Good Society... Wizards... Pride, Prejudice, and Practical Magics

Edit: This came out on the eve before the official PDF of Good Society has hit backers! If you are interested in the game, you can pre-order at this time at https://storybrewersroleplaying.com.

Good Society, Great Game

Back in July I got to play Good Society at GoPlayNW, run by friend and fellow Gauntleteer Yoshi (with players Gene, Corrin, and Paul). It’s Jane Austin, the RPG. Hayley and Vee, the designers, have been working on the game for a few years now, and had a wonderfully successful Kickstarter. There’s a number of actual play videos out there for those curious.

Although we only played a one-shot game, as you do at conventions, I was struck by how powerfully full of politics this game was. The most memorable aspect was the cycle of scene types that continuously escalated and snowballed the intrigue and drama: phases that include role playing scenes, a phase where you collaboratively take turns creating rumors and scandals, and an epistolary phase where characters write letters to one another (performed by just speaking the letters out loud). None of the game involves any dice, by the way.

The crown jewels of the game, however, is the monologue token. With this little genius piece of mechanic, a player can have another player instantly go into monologue mode, and show us what their main character is truly thinking, in that scene. The only downside is you have one to spend, and must wait for a full cycle of scenes before getting another.

I really, really didn’t think that I’d be that entranced by a Jane Austin RPG, but I was completely wrong. It was one of my highlights of that game convention.

…Add a Touch of Magic

So, add to that: an expansion to the core game that introduces wizards, and witches, and all the magic bullshit you want in your game. I just finished a 3-shot series playtest of Pride, Prejudice, and Practical Magics, run by Hayley with fellow players Ryan, Sid, and Vee, as part of The Gauntlet’s slew of amazing games being run by the ASPAC crew. Hayley and Vee wanted to do some more playtesting, and all I had to do was make the slightly awful Pacific local time that this entailed.

We spent the bulk of the first session doing character and setting generation, as well as a ceremony by the Wizard’s College to nominate two prospects to be voted on to follow the matron on her retirement. We had long-term curses, disowned characters, and inter-wizardly-association politics, in addition to all the high court and gentry drama.

 A screenshot of the character keeper we used (Google sheets), with the primary and secondary characters, as well as the factions and “spellcasting table”

A screenshot of the character keeper we used (Google sheets), with the primary and secondary characters, as well as the factions and “spellcasting table”

It was really the second and third sessions where we started to hit a stride, however, and got to go through all the phases, ramping up tensions, solidifying various factions vying for power and control of the Wizard’s College, a lawsuit between wizarding families, and family hierarchies. In the end things didn’t land where you’d expect, but we had a couple of relatively happy endings, among the super sad memory loss (of a sort) that was a consequence for a promise broken. The second and third session also had a ton of self-indulgent fantasy bullshit of the type that all of us were clamoring for (three cheers for the Wishes procedure, and the real world magic it produces).

We did some great debriefs after the fact (not recorded), and it was pleasant to additionally see that the game testing produced actionable changes that Hayley and Vee found useful for improving the game. I also have to give a shout out to these amazing players. Holy crap, everyone was just very attentive to each others narratives, and Hayley did an upstanding job facilitating this game, pushing us when we needed to be pushed (often using Resolve Tokens, as you do in this game).

I’m also happy to also know that friend Gene (who also got to playtest with Vee facilitating a similar set of Good Society + magic games) is actively learning how to run the game by using some friends as guinea pigs, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to play it further with another competent crew in the following months. I’m seriously looking forward to this a great deal.

If you are interested in the actual plays, the Storybrewers (Hayley and Vee) have them posted on their YouTube page. Enjoy!

Two years of Story Games Glendale

Slow starts

It was two years ago that David Lewis created the Story Game Glendale meetup group, and probably a few hours later when I joined, excitedly bothering him! In fact, when I first saw the message from Meetup asking if I wanted to join “Story Games Glendale”, I misread it and thought it was Meetup asking if I wanted to finish creating the group, as I aborted a process of creating a similarly named group a few months earlier. Great minds…

We decided on Game Haus Cafe as the consistent meeting spot. Over 1000 board games on the shelf. Excellent food and coffee. Nice large gaming tables. They even became licensed over the last year and now serve beer and wine! Occasionally it gets a little noisy, but mostly during the school vacation periods, as we did choose the slower Tuesday night for our meetup.

The next year had many very small gathering with 1-2 people showing up other than David and myself. We very rarely had to cancel the event, but that did occur at least twice due to no takers. But we were persistent, and consistent, and over time built up a few small followings that would come and go.

Two years later

And here we sit, with 17 people (22 RSVPs, but you always have a few flakes and last-minute cancellations), and we ran 4 simultaneous tables… our largest gathering to date. We had David running a continuation of an Itras B game he started the week prior, and all the same players showing up excited to continue the story. We had Candace pitching and first-time-running for A Penny For Your Thoughts. We Spencer bringing a playtest of his Kids on Brooms (a Kids on Bikes hack for Harry Potter style game). And I ran a nice simple game of Dungeon World, where we made up the world and adventure on the fly.

Happy birthday us! We may eventually outgrow this space, or maybe it’ll perfectly serve for the forthcoming year. But either way, it’s exciting to create a little community of avid story gamers. And know that if you are in the vicinity and wanting to join us, we gladly welcome you!

 I bought the last two slices of their delicious chocolate cake to share among the participants. Thanks David for those amazing candles!

I bought the last two slices of their delicious chocolate cake to share among the participants. Thanks David for those amazing candles!

 David running Itras B

David running Itras B

 Spencer running Kids on Brooms

Spencer running Kids on Brooms

 Candace running A Penny For Your Thoughts

Candace running A Penny For Your Thoughts

 Me running some Dungeon World

Me running some Dungeon World

Dead Friend at Indie RPG Night

I met friends Candace and Unique at our biweekly Indie RPG Night, but a few hours early. We’ve started a tradition of trying to make it early, if possible, and get some bonus gaming in. This also lets us explore some games with lower stakes, and possibly smaller player numbers. For example we used this time slot in the past to run a game of Star Crossed.

Dead Friend

At this particular session, we talked about a few possibilities, but decided on Lucian Khan’s Dead Friend, which I had printed out earlier that day, in case of two-player RPG goodness. In this case, I ended up facilitating the game for Candace and Unique, and it was a fantastic experience. I will say how easy it is to play or facilitate this game. I had never read the instructions before, but we just read it as we played, and - being someone who loves cheat sheets and simplified instructions - this game just does it right. It’s got ritual movements and phrases and steps that are outlined perfectly, and can be played off the cuff without prior preparation. I’m impressed.

A carnival summoning

The game starts with setting a scene (we went with 1950’s carnival in rural Kansas), and creating the characters. The two players separately, and eerily, came up with the names Lilly and Lolly… already a creepy start. One player plays The Living - the person who will summon, the other plays The Dead - the one being summoned.

You choose on of a number of frameworks, and we went with one where the Living is trying to bring the Dead to life, and the Dead trying to kill the Living. In our case, Lolly was simply trying to be together with her living friend, and there was nothing inherently nefarious about the motivation.

The players in this case were great, each having some unique personalities and role playing methods, and the story just unfolded beautifully. Like some well-formed story games, there are a ton of great scene prompts, and an order of operation that just slowly reveals the setting, other characters, and eventually moves you towards the death of the main character and the motivations that drive them both. The end was creepy, and dark, but also sort of moving, and filled with frienemy love.

 Unique and Candace as Lilly and Lolly… we got lucky with a mood-enhancing Tarot handkerchief from some random game.

Unique and Candace as Lilly and Lolly… we got lucky with a mood-enhancing Tarot handkerchief from some random game.

 The pentagram which sits between the players

The pentagram which sits between the players

One aspect I enjoyed was when a player needed time to think of how to approach the scene. The game invites silence during these times, and it very definitely informs the mood to sit there and allow the seance to feel creepy and still.

Another great aspect to the game was the nature of the exposition. Scenes did not appear to be role played back and forth in dialog… instead the game allows one player to take control of the narrative - without inviting any dialog from the other player - until they are done and then it goes back to the other. We stuck to this format even in the final scene when the two are reunited, as the instructions seem to preserve this structure. It worked exceedingly well in making the two characters really isolated from each other by this huge barrier between life and death.

