Spirit of 77 RPG – Character Creation Handouts

can_you_dig_itWhen I run my Spirit of 77 convention games, I do character creation at the table. I’m always looking for ways to streamline that process. For my run at KublaCon this year I’ve developed a couple of player aids. One is a breakdown of all the Hooks for each character role and another is a breakdown of all the starting character Gear. I think it’s going to save a lot of flipping around and looking stuff up. My hope is to get to the fun parts that much faster!

The friendly guys at MonkeyFun Studios have given me permission to share these documents with you. Even if you’re doing a regular character creation session, I think you’ll find them helpful. Just click on the links to get access to the files…

Spirit of 77 – Gear Breakdown
Spirit of 77 – Hook Breakdown

Use and enjoy!


Actual Play of Action Movie World, There Will Be Bullets – Part 2 of 2

AMW_RPG_logo(In the first half of the report, we leave off just as the bullets start flying.)

Sami, undercover as Noor, realizes he’s got to fire his machine-gun some to make it look good, so he aims a little high and lets the lead fly. The hovercraft column fans out into the oasis and start mowing down the boats of the idle rich.

Being hugely outgunned sends the heroes into frantic action.

Ali runs around looking for more firepower. A guy brings a case but it’s just full of, you know, 9mm pistols. Ali shrieks, “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”

Back on his hovercraft, Sami does a lot of property damage, but manages not to kill anyone. Not so, of course, with the rest of the hovercraft. There’s blood in the water.

Danny and DeMont notice Malcolm and Lisa escape into a panic room, just as they see a hovercraft making for a series of staircases at the back of the mansion. Apparently, the driver of the hovercraft plans to bring the monstrosity right inside! Danny sprints at the lead hovercraft to close the distance, while DeMont runs upstairs looking for a bigger gun.

DeMont kicks open a set of double doors to find none other than Sheik Fisal hunkered down behind his desk. He shouts, “I don’t know what they paid you to kill me, but I’ll double it.” DeMont says he’s just looking for a gun, but would be happy with some cash, too. Fisal hits a secret switch, and the wall opens up to reveal the typical action movie wall o’ guns. Grabbing an egregiously large sniper rifle, he heads for the roof.

He gets there just in time to see Danny Wong leap into the air, bounce off the skirt of the hovercraft, and execute a perfect front-flip onto the deck. (As with seemingly every Stunt Move Danny tried for the entire session, Brian rolled a 10+.) DeMont starts lining up the shot with the rifle and realizes he knows the gunner. “Sami? What the F@#K?” he exclaims.

However, the camera stays mostly focused on Danny as he kicks all kind of ass. Mooks emerge from the guts of the hovercraft and he takes them out with ease. Danny hurls Sami off the hovercraft, not realizing he’s a possible ally. Eventually the only person left to take on is Zhaglool, who’s still at the helm. Rather than waste his energy. Danny aims the pintle-mounted MG at the pilot’s cabin, and turns Zhaglool into a meatmist-colored memory.

Sami, who’d gotten trapped between a marble column and the skirt of the hovercraft (a rock and a soft place?), slumps to the ground relieved as the vehicle powers down. By this point, our heroes have all made it to the vicinity of the hovercraft, but there’s no rest for the weary!

Their attention is grabbed by the screams of Malcolm back inside the house. A squad of drug dealers is dragging Malcolm towards the front of the compound, and Lisa seems to be trotting along with them. (Apparently she was all too happy to sell out her despicable brother.) The assembled heroes give chase.

The bad guys get to their hovercrafts first, but the heroes discover they have their choice of crazy-awesome valet-parked rides to go after them with. DeMont points to the brand new Tesla and everyone nods. The gang, now assembled in the Tesla, gives chase. They’re going after a two hovercraft column. (With Malcolm and Lisa in the lead hovercraft.) En masse they blaze away at the rear hovercraft. They lads in the hovercraft aren’t idiots, once they realize there’s armed pursuit, they turn off into the desert.

Ali, driving the Tesla, does his best to keep up. He pulls off some very slick maneuvers that allow Danny to get on to the back of the nearest hovercraft. Danny manages to take it out (with some grenades down the hatch if I remember correctly), but the hovercraft with Malcolm and Lisa zooms off into the desert.

