Actual Play – Rescuing the Royal Robin (3/1/2009)

Sunday morning we woke at Justin’s casa and had a nice breakfast of pancakes, fruit, and yogurt. For the morning slot Justin was running his horror games “Ribbons” which I had already played at DDC and Josh ran his Swamp Call of Cthulhu game. A few posts back I mentioned that I was in every game this weekend, and this is where it comes through on a technicality. I didn’t play in Ribbons, but I already had at the con, so as far as I’m concerned I scored.

The game was using a free system (that I can’t remember the name of right now) which seemed to be a mash up of Fate and Star Wars Saga Edition. The setting that came with the game as a 1920 costal town, but for his game Josh used present day Louisiana. Hurricane Igor had just hit and on its tail was Hurricane Justinian (a plug to the birthday boy I’m sure). A cruise boat, the Royal Robin was on the Mississippi during the hurricane and several hours ago all contact was lost. Our characters were sent out by the coast guard on a rescue mission to find the Robin and call in reinforcements when we located it. Because of Josh’s experience as a Coasty himself, the story came off as very reasonable. We were a rag tag group with a single Coast Guard, a red cross aid worker, a businessman with family on the boat and a renowned reporter who wanted to do a piece on Coast Guard responsiveness and was willing to do lend a hand in the mission in order to go on board. At least that is who we thought we were… and what is what we thought we were doing. Just in case Josh runs this again, I’ll remind readers that this wasn’t called a Cthulhu game for nothing.

What rocked

The system worked very well for what we were trying to do. A mixture of skill challenges, whose outcome meant either navigating an obstacle safely and efficiently or getting held up and the next Hurricane closing in. This was represented by a series of skill checks. Failure meant we eventually moved on but gained a “Hurricane” token, which later would be used as fate chips to compel us in all manner of horrible ways.

Josh’s experience as a Coasty clearly came through in this game. He put us up against some real life difficulties, like what you do when you can pack all the supplies you need on the little boat you’ve got. Or what happens when you get bit by a water moccasin. His depictions of the storm and the aftermath were great. Cows in trees, buildings who’s 2nd floor was untouched but was reduced to its support beams (and nothing else) on the 1st floor, and industrial tanks spilling oil throughout the swamp were all part of his lush descriptions.

Sanity decks. I’m not sure if he made them in cooperation with Justin or in response to his decks, but Josh made us all decks that we flipped every time we took enough sanity loss. They usually started off as a passion that would drive someone and ended in total depravity and/or madness. These decks really rocked.

Killer closing scenes. We each got our own ending signifying the completion of our personal journey and also offering a glimpse into the mad future the world would face. I’m not sure if Josh had these planned out or not, but they were very intense and really brought closure to the game.

What could have been improved

Were I to run this game I’d probably use fate without a stress track (only consequences). The reason being that d20s are just too wild. Arguably we had some pretty decent control of the rolls when invoking our aspects (treat the die like it was a 20 on a trained skill) when we didn’t use our aspects, the curve was (as in all d20 games) too unpredictable for my taste. Also, our characters didn’t take points of damage or loose sanity points, but Josh was doing some math behind the scenes to figure out when we should be flipping sanity cards or taking consequences. I don’t think any of that math added to the game and in several cases slowed things down.

The skill set in the game was bordering on overload. We had nearly a full page of skills but in the end only used a few of them. Another case when I think using the Fate system would probably improve it. I’d just take the character’s main skills and put them on a pyramid. Everything else is unimportant.

And thus concluded The Boy, The Bad, and The Ugly. Thanks mrboy for being born and celebrating it once a year and thanks to everyone else who came, I had a blast.

3 thoughts on “Actual Play – Rescuing the Royal Robin (3/1/2009)”

  1. Thanks for the review

    Thanks for the review Sean. I am glad you enjoyed the game.

    The system was called Uncanny Midnight Tales by John Robey. The system was a d20 Star Wars Saga Edition conversion and then I added the consequences, aspects, and fate points. I will start with the “could have been improved” stuff. I agree on all counts. In fact, after this game I believe I am never going to use d20 for any game unless I am playing straight up 4E D&D. I have realized, after a long time of holding out, that I really don’t like d20. So I agree. BTW, the “hidden” hit points and sanity was not included in the rules. I read a post about how to increase the “horror” level in a standard d20 game and it suggested hiding hit points and such. This is so people don’t use the hit point statistic to toss aside damage as nothing. If you don’t know how close you are to death, you worry about it more, is the idea at least. Anyway, I tried it to see how it would work. Again, I come back to not liking d20 including hp and sanity points:)

    As for the good, I created the sanity cards after hearing about justin’s idea. I thought it would be cool to tie sanity to a character’s aspects and have each insanity be connected to each character’s story. I am glad it worked out. I will definitely use something similar in the future. As for the closing scenes, I had a few ideas for them floating in my head and new I wanted the “Hand Shake” scene at the docks but other than that they came about organically. I changed a lot on the boat on the fly both for time constraints and for dramatic purposes.

    Anyway, thanks for playing. I really enjoyed running the game and will definitely run it again… with a full system overhaul.

    1. Sweet, it sounds like the game will kick that much more ass if you move systems. Are you thinking about Fate? Maybe Dread? Swamps in the Vineyard? Or if you wanted a more fantastic (and probably less horrifict) game, Don’t Rest Your Head could work.

      1. Not sure what system. Probably not Vinyards as it just doesn’t feel right to me for the genre. I like the idea of Dread but don’t have the rules (nor do I own Jenga). I can see some benefits of utilizing Dread as it includes the increasing danger idea that I think works good in this game. But not sure. Fate would work and that is probably where I will go because I know it the best. Any suggestions?

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