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

Waiting for Godot
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.

In order to play, you will need a deck of cards: the first player turns over the top card of the deck to determine their opening gambit; the rank of the card revealed does not matter at this point, only the suit:

Clubs: the subject is their routine and role in the dungeon, such as how long they have been there, what's in the chest and when are they having lunch.

Hearts: the subject is themselves and their destinies, such as how easily they can crack a skull, how a date with the sorceress went and what they hope to do once they are finished guarding this chest.

Spades: the subject is the adventurers, such as how long they will take to arrive, what they'll do when they arrive and musing about famous adventurers.

Diamonds: the subject is philosophical or scientific musings, such as the way they perceive time to pass, the nature of morality and the evolution of species.

The game continues by each player turning over the next card in the deck and continuing the conversation by way of that theme, but the rank of the cards makes a difference to how that response is framed.

Scene Two

If the next card turned over is of a higher rank than the previous one, then the response must be in the form of a question: this may be a rhetorical question, one seeking clarification or just a reframing of the previous statement in more circumlocutious terms.

For example, if the prior statement, from the 3 of Clubs, was "I've brought a cheese sandwich for lunch," then the responses might be as follows:

On the 7 of Clubs: "Were we supposed to bring our own food?"

On the 7 of Hearts: "I thought you were gluten intolerant?" or "Did you buy it or make it yourself?"

On the 7 of Spades: "What do you think the adventurers have got for lunch?"

On the 7 of Diamonds: "How did they discover cheese?"

Scene Three

If the next card turned over is of a lower rank than the previous one, then the response must be in the form of a statement: this may be an answer to a previous question, an angry outburst or simply a meandering stream of conciousness, as long as it stays on topic.

For example, if the prior statement, from the 7 of Clubs, was "I hear they're bringing  in a dragon," then the responses might be as follows:

On the 3 of Clubs: "Oh... they'll have to widen the doors then."

On the 3 of Hearts: "I hope they're not going to sack us"

On the 3 of Spades: "They'll kill it. They killed the last one. And the one before that."

On the 3 of Diamonds: "That'll be for the treasure then. They love treasure."

Scene Four

If the next card turned over is of the same rank as the previous one, then there is no response: the orcs are interrupted by the suggestion of events outside the room. The player whose turn it is may insert any kind of jarring interruption to the narrative, regardless of the suit of the card drawn; the game then continues with the next player turning over the next card and starting a new topic of conversation. Examples of interruptions might be the sound of a trap being sprung or a great beast roaring, the echoes of distant footsteps or bloody battles, or even another denizen of the dungeon opening the door to the room, saying "Sorry, wrong room," and closing the door immediately behind them.

Final Act

The game may end in one of two ways:

1. The last card is turned over, the last question is asked or statement made, the light fades to black and the curtain comes down.


2. On any double, the player whose turn it is may choose to have the opening of the door to their room as the interruption to the dialogue: the adventurers have arrived, at last. Fade to black, curtain down.

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.

Mortal Concerns

The Mortal side of each character is divided into three aspects:
  • Can they be seen?
  • Can they be heard?
  • Can they be felt?
The default answer to all three of these questions is "Yes," so all Spectres are innately visible, audible and tangible to mortals, but players can change any of these answers to "No," which has three consequences:
  • They lose 1 point from Mortal and add it to Spectral.
  • They gain a new Spectral Power.
  • They lose the ability to interact with mortals in that way, e.g. they cannot be seen, heard or felt by them.
A Spectre that is unseen is invisible to mortals under all circumstances and nothing they can do will make a human see them; a Spectre that is unheard is always inaudible to mortals, even when screaming in their ear; finally, a Spectre that is unfelt passes through all material objects without affecting them. Players can only roll their Mortal attribute for things their Spectre can still do, so if they answer "No" to all three questions, then their Mortal score is reduced to zero and they no longer get to do any of those things.

Spectral Powers

Every Spectre starts with a score of Spectral 1 and one Spectral Power, but they increase both of these by reducing their Mortal score as explained above. Each Spectral Power represents a specific supernatural ability the Spectre possesses, including but not limited to:
  • Pyrokinesis
  • Telepathy
  • Teleportation
  • Clairvoyance
  • Prophecy
  • X-Ray Vision
  • Possession
  • Shape Shifting
The only restriction on Spectral Powers is that you cannot have one that replaces or replicates a lost Mortal ability, e.g. you cannot take Telekinesis as a Spectral Power if you are unfelt and you cannot use Telepathy with mortals if you are unheard . Equally, there's no point in taking Invisibility if you are unseen or Intangibility if you are unfelt.

Every Spectre also has one restriction upon them, which is they cannot leave their resting place, so they are confined within the house & grounds of their residence. Players can assign one of their Spectral Powers to overcoming this restriction, however, but it has no other effect: if a player takes Teleportation as a power, then they can only use it to move within the residence unless they also use up another power on being allowed to roam freely. Overcoming the restriction grants no special benefit on its own, so though the player's Spectral score still increases by 1, the ability to leave the residence is not considered a Spectral Power in itself and grants no special abilities, nor does it require a roll.


