You Got To Get These Bits: Why You Should Listen To Critical Bits

“Welcome to Heavendale, a City of Clouds.”

We’re about to get REAL weird. And you’re gonna enjoy every moment of it.

In a world suffocating with podcasts attempting to become the next Critical Role/High Rollers/Adventure Zone, it becomes so unique for an RPG actual play that is so unapologetically its own thing. That doesn’t desire to replicate Matthew Mercer’s NPC acting skills, but can make you feel as immersed in the world through sheer personality. A podcast that can make you revolted in the best way, but also tug on your heartstrings like a lute player, oftentimes in the same sentence. A podcast that is about the characters, not the situations they often encounter. Although those situations are pretty good too. A podcast that involves superheroes, body horror, and corndogs all in equal measure.

This is Critical Bits. And it is my favorite RPG podcast in the world.

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The Helios Conspiracy

The Colonia Revolutionary War is over. The Barony’s colonial administrators are dead, and the remains of its Expeditionary Army are scattered. A new and hopeful Republic rises. But the peace is uneasy, Colonia’s industry stands idle, and the mysteries of the revolution hang heavily in the air. Now, at the world-renowned Helios Grand Hotel, a meeting of Colonia’s most powerful players has been set. Here they will find their place in a new order — whether through negotiation, subterfuge, or force of arms. But it will take more than words or even weapons to win the game. Knowledge is power.”

Whether you prefer cracking puzzles or would rather be wheeling and dealing to shift the balance of power, there’s a little something for everyone in The Helios Conspiracy megagame/escape room experience from Liveware Lab!

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Kickstarter Wonk Redux: Zinequest Wonk

Two weeks ago, we cut our regularly scheduled Kickstarter Wonk broadcast a bit short to bring you a sampling of projects from the second year of Kickstarter’s celebration of all things DIY and RPGs, ZineQuest. As February rolls on so does ZineQuest, with many RPG Kickstarter aficionados like myself already bemoaning the dent in our wallets made by this onslaught. As you may remember, ZineQuest campaigns are limited to a two week run time, so by the time of this posting the campaigns I featured in the first article should be already done, hopefully funded and ready for their creators to get them out into the world. Fear not, though, because here at the midpoint of ZineQuest there’s a whole new batch of campaigns just waiting to drain away even more of your paycheck. Like before, I’m going to try and overview as many campaigns as possible, grouping them either by content or theme. While I won’t claim to be complete (or unbiased), hopefully I can give a rundown that’s more useful than trying to scroll through the roughly 125 projects currently live.

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The Independents: Trophy

At the end of 2018, The Gauntlet released “Dark 2”, the December issue of their zine Codex. Within that volume was a game by Jesse Ross called Trophy. Trophy was based on Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley, adapted with the dice mechanic from Blades in the Dark. But listing out a series of games which were hacked down the road into Trophy doesn’t give the game quite enough credit. Trophy is, like the best games coming out of the OSR, a reflection and deconstruction of the dungeoneering/ adventuring trope. In Trophy, the adventurers are treasure hunters, following in the footsteps of so many games that came before. In Trophy Dark they are doomed, and their doom comes through a sequence of narrative steps, or rings. In Trophy Gold they are bound by their own debts, and must keep going deeper until they can pay what they owe.

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Masks: A New Generation and the Possibilities of Trans Narratives

If you read my last article (come on, check it out, I’m pretty proud) you know that Powered By The Apocalypse has a queer fandom. What’s more, you likely know that when it comes to RPGs, none appeal to me more than Masks: A New Generation. It utilizes a picture perfect narrative system while weaving it together with the trials and tribulations of being a fledgling superhero who also happens to struggle with the whole teenager thing. I frigging’ love it!  It’s my favorite RPG system.

Hey, you don’t gotta take my word for it. This site has quite a few cool articles on the system I’d seriously recommend giving a read. Now, what I’m here for today is to tackle the systems of Masks in-depth from a perspective inspired by the Masks actual play podcast, Unlabelled. Unlabelled is a Masks podcast set in the Phoenix Academy playset (think Sky-High or My Hero Academia). While I had been dying for a podcast of that playset for months, what truly drew my attention hook, line, and sinker was the fact that the entire cast, both in and out of the game, was comprised of trans women. I love to see myself in my favorite hobby, and I adore to see myself in my favorite game.

