GMProv – Ask Me No Questions


This week, we’ll look at another rule of improv: Questions!  The improv rule is this:

Never Start a Scene with a Question.

Personally, I don’t think this rule is as steadfast in RPGS as it is in improv, but what is thatbefore I explore the exceptions, let me start with the rule itself.

In Improv:

As we mentioned last week, an improvised scene is all about set-up.  A 2 minute scene will succeed or fail based on the 20 seconds spent establishing the characters, conflicts, and locations. The setup is all about facts: what is true, what is concrete. Of course, a truth has two opposites: denial, and uncertainty. We covered denial/negation in a previous blog post, so today we cover questions & uncertainty. But what harm can asking a simple question do?

Let me start with a tangent: how many of you out there have ever seen the Improv Comedy tv show, “Whose Line is it Anyway?” If you’ve never seen it, (first off, I highly recommend it), it involves seasoned performers creating improvised sketches and songs before a studio audience.

75% of the show, and it’s resulting humor, is purely cooperative. The performers help each other out, deliver straight lines (giving the partner the perfect chance at a punchline), and generally have fun together. While it has a “winner” of sorts at the end, the beginning of the show even starts with the host saying, “the points don’t matter.” These are the types of scenes that I proudly showed my students (when I taught) as good examples of theatre sports.

25% of the humor, however, is derived from a different type of improv. It has gone by many names, but the one that captures the pure essence of it is “F@#$-Your-Buddy.”  F@#$-Your-Buddy is based on intentionally putting your scene partner in the most awkward and difficult situation you can. If a crisis needs solving, you put her on the spot to give the solution. If you’re playing a rhyming game, you force the partner to make a rhyme for “orange” or “silver.” It’s a theatrical demolition derby, in which the audience shivers with anticipation at the gaping chasm opened up before the performer. They delight in watching the unease and horror on the performer’s face. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just as harmless and hilarious to watch as the cooperative stuff, but it’s not the stuff I show young improvers as behavior to emulate. At the core, it is based on either competition (at best) or humiliation (at worst.) *

 * F@#$ Your Buddy – Colin & Ryan Style – The majority of F@#$-Your-Buddy on “Whose Line” is done between Colin Mochrie & Ryan Styles, who love throwing each other into tight spots. However, they have been doing improv together for over 20 years, and both know how talented the other is- I doubt they’d ever set-up an obstacle that the other player couldn’t honestly overcome. So, you could argue that they aren’t REALLY f*&^ing each other over most of the time, but rather putting on the appearance of F@#$-Your-Buddy-atude for the audience. Don’t try this at home, they’re professionals.

/End Rambling Tangent.

So, what does asking a question do?

Imagine two performers, Abel and Baker, who have to set up a scene. Depending on which universe you are in, Abel starts the scene one of two ways:

Variant 1-
Abel: Fan-frickin-tastic! I’m sick and tired of winding up in jail because of your shenanigans, Bob!

Using last week’s guide, let’s see who supplies the facts:

Who: Abel provides half- he gives us Baker’s name, “Bob.”

What’s the relationship: Abel provides implication that Bob & other person are partners or friends; the relationship is strained to the point of breaking.

Where are they: Abel provides that they are in jail.

When: Abel provides the past (there were previous arrests.)

Why are they having this conversation:  Abel provides that he wants to stop the arrests or stop the relationship with Bob.

NOW, let’s see an alternative opening:

Abel: What are you doing?

I could repost the “who, what, when, etc.” and fill in the information, but for the sake of time, I’ll go ahead and say that the answer for each is the same: Abel provides NOTHING.  Instead of verifying a fact or providing a new one (see the “Yes / And” blog post,) Abel foists all creative decisions on Baker’s unprepared shoulders. If Baker’s good, he’ll recover and make it work. If it’s not good or he suffers a mental block, Baker looks like an idiot in front of a leering audience, through no fault of his own. Whether you mean it or not, to suddenly ask a question is to play a game of “F@#$-Your-Buddy.”


So, does this mean that you should never ever ask any of your players questions? No, that would be terrible. However, every question you ask should be a conscious decision on the GM’s part, because the type of questions you ask have a profound effect on shaping the game.

Questionless Adventure: In theory, you likely could run a game in which the player is not prompted to answer any questions or make any decisions. Just like last week, I’ll cite the Maltese Falcon. (Why? Because it’s an awesome movie!)

