Actual Play – Pirates in a Wicked PTA (10/25/2014)

In A Wicked PTAPlayers: Justin Evans, Sean Nittner, Dennis Jordan, Kristin Hayworth, Eric Fattig, Eric Bohr, and Bill Miller
System: In a Wicked PTA

I tried to describe this game (system) to Avery McDaldno and it started like this. “Oh, it uses In a Wicked Age Oracles, but with Prime Time Adventures characters and resolution mechanics…but we flip cards one at a time and each card flip includes some of the narration, and we used best interests in from IaWA instead of Issues, and each scene you frame can’t include your character so you act as a director like in Durance, and we use the Element Ownership rules from Archipelago, epilogues from Fiasco, and everybody creates a character to contribute to the group pool , and, and… oh, I guess this is just some hacked together game that Justin made. It works really well!”

We decided on using the Pirates Oracle and from it we drew four oracles that started us with this situation.

  • A drunk shipwright who betrayed his captain lost at sea with only a half full barrel of run to keep him afloat.
  • An aboriginal slave owner who sold out out to the parliamentary government providing cotton and tobacco from the sweat and labor of his slaves.
  • A young girl orphaned in a seaside port, overlooked by all. Enough so that she had obtained an enchanted necklace from the Sea Witch, left behind by someone carelessly.
  • A ship captain, betrayed by his carpenter to the parliament and now carrying slaves for them through waters only he knows how to traverse. Either the slaves make it safely to the plantation or his wife and children will be jailed.
  • A sea witch, supposedly enraged that her necklace was stolen, but in reality had cursed the seas in a rage from a lover that had besmirched her.
  • Said lover, a noble and foppish swashbuckler without a care who brought ruin to those around him.
  • A slave who was the leader of her people in captivity. They had been led by her sister who fought of the parliamentary government and were punished for it. When her sister was murdered the other captives turned to her for leadership. Locked up in a ship hull she plotted for her revenge and all of her people’s freedom.
  • A local officer trying to keep the peace in a harbor full of pirates.

After making the characters and giving each of them an edge, we each selected a character to play (which I made the rule could not be the one we thought of) and then added additional edges or connections. We then settled on a few domains that needed an authority. We decided on the sea, the supernatural, the government, and the indigenous slaves.

We each picked a best interest that was a direct attack against someone else. Some of those were vicious. Someone was going to die, be deposed, or otherwise have their life take a serious downturn before the game was done!

The Play Is the Thing

As we had so many players (seven people is A LOT of players for me these days) we just did one round of scenes (still seven scenes) and then capped it off with an epilogue.

The Captain got free of the governments grip on him. The carpenter failed to take the ship and now a worthless drunk. The slaves smuggled weapons into their holding cell and when they were delivered to the island attacked the few guards their and claimed island of their own. The slave owner was killed. The necklace was returned to the sea witch but as the thing she really wanted was companionship, that’s not all she kept.

Good times. For some at least.

Thoughts on the game

Neither Bill nor Eric Bohr normally play RPGs. I think they’ve each played one game before and didn’t remember much of it. I loved that in this game they thrived. Part of was the rules mechanics being very simple. Describe your actions until you reach a point of conflict and then flip a few cards to see who wins. I also think it helps that at a table where only two or three characters are active in a scene we had four or five people contributing as various authorities, helping the players articulate their stakes in a conflict, or otherwise adding content (even if it was just a bit of description) to the scene.

Justin’s system has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. It’s got narrative and mechanical systems that are cobbled together from a bunch of games, and it works great. Specifically using the oracles, doing collaborative character creation, and having each player open a scene that doesn’t include their character, directs the players to be invested in each other and in characters in the story besides themselves. I super dig it.

Getting a bunch of people to play an RPG during a bachelor party is awesome! Also we did it for Extra life as part of their 24 hour game-a-thon that just so happened to be on the same weekend as my party woot. Shameless plug I forgot to do during the twitters: If you want to support us (retroactively) here’s the site to do it:


Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica (1/28/2012)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Meilin, Sean, Kristin, Ezra
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

I should really start calling this scenario something besides “Apocalypse Galactica”. I mean, I intended to name the first game after the hack itself, like some bands name their first album after then band, but you know, it just causes some unnecessary confusion.

