Metatopia has run again as an in person event for the first time since the start of covid. This was smaller than before, fully masked and vaccinated, and absolutely excellent!
Loot the Kingdom
By Kevin Kulp.
- Bluesky: @kevinkulp.bsky.social
- Twitter: @kevinkulp
A narrative, story-focused RPG about fantasy heists, accidental heroes, and stealing the things your evil overlord loves most. Includes group world-building (and world-breaking!) as part of core play.
This test had two main parts. The first was creating the world that we were going to play in, and the second was playing a couple of scenes as the player characters attempted to make life indirectly miserable for the villain of the story.
Character sheets are simple one-pagers with a six sided die for resolving actions. Roll 2d6 normally, but you can roll 1d6 to act quickly. We had a swashbuckler, a cultist, a revenant, an enchanter, and I was a warlock.
We built a world by the GM asking a series of questions and we came up with a cliff side port on temperate seas. The port down by the sea is where the wealthy people live, and their tented roofs are brilliant silks. Up on the top of the cliff there are walls to protect from the barbarians and the poorer people live and work, looking down on the glory that is below. Goods and people travel up the cliffs in huge lifts, powered by ‘porters’ who man the chains. Portering is a kind of national service, and everyone has done their time on the chains (and often have the missing fingers to prove it). Some of the wealthy buy their way out of it, but nobody minds because there is universal basic income for everyone who has done their time as a porter.
The city was ruled by three mercantile families, each associated with one of the aspects of the three-fold goddess of land, sea and air.
Then we broke the world.
Two of the families stopped having children, got ill and faded away. The other rose in power and took control of the city, increasing prices and the UBI became less and less practical.
Our characters couldn’t work against the family head directly - they were too powerful. So we identified three targets which we could tackle to weaken them. We could kidnap their senile father, steal her mother’s ashes, or destroy her beautiful mosaic ceiling. We chose to do the former and we had a few scene of investigation and fighting before we ended which was fun.
Overall we enjoyed the world building, although in this play test it introduced much more than we ever used, and the connection with the villain felt a little weak. I heard that in a later play test the villain was created first and then the city, which worked much better.
The action felt fast and furious and the characters felt distinct and I think everyone had some fun with what they could do.
It will be nice to see the next iteration of this.
Their Fearful Teeth
By Mary Rose Valentine
- Bluesky: timeformars.bsky.social
A new conversation-based RPG. A vampire and a human sit down to have a conversation; during the conversation, the vampire will ask if the human will give them blood. Negotiations commence, and the game ends when the human gives or denies definitive, informed consent.
Four of us played this game in two pairs, each pair being one human and one vampire. There was a joint questionnaire with a few prompts to help us think about vampirism in the world we played in which each pair discussed independently. Then we each had a public questionnaire and a private questionnaire to help us think about how we presented and what our real motivations were.
The game was then a conversation between the two parties with the vampire trying to get an enthusiastic consent from the human, and avoiding the human just saying no.
The other conversation was between a student and a postgrad at a faculty.
In my conversation I was a hundred year old vampire who was a shadowy fixer for the super wealthy. The human was a young, ruthless businessman who was looking for an edge, and had been given my name by a friend (or perhaps rival, the way things turned out). My vampire hated himself for feeding on humans and was filled with guilt - and had decided long ago that if he was going to be a parasite on human society he would at least feed on the worst members of that society - those that were parasites themselves.
I quickly established that he didn’t have any significant relatives (“only an ex-wife,haha”, “I bet she is bleeding you dry hahaha”), that he was morally reprehensible and prepared to fire people just to increase his stock options. I hooked him on the promise of a revolutionary anti aging drug (“is it patented?”, “no, we don’t want to get the blood-sucking lawyers involved haha”)
I said that I was on the drug, and he could get on the board, known as the apostles, via a hefty donation and getting on the programme himself. I just needed a blood sample. He said he had type 2 diabetes which wasn’t perfect as I didn’t want cavities, but I told him it shouldn’t be a problem. He nearly bailed when I said that’d need a pint of blood, but it was no more than a blood bank would take, and I’d got some restoratives right here... he was hooked on the idea of riches just within reach, and was prepared to do what was required so he willingly hooked up the machine and gave me enthusiastic consent.
And I Sucked. Him. Dry.
All credit to my partner in the game, who leaned in to the direction we were going, although he was a little surprised at his death in the end! We had an interesting discussion about whether enthusiastic consent is truly consent if you don’t really understand the stakes.
