Actual Play – Conspire (5/29/2017)

Facilitator: Alex Jerabek
Players: Alex Jerabek, Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner, and a fourth player that I lost the name of (arg!)
System: Conspire

On our way out out of the con Karen and I did a pass through the dealers room and Alex was in there demoing games. He told me that Conspire was an RPG that you could play in 20 minutes and I was really curious what that would look like.

The format of the game (in short) is that you create a conspiratorial scenario and play out people trying to take advantage of the mystery and deception ever present. Also, while the characters are created communally, who is playing who, and what their final goals are or only known to certain people at the table.

Our setting was that of powerful lords who kept the peasants inline by keeping the monsters at bay and monster hunters that arrived, who promised to rid the people of the monsters once and for all. Of course there were no monsters, and just about everyone involved knew that, including the actual werewolf who didn’t want anyone to find them out!

We argued, established facts (using the in game currency) and generally speaking pointed all our fingers at each other. In the end each of us had met some, but not all of our secret goals. Good times, especially for how quick game setup and play is!

Actual Play – It’s a Wrap (5/28/2017)

Facilitator: Christopher Allen
Player: Sean Nittner
System: It’s a Wrap

A little bit of Archipelago, a little bit of Fiasco, a little bit of Microscope, and a little bit of Grave Robbers from Outer Space. And a little bit of a lot of other things. It’s a Wrap is Christopher game about making movies. You direct, you act, and you edit.

Actual Play – Finley and Hayden (5/28/2017)

Players: Karen Twelves, Amrit Khalsa, David Evans, and Sean Nittner
Facilitator: Karen Twelves
System: Finley and Hayden

Finley and Hayden are a couple– soulmates and bon vivants, fun people and the life of any party. Friends and lovers and occasionally legendary idiots.
They are also dead.
Lin was the perpetual third wheel, a good friend but also an up tight sad-sack and all around hapless failure at life. Lin isn’t dead but might as well be –
things are looking bleak in the job, family, romance, and luck departments.
Finley and Hayden have latched onto Lin like barnacles and they aren’t going anywhere. But haunting such a train wreck is no fun at all – so they have decided to fix Lin’s life as only a couple of ghosts can.

The Play is the Thing

The game is a really fun short larp for four people. Karen facilitated but mostly that meant playing a rotating role of minor characters and telling us how to start scenes. David and I played Finley and Hayden who were trying desperately to cheer up Amrit, who was the sad sack.

I was supposed to be the more mindful, less destructive ghost but David’s antics were too funny and I found I just wanted to cause trouble too.  Yay for silly little larps. Thanks to Karen for running it, and to Jason for sending us an early copy to play!

Actual Play – Doskvol Riots of 847 Playtest (5/27/2017)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Colin Fahrion, Alan Hodges, Jon Edwards, and Alex Miller
System: Blades in the Dark
Score: Doskvol Riots

Friends and I gathered around a table in the atrium at KublaCon to try out a little Blades. Though Alex hadn’t played before and Jon hadn’t seen the rules in many an edition, we were all really excited to play together. So excited in fact that we did a score, took a break, came back, did our downtime, and then another score to boot!

Doskvol Riots

This is my latest score and I’m excited about running it. The idea came from wondering why it is that Doskvol citizenry puts up with all the shit that rolls downhill onto them and deciding that sometimes they don’t. Some of that came from watching episode 17 of the Last Word where the crew incited the citizens to push back against the Bluecoats and the Spirit Wardens. And finally, there is a part of me that just wants to burn it all down right now, and this feels like a safer way that expressing that feeling, than say, kerosene.

Ryan Dunleavy’s beautiful map

Just before heading out to Kubla I was delighted because the canvas print I ordered of Ryan’s map of Doskvol arrived, and that meant I got to have this beauty out on the table during our game.

So pretty.

Ulf, Corro, and scoundrels inbetween

The score started with our scoundrels, who were in good with Ulf realizing that he was backing out of a deal with them because of pressure from the Hive, and in return he was getting a whole bunch of guns to help him take turf in Crows Foot.

Being the enterprising scoundrels they were the crew decided to knock over the Hive on their way to deliver the guns, slip away thanks to help from the Gondoliers (a flashback that ended up with them in debt to the Gondoliers and cutting them in on the action) and then selling them (or at least most of them) to Ulf at half the price the Hive would have charged. And thus a crew of weapons dealers was born!

In the process though, things changed. Their alliance with Ulf went from one of opportunity to one of idealology. Quillion who fought in the War for Skovlan Independence (aka The Unity War) decided that the war had never really ended, it just changed shape to be a battle on the streets of Doskvol. Ulf granted the crew turf (a tailors shop that he had taken over) and they made allies with the Gondoliers, but bitter enemies of the Hive.

Based on some inspiration I had talking with John about allowing the first session to be the forming of the crew, I was really excited that at the end of this we had crew type (Hawkers, a lair, some allies and enemies, a couple crew contacts, and could have launched into the next score. In fact, we were having such a good time that we did a second score!

