Developer Diary: Amazing Heroes

A few weeks ago I made a start playtesting what you could think of as an advanced version of Amazing Tales. I’m calling it Amazing Heroes, and I’m planning to publish it along with a superhero setting. The intention is to provide a game that lets you play through an episode’s worth of superhero TV – think Arrow or The Flash – in no more than two hours.

The game will remain simple enough to play with kids, with a target age range of 7+, but I want it to have enough depth to it that it can run an enjoyable game for adults.

While my usual in-house playtest team (Lisa and Ruben) have been helping me get things right for the kids I’ve enlisted my regular adult gaming group to test it out with grown ups.

What am I adding?

As I’ve said a few times in interviews, the challenge with Amazing Tales was taking rules out. It’s a very simple game and it doesn’t include some elements that people have thought of as essential to the role-playing experience. I want to keep that minimalist philosophy going forward, but I do want to add some things. In particular…

  • Characters should be able to develop over time
  • Characters should be able to take damage, and even die
  • There should be limits to what characters can do, bringing a degree of consistency to a chosen setting

Design Philosophy

Trust the GM

Because it has so few rules Amazing Tales relies on the GM to do a lot of work. And that’s fine with me. The human brain is an amazing, creative thing, and when you get several of them working together – for instance playing a role-playing game – great things can happen.

So in a lot of the areas where other RPGs might have rules, Amazing Heroes will have GM advice.

Talk with the players

I’m currently part of a playtest for a new edition of Omnihedron Games ‘Duty and Honour’ (If you like the Sharpe books / TV series, check it out) and seeing Neil Gow’s collaborative GMing in person has been great. Effectively starting each session with a mini session zero where you can talk about what you want to get up to in the next couple of hours is a great technique.

I’m not sure I’ll be adopting it wholesale, but building more conversation with players about the game is going to be part of the advice.

Keep it simple

Amazing Tales works because it has very few rules, and what rules there are are very simple. While I want Amazing Heroes to have rules for more things, I want those things to be kept as simple as possible.

How’s it going?

Playtest notes: Character Generation

My first big note here is that I need to take more of my own advice. While everyone managed to create a character and people had no trouble getting a wide variety of concepts to work I wasn’t strict enough on the guidance that characters should all have at least one personality trait and one physical trait. This led to some odd rolls during the game as skills found themselves filling in for what were essentially defensive rolls.

For the second playtest session I added some structure in the form of character sheets that forces structure onto the players.

Something else we’ve tested is having some characters begin with fewer traits than normal (three rather than four) this was to accomodate their subsequent development of superpowers. This seemed to work OK, characters with three well chosen traits can function just fine for a session or so before their powers kick in.

Something for a future test will be starting heroes with additional powers. The default character in Amazing Heroes has a single set of related super-powers. Letting heroes start with a variety of powers such as super-strength, laser-vision and flying, will lead to a very different game I think.

Playtest notes: Difficulty levels

In Amazing Tales you normally need to roll a 3 or more to succeed at something. When I playtested with the kids I raised this to a 4, and for the sessions with the grown ups we started out using a ‘gritty’ setting of 5.

This turned out to lead to a lot of failure. Sufficient failure that it began to change the behaviour of the players. After a bit of thought I’ve changed to flexibile target numbers with ratings of 3, 4 and 5 for tests that are easy, normal and hard. Of course there’s no legislating against this kind of die rolling…

Playtest notes: Plot Matters

I went into the playtest with a relaxed ‘I’ve got a whole background drafted and I’m playing Amazing Tales, I can freewheel this’ kind of approach. And that might have worked for some styles of game, but since I wanted the players to be uncovering a conspiracy and learning secrets about the world as they went that didn’t really work out too well.

So – I guess I’ll be including some plot guidance in the game when it’s done!

Next steps

There’s one more session in what will have been a five session mini-campaign, and it is feeling like we’re reaching a natural break in the plot. The heroes have developed powers, done some dramatic stuff and learned a lot about the nature of the world. Now it’s time for them to wrap up their origin story and find a stable way of being heroes in their world.

It’s been fun, and I’m looking forward to doing some more thinking, some more writing, and then having some more superhero flavoured fun.

DnD Starter Set, Review

A while back I wrote a review about playing DnD with kids. Well, since then I’ve done some more of it. A few years had passed, and my son assembled a band of fellow adventurers to take on the Lost Mines of Phandelver – which is still a terrible name.

As before, I actually ran The Delian Tomb as the first adventure. It’s a good one to start with. As characters we had four of the five starter set characters, plus a dwarf ranger. Later in the campaign we’d add an extra wizard and the fifth starter set character for a total of seven players. (too many).

The campaign faced a few extra challenges…

  • The players (7 of them) were nine years old and dutch
  • There is no dutch edition of DnD
  • My dutch isn’t bad, but there’s a big difference between doing the shopping or running a meeting and *telling a story*.
  • I had to translate character sheets, spell descriptions, abilities etc. ‘check the rulebook’ was not something I could say to any of the players.

