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Here’s my report on Celesticon.

This was my very first Celesticon.  For various reasons I have been attending Pacificon rather than Celesticon down here for the past several years, but this year was different!  So off Sophie and I went.

Celesticon 2015 was held at the Freemont Marriott, a nice mid-sized hotel with comfortable amenities.  We didn’t book a hotel room, but the one room I saw looked snug and comfortable.  The restaurant had hotel restaurant prices, but the food I had there was of decent quality, though limited selection.  I had no trouble finding parking, despite the high attendance.

My first impression upon arrival Friday morning was that everyone who was there seemed energetic, enthusiastic, and overall just plain excited to be there.  This isn’t unusual for a convention of course, but there was something in the air that I couldn’t quite identify at the time that made this a bit different than some conventions I have attended.  More on that at the end.

Registration was manned by some enthusiastic volunteers who were pleasant, polite, and just plain seemed glad to see me even though they had never laid eyes on me before.  The registration process was quick and easy, and I got my badge and program.  I eyed the shirts (and later bought one) and the design seemed on par with most convention tees – a bit nicer than some, not quite so nice as others, but overall good for a memento and use as plumage at future conventions to show off my tribal affiliations.

For various reasons that would be boring to go into, I had scheduled a game of Motobushido for Friday at noon.  I knew when I did it that there would be a good chance of the game not filling, or even running – it’s a tough slot.  But I dutifully lugged my gaming materials up to the room and prepared for my game.  One nice thing about Celesticon is that they have big rooms assigned for their RPGs.  It is more common for RPGs to get stuck in converted hotel rooms, which I sometimes find a little cramped due to the excess furniture left in the room when the bed is taken out.  At Celesticon I had a very nice small conference room with a big, round table and comfy chairs.  I also noted that signage was plentiful and helpful.

Alas, Motobushido did not attract any players, which was disappointing but not particularly surprising – like I said Friday noon is a tough slot.  However, just as I was thinking of wrapping things up, Johnathon Wright dropped by my room.  He was running his FATE Core game of Mecha vs. Kaiju a couple of doors down, and had only one player.  I was feeling the usual “Aw, my game didn’t run” letdown, so my initial inclination was to decline and go off to sulk somewhere, but it dawned on me that if I did that I would be screwing up someone else’s game in addition to mine, and that I had come here to have fun and not to lurk in a corner somewhere sulking, so I agreed – and I am glad that I did.

Johnathon Wright’s Mecha vs Kaiju game was a lot of fun, and highlighted another nice amenity of the hotel.  He had a large wall mounted monitor, on which he cycled art from the game throughout the session, which I thought was very cool, and could be put to great use by a GM for all sorts of things.  I made a mental note to request a room with a screen for next year.  We had a Kaiju-smashing good time, uncovering a sinister Kaiju cult, an unscrupulous businessman using said cult for his own nefarious ends, and eventually having a major slugfest against a giant, burrowing, seemingly invulnerable Kaiju.  We even managed to contain the damage to a single major oil refinery!  Mr. Wright was an enthusiastic GM, well-versed in the subject matter and his game was well-prepared and flowed well.  He was also highly amenable to rolling with the zany ideas of his players, which I always count as a major plus!

I checked the schedule for other games of interest, and saw several, but in the end I decided that after a long week I wanted to be home to spend time with Sophie, so headed for home after another quick tour of the convention to see how things were shaping up.  Conference rooms seemed to be filling with RPGs quite well, there was a seminar going on, and both board gaming and open gaming, while not yet full, were filling with enthusiastic gamers.

Again for various personal boring reasons, Sophie and I decided not to attend the convention on Saturday.  This was a bit of a disappointment to me because Saturday is usually the day gaming conventions hit their zenith, and I felt like I was missing out on important and vital experience that I would need in writing up my review of the convention.  But there is a very valid argument to be made for not spending an hour and a half in the car in order to write a paragraph in a blog entry.

Sunday morning is another tough spot for running a game – everyone is tired after all the fun on Saturday and disinclined to get up early.  But, again for reasons that seemed good at the time, Sophie had scheduled her “FATE of Agaptus” game for that time.  We got up early and tooled over to Freemont, and were set up in the same room that I had played Mecha vs. Kaiju.  Alas once again the game didn’t go – the FATE players having been sucked into Jay Louck’s FATE – Bureau 13 game next door (which sounded like a lot of fun!).  We did some socializing and hanging out with friends, met a few people, toured the Dealer’s Room (which was full of enthusiastic, though clearly somewhat groggy dealers), purchased the X-Com Board Game.

