City23 2/52

today’s post is a day late because i was out with friends all day yesterday! i almost didn’t get to write my entry… i squeezed it in though—but like i said, saturday is my busy day!

i’ve been experimenting with city names a little, by which i mean mostly just corrupting letters in orders that sound vaguely like “twenty three” in other languages. all of the variations of “vingt trois” i’ve come up with so far sound like ass, though.

anyway! i can’t remember if i’ve mentioned, but i’m doing npc23 on the side; most of the names dropped this week have associated short bios, too. i’m going to publish those all at once, though, instead of keeping up week by week!


Valencia Arcane Academy. has the reputation of being one of the oldest magic schools, having been founded before the city was itself, but is long past being known as the best. more prestigious schools will dismis Valencia on the basis of accepting anyone in—a reputation that the newly-appointed headmaster, Cai Peng, has chosen to embrace. there are mixed feelings within the faculty about Cai’s mission statement of making magic accessible to all, and some more prestigious institutions are throwing fits, but few are in any position to argue with Cai.


The Alice Estate. the Alice family is old nobility and even older money. their title sare all figurehead statuses at this point, and they have no true power, but they do have property—and, again, cash. that’s really what gets them anywhere, and merchant are quick to bid for their favor in hope sof seeing that money for themselves. the estate itself is impressively sized, but poorly guarded, for the most part—getting inside the manor is far from as easy ad walking in, but one can stroll through the gardens with little trouble if they put some work into looking like they belong. there’s a fish pond and everything! the Alice family occasionally hosts events for other rich people (few of the nobles invited attend in earnest), and oh, how th city’s more average residents love to see if they can sneak in.


Simply Smithing. the owner, Sirius Zarxes, would have happily just put up a sign reading “Blacksmith,” but his husband insisted on the name. the most no-frills blacksmith in the city: if you want so much as a decorative engraving, go somewhere else. the weapon quality is incredible, but everything made is so plain—which suits Sirius just fine. the forge is outside at the back of the building, and Sirius is often hard at work while his husband, Asgeir, runs the store—though his knowledge on the fine details is minimal. the store is a small space, sparsely decorated, with nigh every inch of space crammed with goods for sale.


Reap & Sew, a tailor. specializes in mending and adjusting specialty clothing—rare fabrics, elaborate formalwear—but will take care of anything, and sometimes even has custom pieces for sale. those pieces are highly coveted, in part due to their one-of-a-kind nature—rarely do any of the three sisters who run the store take commissions, but instead will randomly make something and put it up for sale. since the clientele includes a number of wealthy nobles, this business model remains viable.


The Chariot, a casino not far fro the dock. many a sailor has lost their fortunes here, but the fair few that made theirs keep the rest coming. relatively bare bones, for a casino, but extravagant when compared to the rest of the port district. originally founded by the nobility, seedier hands have since taken over, and mysteries abound about the true nature of the owner, whom none of the floor staff have ever even met.


Bells & Thistles, a flower shop located towards the edge of the city, once things start thinning out, just at the edge of a residential district. the store is small, and not particularly well-known, but is a beloved spot for those who are aware of it. the owner, who goes by Primrose, keeps an expansive garden behind the store, an dis happy to let people visit, so long as they’re supervised—she gets antsy f people go back there on their own.


upscale tavern frequented most often by the nobility and other upperclass folks like merchants. the staff and patrons alike can sniff out anyone who doesn’t belong and they do not treat them kindly unless a new face proves themselves as up to snuff very quickly. menu includes various dishes only made possible through expensive imports.