So what have I learned about playing DnD with nine year olds?

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Introducing Amazing Lessons and Using Amazing Tales Therapeutically

Two of the most common questions I’ve had since releasing Amazing Tales have been. ‘Can you use this in a classroom’ and ‘Could you use this for therapy?’. To which my answers have been along the lines of ‘Probably, but since I’m neither a teacher or a therapist I don’t have much to contribute’.

Well, now I do. Thanks to Baz Stevens and Lilly Smith who are respectively a primary school teacher and a child therapist. Both have made extensive use of Amazing Tales in their work, and now they’ve put together some guidance for anyone who wants to follow in their steps.

Amazing Lessons is Baz’s guide to using Amazing Tales in the classroom. He talks about the overlap between teaching and games mastering, the ways Amazing Tales can be used to support the curriculum and what the process of playing a game with 30 players looks like.

Using Amazing Tales Therapeutically is Lilly’s introduction to the use of games as therapy. The six page guide includes advice on teamwork, social problem solving, impulse control, creativity and fine motor skills. 

Amazing Lessons and Using Amazing Tales Therapeutically are both availble for free via DriveThruRPG.

Harlem Unbound: A review

You may well have heard of Harlem Unbound, it won an Ennie award and garnered a lot of attention. It’s a 1920’s Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, a collection of adventures and a setting, so why the fuss? The answer is, of course, the author Chris Spivey’s decision to make the Harlem Renaissance the setting and to give his answer to a question which I’m paraphrasing as ‘How can we respectfully portray characters of another race when role-playing, specifically, African Americans?’

It’s a good question.

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Five ways to make your child’s first role-playing game amazing

How old does a child have to be to play a role-playing game? I know of children who’ve started role-playing at the ripe old age of three and a half. My rule of thumb is that if a child can read numbers up to ten, and follow a bedtime story that lasts 20 minutes, then they’re ready.

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But making that first game a success is still a challenge. Here are five ways to make sure that first game is memorable for both of you.

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Captain Cadava Sails!

A seemingly chance encounter puts the heroes on the trail of the long lost treasure of the feared Captain Cadava. 

Order your copy today

Shiver your timbers, hoist the mainsail. Swab out the bilges and splice the mainbrace!

Captain Cadava’s Treasure, the second campaign for Amazing Tales is a thrilling pirate adventure within which your heroes can swashbuckle their way across the seven seas, explore seedly pirate strongholds and ancient jungle temples. Come face to face with sea-monsters, dinosaurs and, most terrifying of all, Captain Cadava himself!

Captain Cadava’s Treasure is available for download from DriveThruRPG

In Captain Cadava’s Treasure you will find a pirate campaign made up of:

  • Four adventures, each good for hours of play
  • Four full page, colour illustrations by Ayu Marques
  • A map showing all seven pirate seas
  • Random encounter tables for the pirate seas, providing endless piratical adventure
  • The Reef Challenge, a puzzle of seamanship

To complete the quest the heroes will have to

  • Investigate Deeptown, a deadly pirate stronghold
  • Brave the wreck of the Rotten Oak in the mysterious Sunken Sea
  • Explore a long lost temple on a jungle island
  • Deal with a pair of treacherous pirates
  • Face off against the deadly (and dead) Captain Cadava

Captain Cadava’s Treasure was made possible by the supporters of the Big Book of Amazing Tales kickstarter. 

Amazing Adventures and free rules

Just because you’re locked down doesn’t mean you can’t take your family on an adventure. And because a lot of us could do with that right now I’m releasing the complete rules for Amazing Tales and a series of one page adventures for free. So whether you’re a role-playing veteran, or someone who’s never thought about setting foot in an imaginary world until today – I hope you find them useful.

The Rules

The Two Page Quickstart rules for Amazing Tales.

The Adventures

The Witch and the Willow: Cracked Sorrybranch, a mean willow tree has captured Maybeth Pickleberry, a kind witch, and is keeping her in a magic sleep. Before she was caught Maybeth cast a spell to make fairy lights that would bring help, but she didn’t finish it in time. Now the spell is leading lots of small animals into Bracklands Gully. (A Deep Dark Wood adventure)

Of Dragons and Dwarves: The town of Sweetgrass is beset by small earthquakes and strange rumbling noises from below the ground. The cause is Grom, an escaped golem from the nearby dwarven mine. Grom’s digging could soon collapse the ground under the whole town! (A Magical Kingdoms adventure)

The Race to the Rock: The heroes follow a treasure map to Eagles’ Rock pursued by the ferocious Captain Brimstone and his ship The Devil’s Galleon. After passing through many hazards the heroes must scale a perlious cliff to reach the treasure, and face its giant guardian. (A Pirate Seas adventure)

