Wonder Wednesday

There is this amazing scene at the end of Drive My car.  It won’t necessarily spoil anything to watch it now, so even if you haven’t seen it go for it (and then I totally recommend watching the whole thing!).  The setup here that of a “play within a movie” and within the plot it’s got this interesting conceit, that of that each (in-film) actor speaks their native language for their lines.  This scene is the final one of Uncle Vanya, and the (in-film) actress here does her bit in Korean sign language:

Just so deliciously powerful.  The (actual) actor and her acting is amazing, but her performance in how she harnesses the sign language to deliver it, signing both personally but also involving the other actor is brilliant.  All heightened by the expressive and nuanced sign language itself.  Absolutely wonderful.  (As is the rest, see the film!)

Gaming Thursday – Cortex of FATE

As mentioned last week, I’ve been digging through the Cortex Prime ruleset.  We’ve been using it in a narrative-forward campaign that was originally conceived and played in the FATE ruleset.  So far it’s been going well, and I’ve discovered a few things that I prefer within Cortex.  For starters, nearly every test in Cortex involves/includes one of the character’s Distinction in the pool, whereas in FATE a character’s Aspects (essentially the same as a Distinction) only come into play if you spend a Fate Point.  While the latter might be more dramatically highlighting, outside of those Point spends there’s less to distinguish one character’s skill or approach or flavour from another.  By including a Distinction with every test, however, a character’s flair and flavour is likewise included and reinforced.  Another neat bit is how, by leveraging Cortex’s unusual die mechanics, there are several slick ways that can be used to resolve different kinds challenges or encounters or situations.  There’s a streamlined way to run obstacles or swarms or large-scale events, a way to craft interesting one-on-one contests, and another that allows for tracked action/reaction encounters.  Each unique yet still tied to the same mechanics, and each of them are evocative and allow for plenty of player creativity that highlights a character’s schtick and personality.  Lastly (for this post), there are slightly more reminders and perhaps incentive to invoke against yourself and therefore keep the meta currency economy flowing.*

Even with all the neat stuff in Cortex, however, there are some features of FATE that I do find missing within the base Cortex Prime ruleset, especially around the larger and more impactful narrative-altering use of Aspects and Fate Point spends.  Hmmm… why not take those ideas/concepts and incorporate them into the Cortex experience?

And lo, the Cortex of FATE mod was born!

To be clear, this is not an attempt to model or reproduce FATE within Cortex Prime – even using this mod the game still plays and feels like Cortex.  Instead, the additions are intended to enhance the narrative oomph of a campaign, primarily by adding additional uses for Distinctions and Plot Points and by porting over Approaches as a new Prime Set.  All in all, the goal is to entice greater storytelling opportunities.

We’ve been playtesting these mods in our Broken Lands campaign and thus far they’ve been working great.  If this piques your interest check it out, and I hope they help fuel wondrous and engaging stories for all those around your table.

* To be complete here, let me mention that I find there are also some downsides with the interesting dice mechanics.  Beyond the one I already spoke of last week, the principal issue is that in building a pool mechanic that both a) uses so many different die types as well as b) adding only two of them together to determine the result, it becomes quite difficult to get a grasp of the probabilities and outcomes.  This can be especially acute for the GM to set difficulties; if the base is 2d8 difficulty, how much harder does it make it if you add a d6 to the mix?  Or for players, is it better to go with a pool of 1d6|2d8|1d10, or a pool of 1d6|4d8?  With the d10, the former certainly allows for potentially greater success, both in a higher total as well as in choice of effect die, but will the latter, with its higher number of dice, equate to a higher average roll and thus higher chance of at least marginal success?  It gets worse when you realize that both the GM and the Player is rolling each time, with no static target numbers, and each with pools of dice that might be different each time… it will take a while to get a feel for “power levels”.

Storytelling Sunday – The Spidy Meta

I want to talk about the recent Spider Man Film, No Way Home, because there’s an aspect of it that’s super interesting to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and there are plenty of cool moments within – but the why of that is what I find so intriguing.

Before I get any further, as I always say, “Spoilers Ahead.”  But unlike the usual warning, in this case I really mean no, really, pause for a second here and if you if you have some interest in this film and haven’t seen it yet then, for some of the very things I’ll talk about below, it is really best to watch the film before reading further.

If you have seen it, well, let’s swing in!   Continue reading

Gaming Thursday: The Troubleshooters Aurora Casefiles

The Troubleshooters RPG is a game based on the action, adventure, and mystery genre of Franco-Belgian graphic novels (aka bandes dessinées), especially those of Tintin and Spirou & Fantasio.  Now, if you’re like me, just that tagline is enough to excite you!  And if it does, you’ll be equally excited to know that the game is now out for all.  It’s a definite beaut, well put together with art and layout that do a great job to evoke the genre.  Even better, so do its rules, with the core system being solid enough and with some nice mechanical nods that provide support towards playing and creating those types of stories we love.

