Actual Play – We’re the Specialists (6/26/2015)

ghost_titleGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Johnstone Metzger, Nate Marcel, Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, and Kurt Ellison
System: Blades in the Dark, Quickstart 3 Rules
Score: Gaddoc Rail Station

Yay, Go Play NW! A wonderful place to see good friends, make new ones, and find out what dastardly deeds they will do.

Inspiration for this game came from recently reading Perdido Street Station and thinking New Crobuzon would be an awesome setting for Blades. Then thinking “Hell no”, I’m not going to try off a full re-skin a couple weeks before Go Play while I’m also flooded with Kickstarter work.

Thankfully the Shattered Isles is a rich and evocative place, already containing Gaddoc Rail Station. With a big of New Crobuzon vibe (though not many specifics) tinkling around in the back of my head, and some info from John about Gaddoc, I put together a one page scenario, a love letter for the whole group:

The Score: Gaddoc Rail

The Score - Gaddoc Rail

 

Thanks to John Harper for giving me the In Design files and setting background to make this, and thanks to Karen Twelves for editing and proofing it.

The adventure premise is made with a one shot adventure in mind. It’s set contemporary with the the War in Crows Foot (part of the Quick Start) with the premise that one (or all) of the gangs in Crow’s Foot want some package that is arriving in Gaddoc Station, and one of the gang bosses have hired the PCs to get it. The adventure starts in media res when everything had gone to shit, because nobody left the station after the Argonaut came in.

What are the scoundrels after? Who else wants it? Why has nobody come out of the station since last night? All of that is determined by making a few choices about the patron, the score, and the complications. I learned in my first game that allowing the selection of multiple choices (in the Score category) is a bad idea because it prompts too many questions, so I made some revisions (see below) to streamline that. Also, there is a hidden question to the GM “What’s going on in the station?” that I didn’t initially put on the sheet, but I’ve added it now.

Our Score

Spirit essence, distilled from many rogue spirits and compressed into some kind of spirit well. The scoundrels really didn’t want to know more and were content to know that Lyssa would pay good coin for it.

IMG_4763

 

What Rocked

Nate Marcel drawing a picture of Enx Onomon and his “Finger” shaped war staff on his character tent. Damn, it’s awesome to play with artists.

Orlan the Axe just being all about business. The solution didn’t haven’t to be “run up, stab someone, and take the loot”, but that was his default, and it more than three steps were involved he got wary.

Flint, the ghost monkey, raking out some poor fool’s eyes. Damn, that critter was violent!

Finding out that Lewitt, a Bluecoat were doing something really shady and off book. Realizing everyone on guard was getting nervous because something was taking too long, and then driving their carriage right up to the front door, hopping out and saying “Lewitt sent us, we’re the specialists!” It was perfect. Best use of command skill I’ve seen in a while. Though some might argue that was deceive, if you had heard Johnstone, you would have snapped to attention as well!

Finger’s arm being sucked into the gravity well of the soul box, and then it getting wrenched out…. different. In the moment I said it was their but had been contaminated by the spirit essence within, an evil hand gimmick. Not terrible, but I think the arm just being gone would have been better. Or possibly gone in the physical world, but still present in the spirit realm.

Flashbacks, resistance rolls, and effect ratings really working well to propel the story. Risky situations becoming desperate are fantastic.

What could have improved

Early on the scoundrels had a disagreement over what to do. I opted to handle it like John did in our Six Towers game where I first asked the players “Is this something your character could be convinced of?” and then when they said it was a possibility, going to dice, and making the players make resistance rolls to resist the effect. Not a bad plan, but the execution was, erm, intelligent. Wilhelm’s character Chakka suggested leaving the station to go get some information she deemed vital. Finger and Orlan (played by Nate and Johnstone) objected, so I asked them if we should go to dice or if their character wouldn’t budge.

We went to dice and called the argument risky. Time was a factor (a clock) and spending too much of it arguing could sour the deal with Lyssa. Wilhelm rolled and succeeded, so I told all the players if they wanted to stay put, they would have to make a Resolve resistance roll. Chakka picked Frog to go with her… and all the mechanics kind of ground to a halt. Kurt, who was playing Frog, hadn’t been part of the conversation, or of the decision to go to dice with it, so he was suffering the consequences or terms he hadn’t agreed to in advance. He rolled resistance, took the stress (a lot of it) and Frog sent Chakka off alone. We made it work, but I really should have gotten everyone’s buy in before hitting the dice.

There was some confusion about what has to be a group action that everyone takes part in (sneaking the whole crew into a place) and what can optionally be a group action if more that one person wants to try some thing (in this case carrying a very heavy box down to the end of the train before the Bluecoats arrive).

The players selected all three options (valuable, dangerous, and illicit) and while it’s predictable and fun that they would do so, it meant answering too many questions. I changed the option after that game to say that the score was already valuable, dangerous, and illicit. The choice they had to make was what was it especially so. The other question left off was to the GM, asking what was happening in Gaddoc Rail. I added that as well.

Here’s the updated adventure PDF: Gaddoc Rail Station

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SUN-03 (6/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Matt Klein, Dale Horstman, Zed Lopez, Zac Bond, and Jon Edwards.
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

THREE GAMES! FOUR SESSIONS! FIVE PLAYERS! ZERO BRAINS!

Seriously, I had planned to run one, then two games of Torchbearer, but because I filled in for one slot, and because we ran the next slot as well as a second session, I ended up running 14 hours of Torchbearer. And it was awesome!

I ran at the same table so all I needed was get the characters ready (with some help from Jon Edwards), and set back up all the player decks.  Boom, adventure was served!

Who Bears the Torch

Matt was waffling on characters and I told him to take Ulrik the Cleric. He looked disappointed. “Okay, if someone has to play the cleric… I guess I will”. Matt, read that belief. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead in this world, and I’ll wear a smile doing it!” A light went on and he played the best Ulrik I’ve ever seen.

Jon took Taika, and mad her suddenly bloodthirsty when he made her goal to “Return with the head of a creatures that is plauging this mountain”. Like, not to kill one, but to remove the head, drain the blood and store it in her pack [pack 2 if you’re wondering].

Dale played Beren. Hardy, tough and out to get a dragon’s tooth!

Zed was Varg, who wanted even more dragon teeth!

And then there was Zak, blood thirsty, gonna kill it with my spear Zak. If Matt played the greediest Ulrik I’ve seen, Zak played the most brutal Karolina!

Here to help, and by help we mean loot!

Would you expect a healer to tend to an injured man? Sure, why not. And then rob him? Hell yes you would! What better cover could there be.

Base camp? Bah, whatever, lets go kill some stuff.

Cross a perilous bridge? Forget it, just bang on that old bell till an old man comes out to lower it down, promise him riches, and then brain him. Okay, Diamond tooth totally had it coming, but it was one of the most surprising move I had seen running the game. Brutal and awesome.

Fish of gold? Take em!

Monsters without loot? Fuck it. Lie and run.

Guys with loot! Kill the fuckers. Take their stuff.

Could you believe this guy would give you a hug and then stab you in the back? You bet he would!

bestbitches

 

Thoughts on the game

Amazingly I wasn’t tired at all (or at least didn’t feel tired) running this game. We really fast tracked as soon as they got inside the mountain but otherwise played the game straight up. Part of our speed was using tests in place of conflicts. For braining an old man it felt really perfect. This wasn’t a kill conflict, either he was going to brain the guy (success) or the crazy loon was going to bury them all by collapsing his cornice on them (failure, twist)!

Starting characters with 1 fate and 1 person makes them incredibly powerful in a con game. I tried that this time (and I’ve done it when I ran Dread Crypt at Dead of Winter) and I think it was a bad call. I may try 1 fate in the future but I think not. Not only does it make the characters more powerful, but it also introduces several decisions points that new players aren’t necessarily ready for. As a GM I am judicious in when I suggest using them, but they are still one more thing to factor in.

Players that are totally immoral opportunists do just fine in Torchbearer. I mean it. In this case, has we continued playing they would have walked out with some treasure and stopped the worst of the problems that brewed in the mountain. Leaving behind a civil war? Sure, but there are worse outcomes.

Not tired before the game, but as soon as it finished…wasted.

