Gateway 2015: Project Cassandra Retrospective Part 1

Of the three games I ran at Gateway 2015 the one I was most apprehensive about was Project Cassandra, most simply because it was the first time I’d run it for people I didn’t know. There are a number of steps between now and publishing it, the first of which is working out what needs changed so this summary will try and pull together my thoughts about how it went in order to get me thinking about edits.

The blurb

Project Cassandra: 4 Minutes to Midnight
The Cold War. A time of spies, paranoia & fear. A top secret research project into ESP yields startling results, only to be betrayed from the inside after the subjects receive a shocking premonition: The President is due to be assassinated at an upcoming rally. Fleeing from the flames and with only their developing psychic abilities to aid them can the subjects stop the attack, or is the Cold War about to turn Hot?
All in all not too bad but a little on the short side and could have had more details, especially about the system given nobody would be familiar with it. Definitely something that I’ll need to work on a little.

The Questions

Part of my aim with Project Cassandra was to give the players an element of control in determining the setup for the game. The characters are psychics after all. Prior to this I’d already decided on a number of elements, designed to frame the questions. Firstly it was 1969, Nixon is a year into his presidency and Apollo 12 has just returned from the moon with news of a startling discovery. The project members have learned of this through one of their visions and that President Nixon will announce the discovery to the world in 3 days during a speech at MIT. Unfortunately for the President they’ve also predicted that the President will be assassinated during said speech, spinning the world into the chaos of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

For the Gateway game this led to the following questions (and answers from the players):

  1. The assassin will strike during the President’s speech. What will be their primary method?
    A prototype robot, unveiled by the President earlier in the speech.
  2. What did the Apollo missions discover that has led to the assassination attempt?
    A clearly unnatural monolith, of unknown origin.
  3. How are the Russian’s involved? Or are they just scapegoats?
    The Russian’s have reprogrammed the robot to stop the US from being able to claim the monolith first.
  4. Who do you need to find at the diner on Highway 29?
    Yuri ‘the defector’ (We left details about Yuri deliberately vague)
  5. What is Senator Rickman’s role in the plot?
    He is a spy for the Russian’s

All in all this provided a good setup, I already had ideas for a number of scenes lined up, such as the diner but until this point I didn’t know who they were meeting or why. The robot, well that threw me but that’s the point of the questions, to mix things up for the GM. All in all, a good start to the game.

Next up, the game itself.

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Project Cassandra Non-update

It’s been a month since Gateway and ideally I’d have wanted to have had an updated document for Project Cassandra up by now. Work and DIY at home have, unfortunately been sucking up more time than I’d have hoped.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any progress, the rules updates are almost complete, though widening the skill list is proving more challenging than I’d expected. The next immediate step is a revision of the text in general after which I’m aiming to solicit feedback from a few RPG design communities.

Then comes the big steps, artwork and layout. My drawing skills are pretty much non-existent so if I want to get some artwork in there it means commissioning some. At a minimum the aim is character images plus a cover though I’ve got ideas for a few other images if I can afford them. Layout I’m likely to try myself, the rules are short enough that they shouldn’t need too complex a setup and it’s about time I played around with Scribus.

Fingers crossed it won’t be another month until I get the update out but I’ll wait and see on that one.

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Gateway 2015: General Roundup

A few Thursdays ago (3rd September to be exact) began the journey that had resulted from one of my wackier ideas of late, I set off to Gateway 2015, one of the Strategicon gaming conventions run throughout the year at the Hilton at Los Angeles Airport. For those that don’t know me this was, all in all, a rather wacky idea for the simple reason that I live in the UK and I was basically going to the other side of the world just for the gaming convention, having set aside only a single day of the trip to be a tourist.

Why would I undertake such a trip? Because of the fine folks of the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, and the rather amazing community that has grown up around the show. Since leaving Glasgow three and a half years ago the amount of gaming I’m doing has drastically reduced and those games I do play in are primarily run online. I miss face to face games and most of all I miss doing them with friends. So I flew five and a half thousand miles for the chance to play in games with people I only knew online and from podcasts. Sounds crazy right?

Turns out while it was crazy it was also one of the best weekends of gaming I’ve ever had and all the people I met were genuinely brilliant fun to be around and I got to have a great time in the games I played in / run. I’m aiming to do separate posts for the three games I ran (Project Cassandra, Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors and Firefly) but first a quick round up of Gateway itself.

