Actual Play – Boxcar Children #134: Mystery of the Sunken Submarine (7/20/2013)

FAE-Bookcover_300x450GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Geoff McCool, and three awesome kids (including mine)
System: Fate Accelerated
Variations: YP Game

Game Description (for Good Omens Con)

When the Aldens arrive on the coast for a summer vacation, nobody expects to find bits of an old submarine washing up on the shore. How did it get there, and what does it mean?

This is a Young Players game. All ages welcome.

Prepping to run for the Boxcar Kids

My 10 year old, who is really well versed in Boxcar Chilren helped me make all of the characters. They were really simple, which appealed to me for this game. For instance, each one had a high concept like Friendly Kid, Curious Kid, etc. Watch, being the watchdog, had the concept “Quick-witted Dog”. Their troubles were a bit more varied, but even they were pretty simple “Easily Distracted” and “Always Hungry”, for example.

Also, we talked about the approaches, we also decided that two approaches really needed to be folded into the existing ones. The kids solve mysteries by being inquisitive, friendly, and tenacious. Inquisitive was already covered well enough by Cleverly (and sometimes Carefully), but we wanted the others to have  home. We decided that Friendly was a part of Flashily, and that Tenaciously was a part of Forcefully (an more appropriate than the typical use Forcefully in).

So, some though was necessary, but no major tweaks or hacks for the game.

Writing a Mystery

I realized that I boxed myself into a corner here. I don’t usually write mystery games. My experience with them is that they usually feel (both as the GM and player) that the characters must be led around by their nose and that any true discovery is generally tangential to the core plot/mystery.

Yet, there it was, my game submitted with people sign up to play it and my own daughters telling me how excited the where about it. So, a mystery was needed.

I decided to have two sets of people involved here. Legitimate/Complicated authorities and Villains. The authorities were good guys, but would have some kind of catch that made them obstacles. The villains appeared to be good guys (or authorities) but have a less than honorable motivation.

I came up with this: Treasure Hunters wanting to look a submarine (which was miraculously sunken not far off the coast of a beach) before the officials found it. Their cover up, which was also the first clue for the kids, and the prompt to action was pretending that their had been a chemical spill and using that excuse to close the beach. Issues for the game: “Sunken Treasure” and “Beach Closed”.

What blew me away was how much we were able to build off just that. I just kept asking myself (or asking the kids, or having them ask me) questions about how this would work. Some of those questions were before the game started (like, if someone is going to shut down the beach they probably work for the County, so one of the villains is a Hazmat employee of the county… oooh, better yet, she’s a ex-employee who’s down on her luck and filling out fake paperwork posing as her old position).  Most of them, however were asked and answered in play.

Character Selection

We made the character half-baked. They had high concept, trouble, approaches, and one stunt. This still left room for two more stunts (or more by buying down refresh) and a couple more aspects.

Since FAE is so simple, and most of the players (my kids included) were familiar enough with it, we started playing within the first 30 minutes of our time slot. Record timing!


The play ins the thing

TL;DW (Too Long; Didn’t Write) My two kids plus two others played Jessie, Violet, Benny, and Watch on an adventure to uncover two miscreants trying to steal treasure from a long forgotten submarine! Good times.

What I loved the most was how the kids were both adventurous and brave, while still being kids. We didn’t have a single fight in the game, but we did create aspects like “Newspaper Article” and “Secret Swimsuit”.

Geoff wrote me after the game:

I just wanted to say thanks again for running yesterday.  I kept having these visions during the game that if “normal”, older, risk-taking gamers were playing the game (playing the kid characters) they would be trying to use the old/new diving equipment to find the sunken treasure.  Then I imagined real kids, yours or mine, actually donning the equipment or boating alone out in the Pacific and trying not to panic.  Good times…

I really liked that.. The were brave, but not careless, and they solved problems by being friendly and curious, not by hurting people or taking things that weren’t theirs. Pretty damn cool.


Nobody took stress in the game, in fact if I run a Boxcar Children game again, I’ll remove the stress track and just have consequences (which is what I effectively did in play). There was one consequence however, and I really liked how it turned out.

Late at night the Jessie and Watch snuck into a cave where they knew the villains were hiding an inflatable raft and diving gear that they had been taking out to explore the submarine. The tide was up however, which meant that had to get wet. For Watch, this wasn’t a problem, but the water was really cold and so although Jessie did it, there was a cost.

After the scene, I told the player (who happened to be my 8 year old daughter) that the water had been really cold, and she might have gotten sick from being in it. She rolled her Tenaciousness (Forcefully) vs. the Water’s cold and missed the roll by two. I had her take a mild consequence of the “The Sniffles” from her late night swimming in the Pacific.

She took this with a smile, and later played up her sniffles, which was a lot of fun. Still though, I think she got the idea that some things can have consequences, and I like to think there was a certain learning moment there as well. The upside of course being that her sacrifice was worth it, as they found the sunken submarine, and the villains trying to rob it’s treasures.

Thoughts on the game

I was worried about filling up four hours. As it turns out, the kids threw me so many twists and turns that we finished up just in time.

I found it really easy to make up things for this game, way more so that for other games, because embracing American classics was baked into the setting. We had characters like Sandy Fairweather, Moe Hollander, Col. Maurice Acres (Moe’s great-great Uncle). The names were almost comical (especially Sandy, a park ranger spending all her time inspecting the beach), but it never detracted from the game. They were appropriate, not a pun or farce.

As mentioned above it was great that the kids were super adventurous while still being kids. And I never had to tell them to step back from the gonzo, they knew it intuitively.

