Tuesday 15 March 2016

Build your own monster in Fear Fetchers by Kevin Damen

Inhabit the mind of a monster on a mission to collect fear from the houses of unsuspecting people. It's not-Monsters-Inc-but-it-is. Wonderful monster-building mechanics blend perfectly into a scarefest. One or two shot this game with a beer, glass of wine or goblet of BLOOD. Perfect for groups both small and large.

Monster Monster Monster!

Knead your monster from ashen brain putty by picking from a list of body parts. Your choices buff and nerf your attributes of Power, Sight, Sneak, Speed, Terror and Toughness as well as adding narrative-inducing extra rules. As your monster grows in experience, so too can its body parts grow.

Like lifepath generators, monster carving is a process that requires time but rewards you with something unique. The number of body parts is satisfyingly large, allowing even the most tired brains a fighting chance of creating something excellent.


Skill checks are dice pool: you roll a number of dice for the most appropriate statistic for your action. You take the three highest scores, sum them and compare to a difficulty table. Any 6s can be re-rolled (exploding die) to add to the total. Where there isn't an appropriate statistics, you roll "free dice", which increase depending on difficulty.

Initiative is a simple Speed statistic check, highest going first. You can do two actions a turn: a movement and something else... such as going "Boo!".

It's more than just Boo!

Scaring scaredy-cat human NPCs builds on this mechanic. Humans are defined by Bravery, Dread, Spotting, Power & Toughness. These are used during the act of a scare, which comprises of Building Dread, Being Spotted and Delivering the final scare. In essense, you want to give the human the willies as much as you can without being detected before jumping out. The human is scared, you collect their fear, that turns into cash.

If you get into a fight with a human, you're doing it wrong. Three hits and you're out.

I fought the Lore and the Lore won

Where missions are on Earth, Monsters live in Spookington and it's more than just a Matrix loading program. There are different Overlords to work for, devices and limbs to purchase and hints of conspiracy and cunning. It sings of a wider world that your monsters inhabit rather than simply a clever monster building mechanic.

Gamesmaster love

With the players having all the fun, the poor GM is oft overlooked. The GM gets a special rule for when the players roll 1 (I'm not giving it away), which is brilliant. There are sample contracts, a bestiary (filled with humans), help on building your own missions and a sample missing called The All-Hallows-Eve Conspiracy, whose title alone makes me want to play it!

Free-friendly improvements

Fear Fetchers does a couple of things that I feel can be tidied up to make it more free-friendly. There's a lot of empty space (not good for home printing), the tables are large, pages are numbered in the corner with little margin and assumes facing pages. My home printer and I fell out when I last tried to print odd facing pages. It had to sleep in the garage for a week.

The index and appendix are great, I would add sub headings throughout to make navigation easier and avoid block-text of the "scary font" because that makes it hard to read (I'd leave the example contract as it is, though because being difficult to read is funny). I'd put the instructions to print shop on second page or back page.

Finally, I would add little rough drawings of monsters throughout. It would lift the game and make it easier to sell to a player group. As the tone of the game is light, home-made scritchings are perfect.


An excellent idea, well executed. The core mechanic might not be your cup of Earl Grey but you can swap it out easily enough, leaving much of what Fear Fetchers is about. Definitely worth a read and ideal for a Halloween pick-up game.

Thanks for sharing Kevin.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

There's a twist in Drama and Dice by Jo Walton

Jo Walton's generic RPG has left me drifting, wide-eyed, naked and alone between conflicted worlds. Shave away the flowery language and you have a generic lite system with an interesting mechanic twist portrayed with humour and a gentle read.

The Core

Players pluck up to 10 skills from the ether of their imaginations. For my players, that's a dark purgatory filled with the shrieking souls of the damned. 100 points are assigned across them. One skill acts as a primary, which is the thing your character is best at. You get 20HP too. XP is used to improve your skills.

All actions (including combat) succeed by rolling under your skill on a D10 (normal tasks), D20 (hard). Any dice combination will work, the more you roll, the harder it is.

