Friday, October 4, 2019

Critical Follow Up--Frosty Relationships

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote that bit that was defending Critical Role and how they do things? Sigh.

Up front, I want to make it clear that I have respect for the people on Critical Role. I don’t think they are bad people. They have done some work to use their fame to do good things, and they have spread the RPG hobby further than it was when they started. None of what I’m about to say is to say they are bad people, or that the concept of the show, itself, is the problem.

That said, I hope to never, ever reference Wendy’s in the context of RPGs ever again.

If You Don’t Live in Wendy’s Kingdom

If you haven’t seen the RPG news, Wendy’s paid some people at an ad agency to reverse engineer a D&D-ish game as a free product, complete with artwork and maps, as a distinct game, themed as heroes from a Wendy’s themed kingdom fighting the “evil” forces of thinly veiled analogies for McDonald’s or Burger King.

I’m not going to link to it, because they didn’t pay me to advertise for them, and they are already getting too much of my time.

In addition to releasing the game, Critical Role spend a whole night, over three hours, playing a one shot of this game. So, the most widely viewed example of the RPG industry, something that has a wide range of viewers, to the point that it draws viewers on the periphery of tabletop RPGs to watch people playing RPGs, did what is effectively a three hour commercial for a fast food place.

The Wendy’s Issue

Wendy’s is not a good company. They have bad labor practices, and they have dubious political ties. I apologize to anyone reading this, but I’m not going to dive into all of this because, honestly, this whole thing has me burned out, and all it takes is a Google search to find out that Wendy’s has opposed fair labor and sourcing practices that other fast-food restaurant chains had no problem implementing.

Initially, when all of this was brewing, I wasn’t all that bothered that Wendy’s put out their own RPG. Fine, they paid someone to do it, put it out for free, and charged it off as advertising. Cool. To some extent, D&D 5e managed to continue to justify its existence initially as “advertising” for the D&D brand, which Hasbro knew had name recognition, and which Hasbro wanted to monetize with movies and video games.

This isn’t meant to disparage the people that worked on the game, but here is the problem. Wendy’s didn’t hire people looking to design games. They hired an ad agency, and some people in the ad agency reverse engineered a game and put their own twist on it. This isn’t someone that wanted to design games, getting paid to do so. This is someone that gets paid to work on advertising, getting to work on advertising that happens to be emulating TTRPG rules.

So this is a free product, that gets a lot of visibility, that will likely take time away from people looking at other RPGs that they haven’t been exposed to, that didn’t even employ anyone that was aspiring to work on RPGs, but rather drew on people that already worked for the ad agency and happened to be conversant with the tropes of the hobby.

The Critical Issue

In the past, people have said that they wish that Critical Role would play other game beyond D&D, to get more exposure for other games and other designers and companies beyond Wizards of the Coast. I have often said that it is their show, and if they are comfortable playing D&D, that’s what they do, and it really is a game that grew out of the home game of a bunch of friends.

That said, Critical Role has played Grant Howitt’s games Crash Pandas and Honey Heist, as well as playing Vampire (not the current edition) and Call of Cthulhu. These are extended campaigns, but they are relatively well promoted one shot.

When it comes to promotional material, they have participated in the CelebriD&D program back when they were still with Geek and Sundry, where they played a one-shot with various famous celebrities that are associated with various genre projects. Additionally, they have performed product related one-shots for Shadow of War and World of Warcraft.

These one-shots never raised any red flags with me, because the celebrities were often people that had some interest in playing D&D, and the products being promoted were tangential to D&D. Additionally, many of the people on Critical Role have had voice acting roles in the video games they were promoting.

So why would I change my tune now?

Critical Impact

Wendy’s is not a good company to promote but had this simply been a 60 second blurb discussing that the game existed, I don’t think I would have been that upset. I get it, you need money to do things, and all of us have purchased from, or even worked for, companies that don’t have the best track record of dealing with our fellow humans. We should work to change that, but there is a LOT wrong with the world, and sometimes you have to pick your battles.

But there is a big difference between selling 60 seconds of your soul for ad rates and spending three hours promoting a company that is not only dubious in their practices, but cynically made a product meant to suck up attention spans and consistently promote their products.

