Actual Play – The Maze Game (12/30/2015)

Players: Sean Nittner, Mara Nittner
System: Something we made up similar to Parseley

My daughter and I have played this proto-roleplaying game before, but in the past it took on the form of endless cycles of:

Game Master: There are three doors in front of you.
Player: I go through door number 1.
Game Master: That leads to a tunnel that forks left and right.
Player: I go right.
Game Master: That leads to a river with three boats, a bronze silver, and gold one.
Player: I take the silver boat.
Game Master: It docks at a shore with three doors in front of you…

And you can just play that forever. There isn’t really any roleplaying or storytelling, but if you remember your paths there does begin some world building and eventually (as we saw this time) we get bored with the same context lacking choices and start giving them more meaning. We were driving up from LA and had hours to kill, so the games started getting pretty elaborate.

Here was a snippet from the Maze game Mara ran for me:

Mara: You stand in front of three doors, one is purple, one is pink, and one is yellow. (normal enough so far)
Sean: I choose the pink door.
Mara: You come to three tunnels, one is purple, one is pink and one is yellow (same, old, same old, right?)
Sean: What are the tunnels made of?
Mara: Thick plastic, like the kind slides are made of. They are big enough to walk through.
Sean: I take the yellow tunnel.
Mara: It leads to a old renaissance like village and there are three merchants there. One who sells maps, one who sells cloaks, and one who sells baked goods.

Okay, it’s still just the three choices again right? But there is more, as I see people I get to start asking them questions, and find out what they know and what they want. We have a bit of dialogue and everyone is extremely polite (there were lots of please and thank yous going around). After the renaissance village called La La Land, I found a path to a futuristic place called Future Land. There they sold powerful flashlights and other other useful things.

Okay, the fact that we were driving back from Disneyland and she was just copying Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land and other parts of the park were obvious, but that didn’t matter. Using those place holders gave her a framework to build a much bigger world with things going on.

When it was my turn to run the Maze I placed her in the role of an North Pole Elf who had to help Santa because the sleigh was stuck and couldn’t take off. It involved all sorts of silly things like needing to get the extension cord out of the kitchen drawer so that she could drag the hair drawer all the way to the front door and unthaw the frozen deadbolt. I made it pretty Parsley-like and instead of always giving her options, I let her guide what we were doing. There were still some very fixed boundaries in the “maze”, some options just didn’t work, at least without some effort. But by the end she repaired the robot, got it to lift the sleigh, and made off into the night with Santa to deliver presents.

Maze complete!

Actual Play – Gods? Enough of this nonsense! (12/28/2014)

War-of-Ashes-Front-Cover-Mockup (1)GM: Sophie Lagacé
Players: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, and my daughters
System: War of Ashes


Edmund was sick so Sophie took over as GM. We knew we wanted a social conflict. We had been talking about it over emails and now that Froth was feeling pretty fine in physical combat we wanted to see how it would fare with mouth words.

One advantage we’ve got – We’re not using weapon rules. As many times as I’ve thought “oh, lets use weapon damage to make folks weapon of choice more meaningful” I’ve know that if we have weapons we’ll have armor, and those two create a zero sum arms race not only negates each other but also force everyone to use the best weapon and armor all the time which is counter to the kind of pulp action we want to see.

Not having weapon damage rules turned out to have another benefit when we got into social conflicts, we didn’t to create an social analog. Aces!

“What the Hell?”

That’s what Gailus, the god of Ylark who had just appeared in front of us said. Directly. To. Semela.

Semela, an Elovrix Priest trained in the temples of Atronia knew how to respond to that question. Point the blame at someone else! She found the closest Elovix she could and was just about to say “She did it” when her second Ylark horn (you know the one she grew after casting the spell to make the earth rumble) fell of and landed on the ground with a thud. Then a Ylark fell from the sky on the other side of her also with a thud. Nice compel!

Pretty soon, it became clear that if Gailus was here he wanted to party. Never mind that the town was torn apart. Or that the Kuld would come back. Drinking Kog and a celebration were called for.

No time for that. We’ve got work to do!

We opted for a social conflict between the players. Lele was infuriated that Semela, the self-appointed mayor was drinking Kog and dancing with a short Elvorix buck instead of seeing to the needs of the city. Semela was honoring one of the gods and wanting to make sure that nobody made him angry…or to happy. We’ve just got to endure him, like if Santa Clause arrived and wanted to pinch your cheeks. You just gotta tough it out and get back to work once they finally get bored and leave. Mac and Cheese and Ficca sided with Lele. They wanted to see the town taken care of, not wrecked worse by a giant party.

We made up a zone map that indicated the various audiences that we might want to influence. I didn’t take a picture, so here’s a reproduction as best as I could remember it.

Social Zone Map_Exchange1


The idea of movement here was a little bit physical and a little bit abstract. In order to go from talking to the folks rebuilding brambletown to the people having raucous celebrations you needed to both physically move between groups, but you also needed to give your attention to each of them to win them over.

Imitative Order – We decided that Flash ruled the day in his conflict. It was going to take getting a lot of people’s attention to shift the crowd’s activities.

Roar Phase – Worked as expected. We each made aspects to show how we were preparing for the argument. This worked as expected. Good times.

Notable actions:

Semela started by making a maneuver to add an ally, in this case Gailus himself. We decided that adding an ally increased your weight and the difficulty was based on the ally’s weight. Gailus in a social contest is weight 4 (he’s a god after all) so I had to Overcome at a Great [+4] difficulty to add him to my side. Ficca did the same thing (albeit with just a small force of workers from her zone. Weight 2).

