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Adam Blinkinsop

A member registered Apr 10, 2016 · View creator page →

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The traditional roleplaying attack roll or skill check gives two primary results: the desired effect or nothing. In Apocalypse World, the player’s dice roll also serves as the GM’s dice roll.

Hm. (From Mr. Tweet.)

Ha, perhaps nothing! You're probably right: always having a chance (minus the "blow up the moon" caveat) is probably a perfectly fine characteristic of a simple system like this. Roll, check, quickly resolve.

In the council phase, you'll pretty much only roll for violence, and resolution is going to end up wounding or killing one or both characters. Outside the council phase, the roll is for the crux of that plan, and resolution can be a bit more flexible (perhaps related to the plan itself). I mostly want players to be able to plan out better and worse actions, and this helps with that.

So then, for violence: failure = you're at their mercy, partial success = they're wounded, success = they're killed.

For the plans, there'd be a bunch of setup discussion around where they're going, who/what's being brought along, and what they're looking for (with prompts on the sheets). At some point, a roll will determine success of the entire plan, Burning Wheel "let it ride" style. I don't want big continuous scenes here, just montage between council scenes.

One or two sets, yeah. It might be too much.

Really just needs a similar setup to Fiasco; I wonder how much of that I could steal.

On the one hand, that's a lot of content to come up with and rules for the players to digest.

On the other hand, providing enough prompts so people have a skeleton to work with is extremely important.

I believe that player interactions should be practically freeform, except for where it's impossible; full Inheritance rules, effectively. Player/world interactions need coding, and that's the big trick. However, I don't think they need much coding -- just enough so colonists can usefully plan and Gaia can usefully feed-forward changes in the climate and ecosystem.

Perhaps that's the core here: codify how to generate a base climate / ecosystem, and provide "GM moves" to alter those things in response to what the colonists do / the passage of time / etc. Like the faction game from Blades.

A couple of question sets I'm thinking about.

=== 1. Ares, the Warrior

- Who here fought with you in the war?
- Who reminds you of those you fought against?
- Why were you discharged from service?
- How did you get hold of a laser rifle?

=== 2. Apollo, the Creator

- Who here is your sibling?
- Who else understands the extent of your medical knowledge?
- What terror did you have the power to stop, but didn't?
- Why hasn't your guitar broken yet?

=== 3. Artemis, the Explorer

- Who here would you trust with your dog?
- Who would you take hunting / exploring?
- What strange fauna did you glimpse from the ship?
- How old is your dog?

Ok, let's pare this down to be even simpler:

  • Resources have a [stress / durability] clock and a [quality] die.
  • Players have a [skill] die.
  • Difficulty number is always 4, just for the ease of it.

When you use a resource, you have to tick its clock to use its die. You can tick its clock multiple times to get multiple dice, but you have to do that before you roll -- that way, you're already committing to using it, and resources continually decay. Roll your [relevant] skill die along with all the resource dice. I don't want options for re-rolls just to avoid taking a bunch of time with it.

The highest die is your result, 1-3 failure, 4-7 partial success, 8+ success.

Gaia's moves (specifically on a failure) can easily allow ticking a resource clock, so we don't have to put it into the mechanism directly.

One big downside to this approach is that even the lowest skill has a chance at success, however slim. However, I think we can say that if you don't have a skill die to roll, you just can't do it. "Specialized or high end resources" will generally be stuff that was on the ship to begin with, and those skills can be built-in to chargen.


Entropy is pretty much the primary theme. Kind of this game's version of Apocalypse World's "no status quo." It applies to the colonists and the planet both! If the colonists take out a predator through over-hunting, for instance, its prey will cycle up (and the prey's food will cycle down). Perhaps entropy and balance? I really want to use the chaos theory approach to how people affect the world.

Beyond "no status quo", I want Exile to feel like nothing's isolated, everything's connected. But that's certainly an additional theme, beyond entropy. It's why I chose "Gaia" as the GM's name in the first place:


Entropy drives exploration, as you noted, but only for consumable resources. Renewable resources should be available, if the colonists are clever enough to take advantage of an existing lifecycle and keep entropy from breaking it. (Fallow fields, as a real-life example.) Resources should tend to react to harvest, game-wise. The players go harvest a bunch of X, how much is left? How does that affect Y, that eats / uses X? How does that affect Z, that X eats / uses? The slower a resource regenerates, the more likely it's effectively non-renewable.

