Friday, March 28, 2014

Lusus Naturae - My first Kick Starter

Wow Kickstarter has become all the rage these past few years. Not sure why I felt the need to resist for so long, but as a shopper I like to check out my products ahead of time, read some reviews, get an idea of exactly what I am getting and then take the plunge. Kickstarter always felt like something of a gamble. But, it's also pretty awesome, and I am sure you all know that already ... because, per usual, I am the last to the party.

I have been tempted by some Kickstarters past, but didn't have the money, or I learned about them too late. This time, the buzz surrounding this Kickstarter has reached me early enough, and I have a little money, so ... I decided it was time.

Lusus Naturae is a collection of weird and awful monsters for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. LotFP is an OSR game and this collection will easily work for any old style D&D inspired game system. I usually "steal" creatures from every source I can get my hands on, converting to my game of choice has never really been an issue regardless of system.

I am working on the start of a Numenera campaign and this seemed like a nice addition. Also, I am a fan of LotFP, but to my knowledge there's not really any kind of "monster manual" for it, and this little hardcover seems like it will go nicely with that game.

Anyway, I'm a Kickstarter Supporter now.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Message to Monte Cook and Marvel (Disney)... please, pass it on.

So, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the game mechanisms/systems of Numenera would be perfect for a new Marvel Superhero RPG.

See this post where I compare Numenera and the Marvel SAGA system.

Monte, talk to Marvel/Disney ... you have a strong history. Marvel, this is the one ... this is the RPG you've been waiting for. Let Monte Cook write it.

I'm serious. Get the word out. This would be the best superhero RPG ever written, and I want to play it.

I am a Wallcrawling Acrobat who Web-Slings!

Captain America
I am a Patriotic Super Soldier who Carries a Shield!



Friday, March 21, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Free RPG List!

Chris challenged me to list my favorite FREE RPG's in a comment on my previous Top 10 Favorite RPG's of all Time. It seemed like a cool idea. So, here we are. The previous list was an "All Time Favorite" list and included a lot of games that are long out of print. For this one, I decided to limit myself to games you can still find. Since these are free RPG's available on the web, it just made sense to make sure you could read them and play them too. Links are included with each entry. Just click on the cover graphic.

10 - Starter Traveller
I owned this when it first came out. A classic from the 80's that people still play today. This "starter" version is complete and fully playable. GDW made if free back in 2010 and it's been available since. Although the blurb on the page says "Until Dec. 31st" to emphasize this as a Christmas present, GDW has awesomely kept the game free these past 4 years. This is a true Old-School Classic and a must have for any RPG collection at any price.

9 - BUST - Explosive Roleplaying
BUST is a great little universal RPG that uses a card mechanic. The Marvel Superhero Adventure Game using the SAGA system instilled me with a fondness for card systems and this one is among the best I have tried. BUST - Explosive Roleplaying is an awesome little game. You should go download a copy today!

8 - Squadron UK - Basic
The only superhero game to make my list, this is a completely revamped version of Squadron UK, and although listed as the "Basic" version, it's not a stripped down or watered down "Quick Play" style entry. This is a complete game. If you are looking for a Supers game on a budget this is the place to go. And if you like what you find, a print version is available that's packed with even more goodies than the free version.

7 - Simplicity
This is a fantasy RPG in the style of the B/X, but with feats and trappings for player customization like D&D 3.5. It's the first of a number of "retro-inspired" games to make my list. The OSR has created a flood of these games available for free, so a few did make my list, but I tried to make sure each of them is it's own unique contribution. Simplicity, for all its ease of play at the table, might be the "crunchiest" game on my list. It provides the greatest character customization of any of the free retros. Check it out.

6 - Mini Six Bare Bones Edition
At number 6 is Mini Six! This is a modern reworking of the classic D6 system designed by Greg Costikyan for the original Star Wars RPG. There's really nothing "bare bones" about this beautiful entry. It's a tight little volume full to the bursting with D6 gaming goodness. Nothing is wasted here. The game system has been tweaked slightly where needed and can handle any game setting. There are a bunch of sample genres included and awesome support from the community. Check out Mini Six!

