SWN: The Taking of Free Trader Grandma’s Trusty Rifle

This e-mail was sent to the folks I game with after our last session, as mentioned in Episode 15 of Daydreaming About Dragons.

SWN Galaxy Breaker


Everyone present take 4 XP for the past session. Good plan, good execution. Good stuff.

I knew they had a Big Fucking Gun out of the box but wasn’t sure how they’d set it up. The way you guys posed as a Veluriuan family ship really changed the way I thought that whole thing would go.
SWN Galaxy Breaker


Witt and I had a miscommunication about the Gudradim hunter who works for the Valerius family. She is not the traitor Strachan is hunting. She is a different person all together. Sorry for the confusion.

RIP Mubarak.

If we ever have a game where we have absences and don’t want to move on without everyone present we will play a game on board the Free Trader Mubarak, the haunted ship under Captain Agrippa Horatius.

SWN Galaxy Breaker


Mechanics I want to write-up:

  • Buying things using Astral Dragon Money (inspired by Burning Wheel’s resource dice)
  • Making tech in the lab (inspired by the Saavyhead’s Workplace move in Apocalypse World)
  • Experience point lists (inspired by Blades in the Dark)
    Ammo checks (inspired by usage die in old school D&D games)

SWN Galaxy Breaker


You got over a dozen crates containing the parts for six complete Storm armors as worn by the Guevaran Hegemony Space Marine Squads along with diagnostic support stations and replacement parts. These are the type of armor worn by Lalita Space Marines during the Battle of Forest 164 in the bloodiest battle against the Crick. There currently are not any companies nor governments producing these in this system.

In most systems using these in acts of violence without the proper paperwork is considered an act of terrorism.

Keeping these in fighting shape is really difficult. Space Marine squads have 3 Warfare Engineers for every one door-kicking devil dog wearing one of these brutal machines on the battlefield. There will be mechanics to show this.

SWN Galaxy Breaker

P.S. It looks like that armor pic (not shown above but in the link) is by Kai Lim.

SWN Galaxy Breaker



 Image taken from page 645 of ‘L’Espace céleste et la nature tropicale, description physique de l’univers … préface de M. Babinet, dessins de Yan’ Dargent’ by The British Library
Via Flickr:
Image taken from: Title: “L’Espace céleste et la nature tropicale, description physique de l’univers … préface de M. Babinet, dessins de Yan’ Dargent” Author: Liais, Emmanuel Contributor: BABINET, Jacques. Contributor: DARGENT, Jean Édouard – calling himself Yan’ Dargent Shelfmark: “British Library HMNTS 10003.d.10.” Page: 645 Place of Publishing: Paris Date of Publishing: 1866 Issuance: monographic Identifier: 002161070 Explore: Find this item in the British Library catalogue, ‘Explore’. Download the PDF for this book (volume: 0) Image found on book scan 645 (NB not necessarily a page number) Download the OCR-derived text for this volume: (plain text) or (json)Click here to see all the illustrations in this book and click here to browse other illustrations published in books in the same year. Order a higher quality version from here.

All Hail the Victorious Dead: Waking Playing Characters

Inspired by this post:

(PC funerals are an underutilized thing, I believe.)

I agree! Some ideas on adding some mechanical punch and oomph to waking an adventurer in a few games.

funeral procession


When a character is waked, every character who shared a memory can take an inspiration if they change either their Ideal or Bond to reflect how knowing their dead comrade changed them.

funeral procession

Dungeon World

When you wake a dead player character and have recovered the body, all of the characters talk about a memory they have of the character. If they have the body and can put it to rest as per appropriate custom, the dead character will show up in the future. The player allows one character to have access to one of the dead character’s moves, showing how the ghost returns for one shining moment to defend an old friend.

funeral procession

Dungeon Crawl Classics

When reavers, cut-purses, heathen-slayers and warlocks lose one of their band to death and chaos, it is often an orgy of alcohol, drugs and other vices that blur their pain, allowing them to put it out of their minds that next time it could be them. Every character should give a remembrance, be it somber and respectful or loud and heretical. If the body is recovered and can be put to rest via the character’s religion (as understood by the other characters) any extra XP the character had is spread among the party in any way the player pleases. If the body was not recovered, the wake goes on just the same but in the end, the extra XP is lost to chaos. 1 Luck for every character level the deceased character had at the time of death is distributed among the party, as decided by the dead character’s player.

funeral procession

Apocalypse World

When you wake a dead character in Apocalypse World, the body with all the gear is sitting between you all.

