Losing the Tether: First thoughts on Sig City of Blades

Sig: City of Blades is based on Sig: Manual of the Primes and Blades in the Dark

Sig: City of Blades, released earlier this year by Genesis of Legend Publishing, is a Forged in the Dark game of cosmopolitan planar fantasy. The overlap of these two genres (that is, ‘Forged in the Dark’ and ‘cosmopolitan planar fantasy’) is Sig‘s main selling point, and it’s a good one. Each of the genres is fun and interesting in its own right, yet they feel like they fit together so perfectly that they were almost designed for each other. And yet Sig: City of Blades is the first game that combines them.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been digesting the Sig: City of Blades rulebook with the intention of running a campaign for my friends. I’ve also been re-reading its direct antecedents in its genres, Blades in the Dark and Sig: Manual of the Primes, for background, context and inspiration. The tone of Sig: City of Blades suits my personal style (less grim than other Forged in the Dark games I’ve played) and the art and production design is gorgeous, so I started the process with very high hopes.

However, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a game I will probably never run. There are too many little things that bug me, that are inconsistent or confusing. None of them make the game unplayable, but there are so many that my mantra while playing would be “Just don’t think about it too much”, and that’s not a very satisfying mindset to have as a GM (especially when many previous games in its genres have rewarded deeper understanding).

What I’m going to do in this blog is share some of my little concerns, as well as any ideas I’ve had on changes that could address them. There will be some overlap with things that Paul Beakley brought up in his excellent deep dive into Sig, which I recommend reading, but I feel I have a sufficiently different perspective even when we raise the same points. (I come from a background of planar fantasy while Paul doesn’t, but Paul also ran the game whereas my impressions are from reading the book only.)

There’s a lot of promise in Sig: City of Blades, and a lot of excellent pieces that I feel ultimately don’t all fit together. I still hope that one day we’ll get a game that perfectly blends Forged in the Dark design with cosmopolitan planar fantasy, but whether that game will be Sig: City of Blades or something else I’m not sure.

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Quick Cortex Prime hack: Spies and monster hunters in Cold City

Cold City coverMy gaming group just wrapped up a Cold City campaign. It was fun, and we liked the setting, but afterwards the other players and I were unanimous in our dislike of the game’s system. There were some good bits, but too many bad bits getting in the way. For example, stats increase when you succeed and decrease when you fail, and if they decrease too far (which can happen on the turn of a single roll, especially if you were a min-maxer like me) that leads to a downward spiral and then it’s almost impossible for your character to become competent again.

Another player suggested that you could play a campaign with the same setting in another game like The Dystopian Universe Roleplaying Game (a Fate game). He was probably right, but I’ve never played that game, so I’m going to hack Cold City for Cortex Prime instead. Enjoy!

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Advise me: How should I blog my reviews of D&D Appendix E?

This holiday season, I’m using my free time to read some of the inspirational books and stories from Appendix E in the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Players Handbook. This is based on a much earlier list, compiled by Gary Gygax for the original Dungeon Master’s Guide and known throughout the internet as Appendix N. (Admiral.Ironbombs has talked a bit about Appendix N and Appendix E on their own blog, here.)

Since I have a roleplaying blog already, and since this is a roleplaying-adjacent subject, I thought I might blog a little about my impressions of these books. I’m not a prodigious reader, and I’m not much for literary analysis, but perhaps someone will find my thoughts on these tales interesting.

But I’m in a quandary: should I put all my reviews in a single blog post or split them up, perhaps even into separate reviews for each book? A single post would have the benefit of keeping everything in one place, but it would be very long (even though the individual reviews will be quite short). Multiple posts would be more easily digestible, but I suspect harder to find any specific thing you’re interested in (maybe even needing an index post), to the point where they might crowd out the other blog posts on the site. I honestly don’t know which is best.

Dear readers, what would you prefer? One long post, or many short posts?

