Sunday 1 December 2013

Chatting about free RPGs in the first Monkey Hangout - now on YouTube

You know what's weird? I've been talking to Chainsaw Aardvark on 1KM1KT for 7 years and in my head he looks like an Aardvark in black and white, holding a chainsaw. That's weird. BUT WEIRD NO MORE! Chainsaw and some other luminaries from the Monkey community got together on Google Hangouts to chat RPGs. We got to actually talk face to face rather than waiting for a reply on a thread. It was delightful and refreshing and my face still hurts from smiling.

It was rough around the edges (I'd never done one before) but everyone threw themselves into the spirit of it and it was so wonderful to actually chat with people I've shared so much headspace with.

Thank you all for making time to join in!

Feedback please!

I'll be watching it through again soon, collecting links for the notes (I'll update this post and the YouTube video for posterity). I'd love to hear what you think of the Hangout. Did you like the format? Did we try to cover too much? Was it too slow? Too fast? Did we need to bring the sexy a bit more? All feedback welcome.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Five By Five by Jeff Moore. Again. Why? Because...

Déjà vu is a sign that they've changed something in The Matrix. Don't panic! No need to check to see if the doors or windows are still there, this déjà vu is caused squarely by a re-review. I've reviewed Five By Five before and it was so good that I shaved my head, grew a beard, started a cult and sacrificed a whole software engineering team of virgins. There is now a new version (#3) and I can see the engineers have already started running.

Five by Five by Jeff Moore takes a simple mechanic with some delightful properties, builds a system on top of it and then shows you how to play it with example settings.


Characters scooped from imagination goo are baked into Traits. A Trait is a thing you're good at doing. Combat Traits cover getting oily and hacky and can be of type Interrupt, Attack, Defend or Resist. Non-combat Traits cover everything else from flying defusing a ticking atomic bomb in the last 3 seconds through to throwing together a gourmet three course feast from the tins at the back of your cupboard.

The Trouble Trait is curious, it's the Trait that defines what you're bad at. That's joyous! Think of the fun you could have, especially if you collaboratively create your characters: let the players give the Trouble Trait to other player characters. *Evil Laugh*


The core of Five by Five is that it uses D6s but you count 6 as 0. So you get a D5. To do any action, you roll two of these blighters and multiply the result. Each Trait has a rank, which is a target number and you have to roll under that. The fact that you have a zero in there means that 30% of your rolls are always a success, no matter how rubbish you are at something.

The pesky GM will toy with the target number depending on the lunacy you're getting up to and critical fails are rolling the same number on each die. Karma points are used to make tasks easier and are earnt by using your Trouble Trait.

Choppy, Stabby, Smashy

Combat is new in Five by Five. Those characters with an Attack Combat Trait will hit more often. Damage is recorded by wounds, the bigger the weapon and crapper the defending armour is, the more chance you're going to get hit. You have a few other choices to do with combat styles and those choices augment your chance of hitting. It's got just enough tactical choice to make it interesting without getting bogged down in tonnes of rules.


There's a GM section, lovely Creative Commons art and TWO, yes TWO example adventures! One set in high fantasy and one for a supers campaign. My usual complaint about generic systems is that without a setting or two, it is very difficult to understand how they might be used. Five By Five now picks that complaint up off the floor and nails to the wall for all to see. There's a contents and an explanation of the mathematics at the back.

Prolific like Silicon

Jeff creates in the way other people breathe. He is blogging new ideas and extensions to the rules all the time. They are options, of course, but how lovely to have options at all! Jeff supports his game with the same effervescent vigor by which he creates them. If you follow blogs (duh!) then follow his, the gush of ideas is thrilling.

Not Perfect

I'm almost impossible to please. I like the stark black and white graphics but prefered the old two-column layout. I would rather like a border too, when printed black text on a borderless page gets a little lost. Sometimes the graphics inline don't really match with the meaning of the text and although I appreciate this is difficult with Creative Commons imagery, one must take care of where to put the images. The text headings should be different sizes to indicator chapter and section. There is a little too much preamble before the game begins. It has its own website, so it doesn't have to be all in there.