Roll + Hot (+1 if you provided any grub or hooch for the wake or ever had sex with the deceased back when they were alive) when you want to lay claim to a piece of gear off of the body.

On a 10+ you take that piece of gear. There might be some grumbling but for now, it is yours and no one is saying shit about it.

On a 7-9 you take that piece of gear but someone has a problem with it. You’re going to have to offer them something or force them to back the fuck down.

On a miss, the wake erupts into screaming and bullshit and violence. Maybe this will be a two-for-one wake.

funeral procession


General Research Division, The New York Public Library. “A funeral procession to a tomb beneath the western mountain of Thebes.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1837 – 1841. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-6fd5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Storium Thoughts

After participating in this G+ video conversation about play-by-post I checked out the Storium kickstarter, backed it and promptly started playing, then started narrating a few games, then started looking at worlds that I was never sure what to do with and putting them into Storium’s terms and narrating those games.

It has been fun.

I’m narrating 3 games:

  • Trauma in the NE Sprawl, which is my way of using an old blog post’s cyberpunk setting, and giving the game a first-go.

New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Albany, and Baltimore all reached out and became a single, cyclopean urban tumor.

There is always someone out there somewhere bleeding in the NE Sprawl.

Maybe you are a trauma crew EMT or maybe you perpetrate the trauma. Perhaps the light of the armored ambo’s lights flash against your apartment wall while you figure out how to eek out a living in the sprawl.

Characters will be an ensemble whose lives will cross and intersect over the course of play.

You came back from that other world no longer a child, changed, not a grown-up but certainly changed and no longer innocent. No one believed you. When you returned from your epic journey, people at best treated your life-changing adventure like a flight of fancy and at worse like a mental illness.

Fuck that – you never forgot.

Once you get to one otherworld, it isn’t too hard to gain access to others. Your childhood was wondrous strange, curiouser and curiouser.

Now you are trying to grow up back in the Real, figuring out playground rules the way you did the rules to other worlds.

NARRATOR’S NOTE: I’d like to experiment with finite games. So, here’s the deal. We are going to have 3 scenes. 1 as kids at school, 1 as teens at prom and another as middle aged adults at the reunion. Then we’ll be done.

I’m going to take the first 3 characters I dig and start it up. My hope is that we’ll be done inside of two to three weeks.

  • $pace, my way of getting together with old friends and playing by pbp with folks who are spread hither and yon but used to get together regularly at the table.

In which we make money in space via odd jobs, bounty hunting and spaceship repossession.

I’m playing in 4 games and they are all moving along pretty slowly. Rather than tell you about my character, I’ll just post my character pics blow, from top to bottom, they are Goat, Old Dog, Seelah and Stubborn Mule 5.6:

Goat (Greatest of All Time) Old Dog Seelah by Wayne Renyolds Stubborn Mule 5.6


I’m enjoying Storium so far. I’m fascinated with the fast card-based chargen and the way Narrators can make up 2 or 3 dozen cards and have a playable world to start rocking out in. The way the cards allow us to attach art makes the game visual in a fun way and have me thinking more and more about open content art.

I like the way conflicts are divvied up into Strong and Weak outcomes and the players kind of choose which one occurs by which cards they play on which conflicts. Some conflicts aren’t winnable by one lone character, forcing folks to work together and interact with the same fictional bits and bobs. Some conflicts aren’t able to be won in a clean fashion at all, forcing Weak, dramatic conflicts that remind me of a 7-9 result in Apocalypse World.

I’m curious to see where it all goes:

  • how much fiddly control narrators will have over the Storium implied system as the game evolves with time
  • the worlds designed by the published writers as stretch goals
  • how publishing one’s own world via Storium will shake out


I’d like to be able to:

  • have multiple scenes going at the same time
  • have more ways to interact with games I’m not playing in
  • have more ways to applaud a cool thing
  • have more ways to make it easier to tweet a cool 140 character moment

I’m there and I’m playing. If the glacial pace of play-by-post is your thing, c’mon over and give it a shot.


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.

Interview: John Harper on Talislanta

Here’s a fun interview with John Harper, talking about Talislanta:

I used to read the Talislanta books as a teen, loving the implied setting but never delving deep enough to actually play in that setting. I kind of skimmed the surface, never finding the main book in any local game shops. I loved the Mogroth and those mystic wanderers who had eyes on their sticks. Suddenly, I had another monster manual to paw through and paw, I did.

What drew you to the setting? Did you play? GM? What did you do with Talislanta at your table?

I’ll never forget finding that 2nd edition book in the game store. This must have been… 1989? The white cover with the tattooed Thrall warrior by P.D. Breeding-Black. I was blown away by that image and immediately picked it up.

