OK, I'm writing this a few weeks after the fact. Blame sickness. And some laziness... er, distraction. In the name of Crypt of the Necrodancer (this is the most "video gaming" I've done since Fallout Shelter earlier last year).
Late December Story Games
Late December I met up David at Story Games Glendale, and due to various holidays and such, it was just the two of us motivated individuals. We looked at a few options, and because I'd been trying to get this ready for some time, decided on Atlas Reckoning (link to the G+ community currently, as the game itself is still in beta and not available). I've played before at Go Play NW (prior blog here) with Stras Asimovic, one of the designers (let's be honest... he is the dude).
Why Atlas Reckoning?
Why? The game is about giant mechs (Atlases) staving off humanities destruction from giant kaiju monsters (Behemoths). Like many story / narrative RPGs, the actual world and premise is designed at the table, and includes questions like "Why is it that giant mechs are the only answer?" This is lovely as it creates enough feasibility with the premise as the players will need, and like many PbtA games (which this is not, but you can see similarities) builds the player investment as well.
AND I want to run this game ASAP. Like maybe next month at Orccon here in Los Angeles. Hoping to get a playtest going prior to convention, and this was perfect. David has no qualms testing a game at the table and figuring it out as he goes, and it was just the two of us. And Atlas Reckoning can play GM-less, since the enemies work on a sort of simple algorithm.
The AR rundown
David and I started with the world building setup, and went with a small colony of 20,000 or so on a mining colony world out in space. The planet is low-gravity, and uses many large mining machines. David liked the idea of "we've dug too deep", and we went with that. Our mining has released some large native lifeform, which we're just starting to combat. Being mining, we have lots of explosives, and have now repurposed some mechs to serve as our protectors. Our colony lives in a large bubble, with some smaller adjacent bubbles and underground tunnels, but help is far away in space in time... so it's either protect ourselves from the kaiju, or be destroyed.
I love games where you do that yummy bit of world-building up front, to focus on a story you are motivated and excited to tell.
The next part of the game is choosing archetypes (similar to PbtA playsheets), and we ended up going with:
- David as the Rookie, Bryan Smith, Callsign: Echo (from Olympus Mons, Mars)
- Tomer as the Hotshot, Sluska Hollis, Callsign: Goldie (from Alteris V)
We filled in a few initial traits (Echo: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning", Goldie: "Make mother proud!") and then proceeded to make our mech: the Buxon Avenger. Named due to the large armor plating on the chest, it also is combined with a mono-molecular filament mining blade, a mine layer module (aka mining explosives), and missile swarm. These are the Atlas modules we chose, which all come with various combat advantages, mechanics-wise.
I also love that just prior to battle you use little vignettes to show what your character is doing, and looking like, and use those elements to try and get the (fake) audience a little insight into their personalities, without any long-winded backstories.
Then, it's straight into combat. We fought a small (category 1) Behemoth with spikes all over that was burrowing its way to our bubble city. We decided that command has given us additional instructions to not let the creature even enter the zone with our city, so as not to alert the mostly ignorant populace of the danger. We struggled through the mechanics a bit, but hiccuped our way through, and had fun playing what is simultaneously a card game with whatever narrative flavoring you want to impose on top of it.
We retired to back to the city, slightly damaged (both with character Stress as well as some Atlas scratches, and went into the game's Downtime mode. This is where you can recuperate some health and bonuses for the next combat, by performing little role playing scenes with some vaguely worded goals. We had a fun scene that involved love interests, pilot bonding, and rogue poker games, followed by alarms sounding to our character's hangovers.
Next battle we upped the stakes and brought in a category 2 Behemoth that had Teeth, Frenzy, and also a take-down trait of Retribution. We called this lovely thing the Gnasher. We got damaged a bit more heavily, but made it through the fight (maybe mostly because we didn't understand some of the rules), but all-in-all, a satisfying play.
Unfortunately, I found later that I was using an older beta version due to bad linking. This meant that many of our questions and criticisms about clunkiness with the rules were a little unfounded, as much has been cleaned up. That said, it did give me good insight and practice at playing (even an older version of) the system, and I'm hoping to have the rules down enough to do some more running of this in the very near future.