What Rocked

I haven’t had a chance to game with my friend Alex in years. It was so much fun to be back at the table with him. In fact, every single person at that table were folks I hadn’t gamed with in some time and so it was a mighty fine reunion all around!

Jon’s character Quillion changed so much. Not only did his beliefs change but he was also beat up, arrested, and trauma’d out. And all of these things rolled up into each other. His trauma made him vicious. His arrest promoted his crew to bail him out. His gaping chest would gave him a vendetta against the Hive. (Note: His arrest wasn’t actually treated as Harm, I just though it would be fun to fill that space up for the pic. They had a lot of heat after the first score and when I rolled entanglements I got a 6 (even on 2 dice keep the lower) and since we had ended the first score with Quillion being chased down by Bluecoats and having just stressed out, he was the natural candidate)

We did some amazing reincorporation of NPCs throughout the whole game (something I wish I was better about doing in my weekly Blades game). When

What could have improved

The riots weren’t quite as front and center of the action as I was aiming for. Mostly they represented danger and opportunity (something Doskvol is ripe with anyway). Get to close to the riots and you’re bound to get hurt. Once you’re inside however, the area was effectively lawless as the Bluecoats weren’t really trying to end the riots so much as contain them to Crows Foot. That part worked, but there wasn’t a lot of meaningful interaction with rioters themselves. Food for thought for next time.



Actual Play – Vanguard (5/29/2016)

unknownarmiesGM: Todd Furler
Players: Myself and five other KublaCon attendees.
System: Unknown Armies

Two games with Todd in one weekend? Huzzah!

Game pitch

In 2046, Mars Station Courage became the first crewed station on Mars. Their original mission was to pave the way for human colonization. Their new mission: To survive. (This game was first run in 2005. I’m bringing it back in honor of the movie The Martian.)

What Rocked

As Todd said at the beginning of the game, Mars was really trying to kill us and we felt it in every moment of the game. Between concerns of supplies running out, parts malfunctioning, and radiation poisoning, we were all in a perpetual state of survival.

From Paul Tevis I got the term “Conservation of NPCs” which means always using an existing NPC when give the option. It prevents the GM from having to make more characters, but more importantly it builds on the existing relationships between characters. Well, Todd has done conservation of NPCs like nobodies business in this game. It make sense, you’re stuck on Mars, there aren’t many people to talk to, but still, he does it very well.

What could have improved

I wasn’t really sure what to do with my character (Fez) for much for much of the game. I talked to Todd about it at length and it doesn’t sound like that character was difficult for others to play so I think it was more a matter of my uncertainty or the player dynamic at the table. The other five players were having a blast though, I just couldn’t quite figure out how to engage with them.

Actual Play – From Linky to Linker (5/29/2015)

Dialect-flyerFacilitator: Hakan Seyalioglu (with observation from Kathryn Hymes)
Players: Devon Apple, Sean Nittner, and Liberty Frederick
System: Dialect

Dialect is a game about language and how it dies. Or, in my experience the stories that surround and form the language and watching them both come to an end.

This was a delightful game that turned out to be much more emotionally satisfying than I expected. I walked in thinking it would be more of a curious intellectual exercise than a roleplaying game, but I was wrong, it’s both, and that is really rad.

Of note, because we were playing in a three hour block, Hakan accelerated each of the three acts to we could make sure to complete the story. I didn’t feel like we missed out on anything, but if you played the game and are comparing notes, we had less words than you would in a full game.


Character and setting creation happened as part of one combined effort. We started with a prompt for an isolated community. In our case that community were Mars frontierspeople in 2046. 2000 people sent to Mars to prepare it for a colony ship that never came. Five years later they had become a society of their own. This was the story of those people, their language, and their end.

The setting is defined by aspects and problems (I believe one problem and n-1 aspects, where n is the number of players). As part of a new playtest, Hakan and Kathryn had created some sample aspects and asked us to use some of those as well as create others of our own. Here’s what we chose:

Aspect: We waste nothing – On a planet that is constantly trying to kill us, utilizing everything we could was the least we could do, and even that wouldn’t ensure our survival.

Aspect: Separated by necessity – Like truckers connected only by their shortwave radios, our isolation was spread all across Mars so that we could operate the extensive terraforming machines, however this meant that nearly all communication was done over the vids.

Aspect: Running from the Past – The kind of people that go to Mars for life are usually those who don’t want to stick around on Earth. The the old world was falling apart, it was still much safer than this red planet. We all had skeletons in our closets.

Problem: Emotional Desperation – The separation created a deep longing in the people of Mars. Vids and texts could not replace physical touch. Further, our stay here was precipitated by disaster as the communication array that allowed us to talk to earth had been destroyed in an explosion when we first began to colonize. We were all alone, even among ourselves.


The character creation process (and really every process from here out) required us to make use of the aspects and problem to define the salient issues at hand. If it went into our story it was related to one of these four elements. In the case of characters we picked two!

