20 December 2010

Actual Play: Lamentations of the Flame Princess/Tower of the Stargazer

In my Monday group's usual holiday season tradition, we are trying a few one off in the lead up to Kapcon. Last time it was a Monster of the Week playtest, this week we did a bit of old school renaissance with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, using the introductory adventure Tower of the Stargazer.

The game certainly brought back a lot of nostalgia, and I thought that the rules lived up to their promise from reading through - everything was fairly streamlined and intuitive (at least compared to actual old school D&D or the old school rulesets that pretty much just recreate the old rules. It also had a lot more flavour in the character classes than Dungeonslayers (our only other recent foray into this style). Dungeonslayers is a fine lightweight set of rules, but it felt a little flat to us after a few sessions.

Anyway, we got some characters rolled up - one player taking two after I mentioned that multiple characters and/or hirelings might be a good idea. The fighter also bought a dog - obviously a terrier given its low rolled hit points!  So we had the Pants siblings (cleric of the Mist Goddess and specialist - that's a thief to the rest of us), a halfling and the fighter and dog. No hirelings, as they ran out of money but maybe there'll be some next time.

I basically set them up with the beginnings of a Western Marches style game, with a small village and nearby military fort on the border of The Empire, with only rumours and ruins beyond. The key rumour (given to the two siblings played by one player, because he put his hand up when asked "who has a wizard as a parent?") was a story about a place constantly hit by lightning containing lots of treasure and magic. This is about the most obvious lead in to The Tower of the Stargazer that you could have.

I'll hold off on anything spoilery about the adventure, but we had fun as they explored. They searched and tried this and that, finding lots of weird stuff, some treasure, some odd magical things, some monsters and a fair chunk of the story behind why it is all there and like it is. We got about half of the place explored in the evening, with a natural cutoff as they needed to retreat back to town in order to (a) heal up and (b) flog off some loot. I was happy to see the dog get the first kill of the game, and they narrowly avoided any of the party being killed (there were three or four chances that someone could have died, and the halfling only made it by 1 hit point on one of them).

Good fun, overall. Not sure if I'm ready to commit to a full on old school campaign, but I certainly want to see them explore the rest of the tower and maybe we can come back to the characters for some of the other adventures later on. Death Frost Doom also looks pretty cool, and Hammers of the God too. I should mention that I really respect Raggi's adventures, because they provide places that (from reading) look really cool to explore, they're really dangerous adding a big sense of caution, and for the GM there's  a good story as to why the place is there, why things are like they are and how all the little elements fit in. The sense of logic to each place really makes them work for me, and gives you a good base to improvise extra details off when you are running it. They're fun to read, and this one was more fun to gradually reveal as they explored it.

03 November 2010

I bought a Kindle!

Kind of on impulse, kind of due to a confluence of suggestions and the current exchange rate, I bought myself a Kindle ebook reader. It turned up in the mail last Tuesday and I've been reading stuff on it happily since then - except for a now quite obsolete feeling paper edition of The Fall, received as a birthday present (note: not quite as original as The Strain was, but just as exciting).

The text is very readable, and seems to be somewhat easier on the eyes than an actual book (and much nicer than an LCD screen). I've been reading faster using it, maybe because you have to do less work (no movement of pages, etc). It has the obvious advantage of being able to hold ~3000 books in a package that is about the size of a paperback, except much thinner and slightly lighter. Another nice service is that many of the Amazon books have a free sample, allowing you to read the first chapter or two of something for free to decide if you want to buy it.

Disadvantages are that the "instant delivery" of new texts makes it easy to spend a lot of money, and that some books are restricted by region, meaning now and again I am prevented by publishing restrictions from giving people money in exchange for their goods. I assume that the publisher and author would actually like me to buy their products, but it seems that some confluence of dumbness prevents this. The screensaver is also a little annoyance, as you can't customize it at all and some of the images aren't so great (particularly the creepy picture of Emily Dickinson.... eek!).

Oh, and it's not going to be any use for pdf game texts, something I would quite like to have available in this format. I think that the ideal electronic device for these is a few years away (or maybe just too expensive - I'm looking at you iPad).

Overall, I recommend the thing. It is good, and means I don't need to worry about getting more bookshelves quite as soon as I might have.

Gaming Update

Not much to review over the past few months, but I did jut buy myself copies of Time & Temp, How We Came To Live Here, Dead of Night and some Trail of Cthulhu scenarios. Expect reviews of those texts soon and reviews after play some time later.

