Cedar Rapids Downtown Public Library

Prepped for Corridor Con 2020

It’s Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 and Corridor Con 2020 is tomorrow, baring the snowstorm which started today, so we’ll see how things go.

But I’m as ready as I can be to run the two games that I’m bringing: Space Station Omega and Feudal Fairy World. Both are games that I’m designing and are in playtest, and are scheduled for me to run during Gamicon, which is happening two weeks from today!


Prep for Space Station Omega

Space Station Omega (Cortex Prime system): A tabletop roleplaying game about political dramatic action among the stars, as in Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Battlestar Galactica, and The Expanse.


Prep for Feudal Fairy World

Feudal Fairy World (Powered by the Apocalypse system): A tabletop roleplaying game about fantasy adventures of honor, romance, and magic in feudal worlds, notably fantasy Sengoku Era, Arthurian, and feudal space.

Bounty Hunters

Bounty of the Week

The complicated lives of Bounty Hunters have been on my mind since watching The Mandalorian.

So I asked around at the Gauntlet Forums for suggestions on RPGs that do well with that subject matter. Scum & Villainy and many others were kindly recommended. Many I’d heard of and a few I hadn’t. The one that caught my attention the most was the reskin of Monster of the Week PbtA RPG that Rich Rogers had done and ran as part of his amazing Star Wars Saturdays series, called Bounty of the Week.

I watched the four sessions and was hooked. Using what I could from the recorded sessions and my copy of MotW, I set about to make a version of Bounty of the Week for myself to run. I created five playbooks: The Veteran, The Expert, The Designed, The Knight, and The Trainee. I worked on Hunter moves, Keeper moves, some information about bounty hunting abstracted, changed the Mystery Sheet to a Hunt Sheet and more. Then I got to posting the event at the Gauntlet Calendar and on Roll20 to recruit players while refining what I had so far. I added information and moves for the ship, The Wraith, based on information from Impulse Drive. Added a few new Hunter moves as I thought about things. Players signed up for both games. I began to work with the Gauntlet players to do some prep beforehand and got the Hunt Sheet bounties ready to go. The players were so generous and willing to help. Then I ran the first sessions for each.

For the Gauntlet group, our hunters include a Mon Calamari Expert as the captain, an old clone trooper Veteran, a shiny clone ARC trooper Designed who’d frozen in carbonite for decades, and a fire elemental sect Knight. We got all four players ready and did the In Media Res move which started off well but I feel got too tedious for the action I had hoped for. I should have really cut the scenes sharper with more action.

I have to admit that I was caught flat-footed on so many high rolls from the PCs. Plan B worked okay but took too long and slowed things down. I was also rushing some elements and we didn’t get to do much character interaction and tension raising as we’d all liked. The hunters got paid for the job turning that bounty in and took on the next job at Bespin where they are succeeding again very well with rolls to steal their next bounty out from under a medical operation.

We left things as a cliffhanger due to time constraints from tech issues and me needing to leave a little early so the whole episode felt off to me. I’m hoping that we can get more character-building and more action in the next session. Also, there are some rough patches with some of the moves and hopefully, that will get smoothed out over time.

Special thanks to Rich Rogers for helping with online streaming through his Zoom account and for recording the session when Streamyard failed us.

For the Roll20 group, I didn’t do any pre-prep with the players. We spent the first session working on characters and the ship for two players as one didn’t make it. I have a request for a fourth player to join so we’ll see how that goes. The Roll20 group is vastly different in personality, tone, and energy as well. We have dubbed the series Hutt Fuzz given that the captain is a Hutt Expert Hunter who’s run away from the family crime business and has taken on a Wookie Trainee Hunter. Hijinks ensue. Both players are well versed in MotW as well so it should be helpful to refine the game.

Printed draft of SSO v2.7.1


As mentioned about a year ago, I seriously began work on Space Station Omega (SSO). I just printed out a color version to begin reviewing as I move on to version 2.7.2+.


  • At nearly 300 pages with more to add and finish, the game is moving along. A chunk of this, about 40 pages will depend on the finalized official Cortex Prime System Reference document. Now that Cortex Prime is through Fandom, everyone like me is waiting to see what’s next and what we as designers can and can’t do.
  • I still don’t have the Effect Die in the game and will see if that changes.
  • I have a variety of experience/advancement options to test for the final recommendation.
  • I don’t use Distinctions as they are commonly found in other Cortext games, however, there are some specific traits used like Distinction, such as with Profile and Background.


