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Eli Kurtz (He/Him)

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A member registered Jan 02, 2019 · View creator page →

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Finally got my game out into the world today! I'm pretty satisfied with how Once Upon the Web turned out. If you take a look I hope you'll let me know what you think!

Thanks much! I hit a mental block about a week ago but it's getting cleared up and I'm making some fun progress today. Hopefully I'll have something to share by Friday!

Hey everybody! I'm super excited to be creating for the Folklore Jam and wanted to share my project somewhere. Seems like this is the best place!

Once Upon The Web

Once there was a User who loved the Group Chat on their favorite Platform. They shared Content with their Mutuals from the time they booted up their device in the morning to the time they charged it at night. But one day, the User heard a rumor about secrets in a deep corner of the Web. The User went looking for these secrets, and that navigation changed them forever.

One of my favorite things about old folklore a la Brothers Grimm is the practicality of it: folktales were a way for common people to share stories about their lives and how to live them, and it wasn't necessary to get published or renowned to be able to tell those tales. Tabletop games occupy a similar niche. We often use TTRPGs to tell escapist tales in settings very different from our real world but the potential is still there for TTRPGs to tell stories that guide us through our lives.

I'm using the Belonging Outside Belonging framework by Avery Alder and a similar game, Trouble For Hire by Kevin Allen Jr, as inspiration for the mechanics for Once Upon the Web. I'd like this to be a game where players take on the role of "world forces" (the website, influencers, trolls, etc.) and guide an NPC "User" through the digital wonderland. Ideally, it'll be a game that makes it possible to create shared folktales that impart genuine lessons about how to navigate the internet.

Looking forward to seeing what other folks have in store! And if anyone's got any insight into designing a) diceless mechanics or b) PBTA-style moves I'd love to hear it!

Thanks Nick! I think I bought Misspent Youth a few months ago but there's a big ol pile of RPGs I've gotta get through. I'll bump it up the list though!

Sounds like a fun hack! I'm familiar with Misspent Youth but I've never had the chance to read or play it. Interesting to think of swapping phase mechanics for something (potentially) more granular though!

Swords Without Master is such fertile ground for hacking! I've heard there's a pretty good Star Wars hack out there but I'd love to see more stuff coming out for it.

I'd also love to see someone hack Trouble for Hire by Nathan Paoletta. It divides traditional GM and setting tasks between players in a really cool, fluid way. 

Not to self promote too hard but I published a hack of The Quiet Year this past year! The Summer Greening: A Blackwood Tale is a game about a society of bold rangers trying to hold themselves together as their forest territory grows weirder and weirder through the seasons. It's not a super innovative hack but it was fun to tweak the kind of story told through the card draws.

Wow I LOVE this analysis of this poem! Really wonderful application in Under Heaven, Underworld too. 

I don't know of any survey like that but I like the idea. Let me know if you'd like any help putting questions together.

Agreed all around! I had a tickle in my brain that there was a "run the plot" game or two out there but couldn't remember what they were. Thanks for the reminder! You could also add Tobie Abad's A Single Moment to that list, although you can string that game's scenes together more or less however you like.

I guess it wasn't all that accurate to say "run the plot" games are railroady. I think they can run that risk... but maybe not any more or less than any other system. That is to say: the difference between guided plot and railroad may have more to do with the GM than the system.

Levi, I appreciate that distinction at the end between "RPGs are good at creating narratives" and "RPGs are bad at conforming to plot structure." There are ways games encourage certain narratives but the games I've seen that try to get the plot to conform to a particular structure are usually too railroady for my tastes.

For example, I've played 15 sessions of a Blades in the Dark campaign and the narrative is building pretty naturally toward a massive climax very soon. The players have just wanted to live as illegal canal skiff racers who use their clout to advocate for better labor conditions for the Dockers. But trying to rise through the racing ranks while also avoiding the legal entanglements of that passion and also taking direct action against oppression has heaped a mighty pile of trouble on the crew's shoulders. 

It reminds me of Peaky Blinders: Tommy Shelby "just" wants his family to live well but there's always a better quality of life on the horizon, and each new plateau comes with new and unique problems. Tommy's method of overcoming those challenges means he's always sticking his neck out further and further. In the same way, this crew "just wants to live" but the interplay between Stress, Vice, Reputation, Heat, and Entanglement all push the narrative toward that increasingly fraught, difficult climax. The mechanics encourage a certain narrative without mandating a particular plot structure, and I think that's a sign of good design.

