Tuesday, September 1, 2015

23 Things About Sky Racers Unlimited

We're just starting our Crimson Skies-tinged campaign arc in OCI. As I've done for the other portals and campaigns recently, I drafted a list of information about the setting. I wanted this to be all the background necessary; to break down everything into easy to get chunks and keep me from spending too much time on the world building.  Of course originally I'd planned for these lists to be ten items, then twelve, then twenty, and now finally 23. So far the effort to utility ratio feels pretty good. It takes me a few hours, maybe six, to put these things together. It helps frame the game and a good chunk of it hits the table. It's also dense enough that I can always find new things when I'm going over it before a session. 

For this portal, I had Sherri contribute nine of the items. That's a new experiment. She'd picked this portal, so she should have the chance to put her stamp on things. That worked well and she drew in some areas that wouldn't have occurred to me. That's sparked some cool idea for future incidents connecting to those. You can see some previous "23 Things" here: Ocean City, Abashan, Masks of the Empire. For other material on the Sky Racers mechanics, see here and here. I've also pulled together a Pinterest reference board for the campaign.   

1. The World Asunder: The world cracked in the mid-19th Century. Even as local wars shook Europe and colonial powers cemented their holding, the tide shifted. Looking back today, many can now identify the hand of the Aurichalc. In scattered places rapid technological developments, suddenly industrialization, political collapse, cultural shifts, and revolutionary movements upturned the old order. Aetheric technology appeared in many hands, often among the powerless but just as often among those simply out of power with the will to destroy. The Aurichalc had been operating in secret crafting their means to shatter the established powers and engineer the world they desired. While this period saw rapid advancements in many areas, the devastating impact these new technologies had on the environment, political freedom, and cultural traditions cannot be discounted.

2. Break Up of the Colonial Empires. The efforts of the Aurichalc initially seemed focused on local overthrow of Colonial Empires of the French, British, American, and others. They succeeded in shattering many of those structures- putting new powers, industrial technologies, and weapons into the hands of indigenous peoples. However the Aurichalc proved fickle allies. While each member of the cabal had their own temperament, they generally acted to destroy authority. Revolutionaries would overthrow their oppressors, only to be immediately undercut by agents of the Aurichalc. Warlords who stepped into the power vacuum would overstep their reach and be cast down just as easily. While these sunderings settled down over time, they remained a constant fear for generations. Why the Aurichalc worked to destroy the Chinese Imperial House but kept royal elements in Korea, the Mamluks among the Ottomans, and other lands remains a mystery.

3. Our Robot Overlords: The Aurichalc’s work eventually brought them out into the daylight and they took an open and more active hand in affairs. More importantly their experiments began to drastically reshape the world- now less about changes in social power and more about things like the Living Gas Cloud that swallowed great swathes of Texas, the Cracking of Austria, and the Night of Black Wings in Japan. And they began to war among themselves, using man and science in an effort to do…something? What they fought for remains uncertain. They stole border lands from one another and struck at operations within various territories, but what did they gain? Some suggested that the Aurichalc had always been at war; that their earlier interventions had been an agreed upon truce to build up.

And then at some point the Aurichalcs left. But rather than freeing the world from their noose, it only tightened it. Each of the Aurichalc had created some form of replacement, constructs created in their image. Dr. Sagawthi survived his encounter with the dread Lady Mahabir in 19XX and returned with his tale of a humanoid robot. Soon visitations and sightings of the other Aurichalc confirmed this change. How and when these mad scientists died remains a mystery. Some suggested they’d always been mechanical and had merely shed their disguises. Others believed that the Aurichalc had been aliens and had left their machines to secure a conquest. Regardless, the shift to robot overlords signaled a wider shift in the Aurichalc and the beginning of a battle against them.

4. Timeline: The year is 192X. Technology is a weird mix of retrofuturist visions and desperate jerry rigging. The Aurichalc dispensed science, know how, and half-truths in many places, leading to revolutions in development and advancement of the oppressed. But it also led to accidents, to collapses, to destructive conflicts, and to some grasping beyond their reach. Many things have a gleaming, art deco look to them (The Rocketeer, Sky Captain), while others have a grittier, dieselpunk appearance. It depends on how they’ve developed. Imagine the 1940’s for the general tech level, with certain areas being significantly higher (like flight) and others being lower (like nuclear science). The old empires and nations still remain, but scattered, stripped, and skeletal. New countries and peoples have arisen to dominance.

5. Aetheric Technology: Over time technologies developed by Aurichalc leaked out to be adapted by others in the world. Perhaps none has impacted more than the potent, low-cost Aetheric engines and related technology. While such devices could be turned to many purposes, most strikingly they allowed for advanced powered flight. In combination with propeller systems, fast and maneuverable aircraft could be created. In fact Aetheric technology worked well in transport because in use, the engines must be kept moving. An Aetheric device operating in a stationary location will eventually begin to warp and poison the area. Kept moving, they have almost no negative effects.

6. Who were the Aurichalc? Seven figures made up the original Aurichalc, though only five robot servitors survive. While these Mad Scientists had tremendous technical expertise that pushed local science and industry decades forward, they each eventually came to be known for a particular field. 
  • Tabansi Diallo, the Maker of Monsters. Using unknown genetic techniques he crafted a menagerie of fantastical beasts and let them loose on the world. They rule the land and air in many places around the globe. 
  • Darco Bryde, Father of the “New Races.” His earliest experiments centered on transformation of existing populations, resulting in groups which echoed old myths and stories. But Dr. Bryde seemed to tire of that and within a few years had populated his holdings with humanoid beasts. Some escaped, while others served loyally. Different regions have treated these uplifted peoples differently, but almost always with deep suspicion. However they were instrumental in the destruction of Bryde’s robot doppelganger. 
  • Sara Oxendine, the Automatic Duchess. Unlike Bryde and Diallo, Oxendine worked in steel and gears. She created robotic servants of various sizes, though even the most human of them appeared unnatural. She echoed several of Diallo’s designs, resulting in packs of clockwork beasts which still haunt the world. 
  • Jiang Rao, the Alchemist. Rao remains one of the most mysterious of the Aurichalc. He created several chemical disasters and let loose the Burn Mist which affects several regions. He learned to manipulate people with chemicals and some kind of hypnotic devices. These he used to subvert and assassinate. That seems not to have helped him in his conflict with the Automatic Duchess who destroyed his mountain HQ in 19XX. 
  • Kasa Mahabir, the Shadow Surgeon. Mahabir developed implants and devices she installed in her agents. While some were obvious and monstrous, many were more subtle. Mahabir was more bizarrely capricious than most of her compatriots. Several times she kidnapped terminally ill subjects in order to repair them. Most she returned intact, some she returned transformed. 
  • Luis Zegarra, the Black Gardener. Zegarra worked with turning nature itself to his ends- transforming vast areas into wild and deadly ranges. His terraforming through alien and invasive plants forced migrations and created forbidden areas only the most foolhardy or adventurous explore. 
  • Avedis Sahakian, the Engineer. Unlike many of her colleagues, Sahakian never created anything which could operate completely independently. Instead she constructed vast moving fortresses, massive walking armored suits, and of course the basis for Aetheric Flight.
7. The Reign in Spain: Dotted around the Seville City-State are the “Golden Orchards”.  These are small, protected and walled campuses ostensibly dedicated to scholarship and research and financed by the Goldens House.  Among other possible agendas, each Orchard is built around an orphanage and some refugee housing. Here, the Seville City-State extends succor to people displaced by the Aurichalc and their legacies, including some of those altered permanently and visibly by the Many experience. The stated reason is that the public is uncomfortable with these outsiders until they have been shown to be harmless and useful members of society. 