Intrigued by Skill Burning

Every skill begins with a number of points equal to the skill's level. For example, you have "Punching" at 20 then you start with 20 points. If you succeed in an action (roll under), then the total you roll is subtracted from your skill points. Or you choose to fail and keep those points. You don't get those points back until you rest (or the GM says so). There is an intriguing situation this causes that I'm going to call skill burning.
Byrn has a Hacking skill of 30. He's really good at it. He wants to Hollywood-Hack to save the whole team. It's hard difficulty. He's asked to roll 1d10 + 1d20 and rolls 10 and 19. A pass. The table erupts, players are jumping up and down. He doesn't want to burn 29 of his 30 points but he has no choice and is left with 1.
In our example, Byrn can't use Hacking again because his skill is burned. He has to rest, have a bard play a song or get a Swedish massage. Hacking is no longer open to the group, they have to find another way.

I like this mechanic very much but it does mean that, as a GM, you have to be very very careful with how you set up your scenes. A boss fight, for example, must offer the players multiple ways of defeating it beyond wearing down hit points to zero. It is one thing to force players to think of new solutions but you need to ensure that other options are open; and that is difficult.

The advice is that the players can do imaginative and inspirational things to entertain the GM enough to regain points during the game. The GM then has to be careful to balance rewarding players who work around their burned skills, patiently waiting for a natural regain and those trying to force new points mid session.


A mechanic of story points and skill burning can be retrofitted into just about any system. Most systems I read have a roll against target number and a concept of skills or attributes; most will delight the players when they narrowly succeed. Many fit the idea of giving the player the choice to fail for some benefit.

If you like

The lighter a system, the more focus it needs. The roleplaying hobby could boil down to 6 friends seated comfortably and just plucking everything from their imaginations.

A game book that persistently reminds the reader that they can just ignore the rules and make it up smells like one that lacks focus. Instead of "You may sometimes", I would rather read "In situation X, do Y". Only add optional rules or attributes if there is mechanic or narrative benefit. This tightens the game and gives it focus. Drama and Dice has a focal point: the skill points, which should be bold, front and centre.

Another sign of a lack of focus is when the introduction does not match the game as a whole. I was expecting Drama and Dice to give players more narrative control for drama. Instead, the players are forced to work around their character design. That is an interesting twist but I wouldn't say it drives the story any more than a normal skill check failure does.

Playing the mechanic

I think that most player groups would play the mechanic, not the narrative. I can imagine discussions "should I burn all 29 points on hacking or should I fail now so I can hack later? Will we get a regain?". That is not a decision based on the narrative being played out but on the mechanic; the narrative being a bi-product. I think that would suit my group of frenzied Berserkers; the risk, reward and choice is clear.

That single, excellent mechanic

Drama and Dice isn't a storygame as the name and introduct suggests. It is a roll-against-target-number system with the fascinating addition of burning up skill points and forcing players to find another way - to lose the very ability that defines them. Skill points is a resource control mechanic that can brutalise a player team's best laid plans and I'm all for that!

Thanks for sharing, Jo.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Delicious, exploratory campaigns in Mythosa by Bruce Gulke

Mythosa is a system agnostic game setting with a consistency and depth that comes with years of honing. It has recently made the welcome transition from web pages to PDF and I have spent a good few hours immersed in it. I'm reviewing a draft, so dutifully ignore missing images and the like.

If you want to run fantasy and have neither time nor inclination to write your own world then Mythosa is ideal. If you're building your own campaign world and are short of ideas, then Mythosa makes a splendid template.

A world from the people out

Mythosa is a high fantasy world where a pantheon of good, bad, mischievous and down right nasty Gods take an active interest in the affairs of Humans, Dwarves and Elves. It's a world recovering from the a recent magical war, leaving the villains with the upper hand. Humans, both civilised and barbaric, strive to regain safety while Dwarves rebuild their ruined craggy empires. The Elves remain typically aloof. These three races are outnumbered by reams of player-fodder monsters.

A rich, cyclical history gives precedence to the present day, a deep breath after a huge storm of war. Wars come and go, power is redistributed and common folk are left to pick up the pieces. History, like religeons, are not dwelled upon - there's just enough for plot hooks and campaign ideas before the book moves on. My imagination swelled with campaign ideas as I read.