Sailing the 7th Sea is exciting but choppy

7th Sea (2nd edition) cover

7th Sea (second edition) by John Wick Presents is a roleplaying game of swashbuckling and sorcery in a fantasy version of 17th century Europe. I’m currently running a short campaign. The players and I are having fun, but I’ll probably never run it again and one of the players who had intended to run it himself has been put off from doing that. Some of the mechanics are great and powerful additions to the RPG designer’s toolbox; in other places the core rules feel unclear and frustrating, putting a burden on the GM to make rulings.

This isn’t a thorough review of the game (Rob Donoghue has you covered if that’s what you want), but it is a look at some specific areas that I feel are worthy of greater attention. First up is Stories, and players taking the helm for their own development.

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I bought the Nobilis and Chuubo Bundle of Holding

Cover of Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine

After weeks of umming and erring, I finally bought the Nobilis and Chuubo Bundle on Bundle of Holding, featuring the games Nobilis and Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine by Jenna Katerin Moran.

It’s not that I wasn’t sure of the games’ worth. On the contrary, it’s because I well understand the quality and beauty and ingenuity of these games that I considered buying the bundle, despite already owning both of the games. Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, the one that I’ve played before, is unlike any other roleplaying game I’ve ever tried, and the scope of the ideas it can add to a game designer’s toolbox is immense.

I bought the bundle because I hope the Chuubo supplements will help me sort through a few issues that are holding me back from running another Chuubo’s campaign. I really want to, but some relatively minor things are in the way, like the need to provide and use large amounts of stationery props (the Quest and Issue cards). I got some advice on this on Google+, so I might have eventually got round to doing it again regardless, but this Bundle is a prompt to dive back into this (occasionally mindblowing) game and see if I can sort through it.

Even without playing, there are so many great game mechanics in these games that can be lifted out and used in other places. That’s what I did recently with the emoting rules in my blog post on Revealed Emotionality in roleplaying games, but there is so much more gold to mine in these pages.

To make a long story short, there are only two days left on the Bundle of Holding. If you don’t have these games already, this is an excellent opportunity to get them at a bargain price. If you own them, maybe it’s time to give them another look. I’m planning to do just that.

There’s beauty here. Share it.

Will you find your happily ever after with The Dance and The Dawn?

Cover of The Dance and the Dawn, via ndpdesign.comThe Dance and the Dawn is a fantasy roleplaying game of romantic tragedy by Dev Purkayastha of Sweet Potato Press. It tells the tale of a midnight waltz in the court of the Ice Queen, where the forlorn Ladies of Ash have come to dance with the mysterious Lords of Ice, each Lady in search of the True Love that can yield them happiness. Happily ever afters are possible, but far from guaranteed.

The game is designed for one-shot play for 3-5 players (but 4 players is recommended). One of the players is the GM (or Narrator) and the others play the Ladies of Ash.

The action of the game takes place in the ballroom of the Ice Queen’s court. The dance floor is represented by a chessboard, and all the attendees by chess pieces. As the pieces move around the board, the clock ticks on to morning. At dawn, the Ladies will have to make their fateful choices.

I recently had the opportunity to play the game, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not for everyone, and I’m ambivalent about its replay value, but there’s a lot of great stuff in it that I think is worth unpacking.

The Dance and the Dawn is available for purchase from Lulu or Indie Press Revolution. There’s even a live-action roleplay (or “theatrical experience”) adaptation of the game, if that’s more your sort of thing.

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Turning over a new leaf: A villainous Cortex Prime playtest

It’s 2018, hurrah! A new year means a new year for roleplaying, and I’m looking forward to a few upcoming changes in my roleplaying calendar. First, all three regular campaigns that I’m in are reaching their climactic finales, which will be an exciting if bittersweet farewell to some characters. Second, I’m hoping to play some more one-shots, particularly in systems I’ve never tried before. Third, I’m putting my hand to game design a bit more—unusually, I’ve been inspired to dip my toe into OSR gaming, so we’ll see where that goes.

