Thursday, December 31, 2009

Polaris - AP Thread

Hey, gang!
Connor, a friend of mine is visiting from San Francisco; he's in school out there, studying drama therapy. He's played WoW and other video games in the past, but I've never been able to persuade him to try a role-playing game before (and I hadn't tried asking in years...). Tonight, we couldn't find anything to do, and he didn't want to drive back to his parents' house just yet (around 7pm), so I suggested a board game.

He asked, "Is the board game going to involve a lot of thinking and strategy?" At which point, I doubled back from the game closet, sheepishly. I suggested playing an RPG instead, and, surprisingly, he assented!
I had been thinking of downloading a PDF of S/Lay w/Me, only to discover at the unstore that, hey, there is no PDF for sale yet! Oh, well - I'd bought a copy of Polaris this week, so I showed it to Connor and had him read that "As It Was" section about the king, queen, knights, etc., while I went and got dice, paper, pens, etc.
When I returned, he picked a name from the star-names list, and then we just kind of sat for a bit, while I asked him if, in all the ice and splendor and horror and demonic invasions going on, if he had any ideas for a character. Somewhere in there, I mentioned that Polaris is a tragedy, and all star-knights inevitably die, go mad, or join the demons. He scowled, conjectured on Ben Lehman's upbringing and emotional well-being, and then reminded me of his hesitation about playing. But, eventually, we extracted the following:

Sir Cetus
[all normal Aspects, plus...]
Blessing: Shield of Black Shiny Goodness (his name for it; he described a shield made of glittery obsidian)
Fate: Mensa - a character. No idea who this is, yet!
Ability: Attribute - Big (Cetus is an enormous individual - alternately described as being like a "huge ice-statue" and "big and hairy, like Thor")

New Moon character: Equuleus - a relative of Cetus's, a young boy. "The Chosen One"
Mistake character: High Priest Octans - a trouble-making prophet who declared Equuleus the "Chosen One", and who wants Sir Cetus to guard Equuleus on his way into the Mistake(!), where he claims the boy will somehow end the Mistaken demon-army altogether

Play: Connor was really nervous, but also interested in the game, so I tried to keep things as low-key as possible. Partly because he'd never RP'd before, and partly because there were only two of us playing, we divvied up the responsibilities of the Moons - anyone moving against the Heart would be played by me; anyone standing up for the Heart would be played by Connor; and anyone standing on the sidelines would be played by me (as generously and fairly as possible - no ruthlessness from such characters allowed!)

We cleared up how the Moon characters would be played (in truth, I didn't really explain the Moons, just those responsibilities), and then began.
And so it was...
Equuleus and Cetus were walking together on a rampart atop the Remnant, and Equuleus reveals that it was the High Priest who declared him the Chosen One (Connor had a good grumble about this - "How can he do that to a little boy?"), and that, as the One, he could pick anybody he liked to accompany him into the Mistake, to save the world. He naturally chooses Cetus ("You're the bravest, strongest warrior in the world!") and this led to our first conflict.

[Connor has done a lot of improv, so we started out just using the phrases "But Only If..." and "And Furthermore" to start. He quibbled a bit about using the exact phrases, but I told him it was important to keep the proper mood and tone, which was a good enough reason for him.]
Angry, Cetus sends the child to his room. [and furthermore! I add...] On the way to his room, Equuleus sneaks off instead and goes to tell the High Priest that Sir Cetus is a coward, and won't go with him to fulfill the High Priest's prophecy. [and furthermore! Connor adds...] The High Council calls Cetus in to explain himself. [Connor double-checked a couple of times if he could introduce new characters or not, but he took to "just say your intent; don't hedge" without me having to ever bring it up directly!] I agreed - And that was how it happened! Then we ended the scene, and took a break.