Carl Rigney says I should run this game until the number of play hours exceeds the time spent to create it. Well, if you’re interested in playing the game, good news. By following Carl’s logic I have to run it at least another 28 times to catch up. Still, I’m awfully proud of this game.  It works very, very well.

Last time I ran this scenario was at the October Minicon.  Since then I’ve cleaned up Hx a lot, tightened up the playbooks, created more (total of 13 now), worked on the layout and typography, and added another love letter (the Activist has joined the game).  I also reviewed the love letters and tried to tighten them down by removing extraneous NPCs and trying to point the PCs at each other’s throats more.

Overall I think the scenario still has WAY too much going on. It was meant to simulate the feeling of never ending disasters that the show presents (and Apocalypse World normally has) but I always forget how much crazy fallout comes out of play. The fact of the matter is that Apocalypse World works too well at creating trouble, and I’m still overcompensating by loading up the love letters.

In two runs though, I’ve definitely seen which scenarios are really hot and which ones are avoided or just don’t come up much in play. My thought is right now the game just has too much, so rather than create more, I’m going to leave in the winners and trim out the duds. We’ll see how it plays after that and keep honing away. I’m prepared to run this at least three more times (two for private parties that have asked me to run it for their group and once more at a minicon, or Good Omens Con).

The game had a minor snag in that one player wasn’t able to make it on time. Thankfully we left the seat open. The Commander (in this case Admiral) playerbook wasn’t chosen, but so many people had connections to him, that he immediately became a hotly contested figure. All three of the PCs present had a bone to pick with him. Some the moment the last player sat down it was a total no-brainer. I handed over the commander, picked a few of the things that had been established (name, look, and rank) and then let my hapless newcomer dive into the myriad of troubles plaguing Admiral Noah Sethrin.

That ended up working out so much better than I ever could have hoped for. Because the player hadn’t been there to defend the Admiral’s actions at first, the character started off as kind of a despicable figure and was made more human through play.

I don’t want to go over the details of the game too much, since I plan to keep running it, but suffice to say my players were made of a thousand kinds of awesome. More on them below.

Thoughts on the game

First off, what is it with awesome gamer couples named Sean/Shaun and Kristin? Holy crap! I mean I love gaming with Shaun Hayworth and Kristin Hayworth, who would have thought I’d meet a second Sean and Kristin, and have them both be great gamers? Power to the gamer couples!

Ezra killed. I mean just killed. He was this hardcore activist that would do anything… anything for his cause. This including shooting one of his own people in the head, a teenager that was hardly a man no less, because he crossed him. Poor Micah, all he wanted was for people to be able to decide for themselves. The same thing Omid (Ezra’s character) wanted, he just wanted them to decide the RIGHT way. I loved how hard core he was. He took over Colonial One and was one roll away from ramming it into the Battlestar. Man I wish he had made that roll. It was awesome the way it went down, the CAG looked good, the president looked insane, the admiral looked like an uncaring soldier, but man, if he had hit that cool roll, legends would have been made.

The cylon reveals were epic. So far 7 out of 7 cylons have made perfect sense when the reveal. That systems works well.

Meilin was an incredible trouper. She sat down and had this villain of a character thrust in her hands and then rocked it. She was hard, she was tough, but she was also human. She did for the Noah Sethrin what I would have never been able to do if I was playing him as an MC character. She made the other PCs wonder, should I trust him?

The player vs. player conflicts in this game were really hot. The CAG and he Commander were constantly at each other’s throats. The Activist wasn’t happy with anybody. And the president, previously the intelligence secretary, in a wheelchair that she pushed by hand, she was like Admiral Caine in a blouse. She was bad ass, and she got in everyone’s faces.

No special (read: sex) moves happened. It just wasn’t the game for that; there was never time for someone to get busy with anyone. Too bad, the Commander’s special is so awesome, I really want to see someone use it one day.

For next time: Take out the obvious scapegoat and make sure all love letter entries are actionable.

