Game Pitches for 2021

With Doyce saying that he wanted to take a break from running Masks for a little while, I figured it was a good time to readdress some of our previous game suggestions, as well as add to the list. I have admittedly been on a bit of a sci-fi kick lately, so that might skew some of my suggestions. Along the way, I am going to grade each suggestion on mechanical depth (1-10, 1 being full campfire storytelling, 10 being very chunky, very in-depth mechanics) based on what I know of the game.

Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk (cyberpunk, open-ended)
Game System: Genesys
Mechanical Depth: 8
This suggestion is more for the setting than the system. I own a lot of Fantasy Flight’s Android line (board games, novels, and the now-defunct Netrunner card game) and always have enjoyed the setting, even though it could be easily described as BladeRunner with the serial number filed off. Fantasy Flight’s in-house game system Genesys, however, is very fiddly and I feel probably doesn’t fit the amount of time we normally have for a game session (about two hours) and doesn’t fit the group, but I could be surprised.

Neon Black (cyberpunk, community, high technology)
Game System: Forged in the Dark
Mechanical Depth: 6
Neon Black is a much tighter game where you are a group of important/motivated individuals within a community looking to support that community. This could mean campaigning to convert corporate buildings into homeless shelters or robbing a bank to pay for a group’s medication (both of these were suggested hooks for different NPCs in the game). The biggest downside to this game is its use of the the Forged in the Dark mechanics and our group’s previous interaction with them, but who knows how this might go.

Starforged (sci-fi, space, exploration, possibly gm-less)
System: Ironsworn
Mechanical Depth: 4
So Starforged isn’t released yet, but I am part of the beta-tester group and have enjoyed it so far. If you’ve seen anything about Ironsworn before, this is going to be similar and yet slightly different at the same time. While this could be done GM-less, I feel like having a GM would be important with four players (and that five player GM-less would be madness). If interested, I can distribute the game files. Alternatively, if we’re feeling more fantasy than sci-fi, Ironsworn itself could also be on the table.

Alice is Missing (event-based, mystery, gm-less)
Game System: Original
Mechanical Depth: 2
Brought up before during conversation recently, this is less of a traditional RPG and more of a LARP event. Follow that link and read the description on DriveThruRPG, because I will not do the description justice.

City of Mists (urban fantasy, pulp mystery)
Game System: Original (combination of Fate and PtbA principals)
Mechanical Depth: 6
Played before with at least Bill and Doyce. It’s… mediocre. It’s easy enough to run, but it certainly has never made me excited to run the next session of it. Take that for what you will.

Urban Shadows: Second Edition (urban fantasy, community, monsters)
Game System: PbtA
Mechanical Depth: 5
Somewhat like Neon Black above, this is also a game about community… but rather than working for the betterment of that community, it is about acquiring political power and personal favors to enact your plans within that community. Maybe not the best game right now with the current political… (gestures wildly) upheaval, but who knows? Maybe it might be very cathartic to be able to punch people with ridiculous political beliefs in the face (or fireball them, depending on your particular playbook). Still in beta, so not all of the game has been released yet, but the Quick Start has enough to at least get started and play a short-to-medium length game.

That’s my shortlist. What to other folks have rattling around that interests them?

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I feel compelled to call shenanigans on a couple things.

  • Unless Starforged is dramatically different from the Ironsworn I’ve played, it’s very mechanically fiddly. There’s a ton of small moves, some for pretty specific situations.
  • I don’t know how much our problem was really with FITD, and how much was with just ignoring the FITD game loop (more on this below), but I feel it’s possible to do well.

I also feel I have to second some other things.

  • Genesys can be run light, but a lot of cyberpunk games like to get into details on equipment and have a lot of subsystems (hacking, vehicles, etc.) and that would probably bog down here, yeah. I’m happy to do a lightweight Genesys game if people ever want to get familiar with the base system.
  • I liked City of Mists quite a bit in terms of how its system worked, but I can see it being not a great experience for this group.

Here’s why I worry about FITD.

