Every Cat Has It’s Day

While dogs are man’s best friend, cats are generally the friend who crashes on your couch, eats all your food and occasionally does something cool enough that you remember why you hang out with them. They certainly do not care about their owner’s approval as much as a dog does and generally the only way to stop a cat from doing something is to literally stop a cat from doing something. A dog is like a pre-teen child, full of energy, mischievous but eager to please. A cat is like a teenager, sullen, sarcastic but fairly independent.

Dogs seem much more prosaic than cats, though. Cats are exotic, mysterious and unpredictable. Their allure is in the fact that being around them often feels like being around a creature wiser, if not more intelligent than yourself.

Here are a couple of cat companions or enemies for your characters.

Mystic Cat
It is sometimes said that cats live in two worlds: ours and the invisible world around us. This is literally true of Mystic Cats. When they stare off into space or appear to stalk something that isn’t there, they are actually looking at invisible things that we cannot see. Of course, it would only be frustrating if they could see such things and not interact with them and as Mystic Cats really do exist in the mundane and invisible worlds, they are able to touch these beings as well.

Mystic Cats look just like any ordinary housecat. In fact, they are often born to ordinary housecats. No one knows what makes a Mystic Cat become a Mystic Cat. The owners of Mystic Cats often don’t even realize that their cat is anything out of the ordinary, thinking them just strange examples of housecats (as though there are normal examples of housecats.) People who deal with the supernatural are always on the lookout for Mystic Cats and highly prize them. They often use them as familiars and spotters to inform them when invisible creatures are around.

Agility: d10, Smarts: d6(A), Spirit: d8, Strength: d4, Vigor: d6
Skills: Fighting d10, Guts d8, Notice d8
Pace: 7 Parry: 6 Toughness: 3
Special abilities:
Claws: Str
Size: -2 Mystic Cats are no larger than their more mundane brethren.
Small: Attackers are at a -2 to hit Mystic Cats because of their small size.
Denizens of Both Worlds: Mystic Cats live in both the material universe and the ethereal world. They can see and affect (and be seen by and affected by) creatures from both realms. They can see and attack ethereal and invisible creatures as easily as any others.

War Cat
Massive beasts created through selective breeding of various big cats, war cats are the size of horses. Despite their bulk, they maintain most of their feline agility and their savage power is only enhanced. Their breeding has made them loyal companions but not docile or particularly respectful of humans in general. They will obey and are quite affectionate toward their masters but can be a menace to anyone else. Everyone else is advised to step lightly when around a war cat. They are quite intelligent and perceptive. The unusual (often enhanced through magic or science depending upon your setting) nature of their origin means that war cats are prone to mutations. This most often displays itself as unusual fur and eye color. Any of the patterns of their ancestor species’ is possible, though variations on tiger stripes or an unmarked coat are most common.

Agility: d8, Smarts: d6(A), Spirit: d10, Strength: d12+1, Vigor: d10
Skills: Fighting d10, Guts d12, Notice d8
Pace: 8 Parry: 7 Toughness: 10
Special abilities:
Bite or Claws: Str + d8
Size: +3 War cats weigh over a 1000 pounds.
Improved Frenzy: War cats may make two attacks each action with no penalty.
Pounce: A war cat can leap 1d6” to gain +4 to its attack and damage. Its Parry is reduced by -2 until its next action. Anyone riding the war cat when this attack is performed must immediately make a riding check at -2 or be dismounted.

Beyond Sight
Requirements: Novice, Feline
Your keen eyesight extends beyond even your capacity to see in dim lighting. You are capable of seeing things that are hidden in the ethereal world as easily as creatures on the material plane. Creatures that would normally be invisible because of their invisible nature are not hidden from you.

Denizen of Both Worlds
Requirements: Seasoned, Feline, Beyond Sight
In addition to being able to see ethereal creatures, you have honed your senses and skills to the point where you can attack them normally. You may attack and damage an ethereal creature with any normal or natural weapon.

