Actual Play – Night Forest (9/3/2017)

Facilitator: Ross Cowman
Players: Kristin Firth, Kitty Stoholski, Alex Roberts, and more wonderful people.
System: Night Forest

Note: I fell way behind on my AP reports so these are written many moons later based off my notes. The accuracy will likely vary greatly! Also, this is just transcribed from my notes. Things may be out of order!

From the product page (hint, you should buy this game):

Night Forest is a ritual game where you and your friends play memories on a journey of self-discovery; moving through the forest by candlelight and forming new connections with each encounter.

Night Forest is a tool that brings people together through the interplay of histories and present experiences, weaving a beautiful web. As we play we cultivate skills of listening, sharing and creating safe community.

I both hear and told a story about being a teenager listening to music. I heard about people’s connections with their families and shared stories of my dad, who I still miss very much. And amazingly I didn’t fall down or break anything (it was very dark and the ground uneven and slippery near the stream). It was beautiful.

Picture of the fire late at night (though not from our game)


Actual Play – A bitter Inheritance (9/3/2017)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Alex Roberts, Kristin Firth, Rachel E.S. Walton, John Staropoulos, Laura Simpson, Clio Yun-su Davis, Gavin White, Jason Morningstar, and Shervyn von Hoerl
System: Inheritance

Many thanks to Scott Morningstar for building a pyre for us to send Grandfather away on!

This game was overwhelming and inspiring to watch, and delightful to facilitate. The passion brought by each of the players and the commitment they had to their character’s values and fears was amazing. Part of that was a deep interrogation of what those values where, where they came from, and if they still held true even when confronted with violence against those we love and respect.

Spectacular Moments

I’m writing this AP report several months after the game, so mostly I just remember snippets. Here were some of the highlights that linger:

Fulla (Kristin) ferociously protecting the civility of her hearth and home. Inviting who she chose to the table and suffering no objections to her decision.

Tyr (Jason) bitterly fishing out the prayer stick that Daxo (Alex) cast into grandfathers Fire. Alex’s response of confusion and disgust with his pettiness.

Ansgar (John), knowing he would be scoffed for being a man of the cloth, but insisting on following his dedication to Thorvald and his family, and doing so compassionately in the face of hostility.

Gefjon (Clio) employing her own knowledge of runes and divination to cast fortunes, and terrifying everyone with her ill omens and owning the voice of Odin.

Thorvald (Rachel) and Ansgar having a late night private scene as Thorvald asks for Ansgar’s advice but can’t hear it. The possibilities in front of him, and the content of the will, which Ansgar hints at, suggest he betray everything that he’s believed, and yet his old beliefs aren’t helping guide him now either.

Rán (Gavin) weeping at the loss of her past love, and at the sight of all her prospects washing away, meanwhile consoled by Gefyon, who promised all would be well.

Gefjon trying to make a helpful gesture to Daxo, that she would heal him, but him misunderstanding and slaying her. Tyr and Ansgar (Shervyn) arriving and terrible violence erupting. So much death.

Ring (Laura) trying to hard to be earnest, be a good soon, go on adventures, and court Rán, and being helpless to stop all of that falling apart.

Such a great game!

Pictures from the Game


Actual Play – Mars 244: The Liberation of Sisyphus (9/2/2017)

GM: Rachel E.S. Walton
Players: Ajit George, Sean Nittner, Shawn Roske
System: Mars 244: The Liberation of Sisyphus

Note: I fell way behind on my AP reports so these are written many moons later based off my notes. The accuracy will likely vary greatly! Also, this is just transcribed from my notes. Things may be out of order!

Rachel has made a great game, full of complex characters and an inexorable doom. I had such a good time participating in it all unfolding!

Ajit and I, to unsurprisingly were at each other’s throats for most of the game, but we were rarely fighting about our goals, but our means to achieve them, which causes us to bounce back and forth between adversity and collaboration, each winning the over a little bit at at time. Shawn was going for a very tragic story of an android dying and coming to grips with his unforeseen mortality, as we began to take in what it would mean to lose him.

Actual Play – Bubblegumshoe (9/3/2017)

GM: Shervyn von Hoerl
Players: Stras Acimovic, Banana Chan, Dev Purkayastha, Sean Nittner
System: Bubblegumshoe

Note: I fell way behind on my AP reports so these are written many moons later based off my notes. The accuracy will likely vary greatly! Also, this is just transcribed from my notes. Things may be out of order!

I had wanted to play BGS for a while, in part because I’m fond of the genre, in part because Lisa, Emily, and Ken make amazing games, and in part because it seems smart for me to play everything Evil Hat publishes, at least once!

Shervyn provided a stupendous first experience. Not only did the characters we encounter have reasons to cover up their actions, deceive us, and justify their atrocities, but the mystery itself was extremely poignant to our current political climate.

I played Alexandra Hinojosa (Alex), a honor society student and cheerleader. The kid who had it all except that she was hiding from everyone that she had an abortion at the end of last year. The combination of her fears and shame regarding that, as well as the fact that making her appointment meant she left a friend (Stras’ character) on her own in a dangerous situation (facing bullies she promised to help her confront) and that her clueless ex-boyfriend (played by Banana) was, well, clueless, meant the characters already had some very strong (and strained) ties to each other at the start of the game.

As it turns out, our collective past also dovetailed into the mystery at hand, which made it all the more personal to us.

Everyone in the game was great, and though I didn’t start with a strong connection to Dev’s character, by the end we were all breaking in principles’s offices and snooping on private church meetings together!

Thanks to Shervyn for running this game where we got to put some true villains behind bars!


Actual Play – The Plastic Cup (9/2/2017)

GM: Lizzie Stark
Players: Alex Roberts, Kristin Firth, Gavin White, James Stuart, Fiona Heckscher, Liz Gorinsky, Sarah Williams, Karen Twelves, Ross Cowman, Andy Morales Coto, and many other wonderful relatives.
System: The Plastic Cup, by Juhana Pettersson.