Continue reading

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Project Cassandra: Gateway Beta Edition

This past weekend I ran Project Cassandra at a convention (Gateway 2015 in Los Angeles) for the first time using a scenario called 4 Minutes to Midnight (I’m thinking of incorporating that into the actual game title). It was the first time I’d brought together all the rules and complete character sheets into a single file, which can now be downloaded from the following link: Project Cassandra Gateway Beta Edition.

A full session report will follow shortly, as soon as I get past the jet lag. Suffice to say it highlighted a few things that worked really well and a few that didn’t. The biggest issue was the target numbers, characters typically had either too many applicable specialities or had virtually none. Coupled with the premonition mechanic whereby they were only rerolling failed dice and it ended up being harder than it should have to challenge the characters. I’ve already started incorporating some relatively simple fixes into the system which should sort these issues, the main changes being:

  • Changing the specialities of each character to broaden their scope while reduce the number that can be easily combined
  • Premonitions will now re-roll all the dice with the best result being kept
  • Remove 1 premonition from each stack (essential for con games)
  • Add suggestions for actions requiring multiple successes (such as tough opponents)

All in all the changes aren’t too major and hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate them relatively quickly, after that the next step is artwork and layout.

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JackerCon – Children of the Com

Been a while since I’ve posted much, mostly due to a lack of gaming but wanted to share this blurb for an upcoming online game I’ll be running on G+ (yes it still exists). Leave a comment or find me on G+ if you’re interested in playing.

Date: 20th July Time: 20:00 BST (19:00 UTC)
Setting: Post-apocalyptic science fantasy
Maximum number of players: 4

As told by the Elder to those embarking on the Trial of Adulthood:

Long ago, a wise and mighty tribe left their dying home in search of new lands to settle. They wandered for many years with their great machines carrying then far into the darkness before tragedy befell them and a great plague decimated their numbers. Those that survived found themselves trapped in this great valley we now call home and the Com, the wisest amongst them, declared that the one great tribe should become the many that now inhabit the valley. In the many years since we may have lost the ancient knowledge but our people, the Children of the Com, remains respected for its wisdom and fair judgement.

Now, young ones, it is time for you to claim your place as adults amongst our people. You must travel to Warden Isle and the Library of Souls. There you will receive the Blessings of the Ancestors and your place in our world will be revealed. To protect and guide you the Com gifts you these wonders from the before. Use them wisely, for many in the wilderness would seek their power.

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Chernobyl: Modern Apocalypse

Gaming settings are awash with post-apocalyptic environments, everything from zombies to alien invasions to natural catastrophe. Decaying city ruins are a core feature of many of these settings with the creators typically drawing inspiration from historical examples of cities ruined by war. Thankfully cities that have simply been abandoned to nature are rare in the real world, though there is one notable and chilling exception. Chernobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation radiates 30km from the station and covers not only the city itself but the surrounding villages. Since the evacuation of residents within the zone 28 years ago the city and it’s buildings have been left to decay with minimal human interference. While film crews have recorded the decay of the city in the past a recent documentary for CBS News captured the city using drones for the first time. Postcards from Pripyat collects together some of the footage and combines with it a haunting soundtrack, the result needs to be seen to be believed:

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

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Character Creation: I have never…

When it comes to character creation I’m generally in favour of collaborative approaches that involve both the players and GM working together to flesh out both the PCs and their connection to the world. Some systems explicitly incorporate mechanisms to achieve this, such as the relationship maps of Smallville or the ‘phase trio’ (shared past adventures) of FATE Core while many groups use their own approaches such as the group template espoused by the  Fear the Boot podcast. Regardless of the approach I’ve found that they tend towards generating both a cohesive group and a more interesting world.

With that in mind I wanted to share an approach to this that I recently experienced during character creation for an upcoming FATE Accelerated game, which uses a variation on the drinking game ‘I have never…’ For those not familiar with the original game the rules are quite simple, as you go around the group each person makes a statement concerning something they have never done, for example “I have never been arrested” and anybody for whom the statement is true takes a drink. Should nobody drink then the person who made the declaration takes a drink. Pretty simple really.

