Category Archives: games

Dragon World Hack 0.4

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Dragon World is a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG for fantasy comedy adventures in the vein of classic anime like Slayers and Dragon Half. The game has been in the works for a while now, and we’re now gearing up to launch a Kickstarter some time in the next few months.

Dragon World Hack 0.4
Dragon World Playbooks

I had the idea for Dragon World when I finally got my hands on the Dragon Half manga. (Which BTW is finally getting an English language release from Seven Seas.) In anime there was a weird trend in the early to mid-1990s of making short direct-to-video adaptations of much longer manga, which in turn sometimes wound up being the only versions that made their way to the English-speaking world. Dragon Half started as a 7-volume manga (later re-released in a 3-volume “omnibus” edition, which the English version is based on), which could’ve worked nicely as a full 26-episode TV series. Instead it got a mere two OAV episodes, and plans to do two more episodes got scrapped. The Dragon Half OAVs had a little bit of a cult following in the early anime scene, and I devoured the manga once I got my hands on it. It shows its age and anime-ness with a lot of fanservice (our heroine pretty much only wears a metal bikini), but the zany humor, flagrantly ridiculous take on the fantasy genre, and Ryusuke Mita’s energetic art make it worth your time.

That wasn’t too long after I’d discovered Apocalypse World, and as I made my way through the manga, I kept seeing it in terms of different AW-style moves and their outcomes. This was before the term “Powered by the Apocalypse” came about and while it was still the thing to have those “AW hacks” end with “World,” so “Dragon World” was born. A certain portion of anime and manga, especially from the 90s, used “dragon” in titles to essentially signify “fantasy,” probably a result of Dragon Quest being so massively popular and influential, plus it was a tongue-in-cheek nod to Dungeon World. (And I did talk Jonathan Walton into making a game called “& World.”) From there I watched a ton of Slayers (probably the single most popular comedy fantasy anime), and a bunch of others, giving me a wider palette of ideas to draw on. Dragon World most blatantly shows its influences in the selection of classes, ranging from the likes of the Explosive Mage and Dumb Fighter (which have Lina and Gourry from Slayers at their core) to the Angsty Shadow Warrior (for whom Dororo from Sgt. Frog was an inspiration, but also a bunch of fantasy tropes) to the Shiny Paladin and Ruthless Warlord (who come from silly takes on D&D classes). One of my favorites is the Chosen Visitor, which is a Japanese teenager sent to this fantasy world and given weird powers, echoing shows like Magic Knight Rayearth and El Hazard.

This is the fourth version of Dragon World that I’ve shared with the world, and it’s generally been through a lot of revisions as I did a bunch of playtesting and figured out what did and didn’t work, and thought of new stuff to add. The game started considerably closer to Apocalypse World, but I dropped things like highlighting stats and marking experience. On the other hand (although I refined it a bit), the concept of replacing Harm with “falling down” remained a core part of the game from the start. I changed the selection of classes a little, adding the likes of the Ruthless Warlord and changing the Useless Bard into the Foolhardy Bard (which was how people had been playing the Useless Bard for the most part anyway).

It’s not in the Hack, but the final commercial version is going to have a setting chapter for the land of Easteros. (Not the only Game of Thrones reference in there, but there’s copious anime nonsense regardless.) It was generally an opportunity to put together a bunch of toys and plot hooks, plus some dumb humor (like a pun-laden list of 100 slime names).

In any case, I’m looking forward to finally bringing this game fully to fruition in a nice book with actual artwork, and possibly putting together some supplements and alternate settings. I’m also planning a Creative Commons release, in the hopes that (not unlike with Dungeon World, though presumably in much lower quantities) people will take the opportunity to design and publish their own Dungeon World weirdness.

 

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AnimeCon

I have a bunch of games cooking for my Patreon, enough so that some other things are tending to fall by the wayside. One that’s kind of fallen through the cracks is AnimeCon, a freeform game about going to an anime convention. I have a first draft completely done, but I have no idea when I’ll be able to actually give it the playtesting it needs, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it up for free.