Tree Climber
Requirements: Novice, Feline, d8 Agility
You are especially adept at using your claws to climb. You gain a +2 to climb anything that you can get purchase on with your claws. This includes wood, most trees and other plants as well as cloth (such as a sail) but not stone or even rope.

Feet Down
Requirements: Novice, Feline, d8 Agility
Your balance is such that you always land on your feet assuming that you are not bound or otherwise hindered. You take no damage from falls of 30’ or less. It doesn’t matter much if you land on your feet or not at heights greater than this and you take normal damage.

Requirements: Novice, Feline, Bite natural weapon
Your upper canines are very large. So large that they protrude over your lower lip when your mouth is closed. You are also able to open your jaws far wider than normal. You are able to deliver savage bites with these teeth and the damage from your bite natural attack increases by one die type.

…In Spaaace!

Some sci fi games feature hard science settings with very realistic rules for gravity, faster than light travel and high tech weapons. Other games are basically designed for space operas. These games feature artificial gravity, ship travelling as fast as they need to to get to the plot and the only limitations on weapons are how cool they are. Then, there is …In Spaaace! by Greg Stolze. If Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a genre and there are other stories in it, this is the game to play them.
The game is fairly short, both the setting and rules encompassing only 15 pages but that is really all that’s needed for the subject. The setting information takes up the first half of the book but in those 7 pages players get all they need to know about the ridiculousness of living in this particular future. Much like the world in Hitchhiker’s Guide, the ideas presented in this book are nothing more than the trends that currently exist in the real world taken to their logical, ridiculous extreme. And there’s more than a hint of philosophy thrown into the descriptions for good measure. For instance, Artificial Stupidity is just as important a part of Machine Consciousness in …In Spaaace! as Artificial Intelligence. This makes perfect sense since we constantly rate whether or not a computer is self aware based on how much it acts like a human. A computer can be perfectly logical, far more logical than humans and thus quite intelligent but it is not considered sentient because it does not have emotions. And less face facts, emotions generally make us do stupid things in one way or another. Thus, it is the flaws in the machines that make them self aware just as it is our own flaws that make us individuals. Other science fiction tropes like cloning and aliens are presented as well and given the same insightful yet ridiculous treatment. A surprisingly complete vision of the world of …In Spaaace! ends up being given in those 7 short pages.
The remainder of the game explains the rules system behind …In Spaaace!. This system is known as Token Effort and I have had the fortune of playing this system twice with Tim Rodriguez of www.dicefoodlodging.com/ fame. This system is exceptionally good at freeing people to tell wild utilizing a shared set of rules. Rule Zero puts the goal of the game into sharp perspective. If someone does or says something in character that makes you laugh, you must give them one of your tokens. In both games that I played, the tokens flowed like water as everyone attempted to top each other in how ludicrous they made the story.
Beyond Rule Zero there are not many other rules in Token Effort. It is a diceless game and, in fact, there is no randomness at all. Instead, each player and the GM start the game with a certain number of tokens. When a player wants to take over the narrative, he secretly bids a number of tokens depending on how much he wants his story element to take place and the GM secretly bids a number of tokens as well. Whoever bid the most gets to narrate that portion of the story and hands over a token to the other person. Thus, even if a player loses, they get a token, making it more likely that they will be able to narrate a portion of the story later in the game and vice versa for the GM. The only exception to this rule is that if the bids of the player and GM are tied the player still gets to narrate but has to give up all the tokens that he bid.
Of course, this would make the game nothing more than trading tokens back and forth if this were the only rules. Characters in Token Effort also have traits and GMs have plot points with which to construct the challenges that the characters are going to face which are then translated into traits for those challenges. Each of these traits has a value between 1 and 5 and essentially serves as free tokens that can be used in each situation where the trait applies. These traits are fairly free form and can be anything that the player comes up with. Examples from the game include Hyperintelligent Chimp, Space Pirate, and Make Things Explode With My Mind, amongst others. Clearly these traits can be used in a wide variety of situations and players are encouraged to be creative in how they are used. In situations where players are not directly facing a challenge created by the GM, the GM sets a base level for the bidding exchange based on just how unlikely the player’s request is. “I find a hydrospanner that is the right size in this garage” would have a level of 1 for example whereas “I find a fully functioning pilot robot in this dress shop” would have a level of 5.
…In Spaaace! is a fun, freeform game with rules simple enough that a group could throw together a session and play it in a single sitting but utilitarian enough that a group could just as easily run a full length campaign. In either case, so long as the group accepts and follows the concepts of both the setting and the system, they will find themselves laughing uproariously every time they play.

