Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Five or So Questions with Chris Longhurst on Pigsmoke

Today I have an interview with Chris Longhurst about the new Powered by the Apocalypse wizard school game, Pigsmoke! Pigsmoke is currently in its last few days on Kickstarter. Check out the interview below.

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Tell me a little about Pigsmoke. What excites you about it?

Pigsmoke is a game about playing jaded academics at a magical college -- an amalgamation of Harry Potter and The Thick Of It, to use two cultural touchstones that everyone probably knows about.

What excites me about Pigsmoke -- or any game, really -- is the potential of the stories it helps you tell. And Pigsmoke is, as far as I know, breaking new ground by telling stories about the lives of academics under impossible demands. Like, 'magic school' RPGs are plentiful but you're always playing the students, and RPGs where you play wizards are plentiful, and RPGs where you play academics are... Ars Magica. But Pigsmoke sits in a neat little intersection between all those that none of them really explore.

Also it's PbtA, and I'm a huge fan of PbtA as a system.


What have you done with the PbtA system to make it suit the concept and themes of Pigsmoke?

I haven't done much with the PbtA system, at least not mechanically -- there's a system for tracking time-consuming actions that acts as a limit on how quickly you can do certain things, and I've replaced '+1 forward' with a system of advantage and disadvantage stolen pretty much entirely from 5th edition D&D -- but I've completely replaced all the basic moves to more accurately simulate the life of an academic in a black comedy about bureaucracy. (Imagine a lengthy digression here about how in PbtA the fiction is the mechanics, so changing the fictional triggers and outcomes of the basic moves is changing the mechanics of the game...)

For example, let's say you want someone to do you a favour. There are no moves for simply asking someone for a favour; if you want someone to do you a solid you either have to butter them up (with the schmooze move), or shout at them until they do what you want (with the scathe move). In fact if you do just ask someone for a favour, that's likely to trigger an MC move and those are almost always bad for you.

As a result, in the world of Pigsmoke it's impossible to have a straightforward conversation and exchange of favours. You have to lie to people or intimidate them, and then deal with the complex social tangles those actions generate.

Unless you're the Networker, which is a playbook built around just being able to ask people for favours, or in the Department of Mindbending, which contains several moves for simply compelling obedience. But in those cases you've specifically chosen to be that sort of character doing that sort of thing.


How does magic conceptually and mechanically work and integrate in Pigsmoke?

Conceptually magic in Pigsmoke is vague as anything -- it's meant to be defined as necessary by each group. All that's required for Pigsmoke to function is a) that magic is something that can be researched and studied in an academic setting and b) that it's something that can be taught to other people. For other questions about the nature of magic -- for example 'Can anyone learn it, or only the gifted?' -- the real question is 'Is this relevant to the game right now?' If no, it's not important. If yes, make the decision at the table and that's how it works in that game.

Mechanically, all characters have a Sorcery stat and (except the Fake) access to the cast a spell move. When you use your magic to solve a problem you roll cast a spell and on a hit the problem's solved -- at a greater or lesser cost. If the magic you're using is outside your department's specialty, you roll at disadvantage. On top of that the department playbooks have various moves which address specific use of magic -- maintaining a mob of walking dead if you're with Life and Death, predicting the future for Foresight, and so on.

If you're familiar with Masks you can probably see the influence of the 'don't sweat the details' way that system handles superpowers, which was a strong inspiration for this approach.


What is the fiction of Pigsmoke like?
Goofy.

I mean, it doesn't have to be that way -- the fiction of Pigsmoke is wide open for definition at the table and has room for black, black comedy or even totally serious play if the group is up for it -- but pretty much all the prompts in the book lean goofy because that's the kind of game I run.

Who do you hope will enjoy Pigsmoke and what have you done to make it inclusive for more audiences?

Well naturally I hope everyone enjoys Pigsmoke. I wrote it using singular they instead of he or she, tried to keep explicitly gendered options out of the playbooks (and made sure that the sample names span as many nationalities as I could think of), and I'll be paying special attention to the characters depicted in the art -- I want a good mix of genders, ethnicities, body types, able-bodied vs not, etc. My intent is that anyone should be able to look at this book and see someone at least a little bit like them.

That said, as a hetero-cis white man I'm not really the best at judging this sort of thing -- so I've hired Katherine Cross (https://twitter.com/Quinnae_Moon) to do a diversity consult for me, and write some additional material about marginalisation and academia so that those issues aren't just quietly swept under the rug. She's agreed to do the job but I haven't seen what she's written yet, so I can't really tell you much more than that.

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Thanks so much to Chris for the interview! If you've liked reading the interview and have an interest, check out Pigsmoke on Kickstarter right away - only a few days left!



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Monday, January 30, 2017

Five or So Questions with Pete Petrusha on Dreamchaser

Today's interview is with Pete Petrusha from Imagining Games about the new game Dreamchaser, which is currently on Kickstarter! To learn more about the game outside of this interview you can check out the press release, and also follow news updates on the Facebook page. Until you click, check out the interview below!

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Tell me about Dreamchaser. What excites you about it?

Dreamchaser is a game of destiny! It empowers the players. What do they want to achieve? What do they want to experience in a roleplaying game? We build a story around the that goal—that mutual experience. Once we know what the story is, each player can create a role and a personal experience for that role, in their story. The collective of these character experiences is placed in a sequence to create a road map to our dream, the Dream map. 

That Dream Map is a framework handed over from the players to the Game Master. It is a goal for their game and the experiences they want to have along the way. Not all the experiences! The ones they want to be rewarded for and critical to the story. This eliminates guesswork on the GM's part. Guesswork that can lead to burnout. Guesswork that can keep you up at night planning. The Dream Map also creates investment! Players work together to imagine the experience they want their game to be and ask the GM to run it. 

