tabletop games

The Networks (Formal Ferret Games)
Designed by Gil Hova
Artwork by Heiko Günther and Travis Kinchy


Damn, I love this game! The premise of The Networks is that each player is running a fledgling television station. Each network has a minuscule deck of three starting shows with zero viewers, one star, and one advertisement. The game is played over the course of Five Seasons, or rounds, with each season 1, 2-3, and 4-5 bringing different television shows with different requirements and benefits. At the end of each season, income/expenses are calculated, and viewership (the main scoring mechanic) is tallied. At the end of season 5, whichever network has the highest number of viewers wins.

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Cestina Saga
Written by André La Roche


Cestina Saga is a deep fantasy setting using the Fate Core mechanics. Akin to Game of Thrones, this is a world where the power rests in the hands of aristocratic houses. Unlike GoT, the fantasy elements are more prevalent with centaur-like Khorsa, vegetative fey, and wolf people intermingled with humans.My game was by Mark Diaz Truman, co-founder of Magpie Games and co-author of Urban Shadows, Cartel, and co-author on a seemingly endless stream of great gaming content. I’d played Cartel and Magpie’s still in development Zombie World with Mark before and knew this would be a fun experience.

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Impulse Drive
Written by Adrian Thoen

impulse driveThe game space Powered by the Apocalypse occupies has become fairly bloated in the last five years. With any mechanic that becomes popular, there is a high chance of the output becoming diluted with less than stellar content. One genre that designers have made multiple attempts at using the PbtA framework with has been space opera/science fiction action. It’s this type of game that designer Adrian Thoen has sought to leave his mark on with the ever evolving Impulse Drive. Thoen credits Firefly, Mass Effect, and Farscape among his influences and they can be felt in every aspect of the game.

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Cthulhu Dark
Written by Graham Walmsley

cthulhu dark

Cthulhu and Lovecraft are so prevalent in the world of tabletop it is often hardly worth noticing when someone comes along with these names slapped on their product. Every noteworthy game like Munchkin, Gloom, or Smash Up will inevitably have the Cthulhu expansion. The tabletop RPG world has Call of Cthulhu at the top of a virtual mountain of madness of games (Trail of Cthulhu, Age of Cthulhu. Delta Green, etc.). There are some great games amongst all of this, but for me personally, I am very picky about how horror and games meet, especially the weird fiction genre of Lovecraft. My preference is always for a role-playing system that is light and allows for a lot of creative freedom at the table. I know this is not everyone’s style of game, but after writing lesson plans for weeks and weeks and weeks, if I run something I want to have to do very little prep-work and be surprised by my players and where they take the story. Cthulhu Dark seems to do just that.

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Origins 2017 has come and gone. My time at the convention is spent mainly in the Games on Demand space, a venue where around eight GMs offer a menu of tabletop RPGs. For the cost of two generic con tokens, you get a space at a table and a one-shot game of approximately four hours. This was my third year to attend Origins and it felt very different from the previous years. I’ll get into more of that in my wrap up post on Saturday.

One great addition to Games on Demand was a Boarding Pass system. In years past, the line for GoD at Origins has been an unwieldy beast, requiring players to stake out a spot an hour or more in advance or risk losing their chance at a game they wanted. There was some discontent between GoD and con-goers who thought their pre-purchased tickets applied in this venue the same as their spot at a Shadowrun or Pathfinder table. The compromise of the Boarding Pass was beautiful in my opinion. Onto my first game of the con:

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We began our session with anti-mutant protests right outside Dr. Green’s clinic, a known safe place for mutants. A counter protest also showed up in support of the mutants and police were present to keep things from escalating. Ajax and Monster were working at the time, and both had to temper their personal feelings. Though they did spy an unmarked armored truck out of which a small squad of SWAT-like soldiers emerged. They hung back, but something about them rubbed Ajax the wrong way. The shelter was located in a district called The Tumbledown, which came from a devastating earthquake decades ago. Ajax takes advantage of that fact and uses his geo-manipulation just to rattle the earth beneath the protestors enough that they are scared away by a minor tremor.


