Dead of Winter: The Long Night

They finally started shipping the standalone expansion to normal civilians. It’s really good.

TLN is a complete game, and you can combine it with the original DOW as you wish. The instructions for this are pretty wishy washy, along the lines of “combining decks may produce unexpected results.” Oh you don’t say.

TLN adds three new twists to the game, and we used them all last night. The first and simplest is Improvements: little mods you make to the survivors’ colony. I was worried that the work to build them would be too costly in the face of harsh scenario deadlines, but it turns out to not be the case.

The second module is the Bandits, a new location and a batch of standees that start taking up space at the other locations (screwing up your own scavenging and attracting way way more zombies). Mostly they just clutter up the map. Not persuaded they’re a great addition but we’ll try them again.

The third module is the Zaxxor (?) Pharmaceuticals thing. Another new location, but this one regularly spits out special freaky zombies mostly stolen from Left 4 Dead. It’s neat! The lab scavenging deck is full of super weird tech, and the special zombies are challenging. Will keep.

The rest of the box is new everything: New crossroads, new characters, new equipment, new objectives and so on. I do think it’ll combine with the original really well eventually, but for now I’m just playing TLN by itself.


It’s going to start September 1, but to get your creative juices flowing, here’s the official Indie Game Reading Club’s list of questions to ponder.

Obviously this is needed because the #RPGaDAY  list is so freighted with assumptions about RPGs that mostly it’s incomprehensible if you’re not in that scene any more.

1. When were you last deprotagonized? What happened and how did you reassert your agency?

2. What game created your most elaborate relationship map? How much of it did you actually use?

3. What’s your favorite behavioral incentive?

4. What’s your favorite perverse behavioral incentive?

5. Would you say rolling dice to have sex is hot, dirty, deprotagonizing, or all the above?

6. How many PbtA games do you own, and which one best captures its most clichéd genre tropes?

7. When did you last spend more time setting up a situation and talking about the situation after than actually playing in that situation?

8. What was your most awesome fight online about what does and does not constitute a story-game?

9. When was the last time an indie game made you feel guilty about your race, gender, or sexual identity? Were you more or less woke after you played it?

10. When did you most recently refuse to play a trad game because the central facilitation role was granted too much creative authority?

11. Best unwanted fictional input generated by procedural uncertainty?

12. Best story about waiting for players in a GMless game to finally get to the point in a scene they’ve called for but obviously had no idea why they wanted it in the first place?

13. What’s the most you’ve spent on a Kickstarter game relative to the amount of play it received?

14. What’s the most play-disruptive discovery you’ve made when you insist on playing by the actual printed rules?

15. When was the last time you unironically used the word “diegetic?”

16. GMs: abusers, control freaks or both? Best story explaining why this is so.

17. Do you buy your legal-sized paper by the ream or by the case? Do you ever try to reuse your playbooks or just start fresh every time?

18. What’s your best story about a precious snowflake character some trad player brought to the table because it was “clever?” How did you call them out?

19. What kind of shit-fit did you throw the last time someone tried to schedule your convention game in a ballroom like you’re playing fucking Pathfinder or something?

20. What’s your best story about falling all over yourself trying to rescue a bunch of awesome fiction that just got invalidated after making a fortune-at-the-end roll like some commoner?

21. What was the last OSR game you tried to play, but quit because you realized there’s literally no mechanical support for a storyline at all?

22. How many friendships have you terminated because they confessed they kind of like to play Fate games sometimes? It’s okay. Fate players have to hear the truth.

23. Tell your most scandalous story about getting X-carded.

24. What was the very saddest thing you wrote on an index card?

25. Do you like your scene framing hard, harder, or hardest? What’s the very hardest you’ve had your scene framed?

26. When you interrogate the nature of heroism in your game, do you prefer to directly or indirectly invoke Lacanianism?

27. What’s the very best playtest-stage game your friends probably haven’t heard of yet? How long ago did you play it and how much better was it than the current version?

28. What’s the most interesting period of obscure and unrelatable history you’d like to see a game set in? How would you do it?

29. What indie game tech do you most keenly miss when you play something more mainstream? And then do you denounce the game in person or do you save it for a social media rant?

30. What is your fondest memory of a game you thought was fun before you knew better?

_Special thanks to Brand Robins​ and Adam Day​ on the thread where it started!_

I’m always on the lookout for good name lists and this one looks pretty good! Also free.

Not sure what to do with the family tree element but I’m sure it could produce interesting results.

This was our third Time Stories mission.

It is terrible.

I want to tell you why it’s terrible but spoilers, I guess. Here’s a spoiler: It is just a dumb grindy D&D style adventure. There are no logic puzzles to solve, no transcendent AHA moments, and your plans hinge largely on luck. There are choke points you can’t get through unless you’ve drawn just the right order of locations, otherwise it takes too much time.

I loved the asylum mystery, oh man, one of my best cooperative experiences ever. The Marcy Case was brilliant except for a technical detail of the endgame that bypassed our need to logic out the solution. But Prophecy is just bad. And slow, my god so slow: we played seven total hours across two nights before we resorted to straight cheating, because no way were we going to play out the grind for another hour just to get reset.

I’ve got Under the Mask coming to me, but if it’s not more in the spirit of the first couple, I’m calling it quits on _Time Stories._

Damn you Jason Corley you were supposed to run a Fantaji thing for me at RinCon.

Looks like I’m playing some OVA thing instead.

But seriously, I guess I’m not signed up for the RinCon community because I had no idea they were already done rustling up GMs. I has a sad! There are big swaths of time where nothing specifically jumps out at me to play, and I would looove to run something.

