RPGaDay2022 What is the 2nd RPG you bought?

I am sad to say I never played, or ran, the second RPG (I think) I ever bought. I say “I think” here because, dammit, it was 40 years ago, it all gets hazy. I might have bought Toon before this one for example. But the way I remember it, it happened like this.

I have already mentioned saving up to buy the D&D basic set. Turns out that wasn’t a game I played or ran either, as the school club where I actually started playing was all about AD&D. So that meant asking for the expensive hardback volumes of that game for Christmas from various relations. You can argued that D&D and AD&D are two different games, and yes AD&D would then be the second game I owned, but not one I actually bought.

So, cut to New York. My parents had taken me on an exciting US east coast holiday. I was determined visit a games store in New York, and to buy a game that wasn’t (then) available in the UK. The first of those was easy, luckily there was a games store down the street from our hotel! We passed the store pretty much every time we went anywhere, which I am sure annoyed my parents as I would dawdle by the windows, trying to work out what I wanted to spend my money on.

Daredevils was attractive to me because, of course, Indiana Jones, but I had also read some Marvel Doc Savage, Man of Bronze reprints. Also, it wasn’t fantasy OR science fiction, but something new, no monsters or aliens, but human vs human. I still retain a base aversion to externalised, non-human antagonists, which I have to suspend when I play games with monsters or “evil” races.

Unfortunately, upon reading, I discovered that Indiana Jones and a few appearances of Doc Savage were not the grounding in American pulp that I needed to really appreciate the game. But there was another problem too.

It was written in the early 80’s when (it seems) the dominant philosophy in RPG design (it seemed) was to better similitude physics, rather than to emulate the genre. There were exceptions of course, the aforementioned Toon for example. But as I read more and more of the slim, but dense book (this was the age of stapled books in boxes) even as a young teen I realised that the system seemed to work against the tropes of the pulp genre.

Anyhow, my expensive (then, to me) purchase was not inspiring. I made a mistake. I bought a game I knew nothing about. Luckily todays gamers, in our connect world, don’t have to make the same mistake.

I hope!

#RPGaDay2022 Who Introduced You?

I already mentioned my Mum, who handed me that newspaper magazine article. But she didn’t help me find my first game.

I has saved up for ages, and cycled to the local Department Store, when the books section was selling the D&D boxed set. I bought it, strapped it to the bike rack and cycled home. I inviting my best friend from my old school round to play. We simply didn’t understand how. I was .… disappointed.

It wasn’t until about a year later that I jo8ned the “Wargames Club” at school. There I played my first game. And to be be honest I can’t recall who was running that game and who else was playing. But I will hazard a guess that my co-host’s brother, Tony, was there. And probably John Learner, amd I am pretty sure one of the was Mick Rowe. These then are the people I will say introduced me to playing RPGs.

But I can remember very clearly one moment. The party was attacked by skeletons or something. I looked at my character sheet and noticed my characters was equipped with a Ring of 50 Fireballs. “Can I use that?” I asked “the room is ten by ten, how many fireballs do you want to use” said the DM.

I replied “Fifty?”

#RPGaDay2022 System Sunday: Describe a cool part of a system that you like

You know what I am going to say. I love the push mechanism in the Year Zero Engine.

Surely everyone knows by now. In (most) YZE games you roll a handful of d6, with the hope that one or more will come up 6. You only need one to succeed, but given that the “handful” might only be, say eight dice, the chances of a 6 coming up are not great. For that reason, the “push” is a way of rolling again, at a cost.

The cost is different for each game. And the brilliance of that is the push mechanism, and the cost, helps the game evoke the world it is creating. The most elegant example of this is stress in Alien RPG, but I love the the Banes in Forbidden Lands just as much. They keep combat short and bloody and make that world feel like, well, like it’s been written by Joe Abercrombie.

A lot of people don’t like the non-linear probability of throwing a handful of dice, twice, and still not getting a single six. But my advice to GMs faced with players demanding that a 5 should also count as a success is stay firm, only ask people to roll dice when it matters, when something interesting will happen if they fail. And encourage players to pay the cost of pushing. It’s a brilliant narrative generator.

