Today’s post offers a follow-up to my “lazy hacks” discussion. I want to encourage designers to consider reskins they can quickly get to the table, see what others think, and iterate. I’ve dithered over many game ideas, but I’m working to change my habits. A few people reached out about my call to directed laziness and said it pushed them forward. I saw some talk in the new Gauntlet Forums about quick, exploratory hacks. Obviously this won’t work for everything, but it can be a path forward for some designers stuck in their thinking.
For example, close to home it’s gotten Sherri working on an idea she had a couple of months back. She’s scratching together a new Forged in the Dark game. We’ve played our anime cyber-ninja setting, Neo Shinobi Vendetta, previously with Fate and Action Cards. The latter works great face to face, but less so online. On the other hand, while Fate worked, it’s also divisive. Sherri wants the FitD tools—like Stress and Group Management—that super fit with the concept. She’s going to write it and I’m going to put it on the calendar, giving her a deadline.
I have other hacks on my plate as well, mostly with my favorite genre: fantasy. I know some Gauntlet folks don’t dig fantasy; it feels like an uninteresting set of often problematic tropes. But fantasy is what I always return to. I grew up on Michael Moorcock, Tanith Leigh, Roger Zelazny, and Jo Clayton. They, more than the sci-fi I read, shaped my head space. My relationship with the genre in rpgs has been complicated. I dig magic, but I’m not into complicated magic systems. I’m fascinated by unique cultures, but cringe at some game settings. Some popular fantasy imagery—Arthurian, Celtic, and Viking--leave me cold.
Some Gauntleteers do share my passion, otherwise we wouldn’t have Discern Realities or Fear of a Black Dragon. Darren Brockes suggested a fast hack I’m furious I didn’t think of: reskinning Masks: A New Generation as a fantasy road-trip rpg. It could use playbooks like the Outsider to represent “other’d” peoples in the setting (like Orks or Gnolls). Imagine the Legacy as the child of a proud noble or legendary hero trying to live up to their story. While I dig the Ryutama’s light melodrama, I want real heartache and tension in my traveling adventure. The hack could lift elements from Fellowship to make a road trip ala Final Fantasy X or XII.
A few weeks ago I posted about our Microscope session. Several of us created a unique high fantasy city (which we never got around to naming). I want to run a game set there. I’m a huge fan of city-based fantasy games and settings. The awesome Citybook series remains one of my favorite rpg products. Even if I don’t invest in a game line, I’ll often pick up city supplements. That’s lead me to a few gems like The Kaiin Players Guide and Geanavue: The Stones of Peace.
I’ve run several city-based fantasy campaigns—from mercenaries in Planescape’s Sigil to the streets of Legend of the Five Rings' City of Lies, Ryoko Owari. For our “city guards” campaign, Guards of Abashan, we also used Microscope to craft the locale. Everyone loved the campaign and the collaborative process gave the players ownership and knowledge. But while the city served as a backdrop and source of hooks, we didn’t really *explore* it. We hit notes of daily life but never heard the song of the streets. That’s something I want to do with our new Gauntlet city.
At first I considered Urban Shadows, but that has premises and concepts which would require retooling. The secrecy surrounding the characters’ lives colors that game, as does the real world considerations of ethnicity and marginalization. So instead I opted to turn to a PbtA game that has repeatedly created dynamic and interesting cities with linked character stories: The Veil.
Each time I’ve run The Veil the players created a city with a distinct feel. From a sunken street Disney-managed Los Angeles; to a city on an alien world at war with an encroaching digital jungle; to a massive sea-rig migratory urban center hunting the Pacific. In each case the PCs informed the city and vice versa. As they’ve tried to survive and understand themselves, they’ve dug into what makes the city tick. Fraser Simons’ game pushes players to explore those lives and the streets they live in invariably inform that.
So I’ve started reskinning The Veil, beginning with the playbooks. That required making a few choices:
- Mechanize Obligations as Debts a little more tightly.
- Remove The Veil as a concept—revise that conceptually into the “beat of the city.”
- Leave aside backstory and relationship questions for the moment. I’ll come back around to those. I may use Entanglements from Hearts of Wulin to do this. Related, look at Beliefs and figure out how to handle XP.
- Change some terms, like Gold for Cred. Cybernetics becomes magic. Gear gets retooled. Humanity harm becomes Soul harm.