(By the way, all the Talislanta books are available as free PDFs, here: http://talislanta.com/?page_id=5)

That edition had little illustrations for every single character type, across several pages. No stats (they were elsewhere), just names and images. At first I thought they were monsters — there were winged gryphon-men, weird scorpion-tailed things — but then I realized these were all playable characters! And the names were great. Arimite Revenant. Black Savant. Phantasian Astromancer

. I got so excited. The art and the setting were crazy; like nothing else I’d seen. Also, on the back, it said “For experienced players and gamemasters only” which I thought was very cool. I was showing my friends and basically jumping out of my skin to play the game.

We played for years and years. I’ve played hundreds of sessions. Almost entirely as GM, but sometimes as a player here and there. Several of my all-time favorite gaming experiences have been with Talislanta.

Mainly, we did sprawling, picturesque travel/adventure yarns in the vein of Jack Vance meets Conan meets Indiana Jones, which is really where all that crazy material points you, I think. The characters rose from petty mercenaries to princes, warlords, and inter-dimensional explorers. I always love a good dungeon crawl, but dungeon games weren’t like the books I was reading. Talislanta gave us that sweeping, alien kind of adventure fantasy that I loved in A Princess of Mars or The Demon Princes.

(One of my favorite series, the Kang Civil War, was recorded for posterity on the Internet around 1993 or so. I cringe at a lot of it now, but it’s kind of fun to go back and look at my very first “actual play” report, from 20+ years ago. Someone reposted it to the Talislanta website, here: http://talislanta.com/?p=4148.)

I’m reading the antique AP and loving it.

The guys find themselves at the Farad’s estate (big, big place.. this Farad is one of the key players that “borrowed” the windship arcanology from the Phantasians / Cymrilians and “loaned” it to the Rajans). 

You clearly had internalized the setting right into your bones and making those pieces dance. What was that process like? Reading and day-dreaming? Were you making your own relationship maps between nations and cultures?

Talislanta has a neat trick when it comes to its setting. The world is massive and diverse, but each region and culture only has a few colorful sentences to explain it. So you know that the Kang are ‘a warlike people, born to combat’ and the Farad are ‘widely known for their unscrupulous business dealings’ and there’s some cool artwork and that’s about it. You have to fill in a lot of details yourself, which helps tie everything together in your imagination.

I also did a lot of reading and day-dreaming, for sure. I filled my head with imagery and ideas from every kind of media (the Kang in our games were a lot like Klingons, really). The cultures were built slowly over time with the same player group, so we all had a lot of ownership and familiarity with them.

I definitely made relationship maps; boxes and arrows and all. It was less game prep and more playing catch up. I’d committed to certain things in play on the spur of the moment. Then I’d make these relationship maps that fit the facts so far, to make sense of it and give it structure when the players started delving more deeply into it. I still use that technique a lot as a GM today.

The other side-effect of reading your AP posts is that I am falling in love with the character, Abdul. When he took on the Kang warrior, riddled with arrows and hit a few solid 20’s, I was cheering. I love those mad, beautiful moments.

It is also interesting, in the course of the Kang Civil War, to see you wrestling with a play-style, allowing the awesome things the players were doing to dictate the direction of the game and getting away from linear adventures and moving towards fluid situations with exciting consequences. You can see why the MC Agendas and Principles made sense to you right off.

At this point, there was no civil war. All I had in mind was that there was a deep conspiracy going on in the Empire, and the Warlord was travelling abroad personally to “secure” something or other. I didn’t know what yet. The actual civil war was sparked by… you guessed it, Abdul. But that’s a ways off yet…

In these AP, we are watching you organically come to Play to find out what happens and Being a fan of the players’ characters. I’m also seeing partial successes…AW must have fit you like an old pair of comfy sweat-pants when you read it, huh?

I knew you would love Abdul! He’s one of the all-time great PCs. My friend Patrick Cunningham created him. Abdul became something of a legend in the Talislanta online community.

I definitely developed my play style as a GM during that series. Before that, I had tried running “plotted” campaigns several times, with mixed results at best. Games often fizzled and I felt drained by all the work I had to do pre-game. The Kang Civil War happened because I had created this big plotted campaign in the northern lands, but after the players tried the first mission, they simply said, “Nah, we don’t want to do this. We leave,” and headed south. I was flabbergasted, had nothing prepped, and just decided to wing it.

