Descent Into Midnight – Playtest 3

Last weekend marked the third playtest of Descent into Midnight. Taylor graciously ran the session. This was the first time I’d been able to sit down and actually play the game, and it was a fantastic experience.

We’ll be doing our official updates on the website, but if you’re looking for up to the minute updates, check out the Twitter feed. You can listen to this session here or over on the Riverhouse Games Game Closet feed.

The Cast

  • MC/DM: Taylor – our Design Lead, runs Riverhouse Games
  • Player: Me – our Project Lead
  • Player: Ryan – has literally played in more games of Descent into Midnight than anyone else at this point, also host of What’s Yr Fursona? podcast
  • Player: Darcy Ross – marine snail biologist, co-host of Cypher Speak podcast, and Community Relations Manager for Monte Cook Games

The Playbooks

  • The Monk-Templar (recently renamed the Empath): Darcy on this playbook. It focuses on absorbing the Corruption and negative emotions in others and using it to fuel their powers. As Taylor put it, while all of the members of the team are guardians, the Monk-Templar/Empath is a Guardian, with a capital G. Their primary stat is Hope. Darcy chose to take a hybrid form somewhere between a sand dollar and a humanoid.
  • The Living Weapon: Ryan took on the Living Weapon playbook. As the name implies, this one focuses on a character who has been created to enact violence, but is doing their best to be more than just a weapon. They have the ability to be truly brutal if they need to be, and rely on the Calm stat to keep their cool. Ryan chose a transparent echinoderm with a strong venom.
  • The Cultivator: I’ll be honest. This may be my favorite playbook. The cultivator uses psionic energy and biotech expertise to tend a garden that gives them access to special abilities or resources. They also have the ability to grow or power biotech devices with psionic energy. So if you want to play a character that has a Batman-like utility belt of cool gadgets, this character is one way to do that. Their primary stat is Altruism. I went with a large crab-like creature.
  • The Awakened: this playbook is all about being present and persisting against apathy. The Awakened is a creature that has become fully sentient, unlike its kin, that now has a responsibility to protect them. Their primary stat is Drive. They can call upon their kin to aid them, and are paragons of their kind.
  • The Seeker: this playbook is a little less well-defined at the moment. The Seeker reaches out to other planes, dimensions, or some other place to communicate with strange beings and spirits or seek out knowledge of the encroaching threat. Their primary stat is Community. They maintain a bit of distance from the community they serve to maintain perspective, which sometimes puts them at risk of isolation; the journeys into the places others cannot tread can be lonely.

The Game

This was my first time experiencing the game in action, and I think we learned a lot about what works and what might need improvement.

Character Creation

First, the game has a strong focus on creating unique aquatic creatures, and all three of the playtests so far have included intensely imaginative characters. While I played a large crab in this game, it seems like every few days I get a new idea for a character from seeing a bizarre, new-to-me sea creature on the Strange Animals Twitter feed. My latest inspiration is actually the Young Justice version of Blue Beetle, so unless something else strikes my fancy in the meantime, I intend to play a mollusk symbiote “wearing” a mammal. I’m thinking maybe a cuttlefish attached to a dolphin?

All of that is to say that you can and should let your imagination run wild when it comes to creating a character. So far I think we’re doing a great job of this. We’re working on a menu of additional powers based on your form (echolocation, armored carapace, bioelectric receptors, color-changing camouflage, etc). We had initially considered drawbacks as well, but decided against them.

Bonds, Relationships, Links to Other Characters

So far we haven’t explored the bonds to other characters or hooks in great depth (no pun intended). It’s something we’ll be looking into as we develop the playbooks further. The game is designed to encourage players to come together to face terrible threats that cannot be overcome simply or easily. We want to give the players a springboard to jump into the character and have strong cues for what their relationships with the other characters might be.

The game assumes that team is a tight-knit group. They share a psychic link. They have a shared mental space they can all occupy. Our job is to ensure the player has an easy way in to that.