Although I didn’t technically play the game, it was fully satisfying just to watch it unfold, which says a lot for an RPG. Now I just can’t wait to play!

I can’t really think of anything I’d improve with this game, other than trying to ensure a great setting (the Game Haus Cafe had background noise and too much light). If you are playing this face-to-face, I highly recommend setting the mood, if possible. Tea lights, a dark room with no interfering sound, phones put away an on silent. It will definitely elevate the game to the next level.

The game is pay-what-you-want with a suggested cost of $3. It’s a steal!

A change in format for this blog journal

Hello internet! It’s been hard to update this blog consistently, but I’ve been doing it somewhat regularly (with some gaps) for 3.5 years now, and I enjoys it, so no, I’m not going to stop now.

However, I’m gonna change my format a little. In the past I’d write mostly about game conventions, and when I did so, I’d write a post per day, and other long entries. Because of this, I found myself sometimes confronted with a large task, and therefore keep putting it off, or writing about a part of the day, but not getting around to writing the rest of it until much later.

I really like Sean Nittner’s actual play blog, where he posts thoughts on specific games he’s played. I have decided to go with that more granular approach, and post about individual games, as this bite-sized writing may better suit my writing habits, and be easier to maintain.

Although this post goes out today (on September 12th), I’ll probably be retrofitting prior games I’m still updating to this format. Welcome to the past. Or future. Or whatever.

Gauntlet Hangouts: Swords Without Master - Remnants, Year 2 Spring

I’ve been interested in Swords Without Master for years now, but until this game, had yet to play. Swords Without Master was originally released in Epidiah Ravachol’s zine Worlds Without Master, issue #3. Mostly I’d heard of the reputation that this was a seminal story game that played out stories of sword and sorcery with touchstones from Conan, down towards the strange mix of spells and pseudo-tech of He-man.

I finally prioritized this goal of playing by reserving my weekly “night out” to play in a Gauntlet Hangouts game put up by Pat Perkins, who has been doing an ongoing series of this game. I was pleased to see that I’d be playing with my friends Lu and Ary, so that was just icing on the cake! (We had a fourth, but he had to drop due to technical issues.)

Pat started by asking us about our favorite cartoons growing up. We had answers of He-man and TMNT, Scooby-Doo and Thundarr the Barbarian, and mine being the D&D Cartoon and Gummi Bears.

We quickly made some characters, which involves you first choosing an eidolon, a real-world object, image, or other thing that provides you an image of our “rogue”. Pat sent over a Pinterest board of images, and I quickly found a fantastic image of a character I’d like to explore. It was great seeing the other player images, as Lu chose the bird-like head of a strange staff, and Ary had an eidolon which was the picture of a weird grub/insect. We spent the first part of the session fleshing out these characters with their traits (things defined as “All That Deserves A Name”).

As an example, my character was Roalla, and my important qualities included: Hoor tongue, a strange hallucinogen, Pouri the ever-present life-force that elludes which is my source of strange magic powers, and Numericology, the study of the math that binds the universe, which I had studied in some college in the past, before my travels.

 This image served as my eidolong for Roalla

This image served as my eidolong for Roalla

Lu’s character was literally a staff which controlled the mind of the poor wizard who had last grasped it, and Ary’s was a strange insect-worshipping grub-riding barbarian, of sorts. Overall a very interesting and strange party to start!

 Eidolons for Ary and Lu’s characters

Eidolons for Ary and Lu’s characters

Pat gave us a few options as quests to embark on, and we chose one that would involve finding a hidden cemetery. I won’t go into the details of the quest, because someone has done the work for me! Thanks Pat for your great game writeup (follow that link for those details). Additionally a link to the actual play video - again beautifully curated by Pat - is down below for your viewing pleasure, if you are interested.

So, instead of going into write-up of game details, I will go on to say my impressions of the game itself and its mechanics. I think one of my friends on the Gauntlet said it best (maybe Sid?): It’s crunchy. Crunchy for a story game. There’s a surprising amount of game mechanics that you have to deal with, such as the on-going realization of Motifs which players and GM re-incorporate in scenes and inform the pace of the game, and the dice results which dictate the tone (Glum or Jovial) as well as a set of other conditions during ties, and low rolls. But that said, all these things just tell how you in what manner to “story game”, almost like a set of scene prompts. So, yes, there is a bunch of stuff going on, but it really boils down to being very conversational. It definitely leans towards having a high creative load (similar to Fall of Magic, as an example, even though that game is the furthest from crunchy). It a;sp appears to allow the GM to be very reactionary, and very much in a conversation with the players, in a similar way to games such as Ten Candles (and to an extent like some PbtA and other “conversation” games).

I’ve since read the rules of it (having purchased the zine issue some time ago), and it’s definitely not something I can run without referring to them, at this point, and would require a bit of taking my time with the game the first time around. (Probably worthy of my special cheat sheet treatment, in fact!) Normally I get very excited to run a game, after I’ve played it, but in fact I’m a little more interested in playing it some more. I know Epi runs a Sunday Morning Swords type thing, but that schedule doesn’t really work out for me… but perhaps one day soon.

Here’s the video for those interested:

Gauntlet Hangouts and Dialect: Children of No God

I’ve been recently chatting with a newer Gauntlet member named Noella. We connected at one point around atheism and the idea that they were looking at starting a secular group at their university, and we chatted a little about the Secular Student Alliance.

And then Noella put together a Gauntlet game around this very topic, of sorts… a game of Dialect, the RPG about language of a community in isolation and how that language eventually dies off. Except instead of using one of the pre-made Backdrops, Noella made a new one called “Children of No God”, that explores a community of non-believers, surrounded by those that are religious. Here is the pitch from the Backdrop:

Everyone believes in some God or Gods here, except for us. We’ve banded together against the religious hegemony. We are the non-believers, the atheists, the agnostics, the humanists, the secularists, the non-theists, the rationalists, the free thinkers. Maybe our beliefs are the same, maybe they are all different, but we share a common goal. We foster intellectualism and debate, but most of all we keep each other safe.

A nice little combination of two things I’m very much interested in: role playing games, and atheism (in its various forms: humanism, secularism, and so on). I’ve written about playing and running Dialect before, so won’t repeat the basics of that game again here.

We ended up with 5 total players: Noelle, Sabine, Mikael, Gene (who was playing his first Gauntlet game!) and myself. We quickly found a rough setting for our game, going with some nameless city in the Roman Empire (prior to that whole Christianity thing, with polytheism being abundant). Our three Aspects included:

  1. Our non-belief: “See to Believe”, the premise that we needed to be shown a thing before believing it)

  2. A sanctuary / meeting place: We settled on a specific “park”

  3. A random aspect: We went with a tradition of everyone from our various backgrounds and cultures bringing and sharing foods, and wrote down “potluck”.

We decided we’d have rough groups in our community of skeptics (who were associated mainly with bakers), rationalists (mostly wine makers), and general freethinkers (who were called “eaters” since they comprised of everyone else, and therefore fed off the potluck). It was an interesting choice to associate these schools of thought with these broad categories of people, even if it was strictly true, just to see what traditions and prejudices would form based on this.

Character generation is one of my favorite parts of this game, where you each get 3 cards with archetypes, and choose one of them as the basis for your character. I went with the Celebrity, which states that I choose one of these aspects that my celebrity is based on, and the rest I don’t really care about. I could’ve chosen the non-belief as my main aspect, but was interested in seeing where things would go if that wasn’t my priority, and went with “potluck”. My character was Vesta, and she had been using the potluck to source different foods and cooking styles, and impressing people around town with her culinary expertise and experimentation.

We had Aries the Sage (Sabine) who was wise and good at giving advice to those in the park, Flavius the Ruler (Gene) who believed that the park was part of our problem (as he couldn’t control it), Claudia the Healer (Mikael) who actually thought our un-belief was the source of our problems, and Evander the Magician (Noella) who was assigned to the group from the religious authorities to help convert them back, but was in fact going through his own crisis of faith.