 

Hungry & Thirsty and Exhausted
Hungry & Thirsty and Exhausted

 

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SUN-01/02 (6/29/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Tony Dowler, Morgan Stinson, John Powell, Warren Powell, David Fooden, and guest starring Twyla Campbell
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

Dude, I had a bunch of rock stars in my game… and they kept wanting to play! The morning slot was supposed to be Gary Montgomery’s Treasure of Traveler’s Hill Torchbearer game. And then life happened, child care vanished, and Gary couldn’t make it to the con on Sunday.

Morgan grabbed me at one point and asked if I could run in his place. Hell yeah, I could!

After Matt’s World of Dungeons game I stayed up for another hour drinking substances potent and potentially blinding, and making characters for the Sunday game. Well, I made two characters and then I wised up and realized I should just copy the ones out of the book. It was faster and didn’t require as much thought, both perks that late at night!

Who Bears The Torch

Morgan played Varg as a condescending know it all magician that made enemies easily. He was indispensable to his allies and he liked to remind them of that as he called them lesser beings. A great guy.

John played Karolina the skeptical warrior. She didn’t believe in magic and loathed to lend Varg her bearskin cloak, given to her by her father that she never knew.

Warren played Ulrik the greedy and mostly deity-ambivalent cleric.

David played Bassle Brune, not a cook, but a chef! He was put out by the mayor of Carin when he was betrayed by his sous chef Denny that intentionally spoiled his hollandaise sauce! Now accompanying new companions, he sought to impress them all with his halfling bravery.

Tony played Torril the dwarven adventurer who was always cognizant of how his actions, and the actions of those around him might be viewed by the gods.  He had been banished from the temple of brick and mortar and carried a grave memory of that denouncement.

In the second session, Twyla took Tony’s place and played Beren the dwarf adventurer seeking out Karolina for a debt he owed to her parents, who were old allies of his but died some time ago. He did not know Karolina but knew he would recognize her by her father’s bearskin cloak.

Highlights of the Game

At base camp the Sharwa were generally friendly despite their lack of a common language. That was until Varg decided to use his eldrich magics to summon sages that would help him commune with them. Unfortunately doing so required clipping the hair of one of the Sharwa and eating it. The Sharwa man had no idea what Varg was doing but he did notice that Varg cut and ate his hair. Awkward.

It fell upon Karolina to drag Varg out of the camp and Torril to make peace with the locals. That is how Torril met Jhala, a woman who spoke the common tongue. She aided Torril by giving him supplies for the climb… but also told him of the curse on the mountain and that the Gods were punishing them. For me this was about the best “fail” result I’ve ever had. He got what he wanted, with the condition of being afraid, and I got to do some exposition in the process. Bad ass and not expected.

While hunting for game (the first time) Varg tore his cloak on a stout tree branch. Rather than try to repair it, he left the torn cloak in the base camp and borrowed Karolina’s bear skin cloak. This caused much awesome confusion later when Beren (who arrived in the 2nd slot of the game session as Twyla joined the game) found Varg first and identified the cloak because it belonged to Karolina’s father. That were some awesome misunderstandings there!

Discovering the ambushed camp was awesome. Watching the players realize that they were looting from other fallen adventurers that were killed in their sleep was awesome. Good treasure (supplies they needed) and a grim bitter moment breaking off a halfling’s frozen finger to take the ring on it!

Torril, who already felt cursed by the gods made the most amazing sacrifice. As they were climbing up the edge of the mountain, Torril lost his grip and went falling down. The rope that was tied to him caught him, but it pulled Bassle down with him and threatened to take Ulrik and Karolina as well. Torril knew that with his weight he could very well pull down all of his companions with him. Instead of trying to climb back up, he spit on the god’s curse and with his sword cut the rope holding him and fell to his death below. Such sacrifice.

These adventurers camped often and camped well. Hunting in the mountains is tough though and the second trip led Karolina and Beren into a Mikra Ambush. The fended them off, but in doing so realized that the creature wore fur and loped on all fours, but fought with weapons and in their eyes they could see the spark of intelligence of man!

Karolina had been besmirching magic the entire game, saying she didn’t believe in it, which was just an awesome interplay between John and Morgan. When Varg finally did cast a spell (lightness of being) and levitated up over a huge chunk of ice that blocked their pass (the same one that killed Torril on their first attempt) Karolina’s chiding dismissal turned into awed reverence. It was pretty awesome.

Encountering Kumbha’s goats and deciding that “forget about the giant, I don’t want to mess with goats, let’s get out of here!”

A knock down, drag out, gnarl fight that ended in a total party kill (minus 1) when the adventurers rolled down the slippery slope of the maw and were ambushed again by Mikra. Karolina lived but woke up in the dark, alone, bleeding and half frozen. Ouch.

Highest praise I could hope to receive

Morgan, in discussing the game with me wrote “Thanks again for running this for us. I had a fantastic time.”

Tony, in his GPNW write up said “Sunday morning I got hijacked by a Torchbearer game on the way to White Books. Sean Nittner runs a seriously tight game of Torchbearer. This is a game that really rewards DM mastery, and Sean has it. My Dwarf sacrificed himself nobly to save the party and spite the capricious gods.”

More than anything though, what really put a spring in my step was when all of the players but Tony (who had another game scheduled) asked to play a second session in the next slot. How great is that! We did end of session rewards (beliefs, goals, instincts, etc) at the end of the first session and the characters got to have a few fate and persona points to spend in the second. That’s how I’d like all of my con games to run!

Thoughts on this game

Extra uses of conditions – Exposition about the terrible things happening in the game are awesome. When Torril failed his persuader roll to get Jhala to give him climbing gear, instead of refusing him, I had her tell him of the curse on the mountain and gave him the afraid condition. It worked out to be a great way to spread the lore of the mountain. I’m going to look for other wise to do this in the future. More ideas for it here.

In addition to their enthusiasm for the game this group showed me more than the other three that the adventure doesn’t exactly make sense. Several of he players asked after the game “what was up with that guy” or “why weren’t the dragon’s teeth there/why should we go inside the cave?”. These questions are great. They tell me that I need to do two things:

  1. Make the promise of reward more obvious and tempting. The cave will now have a glinting that can be seen below and the frozen lake will have a treasure visible beneath it.
  2. Make the story of what is going on more obvious and accessible. Dermot is a great example. The character exists to (without malice) lead the characters astray. I’ve revised him now to instead provide accurate information about the dangers he faced, and where his knowledge is fuzzy, to give incomplete (but not misleading) information.

I lost more characters (5 of the 6) in this game than in any other I’ve run. Killing is my Business is serious business.

We got to do two sessions this game which was great. It means players reviewed their beliefs and such, were rewarded appropriately, and got to rewrite them as appropriate. Karolina changed her goal from “I will impress my companions with my bravery” to “Bring the party to the top of this mountain. For TORRIL” That was personal and it was awesome!

Be a fan of your players. Really, I mean I know you’re told to do it, but really do it. It makes such a difference. I was so excited to run Stone Dragon Mountain that I embraced every character with exuberance and it really paid off. It also make it so much better when you do kill them all off.

Twyla showed up for the second session and brought Beren into play. They met up at the base camp and Twyla devised a reason to be looking for Karolina. That was the smoothest new member of the party integration I’ve ever seen. Bravo!

Thanks to Morgan Stinson, John Powell,  and Twyla Campbell for giving me feedback on the adventure. For those that haven’t, if you’re inclined, here is the feedback survey.

Feedback so far (two new entries since the SAT-02 session)

Torchbearer [How familiar are you with the following?]

Mouse Gaurd [How familiar are you with the following?]

Buning Wheel [How familiar are you with the following?]

How well were you able to understand what was going on in the adventure?

Challenging the players [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Rewarding the characters [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Delivering a compelling situation [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Keeping your interest [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a harsh world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a fantastical world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

What was your favorite memory of the session(s)?

  • When Morgan’s character actually successfully used magic to float up to the top of the ice block.
  • Crossing the Walkway
  • The dangerous lowering of the bridge
  • Diamond Tooth’s demise
  • Dealing with Diamond Tooth
  • Trying to pass equipment and light sources up and down the line while supporting Sparky in crossing the gap.
  • The whole bit at the bridge.
  • Snot. You should emphasize snot.
  • Balls out fighting the mikra and failing miserably, allowing for only one survivor who was surely going to die soon.

Any other comments about Stone Dragon Mountain?

