Coming Soon: The Imposters

The Imposters is getting tantalizingly close to done. We plan to Kickstart it in early April. The Imposters is an anthology of seven conspiracy-themed games by seven different authors, including three #GoldenCobra winners, a Golden Cobra honorable mention, a #200WordRPG winner, and the former Global Coordinator of Game Chef. Despite our apparent successes, all seven designers admit that we struggle with Imposter Syndrome,* the self-perception that we aren’t “real” designers who deserve to hang with the “professionals.”


If you can sympathize with our struggles, or you struggle with Imposter Syndrome yourself, or you have been harrassed and othered by folks in the gaming community, we encourage you to join our conspiracy and check out the +Kickstarter next month. We’re proud of what we’ve made together. These games are awesome. They range from an X-Files inspired mystery set at a funeral to a spy vs. spy meetup to a full-on, cryptographic psychogeography larp. If you follow any of us on social media, there’s at least one game in here that you will love.

See you in April.

Josh T. Jordan and his fellow Imposters

  • Alex Carlson
  • Banana Chan
  • James Mullen
  • Jay Sylvano
  • Jeremy Morgan
  • Nick Wedig
  • timothy hutchings
  • Todd Crapper

*Also spelled Impostor Syndrome. They’re both correct. And I will fight you on that if you need me to.

The Notebook of John Silence, PI Vol 1.5

Thomas Novosel and I put out an illustrated weird detective zine called The
Notebook of John Silence, PI
. I write. He does art and layout. It’s a fun creative project based on the Algernon Blackwood stories about Dr. John Silence, the psychic physician. Our John Silence is his great-grandson, a private investigator who specializes in crimes psychical and cosmic.

Today, Volume 1.5 is now available. This is a free mini-issue, a foldable pocket zine featuring a trancelarp illustrated by Thomas and designed by me. We even playtested it! You probably won’t poke your eye out playing the game. It is a solo game designed to mimic one of the rituals that John Silence uses to solve his weird cases.

You can buy Volume 1: Daydreams on Thomas’ website. This full issue contains fiction, art, and poetry that will prepare you for the forthcoming Volume 2, tentatively subtitled “Whereabouts,” which features a one-act play.

{{Blanks}} & [[Spaces]]

{{Blanks}} & [[Spaces]]

(A hack of John Harper’s Lasers & Feelings)

I am a big fan of John’s little two-page game Lasers & Feelings. I think it is especially good for hacking to fit with different adventure game styles and settings. So I’ve created this fill-in-the-blank version to encourage other people to create their own versions. This game, {{Blanks}} & [[Spaces]], like the original Lasers & Feelings is released under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

You are _________. Your mission is to explore _________, deal with _________, and defend _________ against _________. Your boss _________ has been overcome by _________, leaving you to fend for yourselves while your boss _________.

 

Players: Create Characters

  1. Choose a style for your character: _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, or _________.
  2. Choose a role for your character: _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, or _________.
  3. Choose your number, from 2 to 5. A high number means you are better at {{_________}} (described here _________.) A low number means you’re better at [[_________]] (described here _________.)
  4. Give your character a cool _________ adventure name. Like _________ or something.

Clothing and Equipment: _________, _________, _________, or _________.

Player goal: Get your character involved in crazy _________  genre adventures and try to make the best of them.

Character goal: Choose one or create your own: _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, or _________.

 

Players: Create the _________ Location

As a group, pick Two Strengths for _________ Location: _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, _________, or _________.

Also, pick One Problem: _________ (described here _________,) _________ (described here _________,) _________ (described here _________,) or _________ (described here _________.)

 

Rolling the Dice

When you do something risky, roll 1d6 to find out how it goes. Roll +1d if you’re prepared and +1d if you’re an expert. (The GM tells you how many dice to rol, based on your character and the situation.) Roll your dice and compare each die result to your number.

If you’re using {{_________}}  (described here __________,) you want to roll under your number

If you’re using [[_________]]  (described here __________,) you want to roll over your number.