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Spirit of 77 – Bicentennial Blues @ KublaCon (Memorial Day Weekend)


I’m running a session of the Apocalypse World Engine RPG Spirit of 77 at KublaCon this Memorial Day weekend. (Check out KublaCon here.) The awesome guys from MonkeyFun Studios have given me a lovely packet of prizes to to reward your awesome and entertaining play and your support of their game.

Here are the details…

Title: Spirit of 77 – Bicentennial Blues
Date/Time: Saturday @ 6pm
Duration: 6 Hours
Event ID: 42797
Location: 2063-A
# of Players: 7
GM / Judge: Charles Picard

Last year was the Bicentennial, and all Uncle Sam has to show for it is a giant-sized hangover. What guitar-waving, car-exploding, street-fighting, Snake River Canyon-jumping insanity will birthday numero 201 bring? Can.. You… DIG IT?

Spirit of 77 is an Apocalypse World Engine RPG featuring two-fisted action in a fantastically turbo-charged dream of 1970s funkiness. In this version of the ‘70s Tricky Dick managed to dodge Watergate and “visitors” walk among us. PCs can be Kung-fu fighters, good-ol’-boy truckers, starry-eyed rockers, hardboiled sleuths, and more, all jam-packed into one funky, easy to learn game system.

Session will begin with fast, fun, and flexible character generation that allows you to recreate any figure from ‘70s pop culture. The scenario will take place on July 4, 1977. The plot will emerge from character backstories and interaction between the GM and the players. Come ready to make bold choices and to have some fun.

Actual Play of Action Movie World, There Will Be Bullets – Part 1 of 2

ACTION_MOVIE_WORLD_-_First_BloodI discovered Action Movie World, a Powered by the Apocalypse Game by Ian Williams, thanks to a post from D. Vincent Baker. He’s the man who got the PtbA revolution started back in 2010 with the original Apocalypse World rules.

AMW has some interesting features. You play an actor, playing a character, in a big dumb action movie. So, if your character dies, your actor can still come back and play another character in the next flick. Each player gets to pick a playbook representing one of the various action movie stereotypes. Once you’ve got your characters you can pick one of the emblematic action movie script playbooks for your flick. Your movie might take one session, or a few.

I knew our session needed to be a one-off. With my gang’s often busy schedules, I decided to GM a session instead of having a birthday party. If we’re going to go to the trouble of arranging to meet, why not get some gaming in?

Half my group wanted to rock a science fiction script, and the other half wanted some cop movie goodness. Rather than simply break the tie, I had each group pitch me (The Director) on their concept. In the end I picked the Cop flick, which had a distinct Rush Hour tang.

Our Lead actor was Hong Kong action veteran Yuen Lung playing DANNY WONG, an Interpol agent based out of Abu Dhabi. His on screen pal (DeMONT LeTROIT) was played by Lex Fox, part-time comedian, part-time action star, full-time badass. As part of our set-up we discovered that Danny and DeMont had a past together. They’d teamed up to break an international gun smuggling ring out of Atlanta.

Another character, ALI HAZARD (played by the inestimable Schwarzenegger Willis, III) was Danny’s friend, another Interpol officer from the Abu Dhabi office.

David Black played the elusive SAMI. He’s (apparently) all things to all people. He’s an arms dealer, Interpol snitch, war buddy of Ali Hazard, CIA asset, and who knows what else.

So, to take a step back for a moment, we’d established the following cast for our game: 

  • Our Lead actor, Yuen Lung (the Pugilist) playing Danny Wong as run by Brian;
  • Our “second banana,” Lex Fox (the Yeller) playing DeMont LeTroit as run by Cliff;
  • and our supporting cast, David Black (the Thespian) playing Sami (aka Noor) as run by Joe; and, last, but certainly not least, Schwarzenegger Willis, III (the Smartass) playing Ali Hazard as run by Greg.