Synopsis: The participants are an extended family coming together to divide an inheritance left behind by an old great-aunt. The game uses ceramic coffee cups as the principal means of expression for the players: they shatter the cups on the ground. There are 200 cups, ten for each player.

Yep, we had 200 coffee cups, one list of estate items, and twenty family members (and in my case, just the yogo instructor of family members) arguing over who should get what.

My pinnacle moment in the game was when the executor of the will got so flustered by his family that he gave me the list of items because to give out in his stead. Being the person who got to tell everyone what they should do and have them all suck up to me was my goal, so in that regard the character was very successful.

But the game wasn’t about that. It was about our weird attachment to material things and how they serve as stand ins for status or as symbols of our relationships with others. And sometimes how the symbol can become more important than the thing it represents.

The Cups

And of course there were the cups, 200 pristine coffee cups that any one could pick up and shatter on the ground any time their character felt a strong emotion. This was an entirely meta action, it didn’t happen in the fiction, and was just a way to show that our characters were feeling something strongly (good or bad). Here’s a few shots of the destruction.

Not the first to play this game?

Later during the weekend, I was exploring the shed and I found this. It appears we’re the first one to shatter some ceramics.

This game was a delight to play. The adrenaline rush of breaking all those cups was palpable and the petty squabbles were amazing. My favorite moment was when Alex was ranting (I think about her derelict son played by Jason) and Ross just kept handing her cups which she would smash. The rapid fire succession of cups shattering was an fantastic display of her anger in the moment!


Actual Play – My Daughter, Queen of France (9/1/2017)

Shakespeare: Ross Cowman
The Players: Jason Morninstar, Lizzie Stark, Gavin White, Kristin Firth, and Sean Nittner
SystemMy Daughter, Queen of France, by Daniel Wood

My Daughter, the Queen of France is a game about what it means to grow apart from the things you have made, and the efforts and contortions we go through to reconcile ourselves to that inevitable division. – Game introduction.

My Daughter, the Queen of France, is about Shakespeare’s inability to accept that his daughter, and everyone else for that matter, think he’s a jerk.  – Rosencrantz (as played by Sean)

My memory of the game (from many moons lather)

This was a delightful game where I got to play a character who didn’t know what he was doing as a cover for me, Sean, not being sure I knew what I was doing. It was Remarkable.

The premise of the game is that Shakespeare’s daughter (we named her Emily) has estranged her father, and he’s trying to figure out why, by directing an impromptu play to act out all the events that led up to their fall out.

Ross did an amazing job acting as Shakespeare and facilitating the game. Jason, Lizzie, Kristin, and Gavin did a remarkable jobs playing out modern day interpretations of Nick Bottom, Lady Macbeth, Tatiana, and Laertes (if I’m remembering correctly) begrudgingly playing through the scenes Bill kept running them through, landing on a few lines that stuck:

“Emily, it’s so great to see you dressed up like a tiger.”

“We’ll work on a better match once you’ve worked through your daddy issues!”

“I’m dating your daughter… too.”

“Shouldn’t have said that either”

“Especially love for a daughter whose decision you approve of.”

“A love worth loving.”

“I’m so confused father.”

“I need to get better advice.”


Actual Play – The Shining Coast (9/7/2015)

torchbearer-rpgGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Kristin Firth, Stras Acimovic, Shervyn von Hoerl, and Keith Stetson
System: Torchbearer (playtesting Journey rules)

Every since I got my hand on these I wanted to test the journey rules for Torchbearer. Not only because I like playtesting Torchbearer, but also because the journey rules might have direct application to Stone Dragon Mountain.

Thought the journey rules are meant to be a supplemental to existing adventures, for the sake of testing them out I made an adventure based solely on travel called The Shining Coast.

I had been pitching Torchbearer all con long but it seems fitting that on the last day, when people were all a bit exhausted themselves that brave (and foolish) adventurers would strap on their packs and set out for a trek, as we would all be making one ourselves soon enough.

Intro to the game

Shervyn and Keith were both familiar with Torchbearer but (if I recall correctly) hadn’t played much of it. Stras and Kristin had heard of it but didn’t know too much about the specifics. We were all a little frazzled and I didn’t want to spend much of our short time together going over rules, so I started off just by introducing the Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals (which we didn’t write down until after the adventure questions were answered).

In play we brought skills, abilities, traits, checks, wises, and conditions into play. This is my preferred method of teaching the mechanics, but I do worry that players get a bit short changed on the early rolls (and our first one was a Pathfinder Ob 4 roll, ouch).

We introduced inventory when that became relevant, but once that happened the game of “what can I carry” and “what do you mean I can’t wear my cloak and my backpack and my armor at the same time?” began.

Our Shining Coast (adventure set up).

What burden do you bear? What are you carrying, and why is it so important that it must arrive?

  • A prisoner. What crime have they committed? What judgment will they receive?

A witch that has been possessed by a demon (perhaps the only reason she is a witch). She is to be taken to Widow’s Peak, where the demon can be exorcised and the witch can be drowned then burned. She is bound in iron and cannot use her magic, but she is still very dangerous.

What haunts your sleep? Why must you delivery be made now? And with such haste?

  • Unstable parcel. What threatens the integrity of your parcel? What must you do to sustain it?

If the witch dies, the demon will be set free to possess another. She must be fed blood regularly to keep her alive. Goats are tethered to the mule drawn wagon that holds her cage, but they will not be enough. The adventurers will have to hunt or find “other ways” to sustain her.

What lies ahead? The Shining Coast is riddled with dangers, even overland. What challenge do you know will greet you?

  • Natural Disasters. What terrible weather has just passed through? How has it blocked your way?

