REVISE RUN REPEAT
I have a few games I've talked about before which have gotten trial runs.
Changeling the Lost PbtA
It remains a glorious mess, despite lots of cutting. We’ve eliminated moves and tightened base mechanics each time we’ve run it. But the playbooks remain delightfully over-stuffed. I’ve run several multi-session games of it. Tyler, Jamila, and Chris Newton have all run it as well.
It’s worked best when it leans into and concentrates on the kinds of emotional stories I want to play. There’s a lot of the original CtL stuff which dropped away: full mechanical treatments for the Hedge, mantles for the Courts, clarity, complex contracts, etc, catches. I think the next iteration will take another run at the basic moves and then go through the playbook moves to find where we’re referring to things we really haven’t done anything with.
It’s moved far enough away from the original source, I’m thinking about how to shape it into its own thing. The Seasonal Courts, for example, don’t feel as universal as they ought to. I want a better want to model and interact with those. Other elements, like goblins and masks have become more my vision of how things should be than sticking to the original. You can see the material here.
Here’s another mess that I really love. I love The Veil and the kinds of stories it invites. I like the on-the-ground feel of the game. Bringing that over to fantasy has been a pleasure. I’m running another four sessions of it this month. In a previous iteration I added more material about what each playbook defines about the world. I want to push that further and make that less sloppy.
The playbooks are definitely the next big step for revising. Originally I just reskinned them for a fantasy setting (so the Executive became the Guild Agent for example). That’s worked but I want to tune them to the kind of play we’re actually getting at the table. I’ve got enough playbooks I can afford to cut a few and maybe broaden the concepts of others. I've left out some fantasy-specific archetypes need to create playbooks for, maybe from the scattered pieces of the cut one.
I made a couple of major changes in the most recent version. I dumped the concept of Values from The Veil (with influence from Burning Wheel) because they never pushed play. I also did away with a Gold cost for advancement. That was intended to create a pressure, but just felt like a disincentive to progress. So I tightened starting money and added a Lifestyle/Gigging mechanic ala Apocalypse World. Recent play has shown me I need to consolidate the basic moves as well. Some feel right for cyberpunk, but don’t necessarily need a stand-alone move for fantasy. You can see the material here.
Neo Shinobi Vendetta
This is an anime cyberninja game I’ve run in both Action Cards and Fate. As I mentioned last year, Sherri thought that Forged in the Dark would be a good fit for it and wrote up a hack. I’ve run it twice—with some significant tweaks in between. It’s good and I would run it again. Sherri's talked about doing more and making further changes to FitD to focus in on the character play. You can see the material here.
Since I wrote that hack piece, I’ve cobbled together three new hacks, each of which I’ve gotten to play a little. I haven’t had a chance to iterate on each of these yet.
Star Trek Adventures Express
This year has made me appreciate Star Trek more and more. When if first arrived, I ran it with Star Trek Adventures' 2d20 system from Modiphus. I found it OK, but way more mechanical than I cared for. However the sourcebooks and materials offered lots of cool ideas and resources. When we talked about playing a Star Trek game a couple of months ago, I worked through and stripped down the rules.
I ditched GM threat points, the game's funky damage/effect dice, most of the detailed momentum spend options, and the GM rolling at all. Instead I set a difficulty. If it's an active/important challenge, then I use a truncated Deck of Fate (with all of the +/-4, most of the 3, and some of the 2 taken out) to modify a default 2 difficulty. We track momentum individually and I usually don't worry about it going away from scene to scene. Attacks have a set damage which successes/momentum can modify. I added a little 7th Sea tech to the damage track to make it a little more interesting.
I rewrote all of the talents from the base and expansion books. I didn't do the same for the Species talents however; there’s too many of them. Instead revised those the PCs decided to go with. Overall I have fewer die rolls per session—letting rolls have a broader effect.
It’s worked pretty well, especially when we approach it loosely. I haven’t yet revised the starship combat rules; that’s the next big step. If I go back to do a bigger rewrite of this, I’ll probably start with the game’s talents. They’re…how best to put it?...more mechanical than evocative. Most revolve around modifying difficultly or adding successes. I’d like more talents that do cool or colorful things over those that move the needle on the dice results. Materials: Cheat Sheet and Character Keeper.