So, here’s how we put it all together to get our movie going. Please bear in mind that we’re emulating ‘80s movies here, so the following is not exactly over-flowing with politically correct ideas…

In the film’s prologue we meet Sami, posing as one of his many covers, Noor. Apparently Noor owes a big time drug dealer, Jafara (aka Jafara the Butcher), a favor. Jafara’s son, Zhaglool, and Zhaglool’s right hand man, Ikram, come by in the middle of the night to tell Noor it’s time to “pay up.” They drive him out into the desert where there are a number of car’s already parking around a tight cluster of large vehicles covered with camo-netting.

We meet Jafara for the first time as he emerges from the shadows. He’s a wiry and leathery old Bedouin with wild, unkempt hair. He stares at “Noor” with the unnerving combination of one brown eye and one piercing blue eye. Just as Sami starts to get extremely uncomfortable, Jafara embraces him.

He whispers into Sami’s ear that he must watch his son Zhaglool. “Have you read your Freud, Noor? The Son must Kill the Father! But I’m not ready to die.”

Jafara turns to his group of assembled thugs and declaims, “Something has been stolen from us, and this I will not abide! Either we will get what we are owed, or we will sever the thief’s head and hang it on the highest hill!”

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I’m back!

So, I’m afraid I got swallowed up by the #toomuchcontent black hole. My reason, I’ve been too busy creating my own content to post.

However, with the easing of my wife’s schedule for the summer I’ve got more time to dedicate to things like blogging. First up on the docket is a long overdue play report of a session of Ian Williams excellent RPG Action Movie World. These reports always run long for me, so I’m breaking it up into two parts. Part One will drop tomorrow morning.

Also, there have been some exciting developments on the career front. I’ve got a new writing partner, Brian, and we’re hard at work on a couple of different projects. If the financing and timing work out this summer, he’ll be shooting a short film of a script I wrote for him called Mancetter. It’s not a done deal at this point, so I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic. Also, Brian and I are hard at work on a treatment of an action-comedy for the Chinese market. We have a producer contact we are hoping to “wow,” and if that works out, we’ll move on to producing a script. I think we’ve got a solid concept, but the only thing that really matters is if the powers that be like it.

In any case, I’m very excited about my collaboration with Brian, and I think we’re doing high quality work. If none of the current projects work out, I still think our collaboration is going to bear a lot of fruit down the line.

So, if things works out, I’ll have more to post about film work than I thought I would. In the meantime expect more RPG-related goodness!

Running Lady Blackbird at DunDraCon 40

Lady_Blackbird_DDC40My recent trip to DunDraCon was my second, but my first as a volunteer. I’d tried to schedule my session of Lady Blackbird for nighttime — mainly because that’s when I’m usually at my best as a GM. Unfortunately it ended up being slotted for 2 pm Sunday. This is just about the exact point at a convention when I feel like curling up in a ball on one of those comfy hotel lobby chairs. I remember sitting with my buddy Joe at about noon and telling him that getting pumped up to run a game was about the last thing I felt like doing. He reminded me that the players would provide a nice dose of energy, and I agreed, hoping that he’d be right.

My room for running Lady Blackbird was tucked away in an area behind the seating for the hotel restaurant. Not only that, but it was a room off of another room. There wasn’t another game scheduled for our 4 hour block, and I knew our set-up would be a perfect for a story-heavy game  — as long as the players could find it.

Michael, who was hoping to crash the game, was on hand a good hour before it started. We chatted for a while as I did my minimal set-up. Eventually a number of people trickled in… enough that I had to start a list to fill in for possible no-shows. We ended up having exactly five players, though only two were actually registered. (It always pays to try to crash a game at DunDraCon.)

As you may already know, John Harper’s lovely (and free) RPG, Lady Blackbird, comes out of the box with 5 pre-made characters, each with a clear story niche. (For more about Lady Blackbird generally check my post here.)

