Masks RPG: Some Thoughts


By JiB

 “So, you’re at the homecoming dance, and Zoey and Zeke have just won the impromptu dance off and as a result been named homecoming king and queen. That certainly won’t present a problem with the people who supposedly won the voting for homecoming king and queen.”

“Hey, they rigged the voting and stuffed the ballot box,” Zoey pointed out, “We have the proof.”

“True,” the gm observed, “but you have bigger problems just now, because as you stand there basking in the adoration of your fellow students of James Howlett High, the floor buckles and the gratings fly up from all the drains as a familiar oily sludge erupts from the floor and coalesces into the form of … the Sludge, tables and chairs overturning as students, teachers, and parents scramble out of the way.”

“I dive behind the nearest table and as I’m doing so change, coming out the other side combat ready,” the player for James/Mr. Clean stated hurriedly.

“I do a spin building up my kinetic energy and in the blur change as well,” the player for Zoey/Boom Boom added.

“Is anybody watching me?” Tess/Derby Girl’s player asked.

“No, everyone is focused on either getting out of the way or trying to grab their phones to take pictures of the Sludge.”

“Then I’m going to change right where I am and throw up a shield over the people to protect them,” Derby Girl checked the move sheet.

“And you Zeke?” looking at Zeke/Z3r0’s player with a question.

“Snapping my helmet into place I change as well, and send Lucky up to the rafters over the Sludge,” Z3r0 confirmed.

“Good, you all do that, but Derby, about that shield,” the gm turned back to Derby Girl, “Are you trying to protect the people or change the environment in the gym?”

Author’s Note: The above is excerpted and badly paraphrased from an episode of our Masks AP. My apologies to the players if I have in any way misrepresented what actually happened.

So, what is this, “Masks,” thing anyway? Masks: A New Generation by Brendan Conway is a Powered by the Apocalypse game in which players take on the roles of teenage super heroes in Halcyon City, or in any place you like for that matter. The inside cover puts it thusly, “Masks: A New Generation is a super hero roleplaying game in which a team of young heroes fights villains, saves lives, and tries to figure out who they are- noble paragons? Dark avengers? Or regular kids? All against the backdrop of Halcyon City, the greatest city in the world.” Fundamentally, Masks is about the difficulties of being a teenager, and one with super powers to boot.

Masks uses the Apocalypse World rules engine, and bears the same open elegant resolution. To do anything, roll 2 six-sided dice and add something to it. On a 10+ you do it, no problems, on a 7-9 you do it but there’s some complication, on a 6- things get interesting.

There are some fundamental truths about characters in Masks that frames the nature of the game and what it’s about. “You all choose to be here.” You might have been pressured, and you might feel guilt, you might gripe about the team, but ultimately, for whatever reason, you choose to be part of the team and for the most part remain part of the team. You aren’t killers. You’re a young team, and may have made some mistakes, but you don’t resort to killing people to solve problems. Killing people has far reaching ramifications. You aren’t illegal, or openly hunted … yet. The team might be illegal, or it might not. People might be looking for you, or they might not. In any case, the authorities aren’t after you directly, not so far anyway. By the same token you aren’t loved, the city doesn’t know who you are and you do not have renown. What sort of renown you will make is up to you.

The characters are teenagers, between 13 and 19 and as such have all of the emotional and personal baggage that goes with being a teenager. Adults tell you who you are and how you fit into the universe … Whether you agree or not is another story. Everything is bigger and more melodramatic and more immediate and important than anything else. Influence is a big deal in Masks, have influence over someone else and it’s a help when you need to do things, but when they have influence over you, well the boot is definitely on the other foot at that point. Being teenagers you always make good productive decisions, don’t you?

There are ten playbooks in Masks. (Ok, there are actually a few more but they aren’t in the core book and were designed later.)

