Actual Play – The Witnesses (3/10/2018)

MC: Jeremy Tidwell
Players: April Walsh, Sean Nittner, Michael Roy, Krin Irvine, and Venn Wylde.
System: Companions

It’s been a while since I’ve played Companions and a lot has changed since then. The playbooks got an overhaul (see the pictures below) and The Witness was created. A new playbook with a Companion who only me the Doctor the day before she died, so they know nothing of the who-verse. A perfect playbook for someone who has seen one and a half episode of the show (i.e. the person with two thumbs writing this AP report).

Because we had multiple witnesses the game started with some confusion what just happened, who was with the Doctor when she died, and how long it had been since. However, once we got rolling, the relationships between the characters unfolded in really rewarding ways. In part this was because of emotional keys (more on that later) and in part it was because some of the inherent mistrust and messy relationship triangles we kicked off in the beginning.

Two relationships in particular stood out

Olympia and Ice – Olympia was a combination of the mechanical parts of a Dalek but had the organic core of a new entity created (?) by the Doctor. Ice was a Time Agent that assumed Daleks were all hate-filled monsters bent on exterminating all other life forms. Exterminate!

Sophia and Ice – Sophia (my character) was inspired largely by Mrs. Maisel, a woman from New Jersey in the 1950s that was excited to be along for the ride on this wild time romp. She thought that a little spit shine, some ingenuity, and plenty of chutzpah would get her and her newfound friends through anything. She was both curious about and utterly unphased by the new worlds and people she encountered, mostly because she though the Doctor was still coming back and could make everything that went wrong, right again. Ice had been the agent that saved her and allowed her to believe this comfortable fiction.

And then Death happened

Both of these relationships changes substantially with both Olympia and Sophie died.

Olympia died tried to protect all.

Sophia died because she thought she was invincible.

They both came back because of the resurrection field.

The end result was Ice feeling tremendous guilt for doubting Olympia and finally accepting it as one of the Companions. The other result was Sophia realizing this was all for real and blaming Ice for not telling her what she was getting into! I changed my emotional keys from Curiosity and Trust to Curiosity and Anger, and the immediately took XP for that anger when I lashed out at Ice. And April took XP for Ice, for her Guilt key!

The making of a cast

While not all the relationships pivoted so strongly, this game definitely had the makings of a good pilot episode. The Witness was discovered (Venn’s Witness went full spooky/prodigy), Sophia started training as an Agent, and Olympia was accepted into the group.  Krin’s character Steele, as part of playing the Touchstone playbook, was focused very much on romantic relationships. Though something started sparking immediately between them and Sophia, the planet being filled with children and robots didn’t leave any opportunities for romance with NPCs though.

Playtest feedback

As a player that ins’t familiar with Dr. Who, the Witness was a great playbook, as it allowed me to play without the restraints of cannon (either needing to know about it, or trying to adhere to it). The conversations happening at the table however, still left me in the dust. This is a cost of playing inside an existing setting though, and I think it’s great to have some measure of on-ramp to it. Having multiple Witnesses in the game is a little trickier (who has that Sonic Screwdriver?) but we made it work.

We had some suggestions for making the romance moves a bit more queer in play. Specifically, not limiting the playbooks to having a single person they can be made with.

Emotional keys are super hot and the triggers for when the change are also fantastic. As drivers for how to play your character, I’ve been a fan of keys for a long time and I think they serve Companions really well.

Some playbooks are less well suited to certain scenarios because their moves center around fictional triggers that are unlikely to show up.

I’m still invested in the idea of an original setting about time travelers and feelings but I know that would require a vast amount of work and may not be the game Jeremy wants to make!

 

 

Actual Play – For the Queen (3/10/2018)

Facilitator: Sean Nittner
Players: Andy Munich, Cate Hirschbiel, and Paul Beakley
System: For the Queen

I wasn’t planning on playing anything in the morning, but there we were, sitting around the table, gushing about For the Queen, and when I texted Alex and asked if I could run it, she said she’d be there in 30 minutes with the deck!

The land you live in has been at war for as long as any of you have been alive.
The Queen has decided to set off on a long and perilous journey to forge an alliance with a distant power.
She has chosen you, and only you, to serve as her retinue, and accompany her on this journey.
She chose you because she knows that you love her.

Our queen was beautiful and terrible. We were her interrogator, the one she let free, her canary, and her bodyguard. All of us but her guard fell to protect her. By the end despite his love, he could not stand by her side. So amazing!

Actual Play – Mary-Kate and Ashley Friendship Connection (3/9/2018)

Facilitator: Alex Roberts
Players: Erik Bell, Jeremy Tidwell, Sean Nittner, and Alex Roberts
System: Mary-Kate and Ashley Friendship Connection

The 2002 original with four sets of cards (at the mall, chat room, etc), five types of accessories (tops, bottoms, cds, concert tix, and posters) and one grand prize (the laptop) for the winner or winners of the Friendship Connection.

Alex got this game last year at PAXU and since then every time I’ve heard about it, it’s sounded like the sweetest thing. Each turn a player draws a card with a question and four possible answers. The secretly select the best answer and then all their friends do the same. If any anyone guesses correctly both they, and the person who answered get an accessory. Once you’ve got all five, you can get the laptop! If more that one person would get the laptop at the same time, we all win!

There are some funny nuances of the game. For instance, some of the questions we could answer as our current adult selves (what would do if you found a wallet on the ground?) but some of these questions can only be answered as our teenage selves (particularly the ones about being in school) , and some can really only be answered as our teenage girl in 2002 selves. Trying to figure out which kind of answer to give was a big part of the fun!

