What To Run Next: Summertime Blues

Summertime is bullshit for setting up a new RPG, amirite?

I feel a little discouraged by our premature ejection from our last game. Kind of a combination of the vague disinterest folks developed in the face of constant delays, and feeling, I dunno…maybe a little taken for granted. Like, I’m totally confident that I’m very good at running games. But I also feel like that very good pianist at the bar you like to go to, who’s always good so you don’t really notice because it’s comfortable and expected and just part of why you like going to that bar. It’s fine, really. Just kind of a funny observation, since I think at least one of my players has felt taken for granted as well.

I’m not quite feeling pumped, like, anxious and itchy, about getting another game going. I love it — looove it — when I’ve got one cooking and we’re meeting regularly and everyone is at least modestly excited about playing. But summer is bullshit, as posited above, so nobody’s sharing that urgency with me right now.

So I grabbed a piece of paper and started going over my uh rather extensive collection both on my shelves and in PDF, looking for the games that for-real interest me. It’s a good way to start feeling excited, for me at least! The list ended up being pretty long. Now I’m slowly ordering the games by how bad I actually want to run them: for this particular group, at this particular time.

Here’s what made the cut, in order, and my current priority list along with notes to myself.

Apocalypse World 2E: I haven’t actually played OG AW since 1E came out! Many years now. Gone through tons of PbtA and hacks but man…the (new and improved) original is up there. Downsides: Lukewarm enthusiasm by at least one and maybe two players for PbtA-style play. We just ran a Dungeon World hack. And I’m not sure I’m ready for what I’m sure would be a pretty grim story.

The Veil: Looks rad as well as pretty distant from straight Apocalypse World. Jonathan Perrine​, one of my newest additions to Tuesday Game Night, says it feels more like a more-distant PbtA relative, like Headspace or Uncharted Worlds. I’ve got this concern, and it’s so dumb, about running back-to-back games on the same platform. But I’ve got at least one player actively interested in the subject matter.

Blades in the Dark: We ran a couple sessions out of quickplay 6, maybe? And another of my players ran his own side game from the same quickplay. We have two copies of it floating around. Downsides: I wish I had a better sense of how robust the not-criming part of the game is. It was not especially strong out of the quickstart rules. Grinding out job after job didn’t feel awesome but I think that was just a limit of my understanding of the game.

Torchbearer: I haven’t played since the playtest! And I’m still feeling uninspired to take on full-bore Burning Wheel. But! I’m still not persuaded Torchbearer is “fun” in a way my players would enjoy. It might get my Burning Wheel cultists off my back, though. That’s no small thing.

Coriolis: It’d be straight space adventure, which I’m reflexively mehhhh on because my best players also prefer strong melodrama, which I don’t think Coriolis really gives a shit about. But it looks like fun, for real, and Fria Ligan has consistently delivered fun games, at least in the short term.

Soth: Been on my list since last year’s BigBadCon. And I think I could do it in two sessions. Strong contender. Feel like I need five, though. Given the short run I think it might be a good match. But! I think one of my players has played it before. I know there are alt rules for replays, so not a big deal. Hmm.

The Clay That Woke: I can’t tell if this is a sunk-cost fallacy thing happening (I spent $70 to get the wooden tokens, it must be good!) and I’m intellectually intrigued by how it plays out. And I’ve got a players who’s played it in a con setting, I think. It doesn’t really viscerally speak to me. But I confess I’ve been interested since I got it. Weighing whether I actually want to ask my players along for the ride.

Epyllion: Lands in a funny space for me. I really enjoyed a con game of it, but it’s … gentle, I guess. Not explicitly “childish” in any way. But the central themes of friendship and teamwork and mutual support…I feel like my local players might scoff at that? Also, I’ve got the Jonathan Perrine​ factor: he’s probably the single most experienced Epyllion player on the planet due to his Magpie connection, so I both feel a tiny unease asking him to run it even more as well as my own har har let me show you how it’s done! impulses.

Urban Shadows: I want this game to work so, so bad. I’ve run it…hm…one longish campaign, two short side games, two one-shots. And I finally got to play for the first time at NewMexicon. It pushes a lot of my buttons. My Tuesday Game Night players have been through it, though, and I know at least one of them was deeply dissatisfied with how it played out (and acknowledges that we all learned how to play it better). This and Sagas of the Icelanders are my favorite PbtAs. And I feel a tiny bit like maybe I should offer up a not-PbtA next. So.

Wrath of the Autarch: Looks rad but also too long-term right now. Also pretty game-y and not really role-play-ish. Not sure all my players are up for really digging into how to play it well. If I had a better sense of whether or not it’s a good experience in, say, five sessions, I’d have a stronger opinion. Maybe Phil Lewis​ can chime in.

