7 THOUGHTS ON RPGS – RPGADAY 2018 – Week 2

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Here’s the second week of posts from RPGaDay, consolidated into one place.

RPG-a-Day 2018 (1)

Day 8: How Can We Get More People Playing?

0. Obviously, there are steps that can be taken like “community outreach” and coordinating with your local stores and meetup (organization isn’t my strong suit, so I’ll focus on what I do know).

1. One-shots are your friends – Don’t be afraid of one shot adventures with pre-gen characters. Several reasons:
a. it skips right to the the fun.
b. These make it more easily run with strangers at game nights or conventions.
c. Sometimes people can’t commit to a campaign, or are afraid to commit. A one-shot still lets them enjoy in small doses (and who knows, maybe they’ll get hooked.)
d. Instead of a campaign, think of early adventures as a series of continuous one-shots. This will mean more work carefully crafting the adventure, but if each session has a complete beginning, middle and end in which the players achieved something significant, the experience will be far more satisfactory, and they’ll be more likely to return.

2. Keep it Simple – this may mean using less complex rules systems for brand new players (Fate, Dungeon World, diceless), but can also mean avoiding complex characters (ex. difficult to happen spellcasters,) steering absolute rookies to easier classes, or just fudging the rules a little at the beginning (ex. if an ability is available once per rest period, maybe make it once per fight instead). You can always play rules lawyer later.


Day 9: How has a game surprised you?

I think the number one surprise I’ve received from an RPG was when I first read +Chris Longhurst‘s “Gods and Monsters”. The very idea that you could play a GOD was unheard of. If I had been tasked with such a thing, I would imagine I’d spend pages defining the many things players are NOT allowed to do, restrictions on power in order to keep things “balanced.”

But as written, “Gods and Monsters” is the ultimate test of the improve rule “yes, and.” There is literally no limit to what a character can do, so long as it fits their character and their narrative. Create a continent? Sure. Forge a second sun? Why not?! Sculpt and entire species of sentient beings out of clay? Sounds fun.

I have yet to run a game (itching to), but I feel like running such a game would be extremely liberating, while also putting my GM skills to the test. (The only way to provide a challenge to PCs who can do the impossible is to provide a situation so paradoxical they can’t best it; i.e. if they can lift anything and create anything, make them create a boulder so heavy that can’t lift.)


Day 10: How has gaming changed you? 

I guess a big change for me came when I was first contracted by Evil Hat. This affected me in two major ways:

a. After years of fan-projects and self-publishing, this was my first paid writing gig. In the years before that, my self-confidence was in seriously short supply, and it amazing to have a win in my corner.

b. I’ll let you in on an amazing secret: Evil Hat has an art guide which lays out what standards they have for art. To this day, it is the most inclusive and progressive document I have seen. It set the bar wonderfully high for ART work; Though I was only the writer, I did my best make sure that my prose met the same high standard. Since then, I have looked back to my earlier work and seen were I have lacked, and try to keep it in mind in any new project.

(Note: Some of you might have read criticism about Evil Hat’s earlier works being less diverse with their art and their authors. I am merely a contract worker observing from the outside, but I am under the impression they are very aware of their deficiencies and are working hard to improve with every wave of game releases. They set high standards for themselves, reach them, and then set their bar higher.)


Day 11: Best NPC name?

This NPC was created for an Urban Fantasy / Supernatural rpg, based on the world of our comic Skeleton Crew.

http://tangentartists.com/skeletoncrew/skeletoncrew_000.html

More than Half of the PCs had backgrounds in mad science, so it made sense to have a villain who was a mad scientist. I wanted a name that was unique and had a fun juxtaposition; I think the inspiration was the Mystery Men villain Casanova Frankenstein. And thus we created the mad scientist,

Dr. Socrates Madonna.


Day 12: Weirdest Character Concept

This one is a recent addition, but I’m still quite proud. At #Blerdcon, I had a pleasure playing a one-shot Adventure League game run by my friend, +Eric Menge. I let my elf-loving friends have first dibs on picking the elven characters, and I didn’t feel like playing a rogue. Thus, I ended up with the pre-gen character of the Human Paladin.

I picked a name. The only thing left was to decide what kind of god he worshipped; I could use one of the set ones, but thought it might be fun to try one of the lesser gods we created for the Clerics Guide to Smiting. Should I go with Pretensia, Goddess of Good Manners? Should he be a fashion paladin, dedicated to the Doodad, God of Accessories? (I didn’t want to use Chuggett, Dwarven God of Drink, as I’d already played a Dwarven nun dedicated to him).

And then one of my colleges made a suggestion: Paradoxiquatl, the God of Atheism. (His followers go door to door, asking people not to believe in him).

And thus, Cuthbert the Atheistic Paladin was born.

The GM Eric allowed it (partially due to his flexible nature, although +Rachael Hixon also made the argument that “Paradoxiquatl” could be an aspect of the Trickster God Erevan Ilesere).

During the adventure, Cuthbert made it his mission to visit the heathens with pamphlets boasting the virtues of common sense and critical thinking. When making attacks, he would loudly pray, “Paradoxiquatl, may you have no effect the outcome in any way!” If the attack was successful, he would praise his deity, proclaiming, “O god, thanks for nothing!”

I kept the character sheet, and will likely pull him out again.

tangentartists.storenvy.com/collections/767751-books/products/8247369-the-clerics-guide-to-smiting


Day 13 – Describe how your play has evolved? 

As a GM, I’d say the major change that I’ve tried to implement is this:

Old system for an adventure: Craft a beginning, middle, and end.

New system: Craft a problem, and a list of NPCs. (Also, have half-a-plan for one possible outcome.)

The difference I’m trying to do less railroading and more open ended solutions.

The new system says, “The role of the GM is not to create a challenging solution and lead the players there; rather, any solution is the right solution, and it’s the GM’s job to make that solution challenging.”

I know this is basic GM 101 stuff, but it was a bit of a revelation to me.

I talked about this in more detail in an open ended adventure I wrote a while ago, “Blackstache’s Revenge!”
https://tatabletop.com/2014/10/17/open-the-gates-open-ended-adventures-skeleton-crew/


Day 14 – Describe a failure that became amazing?

(I’m going to have to cheat on this one, as it was neither my failure, nor a gaming related one, but it was inspirational enough.)

I had the pleasure of watching a performance of the Improvised Shakespeare Company when they were on tour. Every night, they create a brand new 60 minute show from scratch, pairing long-form improv with many Shakespeare inspired tropes, puns, and innuendo.

Now, as an improver, I always thought I embraced “Yes, And,” the idea of taking any suggestion from a fellow performer and building on it. Improvised Shakespeare took it to the next level.

Twice, in the opening scene, one of the performers misspoke. However, rather than correct himself, he YES AND’ED his own mistake; thus, he took the rule of “what is said can’t be unsaid” and applied it even to himself.

