Alex (Ariadne Backstage)

Matt runs down the rule system, Alex fills in his character sheet, and the company spends longer than anyone expected talking about quiche. Vehemently not sponsored by Leatherman.

Created and hosted by Matt (@merelymj)

In association with Blackshaw Theatre Company (

Episode transcript

Matt: Right, we're gonna call this a Backstage bonus episode. So I just want to - there's some stuff I want to say about the - where I got the system that we're using from, which I thought would be a bit of a speed bump if we put it actually in the main episodes. So the system that we're playing, the game system that we're using to play this, is based on a system called Powered by the Apocalypse -

Ellie: Traumatic.

Matt: - devised originally by D Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker for a game called Apocalypse World, which was a sort of a post-apocalyptic setting role-playing game. It's been adapted a lot since then. They've sort of made it open source, so people can use it for their own things. So if - listeners will be familiar, if you've ever played something like Monsterhearts, that's based on the same system; if there are any Adventure Zone fans listening, the Stolen Century story arc uses this system as well. I got the rules from Simple World, which is a game by Joe McDaldno*, which you can get for free at his website,, and that has all the basics of the dice rolls, and how to create characters, and how you should run the game, and all those sorts of things.

So, with that out of the way, let's fill in your character sheets.

Ellie: Okay.

Alex: Right ho.

Vikki: So excited.

Ellie: I can’t remember how to do it.

Vikki: It’s going to be fine.

Matt: It’s all right. So we - we played what in hindsight was a kind of a practice game, or a pilot game for this -

Alex: We didn’t know about it.

Matt: With a much bigger cast -

Vikki: We were all clueless and I think very much still are clueless.

Matt: On holiday in an actual spooky house.

Ellie: Yeah, so spooky.

Alex: Oh it was, wasn’t it.

Ellie: Oh, it wasn’t spooky until we played that game.

Vikki: Yeah, no, it wasn’t spooky until we played the game.

Matt: So I'll take you through this step-by-step. So that for that game, you had kind of prefilled sheets that I'd put together, and you just got to kind of decide who got which one, whereas we’re actually going to do a bit of filling in this time. So would anybody like to go first?

Alex: I'll go first.

Matt: Alex, okay. So, you have - so, you can fill in your name at the top of the sheet first of all.

Alex: Right.

Matt: And then all of you are gonna have -

Vikki: He’s wondering if that should be his real name or not.

Matt: We are playing ourselves.

Alex: Oh, right.

Strat: Oh, we can all do that then.

Matt: You are still playing yourselves in this one. Sorry, I should have said that at the beginning.

Alex: Tick box one: can write my own name.

Vikki: This is going very well so far.

Matt: It's good to get all these things out of the way early on.

Ellie: It's good to start with something we feel we can do.

Alex: Writing your own name.

Matt: So, you all have three qualities or attributes called Mind, Body and Soul.

Alex: Right.

Matt: Mind represents your ability to rationalise and think your way out of situations, and basically anything to do with your brain. Body is your sort of physical skill, your ability to do feats of strength or agility-based stuff - running, jumping, climbing trees, running away from beasties, that kind of thing. And Soul, in this game, is your connection to the supernatural or the paranormal. So it’s the one that you’ll use for any kind of … anything that is vaguely magical or spiritual or anything like that.

Strat: Ghost stuff.

Vikki: I would love for mine to be high, but in reality, like, in the real world it would be -

Ellie: So low.

Vikki: Minus numbers. Absolutely in the minus numbers.

Ellie: You’d be like the character Nick was playing when we last played a game, where he rationalised clearly spooky activity as “bin lightning”.

Alex: I’d forgotten bin lightning!

Matt: Ball lightning in a waste bin in a utility room. It was a classic. We'll have classic moments like that in this game too, I’m sure.

So, one of these stats for each of you is gonna be a one, one of them’s gonna be a zero, and one of them’s gonna be a minus one. You three who aren't Alex get to decide what Alex’s stats are.

Ellie: And should this be what we think is actually true to his real-life person, or just LOL?

Matt: I think we can - I think there can be a - I think we can embody both qualities.

Strat: So we're kind of - we're playing ourselves, but a kind of a ... heightened version, a character of ourselves.

