Episode 96 – GenCon Playtesting Panel

GenCon Playtesting Panel

Recorded at Gencon 2016RPG-Design-Panelcast-sml

Presented by Jason Pitre, Emily Care  Boss,  and Mark Richardson

Playtesting RPGs is a difficult process. In this panel, sponsored by the Indie Game Developer Network, we will teach you how to effectively test games as a designer and as a player.  Learn about types of playtests, the best kind of playtesters, and how to offer constructive feedback.

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Indie Gems – Heroes of the Hearth (2016)

Heroes of the Hearth

Seven-Wonders_cover_350-200x300-200x300Designed by Stiainín Jackson and Published by Pelgrane Press as part of the 7 Wonders Anthology Available at the Pelgrane Press site.

Pelgrane Press has recently published a fantastic anthology of story games, titled “Seven Wonders”.  I will be preparing short reviews of all seven games within the book as part of my “Indie Gems” series.  The third of these is a game by Stiainín Jackson, titled “Heroes of the Hearth Rise and Fall”.

The introduction begins as follows.

Today, we do not sing of the adventurers. Today, we sing of the people behind the adventurers. We sing of their stories. We sing of their struggles. We sing of how they themselves deal with the threat that holds their lands in thrall – the threat that dragged their loved ones from their sized. The Heroes of the Hearth.

This is a complex and well-crafted game that focusses on the loved ones whom the adventurers left behind. Each person portrays one of the various individuals from the village who are related to one of the mighty adventurers: the spouse of the Barbarian, sibling of the Paladin, Child of the Bard, or the Rogue’s betrothed. Each of the player characters are defined by a key question you aim to answer in play, such as “What are you afraid of” or “Do you really believe in the gods?”. They also have a list of potential bonds with the other player characters, such as “You idolise this person and want to be just like them” or “This person is a threat to your business”.  These few elements bring enough richness and characterization that a robust community drama can emerge.

Drama does indeed emerge out of this relationship web.  Play proceeds through a series of acts, corresponding to interactions with the great darkness. Act 1 involves the characters writing letters to the adventurers, while Act 2 involves hearing rumours and news from the front. Act 3 includes letters from the adventurers, which is then followed by an attack from the threat. In each of the first three acts, players declare if their characters appear strong or weak, in the face of the difficult situation. Those strength and weakness checks will inform how the village will respond to the threat’s attack.

The game builds these beautiful tragedies, offering player all of the tools for safety (X-card), improvisation (Yes-and), and vulnerability (playing to lose). The game reminds me in many ways to Montsegur 1244 or Witch: Road to Lindisfarne, with the pre-generated characters doomed to an inevitability tragic situation. The system is streamlined and clean, while offering ample tools for storytelling.

I thought quite highly of this game, and then I discovered the additional scenario at the back. This additional scenario changes the context of play, from Tolkeinesque fantasy to French villagers in World War II. This thoughtful, additional scenario is excellent, and has seduced me even more than the original one. The game is perfectly calibrated to tell human stories, and it’s an excellent reference for future designs.

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Episode 95 – Gearheads

Gearheads: Clever RPG Mechanics

Recorded at Gencon 2016RPG-Design-Panelcast-sml

Presented by Jason Pitre, and Emily Care Boss

Roleplaying game design is a hotbed of innovation, and this panel is a place to talk about some of the latest and greatest mechanics for games. We will talk about fronts, countdown clocks, gm-less play, advantage, and other mechanics to sink your teeth into.

Links and Games!

