Your Father’s Armor

I made a character sheet for Riley Madison’s cool Mulan game, Your Father’s Armor.


Raise the Red Lantern

So, on the way to Kelly’s Pesach Seder, Josh and Elizabeth and I developed a LARP hack for the Mist-Robed Gate.

It’s easy.

There’re some central facilitator tasks that you’ll need to assign to somebody, and that person probably shouldn’t play a character, but they may be an audience member, which means they participate in the wirework vote and can frame scenes. Whenever you get to the end of a scene, you should come back to see the facilitator, get a recap of what scenes happened while you were away, deliver your own recap, and then see who’s at the top of the ‘scene frame’ list. That person gets to frame a scene immediately with whoever’s present, or you can wait a small amount of time for another scene to end, if you need a character that’s somewhere else and it looks like they’ll be done soon.

You don’t have cards for props and sets. Instead, you should play in a place with several distinct rooms, and you have a supply of physical objects that you’re allowed to use as props. When you need a new set, you assign the set to an unused room, and when you need a new prop, you assign it to a physical object. You own props by carrying them on your person, so you need to think a little about this; if you use a real replica sword without a hanger as a sword prop, you’ll need to keep it in your hand, whereas if you use a pocketknife, you can stick it in your pocket.

You don’t use a real knife for the knife. Instead, each set has a colour-coded lantern; when the knife is covered, there are no lanterns. When the knife is uncovered, the facilitator hangs white lanterns in every set. When the knife is drawn, the lanterns are changed to yellow, and when it is bloodied for the first time, they are changed to red. If you don’t have lanterns, you can use flags or scarves or something. To show that you have the knife, make the ‘sword finger’ gesture: Extend your second and middle fingers together, and curl up the thumb, ring, and pinkie. Point the sword finger at the person you are passing the knife to. To signal acceptance, kneel and touch the sword finger to the ground. To stab a person, touch them against the throat or collarbone with your sword finger.

When wirework begins, ring a gong to summon all the players so they can watch and vote.

You should dress up so we can see your character’s colour in your outfit.

That’s basically it.

Fledgelings: Playtesting the Epistle and the Gate

Hi, friends! Since we last talked I’ve been very busy. I’ve been fortunate enough to playtest Risalat al-Ghufran and the Mist-Robed Gate twice, and we’ve learned a lot. I’m also really seeing and benefiting from having access to a large pool of strong players. It’s pretty great.

We played Risalat with myself, Elizabeth, and Alexis, and in that playtest we realised that its rules are much heavier than they need to be; after we threw some out the window, it was streamlined and compelling. The rotating cast of characters is thrilling to me; they add a lot of richness and texture, but at the same time, they hold the action down to a human scale. It’s lovely.

We played a second time, Elizabeth, Joshua A.C. Newman, Emily and I, and that went pretty well too. The text needs some serious updating, but we’ve got the flow of play down, and it’s what I want.

I already wrote about the first playtest of the Mist-Robed Gate; we put our heads together and set up an action sequence system that resolves some of those issues, and also includes an adjustable pacing dial. We tested that out with a staggeringly large group, and it worked splendidly. Meguey Baker at Fair Game and Jonathan Walton at one thousand one beat me to the blogging punch (Thanks, guys! ❤ ), so go see them for a rundown of the action. Thanks to everyone who played!

I’m really happy with the way the game handles larger groups; now we’ve just got to run it a few times with a smaller group, and we’re all set. I’m also thinking about explicitly supporting non-character players in a couple of different ways.

As a parting gift, go see Pingmag’s update on graphic design in China, and this beautiful honey package at the DieLine. It’s pretty sweet.

The Mist-Robed Gate: How it does in action

My dear Elizabeth has posted a great AP of the Mist-Robed Gate at the Forge, which unfortunately is being lame and keeps giving me 503 errors when I attempt to reply, so I’m going to post my aborted response here instead of losing it to the ether. If you were present at the game, or you weren’t but you have some thoughts, I’d love for you to share them with us.

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I was very pleased with the way the knife ritual worked in play. I also want to thank everyone for, like, taking a risk and playing in the first playtest of my game; I know those tend to be kinda rough, and you all really contributed to the game in play, and gave me a lot of good stuff to think about.