The Maltese  Falcon is a film noir mystery film. From the very beginning, there are many unknown factors: who killed Spade’s partner? Where is the missing girl, if she even exists? Who can Spade trust?  That being said, Spade doesn’t really have a chance to make many active decisions until halfway through the film. Until then, a revolving door of odd characters show up at his apartment and his office, pulling guns on him and tailing him wherever he goes.  This might seem strange that a detective does very little detecting, but remember: the story was originally a pulp story. I remember reading that one famous pulp author would count out his pages- if a certain number went by without any action, he would insert a pistol whip, a shot, an explosion, or a dead body into the story, just to liven things up. Why would there be a dead body or violent action? Doesn’t matter, the author would justify it later.  Pulps (and Dan Brown novels) depend on the hero being the subject of action- he could sit in his arm chair at home, and events would still find him, forcing him to react first, and to answer questions later.

Likewise, it is possible to have an RPG in which the characters spend most of the time reacting to events. This means you don’t have to ask them many questions, like, “where will you go next?” or “what’s your next step?” as the next step comes to them. This shows up a lot when running “on the rail” adventures, which is why “railed” adventures are commonly used with newbie groups. Gamers who are new to RPGs are likely overwhelmed enough by the rules and stats without throwing additional questions at them- all they have to do is react, until they feel comfortable.

The Question-full Game: Of course, you can also run a game based around entirely asking players questions. I know that Fate is a collaborative game, which requires the players to creating everything together; from the theme of the entire universe to the contents of a dirty linen closet.  At Gen Con, I remember asking for room ideas from my playgroups: I had some seasoned gamers blanch at the idea (as they were never been asked these things in D&D!) By the end, the players loved the idea, but there was definitely a learning curve. Once you get them going, I’ve seen a group take over the story completely, with the GM acting merely as the mediator. This gives players more chance to ACT, but less chance to react- as such, they spend more time building the world outside of their characters, and less time inside their character’s head, playing the character. Thus, a question is like breaking the fourth wall: on a subconscious level, the player is answering, not the character.

Easing Players In: To avoid shell-shock and not put players on the spot, here are a few tricks.

  • Start with little questions; instead of making them plan a giant caper from scratch, start with them brainstorming the items of a room.
  •  Give examples first. “The room is dank and foul. You see a slimy bucket containing something that’s definitely not water, and an algae covered drain is in the floor. What else do you see?”
  •  Ask the group, rather than the individuals. For example, during the scene set-up, don’t call out individuals to come up with ideas- propose it to everyone at the same time, and let those who are feeling comfortable speak up.
  •  Give people time to think. If each player has to think about what their character will do (ex. “What kind of action will you take this turn?”), propose the question to all players at once, and let them respond as they will- this means players who are more confident will talk first, while those who are less comfortable and like taking their time get to answer after. This might mean bending the normal turn-order, or just tossing it out completely.


  • Gamers new to rpgs
  • Gamers new to a system
  • On the Rail Adventures (see “The Golden Rule” below)
  • Horror rpgs / Dramatic / Tragic rpgs – fewer questions gives the player less feeling of control and more time in the character’s head, making the danger all the sweeter.
  • Cooperative Games- all of the players are collected together into a solid team
  • Groups/ games that focus on the players being “in-character”


  • Fate Games
  • Campaigns with experienced players
  • Comedic Games – players get to spend more time setting up the joke, and feel less sensitive to having their characters be the butt of a joke.
  • World-Building Games– i.e. Games in which shaping the world is essential to the theme, such as games in which the characters are gods; my dungeon building game, Dungeon Tours.  Open-ended questions are jarring at first, but will remind them that they are in control.
  • Competitive / Cruel  Settings – If the setting involves characters regularly clashing with characters controlled by other players, then the more questions you can ask, the better. The more a player gets into the head of their character, the more likely they will take attacks against them personally.


So, whether you end up asking one question or one million, I suggest one golden rule; it harkens back to the “Never negate” rule I mentioned a few blogs back:

If you ask player a question, always be ready to go with their answer.

Asking a question means you are allowing the player to influence the game, and that you are interested in what they want to contribute. Imagine the following:

GM: What do you want to do?

Abel: I want to fly!

GM: You can’t fly, you don’t have the ability. What do you want to do?

Abel: I want to build a flying machine!

GM: There are no supplies. What do you want to do?

Abel: I go buy supplies!

Gm: The shops are closed. What do you want to do?

