Saturday, August 30, 2008
This sort of thing is why I don't get to run a lot of games with this group, eh? RPGs, especially weird RPGs such as I might bring over, are absolutely the lowest possible priority.
But that's OK, I know that one-player games work fine, and Dave was into it. Dave's character Cutthroat became Sergeant Cutthroat (FA 5, NFA 5).
The game started a bit slow, because I didn't have a lot of interesting ideas for what was special about this mission (good or bad). It was Silicon beings in an Asteroid Belt. (Random roll after I rejected a couple previous rolls as being inappropriate for a first planet.) The gist of it was that you can't blow up an asteroid belt, nuke it from orbit, or whatever else, cause it's already an asteroid belt. You just have to go rock by rock by rock, killing the silicon lifeforms. So they'd deployed every damn trooper they had, rock by rock, spreading out around the whole belt.
Cutthroat's squad was dropped on a large asteroid, a few km wide, highly crystalline, like a geode turned inside out. No aliens apparent at first; they made their way into a cave and the first attack began.
The aliens were crystalline humanoids with "wings" consisting of fans of curved crystal shards, which they could use to fly in the solar wind. They could attack with the crystals, they were ridiculously strong and could throw troopers against the hard crystal walls, and there was one more attack that was revealed at the end.
One-player games, despite the fact that there are only five threat tokens, have proved to be hard as hell, the two times I ran them. I think part of it is that neither time did the one player take a really high FA. And if you don't have a really high FA, and you start out with a few failed rolls, or low successes, you get wounded FAST. And if your opponents have Armor, as these did, and your first success is wiped out...
Things went really badly in that first fight. REALLY badly. Wounds: A mess. Wounds: crippled. Armor: ticked.
The last round of this encounter the troopers had fallen back into space using the small ion jets on the Mandelbrite, regrouped, and made a full forward assault, guns blazing, straight against the Crystal Angels. Complete fucking failure. Combat drugs! Another fracking failure. All this over one threat token! ONE threat token had brought Sgt. Cutthroat to the brink of death! There were four to go!
To survive, Dave called on is weakness: "Feels Nothing." He described a situation in training where another trooper had freaked out and attacked some fellow troopers, and Cutthroat had gunned him down... and kept shooting... and kept shooting. OK. So the weakness seemed to be he doesn't necessarily give a damn about his fellow humans. Much like the "psychopath" thing in the example.
We decided that because he Felt Nothing he did not call off the attack when it went horribly wrong, and his entire squad got picked off one by one by slicing angel-feathers, he just kept on going and going until in one assault he was grabbed and thrown against a sharp crystal structure, causing his onboard computers to freak the hell out, desperately kicking in internal repair procedures trying to protect atmospheric integrity, and flooded him with painkillers, causing him to pass out. (Wound level back up to: A Mess.)
He woke up on a slab inside the asteroid, with arcs of crystal over him. His guns were in a case on the far side of the cave. There were several of the entities apparently "talking" amongst themselves somehow, discussing him. He was still in his armor, and therefore, alive. And alone.
He wanted to bust out and surprise attack them. Dominance roll didn't permit that, but he did get mutual surprise. He managed to crack off one of the arcs holding him down and improvise it into a piercing weapon. The dice were finally kind to him and he managed to take one down by piercing its "heart center" with the crystal shard... He hurled it at another and the creature (using its Armor to ignore the kill) absorbed the shard onto its body and went on the attack against Cutthroat with it, like a giant claw! I think maybe he got down to Crippled again at this point...
He managed an NFA roll to get past them and free his guns, and finished them off, filling the interior space of that cave with floating crystal fragments that were once aliens. As they died, the light went out in the cave -- it had been illuminated by their own bodies. (2 threat tokens down)
End of encounter. Now he was on his own inside the tunnel system of the asteroid. (Medikit time! Up to A Mess.)
He was going to hunt down the rest of these diamond bugs, dammit. He made his way through the caves... and found them deserted and dark, or as dark as silica in the sunlight gets. Like they'd all abandoned it. But we wanted another encounter... we rolled for dominance and got an Alien Ambush.
