Sundog Millionaires: Pirates of the Mollek Nebula, Part One


Here’s the Adventure Log entry for this past session.

This past session was a little ((By which I mean a lot.)) less focused than the previous one. I presented the group with a fairly open plot – seek out the stolen MacGuffin – and let them decide how they wanted to solve it. Now, with most of the group coming from the D&D-style gaming experience, it’s taking them a little time to shift over to the more player-directed style of play that I’m using in Sundog Millionaires. I think I made a mistake in jumping right into such an open scenario so soon; a few more missions that get progressively more open may have been the way to go.

What I’m saying here is that I should have been providing a more clear path forward for the group, instead of dropping hints and waiting for them to construct their own path forward. The paradigm shift from D&D-style location-oriented adventures to player-directed adventures is a tricky one to make, and I should have been more on top of that.

All that said, the gang rose to the challenge. They took to the idea of creating advantage to give them help both solving the core mystery and arming themselves against future problems – essentially using create advantage for both investigation and planning.

I had a loose set-up of scenes that I could use to throw in the path of the characters, but I let the characters determine how they would pursue their goal, and they managed to dance around most of the early scenes. That’s okay, though, because they created their own interesting scenes – the entire Yan Retwin character and subplot ((Which evolved into the main plot, or at least unified with it, along the way.)) was a PC creation, as was the idea of a broker and setting up a meeting with the pirates.

As I say, the gang moved forward, but there was a lot of flailing about between things, as the group sifted everything they had just done and all the new information, looking for the “right” way to proceed. When I finally clued in that this is what was going on, I brought in the ninjas.

The ninjas in this case were a gang of thugs that I threw in to emphasize that time was passing, and that they had yet to actually come up with a complete plan ((Also because they were feeling a bit stymied, and I thought they could use a simple fight where they could be awesome and have fun.)). They made short work of the thugs, though the fight was a little more static than I expected. This was mainly because I had the bad guys box them in, so they stood there and fought, despite the fact that I had sketched in some interesting areas nearby ((An open market, full of stalls of stuff to get tipped over, and a loading bay with some crates and power loaders.)). I have to be a little more careful with the set-up of the conflicts, I think, to make sure that I provide enough opportunity for the characters to do cool, cinematic stuff.

They kept one thug to question, and managed to get information out of him. That meant I had to decide who had sent them, and why ((I didn’t bother deciding that beforehand because, if they took them all out, it wouldn’t matter. But they grabbed one even as they ran away from station security.)). I looked at the notes, and decided that Yan Retwin, whom the players decided was untrustworthy right from the start, had hired the legbreakers because he had an arrangement with Jyn Starfell, captain of the pirates.

That was about time to stop for the evening. I hadn’t planned on this adventure stretching over two sessions, but that’s what happened. For the second session, I’m going to try and provide a clearer path forward ((Without railroading – that’s always the balancing act. But making the session about the opposition being proactive should do that fairly well.)), and throw in some more action.

And that session happens tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Firefly: Something Rotten in Heaven

We had a long weekend here in Canada this past weekend. That made it a perfect weekend to take advantage of the extra day off to fit in the first session of our Firefly RPG campaign. We had completed setting and character creation a couple of weeks back, and I managed to get our setting details typed up just barely in time for the the game on Sunday evening.

Now, because I am a lazy bastard, I wound up getting up Sunday morning with only the vaguest idea of what the adventure for that evening would be. I had some thought about converting over one of the Echoes of War scenarios to remove the canon PCs and fit it into the campaign frame the players had come up with, but that didn’t feel like I was giving enough play to the work everyone had done on the setting creation ((But I hasten to add that the Echoes of War scenarios are all very good. I recommend them unreservedly. And each one comes with all the rules you need to play, so it’s a great way to try the game out.)).

I whined about this on Twitter, and Cam Banks immediately ((It might not have been immediately, but it sure seemed that way.)) responded with a great suggestion:

Use the Leverage tables and tweak!

I had completely forgotten about the great set of tables in the Leverage RPG designed to let you put together a job for your crew of criminals very quickly. The campaign frame for this game meant that the Crew were not criminals ((I was, frankly, agog at that development.)), but instead were subcontractors for someone who held an Alliance contract to carry mail. Still, I figured that I’d give the tables a whirl, and see if I could twist things enough to get them to fit our game. This is what the dice gave me:

Client: Politician/Public Servant

Problem: Framed

Pressure: Police refuse to help; running out of money

Mark: Financier

Mark’s Angle: Greedy, hardnosed

Mark’s Power: Wealthy

Mark’s Weakness: Guilty conscience

Mark’s Vulnerability: Family

Who Else is in Play?: The Vizier

The Twist: It’s personal

Given those factors, and the fact that one of the issues of the game is the lawlessness and corruption of the Rim and Border planets, I boiled these issues down to the following points.

  • Annie Pan, the Federal Marshall based in Bao on Heaven, is a moderately friendly face for the crew. She’s been framed for accepting bribes, and is in jail awaiting trial on corruption and conspiracy charges.
  • The person who has framed her is local business mogul Bunmei Ndiaye, who wants to bring the lucrative flower block market ((See, Heaven has a weird terraforming flaw. It produces beautiful flowers, but they all emit the same kind of smell as a corpse flower. This makes the whole planet stink. But the flowers, encased in clear substances like glass, crystal, or acrylic, are popular exports. Thus, flower blocks.)) under the control of his collective, meaning him and his cronies.
  • Marshall Pan ((That’s the first time I’ve typed that pair of words out. I’d like to claim it was a sly reference to the European Recovery Plan, but it’s just a fluke.)) was concerned about the collective violating anti-trust laws, and so Ndiaye framed her and replaced her with a more… compliant head lawman, Noel Antoniak.
  • Ndiaye’s chief assistant, Gisela Novak, had some undetermined shady ties in case I needed to bring in a gang of skilled criminals to make the crew’s life difficult.

The canny observer might notice that I’ve pretty much ignored mark’s weakness and vulnerability, as well as half the pressure. I kept the notes of these things, but I’ve found that, in Cortex Plus – particularly the Action iteration, like Leverage or Firefly – it’s easier, more fun, and creates a more organic, surprising story to leave a lot of the oppositional details up to the system of Complications. As the game played out, I didn’t really need that stuff ((But if I had needed it, it was there for me to use.)).

The last bit of prep I did was putting together some stats for the various NPCs. I used the archetypes from the rulebook for three of the major NPCs – Annie Pan, Gisela Novak, and Bunmei Ndaiye. Then I stole the sheriff stat block from the intro adventure for Noel Antoniak. And then I spent three minutes writing up stats for minor NPCs – Cops d6, Thugs d6, and Hit Squad (Physical d8, Shoot d8, Fight d8, Knives d6).

