19 October 2013

My God, It's Full of Hair: One Night With Vast & Starlit

Please excuse the title of this post. You see, a couple of weeks back I played Vast & Starlit at Open RPG Night and V&S features a very interesting alien creation mechanic. It works (roughly) like this:
  • Every player names an animal they are familiar with.
  • Each player, in turn, picks one of the animals and singles out a defining feature. Another player then chooses to either exaggerate or invert that feature.
  • This is repeated until each animal has been picked over.
  • The results are combined into some kind of bizarre creature.
As you can imagine, when it came time to invent an alien we made good use of the above. If I recall correctly we combined moray eels, squid and sheep. The result was an impossibly hirsute creature that used its hair as tentacles to traverse an alien forest. We called them 'Wigs' and they were a peaceful, nomadic people until we landed on their planet and ate them.

I seem to have gotten ahead of myself, just what is Vast & Starlit? V&S is a nanogame from  Epidiah Ravachol and it has a very interesting price tag: $1 and a drawing. The game is tiny, fitting on a single piece of card about twice the size of a business card. It packs a surprisingly large punch for its small size. Within minutes we had created our merry band of escaped convicts and were soaring through space on The Warden's Wife.

I can't really say too much about the game's mechanics. It's only about 400 words long and anything particularly descriptive here might just as well be a scanned copy of the game. What I can tell you is that it is very much on the story game end of the spectrum. It has no fixed GM and players take turns establishing scenes and determining outcomes. There is no dice rolling, bidding, point economy or other gaming structures to get in the way. Players simply take turns setting up pieces, guided by V&S' rules, and role play things out. The result s a fun and quick game that occasionally left me wishing for Fate's cruel hand to throw me a curve ball.

The lack of a random element really is this game's greatest weakness. Vast & Starlit does a great job of giving the players a lot of elements to jam off of, but a problem arises when it is time to end a conflict scene. One of the players chooses whether something is dangerous, difficult or both and then events proceed based on specific requirements for those three scenarios. The trouble with this is that as a player involved in the game I felt bad about being cruel to the other player characters. I didn't want to kill or maim them and there seemed to be a similar reluctance coming from the other players at the table. Without that die roll to take the blame, even if the odds would have been terrible, conflict didn't have sharp enough teeth. This would have been less of an issue had a I been playing with my regular group, rather than the ragtag band of RPG enthusiasts that showed up for Open RPG Night, as I would have known where my fellow player's limits were.

Vast & Starlit is fun and it is tiny. It isn't a game that I see myself coming back to very often, but I don't think it needs to be. It will sit on my gaming shelf and wait for its time to shine. I'm filing this one away in the "use in case of absent player(s)" box. I say it's worth getting your hands on, if only as an excuse to draw some terrible pictures and snail mail them away.

14 September 2013

Lasers & Feelings & Game Night

Last week my Open RPG Night played Lasers & Feelings (PDF Warning), the latest single page RPG from John Harper/One Seven Design. It's a swashbuckling, Star-Trek-esque game inspired by a song by The Doubleclicks. As is usual for one of Harper's games, it is an RPG boiled down to only the most necessary elements.

I became aware of the game the day before and I knew that it would be perfect for our open nights. I wasn't expecting to play the game so soon after learning about it, but when several of the players called for a space opera game I knew what had to happen.

The game really is very simple. You make a character by combining two archetypes described as Style and Job and then you choose a number between 2 and 5. How high or low that number is determines whether you are better at Lasers or Feelings and all tests are handled by trying to roll above or below the number. Direct hits allow players to ask questions about the world and get true answers. There are a few other wrinkles, but I'll let you read about those yourself rather that type up the whole game here.

Space Pirates - Build - Ancient Space Ruin - Destroy a Solar System

One thing that I always love to see included in micro games like this is a quick and dirty way for a GM to generate an adventure. L&F has that in spades and in just a few rolls I had generated the scenario bolded above. What does it mean? For the most part that is left up to you, but it's amazing how just a few words can provide enough to jumpstart a few hours of role playing.

