Street Magic Xanth

We played I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Ascercion in this week’s session to create a magical and mysterious city called Xanth that sits at the nexus of time, with portals bringing people and technologies from throughout history together in a single place. The time-displaced residents mostly live in Timetown, whose raucous energy is contained by the disorienting technomagical barrier known as the Shift and whose residents ride the vomit comet more formally known as the Temporal Rail to loop through the ages. A would-be time autocrat is plucking dictators from history before their demise for storage in his Refuge, but his plans remain unknown. Under the city lie the Rimlands, a grim windowless land known for its oppressive heat and banging machinery and inhabited by the forgotten underclasses. Most denizens of Xanth would never venture there except for the Cavern of All Desires, where impish dwarfs drive dark bargains with ironic twists in exchange for your heart’s desire.

Shapes laying out our game of I'm Sorry Did You Say Street Magic.

On the surface are the City Square and Merlin’s Place. The latter is the neighborhood where magical creatures choose to dwell, with its old-timey cobblestone roads and thatched roofed buildings circling the ancient silver tree with the glowing lantern fruit, Thornglow. Thornglow is protected by the Glow Guardians, a group of kindly pacifist monks who initially oppose a druid who intends to live within the tree. In the end, the mayor vests the druid to live in the tree, which doubles the Guardians’s workload as the tree becomes a tourist attraction once there is someone to see. While some make hefty donations to support the druid’s upkeep, others worry about the future of the tree and what political fallout will result from this change. On the edges of Merlin’s Place is the Greenwood, a mystical river through a forest where smugglers sell their wares in dynamic swindles and scams, including one incompetent scammer, Rusty McCrusty but better known as Krusty.

The City Square itself is the central meeting place, the hub of government and commercial activity. Everyone is always rushing away from you at all hours there (“No time to talk” they say). The central landmark of the Square is Poet’s Corner, with a massive domed roof and space for all to stand and voice their thoughts. It’s the city’s primary icon and where the mayor makes seasonal speeches from its famed forty-two steps. Tucked away nearby is the Last Lagoon, a quasi-legal speakeasy where protestors gather and “mums the word”. Toward the end of our night, the Mayor makes a major speech in Poet’s Corner about the city’s plans for the future, which leads to public protests about the druid, worries about funding for the Zenubian Archives, controversy between opposing sides on a proposed ban of duplication magic, Thornglow sensing the city’s unrest and releasing calming pollen and seeds throughout Xanth that may counteract the attempts of the time-displaced dictators to sow unrest and begin their push for power.

High above the city floats the land of Zenubia, which consists entirely of floating buildings and constructs, including the Little Garden, a park with multiple fountains and a stone path that provides a little serenity in the technological marvel. Tethys the promising business student leads a study group in the Garden for her fellow students. People may enter the wealthy Zenubian enclave by taking the ferry at Sun’s Reach, a sunny canal that begins on the surface but stretches into the sky. The Zenubian Archives are a multimedia library with VR interfaces to supplement the traditional tomes that hold ancient knowledge, but first they must tear their eyes away from the flying atrium that carries up through the entire building. The official archivist is Sumara, a dedicated historian whose eccentricity cannot hide her extensive knowledge and who thought she had secured enough funding for the Archive until the mayor’s speech put that in doubt.

Dawn of the Ghost Invasion

This week we played Dawn of the Monster Invasion by Randy Lubin to tell the story of how Orangetown becomes overrun by ghosts and other spirits. We get our first glimpse of trouble when a crank medium holds a reading where many claim to have seen ghosts across the town, but one patron is especially irked not to have seen his mother. The performance quickly gets away from him as the audience peppers him with questions he doesn’t have any answers for. Next we catch up with the mayor of Orangetown at a press conference trying to dispel the persistent rumors about the strange happenings in the town since they broke ground on a new shopping complex at an ancient burial site. The mayor stresses that there is nothing to worry about, that everyone should continue about their business (Keep shopping!), that the missing firehouse is sure to be found soon, and that the town has set up temporary housing for anyone whose house has gone missing at the abandoned mental hospital and the drive-in theater where the axe murder took place all those years ago.

At a book signing with an entrance fee at the public library, a local author and serial cryer of wolf about paranormal phenomena peddles his new book and answers questions about the haunting hitting Orangetown and nearby municipalities. While the crowd doesn’t trust him, he insists that the danger is real. Then we join the Prepper Channel where we learn about the importance of an underground bunker and how to prepare for a ghostly apocalypse. If your bunker’s not underground, your mirrors covered, and your shelves stocked with months worth of canned goods, then you’re not ready, so “Stay safe, stay underground.” In town, the local grocer has decided now is the time to double prices, but the locals ponder out loud whether a riot might be a better solution. The grocer does make a few sales of “ghost repellant” but has long been sold out of dog food.