Ficca moved zones to the Elvorix avoiding attention and changed the zone aspect by convincing them that they could avoid the party and be working on fixing up their homes at the same time.  They agreed so she would stop talking to them and thus drawing attention to them. Aspect changed to Working Elvoix Avoiding Attention.

Mac and Cheese spent the first exchange just moving among the people to get the revelers to pay attention to it. On the second exchange it did a maneuver to remove Gailus from aiding Semela by belching a great kog belch and pointing outside the town, indicating that there were better parties out there.

Lele bided her time and waited until she could find a quiet space to talk. We represented that with an Overcome action to create a new zone (and choose the aspect in it). After finding the moment of quiet, she did a maneuver to pull Semela into it “we need to talk”.  Semela had been busy partying creating aspects like “Most important person here” as a form of ablative armor against any would be detractors.

When they finally did duke it out Semela had her big guns (Gailus) removed and was frothing with her worst approach, so she went down pretty quick. She took two consequences “Acting like a drunken fool” and “Responsible for these sentians” before conceding the fight.

Meanwhile Ficca slipped a sleeping agent into the kog of the revelers to they all passed out (we added the word “sleeping” to the zone aspect) and we just kind of left the Vidaar to burn themselves out eventually.

Map by the end of the conflict:

Social Zone Map_Exchange3


Divine Milestones

We ended the session after the conflict and performed out Divine Interest Milestone, where we diced as a grout what aspect we would collectively get as a result of being taken out by divine consequences. Given that Gailus left us to go find a better party somewhere else, we decided on A Disappointment to Gailus. That went on our Divine Interest sheet (one shared by the group) as a permanent aspect.  Woots!

Thoughts on the game

We had some cool things happen in the conflict (winning over various groups, using maneuvers to add/remove weight, and making new zones) but it didn’t represent the simple thing Lele was trying to do in the first place, which was talk to Selema. Or if it did represent it, it imposed a lot of barriers to do it (basically taking a few rounds of fighting with the environment to start the actual attacks on each other.

For something like a political battle where there were many factions with various interests, I see this working very well, but for a more personal argument it seemed like a bit much. Of course we were trying to test out social conflict with the War of Ashes rules so I think it was good we did a full blown conflict. In a normal session we probably would have handled it either in play talking to each other or with a single opposed overcome roll.

What I did like was that tactically we had a handful of interesting options that would be present in Fate Core to work with. While Shieldwall is a miniatures game and doesn’t handle social interactions, I think our Roar/Froth/Weight incorporated the spirit of the game well.

We also, since the god was there had four Divine Aspects in play, with the rule that there were three favorable ones and one “trouble” aspect. The favorable ones could be invoked once a turn as many times as we wanted, but for each time we did, the GM got a free compel or invoke on the trouble aspect. That’s how we lost Gailus actually, was that Sophie compelled the “Not a People Person” trouble aspect and had Gailus wander out of the party and into the snow. I think it worked, but it was hard to tell because we had so much else going on in the conflict that I frankly forgot about the divine aspects (even though we had them on the table as post it notes) most of the time.

One thing I’m very satisfied with is that is clear that we left the world CHANGED. Like you can see with the map zones changing above, and with the new Divine Interest Aspect, our characters changed the world around them and were changed themselves in the process. Most of that is just native Fate tech, but I’m really glad to see it present in War of Ashes.

Actual Play – Refuges in Brambletown (12/6/2014)

War-of-Ashes-Front-Cover-Mockup (1)GM: Edmund Metheny
Players: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Sophie Lagacé, and my daughters
System: War of Ashes

After two rounds of alpha and beta playtesting, many internal revisions, and an in depth review of the system from Rob Donoghue, and then a discussion of that review with Fred Hicks, we decided that the existing systems needed more work and refinement, which meant more playtesting!  Instead of releasing a third round of open playtesting we opted to playtest it internally so we can make rules changes on the fly and test them.

Our focus was on testing the new systems introduced in War of Ashes:

  • Magic – A powerful ability that attracts (usually unwanted) attention from the gods.
  • Froth – A pre-combat fervor sentians use to push themselves the extra mile.
  • Divine Interest – A method for tracking the attention of the gods.
  • Weight – A means to measure the advantages one side has over the other when they outnumber or outweigh (in the case of large critters literally outweigh you).
  • Zone Aspects – Already pretty well tested (and vetted) so far, but continuing to play with free aspects in every zone representing the terrain.
  • Lethal Damage – Damage that cannot be absorbed with stress, only consequences.
  • Maneuvers – Tactical options that are meaningful in WoA due to the inclusion of new mechanics: Zones aspects, weight, and lethal damage.

Phew, that’s a lot to test, but we’re dedicated to doing it. Also thankfully some of the new mechanics (zone aspects and lethal damage) have already proven to work very well. Others like weight we’re sure about how to trigger it (2:1 or 4:1 odds) but just needed to tinker on the effects. And lastly maneuvers are just reinterpretations of overcome and create advantage actions, so it’s just a matter of determining how they should interact with exiting mechanics for things like forced movement (moving someone to a different zone).

The two big ones are at the top of the list Magic and Froth. Those are our big nuts to crack!

Edmund, our beloved and beleaguered GM

Since we’re all still in design mode, Edmund offered to GM for us, which was great. That way were were free to think about the systems without also trying to run the game and present story options for the characters.

