I’ve known Jason Andrew since 2016, when I met him during White Wolf’s Grand Masquerade in New Orleans. Jason is part of the development team for By Night Studios, as well as having a large history as a game writer. He was a guest at HLG Con, and I’ve talked about his book Mystical Rome on this blog before as an example of a setting that would work really well for an RPG. Well, now Jason and his team at Mighty Narhwal are bringing us a game system that takes a crack at a universal system for tabletop and larp under the Morra Cinematic Roleplay banner. Oh, and that crew is running Mystical Rome as a larp in the Pacific Northwest this year, which is going to be amazing.
During HLG Con, I got the chance, briefly, to play some Morra with my friend Victor. The game was run by both Jason and Andrea of Mighty Narwhal and I was really digging both the setting and the system. Their team just released an Alpha Slice of rules for people to dig into. It's a playtest document, and I really want to suggest you look them over. Below are my highlights.
1) Defining A Genre
This was the first thing that caught my eye with this system. There is an entire backend development system where you can create your own genre of play, based on movie tropes and styles of cinema. Want horror? You can do it with Morra. Want Superheroes? You can do it with Morra. Whatever you think would make a fun genre, you can do that with Morra and it will work. Because the system mimics cinema, rather than being perfectly simulationist, it allows for a lot of flexibility of genre that is sometimes hard for universal systems to really crack. If you want the feel of the genre to really be there, you can build it into the way you run the game.
You do this through a series of choices, Define the Target Audience, Rating and Content Descriptors, Media Length, Pitch, and Budget. So, if I create a Teen, PG-13 Superhero Show, that usually runs 30 minutes (3-6 game sessions), with the idea that these are Teen Heroes struck by the power of the gods, with a low budget, I now have enough to craft the basic confines of the world we’ll be playing in. It’s straightforward and allows for both safety calibration from the start and a way to get a sense for what play will look like.
2) Character Creation Is Quick And Light, But Also Deep
One of my biggest struggles with games I like is how long it takes to create characters. I love games that have systems that are deeply intertwined from character creation onward into play and development, but there are times games can get too big and clumsy in that integration. Morra isn’t one of those. The systems for character creation can be done in 20-30 minutes, tops, with lots of distractions. How do I know? I think I got pulled away from CC at least 4 times during HLG Con and still really was able to get my character done.
Archetypes, Motivation, Quirks, Background, Side, Attributes, and Skills are at the core of the system. Archetypes are developed as part of the genre, motivations are cross-genre, as are quirks, backgrounds and side are influenced by both, and attributes and skills are universal, but can be customized to the setting if required.
I’m a d10 or d20 chucker in most games, so it was interesting to see Morra using a two-d6 system, which it utilizes really effectively. It’s a dice pool system though: Attribute + Skill + Wild Card + 2d6 = Action Pool set against a difficulty that changes based on various factors. All in all, it feels intuitive to me, and easy to follow during play enough that I was looking at my sheet and suggesting rolls I could make by the middle of my first session. That’s often a hard thing for me when I’m playing new games where I have to try and figure out what I can do in play before I can look toward how to make my character do what I think they should be able to make happen.
There is more to the system, but this basic set-up is a solid underpinning and you can find out more in the Alpha slice yourself.
4) Mystical Rome
First, go and check out Jason’s Mystical Rome novel. It’s really well written and very interesting. It looks at Roman culture without a lot of baggage that most writers bring to the setting and while it is slightly creepy at times, it presents an alternative Rome in a light that is simultaneously engaging and in-keeping with history. Then go and check out the section on Mystical Rome in the Morra Alpha, and then sign up for the larp. I am in no fit state financially to attend this event, but I really wish I were because it looks amazing. The setting sells itself, but attached to a universal system like Morra it means I can run Mystical Rome and then turn around and switch genre’s without having my players have to memorize an entirely new ruleset every time we decide to go in a different gaming direction. It’s a win-win.
