Jan 27

Sigil PD: Chapter 7, Part 1

Character (4) head


Heled the troll, Ethex the grimalkin & more Sigil Courier


The character generation session on Saturday was productive. We have not completed the process, as there are a lot of choices to be made. The process is not difficult, but the Players made careful choices about how to portray their characters. It is wonderful to see the Heroes slowly come into focus as we create them.


Heled is the new recruit to the Department. He is a troll from the City Watch, who has stepped up into an Investigator’s role. Trolls in my world are similar to Gloranthan trolls, only they are more canine, so look like D&D gnolls. Heled’s partner is Ethex, the artefacts specialist within the Department. Ethex is a grimalkin, a feline species.


Clearly, there is going to be a lot of light relief focused around the partnership of a canine troll and a feline grimalkin. Hopefully I can keep the overall tone of Sigil PD serious, but there is always room for some humour. The game is supposed to be fun.


Moving forward, the Players have not completed the character generation process, so this will be our focus at the weekend. Another low-prep session gives me time to catch up further with the backlog of The Sigil Courier issues. It will be a great relief to have these up to date. Otherwise, my prep tomorrow will be focused on finding some plot hooks to use for the start of the campaign.


Happy Gaming



The Prep in Progress series are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


Jan 26

Thought for the Week 16: Psionic Cat


It has been several months, but the Thought for the Week images are back.


Psionic Cat


Yes, we have several cats. I spend a lot of my time helping them through doors.


The previous Thought for the Week was the CIA, way back in June.


Happy Gaming



Jan 23

The Sigil Courier: Chapter 3


Chapter 3: Where the Good and the Bad

Sigil Courier

Delve Season, 1034.

Why do we tolerate the Factions?

Once again, the public are questioning what the Factions of Sigil really do.

Why does the Lady accept this convoluted method of government? Many of the Factions play an active role in running the city, yet would not a single, centralized structure create a better city for all of us?

Take our creaking system of law enforcement, as an example. The Sign of One pass the laws, the Harmonium enforce the laws, the Fraternity of Order ponderously judge lawbreakers and the Mercykillers enthusiastically imprison the guilty. Is this any way to run a judicial system?

No wonder the Xaositects creep through the shadows and the Revolutionary League plot sedition.

“We simply do not need all these competing Factions,” declared a source close to The Independents. “The City of Doors is open house to criminal elements from across the Cosmos. The Grand Bazaar is flooded with Lady knows what artefacts, and nobody is doing anything about it! We need a joined-up legal system, free of undue Factional influence.”

Read the in-depth report on Pages 3 and 4.


In other news

Patrons at the Quill and Pot coffee-house were treated to another demonic quarrel yesterday. The back room, labelled by patron as “the bump room”, was reputedly the scene of another violent altercation.

Raised voices in an unknown tongue were heard, seemingly having an extended argument. Yet, when the door to the back room finally opened, only a single customer walked out. A foul stench filled the coffee-house, but quickly dissipated.

Staff were reluctant to divulge the identity of the lone customer. However, I can report there was a run on iced coffee that day.

Read the TRUE STORY on page 4.


Happy Gaming



The Sigil Courier series are the session summaries from the Sigil PD cycle of tales in my Tales of the Hero Wars campaign.

Jan 23

Trollbabe and Re-rolls: Part 1, Improvising a Change in Fortune


trollbabeToday’s article is the first of a two-part exploration of the re-roll mechanic in Trollbabe. My focus today is on the way Ron requires the Player to narrate how they are making their re-roll. This essay is my eighth look at the ideas of Ron Edwards expressed in his game Trollbabe.






For those of you who have not read the earlier articles in this mini-series, here is a quick overview of Trollbabe.


My 110 page pdf is the second edition of Trollbabe, released in 2009. Ron Edwards is perhaps best known for his game theory writings at The Forge, but he also designs RPGs.


Trollbabe focuses upon the actions of female half-troll warriors. The setting is a hybrid of pop culture and the Norse sagas. The mechanics are very simple, but Ron devotes a lot of time explaining the theory behind his narrative-driven mechanics. There are also plenty of examples of how to play the game, which help to explain the concepts.



Re-rolls in Trollbabe

As part of the contest resolution mechanics in Trollbabe, there is the option for the Player to invoke a re-roll. This option is available when a Hero fails at a task. There are some conditions tied to this re-roll, which I shall consider in a moment.


Firstly, it is worth looking at the basic principle. Primarily, this appears to prevent a Hero from ever failing, except the rules limit the number of times this can be invoked by each Player. This limitation also prevents the game from dragging to a halt as every failure is re-rolled. There can be some interesting story developments arising from failure, so it is important not to remove this option entirely from the game.


What I really like in this system is the amount of control it gives to the Players. Using dice in RPGs is a great way to add a random element to the game. Yet, freak outcomes can have an undesirable impact on the Heroes. This re-roll mechanic gives Players additional options and can minimize the way a fumble makes an otherwise proficient Hero look a total idiot.