Each game is refreshing for the GM. You go on a bit of a journey yourself. We all know where we are headed but the story is in how we get there. Kind of like watching a movie trailer. You get just the right amount of what it is about before you watch the movie. Hopefully, this excites or compels you to check it out. 

I could go all day, so the last thing I'll leave you with, is this. Dreamchaser is about imagining goals and visualizing success. Whether you want to play out a story to slay a dragon, create a blockbuster movie, or win over your true love, Dreamchaser can help you. Explore your own personal passions or aspirations. Maybe you wanted to be a New York Times Bestseller...maybe you want to cure cancer....maybe you just want to take a stab at being your own boss. The options are endless and Dreamchaser adapts to you. 

Obviously, I have a lot of excitement about it! ;D


Can you tell me about the mechanical or procedural aspects you've designed for Dreamchaser? 

Certainly! Dreamchaser is designed to provide immersive experiences.

How do we do that? The players work together to imagine the game they want to play. They do this by creating a goal for their game. They imagine the most important—the most fun roles to play in that story. They imagine an experience they want to have with that role, in that story. Then, we make those characters. The whole process is collaborative and creative! Like a creative brainstorm session where there are no bad ideas. No limits beyond the other players at the table. This creates player investment, fuels player agency, and ignites player enthusiasm. The process helps players imagine what they want and equips GMs to better illustrate it!

Dreamchaser is not only about imagining stories, it is about visualizing success. Every roll a player makes in the game, represents the visualization of the character. How will that character respond? What are her strategies for success? How does she view the world. This is performed with the use of Soul Skills.

Dreamchaser has a Mind, Body, and Spirit rating that represents the mental, physical, and social/morale aspects of each character but these ratings are really just health scores. The real stats or attributes in the game, are the Soul Skills. There are two, Imagine and Reason. Every roll you make is filtered through the lens of imagining or reasoning an outcome. You roll 2d10. 1d10 represents a Soul Skill and 1d10 represents the Skill or Ability you are pulling from. You roll both, hoping each rolls under their respective 1-10 rating to succeed. This creates 3 outcomes. You achieve everything you imagined, you succeed but there's a catch, or things did not work as you planned and a new problem arises. I'm a firm believer in fail forward with this game. Each outcome moves the story forward with a solid outcome. Roll doubles and you get a critical version of your outcome. 

Task resolution is rounded out by the use of tags. Each character has at least three descriptive words or phrases that detail who the character is. When characters fail to succeed or think they can do better, they can revise their visualization by redescribing their action with a tag. This allows them to reroll failed dice by roleplaying more true to their character. The exact uses of tags are limited by a governing stat, Belief. 

Besides getting character upgrades for achieving Milestones(those player created experiences), characters also gain or lose Belief. Belief is another rating on a 1-10 scale. 1 is the worst and 10 is the best. It acts as a representation of how the character is growing in the story. If you continue to succeed in Milestones, it will grow. If you continue to fail in challenges along the way, it will wither. What Belief does, is grant progressively better uses of tags and gives players a way to take back creative control when they demand it. Spend your Belief to get what you want when your story demands it or save it and Neo your way through your character's most important moments. Belief is the confidence your character has in herself and in how she views the world. When you believe, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it! 

I have so much more I could say...you'll just have to buy the book! The game is designed to be ready on the fly but also provides GMs with a framework to prepare sessions better than any other roleplaying game. No more time consuming NPCs, monster, or trap prep work! Create them on the fly in relation to the situation and characters at hand. Introduce new players to the game without them ever having to open a book. Talk about welcoming new players to the hobby! Character creation is a fun collaborative creative experience. The game works on a 1-10 scale. Roll under to succeed. No difficulty numbers or math for each roll. Simple and elegant! 



What are some of your inspirations for Dreamchaser and it's structure?

Fate opened the door for Dreamchaser. Lady Blackbird made Dreamchaser feasible. Apocalypse World inspired the fail forward mechanics. Burning Wheel inspired some of the goal setting and belief concepts. Fluxborn and Monsters & Other Childish Things helped me find simple and elegant. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho inspired the vision. The motivation to gamify life skills like goal setting and visualization are a part of who I am. I love talking to people about their passions. What they want want to do with their life. I think most of us struggle with the big questions and the worst thing we can do is hesitate. Maybe, we just need to chop them big questions into bite sized goals(Milestones) and make daily progress(Belief) toward our passion projects(Dream). Even if you head in the wrong direction, you'll eventually get where you're going. If you don't move, you aren't 
going anywhere but here.


Can you describe how a session of Dreamchaser might begin and setup for play?

Pulling from our earlier conversation: 

The players work together to imagine the game they want to play. They do this by creating a goal for their game. They imagine the most important—the most fun roles to play in that story. They imagine an experience they want to have with that role, in that story. Then, we make those characters. The whole process is collaborative and creative! Like a creative brainstorm session where there are no bad ideas. No limits beyond the other players at the table. This creates player investment, fuels player agency, and ignites player enthusiasm. The process helps players imagine what they want and equips GMs to better illustrate it!
Beyond that, the character sheet has step by step information on how to build a character, kind of like White Wolf/Onyx Path games. So, with a GM to guide you, it's child's play. Vision rolls are a mechanic to gather more information from the players prior to each Milestone. Milestones become like session or mid session goals for our players. Vision rolls give GM's more fuel for the story, an idea of how each player thinks their character might act, and a little insight into their expectations. 



What are some stories you have seen played in Dreamchaser that you think really give a good idea of how the game plays?

The possibilities are endless! It is a story building game. I'll give you three, in a one Milestone per Character sequence, that leads to a Dream. Just like you would get from players in an actual game. Take a look and observe how your mind begins to connect the dots when you give it a sequence of goals or experiences. Imagine how they work if you move them around. Different stories, right? 


