Last night, we ran two tables of #threeforged  playtests.

Last night, we ran two tables of #threeforged  playtests.

Last night, we ran two tables of #threeforged  playtests.  My table played Children’s Radio Hour and Fear of the Dark.

Children’s Radio Hour

Wow, this game.  This is another one that I love, in theory, just because it’s such a unique idea.  All of the players are actors on a children’s radio show.  Each player has a different agenda that they are trying to subtly push through the story while still keeping it, on its face, nothing more than a light children’s tale.  The game has a strict one hour time limit and you aren’t allowed to break character, except for during a handful of commercial breaks.  In general, when it’s working, it works well.  Our radio play was fun.  I’m led to believe that it’s got a similar vibe to Puppetland, in that you can’t just narrate what your character is doing in third person, it’s all kid-friendly first person narration, e.g. “Now, I’m casting a magic spell on you.  Abracadabra!”

To help out with your improvising, you’ve got a stack of index cards with prompts for “characters”, “locations”, and “things” in the middle of the table that you can pull from when you want to incorporate something new into the play.  In the beginning of the game, before you start the timer, every person creates one of each, but you should be writing more constantly since writing leading prompts is the best way to get your agenda into the play. 

Here’s the problem though: there are so many things going on in real-time that it’s almost impossible to do them all and bring your A-game to the roleplaying.  Here’s a short list of what you should be doing / holding in your head at all times:

* Roleplaying your character (or, more likely, multiple characters)

* Keeping track of who the other players are roleplaying (multiple characters each)

* Writing prompt cards (don’t forget to incorporate your agenda when writing them).  This is super important; we kept running out.

* Pushing your agenda in the roleplay

* Listening for other actors to say things that help with your agenda and giving them a token when they do

* Every time a new character is introduced, note it on the master name list so you don’t reuse the name

* As the Station Manager, watch the clock so you can let everyone know when commercial breaks begin and end

* As the Station Manager, listen for people breaking character or causing lulls and throw dead air tokens

Holy Cognitive Load, Batman!  That is just too much.  It would probably get a little better on successive playthroughs, but it’s still going to be too much to keep track of to really be engaged in the roleplaying to the extent that you should be.  The really onerous requirement is writing the prompt cards during play (each card has multiple parts, also, like 3 details for a character or a location name and two details about it).  We decided that either writing a ton of prompts in the beginning or dividing the players into actors and writers (who had their own agendas and just wrote prompts the whole time) would probably go a long way to making this game more approachable.  As it is, we threw in the towel at the halfway mark.  It was fun, but everyone was just mentally exhausted, we’d already burned through all of the index cards that we had at the table, and we had sort of lost the thread of our play.  

This one joins Timelines in the pile of games that are great ideas but really ask a lot of the players.  After the singularity, once our brains are all uploaded to computers, I’ll play this one again and it will be great.

Fear of the Dark

I really like this one.  It’s about kids, who are supposed to be in bed while the grown-ups do mysterious grown-up things in another part of the house, sneaking out of their beds to try to accomplish little mundane tasks that are preventing them from sleeping.

Accomplishing these tasks, though, will force the kids to creep through the dark house, where they imagine all sorts of things that are out to get them.  It’s delightful.  There’s a definite joy in describing mundane things as if they are horrible monsters.  The tree-branch shaped shadows outside the window?  That’s clearly a monstrous octopus.  Creepy doll in the attic? OHMYGODRUN!

One really smart design choice in this game is that it’s on the kids to scare themselves.  For example, the GM might describe a generic, easily-explained noise, then ask the players what they think it was.  When the players describe whatever horrible thing they imagine made the noise, the GM agrees and goes from there.  It creates a really fun dynamic where as players, we pretty much all know the actual, mundane explanation as to what’s going on, but simultaneously, we are holding onto the kids’ fantastic, scary interpretation of it and acting on that.

Any time the kids push themselves to confront their fears, there is a nice, simple card-based resolution mechanic to determine if they succeed or not.  If they fail, they have two options.  First, they can choose to react in a kid-like manner, e.g., running to the adults, screaming for help, running back to their beds.  Alternatively, they can choose to be “touched by the darkness”.  When kids are touched by the darkness, they actually see through their fear and realize that the thing they were so afraid of wasn’t anything scary after all, e.g. “Oh, it was just a tree branch after all.”  If a kid gets touched by the darkness too many times, they outgrow their fears but in the process they lose the ability to see the world with as much wonder as they once did.

Once this happens to a player, they start working with the darkness to help scare the remaining children.