Start to finish, prep for the first session took me less than an hour. I giggled about that, and did a little dance.

So, how did things play out? Well, I put together a first scene, with the crew arriving on Heaven, and being greeted by Antoniak who shook them down. I figured that would get them invested enough to go poking into what had happened to their old friend Annie, and I was right.

Almost too right. Walter, being a former lawman himself, got a little cute with Antoniak and his bully-boys and wound up arrested for assault ((Shackled d8 complication, that quickly got stepped down to a d6.)). The fact he kept asking about Annie – who was currently awaiting trial on charges of accepting bribes and conspiring with criminals – increased suspicion about him ((Also the fact that he was being a complete belligerent dick to the cops.)). His plan was, apparently, to get arrested and put in the same cell as Annie, but I really couldn’t see that happening once he kept asking about her. Even these cops weren’t that incompetent. Instead, he “fell down” a few times and wound up in his own little cell ((Me: Take a Beat to Crap d6 complication. Walter: On top of the Shackled d6?. Me: No, just change Shackled to Beat to Crap. They’ve taken the shackles off. Walter: That’s how complications work? That’s cool!)).

After that first scene, though, things started grinding slow. I realized partway through the evening that I had forgotten some important things about running a Cortex Plus Action game:

  1. Skip the boring bits, and go to the action.
  2. Any plan is the right plan, because the characters know what they’re doing, even if the players don’t.
  3. Don’t sweat the details of the plan. That’s what assets and flashbacks are for.

Trying to get back into this mindset, I started pushing the characters a little bit more to be awesome and to get into the right mindset. But we are all steeped in the games of our past, and it was a tough shift for us all. Here’s an example:

Every time they did something illegal, they kept telling me they were wearing gloves. Now, in a more traditional game like D&D or Call of Cthulhu or even Trail of Cthulhu, that’s not only expected, it’s good play. But in Cortex Plus, they’re not going to leave fingerprints at the scene, because they’re competent professionals. Unless, of course, they roll a jinx and get a complication. And then it doesn’t matter what the player says, the character has encountered a problem. Wearing gloves? Fine. The police have a Hair Sample d6. Or they sneeze and set off the audio sensors. Or whatever.

That’s the mindset I need to embrace and share with the players.

So, yeah, the game was a bit rough. Not unexpected, because it was a first session. But it was still fun.

Eventually, they cleaned Antoniak out of all his cash at a poker table, found out who was backing him, and stole a package that was supposed to go to a Jiang Triad front to put in Ndaiye’s office. And Price Jiang, the pilot of Peregrine, had been arrested by Antoniak and was sitting in jail. The players were dithering here about the right order to do things in ((“We need to warn Price that we’re gonna do this.” “Okay, should we warn him before we steal the package, or before we get the package to Ndaiye, or before we…” “JUST DO SOMETHING!”)), so I stole the idea of the end-of-job Mastermind roll from Leverage: I got each character to decide how they were contributing, and put the appropriate skill die into the pool, along with all the assets they’d created throughout the game. Then, one player volunteered to essentially be the anchor, and threw in his/her attribute die, a distinction, and any signature assets that applied. I set the stakes in roughly the same way for the antagonists.

The players handily raised the stakes. So, suddenly Price was released, as was Annie, and Ndaiye was returning to his family home on Bellerophon. Novak, who had Yu Triad tattoos on her arms, was missing after her house burned down. And the Federal Marshalls were showing up to see who was messing with their duly licensed representative.

Summing things up, I was pretty frustrated in the early part of the game, because I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t clicking the way I thought it should. When I finally got my head on straight regarding the system, one of the players said, “Now it’s starting to feel like an episode of Firefly!” It’s a success, if not as smooth as I would have liked it to be.

To fix that, I am rereading the Episode Guide of the core rulebook ((I just realized I never wrote a review of the Firefly RPG core rulebook. I will have to remedy that.)). This chapter is so much better than any other episode guide I’ve seen, as it uses the summaries of the episodes to teach the game in small chunks, with hefty examples from the TV series. Sheer bloody brilliance.

Next session, I’ll be better prepared, rules-wise. And things’ll go smooth. Right? ((As I typed the question mark here, my iTunes shuffle started playing the theme song from The Weird Al Show. I guess that answers that, huh?))

Sundog Millionaires: Escape From Soab

sundogbannerLast Sunday, we finally managed to get the gang together for our first Fate Core Star Wars session. I spent the first part of the session going over how the system worked – the Ladder, rolling Fate dice, the different outcomes, the different action types, using Fate points, and compels. Then, we jumped into the actual adventure.

Those of you interested in a narrative account of what went on in the session, you can see it in the wiki Adventure Log. This post is going to be more of an analysis of the game from the GM’s point of view ((And, with the way the Obsidian Portal wiki is set up, I think this is going to be my pattern for this game.)).

Done reading? Okay. Here we go.

The first important thing I wanted to teach the group ((Because only two of them had played any real amount of Fate games before.)) was compels worked narratively. They understood the mechanics of compels, but I wanted to make clear that accepting compels ((And compelling themselves and each other.)) was shining a spotlight on that bit of the game that they felt was important. So, my plan ((Which I had discussed ahead of time with Jopsi’s player.)) was to have the gang retrieving something valuable from an archaeological site, and then compel Jopsi’s aspect Always Mixed Up With Smugglers to have some smugglers show up and try and take it from them. And then I’d wing the rest of the adventure.

It was a decent plan, as plans go. And, as plans go, it went almost immediately upon encountering the PCs. I started by saying that they were on a planet, and asked them where it was. They said it was in the Soort Cloud, and then Jowkabukk’s player jumped in with the idea that they’d had to drop out of hyperspace here because of the Sundog‘s Trouble aspect of Maintenance Backlog. That made me rather happy, as I tossed him a Fate point and changed the narrative to show that they had made an emergency landing on an unidentified planet to try and scavenge parts.

So, instead of a relic of a lost time, they were salvaging an ancient reactor set-up to get Sundog off the ground again. That didn’t mean I needed to abandon the idea of bringing in the smugglers, though; I had them start talking about hauling it back, and then had the smugglers show up, calling Jopsi out. I tossed Jopsi’s player a Fate point when I brought in the smuggler and, instead of waiting for me to tell them about who the fellow was, he started off telling me who the smuggler was. This was approximately the conversation:

Me, as smuggler: “Jopsi! I know you’re in there! Why don’t you come out and show me what you’ve found for us?”

Hal: “Is that Drago?”

Jopsi: “Nah, that’s Kaylan.”

Trask: “Why’s he after you?”