Matt: It’s almost - it’s a sort of how other people see you. So what does everyone think should be Alex's highest stat?

Ellie: I think - I think Alex thinks he's super in touch with ghost stuff.

Vikki: Yeah, I think Soul should be highest. I would say Soul highest. I think of any of us that are going to like, really like, be in touch with ghosts -

Strat: Believe?

Vikki: - it’s Alex.

Alex: Just call me David Duchovny.

Vikki: We will.

Matt: Okay, so you write a number one by Soul. And what about Alex’s lowest quality? Is it Mind or Body? What’s he worst at? Given how I’ve described what these qualities say?

Alex (mean voice): “What’s his lowest quality? How can we demean this man any more? What are you shittest at, Alex?”

Strat: I don’t mean to be horrible to him, but I think it needs to be Mind, because Body needs - like, out of all of us, he is the most athletic or strong -

Vikki: Yes, this is definitely true.

Strat: - and that’s not going to be the best. So if we would put that as minus one, I fear we'll have no one that can like, lift or even open a door.

Vikki: Er, do you even lift, bro?

Ellie: Yeah, Vikki goes to like, cycling classes and stuff.

Vikki: Body combat, my friends! I will punch people in the face!

Alex: Perceived athleticism: for me, very high. Actual athleticism: debatable.

Strat: Which - I think zero is perfect.

Vikki: So I think I probably have oversold my skills as well in this arena.

Strat: You know what your top skill is suddenly going to be.

Matt: Okay, so that gives Alex a one in Soul, a zero in Body, and a minus one in Mind.

Vikki: Sorry mate.

Matt: Now, the twist here, Alex, if you feel really uncomfortable with what you've been allocated or you feel like this kind of really doesn't - or like, you feel like this distribution of attributes wouldn't be fun to play, I'll let you swap two.

Alex: Well, actually, this is exactly how I would have done it myself.

Vikki: Yes! Friendship goals!

Ellie: Very self-aware.

Alex: I’m very self-aware, yeah. ‘Cause I’m in touch with my soul.

Strat: I thought you were going to say he was very self-deprecating.

Ellie: No.

Vikki: Mind isn’t everything, people.

Strat: That’s very true.

Matt: All right, so, next thing that you're all going to get - you've got a section - you've got a box on the sheet that says “Survival traits”. You're going to have an ability, an element, and an item. So the ability is going to be something that you can kind of actively do, which will take a roll against one of your attributes. The element is going to be something that - like, a situation in which you're at your best, during which you will get like a constant bonus to everything that  you roll. And an item will be a unique thing that you have on you -

Vikki: Like a sword or something.

Matt: Yeah, yeah - which, if we can justify why it applies in a certain situation, it will give you a bonus to that situation.

Vikki: Is the element thing like, when we played it before, Strat was better off on his own so he always got an extra point?

Matt: Yeah. It's exactly that sort of thing. So I've got some examples...

Strat: I'm really not better off by myself.

Alex: Strat’s just in a room being like (plaintive mewl).

Vikki: Yeah, that was totally based on “most likely to go off by himself”, which is true.

Strat: I won’t do well when I’m there…

Vikki: So true.

Matt: So I've got a sheet of examples, which include all of the ones we played in the practice game and a few others. So let's do the -

Strat: So do we get to choose for him again?

Matt: No no, so Alex is going to choose these himself. So, I'll say first of all, there are gonna - there are some things that you can always do. So basically the - because it's a role-playing game and it lives in your imagination, you can do anything - you can attempt anything you can imagine attempting, within the strictures of the world and the genre that we're playing in. And that, in sort of game terms, counts as “taking action”. And so basically I'll just make you roll if the thing that you're doing is something that somebody else would oppose, or the thing that you're doing runs a chance of interesting or hilarious failure. So that's “taking action”, so that's the generic ability for anything that you might attempt. For this game, because this is a ghost story game, you all have the option of doing something called “bare your soul”.

Ellie: Does that mean taking your clothes off?

Matt: It does not.

Vikki: Thank goodness.

Matt: Well, I don’t know, it might. You get to decide.

Strat: If you think that’s going to help.

