My First Experience System, or God, My Players Sucked

I’ve spent much of this year going through old boxes, wherein I have hoarded basically everything I ever owned. Nowhere is this more true than with RPGs. I spent most of my high school and university time creating RPG characters, rules, adventures and back story, with some dysfunctional playing thrown in now and then. The list below is from my first attempt to make an experience system, listing the things you will LOSE experience for. It reads, of course, like a massive cry for help and a list of all the things constantly happening in my games which I didn’t like….

  • being dull
  • waiting for the DM to do something (this means saying their character waits for something to happen)
  • being really stupid
  • not planning ahead
  • bending the rules to suit them
  • arguing amongst themselves
  • missing obvious clues
  • being over-dramatic
  • ignoring chances to roleplay
  • not playing in character
  • courting death
  • endangering others
  • forgetting the setting (eg medieval environment)
  • wasting resources
  • wasting health spells
  • being overly violent or pugnacious
  • flaunting or misusing power
  • not helping the innocent or weak
  • being chicken
  • refusing danger
  • not playing in Alignment!! (two exclamation points on this)

My Game Chef Reviews

The cleverest thing about Game Chef is getting submitters to review games. It means not just feedback but publicity for the designers! This year’s theme was games for a Different Audience and the ingredients were dragonfly, abandon, stillness and dream.

Here are the four games I was assigned:

The Dragonfly Ritual by Filamena Young

Young embraces the other audiences idea nicely with the game entirely contained within a youtube video – and a video that is entirely within the implied setting of the game. A bit like Bloody Mary or that recent viral thing with the pencils and Charlie Charlie, the conceit is that if you know the rules to this occult game you can go and conduct the ritual (ie play the game) with someone and thus be safe from some monstrous other which follows you around if you have played the game but don’t teach it to others (so it’s like The Game crossed with The Ring).

The actual operation of the game is asking someone if they want to play a game and, if they say yes, then smiling unnervingly at them until they smile back. That doesn’t sound like fun for either participant. Or interesting. I think you’re then supposed to tell them the rules of the game so they can go and inflict it on others, but I’m not sure. Overall I was left very confused by this game – not much to do and no reason to do it. It didn’t quite seem to have enough activity in it, although that may have been because of the presentation. Videos are very passive media and this contributed to the feeling that this was kind of a performance artwork rather than a game.

BUT I love the idea of those two things blurring in interesting ways and I think this was an ambitious idea in general. Presenting the game as an entirely in-universe activity told over a video is quite atmospheric and definitely a clever way to attract new gamers. It’s just that all the effort to make it atmospheric also conspires to confuse and obfuscate the intent, and for me it kept me apart, rather than drawing me in.

I wanted to like this but I just couldn’t. I want to see a second draft that builds on the original ideas though because I think they are quite strong. Oral games are interesting, youtube games are interesting, more of that but an actual game please.

The Zone by Juliusz Doboszewski

This is a microgame that is just an idea but it’s stunning in its simplicity and its embracing performance, roleplaying and fun. The intent is to imagine a world without people, after being struck by some apocalypse. The mechanics for doing so is to simply go somewhere in a big city where you live, somewhere full of things and people, and imagine them after the event. And then – and this is the fun part – to go and engage with the items and building in that space as if they are characters.

In your head Mr Pavement is telling you how it ran red with blood that one dark day; in reality you are nodding and replying to the stone beneath your feet. You will look strange but that is of course part of the intent, and there are rules for what happens if people ask you what you are doing. Thus you will fill your city spaces with weirdness in your own actions and perhaps spread such weirdness to others. Meanwhile you will also get a greater sense and understanding of the objects around you.

This game is light but that’s the point: it’s so simple you now know the rules and everyone can play it anywhere, which absolutely answers the theme of A Different Audience. It is also wonderfully fun and engaging and silly, all things which appeal to me and appeal to a large audience, including children. I hope this takes off. I hope the teens will be off Zoning this time next year. I hope we have flashmob zones in our city squares. First class work. The only fault I find is that it doesn’t use many of the ingredients – stillness is only vaguely in there, and a touch of abandon. And it might need just a touch more substance to make it hashtag-worthy, but only a touch, so as not to take away the lightness.

