Actual Play – The Witnesses (3/10/2018)

MC: Jeremy Tidwell
Players: April Walsh, Sean Nittner, Michael Roy, Krin Irvine, and Venn Wylde.
System: Companions

It’s been a while since I’ve played Companions and a lot has changed since then. The playbooks got an overhaul (see the pictures below) and The Witness was created. A new playbook with a Companion who only me the Doctor the day before she died, so they know nothing of the who-verse. A perfect playbook for someone who has seen one and a half episode of the show (i.e. the person with two thumbs writing this AP report).

Because we had multiple witnesses the game started with some confusion what just happened, who was with the Doctor when she died, and how long it had been since. However, once we got rolling, the relationships between the characters unfolded in really rewarding ways. In part this was because of emotional keys (more on that later) and in part it was because some of the inherent mistrust and messy relationship triangles we kicked off in the beginning.

Two relationships in particular stood out

Olympia and Ice – Olympia was a combination of the mechanical parts of a Dalek but had the organic core of a new entity created (?) by the Doctor. Ice was a Time Agent that assumed Daleks were all hate-filled monsters bent on exterminating all other life forms. Exterminate!

Sophia and Ice – Sophia (my character) was inspired largely by Mrs. Maisel, a woman from New Jersey in the 1950s that was excited to be along for the ride on this wild time romp. She thought that a little spit shine, some ingenuity, and plenty of chutzpah would get her and her newfound friends through anything. She was both curious about and utterly unphased by the new worlds and people she encountered, mostly because she though the Doctor was still coming back and could make everything that went wrong, right again. Ice had been the agent that saved her and allowed her to believe this comfortable fiction.

And then Death happened

Both of these relationships changes substantially with both Olympia and Sophie died.

Olympia died tried to protect all.

Sophia died because she thought she was invincible.

They both came back because of the resurrection field.

The end result was Ice feeling tremendous guilt for doubting Olympia and finally accepting it as one of the Companions. The other result was Sophia realizing this was all for real and blaming Ice for not telling her what she was getting into! I changed my emotional keys from Curiosity and Trust to Curiosity and Anger, and the immediately took XP for that anger when I lashed out at Ice. And April took XP for Ice, for her Guilt key!

The making of a cast

While not all the relationships pivoted so strongly, this game definitely had the makings of a good pilot episode. The Witness was discovered (Venn’s Witness went full spooky/prodigy), Sophia started training as an Agent, and Olympia was accepted into the group.  Krin’s character Steele, as part of playing the Touchstone playbook, was focused very much on romantic relationships. Though something started sparking immediately between them and Sophia, the planet being filled with children and robots didn’t leave any opportunities for romance with NPCs though.

Playtest feedback

As a player that ins’t familiar with Dr. Who, the Witness was a great playbook, as it allowed me to play without the restraints of cannon (either needing to know about it, or trying to adhere to it). The conversations happening at the table however, still left me in the dust. This is a cost of playing inside an existing setting though, and I think it’s great to have some measure of on-ramp to it. Having multiple Witnesses in the game is a little trickier (who has that Sonic Screwdriver?) but we made it work.

We had some suggestions for making the romance moves a bit more queer in play. Specifically, not limiting the playbooks to having a single person they can be made with.

Emotional keys are super hot and the triggers for when the change are also fantastic. As drivers for how to play your character, I’ve been a fan of keys for a long time and I think they serve Companions really well.

Some playbooks are less well suited to certain scenarios because their moves center around fictional triggers that are unlikely to show up.

I’m still invested in the idea of an original setting about time travelers and feelings but I know that would require a vast amount of work and may not be the game Jeremy wants to make!



Actual Play – For the Queen (3/10/2018)

Facilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Andy Munich, Cate Hirschbiel, and Paul Beakley
System: For the Queen

I wasn’t planning on playing anything in the morning, but there we were, sitting around the table, gushing about For the Queen, and when I texted Alex and asked if I could run it, she said she’d be there in 30 minutes with the deck!

