Thursday, June 14, 2018

Joining the Narrative Bourgeois

For the past month or so, I've been doing a short weekly commute to my hometown to run All of Their Strengths, a delightful little indie game meant to emulate stories of badass supernatural hybrids in the vein (ha!) of Blade, Underworld, and Devil May Cry.

This game is incredibly narrative driven, to the point where the players don't really roll dice. (Well, they do, but not for things their characters are doing.) The game is based on an economy of described actions, described counters, and dice that the GM essentially wagers against the players.

Aside from an awkward and failed attempt at running Fate Core two years ago, I've never run a narrative-based game before. Rather, I've never run a game whose mechanics were narrative-driven, rather than the narrative arising out of the game play. It had some rough spots, but I did find my legs.

The main problem, aside from some vagueness in the rules as written, was getting into the proper mindset. This group of players, hailing from a mostly Pathfinder background, I had trouble accepting that NPCs don't have stats. (Unless their are Dooms, in which case they have only two stats, Danger and Dread, and goddamn if that alliteration didn't make it difficult for me to mentally keep track of which stat did what.) For one thing, our traditionally-minded-mindset had us thinking of Dooms in terms of things that must be defeated by removing dice, dice being somewhat analogous to hit points or health or whatever. This is wrong. Any un-thwarted action in this game succeeds. You can, in fact, kill an elder vampire with a UV grenade (they're a thing in AoTS, just roll with it) if the GM doesn't thwart that action. No hit points, no Fortitude, just narrative logic.

I had brief aspirations of trying to convert this into a more traditional roleplaying game via Fudge, but in the end, I've come to enjoy the system...even if it is a little rough.

The scenario was based on the idea for the one I'm running at KantCon in about a month. (Yessssss!) I'll have to condense it, as I only have a four hour time slot as opposed to 4-5 weekly gaming sessions, but I feel like the tires have been kicked thoroughly enough that I've got a handle on this game.

There's a lot of improv... the system actually doesn't work well with a lot of prep. Hey, I used to do impromptu speaking competitively...right up my alley.

So... who's the OSR Gatekeeper these days? I need to know who to surrender my OSR Membership Card to now that I've sullied myself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Slaying the Beast (With Apologies to Grendel)

You know, I really wanted to like Beast: the Primordial.

Like, I really wanted to like it. It was a fresh departure from White Wolf's usual setup... a creature type that wasn't a retread from NWoD or OWoD, more flexibility for character concepts, built to plug right in to the rest of the CoD or happy to stand completely alone, mechanical incentive for cooperation among PCs*... very sexy package. (Plus that eerie faded purple color scheme in the artwork.)

Sadly, Beast just has too much shit going on. It feels like multiple games crammed into one book, vying for attention. You have the PCs, who are reincarnations (?) of mythical monsters, able to access a weird semi-dream world. They can build lairs in the semi-dream world, though they're more conceptual places than actual physical locales. You have Heroes (capital H), individuals who act as a sort of natural defense to the predations of the monsters (although they end up pretty much becoming monsters themselves, because White Wolf.)  You have monsters who lose their shit enough that they merge with their spirit monster and become real flesh-and-blood monsters who exist in the real world, but I guess not in the dream world. You have the internal struggle of the PCs between feeding their monstrous hunger so they don't lose their shit and not filling up enough that the monster goes to sleep and they're stuck as regular humans (who still read as monsters to the Heroes.) Powers work differently depending on how 'hungry' the character's beastly aspect is.

It just ends up being too much. When I was well into my third page of typing up a cheat sheet with all the basic things that any Beast can do, independent of their monster type powers, I found myself wondering why I couldn't seem to actually condense all of this stuff into something more digestible.

Then, once again, I tried to hurl my mind against the Chronicles of Darkness spirit possession/manifestation flowchart before throwing my hands up and saying fuck it.

I've tried a few "back of the napkin" ideas for a "Beast-lite" type of game. As usually, I mostly end up spinning my tires and debating every tiny design decision with myself.

I'll probably be offloading my book online at some point. I'll still have it on PDF if I ever change my mind (I got the combo), but I just find the game too inaccessible and needlessly arcane.

