Annex

Annex is a free game that was play tested at London Indie Meet. The setting is based on the book Ancillary Justice and the mechanics are inspired by the Occupy movement’s hand signals. You can download it for free here.

You don’t need to be familiar with the book, although reading at least the first two chapters will help (they are available as a free sample from Amazon, the one on Orbit’s website is only one chapter which isn’t enough to be helpful).

Your group plays collectively as a single artificial intelligence that controls multiple Ancillary bodies. You, and at least 2 other players (preferably more), have been charged with bringing order to a recently conquered planet… spreading order and civilisation with military precision.

The AI hive mind is simulated in play by using hand gestures that maintain consensus within the group. These are similar to those used by many activist groups (originally Occupy) for meetings and were easy to transfer into an RPG.

After about 40 minutes of world building the game proceeds in a series of short stories, each around 40 minutes long until you want to stop. I takes at least 3 players but works better with more.

Feel free to comment with thoughts about the game, I’m especially interested in other ideas for using hand gestures in games.

Ghosts of the Drowned – An RP Poem

I’ve written a short series of RP poems based on the music of “Apple of my Eye”, and this is the second one.

It’s written as a script for one player to read out as you play. When you should stop reading and play through the next section of the game there will be a note (♩♪♫♬).

Ghosts of the Drowned [link]

Players: 4+

Play Time: ~20 minutes

Props: None

You are the ‘Ghosts of the Drowned’, gathering by the town clock when the sun goes down and recounting your stories.

In turns, adopt the persona of a character and introduce yourself to the group, stating your name and a little about yourself (but do not mention your death).

Now anyone can ask questions about other characters lives, to be answered by that character’s player. Loaded questions are good (i.e. “what drove you to alcohol?” to which the answer shouldn’t be ‘I wasn’t’) and incorporating information from other character’s stories is also good. Continue for a few minutes until we know a little more about each character and everyone is happy to continue.

Next we explore each character’s’ untimely end. In the first scene someone should volunteer to play ‘Irony’… volunteer if you can think of an ironic way to end one of the other character’s lives by drowning, based on what you know of their life. Don’t say your idea, just volunteer and say which character it is.

Once we have a volunteer they frame a scene, saying where we are, who is there and what is going on. Stop before you narrate the first action.

The player whose character was selected plays that character, the volunteer plays the irony forces driving them to their doom and the other players are the rest of the world, taking turns to narrate the outcome of actions.

Narration alternates between Irony, narrating a problem for the character, the Character, narrating their attempt to solve it, and the World, who narrate the outcome.

The World should be cruel, a willing accomplice of Irony until such a point as they narrate the character drowning, at which point the scene ends.

We now need another volunteer, to play Misfortune, who will pick a second character to target. The second scene plays out as before but this time it is cruel bad luck that does for our victim.

The final scene is played out with a volunteer to take the role of Injustice, targeting a third character.

The game now ends. Any remaining characters were not ghosts at all but bystanders, who should consider the cautionary tales they have just heard.

Devils – An RP Poem

I’ve written a short series of RP poems based on the music of “Apple of my Eye” and I thought I’d share the first one here (more will be posted over time).

It’s written as a script for one player to read out as you play. When you should stop reading and play through the next section of the game there will be a note (♩♪♫♬).

Devils [link]

Players: 3+ (ideally 3/4)

Play Time: ~20 minutes

Props: A pen and a sheet of A5 each

Everyone take a sheet of paper and divide it into 3 roughly equal sections. In the top section write the name of a person, describe their life in a sentence and then what is troubling them. Keep this information secret.

Now pass your sheet to the right.

Read the sheet in front of you and in the second section, secretly write down what they wish for from the devil, keep it simple.

Fold over the top section of the sheet so it cannot be seen and pass it to right.

Read the wish on the sheet in front of you and write down the consequences in the third section. You are the devil for this section so be as cruel as possible.

Pass the sheet back to the original owner who should read the whole thing.

Finally, in turn, each player narrates a tale based on what is on their paper, fitting everything together and endeavoring to making the consequences more personal.