While not perfect and a ways to go before it’s ready for a stronger editing pass, I’m pleased with the progress so far. Here are the milestones for me thus far:

  • I spent a lot of time being anxious and creative effort to work on the Talents. Some help was from Tim Bannock and his Head Shot! Cortex Prime Zombie game. Some I found at the Cortex Prime Discord servers. The rest was through revisiting Cortex Plus games and me fumbling around. I currently have seven assigned talents for each role, for a total of 35, plus seven open, and three heritage talents just in case, for a grand total of 45. I’m not against doing more, but the effort—sheesh. 18 pages now.
  • Thanks to talking with Jason Dettman and his comments on an earlier draft I have simplified the specialties closer to that found in Leverage: The Roleplaying Game. So from six to two pages.
  • I’ve gone back and forth about the use of Powers and Abilities in SSO, and have opted to go with the use of them under one thing called the Empowered talent. It costs two talent slots. Instead of having a master list of powers I’m mapping how you can use them similar to the seven basic actions of the game and providing some guidance through the use of Stunt Dice and spending Plot Points. Hopefully, this will allow for something flexible and not become overpowering vs. the rest of the talents, roles, and traits in general. It cuts my page count down from 29 to four pages, which is a good reason to try playtesting it as soon as possible.
More dice for Dark Well

More Dice for Playtesting

Yes. More dice to use as tokens for playtesting Dark Well.

Due to having one block of small smokey d6 dice being stolen while at Metatopia I had to buy at least one replacement block. So I now have a block of opaque black dice. But in thinking about a comment that someone made about racial stereotyping with white as beneficial and black as dangerous I decided to buy three new blocks of small d6 as well which includes a green, orange, and purple set.


Dice Order 1

Recently I also ordered some new dice for Vigilance as I’ve noticed some people having trouble finding and replacing the dice when they are all black. So I’m switching the red d10s to black d10 (to be ordered when available) and the former five to their classical elemental color so to speak. The company did not have translucent d4s for Soul, but I was able to get green translucent d6s for Skin, yellow translucent d8s for Words, purple translucent d12s for Starlight, and blue translucent d20s for Blood.



Another Step Into the Well

Weeks later, I’m still working with the feedback from Metatopa for Dark Well.

For me, I often design for and from the character sheet, and for Dark Well’s, I had a lot of questions myself as a designer that the playtesting helped me revisit from their perspective.

With the Dweller File sheet I have the following goals:

  • To change as the character engages with the fiction through the mechanics so that when a Dweller gets a Dweller, a Threat, or a Crisis token, there is the potential for that to affect or change them—including a narration rule that helps to feed this back into the trait changes.
  • To address the more common approach to experience where you get better or more things and so I have that through the experience tracker and have all Traits with the option of two marks.
  • To have big changes for Dwellers to feed the game and this is where the growth of leveling up ties directly into the information on the Conspiramap.

As a result, I’ve made the following changes so far:

  • The traits for the three Stats of Life, Power, and Truth, work the same when it comes to engaging with the token pool drawing from the Well.
  • Instead of tags I’m using something called details which are touchstones or aspects to help players pick traits for their Dweller which won’t box them in.
  • A copy of the Well Operations is on the sheet to test its inclusion because I like to have procedural things easy to locate for players.
  • The experience system has been revised and now includes both noting marks to traits in the trait section, keeping tokens, change, growth, and clearing conditions with the experience tracker.

The next thing that needs to happen is for me to playtest this next version to test my new hypotheses and to change the rules to reflect what’s working.

Metatopia 2019 Dark Well session 2 with conspiracy wall

Post-Metatopia 2019

Metatopia 2019 was a great experience. As I have time I will post thoughts and feelings about the convention. I’m already working on some revisions for the two games I brought with me: Dark Well and Vigilance.


The convention started Thursday evening with a social event. My partner and I were exhausted from the trip in so I checked in but didn’t have enough energy to really participate so we went across the street and had delicious Persian food for dinner. And there were a lot of great food places nearby!

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were a mixture of panels–many for first-timers to Metatopia, and playtesting. I’ll get into some of the panels later on. There were several that I attended which were a good fit for where I am in the game design industry.

I did get in a quick chat with Phil Vecchione about our love of conspiracies. His writings on Gnome Stew are an inspiration for what I’m doing with Dark Well.

Sunday afternoon was spent wrapping up my last playtest and then heading out asap to continue our trip to Philadelphia and then Washington, D.C.


