By Ross Payton
Ludonarrative DissidentsMar 28, 2022
Dread is a game of horror and hope. Those who play will participate in a mutual telling of an original macabre tale. The goal of Dread is to sustain the delicate atmosphere that invokes the hand quivering emotion that lends its name to the game. The thrill of a Dread game lies within the tension between desire and loss. Players take on the role of someone trapped in a story that is only as compelling as it is hostile.
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Planet Mercenary RPG is a space opera adventure game based on the popular web comic Schlock Mercenary. It contains everything you need to create characters, equip them, and load them onto warships for adventures across the galaxy. Build your own mercenary company and accept all the best contracts. Rescue ecotourists from Eina Afa’s Stormring Sea. Leap between the Pereri Ring’s tethered asteroids in pursuit of pirates. Brave the dark heart of Ellwor’s mechorganic jungle in search of the Greater Meatsnatch. Engineered for speed and simplicity, the Planet Mercenary RPG lets you play out these adventures quickly with three six-sided dice and the 108-card Mayhem deck—a set of story-building, plot-twisting, occasionally explosive elements that can transform even a mundane encounter into a turning point for the entire mission. You and your group will weave magnificent, raucous, and probably hilarious adventure stories, and everyone will enjoy themselves …even when things go terribly wrong.
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Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
Call of Cthulhu is the world’s best game of secrets, mysteries, and horror, first published in 1981 and now in its seventh edition. Playing the role of steadfast investigators, you travel to strange and dangerous places, uncover foul plots, and stand against the terrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. You encounter sanity-blasting entities, monsters, and insane cultists. Within strange and forgotten tomes of lore you discover revelations that humanity was not meant to know.
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Initiative systems are an important but often overlooked element in role playing games. They determine who can act and when. They allocate spotlight time for players and influences the action economy of a game. We talk about different ways of determining initiative and if you even need them.
Eclipse Phase Second Edition
Eclipse Phase is the post-apocalyptic game of transhuman horror. Humanity is enhanced and improved, but also battered and bitterly divided. Technology allows the re-shaping of bodies and minds, but also creates opportunities for oppression and puts the capability for mass destruction in the hands of everyone. And other threats lurk in the devastated habitats of the Fall, dangers both familiar and alien. In this harsh setting, the players participate in a cross-faction conspiracy called Firewall that seeks to protect transhumanity from threats both internal and external.
MÖRK BORG is a pitch-black apocalyptic fantasy RPG about lost souls and fools seeking redemption, forgiveness or the last remaining riches in a bleak and dying world. Who are you? The tomb-robber with silver glittering between cracked fingernails? The mystic who would bend the world’s heart away from it’s inevitable end? Confront power-draining necromancers, skulking skeletal warriors and backstabbing wickheads. Wander the Valley of the Unfortunate Undead, the catacombs beneath the Bergen Chrypt or the bedevilled Sarkash forest. But leave hope behind – the world’s cruel fate is sealed, and all your vain heroic efforts are destined to end in death and dismay. It was created by Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr.
The Laundry RPG
The Laundry Files Roleplaying Game is based on the best-selling novels by Charles Stross. In the game, you play officers of the Laundry, that eccentric and underfunded agency dedicated to protecting the United Kingdom from unthinkable horrors. The Laundry uses the Basic Roleplaying System - the same system that powers the classic Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game (so you can easily convert adventures from one game to the other). As Laundry staff, you're trained to deal with the weird and ghastly spawn of the Mythos, you're equipped with the best equipment your committee-approved mission budget can buy, and you've got back-up on call from the SAS. All of that means you're only terrifyingly underprepared, as opposed to completely screwed, when the shoggoth hits the fan.
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Meta Currencies in RPGs
Meta currencies are a type of game mechanic found in tabletop role playing games. They are an abstract resource used by players to affect the narrative but do not represent something in the game except luck, fate, or willpower and so forth. Examples include fate points in Fate, willpower in Red Markets, and Resolve in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We discuss types of mechanics and why they are used in RPGs.