So he made his way to the surface again, through another tunnel... lookin for the damn bugs. And as he crawled out of the tunnel, he was enveloped in pure burning blinding light. The armor went into full panic mode as its heat compensators failed one by one and Sgt. Cutthroat started to cook inside his own armor... The remaining aliens from the rock were hovering in formation between the rock and the sun, and had formed a giant Fresnel lens with their wings and focused sunlight on him, like a magnifying glass on an ant.
His options exhausted and again Crippled, Dave called on Sgt. Cutthroat's Strength. Flashback: previous mission. They're on a jungle planet, and ambushed by arachnoid aliens who shoot webs down out of the trees and yank troopers up to their deaths faster than they can figure out what's going on. Sgt. Cutthroat is Cool Under Pressure and leads the way in incinerating the web structures in the trees and frying them like so many tent caterpillars. Flash Forward. Ignoring the heat, even as it builds to near lethal levels, he grips the crystal surface with the mandelbrite's boots and calmly draws a bead on the hostiles, one... by one.. by one.. by one.. by one... till instead of a point of horrible heat and light in the sky where they were, there's a bright stardust of fragments...
And he calls in with confirmed kills for the rock, and signals to the deployment ship that his squadron is ready for return. He manages to collect a few victims of that first horrible assault who were merely comatose and floating in their armor in space... and heads back to the ship.
He increased his HTH to 1d6 reflecting the brutal combat where he broke out of captivity.
He tried for an increase on his long range slug rifle to reflect the last attack, no luck.
He did not try for promotion. Because he used a weakness he would have been eligible for demotion if another PC had targeted him for it, but there were no other PCs. (I understand how this works now -- using a Weakness is kind of a dick move because it saves your ass and leaves the rest of the squad in danger. That's why your fellow PCs would target you for demotion over it.)
He got a respectable handful of medals. Increased his FA. And that was that.
Wow! Good little game. Single player games seem to be brutal, and drawn out if you don't have the FA to reliably take down aliens quickly. Note to self: if I get in any more single player games, recommend a high FA. :)
Nice to notice also that he used EVERY resource he had in this situation and barely made it out. Every wound level short of death, on every encounter, even after the use of medikits; his armor was ticked; he used Combat Drugs, a Weakness, and a Strength. Makes me feel like I did my job as GM. :)
UPDATE: he didn't use every resource -- he didn't use the E-Vac. But that's mainly cause I forgot it existed and so didn't tell him it was an option.
Monday, August 25, 2008
I have really just not been paying that much attention to the Forge for a long time now. I'd drop in on Story Games, I'd chat with people who dig the games, get info second hand about what was going on, but I've just been kind of out of it. I don't know when it started but it's gone on for a long time now, like, maybe a couple years.
So now I'm off the wagon. The prospect of reading the details of the Under My Skin game that Ron, Rob, and others played at GenCon, whose images I'd seen on Story-Games, was one thing that sucked me in. There were some others, I don't remember. But I find myself following thread to thread, delving back in time, story to story, watching people explain things to each other and work out ideas, and talk about their play, and where to go...
And I'm digging into old threads I never followed the first time around, and picking up ideas for how to run and play Sorcerer, trying to figure out whether my one-sheet idea ("Impiety") is doable and how it'll be doable.. Learning how to run the Pool well and how not to...
Just a few threads here and there but it's so damned addictive, I have got to put this shit aside while I'm at work... but you open one and it refers to three others, and I just have to see what's in those three others, and I pop 'em open in another Firefox tab and keep reading...
I'm so off the wagon.
I think I've maybe... matured? I don't know, do you still mature when you're 38? Aren't you supposed to be done maturing? Let's say I've grown a little in knowledge and perspective since the last time I was really paying attention, and things mean more to me now than they once did.
Friday, August 22, 2008
This is what I have so far:
A cluster of natural caves, some filled with horrific primordial beasts and others with a vile plague, lie waiting to be discovered...
A clan of dwarves, the Stonesplitters, began mining the rich vein of gold hideen deep beneath the earth, and for several years, their civilization thrived. They even built a great hall for their king, Naraz. But from the bowels of the earth, magma erupted forth, forcing the dwarves to abandon their mines and homes, and in their haste, leaving behind their greatest treasure, the Crown of Naraz...