Guided Meditation

Guided meditation as a technique for getting the players into a particular mindset is an idea I fell in love with as soon as we decided the characters would have a shared psionic link and have a sort of shared mental sanctuary. As we talked through it, Taylor brought in the idea that the sanctuary is reflected in a physical space. The team has a home base.

We’re still working on fleshing out the connection between their physical sanctuary and the shared mental space they can all inhabit, but a key component of this is the ability for the players to tap into their psionic potential through concentration and, basically, meditation.

The experiences I’ve had in yoga classes and a bit of dabbling in Taiko showed me the powerful effect of doing something as simple as closing your eyes and taking turns describing aspects of a scene, so it was something I knew right away I wanted to include.

In the playtest, we used it to build out the elements of the physical sanctuary. In the future, as we delve more into the mental aspect of the sanctuary, we’ll be using it as a technique to develop that as well.

Prologue Questions

One thing we want to emphasize with the game, as with many games using the Apocalypse engine, is player narrative control. In my “traditional” gaming experience (read Dungeons & Dragons, etc) I’ve had plenty of sessions where the DM presented information that failed to engage the players, even when the material being presented was interesting on an intellectual level, it was still someone else’s story.

For Descent into Midnight, we’re following in the footsteps of brilliant designers and using questions to build elements of the setting and get player investment. A dumb joke about “sea squirrels” during character creation became an integral part of the game. That can happen naturally, but we want to do everything we can to encourage it. In the playtest audio, you’ll hear Taylor ask us specific questions about the place where our characters live to establish details of the world that we’re all invested in.

I mention this in the debrief, but one of the things that worked really well was sticking to one question per person regarding the setting. When we’d initially created the questions, we’d thought of using a mechanic similar to Axon Punk, where the players each create a location, then pass it to another player to create an NPC in that location, then pass it again to create a trouble in that location.

As we explore longer term play, we may need to expand the amount of world building to ensure there are sufficient hooks for the story to continue play, but so far using a pared down version that presents the players with a clear picture of the setting with 3 to 5 elements has worked very well.

The Corruption

So far in our playtests, we’ve mainly engaged with the Corruption (the big bad evil thing) as having a physical manifestation in some form that can be attacked or battled in some way. Given that we’ve dealt exclusively in one shot games so far, it makes sense that the threat is something direct that the players can go out and engage with physically, or in a relatively direct psionic way.

To a lesser extent, we’ve dealt with the way that the Corruption can work its way into the players. Each playbook has a Corruption track that measures how much of the Corruption the character has taken on. This may mean that they’ve come into direct contact with some infected monster, or it may mean that they’ve experienced horrors that have left them vulnerable to darkness.

The Corruption is intended to be a mysterious malevolent, alien force from somewhere beyond. It can warp and twist living creatures and inanimate objects into horrible monsters, but it can also operate more subtly. It can poison the minds of thinking beings.

We still have a lot to discover about what the Corruption is, how we’ll present it to the players, and how that interacts with the Seeker’s ability to see or travel to other places. That said, we have enough to know that we want to try a game where the threat is much more subtle. What do you do as a super-powered psionic living weapon of an orca when the threat you face is a colony of octopuses living near a thermal vent who have suddenly decided to begin swimming down into the vents to their death for no apparent reason?

The game is designed to allow you to have action scenes and combat, but more than that, we want the characters to have to struggle with the repercussions of their actions, make tough choices, and deal with them together.

Muppet Babies RPG

It’s amazing how quickly an idea can come together when you’ve got a creative group on social media. This is the product of a quick brainstorming session on Twitter.

Muppet Babies was one of my favorite shows growing up, partly because it combined the Muppets with some of my favorite franchises. So here’s a quick hack of Lasers and Feelings for playing your very own game of Muppets goofing around in one of your favorite franchises.

The Premise

You and some friends will get together to play a quick game (likely 30 minutes – 2 hours) of Muppet babies going on an adventure. One of you will be the GM, running the game, and the rest will take on the role of Muppet babies. You’ll pick a universe or schtick to play in (Star Wars, a musical, a video game, etc) and do your best to make it through the plot of whatever story you’ve jumped into.

