Jan 10 2018
Today we’re releasing some supplemental material for our new game, WINTERHORN. These documents are designed to broaden the game’s footprint to include larger groups and non-roleplayers, as well as provide additional context and discussion points. I hope you find them useful and engaging.
You can find these materials on the product page, or by in the digital version of the game at DriveThruRPG or Indie Press Revolution. If you already bought the digital version, your downloads will be updated to include these documents.
WINTERHORN as Workshop provides an alternate introduction, facilitation guidelines, and debrief for playing the game outside its traditional roleplaying context. The game’s mechanics are simple enough to use in a classroom or less formal group setting, and this document outlines the necessary adjustments you need to make. My hope is that this will make WINTERHORN more accessible to groups outside Bully Pulpit Games’ core constituency, for whom “six people, two hours, lots of scenery chewing” feels perfectly natural.
WINTERHORN: 12 Techniques is a walk through the twelve methods of governmental disruption you pore over in play. Each has a short description, an example pulled from history or current events, and three directed questions you might consider related to your own activism. These are very straightforward questions! For example, Manipulation’s section ends with:
Are you a good candidate for manipulation?
Are those close to you vulnerable?
How will you know if those around you are being manipulated?
What actions can you take if you or those close to you are being manipulated?
As with WINTERHORN generally, there are no answers, only opportunities for self reflection. The questions pair well with the larger group version of the game.
I’m thrilled with the reception WINTERHORN has received so far, and I’m very excited to see these materials finally available.
Jan 2 2018
Welcome back to the ongoing series of conversations between Alex Roberts (our Production Coordinator, who you may have heard on her interview podcast Backstory) and some of the outstanding professionals we get to work with here at Bully Pulpit. So far we’ve heard Brennen Reece on book design, Karen Twelves on editing, and Claudia Cangini on illustration. Today, we’ll chat with, Jennifer Bedell, of Atomic Empire Comics & Games. Atomic Empire is our friendly local game store here in Durham, North Carolina, and we’ve partnered with them to fulfill all of our Kickstarter campaigns, from Durance to Ghost Court. If you’re curious about how a game gets from the publishers’ hands to yours–and all the fun things that can happen in between–this is the interview for you.
Alex: Let’s start with Atomic Empire. Besides being a purveyor of fine comics and games, what does Atomic do? And what is your role in all of that?
Jennifer: Calling Atomic a “store” always feels like an oversimplification, since we have a retail store, an e-commerce business, a tournament venue and something like a community center all under one roof. We also develop a lot of software in-house and dabble in Kickstarter fulfillment. My favorite part of our operation is providing a space for people to come together, form communities, and enjoy the things they have in common.
Since our staff is small, everyone wears a lot of hats: Trish handles comic-book subscription ops, graphic design, and HR; Shane coordinates wargames events and orders games inventory and writes some code. Like (I imagine) most small-business owners, my own role is a cobbled-together “kitchen sink” position that ranges from pay-per-click advertising to software development and from high-level analysis to replying to individual online reviews. On an ideal day, I’m facilitating cooperation between our various teams and making sure we challenge ourselves to try new approaches; but most days I’m happy if I feel like I’m winning the Hundred Years’ War with my inbox.
Alex: Hah! I think most small companies feel like that – the ones that are any fun to work for, anyway. It certainly keeps things interesting.
Before we get into game stores as agile companies, I want to pull on this thread of game stores as community spaces. What are the opportunities for gatherings and community building that you see at Atomic? How are you building on those opportunities?
Jennifer: I think game stores have inherent potential as community hubs. Most tabletop games are not single-player friendly, so you need other people to play with. Games are distinct in this way from chocolates or bikes or even comic books, which can be enjoyed in a vaccuum. Folks gravitate to their local game store in hopes of meeting players with similar interests. If your local store is friendly and inclusive, it quickly becomes a place not just to buy games, but to share and play them.