It is late Autumn and one of the fabled Shining Storms has just passed through. They sometimes roll in from the sea. Like a normal storms but filled with occasional cinders that can destroy homes and burn down fields. Reports that the North Bridge, which they must pass over or enter the Warlords Gulch, has been damaged by the storm. An inauspicious event to be sure.

Note to GM
Populate the map with details as needed. Mark locations and time to travel between them. Hand it off to the players do the same. Are there sufficient troubles ahead? If not, keep asking questions until they are!

We agreed this would be a long journey. Two weeks. Eight days out there is a small hamlet called Dosh, not much bigger than Eagle’s Crest. From there it was another six days to Widows Peak, assuming they made good timing. Also, I didn’t tell this to the players, but I decided that the path had been wash out during the storm and a short ways out of town, they would hand to either find it again, or go forging into the wild on their own.

Setting out

At first I was a bit resistant to “giving” the player a wagon, but realized it was just going to be delicious source of problems later on.  So sure, why not. I called it a cart [Resources Ob 3 (already paid for), 15 inventory slots (nine of those taken by the witch’s cage), travels 15 miles a day over roads or hard, flat terrain]. Three of the remaining six free inventory slots were filled with hay to feed the goats.

Complications. I then rolled 2d6 to determine the number of complications on the first leg (8 days) journey. I got a 4 so they would only have one complication. Lucky them! I noodled a few ideas considering either the witch herself breaking free, or raiders from Warlord’s gulch, but didn’t decide (I picked raider) until a bit longer into the game when it was clear they weren’t taking their eyes off the witch and giving her some special way out when her magic was contained and she was physically bound in a cage didn’t feel like it was following the fiction. Though I certainly hinted at it a lot!

Base Fatigue. Since they were traveling in autumn, I set the base fatigue at 2. This (modified by other events and weather as they travel) would be the Ob of the Heath test they would have to make when arriving in Dosh.

Weather. I started off day one and rolled Blustery Winds! [Fatigue Ob bumped up to 3]

Blustery Winds

Turn by Turn

Turn 1 – Not far out of Eagle’s Crest, after it had gone inland far enough the coast could be heard but not seen the road grew fainter and fainter due to infrequent travel. After the last Shining Storm, the light tread formed by the occasional wagon wheel be came indistinct from the scrub. Soon they saw nothing but deer trails winding this way and that. [Pathfinder test Ob 4, Destination nearby (the rest of the road), ovegrown or washed out]. After some dice monger and complaining (I told them complaining about RPG rules was only a Ob 1 Peasant test if any of them wanted to beginner’s luck it), Karolina failed the test, and the whole of them were lost in the rhododendrons and other scrub brush. [Twist]

Turn 2 – Knowing the coat was basically “that way” they continued moving, convinced the would come upon a landmark that would reset their bearings. After some time they came up a fast moving creek bed, the water no deeper than a halfling. When they arrived the mule stopped, began to drink, and then just stopped, with no apparent intention of crossing. The could also tell that the creek bed was uneven enough that even if the mule got moving the cart might easily tip over. Beren, ever crafty took both his rope and Gerald’s fastened them to each side of the wagon, such that the adventurers could walk along side it holding the ropes to keep it steady [Ob 2 Carpentry, building materials, covered by Dwarven Crafting nature. Success!]

Turn 3 – Wagon secured, now they just needed to get that stubborn mule to move. The witch offered to aid in coaxing the mule to move, but nobody wanted to hear from her. Taliel, instead crossed the creek herself and from the other side began singing an enchanting elvish verse about journeys home. The mule, ensorcelled by Taliels ethereal beauty perked up and slowly made its way across the creek so that it could be closer to her presence. [Peasant OB 2, herding plus a factor for the blustery winds. Success!].

Good idea – The creek found they were able to make their way back to the coast and get back on the trail.

Turn 4 – As the day passed and night was coming close, the party worked together to find a safe camp site with protection from the elements. [Survivalist Ob 2, typical camp with “shelter” amenity. Success!]. Everyone was Hungry and Thirsty.

Instinct – Camp made Karolina and Beren set off to hunting for dinner. [Hunter Ob 2, one portion of game, forest and fields. Success!]

Instinct – Nearly alone with the witch Taliel spoke with hear to learn of her possession and how the demon could be contained if she dies. The demon spoke for itself, and told her that there was another way to contain it it. Merely give the witch as kiss on the lips and then it would pass from her to Taliel, where she could keep it safe and secure, and the witch would not longer be a danger. [Lore Master Ob 3, magical phenomenon. Success!]

Instinct – Gerald took the rabbit Karolina and Beren brought back and cooked a find supper. Someone drained the rabbits blood into a bowl and slid it into the witch’s cage. [Cooking Ob 3, game for the whole party. I can’t remember the outcome, it I think was a failure with a condition, but if you were in the game and remember, let me know].

That night, lights moving far to the west could be seen. A ship out at sea, coming closer to the coast.

The next day passed without incident, and besides the usual hunting and cooking (which I didn’t have them roll for, see below) little transpired. The did see the great ship off on the distance rising and dipping with the waves. As it go closer they saw it rise up and then descend with a great crash. The ship did not rise again.

That night torches were seen in the east moving towards them.

Turn 5 – Fearful of the raiders from Warlord’s gulch, Gerald rounded up bushes and other coverings to cover the wagon, so it could be hidden from the raiders [Scavenging. Ob and result not recorded, but it happend!]

Turn 6 – The adventurers moved away from their own camp site but left Taliel and Gerlald behind, hiding in the bushes. [Scout vs. Scout. Success!] Taliel saw the raiders sneak up on the camp, and then, when they found it unoccupied, quickly decided to make use it themselves, without to much concern about who was using it before them. The spoke of the spoils they would find on the shores and they and that they had best move fast to get there before anyone else.

