The Voyager Hunts For The Thessalhydra

Happy April, everyone. Today, I’m going to be doing something special. The D&D Adventure I’ll be playing, Hunt for the Thessalhydra, seemed to have been written in a notebook and then published by Hasbro Gaming, presumably cleaning up and digitizing the text that was written into the notebook, though keeping some pretty nice drawings done by someone named “Will the Wise”. The aesthetic is interesting enough for me to play it, so that’s what we’re going to do today.

There’s five premade characters I’ll be using. Let’s get an introduction to them, shall we?

  • Adam, a Half-Elf Wizard who is devoted to a god despite not being a cleric. I would assume that, with Elama, a Wood Elf Cleric, took him in as her own (right down to getting a trait from her known as Mask of the Wild) where they worship the deity known as Naralis Analor.
  • Baggi, a Half-Orc Ranger who has explored the far reaches of the realm with her companion Cadman, a Human Paladin who doubles as a mercenary.
  • And lastly, Dain, who is a Dwarf Bard who just wants to entertain.

This will be an interesting game and the notes from the adventure creator, Mike Wheeler, gives some nice advice about DMing a game. While it’s indicating that these are notes for himself, but the way it’s all described, it feels more like the standard advice you’d get from a starter’s box… Strange.

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Biopunk 2040

The normal approach I take when playing my own custom rules is that I translate another game’s rules for the express purpose of either simplifying it or because there was something I could use from the game.

So far, I’ve done this with three games: Scalemail, which was a simplification of Chainmail, Yurei World, which was my attempt at extending After School Curse Club, and lastly Winter’s Duty, which was an expansion of the original game Winter.

However, the game I’m playing today, 2040, was a game I made as part of a game jam and not out of a desire to clone and change up a previous game. It was a sort of challenge that I ended up achieving at and I feel like a good test of the game will work.

One of the charms for the 24XX system is that you can easily generate a character and story at random. In this case, it’ll take a lot of die rolls. But first, allow me to sell you the setting:

The year is 2040. Mankind discovered a means to artificially extend their lives with man-made organs known as Augments. However, with this came the need to monetise and soon, companies made it so that the Augments are on a “pay-per-month” basis and that missing out on a payment will get the organs repossessed, regardless of if they were keeping the person alive.

If you find this familiar, that’s because I based the premise off of Repo Men and Repo! The Genetic Opera, which both involved artificial organs that would get repossessed. The difference is that with this setting, players take the role of people who either went without Augments or actively refused to pay for them. In other words, they’re out of the system and are free agents, which ties into 24XX’s “job of the week” style gameplay, though there is the backdoor for a campaign about taking down the system should the GM decide to expand upon that.

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Star Crossed Lovers

It is Valentine’s Day once more and, as per tradition, I will be playing a romantic RPG. This time, it will be Star Crossed (it’s also on itch.io), a game that… uses… Jenga…

Oh boy.

For those who don’t know, I had experimented with a Jenga-based RPG before, and for reasons stated in that post, I elected to make a system that uses no Jenga tower… to great failure. In hindsight, what I realized was that you need to weight the answers as you would the tower. It’s not likely to fall down if the structure was sturdy.

One idea to handle this problem was to use Tabletop Simulator and use a workshop file that plays Jenga. Problem is that the version I got just had a bunch of towers and if you wanted to make one yourself, you’d have to import the small block one by one.

An easier solution comes from Speak the Sky, which doesn’t sound as easy, as you would need one hundred d6s and remove the ones that rolled ones. However, with the advent of online dice rollers like Roll20 and Foundry (okay, technically they’re more than just that, but still), it’s more or less achievable. There is a snag though. How would one be able to count the 1s?

Thankfully, there’s a solution I have. /roll 100d6>1f1. This will count remove all 1s from the check and tell you how many d6s to roll for the next pull. This is going to be as experimental as the Mythic Dread idea, but I’m willing to put faith in something that has been discussed with tons of line graphs and has its own dice roller programmed in, with thanks going to Max Kämmerer for the latter.

