Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category


Gaming Thursday: The Mouse Guard Epiphany

July 20, 2017

With another chapter in our Dresden Files game come to a close, my group and I have plunged ourselves into Mouseguard.  Based on the grand graphic novels by David Peterson, it promises a heavily narrative-based game (it uses a version of the Burning Wheel system).  We’ve played a half-dozen or so sessions, and we’ve progressively been getting into the swing of things.  There are a quite number of intricacies to the system that took us a while to remember and get a handle on;  more than we were anticipating, but as we play more and more we can see how they interconnect and what they make available.  However, there was one aspect of the game that kept seeming to elude us, something that despite our growing familiarity of the system still seemed to be robbing our game of what we felt should be a certain flow and involvement.

Last weekend, though, in one of those hilarious moments of non-sequitur insights while randomly walking through my house, I got just what had been eluding us:  Compared to the resolution structure in most RPGs, Mouseguard’s is reversed.

In all the RPGs I’m familiar with (indeed, this has been the “normal” way of playing since I started playing 30 odd years ago), scenes* are played out in “real-time”, with players/characters acting and reacting to events as they unfold in the scene, and die rolls are made whenever the GM thinks one of these (re)actions has a chance of failure.  This continues with further (re)actions and further die rolls until the scene ends.  Many different skills or abilities may be tested during a scene, and the players are usually trying to angle themselves and their actions towards “victory.”

Here is where Mouseguard flips things on its (mouse) ear:  there is only one test, and it happens at the start of a scene.

Things begin with the GM describing the basics of the obstacle to be overcome in very broad, 1000 metre view, terms.  The scene is also set in those broad terms:  it could be the forest, an entire city, underground caverns, or the sea.  With the obstacle set, the GM can present what skill needs to be tested to bring the party to a desired outcome, and the players can also suggest more.  Then one character makes the test, with potential (and game-rules-directed) assistance from the other characters.  After a rather involved series of steps and ways to have the test be successful (and it makes much more sense why there are so many steps once we got how few influential the few test rolls are), the party either succeeds or fails.

And then you narrate the heck out of how the party gets to that conclusion.

That there is the biggest shift to make to get Mouseguard… Setting the scene also includes setting how the scene will end.  Everyone around the table knows this outcome.  Armed with that knowledge, you all work to tell the most interesting story you can come up with for how it all plays out.


I think this is quite cool.  And I’d say definitively the most narrative angle of the narrative-RPGs I’ve played.  There’s a certain liberation in starting the scene knowing you will fail (or succeed, for that matter) – you can set up your failure much more intricately, much more delicately, and much more satisfyingly than wondering how you’ll do on that next skill test (and knowing there could be several more skill tests).  And since everyone knows, the whole group gets in on the act.  Maybe they all act in concert to foul things up, maybe one of them botches things, maybe they try valiantly but the environment gets them, maybe they lose big, maybe they just miss it by milimetres.  Interpersonal interactions can play a role, friends and enemies could be involved, it’s all open to play with.

Overall, I think this creates the potential for much richer stories.  Maybe it lends itself more towards mostly third-party narration versus acting things out, but I don’t know yet.  I’m excited to see how we play it out in our group.  Now that we’ve got the sequence down right, I’m sure we’ll begin to further grok the various intricacies between all the different inputs (persona points, fate points, beliefs, etc) and also use them in a much more rich manner.

For sure I’m still a big fan of the real-time and extemporaneous style of play, but this reverse-o way of playing has got me really eager to see what comes out of it.  I’ll let you all know how it turns out.


* While there’s usually no hard and game-rules enforced start to a scene, there is a certain point where the GM begins to describe things in more detail or with more urgency, often accompanied by the description of a new location.


Gaming Thursday: Top Secret/SI (& NWO!)

July 6, 2017

I was all set to post about reading through Top Secret/SI tonight when I learned of some very exciting news:  TOP SECRET IS BACK!