A group of monsters moved in: antlings, goblins and a rakshasa. The antlings discovered the Crown and added it to their treasure, but an exploratory group from the Castle Halwn encountered them, and both groups were slain. The goblin clan grew for a while until a group of earth devils moved into the neighborhood and squashed them like gnats. The rakshasa spent most of the time going around eating everything she could find: an ooze, an ettin, adventurers, a giant slug. Then she hit a part of heroes that were too much for her. Granted, she took them down too, but her reign of dungeon snacking came to an end. An owlbear moved in, promising more monster on monster smackdown, but just at that time the earth devils accrued enough treasure to trigger the end of the Age of Monsters... and I had to stop playing.
Oh, I wanted to keep going into the Age of Villainy, but no... must escape the lure of the dungeon...
Monday, August 18, 2008
A few notes here mostly for myself, cause I come back to entries like this months and years later, to help remember how things went...
- I got a tiny bit of Sorcerer demo with Ron, cause he was demoing for somebody else and grabbed me in. Cool, cause I still want to run it sometime soon.
- The guys playing Storming the Wizard's Tower kept the whiskey flowing all night. Rock.
- Late nights watching the olympics (well, sometimes just watching Jason, Greg, and Robb watch the olympics cause I wasn't seated in view of the TV)
- Demo of Fisherman's Wife from Julia Ellingboe herself, woot!
- After the whiskey-fied game of Wizards Tower, chatting with the group, watched Julia hammering an icepick through copies of her game at 1 AM so she could do the stitch binding. Note to self: never piss off Julia, chick looks sweet and innocent but carries a hammer and an icepick around
- I gotta start ordering my own stuff at Buca's rather than joining in the huge family size portions, it's delicious but I'm too old anymore to eat that much food at one sitting -- poor use of funds
- Some things which seem fun and cool to do once, and then fun to repeat cause you did them before, you don't necessarily have to do them again a third time just for the sake of doing them, you can go do something else with your time. Like, I didn't snap pictures of cute costumed gencon attendees or go to MacNiven's and eat haggis this year.
- Some things you do want to do again and again.
- Took the utterly awesome HDR picture of the facade of the Indiana Repertory Theater that I knew was out there waiting for me to take
- Met and talked to some new people, got to know some people by sight whom I knew only by name, and vice versa, got to re-meet some cool folks I've known for a long time
- Tony Lower-Basch was really apologetic not to know me by sight, which was way silly, because we'd only met once before at a time when I was one of dozens of people he'd demo'ed Capes to; I mention it only because I'm always pleasantly surprised at how many people do remember me and are happy to see me in the indie games group; it's definitely a group of cool friendly people who like and care about the people who are interested in their games. There are still a ton of them that I don't really know at all yet, which means there are many gencons of meeting cool people to go.
- It was the mildest (heat-wise) Gencon that I can remember.
Friday night I had a tough choice; Paul Czege had invited me to playtest Acts of Evil, but my friend Dave VanDyke had gotten intrigued by In a Wicked Age on the way down to Indy, and thought we could scare up a game that night while other folks in our party were having fun boardgaming. I went with my homeboys and Paul allowed that maybe we could do the playtest Saturday, which was very cool of him. By this time I'd gotten in touch with fellow Esoteric Murmurer Joe, who I hope will post his own report.
At first it looked like the guys might not be willing to set aside their boardgames for IAWA, which would have been frustrating, but Dave helped make it happen, and soon we had me, Dave, Joe, Matt "Kub" Kubiak, and Greg Bush ready to play In a Wicked Age. The oracle gave us some very grabby elements and some more oblique ones, and we managed to weave them together. We did a mostly good job picking Best Interests, though Greg's character, a spirit of the lower air, wasn't really directly connected to specific characters, which I think led to some boredom on Greg's part; he left the game about 2/3 of the way though. The other characters included a tyrant king (Joe), his 7th queen (Dave), who believed she too, like the first six, would be executed for not producing children, and so had sent for the palace guardian (Kub) from her own land to spirit her back home; but who had just learned that she was carrying the child of the King's chief huntsman (NPC), a fact which was known by the king's concubine (NPC). All of this involved a harvest festival which the King had banned, to everyone's disappointment, especially the spirit of the lower air who loved celebrations, and the proprietress of a wayhouse where the Queen had planned to meet the Guardians (concealed by the celebratory crowds).