Kids tend to be very forgiving. A submarine from the 1930s sunk off the coast of Santa Cruz??? Yeah, there was a couple plot holes there I could have fixed with a bit less making it up and a bit more Wikipedia, but even when we all realized something didn’t make sense we either edited the detail or folded it in to the “mystery”.

Prep for this game was four characters, two issues, and about an hour of asking myself questions. That was great!







Actual Play – The Beast of Sucker Creek (7/13/2013)

Sucker CreekFacilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Colin Fahrion, Mia Blankensop, and Tim Sanders
System: Fiasco
Playset: The Beast of Sucker Creek

After another great Improv for Gamers workshop we sat down to play a little Fiasco!

Our goals (beyond having fun) were to find the emotional connections between the characters, to find the beat and cut the scene, and to open scenes jumping into the action.

I threw out a few playsets that caught my fancy, but Tim won us all over with the Beast of Sucker Creek. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t like a good big foot story?


Elrita “Boomer” Buchanan (Mia) was a local of Sucker Creek and the resident expert monster hunter, just like her daddy, and his daddy before him. Her heart had been broken into a billion pieces years ago, and she had a not so secret crush on Booger, who she thought could put all those pieces back together.

Relationship: Monster Hunters… when not huffing butane. Boomer and Booger knew the swamp like the back of their hands and spent every waking moment hunting for the beast… that is when not taking a hit for courage.

Object: Chump-Hunting…Fancy hotted-up paintball gun. Named Nancy. And retrofitted to fire from butane tanks instead of CO2. Like you do.

Bobby “Booger” Coover (Tim) was an entrepreneur at heart. While Boomer wanted to catch the beast for the sake of it, Booger was interested in the payout. Or at least using monster hunting trips to scam outsiders wanting a look at the secrets of Sucker Creek.

Relationship: Swamp Friends. Ufo Investigators. As soon as Booger and Jeff met, the city slicker was immediately fascinated with the swamp monster, but thought that if it walked on land and swam in the water, it must be a lizard-fish, aka, an alien. Together Booger and Jeff would find it.

Need: To profit from misguided beast hunters. Namely Booger, profiting from Jeff. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as aliens!

Jeff Daniels (Sean) was a city-slicker by Sucker Creek standards because he came from Truckee. Even after being in town for a spell, working on the Starfield Acres project, people treated him like an outsider. Jeff had a fancy for Boomer, but she was in love with Booger, and he didn’t stand a chance. What really ate Jeff up though was that nobody would give him a nickname. So he’d call himself “Jeff, just Jeff” often. Eventually people started calling him “Just Jeff” but it wasn’t the same.

Relationship: Troublemakers. You bring he rifles. I’ll bring the beer. Jeff and Dingo has lost their job at Starfield Acres simply because of holding a beer in one hand while on the job. The two of them were fun loving miscreants that didn’t really care which way the wind blew them, the followed it into no good.

Need: To explore a legal way to stop the Starfield Acres II project. After being fired off it Jeff and Dingo had a grudge and they wanted some revenge on the big money Starfield project people. But they were smart enough not to get on the wrong side of the Sheriff. Instead they planned on claiming the monster was an endangered species and that the new housing project was destroying it’s habitat. To prove it though, they had to catch it!

Duane “Dingo” Buchanan (Colin) was coming back from his foray into the big city (Truckee) and after getting fired from the project, hoping that his family would take him back in. His big sister Boomer was always looking after him and she gave him a spot in the basement, away from all the mason jars filled with moonshine, on the old mattress the dog used to use. Which he could share with Jeff. Dingo didn’t really want for much, and perhaps that’s why he did so well in the end. Well, which is to say, no completely terrible.

Relationship: Family – Siblings. Boomer was his big sis and always had his back. Because of these too we introduced a few other Buchanan’s as well. Namely their little 9-year old sister Poodle (yes, if you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen that name before) and Pa Buchanan, the croc-hunter who came back only when something bit back.

Location: The spawning channel – rabid racoon den. Everyone knew about the racoon den, and that it was best to stay clear of it. But when really drunk, and convinced the monster was out there, a racoon, especially one with neon pink paint on it (from Nancy above) could often appear as the monster itself, or perhaps the monster’s brood!

Elrita “Boomer” Buchanan (Mia)


The play is the thing

Our first round of scenes were all about color and introductions. We started with Dingo showing up, head hanging low, asking his sister for a place to sleep for him and his buddy Jeff. Next we saw Boomer and Booger out monster hunting, huffing butane, and talking about how Booger and Crystal just broke up. Third scene was Booger and Jeff being introduced and discussing the possibility that the “monster” was actually an alien, and that discovering a real one could mean big money for everyone in Sucker Creek. The forth scene showed Jeff and Dingo conspiring against Starfield Acres and generally being up to no good. It also established Jeff’s crush on Boomer.

Lets get in some trouble

Knowing the 2nd round was the round before the tilt, we all worked towards putting our characters in precarious situations.

Dingo and Jeff went and did some monster hunting of their own, only they happened upon the rabid racoon den instead and armed mostly with beers and poorly aimed rifles, the left mostly with rabid racoon bites.

Boomer and Booger went “real”  monster hunting at the same time and while out Boomer told Booger her true affections. That her heart had been broken into a billion itty bitty pieces and he was the one that could put them back together again. When the gunshots went off (the scenes were done split-screen), Boomer fell into Booger’s arms and her love for him was just as sure as monsters in swamps!

Boomer and Booger, announcing their betrothal realized they’d have to get permission from Pa first before they married. Pa was a surly son of a gun. And Ma was a free-spirited woman who came and went as she pleased.

