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2014-07-02 Darkening Skies

The other day we played Darkening Skies, an unofficial Lady Blackbird sequel. It went very well. My prep was minimal (a few minutes at most), the rules were easy to understand, the setting quick to get into. Rules, plot and setting borrow so heavily from current sensibilities, it’s incredibly easy to digest. Everybody at the table sees within the material the things they like: Firefly, Star Wars, The City of Lost Children, Solar System, Apocalypse World, Fate, Mouse Guard, it can all be there if you start looking for it.

One thing to look out for is the additional freedoms built into the setup. Lady Blackbird had characters with diverging goals, but they were all going to a particular destination on a ship. So even if the stories diverged on the way, characters always returned to the ship an proceeded on to the next chapter. In Darkening Skies, the characters all have a reason to come to the ship, but they have different reasons for leaving the ship.

As soon as Jezebel had found her target, for example, she was ready to leave the ship. After contacting all the factions on board, the remaining party soon decided that they needed to split up. Half of them were going to blow up the bridge while the other half was going to find a lander. The bridge fight was going very, very badly. The two characters ended up “presumed dead”.

Should I run it again, I’ll have to push harder in order for the party to feel the need to stick together. Perhaps I was to lax in the beginning and when players realized how deep the shit was they were getting themselves into, it was too late. No more refreshment scenes, no more helping dice, no more group efforts. I think players where surprised to see this happy Hackbird go into survival horror mode.

I loved it, 4/5 stars.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


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2014-06-17 Isotope

Yesterday I ran Tony Dowler’s Isotope for four friends. It’s a free game and your can download it from his Patreon page.

Isotope is a 4-page post-apocalyptic RPG. When I read it, it looked like a simpler Apocalypse World to me. Easier to create characters, none of the playbooks, moves, and all that extra. I was reminded of Vincent Baker’s 2011 blog post Concentric Game Design. There, Vincent says that Apocalypse World has 4 layers of rules. The first layer has a few stats and uses 2d6: “On a 10+, the best happens. On a 7-9, it’s good but complicated. On a miss, it’s never nothing, it’s always something worse.” That’s basically what Isotope does.

There are four classes, human, mutant, wolfling and troll. Assign -1, 0, 1 and 2 to the four classes, get some perks, mutations and some equipment, go. It has an optional list of character names. We played for about 2½h. After the game, players said that they really enjoyed character creation. It was short and the two pages of classes, names, mutations and equipment provided all the setting information they needed and just enough complexity to have them pondering their choices without getting bogged down.

The rules being so short we ran into two issues. One player really wondered about gaining levels and hit-points. You basically have between seven and twelve hit-points. Roll a d6 for every level you have and pick the highest result, add six. You optionally reroll whenever you get to eat, drink and sleep and you reroll when you gain a level. I think I get it but something about how this was worded confused one of us, as I said.

The thing that confused me was how combat works if a creature has multiple attacks. The way I see it, combat means rolling 2d6 and adding appropriate numbers. On a 10+, you deal damage as per weapon. On a 7-9, you deal damage and you take damage, I guess? Not sure about this one. On a miss, you take damage. But then the rules say that monsters should have one to three attacks. How does that work? Just triple damage? Wow! Perhaps I should check Apocalypse World or Dungeon World.

The sample adventure provided was interesting but light on stats. As I said in another blog post, I like to believe in the independent existence of my game world. This means that I don’t like improvising monsters, traps and rewards on the spot. If I do, I feel like it’s me against the players instead of me acting as the impartial referee between the game world and the players. Improvising in this context often means adjusting the difficulty, being tempted by an imaginary arc of excitement, reducing player agency.

