RPG Catch-Up, Part 6

Here I am still reading my back-log of rpg pdfs. Here’s 5 more I’ve read over the course of the last few weeks.


Mars Colony, by Tim C Koppang

Mars Colony is a 2-player rpg “about personal failure and government.”

The basic premise is that a colony has been established on Mars by a coalition of governments from Earth. Now the colony is in trouble: environmental hazards, social unrest, bad infrastructure, etc. So, someone gets chosen to go to Mars Colony and fix all the problems. That’s one player, “The Savior”, Kelly Perkins. The other player is “the Governer”, who controls everyone else.

The basic idea is that Kelly is universally loved in the beginning. And the game centers around how well she (the game notes Kelly can be male as well, but for ease of writing I’m just going with a single pronoun) can accomplish fixing things on the colony and how she’s viewed by the populace. Kelly has a limited number of attempts to make things better. Specifically, nine. After that the two players take stock of how well Kelly did and if she leaves in honor or disgrace.

The mechanics are pretty simple. There are a number of “Health Markers” (that the two players collaborate to come up with) that Kelly can focus on trying to fix. They have hit points of a sort. In a scene, Kelly’s player will declare which marker they’re trying to fix and roll 2 dice. The total is how much will go toward the marker’s value. Now, the player can stop rolling, or they can roll again in an attempt to get more points. However, if ever one or both dice show a 1, then the rolling stops and the attempt is considered a failure and no health points are earned (even if it’s the first roll).

However a failure can be turned into a success of sorts through deception, which still allows Kelly’s player to apply some points to the health marker at the cost of deceiving the populace, which can eventually create a scandal, which creates contempt.  If Kelly generates too much contempt then the people of Mars Colony will basically run her off.

So, there’s a lot of things for Kelly to juggle. Trying to help the populace, having to push their luck to get that done, and sometimes having to lie and create the illusion of progress. And, because of the limited number of turns and the highish value of health markers, it’s pretty much required for Kelly’s player to have to try multiple rolls. They’ve got to push their luck.

Once the endgame is triggered there’s some guidelines for judging how well Mars Colony is doing relative to when Kelly arrived, mostly based on how many health markers Kelly was able to mark off.

Pretty straightforward game with a fun push-your-luck die mechanic that I find really appealing.

I don’t know that the political bent of the game is really of much interest to me, but it’s certainly intriguing.


Right off of the link above, Monkeydome is “a game about grim, post-apocalyptic slapstick”.  It’s a pretty light game, created almost entirely at JiffyCon in 2009.

The interesting thing about Monkeydome is that the tone changes throughout the game between “Grim Violence” and “Zany Action” based on the dice. So, something really dark & grim might happen like someone getting shot point blank in the face, but when it comes time to respond, you may be responding with some sort of over-the-top antics. Or vice versa.

Basically the GM will always start narrating and put the players into some type of situation that demands action. At some point they’ll hand two dice to whomever they choose (and it doesn’t even have to be the player most directly affected by whatever’s going on). That person will roll the dice, one of them is the zany die, the other is the grim. Whichever is higher sets the tone for their response. At this point they can pass the dice to another player to continue pushing the scene or they can pass the dice back to the GM who can end the scene.

On a tie your character is frozen with indecision (or some such) and the overall tone of the scene changes (grim to zany or zany to grim).

Also, if the highest die is less than a four, your character is about to learn a harsh lesson. Whatever their reaction, it was wrong and the GM will describe how. Maybe you were too zany when a more serious response would have been better.

Those lessons get written down and become part of the pacing of the game. Once two learned lessons have somehow been re-incorporated back into the game, it comes to a close and the endgame triggers, which lets players make short epilogues for their characters.

There’s the usual stuff about setting scenes and defines GM/player responsibilities a bit more, but that’s the gist. Definitely looks like a fun one-shot to try out sometime. The shifting tone sounds really interesting. I’d love to see it in play.

Nine Worlds, by Matt Snyder

The basic premise of Nine Worlds is that gods (specifically of the Greek-persuasion) are real, though most mortals aren’t aware of it. Players play Archons who have been “awakened” and so get some supernatural abilities.

Conflicts are handled with decks of cards that tie into multiple stats that Archons have. Two prime stats called Virtues which determine how many cards to draw and also determine how the player is trying to accomplish what they’re after. There’s Arete, which is excellence. This is for accomplishing things solely on merit & ability with no supernatural forces. Then there’s Hubris, which does allow for supernatural feats.

Then there are 4 urges (corresponding to the 4 suits of cards): Chaos for destruction and oblivion. Cosmos for creating and making whole. Metamorphosis for transforming and changing. And Stasis to paralyze change. Where Virtues determine number of cards to draw, the urges determine how they’re scored.

