Mechaton hacking

Thanks to some last minute mecha building for a Mechaton game at Conpulsion 2011, I’ve been pretty inspired by Mechaton. Which is good, as I’d spent a few months without a lot of RPG thoughts popping up.

I’m also discussing some rules with a friend that would swap out the buckets of dice system for Lego dice. Because there’s Lego dice, dammit.


Inception: A Hell for Leather hack

Yeah, plenty of spoilers here. Select the text below to reveal.

Checkpoints become different levels of the dream.They’re all happening at once. The final goal is in Limbo. Those final checkpoint checks represents the kick. The Dreamer is the one who creates the setting and tone for each checkpoint/level – Arthur’ player for the Hotel, etc.

The stack getting higher is the subconsciousnesses (!) becoming wary. Collapses are attacks like the flaming torch mob.

Spotlight scenes become personal demons like Mal appearing, or perhaps reveals about their nature.

Talents are specific roles – Extractor, Chemist, Forger, Pointman, Architect. Perhaps Tourist or Overseer (Saito) as described in this infographic. Your connection is the mark himself.

Well, this totally works.

Hell for Leather – Job Done

This week, I finished editing Hell for Leather for the author, Sebastian Hickey. It’s gone for proofs, will be printed next month, and should be available in August at GenCon.


This last editing phase took one full weekend, every evening for a week, and a lot of lunchbreaks. This follows weeks and weeks of edits from various people (particularly on the excellent HfL mailing list) Fortunately, the designer Sebastian quite likes getting Google Spreadsheets with over a hundred final edits. Or at least is very polite when he does.

What I’ve found interesting in editing this, other texts and a lot of my own older work is the focus we take as designers on the really nifty bits of the system, and explaining them just so. Man, we obsess. But we gloss over huge, vital components of play because they’re automatic for one reason or another. Over-explaining ‘The guy who is doing the stuff right now’ and under-explaining ‘So once everyone agrees…’

Some of the Hell For Leather playtesting ran into trouble where social dynamics at the table papered over gaps in the system or text. For example, the group became so comfortable with building custom settings that no system was needed beyond a checklist. When we got through more external playtesting, and playtesting at conventions, it looked like a short system was needed to help everyone get what they wanted, which became a slick bidding mechanic.

There were also a few areas of player and character motivation where gaps crept in, but some recent revisions have added a bit of depth to PCs which makes the violence that much more shocking (or hilarious).

Now that the book is really on its way, I’m going to talk some more about the marketing we’re doing for the game.


Here’s two things I see a lot of as an editor/critic/snarky person.

There’s a concern when you put together games that every element of what the story can be needs to have mechanical backup. The game’s about hope? Then it needs A Hope Trait. The game’s about justice? Let’s write rules on law and punishment. I’ll write about this some other time.

There’s also a tendency to add (as a friend put it) a pleasing symmetry to all mechanics. Body has an offensive (Strength) and defensive (Stamina) angle? Then Mind needs that too. As does Wealth, whatever the fuck defensive money means. And suddenly your game has an Insurance trait the equal of Strength. Is that going to come up a lot? Was it worth the time making the choice on the character sheet in the first place?

We had some playtesting of The Hammer Falls recently. THF is a game of dystopias  and this is the third major rules iteration – it’s a doozy. There’s a couple of rough edges and a couple of solutions that didn’t make sense to me. But it’s good. Really good. So I chuckled to see just how many places the system waded into play,  partially because that symmetry existed and had to be used somewhere, right? But it made for some pretty constrained play where the system trumped improvisation.

It’s no big deal, obviously. I talked it over with the designer, and I think it’s a general concern he has balancing direction and structure provided by the system with a worry that the players won’t know what to do if the system isn’t actively prodding them. In a previous iteration, each session had a specific story arc with seven phases. This kept your session on track for a dystopic tale. But if your story wavered from the path, the system started bashing you round the head until you got back into the assigned slot.

Which is pretty dystopic, come to think of it, but perhaps not what the designer had in mind.