⚠ Spoilers! ⚠

This is where I made a misake. I started with a few notes:

  • 1 bear, 4hp, AC 0, 3 Attacks, no trespassers
  • 4 mutants, 2hp, AC 1, 1 Attacks, giants, chainsaws, see invisible, wings
  • Grüber, 8hp, AC 0, 3 Attacks, sticky giant tentacles
  • 3 giant ants, 3 hp, AC 2, 1 Attack, acid fog envelops combat

As the game went on, I added more:

  • Orbyx, 6hp, AC 0, 4 Attacks, friendly, curious, hungry, psychic
  • 1 extradimensional shadow dragon, 12 hp, AC 0, 2d6 of non-euclidean space ruptures
  • 4 arachnoids, 3hp, AC 2, 1 Attack, poisonous, hungry

It was quick to do, no problem. It just felt a bit weird to write these things down on the fly.

Figuring out which rooms contained useful loot was a similar problem. Was the big loot in the flooded room at the bottom? If so, what did it contain? What would be the big reward for successfully launching the rocket? Should I run it again, I would have to better prepare a few end scenarios so that I can push players towards one of these endings with appropriate closure as time starts running out. As it stands, the end was a bit flat.

So, next time: More prep!

As far as plot goes: the party got split towards the end. One managed to have the shadow dragon open the sarcophagus and so the character went exploring and found some valuable power tools to sell. The other characters found the map room and managed to set the intercontinental missile targeting system on a few cities by accident, but I decided that more was required to actually launch the rocket. We didn’t have the time, however, so we broke off saying that the delvers camping around the titan sarcophagus had finally caught up to what was happening and would start exploring the structure soon enough. The power tools where the only loot recovered.

We spent half an hour after the game talking about it, comparing it to Apocalypse World (which was deemed longer and harder to get into for little benefit), Lady Blackbird (which was deemed to promise better character development via keys and locked tags) and Traveller (which was deemed to similar in that character development basically meant the accumulation of gear and allies instead of powers).

I said I’d run a Lady Blackbird hack in two weeks time. Perhaps The Bugs of Venus? Then again, I like the original Lady Blackbird characters, I like the romantic angle, and I don’t have much experience in the military fiction genre, didn’t like Starship Troopers too much, don’t know whether I can recreate the Alien feel… We’ll see!


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2014-03-24 Torchbearer

Today we played two and a half hours of Torchbearer. We had three players and started out with me playing the warrior, Johannes playing the halfling and Harald playing the dwarf. Pascal was running the game for us. It involved a kid disappearing into a tomb. We crawled into the tomb, got up, advanced down the corridor and met four skeletons. We went for a kill conflict and started with a disposition of 10 vs. 5 but by the second volley we were down to four and we just barely managed to avoid a total party kill. My warrior escaped, badly wounded, got lost in a swamp, was led astray by green flames dancing in the distance and nearly drowned.

We wound two replacement characters (the cleric and the magic user) and then we went there again. We realized that going for a kill was dangerous and tried a trick conflict. Again, we started with a disposition of 9 vs. a lot less, and within a few volleys we had lost. We were driven off by the skeletons never to return…

And that was that. We liked some ideas in theory. We liked the grind. We liked the light rules. We liked how enumbrance worked. But as soon as the conflict started, we got disconnected from the fiction. Attack, Defend, Feint and Maneuver—it was dry, hard to picture, very abstract, and we lost. And then we started noticing that the other systems didn’t seem to make a difference or didn’t result in a play experience more entertaining compared to using classic D&D.

We’ll be playing something different next indie night.


Comments on 2014-03-24 Torchbearer

Some discussion on Google+.

A thread on the forum for the same dungeon that went very differently: Dread Crypt of Skogenby.

And here’s a thread on the same dungeon where Luke advises: “Take care in the first conflict. The players may blithely walk into a Kill conflict and can easily lose (and thus get killed). So, go easy on them there. Don’t Feint!”. Advice for Dread Crypt of Skogenby? I also like the game master’s summary after the game: “The players didn’t much care for the rules. The main complaint was ‘way too many moving parts!’, with the opinion that the same sort of effect could have been gotten with a smaller and more cohesive ruleset […].” Very much like our reaction. The same game master later ran a different game which went much better, apparently. Second time's the charm: spider-killing for fun and profit.

