Zeppelin Attack: Master Plans for Masterminds

Previously, I looked at some general strategies for Zeppelin Attack.  Now I want to take a more in-depth look at each of the four Masterminds.

I feel that there are five main considerations determining how a given Mastermind plays in Zeppelin Attack.  In descending order of importance they are:

  1. Which attack form they specialize in
  2. What capabilities their experimental zeppelin gives them
  3. What General effects their experimental weapon gives them
  4. What Attack effects their experimental weapon gives them
  5. Which attack form(s) they are initially weakest against*

*Mastermind decks have one defense card that covers two different types of attack.  I consider these types to be the ones that the Mastermind is weakest against, since they have only a single card to defend against both types of attack.  Such cards do, however, compensate by being more flexible, which is why I list them as the least important consideration

Below is a look at the various Masterminds of Zeppelin Attack with an eye towards effective, basic strategy for each.


Payload Capability:  Attack:  4, Defense 6, Operations 3

Strongest Attack Form:  Lightning

Weakest Defense:  Lightning/Psychic  (Note:  since it is likely that you will be buying up the powerful Lightning attack cards, this is less of a problem than for other Masterminds),

Experimental Zeppelin ability:  Extra Battle Point

Experimental Weapon Attack Effect:  target must discard two random cards, you get the lowest VP value Mercenary card put in your discard pile,

Experimental Weapon General Effect:  draw three cards.

Particularly Useful Cards:

  • Attack:  X-Bomb, Screaming Mimi
  • Defense:  Magnetic Field, Ghost Projector
  • Science Zeppelin:  The Daedalus, IAS Lord Protector of Bulls, IAS Prototype 51

Strategy:  everyone really needs to cycle through their card decks, but you’re especially good at it.  Take advantage of those extra draws to get your big attacks into your hand as often as possible.  Enlarge your zeppelin fleet quickly so that those extra cards can be used rather than discarded.  And use your ability to gain an extra BP per turn to ruthlessly eliminate cards that are potentially good for your enemies or bad for you.

Beware of those low-value mercenary cards going into your discard pile!  While you will occasionally get something useful, the fact that they are semi-random (based on what is inexpensive at the top of the various mercenary decks) means that you may get cards of limited utility that will clutter up your deck.  If this happens, purge them at the first opportunity.


Payload Capability:  Attack:  4, Defense 6, Operations 3

Strongest Attack Form:  Cold

Weakest Defense:  Psychic/Explosive

Experimental Zeppelin ability:  When you play an Attack card on the zep, immediately draw two cards.

Experimental Weapon Attack Effect:  target must put all Fate cards in hand on top of Draw deck.

Experimental Weapon General Effect:  pay four Fate points less for the first card you buy this turn

Particularly Useful Cards:

  • Attack:  Cryo Suspensor, Inferno Rockets, Beta Wave Cannon, Einstein Cannon
  • Defense:  Magnetic Field, Phantom Cloak
  • Science Zeppelin:  none*

*Any of the Science Zeppelins are useful to Frost, but there isn’t one that is particularly useful to her.

Strategy:  you can purchase Mercenary cards less expensively than others once you get your x-weap out, and should concentrate on buying cards that enhance this capability.  This has two effects:  first, you will be able to get those expensive cards into your deck quickly, and second even lesser Fate Cards are useful to you.  Cards like the Midshipman and the Resourceful #2 that are of limited value to others once they can afford better operatives, remain useful in your hand.  Even a lowly 2-pt Fate card will allow you a 6-point buy when used in conjunction with your x-weap.  Used properly this ability can allow you to totally dominate the middle and end game, snatching up valuable resources  for peanuts as your opponents can only sit by enviously.  Unlike Gorilla Khan, however, your ability only works for your first purchase of the turn.  This, incidentally, makes Gorilla Khan a prime target for your x-weap,  Unlike Gorilla Khan, however, you need to worry less about clogging your deck with Fate cards, since even a few can go a long way.


Payload Capability:  Attack:  3, Defense 6, Operations 4

Strongest Attack Form:  Explosive

Weakest Defense:  Lightning/Cold

Experimental Zeppelin ability:  When you play an Operative card on the zep, immediately draw one Fate card.

Experimental Weapon Attack Effect:  target must discard two Action cards, you get one Battle Point.

Experimental Weapon General Effect:  draw one Fate card and add it to your hand.

Particularly Useful Cards:

  • Attack:  Topside Swivel Gun, Boarding Torpedo
  • Defense:  Ghost Projector, Swift Response, Bilithium Armor
  • Science Zeppelin:  The Prospero

Strategy:  You will be getting a lot of Fate draws, so keep a constant eye on the Mercenary decks to see what you can purchase.  Since your abilities put Fate cards into your hand, not your discard, you can and should use them immediately whenever possible.  Your exact strategy may vary from turn to turn depending on what purchase opportunities you have, but you should try extra-hard to get either your x-zep  as quickly as you can, then leverage the extra Fate cards to get the x-weap.  Once you have both, use your wealth to buy, buy, BUY!  Don’t let Fate cards stay in your Discard pile if you can help it – keep your economy rolling.  Note that because you purge after you buy, you can choose to purchase a card useful to your opponent, then immediately purge it.  Prestige zeppelins can also boost your score rapidly, and are a good buy towards the end of the game.  Finally, because you will be buying a lot of cards, you will have more control over when the game ends than Masterminds like Der Blitzman and the Walking Mind.  Beware of jamming up your deck with Fate cards, however.  All the Fate cards in the game won’t help you if your fleet is blown out of the sky.


Payload Capability:  Attack:  3, Defense 6, Operations 4

Strongest Attack Form:  Psychic

Weakest Defense:  Lightning/Explosive

Experimental Zeppelin ability:  Can’t be targeted

Experimental Weapon Attack Effect:  target must discard 1 highest cost Mercenary card.