Each player should feel free to reconcile any inconsistencies between the first and last contribution and should try to keep their tale relatively brief.

Intrepid Histories @ IndieCon

IndieCon this year has been a rather successful one for Intrepid Histories and marks an important milestone in it’s development… but a little background first.

In August I brought the game to IndieMeet in London and, just before I pitched it, I got into a conversation that inspired me to throw out half the rules and replaced them with a system based on Kishōtenketsu.

This is a 4 scene structure that creates unexpected plots, without requiring conflict, which seemed like a good fit for a game with a lot of exploration. We still had plenty of conflict, but that was fine and the resulting story was certainly interesting.

The only problem was that I already had 4 more scenarios written in the old system… and they needed updating and testing again.

So roll on IndieCon and 4 hopeful sign up sheets for slots 1, 2, 3 and 4. Uptake for playtests at IndieMeet had been rather slow, apparently because the historical nature of the games made people think they needed to know their history or that they would be rather dry (neither of which are the case). Luckily that didn’t seem to stop people at IndieCon and I soon had 4 full games…

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Game/Walk – The Life and Death of…

I was at IndieCon last week and one lunch time went to a walk along the cliffs. While there I wondered how one would go about playing an RPG while out and about, that benefited from being out and about.

It didn’t take too long to realise that you could get inspiration for scenes from the landmarks you pass, and so “The Life and Death of…” fell naturally out of that thought.

On Saturday afternoon I attended a playstorming session and since it was raining I didn’t think I’d get to see if it worked. Luckily I found 2 brave souls who ventured into the great outdoors with me. There isn’t much variety in landmarks on the cliff tops next to a holiday park but we managed to make do.

It worked well enough and after removing a couple of superfluous rules this is the result:

The Life and Death of…

Go for a walk with two or more friends.

Bring a token of some kind you can easily pass around (we used a pen).

Someone come up with a person’s name for the title “The Life and Death of [Name]” and then give the token to someone.

Scenes:

  • Anyone can start a scene unless you did the last one or have just received the token. Any amount of real time can pass between scenes, take in the sights and wait for inspiration.
  • Point to a landmark and say “This is where [Name]…”, finishing with something they did.
  • Describe a scene, trying to incorporate details form previous scenes. Keep it short, say 30 seconds and keep it mundane and grounded in the real world.

The Token:

  • If you have the token and narrate a scene you should include within it something otherworldly or unusual.
  • After the narration is done pass the token to someone else.

The game ends when your protagonist’s death is narrated.

For playing with children try “The Life and Adventures of…”, remove the need for the game to be mundane and have the token represent something bad happening to the character.

Intrepid Histories – Playtest 2

I have a placeholder name for my new game – “Intrepid Histories” – although it’s not really enough like Intrepid that I want that to stick.

In any case, at this months Indiemeet I ran my second playtest, this time we followed the journey of Napoleans army as he marched on Russia.

IntrepidHistories - playtest 2

We started again with a brief intro: The year is 1812 and Napoleon’s Great Army of 40,000 men are about to start their fateful march into Alexander I’s Russia. The map annotates the size of the army at each location and the temperatures on the way back.

(for some reason I managed to call our Tsar Nicolas instead of Alexander).

We started off again with some World Facts:

  • The Irish had a revolution at the same time as the French, but in our history they won.
  • The Aristocracy use magic, and consequently the revolutionaries are against magic.
  • Russia used its magic to terraform its lands to be incredibly fertile.

It became clear from this that the Irish would be prominent allies of Napoleon and he has probably invading Russia for the food, as France was going through a famine without its own magic.

In a change from the last playtest we asked a question about each character to answer through play, rather than a relationship. This worked well and I may try having both in future.

I also made each journey arrow into a vignette scene, describing the journey and the lands the players traveled through.

The final change from last game was to give each layer 2 tokens they could spend to become scene framer (rather than using round robin). Once everyone had expended their tokens they refreshed. Tokens could also be used to add new facts about the world in between scenes.