Jopsi: “I… might have… slept with his wife.”

And so I immediately added the aspect I Will Destroy Jopsi Tanoor! to Kaylan’s character, and Jopsi suddenly had a nemesis ((Which reminds me, I should talk to Jopsi’s player about the option of using the minor milestone from this session to reflect this. Not that he has to, but I need to make sure he’s aware of the possibility.)). That gave the whole fight a nicely personal touch. It also really drove home for the group how being compelled can make things awesome for your character.

And that, I think, was the final bit that made the game click for the group. The gang opened up, playing with compels and aspects, and really going to town in a fun, cinematic way. A few other highlights:

  • Jowkabukk using a forklift to push some smugglers into a radioactive fissure, then getting stuck in the driver’s cage as the forklift started following them, thanks to a compel of his Big For A Wookiee aspect.
  • HK-86 taking a Shorting Out moderate consequence in order to put the Supercharged ((I think it was a different aspect, but close enough.)) aspect on himself at the beginning of the fight.
  • Hal invoking the Soort Cloud aspect Here There Be Dragons to add the security droids to the mix.

They tied things up for the initial battle in pretty quick order, and I got to show them the concession rules, with Kaylan conceding when things turned dramatically against him, and again during the showdown at the Sundog, when Trask used the Jedi mind trick on him.

The final challenge in the scenario was escaping the now-activated defence platforms that were firing on them. I set it up as a zone they had to pilot through, with ten shifts of damage in it. For every shift generated by a piloting check, one shift of damage would be offset.

I have to say that I was thrilled at the way the group pulled together for this bit. Everyone did something to create advantage for the final piloting check. By the time the pilot ((Jowkabukk, if you care.)) rolled the dice, there were four or five aspects in play for him to invoke – for free – in his attempt. He managed the roll pretty handily, and the ship flew through the enemy fire without taking any damage.

We called it a night at that point, having had a pretty full evening. All in all, I am tremendously pleased with the way the game went. Everyone got into the spirit of Fate Core pretty quickly and, if there were a few moments of confusion and some missteps in the mechanics, well, that’s par for the course with a new system.

The best part was the almost audible click as they got it. That moment when they realized the power of aspects and the coolness of compels – the beating heart of the Fate Core system. When, led by the two DFRPG veteran players, the whole group made the realization that, in a conflict, Create Advantage is often a better tactical choice than Attack. And that unlocked a plethora of cinematic stunts and general coolness.

I’m looking forward to the next session.

Firefly: Crew, Ship, and ‘Verse

When we were starting our Pandemonium game, I offered the group the chance to play a Firefly RPG campaign, instead. I did this because we were coming to Pandemonium from an experiment with space opera ((Using the Ashen Stars game.)), and I wanted to give them the option of continuing with space opera in a new system, rather than jumping genres to super heroes. The decided to stick with the super heroes, and I’m fine with that.

But the little bit of thinking I had done about a Firefly campaign lodged in my brain and I couldn’t get rid of it. So, I invited some other friends to play in a Firefly campaign, and had four of them join.

We got together on Friday evening a couple of weeks ago and did the by-now-familiar process of game and character creation. I started with the Want/Do Not Want lists, as I’ve done for both Sundog Millionaires and Pandemonium, then we came up with the elevator pitch for the game, which is basically this:

Some time after the events of the Serenity movie, the crew of Peregrine are working under a subcontract to deliver mail and parcels from the Border and Core worlds out to the worlds of the Rim. Adventure ensues.

After the initial campaign structure was determined, we went into fleshing out the universe. The two main issues they came up with for the game were the lawlessness of the Rim and the time pressure of their contract deadlines, both of which fit, leading to a kind of Pony Express feeling for the game.

When it came to the locations and faces, they did something kind of interesting. In a lot of ways, they went at the creation process in a much more structured way than the other creation sessions I’d run ((Which were pretty loose and open, very much like brainstorming sessions.)). They’d start by picking a planet ((From my big map of the ‘Verse. Yep. I’m bragging.)), decide why it was important to them, and then proceed to fill in more detail – individual settlements, people, businesses, gangs, whatever.

They fleshed out four different planets, then called it done. At this point, it was still early enough ((One thing that saved time was that, unlike the other two game creation sessions, we didn’t create distinctions or aspects for the various locations, etc. The reason behind that was that distinctions work differently in Firefly than they do in MHR, so it would have either been wasted effort, or would have required me to come up with some way to use them in game, and I figured I should keep it simple. Turns out that it saved a lot of time to not worry about the distinctions/aspects if you don’t need them. But they really enhance Fate games or MHR, so I don’t regret having done them.)) that that we moved on to character creation. Character creation is pretty quick in Firefly – you pick three distinctions, which give you your basic skills and a few funky abilities, spend some extra points to customize, and then choose signature aspects and specialties. It would have gone more quickly/smoothly if I had seen the Master Distinction List on p344, but I missed that, and just printed the distinction list from the Find a Crew chapter. The list I printed had most of the distinctions, but there were a number of them that featured on the character sheets in the Find a Crew chapter but were not included in the list in that chapter. They all appeared in the Master Distinction List, though, so I wish I had printed that one out ((I found the Master Distinction List the day after the session. I sent e-mail to the players, telling them where to find it in the book, and that if they wanted to swap out some (or all) of their distinctions, I was fine with that. Some did, and some didn’t. But I felt better making sure everyone had a broader choice than I had initially offered them.)).

By this time, it was closing in on midnight, and I asked if folks wanted to finish up by creating their ship, or if they wanted to wrap up for the evening. When I explained what needed to be done to create the ship, they said that it shouldn’t take too long, because it was pretty much identical to the process for creating characters, except with discussion and consensus. So, they wanted to go ahead.

There were some interesting debates about the ship, but they ended up agreeing on what they wanted in under an hour. One of the biggest stumbling blocks was coming up with a name; I wound up loading up a ship’s name generator on my iPad and reading off names until they chose one they liked: Peregrine.

I’m still working on getting the setting bible typed up ((Due to poor decisions on my part, coupled with scheduling delays for me and others, this past month I’ve been scrambling to get THREE separate games up and running. It’s caused me some problems because, whenever I put time in getting one ready, I feel guilty about not working on the others. But Sundog Millionaires launched yesterday and Pandemonium is just finalizing a couple of characters, so I should be able to finish the prep for this game and get a first session scheduled very soon.)), but here’s a list of the crew:

  • Domino – Decorated war hero and captain of Peregrine.
  • Price Jiang – Peregrine’s pilot and legal expert, with ties to the Jiang Triad.
  • Su Jin – Peregrine’s mechanic, and not a grifter at all. Want to play some cards?
  • Walter Yu – Ex-sheriff and general able hand aboard Peregrine.
  • Peregrine – A refurbished once-famous Road Runner with a plant-augmented life support system.