  • The Beacon – “You don’t have to do this. You could probably have a safe, decent, simple life. It’d be nice, but … come on. Superpowers! Aliens! Wizards! Time travel! You’re out of your depth but who cares? This is awesome. Everybody should try it.”
  • The Bull – “You’re big, strong, and tough. You know what fighting really is, and you’re good at it. Sure … you’ve got a soft side, too. But you only show that to the people you care about most. Everybody else? They can eat your fist.”
  • The Delinquent – “You’ve got these cool powers. But everyone keeps telling you how to use ‘em. You know what they need? Someone to give them trouble, to make sure they don’t always get their way. And hey! You’re the perfect hero to do it.”
  • The Doomed – “Something about your powers dooms you. It’s just a matter of time before your doom comes for you. Until then, though…you’ve got a nemsis who needs fighting and a world that needs saving. After all, it’s better to burn out than fade away.”
  • The Janus – “Wake up. Breakfast. Schoo. Work. Homework. Sleep. Repeat. It burns you up, being stuck in this life, unable to make a real difference. That is until you put on the mask. And then, you can be someone else: a hero.”
  • The Legacy – “You’re the latest in a storied heroic lineage, a family that shares a name and a cause. Now, everybody is watching and waiting to see if you’ve got what it takes to uphold that tradition. No pressure, right?”
  • The Nova – “You’re a font of power. Channel it, and you can remake the world into exactly what you want. Unleash it, and you can do miracles. It’s wonderful…and terrifying. Lose control for even a second, and other people get hurt.”
  • The Outsider – “You’re not from here. Your home is an amazing place, full of beauty and wonder. But there’s something to this place, something special that you’re missing back home something … human. So yeah, you’ll be hanging around. At least for now.”
  • The Protégé – “You proved yourself to an experienced hero. They think you’ve got what it takes. They’ve been training you for a while, and now you have to decide…do you want to be them? Or will you find your own path?”
  • The Transformed – “You can recall a time not too long ago when you looked…normal. When you didn’t feel their stares. When you didn’t hear their gasps. When no one thought of you as a monster. Those were the days, huh.”

Each of the playbooks typifies a unique kind of hero with unique abilities and issues. The real power of Masks is the constant struggle between key elements of the playbook. The Bull is immensely strong and very good in a fight, but at the same time has someone that they love and that love is as defining for them as their strength. It is this kind of internal conflict that makes Masks such a special game.

Running Masks is philosophically much like running any other powered by the apocalypse game. The gm has agendas and principals that guide them to make the game what it’s designed to be. The gm’s agendas are overarching goals for running the game, these describe WHAT the gm focuses their attention on.

  • Make Halcyon City feel like a comic book. This framing is very important because it is the most important direction for how to characterize things and frame events that happen in the game.
  • Make the player characters’ lives superheroic. This is what the gm’s does to bring external conflict to the game and that feeds on and feeds into the characters’ internal conflicts.
  • Play to find out what changes. You don’t know what will happen, what will change in the game. Don’t bring assumptions about where things are going, let the play lead the way.

If the gm’s agendas are WHAT you as the gm do, the principals are how you do them. There are lots of agendas, and they have a lot in common with other powered by the apocalypse games. The key thing to remember as a gm is that these are your guideposts, your tools for running Masks. The gm’s principals are immutable, do not break them, they matter.  The agendas and principals are important, they frame and guide you the gm to run Masks and make it exciting for the players. Brendan has done a wonderful job of providing this guidance.

My spin

Masks has become one of my very favorite games both to play and to run. I recently had the chance to run a 12-session campaign of Masks which is available on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast Actual Play Feed. (link) It ranks as one of my very favorite campaigns that I have ever been involved in. The playbooks are well thought out, descriptive, and every one has built in conflict to make them interesting.

If you play only one new game this year, you owe it to yourself to make it Masks.


193258You can find Masks and a host of other fun games at Magpie Games (link)

170x170bbYou can find our AP of Masks called, “Just Us #Heroes” at the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast AP Feed on iTunes (link)


Gateway 2017

So, three times a year we go to Strategicon events in LA. The most recent one at the time of this writing was Gateway 2017. What follows are my thoughts on the games in which I was involved during the weekend.