What followed was a story of an enraged Napoleon slowly suffering setbacks on his way to Moscow, a treacherous Irish pirate captain, a more noble Irish siege engineer and a side plot where one of the French troops was discovered to have magical powers and was captured by the Russians.

When we got to Moscow we found it was a floating city (in the sky), although our magical soldier managed to sink it and the Russian court was forced to flee, but not before unleashing a supernatural winter on the lands, causing the French to have to go home.

On the way home the Russian aristocracy were shown to be cannibals, our heroic soldier/mage was burnt at the stake for being a witch, Nicolas killed Napoeon in a duel and most people died of the cold.

Plenty of twists and turns, with more villains than normal (like the last game) so I’d say it was a success.

I’ll try relationships and questions at character creation and I think spending tokens to state new facts will be rolled into vignette scenes (of which you can have multiple). Apart from that I just need some more scenarios. So far I’ve had these suggestions: Xenophon’s 10,000, Magellan or Cook’s journey around the world, Cortes and the Conquistadors and investigating the Cleveland Torso Murderer, but other suggestions are welcome.

Artifact : A Roleplaying Poem

So I was in the pub this evening with some friends, reminiscing about old games and punitive GMs so I came up with this RPG poem. We played a round of it, and it was fun, so I thought I’d share it…

Artifact

Players: Exactly 3

Duration: 2 Minutes

Props: Some kind of countdown timer

You each take one of these roles:

The World: Briefly describe a world and something that needs doing. “We’re in middle earth and Shelob is about to eat you, escape”. During the scene you will describe problems that stop the Victim from accomplishing their goal. If you win describe the victim failing to achieve their goal.

The Artifact: Briefly describe a magical artifact in the possession of the victim, it must have potential up sides and down sides but should be left relatively vague. “You have the Hand of Vecna, capable of channeling powerful necromantic magics”. During the scene you will describe problems with the artifact. If you win describe the artifact taking a terrible toll on the victim.

The Victim: You are trying to accomplish the goal set by The World and have access to The Artifact to do it. During the scene describe how you are going to do this. If you win describe your victory.

Set a timer for 60 seconds (or a random time if you can and prefer), concealing the exact time from the players (it needs to make a noise when it’s done so you know)… we used a screen-down phone with a egg timer app.

The victim starts narrating how they achieve their goal and the artifact or world can interrupt with problems at any time. The victim can then interrupt when they want to narrate a solution to the problem. Repeat until the timer goes off.

Whoever last narrated when the timer goes off wins and can narrate the ending.

Zhang’s Journey

Last Saturday I managed to make it to the London Indiemeet for the first time in 6 months and got to run a playtest of the Alternative Histories idea for a follow up to Intrepid.

I knocked together a map the night before based on the journey described in this reddit comment (and this map) which follows a 2nd century BCE Chinese explorer called Zhang Qian. Here is the map after the game…

Zhangs Journey 1

The game started with this introduction to the world:

“Under the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, c. 139 BCE an emissary named Zhang Qian was dispatched along with 99 men (including a non-Chinese guide) to penetrate the military blockade the Xiongnu Empire. The Emperor had sent him to find a long-lost kingdom called Yuezhi that had become nomadic wanderers after the Xiongnu had displaced them from their ancestral homeland, and convince them to aid the Han military in retaking the area.”

Upon which the players each added a function detail about the world (see World Facts on the map). Only one of the three facts really came into play in any significant way but I don’t think that hurt the game at all, they all helped set the tone.

We then also created 5 characters, giving them a name, trait and relationship… 3 from Zhang Qian’s expedition, one from the Xiongnu and the last form the Yuezhi. While creating these characters in advance felt important, a promise of what’s to come, the actual content (name/trait/relationship) felt a little weak, especially when I played Marquis of Ferrara in the next slot which comes with lots of excellent characters you can still make your own. Something needs to be done here.

The game then proceeded to play out 3 scenes at each stage of the journey (as you can see from the map I removed Kangju to improve the pacing) in a fairly standard pick a character, frame, free narration kind of way. Framing scenes did a lot to flesh out the locations on the journey, which was good and I hope to encourage.