That’s where you’ll find a lone fan doggedly promoting his/her favorite game to everyone who will listen — those are the players who become the nucleus around whom a play group forms. It’s also where you can find a GM for your new D&D character or a Magic pod or just a few brave souls willing to throw down Twilight Imperium now that your family has refused to play it. We receive calls and emails from gamers just moving to town, asking, “How is the Warhammer 40K community at your store?” or “Do you guys have a board game night?” (I often think this is a gamer equivalent of finding the right church when moving to a new place.) When customers consider buying into a new game, they often start with, “What’s the play group like?” Enjoying games is as much about the people you play with as the game itself, and that’s where the communities that form around local game stores are critical to the hobby.
If we had a peanut gallery right now, some of them would say, “I get my games online, and I have plenty of friends to play with, so it doesn’t make any difference to me if there are game stores or not,” and that’s fine, too. Players may or may not ever find themselves looking for a community in a game store; but I know people who have formed lasting friendships there, and there are games that would not have gotten off the ground without the visibility provided by an enthusiastic player base at a game store.
When it comes to our role, we’re usually facilitators rather than direct community builders. We try to say “yes” when people come to us with things they’re enthusiastic about. You want to run a Dropzone league? We’re here for that. You want us to host a monthly meeting for game designers? We’re all about it. We provide an inclusive space, good beer, and visibility — you bring your passion. Of course, at heart we also have our pet games we’re trying to build groups around, and it’s gratifying when they come together.
Alex: That’s a great point – a place to game is more than just some tables and chairs. What does providing an inclusive space mean to you, and what are the practical steps you take to build and maintain the kind of atmosphere you want?
Jennifer: I think most of us are aware of the stigma of game-store-as-man-cave: those stores that are cramped, poorly stocked clubhouses where newcomers feel unwelcome. (I once walked into a store and the owner said, “Well, you’ve never been in here before.” I wasn’t sure whether his customer base was so small he knew everyone on sight, or if I was literally the first woman to come in; either way, it was a creepy first impression.) As much as I think those stores are in the minority today, they have nevertheless put a lot of people off of the whole idea of the local game store. So the baseline level of inclusiveness for us is avoiding that exclusive-private-club feeling. We want the store to be clean, well-lit and organized, and inviting to someone who stops in casually (almost like a real store!).
The second level is what people normally think of when you talk about inclusivity: making sure everyone feels comfortable and welcome (and if possible, represented) regardless of skin color, gender, orientation, and other factors that have traditionally been used to divide and exclude people. To that end, we don’t tolerate bullies or hate speech or harassment. We try to make sure that our staff and volunteers are folks we are proud to have representing the store, and we diversify our hiring as much as we can. And I think there’s another means of exclusion that’s been exposed in gaming and fandom in the past few years, and that’s the sort of gatekeeping behavior that insists that “cosplayers are fake geeks” or “party-game players aren’t real gamers” or “you can’t be a comics fan if you never heard of Captain America before the movies.” I personally have no patience for that sort of thing; we’re all fans of something, and I think the best way to celebrate what you love is to share it with others. I’m excited when new customers come in and say, “What’s a ‘Euro’ game?” or “Do you have anything about Wonder Woman?” To re-use the church analogy, I think welcoming new converts into the fold is a local store’s greatest responsibility.
Alex: Ah, yes. I’ve been stared at in stony silence by game store workers. What a reception! It sounds like you’re trying to give a much warmer welcome—are there any events coming up soon that you’re really excited about?
Jennifer: On January 27th we’ll have our annual Duck-Rabbit tap takeover, where some folks from the brewery come out for board games and beer with our customers. We’re also planning a game design workshop (no prior experience required!) in the new year.
Alex: Both of those things sound super fun! Especially the game design workshop; what a great way of bringing people together to connect and be creative. I know this time of year can be hard on people in retail, and owning a business is a heck ton of work any time of year; what keeps you going? How do you stay passionate and motivated, about the business and about games in general?