Example Dream #1: Liberate the Moon, Save the Earth
  1. Get the Lead Cheerleader to go to Prom with Me
  2. Zero Gravity Sword Fight
  3. Save my Creator
  4. Liberate the Moon, Save the Earth
Example Dream #2: Thanked by a Stranger for being an Inspiration
  1. Ah Ha Idea Moment
  2. Start "Color Wars" Movie Production
  3. It's a Wrap!
  4. Record "Joyous Revelation" Single
  5. Thanked by a Stranger for being an Inspiration
Example Dream #3: Find a Hidden Civilization
  1. Find the Source of the Mysterious Light
  2. Find a Secret Map
  3. Survive the Labyrinth
  4. Find a Hidden Civilization
Thanks Brie! Sorry for writing you a book here! ;P



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Thanks to Pete for the interview! If you readers like the sound of Dreamchaser and want to check it out, remember to go to the Kickstarter to see what's new and back the project, and keep an eye on the news on the Facebook page! Thanks again!



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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Five or So Questions with Paul Mitchener and Ryan Danks on Age of Anarchy

Today I have an interview with Paul Mitchener and Ryan Danks on their new RPG Age of Anarchy, which is currently on Kickstarter! It sounds pretty cool, and I hope you all enjoy hearing about it!

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Tell me a little about Age of Anarchy. What excites you about it?

Paul: Age of Anarchy is a game set in Norman England, during a twenty year period of uncertainty and civil war, when King Stephen and the Empress Matilda both claim the throne. It's based on player characters serving a patron- a feudal lord or lady- struggling to survive and better their status and influence amidst the strife.

I'm excited by the patron idea, where the players jointly create their lord, and each contribute with issues. These issues generate adventures, and the success or failure of these determines whether the patron rises or falls in status.

I'm also, if I may have two things, excited by the time period. There are so many cool events, betrayals and alliances. In my current game, the Anarchy has turned into actual war when the player characters worked to free bishops, who King Stephen imprisoned when he feared they opposed him and were fortifying.

Ryan: What excites me is the system (PME), but that's the part I worked on. :) The Perpetual Motion Engine was developed from the ground up to make our core concept function: that the player characters serve a cause or Patron, with the goal of taking that cause to the heights of power and influence. Paul had the idea to place the system's first run in The Anarchy, a period of Norman English civil war, and it worked perfectly! But I'm most excited about the system we created and to be able to play with it in the future.


Can you tell me about the patron creation, and how it influences the characters and story?

Paul: Patron creation is a major part of the game. The characters all work for the Patron, and the group works together to create issues for the Patron. At the start of a game session, the players choose an issue for the scenario.

Success or failure in addressing an issue governs whether the Patron the patron rises in status or falls, and player character advancement. Further, an unaddressed issue can "explode" and create problems along with a loss of status.

Ryan: The patron system is my favorite part of PME. Everyone at the table makes the patron, signaling what kind of game they want to play by the issues they give to the patron. Then, players get to choose what kind of adventure they want by telling the GM which issue they want to try and resolve. It brings out the shared storytelling experience that I'm so big on.


Are you making any efforts to make Age of Anarchy inclusive, especially considering the time period in question? 

Paul: Right, this is important. Norman England was undeniably patriarchal. But of the two contenders for the crown, the Empress Matilda, the one King Henry named as his heir, is of course a women. And other women are influential during the Anarchy; for example, Queen Maud at one stage leads forces to rescue her husband King Stephen from imprisonment.

In terms of player characters, nobles, merchants, outlaws, and scholars are all possible, and these are not gendered roles. Female warriors will be rare in the era, but "rare" is certainly no obstacle when it comes to player characters.

This diversity is reflected in both characters within the game book, and in the art.

Ryan: We are making an effort. In fact, we're only spending money on art for this reason. There is plenty of royalty-free art about the time period that we can use for the game, and we fully intend on doing so. There are some great paintings out there. But in an effort to be inclusive, we're going to add in stock photos that are rendered in a painting style. Fact is, there isn't a lot of diversity in ancient paintings, but there are a lot of models on Adobe Stock that help us make create a more diverse feel for our game.


Tell me a little about the Perpetual Motion Engine (PME). How does it work? What do the mechanics "do"?

Paul: The Perpetual Motion is simple at its base: players roll, add a skill, try to hit a target number based on the challenge level of an opponent or obstacle. Failure means there's a complication or something goes wrong, and is not typically just a straight "no". Degree of success reflects how good or bad things are, and you might have assets coming from your patron which give leverage (boosting the degree of success for certain checks if you succeed).

Social conflicts and combat are on the same footing, and both can be handled with either a single roll or a series of actions where everyone is involved.

The philosophy is to enable play without having to do much preparation for a session and to keep things moving avoiding "dead" space and dice rolls where nothing happens. There are instructions on how to quickly structure a mission coming from an issue to enable this.

Ryan: In a nutshell, you roll 2d6 vs. a target number (or 1d6 vs. 1d6). If you succeed, then you get what you want, which may include a complication for the scene or setting. If you fail, you suffer a complication. There are modifiers, numerical damage (a form of complication), etc., but that's the core of it. Fans of Fate Core and Apocalypse World are going to love it, as it's sort of a combination of the two methods.


What kind of adventures will players have in Age of Anarchy? What challenges might they face, and what rewards might they receive? 

Paul: Player characters go on missions for their patron to deal with their issues. Examples in my game were to gather support and convince a stubborn earl to support Queen Matilda and stop thinking of the patron as a traitor and dealing with a land dispute from a local abbey whose corrupt abbot had hired local ruffians to seize control of a local village. For me, it's been political intrigue punctuated by outbreaks of violence.

