Mikey Hamm is Kickstarting Slugblaster, “A tabletop roleplaying game about small-town teenage hoverboarders who sneak into other dimensions.” I’m a sucker for gonzo plus an old pal of mine is editing it plus it’s a Forged in the Dark game, so I backed it. But what’s really interesting to me is the way Mikey released the quickstart rules. I’ll quote him.
“With pandemic-era online play in mind, Turbo is built entirely inside a shared google spreadsheet which includes all the rules, playbooks, dice rollers, shared progress tracks, and monster generators you need.”
So that’s interesting. I don’t know if Mikey Hamm is involved in the Gauntlet, but that sounds like a turbo-charged version of their character keeper concept. What’s it look like?
The Wars setting in Yellow King RPG includes these sort of portable telegraph machines called boîtenoires. I wanted to generate some prop messages for our campaign, but I couldn’t find any templates, so I whipped up a simple one myself. Then I rang a couple of variations on it. Here they are.
Right-click and save any image for the full sized version. I recommend HPLHS Telegram as a typeface for filling in the body; that’s what I used for the header labels and it’s a free download.
Here’s an example of how I used these:
Pretty self-explanatory. I fiddled around with the header block (To/From) for a while before figuring out how to make it look reasonably official. I smudged the date because time is very slippery in this particular setting.
In our campaign, I decided that paper is in short supply so I used the faded letter background. Since your campaign may be different, I also made a pair of them with generic vintage paper. For my purposes, I used the Scriptorium’s Lysander typeface as the header typeface. (You can buy it individually but that’s very cost-inefficient, so I linked to the package deal. Or wait for one of his occasional 30% off sales, get the full Display bundle, it’s a great collection of historic-flavored typefaces.) This seemed like it might be a bit frilly for everyone’s tastes so I generated another pair of templates using HPLHS Headline One, also available for free from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.
While I’m getting distracted by talking about design resources: Design Cuts is my go-to source for cheap bundles full of resources. Usually $30 for a bundle, there’s always a bundle available, and they usually cycle through typeface collections, vintage design resources, and product mockup bundles. The quality is not insanely high but for the purposes of me fiddling around with props? Awesome. Would also be very good for sourcing Roll20/Foundry backgrounds.
I ran a Blades in the Dark one-shot for some old gaming pals, S., and one person I hadn’t gamed with. Totally fun, unsurprisingly. Ginger wrote up the session here.
There are seven playbooks in Blades, and each of them has five potential friends/rivals. So that’s, what, a 45% chance that someone will choose Slide in a four player game, and then if the distribution is truly random, that someone has a 20% chance of picking Bazso Baz as their rival? So maybe around 10% of the time you kick off a Blades campaign using the book’s starting situation, you’ll get the fun of the crew already hating Bazso Baz? I was an English major, be kind.
But man, it was so great that Michael said Bazso Baz was his brother! That’s a lot rarer.
Also fun: both Michael and S. said that Nyryx was their friend. Except the Slide has Nyryx as a prostitute, and the Whisper has them as a possessor ghost. That is the best plot point right there. If this was a campaign, Nyryx would have pulled all the strings to get the crew together.
In a recent Monster of the Week mystery, I made the Big Bad an incel. I thought about it a bit before making the decision to go for it. I was careful to humanize him; he had family who loved him, and I explicitly didn’t make him a killer. But I didn’t mask his motivations and I gave him a couple of alt-right tropes.
The players were definitely a touch taken aback. Nobody objected, and while they were careful not to kill him, that’s generally how they deal with human threats. I think the momentary uncertainty was more because it’s a pulpy game that got a touch serious all of a sudden — it was the reality of the Big Bad, not the specific fact that he was an Intel.
I also have a Delta Green campaign percolating, set in the PNW, that revolves around white nationalist movements. That feels safer, since most Delta Green players are expecting some dark material.