*Given how stand-offish and mutually antagonistic the PC types usually are, especially in OWoD, this is actually kind of a big deal for a White Wolf game. Normally mutual survival is incentive enough for PCs to cooperate, but whatevs.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fillin' Up Those Con Tables

I compulsively check Warhorn to see the status of my KantCon games. Registration has been open for two weeks.

-Starships & Spacemen is half full

-Lamentations of the Flame Princess has only a single soul signed up, but I imagine it'll be full before July. Any LotFP game run by anyone at KantCon fills up and usually has a waiting list.

-Stars Without Number is full up!

-No takers for All of Their Strengths, but the convention is still 3 months away. if only it were that easy to fill my own table here at home. I've got two games I'm playing in and an invitation to a third, but I am, to borrow John's term, a Forever DM.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Odds and Ends

Various gaming and gaming-related goings-on in my current existence:

*Christian over at The Tolling of the Great Black Bell has started up his 'zine again. It might be the only thing I get in the mail that I actually enjoy opening. Who doesn't want a 'zine with drooling mutants amidst the endless credit card offers and mail from the AARP. (Which I totally don't understand, because I'm only 36)

*Event registration for KantCon opened up yesterday. My Stars Without Number game is already half full, and I've got two signed up for Starships & Spacemen, including a player who has been in several of the sessions over the last couple of years. I have no doubt that I will fill my tables; I do every year. 

*In addition to John's D&D 2018 game and my friend's Savage Worlds take on Dark*Matter, I'm going to have the chance to play in a colleague's Zweihander game. I'm pretty hype. The only reason I can even consider embarking on this much gaming is because I'm only seven and a half weeks away from the end of the school year.

*I've started watching "Paranormal Survivor" on Netflix. I don't actually believe in ghosts (or anything supernatural for that matter), but the stories are cool and kind of make me want to do a retread of Orpheus. (White Wolf's take on ghostbusters, released back in like 2003 I think) Of course, I have a pretty low tolerance for the WoD system anymore, so it'd have to be a different rule set.

*I succumbed to nostalgia and bought the rest of the Palladium Robotech books, since they lost the license and the books are now officially out of print. I managed to snag them just before scalpers started posting them used on various online retail sites with jacked up prices. Am I likely to ever run Robotech? Probs not. However, I'm a nostalgia whore and pine for the days of my idyllic childhood in the 1980's, so there you go.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Double Header

I'm doing a lot of gaming this weekend.

I'm not DMing at all, which is my heart's desire, but by Jove I'll take what I can get.

Tonight I'm playing in my friend Josh's Savage Worlds game, which I think is best described as Dark*Matter, but with a sort of Shadowrun-esque "near future urban fantasy" vibe. I'm making my character on an index card after I finish typing this, because I'm suddenly super into games where you can fit your character on an index card.

Tomorrow I'm playing in John's game using his "D&D 2018" rule set. It's good to be back with the old group, even if the composition has changed a bit since 2015 or '16 or whenever I departed.

If I could somehow throw together a one shot on Sunday, it would be my first all gaming weekend in many years, but I'm afraid those halcyon times are gone and past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Which Way Do I Roll?

So apparently D&D is super popular again.

Anecdotally, I know that in the past year or three, I can say I play D&D to someone and they at least kind of know what it is, rather than getting the blank stare I used to get in years past.

There are swelling sales numbers and surveys that show that D&D has attracted a much more diverse crowd than was perceived in the past. There are podcasts. Celebrities play D&D for an audience. People watch each other play D&D on Twitch...which I do not understand, at all, but maybe that's just the mid-thirties guy in me talking. The point is, D&D has definitely become pop culture. I'd hardly call it mainstream, but the exposure is definitely higher.

Another anecdote: back in 2015 or 16, I saw the D&D starter set on the shelf at Target. Target. The closest thing I'd ever seen to gaming stuff in a big box store is the anemic gaming section at Barnes & Noble.

Of course, this is mostly all news generated by 5th edition. That makes sense: it's the current edition, it has stuff coming out for it pretty regularly, the art direction exudes inclusiveness.

The 5th edition of D&D does very little for me. I ran it for several months, played in a Princes of the Apocalypse campaign for close to a year. I don't hate 5e. I don't dislike it. It's just... fine. It doesn't excite me like the older editions do. There's just some factor that doesn't pop for me the way it seems to with others.