Alas I took no pictures of the game, so we’ll have to settle for fun pics of friends making out own friendship connection!

Actual Play – Love Each Other (3/9/2018)

Facilitator: Venn Wylde
Players: April Walsh, Sean Nittner, Tomer Gurantz and Nadja Otikor
System: Love Each Other

We played a playtest game of Love Each Other,  a procedural RPG that asks the question at the end, if a community can form in the spaces between concurrent apocalypses and in spite of still pervasive social norms.

Through the process of play we first identified the global sources of scarcity, the locations of our scenes and their aspects, the people in our world, the genders they identified with, and the scenes between them. In the end this culminated in a final determination to see if a society could be formed by giving each character a choice to sacrifice themselves, flee, or face the central aspect that defined them.

Love each other is built on a tech tree. From a visual and procedural perspective the game builds upon itself in a way reminiscent of minecraft. Small building blocks that add up to bigger things. One option unlocking others, with the ability to both broaden the world (by adding new people and places to it) and deepen it (by asking and answering questions about them, or by playing out scenes with them).

I had lots and lots of thoughts on this game, as a player (my personal tastes), as a playtester (mechanics I felt need work), and as a publisher (looking at it from the prospective of a retail product). So rather than my normal “here’s what happened” I’m going to do a breakdown of the game itself from those three perspectives and note the areas where they aren’t always in alignment. I’ll break them down into Roses and Thorns (areas that were rewarding for me and areas that didn’t work as well for me).

Player Perspective

This is just Sean as a player of games. It’s based on my personal preferences and are measured by the fun I had at the table and the emotional impact I felt playing the game.

Roses

I love development of tech in games. By giving a path for creating things, I become invested in their narrative significance. This game felt a lot like Roller Coaster Tycoon (one of the few games of that genre that I’ve played) in that you could make a world and then see how the things operated inside it. Each card played revealed the new tech under it, and when enough cards from one category were played, new categories opened up (for instance, once you have made two characters, you can have a scene between then).

The physical artifact of play was also rewarding. We could look at the table at any time and see what was going on, as well as what options were out there. I have other publishing thoughts on this below. As a payer I enjoyed the pageantry on the table.

As a cishet white man, I specifically appreciate the procedure that deconstructs queer narratives and teaches you how to tell them. This, in many way acted like training wheels for telling queer stories. Some of those themes (like enduring oppression and scarcity) I was familiar with and some of them (like defining gender) I hadn’t done before. Neverthless, like playing Dialect, I felt I had both created a thing, and learned from that creation.

Some of the meta/safety tools used in the game were familiar to me. There was a new one though that really liked. It’s like the “more of that” card in Archipelago, which is lightly tapping your fingers on the table to show you’re excited about what’s happening and you want to see more of it. I think it’s great to have that signal in game and I’m totally using that in games I facilitate in the future!

Thorns

The procedural aspects were tricky to keep track of. In part because each new process had it’s own procedure, and in part because there is only one of any given card (so therefore, only one or two people can easily read it at any given time). Since there are so many cards, I think it would be counterproductive to have multiple copies of them, still I found myself often having to ask what the procedure was again.

The turn based nature of the game was a little rough for me. Because the turns tended to be long (when I noticed this I timed two of them, which were 10 minutes and 8 minutes respectively) that means a lot of time where one person is talking and the rest of the table is listening. I was working hard to stay engaged and at some points I felt myself fading. Tea helped out as did having scenes with other players!

Potentially specific to this game (i.e. I’m not sure another session would have the same results) there were two elements of the game that I saw and understood but didn’t feel the impact of:

  1. The apocalypse (both present and coming) are described as world-wide threats however the global impact of them rarely came up. Instead we had localized interpretations of those which were the actual threats in our game. For instance our existing horror was global warming, which manifested as water levels rising and making very few areas inhabitable. It also meant for all sorts of toxic sea life as chemical spills went untreated and poisoned the creatures below. The oncoming apocalypse was grey goo that dissolved everything, and this one was much harder to link to directly. Early on introduced a black mold that had come up out of the water and the people who inhaled the spores were getting sick and dying. The allusion I was making was that their bodies did more that die, they dissolved and so we loosely connected those two threats, however it was a lot of heavy lifting on the players parts to link those things up.
  2. The scarcity presented with each location was worded in a very specific way that felt evocative, but not concrete. For instance Bly’s Hall was one the last places you could get warmth, the Chevron Skeleton was the last place to find food, and Hodge was the last place to find safety. We referred back to these scarcities frequently and did try to weave them into the scenes, but I never felt like our characters were struggling to find warmth, food, or safety. We’ll maybe safety, but I think in any game that is likely to be a scarcity. So we rarely talked about people getting sick, starving, being captured, etc, and I think those things would have impacted our characters had their been a visible mechanic enforcing their absence.

Playtester Perspective

This is angled specifically at what parts of play felt like they were running smoothly vs. areas where there was confusion or I felt challenged engaging.

Roses

Because the game is so procedural, whenever I ran into a question of “how does this work” or “what can I do next”, I could look at a card with directions. I don’t playtest games to try and break them, but I do like knowing that I’ve explored the options intended and the tech tree (as I’m calling it) was very helpful in that.

I’m not sure if this would be reproduced in the second playing of the game, but the feeling of “unlocking” new options and specifically getting to read them and start picturing how they might unfold was great.  We had moments like “ooh, you can now have ‘Isolation’ as part of your game” which sounds macabre but in the game it made sense and helped us tell the story of these folks in this place.