The land you live in has been at war for as long as any of you have been alive.
The Queen has decided to set off on a long and perilous journey to forge an alliance with a distant power.
She has chosen you, and only you, to serve as her retinue, and accompany her on this journey.
She chose you because she knows that you love her.

Our queen was beautiful and terrible. We were her interrogator, the one she let free, her canary, and her bodyguard. All of us but her guard fell to protect her. By the end despite his love, he could not stand by her side. So amazing!

Actual Play – Love Each Other (3/9/2018)

Facilitator: Venn Wylde
Players: April Walsh, Sean Nittner, Tomer Gurantz and Nadja Otikor
System: Love Each Other

We played a playtest game of Love Each Other,  a procedural RPG that asks the question at the end, if a community can form in the spaces between concurrent apocalypses and in spite of still pervasive social norms.

Through the process of play we first identified the global sources of scarcity, the locations of our scenes and their aspects, the people in our world, the genders they identified with, and the scenes between them. In the end this culminated in a final determination to see if a society could be formed by giving each character a choice to sacrifice themselves, flee, or face the central aspect that defined them.

Love each other is built on a tech tree. From a visual and procedural perspective the game builds upon itself in a way reminiscent of minecraft. Small building blocks that add up to bigger things. One option unlocking others, with the ability to both broaden the world (by adding new people and places to it) and deepen it (by asking and answering questions about them, or by playing out scenes with them).

I had lots and lots of thoughts on this game, as a player (my personal tastes), as a playtester (mechanics I felt need work), and as a publisher (looking at it from the prospective of a retail product). So rather than my normal “here’s what happened” I’m going to do a breakdown of the game itself from those three perspectives and note the areas where they aren’t always in alignment. I’ll break them down into Roses and Thorns (areas that were rewarding for me and areas that didn’t work as well for me).

Player Perspective

This is just Sean as a player of games. It’s based on my personal preferences and are measured by the fun I had at the table and the emotional impact I felt playing the game.


I love development of tech in games. By giving a path for creating things, I become invested in their narrative significance. This game felt a lot like Roller Coaster Tycoon (one of the few games of that genre that I’ve played) in that you could make a world and then see how the things operated inside it. Each card played revealed the new tech under it, and when enough cards from one category were played, new categories opened up (for instance, once you have made two characters, you can have a scene between then).

The physical artifact of play was also rewarding. We could look at the table at any time and see what was going on, as well as what options were out there. I have other publishing thoughts on this below. As a payer I enjoyed the pageantry on the table.

As a cishet white man, I specifically appreciate the procedure that deconstructs queer narratives and teaches you how to tell them. This, in many way acted like training wheels for telling queer stories. Some of those themes (like enduring oppression and scarcity) I was familiar with and some of them (like defining gender) I hadn’t done before. Neverthless, like playing Dialect, I felt I had both created a thing, and learned from that creation.

Some of the meta/safety tools used in the game were familiar to me. There was a new one though that really liked. It’s like the “more of that” card in Archipelago, which is lightly tapping your fingers on the table to show you’re excited about what’s happening and you want to see more of it. I think it’s great to have that signal in game and I’m totally using that in games I facilitate in the future!


The procedural aspects were tricky to keep track of. In part because each new process had it’s own procedure, and in part because there is only one of any given card (so therefore, only one or two people can easily read it at any given time). Since there are so many cards, I think it would be counterproductive to have multiple copies of them, still I found myself often having to ask what the procedure was again.

The turn based nature of the game was a little rough for me. Because the turns tended to be long (when I noticed this I timed two of them, which were 10 minutes and 8 minutes respectively) that means a lot of time where one person is talking and the rest of the table is listening. I was working hard to stay engaged and at some points I felt myself fading. Tea helped out as did having scenes with other players!

