Thursday, May 26, 2011

State of Play

What have I been up to? Here's a quick update:

Running: Masks of Nyarlathotep – Pulp Edition (Call of Cthulhu/BRP)
This campaign just reached the half way stage after 8 sessions and it’s been a blast. The fate and fortune points system I introduced have really worked well. The fortune points (which allow skill re-rolls) allow the players to really make sure they have all the leads they need, and add a new and interesting tactical dimension to Cthulhu combat, while still not spoiling the simple and straightforward vibe that’s the hallmark of BRP rules. Fate points have let the characters tackle the campaign head-on and really embrace a pulp style of play, which I think is necessary for such an old-school campaign. So far I think I’ve claimed at least 6 fate points, which would otherwise be 6 dead characters. I’ve also found the BRP rules I’ve added to Cthulhu (rumoured to be part of the next edition) have further empowered the players, while also adding some neat narrative details. I’m looking forward to seeing how the next half of the campaign plays out!

Running: Reverie (BASH Ultimate Edition)
This supers mini-series is in its infancy, but the first episode was huge fun, and I’m confident in sustaining this level of enjoyment. I find running supers games both fun and rewarding, and I’ve honed my style of origins stories to a good level which makes adding a strong character focus an implicit element of the game. I’ve developed quite a lot of plot for the game, but have been careful to thread this right through character backgrounds and will work hard to keep the focus on character driven drama which the group seems to enjoy. The stakes for me are higher with this game because it features a lot more of my own ideas then the pre-generated scenarios I usually run, so I usually feel both more nervous beforehand, and feel a greater sense of reward if things go well.

Playing: Gotham High (PDQ)
This has been an interesting experience and I took it on to try something different. I’m not a huge fan of the setting or system, but developing the characters has been entertaining, and the other players have been great fun.

Not Mentioned: I’ve temporarily halted running Kingsport Tales to focus on running Masks in a streamlined way. I’d really like to get back to Kingsport Tales soon, but I’m also enjoying the change of pace in Masks, so I guess it’s a case of not having cake and being able to eat it too. I also have suspended my involvement in the long-running D&D 4e campaign I had been playing due to ‘creative differences’ with the GM.

Looking Ahead: I’d like to run games at both Confusion and Fright Night, although so far I’m not sure what I’ll choose to run. Rogue Trader is also on my list of games I’d like to try running.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Day of Games

On Saturday I attended my first Day of Games (DOG) organised by the local legend Sophie Melchior. DOG is a small to mid-size, mostly indie games ‘con, where people bring games which require little or no preparation, and offer to run them over three rounds, with the most popular games (as voted by the audience) being selected to be run. I brought along Piledrivers and Powerbombs, a simple wrestling game as my contribution. What follows are my reflections on both the games and the systems I played.

Round One – Piledrivers and Powerbombs: Chokeslam of Darkness Edition

The Game: This was enormous fun, I had a full load of 6 players, and they set about creating wrestlers with silly gimmicks, and their enemy wrestlers with glee. Sophie featured as the evil NPC General Manager of the league and everyone got into the spirit of things rapidly. I was hugely impressed with everyone’s contribution, and I think that despite the disparate levels of knowledge or love for professional wrestling, and different gaming experience levels, everyone really came to the party in this game. It was massive fun and we managed to run through two complete match-cards with pre and post match scenes in the time allotted. I was particularly pleased by the willingness of the players to jump into the guest commentary roles when their own characters were not involved in a scene to really keep the flow going. The game and characters could have easily managed another hour in my opinion. Wrestlers created included:

  • Leeroy Harlem – Avenger of the disadvantaged street children, and his nemesis Max Power, a wealthy developer.

  • Man of Science – Educator and quoter of all things Darwin and Dawkins, opposed by his nemesis, bible-toting Father O’Mallet.

  • The Rainbow Warrior – Environmental activist and her fearsome hulking nemesis, the HAZMAT suit clad, Industrial By-Product.

  • El Hombre Lobo – The howling luchador known for abrupt ring entrances, and his nemesis the fearsome Shadow Man accompanied to the ring by his sexy zombies.

  • El Diablo – Another luchador who stands for the underprivledged opposed by the evil Developer and his bulldozer of destruction!

  • Last, but by no means least, Ronald Ray-Gun – Presidential wrestler with a tefelon smile and scantily clad Secret Service bodyguards opposed by the twisted head of the United Nations, the Secretary General.