Touched: The Mandrake Putrefaction

GM: Hamish Cameron

Game System: Touched (the Sprawl)


Cybertech and magic, these are the core hallmarks of the Shadowrun concept. In many ways, this is my Reese’s cup of games, the perfect mingling of high technology and high fantasy in an urban metroplex that lights the night with equal parts, neon, gunfire, and magic. Touched is a really good implementation of the Shadowrun idea in the elegant system that is the Sprawl. Then to have the game run by the designer of the Sprawl my good friend Hamish Cameron made this a perfect maelstrom of elegance in a game. Hamish is a spectacular gm who always brings an immeasurable energy to the games he runs. I had the opportunity to be the first person to play the Mage playbook.  What could be better than a norse techno-mage weaving the ancient power of the Norse gods together with high technology to tear apart the fabric of reality and reshape it to his own ends? Add in a great mix of players and we have all the elements for a truly memorable game.



GM: Hamish Cameron

Game System: Kratophagia


Growing up cannibalistic goblin! Ok, so we’re goblins … and we gain power by eating the viscera of whatever we kill … cool !!! Powered by the Apocalypse, this is a great game under development by the mind that gave us the Sprawl, Hamish Cameron. In an apocalyptic world that’s harsh and dangerous and very interested in killing poor little goblins just trying to eek out some kind of life. We chased, killed and ate giant lizards, we killed and ate one of our village leaders, some of us got killed and eaten by our fellow goblins … How rude. This was a wonderfully fun and dark game with great players and a great gm and who doesn’t want to be a cannibalistic goblin? Oh wait, is that just me?


Well of Souls

GM: Jason “JiB” Tryon

Game System: Fate Core


If the Dresden Files, and the Magicians had an illicit love child, it might very well be this game. Set in modern day NYC a group of mostly college age people who have always thought that there was more to the world than what people could see and learned quite suddenly that, yes, there was in fact real magic in the world. As is so often the case, I was blessed with great players who made my little game a wonderful thing. There was excitement, there was surprise, there was betrayal. All in all a fun game, and I am very gratified by the positive response from the players.


Weekend at Death Island

GM: Jason “JiB” Tryon

Game System: Fate Core


We’ll take a trip for spring break, we’ll go to Daytona, we’ll have some laughs … Then they wake up on the beach of an island they do not recognize. Welcome to Death Island, a lovely tropical island somewhere. Don’t mind the quicksand, or the dangerous animals, or the other campers who might be trying to murder you so they can be the ones to get off the island. Oh, I forgot to mention, there’s a boat that will take two of you off the island. Good luck. Again, I can only commend my players for making my little, inspired by, “the Most Dangerous Game,” romp fun. You guys are awesome.


Masks vs the Doom from the Past

GM: Carl Rigney

Game System: Masks


Masks has quickly become one of my very favorite systems. Who doesn’t love the idea of being a teenage super hero? In Masks vs the Doom from the Past, Carl Rigney, who is one of the best gm’s and one of the nicest people I know, put up a wonderful romp against some human supremacist neo-nazi activists who were intent on making Halcyon City great again and, “we don’t need those stinking supers, we can save ourselves.” Oh by the way to prove that point we’re going to set up an attack on our own people so they can save themselves and prove to the world that we don’t need supers to protect us …

Masks is a powered by the apocalypse game available from Magpie Games and if you’ve never played it, you should. There’s an actual play by some random people (ok, it’s my game on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast AP feed), but it’s fun to listen to and will give you an idea of how Masks thinks. (Happy Jacks RPG Podcast AP’s on iTunes)

I took up the Bull playbook and got to try to fill the shoes of the incomparable Gina Ricker, which I did badly but had a ton of fun trying. You can expect to see a write up of Masks in this space shortly.


