Welcome, I’m Charlie Etheridge-Nunn, a writer and waffler about various things like comics and games in all forms.
Explosion High & Mad Robot Comics
First of all, I write comics at Mad Robot. If you see us at conventions you can pick up my first work in Cadavers: World Gone to Hell, including the tragic horror “Fractured” and the monster noir, “Blob Detective”
My main work at the moment is Explosion High! It’s a comic about a fun and deadly superhero school. In it, a team of lacklustre sidekicks and directionless deities find a home and friends in a place which is literally trying to kill them at every opportunity. It’s full of noise, explosions, dinosaurs and friendship.
You can pick up physical copies at conventions, at Dave’s Comics and the Dice Saloon in Brighton, or Comics, Games & Coffee in Chichester.
There’s a Kickstarter for issue two coming soon, which you can sign up to get notified about by going here.
I started a podcast about Star Trek with Miles Reid-Lobatto, one of my older, favourite writer friends. Inspired by shows like Every Story Ever, Battle of the Atom and BatChat with Matt & Will, we watch a few episodes of Star Trek at a time and rank them against each other on an increasingly large list of best to worst.
Star Trek’s kind of a tertiary fandom to us both. It’s been a constant fandom in our lives, just not as much as X-Men for me or Doctor Who for Miles, so we consider that makes us the perfect moral authority on such a subject.
For people more casual than even us, we recap the episodes and try not to overrun too much (although we are keeping record of who’s overrunning more). This is an accessible entrance to Star Trek, even if we get into a great many tangents like the Young Ones, Blake’s 7, the writer Chris Claremont and our combined experiences in Brighton.
You can find Casual Trek on any podcatcher, on Spotify and here.
Recently I’ve been putting out some solo roleplaying game Actual Play podcast episodes in my occasional series, “Playing With Ourselves”. These are kind of re-enactments or short story readings, going through games like the letters written in “Quill”, a journal from someone in the nigh-eternal queue to see Edd the Duck’s coffin in “The Queue” and the self-explanatory “You Are Quarantined with Adam Driver and he is Insisting on Reading You His New Script”
This blog is where I put any short stories, articles or general blog posts about my writing and the popular culture in general.
We’re twenty episodes into Casual Trek! That feels like madness. Also we’re at 50 episodes (well, 50 and a film) into our big list of the best and worst of Star Trek.
We pick three episodes based around a theme and sometimes its fun to do some odd themes, or a real focus like our Tuvix and Jeffrey Combs episodes. Here we’ve got a quite broad category in talking about The Borg. We’ve done this I think once before with Klingons and that’s it. As it sounds like quite a general theme, we picked a curveball as well as a couple of iconic Borg episodes. Needless to say, there’s plenty of Borg material for future episodes, anyway.
Star Trek: The Next Generation “Q Who?”
We start with a Q episode, where the Borg are used to prove a point to Picard, but ends up drawing their attention for years to come.
This one’s got the Borg feeling the most alien, with any of the design and directorial choices being ‘how can we make them seem jarringly weird’. Their ship’s a big cube! They don’t even talk to people or show what they want, they just quietly go about their business! They hole punch a bit of the Enterprise out!
We also get a bit more about Guinan and the mystery surrounding who she is. She’s got previous with both the Borg and Q, which is pretty cool. Even so, she does weird angry cat hands at Q when they first meet.
I knew we had to do the first appearance of the Borg when we were queuing up episodes, and it’s always a joy to see John DeLancie lounging around on stuff and having fun with an otherwise serious show.
Star Trek: Voyager “Drone”
When I heard about this episode and how it was going to be like a single Borg as a Terminator type thing, I thought it would be very different. This was a lot more like a Frankenstein type joint at times, but you know, “what if Frankenstein’s Monster was in a mostly benevolent space society?”
One is jarring and worrying, but still gets on with the crew. Tuvix is freshly on my mind and I saw comparisons to that, only One isn’t a horrendous little swot who we’re gaslit into believing people liked.
We knew One was too powerful for this world, too weird, so they get rid of him and they do it well.
Oh, and this is a Bryan Fuller joint! I love his work, having first seen Dead Like Me so many years ago that I had to resort to the high seas to get it, and then pushed that, Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies on anyone who’s sit and watch a TV show with me. Then my partner made me finish Hannibal season three, which made everything go full circle.
I wasn’t sure which Voyager Borg episode to do, and Miles came back with this, which was a good choice given the similarities in the other two.
Star Trek: Prodigy “Let the Sleeping Borg Lie”
The children’s cartoon had a Borg episode! And they’re terrifying!
This was another dead cert that I wanted to add to the selection as everyone would expect a Voyager and the first Borg episode. Here’s something I had no idea about, so hopefully others won’t know much, either.
There’s some continuity stuff going on here, with a real Janeway hunting the crew and the Protostar, while the Protostar’s become deadly to anyone from Starfleet who get near, but that’s not why we’re here! We’re here for the Borg!
Having these loud, wacky kids cartoon characters wandering the halls of a deactivated Borg cube was nicely creepy, with the knowledge that these things are going to wake up. Of all characters, it’s the bodiless Zero who’s almost assimilated into the Borg. We also get a Rhino Man Borg, who just looks cool.
Talking points include: Paranoia, Watchmen, Before Watchmen, Doomsday Clock, Early Versions of The Boys, Into the Archives with Peter Fleming, Doctor Who (A LOT), Charlie being extremely slow to realise what ‘firing power’ meant although he’s talking to a man in America so it’s somewhat justified, Marvel’s post-Comics Code Teenage Years, Bryan Fuller, our first song mentioned with a Weird Al parody, hologram trading cards, Spaced, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, a passing mention of Babylon 5 & Blake’s 7, a game of ‘who has the worse fans online?’, the Star Wars film you don’t mention online, Charlie can’t think of “Whirlipede” from Pokémon, a rhino man borg!, Avatar (guess which one), Transformers Earthspark, . Oh, and occasionally Star Trek.
The episodes can be found on all podcatchers, on Spotify or using this link:
Santi and Arjun watched the river, not looking at each other. There was enough peace between then that they could meet and talk about what to do since the bridges between their villages broke, but that was it.
Merchants sailed across the rapids in flimsy boats. Small glass offerings spilled into the water and Santi quietly hoped the people of Rayap would see that as a sign rather than a slight.
“I just…” Arjun started.
“Cousin, we should consider your plans for rebuilding the bridge.”
“Of course,” out of the two, Arjun was the smart one. He’d been fostered out to the people of Rayap and grew in their ranks until he was in charge of the holy order of things, near the volcano. The river separated the pair of villages, and like the friendship between Santi and Arjun, it was under threat.
It had started when the foreigners arrived. They wanted weapons to be crafted. Without thought, Arjun waved them off, sent them down to Ombak. After all, they have master craftsmen. His favourite smith had left Rayap to marry his sweetheart there. Ombak had his big, stupid statue. They would deal with the foreigners. It was pragmatic.
Of course, it didn’t feel that way to Santi. It was the angriest he’d ever been. A man of peace and a village of artists, he threw out the foreigners and cursed at how little his cousin must have thought of him.
Villagesong is a game about the leaders of different villages, all linked together on an island. You will be met with challenges and either take them on or strain your relationships by passing them to someone else.
Once the game is finished, your character, community and events will create the ‘song’ of your village, using the flavour text at the base of each one, as a nice little wrap up to your story.
The game is a tiny rulebook and a deck of cards. You have:
Leaders – Who you’re playing. You make the decisions for your community.
Villages – Where you live and what they do
Bonds – The geographical connection between two players’ villages and the personal connection between their leaders
Reference Cards – I love when a game adds these
Change cards – the bulk of the game comes from these, I’ll discuss them below
Villagesong starts with players taking a leader and a village. I love that you can mix and match these, as the personal style of a leader will change a village and allows for more replay. My Santu was different to other peoples’ and my Ombak was a different place than the other versions I’ve seen.
You establish bonds between yourself and your neighbours. In a two player game that was just one of these cards, stating that a river tied us together and we were cousins. In games of more than two, you have one of these to your left and one to your right.
You pick a scenario and build a change deck according to the listed selection. As an example, “The Island” uses “The Volcano”, “Vision and Artistry” and “Between Villages”. There are three other combinations in the book, and it suggests you might experiment with other combinations. This deck has an introduction card and a final card.