Our night of gaming went like this:
  • Character creation and rules explanation - 5 minutes
  • Character introductions - 10-20 minutes
  • First act: in which the crew discovers the space pirates - 30 minutes
  • Second act: in which the crew infiltrates the space pirates - 40 minutes
  • Third act - in which the crew sabotages and escapes the space pirates - 40 minutes
  • Epilogue - in which a planet is accidentally imploded - 10 minutes
  • Chatting about the game - 30 minutes
All said, a pretty good time.

Oh, what's that? You want to know how a planet was accidentally imploded?

Since you asked...

The space pirates were trying to restore a piece of ancient, yet advanced, technology on a forgotten desert planet. This piece of technology was capable of collapsing entire solar systems and when the heroic crew learned what its purpose was they tried to shut it down. Unfortunately nearly all of them, save a single psychotic doctor, had specialized in Feelings. They were incapable of saving the day by turning off the machine or subtly sabotaging it. No, instead they drove a vehicle into its power core. They escaped the planet just in time to avoid being destroyed with it. Why did it implode? I don't know. The workings of super-advanced ancient technology is beyond me.

A basic character sheet

While L&F is as simple an RPG as you are going to find, I am always looking for ways to speed things along on our open RPG nights. Prior to game night I invested a little time in laying out a basic character sheet for the players. I'd have also liked to do one for the spaceship, but in the end I didn't have enough time to do so. If I whip out L&F again I may do a ship sheet to add to the package.

click image for download and second page

16 August 2013

No good deed goes unpunished.

I recently mentioned how I had started an Open RPG Night in my city and that each week a random assortment of gamers assemble to play an arbitrarily chosen game. Last week that game was Dungeon World and this week a group of (mostly) different people chose to play Apocalypse World.

This time around I wasn't in the GM's seat and I got to flex my player muscles for the first time in, oh, about six months. And boy did I ever flex those muscles. In less than ten minutes I had put together a chopper named Domino, a man that was best described as a greasy, overweight "leatherdaddy". What can I say? There's just something about Apocalypse World that makes me want to play a sadistic gang leader.

While I was busy bringing Domino to life, the GM had whipped up a zombie apocalypse scenario and the other two players had finished making their Battlebabe (Jayed) and Brainer (Sin). The other two players didn't have a clue how nasty a character Domino would turn out to be. For that matter, neither did I.

Domino and Jayed got off to a bad start before the game even began, with Jayed ending up with some Hx (history) with Domino that had placed them at odds in the past. Domino has a good memory and like any gang leader, he holds grudges. Jayed, on the other hand, was a wasteland hero. You know, the kind of guy that helps people out and has the everyone's best interests in mind. The kind of guy whose naivety gets someone killed. Sin, well what can you say about a Brainer? Domino and Jayed knew nothing about him and he knew everything about us.

Things started rolling with Jayed returning to town after having found a farm, a farm riddled with undead. Where there is a farm there is a food and Sunset Mall, our little community, was desperately in need of food. So where does Jayed turn to get the firepower he needs to clear out those zombies? None other than yours truly, violent gang leader and all around bastard. Domino bargained hard, but Jayed was eventually able to convince him to lend his muscle to cleaning out the farm for a sizable portion of the food. Domino fully intended to keep the farm for himself once he and his gang had occupied it, but Jayed didn't need to know that.

Come the next day things got bloody. Domino had a hard time convincing his gang to travel to the farm and leave their motorcycles behind while they moved through rough terrain. He had to crack a few heads and even kill one rebellious upstart before the gang started moving. From there it went smoothly until the gang got to the farm and Jayed decided he knew better than Domino and started issuing orders to the gang. Domino told him to piss off and Jayed ran off to help Sin.