One of my favorite early posts on The Forge asked how many attributes a narrativist game should have. I won’t link to it, as it’s a ridiculous question. It’s not even wrong.

Man, what a n00b.

Malcolm Craig and I had a natter about attributes in his upcoming Between Continents and how picking attributes (as a designer) and then prioritising them (as a player) can define a PC. So here’s Brad Murray talking about prioritisation and what that means to the character. This is for Soft Horizon, a game being designed by VCSA, who released Diaspora about a year ago.

Positive (+) – Based on a True Story

This is a game about sex, secrets and STIs. It’s for 4-5 players.

You’ll need 4 FUDGE dice for each player (the ones with a blank side, a + side and a – side), a token to represent each player’s character and the Track. Put everyone’s token on the Start position.

|| Expelled || – || – || – || Start || – || – || – || – || Inclusion ||

One Fudge dice is that player’s Conflict dice. The other three become their Commitment pool. Commitment dice are added to show how you care about a conflict, and once spent are discarded.

Pick the player who has been in the longest relationship. Their character is hosting a party and unbeknownst to the character, has been accused of transmitting an STI. A player should volunteer to be the accuser who may or may not exhibit symptoms themselves.

Characters have only a name – no traits or other details. We know nothing of their relationships, sexual identity or history as the game begins.

The first scene is between the accuser and another character of their choosing, but can’t include the accused just yet. The accuser can narrate absolutely anything they want – the extent of relationships, past events, activities or traits they or another character posseses. The other player can narrate anything they want.

When a player says something too much, too far, or that steps on the other player’s toes somewhat, that player can slam down their conflict dice and call for resolution. The other player can back down, in which case the scene ends and the player who placed their dice concludes the scene to their satisfaction.

Or the player can match the conflict by placing their conflict dice down in opposition. Every other player can add one of their commitment dice to either side – their character does not have to be involved. Roll each side’s dice. The side with the best result wins the conflict, and their version of events comes true – play it out if you need to. ‘Best’ means the most + sides, then the most blank sides. So if one side is a ++0, and the other is +0-, the first side wins.

Move all the winning side’s tokens one step towards Inclusion. Move the losing side’s tokens towards Expulsion. Discard any commitment dice played.

The player who lost the conflict can then begin another scene, adding any players they want to the scene. Scenes can include flashbacks or flashforwards, or events at the party.

If a player’s character has not been added to a scene, they can barge in by spending one of their commitment dice.

If during a scene a character admits wrongdoing, confesses to a mistake, or otherwise apologises, and the rest of the group agrees it was sincere, the player regains one commitment dice.

When a character ends up on the Inclusion or Expulsion square, play a scene including all characters. The game ends if a character moves beyond Expulsion – their character is ejected from the group. Everyone but that character gets to narrate how.

Many thanks to my playtesting group and Debbie Thompson.

Burning Sensation

Burning Sensation is an STI-themed cardgame based on Fluxx or Switch. It’s not anything like a first draft, and would need a helluva lot of work to prototype the cards etc. But the concept seems solid. Even educational.

The object is to discard your hand. Initially, you draw one STI card for the group and then deal a selection of other cards, which include Symptoms, Protection and Relationships to each player.

All STIs share certain symptoms, but have a few unique ones. STI cards include Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, etc. The STI card effectively determines the suit to be played to.

You play Symptom cards in front of you, which include things like It Hurts When I Pee, Discharge or Painful BMs. You can (somehow) play Symptoms which don’t suit the STI card to other players, increasing their hand with unplayable cards.

You can play Relationship cards eg, One Night Stand, We Were Drunk and Did We…?, to steal random cards from other players’ hands, steal cards already in play, and (rare) change the STI in play. Once a relationship has been determined, certain  relationship cards allow you to share the Symptom cards of other players.

You can defend with Protection cards. They include Condoms, On Cola All Night, Designated Driver or Got Tested. Some defend against Relationships, some against Symptoms.