It’s really great, also, to hear what worked in play, but let’s also talk about what didn’t…I am trying to remember what happened there, and the critiques from the table that I remember most clearly were:

  • The meaning of the distinction between viewpoint and non-viewpoint characters is non-obvious.
  • We would like a formal option for choosing who shall frame scenes and who may/must be in those scenes. There’s some opportunity for managing spotlight time in here.
  • The value of props and sets isn’t very clear; they appear to be simply colour generators, and that is not satisfying. Perhaps there is a way to add mechanical value here.
  • There is an issue with pacing of action scenes such as kung fu fights, namely, there is no guidance for this, and no incentive to have kung fu fights.
  • Sometimes it seems like the escalation of the knife ritual is premature or excessive; there could be a way to mitigate this.

Are there any major issues I’ve missed? I have some solutions in mind for these, but I’d like to know where the gaps in my observation are, too.

Burning for You

So, at Jiffycon, we did get to play Annalise, which was…well, I have nothing but good to say about this game. It’s rich and textured and I met a new friend and really why am I doing this when Elizabeth has me covered. The Mist-Robed Gate was a lot of fun too, and I learned a lot from the session. I’m diving back into the text now to make revisions based on my brilliant playtesters’ critiques. More on that later.

While at the Mike Doughty concert tonight, I wrote a miniature game, and I thought I’d share:

Carrying a Torch

an autobiographical roleplaying game

So, you remember the first person you really loved? The first person you really hurt or hated? The way it changed you? That’s what this game is about.

Carrying a Torch is a story about how your relationships can have really pervasive, intense effects on your psychology, even long after those relationships have changed or moved on.

To play, you need a group of people who are pretty close, and some writing instruments, a number of smallish moveable markers such as Parcheesi pawns, and character sheets. The character sheets are laid out to support at most six characters, but in principle there’s no reason not to play with more. Each player will have one character; you get to say what that character says and does.

Start by describing a close-knit group of people. Fill out the top part of your character sheet; write down the character’s name and something about him. Then, choose an archetype card for each of the other characters; don’t tell them which archetype you chose. In the bottom half of the archetype card, write the character’s name. This card indicates what that character means to your character; it’s a lens by which he looks at their interactions.

Take a look at an archetype card if you haven’t already; you’ll see that it has a name on top, a meter down the right side, and two halves labelled “Heal me” and “Hurt me.” The meter tells you how good you’re feeling about that character at the moment; it starts in the centre point, at equilibrium. When you interact with this character, if they do the thing in “Heal me,” it makes you feel good, and if they do the other thing, it makes you feel bad. It doesn’t so much matter what else they do. When an archetype card says, “me,” it means you, not the archetype. It represents what you say to the archetype.

So, when they heal you, first nudge the marker on their meter one notch upward. Now, if the marker’s in the top half of the meter, then move the big meter on your character sheet toward the good end as many spaces as the marker is distant from the center, and if it’s in the centre or in the bottom half, only move it one space. That is to say, if you’re in a pattern of healing interactions with that character, then they affect you more, and it has more influence on your holistic well-being.

That’s what the big meter is, by the way, and notice that I didn’t decide for you which end is the good end, so you’re going to have to make that decision and record it ASAP.

Now, when they hurt you, it works a similar way; nudge their meter down and read it like the heal meter, but reversed; if it’s in the good half, then it only takes you down a notch, but if it’s in the bad half then you can go down several notches.

Now you’ll see that your meter has some big Os on it, at the ±5 and ±10 marks as well as the dotted-O at equilibrium. If an interaction makes you cross just one of the fives, then your character does something big in his life. If it was +5, then it’s a thing that improves your life. If it’s –5, then it’s a decision that’s ultimately bad, but it looks fine for now. The next time someone hurts you, they’ll let you know why it wasn’t such a great idea.

That’s not the only thing that happens! You reset your meter to 0, and the character that caused this turn in your life turns over. You choose a new archetype to represent him, or you choose a different character and a different archetype to occupy that spot in your character sheet.