Character issues can complicate missions. For example, one of the characters in my game has a dispute with a powerful earl who holds his family lands, and claims the character has debts to him.

In terms of rewards, characters both advance on their own and receive assets when a patron advances. The real object of the game is to advance the patron's cause, and in so doing rise with them. It actually has an end point, when the patron has risen to a position of unassailable influence or falls so badly in status they lose everything.

Ryan: The adventures and challenges are based on the patron they create. If their patron is a merchant, then PCs may face thieves, competitors, shipment negotiations, etc. If the patron is a knight, then PCs may fight off brigands, face the opposing faction in battle, or parley in court. The rewards players receive come in the form of paths and assets. Paths are abilities the players earn as they level, and assets are gear and allies the players gain access to as the patron levels up. Also, there's the game not ending when the patron falls too low in influence. I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a reward, too.

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Awesome! Thanks to Paul and Ryan for the interview! Take a look at the Kickstarter if Age of Anarchy sounds like your thing, and please share!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Of Three Minds (x-posted Imaginary Funerals)

This post has been crossposted from the Imaginary Funerals blog that has since been discontinued. Posts are hosted on the Imaginary Funerals G+ page.


OF THREE MINDS (link to main host)

by +Brie Sheldon (originally posted July 7, 2014)

I sit at the table and roll the dice and don’t care how they land.

I sit at the table and play out stories and cry for real.

I sit at the table and my friends are my friends, are not my friends, are alien.

I sit at the table and break into bitty pieces when my character dies.

Playing games when you have bipolar disorder is really an experiment in experience. Sometimes I feel normal, and play normally. What is normal? I don’t know, it’s how I feel when I’m on the level. But, I respond to things appropriately, my emotions make sense, and I’m in something resembling a good mood. That means my characters act rationally and I have fun.

But then sometimes I’m manic, and I respond to everything erratically. I can’t focus, and I talk too much. Sometimes I’m over-excited so I am hyper positive. Other times I’m irritable and just want to kill things in game, so my calm characters become murderous and my good characters often find their way to evil, or something like it. I’m antagonistic to other players. My emotions are unusual and nonsensical. I laugh or cry at inappropriate times. I am confusing.

When I am depressed, it is the worst. There are two sides to depression for me: sadness and apathy. Sadness, I can deal with. I play tragic characters, in tragic situations, and eke out little bits of bittersweet happiness. I cry when my characters cry. I cling to my friends and companions in desperation – don’t let me go to where the sadness is. I struggle for happiness. But apathy… apathy is the hardest. Of all of the things I have experienced – fear, paranoia, mania, anger, elation – apathy takes away more than any of them. To take something that brings me joy and rip it away from me and leave me absently writing out character details and hoping that something will happen that is extreme, so maybe I finally feel something, it is painful. But it only lasts so long, and when it wears off, it is truly extreme. It either gives way to sadness that wearies me or mania that tears me apart.

And so I feel like I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The bomb to go off. Waiting for my mind to decide that this character is going to risk everything and get themselves killed because I’m having a bad day. Waiting for my mind to decide to blow up the plot, or leave the party, or burn down the fictional house. For me, this shows up in game as small aggressions – my characters might ruin other players’ plans, or I might unknowingly metagame, or I break the rules. I get a little twisted around on the split between fiction and reality. But in a game, I can leave the party, or burn down the house – and the divisions between game and life don’t really seem to matter anymore. The most important part is that my reality isn’t everyone else’s reality, and it’s entirely possible that my breaking will break the game.

It doesn’t matter which part of the cycle I’m in, I just know that the next step is unpredictable, and that it puts my games and my friendships at risk. I just have to wait and see.

I am a time bomb.





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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Playing with Identity (x-posted Imaginary Funerals)

This post has been crossposted from the Imaginary Funerals blog that has since been discontinued. Posts are hosted on the Imaginary Funerals G+ page.

There will soon be a follow-up post to this, so keep an eye out!


PLAYING WITH IDENTITY (link to main host)

by +Brie Sheldon (originally posted 8, 2014)

So like, there’s this thing about growing up in small rural towns that are filled with blue collar workers and legacy families and all that jazz. It’s insular and you don’t always learn about stuff outside of your own little reality. You end up getting taught some pretty weird stuff.

Like racism.

Sexism.

Bigotry.

These are the kind of things that you learn, often without the intent of your parents (at least in my generation). Sometimes it’s the influence of other relatives. Sometimes it’s just the fucking culture.

Where I grew up, there were white people for days but not so many people of color hidden in there. Those that were around were probably not treated much better than they were talked about, which wasn’t so good.

Being different was a mark. One of my fellow 4-Hers and a friend of the family was a lesbian, and my only real exposure to homosexuality except TV and the internet (which I later discovered had LOTS of information on homosexuality, and everything else). She was treated like an oddity – something to be observed and commented on. Some people treated her like a human being, but enough didn’t, including me for a while.

Where I grew up, gender roles were pretty fixed and solid. Playing with what gender feels like is something I started doing shortly after I started gaming. I would play men, or androgynous characters (before I even knew what androgyny really was). I played them more than I played women (although I’d later learn that some of that was due to some internalized misogyny). It wasn’t until I started writing for Gaming as Women and met some awesome trans folks that I had the shocking realization that maybe I wasn’t stuck being a girl in the strict sense of the word.

I have no desire to transition. I’m as fine with my body as a woman with low self esteem in this age can be. But, I don’t always feel like a girl (or woman, as I finally allow myself to be called sometimes), and it took some heartfelt talks and some experimenting with characters in-game to realize that it was okay. I can’t help but feel that maybe someone else might have had the same kind of experience, and I want to say “hey, isn’t it cool to find out that feeling like something other than what you thought you had to be is okay?”