Red Markets is a tabletop RPG about economic horror. In Red Markets, characters risk their lives trading between the massive quarantine zones containing a zombie outbreak and the remains of civilization. They are Takers: mercenary entrepreneurs unwilling to accept their abandonment. Bound together into competing crews, each seeks to profit from mankind’s near-extinction before it claims them. They must hustle, scheme, and scam as hard as they fight if they hope to survive the competing factions and undead hordes the GM throws at them.
Takers that are quick, clever, or brutal enough might live to see retirement in a safe zone, but many discover too late that the cycle of poverty proves harder to escape than the hordes of undead.
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Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition is a game set in the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy. Dating back to 1986, WFRP is a celebrated British RPG about living in a detailed setting loosely inspired by the decline of the Holy Roman Empire. Players take on the roles of common folk who have uncommon destined fates, investigating chaos cults, surviving deadly monsters, and trying to scrape by in a grim and dark world. The current edition adds new mechanics to the game while retaining much of its old system.
Coyote and Crow
Coyote and Crow is a tabletop role playing game set in an alternate future of the Americas where colonization never occurred. Instead, advanced civilizations arose over hundreds of years after a massive climate disaster changed the history of the planet. You'll play as adventurers starting out in the city of Cahokia, a bustling, diverse metropolis along the Mississippi River. It's a world of science and spirituality where the future of technology and legends of the past will collide.
Card Mechanics in RPGs
Many RPGs use cards in their mechanics, from playing cards to Tarot to custom decks of cards. We discuss some of these games, the types of mechanics we've seen and the history of card-based games.
If you enjoy this episode, back our Kickstarter for Season 2 of Ludonarrative Dissidents. This podcast is only possible with the help of backers and this time we'll have a private RSS feed for early access to all episodes, plus other great rewards!
Some of the games mentioned in this episodeEverway The Mystery Creature of Claytonsville Whimsy cards Aces and Eights Savage Worlds Lace and Steel Upwind Best Friends The Beast Conspiracy X Zener cards The Mind
Dueling Fops of Vindamere - An Actual Play
Greg Stolze's procedurally generated game puts you in the corrupt, dissolute city-state of Vindamere, but don't worry. You play the best people there, spoiled children of privilege with nothing better to do than pursue swordplay, flirt outrageously, and snack on delicious vol-au-vents. A single game session covers the social year from Ye Midwinter Balle through the prestigious Alle-Valley Fencinge Championeshippe. Your louche elite blade-swanks fall in love, brawl, sneer and engage in truly petty social rivalries.
Learn more about Dueling Fops of Vindamere.
We'll have an episode zero of Season 2 on this podcast when we launch the Kickstarter. We'll be previewing a new type of episode where discuss a common type of game mechanic found in many RPGs. Which mechanic? You'll have to stay subscribed to find out. See you at the Kickstarter!
Base Raiders is a Fate powered superhero RPG about dungeon crawling in abandoned villain and hero bases. Characters find super power sources in bases or buy them from the black market. It was written by Ross Payton and published in 2014.
Our season 1 finale, an actual play of Dueling Fops of VIndamere, is coming next week. After that, our Kickstarter for Season 2! Stay tuned!
The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen by James Wallis is a humorous and competitive storytelling game of telling tall tales. During the game, each player must tell a story, while the other players attempt to interject and stage interruptions or distractions. The player with the best story at the end of the game is the winner.
Our next episode will look at Base Raiders, a Fate powered superhero game about dungeon crawling in abandoned bases. After that, our final episode for season 1 will be an actual play of Dueling Fops of Vindamere. We hope to launch a crowdfunding campaign for season 2 this year, so stay tuned!
Unknown Armies is a modern horror RPG that presents magick as it might exist in a world informed by crime fiction and secret histories, as twisting wrinkles in reality created by greater and greater risk, sacrifice, and obsession. It was created by Greg Stolze and John Tynes.