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-25 11:05 UTC

Ynas Midgard
I’ve GMed Torchbearer thrice now; twice the starting scenario from the book in person and once the one you guys played on Google+. The first time went horribly wrong with players mostly into OSR games. The third one was also a failure, although not as big as the first one. The second one, however, was an ultimate success. Granted, I explained every rule thoroughly and made sure everybody understood what was what and how it worked; they really enjoyed the game, especially the conflict rules.

Ynas Midgard 2014-03-25 11:38 UTC

I’m sure this works for many people. As for myself, I need to ask myself the question: how many times must I have tried it before I confidently say, that it is not for me? After running a few sessions of Burning Wheel (campaign wiki), a one-shot at a convention, a session of Blossoms are Falling, and playing a few sessions of Mouseguard and buying at least six books, and trying to read Burning Empires, I must finally confront the Ugly Truth: where as I like the writing and the promise of these games, they fail me at the table.

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-25 14:11 UTC

As I was reading Ramanan's Google+ post and the comments, I went looking for those threads where Luke and Thor reported on their B/X D&D gaming.

“We’ve been playing D&D at BWHQ for the past four months…” on Google+

“I’m sort of embarrassed by how excited I am about this little tale of dungeon exploration…” on Story Games

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-26 12:50 UTC

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2012-05-22 Thinking About Solar System RPG


A while ago Harald posted on Google+ and wasn’t too sure about the system. We had talked about the Solar System RPG before and so I asked him what had made him change his mind. After all, he had done the German translation of the system. Harald turned the question around and asked me instead: Looking back at the game I ran from character generation to transcendence, what had worked well and what had not?

I want to preserve what I said back then on my blog instead of loosing it in the depths of Google+:

Without thinking about it too long, it seems to me that the system is not quirky enough for me. If the rules are too simple, to unified, then results end up being predictable. With results I’m referring to the game experience at the table. With D&D and other traditional systems, it’s hard to figure out how your game play will change. There are weird spells, weird monsters, all of them with little extra rules that cover their specialty. In their totality, the systems are not rules-light, even if some of them such as the old school D&D variants have simple character generation.

I think this is also related to Changing Gameplay Over Time.

I don’t have much D&D 4E experience, but I’ve seen people complain online about the perfect progression of character’s abilities and monster’s abilities. Old versions had asymmetries over time such as attack bonuses growing faster than armor class, save or die effects eventually dominating hit points.

Furthermore, non-quirkiness promotes abstraction. Abstract combat, abstract conflict resolution, and I’m wondering whether as a gamer, I might prefer more grounding. I’ve heard the same argument from other people, too. Sometimes it is also discussed under the label of Dissociated Mechanics. I end up not liking the abstraction of chess and prefer the speculations at the table that come with such questions as “what do you see when invisible people walk through water” or “can the fire reach me around the corner?” If you have quirky rules such as how fireballs work, then you can draw conclusions as to what happens if obstacles block the fireball’s path and use them in play. If the system is very abstract, then we roll first and interpret or explain the result afterwards.

The end result, therefore, is that the game felt a bit blander than before. The story felt like epic high level D&D without all the pain that high level D&D 3.5 would add, but the actual game experience felt blander than the simple Labyrinth Lord games I like to run.


Comments on 2012-05-22 Thinking About Solar System RPG

This made me think… a lot.

I feel the same about Solar System, TSoY, Fate etc. But I think the main reason for the different long-term experience compared to D&D/clones is not really the lack of leveling up and related changes in the system. Case in point: I suspect most groups keep returning to play in a specific same range of class levels. According to their tastes. For example I prefer the lowest levels where every goblin matters and some PCs really use short swords, slings or other less-than perfect equipment.

