Recently, if you are an iTunes user, and not downloading episodes directly from the website or Patreon you might have noticed that we're having some... Technical Difficulties getting the episodes to post. They seem to play just fine on our website, on Android, and other podcasting apps, but the official iTunes app has been making it hard to listen to certain episodes. Even after deleting the original post, making brand new posts, or even re-ripping the audio into new files, it's been difficult to make some episodes play, including our most recent episode. Since it's hitting different episodes and not all of them, at this time we will continue to post at our normal rate. We are currently looking for new avenues for hosting, as this would hopefully fix the problem and allow more of our backlog to appear in iTunes. We will keep you updated as best we can. We thank you for your support of Technical Difficulties.
With the upcoming US holiday and other behind the scenes events a new episode will not be posted this Wednesday. Our apologies. Feel free to peruse the back catalog, such as the temporally appropriate National Slamthem PPV from World Wide Wrestling.
by TechDiff's own Laura B
Stepping out the door, Woodsman took a deep breath of the chill air. The crabapple pollen was down from yesterday, there was a hint of Red Lake currants beginning to blossom on the air, and no more than 13 Casualties on the Valentino fence this morning—the tang of death and Blight juice was just about right for that many. There’d probably be a drive to the fence before Friday’s phys. ed. practicum.
Woodsman (he barely ever thought of himself as Erik anymore) scanned the crowd of children running around the yard as he left the dorms. He still wasn’t used to how muted children playing tag at Valentino was. His head snapped left; just a puff of dust kicked up by one of the youngest’s sandals. Smelled dry; they needed rain soon for the barrels. Made sense the enclave had abandoned this courtyard to recess/training though—the dirt here wouldn’t even support a grass variety. Woodsman paused as the smell of kicked dirt intensified from his right; two girls in 5th rank uniformed pants ran past him, the one in the lead suddenly juking behind him and evading the second. It wasn’t enough and, a bit past Woodsman, the longer-legged second caught up and tagged the first.
Still weaving his way through the courtyard, Toto alternating between chasing a child and following at his heels, Woodsman made his way to the edge. Jane looked up from the roots of a sambucus candensis she was digging around. Kelev thumped his tail once and went back to wiggling around in the dirt Jane was turning up; Toto bounced into Kelev. A waft of elderberry juice mixed with bone-dry dirt wafted up as the two dogs wrestled. Woodsman nodded towards the former soccer field and Jane stood up. Woodsman whistled the follow signal and turned towards the field.
Roger the Nurse was walking through the children towards the dorms Woodsman had just come from. A lumpy, brown haired chubby infant stared at Woodsman over her shoulder.
Woodsman blinked and dug his fingernails into his right palm; the smell of hot copper was in his nostrils. He blinked, hard, but the skin sloughing off Nurse’s should remained. He closed his eyes, squeezing them tight. He could hear his breath ratcheting up.
A small hand slipped into his left hand. Woodsman looked down; Jane was watching Roger the Nurse too. She looked up at Woodsman; her eyes blank but her lips were twisted in a pinch of sadness. She squeezed Woodsman hand and he squeezed back.
“Right,” Woodsman said with a sigh, “let's work on teaching Kelev the right distance from Casualties for kiting.
The drone went down at 8:09 pm on April 23rd. This sounds like a piece of needless minutiae, but the person we’re following is detail oriented, and she took note of this particular fact. She still thinks of herself as ‘Madeline’ even if that name is unknown to anyone else. Madeline found the timing curious because the drone stopped responding exactly at sunset. To the best of her knowledge, the drone landed in the center of a field in an area with very few casualties. If she remembered correctly, which she believed she always did, Valentino used that field as practice for dealing with casualties.
Madeline was not right in the head. She pushed people away and responded to any critique with aggression. She was there to do a job, what did it matter that she was rough around the edges? This made her superiors treat her as an acceptable loss, but she didn’t realize that. Instead, she had the ire of her coworkers to deal with. They hated her, but she was used to it. She would tell them what to do, and berate them until they did it. When they went with her plans, the work was so much easier. Why couldn’t they just fucking listen to her? Some day, Madeline will realize that this isn’t a healthy thought pattern.
Madeline did not fit in at corporate training. She was brittle and egotistical - smart enough to realize that she was smarter than everyone else, but not empathetic enough to mask that intelligence or use it as a means of ingratiating herself. She was the gear that ground down the less well-made cogs. If you couldn’t work to her standards, you deserved the punishment she dealt you. She thought of it as the crucible that created better tools.
There were logistical issues in reaching that field, of course — Madeline only had her dronkey, which was little more than a shotgun mounted on a robot — but she was resourceful. With the right planning, it was very easy to travel through the Loss as a solo traveler. There were raiders in the area, of course, but for some reason those raiders liked one of Madeline’s coworkers, so she spoofed his signal on Ubiq. The occasional friendly message from “420TimberwolfLyfe” was summarily ignored. Madeline wanted to figure out what happened to her drone then get back to work.
Sometimes she thought about when she left Seattle. She was in training then, and her superiors actually flew in a helicopter for some of them as a way out. The corporate campus was in shambles—geeks in short sleeved button downs bolted like someone came up with another competitor to Bitcoin or Netflix for pet supplies—they were more interested in spreading the Blight than the next big tech disruption. In private, Madeline thought this gave them more meaning than their previous lives.
It was after dark by the time she reached the field. By all rights, Madeline should have been scared, but Madeline was not right in the head. She was more worried about invisible threats—attacks on her tools, the things that made her useful—than her own life. This made her take risks when those tools were in danger. She found her drone, a surprisingly up to date model for someone living in the Loss. Her superiors had sent it to her, but she maintained to her coworkers that she stole it from an agricultural enclave.
Madeline didn’t understand why her superiors dropped her off in the Loss. Everyone else in the helicopter got to go to the Recession but her. “We need someone to act as an agent in this area, and we think you’re the best at it, Madeline. You’re the best operator we have when it comes to new technology, and you have that killer instinct that the other corporate types lack.” Madeline thought about that almost every day—couldn’t everyone else see the best course of action in an instant? Most problems were so easy to solve. There were the hard problems, but that had more to do with putting in effort—Madeline could tell the code in her drone caused it to malfunction, so she’d be spending the next few nights debugging it. That was a hard problem. She packed her supplies up, slung it back on the dronkey, and hoofed it back to Split Rock.