0 If none of your dice succeed, it goes wrong. The GM says how things get worse somehow.

1 If one die succeeds, it you barely manage it. The GM inflicts a complication, harm, or cost.

2 If two dice succeed, you do it well. Good job!

3 If three dice succeed, you get a critical success! The GM tells you some extra effect you get.

! If you roll your number exactly, you have {{Blank}} [[Spaces]]! You get a special insight into what’s going on. Ask the GM a question and they’ll answer you honestly. Some good questions:

What are they really feeling? Who’s behind this? How could I get them to do what I want? What should I be on the lookout for? What’s the best way to do this thing? What’s really going on here?

You can change your action if you want to, then roll again.

Helping: If you want to help someone else who’s rolling, say how you try to help and make a roll. If you succeed, give them +1d.

 

GM: Create a _________ Adventure

Roll or choose on the tables below.

A Threat

1. 4.
2. 5.
3. 6.

Wants to

1. 4.
2. 5.
3. 6.

The

1. 4.
2. 5.
3. 6.

Which will

1. 4.
2. 5.
3. 6.

 

GM: Run the Game

Play to find out how they defeat the threat. Introduce the threat by showing evidence of its recent badness. Before a threat does something to the characters, show signs that it’s about to happen, then ask what they do.

Call for a roll when the situation is uncertain. Don’t pre-plan outcomes. Let the chips fall where they may. Use failures to push the action forward. The situation always changes after a roll, for good or ill.

Ask questions and build on the answers.

7 Ways to Reuse Abandoned Games

7 Ways to Reuse Abandoned Games

What do you do with abandoned tabletop games? Think of card, board, or roleplaying games that you own that you no longer play. Maybe the rules don’t interest you anymore. Maybe they interest you, but you no longer have someone to play with. They are missing pieces. They are too expensive. For whatever reason, you have abandoned the games you used to play. But is there a way you can still use them?
Let’s talk about a few ways to repurpose those games so that you can still get some use out of them, or at least have fun with their components. Now, I don’t know what kinds of games you have lying around, so I’ve decided to phrase these ideas as questions. We’re relying on your creativity to figure out how they apply to your specific situation.

1. Physical Components: Can you use the art, cards or board pieces in another game? Maybe the art would make a good inspiration for another rpg. The board pieces could be replacements for another game.

2. Rules Hack: Can you change the rules to skip the part of the game that doesn’t work for  you? There’s no game police telling you that you have to play a whole game of Monopoly. You can skip to the end, if you like.

3. Spiritual Sequel: Can you write your own game that uses this game as inspiration? Our hobby has a long tradition of fantasy heartbreakers, that are essentially someone’s attempt to use D&D as inspiration for a new game. Though not all of these are great, some of them are. Can you make a “heartbreaker” based off of a card or board game you abandoned?

4. Swap: Can you trade this game away to one of your friends for another game? This may feel like cheating. You aren’t hacking the game. You are literally reusing it by giving it to someone who wants to play it. In return, they probably have a game that you’ve never tried that they are willing to give you.

5. Update: Are there alternate rules for this game available on the Internet? Playing with revised or updated rules may help renew your passion for the game. Are there errata that have been breaking the game? Nerfing those can make a world of difference.

6. Doing It Wrong: The French poet Paul Valery wrote “That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false.” What can you do to break this game, to use it incorrectly, or to play it backwards? How can you make a new game by using the old game wrong?

7. Steps: What section of the original gameplay was the most fun? What did you love to do in the game? How can you borrow just that part of the gameplay and do it in a different game?

Here are seven ways to squeeze a little more fun out of tabletop games you’ve abandoned. But I’m sure there are more methods. What other ways can you think of to reuse, repurpose, or recycle tabletop games that you used to love? Send your tips or examples to gingergoatpress@gmail.com

(This post originally appeared on my Ginger Goat blog April 2016.)

Run! Fire!

Run! Fire!

Here is a free, 3-player card game about a wildfire in ranch country.

Run! Fire!

A card game for 3 players. 15-20 minutes.
In this game, you play three ranchers trying to escape a huge grass fire. Will you help put the fire out? Will you panic and run? Who will survive?

Setup

3 players
Deal each player 3 each of Fire and Run. (Use red cards for Fire and black cards for Run)
Make a central deck of 2 Fire and 2 Run
Each player starts with 10 coins

Play

Every player plays one card of their choice face down into a pile in the center. The tallest player is dealer this round. The dealer draws one card from the central deck, shows it to all the players, and puts it face down in the pile. Each player then bets.

