Sunday, September 25, 2011

[AW] Adobe Town, session 3 highlights

Highlights from tonight:

1- Diamond the Chopper, plus most of his gang, bring a shipment of salvaged steel parts to the stronghold of his master, Havoc.
They enter the gates, set aside their weapons, and bring the shipment to the ... garage. Havoc has claimed, and kept up, a McMansion circa 1995, complete with two-car garage, linoleum flooring, and Redskins commemorative plates on the mantle.
So, a bunch of hard-bitten, neofeudal bikers, chilling at a couple of card tables, checking out the particle-board cabinetry and chintzy wallpaper. Loving it.

2- So, three farmers from the Mudflats creep up into the huge concrete drainage pipe where Rue the Gunlugger sleeps. They want revenge after he pointed a gun in their mate's face the other night, over a matter of someone treading barefoot on a misplaced hypo.
Rue wakes up in their grip, gets his machete free of its sheath, and kills the first of them. The others scream and run, and he picks them off with his rifle.
More farmers come to investigate, as does Diamond and his gang. There's a bit of a standoff, but as soon as the village elder Do gets a good look at the bodies, he screams and cries for vengeance. One of the farmers, a fellow named Rum, breaks and runs, while the rest charge the bikers with staves and scythes in hand.
Diamond's gun is knocked away, but he grabs a club from a farmer, and starts giving as good as he gets. Rue lets off a couple rounds to scare the lot of them, and the elder gets them to back down in the face of overwhelming arms.
Boo the Angel pops in to tend to the dead, and manages to bring one of them back to life and health. While the cowed farmers are carrying their friend home, Rum (remember him?) comes running back with a six-gun in hand. Diamond grabs iron and tells him not to shoot, "What's done is done. You've no quarrel with us now."
Rum shoots anyway, and notches Diamond's armor. The Chopper shoots back and blows off the man's shootin' hand, which sets the crowd on him all over again until the elder Do clubs two men with his staff and screams, "No more blood, you fools!"
Boo goes and sees to Rum's bloody stump, and a second, final truce is reached, at last. Phew!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ode to an Apocalypse World NPC

To Mimi.
Mimi, you crazy, crusty-haired junkie. You threatener of men's balls, you dropper of needles where others will step on them, barefoot.
I love you, dude. Don't change.

Love, your MC

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I would recommend that, if you play Hot Guys Making Out, the uke or receptive role should not be taken up by someone who is uncomfortable with male homosexuality.
Just. Saying.
You'd think this kind of thing would be obvious. -__-;;

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This. The CAs' whole purpose is to help you see, not the diversity of your own play, but the diversity of possible play, including, most importantly, play that makes you go "ugh,so not a fan." Or, "but ... how is that even fun?" Or, "sure, but that's not roleplaying."
Thanks to Vincent for reminding me why Creative Agenda is really not a big goddamn deal. In hindsight, the wild, poisonous, contentious, sometimes productive debates about CA/GNS, sweeping the 'nets every once in a while, are basically an argument about whether or not there are different ways to role play, and to enjoy role playing.
It's super important that one take the time to play lots and lots of different games, figure out what we like (a broad or narrow range, whatevs), and then play those games.
I have played a lot of boring games, a few games I hated, and an increasing number of games I love. CA is one way* of talking about how they differ; it happens to be very difficult to explain in the abstract, not so hard to grok once you've played games that support very different Agendas.

So, I intensely dislike Exalted-the-game, even if I'm a bit of a fanboy for Exalted-the-setting. I absolutely adore Apocalypse World and Kagematsu and Polaris; I'm pretty sold on My Life With Master and Dogs in the Vineyard. Sorcerer is neat, Swords & Wizardry is a lot of fun, and A Penny For My Thoughts is a good time.
I'm the most interested in games that draw a lot of their structure and concepts from the way that narratives work (the precise medium being imitated is irrelevant). Games that are all about problem-solving, detailed questions, planning, etc. (dungeon crawls, f'rex!) are fun too. Overall, I most-highly value games that are focused, that have a highly intentional design ethos, and that push me into an emotional space that I'd have a hard time recreating on my own. Seriously, I've cried during sessions of Polaris and MLWM, and AW has gotten me misty-eyed a number of times. I love that kind of stuff.
Basically, it all comes back to actual play. Play games, find out what you like, what you love, and what you hate, and keep up with the good stuff! Life is too short to play games that aren't any fun.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reflections on the One Ring RPG

Thanks to the .pdf being so readily available, The One Ring RPG already has dozens of pages of comments in forums like Story Games and, so there's already a lot out there to look at.