And sexuality, whoa, buddy.

I realized I liked girls when I was in my early teens. Maybe 12? 13? I remember the very night it happened. I also remember that shortly after that night, rumors spread that I was a lesbian, and shut down any of my hopes that I might be accepted like I thought my 4-Her friend was. I was confused further by still liking boys, just the same as I liked girls.

I explored some of the feelings I was having in Harry Potter fandom text-based roleplay. The characters I played had fluid sexuality for the most part, and while I had to keep it totally secret from everyone I knew, that roleplay experience was a safe space for me to explore who I was and what sex was to me.

I was still really ashamed of my sexuality, and I’m only just coming through that period, but one big thing that helped was the community of acceptance I found surrounding certain parts of gaming. There are people who are openly kinky or poly or gay or all three, and hell no, you do not find that often in rural Pennsylvania.

I played some Monsterhearts, which was actually kind of a huge deal for me. I had ruled out sex and relationships in RPGs because it made me uncomfortable, but a few sessions of Monsterhearts and I was looking at things differently.

Most recently, I’ve been getting schooled by some pretty brilliant people on race. I have learned that there is no real difference in ability between me and people of different races. I have learned that other modern cultures than mine not only exist, but are rich and complex. I learned that class and race intersect (and that your race should not mean you are forced into a specific class or that you belong in a specific class), and that gender intersects with both of them. These might sound simple and like common sense, but they weren’t, to me.

What I’m trying to say here is that gaming and the gaming community has opened up my perspectives and shattered my assumptions. It’s allowed me to play away from type and find secrets that I kept even from myself. It’s even helped me learn how to respect other people and their differences from me.

And that’s awesome.




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Gaming with Fibromyalgia (x-posted Imaginary Funerals)

This post has been crossposted from the Imaginary Funerals blog that has since been discontinued. Posts are hosted on the Imaginary Funerals G+ page


GAMING WITH FIBROMYALGIA (link to main host)

by +Brie Sheldon (originally posted January 24, 2014)

A little background:

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when I was 12. It was a lousy diagnosis to get at such a young age, but the symptoms were pretty clear and they’ve only gotten worse since then. If you want to know more about fibromyalgia, a quick internet search should answer any questions you have.

I started tabletop gaming around age 15 or 16 (I’d done text RPGs for years by that point). At that point, my fibro wasn’t too extreme, but I still dealt with some of the problems – leg cramps, soreness, and fibro fog. These things have increased in severity and frequency since then.

I know a lot of people have it way worse than me, but I wanted to share my experience. Maybe it will help other people, and maybe it will help con organizers, GMs, and other players understand the difficulties people like me face. So, what’s so hard about gaming with fibromyalgia?

Managing climate control. Holy crap is this hard! I don’t know if gamers just run hot or what, but virtually every gaming space I’ve ever been in is too cold for me. A lot of people game in basements, which (even when finished) are often cold and sometimes damp, and it leaves me aching and sore and generally pretty miserable. This year at cons I ran into the problem of it simply being way too cold in some of the rooms, so by the end of sessions I was cramped up and ready to go lie down. But sometimes, you can’t lie down – you have to keep going, especially when you feel the social pressure to be involved or just really want to be involved.

Standing or sitting for long periods. This is something I’ve complained about before, but, super long lines for badges? Standing in food lines? Waiting outside con rooms? Yeah, standing for like 20 minutes is rough. My legs cramp up, my back sometimes seizes, and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. Accommodating disabled people is not something cons are great at. It’s troublesome, as well, when you don’t have a visible disability, like me, or when (like me) you don’t have special tags designating you disabled-enough-for-people-to-care. Likewise, sitting at a table (especially in the aforementioned cold rooms) can mean that standing up is a struggle, and it is simply embarrassing to be a 20-something woman who can’t stand up from the table without wobbling. People stare.

Fibro fog. This is probably one of the toughest things. The pain and stiffness I deal with every day in every type of situation, so it becomes a quiet echo of my life, “pain, pain, pain” beneath my breath every moment. You kind of get used to it. The fog, though, isn’t constant, and is worse during times of anxiety and stress. Basically it makes it hard to focus and makes me seem dumber because I can be slow to respond or get confused. For the longest time I didn’t understand what it was, but now I’m pretty familiar with the feeling. I try to hide it because it’s legit one of the things about my illness that makes me feel the most stupid and useless. Ever try adding together dice or adjusting target numbers when your brain feels like it’s stuffed full of cotton? It’s like that all the time. It’s kind of like when you have a sinus headache or like a post-narcotic headache. (This is also a problem when navigating conventions because I get lost and lose track of time very easily when the fog sets in.)

Feeling singled out. I rarely game with other people with disabilities, just because of the way my circles have worked. This means that I’m often the only one at the table who needs accommodations. I’m the only one who needs to be given a break or time to stretch during long gaming sessions. I’m the only one who needs help doing basic addition when my fog is too foggy. It’s just me sitting there having trouble. So far my groups have been pretty great about it, but that doesn’t make it easier for me to feel good about it. An example: asking people to please grab me a drink because that extra walking today just is a bad idea. Most of my group would happily do so, but that doesn’t make me less embarrassed or make me feel less like they should hate me for taking advantage of their kindness.

Gaming with fibromyalgia isn’t easy. It’s got a lot of pitfalls and there aren’t really bonuses for being disabled.


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Monday, January 9, 2017

Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure Review (part 2)

Today is the second part of Mike Evans' Hubris setting book review! See the first part here.


We'll continue with the chapter on the Wizard’s Spellbook (spells and Patrons). It has tables for spellbook constructions, options for Patrons from both DCC and Hubris (including the Charred Maiden, Floating Island of Terror, Spider Goddess, and Twisted One), and then spells.

