The Gauntlet and The Watch

The Gauntlet

I haven't played in a game with The Gauntlet in while. The first time was The Final Girl back in 2016, and since then I got to play in a game of Breakers this year. But, now I've been a Patreon member of the Gauntlet that gives me some priority to get into online games, and so I took advantage and signed up for a few games in the coming months.

Preparing to play The Watch

The Watch is an RPG, designed by Anna Kreider Andrew Medeiros, which explores what happens when a dark force takes over members of the tribe, in this case males being specifically susceptible:

The Watch is a tabletop roleplaying game set in a “light fantasy” setting known as The Clanlands. It takes place during a dark and horrific war between the now-united ten clans who live there and an invading force, known only as The Shadow. 

The Shadow is a powerful and insidious enemy that is able to enter the minds of its opponents and slowly turn them to its side; twisting them into unnatural foes. For reasons unknown, The Shadow is able to more easily influence the minds of men, and has turned a great deal of the clan’s soldiers against itself.

I backed The Watch on Kickstarter, and have been looking forward to seeing it in play. Michael X. Heiligenstein, a fellow Gauntleteer, has been running it for The Gauntlet's online gaming community for a story arc planned for 7 sessions. Luckily, I got in on one of the games, as Yoshi, one of the regulars, planned on missing a session.

I got the quickstart material (released to KS backers until the game is completed), and chose a playbook that was so far not represented in the party, The RavenTo fear is to prove we are human. To overcome that fear is to know the minds of the gods. The Agenda? Be poetic and wise. Looking at the playbook I see elements of shamanism in the form of deity worship, performing rituals, delivering eulogies, and - interestingly - conversations and psychology. Before long I had my character: Lollec.

Although the playbook defines your position in your clan and facets of your personality and skills, you make a separate decision for which clan you are from. There are ten clans, including Sharn (hunter/gatherers), Dothas (mystics), Thedon (builders/masons), and Royshan (warriors).

I went with clan Richti (nomads). None of the other players had chosen that clan, and what's great about this game - like many PbtA games - is that the players define major elements of the clans. This would come up more during play, but I had some initial, loose thoughts:

I decided that Lollec would worship a god named Ta'al, whose domain was travel. Because I chose two Raven's moves of Divine Agent (worship of Ta'al) and Healthy Discourse (engage in philosophical, moral, or ethical debate), I decided that "travel" would be defined as both physical journey, as well as that which is mental and spiritual. 

I envisioned the Richti as nomadic, maybe somewhat looked down upon by most other clans. Maybe with a reputation almost as free-loaders. That said, the Richti see themselves as wanderers and keepers of the lore of the land, and with a mission to disseminate knowledge, thinking, and practices amongst the tribes... a way to loosely bind them together. Although the Richti themselves have elements (mostly philosophy on life) which makes them a somewhat cohesive group, they travel in smaller groups, which often live with, or beside, other communities for some time, providing services and help (at least in their opinions).

Lollec: The Raven

Lollec: The Raven

A large element of The Watch is the premise that males are particularly susceptible to the corrupting force which is The Shadow (which is itself very loosely defined, so I was curious what that would look like in play). When creating your character, you define your gender as one of the following: Trans Woman, Cis Woman, Genderqueer, Fluid, Non-binary.

In the real world I'm a Cis Hetero Male. I play a mix of male or female characters in general (probably with a majority being female, especially when I find it balances the character gender ratio at the table). I've rarely played a gay character, and never someone trans. There was some internal conversations I had with myself about whether or not I'd feel comfortable playing a trans character, given I have a few friends, but not sure that I'd do justice in empathizing with growing up in that position. I don't think any of that is particularly answered at this point.

In the end I decided that Lollec would identify as non-binary, having them not identify with either gender. I went with a pronoun choice of "they/them/theirs", partly because I myself haven't internalized that use in the real world.

I decided that Lollec would be in a relationship. In this case, since the setting is pretty agnostic as far as culture, I decided to have a family structure that consisted of a triad, with a male (Leera) and female (Tannar). Due to worship, I decided that Lollec has been on a journey, and has had to prioritize that mission, and therefore has not seen their partners in some time. This would also lend itself to some savory unknowns: What had happened to Leera, and has he succumbed to the Shadow? Is Tannar alive? Do they have any children, and if so, what had happened to them? Are their partners also Richti, or part of some other clan? (Again, the answer to that could be good fuel in the future, so it's left ambiguous.)

The Watch

All the above were initial thoughts on character generation the night before the game, so I had a framework for my character in mind. But now it was time to see what would happen when Lollec was thrown into the mix of session 5 in an already established story arc.

MXH (Michael), the GM, told me ahead of time that Rezzi and Rinic (2 PCs) were coming back from a mission that involved bring back separatists into the watch. Where did I fit in? Separatist for sure! But I already decided that I wasn't married to the separatist cause. We established pretty quickly that the journey I had been on had taken me past the borders of the clans, and it was during my return that The Shadow struck, and that I was still getting my bearings on the situation and the players in this conflict.

The players already had some great personalities, and you could see the bonds, as well as the conflicts, between the established characters. I quickly interjected myself as a sort of lurker in their scenes. Rezzi (The Bear, played by Mike) was quickly appearing to be the established leader, and Rinic (The Wolf, played by Horst) was the wildcard.

One of the Ties That Bind (i.e. character sheet bonds) I wanted to use was "I saw Rezzi in my dreams before I ever met them and am afraid to tell them." This made it easy to explain why I immediately started to gravitate towards these other characters, and the ongoing fiction made it easy to tap into this in a supernatural way. Another I used was "I have fond memories of the time spent with Rinic's clan." This worked well in establishing a scene where I began to hum a tune from Rinic's clan (the miners) to try and create a bond between us. It did help spur the conversation, but rolls went sour, feelings were hurt, and old wounds uncovered. But again: good drama and story came out of it.

At a later point I came in contact with Reva (The Eagle, played by Stephen), and our bond was a little more nefarious. The alliance between our clans was broken when The Shadow came. I decided this was something I had heard about (coming from my journey abroad) but would allow Reva to have strong thoughts about, and already give her a way to hold something against me.

I mention all these Ties That Bind because as a new player in the mix, they really made it very easy to establish quick narrative and flavorful connections with the rest of the party, especially given that I was new to the game and they were 5 sessions in. This isn't necessarily different from other PbtA games, however I did like that mix of bonds that are both personal (___ serves the gods faithfully, I trust them explicitly) and clan-related (The alliance between my clan and ___'s clan was destroyed by the Shadow) that flow through the choices.

In the narrative, Rinic and Rezzi come into the warrior camp that my people are also a part of. They ask for the separatists to join them. Rinic gets in a brutal clan conflict and goes overboard on the violence, but earns respect.

The Shadow's warriors make an appearance, and in this case they are the men of the clan, who are starting to take on mechanical and robot-esque features. This was something that MXH had started to establish in the game, and I can see how the build-up to any particular visualization of The Shadow could work really well in game. Similarly, woman effected by The Shadow take on a statuesque form, where they look "prettier" than in real life, but just sort of solidify. As a player, I'm coming a little late to the party, so it's a little quicker and less impactful for me, but I'm taking notes for when I get to run a session in the future!

The Shadow attacks, and Rezzi protects the separatist leader, but also loses his arm (mechanically in game he had reached the limit of harm, and to reduce it had to take a scarring wound). After the combat many of the separatists join the PC's group to join The Watch, and of course I am among them. We quickly join up with Reva.

We return to a Watch encampment, and are given a new mission... disrupt a force of The Shadow in a valley.

On a related note, this was probably the first PbtA game I've played with dedicated missions and mission moves. I know that games such as Night Witches does something similar, where there is a separate phase for downtime versus the action phase.

This definitely has quite a different momentum then games like Dungeon World, where actions are more on-going and embedded in the on-going narrative. Here, we actually stop, define who is planning to take which of the mission moves that are available (which appear to be: Watch Their BacksNavigate and StrategizeRecon and Lookout, and Take Point), and then roll all those to find out the outcome of the mission. Depending on how well you roll, you need to add complications, which have the effect of possibly killing off members of your party (NPCs), or people getting separated or captured, getting harmed, and so on.

Excerpt of Mission Moves from The Watch's Kickstarter sample

Excerpt of Mission Moves from The Watch's Kickstarter sample

This part of the game was done out of character, and we decided on where everyone would fit, and why. The rolls were made, and then we sort of got back into character and narrative, and made it all come together. It definitely worked, but I can see how the process may be jarring to some players used to more traditional games. It's also possible to run this more traditionally from a GM point of view, by having the mission narratively play out, and then have players roll when they trigger the mission moves, but this seems like it'd be difficult to pull off (and maybe not in the spirit of the game as written?)

I actually like the way our little vignettes and interludes happened after the rolls as we were establishing what happened, why, and how the complications arose. It felt much more like a story game with extremely loose scene framing rules, then any sort of traditional RPG, and I enjoyed it. Additionally, MXH, as the GM, definitely tied our decided role in the mission with the fiction, and we did describe in what way we took these tasks, planned our attack, or failed in our actions.

Post game and feedback

As with any of The Gauntlet games I've played in (three, so far), the players were fantastic, and table welcoming. I'm definitely planning to do more gaming in these circles, as the game and gamers are definitely in my wheelhouse.

The community has also taken to creating excellent Google spreadsheet type character sheets for easy online play, where you can see everyone's character conveniently in one place. Because of Google, you can all edit simultaneously, and see changes as they occur, which just makes the game run so much more efficiently. In this case, they had even created dice rolling buttons in the sheet, so a separate dice roller wasn't needed. Additionally, there were great spreadsheet tabs for NPCs, including names that were open for use, in case needed, and a map of the setting.

Overall, I really enjoyed the character dynamics of having a playbook / archetype and a clan. I love, as with most PbtA games, that we get to define the clans in game (and that they provide specific targeted questions for each clan to do so). I also like the thought that in game session #1, probably only a few clans are defined, and that the others come into play at later points in your campaign, as desired. This lets you continually flesh out the world without it being overwhelming at the start.

One criticism I felt coming was that the mission moves looked very static, and although they seem to capture the main elements you'd desire, and it was my first session and I enjoyed it, it seemed that the mission moves would become stale after approaching them for the fifth or sixth time. 

We discussed this element, and one feedback I had was that you'd think that mission moves and complications could be customized for the mission (just like creating custom moves in Dungeon World for specific shrines, or items, or companion classes). I'm not sure if this is the intention of a full game, or a pre-written campaign of sorts, but it seems like it'd work well. I wouldn't advocate that you'd do this for each mission per se... it seems that most missions would work well using the generic framework, and it'd be great to explore many of those complications provided over a couple of sessions. But I could see how some special missions, or missions that required only two individuals could possibly be tweaked for flavor.

Another element about this session was that we were all male players. Most of the characters were created as Cis women, although Rinic and I definitely shared a scene that tangentially involved our lack of identify as "female". Due to the nature of this game, it's definitely useful to ensure you have a table and space you feel comfortable playing in. I consider the X-card a necessity in any RPG gaming table, but would especially recommend it for any game that approaches sexuality as a major part of the setting.

A screenshot mid-game: players on left, characters in the magic spreadsheet on the right.

A screenshot mid-game: players on left, characters in the magic spreadsheet on the right.

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 4) - Indie RPG Night With Microscope

Independence Days

So, the Sacramento family visit continued with my brothers and the nephews, and then some fireworks on both the 3rd and the 4th.

On the third, El Dorado Hills has its Fireworks & Freedom Concert, which I'm guess they do one day early cause they can't compete with other, larger, local shows?

Regardless, went with the mom and the daughter, and other than doing 4 pull ups on the Marine's booth pull-up bar (after being pushed into it by the daughter), I was looking forward to checking out the booth for the Game Room Adventure Cafe. They set up a stand for advertising the escape room and board games, and selling various knick-knacks like dice and dolls. But best of all, they used the Labyrinth game I gave them as an attraction to get passer-bys to interact. Nova played that for about 20 minutes with Adriana.

The Game Room Adventure Cafe booth

The Game Room Adventure Cafe booth

The fireworks were totally decent, but the after-fireworks nightmare of getting home, and street closures, and traffic mayhem was quite unfortunate. The daughter cried due to fatigue and frustration.

The next day, the same three of us headed to Lake Tahoe. The mom gets a free invite most years with included hotel room, dinner, and spot on Tahoe Lake beachside to see the show. We went last year and I swear it was the best fireworks show I've seen in my life, so expectations were high.

Part of those expectations? When my mom goes to play slots, she give me and the daughter $20 to go play at the arcade! It was just as we had left it: Q-Bert, Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, Spy Hunter, Mario Brothers, and of course the coup-de-gras: Pac Man VS, the 4 player game. If you haven't played it, it's a blast, and plays something like this (if the Youtube link still stands). We even ran into another father-daughter pair, and played some epic Pacman VS games. One thing I noticed about this game, the music is outstanding. It slowly builds into a techno fueled fever pitch as you go through the game.

The fireworks? They ended up being astounding. They are also synchronized with lots of July 4 / America thematic songs, but also mixed with various pop tunes of the last years, and they used songs by Prince and David Bowie during the performance.

