Actual Play – Sign (8/5/2016)

SignInstructor: Kathryn Hymes
Players: Spencer Abbe, Michele Royal, Todd Nicholas, Jennifer Martin, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Sign

A game about being understood.

Sign is a difficult game to describe. The play begins with some verbal instructions and everyone is allowed to play. The facilitator explains the background of the game, a Nicaraguan school in the 70s where deaf children were brought to learn lip reading – a project which failed completely but instead because the birthplace of Nicaraguan sign language, which the children developed among themselves when the though the teachers weren’t watching.

In Sign, you play these children and you go through three classroom sessions divided by recess sessions and finally have an “exam” where you must describe your fellow students and how they make you feel. Once the basic outline is given the game becomes completely silent and all communication either comes from the written instruction given by the facilitator or through our own emerging signs. Notably, during two of the classroom periods, each player is tasked to define a sign for one work, so after the first such session the group knows six words, after the second, they know twelve.

One more tool that we had was a marker which we could mark either our hands or note cards with a tally mark when we either did not understand someone or feel like we weren’t being understood. I had a lot of tally marks!

Sign explicitly does not try to reproduce the modern deaf experience or replicate any existing sigh languages. It is, like the title describes, a game about being understood.

The Play is the Thing

Sign is hard. Each of us received a character sheet and though they all had names on them, those names were never used. Our first “assignment” was to sign our name and then everyone else in the class would sign it as well. These were the first words we made.

The characters are complex. They have really rich backgrounds and lots of things that they want that are difficult to communicate. For instance my character liked to read children’s fantasy books to her nephew and wanted to become a young adult author. Karen’s character had a very sick mother and her grandmother took care of her.

Though hard the recess sessions are also fun. We made a fort, we built a castle out of cups, we figured out that most of us were poor, but not all of us were!

The words that had the most use and poignant for us were those that could describe many things: make, hope, and friend.  The words that were very specific like sick were useful for those things we could build out of other words, but they had limited contact. The word deaf wasn’t used at all except that we all realized our teacher wasn’t deaf.

What rocked

Playing the game did feel like being a child. I loved the short sessions of class and recess and the attempts (successful or not) to understand each other.

The marker was an extremely useful tool. I kind of wish I could have that when I’m talking to my mother. I really don’t like having ink on myself so Kate was great about giving us an alternative (I had an index card) to use instead. Thanks Kate!

Though the game is challenging it was never scary. Kate did a great job of preparing us for the game before we started playing and we all got to ask every questions we had. She also make sure that safety was first. If we needed to speak (which didn’t come up) we could pause the game at any time or leave the room to talk to her. I felt really supported the whole time.

As our teacher Kate had some pretty mad glower game. She was good at letting us know we were in trouble or that she disapproved. We even made up a sign for her, which I thought to mean Ms. Bossypants. We made it behind her back. She also wasn’t very good at getting the signs correct. She’d be lazy with them or use the wrong hand or just get them mixed up. Karen’s character really didn’t like that and it was great watching Karen correct her. This was all part of the character of course, Kate didn’t forget our signs but by pretending to she reinforced how important they were.

What could be improved

That is really hard to say. This game is brilliant and I’m so glad I got to play in it. From the prospective of these reports I wish I remembered all the words we made up signs for but since many were never written down, there are some that I only know the sign for (such as our names) and can’t reproduce here. I hope I remember them for a long time.

Actual Play – Ghost Court, Marion County (8/4/2016)

ghost_court_logo_01 (1)Players: Many, living and dead
System: Ghost Court

As Hot Guys Making Out wrapped up we quickly transitioned into a game of Ghost Court!

All Rise! Again!

As always Ghost Court was silly and fun and silly. James had managed to round up a wig, and we used a black tablecloth as the judge’s robes.

As expected… Ghost Court was wonderful, thought that case of the half-ghost child custody still confuses the heck out of the plaintiff! (Perhaps as intended!)

What Rocked

Jerry’s amazing Brittish accent as judge… and with the shroud over him!

Kristin’s great life coaching (or in this case death coaching) for the plantiffs and defendants.

Ross. Judge Cowman is imposing indeed!

What Could have Improved

Kate and I were supposed to have a trial with each other but she had to run out and take a call. My case ended tears. Coincidence? I think not!

Actual Play – Hot Guys Making Out – After Hours Edition (8/4/2016)

Hot Guys Making OutFacilitator: Ross Cowman
Players: Kathryn Hymes, Hakan Seyalioglu, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
Occasional Spectators: Alex Roberts, James Stuart, and Steve Segedy
System: Hot Guys Making Out

Thursday evening we had a Games on Demand orientation where all the GMs and hosts got together to go over how the process works, to answer any questions, and then to eat pizza and play games.

We played Hot Guys Making Out by Ben Lehman.

Woah, this game.

This game is steamy.

Here’s Ben answering some basic questions about it:

Who is this game for?
It is for anyone who loves intense, passionate, dramatic stories about beautiful men kissing each other.

Is it fun?
It is fun.

Is it sexy?
It is sexy.

Yep, pretty spot on.


  • Honoré standing outside his mansion, protected by an umbrella held by Maria, with his shirt buttons undone revealing thick curls of dark hair covering his chest.
  • Silence which dominated the first several scenes. Everything communicated by Honoré’s barely squinting eyes and fierce gaze.
  • The imagery of rain. Water dripping off everything, making all our clothes stick to our bodies. Drenching us so we must be bathed and warmed by gentle hands.
  • The brusque Olivier taking off his wet shirt so it would not drip on the car as he dried it off.
  • Gonsolvo’s voice caught in his throat at the dinner table…so far away from Honoré.
  • Honoré toes, removed fro his boots by Marian, all covered in sapphire rings. Kissed one by one, by Gonsolvo.
  • Olivier walking in with a cord of firewood in his strong arms and grunting as he dropped it into the the hearth of the fireplace interrupting Maria’s manipulations.
  • Gonsolvo slipping into to bathtub and then cradled like a child against Maria’s bosom as she whispered the warning “Be Afraid.”
  • The imagery of Golsolvo’s father in Honoré locket, snapped shut with finality.
  • Honoré commanding Olivier to pleasure Maria, removing her shoes and delighting her with his tongue.
  • Gonsolvo listening to the peels of ecstasy from outside, his ear pressed against the heavy wooden door.
  • Maria’s wet footprints on the wooden floor.
  • All the images of shoes. So many shoes. Honoré polished boots. Maria’s petite slippers. Olivier’s heavy work boots. Gonsolvo’s plain loafers.

What Rocked

Um, this game was insanely hot. Part of what was so hot about it was that the mechanics were actively working to stifle the players and build sexual tension. The card mechanic requires that to act you to either play a card that is equal to or higher than the last card played, or discard a card, draw a new one, and describe the environment. Further, Gonsolvo could only show his emotion or attempt to act and fail unless he played a heart, and Honoré cold only act but now shoe any emotion unless he played a heart. When Gonsolvo played a Jack (of any suit) he could initiate a moment of passion and intensify their relationship and when Honoré played a King he could do the same. Kathryn (who was playing Honoré) and I (who was playing Gonsolvo) could not draw hearts to save our lives. And when we did they numbers were low and we were almost never able to play them. And neither of us drew the face card needed to have a moment of passion. SO MUCH TENSION!