To bet, play a card from your hand face up in front of you. Put at least one coin on that card. (If you play a face up Fire card, you are trying to fight the fire. The more coins you place on it, the more committed you are to extinguishing the fire. If you place a face up Run card, you are trying to save yourself by escaping the fire. Betting represents your decision whether to help extinguish the fire or run and try to save yourself.)

After each player bets, the dealer shuffles the pile of face down cards. He plays one card in the middle of the table face up. He then places the rest of the cards on the top of the central deck. If this card matches the face up card a player has bet, that player is a winner this round. Everyone else loses. The winners split all the coins that have been bet. If the coins cannot be split evenly, give the extras to the dealer, even if the dealer lost this round. Place the face up card that you bet with back in your hand.

The player to the tallest player’s left is the new dealer. Players play another card of their choice face down in the middle of the table. The dealer takes one card from the top of the central deck, shows it face up to all the players, then shuffles it facedown into the facedown pile. Then everyone bets. (If you have coins left, you must bet at least one during each round.) Then the dealer plays one card from the facedown pile face up. Players who match that card with their bet card win. Split the coins among the winners, then place the card you bet with back in your hand.

The position of dealer then rotates one more time, so each player has had the chance to deal once. Play another round just like before.

Scoring

Now, each player shows their remaining cards face up, and everyone calculates their score. Any player with more than 10 points lives. That means you escape the fire and win the game.

Run!

Look at all the players’ cards. If more than half are Run cards, the ranchers were not able to work together and put out the fire. (Those who lived are the folks who ran away. Those who died are those who tried to extinguish the fire.) Run cards are worth 2 points. Fire cards are worth 0 points. Coins are worth 1 point.

Fire!

Look at all the players’ cards. If more than half are Fire cards, the ranchers were able to put out the fire. (Those who lived worked together bravely to extinguish the fire. Those who died were the ranchers who panicked, made a wrong turn, and got caught by the fire.) Run cards are worth 0 point. Fire Cards are worth 2 points. Coins are worth 1 point.

(This game was originally posted on the Ginger Goat blog in April 2016.)

Blatant Bribery! Free Sourcebook!

I’m an English teacher. It makes perfect sense that I’m starting a poetry podcast. And it makes perfect sense for me to support that podcast with a Patreon.

But Patreons grow slowly, and I want to give this one a little boost. And more of you know me as a game designer than as a poet. So it’s time for some blatant bribery! If you sign up as a patron of Versed, my new biweekly, 5-minute poetry podcast, I will give you a copy of a rare, not-available-for-sale rpg sourcebook called Dangers Elsewhere.

Dangers Elsewhere is a 47-page sourcebook for Shoshana Kessock’s beginner-friendly larp Dangers Untold. This sourcebook, which I co-wrote with Avonelle Wing and Ruth Tillman, contains several diverse alternate campaign settings. Each setting contains at least seven pre-generated characters.

Given that this sourcebook is essentially a list of alternate settings, you could easily use it for Heroine or any other feminist YA fantasy game.

I will send a link to this rare sourcebook to every new Versed patron in the month of January. All you have to do is back the podcast at any level. I suggest the $1 per month level.

Animal Professionals of Place Place Number: A Solo Writing Game

I had a game idea for Ole Peder Giæver​’s #3nano16 game design challenge as I was falling asleep last night.

Animal Professionals of Place Place Number

APoPPN is a one player writing game that takes the form of writing a formal playtest feedback letter about a game that doesn’t exist.
1. Write a letter to a GM or game designer. Choose someone whose work inspires you and who knows you at least by name.
2. Thank them for the chance to playtest their latest game. Give it a name in the form of [Animal] [Professionals ] of [Place] [Place] [Number], eg “Squirrel Jugglers of Star Moon 5.”
3. Tell them about something that you liked about the game. Compare it to a game or movie that you love. If possible, describe an interaction between characters in your playthrough of the game. Name the characters after people you work with or go to school with. Last names only! Name the players after gamers you know.
4. Tell them what confused you about the game. Quote a rule from their game that doesn’t seem to fit. (Use a sentence from page 42 of the book closest to you as this rule quote. You can quote it exactly or use this real book as inspiration for your rules quote.)
5 Thank them again for the chance to playtest their game. Give them a genuine compliment about their (real) previous game designs or GMing.
6. Sign your letter with the name they know you by
7. Mail, email, or post your letter online where the intended recipient will see it.
8. (Optional) Include a link to the text of this game, so they don’t think you’re completely bonkers.
This game is copyright Josh Jordan and is released under Creative Commons Attribution. You may repost these rules wherever you like.