Highs and lows

Highs and lows

Another Indie RPG meetup

After all the fireworks shenanigans, there was just enough time to eek out another Wednesday night for an Indie RPG meetup, similar to the week prior. Again, I set up a meetup on the I Attack The Darkness meetup, and this time not only did Matthew and Brolyn show up, but we got two additional players: Alex and Rizwan.

We pitched a bunch of things, including a concept that Brolyn is working on which sounded really cool: Playing villagers that supply adventurers in a sort of selfish resource management game (however it felt a little too early to try it out just yet).

We ended up going with the classic Microscope. Only Matthew and myself had played this before, and I was really happy that we got Alex to join us, as he was just there for D&D action, and had never seen these games before.

In this session we put together "The Rise and Fall of Atlantis", and set up bookend with "Conflicts arise between humans and merpeople" and "The Human Rebellion". After doing the Bans and Adds we knew that dragons, spells, light sabers, space faring technology, and pirates were out; but slavery, political intrigue, krakens, and obtanium (as the source of power) were in.

We didn't have a huge amount of time (one player had about an hour) but we were able to get two goes around the table, with a first focus being Obtanium itself, and a second one being Political Intrigue. We got one good role playing scene. It was definitely enough so that everyone got a feel for the game.

There was one moment where Matthew had an idea for how the scene would end, and I added an idea, where instead I should have demonstrated the Push and Voting mechanics, but we discussed it later, and I'm hoping that I'll learn from this mistake for the next time.

Atlantians unite!

Atlantians unite!

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 3) - Indie RPG night with Atlas Reckoning

So, now that I was a temporary GM for the I Attack The Darkness meetup, I went to work creating an event for an "Indie RPG / Story Games" night at The Game Room Adventure Cafe. The event was only up for about 3 days, but I got 3 bites, so that's a start!

I showed up a bit early, as did some of the players. Brolyn just moved to the area from Ohio, and just happened to find the meetup as I was posting the event, so just great timing!

We did a few rounds of various things, including Carcassone, so I could show the cafe owner Matt how it works. Just as we were about to start, two new customers came in and joined us for a 5 player session. Turns out they're also in D&D and such, so we chatted much of gaming.

They left, but then Matthew, the other story games player showed up. We then started in on a King of Tokyo game just as two more new customers walked in (Annie and Tyler), and we got them to join us. A fun romp was had, and there were dice and claws flying. I was the first killed, but also had to take over for owner Matt's Space Pengiun, and therefore also won the game. Turns out Annie and Tyler are super in Star Wars RPG and Werewolf, so quickly were bought into the stores premise, and would be coming back another time.

Story gaming: Atlas Reckoning in the far future

When it finally came time to play, we waiting a bit for another meetup person, but she ended up being a no show. I went through my binder to pitch games, and it looked like Matthew had heard or played many of them. In fact, he even brought his copy of Fall of Magic to the meetup just in case!

The last game I pitched was Atlas Reckoning, which was at the end of the binder, and Brolyn's eyes just sort of lit up. He's a huge fan of similar anime, and Matthew was excited by the premise as well. As the game is still in beta, he hadn't heard of it and was curious.

We dived into it... world building was unusual. We ended up with a premise of humanity being sent out in various ships into space, but our colony is the only one we're still aware of. At this point, humans have been genetically modified so much that they're almost not recognizable, except for their overall shape. We had people with green hairless skin and glowing eyes, among many other varieties. The ship had been out in space for an unknown amount of time, slowly accumulating material and salvaging what it can from various star systems. In this game humanities last stand was Gaia, our floating community / vessel.

Atlases? They are the mechs we use for mining and foraging, having the shape they do because of its utility in a variety of environments we may find ourselves. Although the human pilots are purely organic in nature, we decided there are a few implants designed to better interact with our technology.

Behemoths? In this case they are a recent occurrence: a randomly appearing set of creatures from an alternative dimension who appear through rifts in space. Although the humans believe they are just appearing and causing havoc for little reason, we all decided that really it was us humans who've invaded their territory and are the nuisance.

How can we win? We decided that learning to understand and control the ability to produce these warp portals would be decisive in victory. If we can control the portals we can easily close them... or enter them and salvage what we can. We've already returned with behemoth parts and have started to use that to enhance our Atlases to better deal with the threats, and upgrade our sensors.

Creating the Atlas

Creating the Atlas

We had enough time for an engagement, and I threw them into the combat for session 3, which was a very tough combat. That said, they got to explore all sorts of things like Stress and Burnout and Recovery actions, which really helped them see different parts of the system, and play lots of roleplaying scenes and flashback story elements. I felt like the characters really started to come to life, and despite Brolyn's little experience with story games, he just felt very well suited to the style. Matthew already seemed to have the background to dive into such a game. I was in heaven.

We didn't get to really play a full Downtime set of scenes, but tied off the fight prematurely so they could see what it was like and enjoy a great little scene in the Medbay. It felt like they were able to see most of the components of the game, even in an abbreviated way.

We did a Roses and Thorns session afterwards for feedback, and the biggest detractor was the limited time we had. We talked about ways to tighten up the session (like reducing the world building, or preplanning the Behemoths, and so on), but we all agreed that some of those things were really enjoyable, and it was a real struggle to see how to do it differently. In the end we played a bit over 3 hours, so one issue was just the late start... a full 4 hour session wouldn't have felt quite so rushed in the end (although as has been my experience, it would have only contained a World Build + Engagement + Downtime... I still haven't figured out how to get all of it to work with an additional Engagement at the end).

Matthew was also very motivated to get something like this meetup happening on a more regular basis, and I couldn't be more pleased if he's successful. I'd love to come visit at a future time and join in!

Happy customers, I hope!

Happy customers, I hope!

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 2) - Dungeon World hijack

A quick one-on-one Dungeon World session

On Sunday night, I headed over to The Game Room Adventure Cafe in the evening to see what was happening. Adriana, one of the employees, was there, and the scene was pretty dead. We got to chatting about D&D, which she has played for about 6 months now, and was sort of enjoying. I say sort of, because we talked about all the fun, but also some of the things that could be drags in some games.

I offered to run her a quick Dungeon World session, and she took the bait. Before long, we had Quorra the Elf Bard, raised by humans with an unknown lineage. We jumped into it, and I used the questions from my Scrimshaw Pass questions (which I posted about previously). It's always fun playing a game with the same set of starter questions, but coming out with a different outcome based on the player's outlooks and interests! There was a tower with the last signs of her unknown mother, a mute packmule of a man who ends up being a wizard of sorts, and two suspicious hirelings who try to murder her for her money. We ended on a cliffhanger, and it was good.

The session was about an hour long, and in our discussion afterwards, it sounded like this hit many of the marks for what she wants out of an RPG. She's still relatively new to the RPG scene, but I like to dream that these are the seeds that'll make another GM out here, one day. (Especially given that Dungeon World is just so much easier to manage, not just as a new player, but as a GM.)

This was also one of my first times running a one-on-one session, and I gotta say: I love it! I might need to make more such things happen in the future. 

D&D Adventure League night

So, the Game Room Adventure Cafe has Tuesday and Thursday Dungeons and Dragons Adventure League nights on their calendar. Thursday is especially busy, and Tuesday a little less so. I headed on the Tuesday for the 6pm start time.

There were two tables of gamers. One was running a homebrew setting that sounded pretty interesting: High elves had taken over the world in a Nazi-esque fashion, and have been dumping other races down a "bottomless" pit to get rid of them. However, those races have been unknowingly creating a hodge-podge culture down there, and are now working to free themselves.

The other table was 4 high school kids, mostly having never played D&D before, who were there to check out the scene. Normally, one of the cafe owners would run a D&D game for them. However, I was happy to step up and volunteer to run a thing!

Dungeon World and the Scrimshaw Pass

I warned the kids that this wasn't D&D proper, but they were cool with whatever. So, they did pay the cafe the normal $5 fee to play in D&D Adventure League, but I sort of hijacked them into Dungeon World.

We did some character creation, and had:

  • Kim J.U. (played by Tyler?): A halfing Druid from the frozen north, out to cleanse the land of evil spirits
  • Maiev (played by Ojhan): A halfling thief who grew up on the city streets in the south, and who is the estranged brother of Kim
  • Anduin (played by Eddie): A human Cleric who grew up on the streets and was adopted by the goddess of charity and the downtrodden
  • Hamoud (played by Joey): A human Ranger from the forests with his eagle companion, Habibi.

Before we started, I took a look at Time Franzke's wonderful Things to Do In the First Session document (also linked at this reddit page). It highlights those elements to bring up in session so that the players get to use the moves associated with their character. As we were establishing bonds between the characters, I took some notes in preparation for the session:

A cheat sheet for the first session on an index card.

A cheat sheet for the first session on an index card.

This gave me a few milestones to try and hit during the adventure, and I was able to make most of them happen. (Even a few of the ones that look unchecked, above, we actually got to later, such as the Druid talking to some animals, the thief disabling a trap, the cleric communing with his god.)

It made me realize that I want to have a cheat sheet version of these I can just whip out into play during the game. I remember reading Tim's original document and thinking, "there is no way I'm going to remember all of this!" But in fact there isn't too much you need to remember, if you condense it into little bullets. So... this is a background project that I'll link to when I'm done!

As far as the adventure, I went with the Scrimshaw Pass again... I mean, why not? It's totally open ended, and again, it worked really well. Why did you hire Lyurk's gang to get you through the pass? The spirits that haunt the lands there. How did you find out they are going to murder you in their sleep? We see that one of them has tagit oil and is trying to poison us / My god has told me not to trust them / etc.

All in all, we had a great little 3-4 hour session, which included some good bonds and tensions, suspicious hirelings, another hireling which turned friend, bone golems in a disturbed graveyard, a friend turned ogre, and a fire wizard's tower.

We discussed how they dug it. They enjoyed aspects such as the pace, the system, how easy it was to pickup, their freedom of movement. We did have to wrap up the final fight fairly quickly, but it included an unexpected betrayal, where one of the PCs sided with the fire wizard in the tower.

I don't know that I've prepared them for playing D&D so much, but they do have a feel for RPGs and what they can provide, so with them good luck in their journeys!

A somewhat crappy photo at night in front of the cafe with my Dungeon World players.

A somewhat crappy photo at night in front of the cafe with my Dungeon World players.

Sacramento Gaming (Take: 1)

Been visiting my folks in Sacramento, and because they are relatively new to this city, it means I get to explore things as well (and with a full time babysitter taking care of the daughter!)

Downtown Sacramento and Big Brother Comics

I got explore near downtown Sacramento one day, and after hitting a few thrift stores, I visited Big Brother Comics. Store was great! Huge selection of comics, lots of eye candy around the shop (like an old gumball type machine full of pink muscles!), shelves full of all the current board games, and more than few RPGs (but only of the D&D / Pathfinder / Star Wars varieties). Only one dude was working there at the time, but he was pretty friendly, and knew exactly where to take me to find things. I'm not a big comic guy, but love the occasional graphic novel, and was itching to buy Jason Lutes' Berlin. They also got two rooms of tables in the back dedicated to gaming, and apparently get good card game (a la Magic) and RPG business.

Great Escape Games

After a random farmers market and a slew of additional thrift stores, I headed to Great Escape Games, which is about 10 minutes out of downtown Sac. God DAMN that's a great game store. They specialize in miniatures, board games, and RPGs, and have plenty of each of those. RPGs are my thing, and I was pleasantly surprised by their extensive selection, including some indie stuff, and picked up a copy of Blades in the Dark (the John Harper production for which I missed the Kickstarter).

The store has as much, or quite possibly more space dedicated just to gaming. The back of the shop is full of tables made for miniature warfare, tournaments, a room with 4 tables for RPGs, and another section for pick up games and board games. I saw a couple of D&D games going on, and another table was about to start a session of something Savage Worlds related, but they already were full. I ended up getting into a pickup game of Settlers of Catan with some local friendlies, and got my gaming fix.

I Attack the Darkness (Meetup)

In preparation to game in the area, knowing I'd be here for about two weeks, I reached out to some folks, and joined a few meetups. The most active one that looks like it hits most of the right marks is I Attack The Darkness. They're located in the San Francisco / Bay Area in general, but there appears to be a Sacramento faction of gamers lodged in there. They're also very D&D specific, but I suppose to be expected in most parts.

After my Catan game, I ran into one of the aforementioned D&D GMs, and struck up a conversation. Turns out this was Tamir, one of the organizers of the I Attack the Darkness meetup! I got to meet him and Selena, his partner who originally started the meetup. They originally created it to replace their RPG gaming group, and now a few years later they are nearing on 1,000 members in the meetup.

We did an informal interview so they'd feel comfortable with me GMing under their banner, as they are very much advocates in ensuring a safe table for meetup. This made me even more confident that the group was the right one to be a part of! By that time it was late and the store was closing, so we parted ways.

The Game Room Adventure Cafe

Last time we were here in El Dorado Hills, there was a sign for a game cafe that was to be opening up. Obviously we were excited. The Game Room Adventure Cafe is still in its early days, but you can see the love put into it. 