Potentially specific to this game (i.e. I’m not sure another session would have the same results) there were two elements of the game that I saw and understood but didn’t feel the impact of:

  1. The apocalypse (both present and coming) are described as world-wide threats however the global impact of them rarely came up. Instead we had localized interpretations of those which were the actual threats in our game. For instance our existing horror was global warming, which manifested as water levels rising and making very few areas inhabitable. It also meant for all sorts of toxic sea life as chemical spills went untreated and poisoned the creatures below. The oncoming apocalypse was grey goo that dissolved everything, and this one was much harder to link to directly. Early on introduced a black mold that had come up out of the water and the people who inhaled the spores were getting sick and dying. The allusion I was making was that their bodies did more that die, they dissolved and so we loosely connected those two threats, however it was a lot of heavy lifting on the players parts to link those things up.
  2. The scarcity presented with each location was worded in a very specific way that felt evocative, but not concrete. For instance Bly’s Hall was one the last places you could get warmth, the Chevron Skeleton was the last place to find food, and Hodge was the last place to find safety. We referred back to these scarcities frequently and did try to weave them into the scenes, but I never felt like our characters were struggling to find warmth, food, or safety. We’ll maybe safety, but I think in any game that is likely to be a scarcity. So we rarely talked about people getting sick, starving, being captured, etc, and I think those things would have impacted our characters had their been a visible mechanic enforcing their absence.

Playtester Perspective

This is angled specifically at what parts of play felt like they were running smoothly vs. areas where there was confusion or I felt challenged engaging.


Because the game is so procedural, whenever I ran into a question of “how does this work” or “what can I do next”, I could look at a card with directions. I don’t playtest games to try and break them, but I do like knowing that I’ve explored the options intended and the tech tree (as I’m calling it) was very helpful in that.

I’m not sure if this would be reproduced in the second playing of the game, but the feeling of “unlocking” new options and specifically getting to read them and start picturing how they might unfold was great.  We had moments like “ooh, you can now have ‘Isolation’ as part of your game” which sounds macabre but in the game it made sense and helped us tell the story of these folks in this place.


First, one I think will be easy to address. The create genders section of the game needed just one more example or step of guidance to help me along. Specifically, the instruction is for everyone to write some queer genders on index cards that we’d put in a pile, starting with “agender” which always goes in. Based on that example I was thinking of queer genders that I was familiar with and started with non-binary and was about to write trans woman. When Princess and Pooka were added to the pile, both defined at the table, and I realized that my gender contribution was a bit pedestrian and wasn’t sure if I should be stretching a bit further. For me the procedure would have benefited from a step that said to create and define new genders, to use existing queer genders, or to permission to do both.

Mid Scene resolution sounded like a good idea before we started the scenes but in the moment it felt jarring and I had trouble getting back into the scene after the discussion. Specifically during a scene (which always have something they are driving towards like intimacy, support, etc) as the scene progresses, at some point when the players feel like the characters may have made a connection we pause the scene to discussion who was seeking the scenes objective and if they made a connection. we assign love and fear dice accordingly and then act out the scene. The mechanical ramifications (love and fear) both worked really well for me, but the mid-scene break deflated all the emotional energy that had been building up during the scene. When we came back I was always stumbling to recapture it.

The gamer part of my brain found the “optimal” play style a bit too obvious. We should, as the name of the game indicates, love each other. So during scenes, I felt a tug between acting as I think a character might and acting as I thought I should be for the benefit of the table / game results, etc. More on this in the conclusion below.

Publisher Perspective

This is me thinking as a publisher that would want to put this on shelves, know how to market it, etc. I’m trying not to come specifically from a Evil Hat perspective, but I’m sure some of that is in there.


A very cool part of this game is that it can be played asynchronously. Because all of the creative contributions made (locations, characters, the results of scenes) are recorded on the table, a player can add more things to the game (answering questions about existing aspects, building out new locations and characters, etc) on their own. We didn’t actually do this during the game, but I could see how this would have a lot of appeal for long running games where players could made contributions between sessions. Also, I think it would suit play-by-post or play-by-forum games very well, as some players have more time to invest in the game and the could use that time to create more content.

