roleplaying tabletop games

D&D Essentials: Pre-game thoughts

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials - Rules Compendium - cover
I do like the 4E art

I’ve read through the new Red Box (“Starter Set”), Heroes Of The Fallen Lands and the Rules Compendium, getting ready to run my first fourth edition D&D game. I’m only using these three products so far and want to see if I can actually run a game properly. I can, but it’s a can with a but. The problems I have are somewhat surprising.

With the Red Box, you get enough monsters to last a level or two, so the Monster Vault isn’t strictly necessary to begin with. I am going to get it if it looks like we’re playing for any length of time, though. The mere thought of a heavy box full of monsters, complete with counters for them, is very enticing.

You only get a single trap and no rules for creating your own. This is weird considering that traps are a major component of any dungeon. All you can do is look through released adventures and dungeons and wing it based on the examples, but there are not too many of those available for free. I hear that the Dungeon Master’s Guides, part of the vanilla 4E product line, do include full trap creation rules, so I may need to look into those. I can just improvise the effects and experience points based on comparable challenges, but a game master new to the craft might be lost here. It’s a weird omission. (To be fair, I think you get some more traps and rules in the Dungeon Master’s Kit, but as that’s the only thing I would need from it and the rest of content is recycled from Heroes Of The Fallen Lands and the Rules Compendium, it feels like a redundant product for me.)

You get so few magic items it’s not enough to last for the first level with a full party, and no rules for creating your own. This was a major bummer for me as planning and giving out treasure is actually my favorite activity as Dungeon Master. (Really!) Apparently the Dungeon Master’s Kit (also part of the Essentials line) has some more items, but word has it it’s still nowhere enough. I’m not going to get the Kit as it has very little stuff I would use – the rules are reprinted from the books I already have and I don’t want their ready-made adventures and the maps and counters you need to run them.

Now, I understand that magic item inflation was a big issue with pre-Essentials 4E’s lacking game balance, and the players’ ability to create their own really made things worse. This reboot effectively fixes the problem by making magic scarcer and not as everyday… but I can’t understand how come they haven’t released proper replacements.

The kind of set and guidelines put together in this series of blog posts would not have been a massive undertaking for Wizards. In fact, the “Magic item reset” by Perico is probably sufficient to last me through my Essentials campaign, even if it does mean that I have to make custom item cards myself.

Finally, even though the Essentials characters are much simpler than the kinds of characters you can build with the current full 4E set, there’s the issue of how to deal with powers at the game table. Race powers, class powers, feats, and so forth. You absolutely need all the powers per character printed out separately, as there is far too much crucial information per character to write down on a piece of paper.

I thought I could type up all the powers I need using a set of card templates, but having tried it, it is far too much work. This has become my biggest problem, actually. If I was ten years younger, I would just spend the couple of (whole) days writing up all the cards, but that isn’t really an option, now.

From Wizards‘ point of view the way you need the powers printed out is a great reason for you to subscribe to D&D Insider. The Character Builder is probably the one reason just about all D&D groups these days seem to subscribe, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The tool gives you a nice set of printable powers. I’m going to give it a try and see how it feels, although I dislike the idea of subscribing to an RPG toolset for the same reasons I dislike the feeling of subscribing to an MMO.

The DDI subscription would probably help with the missing traps, too, as it includes all the content of Dungeon magazine, with its pre-generated adventures. And there’s a metric ton of existing magic items, overpowered as they may be, available through the subscription, not to mention monsters and every single character option released for 4E (even though I’m only interested in the Essentials material).

The subscription would be a no-brainer for me if it wasn’t for my reluctance to get an ongoing subscription to a tabletop RPG, and the apparent beta status of the software. You can’t create your own items, for instance. Of course you can just add them after your character’s done, but the whole point of the software is that it does all the math for you and makes sure everything’s by the book.

