It was like staring into a row of funhouse mirrors out of a nightmare. Every tank Sally ‘Spitfire’ O’Brien looked in held a body with her face. According to the readouts at the base of the tanks several were deceased, each corpse looking . . . warped, somehow, by the experiments they’d been subjected to, but an equal number had life signs in the green. CryptoHertz, Sabot, Calamitas, and White Coat (Showtime had vanished by now) all kept one eye on Spitfire while they spread out and looked at the tanks themselves, trying to understand. Plague Hack’s words – no, lies – and the video he had shown her – had to have been a fake – burned in Sally’s mind as she found herself standing in front one of the dead tanks. With a blood curdling scream she raised her fist and smashed it into the tank.
A tale of horror, with a grave choice at the end. Rooms upon rooms, each one more terrifying than the last. Just last week I got to chat with Marissa Kelly of Magpie Games and bring you into the uncomfortable world of their investigatory horror tabletop roleplaying game, Bluebeard’s Bride. There are a lot of doors to open in that mansion, however, and the tale is not quite over. Bluebeard’s Bride has grown beyond the core book in the year and change since it came out, with multiple supplements intended to enhance and expand upon the game. You’re in luck (or are you), because we’ve got a two-in-one review of both of the supplements currently on the market: the Book of Lore and the Book of Rooms!
A young Bride. A powerful and rich man with a beard that is shockingly blue. A massive house full of rooms, each room full of horrors. A ring of keys to open the doors, but one room is forbidden to the Bride by her new husband. A message that calls the husband away, leaving the Bride alone to explore her new home. An inexorable curiosity that drives her to open the door anyway, only to discover the bodies of previous, slaughtered brides. The husband returns, and discovers what the Bride has done, and the forbidden room gains another occupant. This might summarize the French folktale known as Bluebeard, a story whose most famous surviving version was published all the way back in 1697. But in this case it also summarizes Bluebeard’s Bride, an investigatory horror tabletop roleplaying game from Magpie Games in which you, my friends, are the Bride. Continue reading The Independents: Bluebeard’s Bride
Way back when, at the genesis of this site, I wrote a “Novice’s Guide to Powered by the Apocalypse”, a Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) 101, if you will. This article covered the basic mechanics and underlying assumptions of games written with the PbtA framework, and covered a few of the more popular games that were out at the time. Now, nearly two years later, PbtA is still growing, and has attracted many players to its fiction-forward, high-stakes style of gameplay. I’ve also run and played more PbtA games myself, and have noticed some really interesting elements that people have trouble engaging, take for granted, or even fight against. This 201 course to PbtA games should provide advice and information about getting the most out of the full range of PbtA games and campaigns.
Man oh man, talk about a bumper crop this month! Nearly two dozen different Kickstarter campaigns, winnowed down to about 18 new games of note and then down to an even dozen . A top ten couldn’t fit all the games I wanted to write about, and I still cut out some really intriguing stuff. A new edition of Savage Worlds is being funded, and there’s a compilation of great sci-fi microgames called Four Ways to Die in the Future which, though it’s a reprint, is still worth checking out. If you’re looking for new games, though, here are those which I thought are most worth your attention.
High above the Earth in a slingshot orbit that was taking him from Tokyo back to Halcyon City, Sabot received a message from CryptoHertz: Spitfire taken by Plague Hack, need to rally the team. Muttering a few curses in Japanese about the repairs that had mandated his absence in the first place, Sabot redlined the thrusters of his newly-acquired ‘kirbycraft’. In a back alley in Halcyon City itself, Morgan was once again cleaning house at an illegal card game, the best way they’d found to support themselves while living on the street. Things might have turned ugly, the thugs around the table glaring at Morgan, but they all scampered when The Lawman sauntered out of the shadows. “Deal me in?” Continue reading Adventure Log: Masks: High Impact Heroics Pt. 4
The smoke from the hookah lounge downtown swims through the place, heavy and sweet. At a back lounge sits a bald man with a gold hoop earing who knows just what you need to do to get what you want…if are able to ignore the literal fire flickering in his eyes. In the Industrial District’s meatpacking plant, a grizzled old timer working the graveyard shift wonders how life passed him by, noting with some curiosity how his skin didn’t break on that saw, when he slipped and ponders why all the leftover animal parts always seem to vanish when he takes a nap on the job…and why he just gets hungrier whenever that happens. In the financial district there is a business guru who, despite his age, always seems to be in exceptional vigor and with an improbable knack for turning seemingly useless investments into gold…and nobody seems to know how long he’s been here? It’s like he’s practically immortal. But lots of strange things happen in The City. Once its inhabitants were wide eyed and agape, but now they’ve seen it all…or so they like to think.
DeGauss stepped off the bus and shouldered his backpack, another day at Halcyon City High School #5 behind him. The house he walked towards was a curious one, first of all because it looked more like three identical houses joined side-to-side. More curious was that one section looked brand new, a second was currently under construction, and a third looked like it would need repairs soon. Just as DeGauss reached the doorway a desktop computer was thrown through the bay window of the soon-to-need repairs section, followed by a torrent of sulfurous cursing, causing DeGauss to roll his eyes; it must be payday again at Collateral Damage Demo and Construction Co. The young man let himself in and started to make his way to his room when a sultry voice piped up: “Ah, young DeGauss. What did the establishment try to drill into your head at school today?”
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.
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.