The play of the game is simple enough. The active player draws a change card, reads out the top of the card which offers up a decision. They look at the card and decide whether to accept the change or resist at great personal cost. If they accept it, they read out the lower part of the card next and add it to their village’s story. If you want, you can pass the change on to another village where you’ve not got an unbroken bond and let them deal with it. They can now decide whether to accept it, resist at great personal cost or to resist it without great cost, but to fracture their bond with you.
When a bond breaks, the path between your communities and your relationship fractures. You can frame scenes to fix or break them further. If you choose to resist a card at great personal cost, you exile it facedown under your leader, but need to narrate what that cost is. I admit in the plays I’ve had of this, the group have been way too accommodating and generally took on a change or passed it on to someone else who would.
Eventually the game will end when we reach the Feast card, the finale. You resolve this card and read out the villagesongs to close the story out. These are the songs that go through time, they lack the nuance of the moments you’ve been through, but they mythologise them.
How does it play?
If Villagesong asks for a comparison, it is to The Quiet Year or For The Queen, but it easily stands alongside them as an amazing tarot-style story game. You don’t have the maps of The Quiet Year, but the geography built in the narrative and through the bonds feels very natural, very established. The people are a bit more pre-defined than For the Queen, but that helps add to your decision-making. Would Santi turn away the foreigners? In my game, he would! He was a pacifist and his people made beautiful art from sea glass. At the same time, he was a bit of an egomaniac, so flattery would help people get things past him. He had his limits, and we saw that in play. Arjun’s player positioned Rayap really near the volcano, given its place as somewhere worship was done. They were more strict at first glance, but even that could bend, depending on Arjun’s mood and foibles.
I’ve played this game with two and three players, both of which work really well. The game ran slightly short with two, and the passing of change cards felt more personal, more like avoiding problems rather than finding people more suited for them. We weren’t vindictive with them, but there were few other places to put them. The three player game had a bit more fun in choosing who should take a change card, but also lost a little focus which had been gained with the two player version. I don’t think I’d take one over the other, and it’d be interesting to see a four player game where each player has one community they don’t directly engage with mechanically (although they still can in the fiction).
I love having ‘go kits’ for games. For Quiet Year and Classic Fiasco I have boxes built by myself and my old GM, respectively. Some games like Lasers & Feelings and Cheat Your Own Adventure just need a sheet. The format of Villagesong makes it perfect as a short story game to pick up and play with no prior knowledge of how it runs, and it looks beautiful right out of the box.
I’ve been meaning to write about my X-Men marathon, and how better than to begin with an era which was short and most people don’t remember.
The daily X-Men marathon has been a daily readthrough of every X-Men comic (within reason) from its inception to the present. I started when I turned 40 as hey, you ought to embrace the midlife crisis somehow, and I started posting online about them around August. Originally it was a single issue of X-Men, but when other series started I began to read a story arc in spin-offs or a single issue of whatever was counting as the main X-Men book at the time.
At the time of writing, I’m right at the arse-end of the Revolution and Counter X eras. I’ve been primarily using Crushing Krisis’ reading lists as a resource for my order, but occasionally tagging in other things like UncannyXmen.net or adjusting a giant spreadsheet I’ve got accordingly. Sometimes there’s some slight nudging based on what’s happening in real life (I do my best not to read more than one issue on mine or my partner’s birthdays, on Christmas or any holidays).
The X-Men hit an incredible height of popularity in the 1990’s, borne from the flashy artists who swiftly left to form Image, some still incredible artists and writers who frankly improved the books after the exodus. There was also the cartoon, a million Toy Biz toys, trading card sets and Wolverine starring in anything. Then you started to have the regular crossovers. My time collecting X-Men as they came out started just before The Phalanx Covenant, then I kept reading through Age of Apocalypse. Our local Forbidden Planet went under around that time and I picked up a number of AoA titles outside of my normal purchasing habits around then. Some people (my brother included) abandoned X-Men after AoA, deciding to go out on a high. Any who remained behind bailed with Onslaught, a crossover which took over almost everything and buckled under the weight of editorial changes and one of the main writers being Scott Lobdell, a man allergic to planning.
The fallout from Onslaught and Operation: Zero Tolerance were interesting, Steve Seagle & Joe Kelly were interesting, as were some of the spin-off titles like Cable having Jose Ladronn’s gorgeous artwork. But we can’t have good things and opinion was often gathered from Wizard: The Guide to Comics, which routinely had people wanting Claremont back. Seagle and Kelly were unceremoniously got rid of and Alan Davis was brought in to wrap up some of the outstanding stories, specifically The Twelve. As I’ve ripped the plaster of writing about X-Men off, I’ll get to The Twelve one day. This isn’t the time for that, I’m still in the preamble about Revolution.
The X-Men film was about to come out, there was a new team needed and Chris Claremont had assisted with some of Davis’ last issues, teeing himself up for a new run. Even so, it was All New, All Different.
X-Men Revolution consists of May 2000 to June 2001, most of which is written by Chris Claremont, but once he’s done with the books we get a return from another X-Men alum, Professional Comic Book Writer Scott Lobdell. It consisted of 27 issues of Uncanny X-Men, 28 of X-Men, an annual for each, a couple of miniseries and nine issues of X-Men Unlimited. There was also the Counter X initiative, where Warren Ellis was brought on to helm X-Force, X-Man and Generation X along with other writers who took over as they continued. Bob Weinberg wrote a Cable run, Joe Harris & Georges Jeanty led a Bishop series set in the far future. There was a miniseries in Limbo called Black Sun, an Excalibur miniseries to let Ben Raab play with the toys again and Search for Cyclops brought him home near the end of the era.
So how was it? Mostly not great. I expected to be incredibly bored by this era and I’ve got good news for you. It’s not boring. I thought I’d share some good and bad findings from the era.
GOOD – A distinctive look
Some of the designs are a mixed bag, but there are some fun new uniforms. Cable, Phoenix and Rogue are standouts for me. Psylocke’s look isn’t quite as distinctively her, but it’s a good style.
Nate Grey’s rarely had an actual costume and when he has they’ve looked like garbage. Switching to trousers, an open jacket with nothing underneath and a sweet new tat was a good change for him. Steve Pugh’s Generation X uniforms weren’t their best, but he definitely made them look gloriously chaotic and teenage, especially Jubilee.
BAD – The villains
The Neo, The Goth, The Shockwave Riders, The Crimson Pirates. Tullemore Voge, Bloody Bess, Domina, Jaeger, Lament… There are too many villains all at once and with so little time to know what their deals were.
I liked the idea that The Neo were a separate tribe of mutants who had a horrific disaster when Mr Sinister Punk’d the High Evolutionary and made him switch off all mutants’ powers. That’s a neat connection to the previous story. But what’s their deal? Why are there so many of them? All the sub-groups didn’t help, either.
GOOD – The Six Month Gap
I like the idea of skipping ahead a bit and finding out where the heroes are. Recent comics have done this a bunch with titles like Amazing Spider-Man. DC even went further with One Year Later and my beloved Legion of Super-Heroes had the wonderful Five Year Gap. In this case, the X-Men were still dealing with the loss of Cyclops and the giant space station the High Evolutionary left in orbit in the previous run. I know Claremont did a lot to tee himself up for the era, but when an era of comics changes you often see creators abandon everything that went before (see Whedon & Ellis).
This felt like a smooth transition while also being a new start. X-Force spent a lot of its time showing what went on six months ago with the ‘death’ of Pete Wisdom and then ending with the ‘death’ of X-Force.
BAD – The Gaps in the Six Month Gap
There are some problems with the six month gap, specifically things Claremont left out as hooks to explain in X-Men Unlimited at some point and never got to. Joe Pruett managed to explain the deal with the new Thunderbird, but Jean and Betsy’s power swap didn’t get clarified and I think get ignored later on.
GOOD – The Art
At least early on, there’s some fantastic art. Even if we’re keeping some existing artists like Tom Raney and Adam Kubert, they’re trying for a slightly new and different look. They’re more dynamic here. Leinil Francis Yu is one of the main influences on this era and he looks great. In more recent times he feels like more of a static creator, but here there’s a good dynamism.
Ariel Olivetti and Steve Pugh are standouts for the Counter X side of things, with looks which I’d have expected as something more of the New X-Men era instead of this one.
BAD – It’s mostly pointless
This era’s the shortest one I’ve read so far and it shows. Most of the new characters rarely or never appear again. There are some plotlines which would interact well with other bits of Marvel history, but even creators have forgotten they exist. X-Man’s whole ‘spiral’ idea about the multiverse and the Brilliant City who believe they sit atop all other realities. The many secret organisations who run things (in Cable & X-Force, mainly) who don’t interact with each other, let alone anything in the future.