Actual Play – 33 (12/11/2011)

MC: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Ralph Wolterbeek, Michael Garcia, Kristin Hayworth, Shaun Hayworth, Basil Benitz
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica


This was it; this was the game I had wanted to run for almost six months. Karen Twelves gave me the idea. Hack the awesome desperation of Apocalypse World into the super tense setting of Battlestar Galactica set in the time period of the amazingly good episode “33”. I had run the Apocalypse Galactica hack once before at the EndGame Minicon but even though it was a con game, I still thought of that one as a playtest. It was a preparation for “33”. The first game ran very well, but I knew some serious changes needed to be made.

I was running for six players for six hours. The time wasn’t daunting but the number of players was. This meant that I REALLY needed to keep a tight focus on the players’ interactions with each other. A prevalence of NPCs would be the death of this game. Still, to keep the feel of BSG the threats had to be external and uncaring. Cylons are science fiction Yog-Sothoth and their threat needs to be the overwhelming pressure cooker that makes every little scrape the characters have with each other into a potentially catastrophic disaster. I knew the key to this was the love letters. Make the players fighter over what to do with ambiguous NPCs and they could interact with each other all day long while still keeping the biggest threats outside…in the black.

I also needed new playbooks. For the first game I make the most obvious playbooks: Pilot, Commander, CAG, and Engineer on the military side and President, Opportunist, and Visionary for the civilians. This game was set in the time period of the first episode (after the mini-series) call 33. In that episode a ship (the Olympic Carrier) went missing for 3 hours and when it returned, out of fear, paranoia and misinformation the fleet destroyed the ship to protect themselves. It had been contaminated by the “other” and everyone was terrified it would lead to their destruction. The premise of this game was asking the question “What happened on board the Olympic Carrier?” and to answer that, we needed playbooks that were appropriate to the ship. The Commander, President, CAG, and Pilot were all out. In their place I added the Doctor, Activist, Partisan, Marine, Captain, and Businessman. Phew, that was a lot of work to create.

I needed to capture the horror of the episode. This was a horror convention after all, the episode itself was terrifying, and I needed that terror in my game. I used several things to capture it.

The love letters were grim. They presented each playbook with a disaster on their hands that was only going to get worse.

I used an egg timer. This might have been the clinch that made the game. At the start of the game, before they were even making characters I set the egg timer to 33 minutes and then set it down. When the timer went off, even though character creation wasn’t done interrupted what everyone was talking about and had them all describe their actions when the cylons appeared. We weren’t ready for dice rolls at this point (not everyone had stats, Hx, etc) but that didn’t matter. The point was, what does the first jump look like (or rather the 275th) where everything is just starting to get out of control. Does the Businessman knife a customer who won’t pay? What does the marine say to the civilians who are demanding to speak to their families on other ships? Each player narrated a small scene in response to my question, then the fleet jumped and I set the timer again. Another 33 minutes.

For most of the game that timer was running and when it went off the Cylons appeared. Man, did that get under their skin fast.

I played the hard moves really hard. A woman trying to open an airlock? She must be a Cylon! Until her six year old daughter runs out after her, moments after the marine had killed her. A captain with a ship full of mutineers. A nuke that ended up in exactly the wrong hands.

Also, to get the game started I had pieced together snippets from the episode “33”. All the pieces that pertained to the Olympic Carrier. I showed everyone the clips which went just until the point where Apollo fires on the ship and then abruptly cut off before we saw the fate of the 1,345 souls on the Olympic Carrier. That’s when I told everyone “You’re all on that ship. Let’s see what happened.”

The Play is the Thing

The game started with some pretty intense situations. A woman wanted to sacrifice herself in hopes of saving the ship so she had climbed into the FTL drive. One wrong move there and she could be vaporized. Getting her out though meant spinning down the FTL…which took 20 minutes to spin back up…on a good day. Things just pretty much went downhill from there.

The PCs had some phenomenal interactions

Engineer – Captain. I think Karen was channeling Scotty this game. I swore she was going to say “She can’t hold up much longer, Captain, she’s going to blow” in a horrible Irish accent. But she didn’t, instead she told her “we’ve got a problem, I have fix, but you’re not going to like it, but we have to do it anyway. Awesome!” Later, when the Engineer revealed as a Cylon and met with the captain again, it had been established that what the Engineer says the ship needs, the ship needs, no matter how crazy the request is. What you REALLY don’t want on a ship is your chief engineer, that everyone trusts because gods-damn it they have to, working for the other side!