The GM’s saying “What do you want to do?” but he’s shutting down every answer Abel is giving. If he doesn’t want to Abel to do any of the things he wants to do, then why is he even asking? Don’t merely ask until you get the answer you’d give. This rule doesn’t mean you have to ALWAYS say yes, but if you’re going to ask, be prepared to throw away your carefully planned adventure.

NEXT WEEK: NO IDEA! What would YOU like to see?

GMprov – It’s a Set-Up


This week, I’m going to focus on another rules of improv: Establish the Scene.

Whenever you’re writing a play or a book, you have months to build up the proper setting and mood. You can take your sweet time to refine the language, and use flowery language to establish the mood. Ol’ Poe describes his chamber “the bleak December / and Each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.” (Beautiful, ain’t it?)

When you’re running an improv scene, the average time you have door opento establish the scene is roughly 34 pictoseconds. When you’re GMing a rambunctious group, you might have about the same.

To set up the scene successfully, you need to establish with lightning speed, in order of priority:

  1. Who is everyone?
  2. What’s the conflict?
  3. Where are you?

You would think that the “where” would go first, but if you have to choose only one detail to give, the players are more likely going to need to know that the assassin darting through the crowd was the woman with the scar across her forehead, and will care less about the fresco on the temple ceiling.  When in doubt, people are fascinated by people, not things (which is why no talking cartoon animal ever looks 100% like the animal it was based off of.)  When you’re running Improv scenes, it is important that the player not only establish their own identity, but also the identity of the other person, and their connection.  This may seem like a lot to establish, but a skilled performer can set it up with a single sentence. Examples:

 “Young lady, you are not going to school dressed like THAT!”  Relationship: younger daughter (probably teen) and parent.

“Ladies and Gentleman of the board, as the CEO of Enerdine corporation…” Relationship: CEO, the board members.

“Excuse me officer, I’m sorry to bother you, but my wife and I are lost…” Relationship: Wife & Spouse (husband, her wife) and a stranger, who is a police officer.

Of course, the players have probably set up THEIR characters already, so you just need to set up the NPC characters. Young or old? Knowledgable or naive? In charge, or a mere pawn?

Also, remember that the player’s relationship with another person may vary drastically based on their reputation and goals. In their minds, they might be world-saving heroes, but others might see them as smelly, rampaging mercenaries. For a pop culture example, remember Indiana Jones: we see him as a gruff, heroic adventurer, but his students see him as a stuffy archeology professor, and the natives of the countries he’s see him as an infamous grave robber.

Next, mark sure you set up the conflict. Who wants what, and how badly? I talked about this a lot in the Chair/Bus Stop blog a few months back, but in a nutshell; every scene always ends with one of three possibilities:

  1. Both people get what they want.
  2. One side gets what they want; the other side can go no further to get what they want at this time.
  3. No one gets what they want, and no one can go any further to get what they want at this time.

Setting: This is the least priority, but not by much. It is vitally important that players get a few facts and a feeling about the world they inhabit. In Fate Core, these show up as situation aspects. If I have one flaw as a GM (note: I have WAY more than one), it’s that I have a habit of spamming a scene with way too many situation aspects. But how can I not? There are so many fun things to include: the space, the objects, the mood, the emotional tension.  Heck, I love situation aspects so much I built the Dungeon Tours game, which is built around players creating fun settings.


Character Creation Tip

Set-up Check list:
Who – are they talking to?
What – is the relationship?
When – Day or night? Is the clock ticking? Is the person rushed, and has no time for your foolishness? Alternatively, are you racing a ticking clock, and this person taking their sweet time?
Where – Location? Someone’s home turf? Tangible Factors? Intangible factors?
Why – Why are you two talking? What motivates each party? Why are you here?

Relationship – Quick Trick
Not sure what relationship to set up? When in doubt, a stranger is a mirror to viewer.

  • An honest person will see others as honest.
  • A lying crook who looks after themselves will assume others are crooks.

A great example is the movie The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade is surrounded by lying murderers who use threats, bribes and seductions to get him to reveal what he knows about the statue, and to give it up. He insists he doesn’t have it and knows nothing, and they assume that he’s lying to drive up the price; because if they were in his place, that’s what THEY’D do. They don’t even consider that he might actually be telling the truth, and that he DOESN’T have it. He’s not as big of a crook as they are (though, not by much.)


QUESTIONS: Does and don’ts!

