Monday, 18 May 2020

Cut Out & Keep

Wow... the stuff you find when you start clearing out your hard drive. I apparently wrote this game for a contest and then promptly forgot about it, but as I read back through it for the first time in four years, I realised it would make a good game to play online with a minimum number of players. This is a tweaked version of the original draft to support quarantine play (is that a new genre?) and is as unashamedly queer as the original.

Group Activity

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle - Wikipedia
When I was young, I kept a secret stash of pictures I had cut out of newspapers and magazines which showed images of men I liked; this was before the internet, of course. The images were photos from medical articles in the newspaper, handsome bare-chested men from comic strips and really anything which used the context to show a bit of beefcake and muscle; not purely erotic, just enough 'plausible deniability' to get semi-nude images into the mainstream press. This game is a tribute to that experience.

Before play, create a shared folder or document and fill it with googled images of people; they may be photos or artworks, but avoid anything blatantly pornographic. You will want to talk about appropriate sites and images to use before you play, to keep everyone on the same page about what to expect. You can also do this as a live activity if you happen to all be in the same place, like so:

  • Get a stack of newspapers and magazines, then divide them up between all the players: everyone should now go through their stack looking for pictures of people of the same gender as some other player around the table (don’t choose pictures that match your gender, unless everyone around the table is of the same gender.)
  • When you find a picture, whether it is a photograph or cartoon, from a news story, magazine feature or advertisement, carefully cut or tear it out: to tear out a picture, tear out the page first, then make sharp folds along the edges of the picture you want and rip quickly along those lines.
  • When everyone is done, spread all the pictures in the centre of the table, so that they are visible and accessible to all players; you are now ready to begin.

Getting Into Role

For the duration of the game, all the players must imagine that they are a young, queer person, who is either drawn to members of the same gender, has been assigned the wrong gender or both. The exact ages of the characters, and other details about them, will come out through play, no-one needs to determine an entire history for their character at the start of the game.
The pictures in the shared folder or spread across the table represent pictures that each character may have cut out & kept hidden away during the early part of their life, as a way of holding onto to that part of themselves which isn’t fully defined yet and which they fear may be ridiculed or worse. During the game, players will collect pictures, with each one representing some threshold in their character’s life.

Question & Answer

Famous Calvin Klein Underwear Models | The Fashionisto
The game is played in turns; on each player’s turn, they nominate someone else who chooses a picture from the shared collection and passes it to the current player. The current player then says whether this is a picture of someone they were attracted to or wanted to be like: after this statement, every other player around the table may ask the current player one question about that picture and the circumstances around it.

A question may be direct or indirect, open or leading, but they must always relate to the picture itself: a question may not be about the character or family of the current character, but it may be open to answers about them. Therefore, a player may not ask “Where did you live?” but they could ask “Where in your house did you hide this picture?” and get an answer that also encompasses details about the character’s home situation.

  • Open Questions provide the current player with few cues, so they are free to answer it how they like, as long as they are consistent with their previous answers, e.g. “How old were you when you collected this picture?” or “Where did you put this picture?” give the current player a lot of margin to answer.
  • Leading Questions suggest or establish aspects of the character’s life at around the time they collected this picture, e.g. “How did your best friend react when you showed them this picture?” or “Who stole the school book you had stuck this picture to the cover of?” Leading questions can be used for some very hard framing, establishing facts about the current character’s life and getting the current player to respond: use the character’s family, friends and events in their life to push them for harder answers, e.g. “Where did your family send you when they discovered these pictures?” or “How did this picture cause the break-up you had with your first love?”

Rounds of Play

A turn ends when every other player has asked one question of the current player, but there should always be at least 3 questions per picture, so with fewer players, some will get to ask more than one question. A round ends when each player has had one turn at answering questions about the picture they have been given. Each subsequent round should represent a later stage in the lives of the same characters, but while this might be only a week later for one, it might be five years later for another, as long as all character unveil their stories going forward, not in flashbacks to an earlier part of their life.
Let each character’s story develop organically, don’t try to push them to a predetermined conclusion: on each player’s turn, they should confine themselves to only answering the questions they are asked. The answer should focus on the question and not be used to bring in masses of extraneous data about the current character. The more supplemental data that is given, the more it shuts down future questions that the other players might want to ask.

Ending the Game

The game should be played over three rounds, or five if there are very few players, so that each player ends with the same number of pictures in front of them: to close the game, each player explains what happened to each of their pictures, with each player taking it in turn to describe the fate of one picture before passing to the next player. Continue in this fashion until each player has detailed the fate of each of their pictures.
When describing the fate of a picture, any type of answer is allowable, from “I don’t know, I lost it,” to “I found & purchased the original; now it hangs over my bed.” A picture that was important to you in your youth might have lost its significance to you as you grew up and explored your identity; on the other hand, it might have become the defining image of your life, an ideal you have chased and conquered, making it who you are. There are no wrong or right answers here and this final round is intended to reflect what each character might or might not have learned from the pictures they cut out & kept as a youth.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Lorelei & The Rider

This is a special bonus game designed for two players, dealing with themes of romance, power relationships and being an outsider. It probably isn't to everyone's taste.