The Summon from the Void spell is pretty… uh. Yikes. There’s some really cool stuff going on but wow, it’s mega gross, and reminds me why I am not a magic user.

There are unique spells for the various Patrons, which come with every level of creepy and gross and twisted nature that the others have, some going even farther like those of Charred Maiden that involve the Patron who is known for eating children and the spells that bring the twisted corrupted spirits of the children to life.

The following chapters include the gods of Hubris. I admit, and this is just personal preference, I wasn’t super enthused about this section. I think it’s because I don’t typically play or enjoy the narrative of clerics. There are plenty of useful things I think a lot of people would enjoy - various cleric invokations, information about the god’s alignment, holy symbols, and weapons, which are cool. The gods have names like “The Corpulent One,” “Yelsa, Goddess of Sex and Violence,” and “The Heathen Below.” I’m sure a lot of people would enjoy this if they’re into kind of twisted morbid deities, but it’s not really my jam, primarily because it’s focused on clerics.

In the following chapter on GM Tools and Tables, I think that the Demigod creation charts are really cool. You roll for the demigod form, holiday, altar, blessing/curse, followers, temple, cult leader, and what they are a god of. There are things like “God of the Never-Ending Kaleidoscope Nightmare” and the bodies include things like “twitching fingers for nipples” and “eyes are mouths and mouth is an eye” and some things that are way more unsettling. A couple of these did genuinely make me uncomfortable and upset (like some of the altars that included harm to animals and stuff), so I’m not including many details here.

There is a nifty table on “Bandits, Brigands, and Rapscallions” that has gangs, encounters, and bandit leaders. I like the City District Generator, too, which has some fun plot hooks and I think would be a great kickoff for anyone trying to get a game started quickly or pick up a game that’s slowed down.


Hive Mind
The Diseases of Hubris are so, super gross. Blighted Eyes is so gross and cringey, involving yucky things happening to your eyes. The Ghost Pox is very haunting (pun intended), but Hive Mind (bees take rest in your head) is so vile and probably going to give me nightmares just from reading it. Also, the Whistler’s Lament is terrible - and possibly could annoy the entire table completely.

There’s a brief table for grave digging, which I think would be pretty useful in some campaigns. Another table - probably more widely useful - is the NPC generator. It has a lot of variety, and a lot of unique qualities for NPCs. I really like random tables for NPCs, in part because it can make life way easier for GMs. 

This section in general is loaded with cool tables - planes of Hubris, what happens when you make camp (like waking up with fungus growing on you), herbs you might find (like ones that let you climb on walls), taverns and inns (one has a pickled rat brain eating contest), vials (you could grow a beard! Or barbed skin!), villages (including one that’s built on mummified bird legs!), ruins (featuring living statues and demons of lies, strange black obelisks and pink spider webs), and a way to label years.

The section on Magic Items has a fancy table for random stuff but also has a list of other items both attached to gods and otherwise. I almost talked about what some of them do, but I think that would be almost too spoilery, for lack of a better term! Some of the named items are: The Armor of the Horned Blood Crab, The Six Sinister Skull Bracelets of Facious the Cruel, and The Despicable Clay Jug of the Maggot. Yes, that last one is just as gross as it sounds!

Demon Contamination
The Monsters section is pretty fun. There’s a table on contamination from demon possession, which has some gross stuff and some interesting stuff, and includes a table called What’s on Their Festering Dead Body? And it is obviously ridiculous (in a good way). One of the options is a “Convulsing Sphincter Muscle of an Ox,” and another is a “Bladder of a Badger” that you can drink from (ew). I’m annoyed that the Face of a Scorned Lover is gendered, because, come on. There’s also “Ulcerated Stomach of the Three Pronged Goat,” which is for carrying items, so, gross. Fun grossness.

The monsters include such fun things as barghests (one of my favorites), dinosaurs, fae (with some random tables), malfactorum (anthropomorphic beetles), carnivorous mermaids (YES), skeletons what use guns, and wooly mammoths. They all sound really cool and I’d love to see some of these in play (especially the mermaids!). 
Mermaids!
I am not covering the Adventures section because that’s something I prefer to leave for GMs and players to discover on their own, so you’ll have to pick it up to see!

Overall, I think that Hubris is pretty fascinating! If you’re looking for a setting book with lots of material that will give plenty of substance to a twisted, gross campaign with plenty of vile monstrosities, Hubris is a good option! There are plenty of new environments, magical effects, story hooks, and choices for character building that I think give a lot of leads for both short play and longer campaigns.

I hope you liked reading about it! Check out Hubris here if it seems like your kind of thing. :)




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Friday, January 6, 2017

Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure Review (part 1)

(This is part 1 of two, part 2 will be released on Monday, January 9, 2017.)


The introduction to Mike Evans’ Hubris is a vivid, almost technicolor cover that reminds me of the covers of old, used paperback sci-fi and sword and sorcery novels I saw in my childhood, covered in dust, wiped with an 80s brush. This is a good thing.

Gorgeous cover!
Inside the pages I find similar evidence of the weird nostalgia of gritty dark adventure, like the monsters of Beastmaster and from those stories I shouldn’t have read in the back of the bookstore. These days I typically stick to lighter materials in my gameplay, but fuck knows that in the back of my mind those things still creep. What makes Hubris appealing? The visceral nature of it, for sure.

Hubris uses Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) as its main mechanical structure, so I had to wiggle my brain a little since I’m not super familiar with the system. Thankfully, it’s relatively simple and nothing interfered with my ability to examine the game’s setting and structure. There are lots of random tables, which I looove.