Long story short, the story was spun on its head by the fact that Joe took, as the King's Best Interest, "to believe his wife is faithful to him." I thought that I would demolish this Best Interest at the beginning of the game when the concubine attempted to destroy the queen by revealing the secret to the king, but by the end of the game the best interest was in place, because the King had executed the concubine (on the pretense that she had lain with the woodsman) and slain the woodsman with his own scimitar, and had received the Queen back without speaking a word of the business, and the Queen had accepted the offer rather than run away with her Guardian, and she never spoke a word of it either, to the King... So the only people in the kingdom who knew of the adultery, besides the silent King and Queen, were dead. And the King had an heir.
Outstanding, just the kind of grand, violent, messed up story that IAWA is supposed to produce. I was really happy about it and told the story of the game (hopefully tolerably briefly) to basically everybody I talked to at the con.
Saturday I got up very late; took some time in the dealer room, and sooner than I liked, found that the day had passed and it was evening. No time for Games On Demand; I was going to Buca di Beppo for the traditional Saturday Night Gencon Pasta Feast in the Pope Room. Talking to Paul I found out it would work out to play at about 8:30, and Joe was up for it. So cool -- something could happen.
I left Beppo's by about 8:45 (doh!) for the Embassy and found Joe and Matt Snyder there with Paul. We started a game of Acts of Evil which took place in two places and times -- a big box store called Price Castle which is Wal-Mart if David Lynch were the store manager, and the Impressionist-era Paris art scene. I got to see the system as it stands -- I won't go into details on an unpublished game, but Paul has solved the biggest issue of the earliest versions of the game, where "Acts of Evil" had tended to turn into "Acts of Pointless, Vicious Squalor." Now there's some focus and interest to it, despite the evil.
Anyway, after about an hour and a half, Matt stopped and asked if Paul was hitting the issues that he was concerned with, and Paul wasn't so sure; he definitely wasn't hitting the mechanics he was hoping to test. We broke the session and started talking about what was up -- it turned out that we had indeed run into the problem that Paul saw as the final stumbling block to finishing the game, so we could talk about it from a point of view of specific examples; we discussed that baby to death for the next two and a half hours, with Ralph Mazza dropping in to help kibitz. Many solutions were proposed; none totally satisfactory. When we had all packed up and were heading away in the wee hours, Danielle met us and we briefly went over what was up one more time, and I repeated the inchoate feelings about the nature of the problem (I had a clear metaphorical idea of what was wrong and how it had to change but no clear idea how that metaphor could be translated into reality); I gave a silly, radical idea on how things could change, and Paul replied with a pause, and a very slow and distinct, "huh." Danielle brightened and said, "That's a good sound!!" Paul came back with his idea of what he thought I'd said, which was a considerably more crazy and radical idea than what I'd actually meant... and he seemed to have something bubbling in his head. So cross your fingers. Something's brewing in Paul's brain; I hope it's the thing he needs.
After Paul and Danielle left for the night Joe and I stopped to say hi to John Harper, who was in a big group of people, and he broke off to talk to us and we ended up shooting the shit into late, late into the night, about 3:30 or so. Got to learn about the current state of Stranger Things, and his plans for his next game.
That was it for gaming at GenCon 2008 for me. I think four games (Wizard's Tower, Lacuna, In a Wicked Age, and Acts of Evil) is a pretty awesome step forward after no full length games last time. I enjoyed meeting all the people I did, put faces to some names I hadn't before, and I'm already missing it and wanting to come back next year.
Maybe this year I can hit some con or get-together in between, like Forge Midwest or something.
It was a good Con. One of the things I've wanted to do that I haven't done in previous cons is just plain play. I love being there, I love meeting cool people, checking out new games, being out as one of a group of rowdy nerds pretending they're still in college together... But I haven't really done much play in the past. This time I wanted to play.