I've gotten hold of the .pdf myself (and will, yeah, most likely buy the boxed set), and I have to say, I'm really excited about this game!
A few comments and quibbles:
- yes, there is a passing similarity to Mouse Guard, but not a strong one.
- yes, the formatting is such that particular rules can be a little tricky to find at times, but if you read it from beginning to end you'll find everything; some things just aren't repeated like they should be, or are first mentioned in odd places and then never mentioned again (like what the Feat die and Success dice look like..)
- I have been underlining all kinds of things, just to overcome the semi-weird formatting; things that look important but aren't flagged and bolded have been underlined or circled in black pen (thanks, b/w printout!)
- you roll a d12, the Feat die, every time you roll the dice. If it comes up an 11, it's the Eye of Sauron, which negatively affects the result. If it comes up 12, it's the Rune of Gandalf, which has a positive effect. Kind of wonky that they went with 11 instead of, you know, 1, but whatever. Strictly speaking (I need to investigate this), it could be that the Eye still counts as an 11 but also creates bad or weird side effects. Still, kind of odd.

Straight-up cool stuff:
- adventures occur at the rate of one per year, followed by a recovery period called the Fellowship Phase in which you manage your reputation, your wealth, and your spiritual health (by shedding Shadow points); this phase lasts between a week and a season, and "caps" the adventure.
For context, the journey from the Shire to Rivendell could be considered one adventure, since they take their sweet time healing Frodo, something on the order of weeks!
The journey to Mount Doom, come to think of it, would be one enormous adventure from there on out, since the poor hobbitses never really get a break after that. Maybe I'm just recalling the movie version of events, though. Merry and Pippin catch a bit of a break when they encounter the Ents and get a chance to rest up at the Enthall, though.

- corruption! Okay, so I'm not quite sold yet on the cool-factor of gaining Shadow points from traveling through tainted lands, but experiencing anguish and doing horrid things to others both seem like legit sources of Shadow points. The latter, especially, is reminiscent of Polaris and its Experience Tests.

- to remove Shadow taint from yourself, you must make a Craft test or a Song test. Yep, just like in Earthdawn, making beautiful things is how you free yourself from the taint of evil. Cool! (okay, okay, in Earthdawn, strictly speaking, making beautiful things is how you prove that you are free of evil's icy grip, rather than how you remove yourself from it. Close enough ^__^)

- the game is set about five years before "the shadow returns to Mirkwood". Given the time-frame mentioned above, that means you've got about five adventures ahead of you before the War of the Ring's first blow will be struck (that is, the ringwraiths capturing and torturing Gollum, and finding out where the One Ring is). Naturally, that means the players have five game-years to walk into the Shire and encounter Bilbo Baggins and, who knows, maybe hear a little tale about his magic ring...