Jeff and Boomer, conspiring to stop the project and make a fortune together, decided to approach the mayor… only they found him golfing with the Starfield Acres corporate elite and when the tried to catch him at the 12 hole, slipped in the mud and fell in a sand trap instead.

The Tilt!

Feeling pretty good about the trouble we had gotten ourselves in already and the impending doom (Pa, the Mayor, catching the monster, and the nuptials) we rolled some bones to get:

Failure – You thought it was taken care of… but it wasn’t.

Mayham – A dangerous animal gets loose!

Act Two

Pa arrived (which was a blast for me to play) and though at first dismissing his son (cause Dingo is pretty much a screw up) when he heard it was fired just for drinking beer on the job and that he had been bit by a coon, they had a bonding moment raiding the coon-nest with shotguns.

Pa also allowed Boomer and Booger to marry (she was already pregnant) but only if Booger could best him in a crotch kicking contest. “Poodle, fetch me my steel toe boots.”

Boomer caught the monster! But forgot to lock it up. She wanted to give it to Booger as a dowry. Booger wanted to turn it into money. Jeff wanted to use it to stop the Starfield Acres project. Nobody got what they wanted!

The mayor, against his better judgement went out to the Buchanan lot to see the beast, and when it wasn’t there, things got ugly. Boomer, insisting that Nancy (the paintball gun powered by butane) was up to the task of stopping the beast, got shot and a bit exploded (only a bit) but the overzealous Dingo. Boomer, who was mauled by the beast, watched everyone in her life pass her up to try and catch it.

And through all this Jeff never got a nickname!


Just as bad as you might imagine. Jeff lost an arm trying to blow up the Starfield offices and ended in jail, bunked up with “friends of of the mayor” (he had shot the mayor during the monster ruckus).  Boomer had kid after half-mosnter looking kid, while she watched Booger marry Crystal. Booger ended up working Walmart. shudder. Dingo did the best really. He got rabies, but that passed, and eventually went back to work for Starfield, hating himself but at least making a buck.

The monster. Which may have been an alien. Which may have been a lizard-fish. Which may have had gills, or claws, or who knows what. Well, about that monster, nobody knows. Except maybe Boomer, and she’ll never tell a soul.

Actual Play – Damascus Falls at BoyCon (6/22/2013)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Zach, Josh Curtis, Justin Evans (aka J-dog, aka Mr. Boy, aka the only survivor)
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

Mr. Boy was turning 40, and his wonderful wife thought what better way to celebrate that to throw him a weekend party of gaming with his boyz.

And so it came to be that we happened upon EndGame as the doors were opening, settled into the Carl Rigney table in the corner and played ourselves some Apocalypse Galactica.


Mr. Boy – Commander Abram Raptis -The hard as hell Commander of the Battlestar Argonaut who had taken over the fleet after his brother Admiral Acario sacrificed his life and the lives of everyone aboard Battlestar Athena to buy the fleet time to escape.

Josh – President Desma Yen – The conniving president who rigged her own election (before the Fall) and was now finding out what it really meant to be the steward of humankind.

Zach – Deepak Teng – A visionary who saw truth in the flames. We had a bit of license crossover here, he worshiped the Lord of Light, and instructed his missionaries to make merry and burn everything around them.

Opening Moves

The purpose of the love letters is to make sure something is going on at the start of the game. The scenario is set just after returning from a jump gone wrong (landing right in a Cylon ambush) and is laden with trouble. Damaged ships, suspicion of a traitor that led them into it, and the controversy between the President and Commander over the latter introducing Martial Law. It’s rife with problems but…

The guys make plenty of problems of their own. Deepak rolled his Fortunes and came up with want: Savagery. We decided that his missionaries had set the prisoners free on the prison ship Precipice, and they were now rioting.  When rolling her campaigns President Yen got the catastrophe “Malfucntions” and to keep them tied into each other, Josh through out that the prison ship had listed into the Condor (the agricultural ship) and cracked the dome, O2 was blasting out of it, even as ships were arriving from their jump.

Also, during Hx when picking their +3 connections, the guys all made deliciously contentious relationships. Commander Raptis blamed President Yen for his brother’s death and for the danger the fleet was in. Yen was in love with Deepak but didn’t believe in his “Lords of Light at all”, and Deepak, though a member of the presidents cabinet didn’t care about the president, but did want to teach the Commander that he needed to see the Truth.

Man, so take all that and add more complications from the love letters… it was a shit storm of crises (see Thoughts below).


There were a ton of great moments in this game. Many of the highlights surrounded the Visionary Deepak, simply because he was so out of control.

His first “vision” was a baptism by fire as he sought wisdom from the Lords of Light about a pilot “Allycat”. Holding Allcat’s head over the edge of a raptor he had a vision, and watched the pilot die and be born again in a resurrection ship, surrounded by the likeness of himself. This vision was too much for Deepak to take and he dropped the pilot off the raptor, on his head where he broke his neck…

…just above two mobs of angry and potentially violent people! This was the only game where I saw Colonial Marines and Raptor pilots draw small arms and fire on each other. And that was only because the Commander decided to stop the fist fight from erupting by shooting his chief engineer in the brain pan. Chief Hsing was quite dead, but all that did was escalate the violence.

President Yen, set up her own VP Hye Su to take the fall on the prison ship. The self-same ship that with the visionaries guidance declared themselves a sovereign nation. The Nation of Light. This was the first time population was removed from the Presidents’ total, only to be added to the Visionary’s. The ship was declared and enemy vessel, and would have been nuked by Commander Raptis, if not for the Cylons suddenly arriving in overwhelming force.

