All posts by Aaron Marks

Gaming for 15 years and writing about it for nearly ten, I've always had a strong desire to find different and interesting things in the hobby. You can follow me on Twitter at @LevelOneWonk, and read my more personal ramblings at 563rdattempt.wordpress.com.

The Independents: EABA

The phrase “ahead of its time” is usually hyperbolic, at least a little bit. That said, when you are truly ahead of your time, there are consequences for getting somewhere before everyone else is ready. What made Greg Porter’s Blacksburg Tactical Research Center (BTRC) ahead of its time was moving to PDF-only distribution of their RPGs in 2003, back when PDF was little more than an annoying format you needed that Acrobat Reader thing for. By exiting physical distribution way before everyone else, BTRC made their games pretty hard to find unless you already knew what you were looking for. Fortunately, the rest of the world has caught up…and now the rest of the world can go check out EABA.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons, Part 12

Boer the Dwarf had been wandering in the woods for hours. He had seen fleeting glimpses of his friends, but mostly just tall trees, thick bushes, and the occasional burst of laughter in the air. In a clearing he saw a woman, wearing a cloak of feathers and astride a white horse.

“Don’t worry, Boer,” she said. “Someone will open the door soon.” He awoke, miles and weeks away from where he had slept.

Hugh had similarly been wandering in the woods, but for mere minutes. When he saw the woman, she was a little more verbose.

“We continue to walk astride the balance beam between worlds, and between order and chaos. But when you reach your next destination, you will find someone trying to open the door.” Hugh also awoke.

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Kickstarter Wonk: April 2019

Spring has sprung! With it, the games are coming up through cracks in the pavement. There was a bumper crop of fresh ideas showing themselves on Kickstarter, and sadly only ten of them can fit in this month’s rundown. Whether you’re looking for old-school Swedish dungeon crawling, 1980s wizards, or a two player game about ‘The Chase’, there are ten solid games here to contemplate as the days get longer and warmer.

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“Every Game is Good with a Good GM!”

Tabletop RPG design is a young practice, and designers in every genre and format are learning more about how people play games as they go. There is a universal truth, though, that every gaming group is different, and when it comes to facilitated games (i.e. those with a GM), the people who run the game will make a huge difference in the overall experience. On the internet, though, a massive logical leap is often made, leading to a fallacious and all too familiar rallying cry: “Every Game is Good with a Good GM!” A technically true sentence, this phrase has no purpose in discussions of game design other than to shut down criticism.

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System Hack: Cyberpunk Chimera Design Goals

Something funny happens when you spend a lot of time reading and reviewing games. At a certain point you reflect on all the games you’ve read and all the mechanics you’ve studied, and say to yourself “I bet I could design a game”. You see it a lot over here. Site founder Seamus is the co-author of the recently released Transit: The Spaceship RPG, and newest contributor Jason wrote Blessed Engines for the Emotional Mecha Jam. There’s design chops floating around in this blogger soup, and I suppose it should be no surprise that on the tails of the first System Hack, Genesys Mecha, I’d be throwing my hat into the ring.

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Level One Wonk: Narrative

That’s right, the Wonk is back in the building! Today we’re getting super wonky. While my last foray into RPG theory was an examination of an old universal theory, GNS, today I’m going to be looking at a narrower component of games, and a particular dichotomy which, after some examination, I realized shapes the core of how I want to play and run games, as well as what game systems I enjoy. I’m talking about narrative, but I’m not talking about whether a game is “narrative” or not. Rather, I’m going to talk about the two types of narrative which are generated in the course of playing an RPG: Prescriptive and Emergent narrative.

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Kickstarter Wonk: March, 2019

Welcome to a busy and bustling March for Kickstarter! Adding to the tons of projects, Zine Quest, which had submission dates through the month of February, is still going on! Check it out here. There were a couple full games under the Zine Quest banner which I was particularly intrigued by; be sure to check out Dragon and Warrior, Grey Cells, and Be Witching.

Even after taking the Zine Quest projects out of the running, there were still at least a couple dozen games contending for your limited dollars. Among a few heartbreakers and some that just weren’t interesting, there were still more than enough for me to come up with a top ten of intriguing, unique, and worthy RPG projects for March.

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Troika Review

Imagine, if you will, that Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have returned from the dead. They both pile into a Ford Cortina and take a long drive across the American Southwest, pondering the nature of the fantasy genre. Once they arrive in California, they legally acquire several ounces of the finest cannabis sativa and hotbox the Cortina. Then they write an RPG. This, roughly speaking, seems to be what produced Troika, a delightfully simple and delightfully absurd game which recently published a second edition.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons, Part 11

The party made it to the castle, sending a signal flare to warn the regent of the doppelganger they were following. By the time they made it there, three of the pirates had not-Hugh in a sleeper hold, and the doppelganger’s command of language was deteriorating. The group went to see Sybil the regent, after providing some quick proof that they were not in fact doppelgangers themselves.

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Shadow of the Beanstalk Review

The day has come, and the second supplement for Fantasy Flight Games’ Genesys RPG is out! Shadow of the Beanstalk covers the Android setting, specifically focusing on New Angeles, the Beanstalk space elevator, and the Heinlein lunar colony. As an Android splatbook, the book works perfectly, giving a starting point for running games in the Android setting and tons of adversaries, locations, factions, and gear to flesh it out. If you look at the foreword, though, and at the Settings section of Genesys Core, it’s clear that this book is supposed to expand the Genesys toolkit to enable a wide range of science fiction settings. With three Star Wars games and the Worlds of Android book already in print, what does Shadow of the Beanstalk really provide to the Genesys ecosystem? Let’s take a look, chapter by chapter.

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