The Five Seals of InfoSec

Here’s a weird idea that I don’t have time to turn into a game. Feel free to hack it, if you like.
Information Security, or InfoSec, is too important to be entrusted to normal people. That’s why NATO and Warsaw Pact nations began to train mages to protect our nations’ secrets.
There are now several overlapping schools of InfoSec datamancy throughout the world. The most successful are in the US, Germany, China, Russia, and India. Rumors persist of schools in Brazil and Israel, but if the other governments are aware of schools in those countries, they aren’t talking.
How does InfoSec magic work? There are various incantations and techniques for protecting government secrets. However, the five most common techniques are called the Seals of InfoSec. Each seal represents an entire branch of datamancy. Not all schools teach all five seals. Some schools are much better at one or two of the seals than the rest. But all datamancers are at least aware of the five seals. There are spells and curses outside of the five seals, but these rogue spells are the exception rather than the rule.

The Five Seals

Seal of Obscurity

Seal of Tedium

Seal of Banality

Seal of Encryption

Seal of Monitoring

Obscurity spells make information hard to see or hard to find. This is the most common seal. All schools teach some obscurity spells.
Tedium spells make the information time consuming to read or understand. Imagine an entire book with the words “Fat,” Tuesday,” and “Bingo” placed randomly between the actual words of the text. This would not make the actual words hard to find, but it would make them take more time to read.
Banality spells make the information so boring or mundane in appearance that it is difficult for an untrained person to focus on the information long enough to finish consuming it. (Banality spells were originally created in the US as an answer the Russian creation of Tedium spells. Now, most InfoSec schools teach both techniques, sometimes in combination.)
Encryption spells alter the information so that it looks like random noise unless you have the code to unlock it. The observer can see the information, but can’t make heads or tails of it without the proper training. This is the only school of datamancy that actually involves computers as spell components. Other seals may allow you to cast spells on information INSIDE a computer, but encryption spells are often cast BY MEANS OF a computer.
Monitoring spells do not conceal the information, but they allow the caster to observe anyone who attempts to interact with the information. This defense is less like a barbed wire fence and more like a security camera. Specialists in monitoring spells often carry guns and stay hidden in a room near the information they are protecting.

How does datamancy work? What does this magic look like? I can’t tell you. What’s the difference between magic and technology? Unfortunately, that’s a secret, too. The best I can say is that this sort of magic should either strike your players as cool or you shouldn’t use it in your game. And if you want to see the guy who inspired me to write even this much on the subject, I recommend Sam Chupp’s Encryptopedia.

Image by Blondinrikard Fröberg. Used by permission.

Borders and Bonds

 Borders and Bonds

A modification of Lines and Veils

As I understand it, Ron Edwards originated the terms “Lines” and “Veils” in his book Sex & Sorcery. Lines and veils are limits on the topics of conversation and of narration in your game. Lines are hard limits, subjects that no player will mention at the table. Veils are occasional limits. Players ask for a veil whenever the narration or conversation is making them uncomfortable. All of the players then skip past or replace that part of the story with something that everyone is comfortable with.
Mo Holkar explains Lines and Veils clearly here. He goes one step further and suggests that players should have the opportunity to set lines and veils anonymously before they even sit down at the table. I think that Lines and Veils are a good tool for setting social boundaries at the table, and I like the idea of giving players the opportunity to add them anonymously. However, I I don’t think there’s anything sacrosanct about the terms themselves. There’s any number of ways we could frame these social boundaries between players.
Borders and Bonds are a different method of setting up those boundaries. I offer them as a replacement for lines and veils at your table. Roughly speaking, Borders replace Lines, and Bonds replace Veils. They are different enough that this is not exactly true, but if you are used to Lines and Veils, it shouldn’t be hard for you to make the switch for some of your games.
Before I explain Borders and Bonds, I ask that you remember, whatever system of social boundaries you use at your table, to make sure that other players are comfortable. No rule system replaces your duty as a fellow player to pay attention to how your friends seem to be feeling.