Next we join Kaylaug4gh at a protest where she argues that the town is racist against Ectoplasmic-Americans and how we must learn to stop trespassing on their land. Many people agree with the sentiment and discuss the rumor that this is designed to get increased Ectoplasmic-American representation in Congress, until we learn about the many mistakes the medium made with an online ghost kit and an over-mustarded sandwich. With the local response completely ineffective, FEMA leads a National Guard effort to evacuate the town and sweep out the ghosts. The gruff NG Colonel leading the operation takes questions from all concerned locals and remains unshaken as long as the choppers are on the way. Finally, the ghosts have taken over and demand that we flee or bow before their collective might, with one particular ghost manifesting before the entire town. While many agree to leave, others don’t want to abandon their homes and try to negotiate the degree of groveling required to stay. When the ghost demands to be left alone, FEMA agrees to make the evacuation order mandatory and begins moving folks out of town.

A Year in Review

It has now been over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic hit and changed our lives… and prevented us from meeting in person to play. Now that a year has passed, I figured it would be a good time to look at how our gaming has changed.

Changes in game selection

Since we have been pretty good about keeping records of the games we play in the form of session recaps, I was able to tabulate which games we have played since March 2018 when we started recording them in the Story Games Club website.

With all the data now analyzed, here are some highlights:

• 151 sessions recorded since March 22nd, 2018. (That is when we started writing the recaps.)
• 50 different games have been recorded. (Or more based on how you count hacks of games).
• The pandemic did not slow us down. Since the pandemic hit, we have recorded 51 play sessions as of the writing of this article (March 17th, 2021). Which is in line with the 100 sessions we recorded the 2 previous years.
• We have played Fiasco over 16 times… and I know we did not record all our sessions.

I did a quick comparison looking at the variety of games we played before and during the pandemic. The chart below shows you how they have broken out so far.


I find this chart very interesting as it highlights how we have adjusted to playing online.

Before the pandemic, we were able to try different games week after week, with almost 50% of the games not being part of the regular rotation. During the pandemic, this has reduced to less than 30% as a good amount of the games we played before are not easy to play virtually or require us to create special spreadsheets to handle the play materials needed.

Games like Fiasco and Companion’s Tale that either require a lot of simultaneous conversations between players happening during setup or that have card components difficult for us to recreate in Google Sheets have seen little play. We seem to have replaced them with games that can be run off a browser easily, like those that use the For the Drama engine or the Story Synth.

Intricacies of Online Play

When we started playing online, I was uncertain if we were going to play regularly as we were not enough players to sustain weekly games, and without a presence at a physical location with foot traffic like we had in the past, it would be difficult to recruit new players. Well, turns out that ended up not being an issue. The move to online play reduced many commutes, previous players that had moved away from the area were now able to join, and new players kept on finding us via Meetup. Our group has actually grown, and we consistently hit enough numbers to run two tables.

Playing online has had its advantages.

• No commute, so players from far away can join.
• Play session is shorter. We regularly finish before the 3hr mark.
• No ambient noise. Some of the places we used to play at would get very loud and would make it hard to hear each other or ruin some scenes. (Looking at you Irish dancers!)

But it has also brought unexpected challenges.

• Since we advertise publicly and are always open to new players, we need to be conscious of minimizing the technology required to play. We always have people join us with different hardware and comfort with technology. To streamline our playing, we have avoided using platforms that require creating accounts or assume that the user knows their way around their platform already. Spending the first 30 minutes of a session troubleshooting with the technology of a new player can negatively impactthe experience for everyone. So, Zoom and shared Google Sheet or Story Synth/For the Drama website is what we use.

• Games that require several conversations taking place at the same time don’t work well. We love Fiasco, but the setup becomes difficult as for it to shine one needs to take turns talking to players sitting next to one. Not a problem in person, but it becomes difficult online and makes the setup take longer.

• Once we have a spreadsheet setup for a game, it becomes very easy to run that game though. Final Voyage of the Selene, Follow, Palanquin, and Lasers & Feelings have seen more play than usual as we have them ready to go.

