John Harper's Mini Games by ActingPower
Lasers & FeelingsOriginal SA post
Hello, everyone! I'd like to talk about a specific set of games that I find interesting. They're all created by a man named John Harper and posted for free on his website,
. He has four games which are short, minimalistic games (Lasers & Feelings, GHOST/ECHO, The Mustang, and Ghost Lines) and three full-fledged game systems (Lady Blackbird, Danger Patrol, AGON). To start off, I'll be looking at the four short systems, going from shortest to longest. If these go all right, I'll move on to the longer ones.
Lasers & Feelings:
"You are the crew of the Interstellar Ship Raptor. Your mission is to explore uncharted regions of space, deal with aliens both friendly and deadly, and defend the Consortium worlds against space dangers. Captain Darcy has been overcome by the strange psychic entity known as Something Else, leaving you to fend for yourselves while he recovers in a medical pod."
Lasers & Feelings is a very, very minimalistic system. It takes up a grand total of 1 page, though it crams itself up to the gills to do that. Basically, it's a system to play episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, with all of its campy goofiness fully intact. For example, in the character design paragraph, you're asked to do five things:
Choose a style for your character. These are all goofy things like "Alien," "Hot-Shot," and "Sexy." There are no mechanical benefits for choosing one or the other, but they're certainly descriptive, at least enough to tell you what cheesy cliche you're falling into.
Choose a role for your character. These are your McCoys, your Spocks, your Scotties. (Okay, so it actually says Doctor, Scientist, and Engineer, but you get what I mean.) Again, technically no mechanical advantage to being one or another, but it does give you an idea for the pecking order on the ship. It could also be a great spark for what you'd be doing at the start of the game.
Choose your number, from 2 to 5. This is literally your only stat. You know the title, Lasers and Feelings? Everything in the game boils down to one of those two. Either you're being cold, calculating, and scientific (so Lasers), or you're being emotional, flirtatious, and diplomatic (thus, Feelings). Whenever you use Lasers, you need to roll under your number on a d6, and if you're using Feelings, you need to roll over. Thus, a 5 would be like Spock, all information and no emotion, and a 2 would be like Kirk, all emotional and reactive without the logic to back him up.
Give your character a cool space adventure name. The page literally says, "Like Sparks McGee or something." So... I guess cool is in the eye of the beholder, huh?
Choose your character's goal. The player's goal, according to the page, is "Get your character involved in crazy space adventures." Sounds about right to me! Your character's goal can either be one you make up yourself or one from the list on the page. They're great goals, too, like "Become Captain," "Meet Sexy Aliens," or "Keep Being Awesome." Again, technically no mechanical benefit to whatever you choose, but it's a great way to decide what to do. If you haven't met a sexy alien yet, go find a space bar or something!
From there, Lasers & Feelings moves into the dice resolution system. It's remarkably straightforward. You roll one die, and if it's above/below your number, you do what you set out to do. You can get extra dice if you're prepared, an expert, or being helped by someone else. The more dice in your pool that succeed, the better off you are. In fact, a three-dice success says "The GM tells you what extra effect you get," so that could be really good.
I'm sure you're wondering, "What happens if I roll my number exactly? It's not really above or below." That's actually a special effect called LASER FEELINGS! When you get LASER FEELINGS! (I'm sure it doesn't have to be written like that every time, but shut up yes it does), you get to ask the GM one question that they have to answer honestly. (Assumedly, it means in-game, but, RAW...) After you get your question answered, you can change your action if you want (like if you were about to jump out of the ship with a parachute and your question revealed that your parachute isn't packed right); otherwise, you just reroll it. Why yes, that does mean you get special insight 1/6 of the time you roll for anything. That sounds like overkill, but a good GM can make it work. It'll help keep the game fresh and interesting!
Speaking of that, let's talk about the GM rules! Most of it is pretty standard. Introduce threats; prime the characters by asking, "What do you do?" Apocalypse World-style; don't pre-plan successes; allow for failures; ask the group questions regularly. All that stuff. What makes the GM rules so interesting is the random threat chart. Basically, when you start a game, you roll a d6 four times and choose the results from the table. This fills in the following blanks: "A threat of ___ wants to ___ the ___ which will ___" Here are some examples I randomly rolled just now:
"A Rogue Captain wants to Corrupt the Void Crystals which will Destroy a solar system."
"The Hive Armada wants to Steal an Alien Artifact which will Start a War."
"Alien Brain Worms want to Occupy the Quantum Tunnel which will Fix Everything."
