Dungeon World Magic Items

Just a few magic items I created for our Dungeon World game last night that I thought others might find useful.

Ring of Invisibility

 0 weigh

When you put this on, you are invisible until you touch another living being. Roll +CHA. On a 7-9, also choose 1; on a miss, both:

  • your invisibility ends if you make any noise
  • you are blinded while invisible

Lucky Knucklebones

0 weight

When you toss these, roll +Wis. On a 10+, choose 2; on a 7-9, choose 1:
  • treat your next roll as a hit (7-9) instead of rolling, so long as you still have the knucklebones.
  • hold 2. you can spend this 1-for-1 on future rolls, so long as you still have the knucklebones.
  • the next time you miss a roll, treat it as a 10+, but the roll after that automatically misses, so long as you still have the knucklebones.

Undetectable Pocket

0 weight, worn
When sewn to an article of clothing, it creates a pocket that can hold small items. This pocket is unfindable by any search, and anything in it is also undetectable.

Band in a Box

4 weight
This small footlocker is fitted with heavy straps, making it as easy to carry as any box of that size can be. When opened, a selection of instruments emerge from the box, held by invisible, insubstantial musicians. These musicians will join into any music that is being played, providing perfect accompaniment, and providing a +1 to any actions accomplished due to this music.   
If a bard opens the box, roll +CHA. On a hit, they can choose the instruments that emerge. On a 10+, the instruments can play at the bard’s direction even if they stop playing, but the bard must start the tune with them. 

Ring of the Spotlight

worn
The wearer can call down a powerful spotlight on them at any time. The light is bright as day (but is not sunlight), and lasts as long as the wearer doesn’t leave the area, or until they dismiss it. 

Sword of Direction 

1 weight
This sword contains a trapped faerie. Ask it any question that could be answered by a direction or location, and roll +INT. On a 7-9, choose 1; On a 10+, both:
  • the sword will direct you to the answer
  • you get a feeling for how far away the answer is.

Fan of Fleeting Memories

0 weight
When you fan this at someone, roll +Cha. On a 7-9, choose 1; on a 10+, choose 2:
  • They forget that they have met you
  • They forget what they have recently talked to you about
  • They forget what they recently saw you doing

Clockwork Crow

0 weight
Send the crow to somewhere, and it will observe and then return to you, and you can see what it saw.

Dread, Only Longer (part 1)

Most people seem to think of Dread as a one-shot-only game, but when we wrote it we intended to create a campaign-worthy game that created particularly intense individual sessions in that campaign. We wanted a game that gave a pay-off in a single session, but one that also worked for longer games.

In chapter 3 of Dread, there is a section about how characters change with the ongoing story. Elsewhere in the book, we talk about how to craft a setting and scenario that makes room for the loss of characters, which is far more common in Dread than in many other RPGs. But, based on the talk I see online, very few have even tried to run a Dread game longer than a couple of sessions.

I’ve even heard people assert that it’s not possible to play an ongoing Dread game. So clearly we didn’t share enough in the rulebook about how to create long-term play. We talked about choosing a sensible setting to justify bringing in new characters on a regular basis, but not enough about the details of how that works. The secret, as in so much of Dread, is in the questionnaires.

So this is the first of a series of posts, talking about some of the obstacles to ongoing games of Dread and sharing some tricks to address them. Let me set the parameters: I’m not talking about a single story that takes more than one session to complete, and may or may not be survived by all of the characters. I’m talking about “campaign-length” play of potentially dozens of sessions, or as long as you want to keep the game going (the Walking Dead tv show has made it to 9 seasons so far). But nothing I’m going to suggest will hurt a single-story game. At worst, doing these things will be extra effort that won’t pay off in a shorter game. And I’m going to assume you’ve read the rulebook, so I may reference things written there without going into detail about them.

Let’s start with the obvious: what do you do when a character is removed from the game, but the game goes on? We’ve already shared some short-term solutions (letting them play a while longer as a “dead person walking”, coming back temporarily as a ghost or similar), and you could even stretch them out over multiple sessions. But I’d advise against it. Having no agency in a game for an hour at the end of the night is one thing; having no agency for several sessions would be tedious at best. And eventually you’d simply run out of characters.

So what we need is to bring in new characters. There are several parts to this, but I’ll start with: why is this new character here? How do you explain new characters showing up, probably repeatedly, and getting involved with the established characters?