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City23: 1/52

i’m participating in Dungeon23 this year! kind of. there’s some talk about Dungeon23 by the creator of the challenge here, but the short version is that it’s a challenge to build a megadungeon, one room at a time, written each day over the course of 2023. a lot of alternatives have sprung up, including but not limited to City23, which i’m doing instead.

there are a lot of ways people are structuring their own goes at City23—i’ve been shown this structure a few times—but in my case, i’m planning to write one physical landmark in a fantasy-genre city each day! my city doesn’t have a name or any particular gimmick yet; i figure i’ll get there when i get there, you know. i just wanna see where this takes me, as it were.

for as long as i keep up with the challenge, i’ll be doing weekly posts of the results! the hope is to get posts up on saturday, but my saturdays are busy days, so you’ll have to forgive me if they go up late.

without further ado!


Old Times Alchemy; a potion shop focusing on old-style brews—comes dangerously close to the magical equivalent of cocaine in cola sometimes. widely dismissed as gimmicky, useless, or quacks, so what’s even keeping them in business?


pawn shop run by a witch. no formal name; the sign just says “pawn shop.” doesn’t deal in physical objects; trades for an hour of your time, a dream, a memory, a summer’s day, a story, your shadow. uninterested in souls or firstborns; there’s an oversupply of them. located in the back streets of the market district. has weird hours.


Port Causafell. a harbor for supply ships; trades, deliveries, cargo—basically anything that isn’t a pleasure boat lands here. always full of workers and sailor shanties. named after an old pirate king who retied in the city, using his wealth to expand the arts. work continues into the night, making it surprisingly safe even in the dark.


The Golden Grail Inn, name after the pirate king Causafell’s ship. located just far away enough from the docks, but not in the city, to be shady—avoids the work actively going on. a pleasant place to grab a drink early in thee evening, if ou can deal with the rowdy sailors, but gets more debauched and dangerous in the darkness as the night goes on. lots of seafood, strong drinks. functions more as a bar than an inn, but has rooms for sailors coming in.


Lantern Square. an open town square with a fountain in its center, and strings of lanterns strung up between decorative posts around the edges. the lanterns are magical, and need to be lit instead of lighting automatically. who lights them, though—and, truthfully, how they’re lit at all—is not common knowledge, and those who live near the square accept that it would be rude to snoop and spy. it’s said that the lanterns ward off ghosts and evil spirits. during events and festivals, the lanterns glow brighter than ever, take on colors, and flash and pulse. in the day-to-day, though, they just let people walk through the darkness safely. the square is a fairly popular social center.


Emila’s Gardens. a public garden close to the city square. well-maintained primarily by the priestesses of Emila, a minor goddess of the hearth, fertility, and spring; she’s associated with sharing abundance, and allowing people to partake in the beauty of nature is seen by some followers as a form of worship. the garden rival some noble estates; they arent huge, but aer well-planted and arranged, with each flower, bush, vine, and plant meticulously cared for. there are hedges along paths and flowery arches above them.


Elodie Vernal’s Finishing School. named for the founder, a member of the famous noble Vernal family, the school was once where noble children of all genders were sent to complete their educations and prepare themselves for their lives and duties. not so anymore. what used to teach manners and social climbing now focuses on something more arcane, so the rumors have it. it’s hard to be entirely certain: where entry was once a matter of wealth, these days, the school sends out invitations directly on a hereto unknown basis. students are sworn to secrecy, but seem to enjoy the lives they live upon graduation. it’s just that they generally will live them far away.

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Review: Spectres of Brocken

when advertising this game to my friends so i could get someone to play it with me, i, with nothing but affection, referred to it as “gundam: three houses.” you play in two phases: in the academy phase, you play students learning how to be mech pilots; after a timeskip, you play the conflict phase, where your characters meet again for the first time in years on the battlefield. it uses the no dice no masters system as a base, but eschews tokens and instead has you work with a word bank, which some moves let you borrow from and change: you set words to help establish tone and themes, and add to the bank as you go on. this is a very bare bones explanation of the thing, because to be totally honest, i didn’t completely jive with it, but more on that later. 