Classic D&D-ish systems are designed from the bottom-up: you have some mechanics for low-level effects (like striking, skill attempts, knowledge checks). It is left to the players to sort out how those effect interact with each other or with the game world. This approach automatically leads to a myriad of possible permutations. Whats more, because classic systems come with huge lists of elements (equipment, skills, spells, monsters, artifacts…) or are easily extended with DIY elements, they also project different possible play flavors to the players. Its not just that fighting the Mummy Contraption in the Marshes of Yuck is very different from any fight you are likely to have experienced before: You know that the GM will introduce new elements with new, possibly weird properties if you go after the Mummy Contraption in the Marshes of Yuck. And those elements will matter mechanically, very much so. That is practically a new game lurking there in the yuck.

Compare that to games like Solar System or Fate which have a top-down design: Here is a generic way of handling everything. Now you can do anything, but mechanically it will feel the same. This is OK, because the events are supposed to mean something different every time. The change in flavor comes from the change of meaning of what your PC is doing. That is great for grand, dramatic play. You have to constantly shake up the PC and her immediate surroundings to make every other conflict really meaningful. Over a sustained period of play, I think this will get tiring. Are you excited to fight the Mummy Contraption in the Marshes of Yuck? You know that mechanically, you’ve probably seen it all so there will be nothing new from that department. What motivates you to really to do it in the end is the meaning of the quest. It is important to your PC (do you have a “best interest” or a “belief” or does it hit a “key” or is you PC motivated by design as in Dogs in the Vinyard and My Life With Master?) or it is important to the game world or maybe you are compelled to act by the system itself (You are supposed to get more XP or you need that loot)?

This is not a simple dichotomy. Some game elements in D&D are not very interesting mechanically (like weapons) and a top-down system can have mechanics that produce interesting variations. Fate has skills, but they all use the same mechanics. And of course, you could mix top-down and bottom-up design, to try to have the best of both worlds. I think Burning Wheel might be an example with its beliefs and Artha on the one – top-down – hand, and its life paths and lists of skills and spells on the other.

lior 2012-05-22 15:38 UTC

I agree. The only importance of “changes over time” is that this introduces yet another element to complicate the game mechanics. I also agree that there is a sliding scale between abstract, unified, dissociated mechanics on one side and the detailed, additive, quirky, diy mess of rules on the other side.

All I can say is that the games that have tried to have the best of both worlds didn’t do it for me—but I’m not sure this is due to their position on this slide. Role-playing games are themselves a multi-factored experience depending on other people at the table, setting, adventure, character, yourself, and many other things. Compared to that, the handful of sessions I have played offer no insight.

You already mentioned Burning Wheel with it’s complex life path character generation and it’s many detailed rules for various elements (fighting, talking, shooting, sorcery, miracles, artha, the sheer number of skills) and a very simple core dice mechanic. Rolemaster, Harp and Merp are similar games with long lists of things (equipment, skills, spells, classes) and a very simple core dice mechanic.

I guess in the end this just means that it’s a small, nameless element of game design that I can use to describe why my next campaign is not going to use the Solar System rpg rules; I might also use it to argue why my next campaign is not going to use Fate; I think I can’t use it to predict whether I will like a new set of rules…

AlexSchroeder 2012-05-22 16:31 UTC

Awesome, insightful thoughts. I am still trying to pull my thoughts about why I don’t want to do Solar System as originally planned, but it seems you two nailed it pretty well so far.

That said, tastes change over time, so my verdict is anything but final (but probably valid for a couple years).

Harald 2012-05-22 18:00 UTC

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2012-04-25 Podcast Appearance


A while ago I read a comment by Wilhelm on my blog. A bit later I saw a comment by Wilhelm on Google+. A few weeks ago I saw a call for gamers from across the globe on his blog. I left a comment and soon enough I made an appearance on one of his English podcast episodes.