Demme Fern was a meteorologist who helped navigate necessary travel as well as preparation for the inevitable dust storms on the planet. Because he had to connect with so many people he had become the shoulder for people to lean on, to tell their sad stories to. He cared more about people than rules, an issue for Clove the security officer [Demme represented Separation by Necessity and Emotional Disparity]

Loretta was a trans woman who always felt out of place on earth. They came to Mars to get away from people but found they were lost without human contact. Though an engineer by trade Loretta signed up to be a supply transporter as it was the one role that allowed them to have physical contact with others. Because Loretta could supply goods, people came to them for personal effects and creature comforts. [Loretta represented Running from the Past and Separated by Necessity]

Nadine was our communications expert. Though comms with earth were crippled, she was the one that designed and maintained our short wave planetary transceivers. Nadine desperately wanted to come to Mars, so much so that she arranged “accidents” that crippled or killed the other, more qualified, applicants. In fact, when she arrived on Mars and knew that her crimes would eventually be uncovered on earth, she destroyed the communication array to earth. People came to Nadine for all technological needs as it were her skills that kept our existing tech working (I might have that wrong). [Nadine represented Running from the Past and We Waste Nothing].

Clove Burkshire, our security enforcer was the one trying to keep us all from descending into chaos. Clove monitored the communication, was constantly antagonized by Demme’s subtle but effective efforts to embolden people to seek out their own happiness, and generally thought everything would be fine if everyone just did exactly what he said. People came to Clove when justice needed to be enforced [Clove represented Running from the Past and Emotional Disparity].

2016-05-29 13.36.00Act I

With each player dealt a small hand of cards that had prompts on them like “death”, “bad open”, and “celebration”, we took turns doing the following:

  1. Associating a prompt with one of our aspects or problem.
  2. Telling a short story about how that prompt was connected to the story.
  3. Creating a new word or phrase based on that word.
  4. Framing a scene to two characters to play out where they have to use that word.

The words we made:

  • 5×5, 10 Point was initially a call and response handshake initiating that systems were good to go, but for us just became something we said when you part ways.
  • Linky, a person you spent time linked up to, especially so if the communication wasn’t officially authorized.
  • Staysix, a bad omen or reminder of unlucky times, from when Station Six, which housed our freon supplies was lost and because of it our personal quarters are often insufferably hot and humid.
  • Wearing my souls thin, an ironic phrase about the souls of shoes wearing out from heavy labor, but hardly every the case as few people walked, and when they did they were wearing space boots!

The story that unfolded around these words was that of Demme making it possible for Nadene and Loretta to connect, and for Clove to be infuriated by it.

2016-05-29 14.14.51Act II

In the second act a major event occurs which causes the language to evolve and change. We did a lot of the same steps as Act I but we also had the option to use our new cards (which had different kinds of prompts) to:

  • Change an existing word by giving it a new meaning.
  • Create  new character that was emblematic of a word (which we didn’t do, but we did eventually make a word based on Nadene, see below).
  • Do the things we did in Act I.

I our case, Nadene revealed that she was the one who destroyed the communication array, and from that we got:

  • Mars Food, the death sentence, as someone was interred into a recycling plant.
  • Linker, the pejorative derivation of Linky, used to describe people who break the laws governing authorized communications.
  • Frequency 82, the light at the end of the tunnel, which came from our discovery that there was a signal we could send to earth.
  • Touching Metal, the hyperbolic expression of “souls wearing thin”. Literally, I’ve been pushed as far as I can go.
  • Dean, to make a terrible mistake, or suffer horrible misfortune. Slang. Like “I really deaned this up.”

The stories that accompanied these words were a moment of hope from Demme as he believed that contact with earth might ameliorate Nadene’s sin, followed by the rest of us trying to hold our fragile world together and knowing we couldn’t.

2016-05-29 14.17.39Act III

In the third act we tell the story of the how the isolation dies and the language dies along with it. We did this by all nominating a scene that would show the end of our story, ordering the and then playing them out:

The earth colony ship, now aware that we survived, did arrive, and they stripped Clove of his authority before he could execute Nadene. Yeah, given that it would probably take years to get a ship from Earth to Mars, that probably didn’t make sense, but we went with it.

Lorraine and Nadene said their sorrowful goodbyes, interlocking fingers as they said 5×5, 10 point.

Clove, feeling betrayed by Demme got into a physical altercation with him that ended up compromising both of their EVA suits while outside and dying. Yep, toxic masculinity, FTW.

In the end we put cards into the center of the concentric shapes that resonated with us the most as a final farewell before the ship with 25,000 people descended and assimilated our community taking only what it needed and leaving our personal effects behind.


These are questions they asked each of the players along with my answers:

Your name: Sean Nittner

Notes about the game: See above 🙂

What is your impression of the game. Be brutally honest: I loved the experience. As I mentioned above I expected an intellectual exercise. This was so much more. Our game was a beautiful one and I was very compelled by our characters and their stories.