Within the first few rounds we established words (through discussion and role play) that included the word Death as “Chelis” (a corruption of Chair-less… someone missing and an empty chair), “Clear” as a word meaning Wonderful (a clear day meant we could meet at the park), and “Bake” in the Norwegian pronunciation meaning Work (as we work must be seen to be believed, and the products of that work were bread from our bakers, a large source of our tribe). More words were to come, and after about 2 hours of play we had finished the first age, and were ready to explore what happens as time moved on, and things shifted in the community.

 A view of the Roll20 page early on during the first age of the game.

A view of the Roll20 page early on during the first age of the game.

The second age came with the complication that the authorities were on to us in a bad way, and to blend in we’d have to work together with another minority religious group. In this case it was the Temple of Dionysus, and Potluck turned into a proper Feast… instead of an unstructured sharing, we now had a production of food, and rituals, meeting weekly instead of sporadically. The second age also comes with more complex concepts of language, such as Portmanteau and Euphemism. We had the word Traiter as “Eyer”, for example, but the Portmanteau took this and Work / “Bake” and created “Bakeyer”, the work of being a traitor… acting shady. This originally came about due to people being untrustworthy as spies for the government religious authorities, but quickly became used as a word that the minority religious group used to say we atheists were shady, and then just as quickly became a word (in the third age of the game) that we used for ourselves as an honorable term. It was fascinating watching the meaning change so quickly from scene to scene, in a way that felt authentic.

The third age of the game brought the death (Chelis?) of our language and community, and some fairly sad moments as characters were disavowed of their marriage due to their non-belief, or not able to express their culture and words due to changes and removal of allowed vocabulary by the community. We had a few sad epilogues at first, but also some hope. A young teacher and daughter to the leader of the minority religious group actually teaching about some of our traditions we thought would be lost.

In the end the game exudes this melancholy feel (that I’ve experienced every time I’ve finished the game), and just gives you food for thought for days to come. It once again reaffirmed that the game is a sort of immersive and strange experience that I highly recommend people try.

Noelle did a great job running their first Gauntlet game, keeping the game well-paced so it fit within the 3.5 hours or so that we needed. I’ll be honest that I’d have loved more time to experience some of the scenes and really get into character, but that would’ve also made this a 2-session game.

The experience of using Roll20 for the cards was hit and miss. Some of the writing on cards or putting them on the “table” wasn’t trivial, but then again the shuffling and dealing cards worked exceedingly well. It’s definitely a tool I’d like to become more familiar with, however I have to admit that using Google Hangouts, Google documents, and RollForYourParty does most of the things I need.

 A more finalized view of our game.

A more finalized view of our game.

Noella has posted the Backdrop, and so here it is: Children of No God backdrop for Dialect.

For those interested, the video was recorded and you can view the actual play. Unfortunately you don’t get much of a view of the game board as we’re playing, but the above screenshots should serve to give you an idea of how it looked.

MR-KR-GR: Playtest 2 at Indie RPG Night

Another Indie RPG Night at Story Games Glendale. Originally I was going to miss this one due to vacation plans, but they got cancelled. For that I'm super sad, but this night definitely got my spirits back up a notch. We had 8 people total, and split into two tables. Asher ran Dialect for three folks, and I had brought a second draft test-run of MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom, for a second table of three.

(If you are interested in game design tweaks I made between the last time I ran this, and this session, you can check out my Design Diary post about this on the Gauntlet Blog.)

We went through a bit of character generation, which now mimics Fall of Magic a lot more closely. It looked like this:

 The new version of character generation in my MR-KR-GR hack that more closely mimics Fall of Magic

The new version of character generation in my MR-KR-GR hack that more closely mimics Fall of Magic

That spawned the following characters with corresponding traits:

  • Jenni as Jovin the Macaque of Tohey (+Lucky, -Unnatural, +Trusted)
  • Hannah as Diya the Witch of Merating (+Summon, -Poisoned, +Unusual)
  • Christian as Najja the Soldier from Afar (+Seer, -Maimed, +Unusual)

The first trait was chosen initially, and the additional traits during the first two scenes, per other changes I made. All-in-all this worked really well, and wasn't too much to keep track of, and pretty much exactly where I wanted the mechanics to be, complexity-wise. The way the players took on those traits was also nice and variable. For example Najja's trait of "Maimed" translated to an ex-soldier with some form of PTSD, and Diya's "Poisoned" ended up being related to her body's purity and her eye, which was restored late in the story.

The story was pretty fun. We had three strange travelers coming into the land, and quickly getting separated at the port. Soon afterwards, they would run into each other some more, and became a party of sorts. There was the macaque traveling at the behest of her queen, looking for a teak nymph; a witch trying to track down material known to create pure forests and remove the corruption of lands; and a soldier with visions, trying to establish and broker some sort of peace negotiations with MR-KR-GR. 

We had scenes with the trade lord; tea at the best tea house on Trader's Island: Tears of the God; a trade of information for a royal coin to a fellow that was later spurned by Dien, a Tohey princess; a violent encounter with low spirit vines in the jungle; and a friendly encounter with a tall tree spirit, combined with a ride on a large, summoned insect by our strange insect witch of Merating. And a finale that included Margessa, the third queen, as well as the fourth queen, currently pregnant with a teak nymph.

The mechanics worked very well in the game, not too difficult, but not easy by far, and provided some good fail-forward and success mechanics that helped the story along. The last 3 rolls, once for each player, were: 6, 6, 6. This made for an amazingly happy ending, with Jovin securing a promise from the fourth queen to borrow the teak nymph that would heal their forests, but with some feels when the Macaque looked like she may be turned back to a wild creature! Najja was able to succeed in negotiations, the seer powers being a cornerstone of the success of the treaty and taking down the third queen. And Diya our witch was able to acquire emerald pure wood which she fashioned into an eye and placed in her eye socket to hear her corruption. 

I was pleasantly surprised with how well my changes worked from the first time I ran this. The story was very similar in scope and style to my first game, but with varying themes and components. There is still so much to explore in the setting as a player and GM, which is great. 

One of the only negatives with the trait "Unusual", which two players chose, but which didn't really get any play. I may remove that and Unnatural from the next version, and they just didn't evoke things that I thought were interesting in play. I'd replace them with something more solid, or maybe just leave 5 positive and negative traits to choose from in those initial scenes.

Another great positive was that the players were so enjoyable! Jenni hadn't played an RPG before, but you couldn't tell if you had watched. She was straight into it, and it was magic to behold. Hannah's witch was super evocative, and I loved the weird insect magic she injected into the story; when I think of the way the lost witches of Merating are described in the setting, I feel like she just hit the spot with her character. And Christian played a great vulnerable character with his damaged soldier, and his epilogue worked really well with all the setup. In all, a really great story, and I can't wait to try this a bit more.

 A great playtest, with great cake to boot!

A great playtest, with great cake to boot!

EDIT: Patrick Stuart interviews the two designers. See his Flase Machine blog post on A Thousand Thousand Islands, which also links to the Youtube video of the interview:

Ten Candles with actual candles

Finally. I've run Ten Candles at least four times now, and every time it's been at game conventions where flames are a serious no-no. And don't get me wrong, I love my LED candles, and they've gotten a good amount of use (and will continue to do so), but real fire; I want it.

A few friends came over: Candace, Julian, Paul, and Janell. We talked about a few scenarios and decided to go with something real world-ish, and eventually settled on Majestic Bob's Last Show, a scenario by Neil Grieb. We made a few tweaks... instead of a weirdo in a mansion, we decided to set ourselves in USA Depression Era, Kansas, and with a travelling circus. The beginning has our characters walking down a train track, leaving behind the wreckage in the darkness, and finding themselves near a train station on the edge of a very small town... and strange lights in the distance.

Characters included Lola the street-smart runaway hustler, Cecilia the fashion designer and power player from the city, Hank the contemplative sailor who had fought in the war, and Gus the merc-for-hire.

I've run Ten Candles a number of times, and most scenarios feel a bit like a standard horror movie in scope, but this game ended up going a lot more surreal. The card I got passed from a player said "I've seen Them... teleport short distances", so we ended up having some disappearing act type things occur, and very odd performances, platforms in tents, weird sounds in the abandoned theme park, and finally a mine shaft that exuded strange lights, drawing most everyone in.

Janell had never played an RPG before, but has a writers background, so was definitely cool seeing her grab onto the descriptions and themes, and hopefully this was a good intro into what RPGs can do.