The character creation version follows the same approach but with the ‘I have never…’ statement being something that your character has (probably) never done. Should any of the other players like the statement they simply take a (metaphorical) drink and incorporate it into their backstory. In the event that nobody drinks it bounces back and becomes true for the person that said it, ensuring that everybody says something interesting as it could end up being true for their character. The real beauty of the approach is that multiple people can ‘drink’, introducing not only shared backstory but organisations and NPCs for the game.

As an example for our upcoming game we decided only on a very bare framework before embarking on ‘I have never…’ Firstly that we would be in a western setting but that our twist to the genre would be vampires. That was it. Going round the group we then made our statements which included:

  • I have never shot a man in cold blood (made by the GM, with all players taking a drink).
  • I have never robbed the Pan Pacific Railway (which I introduced with the other 3 players taking drinks).
  • I have never been an Initiate of the Order of the Night (to which 2 players drank, we later decided this was a vampiric order).
  • I have never learned the truth about what goes on at Mallories Ranch (to which I was the only taker).

After a few rounds of this we took these statements and used them to build both our characters and expand upon the party connections through FATEs phase trio mechanic. By the end we had interesting characters with real depth and a viable reason for them to have come together for the short campaign, which will allow us to skip straight to the action when we get going.

All in all I can’t wait for either the game itself or a chance to use the approach the next time I’m a GM.

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Anton Mikalev

eastwood-gun-2_1808554iAnton Mikalev, retired Alliance marine.

Served pre-Unification War as a marine corpsman, didn’t get called up during the war due to earlier medical discharge. Oldest child (Anna) was killed in the war after following Anton’s career choices. Wife (Lin) and son (Jacob) left him because of it and moved further into the core. Since then Anton has drifted from planet to planet, ship to ship, occasionally bottle to bottle trying to find something to believe in.


Late 50’s / Early 60’s. Lean build with weathered face, dressed in old slacks with a dirty long service jacket. Often carries an Alliance service rifle though it spends a lot of time behind the bar of the Mine Cart on Regina.

Mental d10
Physical d8
Social d6

Medical Student
Skills: Know, Operate, Treat

Skills: Fight, Shoot, Throw
Trigger: Hail of bullets. When you take out an NPC with a SHOOT action, take or step up a Complication to automatically take out another from the scene.

Skills: Craft, Influence, Notice
Trigger: Old war wound. Gain 1PP when you step back your PHYSICAL for a scene as an old injury acts up.

Craft d6        Drive d4            Fight d6
Fix d4            Fly d4                Focus d4
Influence d6        Know d6 (Alliance military)    Labor d4
Move d6    (Zero-G)    Notice d8            Operate d6
Perform d4        Shoot d10            Sneak d6
Survive d4        Throw d6            Treat d10 (Bullet wounds)
Trick d4

Signature Assets
Service Rifle d8
Family photo d6 (of Anton, wife and two teenage kids)

Review: Don’t Starve Giants Edition (PS Vita)

This was originally written for the Nearly Enough Dice podcast blog.dontstarveAs Liz mentioned towards the end of Episode 147 of the podcast I’ve been playing a lot of Don’t Starve lately, mostly on my way to and from work. When I say playing what I actually mean is running around in a panic trying to survive another night (my first game I made it to all of the 3rd night before dying) or running away from whatever monster I’ve managed to provoke this time.

But wait, playing it on my commute? Yes, for Don’t Starve is now out for the Playstation Vita!

The Game

For those who may not be familiar with Don’t Starve it is a survival adventure game by Klei Entertainment where your character is thrown into an unforgiving landscape and must work their way up from building simple objects like a flaming torch or an axe to managing a complex set of resources that allow you to survive the harshness of winter and the various giant monsters that inhabit the world. The game is notoriously difficult, with little in game guidance of how to progress, made all the more difficult by the permadeath that figures heavily in the early stages of game play. Liz’s actual plays (Episode 1, Episode 2 & Episode 3) provide a good example of the early stages of the game.

Survival through exploration is the key to the game and thanks to the large maps, randomly generated for each playthrough, no two games are ever the same. The world can be customised to suit your preferences by reducing or increasing the frequency of particular features such as monsters or resources while the multiple different characters each bring a unique ability to the game, such as Wilson’s ability to grow an amazing beard (which is more useful than it sounds).