“We discuss the Swiss gaming scene, old school gaming, indie games and building gaming communities.” – Avsnitt 14 / Episode 6 – Alex from Switzerland

Check it out if you want to hear my German accent. ;)

Some links for stuff we mentioned:

Games mentioned: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, M20, Solar System RPG, Western City, FATE, Spirit of the Century, Der Geist Mesopotamiens, Mountain Witch, Kagematsu, Montsegur 1244, Poison’d, Fiasco, Burning Wheel, Zombie Cinema.

OerliCon is the local RPG convention. Spielerzentrale is the old site to find new players. Rollenspiel in Zürich is the Facebook page I created.

What I did not mention is the One Page Dungeon Contest. Gaah! :)


Comments on 2012-04-25 Podcast Appearance

I’ve just listened to the podcast. First of all: I think your accent is negligible.

There were several moments in the interview I really wanted to jump in with an alternative view. For example on “Pirates”, where it was interesting for me as a GM to see that you players were desperately looking for “XP”. And you chose to find that in the “I have sinned” list which led you to do ever new horrible things… That was weird.

Sometimes I feel like there is so much more we could be discussing after play. Even though I try to take my time for that, it never feels enough. sigh.

lior 2012-04-26 07:47 UTC

Feel free to leave comments here or on Wilhelm’s blog and we can continue the conversation. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-04-26 07:57 UTC

Great to hear your thoughts. I’m not an indie gamer but like to think I’m open to cool innovations wherever they come from. I’ve been surprised how old school D&D, often mocked for its simplicity, actually incorporates lots of different types of play and keeps things interesting. So, while I’m happy these indie designers are creating new things, I’m more likely to want to port their cool ideas back to D&D than play their games themselves.

Telecanter 2012-04-27 01:56 UTC

I just listened to Canon Puncture 127: Jadeclaw GM Tips which was full of interesting ideas that one of the hosts had lifted from indie games and applied to his current, traditional game.

AlexSchroeder 2012-04-27 23:12 UTC

Excellent podcast, Alex and Wilhelm, and thanks for the mention.

Alex, I hope this is the first of many podcasts you will taken part in. You have a natural talent for it :)

greywulf 2012-04-29 16:07 UTC

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2011-12-26 Christmas Gaming

Happy Saturnalia On December 25, 13:00 eight of us started playing Kagematsu. The samurai was played by my wife, Claudia – most people did not know what to expect and there was some gasping and yelping when the game rules and objective were revealed. Good fun was had by all, even when Kagematsu suffered a terrible defeat at the end, mostly because my character decided to flee, leaving six dies of Fear behind…

We hat some Döner, Pizza and whatever else could be had in the vicinity (since cookies, M&Ms, Stollen, chips don’t make a good dinner) and started playing the Mountain Witch. We used super-hero like ronins: One could turn into a dragon and breathe fire, one could fly and turn into stone, one could turn invisible, one had Amaterasu’s sun sword on him, etc. The beginning of the game was slow and boring, but apparently mostly because I was slow on the uptake. When I started pushing for dark fates, at least half the players claimed to clearly know what was going on. Ok, I soldiered on. As we reached the castle, a sudden flurry of violence errupted. There was fighting, there was backstabbing, the was a killing innocents, vengeful help from dead player characters and a final showdown of one player character and the witch king vs. the two remaining player characters (three other player characters having been killed before). The two remaining player characters won – he who was afraid of sleep and she who had entered a sinister allegiance…

By now it was near midnight and two players had to leave. The five of us decided to play one more thing and a few minutes after midnight we started two hour delve into The Spire of Iron and Crystal using Swords & Wizardry. It was good fun, they made it out alive of the first level, the dwarf had reached the second level via teleportation for a few moments, they had looted the gems of the crystal tree and collected the coins lying around in the slitherrats’ lair – total points awarded: 1300 for two hours of play.