Borders

Borders are areas of conversation that your group decides never to bring up. In story terms, anything behind a border may exist somewhere in your story world, but it will never come up in the story you tell at the table. For example, if your Star Wars group puts a Border around child violence, you are free to imagine that child violence happens in the Star Wars universe, but all the players agree that description and discussion of child violence are outside the scope of our story. Events, subjects, tropes, or characters that your group has put a border around may happen somewhere in this universe, but they happen before, after, or completely away from the notice of our narration.
Like a Line, a Border excludes content that makes one or more players uncomfortable. Unlike a Line, a Border specifically restricts the speech and behavior of the player, not the content of the story per se. Players are free to imagine that the restricted material happens in the fictional universe of the story. Players are free to use shared universes or pre-existing fictional settings or game books that include the restricted material. They are only restricted from mentioning it at this table on this particular day with these players.
A Line may be a restriction on the story. A Border is a restriction on the speech of a player.

.

Bonds

A Bond is your connection to a specific story element you do not want to be in danger. For example, if you have a bond with children, you like having children in the story, but you don’t want child endangerment to be part of the story. If you have a bond with your character’s magic sword, none of the other people at the table will threaten to steal, break, or nerf your magic sword. You can bond with ideas, too. A bond with romance means that characters may have romantic relationships, but those relationships will not be used as a source of conflict.
Bonds are points of trust that will not be broken during your story. These things are fragile and valuable to the players, so the conflict in the story shouldn’t put them at stake or at risk.
You can bond to people, objects, or ideas. You can bond to something specific, like your father’s magic hat, or something general, like all children.
Do not bond something simply because it is a cool aspect of your character or her relationships. As  Caitlynn Belle reminded me recently, great stories can happen when something important to your character is threatened. There are great Batman stories about Robin or Batgirl or the Batcave being threatened. There are great Batman stories about Bruce Wayne’s identity being threatened. These things are not Bonded. On the other hand, I would argue that Alfred and Wayne Manor are usually Bonded. They are rarely threatened. They are part of Batman’s safety net as a character.
If there’s some element or relationship that you don’t want threatened very often or that you want other characters to treat carefully, don’t use a Bond. Just explain that this element is important to you, and you want them to, as Caitlynn says, “Tread carefully.”

How to use Borders and Bonds

Give each player the opportunity to privately and anonymously write down Borders or Bonds on pieces of paper before the game. If possible, give them the chance to do so even before they sit down at the table. Players may need to ask you to break your anonymity if they do not understand what you have written down, but they will first make a good faith effort to figure it out.
(As Stephanie Bryant pointed out to me, if a player wants her Bond or Border to remain anonymous, it helps to write a couple of sentences to explain yourself. Saying “A Border around child violence” may cause your fellow players to ask clarifying questions. Violence caused by children? Violence affecting children? What about child PCs, who may become violent later? Spelling out “A Border around using children as collateral damage during fight scenes and against all kinds of child predators” is much more likely to guide the other players to restrain themselves the way you need them to. And writing this all down while you are still anonymous will help you to remain anonymous.)
Once you are at the table, as part of the conversation at the beginning of the game, give players the opportunity to mention that they want certain subjects to be Bordered off or “out of bounds.” Also give them the opportunity to list relationships, ideas, or equipment that they feel a Bond toward. Listing Bonds works naturally as part of the character creation process. Setting up Borders works more smoothly as part of the game setup.
Players should feel free to add Borders or Bonds during the game itself, especially of the story takes an unexpected turn. If your group uses the X card, you may not need to spell out new Borders or Bonds in mid-session. If you don’t use the X card, I suggest you practice calling for a new Border or Bond in the middle of the game, so that other players feel more comfortable doing so if the story goes in a direction that bothers them.

Summary

As cooperative storytellers, we are still discovering elegant and effective ways to care for each other during play. One critical way to care for other players at our tables is by restricting the content of our stories to avoid triggering past trauma or stepping on each others preferences. By all means, use Lines and Veils at your table, if that is what works for your group tonight. By all means, use an X card, if that is the most effective tool for your players’ comfort. But consider adding Borders and Bonds to your tool belt. It has the advantage of including both an exclusionary rule, Bordering things out of the story, and an inclusionary rule, leave the Bonded things safely in the story.

Cheers,
Josh T. Jordan