The original creator of Top Secret, Merle Rasmussen, has teamed up with a few others to create Top Secret: New World Order, and it’s LIVE on Kickstarter right now!

Colour me stupendously excited.  I’ve backed it and eagerly await its release.  Judging by the couple of images at the Kickstarter, it appears it will be a dice pool system using dice sizes for rankings, in basic stats (Nerve, Suave, Pulse, Intellect, Reflex), spycraft (sigint, humint, techint, combat), and something else… roll 13+ to succeed.  We’ll have to wait and see.

But for now, back to…

Top Secret/SI (for Special Intelligence) popped out in 87.  Still quite enamoured with Top Secret, I snatched it up as soon as I heard about it, and dove into it.  It was a pretty big rules re-design, introducing and updating it to many of the ideas that were becoming prevalent in the RPG world.  Gone were the individual resolution systems for infiltration, interactions, and combat, replaced instead with a universal percentile resolution system with a target number of your Stat + Skill Level x5 +/- Modifiers.  One unique thing was how your base stat was determined, via a d60 +10 roll, with this added bit of if all your stats totaled  less than 275, you could add enough points to make them total 275.  Looking back, a somewhat interesting way of generating a starting target number with a max of 70% chance of basic success, but one that you were equally likely to roll that 70 to rolling a 20… and having yourself a nigh-well impossible chance of doing much at all with that stat, maxing out to 45 even with max skill levels… and worse, sometimes you had to roll 1/2 or even 1/4 stat…. yeah.  Don’t even try to do anything in that area of expertise with that character.

The character sheets, though, were awesome.  They came as a full-blown dossier, and cemented my love for game-enhancing feelies:

I just love that so much.  With all the space for photo, nationality, history, and more, it really brought the more “fluff” parts of the character to bear, and reminded that hey!  You’re playing an espionage game here.

One thing you’ll see on that dossier is the agent diagram with the hit boxes.  Each location had boxes equal to 10% of your CON score, and each point of damage would cross off the box.  Cross off all boxes in head or body location, and you were dead.  Other areas, and the body part was destroyed.  Much less abstract than “Hit Points” and really quite deadly.  Though at the same time a bit odd that the hands were their own hit location with just as much damage soaking capacity…

Right from the get-go, the campaign style of Top Secret/SI was turned up several notches compared to Top Secret, a much more Bond-esque and superspy type world with a big bad organization like SMERSH or SPECTRE, called WEB, and an equally large organization opposing it, named ORION.  To give a sense of the tone in a number of the published modules, I ended up running them in a superhero Champions game, and they fit right in.

What was also nifty is that, over time, TS/SI became TSR’s base system for modern day and near-future action.  Supplements expanded the range of campaign styles, including Commando for more combat-oriented, Rambo-like stories, and even FREE-Lancers, a light cyberpunk-esque style campaign.  I never really got into FREE-Lancers (which is a bit unexpected, given I loved me my Cyberpunk and Cyberpunk 2020 games), but I ate Commando up like candy.  My games became much more closely linked in tone to Mack Bolan and Phoenix Force books than suave James Bond types… though we never abandoned all the fun gadgets.  Looking back, a rather amusing mix.

Overall, I do remember that at the time TS/SI came out I was… not altogether happy.   I had a lot of “Why did they change that??”, an early curmudgeon/grognard type reaction.  And so I went forward with this kitbashed version that combined aspects from the original game with the SI edition.  Likely it was this total hot mess, but it served us well for many years.  With some distance in time and mental space, on the whole I’d say TS/SI mostly gained compared to the original release.  Even if it lost some of the uniqueness and flavour baked into the subsystems, the unified resolution mechanism in TS/SI was a plus.  The game put even more emphasis on your character’s RP aspects, and the damage boxes for hit locations made combat tense and interesting, and the aftereffects lingering.  It definitively had an impact on my thoughts on what made a good RPG system for years to come.

And now, it looks like I’m getting my wish to play a Top Secret game once again.  Come November, no way in heck I won’t be playing, and reviewing, TS/NWO.