Upon This Rock

There are only two players in this game and no GM; it tells a tale of the passionate connection between two strangers who are both, in their own way, outcasts from the society around them. These two characters are:

Lorelei: a woman considered a pariah by her townsfolk, for her beliefs, actions or nature; some townsfolk believe her to be a witch or a supernatural creature and do not welcome her among them. As a result, she lives a simple life outside town, by the river, making her home on a rock which the waters flow around. If you are playing Lorelei, describe to the Rider how they first see you.

The Rider: a foreigner travelling through these lands for his own purposes; upon hearing the tale of the Woman of the Rocks, he decides to see for himself and becomes enthralled by her... or vice versa. If you are playing the Rider, describe your reaction to seeing Lorelei for the first time, then describe yourself to her.

Fell free to change the genders of these characters as you wish, the only constant must be that they feel an affinity and attraction to each other, with Lorelei enchanting the Rider but the Rider also fascinating Lorelei. They are both outsiders to the culture they find themselves in, for different reasons, and their relationship may be seen as transgressive or taboo by others.

In order to play, you need an ordinary deck of cards; if you're playing online, this tool may be helpful. The deck is used to ask questions, make demands and respond to each other during play, using the guidance that follows.

Image result for lorelei"

Will You, Won't You?

The game always begins with the Rider taking the role of provocateur: players will take turns in this role, pushing the other player for a response to an overture dictated by the cards. The Rider starts the first round of the game by drawing a card from the deck and placing it face up in front of them.

If the card in front of you is Red: ask a question about the other character's life, culture, background, dreams, fears, etc. You want to learn more about them and why they are here, in this place at this time, but your questions should be tightly framed to limit the other player's response. Don't ask "How do you feel?" but do ask "Why are you crying?" Don't ask "How did you come to be here?" but do ask "Where did you get that scar on your cheek?"

If the card in front of you is Black: make a request or demand if you are the Rider; make an offer or suggestion if you are Lorelei. Both characters are negotiating their feelings for each other and finding a type of attraction that is sometimes considered transgressive; the Rider is dominant and possessive, but also affectionate; Lorelei is submissive and sensual, but also strong-willed. Start with simple requests and offers, such as food, shelter, meeting again at a later date or time, and so on, but as the game progresses, go as far as you both feel comfortable with.

After a player asks their question or makes their demand/offer, the other player draws a card from the deck and places it face up in front of them, on top of any other cards they have. Their response is dictated by the rank of the card drawn:

If the card drawn is higher than the card face up in front of the other player: respond positively to their question or demand/offer, answering them, doing as they say or accepting what they offer you. Thank them, be grateful and explain yourself as necessary; this should draw you closer and create further understanding between you as you share something intimate.

If the card drawn is lower than the card face up in front of the other player: explain why you cannot do as they ask, cannot accept what they offer or why that question is difficult to answer. Apologise, be contrite and beg them to forgive you for not being straightforward or open with them; this should create an issue to be resolved and result in a sympathetic bond between you as you both acknowledge your limitations.

If the card drawn matches the rank of the card face up in front of the other player: you may ignore the question, demand or offer and act directly, expressing yourself with action rather than words. This may involve touching each other, kissing, undressing, taking food from the other's hand, pointing towards the answer or even grabbing the other forcefully but not painfully. This is a moment where your passion for each other breaks through.

The Turn of the Cards

After taking your turn as provocateur, pass that role to the other player; their overture is dictated by the card currently face up in front of them, they don't draw another. After the Rider's first turn, overtures are always suggested by the colour of the card you drew last; you only draw another card when you are responding to the other player's overture.

As Lorelei and the Rider learn more about each other, and their relationship progresses from conversation to physical intimacy, they will also seek ways to deal with the issues that arise between them when the card drawn is lower in rank than the provocateur's card. This forms the backbone of the game, with the provocateur using their turn to request or offer a solution to an issue that has been raised previously.

End the game when it feels right to do so; this will most likely occur in one of two ways:

  • You may end the game on a match, if the action taken is suitable to the level of passion or intimacy already established between the characters. In this case, we can assume that the Rider ends their journey here to remain with Lorelei.
  • You may end the game by resolving an issue that stands between you, if it was of sufficient substance to keep you apart. In this case, we can assume that Lorelei leaves her home for good in order to travel with the Rider.
 - Dedicated to the real life Lorelei; I command you to enjoy it!

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Contingency 2020

It's that time of year again, where I tear myself away from my desk and emerge, blinking, in the sunshine (metaphorically, what with it being January) to do battle with the public transport network in order to arrive at my goal... Norfolk, the home of the best residential games convention I attend. OK, also the only residential games convention I currently attend, shut up.

Rather than go through the convention day-by-day, I'm just going to list the game sessions I played or ran, in chronological order. It has to be said though, all of these games were awesome, though the awesomeness of some of them may have been too much for my weak mortal frame.

