Sunday, 11 October 2015

Playbook Games

So, it turns out I really like games with playbooks: ever since Apocalypse World came out and encouraged lots of hacks to be produced, I've been fascinated with the idea of compressing all you need for a game into a set of playbooks. There's just something about holding that unique character archetype in your hands, with all its promise of exclusive special abilities and tailored story hooks, that piques my interest and heightens my engagement with the game.

I've written three small games that depend on playbooks for their game structure, all of which are now available on Drivethru as Pay What You Want games; they tackle the design goal in different ways and produce quite different play experiences as a result.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Lally Tullet

This short game is about delivering a monologue that recounts a notable event in a person's life: the monologue for each player may be comic, tragic or just a slice of life.

The Beginning

Start by agreeing some boundaries and limits, paying special attention to the tone of the game: some
players may want something gonzo, bringing in elements of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, then cooking them up with some extreme real world situations, while others might want something more down to Earth and almost meditative in it's approach. I recommend the latter: don't push to make your monologue as exciting and remarkable as you are capable of, aim for something slower and focus on the Orator's feelings about the tale over the events that occur in it. The purpose of this game is to practice your characterisation skills and how you communicate to other players: aim to get under your Orator's skin and spin a tale that enthrals.

Thursday, 1 October 2015


Did you enjoy the tale of Howell's Phasmagraph in the Black Catalogue? Well, now you can play it at home! Sort of.
This is a mini-story game about a seance: it works best with 4 or 5 players, but it can also be a neat 2 player game and all you'll need is an ordinary pack of playing cards (Ouija board is optional.)

Seat all the players comfortably around your dining table or Ouija board, placing a well shuffled pack
of playing cards in the middle and deal 3 cards from the top of the deck to each player. Believe it or not, you are now ready to begin: for simplicity, players are encouraged to take on the roles of characters who look like themselves, so play someone of about your own age, gender, ethnicity, etc. This will make it easier for everyone else around the table to identify and remember the character you are playing. You can form an idea about your character in advance and then introduce yourself as you sit down at the seance, or you can allow your character to form through play, reacting to questions & answers spontaneously rather than according to any plan.

Saturday, 27 June 2015


This is intended as a relatively light, possibly sad game about queer romance, dating and sex... but you could use it to tell non-queer stories too, I'll leave that up to you. It's a little more substantial than the average short game on this blog, because it covers some more complex topics than usual. Finally, you don't have to be queer to play this game, but it helps!

Getting Started

Tom Daley & Dustin Lance Black
The game's set-up and final outcome is strongly affected by the number of players: if you have an odd number, then one of the character's is almost certainly going to end up alone at the end. In order to play, you'll need some blank sheets of paper to serve as character profiles, some post-it notes or index cards cut in half to identify Qualities, pencils & erasers and at least one six-sided die per player.


This is a short game about processes and building upon what has already been stated: in it, the player's collectively take on the role of a crashed AI trying to diagnose what went wrong with it and complete its function, whatever that is.


In order to play this game, you'll need a large sheet of paper (graph paper or plain paper work best), a sharp pencil, an eraser and a coin: the larger the sheet of paper you pick, the longer the game may take. Start by drawing a 4cm x 4cm box in the upper left corner of the sheet (it doesn't matter what shape the paper is or whether you orient it in portrait or landscape): the overall aim of the game is to reach the bottom right corner by drawing a series of boxes and arrows to represent the decisions the AI is faced with, the data is gathers and the actions it takes.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Enemy Within

In the usual process of going through things on my hard drive, looking for that thing I wrote that time and can't remember what I did with it, I discovered this lost piece. I proposed it as one the essay pieces for Andrew Kenrick's Dead of Night 2nd Edition, but it ended up not being used; here's what I wrote about games where the PCs are the monsters.

The Thing, 1982
Two characters are stuck with each other, survivors of the mayhem that has claimed so many other lives; as they look at each other, a paranoid glint in their eyes reveals their inner thoughts: “Are you the monster?” It’s a hard situation to reach in a game, but here are some approaches I've used to good effect.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Room 66a: A Treasure Chest Guarded by Two Orcs

This is a one-act story game for two players, though others may be added if required.

Scene One

Our drama takes place in a dungeon, within which there is a room containing a treasure chest guarded by two orcs (or more, if required.) The orcs are not clear on whose dungeon they are in, what is in the chest or why they are standing here guarding it, though they expect a party of adventurers to arrive and try to steal it, at some time, soon... possibly. The orcs are surprisingly erudite and loquacious, as we shall see.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


This is a short hack of InSpectres by Jared Sorensen, so you will need a copy  of that game, or at least familiarity with it, in order to play this one. In Spectres, most of the players are ghosts who have died in the same residence over the centuries, while the GM poses the problems they face from the mortal world.

InSpectres, 2002

Being a Spectre

All the player-characters in this game are ghosts who died in the same place, the same building they all now haunt. The first step to playing is to agree on what that place is: it might be a castle, manor house, industrial space or a house that has been renovated and modernised many times over the years. The history of the building will inform the choices made when creating the spectral characters.

Spectres have two attributes: Mortal, which covers the ordinary things they do, and Spectral, which governs the strength of their supernatural powers. Every PC starts out with scores of Mortal 3 and Spectral 1, but this can be changed during character creation.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dead of Night: Hacked Up

Dead of Night, Second Edition
One of my favourite games, and an influence on how I play, run and design others, is Dead of Night by Andrew Kenrick: it's a deceptively simple horror game, which models movies & campfire tales excellently. It's not so much the rules of the game which do this but the meta-rules: the second edition contains extensive guidance on how to tweak the rules, adjusting variables and circumstantial effects to best reflect the style of horror game you want to emulate, whether that's dark horror comedy or tense, claustrophobic psychological thriller.

The nature of these meta-rules encourages experimentation and I've had some success playing with the possible combinations to produce different effects: my Cold Fusion scenario, which appears in the book, changes the ways Survival point are used, splitting them into two colours which are drawn randomly from a bag, providing a countdown to a fate other than death for the player-characters.

I've also hacked the game more extensively, to profoundly change the assumptions of play, tailoring it to extended campaign play or ensemble disaster movies. Presented here is the essence of those two hacks, plus one more to represent tense, situational horror that can still be used in conjunction with 'humans vs. monsters' style games.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Blood & Water: Mixing the Miraculous, the Morbid and the Mundane

There’s this werewolf, a vampire and a ghost who share a house... but this is no joke. As it turns out, death is not the end for everybody, though it usually puts an end to your social life. Somewhere between being human and being a monster you’ll find the characters in this game: people who cannot return to the family they knew but aren't ready to embrace the thing they have become.

They say that blood is thicker than water, but when your own blood turns against you, you have to find a new kind of family, one who will accept you for what you are.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Now Boarding The Selene

The Final Voyage of The Selene is a little structured freeform game I came up with over 3 years ago, in response to playing and being impressed by Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne and now I've put a bumper edition of the game up for sale on Drivethru. I plan for this to be the first of many short, simple games I release commercially as pdfs this year, along with plans for extra material for The 'Hood and another RPG project which I'll deal with in my next blog post.

The bumper edition of The Final Voyage of The Selene includes the original game booklet and the dozen Role & Agenda cards it came with, but I've also written an accompanying booklet about the development of the game and how to get more from it, plus a dozen new, never-before-seen Roles & Agendas.