Jennifer: It’s true that small-business ownership can feel like a constant grind, especially in the early years. In talking to other store owners, it seems it’s easier to avoid burnout if you have a hobby outside the industry. My poison is autocross (an amateur motorsport no one’s ever heard of), so I spend a lot of weekends away from the store, talking to people who are so removed from our industry, they think gaming is something you do in casinos. I think it’s critical to have that separate space where you can hit the reset button. I’m also lucky to have a phenomenal staff that runs the place just fine without me, which has allowed me up to live the dream of forty-ish-hour work weeks. I’m always on-call, of course (I’ve had co-drivers answer staff texts while I tow a car trailer down the interstate, and I’ve deployed code patches from a race paddock), but I never worry that the shop will go to pieces while I’m gone. And while autocross and parenting limit the amount of time I spend playing games, the flip side is that games are always fresh to me. I don’t get enough exposure to feel jaded, so I can still get excited when something new comes out.
Alex: Yes! You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Speaking of which, let’s quickly circle back to what we talked about at the top before we wrap up—you mentioned that you’ve been developing software, and working on Kickstarter fulfillment as well? What does that look like and how do you see it changing or expanding in the future?
Jennifer: Atomic is always in some stage of software development. We try to integrate new solutions to technical problems as they become available (right now, we’re working on an overhaul of our website search), and there’s a constant race to keep up with changing web aesthetics and user expectations. We spend the rest of the time trying to improve efficiency and data accuracy, solve problems we created ourselves ten years ago, etc. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities where we can bring our existing strengths to bear (like order fulfillment and code flexibility), and that’s why we’ve started doing some Kickstarter fulfillment. In talking to designers and publishers, we hear that the hassle of packing and shipping is a substantial downside to crowd-funding campaigns. When Steve approached us with the idea of doing some fulfillment for Bully Pulpit, we thought that would be a fantastic use of facilities and shipping processes we already have in place. I think small publishers are a critical part of the gaming ecosystem, and we’re always glad to help with the midwifery of getting a new game to market. In the new year, we’re hoping to develop more tools to help fulfillment clients manage their orders and inventory on our website.
Alex: Well, I certainly appreciated having your help with Ghost Court. Thank you so much for chatting with me; this was fun!
Jennifer: Thanks for the opportunity.
You can visit Atomic Empire here in Durham, North Carolina, or find out more at their website.
Dec 20 2017
Dec 13 2017
Spending some time with your family this season? Make the most of it with our catalogue of universally appealing, family-friendly, thematically appropriate games, such as:
Fruit cake is the butt of too many jokes this time of year. Cast that classic rum-soaked dessert in a new light, and suggest you all take turns swallowing a sentient telepathic Sumerian cockroach instead. It goes great with eggnog!
The older you get, the more you realize that holidays are all about the kids. The Warren is most appropriate for Easter, obviously, but why miss a chance to play? This simple tabletop RPG, inspired by YA classic Watership Down, appeals to every child’s adventurous spirit and love of fuzzy animals. Also, they need to learn about the looming spectre of death eventually.
Somehow, a game about petty disputes among the undead, brought to an adversarial court and arbitrated by a fickle judge, is actually a genuinely fun family game. Seriously, we heard positive reports after Thanksgiving! Maybe take out card six if you have really young kids.
It’s never fun when politics comes up over dinner–so turn your dinner table into a boardroom table, and tell a story you can all relate to: one about the relentless abuse of state power. This live-action game will bring the whole family together, as they take on the roles of agents of the Ministry of State Security, devising a plan to covertly destroy a group of political activists code named WINTERHORN. There may be some disagreements in the family, but you can always bond over your paranoia and crushing anxiety.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the spirit of the season, and need a break from all that merriment, retreat to a quiet place and play our introspective one-player game about people who love each other and cars that go fast.
The years fly by like snowflakes. Everything is tinsel. Everything is sleigh bells. You stand vigilant before the fireplace without thought or breath–such is your compulsion. You do not remember your name and still you watch. The flesh has fallen off the turkey and still you watch.
JUGGERNAUT is a card-based live-action game for 4-6 players about a machine that can tell the future. But it’s also about 4-6 people trapped in an enclosed space, watching seemingly uncontrollable yet completely predictable events play out in front of them, questioning their own free will as the stress of the situation brings their insecurities, old grudges, and deeply-rooted mistrust to the surface. In that sense it bears no relation to an extended family gathering whatsoever.