but seriously i’m never gonna get a better gag in here than “gundam: three houses”

the concept for spectres of brocken is really strong. the prompting helps support it really well, too: the moves, scene prompts, and especially the character building does a lot to help keep its intended themes moving. you get four character traits: a conviction, an impulse, a potential, and a flaw. you start the academy phase with only one of these, and certain moves let you fill in more of them as you play and your character discovers themselves; if you have any blanks left by the time the conflict phase rolls around, you get to decide what to use. 

i played a one shot of this that ended up turning into a three shot. having it turn into a two shot was not terribly surprising—the game is set into two phases, and even recommends exactly where you should pick back up if you are cutting it in half—but the three shot was kind of an accident; we just wanted to play so many more scenes than was recommended because we were having such a good time with the premise and our game! that said, the vast majority of our game ended up being freeform rp—which is fine, but means we weren’t really doing much with the system. we kind of struggled to find places for the moves, and especially the word system, which resulted in us just kind of skipping over it. 


  • the concept of this game, even though it is more or less literally fire emblem: three houses in robots, is really strong. all of the writing and prompting serves the themes and touchstones it’s aspiring to really well and makes it easy to build a world 
  • like i said, absolutely love the character building system; i think it’s a really unique take that, again, serves the core themes very nicely, and it was a lot of fun to work with 


  • we ended up struggling to use the word bank system (and, as such, most of the moves) with any consistency; i think i can count on one hand the number of times we used words as a group over the course of 10+ scenes 
  • i don’t think there’s enough to tie in the mechs with the characters. admittedly i’m coming from a place of not being particularly into mecha (or sci-fi in general), but we ended up playing most of our scenes outside of mechs because we just couldn’t really think of what to do with them 

would i play it again

maybe? i played their free preview, and i’m curious to see what they end up doing with the full version now that their kickstarter has ended, but i’m probably not curious enough to spend money on it. if someone else invited me to a game, i’d probably give it another whirl, but it would have to go really well for me to play a third time. 

get the game!

spectres of brocken is by aaron lim. you can get a free playtest kit on itch, where you’ll also eventually be able to get the full game once it’s completed! 

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Review: Heroes of Lite

full disclosure: i’m biased. some of my best friends wrote this system, and i moderate their ttrpg company’s discord server. that said, i met them through the system and played it before we became close. so there’s that! but i don’t want to shill something without disclosing where i’m coming from

fire emblem but gay and trans

heroes of lite is a ttrpg based on the fire emblem franchise. for those of you familiar with it, it takes particular inspiration from heroes (mechanically) and from the tellius series. for those of you who aren’t, don’t worry! the lore it uses is explained in the book, and if you don’t like or care about or know about fire emblem, you can still enjoy it as the rules-lite grid-based tactics game that it is. designed to be playable with pen and paper, heroes of lite involves math so basic that even a dipshit like me can manage it most of the time, while maintaining an impressively high degree of character customization: it’s classless, letting you instead mix and match character movement types and weapons. you can then allocate points to your stats freely, allowing you to fill whatever party role you so desire, and there’s a huge range of skills that let you emphasize your existing role, increase your utility, or put you in a more specific niche. the fact that it manages to do all this while remaining as light as it does really impresses me. part of it, i think, is that you don’t have to keep everything in your head all at once. 

a big part of heroes of lite is teamwork and cooperation! each player will have at least one character under their control—in my experience, if you have more than one, there’s one character who’s fully yours and the rest are NPCs for whom you control their combat decisions, but not their stats, build, or rp. instead of a traditional initiative, there’s “player phase” and “enemy phase;” all the players move on player phase, one at a time, in whatever order you want. this means you end up with strategies such as “i’m going to move alice so she can attack this enemy, and if she kills it successfully, bob can move on ahead, but if she misses, eve has to go in to take care of the enemy because the enemy will kill bob on enemy phase if bob is in range.” there’s a consistency to it that helps strategize: you have to roll to hit, but you know how much damage you’re going to take and receive because you get to see enemy stats and damage is calculated instead of rolled, so it focuses on tactics over pure luck.

there are out-of-combat rules, but not many. you have six stats, three of which you determine at character creation and three of which are based on your in-combat stats, and only the latter can change because only your in-combat stats ever change. heroes of lite is meant to be played mostly on battle maps: to be totally clear, theater of mind combat isn’t an option. for me, though, especially as someone who hates numbers but loves fire emblem, it’s exactly the right amount of tactical crunch and freeform rp.