FITD is built around cycling between downtime and an engagement. Great. I feel confident we got this part down. But it opens the engagement with a roll to put us into the action. As a group, we totally fell apart trying to actually execute on this. The roll is not supposed to be for trivial shit like “how do you get in”. The game assumes “you’re on a job, you got in. Did you drop through the skylight in the security office, in a hallway, or into a bunch of goons?” That is the engagement roll. It’s supposed to punch you right into the exciting question of “what do you do on this heist, given some promising initial situation?” There’s other places where we struggled, and it always seemed to come down to “we have to get this roll JUST RIGHT when it’s honestly okay if it fails”.

I honestly have similar concerns about Ironsworn, because I can see this group yakking about modifiers for 15 minutes on a given roll, and there’s a million rolls that need to be made. Ironsworn is even more frustrating for me on this score because it’s possible to just not earn XP after a long-ass adventure because the challenge dice say so.

Always call shenanigans. Part of why I framed these as “as I understand them” is because I might not understand things the same way as other folks. Discussion good.

There is some mechanical fiddly-ness. My initial assessment did not take into account just how much assets can adjust a given roll.

To address one of your later concerns, the XP loop is completely different in Starforged. You have three tracks [bonds, quests, and discoveries]. As you fill boxes on each of these tracks (by making bonds with folks, completing quests, and making discoveries) you mark ticks on those tracks. Whenever you fill a box, you get 2 XP. No more roll at the end of quests. There also isn’t a set number of boxes like other tracks (though marking when you get to 10 is important for the end game).

All of your other concerns are definitely valid.

Agree on all your points with FitD games. Part of why I suggested one is to see how things went in a different setting with a more focused mission.

You’re probably right here, since I know you’ve run more Genesys than me. The setting was recommended based on my own preferences, though a different setting might work better for this group.

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I’d love to try Neon Black, or other similar games. My concern isn’t so much about setting, and more about the group’s tendency to get in the weeds on mechanics, whatever system we end up with. I feel like either we need to consciously move away from that tendency, pick a system with fewer mechanics to get engrossed with, or be okay spending good chunks of a session doing that thing.

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A few thoughts:

  1. I agree with trying to find something that has few enough mechanics that we don’t get into the weeds, but enough that, when presented with a “So, what do you do now?” the game offers at least a few options to narrow it down or start off with.

    E.g., last M616, going up vs P’tronic, esp. as I had set it up, I was pretty sure it was going to be a Direct Engage or a Defend roll. I decided on Direct Engage when I realized that I could “take” something in the abstract, P’s sense of being the Hero in all of this. Didn’t quite work out (yet, perhaps) the way I had intended (I was hoping it would shatter his confidence, or otherwise hobble him, instead of making him into even a bigger short-term menace), but it was still a fun moment, esp. for a PC that is still figuring out what being a hero really is.

    Anyway, the belabored point is that the game gave me some very broad suggestions (attack, defend others, plus all the base moves), but didn’t get in my way of making a physical confrontation into a psychological one.

  2. I actually had to go back to see what it was I didn’t like about FitD / Scum & Villainy. The bottom line seemed to be feeling (a) the system got in the way, and that (b) the team interaction wasn’t what I was looking for at that point.

    I don’t know if I ever did a post mortem on Fellowship, but I did sort of on Demigods, fwiw – (a) character concept that turned out far less satisfying than I had expected, and (b) taking a while to figure out how to make it work with others and in conflict).

  3. We also have the famous Proposed Game List, as well as the Unproposed Game List. Some of this has already been mined, but to bring those suggestions/non-suggestions together.

  4. Quick responses to the ideas above.

    • Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk - I concur with avoiding in-the-weeds mechanics. I’m not a yuge BladeRunner fan, but I’ve never actually run in any sort of cyberpunk setting, so I am willing there.
    • Neon Black - I read the notes on FitD as a system, plus my notes referenced above. I’m willing to consider the possibility that FitD could be less in-the-way than we experienced.
    • Starforged - Space exploration sounds fun. Without diving into the weeds, the philosophy behind the game sounds fun (“quest-driven mechanics” is interesting), though the subsequent commentary on fiddliness are not encouraging. I concur we want a GM, but it sounds like the game supports whoever takes on that role, which is also good. I am good either SF or Fantasy.
    • Alice is Missing - sounds fascinating, though it’s kind of a one-off.
    • City of Mists - “Urban fantasy, pulp mystery” sounds like it should be good, and Fate+PbtA also sounds doable, but I am sensing low enthusiasm for how it turns out. With a mechanics eval of 6, doesn’t appear, all told, as the best choice.
    • Urban Shadows - I’m not sure the catharsis of punching out people over politics outweighs the unpleasant burden of “acquiring political power and personal favors”. I like PbtA, but this one is conceptually a hard sell for me.
  5. General note: I want to play game, with a character I can enjoy, a setting that’s intriguing, and, most of all a good set of players. The last of which I feel confident I will get here regardless, and that’s the most important, as for me RPGing is about storytelling with friends. I’m happy to have a go at any of the above that people are enthused about.