Areas I can see room for improvement:

  • The question “what function does your character serve in the isolation” seemed disconnected from everything else. It was one of the thing s we wrote on our table tent card so it’s presumably important, but it never comes up in game (unless someone makes a point of it) nor is it tied to the elements. Since you want the characters tied to two elements, it may work to tie their identity (transporter, security, meteorologist, etc) to one aspect or problem, and their function in the community (shoulder to lean on, provider of creature comforts, etc) to another one.
  • There are a lot of steps (most, but not all detailed above) and considering how many of them are collaborative I could see this taking quite a while to play out a full game. I’d look at either:
    • Giving individual players more autonomy when making certain word creation choices.
    • Restricting the scenes to one per player per act (as we did).
    • Using Fiasco and the Fiasco Companion as a reference for quickly framing and resolving scenes. Perhaps if you initiate it, the other person gets to close the scene, etc.

Did you enjoy defining new language? Did you feel like using the language was satisfying? I enjoyed our new language but wasn’t always sure we were doing what was intended. I didn’t know if we were creating words, idioms, or both. For instance Staysix was as word that had been formed by two other commonly associated words “Station Six” getting smashed together over time, but “Frequency 82” was just the two words which took on new meaning given their circumstances, and Souls Wearing Thin meant the same thing it would anywhere else, it was a just a phrase to show our exhaustion. Were those all the correct use of the mechanics? If not, how should it have looked. If so, perhaps clarify the kind of language that we might create with some examples or loose outline for both the facilitator and the players.

Were you satisfied with how much the story progressed? Very much so. I expected the scenes to be disparate excerpts forming a nonsensical potpourri of life on Mars. Instead he had single through line, with each scene following and building on the last. As the scenes progressed so did our character’s relationships, the timeline of the isolation, and our sense of impending doom.

What did you think about the conversations? As a whole I loved the little scenes, but I did notice a difference between some of them based on the way they were framed. The ones where we weren’t trying to accomplish anything felt much more natural. For instance, when we just decided that Nadene’s secret had come out and we were playing out the aftermath of it, I felt like we had a powerful change in the story and the characters. However, in the end when proscribed the outcomes of our last scenes before playing them out felt forced, like we were suddenly on a script and it required more acting out the part than playing to find out.

What were your rose and thorn of the game (favorite and least favorite parts)? Rose – definitely the requirement to tie everything (characters, words, stories, etc) to our aspects. It kept the story concentrated around our central issues rather than spinning off into tangents and it meant that the language we made reinforced those issues as well! Thorn – As noted above, I had some cognitive dissonance when we were making new words because a lot of them were idioms (“wearing my souls thin”) while some were customs that went from specific to broad (“5×5, 10 point”).  All of that made sense in the context of making new language, but I was getting a bit tripped up around the word “word”.

What other roleplaying games do you play? Lots. See for my play history through 2007.

May we acknowledge you as a playtester? Would you like to know when we release open testing / Kickstarter? Yes and yes.

Many thanks Hakan and Kathryn for sharing this beautiful game with us, and thanks to Devon and Liberty for going on the journey with me.

Epilogue: Strange Dreams

I was writing this report late into the night and then went directly to bed. I dreamed of an Orwellian future that controlled language by executing people that knew forbidden words. I wasn officer overseeing an execution and rather than feeling pity for the terminally sentenced man I felt a curiosity to know his secrets and a sorrow that they would be lost. Upsetting to the waking brain, but seemed normal in the dream.

I also saw X-Men: Apocalypse last night and had dreams of standing on a beach where the water was filled with giant timbers and debris that started flying over our heads. My first reaction was to pull out my phone and take pictures. To my credit, I did get some pretty sweet snaps!

So yeah, pretty impressionable dream brain I’ve got some times.


Actual Play – In a Handbasket (5/28/2016)

Unknown Armies 3rd EditionGM: Todd Furler
Players: Alexis George, George Duryea, Sean Nittner, Theresa Giannetti, Chris Ory, Badger McInnes, and another gentleman I didn’t catch the name of.
System: Unknown Armies, 3rd edition.

The Blurb

Kublacon has their event listing page down right now, so I took this from the Gen Con listing, which I assume is the same pitch:

For years, Police District 12 was largely peaceful. But recently, something has been turning the people against the cops. They’re up to something. They’re out to get you. You can feel it.

You’re damn right something has changed! There’s no respect any more! No god damned respect! – Daniel Leahy

The Play is the Thing

As usual I don’t want to give away spoilers for Todd’s games. If you read this and you’re excited about them, he’s running both this game and Vanguard at Gen Con and at Big Bad Con this year (shil shil shil). 