After that we spent the day with a friend of ours playing a couple of his homebrews using the Apocalypse World engine.  The first was an adaptation of Sentinals of the Multiverse, and the second was an adaptation of Mass Effect.  Both were a lot of fun.  I got to play a Krogan.  Krogans are cool.  I don’t see any reason to ever play anything but a Krogan.

“Try to relax.”

So what can I say about Celesticon?  In part I feel that I can’t be entirely fair, because I missed large portions of the convention (Saturday, Monday).  Neither Sophie’s game nor mine got enough players to run.  Given both of these negatives, however, I still felt that the convention was a good one.  It seemed well-organized and dynamic.  Staff was enthusiastic, everyone seemed to be having a good time all weekend (at least from what I saw).  Miniatures games and board games seemed always to be doing well.  Roleplaying games had nice, comfortable rooms that helped keep the noise levels down.

Summing things up, Celesticon felt very much like a new convention.  While it may have lacked the polish of longer running events such as Pacificon or Dragonflight, it more than made up for this with a more familiar, homey feel that longer running conventions seem to lose after awhile.  It was less like a convention put on by old hands who know their jobs and have done them many times, and had more of the feel of a bunch of friends getting together and saying “Hey, lets put on a SHOW!”  And to be honest I like that feel better.  I think there is certainly a place for slick professionalism at conventions, but I really appreciated the atmosphere that I was surrounded by a whole bunch of friends who I just hadn’t met yet that I got at Celesticon.

I would recommend Celesticon to anyone in the Bay Area who is looking to attend a gaming convention during Labor Day weekend.

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Dragonflight: Sunday

Sunday Morning:  Motobushido

My second Motobushido game was on Sunday morning,  This time I only started out with three players and only had a four hour timeslot.  I cut the First Founding and spent more time on questions/links, and in going over the system.  Initially because of the small number of players I decided to make the Taicho optional, but I got a fourth player late, and added him in as the Taicho.

The plot for the game was that a new leader had arisen in the land and had sworn to wipe the scourge of the Motobushi from the face of the earth.  There had been several major battles between the leader’s forces and the Motobushi, and the Motobushi had lost (again – poor Motobushi).  The remnants of several packs, low on resources, had decided to meet at Three Peaks Cavern VIllage (AKA the small town of Shasta Caverns in Northern California) in an attempt to form some sort of coherent plan to defend themselves.  Among the packs was the PC’s hated rival pack, the War Pigs.

There were some great ties brought in by the players.  One character had killed the Leader’s son here, and had ties to the local daimyo.  One character had sworn to kill the local law keeper for the rape and murder of his sister.  One character’s grandmother lived in town, and was trying to convince him to settle down.  There was a magical shrine to the Kami of 3 Peaks Mountain.  The War Pigs showed up and were acting like belligerent and cocky Motobushi, and their leader even stabbed the law keeper (which caused the character who had a vendetta against him to apply a tourniquet, wait for the law keeper to wake up, then untie it so he could watch the life drain from the man’s eyes.  DRAMA!)  The Taicho eventually dueled the leader of the War Pigs, who was wounded and driven away, and the War Pigs were then given the choice to join the pack or die.  Grandma petitioned the Taicho to let the Gyoja of the pack, her grandson, settle down in Three Peaks Cavern Village and tend the shrine to the local Kami.  There were portents of impending disaster.  Forces of the local Daimyo showed up and were convinced to help defend the town.  Then a huge army of the Leader showed up, along with several packs of Motobushi who had sworn allegience.  The leader himself rode on a huge motorcycle with a throne mounted on the back, driven by (who else?) the former leader of the War Pigs!  The Kusawaki ended the game with a massive duel as she rode headlong into the mass of the leader’s army, eventually crashing her bike into his and killing him (I got an allowance though, so the head of the War Pigs managed to escape).  Though bloodied, the pack survived (except for the Kusawaki).

Though I was running on Sunday morning, I found this game to be less tiring and stressful than the one I ran on Friday.  Three seemed to be just a bit too few Motobushi to really get pack synergy going, but four really boosted the level of interaction a lot.  Based on this and the fact that I found 6 to be too many, my conclusion is that 4-5 is the “sweet spot” for Motobushido participation.

Sunday Afternoon:  Robo-Rally

I do not know why I do not own a copy of Roborally.  I really should.  Our friends Mark and Laura picked up a copy at the flea market of the convention and we sat down and played a quick, one board game.

