the city port. A group of wraiths who lived in the Well of Souls. A group of gnomes under the big mountain (with one of them "corrupted" by the outside, and therefore our emissary). Judy, a gelatinous cube clear-cutting a patch of forest.

Part of the game involves creating Taboos (things the humans left behind that we avoid), but also Adopted things that we've taken on for use. We Adopted the human food: a pen in the city center that magically generates flora and fauna of various types. We try to avoid the Eyes of Loving Safety (which float around all over the island, watching), Common Language (we don't know how to read their stuff), and Wands of Arcane Energy (like dangerous landmines! there's still an eternally burning chunk of forest from the last one we tried to use; the remains of a prior monster included).

From there, we started drawing cards and playing. Before long we had a tribe of bugbears invading through the magic portal. We established a small tribe of goblins, who were helping them build a road into the metropolis. That is, until they started eating some of the goblins. The gnomes and goblins didn't get along (as we found through various "discussions") but then suddenly an alliance was made, as the bugbears became more territorial. A giant scorpion thing came out of the ground at one point. Another failed attempt to use a wand resulting in a skyscraper burning. A discovery that the Kraken was eating 90% of our food. The gnomes working on an aqueduct of sorts. The Kraken sabotaging that project by making a dam. A wall around the gnomes as they all "corrupt" themselves with the outside, in an attempt to stave the bugbear invasion. And then the ominous bone golems appearing from the old ruins... as it turns out: our doom as the humans were remotely watching and then taking back control of our world (with the bugbears as their helpers).

Normally the game is played with a map, but we played with my Lego Creationary set (an idea I've written about before, and executed a number of times). It doesn't come out too great in pictures, but man is it nice in person... colorful, 3-D map, and so tactile.

Now, we played "the fleeting year", which is to say we removed some cards to ensure we had a faster game... but I still never find we finish in the established timeframe. Maybe I'm not keeping the pace fast enough, but  still. One thing that Michael suggested during gameplay, as we reached towards the end of session, was a tweak I'm going to incorporate from now on: Instead of ending abruptly somewhere in the middle of the game (if we run out of time), doing a fast forward and taking some cards from Autumn and Winter, to give a more satisfying ending. In our case we chose one card from Autumn and one from Winter, and then ended the game with the King of Spades.

I think it would be nice to explore the change in mood a little more significantly. Thing is, it's also important to really establish the setting with the first season as well. Maybe some spread of a nearly full Spring, 1-2 rounds of Summer, and then 1 round of Autumn and Winter for each player. This might provide a more rounded out experience, that you can fit into a 3 hour session more easily.

A scene from our game

A scene from our game

I really dug Michael's tweak of rushing those final seasons!

I really dug Michael's tweak of rushing those final seasons!

Players of a monster island.

Players of a monster island.

Lunch at The Post

From there we were joined by Kit (another one I didn't get to game with, but at least we shared some chatty lovin'), and some of us headed to The Post Brewing Co, and the food was delicious; I ordered a very big breakfast for lunch (which worked, as I only had a weak bowl of cereal earlier). Additionally, at this point I was smart enough to order a flight of beers, which I shared with Paul, so we were able to try a bunch of different flavors. And there was some DJ spinning great funky beats while we were there, so bonus!

Scum and Villainy (afternoon)

Ok. Seriously running on fumes here. But... need... more... gaming. I didn't get to play with John yet, and he was running this beauty, also a game I have never played but have heard good things about. Scum and Villainy is a game about a crew of a spaceship trying to keep flying and make ends meet while bending the iron fisted rule of the Galactic Hegemony

Again, we're talking another game that is "Forged in the Dark", so the complexities of the game system (which aren't that huge, but definitely the next level up from PbtA games), had me at a disadvantage. I took the easy route... I wouldn't try to really grok the system too hard. And fortunately the table and the GM made that easy for me.

But what happened next took me by surprise: I got to play a fucken Dralasite! Turns out you can play a "Xeno", an alien. So I made a Dralasite mechanic. I can't convey how happy this made me. I barely ever got to play Star Frontiers as a kid, as I was mostly running it for others. I loved the game so much that I've made a whole scenario about it in recent years, just so I could relive that magic, but even then, that's me as a GM. But now I got to play a Dralasite. Seriously. So happy.