There are some very smart choices in questions on the cards. Specifically choices that causes us to change our expectations. For instance when you define an antagonistic group, you’re reminded that they are still human and have to define a moment where they made a sacrifice to help you. Similarly when you create a group in need, you’re reminded that they also have their faults and are asked how they’ve hurt you. This breaks up a lot of stale caricatures that otherwise might be formed unintentionally.

I’m a big fan of the tableau of characters that are picked up and played as needed for the scene. Breaking down direct attachment between player and character can challenge investment (sometime we see the game through the avatar of our characters) but I think think the overall and longer term effect is to grow investment into the group as a whole and their predicament vs. investing heavily in your own character.


As I mentioned in the player experience the length of turns was long by RPG standards, and because contribution from other players wasn’t always an option (especially before there were scenes), it might be 30 minutes between one player taking a turn or being actively involved. This was particularly noticeable because one of the players was never in a scene, so in four hours of game play, she didn’t get a chance to embody any of the characters we created.

While I personally enjoy the tech tree a lot, I also know that there are a lot of players who just want to “play the game” and would feel like everything building up to scenes was character and setting creation rather than play. The Quiet Year has a similar play format and I think Avery addressed those expectations by calling it a map making game rather than role playing game. Love each other might need an analogous description to prepare folks for the play of the game.

There was an ongoing uncertainty during the game of who “we” were. Love Each Other explicitly asks the question about whether or not we can form a queer community in a hostile world. So at the end of the game, we might be able to call ourselves a community, but during the game it was really hard to pin that down. Frequently we used the word “we” to describe people in the Big Pink or the Hodge (two of our locations), but those locations represented places where there had been communities that were no more. We also referred to “we” a the characters we had created on the table, but they weren’t a community yet. It’s a tricky thing to describe something in transition and I wanted some language to use to hold that idea in our minds so we (as players) were clear about who we were talking about.



I think Love Each Other exists in a liminal space between roleplaying and cultural anthropology. The procedure is comprehensive and allows us to create a simulation model and then watch now the pieces inside of it move. However, because accumulating love is a choice and it leads to a positive outcome, I feel like there is a tension between playing the game optimally and playing it to find out. The gamer inside us may strive to pick the best outcomes and “win” while the anthropologist will veer towards exploration and discovery. Like Dialect which bridges gaming and linguistics, I think Love Each Other has a long road to bridge to different fields.



Actual Play – The Queen’s Receipts (3/8/2018)

Facilitator: Alex Roberts
Players: Tomer Gurantz, Erik Bell, Nadja Otikor, Andy Munich, and Sean Nittner
System: For the Queen

“Unnamed Game Playtest” was the billing. By the end of the game we were using the name “Atrocity: The Queen’s Receipts”. By the end of the weekend (thanks to Stras) were were calling it “For the Queen”. I hope that name sticks!

For the Queen

Here’s how the game opens:

The land you live in has been at war for as long as any of you have been alive.
The Queen has decided to set off on a long and perilous journey to forge an alliance with a distant power.
She has chosen you, and only you, to serve as her retinue, and accompany her on this journey.
She chose you because she knows that you love her.

That’s all you know when you start the game, but as you play, question by question you define the Queen, and your relationship to her. Unwittingly you craft a story of being her banner-person, her cook, her servant, her adviser, and her body double. You find that she’s shown you great kindness, staying your execution, and great wrath, forcing you to sacrifice yourself for her, over and over again.

Our queen cared greatly for her people, so greatly that she closed the gates and let countless die of a plague so she could save the ones inside the keep. We were loyal to her unto death, so loyal that we set her up to be ambushed, in the last moment we could not carry through with the plan and fell to protect her. We loved her and yet in ways we could not forgive her. She showed us beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty.

Our characters started as archetypes but through the questions they all became more and more complex. Each question re-contextualizing the answer to the last. The Queen and our relationships with her developed with each answer as well.

Just look at this retinue, ready to serve!

What Rocked

The Game.

The People.

The Questions.

The Answers.

I’m serious here. You’re not going to know what I’m talking about because this game isn’t out yet, but it’s fucking amazing. When it does come out, you’re going to play it and love it as much as I did. I’m sure of it!