We opted for a motley group including ever faction (even a Kuld!) to once again see if we thought it was viable within the fiction. Edmund gave us the prompt that we were all refugees heading to a small town after a Kuld attack. We decided that during the Kuld attack Mac and Cheese (my nine year old’s first response when we asked what her Kuld’s belches smelled like) had some epiphany then and realize it didn’t want to eat us. It seems change was gastrointestinal in nature because the other Kuld could smell the difference and now they wanted to eat Mac and Cheese!

Our characters are:

Vala the Loud – A brave Vidaar warrior who fashions herself an inspiring leader.

Lele – A Jarl survivalist long cut off from the other Jarl, Lele has taken to living off the land.

Semela – An evangelist of Atronia, sent to Brambletown to give them aid (and mostly to get her god attention getting self out of Atronia) but her entourage was lost in the attack.

Ficca – An Elvorix alchemist traveling afar to look for strange new ingredients.

Mac and Cheese – A guldal rider (guldal is called Strawberry because of it’s red coloring with white spots) that must have eaten something strange because it suddenly became cognizant of Sentians as something other than food! A monster battling with it’s identity!


We started with the attack that left us stranded. The combat was en media res where our supply caravans were already destroyed and while some of the Kuld had been defeated, more were coming.

Edmund sent a several mobs of Kuld and one Ur-Kuld leader after us.  Here’s the systems we tested (beyond the normal Fate Core rules):

Zone Aspects – worked great. We started in the wrecked caravan. Near us was  snow drift, a frozen lake, and even a “boring spot”. Not only did those aspects get used but they added a lot of fun to the fight. Aces.

Weight – We played with this a lot. As we fought the weight kept changing and moving around in zones made a big difference. Weight put some nice tension in the game but we realized that our current rules (dice fixed with a “+” at 2:1 ratio) prevented us from using the Fate Deck. We also noticed that we kept forgetting to factor in the fixed “+” on the die and that it felt awkward to resize our die pool. “Oh, roll 4dF for most rolls but roll 3dF for these.”  While we really liked the Lethal attack that happened when Vaad ran in and was outweighed 4:1 something felt off about giving one kind of bonus (a fixed +) for 2:1 odds, but a different kind of bonus (Lethal damage) for a 4:1 odds.

Froth – Used but barely tested. Vaad frothed and we realized that the uses of it need to be articulated as “as part of an other action” otherwise they are pretty weak. Locking approaches usable was cool, but we didn’t get the oomph we were looking for. More testing.

Lethal Damage – Awesome. Vaad took a gnarly blow she had to eat with consequences. Six stress could have been a moderate consequence and two stress but this was lethal so severe it was. Which lead us to…

Divine Interest – This was quite awesome. With the new rules players can defer consequences they would take to turn into Divine Consequences that affect the whole group, very much like Collateral Consequences from Atomic Robo RPG. And our first one was a big one. Rain of Ylark!  Oh yeah, it was awesome watching Lele (the atheist) explain that as a strange weather formation!

Not bad for a single combat. Weight and Froth felt like they needed some work but the other were solid.  One change we didn’t expect was in consequences, namely that in Fate Accelerated they go away pretty quickly, and we realized that our mild consequences would drop right after the combat, which felt a lot less “grim” than we wanted, so we added that to the list of rules to review.

A town in shambles made of brambles!

When we arrived at Brambletown we discovered it was named after the wall of brambles that had grown up around the town, serving as a mediocre defense against most foes, but probably just an appetizer for the Kuld.

At first we were told to turn away at the gate, the town was already too full, but when we offered Ylark (and in fact some were still falling from the skies) we were gladly let in. The town itself was divided into four quarters. An large Vidaar district with a grove to Akka-Maas, and Elovrix district, a small Jarl enclave, and a stone walled temple district that the Jarl prohibited any from entering.

When asked who was in charge an Elvorix scholar, a Vidaar bravo, and a Jarl tactician all stepped forward pronouncing they were in charge. Semella then through her hat in the ring. She was sent from Atronia to give aid to Brambletown, she brought everyone Ylark, so she was in charge. I wanted to try Frothing outside a physical battle so I frothed with Flashing (making her Dazzling) and then tried to get Semela appointed as mayor of Brambletown… which was surprisingly easy! Now she got to deal with all the problems!

The first order of business was to enter the temple district, but despite her new appointment, the Jarl would not let anyone in. Lele asked why and was told they were preventing anyone from doing any praying at the temples. Lele suggested that the temples and the stone wall around them should all be broken down and turned into fortifications to protect the town. The Jarl all nodded sagely, liking the idea very much, but Semela was incensed. “You can’t desecrate the gods! Look at all they do for us!” *Ylark Drop*

We decided the debate would be handled as a Contest (First person to win three opposed overcome rolls wins) and I thought “okay, here’s a chance for Frothing with Flashy to shine”. Only… it didn’t. None of our Frothing options made sense in a Contest. I couldn’t do lethal damage (we weren’t attacking), moving my opponent didn’t make any sense, changing my weight was immaterial. Soo… this is a problem. Clearly Froth doesn’t work in a contest, but I also don’t think it would work in a social conflict. That was a problem to address (see below).

The Kuld Are Coming!

The contest end in a tie roll, where the GM is instructed “If there’s a tie for the highest result, no one gets a victory, and an unexpected twist occurs.” What was the twist? Of course, it was the Kuld drawn to our warmth and maybe even the falling Ylark!

Luckily while we had been arguing about what to do with the temples Ficca and Mac and Cheese were working on stacking snow on the wall of brambles and then with the aid of Ficca’s alchemical concoctions turning the snow into hard ice! A frozen bramble wall is better than no bramble wall!