I told Connor that a break was just that - a solid break from the game completely, to talk about whatever. He went on a bit about feeling really resistant to being creative, how he felt like he was on the receiving end of the very techniques he's learning in school, and on three separate occasions tonight, he pantomimed feeling stuck in a box by the prospect of being creative for the game. He told me he was enjoying it, though, and he just had a lot of baggage to get over about performance and getting things right - I told him that whatever he comes up with will be totally cool as-is, and he resolved to keep that in mind.

We started up a second scene.
And so it was...
Sir Cetus stands before the High Council, accused of cowardice and thwarting the Chosen One's wishes. They beg an explanation, and he tells them that he's been to the Mistake before, as they know [I write this down, whispering "awesome!"], and it is no place for a boy, not even a Chosen One. They consider this, but High Priest Octans loses it and screams "This traitor should be thrown in prison!" [Connor replies, "What, like you threw my parents in prison?" He then explains that Cetus's parents went demon-mad and were locked away at the bottom of the Remnant for their own safety. Rad!]
[We start a conflict at this point:
Connor says: but only if... the High Priest has been wrong before about his prophecies.
I say, in turn: but only if... the High Council trusts him anyway.
Connor says: you ask far too much!... then continues to narrate]
Equuleus comes out of hiding and tells the Council they have no right to do this to his chosen guardian! [Connor exhausts his Theme of Fate, and I amend my statement] The High Priest demands, instead of arresting Sir Cetus that Sir Cetus show Equuleus his mad parents, in their cell - "The better to show the boy what he is protected from by the prophecy, from which others are not..." [Burn! Connor asks me if Cetus is now required to do this thing, if he has to, and I say no, but now the Council expects him to do so. He agrees.]

We ended the scene there. I'm noticing, looking back, that there was a slight rule-thing that we missed - "You ask far too much" applies to the previous statement made by one's opponent, whereas we used it for the statement that caused the conflict - i.e. Cetus is arrested. Since retroactively changing that would have meant erasing some cool stuff established about Octans and the Council, I'm okay with this.

At this point, we end the scene. We talk for a bit about things, Connor says he's really enjoying himself, though still nervous about performing well (he's a nervous guy by nature), and then I ask if he wants to play out the scene where his parents, Al Niyat and Alya, are introduced. Screaming, mad, padded-room parents? Fun! He says he's not up for another scene tonight, but he does have an idea about what happened to Cetus's parents - when Cetus went to the Mistake (the circumstances of which are unclear), he nearly died, and some kind of Council of Demons (he said it was a sort of counterpart to the High Council of the People) agreed to trade "one life for two minds" - his parents were driven insane by demon sorcery, and in exchange, the demon councilors spared Cetus and sent him home. Connor honed in on this a bit more - Cetus is not one for bravado or foolhardiness, because he's seen horrible things first-hand and doesn't care to inflict that on anyone else. AND! the High Priest had once told *Cetus* that he, too, could not be harmed by the Mistake, which we then concluded together made it possible that, should Equuleus enter the Mistake, some kind of price would be paid to see the boy safely out of there again, and Cetus did NOT want that to happen!

We chatted a bit about drama therapy, RPGs, improv, etc.; I mentioned that I'd heard a rumor that Polaris is a metaphorical examination of the strain of doing social work for a living, he guffawed and clucked his tongue at that, and then we agreed to play again! Yay! We will probably play again while he's still here in Virginia, if possible, and then figure out from there when we'll play once we're on the opposite ends of the country from one another. I'm very excited that he gave this a shot, and that he connected to it on a couple of levels (improv, therapy..)

So! More to follow, with any luck.
[Cross-posted at the Forge and story-games]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quick update

I owe one of my non-gamer coworkers a game of Shock: the next time we're able to hang out and do that. We have protagonists ready to go; next we'll have antagonists raring to go, too!

I bought a copy of Polaris as well, and I plan on getting two other people (prolly a couple of trad gamers; a couple of *certain* trad gamers, haha) to join me. Yessss!

Boys Don't Cry - the RPG


I think I may have found a way to use Otherkind dice to talk about oppression, social roles, and such.