Players: Creating Characters

  1. Choose your form: frog, pig, bear, dog, vaguely humanoid thing, recognizably human person
  2. Choose a special ability: breaking the fourth wall, martial arts, terrible jokes, playing the piano, drumming, daredevil stunts, science
  3. Choose your number: pick a number from 2 to 5. A lower number means you’re better at MUPPET (doing patently ridiculous things, action-oriented tasks, knowing things you probably shouldn’t). A high number means you’re better at BABY (doing cute things, being uncoordinated, learning new things).
  4. Pick a name

You Have:

  • A diaper! You are a Muppet baby after all.
  • A costume appropriate to whatever story you end up in.
  • One plot-expedient item you declare when you decide to use it.


Rolling the Dice:

When you do something risky, roll 1d6 to find out how it goes. Add +1d if you’re working together with the other players, and +1d if it’s something related to your special ability. Roll your dice and compare each die result to your number.

If you’re using MUPPET you want to roll above your number.

If you’re using BABY you want to roll under your number.

  • If NONE of your dice succeed, it goes wrong. The GM says how things get worse somehow.
  • If ONE of your dice succeeds, you barely manage it. The GM inflicts a complication, harm, or cost.
  • If TWO of your dice succeed, you do it well. Hooray!
  • If THREE of your dice succeedyou get a critical success. The GM tells you some cool extra effect along with your success.

If you roll your number exactly on a die, you do something in true MUPPET BABY fashion. For each die you rolled your number on, you get one additional plot-expedient item you can use during the game.

The GM: Choose an Adventure

Pick a setting that the group is familiar with. Ideally everyone at the table will be familiar with the plot and tropes of the setting so you can all lean into them. Choose one of the options below or make up your own!

  1. Star Wars – You’ve got the plans to a secret space station, and you need to get them into the right hands!
  2. Indiana Jones – The Nazis are trying to get an artifact, but you and your friends can get there first!
  3. Star Trek – Uh oh, a mysterious alien is doing something strange on the planet below. Can you figure out what’s going on?
  4. Musical Theatre – Rogers and Hammerstein never made a musical with Muppets, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make your own!
  5. Muppet Treasure Island – who says it’s just for adult Muppets?
  6. Super Mario Brothers – A big scary spiky turtle guy kidnapped somebody and now you have to go rescue them!

And that’s it. Set up the familiar story and drop in the Muppet Babies to see how far off the rails everything goes. Then describe how the world reacts as the players barrel their way through the story, probably messing everything up in hilarious fashion.

New Descent Into Midnight Concept Art

This week saw some fantastic concept art come in for Descent Into Midnight. We’ve successfully completed two playtests and have started to hit our stride as to what is working with the playbooks and what we can improve. We’ve started to formalize our processes to ensure we can keep up the momentum we’re seeing right now.

If the playtests are anything to judge by, we’ve got a game that is going to be engaging, beautiful, and horrifying exactly when it needs to be. Can’t wait to see what’s coming up!


Jacob Blackmon:



Ben Sigas:

Fishlike Creature Fishlike Creature Aquatic Cityscape Aquatic Cityscape Aquatic Cityscape

Pulling Together / Sweaters From Home

Inspired by this year’s Game Chef challenge, I started work on an RPG that would incorporate the themes of Boundaries with the “ingredients” of Yarn, Echo, Smoke, and Cut. While I didn’t end up using all of them, it got the wheels turning.

Pulling Together

A crafty role-playing game about a tight-knit bomber crew trying to defect.

What you need to play:

  • Size 7-8 knitting needles (4.5 mm – 5.0 mm)
  • 8 ft (2.5 m) of medium weight yarn in a different color for each player
  • One 10-sided die
  • Scissors (preferably one for each player)

The story:

You and the other players are the crew of a bomber. You’ve been flying missions over the border  through hails of antiaircraft fire and over the smoking ruins of no man’s land every night for months. This afternoon you said goodbye to your loved ones, wearing the sweaters they made you to keep you warm high in the sky. You kissed them goodbye for the last time. You and your crewmates know something. Something terrible. And you have decided the only thing left to do… is defect.