Experimental Weapon General Effect:  take one Battle Point

Particularly Useful Cards:

  • Attack:  Delta-wave cannon, Insanity Ray, any atomic (particularly the Einstein Cannon)
  • Defense:  Bilithium Armor, Magnetic Field
  • Science Zeppelin:  the Daedalus, the Inflammable (if you invest in some high payload defense cards)

Strategy:  something to know from the outset – it is unlikely that you will ever match or exceed the other Masterminds economically.  You cannot cycle through your hand to get Fate cards as fast as Der Blitzman, you can’t buy things at a discount like Jacqueline Frost, and you don’t get bonus Fate cards like Gorilla Khan.  Trying to keep up with them in terms of the size and power of your fleet is a losing strategy.  Instead, you need to go the other way and concentrate on inexpensive, low-payload Mercenary cards.  Give serious consideration to turtling during the beginning of the game, concentrating on building up your defenses so others won’t consider you a worthwhile target.  Once you get your x-zep out, you can start peppering your foes with low-payload attacks.  Always keep an eye on what your opponents are buying.  If your x-weap is in your hand, attack a foe who just bought some high-value mercenary and force them to discard it, delaying their plans.  More than any other Mastermind you will benefit from buying up Atomic attacks, enabling you to hurt all your opponents at once.  Purging a card when you buy is not optional for you – always purge to keep your deck thin (ideally you should have only two more cards – your x-weap and x-zep – in your deck at the end of the game than you have at the beginning, though of course the cards themselves will be different).  This way you can overload one of your zeps for your infrequent large-payload attacks and get the both the the zep and your attack card back quickly.  Use that extra Battle Point ability of your x-weap to help control the tempo of the game and deny your foes resources.  And be particularly alert for players who seem to have jammed up their deck somehow – they are always your preferred targets.  Your victories will usually involve you coming from behind to sweep past the other players at the last minute for victory, so be prepared to hunker down and play for the long game.

All of the above are basic strategies tailored to the strengths of the individual Masterminds, but they are not automatic game winners.  Sometimes the cards will fall out in a certain way and you will need to change strategies mid-game in response to what you draw, or what your opponents are doing.  Sometimes a surprise move will catch your opponent napping.  But hopefully these strategies will help you play your Mastermind to its full potential, and make Zeppelin Attack more enjoyable.  

Now go forth and conquer the world!

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Zeppelin Attack!

We recently received our copy of “Zeppelin Attack” and have been playing it avidly.  After a few games I have come up with some general strategies that I would like to share.  Comments are, of course, welcome.

1)  Try to focus your attacks on a single type.  Being able to hit your opponent with multiple attacks of a single type is very powerful.  With only a 5-card hand, the chance of having two defense cards that cover the same type of attack are pretty low, even if your opponent starts buying defense cards of the appropriate type.  There are just too many types of card that can potentially go in a 5-card hand to make multiple copies of defense for a given type of attack unlikely.

2)  Keep a few attacks of other types in your deck.  Just to keep your opponent honest, keep at least one attack of each of the other three types in your deck.  Go for 1-pointers that you can fire off from your weaker zeps.

3)  Keep your deck lean and mean.  The fewer cards you have in your deck, the faster you can cycle the big attacks that get you additional effects.  Don’t be afraid to purge cards when you are drawing – you get points for them, and they help keep your deck (and thus your hand) from clogging up.

4)  Fate cards are absolutely necessary – but in moderation.  Too many Fate cards can clog your deck.  A hand full of Fate cards is every Mastermind’s dream, and will leave you oogling the Mercenary decks dreaming of next turn’s purchases.  And while you are doing that your opponent will blow your fleet out of the skies because you don’t have any defense cards to protect them.  Since Fate cards often (though not exclusively) go in your discard pile, you can cycle through that lean and mean deck only to find that when you reshuffle you now have a deck bloated with Fate cards.  I find that a strategy of cycling through my deck once to get Fate cards, followed by a second cycle where I try to keep Fate cards out of the discard pile and clear out what I have, works reasonably well.

5)  Play your Zeppelins – always (almost)!  Don’t keep zeps in your hand and don’t discard them.  Get them out and in play – always. Multiple zeps help you play more cards, which helps keep your hand clear, which in turn helps you keep your deck cycling and brings your good cards into your hand more quickly.

6)  Don’t fear the discard!  You should get used to thinking of a certain percentage of the cards in your hand as being just temporary opportunities – useful if you can use them the turn they come into your hand, but not worth saving if you can’t use them.  In particular, at the end of your turn ask yourself why you are saving any cards that are still in your hand.  If you don’t have a good reason to save them, dump and draw.  In general I save high value fate cards (4’s and 5’s), and defense cards (particularly those that offer defense against multiple attacks).  I might save a high value attack or operative card, but only if I have a zep that can use them next turn AND I have at least a couple of defense cards in my hand so I have a good shot at defending it.  Aside from those conditions, dump and draw.  If you have kept your deck lean and mean, then any cards you dump should come back into your hand soon anyway.

7)  Attack the weak!  Particularly if you have multiple cards of the same attack type in your hand, attack one of the weak zeps in your opponent’s fleet first.  Go particularly for zeps that have a defense payload of 1 because even if your opponent can defend them, they can easily get overloaded and have to retreat.  If you have several attacks of the same type, use the lowest payload attack on the weakest zep.  

8)  Defend the strong!  Sometimes you need to sacrifice weaker zeps to protect the stronger ones.  If you have only one zep with the attack payload to use that lovely payload 3 attack you just drew, you need to protect it.  If your opponent is using probing attacks (see #7) with their favored attack types, consider letting one of your weaker zeps retreat and saving the defense card for a stronger zep later in the turn.  You concede a BP to your foe, but you preserve your options for your next turn.

9)  Overloading is better than not playing the card.  Cycling your deck is crucial in this game.  It is better to play that big card, even if it means overloading your zep, than keeping it in your hand or discarding it.  Losing a zep to overload is inconvenient, but again if you are keeping your deck lean and mean and cycling your hand you will get the zep back quickly.