- the text is chock full of little story-gamey gems that demand a close-read. Yes, this game is in the Trad Games tradition (in that Trad rather than Indie is where the creators have been hanging out, where they got their experience and inspiration, etc.), but it's got neat little things in it like:
"the player shall declare the intended result of his action. On a success, he narrates what occurs," [paraphrased from the text]
"When a player selects the skill he will roll to complete an action, and when he describes the action itself, the other players shall have veto power over these decisions for the sake of logic and theme. If the players cannot resolve the issue, the Loremaster [GM] shall make a ruling." [paraphrased from the text]
To be fair, there are also depressing little tidbits like,
"...nothing ruins a good session of play as [much as] a player questioning the Loremaster's knowledge of the source material" p. 7, Loremaster's Book
"Before the game begins, the Loremaster should have at least a generic idea of how the plot of the adventure should unfold.... The Loremaster needs to have an idea of when [the events of the plot] will happen." p. 13, Loremaster's Book
So, yeah, you get some of the standard stuff about "The GM makes the plot, and the players are its main characters", (Google the "Provisional Glossary" and search for the phrase "Impossible Thing Before Breakfast" for more context).
To be fair, if the LM cannot "barf forth Tolkien-style apocalyptica" to the players' satisfaction (lil Apocalypse World reference, there), then the LM probably shouldn't be LMing. It's kind of neat that the rules explicitly state that the person best qualified to LM is whoever knows the most about Tolkien in the group, so at least they offer a method of handling this head-on. ^__^
Secondly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pre-game prep. What I find objectionable is outcome prep, rather than simply content prep. Any veteran GM will tell you they've written up all sorts of amazing things on their lonesome before a session, only to never quite get a chance to use them in play. Understandably, the outcome/content distinction is not made explicit here.

Additionally, there are really neat little rays of light poking out, indicating that the designers were of two minds about player autonomy, which is cool:
"The last thing a Loremaster should do is to restrict his players ... in order to make them conform to his idea of how the game should progress. Players must feel that their characters can attempt any action, no matter how limited the chances of a successful outcome." p. 7, Loremaster's Book

Additionally, along the same lines:
"Managing the game system properly is absolutely vital for the creation of a truly cooperative role-playing experience....nothing is more destructive to a player's suspension of disbelief and immersion in the game than the feeling that his [hero's] fate is being dictated by the Loremaster's choices and not his own." p. 17, Loremaster's Book
Really! How cool is this?
Following up is this:
"... the rules are not the province of the Loremaster alone, but are an invaluable resource to be shared with all participants." p. 18, Loremaster's Book [emphasis mine]

Basically, you have what appears to be, and seems to be largely received by players as, an ordinary adventure-journey game that, thematically, takes D&D full circle into explicitly Tolkien-themed waters. But, clearly, there are elements of player empowerment, and a few gems here and there in the Corruption rules, that demonstrate it can be something more or different or stranger than that.

I didn't even mention character creation stuff, or Encounters!
To sum up the cool bits super-quick-like, there are several opportunities to plug your character concept into a larger context: many of the Backgrounds you can choose from (which actually determine more about your character than the character-class-equivalent, "callings") explicitly mention family members, social status, and community ties, right there in black and white. Lovely!
Now, of course, connecting your character's odd, unpleasant, or strange Background to, well, the rest of the game... the trick is to take it with you! That's going to take the GM's assistance. For example - Tookish hobbits are not trusted, considered wild, unpredictable, and adventurous. So - should the GM simply have a few NPCs mutter about your Tookish features, clucking their tongues?
No way! See, the biggest mood-killer for building Theme and whatnot, I think, is obsessively making the game about the traveling. The Journey mechanics really don't need to be front-and-center; they aren't even that complicated, so you could use kind of like a complicated AW custom move to further stress the scarcity and danger of Middle-Earth.
Additionally, Encounters are reserved for dealing with single or grouped (friendly or neutral) NPCs that you meet on your travels; the GM reserves judgment for deciding what constitutes an Encounter, but it puts a bit of emphasis on making such things significant in some way. The part I find the most compelling is this: all PCs have virtues (valour and wisdom), and NPCs look at one or the other virtue to decide how well they regard you.
The value of the chosen virtue dictates how many failed dice rolls the party can make during the Encounter before the NPCs decide they've had enough of your bungling. Things like racial prejudice (yep! In the rules!) and your characters' social standing (especially with the culture the NPC(s) belong(s) to) all affect how many of your failures they will endure. If you reach their Tolerance (that's the game term, yes), they will basically decide they aren't interested in listening to or dealing with you further - - what that means in detail is rooted in the direction the fiction is taking.
It's like taking the old-timey D&D reaction roll and expanding its scope to include a whole scene, rather than just a random little die roll at the moment of encounter.

Lots of cool stuff. I'm working on getting a campaign going. We'll see what comes of it!