Game the Game: PbtA and Stolen Cars

Games that are Powered by the Apocalypse are a big thing. Such a big thing, that in my personal Rushmore of game designers, D. Vincent Baker might have a spot alongside Gary Gygax and Mark Rein-Hagen. I was speaking with a friend about PbtA from a design standpoint, and explained that I really liked a well-executed PbtA game, one that has really compelling traits and dice rolls, one that focuses on all the Traits evenly, not allowing for dump stats and the like, but also that I struggled with some of the inherent decisions of PbtA games, primarily that challenges are all the same. facing off against a vampiric minion or Dracula are likely the same. It is a player-facing game, players make the choices and the dice rolls, which is very cool, but, in-practice, the non-scalability of challenges does not allow for a variety of storytelling challenges.

For some genres this is totally appropriate, but for others, the degree of challenge should vary.

I played in a game of MASKS at GenCon this year and had a fun time, but the combat did not feel as satisfying as it might have. Additionally, the distribution and use of Traits did not feel balanced. I had enjoyed reading through the game, and wanted to see it in action, and will likely run and/ or play it again.

Gone_in_sixty_secondsNPCs are stolen cars, treat them as such, is an idea I can get behind, but, some stolen cars are more significant than others. Just ask Nic Cage.

As a designer, I did a variation of PbtA, “Inspired by the Apocalypse” and utilized adding and subtracting benefit and detriment dice to the number of dice rolled.

Spirit of ’77 resolves this in a similar way, but is most definitely PbtA, but some rolls might get an extra die keep the best 2d6, or an extra die and keep the worst 2d6.

What I have also found is that when I run PbtA games, I enjoy having more than the recommended number of players, often way more. I ran a game for a group of con-organizers at a con I went to, it was a late night game, it was my way of saying thanks to the con, and it was a ton of fun, but we probably had 12 players, maybe more. I ran another game at a con that had 15 or so, with about 5 just watching.

The real drama can come from the interpersonal stuff, if you make the game, both mechanically, and setting/ adventure-wise, about this. Does this work for every genre? No. Teen supers could spend all day squabbling, but the genre is also designed to be about stopping bad guys.

Back to the discussion I was having with my friend, he acknowledged what I said and thought about it, having not thought about it before.

Keep pushing designers. d20 produced some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. Innovate.

Will I ever do a PbtA game? It is one of the ideas I have bubbling on my stove of game ideas.



Imagine If: Inhumans, Release Date 1970

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic-book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

Preceding the theatrical releases of Buck Rodgers and Battlestar Galactica by many, and setting the stage for the 1970s scifi boom, the studio decided to release the 2 hour premiere for their new television show in the theaters.

10d434525eeddf50401806bfe621d115--james-brolin-james-darcyBlack Bolt- James Brolin

It was all about the jaw and glare for the silent leader of the Inhumans.






WWeaOuJMedusa- Ann-Margret

Sexy with an commanding presence, Ann-Margret carved her own niche in Hollywood, and embraced this role, the fact that she was well known as a red head already only added to her appeal.





6a00d8341bfb8d53ef01157127d378970cKarnak- Sonny Chiba

One of the first actors to achieve success due to his martial arts.








James Earl Jones The Great White HopeGorgon- James Earl Jones

His physical presence impressed producers, but his voice convinced them there was no other choice.





ac7a8d2b2968ca4e07514efd22cf7447--cheryl-ladd-beautiful-smileCrystal- Cheryl Ladd

She came to Hollywood to make it as a singer, and was the singing voice of Melody from Josie and the Pussycats, producers saw here and realized she could do even better in front of the camera.







how-awful-about-allan-085Maximus- Anthony Perkins

Star of the stage and screen, producers took a shot at trying to get Perkins to do television, and he fell in love with the story and role.






Wow or Woe, Comic Release Date 9/27


This was a comic that came out on September 27, 2017.


Because it was a one-and-done, and to cross pollinate branding, I am going to also categorize this as a Crossover Catalog.

Crossover Catalog seeks to examine crossover events of the big two, grading them on their Idea, Permanence, Execution, and Continuity. The IPEC scale and subsequent score will be recorded.

IDEA– This is trying to bring Marvel back to the roots, with classic characters, showing the ties between various characters to assume various superheroic mantles. Msmarvel2Will we see this Ms. Marvel again? No. I didn’t think so. With waning sales, i think the goal was to recapture readers. I’ll be honest, the first 6 pages pulled me, I like stuff like this. But the overall idea… Meh. 3/5

PERMANENCE– Obviously, the issue just came out, but i will give them the benefit of the doubt. 5/5.

EXECUTION– Numerous artists, numerous mini-stories, focus on some marginal characters (Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider and f’in Starbrand, give me a break) force me to not grade this too highly. 2/5 (Oh yeah, and the final page did nothing for me, it certainly did not break the Internet).

CONTINUITY– Again, as with P above, I will give a benefit of the doubt. 5/5

Grand Total: 15/20, or 75%.