10)  X-zeps and X-weaps – know them, love them, buy them!  Each mastermind has access to an Experimental Weapon and an Experimental Zeppelin.  Get them into your deck as quickly as possible and use them as often as possible.  Each x-zep and x-weap is quite powerful, and also suggests a certain strategy.  You should familiarize yourself with the x-zep and x-weap of your mastermind at the beginning of a game and begin building your deck to support these particular abilities even before you actually buy them.  Knowing the capabilities of your opponents will also help you to anticipate their actions and probable purchases.

11)  Battle Points aren’t just about points.  When you take a BP, you aren’t just scoring a point towards victory, you are also getting to make an important tactical decision.  You have the ability to take a mercenary card out of the game entirely and you should take a moment to look at the cards available before deciding on which to sink under your flagship.  If your opponent seems to be collecting cold attacks and there is a big cold attack card on the top of the mercenary attack deck, consider selecting it to deprive your opponent of a potential attack (and yourself the headache of having to defend against it).  Likewise, if your there is a defense card against the type of attack you are specializing in on top of the mercenary defense deck, prevent your opponent from getting it.

12)  Leave.  The Flagship.  Alone.  Unless you have no other targets, don’t attack the flagship.  It gives your opponent an extra draw, which is almost never a good thing,

The thirteenth strategy:  break the other strategies.  Everything written above should give you a solid foundation for playing “Zeppelin Attack” and should allow you to end any game at least feeling like you had a shot at winning, rather than going down to a humiliating and lopsided defeat.  But none of the strategies outlined above are unbreakable.  Sometimes a change-up can take your opponent by surprise.  Sometimes the luck of the draw may put a bunch of perfect cards that you shouldn’t discard into your hand.  Sometimes you won’t have any defense cards, so playing your zeps will just result in some flaming balls of wreckage and your opponent getting more BPs.  “Zeppelin Attack” is a game where you have to plan strategically and play tactically and often improvise on your plans from turn to turn (because the ironclad rule is you never, EVER have the cards you want exactly when you want them).  Hopefully, however, this article will give you a foundation to build on as you plot to conquer the world!



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“To End All Wars” Update

It’s been awhile since I updated here.  Most of the reason for that is that the group had to take a long break for scheduling reasons.

One thing I knew going into this Saturday’s game was that a big Procedural scene was imminent.  I also knew (because I had been keeping track) that three of the five players had only red (worst) chips left to play, one had a yellow (medium), and one had a green (best).  I on the other hand, had only my green chip (toughest difficulty) left to assign.  There were a few bennies floating around the table, but not too many.

I sensed a disaster of epic proportions in the offing.

The characters were attempting a spell to summon the Winter Court of the fae to protect some standing stones in Brittany, because their unit was scheduled to go to the front and there was evidence that their foes were sniffing around, trying to gain access to the stones power.  Since the stones had been the focus of one entire session of play, I decided in my head that the stones were far more powerful than anyone realized.

So we started off the game, and the Procedural rolled in immediately.  The players started giving vivid descriptions of how their characters were contributing to the ritual, and how the winter court began to arrive, complete with fae versions of World War I weapons (historically, tanks had only recently made their appearance on the battlefield and were widely feared – so of course the fae came in riding on faerie versions made of blowing snow).  One after another the players described what was going on, and how the ceremony was not constraining or interesting the fae (no one drew a matching card) – until we got to Marie-Isis.

Then everything went to heck.

Madam Dirigny’s efreet lashed out at the fae, killing one and enraging the rest.  The icy tanks began to turn in the direction of the ceremony, their guns training on the PCs.  Chaplain Lake threw himself in front of the women, and the others tried desperately to control the spell, but in the end it was all for naught.  The Winter Court poured through the breech and vented its fury first on the PCs and then on the surrounding lands.

Three characters got consequences from the scene – Captain Sinclair had one leg blown off by a faerie cannon, Lieutenant Nygard lost his magical powers, and Chaplain Lake (who got a good consequence) had his faith renewed by standing up to the faerie tanks and escaping unharmed.

One of the things that I find very interesting about Dramasystem is that I, as GM, only have a single scene per round just like everyone else.  On the one hand, it sometimes feels very restraining not to have any more authority over the story-line than anyone else (I think that the players sometimes feel that way too, because they sometimes look to me for rulings on how things work, only to have me shrug and say “it’s your scene – you tell me!”).  On the other hand it is very liberating and empowering for the plot itself to have so many creative minds working on it – like a whole creative team working to write the plot for a movie or television show.  And it has some advantages in terms of storytelling as well.

I knew from the beginning that if the PCs really screwed up the spell (which was likely) I wanted it to be a game changer – this would be the point where things seriously diverged from history.  It was the big one.  But I couldn’t just announce the changes – it wasn’t my turn (I was actually last in the precedence order).  So we made the rounds of the table and players added a bit to what was going on:  Captain Sinclair had an encounter with one of his previously killed old school chums who was now a vampire, Madam de Travaigne attempted to get in touch with the winter court and received threats and portents of doom, Lt. Nygard tried to convince Marie-Isis to let him take her efreet in order to restore his lost power, Chaplain Lake tracked down the suddenly un-maimed Captain Sinclair and demanded an explanation for what was happening, which Sinclair declined to supply.  .  While listening to all this with one ear I started to lay the groundwork in my head for the unfolding disaster.  I took my first round to give Capt. Sinclair a tough choice about betraying the cadre in order to get his leg back.