A delight to explore

Where Mythosa excels is in the breadth of the exploration. The map is charming and analogous to Europe and the Middle East. It's decomposed into regions, each having places to go with their own description. Abundant maps are provided and real world photos too for feeling. Mythosa is far from the common list of incomprehensible names. Skim reading and dipping in and out dragged me into the world, even though there is no story to bind it together.

The Devil

...Is in the detail and Mythosa has many world building extras that I believe layer more onto the feel for the world. Calendar, economy, cosmology, pronounciation guide, climate and even wines and spirits. You don't need those extras (grouped handily together under Miscellany) but they go to show the care and attention spent.

Is this just fantasy?

If I were to sit, write and launch a fantasy game world; it would strike somewhere between Tolkein, Martin and history. You can taste Mythosa's sweet heritage in a similar way. A blend of familiar seasoning and surprising spice. Mythosa would fit neatly into any D&D version or WYRM.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

When is my RPG finished?

In this post I offer a practical way to find out if your RPG is ready to be played by others. I am going to assume that you've read my guide How to Write a Free RPG and that you have a strong concept in your mind. You must have this concept tied down if you are ever going to know if you're finished.

Is a game finished when you can play it?

A worthy sentiment but not useful. Most people can play their own game relatively early in the development. You skim over the gaps that will bring others to a halt. I shared the early version 2 of Icar online but I doubt anyone other than me would be able to run it. So, the ultimate test is to get someone else to run it. Experienced designers "just know" when a game is finished, an intuition built over years of play and design. Experienced designers are busy designing, so it can be difficult to get feedback from them.

Are you finished questions

I wanted to attack this subject with a list of practical tasks. Follow the questions below and if you answer positively for each then your game is ready for others.

Do your mechanics cover the cool things in your concept?

This is the most important question. If you can't justify this one easily, you're nowhere near finished. Go back and make sure you mechanics allow the players to do the cool actions in your concept and remove any mechanics that do not help that concept forward.

Have you got examples for each of your rules?

If you can't explain it with simple examples, either you've not thought of a good way of explaining it or the system is too complex.

Can you build a character for it?

For many players, character creation is the first contact they will have with your game. Don't expect them to read the rules, chances are only the GM has.

What will the GM do for and during the first session?

Write a paragraph about the literal steps the GM has to do before and during the first session. Are there handouts to print? How do you imagine the GM will describe the rules? Will the GM need to create a setting?

Have you been through my Testing guide?

Go through the steps of my testing guide as this will help point out things you might have missed.

Things to avoid

Do not model the mundane unless it is a focus of the game. Every sentence in the background should invoke something in the mind of a GM: a plot line, an NPC idea or a place to visit. Those invocations should be in line with your core concept, if not then cut it out and paste into an "other ideas" document.

The "My Game is Never Finished" Procrastination Fallacy

I, like the rest of the internet, is thrilled that you will continue to work on your game after its release. PDF games have the magical power of being easily updated (unlike their steadfast print cousins) and as such are living, breathing documents. If you find yourself arguing that a game is never finished then the ugly scent of procrastination tends to fill the air. Just finish the game, get it out there and stop procrastinating. As sports shoes are known to proclaim: Just Do It. I'm always keen to hear your feedback. Is there a practical measure you use to tell when you're finished? Please do let me know in the comments or discuss over on 1KM1KT.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

The Dark, Romantic, Adventures of Mary Sue by Michael Morrison

DREAMS is perhaps the best shoe-horning of an acronym into an RPG that I've ever seen and it isn't wasted with this delightful, light, narrative driven RPG by Michael Morrison. Setting agnostic but best fitting the modern fantasy such as your might find in Twilight or Neverwhere. It's about Mary Sues.

Wait a minute: a Mary What?

A Mary Sue is a perfect fictional character that can perform incredible feats, usually because they are a vehicle of wish fulfillment for the author.