Slot #-1: Fiasco

Using the '80s Cops playset, I got to play a 'legitimate businessman' with a loyal hit-man, a chief of police who was like a sister to me and a beat cop who was vying with my hit-man for the attentions of my daughter. The main MacGuffins were my plans to knock down a slum district in downtown Miami in order to build a leisure complex there, plus some missing money that had been skimmed from the project and was lost in transfer between the chief of police and the beat cop.

It all ended with my daughter running off with the money and the chief of police to start a new life together far from my influence, my hit-man going to jail for his involvement in the death of a local politician, following a Rorschach-like standoff with the police and my character renouncing his life of crime to take holy orders and become the priest for the church he had not been able to demolish to clear the way for his new enterprise. Pretty typical Fiasco territory, but this was very enjoyable and played out entertainingly by all players.

Slot #0: Vox Populi

The game available on this blog, with a Barbarian, Druid, Wizard, Sorcerer, Thief and Cleric trying to steer the fate of the newly liberated nation, with the help of a Spirit of Neutrality to act as chair through the proceedings, portrayed by me as previous experience with the game had shown that this helped the flow of play a great deal.

After looking at the 'final score', the Committee of Heroes voted against: appointing the Wizard as ruler of the nation; adopting Communism; letting Sorcerers handle the paperwork; instituting a culture of fighting pits for entertainment and taxation purposes; and stealing masonry and lumber from neighbouring nations in order to rebuild. The sole proposition that was passed was putting the Thieves' Guild in charge of tax collection, despite having no tax laws and no-one to decide what the money should be spent on; the thieves will just hang onto the money they collect in the meantime...

Slot #2: Party Games

This numbering gets confusing when I take a slot off, doesn't it? After relaxing for the first official morning of the convention, I ran a game of Best Friends using the hacks I previously posted here to create a fantasy setting. After giving the players the opportunity to create their own stats for this adventure, it turned out that Leeches! Can Cure Anything in this world and that Fabulousness helped you look great while saving the day, whilst being a Social Butterfly was an essential skill for the noble classes.

After slaying the Necromancer in the first scene, the party discovered that there was really a Necromancerer pulling the strings from the shadows, but an accidental prophecy meant that the wizard was now fated to marry the knight (who was also prince to the kingdom) and then tragically die a week later. They concocted a plan to draw out the Necromancerer, who knew of the prophecy, with a fake wedding using the half-orc bard to impersonate the wizard, little knowing that the Necromancerer was a future version of the party's rogue! After that, it got complicated.

Slot #3: Black Code

Since I shared a lodge with the designer, it only seemed fair and diplomatic to play his game, so I took on the role of a smooth-talking chancer in this transhumanist cyberpunk setting. We had a good introductory adventure, the hunt for a missing/stolen military-grade cyber-frame, touring various locations and encountering the locals (then killing them brutally) until we had the big showdown at a flesh-vs-machine fight club, after which there were the usual betrayals and reversals with our employers.

I like the system here, where you always roll four dice and then pick a number of the highest or lowest results depending on your stat, but the rich setting would definitely benefit from campaign play as there's a lot of detail to explore and the factions we ran into could each be the basis of an entire series of missions.

Slot #4: Afterlife

A reskin of  Blood & Water that I suggested in the back of the book, after a short time spent world-burning we settled on Tokyo in the aftermath of massive solar activity that had fried the world's electronics, with our group of survivors based out of a karaoke bar owned by an alchemist witch. Taking shelter there were a weredragon nurse and one of her elderly charges, an inadvertent genie, a juvenile werewolf seeking a pack and a disinherited fae princeling.

Due to some badly timed outbursts in front of the genie, the karaoke bar got teleported to the basement of the museum of antiquities, which itself was endangered by a volcanic rupture that had appeared outside and had attracted a cult of fire worshippers who were sacrificing the useless home appliances to the fissure, but who graduated to human sacrifice when the werewolf accidentally knocked someone into it. The day was finally saved by the fae's dad promising to protect the museum and the dragon nurse discovering that her charge owned an electronics company that had plans for returning the power.

Slot #5: Continuity

This was my convention highlight, based on my pitch to use Microscope to tell the story of a Marvel-

like comic books company from beginning to end, in an alt-history that we would create through play. The big theme that emerged through play: Communism! We had a period of communist purges on the table almost from the fist round of play, but this quickly echoed back and forth through the timeline, from anarchists and socialists founding the company as a producer of Penny Dreadfuls in the 1800s, to the future World Communist Collective that oversaw the felling of the last tree in cyberspace as a symbolic representation of the end of print media. The most remarkable thing about this game though has to be that, after 11 or so years of knowing Duncan, we finally got into the same game together! And the second one would follow that same evening!!

It was good to have a game with parallel continuities, as we dipped into the heroes & villains of the comic book line and the stories they were significant in, then coming out into the 'real' world to see how it mirrored the art. This meant the gonzo element was largely confined to the comic book events on the table, resulting in some much more serious and grounded 'real world' events and scenes. It was awesome and left me feeling like I could play an entire convention of Microscope if all the sessions could be like that. (If I look like I'm having a miserable time in that photo, it's only because I was trying to strike a brooding hero pose!)

