Welcome to a special and spooky edition of Level One Wonk! Here on Halloween Eve, we’re going to take a look at horror in RPGs: how it’s different than most genres, why it’s so tough to pull off, and how Don’t Rest Your Head manages to do so. Don’t Rest Your Head was published by Evil Hat in 2006, and both serves as a great precursor to the player-facing narrative tools developed for Fate Core, and a creepy tale of downward spiral into madness as your insomnia awakens you to the true nightmares in the world.
Keandra Hunt spent a long time working the journalism beat in Halcyon City, eventually rising to Editor-in-Chief of the Halcyon City Herald and its many associated publications. Nobody can stay in this business forever though, tracking down the truth of the City and its many superpowered events. Hunt is finally moving on, but she’s got one last bit of editing to do. She’s leaving behind a portfolio of interviews, articles, reports, and pictures all selected from her time as Editor-in-Chief. Her successor will get it as an inspiration, a challenge, and a warning. We get it as the Halcyon City Herald Collection, the first supplement for Masks: A New Generation!
Dungeons and Dragons, by many standards, lives up to Wizards of the Coast’s claim of “The World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game”. It has the longest history and the greatest impact of any game, paving the way for the expansive role-playing hobby we have today. And the versions published in the 1980s are those which had the strongest impact on one of the earliest generations of gamers. Between TSR’s mismanagement and the limitations of technology, though, these early versions were almost lost to history. The desire to rekindle support for the playstyle of Basic D&D was one of the collective motivations which kindled the OSR, or Old School Revival, movement. Today’s System Split splits four ways, looking both at two versions of Basic D&D (B/X and Rules Cyclopedia) and Retroclones which were designed to give them renewed accessibility: Labyrinth Lord and Dark Dungeons.
An investigator wielding her lightsaber in the shadows, cleaving to a Code that most think is extinct. A bounty hunter and skip tracer who always has the weight of her family, culture, and people on her back. A ‘retired’ combat analyst who has turned his programming towards solving mysteries. A small-town marshal on a big-city planet, trying to look out for the little guys. Meet the Party heads into the depths of an ecumenopolis in a Galaxy Far, Far Away to try something a little different, genre-wise: a Star Wars party of sleuths, vigilantes, and Private Investigators!
Just because Asmodeus is top dog in the Nine Hells doesn’t mean he’s the only source of fiendish influence on the material plane. Even the Nine Hells as a whole don’t have a monopoly on it; the demons of the Abyss certainly have their own goals and influence, decidedly messier though they may be. From different breeds of Tiefling to infernal cults to abyssal champions, the latest Unearthed Arcana presents us with all sorts of new Fiendish Options, for both sides of the DM’s screen.
The history of Dungeons and Dragons, especially recent history, is all about the mystical notion of game balance. Fourth Edition was designed the way it was in part to repent for the excesses of Third Edition, and Fifth Edition was designed the way it was in part to repent for the excesses of Fourth. Fifth Edition also comes closest of any edition of D&D (save maybe the very first) to accepting a more broad axiomatic truth: Mechanical game balance doesn’t actually matter.
A world-weary medic, everyone’s Angel but not by choice. A naive young soldier, who becomes the Gunlugger to protect himself physically and emotionally. The Chopper, who’s still not sure what makes the difference between a leader and just another Rawsteak. These are just a few of the characters who came out of a short but intense game of Apocalypse World I ran between 2016 and 2017.
Halcyon City has seen many generations of superheroes over its long history. The Golden Age got it all started, the Silver Age rose to new heights of power, and the Bronze Age saw heroes turn introspective (and a little cynical). Now a New Generation is rising to take their place in the city’s history, and everyone is watching them to see what they’ll become. Before we can start following their current story, however, we need to know who they are, how they came together, and what sort of troubles might be on the way.
Creating characters is ultimately the launchpad of any gaming experience. This is equally true for the GM, which can present an interesting set of challenges. While each player need only focus on who they’re playing for the game, the GM must populate the whole rest of the world. The balance is, like any other number of storytelling strategies, making the world seem real while not doing an exhausting amount of work. The key strategies for writing memorable NPCs are differentiation, motivation, and improvisation. That last one in particular can take on a couple of different forms…so if you don’t think of yourself as an “improv GM”, fear not!