In the end the President made a play to “sacrifice” herself by surrendering her ship to the Cylon’s while sneaking a Raptor armed with the sole nuke in her ship’s tylium wake. This worked just until the end when her faithful aid caught her trying to flee in an escape pod. And thus the President went down with the ship and aid Yeliz became the new president of the twelve colonies, or what was left of it.

Thoughts on this game

Gods Damnit these guys are great players. I set the stage and they took off with it.

The president’s political assassination of the Commander went a little like this. “Your CO has a new XO”, which was code for airlocking the XO. This game was a blood bath!

Since no-one was playing a pilot or CAG, when Deepak when to rouse the pilots into a frenzy, I should have had them ask him the question “how did our scouting go so wrong? Why did we jump right into a Cylon ambush?”

This is the first time I saw the President use the Well Connected (allowing her to spend Favors to describe someone owing her something and taking +2 going forward on a roll). I really liked how it worked. It pushed the president to go back for more favors and introduce more Fleet scale problems. Aces!

Also, the president move “Personable”, which allowed her to treat any interaction as an intimate moment and thus trigger the Special moves, was hot.

I wonder if rolling on the love letters (to introduce more problems) is a good idea if you see your players creating tons of their own. As is we had a great time but it did feel a bit like everything and the kitchen sink was going out the airlock.

Actual Play – Fight Fire (4/13/2013)

FateCoreBookCoverGM: Morgan Ellis
Players: Eric Fattig, Eric Lytle. Sean Nittner, Julie Southworth
System: Fate Core
Setting: Fight Fire by Jason Morningstar

I’ve really wanted to see what Fight Fire looks like in play since I first heard about it. A very specific system designed to emulate a very specific thing. When the doc was floating about and I first checked it out I saw that the skill list had changed to just nine skills, things like vent, and extinguish. Similarly the fires themselves were more than just “on fire” but had their own skills like spread, and burn, and had ways that they acted specific to fires themselves.

Jason took the idea of a Fate fractal and really ran with it. Though the core mechanics were the same, you wouldn’t recognize this as looking like any other Fate game. There was also a technical element to it. Certain thing had specific effects in game. For example if you use the vent skill you can either “Vent for Life” to let the smoke out so people can breath, but also gives the fire more oxygen to burn or you can “Vent for Fire” which smothers the fire, but makes smoke worse for anyone inside. These choices matter in this game.

We made our characters, the Roofer who was always late on his alimony check, the Irons who had dreams of making it big as a chef, the veteran Can who was bucking for promotion, and the rookie Vent who was trying to prove herself.  We did some relationships mapping during character creation. The Roof’s ex-wife was the Can’s daughter and all that sort of deliciousness.

Fire is a living thing

That’s a situation aspect on ever fire you fight. It isn’t a single threat you stamp out, it’s a living thing fighting to survive and grow. We started our game with a call “Apartment fire at 1732 Whimett Ave”. When we arrived the thing was a mess. A woman trapped inside, open fires in at least two rooms, and spreading.

We started up following protocol: Vent, Enter, Search (VES). That lasted about five seconds until problems started altering our plan. Irons had forgotten his mask, which was bad. Our Vent ran it to rescue the woman with a broken hip, but consequently wasn’t venting, and Cans sprayed his propellant but the hose wasn’t coming in for him to get more water.

This was generally a result of failed rolls that we push through anyway with significant costs. All grist for the mill. We saved the lady. We put out the fire. We all made it home alive.

At the Firehouse

We realized the game has no skills or mechanics for downtime interactions. I mean, there is the grease skill for getting funding and equipment, etc, but it’s hardly the normal breadth of personal skills that Fate Core normally has. We talked about this at the table, about how we wanted to handle it. Do we skip over personal scenes and go right to the next fire? We pondered if that was the intent of the game. After some discussion we decided we’d use the aspect compel mechanics to push tension and then Morgan framed a scene for each us, dealing with our trouble aspects. It was good stuff. We saw different sides of our characters as our personal lives reared their ugly head.

One fun conclusion we came to was that because we had no skills besides fighting fires, we should take from that the idea that fighting fires is all we’re any good at, and that we’ll generally just fail over and over in life outside the fire. It was a good premise, and watching our characters suffer a bit was lots of fun.

MVA = Many Viscous Aspects

Okay, it really stands for Motor Vehicle Accident, but the way Morgan presented them, as a series of horrific situation aspects we had to overcome, I think my acronym is better.

The MVA was at the North East corner of 2nd Ave and E Houston St. It was terrible, a car wrapped around a power pole, with leaking gas coming out, a sparking power line hanging precariously low, a meth lab in the trunk, a dying driver, noxious fumes, and a meth’d out passenger. JESUS.

The thing about this was, I could believe it. Things are that messed up sometimes. The way Morgan handled this was really just a series of aspects we needed to overcome, but some of them morphed from one problem into another one when we failed rolls. It was good times. It was also a great example of not being able to save everyone. The driver was bleeding out bad and using the jaws of life to get the passenger out, meant him sustaining trauma he simply couldn’t sustain.

My favorite part of this particular “fire” was when Morgan compelled my “Acting Lieutenant” aspect to say that the city didn’t have my name on file to authorize cutting the power to the power lines… so Irons had to cut up the box and do it for us. That was brilliant!

Thoughts on this game

It was still not in the printing stage when we played, which means after I got to talk to Jason and Brian Engard (the system developer) and Brian added in a bit about how to handle play at the Firehouse, which I think is a great addition.