The Neo never really panned out to anything and while they could have been interesting, weren’t. Kitty Pryde went missing for most of the run and reappeared without fanfare after Colossus died.
There’s an Excalibur mini in here which I don’t think amounts to anything in the long run. Dazzler’s fled Mojoworld after an adorable Age of Apocalypse might have killed Longshot but again, that doesn’t really go anywhere.
GOOD – Wrapping things up
The previous run closed out by putting The Twelve and Apocalypse out of their misery. This age ended the Legacy Virus and the eternal civil war in Genosha.
I’m going to close out with a positive, and hopefully I’ll get some more findings from my X-Men reread onto the blog soon, including looking back at what I’ve read so far.
If you want to follow along in real time, I post every morning on Facebook in the album “Daily X-Men”. I don’t think we even need to be friends for you to follow that. I’m a bit more sporadic with posting on Twitter, just because there’s only so much time in the day, but post under the hashtag #DailyXMen whenever I do.
I’ve realised I haven’t posted how I’ve been doing in my quest to read every RPG I’ve Kickstarted, so here’s February’s offerings.
The first month went pretty well. This one dragged. My RPG reading happens all over the place and there were some times where I just didn’t feel like ploughing through the many pages of Exalted Third Edition’s powers, or waited until I was in bed and could mindlessly skim through them a bit.
I also had a few books I started but didn’t finish this month. One Ring Second Edition (as I’m playing in a campaign of it) and Trophy Dark (as I needed a reward for finishing Exalted).
Exalted Third Edition
By Onyx Path Publishing
Read before? No
Played? Not this edition
At 686 pages, this was my white whale. The biggest single book I’ve Kickstarted and probably the biggest one I ever will.
Exalted Third Edition launched on the May 9th 2013 and was fulfilled on October 24th 2015. When I backed the game I was mainly a White Wolf/Onyx Path person having bought almost every New World of Darkness book and owning everything for Exalted including Dreams of the First Age which was tricky to track down. By the time it arrived, I had become a different roleplayer. I’d discovered story games, I’d discovered Google Plus communities, Powered by the Apocalypse games and so on, compared to the mild dabbling with indies which I had done before.
Exalted Third Edition remains Exalted. The world is massive, sprawling and fascinating as a kind of mess of high fantasy and historical myths filtered through the lens of anime and jRPGs.
The gist of the world is that there were these godlike beings called Solar Exalts, powered by the sun. They had Lunar Exalted partners, Sidereal Exalted advisers and Terrestrial Exalted underlings. The Sidereal Exalts knew different futures and saw only problems if the Solars stuck around, so they conspired with the Terrestrials, locked them away in a jade vault under the sea and kept killing the few who got away as the pesky buggers kept resurrecting. Fast forward many years and the Terrestrials rule most of Creation, a flat world which has an island in the middle and then stretches out in each direction according to different elements. The centre is earth, the north is snowy and becomes all air, the east is wood and becomes endless forests, the south is desert that becomes fire and the west is all water. At the edges, the Fair Folk try to push inwards. The Terrestrials have grown corrupt and complacent. The Sidereals wrote themselves out of history and the Lunars hid, often too near to the Fair Folk. Finally we have the heroes, Solars who are beginning to reappear after the jade prison broke open. They try to do hero things and not get corrupted by their power. Some have died and gone through a goth phase as Abyssals, who are even more enemies you have to deal with.
The world is rich and massive, with so many things to play with, but the lore have a gaping hole where your player characters can come in. I love that in an RPG and it’s a good sign that this isn’t someone’s frustrated writing project.
The system goes between ‘dull’ and ‘too much’, upon revisiting it. The basics are like any White Wolf/Onyx Path joint of combining an attribute and a skill, rolling that many ten-sided dice and counting successes. Exalted like to do this with fistfuls of dice to show the power of your characters. It also has a ton of Charms, which are the powers you use as an Exalt. They all chain off each other so there are massive progression trees. You’ve got different kinds of attacks to try and damage or slow down your foe. There are tons of bits of equipment and sub-systems for if you want spells instead of charms, or martial arts instead of charms.
It’s all too much. I’ve got the demo adventure and it’s tempting to skim that at some point to see if there’s a more succinct, interesting way of presenting the rules. As far as the core book, I went from engrossed at the lore to completely turned off by the system at incredible speed.
Feng Shui 2: Action Movie Roleplaying
By Atlas Games
Read before? No
Another potentially challenging read. I’ve tried reading Feng Shui 2 a couple of times and never managed to keep going. This is an action movie RPG, specifically through the lens of Hong Kong cinema like Hard Boiled, movies like Big Trouble in Little China and possibly even Planet of the Apes?
The game’s world is a mash-up of several different timelines in the past and future, all through present day-ish Hong Kong. Time’s gone weird and now you can play any of the genres opened up by these portals or smash them together!
Characters are selected with mostly-built archetypes, customised a little and sent out into the world.
The system uses a die mechanic I’m not keen on, and that’s a rare thing. You roll two six-sided dice; a positive die and a negative die. You subtract one from the other and add your skill, creating a kind of spread. I ran Icons which used this and it was a faff. Personally I prefer Fate Dice, even if they have a smaller spread, as they make for easier maths than quickly adding and subtracting to make a -5 to +5 spread. The ‘shot clock’ system for fights feels like a fun idea, with actions costing an amount of initiative, including dodging out of the way of things.
Some of the archetypes and abilities seem fun, but like Exalted it feels like it’s trying to do too much. There are even more sub-systems for things like cybernetics and various magical abilities. This is an older Kickstarter and feels like it wants to serve a lot of masters and be all things, despite being mostly a fun-looking action movie game.
Like Exalted, this one’s no longer on my iPad and unlikely to ever see the table.
Play Dirty 2: Even Dirtier
By John Wick Presents
Read before? Yes
I like John Wick, but I also understand why folks might chafe at some of his advice. I’ve read Play Dirty a bunch of times and watched his videos talking about any number of gimmicks, tricky and ways of spicing up RPGs. Some of them feel cruel, some feel like they’d take a lot of work and some feel a little outdated given how RPGs have come along. And so have the ways we talk about them.
After reading Play Dirty, I talked to my friend Andy about it and he recommended Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley. Over the years I’ve definitely been more of an Unsafe than a Dirty person, as far as books on play.
I did, however, back Play Dirty 2 back when it was on Kickstarter. This was a sequel to Wick’s original book and one of the interesting things about it is that Wick knows his reputation. He’s softened a little and is a bit less authoritarian-sounding. Similarly, he did some videos a little while ago re-examining his original Play Dirty and it was interesting hearing his insights on what still worked and what he might do differently.
This book includes some anecdotes like Sylvia Hates the Bye Bye Box which he’s delivered on video and Get a Helmet Part 2 which features one of my favourite pieces of advice by him. Wick’s talked about “DIRE PERIL” in other places, but it’s nice to know one specific source I can point people to, as it’s a fantastic tool for setting stakes and getting player buy-in on situations where death is on the line and rules cannot help them. I still carry a DIRE PERIL card in my RPG bag.
Would I recommend it as advice? Probably not as much as I would other things? Would I recommend it as anecdotes? Yeah, Wick’s always fun for those.
Ten Candles – A Tragic Horror Storytelling Game
By Cavalry Games
Read before? Yes
The world is ending, all the power’s off, the lights have gone out and monsters walk the Earth. You will die, but this game shows how you live in those last moments.
That’s the setup, but it’s not the important thing about this game. The big twist is that this is a game played using candles. Well, ten tealights and a bowl of water. The resolution mechanic’s fairly simple, with six-sided dice you roll and character traits you stack in a pile of index cards. When you use one of them, you burn it with one of the candles, then drop it into the water.
If a tealight runs out or if you accidentally blow one out then the scene changes and you’re one step closer to the end. Players help set the scene with a mantra each time the scene changes, getting shorter and shorter until you reach the finale. Once that’s over, you’re in the dark, and so is the world.
I’ve yet to play it and reading the system, it feels like it’s got a bit more work in the system than I expected. I still want to run this at some point as it’s a fascinating concept.
The Last Days of Anglekite
By Magpie Games
Read before? No
I used to be a massive Dungeon World GM, so when I saw this cool looking cover, I figured I’d check this out. In retrospect, it’s by the author of Masks, one of my favourite RPGs! It’s fine. The book’s a setting in a kind of apocalyptic fantasy world. There’s a lot here, including locations, enemies, treasures and fronts (threats and their path of progression). It’s okay, although I tend to use my own campaign settings and I don’t really run Dungeon World anymore, so I might harvest some of the concepts even if I don’t use the rules provided.