  • Very fun game. Lots of laughs and holy crap, that is impossibles!
  • It seems like the set up is simple, which is cool, but I wanted a touch more complexity. We had the Sharwa, on one side, and the Mikra on the other. The Mikra seemed to be savage, beasty killers. That set up seemed too straight forward. I long for a third faction to make things really jacked up and complicated. Did someone back in town want us to do something specific, maybe? Is there are third group to add to the ecology of the mountain? When I think of keep on the Borderland, we have Bandits, plus the people in the Keep, plus a variety of Tribes in the Caves of Chaos, without even messing with the greater outside world. The more groups we have, the more our decisions affect those around us. To me, this is the thing I look for as a player. I came to a place and I may have fucked it up pretty badly, but I made an indelible mark.
  • Also, after we get to the maw of the cave, and find that the teeth aren’t gems, it seems like we need a new promise of treasure. The Mikra have worthless stone idols and crude axes. Why would we go in the cave?
  • What was up with that guy who was wounded at the beginning? He was really weird.
  • I love the “loot” available from the Sharwa and the bodies at Taleil’s. It felt really organic and natural and not like crap from a random treasure table.
  • The demon thing with the sheep was confusing, tone-wise. Did we just forget to ask about that guy.
  • Just kind of a reminder of our conversation, for a convention setting, it would be best to have pregens and the players just pick their inventory and answer the pregame questions. Other than that, the part I played was fun.
  • It was too bad we didn’t get to more of a part where other people further back in the line on the trail could do stuff.
  • I wasn’t clear on the player’s motivations in the set up except “get some kind of treasure.” I might have been distracted or walked briefly away from the table.
  • I wonder about the value, just like in computer rpgs, of having content in branches that half the players won’t see. Aftertward, I wanted to see what we’d missed since it sounded like it contained some of the best content. I suppose with another session we could have ventured to the path we didn’t see.
  • Nothing beyond what was already said at the table.
  • I rated kind of low on rewards and fantasy just because I don’t think we quite got to that part.

More thoughts on this feedback on in the first playtest report for Stone Dragon Mountain.

Actual Play – Dyson’s Delve (6/27/2014)

World_of_DungeonsGM: Matt Klein
Players: Dale Horstman, Twlya Campbell, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: World of Dungeon
Dungeon: Dyson’s Delve

Man, this was a fun game. We took our time eating dinner at Cafe Presse and didn’t want to have to race back for the SAT-03 slot at GPNW. Fortunately, I hang with the most awesome people. Matty K offered to run World of Dungeons for us and so he did.

We cleared out most of the first level of Dyson’s delve in single session and we did this almost uniformly by making our enemies fight each other. First rat vs. ferret and then later zombie warrior vs. goblins. Good times!

Some highlights

Serious pressure on our adventurers, to find a new home for our people before ork raiders took over our lands. We could hear their drums beating in the distance.

The bestowal of titles. Isoldor of the North was really big on giving out titles to other people. Everyone but her fellow ranger who so very much wanted one.

The healing magic that required the life of our rat companions.

Arguing about how we should open up various and sundry sarcophagi.

Character quirks

Amen? Anen, A-something? It doesn’t matter, she is my best friend and will be the high priestess of blandario. (Karen)

Omid the life coach, outdoors-man wizard, who was pretty sure everything could be resolved by by dialog…as a verb. I kept getting the impression that “lets dialog” meant “be quiet now, I’ll kill you in your sleep later.” (Twyla)

Isoldor of the North was a nut. She was insanely devoted to her friend Anda or whatever, and though Ann was the chosen of blandario but was also irrationally protective of Omid breaking her heart. Isoldor talked to animals (little squeaks of the rats, growls of the wolf) and left from rock to rock and climbed the wall do she didn’t have to touch the floor…until she did. (Sean)

Xamder was pretty burly. He actually knew the woods and stuff. He wanted a title though and didn’t know how to get one, or how Isoldor kept making them. Also, against undead on principle, which was worth of discussion when we were talking about binding the dead to do our bidding. He spent most of the game trying to keep our guide from shitting himself. Poor guide. (Dale)

Thoughts on the game

This was a silly game. I think all of us were a bit punchy from stuffing ourselves at dinner and didn’t expect a dungeon delve to go so deep (we almost cleared one level…of 10!). Matt was great a humoring us. Karen was playing an Ann Veal character (from Arrested Development) that everyone forgot the name of as well as forgetting the name of her god. When the chips were down she jumped into action but as soon as someone looked she was just standing there looking a little dumbfound all the time. I was this totally hyper teenage girl that was just a spaz. She climbed on walls when the floor was right there, she was obsessed with her friend’s dating (even though she couldn’t remember her name), and she talked to animals. Like a lot.

This relates back to my Night Witches game on Friday night. There is an improv game call New Choice  where two improvisers are talking and a 3rd will cut them off and say “New Choice” and person who was just talking has to change what they just said. The 3rd person keeps saying “New Choice” until they are satisfied.  The thought, as I understand it is that your first idea is boring, your second idea is just the obvious opposite or way too gonzo, and your third idea is really interesting. Here’s a snippet from Ken Levin’s blog post:

Example:

Me and Fred are in a Costco.

Fred: What are you here to buy?
Me: Cheerios.
Andy: New choice!
Me: 300 rolls of toilet paper.
Andy: New choice!
Me: A case of Trojans and a dozen oysters.

Later in the scene:

Fred: I don’t have cash. Do you take American Express?
Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take the Diner’s Club card?
Andy: New choice!
Fred: Do you take second-party Group-ons?

Isoldor was totally my “New Choice” after playing my typical angry woman with an axe to grind in Night Witches the night before. I knew I wanted something different and my first new idea was manic and zany. Not a very good choice either. In fact, probably much worse because the character was all shtick and no substance (at least with my angry women, I can always channel something to be angry about).

So I think I need to start playing this exercise when making a character. Take my first, most obvious concept and throw it out the window. Take my second concept and throw that out the window too. Then see what comes next!

Actual Play – Stone Dragon Mountain SAT-02 (6/28/2014)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mark Levad, Fred Lott, Soren Ludwig, Peter Adkison, and Wilhelm Fitzpatrick
System: Torchbearer
Adventure: Stone Dragon Mountain

Woot, my first chance to play-test Stone Dragon Mountain. I had been working my ass off to get it play-test ready and I’m really glad I did. The game ran very smoothly and was deliciously perilous for the characters and (from what I could tell) delightful for the players.

Who bears the Torch

We started with character creation. Which although it ate up too much time (see thoughts below) was a ton of fun. Here were our heroes.

Recordin the human warrior (Mark) grew up in a wizards tower, but got kicked out when thought to be trusted companion Boggin framed him for stealing form the wizard. Now he walks these lonely roads a loaner, tough and cool.

Sparky Bigglemeister the halfling burgler (Peter) would have been head cook for the mayor of a bustling metropolis, if not for Gordo Ryebread who soured his stew! He was now adventuring with a new found hunger for gold and a thirst for luxury.

Feylimige the Wanderer (Soren), an elven ranger. She had left the Elflands because she was different. Curious about different things and could not conform. She played to return one day and give the elves what for by proving that the traditional way isn’t the only way.

Jaesik the Loud (Wilhelm), a human cleric.  Jaesik was actually a good person. He helped the weak and stood against the darkness. He wore a medallion of Sigrun the Defender, lady of Battles that his mother had worn before she died. He was also very loud about his beliefs! Benedictus the high priest sent him on this holy mission to help the Sharwa people after he dragged the mayor’s daughter back to the temple to be purged of sin! Not at all to get Jaesik out of his hair and finally get some peace and quiet in the temple, no, not at all.

Agar Dirtsmith the human magician (Fred) from the small village Bayrit where his magics were not understood. He wanted to move up in life, I mean, how do you get any lower than being a dirt smith!

Depicting the World

Here are notes that I’ve written to myself when trying to describe the feel of Torchbearer in play. I don’t read them down the line, but whenever I come to a moment where I feel like the style of play or setting needs to be articulated, I’ll pull one of these out:

  •  Torchbearer is a game of exploration and survival, neither of which is easy.
  • It’s less like Lord of the Rings, and more like surviving Vietnam.
  • There are treasures to be found but they are going to be pried from the frozen grip of the mountain.
  • Your characters are desperate people with no respectable or promising opportunities.
  • Your characters aren’t heroes, but they can become heroes.
  • Like characters in Fiasco, your adventurers have powerful ambition and poor judgment.
  • They are foolishly optimistic opportunists.