Toy Box Review- Haunted House Horror Bucket


Today launches a new segment on the site: the Toybox Review! But first, some context: I remember reading that Gary Gygax and the early D&D team used oddball, cheap-o plastic figures as inspiration for such creatures as the Rust Monster, the boullette, and even the signature Owlbear. If you’ve never heard the story, artist DiTerlizzi retells it quite beautifully on his blog.

Likewise, I learned during some of my Masters of Umdaar playtests that players respond surprisingly well to playing with brightly colored plastic toys. You’d think the poorly cast, un-detailed faces would turn people away, but I suspect it made new characters easier to step into- I chalk it up the psychological phenomenon called “Cognitive Closure.” Even if a shape is poorly defined, the human brain is capable of filling in any missing details. Observe the triangle on the below, borrowed from this website.


Riddle me this, Batman- when is a triangle NOT a triangle?

When a player spends a long campaign fine-tuning a character, they end up with a very well defined picture in their head of what the character looks and feels like. Likewise, for experienced, long term characters, detailed figurines, (the kind Reaper and Games Workshop make from metal or resin), are perfect- the level of detail reinforcements the player’s image. However, if the character is brand new, giving them a well-defined miniature, I theorize, does the opposite. The miniature reminds them, “this is a well-defined character that you didn’t design.” There are no details for the player to contribute, because that’s all been done. Alternatively, if it’s low-detailed plastic toy, the player will consciously and subconsciously fill in the details with their own imagination, making the toy into something that closer resembles themselves.

Okay, enough with the amateur psychologist mumbo-jumbo. On with the fun stuff!


Each “Toy Box Review,” I’m going to review of a toy product and it’s contents. This week: a toy collection I randomly found on Amazon. It is the:

Exclusive 62 Piece Haunted House Monster Bucket by PSE.


Watch as the magical lid refuses to go back on…

Before I bought it, it looked: like your standard bucket of strange, monstrous creatures. The snapshot accurately captured the final product, although I’m a little sad that two of the designs feature in the photo didn’t end up in the kit. 4/5

That's $30 of ugly shoved into a $17 tub...

That’s $30 of ugly shoved into a $17 tub…

First impression: It’s definitely a large set. At $16.99, it wasn’t exactly a bargain, but I was definitely getting my money’s worth. The color scheme is quite fun, really; the red and purple are wonderfully dark and Halloweeny. The electric blue and yellow don’t match the mood quite as well, but they provide great contrast to the red & purple, so it all works out. 5/5

The Witch: One of the pieces I immediately fell in love with was the witch figure. For this reason, I included in several of the shots, to give a frame of reference for the scale.


Two haunted trees, ready for a night on the town.

The Set Pieces:The playset came with 2 large haunted trees and a castle. The trees are wonderful, even if the paint job is a bit heavy handed. I love the color on the castle, but what takes away from it is the SCALE. It’s hard to tell, but on the bottom of the skull mouth are tiny steps- meaning, it’s supposed to match a figure that would only come up to the witch’s shin. There’s even a tiny door on the back that’s equally as small. This makes the castle less useful in a st, unless it’s a “far off castle on the hill.” 4/5


Coffin Fit

The Props: The set came with 2 wagons and 2 treasure chests. The wagons are quite obviously ripped off of a Western line, but the fact that the canvas was printed in grey plastic instead of white really adds to the Transylvania feel of it all. The two treasure chests are way too large for “treasure,” but they actually work as really large coffins. The color is great, but before I even used them, I could tell that the hinges on the lid were broken the second I took them out of the tub- they come completely off when you open it. Still, the plastic “lock” on the front actually keeps it in place when shut, so it’s not a complete wash. 4/5

The Good: This shut covers some of my favorite pieces of the set, going left to right:

IMG_0703Pitchfork: Really like this guy. Can’t tell if he’s holding a monster head, or a mask- either way, there’s a story there! I only regret there’s only one in my tub.

Witch: As I said, fantastic. Lots of energy and character in her pose. I also got a ton of her, in all colors.

Fat Things 1 & 2: I also have a lot of these things (devils?) They’re just what I was hoping to get in the set; things that are not clearly defined, but fitting the mood. To me, they kind of look like Evil Buddhas. They also have an adundance of Plumber Crack from behind, which is an… interesting choice.

Nightmare Hound: Another “no clue what they were going for” toy, but they succeeded. The creature looks like a mutated humanoid or animal that’s balancing on one foot, mid-sprint.