Pie Shop Review

Let’s face facts: most adventurers are homicidal, if not genocidal maniacs. Even in the best of circumstances, they beat up the bad guys in less than legal circumstances and more often than not, they simply slaughter sentient beings and loot their dead bodies. In darker games, the characters are not even expected to have a moral excuse for performing such slaughter; they are simply giving in to their accursed nature. Pie Shop takes this often overlooked fact of role playing to all new levels. In fact, the game takes it to a level where it is the very core of the game. In Pie Shop the characters (it is impossible to think of them as heroes in even the loosest terms, even “anti-hero” is too nice a title for them) are serial killers.
The author goes to great lengths to convey the skewed, dark and downright creepy nature of his subject matter. Each chapter begins with a scene from Alice in Wonderland but the excerpts are altered so that Alice is a killer who leaves a bloody path in her wake as she travels through Wonderland. The game text itself is written in a twisted, slightly insane style and from the perspective of one killer talking to another, a sort of psychotic mentor. This writing includes the obligatory piece of flavor text but even this is knocked sideways from expectations by taking a sudden, violent, dark turn in the middle that is all too appropriate for the game. Reading Pie Shop gives a feeling not unlike reading the novel American Psycho. You’re travelling through a strange land that is the mind of someone almost completely alien, yet disgustingly human and it is hard to look away.
The most important part of a Pie Shop game is obviously the characters. More than most other games, this one is an exploration of the characters’ thoughts and motivations as much as any external story and the game revolves around that fact. Still, character creation is a relatively simple process. It is a points buy system, but unlike most such systems it is remarkably loose. Loose enough, in fact that many stats are optional. Characters are not required to have ranks in all stats, and in fact, players do not even need to bother listing stats that they do not raise or lower during character creation. Skills are approached similarly, with a discrete list of skills presented and costs for buying them at different ranks but no requirement to buy any. A few are given for free but players are free to choose or ignore others as they like.
But these simple mechanical rules only begin to communicate the essence of a Pie Shop character. What is at least as important is the character’s peculiar…hobby. The writer clearly understands or at least has researched his subject matter and does an excellent job of helping players define their characters’ pattern. The first part of the pattern is the Target. Serial Killers do not murder willy nilly, you’re thinking of mass murderers. Serial Killers have very specific types that they go for and they seldom stray outside their particular tastes. The author provides a wide variety of Targets as examples, from women to homosexuals to children but also encourages players to come up with their own specific Targets.
Of course, the victim of a killing is only one portion of the act and the reason behind it is just as important to a true serial killer. In addition to a Target type, characters must have an Emotion that the killing evokes. This could be called the motivation behind the killer’s murders though “motivation” implies more logical reasoning than is generally evident in these kinds of characters. Again, a wide list of potential Emotions is presented from love to hate to guilt to sexual pleasure.
Finally, each killer has one or more Methodology Quirks. These are the ways that the character goes about doing what he or she does. Beyond that, they are the things that the character must do to do what he or she does. Just as the characters are driven by certain emotions to kill certain targets, they are driven to do so in a certain way. This could be something like dismembering their victim, draining them of their blood, photographing them or a myriad other innocuous and not so innocuous things that go into the ritual that the character must perform to satisfy the demons inside. Each character must have at least one of these Methodology Quirks but if a player takes more they get a character point for each additional one.
To drive home the point that who, how and why a character kills is as important as any other part of a character in this game, the Advantages and Disadvantages portion of character creation comes after the section that defines his or her kills. These more mechanical portions of the character come after the character’s motivations and have a much more direct effect on the mechanics of the character than his Target, for example. But a Pie Shop character would not be a Pie Shop character without his need to kill and the way he has to do it.
