Flat Game Diagnostic Tools

When  a game was flat, there are questions that I ask to try to diagnose what went wrong. Essentially, I look at the tools the game gives us to make the game hum right along and shift from third to fourth and fifth gears and consider how they were used. Games don’t just have one tool and sometimes the use of tools isn’t the problem at all but it is a place to start thinking.

Burning Wheel: What were the players’ beliefs and what kind of artha hit the table?

Sorcerer: What were the kickers and what was written on the back of the character sheet.

I think Apocalypse World, Dungeon World and Sagas of the Icelanders might be, “What questions did you ask and what kind of answers did you get?”

A flat session might also have something to do with hard moves chosen on failed rolls and what is offered on the 7-9 rolls but asking the players solid questions and using the answers feels like an important detail that is often overlooked (or at least, under-discussed where I’m reading).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t tons of other mistakes that can be made with any of those games. I’m just talking about first thoughts when  my or someone else’s flat session.

Populating the Tomb Hills with feuding clans…

I like those forum threads where we get together and make shit up, here’s one:

Lets populate the Tomb Hills with feuding clans who flout, imperial tradition.  Please go through the following steps and write few sentences about your clan below in the comments or on the Google + thread here.

The Tomb Hills are a few weeks’ journal from the monolith that marks the southern border of the empire. Your family is here, occupying some ancient hill-fort or nearly hill-top tower.

You can choose 3 that appeal to you and catch your eye or roll 3d6 to find out the details of your a family’s take on imperial traditions.

Holy Animals
There is a baroque pantheon of holy beasts in imperial lore. Your family puts 3 above all others.

1) Cobra, Elephant, Eagle
2) Boar, Wolf, Dragon
3) Lion, Stag, Unicorn
4) Ant, Horse, Hound
5) Zebra, Antelope, Lioness
6) Gorilla, Vulture, Hyena

Holy Things
What iconography from the imperial world does your family hold dear and holy?

1) Sun, Moon, Stars
2) Barrows, Streams
3) Prophets, Tomes
4) Swords, Smiths
5) Dusk, Dawn, Noon
6) Bones, Fire

Your family goes against orthodox imperial tradition.

1) Marriage
2) Sorcery
3) Landlord/Tenant Relationship
4) Martial traditions
5) Death
6) Hospitality

By now it might very clear to you why your family is in the Tomb Hills. If not, choose or roll below:

1) Heresy
2) Failed Coup
3) Debt
4) Sorcery
5) Willing Exodus
6) Always been here…

Module Specific Death Moves

I posted this to Google+ but feel like it got lost in the mix, so here it is on my blog:

The Death moves are making me consider Front/Campaign death moves for different dungeons:

When you die during the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks Your soul is captured by the ship. Once a dozen such souls are taken, it will begin producing androids, teach them to crew the ship and attempt to free itself from the mountain.

Until then, you are stuck in the mainframe unless the players find a way to re-insert your soul back into another body.

When you perish attacking the Queen of the Demon-Web Pits your soul is caught in a soul-gem in Lloth’s web. If the players find it, you could be resurrected.

When you die trying to destroy the Slave Lords you approach the Black Gates and angels are waiting for you at the entrance to the Dead Lands. Roll as per the Black Gates move. On a hit, the angels send you back into battle, thanking you for your service and letting you know that your wings will be waiting for you when you return.

On a 7-9, the angels will demand something specific, asking you do be somehow more pious in your life than you were so that your soul is more ready to do Law and Good’s work.

On a miss, the angels take you beyond the Black Gates, saying that you are not worthy of the glory that will come with scourging the slave lords from the face of Greyhawk.

When you perish in the Tomb of Horrors, you roll as per the Black Gates move. On a hit you evade Acererak’s grasp and return, knowing that a fell power squats in the Tomb, waiting for the adventurers.

On a 7-9, your ghosts evades Acererak’s pull and you are able to warn your fellow adventurers about the peril of one trap.

On a miss, Acererak devours your soul and you are never seen again.

Latest Bundle of Holding: Traveller PDF

My tablet is now filled with amazing gaming PDF’s thanks to the Bundle of Holding. Great stuff and the money goes to a good cause too.

This month they are rocking Traveller PDF’s and I’m picking them up, not only because the Little Black Box fascinate me but because they go well with a bundle I purchased earlier, Stars Without Number. I’d imagine these PDF’s will compliment each other quite well and the ship schematics will be handy if I ever get to run that campaign in my head where the players are a spaceship repo team, floating through space and reclaiming ships whose payments are overdue.

Speaking of space economics, an old post in which I interview Jason Morningstar has been seeing lots of hits and is well worth reading over if you want some insight into Traveler.

In the comments, please tell me about your favorite science fiction RPG moments, campaigns or characters.

Marvel Heroic Role-Playing: Mutant Massacre


The Mutant Massacre was the arc that welcomed me into the loving arms of the X-Men. I wasn’t sure how I’d game it until someone posted this pic on tumblr. As I recall, this was in the back of every issue of the Mutant Massacre so we could follow along to the event that saw angel crucified, Thor’s arm broken, Colussus paralyzed and Nightcrawler put into a coma – not to mention Wolverine vs. Sabretooth Parts 1 and 2 and Storm getting her powers back.

Start a game by dropping this picture onto the table. Each issue is a session or less of play and players can swap out characters between issues. It might be helpful to name each issue before we start playing but just in case, here’s the name of each issue:

X-Men #210: The Morning After

X-Men #211: Massacre

X-Men #212: The Last Run

X-Men #213: Psylocke

The New Mutants #46: Bloody Sunday

Thor #373: The Gift of Death

Thor #374: Fires of the Night!

X-Factor #9: Spots!

X-Factor #10: Falling Angel!

X-Factor #11: Redemption!

Power Pack #27: Whose Power –?

Also useful: Marvel Milestones.


In which nice things are said about Githyanki Diaspora

The Dyvers blog had a Great Blog Roll Call and he wrote nice things about this blog and I’m not ashamed to say it made me feel pretty damned nice:

An enjoyable blog written by one of the most inventive authors on the list. The author challenges himself and his readers to explore new avenues of play, whether through new games or new ways to do the same old, same old. Occasionally the blog will meander into short fiction and then into a discussion of what’s going on in the author’s life. A good read. Updates: About three times a week.


The blog list compiled is well worth checking out if you want to add some blogs to your RSS feed.

Owl Hoot Trail, making fantasy rail companies

You are playing a federal marshal who rides a dragon and you receive the following wire:

With haste, fly your steed to Perdition <stop>

Hire 3 deputies <stop>

Broker peace between warring rail companies <stop>

Arrest federal crimes, judge to arrive in 2 weeks <stop>

The Rail Companies

M.L.&R. Rail Co. – This is an elven company that has blended the elven idea of a western paradise with manifest destiny and the result is a hideous brand of immortal-run capitalism.

Names and inspiration: Lord of the Rings

Olde Valyrian Rail Co – Run by an olde world corporation with 7 CEO’s and a President. They are known for hiring inbred, white-haired, purple-eyed dragon-riding gunslingers as security and being cunning backstabbing bastards.

Names and inspiration: Song of Ice and Fire

Please feel free to post a rail company based on your favorite fantasy series in the comments.

NOTE: Jim posted a cool idea below, so feel free to make a fantasy version of a western trope. No need to stick to my narrow concept.