Thoughts on the game

There were some things we didn’t use and should test in future games. Swarm rules, Adventure Approaches, Magic, and Milestones (since we have some new ones).

There were some things we did test that I found wanting, namely Froth.  First off, Froth was hard to define in the narrative, what does it actually “do”, and it’s also doesn’t have a clear mechanical effect in the minis game as it can be spent like currency to give each side a wide range of options. I thought on it for a long while and eventually sent this dreaded email to Sophie and Karen (writer/developer and editor).

I’ve been thinking more (dangerous I know) and part of the reason I’m having a hard time with how Froth should work is that Froth isn’t something that is clear in the fiction.

Zones are easy. Relative positioning. Even if we extend that to social conflicts (threats, bribes, persuasion), they hold up pretty well.

Weight is also easy, even if our 2:1 and 4:1 results end up changing, the concept is simple and makes sense.

Froth is, well it’s a lot of things. In Shieldwall is the ability to do tricks or tweak the rules. It’s also something of a bargaining chip (though since the only person you’re bargaining with is your enemy, that mechanic is not a strong one in my opinion). But what it represents is perhaps a bit of extra vigor, courage, or ingenuity. All of those are pretty damn vague and hard to pin down with rules.

I’ve got a radical idea. And please don’t hate for suggesting this.

What if Frothing is a special phase in conflicts (like it is in shieldwall) where all people can do is create advantages. So the clever folks can devise strategy, the forceful ones can bellow thunderous roars, the careful ones can measure the distance to the enemy, etc. End result is that conflicts would start with lots of free invokes on both sides. More for the sides that rolled better. A suggested “cost” for failing the create advantage roll would be taking a consequence which would be similar a bad roll in SW and it’s also something that could be shifted to DI to get the gods interested in the fight.

This would effectively create a “charge up” round like you see in Anima Prime and it would allow players to call on the advantages created to get the same kind of perks/bonuses that Shieldwall offers them.

Also, this would address the point Edmund made, that it’s hard to hurt the players. If your opponents start the fight with say six free invokes and the GM just waits till the players use up a few of their free invokes, it wouldn’t be hard at all to generate a big monster attack.

I know the major downside of this is that it means removing a section that we have put TONS of work into so we shouldn’t consider it lightly, but lets consider it and see if it makes any sense.

And to find out what misadventures that caused, stay tuned for my next report…. Kuld on the wall!

Once again kudos to Edmund and my girls for having the patience to player a game where we stopped every 10 minutes to discuss (and sometimes change) the rules.

Actual Play – The Secrets of Cats (11/30/2014)

The Secret of CatsGM: Sean Nittner
Players: June Garcia, Julie Dinkins, Christine Hayes, and my daughters
System: Fate Core
World of Adventures: The Secrets of Cats

As project manager of Evil hat I play surprisingly few Fate games. One part because I’m usually playing games at conventions and I take what’s offered, one part because I like to play the new-hot-sexy game de jour and one part because Fate is a bit like work for me. Despite loving it, I see it A LOT and so an idea really has to get me excited for me to run it. The Secrets of Cats got me excited.

I’ve run several games of Cat for my girls in the past and I know that the idea of playing magical cats is pretty, well, magical. I mean who doesn’t want to believe that your cat staring at the wall like there is something there is actually protecting you from an evil spirit trying to get in?

EndGame Square One game days have usually been on weekends I have my daughters so if I run a game, it’s a kid’s game they can play in. On November 30th, all of those would align, so I signed up to run The Secrets of Cats!

Note: I worked with Richard Bellingham (the author), Rob Donoghue (who reviewed the outline), Lenny Balsera (who worked with Richard as a system developer), Josh Yearsly (the Editor), Fred Hicks (layout and art direction) and Crystal Frasier (cover and interior art) on this project, so it was pretty damn cool to see the fruits of their labor turn into a game at a table I was GMing!

Half-baked Characters

TSoC uses Fate Core with minor tweaks in the skill tree and some additional stunts. Any time I run Fate Core, I make sure the characters are at least ready to play. In this case it meant giving each cat a Name, description, three aspects (High Concept, Trouble, Burden), Skills selected (as there are some new ones like Territory and the four types of magic), Magic Stunts and normal stunts.

What this left open was a True Name aspect, a fifth aspect, and technically two stunts (one magic and one mundane) though I only encourage players to add in another stunt if it looks like they are trying to do something that doesn’t quite fit, or if they are using a skill they are bad at in a way that it sounds like their character should be particularly skilled.

I though this might be a bit too restrictive but it worked out great. The players quickly made their cats their own but describing their activities like Tuffy (the big bad tough cat) requiring a fealty from Oregan in the form a single dirty sock from each of her burdens (the family she watched over). They also talked about their burdens and fleshed them out much more than I had. Overall they warmed to the cats very quickly.

The adventure is a Secret…

Okay, it’s not actually a secret at all, but since I ran the adventure in the module Silver Ford, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. Suffice to say the cats went on a merry adventure, got in some fights they didn’t mean to, but saved the day in the end. The surprise finish was that our visiting cat, who really didn’t have a home found one, NOT WHERE I WOULD HAVE EVER EXPECTED. Turns out there’s a lot to say for how much having a pet can change a old cantankerous man’s disposition.

Thoughts on the game

I wish I took pictures. We had a cool map with aspect cards all over it and several drawings of cats. This was the best I could piece together afterwards.