• It is time consuming to create a spreadsheet that works for each game though. The spreadsheet needs to be properly setup so a new player can follow along. (Designers, if you are reading this, can we get a Google Spreadsheet for playing your game as a Kickstarter reward or something?)

Next Steps

With vaccines now becoming more and more available and the economy slowly opening back up, it will be interesting to see if we can continue playing online or if we go back to meeting in person… or both? I guess it will come down to what kind of attendance we can maintain and if we can find convenient physical locations in which to play.

Compendium of Games We Play

Here is a list of games we have played at Story Games Club. Some we play more than others. Some are easier to play online than others.

Powered by the Apocalypse:

Lasers & Feelings & Hacks


Story Synth Engine:

For the Queen and For the Drama Hacks

For the Drama Engine:

  • For the Drama Engine
  • For the Case that Will Make the Headlines
  • For this Ungrateful City
  • For the Crown
  • For the Band
  • Around the Couch
  • The Lost Island
  • At This Precise Moment

Conflict at the Underwater Archipelago

This week we played Archipelago by Matthijs Holter. We created a world where many sea people live in the utopian Shallows, human scientists have established Aqua Base Z on the ocean floor, and explorers tell of giant sea monsters that roam the Deep.

Our characters are Luna, a mermaid who wants to leave her overprotective family in the Shallows to explore the Deep and start her own business; Amber, a skilled doctor in the Shallows who lost her young child to illness years ago; Atlas, an explorer working out of Aqua Base Z who hopes to discover a new creature; Roy P. Hannigan, a deep sea diver looking for lost knowledge; Maren, a merperson helping humans and sea creatures to understand one another; Zimmon, an octopus-person mage concerned about the impact of humans on the environment; Ron Johnson, an excitable marine biologist stationed at Aqua Base Z; and the Violet Kraken, an ancient sea monster recently awakened from their slumber in the Deep Hole.

At a medical ward in the Shallows, Amber is distraught and overworked as children are falling ill from a mysterious new disease. Near the old whale ribcage, Zimmon greets the Kraken respectfully, while Atlas looks on from Aqua Base Z, confused at what he’s seeing. Later, Maren meets with Zimmon and the Kraken at the same whale ribcage, hoping to promote understanding between them and the humans, but the Kraken is annoyed at the bright noisy base and Zimmon worries that humans only study the sea to control it. Meanwhile, Roy is descending from his boat into the Ancient Drowned City, where he sees an entire chunk of continent has broken off and sunk to the ocean floor.

At Aqua Base Z, Ron and Atlas argue about whether the Kraken Atlas has seen matches the rumours they’ve heard about leviathan sightings, but agree that they want to do more study of whatever creatures haunt these waters. Maren meets with Atlas and asks if he has the Kraken’s permission to film them. Atlas asks Maren to negotiate on his behalf, which surprises them. Back in the Shallows, Luna has come to visit her family, who offer her a gift that is almost, but not quite, the conch necklace she’s been hoping for. Her parents want her to stay at home, but she learns about a rare plant found in the Deep that may help treat the mysterious disease afflicting the children and vows to go find it.

Just outside the domes of the Shallows, Zimmon and Amber meet to discuss the disease outbreak. Zimmon suggests that human pollution or even warfare could be behind it, but Amber doesn’t have time to track down the source. When Zimmon, using his magical perception, sees a pattern in the sick children that reminds him of the Deep, Amber resolves to go to the Deep Hole and seek the Kraken’s help.

As Amber is on her way out of the city, Luna accosts her and asks to go along on her journey to the Deep. Amber doesn’t trust Luna not to disrupt her meeting with the Kraken, but Luna gives her word, and her necklace as collateral. Maren agrees to translate between Amber and the Kraken, but doesn’t understand the urgency until Amber explains that her species has only one child at a time, not hundreds of eggs.

Roy finishes descending into the Drowned City and finds that the only building not covered in algae is an ancient temple covered in writing he can’t read. He takes samples and pictures of a mural that seems to depict an epidemic.

At the Deep Hole, Amber is awed by the Kraken’s size even as Maren translates for her. The Kraken says it remembers a disease outbreak like the one she describes, and offers information in exchange for making the noisy humans of Aqua Base Z go away. Maren keeps the details of this deal from Amber, but offers the Kraken information on the structural weaknesses of the base. Amber is torn between asking about the disease killing children now, or the disease that killed her child ten years ago, but decides the present is more important. The Kraken tells her the answers she seeks are in the Drowned City, near the Volcanic Vent.