Thorns

First, one I think will be easy to address. The create genders section of the game needed just one more example or step of guidance to help me along. Specifically, the instruction is for everyone to write some queer genders on index cards that we’d put in a pile, starting with “agender” which always goes in. Based on that example I was thinking of queer genders that I was familiar with and started with non-binary and was about to write trans woman. When Princess and Pooka were added to the pile, both defined at the table, and I realized that my gender contribution was a bit pedestrian and wasn’t sure if I should be stretching a bit further. For me the procedure would have benefited from a step that said to create and define new genders, to use existing queer genders, or to permission to do both.

Mid Scene resolution sounded like a good idea before we started the scenes but in the moment it felt jarring and I had trouble getting back into the scene after the discussion. Specifically during a scene (which always have something they are driving towards like intimacy, support, etc) as the scene progresses, at some point when the players feel like the characters may have made a connection we pause the scene to discussion who was seeking the scenes objective and if they made a connection. we assign love and fear dice accordingly and then act out the scene. The mechanical ramifications (love and fear) both worked really well for me, but the mid-scene break deflated all the emotional energy that had been building up during the scene. When we came back I was always stumbling to recapture it.

The gamer part of my brain found the “optimal” play style a bit too obvious. We should, as the name of the game indicates, love each other. So during scenes, I felt a tug between acting as I think a character might and acting as I thought I should be for the benefit of the table / game results, etc. More on this in the conclusion below.

Publisher Perspective

This is me thinking as a publisher that would want to put this on shelves, know how to market it, etc. I’m trying not to come specifically from a Evil Hat perspective, but I’m sure some of that is in there.

Roses

A very cool part of this game is that it can be played asynchronously. Because all of the creative contributions made (locations, characters, the results of scenes) are recorded on the table, a player can add more things to the game (answering questions about existing aspects, building out new locations and characters, etc) on their own. We didn’t actually do this during the game, but I could see how this would have a lot of appeal for long running games where players could made contributions between sessions. Also, I think it would suit play-by-post or play-by-forum games very well, as some players have more time to invest in the game and the could use that time to create more content.

There are some very smart choices in questions on the cards. Specifically choices that causes us to change our expectations. For instance when you define an antagonistic group, you’re reminded that they are still human and have to define a moment where they made a sacrifice to help you. Similarly when you create a group in need, you’re reminded that they also have their faults and are asked how they’ve hurt you. This breaks up a lot of stale caricatures that otherwise might be formed unintentionally.

I’m a big fan of the tableau of characters that are picked up and played as needed for the scene. Breaking down direct attachment between player and character can challenge investment (sometime we see the game through the avatar of our characters) but I think think the overall and longer term effect is to grow investment into the group as a whole and their predicament vs. investing heavily in your own character.

Thorns

As I mentioned in the player experience the length of turns was long by RPG standards, and because contribution from other players wasn’t always an option (especially before there were scenes), it might be 30 minutes between one player taking a turn or being actively involved. This was particularly noticeable because one of the players was never in a scene, so in four hours of game play, she didn’t get a chance to embody any of the characters we created.

While I personally enjoy the tech tree a lot, I also know that there are a lot of players who just want to “play the game” and would feel like everything building up to scenes was character and setting creation rather than play. The Quiet Year has a similar play format and I think Avery addressed those expectations by calling it a map making game rather than role playing game. Love each other might need an analogous description to prepare folks for the play of the game.

There was an ongoing uncertainty during the game of who “we” were. Love Each Other explicitly asks the question about whether or not we can form a queer community in a hostile world. So at the end of the game, we might be able to call ourselves a community, but during the game it was really hard to pin that down. Frequently we used the word “we” to describe people in the Big Pink or the Hodge (two of our locations), but those locations represented places where there had been communities that were no more. We also referred to “we” a the characters we had created on the table, but they weren’t a community yet. It’s a tricky thing to describe something in transition and I wanted some language to use to hold that idea in our minds so we (as players) were clear about who we were talking about.

 

Conclusion

I think Love Each Other exists in a liminal space between roleplaying and cultural anthropology. The procedure is comprehensive and allows us to create a simulation model and then watch now the pieces inside of it move. However, because accumulating love is a choice and it leads to a positive outcome, I feel like there is a tension between playing the game optimally and playing it to find out. The gamer inside us may strive to pick the best outcomes and “win” while the anthropologist will veer towards exploration and discovery. Like Dialect which bridges gaming and linguistics, I think Love Each Other has a long road to bridge to different fields.

 

 

Actual Play – An Intimate Inheritance (3/9/2018)

GM: Paul Beakley
Players: Alex Roberts, Krin Irvine, Jeremy Tidwell, Tomer Gurantz, Andy Munich, Sean Nittner, Jahmal Brown, Erik Bell, and Cate Hirschbiel
System: Inheritance

I was super sleepy Friday morning and planned on sitting the slot out, but Inheritance needed two more players, Krin and I were talking, and we decided, huzzah, let’s play! So glad I did.

As usual, it’s hard to capture all of what happened in a larp. In part because I wasn’t in every scene and in part because I couldn’t take notes (I was too busy being terrified). So rather than try and retell the story, here are the highlights I remember, sorted by character.

SPOILERS AHEAD. Note, by this point Inheritance has been out long enough that I feel okay revealing some of the secrets within it. If you haven’t played Inheritance before, you can still read this, but just remember, you know what your character book says you do, the rest is there for you discover in play!

Daxo (played by Jay)

Jay was a wonderful Daxo. Compassionate and strong at the same time. He wanted Rán and the Inheritance, but more than either of those he wanted to bring his divided family back together. Those were the words he used and (by the end of the larp) I would challenge anyone who calls my brother a liar!