Matt: You get to decide what baring your soul -

Ellie: I find it helps in most situations.

Alex: “What are you doing?” “Just disrobing.”

Matt: You get to decide what baring your soul looks like for you in the particular circumstances. But that will be a roll against your Soul ability. And that will be for -

Strat: Alex, you get naked.

Matt: Sort of, mechanically speaking it's sort of a way of asking for hints. So if you bare your soul, you sort of open yourself up to the paranormal realm, and you might be rewarded with something like a premonition, or a vision, or a -

Ellie: A helpful ghost.

Matt: Maybe, yeah. Or like, an omen of some description that might help you in the game.

Vikki: Interesting.

Strat: And we can do that as often as we…? Is there any limit to any of these?

Matt: There's no limit to it, but there might be consequences if you roll bad.

Vikki: Comes with a risk. It comes with a risk.

Matt: Because you're opening yourself up. So you might get possessed or something if you do badly. Another thing you can - you always have the option of doing, whether you've got it as a special thing or not, is “talk someone down”. And that's if somebody's starting to lose it in the face of supernatural things, or they've been badly hurt, you will help heal them up or get them back to a good state. And that's - you'll use - we'll get to Trust in a minute, but you'll roll Trust for that. And the other thing which we didn't do in the last game is “keeping it together”. So, the first time that you encounter something supernatural or weird or evil or generally barmy, if you want to try and do something in the face of that, I'll make you roll to keep it together, and that will be a roll against Mind. And if you succeed, you'll get to do the thing, and if you fail, then you probably won't get to do the thing -

Ellie: Because you’ve fallen apart.

Matt: - and you’ll also start losing it, yeah.

Ellie: Right, okay.

Strat: Oh, so when we first encounter a thing, there's a chance we'll just lose it straight off the bat.

Matt: Well, start losing it.

Vikki: You lose a segment, right?

Strat: Yeah, so I mean lose a segment.

Matt: Yeah, so all the sheets have a four - a circle in four quarters, which Powered by the Apocalypse calls a “harm clock”, and I like to call “the quiche of losing it”.

Vikki: For listeners, it looks like a Trivial Pursuit quiche.

Ellie: Yeah. But does that mean that Matt Boothman always cuts his quiche into four?

Strat: I don't like quiche.

Vikki: I don't like quiche at all.

Strat: Ours is going to be a pizza.

Vikki: A pizza of losing it.

Matt: I actually do tend to cut my quiches into four, yeah.

Ellie: Do you?

Vikki: I mean -

Ellie: How big are your quiches?

Vikki: - it depends on how big the quiche is.

Matt: Not very - like, individual. Individual quiches.

Vikki: Like a personal quiche.

Ellie: Oh, individual quiches.

Alex: He’s not like, buying a quiche for five and being like, “Surprise, it's all for me! But in four quarters.”

Vikki: I was like, one of my mum's quiches cut into four would be…

Ellie: Oh, that would be too much.

Vikki: ...a big eat. But she makes giant -

Strat: The subtitle for this bonus episode should totally be “How big are your quiches”.

Ellie: Get your quiches out.

Strat: We’ve spent almost more time talking about quiche than the rules of the game.

Vikki: Subtitle: “In which the team spend way too long talking about quiche”.

Matt: So, the reason that I run down these sort of generic actions now is so that you - like, you don't need to put things that govern those sorts of things into your special abilities. So your special ability can be something that is - that only you can do, that falls outside the bounds of those normal actions.

Strat: So whatever Alex picks now, that's it, that's gone, none of us else can have it.

Ellie: Oh, because it's special.

Matt: Yep. I want you all to have different things, complementary things.

Ellie: Yeah, it’d be a bit rubbish otherwise.

Alex: I've been working on this since we've mentioned quiche, but I just realised that if it's the quiche of losing it, surely that makes it a quiche lose-aine.

Ellie: ... because you’re doing a joke about quiche lorraine.

Alex: Yep. I mean that’s as far as I got with it, and that’s as good as it was gonna get, but I needed to say it, just to let people know that -

Ellie: You can cut that out, right?

Vikki: The pun was there.

Matt: I’m making a note that Alex has a minus one to carry you into the game.