13th Age is a d20 fantasy role playing game designed for "experienced Gamemasters and players of all experience levels." It features several new mechanics and character class designs unique to it, like the Icon system and One Unique Thing. It was written by D&D designers Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet.
Thousand Year Old Vampire
In Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings you chronicle the many centuries of a vampire’s existence, beginning with the loss of mortality and ending with inevitable destruction. Prompt-driven play and simple resource tracking provide easy rules for exploring your character’s human failings, villainous acts, and surprising victories.
The Quiet Year
The Quiet Year is a storytelling game from Avery Alder about map-making and building a community after the apocalypse. "You define the struggles of a community living after the collapse of civilization, and attempt to build something good within their quiet year. Every decision and every action is set against a backdrop of dwindling time and rising concern."
Ars Magica is a "role playing game aboutsorcerers and their allies in Mythic Europe." Play focuses around the covenant, a community of magi, companions, and servants and guards (known as grogs). Players take up multiple roles in the game, playing as all three types of characters throughout a campaign. A highly influential game that launched the careers of many well-known designers, we focus primarily on the current edition, fifth, but also talk about earlier ones.
Content warning: Bluebeard's Bride is a "game about the terrible realities of women's lives." It discusses sexual assault, body horror, torture, murder, suicide, and other horrific topics. Our conversation about the game touch on these topics as well. Thank you for your understanding.
Bluebeard's Bride is "an investigatory horror tabletop roleplaying game based on the Bluebeard fairy tale." Players take on personality aspects of the young bride as she explores Bluebeard's mansion, looking for clues on Bluebeard's nature. No aspect fully controls the bride's actions, as players take turns guiding her through the horrors of the mansion. Will the bride be faithful or disloyal to her new husband? Only the players decide through the course of this game.
Continuum is a role playing game about time travel. Published in 1999, it boasts that its setting has a society of time travelers and a history of the past and future of earth. It also has rules for 'time combat'. Time travelers can try to kill each other by introducing paradoxes into the timelines of their foes. Do the rules work? Greg, James, and I discuss this infamous RPG.
Delta Green is a horror RPG based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Agents of the secretive agency, Delta Green (which may or may not be an illegal conspiracy inside the US government) investigate and neutralize cosmic horror threats. Rules focus on the dangers and costs of facing the unnatural, physically, mentally, and socially. Agents can perish in an instant or watch their friends and families drift away as they spiral deeper into the darkness.
Night's Black Agents
Night's Black Agents is a Gumshoe system espionage vampire thriller RPG by Ken Hite. It expands on the Gumshoe system so GMs can run espionage-themed games ranging from cinematic action-packed adventures to paranoid tales of intrigue.
Lancer is a sci-fi RPG focusing on tactical mecha combat in the distant future. Featuring dozens of unique mechs with incredible powers and weapons, Lancer is a must-play for groups who love d20 combat, teamwork, and giant robots.
Outlaws of the Water Margin
Outlaws of the Water Margin is a self-published RPG by Paul Mason based on the Chinese historical epic novel of the same name. Set in 12th century China, the player characters are heroic outlaws fighting a corrupt government bureaucracy. Outlaws was never formally published but it did cultivate a player base in the 80s and 90s. James was one of these players and knows the author, so he provides some background context for the game.
Special thanks to Christian Biklee, the backer who chose this game for us to review!
This episode is dedicated to Nathanael, Paul, Ben, and Jordan, friends of Christian who played Outlaws of the Water Margin with him.
In each episode, we plan to focus on a particular RPG, looking at its mechanics, setting, and everything else to see what makes this game tick. In this preview episode, we look at Apocalypse World, the RPG that launched a revolution in the indie RPG scene. We try to answer the following questions:
1) What the game does.
2) How it does it.
3) How people play it.
4) Why people play it that way.
Blades in the Dark
Blades in the Dark is a game about heists, a city of eternal night, and more importantly, managing your stress at work. Greg dispenses some words of wisdom about the future conditional tense.