Sin's story was happening alongside everything else. He was nearly always there, hidden and watching and someone had hired him to dive into a specific zombie's brain to find out the location of their child. That zombie was on the farm and when Jayed found him he was grappling with that zombie and about to go down. Ever the hero, Jayed jumped into save his life. Unfortunately there were too many zombies for the two of them to fight and Jayed had to call for backup. Domino heard the call, walked in, blew the zombies apart with his shotgun and walked away to continue overseeing the destruction.

Once the zombies had been cleared out the gang grabbed what food they could and wanted to head back to Sunset Mall. The farm was away from any roads and the gang wanted no part in actually controlling the farm so Domino was willing to let the farm go. Jayed challenged his leadership a few more times, demanding that they leave guards and build defenses. Neither was done and instead Domino started plotting on what to do with Jayed, who had challenged his authority one too many times.

That night Domino visited Sin and convinced him to use his Brainer powers to walk Jayed right into a trap. Sin agreed, perhaps too eagerly, and a deal was struck. The following morning Jayed was captured and beaten within an inch of his life. He put up a good fight, but on one man is no match for fifteen no matter how tough he is. The game ended with Domino dumping Jayed on the outskirts of Sunset Mall and telling him never to return.


  • I was worried that playing an aggressive character like Domino could ruin the night; however, the group I played with made it work and there were no hurt feelings. I think it helped that I didn't push the inter-character conflict until the end of the session so that it didn't distract from the other events.
  • Apocalypse World was a hit with the two players that had never tried anything beyond D&D. This doesn't surprise me, but it is always nice to see players open up to something unfamiliar.
  • Everyone wanted to play AW again and with the same characters. Jayed's player wanted an opportunity to get  his revenge, so I think we will run AW again in the near future with myself as GM and Domino as an NPC villain.

9 August 2013

Indigo Galleons and Sea Ghouls

This is the 'cover' panel of the trifold.

Last week I hosted the first weekly "Open RPG Night" in my city. I did so with the help of my local RPG Meetup group and while RSVPs were sparse at first, they came flying in during the last 24 hours or so.

The group that assembled consisted of myself and one other RPG fanatic as well as a handful people that were dipping their toes into the hobby or had schedules that don't allow for a regular RPG group. We sat down and voted on a game to play and after about ten minutes of deliberation the group decided on Dungeon World. Genius that I am, I had predicted Dungeon World being selected1 and had printed off a copy of each character sheet and the truly excellent Indigo Galleon adventure.

The Indigo Galleon is what I really want to tell you about today. It is one exceptionally well put together adventure from the mind of one John Aegard. It was written for Dungeon World, but any GM worth their salt should be able to use it with their system of choice.2

Why do I think The Indigo Galleon is so great? Let me count the ways:
  1. It fits on a single piece of paper, double sided.
  2. There are no less than 4 different Fronts.
  3. Three different maps (ship, world, dungeon)
  4. Not a single word waster.
  5. Excellent layout.
  6. 100% free.
This adventure is exactly what I look for in a module that I haven't prepared myself. It places all of the pieces I need for a memorable game in front of me and then leaves it up to me to assemble them. There is none of that flipping through pages to find out what happens if the PCs do X or what is in room Y. No, The Indigo Galleon is content to provide you with an environment pregnant with adventure. It gives you a ship full of ghouls, octopus people preparing a ritual to summon a magical beast, a storm, pirates and a pirate captain that has gone missing.

Dungeon World's fronts have been discussed across the Internet at this point and I'm not going to go into detail on why they're great. I will say that The Indigo Galleon implements them exactly how they should be done, something that I rarely see even from other adventures published for Dungeon World. There are four fronts, all of which are progressing at about the same rate. Heroes are going to be torn between crisis and as they reach the end of their tracks it will all come to a glorious head, or at least it did when we played through the adventure.

My Open RPG Night group finished the adventure in about four hours, but we had to rush it a bit near the end so I think a five hour block is needed to truly do the adventure justice. If we had been planning to carry on with a campaign it would have served as an ideal starter, especially given how the adventure ended (with the heroes hiding in caverns from an enormous sea monster from a summoning gone wrong.)