On another sci-fi front, I spent a chunk of time on hacking Impulse Drive to simulate the Coriolis setting. That was easier than I thought it would be—partially because Impulse Drive's pretty robust and partially because Coriolis is so compelling. This was a lighter hack than most because the heavy lifting could be done in the playbooks. Here’s a post I wrote about it. https://www.gauntlet-rpg.com/blog/age-of-ravens-coriolis-drive. It was super fun, but needs tweaking. In particular some of the moves on the playbooks double up strengths rather than offering new directions and choices.
Free from the Yoke Rokugan
The other hack I’ve only just started playing. Earlier this year we tried Free from the Yoke, a focused adaptation of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins to a Slavic low-fantasy realm. It was dynamite. The system changes made play much easier and more coherent. The big change which gave focus to the game is the inclusion of an “Arbiter,” the figure who freed the realm from the Imperial yoke and now rules. The PC houses battle one another but also try to deal with the Arbiter’s demands.
It occurred to me that this could be a great way to do a high-level Legend of the Five Rings game. It would take place after the Clan War, the Second Day of Thunder, and the investiture of Toturi I. It would be a little limiting, needing players with a decent knowledge of the L5R setting/premise or those willing to spend time reading up on that. In this hack Toturi takes the place of the Arbiter and the Clans take the place of the houses.
Legend of the Five Rings has a lot of issues—representation, mashing together unique Asian cultures into a weird Frankenstein-thing, a festishization of Honor as a cultural drive. I hope a) taking a higher level view of the setting and b) allowing for more player collaboration in defining things will reduce (not eliminate) those issues. We’ll consider honor as a political tool used to defend ideologies, entrenched powers, and the cultural systems as a whole—rather than an objective truth.
We did the Session 0 set up for that last night. As with any stress testing, we found a few things which needed fixing (one of the Crane moves, references in the Emperor doc). But overall it held up pretty well. You can check out a folder with the materials here. Right now I’m looking at some of the mechanical changes to Legacy presented in the upcoming Shattered City rules and looking at which of those I might add in. Find Materials here.
I wrote a bit about using the Mutant Engine to do a Sid Meier Alpha Centauri game. Long story short: it didn’t work. We played about a half-dozen sessions. I think there’s something there, but the Mutant die roll system really frustrated the players. Those mechanics work well in Mutant: Year Zero and Forbidden Lands. The keep painful pressure on the players—hurting them and draining resources. I thought that would work for this but it didn’t. Instead the player found those mechanics frustrating. So I’ve shelved this one.
I have a decent list of things I’d like to write up hacks for.
Magic, Inc: I'm still thinking about this homebrew setting I put together a few years ago. I’ve run it with Fate, Fate Accelerated, and Action Cards. I had fun with all of those, but it didn’t completely click. All of those systems assume a level of competency. And the game’s more about the incompetent trying to succeed. I suspect to really get what I want out of this I’ll need to do a PbtA hack. Alternately if I want it even easier, I could try to adapt something like Pipedream or Trophy Gold.
Fading Suns: The L5R Legacy hack has me thinking this might be a good way to play out Fading Suns. It could let us experience the broad sweep of the setting (which is what I dig). On the other hand, I could go further and just write up a larger space opera hack for Legacy ala Dune. It would take some work to adapt the different physical space, but I think it could be done. Given that there's a Legacy SRD right now, that might be the most fruitful.
Gotham Central: I still like the core concept of GCPD detectives operating in a world filled with the craziness and danger of superbeings. OOH recent events have made me less enthused about games which support the status quo and a broken police state. So I don’t know if I want to work on this.
If I do, I’d lean into the Batman-yness of it. I have some ideas about how you could adapt Brindlewood Bay to this. In some ways the GCPD officers have the same level of helplessness as the mavens in that game. PCs would mark on two tracks: getting worn down by the weirdness and getting wrapped up in corruption. Contacts and family would take the place of key items. The bigger conspiracy in the background could be a more conventional supervillain plot (like Leviathan or the Parliament of Owls) or it could be something bigger like as Crisis-level event. I’ve also been thinking about how BB could be adapted to do a Stranger Things/Tales from the Loop kind of story.
7th Sea: Still haven’t figured this one out. I like so much of 7th Sea, especially how open it is for different kinds of campaigns. But even after running it a couple dozen times, I still bounce off of it. I’d hoped the Forged in the Dark mechanics of Tides of Gold would work, but they’re kind of a mess and in the long run didn’t click. Rapscallion from Magpie has potential, but it’s so focused in its specific setting and play mode that hacking that would be a ton of work. And for this one I’m inclined to be lazy. Originally I thought the Mutant Engine might work—the numbers line up pretty well. But my experience with SMAC disabused me of that.
Any hacks you're working on?