How would you get more people playing RPGs? #RPGaDay2022

How would I get more people playing RPGs? Me?

I am seriously not wanting to sound at all smug here, but I am going to reply, somewhat immodestly, “by doing what I have been doing this last five years.” Primarily by hosting a podcast about RPGs, secondly by recording (some, not all) our games and sharing them on another podcast feed. And more recently by streaming some of them, live on YouTube (and Twitch, but I don’t really care about Twitch).

Now I am not going to argue that any of these are any good. (Well, I am quite proud of podcast.) In fact my point about the actual plays, both podcast and on YouTube, are not great. They are not entertainment. Some people are entertained by them, I hope, but we don’t try to make them entertaining for the audience. We simply share the things that entertain us as we play.

We have two principles, to play (to the best of our ability) the Rules as Written, and to edit only lightly, so we don’t chop out much of the side banter, and we never re-record anything. We want the experience of the audience to be as close to sitting at the table as we can make it.

One reason for this is, we are lazy. But the other is slightly more principled. I worry that great shows like Critical Role are too good. I want to show that anybody can play games, you don’t have to be Hollywood voiceover artists, supported by prop makers, sound engineers and costumiers. I want to show you can sit at the table, with the rule book at your side and with your friends, you can make an adventure together.

And I know it works.


Why will she like this game? Longtime readers met my wife on Day 1. I told you how I was hoping to introduce her to TTRPGs. But I also told you that the game I planned to use was not the one I recommended on Day 2.

Now I reveal that plan to use Nights Black Agents: Solo Ops. And I think she will like it because it is a 1 to 1 game, designed for one player and one GM. Sue has agreed to play a game with me because she wants to spend time talking to me. I don’t think she wants to wait her turn, or shout louder than the other players, especially if there were more experienced players around the table.

When we were enjoying those lockdown walks we had structured conversations. And what is a TTRPG if not a structured conversation?

#RPGaDay2022 Where would you host a first game?

The Social Distancing Dome

A short answer today. The last few people I have introduced to RPGs have been welcomed to our Social Distancing Dome, which my wife Sue, bought presciently just before lockdown 2020. When the lockdown was relaxed but only outside. It was the only place to play, except on-line. And it worked really well.

I know it’s hard for some people to meet face to face. And it’s been made even harder by recent events. So on-line play has probably become “the norm” now. But I would always try to enjoy face to face games. Less tiring. More fun.

#RPGaDay2022 When were you introduced to RPGs?

1977. Games Workshop published a local edition of the first D&D Basic Set in the UK, and of course backed it up with a marketing campaign. I remember we were staying my my grandparents, “Nin” and Granddad, in their cottage in Grafham, West Sussex. It was Sunday and my Dad had bough some newspapers, including the Sunday Times. My Mum handed me the Magazine supplement, open to a page which featured a quarter page article on D&D, with a colour picture of one of Citadel Miniatures’ Dragons (and some other out of focus figures). Only the magazine featured colour print in those days, and the editors obviously thought the dragon picture was worth a place in the magazine. The article was very short, it didn’t say much. But my Mum thought I would be interested.

And I was.

I didn’t get to play though, until the following year.

#RPGaDay2022 What is a great introductory RPG?

The obvious answer here is D&D, it has always been D&D in whatever edition is published at the time. Why? Because that’s the game a new player is most likely to find. It’s the game that has the most groups running. It’s likely to be the game a friend plays. And if not, a complete stranger can walk into any Friendly Local Gaming Store and sign up for a game. Until very recently I co-ordinated Adventurers’ League at my local store and every Saturday, we had five to eight tables of people playing D&D. It is “great” because it is big. But it’s not the game I have introduced new players to RPGs with.

When my kids got their introduction it was with Fate Accelerated Edition. They were arguing over a story they were inventing around a Lego town they were building, and it was getting to the “trashing the town” stage of anger. So I explained that “grown ups” setting such arguments in let’s pretend with a robust set of rules and some dice.

I was running a “Great War veterans vs Body Snatching Aliens” campaign in Fate at the time, so I explained Fate dice to the kids, and very soon, Lily’s Princess Leia was working with Tom’s Cowboy in an Ape MechSuit to rob a train. family fun for all. But Fate isn’t a great introductory game either. It uses a lot of words to explain simple concepts. It works with kids, who aren’t going to bother reading stuff, but grown ups?