Vikki: For terrible puns.

Alex: Okay, my pun game is weak, clearly. Great. Fantastic.

Vikki: Puns: minus one.

Ellie: Is that your special ability?

Vikki: Physical comedy: plus one.

Alex: Dammit.

Matt: So the special ability will be something that will - it will be an action that you can take that involves a roll plus one of your abilities. So, sort of, the natural thing would be for it to, in your case, be something that’s related to Soul, because that's your strongest ability. But it doesn't have to be if you've got an idea for something cool.

Ellie: Would that mean that when you use your special ability, would he get extra points if it’s Soul-related?

Matt: It will always be a roll against Soul to use that -

Ellie: The special ability - okay.

Matt: It's gonna depend what the ability is. So some examples of a Soul-based special ability might be something like “mask your presence in the - like, the outer realm”. It might be something like “put up a supernatural defense” or some form of scrying or fortune-telling.

Ellie: So does Alex have to choose something from the Soul ability list?

Matt: No, he can - I think probably the way this should work is, Alex, you should choose - you should think of a cool thing that you'd like to be able to do in this game, and then we'll work out how it works mechanically.

Ellie: Okay.

Strat: Can we know what sort of realm of - world we're in for the game before choosing this? Because the setting may influence - or do you not want that to influence what we choose?

Matt: Nonono, it's - so you are going to be sort of a - part of your background, like, overlaid over your real lives, will be that you do a bit of paranormal investigating.

Vikki: Nice.

Strat: Totally the Winchester brothers, Ellie.

Ellie: Yes!

Matt: So I would - the stuff I have planned, I would characterise as … I'm leaning heavily on my Carnacki knowledge background. So I would characterise it as something that is a supernatural phenomenon that could be characterised as a haunting, like you could describe it as ghosts, but it could also be described as sort of psychic manifestations, all that kind of thing.

Strat: And we're in - so we're in the modern -

Matt: It's today, it's you guys, in your kind of real lives, apart from the fact that weird psychic phenomena/ghosts are a thing. Or are they?!

Vikki: Maybe it's a man in a horse costume!

Matt: Yeah! But you probably wouldn’t need the Soul statistic if that was the case.

Vikki: God, that would be depressing.

Ellie: Or a fairground man with a sheet over his head.

Matt: “I woulda got away with it too!”

Ellie: “If it wasn’t for you pesky kids!”

Matt: So, Alex. Any thoughts?

Alex: Any thoughts. Well, I’m gonna clearly go with Soul, and having some sort of paranormal ability. Don't know what that - I like the idea of being able to protect … but also the idea of being able to mask our, sort of, our presence from other sort of supernatural things, or sort of making ourselves supernaturally invisible, if that makes sense.

Matt: Yeah, I think those two things could probably combine.

Vikki: Could he do some kind of like - is there some kind of like, psychic influencing or something that you could do?

Strat: I like this one here - “turn bad stuff good”.

Matt: Yeah, so that's the ability Ellie had in the practice game.

Strat: Oh you did, didn’t you, yeah.

Ellie: I saved us all.

Strat: You did.

Matt: I would probably - like, I wrote that down quickly. I would probably call it, in this context, “turn hostile stuff friendly”, because I don’t want the sort of moral judgment of -

Ellie: Bad and good.

Matt: But yeah, so that - or the one that you had, that Alex had in the practice game was like, if you're - if something supernatural or weird hurts you, you can use that as an opportunity to try and seize a bit of its power.

Strat: Oh that was cool, yeah.

Alex: Oh, see, yeah, now that - ooh. You’ve got to - oh, I hate this. I’m so indecisive.

Matt: So like, if your first instinct was some sort of like, protection -

Ellie: Like a shield.

Matt: So I think you could combine those two things, so that it's like a “shield of the invisible” or something, that would make you like, harder to detect and also like, so it's a barrier that kind of hides and shields you. I think that -

Strat: Is it kind of an aura? Like an aura ability, like a passive…

Alex: It's like the thing in Harry Potter where they hide themselves and they can't be seen, so it looks like you're not there.

Ellie: The cloak of invisibility?

Alex: No, not the cloak of invisibility, you know when put up those…

Ellie: Oh yeah, around buildings and stuff.