As players get comfortable in their colony, there are two possible paths: the "endgame", where you consider it a successful colony and fade to credits, and the "transition", where a large-scale disaster / change forces them to move. I'm not sure how to help the players decide between these two, but I think either is probably good play.

As far as safety's concerned: distance from the colony certainly corresponds to the square-ish of the danger rating, just naturally. Stuff can get into the colony from time to time, but that's where all the NPCs are anyway, and they can keep things under control. Hunting and gathering parties tend to patrol around the colony, so it's still pretty safe close by.

Codifying distance and danger: the pyramid-style map (where the colony is at a point and exploration proceeds out) determines what kind of dice the danger rolls against the colonists attempting to do stuff. Inside the colony, danger rolls a d4. Adjacent, a d6. Third row is a d8, fourth a d10, fifth (and final) a d12.

Beliefs and Goals

Colonists are a big bundle of beliefs, more so than even skills and stuff. The more these beliefs weave a complex web of interactions, the better. This should lead to small groups of firm alliances, crossed with small groups of temporary peace, crossed with small groups of enemies. The narrative of these beliefs and goals and relationships is the interesting part of the council phase (and probably the game in general), to me. The external stuff -- where exploration throws new, interesting resources at the colony, etc. -- exists to keep this part from getting stale.

the role of Gaia is to ensure that there is always a constant call to action

Yes, exactly. Gaia's role is to make sure they don't get comfortable until people are ready for the narrative to end (as mentioned above). Similar to Undying, the biggest tool Gaia has for this is that calling a council meeting already means something crazy's going on. While everything's calm, there's no need for a council.

The Gaia Hypothesis

The deal with Gaia and her playbook: it's like a relationship map for the ecosystem.  X eats Y, Y eats Z. If something happens to reduce the X population, the Y population will spike, which will cause the Z population to plummet. These secondary effects are the entire reason for the playbook. Hopefully, the way the chart is built will help Gaia figure out where there are holes that should be filled. "Here's a powerful predator, but what does it eat?" "Here's some large flora, what uses it for shelter?" etc.

I really appreciate this post, and I'm trying to collect my thoughts on it.

A day, in general. I did a week once, and it was far too slow. Anytime less than a day is too quick.

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Hm. Good question; I think it'd be nice, yeah.

One alternate possibility is a vote-up or vote-down (latter w/explanation), which is another way to mark that you've seen something.

This probably also needs -- especially for the post-council scenes.

Perhaps take a note from Savage Worlds resolution? Roll a die pool and take the highest, like Blades, but the dice are different sizes. (Means you can have a tool die and a skill die both.) Still go for target number 4, with raises, but remove all the combat rules in favor of hard and fast bloody violence.

do want people to consider the materials they're making things out of (the Robinson Crusoe effect), and how sturdy / fit for cause those are. Character skill should at least be a consideration as well, when taking actions. It could pretty much be binary, though; that's all you need to make people think about it. I don't want complex character sheets -- the collaborative prelude is enough.

Inheritance assigns each [violent] action a fixed card with a vague description of what happens. I can't do that, because I don't have a fixed cast of characters. I have to provide for random character X doing Y to random character Z.

I'm less worried about between-council actions, though it'd be nice if they could use the same mechanism.

I don't want the facilitator to need to come up with difficulty ratings, though -- I like Apocalypse World's fixed difficulty (fictional positioning notwithstanding).

Yeah, I'm less and less happy about it the more I think about it.

Got any ideas for a super-quick "ability + tool quality" resolution mechanic that also slowly wears down the tool?

Absolutely, but with more concrete prompts.

On Gaia's side, the playbook can have a bunch of prompts based on the climate they're in, which can help moderate the tone and assist players who aren't used to the total improv of Swords.

On the colonists' side, the playbook should include enough information about their ship that they can feel free to state truths without feeling like they're bringing something too-powerful into the game.