Tonight, I should finish reviewing the characters and send out copies of the form fillable .pdf sheets ((I like filling out the sheets for the players. For one thing, I’ve got a full version of Adobe, so it looks right and doesn’t wind up cutting off window text when the entry runs long. For another, it gives me a chance to review the characters and see if there’s anything I was unclear about. Also, it lets me get to know the characters and start planning scenarios.)) and rough out the setting bible. When I send that out, I’ll look at booking the first game.

It should be fun.

Atomic Robo RPG

I’ve been waiting anxiously for the Atomic Robo RPG since I heard it was coming out. I got a chance to try it out last year at Games on Demand at GenCon, and had an absolute blast playing Robo. Earlier this week, after spending a week or so teasing us all with glimpses of the book ((Thus earning the “evil” part of the company name.)), Evil Hat went ahead and launched the preorder ((I’m thinking that’s about enough links for one paragraph. Yeah?)). Now, as is typical with these fine folks, when you buy the game from them ((Or one of the retailers participating in their Bits and Mortar initiative.)), you also get the .pdf of the game at no extra cost. With the preorder, you get the .pdf right away, so you can read through the game ((And, incidentally, do a last, crowd-sourced check for typos.)) while waiting for the physical copy to get printed.

Surprising absolutely no one who knows me, I’m pretty sure I was in the first two dozen preorders – Fred Hicks tweeted that there had been 24 preorders, and mine had already been placed. And then I spent the next two nights reading it.

TL;DR – The game is great. It’s a nice implementation of Fate rules, really captures the feel of the comics, and can be hacked to support a wide range of set-ups similar to Atomic Robo. I heartily recommend buying it. FOR SCIENCE!

The Book ((Well, obviously I don’t have the book, yet. But you know what I mean.))

More than any other company these days, Evil Hat books are cleanly and clearly laid out, and ARRPG is not an exception to that rule. The pages are attractive and inviting, and the overall design is practically invisible, while helping you find your way through the book and get the most out of it. This kind of invisible design is hard to do, and so wonderfully helpful when reading the book.

Mixed in, as might be expected, is a lot of art from the Atomic Robo comics. Indeed, most of the examples in the book are panels and sequences from the comic book, with little talking heads plugged in to explain the mechanics in use. Besides being helpful in understanding the game and how to play it, these examples made me dig out my comic books and reread them all, just because they reminded me of all the fun moments in the series.

There’s also a good index. A good index has become more valuable to me than gold as I have gotten older. I don’t have as much time for prep, and often wind up looking things up on the fly during a game. For that, nothing beats a good index, which most game books traditionally don’t have. Evil Hat has been reversing this trend with their releases, which feature meaty, professionally done indices, and that makes me happy.

The Characters

ARRPG has what is, I think, the second most complicated character generation I’ve seen in Fate games, with the first most complicated being DFRPG, with it’s point-buy powers. Now, before that scares you off, it is still massively less complicated than most of the big name RPGs out there. In the time it takes to create a single D&D 3.5E character, you can have all the characters in an ARRPG game up and running and half-way into the adventure.

ARRPG gives you two ((Really, three, because you can split the difference between the two main ones.)) methods to create characters. One, which they call the E-Z No-Math Character Creation ((I’m torn on the name, here. There is a tiny bit of math, but really, it’s the kind of addition that could fairly be called “counting.”)), has you pick three different character modes ((If you’ve read the Fate System Toolkit, you’ve seen the mode idea discussed there.)) , which are groups of skills, from the default four of Action, Banter, Intrigue, and Science. You then rank the three modes you picked, and bump up those skills that feature in more than one mode ((This is the counting thing I was talking about. Or mild addition, if you prefer.)). You also, because this is a Fate game, choose aspects for your concept, each of your modes, and an extra aspect they call the Omega aspect. Finally, you calculate your stress boxes ((A little more counting.)). And, of course, somewhere in there, you need to come up with a name.

The other character creation method is called Weird Character Creation. It works pretty much the same as the E-Z No-Math method, but pulls the curtain aside a bit to show you the underlying point structure that makes it work. This allows you to build new modes, called Weird Modes, for your character. So, if you wanted to build, say, an atomic-powered robot created by Nicola Tesla in 1926 ((Just to pull an example out of the air.)), you can construct a Robot mode to give him ((Or her.)). The method is pretty straightforward, though I had to read the entire chapter on modes, skills, and stunts to get all the pieces to fall into place ((Maybe it’s just me, though.)) with the skill costs and how to build new skills for the Weird Modes. There are a number ((And that number is 13.)) of ready-made Weird Modes in the book, for everything from dinosaurs and warbots to pilots and reporters.

There are also two flavours of stunts in AARPG: stunts and mega-stunts. Stunts are exactly like stunts in other Fate games – little tricks that make your skills work a little better for you in certain situations. Mega-stunts, which you can only take if you have a weird mode for your character, are more powerful, incorporating multiple stunt-like effects ((Along with some effects that couldn’t be achieved with a normal stunt, like being bulletproof.)). Everyone gets five stunts, whether of the normal or the mega varieties. The cost for taking mega-stunts is that it gives more fate points to the GM to use against you.

One interesting thing about ARRPG character creation is that, despite how it sounds above and how I said it’s one of the most complicated chargen implementations in Fate, it’s designed to get you up and running very quickly. The book recommends that you just choose your modes, a couple of aspects, come up with a name, and figure out your stress boxes, then jump right in. You can fill in the rest of the aspects and stunts ((And use the skill improvements that every character gets but that I haven’t mentioned until now.)) as required on the fly.

The exception to this is weird modes and mega-stunts. These require some thought up front to construct and implement, so it’s best that you nail these downs before the game starts.

I have to admit, I was a little confused on my first read of the character creation chapter. My confusion cleared up a lot when I got to the chapter on modes, stunts, and skills, but between the two chapters is one on aspects and fate points ((Does this mean the book has a problem with structure? I don’t think so. I thought about this a lot, and I see why the character creation chapter doesn’t have all the information you need – it would bulk it out with a lot of information that would need to be repeated elsewhere. And the chapter on fate points and aspects should come where it does for gamers new to Fate games. But as someone already familiar with the basic Fate system, the separation of the material was a little confusing at first. Now I get it.)). What I’m saying is that, if you get to the end of the character creation chapter scratching your head and wondering if you’ve missed something, hang in there. The answers are coming two chapters down the road.