  • this game is superbly balanced. it’s been through a lot lot lot of playtesting, and it has been handed to people like “hey, please break this game” and then handed back like “i’m usually very good at this and i tried very hard and i can’t do it.” it’s extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to make a bad build unless you’re trying to, and even then, it might not work 
  • it’s easy to learn! i’ve run a lot of tutorial sessions of this game and consistently am told that they’ve gone very well. as i would with any such game, of course i recommend starting at lower levels to play for the first time, but the basic mechanics stay the same, and skill interactions aren’t likely to get like a billion layers deep, so the actual act of play never gets disgustingly complex at high levels like in other grid-based combat games 


  • like i said, it is SUPER hard to make a bad build, but in a campaign format, if you aren’t making plans in advanced, it isn’t difficult to regret parts of your build: i’ve allocated points in places that ended up being useless very quickly after realizing i wasn’t enjoying or otherwise going in a certain direction and shifted gears, and i’ve picked skills that don’t get much use or don’t actually synchronize well with where the rest of my build ends up going 
  • on the gm side, making interesting maps is absolutely a learnable skill, but it’s hard—this isn’t necessarily a skill exclusive to heroes of lite, since there are plenty of grid-based systems that utilize terrain, but i’d argue that it’s particularly important in heroes of lite, where terrain’s existence effects balance at a basic level. i ran a short campaign of this game once and making good maps was so difficult for me that it’s turned me off of gming anything more than a low-level one shot 

would i play it again?

i am going to be playing it again next tuesday and i’m very excited about it

get the game!

heroes of lite is made by nat twentea, and you can download it for free here! they also have a discord server which regularly runs one shots, in and out of a consistent shared universe, and advertises for campaigns, which you can join here

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Review: Space Train Space Heist

space train space heist is a gmless game for one shots using a stripped down forged in the dark system where the premise is exactly what it sounds like. you’re on a train (in space). you’re pulling off a heist (in space). go get ’em, tiger. 

literally that’s what it is

god, i love this game. the premise is so strong and it follows through on it with every single beat, constantly offering ways to up the ante. it’s full of prompts that are easy to jump on and run with. the writing is funny, friendly, and accessible. it’s so easy to play. 

space train space heist uses a stripped down version of the forged in the dark system. in an article where the designer talks about making the game (linked at the bottom), he mentions that, as much as he loves forged in the dark, if you’re playing it for a one-shot, there are so many mechanics you’re not going to engage with and so trying to learn them just bogs you down. as such, space train space heist uses a simple die roll resolution mechanic: you state your goal, and the rest of the group decides what happens if you succeed. if you don’t like that, you can pick a different goal, but if you do, you can roll a bunch of d6. you get extra d6 for various effects, including giving cinematic details of your action, playing to your playbook, or accepting a definite consequence. a 6 is a full success, a 4-5 is a success with a cost, and a 1-3 is a fail. easy peasy! that’s it! 

this game offers playbooks fitting classic tropes of the heist genre: the con artiste, who is smart enough to fool their adversaries; the hooligan, your brawler; the gadgeteer, the local gear-making genius. and then you have shit like SPACE WIZARD and SPACE COWBOY. all of them are incredibly flavorful, offer lots of ways to engage with a scene and the other characters, and give different exciting play experiences. each playbook has its own additional mechanic or two, which is a great way to introduce some new complexity without making everyone learn every single goddamn rule. 

y’all, i love this goddamn game. it’s so good. 


