Season 2 of Ludonarrative Dissidents has 18 episodes, and is now concluded. This time around we upgraded the format to include episodes about specific game mechanics, tropes, styles and trends in tabletop RPG design, including a pilot episode that dissects the ways different roleplaying games use card mechanics and custom decks.
Season 2  was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that ended on 22nd August 2022, having raised $7390 from 161 backers. The podcast would not exist without them, and we are extremely grateful for their support.

Now scroll down…

00

CARDS In rpgs

Many RPGs use cards as a part of their mechanics, from playing cards to Tarot and custom decks of cards. Some use them as idea generators, some as randomisers, some to add atmos We discuss some of these games, the very different ways we’ve seen card decks used, the advantages and disadvantages they bring to the table, and the history of cards in RPGs. This episode was created as the pilot for the second season, so it sits outside the regular episode numbering system. 

Here are some of the games we talk about, in the order they’re mentioned:

  • Everway, a revolutionary fantasy game by Jonathan ‘Ars Magica, Over the Edge,13th Age‘ Tweet
  • The Mystery Creature of Claytonsville, PA, a story-building game of mystery cryptids  
  • Whimsy cards, the first product released by Lion Rampant, which merged with White Wolf and released Vampire: The Masquerade
  • Aces and Eights, a western game
  • Savage Worlds, a generic rules system that describes itself as “Fast! Furious! and Fun!”
  • Lace and Steel, a unique and glorious swashbuckling game by Pauli Kidd that’s ridiculously cheap on DriveThruRPG 
  • Castle Falkenstein, a beautiful steampunk RPG by Mike ‘Cyberpunk 2077‘ Pondsmith
  • Upwind, a game of flying ships, floating islands and lost technologies
  • Best Friends, Gregor Hutton’s game of mean girls and breakfast clubs
  • The Beast, a solo game of psycho-sexual horror that was shortlisted for the Diana Jones Award 
  • Conspiracy X and Zener cards, a game that uses actual psychic-testing cards as a mechanic
  • The Mind, a very clever card game with a system not used in RPGs… yet

01

coyote and crow

Coyote and Crow is a tabletop role playing game set in an alternate future of the Americas where colonization never occurred. Instead, advanced civilizations arose over hundreds of years after a massive climate disaster changed the history of the planet. You’ll play as adventurers starting out in the city of Cahokia, a bustling, diverse metropolis along the Mississippi River. It’s a world of science and spirituality where the future of technology and legends of the past will collide. Designed by Connor Alexander.

 

More information on Coyote and Crow at DriveThruRPG

02

warhammer fantasy roleplay
4th edition

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition is a game set in the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy. Dating back to 1986, WFRP is a celebrated British RPG about living in a detailed fantasy world loosely inspired by early Renaissance Europe, plus magic, monsters and Chaos. Players take on the roles of common folk who have uncommon destined fates, as they investigate chaos cults, survive deadly conspiracies, and try to scrape by in a grim and dark world. The current edition, designed by Dominic McDowall and Andy Law, adds new mechanics to the game while retaining much of its old system and atmosphere.

James used to publish Warhammer FRP in the 1990s, so it’s fair to say he has opinions on this edition. Will the fact that he appears in it as an NPC sway his judgement? There’s only one way to find out.

More information on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition at DriveThruRPG

03

red markets

Red Markets is a tabletop RPG by Caleb Stokes about economic horror in a post-zombie apocalypse world. In it, characters risk their lives trading between the massive quarantine zones containing a zombie outbreak and the remains of civilization. They are Takers: mercenary entrepreneurs unwilling to accept their abandonment. Bound together into competing crews, each seeks to profit from mankind’s near-extinction before it claims them. They must hustle, scheme, and scam as hard as they fight if they hope to survive the competing factions and undead hordes the GM throws at them.

Takers that are quick, clever, or brutal enough might live to see retirement in a safe zone, but many discover too late that the cycle of poverty proves harder to escape than the hordes of undead.

