This Way To The

I’ve been playing a lot of Ingress recently. Short form: it’s Google’s augmented reality alien invasion PvP game; you physically go to in-game portals, which correspond with the locations of landmarks, public art, and so on, and perform various actions which lead to creating fields of influence over various areas. The two factions are competing to control the most minds; it’s literally scored in terms of mind units. Kind of sinister when you get right down to it.

The game interests me on a number of levels, so I’ll probably write a spate of posts about it before trailing off into inactivity again. The game design is perhaps accidentally interesting, the ad hoc social networks are totally fascinating, and it hits a sweet OCD spot for me in a way which has me exercising. I averaged around 5 miles a day of walking in December. Go me.

Oh, and the lore is written by Flint Dille. Old school tabletop gamers can be suitably amused at this juncture.

Here’s an excellent story about getting involved in the game. It’s what got me and Susan playing, and everything in it is entirely true. Except the bit about the scooter. I can’t attest to anything involving scooter play first hand. I have, however, had experiences analogous to everything else she talks about.

This is a pretty good primer on the game; it’s a little dated, since like any decent MMO Ingress has occasional updates, but on the whole it’s solid.

If you decide to play because you are reading this, you should play Enlightened. The most meaningful currency in Ingress is time. Skill matters some, but the balance is skewed way over towards time, particularly before you get to the tippy-top of the elder game. The only way to generate time out of thin air is to convince people to play on your side. So: play Enlightened.

Yes, the Resistance is the attractive spunky underdog group. Next post sometime this week I will provide you with a conceptual framework that explains why the Enlightened are the real underdogs, which hopefully will allow you to play Enlightened without feeling like you’re supporting the Illuminati.

Nuclear Reactors, Sliced

Via Kottke: have a huge collection of nuclear reactor cutaway diagrams. I’m sure these would be useful in someone’s RPG campaign.

Elder Scrolls Online Launched Clean

So saith Massively. I am not at all surprised given what I know about the engineering teams working on that title. I am, nonetheless, tickled pink by this paragraph:

From my 50-hours-of-playtime perspective, though, the launch has in fact been completely lag-free. It’s also been one of the more polished overall launches I’ve experienced in a number of years, though I wouldn’t say it’s number one (Lord of the Rings Online had fewer quest bugs out of the gate, which was all the more impressive since smooth MMO launches were unheard of in 2007).

Aw yeah. Champion and still #1, LOTRO launch!

Reddit GM Survey

Interesting survey of GMs from Reddit. Self-selected group, etc. etc. Savage Worlds is more popular than I’d have expected.

The Only Fantasy Map

I’d say you need more maps than this, but it’s certainly true that you don’t often get more.

Parallel Evolution

Years apart, actual quotes. It’s interesting how two of my favorite designers approached the same problem.

Unlike a lot of games out there, InSpectres didn’t start as an idea for a cool setting or anything like that. What I wanted to do was try designing a game that “fixed” some problems I saw in similar games that dealt with investigation (no names, please). That problem is what I call the “murder mystery” plot. Basically, it goes like this: the players stumble across a mystery of some sort. The GM then provides clues (in the form of helpful or not-so-helpful NPCs, scraps of forensic information or first-hand knowledge of the event). If the players are smart, they’ll figure it out. If not, then the GM has to guide them along until they do figure it out. In effect, it becomes an exercise for the GM in which the players are guided down a pre-built track and react to stuff that pops up along the way (not unlike a funhouse ride). In the end, the game succeeds or fails on the merits of the GM running that game.

What this game does is to allow the GM to set up the events, but then have the players (through their characters) decide what is really going on. The GM then reacts to the players and what they see as intriguing or exciting elements of the story.

The other thing I wanted to do was to set up a play structure (the series of events that occurs in each game session). Using this play structure as a guide, the GM and players know what is expected of them at various stages of the game. The fun, of course, comes from doing stuff in each stage.


Investigative scenarios have been done wrong since the early days of roleplaying games. As a consequence, they’re hard to run and prone to grind to a halt. GUMSHOE is here to fix all that.

What’s wrong about the traditional way of doing investigative games? They’re based on a faulty premise. Story-based roleplaying, of which investigative games were an early if not the earliest example, evolved from dungeon-bashing campaigns. They treat clues the same way that dungeon games treat treasure. You have to search for the clue that takes you on to the next scene. If you roll well, you get the clue. If not, you don’t — and the story grinds to a halt.


In a fictional procedural, whether it’s a mystery novel or an episode of a cop show, the emphasis isn’t on finding the clues in the first place. When it really matters, you may get a paragraph telling you how difficult the search was, or a montage of a CSI team tossing an apartment. But the action really starts after the clues are gathered.