Some things I can say about the game though:

  • Leahy is just as much of a chauvinist jerk as Todd sells him as (he was my PC in the game).
  • The character backgrounds should be read carefully and quietly. I had something of a giggle when Theresa started reading some of her character’s background outloud and I think I saw a blood vessel burst in Todd’s brain. Great stuff, but let it come out in play. At least some (if not all) of the character have something you’re rewarded for revealing in game!
  • The pairings between three cops, a woman in lockup, and two bibliomancers is just great. Personally I got to terrorize my partner, antagonize the hell out of a detective, and generally be blissfully unaware of the bibliomancers who were up to all sorts of shenanigans.
  • Asking “what’s the worst that could happen?” is a delightfully terrible idea.

Some thoughts on 3rd Edtion

3rd edition does two things that were very notable to me. I’m sure there is more, but this is what stood out.

Identities instead of Skills

UA has always has a freeform skill design so that you can make a skill like “tractor racing” or “xenomorphic rhetoric” and be all set. It does put some onus on the person creating the skill to define how it works but that free form design is much of what makes each game or setting unique. Todd has been famous for using this model to really give you a feel for your character. For instance, in the Vanguard game (which he ran with an earlier edition) my character had a skill called “Pop you one”, and another that all the of the Astronauts had called “The Right Stuff”.

Identities take this a bit further and give the character two (possibly more) defining characteristics that covered a penumbra of effects. For instance, my character had and these identities

  • Because I am a beat cop, of course I can – fix your parking ticket, reasonably request entry into most places, find my way around town.
  • Because I am an alpha male, of course I can – take control of a situation, break up a bar fight,  chat up a girl.

Each identity also had abilities you could use it to substitute for and features, or special uses of it. For instance the alpha male ability could terrify someone enough that it would induce a stress check against violence.

This isn’t novel but I do think the format works very well for Unknown Armies. You’ve got a statement that looks a lot like a stunt from Fate Accelerated and then you’ve got a range of effects that explain the general by way of the specific. Feels like a mash up of Fate and Dogs in the Vineyard with just enough crunch to satisfy the gamist and just enough leeway to make a narativist happy too.

2016-05-28 15.14.34

When an identity didn’t apply, you could roll one of the 10 base abilities (heath, dodge, status, etc) but that gets into…

The way stress checks work

This feels like it needs some work still. I’m not sure if it will get it, but wow, was there a lot of confusion in the game, and I can imagine a lot of confusion happening at a lot of tables.

Okay, here’s the short primer.

See all those dots (most of them not filled out) with the row headers of Helplessness, Isolation, etc? Each of those rows governs how well you do at using two abilities as well as resisting a certain flavor of stress. So let’s break that down by way of example by looking at the last line on my sheet Violence (vs. isolation). Here are four things you can gleen from that row:

  1. When rolling the “up” ability (Connect in this case), you find the rightmost filled in dot (in my case the 3rd dot) and go look at the percent values along the top of the matrix. In this case that is a 50. Which means if Daniel tries to connect with someone one and has to roll, he’s trying to beat a 50%.
  2. When rolling the “down” ability (Struggle in this case), you find the rightmost filled in dot (which will be the same as the “up” ability, so 3rd again here) and look at the percent values along the bottom of the matrix. In this case, Daniel has a 30% in his struggle ability.
  3. When faced with a stressful situation (i.e. one that requires a stress check) you look at the “vs.” value. So, if Daniel needed to make a stress check vs. Isolation, this is is the row I would look at. Like the “up” skill, you follow to the rightmost filled in dot, and use the value at the top of the matrix. In this case Daniel has a 50% chance to succeed at a stress check vs. Isolation. And here’s where it’s easy to get mixed up. You don’t roll violence to resist against a Violence stress check (that’s Helplessness above). This has several very intentional effects. It means, in this case, as Daniel becomes more hardened against violence, he becomes worse at resisting stress caused by isolation, but not worse at resisting stress caused by violence. He also becomes better at the “down” ability, which in this case is struggle, and worse at the “up” ability connect. It’s an elegant concept but the user experience trying to navigate all of that is a challenging one.
  4. Already explained some but when you succeed at a stress check, you mark the leftmost unfilled circle in the category that you were resisting, which is isn’t the one you were rolling. So for instance. If Daniel makes a stress check against isolation (currently rolling at a 50 or lower) and succeeds, he would be rolling based on Violence, but he’d fill in the hardened dot for Isolation (the 2nd row). Extrapolating a bit, you can see that Daniel has a few hardened dots filled in on the Violence row, which means he succeeded on a few stress checks using Helplessness (the first row). Similarly if you fail, you also check the failure boxes on the column that you failed test in. You can see Daniel already has one box checked in Helplessness, which means he failed a roll in on the Isolation (vs. helpessness) row.

Here’s my thoughts on all this:

It’s confusing. Even as I write this up, I find I have to keep referencing the sheet to make sure I’m using the right terms and not mixing up row for the row that you roll versus. What’s even tricker is that the roll you row isn’t the row you mark hardened dots or failure boxes in either. I found it easiest to think of it as a game or Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock. Each ability has another ability that it trumps (or in this case rolls vs.). I still think this could have been made more clear though if the layout was circular in design rather than rows like War of Ashes or even more directly like they did in Big Bang Theory.