Just go to the car and scream for a while. That’s the whole game.
Here’s a game that, much like gift-giving, is all about savagery and servility. Know your role and stay on the right side of the family Dimber-Damber when it comes to gifts (your mom is probably the family Dimber-Damber). As in Durance, messing this up is a one-way trip to a desolate and unforgiving wilderness of shame.
Many people travel great distances to be with loved ones over the holidays. Why not play a game that is also about a great journey back to comfort and safety? As with modern air travel, only one will survive, and the entire place is infested with swamp ghosts.
Combine a themed celebration with a history lesson by magically transporting your whole family back to 1944, when the Night Witches spent their holiday bombing what remained of German-occupied Warsaw. Kasha for everybody! Officers (well, grandpa, anyway) get sprats in oil and a lend-lease chocolate bar, and you pocket the savings.
What says holiday cheer more than enjoying crisp snow, soaring vistas, and the prospect of ignominious failure in the face of a Himalayan gale? After a hearty meal, convert the dining table, the kid’s table, and maybe the living room furniture into surreal blanket forts for an evening of deception, ambition, and merciless death.
Actually, maybe not.
Sometimes, people are driven so powerfully to achieve an unrealistic vision of happiness in an unstable situation that failure becomes both inevitable and acutely painful. Incidentally, there are numerous holiday-themed Fiasco playsets.
Maybe next year you’ll opt to stay home, and keep cozy with someone who brings out the softer side of this beloved season. Stay warm by the fire with our tender two-player game of forbidden love. Fireplace optional but highly recommended.
Santa Hat by Alexandre from the Noun Project.
Dec 4 2017
Bully Pulpit Games is proud to announce the release of Jason Morningstar’s latest game, WINTERHORN.
Morningstar, a game designer best known for his Diana Jones Award-winning Fiasco, spent most of 2017 carefully refining and playtesting WINTERHORN with friends and strangers.
“WINTERHORN is all about how governments abuse their power to destroy activism,” says Mr Morningstar. “You play government agents with a mandate to disrupt this group code-named WINTERHORN, but you know little about them. As the game unfolds you learn more, and have to choose which of twelve techniques you are going to use to mess with them. The techniques range from surveillance to direct violence, and are all pulled from the real world. Choices and time are both limited, and you will be forced to make difficult decisions with imperfect information. You will probably make some terrible mistakes.”
The key to WINTERHORN are those twelve techniques which, Morningstar says, you get to know very well during play.
“And when you’ve finished destroying those fictional activists,” he says, “you can turn around and think about how you might harden groups you care about against the same techniques. By flipping the script, my hope is to give players insight into the approach and motivation of governments tempted to abuse their power.”
Bully Pulpit Games’ co-founder, Steve Segedy, is excited by the game’s potential outside traditional hobby audiences.
“WINTERHORN has something to say, and it can serve as a conversation starter for activists or a teaching tool for educators. I’m really looking forward to seeing it used in these settings, and we’ll be releasing supplementary material that tunes the game for use in classrooms and workshop settings.”
WINTERHORN is now available print-on-demand through DriveThruRPG, and will soon be available through Indie Press Revolution.
Bully Pulpit Games is the producer of award-winning games like Fiasco, Night Witches, and Ghost Court. Join our mailing list, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to stay up-to-date on WINTERHORN, and our other games in development.
Jason Morningstar is a game designer, writer, and consultant with companies like Google and Kaiser Permanente. Some of his games include Fiasco, Grey Ranks, Night Witches, and Ghost Court. He is also co-founder and Chief Designer at Bully Pulpit Games.
Nov 28 2017
We love Big Bad Con, the friendliest gaming convention on the West Coast. This year, as official sponsors of the event, we wanted to run something special. “Long Cons” (multiple consecutive sessions in the same weekend) of Night Witches have done well in the past – what if we made it a “Wide Con” instead, and tried to wrangle a full squadron of Nachthexen?
We had sixteen players, four GMs running one table each, and one four-hour slot. The result was like most things the 588th Night Bomber Regiment gets up to–chaotic, thrilling, and somewhat desperately improvised.