The exchange, as best I recall it:
King: Groomsboy, make sure you prepare the finest horse we have. The Prince of Spain is arriving soon to marry my daughter. And when he rides down the aisle –
realizes his mistake – It’s a strange custom, but we respect it – Rides down the aisle on that horse, I want him to look perfect.

later:
Princess [Talking about the Prince of Spain]: When will he arrive?
King: The prince of France – I mean, Spain- I mean-
Princess: Just how many people am I engaged to?!?
King: Okay, the princes of France, Spain, and Denmark. Just those three. It’s a horse race. The first one to reach you at the altar gets to marry you.

And thus, by accepting even the ACCIDENTAL suggestions and running with it, they had both a cast of characters, a conflict, and a climax.

http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/


That’s all for week 2 of RPGaDay. Will be posting more soon!

But before you go, we wanted to announce that Tangent Artists just launched our Patreon! 

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Our webcomics are, and will remain, FREE TO READ. However, if you want to give back, please support a small amount every month to let us keep creating what we love to create.

Until next time, Game On!

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7 Thoughts on RPGs – RPGaDay 2018

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Hello, tangerines! As many gamers on G+ know, August months the RPGaDay challenge. This is part of 31 writing prompts created by game designer David F. Chapman. I thought I’d share my first week of answers all in one place.

RPG-a-Day 2018 (1)

Day 1: What do you love about RPGs?

I love that it’s s chance to collaboratively write a novel that no one knows the ending of.


Day 2: What do I look for in an RPG?

I look for a system that is both flexible and simple enough, that in any given situation:

A. I can quickly assess what is likely to be a smart tactical choice, and carry it out efficiently.

B. Will still be fun if I decide to stay true to the character’s flaws and take the worst possible choice.

C. Can quickly and easily carry out a crazy 3rd choice that no one thought of 3 seconds ago without having the game grind to a halt, Ex require the gm pull out supplemental rules for grappling.

By comparison, I remember playing Champions with a group of 5 players. A round of combat took an hour. Way too many rules to simply state “here’s all you can do, and nothing else.”


Day 3: What gives a game staying power?

3 things:

1. Can I find a group of friends to play it? This is the crux, because a game no one will play only collects dust on the shelf.

2. Does it have flexibility that I add my own content? I write more than I game, so it’s not surprising that any game system and/or game setting that grabs my interest has to be modular.

3. Are the creators and/or community creating a slow stream of quality content?
This is what keeps a game alive over a span of many years.

Part of this is my collecting bug. From a kid, I loved collecting things. Collector cards, Pokémon, miniatures, you name you. So it’s no surprise that some of my ongoing purchases for games and rpgs has been books in a series. This is a bit more evident in boardgames, although it touches on RPG-esque games (for example, I used to collect every Warhammer Quest expansion hero I could afford with my allowance.) Similarly, I have every Red Dragon Inn expansion.

However, I have found I will no longer collect for collecting-sake; quality is important. For example, I used to collect Munchkin games, but that changed with “Super Munchkin.” I didn’t care that the mechanics will basically a reprint of Munchkin Bites; what I cared about is that the creative wit from the first few games was gone. Other than one or two good puns about “Bat-Mobile”, it was clearly such a rushed project that they had no time for satire, resorting to calling objects by their clichéd names, like “power ring.”

However, a constant stream of new worlds, or better still, areas to explore within the existing world, keeps the world fresh and my curiosity piqued.


Day 4: Most memorable NPC:

This one was created by my friend and cowriter, Steve.

The Harbormaster -(D&D) In a city overrun by religious cults and political infighting, the party finally found an ally who was willing to transport us.

So long as they didn’t have any mangos. The harbormaster had a strange, paranoid obsession with these cursed fruits that would rival Captain Ahab’s loathing of the white. We kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, as if we would encounter the same fate as him. Would we end up trapped on an island, eating only mangos until we grew sick of them? Would we be ambushed by a mimic disguised as the succulent fruit? On the inside of the next mango, would we find a mere pit, or a hidden evil waiting to be released?

The other shoe never dropped, leaving us in the dark about what horrible incident shaped this harbormaster into the shell of the man we knew.


Day 5 – FAVORITE RECURRING NPC

Karbaas the Nearly-Undefeated

(This is cheating a little, in that he TECHNICALLY showed up in a round-robin fanfic… which is basically an RPG, minus the GM and the rules system).

This is how Karbaas made his entrance:

~~~~
As the party makes themselves comfortable at the tavern, a large figure approaches your table. He seven feet tall and just as wide, with every inch of him covered in black, spiky armor. He slams his gauntleted fists on the tabletop.

“TREMBLE WITH FEAR, WEAKLINGS, FOR I AM KARBAAS!!! KARBAAS, WHO RAVAGED THE COUNTRY OF AVENMOOR AND MADE THE MIGHTY WALLS OF WINTERKEEP TUMBLE! I, WHO RAZED THE CITY OF BRYN LAFAR TO THE GROUND AND WADED IN BLOOD OF THEIR CHAMPIONS! IN THE FAR EASTERN LANDS, THEY DO NOT SPEAK MY NAME FOR FEAR THAT I AM A GOD OF DEATH!!!!!!!”

He sighs and, with great reluctance, pulls out a notepad and a tiny pencil.

“I AM ALSO YOUR… WAITER… THIS EVENING. TODAY’S SPECIAL IS CHICKEN SANDWICH, BREADED WITH A DIJON MUSTARD SAUCE. THE SOUP OF THE DAY *sigh*…. IS CORN.”

~~~~

The inspiration for it came from the Warhammer champion, “Arbaal the Undefeated.” I had to wonder, “What would happen if he lost only once?” Thus, Karbaas the Nearly-Undefeated.

The down-on-his-luck warlord originally showed up as a waiter, but kept popping up in numerous menial and demeaning jobs; waiter, tour guide, party clown (guess it’s hard to keep a job when you constantly threaten to slice your customers, coworkers, and supervisors in twain). A version of him even makes a cameo in our comic CRIT! as a pencil pusher for the Warriors union (see below).

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I have yet to drop him in a recent campaign, but it’s only a matter of time before he returns, grumbling to customers, “YOU ARE SO LUCKY MY BROADSWORD’S IN HOCK RIGHT NOW…”


Day 6: How Can Players Make a World Seem Real?

I think the best way that players can make a world real is when are allowed to freely explore their environment and fill in the corners.

A common practice when setting up an adventure or establishing a character’s backstory is ask questions about what ties this character to the campaign; for example, they’re avenging a loved-one, have a mission to collect an item, etc. Connections like this drive the story in a straight arrow and give it motivation.

However, it’s often the OTHER players, who lack the drive in any given scene, that tend to flesh out the story. To fill the time, these “side characters” end up meeting new faces, picking up local gossip, and surely breaking hearts and noses. For example, in one urban fantasy campaign, in the middle of a night club, the vengeful PC stalked the evil club owner; meanwhile, the others made friends with a random drunk party-goer, shouting to each other “I LOVE THIS SONG” for twenty minutes straight. I couldn’t tell you any of the big-bosses’ names or stats to save my life, but I will remember the “I LOVE THIS SONG!!!” for the years.

