🎲 Paper App Dungeon is too easy to grind. You can just keep carefully moving and backtracking to avoid the bad stuff and hit the good stuff.

Suggestion: -1 HP anytime you cross over a path you’ve already trod, as your character experiences exhaustion.

What rules have you changed?

Beautiful Trouble updated their toolkit.

With the new toolkit you can slice and dice depending on what you are considering, and also create pdfs from your favorites.

This is a nice online companion to the deck of cards.

🎲 Great writeup of my favorite game system(s): Burning Wheel 🔥☸️


  • pioneer in transparency, character goals, “say yes”, “let it ride”, and “use-based improvement”
  • emergent story, character, & setting complexity
  • unique, character-driven play
  • minigames
  • rewards mastery

2020: 🃏, 🎲, & 🕹 Review

To view other 2020 review posts, visit the main post here.

As you may already know, I enjoy games. Especially ones with a social element, or where we get to create some sort of emergent story together. In the year of the pandemic, a lot of traditional card and board games were harder to play (unless you took them digital or used tabletop simulation software).

Pandemic Gaming

For a handful of pandemic get-togethers, we played some Jackbox Party Pack games over Discord. Ones I particularly enjoyed include:

  • Bidiots: where you create “fine art” and then bid on art at auction
  • Push the Button: where you have to figure out who the aliens are on the ship

On that note, Among Us became another hit this year, with not too dissimilar play. I played this with some groups online, as well.

At home, we played some classic Hand & Foot, a rummy-like game where you have two hands (a hand and a foot, get it?). I’d link to rules, but like many of these classic card games, it seems like every family has their own version, and ours doesn’t match the varieties I’ve seen online.

Role-Playing Games

On the role-playing games front, I played a variety of things this year, as online games continued to work well. We typically play online with just a video conferencing tool and then Rolz for our chat & rolling.

My local game participated in a playtest for Torchbearer 2nd Edition. Torchbearer and Mouse Guard are a tight version of the Burning Wheel engine. I had not played very much of Torchbearer 1st edition, because our group is often playing different kinds of adventures than what it was best suited for. But 2nd edition is honing many things and introducing tools to facilitate more types of playstyles. I’m very excited about what Luke & Thor have created and am looking forward to this release. (Watch for our names in the credits!)

When the playtest was over, we took our setting (Mauragaaqtuq) back to core Burning Wheel, starting our 4th game in the setting (the 4 being: a long BW campaign, a one-shot LARP, the TB playtest campaign, and now another BW campaign). I’m really impressed by the richness that the players (aided by system components such as Wises, Circles, and Beliefs) have added to the setting. We just started Season 2 of Mauragaaqtuq: Murder of Crows.

My already-online game group with friends from Puerto Rico and Chicago (which also got our start years ago, playing Burning Wheel in the Wheel of Time setting….yes, of course we called it “Burning Wheel of Time”) has tried a few things this year.

First, we had a game set in Shadows of Esteren but using the Blood & Bone system. This was tough, as we were trying to simplify and not do a lot of homework, but it was tough to do in practice. The game engine took a lot of nods from things that worked in other games, but IMO failed to deliver them as a cohesive set.

Next, we went on to playing a fantasy-historical game set in a mythic version of Tyre. We used the hidden gem of a game engine Dominion Rules, with some added house rules. This is my favorite open source game, and still feel like it has a lot of potential many years after its release. Alas, this did not last as there was some COVID burnout.

Now, we are on to something new…err old. We’re using Palladium 1st edition and engaging classic dungeon-delving in a published module. Palladium Fantasy is new to me (though I’ve done a little Rifting back in the day), and I’m not big on the “old school” nostalgia (partially because “old school” for me isn’t Palladium and original D&D but West End Games’ Star Wars, and partially because the “scene” is rife with miscreants and vice-signalling), but I’m having fun because the group is fun and I’m leaning into the randomness and weirdness of the setting and system.

Over break, I got to play the Labyrinth Adventure Game with my niece and nephew, and this was a blast. It’s a beautifully produced product with a simple system & great scenes that offer a lot of replayability for zany adventures to get back things stolen by the Goblin King. In contrast to many RPGs, there is plenty of excitement and adventure without having to focus on fighting.

As for live action games (or LARPs), those were mostly cancelled this year (and for good reason), but some communities continued to get together in chat and audio events. I played in a handful of these events on Discord, with my One World by Night main character, but obviously it is not the same.