It goes like this: the players devise a community, choose a group in that community that is oppressed, and then pick a trait/skill/way of getting things done that is forbidden to that group, but accessible by the dominant population. The oppressed group can certainly act in the manner outlined by the trait on its own group-members, but not on white people/in the presence of white people.

Let's say we devise a Colorado post-industrial town, choose Vietnamese immigrants as our oppressed group, and then decide that it's forbidden for Asian people in this town to be Confrontational - white folks can get up in people's faces whenever they deem it necessary, but the Vietnamese community here has learned to lie low and get what they want and need in other ways.

Next, we make characters: at least one (maybe only one?) player will control a character who is of the oppressed group. Any such protagonists are going to start the game with a 6 in the forbidden trait (high is bad). I have no idea what other traits there might be, but certainly gameplay is going to focus on the forbidden trait, so some designated opposition-player is going to try to maneuver you into situations in which the Forbidden Trait would be the simplest way to approach a problem.

Vietnamese characters in this town are going to avoid being directly confrontational with white folks, but they can confront other Asian characters all they want, provided no white people are present in the conflict (or maybe the scene, altogether?), as how "those people treat one another" is of little consequence if it's not making white folks upset.

Next, we have a Kicker - most people in the oppressed group lie low and don't make trouble, but the protagonist has done so at least once/is in the process of doing so *right now*. Example - you play a Vietnamese family man whose wife was killed in a hit-and-run (car only; not a drive-by or anything), and the local police are really dragging their asses on the case. You stop by the station one day to check on the investigation's progress, and you hit a wall - they're "really tired of you coming by so often; why don't you just let us work?" Annnd .... action!

So, the Forbidden Trait works like this - set your goal for the conflict in which you use this Trait. Then, for each point you have in the Trait, above 1, the whole table works to come up with one complication or escalation of the conflict - not necessarily something directly related to any actions taken *in* the situation so far, but definitely stuff that will change the landscape, so to speak.
Next, you roll d6's equal to your rating in it (it starts at 6, for oppressed-group-protagonists). For each 4-6 you get, you can make one thing (your goal, or a complication) go your way. Naturally, it's going to really suck having lots of dice to start, but I'm thinking that there's going to be a lot of push-back when you first start overtly resisting oppression. I haven't worked out a "clouds and dice" idea for how you can "buy down" the Forbidden Trait's rating (which means there's less fallout when you use it), but that's something to work on.

p.s. I think the number of protagonists is going to be fairly low, and having only one is going to be totally okay, as it means you can really sink your teeth into one person's take on the situation (kind of a one-player-and-many-gm's scenario).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a (real) storytelling game of (actual) personal horror

I'm thinking of hacking Vampire: the Masquerade to make it more story-ful. I was inspired by the Background traits and a request from a blog-commenter over at Story By the Throat!, and realized how Background traits were the "way in" to making V:tM, and perhaps White Wolf games in general, *actually* deal with "personal horror".

What if, instead of coldly tactical names like Contacts and Allies, you had, respectively, much more emotionally relevant traits with names like "People Who Think I'm Human" and "Lovers and Close Friends"? Some traits could stay the same, like Status (which is inherently social), but most of them would need to change.

More examples - how about "Vampires I've Cowed Into Submission" for Influence, and "My Human Victims" for Herd? One more - "Purity of My Blood" for Generation: you're either too young to inherit so much power, or you've killed some very important people to get where you are, and either way, it'd make sense to develop a certain level of disconnect from the mud-blood monsters.

Anything, anything at all to make it easier for players to treat the subject matter more appropriately, and less like dark-clad superheroes! The way the rules are set up currently, it's all too easy for a player to be told by the GM and fellow players to act one way (as though he's playing a storytelling game focused on a personal brush with horror), and to be encouraged by the rules and mechanics to act another way entirely (as though he's playing Marvel Superheroes, but everyone has to be "dark and creepy" caped crusaders).