Combat needs more examples and I think the language sometimes strays away from being generic (such as Sword and Board not being appropriate for Sci Fi campaigns). That's a problem that most generic RPGs have. The use of "segments" in combat also got me thinking about the use of non-standard language in RPGs but that's a post of for another time.


Five By Five still ranks with my favourite generic RPG systems. It uses a solid core mechanic that is easy to pick up and has some brilliant mathematical outcomes. Enough crunch to be a system without smashing your teeth.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Harder than Granite 24 Hour RPG Competition

Welcome to the 2013 24 Hour RPG Granite Hard Competition! Hosted at 1KM1KT and sponsored by The Free RPG Blog.

Yes, yes, it's a fantastically difficult one this year but not only do you get the chance of winning a lovelys fats £30 Amazons Vouchersis but you will also qualify for NaGaDeMon bragging rights. I know you love a challenge because you've read this far without your eyes popping out. To be in for a chance of winning £30 in an Amazon Voucher:

1. Write a roleplaying game without numbers.

2. Write it in the Pocketmod format

Find out more about what on Earth a Pocketmod is here.

3. Spend 24 hours writing a roleplaying game during November.

4. Make sure you include an NPC called Keeton in your game.

5. Upload your game to 1KM1KT by 00:00 (GMT) 1st December 2013.

6. Make a thread here on 1KM1KT about your game.

(Optional but we'd like you to, please put it in the special 2013 Forum.)

7. Check back on 1st of January 2014 to find out who the winner is, or check on The Free RPG Blog.

8. You can use more than one Pocketmod booklet but kudos will go to those with a complete game in the fewest.

What are the rules?

Apart from the list above, you must obey the 24 hour RPG rules. The judge's decision is final. £30 will be in Amazon vouchers, emailed to you.

I want the £30 to pay my D&D habit! What is it judged on?

Poor you! Our panel of monkeys will be judging you on:
  • Must include an NPC called Keeton
  • Innovative: Is it a clever use of the small space?
  • Complete: Is it complete? Could you run it?
  • Attractive: Is it pleasant to look at?
  • Professional: How much effort went into layout and style?
  • Extras: Did they include actual cover, index, character sheet or any other cool things you get in a proper RPG? Yes, even in a Pocketmod!

I'm late to this party!

That's a shame, we might run another competition soon. If you wrote a 24 hour RPG but didn't get it in before 00:00 GMT 1st December 2013 then we'd still like to see it.

I want to do it again!

Enjoyed it so much that you want another go? Are you bonkers? Yes? Then please do! Have another go. Enter as many times as you like! I'm not paying for the therapy you might need at the end of it, though.

I want to keep working on it after time is up

Please do! Submit what you did in 24 hours and then please do keep going. You won't get any feedback on the extended game from the judges until after the competition but there are plenty of others on 1KM1KT who can help.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Wushu Open by Daniel Bayn kicks bottom - through a window on fire

I jump, grab a red paper light fitting, swing across the room and boot the first mook through a flowery paper wall, I roll with the momentum over a sloshing fish tank and connect my fist into the face of another.
Wushu Open is a text document. So it all looks like this.Wushu Open is an action movie roleplaying game system. A system that encourages you to do that. A system that rewards you for doing that. Wushu Open is the no-frills-and-free, creative commons version of the commercial-but-indie Wushu system. Ideal for action movie settings from Hong Kong action theatres to derivatives such as the Matrix. The rulebook is plain but I implore you to forgive that and read it; as the system breaks preconceptions in the most mind shattering manner.

Put reality away for a minute...