Using real candles was pretty cool, especially when the last one goes out, but I've never dealt with scenes ending before due to candles going out (versus due to dice mechanics)... here we had 2 candles go out which caused scenes to end early. And that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

I will say though, if you are going to use real candles, you should have some sense of how long they might last. In my case I knew I had some cheapo ones that lasted not long enough (2 hours at the most?), but the middle 5 I knew could go for the long haul. Even those, however, required that I do maintenance... the flames were drowning in their own wax pools, so would've just gone out really early if we hadn't played with that.

A good game, and finally getting to check off that entry in the bucket list!

 Some choice moments

Some choice moments

Gauntlet Listen Parties

Looks like the Gauntlet daily blog is now in full swing! This was a Patreon goal that was hit and surpassed, and now we can have some persistent places to see some of the Gauntlet special sauce. Recent examples include Jason Cordova's Paint the Scene method and The 7-3-1 technique, mixed with little interviews of Gauntleteer personalities and play reports.

To that end, my first blog post has now been posted, and is about Gauntlet Listen Parties. Here it is, re-posted for your pleasure:

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What is it?

The Listen Party is an ad hoc event I started a few months back. The first one was on a day I felt a little low and didn’t have the ability to leave the house, but really just wanted some connection and chit-chat. On that day, I checked in with some folks in The Gauntlet Slack group. Before long, some of us dove into a Discord voice channel and listened to segments from recent Gauntlet podcasts, and after 5-10 minutes of listening, hit Pause and discussed the topic. We did this for about an hour or two, working our way through a few segments.

Since that first time, we’ve probably had about a half dozen of these crop up. Sometimes there’s just 3-4 of us, and the biggest was probably closer to 10 Gauntleteers.

Some recent Listen Parties

A particularly memorable one was when a large group of us listened to the Fear of a Black Dragon Podcast about Operation Unfathomable, specifically highlighting the segment where Jason and Tom discuss tips for good characterizations. In addition to getting to process the segment again, having each other as a sounding board allows questions to be answered, and additional tips and tricks to be uncovered from the plethora of experience we all have.

In another we listened to one of the Gauntlet’s GM Masterclass episodes, and a few weeks later the +1 Forward episode about Dream Apart

The most recent involved us listening to the Gauntlet Podcast for Flotsam: Adrift Amongst the Stars with Josh Fox. Prior to the podcast, we just caught up with one another and had a discussion about MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom. While listening to the podcast, conversations came up about cognitive vs improvisational load in Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) and other story games, tokens and GMless games, and mechanics in regards to FlotsamGood Society, and others.

How does it work?

Our listen parties are actually quite low-fi. Someone simply announces they want to do the thing in Slack; we have a specific Slack keyword we use to allow for people to opt-in to get notified it’s happening. This call to arms has us gather into a Discord voice channel, and then once we have a critical mass, we choose what we want to listen to. Generally, we go for a recent podcast with a juicy segment or two. At this point, I do the “3, 2, 1…” countdown, we all hit PLAY, and listen to it on our headphones, individually. When the segment is over, or if someone pipes up and says they want to start a discussion, we just hit PAUSE, and then commence. This continues until we’ve decided we’re done. Simple enough.

There was a suggestion of using Rabb.it, a service that allows people to watch or listen to things together, but we found it’s a little more than what we needed just now. Perhaps one day.

Are you a Gauntlet Slack user who’s interested? 

Use the GauntletListenParty keyword to get info on how to setup the notification. And even though I’ve been the one generally making it happen, it’s anyone’s game, so don’t be bashful in starting a listen party when the mood strikes!

MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom, a playtest

MR-KR-GR (and A Thousand Thousand Islands)

Through lucky circumstances, I ran into a G+ thread on an intriguing project, sometime back... a SouthEast Asia inspired fantasy setting. Joining a bunch of others proclaiming "can I have one too?" I was lucky enough to get a copy of these zines shipped all the way from Malaysia. Thanks, Zedeck Siew!

Reading the text of the setting book was impressive. There was a level of prose to it, and the wording was evocative, and yet very light and simple. A land of crocodile masters, ancient ruins of a lost land,  My instinct was immediately to try and run something in this land. I have the urge to introduce it to others. I have the urge to explore stories in this land.

(Curious what it looks like? You can see a few preview images in this Twitter thread by Aaron Lim.)

 Image by Aaron Lim on Twitter  @ ehronlime

Image by Aaron Lim on Twitter @ehronlime

As it turns out, Munkao and Zedeck Siew are working on a whole series of lands in this setting: The Thousand Thousand Islands. Munkao describes this project as: a Southeast Asian-themed fantasy visual world-building project. The goal isn’t to imagine a bog-standard medieval fantasy world, superficially re-skinned with kerises and brown people. In my notes and illustrations, I will be digging deeper, looking into regional folklore and history – trying to discover what a fantasy world truly rooted in the myths and lived experience of Indochina, Suvarnabhumi and the Nusantara look like

Designing around MR-KR-GR

It took time before I was inspired as far as how to run this. I mean, it's not written in any traditional style for a module or setting. There are no stat blocks. Or dungeon maps. Or explicitly stated webs connecting the pieces. But there are hints of things. Subtle connections between people, or more accurately, the thoughts of those people and the roles they inhabit. In some ways it's close to what a Dungeon World dungeon starter might look like, but I'd argue even less structure than that. More like a compilation of Jason Cordova's 7-3-1 design principals, but more like 50-3-1.

I was considering the very rules-light World of Dungeons, but that also felt like much more rules than I really wanted. I didn't need hit points and armor, savings throws, lists of skills, weapons to purchase... it felt like too much. And so at some point the connection between this very loose structure, and Munkao's drawings and how they were so similar to those found in another game I love, led me to: Fall of Magic.

That little spark led me to some fledgling design ideas. I thought about running a version of MR-KR-GR using the fantastic images, but with some story prompts that helped initially guide the story and character creation. However, because the MR-KR-GR setting and land have such interesting lore, people, and things to explore, I would make the experience loosely guided, as in a GM-based game. I decided to use World of Dungeons as a backbone to adjudicate conflicts and provide some mechanics to the game; Fall of Magic has little.

(Want to read a more in-depth rumination on this topic? See my first post in the Gauntlet Blog about MR-KR-GR).

An Initial Playtest

So, I setup an ad hoc game of MR-KR-GR up on the Gauntlet calendar and got lucky with some superstar players: Lauren, Ary and Ellen. I didn't want to spend too much time on character generation prior to jumping into the game, and so said they could just fill in some stock stat numbers, and even skills and such, as it came up in play. That said, we did use a World of Dungeons character keeper in Google sheets (provided by the Gauntlet's amazing Play Aids repository), and had:

MR-KR-GR_Playtest_WoDsheet.jpg

As it turned out, World of Dungeons was complete overkill, system-wise. We pretty much had a story game on our hands, and occasionally wanted to make some sort of die roll so we'd all be surprised with the outcome.

All of us had played games such as Fall of Magic and Lady Blackbird, games which can be played as a conversation and with scene framing, so the flow of the game worked very well with the players contributing heavily to the narrative and direction of the story. I would push here, and tweak there, play a few NPCs, and flavor the world... it was a truly enjoyable experience for me, and I'm happy that this thing came to some sort of fruition. Things that need fixing? Definitely. And I will write more about that in the second playtest I ran, in a face-to-face game. 

Curious about how the game went? You can watch the recording:

Jackercon 2018: The Final Girl

Jackercon is the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast fan-run online convention, and this was Jackercon 14! (No, it's not the 14th year, just the 14th time they've set up a week or two for online games... there have been times where a few of these happened in a year.) Curtis Jackson is our de facto leader, having inspired these over the years, sometimes with themes. I always try to support this fiasco by running at least one game, and in past I've run Microscope, Fall of Magic, The Quiet Year, and my Lego-based Star Frontiers adventure: Distress on Life Liner 928

This session was going to be The Final Girl, a role-playing game about slasher-flick type horror, to find out the final survivor in... whatever weird fiction we were to create. And weird fiction it was. (You can see this around the 15:00 minute mark) We went with some remote town up in the sort-of-Himalayas, with Morman-like missionaries there to convert some of the locals (some of which have been converted); a demon awaits them.