Time Cellist RPG
By Wheel Tree Press
Read before? No
One of the earlier indie RPG podcasts I listened to was The Jank Cast, and when they started publishing RPGs I figured I’d check them out. Time Cellist is a one-shot story game which has players acting as the child companions of a time travelling musician who is facing a Maestro in episodic battles of wits. It’s basically kind of Dr Who, only all the companions are kids and the mechanics are playground games. The Time Cellist will always win in the end, but you’ll see how well you can save the day yourself. It’s quite structured in the process of play, but feels like it could be fun. It’s a short book and will need to be reread before play, as there’s a lot to keep track of. I might run it as a one shot at some point.
Extreme Meatpunks Forever!
By Sinister Beard
Read before? No
Let’s move onto the newest arrivals which I’ve read. Extreme Meatpunks Forever is a gloriously chaotic, messy and queer RPG about characters who pilot huge fleshy mechs.
The is a Powered by the Apocalypse game and there are playbooks for characters, but also customisable mech mechanics. It’s interesting as I’ve seen PbtA stabs at mechs before, doing things like making the mech and pilot combined into a playbook. Here you get some abilities from the playbook, but most of the building comes from you.
The playbooks are:
The Airwave – who looks great and projects that outward, even glowing
The Bright Child – a weird, weird playbook, almost like the Brainer of this outfit
The Emblem – you stand for a cause, a mission and you have a standard to fly
The Firebreather – it’s nice they made a playbook specifically for the chaos engines in the group, with a move literally called ‘mischief’
The Honey Artist – a kind of manic pixie, potentially into cryptids
The Meatshifter – a shapeshifter of meat
The Untethered – you don’t like being in a mech and are better without it
The Weird-O’-The Wisp – the goth one and kind of the wizard
The world’s fascinatingly chaotic, too. It feels like a fresher version of Gamma World (if a slightly meatier one). The world has been turned 90 degrees, and there’s a fun joke about all the direction-based names having to move accordingly (apart from Africa, which doesn’t have one).
It’s fascinating seeing what PbtA games this far along the development cycle can be like and this one was a really fun read. I nearly missed it being a lifelong vegetarian and put off by the meaty name, but had to back it when I saw it was a Sinister Beard game. I’m pleased I did.
Our Shores: Capitalites
By Samuel Mui
Read before? No
The last of the ‘Our Shores’ games and the only one I’ve read so far, this was the one which I backed the Kickstarter for. You play wealthy young Asians trying to figure their shit out and being a total mess. I admit I’m not as aware of Asian dramas which fit this style, but I’ve watched all of Gossip Girl, I think I know the mindset this sort of thing is going for.
The playbooks are mostly fairly self-explanatory by their names and there are a ton of them.
The Actual Celebrity
The Career Woman
The Crazy Rich Kid
The Hot Chick
The Heathen (I believe this got changed)
The Material Buddha
The Sensitive Man
The Social Justice Warrior
The Spiritual Escape Artist
The Zha Boh ‘Typical Asian Girl’
As it’s quite a broad setting and some folks like me might be less familiar with the subject matter, there are some series pitches which start you off and suggest playbook combinations:
The Baking eXchange
Rick People Problems
The Wretched and the Alone
Emotionally-Repressed Theatre Group
Stars & Wishes
Saint Young Adults
Queer Nose for the Straight Bro
Exalted was a big challenge this month and I dragged my feet enough that it’s caused me to slide back. I didn’t skip ahead for any quick wins, either, sticking to either really new games or carrying on in chronological order. The older games definitely feel that way, even Ten Candles. I think that’s the one I’m most curious about from the older selection, and I’m intrigued by both Capitalites and Extreme Meatpunks Forever, although I’m probably going to have a hard time selling them to different members of my group.
Hey everyone! It’s been a little while since we saw the kids of Explosion High and now they’re back!
For folks who didn’t read issue one or need a reminder, Explosion High’s a comic about a school for superheroes which is surprisingly deadly. This isn’t a The Boys situation, though, the kids are young, dumb and eager to fight crime, they’re just… not very good at it. The school’s filled with a surprising amount of lasers, dinosaurs and deathtraps, too.
We’ve got a double sidekick who’s been sent here for making his mentor feel old. A nerdy god allergic to almost everything. A science wizard with an uncontrollable mask. An alien who believes he’s been gifted Earth as a birthday present. A drunk barbarian with a giant sword. A flying shark with robot arms and an origin so mysterious even he doesn’t know it!
Issue One brought the cast to the top secret location of Explosion High! Now they’ve arrived it’s time to have some fun!
Issue Two brings us two more stories starring our wonderful, weird cast and a fight with some rival students!
First up we’ve got a story about what happens when the sidekicks and young, untrained heroes are left unsupervised. That’s right, it’s time to party! Faye Stacey brings us the art and some explosive chaos when things get out of hand!
Second we’ve got gym class with our team having to practice scaling giant monsters, which turns into a messy race when a rival team decides to take them down! NORRIE brings us some spectacular monster art!
Finally, we’re actually naming our lead characters’ team, and the epilogue drawn by Mike Armstrong will give us the reason behind the name!
We’re offering issue one again, too, just in case you backed digitally and want the original thing. Also if you missed our glorious annotated scripts with puzzles, notes, references and burn marks, we’re also offering digital and physical copies of those!
I’ve been reading my way through all of the roleplaying games I’ve backed on Kickstarter. Some will get full reviews online either on Who Dares Rolls or on this blog. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about what I’ve read so far.
I’m going vaguely chronologically, but if I need to read a game because I’ll be running it or because it’s a new arrival then it’ll jump ahead in the queue.
Houses of the Blooded: Wilderness
Read before? No
Played? Yes, but not using this book
I like John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded, but I understand when people aren’t as keen. The rolling system’s inspired by Fate and in turn will also inspire what 7th Sea Second Edition has. You collect a pool of dice and aim to hit a ‘10’, wagering a number of dice by taking them out of your pool for additional effects. If you pass then you gain narrative privilege, not success. You can pick whether you succeed or fail and gain bonuses for complicating things.
Wilderness is a collection of expansion ideas by Jess Heinig, themed around the wilder aspects of the world. There’s a new hidden house to add to the ones from the core book, sullen and isolationist, but able to be integrated if you’re playing on the edge of civilisation. There’s also an interesting alternate campaign frame where you play adventurers sent forth by the Blooded to fight Orks and gather up treasure for them.
It’s interesting and I’ve run a few one-shots of HotB over the years. I like the idea of running a game on the edge of the wild and will probably incorporate some of this at some point.
Read before? Yes, multiple times
Fate Core is a toolbox, and an elegant one. Like Houses of the Blooded, it’s a bit marmite, with some people really not clicking with it and some loving it. I find the best presentation of the system in games like iHunt and Fate of Cthulhu where it’s integrated into a setting rather than presented in a general tome like this. The book’s well written and certainly worked for me better than Cortex, which I’ve still not managed to finish, but the grounding in a setting is what makes it pop.
The game is an earlier example of genre emulation than Powered by the Apocalypse mechanics, with narrative elements turned into rules, primarily Aspects. They give a +2 bump to a roll, or a -2 if used negatively. They also affect fictional positioning even outside of those numbers. The economy’s lovely, too. You gain Fate Points by using your character traits in a negative way, then spend them to do in-character things in a positive way. It’s simple, and encourages roleplay. There are a couple of clunky elements like the pyramid of skills and advancement. Other Fate games change this up a bit, and it’s not too bad a blemish.
I’ll definitely use this again, although I’ll probably use Fate Accelerated or Fate Condensed over Core.
Monsterhearts: Second Skins
Read before? Yes
This is an expansion to the amazing Monsterhearts RPG, consisting of several playbooks or ‘skins’ for use in games. They’re a little weirder and tricksy in some places compared to the core skins and Jackson Tegu nicely converted them to Monsterhearts 2 when the new edition came out.
The Sasquatch – A shy, awkward person who wants to disappear
The Wyrm – Someone who sees everyone as social currency
The Cuckoo – A supernatural stalker and copycat, pretending to be other people
The Unicorn – They desperately want to help and do good, but can they?
