10 December 2012

Game Review: Durance

I backed the Durance kickstarter, on the strength of Bully Pulpit's previous work (especially Fiasco). I was a little dubious based on the very specific focus of the game, but after reading and playing it I feel like it will have a fair amount of replay value.

The very specific focus is that you'll be telling a story about a space penal colony where things are going bad. It's a SF take on the Australian first fleet and the early days of Sydney (in fact, there's a chapter on using the game for the historical scenario, if you want to try that).

You can see that the system is closely based on Fiasco, with most of the game being free narration and roleplaying. However, there are plenty of extra bits that give a particular spin on things.

To start with, you define the planet and colony. There are six features that initial surveys said were beneficial. You take turns picking one to be true, and another to be false. Once you have defined all those, you can look up your specific world and colony in the rulebook: each possible result has details listed to use in your game. Then you pick what drives your colony - there's a list of six possible drives, and you take turns deleting one until there's only one left.
Then you create two notable characters to play. One will be a convict, the other a free person or agent of the Authority. Your two characters must also be of different ranks - each side of the colony is divided into a ladder, from the top dog (colony Governor, or the convict bigwig the Dimber Damber) down to the lowest of the low (convicts who have served their sentence on the free side, and the lowly political prisoners and ruined convicts on the other). Each notable also has taken a solemn oath, which may be picked by another player for you - that is done turn by turn as well. A final discussion about relationships and implications of the notables picked finishes up the colony setup.

Play then begins, with no one GM as you might expect. Instead, you take turns as scene guide. The guide's job is to pose a question, like "I wonder how Freesh the bolter [an escaped convict] is surviving out in the wilderness?" or "I wonder what the governor does when he finds out his captain of marines was murdered in cold blood?". The other players then set a scene exploring that question and play out what happens (possibly with a few more questions asked along the way). In general, you aim to include your notables in the scenes as much as you can.

Uncertainty in the resolution of a scene is worked out via a choice (after a dice roll by the guide) of which of the colony drives is used in the situation. The choice is between "servility", "savagery", and the particular drive you picked for your colony in setup. The die roll provides some randomness, restricting which drives may be chosen. When the resolution method is picked, the actual resolution is played out by the group.

I've played only a single session one shot, but we had a great time. The setup gives you both an unstable, failing, colony and a bunch of characters with various issues and relationships that push them into action. The oaths, in particular, very naturally push your play of the notables into certain patterns - especially some of the crazier ones (I had a character who had sworn "to never keep a promise"). We wrecked the colony - the senior Authority notables and the Dimber Damber were all overthrown, and a republic declared. But with my promise-breaking convict in charge, we knew that it would not go well.

The resolution mechanics and story guidance are just enough to get things going the right direction - it shares that light touch with Fiasco. The individually generated planet and colony also assure that each game with have its own particular flavour. For example, our planet was so hostile that none of the colonists left the town. Only the wretched bolters attempted to live out in the wild, fighting off the natives and scratching for alien moss to eat. Most of the game took place indoors to avoid the harsh climate.

Overall, recommended. Especially if you're a Fiasco fan who is interested in exploring and even darker story.

Links: Durance at RPGNow or IPR. Fiasco at RPGNow or IPR.

18 November 2012

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

I just finished Red Country - latest book in the First Law world. It's at least as good as the others, and revisits a few characters we've seen before to show how the intervening years have treated them.

The main story is great too - Abercrombie's ability to make characters (even horrible ones) human is here in full force. The story takes them to a piece of country that's an obvious parallel to the US West. The story isn't exactly a fantasy western, but that's a pretty good quick description.

Recommended! But read the other books first (knowing the history of the returning characters adds a large dimension to the story).

18 August 2012

Just read: Burnt Ice by Steve Wheeler

Burnt Ice is a hardish (firm?) science space opera that reminded me a little of Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds*.

It's about a team of military engineering intelligence agents: they basically go in to check out weird tech and decide how to use/destroy it. As you might expect, a routine first mission draws them into a much more complicated situation.

There's a lot of getting into the details of the tech, enough that it's clear Wheeler has thought the implications of things through (even if not everything is fully explained). The world he introduces us to has a lot going on, as well (note: this is the first book of a series).


* Important footnote: Wheeler does not have any of the torture scenes or gratuitous awfulness that often appears in Banks and Reynolds stories. This is good.

07 July 2012

Monster of the Week: Completed

You might see a little more activity here, as Monster of the Week is now complete and in print. You can find out more at my Generic Games site, if you want to check it out (or buy a copy). It's also listed on the Un-Store at my page there. Both of those end up going to me for fulfillment.