Each scene ended when all players had put a card in the middle of the table, pick one at random to get a good/bad ending for the framing character. Kind of like a cross between Intrepid’s crossroads and Fiasco’s black/white dice. It was serviceable and introduced some reasonable twists into the story. I don’t know yet if I want to to be more or less.

All in all we got a decent story with some unexpected twists and interesting characters. The world building was a little shallow and I think the character setup wasn’t as robust as it could have been so I’ll need to work on those before the next playtest. I’ll probably stick with Zhang to see how different two playthroughs of the same scenario can be, but after that I think Napoleon’s march on Russia will be next.

I may have now played a game of it but it still doesn’t have a name (unsurprisingly).

Intrepid Spinoffs

London 2051 is in a state where it needs a bit more playtesting and then I can release it as a free pamphlet. I had plans for making it bigger but they just aren’t needed.

So I’m looking to my next project, and I think I’ve found some fun directions I could build upon Intrepid. Intrepid is very much heroic fantasy even if the rules look like they could support any setting, that world ends up being filled with heroes on quests.

But we could take the same core idea, building worlds as you go with rules that encourage them in the right direction, and apply it to other types of fiction, although as you’ll see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (both in terms of rules and the types of setting).

Supers

It’s hard not to stand on a UKRPDC and see peoples enthusiasm for superheroes and not feel like I could tap into that myself. My own love for comics ranges from the mid 90s to present day, so while it may eb sensible, I’m not interested in silver age nostalgia.

Instead I have in mind an evolving continuity, where you have multiple heroes (characters) and teams (factions) resolve some plots (quests, probably integrated with characters/teams) that lead up to a big crossover event that wipes the relationship map (no need for a geographical one) clean and you start again, bringing those bits forwards that you like as you need them.

Very much focusing on evolving relationships between heroes/villains. I also have ideas for time travel and alternative realities which is pretty much required. Also crossroads should be replaced with a system for talking out your differences while hurling tanks at one another.

Space Opera

Obviously this for Star Trek/Firefly/BSG/B5/etc. style settings.

You have a persistent core of a ship and characters, then a more episodic structure as you flesh out this week’s corner of the galaxy and play with it. Probably have a much looser idea about what goes on the maps, so you can integrate doodles and major events and make it a more vibrant record of your adventures but anything more permanent goes on the ship map.

Cyberpunk City

Kind of expanding on the ideas in London 2051, you have a city map, evil corporations and downtrodden protagonists. Quests become corporate agenda which the characters get wrapped up in. Mechanically it would flip the proactive protagonists of Intrepid on their head.

I’m still enamoured by Shadowrun though, so I can’t shake the feeling any cyberpunk game I write should be able to support a heist.

Alternative Histories

Inspired by this map of Napoleon’s fateful march into Russia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Joseph_Minard#mediaviewer/File:Minard.png

Possibly by favourite idea of the moment, it’s more one-shot/con focused and would need a series of maps that integrate physical and timeline features. So you take historical events and then amend them in play, playing with the same core idea but putting your own spin on it: Maybe Russia is a nation of Tzarist Elves and Napoleon’s engineers have invented steampunk tech, or play on the same map but instead Rome never fell and they are marching against the Mongols.

I’m not sure on the range of maps that could be made though, military campaigns are easy, as are mass migrations and explorer’s  journeys (there are some interesting Chinese explorers you could map the journeys of). I also though a series killer’s rampage could make for a good map. I’d probably want at least one more type of map and then have 1-3 of each to play with.

 

I’d be very interested in questions/suggestions as I’m still very much brainstorming ideas.

Big games

I’ve been a bit quiet here lately, Intrepid’s out, doing well and doesn’t have any news to speak of, while London 2051 has been stuck in a creative rut it’s only now starting to climb out of.

So rather than that I thought I’d write about is another project of mine ‘Athesia Reborn’ a game ran twice annually for the Essex University Roleplay Game Society. It’s been running for 7 years, usually hosts ~25 players, lasts from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and has recently transitioned from using D&D 4E to a system of our own devising.

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