Other Rules

The rest of the rules are, for the most part, pretty standard Fate fare. There are some tweaks to the skills ((Most notably the Science skill, which gets its own subsection called Science: It’s Special.)), but other than that, there are just four big innovations:

  • Across the Fourth Dimension: The stories in the Atomic Robo comics cover events from shortly after his creation up to 2021. Now, when I say “cover,” what I mean is that there are stories and flashbacks ((And one flash-forward.)) set throughout almost 100 years of Robo’s life ((If you bring in the Real Science Adventures comics, you get to see Tesla and his adventuring companions even earlier than that.)). And they aren’t necessarily told in chronological order. The game has a lot of advice for how to get that kind of feel in your campaign, and the ability to throw non-weird characters together in ten minutes means that it’s completely feasible to jump around in time at the game table. So that’s cool.
  • Invention: What would a game about action science be without the ability to kit-bash and create new pieces of tech as required in play? Boring, that’s what! So of course the game contains rules for how to construct useful and obscenely dangerous devices that you can use both to solve problems and create new ones. It’s a neat little system that lets you assemble cool toys, trading functionality against risk and time.
  • Factions: This is a special implementation of the Fate Fractal – the idea that everything in Fate can be treated like a character, with aspects, skills, stunts, etc. Here, it’s used specifically to flesh out Tesladyne and the resources that the action scientists can call on, but the implication that you can do the same thing to M12 ((Or the BPRD.)) is pretty clear. It gives me a lot of ideas about how to run a campaign aimed at destroying ((Or otherwise rendering ineffective.)) an agency or organization, rather than just concentrating on the big boss that runs it. Very cool stuff.
  • Brainstorming: I saved this one for last, because I think it’s the coolest. You know how, in the movies and comics where scientists are featured, there’s always that one ((Sometimes more than one.)) scene where they have to put together the clues, figure out what’s going on, and come up with a solution? That’s the brainstorming mechanic in ARRPG. Everyone involved in the brainstorm gets to roll dice and use their science to come up with clue aspects for the problem and, if they get enough successes over a number of rounds, they can figure out the problem. And that problem is whatever the players say it is at that point. Yeah, the players get to decide what the big problem is. Oh, they have to stay within the bounds set by the clues, and a careful GM can steer things to a degree, but at the end of the day, if they successfully brainstorm the problem, they get to determine reality. Which is awesome. Of course, then they have to come up with a plan, but they’ll have a number of aspects created by the brainstorming which they can use when they implement the plan. This is just sheer genius, as far as I’m concerned.


As I was reading the game, it became clear to me that Atomic Robo and Hellboy both use very similar narrative set-ups for their comics ((And Scott Wegner’s art in the early Atomic Robo books showed a great deal of Mike Mignola influence. Over time, it’s evolved into what is very much his own style. I love it.)). It would be trivially easy to play a BPRD game using this system. All you’d need to do is build a couple of weird modes, a few mega-stunts, and maybe replace the flexibility of the Science mode with an Occult mode. It would maybe take an hour to get the whole thing worked out.

Other suggestions online I’ve seen have been for Ghostbusters, and again that seems a pretty easy port. It would also be a good setup to use for one-shots based on disaster movies, like Armageddon or The Core. And, of course, any of the 50s-style science-horror movies like Them or Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman or Godzilla or The Blob are influences on the comic book, and thus make for excellent adventures.

And lifting the mode method of character creation ((As shown in the Fate System Toolkit.)) or the subsystems for cross-time play, invention, factions, and brainstorming is easy. These are easy bolt-ons to other games, or pieces to build a new one.


Atomic Robo comic books are pretty much perfect in their mix of action, science, and humour. I love them to death. The Atomic Robo RPG does a great job of creating a game that give you the experience of the comic stories. The production values on the book are exemplary, and the rules adaptation is note-perfect. It’s available for preorder now, and you get the .pdf right away. If you’ve made it through the above 2000-word review and STILL aren’t rushing to buy it, I’ve gotta question why you bothered reading this far.

It’s got ACTION. It’s got SCIENCE!


How have you not already bought it? GO NOW!

Sundog Millionaires: Scum and Villainy

Last week, we got together to do the character creation for our new Fate Core Star Wars game. It had been over a month since we did the game creation session, which is a little longer than I had originally wanted, but life gets in the way sometimes.

And, because life gets in the way sometimes, we got started late and didn’t get as much done as we might have. But we made it through the high concept and trouble aspects, through the phase trio, and through the skill assignments. By the time we got to the stunts ((Arguably one of the most complex parts of character creation.)), it was pretty late, and we were getting kind of punchy ((To be fair, we always start kind of punchy.)), so I gave a brief explanation of what stunts were, and how they worked, and we decided to finish up the characters via e-mail and using our forum ((We have a forum now?)).

As of this point in time, characters aren’t finished yet. Still, I wanted to get a short post about it, because I’m a bit behind on the blog.

So, we’ve got a hidden human Jedi ((I knew at least one of the players would go for this option. And I correctly guessed which one.)), a besalisk archaeologist, a human former Imperial diplomat, a wookiee mechanic/slicer, and a messed-up former assassin droid.

It looks like an interesting group. I hope to finish up the characters this coming week, and maybe even start play next weekend.

Oh, yeah. We still need to decide on what kind of ship the gang has.

Pandemonium: Coming Together to Fall Apart

After we ended our Ashen Stars one-shot, our group decided to try out a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign. The proposed frame was a street-level campaign set in Gotham City. Upon discussion, it seemed we had a big enough diversity of views on what that meant that I felt it would be a good idea to have a game-building session to make sure we were all on the same page.

Hot on the success of the game-building session for Sundog Millionaires, I decided to use the exact same set-up: start with a Want/Do Not Want list, come up with the elevator pitch for the game, then use the Fate Core game-building method to flesh things out. It’s not a perfect fit, simply because, with Fate Core, you come up with aspects, and there are no aspects in MHRPG. But there are distinctions, which are close enough ((Both functionally and philosophically.)) to substitute.

When we got together a couple of weeks ago, we ran through things. We wound up with a street-level game, but less focused on the common gangs, organized crime, and low-level villains. One of the players really wanted a kind of interdimensional city ((Inspired by the city of Cynosure in the Grimjack comics.)), so we talked things out, and decided that our Gotham City wasn’t the DC Gotham City. We’re still using the Gotham City map I found online, and the name of the city, and the gothic comic book feeling. But no Batman, no Commissioner Gordon, no Joker, etc.

The main threats in our Gotham are the rampant corruption ((Similar to the Gotham of the early Batman days.)) and two linked threats: dimensional incursions, and a turf war between the native Gotham gangs and some extra-dimensional terrorists. Our heroes are among the first people in the world to develop powers, and there is no superhero culture as is usually found in most comic book universes. While the concept of superheroes exists in our Gotham, they are relegated to comic books and cartoon shows. No one actually uses the word to describe themselves in real life, no matter what their powers may be.

