Bonus Episode: Harvesting Souls at Dragonmeet 2014

What’s hot in indie story games seminar and a review of 2014

This is the seminar from Dragonmeet on 6th December 2014. “Some of the most passionate story gamers in the country share games you should know about, what’s exciting them most right now, and how to get the game you want. We also cover a review of the trends in 2014 in indie rpg and story games.”

Length: 74 minutes.

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Anita Murray is the Contribution to Irish Gaming winner 2013 and the Irish National Game Writer Award winner for 2012. As well as organising design Playstorms for London Indiemeet, she’s also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Gazebo (an Irish and UK-based online RPG ‘zine) and a Twitching Curtain podcaster.

James Torrance is the founder of the Cambridge One-Shot Roleplaying Game group, which he created in February this year and which has grown to nearly a hundred members. He credits low-prep indie games with making the Cambridge group’s informal drop-in play model possible.

Joanna Piancastelli is a regular host on the story gaming podcast The Twitching Curtain, and has GM’d for indie Games on Demand on both sides of the Atlantic. She recently won an award in the first Golden Cobra Challenge for her superpower freeform game Unheroes.

Rob Carnel began reviewing rpgs in 1993 with the zine Carnel and he’s currently the editor of the webzine Thee Rapture in which he reviews many new, experimental games. He’s also one of the most prolific GMs in the London indie scene, all of which has led him to have an extensive knowledge of games and mechanisms.

Stephanie Jackson is co-organiser of London Indie RPG Meetup group and has been avidly devouring indie games for around five years now, with increasing expeditions into the world of freeform larp and game design.

With moderator Epistolary Richard


  • Joanna Piancastelli on Always / Never / Now by Will Hindmarch (00:00:23)
  • James Torrance on Intrepid by John Keyworth (00:01:50)
  • Anita Murray talks on Night Witches by Jason Morningstar (00:03:01)
  • Rob Carnel on Kingdom by Ben Robbins and the Protocol game series by Jim Pinto (00:06:03)
  • Stephanie Jackson on Cheat your own Adventure by Shane Mclean (00:08:54)
  • Joanna Piancastelli on the increasing culture of playtesting (00:13:33)
  • Rob Carnel on the impact of Patreon (00:20:04)
  • Anita Murray on collaborative game design (00:29:48)
  • Stephanie Jackson on sharing characters and tweaking games (00:36:16)
  • Getting a game and James Torrance on setting up an indie gaming group (00:42:04)
  • Open Q&A intro (00:52:45)
  • Gaming in Europe (00:53:07)
  • Gaming online (00:55:37)
  • Designing and “the games you haven’t played” (00:59:17)
  • Game reviewing and finding the games you might like (01:07:14)
  • Getting your game playtested and then published (01:10:47)

Games Mentioned

Events and Groups Mentioned

Other Resources

Epistolary Richard also produced these flyers for the day (PDFs):

Episode Two: The Blue Clothespeg

Welcome to episode two of the Twitching Curtain. This episode mainly focuses on inclusivity. In the aftermath of controversies such as “gamer gate” and “consultant gate”, and recent moves by mainstream publishers to reflect greater diversity in their games, how can we attract under-represented groups into our wonderful hobby? We talk about best practice from a number of conventions, especially the UK’s Nine World’s Geekfest, and explore how we can all make our spaces safer and more welcoming for everyone.

Length: 79 minutes.

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Participants in this episode

  • Alex Gwilt-Cox
  • Anita Murray
  • Cat Tobin (Twitter: @CatTHM)
  • James Graham (Twitter: @JamesGraham)
  • Joanna Piancastelli


See episode zero.


  • Part One – Catch Up (00:00:00)
  • Part Two – Inclusivity (00:17:35)

Games Mentioned

Events and Groups Mentioned

Other Resources

Free RPG Day 2014

It’s Free RPG Day 2014, when your friendly local gaming shops give away free stuff!

If you’re interested in trying out small press and independently published story games, there are already lots of games out there you can try for free. Below is a list of a number of games that are out there.