The other element that caused tension was that there was a threat, which was escalated by playing aces, and reduced when Olivier played Jokers. The threat in our game was Maria’s jealousy of Gonsolvo, but because the Jokers kept coming, the threat was always always washed away before it could materialize. At most Maria was able to hint at her jealousy as she warned Golsolvo away from her master.

Ross was so good at cracking down on us when we tried to cheat. He made us play as the cards dictated. There was no fooling around on his watch!

The environment, lacking anyone but our four characters, was so delightful to describe. The carved door to Honré’s room. The bright red umbrella in the dreary grey rain. The rack of shoes (SHOES!!!) drying by the fire. So much good stuff.

Phew…wow, that game was just delicious. Enough so that Alex stayed and watched most of the game!

What could have improved

Wow…I’m not sure. We could have played another hour or two of it. Gonsolvo and Honoré could have spoken words to each other. The sky is the limit!

Actual Play – The Fall of Nationalism (8/4/2016)

downfallPlayers: Justin Atkins, Nick Wedig, and Sean Nittner
System: Downfall

The Pitch

Downfall is a tabletop role-playing game that explores the collapse of a society, a cataclysm brought about by a fatal Flaw at work within it. First you sit down and build your world, then you destroy it. You tell the story of a hero who tries to save their home. But in Downfall, the hero fails.

The game works in any kind of setting, from mythical fantasy to the real world to high-flying science fiction.

It’s made to tell a whole story in a single 2-4 hour session and doesn’t require preparation, dice, or a GM.

Why Downfall

I’ve been excited about Downfall for a while. I’m a big fan of games that are explicit about their end, and how you’ll get there. My Life With Master, A Penny for My Thoughts, Until We Sink, Fiasco, and the like. They all have some sort of structure that drives you to an end and in the case of Downfall, you even know the general shape of that ending…the hero fails and the society is destroyed. Having those creative constraints is awesome, and really makes me relish what we create within them.

I was also excited about a game that was GM-less, prep-less, and I thought could be played in two hours, though I turned out to be wrong all three times I ran it.

Finally I like tragic games like Montsegur 1244 and Polaris, where we know we’re playing to get the very most out of the little time we have. I’ve never played Grey Ranks (I think when my kids were younger, playing child soldiers hit a little to close to home for me) but I’d eagerly try if I had the opportunity now.

So, I had pretty high expectations of Downfall, and what I found (which will be spelled out over the three AP reports from Gen Con) was that it lived up to those expectations when we had a group prepared and ready to meet them. And less so when we didn’t.

The Fall of Guardian Mountain

2016-08-04 15.45.54

The fatal flaw of Guardian Mountain was our nationalism. After a war for independence from a country that we strongly identified against, yet whose families were intertwined with ours, we drew very hard lines about what it meant to be a citizen, and how easily one could cross that line and be exiled or worse.

Given our current political climate this felt extremely poignant to me. We were talking about these people who lived on the top of a mythical mountain, but the same arguments they used to prop up their flaw as the highest virtue are arguments I see today during the presidential election. We weren’t going for political commentary, but it dipped in that direction just the same.


Some of the richest part of our society was in it’s traditions, especially around silence, and how the ritual of silence was observed. Vows of silence were taken when people died, or when they were exiled. Breaking that silence early (or earlier than was expected) was a sign of disrespect. Maintaining it too long was a sign of being overly attached. It was so significant that the Fallen we made was named the Silencer, who had a perpetual vow of silence and shunned others into silence as well by their presence.

Tattoos were also a large part of the society, as they were very permanent. There was a tattoo that signified citizenship (a mountain top) and another that signified exile (the same mountain top upside down placed over the citizenship tattoo). The significance of this was that anyone could become a citizen, but once you were exiled, it was for life.

Hero, Pillar, and Fallen

Our Hero, Purple Lipped Flutist, was a veteran of the war who had put down the sword and taken up the flute, which stained their lips purple form the sap in the wood. She was quite literally the hero of the people, but her brother had been exiled for his beliefs and she knew the judgment was too severe and given because the code of silence, could not be questioned.

Our Fallen, the Silencer, was the Heroes uncle and wanted more than anything, to shame her into submission to his will. She was a powerful symbol but only if she could be controlled and he did so by turning those who she loved most against her.

The Pillar, Carries a Torch, was also a military commander in the war and now in charge of security always carried a torch such that a signal fire could be lit in the case of invasion [This was the sign of office for a guard]. He and the hero had once been very close during war time but now they were separated by duty. He of course, also “carried a torch” for her. Carries a Torch was pitted over and over again against the Hero, and simply wanted her to comply so that she would not cause trouble. He loved her and wanted her to be safe. He didn’t see what she saw.

Song of Rememberance

In our first scene, Purple Lipped Flutist was asked to play a song of remembrance, the national anthem, which gave praise to all the soldiers that died in the recent war. She was supposed to leave out the section that spoke of her brother, however, she refused and sang loudly about his valor. Many in the audience were awed by her bravery but many more left in disgust.

The Silencer, in response, by way of her family, ordered a apology to all of the people, or would force a vow of silence upon her. If she still grieved her brother, she would be silent to show it! Powerful shit!

What Rocked

Wow, this game was intense. The culture was educated and oppressive. The believed that they were better than all those around them, and that arrogance, and supreme belief in their nation was palpable in every interaction, as is intended by the game.

There are several parts of the the world creation that I adored. Specifically:

  • Picking elements independently (and secretly) and then announcing them all at once and figuring out how to make sense of them. Ours were Silence, Ink, and Mountain. All which became powerful themes in our game.
  • The traditions and the specifically the symbol of the tradition. It answered a really important question for me that I usually don’t answer in roleplaying games. Someone says “we always do X” and then you ask “How do we know that is true?” Or, what is the sign of that? The specific mechanics force you to create something that is emblematic which not only give concrete evidence, it also gives the players something specific to interact with. This is a brilliant mechanic!
  • The themes of oppressive silence, of nationalism dividing people rather than biding people, and of people in dower arbitrarily drawing rigid lines was both daunting and poignant.
  • This was a society that we could feel crumbling from the onset. The game did a wonderful job of constantly forcing us to incorporate the the flaw, so we never lost track of our trajectory.

What could have improved

Two hours wasn’t long enough for us. I think we could have sped things up a bit by using one of the Haven Guides, though I loved our society so much, I’m glad for this game that we didn’t.

The game is heavily reliant upon collaboration which I noticed initiated a lot of great discussions, but also took a long time. I think the elements that worked the best were when authority was passed to one person but they operated within a constraint (pick something from this list, draw a symbol, etc.)