I'm still MCing one game of Apocalypse World and playing in another. This is a fantastic game, and I highly recommend it. Even if a post-apocalyptic setting doesn't really do it for you, it's worth a serious look. In play, it generates really great, emotional character stuff all the time. As an example, one of the advancement options is "create a second character to play as well as your first one", something I have done in the game I'm playing in. The new character comes in somewhat disconnected to the existing characters and story, of course, and he spent two sessions as an outsider, really, to the things going on. Then, at the end of that second session a few move results suddenly brought him right into the centre of everything that is happening (specifically, some responsibility for causing the apocalypse and a hint of how to repair the world). It's awesome stuff, now he's got a huge plan to save the world ahead of him. The abilities of the characters to change the world (even just the local part of it) make for great play, as much when you fail a roll as when you succeed. So play it!

I didn't mention that I got my boxed set of FreeMarket in early August. It's pretty! The game is the same, so no news there, but the components are lovely. It looks like they even have some copies left, so if you were thinking about grabbing it there you go.

05 August 2010

More about Apocalypse World

I have begun another Apocalypse World game, this time as a player rather than MC. It's interesting that the experience is very different, more distinct than I had expected.

This is probably partly because I'm out of practice at just playing games, these days, almost always running things for my regular group. It's partly, too, that I built my character thinking mainly about what would be awesome but didn't spend any time thinking about who the character was and how he got there. That made positioning myself a little harder, although now I've had time to digest the game and think about it, I have a better handle on him and most importantly a plan that will almost certainly lead to chaos.

The game was shaped right from the beginning by some significant, and missed, rolls. The characters are me with a Battlebabe, a Hocus and a Brainer. We live around a bar that existed under the protection of a bike gang.

The first play-driving failure was on the Hocus's session start move, with a death and a desertion (specifically, a break with his brother) in the cult. Later, I managed to aggravate the entire bike gang and only ended that by killing their leader and taking another one hostage to walk out alive. Oh, and the brainer failed a puppet strings roll that ended with another gang member dying. So, overall it was fairly undirected chaos.

I think we maybe stepped into play a little soon, but the chaos - especially the local power vacuum - leaves us in an interesting place for the second session. We've been throwing some ideas around, and I suspect that the second game will work a bit better for all of us.

Looking forward to session two.

Regarding Apocalypse World, my high opinion stands. Very good game.

19 July 2010

Adnan's Junkyard: Apocalypse World first session.

I pre-ordered Apocalypse World a while back, and got the pdf. I have been really wanting to play since then, as this game is damn good. I've been meaning to write a review, but I didn't feel like I could do it justice without a bit of play.

Which has now been done - we did the first session of a game about a savvyhead and his assorted helpers and strays. Aside from Adnan the savvyhead, we have Jackson (brainer), Keeler (gunlugger) and Lavender (skinner). We generated quite a bit of detail about the world around them, although interestingly nobody volunteered anything about exactly what had happened to the world. There's a bit that's implicit given what came up in the session, of course.

Two of the characters had particularly interesting histories (by which I mean fuel for future complications). Adnan used to live in Grome's holding, but a year ago moved to his junkyard to be an independant operator selling his services to all comers. Jackson used to be the right hand of a hocus, from the sounds of it mind controlling recalcitrant followers and the like. But there was a coup, and after killing the rest of the leaders they threw Jackson in a river to drown, but instead he washed up at the junkyard. As the session went on we found that he'd taken in a few other random wanderers too.

The day in the life as suggested from in the MC's First Session instructions was pretty fun, as they all had  a turn with the more appealing moves they had. Jackson spent a lot of time doing violation glove powered in brain puppet strings on anyone he could, for later. Lavender did similar with hypnotic, and now has hold over Adnan and Jeanette (a raiding gang member). They also uncovered a mysterious buried thing - they hoped it was a crashed, buried plane but it turned out to be a weird tunnel full of strange fungus-like stuff, and goo. They decided to seal it back up but I have a feeling that stuff is not gonna stay dormant any longer. Plus, they killed a bunch of dudes from another nearby group in the process of claiming it.

So, plenty of stuff to work on for building fronts going forward. I look forward to thinking that stuff through. We have the final chapter of our Trail of Cthulhu game to get through before we get back to this.