As we start I’m also asking questions to develop the world. Here’s some of them:

  • What led you to this life?
  • What as the last thing you ate that didn’t make you sick?
  • What have you let down?
  • What was the job that was going to get you off the street? How did it fall apart?
  • Does anyone at home depend on you? How have you failed them?
  • Who in your new group besides you shows he most promise?
  • What about this adventure gives you hope?
  • Who is your leader?
  • Really, who is the leader?
  • To the leader: What heroes story inspires you?

These are pretty standard fare questions, but asking them reminds me to make the game not just about adventurers, but to make it about these adventurers. Hearing their answers also helps me be a a fan of their characters.

 Notable Moments

By far, the highlight of the game was when the adventurers had to scale a bald mountain face to cross over a stretch of missing walkway that loomed over an impossible fall below. Everything working up to the climb was so tense and when Peter’s Halfling Sparky finally made it over to raise the bridge, the whole table cheered in triumph! Peter has done some mountain climbing and said that the depiction of the challenges felt very real. Huzzah!

 Pictures from the game

Thoughts on the Game

When you’re play-testing a game, never do character creation in a con slot. It eats up way to much time. We spent 90 minutes on it when we could have spend 15-20 going over pre-generated characters and started playing. I wanted to see if characters made by players planning for a mountain climb would make a difference. Nope, or not enough to be measurable.

Mountain climbing in the snow is amazing dungeon delving. So much my fave.

Playing a game that doesn’t require torches every turn all the time actually makes it more interesting when people have to light them. The sun going down was a favorite twist of mine because it changed the status quo a lot!

Feedback. I’ve asked all my players to give feedback on the adventure. Thanks so far to Soren Ludwig, Mark Levad, Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, and Fred Lott for their responses. To everyone else, if you’re interested, here is the link to the survey.

Feedback response so far (over all three sessions played). My take away was that I should be more obvious about the various people’s and their motivations (a constant reminder to myself to just in general be more obvious). Also, rewards weren’t clear enough, there should always be something enticing them to delve a little deeper.

Torchbearer [How familiar are you with the following?]

Mouse Gaurd [How familiar are you with the following?]

Buning Wheel [How familiar are you with the following?]

How well were you able to understand what was going on in the adventure?

Challenging the players [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Rewarding the characters [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Delivering a compelling situation [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Keeping your interest [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a harsh world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

Depicting a fantastical world [Rate the how well the adventure did overall at:]

What was your favorite memory of the session(s)?

  • When Morgan’s character actually successfully used magic to float up to the top of the ice block.
  • Crossing the Walkway
  • The dangerous lowering of the bridge
  • Diamond Tooth’s demise
  • The whole bit at the bridge. 
  • Snot. You should emphasize snot.
  • Balls out fighting the mikra and failing miserably, allowing for only one survivor who was surely going to die soon.

Any other comments about Stone Dragon Mountain?

  • Very fun game. Lots of laughs and holy crap, that is impossibles!
  • It seems like the set up is simple, which is cool, but I wanted a touch more complexity. We had the Sharwa, on one side, and the Mikra on the other. The Mikra seemed to be savage, beasty killers. That set up seemed too straight forward. I long for a third faction to make things really jacked up and complicated.Did someone back in town want us to do something specific, maybe? Is there are third group to add to the ecology of the mountain? When I think of keep on the Borderland, we have Bandits, plus the people in the Keep, plus a variety of Tribes in the Caves of Chaos, without even messing with the greater outside world. The more groups we have, the more our decisions affect those around us. To me, this is the thing I look for as a player. I came to a place and I may have fucked it up pretty badly, but I made an indelible mark.
  • Also, after we get to the maw of the cave, and find that the teeth aren’t gems, it seems like we need a new promise of treasure. The Mikra have worthless stone idols and crude axes. Why would we go in the cave?
  • What was up with that guy who was wounded at the beginning? He was really weird.
  • I love the “loot” available from the Sharwa and the bodies at Taleil’s. It felt really organic and natural and not like crap from a random treasure table.
  • The demon thing with the sheep was confusing, tone-wise. Did we just forget to ask about that guy.
  • Just kind of a reminder of our conversation, for a convention setting, it would be best to have pregens and the players just pick their inventory and answer the pregame questions. Other than that, the part I played was fun.
  • It was too bad we didn’t get to more of a part where other people further back in the line on the trail could do stuff.
  • I wasn’t clear on the player’s motivations in the set up except “get some kind of treasure.” I might have been distracted or walked briefly away from the table.
  • I wonder about the value, just like in computer rpgs, of having content in branches that half the players won’t see. Aftertward, I wanted to see what we’d missed since it sounded like it contained some of the best content. I suppose with another session we could have ventured to the path we didn’t see.
  • Nothing beyond what was already said at the table.
  • I rated kind of low on rewards and fantasy just because I don’t think we quite got to that part.

Actual Play – Crash that plane into my heart (6/27/2014)

night_witchesGM: Adam Koebel
Players: Julie Southworth, Morgan Stinson, Morgan Ellis, Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner
System: Night Witches

Wow, Night Witches has changed a ton since last time I saw it. (here and here). The most notable change is that the GM role is now held by one person per duty station (no more switching GMs between day and night). Otherwise though, the game feels much more fully developed both in terms of mechanics, and the tools for depicting the setting.

What struck me immediately was that nobody was honest with one another, we all had too much at stake to tell the truth. Beliefs, feelings, opinions, religious views, all of it – off the table. So instead we used our patriotism (or facsimile there of) as a weapon against one another and as shield against our detractors (which was pretty much everyone).

Talking about the game afterwards, it came up that playing Night Witches is like playing Orange is the New Black by day. And thinking about it now, it’s like Russian roulette by night. Devilishly genius Mr. Morningstar.

 Game Description

From Adam’s post on the Go Play NW forums:

“We’re playing Soviet women in an all-female night bomber regiment during World War Two. We’ll be pilots, navigators, mechanics and political officers.

Our mission is to harass the German army, which has invaded our country. The war is brutal and horrific.

We fly obsolete biplanes and drop bombs or, when we don’t have bombs, railroad ties on the Germans. Things are desperate. It is incredibly dangerous. We fly in darkness, sometimes a dozen missions each night.

The Soviet army wishes we didn’t exist and nobody expects us to succeed. We are going to succeed anyway.”

It was that last sentiment, the defiance and perseverance of the 588th that made the game so much fun to play. Without that I think it would have just been a depressing dramatization of people being horrible to one another.

Night Bombers

Junior Lieutenant M. “Masha” Gerasimova (Julie) the Raven came from an aristocratic family where she was always overlooked for not being prettier. Did she enlist in the 588 to prove herself, or just to get away from her families expectations? We learned later that she was an idealist quick to call our her fellow comrades for less than exemplary behavior.

Sergeant Elizaveta “Liza” Vorapayeva (Sean) the Pigeon had lost much of her family and hated the krauts. She was from Bratsk and secretly a devout member of the Russian Orthodoxy. She had all sorts of anger issues around authority figures that we’re mixed up in sexual aggression. She hated Katya, her section leader, but was sleeping with her just the same, bucked enough orders that she never got promoted (and probably should have been executed for insubordination), but had several medals for her valor.

Junior Lieutenant Svetlana “Sevta” Fomenkova (Karen) the Owl was a prodigal child of the 588. Except for an ugly scar on her cheek she was pretty, devoted, skilled, and followed regulations perfectly.  She wrote letters to the editor documenting every failing of “the people” in the air base. None of those letters were ever sent.

Senior Lieutenant Yekaterina “Katya” Trushina (Morgan Stinson) the Hawk was a shameless opportunist. She was our section commander and very connected with the aristocracy. She had secret meetings with the Major and thought of her self as much better than all of us. She reached for the stars and we never found out whether she would take them or be burned by their heat.

Lieutenant Hanna Ruttman (Morgan Ellis) the Sparrow was a child that bounced from orphanage to orphanage until she finally wound up in the worst of them all, the 588. She was tougher than most of us. What we thought was gruel, she was happy to eat as sustenance. She had done thing, seen things. She knew about planes and how the worked. She had dreams, bad premonitions, most of them came true.

Day time is the worst

Rather than go through all the issues chronologically here were the highlights of the troubles we faced.