The defect caused the drone to land at sundown. Madeline was detail-oriented, and sometimes, the devil is found in the details, which is where she found the offer. A subroutine had been corrupted—rogue code placed into a weather app designed by government meteorologists.
“Your escapades have come to my attention, I have therefore looked into your situation. I believe it is your best interest to know that your parent company, Pear, has intentions of securing loose ends and removing you from service. The DHQS has need of personnel of your caliber and capability. I can offer you an alternative form of retirement than the bullet that your current employer has planned. I obviously must have viable proof of your willingness to forsake your current situation and join the right side of the efforts of mankind. “
She weighed her options. Everyone was out to kill her. No one liked her. Her relationships had eroded like the Rocky mountains. The one place where she had loyalty, the company that had specifically saved her life, had her in their sights as a target. Madeline always found it very easy to make decisions; the trick was figuring who would be the best pawns. Maybe the kid who hated her and the man who was afraid of her...
Occasionally, I, Laura B, can be a complete doofus. To the tune of misplacing a Kickstarted RPG book (Ki Khanga), thinking I never received it, contacting the publisher, saying I think I never got it, getting a new copy no questions asked, and then… finding my original copy of the RPG.
But the error on my part is y’all’s gain! Because now, for our anniversary celebration, Technical Difficulties is giving away this copy of Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Roleplaying Game for free! And when I say free, I’m including shipping (within the United States — folks in the rest of the world, we’ll work something out. Also, we’re sorry that using the US Postal system to ship things out of the country is a disaster.)
How can you enter this raffle giveaway? Just leave us a rating and/or review on iTunes! Everyone who helps us reach more listeners this way from now until the end of April gets one entry in the raffle. Also, if you’re a patron of the podcast, you’ll get one entry in the raffle. Both a patron and leave us a review? You get TWO entries!
Help out the podcast and get a chance to own Ki Khanga, the African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy roleplaying game with a playing cards resolution mechanic — sounds like a win-win to me.
Also, go check out MVMedia’s other amazing offerings.
And now for a character study of Martin Luther, from the 10K Lakes world, written by special guest author Lonnie
He stepped on the box.
It was a clear day, the sky a bluish white that stole what heat was in the air and replaced it with light that hurt the eyes if you raised them too high or looked too long at the snowdrifts beyond the camp. Everything man-made touched by it turned the brown of dried mud or the gray of an elephant, leached of color by the brightness.
He cleared his throat.
"A moment of your time, brothers and sisters, before you go." His voice was soft, but clear in the chill air, seemingly carried on the light. A student of music or voice would call it dynamics, but he didn't have that vocabulary, only the lessons of the listening to a thousand sermons, the rhythms, the pacing.
You don't need to be loud to be heard.
"I'd like to thank Sister Rose and her family for preparing that fine meal. Hopefully the supplies the church has brought can ease this winter, as this meal has eased our hunger."
Sometimes, he hated the looks he got as the archaic forms came from his lips. He's just a kid, talking like an old man, was the unspoken reproach of people twice his age who'd survived on hard measures and God's mercy, even if they didn't believe it.
But he was his father's son, raised for just this duty in just this way. In the cold light of his self-reflection in the quiet moments, he decided that talking like a teenager wouldn't make things better, either.
"However, I also came to give you the good news that the church is almost built. Our work is almost done, friends."
"So what?" This came from a man who shouldered through the small crowd to stand in front of the young man on the box. Even with the extra height, the man's eyes were level, such was his height. He was a huge frame, with the black veins bulging in his exposed face, running into the rough growth of beard. He raised a hand where the dark merged with the dirt to point a mottled finger. "Another miniature Enclave, with yourself as boss, I take it. Won't be any better than here. Thanks for the food, but no thanks."
The boy shook his head. "No, I'm not here to be Caesar. I am only here to tend the flock. I - "
"Then why don't you go back to Covenant and run your precious church there?" The man interrupted.
"Because even in Covenant, there are walls." The bitter tone behind the answer even surprised the young man, now that he actually verbalized it—but he realized it's truth the moment it left his lips.
The large man was brought up short by that. He looked mutely at the young man, or maybe the brown red wall behind him, tall and menacing.
"Have you ever wondered why the church hasn't tried to invite you all to Covenant? Why you're here, among those who haven't received judgement, instead of safe behind their walls?" He let the question sink in to a suddenly unmoving crowd. "It's because the men who run it fear what would happen if the church became too large. If people could come freely."
He lifted his hands. "Friends, you know who I am. Doubtless you've heard what I do. And what I've done. But know this," his voice rose. "I don't do it for myself. I have no home in the Recession to go to. Everywhere on Earth, there's a wall to keep out the faithful. They fear God's judgement. And so it falls to me to build a place—the ONE place—where the wall will keep us all safe, instead of keeping us all out."
"I don't come asking for Bounty. The work is almost done. Hopefully, in a short while—" After I've finished committing all the sins I can stand, his brain added unhelpfully, if silently— "we'll be able to open the gates, and all are welcome. That's all." He made a helpless gesture with his left hand and stepped down from the box.
"Even if we don't believe?" came a woman's voice from his right side. He'd turned, so he hadn't seen her. He turned back around, but didn't bother to meet her eyes. He was so tired.
"The Lord's reach is not shortened for sinners. It's not even shortened for them." He waved a hand at the wall where the hint of rifles behind slots in the wall loomed, fencemen watching. "They haven't been judged yet. That's God's work. But they will be."
He left in silence that felt like defeat. Always the same at every Enclave. The work of the Lord is hard, his father had told him over and over. Walking away from the small camp, he hoped it would be worth it.
He took out his Ubiqs and put them on. Time to go find Toss Up. His work was almost done.
Taxey kisses Shardonae, tucks the sheet around her, and creeps out the door without waking the baby. He's getting good at that, finally. Outside the shack he slides the Bounty cards into the rent slot, and just like every month, thinks about how easy it would be to pop the lock off (but they'd know it was him, better wait on that shit 'til it's time to leave this enclave anyway). He climbs the cliff ladder up to the streets that ring the Split Rock lighthouse.