The refugees have historically remained in these Orchards, surrounded by Goldens House loyals, until they’ve been trained to take up duties and positions arranged within the greater City-State. There have always been rumors of Goldens using ‘Aurichalc monsters’ to do their political bidding--and many of those rumors point back to the Orchards. The Orchards are home to a great deal of secret research--so secret that it is even hidden away from it’s own board.  Increasingly, the unsettling habits of the heir of Goldens House and the refusal of the Orchards to satisfactorily disclose projects and purpose have set some board members to agitating for defunding the Orchards for ‘failing to show proper respect and fiscal decorum’. 

8. The Present: It has been three years since the last appearance of any of the Aurichalc. The raid on Bryde’s island seemed to signal a change, though prior to that the cabal had become quiet and rarely acted outside of their core domains. Many think that they’ve simply shifted purpose and programming. But many others believe that the robots left behind in their place have simply shut down. Still few wish to travel to the heartlands held by these monsters to test that theory. But the last seven years have seen significant changes. Several zones once lost have been reclaimed, technologies have been learned from and adapted, new techniques for battling fallout from the Aurichalc’s programs have been discovered. As well populations have stabilized, international contact and trade have become more stable, and several years of natural weather patterns have led some to hope. Whether this shift will lead to peace or an era of increased conflict and competition remains to be seen.

9. The Race: Months ago, Lord Adelbright Ruthven contacted several major industrialists, scientific compacts, and gentleperson’s adventuring clubs. He represented a consortium sponsoring a competition, a race. Each invited group had connections with one of the new class of aerial dreadnaughts: enormous sky-liners intended to cross the globe. These ships could be used to transport passengers, move explorers, and survey the lost lands. All had flight decks and hangers allowing them to carry small patrols of fighter planes for defense. Each group wagered a massive an entry fee and had agree to certain terms. The race would be handled in several leg, taking the ships across the Atlantic from the coast of Spain. The vessels would then run a series of location heats across North and Central America. The prize? That remains rumored. Few have spoken, but the terms convinced seven to enter and expend vast sums. Add to that the chance for publicity and exploration of lands cut off from the rest of the world.

10. Your Patron: One of the strongest industrial collectives to have arisen in recent years has been Goldens House, headquartered in the Seville City-State (formerly Spain). The original company came together from a marriage of several trading families in the mid-1800’s. They saw the writing on the wall and worked to come to terms with locals and workers. This allowed them to weather the storm of revolution and commercial disasters. Even when communications broke down in the darkest days, they kept a network of international family members passing reports and warnings. They’re considered the key player supporting Seville which has come to control most of the Southern Iberian Peninsula as well as the northern coast of Morocco and Algeria. Some other industrial powers regard them with suspicion, whispering that their ideals line up more with the revolutionaries than established nations, companies, and nobilities. The current heir to Goldens House is Nur Al-Taneen. Over objections of her board, she will be personally commanding the maiden flight of the Osprey de Acero.

11. Your Mission: The Osprey de Acero is a wonder, a massive flying vessel designed to carry personnel safely, transport goods, and eventually open up lost areas. The vessel will be armed and equipped with at least two flights of planes to act as a defense against air pirates, flying monsters, and other strange occurrences. As well it is one among several competitors, and the terms of the race are a little open. You and your compatriots have hired on as members of the “B” team. This means you act as support, backup technicians, and emergency pilots. Some of you have been hired for talents outside of your piloting and engineering, some of you have been assigned here because of a clouded past.

12. Take to the Skies: While ground transport remains a vital and important mode of transportation, flight has become crucial to the development and reconnection of regions and peoples. In many areas, the plane has become as ubiquitous as the automobile did in the early 20th Century. Larger flying vessels, buildings, and “towns” serve as modern caravans and circuses. As well, there’s a modern planes and gyrocopters- dashing pilots and daring aviatrixes. Flying companies and mercenary groups have developed, often in response to sky pirates and aerial banditry.

13. Changes: As the 19th Century crept to a close, with the leviathan of the Aurichalc gripping the globe, many thought the worst had passed. Then, as the last year of the century waned, new plagues exploded. Over several weeks, in one form or another, it struck widely separated communities, hitting every region of the world. The plague changed people, altering their physiology. Most died as their bodies became alien to them. Some caught in the zones underwent no changes or ill effects. Only the young survived, and even they had a significant mortality rate. They became different: slight shifts in appearance, slight modifications to their physiology, new flaws and limitations. It became known as the Changeling Plague, the Tithing, or the Coming of the Night Children. To some the changes made these transformed seem like legends or myths come to like: pointy ears, glowing eyes, bizarre stockiness. The same affected population could result in many different forms, some like the so-called Selkie, more inhuman than others. Those who survived the plague often suffered at the hands of their neighbors and countrymen. Populations were scattered, interred, or murdered. Some joined with the Aurichalc where they could. Others tried to hide their condition. But the singular outbreak of the plague was not the end as the changed and unchanged survivors of the plague gave birth to a new generation of these new humans.