I'm in the process of putting together a working draft of my folklore-fantasy hack, The Blackwood Tales. The elevator pitch is that you are wandering adventurers inspired by (mostly European) folklore who have gathered together in an inn to recount adventures you went on together years ago. The GM is the Innkeeper and seems to know more about your adventures than they should...

I haven't thought in terms of "what I'm cutting out" because essentially I started with a foundation of GM/player principles and agendas and literally nothing else. When a principle or agenda requires a mechanic, I look at what exists already and figure out if I can use one of those pieces. So for now my hack is limited to:

  • Position/Effect
  • Stress ("Tangles")
  • Trauma ("Folly")
  • Vice ("Calling")
  • Playbooks (currently 4 character playbooks and 3 currently undrafted crew playbooks)
  • Push Yourself and Flashback have been combined into "Embellishment"
  • Devil's Bargains

Load, Reputation, and several other mechanics will probably become a part of the hack too but I'm not sure yet! Trying to build as lean a draft as I can at first so I can playtest and determine what's missing.

Oooooh, I really like shifting Claims/Foundations over to the Downtime phase. It feels like that's the mechanic that gets the least amount of engagement from people I've played with and if I had to guess I'd say it's because a) most of my fellow players are new to the system, and b) there's already a lot going on in the Free Play and Score phases!

Also with you on simplifying healing. I think a hidden design principle in BitD is that players ought to have more than one character ready to go. Get injured? play a different character until this one is healed up. Too much heat? send a character to prison to cool things off. Overindulge? might need to play another character for a bit! So I guess Heat as-written makes sense in that context but I'm not a big fan of it.

Welcome Eric! Glad to see ya here.

I would also suggest this model:

How to Criticize with Kindness: Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently

It's very similar to what you've already posted, tropical depression, but it's super concise. Might be helpful for remembering the basic structure of the method.

Absolutely yes! Folklore is my design bread and butter.

My understanding of your line of thinking, Axes&Orcs, is that you're presenting two points:

1. D&D is not (and is not intended to be) a game that's designed with narrative structure in mind. (And maybe 1a: If people want narrative structure there are better games out there.)

2. Because 1, creating space in the text of D&D for what we might call "narrative training tools" is unnecessary.

If those are accurate readings of your points, I agree with point 1 but I think point 2 is no hill to die on. 

You're right that D&D was designed with particular goals in mind, a lot of people use D&D for stuff that's well beyond those goals (my feathers always get a bit ruffled when I hear "we played the best game of D&D ever last night... we never even picked up the dice!"), and those people might have an experience that's closer to their flavor of fun if they used a different game. 

But for point 2, I feel like there's a lot of stuff in the D&D books that people never use (if we limit ourselves just to the PHB: travel, encumbrance, trade goods, underwater combat, etc.). To me, it doesn't feel like a betrayal of D&D's design if WOTC adds a few paragraphs (or even a whole chapter) on how narrative structure can be noticed and highlighted in the course of improvisational and/or tactical play.

I cut my designer teeth on GITP! Haven't posted there in *logs in real quick* four whole years! I hear you about that BBCode. XD

I guess it's no surprise that the example you mention, Dream Askew, is a game that takes care to divide narrative duties up between the players. That makes you wonder why narrative tools weren't more popular in the days when games where dominated by GM roles (just because narrative duties are centralized in one person doesn't mean they're any less challenging to learn!). 

Does it seem likely that shared-narrative games are the ideal environment for narrative tools? Like, are narrative tools any more important in a shared-narrative game than they are in a game with a traditional GM?

Performance has always been a big part of my experience at the table (I have a theatre background too!), to the point where I notice how often other folks prefer to keep it light or avoid it entirely. It's interesting to see which games "get out of the way" to facilitate performance. Like, D&D as a rules system doesn't provide any structure for roleplay, but because of that it can be a capable facilitator for freeform RP. One reason why I think shows like Critical Role and The Adventure Zone are so popular is because the players can just riff with each other without worrying about picking up the dice.