The group I had clearly really understood cats. Whenever June’s cat Patches was outside of her own territory she immediately showed her belly to whoever owned the territory she entered. But in her home…it was HER RULES.

Bruno was hilarious because he was such a “people” cat. All of the fire crew loved him so when he saw something making off with one of their fire helmets if of course gave chase, and was almost run over because of it. Car are scary!

Many good times, and easily something I could imagine campaigning. Tuffy gained some new territory but could he hold onto it. What would Spark’s family (read: burden) do without her? Could Bruno stop the spirit that was starting fires in his town and causing his Burden’s so much grief? I’d love to play and find out.

Here are the pre-generated characters I used. Oregon, Patches, Sparks, Tuffy, and Bruno

Actual Play – Little Torchbearers (10/13/2013)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: The Miller boys and my daughters
System: Torchbearer
Dungeon: Under the House of the Three Squires


Oket – Dwarf Adventurer (leader)
Brandon – Halfling Burglar
Jango – Halfling Burglar
Julia – Dwarf Adventurer
Black Bones – Dwarf Adventurer

The Play is the Thing

Turn 1 – Identifying the scales (Hunter Ob 2. Result: Success)

Instinct – Check for Traps (Scout Ob 2. Result: Success)

Turn 2 – Pull the pile of detritus off Brandon (Laborer Ob 1. Result: Success) (Check gained)

Turn 3 – Befriend the Great Dane which they named Daisy (Hunter Ob 2. Result: Success)

Turn 4 –  Fend off the Kobold Patrol (Handled as versus test due to time running out. Result: Tie. Tie breaker roll. Result: Success)

Hungry and Thirty all around

Thoughts on this game

Torchbearer, specifically character creation, has been my hardest gaming with kids experience. All of the kids wanted their own characters but the two youngest don’t have reading and writing completely down. Add that to kid general restlessness and I ended up with non-stop distractions. Most of the others games I’ve played with kids had quick character creation (like Cat or Fate Accelerated) or we had pre-generated characters (Mouse Guard, Pathfinder, and Dungeons & Dragons 4E). This was the first time I sat kids down for serious character creation.  My advice: don’t do it unless there will be some long term playoff (like a campaign game). For a one-shot, I recommend fast character generation, pre-generated, or half baked characters.

Names! Come with a list of them. This should be true for any game with any age of player.

Once we got started however, the kids dove in.  More so than most games I’ve played with kids, they really dug into the dungeon environment. A very confining space, limited social interaction, and strange places to explore fit really with the kid’s curiosity. They totally wanted to dig around ever corer to see what was there. They were also the only group that without a thought added the dog to their party, because of course we travel with a dog!

Despite having identical dangers as any other run of Three Squires this game had a decidedly “Boxcar Children” feel to it. They weren’t scared, they were excited.

Actual Play – Invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (9/21/2013)

FAE-Bookcover_300x450GM: Sean Nittner
Players: My daughters and birthday friends
System: Fate Accelerated
Setting: Potter-verse

For her birthday I gave my daughter two copies of Fate Accelerated and a set of Fate Dice. I told her I would run a game for her and her friends in any setting, but that next time we played FAE she was going to run for me. She’s 11, time to get this ball rolling.

She opted for the Potter-verse, which is a nice setting because it’s so easy to slot kids into. It occurred to be that it was especially appropriate that she was turning 11, as I could send her an “invitation”.

I wrapped her parcel in orange paper and twine (magic twine mind you) and then included a letter, which was an invitation to Hogwarts (as 11 year olds get on their birthday) along with a caveat that in order to keep the muggles from getting suspicious, we would be pretending to play a game of Fate Accelerated. If you think about it too hard it doesn’t work, but don’t think that hard, she loved it!

A parcel for my little.

Yup, we broke out the sealing wax.




Little witches and wizards

Everyone made their young wizards and witches together. I had to play a bit of interference to make sure one characters concept didn’t appropriate the others, but we were quite happy with the results. Most of the trouble aspects ended up being unintended or exaggerated consequences of the high concepts.  For example Anubus Pok was a water elementalist whose trouble was that she needed to be around water. Some of them varied a bit, Crystal Stone was the youngest witch at Hogwarts but was also an Orphan.

Stunts went really well. In fact I think a stunt is where you make FAE into FAE-X. In this case stunts made FAE into FAE-Harry Potter.

Here were some of them:

  • Flashy Magic: I get a +2 when I Flashily Create an Advantage when making distractions with magic.
  • Flaming Hair: I get a +2 when Forcefully trying to scare someone with my flaming hair.
  • Magic Twine: Wrap someone or something up once per game by saying the magic words.

We also had one “I am batman” character. He had no name (literally, both his name and high concept was “no name”) and immediately filled out all of his aspects with powers like “Illusions”, “Invisibility”, “Nature Elementalist”, etc. When I told him the values to pick for approaches (one at +3, two at +2, etc) He entered numbers from +10 to +15. His one stunt was “Be in infinite places”.  As a young gamer, excited about being all powerful, I knew that it would be an uphill battle to address each of these issues. Instead I just had him change his approaches and then left the rest with one caveat. The reason he could be invisible, or be in infinite places was because he was a ghost. He didn’t like the idea of being dead at first but I eventually got him to warm up to it when Peeves the Poltergeist acknowledged him as one of them.

Arriving at Hogwarts

We started out the session with each of the new students arriving at Hogwarts for the first time. They got off the train, onto the boat with Hagrid and then to the great hall. Only one of them was accidentally left behind. Someone had missed Crystal Stone [Compelling her aspect of being without a family] and her boat started drifting away with her on it! Her new friends came to the rescue with some water evocations to bring the boat to shore and a helping hand once she got there. Thanks friends!

