I was talking about the Steven Universe episode Last One Out of Beach City with my coworker yesterday and she brings up Bubbleine. That reminded me I was working on an Adventure Time hack of Ben Lehman’s Hot Guys Making Out with Princess Bubblegum and Marceline as the main characters.

I need to go finish it. The four characters were Princess Bubblegum, Marceline, Finn & Jake (both controlled by a single player), and the Ice King. Everyone was written up except for the Ice King, but I have some ideas for him. Mostly about him puttering around and blaming Gunter for things that may or may not have actually happened.


The Oni & The Kitsune

As with any game I get interested in, it didn’t take me long to start making new content for Avery Alder’s Monsterhearts, a roleplaying game about the messy lives of teenage monsters. I made two Skins, The Oni and The Kitsune, both of which are now up for sale on PayHip for $4 each, with half the proceeds going to either The Southern Poverty Law Center or Planned Parenthood.

Monsterhearts, which is soon to have a second edition released, is special to me for two reasons apart from simply being a fantastic game. Firstly, Monsterhearts was the first PbtA game (that’s “powered by the apocalypse”, a game that grew out of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World) that really clicked rules-wise for me, and secondly, it was the first game that showed me how mechanics can be used to emulate and reinforce certain player behaviors to achieve a specific tone or genre. I became a huge fan of the game and tried creating some new Skins (think character types) for it.

The protagonists in Monsterhearts are both teenagers and literal monsters; werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc. If you look deeper though, each monster is also a metaphor for a teenage problem or issue. The werewolf is both werewolf and a metaphor for authority issues. The Ghost is an actual ghost and a metaphor for feeling isolated and invisible. It’s really clever, and makes the games really powerful. It also means that what I consider to be “good” Skins follow the same pattern. They need to be both a literal monster and a metaphor for some aspect of teenage life. I completely stumbled into that combination due to blind luck with my first finished Skin: The Oni.The_Oni

If you don’t know what an oni is, it’s a creature from Japanese mythology that is kind of like a troll or an ogre; a big, evil, human-eating monster. They can turn invisible, can control thunder and lightening, and are thought to have caused all sorts of nastiness. But over the centuries both oni, and a similar monster called a namahage, have become sort of like societal enforcers here in Japan. There’s a traditional celebration at the beginning of February called Setsubun where people dress up as oni/namahage and scare little children into being good. They essentially bully kids into behaving so that they conform to society’s rules and everyone gets along, which is a very important part of Japanese society. Bullying was an aspect of teenage life I hadn’t seen in a Monsterhearts Skin yet, and so I ran with it.

After completing The Oni, I decided to continue the theme of Japanese mythology and picked another well-known creature: The Kitsune. I didn’t stumble into the perfect mix of monster and metaphor here though; I thought for a long time about what aspect of teenage life a shape-changing fox spirit could represent. Finally it hit me: compulsive lying. Kitsune often take the shape of human beings to play tricks, cause mischief, or just to experience life as a person. Sometimes they get stuck in human form, trapped by their own lies and forced to keep on lying to maintain the charade. Compulsive lying was again something I hadn’t seen explored in a Monsterhearts Skin and I finally found a way to represent it mechanically.The_Kitsune

I have ideas for other Japanese-themed Monsterhearts Skins, namely The Tengu, The Tannuki, and The Kappa, but I haven’t gotten very far with them yet. Hopefully I’ll finish them eventually. Again both, The Oni and The Kitsune are available on PayHip for just $4 each, and half the proceeds go to either The Southern Poverty Law Center or Planned Parenthood respectively. If you don’t want to go through PayHip, email me and we can arrange something through PayPal instead if you’d like.

The Oni & The Kitsune

Random Jaeger Name Generator

Nearly three years ago I made myself a bunch of tables to randomly generate some Jaeger names for a Cortex Plus Pacific Rim game I was tinkering with. I spiffed it up a bit design-wise, and decided to share. That’s 2,880 possible names, and yes, the tables are arranged so that you can get names like Gipsy Danger, Cherno Alpha, Striker Eureka, and Crimson Typhoon.