14. Communications: Planes and vessels use Aetheric communication technology, like radio but clearer. It has a relatively short range, but can be run through relay towers with only modest noise gain. Some planes have larger arrays, and some have these connected to scanners or other scientific instruments. In particular some recon planes can transmit back the images from their Aetheric Scatter Positional Sensors (or ASPS).

15. Monsters: They made monsters, many of them. And while their numbers have diminished, many still remain. Some had radical and experimental forms, while others harkened back to old stories. Dragons, in particular, have proven to be a continual threat to sky security. Pilots in the highest altitudes have claimed to have encountered stranger beasts, seemingly stolen from the depths of the ocean. Tales abound of Sky Pirates who have co-opted or domesticated the most dangerous creatures, but that’s clearly a stratagem to enhance their reputation. Most monsters of flesh and bone do possess a traditional adversary, their robotic counterparts. Monstrous automatons have been seen battling against horrors of flesh and bone. The wise, however, make themselves scarce during such encounters.

16. New Maps: Pre-Aurichalc maps and globes are mere curiosities anymore. Beautiful as they may be, they reserve no more interest than the lowest souvenirs of the more-glorious human past. Why? Because they lack the single-most important monitor of borders, populations and legal ownership: beacons. Every population of significant size, every region possessed of some security, any community with aspirations to any designation greater than a compound maintains at least one unique beacon. A good-sized city boasts a network of beacons of differing signal types, sending out messages that contain hierarchies of identification--nation, region, city, alliances.  As well, these places maintain monitoring stations of all sorts to track signals coming in, sputtering out and changing affiliation. Newspapers contain columns of beacon designations along with the most recent signal & messages--this is how many immigrants and travellers keep tabs on their home regions, but also how the populace as a whole tracks the state of nations, of war & peace and prosperity.  Some people monitor as a hobby, making their own stations from kits and keeping records of the signals. (Think ham radios (spoken & code) or even CB radios (specialized lingo) as a hobby--also some of the signal types are more like seismography or light signals.)

17. Recruiters: Since Ruthven’s Challenge, there has been a scramble for expertise.  Academia has lost luminaries to conveniently timed sabbatical requests. Guides, monster hunters and quartermasters of any note have been scarce for the hiring.  Retirements abound in air navies throughout the re-civilized nations.  There are even rumors of kidnappings of cartographers and signalmen.  The lucrative offers for race staff have attracted the most brilliant stars of exploration, and most of these experts are meant for the respective War Rooms of their employers.  More a concept than an actual room, these experts gather to confer over plans, new intelligence and the goals at hand to hatch tactics most advantageous to their consortium.

18. Challenges: While details are scant, it’s clear that the aerial dreadnaughts and their crews are expected to stage a number of successful expeditions along the way. The original specifications for the race provided by Ruthven are not generally known, but the air of excitement and breadth of experts being collected by the competing consortiums suggest a range of targets. Rumors are flying about one industrialist instructing his recruiters to ‘hire for a series of scientific and art scavenger hunts...lists and clues and confounded puzzles!’.

19. Sky Salons: As the time has drawn closer to the advent of the race, it’s become clear that almost all of the sky-liners are selling tickets and promising luxurious accommodations and entertainments to those who can pay the price.  Bands, musicians, singers, popular entertainers and even an orchestra or two have apparently been booked -- and newspapers are full of sketches and articles describing ballrooms, stages and viewing decks. 

20. To What End? Maps of the expedition course are expected of course--but inquiries and gathered experts suggest that each of the consortium may be mapping different priorities.  Goldens seems intent on last-known, now-silenced or irregular beacons; another seems to be chasing down scraps and rumors about mines, another about orchids.  Some suspect that each of the contenders may have individual non-overlapping win conditions--and others suggest that these are simply independent opportunities that each competitor hopes to profit from.

21. Batten the Hatches: Much of the preparation of these dreadnaughts has been converting them from vessels intended to travel established territories to readiness to face a multitude of threats beyond mundane piracy.  Great creativity in gunnery and deck battlements is evident--but whispers of aetheric shields, nets and beams abound.  Certainly, many remember the wild days when the skies darkened regularly with monsters, swarms, hostile vessels and strange probes loosed by the Aurichalc.  Experience suggests that ships will need an array of different protections and offenses to keep away the threats that are certainly teaming over the foreign wilderness.

22. Monster Lore: Aerial veterans of the days when the Aurichalc’s creations roamed know that many of the preparations are fitting the dreadnaughts and their small-bodied fleets to carry out the modifications needed to avoid or deter many of those creatures--at a minimum, each craft must be able to travel for some time at near silence, be able to create a cacophony and, for the smaller craft, to ‘lure’ with rhythmic metallic noise to draw off the most dangerous predators from the big open decks of their parent ship.

23.  Bringing You the World: Each ship has a aetheric radio room and each competitor has been allotted two slices of time each day, one during daylight and the other on the overnight, designated for updating sponsors and their supporters with news of their progress and to show off their wit and style--a variety hour of discussion, news and music.  The intent is to create 24 hours of race programming for the duration of the event.  Test broadcasts are already immensely popular.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wuxia World: Draft Notes

Yesterday I backed Max Nervieux's Legend of the Elements Kickstarter. I pulled the trigger in part based on Dr. Tom's interview with him and part on my love of the genre.  I haven't yet had a chance to look at the draft, and I'll probably hold off for a little while longer. Agfter I got back from Gen Con, inspired by The Warren and Worlds in Peril, I started sketching out a PbtA Wuxia hack. Designer Renee Knipe had worked on something like that, coming from the direction of Monsterhearts. Her take on it is leaner & stronger, and focused on the personal interactions. I'm not sure where mine's aimed. Or rather I know whee I want it aimed, but I'm still thinking about it. Anyway, I thought I'd post the rough sketches I've put together so far. I'll probably circle back and flesh it out again next month. 

OK this is a rough, rough starting draft of some ideas. I’m trying to figure out out how much I want to do classic martial arts films vs. how much I want to figure out how to do Feng Shui without over elaborate mechanics.