5 - Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook
It was a tough choice between Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, but what sold it was the fact that S&W's free entry isn't diminished in anyway from the pay version. It's complete, all text and graphics included. This is the OSR entry for people who want to play old school D&D for free. It's got everything and its presentation is second to none. Swords and Wizardry is an OSR masterpiece!

4 - Old School Hack
Another OSR entry, but this one is for the story-tellers. It keeps rules light and fast, has a mechanic for players to reward other players and combat abstraction that caters to a more narrative than tactical style of play. I have run this a few times and it's a lot of fun.

3 - Legends of the Ancient World
Legends of the Ancient World is a fan made recreation of Steve Jackson's, "The Fantasy Trip." The designers sell modules for the fantasy as well as science fiction and old west versions of the game, but provide the rules for free. These are classic time tested rules and I ran a successful LAW campaign for over two years. If you are a fan of TFT, then this is the game for you.

2 - Retro Phaze
My favorite of the free retros, Retro Phaze looks at D&D through the eyes of 8-Bit and 16-Bit console RPG's like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. The implementation of computer game influences makes a game that plays fast and furious. The game also changes all the dice mechanics over to the D6 which earns bonus points from me. It's a concise, well considered little game with a lot of punch and is also available in print on demand should you want it.

1 - Lady Blackbird
My number one pick is a fairly new discovery for me, and may be gaining some preferential treatment because of my current interest in story-telling game mechanics, but that doesn't mean it's not absolutely awesome. Lady Blackbird is an RPG adventure module and game system all rolled into one. This is another mind blowing example of making the most of every page. The game system is interesting and accessible and even though there are not specific rules for character creation, so much is here that you can extrapolate anything you need. Testament to that are a dozen spin-off creations that have been produced based on this one tiny module. Don't take my word for it. Download Lady Blackbird and see for yourself!

There you have it Chris: my Top 10 FREE RPG List. What do you think?!



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite RPG Products of all Time

I saw this on the Other Side Blog ... and although I don't usually join these kinds of posts (not sure why really, just bad timing maybe?) I thought this looked like a lot of fun.

10 - 13th Age

The game that I am currently playing, and so perhaps subject to some undeserved attention due to that. It's the newest game on my list. This game really is a pretty sweet piece of work. The publication itself is beautiful. So far game play has been very smooth. It's the game that has brought D&D back to my table. So, I am placing it here at number 10.

9 - Star Wars (1st Edition)

The first edition Star Wars game by Greg Costikyan may have had its share of flaws, but it was an eye-opener for me. It simplified so many things while introducing a lot of new ideas. And it was self contained in a beautiful yet slim hardcover book. I liked the d6 system that it introduced and the way that it embraced the Star Wars setting. We played many games of Star Wars using these rules.

8 - Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia

Everything D&D in one cool volume. The D&D Rules Cyclopedia had it all. Classes, Races, Monsters, Gods, Setting. It was the most complete single contribution to Dungeons and Dragons ever produced and so, it's my favorite D&D book. If I were to run classic D&D today, this is the book I would pull from my shelf.

7 - Mekton II

One of two Mike Pondsmith games on my list. There was a time when I would have called Mike Pondsmith my favorite game designer. He was the first designer I know of to include anime inspired themes in his RPG design. Mekton II was an awesome little game system. It had a cool, anime inspired lifepath system, clean mechanics for combat and skill use. And it had giant robots. I used this game to run everything from Star Trek style sci-fi to James Bond style spy games ... Mekton II is awesome!

6 - The Fantasy Trip

This is actually 3 books that collectively make one product. It's Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth. Steve Jackson's the Fantasy Trip was so far ahead of its time. A great modular fantasy RPG with an integrated skill system that could do anything. I remember articles in gaming magazines that allowed TFT to do science fiction and superheroes within just a few pages ... and it all worked. TFT is one of the greats of the old school era.

5 - Champions (3rd Edition)

For me this was the magic edition of the Champions game before the Hero System split itself off as a generic every man system and the game was still just Champions. Man I ran a lot of Champions back in the day. So much so that I burned myself out on the system completely and haven't looked at it in years. But it was still a really influential and powerful system and scores highly among my favorites.

