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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