Having backed the Kickstarter, I received the PDF a few months ago and have greatly enjoyed diving into it.  And while I have no major issues with the base system, I immediately began wondering how it might play using the Aurora RPG Engine.

I think you can see where this is going…

Enter: The Aurora Casefiles!  A conversion that aims to bring the advantages of both Aurora’s dice mechanics as well as its narrative tools to the world of the Troubleshooters.   This is not attempting to design the game from the ground up; rather it strictly keeps as much of the core Troubleshooters rules and all its nifty subsystems (such as dice flipping, karma, dice challenges, duels, story points, and more) intact.  It’s the best of both worlds!

Snag your copy here (and the Aurora Engine document if you haven’t already), pack your camera, bring along your favourite white dog, a few companions, and let the adventure begin…

(Note that this conversion document only contains the bits that are necessary to modify the base Troubleshooters core rules to use the resolution mechanics of the Aurora Engine.  As such, you will need a copy of the core Troubleshooters RPG, which you can get direct from Helmgast here or also from modiphius.net)

Philosophy Tuesday

There was a concept and a technique that I learned early on during my philosophical training:

Don’t look for what’s wrong.

Instead, look for what’s missing.

A clever little distinction there, for the former tends to hang us up, raise our hackles, and generally bog us down through muddy terrain as our ego and calculating self and identity and shame and all sorts of things gets involved.  It also can sometimes (often?) lead us to a dud prize: Congratulations, you know what’s wrong!  Now what?

Even more meaningful is the insight that often nothing is actually, truly, capital-W, wrong.  It may be unproductive or detracting, and may have deleterious outcomes, but perhaps Wrong isn’t actually there and/or isn’t so binary.  And so Wrong isn’t the best place to look.

Looking for what’s missing sidesteps all of that.  What’s missing looks for what, if it were present, would alter how things occurs for us and what would create new possibilities.  There are many avenues to display there, but the most fruitful place to look is often in who we are being in those moments.  When we shift our being so too do our actions shift, and thus so do the results also shift.  When we add in what’s missing the rut is broken and we get ourselves in gear in ways that may have seemed unfathomable before.  As a bonus, our experience also shifts to the better!

All of which is all great in the realm of mindfulness and philosophy.  But I also want to expand this into the realm of art, and specifically in the realm of critique.*  Because looking for what’s wrong not only can blind you to the work you’re exploring, but expressing a series of what’s wrong is often unproductive at either improving the work or the growth of the creator.**  What’s missing can provide way more valuable and actionable feedback and builds up rather than undermines.  Relate what caught your attention and was memorable, review your impressions, and express what was missing that would elevate the work and its impact even further.

With what’s missing our possibilities are opened, our art (including the art of living!) is strengthened, our excitement grows, and, above all, our spirit soars.


* As you might already see, this also works great for other critiques, be it performance reviews at an employment, coaching sports, and etc.

** If the foundation of the work doesn’t resonate with you, or if you think there’s something problematic, then that’s a thing too and certainly worthy of expressing, but both express it in that way and also you can still critique the rest of the work from what’s missing to elevate the craft.  Even if this particular work itself is discarded due to those primordial issues, what’s missing has helped to strengthen the creator, and the next work they create will be grander because of it.

Nothing Fishy Here

The new Pixar Movie, Luca, ends with a note that it was the first Pixar film animated in their slippers in their homes during the pandemic. And then it got dropped onto Disney+ rather than given a wide theatrical release. Because of this, it might slip under the notice of many… under the water, one might even say. (Alright, I hereby promise this won’t be entirely full of fish puns!) Though I noted its release, I also didn’t know all too much about it and took a bit of time before getting around to watching it.

I’m very happy I did.

Spoilers ahead! Continue reading

Gaming Thursday: Wanderhome

I got a chance to play Wanderhome recently and wow, it was a complete delight.  It does take some getting used to, if coming in and approaching it like a typical game or RPG.  I’m going to say something that might start out sounding like a denigration or trying to be edgy, but know that’s not at all where I’m headed.  It’s just that Wanderhome might best not to be called a game.  It is much closer to a semi-guided shared collaborative storytelling experience.  It is very rules light, there is no need for dice, and there’s very little in the way of defining a proper path or success.  Going in with the view of trying to work it like a traditional RPG is going to inspire little but confusion and perhaps frustration.

But that is its beauty.  Because it totally works inside the much broader and even philosophical view of “a game”.  The game here is to create a most engaging and amazing narrative.  The story is the thing, and the richness, wonder, excitement, coolness, and involvement is the game.