While we don’t have the whole setting nailed down, here’s a link to the current version of our setting bible, for the curious.

The next week, we got together again to do character creation. I had asked all the players to come with a solid idea for a character – background, powers, concept, etc. – but not to worry about any of the stats and numbers until we got together. There was a lot of talk early on that MHRPG didn’t have a character generation system. This is not true, but the system is a lot less structured than most people are used to ((Especially from a superhero game.)). Creating a character is more art than science, because there are no real constraints on the process beyond, “Do what’s right for the character.”

This is because most game systems put the mechanics for game balance in at the character generation stage – everyone gets the same number of points, everyone gets to choose one races and one class, everyone gets to pick X items from a list, etc. This gives everyone a character that ((Ideally, if the game design assumptions are solid.)) has equivalent mechanical weight and strength. This mechanical equivalency is then assumed to grant each character equal chances for coolness during play ((Which is really the only reasonable measure of game balance that I ascribe to.)).

In MHRPG, balance happens in the mechanics for taking action. It allows each character opportunity to shine, to do things their way, and show off what they’re best at. It allows Thor to share the stage with Daredevil, and for each to have their own cool moments. They will be very different moments, but they will be equally cool – and the type of cool will be dictated by the type of coolness you decided to build into the character.

What this amounts to is that character creation is mostly about eyeballing a concept, and pulling in the numbers and mechanics that you think best. The section about it in the main rulebook focuses on the idea of modelling an existing character from comic books, but it can easily be used to create an original character. The key, as the rulebook says, is to know as much about the character as possible. For existing characters, that means knowing their books. For original characters, that means a solid character concept.

The lack of a more traditional structure for character creation, and the more-art-than-science nature of it, meant that I really wanted to do things as a group. We started by talking out the concepts, and then walking through the assigning of affiliation dice and picking distinctions. Moving on to the power sets and power traits, I had imposed a few constraints.

One of the challenges I had in running my Civil War mini campaign was that it was difficult to come up with serious challenges for the heroes without either cheating or using so many villains that it becomes far too cumbersome to run. Faced with that, I wanted to limit the overall power of the characters ((This also helped reinforce the idea of the street-level power level of the game.)). I restricted the number of power sets for the characters to two and, within each power set, I set a limit of one d10 power trait ((I wound up saying that the character who was taking a single power set could have two d10 traits. Why? Because, even though I consciously know that balance happens in play rather than in character generation, I and my players still have the knee-jerk reflex that we need to impose fairness at chargen.)), and no d12 traits.

Once we had the basics roughed in, and had talked about SFX, Limits, and Milestones, things were at the point where one-on-one time with each player was necessary to flesh out and finish the characters, so we stopped there for the evening. Now, we’re filling in the rest of the characters via e-mail and, once we get those sorted, we’ll start play.

And here’s our roster of characters for this game:

  • Warlock, a student of the mystic arts who has found a set of magical armour that boosts his power. Unfortunately, when his mind occupies the armour, his body lies helpless and unconscious.
  • Escher, a new psychic suffering from PTSD, torn between caring for those whose minds have been damaged by encounters with the dimensional incursions and punishing those who would prey on the weak and damaged.
  • Artemis, an expert in finding things, with contacts in both this world and the extra dimensional marketplace of the Bizarre.
  • Inquisitor, an extradimensional cop from the Enclave, hunting down Whisper and the rest of the Chant, incursive terrorists from his home.

Stay tuned for more information once play begins.

Apocalypse World: Final Apocalypse

We wrapped up our Apocalypse World campaign a couple of weeks ago. I had slated it for a 12-session campaign but, as mentioned previously, I told the characters that, if an opportunity for a satisfying end came up during play, I was going to take it, even if it meant ending the campaign early.

That opportunity came up in session 11, and I took it.

We started up with our heroes within Snow’s stasis facility, with Sgt. Snow giving his report to the Colonel ((Previously and somewhat disastrously reawakened by Magpie, giving him a small stroke.)). Snow reported everything pretty faithfully, and immediately started making plans to turn of the quantum computer that he had latched onto as the cause for the end of the world they had experienced ((To be fair, it was the only real explanation that I had provided for what happened, so saying he “latched onto it” may be a little more judgmental than it needs to be. But, also to be fair, they only had the word of the Canadians that this was the case. Really, it was the fact that this was an explanation rooted in science and tech that Snow was far more comfortable with than a lot of the other possibilities, and it made the psychic maelstrom a little more understandable to him.)).

This led to an interesting discussion between Snow and the rest of the group, as everyone ((Especially Nils and JB.)) was really getting tired of Snow badmouthing things and talking about how much better the old world was than anything these days. The idea that flipping a switch might cause everything they knew – including themselves – to suddenly change ((Or even vanish utterly.)) was not something that really appealed to anyone but Snow and the Colonel, but Snow couldn’t believe that anyone actually wanted to live this way.

What came next was kind of frustrating for me, simply because it showed how miserably I had failed to communicate some of my basic assumptions and ideas about the psychic maelstrom ((I had also very successfully communicated some stuff that was directly contradictory to what I had intended.)).

I had intended to make the psychic maelstrom mysterious and dangerous. I wanted it to be the source of gnomic wisdom and obscure intelligence that the players would think twice about delving into. I also wanted to make it very subjective, so that it was different and challenging each time the characters encountered it. The last thing I wanted was for it to become the most reliable way of dealing with things.

Unfortunately, I used it as a way to help the characters get out of a really tight spot back near the beginning of the campaign. That set a precedent for using the maelstrom which completely undermined part of my goal. My own fault, of course, but I still sighed every time someone decided to open his or her mind, and then tried to manipulate what they found there to essentially work magic. But, of course, I’m the one who had taught them that they could do that, so they ((Very properly.)) assumed that’s the way it worked.

And then I unleashed the story about the quantum computers. Fine, on the surface, but then, the next time Magpie opened herself to the maelstrom, I used the idea of the quantum computer to shape my description of the maelstrom. See, she rolled a miss, so I wanted something strange and alien to Magpie’s magical thinking to threaten her with, so I went with the idea of a vast computer program ((The seed of the image planted by the Canadians’ description, of course.)) absorbing and deconstructing her.

That was bad enough, but when Nils went in to rescue her, I used the same computer imagery. Yeah. Having used it twice in a row, so shortly after the quantum computer explanation was first floated cemented the idea in the minds of the players. Now, the maelstrom was just the mental interface with the computer that was running the world.