How do I encourage this as a GM? Leave a few details unplanned. A ticking clock is essential for a few scenes, but in most cases, give the players a chance to explore and create things of their own (Fate system is particularly good at this). Any missing details, the players will flesh in with their own real experiences, painting a picture more universally human than a single writer can achieve.


Day 7: How can a GM make the stakes important?

In my humble experience, the best way to handle conflicts (particularly in Fate) is to make sure that the objectives are clearly set.

For example, a fight just for fighting sake results in an amusing bar brawl; but if a villian clearly states over the din, “make sure we get that wizard’s head!” then they now what will happen should they fail. To make the fight more dynamic, this isn’t just something the PCs want to avoid, but something the NPCs are willing to try hard to get; the wizard has a particularly large bounty on his head, and they haven’t eaten a full meal in days!

Another Fate trick I love using is letting the players will in the gaps. If you can’t think of a good consequence, ask they players; they might come up with something far worse than you would have thought of (I tend to go a bit easy on them).


That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for more soon! In the meantime, share us your experience!

Going Ultra – Superhero RPGS and Choices

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Today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about playing super-powers in Fate, and ways to add tough decisions into your homebrew games.

miss fury comic

Classic Golden Age heroine, Miss Fury, created by June Tarpe Mills. Image in the public domain.

My recent pondering from super heroes came to mind recently when watching trailers for Ant-Man and the Wasp, which feature a villain I was unfamiliar with: The Ghost. One wikisearch later revealed that in the Marvel comic canon, the Ghost is a spy and saboteur whose tech allows them to be invisible or intangible, but not both at the same time.

This stuck with me for longer than I expected, and I soon began seeing how a similar system would be useful in a Fate Core roleplaying Game.


A Problem I Have When Running Fate

I have loved Fate, currently love Fate, and will likely love Fate for a long time to come. That being said, I have a problem making a game difficult enough for my players. Sure, I’ll make a villain have high stats and a few stunts, but my willingness to let my players invoke most anything under the sun, and generally say yes to most any approach, can lead to the boss villains that are beaten a little too easily. The players have never complained, but deep inside, I feel like there’s a way I can make the game more suspenseful for the players.

Which brings me to the next part: good superhero comics are all about CHOICE. If a comic teaser asks, “Will [Insert Hero] live or die?”, the answer is always “live” (with the rare “die and come back to life later,” which doesn’t really count.) However, despite their godly powers, superheroes will sometimes have to make choices that affect their world in a more permanent way: will Spider-man catch Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane? Will Superman reveal his identity to Lois Lane, or keep it a secret?

Those, a GM might be able to increase the tension and difficulty in a way other than bumping up the bad guys stats. Here are some ways how:


The Power

When using the powered skill against an unnamed NPCs or obstacle, the hero automatically wins, assuming the player can describe how in a narrative way (this is based on Gifts from the Fate World “Wild Blue” by Brian Engard). Against named NPCs or obstacles (ex. The Sonic Osteo-Forcefield), the hero gains a bonus of +4.

How do they get / use the power?

Either-Or: Similar to The Ghost, each hero on a team has exactly two powers, but can only use one at a time. They can switch over at the beginning their exchanges. It is particularly fun to focus on a defensive and an offensive skill, letting the player decide whether to leave themselves open to counterattacks.

Here are a few sample “two-power” heroes I happened to make a while ago:

Thornado – spikes and wind powers

Rubber-brand – elasticity and fire powers

Jump Start – superspeed and electricity

Sea Monkey – water powers and wall-climbing

Cyberpuck – magic and hacker


Ultra-Boy Style – This variant is inspired by one of my favorite Legionnaires: Ultra Boy (not to be confused with Ultraman, the evil Superman from another dimension… yeah, comics are weird when you describe them out loud). Once per scene, a player can choose a skill or approach to go “Ultra,” which lasts until the end of the scene. However, no other gifts or superpowers may be used, meaning the hero is mortal in every other way.

Note: It could be possibly to have the Ultra-power be switched over at the start of every exchange with the cost of a fate point, but I fear this would be too strong.


Dial H for Hero Style – In this variant, the player gets to pick skill that there’s boosted for the entire scene, with the small exception that it can’t be the same skill as any other hero. Or, to make it even more chaotic, randomly pick two different skills, and have the player pick one. Once you know the skill, pick an appropriate superpower that ties in with it. (Ex. Empathy = telepathy; Athletics = superspeed.)

If you have any superhero variants you’ve found useful, please pass them along!


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WIP cover for DTL. Art by Monica Marier

Lastly, a shameless plug:
Be sure to watch this space for the upcoming Kickstarter for “Dungeon Tours Ltd,” a comedic/con-job Fate adventure set in a fantasy world. Coming soon!

 

 

 

 

Monster Showcase – The Guardian Bell

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This week on Tangent Artists Tabletop, we showcase a new monster for your Fate Game: The Guardian of the Bell!

The Guardian is intended to be a boss or mini-boss for the party to face solo. The players will face it in a conflict, but it’s special rules will force the players to act in ways they wouldn’t normally.

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GUARDIAN OF THE BELL

Thousands of years ago, a forgotten tribe of mountain dwelling people built a temple. Their names and the name of the god has been forgotten, but it is clear that they consecrated the ground with a blood sacrifice of some beast.

 

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Art courtesy of Gennifer Bone. For a full-sized version, become a patron of her Patreon.    (Warning: some images NSFW).

A great time later, a group of monks tore down the paleolithic temple, and founded a temple, dedicated to a more peaceful religion. They blessed the shrine, and wrapped the perimeter with sacred writings meant to ward off attackers.

 

On the hundred year anniversary of the shrine’s founding, the shrine was attacked by robbers.
To the monks astonishment, the sacred temple bell arose and began attacking the bandits, driving them away; but soon the strange guardian started hunting down the monks as well. The sacrificial beast of old and the prayers of the new had, instead of counteracting each other, merged into something entirely other.

The Temple of Osha-Rin still stands on the clifftop, abandoned. No doubt the overbearing guardian is still haunting it, slaughtering any pillager or pilgrim that comes near. 

RULES

 

High Concept: Reanimated Spirit Beast

Aspects: Beastlike mind; Holy terror; Territorial; Here and Gone Again.

Core Skills*

+5: Fight
+4: Provoke/Intimidate**, Will
+3: Physique, Notice,
+2: Athletics, Stealth

FAE Approaches

+4: Forceful
+3: Quick, Flashy
+2: Clever, Sneaky

*Core Skill Level – The Skill levels are based on a game with a Great (+4) cap. If playing with a higher or low starting cap, the guardian’s level should be +1 above the PCs.

**Intimidate: Tangent Artist’s upcoming “Skeleton Crew RPG” will feature the skill “Intimidate.”

 

Special Rules

Stunt / Extra – Indestructible: The Temple Guardian does not have a stress track. For all intents and purposes, it is indestructible, and players cannot use the attack action. (Note: Fight and Shoot can still be used to attempt overcome rolls and create advantages.)

Ring the Bell: The temple guardian will only disappear if the PCs can get the bell to ring five times. This can be done by making the spirit over exert itself (see below), or by besting the beast in an overcome roll (See “Shall Not Ring!” below).