Visionary – Captain. Ralph really stepped up in this game. He started off trying to play ball. His people were hoarding supplies on the ship (food, toilet paper, etc) and he tried to convince them to stop. When he found his wayward sheep trying to kill herself, he brought her back into the fold. All of this complying with the captains orders. In truth, she started trusting in him because he was at least keeping a small group of people from total panic. When he met the mutineers on board, however, things changed. He discovered their motive and decided he agreed with them, to the point of taking the ship hostage. Which he did! The first made even mutinied and had to be killed by the captain to gain a semblance of control again. Ralph the visionary as the face of the antagonist was never something I expected, but he did it amazingly well.

Marine – Captain. Mike played his marine pretty hard core. He wasn’t good at crowd control, didn’t know how to talk to people, he just knew he had to keep a mutiny from breaking out. The captain on the other hand was respected but tough. She gave him license to do is work and set a good example herself. This militant stance of course led to them having a bloody shoot out in the passenger cabin and nearly everyone dying just as it should have been.

Damn, I’m noticing a trend here that many of the characters had a pretty strong relationship with the Captain. We also has a lot of illegal activity going on.

Activist – Businessman. These two were great because though they were both trying to subvert the system, the Activist was almost entirely operating from his conscience and trying to change the political climate. The Businessman was just taking advantage of the chaos as an opportunity to improve his own standing. Seeing the two clashing both over ideological beliefs and fighting over the same resources was awesome. Then when they turned out to both be Cylons, both working on the same side, everything suddenly took on a new meaning. It was awesome.


We started with the Crisis from the love letters, which was nearly enough to keep us busy all game (not all of them were even address) but then more spilled on (as they do) due to missed rolls, ugly choices, and natural repercussions of extreme actions. All in all, shit went to hell and I commend everyone who played for holding things together as well as they did.

Roll Credits

The end of the game, though I wasn’t pushing for this ended up remarkably similar to the end of the BSG episode. The Olympic Carrier arrived back at the fleet, followed by the Cylons (one of the Cylons that revealed called in an attack), with the lights out (the cost of a ugly choice from the Engineer) and a nuclear warhead ready to go off (thanks to the Activist). The fleet really had no other choice but to destroy them.

As the game ended the players all wanted to see the very end of the show, where Apollo, under orders from his father, destroys the Olympic Carrier, which the audience all believes (and our players knew) had over a thousand souls on it. The is some crazy high tension music playing as he finally says “Mark” and fires on the ship, causing the entire passenger liner to explode…and the egg timer went off! I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. I had totally forgotten about the egg timer by that point, and when it went off, we were all startled. It was awesome.

Thoughts on the game

I was somewhat liberal with the egg timer. At times I decided that we had deliberated a long time over what was actually a very short scene so I bumped the time back up. Other times I forgot to set it immediately, so I ball parked how much time I thought we had left, or just set it to 33 minutes to give them some reprieve. I think having this kind of fiat really improved the tool. It still created tons of tension but allowed me to dial that up and down as appropriate.

I did have a blast interrupting the action with the description of the fleet starting to jump and Cylons appearing. At one point the ship was damaged as a result of a miss and rafters collapsed on the Visionary. That the antagonists were the ones to come save him really changed the tenor of the game. After they turned against each other, I think salvation was impossible. Yay!

I had a blueprint of the ship, or a map if you will. I didn’t want to get overly tactical, but I did find that having it, having a general sense of where things are was phenomenal.

Kristin told me a few times that it all felt so helpless. As the captain she kept trying to keep things from falling apart but eventually they stacked up and overwhelmed her. That statement could easily have sounded like a critique of the game, but she loved it. I don’t want to run all of my games as impossible scenarios, but as a horror game, that sense of all your efforts being drowned out by the an uncaring and antagonistic universe, was awesome.

As I expected my players were all amazing, they really brought their characters to life and fought for what they believed in, which was even more awesome because I got to see that change throughout the game. The visionary sided with the terrorists. Three of the other characters revealed as Cylons. The lone two keeping to their mission (the captain and marine) has to resort to killing their own people to keep the peace. Nobody walked out of that game unchanged, which for as a fan of character development, is a huge win.