The two owners, Matt and Ben, are both very friendly and motivated. They've built an escape room which is evocative and well designed. Depending on the night, the escape room is either $25 or $30 / person, and that gives you an hour of timed madness.

The space is not very large, but houses a small kitchen which serves some simple hot food and great coffee, two large shelves of the newest board games (and D&D books), a large shelf which is the free-to-play game library, and four very large rectangular tables that can serve well for the space needed to play intense board games and RPGs. These tables could actually be split into 8 large square tables as needed.

Currently they don't charge to enter, except for certain events or when they are full. For example, Tuesday and Thursday nights are D&D Adventure League nights, and they charge $5 entry for those events. That said, they also give you a $5 discount on D&D related purchases after paying that entry, so you can easily recoup the charge by making a purchase.

A growing shelf of free-to-play games; I've been slowly contributing to it as I've visited various thrift stores in the area: Qwirkle, Rack-O, Jenga, Maya Madness, Apples to Apples, Carcassone...

A growing shelf of free-to-play games; I've been slowly contributing to it as I've visited various thrift stores in the area: Qwirkle, Rack-O, Jenga, Maya Madness, Apples to Apples, Carcassone...

Escape Room: "The Machine"

On one afternoon, me wife and I scheduled an escape room session at the Game Room Adventure Cafe. We brought my parents (not really looking forward to it) and my daughter (really looking forward to it). 

Although I've been to about 4 of these in the past, this one has a really interesting design I haven't seen before. The escape room starts by splitting your party into two separate rooms. You can communicate with each other over the wall, and as you might guess, you sometimes have to work together to figure out how to open the doors, which let you continue into the next room. In the last room, you all work together to try and escape.

The ambiance is great, and the puzzles are on par with other really good escape rooms I've done in the past. If you are a fan of such things, this is a good one! They've also programmed various settings using sophisticated electronics, so have a number of difficulty levels, and plan to introduce other modes (such as room vs. room modes), to extend the lifespan of the room, and helps with replay-ability.

We got through the first rooms and into the next, but then failed there. The daughter found the clue we needed to proceed, but we didn't have enough time. She's begging to go back again!

The Final Girl at SGG

So, we found out that we weren't "announcing" meetups for the recurring Story Games Glendale meetup, which obviously might have some impact on whether or not people are getting notified it's happening. This was the first time Mark had just done so, and we ended up with a well rounded group of 6 of us. 

One of the players who showed didn't even know about the meetup, but just happened to be hanging out at Game Haus, and saw that I put up the "Story Games Glendale" name text on my table. He came over and was asking about it, and was already familiar with many of the types of games, so we had another taker!

The Final Girl

After a few pitches, some of which sounded great, we went with The Final Girl for a few reasons. We barely had enough for 2 tables (and if we did split up, the pitched games wouldn't be optimum). Some of the pitched games were new-ish, so would need a bit of reading and work. And best of all: Many hadn't played The Final Girl before (and those of us who had were looking forward to it). 

I had a copy of John Atkinson's Horror Plot Generator, which helped us as we were otherwise being indecisive as a group. I had four of the players each secretly choose one word from each column, and then speaking it out loud: "Writer in Maine eaten by clown". In this case, our new player was mentioning that "clown" just wasn't going to do it for him, and felt like it was taking the game too "gonzo", and would cheapen the session. The player suggesting 'clown' wasn't married to it anyways, so we changed it to "mental patient". Using the X-card for tone FTW!

Writers' Conference in Maine, and the cannibal mental patient

We decided on a conference in a small motel near a lake up in the mountains. We each created two characters, and almost none of them explicitly said "writer" as the profession, which was a great start. Many were perspective, aspiring writers (as it turned out during play), one was at the wrong conference, and of course we had the very odd groundskeeper as well.

After some introduction scenes at the airport and the hotel, we got to First Blood. An newbie ambulance driver pulled up to take care of an injured person, and of course they just happened to have an insane asylum patient in the back of the van, as well. The game proceeded how it normally does, and people started dying left and right. 

A tweak for The Final Girl with large groups

One tweak I really enjoyed, and would recommend when you have more than 5 players: The Final Girl has Carnage rules for larger groups. In those rules, the Killer (director of Standard scenes) kills everyone but one character. In our case, with 6 players, this felt like it would cause the game to proceed too quickly (even though the Killer can choose how many characters are in a given scene).

In our case, we made it so that the Killer could choose ahead of time whether they would play the scene as a Standard scene (with the goal of killing one character), or a Carnage scene (with the goal of killing all but one character). This allowed us to easily tweak the pace based on our desires and how long we wanted the game to possibly last. It was just a little more control over pace that worked to our advantage in this case, and didn't complicate or change the game in any other way.

A Day with Tobie Abad

I got to meet Tobie at Strategicon the last weekend, and had chatted with him online prior about Games on Demand. He came in as a Strategicon special guest, having designed games including A Single Moment, now put out by Nocturnal Media.

He had some days before heading home to the Philippines, and so we planned for some gaming, and for him to come check out Story Games Glendale.

Meeting at Game Empire

I drove out to meet Tobie at Pasadena's Game Empire in the afternoon. It's probably one of LA's better gaming stores, and has a pretty decent RPG section, mostly focused around D&D and Pathfinder stuff, but including decent (but sporadic) representation with some smaller press games. Although he got there shortly after opening, he missed grabbing a used copy of Dogs in the Vineyard by a few minute. We later pestered the guy carrying that around, but he wasn't willing to part with it. Bummer!

After looking about a bit, we decided to play a few games. I was more than happy to try out A Single Moment, so we sat down to play that.  

A Single Moment is a 2-player samurai themed RPG that Tobie wrote. I've recently played a game called Wind on the Path, which is similarly a 2-player samurai battle story game, but one that's very light in scope and theme and runs about 20-30 minutes, so I was eager to see how these two games compared.

A Single Moment

The game starts with two samurai meeting face to face, ready to commit this final act of conflict (all in media res and shit). It's great that it just sets the tone that there is really only one way this is going to end. And then most of the game is created using flashbacks to times and of moments where the samurai are friends, or possibly working together towards various ends, or betraying one or the other.

Elements I enjoyed included the use of cards that informed scenes and provided targets to hit for the story. This includes key character cards in which you can define such as the victim, or the coveted (which in some cases may be a person, but in our story was my family's old sword, which his family had stolen from us generations past). When the scene feels appropriate, you can introduce and mark off these elements in the story, which is a requirement to proceed further into the narrative and action.

Additionally, each scene you could either draw a virtue card (such as Honor or Respect), or use a virtue card that was static and informed the over-arching virtue of the entire story. These were great, as it meant that each scene had an underlying story cue that affected the mood of the scene, and how the players may act in it. 

Example cards used in the game.

Example cards used in the game.

Like many story games, we came in with a very thin understanding of our characters; a name, where we were for the fight, how long this has been leading up. Everything else came up through play, and it was a real joy to explore that, in spurts and starts. 

Our story ended up being one of a young teacher and an old student, old families fighting for power and a ancient sword, an arranged marriage gone foul, and vengeance extracted after the fight crippled the young samurai.  

A Single Moment probably ran us about an hour or so, but you could pretty easily set it up to play for a longer, more drawn out and complex session, if you desired. There were more story cues and moving pieces than the other simpler game (Wind on the Path), which made for a more nuanced story, and more of a story game experience. I would choose the simpler game for newbies or short time frames, but for a more authentic and deeper experience, A Single Moment shined.

A blurry pic from Game Empire playing A Single Moment

A blurry pic from Game Empire playing A Single Moment

Game Haus Cafe and Story Games Glendale

After A Single Moment at Game Empire, I was able to introduce Tobie to Battle Line, a favorite 2-player card game of mine. I forced him to come with me to REI for a return, and then we headed to Game Haus Cafe, the regular meeting place for Story Games Glendale. We played another 2-player game called Lost Cities, an old favorite.

Battle Line! I think this was the first game where Tobie destroyed me.

Battle Line! I think this was the first game where Tobie destroyed me.

David, my meetup partner, showed up a bit early. We use the pre-meet times for chit-chat, catchup, and general game geekery. Also, David showed me A Single Moment before I ever heard of Tobie, and already had the cards printed and laminated and all, so he got to geek out at meeting Tobie. Not long after, a new meetup member named Thomas showed up. He'd never played any role playing games.

We decided to split into two tables. David got to enjoy playing A Single Moment with Tobie, which I could see he desperately wanted to get the chance to do! I played the simpler Wind on the Path game with Thomas in parallel. Although I could tell Thomas was nervous about how to approach the game, he was great in getting into it and trying something that was obviously not in his comfort zone. He even felt bad for killing off my samurai. 

After that, we decided to play a session of The Quiet Year, a game Tobie had heard of but hadn't played before. After a quick go around the table, with everyone contributing an idea of where we were starting, we ended with a community self-contained in a large crater, possibly on some alien planet, with something like a crashed, hollowed-out spaceship for a community building. We played this using Lego bricks from Lego Creationary, but honestly I think we should probably have done it using the traditional map-based version that the game comes with. We did get to play the fleeting Quiet Year the whole way through, although the last bits were a little rushed to coincide with the cafe's closure.

A session of The Quiet Year

A session of The Quiet Year

A shrinking crater (charging cables), grundogs, underground tunnels where the Bad Water used to be, spires out of the sands, and the legacy of children toting guns from the grey twins.

A shrinking crater (charging cables), grundogs, underground tunnels where the Bad Water used to be, spires out of the sands, and the legacy of children toting guns from the grey twins.

The end of the night consisted of driving Tobie back to his relatives place, and fleeting late night conversations. All-in-all, great day with lots of gaming with good people!

An interview a few days prior

I just found this video interview of Tobie at the recently completed Gamex 2017, where he talks a bit about the game itself, as well as gaming culture in the Philippines. Note this was before we hung out on the day I write about, above, so he mentions game cafes, prior to experiencing the one we went to.

Interview about A Single Moment by IdeateTV host Lauren Pappas

Oh yes, and you can find out more about Tobie on his blog, called TAG Sessions, including writeups from Gamex 2017.

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Monday

Normally, Monday is a bit of a short con day, mostly involving some shopping, checking out the game auction, and maybe a game with The Mook, who does an excellent outro for Strategicon. Often this is a short post I roll into Sunday. Not this time...

So, the daughter woke up and was really bummed out that she had missed the Werewolf and other late night activities, which is a big draw for someone who normally has a pretty strict bedtime.

We were just wandering around and ran into Tobias and Stephanie Bryant (of Threadbare RPG fame). He had a Star Wars Microscope-type story game he wanted to try out... we didn't have too much time, but thought we'd give it a try. We headed down to the Games on Demand area, and grabbed a table...

That's No Moon

GM: Tobias Strauss; Players: Stephanie Bryant, TobieAbad, Nova, and myself

Tobias (also known as Tobi, but I'll leave it as the full name so we're not confusing him with the other Tobie!), first did the opening crawl:

Episode LXVI: THAT'S NO MOON
The Empire won the Battle of Yavin, crushing the rebellion with one fell swoop. The moon of Yavin IV, the secret rebel base there, and the entire revel leadership are now space dust.
The Jedi were also destroyed. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, Anakin Skywalker's offspring, died in the battle. Yoda, in hiding on Dagobah, felt the disturbance in the Force and gave up hope.
There is no rebellion. There are no remaining Jedi. There is only fear.
The DEATH STAR, under the command of Grand Moff Tarkin, is now enjoying a victory lap, "addressing" planets that were sympathetic to the rebellion.
But with fear comes hope. The Force demands balance...

First he had us create world names on separate index cards. We each created one, ending up with: Zokbar III, Casis-7, Tobiotic VII and Tobiotic VIII, and the Planetoid of Dree. We drew random cards for the biosphere for each one (swamp, snowy, volcanic, jungle, city), and the government structure (crime lords, theocracy, tribal, monarchy, dictator). There was also another index card with the death star ominously pictured on it.

That sets the frame for the story, but now we dived into a specific planet: Zokbar III, the swampy planet ruled by crime lords. We collaborated on a few things, and decided it wasn't any Hutts, but instead some other competing faction.

We then each got an index card to create one character apiece. The task was simple and consisted of defining 3 things: A name, a role, and a secret.

And then it was free roleplay time! Very similar to a Scene in Microscope, you just start framing a scene and having at it. It was very free form, and what was great was how all the players brought in those totally Star Wars tropes of voices, character styles, and simplistic narrative. And then suddenly there is a moon coming over the horizon! (Tobias did this really well, by showing the death star picture he drew on one index card coming up over another one.)

Whether the individual characters survive or not is up to the players and the direction of the narrative. It's totally possible that some drama plays out and everyone just dies... or that some people jump into an escape ship and take flight just before the blast (again, totally Star Wars).

Also, for each planet in the narrative, there is a chance the death star will be destroyed. The only mechanic consists of rolling a d6 after each planet scene, so see who gets destroyed. The first planet has a 5 in 6 chance of blowing up (and there is inversely a 1 in 6 change of the death star biting it). The second planet goes 4 in 6 vs 2 in 6, and so on. Because there are five planets, there is the possibility that the death star survives the movie, and that the Sith win the day, and a follow-on movie would be required to see this through.