The Ugly – These next few pieces aren’t terrible, but don’t quite blow me away (again, included the witch for scale.)


Some inspired by hot-wing-induced nightmares, I suspect.

Coffin-Dude: This guy almost made it to the awesome side, if not for the scale of him. Take away the coffin, and he’s tinier than everyone else. It could work, “Suddenly, the coffin opens, and the Undead Mickey Rooney creeps out of the wooden box…”

Hole-Chicken-Man: I asked for weird, and weird I was given. The purple guy in the middle is beyond description- the best I can guess is that it’s a bald rooster-man hybrid who seems happy you shot him with a cannon. Or, he’s a crossbreed between a chicken and a donut. It’s hard to tell on the photo, but he also has two random details nea his chest- they may be attempts to mold feathers, but it kind of looks like he duct-taped two small t-bone steaks to his torso. Maybe that’s why you shot him.

Robot-Guy: In a different set, this guy might have made the “Good” category, but in a box filled with devils and witches, the robot is just out of place. His design is also odd in that, instead of eyes, he has two random spikes. They are likely attempts at alien antennae, but it instead looks like a lab accident shoved a spike through the poor robot’s eye. Which, also tells a story. Also, he loses points over the fact that his base is a bit less sturdy than the others, so he occasionally tips over.


Unstable Monsters

THE BAD: The satyr and the Hunchback figure are both fantastic, except for the fact that they CAN’T STAND ON THEIR OWN. I could go to the dollar store and find 50 different toys, some of them devoid of detail, shape, or personality, and they’d at least stand up 9 out of 10 times. These guys? Not so much. I only received one of the satyrs, but a lot of the creepy butlers. He’s definitely good enough to fix, though.

Overall: I’d give it 4/5. It’s mistmatched and has a wide range of quality, but the box said “Haunted House,” I think they delivered a product that evokes a creepy, weird setting.


Now, here’s how I’ll close any given “Toy Box Review”- by pulling a “Gygax.” I will take the strangest, least defined thing in the review and attempt to make it into an actual monster. For this one, I’ll use the Skeleton Crew Fate Rules.

chicken closeup

Fowl Murder


In the wild, they are a countless number of nature spirits, taking the form of trees, rocks, and rivers. Some live their long lives in the form of animals, in the shape of the bear or the duck. However, while the spirits do not age, they can be hurt and killed. A spirit of an animal that is shot may die, but it may linger on in a half-life- all kindness and mercy drained away, leaving only a spirit of vengeance. A Hunted Spirit will seek out the hunters that killed it and it’s forest friends, but will often hurt innocent mortals in it’s rage. These vengeful beings can change shape to human or animal, but the original scars remains.

High Concept: Half-Dead Animal Spirits

Aspects: Must Have Vengeance!, Always Part Animal, Nature is my Home.


n  Undead—weaknesses to holy magic, silver, garlic and other magical purities

n  Blood Rush—For Vampanzees, blood is both an addition and an energy source

n  Overly Curious

n  Fight or Flight

n  Bouncy Little Buggers

Commonly Level: Average (+1)


Shapeshift— Hunted Spirits may change shape as a free action.

One with Nature—Once per scene, a Spirit may use Wilderness instead of any other skill. If there are several spirits in the scene, instead treat instead as “once per exchange, any ONE spirit may use Wilderness as another skill.”

AVERAGE (+1) FAIR (+2) GOOD (+3)
Athletics +1, Wilderness +1
Intimidate +1
Wilderness +2
Intimidate +2

Deceive +1
Athletics +1

Wilderness +3,
Intimidate +3

Deceive +2
Athletics +2

Notice +1
Stealth +1

No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out.
One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.
Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.
Aspect: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Now, I challenge you, dear readers: use the Chicken-Donut Man, the fat devils, or any other toy and make a monster of your own (no rules necessary, if you prefer text.)

Gladiatron – One-Shot FAE LARP


A little over last week, I shared some ideas for using Fate Accelerated with LARPS. This week: the LARP itself! Enjoy!



In a cold future, on a far-off planet, there is a self-aggrandizing scrap yard owner who calls himself Emperor Junk. He buys and repairs old robots from all over the galaxy, modifying them for one purpose- to fight in the arena. Does he broadcast these fights onto ampivision, or does he do it for his own sick amusement? You don’t care- you’re just a lowly robot. Last night, you were thrown into the holding cells, and are now awaiting your death on the arena floor.