Grandfather’s funeral

Daxo arrived on the beach only to be instantly confronted by his father Thorvald. Daxo looked for aid from his mother Fulla but even she asked him to wait inside the house until after the funeral. Emboldened by his parents admonitions, Ring (me!) stepped forward to chastise him as well, but was regrettably without his sword.

When he turned to Gefjon and Tyr, sure that his aunt and uncle would support him, they also cast him away. With only his boon companion Arvundil to support him, he eventually retreated to the longhouse. He tried to come out once more but was again scored!

Inside the at the feasting hall, though Ansgar offered his chair to Daxo, and Fulla told all that he would be welcome at the table, it was clear that nobody wanted him here! Try as he might, each time he opened his mouth, someone was there to shut him down.

That night however, fortune changed for Daxo!

He visited Rán in her sleeping quarters (at the foot of the bed, while his brother Ring was secretly whispering to her parents in another scene, so good!) and told her of his affections. Though she said she only loved Baldr, she considered his words carefully when he said he sought to bring the two families back together. She offered Daxo a text of the gods to see if he was worth. He was to meet her in the morning and submit to her test!

He then made his way to Ansgar, who told him that his highest calling was the mission. Even if some (read: Thorvald) had to die, God would forgive. Spreading his word was all!

He spoke with his mother, who urged him to leave in the morning before the will would be read. Fulla told him that Thorvald would come to God one day, but not this day. Daxo needed to give her more time! He would hear none of that. She told him that his actions would kill her…

Finally he was met by his brother Ring (that’s me!) and offered a peace, at least of sorts (we’ll talk more about that in the Ring section), but he would not leave.

On the Beach

In the morning however, with his boon companion at his side, he met Rán on the beach to submit himself to her test. When he realized the drink she handed him was poisoned (she would not call it such, said only that it was a test of the gods). After much discussion with Arvundil he finally decided that he would put his faith in his own god and drank the poisoned mead…

Fulla (Played by Jeremy)

Jerry has got to me one of my favorite players for just one reason. When he turns the emotion on, it’s all the way. He blew me away as Arvundil when he courted Rán in a Lovelorn Inheritance and he did it again today!

Sending Daxo Away

A major theme for Fulla this game was trying to save her family by preventing them from drawing swords on each other. And so, at funeral (and many times later as well), when she saw that Thorvald was wondering if he should have just killed Daxo instead of exiling him all those years ago, she sided with her husband and bid him wait for them in the longhouse, abstaining from sending grandfather his prayers.

This is my table!

During the feast Fulla struggled to keep peace in her home, and eventually sent Ring and Rán to walk on the beach (followed by Arvundil) to remove some of the “youthful” energy from the table. She struggled the most however with Gefjon, who refused to acknowledge her words (this took incredible self discipline form Tomer mind you, when someone calls your name to just pretend that you didn’t hear them at all, is incredible). When she finally did gain the Seiðkona’s attention and asked why she was acting so disgracefully and was only told that while the Exile still lived Odin’s will was not complete! Oh wow.

My life for a husband that would listen

That night Fulla spoke with Thorvald in bed and tried, all that she could to hint at the idea of conversion “Do you know, they have this practice where they pour water on you?” Thorvald however was like a mountain that would not move “Wife, do you have a fever? You sound like you have a fever.”

She also met with Ansgar that night, the scene described below!

Sacrifice for her son

When Fulla arrived on the beach and found Daxo breathing only faintly, she demanded that Rán tell her what herbs she included in the tincture so that she could fashion a cure. However before she could administer it, Thorvald took the healing herbs from her hand and cast them into the sea!

Gefjon tried to assuage her that this was a message from the gods. She embraced the grieving mother and held her close but her words only enraged Fulla further. She took Gefyon’s ritual dagger and tried to plunge it into the Seiðkona’s heart. She was too slow however, and Tyr came to his wife’s aid, turning the dagger back on Fulla and slaying her!

As she lay dying, believing that Daxo was to die as well, she beckoned for Ring (that’s me!) and whispered her final words…

Ansgar (played by Alex)

Quiet and Patient, Ansgar was always their for his flock…to remind them of their duty.

Grandfather’s funeral

When Gefyon first began the prayers she asked Thorvald what he was doing here and Ansgar quickly responded “Do not worry. Your ways do not offend me.” So good! And yet, Daxo’s appearance was so unwelcome that when Gefyon had only seven prayer sticks to give, she gave one of them to Ansgar, who silently crossed himself before throwing it into the fire.

Ring (that’s me!) thanked Ansgar for keeping his words to himself (Ring isn’t all that smart).

Dinner in the Great Hall

At the table, when so many objected to Daxo’s presence, Angar quietly gave up his seat for Daxo, which presented enough pressure that Fulla was able to seat all of them. He did not raise his voice but offered quiet reassurance to Daxo as the meal continued.

Council in the wee hours

Asngar hardly had a chance to sleep he was visited by so many members of the family. Many of which wanted to see the will!

When Daxo arrived Ansgar counseled that Daxo was here for a reason, to save the family and show them the light of Christ, regardless of the cost. Can I just point out here how devious Alex was here. Never did Ansgar say a word in anger or directly encourage violence, but when Daxo said he could see no other way but through more kinslaying, Ansgar consoled him that God would forgive all sins. So good.

Later he found Fulla in her prayers. And this, mind you is the BEST SCENE I’VE EVER SEEN IN INHERITANCE. Fulla also asked for guidance but instead of being comforted by Ansgar’s prudence she was enraged by his dispassion. “Don’t you see, my son will die, or my husband in his stead!” Ansgar was level and calm while Fullu was brought to tears and finally threatened the priest “If my son dies a martyr, so will you!”