The game starts as you take off from the landing field, on a course to enemy territory, a place from which you’ll never return.

How to Play:

Each player selects a color of yarn. You’ll be knitting yourself a swatch of fabric to represent the Sweater your character was given by their loved one. While you knit, answer the following questions:

  • What is your character’s job on the plane?
  • What finally convinced them to go along with the plan to defect?
  • Who are they leaving behind?
  • What’s one danger they’re afraid they’ll face on the way? (Work as a group to come up with several challenges)

To knit your Sweater, cast on 8 stitches, then work 13 rows in a stockinette stitch (alternate rows of knitting and purling). Do not cast off. Once you have completed the last row, slide the needle out, then cut off the working yarn one inch from the last stitch. Whenever you unravel, do it using this strand (not the original tail).

This is a cooperative game with no lead storyteller. Together, draw on the challenges you discussed while you talked about your characters. Use these as the baseline for the tense situations you find yourself in as you attempt to cross the border. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, try some of the following:

  • The personnel in the flight tower as you take off are suspicious of you
  • Nasty weather that threatens to throw you off course or damage the plane
  • Friendly fighters get sent to chase you down
  • A non-player character member of the crew has a breakdown and tries to sabotage the plane so you have to turn back
  • You stray into range of an anti-aircraft battery/search lights
  • Enemy fighters on patrol spot you and move to attack
  • You must convince the enemy you’re there to defect
  • A mechanical problem forces you to shut off one or more engines
  • Ice freezes up some of the controls
  • One character tells the others about the plans they had back home
  • The landing zone isn’t big enough for the bomber
  • One of the crew suffers a nasty injury

Getting past no man’s land and across the border won’t be easy. When you face challenging situations, your character must make a roll to determine if they succeed. Success is measured on a scale of 1 to 19. You’ll be rolling the ten-sided die to get a result, but before you do, you can unravel stitches of your sweater to give yourself a bonus to the roll of 1 per stitch unraveled.

  • 1-9: You failed. The lower the number, the worse the consequence of your failure. A 9 on a roll to navigate might mean you’re only a few miles off course. A 1 on a roll to avoid searchlights might put you right in the center of a spotlight, conveniently near an anti-aircraft installation.
  • 10-19: You succeeded. The higher the number, the better the result. A 10 on a roll to convince the air control tower that you’re on the schedule might mean they let you take off, but they’re still going to call the flight officer to check it after you’re off the ground. A 19 on a roll to watch for enemy fighters might let you notice the enemy flight coming from above out of the sun in time to line up all your gun turrets and get an unexpected first shot at them.

After you’ve made your roll, talk amongst yourselves as a group about what consequences or benefits make sense. Try to come up with an answer that works for everyone, but if you can’t agree, the person who made the roll has the final decision.

The narrative consequences of a failure will come naturally, but they also have consequences for the players. Since the whole crew is working together on this journey, they succeed together and they fail together. We represent this cut the cutting and tying of yarn.

Specifically, any time a roll is failed (a result of 1-9), everyone unravels any stitches as needed to ensure they have four inches (10 cm) of yarn between their last whole stitch and either the end of the yarn (at the beginning of the game) or the last knot in the yarn. Then, they cut their yarn two inches (5 cm) from the last whole stitch and pass it to the player on their right. Everyone then ties the yarn they were passed to the end they just cut.

The successes and failures should guide you through a challenge to new difficulties, but once you’ve resolved a scene, if there isn’t an immediately obvious new challenge that arises from it, go back to the list you talked about and decide what dramatic thing happens. Try to make sure everyone gets to contribute in meaningful ways, so make sure to include challenges that will require everyone’s input over the course of the game.

Also keep the pacing in mind. Ideally people should be running low on stitches to spend as you approach the end of your story.