Wizards would do well to acknowledge that most of their hardcore playerbase is all into house-ruling stuff, and they shouldn’t try to stand in the way of that. I’m genuinely bothered that straitjacketing so much of what traditionally goes on in an RPG campaign hurts the whole hobby by limiting imagination. We are all too happy to give you our money, but please let us play the game our way.

In conclusion, my biggest issue is the need to get the powers printed out. And as that’s fixed by the Character Builder, I should be all set. We’ll see how it goes down in a couple of days. These gripes aside, I’m really excited about the game.


Keeping it simple with exceptions

Exalted 1st edition cover
Exalted first edition cover. I like it a lot!

I had a talk with a friend about roleplaying game system complexity way too late in Midsummer night. This is another of those things that D&D 4E gets right.

I would like to play Exalted, but it’s far too cumbersome. The rule system just doesn’t apply to the kind of gaming it wants to be, and there are too many different resources and pools you have to keep track of (a very White Wolf problem ever since Vampire 2nd edition). To me, 4E is the game Exalted wanted to be. High fantasy, colorful powers, smooth, flowing combat.

The core difference is that 4E keeps the basic rules very simple and precise, streamlining a lot of things since the third edition, and doesn’t let anything complicate them. Then you have all the zillion zany powers, each of which is a separate rule. They don’t have lots of overlapping systems, except character build specific systems (stances, forms and so forth), contained to be that character’s player’s problem to keep track of. Each power you look at is a self-contained special rule, which you simply follow as written. You don’t have to recall any information from outside the power to be able to use it effectively.

I hadn’t thought about this much before comparing it to other, in general older systems on my shelf. As big and crazy as D&D 4E is, it’s actually a lot simpler to play than all of that more free-form, harder to judge and keep track of old school. I think this is also a big part of why it’s become so popular.


Planning for greatness

Scott Pilgrim - level upThe fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons does a great job with preparing Dungeon Masters for the journey ahead. They had parts of this back in the third edition back in 2000, but as with many other facets of 4E (2008), it’s only now really bearing fruit.

When planning games, you’re not planning just encounters or adventures. You’re planning arcs. Instead of telling you how to generate treasure for a monster’s lair, the DM’s introductory booklet in the new Red Box tells you how to generate treasure for an entire experience level, to be awarded over the course of 8-10 encounters as you see fit, taking the heroes all the way to the next level.

I find this very useful in putting together my games. Thinking about an entire experience level automatically puts you in the right frame of mind to consider longer story arcs and goals, beyond what goes on in the table on the one game night you’re preparing right now. It’s simple, but I find it very helpful.

Of course it’s also good for Wizards to make sure that games are planned towards being continued, and thus keeping players buying new books and other products. There have been cries about this perceivedly artificially accelerated rate of gaining experience levels, but I find it refreshing. Our AD&D heroes rarely got past level six, just because it took so long – I think we never featured anyone over level eight. Here the goal is to have campaigns that take players all the way from one to thirty, and then go back to the start. As a player, that puts me in the right frame of mind to think about my character’s personal epic, because if you’re playing even somewhat regularly, you see growth and change.

culture roleplaying tabletop games

D&D Essentials

Dungeons & Dragons Red Box coverI’ve been playing in a delightfully bonkers Dungeons & Dragons 4E campaign for a while now and really had a super good time with it. So much so, in fact, that I’ve been craving to run some D&D myself. The problem is that the game is very intimidating. Whenever we’re leveling up our characters, we need (I believe) five books and a computer software to do it. Whenever playing the game, some of us have five pages of powers they have to handle.

When a veteran Dungeon Master said that he had no way of knowing whether his players were just making shit up as they went along, I can totally relate.

“I long gave up trying to figure out what abilities and combinations the PCs had or how they worked. […] People would say things like “deep rumble strike” and then hit an invisible monster for 130 damage. Another would say something “astral wintersgate” and then negate an entire monster’s round of damage. There wasn’t a way in hell I could tell if they had a real power or were just making up nonsense words and then doing whatever they wanted to do.” – Mike Shea on

So I’ve held off for fear of never actually getting to play the game as it would be too cumbersome to set up and maintain. Just enjoy playing the thing and have others worry about all them books, right?