With all that said, and check back in two years to see if the P and C scores remain, I do give this one a WOE. It was disappointing on so many levels, and really makes me ask the question, why and who cares?

Other comics this week: Thor, Kamandi Challenge, KoDT, Infamous Iron Man, Batgirl, Archie, Generations: The Americas, Generations: The Spiders, FOOM.


Crossover Catalog: Identity Crisis

Crossover Catalog seeks to examine crossover events of the big two, grading them on their Idea, Permanence, Execution, and Continuity. The IPEC scale and subsequent score will be recorded.

The first installment of Crossover Catalog looked at Secret Empire, Marvel’s latest, and lamest offering. For DC, I am going to go back to the event, that I would argue, has most changed superhero comics in the last 40 years, Identity Crisis. Why would I make such a bold statement? Since the publication of this, DC decided they did not really care about younger readers anymore, this definitively put them all in on telling more “mature” stories, ones that were definitively not designed to be told in one issue, and ones that dealt with adult themes. Before you spam me, I acknowledge that comics have always dealt with mature themes, but this would be balanced with fun.

With Identity Crisis, comics became less about fun. It indicated a full shift.

236320-191187-identity-crisisIDEA- Sue Dibny is called. This greatly affects the superhero universe, as she was beloved. As the mystery unfolds, some seriously dark $#!t is revealed about our heroes, and one villain in particular is pushed past the point of a ridiculous moniker and name. Bestselling author penned, and it shows, in content and pacing. 4/5

PERMANENCE- As mentioned in the preface, this series dramtically changed the publishing landscape. 5/5

EXECUTION- A tightly told story, executed well. 5/5

CONTINUITY- At heart, this was a very small story, a murder. No villainous aliens trying to snuff out the sun or anything, a very human tale. But one filled with human mistakes and decisions. It was not necessary for every title to have a tie-in, but it was also not ignored. 4/5

18/20= 90%.

Many folks find some of the choices made in this tale truly unlikable, but they did not shy away from making those difficult choices.


The Pull List, Release Date 9/27


Pleasebegood, pleasebegood, pleasebegood.

Lots of hype, the reveal and return will break the Internet, so, get ready!

Marvel has sucked for awhile.

I said it.

I enjoy some of their titles, their events have been garbage, Secret Wars had potential that was woefully unrealized.

I don’t need my Avengers to be: Cap, Thor, Tony, Hulk, Pym, Wasp, Hawkeye, I just want good stories. I want stories about the characters, not just as supers. I want conflicts that are interesting.

I want Marvel to stop lying to me.

Is that too much to ask?

Game the Game: Roll vs Role: Backstory

How many games are about your character’s past? In my experience, games are about the now, action, consequences, not necessarily about reflecting about the past. Especially, if that past happened prior to session #1.

There is a time and place for backstory, but I think more energy should be put into focusing on the now. Engaging with your character. leave them more of a blank slate, allow the backstory details to be filled in through play, when possible.

Backstory is the past. focus on the present. Focus on what your character is doing. Right. Now.

Screenshot 2017-08-25 17.35.46.png

Screenshot 2017-08-25 17.35.37.png

Imagine If: Constantine, Release Date 1989

Imagine if Hollywood had released tent-pole comic-book movies starring their iconic characters around the time of the source material’s release date. For the purposes of this experiment, we will say that a movie would be released 5 years after the introduction of the character, and only movies that have been made would be made.

Constantine was physically based on Sting, when producers got around to casting many actors were brought on, one junior PA chimed in “Why not just ask Sting?”

MCDSTMO EC003Constantine- Sting






1bbdeff1f85ab2aff1b3f3cce0f4e7a3.jpgPopa Midnite- Philip Michael Thomas

in 1989, Miami Vice was nearing the end of it’s run, but Thomas was still determined to get the EGOT, and was able to convince producers he should be the voodoo priest.







2087182f3b013004eafc0c275d85cd03--glenn-close-cinema-moviesGabriel- Glenn Close

Producers wanted to play up her features and make the fallen archangel as ambiguous as possible, Close was doing well in Hollywood with any role thrown her way.






Jason Bateman - classic 80s cutie patootie!Chas Chandler- Jason Bateman

A television staple, Bateman impressed producers with his range during auditions.








400890a948f838478a89c32a3862de6f--dean-stockwell-supporting-actorLucifer- Dean Stockwell

When he showed up with a cigar, producers worried audiences would not be able to see him as a ripoff of George Burns, but he terrified them with a menace he rarely demonstrated on-screen, all the while maintaining a smiling demeanor.





Wow or Woe, Comic Release Date 9/20

jul170707Millarworld New Talent Annual 2017

This was as much a tease as anything, making me want more from of these titles I’ve enjoyed in the past: Kick-Ass, Superior, Supercrooks, and one of my most recent favorite comics, Huck. None of the individual stories made me want to pick up anything the “new talent” might do in the future, but it was a pleasant surprise to see this coming out, as it was off my radar.

This gets a WOW!

Also picked up: Generations: The Marvels, Totally Awesome Hulk, Spider-Men II, Luke Cage, Invincible Iron Man.