4 - Barbarians of Lemuria (Legendary Edition)

This game by Simon Washbourne is nothing short of perfect. Elegant system using d6 and multiple careers for diverse and interesting character options. A solid integrated fantasy world based on classic sword and sorcery. Fantastic art, clear concise writing. It's so good that it's the only game that made it to my top 10 list despite the fact that I have never played it. I hope I will be able to remedy that someday, this game is just beautiful.

3 - Dream Park RPG

My second Mike Pondsmith game, Dream Park scores number 3 in my list of all time favorites. A mixed genre game within a game, designed to do anything and not think about it too hard, Dream Park is just awesome. I still look at the game for design inspiration and ideas.

2 - Marvel Superhero Adventure Game (SAGA rules)

The Marvel Superhero Adventure Game supported one of the longest and most memorable superhero RPG runs that I ever had the pleasure to GM. The card system is elegant and versatile. This was a game that died an unjust and early death. It remains a great system. I have even gone so far as to work on my own version of the Saga system that makes use of standard playing cards. Now, if Numenera proves itself in game play to be the game I think it is ... it might just bump MSHAG out of this number 2 spot.

1 - Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition)

My number one favorite RPG product of all time has to be the 1st Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay RPG book. I have so many fond memories of playing this game. It has incredible character diversity a dead simple resolution system, exploding damage dice and gory critical hit tables that were the highlight of many a game session. WHFRP had it all.

Now that you've seen my favorites, check the favorites of these other bloggers too!

How about you? What's in your top 10?



Numenera - SAGA without the cards?

So, "13th Age" is by D&D 3.5 designer Johnathan Tweet, but for me the name Monte Cook is far more familiar. Monte has been doing D&D stuff since the 2E days. His Kickstarter for Numenera raised a half million dollars, so name recognition must be worth something.

I've been reading Numenera, because ... I do that. I love reading RPG books. I am sharing with you because I thought you might also enjoy reading this game. It's a completely original mechanic, and when I read Cook's design goals and then reviewed the system, I believed that Cook succeeded in attaining his goals. At least that's how it hit me. I think it's an awesome system.

There are a lot of reviews out there that look at Numenera piece by piece, so, I won't do that. What I want to do is tell you why I think this system is awesome. It's because I see Numenera as an evolution of a game system that I have played before, and since that system is an all time favorite of mine, this revelation has me pretty excited.

Numenera reminds me a lot of the SAGA card system (Dragon Lance 5th Age, Marvel Superhero Adventure Game) ... only without cards. You have these pools of effort (which are basically ability scores) but you call upon them or not as you choose. Like the playing card mechanic of SAGA, you choose how to apply your effort from the resources you have available. But instead of a hand of cards, you have pools of resources. If you think that comparison seems like a stretch, consider that the system also uses EDGE (a mechanic also from SAGA) to reduce the cost of this resource use, much like your EDGE in SAGA allowed you to make better use of the cards in your hand.

Just like with SAGA, taking damage diminishes your available resources (not cards, but points from your pools.) It seemed so similar in design flavor to me that I had to go back and check to see if Monte's name was on the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game ... it wasn't, but guess whose was ... Sue Cook. Monte's wife (ex-wife?) co-designer of the SAGA system and brand manager for both the Marvel Superhero Adventure game and the Dragon Lance 5th Age game.

Not a coincidence I think, and not a bad thing either, since I loved the SAGA system, and as weird as it might be to say, Numenera strikes me as the SAGA system with dice instead of cards. That in itself seems like an oxymoron as the strength of SAGA is arguably in the card mechanics. But, I would say after running many many sessions of the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game that the real strength of the system was in the way the system gave the players control over their actions. Numenera looks to serve the same strengths in similar ways.

If you enjoyed the SAGA system back in the day, I recommend that you give Numenera a look. It's not cards, but the dice system does look to put the same level of control in the hands of the players. The GM doesn't even roll dice (just as the GM never held a hand of his own cards in SAGA.)

Now, SAGA did have the suit of "Doom" to give the GM some narrative trumping power. With Numenera the power is still there. It's called GM Intervention, and it's an XP mechanic subject to player veto. Just as the player could choose to play a card from the suit of Doom, while knowing that the GM might turn that card around on him later, here the Player can choose ... take the benefit and suffer the consequences, or avoid the consequences and lose the benefit. This comparison isn't perfect, I know ... but I still see it as the same thing. In both systems the power for good and for ill rests ultimately in the hands of the player.