Maren races back to Aqua Base Z and warns the scientists to pack up their research and get out before the base is destroyed. Atlas hangs around hoping for one last chance to film the Kraken, and ends up taking video footage of the Kraken destroying Aqua Base Z.

In the Drowned City, Roy is about to re-ascend to the surface when Amber arrives, interrupting his mesmerized study of an ancient writing. She begs him to help her, saying the Kraken promised her a cure was somewhere in this temple. Roy invites her to return with him to the surface, where they can contact a translator to decipher the writings from the temple walls. But when they arrive at Roy’s boat, they learn that Aqua Base Z has been destroyed, dashing their hopes of working with a translator there.

In the end, all our characters reach their destinies: the Violet Kraken has destroyed Aqua Base Z. Luna opens a B&B where Aqua Base Z used to be. Amber has found the cure for all disease, if only she could translate it. Atlas publishes the video of his encounters with the Kraken, but nobody believes him. Roy P. Hannigan has discovered lost knowledge, but does not understand it. Maren has helped humans understand the discoveries of the deep. And Zimmon meets an unidentified U-boat captained by a man named Nemo, who offers him leadership of an organisation that protects the ocean. The last thing we see is Zimmon and Maren sailing off to explore the deep.

Follow us into The Arboretum

Tonight we played Follow by Ben Robbins. The cities were getting too crowded for us. It was no longer possible to live a good life there. So we left the civilization we knew behind and found our way into a wild forest filled with tall, ancient trees. We are a settlement of over a hundred people and this place is our new colony, that we call The Arboretum.

We are lucky that upon reaching this area, Zack Granite, a survivalist that came to this area earlier, is actually eager to share his knowledge of the area and the know-how needed to survive without the comforts of civilization we left behind. The rest of us, are a little over our heads, but we are all excited for a new beginning. Leslie, the herbalist, is hoping to discover new healing techniques using the local plants and herbs. Shine, is very excited that we have left the issues of the capitalist run society behind and now we will be able to live in harmony with nature and one another. Edgar hopes that in this new environment he will have a strong connection to the land and will be able to spend a lot more time working an living with his family as he wants to setup a homestead.

After a couple of days of being in the forest, we decide that the first task at hand is to clear the land of the thick vines that grow in the areas where we want to build our shelters. Unfortunately, these vines are very tough and we do not have many tools with us. The night before we start the work, we gather by a firepit as we discuss our hopes of living here… and the logistics of the next day. We agree to divide the camp into two, one half will be in vine clearing duty while the other is in trench digging duty as we want to have easier access to water.

Edgar is working with his neighbor Jeane, who also left the city recently. They are trying to clear the vines in their plots and are surprised by how little help they are getting from the rest of the camp. Where is everyone? Edgar’s hands are all blistered and bloody from pulling the vines out of the ground. Yet, he is happy that his whole body is working and he is breathing fresh air all day and he has never slept so well,. Meanwhile Jeane, is regretting her decision of living the city and cannot stop complaining about all the hardships they are facing.

Meanwhile, Leslie is not digging an irrigation trench or helping the rest of the camp pull vines out. Instead, she is setting up her cave with a clay oven so she can create ceramics to sell to rest of the camp. While she is doing that, Landor, a photographer that has been taking photos of the area and the settlers, appears at her cave. He is excited to take photos of her and asks her to pose. Leslie is not amused and wonders how photography can be done in a sustainable fashion without the rest of the equipment that is needed. Landor confesses that he did bring with him chemicals to develop photos and he has a simple setup in a neighboring cave. Leslie warns him to be careful with that and to be aware of Shine as she will not tolerate having those dangerous substances at The Arboretum.

After six weeks of attempting to clear the land of vines, the land is still not clear. Many people in the camp kept on getting distracted by their personal projects and the sustained effort needed to pull the vines out of the ground instead of simply cutting them was never done. Exhausted and miserable, Jeane leaves the camp.

It is about this time that several people in the camp catch an unknown disease. At first they have a mild rash, but it is soon followed by blisters, swelling of the limbs and a light fever. But with limited access to water and the physical exertion needed to maintain ourselves fed in our rough camp, this is quite dangerous.

While at Leslie’s cave, Zach mentions that Shine has just started showing symptoms and brings her over so Leslie can get a better understanding of what the source of this disease might be. Shine explains she had been setting up a grey water system, had been weaving baskets with the vines, and had delivered food to the other side of the camp with twelve other camp members earlier that week. As Zach had had considerable contact with this group, he volunteers to round up all those that have the disease and be the quarantine leader while Leslie figures out the source and treatment of the disease.