Then came my second round, and Captain Sinclair and Chaplain Lake were called into a brigade staff meeting.  Brigadier Watson informed the officers present that movement to the front had been suspended, pending new orders.  The headquarters of the French General Staff in Paris had collapsed, killing most of the General Staff, including Joseph Joffre, Robert Nivelle, and Phillipe Petian.  Details were uncertain, but there were rumors that the Germans had undermined the building and set off explosives.  In addition, the moon had gone dark, though the general assured everyone that this was simply an extended eclipse.  Rumormongering about these events was announced to be a capitol offense, and all officers were ordered to severely punish those caught, and to use whatever means necessary to quash any sort of demoralizing discussions.

The players (and their characters) started realizing that things had changed.

We had another go-around.  Captain Sinclair called a meeting of the cadre to discuss what to do, and turns leadership over to Lt. Nygard.  Madam de Travaigne attempts to mend fences with Chaplain Lake.  Chaplain Lake discovers an entirely frozen farm outside the camp, Lt. Nygard and Capt. Sinclair go for drinks and Nygard attempts to convince him to follow his own heart as opposed to the orders of his superiors (those of the military and those of the Order) while Madam de Travaigne eavesdropped.  Madam Dirigny went to the remains of the standing stones and offered up her efreet to the Winter Court if they would turn their wrath only upon her, and the efreet was seemingly destroyed.

Then came my final scene, which I called between Lt. Nygard and Mr. Jones, the contact from the Order.  Nygard was informed that whatever ritual they had invoked at the stones had, in the view of the Order, been a smashing success!  They French were in disarray. Buckingham Palace had been destroyed and the King was presumed dead, Mexico had just allied with Germany (reducing the chance of the US entering the war) and unseelie fairies had been seen among the German troops on the Western front.  It was now widely believed that the war would be over by Christmas, that France would fall, and that the horrors wrought by the fae would indeed be the final ingredient needed to evoke the great ritual what would change the mind and spirit of man, and eliminate war forever!!!!!

Oh, and could they please prepare to cancel the ritual once France had fallen?

I learned from this week’s game both the importance of a GM in Dramasystem and how you should be a good GM in the Dramasystem.   I think that it is entirely workable to play Dramasystem without a GM, but having a GM will give a very different “feel” to a Dramasystem game.  While it is the responsibility of the players to push the buttons of characters that they have established relations with, it is the GM’s job whenever possible to push the buttons of ALL the characters at once, or to generally throw a monkeywrench into the overall relationship map of the game to make sure it never, ever stabilizes.  This is especially important in settings where the characters are supposed to be working together (such as “To End All Wars”) as opposed to settings where characters are antagonists forced to work together.  Make sure that nobody ever feels that their character is in a comfortable place.  Push them hard, not only singularly but as a group.  Make sure they can’t get what they want.  Or give them everything they want while giving them reasons to really, really not want it anymore.


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DramaSystem: To End All Wars

Edmund Metheny:

Sophie’s notes on our game.

Originally posted on The Reef:

German Advance

We recently started a DramaSystem campaign set in Kevin Allen Jr.’s “To End All Wars.” DramaSystem is system which Robin D. Laws created for his role-playing game Hillfolk last year, with a Kickstarter funding campaign that took off madly and generated dozens of alternate settings or “campaign pitches.” I wrote some thoughts on the books a while ago, but I excluded discussion of the system as such because I wanted more play experience with it first.

Everyone’s been so busy, it took a long time to set up a campaign, but we finally got one going. One of the first challenges was to pick a setting, with an embarrassment of riches to pick from. First we narrowed it down to history and alternate history, because several players were in that mood; thn we cut the short list down to five titles, and finally voted for “To End All Wars,” in…

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“TO END ALL WARS” – a Dramasystem miniseries


Yesterday saw the first full session of my Dramasystem miniseries “To End All Wars”.  Set during The Great War, a cabal of magi fight a secret war of their own, which may shape the outcome and the face of Europe.

DramaSystem really benefits from an entire session devoted to character creation.  We sat down to do that a few weeks ago, and the outcome was both quite instructive and a lot of fun for both the players and me as the GM.  For one thing, the players quickly took us veering away from one of the main ideas of the campaign premise.  In the write-up for “To End All Wars” the idea is that characters are a unit of magical beings fighting on the side of the Entente powers in a secret, magical war against the Central Powers.  This premise went out the window pretty quickly, and what we wound up with was a cabal of sorcerers (many of whom were in uniform, but not as part of a unit of magical beings) who are plotting the fall of France in order to achieve a greater good!

There was a point during character creation when I almost blurted out “But…  but…  but you are SUPPOSED TO BE A UNIT OF MAGICAL BEINGS FIGHTING A SECRET WAR ON THE SIDE OF THE ENTENTE POWERS!!!  Didn’t you read the setting stuff?????”


By letting the process work through the players, we wound up with a wonderful setting, one worthy of a quality television or book series, with compelling characters that the players were interested in, and plotlines galore which the players were already invested in.  Forcing them to conform to some pre-designed idea would have wrecked that, and the game would have suffered.  DramaSystem lets you protagonize the player-characters before the game even begins, giving them buy-in for a world that they create, with plots that they develop themselves.  It is well worth a session to watch this process work.

Here’s what we got -

The Protagonists

Marie-IsisMarie-Isis Derigny – recently returned to the family estates in Brittany from a childhood spent in Algiers followed by considerable travel and exploration, Mlle Derigny harbors a dangerous secret.  Mortally wounded in the Middle East, she was possessed by an Efreet, which now keeps her alive in exchange for occupation of her body.

Dramatic poles:  thirst for risk vs self-preservation.




Gordon - CopyChaplain Gordon Lake – an Episcopal minister from Canada,  Rev. Lake has the ability to heal by touch.  But is this an ability that comes from God, from within himself, or from some other power?  Rev. Lake is torn between a desire for selfless obedience to God and a Messianic hunger that he struggles to contain.  He finds the war, and the goals of the Sinclairs and the Order to be heartbreaking, but goes along reluctantly because he has sworn to do so.