We had Lito Thorn, "Zenith", our Speaker (played by Paul), Ratan Levanchy, "Vandal", our Scoundrel (played by Morgan), Orrin Bartok, "Karma", our Stitch / Medic (played by Jeff?), and Aria Gyle, "Elbows", our Muscle (played by Michael).

We started by creating a shared ship, which was the glue that held this team together, but then immediately found ourselves in a scenario (in media res) where we were in a prison! The first step: breaking the hell out. I got to use my slow shapeshifting powers, which obviously gave me some serious joy. We quickly acquired some decent Stress among the crew throughout our escapades, and then perform some downtime scenes. I would almost say that I was starting to get the mechanics of the game, but that would mostly be a lie. I was brain-friend by this point in the weekend. 


Also, if you know Paul Beakley on the G+, he has a thread about the con, and there's little bits about these last two games in there (among many other writeups). Go check it out!

Dinner at West Flanders Brewing

Headed out to get grub, and we (Cate, John, and many others) ended up at West Flanders Brewing Company. I was trying to be good to my body at this point, and ordered a beet-arugula salad. But that wouldn't exactly be accurate, as we were all sharing so many fried and delicious appetizers, that I really had quite a large and heavy meal. Fortunately I didn't force myself to also eat an entree, as I'd been overeating most of the weekend.

LARPs! (evening)

The last sessions were fortunately ones which required me to move around. I don't think I would've lasted sitting down at a table at this point. I didn't get much sleep the night before I left for the con, so by now it was 4 days in a row with minuscule sleep.

Underwater People

The first game I played was a playtest brought over by Alex for Bully Pulpit, called Underwater People. Basically we were all related to the water (in some way, mer-people, or weird sea creaturs, or even an ocean, itself), and we were going to a support group for sea-things. I was the secretary of the group, a sea slug that used to date Elon Musk, but was dumped after he stole my magic moon pelt, and launched it in a car that's circling the earth. That's OK, I've moved on and was dating someone new.

Our president was Sean, playing a human that was pretending to be a sea creature (without any of us knowing it). We had some strange characters, such as the Pacific Ocean (Jerry), and a siren (Krin). Venn and Cate were also in it, and everyone was so... baffling? We didn't really know who each other were, until you started talking. Just like at a real support group. We had hidden cards which described what people needed or wanted (to be listened to, to be pitied, etc.) and if it wanted to emulate some of the possibly strange and tentatively emotional interactions of a support group, well it certainly succeeded!

You play until someone leaves, and just over an hour in, that's what happened as our (human) president and the siren went off to, well, hang out, as it were. I don't play many LARP-type things, but have been doing more since last year, and it's definitely a nice mix at a con. I'm currently happy with about 1-2 of these for each large set of RPGs I play.

There was one other fantastic piece, which if you are good, I may tell you about one day. Yes, I tease you!

All night boat ride to Valhalla

Back to the Big House, and the slow process of saying goodbyes to so many beautiful people. And then packing. And then realizing that I had to leave to the airport at about 4am, and sleeping before then was a loosing battle. So I just stayed up all night, and we hung out on the love couch, or around the kitchen table. I got to spend the most time I had thus far with Stras, with I didn't even get to game with the entire weekend! (what!?)

Towards the end Andy (who was also my roommate through this process) went off, and came back with a bunch of Shaktilove books, which will be the titles for the games we'll be pitching and playing the next time: The Polarity Process, The Cosmic Serpent, Fierce Medicine, Champions for Peace, The Higher Taste, and of course Psycho-Cybernetics 2000. Stay turned for these marvelous games in coming years.

To all the lovely people I got to hang out with this weekend, much much love, and thanks for making such a welcoming and pleasant and superior-fun experience. Peace!

Jumping ship...

Jumping ship...

Until next time...

Until next time...

CONlorado 2018: Saturday (Urban Shadows, The Final Wife, Girl By Moonlight)

But... there was a "game" post up on the whiteboard by Krin, for Thrift Store shopping! I really wanted to go with them, but... but... Urban Shadows. And Madjay. My RPG side won this battle, this day. There is still part of me that is sad about missing thrift store shopping with another lover of the genre.

Urban Shadows (morning slot)

I've heard good things about this particular game, Urban Shadows being: an urban fantasy roleplaying game where you’ll play characters struggling to survive in a dark urban environment drowning in supernatural politics. I'd never played. And I've heard good things about Madjay as a GM, so had to jump into this opportunity. Also, this was the elevator pitch on the sign up sheet: "Buffy meets the Wire set in New Orleans". I mean, come on.