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A parenthetical add, for what it’s worth:

James is out-of-hemisphere until late May. While I am sure we could plug him in on his return to anything ongoing, we can have a sense of “do this for four months, then re-evaluate.”

(That is also assuming that (a) James is interested, and (b) James is not off somewhere else on a summer internship or dig or job, though that’s likely going to be more time-zone friendly.)

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A few thoughts.

I’ll bow gracefully out of anything FitD. My reaction to it goes a lot deeper than the engagement roll, and none of it’s good. Please don’t let that stop anyone.

(Context for next comment: While listening to gaming podcasts in the car, I’ve recently had to explain the concepts of “light” and “crunchy” game mechanics to my two youngest kids, which forced me to articulate this stuff and parse it out more.)

I don’t personally think rules fiddliness is a problem, provided it’s the right kind of fiddliness. Rich options in character creation and progression could scratch deep itches for some people, for example, and really being ‘into’ your character’s “stuff” makes it a lot easier to remember (for example) your assets and what they do in something like Ironsworn.

On the reverse: A different resolution system for six distinct things that have to happen in most sessions? That’s the bad kind of crunch.

As to Mike’s suggestions:
I’m down for a tour of Genesys by someone who groks it, and will quietly take a breather from FitD options.

For Cyberpunk (if people are really jazzed about that), I’d suggest The Veil as an option. Has anyone taken a look at it? It’s a PbtA-based cyberpunk thing which has a lot of good press and word of mouth, and bases its actions on your character’s current emotional state, with rules around ‘blocking’ or ‘jamming’ up stats as damage/consequences of actions, so you don’t have people just doing everything “Angrily” because that’s their best stat.

I haven’t had the spoons to get through the rules, which are hefty and aren’t in a genre I love, but the play-reports I’ve followed really seem evocative. YMMV.

Starforged (sci-fi, space, exploration, possibly gm-less)
System: Ironsworn

I don’t personally find the game’s rules fiddley. I’m running a campaign with my kids, and the seven year old figured it out after a couple die rolls. It’s pretty clear when the assets apply.

I like my gaming hard, so the Ironsworn quests sometimes resulting in “You get nothing, good day to you, sir!” doesn’t bother me, but the tweak to XP Mike mentioned seems like a good change for the vast majority of gamers who aren’t ridiculous.

Alice is Missing 1 (event-based, mystery, gm-less)

110% down for a one-shot of this, if only to sate my curiosity.

City of Mists (urban fantasy, pulp mystery)

This is fiddley, I guess, but I will say roll20 seemed to handle most of that in a good way. I did less than my due diligence for the demo game we ran, and had a really good time with it. I was EXTREMELY leery of Fate+PbtA in concept, but it honestly seemed to work nicely in this. I don’t know if I’m a rabid fan, but I really understand how and why rabid fans exist. It’s proper fun, and really what other point does a game have?

Urban Shadows: Second Edition 1 (urban fantasy, community, monsters)

I love the faction/community stuff in this, even as iterated in the first edition. Magpie games makes good stuff, so there’s a lot of trust there.

I have no personal suggestions to add, and to be very honest I don’t want to influence the decision at all. (I’m 100% okay if folks decide on FitD and I duck out for a bit, frex.)

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I’m happy to facilitate Genesys, the Veil, or other systems where anyone else doesn’t have the time or resources to deep dive into the rules. I’ve got the Veil books and it’s a system I’ve wanted a reason to get into.

I used the engagement roll from FITD not as the entire problem of the system, but just as one example. Systems with a prescribed play style feel vulnerable to having that style taken off the rails.

I’m pretty okay with games that lean into high difficulty, but not games that feel malicious about it. If the game says “well a bittersweet ending to this plot is what you get”, that’s fine. “The dice say TPK” or “the dice say no advancement for you” is another thing. A video game example is Dark Souls or Hades. Yeah, you died, but you learned from it and get to go back and try again.