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In terms of game design, the major inspirations for AnimeCon are Remodel and Amidst Endless Quiet, and the rules it has exist to give a basic structure to what is otherwise freeform role-playing. It has a set of 6 role cards to quickly establish a cast of characters, and you essentially play through a series of scene prompts. It plays with some of the ideas I’ve been working on for Beyond Otaku Dreams, finding the humanity of anime fans at a con, but without the fantastic conceits. It would certainly be possible to rewrite it to deal with other fandoms, but as written it requires a reasonable knowledge of anime fandom.

AnimeCon PDF Download

Dragon World Hack 0.3

Dragon World is a game I’ve been working on for a while now, and at this point one of my more polished games. It’s an Apocalypse World hack (or as the parlance came to be in the time since I started working on it, a Powered by the Apocalypse game) for comedic fantasy in the general style of anime series from the 90s like Slayers and Dragon Half.

This new version has important tweaks and revisions throughout, but not any huge changes. It also adds the Shiny Paladin class to round out an even dozen in the book, and the setting section has several new entries, including the Kickin’ Rad Skeletons, the Desert of Yunqarth (with the Ma’al of the Western Fields in there somewhere), and the Moon (home to a degenerate Lunarian civilization that at this point can only communicate through interpretive dance).

I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun with this game already, and I’m currently running a playtest campaign that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s high on my list of games to full-on publish before too long, though it will undoubtedly need some more tweaking first.

Dragon World Hack 0.3
Dragon World Playbooks

Being Human Together

The past few weeks have been kind of bizarre for me. D&D5E and the issues surrounding it have me feeling pretty much done with D&D for the time being. I may wind up playing it if my friends really want to, but as things stand I’m not going to spend any more money on it. When all is said and done if I decide I really want the dungeon fantasy genre there are literally dozens of options, to the point where the only unique thing D&D really has to offer is the words “Dungeons & Dragons” on the cover (and if you count different editions separately, there are about a dozen games with that distinction anyway). But of late I’m also just finding D&D’s mass of overdone cliches boring and stifling. I don’t want to be so negative about it, but it’s the truth that it’s really not doing it for me. On top of that, although the playtest of Magical Burst was informative, it was also exhausting, and left me with a great deal to think about, some of it much more fundamental than whether the witch’s Hex ability is overpowered.

After poking at about half a dozen different projects over the course of a week or so, I wound up starting pretty intensively brainstorming for Beyond Otaku Dreams. Of the games I’m trying to design it’s by far the most personal, and also the one that most eagerly embraces being a “story game.” My initial inspiration to take another look at it came from Epidiah Ravachol’s Swords Without Master, featured in Issue 3 of Worlds Without Master. SWM is a descendant of MonkeyDome, a simple game that’s fundamentally about rolling to see what tone the scene takes (Grim/Zany in MonkeyDome, Glum/Jovial in SWM). Traditional RPGs are highly concerned with whether PCs succeed or fail at things, sometimes to the point of not having rules for much else. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but there’s a massive, mostly unexplored territory of games that don’t bother with it. Fiasco is easily the best-known such game, and the results are often exceptional. Designing such games is at once incredibly liberating and incredibly hard, and I think I didn’t respect that enough when I made the first version of Beyond Otaku Dreams that just totally faceplanted in playtesting.

I’ve been going through a slow process of trying to really break down what I want Beyond Otaku Dreams to do and how to achieve it. It’s hard for a lot of reasons. One is that I’m trying to make a more fantastical version of real life experiences, so there aren’t really any existing narratives that quite fit what I want to create. Another is that it’s in relatively unexplored territory in terms of design, for RPGs in general and me in particular. Put those together and through a lot of the process I’ve been feeling a lot like I’m trying to build a castle on air. That’s led me to reexamine some of the games I have on hand and explore others. Designing a more traditional RPG gives you a bunch of cliches and habits you can fall back on, and I think stepping away from them requires a great deal of care and originality. I like to think I can come up with nifty ideas at times, but I’m not a natural game design iconoclast, so an important part of the process has been looking at what other people have done with such games.