Finally, you imprint that archetype. Set the turned-over archetype card to the side; now all characters can heal or hurt you in that way, to the tune of their own relationship meters. If they’re a character that doesn’t have an archetype for you, then their meter always reads 0. If you have to decide whether a character’s healing or hurting you because an imprint and their archetype disagree, then follow their archetype.

If an interaction makes you cross two Os, which is to say that it goes from less-than-ten to ten or more, or makes you cross 0 and a 5, then all that stuff above happens, but you imprint asymmetrically. If you were healed, cross out the hurt on that card. If you were hurt, cross out the heal. Only the interaction that remains affects you.

You might run out of archetypes eventually. Maybe you should, like, stop playing.

Long Ago, the people were fighting at the end of the world…

a Polaris~Exalted game, by S. Musgrave, S. Sampat, and E. Shoemaker.


The waves parted obligingly for Vendir’s royal canoe. All was still on the oceans of the world today; even the gulls were silent. Only the sound of water splashing on the canoe paddle could be heard. And, in that splash, a footstep, a sandaled foot landing in the back of the canoe. Assassins. Vendir did not take his eyes off of the water, now ruined with the ripples of his would be murderers. he slowly dropped the reed he had been stirring the water with “You should know that this is a private vessel.” Cold knives, still dripping seawater, touch Vendir just below each ear. It runs down to the hollow of his throat. One presses harder, draws blood.

Vendir looked up to the assassin, his eyes much more serious. “You mean to kill me here, I take it? I have a pretty good guess where you’re from.” The waters surrounding the boat begin to stir. A metallic fin surges above the water’s edge in a accelerating cycle about Vendir’s boat. “Are you sure you wouldn’t want to back out now, brothers?”

“The killing of kings is an amateur sport. We are only here to watch you while our brethren salt your fields, flood your armouries, poison your granaries, and otherwise kill everyone you care about.” A curl of smoke rises from the shore, edged with an ominous alchemical purple.

“There’s no time to waste then.” And in a moment, the metallic fin underneath the water reveals itself, a huge sword who’s blade is rigged to its handle with an extending chain, jumps out of the water by itself, blowing straight through one assassin and into Vendir’s hand, from where he cleaves another.

BUT ONLY IF one entire village is already lost.

BUT ONLY IF Vendir is able to swim to shore before anymore major damage.


BUT HOPE WAS NOT YET LOST, FOR ANEMONE PEARL-EATER STILL FELT THE WARMTH OF THE SUN…sitting on a small spy vessel, another clan-member eagerly presenting her with an oyster so that she might provide the clan with insight into this tumultuous battle, her brother Sindbad watching the grey-purple smokes rise up from the shore. Languidly, Anemone runs a single finger along the contours of the mother-of-pearl shell, its creamy sheen glowing slickly brilliant in the light. “Only one village shall fall today, but it will feel like ten.” Her eyes flickered to her brother. “The coast will be thick with purple fog in a fortnight.” The shell seems to vibrate in her hand, almost as if in pleasure. It opens up, and reveals a quite strangely large pearl that is black as midnight, and sparkles with a forboding radiance. Her eyes go wide. “Black pearls mean black hearts. Dark desires.”

Sindbad presses the oyster closed. “One doesn’t need to consult the sea to see that.” He doesn’t release her hand.

Anemone smirks a bit. “Dark desires are ever present, aren’t they?”

Sindbad licks his lips. “Oh yes. Have you -seen- that delicious prince of the land people? He will make a delightful cabin boy.”

The purple smoke on the shore seems to dissipate. The attending clan member runs to the side of the boat to spy on it with the attached spy-glass, searching for the sight of his confidant on the shore village, but he’s nowhere to be found.

Anemone raises a brow. “He is quite lovely, though not half as lovely as you, dear brother. It would be nice to keep him.”

“You are lovelier still, my pearl.”

“Miss Anemone! Somethings gone wrong! I smell a foul trap! Please, the pearl.”

Anemone daintily pries open the oyster and drops the pearl into Sindbad’s palm. “Do you mind?” She asks, parting her lips. The attending clan member pulls on his hair as he watches the couple take their leisurely time, but holds his tongue until Sindbad feeds her the pearl. The seer’s eyes roll back in her head, and her brows knit in concentration.