So, on to the game. The thing that I really like is that the character classes are filled with colour, and that the individual character books are the only background you need to read (as a player, anyhow). The MC (gamemaster) in this game... well, it's a way I've run games before, but here everything about the rules reinforces it, something I've never seen before. The style's what I think of as a sandbox game - where the player characters do their thing and the gamemaster lets things play out however seems natural based on what the other characters would do, following whatever plans they have.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but I've run games like this using rules like GURPS, and having everything built to support it makes it run really smoothly. The player characters have special moves to differentiate themselves, but the MC has their own set of moves that they use to make sure everything works naturally based on what's happening. And it does work, so that's good. Really nice for the person who wants to run a game without a whole lot of prep - you need to do a bit, but nothing onerous.

So, if you want to run a game that has that sort of sandbox play, I really recommend it. The post-apocalyptic setting is good too, but the game's pretty easily hackable if you want to do something different. In fact, I'm currently working through a re-write of Monster of the Week to use a bunch of the ideas from Apocalypse World there (there turn out to be some things that deal with some specific issues I had with that game design).

08 May 2010


Another recent game purchase has been ACTION CASTLE! and JUNGLE ADVENTURE, using Jared Sorensen's Parsely system.

These aren't really role-playing games in any normal sense. They're based on 1980s text adventure computer games, with one player as the parser (and the map and descriptions of everything), and everyone else as the person typing in commands. Each player takes it in turn to type in a single command.

I played in ACTION CASTLE! at Kapcon, and enjoyed it so much that I picked both it and JUNGLE ADVENTURE up last month.

Running the games as parser is at least as much fun as being on the other side (you get the fun of knowing what they should be doing, which is usually not obvious to the others). I've run both games at lunch hours at work for a few interested colleagues, and that was a fantastic venue for it. Silly, and short, the games were a lot of fun.

Recommended when you need a short, silly game for any number of people (my experience suggests that the more people playing, the better).

ACTION CASTLE! doesn't have much room for replay - once solved, it is pretty much done. JUNGLE ADVENTURE is a bit longer and much tougher. My colleagues managed just 50/100 points when they finished, and there are more variations available. I suspect that you could happily play this 2-4 times before you discovered everything.

Read-through review of A Taste for Murder by Graham Walmsley

Mr Walmsley is kindly offering a pdf of the game for those who preorder. I sat down and read it last night. 

The game simulates Agatha Christie style murder mysteries, with the focus being people at a country house in the 1930s. The game is similar to Fiasco in style, giving you the skeleton of structure that you then build on in play to create the details of the world. 

You start out making up characters, and your relationships with the other characters. The first half of the game deals with the characters pushing each other to stress the relationships. I can imagine that many details will be invented here that will come back later on, often twisted.

At the halfway point, everyone writes down which character they want to be the murder victim and then a random pick determines who it was. The player of the victim returns in the second half as Inspector Chapel.

The second half of the game plays similarly to the first, with the addition of the ability to investigate people - successful investigation means that something is revealed about the character's relationship with the victim (i.e. giving them motive). Eventually, two people have enough motive to have done the deed and there is a denouement to reveal who the killer really was (determined by the winner of a dice roll - events earlier in the game determine how many dice each player gets).

It seems like a very good structure to make the game work as intended. There's some advice on things to aim for in play, in order to get the right sort of feel.

There's also a lot of information in the book about life in a country house at the time, from an overall history of the evolution of the country house to details like how to address different people and who each of the servants report to.

After that read, it looks very good. I'm keen to play it, and will be looking for opportunities to do so.

15 March 2010

Fiasco: Actual Play (Prog Metal Hell)

We played Fiasco tonight, using the "Rock band on tour" playset. It was awesome, with our three characters - the guitarist, bass player and drummer - all in the shadow of the singer/songwriter. Things almost instantly went off the rails (mainly due to the 'minimally trained grizzly bear'). The tilt let latent hatreds out and everything kept getting worse. Ultimately we were all left destroyed.

Game play pretty much delivered as promised. We finished quick with just three - I'd definitely suggest adding a few extra dice to keep the scenes going longer if you have three. Some of the scene setup and resolution was a little sketchy, as we got used to the way the game goes. This was very temporary, and by the end we were scooting along just fine.

Definitely up to play again, several times.

10 March 2010

Fiasco by Jason Morningstar

This is a odd game to read, because the resolution is quite unlike most games. I'm not sure exactly how it will play out. Given that, this has to be taken as a fairly preliminary review - I can't quite predict how it will go in action. That said, reports from the Internet are positive, in general, so I have fairly high hopes.