In addition, Archons have Muses, which are a bit like goals or maybe Beliefs in Burning Wheel. These can allow players to draw extra cards if they’re relevant. Also, resolving Muses is how Archons advance and improve. That may or may not mean successfully accomplishing them. It could also mean reaching a point in the story where it’s no longer possible to accomplish it.

Also, there are some optional rules for the cards, which I think I’d probably use since they add some depth. First are “points” which are earned based on drawing certain cards and are used for different effects in a conflict, like adding a new Muse or improving an existing one. They can also be used in conjunction with the urge that was used to do even more stuff, which generally revolves around doing things with the players’ or NPCs’ stats.

Lastly there are rules for eventually championing or challenging a Primarch (gods, basically). You can try to become a Primarch’s champion and get a number of benefits if you succeed or you can try to completely usurp a Primarch and if successful you take their place. They’re both difficult of course, and the second could destroy you.

There’s a good chunk of setting dump in the book. A little more than usually interests me, but it makes for good reference. I think the mechanics interest me more than the specific setting or premise in this case. Probably not something I’m going to specifically seek out to play, but I’d certainly try it out if given the opportunity.

On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon, by Ben Lehman

One of the inspirations listed for On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon is Kobolds Ate My Baby and it definitely shows. It looks like a fun, light-hearted game. Mud Dragons are basically all that’s left of the once mighty dragons. They’re truly pitiful creatures.

Speaking of pitiful, most games have stats for positive things about a character, not so here. Mud dragons have 5 attributes: patheticness, laziness, stupidity, clumsiness, & petty greed. To do anything in the game you have to overcome one of your attributes.  So, for example, scaring someone would mean overcoming your patheticness. Certainly a fun little twist compared to how that sort of thing normally works.

Gameplay is pretty simple with some randomly generated things (with the help of some handy tables). These things help set up the setting, opposition, and what stupid plan the dragons have come up with.

When it comes time to do something you roll a d20. If it’s higher than or equal your attribute, then the dragon has overcome it and succeeds. If not, the dragon fails. Also, on a failure, one is added to the attribute (actually making it harder to succeed in the future). A success means subtracting one.

However, when failing, a player can choose to “succeed in spite of yourself”, which means the dragon still fails at what they were doing, but still somehow manages to get what they wanted. When a player chooses this, the GM can choose to add or subtract up to two from the attribute.

Also, when succeeding a player can choose to fail anyway. The dragon still has an impressive success, but outside circumstances block it from getting what it wanted. The player then adds or subtracts 1 or 2 from the attribute.

Occasionally a Mud Dragon will express their ancient heritage. They grow huge and all their attributes become one, as well as being able to breath fire and use magic. This lasts for a scene, after which time the dragon departs for greater things. And then the GM narrates how the dragon perishes in a particularly embarrassing way.

Looks like it would be a lot of fun. Very silly. Definitely one to try out sometime.

Perfect, by Joe McDaldno

Perfect is described as taking place in a “Dystopian Steampunk” setting. It takes place in a city called Cadence. The premise is pretty interesting. The very short version is that everything in Cadence is strictly regulated due to the dying wishes of a much-beloved monarch. Many things are against the law and there are very limited freedoms. Social class is strictly lined out (different classes have different clothing requirements), daily worship service is required. Higher class citizens can gain “freedoms”, which actually impose even harsher restrictions on you (though clever players will, of course, use that to their advantage). That’s a very basic overview — the setting dump at the beginning of the book is actually pretty interesting.

The core of the game is about playing criminals in Cadence. The main opposition are Inspectors, who encompass the entirety of law. Play is composed of criminals committing a crime and the Law attempting to catch them. If caught, they can attempt a number of things to try to change their criminal ways — make them feel guilty, cut them off from contacts, or condition them against taking certain actions.

The primary mechanic is pretty straightforward. A criminal has a “resources” stat, which is a very open representation of how they get things done. When going against the law, the law will have a pool of tension. Criminals also can have contacts & secret societies to pull on. They also have aspects (which can be physical objects or just a sort of trait) that can further aid them. In play, narration will go back and forth which each side putting out resources/tension/whatever. Eventually it’ll come down to a roll and each side will roll a d6 and add their bonus. Law wins on ties.

Also instead of outright capturing criminals, the law can try to get some hold over them. It could mean learning information about them or anything else they could use as leverage. This gets translated into a bonus in later scenes.

I’d really like to give this game a shot. It hits a lot of the same buttons as Misspent Youth does, but in an entirely different setting. It sounds really intriguing and I really want to give it a shot sometime.


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