Stunt – Shall Not Ring! The Guardian Beast gains a +3 to any skill/approach when defending against any overcome rolls to ring the bell. (Ex. If attempting to use Fight to ring the bell, the beast defends with a +8 before rolling; if using Athletics, it defends with +5.)

Stunt/Extra – Exerting: The beast thinks like a wild animal, and will spend its turn attacking if possible. If it cannot attack (ex. it is pinned to the floor by an obstacle,) it takes any appropriate action it needs to free itself, and then will exert itself. Whenever it exerts itself, it may take an additional action, but this causes the bell to ring. The beast will continue exerting itself until the bell has been rung a total of 5 times, or until it made an attack against a character (it doesn’t have to succeed). GM’s: As an exception, the beast will not exert itself to death in the first round.


GM Tips

Handling Indestructible – There are a few ways to let the players know that the players cannot use the indestructible action.

  1. Warn Them – Let the players know at the beginning of the combat that the attack action won’t work. This prevents them from wasting their time. (Of course, you can offer a compel to any players for PCs that would be a little too slow to realize this).
  2. Surprise Them – You can wait until someone attempts an attack, and tell them it doesn’t work; treat this as a compel, with the player getting a free fate point. This is less friendly, but matches the normal flow of the fight. The downside is, this will often make players upset. As a consolation, considering giving two fate points instead of one, or let the player take an extra action next turn / at the end of this turn. Also, if the player spend any fate points or special one-use stunts during the attack, make sure they get them back at the end of the turn / conflict.

 

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Speaking of creepy stuff, Tangent Artist’s comic “Skeleton Crew” is now on Web Toon! The first issue is up, with more to follow. Read it online or on the Web Toon app!

M:tG – A Designer Essay

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A little while ago, I participated in Wizards of the Coasts’ third Great Designer Search.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t do well enough on the multiple-choice test to make it to the third trial, but I thought I’d share my essay, as well as some of my thoughts on Magic. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get another chance to apply for a job there someday.

 


  1. Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.

You only get one first impression. On the whole, I’m a positive person. Acquaintances know that I try to see the good in everything, but this is only half of the story. Those who know me recognize that my mantra is always, “This is good, but how can we make it better?”

From a young age, I’ve always been tweaking board games. I was inventing house rules before I knew what house rules were. In middle and high school, you never saw me without a pocket notepad, ready to write down a new idea for a game, a fanfic or an original Magic card.

This carried over into college too, when I earned my BFA in Music Theatre. I loved working in the established shows and, but I still felt to the urge to write my own plays, perpetually asking myself “How can I make this better?”

This is one of the reasons I was drawn to working on roleplaying games, which are inherently malleable. In 2015, I had the pleasure of working with the professional company Evil Hat to create an RPG setting for the Fate system.

 

Given carte blanche to create whatever I wanted, I drew inspiration from the cartoons of my youth, and created the planetary romance “Masters of Umdaar.” Later, I approached the company with an idea for a second setting; I had been inspired by a small series of filler art from one of their rulebooks. I fleshed out those five pictures into an RPG about a culinary game show in space, “Uranium Chef.” In addition, I have just sold a carnival themed board game to another company.

In my quest to perfect my craft, I have not always been alone. I have extensive experience collaborating with creative teams. For the past ten years, I have worked with the group Tangent Artists, coauthoring three comics: the supernatural adventure “Skeleton Crew,” the comedic fantasy “CRIT!”, and the gag-a-day strip “Donuts for Looking.” Over time, I have learned when to take the lead on a project and when to follow. I know that sometimes you must campaign for your ideas. I also know that you sometimes have to step back, take a deep breath, and set your ideas aside for the good of the project.

In the past, I have worked as a professional actor and a drama teacher. I currently work as a team coach at a call center.

 

 

  1. An evergreen mechanic is a keyword mechanic that shows up in (almost) every set. If you had to make an existing keyword mechanic evergreen, which one would you choose and why?

 

Given the chance, I would remake the mechanic known as flanking into an evergreen keyword for black and blue. If so, I would remove the “blockers with (keyword) are unaffected” clause. I would also change the name to a term, perhaps to “corrupt” or “dominate.” Here is why I think flanking would be a good fit:

  1. Missing Hole – Blue and black is currently lacking a unique keyword ability.
  2. Color Pie Theory – Divorced from the name “flanking,” the flanking mechanic is about making opposing creatures weaker. Thematically, this fits perfectly with black (which is about punishing the weak and sapping the strength of your enemies), and very well with blue (which is happy to transmogrify an opponent into a weaker form).
  3. Enemy Color Pie: Green is the color of brute force. Green creatures overcome obstacles by increasing their own strength (ex. rampage and “new rampage.”) It is appropriate that the blue/black ability have the opposite effect. Similarly, Naya (green, white, and red) are the colors that focus most heavily on small creature tokens, (ex. green elves, white soldiers, and red goblins). Black and blue need a keyword that overcomes tokens without necessarily evading them.
  4. Balance – Flanking can be placed on low-mana creatures without fear of speeding up the format, as the ability only increases the relative power of the creature without dealing additional damage to the defending player.
  5. Record Keeping – Unlike wither and infect, two keywords that also weaken an opposing creature, flanking’s negative modifier only lasts until end of turn; this makes record keeping easier, without Wizards having to make -1/-1 counters evergreen in every set.
  6. Design Space – Like most evergreen keywords, design space for flanking is limited. However, because multiple instances of flanking stack, it is possible to create rarer cards that use flanking in complex ways. For example, imagine a rare demon with an activated ability: “2B: Target creature gains flanking.” Similar, flanking interacts very well with black’s new keyword menace, increasing flanking’s effect across multiple blockers.

 

  1. If you had to remove evergreen status from a keyword mechanic that is currently evergreen, which one would you remove and why?

 

If I were to remove evergreen status from a keyword mechanic, I would choose hexproof. Here are my reasons:

  1. With most keywords, a large creature can be dealt with by removal or with creatures. Only two keywords are immune to one of those options: hexproof and indestructible. If you are a player on the receiving end of an immensely powerful creature with either ability, you will likely be frustrated and will be hard-pressed to comeback. Cards with indestructible are rare and have expensive costs, while hexproof is cheaper and more common.
  2. Hexproof is based on the older “shroud,” which affected all players equally. Hexproof is entirely one-sided, which makes the fun one-sided as well.
  3. Whenever hexproof is placed on a card with evasion, such as a creature that is unblockable, it effectively makes the creature irremovable without some time of board wipe or edict effect.

Given the chance, I would replace hexproof with the following: An ability or keyword that reads, “Spells your opponents cast that target [cardname] cost 2 more,” as demonstrated on the cards Elderwood Scion and Icefall Regent. This ability discourages removal without eliminating it completely.