GUMSHOE, therefore, makes the finding of clues all but automatic, as long as you get to the right place in the story and have the right ability. That’s when the fun part begins, when the players try to put the components of the puzzle together.


Every investigative scenario begins with a crime or conspiracy committed by a group of antagonists. The bad guys do something bad. The player characters must figure out who did it and put a stop to their activities.

If you use the GUMSHOE rules for straight-up crime drama, the team investigates a crime, finds out who did it, and puts the culprits under arrest.

In the Esoterrorist setting, the team investigates an occult conspiracy, finds out who did it and why, and takes action to end the occult manifestations. They may detain or kill the Esoterrorists behind it. They may destroy any supernatural creatures or effects generated by the conspiracy. Or they might turn over the information gained in their investigation to a specialized Ordo Veritatis clean-up team, who ruthlessly and efficiently dispose of the guilty parties and their workings.

Your GM designs each scenario by creating an investigation trigger, a sinister conspiracy, and a trail of clues.

I’ve enjoyed both GUMSHOE and InSpectres. Both Jared and Robin identify the clumsiness of a GM leading players to clues by the nose. Jared doesn’t like the part that comes afterwards; Robin does.

Urban Punk

Urbanpunk Deck Mostly thanks to Hillfolk and the enabling influence of Kickstarter, I’ve wound up with a number of decks of playing cards. As one does. In a feeble but well-meaning attempt to justify the trickle of ten buck pledge levels, I’m going to write up some quick little DramaSystem series pitches based on said decks.

I am not committing to running a DramaSystem game based on each deck. Primus, the system works better when it’s in campaign mode. Secundus, not insane.

This is the Urban Punk Bicycle Deck from UncommonBeat. (Click to enlarge, cause they’re better-looking full sized.) I am not sure if they’re still available or not; the Web site says Coming Soon. Email ’em and find out! It is not my favorite deck or even in the top half. The backs are really garish without being graffiti-inspired, while the court cards are oddly 80s-flavored. I still love the concept and the spray painted outlines on the pips.

OK, so what can we do with this?


Ten years after the Global Financial Crisis was not averted, all politics are local. All governments are local, for that matter: it takes too much energy and too much effort to worry about what’s happening fifty miles away. The clock is ticking, as the storehouses of resources dwindle away, but it’s hard to care much about that.

Continue reading


This post has an expiration date, which is approximately three days from publication. Reading it after 9/28? You missed out.

The current Bundle of Holding is for a bunch of GUMSHOE games and it seemed worth going over what you get. It might appear that there’s a lot of duplication in the bundle, since all four of the full RPGs are based on the same ruleset. Not so!

Night’s Black Agents is the easy sell: technothrillers meet vampires. Spy action, bloodsuckers, Ronin and Alias and so on. You get the basic GUMSHOE rules tuned for action, which had not been a particular strength until this point. Also you get The Zalozhniy Quartet which is probably a solid 8-12 sessions of play, at a guess. Maybe more.

So why do you also want Mutant City Blues and the associated Hard Helix adventure? Not for the superpower rules. (Sorry.) They are a bit idiosyncratic and highly world specific. You do, however, really want the detailed description of running a GUMSHOE game as a police procedural: interrogation scenes, what a police station is like, all that good stuff. Mutant City Blues is the GUMSHOE game you’d use to run Criminal Minds or CSI.

Fear Itself is a sweet minimal GUMSHOE implementation that does a decent job on slasher films. All the other versions of GUMSHOE in this bundle deliver competent characters. Fear Itself delivers teenagers.

Finally, Ashen Stars is a cool extension of the investigative procedural engine to cover episodic SF. The included setting is solid, but you could also use this to run Star Trek (of course) or Firefly. Or anything where there’s a spaceship, or a set of portals leading to strange worlds, or some kind of time machine masquerading as a common street object, and the player characters travel around dealing with mysterious problems.

In other words, there’s plenty of overlap but there’s also plenty of unique content and you will absolutely learn something about the system from each of the four games. Since you also get a bunch of Robin Laws columns, this is a no-brainer. You also get the Ken Hite subscription but come on, that’s an evil trap. Half of that stuff is Trail of Cthulhu oriented which will make you want to buy that game too. (You should buy that game too.)

Basic D&D Warlord

I wanted to give the class creation system in Adventurer Conquerer King a spin, so I cranked out a Warlord class. This is untested.

Zombie Apocalypse

Part of my unemployment regime is making sure I do something creative for a few hours every day. I’ve got the time, so I should use it wisely. Here’s Zombie Apocalypse (PDF), a Fiasco playset I wrote with Susan last week. We playtested it over the weekend and it went pretty well.

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