A mountain top setting made us all very conscientious of cultural appropriation. We knew this wasn’t Nepal or Tibet or China or connected to Native American culture, but were concerned about adopting tropes and cliches from those cultures. For instance, we didn’t have a naming convention in mind, so we ended up giving the characters descriptive names. There are lots of cultures that do that, but we we’re really trying to avoid unintentionally aping one or the other. I wonder if others have run into this and what their reactions were. We just tried to stay aware of it and discuss the choices we were making with close scrutiny.

Actual Play – Gen Con #Feminism Take 1 (8/4/2016)

#FeminismFacilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Tasha Robinson, Spencer Abbe, Hillary Brannon, and Degen Gottlieb
System: #Feminism Nano-Games

I swore that I’d play different games this time, but as I flipped through them, the same ones we played just seemed so inviting. I mean who doesn’t want to say “The Vulva and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”?

So, games we played included:

Mentioning the Unmentionables by Kajsa Greger (Sweden)
Three games about the anatomy of women. (Dances with Vulva, Dying for a Cup of Coffee, and Just Put Some Salt on It)
3–5 players; 60 minutes; Intensity 3/5.

First Date by Katrin Førde (Norway)
A game about a date gone wrong and a rant about the orgasm gap.
2–5 players; 30 mins; Intensity 1/5.

What Rocked

In one of the First Date scenarios our ranter started talking about the placement of the clitoris in rabbits and I just about died laughing. The worst part is that it’s an argument someone might make. Oh my, I couldn’t take it.

There was another First Date scene where the Listener just wouldn’t leave…so it kept going, and going, and it became an endurance test for the ranter. Watching them run out of steam was pretty amazing.

Our games of Dying for a Cup of Coffee and Just Put Some Salt on it had pretty awesome debriefs. For being a con scenario in a room filled with a hundred other people I was incredibly impressed with the emotional honesty and the willingness to talk about personal experiences at the table. I felt really lucky to have such an open and thoughtful group.

What could have improved

We made it work but I don’t think #Feminism games are particularly well suited for a Gen Con sized Games on Demand area. Lots of noise and distractions. Constructing a “white sofa” out of chairs was doable, but I missed the actual sofa we had a Go Play.

Actual Play – Roric Returns (6/18/2016)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Virgil Daniel, Gary Mengle, Joe Zantek, Paul Arezina
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.6

Third and final slot of Blades at Origins. Such a blast to run but because I’ve gotten so far in actual play reports, we’re getting the highlights I can remember from my notes!

  • Hamish, the Skovlan ex-soldier had no home and no prospects after the Unity War. He was staying with an Apothecary named Satisa and they went from landlord and renter to lovers after facing an altercation together. Malista an evangelical priestess of the Path of Echoes began preaching (read: shouting) outside of Satisa’s shop driving customers away and causing a fright. Melissa spouted that the Emperor’s lands were only meant for the Akorosi, and the filthy immigrants from Skovlan had no place here. Together Hamish and Stasia drove her off but not before finding that she was acting behalf of Vond Kardera, a powerful and ancient ghost of a naval captain that claims to have served under the Emperor herself! [Leech]
  • The titanic right hand of the Crows gang leader Roric, Walls was affectionately named because he absolutely could not be gone through. As a tall man with a deep voice and few words, many including Roric took Walls for an imbecile, when infact was was quite astute and was happy to allow folks to underestimate him. When Roric was found dead in the canals, his second in command Lyssa took over the gang and in effort to cement her hold she put a bounty on Roric’s killer. Claiming that he knew Roric best, Lyssa sent Walls to find any witnesses who might know Roric’s killer and bring them directly to her, and not to listen to any excuses or lies they might tell Walls. [Cutter]
  • Savannah, another Skovlader, found a place for herself in Crows Foot among the Lampblacks when she helped out Bazso Baz. He felt affectionately for one of his crew named Clave, but worried he would appear weak or to be taking favorites if he took Clave as a lover. Savannah helped smooth the ripples over with the crew, and Bazso owed her for her help. [Slide]
  • The women who went by Ms. Nobody certainly used to be a somebody. A trader in fine Iruvian spices and fabrics to be sure, based on all she knew about them. But also one conversant in spirit trafficking and moving other illicit goods [Spider]

2016-06-18 23.28.57The Score

Seeking reward for Lyssa, and hopping they could get the Crows and the Lampblacks to team up against the Red Sashes (who have some personal grievances with our scoundrels as well due to some orders of Irruvian spirit essences that never made it to their final destination).

Walls offered to lead up the search for Roric’s killer, which Lyssa was fully behind because she neither knew that he had made new friends, nor that he was half as smart as he really was.

Knowing that the zealot Malista was connected with the Path of Echos, and could help them, our Blades disguised themselves and conned her and her two Hollow attendants into summoning Roric’s ghost. The process required three living creatures to attune to the ghost field. One to summon, one to speak, and one to listen. Although Ms. Nobody was familiar with spectrology, the third member of their ritual (the Hollows watched over but could not contribute) was Savanah, who was just making it up as she went along.

The summoning disaster culminated in Malista being drowned in the same place that Roric died, the other Hollows being grievously injured, and Walls being possessed by his former boss and friend. Once inside Roric was quick to tell all of them that it was Lyssa who slit his throat and pushed him into the canal but now that he had a new body, he was going to take back control of the Crows!

What could go wrong?

What Rocked

How cool is it when you used to be muscle for your boss, you are now literally muscle (and skin and bones and organs) for your boss! I would have loved to see how all of that turned out in a follow up game!

What could be improved

I forget the details here but I think I required too many steps to get the job done. To find Roric’s host they wanted someone familiar with them, but since Malista was an enemy, they had to figure out a way to trick her into helping them. However the trick involved finding someone else (Andrel?) to set up the meet. It was all good heist stuff but I felt like I was calling for too many rolls to frequently. I think it’s important to remember to keep saying yes until you think something really interesting might happen should the scoundrel’s fail!

[Note: in this discussion, I’m speaking only about gender presentation, not gender assigned at birth. So when I say men I’m referring to cis men, trans men, and male presenting individuals of any gender].

This isn’t about this game in particular, but I’ve noticed a trend regarding the gender of of my Blades in the Dark players: it skews pretty heavily towards men. At Origins the other games I played in featured people that used she/her or they/them pronouns, but Blades was all he/him. Looking back at my AP reports shows that my home games have a pretty good gender balance, but in other Blades games I ran at cons, it’s been much of the same as it was at Origins. Frustrating.

I talked to Kristin Firth, Bill White, and Kira Magrann about this a fair bit after my games to figure out why my Blades audience skews so strongly toward male players. The action of the game is strongly associated with male power fantasies: sneaking, thieving, murdering, skulduggery, and the rest. And while these actions can be performed by anyone, media tells us over and over that these are actions taken by men (Ocean’s Eleven, The Departed, The Godfather, Heat, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, James Bond, etc). And the real tragedy is that Blades does have a really good gender balance in it. If you look at the major characters, many (maybe most) of them are women, non-binary, or otherwise not men. Mylera Klev is a master duelist who leads the Red Sashes. Lyssa just murdered her way to the top of the Crows, Arcy Keel is a brutal ex-Leviathan Hunter, The Dimmer Sisters are dominating the spirit trade, Lady Drake is a magistrate on the payroll of criminals, Brynna Skyrkallan is the resident diplomat of Skovlan, and the list goes on.