  • If you find yourself with too many left over, throw in a tense, spicy combat with enemy fighters and make those checks to convince them you’re there to defect, pilot your way out of their sights, and fire warning shots across their noses to keep them at bay.
  • If you’re really running low and don’t know if you’ll have quite enough to get over the finish line, consider allowing anyone who has run out of stitches to roll the dice with an adjusted scale of 1-10, with 6 being a success to ensure they get to stay in the game while you play.
  • If you’ve still got a ton of story to tell and you’re having fun, consider the following: Anyone who runs out of stitches goes into recuperation. While their character is recuperating from the stress of the mission, they can still make rolls, but they’re relying on the team to get them through. Other team members can supply the stitches to add to their roll (still with a max of +9). They represent recuperation by reknitting their Sweater with their patchwork yarn. Once they’ve reknitted the Sweater, they are done recuperating and can spend their stitches as normal. This player no longer cuts their yarn on failures, but once they run out of stitches again, that’s it. They’re done (unless you’re having such a great time you want to keep the story going, in which case, by all means allow recuperation multiple times). If your whole team is running low at the same time and multiple people are going to be recuperating, this might be a great time for a restroom break to let everybody knit back up to full strength.

Ending the Story:

The story ends when the plane lands (hopefully) safely on the other side of the border. At this point, everyone unravels any portion of their Sweater they have remaining. It’s over, for now. Take a look around at the yarn everyone has in front of them. It’s a map of the successes and failures it took to get your characters through to this point.

Finally, take your colorful patchwork yarn and reknit the Sweater. This will be your record of the game and the story you created together. Ask the following questions:

Use this time to discuss who and what you left behind, what sacrifices you made on the journey, how you came together, your fears and hopes about what this new place will be like, and the makeup of your new sweaters.

  • What will your character miss the most?
  • What are they most looking forward to?
  • How has their relationship changed with the other members of the crew?
  • Was it really worth it?

Paper Talisman

One of the benefits of having awesome game designer friends is getting to meet their other awesome game designer friends. I met Rich Howard online via listening to his podcast, Whelmed: The Young Justice Files then interacting with him on Twitter. He’s a fantastic person all around, and we’re now half of the team working on Descent into Midnight.

At his birthday party, I ended up meeting J.M. Perkins, a game designer currently working on the fantastic Salt in Wounds campaign setting, which blew away its Kickstarter funding goals, raising eleven times its funding goal.

J.M. and I got to talking about our gaming projects, and I mentioned that my passion and experience, while spanning many different arts, crafts, and game styles, has centered mostly around origami since I was about five years old. I was bemoaning the fact that putting origami and gaming together was difficult, because of the restrictions it places on the players in terms of setup time (even simple models can take a few minutes to fold), skill set (not everyone knows how to fold more than a paper airplane), and complexity (if you’re going to use folding or unfolding as a resolution mechanic, you have a limited number of actions you can resolve before the paper simply begins to tear at the creases, or becomes so thick as to become unworkable).

Fast forward an hour or so. J.M. has come up with an amazing title “Paper Talisman” and the basic outline of an evocative setting that brings together a bunch of the ideas that had been floating around separately in my head. If you ever get the chance to hang out and talk with J.M., by all means do so. I’m pretty sure I sat there with my mouth hanging open for at least five minutes of the conversation, looking back and forth between him and Rich in awe at the way everything was coming together.

So… without further ado, here’s the beginnings of Paper Talisman. The bits in bold still need to be worked out, but you can clearly see the direction the game is going.

Paper Talisman

You are 13 years old. You are the among the brightest and the best of the survivors of the magical apocalypse. Today is the day you venture out into the wastes to gather the McGuffin. If you wait any longer, the potential will leave you as your body changes and you become an adult like the others. You have been prepared, but what will you sacrifice to bring back what is needed?

The game:

One person plays the GM, and will be the person responsible for presenting the players with challenges. Each other player will decide the mantra, secret, oath, hope, or bond you will imbue their Paper Talisman with. Write it down somewhere other than on the paper you will use to fold the model, or simply memorize it.