And you can take home the fun!
Want to try your own Night Witches Wide Con, at your favourite convention or enviably large home group? You can download our full package of game materials here:
This package includes 25(!) character sheets, an outline of play, as well as maps and other handy handouts. These were designed for our own use, for how we wanted to run things–if you have questions, or just want to tell us how it went, get in touch! We would love to hear from you.
Tonight, we fly!
Nov 20 2017
Our hotly anticipated live action game about how governments degrade and destroy activist groups will be available in print-on-demand format December 4th, 2017.
WINTERHORN: the code name of a small but passionate group of “peace and justice” activists. On the surface they project innocent, if misguided, zeal, but you know better. You’ve dealt with groups like this before, and there’s always a dangerous core. Gun-runners. Bomb-makers. People who deserve to be thrown in a dark hole somewhere.
As government agents, your goal is to nudge them into destroying themselves, using every trick in the book – black bag jobs, disinformation, spinning up rival front groups, and even escalating to vandalism and violence when necessary. Your mission, with the full force of the government behind you and time running out, is to get WINTERHORN’s members fighting like rats in a bucket. They need to fall apart before they can hurt anyone, and the state’s hands need to stay clean.
They won’t know what hit them.
By playing law enforcement and intelligence operatives working diligently to demoralize and derail, you’ll learn about the techniques used in the real world in pursuit of these goals. By playing WINTERHORN you’ll have a chance to reflect on weak points in your own activism, and think about ways to harden organizations you care about against government intrusion.
Bully Pulpit Games is the producer of award-winning games like Fiasco, Night Witches, and Ghost Court. Join our mailing list, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to stay up-to-date on WINTERHORN and our other games in development.
Nov 13 2017
Steve, Jason, and Alex will be at the inaugural PAX Unplugged this weekend in Philadelphia, November 17th-19th! We have so much planned:
Jason will be presenting a panel with Luke Crane of The Burning Wheel on Tabletop vs Larp, on Friday at 7pm.
Later that night, our musical friends The Doubleclicks will be doing a live version of their podcast, Gosh Darn Fiasco, and Jason and Steve will be on stage with them! The fun starts on Friday at 10pm.
After that, we’re resurrecting the world’s finest afterlife courtroom dramedy, Ghost Court! Our pals at the ONE SHOT Podcast Network will be joining us on Saturday at 10pm, for an evening of incorporeal indictment and frightful fun!
Alex will also be doing a panel on Queer Game Design, on Sunday at 1pm. She’ll be talking about the genesis and development of her 2-player romance RPG, Tension.
Throughout the con, our retail partner Modern Myths is the place to go to pick up our games, including copies of our latest nanogame, The Skyr Pitch, free with each purchase! Check them out at Booth 339!
Nov 7 2017
Each year Google Austria invites some of its customers to gather for a day of collaboration and discussion. This event is specifically designed to promote Google’s services as useful tools, to promote cooperation across hierarchies, and to show ways to turn threats into opportunities. The day is structured around talks in the morning, a lunch, some group activity, and then a keynote address. This year I was approached to provide the group activity, which was going to be a big, ambitious game.
My mandate was to design an experience for 200 (later 240) participants using an over-arching theme that engaged Google’s guests in something memorable and promoted the event’s core message. Beyond that I had a lot of latitude. As long as they left saying “You had to be there, man” – or, rather – “Das muss man selbst erlebt haben!”
Pretty quickly I came up with a core idea and general plan. There would be a sort of steampunk-y story to wrap around a series of small games, culminating in something big and flashy and memorable. The story was the easy part:
On September 2, 1899, Nikola Tesla wrote a brief comment in his laboratory notes:
I have arranged to have my device constructed in great secrecy in Varaždin, Croatia. It will then be transported by rail to Vienna via Graz, a distance of scarcely 250 kilometers. My Austrian benefactor has agreed to bury the device to preserve it for some future age when its use may become necessary. Both he and I have retained complete instructions concerning its hidden location, assembly and operation.