The Ghosts of Motley Hall, 1976-1978

Each Spectre also has one Passion, which is something that was singularly important to them in their life: this could be connected to their profession, their hobby or their family life, but it cannot be the house they share with the other Spectres. Examples include:
  • Childhood toys
  • Electronics
  • Care for animals
  • Housekeeping
  • Food & drink
  • History
  • Law
  • A favourite grandchild
Whenever a Spectre makes a roll that is closely connected to their Passion, they add 1d6 to their pool prior to rolling; this does mean that even a Spectre who is unseen, unheard and unfelt can still attempt actions which involve any of those, as long as their Passion is concerned.


When their common home & peaceful existence comes under threat, the Spectres band together to face it: this is known as a Haunting. Each Haunting has a score that the Spectres must meet in order to resolve the problem, using the rules as for earning franchise dice presented in InSpectres: when the target Haunting value is reached, the problem has been solved and peace returns to the Spectres' residence... until next time.

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.

Die Faster: Ensemble Cast Play
This is a big change to the fundamental way Dead of Night works, as each player can control several characters at once, but the stats of the game are greatly stripped down and simplified.

Instead of the existing four stat pairs (Identify/Obscure, Persuade/Dissuade, etc) there is only one pair, Proactive/Reactive and each PC gets 10 points to split between the two halves of this pair. Proactive is used when a PC tries to make something happens or to change the situation; Reactive applies when the PC tries to prevent something happening or to keep the situation as it is.

At the start of play, pitch a setting and get everyone to suggest possible characters who might be in that situation: you 'll need a list of at least 5 times the number of players, but keep descriptions short and stereotypical, e.g. 'Greedy Executive', 'Rookie Cop, 'Foul-Mouthed Labourer' and so on. Each player takes 5 Survival points as normal, but then takes it in turn to pay 1 Survival point and buy a character from the list: go around doing this until everyone is happy with the number of characters they have bought. More characters can be added to the list at any time, but any time a player earns a survival token, they must take a character from the list instead; they can also buy another character at any time, as long as they have a Survival point to pay for it with.

Image result for tremors cast
Tremors, 1990
As well as their stat pair, each character can also have one trait in the normal way, reflecting one thing they are especially good at; it's also a good idea to give them a name and think of a short, catchy description that can be used when introducing them to the narrative.

In all other ways, characters are treated exactly as Survival points: if you lose a Risky challenge, you must lose one of your characters, but not necessarily the one who made the roll. Each time one of your characters dies, you get to narrate it, so even if you choose to spend one for a re-roll or to establish a plot point, you get to choose the manner of the character's death and how it achieves that end.

Baggage: Campaign Play
This was an add-on I created when I set out to offer an 8-week campaign using Dead of Night as the ruleset: the basic idea was to give the player-characters an additional life-line that would hopefully slow down the mortality rate and allow storylines more time to develop.

Each player in the campaign creates one piece of Baggage for their character: this should be an object or NPC which represents an important goal or issue for the PC. For example, Baggage for one character might be their significant other, whereas someone else might have the hunting rifle bequeathed to them by their grandparent which they have won shooting contests with.

In play, each piece of Baggage has two uses: first, the player can choose to sacrifice their Baggage instead of having their character die. This doesn't require any re-rolls, they simply succeed at whatever they were doing, but they permanently lose their Baggage in the process.

The Walking Dead,  2010-Present
Second, they can bring their Baggage into the action: by doing so, they get to roll 3d10 and pick two results, instead of just rolling 2d10. This gives them more chance of success, but they have to be able to narrate how the Baggage helps them with that roll and if they fail the roll, they must either spend a Survival point to re-roll or lose their Baggage.

Keep in mind that the Baggage rules are in addition to the standard rule of each player gaining 2 more Survival points at the start of each new session, though as with many other rules, this can tweaked to suit the style of play you want, e.g. don't give out extra Survival points, but allow characters to have two pieces of Baggage, if you want 'losing the things you care about' to be a theme of the game.

Hazard Pay: Situational Horror
The Dead of Night system is built on the assumption of protagonists vs. antagonists, e.g. the Heroes of the movie against the Monsters, but there is a simple way around this, by defining the monster as something within the environment, such as a storm or an earthquake, or to reify an abstract threat, such as 'paranoia' or 'despair.'

Even so, there are often situations where the player-characters are doing something that is obviously dangerous, yet there is nothing acting against them, so technically there's no reason their success would cost the Monsters a Survival point, even though failure should clearly cost the PC one. This hack is a suggestion for dealing with those situations and comes in the form of Hazard Pay.

Let's take a standard disaster movie trope, where the one hope the characters have of escaping danger is for somebody to go out into the dangerous situation and open a door/restart a generator/retrieve a weapon and so on. As GM, you take Hazard Pay from the player-character who does so: they give you a Survival point to hold while they are exposing themselves to the additional danger, but they get it back when they return to a safer environment.

Aliens, 1986
This means that, while they are exposed to the increased danger, they are more at risk of death, since they have fewer Survival points to call upon; the danger can even be compounded, for example if they fail the vital roll, they owe more Hazard Pay and have to try again before they can make their way back to safety.

The Survival points held by the GM as Hazard Pay are fully paid back to the player as soon as their character is out of immediate danger, but until then, those Survival points are not available to them for any purpose; additionally, any extra Survival points they earn in that situation are held with their Hazard Pay until they return to safety. This makes dangerous situations mean something without arbitrarily taking Survival points away from the players or making them take Risky checks in which they have no chance of making their opponents lose any.