Players included Dylan, Michael, and Morgan. We created an interesting set of characters, all humans. The game revolves around factions, groups that represent communities of mortal and supernatural creatures: Mortality, Power, Night and Wild.  Our group? Two of us were Power (an Oracle and a Wizard), two of us Mortality (the Hunter - or was it the Veteran? - and the Aware).

I played the Oracle, her name Kami, a half-Japanese half-Filipino street rat punk, been around for a few years, smoking lots of weed to deal with the visions and bad dreams. My powers: foretelling, psychometry (reading objects), reading surface thoughts of people, and so on. My first step was to upgrade my gear from "crappy car" to an "awesome bicycle".

We had Cole our Aware (played by Michael), who didn't know the powerful lineage he was from. We had Vivian our Wizard (played by Dylan) casting spells with magic scrawlings burning on cigarettes. And we had Bianca our badass Hunter (played by Morgan), also somewhat Filipino (and we got to exchange quips and throw some very elementary Tagalog around during the session).

Madjay started by introducing a character by the name of The Owl, someone we may be associated with who runs trade in magics and the like. We all created some bonds with each other and with The Owl. We rock up to home base of the mortals trying to take back this town from the supernaturals (a home base and an organization that many of us have worked for, to some extent or another), and find the front door busted open. Dead bodies. A possessed operative. Some violence.

We had some interludes and "downtime" type scenes, some attempts to investigate the goings on, and then the session ended with a good confrontation at the base of The Owl, an old cathedral of sorts.

Madjay kept this session tight and moving. We had 3 hours, and I've heard - since this time - that running Urban Shadows in a one shot is difficult to pull off. But it felt seamless. 

Thanks for photo, Madjay!

Thanks for photo, Madjay!


Stras was around to take us to yet another local joint. This time we headed to a ramen place called Sushi Zanmai (normally a sushi joint, but only serves ramen at certain days and hours). Good eats and good times. I love that almost every meal I got to meet some new folks, or hang out with the old homies I don't get to see often enough.


Werebear: The Final Wife (afternoon)

So, a bunch of us found ourselves gameless in the afternoon. There were the seven of us: myself and Alex and Nadja and Andi and Andy and Andrew and Morgan. We pitched a few things, but 7 doesn't lend itself to just any game. I mentioned The Final Girl, and it turned out no one had played before. There was some trepidation, and I mentioned that the game could go gonzo, but I'd love to see it played in a thoughtful or more serious way, if people were up for it.

We went for it. We grabbed a room, and ended up: The wives in a polygamous family are heading up to a resort in the Canadian Rockies to meet up with their husband, who they don't know has been killed by a Were-bear (like, a person who could turn into a large grizzly monster). My favorite part of this process however was not the result, but how we got there. There were discussions about what tropes would be disrespectful, or just silly, and we tended towards avoiding some of that. The most important part though was that everyone was listened to, and therefore was bought into the story.

We had everyone create 2 characters a piece, and ended up with:

The wives:

  • Nicole, the first wife and a true believer
  • Constance, the innocent wife
  • Tyreen, the wife who solves everything with food
  • Bernice, the eldest wife
  • See-yung (aka Sally), the wife with quiet intensity, new to North America

The folks working at the resort and lodge:

  • Roger, the friendly resort manager
  • Marsha McClean, the butch groundskeeper
  • Kathy, mother of two, owns the general store
  • Piper, the sanguine resort maintenance person
  • Sarah, the housekeeper with dark circles under her eyes
  • Jack [she/her], the resigned cook
  • Jean-Paul, the old hermit of the woods
  • Hank, the bro-y ski instructor

During the three introduction scenes I already felt we had something really good brewing. Nicole (the first wife) was already set up as a matriarch that everyone else seemed averse to. See-yung started as quirky, maybe, but with a little bit of attitude. And the first scene between the resort staff - taking and dealing with a phone call about the missing husband - set a good mix of incompetence and apathy, and with Jean-Paul quitting and storming off into the woods. 

We decided each scene would have 3-4 players in it, which left the rest of us few folks to be the audience in the cheap seats in the theater. Even this added some good punch occasionally.