We had such little time to play this, but it's definitely easy to set up, easy to jump into, and easy to run. I'd definitely have this in the back pocket for an easy story game to play with Star Wars fans, or at any RPG meetup. I think I would house rule it that the probabilities are reduced slightly further, where the first planet will definitely die, the second has a 1 in 6 chance, and so on. That means the final planet still only has a 4 in 6 chance of winning. The stakes feel a little more grim, even though you will likely win sometime during the narrative.

From a distance you'd think we were playing Microscope!

From a distance you'd think we were playing Microscope!

Monday 10:15am: Dinosaur Princesses

Paleantologist (GM): Gina Ricker. Players: 4 kids (ages 8, 10, 11, 11)

Because of Nova's friend Anakin's birthday, I originally had decided I'd run a kids game for him, his 2 friends, and the daughter. HOWEVER, my friend Gina was open to running Dinosaur Princesses, a kids RPG I believe is being designed by Hamish Cameron.

Even though we've gamed together, I've never gotten to see Gina GM before, because she's just jumping back on to that particular horse. She was seriously fantastic, both as a GM in general, but also in being able to manage that table of kids. Two were super quiet, two were very loud and energetic. It took some serious skills to keep it flowing so smoothly, and I was very impressed.

The character sheets are dinosaur types (Tyranosaurus, Pteradactyl, etc.) and look like pages from a coloring book. There are a few fill-in blanks for name, role, and skills. It's all very open-ended, and up to the kids imaginations, which is an aspect I immediately respected and approved of.

Another aspect of the game is the drawing map. A huge roll of paper was rolled out across the table for everyone to draw on, and a colorful selection of markers was provided. Each kid got to draw their little home base, which ended up including a volcano, an adventurer university, and a waterfall paradise. And then the GM gets to start drawing things in the middle, that include all the various complications and adventure hooks, many of which are spawned from the minds of the kids playing.

Four corners of dinosaur homes, and a large island in the middle.

Four corners of dinosaur homes, and a large island in the middle.

A table filling up with complications and problems, including a crazy lava flow heading to the village, yikes!

A table filling up with complications and problems, including a crazy lava flow heading to the village, yikes!

I didn't get to see the mechanics in play too deeply, but basically the GM throws a bunch of dice that signify complications and problems, related to the number of issues the players have to overcome. The players then get to try and solve those issues using their creativity and the skills available to their character, and gets to add their own dice (up to 4 each) to whomever is attacking the problem. So, for example, if I come up with a creative idea and my character has Creative listed, I add a die. If I try to make a bucket as part of the plan, and that involved me using my flame thrower to melt metal in the process, add a die. If one of the other dinosaurs is Strong and uses that strength to press a bucket shape into the metal, add a die. Basically: however they can relate a skill to the problem, they get to add a die. (That's where the real creativity lies and pushes their troubleshooting boundaries!) 

Player dice ranging from 1-3 looked like complications to their problems, and 4-6 signified successes in overcoming GM issues / dice. I'll try to get more information on this later, as I was also running about, checking out of the hotel, and so on.

One of my favorite parts... Anakin built a dice tower with a spinner on it. Another player mentioned "dicescraper" as a pun (genius!) Gina took all this and ran with it, and Anakin drew a flying skyscraper, which ended up being a focus in them solving their issues.

One of my favorite parts... Anakin built a dice tower with a spinner on it. Another player mentioned "dicescraper" as a pun (genius!) Gina took all this and ran with it, and Anakin drew a flying skyscraper, which ended up being a focus in them solving their issues.

A closer look at the final map, with complications that arose, and crossed out as they were solved.

A closer look at the final map, with complications that arose, and crossed out as they were solved.

The game was awesome. It ended up running just around or under 3 hours, and the kids were engaged the entire time. I am so happy Gina ran this.

I'll also add that she advertised it, at the beginning, as "Dinosaur Princesses", and despite my hesitation that this would turn off the boys (and to maybe advertise it as gender neutral), I'm glad it was advertised how it was. Two of the boys made a comment or two in the beginning to the effect, and crossed out "sses" to make "Dinosaur Prince" on the sheet, and Gina also mentioned that the dinosaur's gender could be whatever you chose it to be. But I'm sort of leaning towards a game that doesn't apologize for the title, and just owns it. 

EDIT: Gina talked a bit about this on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast (season 19, episode 11).

A great session!

A great session!

And out...

By game end it was just after 1pm, and after eating lunch with the kids and parents, we said some goodbyes, did a little wandering, and then headed home. All in all, a very successful con, and I can't wait for the next one... Strategicon Gateway 2017.

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Sunday

Sunday 9am: Games on Demand and Wind on the Path

Bob and I woke up around 8:30am, had a quick brekkie, and headed down to setup GoD. I wasn't going to be able to play or run anything since I needed to get the daughter for con, but was there to help get people going. Turned out there was no need! Who wakes up that early on Sunday at Strategicon? No one! (MENTAL NOTE: The plan for next time: "Games on Demand: Sunday Brunch". We'll make it start at 11am for short-form games that end by 1pm.)

So, the two of us sat down and I ran us through Wind on the Path, a short 2-player samurai battle story game by Jonathan Lavallee, and featured in Codex - Iron, an RPG zine put out by the Gauntlet.

I had some samurai playsheets printed out, and a little Wind on the Path tracker helper I whipped up prior to con, and we went to it. I used my samurai Yashinoki that I had made for my initial game in the Gauntlet's slack samurai battles, and Bob put together his own samurai. We met at a bridge, which featured a fisherman and merchant dragging his wagon and taking a break. Before long we were up on the rocky bridge, exchange harsh words, intimidating stares, with a gusty wind, and then SLASH... we tied. Hmm... not really sure how to resolve that (a question for the game designer). We both were wounded, him across a forearm, me to the bone on my thigh. 

The game plays quickly. About 30 minutes if you are new to it. And the mechanics and movements really evoke a cool little narrative. It was great seeing someone else also enjoy it, and just reinforced that I'll be running this for Jackercon (Happy Jacks online RPG convention), as a sort of samurai league.

Playing Wind on the Path

Playing Wind on the Path

Sunday midday

Off to pick up the daughter from my wife's work on Sundays, and then back. Although the weekend started pretty cool (especially for LA at this time of Spring), it warmed up by Sunday, and we hit the pool for about an hour. It's something to plan for, as the hotel has one medium sized pool surrounded by 4 hot tubs, all of it outdoors on the 3rd floor in one of the atriums. 

After a little wandering we checked out the dealer room. The daughter used some of her hard earned cash to pick up a set of polyhedral dice in a sparkly deep blue that she liked (and bemoaned the high cost... that's a win in her learning the value of her money). I found a pair of ladies making custom dice bags. It was a pretty cool setup, as they had a selection of fabrics and a sewing maching, and could do a reversible dice bag for you on the spot (assuming you could come back to pick up a few hours later). They made me a bag with a gritty dungeon map on one side, and rainbow space invaders on the other. I'll try to remember to add their business details later when I remember where I put that business card.

We also played borrowed a game of Lotus from the game library, which is extensive at this game convention (you only need to let them hold on to your photo ID). We played a round at open gaming, but then it was time to prepare to run my Sunday afternoon kid game...

Sunday 2pm: Fallout Shelter RPG (KIDS ONLY!)

GM: Me; Players: 4 kids (ages 6, 8, 8, 8)

I setup this game cause the daughter has expressed more and more interest in RPGs at the con (although I can't get her to play at home yet... a quest for another time). She's played in this scenario a couple of times, both with kids and adults, and I knew she could handle all the mechanics and story elements. Two of the other kids had played RPGs before, but I could tell attention spans were of the somewhat short end. The 6-year old had never played before, and he seemed a little shy.

I immediately scrapped a few mechanical elements in the game (money economy, the mechanical end of combat in lieu of short narrative bits), and decided I'd shorten the scenario from the usual 4 hours, down below the planned 3 hours, to 2 hours with a very large break in the middle. This was a smart call, cause it held their attention perfectly. We did lots of quick cutting and simple questions, and very basic story.

They traveled the wasteland. They followed a strange vault dweller in, who tried to cook them in an oven. They went to the medbay and were apologized to by the vault's doctor, and pointed in the right direction to help the overseer. They fought off some mole rats chewing through the electricity, and then saved the overseer, and helped feel the molerats to his pet Deathclaw. The overseer gave them the key so they could leave the vault, and also access to the storage closer with all the rare armor and weapons they could carry (i.e. two each). 

Scenario-wise, I ran it a lot more like I would Golden Sky Stories, than how I usually run this game. Worked well considering the age range and attention spans. I consider that a success.

Weapon and Armor free-for-all; it was their reward from the overseer for saving him and his pet deathclaw.

Weapon and Armor free-for-all; it was their reward from the overseer for saving him and his pet deathclaw.

Showing off their hard earned loot on their character sheets.

Showing off their hard earned loot on their character sheets.

The rest of Sunday

We finished earlier than I had planned for, so we hit the dealer room again, I picked up my dice bag, and we eventually had dinner and hit the pool again. Before long it was 9:30 and the daughter wanted to "rest", but still wanted to hit a Werewolf versus Texans game scheduled for that evening. Our friends Cell and Chris would meet us there, and their son, who was having his 11th birthday at the con and has played in my RPGs in the past. Unfortunately, the daughter just passed out, and despite many attempts, I couldn't wake her up later. So it ended up being an "early" night (relatively speaking).

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Saturday

Saturday 9am: Games on Demand and Atlas Reckoning

GM: Me for Atlas Reckoning, Players: James, Erik, Dayler

After breakfast, I make my way down to the Lower Lobby. This space, in the past, was just a thoroughfare between the main gaming hall / dealer rooms / RPGs on level 1 and 2, and the open gaming and organized play in the "dungeon". It was used primarily by the Werewolf and party game crew, until they were moved to other locations. Now it's our little space to run Games on Demand, and is perfectly situated: relatively quiet, but with lots of foot traffic that gets curious seeing my table of indie games.

Games on Demand gets a decent morning turnout, with about 2 tables worth of players. Morgan Ellis runs Inspectres (which I would love to play, but alas...), and I run Atlas Reckoning (AR). 

AR is Stras' work that is basically "Pacific Rim the story game", and still in beta; I've written about it more than a few times (check the old musty tomes...)  Apparently at this point I have a bit of a reputation for running it a little bit different than most. Instead of asking "what city are we defending?" and assuming a Pacific Rim story, I go more open-ended, and follow the players into all sorts of strange lands. Think Evangelion more than Pacific Rim.

I had 3 players, which means I'll be playing and facilitating (you need an even number of players for this game). Erik brings his friend Dayler, who has very little RPG experience, which of course isn't an issue.  We start talking about prospective settings, and before long we have an alternate past. It's the 1910's, and Earth's industrial revolution is starting to endanger the planet. The fey creatures of the world (elves, dwarves, fairies, whatever), which are probably responsible for most of our myths, and normally invisible to human eyes, have decided to defend mother Earth. Humans find cold iron defeats them, putting it in their weapons and bullets, but the fey start creating larger and larger defenders (which are the Behemoth's in this setting). The human response is to make huge coal and oil driven machinery (our Atlases). 

We are humanities last reserve, down in Antarctica (from which much of the ice has melted away). Barely into the setting someone brings up child labor at the time, and that's when things get really dark. Suddenly we have little children as "computers" and labor within our machinery (remember, no proper electronics at the time), and it got gruesome quickly. It wasn't long before we realized how much the "bad guys" we were in this setting.

We dived into the first Engagement (combat) and I decided we'd ratch up the deadly by fighting what should be 3rd sessions monsters. We fought a giant water elemental we called a Poseidon, and a spiky crystal urchin creature. It was a brutal fight, with lots of mech damage, and a bit drawn out, but the players enjoyed it. We didn't have time for the Downtime session, which is the fantastic part of this game where you normally get to explore the feels. However, we did get some flashbacks via trait recovery actions, which gave us a few hints of what that would look like.

I need to learn how to tighten up the speed so I can ensure that the players get both an Engagement and Downtime at a minimum, but at the same time I'm in love with all the interesting scenarios the players have explored when I've variously run this game.

A bonus: I later ran into Dayler (the one who had little RPG experience) and he came up just to say what a fabulous game it was, so that just made me super happy.

Atlas Reckoning... mid battle in a tough fight.

Atlas Reckoning... mid battle in a tough fight.

Saturday 2pm: Games on Demand and The Final Girl

Facilitator: Me; Players: Scooter (aka Martha), Candace, Julian, Paul, Julia

One of the best things about GoD this time around was how many new players we had, who hadn't really heard of these story games or indie RPGs. To wit: A group of kids relatively new to the convention scene showed up and were looking around at my long table (where I set up Fall of Magic and other lovely looking stuffs). I chatted them up, and turns out they were eyeing The Final Girl. A few of their crew and some other stragglers went over to play in Monster of the Week with Bob Quintero running, and another crew joined Brian (aka Weaselcreature) for an Iron Kingdoms scenario that he had brewing.