The art of the book is black and white or grayscale, and not only is it great to look at it but it’s well suited to the content of the text and theme of the book. I enjoyed just scrolling through looking at the images - the artists (Alex Mayo, David Lewis Johnson, Jeremy Duncan, Angie Groves, Doug Kovacs, Jason Sholtis, and Wayne Snyder) did an excellent job capturing the “feel” of Hubris from my reading. There are a few spots where I (as an editor and proofreader) might have changed a few things textually, and some layout hiccups, but they’re minor and don’t disrupt reading, I don’t think. Overall the book is really well put together and easy to read!

The setting summary and flavor text of Hubris includes a lot of “appealing” concepts (by which I mean, oh, god, no, please! (wait, yes!)). A few bits from the setting summary itself:

“Legend states that Hubris was created from the fetid corpse of a long-dead god.”

“The Black Queen rules the citizens of the Floating Island of Terror from her throne of bones and dreams terrible machinations for Hubris.” (*swoon*)

“There are no easily recognizable heroes in the world.”

“Your epic tale will be forgotten in days as the dangerous world continues on without you…”

Yep. Yep.
Lovely world map!

The maps in Hubris are really nice! They have the kind of tight feeling that I enjoy in this Tolkien-esque kind of map, but it’s clearly readable. They also immediately draw in my interest with the small icons of the locations. You know, places like “Ruins of the Deranged Elephant Emperor” and “Lake of the Flayed” and “Bleeding Mountain that Pierced the Sky.” The kind of places you really wanna go, but kind of wish you’d never heard of.

In character creation, Hubris includes no elves, dwarves, or halflings. I was kind of surprised by that as I’m so used to them being standard in a lot of settings, but it was cool to see. There is a list of occupations with weapons and goods, and I admit I laughed when I read that the chimney sweep child has a broom (as a club) as their weapon. There’s also gems like the heathen carrying a bucket of dung, a nosey neighbor with a rake (as a club) and a rooster, and a rabid raven fanatic. (There’s also later a “disgusting torturer’s kit.”)

(Note: I am fully aware that Hubris contains some terms and subjects that are or may be problematic (g*psy, prostitute), so please don’t think I’m ignoring them. This is my note that they do exist and I’m aware of them.)

There are also additional races with specific occupations available: Avarians, Ekrasks, Half Demons, Murder Machines, and Mutants. The phrase “Murder Machine” as a race does amuse me, especially considering one of the available occupations is “Tinkerer.” These are also doubled as classes, along with the additional human-only occupations of Alchemist, Blood Witch, Druid, and Shadowdancer, as add-ons to the base DCC classes. I am not commenting on everything - just stuff that sticks out.

Blood Witch
I admit I nearly shit myself while reading the Blood Witch class because of the Blood Walk ability:

“A blood witch can play a dangerous game and jump through a living creature that is the same size or larger than herself, traveling through their blood and can emerge from another living creature on the same plane of existence.”

Like. Fuck. Yes. This is totally my kind of ability, and it’s so gross. To be honest, I said to John (husband) that it is one of the coolest abilities I’ve ever seen. A+. (Oh, and the Familiar ability is really cool and gross, too. You’ll have to see the book to find out why!)

One of the interesting things about the Druid class that I liked a lot was the Animal Shape manifestations, corruptions, and misfires. They include things like worms burrowing out of the druid’s skin and reshaping the druid to the new form, the druid’s head turning permanently into the chosen animal, and a tree growing out of the top of the druid’s head, respectively. Nice.

Druid
I will note my one big complaint is the general nonconsensual nature of the Half Demon race. This is such a stupid stickler for me, I know it pisses people off, but I’ll always dislike it (and I’ve written articles about the use of this in half-orc backgrounds). However, I know a lot of people dig it and it doesn’t bug everyone, and I get that it’s evil demons, and not just women getting raped (but rape is legit bad for anyone, regardless of gender, so). But, consider this my registered gripe. Aside from that, the race is pretty cool.

Murder Machines are just… like, dude. I can’t even register how cool and fucked up they are. They’re basically humans melded into armor and made into… murder machines. They also have something called a “Swiss-Army Hand.”

So the Mutant has this thing… It’s a cosmetic mutation, and I’m just gonna… share it:

“Your teeth fall out and in their place grows: 1) fingernails; 2) worms; 3) open sores; 4) small gasping mouths; 5) small writhing tentacles; 6) tiny, infant-like fingers.”

You’re welcome (from Mike, probably).

The Mutant powers are so disgusting I am still just kind of grossed out but they’re so inventive and brilliant I’m amazed. I laughed and gagged. Amazing. (Stomach maggots. Worm infested skin. Plague skin. Acidic belch. Ooze-like body. Ant colony. Boneless.)

As we move along through the gear and services things, it’s pretty standard and useful (including a great Quick Start Gear option!), but I have to make a vote that we stop with the “prostitution” tables in games… or at least not make them about how likely you are to get an STD. It’s just kind of a bummer and negative. I love having sex workers in games! But I like them to be done respectfully. This is not exclusively judging Hubris either, this shit is everywhere, but it’s in my read while I’m here, so pointing it out. Other people might like it! Not my jam.

Next up we hit the Territories section. I love that Mike specifically talks about how the Void of Hubris (kind of the post-life plane) has a lot of room to explore whatever the Judge (the GM) wants to explore. Pretty cool! I like that, and I also like that in the basic “Lay of the Land” options it’s a chart (d100) that works with a d100 chart of encounters and descriptions of locations.

The Territories section is a really good read and has a ton of material that could support a really significant campaign without ever risking boredom or repetition. I’m just going to cherry pick some of my favorite bits of the flavor text for the settings and items from their d100 lists here for you all!