While I haven’t previously said “Critical Role should have played . . . “I can think of a ton of good RPGs that could have used a three-hour push with the size audience that Critical Role has, that would have been better for the community as a whole and not just further exploited the community for the purposes of crass commercialism.

It Was A Joke

If you somehow think that it would have been impossible to find another RPG that could have been played for a laugh for three hours, without utilizing a product designed as an ad campaign for a fast food corporation, it would not have taken much in the way of research.

Just off the top of my head, if they wanted to stay within the D&D framework, they could easily run a Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel. They could have run Pugmire or Monarchies of Mau. They could have looked up some of the more lighthearted offerings on the DMs Guild whose proceeds go to charity.

If they wanted to branch out to something humorous that wasn’t D&D, there is literally a list of RPGs too long for me to even contemplate typing out here on this blog. They could have even reached out to creators with projects on Kickstarter that might have a more humorous bent and helped to create something new.

Why Does This Bother Me So Much?

If I didn’t think the people at Critical Role were good people, and if I hadn’t seen them do good things with their platform, I wouldn’t get this upset by the situation. If Wendy’s had done this RPG, it would have been a quick odyssey in marketing that faded fast, but it’s got longer legs now that this one-shot exists.

What bothers me isn’t just that the Critical Role folks did this, it’s that a lot of people are reacting to this with the same defense I put in the previous section’s header. It’s a joke, so no harm can come of it. The problem is, “it’s a joke” is one of the reasons we continue to have bad actors and bad content in the TTRPG industry.

  • “It’s not real racism, it’s fantasy racism.”
  • “It’s not real misogyny, it’s just making fun of princesses.”
  • “Sure, the people in charge of this company are terrible, but there are good people working there.”

It’s tricky to navigate things. There are so many fires, and only so much water to put them out. Every day we face the cognitive load of deciding what is the worst issue, versus what is the easiest issue to address. But the first step to dealing with any of it is actually addressing problems when they arise, instead of excusing or dismissing them.

I’m not calling for a boycott, and I don’t want to see personal attacks. I would love to see more thoughtful discussion of why this was a very bad idea, why RPG professionals are considered “successful” if they can actually pay moderate bills if they ply their trade full time, and why the level of legitimacy you give a company matters a lot for their reputation.

If you really need to eat, and the only place nearby is a Wendy’s? I’m not going to condemn you. You have a show that reaches hundreds of thousands of people, and that audience tends to say with you for three hours at a shot? That’s not a compromise, that’s a deliberate choice, and it warrants careful consideration.

For My Part

I have removed Critical Role from my podcatcher. I enjoy the show, but I’ve got plenty of other RPG podcasts and actual play to listen to at this point and freeing up three hours a week probably isn’t a bad thing.

Honestly, I don’t want my podcatcher automatically download any “paid advertisement” episodes and inflate the numbers that anyone sees about the effectiveness of the ad campaign. Will one person’s podcatcher make a difference? Nope. But I know I’m not a random number getting counted towards this.

I’m not saying I’ll never watch or listen to Critical Role in the future. I just want to be a little more intentional in my consumption.

Friday, September 27, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Demonic Excretions (5e OGL)

I love thought experiments that involve roleplaying games, and I love them even more if they produce a practical and usable end result. The product we’re looking at today is, effectively, the answer to the question, “can anything new be done with oozes in a d20 system,” so let’s take a look.

The product in question is Demonic Excretions. If you can’t tell from the title, it is the latest of Rob Schwalb’s Max Press line of 5e OGL products (which I’m glad still has some life left in it, especially with a major Shadow of the Demon Lord release recently, and the Kickstarter for PunkApocalyptic going on).

Oozing Off the Pages

As with many of the Shadow of the Demon Lord and Max Press products, this is a relatively short PDF, this one clocking in at 9 pages counting the final OGL statement at the end. The product has the same high-quality formatting that other Max Press and Shadow of the Demon Lord products possess, with three pieces of art, depicting the Jellied Thrall, The Chromatic Goo, and the Mirror Mist.

Content Warning

The descriptions of the Death Jelly and the effects on the Jellied Thralls, as well as the Disorder Brute are fairly graphic, and definitely veer into body horror territory, so if that isn’t your thing, you may want to skip this product.