Arvundil (played by Cate)

Cate’s Arvundil was a true boon companion to Daxo, but at the sight of Rán his heart was conflicted!

A brother in arms

At the funeral and in the feasting hall, Arvundil stood by Daxo and pledged to defend him against all threats…

A contender for Rán’s affection

…However, when Ring (that’s me!) asked Rán if she would walk with him on the beach rather than hear more of their family bickering, Arvundil followed soon after. He found Ring on the beach promising Rán the world but able to deliver her nothing. Arvundil just took his time practicing with his sword on the beach, showing of his prowess until he finally distracted Ring enough to challenge him, where he scared Ring away, afraid for his life.

Alone with Rán he courted her as well, but she told him that he was a stranger to her and like Ring, if he wanted her affections he’d have to prove his worth.

Council for his Friend

On the beach, when Daxo presented the test to him Arvudil tried to offer the best counsel he could. “You could take what you want by force, you don’t have to submit to this poison”. But when he saw that Daxo could not bring himself to further kinslaying he suggested that this was perhaps the best choice after all, to let the gods decide.

Rán (played by Erik)

The people in Rán’s life spent most of the funeral trying to tell her what to do and Rán was having none of it! She respected her mother and came to her for guidance but she was making her own decisions. This came up over and over again and it was great.

Quiet, Boy!

When Ring (that’s me!) tried to sequester her so he could profess his love to her alone, Rán responded that her place was with her family, and that he should talk less (and presumably listen more!). Eventually when Fulla bid them to walk on the beach together she consented out of respect for Fulla but had no time for the foolish Ring. “You say you’ll bring me wealth and honor but these are just empty words, promises and nothing else. Prove to me your worth and then I will consider you!”

Daxo’s Challenge

We have a very fun cut scene that started with Daxo approaching Rán in the night and asking her to marry him to mend the wound he caused when he killed Baldr. She considered him and told him if he proved himself in the eyes of the gods she would accept him.

We then cut to a scene earlier with Rán talking to Gefjon in the middle of the night and asking her for herbs that would poison a man. The discussed what this would mean and Gefjon, after much consideration, gave her the herbs.

We cut back to Daxo asking if he should bring his sword to face the challenge in the morning and Rán telling him it would be unnecessary!

The Gods test unanswered

The next morning when Daxo drank the poison and collapsed on the beach, it was clear that he was near death but was still holding on. When asked how the gods (and Rán) judged him, she said that it was yet to be seen. The test was not over!

Thorvald (played by Krin)

Thorvald was often quiet, but incredibly stern. He seemed to regret exiling Daxo ten years ago and wondered if he should have just killed him instead. At Fulla’s behest he stayed his temper, but only for a time.

Grandfather’s Funeral 

Was clearly no place for Daxo and Arvundil to come, but as long as they kept their distance he tolerated them. Barely.

At the Dinner Table

Thing were not much better. He scolded Ring (that’s me!) for talking out of turn and generally made it clear that Daxo had made everything worse with his presence!

On the Beach

In the final moments, it was Thorvald that determined the outcome for all of us. Daxo poisoned and unconscious and Fulla slain, he turned to Gefjon and Tyr and told them they must go. They were family, but Tyr had slain his wife and if there was to be no more bloodshed they must go…but Rán would stay. She would be protected and marry if she chose to.

This dismissal, however was interrupted when Ring (that’s me!) was called over to hear Fulla’s dying words “The priest… he cast a spell on me and made Daxo kill his brother. Only as I die is his Christian magic broken!” No sooner had she said her dying words than Ring called for his father to slay the priest for ensorcelling his mother and brother!

Thorvald for once had perfect clarity and fell his sword upon Ansgar, fulfilling Fulla’s prophesy that the priest would be martyr!

Thorvald took the will, which now only Rán could read, and tore it to pieces. Anything touched by Ansgar was full of lies and deceit. He would grant the inheritance as he saw fit!

In Need of of a Wife

After Ring (that’s me!) was granted Grandfather’s longship and sent to go viking with Daxo (should he recover) and Arvundil. And after Fulla and Tyr had been dismissed, Thorvald turned to Rán and said “I’m in need of a wife”. What in the Hel, dad? Oh, it was so good!

Tyr (played by Andy)

Andy’s Tyr wanted to die a berserk but knew that time had passed.

No room for Daxo in his heart

Though he favored Daxo in the past, Tyr heeded his wife’s wisdom and believed it was Odin’s will that he should have died. While he wanted to give him a second chance, he would not betray his brother Thorvald to do so!

No much love for Ring either

The demanding but cowardly Ring (that’s me!) was no better in his eyes. Ring was not worth of Rán but at least he was no kinslayer. When Ring woke Tyr in his sleep to ask for aid in defeating his brother, Tyr told him he must prove himself, he must do the “deed”, but clearly Ring was not sure what the deed was exactly (Ring wasn’t all that smart), though he suspected it was fight his brother, which he really didn’t want to do. “I want to go to Valhalla with Grandfather…just not yet.”

Tyr had no time for the impetuous young child and so he stalked off… and when he returned the boy was trying to creep into bed with his wife! Only his love for Thorvald stayed his hand as he sent the young man scurrying out of his bed chamber!

I know who you are. You’re me!

Tyr found Arvundil on the beach just before dawn (nobody sleeps in this house!) and confronted him. “I know who you are. Because I was you!” Arvundil protested that he would not be wounded like Tyr, that he would die in battle and Tyr only scoffed that he also had many plans when he was young, plans that turned to ash. It was such and incredible dressing down. “I still have two good eyes and I can see you for who you are. You’re me!”