The game was a ton of fun and I think would be more fun the more acclimated we became to the implicit constraints (moving between two rooms with the door open still isn’t a trivial action if the room is filled with blinding smoke and/or a raging fire).

Morgan, as always, was stellar. He’s a very pro-player-fun GM and it shows every time he runs. Great time.

Lytle… how could you let the captain go like that? For shame.


Actual Play – The Quiet Year (12/15/2012)

quiet-year-promoPlayers: Sean Nittner and Joe McDaldno
System: The Quiet Year

This was a ton of fun to play. Joe and I made a village that started with the premise of depression era dust bowl town in the middle of no where. We both liked the idea and continued play by following the procedure in the book. I’m very glad I backed The Quiet Year, as I think it will be a fun game to play in lots of mixed company. It reminds me a lot of Microscope and How to Host a Dungeon in that the product of the game feels more like a rich setting than a story. There are certainly narrative arcs that come from the game but they are seen from a birds eye view, and often evocative snippets rather than full scenes.

We started with an old barn that had become the town center, and a cliff face called lovers point that seldom saw use any more. The town had ample wind energy but a shortage of potable water. From there we began flipping cards, adding events, discovering things about the town, holding discussions, and starting projects.

What excited me

The parts I loved were watching elements being reincorporated and change. After several attempts to find a priest to replaced the father who passed away, the town was eventually left godless and turned to satanism.

The Pritchet family started with wealth (windmills) but it was taken from them for the good of the community.

Ricky Smith started off as a villain for beating his wife but by the end, we respected him for turning his life around and trying to settle a dispute without violence.

The “war” lingered on the periphery. Soldiers were more often feared than they were loved, and this fear turned them into something lonely and dangerous.

The woods outside the town were a source of bounty, but perhaps a poison to the community as well. Leaving the town meant change, and gaining water and food meant sacrificing healthy and security.

The Map and Lists




Thoughts on the game

Gaming with Joe is always a pleasure. Especially after last game where I killed him and then turned into a troll, it was nice to place a game where together we built a town.

Having a conversation with just two people, each only adding one sentence is very short, but also very powerful. You remember both statements well after they were made.

I want to play more. Looking forward to receiving The Quiet Year in the mail some time soon!

Actual Play – Caves of the Underking (12/15/2012)

dungeon worldGM: Alan Hodges
Player: Carl Rigney, Joe McDaldno, Sean Nittner, and Eric Fattig
System: Dungeon World

This was a long time coming. My experiences with Dungeon World this far is that it’s a game I want to like, but haven’t been able to. The dope crew at my table helped me get through that and have a splendid time.

The setup

Alan had a nice situation at hand. Way up I’m the Nordic north there was a small village, and north of that village were some hills, and north of those hills were caves, and in those cave was the domain of the Underking. Most did not believe in him, but every year the village would become a bit more bold, stretch out to the north and then some people would be lost. Sometimes they left and were never seen since, other times they came back but were “touched” and more than a little strange. Usually those who returned from the caves could not stay amongst the people long before the siren’s call of the undermountain drew them back in. We were all such people. A year ago we had visited the dwelling of the Underking…and now we were all inexplicably drawn to go back again.

Character creation choices

One of the most brilliant things in AW and it’s hacks in the idea of having decision points with a few options. Sometimes you get one option from a list of two (like rolling +hot to manipulate), sometimes you get to pick four off a list of many (like a Hardholder) but the key is a) you’re always getting a simple choice, and b) you never get all the options. Long ago (perhaps before AW was even a thing) Fred Hicks talked about this with me on Narrative Control. Points of tension. The choices branch off and help spin narratives, but that’s not what really excites me about them. What’s great about the choices is that picking from them is fun. It’s exciting to see what kind of cool things you could do. And having the choices right in front of you, with just a couple options (instead of in a book with a multitude of options) is extremely satisfying to my lizard “click click click” brain.

Here’s what we came out with

Rat (Carl) the thief went into Galeb Duhr on a dare. He stole a moon emerald from the underking, but in doing so lost a portion of his fear. His friend and fellow thief Nell disappeared in those caves as well. Chances are he had something precious on him worth going back for. But mostly Rat wanted vengeance on the cobalts from Galeb Durr for stealing from him.

Emory (Joe) chased Nels, the good for nothing street peddler (who happened to be my brother and friend of Rat) into the mines. Nels was killed by Uska the Troll, who demanded a bounty for killing him and recovering the heirloom. Emory drank with the troll and gave up an ounce of fear.  Emory had to go back to the mountain because his father had ridden off into them and hadn’t been seen since. His son, and disappointment Willem was also coming to rescue grandfather. Emory had married his animal companion Lucy (the grizzly bear), which was seen as an abomination in Pioter’s eyes.

Piotr (Sean) was a cleric of Freya, the goddess of hearth and home, but also of the weary and downtrodden. He had first gone into the mines with his friend Willem to rid the town of his evil step-sisters. Witch women who wanted people to adopt ways of the south and give up their old traditions. To get rid of them he had to offer the Underking his left eye, now fogged over and perhaps his vision had been given to the Underking himself. Piotr was called back to the mountain again now because of the ghost of his brother Nels. Generally incomprehensible, the he just knew the ghost was trying to show him his killer.

Willem (Eric) was a tragic soul. Originally he went to the Undermountain with Piotr to banish his sisters, but secretly he was in love with one of them, and hoped to win her love for himself. Seeing them locked up, he gave up a modicum of his hope, for now he would never find true love. Willem was back however, to aid is father in finding grandpa. Like Emory, Willem had some of his father’s Famous White Rope.