Contrast that with games like Monsterhearts, which are all about social interaction and has a lot of rules to facilitate it. But introducing those dice in the midst of roleplay "performances" is a disruption that D&D can more easily avoid.  Or for a really egregious example, look at Blades in the Dark: every action roll in the game is the result of a conversation that goes back and forth between player and GM several times.  "Performance roleplay" is possible in both these systems but both present unique challenges too.

Hi everyone! I'm Eli, he/him, gamer, game designer, cartographer, co-host of Jianghu Hustle, and owner of The Mythic Gazetteer. I've been playing RPGs for most of my life and designing them for the past few years. As a player, I tend to GM often and I love Blades in the Dark, The Quiet Year, Swords Without Master, D&D, Savage Worlds, and a bunch of other games. As a designer, I'm currently focused on a Forged in the Dark game of fairytale bargains and thrilling action set in my original fantasy setting, The Blackwood. I'm sure I'll post a bunch of little games here over time too.

I was recently made a mod there in the Tabletop Games forum, so I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone. Don't hesitate to hit me up if you ever want to chat! You can also find me @ZapDynamic on Twitter and Eli Kurtz (He/Him)#9444 on Discord.

Just chiming in to second that categories for D&D and Fate at least would be good and, I think, necessary. I've had a couple people contact me privately about creation of these spaces in the Design section.

Really solid point. At least here in the early days/weeks/months, separating by activity seems like a better way to go about it.

The list of categories that have been put forth so far have great suggestions but I feel like there's a more elegant way to lay it out. PBTA and FITD are popular but there are a lot of people designing for Fate, D&D, and other popular systems too. A general "Hacks" category feels inadequate to fit all of those, but individual sections for every game would be a cluttered mess.  I'm not sure what the answer is.

I haven't been all that active on Itch so far but I'm pointed toward opening a publishing page and I'd love to be considered for a mod of these forums, particularly any potential Forged in the Dark, TTRPG Theory, or Resources sections. I care a lot about making sure everyone's comfortable and has room to thrive.

Hi there! I'm a game designer and publisher who's used Itch as a consumer and have been looking into hosting products here. I'm mostly chiming in to reiterate the good ideas other folks have shared. To clarify: I'm sharing info that I think is most relevent and efficient; there are lots of great ideas suggested but some of them may be edge cases.


Broad Designation: "Analog Games" and "Tabletop Games" are the most commonly used but whereas "Tabletop" only includes RPGs, board, and card games, "Analog" also includes LARPs and other kinds of games. Analog is probably the best best.

Sub-Sections:

  • Board Game
  • Card Game
  • LARP
  • Roleplaying Game
  • RPG Supplement
  • RPG Utility
  • Zine

Genres/Categories:

  • Campaign
  • Family Friendly
  • Fantasy
  • GMless/GMfull (GMless is more popular but GMfull has a decent sized following)
  • Horror
  • Low Prep
  • Micro Game
  • No Prep
  • One Shot
  • Post Apocalypse
  • Sci Fi
  • Solo RPG
  • Story Game/Storytelling Game
  • Superheroes
  • Western
  • Worldbuilding Game

3rd Party Publishing:

  • Cypher System
  • Fate
  • Forged in the Dark (FitD)
  • Open Game License (OGL)
  • OSR (Often "Old School Renaissance" but the acronym has basically moved past easy definition)
  • Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA)
  • Savage Worlds Aces: for official licensees of the Savage Worlds RPG (may not be possible due to licensing restrictions; contact Pinnacle Entertainment Group for clarification)
  • Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild (SWAG): for fan products for the Savage Worlds RPG (same potential licensing issues above apply)

Misc. Ideas

  • Print Products: I don't need to sell print products on Itch but the option would be nice. Working with a 3rd party like Lulu or Lightning Source would be amazing.
  • Mailing Lists: Not sure if Itch already has something like this but I'd like to be able to send an email to everyone who has purchased my products (only if they consent to receive email, of course).
  • Forum/Social Media: I've saved the biggest ask for last. Google+ an oasis for thousands of people in several parts of the RPG community but it's shutting down. Alternatives (facebook, Twitter, MeWe, Discord, Slack, etc.) all have interesting opportunities but none of them are a solid replacement. Some kind of (searchable!) forum or social media space where tabletop gamers could chat (grouped by discussion) and share news, blog posts, etc. would be truly wonderful.

Thanks so much for taking this step, Leaf! It's the thing that's made me finally decide to give publishing on Itch a try. Looking forward to what you come up with!