Alternatively, if hexproof were to continue, I’d recommend limiting it in several ways:

  1. Situational hexproof, such as Dragonord Ojutai, which has “has hexproof when untapped,” or Tromokratis with “has hexproof when not attacking or blocking.”
  2. Keep it temporary, such as spells that grant “hexproof until end of turn.”
  3. Make hexproof only apply to permanents of another kind. For example, an equipment that says “equipped creature has hexproof,” or a creature with “non-creature enchantments you control have hexproof.” However, a non-legendary card that grants others hexproof but effects its own creature type, for example an elf that grants other elves hexproof, is too easily abused, as your deck will likely have more than one in the deck.

 

  1. You’re going to teach Magic to a stranger. What’s your strategy to have the best possible outcome?

The first thing I focus on when teaching a new player is to find a familiar frame of reference. Ideally, I start with a familiar mechanic that the player would recognize. For example, if the player is familiar with Pokemon or Final Fantasy video games, they will understand damage and health. A player that is familiar with the deck builder game Dominion will more readily understand building decks and card costs. I would even draw connections to games that are not board games, such as how the objective of Magic correlates with the dodgeball variant bombardment.

If none of the mechanics seem familiar, I would draw up the flavor to help craft a story. Magic has a strong fantasy theme, which resonates well with any fans of the genre. Most importantly, stories also weave a sequence of cause and effect, and can help cement turn sequence in a way that a grocery list of rules cannot. I would craft a story about how each player is a wizard, pulling upon the raw magic of the wilderness; they use this raw mana to summon loyal minions (which stick around), and fickle sorceries (which are potent but fleeting).

Once the foundation is laid out, I would play several rounds with the opponent with our hands revealed. I would explain what steps I’m taking and why, and make sure that the player is aware of what options are available. I would mostly lead by example, making smart choices; however, to facilitate the learning experience, I will sometimes “accidentally” make a strategically poor move and immediately point out my own mistake, so the player will learn from my errors.

As you can tell, I’m not afraid to let the opponent have a chance of winning. In my experience, if a player’s first exposure to a game is crushing defeat, they are less inclined to try it again.

 

  1. What is Magic’s greatest strength and why?

I think Magic’s greatest strength is how it lets a player express themself. Because players have a pool of over 15,000 cards to draw upon, it is possible for a player to create a deck that is utterly unique to them.

Personally, I relate most with the expressive Johnny/Jenny psychographic. I build fun and quirky decks that combine unusual creatures and forgotten cards in a way that my opponents don’t expect (and once in a blue moon, I actually win with them). This is the message I choose to express, and the face I want to show the world when I play.

There are other psychographics, such as Timmy/Tammy and Spike, but I theorize that they also want to express themselves. When a Timmy/Tammy plays a Darksteel Colossus, they are expressing “I am a force to be reckoned with”; that is a message they want to share with their friends. When a Spike creates a tournament deck, they are expressing, “I am a winner.” Even a competitive, no-nonsense Spikes express themselves in which competitive deck format they prefer; a pro-player that builds an aggro deck expresses “I am a daredevil,” while a control player expresses, “I am in control.”

I believe this is also the reason why, in the casual format, Commander has been such a strong hit. Players aren’t just picking a high-value creature to base a deck around; they are picking a named character with a strong identity. When a card is successfully built with the color pie in mind, it carries with it a philosophy that the player can adapt. Do I want to build a Phelddagrif group hug deck and be everyone’s friend, or do I want to play Saskia the Unyielding and openly declare war on a single player? It’s almost akin to roleplaying in that the accomplishments of this commander reflect on the player itself, and in turn the player will build future decks using commanders that they will relate with.

 

  1. What is Magic’s greatest weakness and why?

I believe that Magic’s greatest weakness is that the required amount of knowledge a new player needs to understand before they can play is staggeringly high. As an experience player, it is easy to forget how much information is not clearly displayed on a card, and how many rules are buried in the rulebook.

For example, take the type line. At Magic’s debut, this line used the phrase “Summon [creature].” While this correctly communicates that this is a spell, I know of confused beginners that assumed they had to pay the casting cost to keep the creature in play, or assumed they could use a counterspell to destroy a summoned creature that has been on the battlefield for several turns. When Wizards changed the type line to “Creature – [type]” with Sixth Edition, it made the permanence a little easier to remember; however, I know of beginners who had trouble realizing that “Creature” was a spell that could be countered.

If the type line for Llanowar Elves accurately reflect everything a new player needs to know, it would have to say, “Spell Permanent Creature – Elf Druid.” As it stands, there are no indicators in cards to define which are permanents and which are spells. Similarly, there are no indicators on sorceries or instants that once they resolve, they do not stay in play- the player must simply memorize that fact, which increases the comprehension complexity.

I personally feel that adding the words “Spell” and “Permanent” to every artifact, enchantment and creature would be a bit unnecessary. However, I can imagine implementing it in other ways, such as a collapsible bar on the type line for beginning Magic Online players. Similarly, I can imagine adding a permanent and a non-permanent symbol to the side of cards; such icons proved very useful in Portal, and similar type icons were used in Future Sight.

  1. What Magic mechanic most deserves a second chance (aka which had the worst first introduction compared to its potential)?

As a fan of both Ravnica and Orzhov, I feel like Haunt has the potential to be a better mechanic. By my analysis, I see the following flaws:

  1. Asymmetrical – Haunt is confusing in that it has two separate triggers: first when the creature or spell enters the battlefield, and again when the creature it haunts dies. A potential solution would be to make both effects triggered at the same time (i.e. when the creature dies).
  2. Flavor – When Haunt is only a creature, the flavor of it dying and haunting another creature is clear. However, haunt also appeared on several sorceries, which is unusual flavor – how can a sorcery haunt you?
  3. Exile – White and black are two colors that deal well with resurrecting creatures from the graveyard, making exiling cards a disadvantage.
  4. Too Symmetrical – By insisting that haunt effects be identical when it triggers both times, you are limiting the place space; the effect must be weak enough as to not be broken, yet strong enough that a player would want it twice. I would recommend that the initial effect and and haunting effect have correlation, but are not slavishly identical.

Solution – Double Faced Cards – The flaws mentioned above can all be solved with double-faced cards; the front side of the card is a creature, which transforms upon death, coming back as an aura. A perfect example of an existing card that does this well is Accursed Witch.

For example, if I were to rewrite Cry of Contrition as a creature, it might be:
Front:
Shriekfang Bat – 2B –Bat – 1/1 – When Shriekfang Bat enters the battlefield, target player discards a card. Haunt – When Shriekfang Bat dies, you may return it to the battlefield transformed attached to target creature.
Back:
Shrieking Agony – Enchantment –Aura – Enchant Creature. When enchanted creature dies, target player discards a card.

Better still, the flipped auras can be extended past “when creature dies” effects. For example, I can easily see a white/black creature with flying and lifelink transform into an aura that grants an enchanted creature flying and lifelink.

 

  1. Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your favorite and then explain the biggest problem with it.