Dramatic poles:  humility vs. despair



Janus (sm) - CopyLuutenantti Janus Nygard – a Finnish Lieutenant and hypnomancer, Lt. Nygard was severely wounded in action, and has been convalescing under the care of Rev. Lake.  A dedicated Finnish patriot seeking to free his country from the yoke of Russian domination, Nygard at times questions the commitment and sacrifice necessary for the struggle, and longs for personal freedom.  He seeks both power and the vision with which to use it well, either in his homeland’s cause or his own.

Dramatic poles:  Freedom for Finland vs Freedom for self



Christopher(sm) - CopyCaptain Christopher Sinclair – a Captain in the British Expeditionary Force and heir to the mysteries of the Sinclairs of Scotland, it is Capt. Sinclair’s sworn duty to put into effect the plans of the mysterious Order.  A mage of an old and venerable line of magi, Capt. Sinclair draws the power for his magic from the life force of his former schoolmates – he grows in power as they die on the fields of France.  Sometimes stiffled by the restrictions placed upon him by his powerful family, he is slowly being crushed by the weight and cost of his responsibility and power.

Dramatic poles:  obedient son vs. individuality


Alaina(sm)Alaina de Trevaigne – a Breton witch and guardian of the standing stones, Mlle de Travaigne seeks to protect the area, it’s people, and its magic, from the ravages of war and the prying eyes of outsiders.  Though currently supportive of the Order’s plans, there is some question as to how far she will allow things to go.  Cousin of Marie-Isis she hopes to enlist her aid, or the aid of her Ifrit.

Dramatic poles:  protector vs. vengeful destroyer



I don’t think I need to lead anyone too far in seeing all the potential train wrecks inherent in the interaction between these characters so far.


One of the things I find most interesting about DramaSystem is the difference between GMing it, and GMing more traditional roleplaying games.  In DramaSystem, once I guide players through the rules a bit, and set their feet on the path for the setting, there isn’t much traditional GMing left for me to do.  DramaSystem is all about shared narration, and pitting the needs and wants of each character against what the character is and isn’t willing to do to get them.  I get my turn like everyone else, but I have no more narrative authority than any other player – somewhat less actually because I don’t have a character in the mix, and so am not connected to the web of interactions in the same way as the other players are.  It is easy to envision DramaSystem being run with no GM whatsoever.

Nevertheless, I think the game runs better with a GM.  A GM is important in the game to bring the happenings of the rest of the world into play, to provide external threats, and to keep play from becoming completely internally focused.  Because I don’t have the same level of narrative authority that exists in many games, however, there’s no real need for me to go overboard with threats.  So for example, I wanted to introduce something into the game that suggested that there were other magical players in the area, so I had the local graveyard looted.  Some of the graves were dug up, and apparently some corpses dug their way out.  Now, here’s the beautiful thing about this – I DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN IT!  I don’t need to know the level of the necromancer (if there is one), the number of the zombies (if there are any) or saving throws or hit dice or any of that.  The graveyard has been looted – BAM!  Done.  It’s now a plot element, and players can pick it up or leave it alone as they please.  They can decide that its ghouls, zombies, alchemists looking for ingredients – they can decide that the whole thing is just a weird geological phenomena if they want.

What I do as GM in this game is to functionally stand outside the narrative (which takes place between protagonists and is emotionally driven) and throw wrenches into the machinery to prevent things from going too smoothly.  How the players go about incorporating these things (or not) into the narrative  is, in my mind, less important than the fact that I am adding elements to the mix that they didn’t think of themselves.  This adds an additional layer of richness to the narrative, like seasoning for soup.  Another example – towards the end of yesterday’s game on my turn I announced that the unit to which many of the characters belong would be sent to the front in 14 days.  But I really don’t have any interest in seeing them sent to the front so much as I have an interest in seeing how this issue affects the narrative.  Its up to the players to decide how they deal with this – do they go to the front, expend some effort to be reassigned, go AWOL?  It will be interesting to see.

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OMEGAZONE Part II: A Scorpion, a Sasquatch, and a Robot…

…  walk into almost anywhere.

Hilarity ensues!

I had three players for my OMEGAZONE game at Endgame today.  We generated characters randomly and got…


A Cuddly Monster/Brain-in-a-jar with Psychic Trickery


A Mundane Atomic Construct with Radioactive Vampirism


An Igneous Arthropod Chimera with Psychic Teleportation

(I had players draw their characters, but I only seem to have wound up with Brook’s portrait, so I won’t single him out.  But the portraits were very cool)

One thing that people should note – it is totally possible to get approaches over +3 with the character creation system in OMEGAZONE.  This is fine, since it simulates that sort of Gonzo post-apocalyptic mutation universe popular with Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha, but GMs should make note of it when preparing games – mooks may need to be toughened slightly in order to provide a decent fight against +4s.  Another thing (and this I didn’t notice until after the game) – the order of approaches listed in OMEGAZONE is not the same as the order of approaches listed on the FAE character sheet.  Not sure why that it.  It might be worthwhile for Brooklyn Indie Games to put out an online character sheet, or at least make extra copies of the card-based character sheets from the deck available for purchase.  In the event we just put the stats down in the order listed on the FAE character sheet and it didn’t seem to make much difference.

I generated three pieces of equipment for the party.  I treated these like one-use boosts and they were available to everyone, though the party member with possession of the item got veto power for using it  Brook got the psi scanner, KLAR-7 got the proximity alarm, and Scorpio got the Omegaforce codebook

After a brief overview of the Omegazone, we went right into combat.  The party was hanging around El Barrio when their neighborhood was attacked by MALEVOLENT BRAIN CONSTRUCTS! (Ominous organ music).  These were mysterious creatures that appeared to be brains made out of riveted metal with old camcorders for eyes.  After a flashy, but not particularly challenging battle the neighborhood was saved, the MALEVOLENT BRAIN CONSTRUCTS!! (Ominous organ music) were defeated, and the party discovered that they were, in fact, nothing more than piles of riveted metal with old camcorders for eyes and no obvious power source, internal wiring, electronics, or anything else.