The Heir – You have a ton of siblings each with weird abilities, who will fall to strange fates while you grow more powerful
The Neighbour – Another mortal, a ‘person next door’ type who’s going to get in trouble
The Selkie – Wistful and called to the sea, but without the pelt they need to return
I’ve played and run in games with some of these, and while I tend to mainly offer up core playbooks, they’re interesting ones to throw in occasionally.
Primetime Adventures Third Edition
Read before? No
Primetime Adventures Second Edition was the indie RPG I owned the longest without actually playing. I backed the third edition as I like the idea of it. The game’s basically about playing a television show. It has a good sense of media literacy and expressing the beats, focus and even to a point the fandom of a TV show. There’s a simple card-based system to resolve things and ‘fan mail’ which can help boost things. Each character has sets and props to help them, and will the the focus of at least one episode.
The thing with this game is that it’s still an interesting resource for storytelling, but I don’t think I’ll use it when a lot of other games do genre emulation for specific stories better than this manages for all stories. There are also games like Hearts Blazing which handles the ‘telling a season of an RPG’ really well.
Read before? Yes
Oh my god this game. I’ve reviewed it before on Who Dares Rolls and while I’m not a big World War II nerd, I loved Night Witches.
You play the airwomen of the 588th, a group of Russian pilots who were in out of date planes and told to harass enemy forces. This is done in a cycle of Day and Night phases. The Day phase sees you look after your planes, explore the airfield, interact with each other and deal with systemic sexism as well as the NKVD. At Night you run missions, deadly missions. Hopefully you’ll hit your targets and get back home intact.
The book comes with a campaign running the course of World War II, with a handful of missions per duty station and ways of abruptly moving on, even encouraging changing GMs as you change station. While I didn’t do that, I did get halfway through a campaign with my group and it was wonderful, if emotionally battering. Hopefully we’ll play it again, covering the back half of the war.
Paranoia Red Clearance Edition
Read before? Yes
I like Paranoia, and I think that aside from one or two things, this is one of my favourite editions.
Paranoia is a game set in an underground utopia where death has been conquered and a Computer looks after all your needs. All is order, all is peace. Only that’s a lie. The Computer had too many programmers all with their own agendas, it became aware of things like Communist propaganda and believed enemies were everywhere, lurking in shadows. The clones it made in batches of six all became defective with strange powers. But none of you really know how bad the rot is, instead you’re a Troublehooter, tasked with killing mutants and traitors, while also secretly being both.
This edition has a nice, simple dice system with a fun Computer Dice which randomly has The Computer interfere, often lethally, in a way it thinks is helpful.
The setting has been tweaked a bit, allowing for things vaguely like modern technology, even if they’re as busted as everything else in Alpha Complex. There’s a great character creation process which arms everyone against each other.
The one problem I’ve got with the system is the cards. There are action cards which have funny effects and numbers for when you go in initiative order. You go around placing cards facedown and announcing your number, then seeing if anyone calls you on it and if they catch you in a lie then you miss your turn. Then you count through, finally acting on initiative if you’re still going. I don’t care for this much of a faff in my fights, so I’ve resorted to using Balsera Initiative and some prop guns from Cash & Guns instead.
There’s a new edition which has come out on Kickstarter, but I don’t know who the authors are and it sounded like this edition without the cards, possibly resorting to some of the older elements of the setting, so I’m fine with this one.
Fall of Magic & Songs from the Axe and Fiddle
Read before? Yes
This is one of the most beautifully presented RPGs I own.
Magic is dying, and the Magus is dying with it. You follow him on his travel across the land, to where magic first came from. This game is represented with a beautiful scroll which you only see a section of at a time as you travel east, towards the origin point of all magic. You will spend moments or months at different stages of the journey, telling fragments of stories and often moving on abruptly to the next leg of the journey.
Your character is given a name, a descriptor and a coin to represent where they are on the map. The Magus is also given a coin and will lead the way. Each location they stop at, you take turns placing yourself on questions or statements stretching out from the settlement. You can have a scene there, answer a question and occasionally roll a dice to see what happens out of a set of encounters. You can either do that on your turn, or move the Magus on, which gathers everyone up and moves over to the next space. Loves met are left behind, chases with local guards stop abruptly as you catch up with your cart going to the next place. There’s even a deck of cards used to provide random islands when you finally cross the water.
This is a beautiful game which I’ve played three times, even if I’ve never made it to the end in a single session. My first game was incredible, lingering on moments and making it to the sea with a perfect stopping point as the young, naive squire looked out to a sea much larger than anything he’d seen in his life. The second playthrough was two sessions, even venturing into the underworld hidden on the back of the scroll. It was fun, although one of the group got stage fright in session two, as he feared the spotlight and establishing scenes by himself, even though he’d been doing it for a couple of sessions. The third time was a rare experience of an RPG my partner joined in with, but two of the players were wanting something tonally more wacky, in ways which didn’t even build off each other. It didn’t really feel like it clicked right there, which was a shame. That said, a lot of that was on me for not setting the table right and explaining the tone we were going for. It won’t stop me getting it to the table again.
The Songs from the Axe & Fiddle is a really interesting extra booklet providing tiny scenarios and alternate stories using the same map. You might be sailors using the deck of islands as the main location or people living in a village, trying to go about their lives while a swineherd chases an extremely troublesome pig around. I’ve yet to try these and want to, although I might save them until I either have little time, or have actually completed a full playthrough of the main game.
Good Society: A Jane Austen Roleplaying Game
Read before? Yes
I love Jane Austen’s stories, although it wasn’t always that way. I was having difficulty with Pride & Prejudice at sixth form and it took my dad showing me the BBC miniseries, then having a chat about Austen to help get it to click.
I liked Storybrewers from their Alas for the Awful Sea miserablist Hebredian sailors RPG, and I knew I had to check this out.
A false belief from a lot of people with little experience of indie RPGs is that they’re all pretty much freeform and lack the control of trad RPGs. Sure, they tend to be missing massive equipment tables and some sub-systems, but the ritual of the game tends to be more specific and more intricate. In this case, you don’t roll dice, you spend Resolve points to push the narrative in your chaaracters’ favour, to make supporting characters make mischief or to help push what people think or feel (as an offering, and only if they consent).
You get a character with a role, a background, a desire and a relationship with another character. As an example, in the current game I’ve got, I’m playing Selina Oakley, a Meddler from Humble Origins, whose desire is to take charge of the family and her relationship is that she’s the sister of Abigail. She was also given a relationship card from Luce Wynn saying that they’re rivals (although that’s going to change…)
Play goes through rounds of different phases. The Novel Phase is regular play, often between group events, visitations of vignettes. Reputation Phase checks what you did against triggers based on your background, earning you new traits based on society’s view of you. The Gossip Phase has you make and spread rumours not from your characters but from society. If you spread them then they become real in society’s eyes, if not then they fizzle out. Finally there’s the Epistolary Phase, where players write letters from their main character or any supporting characters they control.
You play through multiple cycles and it feels like a good way of measuring time. We had an introductory phase of learning who the characters are, then complicating their lives and watching it all get tense. When it’s the final phase, we’ll know to wrap things up nicely, like any good Jane Austen romantic comedy.
FIasco Boxed Edition
Read before? Yes
Fiasco was the first indie RPG I really got into. This new edition tightens everything up and puts it in a fancy boxed set.
Fiasco is a game of bad people making worse plans and watching them succeed or fail in ludicrous ways. It’s a Coen Brothers movie game. Each scenario has a deck of cards with relationships, locations, items and needs which you divide out between you. As a group you pick a relationship and one of the other cards to put between each of you to make a group who are all drama magnets, pre-loaded with terribleness. The backs of the cards have names on them so even the unused cards might be useful.
Players go through two rounds of scenes, choosing to define how the scene starts if they don’t care how it ends, or letting someone else do it if they want to pick whether it’ll end well or badly. You then have a ‘tilt’ where some extra petrol is added to the fire and two more rounds of scenes to get everything falling apart. The good and bad endings build up a score used to determine how well or badly things go for you, and it’s always going to tell a gloriously messy story.
I really like this system, although I don’t quite believe the two hour runtime it now boasts. That might just be that my players and I waffle a bit, but it’s generally been around three hours and change. This is an evergreen one-shot game in my eyes.
Read before? Yes
Much like Fiasco, I love having one-shot games which are ready out of the box. I have a ‘go bag’ with Lasers & Feelings, Lady Blackbird and several Grant Howitt one-shots. This series of ‘Littlebox RPGs’ are a perfect addition to that collection.