More information on Red Markets is at DriveThruRPG

04

meta-currencies in rpgs

Meta-currencies are a type of game mechanic found in many tabletop roleplaying games. They are an abstract resource used by players to affect the narrative, but do not represent something in the game except luck, fate, or willpower and so forth. They’re increasingly common, and used in ever-more diverse ways in games, sometimes several in a single system. Examples include fate points in Fate, willpower in Red Markets, and Resolve in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4e. We discuss several types of metacurrencies, how they work, and why they are used in RPGs.

Games we discuss in this episode, in the order they’re mentioned:

  • MÖRK BORG, which we go on to talk about in depth two episodes later
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1e, which we talked about two episodes earlier
  • Marvel Super Heroes, a game surprisingly ahead of its time, from Jeff Grubb and TSR
  • James Bond 007, a, RPG far ahead of its time and still worth hunting down today
  • Dr Ruth’s Game of Good Sex, which is not an RPG but is fun to talk about. Not so fun to play though
  • Ghostbusters RPG, the legendary RPG created by the team behind Call of Cthulhu, plus Greg ‘Paranoia and Star Wars‘ Costikyan. One day James will shut up about how good the Ghostbusters RPG is, but not yet
  • FATE, Base Raiders and Dresden Files, all games based on the FATE system
  • …In Spaaace!, Greg Stolze’s all-meta-currency humour game
  • Toon, the game of animated cartoons by Warren ‘Deus Ex‘ Spector and Greg Costikyan again
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics, an OGL fantasy game based on a streamlined version of the D&D 3e mechanics
  • Call of Cthulhu, also discussed in Season 2 episode 09, a few entries below
  • Pantheon, a New Style game (GM-less, single-session) by Robin D. Laws, now very out of print
  • Hillfolk, the Dramasystem core book, also by Robin D. Laws and a host of others including James
  • Monster of the Week, a modern-day RPG based on TV series like Buffy and Supernatural
  • Conan, specifically the RPG version published by Modiphius 
  • World of Synnibarrone of the legendary not-good RPGs of all time
  • TSYK by Serge Stelmack, a game which possibly only Greg and its designer remember, hence no active link to it here
  • Apocalypse World, as previously discussed in season 1, episode 00
  • Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game , Greg Costikyan’s magnificent mid-80s evocation of the classic movie you may have heard of
  • Amber Diceless Roleplay, Erick Wujcik’s ground-breaking game of a pan-dimensional family at war, based on the Roger Zelazny ‘Amber’ novels. This gets discussed at greater length in our episode on diceless games, S2 E12, below.
  • Eclipse Phase 1st edition, mentioned in passing in S2 E07 which covers EP 2nd edition.

05

the laundry rpg

The Laundry Roleplaying Game is based on the best-selling series of eldritch espionage novels by Charles Stross and was designed by Gareth Hanrahan. You play officers of the Laundry, an eccentric and underfunded government agency dedicated to protecting the United Kingdom from unthinkable horrors. The Laundry uses the Basic Roleplaying system (BRP), the same system that powers the classic Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, so you can easily convert adventures from one game to the other.

As Laundry staff, you’re trained to deal with the weird and ghastly spawn of the Mythos, you’re equipped with the best  equipment your committee-approved mission budget can buy, and you’ve got back-up on call from the SAS. All of that means you’re only terrifyingly underprepared, as opposed to completely screwed, when the shoggoth hits the fan.


The Laundry RPG is currently out of print

06

MÖRK BORG

MÖRK BORG (always in capitals) is a pitch-black apocalyptic fantasy RPG about lost souls and fools seeking redemption, forgiveness or the last remaining riches in a bleak and dying world. Who are you? The tomb-robber with silver glittering between cracked fingernails? The mystic who would bend the world’s heart away from its inevitable end? Confront power-draining  necromancers, skulking skeletal warriors and backstabbing wickheads. Wander the Valley of the Unfortunate Undead, the catacombs beneath the Bergen Chrypt or the bedevilled Sarkash forest. But leave hope behind – the world’s cruel fate is sealed, and all your vain heroic efforts are destined to end in death and dismay.