The Pitch

The meta concept of the product is that adventurers get familiar with more common types of oozes, and it’s nice to have something that can provide some surprises. The internal concept is that these are oozes that have been conceived by the Faceless Lord, a “not appearing in this product” evil cosmic entity that D&D players may be familiar with, to continue the arms race of deadly and dangerous oozes.

The Creatures

The product contains the following monsters (and one hazard):

  • Death Jelly (Hazard, with a Jellied Thrall template that accompanies it)
  • Blob (CR 13)
  • Chromatic Goo (CR 3)
  • Creeping Gum (CR 6)
  • Disorder Brute (CR 15)
  • Mirror Mist (CR 2)
  • Nightcreeper (CR 2)
  • Shuddering Tar (CR 5)

While all of these creatures are some variation on ooze or slime, the mechanics that the monsters play with are varied, and push into some interesting design territory for D&D 5e monsters.

The Death Jelly can infect creatures and turn them into Jellied Thralls. The thralls, if pierced with weapons for enough damage, then spray death jelly on their attackers, thus spreading the blight of the death jelly.

The Blob has a similar mechanic, where slashing weapons that do a certain amount of damage cause the ooze to spray acid onto an attacker. They also envelop enemies, and have a very conductive structure, meaning that electricity used against it is going to hurt anyone enveloped. It’s also a big sack of hit points that can act as an ooze that is still a threat at higher levels.

The Chromatic Goo has a whole host of damage resistances. Whenever it takes damage to which it has resistance, it shifts colors, becomes immune to that damage for a while, and lets out a damaging pulse that hits anyone near it.

Creeping Gum solves the problem of “why would we go near the ooze.” In this case, the Creeping Gum has a pleasant smell that entices victims to come near. In addition to its normal attacks, it has an acidic aura that harms anyone nearby.

The Disorder Brute is an ooze made of organs (perhaps the most on-brand monster in the product for the company, and I mean that in the nicest way). Whenever the disorder brute hits an opponent, there is a chance they destabilize, become stunned, and shift into a mound of organs for a while.

The Mirror Mist is a swarm of tiny, floating, silver oozes that hang in a mist. When a victim comes near, they all coalesce on to the victim and start dissolving them with acid.

The Nightcreeper is an ooze that sucks the light and heat from an area. It generates an aura of darkness, as well as an aura of cold, as it saps energy from the environment.

The Shuddering Tar is an adhesive ooze that sticks to its victims. Additionally, its both vulnerable to fire, and also very flammable, meaning that anyone stuck to the tar is going to share its pain as the fire burns the creature. As a side note, who hasn’t set fire to a party member for the greater good when oozes or swarms are involved? Just me?

Warm Fuzzy Feelings

I love how varied the oozes are, not just in description, but in the mechanics that they utilize. There are so many good ideas that subvert the common logic about oozes, but yet don’t seem out of place. I enjoy the concept of the Creeping Gum beckoning adventurers closer. I love that the Mirror Mist is an ooze that is hard to discern as an ooze at first. I love the auras, and playing with shifting resistances to immunities, as well as damage that is triggered when combat conditions change.

In concept, my favorite is probably the Mirror Mist, but in terms of mechanical shenanigans, I really like the Chromatic Goo and the Nightcreeper.

Cold, Oozing Feelings

The monsters in this supplement are well-realized, but unless you have managed to pull off that rare ongoing ooze themed campaign, you probably aren’t going to get to use all of these creatures in close proximity to one another. While I like the slashing damage mechanic, the blob feels the most like a traditional ooze and is probably the least exciting of the bunch.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If this were just a product with eight pages of well-described new oozes, I probably wouldn’t recommend this quite as highly, but I think if you are the kind of 5e player that has an interest in how the mechanics of the game can be utilized to tell different stories and do novel things with triggers, this product will be of additional interest to you.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Grazilaxx's Guide to Ancestry (Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition)

How we look at player character species or familiar background has been a popular topic in recent months. For years, people that the industry should have listened to more often have said that race in RPGs introduces some problematic narratives. While some games have introduced changes in terminology, the D&D Beyond article Reimagining Racial Ability Scores went even further and presented a way to remove biologically determined ability score bonuses from D&D with optional rules.

