Category Archives: Projects

CyberNoir: Agendas and Principles

Some people think you should start with these first for your hack.  Here’s what I’ve been kicking around for CyberNoir.  Most of these are just reskins of the Apocalypse World stuff, with the exception of calling out Being Generous with Information, and some drilldown into what this setting is.



Embody the cybernoir nature of the world.

Keep your world authentic to your cybernoir sensibilities. Portray a plausible and internally-consistent world, and your players will take it seriously.


Embroil the characters in a web of crime and intrigue.

Set up the Crime Web, get the characters hooked into it, and watch as they attempt to unravel the whole thing.


Play to find out what happens.

Your job is not to craft a masterful story arc. It is to set up the situation, wind up the PCs, and watch them go to work. When you allow the unexpected to happen, you get truly exciting play.




Always say what honesty demands.

Honesty, and the rules, demand you show fidelity to the rules, to the results of the players rolls, that you stay true to the principles, and be open, honest, and fair in your interactions with the players.


Be Generous with Information.

This is a mystery game. The players can’t solve the mysteries without clues. So you should be giving, even overly so with information. You have the advantage of knowing all the answers. Mysteries are meant to be solved, and secrets are meant to be revealed.


Think Cyber.

Consider your specific Shocks and other examples of futurism. Whenever you introduce a setting element, think of ways to emphasize the fact that the characters are living in the future. Exaggerate aspects and current trends, especially those you view as negative.


Think Noir.

Play up the dark aspects of the world, the corruption, the moral ambiguity, and confusion.


Everyone is Expendable.

Don’t protect your NPCs. They are not there to provide physical challenge to the PCs, but rather moral challenge.


Everyone is Human.

Any NPC you introduce, give them a name, a motive, and think a little bit about life through their lies. What do they want? How do they fit into things?


Collaborate With Your Players.

Allow, or prompt the players to provide setting input. This way, you’ll all feel ownership of the setting, and your players will feed you ideas you never would have thought of.


Take What They Give You and Run With It.

Once the players give you input, take it, expand upon it, and make it your own. Turn up the Cyber and the Noir.


Be a Fan of the Players and their Characters.

We’re all here to have fun, right? The players are not your adversaries, and neither are their characters. Look for what makes those characters awesome and embrace it. Give them a chance to shine, and don’t try to grind them down.


Think About the Big Picture.

Keep your Crime Web map in hand. Between sessions, or whenever you have a spare moment, take a look at it, and consider how events onscreen affect those actors offscreen.


Zoom in on the Little Details.

Take moments here or there to showcase the little details. Sometimes this can draw attention to a useful clue, but often it’s just to show off the setting and characterization.


Sometimes, Delegate the Big Decisions

To play to find out what happens, you need to give up some of the big decisions. Let your NPCs make them in character. Put them on your player’s hands. You can even roll for it.


Address yourself to the characters, not the players.

Keep the players rooted in the fiction, and the players immersed in their characters.


Play by the rules, think in the fiction.

When you make a move, make it about the fictional content of the move. Never say a name of a move you’re using, instead say what happens. It should seem seamless to the players. This goes for players too- when they use moves, think in the fiction- what’s going on?


Draw Maps Like Crazy.

Maps. Draw them.

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Good News For People Who Like Publishing News

Good news everyone!  My games are now available through both Lulu and Drivethrurpg.  You can check out my Drivethrurpg profile right here.

Heroic Threats Kickstarter is Live

My D&D Heroic Threats kickstarter is live!  Check out the kickstarter page:

Heroic Threats is a collection of 110 monsters, levels 1-10 for use in D&D 4th edition.  With Kickstarter, a PDF can be yours for only $3!

As a blog exclusive, if I get comments from 10 users here, I’ll talk about the Smokemen, one of the new monsters in Heroic Threats.

All Quiet on the Western Front

If you’ve been wondering why my blog has been so silent, it’s because I’ve been working away at an Apocalypse World hack: Apocalypse West. You can check out all my work for it over on Barf Forth Apocalyptica.

Some Thoughts about that Casino Game

You know, the one I’m working on that I’ll surely have to rename due to potential copyright issues. Usually I don’t care at all about such things, but there is a precedent (see James Earnest’s Totally Renamed Spy Game for a cautionary tale.)

I was fortunate enough to have a playtest with Ron and Emily at Gencon which happened to crack the design wide open and reveal the inner goodness. Or something. It was clear that the math, as it existed, was broken and wobbly, but the core of the game was solid and I was on to something.

I’ve been sitting on my insights for a while, letting it percolate. Here’s a few things I’ve realised:

The Dealer doesn’t have a chip limit. Chip scarcity is totally on the player side. They have (or don’t have) enough chips at their own.

Different scenes will have a fixed bet- based on what is being achieved, rather than the Dealer’s notion of ‘risk’- the Dealer has cooler things to worry about, there is now an objective measure of what a scene costs. Thus, Legwork scenes get to be cheap, and resolution scenes get to be more expensive- perhaps climbing in cost as the game goes on.