Then he puts the earbud in, hits play on the worklist. Same first track as always - M.O.P. feat. Busta Rhymes, Teflon, Remy Martin - Ante Up (Remix).
"Attention please, attention please...this shit here feels like a whole entire world collapsed...motherfuckaaaaaaa..."
Just 15 seconds, then switch it off to save battery. That's all he needs, the rest plays in his head. Soundtrack to the everyday hustle.
Today's hustle: debt collection. Yesterday a kid named Alex showed up here in Split Rock flashing around a shiny new AK -- and a stack of Bounty cards that looked way too thick for somebody who'd just made that kind of purchase. Sure enough, a quick check on Ubiq of the New Hamar gun market shitlist showed Alex as a credit customer in arrears. Nice little contract for anybody who could settle him up.
Second track. Gang Starr - Just to Get a Rep.
"Stick up kids is out to tax -- and this is how the story goes..."
One Bounty to the morning fenceman gets Taxey the Alex’s location: the Bassboat Brothel. Two Bounty to the desk girl gets him Alex's room number and a key. Third floor, too high to jump out the window, nice. Climb up the steps, check the clock. 7:30 am, perfect timing to do this Pulp Fiction-style.
Play track three. Notorious B.I.G. - Gimme the Loot.
"You ain't got to explain shit,
I been robbin' motherfuckers since the slave ships
With the same clip, and the same .45
Two point blank, a motherfucker sure to die..."
Take off the shirt, the tats help for this kind of job. Pull the Glock 18, turn the key, kick the door, find Alex sprawled naked in bed next to last night's lady friend.
"Wake up call for Alex! Rise and shine, motherfucker." Taxey jerks the sheet off the bed and dumps Alex on the floor. He turns to the girl. "Hey, Carallina, sorry you ain't gonna get to serve him breakfast this morning. Here's something for your troubles." Taxey flips her a Bounty and she bolts out the door.
Alex is not coming around very fast, understandable after what must have been a long night. His eyes sweep blearily between the pistol in Taxey's hand and the darkness underneath the bed. Taxey kicks him in the face, flips the bed over, and grabs up the AK.
"Alex, this ain't ya gun, son. My boy T-Crit up in Somaliland says you ain't paid the bill on this chopper. So they gonna have to repossess it."
Alex mumbles something through the blood in his mouth.
"And also you gotta pay some penalty fees."
Alex inches toward the door. Taxey puts the Glock away and levels the assault rifle on him.
"Now A-Lay, I don't wanna have to test this chopper out, make sure it's still in working condition. So you just sit right there and we'll talk this through. New Hamar wants five Bounty for the trouble you gave 'em, and then I'm gonna need five more to cover my expenses in hunting your punk ass down. So that's ten Bounty. Ante that up, and you can bounce up on out of here, all square."
Alex indicates that he does not have ten Bounty.
"But you had it yesterday, I saw you flashing the stack around down by the pier. You had twenty, easy. You gotta learn to keep that shit on the downlow, bruh. Now the Bassboat's a nice place, and Carallina's a nice girl, but they ain't ten Bounty worth of nice. Now are you gonna pay up, motherfucker, or am I gonna be putting another dot on my knuckles?"
Alex eventually manages to explain that last night at some yacht party he bought some pre-crash molly and bottle service, besides the bed with Carallina. There’s only five left over. Taxey fishes them out of the pocket of the crumpled up pants on the floor.
"Five, okay, that's enough for the Muslims, but we got a little problem with my end still. That's bad news for Mister Alex. I'ma have to tax ya son, old school style. Take off that fuckin' watch."
As Alex shakily removes a cheap-looking fake gold watch, Taxey drops the rifle on the upturned mattress and pulls the pistol back out. It's tricky to toss a room one-handed while keeping a gun on a guy, but Taxey has had some practice. And Alex's stuff isn't too hard to collect. Find his backpack, throw the watch and the five Bounty in it, a half-smoked blunt, an unused DHQS-issued condom, and the clothes on the floor -- everything, shirt, pants, underwear, socks, boots.
"No hat, man? Thought you had a hat. Stylish kid like you should have a hat. Oh wait, there it is on the door hanger. Stand up and toss me that hat, homie."
The ballcap goes on Taxey's head with a jaunty tilt. The backpack goes over one shoulder. Alex, awkwardly standing naked, seems to suddenly realize the implication of Taxey packing up all of his clothes.
"Oh shit is right, Alex my boy. Next time maybe trying living within your means when the Tax Man's in town. Ayo, talk nice to Carallina, maybe she'll let ya borrow one of her see-through dresses or something. Now if you'll kindly step aside...oh wait, don't wanna forget this thing."
Taxey slings the AK over his other shoulder and saunters out the door past the cowering Alex, snatches up his own shirt from the banister and walks back down the stairs.
Track four. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg - Nuthin' But a G Thang.
"One, two, three and to tha four
Snoop Doggy Dog and Dr. Dre is at tha door..."
Blow a kiss to Carallina and the desk girl, and stroll out into the morning sunshine.
Taxey messages T-Crit in New Hamar with a photo of the gun and a photo of Alex naked on the floor. He sits on a bench by the lighthouse, checks his new watch -- 8:00 am, good work for half an hour. Might have some time to kill. Put on Run the Jewels 2, the full album, and light up the blunt.
His Ubiq rings four minutes later. The Muslims must be early risers, too.
"Ayo T-Crit, I found ya boy Alex. And as you can see, your property has been repossessed."
"Good morning, Taxey. Please, once again, call me Abdullahi now. But thank you for fulfilling our contract. Did you also secure the Bounty that Alex owes us?"
"Sure did, bruh. Five B for you. It was close, though, that shit was all he had left. Motherfucker was livin' large. I always told ya, man, never sell guns or drugs on credit."
"Yes, I recall. And I also recall that you personally demonstrated to us why that is. Your payment for this contract covers the remainder of your debt to New Hamar."