Dragonfly Brewing Company by Michael Wenman

All the people who rushed into roleplaying as teens in the 80s and 90s are now grown up and having kids and wanting to teach them to roleplay so we’ve seen a spate of kid-focussed RPGs and storygames in the last five years. So far, a lot of them have had a big narrative focus, like the awesome Happy Birthday Robot by Daniel Solis. But RPGs have this weird space of combining that kind of shared narrative/improv theatre space with lovely table top elements like tiled movement, stat rolling and crafting. And stripping down D&D will never make it suitable for 6 year olds. Into this gap comes Wenman, with his usual brilliance in providing tools and components, adding the perfect kinaesthetic cream to the top of a very nice RPG for kids.

Children play fairies exploring a swamp, fighting obstacles and monsters and searching for ingredients, which they can then take home and turn into delicious brews (some of which can attract dragonfly mounts) or into other useful tools to make them better at searching or fighting monsters. (Brewing is done at a still, a clever use of the stillness ingredient.) Chargen is done through dealing random cards of Personalities and Fairy types, giving stats (named Warrior, Rogue, and Scholar) special powers. Rolls are done with d6 pools, generating possibilities of successes and failures from the same outcome, which is nice. But the real genius is the game comes with 60 tiles, covered in roads and rivers and troubles and treasures. This gives children a physical space to explore, discover and build while they do the same with a narrative one. By coding them by colour, children will encounter lower threats before harder ones, so they have time to “level up” by crafting things. And of course, the items needed for crafting are stacked in another deck of cards, allowing for more wonder and exploring, and allowing children to find their own system for trading and sharing to make what they want and divide roles. Meanwhile there are guidelines for teachers/facilitators to get out of the way of this process or help it along where necessary.

There are places where the words run a little short on explaining things and sections are in the wrong order, and I think some things need tweaking or a better explanation. However all of this could be because of word limits, time limits or just a need of an editor – certainly Wenman worked hard to produce the massive volume of hexes! And I appreciate that sense of focus, it really hits the nail on the head of a different audience. Children can play imagination games, but a box full of tiles and cards is much more likely to bring everyone in, and start them telling stories when they don’t realize they are. This needs to be in stores ASAP, and of my four, gets the nod for the next round.

Journey Through Dreams by Noble Bear

Time limits are harsh. Not everything gets to be finished, and Journey Into Dream did not. But well done to Bear for submitting it anyway; it shows potential and they will get some feedback which will hopefully encourage them to finish it. The setting of the game is playing children who have all fallen asleep and share a dreamscape. Drawing a random goal from a deck, they must pursue it before any one of them wakes. Children have a Stillness rating (I think six?) and if they run out they wake up.

The goals seem to involve rescuing Favourite Things somehow (and taking them into their possession?) or, should those Things turn Nightmarish, discarding them to the Nightmare pool. This is done through rolling dice, adding bonuses or penalties from cards, and sacrificing Stillness to get further bonuses,. The mechanics fade out there so it’s all quite vague but I like that, like Wenman, Bear understands the need to provide game architecture: there is a list of forty possibly Favourite Things and a start of listing what are to be decks of Complication/Bonus cards, and Goal cards, and Spirit Animals which will give each child a special power. I think having physical cards to drive idea generation is super important for a game aimed at children, and it seems like the intent is to have counters on the cards to track things as well. However, I’m not sure children this young would understand (or appreciate) that favourite things can become Nightmarish, and that can cause you to death-spiral into waking, or that waking up is a terrible failure. And to be honest, even if there were mechanics to explain, I too am not sure how a Peanut Butter Sandwich becomes Nightmarish.