Roborally is one of those games that is at once ridiculously easy to learn and very difficult to master.  In order to be successful you need to be able to bring several skills to bear – the ability to think and plan your moves, since your turn is scripted, the ability to understand the mechanics of what goes when so that you can make use of terrain features and not be killed by them, and the ability to be where your opponents aren’t shooting at you and to convince them to shoot at someone else.  Note however that in Roborally your actual fun may be in inverse proportion to your skill.  Tooling around the board free and easy is great for capturing flags, but much of the fun and humor of the game derives from watching your robot (or someone else’s robot) get lasered, crushed, smashed, or otherwise destroyed in a brutal and horrific way.

Anyway, I won.

Sunday Evening:  Omega Zone

we had an hour to kill on Friday evening so I agreed to run a quick game of Omega Zone.  The nice thing about this FATE Accelerated game is that character creation comes down to a few card draws and you are done, so there is plenty of time in an hour to create characters and still run a quick adventure.  In truth I was tired and in that “exhausted yet wacky” end-of-convention space, so I really don’t remember much about the game except that it involved a jelly blob felid, a brain in a tank, and some others trying to stop a K’reen war bot in the shape of a giant Bob’s Big Boy statue from flattening their neighborhood.  Stupid K’reen.

“Bow before your K’reen overlords!”

It was a quick, fun adventure and I think everyone had fun – and if they didn’t, don’t tell me because I want to remember the convention ending on an up note!

So that’s a quick overview of Dragonflight.  It was a great convention.  Thanks to all the hard working staff who made it possible!

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Dragonflight: Saturday

Saturday I was planning on attending two games – Sophie’s “FATE of the Mouse Guard” game and Sophie’s “FATE of Agaptus” game.

Saturday Morning:  FATE of the Mouse Guard

For the morning game I got into FATE of the Mouse Guard, run by Sophie.  We were all playing mice, based on the comic by David Peterson and the RPG written by Luke Crane (though she ported it to FATE Accelerated).

I played a big, bad Patrol Leader with a big axe and a necklace of weasel teeth, a veteran of the Weasel Wars who saw weasels behind all troubles (this character was shamelessly stolen from the character previously played by our friend Jayson).

We were out on patrol strengthening the scent barrier when we were attacked by an angry mole.  This struck everyone as weird because moles don’t usually attack mice.  After a fierce battle we chased the mole off, then followed it back to its lair, where we discovered that there was some other sort of alchemical scent marker present.  But while the scent we used for the scent barrier was meant to drive predators away, this one was meant to drive animals into a state of aggression.  We eventually discovered a tunnel and laid an ambush and encountered – WEASELS!


It was a tough battle.  Weasels have weight (which in this game is a means of measuring relative size) and there were two of them, so we could have been really badly mauled if we had taken on both at once.  Luckily the ambush spaced them out and we were able to drop them one after the other.  I got in a nice, big, weasel-whacking shot that did 8 levels of damage to one of them.



All in all it was a fun game, and I thought that the mechanics developed for FATE of Agaptus worked well for simulating differing sizes of opponent.  You really need to watch out for characters that outweigh you in the game, because they can really mess you up quickly and the rules for healing are more severe than in regular FATE.  Be forewarned!

Saturday Afternoon – down time

I had planned on playing in Sophie’s FATE of Agaptus game Saturday afternoon.  Sophie and I have this secret convention plan whereby we list one less space than we will actually accommodate, so we can get into one another’s games.  However, there were a ton of people at Sophie’s game (somewhere around 8-9) and so I ceded my spot to someone else and went upstairs to work on my Sunday Motobushido game.

After the Friday game of Motobushido I noticed that players unfamiliar with the game had a hard time initially remembering the effects of what each move did in relation to the other moves.  There is an online chart to help with that but it is somewhat dated and inaccurate.  So I made up a couple of sets of 5×7 cards with the various moves on the front and their interactions with other moves on the back, to pass out for players who were dueling.  I also made up some cards detailing pack resources (which were all going to be very low for my second scenario) as well as lists of how you spent resources and how you regained them.

My feeling about resources is that for one-shots they are really only useful in a few ways.  First, they give a good overview of what condition the pack is in.  Second, they can be the focus of the adventure.  But unless you have a Shingari in the party, keeping strict track of resources is something of a drain – either you as the GM have to do it or you have to delegate it to someone NOT the Shingari – and if a player picked up a character other than the Shingari, it’s because they weren’t excited about keeping track of pack resources so you really shouldn’t dump on them.

Something I WANTED to do but ran out of time for was make up pages showing the outcomes of the various types of duel to put in my GM screen.  I decided not to do that after a) taking longer than I thought to make up the index cards and b) not particularly wanting to pay the expense of using the hotel business center (turns out it was free, but I didn’t know that at the time, and I am used to hotels charging for use of the business center in terms of number of internal organs).

I heard that Sophie’s game was a lot of fun.  Darn it!