The game is alpha at the moment and has lots of promise. As it develops I’d like to see some stronger guidance at the start (perhaps suggesting interesting pairings that could be played out) and further refinement of the questionnaires so that they focus in on the elements which are core to the gameplay. Does the vampire want to feed and drain them dry? Does it want to feed enough to slake its thirst and create a bond for future feeding? Does it want to turn them into a familiar like Renfield? Does it want to turn them into a new vampire?
One to watch for sure.
By Bill White
Simultaneously an experiment in “Ouija-board GMing” and an homage to XCOM, a game about fighting off an alien invasion. In this game, you play members of an elite UN task force whose job is to defend the Earth. We start off none of us knowing what the aliens want—not even the GM. That’s the experimental part. This playtest will help find the sticking points of the system and test the play aids devised to make it work.
This game used a new system with a full range of polyhedral dice which represented the skill level and the power of weapons or facility of equipment.
The GM didn’t have a planned adventure, but wanted to build it through conversations with us, so our multinational team of rookies ended up dropped into the Congo to investigate an alien sighting near herds of forest elephants.
The game is full of military acronyms and concepts such as MIA, KIA, FFE, collateral (damage) and so forth. There was a home base diagram with tracks for admin, intel, ops, supply and liaison. They each started on 1d4 but increased during the game. Some of that was a little confusing to some of the players at the time (someone initially though collateral was a good thing...)
There was a patrolling flowchart where die rolls could get the scout into contact, the leader making decisions and the rest of the squad doing something, but we were not clear what it really meant, and felt it was probably more of a GM tool than a player facing one.
We found an elephant with a metal visor being ridden by an alien. Someone shot it, someone dropped a flashbang and someone climbed a tree. Guess which one caused 1d10 collateral? We suggested that collateral damage should only really be applied if using a weapon or explosive!
Conflict was quite complex, with typically three dice being rolled and one being used to reflect your safety (probability of harm), one being used for your precision (likelihood of collateral damage and a tradeoff of that with scale of damage) and the last one for your scale of damage. There were some interesting concepts and I wonder whether future iterations might clarify the language and the processes in order to help it run more smoothly and simply.
I wasn’t familiar with the X-Com game that inspired it. I’m not sure what the ultimate balance of the game is intended to be between the global investigation and the local military actions - in a 2hr play test there is not much time to explain and then get rolling some dice and do it.
By Jason Pitre
A GM-less, troupe-style role playing game of political space opera. This is testing the superstructure of the game including basic moves, how authority is distributed, and how the political system works. Can we design a game of galactic space opera politics without a GM? Let's find out.
I loved this game, even in its early stages. There is a small set of interconnected systems, with the connected ‘space lanes’ providing an interesting geography that avoids the “anything goes everywhere” problem.
‘Speakers’ are the rulers of systems and at the nodes in the network. The core world has three, the outer worlds have two and the fringes have one.
‘Voices’ are the agents who live on the edges of the network that join two system nodes.
I’m going off memory, but speakers have three ‘basic motivations’ some assets they can use, and varied abilities to resist turmoil in security, society and economy. Voices have priorities, some assets they can use and one last set of things that I don’t recall.
The fundamental driver for a session is a proposed bill which the collected speakers are going to vote on - and the game is about persuading speakers to vote in the direction you want. If you have a good argument for two out of a list of four, you can get them to agree with your agenda. Sometimes there are speakers who are going to be difficult to align and you can choose to use a Voice - perhaps to influence a population and break ties, or to use up one of their attributes to promote turmoil and distract a speaker from their senate responsibilities.
All of the speakers and voices have very distinct and evocative traits and resources, and find themselves aligned or in opposition on lots of interesting dimensions.
At the moment mechanically it would make a great board game in my opinion, and seems like a really interesting mechanical foundation onto which role-playing experiences can be built.
There are some rules at the moment to reflect ordinary people adding implications to a bill. Right now there was no incentive to spend precious actions on that, but I could imagine the opportunity to reflect the impact of things on the general population of a system could be very rich.
As it stands in this alpha test we had a feeling that we didn’t want to just pick up and put down speakers Willy-nilly in a full-on troupe play, but would prefer to stick with particular speakers for the duration of the bill in question, while restricting the troupe aspect to the rest of the speakers and voices.