Dark Well: I’ve got a fair amount of redesign to consider for the character sheet to make it easier to understand and I’m hoping to simplify things considerably. The playtesters really enjoyed the conspiracy-generation and setting, with the Well part in second place, and character creation in last for ease of understanding. The suspense of drawing from the Well was consistent. The tags could be useful but were cumbersome. The differences between the derived traits under Life, Power, and Truth need to be easier to grasp and engage with since I modified them, though I have to figure out how to get the Change/Grow/Conditions part to work from scene to scene. In the short playtest sessions I don’t have enough time to use the pool of tokens to work with the game as the GM yet so I’m looking forward to doing that again at some point. Comparing the tokens to the chart works once people wrap their heads around it as it’s a novel approach. In the second group test of Dark Well, I was able to use some kindly donated yarn to make an impromptu conspiracy wall on the table (see the featured image above). We had a six-PC group for this one. I took the advice from the first group and used a completed character sheet to share visually with the second group and it helped immensely. While we didn’t get very far in the game I could see how the prop could be fun. It would likely be easier to maintain on a wall or dedicated surface–the group loved it so I’m glad I tried it and will see about testing it more location permitting. In particular, I’m redesigning the Conspiramap for Dark Well for the next playtest. These conspiracies freakin’ build themselves. More iterations to come, with half-baked Dwellers and conspiracies to get the players into the thick of things faster.

Vigilance: The playtesters loved the spreadsheet character creation and world creation and setting, with the dice mechanics being too easy-for-success. 1s for generating Chaos/injustice complications rarely came up which was very unusual and led to deflated anticipation and missed expectations for all. I definitely need to revisit to get more risk in the dice and possibly reduce or remove the Arena Dice pool. We didn’t get to test things at length, but I did have one of the groups do scenes that were non-combat to see how things flowed rather than worry about collaborative world-building, which definitely affected player investment and cohesion like never before. I think it also suffered from a late Sunday slot and me messing up a basic mechanics roll. We had a cool blessing scene and engaged with the constellations! The first group where we did build things together was a tighter fit but we weren’t able to engage as much with the mechanics with the time. Need lots more dice-rolling and tweaking to be more complicating/dangerous. Great suggestions on branding from the first group and I appreciate them throwing themselves into the game with heart and soul. Overall, there are a lot of strong pieces that I can skip over moving ahead with half-baked characters and precinct to get to play quicker.

Rebels of the Outlaw Waste: This is NOT a game that I’m designing, but rather one that I playtested Saturday evening and it was a hoot. Gonzo post-apocalyptic to 11. What sold me in the description was that it included stickers as part of the advancement system. The designer, Michael Addison of Nerdy Pup Games, has a fun rules-light RPG with potential and I hope that he continues to develop the game and share it with others.


Thanks to all the playtesters who participated in my games and who make Metatopia a conversation rather than lonely fun–you are valued. I want to thank Avie Wing and all of the amazing people who help to make Metatopia be as successful as it is. I wasn’t very talkative as I was taking everything in, but I did appreciate the hard work and fun experience learning and sharing our love of games.

Less Than One Week until Metatopia 2019

There’s a lot of buzz and positive energy ahead of Metatopia 2019. The organizers are working hard to make sure things are in place. The panelists are reviewing their materials. And game designers like myself are making decisions over what to bring and how best to present their games to the talented playtesters.

There’s a lot to get anxious about. There’s the imposter syndrome lurking in the wings. There’s the fear of forgetting something or coming down with an illness, missing a connecting leg of the trip, and on and on.

So my hope for the few days beforehand is to think positively about the upcoming experience. To take solace in breathing and gratitude in the little things. I will need to balance my energy and expectations and be in the moment for other designers and visitors attending. And to do all that I can to be thankful for what I have and how these little things called roleplaying games have brought so many interesting and talented people together for over four decades.

Less Than Three Weeks to Metatopia 2019

I can’t wait for Metatopia 2019.

I spoke with an amazing coordinator of Metatopia last week by phone and I’m learning how it works. We roughed out my schedule with panels and then talked about where to fit in my two games for playtesting: Dark Well and Vigilance.

Specifically, we discussed how Metatopia works, needs for my playtesters, how I can participate as a playtester, and of course restaurants. Finding great local eateries is something I try to do when traveling and with Robyn joining me as a tourist I figure we could both benefit from the experience.

Also, I managed to get my DMK Creative AND AquaVertigo business cards designed, ordered, and delivered last week. I feel so responsible. Here are pics of the AV cards, front and back.


Meetup at Metatopia 2019

Hello. My name is David MK and welcome. Let’s meet for a few minutes. We can talk about gaming, mojitos, entrepreneurship and lean design, what inspires you, the last full album you listened to, that perfect use for CSS on a project or cool find on CodePen, your favorite houseplant, or whatever makes you you.

Email is best for me. aquavertigopublishing [at] gmail [dot] com

Thank you!

Monarchy Games at a Long Con

Background: The convention was a weekend-long one, MinnLoCo, in which we all played in the same group for the duration. There was a Blades in the Dark game, an orcs DramaSystem game, a Dread-themed one, a SCUP one, a Fall of Magic one, and I think another with a variety of games, and there was mine which were all in the theme of exploring monarchy using GM-less games.