In my head, there’s a broad family to this genre, with several lines.
FRPG Wuxia: This has a mix of classical Chinese traditions mixed with fantasy elements. Essentially it wants to present a pseudo-China with magic. Scholars and sorcerers exist as playable classes. Big magic’s everywhere. You have lots of monsters. Weapons of the Gods (and the later Legends of Wulin); Qin; The Celestial Empire, and Dragon Lines all fit into this. For me the strong focus on cultural specificity and heavy magic-using PCs defines this.
Classic Shaw: Almost no “magic,” instead there’s some strange martial arts powers. Drama conflicts. Has a historical feel to it even when some of the situations become gonzo. Wing Chun, My Young Auntie, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Come Drink with Me; Heroes of the East.
Cities on Fire: Most of the modern stuff that aims for “real world” feel. Gun Fu and/or full on martial arts. Police Story, The Killer, Twin Dragons, Flash Point, Ong-Bak, Chocolate. Hong Kong Action Theater focuses on this.
Wuxia Novels: This is kind of a hybrid genre. It has magic and monsters, but they’re reserved as show-piece elements. Most sorcerors and wizards are clearly NPCs. The Supernatural’s usually dangerous. But truly weird and ludicrous martial arts forms exist as well. There’s a focus on relationships, conspiracies and betrayal. Movies: Crouching Tiger, The Duel, Painted Skin, Flying Guillotine, Storm Riders, The Four, Detective Dee, Dragon, The Guillotines, Chinese Ghost Story, Five Element Ninjas, Mr. Vampire, The Swordsman I & II, Green Snake, Bride with White Hair, Five Deadly Venoms, Dreadful Melody,   TV Series: Condor Hero, Handsome Siblings, Laughing in the Wind, The Patriotic Knights, Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain
What I’m aiming for is closest to this last one.

+2, +1, +1, +1, +0, -1

Damage and Debilities
Characters can take five harm. Once the last Harm box has been ticked, characters begin to take Last Breath tests (+Tough). On a 10+ the character stabilizes and regains one point of Harm. On a 7-9 the character either goes out and stabilizes or stays awake and marks a death tick. On a 6+ the character can either a) go out and take a single death tick or b) stay up and take two death ticks. Death ticks remain until dealt with by serious treatment. Five death ticks and you die.

Wuxia characters have a couple of additional conditions which can occur. Most conditions can be cleared by a recover action or bargaining with the GM to take a failure of some kind in place of a rolled success.

Rivalries: If a character has a rivalry with another character, they cannot use the Coordinate or Help moves with them. Characters can clear rivalries in several ways. If the rival character uses Help on them, the player may clear the rivalry. If the character sees his rival struck by a Hated Foe or another rival, they may opt to clear the rivalry. Players may also clear Rivalries through a series of interactions if they want- usually revealing a previous connection, shared interest or secret relationship between them.

Emotional Conditions: Classic debilities include things like Angry, Loss of Confidence, Sudden Fascination. These create changes in the fiction which the GM can compel- often to have events occur. The GM may also bargain to allow the player to clear these by taking a failure instead or a success or more randomly, by rerolling a success. Supernatural foes may create panic, dread, or chills, all of which may be compelled.

Crippling: A classic element of these genres is that characters may have their chi disrupted, their legs broken, or their hands pierced. Crippling a named foe may be a condition to defeating them. When a PC becomes crippled they will lose some kind of effectiveness, both in the narrative and mechanically.

Wuxia Hard Bargains
This genre features weird twists, complex conspiracies, strange revelations, and bizarre betrayals. Hard choices and bargains may revolve around establishing new fiction about the setting: “I succeed, but realize she’s my long lost sister,” or “I deal damage but recognize that my foe has also been taught by my master.”

More examples in the GM section. Complications for romantic entanglements. Misunderstandings as a huge part of things. These should be a central GM move. Sherri suggested that The Trickster might have a move to Clear the Air? Maybe one to Cause Misunderstandings.

Talk about how to handle twists and secrets- some players may not be cool with those revelations. One way is to see response and if it doesn’t go down well, then shift it to be simply a Misunderstanding. It turns out she wasn’t betraying you after all, it just looked that way. Advising caution about not pulling the rug out from under players- meta conversations about these elements in game.

Bonds and Hated Foes
Characters begin with five points worth of bonds. These can be established with fellow PCs or with NPCs- they can also be established on the fly. The max starting bond value is a +2. Players may burn a bond point to reroll, to clear Harm, or to remove a debility- if you can justify how your connection pushes you. This doesn’t necessarily represent a reciprocal bond, but how they push you forward. {Characters may have a max of 8 points worth of bonds}. Hated Foes are much the same; players may begin with 2 points of Hated Foes. These points may be burnt when opposing those foes.

Reputation/Respect: Another mechanic????


Battle Mooks
You cut through a mob of faceless enemies, Roll +Fight. On a 7-9 pick two of the options below, on a 10+ pick three. On a 6- you suffer a debility. Capture’s especially on the table as they swarm you.
  • Reduce Their Number (may be taken multiple times)
  • Push them Back
  • Keep Them From Something
  • Escape Encirclement
  • Reduce Harm
  • Dispirit Them

You battle against a named foe. Roll +Fight. On a 7-9 you do a Harm and may pick one of the options below, on a 10+ you pick two. If multiple heroes battle against a single foe, they may get in each other’s way. This can be avoided by using Help/Hinder. If multiple characters attack a foe without someone first taking the coordinate move, all characters suffer a -1 to their roll and the lowest roller(s) gain rivalry with the highest.
  • Do Additional Harm
  • Keep Them From Something
  • Move Them
  • Reduce Harm
  • Gain Respect
  • Make a Point
  • Allow Escape
  • Study Technique +1 Forward
  • Spot Weakness +2 Hold for other characters
  • Cripple- counts as two picks and Harm

Defy Danger
Roll +Tough when you’re faced with an unusual physical danger outside of combat. It can also include players dealing with Legendary Secret Weapons or techniques. They may not be able to fight back against these until they manage to develop a technique of their own. On a 10+, you do what you set out to, the threat doesn’t come to bear. On a 7–9, you stumble, hesitate, or flinch: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice.

Roll when you plan out a strategy for dealing with a named foe or foes. Roll +Wise or +Calm. On a 10+ all attackers gain +1 Forward. On a 7-9 the GM may offer you a hard bargain or you simply negate the -1 penalty and rivalry gain.

Deal with Strange
Roll +Calm or Odd when you’re faced with the strange, occult, or arcane. . On a 10+, you do what you set out to and keep yourself together. On a 7–9, you find yourself unnerved: the GM will offer you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or ugly choice. Strange effects usually cause debilities.