In particular, it got me to take a closer look at my copy of the Norwegian Style book, an anthology of short RPGs from the Norwegian Style blog. It’s a window onto a very different style of role-playing, like looking into one of the possible parallel universes where RPGs came about without D&D.[1] Some have fantastical elements and some don’t, but all speak to the human condition in some way. Very few use much in the way of numbers, but many have little cards with words on them: character roles, events, scenes, etc. D&D grew out of certain kinds of wargames, and a huge portion of RPGs show that they grew out of D&D. That doesn’t make D&D or its descendants bad games, but despite them being numerous and popular, it does mean they represent a limited part of what the medium is capable of. There are an awful lot of things that can go into an RPG where the D&D approach basically amounts to handing you a blank page. (Want your character to be something more than a human fighter with these 7 numbers and a list of gear? Write something on this blank page.) The blank page offers freedom, but it also leaves you stranded with nothing to build on. Compared to that, the Norwegian Style games with their little cards catapult you into a rich character and situation. Other games deposit you at other points on the spectrum with varying degrees of success, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to navigate.

I came across Avery Mcdaldno’s blog post on Imaginary Funerals, which I think says something pretty profound about this hobby. Just like with anime fandom, whatever else it is, this thing we do is very human. That thread of thought met another coming the other way. I’m a huge fan of John Hodgman’s “Complete World Knowledge” trilogy, enough so that I went as far as to write my own book of fake trivia. The world he weaves, what Neil Gaiman called “Earth-Hodgman,” is often hilarious, but at times beautifully melancholy too. He’s said that that phase of his life is over, and he’s on to doing other things like the Judge John Hodgman podcast. One of the things that’s stuck with me is a particular turn of phrase. Towards the end of That Is All, he says that if it turns out Ragnarok doesn’t come, maybe some day he and the reader meet, and spend a moment enjoying being human together. I think “being human together” describes a lot of what I really want out of RPGs, especially right now. I can enjoy games that are more about problem-solving and tactics (and have done so extensively in the past), but I want more games that are more directly about the human condition, with or without genre fiction metaphors. I don’t care at all about what sells more or what’s more “sophisticated,” what is or isn’t “art.”[2] I just want games that exist first and foremost to help create experiences that mean something to me, to bring me together with friends.

So, that’s about where I am right now. It’s a really weird place to be in, but also refreshing in a lot of ways.


[1]Ben Lehman is of the opinion that the Norwegian Style games are more like a conscious attempt at making RPGs that are utterly unlike D&D, and in a hypothetical D&D-free world freeform fandom RP is more likely to have been the basis for RPGs. Either way at some point I really need to sit down and explore other forms of role-playing, including not only freeform but reading up on stuff like psychodrama.

[2]Art is a term that has a way of becoming useless any time you so much as glance at an edge case anyway.

D&D 5E First Impressions

On July 3rd the free PDF of the D&D Basic Rules went up on the WotC site, and the Starter Set went on sale at local game stores (with a wider release to come on the 15th). I’ve had a rather unusual relationship with the game, as it’s something I only ever really engaged as an adult hobbyist. For me D&D doesn’t have any particular nostalgia, and it was always one of many, many possible games to play. That some people act as though it were the only RPG in the world is just plain baffling to me, and I probably would not have stuck with this hobby for 20+ years if there were only the one game to play. That’s the kind of attitude I come to this with, so this first impressions thing isn’t going to be hugely positive.

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With the Starter Set and Basic Rules on hand, 5E isn’t all that bad, but the parts I actually find interesting are hiding in odd corners, more useful to me as potential stuff to try in other games. Granted these versions of the game deliberately have simple baseline versions of the classes (well, as simple as they’re willing to let the wizard and cleric get, which isn’t very simple at all), but they’re the four most cliche D&D classes, and the fighter is the staggeringly boring “I hit it with my sword” guy. If I play the game before the PHB comes out, there won’t actually be a single class I particularly want to play, and about the best compromise will be shoehorning my 4E warlord character into a cleric.
Continue reading D&D 5E First Impressions

Magical Burst 4th Draft

“All you have to do is make a pact with me.”

Magical girls get to wield magic powers, to fight to protect the people they care about. You’ve seen it in your favorite anime shows again and again, and when a real talking bunny came to you it seemed like a great idea. But somehow those shows never mentioned the cost. They don’t talk about how keeping a secret eats you up inside. About how some magical girls get killed fighting monsters. About how magic can have consequences.

Magical Burst is a role-playing game about a different kind of magical girls.