Turn 7 – After the raiders were settled in and went to bed, only one guard was left on watch. Gerald led the group to quietly sneak up on him. [Scout vs. Scout test. Success!]

Turn 8 – Murdered happened [As he was unaware I made this a simple Fighter test rather than a conflict]. The guard was murdered, the throats of the rest of the raiders were slit, and what good they could take were loaded on the wagon. This was hungry and thirsty work!

Another two days passed and the weather continued to be Blustery Winds [Fatigue: 4].

Turn 9 – At night again, while Taliel medidated the demon wormed it’s way into her dreams. offering every earthly desire. Love, wealth, fame, knowledge, power, success. Anything the elf could desire. Simply wake up, kill her allies in their sleep and all the power would her hers. A desperate adventurer she might be, Taliel was not that desperate… yet [Will versus test. Success!]

On the seventh day, the wind broke and it was Clear and Cool [Fatigue: 3]

Clear and Cool

Turn 10 – The adventurers arrived at the North Bridge to find the damage was worse than they had heard. Two chains ran across the length of the bridge, with wooden boards fastened between then. Nearly in the center of the bridge the wooden boards were blasted away leaving the chains exposed and swaying in the wind. Across the way two milk farmers stood with their cow, looking at the bridge in awe and confusion. The argued about whether or not to go east to where the river could be passed but they would be close to warlord’s gulch, or just go back home. Beren meanwhile got to completely taking apart the cart. He stripped it down to individual boards, and then started using those boards to replace the shattered pieces of the bridge. It wouldn’t “repair” the bridge, but he thought he could make it passable, at least for a person. [Nature test, Success!]

Turn 11 – Tentatively prodding his work Beren was convinced it would hold a person, but it couldn’t be sure if it would hold two people struggling to carry a heavy iron cage with a witch in it. They had to go slowly to not lose their balance, but fast enough the bridge didn’t give out. Taliel had a back up plan. She was prepared to cast lightness of being. The ran spears through rungs in the cage so they could hold it at a distance and then made the difficult treck over. The whole thing took hours, and when they were done, everyone was exhausted! [Ob 6 Health text. Failure, Condition Exhausted]

Elated by their success (and the not dying). Beren collected the boards on the bridge so they could rebuild the cart and continue their very long, and very perilous journey…

What Rocked

At some point, you know just to add more gonzo to the mix, someone said the witch was a shapechanger as well. Oh good. So throughout the game I kept depicting the witch as mix of different appearances. A hulking brute barely contained in the cage, a young girl, malnourished and weak, an exceedingly handsome man with a devilish smile, a bald old woman with squinting eyes. There was no mechanical effect of this but I very much enjoyed never describing the change, but always the particular effect. “He hunches over, his shoulders pressed against the bars.” …. “She looks hungrily at your dinner, her stomach rumbling and the manacles dangling loosely on her wrists.” Yeah, I enjoyed playing that witch quite a bit.

There was some really interesting discussion about what to do with the raiders. They weren’t really interested in the adventurers, but they were a threat. And while they might have been able to sneak past them all, there was no way they would get the cart and the goats past them without notice. In fact they had to move the carter farther away than expected because the witch wouldn’t be quiet. Thanks to those blustery winds for muffling her voice! So, they thought about all of their options, and the safest thing was murdering them all in their sleep. Grim.

There were great moments where the system shined and people were like “damn” that is awesome. Getting across the creek at first wasn’t that challenging a task (two Ob 2 tests). But they way the players did it was beautiful. Kristin was like “hey, my character has rope. He can make a harness. Anyone else have rope?” Gerald did and so he and Beren set about like an A-team montage. Then when Stras asked what elvish singing was for and I read the description his eyes lit up. And when they did it everyone had this great sense of accomplishment…from crossing a creek!

What could have improved

There was some real clashing with the constraints of the system. Stras in particular brought up some things that frustrated him. I want to take the cloak and put it on. No room to put it on, okay, I put in in my backpack. It take two slots, okay, I put it in a sack. I have to hold the sack in one hand once I fill it? Okay, I roll it up and tie it to the top of my backpack. That takes a laborer test to carry additional items? Okay, I put it on the wagon. The wagon is full? I just drape it over the feed barrels. That takes a laborer test? Okay, I have an empty head slot. I wrap it up like a turban. That takes a weaver test? I burn the fucking cloak.

This happens. It’s one part player expectations (Torchbearer is a very different game than many fantasy RPGs) and it’s one part making sure to follow from the fiction. In a later discussion with Stras, I told him “I should have never said no, I just should have asked what you did to make it work and then had you make a test accordingly.” Stras pointed out that would have felt like a gotcha, which is another thing I’ve run into in other games, specifically the players feeling “tricked” into using up their resources (turns) on things they didn’t think would be tests. This is a kind of connotative dissonance that results from different expectations and I think early investment in establishing those can really help. Also, once you’ve been playing for a while, so long as everyone keeps a positive attitude and doesn’t take it too personally, you fall into a rhythm and it gets easier.

I felt it a bit redundant that I made two challenges which were essentially both “get across this thing”. I like those kind of challenges, but I think I should have filled the first river crossing with some other features to make it more distinct. Raging waters, a predator stalking them on the other side, goats getting skittish (though the mule already was), the witch momentarily regaining her power when crossing over the water. Of course all these ideas come to me now, but damn, in the moment I was like “uh, stubborn mule, top heavy wagon, Go!”

Rules clarification for myself to look up. When a’mn instinct is triggered by “camping” does it require the camp phase, or can it be done any time someone says they are settling down for the night. In our journey days passed and they hunkered down, but they stayed in the adventuring phase (at first because nobody had checks and later because they didn’t need to remove conditions or do other camp actions). I allowed it but I’m not sure that was correct. This seems particularly important for long overland journeys.