During the character creation segment of the podcast, one of the players jokingly referred to the Transformed playbook as the “TRANS-formed”. A lot of trans folx have already noticed this with the archetype, and I briefly touched upon it in my last article, but the Transformed hits on many of the same beats of the trans experience.

Being changed and coming to terms with that.

Discrimination for standing out cos you’re not the same as everyone else.

People not understanding how you feel.

But that got me thinking. If the Transformed, an archetype based on youthful experience, could be so easily a metaphor for a trans narrative, why not all the playbooks? And I thought about it. And I thought. And I thought.

And this article is what came of it. So sit back, grab a drink and let’s dive into: Masks: A Trans Generation.

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Kickstarter Wonk: February, 2020

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! As you may have noticed, RPG Kickstarter isn’t quite its old normal self in February, not since last year at least. No, February is ZineQuest, the celebration of the DIY zine as a harbinger of the indie RPG hobby from way back in the 70s and 80s. Kickstarter celebrates this DIY ethos for setting aside a month to encourage creators of all stripes to make zines, the old bifold, home-printed little magazines with around 24 pages and a bunch of new ideas. Indeed, here in the first week of ZineQuest we’re already near 50 campaigns, and there’s sure to be more as the month goes on.

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Powered By The Apocalypse: How A Rule-System Nurtured A Queer Fanbase

My first openly trans character-after having come out as a trans woman myself-was a Bull in a Masks: A New Generation one-shot. She was a lone wolf archetype style character. It was even her hero name (original, I know).

My second trans character was also in a Masks game, but now a  campaign. Her name was Apollo and she was a Legacy: the first trans woman to bear the mantle in a long line of women. While Lone Wolf’s identity was simply a part of her flavour, Apollya’s trans womanhood was intrinsic to who she was and what her story was about. The good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. And it was what I wanted.

Masks was the first game I felt like I could be the type of character I wanted to see in the superhero media. No, in all media. And I soon learned I wasn’t alone. There was a whole ruleset with a welcoming community, of an easy to learn system with gatekeeping kept to a minimum. It’s Powered By the Apocalypse. And it is my favourite system. And in my opinion, the gayest.

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The Independents: Troika: Permian Nations

Math wizards, monkeymongers, and lawyers with swords—the citizenry of the Crystal Spheres come in all shapes and sizes. Last year Aaron dove into the deep end of a fever dream and reviewed Troika, “a science-fantasy RPG in which players travel by eldritch portal, non-euclidean labyrinth, and golden-sailed barge between the uncountable crystal spheres strung delicately across the hump-backed sky.” Troika has long held the title of one of the strangest and most flavor-drenched pieces of RPG media around: with the amount of esoteric lore attached to each character, item, and spell, you might as well be playing Dark Souls on acid. Can the world handle another dose of uncut whimsy? What more could you even want from the Other World’s Favorite RPG?

Apparently, dinosaurs.

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Unplugged Vault: Bargain Quest

Capitalism, ho! All the so-called fame and glory go to the adventurers, heading out into the wilderness to fight the monsters threatening the town. That’s not the life for the likes of you and me, though. After all, what happens to all that gold they loot from the monsters’ lairs? They have to spend it on more gear to fight more monsters, and someone ends up with that gold in their pocket for good. Might as well be us! So let’s put our shiniest inventory on display, hire some hawkers, and make a profit off of the local heroes . . . and if they never come back, well, they won’t exactly be asking for a refund, now will they? This is Bargain Quest, a game of adventure and capitalism from Designer Jonathan Ying, Artist Victoria Ying, and publisher Renegade Game Studios!

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“You can Homebrew D&D into Anything!”

The strong increase in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons brought about both by the increased accessibility of D&D’s Fifth Edition as well as the growth of the nascent streaming and actual play communities has meant that there are a whole lot of people getting introduced to D&D. Now that this growth has been going on for a few years, there is burgeoning realization that role-playing games as a medium are capable of a lot more than dungeon crawls and Tolkien derivatives. This is great news for everyone, right? We all know there’s a whole world of RPGs out there, from the big glossy traditional games to indie zines and everything in between. Well, something’s getting lost in translation for some, and in the #dnd world on Twitter you’ve likely seen questions like this:

“How can I make John Wick in D&D?”

“What can you do to run Star Trek in D&D?”

“It would be really cool if I could run Harry Potter in D&D!”

Fortunately, these all have easy answers: Don’t, please don’t, and I don’t think it would.

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