Damaged plane

Last night to get through the breech Sveta and Masha took heavy fire. They made it back but their plane was un-flyable.

Hanna knew a mechanic that could fix the plane, but he needed work order from Major Kiril Popo to get it on the list (it had been due for repair for months and was never going to get attention without an order to do so. Sveta, Masha, and Hanna all worked to go through the official channels to get the work order approved. When Hanna spoke with the Major himself, he made it very clear that she should go through her section leader Katya, who would take it to to the squadron leader Senior Lt. Khadzhiyeva, who would take it to her regimental commander Major Bershanskaya, who would bring it to him. Yeah, that was totally going to happen in time for the work order to be signed, passed back down that chain of command, and in the hands of the mechanic in time to make the plan fly-worthy by night time. Totally.

Meanwhile Liza just wanted a plane in the air. She fucked Katya and convinced her during sex to “make it happen”. Katya scrounged up a work order, forged the Mayor’s signature and sent Liza and Hanna back to the mechanic with papers in hand. There was a bit of confusion as the mechanic had also offered to do the work if Hanna set him up with Liza. So when it turned out Hanna had a work order and Liza was just walking with her, not coming as an offering, he was most unhappy.

Health and Safety in the air base

After arriving injured from flak fire, Sveta sought medical attention, so that she would be fit and healthy to fly again that night. The line to the medical tent though was impossibly long. Being clever she found the most wounded soldier in line and tried to escort him to the front of the line, where she would also, coincidentally, get treatment herself.  It should have worked, it seemed like a good plan. The man didn’t want to move though. He didn’t want to cause trouble. And another woman Lt. Aleksandra asked what she was trying to do. When she saw that Sveta was part of the 588, she got even more incensed “Get to the back of the line”.

Seveta bullied her way in, extolled the importance of  being a good pilot in the service of Russia. She said that we wouldn’t win the war without pilots to fly the planes. That shut Aleksandra up but made an enemy of her for sure. Then Sveta let Masha cut in front of her so they could both be treated.

Afterwards, she went to her bunk and wrote a very angry letter to the editor about the health and safety standards that an air base should adhere to. Another letter she would never send.

Boot licking with the best of them

Katya wanted only one thing, to advance in the ranks and have power of those below her. Following the first law of the 48 Laws of Power, Katya was happy to lick boots, or int this case massage feet to get there.

After the debriefing in the morning, Katya followed the Politruk and the Major back to their tent in order to weasel her way into their good graces, or rather to displace the Politruk (political commissar) and put herself in the Major’s favor. Neither of them were going to make this easy, but she could tell that the deputy had some leverage on the major. If she could figure it out, she could take it for herself.

She was then dismissed to attend to her soldiers.

Picking fights for no good reason

When Liza went to the mess tent after debriefing for breakfast, she overheard men from the 218 bragging about their amazing mission the night before. It was clear immediately that they were taking credit for the mission her section flew! She protected, first hinting that he misread the call numbers on the plane, and them openly that he was a liar.

When he realized who she was, even that she was a she (Liza was wearing fatigues and had a blunt enough face she could pass for man some times), he laughed in her face, and told her it was understandable that she was jealous. She should have called him out right there, thrown a punch or called him a liar outright, but instead she tried to goad him into making the first move.

She flung some of her porridge at his face, and then pretended to blame it on being a clumsy woman. It might have worked, he might have been incensed, if not for the fact that Mayor Kiril Popov happened to be standing right behind him! Liza fell in line and apologized to the pilot, lying and saying that he had completed the mission that she flew. She was so angry, but this wasn’t the right fight to pick.

Outside she was kicking the mud in anger when Hanna, her trusted navigator came with news about the repairs (and what was needed to get them done). Hanna tried to calm her down, asked what happened and Liza first berated the men, but then, in the confidence of her co-pilot and she hoped friend, told her that she was angry that it was Masha and Sveta that flew into the breach, because she had been too much of a coward to follow them. Flying straight into gunfire would be suicidal, but had she been a better pilot, more valorous, she would have done it.

Night time is the worst

Our mission was to bomb the hell out of the Germans that had taken one of our air bases (one that we use to be stationed at) and were using it to attack us. We took it back. We bombed the hell out of it took it back! Some casualties of doing so:

The lone pilot Jr. Ltd. Zoya Perfinova had lost her entire section the night before. She sat in our our briefing but Katya gave her no orders, and paired her with nobody else. Without a navigator to guide her she followed our section (C) to the destination but without a wingman to watch over her, she was gunned down by the Germans. We lost of of our own. Hannah saw it happen and took it hard. Liza blamed Katya for leaving Zoya to fend for herself.

Because Sveta was still hurting from the mission last night, and because she had challenged Katya’s authority, Masha was piloting (instead of navigating) and had to put their wheels down. She came in to sharp and crashed. The plan engine tore right through the hull and landed in her lap. The wooden frame cracked and impaled Sveta, who was unconscious and bleeding as her plane began to smolder from the head of the engine. Soon it would ignite.

Masha got herself out but no others wanted to help her with Sveta. Other pilots were doing their jobs. Mechanics were yelling at her for damaging the plane, and the Politruk reprimanded her for wasting time when she should be getting back in the air and completing the mission, even though her legs were burned from the engine.

Liza did a piss poor job landing her plane, setting it way off course and got the attention of the Politruk for clearing landing it so poorly that she must have intended to put the base in danger! When Liza and Hanna walked back onto the air strip the Politruk stood in front of them expecting some sort of response. Hanna stopped to explain herself, but Liza just pushed past. She saw that one of her section was in danger ignored her superior and then pulled her unconscious comrade from the plane and carried her to the medical tent. I got to feel like a hero and know I was going to pay for it in the morning. Awesome!  Hanna was escorted to a room for questioning. She entered, sat down and then the door was closed and locked behind her!

Masha still did not want to fly but when Katya landed she ordered her back into the sky. Good comrade!

Day time is the worst

In the morning both Hanna and Liza were interrogated for their misconduct. Hanna got off by throwing Liza under the bus. Liza got off by seducing the Politruk and after some violent sex throwing Katya under the bus and agreeing to spy on her for “Sveta” (the Deupty Politruk).

She earned the Order of the Red star for her bravery and was promoted to Junior Lieutenant!

Quotes from the game:

“You just crashed that plane right into my heart.”

“The 588th – Like summer camp with guns!”

Thoughts on this game

Adam did a fantastic job of putting pressure on us from the start. It felt like we never had enough time to get everything done that needed to be and that there was no possible way we could get ourselves in the air and fly another mission, but some how we did. Flying barely repaired planes and bringing those back barely in tact, and then getting in trouble for not doing a better job was all kind of awesome.

The hipocracy Adam presented was fantastic. After our night mission, when Masha was injured from having an engine land in her lap and burn her legs, the Deputy Politruk told her to get back in a plane and keep flying missions, questioning her patriotism if she didn’t fly despite her injuries. Not two scenes later the same deputy berated Liza for flying when she wasn’t fit to do so and endangering the lives of her comrades. Oh, how two-faced and awful she was!

That said, what I’d love to see, presumably in a longer game, is the cracks under the surface of these characters, where the NPCs were nuanced and had their own faults, weaknesses, and even redeeming qualities. We saw just a bit of that with Major Kiril Popov when Hannah inadvertently put him on the defensive by saying that Katya (who had been having secret meetings with him to report news from the home front) wanted to see him. Watching what the Major would have done with that loose end would have been really interesting.

“Nobody expects us to succeed. We are going to succeed anyway.” – I mention this above but I’m going to reiterate it here because it’s so important. Without hope of something better, and the chance (even if a slim one) to succeed, this game would quickly turn into torture porn. I love seeing character suffer, but it’s got to be for a reason. So, if you’re running this game, do what Adam did and make sure the 588 can do something awesome at night, even  if  (especially if) they then have to defend it in the morning!

I seriously gravitate towards angry women who have had something taken away from them (family, rights, property, status, etc) and are now ready to pick a fight with anyone that challenges them. It’s fine, I’m not against the archetype, but it’s getting somewhat stale for me. Merrowyn from our Kingmaker Pathfinder campaign, Vonk the Sculptor from Olive Garden Apocalypse World, Kalkara my PFS character modeled after Aeryn Su from Farscape, etc.