So yeah, I really like this one.  There are a couple small things that seem a little unnecessary.  For some reason, the game runs for exactly one hour.  I’m not sure that adds anything.  We ignored the timer when it ran out and finished out our story.  Also, there’s a notion of a winning player, but it has literally no function other than saying “Great, you win!” at the end.  We forgot to even check who won at the end of our game and no one missed it.

I think for me, this falls right below Field Work on my list, but it’s solidly in second place.  I’d happily play it again.

On Sunday we playtested three more games from the #Threeforged contest: Field Work, In a Week of Sharks, and It is…

On Sunday we playtested three more games from the #Threeforged contest: Field Work, In a Week of Sharks, and It is…

On Sunday we playtested three more games from the #Threeforged contest: Field Work, In a Week of Sharks, and It is Forbidden. My thoughts will be brief, but my co-conspirators (Daniel Lewis Russell Benner Steve Mains) should share their opinions in the comments.

Field Work 

In Field Work, you play tech workers who go out to the homes and businesses of clients and assist them with network connections, router problems, computer issues, and so forth. But here’s the kicker, and it’s an excellent one: about a year or so ago, supernatural occurrences became a regular part of life. So, for example, you might go out to repair a client’s computer, only to discover the reason it isn’t working properly is because it has been possessed by a demon. Or maybe the cable lines are down because zombie vultures have been chewing on them. In addition to dealing with mundane and/or supernatural tech issues, you also have to do debriefs with your employer, as well as a scene in which you hang out with your co-workers during lunch hour. The overall vibe is InSpectres by way of Office Space, and it is  very well-realized in play.

The rules in this one are very near perfect (one or two minor quibbles, but nothing major). They got us to the outcome promised on the front of the box, and, as you may know if you listen to our podcast, that is the best compliment I can give a game. The way it works is you go out to the job (individually) and the Mundane GM (the player to your right) sets the scene and explains what’s going wrong. You engage in a little freeform RP and then roll a pair of dice, one black and one white. If the white die is higher, then the problem is a mundane one and can be solved with a mundane solution. If the black die is higher, then the Supernatural GM will explain how there is actually a supernatural issue in play. The player can then decide whether to handle it with a mundane solution or a supernatural solution. And this is where the game shines. You keep rolling dice in an attempt to solve the problem. Sometimes you solve it right away, but often the problem gets worse, or a mundane problem suddenly becomes a supernatural one. The player has a certain number of moves in which to solve the problem. If he is having a tough time, he can spend a Bond with another tech to get help from them. If he doesn’t solve the problem in time, he just leaves and heads back to base, where he will probably get chewed out a little bit during debrief. 

What my explanation of the rules does not capture is how GOOD this game feels in play. The comedy level is really high, and flows pretty naturally from explanations of the die results, and the various complications that occur on the job. We were laughing and having a really great time. The rules were doing their job, but also getting out of the way enough for us to let our RP breathe. I loved it. 

This game is definitely my #1 for Threeforged right now. 

In a Week of Sharks

Props to these guys for the In a Wicked Age/Shark Week title joke. I got a good chuckle out of that. 

You know, I have mixed feelings on this one. I don’t think I liked it as much as the rest of the table, but I still had a lot of fun. The rules work pretty well, though the game has a few odd features. The biggest one is the division of characters between Protagonist and Antagonist, and the fact that the characters are all on-sight for different reasons (or entirely different stories). It wasn’t game-breaking or anything, but it was just weird. It was unclear to me what the purpose was for dividing the characters up in this manner. 

The Rock/Paper/Scissor thing (called Fin/Teeth/Tail here) was cute, I guess, but I didn’t feel like it was adding much to the proceedings. It felt a little weird that you do it before you play out the scene in order to determine how the scene will resolve. I’m curious why they didn’t go with the more typical “play out the scene to a point of conflict and then go to conflict resolution.” Again, not a game-breaker, just a design decision I couldn’t understand. 

All-in-all, it was fun, but while playing it, the only thing I could think about was how fun it would be to do The Final Girl in this setting, or to re-skin Zombie Cinema for Jaws. 

It is Forbidden

I had mixed feelings on this one, too. It tells a Dog Eat Dog-esque tale of two peoples, natives and newcomers. Except, in truth, it doesn’t really tell a tale at all. It is closer to the The Quiet Year in that it isn’t really a roleplaying game as much as it is an exercise designed to explore a theme. You can play the game in a more RP-focused manner, but we chose not to play it that way because 1) the rules seemed to heavily imply this was an optional style of play and 2) it looked like it would have a problem similar to Microscope, in which the RP seems disjointed and out of place. 