Bonds, or lack their of

We had our characters pretty woven together by this point, so Alan told us all to take +2 with one another. Personally, I was much happier with this. We didn’t need to layer on a batch of other complications. And I really liked my issue with Emory being something that he had done (married a bear) rather than trying to convert him on principle. And it wasn’t really a matter of his soul or any of that crap, he had broken a societal taboo and Piotr saw it as his duty to the community to make sure that it didn’t stand.

Our time in Undermountain

We took a little while on the adventure proper. Enough to meet Rat’s dad (the sheriff) and find a town noble atop his glorious steed that we’ve meant to trade with the King of Undermountain. Cause we’re murder hobos after all. Actually, I think we had some rationalization for it, but I can’t remember now.

Once we got there, it was some usual adventuring hijinks full of lying to the rich noble, fighting cobalts, and exploring the mountain, but there were some particularly great moments.

Stony Goats

The entrance of Undermountain was guarded by two Cave Trolls. I think we made a Spout Lore roll or something, and figured out that Ice Trolls love to play Stony Goats, or Goatsies, or something like that. The game is played by rolling stones and knocking over goats, as many as you can. I think we only got a 7-9 or something though, because the detail we missed was that the stones are thrown at each other and the first one to fall down looses. We convinced them that as the challengers, or challenged, I can’t remember, we got the first shot. And damn did we made it count.

We got a stone, a troll stone, and Emory did the pushing, with some help from Lucy his wife, and an empowered Magic Weapon spell cast by Piotr. The stone knocked the first troll right off the cliff! And Rat jumped out of the snow to backstab the other one. Like I said, murder hobos. But oh man, Stony Goats!

In death there is truth

As we ventured down eventually we found Uska the troll guarding a bridge. There was a lot of planning around the idea of feeding him a horse (his favorite delicacy that he couldn’t help but feast on) but the noble’s horse turned out to be more canny that we thought and offered Emory up as sacrifice instead. The thing with trolls is, or maybe just the thing with DW is, stabbing also works. So while all this planning was going on Rat swam across the river (whose magic didn’t work on him) and got behind the troll. Just before Emory was going to fight him, Rat backstabbed the Uska and that was the end of the Uska the Undying…sort of.

During the confrontation, the truth came out. Emory had chased Nels into the mountain, that is why he died. At Uska’s hand. Piotr was enraged and attacked attacked him but Emory was the better fighter, he knocked Piotr off the bridge into the freezing water below. He would have drowned except Nel’s spirit pulled him out, and with him Uska’s club. Piotr took up the club, despite Rat’s many warnings, he took the club and came again for Emory. But even as he stepped onto the bridge, carrying Uska’s club the troll’s essence started to infuse him.

Piotr demanded retribution for his brothers death. Emory would have to pay his wereguild or pay with his life. As the ranger had no money, so he offered up his life. And Piotr took it. Piotr the Undying!

What I loved about this scene was that the two characters were changed irrevocably. Emory was dead (which didn’t take him out of the game) and Piotr became the bridge troll guarding Undermountain. Hell yeah.

The Kings Court

In the Underking’s court all was well, or at least well by his standard. Ghosts were alive (or at least corporeal) and there was much merriment. Grandpa was there too, and I liked not knowing for a while if he was alive or dead, but under the Underking’s spell.

Willem got his grandfather free, and received the love of his life, albeit stuck in a crystal. Emory roamed the hills a ghost, Piotr guarded the bridge as a troll, and Rat made it out, but not after leaving something right under the king’s nose, just to show that he was better than him.  Just enough to send a few people packing out of Undermountain, and just enough to bring them back again next year. And all was well.

Thoughts on this game

I had a great time playing Dungeon World. I want to continue that trend.

Alan is fantastic at coming up with 7-9 and miss results. Always things that made things interesting, kept the story moving forward, and gave us more grist for the mill.

I think we were using version 2.3 beta of DW. We didn’t really discuss experience but Alan started us at 2nd level and said if we played again (year 3 in Undermountain) we’d be 3rd level. That gave me enough taste of the advancement system (we got a move, yay) but didn’t really worry about it in play. I think we marked xp for missed rolls, maybe a few other things, but it didn’t matter much as nobody leveled till the end.

Some more tweets from Joe.


Actual Play – The Nut People (5/6/2012)

Players: Xander Matthews, Mia Blankensop, Karen Twelves and Sean Nittner
System: Fiasco
Playset: Nut People

Well, of all playsets to be the first one I’ve played twice, I didn’t expect it to be the Nut People. But, when life hands you a pile of pecans, make pecan pie I guess.

Notable quotes

“Forbidden love nuts.”

“Saving is for ugly people.”

“You good at trying to, or are you good at fixin?” “…Yeah.”

“You slept with my Sugar?” “It wasn’t sleeping, it was just hate’n” Continue reading Actual Play – The Nut People (5/6/2012)

Actual Play – Don’t Push Your Luck (1/28/2012)

GM: Carl Rigney
Players: Karen Twelves, Duane O’ Brian, Chris Bennett, Sean Nittner
System: Don’t Rest Your Head
Hack: Don’t Push Your Luck

Carl wrote this hack of DRYH to emulate the setting from the movie Push. I haven’t seen the movie but I got the gist of it from his description. People with powers + Evil organizations trying to control those powers = Thriller!

Note. There are apparently a lot of movies called Push. I mean this Push. Not Push, Push, or Push. Not even of these other NINETEEN MOVIES named Push!