“One of our assassins.. he is in love with a girl from the prince’s kingdom. He sabotaged our efforts. He has a scar below his left eye.” As Anemone eats the pearl, she is jolted by the visions of what she sees. Her marauding clan, snickering as they tear through the lands of Hastlebrook. Giant machines in the shape of men shooting out the fires of hell from their arms to burn them to cinders. Herself in the Arms of Vendir, licking his naked chest. Herself kneeling above the bloody, motionless body of her brother Sindbad, dropping the weapon that battered him. The visions stagger her into a seizure on the floor of the boat.

BUT ONLY IF Sindbad opens his eyes at the end of the vision.

AND FURTHERMORE, As Sindbad opens his eyes, he sees his sister covered head to toe in red blood, her eyes the emotionless holes of a remorseless slaughterer. (Betrayal of the People)

AND FURTHERMORE, As the camera zooms out, Vendir is revealed, blue and dead, Anemone’s hair twisted around his neck. (Betrayal of the Sun.)

AND FURTHERMORE, Anemone feels that it is impossible to struggle against this fate, and views it with inevitability and lust at her conquest of Vendir. She gets experience and the Aspect, Fate: “Conquest of Vendir”. (Forbidden Love.)


The attendant Clan member grabs Sindbad as her sister shakes on the floor “Fughadabout her!! They need us on the shore! Get in the water!”

Sindbad pushes him aside long enough to hold Anemone still just for a split second and plant a kiss on her lips; then he steps out onto the waves, gliding over them like shifting sand, drawing his red-veined salt crystal sword. At the kiss, Anemone slumps into slumber.


Risalat al-Ghufran: The Epistle of Forgiveness

for Scooter

This is a game about pain and forgiveness. This group of people, they’ve gone through some rough times, some together, some apart, and they have lots of issues with each other that they haven’t resolved yet. But they have a culture of telling stories, and we, taking on their roles, and telling their life stories in this mode that hovers at the edge of mythology, have the power to deal with these heretofore unspoken issues, and untangle them, and lead these characters to a better place. It’s partly the action of telling these stories that does it, by just sharing with others, and partly because telling stories is prayer, and the angels hear their prayers and reorder the world as they are told, so they’re not hollow stories that mean nothing, but real actions with real consequences.

It may help you, as it helps me, to think of this game as a 1001 Nights hack, although it’s departed from that root far enough that you have to learn the system anew. There’s a lot of the game I don’t quite know, but here is a piece that I have the words to describe:

As you begin a story, take a numbered card from your hand and place it in front of you, face-up. This card sets the theme of the story; say it is the Three of Swords. “This story is about lost love,” you might say. Briefly introduce your story and cast the other players in roles in it, as you would in 1001. Your job as the storyteller is to give the other players an opportunity to suffer.

If you’re a human character in the story, then your job is to know suffering. This consists of several tasks. When you have an opportunity to suffer, play a numbered card in front of you that is the same suit as the storyteller’ card, and describe the nature of your suffering. Let the Tarot inspire you if you know it, and take some note of the number on the card; a higher number corresponds with more suffering.

If you don’t have any suited numbered cards, then you know suffering by binding wounds and watching for angels. To bind a wound, when someone else plays a numbered card, you may immediately say, “I will bind the wound,” and play a lower-numbered card of any suit. Take their card into your hand and leave your card in its place; your character intervenes to lessen the other character’s suffering and change its nature. To watch for angels, when someone suffers, you may play a suited court card. Describe how the character reveals its identity as an angel. Make a note of which angel corresponds to the court card, and leave that card on the table next to the character’s suffering. The card corresponds to this angel for the remainder of the game; this means that, if you identify several characters with this card, they are in fact the same character, having gone through some transformation of likeness.

If you are playing an angel, your job is to be a healing hand. Angels may suffer with any suit. They may bind wounds with numbered cards and with court cards. Binding a wound with a court card is like binding a wound and simultaneously seeing an angel. Angels’ wounds cannot be bound by humans; they must be bound by other angels.