I understand that 5th edition is valuable for the future of the hobby, in that it is highly visible and very good for recruiting new players. I like that the days of the chainmail bikini are over with. I'm glad that gaming is a more diverse hobby.

I also have a feeling I'm going to let this new wave pass me by. Like I said, my heart isn't in 5th edition, but I feel a strange sort of obligation to participate in it somehow for some sort of vague "greater good" that may or may not exist.

The games I want to play are BECMI D&D or some clone of it...Stars Without Number... Zweihander. A few small indie games that have snagged my interest. Lamentations. I've found that gathering players for these games has been an intensely frustrating and often fruitless experience. I could have three 5th edition groups rolling by next Sunday if I so chose. (Whether they'd stay rolling is certainly up for question, but I could get them going, I have no doubt)

So here's where I'm at: I understand that it's far easier to get 5th edition going, to find players, and to find games... and I understand 5th edition's value in making sure this weird hobby of ours continues on, but goddamn do I pine for a group of people sitting around the table while I run from my brand new POD copy of the Cyclopedia, or my moldering old AD&D "orange spine" books, or SWN/SWN2, or... really, just about anything else.

I've kept my 5th edition core books and GM screen, just in case. I may well break down and run it again. I may well play it again. I'd just rather be doing other things.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

KantCon Docket 2018

Bitches, I'm back.

(Well, I will be back. To KantCon. In July.)

My finalized schedule:

Friday Morning- Starships & Spacemen 2nd Edition, "Beacon"

Every year I run S&S, using the same ship and crew, and very often the same players (or some of them at least) sign up. I've had the same two dudes playing the Captain and First Office for years now. Last year I couldn't go, and it sucked. This year I'm running the game with the premise that the usual ship, the Armiger, disappeared a year ago while investigating a space anomaly called the Labyrinth, which itself disappeared as if never there.

Now, one year later, the Labyrinth has reappeared. The experimental science vessel Beacon is within reach, and the Captain of the Beacon is an old flame of the Armiger's Captain. She defies orders to avoid the Labyrinth and takes her ship in...

Depending on how things play out, next year I'll be back to running the Armiger and crew, or the Beacon and crew will be the new characters... or maybe a mix.

Friday Evening- Lamentations of the Flame Princess, "A Stranger Storm"

I'm running the introductory scenario out of the old LotFP Referee's Handbook. (The PDF version of the "grindhouse" edition.) It's a pretty dope scenario. Six travelers are forced off the road by a freak storm that renders the road impossible to traverse and camping a miserable prospect. Luckily, they are right by a quaint roadside inn. What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday Morning- Stars Without Number Revised Edition- "The Tartarus Gambit"

This is a free, system-neutral scenario that was apparently written by forum and placed on DriveThru for free download. I have no memory of downloading it...I found it while cleaning up my PDF library...pretty apropos, actually. I'm going to use this as my first crack at running SWN2. I haven't run SWN since before I entered grad school, and my love of the game burns with an intense, fiery passion.

Anyway, in this scenario, the PCs are a grou p of ne'er-do-wells who have the coordinates to a prison transport full of high value prisoners and high value tech...and it missed its scheduled meet with the next prison transport. People are after this ship. A lot of people. Can the PCs get in, grab what they want, and get out before anyone else finds the Tartarus?

Saturday Evening- All of Their Strengths, "The Dark Grand Conjoining"

AoTS is a delightful, if tongue-in-cheek, game about supernatural hybrids who fight against the supernatural status quo. The game is supposed to be high octane, over the top, stylized-to-the-point-of-fetish action in the vein (ha) of Blade and Underworld and that kind of thing.

This is another scenario of my own device. Rumors and rumbles in the Shadow War indicate some kind of unholy alliance between the Vampire High Council and the Hellfire Club. Normally demons and vampires aren't the best of friends, but the signs are there. Whatever these two factions are planning together, it can't be good.

Unfortunately for them, the hybrids are in town. They're here to kick ass and wear sunglasses.

Sunday I might host a board game like HeroQuest or maybe Space Alert. I can't imagine running five games... four was plenty last time. Who knows, though. I'm masochistic sometimes.