The game is designed to play stories like plan-gone-wrong type films - almost everything that the Coen brothers have done is a good touchstone, but Fargo and Blood Simple seem to typify the default style of the game. It's GM-less, in a similar way to The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

Play begins with a setup section, where you pick one of the playsets to give you a basic theme and setting. There are four of these in the book, plus they're releasing a new one each month this year (you can find the current one on the home page). So far, we have "A Nice Southern Town," "Boomtown" (wild west), "Tales from Suburbia," "The Ice" (McMurdo Station), "Rock Band on Tour," "Gangster London" and "Last Frontier" (Alaska). All are filled with delicious and terrible details to set your game up.

Once you've picked that, you roll all the dice (4 per player) and allocate relationships and details to give your story its starting point. You'll begin with one relationship with the player on your left and one to the right, plus each relationship will be associated with a need, object or place. Once all that's down you sort out how these fit together and finalize your character.

Then play begins, with everyone taking turns to have a scene. When it's your turn you either get to set the scene (i.e. set your character up to do something you want to see happen) or resolve it (i.e. decide whether it goes well or badly for your character). The rest of the players get to do the other task, so if you set the scene, they decide how it ends, and vice versa.

Then you play the scene out until the resolver decides it has reached the crux and picks a black or white die to indicate if it ends badly or well. You keep playing to work out what happens and then the turn passes.

Halfway through, you add a "Tilt" to make things more crazy. This includes things like stuff being stolen, people being killed and so on (My favorite probably has to be "Failure: A stupid plan, executed to perfection.")

Then play goes on, with everything in theory coming to a head. Then an aftermath is rolled for each character - essentially how terribly they come out of it. You then narrate details of their epilogue based on how many dice you collected.

I didn't go into collecting dice - it's an important economy but I thought it would cloud a quick description of the way the game runs. The short version is that you want to collect mainly one colour, but only have limited control over what you get, so the other players can use this to screw your guy over if they think he deserves it. I suspect this will add an extra level of messing with people into the mix.

In terms of how it will play, I'm not exactly sure. I'm confident that with a proactive group it will just hum along, but there's some areas of vagueness that might stall a little. For instance, the way that you just play out the results once it's determined whether good or bad results happen might be a problem. I suspect you need people ready to step up and declare things pretty frequently, like "I guess this scene is over now". These aren't really problems, but it would be a good idea to be wary of some of these things going in.

Physically, the book's lovely. It's filled with colorful, cartoony illustrations and fun layout and typesetting that really give you an off-kilter vibe as you read it.

I'm hoping to give the game a spin soon, so I'll update with how it played when I do (possibly including a report on the "Smalltown New Zealand" playset I could not resist putting together for it).

Fiasco home

26 January 2010

Kapcon 2010 After-action Report

This year I spent all 6 official and 1 unofficial sessions in the games on demand room. Here's the games played and the good and bad of running them like this.

Bad Family. Steve Hickey ran this, with me playing. It's the newest version of his long in-development game of dysfunctional family sitcoms. It was absolutely fantastic, with the only bump being one player who was quite out of sync with the tone the rest of the table. The game itself is significantly polished compared to my previous experience of it, although (as I told Steve) I suspect that there's still rather more structure around each scene than is actually required.

FreeMarket. This game is hard to pitch to a group. I find that I can explain what's cool about it if I have a chance to talk to one or two people for a few minutes, but to get a quick pitch to a room of expectant gamers, not so much. In any case, I managed to convince four to give it a go and they created some fun characters and a great MRCZ concept: guerilla redecorators. The first thing they did was make over a public cafe (they scrounged some junk, and recycled the cafe and junk together to change the cafe from tags: "Ephemera, Cafe, Utilitarian" to "Ephemera, Cafe, Luxurious"). Once this was done we got into the flow of it and the rest of the game went pretty well. They managed to generate enough flow by the end that we had time to have a virtual second session beginning and run through a MRCZ promotion round, which they won. Not without issues in a three hour round, but overall a success.

3:16. As expected, fun all round. Not the best game, though. I found that the players seemed in a more reactive mood, which doesn't suit 3:16 well. If they are all just waiting for the next encounter, it drags a bit. I was somewhat to blame as well - beginning to run out of creative energy as the afternoon wore on. I wasn't pushing enough for cool narration too, looking back. Despite all that, everyone enjoyed themselves so that's the main thing.