It was a complex initial setup, and would benefit from a large table so that speakers and voices could be lad out in their proper spatial relationships.
I’ve struggled to create good political systems many times in the past, and this is better than anything I’ve done to date. Honestly, I wanted to put things in my bag and take it away and play with it right after the session. I’m really looking forward to the next stage of this one.
By Xeno Sean
A game of magic and mechanism where the personal is political and the political is personal. In a world in the midst of a magical-industrial revolution many feel like a tiny cog in a vast machine. But even the smallest cog can turn a larger one, and that may move a larger gear in turn. Play a character driven by personal passions who wield their skills and influence to move organizations, whose resources can be leveraged to change the course of nations. Perhaps, the world.
Influenced by games including Blades in the Dark, Forbidden Lands, Reign, Apocalypse World, and Tales from the Loop; “O, Fortuna” uses a d6 Die Pool mechanic balancing ease of use with the fun of amassing huge die pools. Move “Gears” (Clocks in the terms of BitD/PbtA) to bring the resources of organizations to bear on your own goals.
The game as played in this alpha test was constructed to support a more traditional rpg experience rather than focussing on the political movement of organisations which the blurb about it suggested. The character sheets focussed on the individual (and ran to several pages) but I suspect that a future iteration of the game may refactor it to bring the desired core gameplay elements more front and centre.
Our scenario was a nice one - we were all senior members of an academic magical institution (I was dean of runes). The old headmaster had died so there was internal jockeying for the vacancy while at the same time the military and religious parties wanted to take this opportunity to expand their control of the institution. Some characters had built in conflicts of interest - one was a spy for the military, another wanted to support students but some of the students were seeking more religious control which the dean of students didn’t want. The designer had a fine eye for setting up interesting situations.
I think that the next iterations of this design may delve more into the game mechanics so that they better support the rich genre and scenarios which are desired. I like dice pools as much as the next person -- ever since the ritual of gathering handfuls of dice in champions -- but this system only counted sixes, and it was all too easy to roll 11 dice after a stirring speech and get one success - which translated into success at a terrible price (that wasn’t super appealing!). There are several different styles of dice pool mechanics and I hope the designer has the chance to look at some of the other ways of doing it to help them weigh up what they want for this particular setting.
I had fun, and the designer was very open to feedback. I hope that they were not discouraged because I think this has some interesting potential.
By Stephen Koontz
5th Conspiracy is a character driven tabletop roleplaying game where players explore the power of ideas in an urban fantasy setting. Original mechanical system and setting.
Join a conspiracy of ancient gods, angels, myths, and monsters who compete for control over the unsuspecting world's most precious resource, its attention. The more you’re worshiped, the more powerful you’ll become, even as the precious things that made you human slip away. Balance your need for veneration against the oratum’s number one rule: do not let mankind become aware of your true nature, lest they unleash the titan’s wrath back upon the earth, dooming our kind to extinction.
The 5th Conspiracy system introduces three revolutionary mechanics that strive to resolve some of the most pernicious problems tabletop groups have struggled with since the dawn of gaming; the misaligned expectations that derail your game, creating believable characters that make good protagonists to your story, and action scenes that are as fast paced and exciting to play as for the characters living them.
The first two mechanics were quite straightforward documents to make sure that all the players are on the same page when starting off a campaign and were creating characters in line with that. Because we had pregen characters I’ll jump to the third one - which is that when we got to combat we all had 30 seconds to write on our personal whiteboards what our objective for the round was, and how we wanted to do it (ability plus professional choice) fast and furious, it meant that people were often working at cross purposes, especially in a surprise situation.
The basic conceit of the game is that the supernatural is all around us and always has been. They thrive on worship but it has to be in secret because if they become too public then titans will appear and wipe them out. That doesn’t mean secret cults though... a bevvy of vampire movies makes people think about vampires and that strengthens the undead for instance.
In our game we had a fae mafia enforcer, a biker gang werewolf, a shape shifting witch and I was a dragon in human form.
Mechanically the characters have ability scores with a dice rating (eg 1d4, 1d6, 1d8) and they have relevant professions with dice ratings which can be used in any relevant way. My dragon had the professions “dragon of jet tower”, “ruthless businessman” and “high class socialite” which immediately told me quite a bit about how I wanted to play him, oh, and I could turn into a huge fire breathing dragon if I needed to!
