The Top 36 RPGs I Played in 2020, in Alphabetical Order – Part Three (Green Dawn Mall to Masks: A New Generation)

My list of RPGs I played or ran this year continues, with a few I’ve reviewed, a few I haven’t and some general fun experiences to share.

Green Dawn Mall

Our Jamboard map of the mall.

This was part of Zinequest, and I regret not backing a physical copy now. Green Dawn Mall is a crawl through an increasingly weird shopping mall that might connect to all malls and might even be self-aware. I ran a game which lasted a couple of sessions (two and a bit thanks to cursed technology), starting with a friend of the players who had apparently gone into the mall to find an ointment which would help her become a dinosaur as she really loved dinosaurs.

The gang started out cautiously, despite my initial reading of the player agendas which encourage being proactive. After quickly fleeing Sammy Skates and the roller disco, they made their way to an aquatic-themed section of the mall and met a life-sized starfish. Things escalated from there as the group reached ‘The Dad Zone’ where a mannequin family hunted them, ‘The Fun Zone’ where one of them saw the giant rats who were running the lost and found, as well as some creepy toys trapped inside a plastic mountain trying to get out. There was a brief car chase, fleeing one of the courts in the mall and eventually they found their friend trapped in a hole under the chemists. It was surreal and weird, without being scary. As an alternative to dungeon-crawling, I heartily recommend it.

My full review of Green Dawn Mall is here.

History Dig Live!

Our dig site, picked from a selection we had on Jamboard.

When I was a student, I spent my wild evenings prepping RPG sessions with a dog by my side and Time Team on the television. It was a nice, gentle watching experience originally on because it might help me map out dungeons and then for its own sake.

History Dig Live! is an RPG which uses that sort of energy. Players are either archaeologists with a light quirk or two, and a lovable television personality who’s presenting the show. The active player presents their ‘find’ and then everyone comes up with their theories on what it means. You follow this up with a flashback to a secondary character set in the past, living their daily life. This adds context to the find and answers some of the theories even though the people in the present may not know. It also provides ammunition for the next players’ find.

Our show was an attempt to see if the area we were digging in had any religious significance. It looked for the most part like a market, although there was a bit of an eccentric nearby who was both a bit of a rabble rouser and a helpful community leader. Some local re-enactors got to make their own version of what the old market would have been and my character narrowly avoided falling in some mud, so all in all a good time.

I haven’t reviewed History Dig Live, but it is able to be watched on whatever Channel 4’s calling their app this week. I recommend it.

#iHunt

Our zone map for Jellyfish Bay.

I loved Hunter back in the day, and this felt instantly like a modernisation of that sort of play. You are millennials (and the book very generously stretches back to 1980 for that definition) and you are one of the first generations to earn less than your predecessors. Rent is a nightmare, as are medical costs (the default setting for this is in California) and you have to supplement your income with a side-gig hunting monsters. The iHunt app allows hunters to take on monsters for money, although sometimes the reasoning behind it can be a bit shady. The game uses a modified version of Fate with a few differences here and there, and the book is designed gorgeously. I read through it in a sitting when I first got it, and subscribed to the iHunt Patreon in order to get the regular zines they put out.

I ran one session and sadly didn’t get to finish off the story. I used Jellyfish Bay from one of the zines and quickly made from pregenerated characters. I only had a couple of players, but they had fun trying to work out what was going on, what the job really entailed and making connections. There were some ghosts of shitty teens in a closed down mall, some snooty yacht owners keeping an eye on them and some family drama going on. This is definitely a game I want to return to, at least to see how the progression mechanics feel in play, and for more monster-hunting fun. I’ve not reviewed it, but I live-tweeted my read through and might turn that into a thing if I don’t get a chance to run enough to review soon.

Lasers and Feelings

I didn’t have a picture, so here’s the logo.

This is a rare game that I’ve played but never run. Gareth, who started out part of the fortnightly one-shot gang and ended up one of my weekly players ran a game. We were trying to deal with a weird anomaly and used some of our shakiest Star Trek style logic to work our way out of the problem. Some people from the future were messing with it to try and get a message to us to stop a species in our equivalent of the Federation to stop mucking about with time or they’ll break it. Due to session length, we pretty much fixed the problem and resolved to stop any playing god with time.