When I do play women that don’t have a chip on their shoulder it is usually because it’s a pre-generated character (Karolina in The Mines of Agnocost who wants to protect her allies, Emily from The Harvesters who didn’t want to anger her abusive boyfriend, or the very young, very lost woman I played in Last Train out of Warsaw). With most of those characters I felt a little bit at a loss, like I wasn’t playing them to their full potential. I like causing problems and dealing with the repercussions and I didn’t know how to get in trouble with those characters. Or when I did (like in the Harvesters) I didn’t know what to do except apologize over and over to the other characters for my mistake.

I think my favorites though are Karolina once she decided to save the dwarves of Free Town, Fornax who wanted to rescue her sister, and Grip that was trying to make her gang leader listen to reason and keep the gang together. The characters all had a real purpose in the fiction that they could push for. It wasn’t a distant ideal or a personal crisis to resolve, it was an external problem that they were capable of addressing even though in most cases (2 of 3 from this sample group) they fail.

Morgan Ellis pointed out that during the night there aren’t necessarily moves for every player to make. In our mission Katya rolled Wingman, Sveta rolled Wayfind, Masha rolled Wheels Down, and Liza rolled both Wheel’s Down and Attack Run.  I’m not sure if the assignments were different, if that would have worked out, or if it plays better with four players instead of five, but Morgan noted that Hanna didn’t actually take any action during the Night.

 

Actual Play – White Books at Go Play (6/27/2014)

IMG_20140619_092815_1_1Players: Dale Horstman, Chris Bennett, Jon Edwards, and Sean Nittner
System: White Books

You pretty much can’t find me in any better mood than I was when I played this game. Matt Klein had scheduled a Friday Session 0 so that we could play EVEN MORE GAMES.

I’d like to think the game started at the Honey Hole with a Bandit (slow smoked beef brisket sandwich), some awesome coleslaw, a glass of Two Beers Persnickety Pale Ale, and some of my favorite people on the planet.

We got back the Campion Hall (home of all my gaming this year) and broke up into two groups. Team Wizard: John, Allison, Karen, and Matt. Team Bears: Sean, Dale, Jon, and when he showed up Chris.

What’s this thing now

From the author Éric Nieudan

White Books is an homage to the original Dungeons & Dragons ‘white box’.

It’s a no-prep, GM-less roleplaying game for 3 to 5 players. Using tiny, A7-size pocketmod booklets and polyhedral dice, you will build a dungeon, create a band of heroes and give them a quest. It’s relatively freeform but uses some of the mechanics of the *World engine.

You can read more about the game by looking at the #whitebooks tag on Google+.

More deets here: http://quenouille.com/white-books-playtest/

My experience was that it felt very familiar in the basic rules like “describe a dangerous dungeon”, “be hard on the players, but be a fan of the heroes”, and “Always ask: what do you do?“.  This was AW principles rejiggered for old school dungeon crawling. Yep, my first reaction was nothing new here.

What are all these books then

Where white books distinguishes itself in the major is it’s rotating GMs. When the heroes are threatened by harm or danger, the player with playbook 1 (Dungeoneering) takes overs. As the Dungeoneer this meant I did a lot of the GMing since yeah, danger happens. The rules for adjudicating it were nice and straight forward (roll one die, usually a d6, but sometimes a d8 if it was your strength, and sometimes a d4 if it’s your weakness).

When combat came up though, referee duties were handed over to person with the Campaign Book, who had separate rules for resolving a fight.

Failure often meant a complication, twist, and or a condition. I was quite amused that the conditions included things like afraid right next to disemboweled.  Each of them having the same mechanical effect on the game, which is that your character is out of the game if all six are checked. They of course informed the fiction throughout though, and when Fellows was corrupted by a demon, we all knew it!

The minor distinction was the subtle two scenes per player separated by a tilt trick embedded in the game pacing mechanic. You don’t really realize you’re playing a Fiasco game until you realize that before you can go from the Exploration to the Enemy phase each player needs to describe a new room that the characters explore, each with their own challenges. Similarly, after the enemy phase begins, each player then has another set of moves and questions to enact. This doesn’t guarantee a rigid 2 scenes/rooms/enemy events per player, but it does set those up as a minimum, and changes the nature of the game as you progress.

The pacing also creates a sort of guaranteed “heroes journey”. Before they can defeat their nemesis the heroes must face certain perils such as a room full of unpleasant surprises, traps, and dangers, a room which reveals their flaws to them and others, and some vital treasure or clue that will assist them in defeating the enemy. Triggering those challenges based on when the referee roll rotated did provide a natural transition, but it was often awkward in play (see thoughts below).

IMG_2701

Our characters

Bastard John (Sean) was an impatient illusionist that tricked everyone by offering them their hearts desires. He avoided danger himself but sought the love the the wizard’s apprentice Yassaril. His great fear was that anyone would see his true form, a disfigured and decrepit old man. I named him that to fuck with Jon, John, and to poke fun at Game of Thrones.  Good times.

Polonius (Chris) was an light-hearted assassin who wielded a poison blade and was afraid of fire. Polinius was the one to betray us, sending his follower to kill the Wizard we were trying to save, and stealing away with something (can’t remember if it was the treasure, Yassaril, the demon bow, or all three).

Fellows (Dale) was the cursed bard who has before even entering the dungeon been possessed by a demon.  He had incredible powers of perception and could often identify Bastard John’s illusions for what they were. In the dungeon he was dumbfounded by room of ice collapsing around him, and further corrupted when fighting demon nights.

Arrowsmith (Jon) the fierce thief wielded a demon bow Chapel made of human bone, wrapped in muscle, sinew and flesh that never missed a target it wanted to hit. The bow bound Chapel within it, but the he was also king of the demons that had taken over the wizard’s tower and they wanted him back. We weren’t really sure how the king felt about that. Arrowsmith was always incredibly careful with his accuracy, since a single grazing blow would be the death of him (he was a hemophiliac).

The Dungeon

Chapel Home, A wizards tower on crater lake filled with creatures he experimented on (biological corruption) that had been taken over by a council of demons and now the wizard was locked in a state of torpor.

Traveling into the dungeon we risked demon possession (hint! already got some of that), being corrupted by the same magics that the wizard used in his experiments, and triggering an earthquake that would unleash a volcano under the crater.

Woah, that was a lot of bad shit.

To prepare for it we brought a sacred raiment that would protect one of us (Polonius) from possession, a map of the fortress and four companions.

  • Yassaril, the wizards appretice that showed us the way to the tower.
  • Gorum, the barbarian mercenary in it for gold so he could return to the clan of the north triumphant
  • Chapel, the demon king bound into flesh and bone in the form of a bow.
  • Glon, the dwarf seeking revenge on the wizard for killing his brother.

Inside we also collected treasures

  • Sea God’s Trident – Pried from the broken stone fingers of the giant statue that adorned the wizards’ ante room. The haft was made of dragon bone, the tines of mithril.
  • Demon Sphere – A sphere that could contain a demon within in and while help the owner could force the demon to do his bidding.

Exploration Phase

Here’s what we found as we explored the dungeon:

Chapel Home

A legend for those who can’t tell our adventures from this amazing map:

Outside the tower was a crumbling bridge over a lake filled with three eyed sharks that thirsted for blood. Arrowsmith nimbly made it across but when Gorem tried, he fell and was hanging precariously from the ledge. Fellows cast a spell of serenity and calmed the beasts allowing the rest of us to pass by walking over their heads and backs across the lake.

The Ante room was filled with two giant statues of elder gods locked in combat. One had barbed claws, the other wielded the Sea Gods Trident (see treasure we nabbed above). The were covered by a swarm of scarabs which flew into our heroes and with a touch, burned their skin.

A sloping passage down to the Ice Prison where the wizard was locked in torpor. Upon entering the room began to collapse but not before Glon could leap down and strike the death blow against the wizard. His death however ended destroyed what was left of his control on the tower and the demon knights of Chapel Home attacks us. There were defeated however. One lead into the collapsing chamber by an illusion, the other captured in the demon sphere.

The final room was the square obsidian room of truth, where all secrets were revealed. Bastard John, knowing that his companions could not love someone as ugly and disfigured as himself, turned their ire on Fellows, who we could all see was possessed by a demon. Against Arrowsmith’s will, his bow pulled back an arrow and let it fly right for him!