Rainbow defecating joy engine

Players will need to be perfect themselves to craft a flawless character of unutterable brilliance. If, like me, you have a slobbering wreck of a group who have forgotten how to walk upright, then you might (as a perfect GM) need to given them the assistance they so desperately need. Your magnum opus begins by writing a little fan fiction describing your Mary Sue and their unenviable niche in the world. They might have many extraordinary powers, or just one utterly useful one.

A Mary Sue is defined by descriptive words called traits and organised into three layers. The first layer is what we always see and has three traits, the second what we don't always see and has two. So you could have a character who has the first layer attributes of happy, hard working and very clever and the second layer of beautiful and fascinated by the occult. Ideal for the moment where glasses are removed, hair unfurled and the booky nerd is transformed into a raging beauty that leaves the audience agog or launching thousands of ships.

The third layer is your secret, a powerful catalyst for your character in the game. Hidden, personal and powerful in your hands or the hands of the enemy! If you reveal your secret in a scene, you get a new one or expand your character with a Wish fulfilment, which can be done only once and adds extra traits to your character. Name, description and other tiny details to bring your Mary Sue into focus and you're done. Lite games rely heavily on the characters being in relief and Lite story games all the more so.

Dramatic Actions

Your super-real character performs most mundane actions without question but on occasion, the GM (the jealous sort, they all are) will put some fiendish roadblock in your way. This calls for a Dramatic Action. Player characters begin with 4 Drama Resolution Points each (such as pennies). When a player describes an action, the GM gives a cost in points and if the player wishes to pass, they must pay by putting the pennies into a pot that the GM can then use. When the GM uses the pennies, they are given back to the players.

The Enemy of Printers

The DREAMS is attractively created in landscape but sadly has a toner eating grey background and a printer killing black background. The examples are well designed but I would like a list of one-sentence setting seeds. For example, the system would fit the stoner comedy movie format, Bro movies just as well as lampooning Twilight.

I like that there is no random element but I would prefer a little more system so that the tactical choices between the players are more interesting. Stealing coins, donating coins, dealing coins, offering options on the future of coins, short selling coins, producing coins from behind an ear; the options are endless.

Beyond Satire

Most groups (including the barely humanoid scamps I fend off with a stick weekly) will use the system for satire but I can see real promise in using it for intense play. There is drama to be had in tossing coins into a hat and every player delights in their own character secrets. Even if the idea isn't your cup of chai, it is a neat mechanic and a novel idea that's worth a coffee break read.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Mellow Cyberblues City by Polar Blues Press

Cyberblues City is a cyberpunk roleplaying game based on the Fudge system. Laid back Cyberpunk is a phrase I didn't think I'd write today. Squeeze out the gritty, harsh realities of social disparity, lighten the mood with bad guys who really are just very bad people and frame with a system that is Lite, tried and tested and you have a neat, mellow, dryly humorous Cyberpunk RPG.

You, punk

Your neo-punked dead tree avatar rises from the brain soup with traits of Thinking, Fighting, Shooting, Strength, Reflexes and Cool. In the Fudge tradition, they are ranked GREAT (+3), GOOD (+2) and FAIR (+1).

Your job in the team is defined by your role (Enforcer, Grifter, Ghost, etc), which jacks you up with bonuses and a career that gives you expert knowledge. The combinations produce some wonderful concepts: Radical Blogger Enforcers, Dentist Gunfighter or Lawyer Ghost.

Gifts are abilities, skills or possessions that give you specific bonuses and there are a load to choose from such as Cyber Adrenal Gland, Martial Arts and Signature Weapon.

Fate points are earned during play for doing cool things and are spent to give you bonuses when you need it most. Toughness is how much damage you can take before you fall over and default equipment tools you for the rain soaked neon streets.

Do you feel lucky, PUNK?

The GM (definitely a suit, don't trust them) sets a difficulty on the scale of TERRIBLE (-1) to LEGENDARY (6). You roll two D6 of different colours (one being negative) one being positive and add them together along with Traits, Gifts, Bonuses and any Fate Points.

Cyberblues uses Margin of Success (how much over your target you are) to determine damage. Damage is subtracted from toughness until you fall over. Once you're down, another dice roll shows if you're going to pull through. Initiative deals with the team as a whole and gives the opportunity for team-wide bonuses.