I decided to facilitate the game, instead of join, as 5 was a pretty good number, and I wanted them to have control of most of the narrative. During game I'd occasionally give examples of ways to role play, or ways to kick things off when they weren't sure or questioning, but otherwise, they mostly took the reigns and ran with it.

We first talked about movies and what sort of thing they were interested in, and before long we had an Eastern European remote village up in the mountains with a gothic cathedral and ruins and an old cemetery. With The Final Girl you decide the killer ahead of time (similar to watching Friday the 13th, or Aliens... you already know who the bad guy is), and they decided to go with demon possession. We discussed this a little bit, and one aspect they were open / interested in exploring was having other characters get possessed and do the killing (which meant the Killer for a specific scene could just start taking over characters temporarily, instead of having an external killer).

They came up with a great cast, including the town wench, the town drunk, the perverted priest, the alter boy (who's name was Sally), a vegan traveler, and many more. Most of the cast was from the village, which I thought worked pretty well. After the intro scenes, First Blood occurred, where all the "boring" characters (aka those that didn't get relationships established) get killed off in one scene. I thought it was great that the traveler, one of the only non-village characters, got killed off. The perverted priest made it far, and was the one who mostly got possessed to perform killings, or at least witnessed them, but in the end it was the town wench and the drunk who survived... and instead of having one final girl, we had the two ladies walk off into the sunset. We even envisioned a great poster for the sequel.

As you get with some of these table, Scooter was a doodler, so it was always fun to also see how her art progressed, and unfortunately I didn't get a shot of her crazy cool unicorn. She also said she may end up doing some character sketches... we'll see if that happens, but if so, I'd definitely post them back here!

The Final Girl

The Final Girl

Saturday 5pm: Bob runs another GoD slot with Dread!

By the time I was done, I knew that I needed a little bit of a break. The last convention I ran a middling session in between 2pm and 8pm, and ended up a bit fried. I had learned my lesson.

But kudos to Bob, who just kept on trucking! Another crew showed up around 5pm, and he ran a small Dread game for two. They were also new to these games, and from the feedback, had a blast. It sounded like a bit of a summer camp gone bad type scenario.

Saturday 7pm: Some Happy Jacks lovin'

During my break, I wandered a bit and did some socializing (always a nice pressure valve). I joined some of the Happy Jacks RPG crew and fans over at the bar for a few drinkies and random chats, and went over to see them setup for their live from the con 8pm podcast.

In retrospect, Bob and I have talked about scheduling GoD, and both being fans of the podcast, have decided that future conventions will have a 10pm - 2am GoD slot, which will allow us to go check out the podcast. I've been dreaming about doing late night gaming and building that critical mass for years.

Happy Jacks crew and fans, including Kimi, Will H, Jason, Weasel, two Tims, Dave, and more! (I'm in there somewhere)

Happy Jacks crew and fans, including Kimi, Will H, Jason, Weasel, two Tims, Dave, and more! (I'm in there somewhere)

Saturday 8pm: Games on Demand and Dread

GM: Me running Dread, Players: Stevie, Courtney, Tawny

Originally I was signed up for an 8pm game run by Sayler where he was doing a Dungeon World and The Sprawl mashup (which sounded amazing), but I ended up running in another GoD slot.

We had enough for three tables, with Morgan running Masks (even though he wanted to play in my Dread game... the sacrifices we make for the people), and Bob running another Monster of the Week session, this time including many of the crew that was in The Final Girl earlier, as well as some of his prior Monster of the Week players.

Me, I had some ladies who had expressed prior interest in GoD, but the timing kept not working... but they returned! And they were very interested in Dread. I ran a space horror adventure somewhat based on the "Only the Food" scenario I've written about earlier. I didn't have a copy of the scenario's questionnaires, so we went with index cards, and ad hoc'd the questions in person.

I also did this lovely thing where I pulled them aside and asked secret questions about each other, and then tied them back to the next person. For example, I asked Courtney (who was playing the Psych officer) what crime one of the other characters had committed, but tried to hide in her record. When I later questioned that player (Tawny), I asked her why she covered that up in her record, and what was the real story behind her police record. It was fun tying all these together, and also bring these situations up in game, where multiple players would get certain connotations. 

We ended up doing a good 3 hour session. And the ladies were very good with their jenga skills. In fact, we had an end coming, and I was certain one of them, in the final moments was about to bite it, but in fact they scraped through... and so we had a happy ending, with all three getting out in escape pods. (Epilogue: They get picked up some time later by a dirty rag-tag crew, with a "Welcome to the revolution..." A story for another time.)

At the top my Dread space crew, bottom left Morgan running Masks, bottom right Bob running Monster of the Week

At the top my Dread space crew, bottom left Morgan running Masks, bottom right Bob running Monster of the Week

I wandered a little to check out some other games running, and ran into Jim Pinto running Black Monk 4. The table included Tobie, Ben Woerner, and a few others, and yes, I was quite jealous. Looked fantastic.

I returned to GoD to perform some cleanup, and found Bob wrapping up his game. We had an excellent little chat with the players, and it was so cool to see how they were amazed that RPGs could be so different than their prior experience of D&D. Information was exchanged and hugs were had. The day ended on a very successful feeling note.

Strategicon Gamex 2017 - Friday

Lead up, and Thursday

I headed to the west side a day early to hang with old friends. A nice dinner at the new Sunnin Lebanese restaurant over in Santa Monica, and then off to visit Howie and Lisa, my traditional pre-con haunt. They recently had a son, who is now at the 5 months old mark, so daddy Howie wasn't coming to this con. But we got to see our friend Albert, visiting in the country, and play a game of Tigris and Euphrates!

Some Tigris and Euphrates action... I forgot how fun and elegant this game is. 

Some Tigris and Euphrates action... I forgot how fun and elegant this game is. 

Friday morning

After an early bedtime at 1:30am (seriously, pre-baby these guys would keep me up until 3 or 4am),  I got to hang out with little Bei, prior to the drive to the con.

This was the most relaxed I've ever been coming to this con. Why? No sign-up to do. Normally they let people pre-register for games up to the half-full mark, then allow in-person sign-ups (first come first serve) for the second half of the players. But this time around I was running a few games and just managing Games on Demand for the rest of con. Check in, said hi to some folks, and then...

Friday 2pm: Fallout Shelter (Lego and PbtA hack)

This was the lego-based game I ran many times in 2016, and a few times this year. I pulled it out for this convention, with a few planned tweaks. I had a great table which included Keith and Emily (who played in my Star Frontiers game back at Orccon this year) and their friend Steven, who I've met but not really gamed with before. 

One of the main things I changed about this setup was I tried to abbreviate the wasteland journey a little, to provide for more vault time (although I left enough so we had some narrative elements there, including a rad scorpion attack). The poor little vault dwellers took so little food with them, and the wasteland orphan even decided to bring power instead of water, so I knew that aspect would be - ahem - entertaining. They arrive at the vault on death's door, which added that extra little element of tension.

Another twist in this session was them getting captured at the vault door (instead of it hanging open, as I've done many times in the past), and having them wake up in the vault's depths. I wanted to try this method, as this would force them to explore more in-vault and require them to have an exit strategy. I didn't otherwise have much planned, so we just went with some vault dwellers performing experiments on unwilling subjects to turn them into ghouls, and an assistant in the form of Mister Handy.

One thing I had planned on doing was use a real-time countdown for resource use instead of a clock that I had to trigger myself. Some player feedback included that I was inconsistent about moving it and using it with players, and that's totally fair... I think the real-time clock would eliminate some of that issue. 

Carlos "Needles" Juarez, Vault Scientist

Carlos "Needles" Juarez, Vault Scientist

The Vault, mid exploration

The Vault, mid exploration

Friday 8pm: Games on Demand and Feng Shui 2

Friday night I planned to kick-off an initial RPG Games on Demand session. We've been expanding the number of these the last few Strategicons, and this con I was planning on having about 5 or so slots worth.

Ira pitched a few different things including Feng Shui 2 (a new version of a game meant to emulate Hong Kong action cinema). I pitched Atlas Reckoning (a Pacific Rim style story game). There was interest in both, but Feng Shui won out, and I joined in that game.

We did a "tower of death" type scenario, where the story would revolve around us going up a protected tower, getting something important, getting out. As far as the game system itself, it's not for me: Too crunchy mechanics which slow down the play and at times forced some players to sit out of the action due to how the shot clock worked. The parts I enjoyed the most was the collaborative world building around the characters, but most of that had nothing to do with the system, and everything to do with Ira, who has experience with that from PbtA and other games.

GM Ira and players Jerry, Brian and Desmond

GM Ira and players Jerry, Brian and Desmond

Friday midnight: Exit - The Abandoned Cabin

My roommate and fellow GoD muscle, Bob, came over towards the end of that game, after getting out of his scheduled game. We then went wandering and ran into Keith, Emily, and Steve from my Fallout game, and friend Tobie who was visiting all the way from the Philippines (to play, as well as showcase one of his games as a convention "guest of honor"). Keith had a little escape room in a box called Exit - The Abandoned Cabin. He said he heard really good things about this particular version (even though he'd played another one which was somewhat lackluster).

We found an empty room, and dug into it, and it was a bit of a blast. I expected some big ol' box, but it was tiny, which was initially disappointing. I mean, how can you fit an escape room is such a small package. We ripped it open and found a few decks of cards, a pamphlet rulebook / story description, and a few items like a color/clue-wheel.

You have a 2 hour time limit, although score best when you minimize your time. Turned out it was totally worth the time, and the puzzles definitely gave the same feels of an escape room (I've done about 3 of them in the past). It helps to have a crew, as often you just need a different view point to get a specific clue. There are some components that get "destroyed" during the game (cards get ripped, etc.) so this is meant to be a one-shot. This may be difficult for some to imagine, as the box costs $15, and that seems expensive for a one-shot... however, an escape room will easily run $30, $40 or more per person for a 1-hour experience, and here you are paying about $3 / person for a 1-2 hour experience (admittedly without the full escape room 3-D experience, but still). It's smart marketing, if nothing else, and I have no regrets (especially cause Keith paid for it!)

We did it in just under 53 minutes, but most of all, we all played very collaboratively and it just felt like everyone had their contributions to the game. The narrative itself was somewhat weak, but the sequence of clues was great.

Additionally, it was really interesting to see how the card mechanics worked to lead you through a greater meta-puzzle, and how it was built to mostly prevent you from getting lost and from cheating (which would've been VERY difficult due to the safeties they put in place).

Playing Exit

Playing Exit

Story Games Glendale - Praxis: Odin's Eye

Time for another SGG meetup. This time it was David, Mark, Kevin, and I. We talked about a few options, and decided to go with Praxis: Odin's Eye, a post world games production. It's a GM-less game by Jim Pinto, but a bit more focused than what you'd expect from a Fiasco game, which has a fairly open-ended start and up-front cost of setup. The scenario boils down to this: While orbiting an alien planet, the crew of Odin’s Eye intercepts a distress beacon of unknown origin, squawking from the planet’s surface.

When I've played Praxis with Jim, my memory is that very little world building discussion is performed prior to the game start. The characters do have a bit of World Building questions on the character sheets, but again, my memory is that we skim that fairly lightly.

I know that our group here has had problems when we haven't set a common framework in some games we've played (such as Fall of Magic) and decided to do a little bit of prior discussion to the game. I think it served us well.

We decided to go for a bit of a Roman Catholic feel... after the galactic empire fell and went through the dark ages, we are now part of the church's exploration arm, tasked with finding habitable worlds... and also converting those that already have inhabitants. Low number of alien species, and some light trans-humanism would be OK.

Praxis starts by having you pick from a number of character archetypes or playbooks (for example: Engineer, Pilot, Captain, etc.). After choosing one of the four given names, you start by drawing playing cards to randomly select some Objectives and Relationships with others at the table.

I chose the Ranger sheet, which is effectively the combat / security dude. I drew a club card for my Objective: "CYA (Cover Your Ass)". Kevin was playing Sloane the Biologist, to my left and drew a relationship with me, and I drew a spade for my relationship with David as Zed the Pilot: Guardian Angel. We decide that he and I have been through a bunch of missions together and I've saved his life more than a few times.

In other words, my character sheet was starting to look something like this:

I went with "Crow", and decided that Rangers were actually a very integral part of the core church hierarchy (and for simplicity, just used the archetype name "Rangers" as the name of the group in the church). Oh ya, and that they are actually gene spliced humans with various animals. I was actually part crow-bird thing, and part human. I liked the idea that it is customary for every exploratory crew from the church to have a Ranger on board, and that was I.

After an opening Vignette (action only, by a character) and Ensemble (a quick session with everyone present), we got into it and started taking turns directing. On your turn you choose a Scene type, and then mark that off your sheet. We had about 2 goes around the table, but the game ended rather abruptly. One of the end conditions is that a character marks off 4 Trepidation, and that was me! I started with 3 due to my special ability, and I just had some bad rolls trying to get things done. In retrospect we could've played a bit smarter to avoid that fate, but hey, live and learn.

