Kingbeast's Lair

Growling about the RPG industry and my gaming life. RPG and anime reviews from a passionate fan. (Formerly John's Hero HQ.)

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My 2018 Gaming Recap

December 08, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Games, Growlings

Dice 2018 T0 2019In the past I have done blog posts with a geeky Christmas list or a review of some of my favorite geeky products from the year but this time I decided to try something a bit different.  Instead of lists I am going to do a blog post on some of the fun I had in 2018 with tabletop gaming.

SPS Has Been A Resounding Success

Starting the Sipping Primordial Soup (SPS) group was a lot of work but I am having so much fun with it!  I have met a ton of great local gamers and had the chance to run some wonderful small-press tabletop games.  I can’t wait to play more!  😀

Running all of these games has really stretched me as a GM.  I am having to come up with adventures for games that are not in my wheelhouse then run them for strangers.  The result has been a wonderful learning experience.  SPS has really allowed me to fine tune my GM skills, get better in areas where I am weak, and give me a lot more items in my proverbial bag of GM tricks.  I guess you can teach this old dog some new tricks.  Many of these sessions have been the highlight of my tabletop gaming life in 2018.

Big Bad Con 2018 Excels At All Levels

Big Bad Con just nailed it again in 2018.  This little con that is rapidly growing just does everything with thought, acceptance, and skill.  From the massive amount of indie game designers, small-press RPG game sessions, and overall acceptance and love of their guests the con was a joy to attend.  Here is a Big Bad Con 2018 recap blog post with all the details.

Tabletop Highlights

I have played a ton of different games in 2018.  Here is a rough list of ones that spring to mind.  This lists includes RPGs and tabletop games that I had not tried in the past.  These are not in any type of order just how they come to mind.  (FYI.  This list is roughly twice as long as my 2017 list!  My guess is that my 2019 list will be really massive as SPS started in August.  ;)  )

  • Monster Hunter Danger International – Finished the second campaign arc!
  • Evernight Then Hellfrost Using Savage Worlds – The boys and their friend Spencer has an absolute blast gaming in 2018.  It so refreshing playing with inexperienced gamers!  All of those old tricks are new again.  😉
  • Champions Complete Reliance Revisited – Playing in the Reliance universe was a blast from the past.  I think this might be the first game I played with Chris as well.
  • Colonial Gothic – Ran this twice.  Both times were complete homeruns!
  • Sentinels Comics RPG
  • Dungeon World in the Plague Of Storms campaign setting
  • Masks
  • The Watch With Anna Kreider – Played with the author once and ran it once.  Both total homeruns!
  • Blades In The Dark – I ran two different groups.  My old group is starting a Blades campaign!
  • Bliss Stage And Mountain Witch by Carl Rigney – Wow…Carl…wow…if you can play with Carl do so.  End of story.
  • The Pip System And Mermaid Adventures With Eloy Lasanta – Just a blast!  Want to try Infestation with my boys.
  • Spirit Island And Thornwatch – Two board games that I really enjoyed.
  • Adult Board Game Night With The Connelly’s – Really great!  We need to schedule more sessions!
  • Nefertiti Overdrive is on the slate for next weekend!

Gosh so many RPG sessions stick out to me but I will mention a couple that really rocked.  These are roughly in the order in which the occurred.

  • Evernight Session 10 – The Battle For Kingsport – This was the last session of my Evernight campaign with the boys.  It was so heroic and so cool!  I loved how well they played during this session.
  • Dark Waters Rising Session 28 – “Guten Tag!” – This session was run with just three players but it stands out in my memory.  Loved how the adventure unfolded, the interaction with the NPCs, and how wrapped up.  Fun stuff!
  • Mountain Witch With Carl Rigney – A large game but expertly executed.  Really showed me the beauty of what can be done with a game on such a focused theme.  Highlight of my Big Bad Con 2018 experience.
  • Blades In The Dark Session 2 – “Cassandra Rivaldi” – The second Blades session with the SPS group.  In this session only Wade and Chris showed up but the result was an adventurous romp with a large wrench thrown into the works for good measure.  Really adored the role-playing scenes with Cassandra and the two Shadows.  My dream would be to have all Blades sessions run as awesome as this one!

See ya on the other side!

What SPS Is Teaching Me

November 04, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Games, Growlings

Sipping Primordial Soup LogoIntroduction

Roughly 4 months ago I started a group of gamers called Sipping Primordial Soup (SPS).  The focus of this group is small-press role-playing games.  As part of this effort I have been running a lot of one-shot sessions.  I have learned quite a bit from running these various indie games.  I think they are really improving my game mastering skills.  This post contains some things I have learned so far.

I am not going to expand on the background mechanics that I am mentioning below.  Instead I want to jump right to the point.  If you need more exposition on my thoughts please let me know and I will try my best to elaborate.