Morra is one of the cooler universal gaming systems out there to date and I think it’s going to create some serious excitement. It’s tapping into the gaming zeitgeist in a way we need. Check it out, and let us know what you think in the comments.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games and he organized the first HLG Con. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Picture Reference: https://www.redbubble.com/people/mightynarwhal/works/21654245-mighty-narwhal-productions?p=t-shirt
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Starting out in roleplaying games is more than buying the stuff and jumping in. Getting a group together is hard enough for some people, and then the extra monetary cost of buying minis, rulebooks, supplements and any extra bits and pieces for a game. Not everyone has enough surplus cash to throw at the hobby, so for those who don't want to break the bank to test the waters, here are eight free roleplaying games for you to check out. I mean why not, they’re free.
1) A+ Fantasy
A+ Fantasy has an attribute system very similar to classic RPGs but different enough to make it its own. Instead of rolling up numbers for your usual six attributes, A+ Fantasy has four to which you assign a grade, which range from A+ to D- and affect dice rolls. Modifiers are different than the norm, as to succeed you must roll two d6 and get at least one six, and the modifier adds to this. The ruleset is very easy to understand and is laid out in a great way, at least in my opinion, I read through the full rules in just over 30 minutes while sitting in a waiting room. This is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of diving into D&D.
2) Magic and Steel
This game has more reading to it than A+ Fantasy but has a fairly well developed system, based off of old style D&D with a few modern twists to keep it interesting. The character creation seems solid and is simple enough for a new player to get to grips with and complex enough for a seasoned vet to get in there and create more interesting characters. The rule book screams fan made and admits as much in the introduction, but if you like old school fantasy this is a game for you.
3) D100 Dungeon
D100 Dungeon intrigued me to no ends, I read the description and thought, how can I be both GM and player? The answer is I can’t, but D100 Dungeon can be the GM so I can be the player. Tailored so that you are not pitted against your friends this game provides everything you need to run solo. You print out your map sheets and character sheet and read through the rules, which really are quite easy to understand. It took me a couple of days to get through them but when I did I was eager to get going, to play all you need is the roll tables in the back, the print outs and if you didn’t already guess the dice type, some D100. I haven’t got round to playing this yet but it’s definitely on my todo list.
4) GURPS Lite
A great system used in various games and inspiration to even more, it has been used in tabletop games and video games such as the first Fallout games and even adapted for the later ones. The lite version of the system is free, however, and gives a good taste of how the full system works with all the key points laid out. Choose some buffs for your character and combine them with some flaws... it contains everything you need to create a GURPS game. The only downside is that I found it rather wordy so be prepared to read.
5) The Very Important Task
I loved this game as soon as I read the rule sheet. Yes a single sheet. In The Very Important Task everyone plays and GM’s another player’s game, taking it in turns, which simulate one month at your job. Each player tries to complete a task given to them by their manager (another player) as well as completing the very important task for their overall career, to win you simply must complete the very important task, gain executive level in your job or be the last employee standing (or sitting if its an office job). It’s not a long game but can fill an evening and helps introduce some key elements of roleplay as the managers are encouraged to go to the extremes when forging the personalities.
6) The Great Long Dark
Anyone looking to get into horror RPGs should consider this their first step. A quick game aimed at small groups, the rulebook has beautifully haunting artwork which helps set the scene. You take the role of both a child travelling to a place of mystery and despair, also as a parent escaping to a better place. Play takes shape in the form of five acts, the first two acts have you play two cards and roleplay the results, after which you answer a question of your choosing from a list from your character's point of view. No dice rolling but plenty of atmosphere and personal connections to help you come back for another helping.
7) Ghosts of NPCs Passed
Aimed at groups who are currently running a campaign, this game is a nice distraction for change of pace or can even just be implemented into a session to aid the players. It allows a GM to call forth the spirit of any NPC the players may have decapitated too early or a poor passerby who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Upon summoning a spirit the players go round one by one adding to a backstory for that NPC, ending on the second wave round the group with his last day and finally his demise at the hands of player X who plays the murderous warlock in the group. This game could also be used to emphasise how one player seems all too happy to help NPCs shuffle of the mortal coil.