If you want to take The Indigo Galleon for a spin of your own, you can get it for free from John's website.

1 New gamers or gamers coming back into the hobby almost always the most familiar option. It came as no surprise to me that they picked Dungeon World due to its similarities with a certain other fantasy RPG.
2 One of the best things about Dungeon World is that any adventures written for it are practically system agnostic. Monsters and NPCs are primarily described with keywords and phrases and GM moves are essentially just suggestions on how to handle the adventure.

3 August 2013

Chroma Team Revised

Regular readers of this blog may remember that my game, Chroma Team VS The Terrorlights, was a finalist in this year's Game Chef. I received a lot of good feedback and suggestions on the game and this weekend I sat down and started revising the game. You can view the current version of the game here, and I have kept the original Game Chef entry around for those curious about such things.

The revised game grew has grown by almost a thousand words and includes rule clarifications, math fixes and a few less grammar mistakes and typos. Of course, that doesn't account for anywhere near the increased word count. What does? I'm glad you asked.

City Creation

Chroma Team now feature a city creation aspect. During character creation the players will define important locations of the city they are protecting and lay them out on the table. Threats now target specific locations and if heroes aren't careful those threats will spread across the city.

Threat Proliferation

As mentioned above, if heroes completely fail at overcoming threats those threats will move out across the city and wreak havoc. This new mechanic has the added benefit of giving the push your luck rolls more teeth as well as making the aftermath phase of the game less depressing because heroes can have, at most, only a single failure per location where previously there was no limit.

Super Powers

Heroes now have access to super powers/special abilities. This takes the form a of a simple mechanic that allows players to exchange transformation energy for reducing threats.


The changes to the way threats work and allowing the addition of super powers meant that transformation would no longer work as written. I altered transformation so that instead of gathering energy to reach a transformation state the heroes instead increase their odds of a successful transformation with each threat they overcome.

I think that Chroma Team is definitely an improved game from the original Game Chef entry, but I think it still needs a lot of playtesting and tweaking before it gets to where I would like it to be. Again, you can get Chroma Team Revised here and, as always, I want to hear from you if you play it.

30 June 2013

Orc Name Generator

Today I add an Orc name generator to my list of name generators. The seeds for this one came from a list of notable Orcs from Lord of the Rings, Paizo's Orcs of Golarion and a list of notable Orcs of Mystara. The tribe/last names started with a list of words from the tribes of Mystara and Golarion and I expanded from there.

11 June 2013

A while back J.D. Barnes put a call out to the RPG blogosphere to take a look at his latest project, a megadungeon meets small press zine called The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord.  Normally I only look at PDFs here at Impossible Boulder, but Barnes is going back to basics with his foray into megadungeonry and that interests me. You might be thinking OSR and you're right in that TRFotEO is ostensibly an old school dungeon; however, the goals and results are more in line with the artisanal movement. Indie publishing in the RPG industry almost always takes the form of PDF products or print on demand and Barnes is deliberately eschewing that in favour of product that is hand made and available only directly through him. 

The Thing Itself

The dungeon arrived in a manila envelope and I was eager to open it up and see exactly what an artisinal RPG product might look like. It turns out that takes the form of a small, stable-bound blue booklet with an unattached cover. The cover threw me off at first, but I soon discovered that it also doubles as a map and the reason it is unattached is for ease of use.

The cover is a very nice touch, if unusual. The hand drawn isometric map looks good, but between faded ink, spotty printing and crosshatching/shading that didn't make it through the scanning and printing process it was difficult to read. The map could do with some post scan work being done on it in image editor of some kinds. I think cleaning up and thickening the lines would go a long way for improving legibility of the map and a lighter shade of blue might make the lines pop more.

Moving on from the cover is the actual meat of the booklet, 28 pages of pure old school dungeon. The paper is of high quality but, as with the map, there are places where the ink is spotty. Future printings would benefit from experimenting with ink weights and print quality. I wouldn't say that this booklet hits the quality that the author is aiming for, but keep in mind that this is the first printing. Nobody can be expected to get things perfect on the first try and it is going to take a few tweaks before we start seeing the expected print quality.