Players: Recommended for 1 Game Master and 2-5 Players, Age 16+
Play Time: One or more sessions of 3-5 hours
Materials Required: Paper, pencils, six-sided dice, and pawns or miniatures


It took far too long, but the fourth draft of Magical Burst is here. Seriously. It’s happening. This in turn is a step towards finalizing and publishing the game, which will hopefully take a lot less than the 3 years it took to go from the 3rd draft to the 4th. In the time since I started working on Magical Burst, Madoka Magica ended and then got a trio of movies, Sailor Moon is making a major comeback, and I got Channel A and Golden Sky Stories published. Magical Burst has evolved considerably as a game, but it’s much closer to being the game I want it to be, a hybrid of my eccentric gaming and aesthetic influences, and generally something no one but me would’ve made.

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The biggest change is the implementation of a tactical combat system inspired by Meikyuu Kingdom with bits of D&D4e and a few other games. It’s still serves the same fundamental purpose of generating Overcharge to fuel the story, but it’s a more detailed system, and it in turn involves a considerable number of character trait selections and such. Although the fundamental concepts are about where I want them, it’s in the nature of such things that there’s a whole lot that will need to be examined and tested. Also, a friend of mine is working on an online character generator thing, so that will be exciting and coming soon.

This version is not completely there yet, but it is a functional game that I’m going to be developing more as I playtest and get feedback and such. There will be future versions, but they’ll be 4.1 and so on rather than a “5th Draft.” I’ve done some playtesting, but there’s still a lot more to do before the game is fully ready. I want to further refine the youma rules, and I’m wondering if the rules for Fallout and for setting up relationships need some more work. Still, the things I’m happy with outnumber the things I’m unhappy with. In any case, here are the PDFs:

Magical Burst 4.0 Rules
Character Sheet
Reference Sheets
Battlefield Map

If you have something to say or share about Magical Burst, feel free to comment here or to join the Magical Burst Google+ community.

Also check out Magical Fury, a smaller cousin game with a different take on dark magical girl stories.

America’s Next Top Reality Show

I made another thing. Let’s back up a little. I’ve been working on a humor book called I Want to be an Awesome Robot,[1] and I decided to include an section with Fun Activities, which will (for the most part) fully functional activity book type stuff, if with kind of a weird sensibility.[2] I’m also working on a mini Choose Your Own Adventure type thing, a super stripped down Maid RPG variant (“Schoolgirl RPG”), and some other things that get a bit geekier and more involved than just coloring pages and stuff (though there will be those too). One thing I came up with but may or may not put into the book is a mini Channel A type spinoff game, intended to have a deck of a more reasonable size and play a bit quicker. A while ago NPR had an article on “The 25 Magic Words Of American Television.” When it first came out I sent the link to some friends, and one immediately declared that he’d watch a show called “Mob Pets.” Putting together a small list of title cards was a very easy thing to do.

I’m not sure what I’ll actually do with the game from here–if it works out well as a game I could totally see doing it in the form of a full card game in a reasonably sized tuck box–but for now I’m tossing out a free PNP version for the heck of it. This is very much like the ones I’ve done for Channel A and Studio B, with the little 2″x2″ cards you can print on cardstock and cut out. You’ll also need two six-sided dice.

America’s Next Top Reality Show PNP Version PDF

Here are some titles I made by messing around with the cards for a bit:

Mob Apprentice, Fear Shack, Hell’s Zookeeper, Star Swap, Amish Hot Rod, Bachelor Dynasty, The American Factor, Who Wants To Be A Cat?, So You Think You Can Catch, Sex House, Dance Kitchen, Pimp My Duck, Extreme Cake, The Deadliest Family, Party Boss, Millionaire Pets, The Doctor Whisperer, The Big Monster Project, Hell’s Hot Rod, The Amish Hunter, Love Chef, Superhero Makeover, Bachelor Island

On other Channel A type news, I recently visited my sister and brother-in-law in Washington DC, and got my new fancy prototype of Studio B (the American B-movie reskin of Channel A). We got to play a good amount of both games, and did very successful demo games at Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, an excellent game store near Capitol Hill.


[1]I already decided that the sequel is going to be called “Most of My Friends Are Potential Supervillains.” You know who you are.
[2]The answer to the crossword clue “Like a crossword without balls” is “WORDFIND.”