8) To The Temple Of Doom!!!
A really nice little game, this easy to understand rule set has a revolving GM and a shared goal. Each player creates an archaeologist to play, assigning five stat points over three skills and then creates an artifact, ventures into the temple and takes it in turns to create a chamber within the temple. You then throw in some puzzles, bad guys and traps for the team to overcome. At the end is a big showdown against a vast evil trying to destroy the world. Death isn’t the end in this game either as anyone who falls prey to the traps of the chambers can either be possessed and show up to aid the evil or die and become the GM for the final encounter.
No matter which, if any of these you try out i’m sure you will have lots of fun and hopefully will inspire you to play other great roleplaying games out there. To compile this list I read through around 15 titles including some fan made RPGs from the likes of Inception and even the Metal Gear universe, but for the sake of the editors I chose the non fandom games, though they were really good systems and well worth checking out. Although the rules are free you will need dice and a way to print some items out in most of these but compared to a full price system the cost is much more affordable and accessible.
Ross Reid is a lover of all things tabletop, he recently hosted a gaming marathon for charity lasting 24 hours over three days, he is currently working on getting the rest of his family into roleplaying games so he no longer needs to leave the house to get his gaming fix.
The Wild West is a unique genre of fiction. It has it’s larger-than-life characters and legends, including encounters with the other world, lawless lands where might makes right, and even tales of lost treasures! This genre has all the trappings that make for fantastic tales of adventure, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at Westbound, the tabletop RPG that blends The American Wild West with Fantasy!
1) Who Made This?
Westbound is produced and published by the Canadian game company Island of Bees, and is currently their only released game. Nevertheless, they’ve put a great amount of effort into designing the game, and it shows: marvelous artwork, handy diagrams and charts, and even layout flourishes that compliment the Wild West theme.
2) What’s The Premise And Setting?
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid watching any of the classic Clint Eastwood movies, or other flicks from the spaghetti-western genre, Westbound harkens to a romanticized era in North American history called “The Western Frontier.” This was an era when settlers from Europe expanding westward from the east coast of North America, into what would become the modern day nations of the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico.
However, Island of Bees punches up the fantastical element. While the Western Frontier is already a very storied body of history full of tall tales and unbelievable legends, Westbound also includes contemporary fantasy tropes. Among them are parallel worlds, magical wands and musical instruments, and the classic fare of races including elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins.
One thing I find particularly interesting about Westbound is some of the more unusual inclusions. Ogres are included as a playable race, complete with their own variety of magic that revolves around eating themselves stupid. There’s also the inclusion of musical instruments as weapons; they may not physically harm enemies, but they can still cause a great enough amount of distress to rob enemies of the will to fight. (Meaning you can annoy somebody into submission with an accordian.)
3) What Are The Mechanics Like?
Staying true to the western theme, Westbound forgoes using dice in favor of a standard deck of playing cards. (So if your GM or another player really ticks you off, you can switch to everybody’s favorite rage game of 52 Pick Up.) Outside of combat, drawing cards and comparing them to a target number is the method used for resolving checks.
In combat though is where things get interesting. The game changes from simple draw and compare to a meta-game of managing a hand of cards for your offence and defence. The long and short of it is that you can either play cards from your hand to raise your ability to resist damage, play them against opponents to take them out of a fight, or burn through your cards to get to something more useful.
To add an additional layer of strategy, though, each of the above combat actions functions a different way. Cards played to defend must be done in descending order, while cards played to attack must match the traditional sets from poker. (2 of a kind, full house, etc.)