I love SAGA system, and the way it played and flowed and felt. And, I think Numenera strides to hit the same texture. For that reason, I can't wait to bring this one to my gaming table.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Story Telling and Dice in Super Five

So several of the story telling games that I have looked at take the "yes" and "no" of task resolution and evolve it to include something more. Many of the games FU and Itras By for example, expand on the results ... not just "yes" but, "yes ... and" ... not just "no" it's "no ... but." More is implied by every roll to encourage the forward movement of the story.

I am trying to consider what that might look like within the context of the 5x5 roll.

Here's what I've come up with.


Generally a Five by Five session is a series of narrative exchanges bridged together by gamey-wamey tests involving dice. The GM (Game Manager) will set a scene, present an opportunity, or tease the sensibilities of the other players in some manner so as to illicit a response.

To facilitate this, the GM will usually describe a scene and then ask the players, “What do you do?” But, what he is really asking them is, “What do you want from this scene, and how will your characters go about getting it?”

I usually address my players one at a time in this fashion moving from one player to the next until I have made it all the way around the room. If the player asks for something that plays into the scene as I have imagined it, is logically possible for their character and doesn't disrupt or change the scene's current flow or momentum, I will usually just say, “Okay, you can do that … no problem.”

If the player asks for something that is going to counter the flow of the scene that I have placed in motion, then I need to know how, the character hopes to accomplish this, what skills, abilities, powers or experiences they might have to influence the scene in such a way. Once this ability is identified, I call for a roll of the dice. Players like to roll dice. We want this to happen.

Usually, the idea of a scene is to resolve a conflict. You want to create situations that your players will try to change and influence. If your players choose to do something that doesn't seem like it will have an impact on the scene's momentum or outcome, chances are they are waiting to see what is going to happen. If the players feel comfortable waiting, it's time to raise the stakes.

When the players are no longer spectators and leap into action to impact the scene. Then they are playing the game, and you can ask them to roll the dice.

Rolling Dice!

Before you roll the dice, it is important to know what's going to happen. Ask the player, “What do you do?” But be sure you understand what that means within the context of the scene. What direction is the player trying to take the scene. What will the scene look like once it's resolved based on the players course of action? Have these things in mind and discuss them before making a roll.

The Five by Five Roll answers the question, “Did the player succeed?”

Interpreting the 5x5 roll


I rolled “0” - Mixed Results.

Yes, BUT … something else unexpected happens.

I rolled “under” my Trait (greater than '0') - Generic Result.

Yes ... The outcome is acceptable. This is what you were expecting.

I rolled my Trait “exactly” - Spectacular Results!

Yes, AND … something more happens, better than you had planned.

I rolled “over” my Trait - Anticipation!

No, BUT … you didn't get what you wanted, but you can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I rolled “doubles” - Complication!

No, AND … things just got worse!

These 5x5 roll results are meant to help a scene maintain stability and momentum. If the player rolls higher than “0” and stays under the Trait that they called upon to influence the scene, then they have managed to do exactly what was intended by the player. But, what does that mean?

Well, exactly how much or how little a player can accomplish with a single roll of the dice depends a lot on the scene itself, but generally speaking it's a good idea to try to keep a scene going for 3 or 4 turns (where you give everyone 3 or 4 chances to influence the scene and roll dice) so anything that would wrap up the conflict too quickly should be broken down into more manageable pieces.

Five by Five isn't a wargame simulation. It doesn't use miniatures or count every sword thrust. Players should do more than say, “I swing my sword.” That doesn't influence the momentum of the scene.

“I rush over to the villain with sword in hand and stand between him and the princess, ready to exchange blows if necessary.” 

That's more like what we want.

Rolling a “Generic Result” means the player gets what they want, and the action happens as they described it. This is good, quick. Things are moving along. But, the Five by Five roll can do more than this.

Rolling “0” produces “Mixed Results.” The Five by Five rules say that “0” always succeeds, sure … but that doesn't mean the success needs to come easy. When resolving a scene, “0” means that the outcome that the player intended carried with it a price. Something else happens in the scene. The stakes are raised. Actions bring consequences. Talk it out and decide what this might look like. It's important to do this when you are telling an adventure story. It increases urgency and makes the game more exciting.