One way to do this is to hint at the new characters within the questionnaires of the old. When you’re planning an ongoing game, make sure that every character you create has a connection to at least one character who isn’t another player character but who would make a suitable player character. Then, if your character is removed from the game, you’ve already introduced a new character you can bring in, and who has a connection to the other characters and the story.

In other words, at least one question on every character questionnaire should be about someone else. Possible categories include:

  • family who would come looking for the character if they didn’t return
  • a protegé
  • a mentor
  • teammate
  • classmate
  • close friend
  • old college friend
  • the fellow members of your scouting troop
  • the person who first alerted the character to the existence of supernatural threats
  • a fellow captive
  • the character’s next vat-grown body, waiting to be activated
  • a squire
  • a sentient familiar
  • someone who owes your character their life
  • fellow cult members
  • members of the same knightly order

And there’s no requirement that you use the connection from your character if they leave the game. Since every character should have at least one connection like this, you could use each others’ connections.

If the setup of your story makes sense, some or all of these “backup characters” could be part of the story right from the start. The main characters could be just 4 or 5 of the students at camp, and as each one is eliminated, the player takes over another camper. This works particularly well with a situation where there is an isolated group that is larger than the player group.

But even when there aren’t other people around, there are usually ways to introduce them, maybe between sessions, maybe right away.

Which gets to the other part of replacing characters for long-term Dread play: there needs to be somewhere for those extra characters to come from. Because that’s the one kind of Dread scenario that doesn’t work for multi-session play: one where there’s no way to introduce new characters. If you want to have a longer game, don’t back yourself into a corner with no way to add new characters. For the rest, campaign length play is possible so long as you want it.

Micia delle Ombre – Catarina Anna Orgoglio

Lost: Ω

  • Power: Not Entirely of this World: she stands apart from this world
  • Weakness: Magic of other realms can always reach her
  • Quirk: can always interact with intangible items—and them with her

Known: d6

  • Gifted student of math and engineering: she would be a master engineer, if she weren’t 13 and unapprenticed

Dynamic: d6

  • Expert swordswoman: deadly with all forms of swords and daggers
  • Talented dancer: she could be a professional dancer

Static: d10

  • Power Stunt: Phasing: by concentrating, she can pull a little further from the world, becoming intangible so that she can pass through anything or let anything pass through her
  • Flaw: young: at only 13, she doesn’t have any authority and is often not taken seriously by adults

Passion: d8

  • Power stunt: Draco: her otherworldly nature has given her an unbreakable telepathic bond with a small dragonette the size of a dog

 

Catarina is a young woman living in Roma, the daughter of successful tradesmen. She showed an aptitude for her father’s engineering, but also a mastery of her body that let her quickly learn to dance and fight as well as many who have spent decades honing their skills. She had always been a bit of a distant child, seeming out of touch with the world around her despite her physical gifts and brilliant mind, and as she grew she discovered that it was more than a personality quirk: she is partly of another realm, and can “phase” out of touch with the regular world, enabling her to pass through objects. This otherworldliness also let her befriend a small dragon who is now her boon companion. 


 

Catarina is a not-quite-playable character. To be played as a Guest character, she should have 1 more Known trait, and her Static Flaw (or Power Stunt) wouldn’t come into play.

As a Main character, she would need 2 Known, 1 Dynamic, and 2 Passion traits added. Perhaps her brilliance gives her other aptitudes? Does her otherworldly nature connect her to any particular realm? Maybe she has a connection to the fae or to other mythic creatures besides Draco? A 13-year-old young woman with her talents and background is likely to have some strong passions about how the world does or ought to work—there’s nothing in her Traits about why she is a hero—or is she a villain? A more-experienced version of Catarina might have learned to use her phasing ability selectively, or to affect objects or other people.

The Bishop of Arezzo

Lost: Ω

  • Power:  “fighting with all the energy with which he so mightily endows me.”: Can absorb and store all types of energy.
  • Weakness: …but not energies from beyond the mortal sphere. 
  • Quirk: his eyes glow when he is charged

Passion: d6

  • Power Stunt: “like a hammer that breaketh the rock”: can release stored energy in powerful concussive blasts.
  • We are All Children of God: Tries to help everyone find their best divine self.

Dynamic: d8

  • Power Stunt: “The Lord is my Strength and my Shield”: can use stored energy to supercharge his body with supernatural strength and durability.

Static: d10

  • Power Stunt: Cannot be harmed by energy attacks.