Saturday Evening – Monster Draft

Addicted Pixies and the High Bludgeoner!  "Monster Draft"!

Addicted Pixies and the High Bludgeoner! “Monster Draft”!

Saturday evening we were invited by our friend John and his friend Jay to play in a playtest of his game Monster DraftMonster Draft is, as you might guess, a game about monsters.  The premise is that you have all been working for the sinister Whisper Queen, controlled by a gem in your forehead, helping her conquer everything and kill everyone and generally be all master villainish.  But the Whisper Queen died.  And now you are free to seek your destiny in a fantasy land ravaged by war.

I got “android” as my character type and “chronicler” as my profession and from there decided that I was an android motorcycle.  I had huge speakers mounted on my back and skulls (and spikes [and smaller skulls on the spikes{and even smaller spikes on those skulls}]) and the Whisper Queen used to ride me around while I blared out her praises, her triumphs, the worthlessness of her foes, and power chords.

My adventure primarily concerned minotaurs.  For my first encounter I tried to rescue a band of minotaurs from a magical tsunami, but failed and was able to bring out one minotaur calf as a survivor.  “The Littlest Minotaur” became my companion as I searched for other minotaurs to take him in.  Unfortunately we ran into some warangutans and he fell into a chasm.  I jumped in to rescue him, only to discover that he had not fallen in at all and plunged into the chasm myself.  My story wound up with me being reunited with the little tyke and convincing the warangutans to form a community with us because I could serve as an awesome aphrodisiac by playing love songs on my huge speakers.

Afterwards we had a nice discussion with John and Jay about the game and ways that it could be changed/improved/modified and what we liked and what we didn’t.  It was a fun post postmortem for the session.

Then – time for bed.

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Dragonflight: Friday

Dragonflight 2015

Sophie and I went to Dragonflight in Seattle, a convention that we have a long history with, and for which Sophie still volunteers (she does the program!).  We had a great time!  I’ll be making several posts on the games we played in and ran.

Friday:  Motobushido – Sword and Static

I ran this game of Motobushido, and had a big crowd of 6 players.  The plot was based on my previous Sword and Static game, with trouble finding the pack as they rode the icy mountain roads to the shrine of their founder, Kawasaki Sensei.  I changed a lot of the details, however, so that Sophie could participate again without knowing the plot.

In this case there were lots of individual plotlines going around (I made sure that everyone got asked a question about the locale so that everyone had some sort of tie in to scenario).  One character had to murder someone in town, one had brought gifts for the children of the orphanage, one had a secret treasure buried in the area, etc.  That made for lots of fun, particularly when the Taicho’s wizened mother-in-law became a faction!

My main plotline involved the nefarious War Pigs, who had come out the worst in the previous summer’s conflicts, plotting to corrupt the spirit of Kawasaki Sensei and unleashing it on the Fool’s Glory pack.

I also ran the First Founding for the first time and asked questions about the war – I had taken a 6-hour slot to make sure I had time for this.  Running the First Founding was interesting.  For a little while the players struggled with the pregen characters, but they eventually found their feet and had a lively argument that wound up with the Sapper setting off all his explosives and Sarge pushing him down a hill.

The game was lots of fun, with the characters eventually building a “Doofcycle” out of several captured motorcycles, and going head-to-head in a simultaneous battle with the War Pigs, local gun runners, and the corrupted spirit of Kawasaki Sensei.

Overall everyone seemed to have a good time.

Postmortem:  6 seems like one too many for Motobushido.  Between all the various hands that players had, the player deck always seemed to be nearly empty.  Both of the player jokers were out and active almost immediately.  Because duels take awhile, it was sometimes difficult to make sure that all the players had enough screen time.

I think in the future I will make sure to add in the second and cohort rules in the first founding (and modify some of the characters accordingly) because they don’t take that much longer to explain, and I would rather not get bogged down with additional rules explanations during the first “real” duel of the game.  It saps energy and momentum.

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Busy Autumn

It looks like I will be attending three conventions this fall – Dragonflight in Seattle, and Celesticon & Big Bad Con here in the Bay Area.

I’m going to be running a lot of Motobushido – two games at Dragonflight, one at Big Bad Con and one at Celesticon.  I’ll be running a Night Witches variant at Big Bad Con and doing some Games on Demand GMing as well.

If you are going to be at any of these events, please look me up!

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The One Ring

Played “The One Ring” this weekend.  Without going into distressing detail, I am playing an elf (!) slayer (no surprise) with a big-ass spear.  He’s Middle Earth’s only noir elf, doesn’t like singing (though he’s pretty good at it), and mostly spends his time wandering Mirkwood and sticking said spear into orks and goblins.