- Playbooks are either magic or gear focused. If a playbook has magic casting, the player chooses starting spells and a casting drawback. The drawback is invoked for GM moves.
- Gear will be done with a load out approach ala Blades. Characters will be able to pick from a standard list “on the job”. Gear-focused playbooks will have additional options including access to unique and named magical items.
- The Apparatus becomes The Summoned
- The Attached becomes The Familiar
- The Catabolist becomes The Artificer
- The Dying becomes The Cursed
- The Empath becomes The Channeler
- The Executive becomes The Guild Agent
- The Honed becomes the Monk
- The Honorbound becomes The Oathbound
- The Onomastic becomes The Heretic
- The Seeker becomes The Cultist
- The Wayward becomes The Druid
- The Aesthetic becomes The Bard
- The Percipient becomes The Assassin
- The Futurist becomes The Oracle
- The Linker becomes The Hunter
- The Mirror becomes The Doppelganger
- The Sparrow becomes The Wizard
- The Custodian becomes The Archaeologist or Scholar (still deciding)
The other fantasy lazy hack came to me after our first session of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2e. I’ve been running it Sunday mornings in March. I love the potential of Legacy. I ran the original version as my first game for The Gauntlet, well before I understood how PbtA operates. I didn’t do a great job, but I powered through. I loved so many ideas from the rules. Last year I ran sessions of the newer edition, working from the Kickstarter backer pdf. I dug it, but we hit a few rough patches with the mechanics and my own understanding of the play.
I’ve run this series with the final version, and I have a much clearer sense of how the game works. I rebuilt my Google character keeper to make it easier for the players. I used all of session one for world, family, and character building. By adding space in the online sheets for Quick Characters, it encouraged us to explore those mechanics. We’ve done three sessions so far and it’s kind of blowing my mind. If you like AP videos, I highly recommend these sessions.
Legacy offers PbtA generational play in a post-apocalyptic setting. For the new edition Jay Iles also brought in designers to create several other fully fleshed themed playsets like Rhapsody of Blood (Castlevania), Worldfall (Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri), and Generation Ship (Gen 7). Each does an amazing job of tuning the rules and the playbooks to their unique setting. Godsend, for example, deals with deities & heroes, rather than families and characters and uses a diceless mechanic.
It occurred to me that reskinning base Legacy for fantasy would be super easy. Tech would become Magic, Data would become Secrets, Devices would become Relics. Most family playbooks could easily be reframed as fantasy factions. So The Enclave of Bygone Lore become ancient scholars; The Lawgivers of the Wastelands become a Paladin-like order; The Order of the Titan wrangles Dragons instead of Kaiju. Character playbooks map over just as easily, with only a few you might have to seriously tweak or reconsider.
Best of all, this could solve the problem I had with Forbidden Lands. In our recent Gauntlet Hangouts podcast I mentioned the weird world-building at the heart of that game. In FL communities, cities, and peoples have been isolated for 300 hundred years. The text suggests people could only reach the area within a half-day walk of their settlement. A ravaging force called the Blood Mist kills any who wander further. But now that Mist has lifted—that’s the starting point for campaigns. Yet the setting material suggests that almost nothing has changed in 300 years—every faction, people, and settlement is much the same, just less informed about what’s out there. That boggles my mind.
I would use that Blood Mist concept as the starting out point for a Legacy fantasy campaign. The Blood Mist has lifted, new factions have made contact and interacted, but there’s much they don’t know. Old and new threats hide themselves on the map and various forces seek to fulfill their agenda. It would be a little like The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power, but with more focus on factions and less on petty awfulness. I sat down and sketched out a few notes for this.
Of course, the next day UFO Press launched their Kickstarter for Mysthea a fantasy setting using the Legacy Engine. And that is awesome. I’m already looking through the quickstart and I’m super-excited. I can still do my fantasy hack, run from the Mysthea quickstart, and eagerly anticipate the coming of the full version.
That’s the beauty of lazy hacks—no worries, no biggie if someone has or is going to do something you’ve done. You can see if they’ve actually created what you wanted. If they have, great. No big loss of time. If they haven’t, well then they’ve probably provided you with new inspiration and direction for your own hack.
So I say unto thee, get out there, hack lazily, and get it to the table.
For the full backlog of Age of Ravens posts on Blogger see here.