Slot #6: Sisters of Mercy

Another of my rare instances of playing rather than running or facilitating, the fabulous Brenda ran one of her popular Dead of Night scenarios, featuring a reality TV film crew turning up to produce an episode about an ex-sanitarium with a haunted reputation. Cue lots of horrifying apparitions, vanishing crew members and ghostly nurses to terrify us.

Something special we achieved, quite inadvertently, was to get this game past the Bechdel test: two of us played female characters, who had a scene together without any male characters present and had a conversation that wasn't about men! (It was about freeing the tormented spirit of someone's Great Aunt and then burning the site to the ground)

Slot #7: A Penny for My Thoughts

This is always a bit of a gamble at a convention and I was worried I wasn't going to get enough players to make it worthwhile, so it was very satisfying to see three names on the sign-up sheet by Friday morning. It can also produce a game that is too intense and personal, with much triggering of the X-Card, or too gonzo and weird, producing unsatisfactory stories, but this really seemed to hit the sweet spot.

We had four individual stories, lightly connected by some NPCs, covering everything from the actions of an embittered CEO getting revenge on his rivals, to the complex family relationship of a man marrying his ex-teacher and being hounded by his demanding and irascible mother. In the end, the only one who chose to forget their memories was my character, a fallen charity director who had seen everything he made be taken away as a result of his own addictions and poor anger management.

Slot #8: Space Force

A hack-at-the-table version of InSpectres, with the pitch being "Let's portray Donald Trump's 'Space Force' as 'Team America: World Police' and see how long it takes the break the GM!' That last bit wasn't explicitly in the pitch, but for the record: 2 hours and 14 minutes. The stats chosen by the players to represent this mission were:
  • Plastology: since plastic was the only 'natural' resource remaining in the distant future year of 2020, it was used for making everything.
  • Muscle, Armaments, Guns & Ammo: the combat skill, shortened to 'MAGA.'
  • Patriotism: the test of true Americans, the greatest, most diplomatic people on Earth and anyone who says otherwise is a Mexican Commie Liberal!
  • Success!: for literally everything else, because we'll have so many successes, we'll get bored at succeeding!
The 'plot', if I can use that word, involved 2.3 million metric tons of Michael Bolton CDs on a collision course with Florida, which the team confused with Italy for a brief time... in fact, it's fair to say that most of us were confused for a brief time and the game ended before the end of the slot because we had made every joke. EVERY. JOKE.

Slot #9 & #10: Sorcerer

I was fortunate to be invited to a mini-campaign of Sorcerer that run over three sessions at the convention; in these first two, we selected LA as our setting, gave demons some flavour as 'wounds with things in them' for some Croenenberg style and defined 'humanity' as 'kindness' to track when we might be losing it. My character was the queer son of an LA televangelist who had been disinherited for his sexuality and the schism between the two sides of his life had driven him into a kind of delusional obsession that made him perfect for summoning a demon, even if he didn't really know what he was doing.

There was one other player-character, an aspiring actress who had joined a coven of occultists and been the only one who successfully summoned a demon, which she wore as a second skin, changing her appearance somewhat and leading to her being cast as the lead in a major new horror film. The kickers we began with involved the actress being blackmailed over her hidden past just as filming began on her new project, and my character's father being arrested on murder charges relating to a teenage girl in his flock whom he had allegedly attempted an exorcism on.

Slot #11: Shercula?

The pitch for this Primetime Adventures game, of Moffat & Gatiss adapting another public domain work to be a major new BBC TV series, resulted in a story combining the confidence trick/heist based drama of 'Hustle' with the pseudo-Victorian setting of 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' to produce 'Bustle'. This starred Emma Watson as Lydia Bennett, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Mrs. Bigglesworth, Sacha Dhawan as Mowgli, Simon Pegg as The Artful Dodger and an actor in a mocap suit that would be digitally replaced by a virtual recreation of Elvis playing Tintin. I don't think the BBC are going to a series with this one...

Slot #12: Sorcerer

We finished our short campaign with the actress going on to be an industry success, albeit a somewhat toxic one as the demon bound to her insisted she make the people around her miserable so it could feed on their tears. The preacher's son went on to have a breakdown on the witness stand at his father's trial, leading to his aphasia: after some months of rehabilitation, he returned to the care of his male lover and restarted his street ministry offering perfectly secure confessions, since it was impossible for him to tell anyone else what he had heard.

Slot 14: [Nameless Game]

After taking Saturday night and Sunday morning off, I ran my last game of the convention and offered up something totally new in which the players were invited to create the most snowflake, Mary-Sue, edgelord characters they could imagine. We settled on a superhero setting with Everyone, the superhero who is everyone in the world's digital presence; Sparkle & Bruce, her invisible pink unicorn; an evil criminal mastermind, since there's always someone in the group who wants to be a villain; Nyte Blade, not to be confused with his mentor Blade Lord, or anyone else with the name 'Blade', of whom there were many; Dr. Dr. Incel, who wanted you to know exactly how many doctorates he had; and the Encyclopaedia, a sexy librarian because reasons.