Then the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set AKA Red Box came out and I wanted it because it was just like my first actual RPG, the original D&D Red Box (although mine was Finnish). It works like the old set, offering a starter into D&D, except with the up to date rules. It was cheap enough for me to pick up on a whim, happening upon this token of the familiar in a sea of unknown, being alone in a big nerdy comic book store, waiting for an 8-bit gig to begin in Los Angeles.

I was aware of the “D&D Essentials” books, but browsing them at our DM’s table, I got the feeling they were like condensed reference editions for über players. It turns out that this new Red Box is the first Essentials product and the idea is that together, the Essentials form an easier to get into product line of D&D. And indeed, the box is very easy to get into. It lays down the path very easily – once you’re through the content here, get this one box for the DM and two more books (one for characters, one for rules) and you’re set for another 28 levels.

It uses the same rules as vanilla 4E, but streamlines things quite a bit. Unnecessary combat maneuvers are not touched upon nor missed and most importantly, the character builds are simpler. You still get lots of powers even on the first level, but it’s nowhere as unwieldy. Why you get by with just one book instead of five is that character creation options have been streamlined with a broadsword. You get fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric, and that’s it. You know, there was a time when that was plenty! If you really need a bit more options, there’s another Essentials book with druids, paladins, rangers and warlocks. That already feels like filler to me.

It really is all about the very basic stereotypes and if you think about it, pretty much everything else is just a variation of these purest of forms.

The justification for this is that the vast majority of D&D campaigns are vanilla fantasy with no need for all the options. Our ongoing D&D doesn’t have any straightforward characters – I guess my warlord comes the closest – and the Essentials would not work for this kind of “expert” campaign. And that’s fine.

I think I will be running through this Red Box this summer, and after that, perhaps getting that other box and the two books, too. Straight-up Dungeons & Dragons is what got me into the hobby in the first place and not a year goes by without a fond look back to those days.

roleplaying tabletop games


I played a Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG one-shot. It sounded like fun, everyone in the group was a fan, but when we began I was wondering. Won’t this be a bit awkward, aping the show? Or just lame, aping the show badly? At least shallow, not having our own ideas?

An empathic “no” is the outcome. We replaced the series cast with our own Slayer, Watcher (in the making) and white hat teenagers in high school and essentially played through a short, by the numbers episode, supposedly the first episode of a Buffy-like show. Vampire in school, dead janitor, hopping vampires in the cemetery. Laughs, stakes, mausoleums, parents Not Getting It.

The purpose of the night was to introduce a newbie player to tabletop RPGs. It turned out everyone shared a love for Buffy, so it was a natural choice to go with a familiar setting. Nothing in the characters, powers or the world required explaining. I realized the value in this approach, but what I didn’t realize was how it helped a new group really gel super quickly. Because everyone knew the Buffy tropes and archetypes, characters were established in the first shot in a very effective way. On some level I guess everyone knew what was going to or should happen next, and just pulled it together. Instead of being shallow, it was very satisfying.

I usually find funny characters in RPGS tiring and super hard to play, personally. I ended up playing a cross between Oz and Xander from the series, very much the brave, inept clown, and much to my surprise, comedy came naturally. We laughed a lot, which I don’t often see in brand new groups. I think it’s because everyone was so familiar with how Buffy is told, we knew what would be funny – what certain actions would look like, how lines would be delivered, even if we aren’t quite professional actors ourselves.

I think it also helped the new roleplayer considerably, because instead of a carte blanche “well, what do you want to do now?” she had a vast repertoire of “appropriate” actions in mind.