There were very few failed rolls in this game. Now, that’s hardly a problem per se, but it’s usually failed rolls leading to a twist that really get the action going. It’s also twists that reveal how the mechanics reinforce the fiction. Tried this and something else happened, now you’ve got to deal with that! Not a horrible fate for the game, but oh how I would have loved it if Beren’s roll to fix the bridge had failed…

Playtest specific feedback

In addition to the things noted above, here were my observations:

  • A journey is not enough to make an adventure. If the journey is just one leg of an adventure, it’s probably adequate to do some inventory management, handle a few complications, and then make health checks at the end. For me though, I wanted to play out the trials and tribulations of getting to Widow’s Peak and so I found myself adding a lot more challenges to the mix. They were fun to play, but I was doing it all off the cuff. I missed my dungeon rooms!
  • I wasn’t sure about pacing and resources. When do you play out ever step of the road and when do you say “three days pass, mark off three rations each.” This becomes especially relevant when the Halfling says “wait, wait, I’m going to cook every night so we only need three rations total”, and then the Warrior says, “wait, wait, I’m going to hunt every night, so we don’t need any rations at all.” Do you treat all of these actions as part of the adventure phase (thus potentially denying camp based instincts, see above) or do you make the do something so they can earn a check, so they can enter camp phase, so they can use these instincts. As a GM, what’s a good way to parse the conversation? Here’s a few ideas I can think of:
    • Tell the players. “You need to travel for X days, so unless you want to do anything along the way, everyone mark off X rations.” Then wait to see if anyone objects.
    • Ask the players “How do you want to handle this journey. Take your time and resources [Turns] to go hunting an cooking and what not, or use up supplies you have?”
    • Or play out every day, one at a time, even if there isn’t an event or challenge to be had per se (this seems the slowest, but most fitting with the rules as presented).
    • Hand wave it and say “Okay, it takes X days but because you hunt and cook every night, don’t worry about rations just the complications as they come up. What do you know, there’s a bugbear in your path!” This is the worst and the best option. The worst because you’re disengaging all the gears of Torchbearer. The best because as a GM, you’re electing to dive right into the bits that are exciting you. Note, feel free to replace bugbear with fire, flood, bandit, magical phenomenon, candy house, etc.
  • Travel distance and time seems oddly more concrete than most aspects of Torchbearer, which are abstracted. I wouldn’t think to specify the number of miles between two locations, and then to do the math to divide that into the speed of travel. I mean it can be done, but my inclination was much more along the lines of, this will take X days. Given different rates of speed though, I can see how X days isn’t as useful. I’d consider a roll (not necessarily a test) made at the beginning of a journey, with modifiers based on the speed of travel. Walking would be flat and other modes would give penalties (if slower) or bonus (if faster). The result of the roll would be a days added or subtracted from the base. So if the base time for a trip was six days, you’d roll and see if that could be done is a day less, or a day more, etc. To be efficient, this could be attached to the complication chart (as an additional column) so the amount that a journey could be modified by would be based on how long the original journey is in days.

Actual Play – The Clay That Woke (9/6/2015)

the clay that wokeGM: Stras Acimovic
Players: Scott Morningstar, Misha B, Keith Stetson, Sean Nittner
System: The Clay That Woke

Stras was very kind to offer up Clay at Sandcon. As he put it (and I agree) this isn’t a game that I’d want to run for strangers (typical of a con game) and it also isn’t a game that shows it’s full capacity in a single session (almost all con games except for long cons). And yet, to slake our curiosity Stras ran it for us.

I think the game needs a little bit of background just to talk about. The setting is unfamiliar. Rome meets an ever encroaching jungle. Inhuman intelligence. Fantastic and horrific elements collide in a manner that reminded me of anime, though it is clearly not. Giant trees, disembodied voices, three eyed fish. Most of the details were so strange that few actually stuck with me. Instead  was just left with the feeling that the jungle is where anything could happen, but no matter what it will change you.

And from this come the Minotaurs, male creatures born of clay and now part of human society, though as second class citizens, and full of their own cultural edicts. Most notably, the code of Silence, which is the only way they are able to stay in control of their actions (notably, what I first thought was keeping sane revealed itself to be much more about keeping control, which I think is a very interesting distinction).

Silence requires that you:

  • Be courageous.
  • Act with wisdom.
  • Work for justice and the social good.
  • Do not use the names of women.
  • Do not want.
  • Do not express your emotions.

Mechanically this is represented by each player character starting with three silence tokens and each time you break a rule, you lose one. Lose all of them and you have to run into that strange and bizarre jungle, experience whatever madness happens there until you can compose yourself enough (regaining silence tokens) to return to society.

So, the action of play, is a lot of deciding what you want, and then deciding how much you want it. Or perhaps whether you can get it without breaking silence. Lets see where that took us.

Our Nameless Cast

Minotaurs start without a name. That’s part of why you don’t get the full experience of the game in a single session. They do however have archetypes.

Sean – The Soldier. A gladiator for hire (no slavery in this setting) in the stable of a wealthy man who used us for entertainment.

Scott – The Advocate. A funereal mourner who wrapped the bodies of the dead in excessively long cloth.

Misah B – The Leader. A rickshaw driver that carried important people to and fro.

Keith – The Philosopher. A butcher who specialized in fish that carried seeds under it’s scales.

Our Adventures

Move the activity surrounded the wealthy house my character worked for and the assassination of the lord’s son’s first wife through poisoning at a regal gala to celebrate the marriage to his third wife. Due to the tragedy the wedding was called off and the young prince was reduced from a potential three wives to one.

In this story the soldier defied the prince and earned his ire, spoke with the philosopher on the right course of action to take when you’re partially responsible for a crime, and spoke with the assassin but could not move her (or himself) to believe the assassination was wrong.