Also in the party were a Beorning, a High Elf, a Woodsman, and a Dwarf.

We got to run into a slightly younger version of Legolas, who I got to be disrespectful to and lived.  We got to visit Beorn, and discovered that he’s just a big-hearted, cuddly softy (who can rend you to bits fairly quickly and efficiently).  Finally, we got to take an epic tour of scenic Dol Guldur, touring their famous pits, sampling their unique native orkish cuisine, and experiencing quaint local customs such as “get your ribs crushed by a cave troll”.  I turned out to be particularly good at the latter, though the dwarf clearly beat me in the “throw yourself on the swords of the orc guards” competition.  Eventually we decided that we had stayed long enough, and departed, rescuing a high elf princess and bearer of the third of the three so she could drop it off in Lothlorian on her way to catch a cruise ship across the sea.

“The One Ring” strikes me as a system that tries really hard, but ultimately seems to have a few too many bells and whistles to keep track of.  You roll a d12 plus a number of d6’s for skill rolls, trying generally to beat a difficulty of 14.  But –

– if you roll a Gandalf rune (12) shows up on the d12, you get an automatic success, regardless of the other dice numbers

– if you roll a Lidless Eye (1) on the d12 the result counts as a 0 (which is no big deal, it’s only one point less than what you would have rolled anyway) AND regardless of whether or not you succeed, something terrible happens to you.

–  if you roll a “6” on one or more of your d6’s, it increases the level of success.

– you can spend “Hope Points” in order to add one of your characteristics scores to the roll, but when you spend Hope Points you bring yourself closer to despair which seems a bit problematic to me for two reasons – first, Hope Points regenerate very slowly.  If you get more than a couple per session you are doing pretty well.  Second, the way they are used strikes me as rather counterintuitive.  “Ha, I have dug down into the depths of my soul and have pulled victory from the jaws of defeat!  I’m da elf!  I’m da elf!  I’m…  so depressed.  Life is meaningless and we are but characters in the trilogy of life!”

Weapon damage seems to be similarly complicated, with damage, injury, and edge stats to keep track off, all of which do different things depending on the roll you get on the dice.  Combat isn’t a big part of our group experience though, so I haven’t played around with those much.

The setting is, however, quite good.  The game is set between “The Hobbit” and “Fellowship of the Ring”, about 5 years after the Battle of the Five Armies, during the last of the good years.  Smaug is dead, the Necromancer has been driven out of Mirkwood, and everything is great!  New era of peace and prosperity around the corner!  Pay no attention to that slimy looking dude wandering around Mirkwood and babbling about “Precious”.  There are a lot of creepy, rotten things to fight, lots of quests to go on, and in general you don’t have to worry about messing with the canon.

I think we all had lots of fun being brave and heroic and stupid in the special way that only epic fantasy characters have of being brave and heroic and stupid, secure in the knowledge that if they are going to die, they are going to die cool.


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Celesticon 2015


So it’s official.  Not going to Pacificon this year.

Or probably ever again in my current incarnation on this earth.

There was drama.

So anyway, it’s off to Celesticon 2015 this year for Sophie and I.  Sophie will be an exclusive guest of the convention, running her new game, “War of Ashes:  FATE of Agaptus”, while I will be running “Motobushido.”  Celesticon has a pretty generous policy on comping badges – 6 hours of GMing will get you in the door for free, which is great!  I admit that I am not a great CoC fan, but for those who are, Sandy Peterson will also be at Celesticon running his famous game and leading seminars on how to write an awesome CoC adventure, along with several other notable guests.

I hope that if you are in the Bay Area September 4-7, look me up at Celesticon!

Mad Max: Fury Aisle

Fun new game!

Needed for play

  • Some sort of medium for playing music recordings
  • Soundtrack for “Mad Max:  Fury Road”
  • Headphones or earbuds (optional, but recommended)
  • Grocery Store with narrow aisles and/or routinely packed with shoppers


Put your headphones on, and cue up the soundtrack, preferably starting with “Chapter Doof”

As you cruise around the store shopping, treat all shopping carts as post-apocalyptic vehicles trying to stop your shopping cart (hereafter known as “the rig”).


“What a lovely day!” You make it up or down a single aisle without having to wait for some dumbass to get out of your way.  1 pt.

“WITNESS ME!”  Any time a store employee asks you if you need help finding anything.  5 pts.

“Chrome” – any time someone hits your shopping cart.  1 pt.

“Shine” – any time you hit someone else’s shopping cart.  1 pt.

“FOOL!” – manage to get helped at the meat department in the order you arrived without some jackass cutting ahead of you.  2 pts, or 3 pts if you actually scream “FOOL!”