Daniel demonstrates that realism isn't always good. In most systems realism causes negative modifiers to outrageous acts of heroism. Negative modifiers make cool stuff less likely and so players are rewarded less. A good point, I think. I've certainly seen the benefits of chaining up reality in the cellar when playing with my Shared Pool system. In Wushu, the core mechanic is based on that principle.

It's a core mechanic, you say?

Everyone describes what they are doing and then everyone rolls. What you describe will automatically happen, how it advances the scene depends on the roll. A solid storygame mechanic. You're aiming to roll under your character's most appropriate trait (rated 1-5) on a D6. Here's the clever bit: you roll a D6 for each cool detail you include. For my example earlier:
I jump, grab a red paper light fitting [D6], swing across the room and kick the first goon through a flowery paper wall [D6], I roll with the momentum over a sloshing fish tank [D6] and connect my boot into the face of another mook [D6].
My pool is 4 dice. The GM and player decide what a die-worthy detail is and you limit the number of dice to speed up or slow down a scene (for dramatic effect). I find that this kind of reward works brilliantly with players who are engaged at the table as there is a tangible benefit for coming up with entertaining and interesting actions.

Choppy and Kicky

When in combat, you fight Mooks and Nemeses. Mooks can be dispatched without an opposed check and damage ticks down their "Chi" as a group. When Chi runs out, the remaining Mooks take to their heels or are all unconscious or realise they're the bad guys and surrender. Either way, the scene moves on.

Nemeses are taken on mano-e-mano basis. Nemeses are like player characters. When rolling combat, you split your dice between attack dice for doing damage (called Yang) and defence dice for soaking up damage (called Yin). Every success removes a point of Chi until you're exhausted. Choosing a balance between Yin and Yang gives a clever tactical choice.


As damage relies on narrative, you can choose whatever weapons fit your character and the setting. There is no initiative or advancement either. Your character begins with a Weakness trait that gives your character depth too.

Stuck between free and a paid place

Wushu Open feels unfinished. The system itself is complete but as a game, it needs expansion to get over that hump to finished. And here lies the difficulty: if the free game was complete then there would be little need to buy the full price game (which isn't expensive). I would like more examples, an evocative layout, sample adventure, contents page and some images.
The reviewer runs up a chair onto the table and launches a simile laden paragraph at one reader while slapping the foundations of another.
As the game has a Creative Commons variant, so there is no reason that someone else couldn't take Wushu Open and make these updates. However, you could well argue that a well put together Open redux would affect sales of the core Wushu game; as the sort of person who would do a redux, I would not like to sour Daniel's goodwill. This issue is not unique to Wushu Open but any free RPG that is shoulder to shoulder with a paid product.

Super whizzy choppy

I regularly red "GMs should reward the players for imaginative play" and although experience points can serve that purpose, Wushu uses that tenet as a cornerstone. To demonstrate the opposite, Wushu penalises players who do not engage at the table. How many games can claim to that? Wushu is a novel system for action movies and is worthy of its following.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Light and tight: Mutants and Machineguns by Robertson Sondoh Jr and Daniel Marcus

Mutants and Machineguns is a modern world political drama set in the West Wing of the Whitehouse. Ha! Only joking. Had you fooled for a moment there. Didn't I? No? Oh.

Mutants and Machineguns by Robertson Sondoh Jr and Daniel Marcus does what is says on the tin. A light hearted, light weight game set in a grim yet Gonzo post apocalyptic future teeming with mutations and, errrr, guns. It is also comes in a pocketmod format. It's also in Spanish and French. It is a delight to read and leaves you wanting more but like all lightweight games, is there enough here to make it a game?


Characters have four attributes: Combat, Physical, Mental, Social; 8 points divvied up, maximum 3, minimum 1. 3 races: Pure Human, Mutant Human, Evolved Animal; decides hit points and mutation.