And that's Lasers & Feelings! It's very minimalistic, but it's just enough to give you an idea of what to do. Before I go, I thought I'd mention a hack of this system (no, really) called Swords & Scrolls . Basically the same thing, only in a fantasy setting instead, with a fighter/wizard dichotomy along with logic/emotion.
GHOST/ECHOOriginal SA post GHOST/ECHO
//WHILE HUNTING FOR LOOT IN THE GHOST WORLD, YOUR CREW WAS SOLD OUT. YOU'VE WALKED RIGHT INTO AN AMBUSH, WITH HUNGRY WRAITHS ON YOUR HEELS.
GHOST/ECHO is what can only be described as a cyberpunk/steampunk game. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to describe exactly what GHOST/ECHO is trying to do. It is extremely, extremely minimalistic, but what little clues it does give you reveal a very unique style and feel going on. For example, there is no character creation model in this system. You wanna know how to make a character? Pick a name from the list. .COIL, .DEMON, .HULL, .GRIP, .VIXEN. Boom. That's your character. Those sorts of names sound very cyberpunk, right? Especially with the whole formatting thing GHOST/ECHO's got going on.
But then you look at the list of /PLACES, and they all sound very steampunk. .THE_WATCHTOWER, .CHALK_STREET_BRIDGE, .CATHEDRAL_HILL. There's no description of what these places look like, no tour guide blurb about what makes these places important. That is entirely up to you and your /CREW. The very last part of the sheet says, /QUESTIONS YOU WILL ANSWER AS YOU GO, and lists a variety of central mechanics and descriptions that will be developed as the game goes on. The entire sheet is like that. The /OTHER characters you could use in the game, the /WRAITHS that act as the enemies you can face, the /LOOT you can collect. The game doesn't tell you how to use them; it just gives them to you and tells you to go nuts. Honestly, it's quite fascinating. It's a far cry from quite a lot of other systems. It doesn't give you too much that it doesn't feel like your story nor too little that you feel lost or without direction.
The back lists the resolution mechanics. Whenever you perform one of the actions listed, you will get a +GOAL and a +DANGER. You roll one die for each +GOAL or +DANGER (plus another one if you're prepared), then assign the results as you like. A 5 or 6 means you've successfully achieved the +GOAL or averted the +DANGER. A 3 or 4 means you've partially achieved the +GOAL or partially avoided the +DANGER, but you leave it in front of you to be completed/suffered later. A 1 or 2 means the +GOAL falls out of reach or the +DANGER comes true. This means you'll really only be out-and-out succeeding about one-third of the time. You'll also have to regularly decide what's more important to you. If you're trying to, say, climb up a crumbling wall, you'd roll once to succeed at getting up the wall and once to not get hurt doing so. Nothing worse than seeing a 4 and a 1 come up and having to decide how to go about it. Do you take the harm for sure to leave the possibility of getting up the wall open, or do you fail at climbing up the wall just to partially avoid taking the damage? Whenever anything happens in the game, you'll come to face to face with this dilemma. It's an effective way of taking the luck of normal skill checks and putting the results, at least partially, in the hands of the player. Here's the list of +GOALS and their +DANGERS:
Acting Under Pressure--You suffer harm.
Infiltrate/Steal--You are caught in the act.
Suffer Harm--You're incapacitated.
Commit to Violence--Unwanted harm.
Manipulate/Hold Steadfast--You get put in a bad position.
Channel the Ghost Field--A paranormal backlash.
Listen for Echoes--You attract the attention of one or more /WRAITHS.
See those last two? The system doesn't tell you how to do them or even what they are. All it does is suggest some ideas for what you might accomplish with them. Each of these examples also gives us more ideas about the things you might be doing in this game. This is where the secrets of the setting are hidden. There are security measures to defeat, deals to negotiate, a datastream to read, and a Ghost World to visit. Hopefully all of those give you some ideas as to how to play GHOST/ECHO.
The very end gives you two things: the starting situation (which is the tagline at the top) and a list of questions for you to answer as you play. These include things like "What is the Ghost World like?", "What are .ECHOES and .WRAITHS?", and "What powers and talents does your particular /CREW member have?" All of this is evocative yet mysterious, flexible enough that you can do whatever you like yet strict enough that it defines the tone the game should take. Whether steam- or cyberpunk, this game is punk: gritty, dark, and full of antiheroes. But the fun of the game, the creation and experiences you'll share, are left to the imagination. Isn't that what gaming should be?
The MustangOriginal SA post
Hey, I'm back! I'm doing reviews of the One.Seven Design games, starting with the short systems and working my way up. (Lady Blackbird is coming, I promise!) Up next is one called the Mustang, and, well, just go ahead and read.
"Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood.
Some through great sorrow, still carry a song,
in the night season and all the day long."
The Mustang is unlike any game I've ever seen before. It is a "western gothic horror module for 4 people" that does things very differently than the previous two examples. It follows a very rigid story, which means talking about the mechanics isn't quite as helpful in this case. So let me set the scene:
There are four people sitting around a campfire. You are there, the watchman of the group. Cassie, your beloved, sits next to you, a large sheet of metal bound to her arm. Next to her is Jack, the outsider, with his father's rifle leaning up against the log he sits upon. Finally, there is William, the man of God, who carries the Holy Book and who followed you here without you asking. You four are out here to slay the Mustang, a massive, demonic creature of horror and flame. Each one of you will play your part in defeating this monster. When it appears, you will only have one chance to defeat it. Cassie will protect you all from the beast's fiery breath. Jack will fire upon it; though it cannot be killed with bullets, he will weaken it, bring it down, so that it cannot run away. William will wield the power of God to prevent it from summoning its Dark Master. And you... you will slit its throat.
But all that is yet to come. For now, you are sitting together at the campfire, drinking from the flask you brought, and coming to understand the situation you all are in. You, however, do not speak. You must watch for the Mustang to come. When you believe all has been said, you will alert the group that the Mustang approaches.
It's a very odd system, no doubt. One person, the one who organized this game to be played, acts as the overseer, part character and part GM. (They're referred to as "you" on the game sheet.) The other three players choose the three characters tasked with weakening the Mustang until you can finally kill it. Now, here's why it's strange: technically, none of them can fail. That's not the point. All that will happen is, after the scene is described, a single coin will be flipped to represent their fate. Heads means that they come out all right. Tails means something terrible happens, but the fight must go on. No, the point is the backstory before the actual fight takes place. The three players will discuss who these characters are to them, what they are doing here, and how they are feeling. You don't speak during this part. (Or maybe you can; it's not totally clear.) Hopefully, by the time you, the overseer, decide to begin the fight with the Mustang, the players are invested in their characters enough that their fates in the aftermath of the fight will be poignant.
That's what the overseer's goal is in the second part. You describe the battle scene, reflect on the memories shared in the first half, and decide what happens when the coins are flipped. If the other characters are tasked with describing what was, the overseer is in control of what is, what takes place. That is, until the final scene. When it's your turn, you flip the three coins that you used for the previous characters, and the other three players decide what happens based on whether you've flipped good (lots of heads) or bad (lots of tails). And then... the game is over.
The Mustang falls to the ground. It whimpers plaintively as it lies bleeding and torn. You walk up to it slowly and look in its eyes. You expected them to be dark, pitiless eyes, but instead they are almost human. You place the knife next to its neck. The three coins fall from your pocket to the ground, the blood of their holders still glistening fresh upon them. They land, some heads, some tails, an omen. After all this, they decide your fate.
With all that said, I'm sure what to think about The Mustang. I've never played it, so I can't say whether it works or not. The actual gameplay is very rigidly defined (I think the best word for it would be ritualistic), but like I said, I don't think the gameplay is the point. Like the first two systems, what matters is what you put into it. You create the story by creating characters that are important to you, filling them with relationships and memories, then you complete the story by testing those characters in fire and blood. There's only a 1/8 chance that everyone will come out fine. It's a bleak, strange, and heartbreaking game; it's clear that not everyone will get it. But that's fine. I think, in its own way, it's beautiful.
Ghost LinesOriginal SA post
Hey, everyone! Here's my last post for the short One.Seven Design games. After this, I'll get to work on a Lady Blackbird review. (Though I'm a bit busy at the moment with classwork and whatnot.) For now, though, here's my review of Ghost Lines!
"All glory to his majesty the Immortal Emperor!"
Ghost Lines is an Apocalypse World hack where you play as a team of "bulls" that drive powerful trains across a series of mountain ranges. It plays a lot like Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, but it has quite a lot of life all to its own. Let's see exactly what it's got!
Page 1: Character Sheet
I can't believe I've never seen this before. Each character has 4 stats (force, finesse, insight, and steel), and if you want to do something involving one of those stats, you use the move... called that stat. So if you want to be insightful, you use the move "insight," you roll+insight, and guess what? You gain insight! Now how about that? To be fair, there are a few more moves among the system, such as the assist and downtime moves on the first page, but we'll get to the rest later. For now, all I'm gonna do is explain what each move does. Force is basically your "do harm to things" move; Finesse is your cautious, sneaky-sneaky approach; Insight is basically Discern Realities; and Steel keeps you from freaking out or taking extra damage.