Roll appropriate stat. On a 10+ the object of your attention gains a +1/-1. On a 7-9 they gain that bonus/penalty, but you’re linked to any negative effect from the exchange (Harm, debilities, etc).

Demonstrate Prowess
You exert your presence in an artistic performance, in a contest of skill, making an impassioned speech, or the like. Roll relevant stat. On a 10+ you impress and convince. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain. If in direct competition against foes, the bargain will usually relate to them. Some competitions may have several legs, in which case the GM may keep a running total of your success rolls (bargains taken move the value up to a 10). In this case the GM may set a minimal total the player needs to obtain. The player may bargain to raise their results before the finish line.
Conceding is a kind of bargain, demonstrating intelligence. The GM will negate a previous hard choice if a concession is made gracefully. Common contest bargains include loss of reputation, revelation of weaknesses, endangering loved ones, or rivalries.

This game assumes characters can always perform great stunts and acts of acrobatics. This Move comes into play when two characters compete for something using such techniques. If two players compete, they declare which stat they wish to use. The winner gains control or achieves their objective before the loser. The loser gains “Rivalry” with the winner. The GM may offer the loser a chance to reroll, if they take a hard bargain (usually gaining the Angry debilitation). This switch only happens once.

A competition with another PC may have several legs or multiple competitors. Regardless, in any exchange each character can only gain a rivalry with a single person.

Sneak Past
You attempt to deceive or trick someone: stealth past a location, conceal an object, disguise your appearance, create a distraction. Roll +Wise. On a 10+ you succeed. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain. Keep in mind this genre often allows for weird and absurd stratagems.

Reveal Secrets
When you want to recall a piece of secret lore or study a scene for clues, roll +Wise. On a 10+ you may ask three questions; on a 7-9 you may ask two. You gain +1 Hold when using that information.
{Insert Typical Questions here}

Gather Info
When you want to pick up gossip on the street, read a room full of people, and assess an opponent, roll +Attractive.
{Insert Typical Questions here}

You may establish or develop a romantic bond with a character. This goes beyond mere flirtation. Roll +Attractive (- current level of bond?). On a 10+ you succeed in making a significant connection. You create or improve your bond with that character. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain. On a 6-, you will reduce any established bond and you will have fallout of some kind.

Roll +Tough. This requires downtime and a place to recover. On a 10+ the player may pick three from the list below. On a 7-9 they may pick two. Some debilities may require additional resources like a Chi doctor, a magic spring, or a return home to train and meditate.

Be Skillful
The character uses their talents to affect the physical world in some way: shattering a boulder, lifting up a massive object, disarming a trap, casting an oracle. Roll relevant stat. On a 10+ you succeed and may take 1 forward. On a 7-9 the GM will offer you a hard bargain to succeed. On a 6- your efforts have made things worse.

Deal With Spirits
You find a way past the unusual defenses of supernatural beings. Roll +Odd. On a 10+ you find a way to affect them as you would other foes. On a 7-9 you do so but there’s a significant cost involved.

New Technique
The character realizes that they must go off and develop a new technique if they are to succeed. Decide what foe or situation must be overcome. Roll +(the number of times you have faced that foe). On a 10+ you figure out a revolutionary solution. In some cases, you will use this to craft a new move. Often, this will allow you to overcome a foe’s invincible technique (deadly poison, head-cutting weapon, ghost form, golden armor). On a 7-9 the GM offers you a hard bargain- a cost either associated with the development or with the execution of the new technique.

Manipulate?? As a Move???

Defend?? As a Move???

Don’t exactly want to do playbooks, but maybe I should. If so, handled broadly: Exorcist, Monk, Weapon Master, Fighter, Trickster, Learned.

  • Trickster: Roll Calm for Gather Info and Sneak Past.
  • Drunken Master: You gain the Drunken aspect and lose a Respect. You have a +1 ongoing to your Fight and Tough, but a -1 to all other stats.
  • Master Planner:
  • Brother & Sister in Arms:
  • Manipulator: Roll Attractive for Sneak Past. Begin with two extra bonds and higher max bonds.
  • Animal Forms
  • Iron Skin
  • Signature Weapon
  • Lightfoot Master
  • Alchemist
  • Gadget Master
  • Big Family
  • Filial Duty
  • Master of Disguise
  • Hidden Stance
  • Forbidden Style
  • Secret Technique
  • Secret Weapon
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Exorcist Technique to innovate anti-supernatural elements on the fly. Perhaps they have the Deal with Spirits move exclusively. Otherwise requires heading outside of combat.
  • Something to heal in combat
  • Other exorcist things: Detections, revealing disguise, finding signs, magic items which contains caught things, wardings, item for bonus harm vs. supernatural. Should still have decent general abilities so they don’t get too locked in.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part 14: 2010)

When we’ve hit the end of a decade on past lists, I’ve reviewed some of the Post-Apocalyptic media from that era. This time I had enough items I opted to split the decade in half. This covers 2000 to 20004. I’ve probably missed some items here, so chime in if you see a gap.

Movies: On the Beach (2000), Battlefield Earth (2000), Titan AE (2000), Left Behind (2000), A.I. (2001), Final Fantasy: Spirits Within (2001), Kairo (2001), Equilibrium (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), Reign of Fire (2002), le Temps du Loup (2002), Casshern (2004),  Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Post Impact (2004), Idiocracy (2004)

There are some bad films there. No good-bad like Hell Comes to Frogtown, but “we spent good money to make you mutant meh” bad. Still we get the awesome Kairo and about ten minutes of Casshern is awesome.

Books: Demons (Shirley2000), Mortal Engines (Reeve, 2001), Idlewild (Sagan, 2001), Night of the Triffids (Clark, 2001), The Peshwar Lancers (Stirling2001), The Years of Rice and Salt (Robinson, 2002), The Butlerian Jihad (2002), Snowfall (2002), Oryx and Crake (Atwood, 2003), Clade (Budz 2003), The City of Ember (Du Prau, 2003), Vampire Earth (Knight, 2003), The Taking (Koontz, 2003), Cloud Atlas (Mitchell, 2004), Fitzpatrick’s War (Judson, 2004), Uglies (Westerfield, 2004).