The games marked with a [P] are pay-what-you-want. You can of course pay them nothing, but please consider contributing a few pounds or dollars as a sign of appreciation and to encourage designers to keep producing great games for us all to pay. A number of designers have other ways  you can help support them – please consider doing that as well.

But without further ado, here’s our list of games. If a game is marked in bold and italicised, it means that its a game we’ve either already plugged on the podcast or otherwise especially recommend:

If you know of a game that is available for free or on a pay-what-you-like basis online (maybe your game?), feel free to mention it below and we’ll consider adding it to the list.

If you live in London, why not come along to the London Indie RPG Meetup? We meet several times a month in central London and play these sort of games. Find out more on our Meetup page.

And, of course, please subscribe to the Twitching Curtain podcast!

New to story gaming? Start here!

In episode one of the Twitching Curtain, we discussed what games we thought were best for people new to story gaming. Lots of ideas were discussed, and it very much depends on your level of experience and what you’re interested in. But we managed to come up with a group of games that we think should be top of your list if you are looking to try out the hobby.

For the traditional roleplayer

The Owl from Lady BlackbirdIf you’re group has played a lot of traditional roleplaying games in the past, James Joyce recommended Lady Blackbird by John Harper (free). This game, a sort of steampunk mash up of Firefly and Star Wars, pits the crew of the pirate ship The Owl against an evil empire. The game is only 16 pages long, including character sheets for six players and all the (incredibly simple) rules.

Joanna Piancastelli also recommended Lady Blackbird, but suggested that a hack of it, Always/Never/Now by Will Hindmarch (pay what you want), might be better for people new to story gaming. This game is cyberpunk rather than steampunk and has many of the same features as the original, but has a more structured plotline for the Gamemaster (GM) to follow, which they may find helpful.

James also recommended InSpectres by Jared Sorenson (Indie Press Revolution) as a game which is easier on the GM if they are new to that style of game. Loosely based on Ghostbusters and Scooby Doo, in InSpectres you play a group of licensed hunters of the supernatural. Joanna recommended One Last Job by Grant Howitt (pay what you want), which is about a group of desperate, unlucky individuals on a last job to set them up for life, and Powers for Good by Sage LaTorra (pay what you want), in which you play a group of superheroes. All three games are more open ended than either Lady Blackbird or Always/Never/Now, but are designed to be up and running in a few minutes and simplified mechanics.

For people new to roleplaying

G x B CoverEpistolary Richard suggested that for people who had not played traditional roleplaying games, games without GMs might be easier to get into. His recommendation was the shoujo manga inspired dating game G x B by Jake Richmond and Heather Aplington (they have also produced a boy only variant B x B and a girls only variant G x G exists – all are available from the Celstyle website). In this game, shy freshman Momoko goes on three dates with her classmates to see who she should go steady with. When it isn’t your turn to be on the date, you can still intervene by setting up hazards which may hinder how the date went – and thus make you look good by default.

Centralising around the three dates, the game is highly structured, has a definite ending, and the player playing Momoko provides the other players with feedback as the game progresses, in the form of cards. The game also only takes 90 minutes, ensuring that it is much less likely to outstay its welcome.

Richard also recommended Love in the Time of Seið by Jason Morningstar and Matthijs Holter (Lulu) as a simple GM-less game that can easily be picked up. In this game, you are all playing members of the court of a fictional nordic kingdom as the king prepares to marry his daughter off to a treacherous earl. As well as the king, the princess and the earl, the other characters in the game are a Seiðkona, or witch, and a knight who is also a werewolf. The players take turns exploring the story and it has a system of “ritual phrases” to encourage player interaction in a more collaborative way.

Witch coverJames and Anita Murray recommended Witch: the Road to Lindisfarne by the Pompey Design Crew (available here). Similar in some ways to Love in the Time of Seið, but with more structure, in this game one person plays a woman who has confessed to witchcraft and inflicting a city with plague while the other players play townsfolk taking her to Lindisfarne to be burnt at the stake.