Thursday night I went to the Embassy Suites. I had done that a couple times last year; in both cases, everybody was already busy gaming; once I'd sat down and had a good talk with Paul, and another time I had just sat down and read all the way through my newly bought copy of Dictionary of Mu. This time, I started looking around and it looked like it might be the same thing all over again -- lots of games already in progress, nothing to join -- but then I happened on John Harper. He said "hey Ed! I've got somebody who wants to meet you!" -- and introduced me to Tony Dowler, cartographer extraordinaire. (Besides enjoying his work in the unpublished Stranger Things and similar places, I'd come across it linked on MetaFilter before!)
Tony was about to join John, Matt Wilson, his friend Brandon, and Vincent Baker in a game of Storming the Wizard's Tower, an in-progress game of Vincent's which was his personal answer to monster-fightin' old school D&D. (Paul Czege on encountering us playing the game, asks Vincent: "are you ever NOT designing something?" Vincent: "uh... no.") They invited me to join, and that was my first game of the con. So it had begun! This time I was gaming!
STWT worked well for what it was (we got our asses handed to us but it was very fun play). I don't particularly need what it is -- if I wanted something like that, I'd probably go with Tunnels & Trolls, which for me holds all the nostalgia value and is light and enjoyable and good at being what it is (no need to reinvent it). It was fun getting pissed off by those jerkface Swamp People, and fighting our way down to the Crow Mother under the river...
Friday I found my way to the Games On Demand room, and Mike Holmes was there, and hooked me and a few other players up with Graham Walmsley, whose book Play Unsafe had been so important to me (both in itself, and because it had introduced me to Keith Johnstone's Impro). I was glad to meet Graham; he had just been running Poison'd for a group and asked us what we were interested in. After bandying a few things about we came up with Lacuna, which was great because I knew from the book that Graham really dug it, and I knew next to nothing about it, which was perfect.
English comedian John Oliver starts his act in America with the warning, "because I speak with an English accent, everything you are about to hear will sound slightly more authoritative." That phenomenon worked to good effect with Graham in Lacuna, where you play an agent, always in communication with the mysterious voice of "Control" (the GM -- Graham) who has sent you into the game world to carry out a mission. In our case it was an assassination, and our target was given to us only as a mysterious photograph.
One particular thing sticks in my mind as bringing out the extremely paranoiac atmosphere of Lacuna. Agents are assigned names by Control (and we put those names on little cards in front of us) -- we were Tapper, Miller, Hooper, and Black. I was Hooper. Early on in the game, I got a message from Control, informing me that the name "Hooper" had been reallocated, and I was now Agent Haywood. A bit later, we managed to trace the identity of the person in the photograph, whom we were to assassinate. His name was Hooper.
It was a good game. Graham's love for the game was clearly evident, and my fellow agents were inquisitive and interesting. Agent Miller especially, whose real name eludes me, was a lot of fun, because he brought to the table a very "special ops" attitude, like a tough and canny mercenary, not a creepy intelligence agent; I kept thinking of him as Brian Van Hoose from Knights of the Dinner Table, playing the fictional espionage game "Hacknoia," watching the mission go horribly wrong and always trying to stay on top of the situation, out-think everybody, and keep in control as best he could.
I'm going to post this now and add to it later.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
I don't do any world creation stuff at all before character creation and I try to keep a tight lid on backstory during character creation. The philosophy's very much "we start HERE and go forward."
Instead of creating characters before starting the game, create them as the game progresses! [...]The players start with most of the character sheets blank - simply write out a brief sentence or two describing the character in a general way. ("Jeb is a surly dwarf, a good fighter, who is out to make a name for himself as a mean customer - and pick up some loot on the way. He likes to talk tough, and doesn't care much for halflings")
As the character is confronted with challenging situations, the player must decide the level of the trait in question...
Ah, here's some of the original discussion...
(In my "dream system", characteristics would not necessarily be listed in terms of ability or power, on graded scales of any time. They would be whatever properties defined the character, whether useful or not, and gave him a place in the story. They would accumulate during the story, and not be spelled out beforehand (though they could be planned, they needn't be)... But I'm not sure in how much detail such a thing can be done...)I'm not trying to say I anticipated the Forge a decade earlier (elsewhere in the thread SOS points out that some of what I'm saying sounds very Over The Edge-ish, so it's not like nobody was publishing these sorts of things already at the time), but more that it's not too surprising that certain Forge directions and designs seemed so cool to me when I discovered them.