Something is up with the sorting hat

I described the teachers as all being a bit on edge (I know, unimaginable) and trying to hurry the children along through the sorting ceremony. When the first PC went up to be sorted (Lily Figrazz, our friend of magical creatures) she spotted a raven in the rafters just as it swooped down, swiped the sorting hat off her head and flew down a corridor. In an attempt to catch it, Mrs. Mcgonagall slammed the doors shut with a Colloportus spell, but it was too late. The raven slipped past and only left a single tail feather trapped beween the two massive doors that slammed behind it.

What followed was a merry romp of children ignoring adults, sneaking off, and finding the sorting hat. They used various magics and clever ingenuity to get through the magically locked door and track the raven back to a hidden chamber. There they found a grump goblin holding the sorting hat and surrounded by mounds and mounds of things: books, a globe, a large chest, several pairs of night clothes, a silver shimmering sword and may others. The goblin had been pulling things out of the hat but in frustration it would not give him back the fine set of boots the hat had “stolen” from him.

The children captured the goblin and turned him in, along with the sorting hat, finally ending with a resounding cry from the hat of “Gryffindor”!


If the game wasn’t fun, at least it was tasty!


Thoughts on this game

It was a short game and one full of interruptions. Parents arriving, pizza and desert being served, and sometimes totally unrelated tangents. The kids had fun though, and I think planned to keeping playing their characters in stories they told.

My little one told me she has read FAE and is ready to run a game. I’m excited to see what she does with it!

Gaming with kids is great. They really surprise me with their range. They can be totally sweet and helpful or totally vicious and brutal.

Having one very reluctant player also poses interesting opportunities. Do you let them hang back until they want to contribute? Do you try to entice them to interact? I did a little of both and it worked reasonably well, but I could tell the energy of the table suffered. What was previously a really excited group (this player came to the game late) got much quieter and more pensive as we waited for his responses.

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 – Avatar the Fate Accelerated Bender (5/26/2013)

FAE-Bookcover_300x450GM: Brian Williams
Players: My big little, Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Julie Southworth, and Zed Lopez
System: Fate Accelerated
Setting: Avatar: The Last Air Bender

Brian (and the rest of us) all had our first game of FAE. And it was loads of fun. Brian talked a little bit about the setting, which we had different degrees of familiarity with and then we got to deciding what was going on, and what mattered.

Setting Aspects

The Avatar is Gone – We decided to set this before Ang was awoken, when everything is way out of wack because there hasn’t been an Avatar in 100 years and people are loosing it. The Air Benders are more ascetic than ever, separated from reality. Meanwhile the Fire Benders are waging war on all of their neighbors, conquering everyone in their path.

Crossroads of the Earth Kingdom – We decided to start in a part of Earth Kingdom besieged by Fire. Lands previously owned by Earth had been conquered and Earth’s forces pushed back. What was once a small town was now a major thoroughfare for both refugees and military transports.

Character creation

From that we decided to make characters in the military. People fighting to protect the Earth Kingdoms for one reason or another.

Osha – The troubled waterbender. Osha was raised to protect the tribes of the north, but was using her knowledge of battle to aid earth now. Also, being away from her family allowed her experiment with the taboo Blood Bending without raising suspicion from her tribe.

Ataru – The Angriest Air Bender came down from the mountain because he was infuriated that the Air Kingdom would do nothing in this war. He believed they should fight, and fight he would.

Akane – The Earth Bender soldier who wanted to protect her homeland and her family. She wielded tremendous power, but was compromised by concerns for her own family.

Liu-Chen was a cobbler from the Earth Kingdom who’s lands had been conquered by Fire. Once a refugee, now a volunteer soldier, she was still terrified of Fire’s wrath, and felt helpless to fight it.

Haruka was a defector from the Fire Nation. Though she did not Bend, she came from a very powerful family in the Fire Nation, and from them stole the scrolls which taught the Fire Bending technique. Her brother Haruki was a general in the Fire Nation (and a powerful Bender) and he personal sought to bring her back. Dead or alive.

I dug our group. We were kind of misfits by nature. That’s the spirit of Fate really, the protagonists always (because of their High Concept and Trouble aspects) stick out. They don’t fit in the rank and file, and so of course have adventures of their own.

I also liked that we played a mix of Benders and non-Benders. As much as I love crazy bending power, I played a non-Bender because I wanted to explore if I could have just as much fun with FAE *not* having super powers when others did. (Spoiler: I did).

The Setup

After our characters were made, Brian added two new setting aspects: Defending No place and Rump of the Army. Essentially, in all this fighting, we had been relegated to the far, far reserves, where nothing was happening and we weren’t doing any good. Liu-Chen was pretty happy about this, but the rest of the characters were infuriated. Haruka wanted to get her scrolls to a general or strategist that could use them to fight the Fire Nation. Osha wanted opportunities to practice Blood Bending, Akane wanted to protect her people, and Ataru, he just wanted to get in a fight.

It didn’t take much to provoke us. A sneak attack the previous night, followed by silence the following night that left us all anxious there would be another one. Sure enough, when our commanding officer ordered we sit and wait, we all snuck off (even Liu-Chen) to be part of the action.

The Play is the Thing

Once we broke the line, it was on!

Brian gave us some obstacle to overcome to get out of camp without being detected. We got at least one significant cost, which led to a twist of finding some Fire Benders trying to sneak across the line themselves!