Players included myself, Andrew, Jairo, Bel, and Kurt. Characters included, among others, uncover operatives, bright-eyed dreamers, a plucky virgin, an old hippie bus driver, a retirned marine, a wise sherpa, locals who herded goats, or managed goods and ran electronic shops, a butcher, a chaperone, a high school teacher, and superstitious missionary.

After character generation, game play starts in more earnest around the 50 minute mark. Mucho thanks to Kurt Potts for recording the session for me! Had a great time running this, and as always, the survivor was always a surprise, and led to an interesting ending (no spoilers). If you are interested, link to video is below:

SGG: Star Crossed Cannibals + The Warren + Malice

Content warning: Cannibalism.

Star Crossed Zombie Apocalypse

My friend Candace met me early for the biweekly Story Games Glendale Indie RPG Night, for some chit-chat, but as it turns out: also for some 2-player love dread! Alex Roberts’ Star Crossed is the two player tower-based RPG about two people who really want to, but really shouldn’t, or really can’t.

 Love dread!

Love dread!

Our world: A “zombie” apocalypse had broken out. Zombies aren’t the living dead, but instead are people infected by a disease that makes them cannibals. In fact, zombies often fight and eat one another, meaning they are strong and fierce. Those humans who aren’t infected have gone to live in hiding, many underground, and surviving off scraps; they are starving and weak, and in constant fear of being found by the strong zombies that hunt them.

Our characters:

The Lead: Dr. Haus (played by Candace), a scientist that isn’t infected, who is looking for a cure. She has laid a trap to capture one of the infected, so she can experiment on them because she has a lead on the cure. What she things is her most attractive feature: her optimism. What are two things about her that she doesn’t realize are attractive: her eyes, and her intelligence.

The Follow: Cleaver (played by Tomer), an infected, strong and handsome, currently full, so is in a relaxed state. What is his most attractive feature? A kind face. What are two things he doesn’t realize are attractive? His compassion, and his well-fed physique.

What has brought us together? Cleaver has fallen into Dr. Haus’ trap. What is keeping us apart? Cleaver eventually won’t be able to control his hunger.

We started with Cleaver strapped to a medical cart, and Dr. Haus pointedly ignoring him. But before long they started to establish connections; both intelligent and well-learned, in a world which no longer cares. Our mild-manner Cleaver began to win her over in part, but not enough to allow her to loosen his restraints. Just at a moment when the doctor was trying to hide them from some of her people, noisy, exploring, and willing to kill the captured infected if he was found, we have a sexy moment of her on his lap behind a curtain, hiding, but with his hand now loosened from the restraint, dangerous. But he is stuck by a needle again, and awakens restrained further. They go back and forth, and the story ends with a moment in which the two appear to embrace for a kiss, but with his hand loose again, and her hand behind his back, needle in hand.

As always, this was a fantastic little journey. I’ve played this game half a dozen times, and it never gets old.

The Warren and A Town Called Malice

We were joined by some friends I was excited to introduce to the meetup: Chris Grey and David Kizzia and more. David was very interested in playtesting his new game: A Town Called Malice. On the positive side we had enough people join for two full tables. Unfortunately I got called into action to run, which meant I’d have to play Dave’s game another time! (Interested? Dave appears to be interviewed about it here in the Everything Horror Podcast.)

I ran The Warren for a group of three. It’d been some time since I’d run this little game of rabbits, which creates stories of the sort you’d find in Watership Down. In our case we played in the grand park of a big metropolis. We played out two seasons, as it turned out, following a group of rabbits as they attempted to save a small group of missing rabbit children from some other predators. But one of our main characters was a break-out from a lab, and there were rumors of disease. We found a section of the park cordoned off, and in the second season we find that pest control appears, dressed very much like the people from the lab, and there to spray and kill off this grand warren under the old tree with poison gas. There was injuries and a mad scramble, and a brave escape for most of the residents. The epilogue included a disease being spread to the humans, so perhaps this was just the prequel to Planet of the Rabbits.

Viewscream: Black Widow, Brown Recluse

ViewScream

Most role playing games and LARPs are written to be played face-to-face. But every once in a while you'll find one that has been created explicitly to be played online. ViewScream is such a game. I backed it when it was a Kickstarter many years ago, but will shamefacedly say I haven't read it or tried to bring it to the "table" (virtual table, in this case).

The premise of the game is that you are various crew members. I though that all the included scenarios would be based on being on a space ship, but there are settings where you are cyberpunk crew hacking into a corporation, and other such settings. In all of these, you are physically separated, and communicate through video and audio channels remotely (and hence how it is played explicitly online with video conference tools such as Google Hangouts and Roll20).

 Hmmm... the cover of the game is mildly disturbing.

Hmmm... the cover of the game is mildly disturbing.

Black Widow, Brown Recluse

Recently, Daniel threw it up on the Gauntlet online play calendar, and I signed up, along with fellow players David and Keith. We chose the scenario "Black Widow, Brown Recluse". Our situation involves being on a space ship with a rogue AI that was killing the crew.

Everyone gets a different character sheet which has some secrets that belong to them, as well as various "fixes" they have problems, and some secret background they get to establish. This is one of the things I think the game does exceptionally well, is allow you to customize the character towards some fiction you generate or want to explore, so even if you played the same scenario, there would be varying storylines and motivations.

The facilitator (in this case Daniel) still plays a character, and in our scenario that character is the Bridge. They're responsible more for establishing communication between the players and keeping the narrative rolling, but once the other players get going, that load might be alleviated. They also have win conditions, but ones that are different from the other player characters. The rest of us (Sensors, Engineering, Helm) had various problems we were facing, and various fixes we could try to perform to help others, but the mechanics here are very light. Basically the game is giving you some story prompt type fiction to help you role play out various scenes. The roles also have some personality guidelines and other secrets which flavor all the interactions.

Also worth mentioning, if you don't fix all your issues within a time constraint, your character will die, so there is some motivation to get things moving. I thought this might come across as a little stale or mechanical, but that wasn't the case at all, especially if you have folks interested in exploring the role playing aspects. I was additionally surprised at some of the fun interpersonal conflicts, touches of hilarity, and a touching moment or two that passed between some of the characters.

All said, a fun game, a really cool experience, and one that I'd like to provide to others at a future time (maybe even let Daniel get to play in the players seat, since he's apparently only run this as a facilitator!)

 Sensors, reporting for duty. (Yes, I always have to do a little bit of low-fi LARP dress-up.)

Sensors, reporting for duty. (Yes, I always have to do a little bit of low-fi LARP dress-up.)

Gauntlet Hangouts: Misspent Youth of The Janus Minds

I've been slowly freeing up a bit of time to run more Gauntlet Hangouts online games, and so after recruiting friends Jessica and Gina into the community, but neither of them having played yet, I set a thing up. I put up a one-shot game of Misspent Youth: "teenage rebellion in a fucked-up future", by Robert Bohl. I'd played it recently at Gamex 2018, and ran it at our Indie RPG Night meetup.

For the full details you'd have to watch the video (down below, and thanks Patrick for helping me record it!). But from what I remember, it went something like this...

We see a utopia, beautiful, the future in clean streets and strange architectures... and then zoom onwards, past the wall and gate to the next tier, where things are still looking pretty decent; maybe not quite as clean and generous. Middle class, maybe? And then another wall and gate. And more zones. And finally we end up on the edge of our massive city. The largest area by far. And the poorest and dirtiest and crowdiest.

A boarding school in the lowest caste; forced conformity; ugly jumpsuits ; manufacturing; and social experiments. Forced belief and value systems, patronizing, broad spectrum stereotyping about Millenials destroying everything and blaming youth culture. Strict ethical codes. But... they need "creatives". Not just anyone though... only the "OK" kinds of creativity. The ones that benefit society without all the disadvantages. You know, like depression, or any revolutionary thinking and counterculture. All this, and the kids are of course being recorded as part of some reality show, to try and win votes to ensure the people's support for re-election and re-implementation. The show title? "Janus Minds".

The Authority had VICE: Absolutism / VICTIM: Humanity / VISAGE: Systemic / NEED: Re-election and support for Proposition RE-ED0912. What systems of control does the Board of Re-education have? Emotional monitoring through a Fitbit-type device. Cameras everywhere. Confessionals. And they are very Scripted; with very specific punishments if you venture off script without permissions. 