The System: P&P is a neat system, it uses really simple techniques and a easily understood system to represent the different parts of the game. The real genius of the system is the use of pre and post match scenes to allow character developments and storytelling, while also delivering a mechanical advantage. It flowed smoothly and easily.

As a critique I would say that there needs to be better guidance for the players during the initial creation phase to help if they get stuck – the NPC gimmick and finisher tables are useful, but could be better tailored for this purpose. The pre and post match scenes are a little too similar and should have better demarcated points of uniqueness. There also needs to be a mechanic for linking subsequent match cards including rules to aid with the use of the GM to mess with the wrestlers and the commentary needs to be officially turned over to the players while different match types should have some optional special rules (e.g. in a cage match anyone who draws a face card takes a point of sellage in addition to the normal rules reflecting a collision with the metal) and finally, the actual wrestling itself needs another phase. The idea of drawing a hand then having an option to fold is nice. There should also be a chance to ‘raise’ drawing on the poker theme, to increase the tension and allow for the players to engage better, and more strategically, with the fight.

Round Two – Dread (D&D scenario)

I was actually ‘volunteered’ for this game by Alasdair, but I had been wanting to try Dread for ages, so was interested to see how it runs. Paul was offering a D&D version of Dread so I thought I might as well give it a shot.

The Game: I’m not a huge dungeon crawl fan so found motivation for this game a little tough, compounded by the need to fill in a questionnaire at the beginning of the game. However, my fellow players, and their characters were fairly motivational, so I created Old Ali a wizened demon worshipping wizard and together we ventured into the depths of the Dragon God’s dungeon and slew the beast with the loss of two of our number (including Old Ali). The game was solid and finished with an hour to spare, so Paul broke out Fiasco. I opted to wander off for a coffee and catch up with some folks instead, resulting in some interesting discussions about the nature of horror games at ‘cons.

The System: The Jenga Tower is a strong idea, and it does a remarkable job of increasing the tension. My main criticism is that the method of engagement with the tower encourages players to not engage with the scenario - if taking actions forces me to draw from the tower and imperils my character - then I’ll try and find ways to avoid taking action directly or even simply avoid engagement with the scenario. Now, obviously it is desirable that players do not play this way, but the reality is that some do, and any game that relies on ‘like minded players’ has an inherent weakness. My view is that any system should actively support the player’s engagement with the game, and be aligned with the aims of the scenario – Dread seems to fail this test to some extent. I also don’t like the character questionnaire used to help shape the character. I appreciate the technique and I like what it is trying to accomplish, but I personally think such a crude device to accomplish these aims alienates and excludes a segment of gamers who don’t like to be put on the spot, or don’t engage well with written material in a ‘con setting.

Round Three – Fiasco (London Underworld Setting)

Fiasco is another game I’ve wanted to try for ages. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Fiasco of late, so although I was a little disappointed I couldn’t get sufficient wrestlers for another run of P&P, I was happy to join Mike’s game of Fiasco.

The Game: I pushed for the London Underworld setting as I love Guy Ritchie’s irreverent movies of this genre. Fortunately I was persuasive and we began the setup phase of the game. It turned out that I was playing ‘Fancy’ Frank Farley an ex-con who had a frankfurter stand, was trying to scam a cat welfare lady and had a shared love interest with Alasdair’s character. So began our caper, which was enormous fun and had me in stitches through most of the game. Having involved any number of underworld factions I thought our game was pretty wild – until, that is, we had a visit from the crew of Jenni’s ‘clothes optional' Harry Potter Fiasco game. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable time, and although things didn’t work out too well for ‘Fancy’ Frank, I had a blast.

The System: The genius of Fiasco is clearly adding structure, in a fairly traditional way, to the beginning and ending of the game. The creators seem to have cleverly identified that these areas are often the most important, and by helping to shape them while also allowing a degree of player autonomy, it makes the prospect of the game falling flat, or lacking motivation, much reduced. I’m not really sure about how the dice are allocated during the game, we pretty much ran with a story (okay, I might have occasionally hijacked the story in places) and the formal structure of the set-up or resolve mechanic seemed unnecessary given we were all on the same page. I suppose, however, that if players are less together on what they’d like to have happen this might be a bigger factor. As a newbie to the game I found the complexity and sheer volume of dice a little overwhelming, and I think that a strongly systems-focussed player might have struggled to ‘trust’ the game sufficiently to allow it to progress smoothly. On subsequent play, however, this seems unlikely to remain an issue.

So, a fun day with some really enjoyable games. My thanks to Sophie for organising a great Day of Games.