Complex tests are multiple rolls to achieve a result and characters gain reputation in place of XP. There are Goon creation rules along with cinematic vehicle rules too.

Mellow Cyber

It is no easy task to create a Cyberpunk game that gives the genre a new take. The 80s/90s tropes are well embedded in culture now and the cliches flow like nanite through veins. The Mellow smooths out the rough edges of punk by the tone of the Gifts, Equipment, Traits, Roles and the sketched imagery throughout. A soft pencil is in stark contrast to the sharpness of the chrome it represents. There is little grit here and that helps give it the feel of a Cyberpunk that The Dude might approve of.

Mild Cheddar

Cyberblues City could do with some more depth of flavour. The City itself is thinly described and although the language is clear, it could sound a little more Cyberpunk, either by callout quotes or adjusting the names of things. A map and sample adventure would do wonders. I wonder if the gentle tone is a side effect of being the product of a design collective rather than a single vision.

I'd like to see more examples of play to demonstrate the rules. Especially for vehicle combat. I can see it playing out really well in my head but I had to stop and think about it. It does a good job of describing Fudge, but those examples would help the game immensely.

Cyberblues City achieves what it sets out to do. It's a Fudge system game that adds enough punk sauce to make it feel Cyberpunk. I'd like more depth in setting but I did find myself smiling during my read through. If you have that dream spinning around your cortex and need a Lite system to run it then Cyberblues is for you!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Free RPG authors should aspire to Krendel by William J. Altman

Krendel by William J. Altman is a charming generic roleplaying game system with extraordinarily high production values. Aimed at experienced and new players alike, it leaves nothing to chance, taking painstaking effort to explain everything with exceptional examples.

At 206 pages, there is too much joy to detail in a review but I hope to give you a skim that might urge you to download and plunge in.


Krendel provides you with an array of sculptors chisels to carve out your character. Concept first, motivations and temptations (with a list to boot) and relationships (with NPCs and PCs). Before you place your statues amongst your ornate fountains and topiary, Krendel provides a reason for your characters to be together.

Strength, carrying capacity, health, XP and karma all act as you expect. Skills (learnt profession), Traits (natural abilities) and Powers (see below) describe your character. This is a great way to cater for different settings.

Skills are broken down into expertises and each have actions associated with them. This makes for explicit uses of a skill. If you've got Academics then rather than narratively convincing the GM that you're good at puzzle solving, there is an action Puzzle.

Regardless of your setting, your player character is special in some way (as are you, dear reader). Krendel uses power mechanics to give extra actions, or improve the success, or do specific things at certain times. Your character has a power pool to govern their use. A big list of Core powers (common to most settings) is given and if that's not enough for you there is a whole book full of these powers, also free to download.

Generic mechanics, beautifully explained

The core mechanic is a simple target number. You take your skill, add 4 and any GM difficulty bonuses. You then roll a 1D10, equal or under the target number is a success. The neat bit here is that your level of success depends on how big the number is on the die. The bigger it is, the more successful you are and being really successful will give you extra actions or improve your combat.

Failures are dealt with in a modern, narrative way; rather than "you swing and miss the troll", you have "you hit but you've made the troll really cross, it's dropped its knitting and sharpening its bone crunching teeth on some granite".

There are modifiers for help from other player characters and karma to spend to improve the outcome. Damage is served on a platter of types including bludgeoning, corrosive, sonic, badger and mental. It can be lethal, subduing or permenant (can't heal from it). Extensive rules for grids and miniatures allude to its old school, war game heritage and there are attractive pcitures to drive home the details.

Effects and conditions describe limitations (temporary or permenant) that befall your character and are grouped by type. For example, Mutations include effects of cancer, evolutionary and splicing - all with their own rules.

Equipment can be damaged and has a level of quality. You might also be holding an artifact, with magical abilities too. There is an enormous amount of equipment to gorge on! There are crafting rules for players to boost their tooling with setting appropriate effects on play.