To accomplish something I roll an ability die and a profession die and I want to beat 4. If I do it with one die it is a success, if I do it with both dice it is success with style (or some other boost), if I fail with both dice then it goes horribly wrong. Opposed rolls in a fight can be harder because the opponent rolls to give the target number to beat.
There are rules for collaborating and for disadvantage which all worked smoothly and quickly.
The characters also have a whole set of geases (I can’t remember the spelling) which are behaviours their nature, family etc. forces on them. The dragon has taboo breaking behaviour, winning isn’t enough, others must lose horribly too, and various other things. There is also a personal motivation which colours their choices. All very rich with role playing potential.
Our two hour slot spent a lot of time in talking and so we didn’t get much time to experience the game, but I think this was tightened up in subsequent sessions and I had very good reports from other extended periods of play.
It’s not often that you see a brand new system that works well, but I think this one does. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
By Kat Miller
A game about the power struggles between Fairy Nobility, their desires and duties and limitations when dealing with a mortal world as Immortal beings.
I’d like to separate this into two halves. First there is the character generation which is super solid, full of flavour and really quite wonderful. Then there are the mechanics which had apparently been rewritten overnight after some earlier tests. As such I’d like to concentrate on intent rather than implementation.
There are three elements to character creation. I’m going to summarise them as
- Pick a Season which represents the way that the fairy presents themselves.
- Pick a Court, which represents their inner motivations. His could be Dawn, Day, Dusk, Night or court-less.
- Pick an Title, which represents their degree of dedication to their court.
I played a spring fairy, called Daffodil. Flighty, puppyish, delighted in everything and always wanting to play. Daffodil was also a Majesty of the Dark court, and believed that Rules are made to be broken, Power is to be used, and that mortals are entertaining and tasty. It made for a compelling character to play!
Once the season, court and title have been chosen there is a relationship building phase, where you create a number of relationships with other fairies at the table - siblings, soulmates, rivals, lovers, and so forth.
The last phase is setting out things that you want (fairies have Big Needs) and who is blocking them. The fairy that is blocking you gets to say why they are blocking you. Gameplay is about getting what you want through negotiation and perhaps other means.
For example, Iola, a spring fairy loosely associated with the Day court wanted to bring the mortal Toby into Faerie, but Daffodil wasn’t letting here. The reason being that Daffodil decided that she wanted Toby too! Cranchar the court-less sun fairy wanted something from Earther, the wild fairy of the Dusk court, but she wouldn’t help him because he had let her tomato crop wither. Daffodil wants to eat a human, but the another fairy of the Dusk court was blocking that because he had an agreement with the moral realm about not killing any of them.
The aim of the mechanics of negotiation is to allow a fairy to say what they want, and the other fairy can accept the proposal, reject it and pay a price, or make a counter proposal. When a resolution is reached, if a proposal or counter proposal is agreed, then the agreement is written down on a card as a ‘promise’. In theory the counters with names on of fairies, courts, seasons and so forth could be used in the negotiations, but the ideas there were not fully formed.
We had fun with the game and our mercurial fairies. The character generation is rich, robust and lovely. It just needs some mechanics to match. I’ve suggested that it might be worth looking into Hillfolk - not necessarily to just lift those mechanics, but since it is a game which also deals with people granting or not granting petitions it might give some valuable insights into what directions Courting Fairies could go.
By Erika Chappell
The crew of Shepard-17 have been called to an alien world by an automated observation post to witness a historic event; the planet's thriving industrial civilization is sending their first spacecraft to land on the local moon. All you have to do is record it, but things never go smoothly in Star Patrol.
Torchship is a crunchy and very political Star Trek-inspired roleplaying game about exploration and scarcity. It runs on a brand-new custom system which centres crew relationships, scientific study, and the limits of technology. This will be an early test of the core systems using a set of premade characters.
Touchstones for the game would include Original Star Trek episodes “Devil in the Dark” and “Taste of Armageddon”, and Enterprise episodes “Fight or Flight” and “Damage”.
I played this game on the Sunday morning and the designer told us this was the ‘emergency rewrite edition’ because earlier playtests had not worked as well as had been hoped.
The general model of gameplay was intended to be a cycle of action and reflection. Action where things are being done, and reflection is like the bridge crew gathering in the ready room to discuss their findings, reset and move forward again. Beyond that action and reflection cycle there would also be the opportunity to branch beyond action into combat, or move from reflection into resupply. We were not testing those two concepts though.
