Friday, 27 October 2017

Welcome to Prepville! Population: YOU

Shout out to Alex, who suggested this topic. Thanks Alex! I don't know how I've been writing this blog for several years and not directly addressed the topic of prep, but it's a huge one.

We started chatting about prep because I was talking about having just finished preparing for the first session of the new game I'm about to start running, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. It's a big change of gears after wrapping up NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE, which was a small-cast, high drama affair. MRD is a more traditional game, running on a traditional (even retro, in a lot of ways) rule system, with a lot more demands on the GM side of things.

I think the two games will provide fruitful points of comparison in terms of what was required to prepare for both of them.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Maybe We Haunt Ourselves: NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE

Strathclyde House. Whatever walked there, walked alone.

Last week, we finished my haunted house campaign NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE. It was a strong finish to a game that had a lot of powerful stuff in it.

Everything about this game was an experiment, really, and it's probably lucky that it came out as well as it did, but I had great players and good tools to play with. The objective of the game was to play something that was focused on going deeper, playing harder than we had for a while, even in games that had a lot of good stuff in them. We were playing with a slightly smaller group, three players and a GM, which had important implications for play down the line. As far as mechanics go, we were using the dramatic petitioner-granter rules from DRAMASYSTEM, with the 2d6+Trait mechanic from Powered-by-the-Apocalypse games to serve as our procedural rules.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Review Omnibus

August's flurry of RPGaDay activity has me wanting to post material more often, so I thought I would re-share some older material that might still be of general interest. Today, here's a collection of game reviews I've written in the last couple of years for some pretty awesome games. Maybe you're still thinking about buying them...? Read on.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Bittersweet Farewell to #RPGaDay2017

31. What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

I have to echo Rob Donoghue -- I'm looking forward to DUSK CITY OUTLAWS and SHADOW OF THE CENTURY a lot. I'm also looking forward to seeing what the revised edition of STARS WITHOUT NUMBER looks like.

But, to be honest, I'm also looking forward to catching up on a couple of 2017 games I haven't got my hot little hands on yet -- DRESDEN FILES ACCELERATED and BLADES IN THE DARK are definite must-gets for me, when I've got the cash. And I'm looking forward to getting some play time with a few games I've Kickstarted, especially THE WATCH. And if I'm very brave, maybe I'll get a chance to play BLUEBEARD'S BRIDE.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Well Mash My Potatoes! #RPGaDay2017

30. What is an RPG genre mashup you would most like to see?

How about Jazz Age space opera? Spaceships and fedoras. Glamourous intergalactic speakeasys. Private eyes walking the mean streets of giant art deco space stations. Gangsters disposing of their inconveniences by tossing them into a black hole.

Or a steampunk game where it's steampunk + NOTHING. I really don't care for adding magic to my steampunk Victoriana, but it always seems to weasel its way in. How's that for an anti-mashup?

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Ain't That A Kick in the Head? #RPGaDay2017

29. What has been the best-run Kickstarter you have backed?

Hmm, this is a tough one, because I'm a relative newcomer to backing Kickstarters at all. Not for lack of wanting to, but because I mostly don't have the extra cash. I've only backed a handful of things, and most of them have delivered quite nicely. I've never backed anything that didn't produce a product at the end of it, luckily.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Three Answers and a Baby #RPGaDay2017

26. Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

FATE provides an incredibly robust set of tools that can apply to practically any genre, and they're tools that the group can "tune" to their own tastes. FATE is such a staple of gaming to me, though, that I feel like it's almost cheating to use it as an answer.

So here are a couple of other games with great tools, just to keep it all above board.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Tanks a Lot #RPGaDay2017

25. What is the best way to thank your GM?

Say "thank you".

OK, slightly less sarcastic answer incoming.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

You're Worth It #RPGaDay2017

24. Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

Evil Hat offers a lot of quality products on a PWYW basis, funded by their Patreon. They are usually high quality, and could easily go for at least a nominal fee.

But I'm sure everybody already knows about them.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Apropos of Recent Celestial Events #RPGaDay2017

23. What RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

I think ECLIPSE PHASE gets the nod for me. I picked up a bunch of supplements recently, and they're all just gorgeous. The art is amazing, and the books look crisp and modern.

Evil Hat also does consistently good-looking, clean books, with nice artwork and very readable layout. ATOMIC ROBO is just a knockout. What a gorgeous book.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Take It Easy #RPGaDay2017

22. Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

I can dive into a FATE game with very little prep work, especially if I've got pre-gen characters for the players ready to go. This is something I used to do when I ran regularly at local cons -- set up pretty, accessible character sheets for running various things in Fate, so all I'd need to do was have a vague idea what the adventure was and I was ready to go. My pre-gens look like characters about 3/4 of the way done, and with a couple extra aspects/choices they're ready to play.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Hold On, I'm Comin' #RPGaDay2017

19. Which RPG features the best writing?

I don't really look to RPGs for elegant writing, the same way I look to literature, and I'm often put off by games that insist on including fiction with their text.