Enemy Phase

We just barely started this, skipping to it because Bastard John had betrayed the group.  We realized that our confused live quadrangle with Yassaril was what was turning us against each other, and that Polonius was our ultimate traitor, planning to make off with the treasure and leave us all to die in the volcano’s fiery embrace!

Thoughts on the game

All the rules taken in one book would have been find, but the moves that triggered passing the referee to another player were awkward and sometimes detrimental to the story. Some examples:

  • When Fellows the Cleric played by Dale cast a spell, Dale (who had The Book of Wizardry) took over and was now refereeing for himself. Awkward. Suggestion to resolve: Don’t make a spell-casting class available to characters with the Book of Wizardry. Problem. That solution doesn’t work for other books. Anyone can be put in danger (although I really tried to avoid it myself so I wasn’t in the same situation), anyone can go into combat, etc.
  • When Chris who had the Book of Shadows was describing a new room that we were discovering he had this move: When one hero guides, explores or goes ahead, have that player roll a die.  Sean (me) rolled and got a 5, which meant I was now the referee. So I took over as referee to describe the room, but Chris had already started, and was moving towards his his “new room” description that I cut off and replaced by my “new room” description. Suggestion: Don’t have a die result trigger passing of the referee screen. Let it stay until the focus changes.
  • At various times we bumped into the “enemy rules” before the exploration phase was complete. For instance, we had a betrayal in the party. By the rules it wasn’t ready for this to happen, but we steamrolled over them and did it anyway. We didn’t play past that scene so I’m not sure what effect that would have on the rest of the game, but I got the distinct impression that we broke it.

Based on those troubles, I’m not sure what benefit the game gets from having rotating GMs. The tools (moves, questions, and duties) provided are all great, but they are awkward in transition. I’m a fan of the collaborative dungeon/challenge building and the distributed questions, but shifting narrators (at least at the times we did) wasn’t conducive to playing a cohesive game.

I think the scene framing would be easier with a single referee as well, even if the details continued to be distributed.

I had a lot of fun playing, in some cases because of the rules (the prompts for classic hero encounters) and in some cases in spite of them (playing out enemy moves during the encounter phase, opting to smooth over moves that didn’t support the fiction.

Actual Play – Anima Prime at GPNW (6/30/2013)

Anima Prime CoverGM: Christian Griffen
Players: Sean Nittner, Jackson Tegu, Karen Twelves, John Aegard, and Max Hervieux
System: Anima Prime

Jackson is the best.

Jackson is the best for many reasons. One of them was getting me and Karen into this Anima Prime game. I had never played before, so it was a real treat to have Christian (the author) run a game for us. He told us Anima Prime is a game of Steambots and Megaswords, which you know, pretty much had me roped in from the start!

From the website: Anima Prime is a fast-paced, spontaneous roleplaying game inspired by the Final Fantasy series of video games as well as Avatar: The Last Airbender and other animated shows and movies.

Background

Christian gave us a bit of back story about the setting. Specifically about the demon invasion into our world and the occupation by a foreign people. That mixed the the default pan-Asian, Final Fantasy-esk, Exalted setting , and I was ready for…

Character Creation

Sean – I wanted to play with some mad kung fu, and opted for a character with a grudge. Ebon Star was a dragon tatoo monk and the last of his kind. His family the Ebon dragons were slain by the demons. His kung fu was strong, and when charged up he would turn into a black dragon and breath fire on his foes.

John – Plague Child was wisp-like creature, a child with kabuki face paint and a cloak made of gossamer shadow. She was touched by the underworld and mastered necromatic powers. For all that though, she was the most moral of all of us all, with a keen understanding of the value of life.

Karen – Played a sword for hire and helper of lost causes. Batu, the sand child could bend wind to her will and had some ninja-assassin mojo to boot. She dressed in dessert garb and was still new-ish to our lands.

Max – Slyte was a half-demon mechanic that both built and operated giant steambots. He had set up shop in the village and tried to keep to himself, but his ancestry couldn’t be hidden, and some (like Ebon Star) hated him for it.

Jackson – Made a chalk dancer named Tara. She used her chalk magic to animate things, slip into pocket dimensions, and all of those fun things. More importantly though she took care of the lost and wayward. Mostly cats but also some of us.

Connecting them

As soon as we had introduced our character, we started making connections between them. Two hubs formed that we attached ourselves too.

Tara – As she provided for those in need Tara had started delivering food and leaving it on the window of Batu’s cottage. Though they didn’t speak about it, Batu also helped Tara when she needed it. Also, since Ebon Star had lost his job as a fry cook (excellent cook, bad temper), he was sleeping on Tara’s porch and cooking for her.

Slyte – Plague Child had  taken an interest in Slyte, for they were both of another world, and sometimes misunderstood. Slyte felt a paternal bond with the small creature and wanted to help her if he could. Ebon Star, who had lost his family to the demons, however, hated Slyte because of his heritage.

I dug that we did this. Not only did it create bonds between the characters but it also gave them some normalcy. You know, what do you do when you’re not fighting with steambots and megaswords? How do you get along in normal society?

Fish Day

If I hadn’t already settled on a patter of “[Game Name] at GPNW (Date)” for my post titles, I’d have totally called this game Fish Day.

Christian set the scene. A remote mountain village overlooking a great lake. In that lake stood five titanic pillars filled with a current of upward bound sand. Atop those five pillars and powered by the earth anima funneled through them was a great gate, that sealed a border between our world and the demon dimension.

However, none of that epicness was important today, because today was the first day of the fish season… Fish Day!

Christian started us off with a character scene, which has two great effects. In the fiction, it further draws our characters together, revealing things about them and sets up future conflicts. Mechanically, it grants your character a resource to tap later when they need inspiration (allowing failed dice to be re-rolled).

Tara and Batu were walking through the market looking for a lost cat named Fiona. As neither of them had any real lost-cast-finding skills, they were mostly walking through stalls calling “here kitty-kitty-kitty” and looking likely hiding spots.

Ebon Star was carrying a bag of groceries when a group of muscled fishermen carried a gigantic fish through the market streets. One of them bumped into Ebon and his grocery bag spilled. A single onion rolled out of it and into a merchants stall… that of Slyte. As Star entered to retrieve his lost onion the tension between the two was palpable, and withing moments they broke out into arguments and accusations. Plague Child, who had been there all along observing, stepped in to calm the raged dragon, but this was just a set up for a gloriously emo anime teen moment.

Slyle: “I have no choice about who my parents are -”

Ebon Star: “Well at least you HAVE PARENTS!”

Hah, that was so much fun. And felt so right in that setting.

The Pillar Cracks

There was a rumble in the earth, which is normal enough, but then we all heard a great cracking sound, which certainly wasn’t, and looked over to see one of the great five pillars split open and the great funnel of sand that had poured into the gate to fuel it was now spraying the earth anima out into the sea… weakening the gate.

There was a shout “look over there” as the whole village turned to watch a giant fireball sail out of the gate and into the side of the village. Also, pouring out of the gate was a black cloud… of bats!

Fight!

This is when Christian explained the conflict mechanics. And they are awesome. Rather than step through each step (for that I’d suggest you picking up a copy of Anima Prime) here are some of the highlights

Achievements – In a given fight there is more at stake then just defeating the bad guy. People on are danger, buildings will burn down, and lost cats must be found! This is demonstrated by having certain achievements that must be made before the fight is over. Any that are left off will be lost when the fight is done. The bad guys of course want to focus on beating you up, so deciding what to tackle isn’t always an easy choice. I love this because it allows our larger-than-life heroes to do cool things without necessarily doing violence. Initially Christian just had putting out the fire and saving the villagers as achievements, but since clearly we’d all grown attached to Fiona in our character scene, she was added to the list.

Let me show you my kung fu – The other thing I liked is that in order to attack (or complete achievements) you had to first build up “strike” dice. This could be done by using your skills and action dice to make some kind of “getting ready to strike” maneuver. Now, that could certainty be physically getting into position, reading your bow and taking aim, or any other kind of practical action. But it could also be yelling a monologue at your enemy, performing a kata, or getting really angry and pounding your fist into the earth. I love this because it encourages, nay, mandates flash action to build up to a big move.

Passions – Passions are not strictly a function of fight, but it’s where they came out. Passions allow your characters to charge up (gaining strike and charge dice) based on conditions. Fighting their enemies, saving people, etc. I really like that there is mechanical reinforcement to play to your archetype!