The premise was good and the game was fun, but there were several things that did not work for me, some of them my fault, some of them the setting/situation/system, some of them the player dynamics.

To introduce the troubles I’m going to start with the cast, so there is some frame of reference:


Karen – Eva Jorgenson – A pusher who was saving up for her retirement fund. I couldn’t tell if she was a “one last job” or and “anything for a buck” kind of mercenary. Not being to answer that question, even by the end of the game, was troubling for me.

Chris – A changer who was running from her past. Despite her ability to mimic other people, there were people hunting her, which constantly drove her to more and more desperate attempts to be free of them.

Duane – A combat field medic. I forget what the power is called but he could heal people. His character was an adrenaline junkie disillusioned with the “Man”, in this his and my employer Division.

Sean – Allen (last name unknown) – A Wiper (memory eraser) who had wholes in his own memory that he didn’t know where they came from. Did Division do this, or did he do it to himself. He was driven to find out. On the surface he was a reliable “Company Man” but secretly he was working a deal with Eva to steal Division secrets and sell them to a rival Power Organization (Harmonious Jade Society I think).

My beef with the situation

As per the normal convention of DRYH, each of our characters was asked “what just happened?” That is a starting point for the character that is supposed to build momentum. It’s a “Kicker” from Sorcerer.

I’ve got two problems with this question. One, it has very little in the way of lead in. It doesn’t tie to the other questions necessarily, it just asks us “what something exciting, dangerous, etc that just happened” but I find myself struggling with it, trying to figure out how far I should narrate, how much I should write down and how much I should leave to find out what happens in play. I also feel that the question can be very disjointed from the other things that matter to the character.

Eva’s answer for instance was that a deal just went wrong and she was in the hot seat. Very cool, very bond, but very much not about her character’s motivations. I mean, Carl and Karen are both pros, so they wove it into something but that deal going south really didn’t have lasting consequences in the game, other than to create a threat. The deal itself didn’t even really matter. I think we did some revisionist history later to say that deal was related to something else that came up, but it still didn’t seem significant and more importantly it didn’t really drive the character. She knew she didn’t want to stay in that room, but otherwise the situation didn’t giver her direction.

My second problem with the question is that it inherently sets up one plotline per character. In a long term game I think that would be cool, but in a four hour con slot, I think that leads towards several solo games that are largely unimportant to the players not involved. It takes active effort of the players and the GM to bring those stories together and I often feel like it’s a real suspension of disbelief.

In this case Bennett was really off on his own. Though our characters intersected we couldn’t find a way to keep them together. Bennett has done this before though in a game. In Scott White’s Iron Road, he totally had his own story that didn’t effect the rest of us. So many that was just Bennett being a lone ranger. Maybe it was the story not giving him opportunities. I did talk to him afterwards and he wanted to have our stories intersect but didn’t know how to do it.

The setting has a baddie to draw players together: Division. Questions like this would serve the game better: How did you call come to be in Divisions cross-hairs? Or why is division interested in you? Or why did Division put you together with these people?  Hmm… none of those create the kind of urgency that “What just happened?” does but I think something along those lines would be better for a con game.

My beef with the system/setting/hack

My power pissed me off. For reference I was a wiper. First off it seemed in all ways inferior to pushers. Pushers could make people remember things differently, or not remember them at all, so my ability to make people forget was totally superfluous to that. Also the effect of pushers was ostensibly permanent, while my memory wiping wore off.

That last one was the real pisser for me. I haven’t seen the movie, but it just makes no sense to me that I would ever erase someone’s memory. What good would it do? They would just remember in a couple hours or days. I mean sure, it could get me out of a bind or help in court case, but it seemed useless long term.  Like at the end of the game when I switched sides they wanted to see me make an act of loyalty by wiping another Division agent. What the hell would be the point of that? He’d just remember in a few days. To make my power fun for me I decided to pretend that it was permanent. We were playing a four hour session that took place over one day, so for all intents and purposes the power lasted all game, but it still grated on me that I couldn’t believe in my own character.

Mechanics wise, Carl was mirroring DRYH but parts of the reskin didn’t do it for me:

Good Example: Madness. When the madness equivalent dominated (I think it was Powers or Supernatural, can’t remember) we had options of “Hurt ourself” or “Hurt others” (instead of Fight or Flight). That was a concrete choice we made and informed the narrative directly. I really liked it.

Bad Example: Exhaustion. When Pushing dominated (the Exhaustion dominated) we were supposed to narrate the situation getting more tense, more out of control. But sadly that felt nearly identical to when pain dominated. Ambiguity in things like “take the narrative in this direction” kills me.

My beef with the character interaction

As mentioned above, Bennett ended up in a different story from us. That sucked.

Eva and Allen had some deal going. She betrayed him, stole his stuff and then went to the airport and flew away. He didn’t even realize she betrayed him and it never came up in the game. That was some serious lose ends there where there should have been tension and drama but wasn’t. I was way frustrated with a particular roll when I spend all my mojo to try and keep her in a scene so that drama could unfold, failed the roll and ended up never knowing the better (as a result of her Push).

My character and Wayne’s had this never quite developed relationship. I felt like I was cock blocking him all game. Like whenever he would learn something about me I didn’t like, I would erase (or try to erase) it from him. That made me the lame lone ranger. My bad. I think our characters could have had something, but instead I pushed him to the outside of the story. LAME.

My beef with the story

Division didn’t scare me. It should have but it didn’t. In a setting where it’s supposed to be a huge threat, I should have felt it and I didn’t.