The cliche elevated the game to something I feel exceeded its ingredients. I haven’t seen this happen with too many games before, perhaps with the exception of Star Wars, and even there I’ve found the cliches something I must fight, not embrace. Perhaps I’ve been wrong, or perhaps it requires that the entire group (not some, not most) is on the same page, card-carrying members of whatever it is we’re fans of. I know I’m now looking at licensed roleplaying games in a very different light.

PC roleplaying

What makes a roleplaying game? (Echo Bazaar)

I’ve been getting into Echo Bazaar. At first glance a social game in the vein of Vampire Wars and the like, albeit with an intriguing premise of Fallen London, the game has ambitions quite different from the narrow-minded hunt for users found in most entries in the field.

The company behind Echo Bazaar, Failbetter Games, has lofty goals of making us participate in better storytelling. Their blog has some easy to digest musings on the topic.

Getting started with the game, it has surprising ways of pulling you in. First is the quality of writing. It knows it’s a browser game operating in a more or less familiar framework of games of its type, and doesn’t push its luck with massive walls of text, but instead surprises and makes you take notice. The rhythm and vocabulary used grab your attention, limited as the space may be. Instead of pretty pictures, it uses text to evoke a scene.

Then you’re presented with choices, and stuff you’ll only see once. They do a good job of using the addictive, grindy elements of these games to keep you interested on a mechanical level without making it feel like a chore to progress. I’m not very interested in the numbers that are increasing, but I am very interested in the story that’s being spun.

That story is interesting for a couple of things, both rare in videogames, much less browser based social games. First, it’s hard to get into. The world is weird (and wonderful) and there are few familiar touchstones. Used properly, this mystery serves to get and hold your attention. More information is rationed out very sparingly – almost all descriptions have some tidbits, but they build into a whole very slowly. And it all happens in your head. There are lots of different, overarching elements to the plot and the cast, and none of it is forced upon the player.

Second and more important, it’s about choices. The choices you make have consequences, many not readily apparent, and you can get to a fail state, almost unheard of in these kinds of games. Instead of mindlessly clicking forth, you’re thinking about what you’re trying to do. You have lots of separate goals you’re working towards at any one time, and few of them are mechanical in nature.

Just by using their allotted words well, Echo Bazaar paints a more evocative world than any big screen game I can think of. It more closely resembles the fine pen and paper roleplaying campaigns (Moist Aeons and Century) I’m playing in than anything I’ve encountered on Twitter or Facebook before. A worthy experiment, and well worth your time.

roleplaying tabletop games

Space Marines!


It’s a good time to be into Warhammer 40 000. There’s the MMORPG coming out, the action game (which looks awesome), the movie recently came out, more Dawn Of War II, and now the third entry in the Warhammer 40K roleplaying series came out, letting you play as one of the Emperor’s Chosen.

I’ve been reading Deathwatch (Christmas present courtesy of the lovely wife), rediscovering my love for the original Space Marines. While the term has seen bastardisation and inflation lately, the original kind have a special place in my heart. In the opening chapter, I learned more about the Warhammer 40 000 Space Marines than I have known before and for that alone the book is worth its place on the shelf. It’s full of incredibly nerdy goodness.

I’m not quite convinced how good a roleplaying game it’s going to be. I mean, you’re a Space Marine. You exterminate the enemies of mankind, and… that’s it, really. You have very little character to speak of and all you do is get from battlefield to battlefield and fight. Just about all of your abilities are combat abilities and the ones that are not seem entirely wrong in this context.

It will best play as a tactical exercise – very much like the small-scale Kill-Team rules in the previous, fourth edition of the Warhammer 40K tabletop game – except with a little more narrative on the side. This could very well be awesome, mind, but I fear that the rules may be slightly too vague to really work in that regard. Perhaps a mix between the bigger scale of vanilla Warhammer 40K fifth edition and the small scale of Deathwatch is called for. It does remind me of the original Rogue Trader, which was a miniatures tabletop game with very strong overtones of actually being a roleplaying game without advancement and non-combat rules.

