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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome back to Level One Wonk, where it’s time to go back to the Dark Future! We’re substituting the interface plugs and cyberarms for a whole new Slack as we check out The Veil: Cascade. This supplement not only advances the timeline on PbtA Cyberpunk game The Veil, but also adds a whole slew of new settings, playbooks, and rules tweaks for upload. After reading, it appears that Fraser Simons and his contributing authors were not only thinking outside the box, but have gone so far as to delete the box with no chance of data recovery.
‘Tis the season, nerds and geeks, fellow wonks and gamers of all ages. The season when we gather with family and friends, reflect on the year that is ending, and look forward to the new one. And, of course, ’tis the season when your very own Level One Wonk sneaks away from his family, but only has time to hastily bang out a year-in-review article rather than bring you any new content. It has been a good year, though. We started the year with a good foundation and finished strong, bringing in tons of eyeballs with a review that was very nearly a scoop, and of a game people actually cared about to boot. Let me tell you what I’ve seen, and what I think 2018 is going to look like.
Welcome back! I’m the Level One Wonk, and today we’re throwing things at a wall to see what sticks! Most popular games out there exist within the framework of a genre or existing setting, and use those constraints to create interesting stories. In Dungeons and Dragons you have magic, monsters, and an underlying battle between good and evil. In Star Wars you have the Force, liberties taken with the laws of physics, and…an underlying battle between good and evil. At the end of the day, though, sometimes you want to mix chocolate and peanut butter and get something else. What if your D&D setting was invaded by aliens? Who were actually Force Ghosts…who actually came from the world of Exalted? What if they were all psychic? Why stop there? Sometimes you want everything and the kitchen sink.
Welcome back to Level One Wonk, where new campaign day is every day! Starting scenarios run a huge gamut in role-playing games, but it’s the tropey tired ones that continue to haunt the institutional memory of this hobby. “You all meet in a tavern” has steadily been replaced by “you all wake up in prison”, but the fact remains that establishing a campaign introduction without player input makes you vulnerable to these and other contrivances. There is of course a time and a place for every kind of campaign introduction, but sometimes you want to both get into the stuff your players care about as well as make them care quickly. This is when you want to run a Session Zero.
Welcome back to Level One Wonk, where together we will wonk out on various and sundry gaming topics! Now that you’ve finished gorging yourself on turkey (and maybe checking out some Burning Wheel characters), it’s time to look down that home stretch of the year, get ready for the holiday season, and maybe even make some New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of thinking about the game today, let’s think about the gaming group. While playstyle, system, and campaign all play into a gaming group having fun, there are even more basic structural elements that are key, and it all comes down to who’s doing what.