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…

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Thousand-Year-Old Businessman

I realized that, as Halloween approaches, I should do a little more than a simple spooky variant of a story-telling game I already played. And so, I figured it was time to break out the solo gaming darling: Thousand-Year-Old Vampire.

Released earlier this year, Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is about, well, a thousand-year-old vampire. Its premise is similar to Plot Armor in that it’s a journaling game that will end with your character’s death, but now, you’re a vampire instead of a pilot and you’re in a millennium-spanning historic instead of a short-lived mecha anime. 

However, there’s a lot more bells and whistles to Thousand-Year-Old Vampire in contrast to Plot Armor, such as setting up the character. So, for instance:

My name is Elijah Brown. I am a businessman working at one of Amazon’s offices. I was recently laid off due to circumstances beyond my control.

I figured to do a modern to sci-fi story here. Next will be his three Mortals.

Isabella is my wife. She’s a devout Christian and managed to convert me. Mr. Stanley was my former boss who fired me, cheap son of a bitch. Then, there’s Mr. Giovanni, my… ahem, loaner. Someone who expects me to pay him back in full by the end of next year.

And his three Skills and Resources.

As a result of my conversion, I had been skilled in bible studies and have a cross on me. While I had been laid off of my job at accounting, I was given a “severance package” for a large sum of moneyfrom Mr. Giovanni. In the off time, I practiced my right to bear arms by going to the firing range and testing out a pistol I had recently bought with my boss.

And lastly, an immortal.

One day, I found myself feeling sick from a disease that had been undiscovered. There were rumors that this disease was prominently during the days of the Spanish Influenza, but to my end, all I could find was the remnants of a doctor who tried to cure the disease: Dr. Cullen. Overnight, it seemed he had disappeared… And I was stuck with what seems to be the sequel to the Spanish Influenza, to which I nickname Cullen’s Disease.

Now to make five memories:

  1. My name is Elijah Brown. I am a businessman working at one of Amazon’s offices. I was recently laid off due to circumstances beyond my control.
  2. Isabella is my wife. She’s a devout Christian and managed to convert me. As a result of my conversion, I had been skilled in bible studies and have a cross on me.
  3. While I had been laid off of my job at accounting, I was given a “severance package” for a large sum of money from Mr. Giovanni. He expects me to pay at the end of the fiscal year or else.
  4. My boss and I went to the firing range one day, though I had attempted to do so to get into his good graces.
  5. I have been infected with Cullen’s Disease, which makes my skin pale, almost translucent in the daylight to the point where it can easily burn my skin. The most I know is that it was made by Dr. Cullen a hundred years ago.

Right out of the gate, we have ourselves a protagonist, some NPCs, and even an overall goal of finding and ridding myself of Cullen’s Disease. Now, we may properly begin our game by rolling for a prompt.

What sets this apart from Plot Armor is that not only are there a ton of prompts, but also that each prompt has its own back up prompt in case you ever come across it again. It looks at the problem that Plot Armor presented and found a means to improve upon it. Now, I shouldn’t really compare Thousand-Year-Old Vampire to Plot Armor, as Plot Armor was a one page made for a game jam while Thousand-Year-Old Vampire is close to two hundred pages and was not made for any event in mind.

However, the two are similar in the premise I had brought up earlier: they chronicle the events of a doomed protagonist and the dangerous world they have been placed in. A comparison is sort of inevitable, especially if more games like these two (or the Beast and Holidays, which also does a similar “roll for a prompt” gameplay mechanic) come out. But that’s enough banter from me, let’s get to the prompting.

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A Review of Alice Black: Blood Tribute

A couple of years ago, I purchased a Gamebook at a convention that uses the Fate Engine. I had been meaning to play it on this blog for some time and now, I feel like this is the right time. This is Alice Black: Blood Tribute (it’s also on Lulu). It is a pretty thick book at around 250 pages with a small enough pocket book size. One cool feature to note is that the game doesn’t go by pages but rather by sections. So, if you make some sort of choice, you instead go to a different chapter rather than a page.

Now, normally I would be playing through this as though this was an adventure, but I’m iffy on posting spoilers. I originally had the actual play written up to the end of the prologue (where it introduces you to the story and the premise of the gamebook), but I decided to use my better judgement and give a spoiler-free review instead in the same manner that board game reviewers do their reviews of Legacy games.

This may sound a little hypocritical, since I have tackled these kinds of gamebooks before and have spoiled the lot of them to the point where I gutted a few of them and broke down all possible routes, but allow me to explain: most of those game books were not only free to play (or pay-what-you-want), but were roughly twenty five pages at most. Barbarian Prince was also free to play and was old enough that, chances are, unless you’re new to the hobby like I am, you might have played it at some point.

