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Messages - plausiblefabulist

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The Jewish historical fantasy hack I was talking about -- Dream Apart -- along with an updated version of Dream Askew -- has now been launched on Kickstarter!

It's funded already, but there are some amazing stretch goals coming up if we keep going (including Joshua A. C. Newman doing a badass pistol-packing klezmer riff), and some interesting rewards are open.

The playtest kit already published remains the core of the game materials, but there will be a whole lot more info in the book we ship, and an accompanying stretch-goal-funded zine.

This -- along with an updated version of Dream Askew -- has now been launched on Kickstarter!

It's funded already, but there are some amazing stretch goals coming up if we keep going (including Joshua A. C. Newman doing a badass pistol-packing klezmer riff), and some interesting rewards are open.

The playtest kit already published remains the core of the game materials, but there will be a whole lot more info in the book we ship, and an accompanying stretch-goal-funded zine.

(I will crosspost to brainstorming & development since I expect more people look there...)

New playtest kits (as noted in the brainstorming & development forum) are at

It is indeed! I think at some point K&K (aka "Shtetl World") may actually get finished; it had some successful playtests and some people were excited about it, and I think it's really fun. But it's a big sprawling project and there was a lot a lot of work to be done, mostly to make the content manageable and accessible and not just totally overwhelming for players. When Dream Askew came along I realized it was a perfect fit to take the Klezmers & Kabbalists content and make it into an economical, concise, rules-light game with already proven mechanics and balance.

Technically speaking, the Dream Apart playbooks are from Act 2 of Klezmers & Kabbalists/Shtetl World -- so the Klezmer, the Sorcerer, the Soldier, the Scholar, the Midwife, and the Matchmaker -- which, in the original conception of Shtetl World, would have worked sort of like "prestige classes" that you earn as adults, after completing Act 1 playing the teenaged roles (the Dreamer, the Rascal, the Dutiful Child, etc)...

Avery Alder and I are gearing up for a Kickstarter for her post-apocalyptic queer game Dream Askew & my Jewish historical fantasy hack of it, Dream Apart. They are PbtA games, but with a "no dice, no masters" system (shared GMing, and the narrative economy of fail/succeed with a cost/succeed managed by tokens).

Playtest kits are here:


I got around to working on this game again and have a new version. If anyone wants to playtest, let me know!

Apocalypse World / Re: Swapping out the sex moves with Secrets
« on: July 21, 2016, 05:55:41 PM »
Hasimir, do you have kids? The point here is not to suppress 12-year-old's sexualities: who cares if they have a secret stash of porn? Certainly there's no problem with them playing standard AW with *each other*. But would you really want to play a game incorporating sex moves *with your Dad* at 12? I didn't think so.

Leaving the sex moves in the game would produce exactly the result you predicted -- nobody would use them. So the driver would never have to prove their independence from anyone, the Hardholder would never have extra gifts to give someone they'd been intimate with, the Brainer would not have intimacy triggered a deep brain scan, and so on: that's all just out of the game.

The point of the Secrets is to KEEP that large part of Apocalypse World -- that intimacy between the characters matters, that it has mechanical teeth. So rather than insisting on keeping that intimacy as being literally sex, in a situation where the social contract at the table doesn't support it, the idea here is to replace that intimacy with something else.

Obviously, if people pick trivial secrets, it's not that interesting. The MC should coach players to make the secrets matter by asking leading questions -- "why is this a big deal? why haven't you dared to tell anyone?" Last night, people picked pretty interesting Secrets, each of which was an opportunity for the MC to bring things into play. No one actually got around to telling their secrets in the first session, but I think that's okay: they were on the horizon. Even in a game where sex moves never trigger, AW's sex moves are there on the horizon, signalling something about the game -- that sex is part of this game and taken seriously, that intimacy has teeth. Similarly, here, the secrets, though untold, were still on the horizon, signalling something to the players -- that they were the kind of people who had secrets, and might share them.