Video Games

I tend to play non-twitchy open world-type games. This is both so that I can listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I play, and because I don’t need the adrenaline from twitchy games. (I get enough of that working in cybersecurity, TYVM.)

As in years past, most of my video game time was spent in the Bethesdaverse (e.g. Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, particularly, the “online” varieties this year) and the Borderlands franchise. I’m mostly on Elder Scrolls Online recently (add me for Mac/PC/Stadia: @groten), as I’ve got some family and friends who are playing, too.

I played some Disgaea as well, and though I love this game, the menus and repetitive motion mean that I can’t play very much at a time without sore hands/wrists, so I end up quitting before getting through the postgame fun. I hope they will come up with some improvements on that for future games.

What did you play this year? Any recommendations?

Jackbox party via Discord etc.

We had a fun time trying this last night. Pro-tip for services where screen share doesn’t share audio: pipe the game output to your machine speakers (to be picked up by the mic) and the voice output to your headset.

Pyramid Arcade Re-boxing

My brother helped 3D print this Pyramid Arcade insert, and now instead of 10 colors of 3 trios, I now have a full stash (5 trios) of all 14 of my current pyramid colors. That includes the special releases of grey, “kickstarter green”, pink, and neon yellow.

I can also fit in all the Pyramid Arcade components, plus some extra dice and black and white glass beads (for classic Zendo).

Just in time to expand the collection with the Pyramid Quartet kickstarter and grab the silver pyramids!

Interested in Live Action role-playing games? Live within driving distance of Indianapolis? Come join our group! We’ll try games like Inheritance by Burning Wheel HQ, The Forgotten by Andrew Medeiros, Winterhorn and other LARPs by Bully Pulpit Games.

Alien RPG materials arrived, and the main book looks excellent. #RPG

RPGs with Kids

I recently shared pictures from an RPG I ran for my niece and nephew during thanksgiving week.

I tried running Dungeon World for them last year, which was a bit too tricky of a rule set for them at the time. This time, I decided to start with Risus, a very simple system that uses ratings called “clichés”.

Since we play Team Fortress 2 as a way to hangout and talk, we decided to set the game in the TF2 setting and use the TF2 classes (scout, soldier, pyro, demoman, heavy, engineer, medic, sniper, and spy) as our clichés. Having this pick list gave them enough, but not too much, variety to choose from.

I used a semi-standard Risus setup of starting ratings at 4, 3, 2, 1 (for the total of 10). I also told them their agency would give them 1 basic weapon and 1 tool, or 4 tools. They both chose the first option. (Maybe I should have made it 5 tools, as it didn’t seem like a hard choice but for them.) They also picked code names and their “real names”. I encouraged them not to have the same things as each other in 3 and 4. Their characters started off like this:

Codename: Z7 Real name: Megan 4: Engineer 3: Scout 2: Spy 1: Heavy Basic Weapon: shotgun Tool: Wrench

Codename: H6 Real name: Jace 4: Heavy 3: Pyro 2: Scout 1: Sniper Basic Weapon: rifle Tool: binoculars

We didn’t have enough d6s, so I used d10s. I also used the Risus variant where you look at the best die in the roll, instead of the total. To play, when they wanted to do something interesting with an uncertain outcome, I asked them to describe it, told them which of their cliches was appropriate, and gave them a difficulty between 6 and 10. I also brought in the Risus conflict rules, again using versus instead of totals.

I also brought in “bennies” to the system, in order to give us a little more flexibility. I awarded them 1 at the start of their mission, and told them they’d get another any time I thought they did something really interesting or clever. They could give me a bennie when they failed a roll and wanted to re-roll it. However, when I got a bennie from then, I could put it back in the pool to add a twist to the story. (In retrospect, I could have instead set it up where I “pay” it to whoever was affected by the twist, but this gets complicated when it could affect both of them.)

I did one more piece of prep. I marked up a pile of note cards with “standard exits” at each cardinal direction and various paths connecting them.

To play, I asked them to pick a card (from a face down spread). I added some more rough drawings to this card to turn it into their headquarters for their agency (which they decided was called the “Adventurers Agency”).

They were given their mission: to shut down the Mann Co factory that was producing robots that were being created and sent out to take over the city. They were also warned that some of the robots had been designed to look like humans! They were able to requisition a little more equipment, based on the mission. They ended up with a stun stick (with 3 charges), 1 stick of dynamite, and x-ray googles that could look through a nearby surface and maybe detect false robots.