This one has a set-up process in which you answer questions about each team’s respective people. As I have mentioned before, I love set-ups that involve answering a list of questions, because it forces you to think critically about the setting, and this one is admirable in that way. The actual gameplay is a little less interesting, being played out over three rounds in which each player describes their people taking an action, and someone from the other people explaining how they stop them from doing it and then declaring a law by saying “It is forbidden to do X because . . .” You end up with a series of laws on each side, and then have a discussion as as group about whether the two people will go to war. It works fine, but each individual scene is not particularly exciting because the outcome for each turn is pre-determined, leading to no actual tension. 

In the end, there just isn’t much here. Everything works fine, but it’s all a little underwhelming. It took us less than an hour to play an entire game, but we didn’t really feel like we played a game. It felt more like a really complete set-up process for some other game. Again, nothing offensive here, and everything works ok; it just needs to be fleshed out. 

On Friday, we played the #Threeforged games The Clinic and Timelines.

On Friday, we played the #Threeforged games The Clinic and Timelines.

On Friday, we played the #Threeforged games The Clinic and Timelines. I’m going to make my thoughts fairly brief, but will invite the other players (Steve Mains Daniel Lewis Daniel Fowler and Scott Owen)  to offer their thoughts in the comments. 

The Clinic 

I was very interested in the concept of this game, which involves a group of test subjects being held in a mysterious clinic run by an alien staff. The game has a fun character creation process in which you write pairs of descriptors and memory fragments, and then combine two of those descriptor/memory pairs to make a PC. The setup also has a list of questions that must be answered about the Clinic and the Staff. I love procedures like that, because they tend to get you in the right headspace for the game, and force you to think critically about the setting before you begin play. 

Unfortunately, the game is unplayable in its current state. By my estimation, it would have taken us approximately fifteen hours to finish a single game (and I believe it was intended as a one-shot). The setting could have been handled very effectively with a clean, simple scene-framing and resolution system like you might find in Archipelago. Instead, it has layers and layers of mechanical complexity. For example, there are fourteen different scene types, each of which is handled a little differently, mechanically-speaking. There is a competitive card game layered on top of that, the outcome of which dictates not only conflict resolution, but also your character’s ultimate fate in the game. None of this is helped by the fact the rules are not organized in a way that makes it easy to understand what is going on. I’m certain if we were more experienced with the game, we would have been able to handle it all a little more smoothly, but I’m not sure the payoff would be worth investing that kind of time. 

I hope the designers go back and playtest and revise, though, because there is definitely a lot to like here in terms of setting. Ultimately, it just needs to be cleaner and simpler, and it would be a winner. 


We had much better luck with this game, in which the whole group plays out the life (lives?) of a time traveler named Jamie Titor. The setup, which involves playing out several events in Jamie’s life he has regrets about, is really damn cool. The gameplay proper involves each player taking on the role of a different Jamie (Jamie-A, Jamie-B, Jamie-C, and so forth) who has discovered time travel, and is now going back in time to repair the events in his past that are causing him regret. Of course, as you might expect, there are consequences to doing that, and a series of ripples might cause new developments down the timeline, for better or worse. 

The fundamentally cool thing about this game is that each new Jamie has a different set of regrets, because they experienced things in a manner different than Jamie Prime (called Jamie-XX), based on how the timeline has been altered. As a result, each new Jamie is going back in time, fiddling with things, making them worse or better, and invoking the ire of other Jamies, who may themselves go back in time to stop a prior Jamie. It’s a wonderful mindfuck, and I really loved it . . . in theory. 

While it’s pretty clear the rules technically work, in play, the game has a very practical problem: the amount of bookkeeping that has to be done is bonkers. The game routinely stops, sometimes for 10 minutes or more, as the last player writes down all the changes and adjustments that have to be made before the next player can have their turn. It was a real heartbreaker, because it’s obvious when you sit down to play that what is taking place is really damn cool. 

I don’t know who the authors of this game are, but I would happily offer my assistance to get this game into a form that is practical to play. I’m very fond of it. 

We are going to play the #Threeforged games Timelines and The Clinic tonight.

We are going to play the #Threeforged games Timelines and The Clinic tonight.

We are going to play the #Threeforged games Timelines and The Clinic tonight. They are very complex, but damn interesting. Wish us luck!

Episode 26 of The Gauntlet Podcast is out today!

Episode 26 of The Gauntlet Podcast is out today!

Episode 26 of The Gauntlet Podcast is out today! In this one, Scott joins us to talk about the trials of being a new GM. We also discuss some GM’ing tips and best practices.

Other things on the menu:

Avery Mcdaldno’s Monsterhearts

Jason Morningstar’s Night Witches

Andrew Medeiros’s Urban Shadows

Zombie Cinema

Vincent Baker’s In a Wicked Age

Dungeon World

#Threeforged (with apologies to Paul Czege, as I was still a little salty about my Stage 1 game on the day of recording).