  1. Romance Trilogy, including Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon, and Under my Skin, by Emily Care Boss (http://www.blackgreengames.com/lcn/2016/7/24/romance-trilogy)
  2. Indie Groundbreaker Awards (http://www.igdnonline.com/indie-groundbreaker-awards-winners/ )
  3. 14 Days, by Hannah Shaffer (http://makebigthings.com/14-days-a-game-about-life-with-migraines/ )
  4. 183 Days, by James Stuart and Sara Williamson (http://www.drivethrucards.com/product/144510/183-Days)
  5. Fall of Magic, by Ross Cowman (http://heartofthedeernicorn.com/product/fall-of-magic-scroll-edition/ )
  6. 10 Candles, by Stephen Dewey (http://cavalrygames.com/)
  7. Dread, by Epidiah Ravachol (https://dreadthegame.wordpress.com/about-dread-the-game/)
  8. The The Dread Geas Of Duke Vulku by Epidiah Ravachol (http://www.worldswithoutmaster.com/the-dread-geas-of-duke-vulku/ )
  9. Microscope and Kingdom by Ben Robbins (http://www.lamemage.com/)
  10. Downfall, by Caroline Hobbs (https://lessthanthreegames.com/downfall/)
  11. Usagi Yojimbo, by Sanguine Productions (http://drivethrurpg.com/product/50310/USAGI-YOJIMBO-ROLEPLAYING-GAME-Legacy)
  12. Blood Red Sands, by Ralph Mazza (http://www.galileogames.com/blood-red-sands/)
  13. Burning Wheel, by Luke Crane (https://www.burningwheel.com/)
  14. Apocalypse World, by Meguey and Vincent Baker (http://apocalypse-world.com/)
  15. Dungeon World, by Sage Latorra and Adam Koebel (http://www.dungeon-world.com/)
  16. Montseigeur 1244, by Frederik J. Jensen (http://thoughtfulgames.com/montsegur1244/ )
  17. Epyllion, by Marissa Kelly (http://www.magpiegames.com/epyllion/
  18. Posthuman Pathways, by Jason Pitre (http://www.genesisoflegend.com/product/posthuman-pathways/)
  19. Play with Intent, by Emily Care Boss and Matthijs Holter (https://playwithintent.wordpress.com/)
  20. Nightwitches by Jason Morningstar (http://bullypulpitgames.com/)
  21. The Warren by Marshall Miller (http://bullypulpitgames.com/)
  22. Monsterhearts, by Avery Alder (http://buriedwithoutceremony.com/monsterhearts/)
  23. Sagas of the Icelanders, by Gregor Vulga (http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/product.php?productid=19311&page=1)
  24. Headspace, by Mark Richardson (http://www.greenhatdesigns.com/?project=head-space)
  25. Dream Askew, by Avery Alder (http://buriedwithoutceremony.com/dream-askew/ )
  26. The Quiet Year, by Avery Alder (http://buriedwithoutceremony.com/the-quiet-year/ )
  27. Steal Away Jordan, by Julia Ellingboe (http://www.lulu.com/shop/julia-bond-ellingboe/steal-away-jordan/ebook/product-17470217.html )
  28. Blades in the Dark, by John Harper (http://www.onesevendesign.com/ and http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/170689/Blades-in-the-Dark-Digital-Edition-Early-Access )
  29. Swords without Master, by Epidiah Ravachol (http://www.worldswithoutmaster.com )
  30. Mars Colony, by Tim Koppang http://www.tckroleplaying.com/marscolony/
  31. Misericorde, by Emily Care Boss (http://www.blackgreengames.com/shop/misericorde-pdf)
  32. Fools Journey, by Stentor Danielson (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/154421/The-Fools-Journey)
  33. Spark Roleplaying Game, Jason Pitre (http://www.genesisoflegend.com/product/spark/)
  34. Bubblegumshoe, Evil Hat Productions (http://www.evilhat.com/home/)
  35. Seven Wonders, by Pelgrane Press (http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/seven-wonders-a-story-games-anthology-2/)

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Indie Gems – Rise and Fall (2016)

Rise and Fall

Seven-Wonders_cover_350-200x300-200x300Designed by Elizabeth Lovegrove and Published by Pelgrane Press as part of the 7 Wonders Anthology Available at the Pelgrane Press site.

Pelgrane Press has recently published a fantastic anthology of story games, titled “Seven Wonders”.  I will be preparing short reviews of all seven games within the book as part of my “Indie Gems” series.  The second of these is a game by Elizabeth Lovegrove, titled “Rise and Fall”.

The introduction begins as follows.

Dystopias come from somewhere, and they go somewhere. They appear because someone is able to convince others that they are reasonable, and they disappear because someone is able to exploit their weaknesses. They rise, and they fall.

 This is a game that taps into the zeitgeist by exploring dystopias and fallen societies.  It’s clear that the author did their research, and have built on the excellent work of past designers including Ben Robbins (Microscope, Kingdom), and Caroline Hobbs (Downfall). The game uses rather elegant tools of world-building to present a clear story with minimal systems.

The core loop is a straightforward question-exploration-interpretation cycle, which proved its utility in Microscope scene setting.  As players, you cycle through a series of scenes that explore the dystopia. One person poses a question and picks out two characters to play through a scene that seeks the answer. When the scene is done, you write the answer down on the central ideas sheet. You continue to add more details to this sheet during play, which creates a compelling artifact.

You repeat the same process for each scene, with the role of questioner rotating around the table.  The first third of the scenes explore the rise of the dystopia, the middle third explores its operation, and the last third demonstrates the collapse.  This game stands apart from many others, though, by explicitly encouraging generational play. Each player doesn’t have a single fixed character, but rather they embody a persistant archetype such as “Artist”, “Matriarch” or “Warrior”.  During play, you create new individuals who fit in both the archetype and the society at that time, discarding characters freely.

I am fond of this game, but I feel that it is a tad understated and restrained. The framework of the game would be robust enough to handle much broader and more complex stories than the base scenario.  When I get the opportunity to run this game, I plan on hacking it into a 3-session experience, so that we can dedicate more time to explore each of the three phases of a society. I feel that this game has too much potential to be limited to a single session.

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Episode 94 – Different Voices: Diverse RPGs

Different Voices: Diverse RPGs

Recorded at Gencon 2016RPG-Design-Panelcast-sml

Presented by Jason Pitre, and Shoshanna Kessock

Roleplaying games offer a fantastic window into the lives of others, and let us see the world through different eyes. This panel, sponsored by the Indie Game Developer Network, will discuss some of these games that bring diverse voices and creators to the forefront.

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