The rest of it played out through the story. When they traveled “off a card” on our map, I had them pull a random card to place in that direction they went, and I added a few more light details to that section of the map that was being built out. I had decided at the beginning which one would represent the final factory, but of course I provided a lot of challenges to them along the way.

The finale was when they ended up using the stick of dynamite to disable the power supply for the plant. We had a lot of fun, and they keep asking to do another mission!

I’m happy to answer any questions about how I setup or ran this!

From an RPG with niece and nephew. A Risus-based TF2-inspired build-as-you-go game where the agents had to shut down a Mann Co robot factory.

Edit: full writeup now here

Helping my friend run a puzzle LARP for his daughter’s birthday party 🗿🗝🔍👻

I’m back from #GenCon19, so I released a podcast about Games! Available now for subscribers of Resilient.

#GenCon19 Day 3

It was back to Games on Demand, again. Miles and I got to try out Maze Rats. I confess I have avoided a lot of the “OSR” space due to encountering so much toxic behavior from that community. That said, this was a simple and fun game, and I may add it to my toolbox along with new-school old-school games like Whitehack, Torchbearer, and Vagabonds of Dyfed.

We also got to try out another card-based RPG. I’m always eager to try these, because I love cards and have been tossing around ideas for my own game for years. Capers is a dual-named game because in it you play both supers (caped, get it?) and are involved in prohibition era-capers.

We had a pretty inexperienced (I think?) GM, so I’m not sure I got a good shake of this game, but I learned enough about how it’s setup to see what I liked and didn’t.

Saturday was also the day I got the David Peterson AKA Mouse Guard commission of our beloved dog Siku!

#GenCon19 Day 2

I started today off with some Games on Demand, and Miles, Christian, and I got to try the Penthouse playset with a couple others. It was epic in both the funny and horrible ways that Fiasco should be. Fiasco at GenCon seems to now be an annual thing for Miles and me.

Then, it was time for our Aecer’s Light Burning Wheel game with Mad Jay. We had a great time, and I’m very interested in what he is doing with the Wolfen and Roden in Burning Wheel. The zine and scenario are going to be great!

I got a chance to swing by the Burning Wheel Headquarters booth and see David Peterson (AKA Mouse Guard) in action, working on the piece I commissioned. That was quite the treat, and I’m really excited about how it is going to turn out!

I also found a good-condition used physical copy of the D6 System book, which you may recognize as the core rules that powered West End Games Star Wars (and other games).

The day ended with a fun dinner with friends. Looking forward to another great day at #GenCon19

#GenCon2019 Day 1

I started GenCon off right by going to the gym before opening ceremonies! I am happy of myself!

When the expo hall opened, I made a straight line to the BWHQ booth, as has become my tradition:

  • Checked to see if there are any play tests this year (more on that, later)
  • Picked up an (additional) copy of Miseries & Misfortunes, to supplement the Kickstarter
  • Got the small zine game Catch the Devil
  • Most excitedly, I commissioned a toned paper sketch from David Peterson AKA Mouse Guard

Indie Press Revolution is always a good booth to check out physical RPG products. Bonus: they email you a copy of the digital book when you buy physical. I found some great stuff:

  • I’m a fan of the Vampire the Masquerade product line (before problems with 5th edition and their catering to abusers and the alt right, anyway). I’d been wanting Beckett’s Jyhad Diary for a while, but held off due to cost. IPR had a nice sale, so I got a copy.
  • Also on the Vampire front, they had physical copies of the Prince’s Gambit. This is another type of game I’m always up for: parlor/social-deduction game.
  • I also grabbed Companions’ Tale, because it’s a mapmaking and collaborative storytelling game. I like the idea of examining what version of the stories live, too.
  • IPR also had physical decks for the small LARP Winterhorn, which is a game where you play the regime trying to stop peace & justice activists. Understandably, this is an educational LARP which can help to threat-model our own activism efforts, examining how we might be more resilient and effective.

I also swung by Posthuman Studios, and picked up my Kickstarter version of Eclipse Phase 2nd Ed. As usual, these folks were really cool to chat with at the booth.

Our coupon book had a free copy of Dwar7s Duel so I had to grab that, because Dwarves. It looks to be a simpler version of Dwar7s Fall, maybe?