The introductory adventure is an honest tactical sandbox, complete with a countdown mechanic, a map to explore sector by sector, random encounters, mechanical resources and objectives which bring to mind videogames. But it’s got Deatwatch Space Marines and a Tyranid invasion. You won’t see me complaining. It could be a board game or, well, a Kill-Team scenario from the previous editions of the tabletop game, with just a bit more flavor text and some non-combat encounters thrown in. But really, it’s about Space Marines kicking Tyranid butt, and all the better for it.

The heavy on mechanics, light on narration or outside of combat use powers remind me of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition in a good way. They also read like a tabletop combat game, albeit with slightly fuzzy rules. The RPG 3:16 could be seen as a parody of sorts of this game (although predating it), but it has better encounter mechanics, for instance. Deathwatch has plenty of cool and interesting mechanics, which would just work better if it didn’t pretend quite so hard to be an RPG in the vein of its older brothers, Dark Heresy and (the new) Rogue Trader.

The game could benefit from honestly just using miniatures to play to keep things clear, like D&D 4E finally made the switch with the latest edition from tactical, crunchy, but slightly unclear rules with a strong desire to use miniatures in 3E to a very clear, concise tactical exercise requiring miniatures and a grid to play. I imagine most folks are going to use 40K miniatures anyway – I know I am. To that end I will be putting together some Deathwatch miniatures, which I am now very eager to get to work on. It also gives me a good excuse to get a variety of special models I have seen little use for, including Apothecaries and Techmarines.

I’m really looking forward to a few good scraps with the Deathwatch.

PC PS3 PSP roleplaying tabletop games Xbox 360

Games of the year 2010

Heavy Rain

As usual, I’ve missed out on several “game of the year” candidates in 2010, only getting to them some time later, if ever. These include Red Dead Redemption (which I will get), Mass Effect 2 (will play), the new Call Of Duty (was it Black Ops in 2010? Not interested), Civilization V (not interested, never was into Civ beyond the original), Minecraft (probably won’t play, too time-consuming), Starcraft 2 (not my kind of game), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (the original was enough for me and I don’t have a Wii). Regardless, here’s the stuff that stood out for me over the past 12 months.

Games actually released in 2010

Heavy Rain – Is it possible to make an “adventure game” without any videogame logic entering the scenario? People solving problems by talking and making decisions, not finding and using objects? I have been wondering about this since I played my firs’t King’s Quest and it’s turned out that yes, it is. It’s also possible to make a videogame thriller without any fantasy elements. It’s also possible to make a videogame sex scene that I did not smirk at and a plot that I actually cared about on a personal level. I can’t wait to see the next game like this. I’ve been pimping this to folks and dragging them over to our home just to play this game, it’s that good.

Peace Walker – Delivering on the PSP promise of bringing big screen entertainment into my palm and actually being the best game of the huge series, in all respects but name “Metal Gear Solid 5”. Peace Walker wins its big screen big brothers in plot, storytelling, mechanics and fun hands down, not even stumbling on controls. If you’re into MGS, you need to get a PSP for this game alone.

Alan Wake – Mature action adventure with a psychological bent that does a better job than Heavy Rain in remembering it’s a videogame and isn’t any smaller for it. Alan Wake uses its North-West US setting to a great effect and lays its plot with master class writing and editing. You get the sense they’ve cut a lot and there’s a much bigger world than what you get to experience out there. Indeed, some of what’s going on elsewhere and with other people in the city is more intriguing than Alan’s story. Shame about the mechanics becoming a bit stale towards the end, but the story beats are worth your attention all the way through. Also, best forests and darkness ever.

Halo: Reach – The first Halo sequel to capture the energy and emotion of the original, effectively turning back time a decade, except with today’s production values and technology. The storytelling is surprisingly good, the other Spartans you’re running with a great bunch, and the drama of the situation carries you on a tidal wave to the bitter end. A fitting, moving ending to the space saga of today’s kids, growing up without Star Wars.