Created by Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr, it’s a unique take on how to present a game where tone is almost more important than anything else.

More information on MÖRK BORG is at DriveThruRPG

07

eclipse phase 2nd edition

Designed by Rob Boyle and Jack Graham, Eclipse Phase is the post-apocalyptic game of transhuman horror. It is the not-distant future and things have changed. Humanity is enhanced and improved, but also battered and bitterly divided. Technology allows the re-shaping of bodies and minds, but also creates opportunities for oppression and puts the capability for mass destruction in the hands of everyone. And other threats lurk in the devastated habitats of the Fall, dangers both familiar and alien. In this harsh setting, the players participate in a cross-faction conspiracy called Firewall that seeks to protect transhumanity from threats both internal and external.

More information on Eclipse Phase 2nd edition is at DriveThruRPG

08

initiative systems in rpgs

Initiative systems are an important but often overlooked element in role playing games, but they’re not sexy. Nobody gets excited about initiative systems. They are, as Greg says, like your lymph nodes. And yet, because they determine who can act and when, allocate spotlight time for players, and influence the action economy of a game, they’re at the heart of how a game’s action and combat system feel. We talk about the many different ways of determining initiative, how they affect the game, why most of them suck, and if you even need them.

Games talked about in this episode, in the order they’re mentioned:

  • Paranoia (2017 reboot), the updating of the classic post-apocalypse dark comedy game, from a design team led by LND’s own James Wallis
  • Wild Talents, modern superhero action from a design team including Dennis ‘Delta Green’ Detwiller and LND’s own Greg Stolze
  • Combat 47/Bolt Action, miniature skirmish rules co-designed by the legendary Rick Priestley
  • Sniper! Bug Hunter, TSR’s Aliens-on-a-board wargame using the old SPI Sniper! system. 
  • Lancer, a giant-robot game previously discussed in S1 E03
  • REIGN, Greg’s acclaimed RPG of controlling fantasy kingdoms and societies
  • Monsters and Other Childish Things, a game of being a child with a secret pet monster, who battles other monsters. Sort of the anti-Pokemon 
  • Feng Shui, furious interdimensional action with a Hong Kong action-movie flavour
  • Robo Rally, a board game of programming robots and watching them go wrong, created by Richard ‘Magic the Gathering’ Garfield
  • Nuclear War, a 1960s satirical card-game about the end of the world
  • Nuclear Poker, a more tactical but similarly brutal game about armageddon, designed as a training tool for young generals 
  • Lace & Steel, or ‘what if the Three Musketeers were centaurs and satyrs?’ A neglected classic by Pauli Kidd with an innovative card-based combat system. 
  • En Garde, a very early quasi-RPG, also set in the world of the Three Musketeers
  • Red Markets, a post-zombie apocalypse game of economic horror, previously discussed in S2 E03
  • Apocalypse World, a post-apocalypse game discussed in S1 E00
  • Phoenix Command, a legendarily rules-heavy RPG of realistic military action
  • Meatbot Massacre, a board game of battling organic war systems, with a clever dice system, co-created by that Stolze fellow again
  • Aces and Eights Shattered Frontier, adventures in the Wild West
  • Delta Green, the Cthulhu-inspired RPG previously discussed in S1 E05
  • Fae’s Anatomy, a ‘melodramatic medical mystery’ game by Caleb Stokes, creator of Red Markets (above)

09

call of cthulhu, 7th edition

Call of Cthulhu is the world’s best game of secrets, mysteries, and horror, first published in 1981 and now in its seventh edition. Playing the role of steadfast investigators, you travel to strange and dangerous places, uncover foul plots, and stand against the terrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. You encounter sanity-blasting entities, monsters, and insane cultists. Within strange and forgotten tomes of lore you discover revelations that humanity was not meant to know.