Nothing’s really come of that Cortex Plus Pacific Rim inspired game I was working on (as usual I lost interest but kept the notes), but people might still find these tables useful. You could use then for atlas names in Stras Acimovic’s upcoming Atlas Reckoning game (which is in closed beta now). I should really convert the tables to use playing cards rather than dice in that case though.


Random Jaeger Name Generator

Star Butterfly Random Blast Names

It’s goofy and over the top, but I’m enjoying Star vs. the Forces of Evil. I’ve only watched the first season so far and it still feels a bit random, but I’m certainly going to keep watching. And, naturally, I’m thinking about how to stat up the characters in Fate Accelerated Edition. What can I say? I have a problem.

To that end, I made this: a random spell name generator for Star Butterfly’s magical blasts using Fate Dice. Knock yourself out. Mega Tiara Glowworm Devastation!


Star Butterfly Random Blast Names

Advanced Keep It Weird, Beach City

After getting some great feedback on the current version of Keep It Weird, Beach City, my Steven Universe story game, it’s going through another round of development. The big change here is the addition of “trigger cards” for the characters.

The feedback I got on the current version was that while the cards did a good job of capturing the personalities and behaviors of each character, the single “take a gem” trigger meant that they would be rather one dimensional. The Crystal Gems are multifaceted (heh, gem pun), and character cards that reflected this would be nice to see. I thought for a while about how to do that, and eventually came up with “trigger cards”.

The idea here is that each character has three (or possibly more) cards representing major parts of their personality. Each card is double sided, with a trigger instructing the player to take a gem when a certain condition is met on each side. One side has a neutral or perhaps a positive trigger; something that won’t cause too many problems. The reverse side has a more extreme or a negative trigger; something that will cause issues or make things more difficult.

Trigger cards start the game neutral side up. When a player narrates their character meeting a condition on one of their cards, they take a gem and flip that card over to the reverse side, usually the “negative” side. If all three of a player’s trigger cards are negative side up, they all flip back to the neutral side.

This does a number of things. It gives the characters more personality facets, rounding them out. That increases the replay value of the game. A player can keep things “light”, only triggering the neutral conditions on their cards, as they’ll all flip back to the neutral side. Or if they keep triggering the same card, they’ll have to escalate the situation a but by narrating something that causes problems.

For example, Garnet might have the cards Direct, Intense, and Independent. Pearl would have CautiousClever, and Dramatic. Amethyst would have Impulsive, Irresponsible, and Fun-loving.

The trick now is to come up with neutral and extreme triggers for each of those cards.

Advanced Keep It Weird, Beach City

The Circle

The Circle is going to be my entry for the 2017 200 Word RPG Challenge. (If you don’t know about the challenge, it’s pretty much what it says on the cover; a contest that challenges people to write a complete roleplaying game in 200 words or less. I didn’t participate last year, but I submitted Japanese Office back in 2015. With such a small word count, submissions are usually rules-lite storygames or LARPS; it’s hard to write out a involved rules with only 200 words.) Entries for the 2017 contest can be submitted from April 15th to the 23rd, and winners will be announced on May 8th. I fumbled around for an idea this year before finally deciding on teenaged witches, a subject I use often.

Back around 2010 when I was just getting into Apocalypse World-based games I stumbled across the crowdfunding campaign for Monsterhearts. I backed it mostly because I was curious to see how you could use the PbtA game framework to play Twilight the roleplaying game. We’d also been playing in a Vampire: the Requiem campaign, and Monsterhearts seemed like a condensed version of the things I found most interesting in V:tR, namely the personal drama. Monsterhearts has become one of, if not my most, favorite roleplaying game for a number of reasons, and it turned me onto a whole world of (mostly young adult) paranormal romance media. I love the cheesy, over the top melodrama.