Just call me codename:  BAGMAN


Gaming Thursday

June 15, 2017

This… is all shades of both interesting/bizzare…

… and hilarious if you follow one of the comments’ suggestions and replace the redacted areas with classic D&D names:

“Vecna considers GYGAX to be eccentric . . .”

“Tiamat added that . . .”

“Mordenkainen advised that GYGAX…”

“… his knowledge of “The Tomb of Horrors”, also known as FRESNO.”



Gaming Thursday: Top Secret

June 1, 2017

A trip down memory lane tonight, back to the first RPG I bought, and played:  Top Secret.  I first spied (ha!) the game across an atrium at the World’s Largest Bookstore in Toronto, sporting the same photo (albeit in colour) as the cover of the rulebook.  It grabbed my attention right away.  I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to check it out.

Fortunately, I was already familiar with the choose-a-path style books, and had even played that kind of narrative game with friends, with one person taking on the role of the book, the other as the reader – GM and Player.  So when I did buy the game at a more local hobby store, it wasn’t hard at all to fall right into the game and start playing.  It was just what’d we’d been doing, only with rules.

And what rules they were!  It’s fun to revisit the book now, and bask in the glory of all those tables and charts.  It was a percentile based system, with straight up modifiers.  Skills (or Areas of Knowledge) were interesting in that they came into play primarily only when trying to influence, fool, or charm an NPC.  How you’d sneak into a compound was a whole independent set of rules that used a calculated statistic vs a category of security level, rather than a contest of skill rolls.  Looking back on it, that’s a pretty interesting rules design.  While there’s something to be said for rules unity (ie, same system everywhere), this does have the effect of enriching the two different activities:  interactions with people is given some breadth and flavour, while infiltration is more mechanical and every agent is given some capacity in it (befitting its bread and butter role in espionage).  Nice.

Revisiting and rereading the rules some 32 years later, here’s what stands out for me:

The game included the concept of “luck points” as a way to not only alleviate the quite deadly nature of the game, but to match the source material and add in some narrative fun.  What I really like was that there were two sets of luck points:  Fame and Fortune.  The former, you gained while performing missions and you, as the player, knew how many you had.  The latter was rolled randomly and secretly by the GM (The Administrator, in this game’s speak) at character creation.  Thus, you only had X amount of Fortune points, and when they were gone, you were gone too.  If you’d used up all your Fame points, you could try to use a Fortune point… but press your luck one too many times…

The Hand to Hand combat rules was a glorious hot mess of choosing specific attacks and defenses and comparing them against each other on large tables and finding a result and rolling damage based on the tabular lettering… on the one hand (ha!), kinda interesting and seemingly precise, but on the other hand, slow, convoluted, and not entirely representative of actual melee combats (in which you react with a movement, not pre-plan some defense).

Besides some basic attributes/stats for the characters, there were a number of calculated secondary (and even a couple of tertiary) stats that was the average of two or more primary stats.  There’s an aspect to this I like; a lot of challenging situations really does rely on two or more aspects of a character (someone with low courage isn’t going to be all that effective in a brawl, no matter how strong they are).  On the other hand, given the random stat rolling exercise, it was easy to  have high/low stat combos that both made everyone rather similar and also made those who lucked out in the right combo of right rolls all that much better.

Like many old school games, the glossary and appendix at the back of the book is pure GOLD.  This should be a requirement for all games, I assert.  There’s a lot of flavour added in here, and lots for the GM to glean from in adventure design.

Lastly, check out that starting adventure.  From the dossier design to the clear map to the open-world nature of it, it’s an excellent first modul, and the feelie nature of the dossier especially is a great atmosphere setter.  Besides the bits that came in computer games of the time, this probably began my lifelong love of feelies.