Star Wars Fate

GM: Morgan Ellis

Game System: Fate Core


The Sunday night slot at a game convention is a great time to play over the top punch-drunk shenanigans, and that is exactly what we did. Fate Core is a great system for rendering Star Wars, and Morgan Ellis is a master Fate gm. There were rebel space pirates preying on innocent Imperial shipping, oh wait, that was us. Little did we know that it was all a TRAP! The empire, dastardly villains that they are, put a tracker and probe droids on the freighter that we, “liberated,” from them. Much fighting and fun ensued, including sneaking onto the Imperial Star Destroyer to disable it because none of our little fighters were having any luck. Nor could my hidden jedi really do anything in a fighter. As always, a great game from Morgan and a ton of fun.


In Defense of House Stark

GM: Warren “Mook” Wilson

Game System: GURPS


Mook was, is, and always will be the grand master of all things GURPS, and when I grow up as a gm Mook is what I aspire to. Nobody does prep on the scale and detail of the Mook. Add into that an incomparable ability to conceive and write games that are interesting, evocative, and fun, and an open generous heart and absolute facility with the system and you have a mix that leads to consistently the best games ever. In Defense of House Stark, did not disappoint in any way. Great characters with depth and emotional weight, a story that mattered to all of us in different ways and for different reasons, and a story that represented the IP, brought to life, and made personal all the best things from Game of Thrones, and real drama to wrap the whole thing up.


As guards and soldiers of house Stark, in Winterfell, we were the only ones who could be spared to go rescue poor Sansa and Arya when they were kidnapped by mysterious raiders in the night. We chased them all the way to the Dread Ford only to find out that of course, the Lannisters were behind it all and we were going to have to fight the Mountain to free the girls. As always a spectacular game and a ton of fun.



Bad Streets Update

Ok, so I’ve been taking a break from Bad Streets, though that doesn’t really mean I’ve quit working on it, I’ve just quit pressuring myself about it and trying to push for unrealistic deadlines to get it done so I could say it was done.

The time off has been very productive really and has lead to some very interesting developments in the game.

Characters in a Bad Streets game are the main characters, the stars, of the hot new 70’s crime drama, “Bad Streets.” Bad Streets isn’t about investigating crimes, it’s not a procedural show (game) it’s about the relationships between the characters, and their often messy lives. In a nutshell, characters in Bad Streets solve crimes in their own often rebellious manner and always look cool when they’re doing it.

So let’s talk about those developments a bit. First, let’s look at the play books themselves.

Bad Streets Play Books

The playbooks describe and inform who the detectives are, how they approach problems, and what they’re good at. A playbook is not intended to constrain the player’s creativity or imagination in any way. In many places on the playbooks there are lists of options. If none of those options make sense to the player, or they don’t fit the idea that the player has, write in something that does. This is your show and your character; make them who you want them to be.

The Rebel

The Rebel is the bad boy (or girl) with a good heart. Deep down they may believe in the law, but they certainly believe in justice, and justice often needs a hand from someone ready to brave the danger despite the risk to him or herself. A Rebel may not care about procedure, or they may care but believe that sometimes someone has to go against the system to get things done.

It is often their bad ass nature or their cool in the face of danger that gets the Rebel through when others might fail, and their reputation for getting things done helps to clear up those little problems that come up from time to time.

The Rookie

The Rookie is new to the detective force, but he’s smart and eager and sure he’s going to solve the next big crime. The rookie is sure he knows everything and has it all figured out, but he’s also bright and earnest and wants to be a good cop and help people. Maybe he’ll learn in time, maybe he’ll burn out like a moth in a flame. The Rookie tends to use their Heart and their Cool, sometimes to get things done, sometimes for bravado to convince others that they are more able than maybe they really are.

The Veteran

The Veteran may be nearing retirement, or maybe he’s that old dog who just can’t quit chasing the car, even if he wouldn’t know what to do with it if he caught it. He might be counting down the days with dreams of what he’s going to do after he wraps up that one last case, or he might be aiming to work until he drops. The veteran knows better than these youngsters and their new fangled computers and their hippy methods. Kinder gentler police force my ass. Back in the day they did things the right way, the hard way, and the crooks knew to fear the law.