It should be noted that both Witch and Seið contain adult content and strong emotional themes. This may work well with your group, or it may be a real hindrance depending on how comfortable they will be exploring still type of story.

Finally, one thing to bear in mind with all games like these in which all the players equally share narrative control is that they require buy-in from everyone. Games with a GM, to some extent at least, allow players to coast as the GM can simply focus the spotlight on more engaged players. In games without a GM, it can be very hard to get a lot out of the game if one or more players doesn’t want to actively participate.


Fiasco coverI made the case for Fiasco by Jason Morningstar (Bully Pulpit Games), one of the more well known story games (thanks in part to its appearance in the first season of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop). In Fiasco you play people with “high ambitions and low impulse control”, desperate to make it big but probably doomed to fail; you explore the characters make their plans and then enjoy it as these plans go horribly wrong. The basic game comes with four settings to choose from – suburbia, a small American town, the Wild West and an antarctic base – and there are dozens of other playsets you can freely download from the publisher’s website (and even more unofficial ones!).

For me, Fiasco gives you just the right amount of framework to help inexperienced players get started with a game. The rules are simple and clear and the playsets allow a lot of scope and are full of ideas which you can use for inspiration, while still restricting you in such a way that it often forces you to go in unexpected directions. And one thing we all agreed on was that as a rulebook, Fiasco is one of the best laid out games available.

We did have some caveats however. I did say that as I’ve become more experienced as a story gamer, I have found the Fiasco’s system increasingly restrictive and clunky. James Joyce said that he had had experiences with Fiasco in which the game stalled after the initial set up as people struggled to turn the great ideas they had had into a workable story. He also warned against the natural tendency of a lot of first time players to try the more quirky playsets as opposed to the more mundane ones (we recommend you don’t try the Antarctic station playset if you’re playing for the first time, for instance). Joanna pointed out that compared to some of the other games in this article such as G x B and Witch, Fiasco games have very little structure.

But Fiasco is still a great starting point – “the gateway drug to story gaming”, as Anita put it. One of the ways in which the rulebook is useful is that it features an example of play to give you a clear idea of how the game works. A lot of rulebooks don’t have this. Fortunately, Epistolary Richard is in the process of producing a number of these to help people get started, along with a short video introducing each game. Check out his story game replays for G x B, Witch: the Road to Lindisfarne and Love in the Time of Seið.

So, those are our suggestions, but we’re very aware that this only scratches the surface! What story games would you recommend to someone who hasn’t played them before, and why do you feel they are especially accessible?

Episode One: A Baptism of Architecture

In retrospect, numbering our first episode “zero” wasn’t the best idea. 🙂

This, then is episode one – our second episode of the Twitching Curtain. In this episode our panels recommend the best games for people new to story gaming, discuss Knutpunkt 2014 and its impact on the UK LARP scene and talk about London Indiemeet’s recent “Playstorm”.

Length: 60 minutes.

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Available on iTunes

 Participants in this episode


See episode zero.

Part One – Catch Up (00:00:00)

Part Two – Games For Newcomers (00:10:30)

F Free

P Pay What You Want

Many of these games can be purchased from the publishers themselves and/or the following places:

Other references:

Part Three – Knutpunkt and Progressive Larp (00:32:40)

Part Four – Playstorm (00:48:40)

We’ll include links to any finished games from the Playstorm as we have them.

Conventions and Events

(last known date included – these are all annual events unless otherwise stated)

Groups and Businesses

Trying out Storium

At the time of writing, the Kickstarter for Storium is still live and has exceeded its initial target of $25,000 by more than 600%. If you don’t know already, Storium is a new website designed to make it easy to run story games online, aimed very much at the non-roleplayer. As someone who has never had much success with playing games online before, I was very interested in it and decided to try out its Kickstarter Beta. A group of fellow London story gamers joined me, and we’ve been experimenting with it for the last three weeks.