My next Blades project, which I’m going to work on with Kira will be to offer a short playset, score, or other ready-for-play component that will specifically be queer, non-normative, or otherwise designed or a broader audience. Current idea (thanks Kristin) is Women in Ironhook Prison (The Wire + Orange Is The New Black). I like it but I’m going to keep brainstorming.

Actual Play – Darmot must Die! (6/18/2016)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mengu Gungor, Michael Donovan, David Millar, Geoff Hunt
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.6

What is it with Darmot? We either love him or hate him. This time it was all hate.

The Method: The one-shot method I was trying out at Origins worked great!

Our Crew

Lex, the Hound was ex-military (dishonorably discharged) who still had family (Veleris) in the serivce, who helped him stay ahead of the various agencies after him.

Beeker, the Leech is an Skovlan orphan taken in by Stacia as both surrogate child and apprentice to help her work in her shop and occassinaly perform services for the Lampblacks.

Three Spin, as he goes by now, the Lurk used to be an inspector in the Imperial City, but has traveled all the way to Doskvol to escape that past. Unfortunately the Bluecoat Darmot has followed him here, and recruiting a few very, very mercenary members of the service, is now hunting him down.

Mink, the Cutter, grew up on the streets. His mother was a prostitute that worked at the Red and Black, and all the women there treated Mink as though he was their own. Trying to make a name for himself, Mink set out to find a crew and start pulling scores.

2016-06-18 18.05.19The Score: Darmot!

With Darmot and his leg breakers hunting for Three Spin, the choice was either to leave the Lurk out of the gang, or to accepted him and deal with his Bluecoat problems. The crew decided to set Darmot up. They would have some of the ladies at the Red and Black let slip that he was hiding out in an an old half sunken Opera House that you could only get either via canals or by finding some passage down from the shops that had been built on top of it.

The crew cleared out the opera house (which had a few waifs and urchins that actually had been hiding out in it) and set up an ambush. Beaker made some explosives. Lex set up a good spot to snipe from, Three Spin would be the bait, and Mink would jump them once the explosions cleared!

A serious complication

Tricking Darmot, however, turned out to be more dangerous than expected. Charlene, who worked at the the Red & Black, hated the cruel man, and was a bit too eager to set him up [Engagement Result (1-3): Bad Outcome].

Instead of just storming off to the Opera House, Darmot decided to cover his tracks and called in a few favors. Just before the scoundrels headed out to ambush him, they saw from the Fox & Hound (the tavern adjacent to the Red and Black) that another pack of Bluecoats had arrived to shot the place down. A whole bunch of Mink’s family was about to be hauled off to Ironhook and meanwhile, the prize was getting away.

Here’s my permit officer… a dagger in your belly

With some fast talking and bravado (that inadvertently revealed to Three Spin’s allies that he had clearly served on the force himself) Three Spin cleared the way for Mink to straighten things out with sergeant Devilin, which he did by stabbing him in the belly and then expecting his fellow compatriots to fight, which at least most of them did. Beaker bolted for his life!

Finishing the Job

Though bloodied and beaten from their first mortal altercation with the Bluecoats, our bloodthirsty scoundrels were not stopping their. They made their way quickly to the Opera House, where Beaker was already priming the charge and a tried to ambush the Darmot and his cronies. The attack didn’t go off exactly as planned, Beaker’s remote detonation failed had to light the fuse up close and got caught in it, Mink was shot, and Three Spin was gutted! Some ugly, ugly work, but it was done. And oh how the bells at the crematorium rung!

What Rocked

Perhaps for the first time I saw some real sense of scoundrels having a home and people they cared about. The Red and Black were Mink’s people and when they were threatened he was compelled to act to help them. I haven’t even seen vigilantes do that!

It was quickly apparent that Darmot was the big threat to our crew, so I played him up hard. We had a few scenes of him interrogating NPCs for Three Spin’s whereabouts cut in between the PCs scenes, and he was an awful, awful person.

Beaker’s explosion in the end mirrored one he had described early on, when he accidentally blew up Eckert’s corpse locker (Eckert was his enemy). It was great to see that reincorporated.

Three Spin’s desire to keep his past hidden was fantastic. Not only did he slip up in front of crew, but there were also a few chance encounters with the Red Sashes on rooftops where he tried to play it cool, but they nearly identified him as well!

There was also a great motivation to help Three Spin. Though Darmot was his enemy, Frake, a locksmith was his friend and promised to tell him which high end establishments bought his locks and how to pick them!

What could have improved

We had a lot going on in this session. Red Sashes trying to take possession of Beaker (he was a valuable alchemist), Three Spin’s secret identity, Mink’s relationships with the Red and Black, and Lex’s dark past. As with any session, you’ve just got to pick one or two items and stick with it, but I missed getting a chance to explore the other stories we could have told.

The Bluecoat massacre of 847 was an ugly and brutal one. It would have been cool to get to the payoff, because I think they generated ALL the heat. Wild, devastating exposure: 6, Killing involved +2, Well connected target +1. The crew would have gone from nobodies to wanted in a single score!

I could really use a “first session sheet” that has a space to write up all the PCs, their NPCs with strong connections, clocks that we start, and devils bargains taken. Even better if in the corners it has lists (names, taverns, city descriptors, etc). As you can see from the picture above, currently I use index cards but they don’t quite fit enough on them and once I get past two or three it becomes a mess.

Actual Play – The Strangers (6/17/2016)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Brock Ecevit, Scott Slater, and Timothy Sayre
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickset Rules v.6

The Line Ride

I was scheduled to host at Games on Demand during the afternoon slot, and I wanted to pay it forward for getting to play in the upgrade the night before. So after doing my line duties, when we saw there were still some folks not in a game, I offered to run Blades. I’m so glad I did!

One Shot Blades – Ye olden way

In the past I’ve handled running Blades at cons by writing up my sample scores (Gaddoc Rail and Scurlock Manor) and having the players first make characters, then optionally make a crew, and finally detail the score. By the time that is done we usually have just enough time to quickly play out the score, and occasionally do downtime.

It’s not a bad method, but it does take some time to get started, and while the questions the players answer for each score do get them invested in it, sometimes a player makes a Blade that we really wouldn’t imagine creeping through Scurlock Manor or picking up a package at the train station. Also, there are two areas that tend to really slow player down: 1) Picking a Heritage (because it requires knowing about the world) and 2) Choosing faction statuses (because it requires knowing about the factions).

So, this time, taking advice from John’s After Office Hours No. 3, I tried a new approach!

One Shot Blades – Sir’s New Fangled Method

First off, toss out the pre-generated scores. That’s another sheet to fill out. We’ll figure out the score in a second. Just start with the character sheets and go from there.