We had Beana/Beatrice (she) - Born of mixed-class background, Kiyana (she) - a trusted and unassuming "A" student, model pupil, but sympathizes with the cause, Judas (he)- a brooding musician, and Lucky (they) - a scrounger. 

Authority figures included The Voice of God - In charge of confessionals; Jonathan Glen - Producer and supercreep on chicks; Officer "Fruity" Frutanis- Harassing students, sadistic; Mark "the narc" - Detentionee but works for the man. 

The Youthful Offenders had an exploit though... a way to super-charge the fitbit using strong emotions which could disable the monitoring in the vicinity.

Due to some delays with tech issues and such and a long (but oh so satisfying) world-building, we didn't have enough time to play through all 7 scenes. Instead we made do with a good 3. We had some hallway drama with the narc, and the officer making an appearance. We had some emotion disabling electronic exploits being used at the Voice of God rooms, where they find a way to hack the televised signals. Now to get a message out. We had a third and final scene, which I played similar to what would normally be scene 6 of the game: a decision to see who would win: the Authority or the Youthful Offenders.

Overall, playing online works, but was a little slower than in person. You definitely want to find ways to expedite the world-building parts of the game. Perhaps using a pre-made scenario? Although the world-building is always so fun. Another option I more recently experiences is using something like the Add and Bans from Microscope to quickly go around the table and establish some world guidelines.

Oh, you want to know the outcome? I guess you'd have to watch...

Gamex 2018: Sunday+Monday

Sunday 8:30am: Game Design Lean Coffee

Once again we were blessed with Stephanie running us some Lean Coffee on Game Design. Various of us got together, put down some topics to discuss, voted on said topics, and then discussed the shit out of them. Great, great stuff, and I will be doing this at Gateway, even though Stephanie likely won't be there (sadness).

What is it? You can read more about it in my writeup at Orccon 2018, earlier this year.

Sunday kiddo time

The next hours involved me picking up the kiddo, getting together with other families and kiddos, checking out the dealer hall, and so on.

Sunday 2pm: Games on Demand Kids Edition

So good! About a dozen kids showed, and more than a few GMs... I didn't even run a thing. We had the following games:

  • Chris Grey running Tiny Dungeons
  • Rob Herbert running Teenage Witch Academy
  • Zoe and father Bill running Spiders & Dragons (a Deep Forest hack); I did also play in this one a bit!

Additionally, Mike Olson was running some D&D AL and it overflowed into our GoD area, and this had a double-benefit: 1. He had a kid join us in gaming, and 2. the majority of his D&D table were teens, so it actually made it look like we had a bigger GoD Kids than we actually did. I'll take it!

 Teenage Witch Academy

Teenage Witch Academy

 Chris running Tiny Dungeons, just the right amount of crunch for little crunchers.

Chris running Tiny Dungeons, just the right amount of crunch for little crunchers.

 Zoe running Spiders and Dragons!

Zoe running Spiders and Dragons!

Sunday afternoon: Artemis and board games

The rest of the afternoon brought on some various wanderings and board games. We got a table going of King of Tokyo in the convention's "Family area", which has been in pretty constant high demand over the last few cons, especially as people know it exists now.

 King of Tokyo!

King of Tokyo!

Strategicon used to run Artemis quite regularly, as one of the con-goers would bring his gear and have games set up. The premise is you are playing crew members on the bridge of a Star Trek-like vessel, and each player plays a different station: Engineering, Communications, Science, Weapons, Navigation. And of course: the Captain, who doesn't get a computer, but just coordinates everyone else. Problem is, the guy who used to run it got burned out, and so we haven't seen this at the con for over a year.

Good news! Strategicon just purchased the equipment, including touch screens, to run this themselves, and so this was the first con to re-introduce Artemis to the con-going masses. A few volunteers help you learn how to play and setup the scenario for you, so even if you have zero experience, you can still have a great time.

I knew about this re-introduction of the game, and so went and signed up for a slot for the kids, and they went to check it out, and of course: loved it. We actually ended up playing a couple of times, since there were some later slot drop-outs. Video down below!

 Artemis training

Artemis training

 Our captain, captaining.

Our captain, captaining.

Sunday late: Werewolf and Shadowcon

The afternoon also involved finding some other games, and one was Cash N' Guns, a little shoot-em-up LARP type thing.

 Cash N Guns

Cash N Guns

As per usual, Sunday late-night involved lots of Werewolf, however in this case they had a game that started late, and went even later. I opted out, and instead played some board games with Ann-Marie while husband Jim played Werewolf with the kids. 

At a certain point while the kids are playing, I'll take little jaunts up to visit Gina and the lovely folks up at Shadowcon, to have RPG gaming discussions (or watch them run an off-book game, occasionally). It's a little slice of non-Werewolf heaven that I always take advantage of, and thoroughly enjoy.

Monday was just waking up late, having breakfast up in the lounge with as many people as we could fit, and then wandering about and playing the "scavenger LARP", for which we barely found anything this time (I think one 20-sided die, maybe?)

And thus ends another Strategicon...

Gamex 2018: Saturday

Saturday 9am: Games on Demand / Misspent Youth

First Games on Demand (GoD) session of the morning my friend Andy was willing to run a Dungeon World scenario called Curse of Terror Island, like with dinosaurs and Wushu, and that immediately grabbed a chunk of the players. Friend Chris pitched Misspent Youth, though, and that grabbed me immediately, as I've had a chance to chat with Rob Bohl many times in the prior year, and hey: Dystopian Sci-fi Punks... hell yeah.

It was just Chris running, with John and I as players. Chris freely admitted that he hadn't run it before and just read through the book the once, so it'd be a bit of test-run, but hell was it a great game. Chris played played The Authority (GM) and brought just the right level of adversarialness... hard-hitting and r, elevant and evil. You wanted to punch all those bad guys they were soooo good. To that end, it was also a very collaboratively driven game, for two reasons: 1. we players played a large part in creating the dystopia and the authority's drives and motivations, and 2. all three of us played super cinematically. 

We went for a generation starship which is way past its reserves, being driven mercilessly to find the perfect homeworld by the ship's psychologist Jaji ("98.5% habitable is not good enough, damnit"). She's also the only one capable of using cryosleep without it affecting her sanity (or is she?), and hence the only one which has survived the 100's of years we've been flying. We had our clique, the Chromites, little orphans and punks living in the ships innards, using mechanical hacking to subvert supplies and cause trouble. Some of crew included brothers Ahjo and Buzz, a 12-year old prodigy Tree, and Gloria (supposedly related distantly to Jaji herself). A former Chromite, Siren, was now part of the evil hivemind that are the security network ("the wolves"), and they were on to us. 

Our Authority involved traits such as Absolutism, and subverting our Humanity. Systems of control included the ships robots (we decided no true Artificial Intelligence in this setting), and chips in believer's heads (the hivemind; limited number of people and limited telepathy due to technology and resource limitations). Our exploits were that we know the robotic patterns due to our prodigy Tree, and Ahjo using that information to hack the system.

Our end goal was eventually to find a way to put Jaji back to bed, as she decided that she was done with cryostatis, and was the root of all our ills. Lots of great scenes, and great drama, but in the end the Authority won, and we were caught. 

I was super impressed with the structure of the games, including the scene types, systems of control, the collaborative nature of world and character and adversary building. Additionally, the conflict resolution mechanics uses a system that's a little bit like Craps, where you roll-and-claim numbers between 2-12. Similarly, the Authority claims numbers as well, however without rolling (as based by the rules). When you hit a number already marked by the Youthful Offenders, you win the conflict. Similarly if you roll a number that the Authority has claimed, you lose. The escalating tension this causes is well placed, and the back-and-forth narration is fun, especially if you're into story games and possibly "writer's room"-style games. 

I was immediately inspired to run this game (and in fact did so twice in the following months at our story game meetup and online; links to write-ups to be provided soon).

Robert Bohl has written a pretty amazing game, and even though it feels like there is a high bar to run it if you haven't played very improv-necessary games (such as GM-less games or games like Ten Candles which explicitly tell you as the GM not to prepare), the rules are very supportive and it makes the game very much a conversation. Highly recommended.