The Straight Arrow

The Straight Arrow is the quintessential clean-cut good guy. He follows procedure, and does things the right way. He upholds the reputation of the department and believes that the law and the right way of doing things is the only way. Dotting the eyes and crossing the t’s ensures that the case sticks when it gets to court. Sure the Rebel gets things done but how many people have to get hurt in the process?

The Crusader

The Crusader is the worst possible scenario for the bad guys, the crusader fights with a righteous belief in what they’re doing. Committed possibly to the point of fanaticism, they will not stop and they will not let anything or anybody get in the way of bringing retribution (if not justice) to those who did / or do wrong. Unfortunately, in their crusade for justice sometimes other people get hurt. At what point does the quest for justice become a blind vendetta, and when does the cost outweigh the gains?

The Tormented

The Tormented carries a burden, a secret, that tortures them, gives them nightmares, and drives them, but to where is unknown. Maybe the tormented screwed up at some point and someone got hurt, maybe they did something horrible and now feel like they have to atone for it. Regardless of what it is, it drives you, compels you, and haunts you at the same time. It keeps you from resting and the strain of it shows sometimes. Maybe you self medicate with drink, or something stronger, maybe you seek diversion and distraction from it in the arms of an unhealthy lover, maybe you obsess about the work.

The Clown

The Clown is the funny lighthearted guy who always has something funny to say and never seems to take anything seriously. But that ever-ready wit might just be the mask for some deeper hurt, or a way to keep the demons at bay. The Clown sees more than it might seem and usually right to the heart of the matter. They might seem fun loving and easy going but they are there when the bullets start flying.

The Outsider

The Outsider comes from somewhere else, another department, or possibly another agency altogether. Being an outsider they may have access to resources that the other detectives do not have. She may also have objectives or motivations that are not necessarily those of the department. The conflict between the motivations of the department and whatever brought them here, be it an assignment from their superiors in the other agency or some demon of their own could certainly make life interesting for the Outsider at some point. The Outsider’s, often, exotic background certainly makes them interesting to the audience and to the other detectives.


Recent changes to Bad Streets include:

  • Added the concept of vices – Everyone has vices right? Vices are ways to reduce stress the problem is they almost always have a downside.
  • Added the concept of solaces – A solace is something from which the detective takes comfort but they may not want their fellow detectives to know about it.
  • I’ve refined how bonds work and given them mechanical impact in the game.
  • I’ve refined how departments work and given them mechanical impact in the game.
  • I’ve removed the concept of harm from the game (TV stars don’t actually take harm, they take stress and conditions instead.)
  • I’ve split the game play into two phases, an on the clock phase when the detectives are solving crimes, and an off the clock phase when they are engaging in down time, socializing, making contacts and such. Some moves can only be made in one phase or  the other, some can be made in either phase but failure can have different ramifications for the detective.
  • I’ve added the concept of a breaking point to bonds. If the clock on a bond expires, the bond has reached a breaking point and must be resolved as it adversely impacts the detective and the other character involved in the bond negatively until it is resolved.

So, what’s ahead in Bad Streets?

I’m working on the text for the book and I’ve been talking with an editor and with a couple of artists. My hope at this point is to have a pdf version of the book available for purchase in the late spring.

I still need to run the game in a long form. I’ve run a number of one shot games but not a campaign. That’s pretty important to see how the game works in that format. I would also like to get other people running the game. It’s not quite ready yet to send out a beta version, but I’m working towards that.


More to come in the coming weeks, stay tuned for more information.





Bad Streets Update (13 Nov 2016)

Ok, obviously I’m terrible about keeping up this blog. For that I apologize.

Bad Streets has been in development for over a year at this point and has evolved a great deal from where I started. Bad Streets is a Powered by the Apocalypse role playing game of gritty street level crime drama in which the characters are the principal characters in, “Bad Streets,” the hot new crime drama on TV. Bad Streets is about the relationships between the characters, and exploring the problems and issues that the characters face. Bad Streets is not intended to be a procedural crime exploration, though that is certainly one flavor that the game could take.