I have a love/hate relationship with Idlewild. It’s intriguing most of the way through but the ending feels a little cheaty.

Television: Andromeda (2000), Dark Angel (2000), Smallpox (2002), Jeremiah (2002), Encrypt (2003), Battlestar Galactica (2003)

Comics:  Just a Pilgrim (2001), Y the Last Man (2002), The Walking Dead (2003)

Manga/Anime:  Saikano (2000), Battle Angel Alita (2000), X/1999 (2001), Overman King Gainer (2002), Wolf’s Rain (2003), Dragon Head (2003), Appleseed (2004), Deus Vitae (2004), Planetarian (2004), Desert Punk (2004)

Dragon Head is freaky. Really, really freaky.

Video Games: Earth 2150 (2000), Gunlok (2000), Carmageddon 3 (2000), Final Fantasy X (2001), Sin and Punishment (2001), Fallout Tactics (2001), Ace Combat 4 (2001), Project Eden (2001), Halo (2001), AquaNox 2 (2002), Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002), Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003), Half Life 2 (2004), SMT: Nocturne (2004), Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004)

Didn’t think Wind Waker was post-apocalyptic until someone pointed out that Hyrule has been flooded and devastated.

To keep this list easy to read I’ve tightened the years covered. As we get closer to the present the lists expand and contract weirdly. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting material or sourcebooks. I consolidate “spin-off” and miscellaneous supplements into a single entry. For example at the end you'll see round-up entries with post-apocalyptic elements. Given the number of great things published I haven't included everything I want. I try to list revised editions which significantly change a line or present a milestone. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I skip freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published in 2010). I've arranged these by year and then alphabetically within that year.

History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs (Part One: 1976-1984)
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs

Apocalypse World is tremendous game. It gets a great deal of love and attention for the mechanics. It created division for its language and commands to the GM. But I’ll leave that for other reviews and comments. How well does Apocalypse World function as a post-apocalyptic game?

Because I’ve gone through so many of these games, I instinctively want to put Apocalypse World in a box. Where do I sort it? It has a Mad Max feel, but it’s not treading the same ground as octaNe or Redline. It isn’t the gonzo of Gamma World or Mutant Future, but it does have some strangeness baked in. It isn’t the gunlove of Twilight 2000 or Morrow Project, but it does have violence as a critical element of the play. Vincent Baker has said he hadn’t done much with other post-apocalyptic games and I can believe that. It feels like it’s taken themes hinted at in other media (Doomsday, Thunderdome, The Road, Jeremiah) but created something creatively new.

Apocalypse World focuses on people. Players pick a playbook for a character type, no duplicates. We’ve seen archetypes and templates in other games, but the physicality of the handout and the immediate uniqueness focuses the experience. And the playbooks say a lot about the background. AW doesn’t spend any time talking about the world, not even to the GM (Master of Ceremonies) here. It knows the players have a vision of these places look like. It doesn’t have to have a history, gazetteer, or even an explanation of how things fell apart. That’s not important.

Yet we do get a strongly conveyed world, a sense of what life in this place is like. Again, the playbooks carry this weight. We see the importance of tech and scavenging, not for ancient artifacts but gear for survival. We see that force and violence exist everywhere, but that they have a cost. Most importantly we learn that people are tools and double-edged swords. Relationships and connections bleed into everything.  More than anything else the Moves, the things the game structures rules for you to do and do interestingly, show what the plays going to be like. You know this isn’t going to be like other games.

When I showed AW to a friend who was preparing a Fallout game he was a little thrown off. I’d only just gotten the book so I hadn’t groked it, but it had “Apocalypse” in the title. Looking back now I can see why. It might have a similar premise, but tonally it goes in another direction. You might be able to bring a Fallout skin to AW, but it wouldn’t be Fallout. That isn’t to say AW doesn’t work with other games. It can, but in particular ways. Sourcebooks for other games can be useful for the GM, helping them build the fluff and giving them apocalyptica to barf forth. And AW can perhaps show you how you might make another PA game more intimate, more human. But that being said, Apocalypse World knows what it wants to do and sticks by it. It has a vision of the world and the play. In other games that might serve as a straight-jacket, but instead that weirdly opens it up. It isn’t for everyone, but it remains a great game and a great resource for anyone seriously engaging with what life would be like in these settings.

While Baker hasn’t published any big supplements for the game, you can find a ton of fan-made material on the web. A second edition of AW is currently in playtest.

Please, PLEASE tell us what the game's about early in your rulebook. And not in vague terms, like "a game of extraordinary people doing interesting things." As well don't count on your audience reading the game fiction you put at the front. Somewhere in some of the first pages or on the back cover, give us the premise: clearly and directly. It took a lot of hunting to glean that Archetype offered a fantasy post-apocalyptic game. In it, monsters have taken over the world and the only way to battle them is taking on their powers and essence. That's not a bad concept and the game has several things going for it: nice color artwork and a Tarot-based resolution system. On the other hand, the setting’s vague presentation and a 48-item glossary straight out of WW make me nervous. The general mechanics of attributes and skills also owe more than a little to WoD. The game's $15 as a 95 page pdf ($30 for the softcover). That's a little high for me. But if you're intrigued by Tarot-based mechanics or really like slightly unspecified fantasy post-apocalyptic settings you might check it out.

I'm always unsure where to put these "Dying Earth" games. They're end of days, and the world fell and changed long ago...but that's so far in the past as to be a forgotten dream. Books like Dancers at the End of Time, Castle Brass, and The Dying Earth have this feeling. We’ve seen a few games on these lists as well. Most have a mythical or dreamlike quality (Low-Life, La Terre Cruese, and maybe Polaris if you read it that way). In any case, Chronicles of Future Earth offers a strange and far future world. A BRP sourcebook published by Chaosium, on the one hand it feels a like Dark Sun, on the other like Dune. So perhaps that combined with a more serious version of Dying Earth? Or perhaps it’s just a wonderful and weird pastiche. I liked it when I read through it, but at the same time the completeness and detail of the setting threw me off a little. You have a lot of strange and alien races and assumptions to get across to the players. They're well presented, as you'd expect from the ever-excellent Sarah Newton (Mindjammer). She never talks down to the readers and potential GMs. She gores for high-concept and plays it through. That can be intimidating. But it remains a great read. If you like weird sci-fantasy, I recommend this book.