The Megarathi Mission: The heroes are sent on a secret mission to infiltrate an enemy base on Planet Tora Prime and rescue the scientist Jor Mila. Jor Mila has information that the evil Admiral Blex is planning an attack on earth. Can the heroes stop him? (An adventure Among the Stars)

A Very Rainy Day: Heavy rains and floods make life difficult along the river bank. Can the heroes keep the residents safe? A Very Rainy Day is specially written for very little gamers. (A Deep Dark Wood adventure)

The Warlock of the Ruins: The crazed warlock Sable Darkmoor has returned to his keep, and is preying on residents of the nearby town of Farrowdale. The heroes must venture into his dungeons to rescue them and stop his plan to summon the hideous and hungry frog demon Slibbobobuleth. (A Magical Kingdoms adventure)

Sailing the Upside Down Sea: The heroes find themselves magically transported beneath the ocean. They’ll have to deal with underwater pirates, a sea witch and a mischevious mermaid if they’re going to make it back to the surface. (A Pirate Seas adventure)

The Birthday Party: His excellency T’Korum, the Xilensian Ambassador to the United Worlds is celebrating his third birthday, which makes him 399 in human years. President Vendergast, the very formal President of the United Worlds is throwing a party for him aboard Space Station Lalande and has asked the heroes to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Princess Melody and the Spider Witch: Bushybrow, an excitable squirrel comes running up to the heroes and blurts out the news that the kind Princess Melody has been kidnapped by the hungry Spider Witch and taken to her dark castle on the mountain. The heroes have to rescue her!

The Tower of Frost: The cold-hearted Frost King is sending snow to punish Sunrise Village for mining in his mountain. To end the snows the heroes must scale a high peak and investigate a mysterious tower.

Black Jack’s Curse: A message in a bottle leads the heroes to a castaway, who directs them to a pirate treasure. But Black Jack won’t give his treasure up easily!

Station Obscura: An excavation on a dead planet reveals puzzles and adventure!

Vick and Caw’s Cunning Plan – The heroes find the fairy village of Rivelin in a panic. Bellespa, a talkative fairy has lost a necklace of pearls; and Fairy Corinna, a lazy fairy is missing her diamond tipped wand. But worst of all, Chrysanthalia, the proud Fairy Queen has lost her golden crown. Can the heroes help?

The Travelling Temple of Moo – Among the Mountains of Klesh simple peasants, tend their farms in the shadow of ancient monuments dedicated to forgotten gods. The heroes rescue Jason, a courageous boy who has fled from the evil priests of Moo. Can the heroes defeat the priests and save Jason’s village?

Into the Bomb – Zenusian Separatists have seized control of the Zenusian Embassy and set a Voltage Bomb to explode. Can the heroes sneak in and defuse it?

The Forsaken Crypt of the Serpent Master – In a crowded evening market an old man tells the heroes tales of the Serpent Master, who dwells in a hidden tomb, where he raises his serpentine servants on the bodies of fallen warriors. Do these heroes think they might be able to end this evil?

Orion Down – The heroes recieve two distress calls at the same time from identical coordinates. Space Station Orion reports life support failures and needs urgent assistance. Starship Kohoutek reports a collision and power failures. Can the heroes save the day? And can they work ouit what’s behind the accident?

The Tadley Wyrm Firetalon, a vain red dragon has descended on the town of Tadley, eating cows and terrifying the locals. Can the heroes save Tadley?

Cantina Crisis The heroes are enjoying a relaxing drink in Cantina 23 and waiting for the band to start when Sasfrood, a hyperactive alien mariachi yells “Hey, that’s my saxodoodle!” At the same time, the heroes see a four armed quasgar exiting the bar with a saxodoodle case.

Under Alien Seas: The beautiful coral gardens of the ocean world Pelagia are threatened by a mysterious cloud of silt. Can the heroes solve the mystery and end the threat?

Robotop Rescue: On a planet made of living metal with lava seas an evil scientist plots a fiendish scheme. This is an adventure for awesome robot dinosaurs.

Are you ready for Rescue City?

Rescue City is the first additional setting for the Amazing Tales RPG. Let your children play heroes who are cops, fire-fighters or medics as they rush to save the day in a city where there’s always someone in need of rescuing.

Rescue City is specially written to provide adventures that are non-violent, but thrilling. As well as ten story seeds it includes a short scenario called Parachute Pandemonium to get your Rescue City adventures started.

Rescue City includes four full page colour illustrations by Ayu Marques.

Find out more about Rescue City, and order a copy for just $3 from DriveThruRPG.

Review: Enemy in the Shadows

Enemy in the Shadows‘ is the first part of the director’s cut version of the legendary Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It combines the first two books in the series – Mistaken Identity, and Shadows over Bogenhafen, and is published by Cubicle 7. Part two in the series – Death on the Reik, is due out soon.

My regular gaming group has just wrapped up Enemy in the Shadows and now it’s done, my GM has given me permission to read the book, which means I can write a spoiler free review.

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