But how is this old-timer looking in the face of so many newer approaches to the horror genre? One late winter evening we ventured to find out…

More information on Call of Cthulhu is at DriveThruRPG

10

planet mercenary

Planet Mercenary is a space opera adventure RPG based on the popular web comic Schlock Mercenary. It contains everything you need to create characters, equip them, and load them onto warships for adventures across the galaxy. Build your own mercenary company and accept all the best contracts. Rescue ecotourists from Eina Afa’s Stormring Sea. Leap between the Pereri Ring’s tethered asteroids in pursuit of pirates. Brave the dark heart of Ellwor’s mechorganic jungle in search of the Greater Meatsnatch. Engineered for speed and simplicity, the Planet Mercenary RPG lets you play out these adventures quickly with three six-sided dice and the 108-card Mayhem deck – a set of story-building, plot-twisting, occasionally explosive elements that can transform even a mundane encounter into a turning point for the entire mission. You and your group will weave magnificent, raucous, and probably hilarious adventure stories, and everyone will enjoy themselves… even when things go terribly wrong.

This episode was requested by one of our Kickstarter superbackers, Christian Biklee, who gave us the chance to explore a game none of us had come across before. Our utter gratitude goes out to him once again.

More information on Planet Mercenary at DriveThruRPG

11

DREAD

Dread is a game of horror and hope. Those who play will participate in a mutual telling of an original macabre tale. The goal of Dread is to sustain the delicate atmosphere that invokes the hand quivering emotion that lends its name to the game. The thrill of a Dread game lies within the tension between desire and loss. Players take on the role of someone trapped in a story that is only as compelling as it is hostile.

Dread was created by Epidiah Ravachol and Nat “woodelf” Barmore, and released in 2005, based on the classic stacking game Jenga by Leslie Scott, originally released in 1983.

More information on Dread is at DriveThruRPG

 

 

12

TALES FROM THE LOOP

Tales From The Loop is a game of an alternate 1980s populated by fantastic machines, weird robots and strange beasts, while huge containers hover in the sky and massive constructions fill the horizon. Based on the paintings of Swedish science-fiction artist Simon Stålenhag, it combines the feeling of being a teen in a Steven Spielberg adventure with something altogether odder.

Free League’s interpretation of Stålenhag’s world has won critical praise, with a stripped-down system of mechanics, beautiful presentation, and atmosphere by the kilo. There’s a lot to discuss in the game, and the Dissidents aren’t in agreement about its merits, but this is a fascinating examination of a game that’s not like any other.

More information on Tales from the Loop is at DriveThruRPG

 

13

Diceless roleplaying games

Controversial since they first burst onto the scene three decades ago, games that don’t use dice, cards or other randomisers have their firm fans – and others who won’t touch them. Ross, Greg and James go over how they work, how they evolved, where they function best, what the standout systems are, and their own personal experiences playing, designing and developing them.

Games discussed in this episode, in the order they’re mentioned:

  • Amber Diceless Roleplay by Erick Wujcik (Phage Press, 1991), the first published diceless RPG.
  • Pantheon and Other Roleplaying Games by Robin D. Laws (Hogshead Publishing, 2000), a set of GM-less narrative rules and five setting packs in a single 24-page book. Now thoroughly out of print, alas. 
  • Nobilis by Jenna Moran (Hogshead Publishing, 2000). We mostly talk about the multi-award-winning second edition, but there is a wonderful third edition that is also worth your time and money.
  • Bullwinkle & Rocky Role-Playing Party Game by Dave Cook and Warren Spector (TSR, 1988), TSR’s extraordinarily ahead of its time and almost totally forgotten glove-puppet RPG. The link goes to our friends at the Vintage RPG podcast’s episode on this curio.
  • Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok by Andrew Valkauskas (Pendelhaven, 2013), Viking sagas at the end of the world, with a clever draw-bag mechanic.
  • Everway by Jonathan Tweet (Wizards of the Coast, 1996), an ahead-of-its-time narrative game using beautiful bespoke art cards. This link goes to a free introduction to the 25th edition of the game.
  • Dread by Epidiah Ravachol and Nat “woodelf” Barmore (The Impossible Dream, 2006), which we discussed a couple of episodes above.
  • Theatrix by Anthony Gallela, David Berkman, Travis Eneix, and Andrew Finch (1995), an early set of diceless generic rules with strong narrativist tropes. 
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen by LND’s James Wallis (Hogshead Publishing, 1998 and others), discussed at the end of Season 1 (S1 E13).
  • Puppetland by John Tynes. This was originally self-published free on the web in 1994 and has had multiple editions, but one we talk about in the episode is the most recent, released by Arc Dream in 2016.
  • Hillfolk by Robin D. Laws (Pelgrane Press, 2014), further develops many of the concepts from Pantheon into a wonderful set of rules for creating single-session stories. 
  • In Spaaace! by Greg Stolze (2006), Greg’s own free-to-download diceless SF RPG. Go on, download it! It’s free!
  • Interactive Fantasy issues 1-4 (various authors, Hogshead Publishing, 1994-5), the first attempt to seriously examine game narrative and storytelling systems. Now a free download from DriveThruRPG.
  • Ten Candles by Stephen Dewey (Cavalry Games, 2015), which is not actually diceless but probably ought to be.
  • Little Wars by H G Wells (1913), the first mass-market wargame from the early 20th century. One of the most readable sets of rules ever written, though occasionally reflecting the attitudes of its times, which is to say it’s egregiously sexist from pretty much the first paragraph onwards.
  • Marvel Universe RPG by Dan Gelber, Jeffrey Simons, Evan Jones, Bill Jemas, and Mark D. Beazley (Marvel, 2003). Diceless, with CCG-like mechanics. Not available for sale any more, and quite rare.
  • Villains and Vigilantes by Jeff Dee (FGU, 1979/1982), an early superhero system. I once said that if you were looking for a game where your PC can hurl mighty objects massive distances, this was the sort of object you would hurl.
  • Call of Cthulhu by Sandy Petersen et al (Chaosium, 1981-present), discussed above in S2 E09. 
  • Wanderhome by Jay Dragon (Possum Creek Games, 2021)
  • Golden Sky Stories by Ryo Kamiya and Ewen Cluney (Star Line Publishing, 2011)
  • Alice is Missing by Spenser Starke (Hunters Entertainment, 2020) 

 

 

14

FIASCO

Fiasco is Jason Morningstar’s brilliant and multi-award-winning game of simple schemes that go disastrously – and often hilariously – wrong. Not a conventional RPG, it set the agenda for a generation of storygames and almost broke through into the mainstream after a brilliant appearance on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop a few years ago.

We analyse the game’s Coen Brothers-like structure, talk about its mechanics and influence, discuss whether we prefer the original edition or the more recent card-based version, and ponder the problems of publishing a game that’s hard to categorise.

 

More information on Fiasco is at DriveThruRPG

 

 

15

EXPERIENCE POINTS

Experience Points are a common game mechanic in tabletop roleplaying games, but what are they? From Dungeons & Dragons to the World of Darkness, a wide variety of games use experience points to measure character progression and improvement, but in increasingly different and intricate ways. We discuss how these mechanics affect characters, narrative and the dynamics of play, talk about favourite and least-favourite examples, and brainstorm ideas for alternative progression systems.