The Order - Shooting Star

Shooting Star, the speedster member of The Order

The next day, an explosion is heard in the skies of Halcyon City, and smoke is seen coming from The Panopticon, the floating island headquarters of The Order. Ajax and Shatterstorm are in class at Halcyon High. Shatterstorm is easily able to excuse himself due to his frequent work at his dad’s laboratory at the University. However, Vice Principal Quesada remembers Ajax ignoring him when he left the other day to deal with Risk Imsit. Quesada is hearing none of Ajax’s excuses and sends him back to class. To help, Shatterstorm sets off the fire alarm, and the entire student body is rushed outside. Quesada tries to keep an eye on Ajax and loses him in the crowd.


Ajax and Shatterstorm meet up with Sparks and Monster, and the four fly Sparks’ ship to dock with the Panopticon. On board they find American Steel battered and beaten. He tells them the “thing” is in the labs before passing out. Sparks’ AI D.A.D. brings Steel to the sickbay while the Refugees continue. They head to the anti-gravity generator and get it back online, so the island isn’t on the verge of crashing into the city. Then they head to the labs but get sidetracked on the way from cries of help in the holding cells. Risk Imsit, the alien bounty hunter who tried to return Sparks to Rio Prime, is being manipulated by strange disruptions in the gravitons on board. He’s rescued and accompanies the Refugees to the labs.

In the labs, the Refugees find Timekeeper containing a strange cloaked figure in one of her time bubbles. Shooting Star and The Badge lay unconscious on the ground. There’s no sign of the occultist Mr. Phantasmo. The block of Ifritium taken by the Order lays in chunks nearby, the team making the inference that this cloaked figure emerged from the stone. Sparks’ wrist device tells her the device is in the room and she identifies it as the ornate belt the cloaked one is wearing. Shatterstorm manipulates the gravitons around the time bubble and snatches the belt, which ends up containing a small piece of Ifritium. The time bubble shatters and Timekeeper goes hurtling through the walls of the facility.

The cloaked figure eyes the new challengers and acknowledges Shatterstorm by speaking an ancient form of Obrijianian, the language of Shatterstorm’s birthplace. He also appears to have the same powers as Shatterstorm, but more refined and able to manipulate gravitons on a much larger scale. The cloaked one refers to Shatterstorm as “grandson.” A battle ensues and ends with the cloaked one blasting a hole through the Panopticon and flying away. The Refugees message AEGIS who say they have a ship on the way, however, the cloaked figure intercepts and kills everyone onboard, crushing the vessel into a small piece of metal scrap.


Villain - Impetus

Impetus, master of gravity and ancestor of Shatterstorm?

After failing to get ahold of his father, Shatterstorm leads to the team to Dr. Batin’s lab at Ditko University. Dr. Batin is there working and appears shocked to see them, though his son senses something off in the gravitational field in the room. The cloaked one reveals himself, having manipulated the gravity of the light in the room to conceal himself. A second fight begins that leaves Ajax miles away with multiple fractures and unconscious. Through distraction and manipulation, the cloaked one is eventually taken down, but not before it is revealed that Dr. Batin is simply a graviton construct, an illusion. AEGIS arrive and lock the villain up, coding the name Impetus onto his cell. However, Dr. Batin is still missing.


Ajax is in the Halcyon metahuman hospital and receives a call from his parents that they will be having a conversation about his future with the Refugees. He also receives a video message from his villainous former mentor Croydon Samford (who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity). Samford hints that they will be seeing each other soon and attached an encrypted data file. Sparks is finally contacted by her father, The Grand LeBon of Rio Prime, who explains his desperation to get her back to her homeworld: He is dying and needs her to run the planetary industry. Senator Hu’s anti-mutant legislation has led to the development of a private security force, Vanguard, a subsidiary of BanCon Industries to help quell tension in urban areas. Things are looking dire for the Refugees with one more session before a hiatus.




We kicked off our first full session of Masks: Refugees with our characters in their personal lives. Sparks has offered up her home/spaceship to Monster, who is actually homeless. Sparks, whose entire race has been inspired by pop culture from the 1980s, as her ship taking the form of a suburban home complete with a white picket fence and a tree house in the backyard. However, her ship is parked in the middle of a gentrified urban


D.A.D, the artificial intelligence on Sparks’ ship.

block, so it sticks out like a sore thumb, saves the hypno-inducer that causes people to just glance over it most of the time. Her onboard A.I. is named D.A.D. and appears as Greg Evigan from My Two Dads. His personality is modeled after cool sitcom dads from the 1980s though he shifts into a stoic mode when emergencies occur. Her race is known as the Duranians. We also established that Sparks’ native language would destroy human brains, so human minds have evolved to mishear the words and replace them with common nouns. Her mother’s name is heard as Queen Diamond when spoken, for example.