"Plus nothing. A drone will come for the rifle and Bounty this afternoon. Meet it at the lighthouse. When it returns, we'll take your name off the repayment list. You're welcome."
"Come on, T-Crit, I told you that shit wasn't me."
"Right, you just found that Glock 18 you're always waving around. You should really learn to keep that stuff on the downlow."
"Fuck you, T-Crit."
"Assalamu alaykum, Mike. Hey, congratulations on the baby."
It'll be good to be off the New Hamar shitlist before he ends up like Alex, but Taxey is still down four Bounty from this morning, and all of Alex's stuff put together isn't going to be worth more than two. And baby Shampane needs diapers and bottles.
Still no Freelance jobs on the Lifelines group either. It’s been like four weeks now, did the whole crew just fall off? Lazy-ass fucking Takers.
Fuck it, it's not even 9:00 am yet. He's got at least three hours before the drone arrives. That's time enough to put in work. And shit, all of Alex's money ended up somewhere in this town. Maybe his molly dealer is still slipping after that crazy yacht party. Might as well find out.
Finish the blunt and put on the next track. Wiz Khalifa, Big Bang & Big Bake - Hustlin' Everyday.
"I’ve been hustling like everyday
Doin' time on my grind tryna make a pay.
Hey, I’m still postin’ on the same block,
The same hood, still duckin' from the same cops.
I try hard, but the life that I live, man, ain't all it's seemin',
Sometimes I pray to God I’m dreamin’,
But I ain’t. Try to get out, but I can’t. Damn."
NRG peeked through the window of the bus garage. He could see Roger Arnold and Roger Martinez yelling at the two armed men outside the gate. He ducked back down, clutching Block and Sparky, praying they hadn’t seen him. Nitro stood at the door, growling. NRG appreciated his canine friend's courage, but knew he'd be no match for the armed coyotes. Mercifully, three minutes later, the roar of a motorcycle signaled that the bastards were gone. The two men breathed a sigh of relief.
"I think they're gone."
"Yeah Le--... NRG. I think they're flown da coop."
NRG helped Block up. Together, they lifted up Sparky onto Block's shoulders. The boy's giggles helped ease their tension.
"The bad men are gone?"
"Yeah, but they're only gone for now. They'll come back."
"But Roger and Roger won't let them in, right?"
"Yeah." NRG could only manage a half hearted reassurance for his son, worried for the day the coyotes had the money to buy or the balls to fight their way into Valentino.
A sudden knock at the door startled the family from their reverie. Block dashed with Sparky behind a bus while NRG drew his gun. Nitro, however, gave a playful bark at the door. A quiet voice came from behind the door.
“Sparky! Wanna play?”
“Left Shark!” The adults softened their stances as Sparky ran to the door. Left Shark stood behind the door, a rail thin Latino boy, his Valentino uniform hanging off his frame. Sparky waved to his dads as he ran out into the playground, his terror gone.
As NRG holstered his gun, he tensed as Block grabbed his shoulders, massaging them.
“God, Len, ya shoulders are so tense. Yer wound so tight I think yer about to pop.”
“Bl- Tom, can you blame me? The Coyotes at the gates, Freelance… god. I’ve barely been able to go out on jobs. I’ve had to stay here. We’re barely scraping by, I don’t know how we’re gonna-”
NRG couldn’t finish as Block spun him around and kissed him. Block, having an extra foot in height and a hundred pounds in weight, enveloped NRG with his body. NRG sank into his husband’s body, returning the kiss. Block pulled them to the ground as they made out. After a few minutes of passion they pulled back to face each other. Block had a giant shit eating grin on his face.
“Huh. Ya a’int so tense now.”
“... dammit, Tom.”
“Look, Len, I didn’t traipse half the Goddamn…”
“Goddamn United States for you to quit on me. I know, Tom.”
“Do you?” Block’s face nuzzled NRG’s. Block reached up to the table and grabbed the Ubiq Specs. He handed them to NRG.
“I’ll be fine. Sparky will be fine. Call them. Get us out of here.”
NRG kissed Block one more time, and stood up. He stared at the Specs. He donned them, and turned them on. His welcome screen showed his family, smiling on a Valentino bus. He wiped away a tear.
“Hey Ubiq, check messages.”
“Message from Freelance: Open Job Posting. Please notify Woodsman on availability.”
“Hey Ubiq, call Woodsman…”
Technical Difficulties wouldn’t exist without playtesting. We all joined up to playtest Red Markets. Between the games Laura edits and Ethan's historical scenarios, we have playtested quite a bit, which can be a great way to add something new to your game night.
The first thing for playtesting is to be honest about it. These are unfinished games that need to be tested. It isn’t helpful for the designer or the people at your table to pick something just to do it. Look for something that you’d want to play, or go into the game knowing it’s out of your wheelhouse.
Second, you have to actually read the book. It should go without saying, but there are times it’s been hard to find the time to read the playtest packet. But you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t. You might misinterpret something, which will affect how everyone views the game. Even if it’s in a familiar system, like Powered by the Apocalypse or Fate, the author might have added extra rules. You won’t know if you don’t read it.
At the table, remember to give it a chance and room to breathe. Play the game as you would any other. Treat the scenario like you would any other game. Don’t do a stale reading, get into character and invested in the setting. When the game is over, reflect on the game, and think about what you liked and didn’t. Remember to fill out any packets for the author and be honest. Lavishing praise is not helpful, especially if you are covering up a fatal flaw in the rules.
We recently did a couple of playtests. The first was Infinite Galaxies, the episode for which is already up and the Kickstarter is still going as of this writing. We were able to build our characters for this, so I was able to choose a class and build my character how I wanted. By having investment in W31RD with the bits I could add, I bought more into the game. By being mindful at the table, I was able to see what I liked and didn’t, and let the author know.
Second, we ran a playtest of a rules hack of Red Markets' Profit System, GM’d by Ethan. For this he has a specific setting in mind and made pregens for us to play. While this might have been restrictive, I used the spots he had created and the character’s former job to get in the mindset. I combined it with a funny voice and some characterization. By doing this, I got into character and made the game my own. In doing this I could focus on the rules, letting me give Ethan my genuine opinion.