First blood was at the grocery store, Constance and Tyreen (both wives) going down, as did Kathy and Sarah. Kathy grabbed her shotgun, and to be fair, Sarah did a bad-ass move of snapping a broom in half against a shelf to face the werebear, but all for naught. What really drove the scene was the Jaws and Alien effect... we would only get little teasing views of the beast: the reflection in the refrigerator glass door; a quick shot of a claw; a split-second view of large silhouette. And of course a pineapple can rolling on the floor.

The scenes progressed one-by-one as we took turns playing the killer. We lost various people, with survivors occasionally running into the dark woods. Morgan played the werebear in such an amazing way as it crawled, sniffing, around the wives' cabin. We had a great scene with Hank pissing off the second story balcony of the lodge, as the trees went down one by one, and then a vicious and sad encounter as Marsha falls, saving her love Jack from death. See-yung runs through the woods and finds a cabin, banging on the door, to find Bernice and a shirtless Jean-Paul; after which we had an amazing moment of guns and armaments and a chase with a pickup truck and subsequent crash. And Bernice sacrificing herself to allow See-yung an escape.

A the final moments we see a return of the resort manager Roger, clueless, on his little gold cart, as he runs into both Jack and See-yung. At one point the werebear, chasing Jack and Roger, has See-yung in its large maw. There is a river and a rope bridge that the two try to run across, but it becomes their doom as the werebear gets up on both feet, and rips the bridge out from under them. And that's when See-yung gets up from the ground, swaying, silhouette showing in the moonlight. And little pin falls to the ground as she throws a grenade rolling towards the creature. Like a pineapple can. A huge explosion blasting in See-yung's face. And darkness.

Honestly, it was the best game of The Final Girl I've ever played. There was something about how everyone was tentative at first, but became trusting based on our conversations, and just brought it. We had a few ideas that were nixed based on X-card style "nays", even someone nixing their own idea. And the intentionality was just excellent. When people felt low or winded, we didn't force them to play in the scene or play as a the director/killer, we just found the next person in line who wanted to be in the scene. It just really felt like we were all taking care of each other in many ways, and the result was fabulous. In retrospect, it was probably the highlight of my weekend.

The writers room for Werebear: The Final Wife

The writers room for Werebear: The Final Wife

Side note: Post-game, due to prior discussions, Andi had brought some crafts... in this case a coloring book and crayons! I really needed to unwind a bit and go into a quite mode for a few, and so flipped open the book to the first page. Starting back at me: a vicious bear. And hence, below...

The Final Wife - unofficial movie poster

The Final Wife - unofficial movie poster

Girl by Moonlight (evening)

After a relatively large meal, the blood rushing away from my head, with too little sleep over many nights, it was on to the next game. I mention this, because we were about to dive into some very cerebral territory, for two reasons: 1. This game is "Forged in the Dark"; which is to say, based on the relatively crunchy Blades in the Dark system. 2. Led by Nadja, we needed to process the overly hippie-weirdness that is plastered all over our AirBnB, and we ended up with a theme that required some amount of brain work. Both of these together ended up leading to an amazingly good session (especially after we struggled past our tiredness and into giddiness).

Girl by Moonlight is written by Andrew Gillis (who was also our GM), and is about magic girls (a la Sailor Moon). We ran with a specific playtest Series Playbook called In Darkest Night, which had a somewhat dark theme. We lived on a world where the rotting body of an ancient god was slowly covering the surface. It's agenda? Madness. How has our city-society survived? Partly by encapsulating Shaktilove (lowercase) by focusing only on the positive and "yes", and disallowing the expression of negative emotion. We ended up being the avatars of these perceived "profane" actions, like expressing fury, envy, despair and self-doubt. Oh yah, and our "daytime" personas worked in an internment camp for those affected by negative feelings, which we were there to suppress. Yep, somewhat dark.

We had Vantablack (codename Opal), avatar of despair, played by Nadja. There was Sunrise Starbeam (codename Fury), avatar of anger, played by April. Veridian (codename Seafoam... or maybe vice versa?), avatar of envy, played by Eric. And Nora (codename Sanguine), avatar of self-doubt, played by me. The playbooks also had some interesting dynamics. For example I was also a time traveler, and had come from the distant past, when our society and world were in a much better place. And it turns out I had known Opal's distant ancestor, who was my sister's lover.