The product we’re looking at today on the blog, Grazilaxx's Guide to Ancestry, goes one step further, creating a modular system of ancestry with a few common traits and more overall customizability to familiar fantasy archetypes in D&D.

The (Digital)Tome

This particular product is a 35 page PDF available from the DMs Guild. The formatting of the product is very similar in appearance to official D&D product releases, with light parchment backgrounds, sepia headers, and black text.

There are numerous tables, and strategically used DMs Guild artwork assets to illustrate the various ancestries presented. Overall, the product is very professional in presentation, and if you like most of the official D&D offerings, this should fit well with those sensibilities.


The product is arranged into the following sections:

  • Race in D&D
  • Behind the Mechanics
  • Core and Expanded Ancestries
  • Eberron Ancestries
  • Ravnica Ancestries

New Concepts

The new concepts introduced in this product are the terms Ancestry, Regions, and Branches. Ancestry is the replacement term for Race. Regions are the differences between members of an ancestry based on where a group developed. Branches are related, but significantly different, ancestries, like goblins and bugbears or dragonborn and kobolds.

Ability score increases are no longer tied to ancestries (similar to the D&D Beyond article linked above), but instead, the product presents multiple ways for a character to gain an ability score increase, including increasing the starting point buy for ability scores, linking it to class, or linking it to background.

Racial traits from established D&D rules are assigned to different Inheritances. Inheritances can be either Major or Minor. Most ancestries are built from six inheritance points, with Major Inheritances costing two points, and Minor Inheritances costing one point each. Several of the ancestries presented link certain Inheritances together, so you can’t have a Minor Inheritance unless you have the contingent Major Inheritance, and certain Ancestries have a required Major Inheritance that helps to define that Inheritance.

In theory, this means you can take the Inheritances and mix and match them to create a new Ancestry, or take a race that isn’t presented as an ancestry in these rules and assign their abilities as Major or Minor, although there appears to be as much art as science to assigning those designations as we look at various ancestries.

A Note On Terminology

I really appreciate that the text, right at the beginning, doesn’t dance around what this product is trying to address. It discusses how problematic race is as a term, how racial ability scores can promote ugly stereotypes, and how associating a persistently adhered to alignment with sapient beings is a mistake. In fact, one of the first things done in the document is to mention that none of the entries are going to address “common” alignments of various ancestries at all. I agree with all of that.

There are a few places where the terminology still slips from “ancestry” to “race,” however. This by no means undermines the overall impact of the product, but it definitely shows how deeply ingrained the terminology has become to roleplaying games.

Ability Score Increases

Of all of the alternate methods presented, I’m the biggest fan of hitching ability score increases to Background, because it’s kind of a logical thing that a character’s ability scores are molded more by their role in society. Unfortunately, I think the alternate method I would actually use would be class-based. Why?

Because one of the reasons many players dislike racially locked ability score increases is that it makes some class options less viable. But this just shifts that concept to backgrounds. If backgrounds grant you specific ability score increases, your Nobles are less likely to be fighters than paladins, and your soldiers aren’t likely to be rogues, and then you get back into the territory of using the rules to reinforce tropes, when players may want to try something different.

Ancestry Sections

The Core and Expanded Ancestries Include the Following:

  • Amphibian
  • Avian
  • Draconic
  • Dwarven
  • Elven
  • Extraplanar
  • Giantkin
  • Gnomish
  • Goblinoid
  • Halfling
  • Human
  • Orcish
  • Reptilian

The Eberron Ancestries include the following:

  • Changeling
  • Kalashtar
  • Shifter
  • Warforged
  • Dragonmarks

The Ravnica Ancestries include:

  • Centaur
  • Loxodon
  • Minotaur
  • Simic Hybrid
  • Vedalken

To provide some examples of how this system works from a modular standpoint, Kenku and Aarakocra are both part of the Avian ancestry. They have Major Inheritances that define the difference between them, but some of the Minor Inheritances can vary a bit.

Half-elves and Half-orcs are created by taking one Major Inheritance from the Human Ancestry, and one Major Inheritance from either elf or orc. This works out as a pretty logical means of modeling the ancestry. The text also mentions that this method can be used, with DM approval, for other Ancestries.