The roles and players were as follows:
Lady Blackbird (played by Michael) – “An Imperial noble, in disguise, escaping an arranged marriage so she can be with her lover”
Naomi Bishop (played by Adrian) – “Former pit-fighter and bodyguard to Lady Blackbird”
Cyrus Vance (played by Duane) – “An ex-Imperial soldier turned smuggler and soldier-of-fortune, Captain of The Owl”
Kale Arkam (played by Cindy) – “A burglar and petty sorcerer, first mate and mechanic of The Owl”
Snargle (played by Davi, if I’m spelling it right) – “A goblin sky-sailor and pilot of The Owl”

(This is probably already apparent to you, but The Owl is the sky-ship the characters travel around in.)

I passed out the character sheets, let each player have a few minutes to absorb the vibe of the game (and their character), and talked about the rules. One of the game’s GM principles is to “Listen & Ask Questions; Don’t Plan.” Last time I ran Lady Blackbird, I waited until the game was under way to ask questions. This time I changed things up by starting in right away. (I can’t recommend this approach enough. It helped me zero in on what the players wanted right away, and got us off to a flying start.)

Since Lady Blackbird is running away from her fiancé, it was natural to ask about him. Michael gave me a great name, Lord Benson Albrecht, and when prompted, some really unlikable qualities. We discovered that Lord Albrecht was condescending, considered himself a big game hunter, and was disgustingly rich.

In the setup for the game, Lady Blackbird isn’t just running away from her fiancé, though, she also running towards bad-boy pirate king Uriah Flint. When I asked Lady Blackbird if she’d stolen anything from her family home to offer up as a token dowry to Flint, she told me about the sword Heartpiercer. (I certainly liked the sound of that!) Heartpiercer was a family heirloom that was used in the duel where her grandfather won her grandmother’s heart.

We also found out during setup that Snargle had actually been kidnapped to become a part of Albrecht’s menagerie… and that Cyrus Vance had rescued him from that fate.

I’d been considering bringing Lord Albrecht in relatively late in the story, but now that I had two characters who already loathed him (along with the fact that I could play an annoyingly foppish NPC in my sleep) I decided to bring him in as quickly as possible.

The scenario for Lady Blackbird starts in medias res with the Owl having already been captured and brought on board the huge Imperial cruiser, Hand of Sorrow. It’s only a matter of time before the identity of Cyrus Vance is discovered, so the game begins with a healthily ticking clock. (In fact, we decided to up the stakes even more by having Vance be the former commander of the Hand of Sorrow.)

As the crew of the Owl discusses how to get out of the cell they find themselves in, Bishop knocks the door off its hinges with a flying kick. The guards are easily subdued. Soon the motley bunch are headed through the bowls of the ship. They hide when they hear a patrol coming, most of them under the deck plating, and Bishop up above the corridor in a tangle of conduit and pipe.

Lady Blackbird hears a familiar lisping voice say, “I certainly hope you’ve found my fiancé, Captain; there’ll be quite a reward for you if you have.” She instantly realizes that fate has brought Lord Albrecht right to her. The group overpower the patrol and grab a stunned Albrecht. They take him hostage and use him as leverage to get off the ship.

Once the Captain of the Hand of Sorrow recovers from a near-strangling at the hands of Bishop, he gives the order to fire on the Owl. Taking evasive action, Snargle dives down into the Lower Depths. He finds an encrudded cave on a floating island of garbage to park the ship in when the Hand of Sorrow switches to using “altitude charges.”

The Sorrow moves out of range, but not before rousing a nearby sky squid. Thanks to a blown piloting roll, the sky squid grabs the Owl, and instead of attempting to tear it apart, it decides to try to mate with it. After half an hour of passionate love-making, the Owl and her crew are a little worse for wear.

Some discussion with Kale Arkham reveals that his sometime lady-friend, Fiona Quinn, runs a combination fencing operation/brothel on Nightport. He thinks that if anyone would know how to get to Uriah Flint’s lair in the Remnants, it would be her.

During this voyage, Albrecht, who doesn’t seem to realize he’s not in charge anymore, suffers a number of degradations. Bishop pops him in the face for mouthing off to Lady Blackbird. He can’t really fathom how much Lady Blackbird loathes him until she tells him that she wants to make him watch as she consummates her marriage to Uriah Flint. (This started as just a nasty thing to say, but as you shall see, it ended up providing great fodder for the game.)