It Is Ok Not To Like Every RPG System But Most Have Something To Offer

One of the things I learned quickly is that some systems are not for me while others are intuitive and easy for me to pickup.  Masks, which is a genre that I feel is squarely in my wheelhouse (aka teenage superheroes), was actually tricky for me to run.  It took a while to get my head around the superhero who took down my villain by using one of his abilities to convince the villain that what he is doing won’t work.  It made sense in the fiction but took a while to grasp in the mechanics.  Colonial Gothic was the complete opposite.  It has old school mechanics that were intuitive and easy for me to pickup and run.  I have run Colonial Gothic twice now to great success.

My takeaway is that even though systems vary greatly in mechanics it is important for my advancement in the hobby to understand and appreciate what these small-press RPG are trying to bring to the table.  Masks pulls back from the powers to focus on the emotional states of the characters.  That is one killer mechanic that really worked during my play.  I found it really enlightening.

In general Powered By The Apocalypse (PBTA) games with their up front GM actions that push player response and foreshadow the impact of their responses falls squarely in this category.  I have learned about hard vs soft questioning by running PBTA games.  Also simple things like asking how the characters look during a climactic moment have been fun and I think give the players more agency and narrative control.  Failing as a mechanism to advance the plot is another important thing I have learned from PBTA.

There are always more tricks to add to the GM toolkit!

I Need More Practice Running Some Genres

The same conclusions that I made with RPG systems apply to genres as well.  Some genres come super easy to me while others are tougher.  Anything gritty, deadly, and political is tougher for me where systems with grandiose heroes and clear cut villains are easier.  Masks and Colonial Gothic are both genres that are in me wheelhouses.  Masks is teenage superheroes and Colonial Gothic is monster hunting.  Both have clear protagonists and clear cut heroes.  Blades In The Dark is not as easy for me to run.  Every NPC in Blades In The Dark has their own motivations and nearly all of them are dishonest.

This is one area where I think I have the potential for a lot of growth.  Running genres that are harder for me has really opened up my play style and shown me how I can present things in different lights.  After running Blades In The Dark for the first time I realized how much I have grown in this area.  Also PBTA games really push the GM to think on their feet.  I like the challenge it brings!

I still have a lot to learn about gamemastering and I have been doing it since 1978.  :]

Systems Should Promote The Style Of Play They Are Trying To Achieve

Often the small-press games that are being played by the SPS group are hyper focused on a feeling that the author wants the gamers to experience as they play out a session.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but the key is the focus.  I have played and run some amazingly impactful games that are really enhanced by the laser like concentration in play.

System that enforce the play style of the genre and setting are important.

Character Ties Out Of The Gate Are Great

PBTA where have you been all my life!  Many of the PBTA games used Bonds or similar mechanics to tie characters to other characters and the setting up front during the character creation phase.  The result is an immersive experience that happens organically during session 0.  Immediately there is something for the players and GM to utilize drive the fiction.

The way Bonds enrich and direct play for a playbook is powerful.  Bonds act as reinforcement to the player in how that playbook should function and ties the character to the fiction.  The Watch does a good job of this with their Bond questions.

Bonds, and similar mechanics that tie starting characters to each other and enforce the setting, are a powerful technique to drive the fiction early.

The Goal Is For Everyone At The Table To Have Fun

This is sort of an obvious statement but I think playing these type of small-press games has really led me to change my play style.  As a GM this means making sure each player gets spotlight time and player agency.  Focusing on what each player and character brings to the table is critical.

As a player this means promoting the other players so that they can be “cool”.  One of my favorite things to do is start dialogs with other players to push along the fiction or compliment them on some really fun action that they just pulled off.  I think everyone wins when players and GMs foster this back-and-forth narrative trust.

Trust and kindness for the win!

Want To Join?

If you want to join Sipping Primordial Soup, my small-press RPG group in the Santa Clara area, then email or tweet using @Kingbeasst.

So What Is The PBTA Thing People Keep Talking About???

November 01, 2018 By: John Taber Category: Games, Growlings

What Is PBTA?

PBTA stands for Powered By The Apocalypse.  Apocalypse World is an RPG by Vincent Baker that was released in 2010.  It was the first system to present these rules.  Small-press RPG that utilize these rules are classified as PBTA.  PBTA defines the base mechanics that are being used behind a lot of small-press games these days.  For the old school folks think of the Hero System and Champions.  Champions is an RPG that uses the Hero System.  Masks and Blades In The Dark are RPGs that are PBTA.  😉


(I need to make a disclaimer before I continue.  I am not an expert in PBTA games.  I am an enthusiast coming from an old school RPG upbringing who is now starting to run PBTA games more frequently.  ;)  If there are PBTA guru out there please correct me!  My goal is to get really good at running PBTA based games.)

Where Can I Learn About What Makes PBTA Different?

I would recommend these sources.