I think all this is appropriate gaming fodder. I mean, you’re not obligated to stuff political extremism front and center in your games. However, I also think that a lot of these slimeballs get a lot of milage out of secrecy. I’ve had so many fruitless online arguments with people who just aren’t convinced white nationalism is a problem. Gaming is a way to tell stories to each other, and some stories are worth telling.
Conversely, in the same Monster of the Week game, COVID-19 doesn’t exist. That was an explicit decision at the start of the game; we don’t need to be reminded of it and we wanted to escape that aspect of reality. I can easily imagine a modern game in which it does exist, but it doesn’t feel dangerous to avoid it.
Which is interesting, since there are certainly people who deny how serious it is. But I’m not gaming with any of them, and that’s a matter of denial rather than lack of awareness.
Parenthetically, while I was writing this, the back of my brain spit out a campaign frame for Monster of the Week in which the group is an anarchist mutual aid group, and I really want to play in that. So if someone could run it for me that’d be great.
In my copious spare time I’ve been kicking around an idea for a West Marches style Electric Bastionland game. Short explanation: Electric Bastionland is a deeply weird minimalist urban exploration fantasy game; West Marches is a campaign style in which there’s a large pool of players who self-organize self-directed game sessions, designed to lessen the load on the GM. The driving motivation for Bastionland PCs is paying off crippling debt (oh, so it’s a reflection of 2020!) which works just fine for a player-driven game.
Since I’ve been wanting to play Bastionland for a bit, and since West Marches is an intriguing campaign style, I was pleased to realize I had a good match on my hands. Here’s how I put them together and started fleshing the idea out.
Editing note: added our experience with Gauntlet-style character keepers.
A few months ago, some friends of mine who hadn’t done much/any tabletop gaming said they wanted to try D&D. I had plenty of free time and felt like it’s somewhat mean to make non-gamers learn D&D in a virtual setting, so I volunteered to run Monster of the Week for them. It’s gone great — we wind up playing about once per month, and everyone seems to be having fun.
I haven’t GMed for new gamers since I was 17 and trying to show my hippie father what those weird books were about. That time I went for Monsters, Monsters. It went terribly, albeit in party because I was only 17. “You want to… just… talk to the human whose threatening you? I don’t know what happens now. Um… let’s have dinner, I guess.” Looking back on it, if I’d been smarter I could have beaten Golden Sky Stories to the non-violent tabletop punch by decades. Alas.
Logistics: we’re using Telegram for persistent text chat, because everyone’s familiar with it. Alas, it doesn’t have video chat for groups, so we’re using Zoom for video and voice. Telegram supports bots and Roll ’em Bot is perfectly good for basic 2d6 + whatever dice rolls. My goal was to keep the logistics as simple as possible; I didn’t want to ask my newbies to wrap their heads around collaborative fictional games and a more complex virtual tabletop at the same time.
A couple of sessions in, I grabbed the character keeper from the collection of Gauntlet play aids. This was the first time I’d used one of those. It’s been mostly useful, although since everyone can see everyone’s sheet, we have a tendency to drop into “who would be best at this thing?”
Simplicity is also why I chose Monster of the Week. (Plus I’d been yearning to try it out.) If you say “it’s like Buffy, X-Files, or Supernatural” almost everyone in the US will understand at least one of those references. The playbooks are stupid simple to pick up and use. Again, the principle was minimal friction and maximum familiarity. And no need for a battle map! I can just drop pictures of Tucson into the Telegram chat.
A few notes from the experience so far:
I ruthlessly pruned the Monstrous and the Spell-Slinger playbooks from the initial playbook selection for the sake of a) easier group cohesion and b) less complexity. In retrospect I coulda left the Monstrous in there, my players get that they’re responsible for figuring out why the group is a group. Instead of handing out a bunch of playbooks to read, I just listed the character types with a line or so of explanation, to cut down on decision paralysis. I wanted to force someone to play the Luchadore, but I restrained myself.