Character creation

You’ve already told people about Blades and about Doskvol by now. They know it’s the Wire meets Lankhmar but in a haunted city. They are eager to make some scoundrels. And if they aren’t tell them how the electroplasmic lightning generators are fueled. Still no? Tell them that Roric, the gang leader of the Crows just died and now all of Crows Foot is scrambling to figure out who will be on top. Still no? I don’t believe you. Nobody hates fun that much.

Here’s the steps that are very similar to character creation in the Quickstart v.6 page 32.

  1. Pass out the character playbooks and if people don’t start getting grabby for them, start reading off the descriptions and tell people what you really think about them. “Leech, a saboteur and tinkerer. I love the leech, she can put a hole in the wall of Ironhook and not make a sound. She’s also good at putting body parts back in you when they come out!”.
  2. Ask them to choose a special ability. Actually make it two. At this point you haven’t talked about the mechanics at all but you don’t need to. The special abilities are all really cool and they are pretty self explanatory. The only ones that might need some coaching are those that talk about effect (like Cloak and Dagger) or engagement rolls (if you happen to do crew selection. The reason for two is you really want new players to get a chance to use the abilities in game. If someone is waffling I’ll also tell them that if they change their mind mid game, it’s fine to pick another one.
  3. Two choice here. Either I tell them “You’re all locals, write down that your from Akoros in your Heritage” or if we’ve been moving along quickly so far I say “The Unity war which brought Skovlan into the empire just ended a few years ago. There are still lots of hard feelings between Skovlanders and Akorosi, pick one of those two and then us what you’re doing in Doskvol.” If they tell you anything that smacks of interacting with a faction (Imperial Guard, Skovlan Consolate, Lampblacks, etc.) ask them follow up questions about how they either gained favor or made enemies in that faction and then mark a tick on the faction sheet accordingly.
  4. Have them choose Heritage as normal. Give them some examples of each category. Academics from Ivy League Whitecrown Academy or the guild driven Charterhall University. Labor unions like the Rail Jacks, Sparkrights, dock workers, or the like. Trade foreign or domestic as part of the semi-legitimate merchants guild or the totally not legitimate Hive. An example of each including a factor or two where you can is great. And once they’ve told you where they come from, ask how they fell so low to be teamed up with these other scoundrels. Again, this is an opportunity to start making faction ticks and let them know as you do it. Oh yeah, you used to work for the Crows but now you’ve set off on your own? Damn, I bet that happened after Roric died and the gang crumbled a bit, I bet Lyssa hates you for leaving, doesn’t she?
  5. Have them assign 4 action dots now, still capping at three dots. Yeah, for campaign games having one tied to heritage and one to background is great, but we’re going for speed here. Four all at once is faster than one, then one more, then two.
  6. Tell them to look at the items carried, but that they don’t need to worry about them until they start a score. You’ll go over load outs then. Just know if they need anything on that list they can probably get it, or setup a flashback to make sure they can get it easily.
  7. Choose a friend and rival. In my experience this is the most rewarding part of the process, and it’s almost always going to generate their score. They’ve already told you about their background and possibly about their heritage. So it’s very natural that when you ask “who are you really close with, and who wants to see your body heaped inside Bellweather” that they start making connections between the names on the list and the fiction they’ve been building. Especially ask them how their rival is causing them trouble! And again, if they even give a wiff of association with factions keep making ticks. It really doesn’t matter if you exceed the normal allotment, you’re looking to have their narrative reflected in the faction status sheet.
  8. Have them choose a vice. If the character is already really well fleshed out, it’s probably fine just to pick what it is. But if a player has been turtling thus far here’s your final chance (in character creation at least) to get something good out of them. Ask about their vice purveyor. Ask what problems their vice has caused for them. Ask why it’s so good! Jot down notes as the tell you bits that come alive in your mind. Someone has an obligation to the ghost of their dead sister? Yes, we can work with this!

Crew Creation, Optional

After character creation is done, I check the time and ask the players if they want to know more about the game system itself or want to jump into the action. Sometimes that takes a bit of parcelling out, but generally it’s fair to say that the “crew” is why all the character are together and what they are about. If the players have already been forming bonds with each other or talking about the kind of jobs they want to do, I suggest we start playing. If they are still isolated from each other, or if character creation was really fast, or if they are clearing just loving checking boxes, pull out the crew sheets.

As far as the crew creation process goes, I’d just follow the instructions on page 42, but again keep an eye out for potential problems and opportunities. Remind them of the woes that Darmot has caused them as he keeps bring more of his cronies in blue around, or that the Lampblack are still expecting to get paid for that deal that went sour.

Keep taking notes and making faction ticks!

Introductory Montage

Ask each player to depict their character in a day of normal behavior. Watch carefully for the cues they give you. Is there character a competent grifter who swindles three people out of their coin in as many minutes? Are they a desperate fugitive trying to get by? Up till this point you’ll have talked a lot about the game, but this is where you see if your expectation for tone and content matches theirs. And of course, you learn what they have most of on their mind! Ask some questions. Play out some normal activities. Look for some points of tension, but don’t push too hard on any of them. Try not to pick up dice unless they really want to engage the mechanics.


Once they’ve each done a little intro to their characters give everyone a five to ten minute break. During that time, drink some water, get up and and stretch, and then look at all your notes. From them you should have at least half a dozen potential scores in mind. Do they have friends or favorable factions that they have done work with before who could offer them a score. Do they have enemies they need to ameliorate or eliminate. Is there a rival or faction they have negative status with that could threaten their nascent enterprise. Which of these relationships excites you, which ones fill your head with ideas?

Pitch a Score

When everyone sits back down remind them of the gnarly predicament they are in. Yes, they are a lowly tier 0 gang, but by now they have given you plenty of fodder to remind them of their desperation or challenges. Maybe they already know this, but I like to make sure the players don’t think of their characters as crime bosses or untouchables bad asses…that’s something to aspire to!

Then start asking them about the score’s you were thinking about over the break. What about that Marlane? She’s been talking all over town about how she’s going to take you down if you show yourself in the ring. Are you going to let that slide? The Red Sashes like your crew don’t they? One of you has done some favorable trade with them, and another trains in their dueling school. They are at war with the Lampblacks right now. Would you be looking to help them out? Maybe if there is was some coin in it for you? Or a chance to meet Mylera Klev in person?

Keep at it until they bite, or start suggesting a score of their own. Once they start talking about what the want or what they need to take care of, you’re set. From there, follow that fiction!

The Strangers

Mel Aves was a Doskvol Inspector, until she got framed by Petra in the city records office for embezzling. Of course she was guilty, they all were, but she had dirt on the clerk and out of fear Petra struck first, getting her fired and nearly locked up. Mel’s sister Lucella recently died but she hid the body so the Wardens couldn’t find it. Cobbling together a lightning barrier in her own bedroom she’s currently keeping Lucella’s ghost there while she tries to find a way to communicate. Mel’s ex-husband Darmot is still on reasonably good terms with her and he’s tried to protect her from a full blown investigation while continuing to move on with his own life.