I intended the MALEVOLENT BRAIN CONSTRUCTS!!! (Ominous organ music) to be just another weird mystery of the OMEGAZONE but my players, bless their hearts, were so willing to grab hold of any potential plot hook that they almost took off before I could get them to the scenario!  The Guardians of the Reach, who showed up to help fight off other MALEVOLENT BRAIN CONSTRUCTS!!!! (ominou….  OK, OK – the joke’s over already) took the protagonists back to Reach HQ for a debriefing, commended them for their bravery and offered them a job that had nothing actually to do with the …  those things they had fought.  A member of the Guardians had recently lost a neutron blaster pistol after crashing in the Omegazone, and it was believed that Baron Junkpile had gotten his greedy mitts on it.  The Guardians wanted to quietly get it back, and wanted to hire the protagonists to do it rather than go themselves.  There was a bit of haggling back and forth about payment, which Scorpio eventually ended by offering to throw in the Omegaforce codebook if the Guardians would fix one of their items up front.  So the psi scanner stopped being a boost and became an aspect that could be called on.

The protagonists headed off to the Heap, one of the vast junkyards that Baron Junkheap rules, and found the goblinoids there all in a tizzy.  After some persuasion, some negotiation, and a far bit of threatening, it came out that Baron Junkpile was missing!  He had last been seen at the Rocket Garden, having a meeting with Big Tony the gorilla.  After a bit more persuasion, some additional threatening, and a whole lot of flattery towards one goblin in particular*, the party managed to cadge an old Chevy Pinto and headed off for the Rocket Garden**.

At the Rocket Garden (I confused the Rocket Garden with the Ollywood Bowl – thus blowing totally my knowledge of the OMEGAZONE and ruining my chances of this game becoming canon) the party met with the Maitre’d (one of those brain on a drinks trolley sorts), and in good PC fashion intimidated, threatened, and harassed him until Big Tony showed up with a half-dozen gorilla thugs.  This intimidated them into thinking about negotiating for a few minutes, until Big Tony started playing hardball with them, whereupon they decided that it was easier to throw a tablecloth over his head, threaten to stab a screwdriver into his brain, and set the restaurant on fire instead.  There was, in fact, a great scene in which KLAR-7 grabbed Big Tony and took him hostage – only to look around and discover that at the first sign of trouble Scorpio had teleported away and Brook had sprinted out the front door.  “OK guys, I have Big Tony hostage and…  guys?   GUYS???!?”

(This was a potential TPK situation here – Big Tony is not someone to be messed around with.  But it was a one-shot and everyone was having fun, so I let them get away with it, only scaring them a little.  But they aren’t welcome in Vinland now).

Eventually, Big Tony negotiated for his life and admitted that he had kidnapped Baron Junkpile and sold him…  TO THE KREEN!  (Dum dum duuuuuuum!)  Big Tony was interested in moving in on the Heap’s operations and wanted Baron Junkpile out of the way.  But in exchange for promises of payment from the Guardians – and assurances not to get a screwdriver shoved in his ear – he agreed not to make more trouble….  for now.

And so we got to the big battle at the crashed Kreen flagship.  Disintegrator beams flared, Brook shot down Kreen warriors with arrows, KLAR-7  pummeled Kreen with his piledriver atomic fists, and Scorpio faced off against the insidious Lieutenant Nert***.  Eventually the party broke into the room where the Baron was held captive and Scorpio retrieved him and the neutron blaster pistol.  But Lieutenant Nert had taken a fearful toll on him – beaten, nerve-disrupted, and partially disintegrated, Scorpio conceded on the condition that the others could escape with Junkpile and the blaster.  It was an awesome climax to the fight, so I just had to say “yes!”

In the aftermath, Baron Junkpile was freed, the remaining protagonists got paid what they were owed by both the goblinoids and the Defenders of the Reach, and Scorpio returned as a brain-on-a-drinks-trolley, with no memory of how he escaped from the Kreen

And they got to keep the Pinto.

So, what do I think of OMEGAZONE?

The game was a lot of fun.  I had good players – they were imaginative and wacky in correct measure, and willing to try stuff and push the plot along at any cost, even if it meant throwing a tablecloth over a gorilla mobster and setting things on fire.  So kudos to all three for a game well played.

The card-based character generation is good.  It makes for nice, quick character generation which means that for conventions and other one-off events you can actually do character generation and still get in a game within a four-hour time slot.  Like most players, I prefer to generate characters rather than play pregens, so this is great as far as I am concerned.  The card art is evocative, the stunts seem good, and the gear makes for a nice extra addition that creative players can use for a boost or a story point.  I give the product high marks, and intend to use it again in the future.  The only critique I have of it (besides the odd ordering of approaches on the cards) is that I would really like more – more character cards, more mutations, more equipment, more subplot cards, more of everything!  More, more, more!  Don’t make me send Big Tony after you guys – seriously.  More.


*  Note to self:  new location for Omegazone.  The front office of the Heap nearest to the Black Pits is now run by a lieutenant of Baron Junkpile named Lieutenant King King (formerly King Lieutenant King).  He dresses like a mismatched monarch and orders other goblinoids around imperiously.  They generally don’t listen, but they don’t whack him in the head with a wrench either, so he appears to have some sort of authority.

** Note to any artists out there who want to make me happy:  an illustration of a scorpioid  driving a beat up Pinto with a fake raccoon tail tied to the antenna through the streets of OMEGAZONE Los Angeles, with a robot in the passenger seat and a sasquach sticking out the rear hatch would make me extremely happy.