Rock Band 3 – That Harmonix can keep improving on their already unconquerable game is awe-inspiring and exciting. The keyboard adds substantially to the game, making you learn an entirely new skill, and the Pro mode (drums, guitar and keyboard) is the logical conclusion to the journey myself and thousands of others began with the original Rock Band. I’ve picked up a real guitar since, but that doesn’t put a lid on my enthusiasm for a good Rock Band party.

Dawn Of War II – The Chaos Rising expansion was released in 2010, so I guess this counts. A bold re-imagination of the hero powered RTS, using the license in a fitting manner, Dawn Of War II dares to jump sideways from its roots, making a computerized Warhammer 40K a thing of its own, and not a schizophrenic imitation of the tabletop original. I never would have imagined a leveling and looting formula would fit 40K, but it does, and with a fearsome grip on my attention.

Neptune’s Pride – It’s a sign of the times that a free to play browser game would enter an end of the year list. Neptune’s Pride strips strategy and tactics down to their skeletons and diplomacy is but a clumsy inbox. The game is changed because all of the mathematics are transparent – there is no random element whatsoever and the only second-guessing you’re doing is what lies beyond your sensor range and what are your neighbors thinking. The whole game ends up taking place inside that inbox, with nervous checks during the day to see how the real-time but glacially slow space war is going. My office game ended with guys wanting to not play again because it was too exhausting. I’m on my fourth game now, the game open in a tab right now as I’m typing this. (It looks like I might win for the first time.)

Older titles I only got around to in 2010

Gratuitous Space Battles – Released perhaps some time last year, I’m not sure? A unique blend of tactics, design and passive watching, it’s smart TV for gamers. If you’re into gratuitous space battles, you need to play this game.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition – All the way from 2008 and I’ve been interested in it ever since, but only got to playing it late last year. The combat centric, mechanically very definite gameplay just works. It’s realizing what I feel D&D always tried to do, which is only logical considering the game’s wargame roots in the seventies. A more surprising change is taking on videogames face-on, characters full of color and fantastic powers, energy beams flying every which way in a fight. It’ll be interesting to see how it translates to an actual videogame.

culture roleplaying


Last night I killed my first dragon. I guess these days that’s not a very cool thing to say, with dragons being a staple of children’s fiction and cartoons. But back in the glorious 1980s, dragons meant swords and dragons plus swords equalled heroic fantasy violence. After some twenty years of playing variants of Dungeons & Dragons, it feels like I’ve achieved something.

I’ve mostly just ran D&D, not actually played it myself. As a caring, sensible Dungeon Master (or just “GM”, as I like to call myself), I rarely if ever used dragons. Because the beasts tended to be really unpredictable and really lethal. I never cared for killing my players’ characters. After all, the game was about them, not my dragons. The threat of a party wipe was all too real. But I always wanted to run a party that would be worthy of coming up against a dragon. But I wanted the players to prevail and my dragon to perish and the rules were far too scary to go ahead and do it.

Fast forward through many an edition of that seminal RPG to today, year 2010, 22 years after I first thought about picking up a sword and killing a dragon. To be fair, I was perhaps more interested in the magical loot or damsels in distress the dragon may have had in its lair. With my fellow first-level Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition first level detective heroes (we run our own fantasy detective agency, it’s great), we felled a dragon. It was epic. I almost went down several times, some of us did, and I sacrificed myself to allow my friends to deal the killing blow. The ploy worked, I was revived, and I screamed in joy. I am really happy about it. It’s like I achieved something very real.

D&D 4E is a great game. I had my reservations, because the previous editions were really quite complicated and it took me quite a bit of time and persistence to get a handle on my various powers. It asks you to throw a lot of your preconceptions out of the window. A dose of MMORPG knowledge helps, because it’s really built like a modern online RPG. I visualized the combat as something out of World Of Warcraft or indeed Dungeons & Dragons Online.