Gefjon (played by Tomer)

Gefjon has so much power in the game. She speaks for Odin, she has the ear of Tyr, she commands the respect of her daughter, and she is positioned to shame Thorvald for his mercy on Daxo. She is one of the characters that can easily run roughshod over the rest of the group if the player chooses. Instead Tomer opted to give everyone a bit more breathing room and let their own conscience torment them.

Grandfather’s Funeral

Though Gefjon initially protested Asngar’s presence at the funeral, she made a point of  giving him one of the prayer sticks in lieu of allowing Daxo to say farewell.

Offending her host to illustrate their offence to the gods

When the families broke bread Gefjon made a point of ignoring Fulla until Thorvald finally stepped in and demanded that she explain why herself. “Why should I pay heed to you, when you do not pay heed to the gods?!?” Oh, it was such a good setup! Because of course Thorvald should have slain Daxo for murdering Baldr and that he hadn’t and worse that he let him into his lands and that Fulla let him sit at her table, furthered the disgrace.

Counsel for Ring and Rán

Though she thought little of Ring, if he could slay Daxo, that would set things right. However the coward (that’s me!) didn’t want to face his brother, and instead asked that she weaken him with poison so he would have a better chance. The Seiðkona would not reward him with an answer, even though she was preparing the herbs that very night for her daughter Rán! (Partially this was due to the fact that we were doing cut scenes back and forth, but it just made Gefjon seem all the more cryptic and wise!).

The strongest of us all

In our epilogue scenes Tyr and Gefjon revealed that their exile from Thorvald’s lands drew them apart. When Tyr did not die a Berserk she was disappointed but it made her stronger for it. When he was banished by Thorvald, Tyr withered away further until there was little left of him, which forced Gefjon to become stronger still. She became known far and wide as a great Seiðkona!

Ring (played by Sean, that’s me!)

What is there to say about his impetuous 23 year old with his head in the clouds? I’ve played Ring before, the first time I played Inheritance, and I know what brave and bold Ring looks like (that’s me lying on the ground that picture!). I hadn’t orginally planned to play him but Alex and I swapped character and it was the BEST THING EVER. First off, she played a much better Ansgar than I ever would have, and second, it gave me a chance to play a very different Ring than I had in the past. My Ring wanted to be brave and honorable, but at his heart he was fearful and knew that his brother would best him if it came to blows. A combination of this cowardly nature and my frequent adjustment of my attire (my scarf was a great prop for this, but I also kept not having my sword, or having it and then putting it down and then saying “if I only had my sword”) made Ring into some delightful comic relief (both for me as a player and for the rest).

Ring’s Highlights

Talking to Rán at the table and seeing her disdain for me, then having it come to a head when I pledged myself to her and she told me my words were empty promises, then only moments later showing how right she was when I was chased off by Arvundil!

That night I crept into the bed chamber of Tyr and Gefjon to seek their aid in fighting Daxo, even going so far as to try and seduce Gefjon to gain her aid (bad choice Ring!). Both Tyr and Gefjon kept saying “you need to the deed” and I just delighted in not being 100% sure what the “deed” was but expecting it was fighting Daxo which I was terrified to do!

Looking for another way, I then made by way to speak with Ansgar in hopes that he could give me insight into speaking with Daxo. I didn’t know that Daxo had converted but I had seem him defer to Ansgar earlier and though maybe I could capture some of his authority. I didn’t, but at least gained the wisdom to speak with Daxo.

Speaking to Daxo was probably my favorite scene. Ring found him on the beach just before dawn, as he was preparing for Rán’s test and tried once more to get him to leave. Daxo claimed that he wasn’t here for grandfather’s inheritance, so Ring asked why he was even there (again, Ring isn’t that smart). Daxo said he wanted to re-unite the family which just couldn’t stand, but Ring was unwilling to take up arms against his brother. This such a great scene for me because there was so much going on (at least in my head). On the surface Daxo was an immutable force that would not be deterred by Ring and Ring was a helpless wind battering against his bulwark and constantly being deflected by him. Literally I’d charge up to him and then turn away just as quickly, adjusting my scarf all along.

What was happening underneath the surface though was that Ring was starting to believe in Daxo. He would not tell Ring why he killed Baldr but did say that he did it to protect their mother…and though it went against everything Ring had been told, it rang true. This was probably in part because of how amazing Jay was at portraying Daxo.

Though I never had a chance to speak with Fulla before the final scene (that turned out to be a good thing!), when she told me that she was under the priest’s spell, it all clicked for Ring. Though he was wrong, it gave him the clarity to stand against Ansgar and with his brother. It was so great when Thorvald, perhaps because Fulla had just died and he had slaked his bloodthird on Ansgar, was willing to stay his hand against Daxo because Ring stood by his side. Yay, the brothers united!

Pictures from the Game

What could have improved

I’m concerned that I was back-seat GMing too much. I love this game a lot and when I love games I get excited and when I get excited I blurt things out. Paul was fine with it, but it’s an instinct I’m working on tempering so it doesn’t keep earning me fate at my friends expense.*

What Rocked

This game was so great, but some scenes stood out in particular

  • Thorvald and Fulla in bed speaking of the possibility of Christianity “Wife, do you have a fever?” “Yes, I think I must.” “It sounds like you do!”
  • Daxo and Ring on the beach at pre-dawn, Rings boats being deflated and Daxo’s words finally being heard.
  • Fulla turning on Ansgar and re-uniting her family with her own death (and his).
  • In our epilogue, Asngar being made a saint for his martyrdom, and his relics being held up with the greatest honor.
  • The Shakespearean creeping through the house at night. At the head of the bed (one scene) Ring spoke with Gefjon and Tyr, at the foot of the bed Daxo tried to make peace with Rán!
  • Finally, the scene that broke my heart, and where Fulla was begging Ansgar for some relief from the torment of killing her own son. In her mind Daxo’s hand that night was her own and it was she that killed Baldr. Now she thought another one of her sons, or worse yet, her Thorvald would die without accepting the baptism, and that she would never see them in heaven. Ansgar’s response was so cold that it shook her out of her sorrow and into a fury. She composed herself through her tears and told Ansgar that if her son died a martyr, so would he! Wow, that scene was so amazing!