The game also has Story Milestones, which are events that occur after a certain number of total milestones get checked off of character sheets. We didn't really get to explore that as the game went so very quickly, and we overlooked the first one, which is supposed to happen after 4 milestones are checked. (That said, I think only 6 milestones were checked in total before the game ended; I think the expected total should normally be closer to 10-12 or more.)

We still had a pretty good time getting into the story, but I think most of us felt a little cheated at how fast it went. Our crew got down to the planets surface. We ran into a quarantine, and some drama. But didn't really get to explore the beacon signal much. 

One of the main things I wanted to get out of this was some actual experience running the system, so that was definitely a positive.

POST-EDIT: Praxis has a number of alternative ending rule, which I didn't really understand or take advantage of during this game. One is called the Plot Twist, and it extends the game by giving the character who normally would trigger the endgame a few bonuses (a plot point and an extra power), and then allows further play until the second player triggers the end game. Although recommended for players who have experience with the system, it would've been put to perfect use in this session.

Dungeons and Dragons Junior

Meetups. I've had mixed luck, and like possibly many folks, I'm a part of a few that I've never attended. One of those is the Boyle Heights Dungeons and Dragons meetup. It's not terribly far from where I live, but they meetup on weekends, and weekends don't often work for me. But you know, I've kept it in my back pocket, just in case a Saturday opened up and I was looking for something to do.

And it's through the meetup that I got a notification for a sub-meetup in the same venue: D&D Junior. They have a great tagline ("The Family that slays together, stays together!"), and it's targeted for kids. I asked the daughter if she was interested, and we decided to give it a go.

It's held at Boyle Heights Art Conservatory, which has a number of after school programs for kids in the area, and also runs a number of workshops for adults and teens around art, neighborhood empowerment, and even a jujitsu class on Saturdays.

We can't make it every week, but we do when we can. We've been three times now, and the daughter's made a few friends, and even joined in the Minecraft programming class that they've got going just beforehand. 

Minecraft programming

Minecraft programming

The GM so far has been Myles, who has learned to play and run during their weekend adult games on Saturdays. And he is fantastic. Could use a bit more child management skills at the table, but his patience and dedication is exemplary! So far they've played a few introductory combat sessions, using some starter kid material that Wizards of the Coast puts out for D&D. They even get cool sticker awards at the end of each session.

Some of them have started to do some character generation, but Nova doesn't seem that into it. Honestly, she seems to mostly do it as a means of just hanging out with her friend there, so it's still to be determined if she's into the D&D sessions themselves. 

They've started to get a bit of a critical mass of kids in the last few times, with upwards of 8 at the table. It becomes a bit of a management issue, and so I volunteered to run a session of Golden Sky Stories for the younger ones next time, if they are interested and there were enough participants. We'll see how it goes!

A larger table during the second session...

A larger table during the second session...

First session, and the girls get some badges!

First session, and the girls get some badges!

Story Games Glendale - Dungeon World with Lyurk and Pyre's Tower

At the last SGG I ended up running a Dungeon World session. Half our members showed a little late, and I knew we didn't have very much in the way of time (3 hours at the top end). And hence, I wanted to run a "dungeon starter" of sorts that I put together... three simple questions.

Character gen

We created characters, ending up with:

  • Pollux the human fighter wielding a strange black axe, played by David.
  • Knock the pudgy elf wizard, culinary officianado, played by Mark.
  • Sibel the human druid, avatar of the blasted wasteland, dirty and bland, with cow skull helmet and vibrant green staff, played by Mead.

We created bonds: Pollux and Sibel both agreed that Knock looked like prey, and is soft and needs protecting. Knock believes that Pollux will play an important role in events to come, and that the scrawny Sibel is woefully undernourished. Pollux and Sibel have a blood pact, but Pollux worries that Sibel, knowledgeable of the upper earth, is not ready for dungeon survival.

Time to drop question #1, and see where they go with it...

Question 1

What rumor about the Scrimshaw Pass decided you on hiring Lyurk's band for protection?

The party had heard rumors of magic wards that could be confusing... and that the pass always takes something from those who try to pass through. And the valley they were travelling through consisted of many bones under the thin layer of fresh snow.

It was obvious to me that they thought highly of themselves, and didn't like the thought of needing Lyurk, so I quickly make Lyurk's band consist of a few scummy brigands... simple thug Assan, heavyset Lump, the cloaked and secretive Zir, and Lyurk's sister, Lah, with two curved wicked blades.

One thing I liked about this part of the session was that even though I was planning on just hitting the action in media res, we organically did a little flashback scene at the last towns tavern, where they hired Lyurk. He was obviously concerned about the money, of which the party had little, but despite this agreed to accompany them... it appeared that other motivations were in play. I love that the players just jumped into this scene, and then easily jumped out of it, back to the present.

Some keening arose from the hillside, and Lyurk's people ran to investigate. Sibel started pilfering through their things, and found a vial of red dust: Amber Sand, which they discerned was a sleeping substance that could be dissolved in food or water.

It was at this point that the party got attacked by what looked like skeleton wights. As it turned out, these were some sort of short humanoids wearing bone armor, and after some scratches and scuffs, they were dealt with. Just at the end of the combat, Lyurk's band returns claiming to have taken care of some more of these, over the ridge.

Question 2

Why do you now know that Lyurk is planning to have his band murder and rob you, even though he hasn't let this on?

I love these leading questions which move the story along. In this case it could be one of a hundred reasons, whether it's purely malice, simple robbery, or in this case the players settled on Lyurk having been hired by people who were out to get the party.

Knock, having culinary inclinations, sidles up to Lump (their cook, with a stew going) and tries slipping in the Amber Sands as "salt". Lump doesn't notice, but does offers a taste of the stew, which Knock fakes a slurp of, by inadvertently spilling and burning his shoulder. Before long Lyurk's crew is passed out.

The party take Lyurk's band's shoes and weapons, and toss them a mile out, as they head towards the pass. 

Question 3

What is Pyre's Tower, and what has driven you to it?

OK, this wasn't really my question #3; I hadn't finished it, but it was supposed to be something like this: What is the <some object>, and what has driven you to get it?  and What rumors have you heard about <some location>? Now that you see it, what does it look like? \

I went instead with a tower. Also, in game it came up that Sibel the wasteland druid was search for fire-starters and immolators, as one of them caused the destruction of his homeland, and he's an avatar out for retribution. I decided to call the structure Pyre's Tower, which sounds fire-y, and to have it inhabited by a fire wizard.

They were approaching it, but taking their time (and in the real world we were running out of that), so I just had a fire-enshrouded being appear near them in the growing night. They made a good feint, and Pollux was therefore able to sneak close, and plunge his axe into the sorcerers chest.

Wrap-up

Unfortunately we couldn't do a real "roses and thorns" type thing at the end, since Game Haus Cafe was closing shop and we had to get out relatively quick. But everyone seemed to dig the adventure.

For me, the best part was that the entire session was planned around these three questions. Nothing else had been pre-planned to any degree. It all came from our minds as we went along, and that's some collaboration that I love to see.

7 Wonder's Duel world building test run

As my entry for the 200 Word RPG Challenge (which I wrote about previously) I created "HISTORY BUILDING WITH 7 WONDERS DUEL". It was my way of giving myself something fun to do while playing 7 Wonders Duel with the wife, but I haven't really tested it yet.

After lots of conversations prior to the start of our Story Games Glendale meetup, I co-opted David into playing it with me.

You start by defining your fledgling civilization. Mine was was:

  • Civilization: Saurian Empire
  • Capital: Liz'Kit
  • Leader: Tarsisus Bloodskin
  • Aspects: Dense jungles, equatorial weather, extreme variations of genes, biology-based technology

The game itself consists of taking turns building resources, structures, science improvements, and military conquests. You can win through might (taking the other players capital), through science (by building 6 different science symbols) or with victory points at the end of the game.

It looks roughly like this:

An example of 7 Wonders Duel (from the net... this wasn't our game specifically). You can see the types of cards: Brown resources, Green science, Yellow economic, Blue improvements, Red military, etc.

An example of 7 Wonders Duel (from the net... this wasn't our game specifically). You can see the types of cards: Brown resources, Green science, Yellow economic, Blue improvements, Red military, etc.

We didn't finish the game, but it was enough to get a feel for how (or if) this would work. Our history ended up looking like this, by the year number:

  • 0: (Initial event) Massive volcanic eruption has strong effect on regional weather patterns, and creates a tenuous land bridge between two continents
  • 3: (Build: Stone resource) Mass extinctions force Saurians to use non-biology technology; they learn how to work with stone.
  • 7: (Build: Stone Reserve) Etruscans enslave a race of mountain dwellers, securing a stone reserve.
  • 14: (Build: Clay resource) Saurians commit genocide on a human tribe and take their clay-working knowledge.
  • 22: (Build: Wood resource) Etruscans train and begin to uplift an ape species to log wood for them.
  • 23: (Build: Altar) Saurian priests state that sacrifice of humans is necessary to please the lizard gods in lieu of this non-bio tech use.
  • 25: (Build: Tavern) Etruscans discover a breed of poppy for its mind-altering properties.
  • 29: (Build: ?) Saurians take more human lands.
  • 32: (Build: Glass resource) Etruscans harness desert lightning to make glass.
  • 40: (Trade 2 coins to Build: Writing science) Saurians trade with the Heptosians, providing brick for paper, with which they begin to create a  prolific writing system.
  • 41: (Build: Theater) The Etruscan princess spurns the throne so as to build a theater to encourage her chosen art form.
  • 43: (Build: Wood resource) Saurians raid and steal uplifted apes, improving them and gaining wood working ability.
  • 45: (Build: Clay resource) Many apes run from the Saurians and bring back clay technology to the Etruscan kingdom.

And that's where we ended. I got the notion we were starting to get somewhat antagonistic, which is sort of the point. I think it's interesting to start on your side of the fence, and then slowly build with more oppositional stuff. We only got half-way through the first "age" of the three ages you play in the game. I got the impression that the second and third age would be fun with many direct skirmishes or outright wars. Also, in this test game there was little battle because no Red battle cards even showed up (which is unusual).

One aspect I was happy with was the speed at which it played. The whole point is to quickly build a sentence which describes the results of the year. This was partly due to me expecting to play it myself during a game with the wife, so it couldn't be time consuming. That said, you could easily spend more time fleshing out a more involved story, if that was your thing.

All in all, a successful test run!

Atlas Reckoning with the Gorp

My friend Howie and I go way back. Like 7th grade, which is a long time ago, now. When I told him about Atlas Reckoning (AR) a year back, he was eager. But when you have a baby, gaming becomes a cost you sometimes can't afford. But now at his kid's 6 month mark, we were able to make it happen.

We gathered 4 players: 2 with RPG experience (Howie and Sasha), 2 with very little (Sonia and Lien). We went through some world building and AR setup, and had enough time to do a combat.

The premise was Earth, after a Mars mission brought back the Gorp - a substance left behind by some extra-terrestrials. Unfortunately, that material has the power to terraform a planet by perverting the life forms, and after the initial human die-off, we find some survivors in two camps: those transformed and re-combined with other animals and such into Behemoths, and those that have gained the power to control the strange technology spin-offs (and Atlases) that scientists have created using Gorp technology.

We didn't have enough time to do the downtime sequence unfortunately, as that's a really great 50% of the game. That said, I really like how everyone started getting into their various character stories, even those without a lot of RPG background. 

At the end of session, you could already see Howie's mind turning around how he would change mechanics. Obviously he isn't skilled enough at knowing what the game is supposed to look like yet, but even so, he was leaning towards more sync-style guess-your-copilots-card type mechanics during combat, such as the mechanics you'd find in the card game Hanabi. 

I have since tried to schedule a follow-up session, but no go as of yet. For that, I am sad.

Some serious Atlas building going on

Some serious Atlas building going on

Newmexicon 2017

Getting to games

Newmexicon, an indie-ish RPG convention out of Albuquerque, has been on my radar for over a year. I first heard about it through my friend Stras, who recommended it for the caliber of games and players, and the intimacy. This was the year to check it out, and so I jumped in to fund the Kickstarter, which helped provide an extra hang-out room with snacks, as well as special guests, including Ken Hite.

I joined and posted on the Newmexicon G+ community, and got linked in with the Albuquerque RPG meetup group. Unfortunately I wasn't early enough to make the Thursday night meetup. That said, on the second flight I ran into a friendly... Sarah, who's played D&D. It became one of those excited, hour-long conversations about various RPGs, and she seemed sold. Sold enough that she actually showed up on Friday night to play at the con (although we didn't get to game together).

I checked in to the little Ramada Inn and started running into the folk, and made some new friends including Jonathon, Jason, Aaron, and others. No gaming, but I did get sleep, and that's important for setting up the adrenaline-powered lack-of-sleepathon that would follow.

Albuquerque Wanderings

The morning included the Ramada breakfast, simple but effective, and some little chats with Sarah and Joe (both who I later got to play with). Otherwise, everyone had plans, and I was getting antsy, so to quell that energy - or more likely find it an outlet - I went a-wandering: A 30 minute walk to a local cafe, then 4 thrift stores, a comic shop, and a Vietnamese restaurant.