 

My favorite expansion I’ve played with is the Ravnica block. It successfully established ten unique factions, each with their own motivations, flavor, tribe, and societal niche. It also marked one of the first times when ally color pairings and enemy color pairings were treated as equals, which added new depths to color pie philosophy.

jace amnesia2The biggest problem with Ravnica was the inconsistency of mechanics across the block. Many of the mechanics, like Convoke, Bloodthirst and Dredge, fit both the theme of the guild and the colors it represented beautifully. However, other mechanics were forgettable or poorly matched. Azorious’s mechanic, Forecast, had little connection to their flavor as lawmakers, and was mechanically awkward – it was the only mechanic that required the player use it use during their upkeep; as a player who has instinctively reached for my library after untapping, I’ve missed my window many times. Boros’s keyword Radiance makes slightly more sense thematically, in that it represents how courage can ripple through a militaristic force; however this theme starts breaking down when the mechanic is used on cards that smite your enemies or, because they share a color with your enemy, accidentally punish your own troops. Radiance always focuses on colors, which can be very swingy. The keyword Transmute ties in well with the colors of blue and black, but the mechanic does not tie into the theme of spies and assassins; even the name suggests alchemy, which is associated with the Izzet guild.

As a minor note, many of the above problems were rectified in the Return to Ravnica block. Dimir, Orzhov, Azorious, and Boros, all gained new keyword mechanics that functioned within their color pie and within their theme. However, I always felt it a shame that the new mechanics for Gruul and Rakdos weren’t switched. If Gruul had the ability Unleash, it would have combined well with Bloodthirst, as they both utilize +1/+1 counters. Similarly, Bloodrush synergizes well with Hellbent; an attacking player can use a bloodrush card at instant speed, emptying their hand and making them Hellbent.

 

  1. Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your least favorite and then explain the best part about it.

Of all the blocks that I’ve played, Mirrodin is my least favorite. With the addition of powerful artifacts, equipment, affinity, and indestructible, the power level of the game skyrocketed. At the time, as a casual player who didn’t use sideboards, I was forced to add extra Disenchants and Shatters into all my decks.

However, the block does include the wonderfully crafted mechanic Sunburst. When I was younger, I purchased a Sunburst deck and was entertained by it, but didn’t realize how brilliant it was until years later. Creating strong yet balanced colorless creatures can be difficult, but Sunburst solves this by giving the players a more difficult, multicolored hoop to jump through. However, the mechanic also gives the player strategic flexibility; if they are in a bind, they can still cast the sunburst card at less than optimal value. Case in point, should I cast my Etched Oracle now for three colors to give myself a 3/3 blocker, or hold out until I have my fourth color to get it’s full worth? This is an example of an elegant mechanic design that is easy to comprehend, but carries great strategic depth.

Sunburst requires players to build balanced multicolored decks with balanced land bases, but doesn’t dictate what colors they must use, making the Sunburst cards a happy addition to most any deck. In my Commander Cube, cards with Sunburst and Converge are a perfect fit, encouraging players to play multicolor decks without dictating their color choices.

I also enjoy the fact that the art team added five suns to each of the cards. This is both a flavorful nod to the storyline, and a subtle reminder to new players on how best to utilize the mechanic.

  1. You have the ability to change any one thing about Magic. What do you change and why?

If could pick one thing I would change about Magic, I would remove all references to a player’s gender from the cards; for example, I would replace all uses of “he or she” or “his or her” with more inclusive phrasing. I have friends of mine who identify as genderless or as non-binary genders, and I feel that it is important that they feel included in the hobby as well. Of course, that is not to say that we should remove all gender from characters; it is perfectly fine for the creative team to create new legendary creatures and planeswalkers that identify as male, female, agender, genderfluid or anything else that feel reflects the story and the community.

As for correcting rules text, there are several alternatives:

  1. Their – Use the term “their,” as in, “each opponent discards a card from their hand.” A decade ago, using the word “their” in the singular would have been confusing to many people, but in the past few years, the singular “their” has gained more usage in the common vernacular. For example, in 2016 the singular “they” was made Word of the Year and added to the AP Stylebook.

    B. Their own – If “their” by itself is not clear enough, adding the determiner “own,” as in, “each opponent discards a card from their own hand,” might clarify ownership further still.

  2. No Pronouns – In some cases, the pronoun can be removed entirely, such as, “Target player chooses a creature that player controls.”

I know this issue is more about word choice than about design mechanics, but one of R&D’s principals is, “We are inclusive and respectful.” In order to fully promote an inclusive community, I recommend Wizards phase out any language that dilutes their message.

It is also in keeping with the philosophy of Magic’s original design; Richard Garfield and the other progenitors could have saved space by referring to players solely as “he,” but they went the extra mile to use the phrase “he or she.” It is only fitting that we continue the trend further.

Board Game Review – 6 Games, and 2 Playtests

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Hello, Tangerines! This week, we’re going to do something a little different. Most of this post will be spent reviewing outside board games I had the pleasure of playing recently. At the end, there will be info about our upcoming RPG, “Dungeon Tours Limited.”

TCEP 2017

In September, I had a pleasure to returning to the tiny board game convention, TCEP. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t be surprised; it has a small but loyal group of followers, mostly friends, who’ve been meeting annual for 24 years start. “TCEP” actually stands for Tad and Craig’s Excellent Party; it didn’t start as a con, but as a board game party that grew too big for a single house! If you can, I recommend you come next year. Lots of awesome games, home-baked bread, and prizes (not dealers room or long lines). https://barkingmad.org/

Here are some of the games I got to play, and to run:

  • Century: Spice Road
  • Kitty Paw
  • Gravwell
  • 5 Minute Dungeon
  • Custom Heroes
  • Shadowrun: Crossfire

 


Century: Spice Road

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Photo courtesy of Plan B Games, used without permission

Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi

Publisher: Plan B Games

2-5 Players

Description: A very cleverly built resource / engine game* themed around the medieval spice roads.

*Engine Game – a game that focuses on building powerful, repeatable combos, or gathering cards that combine several steps into one to achieve maximum efficiency.

It is definitely a “Eurogame,” in that the mechanics are only loosely tied to the setting – the game could easily be about trading company stocks or asteroids without any significant change. Similarly, like many Eurogames, there is very little player interaction (at first glance, it seems like no interaction at all, but it’s there – it’s just very subtle).

Reaction: I thoroughly enjoyed this; it is one of those “minutes to learn, years to master” kind of games, which is particularly rare for Eurogames. Each player’s turn moves quickly. There are enough choices to allow a variance in strategy, but not so many that a player gets decision paralysis. The art on the cards is gorgeous (and as a plus, it has lots of colorful dice cubes… I love bits.) In addition, it’s nice to see a peaceful game set in a non-European country.

Side note: I’ve heard it described as “Splendor made better” – personally, I’ve never played Splendor, so I cannot compare.

Replayability: I suspect it is very high. However, while it can be played with 2-5 players, it feels like a game that needs at 3-5 players to shine, which limits times you can play. Also, it is similar in style to many Eurogames, which can kill the replayability some.

Rating 8 / 10 – Buy it, assuming you don’t already have 10 other games just like it.


Kitty Paw

Designer: Aza Chen

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Photo courtesy of GaGa Games, used without permission

Publisher: GaGa Games

Description: In a nutshell, it’s a timed tangram game with a dexterity chaser.