“You rush the villain, but he sees you coming and pulls the princess to him. Gripping her tightly he runs his drooling tongue up the side of her perfect rose colored cheek, grinning evilly before throwing her behind him and stepping forward to meet you.”

On the flip side, rolling a player's “trait” exactly, brings “Spectacular Results.” Something awesome just happened! The scene takes a bigger leap in the player's favor than would normally be possible in a single turn. A Spectacular Result can even resolve a scene completely if that feels right for the story.

“Your sudden charge takes the villain by surprise and he jumps back allowing you to take the princess in your arms. The princess gives you a passionate kiss, before stepping safely behind your guard to watch you dispatch her captor. The villain drops his sword in a panic and turns to run.”

But things won't always go the players' way. What if the roll indicates failure rather than success? First you might notice, that there is no “Generic Failure” result. If Generic Success means the players get what they want, then Generic Failure would mean they don't. They don't. What does that mean? How does it help the scene? The answer is, “It doesn't.” To simply say to a player, “You don't succeed.” is just a stall. It doesn't add anything. It doesn't improve the story. So, we don't do it.

Instead, we call rolling over your trait, “Anticipation.” Things move forward a little … the player didn't get what they were after, but they accomplished something. Their action advanced their situation in some way that teases and taunts them and makes them want the outcome that they were attempting all the more.

“The villain anticipated your charge pulls the princess back thrusting her into the arms of two of his guards who usher her even further from your grasp, before he steps up to greet your steel with his own.”

And finally, rolling “doubles” is the epic fail. “Complication” means things just got worse. This is the GM's chance to raise the stakes, and give the players a setback. Complications balloon a scene and can make it grow bigger and bigger, and ever more dangerous.

“The villain is not taking any chances. He pulls the princess close and puts a dagger to her throat before you can cross the distance to reach him. “Drop your sword!” he demands, “Or your princess is dead!”


Another thing I noticed about the Wonder Twins game is that there was not as much die rolling as there would have been had I forced the players to adhere to combat rounds. Less rolling meant fewer "doubles" and less Karma. If that's going to be the way of things, I need to give each individual Karma point a bit more "bang." So, for my next play-test (using the guidelines for scene resolution that I describe above,) I am going to make each Karma point worth a re-roll of a 5x5 roll for the player. And since it's a re-roll and not a roll modifier, it can be used for "doubles" rolls as well.

(If I do that, I will need to amend the Karma award rules to state that you only gain a Karma Point when you accept the consequences of a "doubles" result. If you choose to re-roll, then it's like the "doubles" didn't happen and you don't gain the Karma point.)

This is the stuff I am looking at incorporating into Five by Five as I work to develop the Super Five spin off. I already have a superhero RPG with hit-points and initiative and combat rounds and lists of powers and all that. It's called Hi/Lo Heroes. I want to come at Super Five totally differently.



Eric Clapton - While my guitar gently weeps (HQ)(Concert for George)


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Super-Five in the DCU!

Given me "paws" ... get it?!

This past week's play-test of Super-Five has given me pause. Oh, a good time was had by all ... these were good pause. I simply have a lot buzzing around in my brain following the game.

One of my players is a big Wonder Twins fan. I even posted Super-Five stats of the Wonder Twins just for him. We started talking about the Wonder Twins and he brought me up to speed on the evolution of the characters post the Super Friends and even created his own version of the characters for Super-Five.

So, that was it. A play-test of Super-Five had to happen, and soon, so that he and his wife could role-play the Wonder Twins: Zan and Jayna!

Plans were made and I grew very excited about the chance to give Super-Five a whirl. We are playing Five By Five v3 and that game is going well. We have more or less modern day ordinary characters who find themselves adventuring in a sort of every genre multi-verse, but we haven't made the jump to superheroes (yet,) so this was an awesome chance to test out some of my rules additions/variations.

Much to everyone's surprise, my Wonder Twins players came ready to roll and set the tone for the evening!

Zan and Jayna came dressed to play!

I knew that two of my players were going to be the Wonder Twins so I asked my other two players if they could think of other less mainstream characters from the DCU to round out the team. I was more than pleased with the results as my players came back to me with: Ambush Bug, and Deadman. This was going to be quite the interesting game.