In this story the advocate prepared the body of the first wife and watched as a bug creature climbed out of her mouth and spoke in her voice the name of her killer (her husband), then smashed the bug and told what he saw. Later when confronted by the husband as he was wrapping the body, he caught the arrogant man’s hand as he tried to slap him and began wrapping him up as we. pinned the the corpse of his dead wife.

In this story the leader learned of all that was happening through carrying his fares and speaking with other drivers. When the philosopher broke silence and fled to the jungle (dragging us all with them), the leader lead the journey, and named or Advocate. He was now Krackos.

In this story the philosopher watched as a woman poisoned the fish that would be served during the dinner, then followed her but was ambushed by her and poisoned himself. By the time he woke, the first wife had died and he was trapped inside the house grounds. A servant who worked in the kitchen gave him refuge among the gladiators, but in doing so she implicated herself (perhaps she was already implicated) and was accused of performing the poisoning. He found her later in a cell made of roots and lamented the injustice of her unavoidable doom.

The Jungle

Together, we all were pulled into the jungle where we built a fort and then were attacked by a creature that looked like one of us but clearly was not. It was accompanied by two colossal snakes. Through violence and domination we solved our problems and reasserted control over ourselves (regaining silence).

What Rocked

Scott’s move to wrap the murderer to the body of his dead wife was a thing of genius. The calmness with which he portrayed the action was amazing. As a visual image and an amazing reversal of another person’s anger it had me in aw. Scott is the Aikido master of roleplaying.

The token resolution mechanic was great for providing creative constraints. As Paul said in an interview with Brianna Sheldon:

A lot of roleplaying games these days rotate their spotlight from player to player and say in turn to each of them, in effect, “Do something interesting.” And it’s often not that easy. The Clay That Woke, like Bacchanal, gives you some input. It says, “Everyone, this minotaur just changed the mind of the opposition in some way, figure that out–but don’t workshop it–just roleplay forward, knowing that you’re all aiming for the same destination.” Or it says something like, “This minotaur acts with physical confidence for a dramatic outcome in his favor, but also makes a mistake or error. Figure that out. Roleplay forward.”

This system is smart. Very smart.

Most poignantly though, and as Stras predicted, the game still had us thinking hours later. It was later than night or perhaps the next day when Keith, Stras and I bumped into each other in the kitchen and started talking about it. The game is about toxic masculinity and what that does to both society and to the individual. We talked about our personal reactions to the game and the situations that cropped up, how the actions of our characters represented (or didn’t) our own. Stras and Keith both had some pretty awesome insights as to how much this game told us about ourselves.

What could have improved

This is rare. I’ve got nothing. Which isn’t to say that this is the perfect game for every occasion, just that it did all I hoped for in the moment and there isn’t anything I would have changed.

Thanks for running this Stras, and thanks Misha, Scott, and Keith for playing. It was a great game.

Actual Play – Seco Creek Vigilance Committee (9/6/2015)

seco creek vigilance committee
Fan Art – Not Official

GM: Keith Stetson
Players: James Stewart, Sean Nittner, Jason Morningstar, Stras Acimovic, Zak Deardoff
System: Seco Creek Vigilance Committee (Playtest)

Keith has, from what I’ve heard, run one sort of Western drama or another for ages. He is honing his art. Seco Creek, which shows strong mechanical inspiration from The Shadow of Yesterday and Lady Blackbird, is his current iteration of that Western.

The situation is that three men have been locked up for the crime of theft and murder. A sheriff and his posse stand guard over the men as they wait for the 3:10 train to come into town to deliver them to Bright City, where they will be given a trial. Outside the small town grieves the loss of their own, a school teacher murdered during the robbery, and want their own personal justice inflicted right here. Further afield, Duke Cahill, leader of the Cahill gang, plots to free his men by means of either manipulation of the judges or outright overpowering the posse to take them back before they can be put on that train.

3:10 to Yuma and the first episode of Deadwood were both playing in the back of my head the whole time. Some pretty awesome sources of inspiration!

Internally, there was plenty of friction as well. In fact the internal debate was what drove all of the action in our game.

  • The sheriff was going to see those men on the train, come hell or high water. He was not backing down.
  • The businessman wanted what was good for the small town. Growth and prosperity came from following by societies rules. He cares about the town both generally in terms of it’s future and specifically in terms of individuals that he wanted to see prosper (notably the town drunk)
  • The reformed outlaw was going to see justice rather than the law be done. Of the three men locked up two of them he knew to be innocent of the crime directly. The were accomplices at most. One of those two was his brother. The third was a brutal killer. Of the three, he wanted to ensure that the innocent(-ish) men walked free, and the guilty was hung. He feared that if they went to trial, the opposite would happen.
  • The deputy knew they had all stepped in a pile of horse shit. Extricating themselves was going to be messy but he had the experience and the acumen to know a losing battle when he saw one.
  • The rancher looked out for himself and his own. He had dealings with the Cahill gang, buying stolen cattle off them, and little stakes in seeing any of these men live or die. He did however want to ensure his own relevance in the town, one which sought to move on without him.

Highlights of play

Trying to stand on the post to calm the people and constantly being torn down, then watching the businessman do it far better than I could (as the sheriff). Part of this was because of his station in the town, but part of it is because James is a very intelligent and eloquent speaker.

Recruiting members of the would-be mob to stand watch over the jail and protect it from Duke Cahill or from others that would see personal justice done. Then having that all go horribly awry when Richard, skittish and uncertain, stabbed our town drunk as he approached. Yes, the drunk had a shotgun, but no, he probably wasn’t going to use it. This created a really tense situation where the “right” thing to do would be to arrest a man for defending the jail and turning the entire town against us. I did not do the right thing.

Jason and his knowledge of early 20th century “heath” tonics! Oh my god.