So, thanks to all the people there: the convention organisers who greased the wheels; the site staff who were friendly and helpful; the GMs who gave us stuff to do; the stall holders who brought the shinies; the gamers, who raised over £7,000 for charity; and finally, and most importantly, the ducks, to whom I would like to say "Quack."

Tuesday, 24 September 2019


I don't know what it is about my dreams lately, but here's a game I dreamed I was being told to write content for; it's obviously inspired by Reigns but I don't know why as I've never actually played that. Unlike most of my other games, there's no real end to this one, you just play it until you reach whatever goals you set for yourselves.

Creating a Nation

Image result for courtiersThis is a very simple game about a Monarch and the advisers in their Court; in order to play, you'll need a pencil, some paper, an eraser and some coins with easily identifiable heads & tails sides. The first order of business is to appoint a Monarch who rules over the fictitious nation that the game is set in. The Monarch starts by defining a number of resources which will define the nation and how successful they are in ruling it: these might be very obvious things like population, gold, food and happiness, but they could be more esoteric qualities like magic, crystals, sunbeams and  fortifications or whatever you like. Pick whatever you want to measure your nation by, so if you'd rather have a comedically dark & Gothic realm, your resources could be misery, hunger, rats and rain.  The number of resources should be the same as the number of non-Monarch players, so in a 5 player game, there will be 1 Monarch who chooses 4 resources. All the resources you start the game with have an initial score of 2, but you cam make this whatever you like if you want to hack the game for a different tone or theme.

After the Monarch has recorded the nation's starting resources, they appoint all the other players as their Courtiers; the Monarch may either name a role and ask another player to fill it, or they may simple ask the other players what roles they have in mind for themselves. As with resources, select roles that reflect and support the theme of the nation; examples might be Major General of All Armies, Chief Tax Collector, Grand High Wizard, etc. Each Courtier takes a coin from the Monarch when their role is agreed; you are now ready to start play.

The Changing Seasons

Each round of play follows this format:
  • The Monarch suggests a theme: this could simply be based on the season the nation is passing through, or something more specific such as "A Time of War" or "The Famine."
  • Once the theme is set, the Monarch asks for news from the nation from each Courtier, in any order they please, but each Courtier should only be asked for their news once per round.
  • When giving news to the Monarch, a Courtier has three options: they can ask the Monarch for Judgement, tell them of an Event or present them with an Opportunity.
  • Once every Courtier has given their news, and all the results of that have been settled, the Monarch begins a new round with a new theme, incorporating whatever changes the nation has gone through into that as appropriate.
Each Courtier should present news that is fitting to their role, the theme of the round or, if possible, both, e.g. the Major General of All Armies should usually give news about border defences, conflicts with neighbouring nations, military exercises & budgets, etc. The three types of news that may be give are resolved in different ways:


After giving their news, the Courtier presents the Monarch with two choices and asks them to pick one; as they do so, they should take their coin and conceal it in their left or right hand. As they present the Monarch with their choices, they should indicate which hand corresponds to which choice, presenting both closed fists out to the Monarch, who indicates their choice by tapping one fist.

Image result for judge paintingWhen presenting a case for judgement, bear in mind that one of the choices you offer the Monarch will be bad and lead to a loss of resources, while the other will be good and create more resources. You don't have to be obvious about this, but nor should you attempt to be deliberately misleading. Once the Monarch has chosen, open the fist they tapped: if it has the coin, then their choice was wise and you should tell them to take +1 in one resource of your choice; if it doesn't have the coin, then the Monarch's choice was unwise and they must take -1 in one resource of your choice.

For example, the Monarch asks their Chief Tax Collector for news, who responds by saying "It is not good, your Highness; the crops have failed in many parts of the nation, so many of our farms have produced under yield this season, so they have had less to pay their taxes with... your Majesty, should I send out armed guards with the tax collectors, to force the taxes out of the farmers? Or should I give them leave to pay double next year?" The Courtier presents first their left, then their right fist as they say this; the Monarch considers and taps the right, indicating that the taxes should be left until next year, hoping for a more prosperous time; the Courtier opens their fist but reveals no coin! They narrate that the nation's coffers are running low and apply a -1 penalty to the 'Gold' resource, which the Monarch adjusts accordingly.


Giving news of an event is rather like presenting the Monarch with a choice to pass judgement on, but instead of letting the Monarch choose between two outcomes, the Courtier tosses a coin instead. Events are simply random occurrences that are outside the control normally exerted by the Monarch: they can be small things with big consequences, such as a marriage cementing the bond between two neighbouring nations, or wild, natural events, such as earthquakes, floods, fires and so on.

