Alpha-test RPG

Thanks again to folks who came out to alpha-test my first RPG. It went really well, I think!

Benjamin Rosenbaum‘s game, Dream Apart, is about a marginalized community in the shadow of a majority. Mine isn’t quite that — I was more interested in exploring how everyday people create family (found or otherwise), and how we try to deal well with each other in the shadow of larger-scale conflict, even war. That’s been a major theme of my work throughout, from my mainstream Bodies in Motion to the SF stories in The Stars Change, etc. I’m really loving seeing it played out in game form.


Will play-test again next month, April 4 at my place; let me know if you’d like to join us. I’m recommending this be a 3-6 player game, but if we have a lot of people, we can always split up into two ships.  And I think Alex Gurevich and I will be play testing it at FogCon next weekend in Walnut Creek, if we can find 1-2 more people; let me know if you’d like to join for that!

A little post-game analysis now; it’ll make more sense if you read a few paragraphs of set-up notes:


JUMP SPACE: The Emerging War

Welcome to the Jump Space universe. We’re about 200 years in the future, circa 2200 as humans count years. In the mid-2050s, human spacecraft discovered a “black box” machine at the edge of our solar system; it proved to contain a gift: a prototype for a Jump drive, and a map which marked certain wormholes one could use to traverse a much wider galaxy. Jumping is always a little risky — a tiny percentage of ships never come out of Jump. But humans have been exploring for quite some time now, have settled various systems and set up different types of government, and have met lots of other species along the way.

There is much still to explore; the galaxy is vast.


In this game, you’re one of 3-6 people on a Jump ship. You’ve come together in a small event-hosting business that’s also something of a found family. Your quest is to keep your business and community going in a sometimes hostile universe — war has been brewing, with tensions rising between the ‘pure human’ movement, the humods (those genetically modified, either before or after birth, sometimes visibly, sometimes not), and the non-humans.

During the session, you’ll play through interactions with your fellow crew members, as you spend long stretches together in the close confines of a ship (travel between Jump points is fairly slow), and decide whether to stop on certain planets for work. You make your joint living through a combination of event-hosting (bringing in exotic flowers for a fancy wedding, for example) and general trade (Denebian crystal-dreams are hot right now on Tharsis).

Relationships are key: Some of you may be biologically related. Some of you may be dating or partnered with others of you (poly and queerness are norms in this culture; monogamy is also possible, or not being romantically or sexually interested at all). This is ideally played as an intergenerational game, with some of you as parents (we strongly encourage you to have children on the ship; the facilitator may play the children’s / parents’ roles if no other players are interested).

The question at the end of a session is always — does this community want to stay together as it is? Do members want to break off? Do you want to welcome others in? There are no right or wrong answers here, even if the community breaks apart at the end.


There’s a bunch more in the guidelines, but that’s probably enough to go on for this post.

The basic structure is a roughly 3-hr game that you can drop people into with no prep (at home, at a convention, etc.). My goal is to have the rules, background, and character creation take no more than 20-25 minutes, so that you can then dive into gameplay. We were able to do that yesterday, and have three solid ‘scenes’ in the next 2.5 hrs, ending with a satisfying climax scene.

I’m of course excited to have people playing games set in my Jump Space universe; it’s a sheer delight hearing them engage with my material. None of them had actually read any of my fiction in that universe, I think (maybe Heather, a bit?), which was great — I wanted to be sure that reading the fiction wasn’t a prerequisite to having a fun and satisfying game.

Part of what became clear during game-play was that I had skimped on some of the critical background. While people were happy to invent their own aliens and their own gene-modded and psi powers, a little guidance as to typical possibilities would have helped — I’m thinking maybe a set of six possibilities that people can either choose from or roll a die for, along with encouragement to create their own beyond that.

I think I’m also going to give them the option of either ‘free-form’ or more plot-heavy play. You can just roam the galaxy, hang out with your crew, see what happens. Or you can use some suggested scenarios as a starting point, and play out something with a clearer plot arc — choices to make, big consequences, leading to a climax, etc.

Players wanted to know more about how spaceflight and communications worked, so I needed to add just a line or two about that. And I clearly needed to add more background about the universe as a whole — government structures, relationships between species, and the emerging war.

