21 December 2009

Play: FreeMarket

The Monday group took FreeMarket for a spin tonight. It certainly delivered the gameplay promised by the text - I certainly had great fun and everyone else seemed to as well.

The initial round of running a pretend challenge seemed to confuse everyone as much as it enlightened them. Then we got into the basic character generation stuff, which was all fine.

MRCZ creation was a little tougher, as everyone tried to come up with something that their disparate skillsets could work together for. In the end they didn't really manage, but everyone was enthusiastic about "My Little Special Friend" MRCZ, who create customized and weaponized pets. So far they printed up a dayglo stripy cat to pay someone's gambling debt and have got themselves a request for a weaponized cat, too. They acquired the raw materials for it but we ran out of time before they got to build it.

The situation generation was effective and fun. Every character has some memories written on their sheet, and you go and grab elements from each of these to make up things that can happen - so one guy from this character's memory wants an item from another person's memory to blow up a statue that's in a third character's memory. This sounds confusing, but it worked really well. I tied them into the whole custom pet theme of the MRCZ and we just went from there.

Filling up the station with oddball types is fun too. Just finding out about their neighbours was quite fun (a metal band on one side, a mobber with tentacles on the other). I quite enjoyed a courier who delivered them a couple of things. There's going to be more to him than they have yet realised, I think.

The challenge mechanics are pretty fun, although the card draws distract a little from remembering to narrate what you are doing. It's one of those games where I'm going to have to keep reminding myself & others to narrate what happens. The card draws give you a lot to work with, though! Just things like drawing a geneline and hazard give you something to work with (i.e. your narration should incorporate your natural talents but have something go not quite right as well).

Looking forward to playing more! The next session for My Special Little Friend should be epic - they have to build their weaponized cat to give to one guy's Dad. Nobody asked him what for yet... but hey, I guess they don't need to know. What could possibly go wrong with arming a cat with a miniature flechette cannon?

08 December 2009

Read-through Review: FreeMarket (beta)

I've been waiting for Crane and Sorenson to finish this one ever since I found out about the premise. They have released the beta to anyone who signs up for the colonist program at the website (only 1000 berths available!)

So, the premise is that you are a bunch of dudes who live on this space station where death is not permanent, scarcity is no more and everyone cares mainly about reputation (here called Flow, and basically the same as Whuffie from Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom). The player characters start as a MRCZ - an group who have formed a team to do something. You can pretty much pick any goal you want - the examples in the text include people trying to make various station systems work better through party designers and professional extortionists.

What drives it all, however, is Flow. You want your Flow to be increasing, because your MRCZ only gets more Flow when the members get more. You need to risk it whenever you use the game's challenge mechanics, so you'll spend a bit as well. Plus, if you run out you can be voted off the station forever.

There's lots of cool stuff to do - making things, smushing things together to make other things, hacking people's memories, engineering memes, and so on. The world's sketched in the example tech and things like that, and there's plenty of ideas there. Still, it's overall a sandbox kind of game. And pretty much anything goes (although if you're annoying, sooner or later your Flow will tank and you'll be put in a box aimed at Mars).

I suspect what will happen in play is that the players will go a bit crazy picking a project for their MRCZ, but that will soon become an all-consuming quest (no matter how silly it is). The notes on how to run it provide lots of ways for the GM to build on what's on the character sheets and make the game rock on no matter whether you are trying to save the solar system or breeding a superior moss as a novelty item. The game's probably not for everyone, but it's certainly for me and I plan to play it the next session that someone is absent (i.e. preventing more Trail of Cthulhu play).

One more note: the beta requires a significant craftiness investment, as the game is played with 6 custom card decks. Now, the beta package includes the raw materials to print and make them (and some fans have even made versions that are more printing out friendly), but I can tell you from experience that it takes a long time to assemble the 245 (!) cards you need. I wouldn't have bothered if the boxed set was going to be any earlier than it is (sounds like next May or June is the ETA). On the other hand, you can consider making the cards your first Cultivation challenge (Cultivation: making tech items using old fashioned techniques).

Gaming Update

Well, look at that. The experiment with Dungeonslayers finished after another couple of sessions. We had fun but I felt that the game didn't have the legs for a longer campaign to work well. Basically the simplicity of the rules worked against itself there - in combat, everyone soon homed in on their one or two best things to do every round, so the fights got less interesting (the advanced combat rules option on the website might help with that). Plus, as a GM, there's no real guidance as to how tough the monsters are, so stocking an adventure is hard. The only clue are the raw stats and the xp listed. I'd like to see something more structured for creating your own critters as well.

I still think it's a great game, but probably best suited to short campaigns or one-off sessions.

After that I've done a few Monster of the Week playtests. The rules are coming along pretty well, and this is steadily getting polished into something that I can can give out to closed beta testers soon (i.e. in between 1 and 6 months). Play gets a nice Supernatural style build from mystery to tracking the monster to final showdown, with a few character scenes along the way.

Then the regular group (with one person left for England and two new faces) hit the next chapter of our ongoing Trail of Cthulhu series. This time they were exploring a site off the coast of Greenland - mainly by remote control, as only one of the divers was a player character. I wanted a short, intense mystery for this one, and it seemed to happen that way. They defeated that evil below the ocean amnd now it's investigators 2, Cthulhu 2 with one more qualifier before their final chance to stop things at R'lyeh. The plan is to move on with more of this, so chapter five will be next, with a trip to the Amazon.