No, what grown ups need is Alien. The RPG that I helped write. (I love saying that). Seriously, it’s a great introduction because even people who have not seen Alien have a “folk-memory” idea of what it’s about. And people who are nervous about “acting” a character are helped with the character’s agenda. That agenda also helps players expecting with the concept of “winning” a game get used to the idea of a game where you win only by having fun, in a setting where pretty much everyone not played by Sigourney Weaver loses.

I am not blowing this trumpet theoretically. This comes from practical experience, and from anecdotal evidence. Alien has attracted a lot of fans who had no previous experience with RPGs and even encouraged sone of them to start running games before ever playing in them. The simplicity of the system helps in that regard – as far as Year Zero Engines go, this is one of the simplest. (Not the very simplest, Tales from the Loop and Things from the Flood are simpler still.) So it’s a lot easier to learn to run Alien that it would be to learn D&D.

Players like the simplicity too. Throw a bunch of dice to see of you get a six, if not don’t you can though them again adding a stress die to your pool. Watch out for ones on the stress dice. That’s all the rules in a nutshell. The push mechanism is fun possibly the most fun of any Year Zero Engine game – and feels so right for the story. Try harder and get better, more likely to succeed, until you panic.

I have recently introduced three neophytes to tabletop roleplaying with this game, and they all loved the experience.

#RPGaDay2022 Who would you like to introduce to RPGs?

I have to start by saying, I much prefer these actual questions rather than the cryptic one word triggers of recent years. I applaud their return. And while I am here, let’s give a shout out to Dave Chapman, who’s idea this whole thing was.

Anyhow, my wife doesn’t really like games. She likes Scrabble, and she is good at it (perhaps she likes it because she is good at it 🤔). She will play Illimat too, and I have found a couple of games which she at least likes aesthetically (Wingspan, and Sweet Existence) but I am not sure she really enjoys playing them.

However during the lock down she and I started taking walks and taking about our hopes and dreams. And on one of those walks she said she would let me run a one-to-one game with her. We have not done it yet. But “my wife” is the answer to the question.

As to what game I plan to run for her, that will remain a mystery for a few days. But it’s not the game I am going to talk about tomorrow.

Faith in the Third Horizon – first thoughts on a different push mechanic for Coriolis

Two things co-incided to bring me to this point: on our discord we rehashed the old discussion about Darkness Points being the clumsiest of the push mechanisms in Year Zero games, and potentially encouraging an confrontational relationship between the GM and the players; and, on Facebook a new GM was eager to play Coriolis but not comfortable with worship of the icons being so embedded in the mechanics. These two discussions made me think of something I had not thought of before. Something that in retrospect I am surprised I have not already considered. Now, forgive me, readers, but I am going to use you as a sounding board.

But before that, an aside. In our long running Coriolis campaign, Mercy of the Icons, we have reached the last act, In the Shadow of the Zenith (on our Youtube stream at least – the podcast version is some months behind). I recently re-read something that on consideration makes me a little … well, angry. So please bear with me as I have a little rant. You will find the offending lines on page 204 of The Last Cyclade, I will quote it with redactions to be spoiler free:

No new DP are generated at the beginning of the act but it contains two major events that replenish your DP pool: the moment the [redacted] is announced and when the [redacted] (pages 211 and 214)

Antroia, R. 2020. The Last Cyclade, Stockholm Fria Ligan AB

Now, I have never, never felt the need to top up the DP pool at the beginning of an act, but I resent the idea that when bad things happen (and yes, the two redacted events are bad things) the GM is awarded Darkness Points.  The WHOLE POINT of Darkness points is to fuel the bad things in the story. When bad things happen the GM spends DP, they should not be getting more! I am going to be berating Rickard Antroia over this.

Right rant over.