Known: d6

  • Respected instructor of the Medici Academy: poet, theologian, and orator.
  • Knows the inner workings of the Church.

The Bishop of Arezzo grew up hearing the stories of the nobility and divine purpose of the Church, and joined as soon as he could. Eventually, he was sponsored by the Medici and appointed the parish priest of San Giovanni in Florence. Later he became a canon of Pisa Cathedral and then the bishop of Arezzo. But then he was caught up in a conspiracy of political intrigue and assassinations—sanctioned by the Pope! Realizing that not everyone in the Church lives up to its ideals, the bishop used his extensive knowledge of the workings of the world to take on a new mantle as The Bishop, his mission to bring the noblest elements of the Church out into the world to do good. He won’t directly attack the Church because he still recognizes its divine authority, but he now knows that even Church members are fallible, and strives to help them live up to their best selves.


This is the first of a series of character sketches for Four Colors al Fresco. The goal is to give you a better feel for the world of Italia and show you what sorts of heroes and villains live there. Some will be complete characters, ready to play, but most will be incomplete. I want to give you inspiration for the many ways you can make a character that works in a pseudo-Renaissance Italy. You can take these characters and use them, adding any missing Traits to flesh them out. Or you can steal bits of them for your own characters. Or maybe one of them will inspire you to make your own character.

The Bishop of Arezzo is fully statted as a Guest character; if you want to play him as a Main character, he would need several more Traits.

A Galaxy Even More Far Everway

Many years ago, one of the games I created was a space opera re-imagining of Everway.

Yes, that Everway, the game with all the gorgeous art cards, 3 completely separate action resolution systems, and metaphorical character stats. The RPG aimed at new RPers that completely failed to get noticed by non-RPers, and which was derided by existing RPers as too wishy-washy and new-agey. And which was therefore pretty much completely overlooked.

However, I still consider it one of the best RPGs ever made, particular among the “traditional” style RPGs—which Everway is, just barely. I love the metaphorical stats, the inspirational cards (did Epidiah get the Eidolons in Swords without Master from Everway? I should ask him), and the more mythical, poetic setting.

But, while I absolutely love Everway, and fantasy seems easier for gaming to me, science fiction has always been my preferred genre. Now, Everway doesn’t seem like a good fit for a hard-science fiction game—metaphorical holistic stats and tarot-like interpretive  cards just don’t feel like the right fit, to me. But for space opera? Sure!

The product of these efforts I dubbed “A Galaxy Far, Far Everway”. It’s a game of world-walkers in a futuristic, science-fictional multiverse, with characters that come from every possible future.

Recently, the owner of Everway contacted me and suggested I make this available again, so I did some digging and found my files. I’m uploading this basically as-is. It’s not a complete game. But it’s a playable game, at least if you’re familiar with Everway.

 

Niche vs Schtick

I’m going to run a supers RPG for one of my game groups, and one of the players has never played in that genre before, so before creating characters they had a question: do we need to create the characters as a party so that we make sure we have all the bases covered?

After a little discussion, it became clear that they were thinking of, say, D&D, where your game might not go well if you don’t have a cleric or don’t have a thief. Not that you can’t have a D&D party without one of those roles, but that it significantly changes how the game plays. Or any number of other mission-driven genres where specific skills are expected—like Cyberpunk 2020 without a netrunner.

It seems to me that there are two distinct things going on here. I’m going to call them character niche and character schtick, slightly abusing the terminology to label the distinction I’m talking about:

  • character niche: a niche is a particular story-important mechanical capability of a character
  • character schtick: a schtick is a—or the—core reason that you want to play that character

Rules Define Niches

A niche is a part of the character mechanics that is significant in the play of the game. In some RPGs, niche diversity is important. The game assumes that certain niches will be filled, and if they aren’t, the game won’t play in the usual manner. For example, D&D assumes niche diversity. If you don’t have all the major niches filled (fighter, trap-finder, healer, spellcaster), the game will play very differently. Niche diversity tends to be important in team-based, mission-based genres, like dungeon-delving, espionage, military, and cyberpunk.

In other RPGs, niche protection is important: Having multiple characters in the same niche risks making it un-fun for one or more players as their character gets overshadowed. Being the second-best tracker tends to mean that you don’t get to track (unless there’s a need for multiple people to be tracked at once, or the game has a mechanical way for multiple trackers to work together). Most RPGs at least make the niches obvious, and provide enough of them that you don’t need to overlap. Powered by the Apocalypse games make niche protection explicit by requiring each playbook be unique and building each playbook around unique mechanical capabilities.