 That lead — very organically like you said — to a style of play that Vincent captured so well in Apocalypse World. You might not know that Vincent is also a huge Talislanta fan, and was playing the game and reading the email-list during the Kang Civil War stuff. Talislanta is listed as an influence in the AW book. So there’s definitely a historical connection there. I’m blown away by Vincent’s ability to distill and evolve that play style into something concrete and procedural in the AW text. It’s really a work of genius.

But yeah, the style of play described in AW is something that I came to gradually over many sessions during the KCW, thanks to the amazing group of players we had, and the solid foundation of Talislanta‘s setting and game system. It’s really cool that you were able to see that develop in the AP. I remember the feeling at the time — like we were discovering some secret language of gaming. It was so hard to explain! I spent a couple decades trying to convey it through countless discussions online and off. Now I can just say “Read Apocalypse World.”

I went through that same frustrating process, trying to wade through conventional wisdom and my own experiences to figure out what mysterious alchemical process made for a good/great/legendary session of gaming.

I knew that there were games where it was fun to hang out with buddies and talk in funny voices and nights where something tangible happened to make the game amazing but wasn’t sure what techniques were necessary to get there.

I can feel the strong pull of this conversation, leading me to ask the inevitable and maybe too obvious questions:

If you were going to play Talislanta today, how would you go about doing so?

I’d play it straight. I know the game inside and out, and it’s a solid design. The tricky part is getting everyone on board with the vast setting in a reasonable time frame. I might use a sub-section of the world to start, like the Seven Kingdoms or Carantheum or something and let the group explore outward into the unknown from there. The exact makeup of character types would really drive things. That weird alchemy you get when a Sindaran Collector, Thrall Warrior, and Cymrilian Swordmage get together is pure gold.

And I know you did work on the game’s 4th edition, is there a temptation to go to Mark Williams and help orchestrate a kickstarter of some kind?

I designed the 4th edition of the game system, did the layout for the book, the bulk of the writing, and published it with my partner Jon Elliott, under our Shooting Iron imprint. We had the help of the Talislanta online community (which is stellar) and the full support of the game’s creator, Steve Sechi — otherwise it never could have happened. Also, lots of people from Wizards of the Coast (who did the 3rd edition) helped us a lot, including John Tynes, Jonathan Tweet, Ron Spencer, Anson Maddocks, and especially Jesper Myrfors, who arranged for us to get the massive Talislanta artwork archive, all scanned and ready to go.

 It was a huge, crazy task. Self-publishing an RPG book was so much harder back then, but I’m really glad I did it. I made so many mistakes and learned so much. The book design alone got my foot in the door for several cool gigs and ultimately lead to the graphic design career I have today.

There’s no temptation to do a kickstarter. It’s Steve’s baby, and he’s happy to keep it freely available in PDF form, far as I know. I’ve been talking to him about some other game projects recently — some of which are really cool — but who knows if they’ll come together. Steve is a great guy and I love working with him, but we both have other lives pulling at our attention.

It is really interesting to me that the eclectic groups of player characters are the ones that work best, especially in a setting this alien and wondrous. Any ideas on why that is and how to best set that kind of game up for success?

In Talislanta, your culture/species is your “character class”, for the most part. So the eclectic mix works for the same reason that Fighter, Thief, Magic-User, Cleric works in classic adventure gaming.

The bonus is, in Tal, your characters also have an outlook and heritage automatically attached to their character type that gives the players an easy roleplaying hook beyond their job description. It’s a simplistic way to handle a complex thing like culture, but it gets richer and more interesting through the process of play, as stereotypes are challenged and cultures become nuanced as they’re revealed.

That sounds great, John.

 Thanks for sharing your love of Talislanta and taking the time to talk to me.

Please post comments below or over here on the G+ thread.

Story Games asks, “What are you itching to play?”

The thread:


I have this zany idea for a Lacuna play-by-post game that I might have to try at some point.

I’d like to play Technoir, fall in love enough to write up 9 transmissions for the cyberpunk solar system, vaguely inspired by the Takeshi Kovacs books.

I’d like to play the new Marvel Super Heroes RPG, because FASERIP was my first RPG jam and it’d be neat to play a game if they came out with a Mutant Massacre supplement. The first issue of the Mutant Massacre was my first X-Men comic right about at the time that Rob introduced me to role-playing games via Marvel’s RPG at the time.

I’d like to play Dogs in the Vineyard through 12 towns linked to holidays in the 12 months.

I know a few ladies who I think would really dig In a Wicked Age.

I continue to have the urge to play a nice long arc of Shock: Social Science Fiction and gather those scraps of paper minutae and turn them into a full on World Bible.

I’d like to write and play an Apocalypse World hack.

And you?