Published on 9/30/2014 Written by 5 comments

Four Reasons "Playing" RPGs is Better than Game Mastering

Last weekend, I hooked up with Rule of the Dice contributors Jason and John, as well as our resident kook Dave, to play a Google Hangouts version of John's D&D hack. (See Jason's post for more details about the game). I realized shortly after we sat down that this would be my first time PLAYING an RPG live at a table - not GMing and not play-by-post - literally in years.

About 4 years ago I played a bit of 4th Edition Encounters and Living Forgotten Realms, which... is not role-playing. It's rolling some dice, waiting twenty minutes for everyone else to argue about the interactions of their ridiculous powers, and then rolling a couple more dice when your turn comes around again. It was a grinding slog most of the time, but I played happily because it was my rare chance to sit on the other side of the screen and to create stupidly awesome (or is it awesomely stupid?) nonsensical rangers.

The last time I played before that was I believe in 2002 when Jason ran a one-off session where I completely dicked him around the whole night acting like a jackass (if I haven't apologized for that before... yeah, sorry).

(No really, that was an honest apology, I was totally a jerk)

But last weekend we gamed and it was eye opening for me. I've been playing RPGs for over 20 years, and I've Game Mastered 95-98% of every game I've been involved in. Don't get me wrong, while I do love GMing I've decided I may never do it again. Sitting on the other side of the table is so much better.

1. Way Less Stress
So here I was Friday night, rushing to get signed on at the appointed time, frantic to get the game started when it hit me: What was I rushing for? I had nothing to prepare or get ready. Signing in and grabbing my character sheet was literally all that I had to do. I didn't have a ton of notes to collect, stuff to re-read, rules to look up. My RPG experiences are usually hours of pre-game prep, wondering if it's going to work, worrying the whole time if people are into it, and then wondering afterward what I could have done differently and kicking myself for the parts I screwed up.

Why did I have to have them fight four ghouls? Why didn't I keep it three, I knew it should have been three...
Friday, I was able to sit back, relax, and let someone else do the heavy work. I had time to casually eat a bag of Doritos AND had a chance to Tweet about the game as we played. It was brilliant.

(For the record, John seemed perfectly relaxed and way more comfortable than I usually feel when running a game. Either he's a lot better at this than I am, is better at hiding his frustrations or realizes this is just a game and doesn't take it too seriously - whatever it is, kudos to you, sir. You're a better man than me.)

2. Way Less Work
I kinda hinted at this in the previous entry, but this one should be obvious. GMing is a lot of work. Work that often feels more like doing your taxes than playing a game. You have to prepare - whether that's creating your world, writing your encounters/adventures, coming up with your own rules, whatever - and it takes work and dedication. Hours of pre-game prep. I try to wing it and improvise when I can, but I worry too much about making the game seem polished and put together to leave it to chance. I feel like I need to prepare for every eventuality (I know, I know, it's impossible) and inevitably end up writing pages and pages of content and the players usually skip over 80-90% of it.

And that covers the cultural and historical significance on the carvings above the knob of the door to the first level. Now where did I put my notes about the floor?
For Friday's game, I wrote up my character in about 20 minutes weeks ago, then completely forgot about it. I didn't have to look at it again until I printed the character sheet 5 minutes before the game. It was like I was in heaven. I don't want to insult John by saying I didn't think about it or get ready for his game or anything, but it was truly such an unimaginable relief to go in and just play. Prepping a game is a ton of work and I would never imagine to not appreciate a GM's effort (except for Jason in the earlier example), but man, dude. Sometimes it's nice to not do anything.

3. It Actually Feels Like A Game
I laughed a lot. I joked around and made an ass of myself (Jason, Dave, sorry if I was a dick to you or your characters). I played with trying to give my character silly accents (haven't quite found the right one yet). It felt like it wasn't a big deal if I had to get up and use the washroom or deal with some outside issues - my stepping away wouldn't necessarily make the game grind to a halt. I didn't have to keep track of every detail of everything that was going on, there was no book-keeping or traffic direction. Part of that was because we had four experienced guys who knew what they were doing and knew the rules reasonably well, but a bigger part of that was because I didn't feel responsible for the good time of everyone at the table.