“Hope is a mistake” – find yourself totally blocked in an aisle, unable to go forward or back, for at least 30 seconds.  5 pts.

“Healthy Babies” – encounter running child…
… and avoid:  3 pts

… and hit with cart:  5 pts

…  and hit with cart hard enough to make child cry:  7 pts

“Ah, mediocre!” – find your way blocked by someone on their cell phone discussing which type of soup they should get (other products 1 pt. less).  5 pts.

“Our Better Selves” – actually assist another shopper in some tangible way (help them find something, reach an upper shelf, etc.  Simply not killing them doesn’t count).  10 pts.

“Feels like hope”  – wait in line at the check out aisle for less than 5 minutes.  1 pt.

“Some Kind of Redemption” – store employee opens a new check out line just for you.  10 pts.

“The Vuvalini” – encounter an old woman in the produce department who starts a conversation about rhubarb or something, and converse with her politely on the topic or her choice for at least a minute:  15 points plus she doesn’t shoot you dead.

Post your score.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Nux (Nicholas Hoult) ©2012 Warner Bros

“What a lovely shopping day!”


Some Quick Card Games

Over the weekend Sophie and I played a few quick card games that we have been accumulating.  I think all gamers get a few of these over time – they’re inexpensive, which makes them good gifts, and they play quickly, which makes them great for filling in space while waiting for people to show up for a game or if a given game runs short.


2-5 players

Ages 10+

15 minutes

A wealthy patron commissions a lovely landscape mural, hiring the greatest (and most competitive) painters in the world… you! Interfere with each other’s paintings and compete to win the world’s greatest treasure: Points!

On your turn, draw a card from the central display. If it is a Commission card, keep it at your side for scoring at the end of the game.

If it is a tree card, you may add it to any player’s tree. If you make a contiguous limb of cards sharing one or more features, you score 1 point for each instance of those features in that contiguous group.

If you score more than 10 points in a turn, remove the scoring cards and the owner of the tree collects them as “pruned” branches.

Then reveal a new card in the central display. If there are ever three Commissions in the display, discard them all and replenish the display with three new cards from the deck.

I think that of all the games we played, this one took the longest.  There are a fair number of tactical decisions to be made regarding scoring.  Since your opponent can score off your tree, you want to be wary of setting up 8- or 9- point scores that your opponent can play off to prune your tree.  You need to keep an eye on your opponent’s tree for opportunities as well.  Until you get used to looking at both your tree and your opponent’s each turn the game will play a little slower than listed (no surprise) but once you get the hang of it things can go very quickly.

Commissions in the game (methods of scoring extra points) can be an important factor in play – an extra 10 points at the end of the game is quite a boost.  The commissions that come up early in the game will drive player strategy (if you get a commission for “most branches”, for example, you will want to build up your tree and score  without allowing for pruning, so you get a lot of branches, and you will want to pick up other commissions that play on that, such as “longest branch” and “least pruning” and avoid commissions like “Most pruning” and “smallest tree”) while commissions picked up later in the game will revolve around targets of opportunity, and trying to get commissions that will nullify your opponent’s (so if your opponent has “largest tree” you should start looking to get “smallest tree”).  Particularly in a two-player game, this can even out a lot of the commissions – it gets harder to do in games with three or more players.

We made an error in scoring the game our first time out, but I think it worked equally for and against both of us, so it probably didn’t make a big difference.  I wound up losing by a couple of points.

Incidentally, the wealthy patron who commissions your landscape mural must be HP Lovecraft, because my tree looked more like the tree that Clancy Brown had tattooed on his chest in Carnivale than a lovely landscape.

Outcome:  I lost by a couple of points.

pic1845363_tNINE LIVES

2-5 players

Ages 8 and up

15 minutes

Cats are running loose through the city! There are nine different breeds, five cats each, each with their own personalities. Rescue as many cats as you can, but try not to get scratched!

NINE LIVES is a fast game of trading, bidding, and clever tactics. Each round, all players bid a numbered card from their hand. High bids use special powers first, which can force trades between players. Then, low bids get first choice of cats to rescue, which is key scoring victory points and winning the game. Score points by rescuing the majority of a breed, rescuing any cats of a rare breed, and finally one point per scratch… but only if you have the *fewest* scratches!

This was a fun little game that I, at least, probably didn’t really grasp on my first play-through.  You are trying to score points by collecting sets of different breeds of cat into your kennel.  Some breeds are rare and worth more points – exactly which breeds are rare is determined by drawing a few cards from the deck at beginning of play and setting them aside.  Each cat has a value, which is used for bidding each turn – and cats of higher bidding value also have special abilities which can allow you to swap cards out of your hand or kennel.  Art on the cards is very cute, with lots of nice drawings of cats, and each cat (even within the same breed) is individually named.