Playtesting is an important part of RPGs. With the right mindset and preparation, it can also be an important part of your table. Have you had any experience in playtesting? Any stories or missteps? Let us know in the comments!
Due to the timing of the holidays there is no blog post for this week. We hope you and yours have a very happy holiday season! Thanks to all our fans from all of us at Technical Difficulties!
While we’ve been having a lot of fun with No Soul Left Behind, we’ve also been having some problems. Namely, remembering what our characters can do in game. While this is an ORE game and we’ve played games in that system before, the unique aspects to Better Angels are tripping us up. Since there are moves related to being another player’s demon, there’s actions you can with them. But we never remember that we can do them. When we do remember, we want to use them, which crashes the game into chaos. With our PCs, it’s hard to remember our powers and aspects, as they are usually long sections with specific rules. In this case, and in other systems, a cheat sheet would help us to better remember what we can and cannot do.
When designing a cheat sheet, it might be helpful to first take stock of everything you need as a player. Most character sheets are designed well and have what you need. Yet, there might be rules that affect your character that are hard to remember. If you’re playing a wizard with a lot of spells, having the spell names written down might not be enough. Perhaps a one to two sentence description of what it can do would help you choose better spells.
Some games, like Better Angels, already have a cheat sheet. There's a two sided player aid that has a lot of the info you need to play. However, shifting between pages or PDFs make it harder to keep stock of what you need at a given time. This is part of what made it hard me to remember what I can do. For NSLB, I use a word doc as my character sheet, and have everything on one page. I also have another page with the descriptions of my demonic powers and aspects. I copied all the text for them, so it is hard to read and contains flavor text I don't need. I can’t waste time reading a six paragraph description on the ‘Soulless Materialism’ power. I've realized I need to shorten it to a few lines that I can read quickly and know what I need to do. I also highlighted the Tactics used to activate my powers, so I know what to roll. Finally, I updated it for what my demon, Mammon from Accounting, can do, and what buttons I can use to push Angelina.
Another example would be Eclipse Phase. EP has an intimidating amount of stats, skills, abilities, and gear. In spite of my love for the game, I shudder to think about the task of filling out a sheet by hand. For our games I’ve used a fan generated Excel spreadsheet for character generation. There’s also a character generator program we all used for Into the Black, Singularity. You enter the information for your character, and it creates a couple page character sheet with everything you need. In spite of this, there’s so much gear I tend to forget, in addition to my skills. A cheat sheet with my gear and a short descriptions has helped me remember what Templeton can use.
For tabletop RPGs, knowing how to organize your character sheet is vital to using you character to the best of your ability. A cheat sheet in conjunction with your character sheet can make the game much easier. You won’t have to fumble around with the book or a tablet, stumbling to find stats or gear. Instead you can focus on the adventure at hand. Do you use cheat sheets? Any tips you use to remember what your character can do? Mention it in the comments
It was Thanksgiving here in the USA last week, and we are very grateful for you, our patrons. We're also grateful for Red Markets. The book's editor, Laura, got her copies of the book recently. Adam and Laura filmed a short unboxing video to celebrate!
We hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!
Halloween has come and gone. Despite my love of games like Delta Green and Red Markets, horror has never really been something I enjoy. I’ve been through enough in life that I don’t see the value in scares. However, I do know that horror can bring out some of the best stories. Making fear a dominant force in a story gives something for the characters to overcome. Having been in enough games and listened to enough actual plays, I’ve come up with some tips for when I run horror.
The biggest piece of advice comes from my writing mantra. While watching 'The Incredibles' commentary I was struck by director Brad Bird's advice to merge ‘the mundane and the fantastic’. This means to find the normal moments within something fantastic. For horror, this means seeing what can be scary in something that is not scary. Without going into spoilers, RPPR’s recent episode ‘Somewhere Lane’ took its inspiration from a weird TV show. The real show is a normal TV travel show and is not horror. However, it’s writing and presentation are so weird that it freaked out the GM. He used the weirdness found a way to make it scary, then wrote out a scenario in Delta Green. This made for a terrifying listen.
For our own games, history has also been a great fuel for terror. One of the reasons Ethan’s many Civil War scenarios are so scary is that they are based on real events. This can make for a delicate situation, however. You do not want to belittle actual people and their actual suffering. Make the events into framing devices for the horror. You and the players know these events actually happened, and are often worse than the scares you came up with.
In Legal Tender, I wanted to find new and different places to stage fights with zombies. This made me think of places where it would be interesting to have a fight. It made me think of Discovery Zone, which led to one of the episodes that freaked out the players the most. It also led me to candy factories, which led to the creation of the ‘Candyman’ Aberrant that the players hated so much. Neither of those places are inherently scary; in fact they are nice to go to. But by thinking of them as places for the PCs to investigate led me to things that can be scary within them.
Now that you have the scenario, the final key is to make it scary. Make it tough for the PCs to win. Or even if they win, they lose something along the way (health, sanity, gear, etc). This doesn’t mean you take away the players’ agency or kill them in one shot. But you have to put pressure on them to perform. This is one of the areas I know I need the most growth. I’m always interested in the story and I want the players to succeed, so sometimes I go easy on them. But pushing them to their limits will add more tension. Tension, combined with the horrors you’ve thought up, will make for a very scary game.
We recently played another of Ethan’s Civil War scenarios. The adventure has us going through the Siege of Vicksburg. While the story gave us options of what we could do, there's an act structure where we go from place to place in a set order. After we talked about the game after recording, it got me thinking about freedom in RPGs. For this game we had to be ‘on the railroad’, but it helped us experience the story Ethan was telling.
When done right, sandbox games lets players be in control. The players can go where they want, and find their own solutions to problems. This lets the players feel like they have more agency over the game. Letting things go at their own pace also allows for more character interactions.
Such freedom has a price, though. The GM is going to need to do a lot more prep. Having ideas for scenes that could fit wherever the players go, and having NPCs ready to use. By setting up ‘generic’ scenarios and NPCs, this can be easier. Rather than planning for the specifics of the adventure, have a few ideas ready. When it comes time to use them, dress them up with where the players are or who they've met. The other major issue is the potential to derail games. A funny NPC or a unique location might unwittingly draw the players' attention.