I got poisoned and nothing happened. I knew I was poisoned, even played it up (I started narrating myself walking woozy) but that was it. Maybe that’s a mechanics thing. How do you represent someone being poisoned. I guess by throwing more pain dice at them. Ah, I would have liked that to do something.

My beef with me

For this supposedly conflicted character who might or might not have been erasing my own memories. I never, EVER, erased my own memories. We talked about it, how it would be a blissful reprieve, but I never did it. And there was a perfect time when I SHOULD have: Right after the first scene, when I was caught trying to steel files from Division, I got shot (in fact Carl asked if I wanted to get shot and because I really wanted to see Duane’s power in effect I said “yeah, I want that to happen”) and then after Duane healed me I tried to make him forget it happened. What would have been WAY cooler is if I had erased my own memories just before meeting up with him so that when he said “How did you get shot?” I could have legitimately said “I have no idea.” That would have been much more fun.

Also, I cock blocked Duane. Bad form. Bad Sean.

Thoughts on the game.

I had fun. I like the players. I like Carl’s games, but this one had some things I wasn’t hot on. See above.


Actual Play – Nut People (1/15/2012)

Players: Dovi Anderson, Jason Morningstar, Sean Nittner, Shannon MacNamara
System: Fiasco
Playset: Nut People

What’s the lowest possible stakes you can play for? Nuts! Yep, pecans and Georgia going for a record hi nickel a pop!

Who did we have

Donna VanWert, the Nut House princess, her derelict cousin and clumsy lover that was stealing the nuts with his pot smoking buddy who had a bet with his dishwasher coworker over who was going to have sex with Donna first.


Relationship: Romance – Clumsy lovers.

Location: Honeysuckle – Dishwashers.

Need: To Get Laid – So you can brag about it at he fireworks stand.

Relationship: They are just yard nuts officer – Nut thief and honeysuckle employee.

Location: Downtown Quigley – Pecan Sandy’s Bed and Breakfast.

Object: Drug – Hallucinogenic mushrooms mixed a bag of pecans.

Relationship – The Original Georgia Nut House – Nut Roaster & Trainee.

Need: To Get Nuts – To buy toys for kids! Hah!


Quotable “I’m just not that into you.”

Wacky hijnks including the once desirable Donna VanWert becoming the object of a bet and rejected even by her cousin. Of course there was crime, stolen pecans all over the place, people getting high on mushrooms and the threat of big bad Dale Blankenchip bringing the pain. That set across the backdrop Sheriff Dan Mason (Jake’s father) and the hot headed Deputy Junior Broadus all digging into everyone’s business.Yes!

Thoughts on this game

Jason makes a great stoner Red Sox fan with delusions of grandeur. Cap turned backward, overalls on with no shirt underneath and all. Great times.

My first time gaming with Dovi, and I had a great time. His earnest efforts amongst so many other jaded, crass and greedy bastards was great.

I rarely play high status characters that have people fawning over them. Most of the time when I play high status, it’s leader types that everyone brings their troubles to and that have to constantly fight to maintain their authority. It felt weird for me to have the other three characters pursuing mine. So after the first act during a break I asked everyone to try and put Donna in something of a predicament, turn the tables on her, and they did, wonderfully.

The story ended in tears, as it should.


Actual Play – Transatlantic (1/14/2012)

Players: Sean Nittner, Chris Bennet, Brian Willians, Mia Blankensop
System: Fiasco
Playset: Transatlantic

This game was so much for me, in part because it was very different from most Fiasco games I’ve played.

Three of our relationships were very close, while one was distant from the others. Mia (Elke Dubois) and I (Etienne Dubois) were newlyweds, however she did not recognize the wedding as legitimate until we were marred in a Lutheran church. She was my 19 year old beautiful mail order bride and I was the middle aged french man who fought in the great war. Because she did not see us as married in the eyes of god we had separate cabins aboard the boat, and mine had a stow away. They young American girl Sadie Beatrice Hawkins who was returning to Plano, Texas with her fathers military sabre that was lost in the war.

Sadie, being a beautiful girl, hiding out in the cabin of a middle aged French man, of course caused a giant scandal. She had been looking forward to seeing the love of her life, a man named Nikola, that she knew only as a pen pal. Meeting Nikola, however, Sadie realized that “she” was a “he”. Heart broken she fled back to he cabin and into the consoling arms of Etienne. Insert jealous hijinks here.

We had young nervous porters, stodgy old gentlemen with monocles, and a generous captain Miska… all of which died… but what we didn‘t have was a strong connection to Brian’s character (Nikola Kral). Besides the gender confusion, Nikola felt detached from the group, we didn’t have a lot of overlapping interests and her story seemed more connected with the ship captain than the other players…until it suddenly seemed like Nikola might not actually be who she said she was.
What if she was a German spy?

Hot damn. Within a few scenes Nikola was revealed as a spy bent on giving secrets transported on the Leviathan to a German Uboat that was following us. As the torpedo was fired and the ship was sinking, that’s when we realized Nikola was actually Nikolas! He is a she is he again! And “he” took my Elke hostage!

Suddenly Brian went from being off stage to center stage and the melt down that ensued was just awesome.

Thoughts on this game

Though I was technically mediating this game, because I had Mia (our improv instructor) in it, and Bennett (a veteran Fiasco himself), I hardly did anything besides offer off up the playset and a pile of dice. Fiasco, with a group of creative players excited by eachother’s happiness, is the closest thing to an RPG that plays itself.

Our game shifted forward in time a little be when we realized we needed a Uboat to exist, for WWII to be on the brink and proto Nazi’s to be in the picture. Frankly, I don’t think any of us cared, those pulpy tropes were a lot of fun.