Take my hand

Krendel doesn't hang the GM out to dry, but instead guides them through the steps needed to make a setting. A lot of the items in this section would be appropriate for any game system. Scenarios, game balance and encounters are all explained with environment effects thrown in too. There are species (making up a monstrous manual of sorts).

As your approach the end, you'll find a quick start and primer, example characters, species creation, an index and back cover.

New to roleplaying?

The writing of Krendel really does lay itself bare for people new to roleplaying, although the language is more appropriate for older readers. I imagine a GM picking up Krendel but I can't imagine them reading through it all. Do new to roleplaying gamers have the staying power for big rulebooks now?

The core mechanic is simple but the complexity lies in the combinations of modifiers and actions that build up with skills, powers, traits, species, effects, weapon artifact. For a new player to remember all the actions modifiers they have isn't easy. The examples could do with being tied together with an example of play.

Add it to your collection

Krendel is clearly a labour of love, illustrated throughout and rammed with lists. You are probably an experienced roleplayer, begin at the quickstart at the back. It is a huge piece of work that clearly took an enormous effort to complete. The diligence to complete a game of magnitude with such clarity is exceptional. If you're tired of lite systems that force you to invent everything yourself, give Krendel a try. If you just love to read RPGs then the writing of Krendel is a delight.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Flipping Lunch Box Heroes by Jackson and Stogdill

Lunch Box Heroes by Matt Jackson and Christopher Stogdill is a coin flipping generic roleplaying game system wrapped around a flipping neat dice-pool-but-not-dice-pool mechanic. Bold, focussed and malleable, it's flipping well instantly likeable.

Flipping characters

You have Brawns, Agility and Brains. Yes, you, the flipping reader. Well done you. You like pain I know, so you chart that with Fortitude (how much of it you can handle) and Hits, for when the pain really does flipping hurt. Those are common to all characters.

The player needs to get their thinking caps on to choose some flipping skills and gear. Gear is different from just "stuffs in my flipping pockets" because gear gives you a bonus. It's that magic sword with +1 of nasty paper cuts rather than 20ft of flipping rope your players demand even in a Minecraft flatland.

Flipping mechanics

Attributes, skills and gear are measured in coins, which is the number of coins you have to flip for a check. Heads are passes and you're aiming for a target number of heads to pass (1 is easy, 6 is impossible). That's the flipping. The player tries to combine an attribute, skill and gear to flip as many coins as possible so focussed characters are best.

Draws, criticals, fumbles, healing, magic and experience points are all dealt with curtly and with common flipping sense.

The flipping sugar that fills me with joy

The flipping rules is roughly a page of reading, the rest is help. Help for The Judge (the GM/Ref/DM), examples of play, how to rip monsters out of other flipping RPGs. It's so neat that the whole system fits on a single flipping page, included at the back. I like the cover too, it has that unapologetic scruffiness that Lite RPGs do so well.

Flipping injuries

Have you ever seen me flip a coin? No? It's not something you'll see twice because I'll have your eye out. I flip a coin the same way a snake juggles. Although the system is fast, (counting heads), the act of flipping isn't. If you're flipping 5 coins for an action, that's going to take time. It points out that you could use any even dice and count evens but then you'd be using a system much like every other. It's the flipping that's novel.

I'd like to see some more use of typography, perhaps two columns, more paragraphs and the language can be simplified to make it easier for new or younger players. An extra picture or two would help - in the same style as the cover. I also don't think it's important to state that the game is about flexibility and having fun at the top. If a prospective player/GM has downloaded it, they know what a Lite system is all about. If not, they'll never be able to run it as the players will get stuck on creating their own skills (standard drawback of Lite systems).

Flipping Conclusion

Lunch Box Heroes, is Lite, novel and familiar, well written and presented with plenty of assistance. It is different enough for you to download and read, print out the final page and fold it into your grab bag for when your GM is off gallivanting around Vegas.

One last thing...

You might recognise Christopher Stogdill from the excellent Frugal Gamer blog. If you don't, then shame on you. Add him immediately to your feed reader. Don't use a feed reader? What is this, 1997? Oh, you get your English butler to read this out. Well, of course you do. Get him to read it out to you.