Initial Reading & Alterations For Play

I took an initial read through the dungeon before throwing it out on the table for my players to clean out. I was pleased to see that the voice was casual while remaining concise and the text was free of any glaring errors as far as I could see.

Ruined Fortress is very much an old school dungeon with a great set of wandering monsters and encounters that could have been arranged more gracefully. The booklet uses several dice rolls to determine those encounters and the information is not communicated with a table and is instead spread out across enough paragraphs to slow a GM down during play. The dungeon layout is also quite old school and falls into the Paul Jaquays style of mapping. Not every room has anything of interest in it, but all of the larger rooms do and once you account for random encounters and patrolling monsters (such as the blue dragon) the ruined fortress should be a very lively place.

I should note that at least one room in the dungeon felt a little forced, as if the designer didn't really know what to put there. I am speaking of the shield room, a room filled with stacks of shields which happen to have the world's worst alarm system: a fragile glass bottle that has been precariously placed underneath a shield so that it falls when disturbed. I'm at a loss as to the purpose of this room. The trap was weird and seemingly ineffective (what good is a single such potion? There should at least be one on each stack of shields.) It also wouldn't have been detectable by a party in any way short of dumb luck, which places it in that Gygaxian class of traps which are unfair because nobody would ever think to do X. This was really the only room that sent me for a loop, but it still strikes me as bizarre a week later. Still, weird traps like this are part of the charm of old school dungeons and I can't bring myself to be mad at it.

After I had a feel for the dungeon I made a few alterations so that I could slide it into my current Dungeon World campaign.
  1. Since I only have the first level of the Ruined Fortress, I turned the place into a (mostly) single level ruined monastery.
  2. I moved it to a hill overlooking a ruined town.
  3. I changed the back story so that it fit with the monastery theme; however, it didn't end up being important for the adventure anyway.
  4. I ignored all of the monster stats since they don't carry over to the Dungeon World system. Note that I did use them as guidelines for my conversions.

Highlights From Play

I don't want to go through the entire dungeon here, if you want that then you should pick up a copy of the dungeon for yourself. Instead I will cover a few of the highlights from our run through the dungeon. I should note that all of these things happened very organically and at least two of them were generated in from encounter tables.

The Berbalang

Berbalangs are, to my knowledge, a new monster from the mind of Barnes and by pure serendipity the encounter surrounding the berbalang encounter fit into my game very well.

The hook I used to bring my players to this dungeon was that one of the players was trapped on the Astral Plane and the 'monastery' housed a point where the fabric between planes was weak. The PCs in the material plane would need to visit the monastery and perform a ritual in tandem with the Astral PC in order to bring him over.

Since berbalangs hunt via astral projection it was the perfect monster to have an encounter with which could involve both the astral and material PCs. The astral PC protected the other PCs from the berbalang while they explored the fortress and sought out the location for the ritual.

Goblin Tribe

My group of players managed to befriend some wandering goblins, which brought them back to Gooch. Upon learning that they had human prisoners and that Gooch was a nasty piece of work (what did they expect from Goblins?) one of the heroes challenged Gooch to a duel for leadership of the tribe, and won. This will surely be a problem for later on.

Rival Adventurers

While wandering through the dungeon, searching for the ritual location, the heroes stumbled upon a rival adventuring party. The meeting did not go well, especially not with several goblin in tow. The silver-tongued bard managed to smooth things over, but only if the party gave up looting rights in exchange for free passage to and from the ritual chamber. That turned out to be a mistake when the "heroes" used their newfound goblin tribe to ambush and mug the adventurers they had previously struck a deal with.