Paul had a great knack for highlighting important scenes. Even during the acts where concurrent discussions where happening, when he sensed one was important he’d let us know and we’d all stop to watch it. That was a great.

Everyone’s delivery of their characters, so spot on. I love this group and Paul brought out the best in us with his subtle prodding!

Getting a chance to play Ring again with a very different approach, it was like playing New Choice, albeit across a five year span.

* Sorry, a Burning Wheel joke.

Actual Play – The Queen’s Receipts (3/8/2018)

Facilitator: Alex Roberts
Players: Tomer Gurantz, Erik Bell, Nadja Otikor, Andy Munich, and Sean Nittner
System: For the Queen

“Unnamed Game Playtest” was the billing. By the end of the game we were using the name “Atrocity: The Queen’s Receipts”. By the end of the weekend (thanks to Stras) were were calling it “For the Queen”. I hope that name sticks!

For the Queen

Here’s how the game opens:

The land you live in has been at war for as long as any of you have been alive.
The Queen has decided to set off on a long and perilous journey to forge an alliance with a distant power.
She has chosen you, and only you, to serve as her retinue, and accompany her on this journey.
She chose you because she knows that you love her.

That’s all you know when you start the game, but as you play, question by question you define the Queen, and your relationship to her. Unwittingly you craft a story of being her banner-person, her cook, her servant, her adviser, and her body double. You find that she’s shown you great kindness, staying your execution, and great wrath, forcing you to sacrifice yourself for her, over and over again.

Our queen cared greatly for her people, so greatly that she closed the gates and let countless die of a plague so she could save the ones inside the keep. We were loyal to her unto death, so loyal that we set her up to be ambushed, in the last moment we could not carry through with the plan and fell to protect her. We loved her and yet in ways we could not forgive her. She showed us beauty and ugliness, kindness and cruelty.

Our characters started as archetypes but through the questions they all became more and more complex. Each question re-contextualizing the answer to the last. The Queen and our relationships with her developed with each answer as well.

Just look at this retinue, ready to serve!

What Rocked

The Game.

The People.

The Questions.

The Answers.

I’m serious here. You’re not going to know what I’m talking about because this game isn’t out yet, but it’s fucking amazing. When it does come out, you’re going to play it and love it as much as I did. I’m sure of it!

 

Actual Play – Forbidden Carry-On (3/8/2108)

Players: Tomer Gurantz and Sean Nittner
System: Star Crossed (formerly Tension)

It just so happened that my flight had a stop off where Tomer was boarding, and because of the way Southwest handles seat assignments I was able to hold a seat for him…which meant that not only did we have a great time talking about games and catching up, but we also got to play Star Crossed. Well, a little bit of Star Crossed. Just about as soon as we started pulling, we had to put our tray table up because were about to hit some turbulence.

Turbulence is right, it was already getting steamy in our game!

Our Star Crossed

We played Jaime, the idealistic son of a dictator of a small island, and Marco, the house butler that served in the war with the now-dictator and took a bullet for him. Knowing that we were about to wage yet another war, in the middle of the night Jaime convinced Marco to steal his father’s greatest weapon (works left unsaid we because we were flying, but the implication was that it was a WMD) and fly away in the night.

Marco had been the man to see Jaime’s education and his upbringing. While most of the people on the island, including and especially the dictator were expressive and rash, Marco was patient (that’s one of the things that made him so attractive) and reserved. His attention to detail, especially his perfectly trimmed beard were all signs of his control and thoughtfulness. In fact, many years ago Jaime learned to shave from Marco and tried to model the perfect precision that he used when drawing the razor across his skin. Marco was Jaime’s godfather. He was also totally hot for him.

Jaime, in his mid thirties, was erudite, privileged, and idealistic. Though he often argued with his father, he had know idea the extent to which the despot oppressed both the people of his island and threatened his neighbors. Brash like his father, when he learned of the dictators plans, he found the only man he could trust not to betray him (and that could fly the small plane they escaped in) and set off with him to deliver the dangerous cargo to his father’s enemies. He needed to prove this was a mission about political ideas. He needed to prove he wasn’t just flying away to be with Marco!

Pilot and Co-Pilot sat side by side (as Tomes and I did on the plane) and flew from the dictator’s island. They wanted each other but their beliefs and the need to safely pilot the plane trough a deadly course held them apart!

What could have improved

Mostly I just wish we started sooner. As mentioned we only got two pulls before we had to put the tower away.

What rocked

Playing Star Crossed while on a plane, playing characters flying on a plane, was amazing! Not only did we  create amazing verisimilitude, but there were so many words that we couldn’t say (like crash, or weapons, etc) which made our furtive whispers and innuendo all the more delightful.

Tomer brought the most wee stacking blocks game. There’s no way we’d get very many pulls in even if we had the time, but we put on our game brains and were ready to adjust the scale as needed!

