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.

Level One Wonk: Cyberpunk

Style Over Substance. Attitude is Everything. Take it to the Edge. Break the Rules. I’m the Level One Wonk, and today we’re going to the hairy edge, the space between real and digital where high tech and low life mix into a dark future where it’s always raining and everyone wears their mirrorshades at night. That’s right, choombas, we’re going Cyberpunk.

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The Independents: Spire

Different genres of role-playing game have different implied stories. Thanks to D&D the most common implied story of a fantasy game is one of adventurers growing into heroes as they make their way across a treacherous land of monsters and dungeons. Thanks to Cyberpunk 2020, the implied story of a Cyberpunk game is one of operators from the fringes of society alternating between struggling to survive and pushing back against the forces which control them. What if you took the story mode of Cyberpunk and placed it, whole-cloth, into a fantasy setting? Then you’d have Spire, a game which takes setting notes from D&D and Steampunk, story notes from Cyberpunk, and mechanical notes from Apocalypse World and blends them all into something wholly unique.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons Part 2

Boer the dwarf awoke under musty blankets. He had remembered leaving with the smugglers, and remembered the storm, but that was it. Now, as his other adventuring companions gently kicked the dwarf-shaped lump he was making in the old bed, he found himself in a large bedroom in a castle somewhere, with no recollection of how he got there. There was a vivid dream, with tall trees, thick bushes, and a woman laughing . . . but then he awoke in a strange place.

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Kickstarter Wonk: March, 2018

Welcome to this month’s edition of Kickstarter Wonk! There is tons going on in March, so strap in. We have a baker’s dozen of games on tap right now, and I couldn’t cover every game being offered! In addition to that, there’s a game that squeaked in under the wire (their campaign ends the afternoon of the post date, March 7th), but was too neat to ignore. Let’s check out the wealth of new games we have on tap this month.

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The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power

Dark Fantasy is more than just dying messily. While the genre does stand in contrast to “High Fantasy” in that way, there is more going on than just added mud and blood. High Fantasy and Swords and Sorcery are typified by great power, heroic character arcs, and the grand struggle between good and evil. Dark fantasy does highlight the violent aspects of pre-industrial society, but also contrasts itself from other fantasy genres by making sure that morality is represented by shades of grey, and that any quest for power comes with a price attached. The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power brings forth a dark fantasy world of the players’ creation. What makes it pop for me is not just the violence and the superstition, but the intrigue and mechanics behind it. The game sets character against character with ease but also puts these characters into positions of power over one another, encouraging jockeying and scheming right out of the gate. This Powered by the Apocalypse game turns Apocalypse World into Apocalypse Westeros, where otherworldly threats sit right alongside petty vendettas and power-grabs.

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Level One Wonk: Post-Apocalypse

Greetings, wastelanders! I’m the Level One Wonk, and today it’s the end of the world as we know it. The end of the world has captivated authors for centuries, and also left a strong mark on film. Whether it’s anxieties about where society is going or fantasizing about being a sole survivor, post-apocalyptic novels, movies, and games have been popular for quite some time. The post-apocalyptic genre works very well for tabletop RPGs, too: an unexplored world full of dangers, potential treasures and traps existing from the old world, and driving motivations that are simple and strong make for a huge palette of potential games. A post-apocalyptic setting conceit can be layered on top of many other genres, and the resulting games can range from a brutal struggle for survival to a gonzo trip down Fury Road. What’s important is not the particulars of any given game, but rather how to choose and write those particulars to best serve your desired play experience.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons Part 1

Two weeks ago, a group of ragtag wanderers and students of the road met in the basement of the Widow’s Walk Inn in Port O’Rock. Run by a group of fearful elders, Port O’Rock did not open its gates to travelers very often, and warned against leaving the few times that it did. When two smugglers, Alstern and Renard, offered passage out of the city, there were seven who paid their fee.

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Kickstarter Wonk: February, 2018

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! February is the month of romance, and I think you’ll find plenty to love with a deeper field of new RPGs than we had in January. In addition to nine completely new games people are trying to bring to life, we have two honorable mentions: First, a new edition of an old game that deserves some recognition, and second, a board game which is trying to make RPG elements a primary part of its design.

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Stars Without Number

Are you an old-school gamer, or a new-school gamer? I’m the Level One Wonk, and I consider myself both, which may be why I enjoy this week’s game so much. Today we’re going to talk about Stars Without Number, a game designed by Kevin Crawford. Crawford has released many games through his Sine Nomine Publishing imprint, which are all built around similar design principles: hackable sandbox experiences with an old-school heart. Games like Godbound, Scarlet Heroes and Stars Without Number are all designed to bolt right in to both old-school D&D and its retroclones, but these games are no mere clones. While Stars Without Number has characters with six familiar stats, saving throws, classes, and levels, it stretches the D&D framework quite far. As you may be able to guess from the name, Stars Without Number is a science fiction game.

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Level One Wonk: Gaming on Earth

Welcome back! I’m the Level One Wonk, and this week I’m being totally down to Earth. Fact is, we live on a pretty interesting planet, and if you’re running a game that concerns itself with the past, present, or future of humans as we know them, you may be running a game using actual places. Depending on your disposition, using the real world as a basis for your games can either be way easier than worldbuilding, or way more difficult. Everything in the real world is “written” for you, which can be a boon to those of us not predisposed to improv…but on the other hand, the idea of doing research to run a game rubs a lot of people the wrong way. However, no matter the preference, anyone can run a fun game in the real world, or something like it.

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