Most immediately, though, there are two things that are dominating my early 2018 roleplaying thoughts: GMing my first new campaigns after a relatively lackluster 2017 in that area, and the Cortex Prime playtest draft rules.

These two things go together pretty well, it turns out.

Mick Rory (Heatwave) in Legends of Tomorrow season 3 episode 2,
The gif that inspired it all.

Right now, I’m running a Cortex Prime game of supervillains, whisked out of the toxic environments that enabled their iniquity to fight a greater threat, given a chance to do something good for a change. Something like Legends of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad, or Guardians of the Galaxy (only the last of which I’ve actually watched, admittedly). Can they reform and become better people? Do they want to? Can they save the world? This is Set a Villain.

Since I last blogged about Cortex Prime, its Kickstarter was fully funded with all of its stretch goals reached, and several drafts of an SRD have been released for playtesting. I initially used v2.1 of the SRD (released on 19 September 2017), but I plan to update this to the latest versions as they come out. Currently, that’s v3.1, dated 1 January 2018. Happy New Year!

In this blog I’m giving a rundown of my new campaign, including the Cortex Prime variant rules we’re using. Note that while I’ve been writing detailed feedback on the game so far and sending it to the developers, I’m not going to copy it out here. Cortex Prime is still a work in progress, and (I hope) any feedback I’d write now would be irrelevant by the time the game is finalised and published. The most you’ll get here (for now) are some general opinions. Onward!

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With Great Power comes great enjoyment

Cover of With Great Power (Master Edition), art by M. P. O'Sullivan

With Great Power by Michael S. Miller is a superhero roleplaying game that emulates the melodramatic, four-colour style of the Silver Age of comics. It’s uncannily attuned to the tropes of that era, and what’s more it’s fantastic fun to play.

I wanted to play a staunch defender of the people, a larger-than-life, powerful, positive character and boy did I ever get that in the Glowing Guardian! With his allies, Little Young’un and the Armoured Arcanist, he defends New York City (because of course New York City) from the plots of supervillains like Zoltrak the Cursed and the Incandescent Inquisitor!

So how does the game itself encourage such incredible stories?

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Will Cortex Prime light our darkest hour?

Optimus Prime displaying the Cortex logo matrix of leadership
It’s Optimus Cortex Prime, geddit?

The Kickstarter for Cortex Prime is currently live, and it’s doing rather well. It funded in 36 hours (I helped!), it has just passed its third stretch goal, and it still has 12 days to go.

Cortex Prime is the latest iteration of the Cortex roleplaying system and, more immediately, the successor system to Cortex Plus, which gave us games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Leverage, Firefly and my favourite Smallville. (I’ve blogged about Smallville a lot. Have a look.)

This seems like a good time to talk about my feelings for the new game. In short, I’m looking forward to it. My last Cortex Plus game, the X-Men drama Worthington Academy, wrapped up last year. I had no intention of running another one, but just before the Kickstarter launched I was starting to get the itch for a new Cortex Plus Drama campaign, and so Cortex Prime showed up at just the right time.

But what do I think about what I’ve seen so far?

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A roll in the hay with Kagematsu

Cover of Kagematsu

Kagematsu is a roleplaying game by Danielle Lewon, based on a design by S.R. Knipe. The simplest, most obvious summary of the game would be to call it a romance game, but there are aspects to it that prevent it from being so easily pigeonholed. If you’ve heard of Kagematsu, you probably know it as the game that must always be GMed by a woman, and that’s important to its exploration of gender and power imbalance.

I have been wanting to play it for a long time, and I’m glad I have because there is so much to say about this game!

Here’s the highlight, though: I had a great time playing Kagematsu. I want to play it again. I recommend it, but there are things that I wish the game did better so I fully understand if it’s not the game for you.

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