If you guys are having this much fun, your GM must be pretty miserable.
I've said before that (several times, actually) I believe it's everyone's responsibility to make sure everyone else has fun, but the GM carries the lion's share of said responsibility. The GM has to make sure everyone is engaged, that everything makes sense, that the action keeps flowing. As a player, you don't have to do that so much. Sure, you need to be respectful and open minded and not try to purposefully de-rail the game, but you have WAY fewer moving pieces to worry about than the GM, so you can concentrate on what's in front of you and having fun with it.

4. It Shows Me How to Be a Better GM
I'm sure that my weaknesses as a Game Master stems from not playing enough under different GMs. Like any game or sport, you have to play with people who are better than you in order to get better yourself.

This guy looks like he's logged, what? 7500-8000 of his 10,000 hours?
This is going to make me sound like a jackass, but bear with me because I have a point: If I had run the game John did on Friday night, I would have been extremely disappointed. In nearly three hours, very little happened. We visited one location. There were two NPCs. There was one very simple combat encounter. If it was me, it would have felt like we didn't accomplish anything (probably because I would have had 20,000 words of material we didn't get to).

But on the other of the table, we as players had a wonderful time. We bickered and joked and played our characters. We found entertainment in all the little things, and put importance in everything we did. As a GM, I always worry about making sure the players have a goal, and obvious steps they need to take, and interesting, important things they should encounter along the way. But for the players, every door, every exchange, every weird noise - it all seems important. We latch onto what we think is interesting and that becomes the memorable part of the adventure. We spent twenty minutes trying to figure out if any of our characters new how to read or not, for frigsakes, and it was hilarious. The GM is responsible for throwing some stuff in front of us, but the players are responsible for doing something with it.

To John's credit, I don't think he was disappointed and I hope he recognizes that we got a lot of enjoyment out of those three hours. I can pretty safely say that it was one of the most satisfying games I've played in years. And all we did was kill one bad guy, which I had no hand in as I spent the whole battle tied up on the floor.

Role-playing games are weird. But they can still be really, really fun.

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Published on 9/28/2014 Written by 4 comments

Characters Can Be Crazy

Most of my posts here are about board games, but in the last couple of weeks I've had two new RPG's start, one as a PBEM and one as a live on-line experience.  This has me in an RPG frame of mind, so today I'm all about that bass our last live gaming session.

We played in google hangout, and the system and world are home-brew D&D knock-offs created by +John Williams.  A couple of weeks ago he sent us a slimmed down rule book, some world background info, and let us make our characters.  The rules have a lot of random generation tables, and all 3 of us PC's used those to a fairly large degree. 

This, in my mind is point #1 where things started to go really right. Whenever I've made a character in the past, it has involved things like "What does the party need?" and "What's something really cool I can do?"  This isn't a terrible way to make a character, but it does lead to me often making similar characters with similar traits that all play in a similar manner.  Using the tables here gave me something I never would have come up with on my own - and that's a great thing.  It allowed me to break out of the mould I had been in for a long time, and forced to me really think about how my character will react in different situations.

How my character
spent the game
The second thing that lead to this being a great session is also a character creation tidbit. This game requires you to pck or generate things like background occupations, medical conditions, psychological traits, personality traits, and quirks.  Having some of this decided for me (again, by random table) set a base for me to build my character around.  It turns out I was a nervous person with a nervous little laugh, and a pyrophobe.

Part 3 of kick-ass game night was our GM.  +John Williams set a simple scene for us with almost no NPC's to worry about.  Instead the action centered on the relationship between us 3 PC's (myself, +C.D. Gallant-King and +Dave Geno).  We had just been thrown together and had to figure out how to deal with the scary things happening to us, all while not knowing how the other PC's may react. 

This is my legacy.
A few highlights of that interaction: +Dave Geno's character had a bit of a foul mouth and foul temper, and it irked my high-strung nerves.  I *MAY* have pushed him down the stairs in to the cellar where he *MAY* have put his hand through a putrefied corpse.  Later, after being hounded by a ghost, my character thought that burning the bones we found would be a sure-fire (pun intended) way to get rid of it.  Being a pyrophobe, I didn't have any experience on how best to accomplish this safely.  So I doused to place in oil, struck a spark, then fled while screaming at the top of my lungs.  I will admit that in hindsight this did very little to help ingratiate me with the rest of the party.  There were some harsh words as we stood out in the rain and watched the only shelter for miles around crumble in a smoking heap of rubble.

Now the real question is "What happens next time?"  I think I might have to watch my back, as I'm not so sure my friends will actually be friendly.