Each game is exactly five rounds long, so even learning the rules the game goes very quickly. You start with five cards, and play one out of your hand each turn, so your choices become more constrained as the game progresses (something I didn’t realize on my first play-through).  It is a good idea to look at your hand before turn one and get an idea of what order you want to play your cards in.

Cats are also rated for the number of scratches they give you if they are in your kennel at the end of the game.  Once again, this means that you want to keep track of your opponent’s kennel, since having more scratches than your opponent at the end of the game costs you points.  Some cats are relatively benign, and some are really vicious, which is a factor to consider when deciding what breeds to collect.

If you like cats (and what sane person doesn’t?) this is a great game to pass a lighthearted 15 minutes.  Just looking at the illustrations during play will make you feel better.

Outcome – I won by a couple of points on scratches.


2-6 players

Ages  13 and up

15 minutes

You are head of a family in an Italian city-state, a city run by a weak and corrupt court. You need to manipulate, bluff and bribe your way to power. Your object is to destroy the influence of all the other families, forcing them into exile. Only one family will survive…

In Coup, you want to be the last player with influence in the game, with influence being represented by face-down character cards in your playing area.

Each player starts the game with two coins and two influence – i.e., two face-down character cards; the fifteen card deck consists of three copies of five different characters, each with a unique set of powers:

Duke: Take three coins from the treasury. Block someone from taking foreign aid.
Assassin: Pay three coins and try to assassinate another player’s character.
Contessa: Block an assassination attempt against yourself.
Captain: Take two coins from another player, or block someone from stealing coins from you.
Ambassador: Draw two character cards from the Court (the deck), choose which (if any) to exchange with your face-down characters, then return two. Block someone from stealing coins from you.

On your turn, you can take any of the actions listed above, regardless of which characters you actually have in front of you, or you can take one of three other actions:

Income: Take one coin from the treasury.
Foreign aid: Take two coins from the treasury.
Coup: Pay seven coins and launch a coup against an opponent, forcing that player to lose an influence. (If you have ten coins or more, you must take this action.)

When you take one of the character actions – whether actively on your turn, or defensively in response to someone else’s action – that character’s action automatically succeeds unless an opponent challenges you. In this case, if you can’t (or don’t) reveal the appropriate character, you lose an influence, turning one of your characters face-up. Face-up characters cannot be used, and if both of your characters are face-up, you’re out of the game.

If you do have the character in question and choose to reveal it, the opponent loses an influence, then you shuffle that character into the deck and draw a new one, perhaps getting the same character again and perhaps not.

The last player to still have influence – that is, a face-down character – wins the game!

Another fast and easy game, with lots of potential for bluff and deception.  The rules are a bit longer than the previous two games, but once they are understood the game runs very quickly.


Yeah, there is a “however” here that prevents me from saying much more about this game.  And that is that despite what the box says this isn’t really much of a two-player game.  The nuances of bluffing just don’t work as well with only two players, and it is unlikely that you will see the full range of characters and their powers in any given game.  Also, given that players start supposedly evenly matched, and there are only a small number of turns in the game (our game ran 6 turns), the player who goes first has a sizable advantage.  Certainly the second player still has a shot depending on the luck of the draw, but the game is really the first player’s to lose.

On the other hand this game looks like it would be an insane free-for-all with more than two players, and the 6-player game must be a bloodbath.

I wouldn’t recommend this one for two players, but really look forward to playing it with three players or more.

Outcome:  I won by virtue of being able to stab Sophie’s characters to death before they could coup me to death.

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Skyrealms of Jorune at Endgame


Today at Endgame I ran Skyrealms of Jorune as part of their “Old School” event for Square 1 Roleplaying.  I had two players who played, respectively, a human durlig farmer (in Jorune jargon, a Toth) and a bronth private detective (a Yordeh, or Yiordeh depending on which you think is a misspelling).  The game was overall fun, though I felt during and after that it hadn’t quite come up to where I wanted it to be, owing mainly to my getting lost in the rather byzantine rules system.