Conversation and timing. The problem I've had with forum games in the past is that time zones and accessible internet can mean some players end up having naturally less power in play just because they can't participate at the time of most activity. :(

It's just the general negotiation time I'm trying to avoid. The more I play Inheritance, the more I appreciate mechanisms that only get pulled out in dire need, and are almost immediately resolved, with no negotiation about how they work.

In the simple form, the three tweak-able numbers for one-resource tests are:

  • Clock segments. (Durability / Constitution) Segments go from two to eight, where two is like a stick (very breakable) and eight is built like a tank. The more segments, the more wear an item can take before it breaks permanently, but also the more skill you'll need to not wear down the item at all (at least in the current concept).
  • Clock modifier. (Quality / Strength) Modifiers go from -10 to 0, where -10 needs extreme skill to use at all and 0 won't fail without some brokenness. A nice sharp stick might have two segments at -2, where an unskilled character (rolling a d4) has a 50/50 chance of getting some good use out of it, while a skilled character (rolling a d8, perhaps) has a 50/50 chance of not even causing it to wear down.
  • Character skill. (Knowledge / Dexterity) Skill goes from d4 to d12, where d4 is totally unskilled and d12 is the highest class of expert.

This ends up meaning that almost anything you want to do is a single die roll, immediately readable. Hopefully.

Ah, and keep the popcorn initiative for it? Might work out well. I agree.

One trick I've got from Swords Without Master is the timing of a roll. I think instead of one roll encapsulating an entire plan, we can have these downtime sections where the facilitator and the player co-describe events leading up to a crux, where they roll the dice.

If the character isn't actually there, the facilitator can decide by fiat, or a roll of the dice, or whatever. But yeah, one roll per plan in that phase is the idea, to keep things moving, get back to the council phase.

Yes! Examples are essential. I'll have to make those when I update the chargen text.

Another playtest: probably. I'm trying to figure out how well it'd work play-by-forum, and then we could just play here. Might be complicated.

I just recently started moving that direction.

In playtest, the negotiation around what resources players could apply to a given situation took up more time than it was worth, so I kinda want to remove that in favor of "I use this, to do this. Ok?"

Mostly thinking about private interactions -- the player-vs-player stuff, or getting a jump on one of the plans discussed in council.

I'm slowly moving away from a heavily-structured "do stuff" phase towards the "Downtime" phases of Blades or Undying.

So then, the CON / STR / DEX trilogy is built around your "body clock" --

  • the number of segments is like constitution, how much of a beating you can take before you're broken. 
  • the non-positive modifier is like strength, a straight modifier on success no matter what you do.
  • the die rolled is like dexterity (though particular for a skill), which takes the specific event into account.

The idea is that a strong character with low dexterity can still succeed a few times, but their technique will just destroy their body doing it.

Exile community · Created a new topic Advancement

Player skill advancement comes through use, like in Burning Wheel games. Probably need to fail by hitting a filled-in segment to skill up, and it'll have to be recorded as such on the player sheet. (Starting skills at d6, unskilled at d4, skill-up to d8-d12.)

Colony advancement comes through achieving goals: a dependable source of food / water, housing, safety from the creatures of the planet. Goals are kept on the colony sheet, and advancement is marked there, too.

Exile community · Created a new topic Outline of a session.

I think I'm going to break each session up into three parts, with a possible prelude for character creation.

  • Prelude: Character creation using two "lifepath" tables, combined with a Swords Without Master "discovery phase" to flesh out the world and the colony ship.
  • CouncilFreeform scene dealing with the problems faced by the colony. Structured! Someone's officially leading, for example.
  • Evening: Player-called scenes for sneaky activities after the council.
  • Adventures: A "rogues phase" / Inheritance "epilogue" to show how the various plans came to fruition (or not).

After adventures, you could jump right into another session (likely straight to the Council), or just record changes for later.

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Talking with my friend Josh this morning about this pair of 36-entry tables, and he gave me the obvious question: why do you have 36 entries, anyway?

I'll probably drop them down to 12 each; perhaps just inspired by the common Jungian archetypes:

Campaign play will also need another set of tables for characters created post-planetfall, but I can deal with that later.