At the time of this writing, I’m taking a little bit of a break from Bad Streets to clear my head and get a fresh perspective. More about that in an upcoming post.

I want to take a moment here though to thank some people. For those who know me these names may be familiar. Familiar or not though, if you see any of these wonderful people at a convention or have the opportunity to play a game with them anywhere, you should do so. All are wonderful players and have made Bad Streets much better than whatever would have come out of my brain on its own. (It’s really a bad idea to leave my brain to roam unsupervised.)

Gina Ricker, David Gallo, Colin Jessup, Rob Sanderson, Hamish Cameron & Eric Lytle, I can’t thank all of you enough, without you this game would never have really happened.

Everyone else who has play tested Bad Streets, thank you for your invaluable feedback and the awesome game experiences that you’ve given me so far. Your names will appear in the book, if the book ever appears. (Which I hope it will)



NaGaDeMon Project Day 4

I am using the impetus of the NaGaDeMon effort (click here) to develop a project that’s been cooking around in my brain for a couple of months now. I apologize for being a bit vague about the exact nature of the project, but all will be revealed in time.

The project is a Powered by the Apocalypse rpg. For information on Apocalypse World click here.

As of Day 4 of NaGaDeMon

Finished Tasks

  1. Define the Player’s Agenda
  2. Define the GM’s Agenda
  3. Define the GM’ing Principals
  4. Identify the setting and how the setting impacts the game. (Involves a rules change from AW)
  5. Define what describes a character
    1. Attributes
    2. Play books
    3. Game specific information
    4. Bonds
  6. Identify basic and advanced moves common to all characters

To be done

  1. Write character play books
  2. Write additional moves

Additional information to follow.

When the draft of this project is finished I will post it here.



My apologies for any difficulty anyone has had accessing the actual play recordings on this site. All of the links in all of the posts have been updated and should all work now.

I am in the process of migrating everything to a streaming server and putting everything in an rss feed and thence onto iTunes and or Stitcher. I will advise here when that’s done.

Thanks for listening, more games to come.


AP Links

Here are links to some of the AP’s we’ve done.

Blades in the Dark

Blades in the Dark is an actual play of the Blades in the Dark game system and is gm’d by Colin Jessup.

Episode 1 Part 1

Episode 1 Part 2

Episode 1 Part 3

Neon Labyrinth – Savage Worlds Cyberpunk

“Neon Labyrinth,” is an actual play of a Savage Worlds cyberpunk game set in the San Angeliego Metroplex.


Johnny Sins (Gina Ricker)

Shade (Patrick Rowley)

Razer (Krystel Rowley)

Rufio (Rob Skaggs)

3 (Amanda North)

Nick Slinger (Jim Waters)

Special thanks to Pinnacle Entertainment Group for Savage Worlds.

Intro music: “Cyberpunk” by Spor off of their album, “Shades of Black.”

Outro music: “Cyberpunk” by Intrepid Demise, off of their album, “the Crypt.”

Special thanks to Platemail Games for the sound effects.

Session 1

Session 2

Vires et Honos – Savage Worlds Weird Wars Rome

“Vires et Honos,” is an actual play of a Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome game set in Britain during the time of the building of Hadrian’s wall.


Morrigan Mhoireibh (Gina Ricker)

Tribune Quintus Aurelius Domaticus (Tim Huntly)

Decanus Tiberious Aurelius Kato (Will Huggins)

Miles Gregarius Cassius Horatius Rufinus (Morgan Ellis)

GM (Jason Tryon)

Special thanks to Pinnacle Entertainment group for Savage Worlds, Weird Wars Rome, and the music heard on this recording.

Special thanks to Platemail Games for the sound effects.

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Vampire the Requiem

This Vampire the Requiem game is run by Colin Jessup. Players are Gina Ricker, David Gallo, Arturo Rubio Jr., Rob Skaggs, and Jason Tryon

Session 1

Orc Con 2015

These games were run at OrcCon 2015.

Vinternacht – Viking game in Fate Core

Carnival – Ravenloft game in Fate Core