My game The Circle is heavily inspired by L.J. Smith’s book series The Secret Circle, about a coven of twelve teenaged witches in New England. (There was a 2011 TV series based very loosely on the books that only lasted a single 22-episode season. It wasn’t very good, and I’m still grumpy it didn’t get a better adaptation.) I tried to use the themes and elements from The Secret Circle in The Circle, or as many as I could in only 200 words. The complete game is below:

The Circle
You are a teenaged witch. Give your witch:

  • a name
  • a three-word archetype
  • a preferred sphere of magic

Introduce your witches. You all:

  • live near each other
  • are close in age
  • attend the same high school

You are a Circle; more powerful together than alone. Split the Circle: half Dawn, half Dusk. Sit on opposing sides of the space; you are rivals but not enemies.

As a Circle decide:

  • what big magic you are planning
  • what preparations must be completed
  • what complications are in your way

Remove the Jokers from a deck of cards. Shuffle it. Put it in the center of the space. Taking informal turns, narrate what your witch think, feels, and does.

When you narrate something with an uncertain outcome or that uses magic, pick an opposing player and draw three cards. If it reinforces your archetype, draw an extra card. If it involves magic within your preferred sphere, draw an extra card. Choose and reveal three cards:

  • three black: you narrate the outcome
  • two black: you narrate the outcome; they narrate a complication
  • two red: they narrate the outcome; you narrate an advantage
  • three red: they narrate the outcome

Shuffle after each draw.

It clocks in at 197 words. I’ve tried to “bake in” all the necessary elements so that everyone quickly gets what the game’s about, makes an appropriate character, and has an issue to resolve. One of the things I’m struggling with in my other game, Keep it Weird, Beach City, is the players narrating both the opposition and how they overcome it. That can be a bit unsatisfying. So here I’ve tried to avoid that by having a rival player narrate complications and outcomes. The coven is pretty much split in half, six “good” and six “bad” (though that’s simplifying it) in The Secret Circle, and I thought that was a perfect way to have players be antagonists for each other in the game.

I might still tweak this before submitting it (the entry form hasn’t gone up yet), but I don’t think there’s much more I need to do with it. As usual, if you try this out, I’d love to hear feedback.

The Circle

Keep it Weird v4.4.17

I’m looking for feedback on a little story game I’ve been developing on and off since last summer, called Keep it Weird, Beach City. It’s based on the cartoon Steven Universe, which I really enjoy. Familiarity with the show will help, but I am also interested in seeing if the rules and instructions make sense to people who don’t know anything about Steven and the Crystal Gems.

This is a rules-lite narrative story game. There’s no GM, and the “crunch” simply involves taking or spending tokens when you perform certain actions or narrate certain things happening. It’s based on Avery Alder‘s Keep it Sunny game, which made a huge impact on me. It really opened my eyes about how mechanics, even simple ones, can encourage a certain style of play in an attempt to emulate a specific character. This was before I had encountered either Fate or Cortex Plus and I think it was also the first GM-less game I read as well.

I’m not entirely sure what made me think of using the Keep it Sunny rules for a Steven Universe game. Maybe it was because the Crystal Gems have flaws that cause drama and drive narrative (though the Gems are generally good people, unlike the It’s Aways Sunny in Philadelphia gang). I’m not really interested in making it more complex, and if you only like tactical combat games I highly doubt you’ll like Keep It Weird, Beach City. Still, I’m interested in hearing any and all constructive criticism or critiques. I would love actual playtest feedback (you’ll need three to six players, some tokens, and the files below), but read-thru feedback is also appreciated.

Note: There are potential spoilers for seasons 2, 3, and 4 of Steven Universe here. So if that matters to you, you might want to avoid looking at these.

You can grab the files for the most recent version of the game by clicking on the image below. They’re meant to be printed out (they’re three sheets of letter-sized paper), cut up, and folded into double-sided cards. The cards are the same size as other typical CCG cards, 63mm x 88mm, and so can fit into those clear card sleeves. You’ll also need about 20 tokens (coins, buttons, dice, those clear glass beads, whatever) and two to five friends to play with. If you do play, or even if you just read the cards, I’d love feedback.


Keep it Weird v4.4.17