Now, the meat of the article. Let us address the second discussion first. Personally I love that icon worship is embedded in the mechanics of the game, and I would not play Coriolis without it. What you do at your table is entirely up to you, but I think you are missing the point of Coriolis if you don’t have the players worshipping the icons. Seriously though – the are alternatives if you don’t want to pray. The simplest would be to port Alien’s stress over – or rather to port the more interesting setting of the third Horizon into Alien

But you could also with a bit more work, port over conditions from Vaesen or Tales from the Loop, or with a lot more work (and different coloured dice) stat damage from Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero. All of these games are religion free (yes there are gods in Forbidden Lands, and Priests even in Vaesen, but you don’t have to do anything about them, mechanically) and they are also more elegant, less confrontational cost mechanics for those people who like the prayer in Coriolis but don’t like darkness points.

We have often talked on the show, however, about how the push mechanic changes the spirit of the game. Foe example how Vaesen and Tales of the Loop are minimal -rolling games, where the chances of failure are high and players often look to talk their way out of difficult situations. How the stress mechanic of Alien emulates the tone of the films. How pushing in Forbidden Lands and Mutant Year Zero adds to the feel of resource management in these post-apocalyptic survival games.

So if you want to play in the spiritual, mystical future of the Third Horizon, you need a mechanic that reflects or more importantly encourages religiosity. 

And I suddenly realised that we have one. In our Tales of the Old West game, we are looking at a period when colonisation of the American West was explicitly driven by “Manifest Destiny” and our push mechanic revolves around Faith. We say (in what I think is a latest revision):

Every character has faith. This can be their religious faith, faith in their family, faith in their own self-belief, or anything else. Each player should write their Outlook down in one short sentence of half a dozen words.

Semark, D. and Tyler-Jones, M. (unpublished) Tales of the Old West

Now we do make clear that Faith does not need to be Christian, or even religious, but this is a time when most of the people in the stories of the West go to church. Each character also has a pool of Faith Points. These are connected to their faith, and are spent to Push their rolls. At the start of each adventure, a character will have 2 Faith Points, but you earn more Faith Points in play. 

We describe a number of ways in which a character can earn faith, many of which reflect the tropes of the western genre that we are trying to emulate. Some are momentary actions or events. For example:

  • Taking an action that moves you towards your Big Dream
  • Experience something that tests and affirms your Outlook
  • Put yourself in danger to help a pardner (your pardner also earns a Faith Point – through your sacrifice you have affirmed their faith too)
  • Every time you score 4 or more successes on an Ability test
  • Stand up to a rival 
  • Choose non-violence when violence is the only option
  • Serve frontier justice
  • Take revenge
  • Survive an illness
  • You save a life, or 
  • Pray to your god, ancestors or spirits

Other things are rituals which we say take longer, a whole shift in game terms.

  • Get drunk (getting drunk has other negative effects)
  • Spend time on your own in nature
  • Groom your horse (or a companion animal)
  • Dismantle and clean your gun (or sharpen your blade)
  • Participate in a church service or equivalent ritual with others
  • Share a quality meal around a table with friends (around a campfire does not count)
  • Sleep one full night in a secure warm bed, earn two Faith Points if it’s with your lover (but no points if it’s with a soiled dove – this is about companionship, not sex)

Some of these last rituals won’t work in the Third Horizon and the sci-fi stories players are trying to create, but I can imagine other ones that are more fitting the setting, for example: giving alms to the poor; or, making a sacrifice at a chapel – the core book lists the sort of sacrifices that each Icon prefers.

We also (currently) have rules for mishaps, but I don’t think they are relevant to this discussion. Many Coriolis GMs say that though they might pay darkness points when bad things happen in Coriolis, in any other game they would make those things happen anyway when narratively appropriate.

Which brings us on to cost. The Year Zero Engine is all about the cost of a reroll: stress and panic in Alien; banes, or attribute damage in Forbidden Lands; Conditions in Vaesen. What should the cost of prayer be? Currently, I am going to argue that with the Faith system, the cost is paid up front. The time you take role-playing your devotion and collecting faith points is enough for the somewhat pulpy nature of the game. Of course that would mean that we must let the GM make those bad things happen at will, and maybe give each super-natural creature a small pool of its own points to use its powers.

At least that’s what I think right now, but its an unfinished thought, a work in progress as it were. There are still unanswered questions, like whether mystic powers and talents are powered with Faith (I think they are). 

I would be interested in your feedback.