The top of the first page has the "harm clocks," which are very similar to Apocalypse World's. Ghost Lines, however, has two sets of two: The Physical set (composed of Harm and Scars) and the Mental set (composed of Trauma and Horror). Basically, whenever you would take harm (or trauma for the mental set), you can instead take a scar (or horror). Scars are permanent, however, and you can only take four of them. Every other scar you take also causes you to lose a stat (Finesse and Force for scars, Steel and Insight for horror).
From there, we move into the inside of the page. It has a spot for your name (your two names, actually; we'll get there), your level, your Role (which I'll explain shortly), and your homeland. All of these you choose at the start of the game, except for the Role... I think. From what I can guess, each time you head off on a route, you choose one of the Roles and maintain it until you hit a station. It's not very clear.
Moving down, we get the stats: Force, Finesse, Insight, and Steel. We also see the special bonuses you get for choosing a certain homeland. People from Skovlan are the Northerners: big, brash, and wild. Their stat bonuses revolve around Steel and ignoring bad effects. Sevoros, the Western section, is full of vicious, cruel people. Their stat bonuses are about Force, being powerful and harsh. Akoros is the Eastern section, and they rely on Insight for sharp, noble attitudes. They're basically the politician and merchant types. Lastly, Iruvia in the South is the Finesse area, all nimble and swift. Their abilities let them help people better and move more quickly.
Beneath that is the list of gear you'll have on you, as well as the benefits of your Role. All characters have pretty obvious stuff: gloves, goggles, attack hooks, magnetic boots, and other sundries. From there, each role improves something you have: The Rook (the grab-and-thrower) gets a stronger hook; the Spider (the one who ties up the ghost) gets a web-thrower and ghost-containment bottles; the Owl (the analyst) gets better goggles to see the ghosts with and lightning-oil to fight them better; and the Anchor (the tank) gets a stronger suit of armor.
Last, we have the progress bars. The second section (I'll come back to the first) lists which lines you've worked on. This is important for a variety of things, such as how well you face up against a ghost should you be on an unfamiliar line. The third section keeps track of how many ghosts you've "silenced" and how many you've "cleared." I... honestly have no idea what the difference is. The only time it mentions one or the other is that major ghosts are worth 5 clears. The first section is your Level. Instead of getting XP, you have to complete certain tasks to level up. To become Level 1, you have to clear 10 ghosts, work 3 lines, and take on 2 different roles. (See? That implies that you have the ability to choose your role. There's also the Anchor lottery on page 2.) Level 2 requires you to clear 30 ghosts, silence 1 (???), work 6 lines, and be every role at least once. Level 3 requires you to clear 60 ghosts, silence 12, work every line, and train a new bull.
All right, last things on page 1. We've got the last two actions: assist and downtime. Assist is basically like Assist in Dungeon World, letting you either help someone or interfere with their actions. Downtime lets you do some extra stuff when you get to a city. You can heal trauma, heal harm, or earn some extra money. Speaking of money, there's three little circles to keep track of how much of each type of money you have. There's chits, which is the main currency (which you have to use to pay for healing and restocking supplies... maybe?); Stash, which is more like Victory Points; and Favors, which... are basically cheat codes, I guess. You can use Favors to add extra roles, lines, or ghosts to your progress bar, get super special equipment, or connect with an important contact.
Page 2: Being a Bull
Page 2 starts with character creation. Here's where it tells you to choose your homeland and your two bonuses. It also tells you to put numbers next to your stats so that they add up to +2. (So, +1, +1, +0, +0; or +3, -1, -1, +1, whatever.)
Next, it lists all the different names you can have. Your Badge is a last name: Brogan, Clermont, Booker. The description calls it "the registry of the Purified," so that's interesting. Your name, then, is a first name. Although a very steampunk, fantasy name: Alric, Larn, Tesslyn, Carissa. They're... always listed in that order, so maybe the Imperium is like Japan? Although Badges decidedly aren't chosen by lineage, so... anyway.
Now, we move on to fighting ghosts. In case you couldn't tell by the last one, John Harper loves rituals, and fighting ghosts is no different. There's an entire list of bonuses and benefits depending on a whole host of things: what your level is, whether the team has sworn to follow the leader's orders unflinchingly, whether you held a lottery for the Anchor. Yet all those things do is help with the start of the event. The rest of the match goes according to your Role, like I described before. The Rook uses Force, the Spider plays with Finesse, the Owl gains Insight, and the Anchor relies on Steel.