Masks: You know, maybe? Don’t love supers but I hear nothing but the very best from folks about this game. Kit La Touche​ says it puts off Strong Female Protagonist vibes. The teen thing again, though. Same problem I have with Tales from the Loop and Monsterhearts. I need to find a way past that I think.

Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine: Tough one. It’s like The Clay That Woke in that intellectually, I’m super-interested in decoding it. How does it work? Why did she write it this way? My players even surprised me when I brought up the heartwarming aspect of the game before, and they replied that they had grown tired of grim/dark/grimdark. I’m having a hard time getting stoked about rewiring everyone’s expectations of how a session “should” play out.

Legacy: Life Among the Ruins: I have the hardest time fitting this and Apocalypse World in my head at the same time. Quite different games and quite different tones! I feel like I’d need to run these, like, a year apart from one another. The family-building aspect is super interesting to me, though, because I’m looking at similar tools for my secret Real American West project.

Tales from the Loop: Another Mutant hack. The kid thing isn’t speaking to me. And someone pointed out that the central mystery of the game — the Loop itself — is never really addressed. It’s just the excuse to have weird-shit-of-the-week type play. I may just need to be in the right mood for it.

So that’s this week’s FOMO.

0 thoughts on “What To Run Next: Summertime Blues”

  1. I’m doing Masks next, having just finished Fallen Empires. So back to back PbtA for me.

    I sort of wanted to do Unknown Armies 3rd, but UA is a bit of a heavy lift to run the way I like it to work, and I’m really not in that space with summer head on.

  2. I’m about to start a Blades in the Dark online game… haven’t played since quickstart 2 or 3. I too felt the non-crime game was weak there. Having read the full rules twice now, it seems there have been great improvements. The setting is FAN-TAS-TIC. I’ll show you the massive R-maps I did of some of the warring factions, sometime.

    I have a good feeling about it this time. The magic and the crafting/project rules are interesting, as is the Crew growth game, but I’m going to focus on the RP side of stuff… relationships, personal drama and such, ’cause I feel that’s where I failed last time and I think it’s the key to developing a long term game. Once they make some real enemies and real friends, it should work.

    I hope. Will keep you posted.

  3. I totally get the “too many games, not enough time”. I have a whole geeklist devoted to the subject, actually TWO of them…

    rpggeek.com – Skalchemist’s Campaign Queue | RPGGeek

    I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to run Epyllion until the Draconomicon thing comes out. I love it, but no ideas are coming to mind. I need more setting material for my imagination to work on.

    I’ve just started monthly campaigns of both Blades and Masks, myself, so we’ll see how that goes (to go with my Dungeon World and Twilight 2000 1st edition games).

    My experience with the Clay that Woke was that the setting was simultaneously too weird and too specific. I ran three sessions, and enjoyed it, but then was having a very hard time figuring out where to go next. It was HEAVY gm lifting during play, more so that your average PbtA game.

    Legacy is on my list, but my stumbling block with it is the multiple family angle. I think I would get it if the family was more like the crew in Blades, but the player=character=family thing I just haven’t grokked yet.

  4. Oh, also curious to see what you think about Coriolis… Mechanics are fine, but, from what I understand, the secret sauce of MY0 was the home base and the mechanics and roleplay that building up the community entailed, yes?

    I was disappointed that Coriolis doesn’t seem to have a similar approach to your spaceship (technically, the group’s home base). It was just “buy stuff for your ship with credits,” which I’ve seen in every single space RPG since the dawn of the hobby…. 🙁

  5. It was an easy sell for me, considering how much I loved the first two. I’m not sure it’s as strong out the gate as 2nd edition, but some of the deeper bench of material in it is solid.

  6. Can we get a write up on s-map procedures? You teased us with the end of Moonicorn but i can’t decipher the jpg.

    I’m running Coriolis online and just started a Blades in the Dark game at my local table. But require some heavy GM lifting but that gets me excited.

  7. So I’m four sessions deep on Blades in the Dark, and while it’s only partly supported by the rules, I’m enjoying the non-crime stuff in a sort of “Guy Ritchie, let’s watch these criminal idiots run around trying to manage those few crumbling parts of their lives not directly related to crime” sorta way. Like, it’s all “crime stuff,” but there’s all the talking and fumbling and being dumbasses that goes along with getting jobs and maintaining relationships.

  8. So, if one outlines the relationship between the different gangs and factions in Blades, who’s friends with who and who is at war with who… is that an R-map or an S-map?

    (I may have done my first S-maps?) 😀

  9. I vouch for Soth to get people excited. I think that premise is so strong its the only freeform roleplaying experience that makes me want to jump in right away.

    Coriolis kickstarter just dropped artifacts and tech pdfs. That was a hole I felt when compared to my M:y0 experience and the excellent artifact deck. The darkness points are a weird mechanic that I’m not sure beats out the attrition you can find in M:y0 or Tales of the Loop. Right now i’m embracing the cosmic horror found there and turning it into a frankenstein experiment.