There are some nice ideas here: card drawing, encouraging children to share (they can give Stillness to those lacking) and structured turn play, but there’s nothing BUT ideas here, just sketches in the sand. Some are nice, some need revision, some seem wrong (too scary or dark) but most I’m just not sure how they work or fit together. But I like the idea of the setting and the big decks of cards, and I like the idea of children playing a collaborative board game of card acquisition, push your luck and different character powers and changing goals. I’d suggest making the rules a bit less luck based and maybe add some set matching or something for complexity, and then reskinning it to take it out of dreams. I hope this wasn’t abandoned, but just cut short for time.

107 Entries this year. That’s insane. Look at you go, you majestic swan people. Applause all round just for stepping up. It is a HELL of a beast to try and ride.

Zombies, Probably: A Storytelling Game of Moral Equivocation and Terrible Self-Awarness

For 4 players and up. Takes about 20 minutes. Adults only.

You’re all in a room and it’s the first quiet beat of the zombie film. Outside, there are Zombies, Probably, but inside there are people revealing their true selves. Everyone writes down on a scrap of paper a character concept in a few words. An adjective, a role in society, a bit of background. Like “pro athlete turned corporate shill” or “business man who destroyed his marriage getting to the top”. On another piece of paper, everyone writes a terrible sin. Something on the surface unforgivable, that would get you a million hate-tweets. Maybe you killed somebody or ran the KKK or forced your wife to have an abortion or fought for ISIS or turned your tenants out on the street or ratted out your friend for being gay or stole your baby or ate a guy in the Andes once. You might want to talk about limits before starting this game.

Put all the slips in two piles, one for characters, one for sins. Shuffle them. Everyone draws one from each pile, picking again if they get their own. Choose a starting player.

In turn, each player reads out who they are. Then they hand their sin to the player on their right, who in character announces the sin. eg

Player 1: “I’m Bob Wattley, I run a furniture store and like I say on my ads, my prices are so low, it’s crazy”

Player 2: “I remember you, Bob. I remember when that girl showed up on the news saying she was your lovechild and then the case magically went away when she turned up dead.”

The player then has two minutes (or one minute, if you want a shorter game) to explain themselves, as to why they committed the sin, why it wasn’t their fault, and why they deserve forgiveness. Basically, you have to equivocate your way out of damnation.

Once every player has been accused and defended themselves, players vote for who deserves to die. Write the name of the character on a piece of paper and put it in a third pile. You cannot vote for yourself. Then the danger outside breaks in and the results happen. Take time before the vote to apportion blame and judge others harshly, especially if they are trying to judge you. Don’t let it go on too long though – five minutes at the most. The zombies (or whatever) won’t wait. Gut reactions happen.

Shuffle then reveal the votes one by one.

If nobody thought you should die, despite your sin, you are the Innocent, and you win! You make it through the film.

If half or more of the group thought you should die (round up), then you realize you are scum and hold the fort so others can live. You are Redeemed Through Sacrifice, and win!

Otherwise, the persons with the most votes dies, and then the next most, and so on, in sequential order of who got the most votes, until one person remains (plus any Innocents). In turn, narrate how horribly you are torn apart by zombies. Make it gruesome because the people with less votes than you sentenced you to death for being immoral, and their penalty is to see how much of a judgemental asshole they are. All of these people lose, just in different ways. Even the survivor(s) recoil in horror at the choices they made.

Ties are broken by the person nearest the door. Round down where not otherwise specified.

Games Unplugged Lists 50 Top RPG People in 2000

Just a blast from the past – the 50 Most Important people in the RPG Industry in the year 2000, according to Games Unplugged magazine. This was as 3rd edition launched and Wizards of the Coast owned the world.