Up up down down left right left right B A start – I super did the way “combos” are built in this game. I really wanted a character that could “charge up” and turn into a dragon when delivering his finishing blow. That actually works really well in Anima Prime. I didn’t do it in the game, but that was mostly because we were a little too bad ass and time was running short. Had the bad guys been more numerous or we not kick so much ass, I’m confident I could have built up my charge pool to be rolling like a 47,000 dice using my Force Attack, Blaze, MegaUltraSuperBarbaraStreisand attack.

Simple Resolutions – Several of us had powers that gave opponents conditions like Weakness or Blindness. Spend the charge dice and boom they take the condition. Done. Simple. Fast. Fun.

Resolution

During the fight Plague Child continued to chastise Ebon Star for his anger towards Slyte, and when the Mecha Armor Wearing Half Demon knocked the Fire Tiger out of this plane of existence, even Star has to concede that he was “alright”.

We wrapped with some cute, yay we saved the world and now it’s time to eat moments.

Batu was happy that she saved the kitty Fiona, but now it would leave her alone!

Thoughts on the game

I think Anima Prime could be my replacement for Exalted. Not that a run a lot of it now, but if I did, I’d use this (as opposed to the Wushu/Exalted hack Wuxalted that I’ve used in the past).

Jackson did this amazing thing that I totally forgot about in Anime, but that made perfect sense the moment he did it. In one reality Tara was screaming at the villagers to run and get to safety. In another reality Tara, this time drawn incredibly comically was yelling “Pickle race today. First one into the temple wins a pickle”. Yay, how cool is that?

 

 

 

Actual Play – Dread at GPNW (6/30/2013)

dreadGM: Dale Horstman
Players: Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner, Jennifer Lyseng, Adrienne Mueller, Christoph Sapinsky, and Lisa Sapinsky.
System: Dread

In the morning we didn’t have anything planned. We had a small huddle with folks and Dale offered to run Dread for up to six players. Karen and I were game, so we sent Dale into the donut to get a few more players. BOOM! In seconds we had a full game!

I’m a fan of Dread. More of playing than of GMing (I’ve actually never run, but see thoughts below), specifically because the fact that any person taking a dangerous action make everything more dangerous for everyone else.  And, because even if the tower looks steady, you really never know when it’s going to fall.

Questions

Dale started off handing us the standard format questionnaires to define our characters. We were all on a cruise ship, for various reasons. The questions we’re about that (at least mine weren’t), they were about how messed up our lives were before we got on the ship.

We had a family, including my character, his wife, and their daughter. Additionally we had a corporate executive taking a work-vacation (emphasis on work), the creepy guy obsessed with serial killers and trying to pick up on chicks, and the probably drunk too much looking for love lady. A motley crew for sure, but that’s exactly what you want to have wake up and find a…

Zombie Invasion

The ship had left port last night and in the morning, getting ready to take her morning run, Sam (Christoph’s character) spotted to bodies in the hallway, and a man lumbering towards her. It was on!

Our characters, led by Richard “Don’t Call me Dick” (Jennifer’s character) pretty quickly came to the conclusion that OH MY GOD, THESE ARE ZOMBIES.

Some great highlights of the game for me were…

Jonathan (my character) and Sam, who were teetering on the edge of divorce, getting into marital spats (mostly over their daughter), while in the middle of running for their lives.

The not quite cute, but kind of cute, romance that started to brew between Don’t-Call-Me-Dick and Adrienne’s character during all the madness.

Realizing, fuck it, getting shot in this game is a good idea. You can’t die till the tower falls but injuries and impairments might make for more future pulls, so have at!

Losing Sam (the tower fell) as she valiantly defended the rest of us with a fire hose… and later finding the divorce papers in my pocket (which I brought with me on the cruise) signed by her. That was a heart-breaker.

IMG_1049

Taking out the helicopter (yeah, a helicopter was sent to contain us) with a mixture of shotguns (taken from the skeet shooting range) and skeets!

Doing the “zombie walk” to cross a deck filled with them unnoticed.

Being afraid of the dark. Always a nice touch in a horror game.

Adrienne’s character’s turquoise dress over her sunburned skin. It was such a vivid image for me. This bright color on top of her lobster colored skin. She had fallen asleep in it the night before, and so was wearing it throughout the game. Such an awesome detail.

Sophia (Karen’s character) and her obsession with getting work done, and being efficient. Karen plays these characters really well. They don’t come off as worrywarts or sticklers, they come off as people who have a lot of VERY HIGH PRIORITY THINGS TO DO.

Thoughts on the game

Running a three hour game (as a I saw on Saturday) is tough. The questionnaires still take plenty of time to fill out and then it takes some time for the players to introduce their characters. End result is there isn’t a ton of time to get the story in. Dale handled this constraint pretty well but leaping us right into the threat. We had one flashback to the night before (when things were normal) and then started our game with Zombies eating our brains.

I think it was a good call for the time allowed, but I would have liked some lead up if we could have afforded it. Something to hint at what was wrong (did we pick up a strange package at the last port, did some of the people who went on land while we were docked come back looking ill, etc) and well as a bit of discovery during the adventure itself (why were unmarked helicopters telling us to stay put and firing machine guns at us when we didn’t?).

Dread’s resolution does this thing, which I like as a player, but troubles me as a GM. Pulls happen at the speed of players trying to do things. Now, sometimes they don’t have much choice. “The Zombie is coming down the hall and is going to eat your brains” is a prompt that is almost certain to provoke an action from the player, and thus potentially trigger a pull. The more pulls that happen, the more dangerous everything becomes, until of course the  tower falls, in which case you have a momentary reprieve. But my beef is in the granularity. There are times in a game where I might take a roll to the dice, but the stakes might (no matter how badly the roll is) be dire. Dread has no “direness” dial. Anything that isn’t trivial (no pull required) could cause you to die (or be taken out of the game, or whatever). It’s a little rough for me to get my head around, because while I really like the idea that seriously bad things happen in a horror game, I don’t want those bad things (as a GM that is) to categorically always include death.

I’d like to see questionnaires having more impact on the game. They are our character sheet, and therefor should be more than just hints at how to play our character, that stuff should matter, and to matter it should come up in game. In part I realize there was only so much plumbing of our character’s depths that we could do in such a short slot, but I’ve seen this happen before in other Dread games as well. The questions are answered but few if any have significance. I’d like to see a game with a) fewer questions and b) more meaning associated with the answers. I’d say something along the lines of each answer poses a problem for your character. Once you’ve address and resolved the problem in game, you check off that question and get a free pull in the future. That might disturb the balance of the game too much, but I’d like to see those questions do more.

Dale is a very welcoming GM. He’s a friendly guy so I think that comes naturally, but it’s worth noting that when you’re planing a horror game, it’s nice to have friendly face describing the horrific things happening to you.

Spotlight management was also done really well. I was super glad to see all six of the characters get their moments in the sun. Or in some cases the unforgiving depths of the sea.

Playing on a cruise ship at sea is awesome. Good call!

Actual Play – Gamma Patrol Pocket Edition at GPNW (6/29/2013)

Gamma_PatrolFacilitator: Seth
Players: Me, Seth, Dan, Devon, Jonathan, and another gentleman whose name I have forgotten.
System: Danger Patrol Pocket Edition
Variant: Gamma World Setting

We were wildly divergent people, protected an unknown village from wildly divergent threats.

Thoughts on this game

I don’t really get Gamma World at all. I haven’t played in the setting before, so I was new to it, but it just seemed all over the place on the gonzometer. There was some apocalypse 1000 years ago and mutants, aliens, and robots have cropped up and everything is crazy. I could never seem to get my barrings in the setting.

The system as presented didn’t give us any hooks into each other, into our adversaries, or into the village we were protecting. So, I kept wondering why we were doing anything that we were doing.

I left the game feeling frustrated because I couldn’t invest in anything. There was a general lack of role-playing (most of what we did was describing events in the world “So my guy uses his laser eyes to blow up the leviathan” followed by “Okay, leviathan bits are everywhere” rather than much in character dialog or exploration). Combine that with a pretty alien setting and I just couldn’t get into it. I left feeling like I had been a pretty poor contributor.

Of note I think Seth was a great facilitator and was clearly trying to fill in all these gaps as we went along. He was the one pushing for more story and more connective bits between the characters.

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