As with any other points buy game with Advantages and Disadvantages, they can be bought to modify a character or taken to provide more points for other portions of the character. Of course, in this game, all these Advantages and Disadvantages have an effect on how the character kills.
The basic die mechanic is even simpler than character creation. It is simply a matter of rolling a d12, adding in any modifiers for applicable stats and skills and trying to equal or exceed 10. GM’s are encouraged to add or subtract modifiers as applicable though no they should modify it by no more than a plus or minus five. There is even a pair of charts to indicate levels of success and failure but these are optional and purely descriptive. And, in keeping with the narrative nature of the game, players can use any stats or skills that they can logically apply to a roll and can get the GM to agree to in any given situation, though only one stat and one skill.
Despite how simple the character creation section is and how loose the game over all is, Combat proves rather complex. Damage is measured in tally marks (the standard make four marks then slash across them for the fifth tally marks) and wounds (each chunk of five tally marks.) Taking wounds provides penalties to actions and eventually leads to unconsciousness and death. This is a perfectly acceptable damage system and one that is quite comprehensive enough for a narrative game but for some reason, an additional one is included. Depending on what sort of weapon is being used a person being injured might also take bleeding damage. In addition to being an entirely separate track of wounds to keep up with, bleeding continues from round to round and players have to keep track of the most bleeding damage they’ve taken in an encounter as this is how much damage they take in later rounds in addition to any other damage. To keep things from getting even more complex, weapons are provided in broad categories and do a set amount of damage.
As far as actually determining who damages who, only the character who wins initiative does damage, unless someone is fighting at range, in which case they also do damage. Fortunately, a combat round summary is included to help players keep track of the action as it goes on. Unfortunately, this summary is 8 steps long.
In keeping with the gritty nature of the game, healing is very slow. Your pet killer is not going to go out and get in a fist fight in a bar or shot up by the cops and pop up the next day to go killing again. Now you’re thinking of slasher movies. It takes months to recover wounds, meaning that your character will be impaired for those months while he or she heals up.
Vague suggestions are given for running a campaign for the game, though they are very vague. Again, the game is intended as more of a trip down the rabbit hole of psychosis rather than an ongoing campaign. However, one conceit of the game has the potential to pull the punch behind the concept a bit. The characters are all working for a shadowy organization after having been caught by the police for their nefarious deeds. With the right GM, this shadowy organization could be as casually malicious as the characters are actively malicious, but it is just as possible that the GM will make the organization a force for good using the character’s murderous tendencies in beneficial ways. While this is at least morally grey, it provides a glimmer of redemption for characters that should be wholly, unredeemably evil.
The last full section of the game is extras. The first of these is a d20 prestige class based on the concept of the game. This may be the only section of the game that is humorous, no doubt because the idea of translating the concepts of this game into a d20 game amuses the author. And it is hard to blame him. The loose, narrative nature of this game is at distinct odds to the granular, tactical rules of a d20 game.
Additionally, there is an index of suggested viewing/reading of movies, tv shows, books and comics that deal with the subject matter of the game to help players get into the right mindset. This list is by no means exhaustive and does not suggest any nonfiction, but should give players enough dark inspiration to get started.
Finally, the game ends with not a warning but a reminder. The game is very dark, purposefully so and is meant to take players to the brink of what they can handle emotionally. It is intended as a way to remind players just how dark and horrible some of the actions their characters in all games truly are. In a way, it is a catharsis, a way for players to plumb the dark depths of their souls and stare at the abyss in a relatively safe way.
Reading Pie Shop can be mildly unsettling. I’m certain that the intention is that playing it will leave you creeped right out. Whether this happens or not is up to each group, but Mr. Toad has certainly given any group interested all the right tools.