I was reading Umberto Eco at the time, and the idea of characters being defined and created moment by moment by the text in which they existed was bopping around my head...
I was never really deep into discussions of RPG design and play and theory at El Forge and Story Games and all, but there was a time when I followed them. I haven't for a long time. For whatever reason I find myself starting to again.
This is mostly Chris Kubasik and Vincent talking about In a Wicked Age and Sorcerer; I think I was directed to it by some other Sorcerer-related threads on Story Games, which I followed because I was interested in CK's plan to do a how-to-play-sorcerer book.
It sent me to this one, which is about how in indie RPGs people often fall off the other side of the GM fiat horse, and don't let the narrative affect the rules, other than just to set up opportunities to use them. My impression is that many of the older-school Forgies take "just plain roleplaying" where you establish consensus on the imagined reality just by talking it out and agreeing on it absolutely for granted, but many Forge-inspired designs and many Forge-inspired players seem to leave that behind, and just want to think about the mechanics as a closed universe, and this leads them to misunderstand the ways in which games like Sorcerer and In a Wicked Age and others depend on that narrative consensus to make the rest of the rules make sense.
I think this is really strongly tied to what Ben Lehman's fictional elements for strategic choices thing, or Emily's story capital thing. At it's heart, I think it's about where the play rides on straight Baker-Care principle- the fiction says this, and it makes sense to us, as a group, that the following results should happen.
Though I think a lot of folks conflate that with the usual cop-out to dodging broken rules or fiat-y behavior, which historically has been the case for a lot of play, instead of being used in conjuction with the mechanics & cues.
That thread bounced me back to this Forge thread about Sorcerer combat and character death and lack thereof.
So... I wonder if I can track down a game of Sorcerer, IAWA, or Poison'd at Games on Demand or the Embassy Suites this coming week.....
Sunday, August 03, 2008
On T&T's silly spell names:
**** 'em If they can't take a joke! I still feel that the T&T spell names are as good or better than any others on the market. They are descriptive and amusing. There is a rationale for them being slightly silly. And besides, they are a game mechanism, like saving rolls, not an integral part of the T&T world.
On the future of roleplaying (as of 1983):
Nothing ever dies out. There are still blacksmiths for gods' sake, and people who wear armour and knock each other off horses with sticks. People are still playing the same crude board games they had in ancient Egypt (*JH ..and calling them Kensington and charging a fortune for them.) No, FRP won't die. But the golden age is already past. It will become less and less important, The true future of the art is in computers, and the true money also. Which is why Flying Buffalo has been trying hard for the last 4 years to get Coleco to come out with the computer version of T&T. Role playing games may be increasing in popularity and viability in England, but they are over the hill here.
On the possibility of a T&T Monster Manual:
Monsters! I think the Fiend Factory in White Dwarf is absolutely ridiculous! I'm against Monster Manuals! Bestiaries, yes, manuals, no! I'm enthralled and delighted when someone makes up a new monster and springs it on me in a game. I only encountered purple death hippos once, but it was great!
On trolls turning to stone when struck by sunlight:
Some do, some don't, At any rate, it isn't a permanent change. Trolls regenerate, so by the next night they would overcome the damage of being turned to stone and would gain mobility again. However, all my trolls tend to avoid direct sunlight, using a large parasol if necessary to go about by daylight.
On the lack of religion & clerics in T&T:
There has been a good deal of criticism of the lack of organised religion in the T&T rules, but I happen to believe that the world would be a lot better off without most of its organised religions, and that's the kind of place I wanted for my fantasy adventuring.
On whether you should design your own RPG:
Yes. The main pleasure of FRP is that of creation - creating a character, creating a world, creating a game system - it's all the same high. If you can create a better game system, more power to you! On the other hand, everyone should have at least one copy of Tunnels & Trolls, if only to give you an example of how it's done (or a bad example if you are a D&D person)! And no one should be afraid to try someone else's system. You may get some ideas!