Beyond the default Survival mode there exists a secondary Adventure mode, accessed by finding a special location in the survival mode map. Adventure mode ramps up the difficulty by challenging you to escape your imprisonment by travelling to other locations which are even less hospitable. My one and only attempt at this mode dropped me straight into a harsh frozen wasteland with sparse resources and an extremely long night period. I lasted a day before being thrown back into the Survival mode world though to be fair I’ve also yet to make it past day 22 in Survival mode (winter is harsh).


Run away!

The PS Vita Port

While the game was originally designed for the PC the PS Vita is, in my opinion, extremely well done. The world looks amazing on the OLED screen of my 1st generation PS Vita and the controls have been smoothly adapted to the dual analogue sticks of the handheld. For me the smaller screen size of the PS Vita also helps to build the tension somewhat in the game, just because there is less on the screen at any one time and I just don’t know what I’m about to encounter next. Included in the port is the Reign of Giants DLC, which introduces additional complexity to the game such as full seasons, more environments, two new characters and of course giants. Best of all the game is covered by cross-buy, which means that if you purchase it on the PS Vita you also get the PS4 edition for free (or vice versa), making the £11.49 cost of the game even better value, though unfortunately the save games are not cross compatible.

Being on a portable console does, however, come with a couple of downsides, notably with regards performance. The majority of the time you will encounter this is in the longer loading times, especially during world generation. Not in itself a big issue though I have experienced a couple of times when the game hung on loading screen, typically this is when moving between worlds and the game is trying to both save an existing map and generate a new one. The second performance issue I’ve experienced is one of frame rate slowdowns when there is too much happening at once. I’ve personally only run into this a few times, such as when my forest base got struck by lightning and everything caught on fire but I’ve heard of people also encountering after creating large bases later in the game. If you’re aware of the issue it should be possible to work around it by spreading your base out more but it’s still not an ideal solution.


All in all Don’t Starve is a game that I would highly recommend if you’re looking for a challenging survival game and the PS Vita port is a great way to experience it as the game works well played in short bursts. Just remember, you’ve not truly played the game until you’ve run around in a panic screaming “it’s trying to eat me!”, which if you’re anything like me will happen pretty quickly.

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FATEful Thoughts

FATE has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest games of the past year in part due to a massively successful Kickstarter. It’s taken a while to get in some decent time with it but I’m finally at the point where I feel like I’ve spent enough time with it to form some opinions. I’m going to preface this with the comment that while I’ve run enough sessions to get comfortable with the game I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it.

  1. It’s easy to learn but difficult to master. This is the biggest thing that I’ve learnt over the course of running Dresden Files, that while I came into the game with a technical understanding of how the system should work applying that knowledge was a completely different kettle of fish. Aspect, which are at the core of FATE, really do need to be constantly present for the system to work to its fullest. During the first few sessions of our campaign we simply didn’t introduce enough of them or use the ones that were present as frequently as the system expect. This in turn led to complications as compels weren’t introduced as frequently as expected for the game to really function. While we’ve upped the frequency with which we use the aspects I’m still not 100% sure we’re using them to the extent that is required.
  2. I’m not a fan of paying to invoke EVERY TIME an aspect is relevant. Generally if you want to get a bonus from an aspect you need to either pay a FATE point if you want to apply it to a situation, which I’m not sure I’m a massive fan of. Now sure there are ways of getting free invocations on aspects but generally they are used when the aspect is created. If you create an aspect such as “blinded with sand” you’ll probably get a free invocation to use it but after that it’ll cost you to invoke it. After that it’ll cost you FATE points to use, even if the character is narratively still wandering around with limited vision. I’m not quite sure how to alter the game without breaking the core mechanic but I’d prefer if mechanical bonuses / penalties didn’t require repeated invocations to use.
  3. The flat +2 bonus doesn’t sit well with me. This follows on from the above but the fact that aspects can only every provide a +2 or reroll intuitively bothers me. It means aspects of “everything is on fire” and “stubbed toe” mechanically always have the same effect even if they are massively different on the level of the narrative. I much prefer the Cortex Plus approach of dice sizes indicating the severity of the asset / complication with the description reworded as required. So that “everything is on fire” might be represented by a d12 but started as a d6 “burning table” etc.

Anyway that’s just a few thoughts on FATE, yes they’re mostly issues with the system but that’s note to say I’m not enjoying it, just that I’m finding it challenging to run. As always if you have any thoughts or ways to handle said issues please do let me know.

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