If you don’t want a sandbox scenario, the other option is to make it a railroad. Railroad scenarios have only one obvious solution to the PCs’ problems, or is the only option available. Doing this allows the GM to define the experience for the players. It can help make horror scenarios feel scarier, as it restricts what the PCs can do. Also, new players can get a better feel for a game if there’s only one way to get to the ending. And there are ways to make the PCs feel like they have control or options even when they don’t. Giving them a choice to make, such as “you have to escape, which way do you run?” or “what do you use to attack the monster” gives the players the illusion of choice. It doesn’t matter that, for these examples, the players will face the same obstacle regardless of which option they take.
In the game Ethan ran for us, we were able to choose our actions and how we reacted to things. It didn’t matter, though, as the scene would change around us and we'd be dropped into new sieges. This was ideal for what Ethan wanted to do, but if we might have felt like our choices didn’t matter if Ethan wasn't careful. That can be the problem with railroad scenarios. A too obvious or too restrictive railroad might distract the players or make them not want to play.
Prewritten scenarios tend to be railroads, and this can mean the game can seem inflexible. For several of prewritten games I’ve ran, like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Leverage, I always feel like I have to put my own spin on the scenario. There were parts in each game where players were expected to do something. More often than not, the players will do anything BUT what they are expected. For example, I had to rip out chunks of Leverage since the players thought of creative, better ways to deal with problems.
As is always the case for issues in playing RPGs, the key is being open with the people at the table. By asking what the players are looking for when they play, the GM will know how to run things. Having an idea of the scenario allows the players to know how to play and how to let their PCs act. Both sandboxes and railroads have a place at the table. It’s all a matter of knowing when to use them.
Of all the games we've been preparing to run, there's one I've been itching to GM — Paul Matijevic’sBreakfast Cult. I’ve been playing it in a home game of it for over half a year. I can safely say it’s been the most fun I’ve had in tabletop RPGs.
Breakfast Cult is a Fate Accelerated hack that was Kickstarted. I had never heard of the system until one of the guys I game with asked if we wanted to play a campaign of it. The rest of the group seemed eager to play, so I was willing to give it a chance. I’d also never played a game in a Fate system, so I wanted to see how the mechanics worked. After having played in over a dozen games and enjoyed them greatly, I purchased my own physical copy.
The game is a mash up of anime high school comedy, mysteries, and Cthulhu Mythos style horror. It takes place at a school for the gifted in a world where magic is known. The player characters are trying to make it through their days in tact. Whether it’s cults, aliens, or truth or dare, the teens have many problems to overcome.
The game uses Fate Accelerated, which has players only use the same Approaches. The five Aspects are framed around their school lives. The Stunts usually revolve around the types of magic the player character uses. Breakfast Cult's signature are its Agenda Aspects. These are secret aspects only the GM knows that drive a player’s motivations.
Where Breakfast Cult shines is its setting. Matijevic spends most of the book creating a rich world, describing the world, magic, and the school. Fate system games run the risk of being too vast and too loose with rules. Breakfast Cult avoids this by showing how magic works and how different characters use it. This grounds the game and lets the players work to not make overpowered jokes.
Each character has multiple premade agendas that explain their motivations. There’s plenty of options for characters too: the core book comes with 20 pregenerated characters. The players may end up not using them. In some ways that’s better, as that’s a big group of characters ready to be used into your game. The game is also very inclusive, with many races, genders, nationalities, and ability represented.
Having played and run the game, I am very grateful my friend suggested it. With such a rich setting, the game is full of life before you start. Making characters is easy, and when the group leans into the anime ridiculousness, it can create some unique characters. Using the pregenerated character is still fun as you can put your own spin on them. The starter scenario (in the book for free this time) does a good job of showing the GM and players how the game is played. And with two books, the third coming out soon, and more on the way, Matijevic is committed to building out the product line. I’ve liked many of the games we’ve played on Tech Diff, but Breakfast Cult is one of the few I can say that I love.
One of the best aspects of modern tabletop RPGs is the wealth of games to play. It’s also a challenge, because it’s easy to buy a bunch of games and never play them. To help cut into the surplus, we’ve been playing some of the games we’ve purchased over the years. I’ve started things off by playing one of the games I’ve been most eager to try: Leverage by Margaret Weis Productions.
Leverage is an RPG based off of the show of the same name that ran on the American TV Network TNT. The elevator pitch would be ‘a weekly show of Ocean’s 11.' It stars a group of semi-reformed criminals who are recruited by people who have been wronged by the powerful and greedy. They use their skills to take down these evil people and right wrongs… and make some money off it too.
The RPG intrigued me ever since I heard it played on the Drunk and Ugly, who did a four session mini campaign. As system devoted to heist movies and shows, it’s radically different from other systems I’d played or heard before. I was eager to try and purchased a pdf off of DriveThru RPG, which also sells physical versions of the book. There’s also a group of splat books that have been combined into a couple of physical releases.
The book is divided in three. The first section explains how the players create PCs, the second if for GM on how to run a game. The third section shows how the screenwriters of the show created the first two seasons. The book is a clean and easy read, with plenty of art. The art is screencaps of the TV show, but this means the book has art almost every 1-2 pages versus the typical 4-6. The fonts are not simple and laid out well.
The game uses the Cortex System. It uses all dice except d20s, and has you roll a skill plus a job type (e.g., Willpower + Mastermind) to beat a target number rolled by the GM. It has a Moxie-like system with ‘Plot Points’ which you get for rolling 1s. In exchange for making complications for your character, these plot points let you add dice to later rolls or create items to use.
The book, for all that it does have, does not have a premade scenario. There is one available, called “The Quickstart Job”, which I was able to grab for $1.99 on DriveThru. The Quickstart Job teaches you and the players every aspect of the game. Almost too well. Most premade scenarios that are introductions to the game are very railroady. The Quickstart Job is a bullet train, with very little leeway and a likely run time of 1.5-2.5 hours. Even mixing it up for the podcast, we still managed 2.5 hours. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad scenario, it did help us get a grasp of how the system works. It’s just too linear, especially for experienced players.