Fold an origami model (need to playtest various models for complexity). As you make each fold, whisper the mantra into your talisman.

Once the model is complete, it is your Paper Talisman. It represents your youth, your potential, and your journey toward adulthood. It also represents your ability to change the world around you.

As you progress through the adventure, you can sacrifice the integrity of your Paper Talisman to accomplish great things, or avoid great harm, but there is a price.

Minor feats require temporary sacrifice. To perform a minor feat, unfold a portion of the model. If you stop to recuperate and open up to one of your companions, and they open up to you, you can refold it to become whole again.

Major feats require permanent sacrifice. The GM will tell you how you must sacrifice a portion of your Paper Talisman. Dip it in ink, burn it, cut it, tear it, eat it, etc. This should be an irreversible harm done to your Paper Talisman. The degree and method of destruction should be indicative of what’s happening in the narrative if possible, practical, and safe.

You are a young teenager trained to face the dangers of the wastes. So are your companions. Most obstacles should be overcome by a minor feat. But there are many threats no one could truly be prepared for. These are the things that will require major feats to defeat.

Aside from the inherent dangers of a land ravaged by the magical apocalypse, there are The Lost. The Lost are the young people who went out, just like you, but never came back, twisted by the dark energies in the wastes before they could return. They are a fearsome enemy. But they are not the most fearsome creatures outside the village. Their broken and twisted Talismans are horrors beyond imagining, and wild stories are told of the forms they take.

If you make it back alive without the McGuffin, you have doomed yourself and your people to a slow death. If you make it back with the McGuffin, you have ensured the survival of your people for another year, but at what cost?

Mulligan’s Dead

A conversation on Twitter got me thinking about a game where you go back and try to fix the things you did on your last day on earth. The premise being that you have died, and you are given a chance to fix things, but you only have so much effort you can put into it, and the end result may not be what you intended.

Thus was born Mulligan’s Dead.

It’s still in the bare bones idea phase, but here’s what I’ve got so far: 

It’s a two player game. Together you and a friend will describe the last day of poor Mulligan, recently deceased. Discuss the questions below.

  • What did you succeed at on this day? 
  • Did it really matter?
  • Who did you fail to reach out to on this day? 
  • Why didn’t you? 
  • Why did they need to hear from you? 
  • What did you fail to appreciate on this day? 
  • Who was with you, if anyone, when you died? 
  • Why do you regret that? 
  • What did you do on this day that people will remember? 
  • What are you afraid might become of that? 

Once you’ve established what happened the first time around, you begin the process of going back to try your luck at fixing things.

You’ll get seven (?) scenes to try and make things better.

The clerk at the afterlife makes sure to tell you that you’ve only got so much you can do. That’s represented by your pool of dice. You get ten six-sided dice to spend.

Together, pick the first scene you’d like to do over. One of you will play Mulligan and the other will play anyone else in the scene. Together, describe the scene and get right to the meat of the action. Describe or act out what you do or say to try fixing what went wrong. When you get to a point where you feel like you’ve established the resolution you’re attempting, you’ll make a roll to see how it turns out. Keep in mind that you can’t change your own fate. Them’s the breaks, kid.

Choose any number of dice from your pool, keeping in mind that you only get ten total for the whole day.

To determine the result, roll the amount of dice you are choosing to spend and take the highest number that came up. If you choose to spend no dice, instead roll two dice and take the lowest result.

  1. Something terrible happens. You’ve made things so much worse.
  2. It doesn’t go well. You don’t get what you wanted and this is something you’ll regret.
  3. You don’t improve things. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
  4. Things improved, but not how you expected.
  5. You succeed. It all works out.
  6. You did it! You took the opportunity and made the most of it. Something great will happen on top of what you were going for.

After each scene, switch roles. When you get to the end of the day, answer the following questions. 

  • Did you really end up making things better? 
  • What would you do differently if you could do it again, again? 
  • Who are you, the player, going to call or text or whatever today to let them know they’re important to you? 