Opposing Abilities

Also when I map it out like this I noticed that we don’t have fiver interlocking rows. We have two sets of interlocking rows. Unnatural and Self are totally cut off from Helplessness, Isolation, and Violence. So, we don’t even have the opportunity to create a grid like this without changing one of those. Blerg.

The other issue I have is that I feel like failed checks just got left out of the new design. They are still there, just like they were in previous editions, but both graphically and mechanically they look like vestigial remains of a bygone edition. The don’t do anything to the characters (except act as an abstract sanity hit point system) and they don’t fit in the design.  I’m not sure how they should be integrated, but right now it just feels like they were left over and nobody knew what to do with them, even going so far as to unfortunately mark the section “stupid weak failure” on the sheet.

What Rocked

Okay, back to the actual game at hand!

Theresa came from a dungeon crawling background (maybe even one that involved giant flying reptiles) and had never played a game like unknown armies before. It was like Christmas for me watching her read her character sheet and then play in this very different game. I do not denigrate the crawl, but I do love it when folks try out something new!

Our bibliomancers were just awesome. Reading case files right out of Ursula K. Le Guin novels, turning cheap halloween costumes into completely authentic disguises, and otherwise doing magic that was perfectly flavored to both the setting and our game in particular. I thought it was even cooler when things didn’t go well for them and the kid gloves came off!

As mentioned above, I had a lot of fun being the worst cop ever for most of the game. I also got to feel a personal sense of redemption that by the end of the game I not only went out on my own terms, but I never shot anyone (which is more than I can say for my fellow officers!). Most of this however was due to the wonderful roleplaying chops of my two foils Tom (played by George) and Jim (played by Chris).

Some of the twists in the game were just heart wrenching. Like, yeah all sorts of badness of course, but there were some moments of personal pain that, augh… so good.

What could have improved

I think there is a fear of short circuiting the game, ending it too soon, or not playing “right” that can prevent people from diving into something 100%, and worse that causes one character to try and stop another from doing something foolish. It’s totally natural, in life we do it all the time. Of course you don’t leave your hand on the hot plate, you pull it away. But in games, you have a chance to find out what happens if you don’t. All I’m saying is follow Winston’s advice, if someone asks if you are a god, you say, “yes!”

This was a good for me, bad for others scenario. The game was scheduled online for 3PM, but in most of the printed materials at 6PM (both of which were in the same time slot, so it could legitimately have been either). It was also moved to another location, and the White Wolf game that was running in the new location had also moved to another room. All of this without any total confirmation about what was supposed to be when and where (different sources saying different things). The end result was we had a lot of people showing up for a different game, we had a lot of people showing up for this game, but three hours after it started, and the game we actually played was more full of crashers (myself included) than it was folks who were signed up to play in it (most of them arriving just before 6pm). That didn’t affect the game experience much, but it did make for some disappointed folks. A hiccup in the system.

As mentioned pretty exhaustively above, I do like a lot of what was done in 3rd edition, but the advancement in elegance game at the cost of clarity. I doubt much can be done about that now, but if it there is a chance to change the character sheets before the book is printed, I’d encourage it.

Actual Play – Sour Beer (5/25/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: June Garcia, Morgan Hua, and Brian Williams
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Under the House of the Three Squires

Not having anything else on my schedule I ran an impromptu game of Torchbearer. It took us a little while to find a group, and then a little while to find a space, so once we got rolling there was only about two hours to play… but man how much we got done!

To House or not to House

At the last moment I was faced with a conundrum. Run Stone Dragon Mountain, which only exists right now as a series of notes for wandering monsters, a google doc with half the locations, and a pinterest board with art ideas. Or run House under the Three Squires.

Unsure of myself I folded and ran the House. We had little time and I wanted to get the best out of it. In retrospect, I should just be flinging Stone Dragon at anyone that will play it from now on until I have it fully developed and tested.

Character Selection

It’s worth noting that the iconic characters are not all individually prepared for adventure. For example between Taika, Ulrik, and Gerald, none of them have a tinderbox. Hmm. We realized this after the first turn when someone wanted to light a torch. Fun times. Taika had an open slot in her pack so I gave her the option of having a tinderbox in it, but after that they were pretty much on their own.

It seem like a GM with new players serves the game well to tell everyone that they should have a source of light, a source of food, and perhaps a tool or spell component in their pack. For more experienced players though, let them be figure it out.

The players selected Taika, Ulrik, and Gerald. After the adventure introduction each of them chose goals and then gave a little snippet of their character’s description. For Taika and Gerald we go a look at their raiment. Ulrik, we saw a flashback of him giving last rights to a man, then pilfering the coin purse of the dead man’s body.