However, for the sake of note taking, I’ll be using Roll20 (since it will keep the information of how many dice that I have left should I put the game on pause for whatever reason) for the time being… Now for everything else.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what scenario I want to play out with this. Other Valentine’s Day games I had either had pre-set scenarios or, in the rare case, I already had a scenario thought out. This, however, I have nothing. However, I have a few ideas meted out thanks in part to the images and examples.

One of the examples has a relationship between an Imperial Vizier and a Galactic Empress while one of the art pieces has an astronaut hook up with a centaur. This caused an idea to be born in my head: Basically, what if Avatar (the movie, not the cartoon) was more of a space opera mashed up with Lord of the Rings?

The Vizier idea had me think back to the Reylo ship, a pairing between the protagonist of the Star Wars sequel Trilogy, Rey, and her main rival in those movies, Kylo Ren. The idea is that the Lead will be someone akin to a Kylo Ren, assigned to a distant planet to keep an eye on and see if it’s deemed worthy for its induction into the Empire. Said planet is stuck in ye old fantasy times and the representative who would be guiding this guy through the planet is an elf lady.

The problem is that, throughout his stay at the planet, he’s grown attached to his tour guide. The guide, similarly, seems to like his presence a little more than one would have for their tourist. One of the major rules when it comes to judging planets is to avoid any bias. As such, should word go out that the two had a fling, accusations that she slept with him to get a favorable result will flood forth and put both their lives at risk.

So, we now have the reason they’re together, what is pushing them towards each other and why they can’t just make out.

Another two things to finalize is who the “partner” will be as well as implementing the X-Card mechanic. I established this before, so I’ll put my mechanic forward while I’ll use the UNE/BOLD/CRGE system for any interactions with the Lead. The reason I pick this is because the Lead decides how a scene begins and what better scene setter than an Emulator?

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Why I Won’t Be Playing The Other Two Worst RPGs Of All Time

A while ago, I played the worst RPG known to the Tabletop RPG industry, FATAL, and found that, even without all the offensive material, it lived up to its name. Needlessly convoluted with its skill system, its job system hopelessly broken, and the entire game is incomplete. And yet, of the three to be considered the Unholy Trinity…

This is the only game I can play. Today’s post is going to go into detail as to why I’m not going to be playing the other two entries in the “Worst RPGs Ever” category. Before you think that these are a no brainer, allow me to preface this with a question:

If it took me a while to wrap my head around FATAL’s system, how would I be able to wrap my head around these?

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A Quiet Year To Close Out SGAM 2020

For this year’s Solo Gaming Appreciation Month, I decided to do what I usually do and roll three of the challenges into one: try out a new game that involves map-making (possibly analog) and then review it. Well, turns out there’s a game I heard that is basically that: The Quiet Year. I heard quite a bit about this game and I feel like this would be a good time to finally play it.

It’s one of those games that have physical properties to them. In this case, a deck of cards and tokens are needed alongside the rules and dice. There’s also, as the above paragraph implies, paper and an index card required. I’ll be drawing the map on GIMP and will have a separate document for the index card.

So, the plot for this game is that, after warring with a group called the Jackals, a village is given one quiet year (hehe) to themselves before winter comes. When it comes, it will bring with it things called the Frost Shepherds. I imagine these would be akin to the White Walkers from a Song of Ice and Fire or, if we want to be obscure with the references, the Ice Jester’s forces from Feast of Legends.

Right out of the gate, the small rulebook I can keep in my pocket is a really nice, step-by-step guide for learning how to play the game. Easily a good way to help get the ball rolling for solo play. One section was very thought provoking, as it tells people to “dispassionately introduce dilemma”. This basically tells me that there’s more to this game than “hehe, draw stuff” like I had originally thought.

Speaking of, my instruction is to now draw the map based off details and already, we’re gonna need to do a variant because there’s no group, just the solo. Rather than “each player adds a detail”, I’ll instead apply it as “four details about your map”.

So, here are my four: The village is inside a naturally made crater. Man-made stairs were placed to get to the surface, alongside aural shields to protect them. The last detail is that, each house contains ten people. So, already we have protection from predators as an Abundance, perhaps what powers it is a Scarcity. Food and water, I think it might be normal levels.