Some of the games and other cultural artefacts we mention in the podcast include:

    • FTL is an excellent SF roguelike computer game, where you captain a small craft fleeing a tyrannical rebel force in an often futile attempt to reach the comforting bosom of the Empire. Clever emergent narrative elements.
    • The Spawn of Fashan (Kirby Lee Davids, 1981) is a legendarily obscure and ineptly designed early RPG. Not actually as bad as legend states, but still pretty bad.
    • Role Playing Public Radio is Ross’s regular podcast, and if you enjoy LND and haven’t already given it a listen then you absolutely should.
    • Delta Green is the definitive game of modern Cthulhoid and conspiracy horror. We discussed it in s1 e05.
    • Unknown Armies is Greg’s game of modern magic, conspiracy horror and bad things that aren’t exactly Cthulhoid but are pretty damn squamous all the same. We discussed it in s1 e12.
    • Dungeons & Dragons (various editions) is a popular beat combo, originally formed in Liverpool in the early 1960s.
    • World of Warcraft signed with Jive Records in 1997 and the success of her first two studio albums, Baby One More Time (1999) and Oops I Did It Again (2000), made her the best-selling teenage artist of all time.
    • Dragonball Z is a cartoon, a form of entertainment whereby drawn static images are manipulated to create moving images of young men beating the snot out of each other.
    • The Wikipedia article on experience points that we mentioned. Author unknown but this is pretty good, particularly on the way computer games have manipulated the idea of XP beyond anything in tabletop RPGs.
    • I have many opinions on the Final Fantasy series but this margin is too small to contain them.
    • 7th Sea 2nd Edition is not ‘a swashbuckling game of caution and conservation’ as Greg suggests. It’s the most commercially successful fantasy take on three musketeers and fourdecks.
    • Robin Laws’ description of the difference between Iconic and Dramatic Characters appeared originally in the writer’s guidelines for the ‘New Hero’ series of short story anthologies, published by Stoneskin Press (part of Pelgrane Press). It’s reprinted in Robin’s blog here. In full disclosure, both Greg and James have stories in The New Hero volume 2 (ed. Robin Laws, 2013) which is worth your time.
    • Vampire the Masquerade, formed by Kurt Cobain in Seattle in 1987, was the most successful of the grunge bands of the 1990s, setting fashion and music trends around the world.
    • Unknown Armies… we did that one already this episode.
    • Phoenix Command was a notoriously ‘simulationist’ RPG with very detailed mechanics, particularly for combat, to the level that one of the designers left the world of RPGs and went off to be a rocket scientist for NASA. No longer officially available.
    • The Fugue system is the amnesia-based set of mechanics that James designed for his game Alas Vegas, including a system for gaining new skills and character background on the fly. Fugue is a free download and only about twenty pages. Go on.
    • Dying Breath, Greg’s forthcoming horror RPG. More details will follow as it comes closer to publication.
    • Termination Shock… I have completely forgotten what we said about Termination Shock, but any chance to mention Termination Shock is a good one.
    • Apocalypse World and PBtA, and the whole idea of getting experience points from failed rolls instead of success. This is something I (James) talk about a lot when I’m teaching boardgames because failure is what makes playtesting interesting: if you do not learn from your failure then you will never progress as a game designer, whereas if you just succeed, if nobody finds any problems with your game, then you may have a good design but you won’t learn anything. Should XP be a reward for success, or a demonstration of the character learning from in-game events? Anyway, we covered Apocalypse World in s1 e00, our pilot episode.
    • Dread, the Jenga-based game of teetering horror, was the subject of LND s2 e11, above
    • Dungeons & Dragons Immortals Set, written by Frank Mentzer and published in 1986, takes D&D characters from level 37 upwards to a state where they have transcended mere levels. As an example of the sort of stuff ion it, players can exchange their PCs’ experience points for Power Points at a rate of 10,000 to one. This may be the antecedant of Palladium’s much-mocked Megadamage concept.
    • If you want to understand gamification, the recent book You’ve Been Played by Adrian Hon is an up-to-date and timely examination of the use and misuse of the phenomenon by the co-creator of the ‘Zombies Run!’ fitness app. I (James) used to work with Adrian in the early days of his company Six to Start, he gets it.
    • Paranoia exists in multiple editions. The one we’re talking about in this episode is the 2016 reboot with card-based mechanics that was helmed by James Wallis, with Grant Howitt and Paul Dean.
    • The Skinner Box, better known as an operant conditioning chamber, was created by psychologist and behaviourist B F Skinner in the 1920s as a way to condition and observe particular behaviours in pigeons. Stories that he placed his infant son in a similar box are almost certainly untrue.
    • Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is the latest album from Taylor Swift in a career that has grown continually in terms of its commercial and critical success, alongside remasters of previous works.
    • Oglaf is generally not safe for work.