OTOH, some games are remarkably tolerant of niche overlap. For example, in D&D you can easily have three fighters in a game and everyone still have fun. Two clerics can work great. Even the trap-finder, probably the D&D niche most susceptible to getting their toes stepped on, doesn’t have to be unique, so long as the GM takes that into account. D&D even works fine with a single-class party.

Don’t Step on My Schtick!

Not every RPG has meaningful niches. But schticks apply in almost every RPG. When you sum up your character, say as “a drunkard dwarven warrior”, you’re describing their schtick or schticks—the core elements that matter to you about your character. Your character’s schtick might include significant mechanical elements of the character, or it might not. Schtick protection is almost always valuable in RPGs—without schtick uniqueness, you end up with Boromir and two hobbits you can’t tell apart. Or two characters riding a skeleton horse of fire. Which can be great fun if it’s intentional, but ruin someone’s fun if it’s not.

In some games, particularly those with classes or other strong categories as part of character creation, niche and schtick tend to overlap heavily. And I don’t think they’re ever completely distinct—they’re very close concepts, so it’s pretty easy for a character’s niche to also be their schtick, or for their schtick to completely subsume their niche.

In fact, in Powered by the Apocalypse games arguably the uniqueness of playbooks is more about protecting those schticks than it is about niche protection. After all, probably everyone in your Dungeon World game is pretty good in a fight, and there are even multiple characters who all fill the same niche—fighter, barbarian, and paladin all fill the “tough guy, able to dish it out and take it” niche, and there are multiple playbooks that fill the “casts spells” niche. But each has a distinct schtick encoded in the rules (like the fighter’s weapon).

My Schtick is “Superhero”

In superhero stories, there are a relatively small number of niches—look at the list of character types in Champions or the classes in Mutants & Masterminds—but an infinitude of schticks. While niche protection isn’t particularly important in superhero stories, schtick protection is. Let me explain with some examples.

A common superhero niche is “superstrength”. Sometimes a character filling that niche also has roughly that as their schtick—like Hercules or the Thing or maybe Colossus. But lots of superstrong characters—characters that fill that niche—have something else as their schtick—their core aspect. Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman are a great example of how you can put 3 superstrong characters on a team and, for the most part, not have them step on each others’ toes narratively.

So it’s important to recognize whether something is your superhero’s niche or their schtick. Is it a thing they’re really good at, or is it the reason you want to play that character? If your character’s schtick is “super strong guy” and you decide the reason they’re strong is because they grew up under the ocean, you’re going to be frustrated if there are two other characters on the team stronger than yours—you’ll rarely get a chance to be in the spotlight as “the strong guy”. But if your character’s schtick is “king of Atlantis”, with command of everything under the waves and even the water itself, then the fact that the “good-hearted savior from another world” and “divine champion of the Amazons” are both stronger doesn’t really matter. Your character’s superstrength is useful, but it’s not the core element that makes your character special to you.

Similarly, Beast’s schtick isn’t “best fighter in the room” or “strongest guy on the team”, so the fact that, while superstrong and a terror in a fight, he has teammates who are stronger and better in a fight isn’t a problem. Because his schtick is “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide, at the same time”, and nobody else on the team does that better. Your schtick is what excites you about that character. Having two characters with the same schtick usually means at least one of the players isn’t getting to shine. If you’re not sure, ask! Find out what the other player thinks is important about their character—how they want to stand out in the game. And then do something else. If two of you come up with really similar schticks, maybe a small tweak can make sure you’re both unique. Maybe in talking it out you’ll realize that the part that excites you about your character isn’t the part that overlaps another’s schtick, so you can change that overlapping part and still have the character you want.

Necessary Superhero Niches?

Oh, and related to this: superhero stories are about unusual solutions to problems, moreso than most other genres. Characters are all about breaking the rules, even of the universes they exist within. So niche diversity isn’t particularly important. That is, there are no “necessary” niches. You can have a superhero team without a brick or without a speedster or without a blaster or without a flying character. Some of these would be unusual, but probably any superhero niche you can think of, there’s a story out there of a team without one.