Apocalypse World / Swapping out the sex moves with Secrets
« on: July 20, 2016, 11:31:45 PM »
I'm about to play Apocalypse World with some 12-year-olds! I've been holding off on introducing it to my son & his friends -- Mad Max fans all -- due to the sex moves, but I think I've figured out how to swap them out. Here's the hack:

During character creation, after the Hx round, everyone comes up with two Secrets. Add this section to each playbook:
No one else knows that:
Only one other person (it's ___________) knows that:

And in all the "[Playbook] Special" moves, replace "If you and another character have sex," with "If you tell one of your Secrets to another character,"

If we were playing more than a one-off, I'd probably have to figure out some way to replenish the mechanical Secrets with fictional Secrets that emerge from play.

We'll see how it goes.

Apocalypse World / Re: Evening Redness in the West (Western Hack)
« on: June 23, 2016, 07:17:33 PM »
I vote for updating the Savage rather than ditching it. I was pleased that there was a way to play a Native American character. You could also include a little more possibilities for diversity in the other character's backstories (eg in the HX round), like giving them a little "how did you end up here?" choice list -- immigrant from Europe? fought in the Civil War (which side)? former slave? Chinese brought to build the railroads? Native convert, grown up in white society? Native from a recently defeated/still hostile/tenuously allied tribe?

Apocalypse World / Re: Evening Redness in the West (Western Hack)
« on: June 22, 2016, 04:14:51 PM »
This looks terrific!

I love Vice for Weird, and the Preacher being a high-Vice Hocus; that's a great, resonant setup.

I have a few qualms about representation: AW cultivates a great sense of gender ambiguity, for instance, while the phrasing here makes it feel awkward to play a male Madam or female Preacher -- even it's easy in principle to imagine a pretty-boy gigolo/con man getting by on Suave, or a female religious visionary in the mold of Mary Baker Eddy. There's a lot of incidental language (the Proprietor providing "pussy", or "the more gold you spend, the finer your accommodations, foodstuffs, drinks, women, etc. will be") which implies that the PCs are rootless straight men, which is an understandable default for a standard cowboys & indians narrative... but the possibilities are broader.

The Savage playbook feels tonally more over-the-top dime-store-novel absurd and less historical than the other playbooks; the fact that the Savage is lacking firearms and definitively talks to spirits (i.e., isn't at all Christianized) makes them seem like a mythical pre-contact Native, rather than someone living on the fringes of a late-19th c. town with a post office and pharmacy. That latter guy definitely has a gun. Also, the names list needs some German and Southern and Eastern European names (the West was a major locus of migration) and (particularly) Latino names; also, it would be great to have the Chinese who are there to build the railroads -- maybe even a specific playbook. (Laborer in general seems to be a missing playbook, as does Cowboy in the sense of the guy literally engaged in moving cattle over long distances -- vaguely the Driver).

There is of course a decision to be made about how much you're simulating the actual Old West, and how much you're simulating dime-store novels of the Old West. The dime store novels have no Italians or Germans or Chinese or Latinos, and all the Indians have bows and arrows, because racism. Personally I vote for some of the romantic dime-store flavor, but informed and broadened by history, which means more inclusion.

"Gold" as the name of your currency feels awkward; feels more like D&D than the Old West. Sure, right around the gold rush, in California, people might have used ounces of gold dust as currency, but if this is a cattle town in Idaho, then that seems off. I'd prefer "dollars".

The Proprietor's atmosphere list feels like it's lifted straight from AW without being adapted to the Old West. Kink? Restraint? Canned fruit? Meat? A piano? I'm not saying there wasn't what we would now call kink in the West, but the language feels off, and surely canned fruit, meat and a piano aren't distinctively exotic things for a saloon to have. A virtuoso concert pianist, sure, or a French chef?


The doc is still a mess, but it's more or less ready for the next playtest. The player parts are in somewhat adequate shape; the MK parts are not. (MK = mesader kiddushin, which is Yiddish for the Master of Ceremonies at a wedding, so that's what the GM of Shtetl World is called).

If you'd like to review the doc now, send me an email at ben at benjaminrosenbaum dot com, or post your email here, and I'll share the doc with you!

I'm still actually working on Shtetl World, the long-form, dreidels-instead-of-dice AW hack version of this game. We had a couple of really fun playtests at Camp Nerdly and I am trying to drum one up for Wiscon. After that I will probably post a link here to the Google Doc of the current rules...