  • Freeman’s Chlorodine – Mix chloroform 75, tincture of capsicum 25, tincture of Indian hemp 100, oil of peppermint 2 and glycerin 250 with alcohol (20 per cent) 450. Dissolve morphine hydrochloride 10 in the mixture. Add to it diluted hydrocyanic acid 50 and enough alcohol (90 per cent) to make 1000.
  • Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable TonicEven worse!

Through the deputies ministrations, we stayed up all night (quite buzzed) and put a dying man out of his misery by drowning him in a bottle of tonic!

Our outlaw’s internal debate. He wanted to save his brother. He wanted to give up a life of crime. Those two things just weren’t both going to happen. So fuck it, he’d be a criminal again (scratching off the Key of Redemption) if that’s what it took. Unfortunately, it still ended with a bullet in his head…but the road getting there was amazing.

Our rancher being singularly able to talk down just about everyone. The sheriff, Duke Cahill, even our zealot guman. It was one park “I’ve seen it all” and one part “that makes good sense”, but he was always able to find a topic of conversation to calm the restless and trigger happy.

Our final showdown was amazing. The deputy had abandoned a hopeless fight. The rancher was still there, gun in hand, but not picking up the badge. Duke Cahill probably would have gotten what he wanted if the un-reformed outlaw hadn’t put a bullet in his head. We had a great speech by way of pontificating at the end.

“The way I see it Sheriff, only one person has to die today. Duke is dead. You had over those three men and we’ll go our separate ways, never to be seen again.”

“It sounds like a good plan, but I think your arithmetic is off. By my count it’s two.” BAM!

And with that the Cahill gang fled to the woods, sure to come back again some day, but for now without a leader, and without anyone to buy off the judges who would preside over these three men’s fate.

What Rocked

The play itself was fantastic. I remember this terrible tension building up in the back of my neck. This feeling that I need to keep everything together, and that probably wasn’t going to happen.

The question of what is “right” vs. what is “good” came up (at least in my head) often. Is it right to send these three men to hang when only one is guilty? Maybe. I mean, they were all guilty of something. But that’s not why we did it. We did it because it was good. But good for who? For the businessman it was good for the stability and peace of the town. For the sheriff it was good for upholding the law and maintaining authority.

What was the right thing to do when Richard killed the town drunk? Was it to console him (and eventually deputize him) or was it to arrest him? I feel like in a TV show the answer to that would be based on the mood music playing in the background. I mean seriously, it was all a matter of who you sympathized with and what you thought the likely outcome would be. For the businessman, the drunk represented the towns potential. If he could be saved, then why couldn’t any of us be saved. When he died, the businessman wanted vengeance, something to show that preying on the weak would not stand. For the sheriff, he knew that the townsfolk were just barely pacified. To take one who had stayed up all night to protect the jail and then arrest him for doing just that…the hypocrisy would not be tolerated. That would have been the end of peace in Seco Creek.

The privilege mechanic was a great one. The system is diceless. When a player character interacts with an NPC the GM weighs the fictional positioning and says what outcome is. When two PCs interact the players decide among themselves how it plays out, and they have some resources (basically anything on their character sheet) that they can barter with. For instance, if the the outlaw wants the rancher to stay out of the saloon so he can do his business, after the players have discussed it the outlaw’s player might offer favor with the towns folk, or to give the rancher a privilege for interacting with him in the future, or to remove a key, in order to get what he wants.

Privilege, however, allows a PC to circumvent this negotiation in specific areas. For instance, both the outlaw and the sheriff have a privilege that if that they can do violence to another PC without negotiation. If either of them say they shoot you, it just happens! The others had more nuanced privileges that would gain them favor or provide other benefits. This system was great, because it very clearly illustrated both how to get what you want, and in which ways you stand out. It was one of those cases where the exception to the rule was more helpful in teaching the rule than the rule itself.

What could have improved

We talked at length at the end of the game about how it played and which mechanics were engaged. Overall it seemed like the favor mechanic didn’t shine for us because it primarily had to do with PC-NPC interactions, of which we had few. In play, the were just a bit too much to keep track of. I have the same feeling with aspects in Fate sometimes. In a perfect world, nearly every complication the player face would be tied to their aspects, and each aspect would come up with some regularity. In play, the GM often focuses on one or two, because it’s too hard to keep track of them all.

I didn’t realize till the end of the game that everyone else was playing  dynamic character (who was changed by the world around them) and I was playing an iconic character (who changed the world around himself). The outlaw gave up on redemption. The deputy threw down his badge. The rancher sided with the law against his old business partner. The businessman gave up on the town he was trying to save. But the sheriff, he just stuck to his guns. And while there is some attraction to that, I also felt like I never got “give” in a conflict. Part of that was pride, but part of that was also knowing that the moment the sheriff went form high status to low status in an interaction, he was never coming back from him. He could admit uncertainty to his deputy when he thought they were in agreement, but when push came to shove, he held is ground and watched the deputy walk away rather than admit he might be wrong. This is just a personal thing for me, but high status characters who never relent are uncomfortable for me to play. I dislike what they say about me as a person when they are unwilling to give.

Actual Play – Blood in the Bayou (9/6/2015)

p186700_b_v9_acGM (counter-players): Kat Jones, Evan Torner, and guest GM Jason Morningstar.
Players: Lizzie Stark (Raven, witch), Kristin Firth (Omar, human psychic), Scott Morningstar (Sam, human), Karen Twelves (Sexy Beast. werewolf), Stras Acimovic (Jolene, veteran werewolf), Shervyn Von Hoerl (Mimi, vampire warrior), Alex Roberts (Tanith, vampire), Liz Gorinsky (Celine, vampire), Barbara Ng (Cross, used to be married to Celine, human), Sara Williamson (Kim, human vampire wannabe), Jay Treat (alpha werewolf), Shawn Roske (Vanessa, human), Misha B (werewolf), Sean Nittner (Axel, vampire owner of the Nosferatu club). I may have missed some, this was going from memory.
System: Blood in the Bayou

Played out in just 52 minutes (the length of an episode of True Blood), this was one of the funnest larps I’ve ever played.