No Thank You Evil – Origami Style

Reading No Thank You Evil made me feel like a kid again, and for good reason. It’s a tabletop RPG designed specifically to be kid friendly. It immediately put me in mind of using origami models as avatars for the player characters. Not necessarily in the sense of using maps and miniatures, but just to have something in front of them to see and touch.

That ended up being the precursor to many of the thoughts that have led up to beginning work on Paper Talisman, which I’ll cover later.

For now, it got me thinking about how to use origami models as props at the table. Traditional origami models (crane, frog, fish, etc) could all easily become characters in a world made of paper. Think Gumbo or Kubo (which is my JAM), only everything is made of paper. I started a write-up on a setting for a one shot game.

No Thank You Evil uses a pool of resources for your stats, and there are four of them, so what better way to represent that than an inverted cootie catcher / fortune teller? (Bonus points for the Castles and Crusades sourcebook I got at the raffle at AcadeCon in November!)

NTYE Fortune Teller Dish

Since your players characters are traditional origami models, what sort of challenges would they face? That got the wheels turning in the usual punny directions…

  • (Navy) SEALs
  • An Emperor penguin
  • A polar bear who tells awful jokes (wocka wocka)
  • A trio of walruses named Coo, Kooka, and Choo
  • An orca name Bill who says nothing in life is free
  • etc

But the big idea I had for the villains was that the most terrifying thing a character might face in a world made of paper would be abominations… pieced together from the cut apart bodies of their friends. Dark, yeah?

So that’s where we get to the evil Lord Scissors, and his lieutenant, a Tape Sorcerer. And they’re the only humans anyone has ever heard of. They’re creating Frankenstein’s monster-esque chimeras using tape! I’ll admit that part of me is uncomfortable with how much this reinforces stereotypes about “real” origami being one uncut square sheet, but this was a first draft.

Anyway, I commissioned the awesome Quinn Wilson to draw up the two big bads, and here they are without further ado:

Scissors Tape

Leave No Magic Trace

This is a collaborative storytelling game about nature and taking small steps toward making the world a better place than you found it. It’s also about looking around you to find something that speaks to you, and letting that be the starting point for a journey you take with your friends. The creative process starts as soon as you begin truly looking around you for your inspirational object. When you find it, you’ve taken your second step. When you describe it with your friends, you’ve taken the next. And so on.

It is the perfect beginning to a long hike, a camping trip, or even a relaxing day with family in your backyard. Spend some time to appreciate nature, set the tone for your outdoor experience, and have a cool adventure.

You and your friends will take on the role of druids, people with a strong connection to nature who wield its power to do awesome stuff, built from the seed of whatever object you find. Take your first steps into the natural world, and leave no trace behind.

The Setup:

Gather some six-sided dice and some friends in a place where you can find interesting natural objects. Leaves, moss, rocks, seashells, pinecones, pinches of colorful sand, discarded acorns, etc.

Give yourself five minutes to go find a natural object that speaks to you. Whatever item you choose, remember where you got it. If you can, take a picture with it. While you are looking, if you find any trash and can do so safely, pick it up while you go. You’ll use it later.

Reconvene and show everyone the object you collected, and any trash you collected. Place your object in front of you, and take any trash you collected and place it in a pile in the center of the group.

Character Creation:

Start with the player who picked up the most trash, and/or the trashiest player. They start the game by building their character. They begin by describing one aspect of the object they chose. For instance, a pinecone might be described as “Pointy” or “Hiding New Life” or “Ravaged by Squirrels”. This becomes a descriptor for their character. Your character will use them to do awesome stuff in their adventure!

Going around the circle, the next player adds a descriptor to the first player’s character, based on the object. Keep going around until you get 4 descriptors. Once the first character has been built, repeat the process for the other players until everyone has a character.

Name your newly-birthed druids. Have a sea shell? How about something like Nautilus McWavesface? Or Quelthedar of the Tides. Whatever.