Friday, 18 August 2017

You're The Most #RPGaDay2017

18. Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

I suspect, like most people who started playing RPGs in grade school, that there is no real contest for this question.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

My Oldest Nemesis #RPGaDay2017

17. Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

Oh, it's like that, huh? This month-long conversation just got a little too real.

I own an awful lot of games, and I have enjoyed them all (even if a number of them I've only read). I was happy to realize, after staring at my shelves for a while, that the vast majority of books I've got as a hard copy I've played at least once over the years. I had to compare copyright dates to see which of the contenders was published first.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

There's Always Vanilla #RPGaDay2017

16. Which RPG do you enjoy using as-is?

Hmm. This is a harder question than which RPG I tinker with, which is a lot of them (in small ways). Again, it feels like cheating to say FATE, because that game is designed as a powerful and flexible toolkit that is intended to be adapted to whatever subject you're playing, and it includes explicit assistance to help you do it.

It also feels like cheating to answer using a vanilla ruleset like CALL OF CTHULHU uses, despite the fact I've been playing it (and by "it", I mean the 5th edition rules, from the early 90s) with virtually no changes for a long, long time.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Adaptation #RPGaDay2017

15. Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

This one's no contest. Definitely SHADOWRUN.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Endless Highway #RPGaDay2017

14. Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

I do not prefer open-ended campaign play, to be perfectly blunt.

In my experience, I've had much more productive play at my table by changing my focus to a short-game model, where every player at the table knows that they've only got (x) episodes to get their character issues on the table and they'd better play hard to make that happen. I know that in some quarters, this is seen as weird, but it's meant that in the last decade our games have been exponentially better. As an adult, I need my game time to be focused and for shit to get done.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Where the Art Is #RPGaDay2017

12. Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

There are lots of excellent RPGs out there with top-notch production values. I've been reading Monte Cook's NUMENARA recently, and the art in that game is very high quality for a not-WotC-or-Paizo production. Especially when that game sets out to describe a science-fantasy world that's pretty different from your standard D&D-style world. The vistas are different, the characters are different, and the creatures... well, they're way different. ECLIPSE PHASE is another game that has out-of-this-world artwork and production values. I feel like that's almost expected for "bigger" games these days, even when they're not from a big publisher. Evil Hat has always set the bar very high for their books.

The game I want to give some love isn't one of the big ones, though there are a lot of worthy candidates. It's a smaller game (in terms of publisher size, not content -- this bad boy is almost 700 pages in the core book! staggering!) but the quality and consistency of the artwork is nothing short of inspiring. I'm talking about ZWEIHANDER - GRIM AND PERILOUS by Daniel Fox. This game was intended to be a retro-clone of early editions of WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY, but it grew into something that is distinct despite its clear lineage. The artwork thus follows in that established tradition of artwork, detailing a dirty, Renaissance-era Europe full of scuzzy looking individuals and freaky looking mutants and demons and monsters, oh my.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Sometimes They Come Back #RPGaDay2017

9. What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Somewhere around 10 sessions is the usual sweet spot for all of the games we play at our table, and we rarely go beyond that (except for games that have multiple "seasons").

I think the typical PbtA game tends to come to a boil by about session 8, though, so maybe play APOCALYPSE WORLD or one of its many children. Or you could play a game like PRIMETIME ADVENTURES with a pre-established number of sessions in the season "arc". (The longer series arc probably pushed us toward our current sweet spot of ten sessions, TBH.)

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Catch-Uppening #RPGaDay2017

5. Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

Ken Hite's Day After Ragnarok nails it for me.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The New Hotness #RPGaDay2017

3. How do you find out about new RPGs?

Generally through social media. I follow a lot of game creators, and so I've often heard about something new they're working on (or something one of their friends is working on) long before it's actually available to purchase. Twitter and G+ are my platforms of choice, and to a lesser extent, Facebook. And, with Kickstarter casting such a big shadow over the industry, I often get to be among the first who play a new game, sometimes even before the books are completely done.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might... #RPGaDay2017

1. What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

I've got a long list of RPGs that I've purchased (and love) that I haven't yet been able to convince a group to play. That includes plenty of games that were a "hard no" for my players and a large assortment of games that we simply haven't made the time in our schedule yet.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

First There is No Mountain

This is going to sound weird, probably, but it's one of those internal contradictions that make human beings so interesting. I've mentioned in these pages my Twin Peaks-inspired game, LOST PINES, and the game I wrote for Game Chef a couple of years ago, THE LONG SLEEP. I'm unreasonably proud of both of those games, despite the fact that neither one of them have been published or widely distributed. LP is a dramatic game in the style of soap opera, where everyone plays a part in the main cast. TLS is a meditative, internal game that's set in dreams, a kind of free-flowing improvisation on a theme. Neither one of those games has a GM role.

But I'm actually not a fan of games with no GM.