The scenes we played were strange, and intense, and there was so much conflict between our characters... it was really enticing. But I think all of our brains were working at a slower pace than normal, and we ended up not get to do what would normally be a full session. I think Andrew was a little down by that, but honestly, the session was still soooo good. I have no regrets. And we got to work through some shaktihate.

A happy bunch. Like shaktilove happy. (Note: per prior game, you can see the start of the werebear poster on the table)

A happy bunch. Like shaktilove happy. (Note: per prior game, you can see the start of the werebear poster on the table)

From there it was back to The Big House, more coloring and hanging out. More love boat. And me eeking out as much sleep as I could, but still getting to the YWCA in time for Sunday's morning game.

CONlorado 2018: Friday (Inheritance, Love Each Other)

Inheritance (morning)

Paul Beakley wanted to run some Inheritance. We barely squeaked in the right number of players. (It's a LARP that plays with 9. Only 9. No more. No less.) The premise: 

Ten years ago, Daxo murdered his beloved older brother, Baldr. Exiled by his father for his crime, he’s spent a long decade wandering. But now he’s heard that his dear grandfather has died, and he’s returned home to claim his inheritance.

We played the hodge podge of people involved in the funeral and drama. We grabbed the YWCA's bigger board room, and went to it. The game is LARP which has us act out all sorts of scenes, occasionally with most of characters there, but often between 2 or 3 people alone. In theory this could happen in tandem, without all of us seeing each others scenes, but the facilitator (in this case Paul), could get everyone to stop and pay attention if something important was going on. 

As it turned out, there was lots of important things going on all the time, and I'm super happy that our focus was often on each other. It was like watching a play, most of the time. Well, when you weren't in the play itself. There were scenes both hilarious, and scheming, and heart-wrenching.

I played Gefjon, the seer. Honestly, I was a little lost at times, not knowing much about Viking things, but the game mostly leads you into knowing what you need to know, but there was a lot to digest in a short time (and keeping in mind that the morning was a 3 hour slot, so we had to play tight).

After the game was over, you get to know a bunch of spoilers around many of the characters and their goals and backgrounds. It made me think that the game might not have replay-ability, but in fact the majority of the players had played at least once, if not a number of times, so I may be totally wrong there.

Once again Sean did a AP report, so I don't have to write much! Freedom!

Everyone preparing by reading their little playbooks

Everyone preparing by reading their little playbooks

Final scenes... a priest and a mother, dead. A brother, poisoned. A father negotiating with a prospective daughter-in-law (or more?)

Final scenes... a priest and a mother, dead. A brother, poisoned. A father negotiating with a prospective daughter-in-law (or more?)


Lunch was at the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill with Alex, Andy and others. It was a chilled out affair, as were many of the outings. Lots of gluten free options for some of our members, and pretty decent grub. Because of the crazy elevation at Boulder, we were recommended not to drink alcohol to quickly. Kind of sucks when they serve full sized pints. We'd learn... eventually I'd split beer flights, or beer pints, or glasses of wine with my various compatriots.

Love Each Other (afternoon)

The next game was a playtest written by Venn Sage Wylde, including players Sean, Nadja, and April:

Queer apocalyptic story game about love and community formation in a world that reflects the vulnerable, broken, and breaking worlds of the characters we create. Will they love each other, overcome their fears, and connect? Will the community survive while the whole world falls apart? How will these characters be remembered?

Once again we have a Sean AP report! He concentrates mostly on the games mechanics and does some roses and thorns. I agree on some counts, such as the mechanics being much to mentally grasp as the tech trees started to open up. A simplified cheat sheet may assist, or something which pared down some of the rules perhaps. A way to get into the meat of the story without as much restrictions in movement?

But either way, instead I'll mention a little of the beautiful narrative that came out of this beautiful game. All characters use a they/them pronoun by default, and we created a few genders at the beginning. We had pooka and goblinanemone, and noodle, among others. These would become a deck that would be shuffled and drawn, each time a recurring character would appear in the story (and thereby define their gender). Each had a simple definition, such as "navigating through and around other genders, watching", or "create and leave gifts for other, not looking for thanks or recognition".

We had a world of rising waters, and a grey goo that was threatening to overwhelm us all. Big Pink, which was the last dry space before the floods. Hodge Podge, the island of junk and debris floating in the ocean, where safety is now in short supply. Bly's Hall, and Chevron Skeleton where Ram's Raiders - our unfriendly neighbors - hail from, and where they're all out of food. There was Nono and Jaji, two refugees from the Floaters of Hodge Podge; Penny our little scientist with the weary face and shaky hands; Zin with the wiry frame and darting eyes.