It took me far longer to create six pregen characters for the players than I expected or wanted it to.  I had announced the game for up to four players, and wanted everyone to have a choice, and also wanted to showcase the variety of characters that could be played in Jorune.  My final two players got to choose from:

  1. A human durlig farmer looking for adventure
  2. A Muadra Dyte Punk (a sort of street gang minor magician)
  3. A Boccord Jers (a jungle guide)
  4. A Bronth Private Detective (Yordeh)
  5. A Crugar Thriddle Liason (Querrid)
  6. A Woffan Iscin (a scientist)

The character creation section of Jorune 3rd edition proved to be a throwback to the bad old days of roleplaying – in order to create a character I had to dig through not only the “Character Creation” chapter, but the “Isho” chapter and the “Combat” chapter as well.  There was no single place that listed all the steps needed for character creation, and the process grew very protracted and tedious.  I estimate it took a good 12 hours to create the six characters – more time for the early characters, less for the later ones as I got skilled.  By the final character I had the process down to no more than 40 minutes or so.  The idea of trying to sit down at a table with several interested parties and wade through character creation all at once gave me willies.  Creating the Muadra was particularly difficult and time consuming because there are a number of skills that are found in the “Isho” chapter rather than the character creation chapter.

So anyway, it took me awhile.  Too long really, because by the time I was finished with the characters I felt a) a bit disheartened by the whole affair and b) like I had spent a lot of time doing something that was largely a wasted effort (by the time I finished all the characters I knew I was only going to have two players).

Characters in “Skyrealms” tend to have a fair number of skills at what we would today think of as a pretty low level.  Skills are rolled on a d20, with the player trying to roll equal to or under the skill rank.  Skill ranks of 6-12 are not uncommon, and when creating characters one must spread a very limited number of points rather thinly.  One mitigating factor for this is that in addition to ranks, skills also have a level, ranging from unskilled to familiar to experienced to seasoned.  The higher your skill level, the less you have to worry about routine tasks.  So for example a character unfamiliar with durlig farming would need to roll – probably against a skill rank of 5 or less – in order to accomplish even the most routine tasks involving durlig farming.  However, a character familiar with durlig farming would never need to roll when undertaking routine durlig farmer tasks.  Seasoned characters would need to roll only under the most difficult of circumstances.  This cut down somewhat on the number of dice rolls, and meant that the low numbers were mitigated somewhat.

Casting dyshas is also a rather complex process, involving the character’s affinity with certain types of Isho (of which there are seven, corresponding to the seven moons of Jorune), skill ranks with each individual dysha (spell) known, number of Isho points (mana) used to power the spells, and a number of rarified skills which Muadra can take to modify their dyshas and perform other neat tricks.

Then there is combat.  Oh my lord there is combat.  Let me limit myself to bullet points of the steps involved:

  • Roll for Advantage.  This determines whether your character can attack or defend, attack and defend, attack and defend with a bonus, or basically stand there flat-footed for a round.  (Important note – you have ~50% chance each round to be limited to doing nothing or to merely defensive actions.  What this means is that for about 25% of any combat you and your opponent basically stand there and stare at one another).  When rolling for Advantage High = good, Low = bad.
  • Assuming you can attack, roll to hit.  When rolling to Hit Low=good, High=bad.
  • Assuming you hit, your target rolls Defense to see if the attack is blocked.  Again, Low=good, High=bad
  • Assuming the attack is not blocked, roll for hit location.  This is a straight d20 roll, but since the head is the prime locale, Low=bad, High=good.
  • Now that you know where you hit, roll to see if you penetrate armor, if any.  This time you roll 2d6.  Low=bad, High=good.
  • Now, at last, roll for injury.  Again 2d6, and again Low=bad, High=good.

For those of you keeping count, yes that is a whopping 6 rolls just to whack someone with a mace.  There are, of course, modifiers for all these rolls.  AND once you start taking injuries, you need to keep track of the severity and location of each, as minor wounds to the legs have different effects than a minor wound to the arm or torso.

I confess that I did a lot of hand waving in the combats we got into.  In part this was because one of the characters had no real skill at fighting whatsoever, and I didn’t want the player sitting around doing nothing during a protracted fight.  But in part I also wanted to reduce the number of steps required for a single attack because six seemed like too many for me.

So now I have gripped.  And I think that the game system is worthy of quite a bit of criticism if you hold it up to the standards of today (or even the standards of 1992, which is when 3rd edition was published).


…  the world is lovely.  It is rich and full and inspired.  It has a background, and there is a real attempt to explain not only how the magic system works but why, and how the Isho field surrounding Jorune affects everyone.  There are numerous sentient races on the planet, and while some of them are very much the “humans in suits” sort of aliens, there are also some that are truly weird and delightful.  Thriddle are, IMHO, one of the coolest races ever developed, and for their sake  I regret that “Skyrealms” didn’t generate a larger following and petered out to die an ignominious death brought on by poor sales and wrangling over copyright ownership.

Despite the system, I would run it again.  I might do so at this year’s Big Bad Con, or at Pacificon.



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