Click Deadman or Ambush Bug text in caption to visit the artist's page.

I began the adventure in Metropolis and told Zan and Jayna that for this game they were high school students at Metro-High. They were cool with that. Ambush Bug has a history of annoying Superman, so I told him that he might be in Metropolis with that in mind, but that Supes is no where to be found, apparently off-planet dealing with some extra-terrestrial menace.

I started with the traditional audible burglar alarm at Metropolis Federal Bank to draw the heroes in. Deadman is transported to the site of the robbery by Rama Kushna the Goddess who sponsors his existence in the afterlife, as she explains simply, "You are needed here." The rest of the heroes respond of their own volition as heroes are want to do, since they are within earshot of the alarm.

Inside the bank are people with hands in the air, but no robbers in sight. The bank robbers are invisible! Deadman manages to possess one of the robbers and through his eyes can see the others. They are all using some kind of technology to make themselves unseen. Zan and Jayna turn into a mist and a police dog. Zan is hoping the mist will maybe expose the invisible baddies. It's a good thought, but it doesn't work. Jayna in the meantime barks at the hostages in her best, I'm a trustworthy police dog bark voice, and tries to lead them outside to safety.

One of the invisible robbers blocks the door, stopping the escape, but Zan and Jayna are having none of that and transform again into a tiger and a water spout. Zan as a water spout tries to push the bank doors open while Jayna threatens the robbers with a Tigery growl. But they fail their dice rolls so instead it's decided that Zan's water spout accidentally washes Jayna's tiger self right outside and into the path of the police.

Ambush bug finally makes an appearance popping up between tiger and cops exclaiming, "Don't shoot this tiger! Doesn't she look trustworthy!"

Zan was able to wash the robbers away from the doors, subduing them in the process ... all but two that is. The two by the bank counter, one of whom is possessed by Deadman. The robber with free will makes a break for a side door and the Deadman follows, playing his role as baddie, hoping to be lead to the robbers' hideout.

But outside a dark cloud looms blotting out the sun! And behind this dark cloud? I gigantic flying starfish!! It's Starro!

Little starfish (well little compared to Starro, but still big for starfish) come flying out and cover the faces of cops, and superheroes alike, everyone but Deadman and the bank robber who are invisible, and Zan who was still made of water.

All the world's heroes are the slaves of Starro!

Ambush Bug simply reached up and pulled the Starro-fish off his face. For some reason he seemed to be immune. Zan, who was still a water spout, didn't really have a face to speak of and so was also free for the moment. Jayna in tiger form was the only player character hero under Starro's thrall.

Enter Captain Marvel to save the day! Who was immediately snagged by a Starro-fish and turned from potential savior to threat. Zan could move to touch Jayna and hoped that a transformation might help free his sister. He was able to trigger a transformation and both Zan and Jayna returned to human form. And tah dah! It worked, Jayna was freed of the Starro-Fish.

The heroes fled inside the bank to hide, hopefully placing a physical barrier between themselves and the Starro-fish. Deadman noting that the transformation power of the Wonder Twins had freed Jayna from Starro's influence quickly entered Captain Marvel's body to attempt to trigger his transformation. I had Deadman's player make a roll for this to see if he really knew the secret of the magic word, "Shazam" and he rolled a zero, so I let it fly. Deadman entered the big red cheese's body and managed to over-ride Starro's control invoking the magic word, "Shazam!"

Now, what happened next, I totally stole from an episode of the Batman: the Brave and the Bold cartoon. And it was the reason I put Captain Marvel in the story. I wanted this to happen. I just didn't expect it to happen so soon. The magical lightning comes down, but it doesn't strike Captain Marvel. Starro is in the way blocking out the sky. The lightning hits Starro! The Star fish despot from space lets out a mighty scream as he is struck by the lightning and stunned from the attack, all the Starro-fish fall from the faces in the immediate area, including the one on Captain Marvel.

Deadman vacates Captain Marvel and enters one of the police officers on site. He quickly explains to Captain Marvel that he needs to keep invoking the magic word ... to do it over and over again! Captain Marvel complies and the assault on Starro begins. This could mean the end of the adventure very quickly! I needed to slow things down a bit to keep the story rolling along a bit longer.