Kitty Paw is a competitive tile game, in which players race to find cat-shaped tiles and place them in a set geometric pattern. The player who accomplishes this first holds up their hand (in a paw) and says “meow.” All other players must stop what they’re doing and touch the winner’s paw. The winning player gets positive points equal to their puzzle’s value; the last player to touch the paw gets a negative point; all other players get nothing. The puzzle deck is tiered, so the puzzles naturally progress from easy to difficult.

Reaction: I happened to play this game amongst close friends of mine, and that seemed the perfect group. It doesn’t feel like a game to try with serious gamers, or strangers with short tempers. Much like the old card game Spoons, dexterity and reflexes have a factor in the game; if a player is slow raising their hand, hearing the winner’s announcement, or reaching their paw, it can mean never winning the game. Similarly, players must race to grab their kitty tiles from the middle of the playing area.

That being said, I did find it enjoyable. It is also easily modified based on the preferences of that group. The difficult puzzles can be removed for younger players. The scoring can be altered, adding points for runners up. I suspect you could even play a solitaire game against a timer, or idly fiddle with the tiles in a timeless solo mode (like you’d play with a tangram).

Let us not neglect the fact that the kitties are adorable.

Replayability: I suspect low. However, it doesn’t take up much room on the shelf, so it’d be easy to keep the “kitty in a corner” and pull it out once in a blue moon.

Rating: 6/10 – For casual, family fun


Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension

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Photo courtesy of Cryptozoia, used without permission

Designer: Corey Young

Publisher: Cryptozoic Entertainment

Description from Board Game Geek:

In Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension, players command spaceships that have been pulled through a black hole, transporting them into a different dimension. With each ship lacking fuel to get home, each player must collect basic elements from surrounding asteroids, using the gravity of the dimension and what little resources they have in order to reach the warp gate that will take them home. But in this dimension, moving ships will travel towards the nearest object, which is usually another ship, and when those objects are moving either forward or backward, reaching the warp gate isn’t always easy. … When your opponents move in ways you didn’t expect, you won’t always be heading in the direction you thought you would! 

Reaction: Another simple game, but lots of fun. The beauty of it is that the game is very unpredictable, without being random; rather, the cards your opponents play can flip the effect of the cards you play. Similarly, I was impressed by the clever way players get cards every round; instead of being dealt random cards, players draft a face up card, which is packaged with a face-down card. This is a smart simple tweak that likely can be added to many card games.

Replayability: I suspect it’s quite – it takes only 15-20 minutes to play a full game, and most of the people near me were eager to play 2-3 games in a row. The only flaw is that it has a very large board for such a simple game – I wish it was a little more portable.

8/10 – Darn good fun.


5 Minute Dungeon

Designer Connor Reid

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Photo courtesy of Kosmos, used without permission

Publisher: KOSMOS

Description: First off, let me say, this game is not for everyone. 5 Minute Dungeon is a cooperative, real time card matching game, based around the theme of a dungeon. Each player has a deck, based around a specific class: warrior, cleric, wizard, etc. The decks have cards with specific symbols, and while every deck has all five symbols, certain decks have certain symbols in higher concentration (i.e. the ranger has more arrow symbols). The dungeon consists of a deck of monsters and obstacles to overcome. Once the timer starts, the players flip the first card of the dungeon deck and play cards to overcome it. The players can talk and reveal their hands, but once a card leaves their hand, they can’t take it back – which means that if two players defeat a monster at the same time, the redundant cards are wasted. If they defeat the dungeon and the final boss monster before time the five minutes run out, they win. If the players run out of time or cards, they lose. Extra dungeons have thicker decks, increasing the difficulty.

Reaction:  If you want proof that humans can improve on a skill in a short time, play several dungeons of this game with the same group. Even though the difficulty increased each dungeon, we managed to beat every level with approximately the same time frame. We were subconsciously getting better at reflex speed.

A common feature or flaw of co-op games is that it can become “one experienced player telling everyone what to do.” In 5 Minute Dungeon, the speed factor helps side-step this problem, but does not eliminate it; commonly, one player might come up with a brilliant plan, but it will fall apart in the rush. Unfortunately, this means that might still be a dominant player telling everyone what to do, but with increasing volume and frustration as players miss or ignore instructions. I know some friends who would love this, and others that would break down under the pressure and/or start yelling at each other.

Replayability: Replayability is my biggest concern. Because it takes only 10 minutes to set up and play, it has great reuse as a “waiting for the game” game. However, the fact that we beat every level in the box within 40 minutes means there’s not much adventure left. The shelf life is extended, thanks to the fact that each character deck has two different character classes (of which, one is female / non-male – thumbs up for being inclusive!). Also, the box has extra room, implying that there might be more classes planned; the monsters, however, are so mechanically similar that additional monsters will not alter the game in any significant way.

As a side note, another slow-release feature of the game is the clever characters that populate the world. Just like Munchkins or Peasant Buffet, the monsters are humorous and expressive; unlike Munchkins, the players don’t have time to appreciate them mid-game. This makes the game itself less interesting, but spreads the joy of discovery over a longer period.

If you do get it, also recommend downloading the timer app, which has handy warnings and a great group of flavorful voice actors.

Total Rating – 7 / 10 – Convince your friend to buy it!


Shadowrun Crossfire

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Photo courtesy of Catalyst Game Labs, used without permission

Designer: Mike Elliott, Rob Heinsoo, Jim Lin, Gregory Marques, Sean McCarthy, Jay Schneider, Rob Watkins

Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs

Here’s the official description from Board Game Geek:

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a cooperative deck-building card game for two to four players set in the gritty, cyberpunk fantasy world of Shadowrun. Play a shadowrunner team and take on tough jobs such as protecting a client who’s marked for death, shooting your way out of downtown when a run goes sour, or facing down a dragon. In each game you’ll improve your deck with a mix of strategies, while earning Karma to give your character cyber upgrades, physical augmentations, magical initiations, weapons training and Edge.

Reaction: A friend of mine hyped this pretty hard. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away – to be fair, I was fatigued when I played. It is a deck-builder co-op, which is something I’ve fascinated about making myself for some time. However, I didn’t find the game had any other breakthrough features. The player decks are relatively generic at the beginning, and cards are added at such a slow rate, that you can play a whole game without feeling like you’ve gained that much of an identity.

Replayability:  This game excels at replayability, namely in that there are multiple missions to pursue, and ways to upgrade your character over time from game to game. The game features blank character mats, with tons of skill stickers for making the character yours. It has a ton of expansions, which is a blessing (for everything but your wallet).

Sidenote: I DARE any American child who grew up in the 80’s-90’s to hear the word “Crossfire” without immediately thinking of the old commercial for the marble-shooting game. I dare you.

Rating 7.5 – Great, if you’re looking for another large investment.


Custom Heroes

Designer: John D. Clair

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Photo courtesy of AEG, used without permission

Publisher: AEG

Description: Custom Heroes is a card-crafting trick-taking* game in which plastic cards are added to sleeves to modify the cards already in those sleeves.

*Trick-taking – divided into short rounds, with a highest value card winning the round and removing all cards in play. Common in older games. Custom Heroes is based on the Japanese game called Daifugo, which is like the Western card game known as President or Capitalism.