I want to stress here that, despite what it sounds like, I am not complaining about my players or their perceptions of things. What I’m trying to do is a post-mortem to help me sort out why things went differently than I had planned. Considering all the stuff above, it’s pretty obvious to me that I kept giving the players information and reinforcing behaviour counter to what I had internally planned. So, what it comes down to is that I have no one but myself to blame for what happened next.

And what happened next? First of all, Snow wanted to turn off the quantum computer that he assumed was at the base. Now, this was all within the first half hour of play, so I didn’t want to make it that easy ((Although, to be honest, I had a closing scene in mind where they did turn off the quantum computer. They would flip the switch and I’d just say, “The end.” Fade to black. No explanation, no follow-up. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to use it. It’s a little too cute, really.)). So, that meant that there was no quantum computer at the stasis facility.

Faced with that, and with the dissent within the group about what the next step should be, Nils decided to try to open his mind to the maelstrom to see if he could… y’know, I’m not sure I remember. It might have been to figure out if the quantum computer was nearby, or if there was a quantum computer at all, or to try and turn off the computer. Anyway, he lay down on the mess hall floor and opened his mind.

I threw him an image of a vast, multidimensional snowflake, stolen directly from the multiversal projection used in the Planetary comic books. We had some fun him trying to figure out what he was seeing, and how to maneuver ((For want of a better word.)) his perception through n-dimensional space. When he finally made his way back to the group, they seemed content to discuss and dither for a while longer.

That’s boring, though, so I made a hard, direct move. I killed the power to the facility.

So, now they know bad stuff is happening, and they’re panicking, and stumbling around in the dark, and all of a sudden things are not-boring ((Funny how that works, huh?)). Snow was struggling to get the folks free of the now-disabled stasis pods, Nils and JB were trying to get power to, well, anything, and Magpie was gathering supplies from one of the armouries ((“Okay. I gather up a bunch of rifles and ammo. But that SAM set-up? I write a note that says MINE and I stick it on top. I’m taking that one home.”)).

There was a lot of jumping back and forth here, and I’ll be honest – the exact sequence is fuzzy in my mind. But some important things happened:

  • The New Dawning folk managed to pry the big outer doors open now that the defensive countermeasures were offline.
  • JB and Snow set up a killing ground in the entry area.
  • Magpie drew on the power of her hoard ((Okay. This is another example of me acting counter to the way I wanted the psychic maelstrom to work. But it was looking like this was the last session, and it was a cool idea, so what the hell. Magpie and her hoard became one, and she turned into a dragon.)) to destroy the Yellowhammer cultists that were keeping the power off.
  • Nils went back to the snowflake, and started shrinking it by thinking math at it.
  • Snow marshaled the recently-thawed soldiers, and got them ready for the New Dawning assault.
  • JB got Magpie to release her hold on the dragon power by threatening to blow up her SAM.

When the power came back, the automated defenses made short work of the New Dawning besiegers. They found some strange things, though – no one (except Nils) remembered the Canadians. Or that Snow had had a family. Or that this base had once held hundreds of people in stasis, instead of the single squad that remained. Nils figured out that he had pared down the world by shrinking the snowflake, and decided not to tell anyone else ((Not sure why. Could be guilt over erasing Snow’s family, or fear of someone else trying it, or existential angst over the realization that this might mean that his reality was just a computer simulation. Maybe all three!)).

So, they exited the facility with the idea of heading over to Ogden with the squad of highly-trained soldiers and truckloads of advanced weapons. They figured that Roosevelt was out, what with being occupied by New Dawning and about to be attacked by Calico and her followers ((Though Nils and Magpie want to stop back there and pick up their stuff.)), so better make a clean start. Once established, I believe the plan is to try and find more of the stasis facilities and build a peaceful, prosperous civilization ((By using really good guns.)).

And we faded to black.

It was a really fun game for me to run. The change of perspective offered by Apocalypse World ((And the other games based on it.)) really gave me a chance to examine what I do as a GM, and think about better ways to do it. The freedom of not knowing where the adventure is going to go ((Or even where it starts, to be fair.)) is terrifying at first, but quickly becomes exhilarating.

I want to thank my players for letting me try this experiment, and sticking with me through the rough patches. I am immensely grateful to:

  • Chris, who played Nils, the cranky Savvyhead and moral centre of the group.
  • Elliot, who played JB, the androgynous Gunlugger with the massive hate for slavers.
  • Sandy, who played Magpie, the slightly deranged Hoarder and part-time dragon.
  • Michael, who played Sgt. Snow, the straight-arrow Quarantine who doesn’t even know how much he’s lost.

You guys made the game great.



International Tabletop Day 2014 is Coming!

This coming Saturday, April 5, is the second International Tabletop Day. It’s a day to get together with others and play more games, sharing the love of our hobby, having fun, and hopefully roping in a few new converts ((In a good, non-cultish way.)). I’m a huge fan of Tabletop Day, and am celebrating this year much as I did last year.

That means I’m going to be bringing as many games as I can haul ((And I can haul a lot of games, thanks to some awesome luggage.)) down to Imagine Games and Hobbies, and will be there from opening until they kick me out. During that time, I’ll be setting people up to play games, teaching games to people, demoing games for people, and playing games with people.

How do you get in on the gaming? Simple. Come down to the store and find a game you want to play. If you know how to play and you’ve got a group to play it with, just grab the game and an open table and go to town.

If you need to learn a game ((And it’s one of my games – no promises for other games.)), I can teach you to play, either getting you started or playing it with you, whichever works better given group size and demands on my time.

If you need a group to play it with, I can help put that together.

And if you just want to learn about the games, just ask me what you want to know. I love talking about games.

What kinds of games will be there? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’ll be bringing a selection from the following list. Some have appeared on Tabletop, some haven’t, but all are cool games. If you see something on the list that you want to guarantee is there, drop me a note in the comments. If you want to book a specific game for a specific time, let me know in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

So, come on down to International Tabletop Day at Imagine! Play more games!

Rick’s Master Game List

  • Anima Card Game
  • Arkham Horror
  • Beowulf the Legend
  • Berserker Halflings (B-Movie cards)
  • Betrayal at the House on the Hill
  • Carcassonne
  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Castle Ravenloft
  • Conquest of Nerath
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Credo
  • Deluxe Illuminati
  • Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
  • Dixit
  • Dominion
  • Dungeon World
  • Elder Sign
  • Eldritch Horror
  • Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space
  • Fiasco
  • Firefly boardgame
  • Forbidden Desert
  • Forbidden Island
  • Fortune and Glory
  • Fury of Dracula
  • The Hills Rise Wild
  • Infiltration
  • King of Tokyo
  • The Legend of Drizzt
  • Letters From Whitechapel
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Machine of Death
  • Mansions of Madness
  • Monty Python Fluxx
  • Pandemic
  • Race to Adventure
  • The Resistance
  • Risk Legacy
  • Runebound
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Shadows over Camelot
  • Skippy’s Revenge (B-Movie cards)
  • Star Fluxx
  • The Stars are Right
  • Talisman
  • tremulus
  • Tsuro
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • War of the Ring
  • Wrath of Ashardalon
  • X-Wing
  • Zombie Dice


Ashen Stars: The Witness of My Worth, Part 2

***Spoiler Warning***

I’m running the introductory scenario, The Witness of My Worth from the Ashen Stars rulebook. While some things always get changed when the scenario meets the players, I am running it pretty much straight out of the box. There will be spoilers in this post.