To that end, having played Mouse Guard was a good primer for us, for in some ways Wanderhome is akin to an extended player turn from Mouse Guard.  There is no GM (though one of the players can take on that role, either for a part of or for the whole session) and almost all is created on the fly, including the world and any challenges along the way (though more on this latter bit in a bit).  There is a structure that guides and prompts you to help generate all that, but again the joy of the game comes from taking those simple keyword starting points and spinning them out in interesting ways.

For our own game, as we journeyed we wove together the prompts to imagine a town surrounded by tall cliffs on the edge of a lake.  A large waterfall dominated the town, as did the giant waterwheels that harnessed the falling water, the crankshafts disappearing it into a large workshop where it powered giant looms.  A legend in the town spoke of a ghost story involving never-ending tapestry, a fable that tied into the waterfall itself which, from a certain point of view, was like a never-ending tapestry, always being woven from the cliff face to the lake below.  It was autumn, and while the area had colourful leaves and warm drinks, our prompts asked us why didn’t it have long shadows?  Because of the mists, the hovering fine films that diffused and rendered light into ambient omnidirectionality, with the cliffs turning day into sudden night as the sun slipped behind them (which also prevented any sun angles that could generate long shadows).  From just that the town was already appearing to us as quite a magical place.  It was very pastoral and fable like, and I would definitively call this a pastoral game in the best possible way, something the wonderful art does wonders to evoke.

As delightful as this world building is, it also serves a purpose, which is to provide a driving backdrop to your story.  I use this slightly contradictory word choice deliberately, as Wanderhome is a game that is not centered around external challenges.  Rather, it is a game/story about internal challenges.  It is about who the characters are and what they are dealing with; it is about their metaphysical journeys; it is about what the players learn about the characters and, through that, what the characters learn about themselves.

Which is actually quite cleverly indicated in its name:  Wanderhome, or Wander Home.  In some way, and in their own particular way, all the characters are either away from their home or not yet home or feel a loss of home (or lost).   And through this journey, the question is (and it is an explicit question at the start of a session that you, as a player, ask quietly to yourself in-character) “where is home for me?”  And maybe the character will find it this session.  Or they won’t, and their journey will continue.  But finding home, and that peace and solace and completeness and comfort and clarity, is what the story is about.

And through that lens/intent is where the driving backdrop comes into play.  How will your character interact with the world?  What will the world ask of your character?  What obstacles or opportunities will arise, and how will you respond?  How do you interact with your fellow travelers (the other characters)?  Sometimes the challenges will arise from the world – a missing object, a house in need of repair, the weather bearing down on you.  But even in those situations, the prime bit is not so much the resolution, but again what it tells us about the characters, and how they react and change as a part of it.  Any physical challenges are a vehicle to delve into the internal challenges, which in turn can beget more internal challenges.  Not that the world need intervene; the internal challenges can engage with the environment or its denizens (called Kith in the game) as a backdrop catalyst to highlight and conceive and draw forth the internal challenges.  All in service of the rich story being woven.

Likewise in service of that story is the “resolution system” of Wanderhome.  Wonderfully tuned for effect, it has but one metric:  a token.  If you have a token, you can spend it to solve a material challenge, or even more powerfully to ease someone’s pain, to keep someone safe, to offer a chance to deeply connect, or to reveal something about the world or someone.  You’ll notice that the traditional RPG-type challenge is resolved handily by spending a token – once again it is but a vehicle for the inner story and journey of your character, and the rest of the tokens are similar, either creating an opening for you or to craft something about the place and hence enhance the story.  Even better is how you gain tokens, for they likewise all work to support the feel of the game and the story being generated.  Many are character-driven, such as giving away something you hold dear, or speaking your true feelings on a subject, but others are wonderfully tranquil, such as allowing you to marvel at beauty, and either create it or else ask the table to describe it.  You can even just pause for a moment to get some rest.  That it.  Just like that, to gain a token.  It fits the mood of the game perfectly.

There’s plenty more to love here, including a lovely calendar and defined seasons that are an important part of the narrative, along with regular festivals.  The game can be played light and serene, or it can delve into more serious issues of trauma and recovery (with solid tools and advice for ensuring everyone at the table is onboard and up for it).  And while the various prompts are meant to be picked from, they’re very much set up to be rolled if you choose, as we did, allowing the randomness to further engage our imaginations.

As you can tell we thoroughly enjoyed playing Wanderhome, and I heartily recommend it.  It’s a delicious chance to switch from the usual RPG modes and craft a deep, rich, and moving story while savouring the scenery along the journey.

You can buy the game in PDF here, or pre-order the hardcover here.