ACTION CASTLE! I played in this one. Hilarious! If you get the chance, play it.

Ganakagok. Played late on Saturday. Suffered from general tiredness of everyone and the short time we had to play it. The game still generated some great myth, and I had a great time (I think ACTION CASTLE! got my creativity kick-started). After this, though, I think Ganakagok really needs at least 3-4 hours to work. That we everyone can get their head around the mechanics and there's time to get several rounds of play in, rather than just one or two.

Lacuna. Sunday morning, I was so tired that I pushed Lacuna as matching my mind's state perfectly. I used the tactic of basically not telling the Mystery Agents anything, and it worked well. Mood was perhaps affected by a very loud game of 3:16 also in the room, although the random shouts and sound effects probably contributed well to our game's nightmarish aspects. Afterwards, I had a conversation with a couple of players about the game's form and structure, how the incomplete aspects fitted into the setting and play, and how Jared Sorenson likes to mess with basically everybody.

In A Wicked Age... Played by popular request of some people who had played it the previous day. We used the "God-Kings of War" oracle and had a good game with a clash of two nations, complicated by a devil-worshiping cult, a jealous god, and a mischievous djinni. My favourite moment was when I offered "The devil kills and eats you" as a post-conflict negotiation and was accepted (the character happily continued taking part in the story as a ghost). The epic battle between the wild tribe huntress and the city-state's general was also neat to watch.

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach: OVERLORD. I grabbed three players for this in the last session. We had a good session, although it took a little while for everyone to get the hang of setting up scenes to position themselves for reputation gains - not helped by a weak first scene on my part, which was really only rescued when another player jumped in to create some good adversity for me. Interestingly, this was the lowest body count of any Roach game I have been involved in, despite being set in a commando training camp and with all characters trained soldiers (this does not hold true if we include German soldiers during the D-Day event, however).

Games on demand as a whole was great fun this year. We ran a little more smoothly and got games going more quickly. There are still a few places for improvement, of course, so hopefully will be even better next year. I enjoy that a lot of people like to come in between rounds to chat about the games we have, as well. There's a relaxed, sociable atmosphere that I enjoyed - although sometimes I was a little tired to actually contribute much to conversation.

19 January 2010

Ganakagok - First Game

To prepare for wanting to run it at Kapcon, I ran a one-shot of Ganakagok last night.

The short version is that the game worked great, play ended up pretty much as the text implied it would. Perhaps more so, as the constant turning of cards to inspire narration kept giving us ideas in keeping with the setting.

The characters had perhaps a little weak construction (in terms of building Truth-vision, Change-hope and Change-fears that prompted immediate action), but the world building meant that as soon as play began stuff began to happen.

It turned out that we had a very small number of stars, so a short game. That was fine as we have a fairly short session anyhow (especially with all the preparation). The action fairly zipped along and the characters quickly fell into a love-triangle (square?) feud rather than attempting to deal with the coming changes.

Still, it gave us a good story and lots of fun alliance breaking and so on.

I suspect that the myth we made would be told by the descendants of the Nitu as the last sins committed under the old ways, before the new ways gave them a better way of life.

02 January 2010

Brief notes on new game purchases.

I bought myself a few new games recently, and here's my impressions of them after a first read through.

The Roach Returns. Two new settings for The Shab-al-Hiri Roach. They're Oxford, 1863 and a commando training school in England, 1944. Both have a few new cards to swap into the deck to add to the flavour, and new enthusiasms and so on to create the appropriate feel. All good stuff, and hopefully I'll get to try one or both of them at Kapcon.

Thou Art But A Warrior. I picked this up as a more-accessible version of Polaris, and it looks like it fits that well. Basically the same game, but the setting is the last days of the Arabian empire in Spain. Very nice to read, and lovely art. This will sit with Polaris waiting for a good chance to play one or the other.

Ganakagok. I picked this one up due to hearing so many good things about it online, and the fact that it has a custom card deck (I am a sucker for custom card decks). Basically, you play Inuit-ish myths, with details heavily inspired by card draws. There's some dice mechanics in the resolution too. Looks very cool - hopefully I can play soon. The mechanics look like they'll really push towards mythic types of characters and events. Plus, the tribe's world is bound to change and the mechanics slowly build up whether various aspects will end up ending well or badly.