Last Fleet

The fleet, on index cards.

This was a game of Last Fleet using the beta rules provided by Black Armada during their Kickstarter campaign. It’s a Powered by the Apocalypse version of Battlestar Galactica and the adaptation worked perfectly in having the mechanics reflect the themes of the show. The playbooks used star signs and my group decided to use their own ones to decide which to take.

The game was a fairly short one, with our Scorpio (the Baltar playbook) waking up in an unfamiliar crew quarters with components to make a bomb, just before one went off. The panic grew as the rest of the crew found out there were multiple stolen explosives and had to do shipwide searches through the fleet. Our traitor escalated things in trying to cover up their involvement, but did manage to help save the day and cover their tracks (the playbook does a good line in you sabotaging things before the start of the session and dealing with the outcome in play). The command characters never actually met any of the other characters face to face, but their impact was still felt.

One highlight was when someone used a move where they simply watch a situation unfold and are unable to help. Our captain simply watched out of their window while pouring a glass of wine from one of the few remaining bottles. This gave the person they were watching a bonus, but acted as a nice cut in the action to where the others were and what they were doing, even if it was nothing.

I wrote a preview for Who Dares Rolls found here. I also accidentally forgot and wrote a review of the final book, which I’ll check through and post online if it doesn’t cover too much of the same ground as the preview.

Legacy of Dragonholt

Legacy of Dragonholt, enjoyed with a Jura… possibly?

I was torn about whether this counted as an RPG or not and I think that even with the light touch it had, it kind of does.

My board game group loved doing a campaign of Charterstone and had done a few one-off games while trying to figure out what to play. A Dice Saloon Bring & Buy provided the answer in Legacy of Dragonholt. Set in the aggressively bland world of Terrinoth, this is the closest I’ve come to caring about it.

The story works somewhere between a Choose Your Own Adventure and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. Each character has skills and takes turns making decisions in game, flipping their action marker over until everyone’s had a go. It’s a bit of a clumsy way of managing multiple players, but after the tutorial it was easy enough to get into character. I was a surly dwarf who moved to the seaside, only to have the waves claim his home. He hated the water with a passion and excelled at archeology, even underground. The game uses a big book for the main village and you unlock adventures to go on as you play.

This game has stalled due to lockdown, but hopefully we’ll be able to pick it up when my board game group can meet again.

The Machine

I forgot about The Prestige when I made my character, but he totally would be a character from The Prestige.

This is one of the solo RPGs I played this year. I saw a review on Dicebreaker which made it sound really interesting.

I played Morvo the Magnificent, a magician who found a strange box in the home of a rival magician who seemed to have simply vanished. The more my character tinkered with the machine he’d found, the more it helped with his tricks, but there seemed to be problems with it.

The Machine is a game of ambition and hubris, ending inevitably with the downfall of the character writing in the journal. I typed up my encounters with The Machine, so all I need to do now is transcribe it and send it to a friend to continue the story with a new character to find The Machine. There are quite a few entries to transcribe and writing legibly is something I take incredible difficulty in with my abysmal coordination. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish this, send it off and let the story unfold before eventually returning for me where I can report back to Who Dares Rolls.

Masks: A New Generation

I scattered a ton of comics about young superheroes on the game table as inspiration for my players.

I keep forgetting that I got to run Masks this year! It’s one of my favourite RPGs and my weekly group didn’t have the third season of our campaign in 2020 (probably in 2021, depending on which games we decide are in the roster).

There were more people who took up the offer of a Masks game than I expected, so I was able to enlist a friend to run a second table for me. My scenario involved some quick character creation, then world building of what an alternate near-future Brighton would entail. The story began on West Pier II: The Sequel, for a fresher’s fair the group had to attend as security for. A gigantic seagull attacked the pier, along with some goons with rat, squirrel, pigeon and seagull masks (the Verminions). The crew fought off the giant seagull and chased the Verminions through the city until they reached the underground lair of a criminal seagull who had size-changing powers. His name was X-Carded by a player, which was I think the second time I’ve ever seen it used. Still, no questions asked I quickly renamed the enemy to Steven Seagull.

The story ended with the seagull defeated and the Verminions gainfully employed by one of the heroes. It was short, sweet, a little violent and as ludicrous as I’ve come to expect from Masks games.

I reviewed Masks here.

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