Character creation is composed of picking a Sort, Breed, and Archetype, which are similar to Class, Race, and Background in Dungeons and Dragons. Each one grants a different kinds of abilities, with Sort mostly pertaining to combat, Archetype focusing on social interactions, and Breed granting miscellaneous abilities. Additionally, whenever a character levels up, they pick which of the three aspects they wish to improve, giving some control to the player over what their character shapes into.
4) What Is It Similar To?
As far as game mechanics go, Westbound’s use of a deck of cards is more than just a novelty. It grants some degree of certainty that a character will get an awesome moment, since used cards get discarded. It cuts both ways, though, since even those good draws will be discarded. The only other game I can think of that grants this much certainty over how much a character can truly accomplish is Golden Sky Stories, which completely eschews dice and randomness altogether!
In regards to setting, I’d be inclined to say that Westbound is a graceful advancing of the Dungeons and Dragons time period. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Western Frontier, there’s still plenty of contemporary fantasy elements to take hold of. This union of Wild West and Fantasy works really well together, because there was still lots of superstition that circulated in the 19th century to weave in magic.
5) Is It Worth Getting Into?
Definitely. If you want to try something new, but don’t want to abandon fantasy, Westbound is a great choice. It offers a unique set of mechanics, and a setting that’s refreshing and familiar all at once. Plus, the artwork is fantastic, and featured in a few sets of special playing card. Useful for if you want to add more flair to your games of Westbound, or if you like the art, but maybe not the game.
While Aaron der Schaedel is definitely enamored with Westbound, his favorite mix of wild west and fantasy remains the video game series Wild ARMs. You can inform Island of Bees of this treachery via Twitter @WestboundGame or tell Aaron his taste in video games is trash @Zamubei
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82773185/westbound-revolvers-and-rituals
Character creation can be a truly enjoyable experience if done correctly, or a real chore otherwise. Sometimes this line is a fine one. Hero Builder, a new production by The Table Candle, endeavors to bring full customization to the d20 system experience. Much like Mutants and Masterminds or other similar point-buy systems, this game gives the power to the players in creating every aspect of their characters. Here are three reasons to give it a look.
1) Familiar Mechanics
Most players and GMs today are at least somewhat knowledgeable about the d20 system, be it through D&D, Pathfinder, or the countless products released after the system went OGL. While it has a few tweaks here and there, the Hero Builder system is largely the same as other d20 products. The GM (here called the Hero Master) sets a DC for each action and the players roll d20 plus skills and bonuses. It is more akin to Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 than 5th ed. While many may see this as a step backwards, those older editions did allow for more customization and less simplification, something Hero Builder benefits from immensely. The game works best on a grid system; in our test game, players took advantage of the tactical options available to get the best use of their powers and abilities.
2) Unique Abilities
Hero Builder contains a long list of abilities that modify or enhance actions characters can take, much like the proficiencies and feats of the aforementioned d20 games. These come from characters’ Bloodlines (custom races or backgrounds) or are added separately as special abilities of the character. When you create a Bloodline, other characters can be of the same bloodline and attain the same abilities, or generate their own bloodline. This not only helps create important distinctions or commonalities between characters, but also aids in world building. The Hero Master can co-opt the player-created bloodlines into their narrative to customize the game setting and provide touchstones for in-game cultures.
3) Sheer Breadth Of Power
After generating the statistics and special abilities of characters, players then build their powers from the ground up. Powers are categorized by type, and each section describes how to build the power using points assigned at character creation. Powers cost a resource to purchase and a resource to use in game. So a player might make a bruiser who has a bunch of low cost survivability and damage enhancing powers, or another may create a single utility power and one massive damage dealing power, becoming the archetypal glass cannon. Players can create anything in between, adding healing, summoning, warding, or buffing powers to their repertoire. The balance seemed to be without major issue during out playtest, with each character able to perform as intended and to satisfying effect.