The game is designed to be run from checklists, with sets of checklists for all kind of investigations and actions. Use skill rolls to fill in the checklists and when you’ve got them done, then the task is finished and you’ve got new information. Using skills in situations when things can go wrong causes strain, and the ‘reflection’ phase gets rid of strain - this is to provide a mechanism for that ‘action - reflection - action - reflection’ cycle. It seems that using skills basically succeeds and the dice roll element is there to avoid complications.
The scenario which we used (monitoring a young race’s attempt to do their first moon landing) wasn’t one that immediately opened itself up to dramatic possibilities and when we asked leading questions “do we think their tech is good enough to get their astronaut back?” Or “Is there any sign that the space race might trigger military action by other nations on that planet in their version of a space race?” It seemed that everything was A-OK. This was partly because the designer was hoping that that the game could be run from checklists and probably partly because they were tired from the emergency rewriting which had taken place.
At about this point we paused the scenario and talked through the game - the aims, the pros and cons and so forth. It was suggested that a GM checklist to help the GM remember all the things they wanted to do might be help (and reference was made to the excellent Checklist Manifesto book). We all liked the idea of the action - reflection cycle, and it seems like it would be a neat way of replicating the kind of pacing in the Star Trek (and other) shows we enjoyed. It felt like with some more thought on that, and scenarios with more obvious investigative hooks, this game could find its market.
Defy the Gods
By Chris Sellers
A sword & sorcery adventure with messy relationships. It's PbtA, borrowing the central mechanic from Apocalypse Keys and Libreté, with relationship mechanics from Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and party mechanics from Blades in the Dark.
I loved playing this game!
We didn’t tackle the ‘messy relationships’ side of the game, although there were tantalising relationships and actions on character sheets. With 2hr playtests the name of the game is focussing in on exactly the thing to be tested, and Chris wanted to test combat and wounds, so that was what we tested.
Our playbooks were pregenned, and included the Revenant (back from the dead and trying stuff out), the Sword (a stone cold killer with a sword as big as they are), the Sailor (an Odysseus style rogue who might be Teflon coated), a wolfling, a Vessel (containing the presence of a god) and a Sorcerer (with Atlantean chaos magic). The latter was the role that I played.
Your characters had ‘epithets’ - role playing hooks which earned you ‘flame tokens’. Flame tokens could be spent to improve your 2d6 roll. Get too many flame tokens stored up and your burn too brightly and might attract the wrath of the gods, so get spending!
Wounds were applied against ‘epithets’, impacting your ability to use them IIRC. You could also accumulate ‘curses’ through your risky mythical behaviour, and when that filled up you got an omen, a dark power added to your character.
There are evocative descriptions throughout, that cry out ‘play me’ as you read the playbooks.
One of the things that many games promised this weekend and this one did effortlessly was the integration of the wider outside world into the sorta Bronze Age mythology of this one. If you are willing to push yourself a bit you can beseech the gods (as our sailor did, invoke the power of old Atlantis to rob guards of their Charisma) or in my case accept a curse in order to tear open the gates to heaven and summon a seraphim to annihilate our opposition. Admittedly I didn’t really think through what happened next, but happily the Sword used the ‘name’ power of the game to ‘Defy the gods’ and was able to send the Seraph back into the seven heavens.
Sorcery was pretty wild magic. My first spell was a scrying spell but it backfired so badly that my characters left arm was turned into a snake. I took a ‘confused’ wound at that point, so for much of the game I was using my left arm as a sock puppet with some confusion as to whether my consciousness was in the snake or the ‘human’.
Some of the things I particularly liked
- non-supernatural characters who were on a par with supernatural characters in their ability to do things
- Some automatic powers available which were flavourful.
- Influence and accessibility of higher powers - whether in the cities politics or various kinds of supernatural.
In the game as we played it there was a bit of a ‘nova’ problem, but that’s mostly because everyone forgot the rule of a maximum of +3 to any die roll via flame tokens!
I would love to playtest some of these characters in their ‘messy relationships’ roles, and see how that goes!
Once again Metatopia has been an absolute delight. It is wonderful meeting so many enthusiastic designers and playtesters, both around the game tables and in the many conversations during the day and late into the night. Smart people, talking passionately about the subjects they love is very invigorating!
All credit to Avonelle, Vinney and their friends at Double Exposure who make it all possible. Find out more about what they do here: https://dexposure.com/m2023.html