For having only read the book and run one session, I am glad I picked up Leverage. The system is simple to run, and with proper planning and allowances for improvisation can make great games. In doing something no other game was focusing on, Margaret Weis Productions put out a great game. I’m hoping to have us run a campaign someday, or at least more scenarios. Preferably something without a railroad.
When playing RPGs, it's important to know the people you are playing with, who they are as people. By recognizing their play styles, you can cater your play to their strengths. It doesn't matter if you're the GM or another player. In doing this everyone can have a better experience at the table.
The most obvious aspect is how they treat others. In other venues, like work, meals, or hanging out, they may act one way. Once people get in game they may act differently. Are they working together with each other to play, or are some people trying to talk over others? When decisions have to be made, do they work on a solution, take control, or abdicate? Are there people who are quiet and not active in the game? Is the GM working with the players to succeed or are they a killer GM?
This leads to how people are acting in game. Are people getting deep in character, or playing with next to no role play? Are there specific parts of the game that are engaging people? Note how everyone is acting in combat or in investigative or dramatic scenes. Do the players and GM tend to focus on one aspect? Are people acting in ways that are inappropriate?
With this knowledge, reflect on what you've seen. If there is a part of the game the group enjoys more, try to find games that focus on that aspect. If combat is what players crave, try to find systems that focus it, like Eclipse Phase or Dungeons & Dragons. If people are more into investigation, try systems like Delta Green or Gumshoe. If interaction is what gets people excited, try systems like Fiasco or MonsterHearts.
As to the players themselves, how they play can help you play better with them. If players tend to work together and corroborate, you've got a great group. If they talk over others and try to be the center of attention, find ways so they feel part of the game but not hogging the spotlight. Spotlight other players so everyone gets a time to shine. If the GM is making things too hard, try to work with them to make the game something everyone can enjoy.
If there are issues where people are acting inappropriately, try talking to them in private or with another person. If it is something that can be corrected chances are they will be willing to work with you. If they don't, then maybe they aren't a good fit for the table. The throughline in all of this is communication. Talking with your fellow players before and after play can help you see what you all like and dislike and can improve your play.
Now that we're back from GenCon, we thought it would make sense to look back at our previous blog. See how we followed our own advice and how we strayed.
Taking care of yourself was the biggest advice, and advice that I clung to. I had numerous instances where I had to march from one end of the con to the other. At least once a day I ended up back in my room during the day. I used this time to grab an extra shower and just lay down and relax for twenty minutes. It meant time away from the con and my friends, but likely helped my mood and health.
Eating turned out to not be as big of a problem. I had snacks, but only had to rely on them once. More often than not I was with family or friends who wanted supper and we organized meal times away from the convention. Planning together meant we never went hungry. With this, I was able to follow 3-2-1 rule easily. It ended up being more like the 5/6-3-2 rule.
Even though this was the biggest GenCon ever, I never had any issues with the size of crowds. Lines seemed to move fast and I was never overwhelmed by the size of the crowds. And with other issues, everyone was really eager to help. Friends and family obviously, but even some strangers helped with bags or asked if you were OK. That doesn't mean everyone there is like that, but GenCon goers have generally been for me a positive, helpful group.
1. It is possible to GM a game from 8pm to Midnight and then start another at 8am the next day.
You just won't like it. And may feel dead for the rest of day two.
2. Don't bring any perishable food.
Even if you get lucky enough to have a hotel within two blocks of the convention. GenCon is part of Midwestern fandom (and a trade show). There is no consuite like in Southern fandom. In addition, GenCon is in a purpose-built convention center — this means the infrastructure to support going out to eat at the convention is robust. Which means the food is actually pretty tasty. So the social expectations, at least among the RPPR fan crowd, is that folks go out to lunch or dinner together.
So all that perishable fruit Adam, Rachel, and I brought to snack on didn't get eaten and went bad. Bleh, food waste.
3. Pantry items, like granola bars, do work well.
Granola bars, string cheese, apples, and water bottles were worth carrying. Especially the water bottle. Even given how heavy full water bottle are. Don't worry, as you drink the water you'll be replacing the weight with loot/swag.
4. GenCon is not a costuming convention.
That's not to say that no one is in costume, but the vast majority are not. Keep in mind that my baseline of what a ‘costuming convention’ looks like it's Dragon*Con, where you see a multitude of costumes walking the hallways anywhere and plan how to move through crowds based on costumes you need to duck around. So, for me, GenCon is not a convention it's worth bringing my costume for, not when I rather do other things than go back to my hotel room and change out of a costume.
Which is a bit of a shame since it's a lot easier to throw the costume in the car for the drive to GenCon than check a bag for the plane ride to Dragon*Con.
5. Expectation drop as a GM — try to avoid it.
First, to define my terms. Expectation drop is that sinking feeling you get when you were excited to do a thing because you expected it to be X, but instead it's Y.
If at all possible, I recommend avoiding this at conventions, as a GM or a player. You'll (most likely) be playing with folks you don't know, and so won't be able to anticipate their play style. Without knowing their play style, that gritty, dark investigation you signed up for could easily be a screwball comedy. Without knowing the players’ levels of genre awareness, that tense horror game can easily become a SWAT team monster hunt. I'm not saying you should ignore game descriptions — absolutely go for games that sound interesting — just don't expect any particular tone or style. I find when all I expect is to experience a system and I'll get what I get from the players, I have a better time.
It does help being the GM and getting to at least try to set the tone.
It is mere days away from GenCon, and some of us from Technical Difficulties will be attending. This'll be my third convention, second time at GenCon. It's helpful before attending a convention or any sort of event with this many people to go in with a plan. By giving thought to what you do, it'll help you and everyone else at the con have a good and safe time.
The most important thing to remember at a con is that you need to take care of yourself. This might seem like a no brainer, but it's when you're in the heat of the moment it might be hard to realize what you need. It's easy to spend time with your friends and then suddenly it's nine hours later and you haven't eaten. Making sure you take time out to eat and drinking plenty of water are vital to a good experience. At Origins there weren't many food options I could find. I had brought a water bottle and packed some granola bars, so that had helped me get through the day.