The game had both world building, map making, and character generation all spread through in little bite sized pieces as we went round and round, and then scenes of various types of desperation. But as we wrapped up, we ended on a happy note. Penny and Jaji ended up bonded by skills, working together to prevent the grey goo from spreading. Nono found inspiration from Jaji, and reclaimed their name, once a series of words said to make them go away, to words used to prevent others from bashfully refusing help.

But my absolute favorite scenes were those with Zin (played by Nadja) pestering Penny (played by April) out on the Hodge Podge. I was in tears of joy.

Our little water world...

Our little water world...

Yes, we loved each other.

Yes, we loved each other.

Indian dinner at Tiffins

Stras, Andy, Nadja and I headed to an Indian joint that was around the corner from Stras' place, Tiffins, and it was lovely. Got to check out Stras' place afterwards, and got to meet some cats and bunnies.

Delicioso... we ordered way too much, which worked out  really  well for breakfast the next day.

Delicioso... we ordered way too much, which worked out really well for breakfast the next day.

The man next to the seminal poster. 

The man next to the seminal poster. 

Scotch party

Then it was off to be dropped back at the Big House, for a little scotch tasting party. We also at some point moved the couches together and created a sort of love boat.

That's possibly when the overwhelming feelings of dread started to sink in, in the house of Shaktilove (lowercase). You can see an innocent looking chalkboard in the background, which proclaims Love and Trust, and never say No, and other words that start to nefariously sink into your soul.

But other than that, all good fun!

My stalwart companion on a maiden love boat journey... one of many.

My stalwart companion on a maiden love boat journey... one of many.

Gracious scotch hosts, John and Cate!

Gracious scotch hosts, John and Cate!

CONlorado 2018: Thursday (Star Crossed, The Queen's Receipts)

House con

I was invited to CONlo (abbreviation approved), run by some friends in Boulder. Stras and John have been running this show for a few years with extremely small numbers, but this year Andi was invited to take some reigns, and it got just a wee bit bigger. (And that includes me, yay!)


Plane Tension

I took a direct flight out of Burbank. Fortunately my friend Sean also thought he was taking a direct flight (incorrectly), and grabbed me on the way. Props for getting all those dirty looks saving me an exit aisle seat during boarding. Well worth it, as we got to chit-chat, but more importantly, eventually got to the work at hand: a game of Star Crossed (Alex Robert's 2-player game of forbidden love, and Jenga).

Because of Andi's excellent organizational work, we were able to converse about the idea of playing this game on the plane. It started as a bit of a joke, and also some talk about how smart it would be to play a scenario with a sky marshal and a terrorist on a plane. (Answer: not smart.) But because of this planning, I specifically brought a miniature "block tower" that I'd found for $0.79 at a thrift store.

Here is Sean's actual play report, which does a good job in giving you the low down. So good, I'm gonna do a straight-up rip, and quote him directly (just in case the link breaks at a later point):

We played Jaime, the idealistic son of a dictator of a small island, and Marco, the house butler that served in the war with the now-dictator and took a bullet for him. Knowing that we were about to wage yet another war, in the middle of the night Jaime convinced Marco to steal his father’s greatest weapon (works left unsaid we because we were flying, but the implication was that it was a WMD) and fly away in the night.

Marco had been the man to see Jaime’s education and his upbringing. While most of the people on the island, including and especially the dictator were expressive and rash, Marco was patient (that’s one of the things that made him so attractive) and reserved. His attention to detail, especially his perfectly trimmed beard were all signs of his control and thoughtfulness. In fact, many years ago Jaime learned to shave from Marco and tried to model the perfect precision that he used when drawing the razor across his skin. Marco was Jaime’s godfather. He was also totally hot for him.

Jaime, in his mid thirties, was erudite, privileged, and idealistic. Though he often argued with his father, he had know idea the extent to which the despot oppressed both the people of his island and threatened his neighbors. Brash like his father, when he learned of the dictators plans, he found the only man he could trust not to betray him (and that could fly the small plane they escaped in) and set off with him to deliver the dangerous cargo to his father’s enemies. He needed to prove this was a mission about political ideas. He needed to prove he wasn’t just flying away to be with Marco!