Actual Play – Forbidden Carry-On (3/8/2108)

Players: Tomer Gurantz and Sean Nittner
System: Star Crossed (formerly Tension)

It just so happened that my flight had a stop off where Tomer was boarding, and because of the way Southwest handles seat assignments I was able to hold a seat for him…which meant that not only did we have a great time talking about games and catching up, but we also got to play Star Crossed. Well, a little bit of Star Crossed. Just about as soon as we started pulling, we had to put our tray table up because were about to hit some turbulence.

Turbulence is right, it was already getting steamy in our game!

Our Star Crossed

We played Jaime, the idealistic son of a dictator of a small island, and Marco, the house butler that served in the war with the now-dictator and took a bullet for him. Knowing that we were about to wage yet another war, in the middle of the night Jaime convinced Marco to steal his father’s greatest weapon (works left unsaid we because we were flying, but the implication was that it was a WMD) and fly away in the night.

Marco had been the man to see Jaime’s education and his upbringing. While most of the people on the island, including and especially the dictator were expressive and rash, Marco was patient (that’s one of the things that made him so attractive) and reserved. His attention to detail, especially his perfectly trimmed beard were all signs of his control and thoughtfulness. In fact, many years ago Jaime learned to shave from Marco and tried to model the perfect precision that he used when drawing the razor across his skin. Marco was Jaime’s godfather. He was also totally hot for him.

Jaime, in his mid thirties, was erudite, privileged, and idealistic. Though he often argued with his father, he had know idea the extent to which the despot oppressed both the people of his island and threatened his neighbors. Brash like his father, when he learned of the dictators plans, he found the only man he could trust not to betray him (and that could fly the small plane they escaped in) and set off with him to deliver the dangerous cargo to his father’s enemies. He needed to prove this was a mission about political ideas. He needed to prove he wasn’t just flying away to be with Marco!

Pilot and Co-Pilot sat side by side (as Tomes and I did on the plane) and flew from the dictator’s island. They wanted each other but their beliefs and the need to safely pilot the plane trough a deadly course held them apart!

What could have improved

Mostly I just wish we started sooner. As mentioned we only got two pulls before we had to put the tower away.

What rocked

Playing Star Crossed while on a plane, playing characters flying on a plane, was amazing! Not only did we  create amazing verisimilitude, but there were so many words that we couldn’t say (like crash, or weapons, etc) which made our furtive whispers and innuendo all the more delightful.

Tomer brought the most wee stacking blocks game. There’s no way we’d get very many pulls in even if we had the time, but we put on our game brains and were ready to adjust the scale as needed!

The tapestry of our conflicted characters, simultaneously brought together by their desires and driven apart by their beliefs was wonderful. Despite their imminent peril, these weren’t people that couldn’t they just wouldn’t. Or would they…

Tomer is a brilliant collaborator. We kept riffing ideas off each other and developing them further and further. He was also really patient. For instance, when we first started Jaime felt like a caricature (idealistic young man) and I needed a bit more to figure out how to play him with integrity. Tomer was happy to workshop the character with me till he was a character just full of conflicting values! Delicious!

Playing an RPG on a freaking plane. How cool is that. Alex Roberts, your game is fantastic!

Actual Play – Big Bad Online with Stras Acimovic (9/14/2018)

Atlas ReckoningGM: Stras Acimovic
Players: Jayson “JIB” Tryon, Harry Morris, Shaun Hayworth, and Sean Nittner
System: Atlas Reckoning

Here was a game Stras ran for Big Bad Con as part of the Big Bad Online GM pledge in our 2017 Kickstarter. Thanks Stras!

Yes, I did the kill steal…again. Showboat? Yeah, pretty much.