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Tales of the Winter Pyro

Reflecting on the past journal games made me realize that Winter, while a fun game, needed some improving, especially having played Thousand-Year-Old Vampire. So, I decided to hack the game to make it a little more automated. You can read the rules here. It’s slightly more expanded than the previous hack I did of Winter and I’ll get into those details when possible and if not, I’ll explain more in the end.

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Storyline: The Witch’s Downfall

For Halloween, I’m going to play the Scary Tales variant of Storyline. Spooky, I know. Before we begin this session, however, we have some new tokens that are different from the old tokens, so, I’ll break down the rules for those:

  • The Grave: This character is already dead. Introduce them as a posthumous character like a ghost.
  • The Magic Hat: This character knows magic.
  • The Rose: This NPC also has a [Place], [Action], or [Object]. Counts as a 2.
  • The Bones: This character is doomed to die. Their death is mandatory for the story to conclude. Counts as a 3.

With that out of the way, let us begin the Scary Storyline.

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Thousand Year Old Vampire Post-Mortem

While not truly RPGs in a traditional sense, journaling games seem to have a large place in my heart, as some good stories can be told with just a prompt and a few gameplay mechanics to drive the narrative further. I had earlier said how Thousand-Year-Old Vampire was one of the best, if not the best, journaling games I have ever played. I’m going to expand on that by comparing it to the other journal games I have played, as I feel like Thousand-Year-Old Vampire fixed the holes I had with those games.

Now, I shall start with a disclaimer. Obviously, no RPG is created equal (even those that share the same system will have their differences), especially in the terms of quality, as some of these games were made for Jams. I love all these games evenly, as they each hold a place in my heart. However, it’s through comparing do we see how a game mechanic makes the game enjoyable, especially in examining through a solo lens. With that out of the way, let’s begin with…

Winter: A Vampire Does Not Choose Their Path

Winter is an interesting game about surviving in the trench during WWI. It serves as a nice introduction to journaling games, though upon examination, there’s a bit of a flaw with it. You’re able to freely choose which scene you can do. This doesn’t sound bad at first, especially when other journal games just randomly decide the scenes for you, but there’s a problem.

There’s no real incentive to pick the scenes. Any of them, actually. Now, I can kinda see how the game can be polished in a way where each scene contributes to something, such as Camaraderie scenes restoring hope or Survival scenes recovering health. However, rules as written, there’s no real benefit to them. Especially since Volunteer scenes, one of the four options, is an almost guaranteed game over with zero reward.

The only thing that is close to something that is forced on the player’s path are the Violence scenes, in which they have to occur at least every five scenes. With how it is written, the optimal way to play the game is to pick Camaraderie scene after Camaraderie scene, since you won’t lose hope, then pick a Violence scene when the time comes, rinse and repeat until you end up succeeding in rolling for relief.

The game is Narrativist in nature, but it’s easy to see how you can get into this with a gameplay mindset and cheese the game. However, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire doesn’t have the same luxury that Winter does. You roll for the prompt and that prompt challenges you and makes you fight to keep your resources. Mechanics wise, if you run out of skills to check and items to lose, you get a game over, but narratively, each loss your vampire has is a loss for their overall humanity.

Both games are about trying to survive in a harsh world, but Thousand-Year-Old Vampire has it that you can’t just take the easy path, for a vampire doesn’t chose their path…

Beloved: A Narrow Peek to The Sky

Beloved is purely narration heavy, to the point where my game is just a story. Its premise is a simple “rescue the damsel in distress” style story where it never truly ends, as each time you beat the gauntlet of monsters, it’s revealed that your titular beloved isn’t the actual beloved and that they’re held somewhere else, and it’s up to you on whether you want to continue.

The cool thing is that everything is determined by you. What does the Beloved look like? Up to you! What are the monsters that have them captive? Up to you! How do you beat the monsters? Up to you! However, as you might tell with the infinite nature of the game, you’re bound to run out of ideas unless you use an external force like random image dice.

Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is similar in that a lot of the matters are left up to you to decide. Who is your vampire? Who are their friends and rivals? When does the story take place? However, the prompts are there to guide you along, asking questions like “how did you manage to survive almost getting caught that one time” or even “hey, you slept for this long, so now you’re in a new era!”

Despite the game being slightly more restrictive than Beloved, it gives the player leash on how to play their game and tell their story. While the sky is the limit, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire offers you a narrow peak at it…

Plot Armor: A Thousand Memories

Plot Armor’s concept is excellent. Play out a Tomino-style mecha anime where the protagonist is doomed to die at the very end. However, its execution can be odd, as the prompts used to generate each episode were limiting and its wording implies it only has one shot before it loses its impact.

I went into detail over in my game of Plot Armor, but the long story short is that you roll on two D6 tables to describe what happened in the episode. You would then roll on those over and over, no matter how many times you get the same result. The trick that makes Plot Armor enjoyable, however, is that with a combination of high dice rolls, creativity in interpreting the prompts, and maybe even implementing an optimization rule that makes the final episode #24 instead of #32, you won’t end up repeating your rolls.

However, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire ups the ante and has prepared the gamer in case they get a rerolled prompt. Each prompt is actually a mini-arc where a plot line is followed, offering three mini prompts that build up on the main prompt. If you were to revisit the prompt after answering the first one, you just move down the prompt and be asked a follow up question to the earlier prompt you’ve answered, having a theme that tied to said prompt.

And if you’ve exhausted all three mini-prompts? You’re advised to skip to the next immediate prompt. This, along with many different prompts to utilize, including alternative prompts in the appendix if you feel dicey, means that you won’t be running into the same prompts repeatedly.

The Beast/Holidays: Bonds Do Not Last

One thing about the Beast and Holidays that can’t be replicated in Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is the concept of creating a bond between yourself and another character. The Beast follows the story of a protagonist and their romantic, even sexual bond with an otherworldly creature while Holidays is more wholesome, where you spend a vacation with a partner. Their prompts are limited, but you’re also expected to play the game randomly rolling a handful of prompts (Holiday) or by seeding the deck (Beast) which means you won’t end up running into the same prompts.

Upon retrospect, these two games are practically second place in terms of best journal games I’ve played, as they invite a completely different play experience. This isn’t just your story, it’s also the story of another person you’re with, be it some sort of monster or even a loved one. Thousand-Year-Old Vampire doesn’t have that sort of bond creating process…

Since the entire point is that bonds do not last. Aside from the Immortal characters, every few prompts will see a passage of time that will mean the deaths of friends and family for your vampire, as well as any potential allies and enemies. And that’s if the prompt doesn’t tell you to kill them off personally. Not even the memories that the vampire has with them will last forever, as they too fade with time.

But, that’s the overall point of Thousand-Year-Old Vampire and what seems to be the antithesis of the Beast and Holidays. The protagonists of those games I’ve played will remember their time with Bowsette and a humanized Alolan Ninetails, but Elijah “Diavolo” Brown will never remember his wife as he used to, just a delusion that he cheated on her one night, killed her in a night of fury, and that a blob that’s the spitting image of her just came up one day… Instead of the brutal truth that he murdered her to conceal the secret that he was a vampire and proceeded to eat her corpse to dispose of the evidence only to regurgitate the blobby remnants years later.

Beast and Holidays are about the bonds one has for a few days, but Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is about the isolation of an immortal being living out a millennium. Out of the journal games I’ve played, Beast and Holidays doesn’t have any flaws that Thousand-Year-Old Vampire does better.

Conclusion: What Makes A Vampire Human?

In conclusion, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire takes what I found lacking in other journal games and heavily improves upon them with innovative ideas, all while taking a theme from one of them and turned it on its head. Looking back at the other games made me realize what sets Thousand-Year-Old Vampire apart from the others and reinforces the thought I had of it being one of the best journal games I’ve played.

If you haven’t already, I absolutely recommend Thousand-Year-Old Vampire. It is an absolute treat to play it through. Well, happy Halloween and bon voyage, Gamers.