And finally, I couldn’t let a GenCon go buy without my customary Timid Monster. These are very cool and I have a little stand for them in my office.

After the expo hall, I enjoyed a hilarious game of Goblin Quest with Miles at Games on Demand, my favorite place to try cool RPGs.

Up next was the update panel from Burning Wheel Headquarters. We heard about what’s going on with the Burning Wheel universe. In summary:

  • Torchbearer 2 has a ton of revisions, they’re very excited about it, and they’re looking at how they can get some great playtesting and feedback before publishing
  • Miseries & Misfortunes is going to start having some setting, scenario, & lifepath expansions because the 5 years in Paris (1648-1652) is concurrent with interesting things happening in many other places in the world (and is apparently called “the general crisis” by some historians)
  • The “secret playtest” we did at #GenCon2018 has had more playtests, and much of the design work is complete, but i’ts been a bit on the back burner as other projects have taken front stage (and the challenging parts of component, art, etc. production have come up)

Tonight, I’ll be joining a big game of Torchbearer that got coordinated via the Burning Wheel forums.

Based on recent feedback, I am starting a podcast!

Quick Survey: What topics would you want me to cover in a podcast and newsletter?

I’ll give a free lifetime membership to the first 50 full responses.

I did some mapping for my Whitehack open table hexcrawl game. I used Martin Ralya’s Hexamancer process to make the base map, exploring a couple spirals of hexes and then finishing hexes surrounding featured sites. Text, call, or email if you want to play. #RPG

Introducing Blog Categories and Specific Feeds!

Good news! Per this announcement, now supports categories, and therefore, so does this blog.

Categories allow you to view or subscribe to a selection of blog posts related to a certain theme. My collections could evolve over time, but you can always see the live list at the top of my archive page. I created the following breakdown, which most of my posts will fit into:

  • Anabaptism - Anabatism, Mennonites, and faith from those perspectives (RSS Feed)
  • Digital Minimalism - intentionality around use of tech (RSS Feed)
  • Games - a broad category for card games, board games, role-playing games, party games, live action games, and video games (RSS Feed)
  • Humor - satire, comics, etc. (RSS feed)
  • Ideas - food for thought, strategy, politics, philosophy, theology, psychology, etc. (RSS feed)
  • Resilience - information/cybersecurity, sustainability, emotional & psychological resilience, posts from my Newsletter/Podcast (RSS feed)
  • Review - year-in-review, looks back, but also comments on books, tools, video, music, events, etc. (RSS feed)
  • Soccer - maybe I should just make this “sports”, but I really only share about Soccer (core teams: Indy Eleven, US Women’s & Mens’s national teams, Chelsea FC) (RSS feed)

Questions? Comments?

Rearranged my main gaming bookshelves today. (Not pictured: d20 books, Exalted 1st ed, other core White Wolf books, GMing books w/ no mechanics, Dominion Rules books, Mouse Guard books, loads of PDFs.) #RPG

From Distant Shores: we're published!

Strange invaders land on the shores of a peninsula known for its independence; rumors about their true purpose are numerous and varied. Two old friends reunite after more than a decade, brought together by a young man looking to advance himself in the world.

Our book is a consolidated collection of Actual Play fiction for a Burning Wheel campaign that ran for more than sixty sessions over the course of two years.

Eloy Cintron was GM. Neil Goodrich (Alistair), Jose Lozada (Aedan), and I (Gyles) were players. Along the way, Neil Goodrich wrote actual play reports as stylized fiction, and the rest of the players contributed some content, as well.

Now, Neil has bound that content together as a beautiful book. Totaling 608 pages, it’s even larger than Burning Wheel itself. mp-photo-alt[]=mp-photo-alt[]=mp-photo-alt[]=mp-photo-alt[]=

Inside, you’ll find a map of the Braemar Penninsula (courtesy of John Love)

Also, a commissioned picture of the cast (from Marcin S),

It even includes stylized starting and ending character descriptions & sheets.

As we start to go back through the fiction, it’s amazing to see how much foreshadowing there is about how the situation and the characters will turn out.

Because it was my character, I’ve included pictures of how Gyles started out. How he ended was an entirely different picture….

I am really excited about this book. Ask me anything!

RPG talk: one Burning Wheel character suffered a Mortal Wound due to a bandit arrow. Faithful character used double-Deeds roll to successfully pray for a Miracle and save the dying one. Epic! 🔥☸️