Enter some new players, heroes still under Starro's control. Raven of the Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, and the Flash. I had Flash give Ambush Bug a super-speed punch in the nose. I had Wonder Woman bind the Wonder Twins with her magic lasso. And, I had Raven envelop Captain Marvel in a ooze of mysterious black force. (I might be getting Raven's powers confused with Cloak of Cloak and Dagger fame here ... but my players went with it.)

The twins try to transform to free themselves of Wonder Woman's lasso, but trapped in the magic of the lasso's embrace, the transformation doesn't work. Ambush Bug teleports over beside Wonder Woman hoping to draw the Flash into an accidental collision with the amazing amazon, which does work and Flash and WW crash together freeing the twins.

The Wonder Twins attack Wonder Woman by transforming into a pool of water and an octopus. I am not entirely sure how it happened, but the octopus ended up spinning through the air like a Frisbee. Deadman tries possessing Captain Marvel again, right through the black stuff, to which I dramatically announce ... "When you try to enter Captain Marvel's body through the black matter you instead enter into hell! Bwah! Ha! Ha!!"

Again might be getting Raven confused with Illyana Rasputin but Raven's dad Trigon was a demon, right? I haven't read a Teen Titans comic since Wolfman and Perez in the 80's. In fact, my entire version of the DCU (and Marvel) as depicted through my GMing would definitely be an 80's universe. But again the players went with it.

I told Deadman how he found a young Billy Batson sitting and crying among the fire and brimstone. Ambush bug decided to try to break Starro's control over Raven and described teleporting right in front of Raven and poking the Starro-Fish in the "eye" with his finger. This seemed like a very Ambush-Buggy thing to do and so I had him roll for possible success. Succeed he did, and I described the Starro-Fish falling away from Raven's face. It was easy enough to rationalize that the Starro-Fish's hold on Raven was already tenuous at best.

I went ahead and had Starro take off ... flying away into the distance ... and had the Flash and Wonder Woman follow, leaving the small group of second rate heroes alone to their devices. Deadman attempts to "leave" Captain Marvel's possession and is able to return to the real world. Raven has fallen to her knees and is an emotional wreck, incoherent and unable to function as a result of the backlash of Starro's possession. The cocoon of blackness that held Captain Marvel captive dissipates, but there is no Captain Marvel to be found ... he is gone.

Deadman tells the group that Captain Marvel is trapped in hell. No problem, says Ambush Bug, I can teleport there and rescue him! We agree that given Ambush Bug's unique perspective on the worlds and time and various dimensions, that he might indeed be able to accomplish this. So, I let him roll it. The roll fails, and I say ... sorry, you can't seem to teleport to wherever Captain America is. Ambush Bug reminds me that he was not in fact trying to teleport to Captain America but rather Captain Marvel.

It's a fun slip of the tongue because I quickly decide that in fact, Ambush Bug's failed roll means that he did indeed teleport right in front of Captain America during World War II (because, war is hell ... right?) I waited to see what Ambush Bug decided to do with this new turn of events, but he merely quipped a quick greeting to the Captain and then teleported himself back to the other players and the immediate problems at hand.

He explains that he can't locate Captain Marvel, and Deadman tells him to try Billy Batson instead as that was the form that he was in. I decide this new tact warrants another roll of the dice and this time Ambush Bug is successful. He arrives at Billy's location, scoops him up and returns him to the rest of the group. Billy's ordeal has left the boy distraught. And Raven is no better.

Ambush Bug decides that what they need is Professor X to go into their minds and fix them, so he teleports to the Marvel Universe to Professor Xavier's School for gifted youngsters to nab the professor and bring him back to help. There's a bit of breaking the forth wall fun as Ambush notes that Professor X looks exactly like Captain Picard, and the Professor is brought up to speed on the situation.

Professor X agrees to help and tries to enter Raven's mind. This roll fails, and I explain how the professor grabs his head screaming in agony as he connects with Raven. In a panic, Ambush Bug teleports the Professor back home and leaves him there for the X-Men to sort out.