So, to sum up:

  • Know whether you’re talking about your character’s niche—what parts of the game they’re good at—or their schtick—what’s important to you about playing that character.
  • Know whether the game you’re playing has required niches.
  • Know whether the game you’re playing works will with niche overlap, or is better if niches are unique.
  • Schtick protection is always important. Don’t use the same schtick as another character unless you’ve talked to the other player about it and you both want to do that.
  • In the case of supers, there are no required niches and niche protection isn’t particularly important.
  • In the case of supers, schtick protection is especially important. Don’t step on someone else’s schtick!

And due to the diversity of character options in superhero games, communication during character generation is extra-important. Talk to the other players. Make sure you know whether a core part of a character is their niche, and overlap will be fine, or their schtick, and you should steer clear.

Four Colors al Fresco: 20th Anniversary Edition

We’re creeping up on Four Colors al Fresco being 20 years old. I released the beta (what I’d now call an ashcan) in 2001, and it was already a largely complete game, mostly lacking in examples and setting details. But the game’s design dates back to the winter of ’99-’00, so I’m thinking it’s about time I produce the “finished” version of the game. So this blog post is the first in a series, serving two purposes: to show you snippets of the finished game, and to publicly announce a deadline in order to help me get it done.

The latter purpose needs a little explanation. I’m a one-person shop, here, and gaming time hasn’t been as abundant as I’d like of late. And without gaming, for me, game design and game writing tend not to happen, either. I was frustrated with Four Colors al Fresco’s not-done-ness. Plus, I was in grad school for several years there, earning my MLIS, while still working full-time, which pretty much ate up my free time. Those are reasons, but they’re also maybe excuses. I work well with deadlines, but find it easy to leave things 80%-finished if there isn’t pressure to finish. I’m hoping there’s still some interest in Four Colors al Fresco, and I want to get it done, so by making a public announcement, I’m putting myself on notice so that my friends and the game’s fans (if it has any) will help me get this done. Is this going to be the first RPG whose 1st edition is also it’s 20th-anniversary edition?

The former purpose, you’ve seen before. I’m excited about this game, but it’s a little unusual in setting and mechanics, so I want to share it with you.  There’ve been lots of little (and one big) changes to the rules since the 2001 ashcan. I’ve refined how I explain some of the mechanics. At some point, I’ll probably get over my fear of the camera and put up some short (<5 minute) videos showing some of the mechanics in action. I’ve clarified how the various genres interact in Four Colors al Fresco and how you can lean into them in your play. I’m hoping I can make you as excited about Renaissance superheroes as I am, and make you want to play Four Colors al Fresco to satiate that excitement.

So, bookmark this blog or set notifications, and you can look forward to lots of talk about the writing of Four Colors al Fresco. Plus, there may be ideas for characters and adventures and snippets of setting that won’t make it into the final game, but I feel are worth sharing.

Adding Difficulties to Powered by the Apocalypse

I’m introducing a group to Ars Magica—they’d all heard of the game but not played it. Two out of three of this group are generally more comfortable with storygames, and one of them was primarily interested in Ars Magica because of the shared/rotating GM structure. After our first session, they asked if it would be possible to have a flexible free-form magic system like Ars Magica in a Powered by the Apocalypse game.

I of course immediately said ‘no’, because PbtA doesn’t have difficulty levels, and doesn’t even really have rated skills in most iterations. Generally, either you can do a thing or you can’t, and if you can do it you do it just as well as someone else does.

Continue reading

Time & Temp Matrix

I’m running a game of Time & Temp, the awesome and ridiculous game of minimally competent temp employees protecting history from tampering and paradox. It relies on a shared “Temporal Matrix” and “Anachronometer”, but we’re playing online.

So I put together a Google doc to share. I also added a couple additional notes about rolling the dice and the Temporal Villainy Index. Oh, and identified where you start marking the Anachronometer for Temporal Villainy, because I had to cross-reference several bits to figure that bit out the first time, and it’s the part I have to re-figure out each time I play it. 

With Eppy’s permission, I’ve made a copy of this to share with everyone. The colors don’t have any semantic content, so hopefully this should work well for people with color vision deficiencies, too. The shading does have some semantic content: darker areas are informational; lighter areas are for input. Obviously, feel free to make your own copy and strip the color out or improve it in any other way. 

To use it for the game, I keep this as a master sheet and make a copy for each time/place. I also set protections so that the players can’t accidentally modify the master sheet, and protect everything except the input areas on the time/place sheets from editing. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do about indicating the value of locked paradox dice. I’m thinking I’ll change the shading of that cell when I check it.