Finally, go around and say out loud the name of your character and their descriptors, thusly:

“I’m Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Druidson and I am Hard, Weighty, Kinda Shiny, and have a Sedentary Lifestyle”


What dangers do your awesome druids face? Well obviously, it’s going to be rooted in your environment. Take your cues from your location and any trash you managed to pick up. If you’re at a campsite or hiking trail, take a look at the bulletin board to find information for adventure seeds. Is there an invasive species around? What about demonic creatures known as litterbugs? An industrial complex up the river? Unexploded ordnance at your local state park that used to be part of a military base? Toxic runoff from a polluted river? An alien invasion of creatures that look like remarkably like Doritos in spacesuits made of crinkly silver plastic? Whatever strikes your fancy.

Pick a single Big Danger that will be the theme of your adventure, and make sure everyone understands roughly what the party might need to do to solve it. Once everyone has a clear picture of the outline of the adventure, you can begin play.

The adventure begins with the first player setting a scene in which all the characters are presented with the first sign of the Big Danger.

To resolve the scene, players describe their character’s actions. Whenever they describe taking a non-trivial action, they get to roll some dice to see whether they were successful. The group suggests outcomes based on the roll, but the player rolling has final say. Things that average people can do are fine, but feel free to think up whatever you like. If you’re a seashell druid, use the power of water to crash a tidal wave over your enemies. If you’re a pinecone druid, summon a cyclone filled with your pointy brethren and kick some bad guy butt!

For each descriptor incorporated into the description of their action, they get one additional die to roll. They can also “use up” one of the pieces of trash from the communal trash pile to gain additional dice (1 per piece of trash used). If any of the dice are a 5 or higher, the action is successful. Rolling all 1’s or all 6’s results in something extraordinarily bad (low) or good (high) happening. The more dice you rolled, the bigger the good or bad effect.

If there’s no trash left and you can’t think of a way to link up a descriptor, roll a single die. If it’s a 6, you succeed. Otherwise, you fail.

Example of Play:

Dwayne “The Rock” Druidson’s descriptors are Hard, Weighty, Kinda Shiny, and Sedentary Lifestyle. They are in a scene where they need to beat up a little demon known as a Litterbug. They argue that their fists are Hard, and they’ve got lots of Weight to put behind the punches. They get to roll two dice. They roll a 3 and 6. They succeed! That litterbug is in for a world of hurt.

Needler of the Pines’ descriptors are Pointy, Goddamn Everywhere, Flexible, and All Dried Up. She needs to sneak past a wary dog off his leash. She describes how she wriggles through the dense underbrush (Flexible) covered in a camouflage ghillie suit of pine needles she collected from the forest floor (Goddamn Everywhere). She rolls two dice and get a 1 and 1. She fails, really badly! Sounds like someone is about to become dog chow.

Leaf Erikson’s descriptors are Flaky, Kinda Transparent, Dead But Colorful, and People Come To See Me From Miles Around. He is trying to convince the local king of the trash bandits that he’s actually a new member of the gang. He can’t think of a way to link up any of his descriptors to the task, so he decides to use three pieces of trash from the communal trash pile, since this is an important bluff. He rolls an amazing triple 6 on the dice. The bandit king totally buys it, and something super cool happens.

Awesome, now what? Work as a group to decide what scenes make sense in progressing the group toward resolving the Big Danger. If you like, you can take turns going around and setting scenes after each one is resolved, or simply crowd-source whatever makes sense.

The Resolution:

Congratulations! You’ve solved a Big Danger (or died trying). Next up is to help out in real life. Dispose of the trash in an appropriate receptacle, recycling recyclables, etc. Finally, take the natural object you used for the game and place it back where you found it. Thank it out loud for being each of its descriptors. Seriously.

“Thanks ‘The Rock’ for being Hard, Weighty, Kinda Shiny, and having a Sedentary Lifestyle”.

It will be cool. Trust me.

Now, you’ve taken your first steps into nature and leaving it better than you found it. Go forth and enjoy the rest of your time with your friends and the outdoors!


Thanks to Taylor Labresh and Darcy Ross for the brainstorming session that inspired this.