This is the sort of split mind that D&D has pushed onto people historically, although 4th Edition seems to have much more clarity of purpose, encouraging people to go ahead and min-max and have the most effective characters they can - they're going to need them! ^_^

I downloaded an odd little document - a list of each White Wolf game (Old World of Darkness) and all the background traits made available in that game, and finally, which book(s) each trait was mentioned in. Kind of a strange reference document.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh dang - Baron Von Vikingson

So I was looking through old Forge posts I'd done, under a different handle, and I came across what looks like Baron Munchausen, sort of. Replace coins (or whatever) with Cleverness, and have the incredulity element focus instead on asking the other players to give your Thane better stats (so you can claim to have done mightier things than you really did, of course), and there you go!

I have yet to play the Baron, but having one active player and multiple GM-ish players sounds both very Polaris and kind of funky.

Check it out! I totally attempt to hijack this poor guy's thread. ^_^;; Fortunately, the OP liked my ideas...

p.s. I totally see a possible hack/way to break the game - if you share a scene in which your Thane outwits an opponent, and you ask for more Cleverness, do you get it? Hitting zero Cleverness means that your story is regarded as so absurd and unlikely that you're regarded as a fool, and the other Thanes go off to drink without you. Gaining more, then, would extend your time in the spotlight, but on the other hand, your "goal" is to be clever enough to finish your story, not to go on for ever and ever. Maybe you could pay Cleverness to other players in exchange for prompts or hints or ideas, kind of like A Penny For My Thoughts. Hmmmmm...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Finally! Progress on a Dwarf Fortress RPG

I've taken a totally different direction with things - I'm not even going to get into the wonkiness that was my previous design idea.

Anyway, here's a sample example from the rough draft:

A quick example – you're playing a dwarf named Urist. His key phrases are “I left Mountainhome to strike the earth” and “What I do, I do for power”. You've been rolling terribly, though, and Urist hasn't contributed much to the Fortress; he's seen as pretty useless by his comrades. It's your turn to roll again, and your best skill is a 4 in Mining. You roll, and get two successes! You cheer, finally getting a chance to describe a cavern with actual features! You spend one to establish a cavern, and one to give it an ore vein.

But then another player clears his throat and says, “So your dwarf ...”. You wonder what he's up to. You give him the go-ahead, and he adds, “So your dwarf, Urist, finds a new cavern, but he doesn't notice the platinum vein it holds,” you groan, “until one of the other miners reports it to him.”

Curses! Urist won't get any credit for this discovery! Unless.... You announce Urist's options to the table: either he lets the other dwarf be lauded by the tinkers, when it should really be him instead, or he kills the miner, and takes what's rightly his.

You decide to take a new Desperation: “I am willing to kill those who get in my way.” Scowling, you bury your pick in his head, to the surprise of everyone present (they all get -1 Mood)1. Rolling 2 Threaten,2 you add +1 to the result, thanks to your new key phrase, and get one success. Turning to the huddled, terrified miners, you bark, “I'll kill the rest of you, too, if you don't do what I say. It was me who found the platinum, and one of you swung your pick without looking and killed him. Is that clear?

Ah, how happy and fun! They dutifully stay silent on the matter, although the miner's friends are quite upset to hear of his untimely death. But the Fortress still gets the platinum, and another player, in awe of your cruelty, picks up the dice and makes a Tinkering check.

If, instead, you swallowed your pride and took a point of Anger, you could get one extra reroll the next time you're confronted by your Passion.

1You can off a nameless NPC dwarf as part of a Passion dilemma without even picking up the dice. Named NPCs must be killed the hard way -with Scene Skills.

2Assume these dwarfs have no Mood buffs to mess with your roll, in this example

So that's a little of what I have, so far. You basically portray the more deranged or obsessive members of your Fortress, contending with your darker urges while trying to keep the place running, and it's all in the shadow of an inevitable goblin invasion.

Losing is fun! ^_^