Alex: Around buildings and stuff, and they put it around like the tent when they're -

Ellie: Oh, right. And it's a protection thing as well, isn’t it.

Vikki: A cloaking charm.

Alex: Yeah, something like that.

Matt: So we would say that it probably manifests as like, there would be like an area in which it affects or like, it might be the room or something like that.

Strat: Oh, so we can hide in it.

Ellie: Just stay there the whole time.

Vikki: I think it's like some kind of psychic cloaking. That’s what -

Matt: So you can call it whatever you think is cool, and we'll say basically, the way it will work is, if you want to use it, you roll Soul, and if you succeed, you shield yourself and anybody with you from the notice and influence of the supernatural.

Alex: Okay.

Vikki: That's good.

Strat: I think you activate it by closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears and going “la la la la la”.

Vikki: Just call it “la la la la la”.

Alex: Now I'm gonna think of a cool name at some point.

Matt: Yeah, so all you need to write on the sheet is the cool name, and we'll work out - we'll, you know, we'll see how it applies.

So then the next thing you need is, when are you in your element? In what situation are you going to get a sort of persistent bonus? And let's try not to -

Ellie: I don’t like that phraseology.

Matt: “Persistent bonus”?

Alex: Oh, your bonus is so persistent!

Vikki: I’m also just thinking about like, what’s a situation in which Alex would have a persistent bonus.

Ellie: Don’t - don’t -

Alex: Oh, just so many opportunities...

Matt: So this one isn't tied to any of the Mind, Body or Soul statistics. This is just like, any time that you take action or even use your psychic shield, you’ll get a plus one to the roll.

Vikki: So like, in our practice round it was when Alex was losing it a little bit. He was actually getting bonus points, right? Because you were better off when you were slightly -

Matt: Yeah, so the way I thought of that was it's like - you - that profile that we used, it's someone who like, loves the supernatural, is a bit Goth, and like, when they find out that that shit is happening for real, they're like “yeah!”

Vikki: Rather than “oh, no”.

Strat: The adrenaline’s going, and it’s -

Matt: “I was right!”

Vikki: “This is just super exciting!”

Matt: So that's a possibility, or sort of, any situation you can think of. So I would say let's try and make it as specific as possible because I don't want these to be something that, like, are so broad that you just have the bonus for the whole thing, because then almost just cancels itself out.

Alex: When I'm breathing?

Matt: Yeah, let's not do that one.

Alex: Okay.

Strat: I am more effective when I breathe.

Alex: In fairness. It’s technically a persistent bonus for us all. Okay. I think probably, like, protecting others - that would probably be a good one. Like I'm better when I'm defending others.

Vikki: One of the ones on here is “when defending a friend”.

Alex: So I’m going to put “defending others”.

Matt: Yep, that works. And then the final thing you're gonna need is some form of item. So I've got some sort of generic ones down here. I should probably, like - thinking about it, I've got things like tool, like screwdriver in here; I think probably something that generic, you can probably just pick up from the environment and that kind of thing. I want your items to be things that you…

Strat: That you would be carrying with you for the adventure.

Alex: I love “stimulants”. That amused me. I don't think I'd have them about my person, but just the idea of someone being like, “I've just got loads of stimulants!”

Vikki: “I've got so many cans of Monster, it's an absolute joke!”

Alex: “I've got some Monster and some cheap whizz, I’m good to go!”

Matt: So, the way that might work would be like, you could say “I'm gonna have some of my energy drink” and then like, maybe if you try and attempt something physical after that, you’d get a bonus.

Alex: You vibrate through it.

Matt: Or like - things like - I’ve got stuff like backstage blacks on here, which like, might help you move unseen in a dark environment.

Ellie: So heavy though, to carry around.

Strat: It’d slow you down.

Matt: I only mean black clothes.

Alex: Yeah, that’s what he meant.

Strat: Oh, I thought you meant the curtains.

Ellie: I thought you meant blacks as in the curtains.

Matt: I didn’t mean the curtains. I’m mixing up my theatre jargon.

Ellie: I was like, “they’re really heavy”.

Matt: For context, you will be arriving in a place to set up for a show that you’re staging. So it could be something that's kind of themed to that.