 Myself, Chris, John; you can see the craps-like mechanic in the bottom center.

Myself, Chris, John; you can see the craps-like mechanic in the bottom center.

Saturday 2pm: Games on Demand / Ten Candles

Normally I'd just be running another GoD game, however Jim and Lori were supposed to be in last night's game, and due to snafu, had to miss it. Jim could provide a private room, and so without further ado I got the two of them, and friends Unique and Keith, to join me for some last minute Ten Candles. Also props to Jim Pinto who was around to take on many other Games on Demand folks for some of his gaming (Praxis, if I'm not mistaken), but it was the one time I almost didn't have GMs to deal with the number of gamers present.

We looked at a few scenarios, and ended up going with Bunker by Brady Tatro (available in the Ten Candles PDF), which reads, "The world is crumbling, but people in power have planned for this possibility. People like you. A massive bunker has been constructed, a bunker capable of saving many from the arrival of Them. It only requires minor modifications to account for constant light production. Of course, it also needs to be determined who will be staying there. How many is too many? Who gets to live? Who must die?"

This was perfect, given we were playing in a literal hotel board room. Unique passed me the card which read "I have seen Them... change size", and so my mite-like creatures that can change size from microscopic to gargantuan were eventually born, to ill effect. Especially when you see someone itching their arm constantly, or see bodies with pieces that have exploded from the inside out, or are driving in a vehicle and crash into a boulder that comes out of nowhere. But of course they didn't know all this until much later.

The one thing that was in great contrast from my prior nights run, is that I remembered to do the Establishing Truths phase, and it was just such a different game because of it. Lesson learned.

The players were great at inter-person conflict, and combined with my hard moves whenever the drama got slow, it worked out for a great story. There was a drive up a mountain road to the bunker door, an accident, a dark tunnel, and finally entry into the safe haven, which was of course already overrun from the inside. A tragic ending, and I was particularly proud of how the game played out. (You can hear Jim talk about it more in the Happy Jacks broadcast linked below, if you want to see my ego grow about 5 times.)

 They look shockingly like real candles... I love my LEDs. They've served me many times (this is the fourth game with them?)

They look shockingly like real candles... I love my LEDs. They've served me many times (this is the fourth game with them?)

 Our board members!

Our board members!

Saturday eve: Happy Jacks RPG Podcast live

After Ten Candles, it was time for a little R&R. Gathered with some friends at the bar (folks from the Happy Jacks RPG contingent as well as fans and friends), ate a bite, drank a beer or two, shooted some shit. Then the traditional 8pm live recording of the podcast, which Kimi was running (Stu was out due to Ren-faire stuff).

Good stuff, getting to hear about various games around the convention that I hadn't seen, and the usual banter and friendliness. It was a little less chaotic than usual (I think alcohol consumption wasn't quite as rampant as it usually is, although I had my fair share of drinks before and during). 

You can listen to the live recording of the podcast at Gamex 2018 here.

gamex2018_HJRPG.jpg

Saturday 10pm: Best Friends

The final game I played was off-book. Friends Stephanie and Toby came down from Las Vegas, and in addition to running some usual games of theirs, Stephanie wanted to try out Best Friends, a diceless role-playing game by Gregor Hutton about girlfriends, and their drama. We organized the game to help Stephanie do this playtest, and it came about through the Strategicon Games on Demand Slack that I created earlier in the year, so yay for that! (And of course if you are interested in joining, you are welcome to; direct message me through a social media platform of your choice).

I will freely admit I was running on fumes at this point, but I've got strategies for how to do this with minimal game interruptions. For example: Play an absent minded character, or someone who doesn't quite have it together, or is a weirdo. All these come off well when you are already at a lowered brain capacity.

The beginning of the game is really interesting, in that character stats are determined by people basically voting for who they think is smartest, prettiest, coolest, and so on. You tally the votes, and the person who got the most votes for a thing, is the "best" at that thing. But even the prettiest person thinks someone else is prettier than them. It's all very interesting and delicious.

We had Dolories, Eunice, Patty, Beatrice, and Nora, and it was all very small-town USA in the 50's. The game itself was excellent fun, and we had some hilarious scenes. There was red scare drama, and pie contests, and much more, but the best was just our various personalities interacting with each other in all sorts of subversive ways. I'm always impressed when a system so very simple can create such good drama through basic mechanics. Of course it helps that the table consisted of great players.

I think Stephanie was looking to use the system for a game she has in development, and if it goes through, I can't wait to play it.

Gamex 2018: Friday

Stress-free

I can't remember the last time I felt this little stress going into a game convention. Partly it's because we run 3 times / year, every year, so it's super familiar to me. But even so, I used to get there early to ensure signups in slots I hadn't gotten in games, and normally I run a game in the 2pm Friday slot to kick-off the con.

Not this time. The one game I'd signed up for was 2pm Friday, and I was running later that night. And all Saturday was Games on Demand, and Sunday was kiddo-time. I just strolled right in without a care in the world. It was lovely.

Friday 2pm: Demigods (PbtA)

The first game of the day was Demigods, a playtest by Jason Mills for his PbtA game where you play as one of the half-mortal children of the gods. He's been playtesting for a while now, and specifically has a series of actual plays on the Happy Jacks RPG media empire.

Demigods_3k-Logo-Revelations-500-500.jpg

This one-shot was called Ragna-ROCK, described as: This band of Demigods is exactly that, a real band! CharGen will include what kind of band you're in, and how you'll save the music industry. Rock on!

I remember a couple of things about this game:

  • The story involved all of us in a band, and eventually having a battle for our supremacy on holing on to the number one spot on the Santa Monica Pier.
  • I played the Warrior, a worshiper of a forgotten Babylonian god of dance and war. I was the bands dancer, as well as percusionist, and these two were tied together in performance.
  • There were 6 players. Personally, I think that's too much for a PbtA game in general, and this one specifically, due to the many approaches that various players had in the game.
  • Jason did a great job running the show and keeping us herded into something that resembled a coherent story, despite various gonzo turns.
  • There was some player-based conflict that wasn't particularly fun to deal with.
  • The system itself ran pretty smooth, and you could tell it has seen some action in playtest land.
  • The system is probably what is now considered a traditional PbtA game, as far mechanics (Roll+Stat, flavorful playbook archtypes, character bonds reminiscent of Apocalypse World or Dungeon World).
  • Overall, it was a fun session, but I'd recommend going with a smaller table size in the future, as spotlighting is very difficult on a table this big. Maybe 4 players max?
 Demi-god of dance. And war. And percussions.

Demi-god of dance. And war. And percussions.

Friday 8pm: Ten Candles

I've run Ten Candles before at this game convention, and it was a pretty fantastic time. I also hadn't been able to run it for my friend Howie yet, so couldn't wait to see how he'd like it. I had a bunch of great players, including Howie, Ron and Will. 

We discussed options around which Module to play (the book comes with many starting scenarios). We went for one of the bonus modules: The Burning Man. Basically, they're members of a commune that's been anticipating and looking forward to the end days, but now that those days are here and They are hunting everyone, the situation isn't as palatable as they'd thought.

The players were great, and the story was still interesting, and the card handed to me was "I have seen Them... masquerade as others", so we had some doppelganger action towards the end of the story.

The problem with the game? Funnily enough, darkness. Ten Candles is to be played in the dark with 10 candles. And I do so with my cheat sheet, since running it by the book is too difficult. However after creating the players had created their characters, I confidently decided I knew what comes next (although hadn't run this in many months). I forgot about one of the main mechanics in the game: Establishing Truths. This is the mechanic where you take turns saying what is true about the world, and also what is happening next, and is a great transition from one scene to the next, often telling us how the world is actively changing and where the characters then find themselves.

Instead, in this game I ended up taking some liberty with pushing the story along and telling them where we were next, and although it worked, it removes some of the players' narrative control that they should have in this game. I realized my mistake a few scenes in, and at that point decided it'd be too disruptive to try and retrofit it. So, that definitely detracted a bit from the game, but overall I felt like it still worked really well.

Live and learn, right?

Lady Blackbird: Flight of The Owl

The Gauntlet's online community is amazingly good. I've played many one shots of various RPGs there, and have never been disappointed with the players at the table or the game being played. That said, the Gauntlet thrives on running games in short story arcs that last 3-4 sessions, normally played during an individual month. I hadn't played in any on-going set of games, mostly due to timing issues and the difficulty in committing game time to weekday evenings and weekends.