    I am confident playing/running Blades in the Dark probably makes you better at roleplaying. The way it encourages negotiations at the table is very fun and collaborative. It also requires a fair amount of GM lifting, but luckily the games setting is dripping with intrigue that it never feels like too much of a chore.

  10. I wonder if there’s any good Actual Play videos for Chuubo’s. I’m almost thinking that’s the best way to start to understand the game.

  11. I’m neck deep in both Masks and Blades in the Dark right now! 4 sessions into BitD, and about to have session 13 of Masks.

    So, Blades does a perfectly fine job of handling “not crime” stuff, in my opinion. When you’re not criming, you’re just roleplaying like any traditional game: players say stuff, you make stuff happen. A not-insignificant amount of my players’ time has been spent interacting with their relevant NPCs (old noble friends, old thug friends, mom and dad and childhood love, demon girlfriend, etc) in ways tangential to scores, framed around their Downtime actions. Basically, I just stick to scene framing and if there’s anything interesting going on, we hop to t and keep the game rolling, and if people want to spend Downtime actions doing X, well then I use the scene framing to get there if there’s someone worth talking to there. It may not be everyone’s style, sure, but I can tell you it doesn’t break the engine to “idle” like this.

    And for Masks, I’ll say one quick dumb fix for the teenager stuff is to run it with 20-somethings, a la Arrow, Flash, & Supergirl. None of those shows are about teenagers, but all of those shows are about people’s expectations being thrust on the heroes and figuring out what kind of person you want to be. CW drama is basically perfect for Masks, despite a shortage of teenagers in the mix. Dunno if that helps at all with your misgivings, but it is a potential angle.

  12. Iiiiffffff you’re the sort of person who can stand the idea of watching others play a game, there’s a variety of folks streaming their Blades games on Twitch (then uploading them to youTube). (I imagine this is true for plenty of other games, too. This comes to mind for me because I’m streaming the below mentioned game: )

    I’ve been playing Scum&Villany (that’s the Space Opera flavor of Blades in the Dark, which I’ve found to be refreshingly less-grim), and I continue to grow in my appreciation for the BitD system. My experience with the not-job-part of the system is that it’s an absolute delight.

    ..you might consider playing some low-consequence game. Something less dear to your heart. If scheduling is a wreck this time of year, slot in something you’d like to explore for a short span of time?

  13. Yeah, I think Masks would do a fine job of handling CW-style young adult drama. Basically, the labels (being told who you are by those around you, and trying to define yourself) and many of the playbooks are the key things that tie it to some sort of young cast. I’d say that once you move past young adults (and, honestly, towards characters in their 30s), it becomes a bad match for characters.

  14. Following Andi Carrison’s excellent advice, maybe this is the time for Torchbearer? It can work pretty well as a short series since it’s centered around dungeons. Finish one dungeon, then gauge the group’s interest in another. Rinse and repeat.

    You’ll want to get a few full cycles under your belt to get the full feel of the thing (i.e. a few Town phases), but it’s still got a short expiration date if you want it to. If you’re looking for published dungeons, the BWHQ guys have put out a few. But the game also works well with classic D&D adventures. Village of Hommlet and, especially, Keep on the Borderlands are well-suited to adaptation.

  15. So in this place right now. Most of my group is either traveling or moving (or both) so we’re on hiatus. I’ve got so much good stuff to choose from for a one-off or two that I don’t even know where to start.

    A list. Good place to start.

  16. I don’t even remember you mentioning Torchbearer, but I’m super interested in it and loathe to work it out for myself, so chalk me up as up for that too.

    I would give running (or playing) Epy a shot. Like I said, ask me after I run two games this weekend (is it weird I have more anxiety about putting it on the group’s table instead of just rolling games at cons?)

    Epyllion is simple, but runs off of / teaches you / forces you to refine three skills. Two are normal PBTA – Managing spotlight and asking questions. Aside from a one-page rundown of ideas, basically everything about Dragonia is player question emergent, and your GM job is basically to set up the scenes that make playbook moves trigger, done. Because Epy is otherwise kinda simple, I felt like it gave me time to focus on an do those things.

    Thing 3 is being adorable and generating cute things, but I already had that so it was an easy lift. I’m not totally sure how to recommend building on this without a table to bounce ideas off of until everyone laughs.

    If you’re in Hans Messersmith’s boat, I think it’s a mix of two things – Making friendship-themed/challenging plots, and making stuff draconic. The first is easy – Just have the Hazard section in front of you, watch the first act of a My Little Pony episode, and practice translating the conflicts to the Hazard types. The second is a weird lateral thinking exercise, but luckily the table can help with that. (Dragons spill too much trying to hold goblets in claws, so how is everyone at your nestmate’s first-flight party drinking their banana-wine?)