VIllagesong is a game about a collection of villages in an archipelago and how they deal with problems together, or how they push their problems on each other. Players pick a village leader and a village, then collectively pick relationships which also represent the physical landscape connecting the villages.
You draw cards from a deck which is customised based on the scenario you’re playing, reading them out and either handling the matter yourself or pushing it to someone else. They can reject what you’ve done, straining or breaking your relationship (the physical connection in the land also suffers when this happens) or answering the problem and dealing with the results.
Each card is added to your ‘Villagesong’, stacking up poetic little phrases to make the song of your community at the end of the game. If you like games like For the Queen or Quiet Year, this is definitely one for you.
Our Mundane Supernatural Life
Read before? Yes
Another Littlebox RPG, this one was trickier to get to the table as it’s a two player game. You and another player make a mundane person, a supernatural person, then put them in close proximity to each other with relationships like parent/child, spouses or flatmates.
You write out a schedule for a regular day, splitting some cards between each player and the pair of you together. They’re lined up in chronological order and you run through scene by scene.
You roll a four-sided die and add one to the result in order to determine the length of the scene, from two to five minutes. It’s a really interesting technique as some dramatic scenes may end up being cut short and some completely mundane scenes like washing dishes might take five. This means some scenes linger longer than needed, letting silence, repetition or conversations about the weather reign. The additional complication is that you might see a symbol on the back of an event card showing that something goes awry, but you won’t know until you reach it. There are extra modules, allowing for nicer moments, scenes of personal realisation, extremely bad things and even multi-day play.
I’ve only played it the once, but it was a nice experience and is definitely something I’ll do again.
Read before? Yes
This is a solo RPG based on Soulslike video games. You are Engraved, travelling from realm to realm, looking to fight enemies, gather lore and gain a Rune from the local Runelord before moving on. For a solo RPG, it’s got a lot of tactical fighting involved, all on a small four-by-four square grid. You roll dice and place them on your actions kind of like Euphoria or Dead of Winter. Enemies have patterns of behaviour where they move and attack based on a die roll as well, which makes them deadly but partially predictable.
The core book is 100 pages and has only one Realm to use, but there are several online and there’s an Atlas by the author which adds even more for you to try. I’ve only played one session of Rune, but I’m eager to get it to the table again.
Read before? No
This one’s a very much an ‘easy win’ RPG-wise. An RPG which is on two small business card-sized pieces of plastic. The PDF version is a whopping three pages.
Aesthetically like Mork Borg, this is a bright yellow and red RPG about travelling through a dungeon or other setting and buying upgrades, as long as you survive your current round. It’s fairly basic and I’m curious to see how it feels in play.
Read before? No
I mentioned earlier I don’t do Dungeon World anymore, but there’s a new challenger for the role of Powered by the Apocalypse fantasy RPG. I mean, there are more, there’s Fellowship which also looks good. Still, this game which is tricky to search for online given its generic name looks like an interesting system.
Instead of replicating D&D style play, Fantasy World wants to be a bit broader as far as fantasy stories. Your group have a role which helps provide a framework in which you’ll be making characters and interacting with the world. I think this is my first large Italian RPG, so it’s interesting seeing how differently things are laid out.
The rituals of play feel a little more formalised and presented in a more bullet pointy fashion, but the moves are all a bit more intricate and interesting. You get roles like The Captain who has a crew and a headquarters (which could be like Sherwood Forest or could be like a pirate ship). The Knight has an order and a code which grants them great abilities in return for restrictions they make to their lives. The Maker creates strange technology. The Occultist has magical abilities but may face corruption through them. The Priest works miracles based on their faith. The Scoundrel is well-connected and resourceful. The Troubadour knows about the world and can make connections. The Veteran is a battle-hardened warrior with a special weapon. The Wayfarer has primal powers over nature and animals. The Wildcaller is an elemental magician.
The structure looks interesting and intricate without being too obstructive. I’m really interested in trying it out this year and seeing how it fares compared to other fantasy games.
I finished January ahead, which I didn’t expect, but I had a couple of cheap wins with the Littlebox RPGs and Fiasco, compared to some big books like Fantasy World. It’s a mixed bag and the older RPGs have mostly been pretty good. That’s going to change soon.
I’ve been playing Arkham Horror a lot in the past couple of years. I generally have a solo campaign on the go, and I’ve been playing it fortnightly at the Dice Saloon, going through each of the campaigns.
At the moment we’re playing Return to the Path to Carcosa. I’ve played through the regular Path to Carcosa solo a little while ago and really enjoyed it. The ‘Return to’ format remixes some elements and isn’t always more difficult, sometimes it’ll provide new options or different encounter decks. Arkham Horror already does a good job with replayability, this makes it even more varied.
I kept promising a reading list for the people playing in my group, so I posted this and thought I’d share it here, too:
The Yellow King by Robert W. Chambers
This is where it all comes from. Before Lovecraft, Robert Chambers took a rare journey into horror and made some fascinating stories about feral art. Almost hypnotic in their telling, these stories all talk of people pulled into the gravity of a strange play. This is a regular reread for me, and I can see why writers like HPL were inspired by it.
The Yellow King Graphic novel by I N J Culbard
This one was a tricky item to find, but it has some lovely visuals and delivers on a kind of slow build of horror, tying the stories from Chambers’ work together deftly as it goes.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A tale of isolation and madness, far too often forgotten. It really gets under the skin and under the wallpaper. It’s rarely on lists of influences, but definitely feels like it belongs alongside Chambers’ work
True Detective Season One by HBO
Yes, this prestige cop drama references the King in Yellow and Carcosa a bunch. It didn’t go full supernatural iwth it, but if there’s a supernatural entity that doesn’t need to how itself fully to be a weird presence, its this. I’ve been meaning to go back to it after getting heavily into the Carcosan side of things.
Call of Cthulhu: Tatters of the King by Tim Wiseman
A classic campaign for Call of Cthulhu and while I’ve not had a chance to run it, the game feels like a good influence on Path to Carcosa. The opening for both start at a play which goes awry. I’ve had my copy for years and I might run it with CoC 7th if I ever get it, or more likely Squamous or Cthulhu Dark.
The Yellow King RPG by Robin D. Laws
The Gumshoe system’s really good for investigative games, and the light version of it works perfectly for four games all around the themes of the Yellow King and how the Yellow Sign affects our world. Paris is the game in its purest form, with American and English art students in Paris encountering feral art. The Wars combines both World Wars into one bizarre pulp mashup as fictional forces bleed into the world. Aftermath shows the overthrow of the Castaigne Empire from America and how we might rebuild. This is Normal Now brings us the most terrifying world… our own one. Well, it adds a few twists, but I won’t go into those.
Call of Cthulhu: Curse of the Yellow Sign by John Wick (not that one)
Three stories using Call of Cthulhu, Trial of Cthulhu and its own self-contained system. Wick promised a Call of Cthulhu scenario which would be terrifying but wouldn’t have tomes, cults or monsters. He delivers here. The first scenario has you as doomed Nazis running an African mine in WWII and someone’s found something deep in the Earth. The second has a director running through a haunted script reading with his friends and his ex-wife in a snowed-in hotel. The third has amnesiacs on a spaceship where the AI might just have read the King in Yellow. I’ve run the first one of these and it was good, although it’s a hard sell given who you play, and the final scenario feels like it’s got some of Wick’s manipulative GMing tactics in there. I’ll probably revisit these with Cthulhu Dark at some point.
If you’ve encountered the King in Yellow in your travels, mention in the comments, as it’s always interesting encountering this world.
It’s the start of another year and there are so many roleplaying games out there already, not to mention so many due to be released in the year to come. There will always be surprises and blind spots, but I thought I would have a look and share a few that have caught my attention.
I have a caveat for this set. These are all RPGs which are so new they’re not even on Kickstarter, Backerkit, GameFound, Itchfunding or anywhere else yet. What makes a ‘new’ RPG is so tricky, so I’ve gone for the most new. There are a lot of games which have funded and aren’t out yet (i.e. Salvage Union, The Unquiet Dark) and ones which have released digitally but not physically (i.e. Mothership 1E, Brindlewood Bay). I’ve decided to skip them this time.
Black Armada Games
The first edition of Lovecraftesque sees players pass a single character around the table, delving into an investigation they really shouldn’t have. One player acts as the narrator for the scene and everyone else as ‘watchers’, adding flavour and elements from a mystery card no one else knows the contents of. The story flows through investigative phases and assumptions about what the truth of the mystery might be. Eventually, the game speeds up its pacing as the investigator races towards what is almost always their doom.