***”Lieutenant Nert” and all associated representations, merchandise, concessions, food products, costumes, apparel. and makeup items (including but not limited to lipstick, cologne, bath salts, and chitin wax) not already subsumed under the OMEGAZONE copyright are copyright Edmund Metheny.  All rights except those I don’t actually have reserved.  No challenge to existing copyright intended except those specifically established in the Kreen justice system.  “Lieutenant Nert and the Heroes of the Kreen” expansion pack, coming soon to Kickstarer!  Watch for “Servant of the Sub-Emperor”, volume 1 of the exciting new “Lieutenant Nert” series, coming in 2015 from Kreen Imperial Press.

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Tomorrow I will be running Fate Accelerated at Square 1 Roleplaying, a monthly event at Endgame in Oakland.  Typically (for me) I decided to run something a bit off the beaten path.  In this case, I decided to run OMEGAZONE.

OMEGAZONE is an card-based instant setting for Fate Accelerated, produced by Brooklyn Indie Games.  Using the 56-card deck you randomly generate some traits and stunts for your character, the GM randomly generates a scenario outline, and off you go!  This seemed to me to be a good alternative to pregenerated characters when running games as one-offs, and I am anxious to see it in practice.

Here’s how it works – each player draws twice from among the Character Definition cards and once from the Mutation cards.  Each of these cards gives you a stunt and adds to some of your approaches.  Character Definition cards also give you ideas for your High Concept (and possibly Trouble).

Example:  I’m creating my first Omegazone character.  I draw the following cards:

Character Definition

Felinid – this gives me +1 to Quick and Flashy, and +2 to Sneaky, along with the stunt “Once per session felinids may spend a Fate Point to invoke a Boost without removing it from the table.”

Gelly Blob – I get +1 to my Forceful and Sneaky, and +2 to my Careful, along with the stunt “Gelly blobs get +2 to carefully create an advantage when their lack of well-defined anatomy comes into play.”


Explosive Spores – gives me +1 to Flashy and the stunt “Gain +2 to Sneakily Attack when you emit portions of your body at your enemy.”

My Approaches come out

Forceful  +1

Careful  0

Quick  +2

Clever  0

Flashy  +2

Sneaky  +3

So I come out with a character that is essentially Choo-Choo Bear* from Something Positive.

Now all I need to do is come up with a High Concept (which could be as simple as “Felinid Gelly Blob” or something more detailed), and Trouble (“Spore leakage” comes to mind).  Additional aspects can be added by the player as the game progresses.

Coming up with a scenario outline is a matter of rolling four Fate dice, tallying up the number of “+”‘s and “-“‘s, and generating a story plot line based on each from an included chart.


I roll four Fate dice and come up with two “+” results and one “-” result.  Looking on the GM Adventure Hooks chart this results in the following two Adventure Hooks -

-Someone/thing wants a MacGuffin that the party has/finds

-The Party loses something important

There are also gear and faction cards to help you flesh out your scenario if you want.  You can also distribute them and use them as boosts for the party (most of the gear is old “Before Time” stuff, so if you can get it to work once you are doing pretty well).

Following up on my example above, I draw once from the “Gear” cards and get a “Neutron Particle Blaster” as the MacGuffin.  I decide that just to make things complicated, there are two factions involved – one that wants the MacGuffin from the party, and one that actually stole it.  I get the Guardians of the Reach as one faction, and the Goblinoids as the other.  Obviously the Guardians are out to retrieve this piece of old technology, but the Goblinoids have stolen it.  Game on!

In addition to the card deck, Tim Rodriguez also put out a handy setting guide for OMEGAZONE, which gives additional background on the setting (surprise!), the factions, and additional uses for the card deck.  I highly recommend this to go with the card deck, since the description of factions and settings on the cards is rather thin by itself.  Of course, if you want to use the cards for a different published setting such as Gamma World, its easy enough to do that instead.

I am looking forward to trying out OMEGAZONE tomorrow, and will let everyone know how it goes.

*Choo Choo Bear is copyright R.K Milholland and no challenge to that copyright is intended or implied.  Please do not send Fluffmodeus.



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Brotherhood_of_the_RailRunning a game of Brotherhood of the Rail is similar in most ways to running any other FAE game, but there are some tips and tricks to getting the right “feel” to the game.



In a broad sense, hobos in Brotherhood of the Rail are paladins.  Like paladins, they have no more wealth than they can carry with them.  Like paladins they travel.  And like paladins they are always finding situations in which they need to help those in trouble, right wrongs, and do good deeds without any sort of expectation of reward or widespread recognition.  Their power and authority to do good comes from within themselves and is not necessarily recognized by either civil or religious authorities.  And like paladins they often have minor magical powers that aid and support them.

Morality in a Brotherhood of the Rail game should be pretty black-and-white.  Bad guys should be bad, and good guys should be good.  The only time grey areas should come into it are a) PCs Trouble or other compels, b) NPCs who have to make difficult choises in order to survive or protect others.  The former is necessary in order to make compels function correctly, and the latter to give an appropriate feeling of quiet desperation to the setting as a whole.  The Great Depression was a tough time and people were often forced by circumstances to make choices they would not make otherwise.  Both salvation and redemption should be major themes for any Brotherhood of the Rail campaign.

Minneapolis Teamsters strike of 1934

One thing that should almost never be a central theme of a Brotherhood of the Rail game is violence.  Unlike paladins in fantasy roleplaying games, hobos in BoTR will seldom if ever have access to magic swords – or tommy guns, shotguns, or even butterfly knives or shuriken.  In addition, having your hobos go around beating people to a pulp to solve problems reinforces the whole “Murder Hobo” stereotype common in roleplaying games – a stereotype that will quickly spoil any BotR game you run.  Real solutions to problems should come through interaction and problem solving, not combat.  But what about those characters who are combat specialists – the pugilists and palookas and veterans?  Leaving combat entirely out of the game will make them irrelevant and rob BotR of some important character tropes.  The answer is to make sure that combat is relevant and directed.  Beating up a night watchman to get into a warehouse – probably not OK, he’s just a mook who doesn’t deserve to get the tar beaten out of him, even if the owner of the warehouse might.  On the other hand, helping to defend unionizing workers against corrupt strike breaking police might work.  Combat against an evil railroad bull who has been murdering hobos is appropriate.  Supernatural creatures like vampires are certainly deserving of a fist to the face, and enforcers for the big bad are often (though not always) fair game.  What’s important here is to avoid putting PCs up against men and women (and even supernatural critters) that don’t fall into the black side of the setting’s black-and-white morality.  Poor working schmucks, even if they happen to be working for someone really bad, are best avoided as targets for violence.