Ellie: Okay.

Vikki: So like yeah, gaffa tape’s on your list.

Matt: Yeah, I want the aesthetic for this to be like, “ghostbusting theatre company”. So maybe some of your ghostbusting equipment is like, stuff you would have as a theatre company that's been adapted.

Alex: I think … I know you've just crossed out “tool”. But I’d quite - I would - I think I’d quite like, like a multi-tool. I'm not gonna say the name of any particular generic multi-tool, but -

Matt: Hey, this ain't the BBC. You can say brands all day.

Alex: Okay - like a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman. Lea-ther-man.

Strat: Alex, go with a Leatherman.

Alex: “Go with a Leatherman.”

Matt: This episode is brought to you by…

Strat: “Never alone with a Leatherman.”

Ellie: I’ve got two just over there.

Alex: Really?

Ellie: Yeah!

Vikki: Yeah! Everyone’s got an effing Leatherman, come on.

Alex: I don't own one. I should get one.

Vikki: We know what we’re getting Alex for Christmas.

Ellie: Yes!

Matt: All right. So, I’m happy with that. So if you write down multi-tool, or Swiss Army knife -

Alex: “Generic multi-tool”.

Matt: - and just keep in mind that you've got that, and if you're trying something in the game that you - where you think that would help make it easier to do whatever you're trying to do, then point it out and we’ll add one.

So, last thing you need is Trust.

Ellie: That’s the last thing you need.

Matt: So you're not actually gonna fill in your Trust at this point - a couple of other people are gonna fill in their Trust with you. We're gonna do this slightly different to how we did it in the practice game. I'm gonna give you a scenario, okay? So, imagine someone's just broken up with you. Of the three people here, that you're playing this game with, who is most likely to be the one on the sofa with you eating ice cream, helping you eat your feelings?

Alex: Ellie.

Ellie: I mean, that’s very true to life.

Alex: Yeah. Yeah, definitely, definitely Ellie. Like without a shadow of a doubt.

Matt: So Ellie, can you write “Alex: plus two” in your Trust area?

Vikki: Oh, I see.

Ellie: Oh no, does this mean I trust Alex plus two?

Matt: No, so I think -

Strat: Alex trusts you plus two?

Alex: No, firmly not. Firmly not.

Matt: So, I wasn't happy with how the Trust thing worked in the practice game, so I’ve modified it a bit. So this should make sense -

Ellie: I'll just follow your instructions.

Matt: - with the way that Trust works in the game, this should make more sense.

Strat: So does this mean Alex trusts Ellie?

Matt: Yes, effectively. So, same scenario. Of the other two, who's most likely to be the one dragging your ex on all their social media?

Alex: Can we - can we define - what do you mean, “dragging”?

Matt: Like -

Ellie: Trolling.

Alex: Vikki’s hiding. I think it’s Vikki.

Vikki: Oh god. That’s so terrible. It’s a hundred percent not going to be Strat, is it?

Alex: Strat’s like (happy clappy) “la la la la la la la”.

Vikki: Most likely of the two of us.

Ellie: Neither of you are likely at all to do that.

Alex: No, no, obviously not.

Vikki: Put me down, put me down.

Matt: Because the thing is, I didn't want this to be like, “who don't you trust?” because I think you all trust each other around this table. But it's a different form of trust. So Vikki, can you write “Alex: minus one” against Trust?

Ellie: What's really funny is that, I feel like actually the answer to that question is more like “who would be better at it?” Like, Strat’s trolling of anyone would be like “Ooh, you’re a nasty poo-pants! Everything you do is sort of just average!”

Vikki: Whereas I’ve got all the sick burns.

Strat: “I’ll encourage you but I won't expect success!”

Ellie: Never say that to your children.

Vikki: I’m waiting for that to be said to Strat’s children. That’s going to be amazing.

Alex: I’ll tell them that.

Matt: Okay, so that's Alex. You're done.

Alex: All done? Oh, wicked.

Ellie: That was exciting.

Alex: I enjoyed that.

*Simple World is a game designer by Avery Alder, published under an old name. At the time of recording, we didn’t know that the designer had changed her name and pronouns.