And here’s a little app I think is cool: each Casino has an Ante Highlight- a course of action that, if present, adds +1 to the required bet. For example, the Atlantic Star has a Ante Highlight of Gunplay, but the Big Chief highlights the non-casino attractions. These actions are considered ‘riskier’ within the narrative physics of the story, and get more attention. (Of course, big chip totals need to be highly encouraged to the players as more than just a resource in and of themselves somehow.- players should *want* to risk more chips if they have the option.)

Special Abilities:
In practice I think seven special abilities is a little tough to fill out. I think Ace in the Hole will be a generic special ability that everyone gets that does not need to be filled in, which leaves 6 “I get to do this when X”, which seems like it will be easier- Ace in the Hole is confusing to explain anyway unless you know everything else about how the resolution system works.

New Type of Scene, The Regroup Scene:
The con has gone sour, and everyone’s gotten back together to discuss how they’re going to get out of it. This can fundamentally change the nature of the con. Players can change any Special Abilities that haven’t been used thus far (making up for a choice that just doesn’t seem to be panning out), trade chips amongst each other, and perhaps even alter some of their mission objectives! However, the players get just one Regroup scene during the game. Don’t waste it.

The Resolution is totally solid. Really the only thing that needs looking at is the chip economy, and looking at that: how many chips the players start with, what they’re allowed to bid, and how often they can get new ones, and how, and what happens if they run out or end the game with lots of them.
Special abilities in play work smoothly. Succeed with Consequence needs the most attention to make sure it doesn’t allow players to simply mow through each important conflict. The abilities encourage players to play for position and can enforce character ‘roles.’

Putting it All on the Line:
This is where the chip economy is weakest- you get way too many chips from your relationships. Also, I have a conundrum here- right now with PIAOTL, if you win the conflict, there’s no real downside- you caught a lucky break. There’s two ways to go here, one is direct cost -> spend. With it as is, it certainly feels like you’re risking the thing, but if you win, there’s not really any danger. Perhaps when you Put It All on the Line, you get a consequence no matter what, but the severity depends on whether you win or lose.

Things to Do:
Write more Casino Playlists.
Thing about Chip economy.
Write a new playtest draft- with the economy as good as I can eyeball it.

Future Fantasy: Skills

The Future Fantasy Skills document is live. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions about the first batch of skill musings (especially Abram.)


Future Fantasy: The Overwatch

The Overwatch represents my first attempt at designing a leader. Man, leaders are tough to design. I feel like I’m really all over the place on this, with lots of powers that feel more defendery or controllery than anything else. However, I feel like I am tapping some cool design space with the Communications Tap and the focus on Immediate Actions.

Anyway, Overwatch!

Wicked Nights Playtest Results

I ran a playtest tonight of Wicked Nights, my vampire IAWA hack. Good times- horribly grotesque situation, morally dreadful characters, and some horrible events. (Wasn’t too much in the way of gross imagery in play, but there was certainly the potential for it to go there.)

Rules wise, we tested Use It, Risk It, and my Simplified NPC Dice rules. Use It Risk It was a hit, and I enjoyed the ease of use of Simplified NPC Dice. I think I want to put both to further practice, but they showed promise.

The creating vampire rules seemed good- it puts the player doing it in quite a bit of a risk, making you vulnerable. Also, the vampires seemed sufficiently inhuman and nasty. Good deal.

Good playtest. Looking forward to more!


Here is the big secret project I’ve been working on: WAR!

It’s mass battle rules for D&D 4th edition, using the standard skirmish combat rules, and expanding them outward, including rules for standard units, player character commanders buffing their units, and an antagonistic army- gnolls!

future development is going to add more bad guy armies and expand the scope towards the paragon tier. But right now, you can play a war with this right out of the box at the heroic tier and kill hundreds of gnolls.

Skills in Future Fantasy

One of the things that impressed me about 4th edition upon seeing it for the first time was the sheer tightness of the skill list- compared to 3rd Edition yes, but against skill lists in general. At 17 skills, it clocks in tighter than even the Awesome Adventures skill list. So, any tinkering with that should be done carefully. Additionally, the GSL gives some restrictions- you can’t fundamentally change a skill, but you can add to it, and you could imply that it wasn’t used- this is easy to do, simply by not making it a class skill for any class.

What skills are needed in the Future, and which one’s aren’t? The things I want to add off the top of my head involve some sort of Computer skill, a modern politics/knowledge type thing, and maybe a Science skill and a Repair skill. There’s clearly some overlap between Repair and Thievery- maybe you can use Repair to disable devices too, but it’s far better for fixing them than Thievery is, and you lose the ability to pick pockets. Computers is sort of datagathering in the sense of Streetwise, and security defeating in the sense of Thievery. Science fits well as a knowledge skill in the vein of Arcana, Nature, etc. Politics is the odd-man out- should it roll into History? It would be easy to add a “Current Events” note to use of the History skill, but saying “I’m rolling History to figure out what I know about Megacorp XYZ” sounds weird.

On the other hand, is there anything that should be taken out? The only one that jumps out is Religion- the gods and the divine play less of a role in Future Fantasy, and knowledge of cults and the like can therefore fall under Arcana (or History). Related knowledge likewise falls under Arcana.

Get rid of one skill but add four? 3 of the 4 are all techy skills, kinda sorta, which makes playing such a character a big investment, unless all the Tech classes get tons of trained skills. Something to think about.