Monday, 10 July 2017


I was a latecomer to the Kickstarter game, mostly because cash is often tight for us, and sometimes a Kickstarter is a dodgy prospect. Eventually, my love of games (and desire to support the people who create them) got me to dip my toes in. MONSTERHEARTS 2 was one of the first products I ponied up the dough for, and I did so without hesitation. The first edition of Avery Alder's now-classic game of supernatural romance was the text that opened up my mind to the world of Powered-by-the-Apocalypse, thanks to Avery's lucid writing and tight focus on dramatic play. Getting the finished text via e-mail recently was like gaming Christmas.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review: THE VEIL

I was a teenager when I got my first taste of cyberpunk: Mike Pondsmith's CYBERPUNK, to be precise, a "Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future" that sunk its hooks into me deep. I was at exactly the right age for Mike's heady mix of violence, loud music, black leather, and style over substance, and we played the hell out of that game for a few years. I sought out Neuromancer to get a sense of the source material, and I loved it profoundly, but felt a little cheated. There was so much more to cyberpunk than CYBERPUNK actually brought to the table.

Later games like SHADOWRUN also got a lot of play, but the problem was always the same. Cyberpunk roleplaying games always seemed to get the trappings of the genre, but not the ideas that were its beating heart. Style over substance was the ethos, but it had become a kind of trap, leading us to game after game that was basically a dungeon crawl with guns and grenades.

Almost thirty years later, I've finally found a cyberpunk game that wants more than that.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Have a Game Plan

Roleplaying games are all about spontaneity, and usually that's a good thing. A high-functioning group is able to improvise an experience that's much richer and more interesting than a pre-planned adventure packaged and run by a GM.

In dramatic play, this can be a problem, however. A lot of times, players will find themselves in a two-person scene where no one has a strong need to push for something right now. Sometimes this is out of a feeling that "it's too early" in the story for characters to have a big conflict, or out of an misguided sense that it's interesting just to place two characters in a scene together "just to see what happens". Usually, without a conflict, the answer to that question is "nothing".

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

BreakOut 2017 Convention Debrief

Whew. After a long weekend of gaming, we're back in Merrie Olde London Towne. And BreakOut Con Toronto, even for a Canadian convention only in its second year of operation, did not disappoint.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Into the Breach

This weekend, Megan and I are going to our first gaming convention. It's Breakout Con in Toronto, and we're pretty excited about it.

Sure, we've been to small gaming conventions put on by the local game club at Western University, but this is a whole other level. It's three days of games, with industry professionals there to run games and sit on panels about the hobby, and maybe, if we're lucky, let us fans buy them a drink or two.

Thursday, 2 March 2017


I wrote here recently about the struggles I'd been having getting my head into a new game. I kept waffling about what I wanted to do, and what game system I wanted to use to do it. I am happy to report that I've made some decisions at last, and I couldn't be happier with the game I've settled on. It's a wonderful D&D-derived game called BEYOND THE WALL AND OTHER ADVENTURES, by John Cocking and Peter S. Williams, from Flatland Games. I wrote a review of it just about a year ago, and I can't recommend it strongly enough. Buy it.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Role With It

Most of the time, I write here in my capacity as a GM, an occasional game designer, and fan with his nose in a lot of games (specifically, with an intention to steal anything that isn't nailed down for his own games). Lately, I haven't spent as much time in the Big Chair as usual, so I thought I'd talk about what's going on in my life as a player. My last post was about the formative (pre-formative) moments I go through as a GM when I'm getting ready for a new game, so this is kind of a companion piece about getting ready to play a new game from the player side.

We play a lot of games at our table that are focused on character, so there is always an extra level of pressure on players when a new game starts to come to the table with some character ideas in hand. Sometimes we play games like APOCALYPSE WORLD or its many cousins, which really demand that you generate a character and decide on details on the fly (which is fair enough, because it asks the same commitment from the GM), but often we will go into a game with a lot more ability to create the character we want to play. I think both methods have their virtues, but since HTHD play demands a certain level of commitment and creative investment from the player, it makes sense that they should have the maximum level of freedom to put their stamp on the game. If you're going to be playing a game for 8-12 sessions and reaching for deep emotional places, you need to want it.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Zero to One

"The distance from zero to one hundred is nothing compared to the distance from zero to one." That's a mangled paraphrasing of the great science fiction writer Spider Robinson, who clearly knows a little something about starting up a new roleplaying game.

We've been in a roleplaying hiatus here in Merrie Olde London Towne since October, with occasional bursts of one shots and social gatherings since then. My friend Rob is about to start a TIMEWATCH game, using a hack of the Cortex Plus rules, and I'm super eager to start that game -- especially since Rob has set it in the Weird 70s a la In Search Of.

But I'm a GM at heart, and I'm never happier than when I've got a game of my own to put my creative energies into. So I've been thinking a lot about getting my own game running, and lately my tastes have been running towards running an old-school fantasy game via CASTLES & CRUSADES. I wrote a while back about wanting to go back to the roots of the hobby and see what I can do by bringing 21st century HTHD ideas and indie gaming technology to the party, and that idea still appeals to me. It's everything else that's been driving me crazy.