Hero Builder does also have a few issues to work through in its current state. The complexity of the character creation process absolutely necessitates a “session 0.” During my second attempt at a playtest, my group sat down to make characters and play, but I had to give up in the middle of character generation because my players were getting too restless. The GM needs to sit down with each player individually to create their characters well in advance of the first session, and as such, the game does not lend itself well to one-shots. With so much time invested in creating unique and intriguing characters, players will be loath to abandon them after a single session, or more likely, loath to put the time in necessary to create them in the first place.
There are other minor issues with the book, including typos and the like, but largely, Hero Builder brings fun customizable high-fantasy flair to the d20 system. The game includes three modes of play: commoner, heroic, and godly, though I highly recommend the latter two. If you’re going to loosen the reigns and let players create their dream hero, give them the points to go wild with it.
Hero Builder is available here!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact.
Picture Reference: https://funnyjunk.com/Hero+builder/bmTzLoz/
GMs the world over have felt the need for more and varied content to inject into their worlds. After all, even in the most linear of campaigns, PCs will delight in moving off the rails to inspect the living world around them. Take it from me: there is no amount of preparation a GM can do to account for every possible contingency the players can throw at them. That is why sourcebooks are so handy; they remove the burden of constant improvisation. Though this can be fun, it is eventually exhausting. What happens if your players keep poking around towns that are supposed to be simple stops on the journey of your intricately crafted plot? Eventually, all of us could use a little outside help. Here follows 3 enjoyable aspects of the small but eminently useful A Baker’s Dozen of Rumours (and the Truth Behind Them), written by Neal Litherland for Azukail Games.
1) Ease Of Introduction
The entries in the list of rumours are focused towards a fantasy game of no particular description. There are Cardinals, ships, and half-orcs, to be sure, but each of these are interchangeable with other similar nouns. Trade out the Cardinal for a local temple priest, or the half-orcs for human barbarians. In this fashion, these rumours fit perfectly well in any fantasy game with naught but a minor alteration here and there. Need a little chatter for a port town’s common square? Try Black Sails and Bloody Currents, a rumour about a group of privateers that suggests they may also be the pirates they are hired to combat. Looking for something a bit more mystical? The Wizard Alshamus, a tale of a black tower and the wizard who resides there. He’s friendly to all appearances, but is there something sinister sequestered in his spire? These rumours can function even as lead ins to campaign beats you’ve already planned, as many possibilities are covered with these 13 entries.
2) Style And Substance
The rumours and truths in each of the 13 tales are not only accessible, but also flavorful. The stories presented here most often skillfully avoid tropes while still featuring familiar archetypes. Sure, there’s a tale about a witch in the woods, but the witch is a man and is ultimately not responsible for the calamity at hand. The other twelve stories are equally well written. The premises are each interesting and the follow through on the truths do not disappoint. What’s more, the structure of the stories as rumour followed by truth is a clever way to allow the GM to quickly read the shorter rumour section during play, if need be. The truth sections can be absorbed during downtime or between sessions.
3) Mutable Truths
The resolutions of each rumour are presented as possible scenarios, not required outcomes. This makes them endlessly tweakable for those of us who like to infuse our own creativity into sourcebooks. One notion I had was to create other possible outcomes to the rumours and let the party follow whichever path they prefer, or use the other as a source of red herrings. The versatility of the rumour/truth presentation allows for adaptability and variance so the GM can keep things interesting and thematic.
This sourcebook is a great table mate. What’s more, I would like to see more of these bite-sized story seeds in this format produced for other settings. The only mild criticism I would level is more of a hope, and that would be that future entries include an illustration of each tale if possible. As it stands, there are only four in the publication, and as I like the minimalist style presented, I would like to see more. However, at the price of 2 dollars american, this sixteen page treasure trove of ideas is well worth it.
You can check it out or pick it up at RPGNow, and find more of Neal Litherland’s works at his website.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact.
Picture Reference: http://www.rpgnow.com/product/246287/A-Bakers-Dozen-of-Rumours-And-The-Truth-Behind-Them?src=hottest_filtered
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games