 

 

16

TRAVELLER

Traveller is a science-fiction roleplaying game of bold explorers and brave adventurers. Designed by Marc Miller, it was the first major SFRPG, remains a major title in the field, and has influenced everything from computer games to comics, film and TV series. But how’s the old ship holding together after forty-five years in spaaace?

Traveller development has forked, and there are several different editions available. We look at the most recent, the Traveller Core Rulebook Update 2022 from Mongoose Publishing, with mechanics designed by Gareth Hanrahan. Some of us like it, some of us don’t, some of us respect its legacy more than we want to play it, and all that makes for an entertaining conversation.

“If you came out of Star Wars going, ‘The Force? Pfft! I want to be Han Solo!’ then Traveller is your game.” – James 

More information on this edition of Traveller at DriveThruRPG; and for comparison here’s a link to the 5th edition of Traveller from Far Future Enterprises, the one created by Marc Miller, the game’s original designer. 

Footnote: at some point in the episode we say that The Expanse was based on a Traveller campaign, and that’s probably wrong. While sources indicate that the background and story of the SF series were developed as an RPG campaign, we can’t find any specific reference to the game system. Similarly, Marc Miller has said that Firefly was based on a Traveller campaign that Joss Whedon ran while at college in the 1980s, and while that’s a great story we haven’t been able to find anything to back that up either. Also you should watch The Expanse, it is basically an RPG campaign in space right down to players dropping out and their PCs mysteriously not showing up in the story any more.

James also talks about the game Elite, originally released in 1984 on the BBC Model B home computer. Genuinely amazing for the time (occluded wireframe graphics, realtime 3D starship combat, eight procedurally generated galaxies with 256 planets each – all running in 32K of memory), it remains a highwater mark in game design. It’s also upfront about its debt to Traveller. Here’s a short documentary of co-designer David Braben playing it and talking about it some years later.

 

 

17

PENDRAGON

Pendragon is the masterwork of a master-designer, the late Greg Stafford. This game of chivalric adventures in the world of King Arthur and his knights was a milestone in RPG design when it came out in 1985. Four decades and several mantelpieces of awards later, Chaosium has just released a starter set for 6th edition Pendragon, prior to the full rulebook in 2024. What will the team make of it, and does it still live up to its reputation as the most elegantly designed RPG ever published? 

 

 

 

18

ACTUAL PLAY: HOLE IN THE SKY

Hole in the Sky is a celebrated peasant-funnel adventure for nothingth-level characters, using the Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) system: each player gets four largely useless characters with skills and equipment that may or may not be helpful, and ending the adventure with any of them still alive is considered a success. In this season finale episode Ross runs the adventure for Greg and James, plus a couple of special guests:

  • The excellent Vee from Queen’s Court Games, best known for podcasts including ‘The All Night Society’ and ‘One-Shots and Other Mischief’;
  • Game designer Gareth Hanrahan from Ireland. We’ve discussed a couple of games Gareth designed or co-designed this season (The Laundry Files and Mongoose Traveller, to name just two) and we’re delighted that he’s still talking to us.

Featuring an invisible bridge many miles long, a giant flying pumpkin-thing, cannibalism, Greg doing voices, a hole in the sky, and many peasants dying in increasingly ridiculous ways. Enjoy!

 

We’ll be discussing this adventure in Episode 0 of Season 3, in the run-up to our next Kickstarter, so stay tuned for more news of that.