  17. Sean Nittner’s Stone Dragon Mountain has me excited again to run Torchbearer, but right now I’m super stoked to be starting a weekly Mouse Guard game with non-gamers to start with. It’s still my favorite.

    Down the line, I’m hoping to run Action Movie World, which just tickles me every time I look through it. Putting the same “actors” through different movies every week sounds like such a blast. I’m hoping to run it for some local cinefile folks.

    Way way down the line, I’m considering Sorcerer and Cthulhu Dark…

    I’d almost pay you for you to run Chuubo and talk about it.

  18. Yeah, not sure Wrath of the Autarch is so great for five sessions. You would probably have to set an earlier end condition that inflated pressure much more quickly. I don’t think you would want to start with really advanced characters at the end of a regular campaign, though. That would be… overwhelming.

    Or, alternatively, you would probably want to tweak the pacing a little bit. I have some thoughts on how to do that – but they’re just theories at this point!

  19. I’m a couple session into my UA3 game and it’s been great so far. I particularly like how the cabal creation system really takes the pressure off to be an adept or avatar if you want to play in the big leagues – it kinda even erases the entire concept of big leagues by presenting ‘overthrow the PTA’ as a valid alternative cabal objective to ‘overthrow the god walker of the Merchant’.

    Oh, and I’m having great fun with my Legacy 2e playtest, but I think I might be biased there!

  20. I am 3 sessions in to GMing a Blades in the Dark game. In 2 hour sessions, so far, we tend to get either a job or downtime done. Free Play is the key, that and figuring out the short-hand for those fictional positioning conversations so that we are playing more and not talking about playing.

    Based on what I was seeing from twitch games I saw, I really wanted to concentrate on making sure there was more time in the character’s shoes and less time talking about those shoes.

  21. I would love to read your experiences with Torchbearer, as I have none.

    WRT Blades in the Dark free play, I’ve been running it weekly for over a year but we can only play for 2 hours at a time. Being able to play it like “Boom! score! Boom! downtime! Boom!” is a tremendous selling point for us. I don’t know if that helps or hinders.

    Andi Carrison is being too modest. All those people on Scum & Villainy are great, and their AP really does involve a lot of “free play” stuff where they’re bouncing their characters off one another. It is on the group to make sure the scoundrels you make will be fun to bounce off each other, though. The core Blades game doesn’t explicitly create characters with the kind of tensions you see on S&V: Stardancer. Blades’ll do that for the faction game, though.

    Finally, I humbly offer up my Glow in the Dark hack as a potential way to get BitD with AW together. Obviously, if your motivation for AW is because you want actual AW, this is not a good suggestion, but if it’s the post-apocalypse thing you want in general, maybe it’s an option. It skews a little less grim and a little more Gamma World.
    twitter.com – Adam Schwaninger on Twitter

  22. Played Scum & Villainy (run by Stras Acimovic​) at New MexiCon, and we had a blast at the table. It’s not overwhelmingly STAR WARS, it creates strong play momentum, and it fits nicely between prep/zero prep and rules-dense/rules-sparse. I think it would fit the “not too deep” but “not frivolous” mental space you seem to find yourself in. As per the Torchbearer suggestion, run it for a session and see where you and your players land.

    You might also just consider serial one-shots to shift gears from longer-term campaign-play duldrums.

    Just some thoughts.

  23. I am not anticipating me gushing about what’s cool about these games to you will help your enthusiasm any? Be happy to, but would rather not impose if it’s not going to be helpful.

    That’s a rough place to be in, man. I LOVE the “Pick the Next Game” game. Wish I could carve off a piece of that particular pie and mail it to you.

  24. This is uncharitable, maybe, but I can’t help feeling that Tales from the Loop would be better with a 16-page PbtA system that really gets the genre. I might be a hypocrite given my current project, but it feels like a genre that could really use some awesome 7-9 choices to keep it in the crosshairs.

  25. When you involve an adult, roll +Age. On a 7-9/10+, choose one/two:
    * They don’t completely misunderstand the situation
    * They don’t shut you out
    * They don’t tell you it’s no big deal

  26. I found Loop a pleasure to run. We had an encounter with a guard dog and I have to say that it FELT a lot like a scene in an 80s movie. There was danger but it felt…attenuated? I was actually surprised at how well it emulated genre. I also narratively opened up the success mechanic to allow for other things aside from those on the lists provided, though.

    I had a long time wrestling with this game wondering if my nostalgia for the material (and the gorgeous fricking art) was clouding my evaluation of it as a game. I’ve been happy with it.

  27. I posted about how rough my oneshot of TftL was, but I can say with confidence that the game itself was easy and enjoyable. I.e., dicing stuff out was fun. I think the game is better tahn the content presented, if that makes sense.

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