The first thing that springs to mind in this instance is that it makes it fairly easy to create tiefling, aasimar, or genasi that are descended from elves, halflings, or dwarves, instead of humans. Again, this is a nice, simple way of introducing this variety.

The problem is, there are some Major and Minor Inheritances that feel like they work well enough within an Ancestry, but outside of it, and combined with potentially any of the other Ancestries, custom-built Ancestries could be angling towards some powerhouse combinations. For example, coming up with a melee character that is picking and choosing from minotaur, orc, and goliath traits.

There are definitely some interesting judgment calls when it comes to Major and Minor designations for Inheritances. For example, Magic Resistance and Poison Immunity are both Minor Inheritances for Yuan-Ti. When taken with the overall “package,” this doesn’t feel like a bad choice, but allowing someone to “dip” into traits, again, a custom-built Ancestry could be a potential issue. It’s also worth noting that the orc ancestry gets Minor Inheritances that grant them proficiency in drums, Religion, or Intimidation for the same points it costs the Yuan-Ti for these traits.

Despite this, there are many of the potential combinations that feel like a lot of fun. For example, picking up the Bite Inheritance for a Tortle to flavor them as being more similar to a snapping turtle.

While most of the ancestries in the document have familiar traits sorted into Major or Minor, with a few extra options thrown into the mix, and the ability to borrow from other areas of the Ancestry, humans get a more substantial rebuild. The Human Ancestry has the following Regions:

  • Coastal
  • Desert
  • Extraplanar
  • Forest
  • Mountain
  • Grasslands
  • Arctic
  • Urban

These give rise to some interesting Ancestral Inheritances, like the Urban Human ability to move through a space where they would provoke an attack without doing so, as long as there is another person within five feet of them, or the ability of Mountain Humans to ignore a level of exhaustion caused by non-magical effects.

Since we’re talking about humans, this seems as good a time as any to note that the product also mentions that you can treat an appropriate feat the same as a Major Inheritance.

Solid Build

The rules provide a lot of flexibility, and can allow for story-based customizations, like the above-mentioned snapping-turtle Tortle, or the examples from the text of a drow raised on the surface without sunlight sensitivity, or an elf that is more bound to the material world and needs to sleep instead of performing their trance. The product provides a solid and clear statement of why these rules were developed, that doesn’t shy away from the discussion that needs to happen as RPGs move forward, and it provides some interesting alternatives to humans as “the adaptable ones.”

Slightly Broken

Even in the core D&D rules, not all of these race/ancestry options are perfectly balanced against one another, and making the building blocks of various ancestries modular in some places underscores this issue. While the text is very clear on making sure everyone is on board with custom Ancestries, it’s worth noting that it's not just the potential synergies that are the issue, but also that some Minor Inheritances are just flat out better than others, and could lead to an “arms race” of custom build characters if the DM isn’t careful and the player’s aren’t conscientious about their choices.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

I like the concept of these rules quite a bit, and I really enjoy seeing the alternate take on humans that is tied to where they are from and the abilities that humans literally have to adapt to those environments. I like the potential that the customizations provide for story purposes enough that I think it’s worth risking some of the downsides of customization for the sake of advantageous abilities.

If nothing else, it’s a good product for continuing an important discussion and providing a framework to provide examples of future implementations of a potentially fraught and outdated way of doing things in a hobby that needs to adapt with the times.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

When You Don’t Follow Your Own Advice

The best advice I’ve ever seen people share about RPGs has been to solve problems in a group at the group level, not through the game’s narrative. I’ve vehemently shared examples of this myself, and spread this advice. And yet, I’ve run into a situation where I didn’t heed my own advice. I’m sharing this to help underscore the importance of the advice, and the fact that many times we know what we should do, and then forget what we should be doing in the moment.

Anticipation versus Execution

I was very excited to run Demigods, a PBTA game, at a local convention. It’s very much up my alley. It’s urban fantasy, about people in the modern world that are the children of gods, and are asked to accomplish tasks by their divine parents. A group of these demigods usually don’t work together, but sometimes when they come together to defend an important thing, a Spindle, a Weave forms around them, and they become a group of demigods that works together.

In the group I was running for, I had two of my regulars, another player whose games I have played in a few times, and another person that is a regular of my convention games. I also had a player I had not had in the past.