Mechanics: Sum 2D6 and attribute, succeed if large than a target number. Critical fail on rolling a 2, critical pass on 12. When attacked, target number is 9 by default and called Defense. Experience between 1 to 3 depending on adventure difficulty, spend it on hit points, Defence or abilities. For combat initiative, sum 2D6 and combat, highest goes first.

That's the majority of the mechanics. I wanted to see if I could be more succinct than the game without losing meaning. I'll let you be the judge of that, dear reader! Those mechanics are common but that's OK because they make way for the interesting stuff.

The Interesting Stuff

Mutations! Who wouldn't want them? Telekinesis can be fun in a cafe, extra arms lets you quad-yield SMGs and Dual Brain doubles your mental power. And there are more. Not lots more; enough for characters to be individual.

In combat, you are confined to a linear map (see picture). This sounds awful but it allows there to be a tactical choice without resorting to the complexity of grids or hex systems. A clever balance of enough map to be tactical but not so much that you need to create mechanics for dealing with it. If you ever wondered "how do I cater for maps in my super-lightweight RPG" then this is it.

The linear battle map, I'm a big fan of the art style

The specter of radiation pops up as a check against your physical attribute. If you fail, you get some radiation points. Radiation kills humans and mutates mutants before killing them. It's nasty stuff. Who says that roleplaying games can't be used to teach people about the real world!

Hungry for more

Lightweight games do the same to me as a single bite of chocolate. It melts into your brain, you get the sugary endorphin rush and then you crave more. I crave more of Mutants and Machineguns. I want a game world. I want more critters. I want more of the delightful art.

There is more than enough game here to make it a game I just want more. Gonzo Post-Apocalypse is such a superb idea (Fear and Loathing in Fallout?) that is demands expansion. Expansion without losing the essence of being a small game. That's a huge demand - but a worthwhile one.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Crank up the intensity in Siege by Andrew Smith

Siege is a one shot story game where the players play all the parts in a hostage situation: Captor, Hostage and Police. Negotiate peacefully or waste the hostages. Make peace with the captors or nuke them from orbit. Feed the media circus or shut them out. Overpower your captor or reason with them. Moral ambiguity is explicit: cops can be bribed, the captor is following a good cause, the hostages are villains. It's got tight, emotive focus but does it work as a game?

Character Creation

With smaller number of players, the GM is both hostage and GM. With more players, roles are added in order. Your character has two Resistances: Patience, Resolve and 2 Abilities: Wit and Action. Patience and Resolve measure how emotional fatigue drains out of your character through the story. Wit and Action are more like traditional Attributes intelligence and strength-dex-etc.

You then pick a core expertise, which outlines the sort of things that you character can do (without being too broad). These add modifiers to checks when you use them. Examples for the police include sniper or negotiator. This is a public area of expertise, you also get to have two secret ones that you can reveal at any time. The GM is final arbiter, ensuring the chosen areas are not too broad.

The Captor character gets to choose why they took hostages. The GM and player playing the Captor work together to set this up in secret. Like all good movie hostage situations, this reason will be revealed at some point for dramatic effect.

Gaming story style

The GM establishes a scene and the players take it in turns to narrate what they are doing. Scenes can be proposed by players too. This continues until a character performs an action that can be opposed by another character. This is called a decision point. Actions are resolved by rolling 3D6.

Choose the relevant action statistic and pick up that many D6s. You then add one die for Resolve and one for Patience. Roll them all. Choose the highest die and add modifiers. Highest score wins. If rolling against a non-player then 6 or more progresses the story in the character's favour (player narrates). Less than 6 and the GM gets to choose. Wounding is descriptive with a modifier to future actions.

The Patience and Resolve dice need to be coloured differently. If you roll 1 on one of these dice, the relevant score decreases by one. This is how you run out of Patience or Resolve. That's exceptionally neat.

Are we in a relationship?

Sympathy is a statistic that charts how characters feel toward each other between +2 and -2. Sympathy is used to modify checks. If you have negative Sympathy for the Captor and perform an action against them, you get a bonus. I like the idea but getting my brain round the positive/negative strength took a while. Using Twists, Siege allows you to change roles halfway through the game. Brilliant.