Objective: On the surface, the game looks like a simple gladiatorial game. However, that’s just a pretense: the real point of the game is for the do whatever it takes- submission, subversion, or outright rebellion- to make sure you and those you care about survive. Expect cunning plots, secret signs, and double agents in this futuristic but brutal game.

Set-up: All players are robots, and are divided into two camps: the Constructors, and the Warbots. The Warbots are all former combat droids, who have received enough damage to be retired, but still have one good fight in ‘em. The Constructors are the opposite: obsolete but still functioning construction bots that have been outfitted with weapons, or must make do with their construction attachments.

The Evening’s Events: Robots will compete in one of several rounds, based on their group (ex. Red Group might fight, followed by Green group, etc.)  At the end of the evening, all surviving robots will compete in the Main Event. The main event also includes Sparticon, which is Emperor Junk’s prize fighter. Sparticon is the toughest robot in the event.

At the end of the evening, Emperor Junk will only spare the strongest robot- this is usually Sparticron, the returning champion; all other robots will be scrapped. If Sparticon is beaten, a new champion will be crowned.  Of course, some robots have attempted to avoid their fate by rebelling against Emperor Junk, but he has state-of-the-art Botguards watching over him, which are quick to subdue any one trouble makers. If you are to beat Emperor Junk, you will have to recruit others.

Every player is given a character using the normal FAE creation rules, including the following aspects:

Name: (i.e. A-Alvin, Theta-Thelma)
Constructor or Warbot:
Prime Function: (e.g. Cement Mixer)
Errors/Flaws: (i.e. damage, glitches)
Attachments (These often also show up in stunts.):
Assigned Group: This is given to the robot. Normally, group Red, Green, or Black. These determine the events the robot fights in.

Every robot’s victory conditions is determined by their motivation. This should dictate how they act, and what drives them. Here are the recommended Motivations:

Survival – You want to survive tonight, regardless of which side you’re on.

Dominance – You want to be recognized as the most powerful being on the planet. If you cannot beat Emperor Junk, you’ll be satisfied with being the most powerful robot.

Freedom – You want to make all robots free, regardless of the cost to yourself.

Tribal Pride – You want to make sure you or someone from your group (Constructor / Warbot) survives. You care little if the other group survives.

Servitude – You are a born lackey. Your best chance of survival is to prove yourself useful to the most powerful robot or Emperor Junk and hope they spare you.

Fraternity – You have a special bond with a specific member of your group (pick one), who you see as your sibling. You don’t care what happens to you, as long as they are safe.

Blood feud – You have a vendetta with a specific individual, other than the Emperor. This can be Sparticon, another member of your group, from the opposite group, etc. As long as that robot suffers, you don’t care what happens to you.

The split: How you split the above is entirely up to you, but we recommend at least 1 “Dominance” in the Warbots, and at least 1 “Freedom” in the Constructors. If you have a huge group, there might be several of those “signature” motivations in each group.


The GM acts as arbiter, but also plays for Emperor Junk. If need be, he also plays for the Botguards, Sparticon, or any other NPCs.


Once all players are apprised of the situation, separate all players into zones.

Holding Cells – Two large areas, one of which holds all of the Constructors, the other holds all of the Warbots. This is where all players start, and the default place where the robots go when they are not fighting.

The Arena – The large middle area, where robots fight. There are several scenic aspects which are available for players to use- we recommend you put several fun objects in the middle to represent the various obstacles and broken bits of robots. Suggestions: PVC pipes, KNEX pipes & wheels, and lots of pillows.

The Gallery – The elevated platform where Emperor Junk sits during the match. He keeps his Botguards at his side. If you don’t have Assistant GMs to play the Botguards, I recommend Teddy Bears.

The Shop – Where injured but not Terminated robots go to recoup. Only the injured are allowed, unless they can come up with a good excuse. It is connected to the Arena and both Holding Cells, making it a central point for the different factions.

The Junkyard – Where dead robots are brought. See the “Termination” below.

Movement between the different zones is restricted during any given round. It is possible to access the other non-Gallery areas, but is difficult.


Round 1 – Plotters in the Dark

At the start of the game, all players are given 5-10 minutes to introduce each other to the members of their group. Afterwards, the Emperor Junk will appear on the Gallery, and remind everyone that only one Bot will survive the night.