Overall, the first part of the session went reasonably well, but it got convoluted and difficult for me to run towards the end of the session, and I was looking for a quick way to narratively resolve the entire session so I could call it a night just after the three-hour mark.

Character Creation

Right from the start, it took longer than I would have liked for the players to pick characters. I’ll blame myself a bit for not restricting the number of playbooks that I brought. Demigods has a lot of playbooks, and I printed out all of them as options. I have gotten to the point when I run games like Monster of the Week, where I’ll only run off a limited selection of playbooks for a session, but I was so excited to get this to the table that I hadn’t done it here.

The first indication I should have had that I might have some trouble balancing the group is that everyone else picked their playbook, came up with their divine parent, and was ready to move on to the questions about the Spindle and the Tangles (the connections between characters).

The player I was unfamiliar with picked the Trickster. Then, when I asked them about their divine parent, they wouldn’t say, because “the character changes who they say it is.” I should have had a meta-discussion right here, along these lines:

“It is fine if your character withholds this information from the other characters, but if you, as a player, withholds this from the group, its harder to tell a collaborative story.”

Because it was a convention game, and it had already taken longer that I would have liked to just get playbooks chosen, I let it slide. This also meant that the parts of the playbook where the character details how they feel about their pantheon ended up not being filled out.

The Spindle
There is a series of questions that you ask about what the Spindle is, how the group defended it, what god appreciated the defense, and what god did not.

Someone in the group offered a coffee shop as the Spindle, and almost everyone agreed, except the player playing the Trickster. His comment was “I cannot conceive of why anyone would care about a coffee shop.”

I asked, “do we want to make a different Spindle, or try to explore why everyone would care about this one?”

Another player suggested that the owner of the coffee shop was a sweet older woman that everyone loves and that treats all of them like her own children. This sounded like a good compromise to me. The Trickster player grudgingly agreed.

I did stop and ask for more information here. What didn’t sink in until later is that the Trickster player never offered an alternative, just shot down other people’s ideas. I really should have specifically asked for their inputs.

Later on, when discussing the Spindle, the trickster player said, “I wish we had a more meaningful Spindle, but I guess this is what we’re stuck with.”

At this point, I really should have stopped to have a discussion about this and said:

“It would be nice to have a stronger story for the group’s beginning and their deeper connections to the Spindle, but this is a convention game, we have limited time to get going, and part of participating in a group storytelling experience is to make a character that can tell a story with the group.”

When it came to the gods that the group made happy and angered with the Spindles story, the group decided that Mercury also appreciated the coffee shop, so there were on good terms with him. The opposing deity . . . was Bezos.

I tried to bring up that I wanted more of a general “Corporate Entities Provide Everything I Need” name for the concept of trusting in modern mega-corporations, but nobody really had a good idea for a name like that. I wasn’t thrilled with using “Bezos,” since it was very specific and very on the nose, but its what I went with.

Introductory Scenes

We played out an introductory scene where all of the players detailed their characters. Two characters did a lot of interacting, and tended to be more light-hearted in their depictions of those characters. Two more were more serious, but also conveyed that they both had more of a “we’re part of the group, but we need to be the adults.”

The Trickster player added a lot of details that played up their unique part of the world, and didn’t much tie into either the Spindle or the other players.

Mercury was going to recruit them into pulling a heist on one of Vulcan’s businesses, because Vulcan decided to do business with Bezos. Mercury wanted to “outsource” the job to this group, because none of them had ties to the Greek or Roman pantheons, so he could maintain plausible deniability.

I had an idea for a half-high tech, half-magical heist, where the group deals with Vulcan’s techno-magical items and a few mythological security guards to steal a shipment of high tech delivery drones.

Then the Trickster player chimed in, in character:

“A heist is so boring. Couldn’t we do something more interesting.”

I should have taken this as the Trickster saying something in character. Or, I should have had a meta-discussion about if the player was disappointed versus the character. Instead, I added a complication. Mercury gave the group an hourglass that he stole from Chronos, and told them they could, instead, make sure the plans for the drones never got made in the first place.