I'm working on a Lulu.com edition as well, which will have less crippling shipping to large chunks of the world. The Lulu version will be (a) thinner, due to thinner paper stock and (b) the internal print quality is not so good. Still, there's no reason not to make it available.

There's quite a lot coming up that I might talk about here.

  • I need to write a scenario for this year's Fright Night convention. It's going to be Monster of the Week: Medieval, so I'll be hacking my game a bit to make that work. The characters are not going to be quite so suited to dealing with monsters as in the basic game, for a start.
  • I'm going to look at making a Monster of the Week demo kit: a mystery or two and partly pre-generated hunters to get people playing right away. That will go up as a free download when it's done.
  • Get some serious planning done for my game of The One Ring. I'm using a bunch of the Tales From Wilderland adventures, but I'm getting to a point where the characters' own goals will be driving things. In particular, two of them have a need to go deep into Mirkwood to investigate certain things, and that's going to be tough for them. I guess I should do a decent review of the game as well. Short version: it's very good.
  • Get an adventure ready for ConFusion next month. I'll be running Monster of the Week with one of the mysteries that I'm writing anyway for the IndieGoGo funders. Efficient!
  • I have a few people who I owe stuff-reading and comments to. Now I'll actually have time to do some of that.
  • I should give you all an overview of books I've been reading, as there have been a few good ones. Expect that soonish. 

18 February 2012

Rather Late Kapcon Report

This year at Kapcon, I was running the games on demand room again. That meant lots of playing stuff.

Monster of the Week - Zombiefest 2012: I took some people through one of my draft mysteries that's going in the collection for fundraisers. It's a zombie outbreak at a death metal festival, and went just great (it got played twice more by other groups over the convention). The team had a Snoop, and they had a Ghost Facers style youtube show. A Wronged, Flake, and Mundane rounded out the team. For some reason they immediately decided one of the metal drummers was behind events, which led to much hilarity but little mystery solving. A fan set them right before the end, and they even enchanted a baseball bat for the drummer from Celestial Laceration to help them fight off the undead.

FreeMarket: By request, FreeMarket came out. The MRCZ was a little unfocused at first. Then there were some hijinks with a guy hired to death one of them, which they spun into a popular blog that swept the station by storm. For a little while anyway. We had a lot of fun with smileys and frownies, too.

Fiasco - De Medici: I really wanted to play this set, and got a group of people who were keen to join me. We had a lot of fun with our five terrible characters. We were all terrible, and the tale involved blackmail, assassination, a bastard babe, adultery, a fake relic trade, and the Inquisition. It ended well for nobody. I did have a lot of fun with my dashing mercenary captain, who died in perhaps his only selfless act (trying to rescue a soldier of my company from the Inquistion's dungeon).

Psi*Run: Uneven, but basically fun. The runners caused an immense amount of carnage and discovered some unexpected details about their pasts. In future, I plan to approach this game with a much stronger GM style than I am used to these days.

3:16: Kapcon Sunday morning is usually a time when I need to go for something crazy and easy to run. 3:16 is a natural for these situations, and the marines kicked arse on one operation before being almost TPKed in the second: if only the corporal didn't have a strength left [shakes fist]. But he did, so he saved the day and the 3:16th in the final battle. Pity about the rest of the squad.

Monster of the Week: Sophie and I ran our double feature that got cancelled for Fright Night. The games played great and the hunters used the parallel stories to create some neat bits. I got one member of Sophie's team for a while, and the Divine teleported back and forth a few times. Plus there were some great phone conversations between the hunters: one I recall had a hunter in my group phone one in the other team. I called across the room "Hey, Expert, your phone rings" and we interrupted some kind of fight aftermath. In between them fighting ghouls and vampires off, and saving someone from bleeding out, we got the reply "it goes to voicemail". And both teams defeated their respective big bads, so huzzah! But the Divine on my team also destroyed the wall between life and death, to begin the Apocalypse (this was his mission on Earth). Everyone was a little deflated when he did that.

Fiasco - Fiasco High: Last session, after the prize giving, and everyone was strung out and crazy. We played with six, as there was an extra player who didn't get into any other game. This was my most hilarious and disturbing game of Fiasco yet. We had sports rivalry between Chad and Brad, murderous identical twins, an out of control Chess Club, and various shenanigans to ensure that there was way too much beer at the party after the prom. In the end, we ruined the prom and most of the characters ruined their lives too. Fantastic!