There are other aspects of self care to take into consideration. Making sure you have good hygiene and clean clothes seems obvious. That is, until you have to run through all your clothing because it rained or was very hot. Taking extra clothing and ensuring time to bathe and relax at the beginning and end of the day can keep you going.
Veteran con goers (and newer folks with expert friends) are probably aware of the 3-2-1 rule, which are a decent set of minimums to adhere to at a convention. 3 hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 bath or shower per day minimum. The 3 hours rule works better at 3-day conventions, compared to GenCon’s 5-day marathon, so we recommend 5 or 6 hours of sleep minimum. Trust us, that interesting thing at 3am on day one is not worth being too tired to enjoy those three interesting things on day four.
Your health is also of the utmost importance. You're going to be walking a lot and in potentially very hot weather. Even if you're sitting outside, the summer heat can catch up real quick and give sun burns or heat stroke. Being cognizant of your surroundings and taking breaks will keep your energy up.
There's also a psychological side. If you're not used to being around a lot of people, being surrounded by thousands of people can be overwhelming. Taking time to go to a quiet place or back to the hotel may be needed. And remember that you can always say no. It may be as innocuous as saying no to one more game, or something more serious, but you can always tell someone no. Conventions are about having fun, and no one should impede on your well being.
Connected to this, with huge crowds there are going to be bad people. If it's feasible, avoid them. If you have to interact, keep it brief and walk away. If they cross a line, walk away or deflect. If they break con rules or threaten your personal safety, get away and let con staff or security know. You are not responsible for making a scene: they have already done so by engaging in bad behavior.
In the midst of the moment it's easy to forget things, or to be uncomfortable and not want to rock the boat. But your health and wellbeing are of the utmost importance. I've learned a lot of these lessons outside of gaming, in cons or at sporting events. I've had to find rest walking over a mile to get to FedEx Field in Maryland because of bad infrastructure. I've had to worry about if I had to get a family member to the hospital because of sunstroke at a really hot OSU game. I've skipped meals while waiting to get into games and gone hungry because of overpriced food. Learning lessons from these experiences helped make my GenCon trip last year a lot easier. Keep them in mind, have fun, and be safe.
Hopefully we'll get to meet at GenCon if you're there!
First Things First
Templeton sank into the chair, holding his head between his hands. The neo-pig had removed the jacket to his security uniform, leaving slate gray pants, combat boots, and a white sleeveless undershirt to contrast with his pink flesh and black tattoos. The tall man continued to type at the terminal in the stark white room filled with lab equipment and server racks. The man brushed aside his black hair and turned around to face the Neo-pig.
“Yeah… That was hard.” Templeton tossed the VR specs onto the floor. “‘Enhanced’ interrogation my ass. I’m not the best with AGIs, and it was… angry.”
“Well, it understood we were going to delete it. But we had to know.”
Templeton stared at Conrad as he removed the server blade and began methodically taking it apart. He was still in his black vacsuit, the seams still visible as the self-healing material continued to reform, as his hands swiftly worked the screwdriver to disassemble the blade as quickly and methodically as always.
“... does it get easier?”
Conrad walked over and put his hand on Templeton’s shoulder, touching the bare skin of his wide back. His fingers started to trace Templeton’s tattoos, tribal style concentric circles, stylized as spiderwebs.
“It never does. But you know what helps with the pressure?”
Conrad bent down and grabbed Templeton’s plasma rifle from where it rested on the floor. He lifted the massive rifle and set it as gently as he could in Templeton’s hands.
Conrad patted Templeton’s shoulder one last time and exited the lab. Templeton stared at the rifle. He then stood up, walked over to the workstation, and aimed.
Last Things Last
Four years earlier…
Templeton exited the showers into the locker room. Finished drying himself as best he could, he balled up the towel and threw it into the hamper. He turned towards his locker and found Doctor Marita Valencia waiting for him, smiling. Dr. Valencia was dressed in her white and red Argonaut jumpsuit and covered in her white lab coat; her brown curls tied into a ponytail. Templeton recoiled and started to dart his hands down towards his crotch to cover himself. He then paused, looked at his hands, and took a seat at the bench across from Dr. Valencia.
“What was that?” Dr. Valencia said, tilting her head and adjusting her augmented reality specs.
“I felt shame briefly. I went to cover myself, then thought more about why I felt shame. Before… before I was uplifted there was no shame.” Templeton looked at his hands, then looked at Dr. Valencia. “The thought was… so alien.”
“True. Shame is human concept. It’s been imprinted on you through our interactions.”
“Yeah. Clothing’s nice though. Speaking of which…”
“How’d the experiment go?”
Templeton shrugged. “‘Experiment.’ I wallowed in the spa’s mud bath for 20 minutes.”
Templeton rubbed his thigh. Lifting his hand showed that it was now a dull brown. “Still haven’t got all this damn mud off. I showered for 20 minutes.”
“But how did you feel?”
“I saw it’s value. I felt much cooler as soon as I dove in. Since I don’t really sweat, it made me feel much cooler. As a social construct, though… Maybe it’s because I was alone? I didn’t really feel anything. It was just an act.”
“Well, experiment. It wasn’t done to socialize, or to become one with nature, or because I wanted to. We did this to see if I could find any connection with my former life. I don’t have to wallow in mud anymore. I use jumpsuits that help me respire.” Templeton leaned back and started chuckling. “I also don’t have to be cleaning mud off my ass for the next three days.”
Dr. Valencia rose and smiled. “That is a benefit. Well, it was worth it to see if you felt anything. I appreciate your effort, Templeton.”
Templeton smiled. “So… can I get dressed? I’m not well read on the hab’s indecent exposure punishments.”
Dr. Valencia chuckled. “Of course. Just please get me the report by the end of the day?”
“Thank you, Templeton. I’ll see you in the cafeteria! I hear they have organic green tea the techs got off some Triad traders.” Dr. Valencia left the locker room.
Templeton smiled and started to get dressed. He hoped that this adventure would help map pig uplift thought. He was so lost in thought he didn’t immediately notice the alarm going off in the hallway. Or the screams.