I’m living for all these “reviews” of #Threeforged games, many of which involve snap judgments and don’t actually…

I’m living for all these “reviews” of #Threeforged games, many of which involve snap judgments and don’t actually…

I’m living for all these “reviews” of #Threeforged games, many of which involve snap judgments and don’t actually say anything helpful about the game in question. Granted, there are a lot of good first impressions out there, but some of these people are just like “Oh, I read this one sentence I disagree with and then bailed.” Really? Thanks for your insight, homeboy.

As an aside, I’d like to point out we’re actually playing the games we choose to discuss. 

Last night we played the #Threeforged  games  Ultranormal Encounters and Last Year’s Magic.

Last night we played the #Threeforged  games  Ultranormal Encounters and Last Year’s Magic.

Last night we played the #Threeforged  games  Ultranormal Encounters and Last Year’s Magic.

In Ultranormal Encounters, players are a group of people who have been abducted by some entity, and who are now being questioned by government agents (who are also played by the players) about what happened. Each of the abductees has a different interpretation of the events, and gameplay involves a series of cuts between each of them telling their version of events, and either supporting or refuting what the other characters are saying. 

The start of the game, which involves selecting a scenario containing certain facts and character types, and then subtly tweaking those facts and characters to give you a unique set-up, is pretty fun. The gameplay is also enjoyable. . . to a point. While it is undeniably fun to cast doubts on each character’s story and then smash-cut away to see if another character backs them up, our game started to feel like a drag after awhile. Part of the problem is the characters begin with wildly different versions of what happened (this is determined in set-up), and so the conflicting stories between players start to really defy belief, and even turn downright comic. I think an easy fix would be to simply have two disputed versions of what ultimately happened to the characters, with each character on one side or the other, and to have those differing versions of events have some similarities so as to avoid gonzo outcomes. 

Another reason our game started to drag is the mechanical pacing is off. We eventually threw in the towel and just stopped, but, per the rules of the game, we probably could have kept going for another 2 hours. As mentioned, the smash-cut gameplay, in which you tell an increasingly convoluted (and contradictory) tale, is pretty fun, but it wears out its welcome after about an hour. The rules need to be revised to get you to an earlier, cleaner endgame. 

All that said, this game has a ton of potential. I hope the designers go back and fiddle with it, because I really love the concept and would love to see what the game could be with a little more time in the oven. 

Last Year’s Magic is a competitive game about a group of wizards in a pub trying to solve problems with magic. The game involves some free roleplay between the wizards, an imminent problem arising, and then the wizards proposing a magical solution to that problem. Gameplay is a simple trick-taking card affair, with each suit representing a certain magical approach to the problem, such as Connections Between People or Imposing Your Will to Alter Reality. Players describe their magical approach as they lay their card facedown in the hopes that others will play a lower card of the same suit, since a player wins the trick if their suit is the dominant one played and they played the highest value of that suit. Of course, you can’t be too obvious about what your suit is, because if all the cards are the same suit, it’s a bust, and the player with the highest card played in that circumstance loses a bunch of points. 

The way in which you try to influence the cards played via your narration is a very interesting component, but, all-in-all, the trick-taking card game was the least compelling thing about Last Year’s Magic. We had a lot more fun just playing our zany wizards, thinking-up problems to tackle, and then describing our magical solutions. The card game part of it felt like an afterthought (and, in some cases, really slowed things down). Which is not to say we didn’t have fun. In fact, we had a great time. But I think we had fun despite the core gameplay, not because of it. 

I think there is a way to keep the competitive aspect of Last Year’s Magic intact, while also enhancing the RP that is happening at the table. As it stands, the competitive aspect of the game just feels like a thing that has to be dealt with before you can get back to the fun stuff. 

Daniel Lewis Russell Benner and Kristen D might also chime-in with their thoughts. 

Thoughts on tonight’s #Threeforged games are forthcoming.

Thoughts on tonight’s #Threeforged games are forthcoming.

Thoughts on tonight’s #Threeforged games are forthcoming. In the meantime, we’re going to play more of these games on Friday and Sunday. Is there an entry you’d like us to try and report on?

We’re playtesting a couple of #Threeforged games tonight. We’ll report back on how they go.

We’re playtesting a couple of #Threeforged games tonight. We’ll report back on how they go.

We’re playtesting a couple of #Threeforged games tonight. We’ll report back on how they go.

My Stage 1 game didn’t make it through to the end for #threeforged :-(.

My Stage 1 game didn’t make it through to the end for #threeforged :-(.

My Stage 1 game didn’t make it through to the end for #threeforged :-(. I’m surprisingly bummed out about it. Like, “my enthusiasm for the contest is completely drained” bummed out.