Since the first game session, I’ve built out the Duranians a bit more. Their homeworld is Rio Prime, and Sparks’ dad holds the title of The Grand LeBon. A cultural revolution was occurring at the same time transmissions of Earth culture from the 1980s were intercepted. As a result, their society now looks like America circa 1985.

Across town, Akil Batin aka Shatterstorm is helping his father, Professor Batin at Halcyon University with a shipment that has arrived from their home country of Obrijan. Despite the ongoing civil war there, the Professor was able to obtain a block of a pure element with a strong effect on gravitons. The Professor believes this element may be tied to his family’s abilities to manipulate gravity. Mishaps occur when he attempts to break a chunk off, and Akil begins to hear a voice emanating from the massive monolith, beckoning him to come closer and embrace his power. Akil holds back and gets a great excuse to leave when an alien vessel arrives at Sparks’ place demanding her return to Rio Prime.



Risk Imsit, intergalactic bounty hunter

Ajax is in the middle of class when the alien invasion lockdown drill occurs. He skips school despite protestations from Vice Principal Quesada and meets up with the Refugees. The alien ship, an obvious junker, unloads some refurbished strike drones who blast open the door of Sparks’ house. Monster plows into them creating an opportunity for Sparks to reconfigure an old block cell phone into a one use teleporter that pops the team onto the ship. Shatterstorm and Ajax use their powers to crush and destroy mecha-tentacles that emerge from the walls to bind them while Sparks and Monster find the engine room and disconnect the fusion core. The Refugees storm the control deck and find bounty hunter Risk Imsit there, having taken up the reward offered by The Grand LeBon to bring his daughter back. Sparks uses her pheromone powers to enamor Imsit and convince him to leave Earth.


However, The Order arrives this time with The Badge (shield bearer), Shooting Star (speedster), and Mr. Fantasmo (occultist) in their line up. They immediately screw up the headway the Refugees made with Imsit and demand that he must be turned over to AEGIS. Sparks tries to use a holographic communication with her mother citing intergalactic treaties about extradition, but The Badge counters with a more masterful knowledge of the law. Sparks is obviously pissed and Imsit, still in his charmed stupor is taken off.

Monster and Ajax head off to their regular volunteering at a clinic/shelter run by Dr. Green. Dr. Green is an Iraq war vet who had her skin turned green from toxic chemical agents. No powers, just green skin. She is incredibly empathic and focuses on helping vets, runaway kids, and battered women at her shelter. She counsels Ajax about defying authority at school and how he needs to think about doing what will lead him to a better future, not returning to who he used to be. The calm is interrupted by a special announcement about anti-mutant legislation proposed by Halcyon’s own Senator Victor Hu. Senator Hu speaks from the floor of the Senate explaining that self-made metahumans are real heroes, while mutants born from accidents or mistakes of nature need to be curtailed and more aggressively vetted. The legislation gives BanCon Industries a contract to construct Mutant Evaluation Centers to temporarily displace America’s mutant populations til they can be registered and partnered with a metahuman mentor. Monster is so angry she destroys the television.



American Steel, one of The Order

Sparks is fuming from The Badge when DAD suddenly announces that a Duranian artifact has been detected within the city. His triangulation leads her to Professor Batin’s office and the block of what is now being called Ifritium. Shatterstorm has a rough interaction with his sister Amira who is reaching a boiling point about being boxed out of the family’s heritage. He and Ajax debate with Sparks about how to deal with the element. They settle on contacting The Order for help, despite Sparks’ protestations. Arriving from their floating base, The Panopticon, The Order (this time Shooting Star, Mr. Fantasmo, and American Steel) want to crack the Ifritium open. Ajax tussles with American Steel and, despite no one ever have before, wrests Steel’s Atomic Sledgehammer from his hands. The Order is visibly pissed and announced they will be taking the Ifritium with them. Shatterstorm thinks it’s for the best despite the fact that how angry his father will be and Ajax is in supreme cocky mode.