Props for this game were pretty light. I spent most of my effort on just creating the playbooks and love letters. Props included. Tokens from the board game to mark experience (Raiders, Heavy Raiders, Raptors and Vipers), to indicate the Cylons arriving (Basestar), and to indicate possession nuke (nuke token). I wore Joe Harney’s admiral coat as I had last time and this time used a safety pin to keep the collar tight and in place. We had the playbooks for the characters, Cylons, and love letters (no need for the fleet or Battlestar playbook for this game). I cobbled together some of the show to play them the Olympic Carrier related bits of the episode 33. Finally, I pulled out my egg timer (that I originally used to summon Batman in My Life with Joker years ago) for the clock! Nothing particularly remarkable in here, but they complimented the game nicely.

A pic we took after the game. Look at that bitchin’ table tent Matt Steele made for me!

Do, Students of the Weekly Spelling Test (Lesson 11)

I’m going to try using Do, Pilgrims of the Flying Temple to do spelling homework with my daughter. Each week she is given a list of 20 works she needs to learn to spell. 20 is a lot of words for a letter, but I think if we do it over the course of a week, and keep the mechanics very simple we can do it.

Since it’s just me and my daughter, we’ll each make a Pilgrim/Student and each turn someone isn’t in trouble, we’ll roll a die. Even, we get to help the letter writer. Odd, we help but get in trouble and the next persons turn needs to be spent getting us out of trouble. Once the student is out of trouble, we’ll go back to rolling a die again. No matter what, each sentence we write will have 1 or 2 two words in it.

This may take some of the mechanical nuance out of Do, but I’m okay with that because I don’t want many distractions from writing the sentences. Also, I don’t think Do works too well with two players and as my little one is nine, I’m happy to introduce the rules slowly. Hmm, maybe I’ll give the student who helps out some kind of perk, like a carrot (a real one) so that helping each other out is rewarding as well as mandatory.

This week, we’re on lesson 11. Here are the words:

Here’s my letter. It is a little disjointed, but hey, what’s not to like about a little poodle named freckles?

Dear Students,

Help! My poodle named freckles is in the middle of a puddle. The problem is simple, she is a little poodle and not able to get out of the puddle, no matter how much I whistle for her or how much she tries to wiggle.

Many people have seen freckles, but they are more interested in going to the castle, you can sample fireworks there that sparkle and twinkle in the night.

I offered one man a nickel for his pool noodle, but when I held it out to freckles, I tickled her on accident.

Freckles is still trapped in the puddle, and I need to get home to eat my apple for lunch and play with my new bottle of bubbles.

Thank you for your help,

Little in the middle (the name I often call my older daughter, and two of this weeks words)


Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica (10/22/2011)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Xander Matthews, Antonio Morton, Eric Ullman, and David Gallo
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

Signing up to run this game was a bad idea. Two weeks after Big Bad Con, I was going to have a BSG hack of Apocalypse World ready for showtime? Well, foolishly I thought I could port playbooks over and just change the language a bit. Hardholder -> Commander, Chopper -> CAG, but then some started being a weird mix, Driver/Battlebabe -> Pilot. Savvyhead with some significant tweaks -> Engineer. Then it got even more wonky, as I realized that the troops the CAG commands are the same ones the Commander commands, and that the Battlestar really needed its own playbook, including marines and pilots, etc. And the CIC, that is a move right there. Firing nukes, engaging FTL. Gah!

Thankfully I had a lot of support from Karen Twelves, a fan of the show and experienced Apocalypse World player. She was great at answering questions like “does this move sound fun” and “does this sound like what they do in the show”. Also I had a lot of direction from the board game, as there were elements of desperation built into it (Crisis card and the count downs) that I knew fit AW well and would give me something to bounce off of when I thought about moves and fronts.