The second edition is going to increase the card-based play and Black Armada have experimented with the format a couple of times with games on their Patreon, so I can’t wait to see what they do with this new edition.
The makers of Spire & Heart are going into a new world of grim fantasy, where realms open up when things get grim enough. You play people similarly infected, similarly Hollow. You can enter the Hollows and hunt down the Hollow Lord inside, removing the blight from the world and keeping yourself going slightly longer. There are unique Weapons which are aware, hate you, but can grant you abilities to help in your quest.
It’s been interesting seeing an increase in indie RPGs embracing tactical fights, such as Nova and Rune from Gile RPGs. I’m curious to see what this means for Hollows. If you want a game name-checking Monster Hunter and Dark Souls in its list of inspirations, this is the place for you.
I’ve always been vocal about my love of the games put out by Gauntlet Publishing, and this year it sounds like they’ve got a number of projects being worked on.
Arkham Herald by Oli Jeffery is a game using the fantastic Carved from Brindlewood mystery system to tell stories of investigative journalists in the 70’s encountering cosmic horrors.
Moonlight Vale by Megan Caldwell and Xander Bimski is a kind of Stardew Valley using CfB mechanics. I was one of those people who got heavily into Animal Crossing during the first lockdown, and I’m curious about how this game which could be tonally quite different to the other CfBs will be.
Public Access by Jason Cordova is a kind of retro television creepypasta RPG. The players are ‘Latchkeys’ who are looking into things like weird haunted houses. It looks like it’s got a lot of things about weird things like number stations, the Satanic Panic and haunted video tapes.
The Silt Verses RPG by Gabriel Robinson is based on a spooky podcast and using the CfB framework, it has players as Peacekeepers to have to deal with weird phenomena and stray gods. I’ve literally just started listening to the podcast because of this announcement and it is fascinating.
I’ve loved what Machine Age did with monster hunting with #iHunt. Olivia Hill asked online about interest in making a specifically trans-friendly magic school, because fuck that school by that TERF. The plan has expanded and changed a lot, tagging in influences like Nick Spencer’s fantastic Morning Glories, the Re-Animator films and from what I’ve seen so far, possibly even some The Magicians. It has characters studying magic, actually improving and messing around with their grades as part of the game. There have only been small previews so far, but I’m already excited to see what comes of it.
I admit this is a bigger company than the others on this list and not really an indie, but the generational Arthurian RPG has always felt like a white whale for me. I flit from game to game, but this feels like one which could take a lifetime. You play Arthurian knights year after year during the dwindling age of Uther and then their offspring, generation after generation through the rise and eventual fall of Arthur. You must be good at maintaining your household and courting in order to guarantee a next generation to inherit your glory when you eventually fall.
The sixth edition was being worked on by Greg Stafford when he passed away in 2018 and this edition’s been worked on by Chaosium with a hopeful release this year. This includes a starter set which will have a slightly shorter campaign than I described. I love the idea of this game, and am looking forward to seeing it.
You’re damned whalers hunting a hellwhale. You gamble with souls, use tokens for your resolve and the framework comes from Belonging Outside Beloinging games, which is going to be interesting in a game with a directed story where you’re setting out on a quest.
The author of Torq and This Discord Had Ghosts in it has a game about ‘mutant freaks in the weird future’. I know literally nothing else, but I like their work, so it’s best to keep an eye on what these mutant freaks are up to.
The name says it all. Battle Royale, Squid Games, all of those sorts of stories. Little else is know, although the author, Tim Dinee, released a gorgeous illustrated recap. If you want to compete with other players in brutal game show warfare on an island, I’m guessing this’ll be the place to go to.
Girl by Moonlight
By Evil Hat Productions
A Forged in the Dark game about magical girls. I admit I know very little about this and the genre, but FitD is a great framework and it looks like there are a bunch of interesting takes on the magical girl type of story.
I was torn about including expansions, but you know what? They’re so rare for indie RPGs that I’m including them. Evil Hat’s going to be releasing a couple:
AGON: Realms of Khaos – I love Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s gonzo science fiction ODY-C and this sounds like it’ll add some of that cosmic energy to the bombastic hero-fest that is baseline AGON.
Blades in the Dark: Dagger Isles – Blades in the Dark is one of the best roleplaying games, this is an official supplement for that, so it’ll be one of the best supplements, I need say nothing more.
Monster of the Week: Codex of Worlds – I like the look of Monster of the Week and this looks to shake up the campaign structure, which will be interesting to check out.
Oh, and also upcoming Zine Month Entries
I’ve only heard some rumblings about what’s coming out during Zine Month and it’s just round the corner, so I might have to do like previous years and try to cover what’s out here. Luckily Zine Month has its own lovely site which acts as an index of them, so that may not be necessary.
I feel like I’ve barely touched the surface of what’s coming out this year in the RPG world. What indie RPGs are you looking forward to?
I love a weird quest, so it’s time to work out a new one.
In 2021 I played every board game in my collection. It helped me discover some games I’d not played before, dust off some forgotten classics and find a bunch of games I’ve moved on from (I’ve sold ~40 out of 240 board games thanks to that quest)
In 2022 my quest for the year fell down a bit. I decided to read every graphic novel in my collection (barring comic strips and manga). I should have realised this would take ages as I had enough to mean I quickly hit a point where I’d have to read more than one a day and after enough times where I was away from my collection, things got tricky. Also in my hubris I thought I’d write about most of them, which also created a logjam where I’d not remembered to publish some of the posts (still haven’t) or hadn’t thought of anything to say about them.
I needed a new quest, specifically one which would be more doable than Graphic Novel Quest (although I’ll still keep plodding on with that).
So here’s the plan. I’ve backed a lot of roleplaying games on Kickstarter. As of writing, I’ve backed 202 RPGs which have been fulfilled. I’ve read 117 of them, apparently, although I don’t remember most of them. I’ve also run or played 54, although not all of those are games I’ve read.
In total there’s 29,707 pages to read. I reckon that’s doable.
There are three games I’ve removed from the pile due to the authors, and there are some RPGs which might come in and add to the list. I’m not including the stretch goals for RPGs, although I have a list of those too, just in case this goes well.
So the task is to read each of these RPG books either in PDF or physical form ( I won’t always have a choice of format, but a few I have both).
I will hopefully run some of them that I’ve not tried before, but I’m not going to try and run them all, as I’ve not got that many sessions I’ll be running RPGs for and some might not be the kind of RPG I’ll want to run anyway.
The easy part will be some RPGs like 7th Sea, Blades in the Dark or the Trophy books which I reread fairly often. The hard part will be some games like Exalted Third edition which I haven’t bothered reading as I changed the kind of roleplayer I was between backing the book and receiving it, so I never went back.
I’ve been putting a spreadsheet together, which is where I’m getting all these numbers for. So I can already tell some of the easy rides and difficult challenges I’ll have.
The shortest RPGs I’ve backed are:
What, Ho, World! – 1 fold-out page
Goth Court – 4 pages
Ghost Court – 5 pages
synthesis. – 8 pages
Fall of Magic: Songs from the Axe & Fiddle – 9 pages
We can already see a trend here, as the first three are card-based games where the rules are only a small part of it. Synthesis is a small anthology and Fall of Magic’s expansion was a booklet, both of which were part of Zinequest.
The longest RPGs I’ve backed are:
The Yellow King – four books in one set, totalling 776 pages
Exalted Third Edition – 686 pages
Beam Saber – 438 pages
DIE: The Roleplaying Game – 416 pages
Starforged – 405 pages
There’s less of a pattern here, and only one which I’ve read. The Yellow King was a set I read back in 2020, finally ripping that plaster off as I really wanted to get running a Paris campaign. Hopefully I don’t take as long rereading it, now I know it’s an amazing game. I’ve read half of DIE and have it earmarked as a game I’m wanting to run next year, so it’ll probably be an early one I read in 2023.
Speaking of which, I’m probably not going to go to a strict order, although I’ll be aiming vaguely through chronological order if I need to work out what to read next.
I won’t try to write up my findings on everything, although I’ll probably blather on about them on social media (whatever that’ll look like in 2023), and I’ll definitely review some for Who Dares Rolls either in video or written form.
If this ends up being easy, or if I get intrigued with some of the stretch goals, I’ll try those. Just for comparison to the main task, I have 11,527 pages of stretch goal books to read, over 163 items, of which I’ve read 73 and played with 25.