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Published on 9/24/2014 Written by 12 comments

Soundtrack to the Weird West

So that game I was bewildered about last week is happening. I still don't know if it's going to work, but I come armed with all the great feedback and suggestions that I received on the topic. If it flops at this point I have no one to blame but myself.

Apparently we're running Deadlands without calling it Deadlands or even realizing we had chosen it. When we were deciding what kind of game to try I told my group that I was willing to run one of four types of games:

1. Sci-fi (more appropriately, space opera, a la Star Wars/BSG/Serenity)
2. Zombie survival/horror
3. Western
4. Pro-wrestling (knowing no one was going to do it)

Of course, we ended up with a sci-fi/zombie/western hybrid. Just couldn't shoehorn the wrestling in there. Through brainstorming (yay, FATE!) we ended up with a vaguely wild west setting with supernatural elements, heavy on steampunk and airships (so the one guy who wanted to play Firefly could still get to be Captain Reynolds). 

I didn't want to just run Deadlands because I'm not at all familiar with it, plus I really like that everyone is getting a chance to contribute to our weird little mash-up of a world. If anything it's turning out to be more of an homage to the world of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, but that works, too.

Anyway, my point today is that we're still shaping and creating the style and mood of the game, and I thought some appropriate music would be, um, appropriate. But what kind of music fits with a weird west/steampunk/dark fantasy setting?

Here are a few I've come up with. More suggestions are welcome and encouraged!

1. Ghoultown

Anyone who calls themselves "gothabilly" or "hellbilly" is probably appropriate, which is what puts these guys on the top of the list. Their videos certainly have the look we're going for. The music might be a little too heavy for some taste (I would prefer something a little more classically western for this setting), but it's a damn fine place to start.

2. Iron Horse

These guys are f*cking awesome. Instead of taking classic downhomy stylings and metaling them up (how many words did I invent in that sentence?), they do the opposite by taking hard rock and metal and arranging them into acoustic bluegrass numbers. It adds a whole new layer of oddness and weirdness (their cover of Enter Sandman is downright creepy in a way distorted guitars can never achieve) that fits perfectly into the setting. I think.

3. Ennio Morricone

You can't go wrong with classic spaghetti westerns, and in that case you can't do better than Morricone. The Clint Eastwood "Man with No Name" movies, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Ecstasy of Gold - his soundtracks are iconic, and they have an epic, larger-than-life grandeur to them that totally works.

4. Alabama 3

A British electronic-blues-gospel-country band shouldn't work, but that's probably why it does. And it works so, so well. It's got a touch of funk that kind of throws you for a loop in a western (I can't picture Clint Eastwood or Roland Deschain shooting a guy to this soundtrack... or can I?) but if you crank up the Steampunk a few notches this becomes wildly appropriate.

5. Puscifer

I don't think this will work, I just really like this song. (CAUTION: Wildly NSFW)

So what about you, or faithful readers? What are some other good songs and bands that could score the soundtrack to a weird west/steampunk type of setting?

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Published on 9/16/2014 Written by 8 comments

GM Advice Desperately Needed (I'm In Way Over My Head)

What was I thinking?

I just had 14 people sign up to play a game I've never run, in a system I'm not familiar with, in a setting we just made up over the weekend. And Cthulhu help me, I think I'm going to go ahead with it.

It's a play by email game it not like I'm going to have 28 eyes staring at me. But it's still a lot of stuff over track of, and it will be impossible to keep everyone engaged with something to do. And because we'll be waiting for so many people to respond, we could be waiting ages between posts. So why am I considering going through with this?

Am I nuts, agreeing to do this? Should I have just cut the group off at 5, 6 or 7? I'm so bad at saying no...

I'm considering splitting it into 2 parties, which will make it more manageable, but then I will basically be running two games. Even if I run them through identical, mirrored scenarios and reuse as much material as I can, in a setting like this they're going to quickly wander off into their own directions, so I'm going to have two groups no matter what I do.

Any other advice from anyone who's run a group this big? Especially a play-by-post type of game? I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed at the moment.

For reference, this the game we're trying to play.
Art by DarkMatteria

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Published on 9/15/2014 Written by 0 comments

With but a Whimper (The Death of Another Campaign)

I am terrible at ending campaigns.