The first thing to bear in mind about Storium is where it stands in the taxonomy of story and roleplaying games. The game’s own tutorials will explain it much better than I can here, but suffice to say it uses a narrative driven system. There are no hit points, attribute scores or experience points, although the system is very much designed so that characters evolve over time. The game at the heart of the system encourages players to both explore subplots laid out by the game master (“narrator”) and divide their actions between “strong” moves which are typically successful and “weak” moves which are not.

The system at its core is incredibly simple, and one that you could quite easily port to the tabletop or even a larp (indeed, I’m considering doing so at some point with my current game). You can be up and running with a character in minutes and even without the tutorials could probably figure out what you need to do.

It is worth bearing in mind however that the system isn’t really designed for shared narrative control of the type that is common in a lot of story games. At it’s heart is a very traditional divide between game master and player. They’ve promised a future upgrade to establish a more shared narrative experience but in practice the system as it stands gives a player less narrative control than, for example, Apocalypse World and its descendants.

To be frank, the Apocalypse World balance between MC and player is much more to my tastes than what Storium currently has to offer. To a great extent, the game we’ve played over the last few weeks has been an attempt to force the system more into that direction, not always entirely successfully.

Our game, Lindvale Academy* (you’ll need a Storium account to read this page, sadly), is very much inspired by Avery Mcdaldno’s Apocalypse-powered Monsterhearts, albeit set in an English boarding school. Indeed, at set up, I simply took Avery’s descriptions from the Monsterhearts skins and made them “natures” for the players to choose from. Character creation was very smooth and we ended up with five very compelling and different teenagers.

If you’ve played Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts, you’ll know that the first session of your game consists of the MC and players working together to establish the setting. In the case of Monsterhearts, you draw a diagram of the various members of the player’s class at school and go around taking turns to establish who all the other class members are. I wanted to try and replicate that in game, without having to rely on some long message thread or a Google Doc which risked killing the game with dullness before it even began.

What I came up with was an idea to mix the introductory scene with a bit of setting creation. For the first scene, I created a number of one point challenges which the players about individuals in the classroom which players could use to define who they were, as well as offering them a number of assets representing people they knew (who again, they got to define).

This worked very well, with the players quickly establishing a huge range of different characters without me having to do anything, all the while developing a narrative as the various “popular kids” vied to establish dominance of the classroom. The only real issue with that scene was that at some points the narrative was a little out of order as players ended up making their moves at different times of the day. It would be nice to be able to go back and maybe move some of the player moves around so that they make a bit more sense, but it was by no means an insurmountable problem.

For the next two scenes, I attempted to do the same thing as we followed the characters through their day up. As time went on however, I think these establishing scenes became decreasingly useful and increasingly disjointed, as we placed characters in different locations and had to keep switching between the various plot threads.

What the system doesn’t let you do (at least not yet), is run several different scenes with different players at the same time. The remainder of our first chapter consisted of a variety of scenes involving just one or two characters. It quickly became apparent to me that the single character scenes were the least fun; not only did they shut out 80% of the players from the game for a day or so, but they were hard to keep interesting (admittedly, this is partly due to my own limitations as a GM and reluctance to make so called “hard moves”). Much more successful were the double handers, with either the characters bouncing off each other or against a common antagonist.

This leads me to another limitation of Storium in its beta stage: the lack of an explicit way for characters to fight each other (both in terms of fisticuffs and verbal assaults). We’ve tried two ways thus far: one is to set a single challenge that costs more points than the three a single player can use in a single scene, and award the “win” to whoever plays the most strong cards while awarding narrative control to whoever completes the challenge. That has worked okay a couple of times, but has the big disadvantage of benefitting the player who is online the most and is thus more capable of gaming it (for example, by holding back their last card to complete the challenge until the other player has run out of cards).

The system I think we’ve settled on in such cases is to set two separate challenges as orthogonal challenge. For example: set one player the challenge of punching the other in the face while setting the other player the challenge of humiliating their opponent in front of the rest of the class. This is fine per se, but ultimately leaves it for the narrator to step in and create the challenges – which they can’t actually do if the narrator has already dedicated too many challenge points to that scene already.