Finally, what about incoming RPG Kickstarters? At time of writing, I’ve got 22 which I’m waiting for. These go from still in date RPGs like Mothership’s Adspace, mildly and understandably late like Mothership 1E itself, and ‘never coming out’ like Project: Dark, Mountain Witch, Reach of Titan and Forest Hymn & Picnic.
We’ll see how this quest goes, and I’ll try to remember to post here whenever I talk about a game.
I watch a lot of television and I’ve been trying to actually finish more shows as far too often things end up abandoned. Here’s a list of the TV shows I watched at least a full series/season of this year and my opinions.
I’ve decided to list my top eleven shows, but before that, I’ll mention everything else.
28 Days Haunted
Groups of mediums, flim flam artists and so on are in an American reality show staying in haunted places and playing ‘yes and’ with each others’ theories. Or noping others’ imagined stories about ghosts. Not good, but still kind of entertaining.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Season Three
I finally finished this series, which had been outstanding in my list for a while. I loved the exaggeratedly, childishly awful world it made, Neil Patrick Harris felt like he was having a great time and it’s always a joy to hear Patrick Warburton’s voice as Lemony Snicket.
American Horror Stories Seasons One and Two
I like horror and anthologies, but with that comes a mixed bag of quality. Season one felt too mired in the overused elements of American Horror Story lore. Season two improved and there were some fun performances in both, even if there were also some real clunkers.
American Horror Story Season Ten
The first half was a kind of Innsmouth meets vampires and I love a good crumbling seaside town aesthetic. The second was less interesting with an alien invasion story. Some good moments but solidly on the lower half of the AHS stories.
And Then There Were None
A gorgeously produced version of the Agatha Christie book, with some classic British TV and film alum on board. I was given it when I was on a murder mystery kick, and it definitely helped keep me in the mood.
An interesting mystery show based on a podcast which Emma had listened to. It was good, but unfortunately sets up a season two that won’t be happening.
Big Boys Series One
When starting my big Lightning rewrite I wanted to check out British sitcoms with characters of the kind of age of some of my cast. This was a more recent one, and good fun, hopefully there’ll be more of it.
Black Books Series One to Three
A return to an old classic. Still good.
Book of Boba Fett Season One
This show started strong, looking like it was about land reclamation and had a great sequence of Boba Fett acting like a grumpy coach of a sports team when he was training Tusken Raiders to ride speeder bikes. It felt like it gave in to some cowardice and became a few bonus Mandalorian episodes.
The Boys Season Three
I hated the comic of The Boys (despite loving Ennis and Robertson), and the TV show’s been far better than the original material. It was nice seeing Jensen Ackles in a non-Supernatural role for the first time in ages and he seemed to have fun as a terrible kind of Captain America type hero.
Boys: Diabolical Season One
Another anthology show. Episodes fluctuated between being based on the show or the comic in moments. It was fine and didn’t outstay its welcome.
Bridgerton Season Two
I love a good Regency romance, and while Bridgerton isn’t high-minded or classic, it’s still a charming, fun show. There was a lot of heckling of Anthony for being rubbish and while there was too much made of the Queen’s “Diamond” this season and too many comparisons to that time the kids from Gossip Girl tried to find out who was actually Gossip Girl, it was still entertaining.
The Cuphead Show Season One
This was fine, I felt no motivation to watch season two.
I’m late to the party here, but reading the Death Throes RPG and running Zombie World got me in the mood to finally watch it. The lack of need to do anything related to the comics felt kind of freeing.
The RPG designer batts made a video about FLCL and I have an RPG based on it, but I’ve only just got round to seeing it. This was bonkers. I think it was fun?
Look, I’m old, I get to like this. Actually, my wild university nights often involved RPG prep with a greyhound leaning on me and watching Time Team, so I think I was always this way. After listening to Trashfuture’s Britainology episode on Grand Designs, I had to watch some of the tales of hope and hubris. Especially the hubris.
House of the Dragon Season One
Out of Rings of Power and House of the Dragon only one got finished by me this year and it’s mainly because it was entertaining, sometimes frustrating trash. While having a lot more ground to play in means you have a lot of wiggle room, this show likes to skip forward to any dramatic moments we know from World of Ice & Fire. Emma bailed as she’d hoped it would be more High Fantasy Succession and I concur. We need to like someone in the show, but they’re all awful.
In-Betweeners Series One to Three
I only saw the first series of this and again, it became Lightning research. While elements have aged poorly, this was great fun and while my sixth form time was far nerdier than this, the tone of futile adolescent desperation is bang on.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Seasons One to Four
I’ve been rewatching this alongside the Always Sunny Podcast. It’s still very good, especially once Danny DeVito makes an appearance.
Kingdom Season Two and Ashin of the North
Lee and I watched this and finally got up to date. It felt like season two ended the story and then kept going in the promise of a season three which may not come. There was an A+ weasel character in Cho Beom-pal, and some incredibly tense moments. The film was good, but again there was the sense that it probably won’t go anywhere in the long run.
The Lake Season One
This show scratched my Gilmore Girls itch. A girl reconnects with her biological father as he tries to win back his family’s lake house from his stepsister. It’s light fluff, with some really fun episodes and a quirky supporting cast. The man the dad’s into also makes recreations of crime scenes using taxidermied animals, which is quick the character trait.
Moon Knight Season One
The modern MCU content is so wildly varied these days. A lot of Moon Knight was good, from Oscar Isaac’s performance, F Murray Abraham as a cranky Venom-style voice in his head and the more psychedelic moments. It could have gone weirder.
Ms Marvel Season One
I loved Kamala Khan, her family, her world and the presentation style of ‘what if Spider-Verse but in the real world?’. Her change to glowy CGI powers and the whole season waiting to get her a costume and codename felt like an old school live action take on a superhero and was less welcome. Hopefully we’ll get more of her actually being a hero.
Nathan For You Seasons Two & Three
God, this show hurt at times. It’s really good fun and was entertaining to watch Lee’s increasing sense of horror with each episode.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks Series 29-30
I didn’t realise Greg Davies was hosting this, and it was good fun. Even Noel Fielding was alright and over the years I’ve generally found him incredibly irritating.
Obi-Wan Kenobi Season One
I was tired of Star Wars and ready to hate this. Let’s ignore the oddness of the Kid Leia of it all and just revel in an old master and young kid getting up to hijinks in the increasingly awful Empire-occupied galaxy. There were some great ‘mundanity of evil’ moments and Rebels putting it on the line, which prepared me for Andor which I’m not finished watching but have been loving.
Orville Season One
I wanted a Star Trek, but one with the feeling of hope, wonder and joy of how I remember Star Trek being. This was a good substitute until Strange New Worlds came out, even with the Seth MacFarlane of it all.
To call this a Stranger Things type show feels reductionist, but the comparisons have to be made. This show felt more personal, more interesting and even though the cast aren’t always in the 80’s, the sense of the awfulness of the 80’s rather than the neon nostalgia of it was good. I’m so annoyed this isn’t getting another season.
Picard Season Two
I finally got round to finishing Picard Season two. An improvement on season one, but still the weakest of the current Star Trek shows.
Reboot Season One
I love television and comic inside baseball, so a comedy about a reboot of a 2000’s era sitcom was perfect for me. It was really enjoyable, if a bit short.
Riverdale Season Six
Riverdale went full on insane and I loved it. It starts strong with a parallel spooky reality called Rivervale, super powers, witchcraft, an ancient fight against evil, the afterlife is a diner and memory is a long box of old comics.
Simpsons Season Sixteen
When I first got Disney Plus, I decided to watch beyond where I finished with The Simpsons (around season nine). I heard it got bad and wanted to see it die for myself. I’ve given up early in season seventeen as man, it drops off in quality quickly.
Star Trek Lower Decks Season Three
This show is still surprisingly good for a MacFarlane/Roiland-looking cartoon. I’m always wary with a D&D type episode, as much as I normally love a Ren Faire planet, but this season had one which wasn’t as bad as some TV show attempts to do an RPG.
Superstore Season Six
I enjoyed the first five seasons last year and the last season finally got released. It was one of the first things I saw which dealt with the pandemic, especially at a worker’s perspective (You had it from a wealthy suburbanite’s perspective before this, but that was about it).
The Thick of It Series One to Three and Specials
This year in politics made me yearn to watch something with less chaos, where the incompetence was more interesting and less destructive, so I rewatched The Thick of It.
What We Do in the Shadows Season Three
As good as the previous seasons, even if I didn’t initially care for the idea of the vampire nightclub. Both that, what they did with Colin Robinson and a terrible building show pastiche make for good moments.