To be fair, this one did have a pretty good bang before the whimper. For reference, this is what I had as an outline for our final adventure (which I didn't know at the time would be our final adventure):

1. The party has to protect the actor during the performance. Hopefully some of them have to get on stage and take part.

2. The will be attacked by assassins trying to kill the actor, and wild mountain men on the way to the performance.

3. After the performance when they leave with their pay they will be attacked by pirates.

That was it. I thought it would take a couple of weeks of real-time and be a short and hopefully fun little scenario. I had no idea it would blow up into the huge drama that it did.

It turned into a major political insurgence. A king was killed, a princess kidnapped, a religious revolution instigated. Lost family members returned. One of the party betrayed his friends, and another died trying to be a hero. Yet another nearly died and lost an arm when he sacrificed himself to save the others, but survived because the remaining party members actually went back for him. I wasn't expecting that after all the other shit that happened.

Sounds pretty impressive, when I put it like that. The issue was that after all that cool stuff happened, with the group split and no immediate next course of action obvious, the game kind of fell apart. I could have forced the narrative along and rushed the party into the next adventure, but I really wanted to see where it would go, what the players would do when left to their own devices. Unfortunately I think they felt a little lost and overwhelmed.

"Hero-ing is getting old, man. Wanna go somewhere and get drunk and high and eat chicken fingers?"
The thing is, which I don't think the players realized, was that they had created all the awesomeness that transpired. As I said, I had a fairly bare-bones script to go by. Everything else that happened was in response to their actions, so I was waiting to see what next crazy thing they would do.

The political uprising came about because the players (rightfully) questioned why the assassins were trying so hard to kill their target, even being willing to kill themselves in the process. I determined that they weren't simply trying to kill the actor, but to destabilize the government, and had the opportunity to wreck havoc because the king and numerous important nobles were attending the performance.

The increasingly stupid conflicts in the theatre scenes were my (poor) response to keep the tension up during a lull in everyone's writing.

When all else fails, blow something up.
The religious revolution was in response to the cleric helping some of the survivors and then preaching about his god. Because the desperate refugees were so despondent and replied favourably to his promises of hope and salvation, he continued to stir the pot until he started a riot (a well-timed divine "sign" provided by the party's illusionist didn't hurt, either).

The tension with the party's patron was because they thought he was a bad guy, even though he was way more honourable than they were and was actually trying to do good things while the players subverted him at every step.

The character that died did so because he chose to save the princess all by himself without seeking help, and refused to retreat despite several opportunities to do so. While on the surface this seems incredibly stupid, it made sense in character because he was not only developing feelings for the girl but he had a long history of distrusting the rest of the group due to the stupid decisions he felt they constantly made.

The long lost relative showing up was in response to a throw-away couple of lines mentioning how one of the character's uncles may have been a PC from a long, long ago game. The player was pretty excited about this, so I decided that the pirate who was lying in wait for them would turn out to be that uncle, long thought dead. Unfortunately, when two of the PCs stole the party's ship and took off on their own (in-character they were fleeing the riot, out-of-character it was meant as a joke), they were woefully unprepared to do battle with the pirates. They made some very poor tactical decisions and had their asses handed to them, but ultimately surrendered their valuable cargo and threw in with the pirates.

"I think he's bleeding to death, dude."
"Fuck off and let me finish my coffee, then I'll
think about casting cure light wounds."
- This actually happened in the game.
And that was it. The two guys who fled are now sailing away with the pirates while the others are stuck without a ship or a clear direction (though I did give them several clues to what happened, as well as a couple of options of how to follow them). I guess it's as good a place as any to stop, and we're planning to start a new game in a different genre soon.

After writing this out I realized that maybe the game didn't end as badly as I thought. If this was a fantasy novel series this would be a pretty good cliffhanger ending for book one. The Fellowship is broken, the world is turmoil, and the future is uncertain. Maybe one day we'll come back to write book two. How will the heroes get out of this one?

The more I think about it, though, the player characters in this story really aren't the heroes...

Oh, and one last spoiler, for the players who were left behind: After Ulrich and Wicket gave the cargo to the pirates, they burned and sank the Stardust Memories.

Just thought you should know that.

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Published on 9/11/2014 Written by 5 comments

Alternate RPG settings

I've been considering running a couple of new RPG games, one as a PBEM, and one with a live group.  I've mentioned in the past that I know I'm better at running PBEM's than live games, but I'm hoping they both work well. 
But that's putting the cart ahead of the horse.  What I need to do first  is find a system, a world setting, and a campaign.
While I have a bunch of 2e and 3.5e adventure modules, I know I prefer unique worlds in the games I play.  My usual GM has an extensive world he has created and sets most of his games in it, which I really enjoy.  I hope to be able to give my players a similarly satisfying experience.  I know I don't want to go the extreme route of creating my own system the way C.D. has with Splatter-Elf.  However I am considering adapting one of the systems I know well to a unique world.