Another major theme for Brotherhood of the Rail is scarcity.  Times are hard, and basic resources are frequently in short supply.  Infrastructure in rural areas is rare and ill-maintained, and often vastly overtaxed in urban areas.  This means that improvisation – and sometimes appropriation – are frequently the order of the day.  Hobos will often need to get creative in order to get together the resources they need to solve problems.  But again the black-and-white morality of the of the setting should preclude outright looting, theft, mugging, etc.  The occasional minor swindle is OK and a well accepted part of the folklore (as well as the reality) of the Great Depression.  For example, pretending to be religious in order to cadge a donut and coffee from the Salvation Army is probably ok for the genre.  Pretending to be religious in order to steal the donation pot from the Salvation Army probably isn’t.  It’s a matter of scale – as GM you should usually overlook a very minor swindle, particularly if it is pulled off in an amusing or clever manner, but any swindle that might stand to really hurt innocents or working class folks breaks the feel of the setting.

Also bearing in mind the idea of scarcity, BotR is best with no more than 3-4 characters.  There need to be some weak approaches in the party, and they shouldn’t be able to count on someone in the group having a +2 to throw out in any given situation.  A big part of the fun of the FATE system is letting players set up Advantages that allow them future bonuses – use this as a resource in BotR games.  Set your difficulty numbers high and make players come up with numerous different ways to set themselves up for success on that crucial roll to convince Boss Markham to give the widow Greely back the deed to her farm.  Occasionally, you may want to throw a character into a situation where they have to use their -1 approach.  Don’t overuse this, but be sure to keep it in your bag of tricks – while players often dread such moments, success will be a memorable occasion for the player and the group.  Hard work is a hallmark of the Depression – there should be no easy or quick victories.

So what ARE characters in BotR supposed to do?  In short they are supposed to help people, get into trouble, and get out of trouble.  In the Great Depression there are a LOT of people in trouble.  Millions have lost everything in bank collapses and the destruction of the Dust Bowl.  And for every person who has lost everything, there are 10 more who are just barely hanging on.  Workers struggle to gain better working conditions, often provoking violent reactions from police and corporate leg-breakers.  Epidemics of influenza, typhus, and polio can be devastating locally and sometimes more broadly.  Even the rumor of outbreaks can spread panic.  In rural areas diseases previously conquered by immunization, such as Diptheria, are making a reappearance.

In BoTR there are also supernatural threats to deal with – spooks and haints, malevolent faeries, werewolves, vampires and other nasty creatures prowl the night and threaten innocents.  These threats almost always fall onto the black side of the morality equation, and are a good opportunity for characters to take their white hats off for a time and really cut loose.  The local sheriff isn’t going to object to you burning Old Man Greevy’s house once he finds out that Old Man Greevy is a blood sucker.  Occasionally supernatural threats should provide wonder or opportunities for a different sort of plot rather than being simple evil.  Riding the Wabash Cannonball to the Yonder, visiting the Rock Candy Mountain, or having to mediate between Seelie and Unseelie fairies in a small Louisiana town are good examples of this.

And not everything in the Depression is dark.  Events are afoot that will provide for America’s rise to greatness.  Many of the large infrastructure projects that survive to this day such as electrification, dam construction, and the beginnings of a federal highway system, are underway or beginning.  As the Depression goes on, the federal government begins projects that will employ thousands of migrant laborers.  Bring characters in on these large-scale projects.  Can they find the source of the Gremlins that are keeping the first China Clipper grounded?  Help expose corruption in a Tennessee Valley Authority project?  Can they help police capture John Dillinger?  Perhaps they might meet with famous individuals such as Huey Long, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Woody Guthrie?  There are big, important events and history-making people all across America during the Great Depression, and these should be sprinkled into your plots to give players and their characters a sense of their historical place in the campaign.

One difficulty with the setting of BotR is the level of mobility of the characters.  The campaign can and should be moving around constantly as characters follow seasonal labor and good weather across the United States.  This can give BotR a very episodic feel and make it difficult to create any longer-term plots.  One solution to this is to make the main adversaries as mobile as the characters – a gang of yeggs, for example, that keeps popping up in the path of the characters like a bad penny.  Or place adversaries in places where the characters will have to go repeatedly, such as the “main stem” areas of big cities like New York or San Francisco.  If they establish close ties to a particular place then make sure there is reason for them to go there – not always, but repeatedly.  You can also build long-term plots around a character’s Trouble Aspect (well, any Aspect really, but Trouble works particularly well).  Personify their Trouble as much as possible – make it a “who” and not a “what”.  If a character is an alcoholic, personify it by having a Salvation Army or Temperance League member take an interest in them, or turn their craving for alcohol into a little demon that sits on their shoulder, whispering temptations.

Depression-era America is a fantastic place to set a game, and has all the elements needed for high drama.  If you draw on the historical setting, even just a sprinkling, while you run your games of BotR you will be repaid with happy players, hours of fun gaming, and some good stories to tell in future years about the great moments in roleplaying that you help to create.+

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Here are links to all the articles on Brotherhood of the Rail that I wrote – all in one place for completeness!







I hope you enjoy this setting.  If you do, please drop me a line and let me know!  If you try out a game, that goes double.

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Here are all my articles on conversion of Blue Rose to Fate Core and Fate Accelerated for ease of access.










I hope you enjoy the conversion!  If you do, please post comments on my website!  If you take it out for a test drive that goes double!


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