There was some cleaning up to do and I think it I head the 4:00 bells before falling asleep at last. :)


Comments on 2011-12-26 Christmas Gaming

Happy Saturnalia to you too!

Harald 2011-12-26 14:32 UTC

I had a great time! Thanks for hosting. And special thanks to Claudia for gracefully handling Takemasu, without notice and despite suboptimal health! I seriously underestimated the amount of work neccessary. Sorry for that

– Lior 2011-12-27 14:22 UTC

That sounds like a blast, I am jealous :)

Adrian 2011-12-27 17:49 UTC

I missed you! :D

AlexSchroeder 2011-12-28 09:59 UTC

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2011-10-03 Apocalypse World

The End… Today we played our second session of Apocalypse World. I think I like it. There were many things about the game I suspected I would not like:

  • The rigid character creation allows you to pick a very specific kind of character. In terms of D&D, you’d pick a class, a typical attribute distribution, a skill package, a name (from a list!)—it’s really very rigid. In the end, however, I enjoyed it. I guess a rigid system is very similar to a very simple system (like Labyrinth Lord).
  • The obscure attributes like Hot, Hard, Weird and the rest of them are often tricky to picture. Eventually it all works out because the character sheet will list the “moves” you can do with the respective attribute.
  • The rigid list of moves players are allowed to choose from seemed very artificial. I feared it would play like D&D for Dummies. In the end, however, it feels quite flexible. On the contrary, by listing common actions and the required skill test, it’s actually easier to pick a move and continue playing.
  • I don’t like the post apocalyptic genre. I don’t remember seeing any movies in this genre. I don’t remember playing either Fallout or Wasteland.

I liked the barter system and the way successes are described. Essentially you can have partial successes and full successes for every “move"—and many of the move descriptions also have a list of four or more items with a partial success meaning “pick one” and a full success meaning “pick three” from the list. That’s awesome.

I think our Indie game night will play Apocalypse World for another one or two sessions before switching to something new. I’m not sure I’d want to play it again, but I’m interested in playing Dungeon World, now. :)


Comments on 2011-10-03 Apocalypse World

The moves in AW say: “Here’s the fun”. And IMO they deliver pretty well so far. After peeking into Dungeon World I’m not sure that its moves are as dense packed with fun. In fact I am a little skeptical that DW’s one-to-one translation of D&D is a good idea.

I would like to play another two or so sessions of AW where I will try to let the game shine more in some aspects I neglected until now. The game text is full of examples and descriptions of how it should be about the PC’s interacting with the post apocalyptic world. But it lacks concrete tools to get this interaction going if the players do not set their PCs up like that. I am resolved to use aggressive measures to get the “interaction” to the PCs if necessary… I hope it works.

lior 2011-10-07 11:21 UTC

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2011-08-23 Lady Blackbird

There’s a biweekly indie RPG group here in Zürich. I still remember the exhilaration at the table after we played our first session of Spirit of the Century. Yesterday, there was a similar feeling at the table when we finished our session of Lady Blackbird.

The actual rules of the game fit on half a page of text, the character sheets are another half a page of text each – and thus every page you hand out to your players is their pre-generated character and the entirety of the rules. As a GM, there’s a page of flavor text, half a page with a map, and half a page with adventure ideas. I basically ran the 2½h session using copies of the character sheets and the half page of adventure ideas.

The mechanics are a mix of Solar System RPG (keys, secrets), Mouse Guard (helping dice, d6 dice pool, conditions) and FATE (traits and tags felt a lot like aspects). There were no skills. I loved it.

The story has hints of Firefly (something that’s not science fiction “in space”) and Star Wars (Leia, Han Solo, the boarding of ships) to inspire but it is sufficiently open ended to adapt itself to your players’ taste. I also liked the many female characters and the romantic framing story. That makes it ideal to introduce new players to it.