Likely the system will be 2e or Advanced Labyrinth Lord (hooray for free!), or with a bit more work, I can make my ideas work with 3.5e.  The worlds I'm considering are:

1) Robin Hobb's Farseer series.  I've read a bunch of these books over the past year, and I think they would make an ideal setting.  The bulk of the characters are standard fighters and magic is sparse.  The types of magic that do exist are subtle, with even the magic users relying heavily on physical skills.
The first magic is the "Skill."  This is the more powerful of the magics.  Skill users can speak to each other telepathically.  They can also influence other's thoughts subtly, confusing them or amplifying doubts they already may have.  Stronger (higher level) characters will also be able to use special stones located around the world to teleport, and they'll be able to look through other people's eyes.  Skill users are highly revered and are often related to the royal line.
The second magic is the "Wit."  This allows players to sense animal motivations, potentially calm hostile animals, and to be aware of other living creatures in the immediate vicinity. As they level up, they will be able to bond with a single creature and gain the use of the creatures senses, as well as fairly sophisticated communication with the animal.  The strongest users can influence the mood of other people and calm people as well.  The wit, or 'beast magic' as it is also known is feared by most of the population.  Most wit users hide their abilities to avoid being hanged, quartered and burned.
The third magic is for the only PC's that will not be fully human.  The race is known as Elderlings, and they are humans that have spent time with dragons and taken on some dragon aspects.  They are able to speak to dragons, look through a dragon's eyes, resist the charm of a dragon, and have basic telekinetic powers.  Elderlings are extremely rare, and both revered and feared at the same time.

2) Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series.  The books are based off of gaming the author did, so translating it back should be fairly easy.  Erickson created the game he played as a push-back against the D&D machine, trying to make characters that are not defined by alignments, and parties not built around a specific goal.  There are rumours of an official d20 Malazan RPG, but for now I would be happy to cobble one together.
It is a high magic world, where mages can wreak huge destruction.  Soldiers have multiple classes to choose from, as cavalry, light infantry and marine "heavies." It should be easy to adapt the spells, weapons, and races to fit a d20 game.
What makes this world more than just a different D&D background is that the adventure would be more character based than adventure based.  Rather than following a set alignment (I HAVE to be good, cuz I'm a Paladin!), characters are driven by their motivation, and follow their own moral compass.  This will be harder to run as I'll need to build the story based on character background and motivations.  I'm wary of trying this with my live group as they are newer to pen and paper RPG's but I think it could work well for my PBEM group.

I would also be very open to running a sci-fi game, but I don't know how to make one that doens't get bogged down in flight / ship to ship type combat.

Any other suggestions of settings or systems I should investigate? Thoughts on making the above ideas work?
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Published on 9/10/2014 Written by 5 comments

Sodor Stories: Thomas the Tank Engine RPG (Powered by FATE Accelerated)

Why? Short answer: Because I can.

Long answer: Because I'm still learning FATE and the best way to learn a new system is to tear it apart and make something new with it. Of course, the cool thing about FATE is that's the whole point - you're expected to tinker with it and make it your own.

I chose Thomas specifically for a number of reasons. First, a cursory glance shows no other Thomas homebrews out there. (This is a pretty awesome list of other FATE hacks, though)

(Fun aside - someone tried to make a Thomas video game RPG on Kickstarter a few weeks ago, which was quickly shut down for copyright reasons. +John Williams - I apologize in advance Gullane Entertainment shuts down Rule of the Dice for this)

Secondly, I've been watching a lot of Thomas with my son lately so it's at the front of my mind. The trains of Sodor live in an incredibly detailed and expansive world (a world with an insane amount of railroad on an island only 60 miles across). Plus, Thomas seems to have a lot of dedicated fans - The Wiki is expansive and exhaustive, and a great resource for anyone wanting to play this game.

Anyway, here are my first thoughts on how to make a Thomas the Tank Engine RPG for FATE Accelerated. This is a work in progress, so suggestions and comments are welcome.


The Game Master

The GM should be referred to as Mister (or Missus) Conductor. If he or she can speak with a British accent, all the better.

The players (the trains) should however also be encouraged to call Mister Conductor "The Fat Controller" at every opportunity.