Armand is a whisper who first trained as an apprentice under the witch Quellin but has recently accepted patronage to attend Charterhall University and is scrambling hard to show the professors in Morland Hall of Unnatural Philosophy that he had what it takes and is worth investing in. Though Quellin loves him dearly, there was a bittersweet twinge when he moved out and into college. She can’t help but fear he’s getting out of his depths. And she has good reason to! In order to get noticed and find a patron to support his education, Armand made a deal with the demon Setarra, one which he still owes a substantial debt on. Armand normally plays courier for the demon, picking up packages and dropping them off in different parts of the city, never asking what the contain. He’s also got a drinking problem. Armand is hooked on a strong Iruvian liquor called Cobalt. Very expensive and usually restricted to only the noble houses. How Armand got hooked on the stuff is anyone’s guess!

Angus was an assassin in the Akoros military. They prized him because he was very good at killing people at a distance and apparently had no compulsions about doing it. In his service, however, Agus witnessed an atrocity that he knew was above his pay grade. Not the kind of thing they put in your annual performance review, the kind of thing they slit your throat and put your body in the crematorium first thing to make sure you’re silenced. Moving before they could, Angus left and was labeled a deserter. Though the Imperial Military doesn’t want him out on the street, they also don’t want to look like they are going after him, so they have hired Casta, a bounty hunter to track him down. He keeps abreast of their actions because Veleris, a spy who is still in the service and good friends with Angus, tips him off when they start getting to close. Angus normally shows little or no expression or emotion, however, when he does cut loose, he does so completely, often to the determinant of himself and all those around him. He frequents the Silver Stag on such occasions and we saw him staggering out, still half drunk, and more than half naked, in his opening montage.

The Score

The Strangers, who operated out of a section of a steel factory workshop had come into possession of a large quantity of Cobalt (oh, there’s where Armand has been getting it) but before they felt safe to start selling it (the stuff is only supposed to be owned by the nobles) they had to get a patron to help clear the way. Knowing that both Petra and Casta would likely cause them grief the moment they put their heads out, the wanted someone with enough clout in the city, that they could silence or suppress these detractors.

Digging around some they learned the name Lady Drake, a magistrate known for taking the right bribes and for being aggressive about her upward social mobility. Walking into a magistrate’s office and offering them a bribe when you’re on the lamb though, it’s really good criming.

So, paying a very awkward visit to her ex-husband Darmot (he was with his new girlfriend Hix, who was not at all pleased that he was still doing favors for his ex-wife), Mel and crew asked if he could set up a meeting between them and the Magistrate by lying to him and telling him that she wanted to come clean and see if the magistrate would hear her side of the story. Angus and Armand posed as her legal advisors. Darmot bought it, or at least pretended like he did, and said he’d set up a meeting somewhere discreet.

Engagement gone wrong

[After doing this leg work they made their engagement roll. I was fully expecting a 6 and that they would just have meeting, or maybe a 4-5 result and I’d have Darmot come to the meeting as well, and see how they would dance around that when he thought they were coming clean, and they were really just trying to dig in deeper. But no, we didn’t have either, the rolled a 1-3 result. What does that even mean? I had to look it up:

Bad Outcome (1-3): The opposition turns the tables! They seize the initiative and launch their own counter-action.

Woah, that is hardcore. Okay, what do I know about Lady Drake. First off she gives no shits about Mel, and would rather her be someone else’s problems. Second, the crew had some connections with the Lampblacks and wanted to meet in the Leaky Bucket. She had a beef with Bazso Baz as well and some connections with the Red Sashes that owed her a favor. Finally, I knew I wanted to oppose their social plan with another kind of plan… and frankly Angus was itching for a fight.. so let’s give one to them!]

As they arrived at the Leaky Bucket and told Cross, a Lampblack who was standing outside and controlling entry to the tavern, that they were here to see Lady Drake and that she should be waiting for them inside. Crossed raised an eyebrow and said he thought she was coming with them. Bazso was waiting inside to greet them both. They all thought it was a bit strange that she wouldn’t be there, and that’s when the sound of drizzling rain was brown but the whirring of fabric unfolding rapidly and catching Armand wrist and then jerking it up toward the rooftops above.

The Red Sashes attacked and for a moment, had a horrible advantage. Armand was pinned by one and nearly skewered by another. Mel suddenly felt a shiver as a spirit rose up to possess her, and Angus quickly reached for his gun while sword were already drawn! The Lampblacks at the door were alert but not prepared for this bold of an attack, and it took them a moment to catch up as well!

Quickly, however, our scoundrels seized the initiative. Armand channelled the ambient storm to crackle with lightning and startle the Red Sashes. Angus too the dangerous shot and and fired into the chaotic melee grievously injuring, but not killing, one of the swordsmen. Mel, deftly dodged the vaporous form and watched as it seized control of a Lampblack instead. Moments later as Lampblacks poured out of the Bucket and Armand drove the ghost off, the Sashes realized they had lost their opportunity to strike and fell back.

A deal down by the docks

The next day, however, Lady Drake and a few of her loyal Bluecoats, showed up at the steel factory, ready to make a deal. These new people had shown themselves resourceful, and though she didn’t apologize for putting a hit on them, she seemed to indicate that it wouldn’t happen again if they became business partners. On that note, what proposition did they have for her?

The rolled out a barrel of Cobalt and offered her, a woman who had her own social aspirations, not only a cut of the profits, but also access to the product, which would help her appear sophisticated among the nobles of the city. Though she gave some initial resistance, they had tapped into her real desires, and she quickly agreed to clear them a path to do business, including keeping Petra and Casta away, so long as she got her cut and they didn’t cause her any troubles.

At the end she asked “who are you anyway?” Armand responded in full whisper weirdness “we’re just some strange people with product you want.”  “Ah, The Strangers.”

The start of a beautiful friendship to be sure!

What Rocked

I really loved our characters and their foibles. As mentioned in the methodology above, I was much happier to base a score of their needs and fears than off of something else arbitrary.

We didn’t get to see all of their issues, but I would have loved to see Darmot’s reaction once he found out what happened between the Strangers and Lady Drake. And Mel’s sister. She came up a little bit in the fight with the Red Sashes. He wanted to cage the ghost and bring it home to teach his sister how do go “ghosting right”. It didn’t pan out, but it would have been so cool.

Armand dropping off packages for Setarra throughout the city while doing his own crime, getting hammered on Cobalt, and trying to keep up his coursework at Charterhall would have been beautiful to behold!

I ended up really enjoying being on host duty just before the slot and then jumping into GMing. It was super satisfying and I felt like a I got to pay it forward to the organizers for all their hard work!

What could have improved

I need to work on my opening montage prompts. I asked the players to describe their characters look and normal activity, but I think that still felt like a leap. What was a name of a street they could walk on, who might they swindle, what are spirit essences even actually? I think this would be improved if I built a good containment field for the montages. “Crows Foot is your home, but there is a war going on between the Lampblacks and the Red Sashes and nobody is safe from their collateral damage. Are you part of the fighting or do you keep your distance? Tell me what that looks like…” I’ll have to tinker with some of these.