Pilot and Co-Pilot sat side by side (as Tomes and I did on the plane) and flew from the dictator’s island. They wanted each other but their beliefs and the need to safely pilot the plane trough a deadly course held them apart!

That summarizes it pretty well. He forgot to mention things like how the word "crash" and "WMD" would come up, and how we'd have to quickly tweak all that to ensure we made the rest of our journey unscathed. We joked about passing X-cards around to our neighbors. Honestly, having to be that cognizant of what words we were using added a second level of intensity and tension to the game.


Airport shuttles to Italy-food

We met at the Super Shuttle desk as Andy did us the solid of organizing one shuttle for the 6 of us that landed roughly the same time. We headed on to the YWCA, after passing the evil incarnate which is Blucifer, on the way in.

From there is was on to Pearl St, which is 2 blocks away from the YWCA, and houses the majority of food that was consumed on this journey. We hit Sforno, an Italian joint which was completely devoid of people at that early afternoon hour, and had a delicious family style feast.

Edit: I forgot that Nadja was debuting her show (she is the Talent Manager!) called "Stream On", a reality show that's pretty much the Twitch version of Survivor. So we got to actively see parts of it during our din-din.


Our gaming home for the next days would be the YWCA in Boulder. It's amazing what a great location this turned out to be: custom keycode so we could get in anytime, a couple of conference rooms, miniature kitchenette, proximity to tons of food options, and supporting a great organization. Everything was so seamless that it just makes me want to run a house con like this around my home.

The Whiteboard Schedule

Being such a small convention, of about 25 people, I got to see yet another way that games on demand and scheduling can happen. We'd just fill these out little game signup sheets, and tape them to the game time slots they'd created on the white board (three slots a day: 3 hour morning slot, 4 hour afternoon slot, 4 hour evening slot). The only oversight was leaving a spot for players to sign up, but that was quickly rectified.

An example of a signup sheet.

An example of a signup sheet.

The Big House

Andi and crew planned accommodations for the majority of us foreigners around two AirBnBs, colloquially called The Big House, and The Little House. I was in the former with about a dozen or more of us. It worked out surprisingly well. It wasn't too close to the YWCA, but was a quick $6+ Lyft ride, or a 20+ minute walk (which I did at least 4 times).

Atrocities: The Queen's Receipts

Back to the Y for gaming. First thing I signed up for was Alex Robert's pitch for "Unnamed Game Playtest". The description: "You are a Queen's retinue on a perilous journey. Answer a deck of question cards to find out who you are and how you really feel about the Queen." I'm in. Players included Sean, Eric, Nadja, Andy, myself, and Alex.

The premise was that the Queen chose us because she knows we love her. Who are we? Why are we doing this? What's our relationship to the queen and each other? This is a game where your character gets formed in the journey, much like Fall of Magic or Protocol, however there you at least start with a name and a title or something... here you start with an empty canvas.

A deck of cards. That's it. They get drawn, one by one, one person taking a turn at a time, and you just answer the question. That's all. But holy shit was that game intensely good.

Again, Sean does one of his Actual Play reports. (Which just makes me wonder if I should always play with Sean not just because he's amazingly good fun to play with and a generous co-player, but because then I no longer have to blog about my games, he just does it for me!)

I was the bodyguard. The Queen had cut out my tongue, or more accurately: she'd had her last bodyguard do it, before that bodyguard slit her own throat. I took on the role. I was from a foreign land, brought over as an emissary, but also a spy. The Queen was onto me. And she had my sister in the jail beneath the castle. (There's a word for that, right, Andy?) And she'd let my sister live, as long as I served. If I betrayed her? Well, I had no choice.

One of the fantastic mechanics was the ability to "pass", if you didn't want to answer a question. Or if you wanted to possibly see the next character do so. Of course they could pass too. Everyone could. And if the question got around the table? You just discard and move on. Worked really well for various reasons (safety, narrative flow, and more).

Seriously though, you can just play this game for an hour, or more, depending on how many cards you want to play. Standing in line? Play an RPG. Driving for an hour in traffic with a few friends? Play an RPG. I want this.

Some of the various Queen's Receipts

Some of the various Queen's Receipts

Late night ramblings: Part one of many

And then it became the first of many, many nights, of late night hanging out and talking, and staying up way too late. The first of 4 days of too little sleep, and too much adrenaline. Can't complain, so much love.