I had them roll a die at the end of each scene to determine whether the war intrudes or not. That worked reasonably well, but I think for this particular iteration of Jump Space, where the theme is the war that is just beginning to emerge throughout the galaxy, some of what I’d like the game to explore would be lost if the day’s gameplay never touched on war.

So I think next time, I’m going to tweak that a bit — in the last ‘scene’ of the day’s play, I’m going to recommend that players do plan on having the war affect play. No dice roll, just assume it’s become significant enough to be inescapable.

Not necessarily in a big way — in the particular game we played, there were a few instances of anti-genemod ‘racism’ that the crew had to deal with (one of them had adopted some war orphans, little kids with visible modifications, which led to harassment); none of those incidents turned violent, but they could have.

It also turned out that the ship’s accountant had made investments in what she thought was a company rebuilding on war-torn planets, essentially a NGO, and then it was revealed that the company was actually war profiteers, contributing to the conflict in order to make more money. Now the crew will have to deal with that information — some know, some don’t. How will they react when they do find out? Will it break the crew apart?

Maybe the most satisfying parts for me were:

a) They all really seemed to have a good time — lots of invention, lots of laughter, lots of creative collaborative storytelling, building off each others’ efforts. (None of them really knew each other in advance, either.) Some of them were more plot-oriented, some more interested in acting their bits out, but it all basically worked, and people seemed engaged straight through the three hours.

b) They bonded as a crew! They want to play at least some of the same people next time, and I love that they’ve gotten so attached. I’ve given them ownership of their characters, and permission to go off and do whatever they want with them in my universe — write stories, draw sketches, build dolls, whatever. I didn’t anticipate that they’d bond so quickly to the characters and the crew, but I love it. They really got some of the community feeling I was going for.

And if this game ends up leading people to think a little more about how we create intentional community and take care of each other in a harsh universe, that would be okay with me. 

Testing the first RPG I’ve ever designed

All set up for testing the first RPG I’ve ever designed. FUN.

I have an hour ’til my playtesters arrive, and must work on the grant application that’s due today, but all I really want to do is make them more snacks.

Handmade artisanal chocolates, ready. Chips and locally-made salsa, go. Oven for samosas, pre-heating. 🙂

If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s feeding your people well.

Happy Saturday: games and publicity

Happy Saturday. 🙂 I started the day with exercise, after a good night’s sleep, and it really is amazing how much more able to cope I feel! 30 minutes on the treadmill, just walking at 3.0, and then I had my weekly appt. (started up again last week after a six-month hiatus) with trainer Liz at the Y. Feel good! Feel strong!

Heading into a weekend of intense work, as we are now only six days out from Feast launch, and there is SO MUCH TO DO. But I’m trying to stay balanced with the rest of my life too, which is, um, interesting.

I’m constantly trying to remind myself that publicity is like parenting and teaching — there’s always more you *could* do, but if you try to do it all, you’ll only exhaust yourself and make everyone around you miserable.

The trickiest part for me with publicity are the little repeated things, like posting a reminder about the giveaway every day — that’s surprisingly hard for my ADD brain. Much like exercise. Part of why I ADORE my current trainer is that she never has me do sets of reps — we do 8 of an exercise, then 8 of a different exercise, etc., and I almost never repeat an exercise session to session either. She has me work the same muscles, but in new ways all the time, which is SO much easier for me to cope with. I’d love to see her writing a column about that approach to exercise; going to try to talk her into it.

My daily publicity goal is generally either a) do one impactful thing, or b) do one hour of little things. I think that’s reasonable, and over time, it should add up in good ways. (Much like parenting. And teaching. 🙂 )

A Google Alert just popped up that NewCity listed our upcoming Deep Dish (with a book launch for Feast) in their Lit Top 5 (link in comments), which is very lovely, and a sign that yes, if you tell people about your thing, they may think it’s worth spreading the word.

Angelique Manchanda-Peres has also had a FB thread going on her wall, where she’s so kindly gushing about the copy of Feast that she ordered and which has just arrived, and has gotten a whole host of her (mostly Toronto, I think) friends super-excited about the book.