Back in the DCU, Jayna transforms into a baby dragon and tries to comfort Billy. It helps some, but not enough, so she tries with Raven too. This is more successful and the comforting coo of Jayna's baby dragon form brings Raven back to her senses where Professor Xavier had failed. (Maybe Ambush should have grabbed Lockheed!)

Look out, Shadowcat, Raven wants your pet!

Raven tends to Billy while the heroes turn their attentions to the problem of Starro. They have figured out that it seems to be "Transformation Magic" that disrupts the starfish invader and so they concoct a plan. (And, seriously ... this is their plan:) Ambush Bug teleports all over town gathering as much Country Time Lemonade Mix (it was their product placement, not mine.) as they can get, filling a gigantic bag with the stuff.

The idea is that Zan is going to transform into a giant ice cold glass of water and using the Country Time they will create the most irresistible glass of lemonade ever conceived, and when Starro comes to drink it, he will actually consume Zan (and Jayna who will take the form of a gnat floating on top of the delectable beverage.) Then the twins, now inside the very internal organs of the giant interstellar starfish will transform and the magic of their transformation will destroy Starro in the process.

Have our Heroes discovered Starro's weakness?!

Well, this plan was just so silly, I had to see it through. To improve their chances, the heroes donned the tech gear confiscated from the bank robbers to make themselves invisible and then went in pursuit of Starro. I explain that Starro has flown very far away in a short time (being able to travel between the galaxies and all) so, Jayna turns into a little mouse and Zan into an ice cube. Ambush grabs them up and Deadman possesses Jayna for the ride as Ambush teleports the lot of them to Starro's location.

I explain how Starro has gathered all the worlds superheroes here to some remote valley in Colorado to begin an super-powered invasion of the galaxy! The heroes are confident and spring into action to implement their plan. I have them roll some dice, but these come up the accursed Doubles! The plan is doomed to fail! I describe how a gust of wind blows the Country Time Lemonade powder before they are able to mix it into Zan's giant ice cold glass of ice-water shape and how the fine powder invades everyone's nostrils causing all to sneeze and cough, including Starro and all his possessed supers.

This distraction buys the heroes a bit of time to gather their wits, but was certainly not the outcome they were hoping for. Zan and Jayne become giant creatures and attack Starro, but Deadman has a different idea. "Can I find Zatana among all the heroes?" he asks me. I say that he can, and so Deadman possess Zatana to enact his own plan.

"Lla seoreh emoceb eht Settekcor!" He chants!

(I make the player say the words. If you don't know, you have to read each word backwards. He wrote them out on his iPad and then recited the spell.)

It worked! All of the worlds superheroes were suddenly a dancing chorus line of Rockettes!

Batman, is that you?!!

He then cast the counter spell, "Seoreh nruter ot lamron."

And this worked too! The transformation freed all the worlds superheroes of Starro's control, who all collectively as a group joined forces to wail on the alien starfish in a multi-page splash illustration mega battle.

It seemed like this was a good way for Starro to meet his demise and I conceded victory to the players. They had saved the world, nay, the universe!

Everyone had a lot of fun, but the play-test for me was sort of a mixed bag ... hence the paws. I ran this game like I tend to run all of my games, fast and loose ... reacting to the players and going with the flow. Should I have instead created something with more structure in an attempt to focus on certain rules?

Because the thing is ... we didn't really use trait specialization or even participate in a structured combat at all. It was more fast and loose than that. I think that I did assign one point of stress to Jayna during the game, but it was arbitrary at best. But, no one missed it. And so, my pondering is ... maybe I should just abandon all ties to my old-school gaming roots and make Super-Five a full blown story game.

I don't need the miniatures war game elements in my game to have fun. Why do I even need rounds of combat, or hit-points (or stun, or whatever)? Even our regular Five by Five sessions seem to flow better when we hand-wave combat.

These are the thoughts tumbling in my head. Coupled with how do I create rules to facilitate what we did at the table during this game. I know what we did. It's a lot of how I always play. But, how do I package that so that others can benefit from the same play style?

If combat isn't based on the familiar war game model, will players be able to get into it? If I don't want to bother tracking stun or life or whatever, how do we create a sense of urgency or player mortality?

What do other story games do? I am going to do some research and read some games that focus on narrative over simulation to see how other game designers handle game management. If anyone has any good story games to recommend that I read in this quest, please pass them along.