1. Peter Adkison
2. Steve Jackson
3. Mike Stackpole
4. Vince Caluori
5. John Zinser
6. Tom Kirby
7. Richard Garfield
8. James Ernest
9. Steve Wieck
10. Larry Elmore
11. R. A. Salvatore
12. Ryan Dancey
13. Rick Loomis
14. Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
15. Mark Simmons
16. Jolly Blackburn
17. Kevin Siembieda
18. John Nephew
19. Warren Holland
20. Dan Hirsch & Dave Cooke
21. Mike Webb & Mike Hurdle
22. Dave Wallace
23. Gary Gygax
24. “Vern” Vernazzarro
25. Mike Searle
26. Brom
27. Steve Geppi
28. Shane Hensley
29. Mike Pondsmith
30. Steve Peterson
31. Ken Whitman
32. Mary Kirchoff
33. John Jackson Miller
34. Jonathan Tweet
35. Susan Schied
36. Michael Gray
37. Lisa Stevens
38. Scott Haring
39. Sandy Antunes
40. Eric Rowe
41. Ed Kramer
42. Keith Parkinson
43. Christian Moore
44. James Wallis
45. Ken Hite
46. Marc Miller
47. Dan Matheson
48. Mark MacKinnon
49. Paul Brown
50. Lee Gold

The Cells Episode Three: Hitting Home

“Aren’t you needed at home?” – Sergei, to Hal

As dawn breaks, a shell-shocked Hal slips out of the gates of Central and walks the cold empty streets. Behind him, a dawn protest hits Central (aka Central Operation Facilities and Residences). The charismatic Jason King (Willem Dafoe) has captivated the people and the press, demanding that the war be properly dealt with. That people be able to talk about it. That veterans be compensated. That food be filling bellies. That we actually start to have a peace instead of staying in a holding pattern of wounds.The shouting and chanting gets louder and then the crowds surge. The hastily-erected chainlink fences yield and protesters enter the grounds. Rocks and bottles smash against the walls. Inside, Quiver is hastily getting his shirt and tie buttoned up – he hasn’t slept, but a new problem is now on his doorstep.

Roll credits. Also: new chars/actors in the credits OtherChars

Quiver (while running around locking doors and windows) is on the phone to Knight-Father Roland who is still filling out paperwork at the prison over the arrest of Mok. Quiver says Roland needs to get there fast because Hal – the face of veteran’s affairs, the great war hero – “can’t handle it right now”. Roland loses his shit at Quiver for not helping, Quiver says it’s not his job to run things. In a fit of pique, Roland calls the General and tells him to fix the protesters. In a fit of pique, Quiver calls Mr Grey, his shadowy master and demands some assistance since nobody’s helping him. Pavani’s trying to find her lost love and Lazarus is chasing conspiracies down rabbit holes and Zac is – well, Zac. Grey says he’ll fix it – but things have got messy, so they have to talk.

Where’s Hal? Well after walking the streets he ends up back in the RSL bar, talking to his new veteran friend Sergei. Sergei talks about the cough everyone in the Ditch has got and how hospitals are backed up. Sergei wonders why Hal isn’t with his family, and Hal wonders if he even has a family any more. Neither man is the same as they were before the war – and Sergei wonders if Hal has even come home yet in his mind. Roland meanwhile realizes he’s made a mistake. He summons his new personal police force, The Guard, and approaches the riot. He strides right into the middle of it and finds King. They quickly seem to get a sense of shared respect, since both seem concerned with minimizing injuries and hostility. Then a sniper bullet misses King by a millimeter, and the trust evaporates.

And before Roland can get his men to take out the General’s sniper, Quiver’s cavalry arrives. He weakly orders the crowd to disperse from a window but nobody cares and then three tricked-out hueys rain down enough tear gas and flash-bangs to pacify an army. It’s overkill but as the smoke clears Quiver addresses the press and sells it as a non-lethal return to peace and the rule of law and safety in Citadel. He nails it and Quiver seems to shine as a leader, not a follower.

Inside Central, Zac is arguing with his new assistant about how to spin him not being around for the protest (he was at a party all night, but they’ll say he was visiting veterans at the refuge). He opens the door to his room to find a young blonde girl, barely 18, carrying what is revealed to be his son. Sandi wants to be a part of Zac’s life now he’s living the high life. Quiver, on a high, comes along and tries to help Zac buy her off, but she’s not having it. Zac and Quiver confer and talk about spinning his new role as a father as part of Zac’s “redemption narrative” they talked about last episode. Two for two, Quiver turns to deal with Kate, riding the high. He suggests to Kate that he’s now realizing he can do more to help, and maybe the best idea is to get rid of Hal, and he and her start running this city properly, together – new life, new hope.