Leslie then walks around camp interviewing people. She runs into Edgar who is fully covered in mud. He explains that he has rashes all over his body, but found out that the itchiness and pain goes away when covered in wet mud. Leslie is very worried as having all the skin and rashes covered in mud are likely to cause infections, so she brings Edgar to her cave to treat him.

Back at her cave, she is using different salves and herbs on different parts of Edgar’s body to see if any of them work on the blisters. And this is when Landor barges in into her cave again to show off the new woven baskets he has. He explains that he has kept on taking pictures of the camp… and noticed that the vines do not grow back in areas where he dropped the photograph developing chemicals.

After several trials, Leslie eventually finds a combination of honey and herbs that does cure the rashes and proceeds to apply it to the rest of those that are sick that have been under Zach’s care. The rest of the camp is now healed and The Arboretum starts to thrive… except Zach who received the treatment too late passes away.

Parley & Plundering the Dreadnought

Tonight we played Parley & Plunder, a Lasers & Feelings hack by an unknown author. We are the crew of the good ship Dauntless, a fast sloop sailing under an English letter of marque, out to find our fortunes and stop French domination of the Caribbean. Our captain has been incapacitated but is well-tended by our experienced medic, so we senior members of the crew must guide the ship until Captain Maynard’s full recovery, which isn’t easy with such a disgruntled crew. Aquila is our dedicated navigator who seeks to master navigation through study of the stars. Our charming quartermaster is one John Silver, out more for his own fame and glory than anything else. Emerson, the adventurous cook, is more interested in culinary experiments even than stealing cool treasures. Two-Tonne Thad Thompson is a grizzled old gunner whose ready to finally get away with his buried treasure. Sheyron the Steed is ship’s carpenter and dedicated to his faithful dog Hendry.

We start our tale with the Dauntless sailing into the Port Royale with smoke billowing toward the sky from the thatch-roofed buildings as we see an enormous ship flying a French flag slipping away on the horizon. We dock and fan out into the town. Emerson leads a shopping trip into the quayside markets seeking supplies for our next foray, especially unusual fruits and vegetables such as rare peppers, while John Silver unsuccessfully tries to convince the rum runner to part with his wares on credit! (The cheek of the man.) Sheyron and Two-Tonne seek out intelligence on the French attack at the Squeaky Door Tavern and learn about the cost of the regular French assault, led by the Frenchman Commodore Fromage Aigre commanding the mighty Dreadnought. We end our story in Port Royale with the British unfurling posters offering a substantial reward for the capture of the Dreadnought or her captain.

We know that the great French ship was designed and built by the Marquis Rochefort, newly retired to French Guyana, and we intend to infiltrate his estate and steal the plans to the Dreadnought in order to take her. Using forged papers, Sheyron and Hendry join a large ball being thrown at the estate by the Marquis, and while they distract him, Aquila manages to serve the Marquis a drugged drink, which leaves his lovely wife alone. John Silver begins a concerted effort to charm her, and she takes him upstairs to show him the scale model of the Dreadnought on the landing. Emerson works in the kitchen and manages to lift the head butler’s massive keyring and pass it to Aquila, who leaves the party and sneaks past John Silver as he’s proposing elopement to Eliza the wife. She enters the Marquis’s study, emerges with the ship’s plans locked away, and is spotted by the butler just as she’s about to slip the keys back into his pocket, but covers by pretending to have found them fallen on the floor. As the rest of the crew melt away into the night, John Silver gallops away from the villa with the model under one arm and Eliza clasping tightly to his waist on the back of the Marquis’s best horse.

After studying the plans and learning the Dreadnoughts secret to being heavily armored without losing speed is a special paddle wheel propulsion system, we track down the ship moored in Port-au-Prince. Sneaking aboard at night, we set about sabotaging the ship to ensure she runs aground on British soil. Two-tonne knocks out some of the paddles themselves while Sheyron uses his carpentry skills to kink up the wheel. John Silver gets into a fight and Emerson returns with a bag of croissants and other French delicacies. Aquila steals the French star charts and replaces them with new charts that would be sure to lead them astray. We return to the Dauntless and follow the Dreadnought to be on hand when her charts and broken systems lead her to crash onto the beach at Port Royale.

When we visit the British governor, we collect our reward, agreeing to keep half the cash if we get to keep the Dreadnought herself. Aquila also gets copies of the royal star charts and Emerson collects some lovely papaya from the Governor’s gardens. And we sail our two ships off into the sunset.