  • amazing adaptation of the forged in the dark system to a quick, easy, and gmless format; it makes for a great introduction of the engine 
  • the writing is immaculate. the humor is hysterical. the playbooks are all out of this world fantastic, with each offering their own unique aspects and twists, and rich prompting that does a lot to set the tone 
  • fun prompts for settings, incidents, and npcs that also do plenty to support the intended tone of the game 


  • literally i’ve got nothing 

would i play it again

i am absolutely BEGGING you to play space train space heist with me 

get the game!

space train space heist is by sam dunnewold, and you can pay what you want for it on itch! the author has also done this really fun retrospective on designing the game, and you can read that on medium

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Review: Pokémon Tales

Pokémon Tales: A collaborative storytelling game set in the Pokémon universe.

full disclosure: i’m friends with the person who wrote this game, but this is one of those instances where i found and played the game first, and then became friends with its creator. still, i don’t like shilling things without being completely transparent about my potential biases! 

we all live in a pokémon world (PO-KAY-MON) i wanna be the greatest MASTER OF THEM AAAAALL

pokémon tales is one of the many, many takes out there on a pokémon ttrpg. unlike many others, it eschews statting each individual pokémon and their moves and types and abilities—and indeed, statting just about anything at all—in favor of focusing on the storytelling aspect of the whole thing. using the no dice no masters/belonging outside belonging system as a base, pokémon tales isn’t really a game about pokémon battles; it’s a game about what life in the pokémon world looks like. think of it as running on a logic more closely to anime than games: you aren’t going to pick movesets for your pokémon, you’re just going to do the things it makes sense for that pokémon to do. it has instructions for gmed, gmless, and solo play. the major mechanic, for those of you unfamiliar with no dice no masters, revolves around tokens: in a gmless game, everyone involved pushes along the scene and builds the world together; for adding details, introducing problems, playing the world around you, or otherwise contributing to the scene, you earn a token, which you can later use to solve problems. 

i’ve played one-shots of pokémon tales a couple of times! it’s surprisingly easy to just pick up and run with. one thing i think really helps is that instead of picking through playbooks, you just sort of build your character from a few aspects: their trainer class (lass, hex girl, ruin maniac, etc.) and a list of possessions. their possessions might be literal things like an old map, a professional camera, or a nice hat; personality traits like a need to care for others, a can-do attitude, or a grudge; or things that they have even if you wouldn’t strictly call it a possession like a legacy to live up to, a twin brother, or a winning smile. i really like the possessions-as-character-development system; i think it’s a way to express overarching ideas as well as subtle details. 

even with setup, a pokémon tales game is pretty easy to condense into just a couple of hours, but i’ve played longer sessions when we’ve wanted to linger on more or certain scenes or ideas. the battle and contests systems, which provide a little more crunch than no dice no masters usually does but i still wouldn’t dare call crunchy, can draw things out, but you can just as easily resolve instances where these come up with tokens if they aren’t actually things you want to spend a lot of time focusing on. despite playing a character whose main goals revolved around battle, i happily played a one shot where we resolved actual battles with tokens and descriptions, and didn’t mind skipping the system to actually play them out blow-for-blow at all. 


  • amazing prompts for setup and scene building: as is true of many no dice no masters games, there’s a certain amount of active push required, but i find that it’s way easier for people to push in pokémon tales because there’s a good amount of structure for it, so you’re less likely to get hung up so bad you can’t regain lost momentum 
  • i really can’t sing the praises of possessions as a major character sheet component enough; i just think it’s such a good and fun way to build a character


  • to this day i don’t really understand battles. keeping track of type matchups and positions and how moves affect them is surprisingly difficult for me! while i don’t mind it in theory, i think this is potentially theoretically too much crunch for people who like no dice no masters games

would i play it again

i’m planning on running a one-on-one campaign for a friend and we’re going to be using pokémon tales and let me TELL YOU i cannot WAIT 

get the game!

pokémon tales is a creation by iron echo games, and you can get it for free on itch. you can also join the discord server

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