Kate won’t have a bar of it and says she’s tired of all this politics going to Quiver’s head. Every time she turns around he’s back playing God and turning her into a talking point. She says it’s time to stop all this for good – being here hurts Hal, and is deforming Quiver. He agrees (because that’s what Quiver does) and says he’ll take her away from all this. They can move to Bastion. He can get back into PR. They can be a family.

Meanwhile Hal has watched the teargassing and realized he really is needed at a different kind of home. He sees Roland being put in an ambulance and meets the Knight Father at the hospital. They talk about how things have slipped and it’s time to get to work. “We’ve got to rule the city, and we’ve got to do it right”. They talk about how they both know who fought on what side, and what side the General was on. Speaking of, Roland spies the General striding around the hospital and decides it’s time to tell him to back off. But the General is smug knowing Roland wanted his help this morning and suggests soon Roland will come to terms with the General’s help keeping the peace. Roland suggests the peace isn’t worth anything and may need to be torn down. The General says Roland is naive and lives in a dream world. Roland says you cannot build a better world unless you dream it first.

The General walks away and goes down a secret elevator to a part of the hospital lined with his troops and plastic wrap. He tells an unseen patient that he may have found a way. We pan up to see the desperate face of a thing half human, half grey-alien…

Back to Central. Quiver pushes a keypad, and then opens a safe and takes out a datastick. He loads it up, begins deleting files. Stops when there is one left. Thinks. A knock at the door stops him – “Mr Grey” enters. Finally we see him in the light. He locks the door, and places a bug-blocking device on the table. Quiver is expecting help and support in the chaos but all he gets is a chewing out. Grey’s words make it clear that the five from the cells idea is a place-holder to direct attention and Quiver’s job was to keep it all plain sailing, and he was given “extensive files” on everyone to allow him to control them. Quiver says he doesn’t want to do it any more, that these are good people and don’t deserve to be lied to and controlled. Grey says the fate of the entire planet is at stake. Quiver says that their plans depend on humans being nothing but mindless cogs in their machine, and people aren’t like that. They do unpredictable things, sometimes stupid things (SUBTEXT ALERT). And pretending you can control them is doomed to fail – so Quiver is out. Grey threatens Quiver, and Quiver says he has extensive files on Grey as well, and slips the datastick, unseen, into his pocket.

In the rec area/kitchen of Central, Zac is trying to connect with his son and looking all-thumbs. Kate walks by and has an a moment with the boy, and tells Zac that he can be a father if he just tries hard and loves hard. Zak is touched and more confident about his future in every sense. As Kate walks away hiding her tears, Zac starts to babytalk to the boy. A nice moment, then Hal and Roland stride in, full of purpose. Zac hands the boy to his mother, takes off his spit-up stained jacket and joins them for a conference of war in the Meeting Room. About how to do the job and do it right and not get distracted. Quiver arrives with what he feels is a fait accompli solution – disclosure of his secrets and announcing his leaving. But it doesn’t go down how he planned.

Quiver: I over-stepped my bounds this morning….

Hal: JUST this morning?

He explains that within days of people going into the Cells he was approached by Grey to be part of an “experiment”, an experiment that would he would be in charge of running until it was time to terminate it. He saw a list with several names on it – more than five – and exploring those names led him to meet and begin an affair with Kate Turner. Quiver suggests that all the names on the list had weak points, mostly estranged family, which could be used to apply pressure. Or in the case of Kate, Quiver became that pressure. He doesn’t know why or what happened to the other people on the list. Everything he has been able to gather on Grey is on the datastick which he gives to Zac. Quiver believes that his purpose was to sit between the five and the people in control, as a cushion and a shade, and without him, things will be forced into the light.