That’s that fabulous word-of-mouth that we all long for when we’re trying to get the word out, and if you see an indie project you like, please know that that spread the word like that is INVALUABLE. We can’t afford the publicity budgets of big publishers, so we really rely on hoping people like what we do, and that they tell other people about it.

Heather Rainwater Campbell arrived from Ann Arbor yesterday; she’s my remote staffer whom we decided to have come in one weekend a month, which I think is really helpful in various ways for both of us.

Yesterday afternoon, I got back from teaching, said hi to her, and then we settled in to a work session in the dining room. I wrote up (very quickly) the grant application for the Sustainable Arts Foundation and sent it off. I always waffle about which project to say I’m going to work on, but I went with the nonfiction work this time around, as that’s what I’ve been spending more time on. After that I….I’m not sure what I worked on. More time-sensitive e-mails, I think? There are a lot of them right now, trying to crank them out.

We ordered masses of Thai & Japanese food for dinner, really, for the weekend, so we can concentrate on getting a lot of work done and I don’t have to worry about feeding her or the family. We’ll also lay in some chips and make a big bowl of pasta for board games later tonight — a few friends are stopping by. (If you’d like to be on the board game party list, but aren’t, drop me a line.)

There are some things before that though! Heather and Kavi and I spent about an hour and a half on the basement storage space re-org project last night, and we made very good progress — I’ll give you a tour when it’s all done. But now the serveware for events is in one place, for example, and the disposables (compostable!) and the books, etc.

It should make it much easier for me to say, come home from teaching, take 30 minutes to pack up some bins and bags, and go do a Feast event in the evening. Esp. if I put everything BACK in the right places the next day. (The night of, I will probably be too tired. That’s okay.)

We were all really tired by 8:30, so gave up on work for the day and crashed. Today, I’m taking a break from Feast to work on other projects (though I may answer a Feast e-mail here and there). Right now, I have Heather familiarizing herself with Benjamin Rosenbaum’s Dream Apart RPG system; she’s going to do a play-through of a Jump Space RPG with me and some hardy volunteers @ 2 p.m. today.

I’m envisioning it as a 3-6 person game that will take 3-4 hours to play through, so the sort of thing you can walk into at a convention, with no prior knowledge. I’m not sure what the process will be for bringing it out eventually — do we do it ourselves through Serendib Press? Do we partner with an established game company? But we’re a very long way from that now — right now, what I need to do is write up the actual rules so we can do our play-through. Planning to work on that from 9:30 – 10:30 or so today, using Ben’s game as a model.

Then I switch to the Creative Capital grant, which is also due today. I haven’t written anything yet, but I’ve been talking it through with Kevin and Stephanie and Heather, thinking about what this project will look like. Well, I’m not actually quite positive WHICH project I’ll be applying for — but I think it’s the hybrid one where I am doing more editing than writing. Well, we’ll think about that in a few hours and make a decision.

And then 2-5, RPG-ing, which will probably be a mess this first time through, but I will learn a lot from the workshopping process, and hopefully the players will manage to have fun. I will feed them well, which should help. And then 5-midnight, break and board game.

Sunday morning, Stephanie is going to come over, and we’re going to go back to Feast work with Heather, specifically putting together an updated press kit, and starting to send it out to the PR list we purchased from a publicist. At 1, I go over to Forest Park to show some of the local makerspace team a possibility for a makerspace location. And then 2-5, relax. Anand wants to go swimming, so perhaps the YMCA again. Then Sunday dinner, and snuggles with the kids.

A busy weekend, fairly intense, but hopefully a good one. 🙂


Cup Game

Kevin and Kavi came by L!VE Café and Creative Space at the end of my Serendib House sale session yesterday, to help me pack up and load the car. Once we’d put everything in bins and suitcases, I went to grab the car and pull it around to the front — and came back to find them in the window, with Kavi teaching Kevin the cup game.



Kevin and Kavi came by L!VE Café and Creative Space at the end of my Serendib House sale session yesterday, to help me pack up and load the car. Once we'd put everything in bins and suitcases, I went to grab the car and pull it around to the front — and came back to find them in the window, with Kavi teaching Kevin the cup game. TOO CUTE. :-)#blog

Posted by Mary Anne Mohanraj on Monday, December 23, 2019