When a character runs out of Patience, they can only make Action tests (lost their wits) and when they run out of Resolve, their next scene must be their last. Bleeding resolve will force the game to end through narrative. Tracking Patience and Resolve in this way brings the game to life.


The game is well written throughout, although the language at times is a little "happy-jolly" for the subject matter, I would keep it grittier. I would opt for a smaller font, two columns and a narrower margin. This would considerably reduce the page count, and shorter line lengths will make it easier to read. I would move the page numbers to the middle (no need for facing pages as there is no spine-friendly background). I would put rules in boxes to make them easier to refer to.

The credited imagery is very well chosen (a superb front cover), I would perhaps use smaller images and let text flow around them. The examples are well labelled as such (being indented) but I would like to see some more of them - especially around basic actions and the end-game. As the GM is used as a final source of ideas in many cases, I would include a bunch of inspiration lists. Andrew has done this for "Why take hostages" and it works brilliantly.


Siege is crafted to be an intense experience for players with their serious heads on. The core novel mechanics of Patience and Resolve ultimately drive the story. Siege is a blank canvas for the GM to seed ideas for the team, so preparation is required. It's a one-shot that should be savored. A single lamp in a dark room, a soundtrack of crickets and then dig deep to find your own moral compass. You might get flashbacks from it days after but then that's what makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Nights of the Crusades by MJ Alishah is brimming with eastern promises fulfilled

Nights of the Crusades by M.J. Alishah is a gorgeous, rich fantasy roleplaying game set in a mythic-historical world of the One Thousand and One Nights and crusades. Lavishly laid out, delightfully illustrated and painstakingly researched, it is a thick tapestry of a game. The core rulebook is free and subsequent modules are paid for; but this is of no consequence. The flesh of the 100 page core rulebook will sink you deep into the world of scimitars, psychotic Knights and Djinn dunked in realistic grit. A story game feel with campaign aspirations and the most atmospheric book I've read in a long time.

Your character is a prism

Character creation begins with psychoanalyst questioning. Why are you here, what drives you? Tell me about your childhood. Did you fancy your mother? I felt like it was going to ask me to point at somewhere on a doll. You then pick allegiances, made up from faction (which side of the war), religeon, classes and an organisation (such as a gangs and so on). Each carries a "disposition", which is a positive/negative level of influence. The Knights Templar love you now but after you've gutted a hundred of them while they slept, they may not invite you round for tea and biscuits again.

Skills (facets of a character that grow over time) called Expertise and are grouped together Communication, Knowledge, Melee, Ranged and Vigor. There's a big old list to help you pick and the groups are what you roll against, a bit like Attributes but not.

Wealth allows you to purchase things but it is a statistic in itself. Being robbed, hoodwinked or bribed will all affect this Wealth statistic. If Wealth hits 0, you roll on a brutal table of poverty. If your Wealth hits an upper limit, you roll on a prosperity table, which can mean you get robbed. You lose? You lose. You win? You (might) lose. Brilliant. This creates wealth as a charming game effect beyond a custom bling suit of armour with gold boots.

Finally, your character is fleshed out by depleting Wealth with stuffs. I have a frankly filthy fetish for equipment lists and Nights of the Crusade satiates it. You can buy servants, books (with spells and skills inside), formulas (for alchemy) and intoxicants (for stoners). It is nice to see stoner culture getting RPG representation.


The core mechanic is Expertise group plus modifiers versus a target number (called the Apex) with criticals on a 1 and 10. There are slightly different systems for combat and non-combat, the difference being the actions you perform and the outcomes. For example, if you're negotiating (typically non-combat but not for my energy-lance-it-from-orbit-negotiation player group) then actions include Appeal, Dismiss and Fortify; the outcome being your argument is accepted.