One trick with this resolution is that there's a missing dimension: resource clocks have to do double duty as durability (how many segments can be ticked) and quality (how long before first failure).

To deal with this, I think resources have two parts: a clock size (durability) and an negative modifier (quality).

A pointed stick might have a 2-clock with -2 quality, so rolling a d4 will fail half the time and tick stress the other half. Rolling a d6 might keep the stick working longer, but not forever.

"Character creation" in Exile has always been a three-card spread in my mind, but as I go through this simplification round I'm having trouble coming up with reasons why. Past/present/future spreads can be nice, but I'm not sure if there's enough content to drive it.

The Prelude

Each player rolls three times on the 36-entry table (built around Lenormand cards). They get to pick one for their old Earth history (and answer: "why did you leave?"), and there's a round where everyone talks about that background. The pick determines some other relationships, skills, and keepsakes that you write up. For relationships, you talk about them just like Bonds in Dungeon World. This part of the prelude could also work like a Rogue's phase in Swords Without Master, where you get to ask people a question about their history.

After the background is done, there's a second round where each player picks a different roll for what happened at Planetfall (the actual colony ship crash), and there's a round where everyone talks about that event. This pick determines some more relationships, skills, and ship technology you managed to salvage at that moment. This part of the prelude could also work like a Discovery phase in Swords Without Master, where you get to say something true about the planet (based on Gaia's playbook, which has a bunch of ideas on it) and then ask the facilitator a loaded question about that thing.

Finally, players write up their own personal beliefs and goals to start the game. I'm not sure if I feel like these can be procedurally-generated to my satisfaction, but I'll need to figure out a few patterns to help people do it. This is basically a heavily-constrained two-lifepath character creation session. Characters born after Planetfall can be rolled on a different "colony" sheet, to allow for campaign play. I'll have to worry about that later.

The big worry about this system is injecting enough detail into the starting situation that people want several things out of the first freeform scene. Inheritance does this extremely well, but it can work with characters molded carefully into that interaction. Perhaps some ideas from Fiasco might help with this part: if history + planetfall picks were effectively a triple of: relationship + shared need + keepsake/tech (where ship locations already are primed and planet locations come out of the planetfall prelude phase), that might be enough to push things to a breaking point.

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As I'm taking another look at these systems, I realize it's still too complex to actually work as an Inheritance-style game. I need a much simpler way of resolving things, with much less facilitator input.

The character creation sheet and gaia and colony sheets are [constrained] prompts for the players, so I can hang things on them once their content actually exists. I think I'm going to reduce the complexity of using multiple resources, though. (Too much DM fiat necessary.)

Resources. A resource is a name, short description, and a clock. The clock's segments are each assigned a number for testing -- 2, 3, 4, and so on. A 4-clock goes 2-5, a 6-clock goes 2-7, etc. You can write down the numbers or just count them out in play. As the numbers fill up, the resource stresses and breaks.

Tests. When you do something we can't (or shouldn't) physically perform, roll a test. A test has two parts: your own skill and the primary resource clock you're using for assistance (which could be your body). If you're unskilled, you roll a d4, and each level of skill increases the die size (d6, d8, d10, d12). The facilitator can deny a particular skill / clock combo, if it's ridiculous.

Roll the die and look at that part of the clock. If you rolled a 1 or the clock is filled in at your roll, you failed. Otherwise, you succeeded: fill it in. (If you rolled greater than the highest segment, you don't need to fill anything in.) Compare with the opposition (default: 1) for a second dimension of success. The particular type of test you made determines what happens. When you fill in the last clock segment, that resource breaks.

Violence results:

  • Failed lower: you're slain.
  • Failed higher: you're wounded.
  • Succeeded lower: they're wounded.
  • Succeeded higher: they're slain

Example: Rider is fighting Bear. Rider has a spear and Bear found a high-tech pistol on the ship. Rider is initiating, and Bear is just defending themselves -- they don't want to roll in opposition. Rider has one level of skill using the spear, and rolls a d6 for 4. The spear has a 4-clock, filled in at 2 and 4 (empty at 3 and 5), so Rider fails. At no opposition, they fail "higher", so Rider is wounded in the fight.