Round 2  –OPENING CEREMONIES – To start off, the Emperor will call in one Constructor & one Warbot out of their Holding Cells, and into the arena, for a two-person match. (This is also an introduction to the fight process, so everyone can see it in action.) Players take turns, just like a normal conflict, using the Rock Paper Scissor mentioned above instead of rolls. If a player wants to create an aspect and succeeds, they will create a new note card. If they want to invoke an aspect , they must spend a point or free invoke AND must physically be holding the card or prop that represents the aspect. (Ex. If you want to invoke a pipe on the ground, you have to be holding the pipe.) Play continues until one robot is taken out or concedes.

Finish Him: If a round ends with one robot standing and one defeated, they consult Emperor Junk, who will order the winner to spare the loser, or Terminate him. (Spoiler: he almost always says “Terminate him,” the sadist.) The conquering robot has 3 options:

>Terminate the Robot – The winner whispers in the ear of the loser that they are dead, and the lose dies in a loud and dramatic fashion. The robot’s body is brought to the Junkyard (See Death & the Junkyard).

>Spare the Robot – The winner openly spares loser’s life. Both bots return to their Holding cells (or, if one suffered several Consequences, the Shop.) If the Emperor had ordered the loser killed, the winner’s refusal will be seen as an act of defiance.

>Fake Death – The winner whispers in the ear of the loser that they are not REALLY dead- the winner spares the loser’s life, but helps the loser fake his death. The loser pretends to die in a loud and dramatic fashion. As far as the other robots and everyone watching can tell, the loser is actually dead- no doubt, the Emperor will be pleased, and any of the loser’s allies will be upset. The robot’s body is brought to the Junkyard, where people assume they are dead. (See Death & the Junkyard).

Post-Match –  Any surviving robots return to their respective Holding Cell.

Round 3 – The Plot Thickens –  The Emperor announces that the next Match will be held between all robots of the color _____ (ex. Red), and will begin in 10 “Minuns” (which is about a 10 Earth minutes, give or take).

The players are given a few more minutes to start plotting what they will do to survive the night. At the moment, the interaction between robots is restricted to those in the same Cell, but very soon, the two sides will be joined on the arena floor- a perfect time to propose alliances. The various sides should prep the group members about to fight on what they should say.

Round 4 – Red Group Fight! – This time, all Red robots will leave their cell and fight on the arena floor.  Emperor junk will no doubt throw in strange or new scenic elements, like spinning saw blades in the floor, or a river of molten metal running through the middle. The robots of each group will pair off against a robot from the other side, and the conflict will begin.  If necessary, a GM can interfere in case anyone has questions. Any robot that is taken out or concedes will sit down- those downed robots will be sent to the shop. Players can take as long as they want to fight (or pretend to fight), but there is an advantage to moving quickly- the last robot to fall suffers from the “Finish Him” rules, meaning they risk death. At the end of the round, all winning bots return to their cells, while bots that were taken out or concede go to the Shop.

Note: This means that throwing the fight can be a useful strategy, as it gives you a chance to take with members of the other team.

Tagging In and Holding Out: The Emperor demands a certain number of fighters, but all robots look alike to him. It is possible for a robot to volunteer to take another fighter’s place. This will require a difficulty check of +2, depending on what you use to fool the cell door sensors (ex. Sneaky to disguise yourself, a friend using Flashy to distract the sensor while you switch.) However, it is near impossible for extra fighters to enter the field. Likewise, if the arena is short fights, botguards will enter the holding cells and attempt to drag the missing robots into the arena. The Emperor will refuse to have a match start without the proper number of robots, but it might be possible to fool or bribe the guards or the Emperor to have someone else fill in your spot, whether they like it or not.

Round 5 – Whispers in the Dark

Tell the robots which group will fight next (ex. Green), and give them another 10 Thuans to mingle and scheme.

Round 6 – Match 2, Transitions

At the start of the next rumble, the next group (e.x. Green) enters the arena to fight. Meanwhile, any robots that were being repaired in the Shop move to their own holding cells. Robots in the shop may attempt to sneaky into a different cell, but this requires a Sneaky roll to bypass the Emperor’s automatic sensors (and doesn’t take into account any robots that squeal and summon the Botguards. The Emperor informs them of any new scenic elements, they fight, and the last robot to fall is either spared or dragged to the Junkyard.

Round 7 – The Final Match

It is time for the main event. All captured robots are released into the arena floor, from the cells and the Shop. It’s the big event- let the robots have an extra minute to plot and whisper. The emperor introduces any new scenic aspects, allows Sparticron onto the arena floor, and the match begins.