From my perspective, a lot of this depends on how it’s handled (well, duh). Lack of success, or even explicit failure, aren’t (on occasion) game-ruiners. If it fits a narrative I can see and appreciate, coolio. If it feels arbitrary or jarring or an authorial slap in the face or just something deriving from a random die roll with no way to influence … less so.

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Curating some of the stuff from the game lists:

  • Post-apoc: it sounded like James was the big holdout here. If that’s the case, this seems like the time to pitch a game like this. This would include AW, Legacy, and some other pitches
  • AGE: including The Expanse, Blue Rose, and some other stuff
  • Asian Action: Hearts of Wulin, Henshin, any of the other anime/tokusatsu/wuxia games people are excited about
  • Quest: the current darling of post-D&D streamers, lightweight fantasy fun
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I still think Henshin might be fun as a short thing.

Hearts of Wulin owes a lot of inspiration to The Veil, which I mention only because of the Veil discussion.

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Are there other games that people want me to do a read-through on?

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I added a spreadsheet showing the votes so far (as I understood them) along with a score (+1 for each Yes, -1 for each No).

I’m also down for City of Mist, Apoc. World (though I’d rather do the Burned In version with this group), Legacy (probably more than AW), and Hearts of Wulin (which gives me an excuse to binge watch k-dramas on netflix).


More detailed answers to the games on Bill’s list that I don’t currently have answers for.

Henshin: Yeah, but I doubt it would be more than a short novelty (which might be the best thing in this situation?). Definitely needs buy-in to work.

Apoc World: Same as Doyce, probably more of a Burned Over or whatever that playset is called rather than classic Apocalypse World. (Though I’m not feeling particularly apocalypse-y at the moment… is there like a hopepunk version of the apocalyse?)

Legacy: I’ll do it, but the same as above.

The Expanse: Would be down for the drama (I have not read the books or watched the tv show, but I understand political drama and fear of the unknown are two of the big draws) but for some reason hard science space stuff has never piqued my interest unless it’s like the Martian and as I understand it the hard science aspects are somewhat important to overall feel of that setting. Not sure why those things never piqued my interest? I think it’s because I know enough of the science to know “yeah, if one of a thousand different things go wrong, everyone dies horribly and quickly” and if that’s not the whole issue my brain just goes “okay, but why that setting then?” but that’s just guessing.

Blue Rose: I know enough about the setting to be interested. Not sure if the system will work with this group and our constraints, but that’s just supposition.

Hearts of Wulin: Had completely forgotten about this, so checked the KS updates and realized why I had forgotten about it (the updates have been fairly slow and boring for the last few months, not unexpected given where they are in the process, but still forgettable). I would also be down for this.

In general, I suppose what I’ve been poking at mentally is “what game is going to get me excited for Wednesday” and it’s slowly dawned on me the answer is “no game is inherently going to do that, the games are usually an excuse to hang out with everyone once a week.” Being excited about the game’s story is certainly a bonus, but I think we could probably manage that with a Jenga tower as a resolution system (difficult but not impossible in social distant mode [also I am well aware of games that use that system, I’ve met one of Dread’s co-creators a couple of times while playing his other game, Swords Without Master]).

The biggest issue is having enough (story) building blocks to get folks interested and let things run without fighting the mechanical system. And probably the only way to figure that out is to play some games not knowing if we’re going to like them or not until we do. Which I guess is a drawn out way of saying “I’ll play/run whatever so long as the basic premise doesn’t cause me revulsion.” (Though this attitude too might be unhelpful, in that “I’ll eat at any restaurant, just someone else make the decision” way.)

So right now the front runners are: Alice is Missing (one-shot), Apocalypse World (Burned Over), Hearts of Wulin, Henshin (expected to be a short run), and Starforged.

It feels like the strongest candidates are HoW and Starforged, with a couple short-run games woven in.

For me, it’s a question of “which game is going to make the most of the time I spend with this group?” That’s a different game for the different gaming groups I’m in, but there’s some that work better and some that work worse, or not at all. So I get excited by games that I think will do it really well.

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:point_up: :point_up: :point_up: :point_up: :point_up:


By the way Dave, any input from Margie on any of these (or anything else that looks interesting to her)?

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