It does a lot of things very well. All of the combat is super interesting because everyone is constantly moving around, looking for an advantage, guarding their flanks and choosing between several interesting manoeuvres. Totally not the “I hit it again” school of RPG combat I was brought up with. Most of my character’s powers are about moving the other players or the enemies around the battlefield, and granting bonuses to my partners. It’s great – the combat is actually a social thing, not something you’re effectively soloing.

First level characters used to be ridiculous wimps, barely fit for a trip to the grocery store, let alone a dungeon. These days, they’re heroes, their pockets already full of awesome tricks. They’re full of character, and color, and noise. These are heroes like you might have imagined your first level wimps some day becoming, if they never crossed paths with a dragon.

I don’t get that loot or the damsel until the next session. Today, that doesn’t matter.


Remember Tomorrow

Remember Tomorrow
Remember Tomorrow

Remember Tomorrow is a new game by BoxNinja, aka Gregor Hutton, the author of Threesixteen (3:16). It’s available both in print and as a PDF.

While cyberpunk roleplaying games exist, they are nothing like the works that inspired them. (A fine list here if you need a primer.) Cyberpunk games tend to be about accumulating stuff, blowing up people and to a lesser degree, looking good doing it. There is nothing wrong with that – and I’ve enjoyed untold hours of that seminal game, R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk – but it’s nothing like the cyberpunk literature it imitates. Cyberpunk games went out of style circa 1995, but science fiction literature very much like the original cyberpunk works (a very small, select group) is very much alive and kicking. My most recent favourite is Richard Morgan.

Reading Gibson, a world of intertwining, tragic destinies, planehopping around the globe, chemical-addled violence and poetic justice is unveiled like a slowly loading JPEG image in 1995. Playing Cyberpunk or Shadowrun or Cyberspace, I mostly wonder about damage rolls and initiative and surviving through the combat-heavy mission, whatever it is. It’s like you’re playing the uninteresting stuff behind the scenes, or only the climaxes of the story. My memories are of shopping lists of guns and implants and software, not characters.

Remember Tomorrow sets out to recreate those literary experiences. It manages to do this without the need for preparation before a game… or a GM (game master). The game is improvised and it provides very good tools to help with that.

The game starts with the creation of characters and factions. Each player introduces one character and one faction (an AI, a gang, a corporation, a nation, …). All of these entities have some pull on the world and a goal. The game is about meeting those goals. All of the character attributes relate to the goals: how Ready, Able and Willing they are to reach their goal? Most scenes are about a character becoming (or failing to become) more Ready, Willing or Able to reach their goal.

One player at a time is the Controller, who frames the next scene – and everyone is welcome to propose and request scenes, depending on what they’re doing – and plays the part of the antagonist: they decide which of the player characters is in for trouble and who’s bringing it. In most cases, the Controller brings in a faction in a conflict with one PC, but that could also be PC versus PC or groups of PCs versus others. After the scene, the Controller role shifts to the next player. The Controller wants to bring in the factions and hostile PCs because he’s rewarded for doing so, helping him achieve his own PC’s goal.

Scenes are structured with very definite outcomes. In most cases the Controller is trying to either take away levels of Ready/Willing/Able from a PC or affect him with negative conditions: Injured, Destitute, Confused and so on – they’re not arbitrary, instead there’s a short list on the character sheet of the possible positive and negative conditions. As a result of a conflict scene, someone’s power is increased and another’s decreased. If through roleplaying the situation develops so that a conflict doesn’t make sense anymore, the scene is left as a color scene, again with defined results. There are no separate combat rules or anything of the sort.

Due to the focus on character goals, I think that the game is going to places very briskly. An episode is considered done when three characters have exited – having been written out due to meeting their goal or dying of injuries or any other reason. The mechanics do not force the goals to become intertwined in the end, but I get the feeling that in most cases they will be, thanks to how the introduction and scene mechanics work.

It feels like a game which should work really well, provided that the players are into improvising a cool cyberpunk tale together. I’m itching to try it out and hopefully will get a chance before my holiday is through.