I wrote some code to test out the dreidel mechanic's probability characteristics -- both a web page where you can try out the dreidels to get a feel for the results (which could also be used to play the game, if you lack dreidels) and a more analytic program which lists the outcomes of all the possible dreidel tosses at different levels of stats.

Dreidel simulator:
Code (including the python analysis scripts) here:

brainstorming & development / Re: KULT: Divinity Lost kickstarter!
« on: March 01, 2016, 03:06:43 AM »
I am definitely intrigued by this offering, but -- as you note -- there's not that much available on the Kickstarter page to judge the game on. It would be great to see a playbook or two, to get some taste of the setting and mechanics. The video definitely conveys that the tone, voice, art, and mood are fantastic... but I have no idea what it plays like, except for the very brief mention that it's an AW-style mechanic ported from D6s to D10s, and that there are Sleeper/Awake/Enlightened character levels (which I like). Please do post here when the translations are ready!

Freebooting Venus / Re: Two-player Freebooting Venus
« on: January 10, 2016, 04:08:11 AM »
Well, we played essentially one full session (in two pieces due to interruption) of two-player Hand to Mouth in the City of Nephthys. Tried to start a second session and ran out of steam, for reasons I'll try to get at.

Lasez, down on his luck, was once a scholar -- and, perhaps later or perhaps earlier, someone who lived by sneaking around. Could he just get enough concentration, patience, and tools, he'd be adept again at ideology, philosophy, and science, and at stealth. -1 Bold, +2 Patient, +2 Quick and +1 Violent. He lives in the labor gang barracks of the Princess of Nephthys, bunking below a hardworking, sober, desperately unlucky fellow named Tam. The barracks are distinctly less safe since soulless slaves of a sorcerous cult started showing up, but Lasez has avoided them mostly so far.

In the labor gang barracks you can break and haul rocks every day, but there's no actual pay in that, just thin soup and a cot, so it's generally better to linger at the fringes in the hope someone will drive by and scoop you up as spare unskilled labor. A pudgy, officious character in black shows up in a chariot this morning and orders Lasez in; he takes him to a quarry on the outskirts of town. It's not explained to Lasez that this quarry is claimed by a person of tertiary descent from one of the city's princely families, nor that there might be a bonus of 1 pay for diligence, nor that a different prince claims the same quarry and has sent his meddlesome warrior-slave to interfere; it's only explained that if he can climb down into the treacherous crevasse with a rucksack and bring up three times his own weight in rosy pink stone by sundown, he'll be paid.

We found ourselves fighting the rules quite a bit, trying to decide what to roll at times when it felt that something ought to be rolled; we end up resorting to saves a lot of the time, but it felt a bit arbitrary deciding which stat to save on -- the same thing that always bothered me about DW's Defy Danger. We decided the treacherous climb required a save on Patience (we could have regarded the descent as "intruding somewhere", but the emphasis was on avoiding a fall, not detection). At one point Lasez did fall, and it wasn't clear what to do about that; I decided just do deal him 1 Harm and let him pick his own bad experience ("I was thrown sprawling"), but this felt a bit thin compared to the combat moves -- 1 Harm felt arbitrary (why 1 and not 3?) and the ability to pick your bad experience and then Recover to erase it made falling off the quarry wall mechanically underwhelming (but it hardly made sense to treat it as combat between Lasez and gravity and roll on Violent, either). It occurs to me that I could have required a second save to see who got to choose the bad experience...

Once Lasez began to mine the stone, he heard the meddlesome warrior-slave approaching, splashing through the echoing, twisty narrows between the canyon walls, and looked for a place to hide (Size Someone Up, with the canyon wall as the "someone", felt like a bit of a stretch but ok). He squeezed into a crack in the wall, pulling his bag of stones behind him. (Hiding from someone and sneaking away from someone undetected didn't feel like perfect matches for "intrude somewhere" -- in particular, they feel the opposite of Bold; if you're willingly going somewhere you shouldn't, sure, that's Bold of you, but if through no fault of your own you're pursued and want only to make yourself as small and unnoticed as possible and evade detection, Bold seems an odd thing to roll. I guess it could have been a save on... Quick?). The bag got stuck, and he realized that the crack went deep into the rock, and that he wasn't alone in there -- pretty soon he felt the strange-smelling breath, in the pitch blackness, of a Milk Salamander.