I think the Sashes attacking the Strangers and the Lampblacks out in the open didn’t actually make much sense in retrospect. I was trying to think fast and work with what we already had established. It was  fun (if quick) fight, but from the Sashes’ perspective, it was a fools errand unless Bazso had been present and they had an opportunity to take him out. I’m sure I could have worked that detail out a little better.


Actual Play – The Upgrade (6/16/2016)

the upgradeHosts: Jon Cole and Kat Jones
Cast: Karen Twelves, James Stuart, John Stavropoulos, Kira Magrann, Dana Fried, Kristin Firth, Brodie Atwater
Audience: Preeti Gupton, Seth Gupton, Yoshi Creelman, Eric Mersman, Ross Cowman
Lighting effects: Scott Morningstar

The Line Ride

I was scheduled to host during this slot and was on line manager duty. However, after the games were all filled both the line manager (me) and the game assigner (Eric) didn’t really have much more of a job to do. Evan “Amazing” Torner said he would stay behind and collect tickets so Kristin, Eric, and me all went off to play in the upgrade, which still had six slots open!

Yay…except that we later found out that Evan ended up running a game for some folks that showed up late, making him both the admin person and a GM in a slot he wasn’t even supposed to be on. My first born is already 13 but I think by right she’s yours now Evan. Anyway… onto the game.

The Upgrade


The Upgrade! is a jeepform scenario by Vi åker jeep (We go by Jeep) that works much like a showcase for jeepform techniques. It uses telegraphing, contextualisation, monologues, insides and outsides, supporting characters, dissolves character ownership, repetition, etc.

The Upgrade! was first concieved, in a quite different format, during the Swedish con Halmicon in Halmstad, 2004 by Thorbiörn Fritzon and Tobias Wrigstad. It was then revised completely adding a third author, Olle Jonsson, to the credits roll, for Knutpunkt 2005 in Norway.

The game is about our prejudice for participants in reality shows and reality shows. In particular, Temptation Island and the like. Couples sign up to be in the show, are broken up and used to form new couples that date with cameras present and live together in the luxurious Upgrade! resort on some exotic location as far from everyday life as possible. In the end, there is a closed vote by all participants whether they would like to STAY in their old relationships, or UPGRADE to the new one. New relationsships where both partners independently votes UPGRADE get to stay together for another week at the UPGRADE luxury resort. The audience may also vote for the “couple of the week”, or by popular demand force two people into a couple if enough people believe that they would it each other. Couples that Upgrade! are rewarded in the spirit of creating good television. Couples that survive the show end up in the “Hall of Faith”. Sometimes, they will get a reward.

Our Game

We played vain people on a vain game in it for different reasons. Some of us wanted fame, some wanted to show off, some wanted adventure, some wanted a new love, some wanted money, and some just wanted to “CRUSH IT!” (probably my favorite tag line).

I’d break the game into four sections: selection and safety, character/relationship development, play, and debrief. Here’s a little bit of thought on all of those:

Selection and Safety

Not including Scott (who had already signed up to do the lighting) we had 13 players to fill 8 cast member roles, and no specific method of determining who would get those roles. As it turned out 10 folks wanted to be in the cast and two of them self selected out, which wasn’t a good feeling at the time (or as we proceeded). More on this below.

After that the eight cast members were given eight characters to pick between. I first selected a character who was casual about their infidelity and though we were playing a game that is essentially all about sensationalizing breaking the norms of relationships, I just didn’t feel like starting off with that in my background. I traded characters and settled on Alessio, who I played as far more exuberant (spotlight hog, super upbeat) than the background depicted, but otherwise felt good about.

Either just before or just after character selection we had a talk about safety techniques including the equivalent of cut/break (changed somewhat since “cut” is a term we would use as part of the directing style. Then we talked about touch boundaries, which I think is an entire other topic of conversation (and has been on G+).

Character/Relationship Development

Once we had selected characters, one of the Hosts met with the audience to prepare them for the show, and we were sent out of the room with questionnaires to fill out. One that we would do individually, and one that we would fill out as a couple. For me this was actually the funnest part of the game. Kira, John, and I sat around a table filling our forms out. About halfway through Kira (playing Patti) and I realized that we were partners and the form filling (which I know, we were supposed to do by ourselves) became much more fun. Some of the questions were really hard to imagine answers for, so bouncing ideas off each other was great.

When we got to the couple questions though, oh, it just shined so much! I felt like Kira and I were this amazing creative team making this super fallible couple were just a delight to talk about and by the end I really wanted both of them to be happy. They were self centered and vain but also cared about each other, and Patti’s young son John. I think some of my favorite antecdoes were Alessio’s pet name for Patti was was Patty-Cakes, which he would say when she got out of bed in the morning and he patted her bottom, and that “their” son was “Everything I Do” by Brian Adams. So corny!


Though the longest section, this part is the most like you’d expect. We were cast into scenes to create drama and tension, as well as audience members being cast to play other versions of ourselves (past versions, re-cut versions, future versions, etc.).

It was predictably ridiculous and horrible in that that delicious way that reality television always is. I embraced the premise pretty fully and played a character who wanted to showboat and “win” in terms of being popular on the show, but really wasn’t sure about actually “upgrading” (thought both Patti and Allessio did in the end, Hah!).

The end of the game tries to reproduce the prisoner’s dilemma but it puts the reward on the wrong side of it, so there’s no actual tension. There’s no penalty for “upgrading” so instead of the “best” result being the one that is hardest to achieve (neither member of the couple upgrades), the best result is the easiest to achieve (both upgrade) and the middling result (one upgrades, one does not) is still just as good for the one that upgrades. So it’s built up like a dilemma, but it really isn’t.


After the game we had a discussion of about how we felt, and were asked if there was anyone we want to apologize to. Debriefs, like touch boundaries are also a discussion of their own. Some of my thoughts on those below.

What rocked

After having just got out of Bluebeard’s Bride, it was great to play something light and silly (even if the premise is kind of the worst thing ever).

There were these moments, usually the ones “off camera” when I was just sitting next to Dana or John or Kira or Brodie and we had these in-character but not in-persona (i.e. we weren’t trying to showboat for the camera) moments that were just great. I really wanted to connect with Helen (played by John) but there was never quite the time to do it.

Some of the scenes were just amazing. Unpredictable, over the top, silly, and sometimes racy!

The hosts put a lot of energy into keeping our energy up, and a lot of that was done by calling on familiar tropes. Having every scene sponsored by some company, having them all shot “on location” and having the directors constantly tell us to spice it up or to make it more catty, was all great to invoke the pseudo-drama of reality TV.

What could have been improved

Suggestion for selection of roles: During sign ups have two sign up options: Cast and Audience. When you go to sign up you can pick which role you want to take until all of the cast (8 people) is filled and then you can only choose to be an audience member. That way, in being in the audience isn’t something you’d enjoy, you can just select another game.

Suggestion for safety rules: Make sure you have the rules in context. For example we had a primer on telegraphing when you’re going to touch someone, only then to determine there would be not touching. Also, if there is a no touching rule, the hosts have to be vigilant to maintain it.