Events don't effect resources though; instead, they tag the nation or the Monarch themself with conditions: a condition is a word or short phrase that describes the situation, such as "Engaged to be married", "At war", "Favoured by the Gods" and so on. Along with this, you may note an effect on the game, e.g. perhaps the condition "Diseased" might have a note that says "Double population losses", so that each time the nation's 'Population' resource is reduced for any reason, then it actually reduces twice as much, e.g. -2 instead of -1. The outcome of the event is decided by a toss of the Courtier's coin: if it comes up heads, the outcome is good, but if it comes up tails, the outcome is bad.

For example, the Royal Intelligence Collector (or Chief Spy, if you like) reports that the neighbouring nations of Hapsbarr and Bohemica have broken off diplomatic relations with each other over a supposed insult at a recent state dinner, then tosses a coin. It comes up heads, so the Courtier asks the Monarch to record that the nation is now "Close ally of Hapsbarr" and benefits from double 'Culture', whenever there is a gain in that resource.


The final type of news is where the Monarch may benefit from a situation if they act quickly; the Courtier describes the opportunity and the Monarch decides whether to take it or not. Every opportunity has a cost and the Monarch will be required to give up 5 units of one resource. erase one condition from themself or the kingdom, or both if ridding themslves of an unwanted condition.

When the Monarch agrees to spend a beneficial condition, or 5 units of a single resource, then the Courtier will tell them what they get in return, in the form of a rare resource: this is a second tier resource that cannot be gained by normal means and represents something rare and incredible. As well as recording it on their sheet, the Courtier who brought this to their attention takes an additional coin. When a Courtier has multiple coins, they effect play in two ways:
  1. When the Monarch chooses an option during Judgement, the outcome is increased by 1 for every extra coin, e.g. if picking either option from a Courtier with 3 coins in total, the result will be either +3 or -3 to one resource, accordingly. This is before the gain or loss is doubled by any condition that apples to it.
  2. When the Monarch is told of an Event, they may dismiss the result of a coin toss, if the Courtier who brought them the news has multiple coins. When this is done, the Courtier loses that coin and tosses one of their remaining ones; the Monarch may keep demanding retries as long as the Courtier has coins to spare, but once that Courtier is down to their single last coin, no more retries are allowed.
For example, the Monarch calls upon their Jester for their news, who reports that a circus is passing through the nation and it might stop to perform for the court, if there is suitable reimbursement. Since the Monarch currently has the condition "Cloud of Gloom" recorded for their nation, they agree to the performance, taking -5 Gold and erasing the negative condition also, while the Jester collects an additional coin.

Continued Play

Image result for harvest paintingThere's no endgame with this, you just play until you reach a satisfactory conclusion; this might mean getting every resource to 10, or getting one of them to 20, or collecting 5 rare resources: it's whatever ending you want it to have, when you want it to end. What follows are some suggestions for varying the rules for broader interest:
The Monarch is Dead, Long Live the Monarch: after every 2 or 3 rounds of play, depose the Monarch and appoint a new player to that role. Everyone else can change roles too, and the old Monarch becomes a Courtier, but the resources and conditions carry over into the reign of the new Monarch.
Councillors, Committees & Cabinets: rather than just playing in the set-up given above, why not change the premises to suit another setting? Think about playing as the crew of a generational starship, a circle of demons advising Lucifer on how to run hell, the Senior Staff and Arch-Chancellor of a magical university or any other setting your hearts desire.
Superiority: instead of a Monarch, trying having a Mayor... in a city of superheroes & villains! Not only will this create different issues to be dealt with, but some of the Courtiers (more like Councillors or Cabinet) can secretly be heroes! Every non-Monarch player can give themselves a positive condition and take an extra coin at the start of play. On their turn, their condition applies to any bonuses gained, but they can spend a coin on any other player's turn to have their condition take effect then also.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Making Magic

Image result for forging a sword
This is a silly little game poem you can try with players who are familiar with various fantasy, horror or sci-fi tropes.

In this game, you're all going to portray magicians, though you could be high-tech engineers, weird scientists, occultists or a variety of other artisans without much tweaking to the rules. It's a little like Charades, but verbal instead of physical, and you'll need at least three players.

In each round of play, you will have a Suggester, a Crafter and a User:

  • The Suggester comes up with a basic or straightforward magic item, e.g. a dagger that glows blue in the presence of goblins or a cloak of invisibility. They write this down as a prompt and pass it to the Crafter.
  • The Crafter reads the prompt and then starts to describe the process of making the magic object provided by the Suggester; while doing this, they must outline at least three procedures or processes, or talk for at least one minute, whichever takes longest.
  • The Crafter starts with nothing except the most basic, commonly available tools and supplies; anything else they want, such as goblin blood, they must describe how they acquire it.
  • The Crafter can never use a word that describes what the magic object is intended to do, so in the examples given above, they would not be able to say 'glow' or 'invisibility.' The Crafter is also not allowed to use synonyms for those words, e.g. 'light', 'shine', 'unseen', 'transparent' and so on for the above two examples.
  • When the Crafter has finished speaking, the User gets to describe how they would use that item in the way they think is it intended to work. If they get it right, they and the Crafter win the round; if not, the Suggester wins.
  • If the Suggester wins, they can add a little post-script narration to the User's guess, outlining how their misunderstanding of the magic item costs them dearly.