Or, according to the author:

I made a game package inspired by the things they like: Firefly, World of Warcraft, and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). The system is my homebrew fusion of TSOY, The Pool, and Mouse Guard. […] The PDF has a setting guide, starting situation (Poison’d style), pregen characters, and an airship data sheet. It’s presented “oracle style” with plenty of suggested bits for you to fill in as you play. – announcement on Story Games

After the game we wondered whether the simple mechanics would work just as well if we had created the starting situation and characters with their traits, keys and secrets ourselves. How important is this setup?

I think one has to be careful to stick to well know tropes in terms of mechanics, characters and initial situation. As Brand Robins said in the same thread:

John is using genre communication to get across what his games are about. Its pretty easy to see where he does this on the fictional level – drawing on tropes that those the game is for will have some familiarity with and an emotional response to. He’s also doing a similar thing on the mechanical level, where coherent bits are built out of elements across different games.

I’m definitely in the mood to try out more Lady Blackbird Hacks!


Comments on 2011-08-23 Lady Blackbird

It was truly an awesome session! Personal highlights:

  • Bureaucratic diversion attempts over radio (even if that did not work in the end)
  • Blaming the goblin for not taking any steam-porn aboard
  • Stealing coal for the ship
  • Boarding Buxom Bunny’s ship, with a plan!
  • Various informative and funny refreshment flashbacks
  • Tricking pirate captain Flint with the help of some grape fruits

Playing Lady Blackbird was great fun. But your remark about dick moves re. abandoning team members in the Owl made me think: was blowing up the owl essentially a dick move on my part? In hindsight, I should have asked if this was OK with everybody. Of course, as I know Johannes he would not have objected. But still….

Thanks Alex! This awesomeness was to a large extent driven by your GM’ing skills!

I wanted to mention this but forgot it during our wrap-up discussion: We were extremely fast, story-wise! We had this whole complete adventure in well under 3h, including introduction to the system. I guess that is also thanks to the absence of meaningful mechanics for PC-cooperation: You loose the possibility for intricate, complex scenes but the mechanical simplicity of each scene lets you go through an enormous number of scenes per session. Interesting.

lior 2011-08-24 14:39 UTC

Thank you for the kind words.

No, blowing up the ship was not a dick move because the player characters were not blown up. I think this is the important part because players did not expect this to be a player vs. player game.

As for the speed: I think this was deliberate because I knew I wanted to finish by 22:30, 23:00 at the latest. Plus, I skipped all adventure ideas involving piloting. I have read accounts in the Story Games thread saying that they spent an entire session getting out of the Hand of Sorrow. Thus, it was just a question of how complicated I wanted to make it, how many obstacles there were to overcome.

AlexSchroeder 2011-08-24 16:02 UTC

Harald Wagener
I’m so sad that I couldn’t make it to this session.

Harald Wagener 2011-08-25 09:23 UTC

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2011-03-22 Archipelago is a Game Master Training Game


We played Archipelago II yesterday. I didn’t like it too much. When I sit down for my gaming session, I want to be entertained. I personally require some sort of struggle and tension for this to work, and Archipelago did not deliver. We did have a most illuminating discussion after the game, however.

I felt that the game was basically a 97% story telling game. We took turns in telling a story. Except that we’re not awesome story tellers like authors from books. Stories in a good book are subtle, deep, novel, surprising, emotional, surprising, and we are not. Maybe we could become better story tellers over time, but I don’t have much hope for myself.

I think this has to do with how my creativity works. I like constraints. Random encounters, random abilities, a struggle against opposition. The story I prefer is therefore a side-product of player action, game master plans, random rolls, twists and opposition introduced by others – it is a necessary side-product, but not something that I want to deliberate with my fellow players, not something I want to plan beforehand. I don’t want the author perspective on the story. I want to discover the story as it unfolds.