***You Have Been Warned***

About a week ago, we finally managed to schedule a session to finish our Ashen Stars play test ((You can read about the first session here.)). I’d been trying to think how to flesh out the end of the adventure to fill in an entire session – we only had one or two scenes left – and threw together some combat encounters to use. As it turned out, I really didn’t need them.

The Lasers did some more speculating and discussing of the information they had so far, trying to figure out what was going on. They had a number of pieces of the overall puzzle – computer intrusion, rewriting of brains via the headsets, air clearing in a formerly polluted area, stuff like that. What they didn’t know was what was causing this – the Durugh, the Mohilar, someone ((Or something.)) else.

After going around in circles a few times, they remembered one of the basic tenets of GUMSHOE games – if you’re stuck, it means you need more information. They had one lead – a set of co-ordinates out in the ruined city that seemed to be at the centre of the strange occurrences. And so off they went.

I spent a little time this session describing things – coming up with descriptions of the surroundings, working a little harder to paint a picture of the world. I also worked harder at smoothing out the use of Investigative abilities in the game – trying to make them more transparent to the players. I had some pretty good success with the first part, but not so much with the second.

The problem with the Investigative abilities not being transparent was two-fold, I think. First, there was the simple fact that all of us – GM and players alike – were new to this game ((I had run Trail of Cthulhu previously, and one of the players had played it, but we were all new to Ashen Stars.)).Now, that’s a problem that will arise with any new game, and it can correct itself after a few sessions. Familiarity and mastery will come.

The second issue was something that compounded the first one: the Investigative abilities in Ashen Stars are not intuitively named. Instead, they are named in keeping with the space opera setting. This is great as far as flavour goes, but it adds an extra level of learning between the players and mastery.

Anyway, our heroes made it to the site, and found that it was a museum devoted to Brian Hudd, native son of Ares-3, and hero of the Mohilar war. Something ((They assumed the Ashen Star incident of a few days previous.)) had restarted the computer that ran the museum, which immediately turned on the air scrubbers, resulting in the clear air around the building.

Investigating further, they found that the computer had achieved sentience, but had been damaged. All the records of the diplomatic, alliance-building Brian Hudd had be been lost, and only the records of Brian Hudd as a ruthless, cunning, and triumphant warrior remained. The building had also lost its holo facilities, so it was making do with reprogramming any sentients that happened by ((Using their headsets as the reprogramming vector.)) to refight Brian Hudd’s battles.

They found this out the hard way, when Returner-U directly interfaced with the museum computer, and was reprogrammed into Brian Hudd, fighting off the Mohilar ((That is, the other PCs.)) and trying to reunite with his crew ((That is, some random, reprogrammed Ares-3 inhabitants that I had statted up in case I needed a fight.)). So, there was a desperate struggle with Returner-U, as Maxine managed to synthesize a viro deprogramming agent to cleanse Returner-U’s mind.

Once they had their Cybe compatriot back to his regular charming self ((This is a bit of a joke. Returner-U has absolutely zero interpersonal skills.)), the Lasers made their way down to the main computer room in the basement and tried to shut down the computer, only to find that it had a back-up version of itself recorded in the strange electrical activity in Ares-3’s atmosphere.

Now, this is all part of the scenario-as-written, to set up a very specific kind of climax to the adventure: one where the characters, in the best tradition of Captain Kirk, convince the AI that it is flawed and must destroy itself. But, I must admit, as I was giving the characters that last clue, I rebelled against it. It was a little too, well, not to put too fine a point on it, dumb ((Sorry, Robin.)).

Okay, “dumb” is a little harsh. And there are alternative solutions offered in the scenario. Perhaps a less judgmental way of putting things was that the solution seemed to clash with the moderately gritty vision of the setting that our group shared.

Whatever the reason, as I said, I rebelled, especially once I started getting some of the clue out, and felt the resistance to it building in the group. So, I changed things slightly, and explained that, with the ability of the AI to exist in the atmosphere, there was no way to physically destroy it.

And then the group showed me again why I game with them. They convinced the AI to accept a download of the rest of Brian Hudd’s accomplishments, and persuaded it to keep working to clear the air of Ares-3. They even talked it into spreading itself through the ionosphere and reactivating other air scrubbers on the planet. And they convinced it to create a child AI that they could load into their ship’s computer.

“Now that’s a pilot episode,” was the response from the group.

We faded out on Aron telling the bartender on Ares-3 to be ready for the Combine to come calling. And that they didn’t need to rush into backing the Combine – they had the right to their independence.

The gang talked about how they’d consider playing more Ashen Stars ((Well, one player was not interested. He’s not a fan of investigative games.)), but the more they talked about how they had enjoyed this session – specifically the last half of this session – the more I was convinced that this is not the game for this group. Why not? Because the bits they liked most were the bits where I had departed farthest from the game system.

They liked the setting, they liked the characters, they even liked parts of the scenario. But they didn’t like the idea of fiddling with the Investigative abilities, and then trying to figure out the mystery. The more we discussed things, the more certain I became that the game system is the thing they liked least about the whole play test.

This is not to say that Ashen Stars is a bad system – it’s not. I love it. I would need more practice to run it smoothly, and there are a few things about it that I find irritating, but the same is true of any system.

But not every system works for every game group. And this system does not work with these particular players. And so, I said that I would keep the game in my back-pocket, as it were, for possible future play ((Or conversion to a different space opera game system, maybe?)), but that I didn’t think we should keep going with it as a regular game.

Instead, I offered them a Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game that Clint had suggested at one time: street-level superheroes in Gotham City. Everyone thought that was a splendid idea, so that’s what we’re doing. In discussing it, though, it became clear that there was not a common vision of such a game being shared among the group, so this coming Friday, we’re going to get together and use the Fate Core game creation rules to create our MHRPG setting ((The Fate Core stuff is just so good for this. We can even create the aspects for everything, just call them distinctions to fit with the Cortex Plus rules.)).

I’ll let you know how it turns out.