The players attempt to win rounds by getting rid of their cards as quickly as possible using the classic climbing trick mechanic. e.g. If a player leads with three 4s then the next player must play three of a kind of equal or higher value. When all players pass, the last player to have played cards leads a new trick with whatever card or set of equal cards they want. Go out of cards first for first place, second for second, etc.

However, you also have advancements you can sleeve onto your cards. These may increase or decrease the value of the cards, or even add new abilities such as turning a card into a wild or reversing the direction of the values (i.e. you are now playing lower numbers instead of higher) or making cards count as multiple copies of themselves, etc.

But since all the cards are reshuffled and dealt to start a new round, the changes you made may end up with someone else (and vice versa), and the common distribution of values will begin to change and shift over multiple hands. Thus, a good strategy must factor in not just doing well in the current hand, but also managing your resources (card advancements) over multiple hands and maximizing their impact though well-timed plays.

You earn points and more advancements based on your end of round position. Be the first player to go out each round and gain the most points, but draw fewer new advancements for the next hand. To win a player must first get to 10 points, and then win a hand.

Reaction: This is the second game I’ve played with AEG’s game-changing sleeve technology; I first encountered it in their fantasy deck building game, Mystic Vale. I expected the two games to be quite similar, and was pleasantly surprised to see how unique they are.

As you can see in the above description, Custom Heroes a trick taking game. Let me start by saying:

  1. I love the idea of a trick taking game that lets you alter the cards. (I’m reminded of the Dilbert cartoon, which involved Dogbert cheating at Scrabble by carving his own letters with a wood burner).
  2. I love the idea of a showdown between customizable hero cards with weapon / prop overlays (this includes everything from dramatic lightening effects and weapons, to kittens and cabbages).

Sadly, I don’t think the mechanics of A. mesh with the theme of B. The theme is supposed to be major arena battle between skilled super-human individuals: but they battle by showing up on four or five cards at a time? How does that make sense? Similarly, the art is amazing, but has no sense of scale – one character’s art might look amazing, but they are only a three; trumped by another character with a value of 9 that looks far less impressive.

That being said, I found the game enjoyable- the fact that the customized cards are shuffled and re-dealt every around adds balance to what could otherwise be a game out of control. I could also imagine it being very customizable; use the same card and sleeve system to create a unique fighting card game with new mechanics.

7/10 – Not amazing, but keep an eye out for other Card Crafting System games.


And, now, onto the playtests!

Ravenspurn Abbey

castleThis is a new card game that I haven’t had a chance to talk much about. For that reason, I plan to devout an entire post to it. Nutshell version: it is a simple board game of Gothic mystery and romance. Regarding TCEP in particular, I couldn’t have had a better cross-section of playtesters; different genders, age ranges, and dedication to the hobby. They suggested I add more player interaction; and I can think of just the place to include it!

Dungeon Tours Ltd.

I have had the pleasure of runnimiles_parchment-title-2ng the Dungeon Tours RPG multiple times in the last few years, but I’ve always run it with the same client: Lil’ Lord Fitzroy. I can slip into the foppish noble like a comfy house coat, and can drop into his annoying brogue at the drop of a hat. Of course, he wouldn’t be complete without the twitch-inducing twittering laugh (copied straight from the movie Amadeus.) However, I needed a break from Fitzroy.

This time, I ran a game as a new client: Colonel Bradshaw Quackenbush. This old soldier was anxious for one last taste of the old days, which he’d often expound upon. Of course, you can’t make clients too likable, so I made sure to pepper his anecdotes with openly racist opinions (ex. “It was swarming with greenskins… supposedly you can’t call orcs ‘greenskins’ anymore, but I don’t see why not.”)

The party consisted of a Paladin (who couldn’t lie, but was adept at selective truths), a sneaky hedge mage (with the Wrangler approach set), and a shapeshifting courtesan. There was also a builder (played by a 10-year-old player who dropped out half way).

In addition to testing out the new client, I also got to test out the new rules. For those of you with the Beta test, I’ve removed the differentiation between “real” rooms and “fake rooms,” making the final room process much more streamlined.

Overall, I’d call the whole thing a success.

 

Dungeons – The Logistical Nightmare!

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The kickstarter for the Dungeon Tours Limited is soon approaching. In the meantime, we’ll explore some of the origins behind the game.

But first, what is Dungeon Tours Limited?


miles_parchment-title-2Dungeon Tours Limited is an upcoming tabletop RPG from Tangent Artists. In it, players take on the roles of semi-retired adventurers in a fantasy world. Your days of delving into dungeons are almost over. However, there’s been a recent trend of young nobles going “dungeoning”; and you have a client lined up who is willing to pay crazy money to join your party on your next adventure.

But there’s a problem: the noble twit won’t last three seconds in a real dungeon. So, you’re going to have to fake it. You have three days to find a cave, fill it with foam spikes and papier-mache dragons, and guide the client through. Can you reach the end without the twit uncovering the truth?


Like many RPGs settings, we owe some inspiration to Dungeons & Dragons. One night, our group was going over some of the ridiculous pre-made adventures of 1st edition. You probably know the type: adventures with ancient tombs, teeming with living, breathing monsters, buried miles below the earth . Immediately, we some logistical flaws:

  • How did the 100 foot dragon get into a dungeon with only 10 foot wide corridors?
  • If there’s a live manticore down there, who’s feeding it? Who’s cleaning its cage?
  • If a tiny chamber has an ogre trapped in, unable to get out, waiting hundreds of years between skirmishes, how does he keep himself entertained? Sudoku?

This got me thinking; wouldn’t it be fun to flip the script? Instead of having the GM create the dungeon for the players, what if the players were the dungeon makers? This lead to:

Dungeon Tours 0.0

In this version, the players play monstrous humanoids (orcs, goblins, drow, etc.) working hard on a real dungeon. They’re been hired by a warlord to keep the lair safe from adventurers.

This was purely a thought experiment, with no actual rules were created. I was even unsure whether this would be better was an RPG or a boardgame.

However, I quickly stumbled upon a two-prong problem:

  • If the players wanted the adventurers to die, there must be some easier way to do it than through dumb monsters and convoluted traps.
  • If the players succeed in killing the PCs the first 3rd of the game, the remaining 2/3rds of the dungeon is wasted.

The solution: to develop a game that had to walk a tight-rope. Rather than trying an extreme goal that can be reached through extreme means (ex. kill all invaders), it had to be a balancing act. It must be have a certain amount of X, but not TOO much X.

Dungeon Tours 0.1 – Today

This is where the idea of a fake tour first took place. It’s had certain mechanics that I’ve tried and set aside (ex. the idea of a Scare-o-meter that must be hit just right –  not to much, not too little). However, the fundamental idea of creating fake threats has been in there since the beginning.

Fun Fact: It was the “build a project” backbone of DTL that would later provide the framework for Evil Hat’s Uranium Chef. It’s funny that they’re released in opposite order.

That’s all we have time for this week. Expect more previews as we get closer to the DTL launch date.

What are the best / worst features to show up in your dungeons?