Within The Gauntlet, the subculture there that I've grown closest to is the Asia Pacific (ASPAC) crew. They're an exemplary group of folks, and include members from countries such as Australia, Singapore, Japan, and even various USians (including myself). And so it was only fitting that my first "campaign" would be with this crew.

In April, friend Sid decided to run Lady Blackbird. It's a game by John Harper that I've been wanting to try forever, being a prime example of collaborative story gaming magic. 

If I look back in the last year of gaming and decide on my favorite experience, it is these four sessions. This is high praise given some of the games I've played in the last 12 months, but so well deserved. The other four players (Elle, Stephen, Lu, Ary) and our lovely game master, Sid, were such a treat to play with.

The game itself is some cool story game shit. It starts with some hard framing with the crew of The Owl (an air ship) in a prison, captured. The five available characters are all unique, and with their various backgrounds which give them a lovely starting point and some interpersonal tension and connections, but with a lot of room for customization and growth.

Sid ran an extremely collaborative table with an artist's light touch, and he'd probably tell you that he was just making us do the work for him, but that's a bit of bullshit. He knew when to push us and when to get us to bring our magic. He experimented with all sort of interesting and beautiful techniques, such as doing session recaps through TV-show style intros, and all sorts of fun things with smash cuts.

Oh man, and what players. I can't do them justice in my descriptions, but I'll just say that the depth of Naomi (Stephen) and lovely chemistry with Lady Blackbird (Lu) was killer. Starting the game off with some good ol' mutiny threw some nice wrenches in to the works, which of course was patched up by yarn from the most amazing Snargle (Elle). Kale (Ary) was supremely authentic and sympathetic. I just tear up thinking back to this game. 

I can't really do the game justice in describing it, but will just leave it out there for those crazy enough to watch things like this. Enjoy!

SGG: Star Crossed and Winterhorn and autumn of the ancients

David and I have been running Story Games Glendale for almost 1.5 years now. It's only fitting we finally get some new blood and some consistent friendlies coming, damnit! And it's only fitting I give it some love here. Because I've been "lazy" at updating. (Note: There is no such thing as Laziness. Thanks, Shane!)

March 20: Star Crossed

On this eve we were joined by Asher (almost a regular, now!) and their friend Aaron, and Todd. I didn't realize it until later, but I had gamed with Todd before when he ran Cat (the RPG where you play... wait for it... a cat) back at a Strategicon a few years back!

We ended up going for Star Crossed, Alex Roberts' two player game of forbidden love (which I got to originally play at Bid Bad Con 2017). Asher and Aaron ended up playing a game of forbidden love between a Drow and a High Elf (cute concept!) and unfortunately I was playing at the same time as facilitating, so probably did them a disservice in that regard. I know I showed an example of play, and David was sort of floating between our tables to watch us, and tried helping them out a few times, but as a note: if you have folks relatively new to story games, maybe a stronger hand holding would do.

On my end of the table I played across from Todd, and we ended up with a scenario where a scientist and a janitor were falling in love as death and nanites and the end of the world were eminent. There were some awkward scenes in the lab, late at night. And a moment outside where we... almost... confessed something. And then it ends in some sadness.

April 3: Winterhorn

David has been wanting to run this at the meetup for a while now. "Chomping at the bit", you could say. He got to play in an online version of the game run by Gerrit for The Gauntlet, so had played once before, and had all the cards and such printed out and ready to go. This particular meetup had the perfect number of 7 players, including some new faces.

Winterhorn is by Jason Morningstar, and is pitched as about how governments degrade and destroy activist groups. By playing law enforcement and intelligence operatives working diligently to demoralize and derail, you’ll learn about the techniques used in the real world in pursuit of these goals.

And that's what we did. It's a "table LARP", which is to say you play completely in character at times, just like a LARP, however around a table in a manner and environment similar to many RPGs. Much like a LARP there are various LARP-style safety tools, debrief sessions, and methods for getting in and out of character, like leaving the table during breaks.

After setup and discussion, you play the game in 3 30-minute scenes where you are in character, a bureaucrat around a table making decisions to dismantle a "dissident" group (that may or may not be what it appears). Everyone has there little secret prejudices, and the way you can uncaringly make decisions that could destroy peoples lives is a bit unnerving (and reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button" in that manner).

Something I truly enjoyed about the game is how certain facilitating roles, such as debrief, time tracking, and managing some of the drawing and other components, are all assigned around the table. The management load is spread out by design. Additionally, breaks are done away from the table, so the table space is reserved for being in character only. The intent is to take these rules of play seriously, to provide a more LARP-like experience, and I can only say: Try to do what it says.

StoryGamesGlendale_20180403_WinterhornBoard.jpg
StoryGamesGlendale_20180403_WinterhornGroup.jpg

April 17: The Final Girl / Autumn of the Ancients

We had a decent turnout this night, with enough folks to split into two tables. David took some folks and run The Final Girl, a perennial favorite.

I got 3 players and played Autumn of the Ancients, a game based off of Fall of Magic, but in space. (Orccon 2018 writeup here.) You are travelling with the Liminal to find the source of ancient technology, which is dying. My version of this game is printed on index cards, since playing on a large star map on a table at a game convention can be exceedingly difficult to do. 

My index card version of the game was used to great effect, inspired by some ideas discussed in the past, and a suggestion by one of the players, Gene. We started with the initial location (Alpha Station), and then had a few rounds of intermediate locations, chosen at random, which itself was great. When we felt that we were getting ready to wrap up the game, we immediately went to the final location: The Black Hole (which I had placed to the side). This enabled us to play in the melancholy, slow paced way that the game usually plays out, but still tell a comprehensive, satisfying story.

And I got to play a Dralasite! (Bonus) We had some silliness occasionally, but the game was far from gonzo, and played well. There was one time that I did "X-card" another player for tone (he appeared to be getting tired and a little silly and added something that definitely was of the gonzo derailing sort). Otherwise, good session.

StoryGamesGlendale_20180417_AotA.jpg

HGMO: Sherlock

Hot Guys Making Out (HGMO) is a roleplaying game by Ben Lehman, and is set in a remote village in the Pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War (1930s). You play one of two main male protagonists (or ancillary other folks), and it's a game of passion. I haven't played it.

A hack of this game called HGMO: Sherlock was written by my friend Lauren McManamon (a fellow Gauntleteer) and is instead about those Baker Street detectives, Sherlock Holmes, and Watson, and the steamy relationship that simmers right under the covers of daily mysteries.

River was running this game, and I got to play it along with Agatha, Asher, and Larry. And I got to be Sherlock Holmes, himself. As is usual during Gauntlet games, the character keepers stored in Google documents was excellent, and really lent to immediately getting to get into the gaming, and having an easy-to-use reference:

 The rules splayed out in a Google doc, true to form for The Gauntlet

The rules splayed out in a Google doc, true to form for The Gauntlet

Fortunately River led all us newbies through the process of the game, and bless her heart because she was sick at the time, but suffered through it to give us this joy. 

This is one of those interesting games where you take turns framing scenelets (I use that made up word, because they are less scenes, and more little vignettes). It helped when River said that we should imagine framing little pieces of story in a comic book, in the order of a few frames. In the actual play you'll hear us start to get into that flow a little bit into the game.

The story starts with choosing a framework for the story, but everything is very, very loose, and you end up doing lots of improvisation. The mechanics are all based around a set of cards you hold in your hand, with some giving you special narrative rights, and others just allowing you to describe setting details, and allow for some uncomfortable silences and looks. All in all, it seems to support the mood its going for pretty well.

Interested in hearing our actual play? Here's an MP3 of the thing, after I edited the hell out of it. The original game was in the order of about 3 hours, but here it is chopped down to about an hour. I left in a little of the setup, some initial mechanics (but quickly throw most of that away as we continue with the game), and took out all the white space. Enjoy!

You can find HGMO: Sherlock in The Gauntlet's Codex - Lies zine (Jan 2018), and it can be purchased off of DriveThruRPG. Interested in an ongoing Codex subscription? Check out the Gauntlet Patreon.