The Verdant’s player, whose character was broke and unemployed, made a joke about betting on sports teams. Everyone got ready to travel to the past. They said they activated the device. Then the Trickster’s player said, “I went and purchased a sports almanac to bet on things before we left.” But in the scene, it was pretty clear they had the meeting, and then just left.

I thought the following would be fun, but it just made things confusing, and I should have just said that the session was already getting a little unfocused. Instead, I said that there were two versions of the group in the past, one where the Trickster did what he said he did, and the other where they just went straight back in time.

Time Heist

The group decided to split into two groups. One went to the muse that inspired the plans to be drawn up, to convince her not to inspire the engineer. The other went to an engineering convention to talk to the engineer to get him to not make the plans for the delivery drones for Vulcan to sell to Bezos.

Then, the Trickster player decided to head to his bookie to place bets on various sporting events.

At this point, I should have just said, in a meta-contextual manner:

“I’m okay with running two different locations, but I don’t really want to add a third location, especially not one that’s not related to the main narrative. Can we get everyone back to one of the two locations?”

Instead, I tried to “fix” the situation by introducing “time wraiths” that appeared by all of the PCs, trying to “negate” them so that the timeline would reset. In my head, this would drive everyone to check back in with each other and have them all regroup. It did not, and I should have known better.

Additionally, the Trickster character tried to pick the pocket of the time wraith that was after him. Even though I described it as a vaguely humanoid-shaped entity made of collapsing time and space. When I clarified the description, he said he still wanted to pick its pocket, and then got upset when he took harm from touching the thing made of anti-time that had just told him that it was here to negate him.

Gameplay Conceits

One thing that I think I did handle the way I should have was also a matter that was starting to wear away at my patience. Instead of describing his actions, and then letting me mention if that triggered a move, the Trickster player was rolling dice and then telling me his outcome before he even mentioned what his character was doing.

I had explained the game briefly at the beginning, but everyone present had said that they were familiar with PBTA games before. The Trickster player had even mentioned various things about Masks and other PBTA games. We were all on board with “you have to say what you are doing to trigger a move, and the GM/Fates tell you if a move is called for.”

Not only did he roll dice and tell me what his outcomes were before I called for a move, he also kept rolling dice randomly through the session.

I finally stopped and said, “please don’t roll the dice until I tell you a move is called for. Tell me what you are doing, and I’ll tell you if it is a move, and then you can roll dice.”


One of my regulars was getting frustrated with the plot not advancing, and didn’t particularly like the time wraiths. I was trying to bounce between all three scenes, and had to tell the Trickster player to not keep going when I was cutting to another scene. Eventually, I had Mercury, in the past, call them all together and ask what the hell was going on.

I wanted to come up with some kind of resolution, so I sent all of them to a penthouse where the future version of the Trickster had amassed a ton of wealth and power using the hourglass to travel through time, and the group confronted him.

I did get an amusing scene where the Trickster held a gun to his own head to threaten his future self. In the end, the Warrior slapped the Trickster down and grabbed the hourglass out of his hand. They met back up with Mercury, and went back to the present.

Mercury, in the present, told them that instead of stealing the drones or stopping the plans, he just went into business with Vulcan, but had to give him a huge cut of the profits as an apology. I thought this would have been a decent resolution, but the Trickster then grabbed the time device and decided to have more time hijinks.

At which point, I described everything flashing to a featureless white nothingness, with the rest of the demigods and Mercury the only beings in existence. Mercury looked at the group and asked, “do you suppose someone else will fix this, eventually?”

And that’s where we ended.

Lessons Relearned

  • I should have had the discussion about making a character that fits the narrative early on
  • I should have had the discussion about dice rolling sooner
  • I should have had a discussion about regrouping for the main storyline instead of fixing in narratively
  • I should have clarified that the player felt a certain way, instead of assuming that the character was expressing the player’s desires

What’s more frustrating about this whole situation is that in the morning’s Rapscallion game, we had a player that left the party, essentially became the antagonist, and had their character killed, and the whole session went really well, because we stopped to check in that the whole group was okay with how the story was going, if the captain’s player was okay with his character dying, and making sure that the group was on board with extra elements being added. 

I just failed to apply those same techniques to this Demigods session, possibly because other player behaviors were getting under my skin and I let that cloud my judgment about the best way to resolve situations.