The Dungeon World Guide

Dungeon World is a classic fantasy RPG that is PBTA.  As part of that game some industrious fans created a wonderful document that explains to D&D players the major mind shifts that are needed for Dungeon World.  Brian Fernandez actually tipped me off to this document.  Highly recommended for getting your head around the changes.

PBTA For The Old School

Recent blog post about PBTA for old school role-players from Trilemma.  This one I do not like as well as I think it sort of dances around some of the main points without jumping out and revealing the answer.  See what you think.  Worth a read.

What GMs New To PBTA Don’t Know

This is a pretty good article from the creators of City Of Mist.  (City Of Mist is a noir-supers setting that is PBTA.)  I wanted to include this one because it is good for GMs.

What Does John Think About PBTA?

PBTA games have several important qualities.  I want to cover some of the ones that I think are important and give my option on some of them as well.


Moves define the various things that players and GMs can do.  Their impact and effect are driven by how the Move is written.    The name of the Move often conveys the genre or setting as well.

Moves can be setting specific.  For example, Masks, an RPG about teenage superheroes, has a Move called, “Unleash Your Powers”.  You can guess what it does by the name.  Notice how even just the name drives home the setting and how it comes into play.

Characters are built using predefined Playbooks.  Playbooks are kind of like Classes in D&D.  (These will be discussed in more detail below.)  Each Playbook has Moves that only that character can perform.  For example, the Driver in Apocalypse World can choose, “A No Shit Driver”.

GMs, or MC (Masters Of Ceremony) as they are called in PBTA, also have their own set of Moves.  In Dungeon World MCs have moves like “Reveal An Unwelcome Truth”, “Put Someone In A Spot”, and “Use A Monster”.  Again these drive home the setting and genre.


Playbooks are used to define the character and describe any Moves that are specific to them.  They act as characters sheets but have Move details as well.  Often they also include rough details on how the character might look, their affiliations, etc.

Playbooks provide most, if not all, of the rules that the player will need.  This allows them to focus on the story and not their list of spells or how a particular stunt works for example.

The Playbook name, style, and look again drive the setting and genre.  In The Watch, a dark fantasy RPG, there are Playbooks called The Spider, The Bear, The Wolf, etc.  Just the name denotes detail about the focus of that Playbook.

The Playbook will also often include statements that provide Bonds to other PC.  These are an excellent mechanic for immediately tying the PC to each other.  For example, in Dungeon World the Wizard has, “X is keeping an important secret from me.”  Notice how these can drive the setting and genre.

Fail Forward

The dice rolling in PBTA games is one of the hardest things for most traditional RPG players and MCs to grok.  The import rule here is that players do all of the rolls.  The MC first present the situation that is in front of the player.  The player reacts by describing what they do.  Often this involves fiction first then activation of a Move.

The results of the roll drive the results of that piece of the encounter and push the fiction forward.  This is a really important thing to grasp.  Most PBTA RPG systems break down the rolls into a 2d6 roll with modifications.  2 to 6 is  Failure, 7 to 9 is a Success with a Complication, and 10+ is a Success with often fewer or no Complications.  Sometimes even a full Success will mean picking options from the Move.  Move often spawn questions or a response from the MC.

Here is a fast example of how this works.  While exploring a dark cave the dwarven warrior Gimli runs across a group of three goblin scouts.  The MC then describes the action, “The goblins jump out from behind a rock and charge forward with their rusty swords swinging!  What do you do?”.  Notice how the MC starts with action from the scene.  Gimli’s player responds with, “For Crom!  I drive my hammer down on the head of the first goblin!”  The MC looks at the available Moves and says to make a “Hack & Slash”.  The player rolls a 5.  This is a Failure but it does not stop the fiction!  The GM responds with, “Moving forward your hammer glances past the left ear of the goblin who nicks your arm with his blade.  Now that you have moved forward the other goblins charge in from all sides!  Take 4 damage.”  The idea is to push the fiction forward and let the character act even more cool after getting out of a jam.


PBTA games are definitely more difficult for the MC as there is a lot of response and setting up action before and after every roll.  The back and forth play is difficult to run until you get more practice.

Another thing that can be difficult when running PBTA games is driving the difficulty of a challenge.  For example, in my example of the combat with the goblins I could have still let the character smash the goblin then have the next one land a blow.  The associated complications to a failure take time to master.  It gets even harder when you have to handle this for a group of players.

This system begets a storytelling heavy session.  There are not a lot of crunchy bits that get in the way of the fiction and the actual resolution is often very quick.  I have found that throwing tons of things for the characters to respond to is the best course of action in PBTA games.  This way each element of the encounter presents a more intuitive response.  It also gives something for each character to do in the scene.

I am still in the learning how to run PBTA games.  So far I am good for the first couple of rolls but then I will start to get lax and fall into common tropes, “You failed take some harm.”  That is not how the system is geared to work.  Saying that…I really want to get good at it.  I have played in some absolutely amazing PBTA games over the last four years so I know it works well if properly executed…I just need to get it to sing for me.  🙂