Archipelago features a random element: On your turn a player can (and usually does) challenge you, forcing you to draw a card for somebody else to interpret. These cards have the famous Yes and or No but answers. Yes you succeed, or you succeed and something minor goes wrong, or it has unintended consequences, and so on. It’s what books like Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley (@grahamwalmsley) try to teach the reader, except now you’re doing it instead of reading it.

Interesting, Archipelago works as a game master teaching tool?

I think it does.

Scene framing, saying yes, accepting cool ideas from the other people at the table, I agree!

Archipelago also has this element where every person at the table is responsible for one aspect of the game world (magic, geography, culture, history – broad aspects, all of them). This responsibility comes into play when a player draws a fate card when they are out of ideas or when they want to spice things up. The card usually calls upon another player to narrate something related to their aspect. So if Lior is out of ideas, he picks up the stack of fate cards, picks one and hands it over to Johannes to read. Since Johannes is responsible for the magic aspect of the world, his interpretation will probably involve magic.

This aspect (hah!) of the game is harder to translate to traditional games. Do I want a player to be responsible for the gods? The cities? I don’t think so. What I will do, however, is grant players narrative rights or veto powers over their home town, their faith or their race (such as my goblins or my shadow elves). We’ll work something out. If I have maps or non-player characters to share, I’ll share some info with players from the location and I’ll let them add to it as far as possible.

This works like wises in Burning Wheel and other Luke Crane games or certain skill uses in FATE games – except that I don’t require dice rolls, nor do I require rules to regulate narrative rights like the ones Archipelago provides. I just offer the opportunity to my players. One or two might take me up on the offer, depending on inclination, interest and time available.

I like there to be 10% player empowerment and story telling in my games, sometimes using emails and the campaign wiki. What Archipelago offered instead was 97% player empowerment and story telling. Thus, Archipelago turned out to be interesting from an intellectual point of view, if not from an entertainment point of view.

The image above was randomly generated using Amit’s Flash Demo of his Polygonal Map Generation (Perlin, 2D slopes). I also removed a bunch of red lines using the Gimp: Select the area with the red lines, go to colors and saturation, pick red, and change the saturation to zero. Worked for me.


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2010-12-30 Looking Back

A Paizo tweet made me post on this EN World thread about the games I played in 2010. Here’s what I wrote.

I joined a group with the goal of trying as many game systems as possible. What I played:

Outside of this group I also played three sessions of D&D 4E and a session of Star Wars Saga edition.

And in my regular campaigns I played:

  • Rolemaster (got switched to Legends of Middle Earth)
  • Legends of Middle Earth (got replaced by A Song of Ice And Fire)
  • A Song of Ice And Fire (I had to quit – no more time!)
  • Mongoose Traveller (got switched to Diaspora)
  • Diaspora (got replaced by a second Labyrinth Lord campaign)
  • D&D 3.5 (two campaigns still ongoing)
  • Pathfinder RPG (one campaign still ongoing)
  • Labyrinth Lord (just started a second ongoing campaign)


Comments on 2010-12-30 Looking Back

Jealous! :D

This year we have played 4e D&D more than any other game (at least once every two wees, more in Summer). Second is RISUS (which is rapidliy rising in group popularity) with just a handful of sessions of ICONS, M&M 2e and 3:16 to our name.

I crave the variety you have managed to achieve!

greywulf 2010-12-30 14:28 UTC

Hehe. I would not have believed it a year ago. Basically half the group is game masters that have separate groups of mono-system players. :)

AlexSchroeder 2010-12-30 14:44 UTC

Since then, we have also played:

  • 5 sessions of Burning Wheel
  • 3 sessions of Apocalypse World
  • 1 session of Fiasco
  • 1 session of Mythic whatsitsname Generator
  • 1 session of Archipelago
  • 1 session of PDQ in a swiss fairytale
  • what else?

lior 2011-12-01 09:50 UTC


  • 1 session of Lady Blackbird

AlexSchroeder 2011-12-01 10:26 UTC

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