The project isn’t complete, but it was as much as I needed for the con. I had:

  • Seven playbooks (Commander, CAG, Engineer, Pilot, President, Visionary and Opportunist), two currencies (Supply and Favor).
  • Love letters for each playbook.
  • Four fronts (aka crises) including hunger, morale, security and fuel.
  • A playbook for the Battlestar including strengths like armaments and weaknesses like a tired crew.
  • A playbook for the fleet .
  • Two Cylon playbooks (which could be taka as part of the advancement “reveal yourself as a Cylon”).

Even going into it I knew there were some things I didn’t like. The Commander was an amalgam of the Commander and the XO. Once I make the XO playbook, I’ll take some things from the Commander and probably be much happier. There were other playbooks I was really delighted with, like he Opportunist and the President, as I felt they both really did what I wanted them to do.

That said, I’m not ready to release the playbooks publicly yet (because they still need more work), but I’ll be doing it soon.

Here’s what the game looked like put together (thanks Eric Ullman for the pictures)

Pitching the game.

Everyone at the table had a at least a passing familiarity with the show, which was helpful, and one player was familiar with Apocalypse World, which ended up being a challenge (see below). People were excited about playing and seemed to accept the “alternative universe options I presented them” happily. The one they picked was that Galatica was destroyed during the attack and their ship, the Battlestar Argonaut was the one to flee with the fleet.

Playbook selection when fast. I told them we needed either the Commander and/or the President played, but as soon as I opened it up, Antonio jumped on the Commander. Xander grabbed the engineer and David the pilot. Eric thought on it a bit and after some strong encouragement from me to take a civilian playbook (I thought the game would lose a lot of tension if the civilians weren’t recognized).

Character Creation

There was some real highs and lows here. It took a long time. Over an hour, which seems crazy with Apocalypse World, but I can think of at least a few reasons why.

  • I didn’t give people instructions of filling out the playbooks. I handed them to them and said “go”, without being considerate that ¾ of them hadn’t played AW before. I should have really gone through each part step by step.
  • There were a lot of choices. Playbook options, battlestar options, love letter options, etc. Just a lot of lists to go through.
  • The love letters were long, some of them a full page. I think that was too long a wall of text. I even wonder if they were necessary at all, given that in BSG there were rarely warnings of bad news, it just got sprung on the cast. Maybe starting a game with bad stuff already going on would work. More to think on that.

One thing that did really shine was the Hx. I’ve always felt Hx was slow, awkward and confusing. The language is confusing but even once you’ve understood it, the process is still a mess. I wanted to make things faster for character creation (clearly the only one place I thought about speeding things up) so I made all the Hx fixed and then allowed each character to change one of the fixed values to +3 and explain to that character why they cared about them. So, for instance, the Commander looks like this:


Everyone introduces their characters by name and playbook. List the other characters’ names and give them the following Hx:

CAG +2
Pilot +1
Engineer +1
President +2
Opportunist= 0
Visionary -1

For one person, scratch that out and write +3. Explain why care about them (I expect much from, I am in charge of, I set an example for, I don’t trust, I am in love with, etc).

That part not only make the Hx go quickly, it also meant the +3 relationships were highlighted, each person had a little story behind them. We got love affairs, love triangles and age old camaraderie out of the process, very happy there.

The Play is the Thing

I’m planning on running this game (more or less as is) again, so I’m not going to go into too many details, but suffice to say the two characters that revealed as Cylons really made the game for me. Not because they were Cylons per se, but because they kept the tension of the game riding right till the end.

Thoughts after the game.

I didn’t give the pilot of a lot of flying around time, which should be addressed. David suggested starting with a dog fight in media res which I may try next time (it wouldn’t change the story much at all), but I’ll need to be very considerate that doing so doesn’t leave the civilian characters twiddling thumbs.

Commander really needs to be split up into Commander and XO.

Using clocks was tough, although I liked having them there as a reminder, it ended up being just one more thing to keep track of. I like it in theory, and would definitely use in a long term game, but for a con I might get rid of it.

There were probably too many things going on. Between the threats in the love letters, and the crisis picked by the fleet, there were fires everywhere. And like you usually find in Apocalypse World, those fires just spread. Now, arguably we had a LOT of missed rolls in the beginning so I was trying to bring the hard moves quite often, but man, by the end, even after a victory, the fleet was a mess.

Many people (those who played and didn’t )said the game should be run again, so I’ll probably do it a few more times.