Suggestion for determining touch boundaries: These may not cover every game, but there were two ideas that came up in our discussion, which were both very good:

  1. Advertise the expected touch boundaries in advance. If you know your game requires touching or not-touching, add that to the description.
  2. Treat the discussion of touch boundaries as though they are a normal thing, not something strange or foreign. We can talk about how we like to be touched (or not touched) like we talk about whether we take our coffee with sugar or cream. James’ specific idea that stood out to me was having badges or buttons that are easy to pick up and put on (or change) that indicate your comfort level (Red = no touching. Yellow = touching on hands and forearms, Green = touching on shoulders, back, and arms, or something along those lines)

Suggestion for debriefs: Even more so that touch boundaries, this may not be applicable to every game, but after thinking about this my self and reading a lot of discussions that came up after the con in G+, here are a few ideas for debriefs:

  1. Keep them positive if possible. We were asked if there was anyone we wanted to apologize to and then went around the room taking this really fun game and suddenly finding reasons to feel bad about it. Apologies should certainly be given if there is a reason but asking everyone if they have something to apologize brought the mood way down.
  2. Karen’s idea: Write specific debrief questions into your game. A Crow Funeral (2015 Golden Cobra submission) does this very well, asking questions about the game. Asking questions like: “Did anyone drop their token to remain with the murder? What did this represent?”
  3. If the game does not have questions written in, decide in advance what you want to achieve with the debrief. Brand Robins put up a great post just after Origins:

When you say debrief are you looking to:

1. De-role?
2. De-bleed?
3. Decompress?
4. Discuss?
5. Emotionally bond / de-bond?
6. Establish safety?
7. Reinforce meaning or challenge meaning?
8. Avoid the outside world by lounging in the magic circle a little longer?
9. Figure out how you feel about the other players, outside of the game?
10. Figure out how you feel about the other players, inside of the game?
11. Figure out how you feel about your own character?
12. Figure out how you feel about yourself?
13. Figure out one of the many possible combinations of the last 4 things?
14. Impose your views on others
15. Blame others
16. Congratulate others
17. Give design advice
18. Give play advice
19. Just shoot the shit and wait for the next game to start
20. Not

Because we tend to assume some combination of those things, but often without actually articulating, examining, or dealing with what that means, how we get that, or why.

  1. Make it very clear when the debrief is over by enacting a physical ritual, such as everyone getting up and putting away their chairs, leaving the room, or otherwise changing their environment. Discussion can continue if there are those who want to, but nobody is obligated to continue the discussion and the discussion doesn’t just continue unconsciously or because there is social pressure to stick around.


Actual Play – Bluebeard’s Bride (6/16/2016)

Bluebeard's Bride logoGM: Sarah “Doombringer” Richardson
Players: Jon Cole, Lisa D, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Bluebeard’s Bride

Yes. First game of Origins! We already had such a great time seeing friends, socializing in the Big Bar, exploring Columbus, and being part of Games on Demand, that it seemed like actually gaming wouldn’t even be necessary to have a great con. But we did, and it was AMAZING!

Bluebeard’s Bride


You are a new bride and your husband has left you alone in your new home while he attends to urgent business. He has given you keys to all of the mansion’s many rooms, but warns you never to venture into his private chamber. Can you resist the seductive and dreadful mystery that lies behind the keyhole?

Bluebeard’s Bride is a mature table-top horror RPG for 2-5 players and one Groundskeeper (GM), Powered by the Apocalypse and based on the original fairy tale, Bluebeard. The game is designed for one-shot sessions of approximately 3-4 hours long, during which players take on the roles of different aspects of the Bride’s psyche, such as the Virgin, the Witch, the Mother, the Fatale, and others, working together (and apart) to guide the Bride’s actions. Each game of Bluebeard’s Bride will lead to different horrors, secrets, and whispering ghosts.

In this haunted house RPG, the players navigate the mansion through the shared actions of the Bride, going room to room to collect evidence for or against Bluebeard’s wicked intentions. Perhaps the Bride is trying to find a way out of the front gate, or a way into Bluebeard’s heart, but always she is drawn towards the only room which her husband has forbidden her to enter, and that will surely be her doom. Her new home tests her sanity, and not every part of her will survive.

Bluebeard’s Bride is dark, erotic, ethereal, and filled with creeping terror. Written and designed by Whitney “Strix” Beltràn, Marissa Kelly, & Sarah Richardson, the game is about the intricacies of feminine horror, and agency in the face of powerlessness. This game is not recommended for children or the faint at heart.

Our Experience

Bluebeard's KeysWas dark. Very dark. My expectation from hearing the fairy tale before the game (which Sarah delivered wonderfully) that we would spend most of the game in a spooky but benign mansion, only to have the horror revealed at the end. The horror, however, was present from the moment game play started.

The game drives, very hard, and very directly at violence against women, and all the ways that it plays out. As the bride we were abused, but we were also shamed, and told we were liars when we tried to reveal the truth. When we tried to make things better we were hurt even more. We were violated over, and over, and as parts of our psyche (all the players play different parts of the bride’s mind) were shattered, we started becoming complicit in our own horror.

Eventually we were always reduced to two choices. Either blame ourselves for the horrors and believe that Bluebeard violence against was a misunderstood act of love, or we blamed Bluebeard for his actions (and those of his servants) and were punished for it.

The game is decidedly about these things and as such provoked a lot of discussion at the table, afterward between Karen and me, and in my own head reflecting back on it. The game is disturbing and powerful.

What Rocked

Sarah is extremely good at horror, I suspect even more so at feminine horror specifically. She wove all of our hopes and dreams about Bluebeard into the stuff of nightmares. She just kept giving us more and more rope to hang ourselves with. Here reincorporation was amazing!

As mentioned, the game delivers a very powerful experience. As I personally don’t have a lot of stomach for horror, it was not a game I’d play again, but I’m very glad I played it this time.

Since the game touched lots of uncomfortable places, we each had our own x-cards, and when one was used, we we’re all very respectful, and moved on as we should. I’m glad it was there and that it was used well.

Traum and sisters shattering was really intense. My aspect “The Virgin” was shattered during the game, and I just made everything that much worse after that. Very much like the Swamp Ghosts of Carolina Death Crawl.

Mechanically, it is very powerful to see that all of the “moves” which you think might offer you agency in a scene, really just control the ways in which the horror manifests. If you turn to violence, the horror does as well. If you plea for help, the horror blames you for your weakness. There are many choices, just no good ones!

What could have improved

I think there is a difficult challenge, mechanically in having multiple players control a single character. The ring mechanic (a ring is passed around) is a good tangible way of knowing who was in charge at the moment, but there was still some confusion among the players and some awkward moments.

As I mentioned in the beginning I wasn’t expecting the overt horror to start so quickly (based on the pacing of the fairy tale) but I think this may have been isolated to our game. I spoke with another player who played in a session later on in the con who said that there game wasn’t as intense as early on as ours. This is one of those games where you really want to set expectations early on!