The Players

Each player should play one of the anthropomorphic "Trains With Faces" that live and work on the Island of Sodor. Alternately, they may be able to play one of the other vehicles (like Harold the Helicopter or Bertie the Red Bus) but for simplicity I'm going to stick to the trains.


Each character's High Concept should include what kind of locomotive he or she is. The engines of Sodor are very concerned with class, and your engine's type not only affects his strengths and limits, but also strongly affects how the other locomotives will act toward you.

Engine Types

Tank Engine - A tank engine is a steam locomotive that carries its water in one or more onboard water tanks. It may also have a bunker to hold combustible fuel. The advantages to this configuration is its compact size, faster accelaration (due to the water being closer to the boiler and constantly heated) and the ability to run at full speed in both directions. For all of these reasons tank engines are favoured for industrial tasks such as shunting cars in a trainyard.

Tender Engine - A tender engine is a steam locomotive that carries its fuel in a tender car behind the engine. It is much larger and generally more powerful than a tank engine, the larger fuel supply allowing it to travel longer distances at greater speeds, but of course its size limits its maneuverability on tight turns and it is far less useful for shunting.

Diesel Engine - The more powerful diesel engines have not overtaken the railways of Sodor like the rest of the world due primarily to Sir Topham Hatt (the owner of the North Western Railroad) and his preference for the "old ways" and the "cleaner" and more traditional steam locomotives. The steam engines of Sodor are particularly distrustful of diesels, calling them dirty and lazy. This distrust has led to the diesels being argumentative and downright hostile toward the steam engines.

Tram Engine - A tram engine is a steam locomotive specially built or modified to work on a street tramway. They are governed to low speeds, do no emit smoke or steam, and are required to keep machinery concealed and to run as silently as possible. This results in obvious advantages and drawbacks. On Sodor, tram engines are not common and are considered old-fashioned and quaint.

Other Aspects

I don't think this is supposed to be scary. Why is it so terrifying?
Here are a few other sample aspects, just to get you started:

  • Arrogant
  • Vain
  • Boiler Issues
  • Hard Worker
  • Tree-Hugging Engine
  • Worrisome
  • Bad Steamer
  • Built From Rejected Plans
  • Pompous
  • Express Engine
  • Strongest Engine on Sodor
  • Proud
  • Hates Pulling Trucks
  • Prejudiced Against Silly Steamies
  • Prejudiced Against Dirty Diesels
  • Career Shunter
  • Stoked by the Devil Himself
  • Keen-Eyed Driver
  • Shabby Paint
  • I’m Not Very Useful


The standard approaches for FATE Accelerated work well, except I renamed two of them to better fit the theme:

Cheeky (flashy) - Your engine is a boisterous jokester that solves problems with a laugh and a wink
Chuff (forceful) - Your engine is tough and powerful and solves problems with grit and determination
Clever - Your engine is smart and shrewd and solves problems with logic
Quick - Your engine is speedy and agile, and likes to outrun problems
Sneaky - Your engine is a sly conniver who solves problems through trickery or outright dishonesty
Careful - Your engine is cautious and solves problems by taking taking time and limiting risks

Stress and Consequences

Handled normally. Consequences will be injures and damages to your train, such as busted wheels, over-heated boilers, an injured fireman, etc. Appearance is very important to the trains of Sodor, so something as simple as scratched paint or muddy bumpers could be considered at least a Mild Consequence.

Being "taken out" is a derailment, of course. While derailments on Sodor are frighteningly common and usually spectacular, they are rarely life-threatening for the trains. The will be back in an episode or two, more or less as good as new, though it is common for a rebuilt train to have a few bugs that must be worked out. Even after a train is repaired/rebuilt, any Severe Consequences should remain for a few sessions, a lasting reminder of their failure.

Campaign Setting

The way I see it, there are two ways to run Thomas the RPG:

Version One: Classic Sodor Stories

The sessions of the game are run just like episodes of the television show or stories in the books. Mister Conductor gives the player characters a task or series of tasks to complete, and they must either work together or separately to complete them.

Tasks will usually involve moving objects or people from one part of the island to another, possibly with a time limit. There will of course be complications to the task, such as damaged tracks, or farm animals blocking the route, or the object not being ready (or in the wrong place) at the appointed time. The players will have to decide how to get around these obstacles and complete their job.