By this point in the session things were popping along wonderfully. People were tossing ideas in and loose threads were being followed with gusto. Here’s an emblematic example. We hit a point in the game where one of the characters wanted a drink, and I said, okay, but we need some sort of space liquor, something for this setting. Davi said, well there are these Sky Squids.. and I followed up by saying, so, like, a liquor made from fermented squid fat… and Duane countered, no squid ink. We all laughed. Oh yeah, I said, that would leave your tongue so black… and then somebody else added, Black Tongue, that’s what it’s called! (And if I play Blackbird again, Black Tongue will surely be in the liquor cabinet.)

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The New Brutality – Exerting Content Control over my RPG Collection


The Digital Wing of the Charles Picard Gaming Library

It’s finally dawned on me that I can’t trust my bookshelves anymore to tell me when my RPG collection has gotten out of hand. With the growing ability to get quality inexpensive, or even free, pdf content, it’s easier than ever to end up with a collection that no human being could read in a lifetime. I’d have no problem with that if I were just a collector. But I made a commitment to myself a long time ago that if I was going to add something to my collection, it was going to have do a little work for me at some point.

What do I mean by work?

The ultimate, of course, is getting the game to the table. It’s always a challenge and a thrill to get to GM something new… particularly something that requires a different perspective than most other games. Let’s say something like Fiasco or Microscope that just sits in a different part of your brain than most traditional games. So, yes, running a game, or even getting to play it meets my definition of a game that’s earning its keep.

Then there are those things kept around for “research” purposes. These are things that I’m probably not going to play (like any of the titles from my vast Traveller library), but that are full of useful concepts, plot lines, or other bits to steal or hack. This is a hazy category, for sure, and ripe with potential for abuse.

Lastly, we find the things kept around for purely sentiment reasons. Things like my big block of early Hero Games books, or the gorgeous and obscure Hidden Kingdom, that I picked up for a song at an old game store. So pretty, so unlikely to ever get played.

Okay, but when you are going to get around to this New Brutality business?

Ah, yes. Thank you for asking. I’ve thought for some time that I’ve been acquiring RPGs too quickly. This was really driven home to me a few weekends ago when I visited my friend Brian. He has a significant number of game books, maybe a couple of hundred, and I asked how much of his library he’d actually read. He said, to my amazement, that he’d basically read all of it… give or take some skimmed spell lists. I shuddered a little at the thought of committing to reading all of my 500 or so different RPG books.

I have no real way of knowing without putting a lot of time into figuring it out, but I’d be surprised if I’ve read a quarter of my collection. (And I may even be further behind than that.) Here’s my stuff over on RPGGeek.com. I do my best to keep things up to date, but I’ve even fallen behind on that.

So for the rest of the year I’m employing the 5-to-1 Rule. I’ve got to read 5 books from my collection for every 1 new book I acquire. (I think I can hear my wife fainting in the background.) Just to be clear, this isn’t a cost saving measure, although I won’t mind that aspect of it. I just want to know what my collection actually is. I think I’m going to have to amnesty my existing Kickstarter* commitments, though. Otherwise I’m never going to feel like I’m making any progress.

I’ve come up with a system to weight the value for different RPG products since they can be of wildly different lengths.

Core Books – 2 credits. Unh-huh. The tomes of the door stop, roach-killing variety are worth 2 reads. Unless you have an atypical brain chemistry, getting through a core book, and absorbing what you’ve read, takes a long time.
Indie Game/Splat Book/Typical Supplement – 1 credit. These typically weigh in at 100 or 200 pages and without all the tremendous rules overhead go relatively quickly.
Magazine/Indie Supplement – .5 credit. It doesn’t take that long to read a Fiasco playset or a Hillfolk series pitch

So that’s it. Pretty simple. Read what I’ve got, or give up getting new books.

I thought about calling this post The New Austerity, but somehow that doesn’t capture the essence of how hard it’s going to be to put the breaks on myself. I keep telling myself it’ll be good for me.

We’ll see.

*Current Outstanding Game Kickstarters
Project: Dark
Blades in the Dark
Wrath of the Autarch
Dungeon Crawl Classics 4th Ed
Apocalypse World 2nd Ed