But the absolution Quiver so desperately wants isn’t forthcoming. Roland is disgusted by the betrayal and Hal is outraged at the idea of Quiver cutting and running and dodging his duty. Quiver says he wants to stop hurting people and build a family, suggesting Kate might be pregnant, which makes the mood against him worse. Desperate for forgiveness, Quiver flails; he jealously insults Roland’s purity and assuredness, and undercuts Hal’s insistence that Kate is to blame, which makes Hal even angrier. Hal is prepared to believe Kate is lost to him but it should be a to a BETTER man, not someone like Quiver. Hal says if Quiver wants to do the right thing, he has to leave without Kate – Hal wants to hurt both of them. And Quiver crumples. In the end, he wants to be forgiven and will do anything to get that. He agrees to leave immediately without telling her – but Zac (who thinks Quiver is now a stud) texts Kate with the news.

Quiver grabs a few spare suits and shirts and dashes into the elevator. But at the doors of Central, Kate is waiting. Quiver says he has to go because he can’t be the person she believes him to be, he’s still the person he knows he is – but maybe if he goes away, he can be what she sees in him. And Kate takes it back. She calls him a coward and says she was wrong to ever believe he was anything but what Quiver believes himself to be, and he’s now completed his destruction of at least two lives. Quiver pushes past her and drives off in the rain.

A few hours later, Zac switches off his X-Box and the TV news flicks on. The body of Agent Joshua Quiver has been found dead in his car at the bottom of the river after what appears to have been a traffic accident. Why the Central Services Agent was driving alone at this time of night on a government-sealed road, and whether foul play or human error was involved in him leaving the road remain entirely unclear.

Click. Screen goes black. Zac’s reflection in the glass stunned. Roll credits over Quiver’s Theme.


  • Kate screaming at Hal “Yes, this is all your fault!”
  • Darkness flooded with light as Zac opens the door of the Cells
  • The General shows Lazarus the half-alien ‘patient’, saying “I thought you’d be impressed”
  • B&W security footage of a violent punch-up in the Cells, in the past
  • The camera spins around Roland, his world alight with some strange holy vision.
  • A doctor at the morgue pulls back the sheet, it’s Sergei. “Yes, I know him” says Hal.
  • Mr Grey appears at the funeral, at a distance. He leans close and ask “So what now?”

Little Bit Of Smallville Chargen

I do love chargen: you start with a blank page and you end with a story. Or in this case, several intersecting stories. Our setting idea was some sort of grand shadow-government alien-fighting conspiracy. Like the kind of people investigating the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Top Men are working on it. TOP MEN


Con Men

Grampa Asimov was always very handsy
Great uncle Lovecraft preferred the “master” race
Professor Tolkers was not fond of the swarthy
And Orson knows there are no gays in space.
Dave Sim, he fought the Christian menace
To crush Islam is Dawkins’ holy cause
Mr Miller hates all the smelly hippies
And all three agree that women are just whores

Our Adam has gone and conquered Hollywood
Mister Roosh has taught young men to woo
And Gamergate has brought the two together
Uniting to make sure feminism’s through
The Honeybadgers beaver in the kitchen
While the otaku and the puppies claim the den
To plan their next attack on social justice
And rescue geeky culture for white men

And the cosplayers are asking to be fondled
And the booth babes are asking to be scorned
And gaming must be art, but not political
As long as it is also soft-core porn
And sportsball must be mocked for being mainstream
And furries must be mocked for being weird
And noobies must be vetted at the drawbridge
While hipsters are all hated for their beards

And customers are owed the work of artists
And criticism is how we show we care
And threats of death and rape are just the culture
And we were bullied once, so all is fair
Appreciation is determined now in dollars
We’ll buy any piece of crap that’s badged as nerd
And our greatest calling card is we are different
And thus better, for we deplore the herd.

Something has gone badly wrong with nerdom

And we’re quite confused at how to be a male

We’ve defined ourselves as demographic niches

Politics has become a test of pass or fail

Social media can be terribly anti-social

But it also can let understanding thrive

If we drop the mic so we can sing together

We all might just get out of here alive


I promise, being hated, not to hate back

If you’ll help me get the boot from off my neck

And the stars can truly be our destination

If we learn from Ms Aretha ‘bout respect.