I’m always going to love me some spycraftian special/secret agent action.  I’ve come a long way in my tastes of rule systems (including in my no-longer-love for the Spycraft 2.0 RPG), and when thinking about my (still in development, honest!) own rule system design, considering how to run a Top Secret game gives me avenues to explore and be sure is supported in my rule system.  It’s given me something to chew on.

And now I reallllly want to play a Top Secret-like game.

(Also, I did buy Top Secret/SI when it came out – I’m going to re-read that one too…)


Gaming Thursday: Tauric Races

March 9, 2017

Announcing the publication of my latest D&D supplement:  Tauric Races!

From the familiar half-human/half-horse centaur to the more exotic wemic, formian, and even the yuan-ti, centaur-like races have graced the pages and campaigns of D&D since its very beginning.  A staple within fantasy literature and art, these centaur-like, or tauric, races have long captured our imaginations.

Live life on four feet and bring these fascinating hybrids into your adventuring party with Tauric Races!  Within this 20-page supplement you will find guidance on how to incorporate tauric races into the rich detail of your campaign world, guidance on how to play a tauric race, and complete rules for how to create centaur-like races based on nearly every animal type, including mammals, reptiles, insects, arachnids, and snakes.  In addition, it includes a new background, one new feat, and three fully developed races ready for immediate play:  the mighty centaur, the fierce wemic, and the agile kendrii (a foxtaur race).

You can find it here:

Here’s to it bringing excitement, fun, and adventure to your games.


Philosophy Tuesday

February 21, 2017

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Consider for a moment the idea of rules.

Consider that rules are not the great inhibitor,  or a restraint, or an attack on choice.

Consider that we make rules to empower us.

Consider that we make rules to empower us to get that which we want in life.

If you play, or enjoy watching, a sport, then this concept is very clear.

Because a sport is nothing but rules.

The first rule of a sport is often something like “it is more important to have the ball over there than it is to have it over here.”

Then we create rules to limit how you can get the ball over there.

Sometimes very intricate and amazing rules, with paragraphs and sub-paragraphs:

“Added new Rule 6.03(a)(4) regarding a batter who throws his bat and hits the catcher.  Exception now applies to Rules 6.03(a)(3) and 6.06(a)(4). Comment now applies to 6.03(a)(3) and 6.06(a)(4).”

That is one rule from two pages of rule changes made in a single year to a 170 page rule book.

Deliciously intricate.

And we enter 100% voluntarily into them.

Why?  Because it’s fun.

We’ve created a ruleset to empower us to have a great time.

It is, of course, the same with all games, not just sports.

And it is the same within our personal lives and our communities.

Like a rather common rule that says “you can’t just walk up and take someone’s stuff.”

Why did we create that rule?

Because it empowers us to get what we want in life:  The opportunity to focus on things other than combat training, being at ease and not always on guard, security, a life of less stress, one full of ease, where we can be and playful and joyous and waltz around with abandon.

Rules that empower us.

And we even task others to maintain and insist on  those rules.

We create umpires and referees.

We send them out onto the field, or onto the broader scale of our community, or the grand scale of our country, to maintain those rules.

Rules allow us to operate together to strive forwards together.

We can look at our intentions, be fully grounded in what’s actually happening, and create our rules accordingly.

Errata is very possible, if need be.  Even for a league that’s been around for 114 years.

All towards empowerment of who we are, and what we want:

Lives full of health, ease, grace, safety, love, enjoyment, fulfillment, expression, passion, fun, and peace of mind.


Gaming Thursday: D&D Character Stand-Ups

December 1, 2016

For our new 5E D&D campaign, I made some character stand-ups for our party:


As I mentioned when introducing my FATE stand-ups, having the character portraits in front of each players is a great way to keep the character fresh in our minds.  Each time we interact with each other, the image coupled with the graphic design — with all the information, personality, and world feel they convey — is front and centre to lend it’s evocative assistance.

They’re a lot of fun.  If you’d like them for your gaming table, I’ve placed a generic InDesign template for downloading here, and two PDFs to use as backgrounds in other programs are available here.

Game on!