Fight! That led to a big conflict as jumped into their midst. We did all the normal conflict bits: attacks, creating advantages, etc. It was fun fight, mostly against the mooks. One thing they did was set off a signal flare, which spun into into a contest later (see below), but otherwise they were mostly fodder. This is where I had a lot of fun, showing that Haruka’s training with Fire Benders (that was actually her stunt) allowed her to get inside their defense and bat away their arms before the could throw fire into her face. With some bad as kung-fu and cartoon style choreography she was able to hold her own against them. This is also mechanically of course, because there was really no distinction between a Bender and a non Bender, but I wanted to make sure we could maintain that sense of capability in the fiction.

After the fight, we figured out that the signal flare was for, a giant juggernaut that the shock troops were guiding across the field in the night with their flare. It came rumbling after us and we realized we had to get to the Earth lines to warn them… and Fast! We handled this a s contest and each of us got a chance to contribute. Some by running, some by slowing down the giant death machine, and some by helping to move along our captive… by way of Blood Bending their unconscious body into moving on its own!

We arrived and there was much rejoicing. When the sun rose we saw the giant juggernaut which we had immobilized shake with impotent rage as the Earth catapults destroyed it! We got medals and were finally appointed to do what we did best. It was a very New Hope kind of end.

Thoughts on this game

Like others have, I noticed that pretty much every roll was made with a +2 or +3 approach, and like Fred noted on, I really didn’t think that was much of a problem.  More it showed how the protagonist figured out clever ways of using their strengths to fight a problem.

I really dug some of the social issues in the game. There was a strong sense of the non-benders as 2nd class citizens, and I certainly played a character with something to prove. A lot of that was called onto the carpet early on, and came up in different ways several times. We also had some distinct notion of the what the different nations thought of each other. I dug the tension there.

I had a lot of fun with Liu-Chen, specifically trying to form a bond with her in the midst of all this violence. At one point I grabbed a Bender and put him in a “Five Dragon Choke Hold” (create advantage) so she could punch him out. Good times!

As my first experience with FAE, I was quite impressed. Very good system for doing a pick up game and slapping an existing setting right on top of.

Pic of the game:



Actual Play – My First Pathfinder (4/27/2013)

PathfinderCoreCoverGM: Aiden Miller
Players: Sean Nittner, the bigger of my two littles, Alex Miller, and Meghan Miller.
System: Pathfinder

I was really excited about this game. Aiden, who is 12, has just started running games. His system of choice: Pathfinder.

Both families (Miller and Nittner) were hanging out together and half of them went to Whole Earth day in Fort Bragg, while my little one, Aiden, and I headed to the Miller stead and burned up some characters. I did a lot of the grunt work because I was curious about how the system compared to 3.5. Using only  the core rules, I was pleasantly surprised. The races and classes all had cool abilities that were significant without being too fiddly. There were a few new stats I wasn’t familiar with like CMB/CMD but it was obvious how they worked, so I felt pretty comfortable diving right in.

My daughter picked all the races and cl asses, and rolled the dice, I recorded everything and added up bonuses and such.

The play is the thing

Aiden started us off in a tavern, in fact being kicked out of a tavern (which I thought was a fun twist) and approached by an old man selling a treasure map to adventurers who were hearty enough to make use of it.

We quickly agreed to go but not before my bard Caleb had already started what would be running gag for the night, which was singing little one verse riffs about everything we did to the tune of “The Fox”.  Somehow that seemed appropriate.

One thing Aiden did, which I really liked, was to reincorporated player ideas into the game. Early on I said “oh yeah, I’ve heard of that place, it’s between the mountain of St. George and the Zephyr Aerie. It was a throw away comment but Aiden brought it back up several times as we were talking the “old man” and during the travels.

The Dungeon

The heart of the play was in a dungeon, which Aiden gleefully drew out as we traversed it. He recognized  with some amusement, that the whole thing was ridiculously full of meaninglessly winding corridors, but kept drawing it out just the same. It was full of fairly week monsters (generally kobolds accompanied by something larger, like a gnoll or hobgoblin, which we dispatched pretty easily.

There was also traps. Lots of pit traps that didn’t do any damaged but forced us to spend a lot of time figuring out ways to avoid and/or get out of them. They were also pretty comical in nature, just one trap after another lined up in a row.

The Übermensch

At the end of our foray we found a Half-Dragon Minotaur with a double bladed vampiric sword. Yeah, there is no good reason in hell that we should have survived that battle, except perhaps that we had two healers (a bard and a cleric) the were healing away while the others fought. Some lucky rolls, and possibly some fudged roles, and the victory was ours…

Only to find the “old man” run in the back entrance and ask his (now deceased) friend if he killed the adventurers sent this way. Classic (very classic) bait and switch.  We fought him as well, but because we used the vampiric sword when doing so (I mean, why not use that bad ass blade) he was risen as an uber-zombie that tried to murder us all.

Three fight later, victory was finally ours… and we watched the corpse of the Half-Dragon Minotaur form into a Doppelganger. Hmmm.

The spoils

For all the gold we hauled out of there it didn’t do us much good. All of it had to be spent on curing those who were injured by the blade (lest they become zombies too) and the blade itself was just a menace.

We clapped our hands and ended our night of dungeon delving.

Thoughts on this game

Pathfinder, or any crunchy game for that matter, is not normally my cup of tea, but I had some good times with the Millers.