Sparticron: If the tournament continues as the Emperor intends, Sparticron will do nothing unless attacked. He will hang back until the last robot standing, and then face off against the winner. If contest goes haywire and the Emperor orders to do something else, he will follow through with the command, but he doesn’t show any initiative on his own.

What Follows Next; It is possible that the robots will just fight each other until the very end. It is more likely that hell will break lose in some way- be lenient about letting them try new things.  We recommend you ask for people who are NOT fighting each other to declare what they want to do- to take turns, pass around a brightly covered foam ball to people raising their hand, and let them declare what they are doing. Then, lump likeminded people into groups. Once all people have declared their intentions, then they can start taking their turns and “rolling.”

Ex: The ball goes to a player who wants to attempt to scale the walls of the arena, to reach the Emperor himself. The walls are ridiculously high, so the player will no doubt fail on their own. Luckily, other players group around the player, and declare their intent to aid the player or attempt the same. You group them into one group, ask aloud if anyone else is attempting it. Afterwards, ask the next group want they intend, and once all have voiced their intentions, start rolling for results.

If the Emperor is attacked, he will have Botguards (played by the GM and his teddy bears, assistant gms, or deceased players.  See the Stats section for rules.)

The Conclusion: At this point, almost anything can happen. If the Emperor is defeated or escapes, that would be one logical place to end the game. Alternatively, the players might decide to set the tone for the new world to come- are they all united in a big happy family? Will they immediately start fighting to become the new Robot Emperor? Will they icily divide themselves into two camps, saving the inevitable war for another day?  It is up to you.


DEATH AND THE JUNKYARD – When a player’s character is completely killed, they are dragged to the Junkyard. However, they are not stuck there, and can still participate. They can join the Emperor as an Assistant GM, or for a simpler task, help as a Botguard. If players need to leave early, they can tag in a dead players. They can even create new, non-fighting independent characters, like old veterans bumming around the Shop, or a cyberrat that sneaks between the cells.
Likewise, a robot that is secretly spared will still be in the game. Their robot may attempt to sneak into the Shop, and from there, sneak into either holding cell. They can even disguise themselves as a Botguard- at the pivotal time, they can reveal that reports of their death were fake, and turn an enemy into an ally.


Emperor Junk
High Concept: Working Class Tyrant
Trouble: Delusions of Grandeur
Aspects: Bloodthirsty; Greedy; Alone with his Toys
Approaches:  Great +4 Flashy, Good +3 Forceful, Sneaky, Mediocre: Clever, Careful, Quick
Stress: oooo – Consequences: Mild, Moderate, Severe
Stunts: Summon the Guards – As an action, he may summon a new Botguard (2, if a large group). He may do this once for free in any given scene, but any further times costs a Fate point.
Stunts: Strength of Arms – The Emperor is not imposing by himself, but his forces are intimidating enough to put down rebellions. He gains +2 when Flashily dealing mental attacks, assuming he has 2 or more Botguards nearby.
Refresh – 5

High Concept: Champion Robot Gladiator
Trouble: Far Too Literal
Aspects: Battle Scars; Veteran Fighter; Obeys Orders from the Emperor
Approaches:  Super +5 Forceful; Great +4 Careful, Good +3 Quick, Mediocre: Clever, Careful, Flashy
Stress: ooo – Consequences: Mild, Moderate
Special Rules: Follow Orders – Sparticron will loyally follow any vocal order from the Emperor. However, he will not lift a finger to help him without orders- whether this is a programming function, or a very passive form of resistance is anyone’s guess.
Stunts: Diamond Drill – When Sparticron successful deals Forceful attacks in combat against other robots, he may, instead of dealing stress, deal a Consequence (start with the lowest).
Refresh – 3

Botguards –
High Concept: Gladiator bodyguards
Aspects: Mindless Troopers; Follow Orders
Approaches:  Good +3 Forceful; Fair +2 Careful, Average +1 Flashy.
Stress: oo – Consequences: Mild

Holding Cells –
Cell walls – 8+ to overcome through force.
Sneaking by – 4+ to overcome sneaking INTO the Shop, +2 when sneaking OUT of it.
Fooling the Sensors that you’re a different robot – 2+ to overcome.



Every day from now until Dec 25: a new illustrated excerpt of A Christmas Carol!

Monica Marier Author

A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens

Illustrations by Monica Marier

Stave One: Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

cc_01 Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat…

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