So, after the ghost fighting, we have an odd move, the approximations for Harm and Trauma, and the bonuses you get for leveling up. The move is called "impose your will," and it just says, "Roll." It doesn't say what stat to roll with, so it must be... none of them, I guess. You can get bonuses if you have a high Steel/Force/level or if you are a Noble of Akoros. The end part says this:
Ghost Lines, page 2 posted:
On a 10 or 11, they choose: either do what you say, or take 2 trauma.
The Harm and Trauma tiers are pretty straightforward. Bigger numbers are worse. The leveling is a little more interesting. Remember, you can only level up three times. Each time, you get another bonus from your homeland (or from a land where you've worked a lot). When you hit level 3, you get to boost one stat. And... that's it. On to page 3!
Page 3: Life on the Rails
I haven't mentioned the pictures, but they are quite nice-looking. On page 2, there are a couple pictures of bulls in eldritch gas masks. This one has a picture of a train riding on the rails, crossing through the mountains.
Anyways, this page is separated into 4 columns. The first one is backstory for the setting of the system, which, while interesting, isn't very discussion-worthy. It talks about how ghosts are formed, why they gather around trains, and what bulls do to get rid of them. (To summarize, electricity.) At the bottom of the second column, there's also a brief glossary of some ghost terms. Although... most of them aren't used much anywhere on the sheet anyway (like Witch, who is someone who can interact with ghosts). Although it is the only place where "silenced" is defined. Silencing is destroying a ghost as opposed to merely... getting rid of its influence, I guess? I'm not sure.
Anyways, after that, we get the real meat of this page: the dice rolls. These tell us what sort of randomized events can happen while out on the ghost lines. These range from "the train stops for some weird reason" to "a major ghost causes crazy trouble." We also have a side-job table. Remember how I said that was one thing you could do when you reached a station? Well, this table tells you how well that went. A 1 means something bad happened, a 2-4 is normal, a 5 is a little good, and a 6 is very good.
Lastly, we have the section about chits, stash, and favors and an extra section about gear. It says how many Chits you make a trip (which is worthless, since nothing on the sheet tells you how much anything should cost), what a certain amount of Stash means in terms of success, and tells you what Favors can be exchanged for. The gear section gives you a little more gear that the characters can buy, as well as explain what "lightning-oil" is. Basically, it's what makes the ghost stuff work. Other than that, there are three items listed: a physical health potion, a mental health potion, and an electric cage for confining ghosts.
And that's page 3! Page 4 is also super-short, so let's get into it!
Page 4: More Tables!
There are a grand total of five tables on this page.
Table 1: A random plot generator. Gives you things like, "The night market is run by the undead," or "An inventor has built a 'spirit-locator' and needs testers." A lot like the Lasers & Feelings random plot chart, but designed for longer campaigns.
Table 2: A randomized table of freelance patrons. (You can get freelance work if you roll a 6 on the off-work job table on page 3. ...Yeah.) These are some jobs to help inspire you a bit as well. You could get work from a collector, an underworld boss, or a pimp! (No, seriously, he's in quadrant 6x4.)
Table 3: Randomized City events. So when you pull into town, there could be a festival going on, or riots, or cult gatherings.
Table 4: A table listing the qualities of ghosts from least to most. I think, when the GM creates a ghost, they're supposed to roll on this table to decide how nasty it is. So if you roll low, it's a fleeting, curious ghost, but if you roll high, it's a territorial, destructive ghost. So... that's helpful, I guess.
Table 5: A list of NPC features. Kind of the same deal, though it's not really good-to-bad as you go up. 1 is Patient and Kind, while 6 is Loyal and Headstrong. So... it's a table of NPC features. There you go.
So, in the end, what do I think of Ghost Lines? ...Truth be told, I'm not as impressed as I am with the others. Lasers & Feelings, The Mustang, even GHOST/ECHO all feel really tight in their design. They have exactly what you need to get an interesting game going. They pique your curiosity and give you just enough to go off of. Ghost Lines, in trying to flesh out the backstory more, only makes the story feel more confusing. The presentation is muddled and restrictive, and I frankly have no idea how to play it. GHOST/ECHO gives you nothing but some names and a resolution mechanic and tells you to go nuts. Ghost Lines gives you a randomized table to tell you what happens. It sticks you on a train, shoves you into roles, and expects you to figure out where the creativity is. And, frankly, I don't see it. To me, it's constraining where it should be open and open where it needs some restraint.
But hey, that's just me. I certainly couldn't do any better.