For example, in the first round of play, the Suggester's magic item is the dagger that glows blue in the presence of goblins; the Crafter then has to come up with at least three processes or procedures for making that item, along with the tools & ingredients used, and take at least 1 minute to describe them all.

They might say "I go to the home of the Star Elves, who are known for their amazing metal-smithing and acquire a sample of pure Mithril, which I have blessed by their High Priestess; I then travel to the camp of the Western Nomads and hunt with them for many moons, until I am skilled enough to take my first blood from a goblin bandit; returning home with the metal and the blood, I make an alloy in my furnace, beating the metal and grinding out a blade within the time that the moon is up each night, until my work is complete!" (Only longer and more colourful, because they have to speak for at least a minute!)

Finally, the User has a chance to guess at the purpose of the magic item and might do so by saying: "Taking the magical sword, I travel fearlessly through goblin-ruled lands, knowing that I need fear nothing, for my blade will poison any goblin it draws blood from!" The Suggester may add, "Days later, a group of soldiers returning from the border find your body, pierced by hundreds of goblin raider arrows, with the gentle blue glow of your sword ebbing away..."

Change it up each round, so that different players are the Suggester, Crafter and User; when everyone has had an equal number of turns in every role, the game ends and you can compare scores to see who was the overall winner.

Friday, 19 July 2019


Image result for village"Welcome, adventurer, to the village of Wrongturn... funny, you're the first adventurer we've had in a long time... must be because we're so far off the main roads here! Don't you worry at all, we've got everything you could ever need for your quest, right here! Potions? Uhhh... we have a local drink made of mashed worms and carrot peel... no? But you must! It's our speciality! Here, have a pint!"

Inspired by this Drawfee video, Wrongturn is a game set in a console RPG, where the Chosen One of Legend shows up in a village that is really not quite prepared for that kind of thing and really can't offer them anything they want. Make the best of it and try to come out with something useful!

Load Game

You'll need at least 3 players for this game, one to be the Adventurer and the rest to play the NPCs they meet in the village, all of whom have some kind of special service they can offer, only it's never quite what the Adventurer is looking for. Appoint one of the NPC players as Mayor: this doesn't come with any extra power, just a load of responsibilities and is mostly a ceremonial role.

To begin, the Mayor rolls on the Village Table to get a basic description for what sort of place Wrongturn is, though anyone can chip in with further suggestions to help paint the picture of a place that is not quite normal by the standards of a CRPG. The Adventurer also rolls on the Need Table once for each NPC, writing down the results they get: if they get two or more of the same result, they can either roll again, choose a different result or keep those results and make them different through the narration. For example, if you roll 'Weapon' twice and keep both results, try to think of different weapons, e.g. a sword and a bow, etc.

Next, all the NPCs take 2 or 3 strips of paper each and write a single word down on each one: any word will do, but check with the other players what sort of age rating you all want to aim for. A simple, clear word, like a colour or object, works better than something unusual and ambiguous like 'cosmology' or 'piscine.' Fold all the strips up and put them in a cup, pot, bowl or hat.

Finally, the Mayor takes a post-it note or index card for each NPC, including themselves, and writes down a number on each card, with the following guidelines:
  • All the numbers should be whole, real numbers
  • Each number should be positive, negative or zero
  • No number should be greater than the number of players, whether positive or negative.
  • The total of all the numbers should be zero.
For example, in a game with one Adventurer and four NPCs, the Mayor might write down -2, -3, +5 and 0 on the four cards. Once the numbers are written, the Mayor shuffles the cards face down and deals one to each NPC including themselves; each NPC may look at their own number but not at any one else's and the Adventurer may never see any of the numbers, even when they are first written down. The numbers are only revealed at the end of the game.

Press 'A'

The game proceeds as follows:
  • The Adventurer picks an NPC they have not encountered yet.
  • The Adventurer tells the NPC what Need they are trying to fulfill.
  • The NPC draws a strip of paper from the hat and secretly looks at it.
The Adventurer and the NPC now play out a scene of the former trying to get their Need fulfilled by the latter, with the latter explaining that they don't really have anything like that, but they do have this thing instead, which is just as good, if not better! The NPC uses the word on the strip of paper to twist what they are offering, showcasing that word in some way: they might use it to describe everything in their shop, themselves or the one thing they are offering. The NPC should always narrate themselves and their goods or services in an eccentric way, while the Adventurer's role is mostly to act as the straight, trying to understand what the heck the NPC is doing.

For example... our Adventurer enters the first shop in the village, trying to fulfill their Need for Ability Training, specifically (they have decided) a new combat move that will stun low-level minions. The NPC draws the  word 'coal' secretly from the hat and starts to describe the black clouds of smoke that puff from the windows of the wooden shack; the conversation that follows takes place in a roiling cloud of foul-smelling coal smoke so thick that the two characters can't even see each other.