Much of this sounds rather critical, so I should take a step back and emphasise that these are the frustrations borne of playing a game that I’ve been really enjoying and exploring the limits of, and which appears to have maintained the players’ enthusiasm. We’ve managed to establish a compelling narrative and I’m really enjoying revealing the unfolding mystery and ensuing teenage misery. And as someone whose past attempts at play by forum and play by email have faltered before they even got started, the sheer amount of game we’ve managed to get through over the last three weeks is a selling point.

Overall, I’d have to say that Storium has a tremendous amount of potential. I just hope that with the success of the Kickstarter, they continue to develop it and explore different modes of play. For me, that is a much bigger selling point than having dozens of different playsets at my disposal which, frankly, I am unlikely to use.

* If you’re wondering, the image I used as the banner image for this game is from an Israeli supernatural teen drama called Split. Never seen it, but the picture is nice!

Story Games News 14 April 2014

Hi, James here. Hope you’ve enjoyed “episode zero” of our podcast. What feedback we’ve had so far as been incredibly encouraging, so thank you. We’ll be recording a new episode of the podcast soon, but while we wait, I thought I’d use this blog to link to interesting stuff that I’ve come across from the world of story gaming.

First up, there’s Storium, a new story game app for online play, which is currently being Kickstarted – if you back the Kickstarter you can be up and running with the beta version straight away. The lead game designer of the project is Will Hindmarch of Always/Never/Now and Project: Dark fame. Of course, online roleplaying is hardly a new thing – play by forum and email is almost as old as the internet itself. But this is an attempt to devise a system which is specifically designed for online play.

I have to admit that I’ve always struggled with play by email and play by forum – my attempts have come to a grinding halt pretty quickly. On the surface, Storium seems to fix a lot of the problems I have with it: it’s diceless, designed for asynchronous play and the website does the heavy lifting of the system for you. Most importantly, it’s an incredibly simple system. Each character starts off with a concept, a strength, a weakness and a subplot, and play is done by the game master setting a challenge level and players playing “cards” to meet that challenge. Although the beta version uses the traditional GM-and-players format, the players themselves have a lot of narrative control and a “shared narration” version is being considered after the finished game has been launched.

I’ve struggled a bit with getting my head around the system but after reading a few existing games, I think I’ve got the idea and I’m currently in the process of starting my own Monsterhearts-inspired game. The Kickstarter has been successful and they are now fully into stretch goal mode (which involves commissioning a number of guest writers to create more worlds for users to base their games on). Whether Storium has what it takes to still be around in five years time remains to be seen, but I’d certainly recommend you check out the beta and see what you think.

The Hood coverBritish designer James Mullen has just published The ‘Hood, an Apocalypse World hack for games based in the here and now, inspired by things such as Breaking Bad and The Wire. I haven’t had a chance to check this out so far, but have heard good things about it and love the concept. It’s definitely one I’ll be checking out soon, and you can currently purchase a print on demand version on Lulu.

James has started blogging about the game’s genesis. Interestingly, at one point the game was apparently heavily inspired by Agricola. This reminds me of another Apocalypse World hack (which I recommend) called Sagas of the Icelanders, which I pitched at the London Indiemeet as “Apocalypse World meets the Settlers of Catan“.

If you’re in London, there’s plenty going on. The London Indie RPG Meetup continues to grow, with its regular monthly meetup taking place this Saturday (19 April) and a new monthly weekday meetup scheduled to have its second session on Wednesday 7 May. In between on Saturday 3 May, Twitching Curtain participant Anita Murray is going to be hosting a “playstorm”. Like a regular Indiemeet, it will comprise of two sessions. However, this time the first session will entail designing a game which will be playtested in the second session. It sounds quite exciting. Check them all out on the Indiemeet meetup page.

That’s it from me for now. Think I missed something out? Give it a plug in the comments below! Thanks.

A Podcast about story gaming, roleplaying games and freeform