Ascending Consequences

The first limitation placed on the use of re-rolls in Trollbabe is how the consequences of a failed re-roll are more severe. This is a story-focused restriction, and combines with each Player’s appreciation of risk. There is a lot to explore in this aspect of the use of re-rolls, so I shall save the topic for the second part of this article.


Narrative Checklist

The other limitation on re-rolls, and the focus for this article, is the use of a narrative checklist. Trollbabe lists five reasons why the Hero can make a re-roll. Each reason can be used only once per adventure, and is ticked off when invoked. This is a clever way to limit the number of re-rolls available to each Hero.


Entries on the list include objects, an ally, terrain and magic. To enable a re-roll, the Player must describe how the selected entry helps their Hero in the current situation. That entry is then crossed out, and the Player makes their new roll in the more favourable situation they just described.



Link Mechanics to Narrative

This is such an elegant idea, and achieves so much at the table. The system cleverly links mechanics to the narrative. Here the Player gains a mechanical benefit, the re-roll, but only after improvising a short explanation. This simple mechanic encourages Player input into the narrative of the game.


For the GM, even small snippets of Player improvisation are a great source of ideas. Not only does this empower the Players to add to the story, it gives you additional narrative options. If Players repeatedly reference a particular ally or item, then this tells you how much the Player values these things. You can then take the story forward by weaving this back into the plot, knowing how much the Player cares. Essentially, the Player is telling you which buttons you can press to motivate their Hero.


Beyond this elegant link of narrative and mechanics, this system gives Players another tool to guide the story. There are only a limited number of times a re-roll can be selected. So when a Player chooses to invoke this option, you know how much they care about the outcome. As with any limited resource, you can learn a lot from when a Player chooses to use it. The game is better when the Players care about the game, and this mechanic tells you exactly when the Players are engaged with your story.


Checklist in HeroQuest

This re-roll mechanic will make a great rules widget for my HeroQuest 2 campaign.


In HeroQuest, Players have a limited number of points to spend “bumping” up a roll. This is not quite the same as a proper re-roll, but it does improve the outcome of a contest without the need to actually roll the dice again. I love the way I can now tie this improved result to a short piece of narrative from the Players.


To expand the story potential for this system, I shall provide the Players with a longer list of options than the five presented in Trollbabe. However, each option will only be available once per session, thereby ensuring a variety of narratives. I shall keep the “bumps” tied to my flexible Wyrd Card house rules, so the list need not act as the limiting resource.



A Custom Checklist

My HeroQuest list will include the following narrative prompts:

  • Actions of another Hero
  • A piece of your equipment
  • An object in the location
  • An aspect of the location
  • An expression of your beliefs
  • A manifestation of a your runes
  • Actions of an ally


My favourite parts of the game are when the Players add to the narrative, and take the story somewhere new. Adding this little complication to the contest “bumps” should enhance this feature.


Checklists in other Games

This narrative list can also apply to a lot of RPGs. There are many games with Bennies, or similar resources, available to the Players. To adopt this method, tie the use of a Bennie to an event from the narrative list. You can write your own list to reflect the setting and style of your game.


The list method is also an excellent way to introduce your Players to improvising within the game. The parameters here are very small, which should help those new to improvising content at the table. All a Player needs to do is explain how the chosen item from the list gives them a benefit. Once your Players are comfortable with this level of improvisation, then you can diversify the improvisation within your game.


However, I would urge you to restrain from introducing the complete re-roll option until you have read the next article in the series. Ron introduces some fascinating conditions to choosing the re-roll option, which you may also want to consider.



The narrative checklist is a great way to tie the mechanics of Bennies into the narrative. Come back next week for the second part in the series, exploring the heightened consequences of choosing to re-roll.


How can you use the narrative list in your game? What other entries would you add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



Something for the Weekend next week: Trollbabe and Re-rolls Part 2


Jan 22

Sigil PD: Chapter 6, Part 4

Character (4) head


Occupation Keywords, The Sigil Courier & gaming again


The prep yesterday worked out fairly well. Along with the obligatory session framework sheet, I also completed the two Occupation Keywords I wanted. The Players can now choose between City Watch and Investigator Keywords. Other character builds are possible, but at least one of these options should be taken by my two core Players.


Furthermore, I completed and uploaded another issue of The Sigil Courier to the Wiki. This now leaves me only two issues behind, which is great progress. With luck, I ought to write another issue towards the end of the week. Naturally, the session on Saturday will then require its own issue, so I need to prevent the backlog from building up again.


Friday night I shall print out the character sheets and other documents we need to create characters. I shall also print out copies of The Sigil Courier to form Player handouts. There are a couple of background Keywords I need to design, but these will be simpler to create than the Occupation Keywords.


I am already excited to be gaming again this weekend, and to meet the new Heroes. There is a little more work to be done, but it feels manageable.


Happy Gaming



The Prep in Progress series are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


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