Adventuring – Turn by Turn

Instinct – After inspecting the wreckage in the house, Taika identified the scales as belonging to kobolds [Ob 2 Hunter. Success]. With this knowledge in hand she strode forward confident she was prepared…

Turn 1 – …but not expecting the first set of stairs she walked down to collapse on her. With the help form Ulrik who was holding the torch behind her, she leapt back to safety [Ob 2 Health. Success]

Turn 2 – Sturdy rope in hand, Gerald quickly started tying knots and loops in it to make a rope ladder. He secured it to a rafter in the building and they safely descended [Ob 3 Weaver. Success].

Turn 3 – Below, seeing the rubble stacked in on corner and hearing a whining noise behind hit, Gerald quickly set to uncovering the what ever was under (or in this case behind) the stack of debris. His friends helped but it was tiresome work, made worse by the increasingly loud whining and pawing sounds. [Ob 1 Laborer. Failure. Condition: Exhausted for Gerald, Hungry and Thirsty for the others]

Finding the emaciated Pomeranian in the wine cellar was no threat, they opted to make camp in the larger cellar and try to recover from their weariness.

Camp Phase

Events – Lucky Break! One of the patron of the in had died during the skirmish and his body had been propped against the door as well under the debris. Upon moving them, Ulkrik found the man had a scroll with a Blessing of the Lords of Light and Darkness on it. Wow!

Instinct – Before doing much of anything else Gerald set about making food for his compatriots. He cooked up a lovely meal [Cooing Ob 2 [3 from exhausted] Success, after using a Of Course! with Needs a little Salt-wise] and everyone ate, including the dog.

Check – Taika took some of the wood from the collapsed stairwell and fixtures and scraps off cloth off the dead man to assemble a few more sturdy torches [Survivalist Ob 2. Success]

Check – After a good meal, Gerald found himself a comfy spot in the corner to rub his feed and rest his weary head. [Health Ob 3 to remove Exhausted. Success].

Adventure Phase

Though fed and no longer hostile to the adventures the small dog now had the energy to go find his master. He tried to go through the cellar door but it was closed and the adventures weren’t going going to open it for him.

Turn 1 – Inspecting the wine cellar, Ulrik realized there were four in tact casks of the famed Three Squires Sour Beer. He proposed to haul all four back up to the surface and take them back to Skogenby to sell! Carrying them up the rope ladder though was a challenge (Laborer Ob 2. Fail. Twist). As they toiled they didn’t realize the dog had gotten the attention of a kobold patrol. While they were all in the wine celar, the kobolds snuck in, slammed the door shut and and knocked the pile of furniture and debris back down in front of he door. Snickering to themselves, they were eventually chased off by the loud barking of the dog.

Turn 2– Inside the cellar, Ulrik was not deterred. With a hammer and spikes he started disassembling the door jam so the entire door could come through it. Though unskilled in such matter’s it’s easier to take things appart than it is to put them together, especially when the promise of gold and freedom is on the other side. With aid of his companions Ulrik cleared the path (Carpenter Ob 2. Success)!

Turn 3 – Though the brigands talked of eating the dog, it was all skin and bones. Eventually Taika decided to tame the wild beast by offering it a bit more food and some kindness. The others joined, trying to scratch it and say kind words. It worked, but god was the little dog stubborn, it just wanted it’s master. By the time they called it their own, all of them were reconsidering eating it! (Hunter Ob 2. Fail. Condition: Angry). Taika named the pooch after the inn’s namesake drink: Sour Beer.

Kegs in hand, the set out for Skogenby!

Town Phase

When they arrived in town a dance was being held in the center of Skokenby in celebration of a good harvest. All who joined had their spirits uplifted by the revelry (Remove Angry).

In the Market, Taika traded three of the kegs and bought herself a bow! (Ob 3 Resources Text. Success)

We wrapped there as we were out of time, and didn’t have time to do lifestyle costs, but had they succeeded (they had no conditions to recover or taxed nature) they may very well have walked out of Skogenby Fresh! (Shudder the thought).

Thoughts on this game

By the Hands of the Lords of Entropy this group was lucky! Rolling not only a lucky break on the camp and on the town, but also getting just what they needed at every turn. Some of this was due to me starting them off with 1 Fate and 1 Persona at the start of the game, but their rolls (and my rolls for that matter) were also on fire!

I should have required a Pathfinder check to get back to town as well as doing the Artha award but we were cutting it too close on time (Morgan had to be in another game) so I just thanked them all and send them off to plunder other’s tombs.

Morgan was a good sport in the game, and played Ulrik really well, but the game was too crunchy for him (more details here, scroll to the bottom). I’m still working on putting the fiction first and not saying “okay, two turns have passed, your torch is out” but rather saying “After lighting your way while the rope ladder was made and descending safely, your torch burns down to it’s embers”. I think that will go a long way towards the players not feeling like there is so much crunch to the game.

First time the dog has been named. I loved it! Sour Beer FTW.

Next time I run it’s Stone Dragon Mountain. It’s happening!