Thinking: I decided to run three games together under the same theme and world and it worked out nicely. I considered what games I had access to which were in the same theme and settled on monarchy. I then choose three which I’d never played/facilitated to give me a challenge. (Note: I did watch YouTube videos for Questlandia, The King Is Dead, and For the Queen to help me to understand the rules in play.)

Description: Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown – Questlandia, The King Is Dead, For the Queen, and maybe also Kingdom) – We will play through a handful of GM-less indie RPGs that explore themes and stories about aspects of monarchy.

Overall, it went very well. We did not use Kingdom, which was fine as I have played that before and it has a fair amount of setup. As it was we didn’t have time to run all of the rounds in the Questlandia game by the convention’s end because we were enjoying the world-building and reincorporation and character discussions. I also feel like we had a great fit as a group and were comfortable using the X-Card and discussing things we liked and didn’t.

Session I: Questlandia, Part 1 – Worldbuilding and the shared creation of three Icons, who were maybe historical figures or fictional, but based on what would become a mythological foundation of the world. Our world was called ViikLoR and was a colonized planet on which the colonizers were unable to return from. There was a native population who were subjugated with the mech technology and polyamorous dueling culture. We went through setup and played one full round before stopping Friday night. War was the greatest Trouble for us and that carried through the rest of the weekend.

Session II: The King Is Dead – Saturday morning after breakfast, we reviewed what we’d done the prior night and what was next, which was to play in the same world using a new rule system to create something more like a history that we would think of with the Houses of ViikLoR instead of Banteave. We noted changes in the world and beliefs and norms through play in the new game. There were sections in The King Is Dead where the rules left us uncertain how to proceed, but we managed after a while. Some of this was from our space elements and such from the prior game. Some of it was from rules which were not clear to us. The Trials by Contest were the most confusing and we only played out two of them as separate events. One which resulted in an unexpected turn of events, suggesting that one of our Icons was now a kind of vengeful god-like psychic being that would threaten all. The Meeting Sword to Sword gave us an amazing fast-paced mech duel. There was going to be a War, but it quickly changed to Stealing Time Together, which I believe was our group’s favorite game to use in the system. I feel like The King Is Dead needs another pass of playtesting and editing before it’s “done” because of how much we struggled with the rules as written. It felt like a wonderful ashcan game. Otherwise, it was a great morning game that helped us to establish our world’s historical dynamics, building on the legends of the three founding Icons and continuing to show ViikLoR as a world in turmoil caught between the needs and desires of three cultures.

Session III: For the Queen – After Saturday’s lunch, we reviewed where we were, looked at the map, the relationship maps, the legends, and talked about our plans with the next game, For the Queen. This game focused an epic story of powers battling for control down to a mix of in- and out-of-character gossip and emotions focused around our characters’ relationships with the Queen, a descendant of the outside alien conqueror who took over in the previous game. We decided on one queen card based on our shared history and got to playing the game. Our group consisted of a cook, a bed-maker, a warrior, an opportunist, and a spy. We had two humans, one native, and two aliens in the group. Resentment, bigotry, machinations, and more came out before our queen was attacked.

Session IV: Questlandia, Part 2 – We picked up our last session on Sunday morning after breakfast. We had a lot to review and a short amount of time in which to play our final game, returning to Questlandia. We decided to play in a time two to three generations from the one used in For the Queen. We made many changes to our map and discussed a lot more in the features and norms about what to keep, change, or replace. We then created our individual characters and with the time remaining played one full round and an epilogue. We explored law, politics, workers’ rights, economics, back-channel politics, faith and religion, racism and classism, what it meant to be a citizen and the duty of a government, all culminating in a sneak attack and coup with a duel and change of power for the throne and its people of ViikLoR. Our epilogues included showing the triumphs and struggles of the new throne, the nobility, outside interference, the religion, and the search for the long lost library of an Icon in the holy mountains north of the royal city.

Closing: It would have been wonderful to have played more rounds with this game, but I feel we all ended the game, and the whole event with a shared enjoyment of what we created. I don’t know if this combination would work for all groups, however, based on the one experience with it, I believe that others could and should give it a go. If you do, please share your experience with me.


  • Questlandia: Hannah Shaffer and Evan Rowland, Make Big Things, http://makebigthings.com/questlandia-rpg/
  • The King Is Dead: Meguey & Vincent Baker, Lumpley Games, https://lumpley.itch.io/the-king-is-dead
  • For the Queen: Alex Roberts, Evil Hat Productions, https://www.evilhat.com/home/for-the-queen/