Combat has initiative (called Awareness Test) and you can do a number of actions a round. You choose from a list of actions that include every sort of combat you might want. Injury is descriptive ranging from "That tickles! Oh, you meant to hit me..." through to "Can someone unscrew my helmet so I can scrap my brains off the inside".

Flavour is added through details like Hostile Stance, where your character tries to get into the right mood for slotting someone up a treat. Hostile Stance is an opposed action and can give modifiers in either direction. A lovely touch. On one side you might have had a bad day and want to take it out on the poor target. On the other hand, you may have got laid that morning and rather just eat a big lunch and doze the afternoon away.

The trauma of hacking foes into bite-sized giblets must also be taken into account, there's a wonderful table that reads like one of my players' medical report. In a long term campaign, your character is likely to turn bonkers but it will be fun watching them do so.

The importance of story

In Nights of the Crusades, stories are mechanised to produce a resource called Pearls of Wisdom. A story is like an adventure, made up from scenes of Adventure, Drama or Mystery. A character is a focus of a scene and generates Pearls of Wisdom for engaging in Adventure, Drama or Mystery. Pearls are spent like XP. This is where the story game feel comes in.

Symbols of Power are another neat mechanic that allows your character to grow in importance. You buy Symbols of Power with Pearls of Wisdom and see you equip your own Fief (patch of land) with libraries, marketplaces and so on.


Excellent writing and research is married perfectly in Nights of the Crusades. The world of the Middle East during medieval times is illustrated with descriptive text throughout. The imagery is good but it is the snippets of story that describe the lives of real people that bring it to life. I can imagine crafting a war weary Knight longing for the green grass of Normandy or a "Desert Loving English" Lawrence-of-Arabia character obsessed with desolate golden sands and war. Huge effort has gone into describing the horrors of medieval war and life with sensitivity, care and a style that draws you in.

A little more reference

RPGs have a difficult line to walk between being thematic and a reference. Nights of the Crusades is all about theme but is a pain to use for reference. Even referring back to the book for writing this review, I had to dig through blocks of descriptive theme text to get to the nub of a rule. Other games solve this by having rule callouts, appendices with cheat sheets and the like. The book should also cross-reference itself. I love having all the Expertise areas at the back but there should be a page reference in character creation. It is fine to have players jump back and forth to make a character but make it easy for them.

My other concern is with naming. When designing a game, you must strike a balance between naming things in line with the theme and using standard roleplaying terms. If you name everything with standard terms, your game reads like every other. If you make up a bunch of new terms in keeping with your theme then this acts as a barrier to experienced players getting to grip with your game. For example, I would like Expertise areas to have more middle-Eastern sounding names, "Communication Expertise" sounds like the sort of thing a business analyst would write.

The beautiful layout is a little low in contrast in places, and one or two of the sketches should probably be omitted. I would tend to put weaker art toward the back of the book. Also, the map (which has scale in days - great!) needs to demonstrate the difference between land and water.

Production wealth

Nights of the Crusades is a paid-for-product that is given away for free. It is clever marketing - but no trick. The core rulebook is not a taster product but a fully fledged roleplaying game that will offer thousands of hours of play. I view the extra modules more of a donation for thanks than a crutch to make the game walk. The mechanics include a few unique touches but is a familiar description-heavy roll-versus-target number affair.

It is the setting that glows. Every sentence leaps from the page and stops you. Makes you think. What was it like living back then? What if the One Thousand Arabian Nights were true? To spawn those two questions alone makes the game a success.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Gods of Gondwane by Dariel Quiogue lets you ride a Velociraptor!

Gods of Gondwane: dinosaurs, humans, aliens, machines, living gods and behind it all a race of turbo-pillocks called The Shapers. Got your attention? You're probably aghast at the thought of thrusting all that into a single game, I was. How could it possibly hang together coherently? How can a single system handle that much imagination juice?