Tesla’s copy of these documents were no doubt lost in his 1895 laboratory fire. The identity of his Austrian benefactor has remained a mystery, and will likely never be known. The buried object was assumed lost – until now.
Recent excavations at a construction site uncovered a series of cast iron cylinders, all welded shut, all two meters in diameter and four meters long. Inside the cylinders, carefully packed against the ravages of time, were delicate turn-of-the-last-century scientific objects. The cylinders and their strange contents were taken to the The Technisches Museum Wien, where they were briefly marveled at and then forgotten in a basement.
But you know the truth – this is Tesla’s legendary “Vienna Apparatus”, rumored by some to be a terrible weapon and by others to be the work of an utter crank. Either way, you must know. It might be the most dangerous weapon the world has ever seen – Tesla certainly boasted of possessing such a thing. You’ve found your way into the museum, but you only have a few hours before you are discovered. Can you assemble the Vienna Apparatus and learn its secrets before it is too late?”
The “Vienna Apparatus” was assembled from a series of five small challenges that all required teamwork, but varied from brain teasers to physical exercises. The participants were divided into groups of a dozen or less, and rotated between the various challenges. Some were much harder than others! Each participant had one of four roles within their group, and all activities relied on specific roles for leadership, to make sure that no one dominated every activity. Participants were placed in groups across hierarchies, and the event’s badges did not indicate what any attendee did, just where they worked.
All this controlled chaos culminated in the assembly of three gigantic soma cubes, seven-part puzzles that I asked them to build as large as they could manage (and, as it turned out, as large as Austrian health and safety regulations allowed!). I had imagined them forming 3 meter cubes, which would have been epic, but the final cubes were still very large, remarkable, and fun to play with. Combined with some light theming and Tesla-inspired jargon that I enjoyed generating way too much, the experience portion of the event proved to be a success. Not everyone loved it, which was to be expected, but it definitely had that “Das muss man selbst erlebt haben!” factor.
To watch the action unfold, check out this video of the event (in German, of course).
We develop custom large group activities centred around education, team building, and fun for a variety of clients, including The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kaiser Permanente Healthcare, and UC Berkeley. If you’re interested in developing exciting group experiences like the one above, please get in touch via our contact form.
Nov 1 2017
Alex Roberts’ innovative and scintillating game Tension, already a sleeper hit on the convention circuit, has found a home with Bully Pulpit Games.
Roberts, well known as host of the Backstory podcast on the ONE SHOT network, and for her contributions to tabletop roleplaying games like Misspent Youth, Dialect, and Damn the Man, Save the Music!, has been developing Tension for several years.
“Tension comes from the bottom of my heart,” says Ms Roberts, “like a lot of the Bully Pulpit Games lineup, it fills a particular niche—in this case a niche for a two-hour, two-player game about relationships that feels both overdramatic and painfully real. Also you might want to smooch at the end. But you don’t have to!”
Inspired by Epidiah Ravachol’s groundbreaking RPG Dread, Tension combines exciting world-building, clever mechanics, and an unstable tower of wooden blocks to help players tell the story of two people entangled in their own undeniable, impossible attraction.
“When the tower falls,” Roberts says, “so does their resistance to their true feelings.”
According to Bully Pulpit Games’ co-founder Jason Morningstar, bringing Alex Roberts into the fold was a logical development. “When I saw Tension I got really excited by the game’s design and potential,” Mr Morningstar says, “I love that Alex has made a game that is tactile, outrageously fun to play, brimming with hope, and focused on something other than violence.”
“Tension appeals to all kinds of people, and I’m really looking forward to presenting it in a way that does justice to the theme—we’re already losing our minds over the art direction and product design possibilities here at BPG headquarters.”
Bully Pulpit Games is the producer of award-winning games like Fiasco, Night Witches, and Ghost Court. Join our mailing list, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to stay up-to-date on Tension’s development and release.
Alex Roberts is a writer, designer, journalist, and roleplayer of boundless enthusiasm. A 2016 Gen Con Industry Insider, she has established herself as a recognized expert in romance, sexuality and care in RPG and larp. She is also the Production Coordinator for Bully Pulpit Games.