The tapestry of our conflicted characters, simultaneously brought together by their desires and driven apart by their beliefs was wonderful. Despite their imminent peril, these weren’t people that couldn’t they just wouldn’t. Or would they…

Tomer is a brilliant collaborator. We kept riffing ideas off each other and developing them further and further. He was also really patient. For instance, when we first started Jaime felt like a caricature (idealistic young man) and I needed a bit more to figure out how to play him with integrity. Tomer was happy to workshop the character with me till he was a character just full of conflicting values! Delicious!

Playing an RPG on a freaking plane. How cool is that. Alex Roberts, your game is fantastic!

Actual Play – The 3 Skov Ghost Job (1/7/2018)

GM: Judd Karlman
Players: Jason Bowell and Sean Nittner
System: Blades in the Dark
Crew: The Wobbegong Crew

Judd wrote up a great AP report here.

Here’s a copy of the post:

In which the gang smuggles 3 patriotic Skovlander ghosts from the Lost District to Ulf Ironborn.

t was Jay and Sean – Charming and Maud. The timing for them to be in a mission together was kind of perfect, as they had a disagreement last game and Maud had stormed off.

Duskwall again

Taking lead from Jay who continues to name background Skovlander children as Charming acts as a babysitter, I mentioned a child gets back late one night with his blazer torn. He boasts that Ulf Ironborn paid him a bushel of apples to sneak under a fence and open a door so Ulf’s gang could murder a city councilor.

The child goes on to say that Ulf has a smuggling job for them if they want it.

Before deciding on jobs Maud and Charming visit Lord Scurlock to ask about demons. They tried to get Scurlock to commit to saying that he was dead against demons but he was non-committal. The vampire lord of Doskovol says that he could help them but his best book on demonology was stolen by the Dimmer Sisters.

They decided to wait for Skannon whose skills would be necessary when infiltrate the Dimmer Sisters and took Ulf’s smuggling job.

The Job with text

The 3 Skov Ghost job was given to them by Ulf’s second-in-command, Havid. They were to take the Blackjack out past the Lightning Barrier into the Lost District and an agent would be waiting for them there with 3 ghosts. They were to smuggle the 3 ghosts past the Lightning Barrier to Ulf and his crew who would be waiting in the basement of a public house on the docks.

Maud and Charming was not pleased with the unknowns and they pushed, using dice to find out more. It caused them some stress but in the end they found out that the ghosts were going to be put into Skovlander War Frames, as used on Barghast Beach, the bloodiest engagement of the War and the battle that forged his gang. Ulf was planning on using the warframes to cement his gang’s place.

As jobs go it went smoothly but there were hitches. The ghosts weren’t ghosts; they were people – members of a Skov special forces unit who were hit with a location spell by an Imperial War Whisper. If they entered the city they’d be located by the Imperial Army; it was in their blood. When Maud tried to cut the spell it nearly attached itself to her but she fought it off.

After discussing it, they decided that Charming could kill them quickly with a knife, which he did and then they’d wait for the ghosts to separate with some help from Maude. This was represented by a 6-count clock along with a second 6-count clock to represent a pack of ghosts finding the crew. Given the bad rep of the Deathlands and the Lost District, I should’ve made the pack of ghosts finding the crew clock a 4-count but that is alright.

Charming killed the Skov patriots with a knife. They held hands and sang Skovlander soldier songs while he did it.

Another hitch, Ironhook convicts came down the beach towards the crew. Charming confronted them while Maud dealt with peeling the ghosts away from the newly dead’s bodies.

Smuggling jobs, like stealth jobs, are tricky as a GM. I want complications but I don’t want the players to feel like their employer effed them over. I want the players to be cool but I don’t want the job to be too easy. I want ways for the job to get complicated without the players being bad at smuggling. I felt like I found a good balance. There was a bunch of stress but it didn’t go entirely pear-shaped. Nothing caught on fire or exploded.

There were ghosts and lots of danger; the Deathlands felt dangerous, even if it was just across the river, within sight of the Lightning Barrier.

The Mechanics in White

At the end of this game the Wobbegong Crew became Tier 2.

Ulf Ironborn is in play. The Skovlander refugees are a good link to him and he thinks well of the Wobbegong Crew because of their anti-trafficking efforts despite the side they took during the war. Also, he is the first gang of a lower tier than the players, which is cool. They get to be mentors.

There was word around town that the Lampblacks thought the Hive looked weak when their warehouse got taken so easily by the Wobbegong Crew, so they tried to take some Hive turf for their own. Since then, the Lampblacks have entirely disappeared. No one has heard anything about them.

Blades on Air

Actual Play – Earth Unmade Episode 01 (1/4/2018)

GM: Andrew Gillis
Players: Andi Carrison, Stras Acimovic, and Sean Nittner
System: Girl by Moonlight

From the current playtest draft:

Girl by Moonlight is about a group of magical girls, but not really. It’s about queer folks, who struggle against the suffocating darkness of the world, made manifest in day to day oppression, as well as monstrous embodiments of that same darkness. It is inspired by magical girl fiction, as well as a great deal of other media inspired in turn by that genre. It’s my take on all this stuff, and is averse to any sort of cannon or notion of authenticity.

Girl by Moonlight on Air

Actual Play – Autumn of the Ancients Episode 03 (12/21/2017)

Players: Banana Chan, Jahmal Brown, Jenn Martin, and Sean Nittner
System: Autumn of the Ancients

It took some time to get our schedules to line up, but I’m so excited we were able to make it happen.

Autumn of the Ancients is a collaborative storytelling game where we play a group of spacefarers, accompanying an ancient alien being known only as “The Liminal”. The journey will place us in the company of alien cultures, fantastic vistas, and force us to make difficult decisions about who our characters are, how they relate, and how our journey will change them.

This game is based on Ross Cowman’s Fall of Magic.

Ancients on Air

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