I returned and got to chatting with Paul Beakley, a G+ friend who I now got to meet in person (a recurring theme of the weekend). We talked about gaming with kiddies (his is 5, mine is 8). I passed on my thrift store find of Loot, a kid game I've had a lot of success with.

The afternoon included getting to play Lanterns, a board game I'd heard good things about, with Joe and Mike. It felt similar to Splendor in scope and strategy and beauty (although the mechanics are quite different). The score made it a very close game that left me with the impression that small, well-thought out optimizations are the key to winning. However much like Splendor, you can play casually and still thoroughly enjoy the game. The three of us went to some thrift stores afterwards, aided by a vehicle, but didn't find much in the way of goods.

A few out-of-towners, including Stras and Morgan, showed up in time for a dinner at a local spot around the corner: Sadie's. It's got some local flavor, and I went for the bean-stuffed sopapillas with the green chile salsa that this part of New Mexico is apparently famous for. A hearty meal, to say the least.

A word on the muster, and pitching games

Newmexicon has historically been a small convention (~40 people), and has also gone with a very non-scheduled and ad hoc gaming model. Everyone will gather prior to a 4-hour game slot (the "muster"), and anyone willing to run games comes up to the front and gives a pitch. People then go play the game they are interested in. If there is too much interest in a specific game, there is a prioritization scheme, performed with a deck of cards. There is a rotating priority scheme (which involves fun stickers!), so you know going in that some time slots you will have a low priority, but you will have high priority in others.

I pretty consistently start conventions I go to by running a game. And I've got a few Lego prop-based RPGs that I've built over the years, and so...

Friday 8pm: Fallout Shelter RPG

GM: Me. Players: Stras, Nick, Kevin, and Paul.

I've run this a dozen times, mostly in 2016. I brought it here as I've found people get a kick out of it, and I like to show it off. Although it's based on a phone app game (Fallout Shelter), which is really a resource management game, I've built this RPG as a PbtA hack, and narrative is pretty much front and center.

The Ascenders included Stras as the feral-ish Rex the wasteland orphan, Paul as the lazy - er, leisurely - ex-overseer Fourthmeal, Kevin as Rasmussen the wasteland explorer, and Nick as a brave (and ultimately self sacrificing) Spikles the Descender immigrant.

Turns out I forgot to print out the little questionnaires for the "playbooks" for this game, but this ended up being a blessing in disguise. Instead of the traditional way I run this (everyone answers leading questions which inform me of why they are going to the other vault), I went with a two-phased approach to this game: I started the scenario with some leading questions that set a very basic scene, but as for what they were actually looking for or planning to get at the other vault... we answered those questions later, when they got there. Feedback later revealed that everyone thought that worked pretty well, and it's something I'll end up repeating the next time.

A picture of people taking pictures.

A picture of people taking pictures.

There were lots of pets, and by the end everyone had one! (That's a first.) These included Moneybags the Monkey, a rad scorpion, a molerat, and of course Charming, a head-hog (that's not a typo... he literally would live on Rex's head).

As has happened every time I've played this, the journey through the wasteland took a bit of time, and that meant less time in the vault itself (which is what much of the game is supposed to be about, right?), but everyone enjoyed that part of the game. It's really a problem of the restrictive amount of time that isn't easy to solve, without just having more time or multiple sessions.

Although this whole game is more a labor of love for the app and Lego, and mostly an experiment that isn't meant to go anywhere special (as in: I'm not planning to publish anything), it was awesome having Stras there, because I respect his level of game and mechanical insight, and need to follow up with him on his thoughts about how this game works. I write this mostly as a reminder for my self, especially considering I forgot to run a Roses and Thorns feedback part at the end (for good reasons: we were bumping on 12:30pm and the staff had to clean and close the room).

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

Another group of (mostly) vault survivors

At this point my roommate, David from Story Games Glendale meetup, arrived from the airport, and we adjourned, and chatted until fairly late.

Saturday 9am: Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn

GM: Paul. Players: Joe, Brenden, Patrick and myself.

After a quick breakfast at the Owl Cafe with some of the prior days new friends (and a few more: Patrick, Jamal, Jeremiah), we got back just in time for the pitch-fest. Considering my card draw gave me a very low priority, I pitched a game. Fortunately it didn't pan out, and I jumped into a game run by Paul Beakley, which would have been my first choice anyways.

I had heard amazing things about Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn from Stras who played it the prior year, and in retrospect now, it was nothing short of epic in scope. It just exudes galaxy-scale conflict and larger-than-life personalities. We played with the "Quick Play Rules", which apparently includes much simplified sheets, which I would highly recommend for convention play (especially now, after looking at the full sheets!) Each playbook is self-contained, having the available moves for that character, and there are no shared moves. The narrative sort of writes itself.

Patrick played Spacewurm, in this case named Madax Mazar, or "The Most Great and Terrible", whose goal is to "conquer and rule". I played Moonicorn, in my case named Zenobia, who's diametrically opposed, with the goal to "promote freedom and challenge authority". Joe completed the love triangle by playing the Lover, the Marquesse Juliet. And Brenden the Star Vampire, the Baron Miles Vostoya.

Space Wurm chooses two sectors of society he controls, and Patrick took Interstellar transport and religion. We quickly settled on spaceships made of large, unintelligent space whales that are repurposed for transit. This made my decisions easy... I would work to promote the miniature bicycle versions, available to the proletariat... however because I don't have the means to production (breeding) of these things, I only have the one. Each character chooses a domain to control, and mine was cybernetics.

Before long we had Automata, the planet-sized computer AI, which was also my sibling. We had a history that included both Space Wurm and myself having lived for almost 1000 years. We had one very political Juliette, with interfamilial squabblings. A psychic communication via space vampire blood (taking the place of "The Spice" in this game). And a space vampire who was the son of Count Cylus Vostoya, which runs The Blood. Then of course there was the Imperial Throne, the Engineering Guild, and spies in various locations. And this was all prior to Paul injecting unknown threats.

One of the coolest aspects of the game (and something to steal for future sessions) was Paul's huge diagram that he created as we went along. This really grounded the scenario, and made it all easy to follow and digest (and gave it scale... I mean this was on a huge piece of presentation paper).

Paul's amazing handiwork

Paul's amazing handiwork

Although there was a large front-load for the game, as there often is with many PbtA and story games, it was not something I would've traded for more play-time. 

I've also taken a look at the full campaign playbooks, since the game, and its only reinforced that the quick play sheets are the way to go during con. Paul said it was his first time running with them, but he handled it so gracefully I couldn't really tell.

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The universe in chaos, thanks to these guys.

The game was followed by a quick walk to, and lunch at, Sonic with Paul, Patrick, Jamal, Jeremiah and others. I had low expectations, but the green chile burger was actually quite good, and the tater tots did the trick. Again, we got back just in time for the next time slot...

Saturday 2pm: Velvet Glove

GM: Sarah. Players: Nick, David, Ken, and myself.

This was the only time slot I didn't pitch a game. I had a decent priority card (a "4"), and I ended up barely getting into this game. Sarah Richardson wrote Velvet Glove, a PbtA game about girl gangs in the '70s.

There are a few restrictions inherent in the game, like that you play as characters that identify as girls. The 4 stats in the game are Brains, Heart, Muscle, and Pussy. Sarah did a good job making sure we're all comfortable with saying "pussy" from the get-go, an important task in a table full of dudes.

This is the "notebook" edition of the game, which just seems to mean: pared down for simple play. The playsheets are super simple to groc, and I love the aesthetic (with little kitties, flowers, and hearts scribbled around the place). 

We went with a mixed race, WOC gang in a small city (think St Louis, not NYC). I was Bahar the Newbie, a Filipina; dark skin often mistaken for latina or half-black; from a big city which makes people think she's "hardcore", but really just a private catholic school flunky; her mother outwardly blames her for the move, when in actuality it was her father's gay infidelity (ignored publicly) which caused it. Mmmm.... good old drama.

The case included Nick playing Ruby the Gearhead (who has a secret crush on me, and whom I'm trying to teach how to "get some"), David playing Romana the Maniac (she brought me into the gang, by having me run naked through the local roller rink), and Ken playing Rosalyn the sephardic Jew from Spain, and budding Lenenite philosopher revolutionary (who's also in my band). I don't want to undersell how great Ken was at this role... he's got the various knowledges and backgrounds and execute it flawlessly.

And we just launched into it. Rosalyn getting kicked out of class. Romantic drama in the classroom. Ruby's first kiss (with NPC Julie). Invitation to a raging party. Romana being hit on by the PE coach, and then scratching the shit out of his face. Rosalyn grabbing the car from shop and us all getting the hell out. Taking revenge on the PE coach by trashing his place and taking his dog and sex tapes, but getting caught by his girlfriend (our Algebra teacher), who knows about his under-18-student habit. And then threatening to rip her face off. Preparing for the festivities with a make-up session, and then a make-out session. Party at the roller rink, with gang fights ready to rumble. And of course Ruby getting slapped both by myself and Julie.

It was a blast. One of my favorite parts was the escalating Angst that the characters start to accrue, and how to let it out (mostly through violence). Too much Angst is bad, cause eventually you will get put away or be out of action... so you gotta use those outlets. That, and the fact that certain scenes actually had me uncomfortable, sometimes blushing, sometimes stammering. I mean, the characters got Angst, but I felt like as a player I got some good Angst as well, and it was a treat. Sarah was a rock star and didn't pull any punches.

After the game I got caught up in a whole new gang, including Phil (one of the con originals) and more. We went dive barring (at Billy's Pub, where none of us felt especially comfortable) and Vietnamese dinner at Huong Thao, which hit the spot. Again, we were running late coming back, but just in the nick of time for...

Saturday 8pm: Atlas Reckoning

Facilitator: Me. Players: John, Yoshi, Royce, and Kevin.

I'll admit it: I was a little nervous running Atlas Reckoning at a con, and with Stras in attendance. I mean, I've done it twice, and it's a story game, and you kind of know going into it that it will be a lovely collaborative venture... but still, I was playing with Yoshi (who'd played with Stras before) and John (who is basically Stras' test subject and has played 30 sessions of this game, if I'm not mistaken).

But you know the drill... that's all forgotten in about 5 minutes, and the game was a blast. The game is Atlases (mechs) vs Behemoths (kaiju) in a style similar to Pacific Rim. You need pairs of players cause there is going to be synch between the pilots. But that's where the similarities die.

It's a built-it-yourself world, and we decided to go more Escaflowne (magic-based battle robots) than realistic. Before long we had a flat-world on top of some huge spire, with a large magic-tech city at its center. Recently, the jaguar creatures came... climbing over the side of the world, and laying waste to towns and people at the edge of the world, first. Turns out they are digging up the huge magic rocks from which we derive our magic power. (And guess where the biggest cache of these are?)

Our Atlases? The magic golems we use for Arena fighting in the metropolis. The pilots? The wizards who harness that magical energy. But wait... why Atlases? Can't wizards just shoot fireballs at these creatures? Nope... they're immune to the magic, of course. So instead, we need to use magic to control the golems, and use it to shoot stone and wield huge, mundane weapons to damage the actual jaguar beasts.

We had a really cool diversity of characters, including Yoshi as the Survivor, Akemi Takabe from Star Valley in the outer rim (Callsign: "Oak"), Royce as the Hunter, spartan-like Asha (Callsign: "Stalker"), Kevin as the Redemption, tattooed warrior Ulric, and John as the Hotshot, Talsk Novarro of Lanllelon (Callsign: "Falcon") . Akemi and Asha were piloting the Vehement Hurricane, and Ulric and Talsk the Bouncing Earthquake.

We got a good battle going fighting a cougar-beastie that probably looked similar to the displacer beast in the old AD&D Monster Manual... teeth, extra tentacle limbs, and full of frenzy. After a few rounds of combat, they were able to take it down, with Talsk stealing the kill right from under Asha's nose. Everyone took a bit of Stress, which is the perfect setup for the Downtime phase.

We got play a few downtime scenes, which included a touching memorial tradition by Asha, joined by Akemi for a moment that had us all (quite literally) tearing up. After that there was time for another downtime scene at the arena, where these two golems were duking it out, and Asha and Akemi (maybe getting revenge for the kill-steal) taking down Talsk and Ulric, with Talsk petulantly storming out of the arena.

It was a great game, and unfortunately we just didn't have time for more. Having John in there helped with those gaps in my knowledge around some of the mechanics, but mostly it was just a brilliant table, and everyone brought it, story-wise.

AR pilots

AR pilots

Sunday 9am: Forget-Me-Not

Facilitator: Me. Other players: Ken, Renee, ?, and Sylvia.

After a quick meal in the lobby kitchen (overflowing with us nerds), I had an Ace in the hand... i.e. highest priority. I could get into ANY game I wanted. But, very few people were pitching games. Perhaps it was the end of con fatigue setting in?

I handed my Ace over to David, with the instructions that he bring back and run in LA whatever coolness he got into (Sunday Swords Without Master, as it turns out). Then I headed up to the pitching line: Forget-Me-Not, a Jim Pinto classic. It's a GMless game that runs like a stripped down, simplified Fiasco, and churns out a narrative not unlike Twin Peaks.