This might not seem post-apocalyptic, but I’ll keep claiming it is. It just feels that way to me. The English Civil War ends with the death of Charles I...or it would end but that murder instead breaks the Divine Right of Kings and shatters something in the world. The conflict continues between the alchemically backed Royalists and the Clockwork Roundheads. But order has broken down, and society has been splintered. Different factions and faiths wander and struggle for the souls of the world. There's a sense of isolation, with villages left alone and waiting for the rest of the end times to come. Think post-apocalyptic by way of A Field in England.

Clockwork & Chivalry doesn't have to be played post-apocalyptic. You could do a conventional military game. But I love the idea of the old world ending, and an uncertainty about what comes next. If you like historical games, I recommend checking this out. You can see my comments on the 1st edition core and the Divers and Sundry sourebook.

At first choosing Dark Sun as a core D&D 4e setting puzzled me. But in retrospect it makes sense. Dark Sun stands out from any other world and has a clear and direct path of play. Birthright's more niche, Al-Quadim is more echoing than original, and Mystara's close to Forgotten Realms. Still…why no Planescape or Spelljammer? Dark Sun offers a fantasy setting of dead gods and polluting magic. It once had a distinct and striking look in the TSR days, with Brom’s artwork the cornerstone. The 4e version loses that look and so it blends in with the rest of the line. WotC decently supported this setting with a creature book, several modules, and many electronic adventures for organized play. A lot of people love this Dark Sun, though some object to the truly weird stuff in the later TSR edition. I'll be curious if WotC returns to this well with 5e or decide it has run dry.

6. Deluge 
A short, systemless setting by Brad Murray (Hollowpoint, Diaspora). It has rained for a hundred years. Our world crumbled as the water levels rose, the ice caps melted, and temperatures slowly climbed. The book suggests that any game played be set in your hometown, combining these ideas with your personal experience. Deluge provides systemless information, like typical character archetypes, but then talks about what to consider when adapting that to a game. It's a great approach which other universal supplements could benefit from. The game includes randomized tools for building the world, ideas on challenges & opposition, and suggestions for what to do in this world. Deluge is a smart, short (34 text pages), and useful supplement. It’s great as a setting, inspiration for similar apocalypses, and model for how to present information. It is currently available PWYW on RPGNow.

A cute, light indie rpg. A Kickstarter version superseded the original in 2012, offering graphical improvements. It dresses up the original game and made it more presentable without bloating the book. In Engine Heart humanity has died. But it has left behind many robots. But unlike many robopocalypses, in the aftermath you play tiny and unobtrusive service robots. There's a simple resolution system with characters built on a set of skills connected to three tracks (Intelligence, Chassis, Crux). A few figured stats complement these. Character also pick some additional features (arc welder, solar powered) and defects (high maintenance, overheating). The game weirdly gives little direction of the GM (or Programmer) as to what play looks like and what characters should be doing. There's a page or two, plus an example of play, but that's it. Engine Heart is currently free on RPGNow, so if you're at all intrigued you should check it out.

aka Gamma World 7th edition aka Gamma World 4e. This edition offers the most radical reworking of the original game by far. Rather than a distant or near future nuclear apocalypse, it posits a reality warping effect. Though...looking around at the various publisher blurbs and reviews from the time, you might not realize that. Instead these focus on mechanics and presentation. It's a little odd. Though I knew GW7/4e had changed the background, I had to hunt around for a long time to find a good synopsis. Essentially a Swiss Supercollider crashes together many possible realities into one. I like the idea, because anything can happen...BUT.

…It sounds like Rifts and other kitchen sink games, but it looks like Gamma World. I'm not sure how I feel about that. There's a deliberately light and funny tone to the material which underlines the absurdity rather than embracing it. Still it has a lot of the classic elements: weird creatures, robots, fragments of old tech, random mutations, so perhaps it is still "my" Gamma World. (Hey you kids, get off of my lawn.)

This Gamma World comes in a big box, looking much like a starter set. In some ways it is. It uses a digest sized book and has lots of flashy bits (maps, tokens, and cards). It builds on D&D 4th edition, offering a particular feel and a focus on balanced combat and builds. GW sticks close but makes a few changes. WotC notably shut off the possibility of third parties making new items for GW. I don't know if that helped or hindered the game. I do know that I skipped on it because of the cards. The main box includes two sets of cards covering general mutations and one shot mutant abilities. There's the idea that the continuing reality warping means anyone could change at any time. That's great and I love card-based support materials. But WotC opted to release more cards in random booster packs. Nope. I'd seen that before and it never turned out well.

Most gamers I knew who picked this up skipped the additional cards. And most really liked what they saw of the game. WotC supported GW modestly, but it felt like they didn't know what to do with the line. I suspect the middling success of this means we won't see a version based on D&D 5e, at least not from WotC itself. You can find copies of this out in the wild. If you're curious about the Gamma World, there are few better places that Critical Hit's assembled resources on it. Reviews, character sheets, new tools. That's a great place to start.

A Belgian rpg set in a near-future devastated by pollution. The title comes from the Latin for Free Will. Humanity has retrated to megaplexes and supernatural forces rule the outside world. It has a dark feeling to it, perhaps close to something like Armageddon from Eden? The reviews suggest it has serious problems with layout and presentation. It seems to be an amateur publication, but one with an ISBN and physical copy. It uses a resource-spend mechanic for resolution, not one of my favorites. 

10. Robotica 
A chunky (360 pages) Polish rpg. And it has an English translation from last year clocking in at 472 pages(!). It is notably sequestered in the adult section of RPGNow. And before I go on, I have to quote from the publisher's blurb there:
Clocks are no more mere time counting tools. Every jolt of the pointer is symbolic - ticking is similar to that of a bomb detonator, promising a sudden explosion... It is just an empty hope for a painless finale. Existence is hard to discern from torture. When a man is at the brink of his limits, the fate kicks him in the corner, leaves him to catch some breath. It is back only when the victim is standing on its own again. It seems that torturing a helpless victim is not providing fatum with enough satisfaction.

In this dark future, Corporations have taken over and then abandoned a devastated Earth. You play characters left behind in this wasteland, monitored by the Corps and battling against DESTRO. (note: Not from Cobra, instead a rogue electronic force). Players can be robots, mutant humans, cyborgs, or even weirder things. The game has several modes: pulp to grimdark and smooth to crunchy. It reminds me a little of Systems 
Failure and GURPS Reign of Steel. If this kind of mechanical dystopian world appeals to you, read the extensive blurb at RPGNow (which has a book length of "about 1,000,000 characters" as a selling point).

