Tag Archives: always never now

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):

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?