We started (the first hour or so) with Evan and Kat handing out roles that has brief descriptions, two suggestions for play, and three questions to answer. For instance I was:

Hedonist Club Owner
Revel in the sensual
Don’t take anything too seriously

1.) How did you become the owner of Nosferatu’s
2.) How did Jessie/Sam earn your respect?
3. ) Who do you pretend to hate this character?

I mean… already, it’s just dripping right? Once we had our characters we went around the room and introduced them, as well as answering the first question. For me it was performing diablerie, the worst of vampire crimes, on the previous owner Siegfried Van Helsing and taking not only his club, but also his powers. Like you do.

Some of the characters had multiple gender/name options, so the second question was answered once you knew who was in play. If the character you were supposed to have a relationship wasn’t in play, the counter-players (GMs) would match two characters missing a connection with each other and tweak the questions (if needed) to suit each other.

For mine, Sam (a mere mortal but part of a vampire hunting family) earned my respect by walking into Nosferatu’s once and showing no fear of Siegfried.

Finally, the third question was answered by finding another person you didn’t already have a connection with and building something with them. I picked Kim, the mortal who wanted immortality. I constantly dismissed her, saying she didn’t know the cost, while secretly wanting nothing more than to sire her myself.

I was also tied up in an affair with Vanessa, and killed Tanith’s sire. All sorts of juice bits.

A final conceit of the game was a living world. Each location we played in (Jacks’s Tavern, The Woods, Nosferatu Club, The Graveyard, The Hospital) had a folder with a sheet of paper in it that told everyone who looked in there what was true of the place. The decor, the vibe, the dead bodies in the freezer, that sort of thing. As we played and the world changed, we updated these sheets, changing the world around us.

Each counter-player was assigned a location or two and stayed in that area to provide provocation as needed. It was rarely needed.

Sex and Violence

We started the game split up into our faction locations (Humans in Jacks, Werewolves in the woods, etc). Our counter-players then gave us a prompt to start the game. Apparently this prompt was taken very, very, differently.

The Werewolves were told that a war with the vampires were brewing and they had better make the first move. RAWR, lets kill some vampires. Let’s also get the crazy necromancer witch to cast a spell that would control the undead. Death and victory awaits!

The Vampires were told that a ware with the werewolves was brewing. And we were like… meh. War is boring. What has our prince done for us lately. We’d rather lounge around and be sexy. Oh, and fuck you counter-player NPC, we’re going to eat you too.

So you can imagine what happened with the two forces same together.  Sex and Violence, just not in that order. We had Werewolves and Vampires fighting, only to later be making out in the hospital bed. We had humans barricading themselves up in Jack’s to hide that they had killed Jack long ago and stuck him in the freezer, but it was okay because Raven the Witch was going to bring him back to life. We had so much posturing and bravado, and feigned indifference. Oh my god, it was delicious.

What Rocked

The “combat” mechanic for the game was just awesome. Two people basically got to describe how they were awesome, landed brutal blows, got all kinds of bloody, etc. They kept narrating until one of the decided to lose and describes themselves succumbing. At that point the winner writes down the losers name and at the end of the game, says something awesome about them in the debrief. Very cool.

I was playing an idiot of a character who was trying never to let on that he had no idea what he was doing. If anyone challenged him his aloof response was usually “whatever”. I was doing my best to channel Paul Rudd’s character Andy from Wet Hot American Summer. Also I touched my chest a lot (making it sensual) and laid down on lots of things (pianos, coffins, walk in freezers, whatever). Playing a total hedonist that was way over his head was so much fun.

In particular my relationship with Kim was just so ridiculously pretentious and emo. “No Kim, you don’t know what it means to be like us… I’ll never turn you” all the while showing all the body language that meant I was just about to turn her. Similarly Kim held the sword of the vampire hunters always holding it close… was it a threat or an invitation… And, we would certainly have ended in a romp of sex and undeath had it not been for Celine, protecting Kim from her own desires… and of course from Axel.

Other great moments… there as some discussion of the bones in an urn or something. It was one of those major plot points that whipped by me but seemed to drive a lot of action. It turned out to be totally fine that I was oblivious to all of this enough through a drove a ton of the action of the game. Yay, captain oblivious!

The counter-players did a fantastic job of bringing everyone up to speed as we entered new locations… especially those with fights going on.

Our end of game debrief was awesome. We got to hear a lot of great moments from the game that we missed when they happened, and we also each had a “next time on Blood in the Bayou” scene that we narrated as a teaser for the next episode.

What could have improved

These two are related I think:

  1. There wasn’t quite enough time to get everything in. I had some fun interactions with the human’s in Jacks but I wasn’t really sure what they were up to or how it affected the vampires. I did have one creepy scene with Vanessa as I delivered their missing shipment of True Blood personally and int was all kinds of fun finding the frozen body of Jack in the freezer, but I wasn’t sure what it was all about.
  2. The vampires and the werewolves started off pitted against each other so we had a clear agenda (even if we were blowing it off) to engage with each other. I wasn’t sure where the humans fit in with that. They seemed a bit isolated from my perspective, though that may have just been me.

Our location (The Nosferatu Club) ended up being pretty much abandoned except at the beginning and the end of the game. Physically it was located between other locations so it ended up being something of a thoroughfare. It wasn’t a problem (much more interesting things were happening in the Woods, Jacks, and in the hospital beds…ooo la la) but I think if given the option, I’d make each location more of a specific destination.

Final thoughts

I <3 this game so much. I could have spent the whole con playing a season of the show!