I started out the first session with the lines and veils safety conversation, followed by an explanation of the X card. Absolutely do this. Always do it, but do it especially with new players, because they are trying something new that has emotional weight and you need to make their experience safe. I checked in on tone after the first session, and I try to keep checking in from time to time.
Be ready for people to want to play themselves, especially in a modern game. A couple of my players did this. Initially I was all “nooo, be someone different,” but that was my gatekeeper speaking. It’s totally fine. Some people may want to branch out later, but who cares if they don’t? Self-inserts are a perfectly good tradition.
I’ve read some claims that new tabletop gamers will immediately understand and leap into the concept of shared ownership over the fiction. This is not true. Some of my players dig the idea that I’m telling the story as a GM. Again, it’s fine; people need to ease into new stuff. Just make sure the choice is there. I say stuff like “Do you think there could be a baseball bat there?” a lot, and that’s working fine.
Going cinematic with descriptions is excellent. I’ve been leaning into the opening sequence / closing credits bit from time to time, and it really sets the stage nicely.
Be aware that new players may be trying to read your face to figure out what you think their characters should do. Tabletop gaming can be nerve-wrackingly open ended and right now there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world! It took a session or two for people to buy into the idea that I was, as the book says, a fan of their characters regardless of their choices. I’ve also developed a technique for giving two possible options when they really want me to suggest something, and over time I think that’s helped everyone realize there’s no bad choice from the perspective of the players.
MotW has more support available than you might assume; I can always be lazy and yoink something out of Tome of Mysteries or the subreddit. Also, shoutout to Zombiefest Double Features which my players loved.
I expect to run a couple more mysteries and wrap the arc. I did not use the full on arc structure described, in part because I wasn’t sure how long we’d wind up going and in part because I’m lazy. I am pretty sure I could retrofit an arc onto the play we’ve done, though.
It’s been a great experience. I’d recommend MotW for new players, and I think probably also for new GMs. As with any good Powered by the Apocalypse game, you just follow the GM principles and make the moves as they come.
So yeah, I did a Patreon and then I ran out of steam. I figured now was as good a time as any to finish laying out the writing I completed: thus, I now have a 38 page Las Vegas Feng Shui sourcebook. I think it’s reasonably useful as is, although there’s a lot more to be done.
This is going to be both a writeup of our first Yellow King RPG scenario (played over two sessions) and some notes on prepping for the game. I wanted to use the ad lib skills I’d picked up while running Blades in the more structured GUMSHOE environment. Spoilers for the game follow; players please do not read.
Most of my hobby time in 2010 went to playing Living Forgotten Realms. I had a really good time doing it, for the most part. As I recall I’d been playing since early 2009; I know I started playing in Boston and it turned into our main gaming outlet once we moved down to the Baltimore area.
In 2010, I decided to try and play 50 LFR games over the course of the year, and further decided to blog them all in one of those occasional fits of organization I have. This was a wildly unambitious goal, as it turned out. I wound up playing or GMing 120 games. I’m pretty sure I pushed through one or two of those in December so that I could hit a round number.
I never did hit epic tier with Reed. I can’t imagine how I would dig up enough players to do that even informally now; kind of a pity. Man, he was a great character, though. I used to start out adventures by hiring a bunch of townsfolk to cheer him and Faral on their way out of town.
Anyhow! For some reason I did all that blogging on a Tumblr, and it occurred to me today that some day that’ll go away, so I spent an hour or so importing them back to WordPress and fixing up the tags. A few of the links will be broken unless I get around to fixing them eventually, but the whole insane year is now captured under the lfr2010 tag. Call it a very very small slice of gaming history.
Boy, either my cell phone camera was really terrible or Tumblr killed the resolution on my photos. Sorry about that.
The other night five of us got together with the intention of playing a 2-3 session game of Beyond the Wall. Our experience with D&D variants ranged from lots to little; we’ve just finished a lengthy Blades in the Dark campaign, so we’re used to gaming with each other. Here’s how the first session went.