“Devastating sandstorms, raging gigantic beasts, harsh environments, and a psychotic empire is all that stands in the way between an adventurer and unimagined riches from a long forgotten age.” (The Blighted Sands)



“Grove of weeping willows, used by a sect of extremist druids as their outpost. They are preparing for war against the heathens that destroy nature.” (d100 table, Bogwood Swamp)

Note: There is a list of what the mushrooms of the Bogwood Swamp do that is suuuper cool, but I think it would ruin a player experience to learn about all of them in advance!

“The petrified remains and shell of the gargantuan turtle, Slathereth the Destroyer, rises out of the Bogwood like a jagged mountain.” (Locations, Slathereth, Bogwood Swamp)

“The constant gathering and release of energy has caused the veil of reality to become weak in the forest and it is not uncommon for those in it to have strange visions, become warped or monstrous, or even be transported to another area of Hubris, or teleported to another reality entirely.” (Locations, Wrath, the Crystal Forest, Canyons of the Howling Red Rock)

“Vineyard with grapes that have the faces of humans, young or old. The grapes scream when they are squeezed.” (d100 table, Great Plains of Unbidden Sorrow)

FYI THERE IS AN ENTIRE TOWN THAT IS BUILT ON THE BACK OF A GIANT METAL DOGGIE THAT BREATHES FIRE. It’s called The Roving Nibbleton. 

The Roving Nibbleton
“Strange mechanical ruins that stagger the imagination, gigantic reptiles and insects, altars of blood, druidic cults, moss-covered zombies, ancient stone temples of complex design, and plants that feed off living creatures’ life-force await all who are brave or foolish enough to enter the Unsettled Expanse.” (The Unsettled Expanse)

“A Tyrannosaurus Rex with a head-mounted laser cannon rumbles through the forest.” (d100 Encounters table, The Unsettled Expanse)


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On Monday, January 9, 2017, the review will be continued! Keep an eye out. :)






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Monday, January 2, 2017

Five or So Questions with Chris Birch on Star Trek Adventures

Today I have an interview with Chris Birch, the publishing director at Modiphius, about the new Star Trek Adventures game. When I heard about the game (a little behind schedule compared to most, I think), I wanted to know more right away. Check out what Chris had to say about Star Trek Adventures below!

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Tell me a little about the Star Trek Project. What excites you about it?

I still remember avidly watching every episode of Star Trek as a kid with Captain Kirk. Long before Star Wars fueled my love for galactic empires, I was enthralled by the idea of captaining a ship on an epic voyage. Since then the waves of series and movies has kept the flame alive and so when we got to create a new roleplaying game I realised we could make it that personal journey that everyone who loved Star Trek since they were young has yearned for.


What approach did you take for mechanics in the game? Why did you choose the 2d20 system, and how will it mesh with the "feel" of Star Trek?


2d20 is our house system first developed for Mutant Chronicles, then Conan, John Carter of Mars and Infinity. It’s a cinematic, system that is rebuilt from the ground up for each new version of the game to ensure it can accurately portray how that universe should ‘feel’. For example we’re working on ensuring phasers replicate how they’re used the shows and films - but note that’s different to how they actually would work. Federation personnel rarely use phasers on kill, instead mostly stun, and when heroes get hit it’s usually a short term thing, not life threatening. You don’t see people running about killing with phasers all over the place. There’s an emphasis on values for characters - as personal beliefs or values are often a vital part of the shows story.


What experiences in the game are you making priority - interpersonal interaction, combat, ship combat, exploration, etc. - and why?

Right now it’s making sure the basic nuts and bots feel right, but soon we’ll see starship combat, utilising the crew as ‘secondary characters’ (so you’re alwayx involved in the story), character creation and so on.


What specific parts of Star Trek media (including specific episodes, concepts from the shows, character interactions) are the primary sources for your inspiration for the game, its fiction, and how the players will live in the game?

These new books won’t just replicate all the usual ‘this is Starfleet’ content we’ve seen before but instead give more personal views from Vulcan Ambassadors, Romulan agents, Klingon captains on key events, starfleet regulations or make up etc. We want to get inside the heads of the different races to ‘feel’ how they see the universe more, and by linking these short excerpts to actual episodes we’re going to create loads of great plot seeds to inspire GM’s.

In particular one episode Yesterday’s Enterprise became an inspiration for our living playlest, leading to the creation of Narendra Station and a major plot being developed by New York Times Best Selling Author Dayton Ward so throughout what we’re doing we’re drawing on inspiring moments that we all know and love, but in new ways.


How have you approached getting diverse creators (artists, designers, writers) involved in the development and creation of the Star Trek game, and how do you see their inclusion positively impacting the product?

The foundations of this includes a diverse team in the office who are involved in reviewing all the submissions, the financial management, art direction and community management to ensure a balanced approach. Beyond this we reached out to a diverse mix of writers, artists and editors - including many we met at GenCon and after. We’ve since hired an amazing team - people who’ve written and edited the previous editions of the Star Trek roleplaying game as well as other big titles from across the industry. We have the likes of Janice Sellers - Four time Origin Award winning editor for Call of Cthulhu, 7th Sea, Cyberpunk 2020 and Star Trek alongside Dayton Ward, New York Times Best Selling Star Trek author and many many more with most of the creative team still to be announced.


Do you think that the new game will allow exploration of the progressive ideals that Gene Roddenberry promoted in the original series, and if so (or if not!), how?

Yes we do plan to build this in to the storylines, but also encourage the use values and believes that characters have as they contend with moral dilemmas, problem solving and conflict of all sorts. Often Star Trek played out these ideals through the eyes of an alien races storyline and we’d like to see new challenges facing humanity also developing through the wide ranging missions we’ll be offering. 

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Thanks so much to Chris for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll take a glance at what's coming with the Star Trek Adventures RPG!





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