Actual Play – The Harvesters (5/25/2014)

unknownarmiesGM: Todd Furler
Players: Shawn Endresen, Tracy Pinkleton, Chris Vincenti, Jessie Stavely, Chad Lynch, Sean Nittner, and William Lee.
System: Unknown Armies

I was very excited to play in another of Todd’s games. Karen had played in it on Friday and enjoyed it quite a bit, plus I had just been recording an episode of Narrative Control with Todd about game prep, so I was extra enthusiastic to see what he brought to the con.

Two things gave me pause though. The first is that Todd started the game with a disclaimer that their would be depictions of torture in the game, though he did keep his promise to only leave them “on screen” as long as they needed to be to drive the point home. The second concern was gaming with my ex-wife and two of her close friends (who are also friends of mine, but since the divorce we haven’t seen each other often). Both of these ended up working out fine. The torture was never gratuitously graphic and Jessie and I, though we didn’t interact much in game, played together just fine.

Game Description

Yesterday, you were just a regular member of the working throng. Today, you have to kill or be killed. This is a dark tale of psychological terror & body horror for mature players.

Places you can still play The Harvesters

August 2014

GenCon – Friday 12PM –

GenCon –  Friday 6PM –

November 2014


The play is the thing

Some of Todd’s games make you wonder “why?”, some of them make you question beliefs, some of them evoke sadness. The harvesters was a demonstration is helplessness. Of course we weren’t, not completely, but there were long periods in the game where all of us looked to each other with absolutely no idea what to do…and predictable things came from that. We turned on each other (in lieu of someone we face that deserved the blame) and we started asking ourselves questions like just how awful of things would we do in order to regain our safety an autonomy.

For every other detail in the game, I can only recommend that you play it yourself. And if you do, be nice to Julie. Her boyfriend has really put a number on her.

Thoughts on the Game

Unsurprisingly the game lived up to my expectation of excellence in Todd’s games (no pressure here Todd). It’s also one that engaged more of the UA mythos than I’ve been able to recognize in the past (though that could just be because I’m not familiar with the parts of the setting he’s used in the past). That was a little bit exciting when, after the game I realized, oh yeah, I know what that is!

Todd also employed an unreliable narrator during certain parts of the game. Namely what was on screen wasn’t the whole story, until it was seen again. That was a neat trick that helped make a reveal without us feeling like we had been “duped” for not getting something in the past.

Todd’s characters, even the powerful ones, are all painfully human. They just want what everyone else wants. Safety and security for them and the ones they love. That is hard to fight without becoming a monster yourself.

We “lost” the adventure in some sense of the word, but it really didn’t feel like “winning” would have been any better. It was disturbing, mournful, and creepy. Awesome.

Actual Play – Destiny of the Sands, Part 2: Race to Seeker’s Folly (5/24/2014)

PathfinderCoreCoverGM: PFS GM
Characters: Murder Hobos for Hire
System: Pathfinder
Module: Destiny of the Sands, Part 2: Race to Seeker’s Folly

This post continues from the discussion started in Confirmation and Master of the Fallen Fortress.

Game three, in which I lost faith

My third and final game felt like it was the exact same experience I had from 11 years ago. The players were experienced (2nd-5th level characters so they had played at least 3-15 games in the past, but probably many more) and invested primarily in their own characters.

In a couple cases, I was got upset at the bullshit happening at the table. There were gratuitous descriptions of consuming everything we killed including just foul depictions of the undead “meat”. When I finally protested at cannibalism (for which there was absolutely no need for, food was never an issue) the GM turned to me and asked if I was a vegetarian. When I said no he didn’t understand the difference between eating meat and eating human remains. I was flabbergasted.  I spent pretty much the rest of the game feeling frustrated with my fellow players and GM.

The module itself had some interesting elements and three potentially cool social encounters. One with a bound elemental, another with a spirit, and the last one with a group of other not-so-like-minded grave robbers. In play though, each of them was kind of a call and response situation. We had to figure out the right thing to say before we accidentally said or did the wrong thing. Success meant going about our lives peacefully and or gaining information, I presume failure would have meant (it didn’t happen so I’m not sure) being attacked. It cements the idea that the worst thing that could happen to us would be to lose our characters.

Thoughts on this Game

I’m so frustrated. I want to like Pathfinder Society, but the more experienced the player at the table, the more I felt they were there to do awesome things with their character instead of play a game with six other people.

When I asked the table if anyone plays non-PFS games at the con there was no response. Weird really, maybe they didn’t hear me. I didn’t want to push it.

Later in the con I had the time available to sign up for a 4th game. I would be 2nd level with a +1 Base Attack Bonus and another spell! But that all felt pretty hollow, like I’d just be showing off.

Unrelated to my game experience, one thing I really do love about the PFS modules is how much they call for knowledge checks. I gives the wizards and the bards a lot of opportunities to be awesome.

I won another boon in this game. A Moment of Glory. I was excited at the time (start of the game) but feel a little bad now that someone else didn’t get it.  PFS players, are these transferable (it doesn’t have any society numbers written on it)? If so, I’d be happy to donate to the cause.