Who do I know at RinCon Central Command that I could work with? Is it just totally too late for this?

Heaven help me but I’ve started reading through Numenera.

It’s…interesting. Elaborate, gorgeous artwork of course. Really interesting setting. A functional and interesting reward cycle that sort of combines PbtA-style GM moves (called GM Intrusions) and peer rewards/fan mail: when the GM wants to inject a complication (no GM rolling!), the target player gets an XP and then can also give an XP to another player. Or they can reject the Intrusion and lose an XP. No idea what the flow is but this doesn’t sound grossly punitive.

Characters themselves start out as a neat little formulation that reminds me of 13th Age: “I am a [adjective][noun] who [verbs].” The noun is your Type (there are 3), the verb is your Focus (there are 29), and the adjective is your Descriptor (there are 12).

But you know what jumps out at me once again? It’s like…I don’t know…it’s like trad-rooted game designers never saw a premise they actually liked. A reason for play. A driving motivation.

Numenera feels an awful lot like Exalted that way: here’s this amazing setting, truly amazing. Here are these evocative character classes brimming with cool effects. Here are some weird locations. Yes but what do you doooooo?

“Well now you plan an RPG, like you do, dummy,” says the trad player. Which I suppose is true. Chase XPs, search for treasure (which is ostensibly Numenera’s default answer to “what do you do?” but…why?), grind, level up, repeat.

And I get it. I do. There are so many perfectly functional, good gamemasters out there who absolutely do not want someone else’s premise intruding on their thing. Give me a system that doesn’t actively suck, some hot art to get the juices going, lots of character customization, and a wide-open setting with little bits of description. Keep your motherloving hands off my story!

Doesn’t it get exhausting? All that…staring at character combos and setting details and building these one-off bespoke storylines? I mean I suppose it doesn’t, not by a long shot: MCG sells plenty of games. There are plenty of prewritten adventures. I guess I’m naive in my ongoing, decade-long bafflement at how it is something as simple and focused as a premise hasn’t been grabbed by The Roleplaying Community as essential technology. Bafflement at all those gamemasters out there who actively seek this out. I can’t believe they just don’t know there are other ways to do this.

Weird rant, I know. I know! But Numenera I think has promise on the system level (Cypher seems like it works okay, and I can’t wait ’til my kid is old enough to really engage with No Thank You, Evil!, the juvenile version) and somewhere buried in there is, I’m sure, the faintest outline of an actual premise. I’m guessing it becomes pretty clear during character creation, which throws a lot of flags and ideas out there.

Would play! Maybe! I’d need to be in a place where dreaming up branching-path material, week after week, was something I wanted to do.


Gosh I miss playing it. But if it was online I would play the heck out of it.

Even bought the Broken Token organizer, although the Shadows of the Rift and Ship Pack 1 stuff doesn’t really fit.

I may need to put a weekend together to get Eclipse back to the table.

Anyway! If you dig Eclipse it needs some upvotes on Steam, apparently. I’m not sure what that means but I gave it a vote.

How to Learn A Game
Way-Back Machine Repost

This is a thing I wrote from before the Indie Game Reading Club collection, reposted at Mark Delsing’s request. I think it’s an #rpgaday  thing.

* * * * *

When I’m learning my way through any RPG with some complexity, one of the first things I start working on is a player cheat sheet, an explainer that hopefully they can refer to without disrupting the game. It empowers the player to know their choices, and takes some load off me during play.

But more importantly, building the cheat sheet is the #1 way I actually learn the rules.

I’m working on my Pendragon cheat sheet right now, and really it’s all about the Traits and Passions. Glory has its own appendix in the PDF; I just printed copies of that. But Traits and Passions are where the players have the most authority, the most power, in the game.

This process never fails to reveal weirdnesses or disconnects in the rules text. It requires incredibly close reading of the text, perhaps closer than even an editor or developer gives a draft (especially if it’s like the 17th draft of something and you think you’ve already read all this stuff).

In Pendragon, you’ve got these pairs of Traits (Chaste/Lustful, Just/Arbitrary, etc.). They’re kind of paleonarrativist, arguably simmy (I mean if we simply must refer to this stuff), certainly flaggy descriptors for your character. When you’re correctly aligned with chivalric values (high energy, generosity, justic, mercy, modesty and valor) then you’re acting most like a good knight. When you’re not in alignment with those values, you’re being kind of a douche. But whatevs; your character your choice.

But then there are these things called “directed traits.” And because they’re called a Trait, you know, I sort of assumed they act like Paired Traits. But they’re just modifiers to traits, special cases that cause Traits to spike under certain circumstances (weakness for blondes spikes your Lustful trait, and probably others as well — reckless, trusting, merciful, etc.) So…why not just call them ‘trait modifiers?” Who knows. 30 years of accretion means it is what it is.

Passions are nifty: they let you wildly overindulge some attitude and get a massive spike for the scene (+10 or more on a d20). But you also risk going crazy, falling into despair, or going into shock should you actually fuck up. I love them. I don’t love that you gain them kind of…whenever you want them. But this prompts a GM-Player discussion, which is maybe the point.

Luckily, everything advances pretty much in the same way: You use a thing, you get a check (provides a chance of advancing during the Winter Court — yeah, intermittent rewards, Vegas-style. Either it’ll sink its fangs into you or you’ll fucking hate this part). Traits are more nuanced (you only get a check if it “mattered,” which isn’t so far off from Burning Wheel discretionary powers), and Passions can actually fall if you use them and fail.

Anyway, cheat sheets. Useful process. Developers should really consider the process for games they’re working on. Teaching is learning.