Atlas Reckoning in Air

Actual Play – Band of Blades (7/8/2017)

GM: Stras Acimovic
Players: Allison Arth, John Harper, John LeBoeuf-Little, and Sean Nittner
System: Band of Blades

In one of it’s first public appearances, Stras ran Band of Blades of us. So good! This is one of the Stretch Goals games that came from the Blades in the Dark Kickstarter. Band of Blades is dark fantasy game in the vein of The Black Company. You play soldiers trying to retreat safely back to a stronghold, while perceptually fighting off the advancing armies of the Cinder King. HOT!

Note: I fell way behind on my AP reports so these are written many moons later based off my notes. The accuracy will likely vary greatly! Also, this is just transcribed from my notes. Things may be out of order!

Here’s my memory of the game:

  • I played a rookie who made dumb rookie mistakes but somehow survived till the end.
  • John played a sniper who was not at all about taking risks we didn’t have to. When Landgave survived though, she proved herself to him and later they infiltrated the city of undead together!
  • Allison played a leader that GOT SHIT DONE and suffered no fools.
  • John L.L. had some magical powers that won the day and was the only one to care if Landgrave (my rookie) lived or died.
  • The undead were endless in their hunger and malice, but thankfully not always aware of our presence.
  • Mystical forces were at work that I understanded not at all.
  • I ended up playing Private Pyre (when Landgrave was lost) and he ended up with the “Gomer Pyre” voice affectation, which I had way too much fun with.
  • At some point, we were on top of a building, got a partial success and instead of gunning down down the monster below us, it scrambled all the way to the top grabbed Landgrave, and crashed back down to the ground with him before it died. Then everyone pulled her out!
  • We each had rolls (Marshall, Warden, Commander) that got to make macro level decisions, one of those things was to have spilled the blood of the chosen over our blades, granting the power of black-shot (which destroyed undead).
  • We had a choice of missions and went for an assault – assassinate a speaker. He channeled the Blighter!

Pics from the Game

We had so much fun playing this game! On Sunday when I saw Stras running another game of it I stood up on a table and called out to them “For the Legion!”.


Actual Play – Tension Playtest (6/18/2017)

Facilitator: Alex Roberts
Players: Kira Magran and Sean Nittner
System: Tension

Tension: the feeling when you really, really want to, but really, really shouldn’t. This simple, intimate game uses an increasingly unstable tower of bricks to represent irresistible but forbidden attraction between two characters. You’ll tell the story of how their tension fades, falls apart, or consumes them completely.

Tensions is Alex’s super awesome game of flirting and restraint. It uses the stacking block tower to build on it’s namesake.

Kira and I played a Werewolf (Michael) and Vampire (Dina), who passionately craved each other despite knowing the monstrosity that would be born of our union. As scions of our clans we were pitted together, always alone, to negotiate a peace between the vampires and the werewolves, but instead we let the world burn to slake our bloodlust.

Oh, and a bunch of friends were watching Ultimate Beastmaster right next to us, regularly shouting and lamenting as their heroes rose and fell. If that isn’t enough to make for the most ridiculous, but still super tense game, I don’t know what is!

What Rocked

This was totally Underworld and Kindred and every other Vampire/Werewolf story mashed up in a beautiful tangle of goth and rage and suffering and desire. I think I reached my peak Judd Nelson in this game.

The scenes we framed in a graveyard, behind a red velvet curtain, soaked in the blood of our elders, speeding in a car through the city streets at night. All so great and iconic, but also all so wonderful as a backdrop for our intimate conversations.

Kira is fucking amazing. The way she played Dina. Wow. Should should have been the lead, and me the follow!

I like playing with stacking blocks and drawing them out slowly, pausing in the middle of my pull to add something to the fiction. This game really rewarded that. A lot!

This game is so well designed. Hats off to you Alex. It takes the best part of Hot Guys Making Out and Dread and then add a laser focus. I’m super impressed at how well the simple instructions and game mechanisms work. So good!

What could have improved

Wow, I have the brooding and lashing out part but I felt at a loss for saying things deeper than “Dina… we can’t do this…” I mean, we had the looks and with the right lighting and sound track, it still would have made for a killer vampire werewolf move, but I could use some coaching on dialog!

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!