I ended up with Ken Hite, Renee, and a mom and daughter pair. The girl (Sylvia?) was pretty young (maybe 6th grade) and the game can be dark. We did the X-card conversation first and foremost (a tool that the mom and daughter hadn't heard about) and I ensured that we were on the same page regarding language and content, and to make sure we had our out in case things got hairy.

I ran it as a 5-player (although 4 is really the sweet spot), and it worked really well. Ken playing Ivan included spectacular Russian-accented jokes at the expense of Americans, and Renee did some amazing roles (especially as Erich Lang, the Vagabond). Mom and daughter really held their own as well, and by the end, we had a russian salting the ground with radioactive waste to turn the town into a dump, and a perverted logistic expert as the perpetrator of the murder.

One interesting thing we did (outside the scope of the rules) was murder one of the characters. It was scene appropriate, and I knew that it would also help us move the story along with the other characters in play. Haven't seen it happened before, but it definitely worked.

Ken mentioned, during the thorn segment of feedback, that it would've been nice to have more variety of scenes, and lo-and-behold, Forget-Me-Not: Murder Hobo already does that, with 5 total Thread cards with 3 uses each, instead of the 4 Threads with 4 uses in this game. Haven't play-tested it, but in theory it should work with that setup (simply add a Thread and use each Thread one less time each.)

Not trying to solve a murder

Not trying to solve a murder

And out...

Nick, the con head, was inviting everyone over to his place for post-con BBQ action, but unfortunately I had to catch my flight. I had enough time to scurry about and chat, and say goodbye to all the lovely people.

Kevin (also from LA, and whom I got to play with twice to boot), was also catching a flight, so we headed to the airport, grabbed a bite, and then I was really off on my own, as we had different flights. No one was chatty on the plane, so it was just a long ride home on two planes, with many gamer thoughts to keep me company.

What can I say? Can't recommend it enough. Great con, somewhat crappy hotel, but private game rooms that worked brilliantly. The crowd was A+, and the games I played were all outstanding. I'd go again in a heartbeat.

200 Word RPG Challenge 2017

The Challenge

For the last 2 years David Schirduan and Marshall Miller have been running the 200 Word RPG Challenge. In their own words: A 200 word limit encourages creativity and demands the very best of your editing and writing abilities.

The premise is that this stretches your mind muscles. Some aspects include only being able to use plain text, so that images and formatting are irrelevant to the exercise.

I entered last year with a very simple piece, and then was absolutely floored with the level of creativity brought on by other participants. It's only gotten better.

Interested in what entries might look like? Many folks are submitting drafts and discussing them up on the Google+ community page. Some of these are quite dark. For example, check out this little dark gem called Quarantine, by Sławomir Wójcik.

My entry this year

I decided to do something that I was planning to play anyways: A world-building exercise while playing 7 Wonders Duel (the 2-player game for 7 Wonders that I've been playing a bunch with the wife and daughter).

Last years they had entries both for standalone games, and also for "accompanying" / expansion type games. This year it's all combined. I fully expect it to do extremely poorly with the judges, because it's not really a standalone game, and expects knowledge of 7 Wonders Duel. But I'm really submitting it for those that may be able to use it, as I plan to. 

The full text is here on Google docs.

And you? Have you submitted? Link to your entry below, I WILL read it!

Danger Patrol at SGG

This last session of Story Games Glendale was a milestone. It was the first time neither David nor I were responsible for running a game... Huzzah!

It was just the three of us, which included Mead who brought Danger Patrol, a mini pulp-action RPG designed by John Harper. The game is in a sort of playtest-version, currently, and the pocket edition cheat-sheet didn't quite match the beta playtest material perfectly, but those are all minor details.

The premise is pretty simple, and given in the beta playtest material with this opening speech:

We’re going to play Danger Patrol, an action/adventure retro sci-fi game. The idea is to create the episodes of a 50s-style TV show in the vein of the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (with maybe a dash of the Venture Bros., Star Wars, and Indiana Jones).
You’re all going to play members of the elite Danger Patrol—special super-powered crime fighters who protect Rocket City from evil Stygian Adepts, the nefarious agents of the Crimson Republic, rampaging monsters set loose by mad scientists, and other crazy threats.

It feels very similar to rules-light variants on this theme, such as Lasers and Feelings. In fact, the selection of characters and archetypes feels extremely similar, except that you select both a style (Alien, Mystic, Robot) and a role (Agent, Detective, Explorer). The "stats" are effectively die types that get rolled (not dissimilar to Savage Worlds), but the stat names actually match the role-types, which can be a little confusing when you first look at your sheet. It all becomes clear when you see that the stat of Detective does detective-type stuff, and similar for the others. An exhaustive list of actions covered by that stat are listed on a reference sheet somewhere.

Mead was going to play as the GM, and David and I started with some character selection. I played Prince Blork, the Alien Detective (think a playboy Dralasite), and David played Lieutenant Mark Stephens, the Two-Fisted Flyboy (with jetpack and everything).

The premise was that Earth was destroyed in atomic fires, and humanity has mostly colonized the solar system. Although Rocket City is supposed to be a city on a planet like Mars, Mead wanted to go for more of the: Rocket City is actually a rocket city... which we had occasionally flying around the solar system as a sort of United Nations of sorts. Jupiter is the domain of the Crimson Republic, the CCCP / USSR of the story.

The game wants to play pulp, so we went for pulp:

Lt. Stephens is the hero of World War III, the battle which left the Earth in ruins, where we destroyed the fourth (fifth?) reich. Little does the rest of the world know that Lt. Stephens actually caused the atomic fallout, and feels the weight of destroying humanity's birthplace.

Prince Blork is a unique specimen that was created using DNA from the alien technology left behind by great civilizations long ago. Raised secretly by a research professor who filed paperwork so that Blork would be protected as a citizen (and not an experiment), Blork is a bit of a playboy / playgirl, but despite its ability to quickly forge social (and sexual) bonds, is also keenly aware of its displacement in society, and unknown greater purpose.

Prince Blork

Prince Blork

The game is very story-collaborative, and Mead was excellent at being a GM in the middle of that chaotic fray. Before much time, we were thrown into a great meeting / negotiation between Rocket City's mayor and the Crimson Republic's Grand Commander Zukov. The press was in great force, including the Daily Neutron (taglines: "Our News Has Weight" / "Info for the Atomic Masses").

The audience chamber, where we are also a part of, gets ambushed by the forces of Hitler Jr (who's head is obviously in a jar). The attack is staged by the Post-WW III Ganymedian Nazi Robots of the fifth reich. 

During certain times when actions are performed, and a player rolls a "danger" result (which happens often), the GM is then able to make a Threat Move. One of these is to Escalate the threat, and this happened very frequently in as our scene progressed. Each time, a new sticky note came out on the table, announcing further players and issues. It was like watching a snowball gain size. Before long we had Gunter Smitetrovich (Lt Capt of the Crimson Brigade), who I (Prince Blork) was having an affair with, but also suspected he may be a double-agent. Captain Musolof was his boss. We had Crimson Republic brigade, and troopers, and reinforcements. We had spaceships out of control and falling to the ground. Rocket City mayor's daughter (and Lt Stephens possible love interest) first in danger, and then in control but in danger of destroying negotiations with her calcium depriver gun. And disabled Rocket City emergency response vehicles. 

Danger Patrol threats hit the table, over and over again

Danger Patrol threats hit the table, over and over again

It was chaos, but the story certainly felt like the crazy that happens in comics, and despite some of the pulp, there was some feels and darkness, and it wasn't all just silly jokes. There were some game and mechanical aspects that reminded me a little of playing Fate. The same way Fate has aspects hit the table, Danger Patrol has a similar feel for complications being introduced that are more narrative than mechanical. That said, threats do have a mechanical component of "hits", which is to say how many success rolls are required to counteract them. In fact, counteracting lots of hits requires lots of die rolls. How do you get lots of dice? One way is by using character aspects, such as weapons and other abilities. The other way is by adding danger dice by introducing narrative complications... and this can both help you (if you roll well) or cause further complications (when you roll poorly).

We didn't get too much going other than this one large combat-type scene, but because of the way the game narratively flows, we were able to introduce all sorts of complications by adding additional story complexity in between events. For example, when introducing the crimson guards, I added an agent that I was having an affair with. This developed the story through what felt like little hints at events that had happened in the past, and made the story more complex and interesting.

All-in-all the three of us enjoyed the session (about 3 hours worth?). We did little epilogues, including another post-cuddles bed scene with Prince Blork and Gunter, where we see Gunter pretend to be sleeping, while sending encoded messages to some secret recipient.

It looks like it'd be easy to continue the story, and to add additional players into the narrative without much problem. It has a very serialized feel. We may return to this in future SGG sessions.

Our pulp face

Our pulp face

Dungeon World and Ape City

My friends Mark and Lucas came over for some Saturday night RPG-ing, and although we almost got waylaid by my wife and her desire to play board games, we successful adjourned to the dungeon.

Neither had played Dungeon World but have played a number of RPGs before, and both have played at Story Games Glendale. They were interested in chatting about the mechanics at first for a bit, so we spent probably 15 minutes talking about how PbtA games work, which felt a little unusual to me, as recent DW games have occurred at convention, and has been mostly a learn-as-you-go type scenario. 

We dived into character creation, and started with Aegor the Elven Druid of the Great Forests and the Blasted Wastelands (played by Mark), and Sparrow the Human Thief (played by Lucas). Through the bonds, we found that Aegor the Druid has heard from the spirits that Sparrow was being followed by a dark force, which we called The Dragoon. We decided that this inadvertently occurred when Sparrow walked over some hallowed group in the blasted wastes. Why is Aegor trying to help Sparrow? Well, it turns out that The Dragoon spirit is required for equilibrium in the wastelands, and until the situation can be fixed, this was causing havoc on that land. 

I decided to try a dungeon starter by Ray Otus, of the Gauntlet RPG community, called Ape City. (Get it as the free download at his patron site!) It has a bit of that Planet of the Apes feel, and like most dungeon starters I've dealt with, starts with a list of questions the players answer which also starts them in media res... in other words: in the shit.

Here are are some of the leading, starting questions include Ape City, and how we went about answering them. We answered some in the middle of character creation, going back and forth.

What did you lose when the apes caught you? One of the apes grabs a pendant worn by Aegor the Druid... a pendant from his mother.
Which of you has dreamed about this city before? What danger was the focal point of your visions? Sparrow dreamed of the city, and a dark shadow of Dragoon follows him there.
Why is it obvious that someone else ruled here before the apes? What can you guess about those predecessors from your observations? As they are dragged through the city, they pass an old mural showing the original rulers, a tall, think humanoid race. And in that mural was apes serving and working for them.
While being force-marched through the streets, you glimpse a figure on the walkways high above. What suggests another time or place? In this case I asked Aegor how old he is. He answers in the hundreds of years. (Great!) The question becomes, "what is the being wearing that you haven't seen in at least 300 years?" A jade headdress with gems, from material that is now quite rare.
Who or what do the apes fear? How do they show this fear? They are dragged through a square with a large statue of the original rulers. It looks scratched, but otherwise impervious to attempts to pull it down. The apes skirt it and become quite as they pass this part of the city.
What unique technology do the apes utilize that they don't understand? How do they display their ignorance? The door to the King Kuka's throne room uses an intricate keypad that the apes use hesitantly. They seem relieved that it works and they didn't do it incorrectly. Makes you wonder what it looks like when they fail.

The Druid tried to turn into a mouse to escape through the net. Rolled a miss. He turns into a mouse, but is quickly grabbed by the ape with his pendant, and carried along.

They meet the King and his retinue, and Aegor tries to intimidate the King. One thing I love about Ape City is the page of Moves, including this gem: "When you maintain eye contact with King
Kuka for too long, he charges you. Roll+Cha.
" Aegor stands firm, and King Kuka screams threateningly, but stops short. Some more positioning. King Kuka hits Aegor over the head. The PCs are imprisoned. 

Most of the rest of the scenario involved breaking out of prison, meeting Tarl the barbarian cell-mate, the Druid turning into a lemur monkey to find escape routes, and the Thief breaking his picks to open the gate. They launched a plan of escape by distracting the ape guards. They staged a prisoner riot and ran for the city exit. Chaotic combat ensued, and General Urgo kills Sparrow... and the Dragoon claims responsibility and is released from stalking the Thief. Tarl is able to take revenge on the General, but only as he also goes down, and Aegor turns into a jaguar and escapes through a gap in the soldiers.

Ape City was fun to run. I used only a fraction of the scenario itself, as it includes other interesting elements, including possible friendly apes, otherworldly creatures and portals, strange magic items, and a very large and nasty beast in an arena. The structure is very usable, and is reminiscent of all the things I love about Servants of the Cinder Queen (another DW module): great leading questions, impressions of the locale, threats to deal with - in DW fashion with simple instincts and moves - and some cool scenario moves and dangers / fronts. It definitely goes in the con-bag for future one shots!