We really wanted there to be some way to engage the dice to see if he recognized the Milk Salamander -- for there to be a way to make his knowledge of the world something at stake in a roll. I guess he could have sized it up, but the question was more "do I recognize that smell?" I just ended up telling him he did, but it's notable that there are no "intel" basic moves for finding out information in general -- no Spout Lore, no open your brain, no Gaze into the Abyss. (I love "open your brain" in AW so much because "wanting to know" is such a great temptation, and the move is always win-win: it barfs forth apocalyptica on a hit and creates eerie awful story-advancing problems on a miss). Freebooting Venus trades in exotica and there's plenty of offers of mystery in the flavor -- sorcerous cult? traitorious overseer? friend possibly worthy of trust? wizards in their seclusia? -- but there's no mechanical way to bring that mystery up against the dice, pitting knowledge against danger.

Eventually Lasez started fighting the salamander. Monster stats for fighting were a little hard to understand -- I didn't realize I should add Bonus to Spend to the spend produced by the +Violent roll -- with the result that, spending all his hold on armor, Lasez was able to avoid taking any Harm at all. He did 1 Harm to the salamander, annoying it.

Lasez then bust out of the crack in the wall and met the meddlesome warrior-slave. He sized him up and figured out how to get the warrior-slave fighting the salamander so that Lasez could sneak away (another Intrude Somewhere). Then he climbed up the wall to dump a load of stone and went to mine elsewhere. When the warrior-slave eventually came looking for him, he managed to hide.

Mining the pink stone at times required a save on Quick (when Lasez was trying to do it in a hurry and beat the setting sun) and at times on Patient (when he was trying to avoid detection from the warrior-slave).

Lasez ended up the day with two pay and spent it buying an ideological tome from a junk-seller's cart near the barracks -- jammed in between a cage of edible lizards, some farm tools and a stained and ripped embroidered silk pillow, it reminded him keenly of his past life as a student, and made him willing to take on 1 Debt. He was able to mark quite a few experiences: he faced a monster (the salamander), attacked someone more powerful (the salamander), went into danger knowing the risk, and trusted someone (his employer) who lived up to his trust.

The rentpunk aspect of City of Nephthys feels fun, but it also feels that it will take forever to transition to FV proper at this rate. It sort of feels like the metagame of cashing in pay and figuring out how to level up is fun but will happen at too infrequent intervals -- the absolute minimum time that would be required for Lasez to move to better lodgings, carrying 3 Debt, would be three more sessions (rolling 3,3,5) and there's only roughly a 1% chance of that. It seems more likely to take 7-10 sessions to transition out of HtMitCoN.

Upon sitting down to the second session and rolling up a new job (because wandering around in the quarry a second time didn't seem that promising), I found my enthusiasm flagging & decided I was approaching this game the wrong way. I'd been playing it no-prep, like Apocalypse World's first session, just follow the character and the prompts and see what happens. But the game actually does point to more prep -- it doesn't say to pull the Dirty Trick all the time, only when your prep runs out. So I'm thinking I should try and see if it works better if I come up with a richer environment, with more story hooks, in advance. I also think that the rentpunk aspect of City of Nephthys may be wearing thin and fast-forwarding to FV proper might give the character richer options. Finally, I think I'm struggling with the (apparently more abstract?) "the players make moves when they want" approach as opposed to AW's "the fiction triggers moves". I don't really get the difference, and I'm missing the very clear AW approach of "narrate up until a player roll is triggered, then use its result as a springboard for the next chunk of story".

Freebooting Venus / Two-player Freebooting Venus
« on: January 03, 2016, 02:58:08 PM »
Much of my available roleplaying time is one-on-one with my 12 year old son. Murderous Ghosts is a little too dark for me to try with him, and most of the great storygames, like Fiasco and all the AW hacks I've seen, are so driven by PC relationships and multiple-person collaboration that they don't work so well one-on-one.

Freebooting Venus looks like an excellent candidate! Reading through the rules, the only thing that seems to absolutely demand a multi-player party is the list of questions in the opening situation, and I guess those could be adapted ("why are you taking this personally?")

Anyone have any tips, experiences, or recommendations for FV with a single player and GM?

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