While I have played a few pre-written adventures, the key difference is that those adventures are often just scripts for how certain aspects of the game would work. It’s mostly up to the GM’s discretion to figure out how those pieces worked and each story can be radically different depending on the GM, the players, the party make up, the rolls, and dozens of other variables. A CYOA Gamebook, however, doesn’t have this luxury. It gives you the story, asks you what to do, and then you read the result. It’s why I haven’t done a session on Welcome to Sand Hands.

Read more, though be warned that this may ruin your chance of playing this completely blind

How I Use CRGE Kai

This is going to explain how I use my go-to engine: CRGE-Kai.

Really, it’s just CRGE, but with Mythic and Ursa Minor attached, but I feel as though I should bring up how the process of how this works in this post so we’re all on the same page.

So, the game begins with the three factors set up: Chaos, Surge, and Turmoil. Chaos is Mythic’s Factor where it changes depending on how in control things are. Surge is CRGE’s Factor where it tracks how many vanilla Yes/No questions are asked, so as to swing the next question asked to a spicier result. And Turmoil is Ursa Minor’s Factor where it tracks uncertainty.

To give an example, the game starts at a Chaos Factor of 5, a Surge Factor of 0, and a Turmoil Factor of 2. The scene ends with the hero attracting a lot of unwanted attention from villagers and townsguard, but otherwise had the situation under control. There were also quite a lot of Yes/No answers that were vanilla, and, as a result, the Chaos Factor goes down to 4, Surge Factor goes up to 3 (as there were three vanilla yesses in a row), and the Turmoil Factor goes up to 4.

For the most part, CRGE answers the questions. When a double is rolled, either naturally or if with modifiers added, it triggers a random event, which Mythic handles. Modifiers are basically either the Surge Factor and the “odds”, which are modifiers of increments of 5 depending on how high those odds are. For example, “Has To Be” and “Impossible” are a 25 and a -25 respectively, while “Likely” and “Unlikely” are 10 and -10.

Ursa Minor activates when I either need to use something that makes long processes that require multiple rolls (i.e. combat or travel) into one single roll or when I roll an altered scene. Usually I don’t have a good idea for altered scenes, so I instead see if it triggers an incident from Ursa Minor, to which I use the incident rolls.

And… That’s roughly it. It’s simple, but at first glance, it’s understandably complex.

Storyline: The Cat and the Hen

We’re finally gonna play Storyline after about eight months… Life can be difficult sometimes.

Using the rules I discussed earlier, I will test out how the rules apply. Any tweaks will go into a later game I will play for Halloween.

The first thing I notice is that there’s two Stories to play out, as indicated by the unique backs and the numbers that dictate a set progress. I also have limited table space, so this will be a bit awkward. I will be using CRGE-Kai for these games.

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Stat It: Savage Worlds

You know what? Let’s also do a Savage Worlds Stat It too! Now, for the setting, I was thinking it’d be set in the Oldlands, long after humans left it to head to the Ironlands, thus paving the way for new species, namely the non-human, non-standard fantasy races. These result in the Aquarians, Avions, Rakshashans and Saurians being the dominant races.

And our party will consist of four of them, one from each race. Originally, I was gonna make the characters on savaged.us for ease of creation, but importing them over to Foundry proved to be a tad clunky, that and I think I might be able to finely tune the characters better if I went over the process for each of them instead of clicking on stuff and seeing what happens. I’ll still use Savaged for calculating numbers, but this will mostly be done manually. I’ll add, as a house rule, that the group gets one free Background Edge.

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Stat It: Ironsworn

I keep hearing nothing but good things about Ironsworn. It seems like the game for soloists to play. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been sleeping on it for so long, perhaps it’s due to me being busy with other projects or even thinking that, since the game is tailor made for solo play, the need to review it wouldn’t be needed. Part of the reason why I do Solo RPG Voyages is to experiment with playing games meant to be played with other people.

However, after a breakdown by Trever Duvall where he and the creator of Ironsworn not only discuss the game but also stat up Arn Kalapunki for the journey, I figured “what’s the harm in statting up a character?”, and so, here we are.

Having heard of the setting for Ironsworn, it makes me think of John Wick if he was in Winterfell or if he was a Witcher, where the protagonist(s) are characters who have sworn iron vows and must accomplish them, not unlike how assassins in the film series are bound by their word to carry out their contracts. The Winterfell part comes in when you see the setting is a harsh environment where winters are longer and harvests are rougher.

There’s nine regions in the Ironlands, the setting of the RPG, and each one not only has unique features but also a quest starter that you could use as inspiration. I decided to start with the fishing-heavy region that is the Barrier Islands. The quest starter there mentions a spectral maiden who offered the hero safe passage at a heavy cost. Perhaps an iron vow?

Next, there are the Truths. These help set up the background of the Ironlands to give it a unique feel and I like this. It kinda reminds me of how setting up a setting for Spark worked, where you would create three truths based off the setting you (and friends) have made. Each of these truths also have their own quest starters. There’s a ton of them, so I’ll just make a list of the truths I picked for the game.

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