In addition to using the word in their narration, the NPC should also skew the usefulness of their goods or services according to the value on their card: if positive, then make them sound too good to be true; if negative, then try to make the bugs sound like features; and if zero, try to avoid making any promises or guarantees that what your offering is anything other than purely cosmetic.

Image result for weapons armourTo continue the example above, if the NPC has a positive number on their card, then they might boast of the Secret of Smoke they can teach the adventurer: "Just one deep breath and then puff it all out: cloud o' smoke blinds 'em, chokes 'em, causes memory loss, dissolves armour and sterilizes the ground for a radius of half a mile!"
On the other hand, with a negative value, the NPC might say something like "Stun 'em? Why, what good's that? They'll just get back up again soon or later! Nah, you want to learn the Secret of Smoke: kills 'em stone dead. Kills everythin'. Just keeps killin'... killin', killin', killin'... don't even know how to stop it from killin', it's that good!"
If the value was zero, however, then the 'Secret of Smoke' might be: "You jump up in the air on this, like, column o' smoke, then you come down gentle again like a leaf... mighty impressive lookin', gonna keep all eyes on you, yep, no-one else is gonna look as impressive as you, mid-skirmish!"

Game Over

At the end of each encounter between the Adventurer and an NPC, the Adventurer makes two choices:
  • They can try to guess what word the NPC had: if they guess right, they take it and write '+1' on it; if they guess wrong, they write '-1' on it; if they don't want to guess, the NPC shows them what it was and writes '0' on it.
  • They decide whether to accept the goods or services the NPC offers; if they accept it, they take the NPC's card and place it face down in front of themselves; if they don't, the card is placed off to one side.
Once every NPC has had an encounter with the Adventurer, the final score is revealed! The Adventurer turns all the cards they collected face-up and adds up their total, plus the total of the words they tried to guess. If the final total is greater than zero, the Adventurer goes on to succeed in their quest, using everything they gained in Wrongturn; if the total is less than zero, then they fail horribly, with the 'help' given by Wrongturn being instrumental in sealing their doom. If the Adventurer's total was exactly zero, then the world is saved... just not by this Adventurer: someone else did it while they were busy wasting their time in Wrongturn. Whatever the case, all players should participate in describing this outcome, adding their own colourful details, until everyone is satisfied that the story is done.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Tech Support II: Customer Returns

This is a spiritual successor to Tech Support, a game I created in 2014; it's thematically similar, though the structure encourages more players to participate in more ways.

Image result for boxThere are four aspects to this game, composed of two prepatory and two performatory steps (yes, those are words now); the two prepatory steps are taken in turn, then the two performatory aspects are played at once, interacting with each other... two players talk to each other, in a conversation.

Preparation 1: The Problem

Someone suggests an issue, obstacle, complication or problem: this, as with the original Tech Support, can be Low Tech, High Tech, Non Tech, Non Human or Supernatural.

Preparation 2: The Opportunity

Someone else now suggests a product that can solve the problem and, again, this can be Low Tech, High Tech, Non Tech, Non Human or Supernatural. The Problem and the Opportunity do not have to match in this aspect, e.g. you can propose a Non Human solution to a High Tech issue, if that works for you.

Some Examples:
Problem: getting the last bit of jam from the bottom of the jar
Opportunity: hyper-mass spoon that uses gravitational attraction to suck up the jam

Problem: teleporters that split you into your good and evil side
Opportunity: 'marriage' contracts for good/evil splits

Problem: being unable to get that song out of your head
Opportunity: a Norwegian Blue parrot that sings something else, drowning out the first song

Problem: becoming the host for a parasitic fungus
Opportunity: a shrine to the Fungus God at which you can can ask for their blessing

Problem: ghosts; just ghosts
Opportunity: ghost strips that work like fly paper

An optional suggestion for these first two phases is to play them out like a particularly cheesy advert or infomercial: the first player says something like "Don't you hate it when...?", after which the second player follows this up with "Well, now you can say goodbye to that problem with new, [Product X]!"

Image result for retail customer servicePerformance 1: The Customer

The next player (which could also be the first one again if there are only two of you) now takes on the role of a dissatisfied customer who is returning the above-mentioned product due to a fault or it just performing inadequately and failing to act as advertised.

Performance 2: The Retailer

The last aspect of play is someone taking on the role of a representative of the commercial retailer that the customer bought the product from.

The interaction between Customer and Retailer may take place over the phone, in a service chatroom or face-to-face at a retail outlet. Whatever the case, remember to follow these guidelines:
  • Both sides are polite and respectful: don't turn it into an insane screaming match or blame-apportioning exercise.
  • Keep the conversation on topic: the Customer is seeking a refund or replacement from the Retailer.
  • The Retailer may try to troubleshoot the problem, or explain that it is a feature, not a bug, but the Customer may counter that with the "I know, I tried that, but it still didn't work, because..." strategy.
  • The game ends (quite quickly) when the Retailer successfully fixes the issue with the product to the Customer's satisfaction or offers to refund/replace the product.