The important thing to remember in this version is that Usefulness is the most important thing in the world to these engines. They exist only to be the best they can be at their jobs. This creates competitiveness between the engines, as each of them strive for Sir Topham Hatt's approval as well as the honour of being the most Useful Engine on Sodor.

Failing a task is a huge mark of dishonour on an engine, and should be considered at least a Major Consequence that the character must live with until he redeems himself through hard work and determination. Fear of failure is so great that even engines that are normally friendly will sometimes leave an ally behind if it means the difference between succeeding or failing at their assigned duty.

Version Two: Sodor Wars

This is a gonzo version of Thomas the Tank Engine where the steam locomotives and the diesels have finally engaged in a full-fledged war. The Government of Britain has kicked Sir Topham Hatt out of power for his backward ways and ordered the diesels to take control of the railway. The players could be the steamies, fighting for survival, or the diesels, finally seeking revenge for years of mockery and subjugation.

While wildly inappropriate in normal circumstances, in this version you would be encouraged to mount machine guns and rocket launchers on your engines.

Usefulness is still important to the engines, but it means something different now. For the Steamies, being Useful means being able to keep your friends alive. Sometimes sacrificing yourself for the greater good is the most Useful action your engine can hope to achieve. For the Diesels, Usefulness is completing the orders of your superiors and fulfilling the ultimate task: conquering Sodor. Again, if you must sacrifice yourself to fulfill this goal so be it - your Usefulness will be honoured and remembered for generations to come.


That's the game and setting in a nutshell. I still need to compile a list of sample stunts and some sample characters. I've also considered making "Usefulness" a full-fledged mechanic (or maybe renaming Fate Points "Usefulness Points" or something like that). Something to really make it a living and important part of the system.

Again, this is just for fun, and any comments and suggestions are welcome.

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Published on 9/04/2014 Written by 0 comments

Sometimes Simple Just Works

Simple has worked for Vin Diesel - this is some of his best acting.
I've been introduced to some new games in the last little while that I've really enjoyed, and they have one thing in common - They are incredibly simple.  Rather than a lot of the Euro style games, that are already quite accessible with rules like "Do 1 of 4 things on each turn" these come down to "play a card, pick a card."  With such simple instructions, they are great for introducing new players to the world of gaming, yet they are detailed enough within each move to hold the interest of seasoned players.

The first game I'll mention is Guillotine.  12 "nobles" are lined up to be beheaded, and players try to collect the more valuable cards.  Using rules on the cards themselves, and on the cards in their hands, they play with the order of the line to aid their own score, or to try to prevent other players from getting a good score.  After 3 rounds, the points are totaled.  The cards have simple actions to them, like "move 2 forward" or "move any 1 noble back 1."  Concepts that are easy to grasp and play with, but that can also allow for planning more than one move ahead.

The second game is Poo, the Card Game.  It's a ridiculous premise that just adds to the fun.  You are all monkeys in the zoo, and you fling (imaginary!) poo at each other.  Players covered by 15 pieces of poo are eliminated.  Players always have 5 cards in their hands, and take turns either throwing poo at another player, cleaning poo
"Not in the face!"
off of themselves, or modifying the rules in a simple way.  As a 2 player game, it is an entertaining time-waster, but in a larger group is where the game really shines.  The unpredictable actions of the other players redirecting poo, choosing different targets for their poo, etc. make it a wild ride.  Players can come back from the brink of being eliminated, or a leading player can have a run of bad luck and be pooped out in one or two turns.  I admit that the mechanic isn't particularly clever, but the artwork and silliness of the subject matter keep it entertaining.

Finally is a game that has sky-rocketed in popularity over the last 18 months or so.  Cards Against Humanity.  For those who don't know, this is a game where players take turn asking questions off of the black coloured cards, ("Why am I sticky?") and the other players answer with their best, most appropriate, funniest, or most inappropriate white coloured card ("Surprise sex!").  The player that asked the question chooses the answer they deem best, and the player who supplied it gets a point.  There are multiple expansions, but in one of my groups, the best
answers are the ones that are home-made.This game is great at parties, and is enjoyed by people who aren't necessarily traditional gamers.  The only drawback is that the subject matter limits who you may be willing / should play with.  Friends? yes.  Children? No.  Coworkers? Parents? In-Laws?  Maybe...

I know a lot of hard-core gamers will scoff at this blog post, but I promise, sometimes the most fun is when you're not bogged down in strategy and instead can be social and fling poo at each other.
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