Avoiding the Blue Dragon

The blue dragon that wanders the halls of the ruined keep monastery showed up regularly on my encounter rolls, but always seemed to be a room or two a way. This lead to the players picking their way around him and sneaking by regularly. A mistake on my part was giving the dragon the wrong name, Saul, which lead to Breaking Bad jokes

Final Thoughts

This is a quirky dungeon that nails the old school, do-it-yourself adventures you used to see people pass around or share in zines. There are a few production kinks that I am confident will be worked out and none of those kinks render the final product any less usable. The dungeon won't appeal to everyone and especially not those interested in a cohesive, thematic dungeon like you would find in the pages of modern Dungeon Magazines or a Paizo product. This is a little more punk and a lot more old school, it's closer to what you would get before Desert of Desolation came along and changed the way dungeons and adventures were written. Odds are, you already know if that's what you want out of a dungeon. If not, you probably aren't in the target audience for this product.

If you want to take a look through the Ruined Fortress then you can get a copy for yourself from here.

7 June 2013

Game Chef 2013: Chroma Team reaches the finals!

The peer reviewing and nomination process for Game Chef 2013 is over and the finalists have been announced. The dust has settled and ten* games are going before the four expert judges and this year I am astounded to say that my entry is one of those ten.

My goofy little game, that was written stealthily in the middle of the night whilst my wife slept and in spurts as I moved around my home evading wet paint** and moving furniture, was deemed good enough to go to the next round. I'm surprised and honoured that my fellow designers liked the game enough to nominate it.

Whenever I finish a game for one of these contests (be it Game Chef, 24 Hour or something else) I am always left feeling sour. By the time I hit that 'submit' button I despise my game.  I'm always left thinking it's the worst thing ever committed to digital ink. As time passes I warm back up to it, but those first couple of weeks all I have is criticism for myself: This time around was no different and even as I write this I am still in that phase of my creative process. The positive (and constructive) feedback has been quite the shock to my post-design negativity bubble and learning that my game was nominated for the next round is the pinprick that burst it.

Somebody pinch me.

*All look to be interesting games and I will be reading my way through them while we all bide our time nervously until June 12th.
**Which in retrospect might have influenced my decision to use colour so heavily in the game.

31 May 2013

Obscure RPG Appreciation Day: Lone Wolf RPG (1989)

A little blog named Mesmerized By Sirens that focuses on obscure RPGs is running what they call Obscure RPG Appreciation Day and have challenged bloggers to post about a little known RPG. I have decided to join in the fun with this blog post.

Did you know that a Lone Wolf RPG was published way back in 1989? Yes, I do mean the Lone Wolf of choose-your-own-adventure gamebook fame. The name of the game was, unsurprisingly, Lone Wolf RPG and it was published in issue 15 of the Lone Wolf Club newsletter. Taking inspiration from the popular line of Lone Wolf game books a group of dedicated fans outlined a basic role playing system that could be played on a good old fashioned tabletop.

You're probably wondering what this game looked like and you are in luck. Project Aon has made a great deal of Lone Wolf content freely available, including game the gamebooks everyone knows and loves and every issue of the Lone Wolf Club newsletter. The RPG starts on pager 9 of Issue 15. Go give it a read, the author's managed to cram a great deal of content into just two pages.

The rules of Lone Wolf RPG are very simple. Players chose one of two classes and rolled 3d6 to determine a total of seven attributes. Despite the 3d6 character attributes, challenges are actually resolved with a percentile roll with the difficulty being a multiple of a character's related attribute set by the GM. I don't think I have seen that particular take on things before and it seems a bit weird to my eyes, what do you think?

Another interesting quirk of Lone Wolf RPG is that HP is divvied up across different hit locations on your character, so your head has 3 HP, each arm has 2 HP and so on. I really do find it interesting how much crunch and granularity was squeezed into so few words. Modern ultralight games take up just as many pages and aren't nearly so crunch as Lone Wolf is, yet Lone Wolf isn't any more difficult to play.

If you like reading about RPGs that got lost in the passage of time then be sure to spend a few minutes looking through Mesmerized by Sirens. The blog is all about those old games it is a lot of fun to look back on the games that got left behind.


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