My little one laughed a lot and had fun playing the dwarven ranger with twin crossbows. She got to use some of her skills (like knowledge: dungeoneering) and wasted some baddies. This was the first time I played with her (instead of running for her) and I really enjoyed it.

There were some very liberal interpretations of the rules at times. Aiden had accidentally given us all “small” weapons, even the medium size characters, so we just said that’s all we had until we found better ones. Some feats didn’t even make sense (the cleric had “Improved Rage”, a barbarian feat) so they were changed in game. At first level a ranger should have two weapon fighting, let alone have it work with crossbows, but Aiden liked the idea so we let if fly. Kobolds got free attacks of opportunity from any range on me when I started singing. Attacks which always did 1 point of damage as a “stop singing” kind of punishment… and so on.  None of these really affected the game play materially thought. We trudged along telling bad jokes with bad accents, killing monsters and taking there stuff!

Gaming with kids is a whole different beast. The focus for me is more on giving them opportunities to try stuff. You know the game is going to go off the rails, that we’re going to hand wave any rule we don’t want to deal with, and that ridiculous puns will be abound (my weapon was a Mace + Banjo = Manjo), but that’s all just part of the fun for them.

I was kind of snarky during the game and I regret that. I tired to keep it limited to eye rolls and occasional groans, but I wasn’t the beset sport (in the moment) about playing a game that didn’t match with my normal gaming preferences. I’m going to work on being more positive next time I’m gaming in a new/unfamiliar mode.

Actual Play – My Daughter GMs her first game! (10/12/2013)

Players: Sean Nittner and daughters
System: Do, Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

After Big Bad Con, my daughters were both pretty sad that they couldn’t go to the con. Last year they came and sat at the reg desk for a while handing out badges and pins. When the band played we had a cool chase through the fountain room with my eldest dressed as Little Red being cased by Alec who was in The Wolf suit, in turn being chased by my youngest who was posing as the woodsman. The had a great time running all around chasing each other. Also, my eldest was the one who thought of the name of the con (Big Bad Con) over pancakes one day. So they are a big part of the convention (at least for me) and we were all sad I couldn’t manage a way to get them there this year.

That said, I told the girls they could still earn Big Bad Con pins by accomplishing certain achievements. If they write their name on a badge they could get a “Welcome to Big Bad Con” pin, and if they ran a game (any game) they could get a “GM” pin. My little one said she would run Castle Panic, but the big one beat her to the punch and had already pulled Do off the bookshelf.

She looked over the rules, and needed a little help figuring out that the storyteller was the person who took the stones and the troublemakers were the other players, but otherwise she got the hang of it, no problem. She picked out the letter as well.  The Interworld Railway by Peter Aronson.


Our pilgrims were Fast Cat who gets in trouble by running into things, but helps people by finding secret information. Pilgrim Shiny Glass gets in trouble because she is always showing off, but helps helps people by bringing them light. Pilgrim Hungry River gets in trouble because he never stops eating, but helps people by taking them places.

 Our Story

Pilgrim fast cat finds the way to Yam, but runs right into the Interworld Express One!

Pilgrim shiny glass uses her shining light to signal Josephina Sherwood to stop the train. Pilgrim Shiny Glass is snatched up by an airship pilot that wants to use her light to see through the storm.

Pilgrim Hungry River lends the airship out of the storm, so they don’t need Shining Glass anymore.

Pilgrim Fast Cate is chased by a Builder of Yam, who thinks she is trying to steal the gold.

Pilgrim Fast Cat gets herself out of the trouble by telling the person who was chasing her that she was trying to help the trains!

Pilgrim Shiny Glass pulls out her light and says “Here is a light, so now you can build the railway and not be scared of ghosts.”

Pilgrim Hungry River flies the Builders of Yam to a giant break in the rails so they can fix them.

Pilgrim Hungry river stuffed too much food in his mouth and the Builders of Yam can’t understand him.

Pilgrim Fast Cat show the builders the gap in the railway.

Pilgrim Fast cate and the builders fall into the river when the golden rails break free!

Pilgrim Shining Glass throws a rope to Pilgrim Fast Cat and the builders. She shines a light so they can see it!

Pilgrim Hungry River finishes his meal! Yum!

Pilgrim Hungry River ate all the food for the Celebration. Oh no!

Pitchforks Endings

Pilgrim Fast Cat is in trouble with the workers because she made them fall in the river.

Pilgrim Hungry River has to wok in the train shoveling coal to pay for all the food he ate.

Pilgrim Shining Glass is called a show off.

Thoughts on this game

The way to get a parade ending seems to be to take as few stones as possible. My daughters were pretty bummed when they got a pitchfork ending and attributed it to the youngest getting 3 stones twice in a row and then taking two on her 3rd draw. She was thinking more = better, when more really just equals a different option.

Getting in trouble is fun!

I think the game benefits from a little discussion between writing down sentences. Often, even when we would write down a sentence, we needed to spend a little time clarifying what that meant in the fiction, and what else was going on. We didn’t write that stuff down, but it did effect our future narration.

Change was tough. My eldest, at the end had to change her first name, which meant she couldn’t be “Fast” anymore. She really wanted to be “Fast” and I assured her that she could still be fast, it’s just that her speed wouldn’t get her into trouble any more. This seemed to ameliorate her, but only barely. I’ve noticed this same thing with adults playing Fate games, specifically Dresden, when it was time to choose an aspect. They didn’t want to lose the old one. My thought has always been that it isn’t that the old aspect isn’t true anymore, it’s just not highlighted or pivotal in the game anymore.  Still, losing things = hard.