News has gone around that with the new Chaosium reorganization, they will discontinue their "Monograph" series. These fan-made, sometimes lightly edited, projects for CoC and BRP ranged widely in quality. Some could be great, but others missed the mark. There's a world of difference between Rubble & Ruin and the already mentioned Chronicles of Future Earth, and in more than theme. I'd hoped for a generic toolkit for BRP Post-Apocalyptic campaigns. But R&R has a specific, near future setting it wants to play out. It clearly comes from elements developed for an ongoing house campaign. It has the feel of a '70's PA game, but less gonzo. Like Gamma World dialed down several degrees. The near-future nature means that the setting can't really go too crazy. A little over half of the book's devoted to system mechanics and new BRP rules (cyber enhancements, gangs, prospecting, etc). As I understand it the rapidly evolving nature of "core" BRP means that some of these don't fit with what later became canon. If you like BRP (in the Chaosium, Legendary, RQ6 or other flavors) then you might find this a useful product.

I'm struck by how many love letters to early gonzo we've seen on these lists. Games breathing in and out  the weird of the earliest editions of Gamma World. Or at least the GW before they shook it up to make the world  coherent. I didn't see throwbacks like that on the Horror or Steampunk lists. The closest would be games aping the style and presentation of White White books, Nosferatuclones. In Supers we saw some games hearkening back to the central mechanic of older games (FASERIP and its many offspring). But games like S&SS fall pretty close to the Gamma World tree...before running off on spindly, mutated legs.

Sorcery & Super Science takes place several hundred years in the future. In the early 22nd Century an explosion of the weird began the break down the old laws of nature and humanity. Eventually conflicts shattered the moon and brought devastation across the world. Survivors formed enclaves and new peoples appeared, including mutants of all kinds. The game focuses on the classic explore, exploit, and exterminate formula. But it does that with a good mix of humor and clever concepts. It has gonzo, but it rarely points at it. Instead it plays the straight man. So the when the picture of a mutant cactus cowboy shows up, we don’t dwell on it. The art reminds me of classic Gamma World and After the Bomb, though the quality never rises to that level. S&SS has a class system, called "catalysts" and a new resolution mechanic. This "floating dice system" seems a little clunky when I read it; I'd have to actually see it in play.

Is it good? I've enjoyed what I've read of it. I recommend checking out the 48-page quick start, The House of Blue Men. The smart and careful Johann Four has a lengthy review worth reading. He likes it, though sees some weakness in the presentation. However Intelligent Cactus Gunfighter in a Duster invalidates that. Expeditious Retreat Press has supported the game with many pdf supplements on lost items and new creature. They're short, but might be useful for GMs running these kinds of games.

13. Roundup: Zombies
What's the plural for a large group of zombies? A gaggle? A zaggle? I'm guessing a horde, but that's a little generic. We need a special word for it. Anyway 2010 presents us with a murder of Zombie rpgs:

Against the Dead tries to stand out as a ZRPG by using popular system, in this case d20 Modern. However, Against the Dead does comes to that a little after that system's run its course. The publisher material suggests that it aims for a fast version of those rules. One interesting concept is that the zombie campaign arc breaks into three eras: Emergence, Ascendance, and Apocalypse. The goals and available mechanics vary between those. Also, though the cover and company blurbs suggest a conventional and realistic survival, apparently you can also play magic users in Against the Dead. That’s a significant split from the game's general presentation.

Outbreak: Undead positions itself as both an rpg and a survival guide. That at least makes it stand out from the crowd. However usually I'm looking for game-able material. OBUD It has a number of flaws which make it not the kind of game I like. I'm not fond of systems which have you make a character based on yourself. I know exactly how long I'll survive in that environment. The layout and graphic design- done as survivor notebooks- feels forced. It is also irritating to read. Others may embrace the verisimilitude of this approach.

War of the Dead offers a series of chronological zombie survival scenarios, tracing the outbreak and collapse of civilization. It uses Savage Worlds, but could be easily adapted to other ZRPG systems. Three collections bring together the individual weeks together into a three act structure (so far).

Z-Corps is a French ZRPG set primarily in America. That's a little funny to me, but says something about the thematic connection between the zombies and a decayed US. Maybe? Or perhaps Redneck zombies just seems more cool than whatever the French equivalent would be. Z-Corps uses the D6 system, which may dig for the ease of play. It appears to still be in print and have several supplements (including Denver and Savannah sourcebooks). 

14. Corner Cases
This year offers an odd mix of games that fall at the margins for various reasons. Some games dip their toes into the field. Many of the Game Chef designs for 2010 have a post-apocalyptic theme. OOH  The Fallout is a post-apocalyptic playset for Fiasco. As it says, "Mutants, motorcycle gangs and Rami’s Rat Kabobs."  Mirrors is a sourcebook for World of Darkness offering several new campaign frames. "The World of Darkness Destroyed" shows how to run the various supernaturals in the wake of a global apocalypse. It isn't Monte Cook's World of Darkness, which has a strong and clear focus. Instead its a tooolkit for running these kinds of games.

Some corner case games have minimal information available. Neuhanse is a Finnish rpg done as a public beta. Set in the Baltic Sea in 2070 following an apocalypse, the game doesn't seem to have been taken any further. COLLAPSE is a pdf-only self-published PA game. It looks like near future maybe?

Two others are interesting but lie right on the edge. More disaster than PA, Abandon All Hope, seems a little like Metamorposis Alpha, set in the immediate aftermath. are aboard a massive penitentiary spacehulk. However, something has gone terribly wrong- and an encounter with a dimensional rift has let "things" into our reality and...ok, let's just cut to the chase- they take Event Horizon premise, marry it to Pandorum and stick aboard a prison ship.

Dance of the Damned is card-based game, using a standard playing deck. This storytelling GM-less game sets up a basic situation and offers rules to allowing players to adjudicate and develop the narrative. Here the set-up echoes The Masque of Red Death or the frame of the Decameron. The characters have taken refuge in a castle to escape a plague ravaging the countryside. There's a competitive element to the game as players pass cards onto one another. Suits allow for different results and twists.